Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, October 18, 2021

Massive Strike by 300,000 Metalworkers in South Africa

Panel Discussion and Film Showing

Thursday, October 21, 7:00 p.m.
(Zoom information below)

On Tuesday, October 6, NUMSA (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa), the largest union in South Africa, went on strike to demand a living wage. The situation threatens to develop into a general strike engulfing all of South Africa. 

NUMSA demands a living wage of R 12,500 a month (about $800) - the same demand made by the Marikana Miners, who were gunned down by the ANC (African National Congress) government on August 16, 2012 in the worst massacre in South African history since Sharpeville, in 1960. 

Join us for an educational film showing and panel discussion in support of the striking workers!

Film showing: "Miners Shot Down", about the Marikana Massacre of 2012

Panel Discussion:

- Strike Update
- The Marikana Massacre and its connection to the strike
- The ANC's betrayal of the South African working class

With a Message from Mumia Abu-Jamal

Sponsored by the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

Topic: NUMSA Strike Panel Discussion / Film Screening
Time: Oct 21, 2021 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 842 8351 5133
Passcode: 567415
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   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

and get 15% off

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.”



11) In the Trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s Accused Killers, Unsettling Video Will Have a Starring Role

Three white men are charged in the death of Arbery, an unarmed Black man, in a coastal Georgia suburb. Jury selection begins on Monday.

By Richard Fausset, Oct. 17, 2021

A protester holds up an image of Ahmaud Arbery during a march in St. Paul, Minn., before the trial of Derek Chauvin. Like that case, the trial of Mr. Arbery’s accused killers is likely to be charged with raw emotion and allegations of racism.

A protester holds up an image of Ahmaud Arbery during a march in St. Paul, Minn., before the trial of Derek Chauvin. Like that case, the trial of Mr. Arbery’s accused killers is likely to be charged with raw emotion and allegations of racism. Credit...Tim Evans/NurPhoto, via Associated Press

ATLANTA — The three white Georgia men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery have already come in for harsh judgment from the highest of places. Donald Trump called the slaying of Mr. Arbery, an unarmed Black man, “disturbing.” Barack Obama described it as an example of enduring racial injustice. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, called it “absolutely horrific.”


In the coming days, a dozen jurors in the small coastal city of Brunswick, Ga., will be called on to judge the actions of the three suspects, Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52. Their pursuit of Mr. Arbery, 25, through their Brunswick suburb after suspecting him of a series of break-ins ended with a brief fight in which Travis McMichael fired his shotgun at Mr. Arbery at close range.


The release of a graphic video of the February 2020 shooting, recorded by Mr. Bryan, sparked nationwide protest and prompted the State Legislature to make significant changes to Georgia criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute. On Monday, attention will turn back to Brunswick, where jury selection is set to begin in the murder trial of the three men — the first chapter in a courtroom drama likely to be charged with raw emotion and allegations of racism.


With an unsettling video playing a starring role, the trial will bear similarities to that of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murder in April after a bystander video showed him kneeling for roughly nine minutes on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.


But with its fraught themes of self-defense — and questions about the point at which neighborhood vigilance lapses into vigilantism — the trial is also likely to echo the 2013 case of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.


“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Mark O’Mara, who represented Mr. Zimmerman in that trial, which, like the Floyd case, was closely watched as a barometer of matters of race and justice in 21st-century America. “You have somebody who was watching after their neighborhood, if you want to use that generic phrase, and saw somebody who they thought didn’t belong there, and took it within their own hands to do something about it.”


Lee Merritt, the lead counsel in a civil lawsuit brought by the Arbery family, blasted what were expected to be the defense’s arguments during the trial, particularly the idea that Travis McMichael acted out of self-defense. “It’s a simple fundamental principle of law,” Mr. Merritt said. “The aggressor is the person or persons that initiates the encounter. Here, these men pursued Ahmaud based on a hunch, and when he fled they trapped him.”


Mr. Arbery, a habitual jogger, was captured on security camera video in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, a couple of miles from his own house, on a Sunday afternoon.. One video shows him walking into a house under construction on the McMichaels’ street. The half-built home was one that Mr. Arbery had entered on other occasions, based on other camera footage, although there is no evidence that he ever did more than look around the property.


According to a police report, Gregory McMichael, a former investigator in the local prosecutor’s office, saw Mr. Arbery in the house and thought he looked like a man suspected of several break-ins in the area. He called to Travis, his son, a Navy veteran and boat-tour operator. The elder Mr. McMichael grabbed a handgun; his son, a shotgun. The two jumped into a truck and gave chase and were eventually joined by Mr. Bryan, who drove his own truck. Mr. Arbery, a former high school football player, tried to run from them.


Eventually, the pursuers cut off Mr. Arbery’s escape routes. Mr. Bryan’s video shows Gregory McMichael standing in a truck bed on the phone with 911, and Travis in the street next to the truck, holding his shotgun. Mr. Arbery runs around the truck, then runs straight toward Travis McMichael. The first of three shotgun blasts can be heard going off soon after the two men clash.


The three pursuers walked free for weeks afterward, while one of the prosecutors handling the case initially determined that they had broken no laws. They were eventually arrested as national attention and outrage grew. Both the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan have pleaded not guilty. They were denied bond and have been waiting for their day in court for more than a year in a Glynn County jail.


All three men have also been indicted under federal hate crime and kidnapping laws.


Jason V. Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, said he will argue in the state trial that Mr. Arbery tried to take Mr. McMichael’s shotgun away, and in so doing, placed Mr. McMichael “in fear of being shot himself.”


A second, and perhaps more remarkable, pillar of the defense strategy will be its reliance on Georgia’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute, which came under scrutiny as a result of Mr. Arbery’s killing and was significantly weakened earlier this year by the Republican-controlled State Legislature.


The defense lawyers, said Ronald L. Carlson, emeritus professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, will be “trying to convince the jury that these folks honestly believed that there was a burglary suspect running in the neighborhood.” Under the old citizen’s arrest law, Mr. Carlson noted, a private person is allowed to arrest someone if a felony is committed in that person’s presence “or within his immediate knowledge.” The person seeking to make the arrest must also have “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”


The prosecution is being handled by the Cobb County, Ga., district attorney’s office, where a spokesperson declined to comment last week. In court documents, prosecutors have said that the three men had tried to “unlawfully” detain Mr. Arbery, who had been “unable to escape the strange men” and “was forced to face the man who was pointing a shotgun at his chest.”


Mr. Merritt said that prosecutors were also likely to argue that the three men were motivated by racism. In a June 2020 hearing, a Georgia state criminal investigator testified that Mr. Bryan said he heard Travis McMichael use a racist epithet soon after firing his shotgun. The investigator said Mr. McMichael had used racist language in numerous previous social media posts and text messages.


Mr. Sheffield refuted the idea that the incident was about race. “There is no doubt that racism is still alive and well not only in Georgia, but all across the country. So when this case came up, it instantly felt like that same old narrative of Southern racism,” he said in a recent interview. But he said the jury would come to see that the defendants were motivated by “a common concern in their neighborhood about the ongoing crime, and that they were simply trying to assist law enforcement in putting an end to it.”


Defense attorneys recently asked Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley to exclude from trial photos of a vanity license plate on Travis McMichael’s pickup truck of the old Georgia state flag, which features the Confederate battle flag symbol.


The judge has not ruled on that motion, but he has issued two other rulings that do not help the defendants. One prevents discussions of Mr. Arbery’s serious mental health issues. Another prevents the defense from bringing up Mr. Arbery’s past criminal record, including guilty pleas for shoplifting and taking a gun onto a high school campus.


From the beginning of the case, there have been suspicions that elements of the local justice system had favored the three pursuers. In September, Jackie Johnson, the former chief prosecutor for the area who briefly handled the case, was indicted on charges of violating her oath and obstructing a police officer. Among other things, the indictment said that she showed “favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael, who had worked previously in her office.



12) Squid Game, Capitalist Game

By Chris Gilbert, October 15, 2021


Still from Squid Game. (Netflix)

What would you call a society in which everybody is an equal, everyone gets a fair chance, but is at the same time cruel and destructive in a way never before seen in history? The new Korean series Squid Game models this kind of social situation in an abstract way: It depicts a scenario in which debt-ridden people play a series of children’s games to potentially win a huge jackpot, if they advance (or die, if they lose).

I believe that Squid Game is one of the best aesthetic depictions of the essential situation of capitalism: it reveals the destructive social fabric that capitalism generates, especially the profound barbarism that exists in our society behind the thinnest of veneers. It is hardly surprising that the series comes from South Korea, a country that has undergone capitalist development in one of its purest, most savage versions recently.

The “updated” children’s games that appear in the series have much in common with modern team sports, almost all of which – soccer, American football, basketball, and baseball among others – were born in the nineteenth-century epoch of industrial capitalism in the US and the UK. What is remarkable about these games is not play, which even animals do, but rules. The concepts of fair play and an equal playing field both belong to this new world of rule-based interactions, reflecting the novel social situation typical of capitalism in which birth status, station, and caste do not, in principle, affect one’s position in the society. This differs sharply from the feudal, tributary, and slave-based societies that preceded capitalism.

Needless to say, a formally “equal playing field” – both in the series and in sports – does not guarantee a fair outcome. As if to underline the parallels between team sports and capitalism, winning sports teams today, which are billion-dollar industries, are usually those with the most money. The Nation’s sports editor David Zirin has eloquently expressed this contradiction between abstract rules that are fair versus unfair concrete reality by saying: sports are built on the myth of inclusion and the reality of exclusion. Ditto for capitalism.

From Europe, capitalism spread throughout the world, and much of capitalism’s culture, including modern sports, went along with it. South Korea has lived through one of the most accelerated processes of capitalist development in recent times, having gone from a backward country to a world leader in the space of just a half century. A cruel war, instigated by the US, in which more than five million people died, provided a training ground for key principles of capitalist behavior: no one will help you, to lose is to die.

In the series, the rich (the VIP spectators) are depicted as animals, insofar as they wear buffalo, bear, owl, and lion facemasks. More importantly, they are driven by mere appetites and a hunger for blood sport. This is also true of the capitalist situation. Animal instincts are raised to a guiding principle, while rational planning, affection, and care must take the backseat. The rich are neither really free nor fully human – they must, after all, pursue profit or sink and lose their class status.

Meanwhile, both in the series and in reality, the only glimpses we get of truly human gestures take place among the oppressed. Hence, we are offered a brief window in the series on a different, more positive type of social relation when desperate players make nearly suicidal decisions, for instance, not to finish off a losing opponent. The rich see these expressions of solidarity as plain crazy; they cannot understand them. Their preferred relation to human beings is neatly summarized by the human furniture they employ in the VIP lounge.

The series’ creators seem to be more than aware of the meaning of the parable they offer us. In a telling moment, for example, the Squid Game players vote to end the games and return to their daily lives. Yet they all come back to the games very soon. They conclude that the hellish situation outside is not at all different from the one inside. Similarly, viewers of the series need only look away briefly from the screen to confirm that the same hellish principles apply in their own reality.

Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.



13) Biden Administration Plans New Regulations for Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’

Michael Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, wants to limit a class of chemicals that has been linked to cancer and is found in everything from drinking water to furniture.

By Lisa Friedman, Oct. 18, 2021

Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator who was previously served as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, said reining in PFAS has been one of his priorities.

Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator who was previously served as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, said reining in PFAS has been one of his priorities. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday said it would require chemical manufacturers to test and publicly report the amount of a family of chemicals known as PFAS that is contained in household items like tape, nonstick pans and stain-resistant furniture, the first step toward reducing their presence in drinking water.


Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS refers to more than 4,000 man-made chemicals that are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to certain cancers, weakened immunity, thyroid disease, and other health effects.


Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview that regulating PFAS has been one of his priorities. He previously served as the top environmental regulator in North Carolina where startlingly high concentrations of the chemicals were found in several sources of public drinking water.


“PFAS contamination has been devastating communities for decades. I saw this first hand in North Carolina,” Mr. Regan said. He recounted visiting with mothers unsure if their children’s drinking water was safe, and caregivers wondering if a loved one’s terminal illness was associated with exposure to the chemicals.


The new E.P.A. testing requirements will go into effect “in a matter of weeks,” Mr. Regan said. The agency did not provide an estimate of the cost to manufacturers but Mr. Regan said it is a cost that industry, not taxpayers, should bear.


“It could be expensive, but it’s necessary,” Mr. Regan said. “It’s time for manufacturers to be transparent and provide the American people with this level of detail,” he said.


Thousands of chemicals classified as PFAS are ubiquitous in consumer products because they increase resistance to heat, stains, water and grease. The E.P.A. plans to group the chemicals into 20 subcategories based on shared characteristics. By the end of 2021, the E.P.A. will require manufacturers to test chemicals from each grouping, which the agency said will yield data on more than 2,000 PFAS to inform E.P.A. plans going forward.


Mr. Regan will announce the new policies at North Carolina State University in Raleigh flanked by local officials including Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.


The E.P.A. announced additional regulatory steps it intends to formally propose by 2022 that involve PFAS, Mr. Regan said.


The list, which the E.P.A. described as a “road map” includes setting legal limits for safe levels of PFAS in drinking water, which the chemical industry tentatively supports; designating it as a hazardous substance under the laws that govern toxic Superfund sites, which industry opposes; and increasing monitoring and research.


Meanwhile the Department of Defense, is expected to review how to clean PFAS contamination at nearly 700 military installations and National Guard locations by the end of 2023. The chemicals are in a foam used at military installations and by civilian firefighters to extinguish fires.


The E.P.A. has set a lifetime health advisory for two types of PFAS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion — essentially cautioning that sustained exposure above that level could cause adverse effects. Agency officials said it is too soon to say whether the E.P.A. will recommend that threshold or a different one when it develops formal drinking water limits.


The American Chemistry Council, a trade organization, noted that about 600 chemicals in the PFAS category are used to manufacture products like solar panels and cellphones, and said alternative materials might not be available to replace them. “The American Chemistry Council supports the strong, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances. But all PFAS are not the same, and they should not all be regulated the same way,” Erich Shea, a spokesman for the organization, said in a statement.


Environmentalists said they don’t believe there is a safe level of PFAS in drinking water.


Kemp Burdette, 47, works for Cape Fear River Watch in Wilmington, N.C., where he used to encourage people to drink tap water to avoid using disposable plastic bottles. Then he discovered that PFAS levels in the local tap water had reached as high as 6,000 parts per trillion, the result of years of contaminated wastewater discharged into the Cape Fear River by a Dupont plant, later owned by The Chemours Company.


“All of a sudden you’re like, ‘What’s in the water? What is this stuff? How long have we been drinking it’?” Mr. Burdette said. “My kids were drinking that water all their lives.”


The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, then under the leadership Mr. Regan, ultimately reached an agreement requiring Chemours to pay a $13 million fine.


A spokesman for Chemours referred questions to the American Chemistry Council.


President Biden has called for about $10 billion in funding to address PFAS contamination through a bipartisan infrastructure package and a separate budget bill that Congress has been struggling to approve.



14) As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores

A push in the Buffalo area could produce the first union at company-owned stores in the U.S. But backers say moves by management are having a chilling effect.

By Noam Scheiber, Oct. 18, 2021

A Starbucks location that is being used for training in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Workers at three other stores in the Buffalo area are seeking to unionize.
A Starbucks location that is being used for training in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Workers at three other stores in the Buffalo area are seeking to unionize. Credit...Libby March for The New York Times

BUFFALO — During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.


But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.


“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”


Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.


Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.


“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”


None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.


According to the National Labor Relations Board, union elections are supposed to be conducted under “laboratory conditions,” in which workers can vote in an environment free of intimidation, in an election process that is not controlled by the employer.


Former labor board officials say the company’s actions could cause an election to be set aside on these grounds should the union lose.


“You could say it’s part of an overall series of events that seems to create a tendency that people would be chilled or inhibited,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a chairwoman of the board during the Obama administration.


A labor board official recently recommended that a union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama be overturned for similar reasons, but Mr. Borges said Starbucks did not believe anything it had done would warrant overturning an election.


Starbucks has faced union campaigns before, including efforts in the early 2000s in New York City and in 2019 in Philadelphia, where the firing of two employees involved in union organizing was deemed unlawful by a labor board judge. Starbucks has appealed the ruling.


Though none of the campaigns were successful in this country, a Starbucks-owned store in Canada recently unionized, and some stores owned by other companies that have licensing agreements with Starbucks are unionized.


Many of the ways Starbucks has responded in Buffalo — where union backers seek to become part of Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union — are typical of employers. The measures include holding meetings with employees in which company officials question the need for a third party to represent them.


Starbucks is also seeking to persuade the labor board to require that workers at all 20 Buffalo-area stores take part in the election, rather than allow stores to vote individually, arguing that employees can spend time at multiple locations. (Union organizers typically favor voting in smaller units to increase the chance of gaining a foothold in at least some locations.) The board is likely to rule on this question and set an election date in the coming weeks.


But some of the company’s actions during the union campaign are unorthodox, according to labor law experts. “A huge increase in staffing, shutting down stores, it’s all unusual,” said Matthew Bodie, a law professor at St. Louis University who is a former labor board attorney.


A recent visit to a Starbucks near the airport, where workers have filed for a union election, turned up at least nine baristas behind the counter but only a handful of customers.


“It’s insane,” said Alexis Rizzo, a longtime Starbucks employee who has been a leader of the organizing campaign at the store. “Even if you’re just trying to run to the back to grab a gallon of milk, you now have to run an obstacle course to fit between all the folks who have no real reason to be there.”


Ms. Rizzo said the number of employees in the store at once — which she said had run into the teens — made those who predate the union election filing feel outnumbered and demoralized. “It’s intimidating,” she said. “You go to work and it’s just you and 10 people you don’t know.”


Starbucks said the additional personnel were intended to help the store after an uptick in workers who were out sick.


Some of the additional employees have come to the airport location from a nearby store that Starbucks recently turned into a training facility. That store does not have an election petition pending, but many of its workers have pledged support for the union effort, and some feel separated and disoriented as well.


“Initially, people thought our store could use a little reset,” said Colin Cochran, a pro-union employee at the store that was turned into a training facility, who has mostly been assigned to other locations since then. “As it’s dragged out and we’re getting sent to more and more other stores, it’s been frustrating. We want to see each other again.”


Workers said their anxiety had been heightened by the sudden appearance of new managers and company officials from out of town.


In a video of a meeting in September, a district manager in Arizona tells co-workers that the company has asked her to spend time in Buffalo over the next 90 days. “There’s a huge task force out there that’s trying to fix the problem because if Buffalo, N.Y., gets unionized, it will be the first market in Starbucks history,” the district manager says in the video, provided by a person at the meeting and viewed by The New York Times. When someone asks if the task force is a “last-ditch effort to try and stop it,” the district manager responds, “Yeah, we’re going to save it.”


Will Westlake, a barista in a Buffalo suburb called Hamburg, where workers have also filed for a union election, said a store log showed that several company officials from outside the Buffalo area had been to the store during the past six weeks. Included were at least seven visits from Rossann Williams, Starbucks’ president of retail for North America.


The officials sometimes work on laptops facing the baristas, sometimes join them behind the bar to work and inquire about the store, and sometimes perform menial tasks like cleaning the bathroom, Mr. Westlake said. He said that many of his co-workers felt intimidated by these officials and that he found the presence of Ms. Williams “surreal.”


Starbucks said that many of the officials were regional leaders and coaches who were helping to solve operational issues and remodel stores, and that they were part of a companywide effort dating to May, when Covid-19 infection rates declined and stores across the country got busier.


“The resurgence of business came so fast we were not prepared,” Ms. Williams said in an interview.


The company says that it has added staffing in a number of cities beyond Buffalo, especially in the Midwest and the Mountain West, and that it brought on an additional recruiter in each of its 12 regions in the spring to expedite hiring. It said it had turned about 40 stores around the country into temporary training facilities.


On a Saturday in October, Ms. Williams visited the training store, saying little as she stood behind a group of workers while a trainer instructed them at the bar.


Later, seated outside the store to discuss her work in Buffalo, she waved off the idea that temporarily shutting down a store or making other significant changes might compromise the union election’s laboratory conditions.


“If I went to a market and saw the condition some of these stores are in, and I didn’t do anything about it, it would be so against my job,” she said. “There’s no way I could come here and say I’m not going to do anything.”



15) Despite Outcry, Japanese Prime Minister Urges Swift Release of Fukushima Wastewater Into Sea

South Korea has said the release of the radioactive wastewater poses a "grave threat" to marine life.

By JULIA CONLEY, October 18, 2021


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant over the weekend. (Photo: Prime Minister's Office of Japan/Twitter)

A South Korean official on Monday denounced Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's call to begin releasing contaminated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea starting in 2023.


Kishida, who took office last month, visited the plant over the weekend and said the plan to release more than one million tonnes of water into the sea over 30 years should not be delayed.


The radioactive wastewater has continued to accumulate at the power plant site since three nuclear reactors melted down after the March 2011 tsunami, forcing the evacuation of more than 150,000 people.


"I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back," Kishida told reporters.


According to The Times, South Korean officials, who continue to ban seafood imports from the region due to safety concerns, were not consulted by Kishida's government before the announcement.


"Japan's decision was made without enough consultation with the neighboring nations," a South Korean diplomat told the outlet.


According to the prime minister, the government will make extensive efforts to ensure the water is safe, despite the fact that the Advanced Liquid Processing System used by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to treat the wastewater is not able to remove tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.


Experts say tritium is only harmful to humans in large doses, but South Korean officials have said the release of the water poses a "grave threat" to marine life in the Pacific Ocean.


The plan to move forward with the release of wastewater represents a "radioactive assault" on the ocean "and all those who share its shores," tweeted Alex Mihailovich, a correspondent for RT America.


Kishida has said that nuclear power, including the restart of nuclear reactors that were put out of commission after the Fukushima meltdown, must be part of Japan's energy economy in order to ensure the country is carbon neutral by 2050. The prime minister has not yet confirmed if he'll attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow beginning later this month.


Japan's economy and industry ministry in 2019 recommended the wastewater, which is being stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the site of the nuclear plant, either be released into the sea or evaporated.


The local fishing industry, which has not been able to resume full operations since the 2011 disaster, have strongly opposed the release of the water into the sea, with the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Association warning it would have an "immeasurable impact on the future of the Japanese fishing industry."


Evaporation was used to get rid of wastewater following the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, but experts, including those at the International Atomic Energy Agency, have said releasing the water into the sea is the only feasible option.


"A release to the sea is technologically a realistic option, but its social impact would be huge," Naoya Sekiya, a sociologist at the University of Tokyo, told ABC News after the economy and industry ministry made its recommendation.



16) ‘Why Don’t We Have Electricity?’: Outages Plague Puerto Rico

Transferring the power grid to a private company was supposed to help. But thousands protested last week over more blackouts.

By Patricia Mazzei, Oct. 19, 2021


People protested against LUMA Energy outside the governor’s home in San Juan this month.

People protested against LUMA Energy outside the governor’s home in San Juan this month. Credit...Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

AGUADILLA, P.R. — Four years after Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s electrical grid a shambles and the entire island in the dark, residents had expected their fragile power system to be stronger now. Instead, unreliable electricity remains frustratingly common, hindering economic development and daily life.


In June, a private consortium known as LUMA Energy took over the transmission and distribution of electricity. And yet the situation has only worsened. Surging demand in August and September led to rolling blackouts affecting a majority of the island’s 1.5 million electrical customers.


Last week, several thousand people marched along a main highway in San Juan, the capital, blocking traffic with the latest in a series of protests over the seemingly unending electricity problems plaguing the island.


“The people can’t take it anymore,” said Iris Delia Matos Rivera, 69, a former employee of the island’s longstanding electrical utility who attended a recent demonstration.


Many Puerto Ricans are diabetic and need refrigerated insulin to survive. The coronavirus pandemic has also put some people on respiratory therapies requiring electrical power at home for oxygen machines. Some Puerto Ricans are still studying or working at home.


Ashlee Vega, who lives in northwestern Puerto Rico, said the power fluctuations this month were so imperceptible that it took her several hours to realize her appliances were not working right. The new refrigerator she had bought in February — to replace an old one that gave out after enduring years of volatile electrical surges — was fried.


Her mother lent her a big cooler. In went the milk and eggs, the ham and cheese. Vegetables spoiled. Twice a day for the next five days, until a repairman got her fridge working, she hustled to gas stations for ice. There was little to be had at first because a spate of power outages had also left her neighbors scrambling.


“I can’t have that happen again,” said Ms. Vega, 31, an Army veteran who returned last year to Aguadilla, her hometown, from Colorado with her 7-year-old son, Sebastián. “That’s not something that should be happening. We’re in 2021. We have internet on our TV. Why don’t we have electricity?”


Behind the failures are the same problems that have plagued Puerto Rico’s grid for decades: aging equipment, lack of maintenance and past mismanagement and corruption of an inefficient system.


The bankrupt public utility, which is still in charge of power generation, declared an emergency this month to try to hasten critical repairs to its ailing plants. Electricity rates, which are higher in Puerto Rico than in almost all of the 50 states, have continued to rise, even as service has deteriorated.


Privatizing transmission and distribution — the part of the power system most damaged by Hurricane Maria — has led to new challenges, including public distrust and the retirement or redeployment of experienced line workers who knew how to deal with the island’s outdated infrastructure.


The system is so frail that a power plant recently went offline because sargassum — seaweed — blocked its filters.


The inability of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, and the new private Canadian-American consortium to provide consistent power has led to weeks of finger-pointing, tense legislative hearings and growing protests by fed-up residents who ousted the governor two years ago by taking to the streets.


“That LUMA contract has to be thrown in the trash!” protesters chanted on Friday.


Crews patched Puerto Rico’s grid with $3.2 billion in emergency repairs after Hurricane Maria, which shredded the island’s power lines as a Category 4 storm in September 2017. Congress earmarked about $10 billion through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild the system. Those projects will be contracted out by the new consortium, with the aim of restoring the grid to how it was before the storm, with some modernization.


That approach, while consistent with how the federal government deals with disasters, is shortsighted and unsustainable, said Agustín A. Irizarry, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Puerto Rico who has promoted a plan to distribute solar energy across residential and commercial rooftop panels and storage batteries.


“People are doing it on their own, without the government stepping in,” he said. “Eventually, there won’t be clients for the electrical grid because they will not have taken the trouble to modernize the grid.”


Last week, the government of Puerto Rico announced the first disbursement of federal funds for reconstruction: $7.1 million.


Puerto Rico awarded a 15-year contract to LUMA last year to operate the transmission and distribution system and handle its reconstruction, arguing that a private company would do better than PREPA, one of the two largest public power utilities in the United States. While PREPA is in bankruptcy — it is $9 billion in debt — Puerto Rico is paying the new company a fixed annual fee of $115 million.


Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi said the new contract came with a promise to reduce the number and length of outages. But the contract drew criticism from the start, with some analysts noting that the company would not face penalties if it did not find savings and lower rates.


LUMA took over in June, with its top officials saying they were prepared to handle a Category 2 hurricane. (None have hit the island this year.) Almost immediately, huge outages began. Customers found the company slow to respond to their complaints. Some residents tried to fix the grid themselves, prompting the utility to warn against such dangerous attempts.


Wayne Stensby, LUMA’s chief executive, said in an interview in June that the company had rolled out a new website and app to provide better customer service, opened call centers on the island and planned a series of other improvements, including upgrading the vehicle fleet.


He blamed the initial rash of problems on a backlog of outages, a cyberattack and resistance from some PREPA workers ahead of the June 1 handoff, including a blockade to keep LUMA from accessing some equipment. Some power lines, he added, were still being held up by the makeshift fixes made after the hurricane, in which crews restored electricity by tying the lines not to poles but to trees.


Mr. Stensby said in a congressional hearing this month that fixing the tattered system would take time. The company has cleared half the backlog of solar power applications — some of them two years old, he said — and has a batch of 65 initial projects worth about $2.8 billion that it hopes to begin next year.


“The Puerto Rico electric system is arguably the worst in the United States and has been for a very long time, even prior to the devastating hurricanes in 2017,” Mr. Stensby said. “While the transformation is in its early days, we have many reasons to be optimistic.”


PREPA workers had to reapply for their jobs, an arrangement that their union opposed. About a quarter of grid workers ultimately transferred to the new company, leading to concerns among critics that the work force might not be sufficiently experienced in dealing with Puerto Rico’s obsolete grid.


In the early days of the transition, an explosion and a fire at a main power substation knocked out a lot of power.


“Twenty-six hours later, we were able to restore all those customers,” Mr. Stensby said. “We were able to demonstrate our capability and quickly respond to the event.”


But records filed by LUMA from June through August show outages lasted longer on average than they did last year under PREPA: more than five hours, compared with less than half that time in the same months of 2020. (The U.S. average is about 82 minutes.) Mr. Stensby said in the congressional hearing that the system remained precarious — and that customers underreported their outages previously because they did not expect the utility to be responsive.


Puerto Rican legislators have demanded to know exactly how many line workers LUMA has employed. PREPA historically had about 800. Mr. Stensby said at the hearing this month that the company had about 900, but he did not specify how many had prior experience in Puerto Rico, other than saying a large portion of them did.


Legislators have also asked how many executives are making salaries greater than $200,000 a year. The company has refused to respond, despite being ordered by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to do so.


Juan Declet-Barreto, a senior social scientist for climate vulnerability at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is part of a coalition that has urged the Biden administration to withhold federal funds used to pay the company unless safeguards are added to the contract and it better aligns with the White House’s policy goals of promoting renewable energy and protecting workers’ rights. Otherwise, the funds will be wasted, Dr. Declet-Barreto said.


“And when another hurricane comes, it won’t have to be a Category 5 — with a tropical storm, half of the island will be left without power,” he said.


For exhausted Puerto Ricans like Ms. Vega, struggling with outages day in and day out, the political pressure on the utilities is welcome but insufficient. To her, it seems like no one is assuming responsibility for her spoiled food, her refrigerator repair, her lost schoolwork as she pursues a bachelor’s degree online and her son’s fear every time the power goes out.


“My neighbor, an old man who lives alone, locks himself in because he’s scared,” she said. “I bring him candles.”


Once she is able to afford a house, she hopes to install solar panels.


For now, she plans to keep a bag of ice in her freezer, just in case. Her landlord asked her to use less power. She has been running the air-conditioning for only a few hours every other day.


And when she leaves the apartment, she has made sure to unplug the computer, the television, the washer — and the refrigerator.


Edmy Ayala contributed reporting from San Juan, P.R.