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 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.
Mandla Mandela backs BDS Coalition pro-Palestine ’protest’ ahead of Israeli ZIM ship docking in Durban port on or about July 10, 2021https://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
Durban - 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 said.
He 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
HIROSHIMA APPEAL OF 2021
Stop ongoing drive for nuclear war and constitutional revision!
Appeal for endorsement for and participation in August 6 Hiroshima Grand Action on the 76th Anniversary of Atomic Bombing on Hiroshima!
No to ongoing preparation for nuclear attack and aggressive war on China!
We are facing an impending nuclear war in 2021, 76 years after the Atomic Bombing on Hiroshima.
Japan-US Summit Talk in April has confirmed the defense of Japan with all possible abilities including nuclear weapons, and the need of buildup of Japanese own defense capabilities as well as exercise of the so-called “right of collective self-defense” in case of emergency of Taiwan.
In line with this decision, the US forces are constructing anti-China missile network in the first line of archipelago from Okinawa to Philippine, and Japan Defense Forces are dispatching intensified troops to Okinawa mainland and South Western Islands, meanwhile Japan-US joint military exercises are frequently repeated in these sea areas.
We are firmly opposed to the ongoing drive for nuclear war on China, Japanese participation in it and constitutional revision to legitimate all these schemes of war.
Let’s stand up for independent action to open up a brilliant future of our own!
While a large number of people are losing their lives, being deprived of necessary medical treatment, the Suga administration is putting all priority on carrying out the Tokyo Olympic Games in shameless disregard of devastating medical collapse. Anger of Japanese people is boiling up against his politics for the profit of 1% “wealthy capitalists’ class” with ignoring 99% people suffering under the concentration of accumulated contradictions of the
capitalist society in its deepening crisis.
Enough is enough, a society in which people are squeezed, scrapped and thrown on the street to die!
What we urgently need now is to stand up for independent action to open up a future for us 99% people. In recent years we have witnessed encouraging examples of struggles: The longtime struggles by the people exposed to the “black rain” (contaminated rain just after the atomic bombing on Hiroshima) has won the suit recognizing the health disorders due to internal exposure to radiation; the conclusion of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty has been achieved as a result of the efforts of the victims of atomic bombing and nuclear casualties of the world; nationwide struggle has been developed headed by Fukushima people against the concealment of nuclear exposure, emission of contaminated water and all the governmental nuclear policy; Hiroshima struggle against war and nuke has been tenaciously continued. All these struggles have been organized under the active initiative of atomic bomb victims, labor unions, peace organizations, students and young people themselves.
We call on you to join us in Hiroshima in solidarity with the world-wide independent struggles of the people, such as in Myanmar, Hongkong and elsewhere for the future of 99% people of the world!
Raise our voice against war and nuke on August 6th!
In line with the move to constitutional revision by the Abe and Suga administrations, a continuous attempt has been made to suppress demonstrations on the Hiroshima Day with an aim of crushing the fighting history on August 6th. Resisting this reactionary trend, represented typically by the recent city assembly decision of pseudo “Peace Promotion Law”, which in its essence intends to prohibit the rally and demo as disturbances of the August 6th commemoration ceremony, victims of the atomic bombing and many people have expressed their firm opposition, headed by Mr Mimaki, acting director of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations of Hiroshima, who warns that this repressive measure brings us back to the political situation in Japan at the time of the atomic bombing, when people was silenced by the war-time brutal regulation of freedom of speech.
The Hiroshima municipal authority is still shamelessly intending to invite Prime Minister Suga to the August 6th ceremony in Hiroshima.
Let’s stop ongoing drive for nuclear war and constitutional revision of the Suga administration!
Down with the Suga administration by the people’s anger of August 6th of Hiroshima!
Location: Higashi Ward Community Cultural Center
Testimony by the victims of A-bombed victims
Meeting of youth and students
Lecture on the victim of the “black rain” by Professor Emeritus Megu Otaki
Assembly in front of the A bomb Dome
After silent prayer, demonstration to oppose the participation of Prime minister Suga in the ceremony (destination of the demonstration is the Head office of the Chugoku Electric Power Company)
August 6th Hiroshima Grand Assembly
At the arena of the Prefectural General Gymnasium
Demonstration in Downtown Hiroshima to Peace Memorial Park
Bus study tour: visits to monuments and old battlefield commemorating of A bombing
Start from the east gate of Hiroshima Castle, reservation needed
August 6 Hiroshima Grand Action Organizing Committee
We hope all is well with you.
We are happy to announce that the video recording of "No Life Like It: A A Tribute to the Revolutionary Activism of Ernie Tate" is now available for viewing on LeftStreamed
Please share the link with your comrades and friends.
All the best,
Photo from San Francisco rally and march in support of Palestine Saturday, May 15, 2021
Stand with Palestine!
Say NO to apartheid!
Join the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
Jeff Bezos has at least $180 Billion!
9 minutes 29 seconds
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By E. Tammy Kim, July 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/05/opinion/bezos-amazon-bessmer-labor.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Seattle in 2019. Credit...Chona Kasinger for The New York Times
SEATTLE — Prime Day, Amazon’s annual summer shopping bonanza, lasted not one but two days this June. The company advertised it incessantly on social media and especially to subscribers of Amazon Prime, a group that includes close to half of the U.S. population. In the many warehouses in and around the company’s hometown, thousands of workers showed up to their packing and sorting stations for a mandatory, extra-long shift.
Among them was Andy, who began working at his fulfillment center last year. He had never expected to sign on with Amazon, least of all as a blue-collar worker. His first job out of college was as a support engineer for a company in downtown Seattle. He had hoped to challenge himself in a programming role, but the work was rote, the office environment cold and dominated by “talk about market shares,” he said.
In the Trump years, Andy began to wonder why the city he lived in was so unequal and how the biggest, heaviest forces tended to squash everything small. He sought out the Tech Workers Coalition, a group of industry employees with a conscience, in search of answers.
One techie told him that she’d quit programming to work and organize in an Amazon warehouse. She was doing so with a group called Amazonians United, which believed that anyone who cared about poverty or workers’ rights, or curbing corporate power, should focus their energies on Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, who steps down from his role as C.E.O. this week. Would Andy want to apply for a job and try to organize inside?
Andy applied through the online portal, submitted to a saliva-based drug test and got his photo taken for an ID. Within 48 hours, he was approved; a week and a half later, he was being trained as a “packer” on the vast, noisy floor of a fulfillment center. His goal was to do his job fast and well (currently, the expected packing rate is at least 200 scanned items per hour at his station) while getting to know his fellow workers. In time, perhaps, they could form an organizing committee and agitate for safer conditions and an increase in starting hourly wages from $15 or $17 to the $25 or $30 that unionized warehouse workers can earn.
Andy has had some success. While he and his co-workers do not have a legally-recognized union, hundreds of them signed petitions for a reinstatement of hazard pay and an increase in paid time off. On smoke breaks and after work, they talk about wrist pain, nasty managers and their reasons for staying in the job: to buy a house, provide for their families or pay for college. “I can’t really do anything else,” one told him.
Earlier this year, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., once a thriving steel town, voted against unionizing with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The loss in Bessemer led some employees to feel powerless. “The result of that, for some of my co-workers was, ‘You can’t fight Amazon. It’s impossible,” an Amazonians United member in the New York area said.
The Bessemer defeat has led many major unions to grapple with the role of Amazon in the economy and their members’ lives. In June, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has organized the logistics industry since the early 20th century, voted to target Amazon’s operations. And a growing segment of the general population now recognizes the threat of “Amazon capitalism”: what scholars Jake Alimahomed-Wilson, Juliann Allison and Ellen Reese describe as reflecting “the larger global trend of the increasing influence of finance capitalism, neoliberal politics and policies, and corporate power.”
The challenge of organizing Amazon is “bigger than anything this country has ever faced,” Peter Olney, the former organizing director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told me. He compared Amazon’s close to one million U.S. employees to the several hundred thousand organized by the United Auto Workers at Ford, Chrysler and General Motors in the 1930s and 1940s.
Part of the strategy will have to be shop-by-shop organizing, but no one knows how best to unionize a 5,000-person warehouse with extreme turnover and “union avoidance” consultants. Or how to prevent Amazon from simply closing a unionized fulfillment center or transferring its workers to another, non-union facility.
What’s important now, Olney said, is that everyone in the labor movement recognizes the threat and pitches in.
In the coming years, Amazon will most likely become the largest private employer in the United States — perhaps even the world. It already employs nearly a million U.S. workers and indirectly commands many more thousands of contracted drivers. This isn’t uncommon knowledge, but few Americans have yet to confront the stakes of Amazon’s economic and political dominance — except, perhaps, in the company’s hometown.
Workers in the fulfillment and sorting centers dotting Interstate 5 have pushed for improved conditions, especially during the pandemic. This is true in other parts of the country as well, especially where Amazonians United is active, but the Seattle area is also the site of activism at headquarters, which employs more than 75,000 tech workers and other employees who possess significant bargaining power but are still vulnerable to retaliation and replacement.
In recent years, white-collar workers have condemned the company’s environmental policies, alleged maltreatment of warehouse workers and business relationship with law enforcement agencies. In 2019, an estimated 3,000 Seattle tech workers staged a walkout in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike. Last year, Amazon fired two outspoken designers — a move the National Labor Relations Board found to be unlawful. (Amazon has said it terminated these employees for “repeatedly violating internal policies.”)
Amazon’s home turf has also been the site of precedent-setting policy fights. In 2013, the national movement for a $15 minimum wage — now the company’s starting wage — won its first citywide victory in SeaTac, Wash. Last year, Seattle passed a payroll tax that is expected to raise $214 million per year, though after the repeal of a more stringent measure. And this year, Washington state passed a 7 percent capital-gains tax on some profits earned from selling stocks and other investments. (Washington, home to two of the wealthiest men in the world, has no income tax and relies instead on a regressive sales tax.)
These organizing efforts, while spotty and provisional, offer two lessons. First, that small-scale efforts can have an effect; second, that it’s important to pursue both regulatory and shop-floor campaigns.
Though Amazon is highly centralized, pay, hours and other conditions vary from warehouse to warehouse, and managers are known to respond to regional pressure. In 2019, activists angered by the lavish government incentives thrown at Amazon successfully campaigned against the construction of its secondary headquarters in New York City. And community and labor organizers in San Bernardino, Calif., an area choked by diesel truck emissions, continue to pressure local politicians to limit the expansion of warehouses and airports used by Amazon and other logistics companies.
The current alignment of late-pandemic, social-justice-oriented, early-Biden administration politics could help create the conditions for an empowered, well-organized work force capable of challenging Amazon. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have backed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would make it easier to form a union, and several pieces of ambitious antitrust legislation. President Biden has installed Lina Khan, an Amazon skeptic, to lead the Federal Trade Commission. The Department of Labor has promised to investigate employers who retaliate against workers for raising safety concerns and is expected to scrutinize the misclassification of independent contractors.
The new Teamsters campaign, which promises to establish a department to specifically “aid Amazon workers and defend” industry standards, will include a mix of workplace organizing and local, state and federal advocacy. “I talked to thousands of Amazon workers in 2020. We haven’t filed for a union election, have we? There’s a reason for that,” Randy Korgan, the Teamsters’ national director for Amazon, told me. “We have to break Amazon down into fulfillment center, supply chain, their [contracted drivers] and delivery model.” (This fall, the Teamsters will hold an internal election, and both slates of candidates have promised to prioritize Amazon.) Staff from The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (whose affiliate, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, led the Bessemer campaign) are also supporting various Amazon-related efforts.
“The labor movement still has 14 million workers. It’s going to take a mass mobilization of union workers to engage Amazon workers,” Todd Crosby, UFCW’s organizing director, told me. “What if at least 5 percent, 700,000 people, were mobilized to go out and be organizers to contact people in their community?”
In May, Dan, a former programmer at Amazon, took me on a long walk through Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, also known as Amazonia. Those of us with history in the region all say the same thing about the area — still shocked to see its transformation from a low-rent, industrial scar to a manicured stretch of lakefront paths and high-rise buildings.
Dan grew up in a working-class, immigrant household in the South, and moved to Seattle to put his computer science degree to lucrative use. He worked at Amazon for several years, but never quite took to the culture of competition and merciless evaluation, or the oft-cited 14 Amazon leadership principles, which read like a party oath. During one round of what he described as “leveling,” in which each supervisor ranks his employees, he found himself marked down. He quit instead and joined a friendlier database start-up.
Like Andy, the coder-turned-warehouse worker, Dan is ambivalent about the role of tech in the region and the world. He explained that he arrived in a Seattle already fractured by widespread gentrification and displacement, and saw the city continue to split along class lines. His politics slowly veered left — he was roused by Black Lives Matter and furious about Amazon’s increased use of “gig economy” labor in logistics — but it felt nearly impossible to talk about any of this with his co-workers, let alone sign a petition or attend a protest. “I think a lot of tech workers have this aspirational, ‘I want to be Elon Musk’ kind of thing,” he said. Others feared getting fired or blacklisted in what can be an insular industry.
The week we spoke, 640 tech workers employed by Amazon signed a petition calling on the company to “commit to zero emissions by 2030” and prioritize stopping polluting in the Black and brown communities near its warehouses. It was the latest action by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice to address the downstream effects of the tech-retail behemoth. As Andrea Vidaurre of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice told me, it seems as though nearly every working-age person in San Bernardino has “cycled through the Amazon warehouse complex.” Their families, meanwhile, have suffered high rates of asthma and cancer.
In more and more areas of the United States, Amazon structures the life of entire communities. The geographer and organizer Spencer Cox argues that Amazon’s warehouse zones are now “the major working-class space of suburban and exurban socialization. So even if you’re building a tenant union or a political party, this is a major social space. It has a broader importance.” Or, put more pointedly: “If you look at the consciousness of Amazon workers, it’s a guide to where the working class is as a whole,” Kshama Sawant, the socialist member of the Seattle City Council, said.
On the second Prime Day in June, I met Andy and one of his co-workers at the end of an 11-hour shift outside their gargantuan warehouse. Workers of every race, gender, age and body shape streamed out of the main entrance. The hourly associates wore athletic clothes or fluorescent yellow vests and carried their belongings in see-through bags the texture of a clear shower curtain. The managers were distinguished by dark-blue vests and the privacy of opaque backpacks. (Amazon said there was no special bag policy for managers.)
Over Chinese food, Andy’s friend later told me that she liked the work, but “there are things that should be improved.” She found the warehouse sweltering and the equipment dangerously worn out. The manager of their department was quick to penalize workers for packing or re-binning too slowly. They heard that another manager in the region had been flown out to Bessemer, just before the union vote, in an emergency effort to quell employee discontent.
The prospect of organizing workers in any significant number felt daunting to Andy’s friend, but, “If we want to make a change as a group, in a warehouse, Washington would be very ideal,” she said. “If headquarters was like, ‘Oh, god, if we can’t even keep our warehouse workers in control, how do you think we’ll look in front of the rest of the country?’ ”
“We can make a strong impact to show that it is possible. Just because headquarters is here, that doesn’t mean anything. That doesn’t take power away from us.”
By Kmele Foster, David French, Jason Stanley and Thomas Chatterton Williams, July 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/05/opinion/we-disagree-on-a-lot-of-things-except-the-danger-of-anti-critical-race-theory-laws.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
What is the purpose of a liberal education? This is the question at the heart of a bitter debate that has been roiling the nation for months.
Schools, particularly at the kindergarten-to-12th-grade level, are responsible for helping turn students into well-informed and discerning citizens. At their best, our nation’s schools equip young minds to grapple with complexity and navigate our differences. At their worst, they resemble indoctrination factories.
In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have all passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms, and in some cases, public universities, too.
Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”
Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.
These initiatives have been marketed as “anti-critical race theory” laws. We, the authors of this essay, have wide ideological divergences on the explicit targets of this legislation. Some of us are deeply influenced by the academic discipline of critical race theory and its critique of racist structures and admire the 1619 Project. Some of us are skeptical of structural racist explanations and racial identity itself, and disagree with the mission and methodology of the 1619 Project. We span the ideological spectrum: a progressive, a moderate, a libertarian and a conservative.
It is because of these differences that we here join together, as we are united in one overarching concern: the danger posed by these laws to liberal education.
The laws differ in some respects but generally agree on blocking any teaching that would lead students to feel “discomfort, guilt or anguish” because of one’s race or ancestry, as well as restricting teaching that subsequent generations have any kind of historical responsibility for actions of previous generations. They attempt various carve outs for the “impartial teaching” of the history of oppression of groups. But it’s hard to see how these attempts are at all consistent with demands to avoid discomfort. These measures would, by way of comparison, make Germany’s uncompromising and successful approach to teaching about the Holocaust illegal, as part of its goal is to infuse them with some sense of the weight of the past, and (famously) lead many German students to feel “anguish” about their ancestry.
Indeed, the very act of learning history in a free and multiethnic society is inescapably fraught. Any accurate teaching of any country’s history could make some of its citizens feel uncomfortable (or even guilty) about the past. To deny this necessary consequence of education is, to quote W.E.B. Du Bois, to transform “history into propaganda.”
What’s more, these laws even make it difficult to teach U.S. history in a way that would reveal well-documented ways in which past policy decisions, like redlining, have contributed to present-day racial wealth gaps. An education of this sort would be negligent, creating ignorant citizens who are unable to understand, for instance, the case for reparations — or the case against them.
Because these laws often aim to protecting the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited. For example, the Tennessee statute prohibits a public school from including in a course of instruction any “concept” that promotes “division between, or resentment of” a “creed.” Would a teacher be violating the law if they express the opinion that the creeds of Stalinism or Nazism were evil?
Other laws appear to potentially ban even expression as benign as support for affirmative action, but it’s far from clear. In fact, shortly after Texas passed its purported ban on critical race theory, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help “identify critical race theory in the classroom.” The list included terms such as “social justice,” “colonialism” and “identity.” Applying these same standards to colleges or private institutions would be flatly unconstitutional.
These laws threaten the basic purpose of a historical education in a liberal democracy. But censorship is the wrong approach even to the concepts that are the intended targets of these laws.
Though some of us share the antipathy of the legislation’s authors toward some of these targets, and object to overreaches that leave many parents understandably anxious about the stewardship of their children’s education, we all reject the means by which these measures encode that antipathy into legislation.
A wiser response to problematic elements of what is being labeled critical race theory would be twofold: propose better curriculums and enforce existing civil rights laws. Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, and they are rooted in a considerable body of case law that provides administrators with far more concrete guidance on how to proceed. In fact, there is already an Education Department Office of Civil Rights complaint and federal lawsuit aimed at programs that allegedly attempt to place students or teachers into racial “affinity groups.”
The task of defending the fundamentally liberal democratic nature of the American project ultimately requires the confidence to meet challenges to that vision. Censoring such challenges is a concession to their power, not a defense.
Let’s not mince words about these laws. They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.
There will always be disagreement about any nation’s history. The United States is no exception. If history is to judge the United States as exceptional, it is because we welcome such contestation in our public spaces as part of our unfolding national ethos. It is a violation of this commonly shared vision of America as a nation of free, vigorous and open debate to resort to the apparatus of the government to shut it down.
Kmele Foster is a partner at Freethink and co-host of the podcast “The Fifth Column.” David French is senior editor of The Dispatch. Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale University and the author of “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.” Thomas Chatterton Williams is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a columnist at Harper’s and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
With the discovery of human remains on the grounds of residential schools, this history is now dominating the conversation in the country.
By Ian Austen, July 5, 2021
OTTAWA — At times it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who came for them. Other times, it was a school van. However it happened, for generations, Indigenous families in Canada had no choice but to send their children to church-run residential schools established by the government to erode their culture and languages, and to assimilate them.
A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared in 2015 that the schools, which operated from 1883 to 1996, were a form of “cultural genocide.”
But the profound damage inflicted by the schools didn’t stop there. The commission cataloged extensive physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the schools, which were often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. Disease, fire and malnourishment all brought death and suffering.
Now, the national shame of the schools is again dominating the conversation in Canada.
Since May, new technology has enabled the discovery of human remains, mostly of children, in many hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of three former schools in Canada — two in British Columbia and one in Saskatchewan. Who they were, how they died or even when they died may never be fully known.
But Indigenous communities believe these remains are some of the thousands of youths — current estimates range from 10,000 to 50,000 — who went to the schools and never returned home, known as the “missing children.” For their families, the discoveries serve as confirmation of survivors’ stories, and as a new source of trauma.
When students died at the schools, their bodies were rarely returned and parents were often given little or no explanation of their children’s fate. Disease, particularly tuberculous and the Spanish flu epidemic that followed World War I, swept through the overcrowded dorms.
Fatal fires and accidents were frequent, and an unknown number of children escaped only to die from exposure or misadventure as they tried to make their return to distant homes. Sexual and physical violence were widespread and likely a cause of deaths, whether directly or by suicide.
Here are photographs documenting some of the history of the schools; the one below shows a classroom at the All Saints Residential School in Lac la Ronge, Saskatchewan, around 1950. These images don’t show the crowding, the abuse or other terrible conditions. But they do starkly reveal the system’s relentless effort to change the students’ traditional clothing, hairstyles and religious beliefs.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
The residential school system grew out of the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, which required Indigenous men to learn to read and write English and French, and to abandon their traditional names for government-approved surnames.
Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, authorized setting up a system of schools for Indigenous children in western Canada in 1883. Eventually the system would total about 150 schools, many in remote locations.
This photo dated around 1900 shows a First Nations elder with children at the Qu’Appelle Indian Industrial School in Lebret, in what is now Saskatchewan. The contrast between his traditional clothing and their Western clothing is striking, his collar of feathers compared with theirs of European lace.
Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, via EPA, via Shutterstock
The Roman Catholic Church operated about 70 percent of the schools with the remainder under the control of three Protestant denominations. Religious training was a critical part of the schools, which the churches viewed as missions for converting Indigenous people to Christianity.
Here, young girls take part in their first communion in 1955 at the Spanish Indian Residential School in Spanish, Ontario.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
Because of the schools, generations of Indigenous people grew up with limited experience of being parented and were often traumatized by what they had endured. But the system’s enforced family separations and abuses also have had a profound effect on Indigenous people born after the schools were put under government control in 1969. The last schools closed 30 years later.
The system also failed on its own terms, never succeeding in its goal of relegating Indigenous cultures to museums.
Many Indigenous communities have experienced a revival of their languages and cultural practices, which many see as an important part of recovering from the schools’ legacy. The work of the commission also coincided with successful campaigns by the communities to negotiate claims on their lands and to work toward greater self governance.
“Something good has to come out of this,” Joey Desjarlais, 73, said outside the ruins of the Muskowekwan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which he was forced to attend, as were his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. “Our children need to learn about the residential school, what we went through and what went on in there but also to learn their culture, so at least they’ll get it back.”
The image below shows girls working in the kitchen at the Bishop Horden Memorial School in Moose Factory, Ontario, around 1940.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
Boys at the Shingwauk Indian Residential School playing with handmade bows, and a game of table hockey, in the 1960s.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
Shingwauk Residential Schools Center, via Reuters
Boys say their prayers in the dormitory at the Bishop Horden Memorial School in Moose Factory, Ontario, in 1950.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
Girls at a residential school in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, around 1936. It is estimated that roughly one-third of all Indigenous children were enrolled in the schools by the 1930s.
Library and Archive of Canada
Boys and girls, in their first communion outfits, posing at Spanish Indian Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, in the 1960s.
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, via Reuters
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto and currently lives in Ottawa. He has reported for The Times about Canada for more than a decade.
By Catherine Porter and Marc Santora, July 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/world/americas/haiti-president-killing.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
Jovenal Moïse had been struggling to quell growing public anger over his attempt to hold onto power despite the opposition’s insistence that his term had expired.
Mr. Moïse had been ruling by decree for more than a year. Many, including prominent jurists, contend that his term ended in February. Haiti has been rocked by protests against his rule, and also has suffered a surge in gang activity.
The opposition said that Mr. Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on Feb. 7, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down. When Mr. Moïse refused to leave office, thousands of Haitians took to the streets, setting trash and tires on fire as they demanded his resignation.
In response, the government announced the arrest of 23 people, including a top judge and a senior police officer, who the president said had tried to kill him and overthrow the government.
“The goal of these people was to make an attempt on my life,” President Moïse said at the time. “That plan was aborted.”
Mr. Moïse insisted that he had one more year to serve, because his term did not begin until a year after the vote that brought him to the top office amid accusations of electoral fraud.
The protests this year were part of broader unrest, with heavily armed gangs clashing on the streets and attacking police stations.
“While exact numbers are still unclear, preliminary estimates suggest that thousands of people have fled their homes and sought shelter with host families or settled in informal shelters,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month in a report on the situation.
An analysis by European scientists found that other parts of the world didn’t fare much better, with Europe logging its second-hottest June.
By Henry Fountain, July 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/climate/climate-change-temperatures-june.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Last month was the warmest June on record in North America, researchers said Wednesday, confirming the suspicions of millions of people who endured some of the hottest temperatures ever experienced on the continent.
The Copernicus Climate Change Service, an agency supported by the European Union, said that average surface temperatures for June in North America were about one-quarter of a degree Fahrenheit (0.15 of a degree Celsius) higher than the average for June 2012, the previous record-holder.
Last month’s average temperature was more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average from 1991-2020, providing more evidence that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are warming the planet.
The June heat was relentless across most of the United States and Canada. Only parts of the Southern Plains and the Southeast in the United States, and Northern Canada east and west of Hudson Bay, were a little cooler than normal.
The most brutal conditions were experienced in the Western United States and Southwestern Canada. In the West, the heat prolonged and intensified a severe drought that has shriveled crops, threatened water supplies and contributed to what is shaping up to be a severe wildfire season.
The month culminated in a hellish heat wave that crippled much of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
With an enormous “heat dome” of high-pressure air stalled over the region, temperatures reached triple digits in Portland, Ore., Seattle and other cities, 30 to 40 degrees above average for the month. In a region where until recently air conditioning had been an afterthought, heat-related deaths soared.
The town of Lytton, British Columbia, broke the Canadian temperature record three days in a row, ending with a reading of 121 degrees on June 29. The next day, most of the town was destroyed by a wildfire, in which two residents were killed.
The high temperatures last month were not limited to North America, according to the Copernicus analysis. Europe suffered through its second-warmest June ever, with only June 2019 being warmer. Temperatures were above average in Northwestern and Southern Africa, across parts of the Middle East, and in China and much of Southeast Asia. High temperatures in Arctic Siberia contributed to an early start to wildfire season there.
Globally, last month was the fourth hottest June ever. Only 2016, 2019 and 2020 were hotter.
Much of the United States is likely to remain hotter than normal for the rest of the summer, according to the most recent analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Overall, according to the analysis, 2021 is virtually certain to be among the 10 warmest years ever recorded. But thanks to slightly cooler conditions earlier this year related to cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, there is little likelihood that 2021 will make it into the Top 5.
NOAA also produces monthly temperature analyses, which are usually released later than those by Copernicus. The two agencies’ methods differ somewhat — NOAA uses more observational data, Copernicus uses more modeling — but the findings are usually in close agreement.
Edward Cagney Mathews was recorded hurling racist harassment and challenging people to “come see me.” On Monday, his neighbors did just that, staging a protest outside his home.
By Ashley Wong, Published July 6, 2021, Updated July 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/06/nyregion/edward-cagney-mathews-nj-racist-man.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=894599250&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=894782339&action=click&module=Popular%20in%20The%20Times&pgtype=Homepage
A New Jersey man who was caught on video shouting racist insults and harassing his neighbors was arrested twice and charged with several hate crimes, with his second arrest coming as people staged an hourslong protest outside his home.
The man, Edward Cagney Mathews, 45, has been the subject of numerous complaints from his neighbors in his Mount Laurel, N.J., condominium complex, who have accused him of racist harassment, a police spokesman said.
But tension in the community reached a breaking point over the weekend when a video of Mr. Mathews, who is white, taunting and shouting racist slurs at Black neighbors went viral on Facebook.
According to a complaint from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, the dispute began Friday evening when Mr. Mathews tried to confront one neighbor, Leron Brown, who is Black and the board president of the condominium’s homeowner’s association.
The video, which was posted on Sunday, begins with another neighbor, Etchu Tambe, who is also Black, blocking Mr. Mathews from entering Mr. Brown’s residence and telling him to leave.
Mr. Mathews repeatedly closes the distance, going chest-to-chest with Mr. Tambe while attempting to goad him with racist slurs.
“I have every right to be here,” Mr. Mathews says as Mr. Tambe tells him to leave Mr. Brown’s yard. “Learn your law. This is not Africa.”
Mr. Brown’s wife, Denise Brown, called the police, the complaint said. An officer is seen arriving at the home shortly thereafter. As he approaches the house, Mr. Mathews can be heard continuing to shout. He and the officer appear to recognize one another.
“Cagney, cut it out, man, let me talk to them,” the officer says. “Go home.”
Mr. Mathews was arrested and charged with bias intimidation and harassment, and released hours later with a summons for a future court date. But community members, furious he was allowed to return home, took matters into their own hands.
In the video of the incident, Mr. Mathews turns directly to the camera and gives his exact address, challenging viewers to “come see me” and to “bring whoever.” So on Monday, more than 100 protesters showed up outside his door, videos posted on social media show, and called for him to come out.
Hours later, Mr. Mathews was arrested on additional charges of bias intimidation and assault.
“The video wasn’t available to us when we first dealt with him,” said Officer Kyle Gardner, a spokesman for the Mount Laurel Police Department, explaining the second arrest. “I believe the charges stem from that.”
Members of the crowd cheered as officers escorted Mr. Mathews out, with some protesters throwing objects at police vehicles as they drove away. According to NJ.com, some protesters smashed the windows of Mr. Mathews’s condo before being pushed away by police.
In a statement, Scott A. Coffina, the Burlington County prosecutor, commended the victims for “showing incredible restraint.” He went on to condemn those who threw objects as officers left the scene and damaged Mr. Mathews’s home.
“It is difficult to overstate how vile and despicable the conduct by this defendant toward his neighbors was on Friday night,” Mr. Coffina said. “No one should ever have to deal with such hatred thrown in their face anywhere, but especially on their own doorstep.”
“We recognize the justifiable outrage of the community,” Mr. Coffina added, saying that his office would “see this prosecution through so that justice is done.”
Mr. Mathews remains in custody and is awaiting a court appearance, set for later this week. Information about a lawyer for Mr. Mathews was not immediately available.
Several neighbors in Mount Laurel, a western New Jersey community near Philadelphia, expressed frustration to news outlets over what they said had been a lackluster response by the Police Department after multiple reports about Mr. Mathews.
“We’re not going to tolerate this anymore,” Aliya Robinson, a neighbor of Mr. Mathews, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Mr. Gardner confirmed that several complaints had been made about Mr. Mathews in the past. He also said the judge originally assigned to Mr. Mathews’s case on Friday evening had recused himself, though he said he did not know why.
Another video was posted Monday morning by a woman who said she used to live in the condo above Mr. Mathews. She wrote that Mr. Mathews had relentlessly harassed her, annoyed by the noise her young son made, and she accused him of spray painting her car with racist slurs and kicking down her door. Though she tried to press charges, her case was eventually dropped, she said.
In the video, a man she identified as Mr. Mathews can be heard saying that he was “friends with all the cops.” He tells her that she would not be able to get any help from the police if she complained against him, “because they’re my people.”
She wrote that it was “a painful experience especially being he got away with everything.”
“No one did anything at all,” she added. “It was the worst experience of my life. I thought moving to Mount Laurel would have been a great thing but was really wrong.”
A Minneapolis police officer slammed his vehicle into Leneal Frazier’s car while chasing a different car. His niece Darnella Frazier said his death was a “big loss” for her family.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, July 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/07/us/darnella-frazier-uncle-minneapolis-police.html
Darnella Frazier, third from right, uses her cellphone to record the arrest of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Credit...Minneapolis Police, via Reuters
For more than a year, Darnella Frazier has struggled with the trauma that came from witnessing — and recording — George Floyd’s pleas as he struggled for air under the unyielding knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Mr. Floyd was a stranger to her, but his death has haunted her ever since.
This week, Ms. Frazier suffered an even more personal tragedy involving the Minneapolis police when an officer who was pursuing a robbery suspect crashed into her uncle’s car in an intersection, killing him.
Leneal Frazier, 40, was pronounced dead at a hospital after the crash that occurred just after midnight on Tuesday, the medical examiner said. The officer was treated for serious injuries that were not life-threatening, the police said. The robbery suspect got away.
“Minneapolis police has cost my whole family a big loss,” Ms. Frazier, 18, wrote on Facebook. She said she had recently spent time with her uncle at the beach and that, if she had known it was the last time she would see him, she would have “hugged you so much longer, told you I love you way harder.”
The chase began when an officer tried to stop a stolen car that the police have connected to several robberies of businesses, John Elder, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department, said in a statement.
The car sped away, and the officer chased it north along the Mississippi River for a little over a mile before the officer’s car crashed into Mr. Frazier’s in the middle of an intersection. Another car was also struck, but its passengers were not injured, Mr. Elder said. He said he did not know whether the police officer or Mr. Frazier had the green light, and a spokesman for the Minnesota State Patrol, which is overseeing the investigation, said he was prohibited by law from answering questions until the inquiry was complete.
Photographs from the scene showed several mangled cars, including a police S.U.V. and a vehicle that appeared to have crashed into a bus stop. Broken glass could be seen scattered across the sidewalk.
In her social media post, Ms. Frazier questioned why the police had continued to chase the robbery suspect through a residential part of North Minneapolis. Her uncle’s death “hurts different because he had NOTHING to do with this,” she wrote.
The crash highlighted the potential danger of police chases, which kill hundreds of people each year, many of them bystanders or passengers. A number of police departments have imposed restrictions on vehicle pursuits in recent years.
The Minneapolis Police Department revised its policy on pursuits in 2019 to require officers to end a chase if it poses “an unreasonable risk” to the public.
The State Patrol will give its findings to local prosecutors when the inquiry is completed, a spokesman said.
Mr. Frazier’s death was not the first time that those connected to Mr. Floyd have faced additional tragedy involving the police. Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old man shot to death by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb during the trial of Derek Chauvin, was a former student of Mr. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross.
Ms. Frazier wrote on Facebook that “another Black man lost his life in the hands of the police,” though she added in a later post that she was not implying that his death was because of his race. “I honestly don’t even know the race of the cop,” she said. “I just know it was a police officer behind the wheel.”
The Police Department, in confirming the circumstances of the collision, did not identify the officer beyond saying that he was a man.
Ms. Frazier was 17 when she witnessed Mr. Floyd’s death in May 2020. She testified during Mr. Chauvin’s trial that she had been walking her 9-year-old cousin to a convenience store in South Minneapolis for some snacks when they saw the police pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground. The video she took contradicted the police account that Mr. Floyd had suffered a “medical incident” and prompted the police chief, in less than 24 hours, to fire the four officers who had been at the scene.
Mr. Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder in April and, last month, was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. The three other former officers who were at the scene are facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. They and Mr. Chauvin are also facing federal charges of violating Mr. Floyd’s constitutional rights.
At Mr. Chauvin’s trial, prosecutors showed Ms. Frazier’s video in full during their opening statement. They played portions of it several more times during the trial, and Ms. Frazier testified that she had been haunted by not being able to save Mr. Floyd’s life.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black,” Ms. Frazier testified in court in March. She added, “I look at how that could have been one of them.”
The states, including Massachusetts and New York, agreed to drop opposition to the bankruptcy organization plan of the company, the maker of OxyContin.
By Jan Hoffman, July 8, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/08/health/purdue-pharma-opioids-settlement.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Fifteen states have reached an agreement with Purdue Pharma, the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, that would pave the way toward a $4.5 billion settlement of thousands of opioid cases.
The states decided late Wednesday to drop their opposition to Purdue’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, in exchange for a release of millions of documents and an additional $50 million from members of the Sackler family, the company’s owners.
The agreement was contained in a late-night filing by a mediator in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, N.Y.
The settlement extracts concessions that will be added to a comprehensive proposal now being voted upon by more than 3,000 plaintiffs, including cities, counties, tribes and states, who sought to hold Purdue and its owners responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic. More than 500,000 Americans have died from overdoses of prescription and illegal opioids.
Trials against other opioid manufacturers and drug distributors are underway.
Nearly two years ago, the Sacklers had proposed paying $3 billion in cash. Both the company and family members had resisted releasing the full trove of documents, including hundreds of thousands of work emails and communications with attorneys, reaching back decades. According to last night’s filing, Purdue and the Sacklers will now release some 33 million documents, and the money has risen to $4.5 billion, plus an additional $225 million in a civil settlement with the Department of Justice.
According to spokesmen, two branches of the Sackler family noted that the settlement included no finding of liability or wrongdoing. In a statement, they said: “This resolution to the mediation is an important step toward providing substantial resources for people and communities in need. The Sackler family hopes these funds will help achieve that goal.”
The Sacklers will have nine years to make payments, but the new agreement includes an enhanced schedule.
The voting by thousands of creditors on Purdue’s plan ends at 4 p.m. on July 14. The company has been seeking approval from an overwhelming majority, hoping to stave off appeals.
In a statement, the company said, “We will continue to work to build even greater consensus for our plan of reorganization, which would transfer billions of dollars of value into trusts for the benefit of the American people and direct critically needed medicines and resources to communities and individuals nationwide who have been affected by the opioid crisis.”
If Judge Robert Drain, who is presiding over the bankruptcy proceedings, certifies the plan after an August hearing, as is now widely expected, both the family and the company would be shielded from further opioid-related lawsuits.
Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, who was the first to sue individual Sacklers, said, “While I know this resolution does not bring back loved ones or undo the evil of what the Sacklers did, forcing them to turn over their secrets by providing all the documents, forcing them to repay billions, forcing the Sacklers out of the opioid business, and shutting down Purdue will help stop anything like this from ever happening again.”
Another official in the pursuit of the Sacklers was Letitia James, the attorney general of New York.
“For nearly two years, since Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy, the company and the Sackler family have used every delay tactic possible and misused the courts — all in an effort to shield their misconduct,” she said. “While this deal is not perfect, we are delivering $4.5 billion into communities ravaged by opioids on an accelerated timetable and it gets one of the nation’s most harmful drug dealers out of the opioid business once and for all. ”
Nine states and the District of Columbia continue to oppose the agreement. “While some progress has been made — especially around the public document depository — this plan is far from justice,” said William Tong, the attorney general of Connecticut. “Purdue and the Sacklers have misused this bankruptcy to protect their vast wealth and evade consequences for their callous misconduct. This deal alarmingly allows the Sacklers to still walk away with their personal wealth intact, and now allows funds already intended for charity to be included in this deal. We are evaluating all options to continue to fight this bankruptcy plan until all viable options are exhausted.”
Some deaths were not counted as part of prison virus tallies because hospitalized inmates were officially released from custody before they died.
By Maura Turcotte, Rachel Sherman, Rebecca Griesbach and Ann Hinga Klein, July 7, 2021
Juan Cruz Jr. and his mother, Delfina Cruz, with a portrait of his father, who died of Covid-19 while awaiting trial in a New York jail. Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times
Richard Williamson, 86, was rushed from a Florida jail to a hospital last July. Within two weeks, he had died of Covid-19.
Hours after Cameron Melius, 26, was released from a Virginia jail in October, he was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he died. The coronavirus, the authorities said, was a contributing factor.
And in New York City, Juan Cruz, 57, who fell ill with Covid-19 while in jail, was moved from a hospital’s jail ward into its regular unit before dying.
None of these deaths have been included in official Covid-19 mortality tolls of the jails where the men had been detained. And these cases are not unique. The New York Times identified dozens of people around the country who died under similar circumstances but were not included in official counts.
In some cases, in places including Texas, Ohio and California, deaths were added to facilities’ virus tolls after The Times brought missing names to the attention of officials. In other cases, people who were infected with the coronavirus while incarcerated — but granted legal releases because of the severity of their illnesses — were not included in the death tallies of the jails where they got sick. Still other inmates’ deaths were left off facilities’ virus tolls for reasons that are unexplained.
More than 2,700 people are reported to have died of Covid-19 in connection to U.S. prisons, jails and immigration detention centers, but the additional cases raise the prospect that the known toll on incarcerated people falls far short of providing the full picture.
Concerns about how coronavirus deaths are documented have emerged throughout the pandemic, including a finding that the toll among nursing home residents in New York State was far higher than known because thousands who died in hospitals had not been included.
A surge in deaths across the country last year that went beyond the known Covid-19 toll has health experts suggesting that some virus cases went undiagnosed or were misattributed to other causes. There have also been inconsistencies and shifting guidance regarding which deaths should count as coronavirus deaths.
Public health officials say the prospect of overlooked virus deaths tied to the nation’s prisons, jails and immigration detention centers carries particular risks. It is challenging, the experts say, to prepare prisons for future epidemics without knowing the full toll. For now, the publicly known death totals connected to incarceration largely come from the facilities themselves.
“You can’t make good public policy if you don’t know what’s actually going on on the ground,” said Sharon Dolovich, director of the Covid Behind Bars Data Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, which tracks coronavirus deaths in American prisons.
Prison and jail officials defended their methodologies for tallying coronavirus deaths of incarcerated people, saying they followed all federal and local documentation requirements. Some noted that their task was the tracking of “in custody” deaths, and suggested that including the deaths of people who had recently been in their care — but no longer were — would be both complex and impractical, and might even wind up overstating the number of virus cases with ties to the facilities.
“It is unfair to expect jails to somehow take ownership of what happens to people once they are released from our custody,” said Kathy Hieatt, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, which held Mr. Melius in custody. “We follow the law and the extensive standards set by the Virginia Department of Corrections, which include the investigating and reporting of anyone who dies while in custody. Neither require reporting of deaths of former inmates.” She added: “It is asinine to think that we could somehow keep tabs on those thousands of people and take responsibility for them.”
Throughout the pandemic, prison systems have used disparate methods to publicly report deaths connected to Covid-19. Nevada’s prisons say they inform state heath officials of inmate Covid-19 deaths but do not make them public. Mississippi prison authorities said no inmates had died from the coronavirus in their facilities before announcing in January that nearly two dozen prisoner deaths were tied to Covid-19.
And in Texas, a prison medical committee is re-examining each case in which a medical examiner said Covid-19 was among the causes of death, and has sometimes overruled the earlier findings, according to Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the state prison system. Shelia Bradley, a 53-year-old prisoner, was found by a medical examiner to have died of “bacterial and possibly fungal pneumonia, a complication of Covid-19,” but the committee concluded that she died from “acute bacterial bronchopneumonia,” without listing Covid-19.
In at least nine cases identified by The Times, inmate deaths were not included in facilities’ coronavirus tolls even though medical examiners had cited Covid-19 as a cause or a contributing factor. It was uncertain why they were not included in the prison counts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that any fatality in which Covid-19 is listed as “a contributing cause” on the death certificate be deemed a coronavirus death even if other causes also are noted, but state and local officials have sometimes taken varying approaches. Further complicating matters, there can be discrepancies between what medical examiners deem the cause of a death and what is listed on death certificates, which are not publicly available in most cases.
In another dozen cases identified by The Times, officials say fatalities were not included in tallies of prisoners who died of the virus because the inmates had been formally released from custody before they died. Some of the deaths have been reported by other publications, including North Carolina Health News and The City in New York.
Mr. Melius, who worked in a vape shop, died two days after he finished his sentence at a jail in Virginia Beach, where he had been arrested on charges of misdemeanor assault and a probation violation.
Covid-19 had spread through the jail, and Mr. Melius’s mother, Tammy Porter, said he fell seriously ill about four hours after he was released. At a hospital that afternoon, he tested positive for the coronavirus and was placed on a ventilator.
Ms. Hieatt, the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said Mr. Melius’s death was not counted in the jail’s toll because he was no longer in custody when he died, nor had he complained of illness while in jail. She suggested that drug use may have played a role in his death, noting that an autopsy found fentanyl in Mr. Melius’s system.
A medical examiner concluded that Mr. Melius’s death was as a result of “anoxic encephalopathy following cardiac arrest, in addition to Covid-19 respiratory infection.”
Anoxic encephalopathy, a lack of oxygen to the brain, can be caused by a variety of factors, experts said, including cardiac arrest or a drug overdose. A summary of the medical examiner’s autopsy report included no mention of drugs, and a spokeswoman for the medical examiner declined to comment beyond the summary. Complete autopsy reports are not part of the public record in Virginia, nor are death certificates.
In New York City, Juan Cruz had been awaiting trial in jail for two years when he died of Covid-19 in June 2020.
On May 1, 2020, Mr. Cruz, who had pleaded not guilty on a sexual assault charge, tested positive for the virus while he was in the Rikers Island jail complex, court records show. Within days, he was transferred to the jail ward of Bellevue Hospital and shackled to his bed frame. On May 12, he was placed on a ventilator, court records show.
Mr. Cruz’s lawyers eventually convinced officials to release Mr. Cruz because of the severity of his illness. His handcuffs were removed, and he was taken to a different wing of the hospital. He died there of Covid-19 three weeks later.
Jail authorities in New York City say they have not counted the death of Mr. Cruz among its Covid-19 fatalities because Mr. Cruz was not in custody when he died.
After The Times raised Mr. Cruz’s circumstances with New York officials, along with several other deaths not included in jail counts, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the administration would be more straightforward about disclosing Covid-19 deaths like Mr. Cruz’s in the future.
In Marion County, Fla., Mr. Williamson, who was awaiting trial on charges of sexual battery on a child, had struggled with ailments long before he got the virus. He had suffered three strokes, had congestive heart failure and was nearly blind, said Chris Williamson, his son.
By July 2020, after nine months in jail, Mr. Williamson had been hospitalized for Covid-19 and was on a ventilator, his son said. When his condition further deteriorated, prosecutors dropped the charges — officially releasing him from custody — because they knew he was unlikely to survive.
Mr. Williamson died in the hospital a few weeks later, and was not included in the county jail’s Covid-19 toll.
“It’s kind of that gray area,” Mr. Williamson’s son said, “where they can legitimately say that they’ve had no Covid-19 deaths because maybe no one’s actually died inside of the jail with Covid-19 — because they sent him to the hospital to die.”
Reporting was contributed by Timothy Williams, Brendon Derr, Izzy Colón, Danya Issawi, Derek M. Norman, Chloe Reynolds and Libby Seline. Kitty Bennett, Jack Begg and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
By Michael Pollan, July 9, 2021
Mr. Pollan has written for decades about the intersection of food, plants, drugs and human culture.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/opinion/sunday/drug-legalization-mdma-psilocybin.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
After a half century spent waging war on drugs, Americans seem ready to sue for peace. The 2020 elections brought plenty of proof that voters have leapt ahead of politicians in recognizing both the failures of the drug war and the potential of certain illicit drugs as powerful tools for healing.
Ballot initiatives in five states — four of them traditionally red — legalized some form of cannabis use. By substantial margins, Oregon passed two landmark drug reform initiatives: Fifty-nine percent of voters supported Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small quantities of all drugs, even hard ones like heroin and cocaine. A second proposal, Measure 109, specifically legalized psilocybin therapy, directing the state’s health department to license growers of so-called magic mushrooms and train facilitators to administer them beginning in 2023.
In the past two years, a new drug policy reform movement called Decriminalize Nature has persuaded local governments in a half dozen municipalities, including Washington, D.C., to decriminalize “plant medicines” such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, iboga and the cactuses that produce mescaline. Last month, the California State Senate passed a bill that would make legal the personal possession, use and “social sharing” of psychedelics, including LSD and MDMA, a.k.a. Ecstasy or Molly. Political opposition to all these measures has been notably thin. Neither party, it seems, has the stomach for persisting in a war that has achieved so little while doing so much damage, especially to communities of color and our civil liberties.
But while we can now begin to glimpse an end to the drug war, it is much harder to envision what the drug peace will look like. How will we fold these powerful substances into our society and our lives so as to minimize their risks and use them most constructively? The blunt binaries of “Just say no” that have held sway for so long have kept us from having this conversation and from appreciating how different one illicit drug is from another.
That conversation begins with the recognition that humans like to change consciousness and that cultures have been using psychoactive plants and fungi to do so for as long as there have been cultures. Something about us is just not satisfied with ordinary consciousness and seeks to transcend it in various ways, some of them disruptive (as psychedelics were in the West in the 1960s) and others generally accepted as productive, like caffeine. Hence the ritual of the coffee break, in which employers give employees both the drug and paid time off in which to enjoy it.
But context is everything: In many Native American communities, peyote, a psychedelic, is not at all disruptive; to the contrary, its ceremonial use promotes social cohesion and heals trauma. Timothy Leary’s notion of the importance of “set and setting” — that is, expectation and context — probably applies to all drugs, not just psychedelics, something worth keeping in mind as we navigate this new world.
In the case of psychedelics, decriminalizing these powerful compounds is only the first step in a process of figuring out how best to safely weave their use into our society. The main model we have for resocializing a formerly illicit drug is the legalization of cannabis, now the new normal in 18 states, and many in the cannabis world look to psilocybin as the next cannabis. But the prospect of magic mushrooms being commercialized like cannabis — advertised on billboards and sold next to THC gummy bears in dispensaries — should fill us with trepidation. Microdoses perhaps, but a macrodose of psilocybin is a powerful, consequential and risky experience that demands careful preparation and an experienced sitter or guide. We will need to look elsewhere for models of safe and sane psychedelic use.
But where? The straightest and least controversial path to folding psilocybin, as well as MDMA, into society is the medical route, which passes through the Food and Drug Administration drug approval process. These drugs are already well along in that process, and both should be approved for use in psychotherapy within a few years — MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin to treat depression and addiction. After that happens, doctors will be able to prescribe these compounds, though not willy-nilly. The agency is expected to issue regulations stipulating exactly how and by whom they can be administered, probably with a trained facilitator in a safe place, in order to maximize the value of the therapy and minimize the chances of a bad trip.
But what about the rest of us — healthy people without a psychiatric diagnosis who want to use psychedelics for therapy, self-discovery or spiritual development? A small handful of religious organizations have marked out a second path to normalization. Since 1994, the Native American Church, now with an estimated 250,000 members, has had the constitutional right to use peyote as a sacrament. Since then, two other churches have secured the right to use ayahuasca. Today, new churches organized around the use of psilocybin, LSD and other so-called entheogens are springing up, with plans to seek legal recognition. Some legal experts expect them to prevail. This Supreme Court’s expansive jurisprudence on religious freedom has created a wide opening through which a parade of new psychedelic churches may be able to march. The same majority that ruled that the religious beliefs of a corporation, Hobby Lobby, exempted it from provisions of federal law may find it impossible to rule against the right of the Church of Lysergic Acid to use its chosen sacrament. Americans could soon be able to go to a church to have a ritualized psychedelic experience.
As for other Americans who want to use psychedelics in a more secular setting, it’s easy to imagine spa-like retreat centers popping up across the country. Indeed, a prototype already exists: Field Trip Health has opened a half dozen lavishly appointed clinics (with more on the way) offering ketamine-assisted therapy for depression, which is already legal, in anticipation of Food and Drug Administration approval of MDMA and psilocybin. A psychiatrist on staff screens “patients” — i.e., customers — and then a doctor or nurse practitioner administers the drug; trained facilitators prepare the clients for what to expect and then sit with them during the experience, afterward helping to “integrate” — make sense of and apply — whatever they have learned.
Different as they sound, the medical, religious and, for lack of a better term, retreat-center uses of psychedelics are all highly formalized, which is important. When psychedelics first burst upon the West in the middle of the last century, they arrived without an instruction manual and so were sometimes used recklessly, without regard for set and setting. People thought nothing of dropping acid at festivals and protests or of spiking punch bowls with LSD, a practice that seems crazy, if not cruel. It’s no wonder the bad trip became such a powerful meme and the culture turned against psychedelics.
In fact, a user’s manual for the safe and constructive use of psychedelics did exist, even then; most of us just weren’t aware of it. I’m thinking of the use of psychedelics by Indigenous peoples, which suggests a model we would do well to keep in mind as we figure out how best to handle these substances. There are numerous examples of Indigenous peoples that have successfully incorporated psychedelic compounds into their cultures as a sacrament, medicine or medium of communication. Surveying these cultures, you find a few common denominators. People seldom, if ever, use a psychedelic alone and never casually: They are taken for a specific reason, with an intention. There is almost always an elder presiding, someone who knows the psychic terrain and can create a suitable container for the experience. And invariably the experience takes place within a structure of ritual.
Dr. Andrew Weil was one of the first to recognize the value of ritual in drug use. In his 1972 book, “The Natural Mind,” he writes:
Ritual seems to protect individuals and groups from the negative effects of drugs, possibly by establishing a framework of order around their use. At least, people who use drugs ritually tend not to get into trouble with them, whereas people who abandon ritual and use drugs wantonly seem to have problems.
Simply borrowing a ritual ceremony from any Indigenous group probably wouldn’t fly in 2021 America and, even if it did, would be an act of cultural appropriation. In my interviews with Native Americans, I encountered a deep reluctance to share with a white journalist exactly what happens during a peyote ceremony. “The Great Spirit gave us this plant a long time ago,” Steven Benally, a Diné leader of the Native American Church, explained when I asked him simply to describe a peyote ceremony. “I’m guessing you’re white, yes? All this information you want, what’s in it for me?” So much has been taken from Native Americans that they are determined to safeguard their peyote and the rituals that accompany it. We non-Natives will need to design our own culturally appropriate containers for the secular, nonmedical psychedelic experience. But that process should be informed by the principles guiding these Indigenous practices, since they are the product of deep experience with these molecules going back thousands of years.
The end of the drug war will confront us with cases more challenging than the psychedelics, several of which have been investigated by scientists as effective treatments for various forms of mental illness. They are also not habit-forming. But what about the so-called hard drugs, like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine — drugs that people ostensibly take for pleasure? Is there a safe way to fold these more addictive molecules into our lives?
This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction. Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom — of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress. As the geography of the opioid and meth crises suggests, one’s environment and economic prospects play a large role in the likelihood of becoming addicted; just look at where these deaths of despair tend to cluster or the places where addiction to crack cocaine proliferated.
Two findings underscore this point, both described in Johann Hari’s 2015 book on drug addiction, “Chasing the Scream.” Much of what we know, or believe we know, about drug addiction is based on experiments with rats. Put a rat in a cage with two levers, one giving it heroin or cocaine, the other sugar water, and the rat will reliably opt for the drug until it is addicted or dead. These classic experiments seemed to prove that addiction is the inevitable result of exposure to addictive drugs, a simple matter of biology. But something very different happens when that experimental rat is sprung from solitary confinement and moved to a larger, more pleasant cage outfitted with toys, good food and companions to play and have sex with. This is the so-called rat park experiment, devised by a Canadian psychologist named Bruce Alexander in the 1970s. He and his colleagues found that in this enriched environment, rats will sample the morphine on offer but will consume a small fraction of the amount consumed by rats living in isolation, in some cases five milligrams a day instead of 25. Dr. Alexander came to see that drug abuse isn’t a disease; it’s an adaptation to one’s environment and circumstance — to the condition of one’s cage.
The second phenomenon Mr. Hari recounts took place at the end of the Vietnam War. Some 20 percent of U.S. troops became addicted to heroin while in-country. With the war coming to an end, experts worried about tens of thousands of addicts flooding America’s streets. But something unexpected happened when the addicted service members got home: Ninety-five percent of them simply stopped using. It made no difference whether or not they received drug treatment. This is not to minimize the harm done by heroin to those who couldn’t quit; it is only to suggest that there is much more to addiction than exposure to an addictive drug.
The problem of drug addiction will be with us as long as unhappiness is; waging war on drugs did little to stem it, and it will not vanish with the peace. So what to do about it? Harm reduction is the approach embraced by the voters of Oregon as well as those nations that have legalized drugs, including Portugal and Switzerland. That might mean drug treatment, instead of incarceration, to help addicts break their habit, or in some places, actually giving them heroin (and clean needles) to maintain it. This reduces the harm that comes from using street drugs, which are of unknown purity (and nowadays often laced with fentanyl, which has contributed heavily to a rise in opiate overdoses), and from the crimes committed to obtain them. Switzerland has perhaps the most ambitious approach to treating heroin addiction. The government gives you a prescription for heroin but then makes sure you have a job, decent housing and therapeutic support, on the theory you will no longer need the drug after your circumstances improve. The abuse of opiates unquestionably does a tremendous amount of damage to individuals as well as to society. But contrary to the stereotype of spiraling chemical enslavement, some people manage to use opiates habitually while leading productive lives. Many, if not most, of the harms of the practice stem from its prohibition.
We shouldn’t forget that two of the most destructive drugs in use today — alcohol and tobacco — have long been perfectly legal. Having wisely given up on prohibition, we’ve worked hard as a society to regulate their use, deploying both laws and customs. Recognizing the dangers of tobacco, we’ve desocialized its use over the past 50 years, devising rules and taboos about when and where one may smoke. Along with high taxes, these expressions of cultural disapproval have substantially reduced tobacco use. (It’s worth remembering that in many traditional New World cultures, tobacco is used ritually without the harms associated with smoking in the West.)
The uneasy peace our culture has made with alcohol may point to a way drugs like heroin and cocaine might someday be used in the post-war-on-drugs era. As a society, we accept that some people will end up in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and that tens of thousands will die each year from abusing it. But a great many more will use the same drug with pleasure and without harm, either to themselves or society. Here, too, the rituals we’ve developed around drinking play a protective role and suggest a model, however imperfect. Most of us don’t drink before a certain hour in the day. We drink only in the company of others. We eat food with alcohol; after drinking, we don’t drive — a practice codified in law. The people who follow these rules and rituals are by and large not the people who get into trouble with alcohol.
The drug war’s blunt, black-and-white approach at least had the virtue of simplicity. “Just say no” is certainly easier to follow than “yes, but only this way and not that.” With all illicit drugs lumped together in the drug war, there was no need to take account of their different properties and powers, what they are good for and what they are bad for. Nor did we need to figure out the best cultural container for each of them, the set of rules and rituals and taboos that might allow us to use them safely, productively and, yes, with pleasure.
But if we’re going to end the drug war, figuring that out is precisely the work we’ll need to do. It won’t be easy or simple or quick; indeed, we’re still figuring out how best to manage alcohol and tobacco, striking the right balance of formal regulations, social norms and taxes. (Taxation is important for two reasons: to discourage use and to pay for the associated health costs to society.) And while it is surely the case that the burden of drug abuse (including that of alcohol and tobacco) will fall most heavily on the poor, that argues not for a war on the drugs so much as for a war on poverty — on the conditions of life that make using drugs seem like a reasonable solution or means of self-medication.
The long history of humans and their mind-altering drugs gives us reason to hope we can negotiate a peace with these powerful substances, imperfect though it may be. We have done it before. The ancient Greeks grasped the ambiguous, double-edged nature of drugs much better than we do. Their word for them, “pharmakon,” means both “medicine” and “poison” — it all depends, they understood, on use, dose, intention, set and setting. Blessing or curse, which will it be? The answer depends not on law or chemistry so much as on culture, which is to say, on us.
Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) teaches writing at Harvard and at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author, most recently, of “This Is Your Mind on Plants.”
An early estimate points to a huge die-off along the Pacific Coast, and scientists say rivers farther inland are warming to levels that could be lethal for some kinds of salmon.
By Catrin Einhorn, July 9, 2021
Dead mussels near Suicide Bend Park in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Credit...Christopher Harley/University of British Columbia
Dead mussels and clams coated rocks in the Pacific Northwest, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Idaho river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas.
The combination of extraordinary heat and drought that hit the Western United States and Canada over the past two weeks has killed hundreds of millions of marine animals and continues to threaten untold species in freshwater, according to a preliminary estimate and interviews with scientists.
“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” said Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia who studies the effects of climate change on coastal marine ecosystems. Dr. Harley calculated the death toll based on how many mussels live on a particular shoreline, how much of the area is good habitat for mussels and what fraction of the mussels he observed died. He continues to study the damage and plans to publish a series of papers.
Such extreme conditions will become more frequent and intense, scientists say, as climate change, driven by humans burning fossil fuels, wreaks havoc on animals and humans alike. Hundreds of people died last week when the heat wave parked over the Pacific Northwest. A study by an international team of climate researchers found it would have been virtually impossible for such extremes to occur without global warming.
Just before the heat wave, when Dr. Harley took in the eye-popping weather forecasts, he thought about how low the tide would be at midday, baking the exposed mussels, sea stars and barnacles. When he walked to the beach last week on one of the hottest days, the smell of decay hit him immediately. The scientist in him was excited, he admitted, to see the real-life effect of something he’d been studying for so long.
But his mood quickly changed.
“The more I walked and the more I saw, the more sobering it all became,” Dr. Harley said. “It just went on and on and on.”
The dead sea stars, usually the most eye-catching creatures in tidal pools, hit him particularly hard. But the obvious mass victims were blue mussels, an ecologically important species that feeds sea stars and sea ducks and creates habitat for other animals. Dr. Harley estimated losses for the mussels alone in the hundreds of millions. Factoring in the smaller creatures that live in the mussel beds — barnacles, hermit crabs and other crustaceans, various worms, tiny sea cucumbers — puts the deaths at easily over a billion, he said.
Scientists have only begun to consider the domino effects. One concern is that the sea ducks, which feast on mussels in the winter before migrating to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, will have enough food to survive the journey.
“It’s at least something that we’re starting to think about,” he said.
Species that live in intertidal zones are resilient, he noted, and the mussels on the shady north side of boulders seem to have survived. But if these extreme heat waves become too frequent, species won’t have time to recover.
While the heat wave over the Pacific Northwest has eased, punishing temperatures have persisted across much of the American West. Now, another heat wave appears to be building, only worsening the ongoing drought.
That means biologists are watching river temperatures with alarm. Salmon make an extraordinary migration, often hundreds of miles, from the inland rivers and lakes where they are born, out to sea, and then back again to spawn the next generation. A network of longstanding dams in western states already makes the journey perilous. Now, with climate change worsening heat waves and droughts, scientists say the conditions look grim without intense intervention, which comes with its own risks.
“We are already at critical temperatures three weeks before the most serious heating occurs,” said Don Chapman, a retired fisheries biologist who specialized in salmon and steelhead trout, talking about conditions along the Snake River in Washington, where four dams are the subject of longstanding controversy. “I think we’re headed for disaster.”
The plight of the salmon illustrates a broader danger facing all kinds of species as climate change worsens. Many animals were already struggling to survive because of human activity degrading their habitats. Throw in extreme heat and drought, and their odds of survival diminish.
As an emergency measure, workers with the Idaho Fish and Game agency have begun capturing a variety of endangered sockeye salmon at the Lower Granite dam, putting them into a truck and driving them to hatcheries as a stopgap measure to decide what to do next. (Idaho game officials first tried trucking the adult fish during a heat wave in 2015. It has been done for juvenile salmon on a variety of runs for a variety of reasons.)
In California’s central valley, Jonathan Ambrose, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he wished he could do something similar. The chinook salmon he monitors historically spawned in the mountains. But since the Shasta Dam was built more than three quarters of a century ago, they have adapted by breeding just in front of the mammoth structure, which they cannot cross. The critical problem this year is that the water there is expected to grow too warm for the eggs and juveniles. Previous efforts to secure state or federal funding to transport them past the dam have failed.
“We’re looking at maybe 90 percent mortality, maybe even higher this year,” Mr. Ambrose said.
Elsewhere in California, for the first time since the state built the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery on the Klamath River in 1962 to make up for lost spawning habitat, state biologists will not release the young salmon they have nurtured back into the wild, because they would likely die. Instead, they are spreading a million young salmon among other area hatcheries that could host them until conditions improve.
“I want to find the positives and there are some, but it’s pretty overwhelming right now,” said Dr. Harley, the University of British Columbia marine biologist. “Because if we become too depressed or too overwhelmed, we won’t keep trying. And we need to keep trying.”
The blaze, at a seven-story building where fruit drinks, packing materials and plastic packaging were made, burned for nearly 24 hours.
By Saif Hasnat and Emily Schmall, July 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/09/world/asia/bangladesh-factory-fire.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
DHAKA, Bangladesh — At least 51 people died in a fire on Thursday evening at an industrial building outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, the latest disaster in a country with a long history of unsafe working conditions in its factories.
The authorities warned that the death toll could rise as firefighters continued to sift through the wreckage. At least 200 people were working in the building when the fire broke out, the police said.
The fire, at a seven-story building where fruit drinks and plastic packaging were made, burned for nearly 24 hours, filling the air with thick plumes of black smoke, until it was extinguished on Friday afternoon.
“We have worked so hard to control the fire,” said Dinmoni Sharma, the deputy director of the fire department in Dhaka. “Many are still missing, and we fear that there are more dead bodies. We are still working to recover them.”
It is unknown what the conditions were like inside the building, but some of Bangladesh’s biggest past disasters took place in factories where doors were chained shut to keep workers from slipping away.
Two people inside the building, in the district of Narayanganj, about 10 miles southeast of Dhaka, leapt to their deaths trying to escape the fire, officials said. Emergency workers recovered 49 additional bodies, and at least 25 people were rescued, most of them with injuries.
The police were preparing to file a case against the building’s owner, Hashem Food Limited, a division of the Sajeeb Corporation, a large Bangladeshi packaged foods conglomerate, according to the police superintendent, Jayedul Alam.
Mr. Sharma said that many missing-person reports had been filed by relatives of the factory workers, hundreds of whom gathered in front of the building overnight. Some, clutching photographs of missing relatives, protested, while others vandalized nearby shops and cars as they awaited for news of their loved ones. The police used tear gas to disperse the crowds, local media reported.
People continued to wait for news outside the building late Friday as firefighters searched the upper floors.
Some of the recovered bodies were so badly burned that identification will only be possible by DNA testing, said Gen. Sazzad Hossain, the director-general of the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense.
The district magistrate, Mostain Billah, said that an inquiry would try to determine the cause of the fire. Officials said they suspected that it started in a ground-floor storage area.
Deadly fires have plagued Bangladeshi factories, especially those in its garment industry, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s exports.
A large fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory killed 112 people in November 2012. Iron grills covered the factory windows, and the gate was locked. The next April, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building killed 1,134 people in the garment industry’s biggest disaster in Bangladesh.
After the Rana Plaza disaster, labor and safety standards improved in thousands of factories, with fire alarm and sprinkler systems installed and organized workforces securing slightly better working conditions and pay.
However, despite a public outcry after the tragedies, conditions in many factories have remained largely unchanged, and fires are common. The International Labor Organization said in a 2017 report that Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry.”
Between 2012 and 2019, there were more than 150 fire and other safety episodes connected to the country’s garment industry, according to the Solidarity Center, a workers’ rights organization.
A total of more than 1,300 people died in those incidents, and more than 3,800 people were injured.