Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, October 15, 2021

Free Julian Assange!

Free Speech! • Free Journalists! • Free Press! No to Endless U.S. Wars


Saturday, October 23 

12 Noon to 1:30 pm

Grand Lake Theater, Grand Ave. & Lake Park Ave. Oakland


Nozomi Hayase, Author, “Wikileaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History is Happening”

Andrew Kodama, Exec. Dir. Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center

Dennis Bernstein, Host, KPFA’s Flashpoints

Mickey Huff, Director, Project Censored

Cynthia Papermaster, CodePink/Women for Peace

Rick Sterling, Syria Solidarity Movement

Jeff Mackler, Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; Admin. Comm., UNAC

Rep., SF Labor Council

Tom Lacey, Bay Area Peace and Freedom Party

Shahid Buttar, activist/organizer


With a special rap from 

Jabari Shaw

Taped greetings from…

Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize novelist

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers defendant

Mumia Abu-Jamal, innocent journalist/political prisoner

Noam Chomsky, author

Boots Riley, of The Coup; Director, “Sorry to Bother You”

Sponsor: Freedom for Julian Assange SF Bay Area    Contact jmackler@lmi.net

Co-Sponsors: Courage Foundation (assangedefense.org) • San Francisco Bay Area National Lawyers Guild • Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal • Black Alliance for Peace • Code Pink/Women for Peace, • United National Antiwar Coalition • International Action Center • Syria Solidarity Movement • Peninsula Peace and Justice Center • Peace and Freedom Party • Socialist Action • Green Party of Alameda County • U.S. Peace Council • BAYAN USA • Haiti Action Committee • Socialist Organizer • Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee • Task Force on the Americas • Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center • Workers World Party • Veteran For Peace • San Jose Peace and Justice Center • Women's International League for Peace & Freedom • Bay Action Comm. to Free Julian Assange • Labor Action Comm. to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal • CWA TNG 39521 Pacifica Media Workers Union.

Please forward widely…



Link to Registration:


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: spiritofmandela1@gmail.com


Please endorse now: http://spiritofmandela.org/endorse/



In solidarity,


Dr. A’isha Mohammad


Sekou Odinga


Matt Meyer


Jihad Abdulmumit


– 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.









Thursday, November 11, 2021, San Francisco


Timeline of Events:

12:30-1:00 P.M.

Meet at The Ferry Building, grab signs and get ready to march.

1:00-2:00 P.M.

March along the scenic Embarcadero, the route is two miles, flat and wheelchair accessible

2:00-3:30 P.M.

End at Aquatic Park near Hyde St. Pier for a short rally.

COP26 in Glasgow this November has the stated aim of “uniting the world to tackle climate change”.

Yet at the previous 25 COP conferences since 1995, world leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on this.

We will not accept this failure—governments must act now!

Stop killing us” is the message from XR Global South groups already suffering the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also provide a voice for the millions of species and future generations who cannot speak for themselves.

XR will continue demanding immediate action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in the run up to, during and beyond COP26.

Join us. Together we will tell these leaders to listen.

Bring yourself, friends, colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, children, and community for a demonstration to let the power that be know we are watching them.

We will march with signs, hand crafted puppets, banners, a safety team, and each other to call for our right to safe and healthy planet for future generations by Non-Violent Direct Action.




To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives

End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons

Sign Petition at:








Español  Português

On the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement’s founding, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research launches the online exhibition, Let Cuba Live. 80 artists from 19 countries – including notable cartoonists and designers from Cuba – submitted over 100 works in defense of the Cuban Revolution. Together, the exhibition is a visual call for the end to the decades-long US-imposed blockade, whose effects have only deepened during the pandemic. The intentional blocking of remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions have prevented essential food and medicine from entering the country. Together, the images in this exhibition demand: #UnblockCuba #LetCubaLive

Please contact art@thetricontinental.org if you are interested in organising a local exhibition of the exhibition.






Glen Ford was the most brilliant, courageous and consistent writer and journalist in the Black radical and independent tradition, of his generation – from the Sixties until now.
Cornel West

Glen Ford was the consummate journalist, a man who demanded rigorous analysis of himself and others, and who lived by the dictum of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.
—Margaret Kimberley – co-founder, Black Agenda Report

Anyone who followed or knew Glen Ford was mentored by him. He is one of the few among us who lived by Amilcar Cabral’s iconic words: ’Tell no lies, claim no easy victories!’
Danny Haiphong

Glen’s transition to an ancestor has left a huge hole in our movement, not to mention in the hearts of so many of us.
—Ajamu Baraka

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OR Books



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Kevin Rashid Johnson is Back in Virginia!


Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.


He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.


His new address is:


Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485

Nottoway Correctional Center

2892 Schutt Road

Burkeville, VA 23922




Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!

Major Tillery and his family have set up a new Change.org petition to submit to the Board of Pardons in support his petition to commutation of his sentence to parole while maintaining his legal fight for exoneration and overturning of his conviction.
Major's commutation petition focuses on both his factual innocence as well as his decades of advocacy for other prisoners while serving almost 40 years as a lifer, over 20 of those years in solitary.

Please circulate and support the petition:





Great news for Kevin Cooper, an innocent man 

on San Quentin's death row:




Contact: Governor's Press Office


Friday, May 28, 2021


(916) 445-4571


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:





"The State of Mumia" May 12, 2021

I don’t usually do this. This is discussing my self. I find it far more interesting to tell the stories of other, the revolving globe on which we dwell and the stories spawn by the fragile human condition and the struggles of humanity for liberation.

But I digress, uncomfortably.

This commentary is about the commentator.

Several weeks ago I underwent a medical procedure known as open heart surgery, a double bypass after it was learned that two vessels beating through my heart has significant blockages that impaired heart function.

This impairment was fixed by extremely well trained and young cardiologist who had extensive experience in this intricate surgical procedure.

I tell you I had no clue whatsoever that I suffered from such disease. Now to be perfectly honest, I feel fine.

Indeed, I feel more energetic than usual!

I thank you all, my family and friends, for your love and support.

Onwards to freedom with all my heart.

—Mumia Abu-Jamal

Demand Mumia's Freedom:

Governor Tom Wolf -1(717) 787-2500  Fax 1 (717) 772-8284
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
HarrisburgPA  17120    
After calling the governor, send an online communication about our concerns.   https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#PhoneNumber
Let us know what there response was, Thank you.  Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com


Questions and comments may be sent to: info@freedomarchives.org



This beautiful and powerful exhibit is ongoing 

and can be viewed online at:



A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Video at:


Screen shot from video.




Resources for Resisting Federal Repression

Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests. 

The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page. 

Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.

Emergency Hotlines

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: 

National Hotline

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. 

WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office

We also recommend the following resources: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective






1) Sirhan Sirhan murdered a Kennedy. He could spend less time in prison than this California man

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Oct. 11, 2021

Ruchell Magee (second from right) has been in prison for 50 years, while the shooter of President Ronald Reagan is free.
Ruchell Magee (second from right) has been in prison for 50 years, while the shooter of President Ronald Reagan is free.

On June 5, 1968, Sirhan Sirhan approached Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, brother of former president John F. Kennedy, just after midnight at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He then pulled a gun and shot Kennedy in the head and upper body at close range.


On March 30, 1981, John Hinkley Jr. walked up to then-President Ronald Reagan outside of a Washington, D.C., hotel with gun in hand. He fired multiple shots, striking Reagan in the chest, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the side, District of Columbia police Officer Thomas Delahanty in the neck and White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head, leaving him partially paralyzed.


Hinkley spent 35 years in a mental hospital before being granted conditional release. On Sept. 27, he was freed from court supervision entirely at the age of 66. Sirhan, meanwhile, was deemed eligible for parole on Aug. 27, after 53 years of imprisonment.


In light of the prospect of two would-be presidential assassins walking the Earth as free men, it’s worth inquiring why similar consideration isn’t being given to Ruchell Magee, a Black man who has been imprisoned in California for more than 50 years.


Magee has neither committed nor been convicted of murder. He was first eligible for parole in 1981, but has been denied release ever since. He is 82 and housed at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. At his most recent parole hearing in July, Magee was denied parole for another three years. He will be 85 at his next scheduled hearing.


Magee is no threat to society. He has housing, financial and emotional support networks in place to help him readjust to life on the outside, and yet he remains behind bars.




Magee came to California in late 1962, a refugee from the Jim Crow justice system of Louisiana. Within six months he would be sentenced to life in prison for a $10 robbery where no bodily harm occurred. Magee maintained his innocence, arguing that he was illegally imprisoned over a disagreement gone wrong.


Although Magee never went past seventh grade in school, he studied law in prison and learned to file legal documents in an attempt to have his conviction reversed. Instead, he was retried and convicted a second time.


Magee spent the next few years attempting to legally free himself from what he believed to be a corrupt justice system. His knowledge of the law and his behavior in court (he frequently disrupted proceedings to level charges of racism) made him a thorn in the side of the court.


Those same qualities, however, endeared him to other prisoners who could not afford legal counsel.


This is how Magee wound up on the witness stand of a Marin County courthouse on Aug. 7, 1970. He was testifying in support of a fellow San Quentin Prison inmate when 17-year-old Jonathan Jackson entered the courtroom with a satchel full of guns. Jackson took several hostages, including the judge and prosecutor. His goal was to free his brother George and two other inmates — collectively known as the “Soledad Brothers” — who were charged with killing a prison guard.


Magee, meanwhile, after eight years of legally trying to overturn his unjust conviction, seized on the moment to free himself. He joined with Jackson in the armed escape and fled the courthouse. Prison guards on the scene opened fire at Jackson’s getaway vehicle. The sole survivors of this volley were the prosecutor, who was left paralyzed, and Magee.


Magee was charged along with activist Angela Davis with conspiracy, kidnapping and murder. Worldwide support aided Davis’ acquittal on all charges. Murder charges were eventually dropped against Magee, but he was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison.


And he’s still there.


The longer a person lives, the more medical care they need. This is as true for prisoners as anyone else. In Magee’s case, his care will come from an overburdened and understaffed prison medical system. According to the Public Policy Institute, older prisoners may be a contributing reason for California’s astounding prison health care costs, currently the highest in the nation, at more than three times the national average.


The recidivism rate for prisoners in the U.S. decreases as prisoners get older. It is estimated to be at 5% for persons 50 to 64 and less than 1% by the age of 65, according to Prison Legal News.


Sirhan Sirhan isn’t the only older murderer to be recently granted parole in California. Just weeks ago, David Weidert, who served 40 years for burying a developmentally disabled man alive, was approved for parole.


If these men are considered safe for release, what threat does Magee’s continued incarceration protect us from?


Years ago, Magee took the name Cinque, after the captured African leader of the 1839 rebellion on the slave ship Amistad that killed the ship’s captain. U.S. courts ruled that Cinque and his fellow captives had a right to rebel and fight for their freedom — and the group was freed to return to Africa. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams supported this result.


Two of Robert Kennedy’s sons, meanwhile, support Sirhan Sirhan’s bid for freedom.


Magee does not have the support of former presidents or their families. His only chance at freedom lies with the common sense of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who can release Magee whenever he chooses.


Magee poses no threat to the citizens of California. And his freedom should be given no less consideration than that of the perpetrators of two of America’s most infamous acts of violence.


Thandisizwe Chimurenga is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and author.



2) The Hospital Occupation That Changed Public Health Care

The Young Lords took over Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx on July 14, 1970. Their demand? Accessible, quality health care for all.

By Emma Francis-Snyder, October 11, 2021

Featuring The Young Lords


Screen shot from video

On July 14, 1970, members of the Young Lords occupied Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx — known locally as the “Butcher Shop.” A group of activists, many of them in their late teens and 20s, barricaded themselves inside the facility, demanding safer and more accessible health care for the community.


Originally a Chicago-based street gang, the Young Lords turned to community activism, inspired by the Black Panthers and by student movements in Puerto Rico. A Young Lords chapter in New York soon formed, agitating for community control of institutions and land, as well as self-determination for Puerto Rico. Their tactics included direct action and occupations that highlighted institutional failures.


Through archival footage, re-enactments and contemporary interviews, the documentary above shines a light on the Young Lords’ resistance movement and their fight for human rights. The dramatic takeover of Lincoln Hospital produced one of the first Patient’s Bill of Rights, changing patients’ relationship with hospitals and doctors nationwide.



3) Sally Rooney Declines to Sell Translation Rights to Israeli Publisher

The author of “Beautiful World, Where Are You” turned down an offer from an Israeli publisher to translate the novel to Hebrew, citing her support for Palestinians “in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

By Elizabeth A. Harris, Oct. 12, 2021


“I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” Sally Rooney said.

“I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” Sally Rooney said. Credit...Ellius Grace for The New York Times

The Irish novelist Sally Rooney said on Tuesday that she would not allow the Israeli publishing house that handled her previous novels to publish her most recent book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” because of her support for Palestinian people and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.


In an email, Ms. Rooney said that she was proud to have her first two books, “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends,” published in Hebrew. “Likewise, it would be an honor for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” she said. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”


She added that she knew some would disagree with her decision, “but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”


Her Israeli publisher, Modan Publishing House, said in an email that when it inquired about “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” which was published in English in September, it was told that she wasn’t interested in publishing it in Israel. It said it was not given an explanation.


In her email, Ms. Rooney cited a report published this year by Human Rights Watch that said the actions of the Israeli government meet the legal definition of apartheid, and she expressed her support for the B.D.S. movement, which aims to harness international political and economic pressure on Israel. Supporters say the goal of the B.D.S. movement is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, while critics, including many Israelis, say its real aim is the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Ms. Rooney’s decision was previously reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.


Ms. Rooney is not the first prominent author to decline an offer to publish in Israel. Alice Walker said in 2012 that she would not allow a Hebrew translation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple.” Ms. Walker, who was born in Georgia in 1944, said at the time, “I grew up under American apartheid and this,” she added of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, “was far worse.”


Deborah Harris, a literary agent whose company handles major authors looking to be translated and published in Israel, described Ms. Rooney’s decision as painful and counterproductive.


“When it’s ice cream or when it’s cement, or whatever else it is, it’s one thing, but when it comes to culture, I just have a very, very hard time seeing how this can be productive in changing anything,” Ms. Harris said. “What literature is supposed to do is reach into the hearts and minds of people.”


Those likely to read Ms. Rooney’s work in Israel, Ms. Harris added, are not those who support the policies to which she likely objects. “Her audience here are people who are in total support of a Palestinian state,” Ms. Harris said.


Ms. Rooney’s books have been successful both critically and commercially. Her second novel, “Normal People,” was longlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a television series by BBC Three and Hulu, for which Ms. Rooney was nominated for an Emmy. A TV series based on “Conversations With Friends” is expected to be released next year. All this has come to Ms. Rooney quickly. The author, 30, is sometimes described as more famous than the books she’s written, or as the first great millennial novelist.


“Beautiful World, Where Are You” follows the friendship of two young women, Eileen, an editorial assistant at a literary magazine, and Alice, a novelist whose career raced into fame and success, much in the way that Ms. Rooney’s did. The book has been on the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover fiction for four weeks.


In her statement, Ms. Rooney said that in making this decision not to publish again with Modan, she was “responding to the call from Palestinian civil society,” and she expressed solidarity with Palestinian people “in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”


She added that the Hebrew-language translation rights to the novel are still available, and that if she can find a way to sell them and adhere to the B.D.S. movement’s guidelines, “I will be very pleased and proud to do so.”



4) The Most Important Global Meeting You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Is Now

Countries are gathering in an effort to stop a biodiversity collapse that scientists say could equal climate change as an existential crisis.

By Catrin Einhorn, Oct. 14, 2021

Former forestland in Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo, this year.

Former forestland in Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo, this year. Credit...Galih/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As 20,000 government leaders, journalists, activists and celebrities from around the world prepare to descend on Glasgow for a crucial climate summit starting late this month, another high-level international environmental meeting got started this week. The problem it seeks to tackle: A rapid collapse of species and systems that collectively sustain life on earth.


The stakes at the two meetings are equally high, many leading scientists say, but the biodiversity crisis has received far less attention.


“If the global community continues to see it as a side event, and they continue thinking that climate change is now the thing to really listen to, by the time they wake up on biodiversity it might be too late,” said Francis Ogwal, one of the leaders of the working group charged with shaping an agreement among nations.


Because climate change and biodiversity loss are intertwined, with the potential for both win-win solutions and vicious cycles of destruction, they must be addressed together, scientists say. But their global summits are separate, and one overshadows the other.


“Awareness is not yet where it should be,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a biologist and climate researcher who has helped lead international research into both issues. He calls them “the two existential crises that humankind has elicited on the planet.”


Why biodiversity matters


Apart from any moral reasons for humans to care about the other species on Earth, there are practical ones. At the most basic level, people rely on nature for their survival.


“The diversity of all of the plants and all of the animals, they actually make the planet function,” said Anne Larigauderie, an ecologist who directs a leading intergovernmental panel on biodiversity. “They ensure that we have oxygen in the air, that we have fertile soils.”


Lose too many players in an ecosystem, and it will stop working. The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20 percent, mostly since 1900, according to a major report on the state of the world’s biodiversity published by Dr. Larigauderie’s panel, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. An estimated million species are threatened with extinction, it found.


Climate change is only one driver of biodiversity loss. For now, the major culprit on land is humans destroying habitat through activities like farming, mining and logging. At sea, it’s overfishing. Other causes include pollution and introduced species that drive out native ones.


“When you have two concurrent existential crises, you don’t get to pick only one to focus on — you must address both no matter how challenging,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, an advocacy group. “This is the equivalent of having a flat tire and a dead battery in your car at the same time. You’re still stuck if you only fix one.”


How it works


This week, environment officials, diplomats and other observers from around the world gathered online, and a small group assembled in person in Kunming, China, for the meeting, the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference.


The United States is the only country in the world besides the Vatican that is not a party to the underlying treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, a situation largely attributed to Republican opposition. American representatives participate on the sidelines of the talks, as do scientists and environmental advocates.


Because of the pandemic, the conference has been broken into two parts. While this virtual portion was largely about drumming up political will, nations will meet again in China in the spring to ratify a series of targets aimed at tackling biodiversity loss. The aim will be to adopt a pact for nature akin to the Paris Agreement on climate change, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of the convention.


Last year, officials reported that the world’s nations largely failed to achieve the targets of the previous global agreement on biodiversity, made in 2010.


If the new commitments are not translated into “effective policies and concrete actions,” Ms. Mrema said this week at the meeting, “we risk repeating the failures of the last decade.”


What’s next


The working draft includes 21 targets that act as a blueprint for reducing biodiversity loss. Many are concrete and measurable, others more abstract. None are easy. They include, in summary:


Create a plan, across the entire land and waters of each country, to make the best decisions about where to conduct activities like farming and mining while also retaining intact areas.


Ensure that wild species are hunted and fished sustainably and safely.


Reduce agricultural runoff, pesticides and plastic pollution.


Use ecosystems to limit climate change by storing planet-warming carbon in nature.


Reduce subsidies and other financial programs that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, the estimated amount that governments spend supporting fossil fuels and potentially damaging agricultural practices.


Safeguard at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.


In the lead-up to the conference, that last measure, pushed by environmentalists and a growing number of nations, has received the most attention and resources. Last month, nine philanthropic groups donated $5 billion to the effort, known as 30x30.


“It’s catchy,” said E.O. Wilson, an influential biologist and professor emeritus at Harvard University. He said he hoped 30x30 would be a step on the way to one day conserving half of the planet for nature.


Indigenous groups have watched with hope and worry. Some welcome the expansion, calling for a higher number than 30 percent, while others fear that they will lose the use of their lands, as has happened historically in many areas set aside for conservation.


The debate underscores a central tension coursing through the biodiversity negotiations.


“If this becomes a purely conservation plan for nature, this is going to fail,” said Basile van Havre, a leader, with Mr. Ogwal, of one of the convention’s working groups. “What we need is a plan for nature and people.”


With the global human population still increasing, scientists say that transformational change is required for the planet to be able to sustain us.


“We actually need to see every human endeavor, if you will, through the lens of biodiversity and nature,” Dr. Larigauderie said. Since everyone depends on nature, she noted, “everyone is part of the solution.”



5) Justice Dept. to Investigate Reports of Abuse in Texas’ Juvenile Prisons

Accusations of excessive force, sexual misconduct, and the use of isolation and pepper spray prompted the inquiry into the treatment of incarcerated children.

By Katie Benner, Oct. 13, 2021

The Justice Department’s Texas investigation is part of a goal to overhaul the criminal justice system and address conditions in prisons.
The Justice Department’s Texas investigation is part of a goal to overhaul the criminal justice system and address conditions in prisons. Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said on Wednesday that it was investigating juvenile correctional facilities in Texas over allegations of physical violence, sexual abuse and other mistreatment of children held there.


The investigation, which will also examine the state’s use of isolation and chemicals like pepper spray, is part of a broader effort to overhaul the criminal justice system and address conditions in prisons, a goal that in recent years has had bipartisan support and was pursued by the Obama and Trump administrations before President Biden took office. And it follows other recent Justice Department investigations into adult correctional facilities in states including Georgia and New Jersey.


“Prison conditions and the conditions inside of institutions where young people are detained is a priority issue for the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the division, said at a news conference.


“No child who was sent to a Texas facility for treatment and rehabilitation should be subjected to violence and abuse, nor denied basic services,” she said.


The department opens its inquiries into correctional facilities based on public documents, news reports, social media posts and conversations with people involved in local prison systems that reveal instances of brutal violence and sexual abuse, neglect of the mentally ill, and other serious improprieties.


Ms. Clarke said that the Justice Department investigation into Texas’ five secure juvenile facilities came after at least 11 staff members were arrested and accused of sexually abusing the children in their care, with one arrest as recently as last week. Other staff members reportedly shared pornography with children and paid them in cash and drugs to assault their peers.


“There are also reports of staff members’ use of excessive force on children, including kicking, body-slamming and choking children to the point of unconsciousness,” Ms. Clarke said. She added that there was also an incident last February in which “a staffer reportedly pepper-sprayed a child and placed him in full mechanical restraints, including handcuffs, a belly chain, shackles and a spit mask, and then body-slammed him onto a bed.”


Ms. Clarke said the number of children and teenagers with serious self-injuries in Texas’ secure facilities in 2019 more than doubled from the previous year, and that at least two possible suicides were reported in recent years.


The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, which oversees one of the nation’s largest networks of youth correctional facilities, said that it would fully cooperate with the investigation.


“We all share the same goals for the youth in our care: providing for their safety, their effective rehabilitation, and the best chance for them to lead productive, fulfilling lives,” Camille Cain, the executive director of the Texas department, said in a statement.


While the U.S. Justice Department and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, have opposed each other on several high-profile issues, including the state’s new law banning nearly all abortions, they have both sought to address the problems with the state’s juvenile prisons.


In July, Mr. Abbott asked the Texas Rangers, a division of the state’s Department of Public Safety, to investigate Juvenile Justice Department staff members over allegations of illegal conduct with incarcerated children.


“Child welfare is a bipartisan issue, and that makes it possible to see reform in a politically divided state,” said Brett M. Merfish, the director of youth justice at Texas Appleseed, a criminal justice and legal aid group.


Texas Appleseed worked with another group, Disability Rights Texas, on a complaint that detailed staff-on-youth sexual assault, physical abuse and gang activity at the facilities, as well as chronic understaffing and inadequate mental health care.


The advocacy groups sent their complaint to the Justice Department last fall, and Ms. Merfish said that she was encouraged by the investigation and hoped it signaled the beginning of real change.


“This isn’t a new problem in Texas,” Ms. Merfish said.


Chad E. Meacham, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said that many children are already traumatized when they enter the Texas criminal justice system.


Of the children who arrive at a complex for girls in his district, 86 percent have already survived domestic violence, parental substance abuse or mental illness, Mr. Meacham said. About 63 percent of the girls are immediately placed on suicide watch and more than 90 percent are deemed at risk of sexual exploitation, he said.


“We cannot expect them to thrive once they get out if they emerge from confinement after they’ve been traumatized by sexual abuse, excessive force or incessant isolation,” Mr. Meacham said.


The Justice Department investigation will focus on whether there is a pattern or practice of physical or sexual abuse of children in the Texas facilities, and whether there is a pattern or practice of harm resulting from the excessive use of chemical restraints like pepper spray, excessive use of isolation or a lack of adequate mental health services.


If investigators find evidence of violations, the department could mandate reforms.


Last month the Justice Department opened an investigation into unconstitutional abuses of prisoners in Georgia, prompted by allegations and videos of violence in facilities across the state and a riot at one prison that played out on social media.


The Justice Department has recently imposed reform plans on state prisons in Virginia and New Jersey.



6) Jon Gruden’s Emails Shocked Me. They Shouldn’t Have.

By Ryan Russell, October 13, 2021

Mr. Russell has played football for the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In emails written between 2011 and 2018, Jon Gruden, then an ESPN analyst and past and future N.F.L. head coach, said that the leader of the N.F.L. players union, who is Black, had “lips the size of Michelin tires,” and used homophobic and misogynist language to denigrate people in football including Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner. It says a lot about the culture of football that it took years for these emails to come to light. The emails shocked me, but when I look at the bigger picture, I realize they shouldn’t have.


As a former N.F.L. player who is Black and bisexual, I’m familiar with the culture that Gruden’s comments exemplify, and the complicity of silence within the sports industry that kept his emails under wraps. The culture runs deeper than just one head coach: Gruden’s emails are not just the hateful rant of a bigot, but a written history of the vast mistreatment of marginalized voices throughout the N.F.L.


The long delay in disclosing these emails, coupled with their conversational nature, suggests that others in the N.F.L. are, at best, tolerant of these divisive views. At worst, they share them.


Of course, the language and opinions of Jon Gruden are not the language and opinions of all coaches and football executives. Even so, some have not only shielded, but rewarded, this kind of behavior for years. Many in the league have learned nothing from Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter movement’s influence in sports, the advocacy of the W.N.B.A., Carl Nassib and so many others who have moved the world of sports forward.


Gruden’s resignation this week as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders on the heels of reporting on the emails is merely a reaction to damage that’s already been done. The N.F.L. has to take proactive steps in supporting its players, staff and spectators.


Too often, the burden of trying to fix the league’s shortcomings has been placed on the shoulders of players and players alone. In the conversation around the lack of openly L.G.B.T.Q. players, the question is always, “Are N.F.L. locker rooms ready for an L.G.B.T.Q. player?” It’s never, “What can N.F.L. officials do to make sure that players feel comfortable coming out?”


In the conversation around police brutality and systemic racism affecting Black people and people of color, the question was, “Will players kneeling during the national anthem hurt ticket sales or decrease views?” It wasn’t, “What can coaches and executives do to meaningfully support the causes their players care about?”


Rarely does the conversation focus on executives and owners, the real roots of the league’s continuing disappointments. After all, owners are the ones who hire coaches like Gruden, treating them as football royalty, giving them contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.


At the same time, executives like Goodell “perform” change, rather than actually carrying it out. They add phrases like “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” to end zones, but do little about the fact that in a league where hundreds of players are Black, only three head coaches are Black. The Grudens of the world publicly praise a player’s coming out — “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes him great,” Gruden said in June when Nassib, a defensive end for the Raiders, announced that he was gay — as they use homophobic slurs in private. League officials claim they value equal opportunities for women when so many have been excluded from staff positions.


Talk and performative action is not enough. The remedy to a system that routinely reinforces racism, homophobia and sexism is change, inside and out and top to bottom. Every decision — from hiring coaches to signing players to funding and creating social initiatives — needs to be made with the serious and intentional desire to be diverse, inclusive and long-lasting.


Resignations, words painted onto fields, social media messaging and marketing are shallow and temporary. To fight years of systemic bigotry, we need years of intentionality and accountability. Fortunately, the N.F.L. has more than enough people and funding to make meaningful and long-lasting investments in making football a home to L.G.B.T.Q. people, both out and closeted, to Black people, to people of color and to women. The N.F.L. can and should be a home for everyone.


But the responsibility to create that home should not fall solely on the marginalized. Ultimately, the driving force behind creating an N.F.L. for all has to be those who have benefited from the league’s current culture. To do that, in the words of the N.F.L. end zone message, it takes all of us.



7) The Revolt of the American Worker

By Paul Krugman, Oct. 14, 2021

George Etheredge for The New York Times

All happy economies are alike; each unhappy economy is unhappy in its own way.


In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the economy’s problems were all about inadequate demand. The housing boom had gone bust; consumers weren’t spending enough to fill the gap; the Obama stimulus, designed to boost demand, was too small and short-lived.


In 2021, by contrast, many of our problems seem to be about inadequate supply. Goods can’t reach consumers because ports are clogged; a shortage of semiconductor chips has crimped auto production; many employers report that they’re having a hard time finding workers.


Much of this is probably transitory, although supply-chain disruptions will clearly last for a while. But something more fundamental and lasting may be happening in the labor market. Long-suffering American workers, who have been underpaid and overworked for years, may have hit their breaking point.


About those supply-chain issues: It’s important to realize that more goods are reaching Americans than ever before. The problem is that despite increased deliveries, the system isn’t managing to keep up with extraordinary demand.


Earlier in the pandemic, people compensated for the loss of many services by buying stuff instead. People who couldn’t eat out remodeled their kitchens. People who couldn’t go to gyms bought home exercise equipment.


The result was an astonishing surge in purchases of everything from household appliances to consumer electronics. Early this year real spending on durable goods was more than 30 percent above prepandemic levels, and it’s still very high.


But things will improve. As Covid-19 subsides and life gradually returns to normal, consumers will buy more services and less stuff, reducing the pressure on ports, trucking and railroads.


The labor situation, by contrast, looks like a genuine reduction in supply. Total employment is still five million below its prepandemic peak. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector is still down more than 9 percent. Yet everything we see suggests a very tight labor market.


On one side, workers are quitting their jobs at unprecedented rates, a sign that they’re confident about finding new jobs. On the other side, employers aren’t just whining about labor shortages, they’re trying to attract workers with pay increases. Over the past six months wages of leisure and hospitality workers have risen at an annual rate of 18 percent, and they are now well above their prepandemic trend.


The sellers’ market in labor has also emboldened union members, who have been much more willing than usual to go on strike after receiving contract offers they consider inadequate.


But why are we experiencing what many are calling the Great Resignation, with so many workers either quitting or demanding higher pay and better working conditions to stay? Until recently conservatives blamed expanded jobless benefits, claiming that these benefits were reducing the incentive to accept jobs. But states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.


What seems to be happening instead is that the pandemic led many U.S. workers to rethink their lives and ask whether it was worth staying in the lousy jobs too many of them had.


For America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers — and nonwhite workers in particular — subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.


And it’s not just employers who treat workers harshly. A significant number of Americans seem to have contempt for the people who provide them with services. According to one recent survey, 62 percent of restaurant workers say they’ve received abusive treatment from customers.


Given these realities, it’s not surprising that many workers are either quitting or reluctant to return to their old jobs. The harder question is, why now? Many Americans hated their jobs two years ago, but they didn’t act on those feelings as much as they are now. What changed?


Well, it’s only speculation, but it seems quite possible that the pandemic, by upending many Americans’ lives, also caused some of them to reconsider their life choices. Not everyone can afford to quit a hated job, but a significant number of workers seem ready to accept the risk of trying something different — retiring earlier despite the monetary cost, looking for a less unpleasant job in a different industry, and so on.


And while this new choosiness by workers who feel empowered is making consumers’ and business owners’ lives more difficult, let’s be clear: Overall, it’s a good thing. American workers are insisting on a better deal, and it’s in the nation’s interest that they get it.



8) 10,000 John Deere Workers Walk Off Job as Strike Wave Sweeps US

By Sharon Zhang, October 14, 2021


The largest strike in the U.S. since 2019 began early Thursday morning as over 10,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) union members walked off the job at manufacturing company John Deere.


Warehouse workers from 14 John Deere locations in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia began striking at midnight Thursday. Last month, workers voted 99 percent in favor of a strike; and on Sunday, workers rejected a contract proposal from John Deere, which saw its profits soar during the pandemic.


Employees are frustrated about a host of issues and have rejected several contract offers from John Deere already. They report low wages and long hours, with some workers saying that they’ve been forced to work 10 to 12 hour days Monday through Saturday. The company had laid off and demoted workers before the pandemic and were seemingly unprepared to handle the consumer demand that would surge during the pandemic.


“These are skilled, tedious jobs that UAW members take pride in every day,” said Mitchell Smith, director of UAW Region 8, which covers 103 locals in Southern and Southwestern states. “Strikes are never easy on workers or their families but John Deere workers believe they deserve a better share of the pie, a safer workplace, and adequate benefits.”


Workers are paid a minimum of $19.14 an hour, while the company has reported record profits of $4.7 billion in the first three quarters of 2021 and has paid out hundreds of millions in dividends to its shareholders.


“A lot of what’s been going on in the country over the last couple of years has definitely made people more aware of the disparity between corporate and income inequality. Just massive amounts of corporate greed,” David Schmelzer, a quality control inspector in Illinois and former chairman of UAW Local 79, told The Guardian. “The majority of people want a bigger share of the success of this company, the success that we’ve been a major part of.”


John Deere workers are unhappy with a concession made in contract negotiations in the 1990s, when the company created two tiers of employees so that workers hired after 1997 would receive worse benefits. Only workers hired before 1997 get full pension and health care benefits when they retire; newer hires only get a third of the previous pension and no health care in retirement.


Now, the company is trying to create a third tier that eliminates pension completely, which has outraged workers.


“There is much more anger. We are tired. We are tired of making pennies. Tired of spending more time in the building than with our family. We have given them so much of our life,” one worker told Labor Notes reporter Jonah Furman. “We have some in their 70s still working for the healthcare. We don’t want a two tier. They are trying to create a three tier. We will not sell out our younger brothers and sisters.”


John Deere has said in a statement that they are “committed” to reaching an agreement with union members. “We will keep working day and night to understand our employees’ priorities and resolve this strike, while also keeping our operations running for the benefit of all those we serve,” said John Deere vice president of labor relations Brad Morris. The company has prepared salaried workers to cross the picket line.


The strike comes as a wave of strikes appears to be sweeping the country. Between John Deere, Kellogg’s, Kaiser Permanente and film and television workers, over 100,000 workers are striking or have threatened strikes in recent weeks. August also saw a record number of resignations, with 4.3 million workers quitting their jobs, many of them retail or hospitality workers. With job creation slowing, workers are flexing their power as the labor movement appears to be reawakening in the U.S.



9) More Lead-Tainted Water in Michigan Draws Attention to Nation’s Aging Pipes

The crises in Benton Harbor and Flint expose broader failures as a congressional push to address the country’s troubled water system stalls.

By Mitch Smith, Oct. 16, 2021

“About 45 percent of residents in Benton Harbor live in poverty, and the school system is faltering. Like Flint, Benton Harbor spent time under state-appointed emergency management. And just two years ago, Ms. Whitmer tried to close Benton Harbor High School before backing down amid protests.”

The Rev. Edward Pinkney, a pastor in Benton Harbor, delivered bottled water to residents’ doorsteps.

The Rev. Edward Pinkney, a pastor in Benton Harbor, delivered bottled water to residents’ doorsteps. Credit...Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — During the three years that officials have known about dangerous amounts of lead flowing from faucets in Benton Harbor, Mich., they have sent out notices, distributed filters and tried to improve water treatment. But the problems persisted, and some residents said they never heard about the risks of the toxic water coming from their taps.


Now, in scenes reminiscent of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., state officials have told Benton Harbor residents not to drink, cook or brush their teeth with tap water. Elected officials came to town Thursday promising help. And so many cars have turned out for bottled water giveaways that traffic has been snarled, a rarity in a place with 9,100 residents.


“It’s horrible to watch, to see my city like this,” Rosetta Valentine, 63, said as she directed traffic at a water distribution site where some people lined up nearly an hour before the event started.


Residents of Benton Harbor see parallels between their plight and the water crisis that unfolded less than three hours up the highway in Flint, also a majority-Black city, where a change in the water source in 2014 led to residents drinking contaminated water despite repeated assurances that it was safe. In Benton Harbor, where thousands of homes are connected to the water system by lead pipes, efforts to bring down problematic lead readings by using corrosion controls have so far failed, and officials have recently grown concerned that lead-removing filters given to residents since 2019 might not work.


The problems in Benton Harbor and Flint are extreme examples of a broader, national failure of water infrastructure that experts say requires massive and immediate investment to solve. Across the country, in cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Clarksburg, W.Va., Americans are drinking dangerous quantities of brain-damaging lead as agencies struggle to modernize water treatment plants and launch efforts to replace the lead service lines that connect buildings to the water system. Health officials say there is no safe level of lead exposure.


“We’ve basically just been living off our great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ investments in our water infrastructure and not been dealing with these festering problems,” said Erik D. Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group that pressed for faster action to address the contamination in Benton Harbor. He added that the lead problem was just part of “this ticking time bomb we have underground of lead pipes, of water mains that are bursting.”


President Biden has made replacing lead pipes a priority, and the infrastructure bill currently languishing in Congress would set aside billions of dollars to address that and other problems with the country’s water systems. The bill, which has some Republican support, includes about $55 billion to improve water systems, though other Republicans have expressed concerns about the costs.


But amid uncertainty about whether that bill and an expansive domestic policy package will pass, and about how much money would eventually make it to small communities like this one, the prospect of congressional help feels remote to many in Benton Harbor.


“It’s too distant and they’re going to do what they do anyway — I can’t sit here and sweat that,” said the Rev. Edward Pinkney, a pastor in Benton Harbor who was delivering bottled water to residents’ doorsteps, and who said he holds Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, responsible for fixing the problem.


Many American cities face severe water problems. In Newark, N.J., where lead problems were allowed to fester, a yearslong effort to replace lead pipes is nearly complete. But lead is only one of the growing issues in local water systems. In Wichita, Kan., hundreds of thousands of people were placed under a boil water advisory this month after a decades-old pipe burst. In Jackson, Miss., a winter storm this year froze pipes and placed much of the city under a boil advisory for weeks. And in parts of the American West, lengthy droughts have exacerbated water shortages, forcing painful decisions about how much farmers and other customers can use.


The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s water infrastructure a C-minus grade this year, describing the national system as “aging and underfunded” despite recent efforts to invest in improvements. Emily Feenstra, the group’s managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives, said the legislation in Congress offered an opportunity to make up for lost time in fixing those crumbling systems, especially in small cities that may lack the resources or expertise to make changes on their own.


“It is an urgent problem: It’s something that we have a huge opportunity to address right now with this infrastructure bill,” Ms. Feenstra said. “As we kick the can down the road by just kind of doing the bare minimum, the costs rise exponentially.”


In Benton Harbor, state officials said Thursday that they would continue distributing free bottled water, and Ms. Whitmer, who is up for re-election next year, set an 18-month goal for replacing the lead pipes connecting homes to the water system. That process will cost almost $30 million and had once been expected to take years. But the water problems in Benton Harbor are not new, and questions have mounted about why city, state and federal officials did not take more aggressive action sooner.


“If I had a magic wand, I would solve every problem that’s plaguing the city of Benton Harbor as we speak,” Mayor Marcus Muhammad said. “However, government doesn’t work that way. The city of Benton Harbor is a creature of the state, and the state is a creature of the federal government.”


Asked whether the steps taken Thursday should have occurred when officials learned of the city’s high lead levels three years ago, Elizabeth Hertel, the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said she couldn’t say.


“To be honest, these should have been replaced years ago, and we shouldn’t even be in the position that we’re in, but we are,” said Ms. Hertel, who said the proposed federal infrastructure funds would help address faltering systems across Michigan.


Michigan’s lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, said Thursday during a visit to Benton Harbor that the state had been working with the city since 2018 on water issues but that “those efforts had not yet fully addressed the challenge.” He said the decisions to provide bottled water and speed up lead line replacement were “an appropriate escalation of that response.”


Benton Harbor, which sits across Lake Michigan from Chicago, has a proud manufacturing history, a championship golf course and a downtown showing signs of revival. But the city has endured decades of disinvestment and hardship.


Some residents said they saw what happened several years ago in Flint and began worrying about the water quality. Some people in Benton Harbor stopped drinking the tap water long ago. Some had complaints about the taste. Others grew worried in recent years as test after test came back showing Benton Harbor well above the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion in 10 percent of samples.


But other residents, like Michael Johnson, who watched from his porch as cars lined up for a water giveaway, are only now finding out about the risks their tap water poses. The problems have lingered for years, but the response has ramped up dramatically in recent weeks. Last month, local and national environmental groups petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which last year gave the city a grant to start replacing lead pipes, to intervene more aggressively in Benton Harbor. Ms. Whitmer pledged millions in state money to fix lead lines. Then came the warnings not to drink the tap water.


“I’ve been kind of scared,” Mr. Johnson, 50, said. “I’ve been drinking a lot of juice since the day before yesterday, too, trying to stay away from the tap.”


About 45 percent of residents in Benton Harbor live in poverty, and the school system is faltering. Like Flint, Benton Harbor spent time under state-appointed emergency management. And just two years ago, Ms. Whitmer tried to close Benton Harbor High School before backing down amid protests.


For many in the city, the water is just one more indignity. And some cannot help but wonder if the situation would be different if Benton Harbor’s population were wealthier or whiter. Across the bridge in St. Joseph, a majority-white city, there is no such water emergency.


“Some people are still alive where the Blacks had their water fountain and the whites had theirs,” said Duane L. Seats II, Benton Harbor’s mayor pro-tem and the pastor of a church hosting bottled water giveaways. “So what’s the difference in this situation now?”


It has all been frightening, said Erica Moss, 26, a mother of four, who started buying up bottled water recently after hearing about the elevated lead levels on Facebook. Lead is known to damage the brain and nervous system, impair growth and contribute to behavioral problems, with especially severe effects in children.


“It’s always a problem here going on — it’s always something going on in Benton Harbor,” said Ms. Moss, who expressed doubt that a fix would materialize any time soon. “I was shocked, but not shocked at the same time.”



10) U.S. Pledges to Pay Family of Those Killed in Botched Kabul Drone Strike

The Pentagon offered unspecified amounts to relatives of the 10 civilians who died in Aug. 29 attack and agreed to help relocate those who want to move to the U.S.

By Eric Schmitt, Oct. 15, 2021

An Afghan woman whose father and fiancé both died in the last U.S. drone strike in Kabul before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
An Afghan woman whose father and fiancé both died in the last U.S. drone strike in Kabul before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon offered unspecified condolence payments this week to the family of the 10 civilians, including seven children, who the military has acknowledged were mistakenly killed on Aug. 29 in the last U.S. drone strike before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan.


In a statement released late Friday, the Pentagon also said it was working with the State Department to help surviving members of the family relocate to the United States.


The offers were made in a virtual meeting on Thursday between Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, and Steven Kwon, the founder and president of Nutrition & Education International, the aid organization that employed Zemari Ahmadi, the driver of a white Toyota sedan that was struck by the American drone.


Senior Defense Department officials and military commanders conceded last month that Mr. Ahmadi had nothing to do with the Islamic State, contrary to what military officials had previously asserted. Mr. Ahmadi’s only connection to the terrorist group appeared to be a fleeting and innocuous interaction with people in what the military believed was an Islamic State safe house in Kabul, an initial link that led military analysts to make one misjudgment after another while tracking Mr. Ahmadi’s movements in the sedan for the next eight hours.


“Dr. Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake and that Mr. Zemari Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces,” said the statement from John F. Kirby, the Defense Department’s chief spokesman.


Mr. Kirby said Dr. Kwon had recounted Mr. Ahmadi’s work with the aid group over many years as an electrical engineer, “providing care and lifesaving assistance for people facing high mortality rates in Afghanistan.”


The Pentagon statement came after Mr. Ahmadi’s family members in Kabul complained that American officials had not contacted them about relocating to the United States or offering condolence payments.


Pentagon officials said on Friday that no specific amount for condolence payments was discussed in Thursday’s meeting, but that it would be in future discussions between the department and the aid organization and its lawyers, who are acting on behalf of the family in Afghanistan.


Congress has authorized the Pentagon to pay up to $3 million a year for payments to compensate for property damage, personal injury or deaths related to the actions of U.S. armed forces, as well as for “hero payments” to the family members of local allied forces, such as Afghan or Iraqi troops fighting Al Qaeda or ISIS.


Condolence payments for deaths caused by the American military have varied widely in recent years. In fiscal 2019, for instance, the Pentagon offered 71 such payments — ranging from $131 to $35,000 — in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, days and weeks after the drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of the sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in the densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said.


Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of Central Command, said in a news conference last month that the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that ISIS was about to attack Hamid Karzai International Airport, as the organization had done three days earlier, killing about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.


The acknowledgment of the mistaken strike came a week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for the airport.


Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered a review of the military’s inquiry into the drone strike to determine, among other issues, who should be held accountable and “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”


The task has been assigned to Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, the Air Force inspector general, and is expected to be completed next month. In the meantime, Mr. Austin, a retired four-star Army general, has ordered that any further airstrikes in Afghanistan receive his approval.


“Nothing can bring Zemari or these other precious people back, but we appreciate the opportunity to discuss these devastating losses in detail with senior Defense Department officials,” Dr. Kwon said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the aid group. “We hope they will act urgently to get surviving family members and impacted N.E.I. employees to safety and to help them to rebuild their lives.”