Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, December 14, 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) 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.



2) 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.



3) 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.”



4) 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.”



5) Civilian Deaths Mounted as Secret Unit Pounded ISIS

An American strike cell alarmed its partners as it raced to defeat the enemy.

By Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, Dec. 12, 2021

Syrians flee their homes in the regional capital of Raqqa in July 2017.
Syrians flee their homes in the regional capital of Raqqa in July 2017. Credit...Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A single top secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria, but in the process of hammering a vicious enemy, the shadowy force sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians, according to multiple current and former military and intelligence officials.


The unit was called Talon Anvil, and it worked in three shifts around the clock between 2014 and 2019, pinpointing targets for the United States’ formidable air power to hit: convoys, car bombs, command centers and squads of enemy fighters.


But people who worked with the strike cell say in the rush to destroy enemies, it circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the C.I.A. by killing people who had no role in the conflict: farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings.


Talon Anvil was small — at times fewer than 20 people operating from anonymous rooms cluttered with flat screens — but it played an outsize role in the 112,000 bombs and missiles launched against the Islamic State, in part because it embraced a loose interpretation of the military’s rules of engagement.


“They were ruthlessly efficient and good at their jobs,” said one former Air Force intelligence officer who worked on hundreds of classified Talon Anvil missions from 2016 to 2018. “But they also made a lot of bad strikes.”


The military billed the air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane in military history, and said strict rules and oversight by top leaders kept civilian deaths to a minimum despite a ferocious pace of bombing. In reality, four current and former military officials say, the majority of strikes were ordered not by top leaders but by relatively low-ranking U.S. Army Delta Force commandos in Talon Anvil.


The New York Times reported last month that a Special Operations bombing run in 2019 killed dozens of women and children, and that the aftermath was concealed from the public and top military leaders. In November, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a high-level investigation into the strike, which was carried out by Talon Anvil.


But people who saw the task force operate firsthand say the 2019 strike was part of a pattern of reckless strikes that started years earlier.


When presented with The Times’ findings, several current and former senior Special Operations officers denied any widespread pattern of reckless airstrikes by the strike cell and disregard for limiting civilian casualties. Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in Syria, declined to comment.


As bad strikes mounted, the four military officials said, Talon Anvil’s partners sounded the alarm. Pilots over Syria at times refused to drop bombs because Talon Anvil wanted to hit questionable targets in densely populated areas.  Senior C.I.A. officers complained to Special Operations leaders about the disturbing pattern of strikes. Air Force teams doing intelligence work argued with Talon Anvil over a secure phone known as the red line. And even within Talon Anvil, some members at times refused to participate in strikes targeting people who did not seem to be in the fight.


The four officials worked in different parts of the war effort, but all interacted directly with Talon Anvil on hundreds of strikes and soon grew concerned with its way of operating. They reported what they were seeing to immediate superiors and the command overseeing the air war, but say they were ignored.


The former Air Force intelligence officer, who worked almost daily on missions from 2016 to 2018, said he notified the main Air Force operations center in the region about civilian casualties several times, including after a March 2017 strike when Talon Anvil dropped a 500-pound bomb on a building where about 50 people were sheltering. But he said leaders seemed reluctant to scrutinize a strike cell that was driving the offensive on the battlefield.


Every year that the strike cell operated, the civilian casualty rate in Syria increased significantly, according to Larry Lewis, a former Pentagon and State Department adviser who was one of the authors of a 2018 Defense Department report on civilian harm. Mr. Lewis, who has viewed the Pentagon’s classified civilian casualty data for Syria, said the rate was 10 times that of similar operations he tracked in Afghanistan.


“It was much higher than I would have expected from a U.S. unit,” Mr. Lewis said. “The fact that it increased dramatically and steadily over a period of years shocked me.”


Mr. Lewis said commanders enabled the tactics by failing to emphasize the importance of reducing civilian casualties, and that Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, who commanded the offensive against the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017, was dismissive of widespread reports from news media and human rights organizations describing the mounting toll.


In a telephone interview, General Townsend, who now heads the military’s Africa Command, said outside organizations that tracked civilian harm claims often did not vet allegations rigorously enough. But he strongly denied that he didn’t take civilian casualties seriously. “There’s nothing further from the truth,” said General Townsend, who added that as commander he ordered monthly civilian casualty reports in Iraq and Syria be made public. He blamed any civilian casualties on “the misfortunes of war” and not because “we didn’t care.”


With few Americans on the ground, it was difficult to get reliable counts of civilian deaths, according to Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the military’s Central Command at the time, and General Townsend’s boss.


“Our ability to get out and look after a strike was extraordinarily limited — it was an imperfect system,” General Votel said in a telephone interview. “But I believe we always took this seriously and tried to do our best.”


Tips, Intercepts and Strikes


Officially, Talon Anvil never existed. Nearly everything it did was highly classified. The strike cell’s actions in Syria were gleaned from descriptions of top-secret reports and interviews with current and former military personnel who interacted with the group and who discussed it on the condition that they not be named.


The strike cell was run by a classified Special Operations unit called Task Force 9 that oversaw the ground offensive in Syria. The task force had multiple missions. Army Green Berets trained allied Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces. Small groups of Delta Force operators embedded with ground forces, and an assault team of Delta commandos were on call to launch ground raids on high-value targets, including the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.


Most of the firepower, though, was run by Talon Anvil. It worked out of bland office spaces, first in Erbil, Iraq, and then, as the war progressed, in Syria, at a shuttered cement plant in the north, and at a housing complex near the Iraqi border called Green Village, former task force members said.


The cell used tips from allied ground forces, secret electronic intercepts, drone cameras and other information to find enemy targets, then hit them with munitions from drones or called in strikes from other coalition aircraft. It also coordinated air support for allied Kurdish and Arab forces fighting on the ground.


Outwardly, the operators showed few signs that they were military, said a former task force member who worked with the strike cell during the height of the war in 2017. They used first names and no rank or uniforms, and many had bushy beards and went to work in shorts and footwear that included Crocs and Birkenstocks. But from their strike room, they controlled a fleet of Predator and Reaper drones that bristled with precision Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.


The task force had a second strike cell that worked with the C.I.A. to hunt high-value Islamic State leaders. It used similar tools, but often tracked a target for days or weeks, and accounted for a fraction of the strikes.


Both cells were created in 2014 when the Islamic State had overrun large parts of Iraq and Syria. Within a few years, the self-declared caliphate was attacking allies in the Middle East and launching terrorist attacks in Europe. The United States was desperate for a force that could identify enemy targets, and put Delta Force in charge.


Early in the American-led offensive, which was known as Operation Inherent Resolve, the military struggled to function at “the speed of war,” as only high-ranking generals from outside Delta could approve strikes, according to a RAND Corporation report on the air war. Seventy-four percent of sorties returned without dropping any weapons, and the offensive began to stall.


Tactics changed late in 2016 when General Townsend took command and, in an attempt to keep pace with a rapidly expanding offensive, moved the authority to approve strikes down to the level of  on-scene commanders.


Within Task Force 9, that authority was effectively pushed even lower, a senior official with extensive experience in Iraq and Syria said, to the senior enlisted Delta operator on shift in the strike room — usually a sergeant first class or master sergeant.


Under the new rules, the strike cell was still required to follow a process of intelligence gathering and risk mitigation to limit harm to civilians before launching a strike. That often meant flying drones over targets for hours to make sure the cell could positively identify enemies and determine whether civilians were in the area.


But the Delta operators were under enormous pressure to protect allied ground troops and move the offensive forward, the former task force member said, and felt hobbled by the safeguards. So in early 2017, they found a way to strike more quickly: self-defense.


Most of Operation Inherent Resolve’s restrictions applied only to offensive strikes. There were far fewer restrictions for defensive strikes that were meant to protect allied forces under imminent threat of harm. So Talon Anvil began claiming that nearly every strike was in self-defense, which enabled them to move quickly with little second-guessing or oversight, even if their targets were miles from any fighting, two former task force members said.


The classified rules of engagement warned that self-defense strikes should not be used to circumvent the more restrictive rules for offensive strikes, two officers with knowledge of the rules said. But for Talon Anvil, there was a tenuous logic to the tactic, one of the former task force members said. If defense rules allowed Talon Anvil to attack an enemy target on the front lines, then why not the same type of target 10 or even 100 miles away that might one day be on the front lines? Soon Talon Anvil was justifying nearly every strike as defensive.


“It’s more expedient to resort to self-defense,” said Mr. Lewis, the former Pentagon adviser. “It’s easier to get approved.”


But speeding up strikes meant less time to gather intelligence and sort enemy fighters from civilians, and the four former military personnel who worked with Talon Anvil said that too often the cell relied on flimsy intelligence from Kurdish and Arab ground forces or rushed to attack with little regard to who might be nearby.


One former task force member said the vast majority of Talon Anvil’s strikes killed only enemy fighters, but that the Delta operators in the strike cell were biased toward hitting and often decided something was an enemy target when there was scant supporting evidence. Part of the problem, he said, was that operators, who rotated through roughly every four months, were trained as elite commandos but had little experience running a strike cell. It addition, he said, the daily demands of overseeing strike after strike seemed to erode operators’ perspective and fray their humanity.


The former Air Force intelligence officer said he saw so many civilian deaths as a result of Talon Anvil’s tactics citing self-defense that he eventually grew jaded and accepted them as part of the job. Even still, some attacks  stood out.


In one, he said, Talon Anvil followed three men, all with canvas bags, working in an olive grove near the city of Manbij in the fall of 2016. The men had no weapons, and were not near any fighting, but the strike cell insisted they must be enemy fighters and killed them with a missile.


In another, as civilians were trying to flee fighting in the city of Raqqa in June 2017, scores of people boarded makeshift ferries to cross the Euphrates River. He said the task force claimed the ferries were carrying enemy fighters, and he watched on high-definition video as it hit multiple boats, killing at least 30 civilians, whose bodies drifted away in the green water.


A senior military official with direct knowledge of the task force said that what counted as an “imminent threat” was extremely subjective and Talon Anvil’s senior Delta operators were given broad authority to launch defensive strikes. At times, the official acknowledged, that led to bad strikes, and those who showed poor judgment were removed. But the official emphasized these instances were rare.


Fighters, or Children?


As airstrikes escalated in 2017, a broad array of U.S. partners working with the strike cell grew troubled by its tactics.


The C.I.A. had officers embedded in Task Force 9 to supply intelligence on Islamic State leaders and coordinate strikes. The agency was pursuing high-value individuals, and often tracked them for days using multiple drones, waiting to strike when civilian deaths could be minimized.


The task force did not always like to wait, two former C.I.A. officers said. C.I.A. personnel were shocked when they repeatedly saw the group strike with little regard for civilians. Officers reported their concerns to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General, and the agency’s leadership discussed the issue with top officers at the Joint Special Operations Command, one former C.I.A. officer said.


The officer said he never saw evidence that these concerns were taken seriously.


A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.


Talon Anvil also clashed at times with the Air Force intelligence teams based in the United States that helped to analyze the torrent of footage from drones. The Delta operators would push analysts to say they saw evidence such as weapons that could legally justify a strike, even when there was none, the former Air Force intelligence officer said. If one analyst did not see what Delta wanted, Delta would ask for a different one.


Delta Force and analysts sometimes argued over whether figures in the sights of a drone were fighters or children, one of the former task force members said.


All of the footage from the strikes is stored by the military. In an apparent attempt to blunt criticism and undercut potential investigations, Talon Anvil started directing drone cameras away from targets shortly before a strike hit, preventing the collection of video evidence, the former Air Force intelligence officer and one of the former task force members said.


Another Air Force officer, who reviewed dozens of task force strikes where civilians were reportedly killed, said that drone crews were trained to keep cameras on targets so the military could assess damage. Yet he frequently saw cameras jerk away at key moments, as if hit by a wind gust. It was only after seeing the pattern over and over, he said, that he began to believe it was done on purpose.


A Hunt for Targets


One morning before dawn in early March 2017, Talon Anvil sent a Predator drone over a Syrian farming town called Karama to cripple enemy positions in the area in preparation for an offensive by allies a week later.


For the former Air Force intelligence officer, the mission stands out as an example of Talon Anvil’s flawed way of operating, and how military leaders seemed to look the other way.


At about 4 a.m., he said, the drone arrived over the  town’s flat-roofed houses. His Air Force intelligence team was watching from a secure operations center in the United States. A Talon Anvil operator typed a message  into the chat room the cell  shared with intelligence analysts: All civilians have fled the area. Anyone left is an enemy fighter. Find lots of targets for us today because we want to go Winchester.


Going Winchester meant expending all of the drone’s missiles and 500-pound bombs.


As the drone circled, the town appeared to be asleep, the former officer said. Even with infrared sensors, the team did not see movement. Talon Anvil focused in on a building and typed in the chat that a tip from ground forces indicated that the building was an enemy training center. Sensors suggested an enemy cellphone or radio might be in the neighborhood but was unable to pinpoint it to a single block, let alone a single building.


Talon Anvil did not wait for confirmation, and ordered a self-defense strike, the former officer said. The Predator dropped a 500-pound bomb through the roof.


As the smoke cleared, the former officer said, his team stared at their screens in dismay. The infrared cameras showed women and children staggering out of the partly collapsed building, some missing limbs, some dragging the dead.


The intelligence analysts began taking screen shots and tallying the casualties. They sent an initial battle damage assessment to Talon Anvil: 23 dead or severely wounded, 30 lightly wounded, very likely civilians. Talon Anvil paused only long enough to acknowledge the message, the former officer said, then pressed on to the next target.


The former Air Force officer said he immediately reported the civilian casualties to Operation Inherent Resolve’s operations center, then called the center’s liaison officer on the red line. He said he never heard back and saw no evidence that any action was ever taken.


Operation Inherent Resolve made a commitment to investigate and report every case of civilian casualties publicly, but nothing in its reports matches the incident. The true toll of the strike in Karama remains uncertain.


During a five-day window in early March, Operation Inherent Resolve acknowledged that it launched 47 strikes in the region. Satellite images from the time show extensive damage to at least a dozen buildings, including the building that the former officer said he saw bombed. Local media reported that airstrikes in Karama on March 8 and 9 killed between seven and 14 people and wounded 18.


For two years after the strikes, Operation Inherent Resolve said it could not confirm any civilian casualties in the town. Then, in 2019, it acknowledged that one man had been wounded when the coalition struck an enemy fighting position. It gave coordinates a block from the building the former Air Force intelligence officer said he saw destroyed.


In response to questions from The Times this month, a Special Operations official acknowledged its strike cell had hit targets in the town on March 8 and killed 16 fighters, but denied that any civilians had died.


No outside group has ever investigated the secret strike, and it is unclear what steps the military took to determine what happened. The former officer said no military investigators ever contacted him.


The evidence from the strike — the chat room records, bombing coordinates and video — is stored on government servers, the former officer said. But because of the secrecy surrounding Talon Anvil, all of it is classified.


Azmat Khan contributed reporting. Additional production by Christoph Koettl and Drew Jordan.



6) ‘Our Boat Was Surrounded by Dead Bodies’: Witnessing a Migrant Tragedy

Migrants who were on a separate boat described the horrible aftermath of the sinking in the English Channel that took at least 27 lives.

By Jane Arraf, Sangar Khaleel and Megan Specia, Dec. 12, 2021

Migrants arriving at a beach last month in Dungeness, on the southeast coast of England, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel.
Migrants arriving at a beach last month in Dungeness, on the southeast coast of England, after being rescued while crossing the English Channel. Credit...Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — The boat packed with migrants was about halfway across the English Channel when one of the passengers spotted two orange life jackets bobbing in the water.


The seas were rough, and it was only when they got closer that Zana Hamawandani saw the vests contained dead bodies.


Soon, other bodies started appearing. As Mr. Hamawandani watched, the current pushed one of them under his inflatable boat, where it collided with the whirling blades of the outboard motor.


“It came up again, but I saw it floating for just a few seconds before the waves took it away,” he said. He remembered it was the body of a man wearing baggy pants.


Another migrant, Karzan Mangury, said he was so horrified by the corpses that he tried to look away. “Our boat was surrounded by dead bodies,” said Mr. Mangury. “At that moment my entire body was shaking.”


Their accounts, in phone interviews from an immigration facility in England, are the first time they have spoken to the news media and are among the only witness descriptions of the last minutes of the disaster. At least 27 people are believed to have died, the biggest single loss of life in the channel since the International Organization for Migration began collecting data in 2014.


Along with the accounts of relatives of some of the victims, their descriptions also tell a story of hours of frantic and futile calls for help to the French and English authorities as the migrant boat was sinking. At one point, Mr. Mangury said, he made 10 calls to a number the French police had given him to try to report his location, and no one answered.


His description of his phone calls is the first public account by a migrant who spoke directly with the English and French police to report the sinking.


A few minutes after seeing the corpses, Mr. Hamawandani and Mr. Mangury said, they saw a mostly submerged, deflated boat with at least two people clinging to it — believed to be the only survivors of a migrant boat that sank in the channel on Nov 24.


“They were shouting, we could hear them yelling for help,” said Mr. Hamawandani, a 21-year-old Iraqi Kurd.


Eventually the British Coast Guard rescued Mr. Hamawandani’s vessel, and a French fishing boat picked up the two survivors of the sunken boat.


In reporting from cities and towns in the Iraqi Kurdistan region where many of the victims came from, my colleagues and I first heard about Mr. Hamawandani from his family, who feared he had been one of the victims after he told them he was in a boat crossing the channel and then dropped out of touch.


Mr. Hamawandani eventually put us through to Mr. Mangury, who spoke to us on the same phone. A location app indicated they were at a facility that local immigration activists confirmed is used to house migrants in Crawley, a town in southern England.


The disaster has injected a new sense of urgency into efforts by European countries to control high-risk channel crossings better. Activists also believe the deaths, which included children, highlight a contentious, ineffective partnership between Britain and France that has failed to improve the protocols for rescuing migrants in distress.


Mr. Hamawandani and Mr. Mangury set off with 23 other people early on Nov. 24. After more than 10 hours in the water, the engine on their own boat was failing and they were running out of fuel when they spotted the bodies.


Mr. Mangury said their boat was in French waters when they saw the two people clinging to the deflated boat. He started calling 112, the French distress number. “I told them there is a boat broken and people dead. Please help them and help us,” he said.


He said the French police asked him to send his location, but he could not send to a three-digit number. They gave him another number to try, but he said it went unanswered 10 times. Eventually he was able to get a number to send a location via WhatsApp.


“I said: ‘Ten times I called! Please answer me,’” he recalled. “‘Please help me!’”


He said that after an hour the French Coast Guard had not arrived. At about 12:30 p.m. he reached the English police, who told him they had alerted the French.


About 40 minutes later, after their own boat engine had stalled, Mr. Mangury said they saw a helicopter circling and British Coast Guard boats heading toward the bodies.


His account raises new questions about the response of the French and British rescue teams. Many of the victims’ relatives accuse the two countries of deflecting responsibility by saying the boat was in each other’s waters and failing to respond to distress calls.


The British Coast Guard said in a statement that early on Nov. 24, in response to distress calls, it began a search and rescue operation that included a border patrol boat and a helicopter. It did not specify which distress calls it received.


“Three small boats were located and those onboard rescued,” a spokesperson said. “No other small boats or people in the water were identified in the search area.”


In France, both judicial and local authorities in the north declined to comment about whether they had received calls from the migrant boat or from Mr. Mangury, saying they could not discuss a case while it was under investigation. A spokeswoman for the maritime authorities in northern France said they had been alerted to the ill-fated migrant boat only by fishermen who found it adrift in the channel.


The only two known survivors of the sinking were an Iranian Kurd and a Somali, presumed to be the migrants seen by Mr. Mangury’s boat.


They told the Iraqi Kurdish television network Rudaw that their inflatable boat had sprung a leak and started to deflate while taking on water.


The Somali migrant, identified by Rudaw as Mohammed Isa Omar, said they were frantically calling both the French and British police as the flimsy boat started to sink.


“Most of the calls were to Britain, saying: ‘Help. Help us.’ They said, ‘Send us the location’; we didn’t have the chance,” he told the network. He said at that point the leaking boat capsized, throwing everyone in it into the water along with their phones.


The other known survivor, an Iranian Kurd living in Iraq identified by Rudaw as Mohammad Shekha Ahmad, described fellow migrants holding hands in the frigid water and said that one by one they lost the strength to hold on and were carried away.


Mr. Hamawandani and Mr. Mangury said they were haunted by not being able to help the two surviving migrants holding onto the sunken boat.


“Some of us said, ‘Let’s go and help them,’ but most of them were afraid because they saw the dead bodies in the sea and they thought the same thing would happen to us,” said Mr. Hamawandani.


Many of the victims were Iraqis from the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, and the sinking has sent waves of grief and anger through Kurdish towns and villages.


More than two weeks after the sinking, none of the families have been officially notified of their relatives’ fates.


In the picturesque mountain town of Hajiawa, Nazdar Sharif swung between desperate hope that her son Twana Mamand was still alive and resignation that he was among the victims.


Twana had tried six times over the last two months to cross the channel to Britain, where his sister has lived for years, said his brother, Zana Mamand. Each time, he was caught by the French authorities and sent back.


On his seventh attempt, Twana set off with a relative. He sent his brother a live location showing them roughly in the middle of the channel, Zana Mamand said.


He told him by speaker phone that they would be in British waters in an hour. Mr. Mamand could hear the passengers on the other end of the line.


“Everybody was happy and laughing,” Zana Mamand said.


An hour later, when he was no longer able to reach his brother, he called their sister and brother-in-law in London. The brother-in-law, who for privacy reasons asked to be identified only by his last name, Abdullah, said he spoke to the relative Twana was traveling with at about 1 a.m. and told him to call the police.


He said two hours later his relative told them other people on the boat had called the French and English police but had been told they were in each other’s waters.


That was the last time he was able to reach him.


At the Mamand family’s home near the town of Ranya, where hundreds of young men have left for Britain in the past few months, Twana’s mother emerged from a back room, distraught, wearing a string of blue plastic beads meant to ward off harm.


“I tell myself he is coming back,” said Ms. Sharif, 49, leaning against another of her sons for support. “I need an answer soon whether he is dead or alive. I want my son.”


Barzan Jabar contributed reporting from Sulaimaniya and Hajiawa, Iraq, and Constant Méheut from Paris.



7) We’re Edging Closer to Civil War

By Charles M. Blow, December 12, 2021

Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a decision allowing abortion providers in Texas to continue challenging a new law that bans most abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy. But while the conservative majority didn’t close the door on abortion in Texas completely, the degree to which it is cracked open allows in only a sliver of light.


For now, the law in question, S.B. 8, remains on the books. Anyone who assists in providing an illegal abortion — from the provider down to the person who gives a woman a ride to the clinic — can still be sued. Roe v. Wade has essentially been overturned in the state, and soon that astonishing reality may not only become permanent there but may also spread to other states.


A key component of women’s rights and body autonomy is being snatched away as we watch.


In a dissent on Friday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “This is a brazen challenge to our federal structure. It echoes the philosophy of John C. Calhoun, a virulent defender of the slaveholding South who insisted that States had the right to ‘veto’ or ‘nullif[y]’ any federal law with which they disagreed.”


I found the invocation of South Carolina’s Calhoun striking. Yes, he was a strong believer in nullification, the idea that states could nullify federal laws, but he was also a raging racist who went further than the slave owners who saw slavery as a “necessary evil,” seeing it instead as a positive good.


In 1837, Calhoun railed in a speech on the Senate floor that slavery had “grown up with our society and institutions and is so interwoven with them that to destroy it would be to destroy us as a people.” He continued:


But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding states is an evil: Far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. I appeal to facts. Never before has the Black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically but morally and intellectually.

He would reiterate that slavery was, “instead of an evil, a good — a positive good.”


In fact, Calhoun’s stance on slavery and states’ rights was so severe that he has been called the father of secession and the man who started the Civil War, even though he died 11 years before the war commenced.


In Calhoun’s view, the states had the right to control and oppress Black bodies as they saw fit, regardless of any actions to the contrary on the federal level. States, he felt, should be able to choose whether or not they wanted slavery.


I see too many uneasy parallels between what was happening nearly 200 years ago and what is happening now. I see this country on the verge of another civil war, as the Calhounian impulse is reborn.


There are enormous, obvious differences, of course. The civil war I see is not the kind that would leave hundreds of thousands of young men dead in combat. That is not to say that we aren’t seeing spates of violence but rather that this new war will be fought in courts, statehouses and ballot boxes, rather than in the fields.


And this war won’t be only about the subjugation of Black people but also about the subjugation of all who challenge the white racist patriarchy.


It will seek to push back against all the “others”: Black people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, L.G.B.T.Q. people and, yes, women, particularly liberal ones.


In some ways, the abortion battle now being waged in the courts is a test case. Can the states make an argument that a civil right can be reversed on the state level? Can they make the case that all that the Constitution has not explicitly spelled out should be reserved for the states?


The Constitution has been silent on quite a bit since it was written in 1787, and the last time it was amended was nearly 30 years ago, in 1992, when the states ratified the 27th Amendment. When did Congress first approve that amendment? In 1789! Having not gotten enough states to ratify it after passage, it simply languished for 200 years.


All of us should be very worried about what we see happening with these abortion cases — not just women who might need abortions or relatives and friends of women who might need them.


We should worry about whether or not we are at an inflection point for an age of regression.



8) Workers in Europe Are Demanding Higher Pay as Inflation Soars

Prices are rising at the fastest rate on record, and unions want to keep up. Policymakers worry that might make inflation worse.

By Liz Alderman, Dec. 13, 2021

Ms. Negoce is facing a 25 percent jump in grocery and gas bills for her family. Even with a pay raise next year, “we’ll need to count every penny,” she said.

Ms. Negoce is facing a 25 percent jump in grocery and gas bills for her family. Even with a pay raise next year, “we’ll need to count every penny,” she said. Credit...Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

PARIS — The European Central Bank’s top task is to keep inflation at bay. But as the cost of everything from gas to food has soared to record highs, the bank’s employees are joining workers across Europe in demanding something rarely seen in recent years: a hefty wage increase.


“It seems like a paradox, but the E.C.B. isn’t protecting its own staff against inflation,” said Carlos Bowles, an economist at the central bank and vice president of IPSO, an employee trade union. Workers are pressing for a raise of at least 5 percent to keep up with a historic inflationary surge set off by the end of pandemic lockdowns. The bank says it won’t budge from a planned a 1.3 percent increase.


That simply won’t offset inflation’s pain, said Mr. Bowles, whose union represents 20 percent of the bank’s employees. “Workers shouldn’t have to take a hit when prices rise so much,” he said.


Inflation, relatively quiet for nearly a decade in Europe, has suddenly flared in labor contract talks as a run-up in prices that started in spring courses through the economy and everyday life.


From Spain to Sweden, workers and organized labor are increasingly demanding wages that keep up with inflation, which last month reached 4.90 percent, a record high for  the eurozone.


Austrian metalworkers wrested a 3.6 percent pay raise for 2022. Irish employers said they expect to have to lift wages by at least 3 percent next year. Workers at Tesco supermarkets in Britain won a 5.5 percent raise after threatening to strike around Christmas. And in Germany, where the European Central Bank has its headquarters, the new government raised the minimum wage by a whopping 25 percent, to 12 euros (about $13.60) an hour.


The upturns follow a bout of anemic wage growth in Europe. Hourly wages fell for the first time in 10 years in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier, although economists say pandemic shutdowns and job furloughs make it hard to paint an accurate picture. In the decade before the pandemic, when inflation was low, wages in the euro area grew by an average of 1.9 percent a year, according to Eurostat.


The increases are likely to be debated this week at meetings of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. E.C.B. policymakers have insisted for months that the spike in inflation is temporary, touched off by the reopening of the global economy, labor shortages in some industries and supply-chain bottlenecks that can’t last forever. Energy prices, which jumped in November a staggering 27.4 percent from a year ago, are also expected to cool.


The E.C.B., which aims to keep annual inflation at 2 percent, has refrained from raising interest rates to slow climbing prices, arguing that by the time such a policy takes effect, inflation would have eased anyway on its own.


“We expect that this rise in inflation will not last,” Christine Lagarde, the E.C.B. president, said in an interview in November with the German daily F.A.Z., adding that it was likely to start fading as soon as January.


In the United States, where the government on Friday reported that inflation jumped 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years, officials are not so sure. In congressional testimony last week, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, stopped using the word “transitory” to describe how long high inflation would last. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus could worsen supply bottlenecks and push up inflation, he said.


In Europe, unions are also agitated after numerous companies reported bumper profits and dividends despite the pandemic. Companies listed on France’s CAC 40 stock index saw margins jump by an average of 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, and half reported profits around 40 percent higher than the same period a year earlier.


Workers say that they have not benefited from such gains, and that inflation has made things worse by abruptly slashing their purchasing power. Companies, for their part, are wary of linking salaries to inflation — a policy that also makes the European Central Bank nervous.


Surging energy costs have been “a shock on incomes,” said James Watson, chief economist for Business Europe, the largest business trade association. “But if you try to compensate by raising wages, there’s a risk that it’s unsustainable and that we enter into a wage-price spiral,” he said.


European policymakers are watching carefully for any signs that companies are passing the cost of higher wages on to consumers. If that happens, it could create a dangerous run-up  of higher prices that might make inflation chronic.


For now, that seems unlikely, in part because wage negotiations so far haven’t resulted in outsize pay increases, said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.


Negotiated wage increases have been averaging around 2.5 percent, below inflation’s current pace. “Will wage hikes be inflationary? Not really,” he said. “The eurozone is not at a severe risk.”


But as climbing prices continue to unnerve consumers, labor organizations are unlikely to ease up. Gasoline prices recently hit €2 a liter in parts of Europe — equal to over $8 a gallon. Higher transportation costs and supply chain bottlenecks are also making supermarket basics more expensive.


Justine Negoce, a cashier at France’s largest home-improvement chain, joined an unprecedented companywide walkout in Paris last month to demand a hefty raise as rising prices gobbled up her modest paycheck.


After employees blocked warehouses for 10 days and demonstrated in the cold, the company, Leroy Merlin, agreed to a 4 percent raise for its 23,000 workers in France — twice the amount that management originally offered. The company, owned by Adeo, Europe’s biggest DIY chain, saw revenue climb over 5 percent in 2020 to €8 billion as housebound consumers decorated their homes and people like Ms. Negoce worked the front lines to ring up sales.


Her monthly take-home pay will rise in January to €1,300 from €1,250. The additional cash will help offset a 25 percent jump in grocery and gas bills for her two teenage children and husband — just barely.


On a recent trip to the supermarket, her basket of food basics, including rice, coffee, sugar and pasta, jumped to €103 instead of the €70 to €80 she paid a few months back. Filling her gas tank now costs €75 instead of €60. And even with her husband’s modest salary, she said, the couple will still be in the red at the end of the month.


“We’re happy with the raise, because every little bit helps,” Ms. Negoce said. “But things are still tight, and we’ll need to count every penny.”


In a statement, Leroy Merlin said the agreement maintains employees’ purchasing power and puts its average salaries for next year at 15 percent above France’s gross monthly minimum wage, which the government raised in October by 2.2 percent.


Crucially, executives also agreed to return to the bargaining table in April if a continued upward climb in prices hurts employees.


At Sephora, the luxury cosmetics chain owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, some unions are seeking an approximately 10 percent pay increase of €180 a month to make up for what they say is stagnant or low pay for employees in France, many of whom earn minimum wage or a couple hundred euros a month more.


LVMH, which recorded revenue of €44.2 billion in the first nine months of 2021, up 11 percent from 2019, raised wages at Sephora by 0.5 percent this year and granted occasional work bonuses, said Jenny Urbina, a representative of the Confédération Générale du Travail, the union negotiating with the company.


Sephora has offered a €30 monthly increase for minimum wage workers, and was not replacing many people who quit, straining the remaining employees, she said.


“When we work for a wealthy group like LVMH no one should be earning so little,” said Ms. Urbina, who said she was hired at the minimum wage 18 years ago and now earns €1,879 a month before taxes. “Employees can’t live off of one-time bonuses,” she added. “We want a salary increase to make up for low pay.”


Sephora said in a statement that workers demanding higher wages were in a minority, and that “the question of the purchasing power of our employees has always been at the heart” of the company’s concerns.


At the European Central Bank, employees’ own worries about purchasing power have lingered despite the bank’s forecast that inflation will fade away.


A spokeswoman for the central bank said the 1.3 percent wage increase planned for 2022 is a calculation based on salaries paid at national central banks, and would not change.


But with inflation in Germany at 6 percent, the Frankfurt-based bank’s workers will take a big hit, Mr. Bowles said.


“It’s not in the mentality of E.C.B. staff to go on strike,” he said. “But even if you have a good salary, you don’t want to see it cut by 4 percent.”


Léontine Gallois contributed reporting from Paris.



9) This Is What Happens When Workers Don’t Control Their Own Lives

By Jamelle Bouie, Dec. 14, 2021


Families gather at the site of a candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., that was destroyed by a tornado on Friday, killing eight people.

Families gather at the site of a candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., that was destroyed by a tornado on Friday, killing eight people. Credit...Matt Stone/Courier Journal/USA TODAY Network

For the vast majority of Americans, democracy ends when work hours begin.


Most people in this country are subject, as workers, to the nearly unmediated authority of their employers, which can discipline, sanction or fire them for nearly any reason at all.


In other words, Americans are at the mercy of what the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson calls “private government,” a workplace despotism in which most workers “cede all of their rights to their employers, except those specifically guaranteed to them by law, for the duration of the employment relationship.” With few exceptions — like union members covered by collective bargaining agreements or academics covered by tenure — an employer’s authority over its workers is, Anderson writes, “sweeping, arbitrary and unaccountable — not subject to notice, process, or appeal.”


If “private government” sounds like a contradiction in terms, that is only because in the modern era we have lost an older sense of government as an entity that, as Anderson says, exists “wherever some have the authority to issue orders to others, backed by sanctions, in one or more domains of life.” The state, then, is simply one kind of government among others, albeit one with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.


For most of human history, the state itself was essentially private; few individuals outside of the ruling class had any standing to question its decisions or demand accountability for its actions. The extent to which the state is public at all is, as Anderson notes, “a contingent social achievement of immense importance,” the result of a centuries-long struggle for “popular sovereignty and a republican form of government” such that the state is now “the people’s business, transparent to them, servant to their interests, in which they have a voice and the power to hold rulers accountable.”


With that in mind, to say that most workers are subject to unaccountable “private government” is to make clear the authoritarian character of the American workplace. And it is to remind ourselves that in the absence of any countervailing force, the bosses and managers who wield that authority can force workers into deadly environments and life-threatening situations, or force them to remain in them.


Which is what appears to have happened on Friday at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory in Mayfield, Ky. There, more than 100 people, including seven prisoners, were on the night shift, working even after tornado sirens sounded outside the facility. “People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” one employee told NBC News in an interview. But, she said, they were warned: If they left, they were “more than likely to be fired.”


When a powerful tornado did bear down on the factory, it was so strong that there was nowhere safe to hide, according to Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky. When the storm cleared, eight people on site were dead and eight others were missing. Three hours north, in Edwardsville, Ill., a similarly powerful tornado hit an Amazon warehouse, killing six people. There, too, workers had been toiling in the midst of severe weather.


Had either of these groups of workers been empowered to say “no” — had they been able to put limits on work and resist unsafe working conditions — they may have been able to protect themselves, to leave work or miss a shift without jeopardizing their jobs. In the absence of that ability, they were, in effect, compelled to work by the almost sovereign power of their respective employers, with horrific consequences for them, their families and their communities.


Put another way, these disasters cannot be separated from the overall political economy of the United States, which is arguably more anti-labor now than it’s been at any point since Franklin Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act in 1935. A society organized for capital — a society in which most workers are denied a meaningful voice in their place of employment — is a society where some workers will be exposed, against their will, to life-threatening conditions.


The immediate solution is as it always has been: unionization, collective bargaining and workplace democracy. This is easier said than done, of course, but it still must be said. Our democracy is and will remain incomplete for as long as most Americans work without power or representation under the authority of private governments. Whatever democratic habits we hope to instill in ourselves and our children cannot be sustained, in the long run, when democracy is banned from the shop floor.


Or, as the sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox once wrote, “The people are not free when a relatively few masters of industry could deny them control of their resources” — and to that, one might add, control of their selves.



10) Your Pocketbook Is Ruled by This Agency, and It’s in the Middle of a Huge Fight

By Mehrsa Baradaran and Jeremy Kress, December 14, 2021, Ms. Baradaran and Mr. Kress are professors of law with expertise in banking law.

Jelena McWilliams, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s board of directors and an opponent of stronger merger oversight, could effectively run out the clock on President Biden’s first term.
Jelena McWilliams, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s board of directors and an opponent of stronger merger oversight, could effectively run out the clock on President Biden’s first term. Credit...Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The last time you walked into a branch of your bank, you might have noticed a sign bearing the official seal of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government agency that regulates and insures thousands of depository institutions. What you may have not realized, however, is that there is a bitter partisan battle brewing for control of the F.D.I.C. that may determine whether your bank survives, whether a financial crisis wipes out your savings and whether presidential elections matter for financial policymaking.


The fracas erupted last week when the three Democratic members of the F.D.I.C.’s five-member board of directors voted to request public feedback on the agency’s approach to analyzing bank mergers. The F.D.I.C. chairwoman, Jelena McWilliams — the lone Republican on the board and an opponent of stronger merger oversight — objected that the vote was invalid and refused to recognize the majority’s action. (One of the board’s five seats is temporarily empty.)


On its surface, this fight is ostensibly about bank consolidation. On this score, the Democratic directors have a strong case. The mission of the F.D.I.C. since its founding in 1933 has been to protect American communities and taxpayers from the risks of concentrated power and financial instability inherent in the business of banking. Robust antimonopoly rules were embedded in the F.D.I.C.’s founding legislation and acts of Congress passed in the 1950s and 1960s.


For a time, these laws succeeded in creating a safe and profitable banking system. But they were so successful that policymakers largely stopped worrying about the risks of behemoth banks and welcomed dozens of megamergers in the 1990s and early 2000s.


The 2008 financial crisis was a vivid reminder that excessive concentration in the banking sector can lead to financial ruin. Perversely, the “too big to fail” banks that helped cause the crisis emerged from it even larger and more interconnected than before.


The decades-long trend toward consolidation only accelerated after the crisis. Today, just six bank holding companies control more than 52 percent of the assets in the U.S. banking system. As a result of so many banks disappearing, nearly 80 percent of local banking markets are now considered uncompetitive by the Department of Justice.


This drastic consolidation of the banking sector harms American consumers. When a bank merges with a competitor, it becomes harder for customers to obtain mortgages or car loans. Consumers also earn less interest in their savings accounts and pay higher transaction fees after banks consolidate. At the same time, mergers frequently lead to branch closures, especially in low- and moderate-income communities. That is why the F.D.I.C.’s Democratic board members want to strengthen bank merger oversight, which is consistent with President Biden’s executive order in July urging government agencies to crack down on consolidation throughout the economy.


Beneath the surface, however, this battle is about much more than bank mergers: It is actually a fight over the White House’s entire economic agenda.


The White House and its financial regulatory appointees have laid out ambitious goals. They want to write new rules to protect the financial system from the economic risks posed by climate change. They plan to intensify oversight of cryptocurrencies and financial technologies. And they aim to complete a long-overdue rewrite of rules requiring banks to lend in underserved communities.


The problem is that Ms. McWilliams’s term as the F.D.I.C. chairwoman extends until June 2023. If she is able to unilaterally block initiatives by the three Democratic board members, the F.D.I.C. is likely to grind to a halt for the next 18 months. Given that the process of adopting rules often takes a year or more, she could effectively run out the clock on Mr. Biden’s first term.


Fortunately, the law is on the Democrats’ side. The Federal Deposit Insurance Act vests the management of the F.D.I.C. in its board of directors, not its chair. The F.D.I.C.’s bylaws liken the chair’s role to that of a corporation’s chief executive — someone who manages the organization’s day-to-day operations but cannot override or block an order of the board of directors.


As for Ms. McWilliams’s claim that the Democrats’ bank merger vote was invalid? The bylaws expressly authorize a majority of the board of directors to circulate and vote on a proposal in writing — a standard practice that the Democrats used in this case. So her attempt to stymie the three Democratic board members is not only undemocratic but also unlawful.


With the F.D.I.C. board at loggerheads, what happens next? We suggest one of two paths forward. First, the Democratic directors could sue Ms. McWilliams, seeking a court order compelling her to recognize the Democrats’ bank merger initiative as a valid act of the F.D.I.C. Alternatively, Mr. Biden could remove her from the chair position for cause.


But we hope that it does not come to this. We urge Ms. McWilliams to reconsider her position and defer to the F.D.I.C.’s Democratic majority. If she does not back down, however, the Democrats must continue to fight. The fate of President Biden’s economic agenda depends on it



11) No U.S. Troops Will Be Punished for Deadly Kabul Strike, Pentagon Chief Decides

The military initially defended the strike, which killed 10 civilians including seven children, but ultimately called it a tragic mistake.

By Eric Schmitt, Dec. 13, 2021

A relative looked at the damage after a U.S. drone strike killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August. The military later admitted the strike was a tragic mistake.
A relative looked at the damage after a U.S. drone strike killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August. The military later admitted the strike was a tragic mistake. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — None of the military personnel involved in a botched drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 10 civilians will face any kind of punishment, the Pentagon said on Monday.


The Pentagon acknowledged in September that the last U.S. drone strike before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan the previous month was a tragic mistake that killed the civilians, including seven children, after initially saying it had been necessary to prevent an Islamic State attack on troops. A subsequent high-level investigation into the episode found no violations of law but stopped short of fully exonerating those involved, saying such decisions should be left up to commanders.


Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, who had left the final word on any administrative action, such as reprimands or demotions, to two senior commanders, approved their recommendation not to punish anyone. The two officers, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, and Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the head of the Special Operations Command, found no grounds for penalizing any of the military personnel involved in the strike, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.


“What we saw here was a breakdown in process, and execution in procedural events, not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership,” Mr. Kirby told reporters.


“So I do not anticipate there being issues of personal accountability to be had with respect to the Aug. 29 airstrike,” Mr. Kirby said.


The Pentagon had not acknowledged the mistaken strike until a week after a Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.


In two decades of war against shadowy enemies like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the U.S. military has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians by accident in war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. And while the military from time to time accepts responsibility for an errant airstrike or a ground raid that harms civilians, rarely does it hold specific people accountable.


The most prominent recent exception to this trend was in 2016, when the Pentagon disciplined at least a dozen military personnel for their roles in an airstrike in October 2015 on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed 42 people. But none faced criminal charges.


Critics of the Kabul strike pointed to the incongruity of acknowledging the mistake but not finding anyone accountable for wrongdoing.


“This decision is shocking,” said Steven Kwon, the founder and president of Nutrition & Education International, the California-based aid organization that employed Zemari Ahmadi, the driver of a white Toyota sedan that was struck by the American drone. “How can our military wrongly take the lives of 10 precious Afghan people and hold no one accountable in any way?”


Public scrutiny into military strikes against adversaries like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda that also killed civilians is intensifying. Mr. Austin last month ordered a new high-level investigation into a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of women and children, and that military officials had tried to conceal.


On Sunday, an investigation by The Times revealed that the kinds of deaths in the Syrian strike were not isolated. The Times found that a top-secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria, but in the process of pounding a vicious foe, the commandos sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians.


The higher-level inquiry into the Kabul strike by the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, blamed a series of erroneous assumptions, made over the course of eight hours as U.S. officials tracked a white Toyota Corolla through the Afghan capital, for causing what he called “confirmation bias,” leading to the attack.


General Said, in releasing his findings last month, found no criminal wrongdoing, but he said any other errors warranting disciplinary action would be up to senior commanders. “You should not perceive the fact that I didn’t call any individual out with accountability,” General Said told reporters. “That just does not mean that the chain of command won’t.” But it did not.


The general’s investigation made several recommendations for fixing the process through which strikes are ordered, including new measures to cut down the risk of confirmation bias and reviewing the prestrike procedures used to assess the presence of civilians. Pentagon officials say they are incorporating those measures into a broader strategy to prevent civilian harm on the battlefield.


Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, initially called the Kabul drone attack a “righteous strike,” but almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, days and weeks after it turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles. A secondary explosion in the courtyard in the densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, military officials said.


Mr. Ahmadi, the driver of the white sedan that was struck by the American drone, had no ties to the Islamic State, officials said.


General McKenzie, the head of the Central Command, said in a news conference in September that the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that the Islamic State was about to launch another attack on the airport. Three days earlier, a suicide bomber at the Kabul airport killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.


Since then, the Pentagon has offered unspecified condolence payments to the family of those killed in the drone strike. The Pentagon has also said it is working with the State Department to help surviving members of the family relocate to the United States, but negotiations appear to have bogged down in recent weeks.


“I’ve been beseeching the U.S. government to evacuate directly impacted family members and N.E.I. employees for months because their security situation is so dire,” Mr. Kwon said, referring to employees of Nutrition & Education International, where Mr. Ahmadi worked.


Mr. Kirby said on Monday that Mr. Austin wanted to resolve the situation “as soon as possible.”


Top Defense Department officials were acting quickly “to get the identifying information that we need to help move family members out of Afghanistan as expeditiously as we can, and, of course, to better and safely affect the ex gratia payments,” Mr. Kirby said.


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


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


In the most recent example of one of these payments, the Pentagon has acknowledged that the military in Afghanistan paid $5,000 this year to a family there whose child was killed in an airstrike in January.


The Defense Department had notified Congress of this payment related to a civilian casualty but had not previously disclosed details of the strike.


In response to questions from The Times, Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Central Command, gave this account of what happened:


On Jan. 8, Taliban forces attacked an Afghan security forces checkpoint in the Shindand district, near Herat. After Afghan troops requested American help, a U.S. drone identified five Taliban fighters armed with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Two of the fighters broke away, repositioned and fired grenades at checkpoint.


American troops ordered a strike against the Taliban firing the grenades. The drone operator scanned the target area, and after determining it was free of civilians, launched the strike against the Taliban fighters.


However, five seconds before the weapon hit the fighters, the drone operator saw a child approaching the target. Within two seconds, the drone operator tried to abort the strike and veer the weapon away. That failed, and the potential civilian casualty was reported immediately.


An investigation began on Jan. 9 and confirmed that while a child had been killed in the airstrike, the decision to conduct it was made properly, in accordance with the existing rules of engagement.


“We deeply regret the loss of innocent life associated with this strike and continue to strive to avoid such loss in the future,” Captain Urban said in a response to questions from The Times about the strike.



12) Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Violating George Floyd’s Rights

The guilty plea is likely to lengthen the imprisonment of Mr. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who is already serving a prison sentence of 22 and a half years for murder.

By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 15, 2021

Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was sentenced in June after being convicted of murdering George Floyd.
Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was sentenced in June after being convicted of murdering George Floyd. Credit...Court TV, via Reuters

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a federal charge that he used his position as a Minneapolis police officer to violate George Floyd’s constitutional rights, a move expected to extend Mr. Chauvin’s time in prison beyond a decades-long sentence for murdering Mr. Floyd.


Mr. Chauvin, 45, pleaded guilty in the U.S. courthouse in St. Paul, an appearance that was most likely among the longest periods he has spent outside a prison cell since a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder in April. Since then, he has been held in solitary confinement in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison, where he is allowed out of his 10-foot by 10-foot cell for one hour a day.


A federal prosecutor said that as part of a plea agreement reached with Mr. Chauvin, prosecutors would ask a judge to sentence him to 25 years in prison, a term that would be served in federal prison. The sentence would run concurrent to the state sentence of 22 and a half years for murder, meaning the guilty plea on Wednesday would add about two and a half years to his sentence. Mr. Chauvin appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit and, seated next to his lawyer, answered a judge’s questions about whether he understood the terms of the agreement.


Asked how he wanted to plead, Mr. Chauvin replied, “At this time, guilty, your honor.”


When a judge sentenced Mr. Chauvin to prison for murder in June, Mr. Chauvin appeared to refer to a potential plea deal with federal prosecutors during his condolences to Mr. Floyd’s family, saying that he hoped future events would give the family “some peace of mind.”


In pleading guilty to the federal charge, Mr. Chauvin, who is white, admitted he had violated the constitutional rights of Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, to be free from unreasonable seizures, which include unreasonable force from a police officer. Mr. Chauvin had knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nine and a half minutes in May 2020 as a handcuffed Mr. Floyd lay face down on a South Minneapolis street corner.


Mr. Chauvin’s guilty plea will most likely add to the time he serves in prison. A judge will ultimately decide how much more time he spends in prison. Many legal experts said the federal government’s case was strong, and a conviction at trial could have resulted in a life sentence. Mr. Chauvin may now be able to complete his sentence in a federal prison, which is generally considered to be safer and could separate Mr. Chauvin from prisoners he may have arrested.


The plea will also spare Mr. Chauvin, Mr. Floyd’s family and Minneapolis residents from the specter of an additional trial, though there are still several more legal proceedings related to Mr. Floyd’s death.


Mr. Floyd was a grandfather, a former rapper and a security guard who had lost his job at a nightclub when it closed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The harrowing footage of him gasping for air beneath an impassive Mr. Chauvin ignited protests in cities around the world, and led to the firing and arrest of Mr. Chauvin and three other officers at the scene.


Federal prosecutors have charged the three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — with violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights in a case that is expected to go to trial in January.


Mr. Chauvin’s guilty plea may be welcome news to those officers, who had sought to remove Mr. Chauvin from their joint trial because they feared he would prejudice the jury. Those officers also face state charges that they aided and abetted both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after responding to a 911 call from a convenience store clerk who said that Mr. Floyd had used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes.



13) Overturning Roe Will Make Miscarriage Care Worse

By Jessica Grose, December 15, 2021


Eleanor Davis

When you have your first bad sonogram, you fall into an abyss of maternity care. If you haven’t experienced it, you might not know the contours of this purgatory, but I can tell you what it’s like. Almost exactly seven years ago, the face of my obstetrician fell while performing an ultrasound for a very wanted pregnancy, and our collective mood shifted in an instant from buoyant to somber.


I learned that day that it appeared that my pregnancy was not progressing, because my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. But he couldn’t be certain; my period was quite irregular, and it was possible that he misdated the pregnancy and that it was still viable. So I had to wait. One week, then two. Dragging myself into the radiologist’s office every few days to see if there was a heartbeat while attempting to work and parent my then-2-year-old and desperately trying not to cry most of my waking moments.


When my doctors were finally certain that the pregnancy would not go forward, I was given three options: I could continue to wait and see if my body would miscarry on its own without intervention, I could take medication and end the pregnancy at home, or I could have a surgical procedure to empty my uterus, known colloquially as a D. and C. (The last two options are the same choices offered to abortion patients.)


I chose the D. and C., mainly because I wanted to get this awful experience over with as soon as possible.


Years later, I am at peace with the pregnancy loss; the fetus had a chromosomal issue called Turner syndrome, which “may cause up to 10 percent of all first-trimester miscarriages,” according to the National Institutes of Health. I know now that miscarriages are common. An estimated one-quarter of all pregnancies and around 10 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage before 20 weeks. Thankfully, I was able to have another healthy child later. But that two-week wait remains painful to think about.


And yet I’m thinking about it in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday allowing federal court challenges to Texas’ restrictive abortion law, S.B. 8, but leaving the law in effect, essentially outlawing abortions after six weeks in that state. That’s because in countries where elective abortion is outlawed or extremely restricted, women are not given the choices I had when they miscarry.


Abortion restrictions create a chilling effect on medical professionals who are understandably concerned about being prosecuted for anything resembling elective abortion. And so doctors in countries with restrictive laws “don’t always provide all the relevant information concerning the pregnancy, especially if they see there are complications and they’re afraid women can take drastic measures,” said Irene Donadio, a senior adviser at the International Planned Parenthood Federation.


I asked Dr. Isabel Stabile, a gynecologist in private practice in Malta and an abortion-rights activist, what first-trimester miscarriage care looks like in her country, where there is a total ban on abortion, with no exceptions. “The short answer to this question is in Malta it’s always a wait and see. Women are never given the immediate option of being hospitalized and having a D. and C. nor having pills so we can proceed with a spontaneous miscarriage. The medical and surgical options are never offered as a first line,” she said.


She said that in Malta, if your body is holding on to a miscarriage for three or four weeks, you may eventually be given pills to end the pregnancy. By that time, Dr. Stabile said, you may be at greater risk of a rare but serious blood-clotting complication called disseminated intravascular coagulation, which can be avoided by ending a miscarriage earlier. “It’s known as a complication. One should at least be monitored,” Dr. Stabile said. But in general, the drawn-out nature and “uncertainty of the wait” are the biggest stresses for Maltese women, she said. “You have no idea how long that will be. Will it be one day, one week or one month?”


In cases like mine, when there is no detectable heartbeat, the trauma may primarily be to women’s mental health. But when there is a detectable heartbeat and there are other pregnancy complications, there are physiological stakes, including that women can and have died. In Poland, which has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, a 30-year-old woman named Izabela died of septic shock this year in Pszczyna after doctors declined to intervene to save her life. The fetus’s heart was still beating, so physicians may have been afraid to break the country’s laws because the penalty is spending three years in prison, according to reporting in The Guardian.


Izabela isn’t the only one. In 2012, before Irish abortion restrictions were rolled back in 2018, a 31-year-old woman named Savita Halappanavar died in similar circumstances. In 2016 in Italy, where abortion is legal until about the 12th week, a woman named Valentina Milluzzo died of sepsis because her doctor refused to help her end her twin pregnancy, even after one twin no longer had a heartbeat. “According to the woman’s relatives, the gynecologist, who was a conscientious objector” — something that’s legal under Italy’s abortion law — “refused to perform an abortion of the second twin after the loss of the first fetus. He remarked that ‘as long as it [the fetus] is alive, I will not intervene,’” wrote Elena Caruso in the academic journal Feminist Legal Studies.


If you think this wouldn’t happen in the United States, think again, because there is evidence that it is already happening. At Catholic hospitals, which are expected to follow directives set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to never allow abortion services, women may not be getting the full slate of medical options when they present with an ectopic pregnancy.


In September, Ghazaleh Moayedi, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Texas, sounded the alarm in these pages. “Pregnancies that face complications will now be at greater risk. Under this new law, the only abortion exception allowed is for a medical emergency. That might mean if a woman will imminently lose an organ or die without intervention. But how we judge that risk will play out individually with each hospital’s policy, in each clinic,” she wrote. “I can think of no other area of health care in which we would wait for someone to worsen nearly to the point of death before we offered intervention. It’s just unconscionable.”


When I read some of the testimony of reproductive choice opponents, I think about how certain they sound about what life is. Situations like mine, which existed in a liminal state for weeks, defy easy categorization and require intimate and informed medical care, not blunt force laws that don’t consider these delicate scenarios.


And when I look at polls in which a low percentage of American voters list abortion rights as a top issue, I wonder if those voters have considered how a lack of access to these procedures may affect them, even if they would never have an elective abortion. Those two weeks were among the worst of my life, and thinking about anyone having to prolong that kind of purgatory just about breaks my heart.