Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, December 10, 2021



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

End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons

Sign Petition at:








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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.



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:





Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!



We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.


The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.


This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.




And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”


The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.


“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.


“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”




Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case


Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.


In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.


Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.


KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:


“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.


“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”



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.

Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.




Thank you!


Email: contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info


Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603



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) Every Time a Black Man Dies in America, a Part of Me Dies, Too

By Joél Leon Daniels, Dec. 5, 2021

Mr. Daniels is a writer and a creative director of T Brand Studios.

Matt Williams

When Virgil Abloh died last week at the age of 41, I thought of my father. Many in the Black community did. We thought of all the other Black men we’ve loved and lost too early: our friends, our fathers, our brothers. And we thought about ourselves.


To know Blackness is to know death, as close to us as breath is to being. For two years, Mr. Abloh, a fashion designer and icon, hid his diagnosis of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer, from the public. It’s a story reminiscent of Chadwick Boseman’s, who died from colon cancer in 2020 following his diagnosis in 2016. Their privacy about their struggles is a shattering kind of silence.


What was it like to be Mr. Abloh in those two years that he knew he was ill? Was he watching the clock, the minute hands meeting glorious, terrifying hours, like my father did, like I do?


It is a silence familiar to those who share air, space and lifetimes with Black men who have gone too soon — the actor Michael K. Williams, the rappers Nipsey Hussle and Young Dolph, and George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Eric Garner among them. It is a silence most familiar if you are born a Black man in America.


No one knows when they are going to die. There is no crystal ball, no psychic hotline, no palm reading that can predict the moment of our death, nor tell us what awaits on the other side. But as Black men in the United States, we do know we are likely to die sooner than most. And when we are confronted with constant peril and trauma, in every hospital visit, every encounter with law enforcement, every too-long stare, every grainy bystander video capturing our last breaths, we are not only prone to be scared of death, but are prone to be scared to death.


Black men are not alone in this — the health care outcomes for Black women show similar inequity. Black women are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have high blood pressure, and three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than are white women.


I lost my father last year, but I had been expecting my father’s death for years. Trauma and suffering are relative, but my father suffered more than most. Drafted into the Army in 1968, he left Vietnam in 1970 with a Bronze Medal. Afterward, he would often tell my mother that he wasn’t sure if he had murdered any children while on active duty. Loving and brave, boisterous and dangerous, my father was a bomb waiting to explode.


Later, my father suffered from dementia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These were consequences not only of Vietnam, but of Pensacola, Fla., still segregated when my father grew up there in the 1950s and ’60s. At the age of 72, my father died of natural causes. But I think my father died because he was tired of living. Because he was tired of a country that neglected him from the moment he was born. Charles Lorenzo Daniels Jr. died because as a Black man in America, he was taught to prepare for his death long before it happened.


In the wake of my father’s and Mr. Boseman’s deaths, I thought about my own. So this past summer, at the age of 38, I finally went to see a doctor. It was the first time I’d been to see a primary care physician in over two decades. Cancer and heart disease are among the leading causes of death for Black men, and African Americans are more likely to get, and more likely than other groups to die from, colorectal cancer, which killed Mr. Boseman. Preventive care is the best defense from this and many other illnesses and ailments. My visit to the doctor was a belated but necessary act of self-preservation.


Like too many Black men, I’ve struggled with suicidal ideations, with an undying fear of not being enough or being too much, and with the gap between Black life and the death I feel constantly looming. This is all a heavy burden to carry, and racism and internalized masculinity norms can reduce Black men’s willingness to seek help. Depressed African American men are less likely to seek mental health treatment, compared with depressed white men. Our masculinity, and the fragility surrounding the ego it upholds, can keep us from asking for and receiving the help we need.


We must break our silence and begin the process of opening ourselves up to one another and the ones we love. If we continue to hide our pain, our grief, our heartache in the shadows, we will continue to mourn prematurely our brothers, our fathers, our friends.


As I watched a video of the rapper DMX comforting his daughter on an amusement ride, which went viral after his death, I wondered: Did he feel death biting at his neck that sunny day?


I wonder whether every Black man who dies in the public eye will make me think of my father. Probably. My hope is that those thoughts will not linger in silence, but will instead be as loud, as bright and as burning as all the names of all the Black men gone too soon — including my father, Charles Lorenzo Daniels Jr.



2) He Is Black. The Victims Were White. ‘It’s an Allegation as Old as America.’

By Margaret Renkl, December 6, 2021

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

Pervis Payne hugs lawyer Kelley Henry before a court hearing on Nov. 23 in Memphis.

Pervis Payne hugs lawyer Kelley Henry before a court hearing on Nov. 23 in Memphis. Credit...Adrian Sainz/Associated Press

NASHVILLE — In 1987, a young man named Pervis Payne, stopping at his girlfriend’s place in Millington, Tenn., noticed that the door to the apartment across the hall was open. Inside, a woman and two small children were lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Mr. Payne rushed inside and tried to help them, but as the police arrived, he panicked. Realizing that he could be blamed for the murders, he fled.


Mr. Payne, who lives with an intellectual disability, has steadfastly maintained this version of the events of that afternoon, when Charisse Christopher and her 2-year-old daughter were stabbed to death. (A 3-year-old son was also stabbed but survived.) The story he tells is always the same: He stumbled onto a crime scene and tried to help the victims. He ran away because he was afraid.


Mr. Payne is Black. The victims were white. The crime took place in a county where the criminal justice system was anything but just. That’s all you need to know about the case to know exactly how the rest of Pervis Payne’s story played out.


“Prosecutors portrayed him as a drug-using and violent predator who was looking for sex,” wrote The Nashville Scene’s Steven Hale, whose book, “Death Row Welcomes You,” will be published by Melville House next year. “It’s an allegation as old as America — a sex-crazed Black man accused of attacking a white woman — and it came in Shelby County, the jurisdiction with the most recorded lynchings in the state’s history and a disproportionate number of death sentences.”


There is eve­­ry reason to believe Mr. Payne’s story. As Daniele Selby of the Innocence Project notes, Ms. Christopher’s ex-husband was a man with a long history of violence, while Mr. Payne had no criminal record, no history of drug abuse. Another man was seen running from the building just as Mr. Payne arrived.


Mr. Payne was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death anyway. He would have been executed last December if the pandemic had not caused Gov. Bill Lee to interrupt the state’s execution spree. (Starting in 2018, after a moratorium on executions that lasted nearly a decade, the state executed seven people in a year and a half.) The new reprieve was not because Mr. Lee had suddenly developed qualms about the death penalty, but because gathering in the close quarters of the execution witness rooms wasn’t safe for observers.


The delay allowed for Mr. Payne’s advocates to continue pursuing a variety of strategies to save his life: a formal clemency petition, a petition to perform DNA testing on evidence collected at the crime scene, and stepped-up efforts to persuade the Tennessee General Assembly to close a gap between Tennessee law and Supreme Court precedent.


In January, the long-delayed DNA tests did find Mr. Payne’s DNA at the scene, as expected — he has always said he entered the apartment to try to help. But the tests also revealed the presence of an unknown man’s DNA on the knife that killed Ms. Christopher. Even so, Shelby County Judge Paula Skahan ruled that this evidence did not exonerate Mr. Payne and would not have affected the outcome of his trial.


“Free Pervis Payne” has become a rallying cry for Mr. Payne’s many supporters, including more than 440,000 people who have signed a Change.org petition urging clemency. “You need to get behind this movement of Pervis Payne,” urged Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at a rally at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. “You need to march right now. You need to understand what Dr. King said when he said, ‘Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.’”


In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute a prisoner who lives with an intellectual disability, but the Tennessee Supreme Court subsequently declared there to be no legal mechanism for prisoners already on death row to challenge their sentences. The state court urged Tennessee lawmakers to take up the issue.


I am amazed to report that they finally did.


G.A. Hardaway, a Democratic state representative from Memphis and a member of the Tennessee Black Caucus, sponsored a bill to allow death row prisoners with intellectual disabilities to request an alternate sentence. In April, by nearly unanimous votes, the legislature passed the bill, and Mr. Lee signed it into law. On Nov. 23, Judge Shahan vacated Mr. Payne’s death sentences and replaced them with two life sentences. A hearing on Dec. 13 will determine whether they will run concurrently or consecutively.


A decision in favor of concurrent sentences would make Mr. Payne eligible for parole in about six years — still far short of the exoneration his supporters hope for. But there is cause for jubilation anytime a human being leaves death row and lives to fight another day. “What a difference it makes to be able to wake up in the morning and not have to feel like you have to fight for your life,” Mr. Payne’s lead lawyer, Kelley Henry, a federal public defender, told WPLN’s Samantha Max.


That has happened more than once in red states recently. Last month, a Nashville judge approved a plea deal that removed Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman from death row on grounds of “overt racial bias” during jury selection in his 1987 murder trial. And Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, a Republican and a proponent of the death penalty, last month commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones to life without parole. His decision came just hours before Mr. Jones was set to be executed.


The pressure brought to bear on Mr. Stitt before his “prayerful consideration” of the case came from more than just the usual death penalty opponents. The state’s parole board had already recommended — twice — that Mr. Jones’s sentence be commuted to life in prison. Influential conservatives such as Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Timothy Head, the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, also urged the governor to commute the sentence. And students across the state walked out of their classrooms in protest of the impending execution.


Mr. Jones’s execution would have followed less than a month after the execution of John Marion Grant, the first in Oklahoma since 2015. Mr. Grant’s death by lethal injection on Oct. 28 was accompanied by several minutes of vomiting and convulsions. The horrific spectacle of his death fueled renewed criticism of the state’s execution method as a violation of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.


“This is probably the end of the death penalty in the state of Oklahoma,” Jim Olsen, a Republican state representative and an advocate for capital punishment, told Public Radio Tulsa.


Given the political appetite for state-sponsored murder in the red states, I am not holding my breath, but I admit to feeling hopeful. Like the guilty verdicts in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in Georgia, these new developments have come in unlikely quarters, were sponsored by unlikely advocates and have culminated in unlikely results. It’s hard not to hope for a day when the manifold reasons for ending the death penalty prevail and our criminal justice system becomes just a little more just.


But it is not yet the time for celebration. Tennessee has set its next two execution dates, the first since the pandemic began. Alabama’s new nitrogen gas execution protocol is complete, and Oklahoma’s next execution is set for Thursday.



3) The Ghosts of Mississippi

By Charles M. Blow, December 5, 2021


Henri Cartier-Bresson/Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

Mississippi may be about to double down on its dubious distinction as the state where the tide of progress is blocked and pushed back.


During Reconstruction, Mississippi became a Black power center in this country. There were not only more Black people than white ones, there were also more registered Black voters than white ones.


Mississippi elected hundreds of Black politicians and gave the United States its first two Black senators.


But white racists and terrorists seethed at this assertion of power and employed every method of intimidation possible to dissuade Black people from voting.


The terrorists devised the Mississippi Plan, in which terrorist groups like the Red Shirts and rifle clubs used physical violence — including murder — and economic coercion to wrest back control of the state’s government.


The governor requested more federal troops, but President Ulysses Grant resisted because of political considerations in other parts of the country. (That instinct to countenance Black suffering, so as not to rock the political boat, would resurface over and over throughout the history of this country and continues to this day.)


The Mississippi Plan succeeded in suppressing Black votes in the statewide elections of 1875. The situation was made even worse when a compromise over the contested presidential election of 1876 allowed Reconstruction to fail and led to the withdrawal of federal troops from Southern states.


By 1890, white supremacists had gathered enough power in Mississippi to call a constitutional convention to write white supremacy into the state’s DNA. Although a majority of the state was Black, only one Black delegate was allowed at the convention.


The delegates passed the new Constitution — which included voter suppression tactics like poll taxes and tests — without even submitting it to the public for a vote.


Six years later, in 1896, a Black man named Henry Williams was indicted on charges of murder and sentenced to be hanged. He appealed on the grounds that the indictment was invalid: The jury had been drawn from a pool of registered voters, which, because the state Constitution had disenfranchised most Black voters by the time of his trial, was almost entirely white, and Williams argued that this was a violation of his 14th Amendment rights.


The case, Williams v. Mississippi, made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously, in what I believe is one of the most shocking decisions the court has ever handed down, that Williams had not shown that Mississippi’s new Constitution was discriminatory.


I have read the minutes from the constitutional convention. There is no question that its entire purpose was to discriminate and disenfranchise Black voters.


Justice Joseph McKenna delivered the opinion of the court, saying that “the Constitution of Mississippi and its statutes do not on their face discriminate between the races, and it has not been shown that their actual administration was evil; only that evil was possible under them.”


As Lawrence Goldstone wrote last year in his book “On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights”:


The opinion was also openly racist. McKenna cited a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling that declared “the Negro race had acquired or accentuated certain peculiarities of habit, or temperament, and of character which clearly distinguished it as a race from the whites; a patient, docile people, but careless, landless, migratory within narrow limits, without forethought, and its criminal members given to furtive offenses, rather than the robust crimes of the whites.”

And just like that, the Supreme Court of the United States greenlit and rubber-stamped Jim Crow, formalizing in law a framework under which Black progress could be rolled back for decades.


Other states followed Mississippi’s example and convened constitutional conventions of their own, where they instituted statutes to disenfranchise Black people.


I couldn’t help but think of the ghosts of Mississippi while listening to the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Wednesday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.


It is another Mississippi case poised to roll back constitutional rights, opening the door for another age of Jim Crow, only this time the targets won’t be Black bodies but women’s bodies. (Although any rollback in abortion access will most likely disproportionately affect Black women, who sit at the intersection of race and gender.)


In the late 1800s, opponents of progress had exercised a methodical, decades-long campaign to subjugate and oppress Black people. The same has been done to women by the opponents of abortion.


It all underscores an indelible American truth: No civil rights are inviolable and permanent. Every right you win, you must defend. Rights, unfortunately, can be withdrawn.


Whether Roe v. Wade falls or is significantly diminished, it will raise the question: Which rights are next? Presumably, many others could be vulnerable.



4) How Can You Destroy a Person’s Life and Only Get a Slap on the Wrist?

By The Editorial Board, December 4, 2021


Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Freder, via Getty Images

Prosecutors are among the most powerful players in the criminal justice system. They can send a defendant off to years in prison, or even to death row. Most wield this power honorably. Yet, when prosecutors don’t, they rarely pay a price, even for repeated and egregious misconduct that puts innocent people behind bars.


Why? Because they are protected by layers of silence and secrecy that are written into local, state and federal policy, shielding them from any real accountability for wrongdoing.


New York City offers a prime example of a problem endemic to the nation. Consider the city’s official reaction to the barrelful of misconduct in Queens that a group of law professors recently brought to light. As The Times reported last month, the professors filed grievances against 21 prosecutors in the borough — for everything from lying in open court to withholding key evidence from the defense — and then posted those grievances to a public website.


These weren’t close calls. In every instance an appeals court had made a finding of prosecutorial misconduct; in many cases the misconduct was so severe that it required overturning a guilty verdict and releasing someone from prison. Three men wrongfully convicted of a 1996 murder were exonerated after 24 years behind bars. But that rectified only the most glaring injustice. To date, none of the prosecutors have faced any public consequences. Some are still working.


How did the city respond to this litany of widespread misconduct by its own agents? It went after the professors who publicized it.


In a letter to the committee that handles misconduct charges, New York City’s top lawyer, known as the corporation counsel, accused the professors of abusing the grievance process “to promote a political agenda” and of violating a state law that requires formal complaints about lawyers’ conduct to be kept secret unless judicial authorities decide otherwise. (They virtually never do.) The grievance committee agreed to punish the professors by denying them access to any future updates on their complaints — even though state law requires that complainants be kept informed throughout the process. The upshot is that the committee could dismiss the complaints tomorrow and no one would know.


For good measure, the corporation counsel then sought to keep secret the letter requesting the professors be punished for violating the secrecy law. This isn’t just shooting the messenger; it’s tossing the gun into the East River and threatening anyone who tries to fish it out.


We know about all this because the professors sued the city in federal court, claiming that the secrecy law infringes on the First Amendment. How could it not? If someone tells a Times reporter about a prosecutor’s misconduct, the reporter is free to write a story addressing those allegations for all the world to see. But if the same person files a formal grievance about the same misconduct with the state, she’s barred from talking about it. It’s not even clear what the punishment for violating the law would be — as evidenced by the fact that dozens of prominent lawyers, including former New York judges and even prosecutors, went public with grievances they filed against Rudy Giuliani over his role in Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and encourage the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. To date, none of these lawyers have faced public sanctions for speaking to the press.


In theory, the secrecy law exists to protect lawyers from being smeared by frivolous complaints, but that rationale makes no sense when applied to prosecutors, who are public officials doing the state’s work. In the Queens cases, their misconduct is already a matter of public record. Even if it weren’t, there is no principled reason to prevent the public airing of complaints — not to mention public hearings — against officials who have the power to send people to prison. Certainly the defendants they face off against in court don’t enjoy such privileges.


New York shelters its lawyers from disciplinary measures more than most states in the country, even as it ranks near the top in total number of exonerations — a majority of which are the result of misconduct by prosecutors.


Meanwhile, the few attempts to increase oversight of New York prosecutors have been stymied. A 2018 law established a commission specifically to deal with prosecutorial misconduct in a more independent and transparent way. But the state district attorneys’ association challenged it and a court struck it down as unconstitutional. Lawmakers designed a new commission this year, but it appears that no commissioners have yet been appointed to it.


New York’s prosecutor-protection racket is, alas, far from unique. In Washington, the Justice Department aggressively shields its own prosecutors from outside accountability thanks to a 1988 law that lets the agency essentially police itself. All other federal agencies — and even parts of the Justice Department, like the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration — are subject to oversight by independent inspectors general, who conduct thorough investigations and issue lengthy reports with their findings. Federal prosecutors skate by on an internal review process that is run out of the Office of Professional Responsibility, whose head is appointed by, and reports directly to, the attorney general. The office almost never makes its findings public, and when it does it often provides only a brief summary months after the fact. In the words of one legal-ethics expert, it’s a “black hole.” (By contrast, the inspector general’s office of the Justice Department just released its semiannual report, as it is required to do by law, detailing the 52 reports it issued between April and September of this year, as well as the closing of investigations that resulted in 68 convictions or guilty pleas and 66 firings, resignations or disciplinary actions.)


The level of scrutiny that federal prosecutors are subject to matters so much because they are just as prone to misconduct as their state and local counterparts. Take the botched prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska on corruption charges, or the legal green light Justice Department lawyers gave interrogators to torture terrorism suspects, or the more recent revelation that Jeffrey Epstein, the sexual predator, got a sweetheart deal in 2008 from his prosecutor, Alex Acosta, who later became labor secretary in the Trump administration. Yet in the latter two cases, the Office of Professional Responsibility found no misconduct. Mr. Acosta was guilty only of “poor judgment,” the office said. In the Stevens case, the office found misconduct but said it was unintentional, and it let the prosecutors off with a slap on the wrist. Have there been other similarly egregious failures to hold prosecutors to account? Almost certainly. But we don’t know because the Justice Department doesn’t tell us.


There is no principled reason for federal prosecutors to avoid the accountability expected of all public servants. Their exemption from the general rule was adopted in 1988 as a favor to Dick Thornburgh, who was then the attorney general and had tried to derail the creation of an inspector general for the Justice Department. Years later, Mr. Thornburgh admitted he had been wrong. “This is a highly professional operation that goes where the evidence leads and is not directed by the way the political winds are blowing,” he said at a gathering marking the law’s 25th anniversary in 2014. “I’ve come to be a true believer.”


So have large numbers of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, a remarkable fact at a moment when the parties can’t agree on the time of day. Their fix is straightforward: Eliminate the loophole in the 1988 law and empower the inspector general to review claims against federal prosecutors, just as the office currently does in cases involving other Justice Department employees. A Senate bill co-sponsored by Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, would do exactly this. Yet Attorney General Merrick Garland is continuing in the tradition of his predecessors by opposing any change to the existing system.


Prosecutors can work in the interests of fairness and justice, but they can also cheat and destroy people’s lives. They should be held accountable when they do — both to vindicate their victims and to help ensure that they can’t do it again.



5) Justice Department Closes Emmett Till Investigation Without Charges

The department said it could not corroborate a book’s claim that a central witness had recanted her statements about Emmett, a Black teenager killed by two white men in 1955.

By Audra D. S. Burch and Tariro Mzezewa, Published Dec. 6, 2021, Updated Dec. 7, 2021

Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured and killed in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant Donham in Mississippi. A 2017 book said she had recanted her claims.
Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured and killed in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant Donham in Mississippi. A 2017 book said she had recanted her claims. Credit...Bettmann, via Getty Images

ATLANTA — The Justice Department announced on Monday that it had closed an investigation into the abduction and murder of Emmett Till, the African American teenager whose gruesome killing by two white men more than six decades ago in Mississippi helped begin the civil rights movement.


In a news release dated Dec. 6, federal officials said there was not enough evidence to pursue charges in the case, which was reopened after a historian claimed in a book that Carolyn Bryant Donham, the central witness whose account of an encounter with Emmett led to his death, had recanted the most salacious portions of her story — that he had grabbed her and made sexually suggestive remarks.


Citing the statute of limitations and Ms. Donham’s denial that she had ever changed her story, the Justice Department said it could not move forward with prosecuting her for perjury.


During a moment of the trial in which jurors were not present, Ms. Donham claimed that the teenager had made sexually vulgar comments toward her and physical contact. But in a book published in 2017, “The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy B. Tyson, the author wrote that Ms. Donham had recanted her testimony in a 2008 interview, saying that the earlier stories she told were “not true.”


“Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” Mr. Tyson, a researcher and historian at Duke University, quoted Ms. Donham as saying in the book.


Mr. Tyson’s claim generated outrage and renewed calls for the case to be reopened. Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department’s civil rights division, delivered the news to the family in person that the case was formally closed.


In a statement on Monday, the Justice Department said Mr. Tyson, despite saying he had recorded two interviews with Ms. Donham, provided just one recording to the F.B.I. that did not contain a recantation.


Mr. Tyson has said that although he did not record Ms. Donham’s recantation, he took detailed notes.


“Carolyn started spilling the beans before I got the recorder going. I documented her words carefully,” Mr. Tyson said in an email on Monday, adding, “My reporting is rock solid.”


At a news conference in Chicago on Monday afternoon, Emmett’s family members said they were disappointed by the result of the investigation but were not surprised.


“I did not expect that they would have found any new evidence,” said Ollie Gordon, one of Emmett’s cousins, adding, “I ask where do we go from here.”


The Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., Emmett’s cousin and best friend who was in the Mississippi Delta house when Emmett was kidnapped in the middle of the night, said the conclusion of the investigation marked the end of a painful 66 years for Emmett’s loved ones.


“Today is a day that we will never forget,” he said. “For 66 years we have suffered pain for his loss, and I suffered tremendously because of the way that they painted him.”


Ms. Donham, 87, has rarely spoken publicly about the case. Her former husband and another man confessed to Emmett’s murder, though the confessions came after they were acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men are dead.


In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett traveled from Chicago to the Mississippi Delta to visit relatives. One day in August, he walked into a store in Money, Miss., run by Ms. Donham and her husband, Roy Bryant, to buy candy. Accounts vary about what happened, but a witness said that Emmett whistled at Ms. Donham.


Days later, Mr. Bryant and his half brother abducted, tortured and shot the teenager. Then they tied a 75-pound cotton gin fan around his neck and tossed his body into a river. His corpse, broken, battered and mutilated, was retrieved from the water on the last day of August.


Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, insisted on an open coffin for the funeral and allowed photographs to be published in Jet magazine — ensuring that “the whole nation had to bear witness” to what is considered among the worst hate crimes of the 20th century.


Despite the passage of time and the civil rights movement, Emmett’s death has never faded from public memory. It has often been invoked as an enduring symbol of deep, unbridled racism. Historic markers erected at sites connected to his death have repeatedly been vandalized. The marker near the river where his body was found has been replaced at least three times because it has been vandalized and damaged by bullets.


“Mississippi has never escaped the story of Emmett Till and nor should it,” said Susan Glisson, who worked with the town of Sumner, Miss., which issued a public apology and formed the Emmett Till Memorial Commission.


In closing its investigation, the Justice Department said that Ms. Donham denied ever recanting her earlier testimony. In 2018, Ms. Donham’s daughter-in-law, Marsha Holley Bryant, who was present for the interviews with Mr. Tyson, said that Ms. Donham never recanted.


Reached by phone on Monday, Ms. Holley Bryant said she had no comment. Other relatives of Ms. Donham did not respond to several requests for comment.


Before the current investigation, federal officials last revisited the case in 2004. They closed it two years later after prosecutors determined that the statute of limitations kept them from pursuing additional federal charges. As part of that inquiry, Emmett’s body was exhumed.


The latest investigation was part of the Justice Department’s larger review of cases believed to be motivated by racial hatred. Over the past 15 years, the department has led several successful investigations, including the prosecution of Edgar Ray Killen. Mr. Killen, who died in prison about four years ago, was a former Klansman who arranged the murders of three civil workers in Mississippi in 1964.


“Cold cases never close,” said Keith Beauchamp, a filmmaker and producer of “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” and the upcoming film “Till.”


“There still may be a way,” he continued, “to revisit one of the greatest injustices committed upon a child in American history.”



6) Kellogg Workers Prolong Strike by Rejecting Contract Proposal

About 1,400 workers have been on strike since Oct. 5 at four Kellogg cereal plants in the United States over a dispute that has revolved around the company’s two-tier compensation structure.

By Noam Scheiber, Dec. 7, 2021

Workers at four Kellogg cereal plants in the United States have been on strike for two months.
Workers at four Kellogg cereal plants in the United States have been on strike for two months. Credit...Emily Elconin/Reuters

About 1,400 striking workers at four Kellogg cereal plants in the United States have rejected a tentative agreement on a five-year contract negotiated by their union, the company said on Tuesday.


The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents the workers, did not reveal the vote totals but said in a statement that its members had “overwhelmingly voted” against the agreement.


The strike began on Oct. 5 and has largely revolved around the company’s two-tier compensation structure, agreed to in 2015, in which newer employees earn lower wages and receive  less generous benefits than veteran workers. Under the previous contract, the lower tier could include up to 30 percent of workers.


According to a summary provided by the company, the new agreement would have immediately moved all employees with four or more years at Kellogg into the veteran tier. A group of lower-tier employees equivalent to 3 percent of a plant’s head count would move into the veteran tier in each year of the contract.


“We are disappointed that the tentative agreement for a master contract over our four U.S. cereal plants was not ratified by employees,” Kellogg said in a statement.


“The prolonged work stoppage has left us no choice but to hire permanent replacement employees in positions vacated by striking workers,” the company added.


Permanently replacing workers on strike over economic issues like pay and benefits is legal, though Democrats are seeking to outlaw it in a bill known as the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, Act. The House has passed the bill, but it faces long odds in the Senate.


Under the agreement, veteran workers, who Kellogg has said make about $35 an hour on average, would have received a 3 percent wage increase in the first year and cost of living adjustments in subsequent years.


The company had earlier proposed eliminating the cap on the percentage of lower-tier workers and setting up a six-year progression to veteran status. But some employees and union officials saw that as a way to increase the number of lower-tier workers overall. They worried that it could put downward pressure on veteran workers’ wages if those in the lower tier became a majority.


“As soon as the lower tier has 50 plus one, they have voting power on future contracts and my wage can go down,” Dan Osborn, president of a Kellogg workers local in Omaha, Neb., said in an interview shortly after the strike began.


Mr. Osborn said at the time that veteran workers at his plant made about $30 per hour and that they felt especially frustrated by the company’s offer after working long hours, often on weekends, during the pandemic. They believed they had leverage over the company because of a general worker shortage and because some of their skills are specialized.


Mr. Osborn said he had fixed and maintained machines at Kellogg for more than 15 years, but added, “There are days, even weeks, when I can’t even get the things going.”


In addition to Mr. Osborn’s plant, Kellogg workers are on strike at plants in Battle Creek, Mich.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Memphis.


The company said in a statement in late November that it was able to “run our plants effectively with hourly and salaried employees, third-party resources, and temporary replacements” and indicated that it was hiring permanent replacement workers.


The strike was part of an increase in labor unrest this fall, including strikes by 10,000 John Deere workers and more than 2,000 hospital workers in New York, each of which lasted more than one month.



7) Americans’ Pandemic-Era ‘Excess Savings’ Are Dwindling for Many

The drop in cash reserves has vast implications for the working class and could dampen consumer spending, a large share of economic activity.

By Talmon Joseph Smith, Published Dec. 7, 2021, Updated Dec. 8, 2021


Infusions of government cash that warded off an economic calamity have left millions of households with bigger bank balances than before the pandemic — savings that have driven a torrent of consumer spending, helped pay off debts and, at times, reduced the urgency of job hunts.


But many low-income Americans find their savings dwindling or even depleted. And for them, the economic recovery is looking less buoyant.


Over the past 18 months or so, experts have been closely tracking the multitrillion-dollar increase in what economists call “excess savings,” generally defined as the amount by which people’s cash reserves during the Covid-19 crisis exceeded what they would have normally saved.


According to Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, these excess savings among many working- and middle-class households could be exhausted as soon as early next year — not only reducing their financial cushions but also potentially affecting the economy, since consumer spending is such a large share of activity. Additionally, many pandemic-era federal programs expired in September, including the federal supplement to unemployment benefits.


In April 2020, after the pandemic’s outset, the nation’s personal saving rate — the percentage of overall disposable income that goes into savings each month — jumped fourfold from its February 2020 level to 34 percent. Some of that spike in savings resulted from government checks of up to $1,200 sent to most Americans; some simply stemmed from reduced spending by firmly middle-class or affluent households during lockdowns.


The rate peaked again at 26 percent this past spring after another round of direct federal payments.


But the personal saving rate doesn’t account for how those savings are distributed. Wealthy households, for instance, have saved the most.


“We do tend to see these broad-brush-stroke economic figures and assume that they apply to the broadest part of the populace,” said Mark Hamrick, the senior economic analyst at Bankrate, a personal finance company. “There’s a significant cross-section of the American public which is financially fragile.”


New research by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, which assesses the bank accounts of 1.6 million families, found that low-income families experienced the “greatest percent gains” during each round of stimulus, yet also exhausted their balances faster. That’s in part because those households went into the crisis with the thinnest financial buffers.


The median balance among higher-income families (defined as those earning more than $68,896) was roughly 40 percent higher in September than two years earlier. The typical low-income family (those earning less than $30,296) experienced a much larger increase in relative terms — 70 percent — but that represented a total cash balance of only about $1,000.


And households making $30,296 to $44,955 also made significant gains compared with 2019, yet typically had less than about $1,300 in cash on hand. In a silver lining, the report found that the cash balances of families with children appear to have been helped by the three rounds of monthly child tax credit payments that began in July, which provided up to $300 per child under 6 and up to $250 per child 6 to 17.


“I’ve been trying to ask myself this question: Is this a lot or is this a little?” said Fiona Greig, a co-president of the JPMorgan Chase Institute. Ms. Greig said that when reviewing the data, she was torn between hope — when seeing that “families had a doubling of balances in some cases when they received their stimulus checks” — and disappointment knowing “there are some families for whom this is really all they have.”


By October, the U.S. personal saving rate, which had peaked above 30 percent, had reverted to its December 2019 level of 7.3 percent.


Technically, most households are financially better off now than before the crisis by several measures, an anomaly after a recession. Still, the fading impact of pandemic aid is quickly being felt. In July, one in three Americans reported having less money to fall back on in an emergency than before the pandemic, according to a Bankrate survey. Only one in six reported having more.


In a commentary published on a Federal Reserve Bank of New York blog in April, four economists argued that “although large by historical standards, the savings accumulated by U.S. households during the pandemic do not appear to be ‘excessive’ when set against the extraordinary need of many American families.”


Millions of Americans could be buffeted by financial volatility again with little safeguard as new variants of the virus emerge. For some, that reality has already begun.


“It was hard even before the pandemic hit,” said Maria Patton, a 57-year-old former real estate agent whose finances were ruined by a recent divorce. “And when the pandemic hit, it became impossible, almost.”


Ms. Patton, who has a teenage son, had just been hired at Nordstrom in Los Angeles when the virus surged and she was laid off. Despite immediately applying for unemployment insurance in March 2020, she went more than two months without receiving benefits. She tried to find work as a nanny — which had been her most recent employment — but wound up moving home to Tennessee, where she figured the cost of living was more affordable.


As she was moving in the middle of last year, she received back payments for all the weeks she was eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — an emergency federal program to help freelancers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits — which amounted to a lump sum of $15,000. Much of that cash, Ms. Patton says, went to paying down debt, as well as “paying for medical insurance out of my pocket” because she can’t afford health care coverage, and living in a hotel because landlords in Nashville didn’t like her credit situation.


Ms. Patton used more of her savings in January to move the two of them to Denver for a $25-an-hour nanny job she found online, which went well until she got Covid-19 and had to quit. Now she and her son work for Amazon Fresh, the grocery delivery service, making $15 an hour. Her savings dried up in September.


“Now, I’m right back where I was,” she said. “I feel like a loser. I feel like a failure.” Making too much to qualify for assistance but too little to afford stable housing, she fears she and her son will be living out of her car soon after the holidays.


The drawing down of households’ cash will test competing theories about the extent to which those savings have increased worker power and wages and how much they contributed to labor shortages, inflation and even supply chain snags.


There has been wide agreement among business leaders and economists that after decades of wage and income stagnation, the burst in savings has eased poverty while giving employees and job seekers more leverage. But there is less agreement about whether this development has had unintended, negative consequences.


The cash buffer “gives people some discretion over whether they take the first job that’s available or if they want to leave the work force altogether for a time,” said James K. Galbraith, a progressive economist at the University of Texas at Austin.


“There may well be long-term lasting benefits,” Dr. Galbraith argued. “If in the short run, in order to bring people back into the work force, employers raise the low wages that they’re offering, then they’re probably not going to be in a position to cut them” down the road.


Wages were up 4.8 percent overall in November from a year earlier and were much higher in sectors like leisure and hospitality.


Many investors and business owners are wary of these wage gains continuing, contending that companies may pass more of their labor costs on to customers and that they may threaten companies’ profitability — or even their viability. With job openings at record levels, a large share of business groups remain hopeful that more people will accept wages at their current levels as their savings diminish.


A crop of high-profile economists in both major political parties contend that measures like the aid package from the spring, while well intentioned and effective in warding off some impoverishment, have caused consumer spending to outstrip supply this year as the economy reopened, worsening inflation and straining supply chains.


“From a macroeconomic perspective, it would certainly be helpful if consumer demand were to cool off,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “Rooting for low-income households to have less savings is not great, but I think it’s important to remember low-income households are the ones who are hurt the most by inflation. It doesn’t sit well thinking, ‘Boy, it’d be great if households burned through their excess savings.’ But we’re not in a normal period.”


A Bank of America report in November noted that price increases for some goods, especially in food and energy categories, were “cutting the spending power of less-educated households by 4.6 percent on an annualized basis, compared to 3 percent for more-educated households.”


Still, a report from J.P. Morgan points out that consumers are likely to “eat into their accumulated excess savings to offset rising prices,” suggesting that vulnerable households could potentially face an even greater inflation challenge if those savings were absent.


Moody’s Analytics estimated that there was still $2.5 trillion left in overall excess savings as of October and that the total would decrease by $50 billion a month on average through the end of next year — with the fastest declines among those with the lowest incomes.


That mathematical modeling, by its nature, renders in statistics what many are feeling in more palpable ways. “The people looking at the data aren’t the people trying to put food on the table,” said Ms. Patton, the real estate agent turned Amazon Fresh worker. “The people that are writing this and thinking this have never struggled right now.”



8) Kellogg to Replace 1,400 Striking Workers as Deal Is Rejected

Guardian UK, December 8, 2021


Kellogg to Replace 1,400 Striking Workers as Deal Is Rejected

Keisha Richardson, a 15-year Kellogg employee, picketing outside the cereal maker's headquarters as workers remain on strike in Battle Creek, Michigan. (photo: Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Strike, which began in October, expected to continue as workers seek significant raises, saying they work 80-hour weeks


Kellogg has said it is permanently replacing 1,400 workers who have been on strike since October, a decision that comes as the majority of its cereal plant workforce rejected a deal that would have provided 3% raises.


The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union said an overwhelming majority of workers had voted down the five-year offer.


The decision follows months of bitter disagreement between the company and the union. The rejected offer would have provided cost of living adjustments in the later years of the deal and preserved the workers’ current healthcare benefits. But workers say they deserve significant raises because they routinely work more than 80 hours a week, and they kept the plants running throughout the coronavirus pandemic.


Employees have been striking since 5 October at plants in Michigan, Nebraska and Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They make all of the company’s well-known brands of cereal, including Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes. That strike is expected to continue.


“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” the union president, Anthony Shelton, said. “The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”


Workers say they are also protesting planned job cuts and offshoring, and a proposed two-tier system that gives newer workers at the plants less pay and fewer benefits. Speaking to the Guardian in October, Trevor Bidelman, president of BCTGM Local3G and a fourth-generation employee at the Kellogg plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, described it as a “fight for our future”.


“This is after just one year ago, we were hailed as heroes, as we worked through the pandemic, seven days a week, 16 hours a day. Now apparently, we are no longer heroes,” said Bidelman. “We don’t have weekends, really. We just work seven days a week, sometimes 100 to 130 days in a row. For 28 days, the machines run, then rest three days for cleaning. They don’t even treat us as well as they do their machinery.”


Kellogg said it would now move forward with plans to start hiring permanent replacements for the striking workers. The company has already been using salaried employees and outside workers to keep the plants operating during the strike.


“While certainly not the result we had hoped for, we must take the necessary steps to ensure business continuity,” said Chris Hood, president of Kellogg North America. “We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love.”


The Rutgers University professor Todd Vachon, who teaches classes about labor relations, said he was not sure the company would be able to hire enough workers to replace the ones who are out on strike in the current economy, and Kellogg may have a hard time finding people willing to cross a picket line.


“By voting ‘no’, the workers are making a strong statement that they are not satisfied by the agreement, but they are also signaling they believe they have the leverage that’s needed to win more,” Vachon said.


Earlier this year, about 600 food workers also went on strike at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, and 1,000 others walked off the job at five Nabisco plants across the US. In another recent strike, over 10,000 Deere workers secured 10% raises and improved benefits but those gains came after the workers remained on strike for a month and rejected two offers from the company.


The offer that Kellogg workers rejected was the first one they have voted on since the strike began.



9) New Zealand Plans to Eventually Ban All Cigarette Sales

The proposal, expected to become law next year, would raise the smoking age year by year until it covers the entire population.

By Natasha Frost, Dec. 9, 2021


Since 2011, New Zealand has steadily raised the price of cigarettes.

Since 2011, New Zealand has steadily raised the price of cigarettes. Credit...Jason Oxenham/Getty Images

New Zealand unveiled a plan on Thursday to eventually ban all sales of cigarettes in the country, a decades-long effort unique in the world to prevent young people from taking up smoking.


The proposed legislation, which is expected to become law next year, would leave current smokers free to continue buying cigarettes. But it would gradually raise the smoking age, year by year, until it covers the entire population.


Starting in 2023, anyone under age 15 would be barred for life from buying cigarettes. So, for instance, in 2050 people 42 and older would still be able to buy tobacco products — but anyone younger would not.


“We want to make sure young people never start smoking, so we will make it an offense to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth,” Dr. Ayesha Verrall, the country’s associate health minister, said in Parliament on Thursday. “People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”


The legislation was among several proposals announced on Thursday that aim to reduce smoking levels in New Zealand across all ethnic groups, including its poorer Indigenous Maori and Pacific Island citizens, below 5 percent by 2025. Currently the rate is just under 10 percent.


New Zealand first announced this target in 2011. Since then, it has steadily raised the price of cigarettes to among the highest in the world. A pack in New Zealand costs about 30 New Zealand dollars, or a little over $20, second only to neighboring Australia, where wages are considerably higher.


Dr. Verrall said the government was not considering raising prices beyond that point. “We’ve already seen the full impact of excise tax increases,” she said. “Going further will not help people quit. It will only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit.”


Banning tobacco sales, despite the clear benefits to public health, has been a virtual nonstarter around the world, with arguments often centering on civil liberties and fears of increased smuggling. In 2010, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan prohibited the sale of tobacco products, only to suspend the restrictions last year amid worries that cigarette traffickers would bring in the coronavirus.


As New Zealand unveiled its proposal, the government acknowledged the possible effects on the black market, which currently makes up at least 10 percent of tobacco sales in the country.


It said that smuggling of tobacco products into New Zealand, particularly by organized crime groups, had been rising. “The changes proposed in this document may contribute to this problem,” the government’s proposal notes.


But Dr. Robert Beaglehole, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Auckland, said there were potential solutions. “We can deal with it, if we only scanned every container coming into the country, which we don’t,” he said. “The technology is there.”


Since the New Zealand government began targeting smoking, rates have fallen far below the global average: 9.4 percent of New Zealanders currently smoke, down from 18 percent in 2008. Around 14 percent of people in the United States smoke, and roughly 20 percent worldwide.


The rates are not consistent among the New Zealand population. While the government is likely to meet its target for white New Zealanders by 2025, it would need to adjust its plans to sufficiently lower smoking rates among Maori and Pacific Island communities, Dr. Verrall said.


In addition to the gradual ban on cigarette sales, the proposed legislation would increase funding for addiction services, limit where cigarettes can be sold and reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. Vaping products, which the government has embraced as a safer alternative, would not be affected by the law.


The proposal did not say how the ban on sales would be enforced.


The New Zealand government has an absolute majority in Parliament, so it does not need the support of any coalition partners to make the proposals into law.


Janet Hoek, a public health expert at the University of Auckland, said the ban for future generations would help maintain the country’s gains.


“Once we get to the Smokefree 2025 goal and we’ve reduced smoking prevalence, we want to make sure that’s what the future looks like as well,” she said. The phased ban on cigarette sales is “one way of ensuring that this goal, once we reach it, is sustained,” she added.


Dr. Hoek said she hoped New Zealand’s plans would inspire other countries to pass similarly ambitious legislation, especially in light of World Health Organization estimates that a billion people will die of smoking-related causes this century.


“Now that New Zealand has made that step, I expect many other countries are going to follow suit,” she said. “This will be something that begins in New Zealand but that really has global implications.”



10) Here are the charges that Kimberly Potter faces.

By Patrick J. Lyons, Dec. 8, 2021

Protesters marched to demand justice for Daunte Wright on the first day of jury selection last month.

Protesters marched to demand justice for Daunte Wright on the first day of jury selection last month. Credit...Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in Hennepin County, Minn., lists two criminal counts against the defendant, Kimberly Potter, a police officer, in connection with the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center in April. Both counts are felonies, but neither is a murder charge.


Ms. Potter has pleaded not guilty, and her lawyers are expected to argue that the shooting happened accidentally and that she thought she was using her Taser and not her pistol when she pulled the trigger. Prosecutors have not suggested that the shooting was intentional.


The two counts are separate and not mutually exclusive; Ms. Potter can be convicted or acquitted of either charge, or of both.


Minnesota law also allows juries to consider convicting a defendant of an “included offense” — a lesser degree of the same crime, or another lesser crime that was proved in the course of the trial — in place of a charge listed in the complaint.


Here are the charges:



First-degree manslaughter


One of the ways Minnesota law defines first-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death while committing or attempting to commit a lesser crime — a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor — in a way that a reasonable person could foresee would cause death or great bodily harm.


Specifically, prosecutors accuse Ms. Potter of causing Mr. Wright’s death through reckless handling or use of a firearm.


First-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $30,000. The standard sentence for someone without a criminal record, like Ms. Potter, would be about seven years.



Second-degree manslaughter


One of the ways Minnesota law defines second-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death through culpable negligence, by creating an unreasonable risk and consciously taking chances of causing death or great bodily harm.


Prosecutors accuse Ms. Potter of doing so while using a firearm.


Second-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000. The standard sentence for a person without any previous convictions would be about four years.



11) To Vax or Not To Vax? THAT Is the Question

By Cliff Conner, December 8, 2021


The urgency of the need to contain the terrible effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has generated a divisive social issue in the United States and around the world. The reason one word in the title above is in all capital letters is to emphasize the centrality of that issue. As you read what I have written here, I urge you to keep your eye on the ball and not be distracted by peripheral matters. “To vax or not to vax?” is a handy way to remember it, but here is a fuller formulation:

Do the widespread public health vaccination programs constitute the most promising approach to defending ourselves against the Covid-19 pandemic that has already claimed more than five million lives worldwide?

On one side of the polarized social issue are those who advocate a public health program to vaccinate almost the entire global population as by far the most likely way to stop the pandemic from inflicting further death and destruction. This point of view is supported by the overwhelming majority of public health advocates and scientists who study viruses and epidemics. Here is their message to the public:

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and highly effective. When your turn comes to get the vaccine, take it!

That is the advice of Dr. Norman Oliver, Health Commissioner of the State of Virginia. I do not quote him as a voice of unchallengeable authority, but as representative of the near consensus of public health officials throughout the United States. These conscientious public servants have in recent months been subjected to a vicious campaign of harassment, including death threats, from those who call on the public to reject and resist the vaccination programs. The latter, to whom I give the shorthand designation “antivaxxers,” actively spread disinformation designed to discourage people from receiving Covid-19 vaccines. I characterize them as “scoundrels” for their efforts to deliberately undermine public health.

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a long, detailed treatise by one Julius Ruechel that presented an apparently fact- and evidence-based case for the antivax position, and asked me to comment on it. I wrote a partial response that challenged one of Ruechel’s core arguments. My response was published in a few on-line socialist periodicals1, and a 1 Climate & Capitalism,

 https://climateandcapitalism.com/2021/11/29/a-socialist-reply-to- leftwing-antivax-disinformation/ ; Against The Current, https://againstthecurrent.org/critique-of- leftwing-antivax-disinformation-antivaxxers-of-all-stripes-pose-a-serious-threat-to-public-health/

Socialist Action:

 https://socialistaction.org/2021/11/26/critique-of-leftwing-antivax- disinformation-antivaxxers-of-all-stripes-pose-a-serious-threat-to-public-health/ ; Socialist Voice, [forthcoming].

number of readers responded. Although many made valuable points that I had not included in my limited article, one in particular added a very important dimension to what I had written. It appeared on Against the Current magazine’s website and was authored by Frank Rosenthal, professor emeritus of health sciences at Purdue University:

I think it is important to distinguish the “scoundrels” promoting the antivax movement from the many honest people that are influenced by it. Cliff’s piece makes the important point that simply because vaccines are produced by profit- seeking corporations, that does not invalidate their widespread use. However, it does not address the valid concerns of many of the people taken in by the antivax movement, which include:

1.   The lack of confidence in government regulatory agencies in properly regulating product safety and keeping the public informed.

2.   The historic exploitation and oppression of people of color, particularly African-Americans, by government agencies and corporations in matters involving medicine and public health. (Some examples: the Tuskegee syphilis studies, forced sterilization policies, studies showing discrimination by medical providers, failure to address racial disparities in the pandemic.)

3.   The historic role of corporations in essentially lying to the public in matters relating to health and safety.

4.   The facts that there are some risks to vaccines and that vaccines are not 100% effective (which are not always well communicated.)

5.   The dismal track record of federal and state governments in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting workers and public health.

I think efforts to discredit the antivax movement and promote the widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines are more likely to succeed if they address, or at least acknowledge, some of the concerns listed above.

I completely agree, and incorporate his suggestions by reprinting them here.

The circulation of my article prompted another commentator, Bruce Lesnick, to add a lengthy contribution to the discussion. It repeats many of Julius Ruechel’s specific technical arguments and strongly opposes my critique. I felt obliged to respond again, but not in the same way. With Ruechel, I was able to determine that his superficially “leftist” antivax arguments were counterfeit. His underlying ideology is indistinguishable from the rightwing, ultralibertarian creed of Ayn Rand or the Koch brothers. I perceived Ruechel’s tract as a bad-faith argument that needed to be exposed as such, rather than a good-faith position requiring a carefully reasoned response.

By contrast, I know Bruce Lesnick to have been active for many years in the same antiwar and social justice movements in which I have participated. I respect Bruce’s intellect and integrity, but I think his antivax position is seriously mistaken and dangerous, and my purpose here is to respectfully present the reasons why.

Bruce began by accusing me of muddying the water with ad hominem arguments. It is in his title: “Name-Calling and Hand-Waving Don’t Constitute an Argument, nor will they lead to an effective Covid-19 response.” I realize that this will require a digression from the crucial issue, “To vax or not to vax,” but Bruce has called attention to matters of polemical etiquette that deserve to be addressed.

Before the “age of unreason” ushered in by Donald Trump, the New York Times’ reputation for decorum and good manners earned it the nickname “The Gray Lady.” But Trump’s tsunami of lies and verbal abuse changed all that. Early on, the Times’ official editorial board, realizing it could not bring a cream puff to a knife fight, described the sitting president of the United States in these words: “Mr. Trump is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.” You can hardly get more ad hominem than that. And yet who could deny that saying these things was necessary to counter Trump’s demagogy?

The point is that although bare-knuckle polemics featuring ad hominem attacks are definitely not conducive to reasoned discussion, the norms that previously served to keep the “national conversation” at least somewhat civil have been shattered. In that context, it is fully legitimate to call Ruechel’s screed a screed, which is itself replete with ad hominem sallies. For starters, his title characterizes the vast majority of public health officials and scientists who support the mass vaccination strategy as “snake-oil salesmen” and con men.

I believe Bruce is off base in his contention that “scientific arguments stand or fall on their own merit, regardless of the political beliefs of the person proffering them.” That is a noble ideal to which a great deal of lip service has been paid, but it has almost nothing to do with the way science has actually developed throughout history. One noteworthy example is the famous “Tragedy of the Commons” essay by Garrett Hardin that unfortunately has had way too much influence in the environmental sciences. Hardin’s white nationalist and xenophobic views were totally relevant to the content of his “scientific” work. And similarly, Julius Ruechel’s ideology was the primary determinant of his antivax conclusions and cannot be left out of account.

Bruce also faults my stated unwillingness to dissect Ruechel’s arcane minutiae in detail. I said it would be too time-consuming, but I should have stated why it would take too much time. I am neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, and to attain the necessary expertise to analyze Ruechel’s specific technical assertions would require years of study. I assume that is true of almost everyone who is presently reading these words.

How, then, can I have the chutzpah to express an opinion on this controversy? As a historian of science, I have had training and experience in evaluating the trustworthiness of assertions made in the heat of scientific disputes. It has equipped me with what some might indecorously call a “bullshit detector.” Ruechel’s essay set its alarms a-ringing bigtime.

One obvious giveaway is Ruechel’s claim to absolute knowledge. “From day one,” he declares, “it was 100% inevitable and 100% predictable that these vaccines would never be capable of eradicating this coronavirus.” (The emphasis was his.) If you ever hear any self-styled epidemiologist saying that anything about viral diseases is 100% predictable, it should set off your bullshit detector’s bells and whistles, too.

The close-up appearance of Ruechel’s tract as evidence- and fact-based dissolves as you back up and perceive it as forest rather than trees. The specific facts, regardless of their individual truth-value, are collectively devalued by having been cherry-picked to fit a pre-existing narrative—in this case, the antivax narrative. It calls to mind the familiar observation that every word of a bad-faith argument, including “a” and “the,” is a lie.

For example, Ruechel cites a number of facts that in isolation are in perfect harmony with something Frank Rosenthal wrote in the comment I quoted above, “that there are some risks to vaccines and that vaccines are not 100% effective.” But whereas Rosenthal’s concern is to improve the effectiveness of appeals to overcome vaccine hesitancy, Ruechel’s is to exaggerate the risks and less-than-100% efficacy of vaccines as a scare tactic to encourage vaccine hesitancy.

The lesson to be drawn is that a skilled practitioner of the dark polemical arts can isolate potentially valuable epidemiological facts and transmute them into misleading factoids. As William Blake’s insightful couplet explains:

Finally, let us bring the digression to an end by refocusing on the forest rather than the trees, and return to the essential issue: “To vax or not to vax?” The forest, in this analogy, is the truly massive aggregate of data drawn not only from clinical trials but from the experience gained by the inoculation of hundreds of millions of people, which clearly testifies to the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines of many provenances, including both mRNA and traditional types. As I said at the outset, I don’t doubt Bruce’s sincerity, but by taking on the burden of acting as Ruechel’s lawyer, he has me questioning his ability to see the forest for the trees.

One thing should be obvious: The science of the Covid vaccines is far from settled. The rapidly mutating Covid variants may or may not outrun the vaccine researchers’ ability to keep up. In the bigger picture, vaccines are only a technological quick fix that does not address the underlying, systemic socioeconomic problems that are sure to create future pandemics. All of this is true, but none of it negates the present urgent need to promote, not discourage, global Covid vaccine uptake. I appeal to everyone reading this to combat the pernicious anti-vax efforts of all ideological stripes.

Cliff Conner December 8, 2021

Here are the links to be embedded:

Julius Ruechel

https://www.juliusruechel.com/2021/09/the-snake-oil-salesmen-and-covid- zero.html

My response

C&C: https://climateandcapitalism.com/2021/11/29/a-socialist-reply-to-leftwing- antivax-disinformation/

ATC: https://againstthecurrent.org/critique-of-leftwing-antivax-disinformation- antivaxxers-of-all-stripes-pose-a-serious-threat-to-public-health/

SA:        https://socialistaction.org/2021/11/26/critique-of-leftwing-antivax- disinformation-antivaxxers-of-all-stripes-pose-a-serious-threat-to-public- health/

SV:        [forthcoming]

Bruce Lesnick’s response




12) Julian Assange can be extradited to US to face espionage charges, court rules

WikiLeaks co-founder’s lawyers say they will seek to appeal, as Amnesty International says decision is a ‘travesty of justice’

By Ben Quinn, December 10, 2021


Julian Assange can be extradited to the US, according to the high court, as it overturned a judgment earlier this year and sparked condemnation from press freedom advocates.


The decision deals a major blow to the WikiLeaks co-founder’s efforts to prevent his extradition to the US to face espionage charges, although his lawyers announced they would seek to appeal.


Two of Britain’s most senior judges found on Friday that a then-district judge based her decision earlier this year on the risk of Assange being held in highly restrictive US prison conditions.


But in their ruling on Friday, they sided with the US authorities after a package of assurances were put forward that Assange would not face those strictest measures unless he committed an act in the future that required them.


Lord Burnett said: “That risk is in our judgment excluded by the assurances which are offered. It follows that we are satisfied that, if the assurances had been before the judge, she would have answered the relevant question differently.”


He added: “That conclusion is sufficient to determine this appeal in the USA’s favour.”


The judges ordered that the case be remitted to Westminster magistrates court with a direction that a district justice send it to the secretary of state, who will decide whether Assange should be extradited.

Stella Moris, Assange’s fiancee, described the high court’s ruling as “dangerous and misguided” and a “grave miscarriage of justice”.


“Today is international human rights day, what a shame. How cynical to have this decision on this day,” she said, speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice.


The case against the 49-year-old relates to WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.


Alarm at the high court ruling was expressed by advocates of press freedom, with Amnesty International describing the ruling as a “travesty of justice”.


Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said: “By allowing this appeal, the high court has chosen to accept the deeply flawed diplomatic assurances given by the US that Assange would not be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.”


Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders said the ruling marked a “bleak moment” for journalists around the world and called on the US government to drop the case.


The high court was told earlier this year that blocking Assange‘s removal from the UK due to his mental health risked “rewarding fugitives for their flight”.


James Lewis QC, for the US, said the district judge based her decision on Assange’s “intellectual ability to circumvent suicide preventive measures”, which risked becoming a “trump card” for anyone who wanted to oppose extradition.


US assurances included one that Assange would not be subject to “special administrative measures” or held at a maximum security “ADX” facility and could apply, if convicted, to be transferred to a prison in Australia.


The US assurances were described in the ruling by Lord Burnett of Maldon, lord chief justice, and Lord Justice Holroyde as “solemn undertakings offered by one government to another”.


Assange’s lawyers will be seeking permission to appeal to the supreme court in relation to the question of the US assurancess.


But Nick Vamos, a partner at Peters & Peters solicitors in London and a former head of extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said it was unclear if the supreme court would hear such an appeal as it related to factual matters rather than points of law.


It was more likely, he suggested, that the battle would eventually shift to a cross appeal by Assange’s lawyers, which would take place first at the high court and focus on questions of free speech and political motivation of the extradition request.


“It’s back to all of those big questions, which he feels provides stronger ground in the media and the public. But will it have traction in court? The district judge was not impressed and any argument that the US case is politically motivated or that Assange would not get a fair trial quickly runs into the problem that the UK courts accept that the US has a fair and independent legal system.”


Such appeals, and possibly even hearings before the supreme court about the right to appeal, are likely to take place in the coming months, with the European court of justice remaining a last resort.



13) Supreme Court Allows Challenge to Texas Abortion Law but Leaves It in Effect

The law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, was drafted to evade review in federal court and has been in effect since September.

By Adam Liptak, Dec. 10, 2021

Demonstrators protesting the Texas law, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks, in November outside the Supreme Court.

Demonstrators protesting the Texas law, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks, in November outside the Supreme Court. Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday allowed a challenge to a Texas abortion law that banned most abortions in the state after about six weeks to proceed, ruling that abortion providers in the state may sue some state officials in federal court despite the procedural hurdles imposed by the unusual structure of the law.


But the Supreme Court refused to block the law in the meantime, saying that lower courts should consider the matter.


The development was both a victory for and a disappointment to supporters of abortion rights, who had hoped that the justices would reverse course from a Sept. 1 ruling that had allowed the law to go into effect, causing clinics in the state to curtail performing the procedure and forcing many women seeking abortions to travel out of state.


The decision in the Texas case came less than two weeks after the court heard a direct challenge to the right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, in a case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Roe prohibits states from banning abortion before fetal viability, the point at which fetuses can sustain life outside the womb, or about 23 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.


The court’s six-member conservative majority seemed prepared to uphold the Mississippi law, and several justices indicated that they would vote to overrule Roe outright. A decision in the case is not expected until late June.


The Texas law flouts Roe’s viability line by barring abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually around 6 weeks.


The challenges to the Texas law focused not on the law’s constitutionality but on whether the law could be challenged in court by either abortion providers in the state or the federal government. The cases provided the court with an opportunity to revisit its earlier decision allowing the law to go into effect before the justices had grappled with its constitutionality or settled the question of how it could be challenged.


The Texas law, known as Senate Bill 8, has unusual features.


Usually, a lawsuit seeking to block a law because it is unconstitutional would name state officials as defendants. However, the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, bars state officials from enforcing it and instead deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or “aids and abets” it.


The patient may not be sued, but doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure or drive them to it are all potential defendants. Plaintiffs, who do not need to live in Texas, have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it, are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees recovered if they win. Prevailing defendants are not entitled to legal fees.


The court’s earlier encounter with the law left the justices bitterly divided, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s three more liberal members in dissent.


The majority opinion, issued just before midnight on Sept. 1, was unsigned and consisted of a single long paragraph. It said the abortion providers who had challenged the law in an emergency application had not made their case in the face of “complex and novel” procedural questions. The majority stressed that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of the Texas law and did not mean to limit “procedurally proper challenges” to it.


Each of the dissenting justices issued an opinion in that earlier ruling.


“The court’s order is stunning,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, for instance. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”


“The court has rewarded the state’s effort to delay federal review of a plainly unconstitutional statute, enacted in disregard of the court’s precedents, through procedural entanglements of the state’s own creation,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “The court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.”


The case returned to the Supreme Court on two separate tracks. After the court rejected the providers’ request for emergency relief, the Justice Department filed its own challenge to the law, one that it said was not subject to the procedural barriers the providers had faced. The case soon reached the Supreme Court on an emergency application.


The abortion providers also returned to the court, asking the justices to use an unusual procedure — “certiorari before judgment” — to leapfrog the appeals court and decide whether they were entitled to sue.


The Supreme Court agreed to decide both cases on Oct. 22, putting them on an extraordinarily fast track. It heard arguments just 10 days later, on Nov. 1, focusing on the question of whether the providers and the government were entitled to sue in light of the law’s unusual structure.


At those arguments, two members of the original majority, Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, asked questions suggesting that they might have had a change of heart about the law.



14) Another Death at Rikers Continues ‘Very Difficult Year’ at N.Y.C. Jails

A Brooklyn man, who went into cardiac arrest on Friday, became the 15th person to die this year within New York City’s correction system.

By Jan Ransom and Karen Zraick, Dec. 10, 2021

Amid a continuing crisis in New York City’s correction system, a Brooklyn man died at Rikers Island jail complex, becoming the 15th person to die within the system this year.
Amid a continuing crisis in New York City’s correction system, a Brooklyn man died at Rikers Island jail complex, becoming the 15th person to die within the system this year. Credit...Uli Seit for The New York Times

A Brooklyn man being held at the Rikers Island jail complex died on Friday after a medical emergency — becoming the 15th person to die this year at a time when New York City’s correction system has been embroiled in a continuing crisis.


The man, Malcolm Boatwright, 28, had been at the Bellevue Hospital Center since Thursday after having seizures, correction and union officials said. He died early on Friday morning after cardiac arrest, though an official cause of death was still pending.


Mr. Boatwright, who had autism, had been detained for nearly a month on sexual abuse charges and related offenses, court records show. He had been ordered held on Rikers Island pending the results of a psychiatric exam that had been requested by his defense lawyer on the case, in which he had been accused of touching a 6-year-old boy’s genitals.


Officials have struggled to respond to converging crises — a pandemic and a staffing problem that has crippled the correction system. This has been the deadliest year in New York City jails since 2016.


“This is a heartbreaking loss at the end of a very difficult year,” Vincent N. Schiraldi, the city’s jails commissioner, said in a statement on Friday.


His death comes just days after a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms at the troubled jail complex wrote in his latest report that the Department of Correction was “trapped in a state of disrepair” with no sign of major improvement, calling it a system that is “rife with violence and disorder.”


Mr. Boatwright’s mother, Lashawn Boatwright, said that her son had the mind of an 11-year-old, but that he had been in good physical health when he entered Rikers.


During a phone conversation this week, Ms. Boatwright recounted, her son spoke cryptically about his experience at the jail. He said that he thought one correction officer disliked him and that a detainee had given him a “warning.” The next day, Mr. Boatwright told his mother he had hit his head.


“I said, ‘Malcolm, did somebody hit you?’ He brushed it off,” she said, adding that he said that he had had a seizure, though he had no history of them. He declined to give his mother additional details, noting that he did not trust the people around him.


While at Bellevue, Mr. Boatwright told his mother that he had been checked out and was being returned to the jail.


“He never made it,” she said.


An officer touring the hospital ward found Mr. Boatwright on the floor, and he appeared ill and unresponsive, said Joseph Russo, president of the union representing deputy wardens and assistant deputy wardens. The officer called for medical assistance, but Mr. Boatwright went into cardiac arrest, Mr. Russo said.


Mr. Boatwright had told his mother that the conditions in the jail, where he had been held since Nov. 12, were terrible.


“He was scared to take a shower,” she said, adding that he said other detainees had threatened him and thrown hot water, feces and urine on him.


Ms. Boatwright said that her son had proclaimed his innocence and planned on pleading not guilty to the latest charges.


Before his latest arrest, Mr. Boatwright lived in an inpatient rehabilitation center in Brooklyn where he had been receiving services.


Mr. Boatwright had a history of child sexual abuse charges.


In 2012, prosecutors said he had placed his mouth on a 7-year-old boy’s genitals. He was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years on probation, according to court records.


In 2013, he pleaded guilty to charges of criminal contempt for violating an order of protection that required him to stay away from the child. He was scheduled to be sentenced the next year, but absconded, until he was arrested last month.


According to the state’s Sex Offender Registry, Mr. Boatwright was listed as a Level 1 offender, which for him meant a lifetime listing because the offense was deemed violent.


Hemangi Pai, now a supervising lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services, who represented Mr. Boatwright in 2013, remembered him as a “kind young man” who struggled with a history of trauma and cognitive deficiencies.


Ms. Pai said Mr. Boatwright was victimized during that stint in jail and the experience had stayed with him.


“He would cry the whole time because of how horrible the experience was,” she said. “Just seeing this young man who had so many issues — he didn’t need to be incarcerated.”



15) In Texas, a Battle Over What Can Be Taught, and What Books Can Be Read

A new state law constricts teachers when it comes to race and history. And a politician is questioning why 850 titles are on library shelves. The result: “A lot of our teachers are petrified.”

By Michael Powell, Dec. 10, 2021

The 850 school library books that State Representative Matt Krause of Texas has questioned include a book about gay teenagers as well as a study of quinceañera, the Latina coming-of-age ritual.
The 850 school library books that State Representative Matt Krause of Texas has questioned include a book about gay teenagers as well as a study of quinceañera, the Latina coming-of-age ritual. Credit...Eric Gay/Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — In late September, Carrie Damon, a middle school librarian, celebrated “Banned Books Week,” an annual free-speech event, with her working-class Latino students by talking of literature’s beauty and subversive power.


A few weeks later, State Representative Matt Krause, a Republican, emailed a list of 850 books to superintendents, a mix of half-century-old novels — “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron — and works by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Margaret Atwood, as well as edgy young adult books touching on sexual identity. Are these works, he asked, on your library shelves?


Mr. Krause’s motive was unclear, but the next night, at a school board meeting in San Antonio, parents accused a librarian of poisoning young minds.


Days later, a secretary sidled up to Ms. Damon and asked if district libraries held pornography.


“‘No, no, honey, we don’t buy porno,’” Ms. Damon replied.


She sighed. “I don’t need my blood pressure going crazy worrying about ending up on a politician’s radar.”


Texas is afire with fierce battles over education, race and gender. What began as a debate over social studies curriculum and critical race studies — an academic theory about how systemic racism enters the pores of society — has become something broader and more profound, not least an effort to curtail and even ban books, including classics of American literature.


In June, and again in recent weeks, Texas legislators passed a law shaping how teachers approach instruction touching on race and gender. And Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican with presidential ambitions, took aim at school library shelves, directing education officials to investigate “criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography.”


“Parents are rightfully angry,” he wrote in a separate letter. They “have the right to shield their children from obscene content.”


Such upheaval surprises few. Public schools are where a society transmits values and beliefs, and this fraught and deeply divided time has again made a cauldron of public education.


“Education is not above the fray; it is the fray,” said Robert Pondiscio, a former teacher and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy group. “It’s naïve to think otherwise.”


In Texas, conservative slates have claimed majorities on school boards in large suburban districts, including Southlake, near Dallas, and Cypress-Fairbanks, near Houston.


In Colleyville, a tony suburb near Dallas, a Black principal resigned, accused of sanctioning the teaching of critical race theory. Elsewhere, books have been pulled from library shelves and talks by award-winning writers canceled.


How this ends is unclear.


To talk with a dozen teachers and librarians is to hear annoyance and frustration and bewilderment, as much with the sheer ambiguity of the new law and the list of books as with the practical effect.


“Critical race theory is a convenient boogeyman, but what are the limits you want to put on teachers?” said Joe Cohn, legislative director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties organization. “Do you really want to give them no breathing room? Do you want to shut down a curious student? Legislatures would be wise to be modest.”


A Fight Decades in the Making


From debates over evolution to the Red Scare to the Vietnam War, America’s public schools are a much-trodden battleground.


In the 1990s, the New York City chancellor, after much controversy, was forced to remove mention of the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” from the curriculum; more recently, a liberal California school district ruled that “Of Mice and Men” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” were racially insensitive and no longer mandatory reading.


In Texas, such battles recur. In 2018, an education committee proposed striking a reference to “heroic” defenders of the Alamo, describing it as a “value-laden word.” A roar of resistance arose and the board of education rejected the proposal. The Republican lieutenant governor this year pressured a museum to cancel a panel to discuss a revisionist book — “Forget the Alamo” — examining its slaveholding combatants.


The last year was particularly contentious.


“One minute they’re talking critical race theory,” Ms. Damon, the librarian, said. “Suddenly I’m hearing librarians are indoctrinating students.”


Mr. Krause, who compiled the list of 850 books that might “make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish” because of race or sex, did not respond to interview requests. Nor did his aides explain why he drew up the list, which includes a book on gay teenagers and book banning, “The Year They Burned the Books” by Nancy Garden; “Quinceañera,” a study of the Latina coming-of-age ritual by the Mexican Jewish academic Ilan Stavans; and a particularly puzzling choice, “Cynical Theories” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, which is deeply critical of leftist academic theorizing, including critical race theory.


But his hazily defined list of troublesome books seems to have sent a chill through school boards. Absent any state law, some librarians have been told to pre-emptively pull down books. This week, a San Antonio district ordered 400 books taken off its shelves for a review.


As for the state’s attempt to ban critical race theory, for all the Republicans’ talk, the Texas law makes no mention of the term. Aspects of critical race theory are influential in some teacher colleges, and shape how some administrators and teachers approach race and ideas of white privilege. Yet no one has identified a Texas high school class that teaches the theory.


Perhaps as a result, the statute’s language can be ambiguous to the point of vagueness. In its central thrust, the law sounds a seemingly unobjectionable note, ruling no particular subject — slavery, Reconstruction, the treatment of Native Americans — out of bounds and stating that teachers should “explore” contentious subjects “in a manner free from political bias.”


Sarah Spurrier, a teacher in Arlington, is not enamored of the law but neither is she intimidated. “I’ve taught A.P. social studies and geography for 21 years so there’s not much that makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “This law is so vague that it strikes me as much ado about nothing.”


Others see peril, particularly in conservative districts where teachers step lightly for fear of giving offense.


Emerson Sykes, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, has helped challenge an Oklahoma law that is similar to Texas’. That federal suit argues that the law is so vague that it fails to provide reasonable legal guidance to teachers and could put jobs in danger.


He also spoke to another motivation. “For generations we had a whitewashed history,” Mr. Sykes said. “We view these as bans on inclusive history.”


The Texas law does state that teachers should not inculcate a sense of guilt or discomfort in students because of their race or sex.


On the question of slavery, for instance, the Texas law prohibits teachers from portraying slavery and racism as “anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States.” This conflicts with the views of many scholars who note that from America’s founding, slavery was woven into the structure of the nation and the Constitution.


The law singles out one text as forbidden: The New York Times’s 1619 Project. Now a book, the special magazine issue attempted to place Black Americans and the consequences of slavery at the center of America’s narrative. The project — for which Nikole Hannah-Jones, its creator, won a Pulitzer Prize — is hotly debated among historians and became an ideological piñata for conservative critics.


State Representative Steve Toth, who sponsored the bill against critical race theory, declined an interview. But several critics of the 1619 Project strongly opposed banning it.


“It’s just enormously problematic to rule out particular works,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, who has written favorably of the battles against critical race theory. “I happen to think ‘1619’ is a shoddy work, but so what? Let kids read critiques and wrestle with it.”


Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, crafted the model that led to the Texas statute. He declined an interview, but in The National Review, he opposed blocking teaching of the 1619 Project. “We should not be barring the discussion or understanding of concepts, only the teaching of them as truths to be embraced,” he wrote.


Into the Classroom


What are schools and teachers to make of these crosscurrents?


Southlake, a wealthy suburb near Dallas, offers a petri dish. Racist incidents led previous trustees to embrace racial diversity teachings. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 gave birth to a more insistent movement of young alumni who demanded students address white privilege and have every teacher and school trustee examined for implicit bias.


The school trustees did not endorse such demands. But a movement of parents who described themselves as “unapologetically rooted in Judeo-Christian values” rose up and in May elected a like-minded majority. That board recently reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher — a former teacher of the year — after parents complained that their child brought home a classroom book about racism that troubled them.


A curriculum official went so far as to suggest teachers should seek “opposing” perspectives if students read a book on the Holocaust, according to a recording acquired by NBC News. The superintendent apologized. “We recognize,” he stated, “there are not two sides to the Holocaust.”


Sheri Mills, a Southlake school trustee, heard herself denounced as a Marxist and heckled at her teenage daughter’s athletic events.


“A lot of our teachers are petrified,” Ms. Mills said. “The really good teachers, if they are near retirement, they are leaving.”


In Alief, a diverse district on the western edge of Houston, three English teachers at Kerr High School sat together and spoke of this uncertain world.


Safraz Ali, who spent his early boyhood in Guyana and had taught for 17 years, said he had grown weary of the uncertainty. He called the state education department and asked officials to define critical race theory. He received no answer.


“It’s like you’re walking into a dark room,” he said.


The teachers pointed in particular to the clause that says a teacher must not inculcate the idea that students should feel “responsibility, blame or guilt” because of their race or sex. Mr. Krause, the state representative, had gone a step further, suggesting that a teacher might overstep simply by assigning a book that troubles a student.


These teachers all but slapped foreheads in frustration. To teach Shakespeare and Toni Morrison, to read Gabriel García Márquez or Frederick Douglass, is to elicit swells of emotions, they said, out of which can arise introspection and self-recognition, sorrow and joy. The challenge is no different for a social studies teacher talking of Cherokee dying along the Trail of Tears or white gangs lynching Black and Mexican people.


“I have had kids triggered by difficult texts,” noted Ayn Nys, one of the English teachers. “It’s our responsibility to prepare students emotionally and intellectually with a diversity of voices.”


How does this end?


“OK, you ban a book — does that ban the topic?” Kathleen Harrison, another teacher, said while shaking her head. “At what point do I practice subversion?”


Adrian Reyna, a social studies teacher at Longfellow Middle School in San Antonio, did not fear that, not yet.


“Truthfully, I have not changed a single thing about my teaching,” he said.


His school feeds into Thomas Jefferson High School. His students know Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Reyna helped them to understand that the third president kept slaves and had children with an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings. “Jefferson did some really great things and some ugly, and we don’t throw that away,” he said. “We know human beings are complex, and that is the story of America.”


Mr. Pondiscio, the American Enterprise Institute education analyst, is critical of aspects of the liberal educational project. He sees antiracist education, such as grouping students in racial affinity groups, as lapsing into parody. Teachers may bridle, he says, but free speech is curtailed in a public school classroom.


Yet he sees futility woven into efforts to dictate curriculum. He once taught in an impoverished corner of the South Bronx in New York, and although his politics differ from those of Mr. Reyna, each knows what it is like for a teacher to try to fire the minds of teenagers. Both spoke of the hope a teacher can provoke without placing a thumb heavily on the ideological scales.


“Every day, teachers call audibles at the line of scrimmage, figuring out what materials and words will work,” Mr. Pondiscio said. “It betrays arrogance to think you’re going to solve all the problems of schools and race by passing a curriculum law.”