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!
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.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both.
By Shoshana Zuboff, Jan. 29, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/29/opinion/sunday/facebook-surveillance-society-technology.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Two decades ago, the American government left democracy’s front door open to California’s fledgling internet companies, a cozy fire lit in welcome. In the years that followed, a surveillance society flourished in those rooms, a social vision born in the distinct but reciprocal needs of public intelligence agencies and private internet companies, both spellbound by a dream of total information awareness. Twenty years later, the fire has jumped the screen, and on Jan. 6, it threatened to burn down democracy’s house.
I have spent exactly 42 years studying the rise of the digital as an economic force driving our transformation into an information civilization. Over the last two decades, I’ve observed the consequences of this surprising political-economic fraternity as those young companies morphed into surveillance empires powered by global architectures of behavioral monitoring, analysis, targeting and prediction that I have called surveillance capitalism. On the strength of their surveillance capabilities and for the sake of their surveillance profits, the new empires engineered a fundamentally anti-democratic epistemic coup marked by unprecedented concentrations of knowledge about us and the unaccountable power that accrues to such knowledge.
In an information civilization, societies are defined by questions of knowledge — how it is distributed, the authority that governs its distribution and the power that protects that authority. Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows? Surveillance capitalists now hold the answers to each question, though we never elected them to govern. This is the essence of the epistemic coup. They claim the authority to decide who knows by asserting ownership rights over our personal information and defend that authority with the power to control critical information systems and infrastructures.
The horrific depths of Donald Trump’s attempted political coup ride the wave of this shadow coup, prosecuted over the last two decades by the antisocial media we once welcomed as agents of liberation. On Inauguration Day, President Biden said that “democracy has prevailed” and promised to restore the value of truth to its rightful place in democratic society. Nevertheless, democracy and truth remain under the highest level of threat until we defeat surveillance capitalism’s other coup.
The epistemic coup proceeds in four stages.
The first is the appropriation of epistemic rights, which lays the foundation for all that follows. Surveillance capitalism originates in the discovery that companies can stake a claim to people’s lives as free raw material for the extraction of behavioral data, which they then declare their private property.
The second stage is marked by a sharp rise in epistemic inequality, defined as the difference between what I can know and what can be known about me. The third stage, which we are living through now, introduces epistemic chaos caused by the profit-driven algorithmic amplification, dissemination and microtargeting of corrupt information, much of it produced by coordinated schemes of disinformation. Its effects are felt in the real world, where they splinter shared reality, poison social discourse, paralyze democratic politics and sometimes instigate violence and death.
In the fourth stage, epistemic dominance is institutionalized, overriding democratic governance with computational governance by private surveillance capital. The machines know, and the systems decide, directed and sustained by the illegitimate authority and anti-democratic power of private surveillance capital. Each stage builds on the last. Epistemic chaos prepares the ground for epistemic dominance by weakening democratic society — all too plain in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
We live in the digital century during the formative years of information civilization. Our time is comparable to the early era of industrialization, when owners had all the power, their property rights privileged above all other considerations. The intolerable truth of our current condition is that America and most other liberal democracies have, so far, ceded the ownership and operation of all things digital to the political economics of private surveillance capital, which now vies with democracy over the fundamental rights and principles that will define our social order in this century.
This past year of pandemic misery and Trumpist autocracy magnified the effects of the epistemic coup, revealing the murderous potential of antisocial media long before Jan. 6. Will the growing recognition of this other coup and its threats to democratic societies finally force us to reckon with the inconvenient truth that has loomed over the last two decades? We may have democracy, or we may have surveillance society, but we cannot have both. A democratic surveillance society is an existential and political impossibility. Make no mistake: This is the fight for the soul of our information civilization.
Welcome to the third decade.
The Surveillance Exception
The public tragedy of Sept. 11 dramatically shifted the focus in Washington from debates over federal privacy legislation to a mania for total information awareness, turning Silicon Valley’s innovative surveillance practices into objects of intense interest. As Jack Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School, observed, the intelligence community would have to “rely on private enterprise to collect and generate information for it,” in order to reach beyond constitutional, legal, or regulatory constraints, controversies that are central today. By 2013, the CIA’s chief technology officer outlined the agency’s mission “to collect everything and hang on to it forever,” acknowledging the internet companies, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Fitbit and telecom companies, for making it possible. The revolutionary roots of surveillance capitalism are planted in this unwritten political doctrine of surveillance exceptionalism, bypassing democratic oversight, and essentially granting the new internet companies a license to steal human experience and render it as proprietary data.
Young entrepreneurs without any democratic mandate landed a windfall of infinite information and unaccountable power. Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, exercised absolute control over the production, organization and presentation of the world’s information. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has had absolute control over what would become a primary means of global communication and news consumption, along with all the information concealed in its networks. The group’s membership grew, and a swelling population of global users proceeded unaware of what just happened.
The license to steal came with a price, binding the executives to the continued patronage of elected officials and regulators as well as the sustained ignorance, or at least learned resignation, of users. The doctrine was, after all, a political doctrine, and its defense would require a future of political maneuvering, appeasement, engagement and investment.
Google led the way with what would become one of the world’s richest lobbying machines. In 2018 nearly half the Senate received contributions from Facebook, Google and Amazon, and the companies continue to set spending records.
Most significant, surveillance exceptionalism has meant that the United States and many other liberal democracies chose surveillance over democracy as the guiding principle of social order. With this forfeit, democratic governments crippled their ability to sustain the trust of their people, intensifying the rationale for surveillance.
The Economics and Politics of Epistemic Chaos
To understand the economics of epistemic chaos, it’s important to know that surveillance capitalism’s operations have no formal interest in facts. All data is welcomed as equivalent, though not all of it is equal. Extraction operations proceed with the discipline of the Cyclops, voraciously consuming everything it can see and radically indifferent to meaning, facts and truth.
In a leaked memo, a Facebook executive, Andrew Bosworth, describes this willful disregard for truth and meaning: “We connect people. That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. … That can be bad if they make it negative. … Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack. … The ugly truth is … anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”
In other words, asking a surveillance extractor to reject content is like asking a coal-mining operation to discard containers of coal because it’s too dirty. This is why content moderation is a last resort, a public-relations operation in the spirit of ExxonMobil’s social responsibility messaging. In Facebook’s case, data triage is undertaken either to minimize the risk of user withdrawal or to avoid political sanctions. Both aim to increase rather than diminish data flows. The extraction imperative combined with radical indifference to produce systems that ceaselessly escalate the scale of engagement but don’t care what engages you.
I’m homing in now on Facebook not because it’s the only perpetrator of epistemic chaos but because it’s the largest social media company and its consequences reach farthest.
The economics of surveillance capitalism begot the extractive Cyclops, turning Facebook into an advertising juggernaut and a killing field for truth. Then an amoral Mr. Trump became president, demanding the right to lie at scale. Destructive economics merged with political appeasement, and everything became infinitely worse.
Key to this story is that the politics of appeasement required little more than a refusal to mitigate, modify or eliminate the ugly truth of surveillance economics. Surveillance capitalism’s economic imperatives turned Facebook into a societal tinderbox. Mr. Zuckerberg merely had to stand down and commit himself to the bystander role.
Internal research presented in 2016 and 2017 demonstrated causal links between Facebook’s algorithmic targeting mechanisms and epistemic chaos. One researcher concluded that the algorithms were responsible for the viral spread of divisive content that helped fuel the growth of German extremist groups. Recommendation tools accounted for 64 percent of “extremist group joins,” she found — dynamics not unique to Germany.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018 riveted the world’s attention on Facebook in a new way, offering a window for bold change. The public began to grasp that Facebook’s political advertising business is a way to rent the company’s suite of capabilities to microtarget users, manipulate them and sow epistemic chaos, pivoting the whole machine just a few degrees from commercial to political objectives.
The company launched some modest initiatives, promising more transparency, a more robust system of third-party fact checkers and a policy to limit “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” but through it all, Mr. Zuckerberg conceded the field to Mr. Trump’s demands for unfettered access to the global information bloodstream.
Mr. Zuckerberg rejected internal proposals for operational changes that would reduce epistemic chaos. A political whitelist identified over 100,000 officials and candidates whose accounts were exempted from fact-checking, despite internal research showing that users tend to believe false information shared by politicians. In September 2019 the company said that political advertising would not be subject to fact-checking.
To placate his critics in 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg commissioned a civil rights audit led by Laura Murphy, a former director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. The report published in 2020 is a cri de coeur expressed in a river of words that bear witness to dashed hopes — “disheartened,” “frustrated,” “angry,” “dismayed,” “fearful,” “heartbreaking.”
The report is consistent with a nearly complete rupture of the American public’s faith in Big Tech. When asked how Facebook would adjust to a political shift toward a possible Biden administration, a company spokesman, Nick Clegg, responded, “We’ll adapt to the environment in which we’re operating.” And so it did. On Jan. 7, the day after it became clear that Democrats would control the Senate, Facebook announced that it would indefinitely block Mr. Trump’s account.
We are meant to believe that the destructive effects of epistemic chaos are the inevitable cost of cherished rights to freedom of speech. No. Just as catastrophic levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere are the consequence of burning fossil fuels, epistemic chaos is a consequence of surveillance capitalism’s bedrock commercial operations, aggravated by political obligations and set into motion by a 20-year-old dream of total information that slid into nightmare. Then a plague came to America, turning the antisocial media conflagration into a wildfire.
Epistemic Chaos Meets a Mysterious Microorganism
As early as February 2020, the World Health Organization reported a Covid-19 “infodemic,” with myths and rumors spreading on social media. By March, researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center concluded that medical misinformation related to the coronavirus was “being propagated at an alarming rate on social media,” endangering public safety.
The Washington Post reported in late March that with nearly 50 percent of the content on Facebook’s news feed related to Covid-19, a very small number of “influential users” were driving the reading habits and feeds of a vast number of users. A study released in April by the Reuters Institute confirmed that high-level politicians, celebrities and other prominent public figures produced 20 percent of the misinformation in their sample, but attracted 69 percent of social media engagements in their sample.
A study released in May by Britain’s Institute for Strategic Dialogue identified a core group of 34 extremist right-wing websites disseminating Covid disinformation or linked to established health misinformation hubs now focused on Covid-19. From January to April of 2020, public Facebook posts linking to these websites garnered 80 million interactions, while posts linking to the W.H.O.’s website received 6.2 million interactions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received 6.4 million.
An Avaaz study released in August exposed 82 websites spreading Covid misinformation reaching a peak of nearly half a billion Facebook views in April. Content from the 10 most popular websites drew about 300 million Facebook views, compared with 70 million for 10 leading health institutions. Facebook’s modest content moderation efforts were no match for its own machine systems engineered for epistemic chaos.
In October a report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimated the number of avoidable Covid-19 deaths. More than 217,000 Americans had died. Tragically, the analysis concluded that at least 130,000 of those deaths could have been avoided. Of the four key reasons cited, details of each one, including the “lack of mask mandate” and “misleading the public,” reflect the orgy of epistemic chaos loosed upon America’s daughters and sons.
This is the world in which a deadly mysterious microorganism flourished. We turned to Facebook in search of information. Instead we found lethal strategies of epistemic chaos for profit.
In 1966, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann wrote a short book of seminal importance, “The Social Construction of Reality.” Its central observation is that the “everyday life” we experience as “reality” is actively and perpetually constructed by us. This ongoing miracle of social order rests on “common sense knowledge,” which is “the knowledge we share with others in the normal self-evident routines of everyday life.”
Think about traffic: There are not enough police officers in the world to ensure that every car stops at every red light, yet not every intersection triggers a negotiation or a fight. That’s because in orderly societies we all know that red lights have the authority to make us stop and green lights are authorized to let us go. This common sense means that we each act on what we all know, while trusting that others will too. We’re not just obeying laws; we are creating order together. Our reward is to live in a world where we mostly get where we are going and home again safely because we can trust one another’s common sense. No society is viable without it.
“All societies are constructions in the face of chaos,” write Berger and Luckmann. Because norms are summaries of our common sense, norm violation is the essence of terrorism — terrifying because it repudiates the most taken-for-granted social certainties. “Norm violation creates an attentive audience beyond the target of terror,” write Alex P. Schmid and Albert J. Jongman in “Political Terrorism,” a widely cited text on the subject. Everyone experiences the shock, disorientation, and fear. The legitimacy and continuity of our institutions are essential because they buffer us from chaos by formalizing our common sense.
Deaths of kings and peaceful transfers of power in democracies are critical moments that heighten society’s vulnerability. The norms and laws that guide these junctures are rightly treated with maximum gravity. Mr. Trump and his allies prosecuted an election-fraud disinformation campaign that ultimately translated into violence. It took direct aim at American democracy’s point of maximum institutional vulnerability and its most fundamental norms. As such, it qualifies as a form of epistemic terrorism, an extreme expression of epistemic chaos. Mr. Zuckerberg’s determination to lend his economic machine to the cause makes him an accessory to this assault.
Like baseball, everyday reality is an adventure that begins and ends at home base, where we are safe. No society can police everything all the time, least of all a democratic society. A healthy society rests on a consensus about what is a deviation and what is normal. We venture out from the norm, but we know the difference between the outfield and home, the reality of everyday life. Without that, as we have now experienced, things fall apart. Democrats drinking blood? Sure, why not? Hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19? Right this way! Storm the Capitol and make Mr. Trump dictator? Yeah, we’ve got that!
Society renews itself as common sense evolves. This requires trustworthy, transparent, respectful institutions of social discourse, especially when we disagree. Instead we are saddled with the opposite, nearly 20 years into a world dominated by a political-economic institution that operates as a chaos machine for hire, in which norm violation is key to revenue.
Social media’s no-longer-young men defend their chaos machines with a twisted rendition of First Amendment rights. Social media is not a public square but a private one governed by machine operations and their economic imperatives, incapable of, and uninterested in, distinguishing truth from lies or renewal from destruction.
For many who hold freedom of speech as a sacred right, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s 1919 dissenting opinion in Abrams v. United States is a touchstone. “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas,” he wrote. “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” The corrupt information that dominates the private square does not rise to the top of a free and fair competition of ideas. It wins in a rigged game. No democracy can survive this game.
Our susceptibility to the destruction of common sense reflects a young information civilization that has not yet found its footing in democracy. Unless we interrupt surveillance economics and revoke the license to steal that legitimates its antisocial operations, the other coup will continue to strengthen and produce fresh crises. What must be done now?
Three Principles for the Third Decade
Let’s begin with a thought experiment: Imagine a 20th century with no federal laws to regulate child labor or assert standards for workers’ wages, hours and safety; no workers’ rights to join a union, strike or bargain collectively; no consumer rights; and no governmental institutions to oversee laws and policies intended to make the industrial century safe for democracy. Instead, each company was left to decide for itself what rights it would recognize, what policies and practices it would employ and how its profits would be distributed. Fortunately, those rights, laws and institutions did exist, invented by people over decades across the world’s democracies. As important as those extraordinary inventions remain, they do not protect us from the epistemic coup and its anti-democratic effects.
The deficit reflects a larger pattern: The United States and the world’s other liberal democracies have thus far failed to construct a coherent political vision of a digital century that advances democratic values, principles and government. While the Chinese have designed and deployed digital technologies to advance their system of authoritarian rule, the West has remained compromised and ambivalent.
This failure has left a void where democracy should be, and the dangerous result has been a two-decade drift toward private systems of surveillance and behavioral control outside the constraints of democratic governance. This is the road to the final stage of the epistemic coup. The result is that our democracies march naked into the third decade without the new charters of rights, legal frameworks and institutional forms necessary to ensure a digital future that is compatible with the aspirations of a democratic society.
We are still in the early days of an information civilization. The third decade is our opportunity to match the ingenuity and determination of our 20th-century forebears by building the foundations for a democratic digital century.
Democracy is under the kind of siege that only democracy can end. If we are to defeat the epistemic coup, then democracy must be the protagonist.
I offer three principles that can help guide these beginnings:
The democratic rule of law
The digital must live in democracy’s house, not as an arsonist but as a member of the family, subject to and thriving on its laws and values. The sleeping giant of democracy finally stirs, with important legislative and legal initiatives underway in America and Europe. In the United States, five comprehensive bills, 15 related bills, and one important legislative proposal, each with material significance for surveillance capitalism, were introduced in Congress from 2019 to mid-2020. Californians welcomed landmark privacy legislation. In 2020 the Congressional Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law issued a far-reaching analysis of the antitrust case against the tech giants. In October the Department of Justice, joined by 11 states, initiated a federal antitrust suit against Google for abuse of its online search monopoly. By December the Federal Trade Commission filed a landmark lawsuit against Facebook for anticompetitive actions, joined by a suit from 48 attorneys general. Those were swiftly followed by a suit launched by 38 attorneys general challenging Google’s core search engine as an anticompetitive means of blocking rivals and privileging its own services.
Antitrust arguments are important for two reasons: They signal that democracy is once again on the move, and they legitimate more regulatory attention to companies designated as market dominant. But when it comes to defeating the epistemic coup, the antitrust paradigm falls short. Here’s why.
The turn to antitrust recalls the anticompetitive practices and concentrations of economic power in the Gilded Age monopolies. As Tim Wu, an antitrust champion, explained in The Times, “Facebook’s strategy was similar to John D. Rockefeller’s at Standard Oil during the 1880s. Both companies scanned the horizon of the marketplace, searching for potential competitors, and then bought them or buried them.” He added that “it was precisely this business model that Congress banned in 1890” with the Sherman Antitrust Act.
It’s true that Facebook, Google and Amazon, among others, are ruthless capitalists as well as ruthless surveillance capitalists, but exclusive focus on their Standard Oil-style monopoly power raises two problems. First, antitrust did not succeed that well, even on the terms of its late-19th- and early-20th-century prosecutors and their aim of ending unfair concentrations of economic power in the oil industry. In 1911 a Supreme Court decision broke up Standard Oil into 34 fossil fuel industry companies. The combined value of the companies proved greater than the original. The largest of the 34 had all the advantages of Standard Oil’s infrastructure and scale and quickly moved toward mergers and acquisitions, becoming fossil fuel empires in their own right, including Exxon and Mobil (which became ExxonMobil), Amoco and Chevron.
A second and far more significant problem with antitrust is that while it may be important to address anticompetitive practices in ruthless companies, it is not sufficient to address the harms of surveillance capitalism, any more than the 1911 decision addressed the harms of fossil fuel production and consumption. Rather than assess Facebook, Amazon or Google through a 19th-century lens, we should reinterpret the case of Standard Oil from the perspective of our century.
Another thought experiment: Imagine that the America of 1911 understood the science of climate change. The court’s breakup decision would have addressed Standard Oil’s anticompetitive practices while ignoring the far more consequential case — that the extraction, refining, sale and use of fossil fuels would destroy the planet. If the jurists and lawmakers of that era had ignored these facts, we would have looked on their actions as a stain on American history.
Indeed, the court’s decision did ignore the far more pressing threats to American workers and consumers. A historian of American law, Lawrence Friedman, describes the Sherman Antitrust Act as “something of a fraud” that accomplished little but to satisfy “political needs.” He explains that Congress “had to answer the call for action — some action, any action — against the trusts” and the act was their answer. Then as now, people wanted a giant killer.
They turned to law as the only force that could right the balance of power. But it took decades for lawmakers to finally address the real sources of harm by codifying new rights for workers and consumers. The National Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed the right to unionize while regulating the actions of employers, wasn’t enacted until 1935, 45 years after the Sherman Antitrust Act. We do not have 45 years — or 20 or 10 — to linger before we address the real harms of the epistemic coup and their causes.
There may be sound antitrust reasons to break up the big tech empires, but carving up Facebook or any of the others into the surveillance capitalist equivalents of Exxon, Chevron and Mobil would not shield us from the clear and present dangers of surveillance capitalism. Our time demands more.
New conditions summon new rights
New legal rights are crystallized in response to the changing conditions of life. Justice Louis Brandeis’s commitment to privacy rights, for example, was stimulated by the spread of photography and its ability to invade and steal what was regarded as private.
A democratic information civilization cannot progress without new charters of epistemic rights that protect citizens from the massive-scale invasion and theft compelled by surveillance economics. During most of the modern age, citizens of democratic societies have regarded a person’s experience as inseparable from the individual — inalienable. It follows that the right to know about one’s experience has been considered elemental, bonded to each of us like a shadow. We each decide if and how our experience is shared, with whom and for what purpose.
Writing in 1967, Justice William Douglas argued that the authors of the Bill of Rights believed “the individual should have the freedom to select for himself the time and circumstances when he will share his secrets with others and decide the extent of that sharing.” That “freedom to select” is the elemental epistemic right to know ourselves, the cause from which all privacy flows.
For example, as the natural bearer of such rights, I do not give Amazon’s facial recognition the right to know and exploit my fear for targeting and behavioral predictions that benefit others’ commercial aims. It’s not simply that my feelings are not for sale, it’s that my feelings are unsale-able because they are inalienable. I do not give Amazon my fear, but they take it from me anyway, just another data point in the trillions fed to the machines that day.
Our elemental epistemic rights are not codified in law because they had never come under systematic threat, any more than we have laws to protect our rights to stand up or sit down or yawn.
But the surveillance capitalists have declared their right to know our lives. Thus dawns a new age, founded on and shielded by the unwritten doctrine of surveillance exceptionalism. Now the once taken-for-granted right to know and to decide who knows about us must be codified in law and protected by democratic institutions, if it is to exist at all.
Unprecedented harms demand unprecedented solutions
Just as new conditions of life reveal the need for new rights, the harms of the epistemic coup require purpose-built solutions. This is how law evolves, growing and adapting from one era to the next.
When it comes to the new conditions imposed by surveillance capitalism, most discussions about law and regulation focus downstream on arguments about data, including its privacy, accessibility, transparency and portability, or on schemes to buy our acquiescence with (minimal) payments for data. Downstream is where we argue about content moderation and filter bubbles, where lawmakers and citizens stamp their feet at recalcitrant executives.
Downstream is where the companies want us to be, so consumed in the details of the property contract that we forget the real issue, which is that their property claim itself is illegitimate.
What unprecedented solutions can address the unprecedented harms of the epistemic coup? First, we go upstream to supply, and we end the data collection operations of commercial surveillance. Upstream, the license to steal works its relentless miracles, employing surveillance strategies to spin the straw of human experience — my fear, their breakfast conversation, your walk in the park — into the gold of proprietary data supplies. We need legal frameworks that interrupt and outlaw the massive-scale extraction of human experience. Laws that stop data collection would end surveillance capitalism’s illegitimate supply chains. The algorithms that recommend, microtarget and manipulate, and the millions of behavioral predictions pushed out by the second cannot exist without the trillions of data points fed to them each day.
Next, we need laws that tie data collection to fundamental rights and data use to public service, addressing the genuine needs of people and communities. Data is no longer the means of information warfare waged on the innocent.
Third, we disrupt the financial incentives that reward surveillance economics. We can prohibit commercial practices that exert demand for rapacious data collection. Democratic societies have outlawed markets that trade in human organs and babies. Markets that trade in human beings were outlawed, even when they supported whole economies.
These principles are already shaping democratic action. The Federal Trade Commission initiated a study of social media and video-streaming companies less than a week after filing its case against Facebook and said it intended to “lift the hood” of internal operations “to carefully study their engines.” A statement by three commissioners took aim at tech companies “capable of surveilling and monetizing … our personal lives,” adding that “too much about the industry remains dangerously opaque.”
Groundbreaking legislative proposals in the European Union and Britain will, if passed, begin to institutionalize the three principles. The E.U. framework would assert democratic governance over the largest platforms’ black boxes of internal operations, including comprehensive audit and enforcement authority. Fundamental rights and the rule of law would no longer vaporize at the cyberborder, as lawmakers insist on “a safe, predictable, and trusted online environment.” In Britain the Online Harms Bill would establish a legal “duty of care” that would hold the tech companies responsible for public harms and include broad new authorities and enforcement powers.
Two sentences often attributed to Justice Brandeis feature in the congressional subcommittee’s impressive antitrust report. “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” The statement so relevant to Brandeis’s time remains a pungent commentary on the old capitalism we know, but it ignores the new capitalism that knows us. Unless democracy revokes the license to steal and challenges the fundamental economics and operations of commercial surveillance, the epistemic coup will weaken and eventually transform democracy itself. We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have surveillance society, but we cannot have both. We have a democratic information civilization to build, and there is no time to waste.
Dr. Zuboff, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, is the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”
In response to the fascist riot at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook engaged in a flurry of dangerous and misguided corporate authoritarianism. I, along with a number of other leftwing organizers, was deemed a threat to the inauguration of Joe Biden and placed on a restricted list that limited my ability to communicate with others. My account could no longer create Facebook groups or events, two tools that I’ve used over the last decade to coordinate protests and build entire organizations. I was also banned from commenting in Facebook groups, liking Facebook pages, and messaging Facebookpages. The restriction was to be removed the Saturday after the inauguration, but it only fully ceased apparently after public backlash. This is part of a long history of Facebook treating leftwing activists as if they were far-right extremists, and a pattern of silencing those who speak out against racism and fascism.
Facebook’s latest sweep went relatively unnoticed by most media outlets and was simply framed as a restriction of events in and around Washington, DC leading up to the inauguration. Gizmodo was one of the first publications to pick up the story, but the majority of its article barely mentions the fact that leftwing users in the United States were targeted and effectively silenced. Most of the relevant content of the article was pulled directly from a blogpost from Facebookitself. Gizmodo, like most other outlets that reported on the decision, seemed to imply that these bans were a net positive and, if anything, a little later than it would have preferred.
The lack of in-depth reporting on what was a massive new development in Facebook’s struggle to monitor itself is unfortunate. This sweep wasn’t as simple as restricting events around a certain location, which should be a troubling development on its own. Facebook targeted users across the U.S., and while Facebook has publicly claimed it sought out users with past violations, many of the leftwing users targeted had no such violations, according to Facebook itself. Attempts to seek clarity or appeal the decisions have been shut down by Facebook, and the scope of the restrictions have not been made public.
Strictly speaking, this may not be a legal or constitutional infringement on free speech; Facebook, as a private company, sets its own policies about who can use its platform and what opinions they can express. But it sets a dangerous precedent, one made more alarming by Facebook’s history of suppressing Black viewpoints and its tendency to see far-left and far-right activists as the same.
In August 2020, Facebook expanded its “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy,” aimed at removing the presence of far-right extremists from its website. It rid itself of many QAnon groups and far-right militias. But it is also struck at leftwing organizations, seeming to accept Trump’s post-Charlottesville “both sides” moral equivalency with little thought. Facebook removed It’s Going Down, a platform that has long provided on-the-ground analysis of mass protests. It also removed CrimethInc, an anarchist publication that provided a teenage me with a new lens in which to view formative events like the invasion of Iraq and the 2008 economic crisis. While both these sites are keystones of the left, they were quickly disappeared from Facebook with little public attention or reaction.
Facebook has also targeted individuals for merely speaking out against racism or responding to hate crimes. Natasha Marin, a Black anti-racism consultant, was temporarily banned for sharing a screenshot of a racist message she received. In response to Liam Neeson’s confession that he once roamed the streets looking for Black men to harm, Carolyn Wysinger, an activist and high school teacher, posted that “White men are so fragile, and the mere presence of a Black person challenges every single thing in them.” It was a reasonable response to Neeson’s remarks and the long history of white men murdering random Black men. Facebook responded by deleting the post and threatening Wysinger with a temporary ban. The list goes on.
While Facebook may place the blame on complicated algorithms that they are working to address, it is clear the problem is deeper than that. In 2018, Mark Luckie, a Black former Facebook employee, illustrated a racist culture at Facebook. He and other Black employees have made frequent complaints about being aggressively accosted by security, dissuaded from joining Black working groups, and being called aggressive or hostile for simply sharing their thoughts in meetings. One employee shared a story in which they were asked to clean up after two white employees, despite being a program manager. In June 2020, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Black Lives Matter. A few months later, he restricted political posts in Facebook’s internal employee forum and banned the placement of text on profile pictures, preventing both employees who wanted to “Make America Great Again” or proclaim that “Black Lives Matter” from expressing themselves outside of specific, moderated groups—or through the use of pre-approved profile frames.
The conflation of the far-right with those speaking out and organizing against injustice continues to this day. On top of restricting my profile, and the profiles of others, Facebook has also moved to ban a new slate of leftwing organizations and individuals. The Socialist Equality party and the International Youth and Students for Social Equality were banned earlier this month with no warning or reason. Facebook has recently reversed this decision, but only after inquiries from the Financial Times. And now, Facebook is considering removing posts that critique Zionism.
Facebook has significant power and influence, and decisions like this are a clear argument for the desperate need to regulate the tech behemoths that increasingly decide who and what is heard. While my restriction was temporary, what is stopping Facebook from instating such measures again in the future, particularly during a moment of mass upheaval? The inauguration was such an event; Black radicals and others had every reason to protest the inauguration, but Facebook determined that any such protests were unacceptable. An organization which finds it so difficult to distinguish fascists from Black leftwing activists should not be trusted to make such decisions.
Akin Olla is a Nigerian-American political strategist and organizer. He is the host of This is The Revolution podcast.
By Marcia Greenwood, Will Cleveland and Brian Sharp, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, February 1, 2021https://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/67588-rochester-ny-police-pepper-spray-9-year-old-girl-screaming-for-her-father
Screenshot from Rochester Police Department bodycam footage released Sunday. (photo Rochester Democrat and Chronicle/USA Today)
Police in New York state released two bodycam videos on Sunday that showed officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and later sprayed with a chemical "irritant" when she disobeyed commands.
The release of the video footage by the Rochester Police Department came after Mayor Lovely Warren emotionally expressed her concern for the “child that was harmed during this incident that happened on Friday.”
“I have a 10-year-old child, so she’s a child, she’s a baby," Warren said. "This video, as a mother, is not anything you want to see.”
In the videos, the girl can be heard repeatedly and frantically screaming for her father as officers try to restrain her after responding to a call for "family trouble" on Friday afternoon. A total of nine officers and RPD supervisors ended up responding to the call, police said.
At a Sunday press conference, Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson described the girl as suicidal.
"She indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” he said.
In one of the videos, an officer can be heard asking the girl, “What is going on? How can I help?”
When officers then tried to put the girl into the back of a patrol car, she pulled away and kicked at them.
In a statement Saturday, police said the girl's actions “required” an officer to take her to the ground, adding that “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene,” the child was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car as they waited for an ambulance.
An officer was “required” to spray an “irritant” in the handcuffed girl’s face when she disobeyed commands to put her feet in the car, police said Saturday.
Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan on Sunday described the irritant as pepper spray.
That part of the interaction plays out near the end of the second video. As the girl continues to struggle and cry, an officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point” and closes the car door.
The child was taken to Rochester General Hospital under the state’s mental hygiene law and “received the services and care that she needed,” police said.
After being treated, she was released to her family.
“I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department," Warren said at Sunday's press conference. "It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”
Said Herriott-Sullivan, “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not. I don’t see that as who we are as a department, and we’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”
The city recently launched a Person in Crisis Team, which is under its reimagined Office of Crisis Intervention Services. It was formed late last year and took away certain responsibilities from RPD. It became operational last week but was not summoned for Friday's call, Warren said.
The city began reassessing its response to mental health-related calls after the death of Daniel Prude in March 2020. It became public five months later and sparked massive protests, where there were calls for RPD to change how it responds to calls involving mental health distress.
BY DOUG HENWOOD, January 27, 2021
Who knew GameStop would itself become such a game?
Last summer, the video game retailer was seen as a fading brick-and-mortar operation. It was losing money, sales had been shrinking for years, and the stock was trading for around $4 a share. As I’m writing this on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 27, its stock is trading at $339 a share. At the close of trading on Tuesday, it was a mere $148. Not a bad overnight return, 129 percent. Three days earlier, it was at $38. It was up nearly tenfold in less than a week. Why?
To answer that requires explaining the concept of short selling, which most civilians find nearly incomprehensible. A short sale is a bet that a stock (or any other speculative asset, like bonds or gold) is going to decline in price. But to make that bet, you have to sell something you don’t already own, which is not normal behavior. To accomplish this, you have to borrow the stock from somebody who does own it. As with any loan, you have to pay interest on the borrowed asset. And you also have to keep some collateral on deposit with your broker as an assurance you’re good for the money. The hope is that the price will fall, and you can buy the shares — cover the short, in the jargon — at a lower price. Your profit would be the difference between the original sale price and the closing purchase price, minus any interest paid on the borrowed asset.
But what if you’re wrong, and the price rises? Then you’re in trouble. When you buy a stock, your risk is that you could lose the entire purchase price — but no more. With short selling, if you’re wrong, there’s no predetermined limit to how much you can lose if the price keeps rising. And if the price keeps rising, your broker will demand more collateral in the form of real money. You have a choice between giving up — covering the short and taking the loss — or keep pouring more collateral into a losing position in the hope that things will finally turn your way.
Back to GameStop. Last August, the investor Ryan Cohen, who founded the online pet food merchant Chewy and sold it for a handsome profit, started buying GameStop shares. He told the company that it needed to get with the digital age, close a lot of stores, and move online. Investors, expecting a better future for the flailing retailer, snapped up shares, tripling their price by the end of November. That was unjustified optimism, perhaps, but not outlandish. But some hedge funds, notably Melvin Capital Management, began shorting GameStop, believing the tales of recovery were delusional.
Cue the habitués of the subreddit Wall Street Bets, with a user known as DeepFuckingValue among the ringleaders, who began talking up the stock and buying shares. They were motivated not merely by the prospect of making money, but also for the lulz of bankrupting some hedgies. They began buying the stock in size, as they say on Wall Street. The ensuing price rise forced the shorts like Melvin to cover. Their demand for the stock, plus the Redditors’, launched the share price on a moon shot.
GameStop has turned into one of the great bubbles of our time. On Tuesday, January 26, more stock in GameStop was traded than in Apple, the biggest stock of all, with a total market value 108 times the retailer’s. As James Mackintosh of the Wall Street Journal put it, the price action and trading volume together suggest “widespread disturbance to people’s judgment.”
Bubbles like this always end in a crash, and those Redditors who haven’t sold their shares will be left holding a very depleted bag. (Surprisingly, news that Melvin closed out its short position late on Tuesday seems not to have dampened the party. A bubble usually goes on far longer than mere rationalists can predict.) In the meanwhile, it’s funny to see some Wall Streeters complain that there’s something unfair about this action, since these are the sorts of games they play with each other and the general public all the time. They talk up stocks or talk them down, depending on their interests, and plot against what they see as weak or vulnerable players all the time. It’s just that the speculators with names like DeepFuckingValue who are savaging them for now are the wrong kind of people. They don’t live in Greenwich in houses with twenty-car garages.
Even more amusing are the earnest sorts who think these games somehow pervert the function of the stock market. As Business Insider columnist Josh Barro declared on Twitter: “I know people think this is fun but — why do we have a stock market? So productive firms can raise capital to do useful things. Detaching stock price from fundamental value (Gamestop is now worth almost as much as Best Buy) makes the markets serve the real economy worse.”
What’s funny about these comments, aside from their earnestness in the midst of low comedy, is that the stock market has almost nothing to do with raising money for productive investment. Almost all the stock that trades on the market, including GameStock, was issued years ago, meaning that companies don’t see a dime of the daily action. Firms do issue stock now and then, in so-called initial public offerings (IPOs), but over the last twenty years, according to finance professor Jay Ritter’s data, IPOs have raised a cumulative total of $657 billion, well under 2 percent of total business investment in things like buildings and equipment over the same period. In the real world, as opposed to Barro’s imagination, firms raise almost all their investment funds internally, through profits. Rather than raising money from shareholders, businesses shovel out vast buckets of money to them. Since 2000, the five hundred large companies that make up the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index have spent $8.3 trillion buying their own stock to boost its price — over half their profits over the period, and equal to almost 20 percent of business investment over the two decades. Stock buybacks not only make the shareholders happy, but they also fatten CEOs’ paychecks, since bosses these days are paid mainly in stock.
Lulz aside, this drama, like the seemingly endless rise in stock prices since 2009, interrupted briefly by the COVID-19 scare last March, is a sign of a financial system totally out of touch with economic reality. Trillions in government aid to business and Federal Reserve infusions into the financial markets have created a monstrous gusher of money with nowhere to go but speculative assets, at a time when ICUs are at capacity and 24 million people tell Census Bureau interviewers that they’re having trouble getting enough to eat. Barro would do better to worry about that.
By Tracey Tully, January 28, 2021
Inmates reported being beaten while handcuffed at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in New Jersey, the state’s only prison for women.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/nyregion/edna-mahan-correctional-facility-abuse.html
transgender, New Jersey’s only women’s prison was supposed to be a haven.
She had been shuffled from one men’s prison to another, facing abuse at both, her mother said, before finally being transferred in November to the state’s only lockup for women, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
“We thought it would be a little different,” Ms. Rollins said.
It was worse.
In a Jan. 11 incident that is now at the center of a wide-ranging criminal investigation, her daughter was handcuffed and beaten so badly by four guards that ligaments ripped in her knee, Ms. Rollins said, forcing her to rely on a wheelchair to move around.
It is the latest episode in what has emerged as a yearslong pattern of abuse of inmates by guards at the troubled western New Jersey prison.
The prison’s top administrator, 22 correctional officers and nine supervisors have been suspended, state and union officials said. New Jersey’s attorney general’s office is investigating; the governor on Wednesday appointed a former comptroller to lead a separate, independent inquiry; and the State Assembly announced hearings into “widespread abuse and use of force.”
“A pattern has developed at the facility and those supervising it are not doing nearly enough to protect its vulnerable inmates,” the Democratic leader of the Assembly, Craig J. Coughlin, said Wednesday in a statement.
“We need answers and we need reform.”
William Sullivan, president of the union that represents state correctional officers, said that he supported a “full investigation due to the criminal nature of these allegations.”
All officers on duty in the affected housing unit the morning of Jan. 11 were placed on administrative leave, he said. But it was unlikely, he said, that all were directly involved in the incident, which stemmed from efforts to remove unwilling prisoners from two separate cells — a procedure known as a “forced cell extraction.”
“Once things start getting figured out, you’re not going to see 22 officers in trouble,” he said.
He said that in the two weeks before the incident, officers had filed “five or six” reports of being sprayed by prisoners with a mix of feces and urine.
“Now that doesn’t excuse whatever happened,” he said, “but it’s been a little bit of a problem area.”
Of the 22 officers suspended, 11 are women and 11 are men, he said.
According to Ms. Rollins, who has been communicating daily with her daughter through a prison email system, at least three women were injured in the incident, which was first reported by NJ.com. Two women were taken for treatment outside the prison, she said, but her daughter, who was convicted of robbery and is serving a five-year sentence, was treated by an on-site nurse.
“I’m just afraid that the ones who are left are going to retaliate,” Ms. Rollins said about the remaining guards. “I am definitely afraid for her life.”
The suspensions are just the most recent scandal at Edna Mahan.
In April, a report by the Justice Department found that inmates there were regularly sexually assaulted by guards. They were sometimes forced to engage in sex acts with other prisoners while staff members looked on, coercion deemed so prevalent that it was found to violate constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Several guards had been convicted in 2018 and 2019 of sexually assaulting women, but the problem persisted.
“A ‘culture of acceptance’ of sexual abuse has persisted for many years and continues to the present,” the report concluded.
Earlier this month, federal investigators were also highly critical of the administration of a New Jersey jail in Cumberland County, where seven inmates died by suicide between 2015 and 2018. The Justice Department said the jail had failed to prevent the deaths or provide adequate mental health care, in violation of the Constitution.
Edna Mahan’s troubled history, and the large number of officers tied to the new allegations, led to immediate calls for the dismissal of the commissioner of corrections, Marcus O. Hicks. It also amplified demands for the governor, Philip D. Murphy, to fully implement a raft of initiatives stipulated in a bill that he signed into law more than a year ago that expanded parental rights of prisoners and called for a more independent review board to ensure accountability and “continued improvements within all correctional facilities.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Hicks said the commissioner, upon learning of the allegations, promptly asked the Hunterdon County prosecutors office to open a criminal investigation. And his decision to remove so many correction officers was indicative of his commitment to routing out abuse, she said.
The first reports of assault began flowing into a state ombudsman’s office on Jan. 13.
“Inmates contacted our office as well as some of their family members,” Dan DiBeneditti, the corrections ombudsman, said.
Investigators have interviewed each woman in the unit — a restricted housing area for prisoners accused of disciplinary infractions — but have released no details about what led to the suspensions of 32 employees. A state investigator said they were working to piece together the many varied accounts of the chaotic scene that one inmate, in an interview with NJ.com, said involved more than two dozen officers in body armor.
“It makes me physically ill to think that every day women are enduring these barbaric conditions,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, a Democrat who has been a prime sponsor of legislation related to prison reform. She has also introduced legislation that would make New Jersey the first state in the country to require correctional officers to wear body cameras.
Mr. Sullivan said that the extractions, which require prior approval unless there is an emergency, would have involved 20 officers — 10 of whom would have been directly involved with placing the women in leg irons and handcuffs before moving them. The other 10 would have performed backup and cleaning duties after the inmates were moved, he said.
Named for one of the first female correctional superintendents in the country, the prison in Clinton, N.J., currently houses about 380 women in three compounds; prisoners are separated based on the severity of their crimes, according to the Justice Department report.
Last January, Mr. Murphy signed legislation known as the Dignity Act, which, in part, called for greater independence of the office of the correction ombudsman, which is currently made up largely of former prison employees and located in the same building as the state’s Department of Corrections administrators. That transition has not occurred.
Ms. Rollins’s daughter told her the assault was linked to harassment directed toward transgender women.
“There was an argument between an officer and another transgender person,” Ms. Rollins said. “From there, it was the officer making threats. ‘We’re going to take care of you all,’ and stuff like that. The other inmate actually said, ‘If you’re going to do it, come do it.’ And that’s what set it off.”
During the assault, Ms. Rollins said, her daughter was handcuffed and thrown to the ground, where officers wearing boots stomped on her face.
Ms. Rollins, who lives in Maryland, said that she was told that she would need to contact a lawyer to access a report related to the Jan. 11 allegations or her daughter’s medical records, which she said she had done.
Mr. Murphy said Wednesday that he was “sickened” by the allegations.
“Let me be clear: Every individual in state custody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and we must always remember that female inmates have long been uniquely vulnerable to abuse,” the governor, a Democrat, said in a statement.
He named Matt Boxer, a former comptroller now in private practice, to lead an independent inquiry “to determine how this happened and make recommendations to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.”
“Based on those findings, which I expect to receive in an expedited fashion, any individual who acted improperly will be held fully accountable,” Mr. Murphy said. “These types of incidents will never be tolerated.”
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
New firsthand accounts accuse Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis, of using similar tactics on detainees over the years.
By Jamiles Lartey and Abbie VanSickle, Feb. 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/02/us/derek-chauvin-george-floyd-past-cases.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Nearly three years before the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd as he cried out that he couldn’t breathe last May, Zoya Code found herself in a similar position: handcuffed facedown on the ground, with Mr. Chauvin’s knee on her.
The officer had answered a call of a domestic dispute at her home, and Ms. Code said he forced her down when she tried to pull away.
“He just stayed on my neck,” Ms. Code said, ignoring her desperate pleas to get off. Frustrated and upset, she challenged him to press harder. “Then he did. Just to shut me up,” she said.
Last week, a judge in Minnesota ruled that prosecutors could present the details of her 2017 arrest in their case against the former officer, who was charged with second-degree unintentional murder in Mr. Floyd’s death.
Ms. Code’s case was one of six arrests as far back as 2015 that the Minnesota Attorney General’s office sought to introduce, arguing that they showed how Mr. Chauvin was using excessive force when he restrained people — by their necks or by kneeling on top of them — just as he did in arresting Mr. Floyd. Police records show that Mr. Chauvin was never formally reprimanded for any of these incidents, even though at least two of those arrested said they had filed formal complaints.
Of the six people arrested, two were Black, one was Latino and one was Native American. The race of two others was not included in the arrest reports that reporters examined.
Discussing the encounters publicly for the first time in interviews with The Marshall Project, three people who were arrested by Mr. Chauvin and a witness in a fourth incident described him as an unusually rough officer who was quick to use force and callous about their pain.
The interviews provide new insight into the history of a police officer whose handling of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, captured on video, was seen around the world and sparked months of protests in dozens of cities.
Mr. Chauvin, who was fired, has said through his attorney that his handling of Mr. Floyd’s arrest was a reasonable use of authorized force. But he was the subject of at least 22 complaints or internal investigations during his more than 19 years at the department, only one of which resulted in discipline. These new interviews show not only that he may have used excessive force in the past, but that he had used startlingly similar techniques.
All four people who told of their encounters with Mr. Chauvin had a history of run-ins with law enforcement, mostly for traffic and nonviolent offenses.
Ms. Code’s arrest occurred on June 25, 2017. In a court filing, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, said the officer acted properly in the case, responding to “a violent crime in a volatile situation.” He said that “there was nothing unreasonable or unauthorized about Mr. Chauvin’s actions.”
Ms. Code’s mother had accused her of trying to choke her with an extension cord, according to the arrest report. Ms. Code said in an interview that her mother was swinging the cord around, and that she merely grabbed hold of it.
She said she had left the house to cool off after the fight and when she returned, Mr. Chauvin and his partner had arrived. In the prosecutors’ description, based on Mr. Chauvin’s report and body-camera video, Mr. Chauvin told Ms. Code she was under arrest and grabbed her arm. When she pulled away, he pulled her to the ground face first and knelt on her. The two officers then picked her up and carried her outside the house, facedown.
There, prosecutors said, Mr. Chauvin knelt on the back of the handcuffed woman “even though she was offering no physical resistance at all.”
Ms. Code, in an interview, said she began pleading: “Don’t kill me.”
At that point, according to the prosecutors’ account, Mr. Chauvin told his partner to restrain Ms. Code’s ankles as well, though she “was not being physically aggressive.”
As he tied her, she said, she told the other officer, “You’re learning from an animal. That man — that’s evilness right there.”
‘You’re choking me,’ a club patron protested
Misdemeanor domestic assault and disorderly conduct charges filed against Ms. Code were ultimately dropped.
The earliest incident in which prosecutors said Mr. Chauvin used excessive force took place on Feb. 15, 2015, when he arrested Julian Hernandez — a carpenter who was on a road trip to Minneapolis to see a band at the El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub. Mr. Chauvin worked as an off-duty security officer there for almost 17 years.
The arrest report filed by Mr. Chauvin said Mr. Hernandez tried to leave the club through the wrong door, and Mr. Chauvin stopped him and escorted him down a stairwell. Mr. Hernandez said in an interview that he had been drinking, but felt like Mr. Chauvin was pushing him down the stairs.
Outside, Mr. Hernandez said, “things escalated.”
Mr. Chauvin’s report said that Mr. Hernandez tried to turn around as he was preparing to handcuff him, so he pushed him away “by applying pressure toward his Lingual Artery” at the top of the neck.
Mr. Hernandez said the officer told him “you just need to leave,” and he remembered thinking to himself: “I’m trying to leave and you won’t let me.” As Mr. Chauvin pushed him into a wall and grabbed him by the throat, Mr. Hernandez recalled thinking, “You’re choking me.”
Mr. Hernandez said he tried to sue the department, but no lawyer would take his case. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but under a court agreement he avoided punishment by staying out of trouble for a year, records show.
Mr. Nelson, the officer’s lawyer, said in a court filing that there was no evidence that Mr. Chauvin acted improperly in “dealing with a resistant, aggressive arrestee by himself.”
Under the judge’s order, only Ms. Code’s arrest, among the six cases showing what may have been excessive force, can be used at Mr. Chauvin’s trial. Prosecutors also sought to include two additional cases they said showed just the opposite — that Mr. Chauvin knew how to use reasonable force to properly restrain a person.
The judge’s order will allow them to use one of those cases: an incident in which the police department commended Mr. Chauvin and other officers for taking lifesaving steps in placing a restrained, suicidal man on his side so he could breathe. Mr. Chauvin even rode with the man to the hospital, according to prosecutors.
According to the attorney general’s office, the arrest showed that he knew how important it was to avoid breathing problems in detainees. When he did not put Mr. Floyd in a similar side position, prosecutors contend, he understood that it could jeopardize his life.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer objected to any of the previous arrests being admitted at his trial, which is set to begin in March. He argued that Mr. Chauvin’s actions “were not crimes,” but rather part of Mr. Chauvin’s job as an officer, and that a police supervisor at each arrest scene reviewed his use of force and concluded that it comported with department standards.
The Minneapolis Police Department did not respond to queries about past complaints against Mr. Chauvin. Critics say the department has a long history of accusations of abuse, but never fully put in place federal recommendations to implement a better system of tracking complaints and punishing officers. Only a handful over the years have faced firing or serious punishment.
‘I can’t breathe,’ the man said
In another case prosecutors highlighted to try to establish a pattern of excessive force, a man said he landed in the hospital overnight after an encounter with Mr. Chauvin. The man, Jimmy Bostic, had made a purchase at the Midtown Global Market in April 2016 and was waiting for a ride when private security guards asked him to leave. A different shop owner had accused him of panhandling, the arrest report said. Mr. Bostic argued, and Mr. Chauvin was called in.
Mr. Chauvin escorted Mr. Bostic outside, writing in the arrest report that Mr. Bostic had threatened to spit on the owner.
“I closed distance with” Mr. Bostic, Mr. Chauvin wrote, “and secured his neck/head area with my hands.”
Mr. Bostic said in an interview that as Mr. Chauvin and the private security guards attempted to put him in cuffs, he yanked his arm back.
“The next thing I felt was arms just wrapped around my neck,” he said. “I started telling him, ‘Let go, I’m having trouble breathing. I have asthma. I can’t breathe.’”
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, in a court filing, said the officer “acted reasonably” and followed police policy in restraining Mr. Bostic, who he said was refusing orders and making threats.
After he was released from police custody at the scene, Mr. Bostic said, emergency medical workers took him to a hospital. Suffering from an asthma attack, he said, he stayed for over a day. A disorderly conduct charge against him was ultimately dropped.
“Looking back on Mr. Floyd, that could have been me,” said Mr. Bostic, who is now in state prison on an unrelated burglary conviction. “And I would no longer be alive right now to even tell my story.”
Monroe Skinaway, a 74-year-old Minneapolis resident, was a chance witness to another incident prosecutors cited that occurred in March 2019. He said in an interview that he had called the police after he spotted his grandson’s stolen car parked at a South Minneapolis gas station.
As he answered police questions about the car, Mr. Skinaway said, he saw a young man wandering nearby, asking officers to give him a ride. Mr. Skinaway said the man seemed “off.”
The man, named in the arrest report as Sir Rilee Peet, 26, followed one officer to his squad car. After Mr. Peet refused to take his hands out of his pockets, the officer tried to grab him, and they scuffled, the police report said.
That is when the other officer, identified in the report as Mr. Chauvin, sprayed Mr. Peet with Mace. Mr. Chauvin restrained him by the neck and pinned him facedown on the ground by kneeling on his lower back, according to the prosecutors’ description of body-camera video.
Mr. Skinaway said he remembers seeing the officer on top of Mr. Peet, but also something not mentioned in Mr. Chauvin’s account in the arrest report. Mr. Skinaway said the officer put Mr. Peet’s head, facedown, in a rain puddle. Other officers were present as well, he said.
“He said, ‘I can’t breathe — can I just put my head up?’” Mr. Skinaway said. “And they just held his face in the water, and I couldn’t see a purpose for that.”
Mr. Skinaway said he was about seven feet away as he watched Mr. Peet struggle for air, bubbles surfacing as he tried to breathe. He estimated that the officer kept Mr. Peet in the puddle for two to three minutes. Whenever Mr. Peet managed to turn his head for air, Mr. Skinaway said, the officer grabbed him by his long hair and put his head back in the water.
When he spoke by phone with a reporter, Mr. Skinaway said he did not know the officer’s name or that there was a connection with the Floyd case, but the details he described match those noted in the police report and prosecutors’ account.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Mr. Nelson, said in a court filing that the officer had acted according to police policy. “It was after midnight in South Minneapolis, and a man who refused to remove his hands from his pockets repeatedly approached the officers after being told not to,” he said. The filing said Mr. Peet’s actions had created concern for the officers’ safety.
Mr. Peet was charged with misdemeanor obstruction of the legal process and disorderly conduct, but it is unclear from court records what happened to the charges. The records show Mr. Peet has a history of court-ordered treatment for mental illness. In a phone call, Mr. Peet told a reporter that he did not recall the encounter.
Some of those whom Mr. Chauvin arrested said that learning the same officer had been involved in Mr. Floyd’s death made them regret they had not pushed harder to hold the officer and the department accountable.
“I don’t have nothing against cops, I got relatives that are cops,” said Mr. Hernandez, the carpenter arrested at the nightclub. “But he should have never been on the force that long.”
Original art by Mr. Fish
The death spiral of the American Empire will not be halted with civility. It will not be halted with the 42 executive orders signed by Joe Biden, however welcome many are, especially since they can, with a new chief executive, be immediately revoked. It will not be halted by removing Donald Trump, and the crackpot conspiracy theorists, Christian fascists and racists who support him, from social media. It will not be halted by locking up the Proud Boys and the clueless protestors who stormed the Congress on January 6 and took selfies in Mike Pence’s Senate chair. It will not be halted by restoring the frayed alliances with our European allies or rejoining the World Health Organization or the Paris Climate Agreement. All of these measures are window dressing, masking the root cause of the demise of America — unchecked oligarchic power and greed. The longer wealth is funneled upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal, who put Biden into office and whose interests he assiduously serves, we are doomed.
Once an oligarchy seizes power, deforming governing institutions to exclusively serve their narrow interests and turning the citizenry into serfs, there are only two options, as Aristotle pointed out — tyranny or revolution. The staggering concentration of wealth and obscene avarice of the very rich now dwarfs the hedonism and excesses of the world’s most heinous despots and wealthiest capitalists of the past. In 2015, shortly before he died, Forbes estimated David Rockefeller’s net worth was $3 billion. The Shah of Iran looted an estimated $1 billion from his country. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos amassed between $5 and $10 billion. And the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was worth about a billion. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are each at $180 billion.
The new wealth comes from a cartel capitalism far more concentrated and far more criminal than any of the cartels built by the old robber barons of the 19th century. It was made possible by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who, in exchange for corporate money to fund their campaigns and later Clinton’s foundation and post-presidency opulent lifestyle, abolished the regulations that once protected the citizenry from the worst forms of monopoly exploitation. The demolishing of regulations made possible the largest upwards transference of wealth in American history. Whatever you say about Trump, he at least initiated moves to break up Facebook, Google, Amazon and the other Silicon Valley monopolists, none of which will happen under Biden, whose campaign these corporations bankrolled. And that has to be one of the reasons these digital platforms disappeared Trump from social media.
The new robber barons peddle the classless identity politics of the Democratic Party to deflect attention from their stranglehold on wealth and power, as well as their exploitation of workers, especially those that make their products overseas. Corporations such as Walmart have 80 percent of their suppliers in China. These corporations are full partners in China’s state-controlled capitalism and suppression of basic labor rights and wages, where most Chinese workers make less than $350 a month and toil in Dickensian conditions.
There is no political will among the ruling elites to defend the rights of Amazon workers who are aggressively blocked by the company, the country’s second largest employer, from forming unions, work all night in drafty, COVID-19-infested warehouses or deliver packages for $15 an hour, which leaves thousands of Amazon workers dependent on food stamps. Likewise, this is no political will among the elites to defend the rights of workers in China, often forced to work 100 hours of overtime a month in sweatshops for as little as $2 or $3 an hour.
History has repeatedly illustrated the dire consequences of extreme social inequality. It foments revolutionary ferment, which can come from the left or the right. Either a leftwing populism that smashes oligarchic power takes control or its counterfeit, a rightwing populism, built on the poisoned solidarity of hate, racism, vengeance and violence — and bankrolled by the hated oligarchs that use it as a front to solidify tyranny. We are barreling towards the latter.
The soaring levels of social inequality are laid out in stark statistics that are reflected back to us in the pain, despair and suffering afflicting perhaps 70 percent of the US public. The wealth of US billionaires has increased to over $1.1 trillion since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic began to ravage the country, a nearly 40 percent leap during the past 10 months. The total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires, $4.1 trillion, is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans. An additional eight million Americans were recently classified as “newly poor” as the poverty rate increased 2.4 percentage points from June to December 2020. It is now at 11.8 percent, although many economists argue that the official poverty rate of $26,500 for a family of four masks the fact that perhaps half the country lives in real poverty.
The official poverty rate for Blacks has climbed 5.4 percent to 23.6 percent just between June and December, but again is probably at least twice that number. Blacks, along with Hispanic and Native American people, are also dying from COVID-19 at almost three times the rate of white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, despite the fact that many Blacks work in the health care industry they are being inoculated at percentages far below those of whites. In Maryland, for example, Black people make up 30 percent of the population and 40 percent of the health care industry yet account for just 16 percent of those who have been vaccinated. Since the beginning of the pandemic, landlords have filed more than 227,000 evictions in just the 27 cities in five states that the Princeton Eviction Lab tracks — and that is with a national eviction moratorium. Twelve million renters, who owe an average of $5,600 in back rent and utilities, now face being thrown out of their homes. By the end of 2020 there were an estimated 50 million food-insecure Americans, up from 35 million in 2019. One in four households with children, according to a report from Feeding America, experienced food insecurity in 2020.
The response by the ruling oligarchs is the equivalent of tossing coins from their gilded carriages to the despised masses. The Democrats have proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, but not until 2025. Biden has actually called for reducing the proposed third stimulus check — a $1,200 check for eligible adults was issued last spring and a $600 per person check was issued earlier this month — from $2,000 to $1,400. The oligarchs have bristled at even these meager responses. Larry Summers, Clinton’s treasury secretary who orchestrated the Wall Street bailout in 2008, called the $2,000 checks — crumbs compared to the trillions handed to Wall Street speculators —- a “serious mistake.” Elon Musk, now one of the two richest humans, said that a second “government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people.”
The response by a morally bankrupt ruling class are symbolic, given that we are enduring the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and an estimated one-third of all Americans are struggling to pay their bills. It illustrates how woefully disconnected the elites are from the lives of those they dominate.
Unless families receive regular monthly payments of at least $2,000 until the pandemic ends; unless the country has access to universal health care, especially during a national health crisis; unless the nation radically pivots from fossil fuels to halt the looming ecocide; unless the crippling debts that are draining the bank accounts of American families are reduced or forgiven; unless there is an unassailable moratorium on evictions and foreclosures; and unless manufacturers at home and overseas are forced through stringent trade agreements and labor laws to pay decent wages, abide by strict labor regulations and permit independent unions, the oligarchs will only accelerate their pillage.
The class warfare is global. Not until workers in sweatshops in China, Mexico, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh are lifted out of poverty will the American working class be lifted out of poverty. This class war is the real fight, which corporate-owned media platforms and bankrupt liberals refuse to discuss.
“In a real sense all life is inter-related,” Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
Liberalism, which Rosa Luxemburg called by its more appropriate name — “opportunism” — is an integral component of capitalism. When the citizens grow restive, or when capitalism goes into crisis as it did in the 1930s, liberals ameliorate capitalism’s cruel excesses. Franklin Delano Roosevelt correctly said his greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism.
But capitalism, Luxemburg argued, is an enemy that can never be appeased. Liberal reforms, such as the New Deal legislation, are used to temporarily stymie organized resistance and then later, when things grow quiet, dismantled to reinstitute capitalist slavery. The history of capitalism illustrates this constant seesaw between liberal reforms and unregulated, capitalist exploitation. The last century of labor struggles in the United States, which has seen unions largely obliterated, and the advent of neoliberalism, austerity, rampant militarism and deindustrialization amply prove Luxemburg’s thesis.
Fascism is the result of a failed liberalism. With liberalism corrupted, as it has been in the hands of the Democratic Party since Bill Clinton, all self-identified liberals have left to peddle is cloying appeals for tolerance and civility, shorn of economic justice. This politesse, which epitomizes the Biden White House, fuels an animus towards the ruling elites, along with the feckless liberals and the liberal values they purport to defend.
The elevation of women, people of color and those with different sexual orientations to managerial positions in the oligarchic state is not an advance. It is a species of corporate colonialism. It is branding. It is the substitution of cultural politics for real politics.
When the Belgian colonizers could no longer openly exploit the Congo, they installed the corrupt and compliant puppet Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, after, of course, assassinating the courageous independence leader and first prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Mobuto, who embezzled between $4 and $15 billion during his bloody dictatorial reign, served his colonial masters until the end. Expect the same prostrations before corporate power from the diverse appointments in Biden’s cabinet and, should it be required, the same state repression.
The political, cultural and judicial systems in any capitalist state are centered around the sanctity of private property. Laws and legislation are instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or, as Luxemburg writes, “those who have some property against those who have none at all.” This inherent bias in capitalist societies, however, becomes criminal once monopolies, from Wall Street Banks to Silicon Valley, seize the organs of power. These monopolists create, by abolishing regulation and oversight, as political economist Karl Polanyi writes, first a mafia economy and then, inevitably, a mafia state.
The Democrats and Republicans have legalized a level of greed and fraud that even heirs of the robber barons thought unsustainable. David Rockefeller’s “enlightened capitalism,” however self-serving, along with his call for a nation of stakeholders and his formation of the Trilateral Commission, have been pushed aside to license unchecked corporate pillage.
Bill Clinton and his two treasury secretary enablers, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, instituted a system of unregulated capitalism that has resulted in financial anarchy. This anarchic form of capitalism, where everything, including human beings and the natural world, is a commodity to exploit until exhaustion or collapse, is justified by identity politics. It is sold as “enlightened liberalism” as opposed to the old pro-union class politics that saw the Democrats heed the voices of the working class. Financial anarchy and short-term plunder have destroyed long-term financial and political stability. It has also pushed the human species, along with most other species, closer and closer towards extinction.
The more workers are dehumanized, as Polanyi notes, the more the ruling elites are morally degraded. Unheard-of wealth creates unheard-of poverty. “Scholars proclaimed in unison that a science had been discovered which put the laws governing man’s world beyond any doubt,” Polanyi writes of laissez-faire capitalists. “It was at the behest of these laws that compassion was removed from the hearts, and a stoic determination to renounce human solidarity in the name of the greatest happiness of the greatest number gained the dignity of a secular religion.” Workers, abandoned by the state, reach a point where they resemble more “spectators that might haunt a nightmare than human beings.”
The shipping of jobs overseas, where workers toil in conditions that replicate the worst abuses of the early industrial revolution, leaves those in the industrialized world unable to compete. A living wage, job security and benefits are replaced by the insecurity of the “gig” economy. This global market forces workers, whether in the Rust Belt or in China, to surrender before the dictates of their corporate masters. The bondage of the working class, at home and abroad, cannot be corrected by legal or legislative reform when the political system is hostage to corporate money and political office is defined by legalized bribery.
Global capitalism relentlessly searches the globe to exploit cheap, unorganized labor and plunder natural resources. This is its nature, as Karl Marx understood. It buys off or overthrows local elites. It blocks the ability of the developing world to become self-sufficient. At the same time, it strips workers in the industrialized world of good paying jobs, benefits and legal protections, pushing them into crippling debt peonage, which further swells the bank accounts of these global speculators. Its two unrelenting goals are the maximization of profit and the reduction of the cost of production, which demands that workers be disempowered and treated like prisoners. This global assault on the working class is fueling a global rage. And its visage, as we see among the white, dispossessed working class in America, can often be very ugly.
Apple, one of the most profitable companies in the world, is the epitome of “enlightened” global capitalism. WIRED reported that “employees at Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle have contributed nearly 20 times as much money to Biden as to Trump since the beginning of 2019. According to data released by the Federal Election Commission, which requires individuals who contribute $200 or more to a presidential campaign to report their employer, employees at these six companies have contributed $4,787,752 to Biden and just $239,527 to Trump.”
Employees at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, WIRED reported, are Biden’s biggest financial backers in Silicon Valley. They donated nearly $1.8 million, more than one-third of the money raised from employees of the six companies. Open Secrets, a campaign finance watchdog, found that contributions from Alphabet’s employees and political action committee to the Biden campaign collectively exceed those from any other company. Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, Open Secrets found, account for five of the seven largest donors to the Biden campaign on that basis.
Apple in China, however, treats its workers little better than 19th-century serfs. Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai in Dying for an iPhone, chronicle the endemic labor abuses, including substandard wages and wage theft, long hours, union busting, a refusal to pay sick leave, unsafe labor conditions, a harsh work environment and pressure to meet quotas, that contribute to a high rate of worker suicides in factories that make Apple products. Workers are crammed into overcrowded dormitories next to factories “to facilitate high-speed, round-the-clock production” and are forced to put in as much as 130 overtime hours a month.
The disenfranchised white working class embraced Trump because he taunted and belittled the globalists and monopoly capitalists who destroyed their communities and their lives. For them, Trump’s vulgarity was a welcome respite from the cloying language of inclusivity and political correctness used by the oligarchs to mask the crimes of monopoly capitalism. The connecting tissue, in the United States, between these disparate, disenfranchised groups of white workers is Christian fascism.
Biden, a tool of global oligarchy, who naively intends to resurrect the ancien régime, is paving the way for a frightening despotism, one where voices of dissent, from the left and the right, are censored and all who refuse to accept the new global order are labeled as domestic terrorists and pounded into submission. Societal breakdown, which is looming, brings with it grotesque political distortions. Trump was a symptom of this breakdown. He was not the disease. This dystopian future, one that will probably end in the United States in a form of Christian fascism, has been bequeathed to us by the ruling global elites, who in another era would have been found promenading through the halls of Versailles or the Forbidden City.
But Biden has offered a way to reduce child poverty by half. That would be transformative.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, Feb. 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/opinion/biden-child-poverty.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Imagine you have some neighbors in a mansion down the road who pamper one child with a credit card, the best private school and a Tesla.
The parents treat most of their other kids decently but not lavishly — and then you discover that the family consigns one child to an unheated, vermin-infested room in the basement, denying her dental care and often leaving her without food.
You’d call 911 to report child abuse. You’d say those responsible should be locked up. You’d steam about how vile adults must be to allow a child to suffer like that.
But that’s us. That household, writ large, is America and our moral stain of child poverty.
Some American children attend $70,000-a-year nursery schools, but 12 million kids live in households that lack food. The United States has long had one of the highest rates of child poverty in the advanced world — and then the coronavirus pandemic aggravated the suffering.
Now we could have a thrilling breakthrough: President Biden included a proposal in his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that one study says would cut child poverty by half. We in the news media have focused on direct payments to individuals, but the historic element of Biden’s plan is its effort to slash child poverty.
“The American Rescue Plan is the most ambitious proposal to reduce child poverty ever proposed by an American president,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, told me.
A couple of decades from now, America will be pretty much the same whether direct payments end up being $1,000 or $1,400. But this will be a transformed nation if we’re able to shrink child poverty on our watch.
So the most distressing part of 10 Republican senators’ counterproposal to Biden was their decision to drop the plan to curb child poverty. Please, Mr. President, don’t budge on this.
And senators, what are you thinking? Is the supposedly “pro-family” party battling to preserve child poverty?
“So many of them speak about religion and Jesus and children,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has long pushed for these anti-poverty measures, told me. “How do you leave behind millions of children and their families living in poverty?”
Perhaps some misread the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus says (19:14) “suffer the little children” to approach him; he absolutely does not recommend “the little children shall suffer.”
To their credit, some Republican senators, including Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, have spoken positively of elements in the Biden plan against child poverty. But over all what’s astonishing is that a program so important to America’s future has received little attention.
“To me, it’s the most transformational thing that’s under discussion, and nobody’s talking about it,” said Luke Shaefer, a poverty expert at the University of Michigan.
The centerpiece of the child poverty plan is an expansion of the child tax credit, up to $3,600 a year for young children. This would cost as much as $120 billion a year and, critically, would be paid out monthly to families that earn too little to pay taxes. Even a sum as modest as $3,600 is transformative for many low-income families.
One reason to think that this would be so successful is that many other countries have used similar strategies to cut child poverty by large margins. Canada’s parallel approach cut child poverty by 20 to 30 percent, depending on who’s counting, and Britain under Tony Blair cut child poverty in half.
None of this is simple, and monthly stipends don’t solve all problems. One child in eight lives with a parent struggling with substance abuse. While I’ve seen many families striving to do their best for their children even as they’re crushed by low-wage jobs, I once visited a home in Arkansas in which a boy had three televisions in his bedroom but no food in the house. Love and dysfunction can coexist.
So let’s be honest: The child tax credit would help enormously, but we also need home visiting programs, high-quality preschool, lead reduction, addiction treatment and other support for moms and dads, serious efforts to combat family homelessness, and initiatives to help parents get better jobs in ways that lift them and their children out of poverty.
Maybe you think this is unaffordable? One prominent estimate suggests that child poverty costs the United States about $1 trillion annually in reduced adult productivity, increased crime and higher health care costs — so the question isn’t can we afford to help children, but can we afford not to?
Yes, all this is messy, but other industrialized countries manage to do better than we do at helping children, because those countries make it a priority.
Now we can make it our priority, too, helping children and our country alike. As Furman says, “investments in children are not just a handout but a hand up.” Let’s empower our nation’s children, and stop abusing them.
The consulting firm has reached the agreement with 47 states because of its advice to drugmakers, including Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin.
By Michael Forsythe and Walt Bogdanich, Published Feb. 3, 2021, Updated Feb. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/business/mckinsey-opioids-settlement.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
McKinsey & Company, the consultant to blue-chip corporations and governments around the world, has agreed to pay $573 million to settle investigations into its role in helping “turbocharge” opioid sales, a rare instance of it being held publicly accountable for its work with clients.
The firm has reached the agreement with attorneys general in 47 states, the District of Columbia and five territories, according to a court filing in Massachusetts on Thursday. The settlement comes after lawsuits unearthed a trove of documents showing how McKinsey worked to drive sales of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin painkiller amid an opioid crisis in the United States that has contributed to the deaths of more than 450,000 people over the past two decades.
McKinsey’s extensive work with Purdue included advising it to focus on selling lucrative high-dose pills, the records show, even after the drugmaker pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal criminal charges that it had misled doctors and regulators about OxyContin’s risks. The firm also told Purdue that it could “band together” with other opioid makers to head off “strict treatment” by the Food and Drug Administration.
Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, said the investigation involved reviewing “thousands and thousands of documents and emails” that, taken together, told “the story of MckInsey’s wrongdoing.”
“Its always been about holding accountable those who created and profited off the opioid epidemic,” she said. Ms. Healey was the first state attorney general to investigate McKinsey’s business dealings with Purdue.
The consulting firm will not admit wrongdoing, according to the settlement, but will agree to court-ordered restrictions on its work with some types of addictive narcotics. McKinsey will also retain emails for five years and disclose potential conflicts of interest when bidding for state contracts. And in a move similar to the tobacco industry settlements decades ago, it will put tens of thousands of pages of documents related to its opioid work onto a publicly available database.
States will use the civil penalties — $478 million of which must be paid within 60 days — for opioid treatment, prevention and recovery programs, the settlement document says. It will be the first money states will see after Purdue Pharma in October agreed to pay $8.3 billion and plead guilty to federal criminal charges over its marketing of OxyContin. Purdue declared bankruptcy, meaning the states party to that agreement will have to line up with other creditors.
Separately, members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue, agreed last fall to pay the federal government $225 million in civil penalties, and are in talks with other litigants to pay $3 billion.
Massachusetts and many other states were dissatisfied with the October deal, which the Trump administration’s Justice Department reached only days before the former president was defeated in November’s election.
The amount McKinsey is paying is substantially more than it earned from opioid-related work with Purdue or Johnson & Johnson, Endo International and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, its other opioid-maker clients, a person involved in the settlement negotiations said.
The 47 states that signed on to the agreement do not include Nevada, Washington and West Virginia. The attorney general’s office in Washington said it had reached its own $13 million settlement with McKinsey and would file the agreement on Thursday. Additionally, several counties and cities across the country — including Mingo County in West Virginia, one of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis — have sued McKinsey in recent days. And the agreement will not preclude the Biden administration from possible legal action against the firm.
In a statement on Thursday, McKinsey said it believed “its past work was lawful and has denied allegations to the contrary.”
But Kevin Sneader, the firm’s global managing partner, said: “We deeply regret that we did not adequately acknowledge the tragic consequences of the epidemic unfolding in our communities. With this agreement, we hope to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis in the U.S.”
One former partner called the settlement hugely significant because it shatters the distance that McKinsey — which argues that it only makes recommendations — puts between its advice and its clients’ actions. For decades, the firm has avoided legal liability for high-profile failures of some clients, including the energy company Enron and Swissair, Switzerland’s defunct national airline. The former partner asked for anonymity because former McKinsey employees are bound by confidentiality agreements.
Making McKinsey and its competitors even more vulnerable is the fact that in recent years they have aggressively moved into a new line of work, not only offering management advice but also helping companies implement their suggestions.
That is what happened with McKinsey at Purdue, said Phil Weiser, the attorney general for Colorado. Two McKinsey senior partners led the firm’s effort to implement plans to drive sales, working with members of the Sackler family and even overruling Purdue executives, Mr. Weiser said.
“When you see the actions of these McKinsey partners, they were almost acting as executives of the firm,” Mr. Weiser said.
The McKinsey materials released in litigation over the last two years go back as far as 2004 and are as recent as 2019.
The records highlight McKinsey’s close relationship with Purdue over many years. In 2009, the firm wrote a report for Purdue saying that new sales tactics would increase sales of OxyContin by as much as $400 million annually, and suggested “sales ‘drivers’ based on the idea that opioids reduce stress and make patients more optimistic and less isolated,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Massachusetts. McKinsey worked with Purdue executives in finding ways “to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed” on the drug.
In 2013, the federal government reached a settlement with Walgreens, the pharmacy chain, to crack down on illegal opioid prescriptions. Sales to Walgreens began to fall. According to the Massachusetts lawsuit, McKinsey recommended that Purdue “lobby Walgreens’ leaders to loosen up.”
And in a 2017 slide presentation for Purdue, McKinsey laid out several options to shore up sales. One was to give distributors a rebate for every OxyContin overdose attributable to pills they sold. The slides are notable for their granular detail. For example, McKinsey estimated that 2,484 CVS customers would overdose or develop an opioid use disorder in 2019 from taking OxyContin. CVS said the plan was never implemented.
By 2018, senior executives at McKinsey were becoming aware that they might face liability for their opioid work. After Massachusetts sued Purdue, Martin Elling, a leader in the firm’s pharmaceutical practice, wrote to another partner, Arnab Ghatak: “It probably makes sense to have a quick conversation with the risk committee to see if we should be doing anything” other than “eliminating all our documents and emails. Suspect not but as things get tougher there someone might turn to us.”
Both men were put on administrative leave pending the results of an outside investigation into whether any material was destroyed, McKinsey’s North America managing partner, Liz Hilton Segel, said in a letter to Congress in December.
On Thursday, a spokesman for McKinsey said the two men had been fired.
Testing found high levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium in some ingredients, congressional investigators said.
By Roni Caryn Rabin, Feb. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/health/baby-food-metals-arsenic.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Ingredients in many baby foods, including some organic fare, are contaminated with heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium at levels that are far higher than those allowed in products like bottled water, congressional investigators said on Thursday.
Their report underscored the federal government’s persistently lax approach to overseeing the safety of baby food, some experts said, despite clear risks to infants and toddlers. Exposure to heavy metals in particular has been linked to behavioral impairments, brain damage and even death.
“This is an endemic problem that’s been swept under the rug and never addressed,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the program on reproductive health and the environment at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the preparation of the congressional report.
“It speaks to the many areas that we need government to be active in,” she added. “Consumers can’t figure it out on their own.”
The report, by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, drew on data from four companies that responded to requests for information about testing policies and test results regarding their products.
Investigators reserved their harshest criticism for three other companies that did not provide the requested information: Walmart, which sells Parents’ Choice and Parent’s Choice Organic products; Sprout Organic Foods; and Campbell Soup Company, maker of Plum Organics baby foods.
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, who is chairman of the subcommittee, said the failure to provide the requested information “raises the concern that perhaps they have evidence of even higher metallic content in their baby foods, compared to their competitors.”
Representatives of Walmart and Campbell Soup disputed the characterization, saying the companies had responded to requests for information, although they acknowledged they did not provide testing data. Sprout did not respond to a request for comment.
The Food and Drug Administration does not set limits on heavy metals specifically for baby foods, except for arsenic in rice cereal. The agency does regulate lead in bottled water, juice and candy, and limits arsenic and cadmium in bottled water, as well.
The agency “has been AWOL” and has “completely put its head in the sand and not done anything to regulate the industry,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said. He plans to introduce legislation to tighten regulatory oversight of baby food, he added.
An F.D.A. spokesman said that the agency had been working toward reducing toxins in foods, and that setting the limit on inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal was the first step toward doing so, though the limit has been criticized by expert groups as too high.
The agency also has cautioned parents that rice cereal does not need to be an infant’s introduction to solid foods and that they should not rely on it excessively, and should provide a varied grain diet.
Companies rarely test baby food for contaminants before sending the jars to retail shelves. Two companies that did so — Nurture, which makes Happy Family Organics products, and Hain Celestial, which produces Earth’s Best Organic foods — found inorganic arsenic at levels exceeding 100 parts per billion, the limit proposed by the F.D.A. for infant rice cereal in 2016 and formally adopted last year.
Nurture appeared to disregard its own internal “goal threshold” of 100 p.p.b. for arsenic in snacks called “puffs,” which exceeded that limit.
Gemma Hart, a spokeswoman for Nurture, said that Happy Family products were safe and that the metals, which are naturally found in soil and water, were present only in “trace amounts.”
While heavy metals do occur naturally in some grains and vegetables, the amounts may be increased when food manufacturers add other ingredients to baby food, like enzymes and vitamin and mineral mixes that are heavily tainted with metals, the report said. Manufacturers rarely test ingredients for mercury.
Investigators also described what they called a “secret” industry presentation to the F.D.A. on Aug. 1, 2019. Representatives of Hain told regulators that testing only individual ingredients in baby food led to an underestimate of the content of heavy metals in the final product.
For example, inorganic arsenic ranged from 28 percent to 93 percent higher in Hain’s finished baby food than had been estimated by tests of the individual ingredients. Half of its brown rice products exceeded 100 parts per billion, according to the report.
Robin Shallow, a spokeswoman for Hain Celestial, said the company had not seen the report yet and could not comment on specifics, and added that Hain is continuously refining its internal testing procedures in collaboration with the F.D.A. “to ensure our products exceed safety and nutrition standards, including screening out harmful levels of substances that occur naturally.”
Beech-Nut, which used ingredients with high levels of arsenic to improve qualities like “crumb softness” in some products, set very liberal thresholds for arsenic and cadmium in its additives, according to the report: 3,000 p.p.b. of cadmium in additives like vitamin mix, and 5,000 p.p.b. of lead in an enzyme additive called BAN 800.
The company used cinnamon that contained 886.9 p.p.b. of lead, according to the report. The company’s standards for cadmium and lead in additive ingredients “far surpass any existing regulatory standard in existence,” the investigators said. Other added spices, like oregano and cumin, were also high in lead.
By comparison, the F.D.A. has said that lead should not exceed 5 p.p.b. in bottled water, 50 p.p.b. in juices and 100 p.p.b. in candy. Cadmium should not exceed 5 p.p.b. in bottled water, the agency has said. The European Union limits cadmium to 15 p.p.b. in infant formula.
“No level of exposure to these metals has been shown to be safe in vulnerable infants,” said Linda McCauley, dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University, who studies environmental health effects.
Exposure from several sources can lead to cumulative effects that are dangerous to infants, she added.
In a statement, Beech-Nut Nutrition did not address the specific amounts but sought to reassure parents that the company had “rigorous testing protocols and strict standards in place.”
The investigators cited Gerber, one of the world’s best-known baby food manufacturers, for using ingredients with high levels of lead and for selling carrots with high levels of cadmium.
The company takes steps to minimize the metals in its products, said Dana Stambaugh, a spokeswoman, adding: “The health and safety of babies is our highest priority.”
The report called on the F.D.A. to set standards for heavy metals in baby food that will protect infants against neurological injury, and not just reduce the risk of developing illnesses like cancer in the longer term.
The investigators said the agency should require baby food manufacturers to test finished products, not just ingredients, for heavy metals; report the test results on food labels so consumers can see them; and phase out ingredients like rice, which may be loaded with heavy metals.
In the meantime, parents can protect babies by not feeding them infant rice cereal or other products like snacks made with rice flour. Healthy-sounding snacks like Nurture Happy Baby’s apple and broccoli puffs, or its strawberry and beet puffs, contained high levels of arsenic, according to the report.
Though rice cereal is often one of a baby’s first foods, both white and brown rice contain levels of inorganic arsenic that are up to six times higher than some other cereals made from grains like barley, oatmeal, organic quinoa, wheat or buckwheat, according to the nonprofit group Healthy Babies Bright Futures.
The group issued a report in 2019 on heavy metals in baby foods. It also recommends that parents not use teething biscuits that can contain heavy metals and cause tooth decay.
Parents should not give babies juice to drink, the group says, and should provide a variety of fruits and vegetables, so as to minimize exposure to carrots and sweet potatoes, which may be high in lead and cadmium.
Democrats in control of the Legislature are pushing for a ban on executions, the latest policy change in an ascendant progressive agenda in the state.
By Trip Gabriel, Feb. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/us/politics/virginia-death-penalty-northam.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Since taking control of the state Legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have enacted a run of progressive laws — on gun control, abortion access and the removal of Confederate monuments. Now Virginia is poised to become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a sign of ascendant liberal political power in a state that has executed more people since the 1970s than any other except Texas.
The action follows a spate of federal executions in the last months of the Trump administration that thrust capital punishment back into the national spotlight.
The Virginia State Senate on Wednesday passed a ban on executions along a party-line vote, and a similar measure is moving forward in the House of Delegates, which could vote on final passage on Friday. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, thanks to a blue wave in November 2019 that was a rebuke to former President Donald J. Trump.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who championed other progressive laws, said it was past time for the state to end capital punishment.
“It’s important that we shut down the machinery of death here in Virginia,” Mr. Northam said in an interview on Thursday. He cited a case in which the state came within days of executing a man in 1985 who was later cleared by DNA evidence, as well as the racial inequity in the percentage of Black people who have been put to death.
In his State of the Commonwealth address last month, Mr. Northam called for abolition of the death penalty, saying a person was three times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim was white than Black.
Seventeen of the 18 Republicans in the Senate opposed the ban, arguing that some crimes are so heinous that execution is justified as punishment.
“These are savage crimes,” Senator Mark Obenshain, a Republican, said after describing the case of a man executed in 2017 for killing a couple and their two young daughters in a home invasion in Richmond.
Acknowledging that racial inequities and false convictions took place in the past, Republicans said that DNA evidence and the rarity of capital cases — there are just two inmates on death row currently — meant it was being judiciously applied today.
“I do not believe that this bill is an appropriate response to misapplications of capital punishment of decades and centuries past,” Mr. Obenshain said.
Since the United States Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has executed 113 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Only Texas, with 576 executions, has surpassed it. But the pace in Virginia has slowed in recent years. There have been no state executions since 2017 and no capital convictions since 2011 in the state.
Democratic officials have become increasingly outspoken about abolishing capital punishment, including Mr. Northam, who opposed the death penalty in a debate in 2017 while running for governor, shortly after Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also a Democrat, declined to halt the execution of a mentally ill man.
“It symbolizes the transformative change in Virginia’s political culture over 30 years," Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst in the state, said Thursday.
When Tim Kaine ran for governor in 2005, he said he personally opposed capital punishment but would carry it out as chief executive. But such a political straddle is no longer needed in a state that has ceased to be closely divided between the parties.
Virginia has moved decisively from being a battleground in presidential years to a blue state, and President Biden won it by 10 percentage points. Mr. Trump’s four years in office seriously damaged the G.O.P. brand in the state’s most populous regions, and few see a political cost to opposing the death penalty in elections this year for governor, attorney general and legislative seats.
“In terms of where the Democrats win elections in Virginia right now, I’m not sure there’s a downside to it,” Mr. Holsworth said.
The Trump administration’s spree of executions seems to have given the issue some urgency in Virginia. After a 17-year hiatus in which the Justice Department did not carry out any federal executions, lethal injections resumed in mid-2020, and 13 people were put to death. They included a Virginia man executed in Indiana five days before the inauguration of Mr. Biden, who has promised to abolish the federal death penalty.
“I heard more from people saying it’s time to end the death penalty during those executions than I have before,” said Jennifer McClellan, a Democratic candidate for Virginia governor in 2021 and a sponsor of the bill that passed the State Senate. “The bill was filed last year, but the rash of executions just put the issue front and center for some people who hadn’t thought about it before.”
Ms. McClellan, the vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the push was part of Mr. Northam’s drive to support issues of racial equity for Black Virginians, an agenda he committed to in early 2019 after surviving a blackface scandal that nearly forced his resignation.
“This is his final session, this is the final chance to secure a legacy,” she said of the governor, who cannot succeed himself under Virginia law.
To move the bill through the Legislature, Mr. Northam corralled a couple of Democratic senators who had previously supported capital punishment.
One was Richard L. Saslaw, the Democratic majority leader. He supported a 2016 bill to force condemned inmates to die by electric chair, in response to a shortage of lethal-injection drugs.
On Wednesday, Mr. Saslaw voted with his party to outlaw capital punishment.
“He’s changed his position,” Mr. Northam said. “I think that took bravery for him to do that.”
If the governor signs a bill, as expected, Virginia would be the 23rd state to end the death penalty.
Biden’s Raise the Wage Act should ensure that tipped workers receive fair pay.
By Michelle Alexander, Feb. 5, 2021
Ms. Alexander is a civil rights advocate, the author of “The New Jim Crow,” and a contributing Opinion writer.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/05/opinion/minimum-wage-racism.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=OpEd%20Columnists
Once upon a time, I thought that it was perfectly appropriate for restaurant workers to earn less than minimum wage. Tipping, in my view, was a means for customers to show gratitude and to reward a job well done. If I wanted to earn more as a restaurant worker, then I needed to hustle more, put more effort into my demeanor, and be a bit more charming.
I thought this even when I was a waitress, working at a burger and burrito joint called Munchies during the summers when I was a college student. Collecting tips gave me a certain satisfaction. I liked sweeping dollar bills and coins off tables into the front pocket of my blue apron. Each time someone left me a big tip, anything more than I expected, a tiny jolt of dopamine flooded my brain as though I had just hit a mini jackpot. I got upset when people stiffed me, walking out and leaving nothing or just pennies — a true insult — but whenever that happened I reminded myself that I might get lucky next time. Or I would do better somehow.
Never did it occur to me that it was fundamentally unjust for me to earn less than the minimum wage and to depend on the good will of strangers in order to earn what was guaranteed by law to most workers. I had no idea that tipping was a legacy of slavery or that racism and sexism had operated to keep women, especially Black women like me, shut out of federal protections for wage labor. I did not question tipping as a practice, though looking back I see that I should have.
The first week on the job, one of my white co-workers, a middle-aged woman from rural Oregon, pulled me aside after she watched a group of rowdy white men, who had been rude and condescending to me throughout their meal, walk out the door without leaving a tip. “From now on, dear,” she said, “I’ll take the rednecks. Just pass ’em on to me.” This became a kind of joke between us — a wink and a nod before we switched tables — except it wasn’t funny. The risk that my race, not the quality of my work, would determine how much I was paid for my services was ever-present.
So was the risk that I would be punished for not flirting with the men I served. Men of all ages commented on my looks, asked me if I had a boyfriend, slipped me their phone numbers, and expected me to laugh along with their sexist jokes. I often played along, after learning from experience that the price of resistance would be the loss of tips that I had rightfully earned.
The truth was, though, that I was shielded from the biggest risk that tipped workers face: not being able to make ends meet. During the summers I spent waitressing, I was living at home with my parents and had my basic needs taken care of. On days when business was slow, and only a few customers trickled in, I was reminded that my situation was not the norm. I remember a co-worker crying at the end of her shift, because she hadn’t earned enough in tips to pay the babysitter. I remember a few of us pooling our tips so another co-worker could buy groceries on her way home and feed her kids.
After I graduated from law school, I became a civil rights lawyer and began representing victims of race and gender discrimination in employment, as well as victims of racial profiling and police violence. But it wasn’t until I read Saru Jayaraman’s book, “Forked: A New Standard for American Dining,” that I learned the history of tipping in the United States. After the Civil War, white business owners, still eager to find ways to steal Black labor, created the idea that tips would replace wages. Tipping had originated in Europe as “noblesse oblige,” a practice among aristocrats to show favor to servants. But when the idea came to the United States, restaurant corporations mutated the idea of tips from being bonuses provided by aristocrats to their inferiors to becoming the only source of income for Black workers they did not want to pay. The Pullman Company tried to get away with it too, but the Black porters, under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph, formed the nation’s first Black union to be affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and fought and won higher wages with tips on top.
Restaurant workers, however — who were mostly women — were not so fortunate. The unjust concept of tips as wages remained in place for them. And in 1938, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the nation’s first minimum wage into law, it excluded restaurant workers, a category that included a disproportionate number of Black people.
In 1966, when our nation’s minimum wage was overhauled, restaurant workers were even more formally cut out with the creation of a subminimum wage for tipped workers. Today, 43 states and the federal government still persist with this legacy of slavery, allowing a tipped work force that is close to 70 percent female and disproportionately Black and brown women to be paid a subminimum wage. A nation that once enslaved Black people and declared them legally three-fifths of a person now pays many of their descendants less than a third of the minimum wage to which everyone else is entitled.
The subminimum wage for tipped workers isn’t simply born of racial injustice; it continues to perpetuate both race and gender inequity today.
In the mid-1960s, the guaranteed wage for tipped workers was $0 an hour. Today, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is just $2.13 an hour — a just over $2 increase — and a mostly female, disproportionately women of color work force of tipped workers still faces the highest levels of harassment of any industry. Women restaurant workers in states with subminimum wage report twice the rate of sexual harassment as women working in restaurants in the seven states that have enacted One Fair Wage — a full minimum wage with tips on top. The women in these seven states — California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Minnesota and Alaska — can rely on a wage from their employer and are not as dependent on tips and thus feel empowered to reject the harassment from customers.
The unfair power dynamic between women tipped workers and male customers in most states has only worsened during the pandemic. Women restaurant workers report being regularly subjected to ‘Maskual harassment’, in which male customers are demanding that women servers take off their masks so that they can judge their looks and their tips on that basis. With tips now down 50 to 75 percent, male customers know women workers are more desperate than ever.
For Black women, the situation is especially dire. Before the pandemic, Black women who are tipped restaurant workers earned on average nearly $5 an hour less than their white male counterparts nationwide — largely because they are segregated into more casual restaurants in which they earn far less in tips than white men who more often work in fine dining, but also because of customer bias in tipping.
With the pandemic, these inequities were exacerbated; nearly nine in 10 Black tipped workers reported that their tips decreased by half or more, compared to 78 percent of workers overall. All workers were asked to do more for less — enforcing social distancing and mask rules on top of serving customers, for far less in tips. Black workers were more likely to be punished by hostile customers for attempting to serve as public health marshals than other workers. Seventy-three percent of Black workers reported that their tips decreased due to enforcing Covid-19 safety measures, compared to 62 percent of all workers. Technically, federal law requires that employers must cover the difference when the hourly wage, subsidized by tips, does not amount to $7.25 an hour. But in practice, that mandate is frequently ignored. A federal review of employment records from 2010-2012 revealed that nearly 84 percent of full-service restaurants had committed wage and hour violations.
Fortunately, the subminimum wage for tipped workers might finally come to an end if Congress enacts the minimum wage policy in President Biden’s new $1.9 trillion relief package in its entirety. The Raise the Wage Act, if passed, would not only raise the minimum wage to $15 minimum wage but also fully phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers. This would be good news for women and people of color who’ve been denied a living wage and forced to endure harassment on the job, but it would ultimately benefit all tipped workers — and restaurants too. Workers in the seven states that have One Fair Wage receive similar or even higher tips as the workers in 43 states with a subminimum wage, and restaurants in those seven states have higher sales.
The National Restaurant Association has wasted no time launching a campaign to convince Congress to maintain the subminimum wage for tipped workers and the low minimum wage. This move hardly comes as a surprise. For more than 150 years since Emancipation, the restaurant industry has poured millions of dollars into lobbying elected officials to maintain their exemption from having to pay their workers a fair wage, causing tens of millions of women and men to experience poverty, food insecurity, home insecurity, and inequality over generations. As the Raise the Wage Act moves through Congress this month, the choice is clear: our representatives can choose to roll over to the trade lobby yet again and perpetuate a legacy of slavery, or they can choose to listen to the millions of workers — disproportionately women and people of color who increasingly represent this nation’s future voters — and make history during Black History Month by ending the subminimum wage for tipped workers once and for all.