Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not as of Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Support Water Protector Steve Martinez
Steve was first subpoenaed to a federal grand jury related to indigenous resistance at Standing Rock in 2017. He refused to cooperate then. Now, 4 years later, he has been dragged in front of another grand jury investigating NO DAPL resistance. He is currently incarcerated for again standing by his principles and refusing to cooperate.
Write to Steve
PO Box 2499
Bismarck, ND 58502
(Only plain black ink on plain white paper)
Update: February 23, 2021
Mr. Martinez was released from confinement
around 7:00 p.m. Central time, on Monday
Water Protector Steve Martinez ordered to be released
February 23, 2021
Bismarck – Water Protector Steve Martinez, who was confined for his principled refusal to participate in a federal grand jury investigation, was ordered to be “released from custody forthwith” late in the day on Monday, February 22. District Court Judge Daniel M. Traynor agreed with the arguments of counsel that the finding of contempt and associated “coercive confinement” at Burleigh Morton Detention Center were imposed by a Magistrate Judge who lacked authority to impose such sanctions. He ordered Mr. Martinez’ confinement immediately terminated, and confirmed that all other litigation related to grand jury proceedings must take place before a District Court Judge.
More:Indigenous Water Protector Jailed in North Dakota for Refusing to Cooperate With Secret Grand Jury
The Government served Mr. Martinez with a new grand jury subpoena prior to his release.
“Unlike all other legal proceedings in the U.S., federal grand juries are secret, and are almost entirely controlled by the prosecutor,” said Martinez’ attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen. “As such, they are ripe for abuse and have a history of being used for politically-targeted harassment.” She continued, “This ruling terminates, but does not remedy, three weeks of categorically unlawful incarceration endured by Mr. Martinez. That the Government’s response was to re-subpoena him speaks to the perversity of this process.” The new subpoena demands his presence on March 3, 2021, before the same Grand Jury, which is ostensibly investigating injuries sustained by Water Protector Sophia Wilansky.
Wilansky, then only 20 years old, nearly lost her arm on November 20, 2016, when law enforcement unleashed projectiles and fire hoses on people gathered in freezing temperatures to peacefully voice their opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (“DAPL”) on sacred and environmentally sensitive land. Wilansky sued Morton County for their role in her injury; Morton County has implied, in the apparent absence of evidence, that Ms. Wilansky was harmed by other Water Protectors, and even that she is responsible for her own injuries. Curiously, the critical evidence in her case – shrapnel removed from her arm after an initial 16-hour surgery – was immediately seized by the FBI in 2016. Despite Ms. Wilansky’s continued attempts to retrieve that evidence, the government refuses to disclose it – whether due to irregularity in evidence-preservation, or to shield Morton County from liability remains unclear.
In 2016, the Government withdrew an identical subpoena after Mr. Martinez refused to testify on the basis that the grand jury was an attempt to displace blame for Ms. Wilansky’s injuries onto innocent Water Protectors. A second subpoena was served four years later, on November 10, 2020 – four days after the judge in Ms. Wilansky’s civil case authorized parties to compel disclosure of the critical physical evidence withheld by the FBI since 2016. Martinez argued the subpoena was a hasty attempt by the Government to give the appearance of an ongoing criminal investigation, in order to justify their continued refusal to disclose the central evidence in the case against Morton County. He was jailed February 3, 2021, for his refusal to testify, and released yesterday on the Judge’s Order, after service of a third subpoena.
Mr. Martinez and his counsel remain skeptical of the subpoena and intend to challenge its validity. “This grand jury certainly appears to have been convened for the primary purpose of manufacturing an ‘ongoing criminal investigation’ such as would justify the Government’s refusal to hand over definitive evidence in a related civil proceeding,” said Ms. Meltzer-Cohen. “Mr. Martinez has no obligation to comply with a subpoena that was issued in other than good faith, and we will use every lawful means to demonstrate to the Court that, at the very least, the circumstances surrounding this grand jury deserve serious scrutiny.”
Mr. Martinez was released from confinement around 7 p.m. Central time, on Monday
K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Urgent Appeal from Myanmar Medical Workers
Direct Appeal to International Medical Community
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We, Myanmar medical doctors, have been bearing the brunt of global Covid-19 pandemic and providing much needed medical care to our patients despite limited resources and infrastructure.
Now, Myanmar military has ruthlessly staged a coup d’etat and installed themselves as military government, putting their own interests above our vulnerable population, who have been facing medical, economic, and social hardship during global pandemic.
Because the military regime lacks any political legitimacy, we do not recognize them as our government. We refuse to obey any order from the illegitimate military regime. Who has demonstrated they do not have any regards for our poor patients.
We will only listen and follow the instruction from our democratically elected government, headed by State counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyl and President U Win Myint.
Global community and global institutions are apparently powerless now.
We directly appeal to our brothers and sisters in global medical community, who understand our physical, emotional and mental hardships.
Please stand together with us. Please share this news forward. Please pressure your government not to recognize the illegitimate military regime.
Your brother and sisters
Civil Disobedience Movement
Date: 3rd February 2021
Elderly and Disabled Subjected to Horrific Conditions During COVID Outbreak at California Prison in Vacaville
For Immediate Release
For more information, contact:
Vacaville-An outbreak of Covid-19 is raging out of control at the California Medical Facility, a prison in Vacaville that holds many elderly and high-risk people. On December 11, the number of positive cases at CMF was 2. On December 12, the prison went into lockdown. Within five days, the number of cases had risen to 58. As of January 17,, the number of positive cases was 260 (almost 13% of the population). At the height of the outbreak, the total was 463. In all, 520 people (almost 26% of the population) have been infected, and seven have died.
D-dorm at CMF is currently being used as the triage / covid positive dorm. The dorm was formerly used to house the dogs that were part of the Paws for Life program. The dogs were removed shortly after the start of the pandemic, and the dorm was not cleaned prior to being used for quarantine. Staff are not stepping up to help clean, and the few incarcerated who are well enough to clean are not being given adequate cleaning supplies. Laundry is not being picked up. The strain of covid that is moving through CMF is causing severe diarrhea. Several people have soiled themselves and do not have access to clean clothes. Each person is only being given one roll of toilet paper per week.
Around the end of December, a man fainted and defecated on himself. When medical staff refused to respond to calls for help, other incarcerated people in the dorm, who were themselves ill, cleaned him up and carried him to his bed before he was finally taken to an outside hospital. In a similar incident, a man fainted and was refused medical attention for hours before finally being carried out on a stretcher. Staff are hesitant to call ambulances because of Plata v. Newsom, the ongoing litigation against the corrections department for its substandard healthcare.
As in other prisons ravaged by Covid, the layout of CMF, along with reckless actions by staff, are exacerbating the situation. Some correctional officers are not wearing masks or refusing to wear them properly. Many refuse to wear gloves. Some are moving around from positive to negative units. People who are sick are not being given access to over-the-counter medications, and only a select few are being given antibody treatments. Poor ventilation within the prison is also a facilitator of the spread.
The ramifications of the outbreak extend beyond the physical illness caused by the virus. The incarcerated have been moved from one area to another in hopes of containing the virus. This has presented additional problems of loss of property. Access to phones has been restricted drastically so families are not in contact with their loved ones. The hearing impaired are further restricted, as they are barred from the specially-equipped phones they would normally use. The disabled population at CMF, who are supposed to have assistance with various daily living tasks from other incarcerated people have seen this help severely hampered by the outbreak. People with disabilities are required to be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and no alternative accommodations for the disabled at CMF have been offered. Many of the population at CMF are over 60, with medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV and high blood pressure--all of which put them at higher risk of serious complications. Some have covid risk scores, as defined by California Correctional Health Care Services as high as 16.
The sudden and relentless spike in cases, as well as the prison's failure to take any substantive steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, have caused shock, fear, and outrage among loved ones of those inside.
"This outbreak has been climbing steadily for an entire month with cases increasing almost every day," said Olivia Campbell, an advocate for the rights of the incarcerated. "Efforts to get it under control have been insufficient and incompetent at best. But I think it's much more sinister. When you have correctional officers purposely infecting people, and so-called medical professionals neglecting elderly, sick, disabled people, leaving them to their fates in appalling conditions, in a congregate setting, in a facility that is supposed to have adequate medical services, I really don't even have words for how cruel and despicable that is."
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
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:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Punishing mothers for needing help cannot be the answer. A generous child allowance might be.
By Ezra Klein, Opinion Columnist, Feb. 18, 2021
Uli Seit for The New York Times
Wanda Lavender lives in Milwaukee. She’s 39, with six children and one grandchild. She used to be a day care teacher and proud of the work. But after a decade, she was still making $9 an hour. She was a single mother by then, and the money wasn’t enough. So she began working at Popeyes, too. She did both jobs for a time, putting in more than 60 hours a week.
“It took a toll on my health,” she told me. “I have rheumatoid arthritis and sciatica. It degrades your body. It messes with your mental status. You never get to see your kids. You’re always working.”
Here’s the question: Were those years in which Lavender worked night and day barely seeing her children, feeling her body break under the labor, a success of American public policy or a failure?
There’s long been a strain of conservative thinking that sees Lavender’s long hours as a success. In 2005, President George W. Bush listened to a woman tell him that she worked three jobs. “Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he replied with a smile. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.”
Bush’s comment was an extreme expression of a common — and bipartisan — sentiment: Work is good, more of it is better and policy should be a conveyor belt from the moral torpor of idleness to the dignity of wage labor. You could do that by making work pay more, as with the earned-income tax credit, which subsidizes earnings from low-wage jobs. But you could also do that by making the choice not to work, or to work less, more punishing — as with the 1996 welfare reforms, or the various proposals for Medicaid and SNAP work requirements, which would tie income, health insurance and even food to work status.
Now, with both President Biden and Senator Mitt Romney proposing ambitious plans for cash grants to parents, irrespective of the parent’s work status, some conservatives are warning that these plans would lead to sloth and single parenthood. It is here that you see how the veneration of work, at any and all costs, has come to dominate conservative policy thinking: Even higher rates of child poverty are a price worth paying for more working mothers. Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio quickly dismissed Romney’s plan as “welfare assistance,” warning that “an essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work.”
One way of considering this argument is technocratic: Will a child allowance actually reduce the number of parents who work? Similar policies in other countries have shown small, mixed effects on parental labor. Some parents, particularly when they’re the second earner, leave the work force to parent full time. Others use the extra money to buy child care, or a used car, and work more. Canada, for instance, has a more generous child allowance than anything Romney or Biden have proposed, and a higher proportion of women in the work force. The effect of child allowances on whether parents work is small, but their effects on child poverty are large — estimates suggest the Romney proposal would cut child poverty by a third, and the Biden plan by half.
But I want to consider the deeper question here: Even if a child allowance would lead some parents to drop out of the formal work force, would that be a bad thing? Forcing parents into low-wage, often exploitative, jobs by threatening them and their children with poverty may be counted as a success by some policymakers, but it’s a sign of a society that doesn’t value the most essential forms of labor. The problem lurks in the very language we use. If I left my job as a New York Times columnist to care, full time, for my 2-year-old son, I’d be described as leaving the labor force. But as much as I adore my child, there is absolutely no doubt I’d be working harder. I’d have fewer days off, a more demanding boss and worse pay.
“One of the bigger symbolic purposes of the child allowance is to say the work a parent does is valid — it’s valid as work,” Samuel Hammond, director of poverty and welfare policy at the Niskanen Center, said. “I do think it’s a market failure in capitalist economies that there isn’t a parenting wage.”
I spent some time on the phone this week with Scott Winship, resident scholar and director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, to try to understand the conservative objections more fully. First, Winship said, he just doesn’t believe it’s the government’s role to subsidize parenting. “A lot of people think it’s just become too expensive to raise kids and therefore we need to subsidize parenthood,” he told me. “I just disagree with that.”
Second, Winship’s policy views, like those of many other conservatives, were forged in the fires of welfare reform. “It’s just unambiguously the case that welfare reform led to an increase in work and a decline in poverty,” he said. That’s actually not unambiguous — there’s a strong argument that welfare reform led to more poverty during the Great Recession and particularly to more deep poverty — but let’s grant the argument for a moment.
Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Princeton who has studied welfare reform extensively, told me that most of the single mothers who went to work after reform had children under age three. “We don’t know that that’s good,” she said.
Even if you applaud that result, most experts I spoke to, including Edin, thought the pre-1996 welfare programs were a poor comparison for a child allowance. They were often structured in ways that directly discouraged work: A dollar in earnings would mean a dollar less in benefits. “I interviewed nearly 400 people, multiple times, across the country, for six years about their budgets,” Edin told me. “The reason people stayed on welfare is they couldn’t afford to go to work.” The various child allowance plans are designed to be work-neutral — a dollar in earnings doesn’t degrade benefits until families begin making hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you work more hours, you simply make more money.
When I brought this up, Winship dismissed it. The problem with welfare, he said, was that the existence of the cash payments meant single mothers “could afford not to work,” and the child allowance proposals would offer them the same option. I worry about the pain and the awful choices hiding inside the words “could afford.” Poor parents cannot afford to leave paid work and live lives that anyone in the Washington policy debate — left, right or center — would consider comfortable.
And yet, the supposed comforts of social insurance are a recurrent conservative trope. “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives,” Paul Ryan said in 2012. I have napped in hammocks, and I have spoken to people trying to survive on food stamps. The experiences did not seem similar.
The arid language of economics can, in cases like these, obscure what’s actually being said. Romney’s proposal would mean $1,050 a month for a single mother with three children under six. That’s $12,600 a year. It’s a help, but at less than half of the poverty line, it’s far from enough. What would lead a parent to leave his or her job for so paltry a check? It is often a disabled or troubled child, a sick family member, mental or physical health issues, a tyrannical boss, a hellish commute. You need a damn good reason to leave paid labor if the thin system of social insurance in the United States is all that’s waiting on the other side. What makes policymakers in Washington so sure they are right that these parents would be better off staying in their job, and leaving the crises at home to fester?
When I talked to Jamila Michener, co-director of Cornell’s Center for Health Equity, about this, she argued that we do trust parents to make those decisions. We just don’t trust poor parents to make them. She told me the story of coming to Cornell with a 3-month-old and a 3-year-old, and finding out that her mother had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Michener was vying for tenure at that point, so her husband took five years off to care for their children and her mother.
“Whenever I tell people about that, they say, ‘He’s amazing! What a great partner,’” Michener said. “In the context of a family not living in poverty, to make the decision to stay home for a bit to care for an ill family member is considered virtuous. But for a woman living in poverty to take some time off to care for a family member is vice.” That experience has become a touchstone for Michener in the classroom. She always asks her students why they praise her husband for staying home, but whenever the syllabus turns to welfare or food stamps, they worry social insurance will lead poor mothers to stop working.
Race thrums through this conversation. Whose work ethic is trusted, and whose is not, has always been racialized in this country. “We venerate work for the marginalized — we require it, demand it, for those on the economic margins and for people of color,” Michener told me. “For most of American history, white women weren’t expected to work, they were discouraged from working. It just shows you the flexibility of our assumptions about work as a necessary part of social and political life.”
My own view is that work should be available, accessible and well-paid. It should be available, in the sense that there should be jobs to be had — that can be encouraged through monetary policy and even direct jobs programs. It should be accessible, meaning that parents have access to affordable child care, transportation and housing options so that they can work, if they want to. And it should pay decently, through a mix of minimum wage laws, strengthened unions and stronger wage subsidies.
If you are truly worried about labor force participation, there’s a vast menu of generous policies that could directly lift it, and we should use them. In Washington, D.C., universal pre-K increased the labor force participation of mothers by about 10 percentage points, a truly huge effect. But if we were a society in which all those polices had been passed, and parents decided it’s best to spend their working hours doing the difficult and important job of caring for three young children and an ailing elder, that choice is worth honoring.
There is no evidence that spending long hours as a day care worker for someone else’s child or a health aide for someone else’s parent is somehow a better choice than caring for your own family. It can look that way in the statistics, if we consign poor families to poverty when a parent feels she needs to stay home. But that is society simply measuring the outcome of its own cruelty and calling the result economics.
“People on the right always say, what about the dignity of work?” Michener told me, “and my answer is: What about the dignity of dignity? The ability to be of sound body and mind and do the things most human beings want to do: spend time with your family. Have some time for leisure. Of course there can be dignity in work, and we should create the circumstances to make that possible, but there’s no natural dignity in work. We’ve needed labor movements because work can be harmful and oppressive unless we organize to make sure it has dignity. There are a lot of other factors and ways we need to intervene if we want work and dignity to be words we can use in the same sentence. And the way we do our social policy in this country, we have no right to use those words in the same sentence.”
These days, Lavender told me, she works full time at Popeyes. They promised her a promotion if she left her day care job, so now she makes $12 an hour, working 40 to 60 hours a week. I asked her how something like the Romney plan might change her life. “That means the opportunity to return to school, to open my own business. It could mean buying a house so I don’t need to catch the bus to work.”
I’d met Lavender because she’s organizing for a $15 minimum wage, and she said the experience had been transformative. She was considering running for alderwoman in Milwaukee so she could keep fighting for workers like herself. I wondered, as she said that, where she’d find the time. But that, too, is the kind of choice a child allowance could enable — it would give her breathing room to run for office so that in the future policy would be made by people like her, who trusted people like her.
In 1863, mobs of white New Yorkers terrorized Black people. The response has something to teach us.
By Elizabeth Mitchell, Feb. 18, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/opinion/draft-riots-racism.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
A mob murdered 23-year-old Abraham Franklin at 27th Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City. He had hurried to visit his mother to pray by her side for her protection when the rioters began raging from Downtown to Uptown. Just as he finished his prayers, they crashed through the door, beat him and hanged him as his mother looked on. Then they mutilated his body in front of her.
During the riots in July 1863, the mob also came upon Peter Heuston, a 63-year-old widowed war veteran and a member of the Mohawk tribe, whom they took to be Black. They brutally attacked him on Roosevelt and Oak Streets near the East River. He died of his injuries, leaving his 8-year-old daughter an orphan.
Another victim, William Jones, was so disfigured, whether from the mob’s mutilation or the decay his body endured waiting for observers to gain courage to investigate his identity, that he could only be identified by the loaf of bread under his arm. He had gone out to fetch the staple for his wife and never returned.
One woman testified that the mob broke through the doors of her son’s house on East 28th Street in Manhattan, where she was visiting, using pickaxes to break through. The thugs threw a baby out the window to its death. They chopped through the water pipes so the people hiding in the basement of the building would be drowned. They struck her son over the head with a crowbar and he died in the hospital two days later.
Some 400 white people attacked the Black orphanage on Fifth Avenue near 43rd Street. They cut the trees with axes, uprooted the shrubs in what had been a carefully tended garden, carted away the fence and burned the building to the ground.
Many people today, if they have even heard of the Draft Riots, probably know it as a violent citizens’ revolt against President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 mandatory conscription of soldiers. In Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” inspired by the nonfiction book by Herbert Asbury, what happened over those days comes across as a somewhat entertaining if gory battle between rival white gangs.
The truth is that over the course of some four days, mobs of white New Yorkers roamed the streets of the city from City Hall to Gramercy Park to past 40th Street, setting fire to buildings and killing people, specifically targeting Black people for the most horrific violence. Historians are still assessing the overall death toll, with estimates ranging from more than 100 to more than a thousand. One of the most prestigious Black newspapers of the time estimated the deaths of people of color to be as high as 175. Other Black people were driven from their homes and all of their property destroyed. In the aftermath, some 5,000 Black New Yorkers were discovered hiding on Blackwell’s Island, in police stations, in the swamps of New Jersey and in barns on Long Island, desperately seeking safety from the murderous white crowds.
The gruesome events should be remembered. They are as much a part of the city’s history as 9/11, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire or immigration through Ellis Island. And there is a related story to tell. One reason we know about the brutality of those events is a booklet, “Report of the Merchants’ Committee for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Riots in the City of New York,” published in 1863, from which I’ve drawn many of the descriptions in this piece. Importantly, the clerks of the merchant’s committee recorded the testimony of many of the people who had lost loved ones to the murderous gangs, creating a clear record of many of the atrocities committed.
Immediately after the riots, the white merchants of New York combined forces to raise money to care for the injured, repair the damaged property and support the legal and employment needs of the terrorized Black people. Of course nothing could make up for the lives lost and the pain and suffering inflicted on those who were attacked. But the shopkeepers quickly raised over $40,000, equivalent to more than $825,000 today. Their fund-raising effort was notable because it focused on preserving and honoring the dignity of the people the merchant committee’s report described as the “sufferers.”
“We have not come together to devise means for their relief because they are colored people,” wrote Jonathan Sturges, the treasurer of the group, “but because they are, as a class, persecuted and in distress at the present moment.”
The merchants went about their work methodically. They vowed to secure help from the county. Lawyers volunteered their expertise. When requested, ministers visited the homes of survivors. They urged businesses that were afraid to rehire their Black employees for fear of the mob’s vengeance to be courageous, and promised to guard the businesses that did rehire.
J.D. McKenzie, the chairman, noted that the murderers and pillagers “sought to destroy a race.” But the shopkeepers made a point of not wasting their time focusing on who perpetrated each of the evil deeds. The report made clear that the murderers were clearly “bad men.” The group moved on to what they could do to rectify the inhumanity.
On Saturday, July 25, 1863, the third day that funds were dispersed, applicants packed Fourth Street near Broadway. The donors prided themselves on limiting stress for the recipients. “There are no harsh or unkind words uttered by the clerks — no impertinent quizzing in regard to irrelevant matters — no partisan or sectarian view advanced. The business is transacted in a straightforward, practical manner, without chilling the charity into an offense by creating the impression that the recipient is humiliated by accepting the gift,” the New York Daily Tribune reported. The donors encouraged people to return if they needed more help.
In the first month, the group assisted 6,392 people. Since their children were beneficiaries as well, the total number helped added up to 12,782 — from laborers to music teachers, physicians to cooks, ministers, artists, and farmers.
Black ministers and laymen wrote a note to the merchants about what it all meant: “You did not hesitate to come forward to our relief amid the threatened destruction of your own lives and property. You obeyed the noblest dictates of the human heart, and by your generous moral courage you rolled back the tide of violence that had well nigh swept us away.”
This episode from the 19th century is haunting even now, first, because of its brutality. The violence occurred on streets where people now dine and shop, oblivious to what happened. Men were lynched while simply walking home from their jobs. But the manner in which the shopkeepers of New York responded is also important, and it may be instructive to how all people confront and respond to racism today.
It’s horrific what happened on Washington and Leroy Streets, or 34th Street at the East River, East 28th Street, Fulton Ferry, 30th Street and Second Avenue and Carmine Street in 1863. But horrific events fueled by racism are not just in our past. Think of what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis and David McAtee in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in South Georgia, and what happens in the cells of people still waiting to be freed under the Supreme Court’s ruling against juvenile life sentences. The story of the merchants’ response to the so-called Draft Riots is a reminder that we can all do more if we don’t want the lives of more Black people to be marred by cruelty. That begins with having a cleareyed view of our own history. Understanding the past in a way that’s neither sugarcoated nor whitewashed will keep us moving forward.
Ms. Mitchell is a journalist and the author of four nonfiction books, including “Lincoln’s Lie: A True Civil War Caper Through Fake News, Wall Street and the White House.”
Experts say the brand’s new intimate care line shames young people and might even pose potential health risks.
By Dani Blum, Feb. 18, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/well/vagisil-omv-teens.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=523159565&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-decay-decay-02&variant=2_bandit-all-surfaces-decay-decay-02&imp_id=666018827&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
An oatmeal-infused anti-itch serum claims to soothe the “bikini and intimate” region. A scented body wash says that it is “gentle enough for your vaginal area.” A confetti-dotted package of cleansing feminine wipes is “small enough to fit in your locker or a backpack.”
These products make up a new line of vanilla- and clementine-scented intimate care items for teenagers called OMV! (a play on the expression “OMG!”). The sparkly new brand — which comes from the makers of Vagisil and includes personal wipes, a wash and a serum — has cutesy packaging and uses phrases on its website and social media that might sound familiar to younger generations. (Why not “level-up” your teen’s “self-care routine” and enhance their “glow-up”?)
But in recent weeks, OMV! has drawn the ire of gynecologists and other women’s health experts online, who have argued that the brand’s focus on “freshness” might be contributing to unhealthy body image issues for young people by promoting the idea that vulvas are “dirty” and that they should appear or smell a certain way.
“Hey @vagisil going to call you out here for this predatory line of products aimed at teen girls,” Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynecologist and contributor to The New York Times, wrote on Twitter.
“How many times have we talked about how this industry preys on the insecurities of women?” Dr. Staci Tanouye, a gynecologist in Florida, said about the product line in a TikTok video. “And now we are directly targeting teens to tell them that they’re dirty.”
As with other types of scented intimate care products that are marketed for use on or around the vulva, many experts also have concerns that these products might be harmful to vaginal health.
In a written statement to The New York Times, a representative from Vagisil said that their OMV! products are safe and were tested rigorously, “using board-certified gynecologists and dermatologists,” before the care line’s launch.
But Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist in Texas, said that this phrasing could be misleading. “You’ll notice they’re very careful in their wording,” she said in an email. Saying that a product is “gynecologist-tested” isn’t the same as “gynecologist-approved,” she said, “and safe isn’t equivalent to necessary.”
For example, she said, if a company asks her to “test” their product and she says that it is “terribly irritating in some patients,” the company could still “claim ‘gynecologist tested’ in their marketing.”
In 2018, the global feminine intimate care market was valued at $1.1 billion, according to market research firm Grand View Research, with intimate washes accounting for nearly 40 percent of the share.
The OMV! brand, which launched last year, is just one of many personal care lines that advertise to young women by telling them they should feel “comfortable in your own body” by keeping it fresh and clean.
But that sends the wrong message, said Dr. Heather Irobunda, an ob-gyn at NYC Health + Hospitals, especially for teens who don’t have access to adequate sexual education.
“Not only does it teach girls at a young age that you should probably smell like a Creamsicle,” she said, “it also then has these young girls question what exactly is a normal smell down there.”
Dr. Gunter, who learned about the OMV! line after some of her Instagram followers sent her direct messages about it, said that after looking up the brand’s website, she was appalled by some of the language they used in their advertising. She was especially irked by the tagline on the landing page that implies that “period funk” is a nuisance to be eliminated, and that their “No-Sweat” vulva wipes are supposed to help teens “never worry about staying fresh again.”
“This is all purity culture,” Dr. Gunter said. “It’s infantilizing — you have to be pure, clean, fresh, natural. These products always make it sound like you’re supposed to be a contestant on a game show called ‘America’s Next Virgin Bride’ or something.”
At the same time, experts have said that for some, the damage from these and other types of scented intimate hygiene products can extend beyond the psychological.
Any product that is scented can potentially damage the skin, Dr. Tanouye said. And while not everyone may experience a reaction, or react immediately, experts said that certain health issues can emerge after prolonged use. “Fragrance is the No. 1 cause of allergic contact dermatitis,” Dr. Tanouye said, which is a condition in which the skin gets inflamed and becomes itchy, red and rashy after contact with an irritating substance.
Because these are some of the same symptoms that many of these products claim to soothe, health experts said they are concerned that, in an effort to get rid of symptoms like pain, itching or irritation — which could be signs of a larger problem, like a yeast or bacterial infection — women might keep using these products and potentially make their problems worse.
“If a person with a vagina has itching, the key isn’t to cover it up with an anti-itch cream,” said Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an obstetrician in Portland, Ore. “We’re really concerned about people delaying care.”
Dr. Irobunda estimated that about 30 percent of the patients she sees in an average week come in with vaginal complaints like itching, pain and inflammation that they’ve tried to heal with over-the-counter products from brands like Vagisil or Summer’s Eve (which sells feminine hygiene items like douches, cleansing cloths and “freshening sprays”). She sees many patients who are underinsured or in low-income communities, and who opt to treat their symptoms with creams they can pick up at a pharmacy instead of seeking medical attention. “It doesn’t wash away the bacteria that causes an inflammation or smell,” she said. “If the area is already inflamed, using these products will irritate that area even more.”
Dr. Jones, who posted a YouTube video about the OMV! line under her channel “Mama Doctor Jones” (which currently has more than 320,000 views), said she is concerned that teens might develop a habit of using these products. “It catches them early where it becomes something they think they inherently need for the rest of their lives,” she said.
And when use of these kinds of intimate care products becomes more regular, said Dr. Monica Woll Rosen, an ob-gyn at the University of Michigan Medical School, that can potentially disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina, which can increase the risk of bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections in teens.
Using these types of products in the vagina can “damage lactobacilli and mucus,” Dr. Gunter wrote on Twitter, which could increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections if exposed.
The first thing Dr. Tanouye tells patients who complain about vaginal itching or irritation is to stop using any scented products.
If you have an odor that suddenly changes, or experience a change in the color of your vaginal discharge, it’s time to see a doctor, rather than reach for over-the-counter products, she said.
“The catastrophic consequences are probably uncommon but not impossible,” Dr. Gunter said. “But irritation from these products? Absolutely. I see that every day.”
Too often, attention to nonwhite groups is only as pressing as the injuries that they have suffered.
"...the challenge of democracy is not about identifying with someone like yourself (that’s easy to do) nor about giving up your self-interest (that’s hard to ask). It’s about learning to see your self-interest as profoundly and inevitably entwined with the interests of others."
By Anne Anlin Cheng, Feb. 21, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/21/opinion/anti-asian-violence.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
A 23-year-old Korean woman in New York was punched in the face last March and accused of having the coronavirus. More incidents followed as the virus spread, with Asian-Americans being spat on, beaten, slashed, even attacked with chemicals.
In response to pandemic-related violence like this, advocacy organizations came together to document cases of harassment and vitriol against Asian-Americans. Stop AAPI Hate received 2,800 reports in 2020, around 240 of which were physical assaults, and the AAPI Emergency Response Network has received over 3,000 reports since it started tracking Covid-specific hate incidents last year.
The violence has continued into the new year. In January, in San Francisco, an 84-year-old Thai man died after being assaulted on the street; across the Bay, in Oakland’s Chinatown, a 91-year-old man was shoved to the ground. Some of these cases have made it to national news, but most haven’t. The low profile of this wave of violence is a reminder of how racial violence goes unexamined when it doesn’t fit neatly into the standard narrative of race in America.
Racial violence in the United States is not simply Black and white, even if it looks that way. Instead, it can reveal layered victimizations and mediated enmity. The recent incidents of anti-Asian violence in the Bay Area, in particular, highlight this: Some Asian-Americans were outraged by the violence and demanded justice, but since the perpetrators in these cases were Black, many others felt deeply uncomfortable with contributing to the criminalization of African-Americans.
And here we come to the heart of the complexity of “speaking up” for Asian-Americans. Thanks to the “Model Minority” myth — popularized in 1966 by the sociologist William Petersen and later used as a direct counterpoint to the “welfare queen” stereotype applied to Black Americans — Asian-Americans have long been used by mainstream white culture to shame and drive a wedge against other minority groups.
They are always caught in a no-win position between whites and Black Americans. They are thought to be “white adjacent,” but of course they can never belong to the club. They are persistently racialized, yet they often don’t count in the American racial equation. The central, though often unspoken, question underlying all of this is: Are Asian-Americans injured, or injured enough, to deserve our national attention?
To ask this question is to reveal something about how this country thinks about a racial calculus based on damage and hierarchy. Asian-Americans exist in a weird but convenient lacuna in American politics and culture. If they register at all on the national consciousness, it is either as a foreign threat (the Yellow Peril, the Asian Tiger, the Spy, the Disease Vector) or as the domestic but ultimately disposable prism for deflecting or excusing racism against other minorities.
This recent onslaught of anti-Asian violence can partly be attributed to our former president, who spoke nonstop of the “Chinese virus” and even the “kung flu,” but he could not have rallied the kind of hatred that he did without this country’s long history of systemic and cultural racism against people of Asian descent.
For our histories are more entangled than how we tell them. Few people know that many of the same families that amassed wealth through slavery also profited from the opium trade in China; that at least 17 Chinese residents were the targeted victims of one of the worst mass lynchings in American history in Los Angeles’s “Negro Alley” in 1871; that America’s immigration policy and ideas of citizenship were built on top of laws like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. for 10 years; or that the “Model Minority” myth veils how Bhutanese- and Burmese-Americans experience poverty rates over 30 percent.
I think of James Baldwin’s words: “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.”
When it comes to Asian-American grief, do Americans want to know?
These past few weeks, it seems as if Americans have opened to a kind of knowing. As I saw these recent incidents of anti-Asian violence unfold in the news, I felt a profound sense of grief. But I also experienced something akin to relief. Maybe, I thought, now people will start to respond to anti-Asian violence with the same urgency they apply to other kinds of racism.
But then I started to feel a familiar queasiness in the pit of my stomach. Is this indeed what it takes? A political imagination (or, really, lack thereof) that predicates recognition on the price of visible harm?
There is something wrong with the way Americans think about who deserves social justice — as though attention to nonwhite groups, their histories and conditions, is only as pressing as the injuries that they have suffered. Racial justice is often couched in arcane, moralistic terms rather than understood as an ethical given in democratic participation.
It seems crazily naïve to suggest that we ought to learn, value and want to know about all of our countrymen out of respect rather than guilt. Yet while legitimizing racial and cultural differences exclusively in terms of injury may motivate reform in the short run, in the long term it feeds a politics of tribalism that erupts over and over again.
Two decades ago, I wrote in my book “The Melancholy of Race” that “we are a nation at ease with grievance but not with grief.” We still are. In the desire to move past racial troubles — in our eagerness to progress — we as a nation have been more focused on quantifying injury and shoring up identity categories than doing the harder work of confronting the enduring, ineffable, at times contradictory and messier wounds of American racism: how being hated and hating can look the same; how the lesson of powerlessness can teach justice or, perversely, the ugly pleasures of power; how the legacy of anger, shame and guilt is complex.
Unprocessed grief and unacknowledged racial dynamics continue to haunt our social relations. The discourse of racial identity has obscured the history of American racial entanglements. And why is entanglement important? Because the challenge of democracy is not about identifying with someone like yourself (that’s easy to do) nor about giving up your self-interest (that’s hard to ask). It’s about learning to see your self-interest as profoundly and inevitably entwined with the interests of others.
But is this a lesson Americans are prepared to hear?
Asian-Americans are tired of insisting that others care. The truth is that few are listening. All we can do is to continue to tell our truths, to know, even just for ourselves, that we are here. As the poet Rita Dove wrote, “Here, / it’s all yours, now — / but you’ll have / to take me, / too.”
Ms. Cheng is a comparative race scholar and author of “The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief” and “Ornamentalism.”
After a public outcry from people like Scott Willoughby, whose exorbitant electric bill is soon due, Gov. Greg Abbott said lawmakers should ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills” caused by the storm.
By Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Ivan Penn, Published Feb. 20, 2021, Updated Feb. 22, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/texas-storm-electric-bills.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
SAN ANTONIO — As millions of Texans shivered in dark, cold homes over the past week while a winter storm devastated the state’s power grid and froze natural gas production, those who could still summon lights with the flick of a switch felt lucky.
Now, many of them are paying a severe price for it.
“My savings is gone,” said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card — 70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
Mr. Willoughby is among scores of Texans who have reported skyrocketing electric bills as the price of keeping lights on and refrigerators humming shot upward. For customers whose electricity prices are not fixed and are instead tied to the fluctuating wholesale price, the spikes have been astronomical.
The outcry elicited angry calls for action from lawmakers from both parties and prompted Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to hold an emergency meeting with legislators on Saturday to discuss the enormous bills.
“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Mr. Abbott, who has been reeling after the state’s infrastructure failure, said in a statement after the meeting. He added that Democrats and Republicans would work together to make sure people “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”
The electric bills are coming due at the end of a week in which Texans have faced a combination of crises caused by the frigid weather, beginning on Monday, when power grid failures and surging demand led to millions being left without electricity.
Natural gas producers were not prepared for the freeze either, and many people’s homes were cut off from heat. Now, millions of people are discovering that they have no safe water because of burst pipes, frozen wells or water treatment plants that have been knocked offline. Power has returned in recent days for all but about 60,000 Texans as the storm moved east, where it has also caused power outages in Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia and Ohio.
The steep electric bills in Texas are in part a result of the state’s uniquely unregulated energy market, which allows customers to pick their electricity providers among about 220 retailers in an entirely market-driven system.
Under some of the plans, when demand increases, prices rise. The goal, architects of the system say, is to balance the market by encouraging consumers to reduce their usage and power suppliers to create more electricity.
But when last week’s crisis hit and power systems faltered, the state’s Public Utilities Commission ordered that the price cap be raised to its maximum limit of $9 per kilowatt-hour, easily pushing many customers’ daily electric costs above $100. And in some cases, like Mr. Willoughby’s, bills rose by more than 50 times the normal cost.
Many of the people who have reported extremely high charges, including Mr. Willoughby, are customers of Griddy, a small company in Houston that provides electricity at wholesale prices, which can quickly change based on supply and demand.
The company passes the wholesale price directly to customers, charging an additional $9.99 monthly fee. Much of the time, the rate is considered affordable. But the model can be risky: Last week, foreseeing a huge jump in wholesale prices, the company encouraged all of its customers — about 29,000 people — to switch to another provider when the storm arrived. But many were unable to do so.
Katrina Tanner, a Griddy customer who lives in Nevada, Texas, said she had been charged $6,200 already this month, more than five times what she paid in all of 2020. She began using Griddy at a friend’s suggestion a couple of years ago and was pleased at the time with how simple it was to sign up.
As the storm rolled through during the past week, however, she kept opening the company’s app on her phone and seeing her bill “just rising, rising, rising,” Ms. Tanner said. Griddy was able to take the money she owed directly from her bank account, and she now has just $200 left. She suspects that she was only able to keep that much because her bank stopped Griddy from taking more.
Some lawmakers and consumer advocates said the price spikes had made it clear that customers did not understand the complicated terms of the company’s model.
“To the Texas Utilities Commission: What are you thinking, allowing the average type of household to sign up for this kind of program?” Tyson Slocum, the director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, said of Griddy. “The risk-reward is so out of whack that it never should have been permitted in the first place.”
Phil King, a Republican state lawmaker who represents an area west of Fort Worth, said some of his constituents who were on variable-rate contracts were complaining about bills in the thousands.
“When something like this happens, you’re in real trouble” with such contracts, Mr. King said. “There have got to be some emergency financial waivers and other actions taken until we can work through this and get to the bottom of it.”
Responding to its outraged customers, Griddy, too, appeared to try to shift anger to the Public Utilities Commission in a statement.
“We intend to fight this for, and alongside, our customers for equity and accountability — to reveal why such price increases were allowed to happen as millions of Texans went without power,” the statement said.
William W. Hogan, considered the architect of the Texas energy market design, said in an interview this past week that the high prices reflected the market performing as it was designed.
The rapid losses of power — more than a third of the state’s available electricity production was offline at one point — increased the risk that the entire system would collapse, causing prices to rise, said Mr. Hogan, a professor of global energy policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
“As you get closer and closer to the bare minimum, these prices get higher and higher, which is what you want,” Mr. Hogan said.
Robert McCullough, an energy consultant in Portland, Ore., and a critic of Mr. Hogan’s, said that allowing the market to drive energy policy with few protections for consumers was “idiotic” and that similar actions had devastated retailers and consumers following the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.
“The similar situation caused a wave of bankruptcies as retailers and customers discovered that they were on the hook for bills 30 times their normal levels,” Mr. McCullough said. “We are going to see this again.”
DeAndré Upshaw said his power had been on and off in his Dallas apartment throughout the storm. A lot of his neighbors had it worse, so he felt fortunate to have electricity and heat, inviting some neighbors over to warm up.
Then Mr. Upshaw, 33, saw that his utility bill from Griddy had risen to more than $6,700. He usually pays about $80 a month this time of year.
He had been trying to conserve power as the storm raged on, but it didn’t seem to matter. He also signed up to switch to another utility company, but he is still being charged until the change goes into effect on Monday.
“It’s a utility — it’s something that you need to live,” Mr. Upshaw, 33, said. “I don’t feel like I’ve used $6,700 of electricity in the last decade. That’s not a cost that any reasonable person would have to pay for five days of intermittent electric service being used at the bare minimum.”
As Texas slowly thaws out, Ms. Tanner is allowing herself a small luxury after days of keeping the thermostat at 60 degrees.
“I finally decided the other day, if we were going to pay these high prices, we weren’t going to freeze,” she said. “So I cranked it up to 65.”
Scientists are concerned by falling sperm counts and declining egg quality. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may be the problem.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, Feb. 20, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/opinion/sunday/endocrine-disruptors-sperm.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Sunday%20Review
Something alarming is happening between our legs.
Sperm counts have been dropping; infant boys are developing more genital abnormalities; more girls are experiencing early puberty; and adult women appear to be suffering declining egg quality and more miscarriages.
It’s not just humans. Scientists report genital anomalies in a range of species, including unusually small penises in alligators, otters and minks. In some areas, significant numbers of fish, frogs and turtles have exhibited both male and female organs.
Four years ago, a leading scholar of reproductive health, Shanna H. Swan, calculated that from 1973 to 2011, the sperm count of average men in Western countries had fallen by 59 percent. Inevitably, there were headlines about “Spermageddon” and the risk that humans would disappear, but then we moved on to chase other shiny objects.
Now Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, has written a book, “Count Down,” that will be published on Tuesday and sounds a warning bell. Her subtitle is blunt: “How our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperiling the future of the human race.”
Swan and other experts say the problem is a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which mimic the body’s hormones and thus fool our cells. This is a particular problem for fetuses as they sexually differentiate early in pregnancy. Endocrine disruptors can wreak reproductive havoc.
These endocrine disruptors are everywhere: plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, pesticides, canned foods and A.T.M. receipts. They often aren’t on labels and can be difficult to avoid.
“In some ways, the sperm-count decline is akin to where global warming was 40 years ago,” Swan writes. “The climate crisis has been accepted — at least by most people — as a real threat. My hope is that the same will happen with the reproductive turmoil that’s upon us.”
Chemical companies are as reckless as tobacco companies were a generation ago, or as opioid manufacturers were a decade ago. They lobby against even safety testing of endocrine disruptors, so that we have little idea if products we use each day are damaging our bodies or our children. We’re all guinea pigs.
Aside from the decline in sperm counts, growing numbers of sperm appear defective — there’s a boom in two-headed sperm — while others loll aimlessly in circles, rather than furiously swimming in pursuit of an egg. And infants who have had greater exposures to a kind of endocrine disruptor called phthalates have smaller penises, Swan found.
Uncertainty remains, research sometimes conflicts and biological pathways aren’t always clear. There are competing theories about whether the sperm count decline is real and what might cause it and about why girls appear to be reaching puberty earlier, and it’s sometimes unclear whether an increase in male genital abnormalities reflects actual rising numbers or just better reporting.
Still, the Endocrine Society, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the President’s Cancer Panel and the World Health Organization have all warned about endocrine disruptors, and Europe and Canada have moved to regulate them. But in the United States, Congress and the Trump administration seemed to listen more to industry lobbyists than to independent scientists.
Patricia Ann Hunt, a reproductive geneticist at Washington State University, has conducted experiments on mice showing that the impact of endocrine disruptors is cumulative, generation after generation. When infant mice were exposed for just a few days to endocrine disrupting chemicals, their testes as adults produced fewer sperm, and this incapacity was transmitted to their offspring. While findings from animal studies can’t necessarily be extended to humans, after three generations of these exposures, one-fifth of the male mice were infertile.
“I find this particularly troubling,” Professor Hunt told me. “From the standpoint of human exposures, you could argue we are hitting the third generation just about now.”
What if anything does all this mean for the future of humanity?
“I do not see humans becoming extinct, but I do see family lines ending for a subset of people who are infertile,” Andrea Gore, a professor of neuroendocrinology at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “People with impaired sperm or egg quality cannot exercise their right to choose to have a child. That may not devastate our species, but it is certainly devastating to these infertile couples.”
More research is necessary, and government regulation and corporate responsibility are crucial to manage risks, but Swan offers practical suggestions for daily life for those with the resources. Store food in glass containers, not plastic. Above all, don’t microwave foods in plastic or with plastic wrap on top. Avoid pesticides. Buy organic produce if possible. Avoid tobacco or marijuana. Use a cotton or linen shower curtain, not one made of vinyl. Don’t use air fresheners. Prevent dust buildup. Vet consumer products you use with an online guide like that of the Environmental Working Group.
Many issues in headlines today won’t much matter in a decade, let alone in a century. Climate change is one exception, and another may be the risks to our capacity to reproduce.
The epitome of a “low blow” is a kick to the crotch. And that, friends, may be what we as a species are doing to ourselves.
By Silvia Foster-Frau, The Washington Post
February 23, 2021https://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/67966-first-migrant-facility-for-children-opens-under-biden
Immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. (photo: Eric Gay/AP) go to original article
Dozens of migrant teens boarded vans Monday for the trip down a dusty road to a former man camp for oil field workers here, the first migrant child facility opened under the Biden administration.
The emergency facility — a vestige of the Trump administration that was open for only a month in summer 2019 — is being reactivated to hold up to 700 children ages 13 to 17.
Government officials say the camp is needed because facilities for migrant children have had to cut capacity by nearly half because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has been inching up, with January reporting the highest total — more than 5,700 apprehensions — for that month in recent years.
But immigration lawyers and advocates question why the Biden administration would choose to reopen a Trump-era facility that was the source of protests and controversy. From the “tent city” in Tornillo, Tex., to a sprawling for-profit facility in Homestead, Fla., emergency shelters have been criticized by advocates for immigrants, lawyers and human rights activists over their conditions, cost and lack of transparency in their operations.
“It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do,” said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer who represents unaccompanied minors. “It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.”
During the campaign, Biden pledged to undo former president Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies. In his first month in office, Biden signed several executive orders reversing many of those policies. Last week, he and House Democrats introduced a plan that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The administration also reversed some of Trump’s expulsion practices by accepting unaccompanied children into the country, a change that also is contributing to an increase of minors in government facilities, officials said.
Mark Weber — a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees services for migrant children — said the Biden administration is moving away from the “law-enforcement focused” approach of the Trump administration to one in which child welfare is more centric.
At the 66-acre site, groups of beige trailers encircle a giant white dining tent, a soccer field and a basketball court. There is a bright blue hospital tent with white bunk beds inside. A legal services trailer has the Spanish word “Bienvenidos,” or welcome, on a banner on its roof. There are trailers for classrooms, a barber shop, a hair salon. The facility has its own ambulances and firetrucks, as well as its own water supply.
The operation is based on a federal emergency management system, Weber said. The trailers are labeled with names such as Alpha, Charlie and Echo. Staff members wear matching black-and-white T-shirts displaying their roles: disaster case manager, incident support, emergency management.
The most colorful trailer is at the entryway, where flowers, butterflies and handmade posters still hang on its walls from Carrizo’s first opening in 2019.
HHS has 13,200 beds for children, having exploded in growth in the past four years — adding more than 80 facilities for a total of about 200. Weber said putting children in permanent shelters is preferable to the influx shelters like Carrizo, but nearly half of those beds are unusable during the pandemic.
As of Sunday, there were about 7,000 children in HHS custody, over 90 percent capacity under pandemic-era requirements, Weber said. Carrizo is expected to close when the pandemic ends, he said.
“Every kid that comes into this program is a symptom of a broken immigration system,” said Weber, who has worked at HHS since 2012. “So today, we’ve got over 7,000 symptoms of a broken immigration system.”
Weber said the facilities received a bad rap under the Trump administration because many people associated them with the detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But the children always received good care and that never wavered between administrations, he said.
The majority of child migrant facilities are subject to state licensing requirements; temporary influx centers like Carrizo are not. However, Weber said Carrizo would “meet or exceed” Texas licensing standards if applicable. The influx facilities also cost more: about $775 a day per child compared with $290 a day for permanent centers.
Weber said the influx shelters keep children from ending up in Border Patrol stations, which have holding cells that were not designed for children. During the 2019 immigration surge, many migrants were stuck in overcrowded cells for prolonged periods that exceeded legal limits.
The detention centers overseen by ICE are reserved for adults or families and often are run by private prison companies. Carrizo Springs is run by the nonprofit BCFS Health and Human Services, a government contractor for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency within HHS that focuses on unaccompanied children.
Most of these children arrive to the United States planning to reunite with sponsors — usually relatives or friends of the family. Office of Refugee Resettlement case managers work with the children to identify and conduct background checks on the sponsors. If cleared, children are released to live with them while they go through the immigration court process.
“When I read they were opening again, I cried,” said Rosey Abuabara, a San Antonio community activist who was arrested for protesting outside the Carrizo camp in 2019. “I consoled myself with the fact that it was considered the Cadillac of [migrant child] centers, but I don’t have any hope that Biden is going to make it better.”
She said despite what she’s heard about the camp’s amenities, the immense cost and scale of the Office of Refugee Resettlement operations points to a government program that profits from holding migrant children, who are shepherded in unmarked vans to remote areas with what she describes as little oversight.
Brandmiller, the lawyer, said people should take note of how these emergency shelters are often located in far-flung locations away from public view.
“This is done deliberately to shelve these children in places that are not only not readily accessible, but not accessible at all to anyone who cares about the quality of life of these kids, and whether or not they comply with the federal law,” she said, referring to the Flores Settlement Agreement, which recommends children not stay in unlicensed facilities for longer than 20 days.
HHS said its goal is that children will remain at Carrizo for about 30 days, though they are coming from at least two weeks of quarantine at other Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities in the region. The average stay for children in custody across its facilities is 42 days. In the 2020 fiscal year, migrant children spent an average of 102 days in federal government custody, according to HHS.
So far, no children in HHS care have been hospitalized for covid-19, Weber said.
“If we could find another way, that’d be great,” Weber said. “On the flip side, these kids just come in and they’re turned loose on the street, they end up being homeless kids.”
But Brandmiller is worried this is the latest government tactic to deter immigrants from seeking refuge in the United States. She said the Biden administration should not be reviving old systems but looking for new solutions.
“If they were actually addressing the issues that are endemic in a system that has been established for many years and is flawed, if they were addressing the inadequacies instead of creating a parallel jail for kids, I would have more hope,” she said.
As the state murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged in the death of George Floyd, approaches, the federal government has accelerated its own investigation.
By Tim Arango and Katie Benner, Feb. 23, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/us/george-floyd-death-investigation-doj.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
A new federal grand jury has been empaneled in Minneapolis and the Justice Department has called new witnesses as part of its investigation of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who will go on trial in state court next month on a murder charge for the death of George Floyd, according to two people with direct knowledge of the investigation.
The fresh slate of witnesses subpoenaed to give testimony about Mr. Chauvin is an early sign that the federal investigation into the death of Mr. Floyd, which began last year and then languished, is being reinvigorated under the administration of President Biden.
Mr. Chauvin, who is white, was seen in harrowing video footage kneeling for more than nine minutes on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a Black man, as he begged for his life. The video set off protests across the United States, some of which led to violence in cities including Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.
It is unlikely that the Justice Department, in presenting evidence to a new grand jury, is hoping for a quick indictment of Mr. Chauvin before his state trial, which is scheduled to begin March 8. But if there was an acquittal or a mistrial, attention would immediately shift to the federal investigation, and to whether Mr. Chauvin would face trial for violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights. (The charge does not involve race, but is based on the idea that an officer “willfully” violated someone’s constitutional rights, such as protection against unreasonable seizure, or the right to due process.)
As a new grand jury begins to hear more testimony in the case, the investigation has apparently narrowed to focus on Mr. Chauvin, rather than the three other former officers who face aiding and abetting charges, according to one of the people briefed on the matter, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the investigation.
“George Floyd’s death spurred a renewed and re-energized civil rights movement,” Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Floyd’s family, said in a statement. “It’s appropriate and gratifying that the Department of Justice under President Biden is taking racial justice seriously.”
As Mr. Chauvin’s trial looms, Minneapolis is consumed with fears that the proceedings could provoke more unrest. The National Guard has been activated to protect the city’s downtown during the trial, and law enforcement agencies from around the state are being called upon to help secure the Twin Cities. Mr. Chauvin, who is free on bail and has been allowed to live outside Minnesota because of security concerns, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The Justice Department’s investigation into Mr. Chauvin is also shaping up as an early test for Mr. Biden, who has vowed to allow the department to operate independently of the White House.
Mr. Biden has said that Mr. Floyd’s death was an injustice born from America’s long history of racism. “The very soul of America is at stake,” he said in a speech soon after Mr. Floyd died. “We must commit as a nation to pursue justice with every ounce of our being.”
During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden vowed to give new powers to the Justice Department’s civil rights division and elevate civil rights as a priority within the White House, a statement that at the time raised doubts about how independent it would be.
Mr. Biden has not been involved in or briefed on the Justice Department’s investigation into the death of Mr. Floyd, according to a White House official. But the White House has staff members working on civil rights issues in the White House Counsel’s Office as well as through the Domestic Policy Council.
The White House, in a statement, said, “the president has spoken in personal terms about how the death of George Floyd affected him and redoubled his commitment to advancing racial justice, but he’s also made clear that he firmly believes that the Department of Justice must be able to act independently in investigating and prosecuting any case.”
Three days after Mr. Floyd died, Erica MacDonald, the outgoing U.S. attorney in Minnesota, said that her office and the Justice Department’s civil rights division would investigate whether the officers violated federal law, calling the case a “top priority.”
But the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, said at a news conference that “as a matter of comity,” the department “typically lets the state go forward with its proceedings first,” a statement that put to rest the possibility that a charging decision would come before the election.
Nevertheless, Mr. Barr made clear that the video was harrowing. “When you watch it, and imagine that one of your own loved ones was being treated like that, and begging for their lives, it is impossible for any normal human being not to be struck in the heart with horror,” he said.
As The New York Times recently reported, three days after Mr. Floyd died on May 25, Mr. Chauvin was ready to plead guilty to third-degree murder and go to prison for more than a decade. But the offer fell apart after Mr. Barr, at the last minute, rejected the deal, which had been contingent on the Justice Department’s agreement not to bring additional federal charges in the future. Last summer, a federal grand jury in Minneapolis, which has since expired, began hearing evidence and testimony about Mr. Floyd’s death.
The department has previously opened up investigations into several high-profile assaults and killings of Black people by police officers — including the killings of Eric Garner on Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — but it has rarely charged officers in those cases.
Former Justice Department officials say that is in part because the department has only one charge it can bring in these cases — that in the course of policing, an officer willfully deprived someone of his or her civil rights — and that the charge is difficult to prove.
While it is easier to show that an officer’s use of force deprived someone of his or her civil rights, determining whether it was “willful” has been a challenge, said Jonathan M. Smith, a former official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now serves as executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
“Willfulness is the highest intent standard under criminal law — that the person set out to act with the purpose of depriving someone of their rights,” Mr. Smith said. “You need to prove that the law enforcement officer actually knew that he was going to violate someone’s rights and acted with that purpose in mind. It’s akin to proving first-degree murder.”
The Justice Department said last year that it was reviewing high-profile police shootings that fueled months of protests over police brutality. After a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a white officer in Kenosha, Wis., in August, the department said it had opened a civil rights investigation into the incident. It confirmed that the investigation was continuing in January, after the Kenosha County district attorney declined to charge the officer who shot Mr. Blake.
Similarly, the F.B.I. said in May that it was investigating the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, a Black health care worker in Louisville, Ky., after Gov. Andy Beshear asked local and federal investigators to look into the case. The results of the F.B.I. investigation have not been released, and the department has not said it will open a civil rights investigation into the officers involved in Ms. Taylor’s killing.
The statute was used successfully in hundreds of cases under the Obama administration, for instance, to convict officers of abusing their authority to sexually assault victims or to beat inmates, Mr. Smith said. But in the most high-profile police assault and killing cases, it has been seldom used.
This is one reason some former Justice Department officials and politicians like Vice President Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, have advocated for either changing the statute so that willfulness is no longer the standard, or passing a new federal law that makes it illegal for an officer to recklessly deprive people of their civil rights, rather than willfully deprive them.
Judge Merrick B. Garland, Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Justice Department, said on Monday during his Senate confirmation hearing that he would consult with the career lawyers in the civil rights division about whether to lower the willfulness standard.
“I’d like them to know from talking to them what kinds of changes might be necessary in the statute” and the potential consequences of changing the requirement, Judge Garland said.
That is not to say that the statute has never been successfully used in police brutality cases. When Mr. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, he oversaw the investigation that led to the convictions of two officers who viciously beat the motorist Rodney King, even after they were acquitted on separate state charges.
An unapologetic proponent of “poetry as insurgent art,” he was also a publisher and the owner of the celebrated San Francisco bookstore City Lights.
By Jesse McKinley, Published Feb. 23, 2021 Updated Feb. 24, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/obituaries/lawrence-ferlinghetti-dead.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Obituaries
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet, publisher and political iconoclast who inspired and nurtured generations of San Francisco artists and writers from City Lights, his famed bookstore, died on Monday at his home in San Francisco. He was 101.
The cause was interstitial lung disease, his daughter, Julie Sasser, said.
The spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, Mr. Ferlinghetti made his home base in the modest independent book haven now formally known as City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. A self-described “literary meeting place” founded in 1953 and located on the border of the city’s sometimes swank, sometimes seedy North Beach neighborhood, City Lights, on Columbus Avenue, soon became as much a part of the San Francisco scene as the Golden Gate Bridge or Fisherman’s Wharf. (The city’s board of supervisors designated it a historic landmark in 2001.)
While older and not a practitioner of their freewheeling personal style, Mr. Ferlinghetti befriended, published and championed many of the major Beat poets, among them Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Michael McClure, who died in May. His connection to their work was exemplified — and cemented — in 1956 with his publication of Ginsberg’s most famous poem, the ribald and revolutionary “Howl,” an act that led to Mr. Ferlinghetti’s arrest on charges of “willfully and lewdly” printing “indecent writings.”
In a significant First Amendment decision, he was acquitted, and “Howl” became one of the 20th century’s best-known poems. (The trial was the centerpiece of the 2010 film “Howl,” in which James Franco played Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers played Mr. Ferlinghetti.)
In addition to being a champion of the Beats, Mr. Ferlinghetti was himself a prolific writer of wide talents and interests whose work evaded easy definition, mixing disarming simplicity, sharp humor and social consciousness.
“Every great poem fulfills a longing and puts life back together,” he wrote in a “non-lecture” after being awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal in 2003. A poem, he added, “should arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song.”
Critics and fellow poets were never in agreement about whether Mr. Ferlinghetti should be regarded as a Beat poet. He himself didn’t think so.
“In some ways what I really did was mind the store,” he told The Guardian in 2006. “When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret. If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.”
Still, he shared the Beats’ taste for political agitation. Poems like “Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower” established him as an unapologetic proponent of, as the title of one of his books put it, “poetry as insurgent art.”
He never lost his zeal for provocation. “You’re supposed to get more conservative the older you get,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1977. “I seem to be getting just the opposite.”
His most successful collection, “A Coney Island of the Mind” (1958), attracted attention when one of the poems was attacked as blasphemous by a New York congressman, Steven B. Derounian, who called for the investigation of a state college where it was being taught, saying the poem ridiculed the crucifixion of Christ. The poem, “Sometime During Eternity …,” begins:
Sometime during eternity
some guys show up
and one of them
who shows up real late
is a kind of carpenter
from some square-type place
and he starts wailing
and claiming he is hip
Despite the controversy it generated — or perhaps, at least in part, because of it — “A Coney Island of the Mind” was a sensation. It became one of the most successful books of American poetry ever published. It has been translated into multiple languages; according to City Lights, more than a million copies have been printed.
A life as a provocateur would have been hard to predict for Lawrence Monsanto Ferling, the youngest of five sons born in the placid environs of Yonkers, N.Y., on March 24, 1919, in the wake of World War I. His father, an Italian immigrant who had built a small real estate business, had shortened the family name; as an adult, Lawrence would change it back.
His parents had met in Coney Island — a meeting he later fictionalized as happening in bumper cars — but the veneer of normalcy quickly deteriorated. His father, Charles, died before Lawrence was born, and his mother, Clemence Mendes-Monsanto Ferling, was admitted to a state mental hospital before he was 2.
Lawrence was taken in by a relative — he called her his Aunt Emily, though the family connection was complicated — and she took him to Strasbourg, France, where he learned French, speaking it before he did English. When they returned to the United States, hardships returned as well. He was briefly placed in an orphanage while Aunt Emily looked for work.
A turning point came when she began working as a governess for Presley and Anna Bisland, a wealthy couple who lived in nearby Bronxville, N.Y., and who saw promise in the boy.
Left in their care, Lawrence bloomed. According to “Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time,” a 1990 biography by Barry Silesky, he became a voracious reader, devouring classics in the Bisland library and earning silver dollars for memorizing epic poems. When he dabbled in juvenile delinquency — he was arrested and charged with shoplifting about the same time he made Eagle Scout — he was sent to Mount Hermon, a strict private high school for boys in Massachusetts.
“I was getting too wild,” Mr. Ferlinghetti recalled in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. “Or beginning to.”
That sense of abandon informed his taste in literature. Among his favorite books was Thomas Wolfe’s coming-of-age novel “Look Homeward, Angel”; Mr. Ferlinghetti applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he said later, because Wolfe had gone there.
He graduated from North Carolina with a degree in journalism — “I learned how to write a decent sentence,” he said of the impact that studying journalism had had on his poetry — and then served as a naval officer during World War II, spending much of the war on a submarine chaser in the North Atlantic.
After the war he enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree in English literature, writing his thesis on the art critic John Ruskin and the artist J.M.W. Turner, which fostered a lifelong love of painting. After Columbia, he headed to Paris, the classic breeding ground for postwar bohemians, where he received a doctorate in comparative literature from the Sorbonne.
Mr. Ferlinghetti went west in early 1951, landing in San Francisco with a sea bag and little else. After months in a low-rent apartment he found North Beach, even as San Francisco itself was fast becoming fashionable among intellectuals and a generation of young people for whom “establishment” was a dirty word.
“This was all bohemia,” he recalled.
He was surrounded by a politically and artistically charged circle, but he did not buy into the Beat lifestyle. “I was never on the road with them,” he said, noting that he was living “a respectable married life” after marrying Selden Kirby-Smith in 1951. They had two children, Julie and Lorenzo; the marriage ended in divorce.
In addition to Ms. Sasser, Mr. Ferlinghetti is survived by his son and three grandchildren.
Mr. Ferlinghetti’s life changed in 1953, when he and Peter Martin opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop, which originally carried nothing but paperbacks at a time when the publishing industry was just beginning to take that format seriously. The store would soon became a kind of repository for books that other booksellers ignored and a kind of salon for the authors who wrote them — a place “where you could find these books which you couldn’t find anywhere,” he said, crediting Mr. Martin with the concept. Each man put in $500, and City Lights opened.
“And as soon as we got the door opened,” Mr. Ferlinghetti later remembered, “we couldn’t get it closed.”
In 1955 Mr. Ferlinghetti, by then the sole owner of City Lights, started publishing poems, including his own. In his first collection, “Pictures of the Gone World,” his style — “at once rhetorically functional and socially vital,” in the words of the critic Larry R. Smith — emerged fully formed in stanzas like this:
The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time
A year later his City Lights imprint published Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems,” and before long he was in court defending poets’ free-speech rights and helping to make himself — and the Beats he had adopted — famous in the process.
Over the years he would work in other mediums, including painting, fiction and theater; a program of three of his plays was produced in New York in 1970. But poetry remained the art form closest to his heart.
San Francisco remained close to his heart as well, especially North Beach, the traditionally Italian-American neighborhood where he lived for most of his adult life. In his 1976 poem “The Old Italians Dying,” Mr. Ferlinghetti spoke to both the city he loved and the changes he’d seen:
The old anarchists reading L’Umanita Nova
the ones who loved Sacco & Vanzetti
They are almost gone now
They are sitting and waiting their turn
For Mr. Ferlinghetti, age brought honors. In 1998 he was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco; in 2005 the National Book Foundation cited his “tireless work on behalf of poets and the entire literary community for over 50 years.”
Age did not slow him down; he continued to write and give interviews. In 2019, Doubleday published Mr. Ferlinghetti’s “Little Boy,” a book he had been working on for two decades, which he characterized as the closest thing to a memoir he would ever write: “an experimental novel” about “an imaginary me.”
Its publication coincided with Mr. Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday, which San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, proclaimed Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day. A choir serenaded the writer from below his apartment with “Happy Birthday” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” while at City Lights, poets like Robert Hass and Ishmael Reed read aloud from Mr. Ferlinghetti’s works.
In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, City Lights closed and started an online fund-raiser in which they announced that they might not reopen. The store received more than $450,000 in four days. Its chief executive, Elaine Katzenberger, told Publishers Weekly that the money gave City Lights the ability to plan for the future.
Even at the end of his life, Mr. Ferlinghetti still composed poetry — “In flashes, nothing sustained,” he told The Times in 2018. The anthology “Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems,” published in 2017, included new work.
“My newest poems,” Mr. Ferlinghetti once told an interviewer, “are always my favorite poems.”
Richard Severo, Peter Keepnews and Alex Traub contributed reporting.
Alabama is more than its shading on the electoral map.
By Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist, Feb. 26, 2021
A chemical plant near Muscle Shoals, Ala., in the 1940s. Credit...Buyenlarge/Getty Images
The Deep South is not generally known for its labor agitation, which is why it might come as a surprise for some to learn that it is in Alabama where workers have mounted one of the largest and most aggressive efforts to unionize Amazon in recent memory.
More than 2,000 workers at a fulfillment center in the city of Bessemer, just outside Birmingham, have indicated support for a union election. An estimated 85 percent of the work force is Black, and their union drive — which ties labor issues to Black Lives Matter and issues of racial equality — illustrates the extent to which racism and class exploitation are tied up with each other.
The size, scope and sophistication of the union drive in Bessemer should complicate commonly held ideas of Alabama and the Deep South as backward and relentlessly hostile to progress. It should be a reminder of the ways in which the fight for racial equality has historically been one for the dignity of labor as well. And it stands, as well, as an opportunity to explore a side of the state’s history that gets worse than short shrift in our collective memory.
To many Americans, Alabama is a synecdoche for the worst of Southern reaction. It is George Wallace in Montgomery in 1963, pledging “segregation forever.” It is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham the same year, where four young girls were killed in the name of hate. It is Jim Clark and his posse in Selma, ready to attack peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And in the present, men like Jeff Sessions and Roy Moore stand as living links to Alabama’s history of reactionary politics as well as its continued resilience.
But the strength of reaction in Alabama is a function, in great part, of the state’s tradition of Black politics and Black radicalism. In the wake of emancipation, formerly enslaved Blacks established Union Leagues, where they organized for self-defense and agitated for legal and political equality. League activists, the historian Michael W. Fitzgerald writes in “Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South,” “critiqued the ills of the plantation system and explained how Reconstruction could facilitate a more democratic social structure.” In secret meetings away from hostile whites, freedmen gave radical speeches that “politicized the prevailing discontent over the labor system,” speaking to frustration “over the holdovers of slavery.”
In the 1880s, Black farmers and sharecroppers throughout the state formed “colored” chapters of the Agricultural Wheel, a cooperative alliance of farmers devoted to debt relief, the end of one-crop farming, the nationalization of the railroads and the strict regulation of banks and businesses.
“All of these local groups,” explained the historian Paul Horton in a 1991 article for The Journal of Southern History, “supported increasing funding for education, eliminating state normal schools, building more local schools, abolishing federal banks, inflation, a high tariff to protect the farmer, abolishing the Electoral College, a secret ballot, reducing the hours of labor, and prohibiting contract labor.” Although white and Black Wheelers could not overcome the twin forces of racism and capital, they prefigured a radical politics that would flourish among Black industrial workers in the next century.
That radicalism was at its strongest within the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. “Originally an outgrowth of the Western Federation of Miners, a militant union that helped launch the I.W.W. in 1905, Mine Mill developed a national reputation as a radical, left-wing union during the 1930s,” the historian Robin D.G. Kelley writes in “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.” Most members of the union — like most iron ore miners in Birmingham, where the state’s steel industry was headquartered — were Black, and while its high-ranking officials were white, Black workers held the majority of middle- and low-level leadership positions within the union. Included among them were Communists, who helped spearhead Mine Mill’s organizing drive in the wake of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which had opened the door to unionization in large swaths of the economy.
“Union meetings were held in the woods, in sympathetic Black churches, or anywhere else activists could meet without molestation,” Kelley notes. “Company police used violence and intimidation in an effort to crush Mine Mill before it could establish a following, but when these tactics failed, officials exploited racial animosities.” To that end, the largest steel company in the area, the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, created a company union that weaponized racism and anti-Communism to attract white workers and weaken Mine Mill.
For most of the next 20 years, the Black workers of Mine Mill would struggle against racism and capital in a singular push for racial equality and the emancipation of labor, neither of which could exist without the other. And while they would ultimately lose their fight — overwhelmed by the steel industry, its red-baiting in Washington and its own private army of racist vigilantes — the spirit of Mine Mill would live on and not just through the civil rights movement.
In the early 1970s, for example, a grass-roots workers organization called the Public Employees Organizing Committee strove to unionize Birmingham’s predominantly Black hospital and nursing home employees. The work of the committee, notes the historian Robert W. Widell, Jr. in “Birmingham and the Long Black Freedom Struggle,” “emphasized cross-racial solidarity” and “placed struggles over the workplace at the center of an expansive freedom agenda.”
Whatever its outcome, the Amazon unionization drive in Bessemer is part of this history, and its organizers are working in the tradition of what the historian Robert Korstad called the “civil rights unionism” of Black workers combining “class consciousness with race solidarity.” If it is these workers who, among so many others, stand a real chance of unionizing Amazon, then you could say that they owe it, in part, to their heritage.
As for all of us outside Alabama? We should remember that the political character of the South is more than its shading on an Electoral College map; that the entire region is home to a rich history of resistance against the twin forces of race hierarchy and class exploitation; and that a more just and equitable future may well depend on how much we take those histories to heart and build on them from there.
Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.
By Alexandra E. Petri and Daniel E. Slotnik, Feb. 26, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/nyregion/asian-hate-crimes-attacks-ny.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Maggie Cheng could stand to watch the video only once.
“I’ve never cried like that before,” Ms. Cheng said, describing her reaction to security footage that showed her mother being shoved to the ground last week on a crowded street in Flushing, Queens. “To see my mother get thrown like that, she looks like a feather. She looks like a rag doll.”
The attack on Ms. Cheng’s mother, which was highlighted by celebrities and gained widespread attention on social media, was one of four against Asian-American women in New York City that day. Taken together, they stoked fears that the wave of racism and violence that has targeted Asian-Americans during the pandemic was surging again in New York.
The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020, from just three the previous year, though activists and police officials say many additional incidents were not classified as hate crimes or went unreported.
Asian-Americans are grappling with the anxiety, fear and anger brought on by the attacks, which activists and elected officials say were fueled early in the pandemic by former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language to refer to the coronavirus.
In New York City, where Asian-Americans make up an estimated 16 percent of the population, the violence has terrified many.
“The attacks are random, and they are fast and furious,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit network of community groups. “It has stoked a lot of fear and paranoia. People are not leaving their homes.”
The xenophobia and violence is compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic and fears of the virus, which dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities.
Many of the attacks do not result in hate crime charges, because the police need evidence that identity was the motivating factor, like an audible racial slur, a self-incriminating statement or a history of racist behavior by the attacker.
So far this year, two attacks on people of Asian descent have led to hate crime charges in New York. A Police Department spokesman said the motives in last week’s attacks, including the one on Ms. Cheng’s mother, were unclear and that they were not currently being investigated as hate crimes.
Leaders who have pressed elected officials and the police to confront the issue say the response so far has felt sluggish.
“I’m really angry,” Ms. Yoo said. “I’ve been asking for something, some kind of a proactive response from City Hall.”
On Thursday night, a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed near the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan and taken to the hospital in critical condition, the police said. A suspect was arrested and charged with attempted criminally negligent homicide, assault, forgery and criminal possession of a weapon. The police said Friday morning there was currently no indication that the attack was a hate crime.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that the city was working to increase communication with community leaders, creating a website to help people report and respond to attacks, and focusing subway patrols on possible bias crimes. He also pointed to the Asian Hate Crime Task Force the department formed late last year.
“If you dare to raise your hand against a member of our Asian communities, you will suffer the consequences,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference.
Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo oversees the task force, which is composed of 25 volunteer detectives who speak 10 languages. He said it was designed to encourage Asian-Americans who are reluctant to cooperate with the police.
“The sentiment within the Asian-American community is that the police either don’t care or are not doing enough,” he said.
The N.Y.P.D. said it made arrests in 18 hate crimes involving Asian-American victims last year, and the cases are still pending.
But many Asian-Americans feel that their complaints are not being taken seriously by the police and prosecutors, said Chris Kwok, a board member for the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
“The political and social invisibility of Asian-Americans have real-life consequences,” Mr. Kwok said. “The invisibility comes from Asian-Americans being seen as permanent foreigners — they can’t cross that invisible line into becoming real Americans.”
Several highly publicized incidents early in the pandemic were not handled as hate crimes, Mr. Kwok said. If they had been, it “would have sent a signal that this was unacceptable and that if you were going to target Asian-Americans, there would be consequences,” he said.
In April, a man doused a 39-year-old woman with a caustic chemical as she took the trash out in front of her home in Brooklyn, badly burning her face, hands and neck. In July, two men lit an 89-year-old woman on fire near her Brooklyn home, after which hundreds of New Yorkers marched in protest. Neither was classified as a hate crime.
The increase in attacks in the city mirrors a trend across the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative that tracks violence and harassment against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded more than 3,000 reported incidents from the start of the pandemic, said Russell Jeung, one of the group’s leaders and chair of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Of those, at least 260 were in New York City.
These attacks have lasting effects, said Kellina Craig-Henderson, who works for the National Science Foundation and has studied the psychological impact of hate crimes. She said that people targeted because of their race and ethnicity can suffer ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, often more acutely than victims of other crimes.
“If you’re a minority person and this happens to you, you’re going to be more fearful, you’re going to question your place in the world,” Dr. Craig-Henderson said.
She added that hate crimes reverberate through communities and can further marginalize them.
“It sends a message to others that they could be next,” she said.
Several Asian-Americans who were victims of attacks in New York last year and reported them to the police said the scars were lasting.
Crisanna Tang was riding the subway to work one July morning when a maskless man spat on her and yelled that Chinese people had caused the virus. None of the other passengers intervened, Ms. Tang said.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is actually happening to me,” said Ms. Tang, 31, a pathologists’ assistant at Jacobi Medical Center.
Now, Ms. Tang is hypervigilant. She started taking the express bus, which costs more than the subway. She stopped wearing a face shield to attract less attention. She carries pepper spray in her bag.
“I just wish these incidents would stop,” Ms. Tang said. “I am worried about the elderly community. I am really worried not enough is being done for them.”
Mimi Lau said strangers shouted racist slurs and threatened her physical safety twice last year, once on the D train and once outside the mochi shop she owns in Manhattan’s East Village.
“It made me think something was wrong with me,” Ms. Lau, 27, said.
Yen Yen Pong, 37, bought pepper spray after a maskless stranger accosted her last April in Queens, yelling racist remarks about the virus. After Ms. Pong tried to take a photograph of him, he snatched her cellphone and shattered it on the pavement.
Ms. Pong, who works at an asset management company, said she thought Asian-American women were particularly at risk, an observation supported by Stop AAPI Hate data showing that Asian-American women in New York were accosted three times as often as men.
“Number one, I am Asian. Number two, I am a woman,” Ms. Pong said. “What makes me a better target than that?”
The Asian American Bar Association of New York recently issued recommendations for ways to address the attacks, including clearer reporting mechanisms for victims and formalizing the Asian Hate Crime Task Force as a funded unit.
In September, more than 25 community groups condemned the task force, in part because of the effects that overpolicing can have on people of color, including Asian-Americans, and because such a unit fails to address the root causes of anti-Asian racism.
Even with the task force working to expand outreach, details of attacks and harassment may never reach the authorities. Activists say that many incidents go unreported, in part because of the stigma attached to them.
Sam Cheng, Maggie Cheng’s brother, said their mother spent hours in the hospital, where she got stitches for a deep gash in her forehead, and that she did not initially want to file a police report.
“She was trying to hide it,” Mr. Cheng, 28, said. “She doesn’t want any trouble.”
Two days after the attack, the police arrested Patrick Mateo, 47. He was charged with assault and harassment, and later released.
The New York Times reached out to Mr. Mateo, who said in several text messages that he began to argue with the woman after she got too close to him in line at a bakery and that she later sprayed him with mace.
He wrote that he had told the woman “you are in america … NOT CHINA! Please give me space with coronavirus.”
Mr. Cheng said his mother’s memory of the incident was foggy, possibly because of the blow to her head, but that she did carry pepper spray and that she had taken it out during the encounter.
The Chengs urged people not to retaliate against Mr. Mateo. Ms. Cheng said her mother was eager to move on and returned to her routine the day after the attack.
“She didn’t want to live in fear or stay at home,” Ms. Cheng said.
Ed Shanahan and Michael Gold contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
The case of Daniel Prude’s death is the latest example of the challenges prosecutors face when they try to hold police officers accountable.
By Sarah Maslin Nir, Jonah E. Bromwich and Benjamin Weiser, Feb. 26, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/nyregion/new-york-police-accountability.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
More than five years ago, Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York, signed an executive order to address a persistent concern: Police officers were rarely held accountable for killing unarmed people. Often, those who died were Black.
The solution was to take the cases out of the hands of local prosecutors, whose close relationships with the police led to accusations of bias, and hand them over to the office of the state attorney general.
But the change in the legal process has not altered the results. Of the 43 investigations that the attorney general’s office has conducted in the years since, none has led to a conviction. Three officers have been charged — two with murder and another with assault, the office said.
On Tuesday, there was another familiar outcome. A grand jury convened by the attorney general’s office declined to indict any of the seven officers involved in the incident that led to the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester last year. Mr. Prude, who was Black, died after the police arrested him in the throes of an apparent psychotic episode, placed a hood over his head and pressed him into the street until he became unconscious.
The case shows that even as the demand that the police face more serious consequences has intensified, the legal system remains tilted in favor of law enforcement, said current and former prosecutors who have sought charges against officers.
New York’s system of investigating deaths caused by police officers is among the most far-reaching in the nation. But officers are afforded special legal protections when they use force in the course of their job. And juries are historically deferential to the police and receptive to arguments defending their actions. Officers often must make split-second decisions in dangerous circumstances, a reality that is not lost on jurors.
“The system was built to protect and shield officers from wrongdoing and accountability,” Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said when she announced the results of the investigation into Mr. Prude’s death. Ms. James added that she was “disappointed — extremely disappointed” in the grand jury’s decision.
Mr. Cuomo signed the executive order in 2015, a year after the killing of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in a police chokehold. Gwen Carr, Mr. Garner’s mother, was present as the governor said he hoped the order would restore some faith in the legal system.
“I’m not aware of any state unit on the same level as the one in New York,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a former police officer. The special unit assigned to the investigations in New York is made up of “top-notch prosecutors, they know what they’re doing, they have a lot of experience. And they still can’t get grand juries to return indictments, let alone obtain convictions.”
The office has been limited in its mission by the order’s narrow design: Until a new law goes into effect in April, prosecutors can only pursue cases that result in a death. The victim also has to have been unarmed.
In one case, prosecutors determined they were unable to move forward with an investigation when a man was shot by police after he struck and seriously injured an officer with a chair. The chair, prosecutors decided, qualified as a weapon.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general, as well as supporters of New York’s program, said the lack of charges and convictions belied the unit’s other achievement: enhancing public trust by extracting these cases from the hands of local prosecutors who might be loath to prosecute the police — in essence, their partners in law enforcement.
“The numbers alone do not account for the independence and transparency that is so critical and that we provide,” said Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for Ms. James.
But to some members of the public — and those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police — improved transparency provides little comfort.
“The justice system doesn’t give a damn about us,” Joe Prude, Mr. Prude’s brother, told The New York Times a day after the grand jury declined to charge anyone involved in his brother’s death. “That’s not built for anyone in the community; that’s built for the police to keep slaughtering people.”
The attorney general’s program, called the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit, has noted that Black and Latino people are disproportionately the victims of deadly police force. A 2019 biennial report from the unit pointed out a “disturbing trend” in the period covered by the report. Of the 13 civilians killed in police custody or in shootings involving police, seven were Black and four were Latino.
In her news conference about Mr. Prude’s case, Ms. James seemed to blame the outcome in the case on limitations inherent in the law. Police officers in New York have the legal right to use deadly force in numerous circumstances, such as when they feel their own lives are in danger. In cases that do not involve shootings, investigators are often unable to show conclusively that officers’ actions directly caused the deaths of people in their custody.
In one case in 2018, the unit did not seek charges after a Bronx man was restrained by seven officers and died. In another, in 2020, after a woman in Rockland County died after being restrained and shot with a Taser by police officers, the unit found it could not establish that the officers had committed a crime.
Even for prosecutors who are dedicated to investigating cases against police officers, doing so is not easy. Christy E. Lopez, a former Department of Justice lawyer who helped lead the investigation into the police department in Ferguson, Mo., said that public opinion remains on the side of the police.
“Despite all the protests this summer, the fact is that most Americans are incredibly protective of police, especially in these criminal cases,” said Ms. Lopez, who is now a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “And so that’s the thing to look at, is are we willing to hold police criminally accountable?”
Jim Burch, the president of the National Police Foundation, an organization that seeks to help the police do their jobs more effectively, said that he had heard from officers who had issues with police accountability initiatives. “There are some who believe that some of these measures may not be necessary, maybe they’re an overreach, maybe they’re not going to solve the actual problems that some feel exist. They feel that the problems are more associated with things like training, or compensation,” he said.
But he added that his organization believed in accountability measures, including prosecutorial independence, and he felt that ultimately they helped the reputation and legitimacy of police officers.
In an email, a spokesman for the governor, Peter Ajemian, said Mr. Cuomo was committed to accountability in the justice system beyond the executive order.
“The governor believes the best way to repair the rupture in police-community relations is for localities to reimagine policing in a way that suits their unique needs,” Mr. Ajemian said.
Last summer, after years of political wrangling, lawmakers in Albany enshrined the executive order into law and expanded its scope to include cases of people who were armed.
“That clarity is really helpful because in these investigations, every second counts,” said Alvin Bragg, a lawyer who led the state unit under the former attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. The office said that the broadening of the law, which goes into effect in April, is likely to triple its caseload.
Mr. Bragg, a Democrat who is a candidate for Manhattan district attorney, said that without additional reforms, racial biases that lead juries to see Black victims as less sympathetic would continue to keep police free from legal consequences.
“We need some law reform, and we need the police not to kill people in the first instance,” Mr. Bragg said.
Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, a Democrat who represents southeast Brooklyn and was one of the main backers of the law, stressed that it was only a first step. Mr. Perry said establishing a legal definition of what qualifies as excessive force is central so that jurors can determine if the police have broken the law.
But absent such a definition, “there is no limit on the police officer’s perception and judgment in the situation,” Mr. Perry said, “which is what leads to a lot of acquittals when there are strong cases that what was done was criminal.”
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
One activist is asking the Biden administration to remember the failures that led to the opioid epidemic as it chooses the next head of the F.D.A.
By Beth Macy, Feb. 23, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/opinion/woodcock-fda-opioids.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Ed Bisch, whose 18-year-old son, Eddie, died of an OxyContin-related overdose in 2001. Credit...Hannah Yoon for The New York Times
In 1995, 12-year-old Eddie Bisch was on a family fishing trip in the Florida Keys when his father, Ed Bisch, splurged and rented a boat on Islamorada. The mahi-mahi were everywhere; when Eddie snagged one it jumped so crazily on his line, he screamed. That memorable Florida fishing trip would be their last.
Earlier that year, Purdue Pharma began a major public relations effort to blanket regulators and prescribing doctors alike with information about OxyContin — much of which came with obfuscation about how addictive the drug, a version of oxycodone with a time-release mechanism, actually was. The F.D.A.-approved language on the initial label, stating that delayed absorption was “believed to reduce” abuse of the drug, was so valuable that, as Purdue executives gushed in one internal report, it could have easily served as OxyContin’s “principal selling tool.”
A recently discovered 2006 Department of Justice memorandum described the approval process for OxyContin as having been “tainted” by Purdue’s efforts to position the drug as less addictive and prone to abuse than other opioids.
During a year in which half a million Americans have died of Covid-19, it’s easy to overlook a much longer epidemic — the worst drug crisis in American history, a crisis fueled in part by the unholy alliance between F.D.A. officials and pharmaceutical companies. Since Eddie Bisch’s Florida fishing trip, at least 500,000 Americans have died of an opioid-related overdose. Millions now have what’s called opioid use disorder. Drug overdose deaths in the year ending May 2020 reached a record high.
Meanwhile, the interim F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, long known as the nation’s top drug cop, is reported to be under consideration by the Biden administration to permanently lead the agency.
She became director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in 1994, the year before the agency approved OxyContin. In her more than two decades in this role, Dr. Woodcock helped preside over what Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, has called “the worst regulatory agency failure in American history.”
While President Biden attempts to overturn so much of what went wrong during his predecessor’s tenure, 28 groups fighting the opioid crisis sent a letter to the new administration urging it to appoint someone other than Dr. Woodcock to lead the F.D.A. permanently because of her role in the approval of OxyContin and other opioids that came to market in its wake.
It’s not just physicians and public-health groups that have taken issue with Dr. Woodcock’s possible nomination. It’s the families of opioid victims themselves.
She is not, of course, the only former F.D.A. official of that era to come under question. That 2006 memo touched on the regulator-to-industry revolving door. In 1998, the medical review officer who evaluated OxyContin went to work for Purdue, earning at least $379,000 his first year. But he is not up for F.D.A. commissioner.
When Eddie turned 16 in 1998, just four years after Dr. Woodcock became director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Ed Bisch bought his only son a used Mercury Sable. They had just moved from Fishtown, the family’s longtime Philadelphia neighborhood, to a New Jersey suburb 10 miles away. Eddie didn’t love the Sable — it had a “little old man” look, he complained — but he was glad to have it to get him to his after-school job.
Eddie often drove the car to Fishtown to see old friends. When he found a culinary school nearby he liked, father and son celebrated his admission by booking a return fishing trip to Islamorada in 2001.
Six days before the vacation, Eddie’s younger sister found him in his bedroom — unresponsive, his skin bluish.
The night before, Eddie went to a party in Fishtown. He chewed and swallowed OxyContin — a method that circumvented the drug’s time-release mechanism. That night in his sleep, the drug mixed with alcohol and illicit benzodiazepines to repress his respiratory system.
Soon after the drug’s introduction in 1996, this became the common hack for getting a high from a drug marketed as not providing one: crushing leftover OxyContin pills swiped from a family medicine cabinet or, more likely in Eddie’s case, purchased from drug dealers who frequented the office of a known pill-mill doctor just outside Philadelphia, Richard Paolino. (Dr. Paolino was later arrested and sentenced to 30 to 120 years in prison.)
In July 2001, five months after Eddie’s death, the F.D.A. finally required Purdue to add a “black box” warning about the potential for abuse and misuse to OxyContin labels. Paradoxically, the new label, while seeming like a rebuke, actually helped Purdue market the pills even more broadly for long-term treatment by allowing Purdue to write that OxyContin would be beneficial in instances when “a continuous, around-the-clock opioid analgesic is needed for an extended period of time.” Purdue shrugged the changes off as “more of an exercise in graphic design.”
“The action by the F.D.A. to clarify the OxyContin tablets labeling has created enormous opportunities,” the company wrote in a 2002 budget plan. “This is a positive action which helps to combat the negative reports perpetuated by the media.”
A week after his son’s death, Ed Bisch created a message board to connect similarly grieving families across the nation. He used vacation time to lead them in rallies outside conferences in which Purdue participated.
In 2002, when OxyContin began making headlines across the country, the F.D.A. convened an advisory panel to help the agency re-evaluate its policy on opioids and discuss the safety of prescribing opioids to patients with chronic non-cancer-related pain. Eight of the 10 panelists had been paid speakers or consultants for Purdue or other opioid makers; the panelists did not recommend any changes to OxyContin’s label.
In a recent letter to Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Dr. Woodcock wrote that the 2001 label change narrowed the use indication and that “it does not appear that there was any notable increase in the overall number of oxycodone E.R. prescriptions dispensed as a result of the 2001 change.” (Purdue has also denied that the 2001 label broadened the drug’s use indication.)
Around that time, pharmaceutical makers like Purdue began paying entrance fees as high as $35,000 to attend invitation-only conferences, organized by a drug-company-funded group called IMMPACT, with F.D.A. and National Institutes of Health representatives, elbow-rubbing affairs held at posh hotels that raised concerns about a possible pay-for-play arrangement. (IMMPACT and the F.D.A. have said that there were no improprieties.)
One idea discussed in the meetings was “enriched enrollment randomized withdrawal,” a drug trial design that has been accused of tilting the process in favor of F.D.A. approval. Enriched enrollment meant that people who didn’t respond well to the drugs were excluded from clinical trials — an omission, many experts believe, that makes it far more likely for a drug to appear to be effective while concealing, obscuring or overlooking what might happen after the drug reaches the general population.
Prescription opioid deaths had more than doubled between 1999 and 2006 when the F.D.A. approved a painkiller manufactured by Endo, Opana ER, using the questionable enriched enrollment testing methods. More than a decade later, and only after IV use of Opana was linked to an H.I.V. outbreak in rural Indiana and a hepatitis C surge across Appalachia, did the F.D.A request a halt to sales of Endo’s reformulated Opana ER.
“The abuse and manipulation of reformulated Opana ER by injection has resulted in a serious disease outbreak,” Dr. Woodcock said in 2017. “When we determined that the product had dangerous unintended consequences, we made a decision to request its withdrawal from the market.” She claimed the action would protect the public from further misuse and abuse, but the action was beyond belated: 11 years had passed since that drug’s approval, with an estimated 1.7 million Americans already suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioids.
In 2007, Purdue and three executives admitted to misleading regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction, and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines. Outside the federal courthouse in Virginia where they pleaded guilty to “misbranding,” Ed Bisch led relatives of the dead in a protest.
One of several parents who spoke at the court hearing, Mr. Bisch argued that the executives should face prison time. “The lies and deceits started at the top and caused to ruin countless lives,” he said. But to date, no one from Purdue has ever gone to prison for the role that OxyContin has played in the opioid crisis.
And the agency’s greenlighting of opioids continued. In 2013, the F.D.A. approved an opioid called Zohydro even though its own scientific advisers voted 11-2 against it. Critics were worried that the painkiller would be as easy to abuse as OxyContin initially was. But when they approved the drug, Dr. Woodcock and the F.D.A. did not demand the manufacturer at the time, Zogenix, add features that would have made it more difficult for users to crush the pill.
In 2015, the agency and Dr. Woodcock gave the nod to OxyContin for use in patients as young as 11 years old. In 2018, the F.D.A. approved Dsuvia, a fentanyl analogue that’s 1,000 times more potent than morphine. Even though one of the F.D.A.’s own advisory chairs predicted that the Dsuvia’s approval would lead to more abuse and death — nearly 47,000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses in 2018 — this superpotent drug came to market anyway.
In the letter to Senator Hassan, Dr. Woodcock wrote that “our goal has been to ensure that our approval and other regulatory actions regarding opioids are science-based and that the agency’s benefit-risk framework considers not only the outcomes of prescription opioid analgesics when used as prescribed but also the public health effects of inappropriate use.”
But the pattern is clear. As drug overdoses fueled a decline in American life expectancy, drug makers kept bringing new opioids to market. Even when evidence suggested the risks outweighed the benefits, the F.D.A. was in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, which funds 75 percent of its opioid-approval budget via user fees. The agency has denied that this funding buys influence, and Dr. Woodcock has claimed that user fees accelerate innovation, but to many families, that drive for innovation resulted in a dereliction of duty, willful blindness and a generation lost.
The responsibility to prevent the nation’s most preventable epidemic was not one person’s, of course. And the failure is broad. But activists see Dr. Woodcock’s possible nomination as a referendum on that failure.
Last month, Mr. Bisch helped convene more than two dozen activist groups in an attempt to block Dr. Woodcock’s promotion, including the artist Nan Goldin’s P.A.I.N. and the Fed Up! Coalition. Meanwhile, as Purdue and its Sackler family owners try to keep their freedom and wealth intact, survivors of the scourge have marched and testified till their voices are hoarse.
As of Feb. 19, Eddie Bisch has been dead 20 years — longer than he lived.
Just because regulation of painkillers has been lax during four presidential administrations does not mean the threat Dr. Woodcock poses isn’t real. If industry insiders want Dr. Woodcock elevated to the permanent position of F.D.A. commissioner, it’s because they can count on her to serve them rather than the public.
Beth Macy is the author of “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America.”
Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, said on social media that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court. He has been playing in the N.B.A.’s developmental league.
By Michael Levenson, Feb. 27, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/27/sports/basketball/nba-jeremy-lin-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The N.B.A. G League said on Friday that it was investigating a report by Jeremy Lin, one of the best-known Asian-American players in basketball, that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court.
Lin disclosed the slur in a Facebook post on Thursday in which he denounced the racism and discrimination faced by Asian-Americans. It was a prominent example of the rising tide of bigotry that many Asian-Americans say they have endured since last year, when former President Donald J. Trump began describing the coronavirus as the “China virus.”
“Being an Asian American doesn’t mean we don’t experience poverty and racism,” wrote Lin, who plays for the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate in the G League, the N.B.A.’s developmental league. “Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court. Being a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’t fight for justice, for myself and for others.”
A league spokesman confirmed that an investigation had been opened, but declined to comment further. The investigation was first reported by The Athletic.
The investigation came amid a rise in attacks against Asian-Americans, according to government tallies. The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department surged to 28 in 2020, from just three in 2019. Activists and police officials said many other incidents had not been classified as hate crimes or had not been formally reported.
In August, a United Nations report found that racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian-Americans had reached “an alarming level” across the United States since the outbreak of the virus. The report said that more than 1,800 racist incidents against Asian-Americans in the United States had been reported over an eight-week period from March 2020 to May 2020.
The incidents involved people who said they had been spat on, blocked from public transportation, discriminated against in workplaces, shunned, beaten, stabbed and insulted by being called transmitters of the coronavirus, the report said.
Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, has spoken openly about the discrimination and questioning he has faced in professional basketball. He has also proudly embraced his status as a role model and an inspiration for many Asian-Americans.
A former Harvard basketball player, Lin became a breakout sensation in the 2011-12 N.B.A. season when, as a relative unknown on the bench, he took over as a guard for the Knicks and tore through the league, prompting a wave of excitement that became known as “Linsanity.” He scored more points in his first five starts than any other player in nearly 40 years, peaking with 38 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his Facebook post on Thursday, Lin, 32, pointed to a generational shift among Asian-Americans.
“We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble,” he wrote. “We are tired of Asian American kids growing up and being asked where they’re REALLY from, of having our eyes mocked, of being objectified as exotic or being told we’re inherently unattractive.”
“I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here,” he added. “I want better for my niece and nephew and future kids.”
Shauntel Lowe contributed to this report.