Sunday, Jan. 10, 7pm - Festival of Hope for Patrick O'Neill
We invite you to a virtual Festival of Hope on Sunday at 7 pm (Eastern) for Patrick O'Neill as he enters prison for the disarmament action at the Kings Bay Trident base in Georgia more than two years ago. He is scheduled to report to the federal prison in Elkton, OH on January 14 to serve the remaining 12 months of his 14 month sentence. Judge Wood recently denied his request for a delay until he could be vaccinated.
The program will feature talks from Jeannine Hill-Fletcher, a professor of religion at Fordham University who testified at the Religious Freedom Restoration Act hearing and Paul Magno, a fellow plowshares activist with Patrick in the Pershing Plowshares in 1984. Steve Dear will present a slideshow. Some of the other KBP7 are expected to speak.
Music will be provided by Luci Murphy, blues guitarist Scott Ainslie and by Patrick's daughters, Annie and Veronica. There will be a concluding blessing from Fr. Bob Cushing.
The link to participate:
The festival will be recorded and posted to Youtube afterwards. If you do not want to be seen please turn off your video. Check the website for link.
Patrick will also be speaking at a webinar on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 7pm (Eastern) on "Resisting Militarism, Embracing Peace; Plowshares and Palestine." It is sponsored by Voices for Justice in Palestine. The link to register is at: https://sites.google.com/view/vjpweb
Carmen Trotta #22561-021
Federal Correctional Institution
PO Box 1000
Otisville, NY 10963
Martha Hennessy #22560-021
Danbury, CT 06811
You can send letters to them on white paper with blue or black ink but no drawings. We are checking what else they may receive. See the website for updates.
Clare Grady and Patrick O'Neill will report to prison in the New Year. Mark Colville has a delay for sentencing until February 19.
Lisa Montgomery: Appeals Court Allows Execution to Proceed
By Associated Press, January 3, 2020
A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the only woman on federal death row to be executed before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The ruling, handed down Friday by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concluded that a lower court judge erred when he vacated Lisa Montgomery's execution date in an order last week.
U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss had ruled the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery's execution and he vacated an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons scheduling her death for Jan. 12.
Montgomery had been scheduled to be put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, in December, but Moss delayed the execution after her attorneys contracted coronavirus visiting their client and asked him to extend the time to file a clemency petition.
Moss concluded that under his order, the Bureau of Prisons could not even reschedule Montgomery's execution until at least Jan. 1. But the appeals panel disagreed.
Meaghan VerGow, an attorney for Montgomery, said her legal team would ask for the full appeals court to review the case and said Montgomery should not be executed on Jan. 12.
Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said.
Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.
But her lawyers have argued that their client suffers from serious mental illnesses.
Biden opposes the death penalty and his spokesman, TJ Ducklo, has said he would work to end its use. But Biden has not said whether he will halt federal executions after he takes office Jan. 20.
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
U.S. officials want the WikiLeaks founder to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. But a judge in London ruled that he was at extreme risk of suicide.
By Elian Peltier and Megan Specia, Jan. 4, 2021
Mr. Assange leaving the court in London last year. Credit...Dominic Lipinski/Press Association, via Associated Press
LONDON — A British judge ruled on Monday that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face trial on charges of violating the Espionage Act, saying he would be at extreme risk of suicide.
The decision in the high-profile case grants Mr. Assange a major victory against the U.S. authorities who charged him over his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rights groups and advocates applauded the ruling, but many expressed concern about the its rationale. The judge focused on Mr. Assange’s mental health issues, but rejected the defense argument that the charges were an attack on press freedom and were politically motivated.
Mr. Assange, 49, who was present at Monday’s hearing and wearing a face mask, was indicted in 2019 on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and conspiring to hack government computers in 2010 and 2011. If found guilty on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The judge, Vanessa Baraitser of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, said in Monday’s ruling that she was satisfied that the American authorities had brought forth the case “in good faith,” and that Mr. Assange’s actions went beyond simply encouraging a journalist. But she said there was evidence of a risk to Mr. Assange’s health if he were to face trial in the United States, noting that she found “Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.”
She ruled that the extradition should be refused because “it would be unjust and oppressive by reason of Mr. Assange’s mental condition,” pointing to conditions he would most likely be held under in the United States.
The ruling on Monday at the Central Criminal Court in London, known as the Old Bailey, was a major turning point in a legal struggle that has lasted nearly a decade. But that battle is likely to drag on, as U.S. prosecutors indicated they would appeal. They have two weeks to do so.
A crowd of supporters outside the court erupted in cheers when the verdict was delivered.
“Today, we are swept away by our joy at the fact that Julian will shortly be with us,” Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and rights activist who has been documenting the hearing, told reporters outside the courthouse. He said that while he was “delighted we have seen some humanity,” the ruling on mental health grounds was an “excuse to deliver justice.”
Rights groups also applauded the denial of the extradition request, but some expressed concerns about the substance of the ruling. Among them was Rebecca Vincent, the director of international campaigns for Reporters Without Borders.
“We disagree with the judge’s assessment that this case is not politically motivated, that it is not about free speech,” Ms. Vincent said. “We continue to believe that Mr. Assange was targeted for his contributions to journalism, and until the underlying issues here are addressed, other journalists, sources and publishers remain at risk.”
Stella Moris, Mr. Assange’s partner, echoed the sentiment, saying that while she was pleased that the extradition request had been rejected, the charges had not been dropped. She called on President Trump to “end this now.”
In a statement, the Justice Department said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision but “gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised,” and noted that it would still seek to extradite Mr. Assange.
Mr. Assange, who is Australian, rose to prominence in 2010 by publishing documents provided by the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. He then took refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to escape extradition to Sweden, where he faced an inquiry into rape allegations that was later dropped. In the meantime, he kept running WikiLeaks as a self-proclaimed political refugee. He spent seven years there before his arrest by the British police in 2019.
During the extradition hearing, which began in February but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, lawyers representing the United States argued that Mr. Assange had unlawfully obtained secret documents and put lives at risk by revealing the names of people who had provided information to the United States in war zones.
“Reporting or journalism is not an excuse for criminal activities or a license to break ordinary criminal laws,” James Lewis, a lawyer representing the U.S. government, told the court last year.
Mr. Assange’s lawyers framed the prosecution as a politically driven attack on press freedom.
“The greatest risk for him in the U.S. is that he won’t face a fair trial,” said Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer and adviser to Mr. Assange. “Then he could spend the rest of his life in prison, in solitary confinement, treated in a cruel and arbitrary fashion.”
The hearing was stymied by multiple technical glitches and restricted access for observers, which rights groups and legal experts said hurt the court’s credibility and hampered their ability to monitor the proceedings.
Mr. Assange has been held at Belmarsh, a high-security prison in London, since 2019. Mr. Assange remained in custody after the ruling was announced on Monday, but his defense team said they planned to file an application for bail on Wednesday as the appeals process continued.
Many have hailed Mr. Assange as a hero for transparency who helped expose U.S. wrongdoings in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also been criticized as a publicity seeker with an erratic personality. The publication by WikiLeaks of emails associated with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which U.S. officials have said were hacked by Russian intelligence to damage her candidacy, also undermined his reputation with many previous supporters.
Mr. Assange jumped bail in 2012 and fled into the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. During his years there, he gave news conferences and hosted a parade of visitors, including the singer Lady Gaga and the actress Pamela Anderson. He had also angered embassy workers by riding his skateboard in the halls.
By the time he was dragged away, Mr. Assange had become an unwelcome guest. Weeks later, he was indicted in the United States.
Mr. Assange’s mental and physical health deteriorated while he was held in prison in Britain, experts warned. Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and ill treatment, said in November 2019 that the punishment against Mr. Assange amounted to “psychological torture.”
Doctors said that his health had worsened during the hearing.
News and press freedom organizations, as well as rights groups, have long warned that Mr. Assange’s indictment and a potential trial in the United States would set a dangerous precedent for press freedom.
Prosecutors have never charged a journalist under the Espionage Act, but legal experts have argued that prosecuting a reporter or news organization for doing their job — making valuable information available to the public — would violate the First Amendment. Mr. Assange’s actions remain difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations.
Jameel Jaffer, the executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, warned that the charges that Mr. Assange still faces “cast a dark shadow” over journalism. The charges focused on pure publication of the material were of particular concern, he said.
“Those counts are an unprecedented attack on press freedom,” he said in a statement, “one calculated to deter journalists and publishers from exercising rights that the First Amendment should be understood to protect.”
Charlie Savage contributed reporting.
Deceptive interrogations and false confessions are all too common. New York can stop them.
By Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana
Mr. Salaam, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Santana were exonerated after spending 13 years in prison. They are now criminal justice activists.
Jan. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/opinion/exonerated-five-false-confessions.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
On Dec. 19, 2002, a judge vacated our convictions for the brutal attack of Trisha Meili, who many know as the “Central Park jogger.” On that day, our 13-year fight for justice came to an end. The lies that we were told by detectives to wrongly convict us were finally exposed and ceased to hold power over us. Now, we are fighting to prevent others from facing the same fate.
At the time of our arrests in 1989, we were just boys — Kevin and Raymond, the youngest among us, were only 14 — and we came to be known as the “Central Park Five.” Now we are known as the “Exonerated Five,” and, largely because of Ava DuVernay’s series “When They See Us,” the world knows our stories.
But what people may not realize is that what happened to us isn’t just the past — it’s the present. The methods that the police used to coerce us, five terrified young boys, into falsely confessing are still commonly used today. But in its coming session, New York State legislators have the power to change that.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit. But when you’re in that interrogation room, everything changes. During the hours of relentless questioning that we each endured, detectives lied to us repeatedly. They said they had matched our fingerprints to crime scene evidence and told each of us that the others had confessed and implicated us in the attack. They said that if we just admitted to participating in the attack, we could go home. All of these were blatant lies.
With these tactics of deception and intimidation, detectives sought to exhaust, disorient and confuse us. They hoped to make us so fearful of never seeing our loved ones again that we’d say anything to protect ourselves and our families. Ultimately, that’s what nearly all of us did.
It felt like the truth didn’t matter. Instead, it seemed as though they locked onto one theory and were hellbent on securing incriminating statements to corroborate it. A conviction rather than justice felt like the goal. And with those false confessions, they were able to secure our wrongful convictions. These deceptive tactics aren’t right — but they are 100 percent legal.
The miscarriages of justice in our cases weren’t isolated incidents. False confessions played a role in nearly 30 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence. In New York State alone, 43 people who have been exonerated, including us, were wrongly convicted based on false confessions. Several of those innocent people were, like us, teenagers at the time they were wrongly accused.
In a courtroom, a confession — whether true or false — is likely to seal your fate. Judges and juries tend to believe confessions over DNA evidence that points to a person’s innocence, but they also have a surprisingly difficult time discerning between a true confession and a false one.
If confessions were evaluated for reliability before trial — the same way that the reliability of forensic evidence and eyewitness identifications are assessed before they are admitted as evidence — the use of false confessions could be drastically reduced. This could go a long way toward preventing wrongful convictions, and the groundwork has already been laid.
Since 2018, New York has required the recording of interrogations of individuals accused of serious crimes that occur in police stations, correctional centers, prosecutor’s offices and similar holding areas. These recordings, along with other evidence, could be examined during admissibility hearings to thoroughly evaluate a confession’s reliability before it’s admitted into evidence and presented in a courtroom.
Recording interrogations is crucial for accountability, but it’s not enough to prevent false confessions in the first place. The juries at our trials saw only videotapes of the statements we made after hours of questioning and coercion without lawyers present. They didn’t see the hours of threats and manipulation that preceded those recorded statements. To truly protect the innocent, New York must go a step further by banning the use of deceptive interrogation methods.
A bill by New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie that will come up this session could make this possible. Senator Myrie’s proposed legislation would ban the use of deception in interrogations and ensure that confessions are assessed for reliability before they make it into the courtroom. It’s crucial that New York lawmakers pass these measures to prevent future wrongful convictions and ensure that no one else is ever robbed of their youth or freedom.
These psychologically coercive tactics presume guilt rather than innocence and, as a result, they taint law enforcement’s efforts to find facts. Yet most police agencies in the United States still permit their use, even while many of their European counterparts have abandoned these methods.
These measures, together with a legislative proposal to ensure the right to legal counsel for young people during interrogations that will be considered in Albany would help prevent others from experiencing the injustices we endured.
New York could lead the way for the country by adopting these changes and strengthening our justice system. But until then, there’s no telling how many more innocent people the system will ensnare, forcing them to fight for their freedom and their lives.
The creation of the union, a rarity in Silicon Valley, follows years of increasing outspokenness by Google workers. Executives have struggled to handle the change.
By Kate Conger, Jan. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/technology/google-employees-union.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 225 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union, the group revealed on Monday, capping years of growing activism at one of the world’s largest companies and presenting a rare beachhead for labor organizers in staunchly anti-union Silicon Valley.
The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership.
The new union, called the Alphabet Workers Union after Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was organized in secret for the better part of a year and elected its leadership last month. The group is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents workers in telecommunications and media in the United States and Canada.
But unlike a traditional union, which demands that an employer come to the bargaining table to agree on a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union is a so-called minority union that represents a fraction of the company’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors. Workers said it was primarily an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, rather than to negotiate for a contract.
Chewy Shaw, an engineer at Google in the San Francisco Bay Area and the vice chair of the union’s leadership council, said the union was a necessary tool to sustain pressure on management so that workers could force changes on workplace issues.
“Our goals go beyond the workplace questions of, ‘Are people getting paid enough?’ Our issues are going much broader,” he said. “It is a time where a union is an answer to these problems.”
In response, Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations, said: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our work force. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
The new union is the clearest sign of how thoroughly employee activism has swept through Silicon Valley over the past few years. While software engineers and other tech workers largely kept quiet in the past on societal and political issues, employees at Amazon, Salesforce, Pinterest and others have become more vocal on matters like diversity, pay discrimination and sexual harassment.
Nowhere have those voices been louder than at Google. In 2018, more than 20,000 employees staged a walkout to protest how the company handled sexual harassment. Others have opposed business decisions that they deemed unethical, such as developing artificial intelligence for the Defense Department and providing technology to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Even so, unions have not previously gained traction in Silicon Valley. Many tech workers shunned them, arguing that labor groups were focused on issues like wages — not a top concern in the high-earning industry — and were not equipped to address their concerns about ethics and the role of technology in society. Labor organizers also found it difficult to corral the tech companies’ huge workforces, which are scattered around the globe.
Only a few small union drives have succeeded in tech in the past. Workers at the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and at the app development platform Glitch won union campaigns last year, and a small group of contractors at a Google office in Pittsburgh unionized in 2019. Thousands of employees at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are also set to vote on a union in the coming months.
“There are those who would want you to believe that organizing in the tech industry is completely impossible,” Sara Steffens, C.W.A.’s secretary-treasurer, said of the new Google union. “If you don’t have unions in the tech industry, what does that mean for our country? That’s one reason, from C.W.A.’s point of view, that we see this as a priority.”
Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said the Google union was a “powerful experiment” because it brought unionization into a major tech company and skirted barriers that have prevented such organizing.
“If it grows — which Google will do everything they can to prevent — it could have huge impacts not just for the workers, but for the broader issues that we are all thinking about in terms of tech power in society,” she said.
The union is likely to ratchet up tensions between Google engineers, who work on autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and internet search, and the company’s management. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, and other executives have tried to come to grips with an increasingly activist work force — but have made missteps.
Last month, federal officials said Google had likely wrongly fired two employees who protested its work with immigration authorities in 2019. Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who is a respected artificial intelligence researcher, also said last month that Google fired her after she criticized the company’s approach to minority hiring and the biases built into A.I. systems. Her departure set off a storm of criticism about Google’s treatment of minority employees.
“These companies find it a bone in their throat to even have a small group of people who say, ‘We work at Google and have another point of view,’” said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Google might well succeed in decimating any organization that comes to the floor.”
The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents employees in Silicon Valley and cities like Cambridge, Mass., and Seattle, gives protection and resources to workers who join. Those who opt to become members will contribute 1 percent of their total compensation to the union to fund its efforts.
Over the past year, the C.W.A. has pushed to unionize white-collar tech workers. (The NewsGuild, a union that represents New York Times employees, is part of C.W.A.) The drive focused initially on employees at video game companies, who often work grueling hours and face layoffs.
In late 2019, C.W.A. organizers began meeting with Google employees to discuss a union drive, workers who attended the meetings said. Some employees were receptive and signed cards to officially join the union last summer. In December, the Alphabet Workers Union held elections to select a seven-person executive council.
But several Google employees who had previously organized petitions and protests at the company objected to the C.W.A.’s overtures. They said they declined to join because they worried that the effort had sidelined experienced organizers and played down the risks of organizing as it recruited members.
Amr Gaber, a Google software engineer who helped organize the 2018 walkout, said that C.W.A. officials were dismissive of other labor groups that had supported Google workers during a December 2019 phone call with him and others.
“They are more concerned about claiming turf than the needs of the workers who were on the phone call,” Mr. Gaber said. “As a long-term labor organizer and brown man, that’s not the type of union I want to build.”
The C.W.A. said it was selected by Google workers to help organize the union and had not elbowed their way in. “It’s really the workers who chose,” Ms. Steffens of C.W.A. said.
Traditional unions typically enroll a majority of a work force and petition a state or federal labor board like the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. If they win the vote, they can bargain with their employer on a contract. A minority union allows employees to organize without first winning a formal vote before the N.L.R.B.
The C.W.A. has used this model to organize groups in states where it said labor laws are unfavorable, like the Texas State Employees Union and the United Campus Workers in Tennessee.
The structure also gives the union the latitude to include Google contractors, who outnumber full-time workers and who would be excluded from a traditional union. Some Google employees have considered establishing a minority or solidarity union for several years, and ride-hailing drivers have formed similar groups.
Although they will not be able to negotiate a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union can use other tactics to pressure Google into changing its policies, labor experts said. Minority unions often turn to public pressure campaigns and lobby legislative or regulatory bodies to influence employers.
“We’re going to use every tool that we can to use our collective action to protect people who we think are being discriminated against or retaliated against,” Mr. Shaw said.
Members cited the recent N.L.R.B. finding on the firing of two employees and the exit of Ms. Gebru, the prominent researcher, as reasons to broaden its membership and publicly step up its efforts.
“Google is making it all the more clear why we need this now,” said Auni Ahsan, a software engineer at Google and an at-large member of the union’s executive council. “Sometimes the boss is the best organizer.”
The acting defense secretary abruptly reversed his previous order to redeploy the Nimitz, which he had done over the objections of his top military advisers.
By Eric Schmitt, Published Jan. 3, 2021, Updated Jan. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/03/world/middleeast/trump-iran-carrier-nimitz.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said on Sunday that it had ordered the aircraft carrier Nimitz to remain in the Middle East because of Iranian threats against President Trump and other American officials, just three days after sending the warship home as a signal to de-escalate rising tensions with Tehran.
The acting secretary of the defense, Christopher C. Miller, abruptly reversed his previous order to redeploy the Nimitz, which he had done over the objections of his top military advisers. The military had for weeks been engaged in a muscle-flexing strategy aimed at deterring Iran from attacking American personnel in the Persian Gulf.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the U.S.S. Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” Mr. Miller said in a statement on Sunday night.
United States intelligence agencies have assessed for months that Iran is seeking to target senior American military officers and civilian leaders to avenge the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in an American drone strike one year ago.
But it was unclear what new urgency about these threats, if any, prompted Mr. Miller to cancel his earlier order to send the Nimitz home. In the past few days, Iranian officials have increased their fiery messaging against the United States. The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, said all of those who had a role in General Suleimani’s killing would not be able to “escape law and justice,” even if they were an American president.
It was unclear last week whether Mr. Trump was aware of Mr. Miller’s order to send the Nimitz to its home port in Bremerton, Wash., after a longer-than-usual 10-month deployment.
Some Trump administration officials suggested on Sunday that with a contentious political week coming up — Tuesday’s Senate runoff election in Georgia and Wednesday’s meeting of the House and Senate to certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory — the optics of the aircraft carrier steaming away from the Middle East did not suit the White House.
Whatever the reason, the mixed messaging surrounding the carrier’s movements raised new questions about the coordination and communications between an inexperienced Pentagon leadership and the White House in the waning days of the Trump administration.
Some current and former Pentagon officials have criticized the decision-making at the Pentagon since Mr. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and several of his top aides in November, and replaced them with Mr. Miller, a former White House counterterrorism aide, and several Trump loyalists.
Officials said on Friday that Mr. Miller ordered the redeployment of the Nimitz in part as a “de-escalatory” signal to Tehran to avoid stumbling into a crisis at the end of Mr. Trump’s administration that would land in Mr. Biden’s lap as he took office.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened Iran on Twitter, and in November, top national security aides talked the president out of a pre-emptive strike against an Iranian nuclear site.
The Pentagon’s Central Command had for weeks publicized several shows of force to warn Tehran of the consequences of any assault against American troops or diplomats.
The Nimitz and other warships arrived to provide air cover for American troops withdrawing from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The Air Force three times dispatched B-52 bombers to fly within 60 miles of the Iranian coast. And the Navy announced for the first time in nearly a decade that it had ordered a submarine, carrying cruise missiles, into the Persian Gulf.
American intelligence reports indicated that Iran and its proxies might have been preparing a strike as early as this past weekend to avenge the deaths of General Suleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, who was killed in the same United States drone strike in Baghdad last January.
American intelligence analysts in recent days say they have detected Iranian air defenses, maritime forces and other security units on high alert. They have also determined that Iran has moved more short-range missiles and drones into Iraq.
But senior Defense Department officials acknowledge they cannot tell if Iran or its Shiite proxies in Iraq are readying to strike American troops or are preparing defensive measures in case Mr. Trump orders a pre-emptive attack against them.
By Julia Conley, January 3, 2021https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/01/02/amid-warnings-surging-worldwide-poverty-planets-500-richest-people-added-18-trillion
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet of the Axel Springer Award 2020 on December 1, 2020, in Berlin, Germany.
Bloomberg's year-end report on the wealth of the world's billionaires shows that the richest 500 people on the planet added $1.8 trillion to their combined wealth in 2020, accumulating a total net worth of $7.6 trillion.
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index recorded its largest annual gain in the list's history last year, with a 31% increase in the wealth of the richest people.
The historic hoarding of wealth came as the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis, which the United Nations last month warned is a "tipping point" set to send more than 207 million additional people into extreme poverty in the next decade—bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to one billion by 2030.
Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, the rapidly widening gap between the richest and poorest people grew especially stark in 2020.
As Dan Price, an entrepreneur and advocate for fair wages, tweeted, the 500 richest people in the world amassed as much wealth in 2020 as "the poorest 165 million Americans have earned in their entire lives."
Nine of the top 10 richest people in the world live in the United States and own more than $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, with more than half of U.S. adults living in households that lost income due to the pandemic, nearly 26 million Americans reported having insufficient food and other groceries in November—contributing to a rise in shop-lifting of essential goods including diapers and baby formula. About 12 million renters were expected to owe nearly $6,000 in back rent after the new year.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk enjoyed an historic growth in wealth last year, becoming the second richest person in the world and knocking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates down to third place. Musk's total net worth grew by $142 billion in 2020, to $170 billion—the fastest creation of personal wealth in history, according to Bloomberg.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is at the top of the list, with a net worth of $190 billion. Bezos added more than $75 billion to his wealth in 2020, as the public grew dependent on online shopping due to Covid-19 restrictions and concern for public health.
While Bezos and a select few others in the U.S. have amassed historic gains in personal wealth in the last year, the federal government has yet to extend much in the way of meaningful assistance to struggling Americans. The Republican-led Senate on Friday continued to stonewall a vote on legislation that would send $2,000 checks to many American households.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the proposal as "socialism for rich people" even though the plan includes a phaseout structure and individuals making only up to $115,000 per year—not those in the highest tax brackets—would receive checks.
"Surging billionaire wealth hits a painful nerve for the millions of people who have lost loved ones and experienced declines in their health, wealth, and livelihoods," Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Bloomberg this week. "Worse, it undermines any sense that we are 'in this together'—the solidarity required to weather the difficult months ahead."
The untold story of American aid to Israel
By Ramzy Baroud
—CounterPunch, January 1, 2020
On December 21, the United States Congress passed the COVID-19 Relief Package, as part of a larger $2.3 trillion bill meant to cover spending for the rest of the fiscal year. As usual, U.S. representatives allocated a massive sum of money for Israel.
While unemployment, thus poverty, in the U.S. is skyrocketing as a result of repeated lockdowns, the U.S. found it essential to provide Israel with $3.3 billion in “security assistance” and $500 million for U.S.-Israel missile defense cooperation.
Although a meager $600 dollar payment to help struggling American families was the subject of several months of intense debate, there was little discussion among American politicians over the large funds handed out to Israel, for which there are no returns.
Support for Israel is considered a bipartisan priority and has, for decades, been perceived as the most stable item in the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The mere questioning of how Israel uses the funds—whether the military aid is being actively used to sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, finance Jewish settlements, fund annexation of Palestinian land or violate Palestinian human rights—is a major taboo.
One of the few members of Congress to demand that aid to Israel be conditioned on the latter’s respect for human rights is Democratic Senator, Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, who was also a leading presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. “We cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government … We have the right to demand respect for human rights and democracy,” Sanders had said in October 2019.
His Democratic rival, now President-elect, Joe Biden, soon countered: “The idea that I’d withdraw military aid, as others have suggested, from Israel, is bizarre,” he said.
It is no secret that Israel is the world’s leading recipient of U.S. aid since World War II. According to data provided by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, Israel has received $146 billion of U.S. taxpayers’ money as of November 2020.
From 1971 up to 2007, a bulk of these funds proved fundamental in helping Israel establish a strong economic base. Since then, most of the money has been allotted for military purposes, including the security of Israel’s illegal Jewish settlement enterprise.
Despite the U.S. financial crisis of 2008, American money continued to be channeled to Israel, whose economy survived the global recession, largely unscathed.
In 2016, the U.S. promised even more money. The Democratic Barack Obama Administration, which is often—although mistakenly—seen as hostile to Israel, increased U.S. funding to Israel by a significant margin. In a ten-year Memorandum of Understanding, Washington and Tel Aviv reached a deal whereby the U.S. agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid covering the financial years 2019-2028. This is a whopping increase of $8 billion compared with the previous ten-year agreement, which concluded at the end of 2018.
The new American funds are divided into two categories: $33 billion in foreign military grants and an additional $5 billion in missile defense.
American generosity has long been attributed to the unmatched influence of pro-Israeli groups, lead among them American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The last four years, however, required little lobbying by these groups, as powerful agents within the administration itself became Israel’s top advocates.
Aside from the seemingly endless “political freebies” that the Donald Trump Administration has given Israel in recent years, it is now considering ways to accelerate the timetable of delivering the remainder of U.S. funds as determined by the last MOU, an amount that currently stands at $26.4 billion. According to official congressional documents, the U.S. “also may approve additional sales of the F-35 to Israel and accelerate the delivery of KC-46A refueling and transport aircraft to Israel.”
These are not all the funds and perks that Israel receives. Much more goes unreported, as it is channeled either indirectly or simply promoted under the flexible title of “cooperation.”
For example, between 1973 and 1991, a massive sum of $460 million of U.S. funds was allocated to resettling Jews in Israel. Many of these new immigrants are now the very Israeli militants that occupy the West Bank illegal settlements. In this particular case, the money is paid to a private charity known as the United Israel Appeal which, in turn, gives the money to the Jewish Agency. The latter has played a central role in the founding of Israel on top of the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.
Under the guise of charitable donations, tens-of-millions of dollars are regularly sent to Israel in the form of “tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” the New York Times reported. Much of the money, falsely promoted as donations for educational and religious purposes, often finds its way to funding and purchasing housing for illegal settlers, “as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure (illegal Jewish) outposts deep in occupied (Palestinian) areas.”
Quite often, U.S. money ends up in the Israeli government’s coffers under deceptive pretenses. For example, the latest Stimulus Package includes $50 million to fund the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Funds, supposedly to provide investments in “people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation…between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of supporting a negotiated and sustainable two-state solution.”
Actually, such money serves no particular purpose, since Washington and Tel Aviv endeavor to ensure the demise of a negotiated peace agreement and work hand-in-hand to kill the now defunct two-state solution.
The list is endless, though most of this money is not included in the official U.S. aid packages to Israel, therefore receives little scrutiny, let alone media coverage.
As of February 2019, the U.S. has withheld all funds to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in addition to cutting aid to the UN Palestinian Refugees agency (UNRWA), the last lifeline of support needed to provide basic education and health services to millions of Palestinian refugees.
Judging by its legacy of continued support of the Israeli military machine and the ongoing colonial expansion in the West Bank, Washington insists on serving as Israel’s main benefactor—if not direct partner—while shunning Palestinians altogether. Expecting the U.S. to play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in Palestine does not only reflect indefensible naivety but willful ignorance as well.
Erika Shields, who stepped down after the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, will arrive in a city still gripped by the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, which led to national cries for accountability.
By Will Wright, Jan. 6, 2021
A memorial in front of the Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta where police officers killed Rayshard Brooks in June. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Atlanta police chief who resigned last year after a high-profile police shooting has been hired to run the department in Louisville, Ky., a city still reeling from its own prominent shooting that helped fuel the outcry for police reform that became a defining factor of 2020.
The incoming chief, Erika Shields, will become the fourth police chief to lead the Louisville Metro Police Department since the death of Breonna Taylor in March, Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Wednesday. She will replace the city’s interim chief, Yvette Gentry, when she is sworn in on Jan. 19.
Ms. Shields will arrive in a city rife with racial tension that ballooned with the killing of Ms. Taylor and subsequent protests, which drew thousands of people this summer and fall. Much of the anger surrounding Ms. Taylor’s death is still evident in Louisville today, nine months later, and activists said they will ramp up demonstrations in an effort to reinforce their demands for a transformation in the police force.
“Erika is definitely coming into chaos,” said Milly Martin, a political and social activist in Louisville. “Hopefully she can handle it.”
Ms. Shields served as Atlanta’s police chief for three and a half years, but resigned two days after a police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, in June. Officers had responded to a call reporting that Mr. Brooks was asleep in his car in a Wendy’s parking lot.
After 40 minutes of questioning and sobriety tests, the officers tried to arrest Mr. Brooks, who hit one officer, took another one’s Taser, fired it and then ran. One of the officers, Garrett Rolfe, pulled out a handgun and fired at Mr. Brooks as he fled, striking him twice in the back.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Rolfe then kicked Mr. Brooks as he lay dying, while another officer stood by. Neither of the two officers rendered first aid for more than two minutes.
Officials fired Mr. Rolfe and charged him with murder and aggravated assault within a week of the shooting. His case is awaiting trial.
Ms. Shields resigned the same day that Mr. Rolfe was fired, saying in a statement at the time that she was stepping down “out of a deep and abiding love for this city and this department.”
She now comes to a city that is still dealing with an even more prominent police shooting — that of Ms. Taylor, who was killed during a raid on her apartment in March.
No officers have been charged for Ms. Taylor’s death. One officer, Brett Hankison, faces charges of endangering Ms. Taylor’s neighbors when he shot into their apartment. The Police Department announced last week that two other officers would also be fired for their roles in the deadly raid.
In death, Ms. Taylor became an international icon for renewed calls to reform police departments and hold officers accountable when they commit unnecessary violence. That is especially apparent in Louisville, where fallout from the deadly raid continues to reverberate through the city. Protesters, though fewer in number than during the summer and fall, still occupy a public square in her honor downtown, and public officials continue to clamor for reforms and accountability measures that they complain have been slow to come.
Ms. Martin, the political activist, said she was disappointed that officials appointed Ms. Shields, who was asked to resign by the Atlanta chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. following the killing of Mr. Brooks.
“I just don’t see how she’s going to be a good fit for Louisville,” Ms. Martin said. “As the Black community, why would we want a woman like Erika Shields coming to our city to be the next police chief when clearly, clearly she could not get Atlanta P.D. under control?”
Atlanta had several police shootings while Ms. Shields served as chief, some of them leading to reforms.
In one instance, in 2019, an Atlanta police officer was working with an F.B.I. task force when the group attempted to arrest 21-year-old Jimmy Atchison after a chase. Mr. Atchison eventually attempted to surrender, but was shot in the face and killed by the Atlanta police officer. The officer said at the time that be believed Mr. Atchison was holding a weapon.
None of the officers were wearing body cameras, and the shooting remains under investigation, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In response, Ms. Shields announced that the Police Department would cease to partner with the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration or U.S. Marshals Service because those agencies do not wear body cameras.
Ms. Shields, Atlanta’s second female chief and its first openly gay one, also won some support among progressives when she met with protesters who took to the streets after the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis in May.
“I thought the way she waded out into the crowds to try and better understand the pain and worry that people were feeling in Atlanta last summer was really admirable,” said Matt Westmoreland, a Democratic City Councilman in Atlanta.
Robert Friedmann, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Georgia State University, said some of Ms. Shields’s ability to succeed in Louisville would depend on Mayor Fischer and the Metro City Council, and whether those elected officials would give the new chief the freedom to enact changes as she sees fit.
“If the mayor will not disrupt her position and her job, Louisville will be lucky to have her,” Mr. Friedmann said, adding that police chiefs often come under substantial political pressures, particularly after high-profile shootings and during periods of high crime rates.
Like many cities, Louisville experienced a sharp increase in homicides and other crimes last year. The Louisville Metro Police Department logged 173 homicides in 2020, more than the previous two years combined.
Chris Wells, a Louisville activist who attended a meeting on Tuesday to promote a truce between the city’s feuding gangs, said he doubted that someone from outside Louisville could come in and correct the myriad problems that only worsened for the city’s Black residents in 2020.
The selection process leading up to Wednesday’s announcement has unfolded in secrecy, and Mr. Fischer had declined to discuss the selection committee’s deliberations. City officials faced public criticism for not releasing the list of finalists before making a selection, in view of the calls for increased transparency in the wake of Ms. Taylor’s death.
“We were not given a choice,” said Attica Scott, a state representative from Louisville who participated in several racial justice demonstrations. “We weren’t engaged as partners, we weren’t engaged as community — activists, protesters and leaders have been left out.”
Gerald Griggs, the second vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., said that despite some reform efforts, Ms. Shields was ultimately unsuccessful in preventing unnecessary acts of police violence. He said the death of Mr. Brooks was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“To hear that now she’s going to one of the epicenters of the issues around police brutality is disheartening,” Mr. Griggs said. “I think it’s a bad decision. I like her as a person, but as an administrator of a police force, she’s been unable to curtail the activity that gives rise to police brutality.”
He added that activists in Atlanta “have a kindred spirit with Louisville because we understand what it’s like to lose a member of the community,” and that Ms. Shields “can expect activists from Atlanta to be in Louisville — we want to hold her accountable.”