Facebook org. page: https://www.facebook.com/Support-Alabama-Amazon-Workers-Bay-Area-102199671933591
Bessemer, Alabama Amazon Solidarity!
Many thanks to all who've signed the petition and made calls to Amazon and Morgan Lewis to tell them to stop union busting and express solidarity with the BAmazon Union.
Momentum behind the workers in Bessemer continues to build, as U.S. President Biden issued a statement supporting the workers' right to organize. This is a victory for the movement, given Biden's initial reluctance to say anything on what's happening in Bessemer, with many workers and activists pressuring him to go on record.
The Virtual Week of Action to show solidarity with the historic struggle being waged by the majority Black workers in Bessemer, Alabama to win the first U.S. union at Amazon continues with a tweet storm today and a solidarity selfie day on Thursday.
Bessemer Amazon Workers: Ignites National
Movement to Organize Labor in the South
The Feb 20, National Day of Action in solidarity with the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon workers, was a national call to action to support organizing the South. Thanks to the many who organized and participated in solidarity actions.
The Bessemer workers launched their campaign at a time of increasing repressive government and the rise of a racist and divisive social movement that threatened to turn back the clock on basic democratic rights. Like the 1955, Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott during a similar repressive and divisive period, the Bessemer Amazon workers led by the 80-percent Black and women majority and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), stepped forward.
Being the largest transnational corporation in the US, and a major part of the US and global economic supply-chain, Amazon corporate elites could not conceive of Amazon workers in the deep South, being a catalyst for igniting a national solidarity campaign.
Solidarity actions at Amazon sites were held in more than 50 cities, with 23 being in the South. The South is a region where US corporations and state governments have enacted the largest concentration of anti-labor laws and social policies designed to prevent unionization, keep wages low and working people divided. This has in turn helped to undermined the strength of the US national labor movement.
The Southern Workers Assembly (SWA), made the call for the National Day of Action, not as a one-time event. It is part of a larger strategy that requires the involvement of local and national labor unions, their rank-n-file, community organizations and social movements. It will take a national and international movement to organize transnational corporations in the South.
The SWA sees the national solidarity actions taking the next step to form local worker assemblies that unite rank-n-file workers, local unions and community organizations into a national network to expand organizing at Amazon locations and to support organizing labor in the South. The SWA will be reaching out to the 23 solidarity actions held in the South, to discuss developing an infrastructure of worker assemblies with rank-n-file organizers at Amazon and other major industries and sectors throughout the South.
With less than a month left before the union vote count of the Bessemer Amazon workers, the continuous solidarity actions in the form of weekly leafleting and developing and follow-up on Amazon worker contacts are important. Videos, photos and reports of weekly actions can be sent to the SWA at southernworker.org or at email@example.com for posting on the SWA website.
The SWA call for the Feb 20 National Day of Action for the Bessemer Amazon workers union campaign, has prompted the formation of other solidarity committees and actions to help to spread the word far and wide. The work of the SWA will be building worker assemblies, and training rank-n-file organizers/cadres as an infrastructure for organizing a radical labor movement in the South. Whatever corporate schemes Amazon tries to use to discredit or defeat the union vote, Amazon workers must maintain organization to continue to involve workers in a collective struggle for changes.
Victory to the Bessemer Amazon Workers!
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Shut Down Adelanto Coalition puts ICE on Trial! Sat March 28th, 12:00 pm
There will be testimony from impacted folks, expert testimony, and more.
More information to follow about who is scheduled to speak, the judges, and the length of the program.Please save the date + RSVP for the virtual People’s Tribunal at 12pm on Sunday March 28th here!
INNOCENT AND FRAMED - FREE MUMIA NOW!
NO STATE EXECUTION BY COVID!
NO ILLUSIONS IN “PROGRESSIVE” DA LARRY KRASNER!
The movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most prominent political prisoner in the U.S., from the slow death of life imprisonment and the jaws of this racist and corrupt injustice system is at a critical juncture. The battle to free Mumia must be is as ferocious as it has ever been. We continue to face the unrelenting hostility to Mumia by this racist capitalist injustice system, which is intent on silencing him, by all means.
Mumia is at immediate risk of death by covid! Mumia has tested positive for covid-19. The PA Department of Corrections and officials at SCI Mahanoy at first denied this, but then needed to hospitalize Mumia. He is now in the prison infirmary. Mumia’s life is on the line. He is almost 67 years old; his immune system is compromised because of liver cirrhosis from years of untreated hepatitis-C. It is also reported that Mumia now has congestive heart failure!
An international campaign succeeded in getting a judicial order that Mumia was deprived of essential health care and be treated with life-saving Harvoni treatment. That has compelled the DOC to provide the medication to Mumia and other prisoners infected with hep-C.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said it best, “The refusal of health-care reminds us of the conditions we were put in under Apartheid prisons where sick detainees were allowed to die in very deplorable lonely conditions in solitary as part of the punishment for their role in the struggle.”
We, in the Free Mumia movement, call on all to ACT NOW! Mumia must not die in prison from covid! He should be released, now!
Urgent: Email Gov. Tom Wolf, firstname.lastname@example.org; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal Must be Released from Prison! No State Execution by Covid! Prisoners 50 Years and Older Should also be Released from Prison to Protect them from Covid 19!
Mumia’s life was saved from legal lynching of state execution in 1995 and 1999 by the power of mass, international mobilization and protest, which included representatives of millions of unionized workers. Human and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and students won Mumia’s release from death row in 2012 and his medical treatment for deadly hep-C in 2017. Now we need to do the same to save his life from covid-19.
We also must face the latest obstacle in Mumia’s pending legal appeal.
In the prosecution Response to Mumia’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, filed February 3, 2021, “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner rubber stamps the lying, racially biased, politically motivated and corrupt conviction of Mumia for the murder of P.O. Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 under hanging judge Albert Sabo who promised, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
For decades Mumia fought racist and corrupt prosecutors in Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court. “Progressive” Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner joined their ranks in filing the prosecution legal brief to the Pennsylvania Superior Court stating that Mumia is guilty and should remain imprisoned for life.
There is a moment of opportunity to deepen the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. Political consciousness about the systemic racism of the U.S. injustice system and policing has reached a high level not seen in 50 years, accelerated by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and the massive protests that followed. Mumia’s name has been injected into struggles around Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the economic crisis. Notably, Colin Kaepernick has called for Mumia’s freedom.
There is also a new danger. Nationally and in Philadelphia, there is a rise in the illusions of the “progressive district attorney” who will upend the entrenched repressive, racially and class-biased [in]justice system, which is integral to capitalism and rooted in the legacy of slavery.
A new legal path to Mumia’s freedom was opened by the historic ruling in December 2018 from Philadelphia Court Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black jurist to review Mumia’s case. Judge Tucker granted Mumia the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial and police misconduct that had been rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. That evidence was proof that Mumia is factually innocent and framed and is legally entitled to dismissal of the charges against him, or at least a new trial.
“Progressive” DA Larry Krasner blocked that path with the prosecution’s legal Response to Mumia’s new appeal to the PA Superior Court on February 3, 2021. Krasner opposes Mumia getting a new trial—let alone a dismissal of the charges. And Krasner calls for the appeals court to dismiss Mumia’s appeal without even considering the facts and law. Krasner follows exactly the script of the notorious, pro-cop, racist prosecutors who preceded him, notably Edward Rendell, Lynne Abraham—called “one of America’s deadliest DAs” —and Ronald Castille, whose pro-cop, pro-prosecution, and pro-death penalty bias became the grounds opening up Mumia’s right to file this new appeal.
The Krasner Response begins with the same lying “statement of facts” of the case that has been used since Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial by District Attorney Edward Rendell. Krasner insists that Mumia’s appeal should be dismissed without considering the merits because it was “not timely filed.” This makes clear the falsity of Krasner’s purported withdrawal of his objection to Mumia’s new right of appeal granted by Judge Tucker.
Krasner also denies that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct—“Brady claims”—from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago in a DA storeroom are “material” and grounds for a new trial. This is legal jargon for saying the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. Krasner’s Response on the new evidence that the trial prosecutor purposely disqualified African-Americans as jurors is that the Pa Supreme Court has previously decided the jury selection process was fair and should not be re-examined.
As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct. Those due process violations included:
*trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
*African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
*police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting PO Faulkner which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
*the suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot PO Faulkner, that a shooter ran away and the confession to fatally shooting Faulkner.
But “progressive” DA Krasner argued these factors should not even be considered.
DA Krasner’s Response brief ends with: “For the foregoing reasons, including those set forth in the PCRA court’s opinions, the Commonwealth respectfully requests that this Court affirm the orders denying post-conviction relief.” This means District Attorney Krasner approved all previous court denials of Mumia’s challenges to his convictions made from 1995-2012, including those of Judge Sabo.
This Response is the definitive, final statement of District Attorney Larry Krasner to the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania. And should Mumia’s case return to the U.S. federal courts, this would remain the prosecution position: that Mumia is guilty and there are no legal or factual reasons to re-consider his conviction.
Once there has been a conviction and sentence, the District Attorney does not have unilateral authority or power to reverse a criminal conviction, order a new trial or dismiss the original charges. That decision rests the post-conviction review judge or appeals court.
The District Attorney does have enormous authority and credibility to argue to the courts that a case should be reversed, a new trial granted or charges dismissed. The opinion of the district attorney’s office is a persuasive authority to the reviewing court. And it was that process which resulted in overturning the convictions of 18 imprisoned men during the past three years. Those publicized reversals as well as Krasner’s promises of criminal justice reform; his “no objection” to releasing on parole the surviving, imprisoned MOVE 9 men and woman; his partial ban of cash bail and de-escalation of arrests for minor, non-violent offenses, and his record as a civil rights lawyer gave him credentials as a “progressive DA”.
Krasner’s Response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom.
To any who held out hope that Krasner would “do the right thing”, Krasner has never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process.
In fact, “progressive DA” Krasner was explicit when questioned during the proceedings brought by Maureen Faulkner to have him removed from Mumia’s case on grounds he was biased in favor of Mumia. Krasner was allowed to continue prosecuting Mumia in the Supreme Court ruling on December 16, 2020. During those proceedings, Larry Krasner assured the investigating judge that, “in my opinion based upon all the facts in law [sic] that I have is that he [Abu-Jamal] is guilty.” Further, the investigating judge found all prosecutors involved, including DA Krasner, stated, “it is their intention to defend the conviction, and that they are aware of no evidence that would support or justify a decision to the contrary or to concede any PCRA relief.”
It is precisely because Larry Krasner has a profile and reputation as “a progressive DA,” and faces hostility from the Fraternal Order of Police, and supporters of racist “law and order” who will be supporting anti-Krasner candidates in this year’s DA election that his total rejection of Mumia’s claim is so damaging.
The rejection of Mumia’s appeals by this “progressive DA” is not just equal to those of prior DAs but is more damaging. The position of the “progressive DA” in opposition to Mumia’s appeal provides additional rationale and justification for the appeals courts to reject Mumia’s appeals.
Krasner must be uncompromisingly exposed and denounced as not different from Judge Sabo and prior prosecutors. Mumia’s prosecution, his conviction, death sentence and appeal denials are an indictment of the entire racist capitalist injustice system. Opening up Mumia’s case exposes the racism, rot, corruption, brutality and fundamental injustice of the whole system. “Progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner would not and cannot go down that road and keep favor with the elements of the ruling class that seek to provide a “progressive” cover to delay and distract those who fight not only for Mumia, but for justice for all.
What is to be done to free Mumia? Continue to mobilize protest action demanding the Department of Corrections and Governor immediately release Mumia – along with prisoners 50 years and older to stop death by covid. In Pennsylvania the governor has the executive power to commute sentences and release prisoners who are serving life without parole.
We must expand the international campaign for Mumia’s freedom, centered on the understanding that Mumia is factually innocent and framed, that he never should have been arrested and prosecuted for a murder the state knows he did not commit. International mobilization has been critical to our prior limited victories. Now more than ever, we need to grow in strength and numbers Mumia’s defenders, including labor, Black Lives Matter, human rights and civil rights organizations, and left organizations in rallies and mass demonstrations.
Rachel Wolkenstein (former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal); and for the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal <laboractionmumia.org>: Jack Heyman (International Longshore and Warehouse Union-retired), Bob Mandel (Oakland Education Association-retired, member of Adult School Teachers United), Carole Seligman (Co-editor of Socialist Viewpoint)
March 5, 2021
Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not asof Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
It Is Now Freedom or Death For Mumia!
BRO. ZAYID MUHAMMAD - March 11, 2021
I’m going help them fry the nigger...” Judge Albert Sabo
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal...” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine all NNPA Black newspapers, for example, carrying regularly featured articles as a matter of priority on all of the evidence suppressed in Mumia’s case.
Imagine Black clergy rallying at major news sites condemning the white-out and/or the demonization of Mumia through their media entities.
Imagine Black elected officials from Philadelphia and from all over the country rallying to denounce the continued ordeal of this man.
Imagine surviving ’60s icons conducting civil disobedience at the governor’s office and the DA’s office in Philadelphia with an eager throng of two generations of action-hungry activists looking to bumrush it, en masse if it didn’t yield results.
Even though Mumia has survived two execution dates, 30 years on death row and several recent dangerous medical challenges, thankfully with the force of a multiracial international campaign at his back and our ancestors, this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to ask ‘why?’
As this goes to press, Mumia is in a prison infirmary dangling on a tightrope of both COVID-19 and congestive heart failure, a most deadly medical cocktail!
COVID-19 is most dangerous when it attacks the lungs, creates fluid in the lungs and then triggers fatal blood clots. Congestive heart failure, similarly speaking, creates fluid in the lungs, weakens the heart muscle and the kidneys. These two together are extremely deadly.
Not to mention Mumia’s Hep-C weakened liver and skin. Remember that?
Mumia needs to be hospitalized at minimum and truly needs to be released!
If ever there was a time to step forward for Mumia, it is now!
The most tragic dimensions surrounding Mumia’s current ordeal is that there is now so much ample evidence of his innocence, so much ample evidence of both prosecutorial and judicial misconduct to free him if he can just be allowed to get it in on an appeal and that evidence on the court record. In spite of Mumia clearly being on the verge of objectively vindicating himself, he can tragically die in prison if not enough of us turn it up now!
Wait! What about Philly’s highly prized progressive DA Larry Krasner? Hasn’t he moved to overturn more than a dozen bad convictions rooted in deep-seated Philly racism and corruption? Yes, but not for Mumia.
Even though his office ‘found’ six boxes of missing evidence in his case, which includes a letter from a star prosecution witness Robert Chobert seeking payment for his testimony, reeking of prosecutorial misconduct and granting Mumia a new trial, Krasner, up for re-election, went into court last month and said that no new appellate relief for Mumia ought to be granted because his trial and conviction were sound. From Judge Sabo vowing to help ‘fry the nigger,’ to suppressed eyewitness testimony that was not paid for by anyone totally contradicting Chobert’s, to the illegal exclusion of Black jurors from the trial, to Sabo having Veronica Jones arrested on the stand for telling the truth on how she was coerced to testify against Mumia, to their being clear evidence of another person being the actual killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner and a whole lot more, Krasner showed his true ‘white’ color and is now seeking to block Mumia’s real chance at justice and freedom at a time when it can genuinely cost him his life.
The time is now to turn it up and free this incredible human being who has become a breathing living gracious symbol of human solidarity like few others in the last several decades.
Let us all press Pennsylvania’s other liberal ‘fox’ Gov. Tom Wolf to have Mumia and all aging prisoners who pose no risk to society released to help address this insidious pandemic. Over 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons. All over 50 and with preexisting conditions.
Let’s press Mumia’s overseers John Wetzel head of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Bernadette Mason superintendent of Mahanoy Prison to get Mumia properly hospitalized.
Press DA Krasner to address his now dangerous wrong and go back into court and encourage a conviction reversal and a new trial for Mumia as he has done for others.
The time is now!
Seize The Time!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Gov. Tom Wolf 717-787-2500
Sec’y Dept of Corrections John Wetzel 717-728-2573
Supt of Mahanoy Corrections Institution Bernadette Mason 570-773-2158
DA Larry Krasner 267-456-1000
To support Mumia locally 212 -330-8029
In Philadelphia, 215-724-1618
Zayid Muhammad is a jazz poet, stage actor and well-known “cub” of the N.Y. chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Questions and comments may be sent to email@example.com
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!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
A vote on whether to form a union at the e-commerce giant’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., has become a labor showdown, drawing the attention of N.F.L. players, and the White House.
By Michael Corkery and Karen Weise, March 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/business/amazon-union-bessemer-alabama.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Players from the National Football League were among the first to voice their support. Then came Stacey Abrams, the Democratic star who helped turn Georgia blue in the 2020 election. The actor Danny Glover traveled to Bessemer, Ala., for a news conference last week, where he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pro-union leanings in urging workers at Amazon’s warehouse there to organize. Tina Fey has weighed in, and so has Senator Bernie Sanders.
Then on Sunday, President Biden issued a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers now voting on whether to form a union at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse, without mentioning the company by name. Posted to his official Twitter account, his video was one of the most forceful statements in support of unionizing by an American president in recent memory.
“Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union,” Mr. Biden said.
A unionizing campaign that had deliberately stayed under the radar for months has in recent days blossomed into a star-studded showdown to influence the workers. On one side is the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and its many pro-labor allies in the worlds of politics, sports and Hollywood. On the other is one of the world’s dominant companies, an e-commerce behemoth that has warded off previous unionizing efforts at its U.S. facilities over its more than 25-year history.
The attention is turning this union vote into a referendum not just on working conditions at the Bessemer warehouse, which employs 5,800, but on the plight of low-wage employees and workers of color in particular. Many of the employees in the Alabama warehouse are Black, a fact that the union organizers have highlighted in their campaign seeking to link the vote to the struggle for civil rights in the South.
The retail workers union has a long history of organizing Black workers in the poultry and food production industries, helping them gain basic benefits like paid time off and safety protections and a means to economic security. The union is portraying its efforts in Bessemer as part of that legacy.
“This is an organizing campaign in the right-to-work South during the pandemic at one of the largest companies in the world,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School. “The significance of a union victory there really couldn’t be overstated.”
The warehouse workers began voting by mail on Feb. 8 and the ballots are due at the end of this month. A union can form if a majority of the votes cast favor such a move.
Amazon’s countercampaign, both inside the warehouse and on a national stage, has zeroed in on pure economics: that its starting wage is $15 an hour, plus benefits. That is far more than its competitors in Alabama, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“It’s important that employees understand the facts of joining a union,” Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We will provide education about that and the election process so they can make an informed decision. If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.” The company, which went on a huge hiring spree last year as homebound customers sent its sales to a record $386 billion, recorded more than $22 billion in profit.
In Alabama, some workers are growing weary of the process. One employee recently posted on Facebook: “This union stuff getting on my nerves. Let it be March 30th already!!!”
The situation is getting testy, with union leaders accusing Amazon of a series of “union-busting” tactics.
The company has posted signs across the warehouse, next to hand sanitizing stations and even in bathroom stalls. It sends regular texts and emails, pointing out the problems with unions. It posts photos of workers in Bessemer on the internal company app saying how much they love Amazon.
At certain training sessions, company representatives have pointed out the cost of union dues. When some workers have asked pointed questions in the meetings, the Amazon representatives followed up with them at their work stations re-emphasizing the downsides of unions, employees and organizers say. The meetings stopped once the voting started, but the signs are still up, said Jennifer Bates, a pro-union worker in the warehouse.
In this charged atmosphere, even routine things have become suspect. The union has raised questions about the changing of the timing of a traffic light near the warehouse where labor organizers try to talk to the workers as they are stopped in their vehicles while leaving the facility.
Amazon did ask county officials in mid-December to change the light’s timing, though there is no evidence in the county records that the change was made to thwart the union. “Traffic for Amazon is backing up around shift change,” the public records stated as the reason the county altered the light.
Amazon regularly navigates traffic concerns around its facilities, and wasting unpaid time in congested parking lots is a frequent gripe of Amazon workers in Facebook groups.
But the retail workers’ union president, Stuart Appelbaum, questioned the timing of the request in Bessemer, coming as it did at the height of the organizing. “When the light was red we could answer questions and have a brief conversation with workers,” he said.
Last week, the union questioned an offer the company made to the Alabama warehouse workers to pay them at least $1,000 if they quit by late March. Mr. Appelbaum accused the company of trying to entice employees to leave before the vote ended.
“They are trying to remove the most likely union supporters from their work force by bribing them to leave and give up their vote,” he said in an interview.
But “The Offer,” as it’s known among employees, was the same that Amazon made to workers at all of its warehouses around the country. It is an annual program that lets the company reduce its head count after the peak holiday shopping season without layoffs. It has been in place since at least 2014, when Jeff Bezos wrote about it in a shareholder letter.
“Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Mr. Bezos said at the time. “In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”
Mr. Appelbaum was not swayed. He said he believed that Amazon had chosen to make the offer across all of its warehouses when it did in order to help eliminate possible “yes” votes in Bessemer.
President Biden stopped short of urging the Amazon workers to unionize, but his statement instantly raised the stakes of an already momentous campaign.
“Let me be really clear,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union. But let me be even more clear: It’s not up to an employer to decide that, either. The choice to join a union is up to the workers. Full stop.”
He added, “Workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. This is vitally important — a vitally important choice.” And it is one, he said, that should be made without intimidation or threats.
Despite the union’s suspicions, it has not filed any formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Appelbaum said. Typically, unions can raise objections to a company’s tactics before an election and the labor board can step in.
If a complaint were to be filed, the labor board could potentially determine that the election is invalid because of Amazon’s actions. But after working for months to build support inside and outside the Amazon warehouse, the last thing the union wants is for the labor board to intervene and rule that the election must be held again. The voting has already been taking place in Bessemer for nearly a month.
Mr. Sachs, of Harvard Law School, said that despite Mr. Biden’s admonishments of companies’ interfering in elections, the current labor law does allow Amazon to hold certain mandatory meetings with workers to discuss why they shouldn’t unionize and enables the company to post anti-union messages around the workplace.
“It is very helpful that the president is calling out these tactics, but what we need is a new labor law to stop companies from interfering,” he said.
It is rare for such a large union election to be held by mail. Over Amazon’s objections, the labor board required a mail-in vote after determining that federal election monitors would be at risk of contracting Covid-19 if they had to travel to Bessemer to oversee in-person voting.
By pushing back aggressively against the union, Amazon risks angering Democrats in Washington, many of whom are already calling for more antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies, whose businesses have grown even larger in the pandemic. Amazon has mounted a public campaign supporting legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, buying prominent ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.
In his video on Sunday, President Biden specifically mentioned how unions can help “Black and brown workers” and vulnerable workers struggling during the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Ms. Bates, 48, one of the leaders of the union drive, started working at the Bessemer warehouse in May.
She said she felt insulted by some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts, particularly the company’s statements to the staff that they would be required to pay nearly $500 in union dues every year. Because Alabama is a right-to-work state, there is no such requirement that a worker in a unionized workplace pay dues.
“It angers me a little bit because I feel like they know the truth and they won’t tell the truth and are taking advantage because they know employees come from a community that is looked on as Black and low income,” said Ms. Bates, who is Black. “It felt really horrible that you would stand there and mislead people intentionally. Give them the facts and let them decide.”
The gray wolf lost Endangered Species Act protections last year, prompting a recent hunt that killed at least 216 wolves — far exceeding a quota set by state wildlife officials.
By Maria Cramer, March 3, 2021
The Trump administration announced last year that the gray wolf would no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Last week, hunters in Wisconsin killed more than 200 wolves. Credit...Dan Rozak/Alamy
Hunters in Wisconsin killed more than 200 wolves last week, far exceeding the state’s limit as they scrambled to take advantage of Trump-era wildlife rules that they worry may be tightened by the Biden administration.
At least 216 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, exceeding the state quota of 119 and prompting Wisconsin to end what was meant to be a one-week hunt four days early, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Environmentalists, who fought unsuccessfully in state court to stop the hunt, said the killings had occurred during breeding season, when gray wolves are especially vulnerable. They said the large number of wolves killed in such a short time underscored the need for President Biden to put the gray wolf back on the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“These animals were killed using packs of dogs, snares and leg-hold traps,” Kitty Block, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said on Tuesday. “It was a race to kill these animals in the most cruel ways.”
The hunt, reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, follows the gray wolf’s January removal from the Endangered Species Act. In October, the Trump administration announced that the species, which had been all but exterminated in the lower 48 states by the mid-20th century, had rebounded enough that it no longer needed federal shielding.
The removal of the wolf from the list was one of many rollbacks of environmental regulations under the Trump administration, which last summer announced new rules that would make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species.
The resurgence of wolves in certain parts of the country has been called a success story for conservationists. But as their numbers grew, ranchers have had to contend with wolves’ appetite for cattle and sheep. Conservationists counter that wolves keep deer, elk and other species in check and therefore help prevent more vegetation loss.
The last time wolves were hunted in Wisconsin was 2014, after President Barack Obama said the wolf could be removed from federal protection.
A federal judge later rejected the Obama administration’s efforts to keep the wolf off the list.
Wisconsin is the only state in the country that requires a yearly wolf-hunting season if the animal is not protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to Nicholas Arrivo, a lawyer for the Humane Society.
The Trump administration’s decision meant the state would have to hold one hunting season a year, which under Wisconsin law starts in early November and ends on Feb. 28.
Wisconsin wildlife officials had scheduled the start of the hunting season for this November, citing the need for time to develop a “science-based” harvest quota and work closely with the public and Native American tribes to create a plan.
But Hunter Nation, a hunters group led by Luke Hilgemann of Wisconsin, accused state officials of “intentionally delaying the wolf harvest to give radical anti-hunting groups time to block the delisting and stop a hunt altogether.”
The group filed a lawsuit on Feb. 2 in which it argued that under state law, the hunt should be scheduled immediately since the wolf was taken off the list on Jan. 4.
The lawsuit noted a letter from Republican state lawmakers dated Jan. 15 in which they called for a wolf hunt season that month.
In their lawsuit, hunters pointed to President Biden’s executive order to tackle climate change, which included a review of all existing regulations and policies enacted by federal agencies under the Trump administration.
“There is a substantial possibility that Wisconsinites’ time to hunt wolves is limited,” according to the lawsuit.
On Feb. 12, a Jefferson County circuit court judge ruled in favor of the hunters, ordering the state to start the season that month.
Before the hunt, state officials estimated there were about 1,200 gray wolves in the state.
Mr. Arrivo said it was possible that many of the wolves killed last week were pregnant or might have been mothers with new pups that were still dependent on them and might now die of starvation.
“I think the actual death toll is considerably higher because of the rippling effects through the wolf family structure,” Mr. Arrivo said.
Hunter Nation said the large number of wolves hunted in such a short period of time showed that the population had “significantly increased.”
The group said that in 2014, it took two months for hunters to kill about 100 wolves.
“This season it took just three days!” the organization said in a statement, describing the hunt as a success. “Clearly, the population of gray wolves has significantly increased during that time and the D.N.R. must take a serious look at their population models and counting methods.”
Richard M. Esenberg, a lawyer for Hunter Nation, said it was misleading for animal rights activists to claim that hunters had killed double the number of wolves allowed by the state.
The state had set a quota of 200 wolves, with 119 for hunters who applied for permits with the department and 81 set aside to the Ojibwe Tribes under their treaty rights.
“The notion that there was this wide divergence between the outcome of the hunt and the number of the wolves that could be hunted simply doesn’t bear up to analysis,” Mr. Esenberg said.
But the tribes consider wolves to be sacred and made a deliberate decision not to hunt them, said Dylan Jennings, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents the tribes.
The tribes saw their allocation as a way to conserve a large number of the wolves — not to give hunters more animals to kill, he said.
The losses are “appalling,” Mr. Jennings said. “There are a lot of people upset about it.”
Despite the danger, women have been at the forefront of the movement, rebuking the generals who ousted a female civilian leader.
By Hannah Beech, March 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/world/asia/myanmar-protests-women.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
An undated photograph that Ms. Kyal Sin, whose English name was Angel, posted on Instagram in 2019.
Doctors at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar, protested days after the military coup last month. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in formal gowns in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Esther Ze Naw and Ma Ei Thinzar Maung leading a rally in Yangon on Feb. 6. Credit...The New York Times
Protesters in front of the United States Embassy in Yangon last month. Credit...The New York Times
Ma Kyal Sin loved taekwondo, spicy food and a good red lipstick. She adopted the English name Angel, and her father hugged her goodbye when she went out on the streets of Mandalay, in central Myanmar, to join the crowds peacefully protesting the recent seizure of power by the military.
The black T-shirt that Ms. Kyal Sin wore to the protest on Wednesday carried a simple message: “Everything will be OK.”
In the afternoon, Ms. Kyal Sin, 18, was shot in the head by the security forces, who killed at least 30 people nationwide in the single bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the United Nations.
“She is a hero for our country,” said Ma Cho Nwe Oo, one of Ms. Kyal Sin’s close friends, who has also taken part in the daily rallies that have electrified hundreds of cities across Myanmar. “By participating in the revolution, our generation of young women shows that we are no less brave than men.”
Despite the risks, women have stood at the forefront of Myanmar’s protest movement, sending a powerful rebuke to the generals who ousted a female civilian leader and reimposed a patriarchal order that has suppressed women for half a century.
By the hundreds of thousands, they have gathered for daily marches, representing striking unions of teachers, garment workers and medical workers — all sectors dominated by women. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. Two young women were shot in the head on Wednesday and another near the heart, three bullets ending their lives.
Earlier this week, military television networks announced that the security forces were instructed not to use live ammunition, and that in self-defense they would only shoot at the lower body.
“We might lose some heroes in this revolution,” said Ma Sandar, an assistant general secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, who has been taking part in the protests. “Our women’s blood is red.”
The violence on Wednesday, which brought the death toll since the coup to at least 54, reflected the brutality of a military accustomed to killing its most innocent people. At least three children have been gunned down over the past month, and the first death of the military’s post-coup crackdown was a 20-year-old woman shot in the head on Feb. 9.
In the weeks since the protests began, groups of female medical volunteers have patrolled the streets, tending to the wounded and dying. Women have added spine to a civil disobedience movement that is crippling the functioning of the state. And they have flouted gender stereotypes in a country where tradition holds that garments covering the lower half of the bodies of the two sexes should not be washed together, lest the female spirit act as a contaminant.
With defiant creativity, people have strung up clotheslines of women’s sarongs, called htamein, to protect protest zones, knowing that some men are loath to walk under them. Others have affixed images of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who orchestrated the coup, to the hanging htamein, an affront to his virility.
“Young women are now leading the protests because we have a maternal nature and we can’t let the next generation be destroyed,” said Dr. Yin Yin Hnoung, a 28-year-old medical doctor who has dodged bullets in Mandalay. “We don’t care about our lives. We care about our future generations.”
While the military’s inhumanity extends to many of the country’s roughly 55 million people, women have the most to lose from the generals’ resumption of full authority, after five years of sharing power with a civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, is deeply conservative, opining in official communications about the importance of modest dress for proper ladies.
There are no women in the Tatmadaw’s senior ranks, and its soldiers have systematically committed gang rape against women from ethnic minorities, according to investigations by the United Nations. In the generals’ worldview, women are often considered weak and impure. Traditional religious hierarchies in this predominantly Buddhist nation also place women at the feet of men.
The prejudices of the military and the monastery are not necessarily shared by Myanmar’s broader society. Women are educated and integral to the economy, particularly in business, manufacturing and the civil service. Increasingly, women have found their political voice. In elections last November, about 20 percent of candidates for the National League for Democracy, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, were women.
The party won in a landslide, trouncing the military-linked and far more male-dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party. The Tatmadaw has dismissed the results as fraudulent.
As the military began devolving some power over the past decade, Myanmar experienced one of the most profound and rapid societal changes in the world. A country that was once forcibly bunkered by the generals, who first seized power in a 1962 coup, went on Facebook and discovered memes, emojis and global conversations about gender politics.
“Even though these are dark days and my heart breaks with all these images of bloodshed, I’m more optimistic because I see women on the street,” said Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American who served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and is now a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. “In this contest, I will put money on the women. They are unarmed, but they are the true warriors.”
That passion has ignited across the country, despite Tatmadaw crackdowns in past decades that have killed hundreds of people.
“Women took the frontier position in the fight against dictatorship because we believe it is our cause,” said Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, a 27-year-old politician and former political prisoner who, along with another woman the same age, led the first anti-coup demonstration in Yangon five days after the putsch.
Both Ms. Ei Thinzar Maung and her fellow rally leader, Esther Ze Naw, protest by day and hide by night. About 1,500 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.
The pair were politicized at a young age and spoke up for the rights of ethnic minorities at a time when most people in Myanmar were unwilling to acknowledge the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. At least one-third of Myanmar’s population is made up of a constellation of ethnic minorities, some of which are in armed conflict with the military.
When they led their rally on Feb. 6, the two women marched in shirts associated with the Karen ethnic group, whose villages have been overrun by Tatmadaw troops in recent days. Ms. Esther Ze Naw is from another minority, the Kachin, and as a 17-year-old she spent time in camps for the tens of thousands of civilians who were uprooted by Tatmadaw offensives. Military jets roared overhead, raining artillery on women and children, she recalled.
“That was the time I committed myself to working toward abolishing the military junta,” she said. “Minorities know what it feels like, where discrimination leads. And as a woman, we are still considered as a second sex.”
“That must be one of the reasons why women activists seem more committed to rights issues,” she added.
While the National League for Democracy is led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, its top ranks are dominated by men. And like the Tatmadaw, the party’s highest echelons have tended to be reserved for members of the country’s ethnic Bamar majority.
On the streets of Myanmar, even as the security forces continue to fire at unarmed protesters, the makeup of the movement has been far more diverse. There are Muslim students, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks, drag queens and a legion of young women.
“Gen Z are a fearless generation,” said Honey Aung, whose younger sister, Kyawt Nandar Aung, was killed by a bullet to the head on Wednesday in the city of Monywa. “My sister joined the protests every day. She hated dictatorship.”
In a speech that ran in a state propaganda publication earlier this week, General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, sniffed at the impropriety of the protesters, with their “indecent clothes contrary to Myanmar culture.” His definition is commonly considered to include women wearing trousers.
Moments before she was shot dead, Ms. Kyal Sin, dressed in sneakers and torn jeans, rallied her fellow peaceful protesters.
As they staggered from the tear gas fired by security forces on Wednesday, Ms. Kyal Sin dispensed water to cleanse their eyes. “We are not going to run,” she yelled, in a video recorded by another protester. “Our people’s blood should not reach the ground.”
“She is the bravest girl I have ever seen in my life,” said Ko Lu Maw, who photographed some of the final images of Ms. Kyal Sin, in an alert, proud pose amid a crowd of prostrate protesters.
Under her T-shirt, Ms. Kyal Sin wore a star-shaped pendant because her name means “pure star” in Burmese.
“She would say, ‘if you see a star, remember, that’s me,’” said Ms. Cho Nwe Oo, her friend. “I will always remember her proudly.”
March 4, 2021
Bismarck – Water Protector Steve Martinez was taken back into federal custody in Bismarck, North Dakota yesterday following an appearance before the federal Grand Jury. Martinez is also being fined $50 a day for every day he maintains his refusal to give testimony. He continues to stand in solidarity with his Indigenous relatives and Water Protectors by refusing to testify or cooperate with this secretive and unjust process.
More:Water Protector Steve Martinez ordered to be released
On February 24th, after being jailed for 19 days for refusal to cooperate with the Grand Jury subpoena served to him, Martinez said:
"I was served another subpoena before I was released, making it the third one. My lawyers are working hard to keep me from being imprisoned for standing up for my constitutional rights as an American citizen. After having my rights stripped from me, I was imprisoned with no charges for 19 days. Even with the work of our legal team, the chances are high that I will be imprisoned once again for up to 18 months or the duration of the grand jury. I humbly ask for your continued prayers & support as I continue to speak volumes through my silence. Thank you. MNI WICONI, WATER IS LIFE."
Martinez was previously subpoenaed in 2016 to a Grand Jury allegedly seeking information regarding the injuries incurred by Sophia Wilansky in November 2016 at Standing Rock; a now infamous night where law enforcement used fire hoses on Water Protectors in freezing temperatures. Wilansky was gravely injured, nearly losing her arm, and unable to receive emergency medical transport due to the blockades implemented by law enforcement and the State of North Dakota. Martinez acted as a good Samaritan on that night, driving Wilanksy in his vehicle to receive emergency medical care. He was then summoned to appear before a grand jury and refused to cooperate.
More:Indigenous Water Protector Jailed in North Dakota for Refusing to Cooperate With Secret Grand Jury
Four years later, Martinez is once again being targeted by the government and detained for his principled refusal to participate in a secret process that has historically been highly susceptible to politically motivated abuses. "The secrecy of federal grand jury proceedings and the unfettered power and discretion that federal prosecutors have in the proceedings makes federal grand juries ripe for abuse against dissident political activists and their movements," said James Clark, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild. "Mr. Martinez's saga with federal grand juries seems to have already been characterized by a number of procedural abuses and irregularities, such as his incarceration last month by a magistrate judge who lacked legal authority to order it," Clark continued.
Chava Shapiro, a legal worker and supporter of Martinez since 2016 said:
“We are all standing in solidarity with his choice to invoke his constitutionally protected right to silence to the Grand Jury. Political activists know that Grand Juries have historically been used as a tool of political repression against Indigenous people in their efforts to maintain sovereignty, push the United States government to honor treaties, and achieve self-determination for their relatives and nations. The best and safest choice for Steve and for all those who protect the water is to maintain silence in the face of this Grand Jury.”
K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.
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Just 50 or so remain, eking it out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.
By Joe Roman, March 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/opinion/discovery-whale-extinction.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
On a January day two years ago, an emaciated whale washed up dead on Sandy Key, at the southernmost reaches of Florida’s Everglades National Park. The 38-foot-long male had the long white throat grooves characteristic of baleen whales, which are rare in the Gulf of Mexico. A team of biologists soon gathered to examine the whale.
During the necropsy, a sharp piece of stiff plastic, not much bigger than a credit card, was removed from its second stomach chamber. The whale had probably swallowed the shard while feeding near the ocean floor, and it had perforated the stomach lining. There were no other injuries. Plastic had killed this whale.
The animal’s DNA matched that of a small population of endangered whales that resides off the Florida Panhandle, thought to be a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale, found in warm waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, examined the bones, and after making skull measurements and reviewing genetic data from other similar whales, they came to an exciting conclusion: These gulf whales were not a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale at all, but a new species unique to the Gulf of Mexico.
Here was Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries” at work: These whales apparently diverged from other baleen whales because of their long isolation in the gulf. With limited opportunity for gene flow with other related whales, they evolved in their reclusion into a species of their own.
The newly described species, Balaenoptera ricei, is the only great whale believed to occur in the waters of only one country. It has gone by several names: Rice’s whale, Bryde’s whale, the Gulf of Mexico whale. The marine mammalogist Peter Corkeron at the New England Aquarium suggests that we call it what it is: the American whale.
It is also critically endangered: With an estimated population of just 50 or so, all in the United States, the whale’s fate rests entirely in America’s hands.
This whale once lived in the highly productive waters off the Mississippi Delta and swam along the coasts of the Yucatán. They are the only filter-feeding cetaceans known to inhabit the region year-round, capturing small fish at the bottom of the gulf with sievelike baleen. The surviving whales tend to be solitary and skittish, and they have remained mostly hemmed into their small pocket of the gulf. A few sightings have been reported as far west as Texas.
But it’s tough to make a living and raise your young in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most industrialized seas on Earth. Death comes in the form of ships, oil rigs and plastic. The gulf whale could be the first baleen whale to go extinct since the Atlantic gray whale disappeared 300 years ago.
Around 2,000 oil and gas platforms and more than 20,000 miles of active pipelines lie in the Gulf of Mexico. One of those rigs, the Deepwater Horizon, spilled an estimated 210 million gallons of oil in 2010, the biggest accident of its kind in the United States. The vast slick of oil covered about half of the whale’s known habitat. Predictive modeling by scientists estimated that almost one in five of these gulf whales were killed outright; another 18 percent experienced adverse health effects, including lung and adrenal disease. More than a fifth of the females may have suffered reproductive failure.
The whale was listed as endangered a few months after the Everglades stranding. Fortunately, the area around the nutrient-rich De Soto Canyon, 60 miles off Florida’s northwest coast, where these whales tend to dwell, has been excluded temporarily from direct oil and gas leasing. But that does not preclude energy exploration. That means seismic surveys — in which air guns or other sound devices are used to map oil and gas deposits — are allowable in this area and in other habitats used by the whales, with potentially devastating effects on whales, including permanent hearing loss. The Cornell scientist Chris Clark has described the soundscape of industrialized oceans as “acoustic hell.”
Commercial shipping also presents a threat. About half of all merchant vessel traffic in the United States passes through the Gulf of Mexico’s ports, putting whales at risk of ship strikes.
The best hope for this new species is the deindustrialization of the gulf. During a presidential debate in October, Joe Biden said the oil industry “has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.” But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So the immediate question is: What can be done to keep these whales around until a green future arrives in the gulf?
Several steps will help. Mandatory slowdowns should be imposed on commercial vessels in the whale’s core range to avoid collisions. Oil exploration and drilling should be limited, to reduce noise. Last year, a moratorium on offshore drilling for an area that included the whale’s range was extended for ten years. A permanent ban should follow. Finally, the federal government should identify habitat critical to the whale’s survival and protect it.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has spent $2.3 million since 2017 to examine the whale’s ecology and habitat, but it has yet to identify the whale’s critical habitat, as the Endangered Species Act requires. These whales have been sheltering in a small corner of the gulf for too long. Habitat along the edge of the continental shelf, where the whales feed at depths below 300 feet, should be protected and restored from Florida to Texas.
Each of these steps is urgent. Others will be necessary. As the federal team of scientists behind the endangered listing wrote in 2016: “Small-scale incremental impacts over time or a single catastrophic event could result in extinction.”
This is America’s whale. We shouldn’t allow that to happen.
Joe Roman (@roamnjoe) is a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont and the author of “Listed: Dispatches From America’s Endangered Species Act.”
When Michaeleen Doucleff met parents from around the world, she encountered millennia-old methods of raising good kids that made American parenting seem bizarre and ineffective.
JOE PINSKER, MARCH 2, 2021https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/03/hunt-gather-parent-timeless-advice-for-modern-parents/618172/
At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.
Her deeply researched book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, contains many moments like this, in which an American child-rearing strategy comes away looking at best bizarre and at worst counterproductive. “Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.
Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.
She takes care to portray her subjects not as curiosities “frozen in time,” but instead as modern-day families who have held on to invaluable child-rearing techniques that likely date back tens of thousands of years. I recently spoke with Doucleff about these techniques, and our conversation, below, has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Joe Pinsker: Many American parenting strategies, you estimate, are only about 100 years old, and some of them arose more recently than that. What about American parenting sticks out to you as distinctive and particularly strange?
Michaeleen Doucleff: One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”
This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.
It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.
Pinsker: You visited an Inuit town in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and spent time in households where children were almost mysteriously immune to tantrums. How did the parents you met respond when kids misbehaved?
Doucleff: One night while I was there, Rosy and I were staying with a woman named Sally who was watching three of her grandchildren—so, four kids under 6 years old in this house. Sally just approached everything they did with the most calmness and composure I have ever seen. At one point, a little toddler, maybe 18 months at the time, I think he was pulling the dog's tail or something. Sally picked him up and, when she did, he scratched her face so hard that it was bleeding. I would have been irate, but Sally, I saw her kind of clench her teeth, and just say, in the calmest voice, “We don’t do this.” Then she took him and flipped him around with this playful helicopter move, and they both started laughing. Then it was over—there was no conflict around it.
If the child's energy goes high—if they get very upset—the parent’s energy goes so low. Another time on our trip, in the grocery store, Rosy started having a tantrum, and I was getting ready to yell at her to stop. But Elizabeth, our interpreter, came over to her and addressed her in the calmest voice. Immediately, Rosy just stopped—when she was around that calmness, her whole body relaxed. I was like, Okay, I’m just doing this tantrum thing completely wrong.
Read: No spanking, no time-out, no problems
Pinsker: You write about how when Sally and Elizabeth see behavior like that, they think about the causes of it differently than many American parents do. What is the narrative they have for why young kids act out?
Doucleff: Yeah, this is huge—it single-handedly changed my life, and it’s something you hear in other parts of the Arctic. In the U.S., when a child calls you a name or smacks you, many parents think that the child is pushing your buttons, that they’re testing boundaries and want to manipulate you.
The Inuit parents and elders I interviewed almost laughed when I said that. One woman said something like, “She’s a kid—she doesn’t know how to manipulate like that.” Instead, what they told me is that young children are just these illogical, irrational beings who haven’t matured enough and haven’t acquired understanding or reason yet. So there’s no reason to get upset or argue back—if you do, you’re being just like the child.
This has totally shifted the way I interact with Rosy—I have so much less anger. She’s trying her best. Maybe she’s clumsy and illogical and irrational, but in her heart, she loves me, she wants to do well, and she wants to help.
Pinsker: One interesting observation in the book is that many American parents take their whole family to spaces that are expressly designed for kids, like children’s museums and indoor play places—despite the fact that these spaces are generally not very fun for parents. How do you think about these activities?
Doucleff: I think that a lot of the time, we don’t know what to do with kids. On weekends, it was sometimes like, How do we fill this time with Rosy? But the idea that parents are responsible for entertaining a child or “keeping them busy” is not present in the vast majority of cultures around the world, and definitely not throughout human history. What some of the psychologists I interviewed told me is that in these fake, childlike worlds, the child is separated from reality in some ways—they don’t learn how to behave as an adult.
There’s a lot of good scientific evidence that children have an innate instinct to cooperate and work together with their families. And child-centered activities can kind of strip away what I call their family “membership card,” the feeling that they’re a part of the family and working together as a team—not a VIP that the parents are serving. Kids want to help us and be part of our lives, and we can take that away with constant child-centered activities.
Pinsker: So if you aren’t going to the children’s museum as a family, what are you doing instead?
Doucleff: Basically, my husband and I do things that we used to do before Rosy was born, or things that we have to do, and modify them to include her. Sometimes I have to work, and she has to entertain herself. Or we go to the beach, and I sit and read for three hours, and don’t play with her—sometimes there are friends and sometimes there are not. We’ll go hiking or work in the garden or go visit friends together. And then we do chores. We do the laundry together. We clean up together. We go to the grocery store together. We just live—without a kiddie museum.
All over the world, and throughout history, parents have gone about their lives, but they’ve welcomed the kids into it. In many cultures, parents let the kids tag along, and they let the kid do what they want to do, within the boundaries of being respectful and kind. And for kids, that’s entertainment enough.
Read: The way American parents think about chores is bizarre
Pinsker: In the U.S., many parents find themselves essentially on their own when making sure their kids are being looked after. Could you talk about the more communal approach to raising children that you saw with the Hadzabe, the community of hunter-gatherers you visited in Tanzania?
Doucleff: I was with a group of about 15 to 20 adults and their kids—they live in small huts and work together all day. They spend enormous amounts of time with each other, but they're not all related. And when we first got there, it was hard for me to tell which toddlers belonged to which moms and dads, because everyone was helping to take care of them. The children were comfortable with all these different women and men.
If you look around the world, you'll see that in many cultures besides Western culture, and definitely in hunter-gatherer communities, there’s an enormous amount of what’s called “alloparenting.” Allo- is derived from a Greek word meaning “other,” so it just refers to caretakers in a child’s life other than the mom or dad.
These people are deeply involved in the child’s upbringing. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist, has done some amazing research where she shows that young children are basically designed to be raised by a group of people, not just two—meaning sometimes a mom or a dad is on their own doing the work of several people. So of course we feel worn down and exhausted.
Pinsker: American culture generally doesn’t encourage this approach to parenting, since there’s often an emphasis on individual parents. How do you think about transporting the spirit of those models over to an American context?
Doucleff: First of all, we do way more alloparenting than we give credit for, but often, we don't value the alloparents as much as we should: Nannies, day-care providers, teachers—those are all alloparents. Personally, I’ve been trying to value those people more and show my appreciation for them.
But there are opportunities aside from that. For one thing, a lot of alloparenting is done by children who are two, three, four, five years older than the child. I think we underestimate what children can do—there are children I met who were, like, 12 years old, making meals and taking care of younger children. It’s because they’re given opportunities all along to learn those skills.
Another thing is, we’ve built an “auntie-uncle network,” which is an idea I got from the psychological anthropologist Suzanne Gaskins. We have two other families who pick up the kids from school sometimes, and then I pick up the kids sometimes, and we trade off. The three kids get to have a sort of extended family. Rosy loves it, and we don’t have to pay for after-school care.
People tend to think of the nuclear family as traditional or ideal, but looking at the past 200,000 or so years of human history, what’s traditional is this communal model of working together to take care of a child. For me personally, this is reassuring, because I don’t want to be with Rosy, like, every moment. Really, that’s not natural.
JOE PINSKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers families and relationships.
Did the summer’s protests reflect a racial reckoning or seasonal solidarity?
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, March 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/07/opinion/george-floyd-protests.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Something happened this summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and maybe only history will be able to fully explain what it was.
Millions of Americans — many of them white — poured into the streets to demand justice and assert that Black Lives Matter. It’s clear now that the summer protests, which took place during a pandemic during which congregation was discouraged, were for some participants less a sincere demand for justice than they were a social outlet.
As some semblance of normal life began to inch back, enthusiasm for the cause among whites quickly grew soft, like a rotting spot on a piece of fruit.
As FiveThirtyEight has noted, support for Black Lives Matter “skyrocketed” after Floyd was killed, but much of that support ended sometime before Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha, Wis., three months later. As the site put it about polling around the time of Blake’s shooting:
“About 49 percent of registered voters said they supported the movement, compared with around 38 percent in opposition — similar to BLM’s net approval before Floyd’s death. That drop in popularity has largely been driven by increased opposition among white Republicans (80 percent of whom oppose the movement, higher than before Floyd’s death) and white independents (who now support BLM at similar levels as before Floyd’s death).”
Furthermore, a USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll released on Friday found that just 28 percent of white Americans believe that what happened to Floyd was murder. That was down from 55 percent in June.
The backlash didn’t just occur on a personal level, it was also expressed through policy, as Republican legislators across the country moved quickly to guard their power. As The Pew Charitable Trusts observed last month:
“Republican legislators in Florida and 21 other states are considering tough new penalties for protesters who break laws. As in Florida, some of the bills also would prevent localities from cutting police budgets and give some legal protection to people who injure protesters.”
One of the rallying cries during the summer protest was to “defund the police.” But by some measures, spending on the police actually moved in the opposite direction. As Bloomberg CityLab reported in January, “Even as the 50 largest U.S. cities reduced their 2021 police budgets by 5.2 percent in aggregate — often as part of broader pandemic cost-cutting initiatives — law enforcement spending as a share of general expenditures rose slightly to 13.7 percent from 13.6 percent.”
Even so, prominent Democrats denounced the slogan and some even suggested that its use caused Democrats to perform more poorly in the election than expected.
I believe that this has helped to contribute to a corroding of support for Black Lives Matter, even among Black people. Although Blacks and whites start from a different baseline in their support of the group, the more recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found:
“Among Black respondents, trust in Black Lives Matter has fallen by 12 points and trust in local police has risen by 14 points. Among white respondents, trust in Black Lives Matter has fallen by 8 points and trust in local police has risen by 12 points.”
When it came time for the House of Representatives to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, only one Republican voted for it, Representative Lance Gooden of Texas, and he said that he “accidentally pressed the wrong voting button and realized it too late.” The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Understand the George Floyd Case
· On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store clerk claimed he used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
· Mr. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers, handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground with a knee, an episode that was captured on video.
· Mr. Floyd’s death set off a series of nationwide protests against police brutality.
· Mr. Chauvin was fired from Minneapolis police force along with three other officers. He has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and now faces trial, which begins on March 8.
· Here is what we know up to this point in the case, and how the trial is expected to unfold.
In every arena it feels that many of the people who performed allyship during the summer protests are regressing to familiar tribalism that doesn’t protect Black life and excuses Black death.
We all saw with our own eyes what happened to Floyd, the way life was slowly pressed out of him over the objection of onlookers. We watched all the seconds and minutes tick by, during which the officers could have made a different decision, changed course to save his life, but didn’t.
What happened to Floyd isn’t a mystery.
The real mystery is why some people will go to any end to rationalize state violence against Black bodies. In fact, that is a misstatement. It’s not a mystery. This kind of rationalization is a feature of our society. We have made blackness synonymous with aggression and the police synonymous with protection. Anything that challenges that precept must be put down.
In this equation, to far too many Americans, Floyd is just collateral damage, an unfortunate accident, while a noble defender of peace and order attempts to do his duty. In this equation, Floyd is dehumanized. In it, he is betrayed. What is revealed is the bottomless American capacity to countenance cruelty.
Some people called the summer protests a racial reckoning, but time has revealed much of it to have been a seasonal solidarity. The season has changed.
Correction: March 7, 2021
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., in August. He was left partly paralyzed but not killed.
By Bijal P. Trivedi, March 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/books/review/shanna-swan-count-down.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
How Our Modern World Is Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, Threatening Sperm Counts, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race
By Shanna H. Swan with Stacey Colino
If you’ve smugly enjoyed the dystopian worlds of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (where infertility is triggered in part by environmental pollutants) or “Children of Men” (where humanity is on the precipice of extinction) — and believed that these stories were rooted firmly in fantasy — Shanna Swan’s “Count Down” will serve as an awakening.
“Count Down,” which Swan wrote with the health and science journalist Stacey Colino, chronicles rising human infertility and warns of dire consequences for our species if this trend doesn’t slow. The reason, Swan explains, may be growing exposure to “endocrine disrupting chemicals” that are found in everything from plastics, flame retardants, electronics, food packaging and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics.
She outlines the danger. These substances interfere with normal hormonal function, including testosterone and estrogen. Even in small doses, they pose particular danger to unborn babies and young children whose bodies are growing rapidly. These hormone-warping chemicals, which can enter even the placenta, have the ability to alter the anatomical development of girls and boys, change brain function and impair the immune system.
Swan is a noted environmental and reproductive epidemiologist who has studied this subject for more than two decades. Her work on falling sperm counts garnered worldwide attention in 2017. Media coverage focused on her central finding: From 1973 to 2011, the total sperm count of men in Western countries dropped by 59 percent. The quality also nose-dived, with more odd-shaped sperm and fewer strong swimmers capable of fertilizing an egg. Perhaps most important, the DNA they carried was also more damaged.
A study Swan cites in “Count Down” found that just over a quarter of men experiencing erectile dysfunction were under 40. That may be, in part, because testosterone levels have been dropping at 1 percent per year since 1982. The outlook for women isn’t good either. The miscarriage rate has risen by 1 percent per year over the last two decades. If these trajectories continue, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become a widely needed tool for conceiving children.
Swan distills information harvested from hundreds of published studies and while some ring familiar, the conclusion she reaches hits hard. These chemicals are limiting the ability of current and future generations to have children. They could, ultimately, snuff out the human species altogether.
This is why Swan was compelled to write this book, one with apocalyptic implications. Despite the publicity, these alarming findings haven’t sparked changes in environmental policies, regulations or public demand for safe substitutes.
Her focus on male infertility marks an overdue inflection point, with the medical community’s acceptance that the health of both sexes is equally important. When a couple can’t conceive or a woman miscarries, she usually bears the blame. Swan dispels the myths surrounding reproductive failure. Yes, as women get older, their ability to get pregnant drops, but Swan reminds us that a man’s reproductive clock is also ticking as he ages. Abnormal sperm, increasingly common in men over 40, can also cause miscarriages.
Teasing out the mechanisms behind plummeting fertility rates is complicated. While man-made chemicals certainly play a role, Swan emphasizes that timing matters, with different impacts for those exposed in utero, as newborns, adolescents or adults. She walks the reader through the reproductive problems that result from contact with flame retardants, pesticides and what she calls “an alphabet soup” of chemicals.
For men, phthalates, found in many products, from plastics to shampoos, are the worst offenders, tanking testosterone levels and sperm counts — and causing sperm to basically commit suicide. In women, these chemicals may cause early menopause or cysts in the ovaries, or they may disrupt monthly cycles.
Bisphenol A, a ubiquitous chemical used in hard plastics, electronics and millions of other items, affects both sexes but is particularly concerning for women. It interferes with conception and causes miscarriages early in pregnancy.
Swan broadens her argument by documenting how these chemicals are jeopardizing the survival of many other creatures. Genital abnormalities are of great concern: distinctly smaller penises in alligators, panthers and mink, as well as fish, frogs, snapping turtles and birds that appear to have both male and female gonads, and mating difficulties in many species caused by altered behavior.
Swan highlights another layer of risk. Parents’ exposure to these chemicals can affect the sexual development of their children. If a woman smokes when she is pregnant, her son’s sperm counts may drop by 40 percent — and if he is later exposed to endocrine disruptors, his sperm production may drop so low that he becomes infertile. Swan describes the collateral damage caused by a combination of lifestyle factors — such as stress or bad diet — and daily exposure to toxic chemicals. The effects can radiate down through several generations.
Although most of Swan’s analyses focus on Western countries, she has uncovered similar trends in South America, Asia and Africa.
Swan offers a sense of relief in her wrap-up, providing practical advice on steps that individuals can take to protect their health. She goes beyond lifestyle recommendations, outlining a far more difficult task: Purging harmful chemicals from our homes by reading the ingredients on bathroom and kitchen cleaners. Choosing personal care products that are phthalate-free and paraben-free. Ditching air freshener and scented products. Not microwaving food in plastic, making sure to filter drinking water and toss out plastic food storage containers and nonstick cookware. The suggestions go on.
Swan does miss an opportunity to give more attention to real-life stories. When she mentions individuals, their reproductive problems are often described without the history or context that strengthens a narrative. There are times when a memorable personal story might have supplanted a rather detailed anatomical and chemical description. There are passages that suffer from what Swan herself refers to as “stat overload” or dozens of foreign-sounding chemical names.
Over all, her conclusion is well supported: the need for regulation, specifically United States federal policies that require companies to prove chemicals safe before using them commercially. Europeans favor this precautionary principle and are currently phasing out or banning the most dangerous chemicals. Swan underscores how this contrasts with the American approach of “innocent until proven guilty,” which then requires taxpayer-funded government studies to investigate health effects.
“Count Down” is an important book for anyone concerned about the environment, pollution, successful childbearing or declining health of the human species. Other than the pervasive chemical names, it is written in a casual, accessible style and will be of practical relevance to couples and young adults who are considering having a family.
Fertility is already an issue for some who have children later in life, when the effects of these chemicals may be more pronounced. Swan offers somewhat bracing recommendations for women who choose to delay pregnancy: Freeze your eggs in your 20s as an insurance policy. For men, investigating their sperm count early might reveal infertility trends when they are easier to correct. More broadly, this book provides a wake-up call that increases understanding of fertility, its challenges and the recognition that both partners play a role.
But ultimately her conclusion is a plea for swift national and global actions that ban the use of these chemicals and mitigate the effects of those that are impacting health and even life itself worldwide. Swan makes it clear that the future of many species, including our own, depends on it.
Bijal P. Trivedi is the author of “Breath from Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine Forever.”
The military’s brutal practices go beyond killing protesters. Its soldiers have systematically raped women and forced villagers to be their human shields.
By Richard C. Paddock, March 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/09/world/asia/myanmar-military-tatmadaw-violence.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
A Rohingya boy drew violent images in a Bangladesh refugee camp in 2017. Myanmar’s army has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya across the border. Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
The soldiers from Myanmar’s army knocked on U Thein Aung’s door one morning last April as he was having tea with friends, and demanded that all of them accompany the platoon to another village.
When they reached a dangerous stretch in the mountains of Rakhine State, the men were ordered to walk 100 feet ahead. One stepped on a land mine and was blown to pieces. Metal fragments struck Mr. Thein Aung in his arm and his left eye.
“They threatened to kill us if we refused to go with them,” said Mr. Thein Aung, 65, who lost the eye. “It is very clear that they used us as human land mine detectors.”
The military and its brutal practices are an omnipresent fear in Myanmar, one that has intensified since the generals seized full power in a coup last month. As security forces gun down peaceful protesters on city streets, the violence that is commonplace in the countryside serves as a grisly reminder of the military’s long legacy of atrocities.
During decades of military rule, an army dominated by the Bamar majority operated with impunity against ethnic minorities, killing civilians and torching villages. The violence continued even as the army ceded some authority to an elected government in a power-sharing arrangement that started in 2016.
The next year, the military drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, an ethnic cleansing campaign that a United Nations panel has described as genocidal. Soldiers have battled rebel ethnic armies with the same ruthlessness, using men and boys as human shields on the battlefield and raping women and girls in their homes.
The generals are now fully back in charge, and the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, has turned its guns on the masses, who have mounted a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
The crackdown widened on Monday in the face of a general strike, with security forces seizing control of universities and hospitals and annulling press licenses of five media organizations. At least three protesters were shot dead.
More than 60 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, an increasingly bloody crackdown reminiscent of when the military crushed pro-democracy protests in the past.
“This is an army with a heart of darkness,” said David Scott Mathieson, an independent analyst who has long studied the military’s practices. “This is an unrepentant institution.”
Brutality is ingrained in the Tatmadaw. It came to power in a 1962 coup, saying that it had to safeguard national unity. For decades, it has fought to control parts of the country, inhabited by ethnic minority groups, that are rich in jade, timber and other natural resources.
During the last three years, the Tatmadaw has waged war intermittently against ethnic rebel armies in three states, Rakhine, Shan and Kachin. The most intense fighting has been in Rakhine, where the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine force, is seeking greater autonomy.
Civilians are often casualties in these long-running conflicts, as 15 victims, family members or witnesses in these three states attested in interviews with The New York Times.
Six men described how they were injured by land mines or gunfire when soldiers forced them to risk their lives. Several women recounted being raped by soldiers, while others recalled husbands and sons who never returned after soldiers took them away.
The Times was connected to the victims by local rights groups that had documented their accounts, gone to the locations, interviewed witnesses and broadly corroborated the events. Rights groups have also reported on these general practices.
A spokesman for the military declined to comment.
The people who spoke with The Times detailed a pattern of abuse, in which soldiers forced civilians to serve as porters under the threat of death. Men and boys were ordered to walk ahead of the soldiers in conflict zones, often being used as human shields.
In October, Sayedul Amin, a 28-year-old Rohingya man, was fishing in a pond near his village, Lambarbill, in Rakhine State when about 100 soldiers arrived. He said they rounded up 14 men, including him, to carry sacks of rice and other food. Several who refused were badly beaten.
“We were ordered to walk in front of the soldiers,” he said. “It seems that they wanted us to shield them if anyone attacked.”
They had been walking less than an hour when shooting began, he said. He never saw who fired at them. He was hit by two bullets. A 10-year-old and an 18-year-old were killed in front of him, shot so many times in the face and head that they were hard to recognize.
The soldiers, he said, left the bodies for villagers to bury.
The Tatmadaw has forced at least 200 men and boys in Rakhine State to serve as battlefield porters and human shields in the past three years, according to U Than Hla, a member of the board of directors of Arakan CSO Network, a human rights coalition. Of those taken, 30 are known to have died and at least 70 are missing. Half were under 18.
Such practices have long been common in Kachin and Shan states, human rights groups say. But there is no similar data there from the same period.
Women face their own horrors. While sexual violence by the Tatmadaw often goes unreported, rape was systematic and widespread during the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Human Rights Watch found. The same fate befalls women of other ethnic groups in conflict areas.
“The Myanmar military is violating human rights in many ways,” said Zaw Zaw Min, founder of the Rakhine Human Rights Group. “Women are raped, villages are burned down, property is taken and people are taken as porters.”
In June, when soldiers arrived in U Gar village in Rakhine State, Daw Oo Htay Win, 37, said she hid in her house with her four children and newborn granddaughter. That night, the infant’s cries betrayed their presence to four soldiers, who entered the house. They gave her a choice: have sex with them or die. For the next two hours, three soldiers raped her while the fourth stood guard.
Ms. Oo Htay Win, her daughters and the baby slipped out the back door in the morning and took refuge in the city of Sittwe, where she now lives. She said her husband, who had been away, abandoned her after learning of the rape.
Though most victims of rape by soldiers stay silent, she brought criminal charges. After the soldiers confessed, they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to 20 years.
“I hate these three soldiers for destroying my life,” she said. “I have lost everything because of them.”
The convictions were a rare victory in a country where the military is seldom held accountable by civilians. And few victims receive compensation, even when they suffer permanent injuries and large financial losses. If they do, it’s minimal.
In the western part of Rakhine State, where traveling by river is common, the Tatmadaw often commandeers private boats to ferry troops and supplies. In March of 2019, U Maung Phyu Hla, 43, a boat owner from Mrauk-U Township, said soldiers forced him to take troops up the Lay Myo River to fight Arakan Army forces.
On the seventh trip upriver, they came under heavy fire. Shot in the thigh, Mr. Maung Phyu Hla said he slipped into the water and swam to a nearby village, where residents rescued him. An officer later gave him a token payment of about $350, a fraction of his losses and medical expenses.
“Who dares to complain?” he asked. “The answer is no one.”
Some villagers try to escape the conflicts, only to get caught up in violence anyway.
In March 2018, U Phoe Shan’s family and other villagers were fleeing from fighting in Kachin State in northern Myanmar. They were headed to a camp for displaced people when they encountered Tatmadaw forces on the road.
Mr. Phoe Shan, 48, said the soldiers ordered him to walk at the head of a group of about 50 troops through a forested area. Fifteen minutes into the woods, he said, he stepped on a mine. He was hospitalized for three weeks with wounds to his legs.
“If we protest, we may be shot dead,” he said. “It’s better to walk through a minefield.”
For the victims of these atrocities, life rarely returns to normal. Loved ones who have been taken never return home. Those who suffer crippling injuries find it difficult to work.
In Shan State in eastern Myanmar, U Thar Pu Ngwe, 46, who had been pressed into service, was struck in the leg by shrapnel when a soldier stepped on a mine.
He now walks with difficulty, and it takes him three times as long to go anywhere, he said. He has had to reduce the amount of land he farms, cutting his income by more than half.
“That incident changed my life,” he said. “I was a happy man but not anymore after that.”
He urged the Tatmadaw to stop using civilians in battle. “If you want to fight,” he said, “just do it on your own.”
Hannah Beech contributed reporting.
Distancing measures have forced shelters to limit capacity, leaving many homeless people vulnerable to harsh weather and other hardships.
By Elisabetta Povoledo, March 8, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/08/world/europe/covid-homeless-rome.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
ROME — On an icy evening last month, Akas Kazi, a 35-year-old originally from Bangladesh, huddled under a blanket in the portico of one of Rome’s main post offices, as Red Cross volunteers distributed hot meals of pasta and tea.
Working in a restaurant kitchen had barely paid the bills, but after the restaurant closed six months ago — yet another casualty of the pandemic — Mr. Kazi found himself living on the street. “No work, no money for rent,” he said.
Job searches had been fruitless: “There’s nothing,” he said. And even sleeping on friends’ couches was not an option. “Everyone has problems because of Covid.”
The winter has been especially hard: Since November, 12 homeless people have died on the streets of Rome, where a growing number of people have ended up because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But even as the need increases, those in Rome who care for the homeless are challenged by restrictions put in place to keep people healthy, like those that require beds to be a certain distance apart.
Capacity at overnight shelters dropped sharply, and managing Rome’s so-called “cold strategy” for the winter months “was more complicated this year,” said Alberto Farneti, who runs a homeless assistance program for the Rome branch of the Catholic charity Caritas.
The 200 beds at his shelter at Rome’s Termini train station have dropped to 60. Many local parishes that once offered bunk beds in back rooms to the homeless during the coldest months are not doing so this year.
“It’s a question of protection,” said Marco Pavani, a volunteer at a shelter for older homeless men inside the Church of San Calisto, run by the Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic charity. Capacity there fell to 10 beds from 30, after wooden partitions were erected between the cots to ensure social distancing.
Numbers for Rome’s homeless population vary widely; Caritas estimates that some 7,700 people are on the streets. Some social workers put the number at almost twice that. For City Hall, “those are absurd numbers” and don’t reflect reality, said Veronica Mammì, the municipal councilor in charge of social services, who estimated the number of homeless at closer to 3,000.
Daniele Archibugi of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, Italian Research Council, who is studying the financial impact of the pandemic in Italy, noted that many Italians work in the country’s informal economy and are not recorded, “so one of the problems is to find and reach them.”
That means those people do not get aid, making them especially vulnerable, he said.
Ms. Mammì’s department has a round-the-clock operations center that monitors the number of free beds in shelters, and covers the cost of 40,000 meals a month dished out in soup kitchens.
The department also sponsors rapid virus testing sites for the homeless. But she said in an interview that regional health codes “have made it more difficult for us to put people into shelters.” She added, “We have the funds and are constantly looking for new shelters, but the coronavirus and the need to limit numbers hasn’t helped.”
To help allay some concerns, the Caritas center at Termini Station is serving as an isolation shelter, repeatedly testing its guests, who must remain there for 10 days before they are sent to other refuges.
Of the 200 men who have passed through the shelter in the past month, only one tested positive. “It’s almost miraculous,” said Mr. Farneti. (There is some anecdotal evidence that the isolated lives of homeless people make them less vulnerable to the virus.)
After 10 p.m., when the nationwide curfew kicks in, “Rome becomes a ghost city, something surreal that we Romans have never seen before,” said Debora Diodati, the president of Rome’s Red Cross. “And the homeless suffer because bars and restaurants are closed so it’s more difficult to find food.”
To provide more food, volunteer groups — there are several dozen in Rome, including neighborhood associations — have added more shifts. The downtown Red Cross team averages around 180 meals per shift, prepared in a field kitchen normally used during emergencies, like earthquakes. It began operating when a national lockdown was imposed last March.
Soup-kitchen dining areas have been closed by the pandemic, and the homeless are given bag meals, even when it’s cold or rainy. “Their living conditions, which weren’t great, have gotten worse,” said Michele Ferraris, spokesman for an association that lobbies for the rights of the homeless.
Twice a week, and more often when it’s cold, the Red Cross team brings food and blankets, as well as face masks and hand sanitizer, to those whom Emiliano Loppa, a volunteer coordinator, described as Rome’s “most isolated people.” They live downtown in makeshift camps under the bridges along the Tiber River, under porticos and even in the nooks of ancient ruins.
For years, Pietro, 66, who asked that his last name not be used because he was ashamed of being homeless, eked out a living as an unofficial parking valet at a hospital. But his income dried up last March after the hospital restricted visitors. He spent 10 months sleeping at Termini Station, before finding a spot at the San Calisto church. Sleeping at the station, alongside hundreds of other homeless, “was frightening,” he said.
Another guest at San Calisto, Antonino, 61, ran out of money after losing his job last year and ended up on the street. After three months living under a bridge, he found refuge at the St. Egidio shelter, where he feels secure. “They’ll never send us back out on the streets,” he said.
Ms. Diodati of the Rome Red Cross said her groups had seen an increase in women on the streets, mainly because of the drop in shelter beds, though the numbers remained considerably lower than those of men. “Normally women tend to find hospitality,” she said.
On a recent Sunday, Maria, a Ukrainian woman who used to work as a cleaner, picked up a lunch bag offered by St. Egidio after a Mass. “People are afraid to hire me because I have to take public transportation” and risk exposure to the virus, she said.
“We’re coming across people who only arrived on the streets a few months ago,” said Massimiliano Signifredi, a volunteer with St. Egidio. Each January and February, St. Egidio celebrates special Masses commemorating the homeless people who have died on the streets, including Modesta Valenti, who became something of an icon when she died in 1983 after an ambulance refused to transport her.
Over the past year, the number of homeless people has “clearly increased,” Mr. Signifredi said. with a housing crisis adding to the problem, even though the government made evictions illegal during the state of emergency. “We have said that the pandemic unleashed the poverty of the penultimate — those who barely made it to the end of the month and now can’t make it to the 10th, so they come to us or Caritas,” he said.
St. Egidio has opened several new dormitories and also drafted an agreement with a hotel whose rooms had been empty since the pandemic began. But it’s not enough. “We’ve asked authorities to react more quickly to emergencies,” because the emergency was not going away anytime soon, he said.
“The kind of poverty has changed,” said Claudio Campani, a coordinator of the Forum for Street Volunteers, an umbrella group for some 50 associations that assist Rome’s homeless. “Now you have the so-called ‘new poor’ who go to live in their cars before ending up on the street.” And while many homeless people are immigrants, “the number of Italians has increased,” he said.
For Mr. Pavani, the year has been one long cautionary tale.
“The thread that binds us to normality is so fine that it can take very little — loss of work, a weakness, a separation — for that thread to break and for us to fall and lose our life story and roots,” he said.
Michael D’Onofrio - March 8, 2021
Mumia Abu-Jamal has lost 30 pounds since testing positive for COVID-19 as a long-term skin condition has flared up leaving “bloodied open wounds” all over his body, said one of his supporters.
On Monday, Abu-Jamal appeared to be recovering from COVID-19 and no longer receiving intravenous fluids as he remained isolated in the infirmary at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, said Johanna Fernández, an associate professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal’s body weight has dropped to 215 pounds from 245 pounds since receiving a positive COVID-19 test on March 3.
After speaking with Abu-Jamal directly on Sunday, Fernández said, “It seems that the worst of COVID is behind us,” although she was not a medical doctor.
Yet a skin condition, which is thought to be linked to Abu-Jamal’s hepatitis C infection, has left much of Abu-Jamal’s skin cracked, whitened, bloodied and ruptured, Fernández said. While Fernández said she had photos of Abu-Jamal’s condition, she did not have permission to share them.
“It’s a horror show,” Fernández said about Abu-Jamal’s condition.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal related to her that infirmary staff ought to be giving him daily medical baths to treat his skin condition, per a prison doctor’s recommendation over the weekend. Abu-Jamal was not receiving those daily medical baths.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal remains positive.
“He wants to live,” Fernández said.
Robert Boyle, an attorney for Abu-Jamal, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Fernández reiterated her calls and those of Abu-Jamal’s supporters that he should be released from prison and receive medical care at a hospital.
“That a prisoner is being held under these conditions suggests that all standards of decency, morality and humanity have eroded in American society,” Fernández said. “Mumia is not alone: This is what medical care looks like in American prisons.”
Abu-Jamal was rushed to a local area hospital on Feb. 27. Soon after, he was diagnosed with congestive heart disease.
Abu-Jamal was returned to Mahanoy SCI early last week. On Wednesday, it was revealed Abu-Jamal tested positive for COVID-19.
Abu-Jamal, formerly known as Wesley Cook, was convicted of fatally shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner after Faulkner had reportedly pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother during a late-night traffic stop in 1981.
In prison since 1982, Abu-Jamal was on death row until 2011, when his death sentence was ruled unconstitutional. He is now serving a life sentence.
Abu-Jamal and his supporters have always maintained his innocence, alleging that his trial was tainted by police corruption and racism. Yet Police Benevolent Association Lodge 5 and Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow, among several others have maintained the trial was fair and Abu-Jamal guilty.
Abu-Jamal, who worked in Black radio before his conviction, has published several books and commentaries during his decades in prison.
He is appealing his conviction in Pennsylvania courts.
Questions and comments may be sent to email@example.com
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/us/third-degree-murder-charge-derek-chauvin.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, has allowed prosecutors to add an additional charge of third-degree murder against Mr. Chauvin, who is already facing a more serious count of second-degree murder.
The decision on Thursday most likely ended a sequence of legal wrangling and cleared the way for the trial to move forward. Jury selection is well underway, with five of 12 jurors already seated, and opening arguments are scheduled to begin on March 29.
The jurors will now have an additional murder charge on which they could convict, even if they decide the evidence does not support second-degree murder.
Third-degree murder was the first charge Mr. Chauvin faced last year when he was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and arrested after Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, and prosecutors had sought to reinstate it.
Within days of Mr. Chauvin’s arrest, he agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder, The New York Times reported last month, but William P. Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, stepped in to reject the agreement, which had also included an assurance that Mr. Chauvin would not face federal civil rights charges.
Judge Peter A. Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, later dismissed that charge, but he upheld the more severe charge of second-degree murder. If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Chauvin would likely face about 11 to 15 years in prison, though the maximum penalty is up to 40 years. The maximum penalty for the added third-degree murder charge is 25 years in prison. Mr. Chauvin also faces a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week ordered Mr. Cahill to reconsider whether to add the third-degree murder charge, which has historically been understood to apply to defendants who commit an act that endangers multiple people. But the appeals court broadened the scope of the law in a decision this year and said the charge could be used in cases where only one person was in danger — as it was in the conviction of a Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, for a fatal shooting.
Judge Cahill said in February that he was not bound by that new interpretation because it could still be reviewed by a higher court, but the appeals court disagreed with his analysis. Judge Cahill granted the prosecutors’ motion to add the charge after brief arguments on Thursday morning from Eric J. Nelson, who is Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, and Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general who is helping prosecutors in the case.
Mr. Chauvin, 44, has been free on bail since October and has been present in court since the trial moved ahead this week, wearing a suit and mask and taking notes on a yellow legal pad as his lawyer and prosecutors interview prospective jurors. So far, the five selected jurors include three white men, one Black man and a woman of color.
Javier Castillo Maradiaga was freed this week after 15 months in federal detention. New York had turned him over to ICE in error.
By Annie Correal and Ed Shanahan, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/nyregion/daca-ice-nyc-immigration.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Javier Castillo Maradiaga was on his way to a family birthday party in the Bronx in December 2019 when the police arrested him for jaywalking.
So began a 15-month odyssey during which he was locked up and flown between detention centers around the United States after New York City authorities failed to honor a law meant to keep undocumented immigrants from routinely falling into federal immigration authorities’ hands.
It was not until Wednesday, after city officials had admitted their blunder and joined activists, federal lawmakers and Mr. Castillo’s lawyers to push for his release, that he was freed from a New Jersey detention center on a federal judge’s order.
The unusual case highlights the tensions at play in recent years between a wide-ranging crackdown on undocumented immigrants by federal authorities and efforts in some jurisdictions to shield such residents with so-called sanctuary policies, which prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from collaborating with federal immigration authorities.
It also shows how little it can take for such efforts to fall short.
Mr. Castillo, 27, moved to New York from Honduras as a child to reunite with his mother. He received temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which began in 2012, a year after he graduated from high school; he and two siblings became legal U.S. residents.
But his status lapsed, and, fearing deportation after President Donald J. Trump was elected and the DACA program’s future became cloudy, he did not reapply. That made him an undocumented immigrant when the police stopped him.
After being brought to the local precinct, Mr. Castillo was taken to a courthouse, officials said. The next day, the city’s Department of Correction transferred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, contrary to a city policy banning such transfers in most cases.
New York law enforcement officials are not supposed to turn people over to ICE or hold them on the federal agency’s behalf, even when ICE has made a so-called detainer request. There are exceptions for those who have been convicted of violent or serious crimes or who have been identified as possibly matching people listed in a terrorist-screening database.
In the 12 months starting in July 2019, city records show, the Correction Department turned 20 people over to ICE. Of those, Mr. Castillo was the only one who had not been convicted of a violent or serious crime. He was also the only person known to have been transferred to ICE under such circumstances since the city’s sanctuary policy took effect in 2015, officials said.
“Mr. Maradiaga’s transfer to ICE was an egregious mistake and a clear violation of local law,” a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, adding that officials had taken “immediate measures to ensure accountability for this misconduct, including officer discipline and clear procedural changes in how cases are reviewed. This will not happen again.”
The New Yorker reported on the city’s mistake last month.
An internal Correction Department inquiry found that the mistaken transfer was the fault of a single employee, who was suspended and then transferred to a different unit, officials said. Other steps were also taken to guard against similar foul-ups in the future, officials said.
In a letter to the Justice Department last month, the city’s corporation counsel, James E. Johnson, noted that the “operational error” that had resulted in Mr. Castillo’s detention had “been addressed,” and he argued for Mr. Castillo’s release.
By then, Mr. Castillo had been in ICE custody for more than a year, mainly at a jail in New Jersey, where he was held for the duration of the pandemic. The jaywalking charges had been dismissed, and a lawyer hired by the family was continuing to pursue his immigration case.
With a new administration taking office in January, his fate became intertwined with its policies. Despite a 100-day moratorium on deportations ordered by President Biden, Mr. Castillo was sent to Louisiana in January, where, relatives said, he believed he was on the verge of being deported.
ICE subsequently returned him to New York, but he was soon sent back to Louisiana after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked Mr. Biden’s moratorium.
At a Feb. 6 rally in Manhattan, Mr. Castillo’s mother, Alma Maradiaga, recounted getting frantic calls from her son as he was flown around the country amid the changing policies, despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.
She said he told her that he was scheduled to be flown out to Honduras and that she should arrange to have someone meet him there — only to learn later that he was not leaving.
“Back and forth,” Ms. Maradiaga, who works at a Manhattan hospital, said of ICE’s shifting positions. Mr. Castillo, she said, described it as: “‘They’re sending me; they’re not.’”
“They bullied my son every minute,” she said of ICE.
Beginning in January, with Mr. Castillo’s deportation appearing imminent, several Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation, including Representative Ritchie Torres, urged ICE to release him. They noted that he could reapply for DACA if he were released but that ICE policy prohibited him from doing so while he was in custody.
ICE declined to release him, but his lawyers obtained a 30-day reprieve from deportation. That gave them time to seek legal remedies that might allow him to stay in the country. The federal judge’s order means those efforts can proceed.
“I’m grateful for the release of Javier, but the threat of deportation, separate and apart from the act itself, is traumatic,” Mr. Torres said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “I find it senseless. It is nightmarish. It is Kafkaesque.”
On Wednesday, an ICE spokesman acknowledged that Mr. Castillo had been released based on the court order. Mr. Castillo was eligible for deportation because he had entered the United States unlawfully as a child in 2002 and had failed to comply with a voluntary departure order two years later, the spokesman said.
Mr. Castillo’s lawyers’ motions to reopen his immigration case had twice been denied by an immigration judge, the ICE spokesman said. The Board of Immigration Appeals is now considering a motion to reopen the case, the spokesman said.
On Wednesday, after her brother had been released from detention, Mr. Castillo’s sister, Dariela Moncada Maradiaga, hailed the judge’s order. But, in remarks streamed over Instagram, she noted that millions of other undocumented immigrants were still detained or otherwise in legal limbo.
“Javier is out,” Ms. Moncada said, briefly turning the camera toward her brother and saying that they both planned to speak at a rally this weekend in Brooklyn. “But we still have to worry about those other 11 million.”
For years we’ve been crediting endorphins, but it’s really about the endocannabinoids.
By Gretchen Reynolds, March 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/10/well/move/running-exercise-mental-effects.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=507270612&algo=identity&variant=no-exp&imp_id=419961451&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
We can stop crediting endorphins, the natural opioid painkillers produced by our bodies, for the floaty euphoria we often feel during aerobic exercise, according to a nifty new study of men, women and treadmills. In the study, runners developed a gentle intoxication, known as a runner’s high, even if researchers had blocked their bodies’ ability to respond to endorphins, suggesting that those substances could not be behind the buzz. Instead, the study suggests, a different set of biochemicals resembling internally homegrown versions of cannabis, better known as marijuana, are likely to be responsible.
The findings expand our understanding of how running affects our bodies and minds, and also raise interesting questions about why we might need to be slightly stoned in order to want to keep running.
In surveys and studies of experienced distance runners, most report developing a mellow runner’s high at least sometimes. The experience typically is characterized by loose-limbed blissfulness and a shedding of anxiety and unease after half an hour or so of striding. In the 1980s, exercise scientists started attributing this buzz to endorphins, after noticing that blood levels of the natural painkillers rise in people’s bloodstreams when they run.
More recently, though, other scientists grew skeptical. Endorphins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, because of their molecular structure. So, even if runners’ blood contains extra endorphins, they will not reach the brain and alter mental states. It also is unlikely that the brain itself produces more endorphins during exercise, according to animal studies.
Endocannabinoids are a likelier intoxicant, these scientists believed. Similar in chemical structure to cannabis, the cannabinoids made by our bodies surge in number during pleasant activities, such as orgasms, and also when we run, studies show. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, too, making them viable candidates to cause any runner’s high.
A few past experiments had strengthened that possibility. In one notable 2012 study, researchers coaxed dogs, people and ferrets to run on treadmills, while measuring their blood levels of endocannabinoids. Dogs and humans are cursorial, meaning possessed of bones and muscles well adapted to distance running. Ferrets are not; they slink and sprint but rarely cover loping miles, and they did not produce extra cannabinoids while treadmill running. The dogs and people did, though, indicating that they most likely were experiencing a runner’s high and it could be traced to their internal cannabinoids.
That study did not rule out a role for endorphins, however, as Dr. Johannes Fuss realized. The director of the Human Behavior Laboratory at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, he and his colleagues had long been interested in how various activities affect the inner workings of the brain, and after reading the ferret study and others, thought they might look more closely into the runner’s high.
They began with mice, which are eager runners. For a 2015 study, they chemically blocked the uptake of endorphins in the animals’ brains and let them run, then did the same with the uptake of endocannabinoids. When their endocannabinoid system was turned off, the animals ended their runs just as anxious and twitchy as they had been at the start, suggesting that they had felt no runner’s high. But when their endorphins were blocked, their behavior after running was calmer, relatively more blissed-out. They seemed to have developed that familiar, mild buzz, even though their endorphin systems had been inactivated.
Mice emphatically are not people, though. So, for the new study, which was published in February in Psychoneuroendocrinology, Dr. Fuss and his colleagues set out to replicate the experiment, to the extent possible, in humans. Recruiting 63 experienced runners, male and female, they invited them to the lab, tested their fitness and current emotional states, drew blood and randomly assigned half to receive naloxone, a drug that blocks the uptake of opioids, and the rest, a placebo. (The drug they had used to block endocannabinoids in mice is not legal in people, so they could not repeat that portion of the experiment.)
The volunteers then ran for 45 minutes and, on a separate day, walked for the same amount of time. After each session, the scientists drew blood and repeated the psychological tests. They also asked the volunteers whether they thought they had experienced a runner’s high.
Most said yes, they had felt buzzed during the run, but not the walk, with no differences between the naloxone and placebo groups. All showed increases, too, in their blood levels of endocannabinoids after running and equivalent changes in their emotional states. Their euphoria after running was greater and their anxiety less, even if their endorphin system had been inactivated.
Taken as a whole, these findings are a blow to endorphins’ image. “In combination with our research in mice,” Dr. Fuss says, “these new data rule out a major role for endorphins” in the runner’s high.
The study does not explain, though, why a runner’s high exists at all. There was no walker’s high among the volunteers. But Dr. Fuss suspects the answer lies in our evolutionary past. “When the open savannas stretched and forests retreated,” he says, “it became necessary for humans to hunt wild animals by long-distance running. Under such circumstances, it is beneficial to be euphoric during running,” a sensation that persists among many runners today, but with no thanks due, it would seem, to endorphins.
An independent report commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council faulted the department for its lack of planning and chaotic response.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, John Eligon and Will Wright, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/us/lapd-george-floyd-protests.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The Los Angeles Police Department severely mishandled protests last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death, illegally detaining protesters, issuing conflicting orders to its rank-and-file officers and striking people who had committed no crimes with rubber bullets, bean bags and batons, according to a scathing report released on Thursday.
An ill-prepared department quickly allowed the situation to spiral out of control when some protesters got violent, failing to rein in much of the most destructive behavior while arresting thousands of protesters for minor offenses, according to the 101-page report commissioned by the City Council.
The report was also highly critical of the department’s leadership, saying that high-ranking officers sometimes made chaotic scenes even worse by shifting strategies without communicating clearly. In many cases, officers used “antiquated tactics” that failed to calm the more violent demonstrators, some of whom the report said deliberately threw things at officers from behind a line of peaceful protesters.
The review is the latest to find serious fault with a police department’s response to the wave of protests that swept the country in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.
From New York to Chicago to Dallas, investigations in the past several months have found that police departments nationwide botched their handling of the protests. In city after city, officers, under faulty supervision, ignored protocols and used excessive force on demonstrators. Mass arrests swept up people who were not breaking any laws. And aggressive responses caused gatherings to quickly descend into chaos.
In New York, one highly critical report last year found that the Police Department, the nation’s largest force, badly mishandled the mass demonstrations, in part by sending untrained officers into marches.
“The response really was a failure on many levels,” Margaret Garnett, the commissioner for the New York City Department of Investigation, said at the time.
In Chicago, an inspector general’s report found that officers had failed to wear body cameras as required and underreported how many times they used their batons to strike protesters. Dallas police officers were found to have fired pepper balls at peaceful marchers. And in Philadelphia, a report condemned an unprepared police response in which officers fueled unrest in some predominantly Black areas with excessive force against demonstrators, while allowing white men armed with bats and pipes to confront protesters in other parts of town.
In Los Angeles, undercover officers blended into the protests but then had no way to report criminal behavior directly to supervisors. Sometimes they had to be rescued from the devolving crowd, the report said, adding that the department’s intelligence operations have become less effective as positions in that field were cut in favor of patrol units.
And although officers arrested thousands of people during the protests in late May, there was no clear plan for how to detain and process them, according to the report. Some protesters were injured so severely by “less lethal” munitions — like rubber bullets and pepper balls — that they had to get surgery.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement that its chief, Michel Moore, had “taken responsibility for activities over the summer,” and that the department had provided crowd control training to its officers after the summer unrest.
“The opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to grow, and become better servants to our community is something that has been embraced and we look forward to leaning into the challenges and being better,” the statement said.
RJ Dawson, who took part in the protests in Los Angeles as part of an activist group, said he had little hope that the report would lead to significant changes.
“I find that these reports tell us what we already know,” he said. “When you’re out here, you see the civil rights violations.”
The review, one of three investigations into the department’s response to the demonstrations, was completed by a panel of former police commanders and led by Gerald Chaleff, who has served on police oversight panels in Los Angeles dating back to the city’s 1992 riots after four officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.
“There was a lack of preparation, a lack of planning,” Mr. Chaleff said of the Los Angeles Police Department in an interview, adding that it “could have minimized” the destruction caused by a small group of people who vandalized the city during last year’s protests.
He said that most demonstrators were peaceful, but that “there were some people there to create chaos and cause problems.”
In interviews, several commanders admitted to the authors of the report that they lacked experience in managing peaceful protests and said they did not receive enough training to maintain order.
Training in crowd control, which became mandatory after the police responded violently in 2007 to demonstrations over immigrant rights, had not occurred for several years leading up to 2020, according to the report. There are “still a few high-level personnel” with expertise in handling large demonstrations, but the report said the Police Department should prioritize the training going forward, as officers retire and are assigned elsewhere.
Officers interviewed for the report said they thought that “good relationships” with residents would keep the demonstrations peaceful, as they had in the recent past, but that their confidence resulted in them failing to plan.
The department formed lines of officers standing shoulder to shoulder to block off a street or keep the protesters from going a certain way. But this technique proved ineffective. As violence erupted, the lines did nothing to help control the crowd.
Across the country, reports have consistently shown similar failures.
In New York, more than 2,000 people were arrested during the city’s first week of demonstrations and enforcement during the height of the protests was overly aggressive and disproportionately affected people of color, according to the highly critical report, which was issued by the state’s attorney general, Letitia James. Her office received more than 1,300 complaints of police misconduct stemming from those first weeks of protest in New York City, she said.
In Portland, Ore., Justice Department lawyers wrote last month that the city’s police department was out of compliance with a 2014 settlement agreement that focused in part on how officers used force. The Justice Department wrote in court that during protests last year, the Portland Police Bureau used force more than 6,000 times in six months, at times deviating from policy.
In Seattle, the city’s Office of Inspector General has been working on a review of last year’s protests, saying there were more than 120 separate protest events and more than 19,000 complaints about how they were handled.
In Chicago, the city’s inspector general report found that the Police Department’s senior leadership had failed the public and rank-and-file officers in its handling of intense protests. As in Los Angeles, the department failed to properly process mass arrests, the report said, overcharging some people and undercharging others. Officers obscured their badge numbers and name plates, and many did not wear body cameras, making it difficult to hold officers accountable for misconduct.
All this happened as the public’s own footage of questionable tactics by Chicago officers circulated widely, the report said. The city and the Police Department, the report said, may have been set “back significantly in their long-running, deeply challenged effort to foster trust with members of the community.”
The Dallas Police Department also came under close scrutiny for how it handled protests. A Dallas Morning News report found that the police had improperly fired pepper balls at protesters. A federal judge had issued a temporary restraining order preventing officers from using chemical agents, flash-bang grenades and other less-lethal weapons against protesters. The police chief at the time ended up resigning, though she said it was for reasons other than the criticism of the protest response.
Mr. Chaleff, who once served as the Los Angeles Police Department’s special assistant for constitutional policing under former Chief William J. Bratton, who later led the New York Police Department, noted that Thursday’s report was primarily concerned with the institutional response, not with any particular incident of police misconduct, a sign that the police had “allowed less violence” than in the past.
“I think there’s been progress,” he said. “But you have to be prepared for what’s coming, and you have to have the elected and appointed leadership that understands what is required and creates a culture for the kinds of responses that are necessary.”
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Manny Fernandez, Shawn Hubler and Ali Watkins.
The pandemic relief bill includes $2.75 billion for private schools. How it got there is an unlikely political tale, involving Orthodox Jewish lobbying, the Senate majority leader and a teachers’ union president.
By Erica L. Green, March 13, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/us/politics/schumer-weingarten-stimulus-private-schools.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — Tucked into the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue law is something of a surprise coming from a Democratic Congress and a president long seen as a champion of public education — nearly $3 billion earmarked for private schools.
More surprising is who got it there: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader whose loyalty to his constituents diverged from the wishes of his party, and Randi Weingarten, the leader of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, who acknowledged that the federal government had an obligation to help all schools recover from the pandemic, even those who do not accept her group.
The deal, which came after Mr. Schumer was lobbied by the powerful Orthodox Jewish community in New York City, riled other Democratic leaders and public school advocates who have spent years beating back efforts by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to funnel federal money to private schools, including in the last two coronavirus relief bills.
Democrats had railed against the push by President Donald J. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use pandemic relief bills to aid private schools, only to do it themselves.
And the private school provision materialized even after House Democrats expressly sought to curtail such funding by effectively capping coronavirus relief for private education in the bill at about $200 million. Mr. Schumer, in the 11th hour, struck the House provision and inserted $2.75 billion — about 12 times more funding than the House had allowed.
“We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that wrote letters to Congress protesting the carve-out. “The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?”
Mr. Schumer’s move created significant intraparty clashes behind the scenes as Congress prepared to pass one of the most critical funding bills for public education in modern history. Senator Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was said to have been so unhappy that she fought to secure last-minute language that stipulated the money be used for “nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency.”
“I’m proud of what the American Rescue Plan will deliver to our students and schools and in this case specifically, I’m glad Democrats better targeted these resources toward students the pandemic has hurt the most,” Ms. Murray said in a statement.
Jewish leaders in New York have long sought help for their sectarian schools, but resistance in the House prompted them to turn to Mr. Schumer, said Nathan J. Diament, the executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who contended that public schools had nothing to complain about.
“It’s still the case that 10 percent of America’s students are in nonpublic schools, and they are just as impacted by the crisis as the other 90 percent, but we’re getting a much lower percentage overall,” he said, adding, “We’re very appreciative of what Senator Schumer did.”
Mr. Schumer faced pressure from a range of leaders in New York’s private school ecosystem, including from the Catholic Church.
In a statement to Jewish Insider, Mr. Schumer said, “This fund, without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover Covid-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students.”
The magnitude of the overall education funding — more than double the amount of schools funding allocated in the last two relief bills combined — played some part in the concession that private schools should continue to receive billions in relief funds. The $125 billion in funding for K-12 education requires districts to set aside percentages of funding to address learning loss, invest in summer school and other programming to help students recover from educational disruptions during the pandemic.
The law also targets long-underserved students, allocating $3 billion in funding for special education programming under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and $800 million in dedicated funding to identify and support homeless students.
“Make no mistake, this bill provides generous funding for public schools,” a spokesman for Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “But there are also many private schools which serve large percentages of low-income and disadvantaged students who also need relief from the Covid crisis.”
Proponents of the move argue that it was merely a continuation of the same amount afforded to private schools — which also had access to the government’s aid program for small businesses earlier in the pandemic — in a $2.3 trillion catchall package passed in December. But critics noted that was when Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democrats had signaled they wanted to take a different direction. They also contend that Mr. Schumer’s decision came at the expense of public education, given that the version of the bill that initially passed the House had about $3 billion more allocated for primary and secondary schools.
Mr. Schumer’s move caught his Democratic colleagues off guard, according to several people familiar with deliberations, and spurred aggressive efforts on the part of advocacy groups to reverse it. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a powerful ally of the Biden administration, raised its objections with the White House, according to several people familiar with the organization’s efforts.
In a letter to lawmakers, the association’s director of government affairs wrote that while it applauded the bill, “we would be remiss if we did not convey our strong disappointment in the Senate’s inclusion of a Betsy DeVos-era $2.75 billion for private schools — despite multiple avenues and funding previously made available to private schools.”
Among the Democrats who were displeased with Mr. Schumer’s reversal was Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who told him that she preferred the provision Democrats had secured in the House version, according to people familiar with their conversation. They also said Representative Robert C. Scott, the chairman of the House education committee, was “very upset” about both the substance and the process of Mr. Schumer’s revision, and had his staff communicate that he was “insulted.”
Integral to swaying Democrats to go along, particularly Ms. Pelosi, was Ms. Weingarten, several people said. Ms. Weingarten reiterated to the speaker’s office what she expressed to Mr. Schumer’s when he made his decision: Not only would she not fight the provision, but it was also the right thing to do.
Last year, Ms. Weingarten led calls to reject orders from Ms. DeVos to force public school districts to increase the amount of federal relief funding they share with private schools, beyond what the law required to help them recover.
At the time, private schools were going out of business everyday, particularly small schools that served predominantly low-income students, and private schools were among the only ones still trying to keep their doors open for in-person learning during the pandemic.
But Ms. Weingarten said Ms. DeVos’s guidance “funnels more money to private schools and undercuts the aid that goes to the students who need it most” because the funding could have supported wealthy students.
This time around, Ms. Weingarten changed her tune.
In an interview, she defended her support of the provision, saying that it was different from previous efforts to fund private schools that she had protested under the Trump administration, which sought to carve out a more significant percentage of funding and use it to advance private school tuition vouchers. The new law also had more safeguards, she said, such as requiring that it be spent on poor students and stipulating that private schools not be reimbursed.
“The nonwealthy kids that are in parochial schools, their families don’t have means, and they’ve gone through Covid in the same way public school kids have,” Ms. Weingarten said.
“All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-Covid, and it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now and in the aftermath of this emergency,” she said, using a Yiddish word for shame.
Mr. Diament likened Mr. Schumer’s decision to Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s move more than a decade ago to include private schools in emergency relief funding if they served students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Diament said that he did not expect that private schools would see this as a precedent to seek other forms of funding.
“In emergency contexts, whether they’re hurricanes, earthquakes, or global pandemics, those are situations where we need to all be in this together,” he said. “Those are exceptional situations, and that’s how they should be treated.”
The settlement is one of the largest of its kind, but it may make it harder to seat an impartial jury for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and John Eligon, March 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/12/us/george-floyd-minneapolis-settlement.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
The City of Minneapolis agreed on Friday to pay $27 million to the family of George Floyd, the Black man whose death set off months of protests after a video showed a white police officer kneeling on his neck.
The payment to settle the family’s lawsuit was among the largest of its kind, and it came as the officer, Derek Chauvin, was set to go on trial this month for charges including second-degree murder. As the settlement was announced by city officials and lawyers for Mr. Floyd’s family, Mr. Chauvin sat in a courtroom less than a mile away, where jurors were being selected for his trial.
Mayor Jacob Frey called the agreement a milestone for Minneapolis’s future. Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who is among those representing Mr. Floyd’s family, said it could set an example for other communities.
“After the eyes of the world rested on Minneapolis in its darkest hour, now the city can be a beacon of hope and light and change for cities across America and across the globe,” he said.
But legal experts said the agreement might make it even harder to seat an impartial jury in the case against Mr. Chauvin, which was already a challenge because of the attention given to Mr. Floyd’s death and the intense demonstrations that followed. In the first four days of jury selection this week, nearly all of the potential jurors said they had seen the video of his arrest, including all but one of the seven selected for the trial so far.
Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Minneapolis, said that the timing could hardly be worse for the court case and that Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers might even ask for a mistrial.
She added that the defense team might have reason to worry that jurors’ views could be affected by the deal, if they saw it as an indication that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were inappropriate. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer and a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Minneapolis said the settlement was “independent and separate from the criminal trial underway.”
The large payment was a sign of the magnitude of the response to Mr. Floyd’s death, which led to protests in hundreds of cities, changes in local and state laws and a reckoning over racism and police abuse. In Minneapolis, a police station and many businesses were burned over several nights of unrest.
At a news conference, Mr. Crump said the agreement would “allow healing to begin” in the city. He said the family had pledged to donate $500,000 to “lift up” the neighborhood around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the corner where the police confronted Mr. Floyd on May 25. The officers had arrived after a store clerk called 911 and said that Mr. Floyd had tried to pay with a fake $20 bill.
Mayor Frey said on Twitter that the agreement “reflects a shared commitment to advancing racial justice and a sustained push for progress.”
Some community members, however, were skeptical of his assertion.
“We haven’t even taken a step, let alone a mile, toward fundamentally changing this police force,” said D.A. Bullock, a filmmaker who lives in Minneapolis. “We’re just waiting for the next George Floyd to happen.”
Mr. Bullock said he imagined that Mr. Floyd’s family would return every penny if they could have him back.
“All I want to talk about is how we’re not going to have police out here killing Black folks,” he said. “That’s really my bottom line, regardless of the size of the settlement.”
Two years ago, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, a white yoga instructor who was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a police officer who is Somali. Excluding that case, the agreement with the Floyd family is larger than the city’s combined settlements related to police misconduct from 2006 to 2020, according to city data.
Minneapolis pays its settlements out of a fund for legal payouts and workers’ compensation claims, and residents have expressed concern that their taxes are subsidizing payments for the misconduct of the police while failing to hold officers accountable. Activists have pushed for legislation that would require officers to carry their own liability insurance, with premiums that could rise after cases of misconduct.
Mark Ruff, the city coordinator, said during a news conference that with cash reserves, officials were confident that the Floyd agreement would not lead to an increase in property taxes.
The settlement reflected the rise in payments over police abuse and misconduct in recent years. In September, Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $12 million to the family of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman whom officers shot and killed in her apartment a year ago.
Five years earlier, the family of Freddie Gray reached a $6.4 million settlement with Baltimore after he was fatally injured in police custody. Also in 2015, New York agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer used a chokehold on him.
In some ways, the escalating amounts are indicative of growing public support for holding the police accountable, said Katherine Macfarlane, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho who specializes in civil rights litigation. But it is also an issue of precedent, she said.
“I think that once you have an incrementally larger settlement, it becomes, in some way, precedent to ask for at least that,” she said. “It gives an attorney a way to say, ‘This is what’s been done before on similar facts, but this is even worse, so we should go above that.’”
Mr. Floyd’s family had sued Minneapolis in July, saying that the police had violated his rights and failed to properly train its officers or fire those who violated department policies.
Mr. Crump said on Friday that the settlement was the largest ever reached before trial in a civil rights wrongful death lawsuit involving the police. That it came in a lawsuit over the death of a Black man, he said, “sends a powerful message that Black lives do matter and police brutality against people of color must end.”
Tim Arango contributed reporting from Minneapolis.