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.
Mandla Mandela backs BDS Coalition pro-Palestine ’protest’ ahead of Israeli ZIM ship docking in Durbanhttps://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/gauteng/mandla-mandela-backs-bds-coalition-pro-palestine-protest-ahead-of-israeli-ship-docking-in-durban-0215bbd0-3159-4051-b725-75e843763e34By Sihle Mlambo Jun 30, 2021Durban - The pro-Palestine South African Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Coalition (SA BDS Coalition) has received support from Inkosi Mandla Mandela ahead of planned protest action in opposition to an Israeli-owned ship unloading cargo at the Durban port on July 10.Plans were already afoot to bar the Israeli-owned ZIM Shanghai shipping line from unloading cargo at the Durban harbour on Saturday, July 10, but these have been shelved following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ban on gatherings as part of the new adjusted alert level 4 regulations that he announced on Sunday.However, the campaign has also received backing from Inkosi Mandela who said that the BDS movement constituted “the most powerful weapon in our hands” to end the occupation of Palestinian lands by the “Apartheid Israel” regime.“Last month our dockworker heroes in Durban harbour refused to offload cargo from a ship carrying goods from Apartheid Israel. We call on Transnet management to deny docking rights to the Israeli owned ZIM shipping line.“We also call on our gallant labour unions especially the dockworker unions to refuse to handle any goods emanating from Apartheid Israel especially the illegal settlements,” Inkosi Mandela saidHe said that with the ZIM Shanghai shipping line expected at the Durban harbour in early July, organisations involved in opposing it from offloading cargo should be vigilant for shifting dates as a means to foil their attempts.Nadia Meer, an activist and member of the SA BDS Coalition, said that although the gathering of civil society for protest action was not possible, that did not mean that there would be nothing done.“The workers will still be taking a stand and they will be planning action.“We are exploring other options and will confirm once we have direction from workers on what they are doing, things that are possible like picketing with distanced spacing, doing this from our vehicles may proceed in addition to action by fishermen on boats,” Meer said.
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
and here: https://socialistproject.ca/leftstreamed-video/no-life-like-it/
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:
I don’t usually do this. This is discussing my self. I find it far more interesting to tell the stories of other, the revolving globe on which we dwell and the stories spawn by the fragile human condition and the struggles of humanity for liberation.
But I digress, uncomfortably.
This commentary is about the commentator.
Several weeks ago I underwent a medical procedure known as open heart surgery, a double bypass after it was learned that two vessels beating through my heart has significant blockages that impaired heart function.
This impairment was fixed by extremely well trained and young cardiologist who had extensive experience in this intricate surgical procedure.
I tell you I had no clue whatsoever that I suffered from such disease. Now to be perfectly honest, I feel fine.
Indeed, I feel more energetic than usual!
I thank you all, my family and friends, for your love and support.
Onwards to freedom with all my heart.
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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
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.
By Lindsay Crouse, June 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/opinion/shacarri-richardson-drug-test-marijuana.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Sha’Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old American sprinter whose breakout victory in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials in Oregon last month transformed her into an overnight star, posted a plaintive message on Twitter on Thursday afternoon: “I am human.”
What she was referring to became clear when news broke that the United States Anti-Doping Agency was suspending her for a month, after she tested positive for marijuana. Ms. Richardson says she used the drug after a reporter told her about the death of her biological mother. (Recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Oregon, where she was at the time.) Now, she’s out of the 100-meter dash at the Tokyo Olympics.
In her tweet, Ms. Richardson pointed out the obvious, and yet it needed to be said: She is human. Olympians are capable of superhuman feats of athleticism — but does that mean we must punish them when they prove to be fallible like the rest of us, after all?
Sometimes it seems that way. The best athletes in the world are already under extraordinary pressure to perform — but we require extraordinary conduct from them in parts of their lives that have nothing to do with their sports.
Of course, marijuana is a banned substance. Athletes are responsible for everything they put in their bodies, and for ensuring they comply with the rules. Ms. Richardson knew it might jeopardize her Olympic future.
“I’m not making an excuse or looking for any empathy,” Ms. Richardson told the “Today” show Friday morning, as she apologized to her fans, her family and her sponsors. She acknowledged that the news of her mother’s death had thrown her, and explained the pressure of having to “go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain.” She added, “I know that I can’t hide myself, so at least in some type of way I was just trying to hide my pain.”
It is devastating to think of the lengths that our best athletes go to handle their pain. Tiger Woods, who tested positive for marijuana, pain medications and sleep drugs when he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2017, said he was suffering from insomnia and pain from his fourth back operation. Suzy Favor Hamilton, the nine-time N.C.A.A. champion, suffered from depression after she retired from her athletic career; it led to scandal following the revelation that she’d been working as an escort. Olympian Raven Saunders talked recently about wanting to drive off the road two years after the 2016 Olympics. Michael Phelps has been public about his mental health struggles for years. (A photo of him smoking marijuana was published in 2009; he lost a sponsorship from Kellogg’s.)
We don’t just expect our Olympians to be incredible athletes. We expect them to be role models and to adhere to impossibly high levels of self-discipline, work ethics, and sportsmanship that have nothing to do with their actual job. Women, especially women of color, face even higher expectations.
Gwen Berry, a track and field Olympian who is facing criticism from conservative lawmakers for turning away from the American flag on the medal podium during the national anthem at the Olympic Trials, told me Ms. Richardson was being held to an impossible standard.
“When you are a young Black athlete, and when you come from hardship, the first thing you need is people to support you, and not just capitalize off you, off your potential,” Ms. Berry said. “She made a bad decision because of pain, because of trauma, and she’s a girl — she still needs help. Instead she’s being punished.”
Part of the issue is the rules themselves. Anti-doping policies at the national and world levels, while well-meaning and intended to catch cheaters, are complex, and they are often outdated. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibition of marijuana is more than a decade old; marijuana has gained more acceptance since, and is legal in many states.
It’s also worth noting — though it wasn’t the issue in Ms. Richardson’s case — that tests are now so sensitive, they can pick up trace amounts of banned substances from unexpected sources, as small as a picogram, or trillionth of a gram. That means contamination in our food or prescribed drugs can lead to positive tests for athletes who did nothing more than take a perfectly allowable medication or eat meat from animals treated with a growth steroid. It’s becoming increasingly challenging to avoid banned substances and still live in the real world. (I’ve wondered how many of us mortals would pass a doping test if we took one today.)
The World Anti-Doping Agency made reforms in May, but the system often presumes that athletes are guilty — excluding them from competition, often for long stretches of time — until they can prove themselves innocent. That’s not how justice should work.
Like many Black public figures, Ms. Richardson is celebrated when she succeeds, but many are quick to pass judgment when there’s the slightest transgression. Ms. Richardson grew up navigating adversity that is either ordinary or extraordinary, depending on where you fall on the American inequality gap — but she persevered. When she signed her professional contract, she said her first thought was taking care of her family.
For Black athletes, Ms. Berry said, the pressure to be “perfect” is intense. “If we aren’t, we get everything taken from us,” she said. “We have to work twice as hard in society and in athletics, we’re not respected otherwise. … We have no room for error. We have no room to grieve. We are not supported. And that’s the problem. It’s because we are not equal.”
Ms. Richardson has accepted the ban, so anyone rooting for the rules should be satisfied. But a system that punishes athletes for being human is not a just system.
The installation in the heart of Madison Square Park is the artist’s memorial to another war — the one against nature.
By Holland Cotter, July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/01/arts/design/maya-lin-ghost-forest.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
On a sultry summer day the trees across the street from my Bronx apartment are deep in conversation. Trees are, science tells us, social beings and do some of the same things we humans do, at least when we’re acting our best. They trade tips about health, news about weather. They nourish, and protect, and support each other. They support fellow beings too: birds, insects, us. They live sane lives. They generate excellent karma.
Unlike us. In a goes-around-comes-around universe, the karma we’re producing — through competitive greed, unthinking waste and targeted malice — is killing the world around us. We’re at war with the planet and everything on it, trees included.
The artist and architect Maya Lin began her career with a response to a war. Her 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, a blade of black granite slashed into American soil, commemorates a “foreign” war that became an internal one and divided the nation. Her new installation, “Ghost Forest,” on view in Madison Square Park in Manhattan through Nov. 14, is commemorative too. It’s a sky-reaching memorial to a war in progress directed against everything we call Nature.
Is “directed against” too active a phrase? Some people simply don’t know that human-sourced climate change exists. Others underestimate its gravity. Still others — a recent United States president — dismisses it as a fiction. In not dissimilar ways, we ignored or downplayed the Vietnam War in its early phases, until protests got really noisy, pictures of the My Lai massacre leaked out, and guys we’d partied with in high school came home in body bags.
Now, as then, cluelessness and denial are hard to sustain. Temperatures are climbing, shores are flooding, fields are shriveling up. Entire species — four-footed, winged, finned and rooted — are suddenly M.I.A., and the casualty list is growing. Yet, in the United States, public protest against climate breakdown is still sporadic and tepid, which is why every resistant gesture feels crucial, as “Ghost Forest” does.
Commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, “Ghost Forest” is basically a reconstituted patch of damaged nature. From the coastal Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Lin brought to Manhattan 49 full-grown Atlantic white cedars, each around 40 feet tall, and planted them together at the center of a bosky Madison Square Park. In the context of the park’s arboreal luxe they make an odd sight, because they’re leafless, and clearly dead or dying.
They’d been harvested from a habitat infiltrated by salt water, a result of climate change. Salt water is poison for trees; it rots them from within. Sick beyond saving, the cedars now in the park had been cleared from their original home to make room for a regeneration effort.
Although Lin was trained as an architect — she recently redesigned the Neilson Library at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. — her most memorable public work has been sculpture, and has drawn on the natural world as both a medium and a theme. In 2009, at the Storm King Art Center, 60 miles north of Manhattan, she created, from packed earth and grass, an 11-acre low-rise landscape of gently swelling hills, the forms inspired by ocean waves and the surrounding Hudson Valley mountains.
“My affinity has always been toward sculpting the earth,” she wrote in her autobiographical book, “Boundaries,” published in 2000, “This impulse has shaped my entire body of work.”
Since that book appeared, the focus on planetary survival has sharpened dramatically. Climate justice, intersecting with other social justice initiatives, is — in Europe, for sure — among the 21st century’s frontline activist movements.
If “Ghost Forest” isn’t, technically, activist art — like “Wave Field” it’s closer to the “environmental art” of an earlier time — its stark image of terrestrial loss is motored by the same urgency as climate justice resistance.
Still, it takes a few minutes, once you’re in the park, for the image to fully register. From a distance, the transplanted cedars blend into the larger arboreal fabric. Then tonal contrasts begin to sort out: The trunks of the park’s living trees are loamy browns and blacks; those of the cedars, a dry gray-going-white. (This difference was immediately striking when the installation opened in May, before the park had fully leafed, and probably will be again as summer turns to fall.)
Another contrast: Glance upward while standing under the park’s resident trees and you see an overhang of green, dense enough to keep off rain; look up while standing under the cedars and you see open sky. Whatever foliage they once had is long gone, and their branches seem to have been shaved away. Only a few remain, like thin sticking-out arms.
There’s no question that Lin intended “Ghost Forest” as an emblem of profound injury. But another image comes through too: an image of sociability, of a community of personalities, a congregation of spirits.
To produce it, she has carefully choreographed the placement of the cedars. A few line up in rows like cathedral columns. But most are in asymmetrical groupings, the equivalent of conversational clusters, of a kind you might find at parties and neighborly gatherings, and of a kind that trees in the wild actually form for purposes of communicating through their surfaces and the sharing of nutrients through their roots.
In addition, the “Ghost Forest” project comes with what Lin refers to as “advocacy components.” She has arranged a fall planting of a thousand trees throughout the five boroughs to offset the carbon used in moving the cedars to Manhattan. And she maintains an online database, “What is Missing?,” which monitors the disappearance of plant and animal species. (She calls the website, whatismissing.org, the “last memorial.”)
But what’s most moving — and, for that reason, most politically effective — about “Ghost Forest,” is the way it personalizes its subject. Without sentimentalizing or metaphorizing, it presents trees as the living, breathing, dying relatable beings and karmic companions they are, ones I observe, with love, from my Bronx window, and ones that John Ashbery celebrates in these lines from one of his early poems, “Some Trees”:
These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chanceTo meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees tryTo tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.
Face coverings are coming off, though not for everyone.
By Jacob Bernstein, July 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/03/style/are-masks-a-new-signifier-of-social-class.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
On a recent Sunday night at Le Bilboquet, a see-and-be-seen restaurant in the Hamptons, well-heeled diners nibbled on $475 tins of Osetra caviar. A handsome man showed off his gold Audemars Piguet watch to his sparkly female companion. A party of 10 in polo shirts and striped rompers danced to a tropical house remix of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
They were all unmasked, while the waiters, bartenders and other servers kept their mouths and noses covered.
A similar scene unfolded at the Gucci store in East Hampton, where shoppers removed their masks upon reading the door sign stating that vaccinated customers could enter without face coverings. Inside, they were attended to by store clerks in blue-and-white surgical masks, per company policy.
In the weeks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidelines to allow fully vaccinated people to take their masks off in most indoor settings, a stark divide has emerged, particularly in wealthier enclaves where services are at a premium.
Those who are still wearing masks tend to be members of the service class — store clerks, waiters, janitors, manicurists, security guards, receptionists, hair stylists and drivers — while those without face coverings are often the well-to-do customers being wined and dined.
Employers are hesitant to discuss their mask policies, but there are sensible reasons for requiring staffers to keep their masks on.
Just under 50 percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated. And coronavirus variants, some of which are highly infectious and may be more resistant to vaccines, are on the rise, said Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Food servers, retail clerks, grocery cashiers and other public-facing workers interact all day with customers, which can put their health (and the health of their customers) at risk. This creates not only potential liability issues for employers, but also could hamstring a business at a time of worker shortages.
Even at establishments that give vaccinated employees the choice to take their masks off, many are keeping them on. “Who knows who has had their shot and who hasn’t,” said Michelle Booker, a store clerk from the Bronx who works at a Verizon store in Midtown Manhattan. She was wearing her mask on a recent Tuesday, although the company permits vaccinated employees to go without masks. “I don’t believe half of the people who come in,” she said. “I’m still terrified.”
And from a public relations standpoint, seeing employees with masks sends a message about how management regards the health of its customers and staff. “Their workers are serious professionals who take safety seriously,” said Erin Vearncombe, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies the sociology of dress codes.
The resulting class divide may not always be intentional, but it still can be jarring to see how masks have emerged as another symbol of inequality from the pandemic.
At an Apple store in Midtown on a recent Friday, mask-free customers could be seen buying $1,500 iPhones from masked salespeople who may not make that much in a week. At a nearby Sweetgreens, food workers in black masks and matching aprons, and who were mostly people of color, prepared $14 berry and burrata salads for a largely white clientele.
“It sends a message — one that’s been internalized on both sides — that the body of the mask wearer is ‘riskier’ than the body of the consumer,” Dr. Vearncombe said. “It shows that certain groups have, and even deserve, more civil liberties than others.”
Some workers argue that the mask double standard — one rule for customers; another for staff — is not just discriminatory, but defies logic.
“Customers have to be vaccinated to go maskless, but we can’t ask for proof,” said Jose de la Rosa, 26, who works behind the counter at the Juice Generation store in Times Square. “And we have workers who are fully vaccinated, can prove it and still have to wear them. It’s odd.”
As more Americans get vaccinated, some establishments have adopted a single policy for both staff and customers, allowing anyone who has been fully vaccinated to ditch the mask.
A diverse array of stores — including Louis Vuitton, Verizon, Dior, Target and Home Depot — have this policy at all their stores in the United States. Starbucks recently announced that vaccinated workers would be able to remove their masks starting July 5..
But for now, a mask divide remains at many places. On a recent afternoon in Hudson Yards, Mark Pasektsky, 49, a public relations strategist, was shopping for shirts at the Theory store. The clerks that were helping him wore masks. He did not.
“It’s weird, right?” he said. “On one level, you can’t completely blame employers. How do you comfortably institute a policy that protects everyone? You can’t answer it because there is no answer. But the psychology behind the other approach is very curious. Why are they making employees wear masks while the customers do not? Everyone is just confused.”
Andrew Delke, a white former Nashville police officer, was sentenced to three years in jail after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of Daniel Hambrick in 2018. Mr. Delke had faced a murder charge.
By Michael Levenson, July 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/us/nashville-police-shooting-delke-manslaughter.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
The mother of a Black man who was fatally shot while he was running away from a white Nashville police officer begged a judge on Friday not to accept a plea deal that would send the former officer to jail for only three years.
The mother, Vickie Hambrick, cried and screamed as she pounded and knocked over a courtroom lectern, saying she had not been consulted before prosecutors agreed to allow the former officer, Andrew Delke, to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for shooting her son, Daniel Hambrick, 25, in the back on July 26, 2018.
Mr. Delke, 27, had been facing trial this month on a first-degree murder charge that could have resulted in a life sentence.
“I can’t believe this, Judge, I can’t believe this,” Ms. Hambrick said in Nashville criminal court. “What if it was your child instead of my child? It would have been a different story.”
Ms. Hambrick, who is legally blind, was held back by her lawyer and others as she knocked over the lectern and lunged in Mr. Delke’s direction, knocking over a computer monitor and briefly disrupting the hearing. Ms. Hambrick and her relatives said they had wanted the case to go to trial on the murder charge.
“We didn’t get a chance!” a man wearing a “Hambrick Strong” shirt declared as Ms. Hambrick, her family members and others were led out of the courtroom. “Three years!”
When the hearing reconvened, the judge, Monte D. Watkins, accepted the deal, finding that Mr. Delke had freely agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter. He sentenced Mr. Delke to three years in jail.
Mr. Delke’s lawyers said that with standard jail credits, Mr. Delke would serve about a year and a half in jail and would then be allowed to return home without probation or parole.
Glenn R. Funk, the Nashville district attorney, defended the deal after the hearing, saying he was concerned that a jury might not have convicted Mr. Delke had the case gone to trial. He noted that Mr. Hambrick was holding a gun when he was shot.
“Members of my office on the trial team acknowledged that there was a well over 50 percent chance that this jury would hang,” Mr. Funk said after the hearing, adding that he had been warned that a jury could have split along racial lines. “And no verdict, no judgment, no accountability — the emotion that we saw in this courtroom today would have been played out 100-fold, if there had been no accountability in this case.”
Before Mr. Delke’s guilty plea, a Nashville police officer had never been convicted in the on-duty shooting of a Black man, Mr. Funk said.
“Well, now there has been,” Mr. Funk said. “He’s been convicted. He’s a convicted felon, a convicted felon for the rest of his life.”
Mr. Delke, who resigned from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department on Thursday, had been serving on a juvenile crime task force and was assigned to look for stolen cars and known juvenile offenders on the day he shot Mr. Hambrick, prosecutors said.
While patrolling in North Nashville, Mr. Delke began to follow a white Chevrolet Impala that had stopped at a stop sign. After running the Impala’s license plate and learning that the car was not stolen, Mr. Delke continued to follow the car and turned on his blue lights, prosecutors said. During the pursuit, he lost track of the Impala and never saw the driver or anyone inside the car, prosecutors said.
Later, Mr. Delke pulled into the parking lot after seeing a different white car drive into the lot, prosecutors said. Several people were in the area, and one of them, Mr. Hambrick, began to run, prosecutors said. Mr. Delke immediately began to run after Mr. Hambrick, yelling at him to stop.
During the chase, Mr. Delke saw that Mr. Hambrick had a gun in his hand and yelled at him to “stop,” “drop the gun” and “drop the gun or I’ll shoot,” prosecutors said.
When Mr. Hambrick continued to run and did not drop the gun, Mr. Delke stopped, aimed his gun at Mr. Hambrick and fired four shots from about 51 feet away, prosecutors said. One shot struck Mr. Hambrick in the back, another hit him in the torso and a third hit him in the head. The fourth shot missed, prosecutors said.
A medical examiner determined that Mr. Hambrick had died of multiple gunshot wounds and that the manner of death was homicide, prosecutors said. The episode was captured on surveillance video.
In court, Mr. Delke said he was pleading guilty because he recognized that his use of deadly force “was not reasonably necessary under all circumstances.”
“I recognize that what happened on July 26, 2018, was tragic,” he said. “Ms. Hambrick lost her son that day, and I am responsible for her loss. These are facts that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.”
He added that “not a day has gone by that I have not thought about my actions.”
“I am deeply sorry for the harm my actions caused,” Mr. Delke said, “and I hope that Mr. Hambrick’s family will obtain some comfort from my acceptance of responsibility, and my guilty plea today.”
After Mr. Delke spoke, Ms. Hambrick cursed at him, told him she did not accept his apology and screamed, “I hate you.”
Joy Kimbrough, Ms. Hambrick’s lawyer, said her client had learned of the plea agreement from Mr. Funk only this week and was shocked that prosecutors had agreed to the deal.
“I am against the way the state and the defense joined hands to protect this racist, biased, anti-Black criminal system,” Ms. Hambrick said in a statement that Ms. Kimbrough read aloud in court.
In 2019, Mr. Hambrick’s family sued Mr. Delke and the city, contending that the shooting was motivated in part by a culture of “fear, violence, racism, and impunity” in the Police Department. The lawsuit sought $30 million in punitive damages. In March, Nashville officials agreed to settle the lawsuit for $2.25 million.
In the statement Ms. Kimbrough read in court on Friday, Ms. Hambrick described her son as the “love of my life.” She said he had recognized from an early age that his mother was blind and had always said that he would take care of her.
“My son was my eyes,” Ms. Hambrick’s statement said. “There is not one hour that goes by that I do not think of Daniel.”
Vaccines protect against the variants, but conflicting advice from health authorities about masks has bewildered a worried public.
By Tara Parker-Pope, Published June 30, 2021, Updated July 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/30/well/live/delta-variant-vaccines-masks.html?action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
The World Health Organization wants everybody to wear masks, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated people often don’t need to wear them.
So who do we listen to?
Virus experts and epidemiologists also offer mixed advice, but largely agree on one point: Whether a fully vaccinated person needs to wear a mask really depends on the circumstances and what’s happening in your community.
“At this point, thinking about wearing a mask is a little like dressing for the weather,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on viral transmission. “You need to consider the caseload and vaccination rates wherever you’re going, what activity you’ll be doing, and your own health.”
But the new push to ask vaccinated people to mask up has sown confusion. Does the call for masking mean the vaccines don’t offer enough protection? Why is everyone so concerned about the Delta variant? And should vaccinated people be worried about breakthrough infections? Here are some answers.
Why is the W.H.O. telling vaccinated people to wear masks?
Mask mandates are largely intended to protect the unvaccinated — people who are vaccinated are already well protected by vaccines, and breakthrough infections are still very rare. But since you can’t always tell who is vaccinated and who is not, telling everyone to wear a mask can help stop the spread of the virus by people who are infected but don’t have any symptoms.
And while cases and deaths are falling in the United States, large parts of the world are still grappling with the rapid spread of the virus and many people remain unvaccinated. In the United States, 66 percent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine. In addition, vaccines given in other parts of the world, like the Sinovac vaccine, have not performed as well against the variants as the vaccines available in the United States.
“W.H.O. is providing guidance for the whole world, and in areas where Delta is dominant, cases are high, vaccination rates are low, and the vaccines that have been distributed are less effective against Delta, it makes sense for vaccinated people to wear masks,” said Dr. Marr.
The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, on Wednesday stood by advice that people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus do not need to wear masks in most situations, but added that there are instances where local authorities might impose more stringent measures to protect the unvaccinated.
Dr. Marr said her advice to a fully vaccinated friend about mask wearing would be to follow local mask rules and to take extra precautions in certain situations.
“I would tell them that, in general, they do not need to wear a mask,” said Dr. Marr. “But they should continue to carry one with them for times when they are in a very crowded indoor setting for a long period of time, like air travel, where masks are required anyway, or a crowded movie theater, playhouse or concert venue, for example.”
If I’m vaccinated, should I be worried about the Delta variant?
The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is worrisome because it is highly contagious and spreading rapidly around the globe. Unvaccinated people who are infected with Delta are twice as likely to be hospitalized as those infected with Alpha, the dominant variant in the United States that was first detected in Britain.
What has been surprising about the Delta variant is how easily it seems to be transmitted. In Australia, security cameras documented a brief encounter of two people passing each other in a shopping mall; one of them was unknowingly infected. The shoppers were facing each other at one point and breathed each other’s air for only seconds, which led to the second person getting infected. (The transmission was confirmed through genetic sequencing.) While such a brief encounter typically wouldn’t lead to transmission, the case signaled how important it is that people get vaccinated before the Delta variant spreads further.
The Delta variant now accounts for about one in every four infections in the United States, according to new estimates this week from the C.D.C.
But if you are among the vaccinated, most experts say you don’t need to be fearful. Studies show that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine offer 88 percent protection against the Delta variant, compared to 93 percent protection against Alpha. The Moderna vaccine has performed similarly to Pfizer in other studies, so it’s expected to give a similar level of protection against Delta. Moderna has said test tube studies using blood samples from vaccinated people showed the vaccine is still highly effective against the Delta variant, which caused only a “modest reduction” in virus-fighting antibodies in the samples.
A recent Public Health England study found that people who are partially vaccinated are 75 percent less likely to be hospitalized than an infected person who isn’t vaccinated. Those who are fully vaccinated are 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized.
“If you’ve had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, like me, you should be protected against the Delta variant,” said Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. “I could go maskless and feel fine about it from that perspective. I think for the U.S. — where we have states that have poor vaccination coverage and among populations who haven’t been vaccinated — the Delta variant is a problem.”
Dr. Gonsalves said that even though he is fully vaccinated, he will continue to mask up in the grocery store and other public spaces as we wait for more people to get vaccinated.
“Am I going to wear a mask among friends who are fully vaccinated? Probably not,” he said. “However, in public, I certainly will. This is about promoting a social norm: Right now there are enough people unvaccinated that we should be modeling good behavior, showing social solidarity.”
Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protect against the Delta variant?
Johnson & Johnson had lagged behind the other vaccine makers in collecting data about how its vaccine performed against the Delta variant. But the company on Thursday finally released results from two studies that showed its vaccine remained effective against the highly contagious variant. The company also found that antibodies stimulated by the vaccine grow in strength over time.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine initially was studied when new, more-contagious variants were circulating. It was 72 percent effective in the United States and 66.3 percent effective globally. Most important, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 86 percent effective against severe disease. The vaccine showed only a small drop in potency against the Delta variant, the company said, although it didn’t go into further detail. You can read more about the Johnson & Johnson report here.
A Public Health England study found that the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which has performed similarly to the J&J shot, provided 60 percent protection against Delta, down from 66 percent against the Alpha variant.
What’s my risk of getting Covid-19 after I’m fully vaccinated?
Although the Covid vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine offers 100 percent protection. While breakthrough infections happen, they are extremely rare, and in most cases, breakthrough infections cause only mild illness.
The risk of being hospitalized or dying as a result of a breakthrough infection is minuscule (less than .003 percent), based on data collected from the C.D.C. As of June 21, more than 150 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. As of that date, the C.D.C. reported that 4,115 patients had Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough infections that resulted in hospitalization or death, including 3,907 who had been hospitalized and 750 who had died.
But because the risk of getting Covid-19 after vaccination isn’t zero, some health experts still advise that vaccinated people take reasonable precautions, like wearing a mask in crowded spaces.
People who live in areas with low vaccination rates may also want to consider wearing masks in public, where they are more likely to encounter an unvaccinated person than someone living in a highly vaccinated region.
In the United States, 63 percent of people 12 and older have received at least one dose and 54 percent are fully vaccinated. But in some cities like Seattle and San Francisco, more than 75 percent of those eligible are at least partially vaccinated. Many states in the Northeast, the West and Pacific Northwest have vaccinated more than 60 percent of the adult population. But the pace of vaccinations varies across the country. Several states in the South, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas, have vaccinated fewer than 45 percent of adults. You can learn more from The Times’s vaccine tracker.
Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel, is fully vaccinated but still wears a mask when he rides the bus in Philadelphia, because the rules require it, as well as when he’s in a crowded and enclosed space. He masks up when he shops at the grocery store, because he doesn’t know the vaccination status of the other shoppers. But he also dines in restaurants, as long as the tables are spaced at least four feet apart and the servers are wearing masks.
And even though the risk of breakthrough infections for fully vaccinated people is very low, Dr. Offit said the risk goes up when you’re in a community where most people aren’t vaccinated, because it creates more opportunities for you to encounter the virus. He cites a study in the Netherlands of the measles vaccine, which like the Covid vaccine offers high levels of protection, that found an unvaccinated person was safer in a highly vaccinated community than a vaccinated person in an area with low vaccination rates.
“If you’re in a highly vaccinated community you have sort of a moat around you,” he said.
Dr. Offit said the problem with the current guidance about mask wearing in the United States is that it requires trust.
“You have to trust that the other people you’re coming into contact with are vaccinated if they’re not wearing a mask,” said Dr. Offit. “That’s a lot to trust. The same people who aren’t masked often aren’t vaccinated. Those two things usually go hand in hand. When you see people masked inside, they’re often the ones who are vaccinated.”
Dr. Marr added that everyone should be prepared for evolving guidance on masks, distancing and other precautions.
“We should be prepared for things to change as we learn more,” Dr. Marr said. “I know everyone wants this to be over or wants a one-size-fits-all rule, but we need to get used to things changing as the virus changes, vaccines roll out, public health responses in different countries shift, and scientists learn more. The 1918 flu pandemic lasted two years.”
At a time when climate change is making heat waves more frequent and more severe, trees are stationary superheroes: They can lower urban temperatures 10 lifesaving degrees, scientists say.
By Catrin Einhorn, Published July 2, 2021, Updated July 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/02/climate/trees-cities-heat-waves.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Climate%20and%20Environment
DES MOINES — The trees were supposed to stay.
It didn’t matter that the owners of the squat building alongside were planning to redevelop the property. The four eastern red cedars stood on city land, where they had grown for the better part of a century.
“There’s no way these trees are coming down,” Shane McQuillan, who manages the city’s trees, recalled thinking. “The default position for us is, you don’t take out big trees to put in small trees.”
Here’s why: At a time when climate change is making heat waves more frequent and more severe, trees are stationary superheroes. Research shows that heat already kills more people in the United States than hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather-events, perhaps contributing to 12,000 deaths per year. Extreme heat this week in the Pacific Northwest and Canada has killed hundreds.
Trees can lower air temperature in city neighborhoods 10 lifesaving degrees, scientists have found. They also reduce electricity demand for air conditioning, not only sparing money and emissions, but helping avoid potentially catastrophic power failures during heat waves.
“Trees are, quite simply, the most effective strategy, technology, we have to guard against heat in cities,” said Brian Stone Jr., a professor of environmental planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
So, in Des Moines, Mr. McQuillan worked with the property owners and city planners to find a way to redevelop while keeping the trees.
But one day several months later, he got word that a crew was taking them down.
Mr. McQuillan raced to the site, just a couple blocks from his office. One tree had already been cut to a stump, and another was almost down. Mr. McQuillan halted the work and fought to stay calm. At first he assumed someone had taken matters into their own hands. But after investigating, he came to believe it was simply a mistake; the property had been leased for a restaurant and the tenants seemed sincerely unaware of the agreement.
“There’s a defeated feeling,” Mr. McQuillan said.
They were two losses in an enormous struggle. Versions of this story are playing out in cities across the country, including Boston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Spokane and Los Angeles, according to the United States Forest Service.
Despite longstanding and ongoing efforts across the country to plant trees, communities in the United States are not adding to their total number or even maintaining it. Research shows that American cities and towns lose the canopy of 36 million trees every year.
‘A challenge to get trees to thrive in the city’
Considering the cast of characters in Des Moines, its urban forest should be thriving. The longtime mayor is an environmentalist. The director of public works hails trees as “the only infrastructure that add value over time.” A nonprofit group plants and tends the next generation of trees while giving green jobs and training to local teenagers.
In recent years, though, the larvae of an iridescent green beetle that arrived from across the ocean, the emerald ash borer, have claimed 6,000 of the city’s 8,000 public ash trees. A storm last year took out about 500 more of all kinds. Another big factor is the everyday losses: The tree felled to repair a water line underneath. The homeowner who removed a tree to build an extension or get more sun on the lawn. Countless new developments where trees were in the way. These are often mature trees whose canopy will take decades to replace.
Then, there are the bare-branched victims whose cause of death can only be guessed at: Not enough water? The extra-cold winter combined with all that street salt?
“It’s a challenge to get trees to thrive in the city,” said Phillip Rodbell, who leads a Forest Service team studying the social, economic and ecological impact of urban trees.
At the same time, American cities are facing a heat crisis: The largest are warming at twice the rate of the planet as a whole.
‘It’s hard for us to think of trees as actual infrastructure’
On an afternoon that felt too sweltering for June, a 14-year-old named Kiara Wright bent over a young honey locust along a busy road in Des Moines, carefully splashing water from two five-gallon buckets into the dry soil. The city was in drought, and abundant water is critical to trees for at least two years after the shock of transplanting.
Earlier in the spring Kiara had helped plant that season’s 500 trees, becoming fond enough of them to name a few: Sparkles, Linden, José. Now she was watering, mulching and pulling weeds for $10 an hour. Over the course of the summer, her small team would also learn about financial literacy and shadow people in various green jobs.
“We grow the trees and we grow the teens,” said Kacie Ballard, who coordinates the program for Trees Forever, a nonprofit group that is now planting almost all of the city’s street trees. “It’s cheesy but it’s true.”
Along with the environmental benefits of trees come economic opportunities.
“This is a field where the employers are begging,” said Jad Daley, president and chief executive of American Forests, a nonprofit group. “There is definitely a job waiting.”
Planting in Des Moines will resume in the fall, focusing on formerly redlined communities most in need of trees. Around the country, racist policies have left these neighborhoods especially bare and hot.
Leslie Berckes, director of programs at Trees Forever, hopes to get 1,000 trees in the ground by the end of the year, surpassing an agreement with the city. But the number still feels bittersweet. Four times that many are needed, on public and private land, to reach a state goal of increasing canopy 3 percent by 2050. Instead, she fears their efforts are not enough to stay even.
“We could be keeping pace if we wanted to,” Ms. Berckes said. “We need more money. I know it’s so boring to say.”
By all accounts the mayor, Frank Cownie, is trying. Des Moines has increased its $200,000 tree planting budget to $300,000 next year and $450,000 the following, with a goal of reaching $1 million. Its forestry department, with a budget of $2 million, employs a team of 13 arborists, up from 11 a couple years ago, who prune the city’s trees, extending their lives.
But it’s a tricky balancing act.
“You’ll hear, ‘Why are you doing this, you should be creating homes for the houseless,’” Mayor Cownie said. “Which we are.”
The crux of the problem, according to scientists and environmental planners, is that Americans, from everyday citizens to government officials, are often not fully aware of the benefits that trees provide.
In addition to reducing heat, trees filter out air pollution, suck up storm water, store carbon, nurture wildlife and even improve people’s mental and physical health.
“It’s hard for us to think of trees as actual infrastructure rather than an amenity, and because of that, we don’t allocate sufficient funds,” said Dr. Stone of the Georgia Institute of Technology. “If we think about it as actual infrastructure on par with investing in roads and sewers and everything else, those costs will become more acceptable to us.”
‘Trading one risk for another’
A tree’s shade, that sweet relief from solar radiation, is only part of its cooling power. Trees also evaporate water, pulling it from the ground and releasing it into the air through their leaves. That’s why walking through a forest, or just sitting in a playground surrounded by several large trees, feels more refreshing than the shade of a lone tree.
Carefully positioned trees can reduce a home’s energy costs by 25 percent, according to the Department of Energy. Nationwide, urban trees offer an estimated $18.3 billion in air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, lowered energy use in buildings and reduced emissions from power plants.
Still, across the country many people see trees as a nuisance or liability. They drop nuts, seeds and leaves. They buckle sidewalks. They are accused of destroying pipes — wrongly, according to scientists, who say that pipes crack from age, which only then leads nearby trees to send roots toward the leaking water. Some towns and cities avoid the perceived hassle altogether by not planting on the strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street.
Occasionally, their limbs break or they blow over, posing real danger. With climate change increasing the intensity of storms, David Nowak, a senior scientist with the Forest Service who studies urban trees, acknowledges the risk. Trees close to houses need to be especially well monitored for weakness. But he points out that trees also block wind, reducing the force of storms.
“You’re trading one risk for another,” Dr. Nowak said. “Branches falling, and having to clean up branches, versus having to clean up broken rooftops.”
One major challenge is persuading property owners, who own a large share of the land in cities and towns, to plant and maintain trees in their yards. It’s important to choose the species carefully. Large shade trees offer more cooling and carbon storage than small ornamentals. For wildlife, oaks are usually the best bet, according to Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware. They feed more than 900 species of caterpillars, which, in turn, feed birds, whose populations have plummeted.
Incentives can help, but tight budgets often keep them modest. In Louisville, Ky., which threw itself into planting more trees after it was found to be the fastest-warming large city in the country, residents can get a $30 “treebate,” up to three per household, for planting certain shade trees.
The director of public works in Des Moines, Jonathan Gano, came up with an idea to give away “tiny trees,” seedlings that look like mere sticks with roots. Once a year, residents can pick up five each.
“They’re tiny, yes,” Mr. Gano said. “They’re also practically free,” costing the city $1 per seedling.
“You could have 99 percent mortality and still be in the money 20 years from now on canopy,” Mr. Gano said. “I planted a bunch on my property and about 50 percent of them have survived. One of them’s 11 feet tall now.”