For Immediate Release
Press Contact: Herb Mintz
Photos and Interviews: Steve Zeltzer
To view or participate, a Zoom registration is required.
After registration, participants will receive a Zoom invitation. Events are subject to change or cancellation due to COVID-19 related issues. Check our website at https://laborfest.net/ prior to each event or for a calendar of all events.
LaborFest is the premier labor cultural arts and film festival in the United States. LaborFest recognizes the role of working people in the building of America and making it work even in this time of COVID-19. The festival is self-funded with contributions from unions and other organizations that support and celebrate the contributions of working people.
Sincere Greetings of Peace:
The “In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition*” invites your participation and endorsement of the planned October 2021 International Tribunal. The Tribunal will be charging the United States government, its states, and specific agencies with human and civil rights violations against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
The Tribunal will be charging human and civil rights violations for:
• Racist police killings of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Hyper incarcerations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people
• Political incarceration of Civil Rights/National Liberation era revolutionaries and activists, as well as present day activists,
• Environmental racism and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people,
• Public Health racism and disparities and its impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and
• Genocide of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people as a result of the historic and systemic charges of all the above.
The legal aspects of the Tribunal will be led by Attorney Nkechi Taifa along with a powerful team of seasoned attorneys from all the above fields. Thirteen jurists, some with international stature, will preside over the 3 days of testimonies. Testimonies will be elicited form impacted victims, expert witnesses, and attorneys with firsthand knowledge of specific incidences raised in the charges/indictment.
The 2021 International Tribunal has a unique set of outcomes and an opportunity to organize on a mass level across many social justice arenas. Upon the verdict, the results of the Tribunal will:
• Codify and publish the content and results of the Tribunal to be offered in High Schools and University curriculums,
• Provide organized, accurate information for reparation initiatives and community and human rights work,
• Strengthen the demand to free all Political Prisoners and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission mechanism to lead to their freedom,
• Provide the foundation for civil action in federal and state courts across the United States,
• Present a stronger case, building upon previous and respected human rights initiatives, on the international stage,
• Establish a healthy and viable massive national network of community organizations, activists, clergy, academics, and lawyers concerned with challenging human rights abuses on all levels and enhancing the quality of life for all people, and
• Establish the foundation to build a “Peoples’ Senate” representative of all 50 states, Indigenous Tribes, and major religions.
Endorsements are $25. Your endorsement will add to the volume of support and input vital to ensuring the success of these outcomes moving forward, and to the Tribunal itself. It will be transparently used to immediately move forward with the Tribunal outcomes.
We encourage you to add your name and organization to attend the monthly Tribunal updates and to sign on to one of the Tribunal Committees. (3rd Saturday of each month from 12 noon to 2 PM eastern time). Submit your name by emailing: email@example.com
Please endorse now: http://spiritofmandela.org/endorse/
Dr. A’isha Mohammad
– Coordinating Committee
Created in 2018, In the Spirit of Mandela Coalition is a growing grouping of organizers, academics, clergy, attorneys, and organizations committed to working together against the systemic, historic, and ongoing human rights violations and abuses committed by the USA against Black, Brown, and Indigenous People. The Coalition recognizes and affirms the rich history of diverse and militant freedom fighters Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Graca Machel Mandela, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and many more. It is in their Spirit and affirming their legacy that we work.
We hope all is well with you.
We are happy to announce that the video recording of "No Life Like It: A A Tribute to the Revolutionary Activism of Ernie Tate" is now available for viewing on LeftStreamed
Please share the link with your comrades and friends.
All the best,
Photo from San Francisco rally and march in support of Palestine Saturday, May 15, 2021
Stand with Palestine!
Say NO to apartheid!
Join the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Bezos has at least $180 Billion!
9 minutes 29 seconds
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Samuel Getachew, June 29, 2021
Mr. Getachew graduated in 2020 from Oakland Technical High School in California. He is the 2019 Oakland youth poet laureate.
I was in the sixth grade in 2014 when a high school senior named Akintunde Ahmad appeared on “The Ellen Show” and announced that he had committed to attend Yale University. After graduating from Oakland Technical High with a 5.0 grade-point average and receiving acceptances to a number of top universities, he had become a bit of a hometown hero, featured in articles that upheld him as an “inner city” success story.
Five years later, Mr. Ahmad offered his perspective on the fanfare that had surrounded him as a teenager: “My story is told as though it is a positive one, inspirational,” he wrote in The Atlantic. “But I see it as a grim one, the tale of a harsh reality that wrecks people. There is nothing positive about classifying me as an exception. When a person is exceptional for doing what I have done, the whole system is cruel to its core.”
I’m also from Oakland. As a Black and ambitious student with few role models, I was fascinated by Mr. Ahmad’s trajectory. Six years after he appeared on “The Ellen Show,” I graduated in May 2020 from the same high school during a pandemic, preparing to attend Yale as well. One year after that, Ahmed Muhammad, a former classmate of mine, was celebrated in a number of newspapers and television shows after being named the first Black male valedictorian in Oakland Technical High School’s long history.
I’d known Mr. Muhammad since he was a freshman, and I was incredibly proud of him. But the familiar fanfare once again failed to acknowledge the challenges that Black students — including Mr. Muhammad and I — continue to face.
In his graduation speech last month, Mr. Muhammad pointedly asked why it took 106 years for Oakland Tech to award this honor to a Black male student: “So why me?” he asked. “I don’t know. But for all of those who didn’t get to maximize their potential, for all those who had the ability but lacked the opportunity, I owe it to them to appreciate this history made by the people who put me in this position. We owe it to them to make sure that, while I may be the first young Black man to be our school’s valedictorian, I won’t be the last.”
We all owe it to those who follow in Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Ahmad’s footsteps to focus on removing the obstacles they will confront. And we owe it to them to be more dedicated to dismantling racism than to congratulating them for being among the few to thrive despite it.
That requires an examination of the structures that helped us thrive, but weren’t available to others. Both Mr. Muhammad and I were part of a discussion-based humanities program at our school known as Paideia — the kind of program for “gifted” students whose benefits and problems are common in public high schools all over the country, which often include what social scientists refer to as “racialized tracking.”
The Paideia program, named after a classical Greek system of education and training, was started in the mid-1980s at Oakland Tech. Credited by some for transforming the school from one of the lowest performing and violent in the city to one of the most sought-after in the East Bay, Paideia once served mostly Black students. But as the academic reputation of the school improved and it became more popular with upper- and middle-income white families in Oakland, the program’s demographics have shifted.
Oakland Tech’s enrollment is about a quarter Black, but the courses I took that were necessary to be a competitive college applicant were disproportionately white. The classes in the Paideia program are standard size: about 20 to 30 students. But there were only three Black students in my grade remaining in the entire program by the time we graduated. During my junior year I was the only Black person in my Advanced Placement U.S. History class.
Paideia’s de facto educational segregation is a microcosm of the issue on a national level; a ProPublica survey from 2018 found that white students across the country are nearly twice as likely as Black students to be in Advanced Placement courses.
I have no doubt about the value of the educational experience I got from this program. It was easily the most rigorous part of my high school career; it taught my classmates and me to think critically and write persuasively. And it helped me to find my voice as a poet and writer.
But being the only Black student in the room is not for every student — and that’s an obstacle that no one should have to face. Mr. Muhammad told me that he was discouraged by friends from joining the program because it was “for the white kids.” When he actively sought to recruit more students of color for Paideia and other advanced courses, he said, the problem was that “since the classes lack diversity, many students of color feel that these courses aren’t ‘for them,’ or feel that they won’t enter a welcoming environment.”
The issue with programs such as Paideia is not merely that students are hesitant to participate. When I was entering the program, students were required to fill out an application during freshman year, and their acceptance was also based on teacher recommendations.
Reached for comment, John Sasaki, Director of Communications at the Oakland Unified School District said that the school and district were working on eliminating the racial “achievement gap” and that the application and recommendation for the Paideia program are no longer required.
Such changes are important to help encourage more students to enroll in Paideia and similar programs across the nation, but there is no single solution to centuries of systemic disadvantages. Highlighting stories of Black exceptionalism while neglecting to contextualize them simply perpetuates the inequities that make them unique to begin with.
Mr. Ahmad reflects on this in his piece in The Atlantic, in which he describes how his smart, talented older brother ended up incarcerated, and became a “footnote” in the media accounts of his success story. Instead of focusing on his own admission to Yale as the striking exception, or as proof that systemic racism can be overcome with hard work and good upbringing, Mr. Ahmad writes, “I wish they would ask, ‘What trap lay before this talented, bright boy so that he was bound to fall into it?’”
The academic and societal circumstances that made Mr. Ahmad’s success so noteworthy years before Mr. Muhammad or I arrived on campus remained long after the reporters left and the dust settled. When the annual news cycle of underdog valedictorians fades, segregated classrooms endure. These heartwarming stories are a distraction from the reality of our education system.
I don’t want to see yet another “inner city” success story emerge from my community. I want these stories to be so common that they are unworthy of such coverage.
By Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, June 29, 2021
Fred Field/Portland Press Herald, via Getty Images
A majority of people who live in the Texas coastal communities of Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Port Arthur are brown and Black. These communities are also locations for proposed terminals to load liquefied natural gas on tankers bound for overseas markets.
This correlation is not unusual. Discrimination in housing forced Black and brown people into areas near polluting industries that threatened their health and safety and continue to do so.
I documented this pattern in my book Dumping in Dixie more than three decades ago, finding that “toxic-waste dumps, municipal landfills, garbage incinerators and similar noxious facilities” tended to be located in minority neighborhoods with little access to the levers of government power.
The consequences have been devastating. A study published in April in the journal Science Advances, for instance, found that “racial-ethnic minorities in the United States are exposed to disproportionately high levels of ambient fine particulate air pollution, the largest environmental cause of human mortality.” The researchers found that “because of a legacy of racist housing policy and other factors, racial-ethnic exposure disparities have persisted even as overall exposure has decreased.”
Now President Biden has the opportunity to change that dynamic. A vacancy looms on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the siting and construction of interstate natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas plants and export facilities. The term of one of the commission’s members, a Trump appointee, expires at the end of June, though he could remain until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate. A Biden appointment would shift the balance of power on this obscure but powerful board to three Democrats and two Republicans.
To date, the commission has never rejected a project on environmental justice grounds. Mr. Biden promised to make environmental justice a cornerstone of his climate change agenda and repair the inequities that have left minority communities bearing the impacts of fossil fuel production. His Justice40 initiative sets a goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of government climate investments to disadvantaged communities.
Brownsville, for example, is nearly 94 percent Latino and would be the home of two new terminals, Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG. And that’s just one city out of many, along the gulf and across the United States, where marginalized communities bear the brunt of fossil fuel infrastructure that spew harmful pollutants into the air and water.
These terminals would release thousands of tons of particulate and nitrogen oxide into already polluted air. They also pose risks of fire and explosion. Indeed, The Washington Post reported this month that “federal regulators approved the construction of export terminals along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts while relying on industry safety calculations that critics say significantly understate the potential force” of what’s known as a vapor cloud explosion.
Over the past two decades, the F.E.R.C. has approved nearly 500 pipelines and rejected just two. The board’s approval process is flawed and unfair, systematically giving pipeline companies the advantage over landowners. Until recently, the F.E.R.C. had steadfastly refused to consider climate impacts when deciding to issue permits to new gas pipeline projects.
Mr. Biden’s first appointment to the agency, Richard Glick, the new chairman, has taken steps to make the commission’s decisions more environmentally just. In May he appointed Montina Cole, a former lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, to a new position to help the agency incorporate environmental justice and equity concerns in its decision making.
But the commission has a long way to go. In a March hearing before a federal appeals court on the proposed Rio Grande terminal, an agency lawyer made a logical pretzel of an argument that the Rio Grande project in Brownsville did not disproportionately affect minority and low-income populations. The reason, he said, was that all of the communities within the affected zone were minority or low-income. Thus, they were not disproportionately affected.
The F.E.R.C. must also bar utilities from forcing their customers to pay the membership fees to trade associations whose anti-climate efforts promote policies that harm the communities they serve. In a recent petition to the agency, the Center for Biological Diversity urged it to disallow the practice. More than 90 environmental groups across the country endorsed the request.
The F.E.R.C.’s decisions over the coming years will go a long way to determine whether Mr. Biden’s climate goals are attainable. The path to net-zero carbon emissions is impossible if the expansion of fossil fuel facilities continues.
Mr. Biden appears earnest in his climate efforts and protecting Black and brown Americans from further sacrifice. Nominating a progressive environmental justice champion to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is an important step.
By Michael E. Mann and Susan Joy Hassol, June 29, 2021
Dr. Mann is a professor of atmospheric science and the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State. He is the author of “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.” Ms. Hassol is the director of the nonprofit organization Climate Communication. She publishes the series “Quick Facts” with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s SciLine on the connections between extreme weather and climate change.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/29/opinion/heat-dome-climate-change.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
In the old days, we could escape the summer heat by heading north — to the Adirondacks in the East or to the cool, forested Pacific Northwest in the West.
But this is not your grandparents’ climate.
And though we’re only one week into official summer, the characteristically cool Pacific Northwest has turned into a caldron of triple-digit temperatures, with Portland, Ore., and Seattle reaching record highs of 115 and 108 degrees, respectively. That’s unseasonably hot — for Phoenix.
The western United States is currently under the influence of an epic heat dome, an expansive region of high atmospheric pressure characterized by heat, drought and heightened fire danger. It’s being called a once-in-a-millennium event, which means you might have expected to witness it once during your lifetime — if you happen to be Methuselah of biblical fame.
All bets are off when one accounts for human-caused warming. It no longer makes sense to talk about a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-millennium event as if we’re just rolling an ordinary pair of dice, because we’ve loaded the dice through fossil fuel burning and other human activities that generate carbon pollution and warm the planet. It’s as if snake eyes, which should occur randomly only once every 36 times you roll a pair of dice, were coming up once every four times.
Might a heat dome have developed out West this past week without climate change? Sure.
Might it have been as extreme as what we’re witnessing without climate change? Almost surely not.
If we step back a bit, we see a disturbing pattern. With this latest heat wave, Canada observed its hottest day on record: 116 degrees in British Columbia. Less than a year ago, the United States set its own record — the highest temperature reliably recorded on the entire planet, in fact — with a 130 degree reading in Death Valley in Southern California.
Yes, the dice have been loaded, and not in our favor. If climate change were a casino, we’d be hemorrhaging cash. Wildfires, heat waves, floods and superstorms, many exacerbated by climate change, collectively cost the United States nearly $100 billion in 2020. As the climate advocate Greta Thunberg so poignantly put it, “Our house is on fire.”
We’ve long known that a warming climate would yield more extremely hot weather. The science is clear on how human-caused climate change is already affecting heat waves: Global warming has caused them to be hotter, larger, longer and more frequent. What were once very rare events are becoming more common.
Heat waves now occur three times as often as they did in the 1960s — on average at least six times a year in the United States in the 2010s. Record-breaking hot months are occurring five times more often than would be expected without global warming. And heat waves have become larger, affecting 25 percent more land area in the Northern Hemisphere than they did in 1980; including ocean areas, heat waves grew 50 percent.
These changes matter because extreme heat is the deadliest form of extreme weather in the United States, causing more deaths on average than hurricanes and floods combined over the past 30 years. Recent research projects that heat stress will triple in the Pacific Northwest by 2100 unless aggressive action is taken to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.
Some still refuse to acknowledge the dire warning that Mother Nature is sending us. They say the science is too unsettled to take action. But uncertainty, if anything, is a reason for taking even more significant action to reduce carbon emissions. Uncertainty is not our friend. And the current heat dome is an excellent example of why.
The heat wave afflicting the Pacific Northwest is characterized by what is known as an omega block pattern, because of the shape the sharply curving jet stream makes, like the Greek letter omega (Ω). This omega curve is part of a pattern of pronounced north-south wiggles made by the jet stream as it traverses the Northern Hemisphere. It is an example of a phenomenon known as wave resonance, which scientists (including one of us) have shown is increasingly favored by the considerable warming of the Arctic.
By decreasing the contrast in temperature between the cold pole and warm subtropics, the amplified warming of the Arctic causes the jet stream to slow down and, under the right circumstances, like the ones prevailing now, settle into a very wiggly and rather stable configuration. That, in turn, allows very deep high pressure centers, like the current heat dome, to remain locked in place over a region, as it is over the Pacific Northwest.
Those climate models that the critics claim are alarmist do a poor job of reproducing this phenomenon. That means that the models do not account for this critical factor behind many of the persistent and damaging weather extremes we’ve seen in recent years, including the heat dome.
But there is a way out of this nightmare of ever-worsening weather extremes, and it’s one that will serve us well in many other ways, too. A rapid transition to clean energy can stabilize the climate, improve our health, provide good-paying jobs, grow the economy and ensure our children’s future. The choice is ours.
Family members of the victim, Julian Lewis, said they wanted a new grand jury impaneled and for video of the shooting to be released.
By Azi Paybarah, June 29, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/29/us/georgia-trooper-not-charged-julian-lewis.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
A grand jury has declined to indict a former Georgia state trooper who shot and killed a Black man last year during a traffic stop over a broken taillight.
Relatives of the victim, Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis, 60, said they were disappointed in the decision and urged the district attorney to impanel a new grand jury in order to pursue charges again against the former trooper, Jacob Thompson.
Lindsay Milton, the victim’s mother, implied race was a factor in the grand jury’s decision on Monday not to indict Mr. Thompson, who is white. “They’re going to let this young man go free ‘cause my child was a Black man; no this is not going to work,” she told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday. “We are going to push this to the very end.”
Telephone and email messages left for District Attorney Daphne J. Totten and a lawyer for Mr. Thompson were not immediately returned or answered on Tuesday night.
Francys Johnson, a lawyer for Mr. Lewis’s family, said the family also wanted a meeting with the district attorney, and for officials to release police video of the shooting. “The public deserves it — they paid for it,” Mr. Johnson said at the news conference. Then, referring to the grand jury members, he said, “And it’s been shown now to 22 citizens in Screven County, but it has not been shown to Julian’s mother or his wife or his attorney.”
Mr. Thompson, 27, was arrested and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault days after the Aug. 7 traffic stop and fatal shooting of Mr. Lewis.
At around 9:20 p.m., according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Thompson spotted Mr. Lewis near Sylvania, Ga., which is about 60 miles northwest of Savannah, driving with a broken taillight. The state trooper followed Mr. Lewis and tried to pull him over, but he continued driving and Mr. Thompson used his patrol vehicle to force Mr. Lewis’s car to turn sideways, causing him to stop in a ditch, the report said.
Mr. Thompson drew his gun as he got out of his vehicle, he told investigators, and said he saw Mr. Lewis trying to maneuver his vehicle toward him, prompting him to fire his weapon. Mr. Lewis was struck once and pronounced dead at the scene, the report said.
But Dustin Peak, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, testified in September that this would have been impossible, because Mr. Lewis’s vehicle was inoperable after it hit the ditch and the car battery disconnected, The Associated Press reported.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety said in a statement that Mr. Thompson had been fired for his “negligence or inefficiency in performing assigned duties; or commission of a felony.”
Mr. Johnson said Georgia law allowed district attorneys to impanel new grand juries if a prior one declined to pursue charges. “We believe that this was a very strong case,” Mr. Johnson said. “The evidence was there and still is.”
By The Editorial Board, July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/01/opinion/supreme-court-voting-law.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
The 1965 Voting Rights Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history. By outlawing racial discrimination in voting and imposing federal oversight in states with histories of discriminating, it finally enforced the 15th Amendment and marked the first time the nation could call itself a truly representative democracy. Until the last decade, the law occupied a sacred spot in the American legal system. In 2006, Congress reauthorized the law nearly unanimously.
Since then, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has been dismantling it, piece by piece.
The latest blow came Thursday, when all six conservative justices voted to uphold two Arizona voting laws despite lower federal courts finding clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American. One law requires election officials to throw out ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars most people and groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots and dropping them off at polling places.
Under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars any law that discriminates on the basis of race, whether intentionally or not, the Arizona laws should have been invalidated. But the conservative justices dismissed the challenge because, they said, only a small number of people were affected. “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in an opinion joined by the other conservatives.
That is a dismissive wave of the hand at precisely the sort of evidence that Congress told voting-rights plaintiffs to present in court. As Justice Elena Kagan pointed out in a dissent longer than the ruling itself, small numbers can make a big difference. In 2020, for example, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona by a little over 10,000 votes — fewer than the state threw out based on the out-of-precinct policy in two of the past three presidential elections.
Since the court is talking about “mere facts,” the conservative justices might have noted the mere fact that voting fraud, which lawmakers in a number of states claim they are trying to prevent with laws like the ones in Arizona, is essentially nonexistent. As one federal judge put it several years ago, such laws are akin to using “a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table.”
That doesn’t appear to bother the conservative justices, who have given a free pass to state legislatures to discriminate, even as they demand more and more from voters trying to show that they are hurt by that discrimination.
This subverts the whole purpose of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted because of the persistence of discriminatory state voting laws and policies, a point Justice Kagan made throughout her dissent. “What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses,” she wrote.
Those impulses have been on flagrant display over the past several years, as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have raced one another to pass laws that make voting harder — whether through stringent voter-identification requirements, limits on early and absentee voting, hurdles to registration, indiscriminate purges of voter rolls and laws like Arizona’s. Many of these laws disproportionately hurt voters of color. Already this year, 28 laws restricting voting have passed in 17 states, according to a running tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.
The conservatives on the court choose to be oblivious to the function of these laws, perhaps because they and their colleagues created the conditions for them to thrive in the first place. In 2013, the court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, which had required states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices — including Arizona — to obtain approval from the federal government before changing or adopting any voting law.
Section 5 was by far the most effective way to prevent voting discrimination, but according to Chief Justice John Roberts — who has been working to hobble the Voting Rights Act since he was a junior lawyer in the Reagan administration — the list of offenders was out of date. “Things have changed dramatically,” he wrote in his 2013 majority opinion, pointing to the increase in Black voter registration and turnout in the years since the Voting Rights Act was adopted. It didn’t seem to occur to him that this increase was precisely because of the law, and not in spite of it. As if to drive home the point, Republican-led states that had been under federal oversight began imposing strict new voting laws within hours of the ruling.
After 2013, Section 2 was the only meaningful tool left in the Voting Rights Act — indeed, Chief Justice Roberts pointed out this fact as supposed consolation when the court eliminated Section 5. But its medicine was never as strong. Lawsuits alleging violations under Section 2 can be brought only after a new voting law has passed and may have been discriminating against voters for years. The suits are expensive and time-consuming, which deters most potential plaintiffs. Even when plaintiffs show incontestable proof of discrimination, as they did in Thursday’s case, the odds are stacked against them.
This is bad news for upcoming legal challenges to Republican-enacted voter restrictions in other states. Just how bad will depend in part on the outcome of a lawsuit the Justice Department filed last week against a sweeping new voting law in Georgia. The suit contends that the Georgia Republicans who passed it, upset at Democratic victories in the state’s presidential and Senate contests, intentionally targeted Black voters, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Proving intentional discrimination is a high bar, but Georgia’s lawmakers worked hard to make the job easier, passing all kinds of restrictions that disproportionately hurt Black voters.
Congress has been debating a bill that would restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act by reimposing federal oversight of voting laws in states that have repeatedly discriminated in the last 25 years. Thanks to blanket opposition by Republicans and the existence of the filibuster, which allows a minority of senators to block a bill with majority support, the bill is a dead letter — unless Democrats decide to end the filibuster.
Even that step would not turn back the anti-democratic tide, which grew into a wave during the Trump administration. In Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere, Republican lawmakers driven by demonstrable lies about fraud in the 2020 election are changing the rules around how votes are counted and certified. They are stripping power from officials, like the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who did their jobs in 2020 and refused to succumb to pressure from Mr. Trump and his allies to “find” extra votes and overturn the results to help him win.
The strategy is so dangerous because it is so dull. It’s easy to be outraged by, say, making it a crime to give voters water while they wait in oppressively long lines to cast a ballot, as the new Georgia law does. It’s harder to get worked up about the arcane machinery of election administration. But these laws are of a piece with the voting restrictions being passed by the same lawmakers. Together, they are designed to keep Democratic-leaning voters away from the polls, and to the extent that fails, to deny victory to Democratic candidates, even when they win more votes.
The current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roberts, shows no interest in thwarting this attack on democracy and protecting Americans’ fundamental constitutional right to vote. The ball is in Congress’s court, and time is fast running out.
The heat wave in parts of the Pacific Northwest played a role in the deaths of dozens of people, some of whom lived alone.
By Sergio Olmos, Winston Choi-Schagrin and Shawn Hubler, July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/01/us/heat-wave-deaths-oregon-canada-washington.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
PORTLAND, Ore. — The heat took Sebastian Francisco Perez, 38, as the Guatemalan-born farmworker moved irrigation lines in a field in Marion County, Ore., on Saturday in record temperatures that soared to 104 degrees.
Debra Moore, 68, was found on Monday on the blistering sidewalk in a community at the base of Mount Rainier, hours after she collapsed just steps from the house she was visiting, the police said.
Dorothy Galliano, 85, died from hyperthermia sometime over the weekend in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood where she was a vibrant fixture. Emergency medical workers found her on Tuesday in her home, which had no air-conditioning.
“The temperature outside was so high, you could only stand it a minute,” said Ms. Galliano’s friend Ann Pinsky, who lives three blocks away and who has wished all week that she or some other neighbors had checked to see if the older woman, who lived alone, was safe from the record heat wave.
“The Fire Department found one of her windows open a crack and the TV on, and I imagine her sitting down to watch TV and getting fuzzy and dozing off,” Ms. Pinsky said. “And then she is gone.”
As the Pacific Northwest recovers from the dome of extreme heat that hit last week and spiked temperatures into the triple digits for days before starting to recede on Tuesday, authorities are beginning to tabulate its awful toll.
Hundreds of heat-related deaths have been confirmed in ordinarily cool Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The casualties — in overheated cars, stifling apartments, older homes, workplaces, homeless encampments — reflect the particular dangers of extreme heat and the potential for devastation as climate change dramatically amplifies normal temperature fluctuations.
In Washington and Oregon alone, authorities have attributed at least 90 deaths to the sustained spike in temperatures. The chief coroner of British Columbia said at least 486 sudden deaths were reported in the province from Friday to Wednesday afternoon, a five-day period in which 165 such deaths are typically reported.
Because global warming has raised baseline temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average since 1900, heat waves like the one in the Pacific Northwest are now likely to be hotter than those recorded in past centuries. Over the past 30 years, extreme heat has led to more deaths in the United States than other extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods, although estimates for the number of heat-related deaths have varied.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 505 heat-related deaths in the United States in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. But the real numbers could be much higher. Another study, which looked at excess deaths in the country’s 297 most populous counties, found that approximately 5,600 deaths could be attributable to heat each year.
Last week, residents throughout the region expressed their alarm at the suddenness and severity of the heat, which struck just as they were beginning to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, anticipating the usual temperate summer.
Instead, slammed with temperatures more characteristic of Death Valley, Washington highways buckled and Portland’s TriMet public transit system ground to a halt as its overhead wires sagged and expanded. The University of Washington Medical Center treated more than 100 patients for heat-related illness.
In Seattle, Ms. Pinsky said she watched, aching, as a nest of baby crows in her yard struggled to get out of the scorching sun, only to perish.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood almost 50 years,” she said, “and I’ve never experienced weather like this.”
On Thursday, officials in Oregon — which in the previous 20 years combined had recorded 72 heat-related deaths — updated its heat-related death toll since Friday to at least 79. More than 50 of those deaths were in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. The average age of those who died there was 67.
“It’s really a tragedy, and a lesson that heat does kill,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer. “In general — we’re still sifting through the numbers — these were people found in very hot settings, basically alone, and by and large older people.”
Normally, sweating dissipates the heat. But when sweat cannot evaporate because it is too hot or humid, the body’s core temperature rises, eventually shutting down organs.
Some, like Mr. Perez, died outdoors, lacking acclimation to the sudden furnacelike air around them. A day laborer at the Ernst Nursery and Farms, a plant nursery in the green and fertile Willamette Valley, he — like many of the area’s farmworkers — had continued to work even as much of the surrounding area shut down for the heat wave.
Mr. Perez begged to get on the Saturday crew, said a relative, Pedro Lucas, because it paid more — almost $12 an hour. A coworker of Mr. Perez’s said he was stressed about repaying his debt to the smugglers known as coyotes who guide migrants across the border illegally for a price.
“He told me, ‘Please give me a chance, I need the money,’” Mr. Lucas said.
Some of those who died were already ill. Ms. Moore, who was found on a sidewalk in the community of Enumclaw, 42 miles from Seattle, had recently undergone chemotherapy, according to Tim Floyd, the police chief.
“She had significant, significant pre-existing conditions and walked with the assistance of a cane or walker,” he said, adding that she had apparently tripped and fallen as she navigated a bumpy walkway. She was visiting friends, he said, and they did not find her for hours because they had their blinds closed.
“One of her friends happened to look out and see her car,” the chief said. “And then they looked further and saw her.”
Dr. Steve Mitchell, the medical director for emergency services at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said vulnerable people were disproportionately affected by the heat wave, which caused many to lose consciousness, suffer seizures and require breathing assistance.
The demand on hospital staffing and infrastructure over the weekend, he said, was reminiscent of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Four hospitals in Washington State lost power temporarily. Operating rooms were closed in some hospitals because they could not guarantee safe temperature and humidity controls.
“Finding nurses is becoming a real challenge for everyone in our state,” Dr. Mitchell said, “so when you add additional stress, such as this severe heat wave, it further stresses our staff.”
In British Columbia, the heat wave exacerbated a wildfire that engulfed the village of Lytton, a town of about 300 people, forcing residents to flee on Wednesday night. Ninety percent of the town, including its center, is burned down, and transport and telecommunications infrastructure have sustained damage, Brad Vis, a member of Parliament representing Lytton, said in a statement posted to Facebook.
The cause of the fire in Lytton was yet to be determined, but heat, dry conditions and wind had helped it spread, Jean Strong, an information officer from the B.C. Wildfire Service, said in a private message on Twitter.
The blaze followed three consecutive days of record-shattering heat, with temperatures in the area reaching just over 121 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday. The heat wave has roasted the country’s western coast, persisting as Canadians gathered for Canada Day, the date, July 1, 1867, when three British colonies were joined together to create the Dominion of Canada.
Hallie Golden contributed reporting from Seattle. Vjosa Isai and Dan Bilefsky also contributed reporting.
By Rasha Al Aqeedi, a commentator on Middle Eastern geopolitics and contemporary Iraqi politics and society, is the head of the Nonstate Actors program at the Newlines Institute, July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/01/opinion/donald-rumsfeld-death-iraq-war.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
A detainee with wires attached to him at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in late 2003. Credit...Associated Press
In the early hours of April 10, 2003, I had taken refuge in what was — for me — the safest place in the world: the floor of my parents’ bedroom in our home in Mosul, Iraq.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Iraqi regime collapsed in the wake of America’s “shock and awe” campaign. We watched in disbelief as U.S. forces helped bring down that famous statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. The prior few weeks were a mixture of airstrikes and fear.
In Mosul, it was chaos. Army and police forces had fled their posts to provide, I assumed, some protection for their own families. I slept for a few hours before my aunt frantically called to warn us of widespread looting unfolding at our doorstep. As the day proceeded, men in our neighborhood stood guard at their homes, watching as looters rampaged through nearly every public facility, including hospitals, universities and banks. It was the same scene across the country.
I still remember what Donald Rumsfeld, then the U.S. secretary of defense, said a day later during a news conference when he was asked why U.S. troops did nothing to stop the looting: “Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things.”
Mr. Rumsfeld, who died on Tuesday, described chaos and disorder as freedom. His comments were a sign of Iraq’s trajectory, and it was, for me, my first brush with what I would come to know as Mr. Rumsfeld’s (and the United States’) modus operandi regarding Iraq — the blatant gaslighting and indifference to the reality on the ground, symbolized in the occupying army’s failure to protect the fragile country it had just taken over.
The invasion of Iraq, in all its sloppiness and dishonesty, has never been a black-and-white event for me; it is a personal conflict I have yet to reconcile. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator unlikely to have been ousted by a grass-roots revolution. He probably would have ruled until his death, the mantle passing to his sons. As the mass graves of Kurds and Shiite Iraqis were dug up, his toppling seemed more legitimate. The grievances caused by Mr. Hussein were plenty in Mosul, but the tragic stories of injustices failed in comparison with the carnage wrought by his regime in other parts of the country. The war had brought justice to millions, but millions more would become new victims. They just didn’t know it yet.
The George W. Bush administration didn’t have to look for too long to find Iraqi allies to support the invasion. There were some Iraqis abroad willing to lie and deceive about the existence of weapons of mass destruction for the war to happen. They shared a goal with Mr. Rumsfeld: invading Iraq and toppling Mr. Hussein. Everything else was irrelevant.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s track record in Iraq is a litany of failures: advocating the invasion based on easily debunked evidence, overseeing a drawn-out war in which tens of thousands of Iraqis died, endorsing harsh interrogation techniques — all of which accelerated Iraq’s fall into the abyss. His failure to predict that an insurgency opposing the occupation would arise reflects a lack of understanding of war itself. (By that point, he had been secretary of defense twice!)
Perhaps his most inhumane failure of responsibility and moral leadership was the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by U.S. military members. Though some soldiers did time behind bars, Mr. Rumsfeld walked away unscathed. Whatever he believed he had accomplished in Iraq fell apart, and he never apologized or appeared slightly remorseful over the agony his mistakes caused. The nation of Iraq was invisible to Mr. Rumsfeld, therefore it was unworthy of restoring. As my country shed rivers of blood, he showed no contrition.
Iraq today is a shell of a country, a state on paper only. Democracy is a political game of musical chairs with the same corrupt parties that distribute power and wealth among themselves. Iran is the kingmaker with its armed proxies maintaining the status quo and killing off — literally — any challenges to its status. Ironically, the leaders of these proxy militias were able to return to Iraq from exile only because of America’s toppling of Mr. Hussein. The same proxies are today sworn enemies of the United States, attacking the U.S. Embassy compound and the remaining few American military bases there to counter the ISIS coalition.
The failure to stabilize Iraq while losing thousands of American lives shifted the U.S. domestic discourse forever. Any type of U.S. intervention, even when nonmilitary and necessary, is met with skepticism. The Middle East still finds itself in the grip of many dictators and war criminals.
After Mr. Rumsfeld left office in 2006, I never really thought of him again. I wasn’t interested in what he said or did. The damage had already been done. To the extent that he set Iraq on an irreversible course of destruction, he won’t be forgotten. But for many of us still hoping for a better Iraq, he is irrelevant. Just as his death is now.
The charges against the woman, Miya Ponsetto, stem from an episode at a New York City hotel where she tackled a teenager who she wrongly said had taken her phone.
By Precious Fondren, July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/01/nyregion/arlo-hotel-hate-crime-keyon-harrold.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=657699580&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-uh-lasttoday-alpha-01&variant=3_bandit-all-surfaces-uh-lasttoday-alpha-01&pool=pool/91fcf81c-4fb0-49ff-bd57-a24647c85ea1&imp_id=33773159&action=click&module=Popular%20in%20The%20Times&pgtype=Homepage
A California woman who falsely accused a teenager of stealing her phone and then attacked him at a New York City hotel was charged with a hate crime on Wednesday.
Miya Ponsetto, 22, pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, one count of second-degree aggravated harassment and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. She was arraigned in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan over video call.
Ms. Ponsetto gained widespread attention after a video was released of her confronting Keyon Harrold Jr., then 14, in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel in SoHo in December.
In the video, which was recorded by Keyon’s father, the prominent jazz musician Keyon Harrold, Ms. Ponsetto, who is of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese descent, tackles the teenager, who is Black, after accusing him of stealing her phone.
She can be heard yelling in the video, “No, I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!”
The phone was later found and returned by an Uber driver.
Ms. Ponsetto had already been charged with attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and attempted assault earlier this year, but the office of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, brought additional charges, including hate crimes charges, on Wednesday.
“We intend on fighting this very vigorously, especially in the wake of the embellished charges District Attorney Vance has charged Miya Ponsetto with,” Ms. Ponsetto’s lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, said.
Mr. Harrold said his family was moving forward with a lawsuit against the Arlo Hotel and Ms. Ponsetto.
“I’m feeling hopeful,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “Obviously as Black people, it’s hard to believe in a system and believe that the system will work for me and for my family. But to see that there’s work being done to change things is something so positive.”
Mr. Harrold said he believed the hotel had “empowered” Ms. Ponsetto and that it had done nothing to protect his son. A representative for the hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He said that he was still baffled that a day that was meant to be a fun father-and-son outing had been derailed.
“Our life changed because somebody having the entitlement and idea that just because of the way my son looked he was the one who stole her property, which is so ridiculous,” Mr. Harrold said. “It’s been a couple of months, but every time I talk about it, it brings back all kinds of emotions — like the fear that if I wasn’t there to protect my son, what could have happened?”
Mr. Harrold said he hoped his son’s encounter with Ms. Ponsetto highlighted how common it is for Black people to be harassed simply for existing in spaces that others believe they shouldn’t be in.
“When people are falsely accused, it powers the system of injustice and powers the system of inequality,” he said. “And it marginalizes people of color disproportionately.”
Ms. Ponsetto found herself in more hot water after she was interviewed by Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” and the interview went viral earlier this year.
Ms. Ponsetto downplayed her actions during the interview, and suggested that she couldn’t be racist because she was a woman of color. She even lifted her hand up to silence Ms. King at one point, saying “enough.”
“It didn’t seem like my accusations bothered the son and father because they were enjoying a nice meal after this whole encounter,” she said in the interview.
She was arrested in connection with the hotel episode hours later.
Ms. Ponsetto had also faced charges in unrelated cases in California, where she was accused of public intoxication, driving with a suspended license and getting into altercations with her mother and police officers.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Ms. Ponsetto, who remains under court-supervised release in California, spoke quietly and said little. Her next court appearance is set for Oct. 20.
Ashley Wong and Mihir Zaveri contributed reporting.
The plants seem to divide labor to maximize the health of their colonies that grow up the sides of trees.
By Elizabeth Preston, July 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/science/ferns-social.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Science
K.C. Burns’s favorite research days are the ones where he puts on his backpack and walks into the wilderness with no agenda. On one hike on Australia’s Lord Howe Island, he came across a cluster of staghorn ferns. They are common potted plants, but in nature they grow in dense colonies that cling to treetops. In the volcanic island’s stunted forest, those treetops are right at eye level.
“I almost looked beyond it,” said Dr. Burns, a biologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Then he peered closer and realized the plants within the colony were doing different jobs to survive. Ferns growing higher up had waxy fronds that seemed to direct rainwater into the colony’s center. Farther down, ferns grew spongier leaves that were damp to the touch. Some plants weren’t reproducing at all — they seemed to have dedicated their lives to collecting water for their neighbors’ entangled roots.
It struck Dr. Burns that the ferns were working together as a kind of superorganism, perhaps like bees in a hive.
“I sat down and thought, oh my God,” he said. In a paper published last month in Ecology, Dr. Burns and his co-authors argued that colonies of the staghorn fern Platycerium bifurcatum show a kind of collective behavior known as eusociality. Until now, scientists had only recognized eusociality in some species of animals like bees or ants that live in colonies and divide their labor.
To measure how ferns divided labor, the researchers sampled plants growing at different heights within 24 colonies. They counted two types of leaves on each plant. One type, which they called nest fronds, are rounded and mostly brown, clasping the tree like cupped hands. The other fronds, long, green and forked like antlers, can grow spores on their undersides that will become the next generation of ferns.
Plants closer to the top of each colony had more spore-bearing fronds. Plants near the bottom had more of the cupped, non-reproducing nest fronds. About 40 percent of individual plants weren’t reproducing at all, like worker bees.
Next the scientists cut out wedges from nest fronds, dried them, then soaked them in water to measure how much they sopped up. They found that nest fronds from the bottom of a colony were more absorbent.
Since the colony’s roots grew in a tangled network, these spongy leaves might help the whole colony stay hydrated. The scientists found that larger colonies (the biggest one they studied held 58 individual ferns) had more spore-bearing fronds per capita. Living in a big group, then, might improve the ferns’ fitness.
For the most part, the groups are families. “We quickly realized the genetics is important,” Dr. Burns said, because eusocial animals live in closely related groups.
When researchers analyzed DNA from 11 fern colonies, they found that most plants within a colony were as closely related as possible: They were clones. New plants arise from buds in the root systems of others, Dr. Burns said.
Being clones “means that the different individuals have aligned interests genetically,” said Guy Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford. By helping a neighboring clone, a plant is also helping its own genes survive.
Dr. Cooper said he would like to know more about the life cycle of a colony, and how much the individual ferns depended on one another.
Even if staghorn ferns aren’t as social as bees, “it was very cool to see that there might be similar sorts of complex social behaviors happening in plants,” he said.
He also pointed out that some plants that spread by cloning themselves were considered to be one individual, not many. For example, aspen trees sprout massive groves of clones from one root network. An aspen forest in Utah nicknamed Pando is sometimes called the world’s largest single organism, covering 106 acres.
“You then have to wonder about some more philosophical questions about whether they are different individuals to start with,” Dr. Cooper said of the ferns. Maybe the ferns within a colony are more like limbs on a body than bees in a hive.
Cloning doesn’t explain the whole story of staghorn ferns, though. In some Lord Howe Island colonies, Dr. Burns and his colleagues found unrelated plants. They don’t know how those ferns became part of the treetop communities.
Plants are some of the most flexible living things on Earth, said Karen Kapheim, a biologist at Utah State University who studies the evolution of social behavior in bees. Maybe it’s not surprising that a fern could also evolve social tendencies, she said.
Science is revealing more and more about how plants behave and communicate, Dr. Kapheim said. “I think adding social behavior to that fits in with this new, emerging understanding of plants.”
By Astra Taylor, a writer, filmmaker and activist, is the author, most recently, of “Remake the World: Essays, Reflections, Rebellions,” July 2, 2021
“While the affluent shirk their obligations by refusing to pay taxes and living wages, and then use the wealth they’ve hoarded to fund politicians who protect their interests, poverty is shrouded in shame and stigma. But indebtedness is not a personal failing and debtors are not to blame, which is why we should reject the language of ‘debt forgiveness’ and instead demand debt abolition, a phrase that pays homage to the concept of ‘abolition democracy’ developed by the historian and activist W.E.B. Du Bois.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/opinion/student-loan-medical-debt-forgiveness.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Guest%20Essays
Formerly enslaved people called the phase that followed the Civil War, and their emancipation, “Jubilee.” In doing so, they at once communicated the joy of freedom and knowingly invoked the authority of the Bible: jubilee as an Old Testament law commanding the end of slavery, redistribution of land and forgiveness of debts. The prophetic term was another name for the period more commonly known as Reconstruction.
That attempt to usher in a more substantive democracy — racially egalitarian and responsive to its poorest citizens — was swiftly abandoned by the federal government and violently suppressed by Southern reactionaries. Reconstruction’s sabotage still reverberates: in the dysfunction of our political system, in the endurance of white supremacy, in our ever-widening inequality.
While the White House likes to trumpet good news about the economy’s recovery from Covid-19, it’s important to understand how unequal the recovery has been. From March 2020 to March 2021, America’s billionaires increased their combined fortunes by over $1.3 trillion, according to an analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, while millions of families, particularly in working-class communities of color, either scraped by or fell further into arrears. The nonmortgage debt load of retirees has, on average, doubled; while eviction bans kept many families off the street, they did not stop back rent from piling up. Millions more people fell into medical debt during the pandemic, which experts warn may soon lead to a spike in personal bankruptcies.
Instead of hawking a “recovery” that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, President Biden and his colleagues should help finish the work of Reconstruction. The time has come to revive the Jubilee — which in the modern era would mean the erasure of debts and a democratic rebalancing of power between regular people and elites.
Since before this nation’s founding, indebtedness has been useful to the powerful as both a source of profit and a tool of social control and racial domination. Thomas Jefferson’s view is particularly revealing: While he fulminated against debt as an unjust encumbrance on posterity and argued for the termination of debts unpaid after “natural limits” (which he took to be the span of a generation), he recommended wielding debt as a tool to dispossess Indigenous people, “because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.”
After slavery’s abolition, similar tactics were deployed to squelch hopes for Jubilee. Sharecropping and tenant farming arrangements used debt to secure white landlords generations of exploitable labor, ensuring Reconstruction would remain undone.
Today, financial predators, aided by allies in Washington from both parties, target borrowers who come from marginalized backgrounds, lack intergenerational wealth and face wage discrimination on the job, ensuring lifetimes of repayment while compounding social inequities and racial disparities.
The rich, meanwhile, can use credit to their advantage: Individuals walk away from their obligations (Donald Trump, the self-professed “king of debt,” epitomizes this warped paradigm) and companies engage in strategic defaults.
The same ethos informed the first Covid relief package. Congress stabilized the corporate debt market and offered companies forgivable loans (they even aided payday lenders and debt collectors that had previously been fined by regulators) but failed to extend equivalent generosity to regular borrowers, who instead received inadequate payment pauses and cash assistance. Even this support was a circuitous bailout for creditors, given that people spent much of what they received to pay down debts. (Debt collectors could garnish people’s third stimulus checks.)
Where the American dream used to be owning a home with a white picket fence, now it is getting out of debt. For many, the humble aspiration of owing zero dollars seems out of reach. Over his long career, Mr. Biden has contributed to this crisis by working to strengthen the hands of creditors, including through a 2005 bankruptcy reform bill that rolled back protections for borrowers.
The time has come to make amends. If the Biden administration is serious about “Build Back Better,” it needs to take bold action. This country cannot afford to allow millions of struggling households to sink when a mountain of old bills and back rent suddenly come due once payment pauses and eviction moratoriums end. The government can and must find ways to make crushing debt disappear.
Student loans, medical debt, utility bills, criminal justice fines and fees, and municipal debt all need to be written down or canceled outright. I’ve written elsewhere about some of the various legal means by which this can be accomplished, and many other potential strategies exist.
To begin, President Biden should honor his campaign promise for Congress to “immediately” cancel student debt for borrowers. There is no reason to hold back. Erasing every penny of federal student debt would improve nearly 45 million lives, help narrow the racial wealth gap and most likely win over a good number of Republican voters in advance of the midterms. The Debt Collective, a membership organization for debtors I helped found, has already drafted the executive order the president could sign tomorrow to do so — no need to involve Congress or pass legislation.
Next, he should tackle medical debt. Following the lead of a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders, Democrats could eliminate all medical debt in collections, including fees incurred because of Covid. (At the very least, legislators should protect borrowers by ensuring that past-due hospital bills aren’t reported on credit scores and make it harder for collectors to come after patients.)
Finally, elected officials also need to relieve renters of the enormous burden they hold by canceling accumulated rent debt, preferably in a way that doesn’t simply bail out and further enrich and empower landlords. Passing the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act introduced by Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota would be a good start.
These ideas are not outside the mainstream. Over 415 organizations, including the Minority Veterans of America, the National Young Farmers Coalition and the N.A.A.C.P., have signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to use executive authority to cancel student debt. In the early days of the pandemic, the Poor People’s Campaign, a racial and economic justice group, introduced the Jubilee Platform, and it recently collaborated with progressive congressional legislators on a “Third Reconstruction Resolution,” both of which prominently feature debt relief.
Contrary to worries that letting debtors off the hook would sink the economy, there is evidence it would actually help keep it afloat by providing a much-needed financial boost. Freeing up money now spent on debt servicing to circulate more widely would increase demand, create jobs and encourage entrepreneurialism. A Jubilee would be a boon for everyone, even those who don’t need direct assistance.
But the effect would be more far-reaching than what can be measured by G.D.P. A Jubilee would help us reconstruct both our monetary economy and our moral one. A renegotiation of the social contract is long overdue.
While the affluent shirk their obligations by refusing to pay taxes and living wages, and then use the wealth they’ve hoarded to fund politicians who protect their interests, poverty is shrouded in shame and stigma. But indebtedness is not a personal failing and debtors are not to blame, which is why we should reject the language of “debt forgiveness” and instead demand debt abolition, a phrase that pays homage to the concept of “abolition democracy” developed by the historian and activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
“Abolition democracy” was Du Bois’s name for what Reconstruction aspired to achieve — a process that would involve both the dismantling of racist institutions and the building of new egalitarian, cooperative political and economic relationships. We are owed nothing less.