To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
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!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
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.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
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.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
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.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
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, 2021https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/dec/10/julian-assange-can-be-extradited-to-us-to-face-espionage-charges-court-rules?utm_term=61b3565d0ba8f58286629d3af5c0bfbb&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUS_email
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.
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/10/us/politics/texas-abortion-supreme-court.html
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.
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/10/nyregion/rikers-jail-death-15th-person.html
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.”
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/10/us/texas-critical-race-theory-ban-books.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
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.”
An American strike cell alarmed its partners as it raced to defeat the enemy.
By Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, Dec. 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/12/us/civilian-deaths-war-isis.html
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.
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/12/world/middleeast/migrants-channel-france-uk-sinking.html
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.
By Charles M. Blow, December 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/12/opinion/abortion-rights-america.html
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.
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/business/workers-pay-europe-inflation.html
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.
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. 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.
By Mehrsa Baradaran and Jeremy Kress, December 14, 2021, Ms. Baradaran and Mr. Kress are professors of law with expertise in banking law.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/14/opinion/jelena-mcwilliams-fdic-bank-regulation.html
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
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/13/us/politics/afghanistan-drone-strike.html
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.
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, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/15/us/derek-chauvin-civil-rights-guilty-plea.html
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.
By Jessica Grose, December 15, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/roe-miscarriage-health.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Guest%20Essays
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.
By Paul Krugman, Dec. 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/16/opinion/inflation-economy-2021.html
I will always associate inflation with the taste of Hamburger Helper.
In the summer of 1973 I shared an apartment with several other college students; we didn’t have much money, and the cost of living was soaring. By 1974 the overall inflation rate would hit 12 percent, and some goods had already seen big price increases. Ground beef, in particular, was 49 percent more expensive in August 1973 than it had been two years earlier. So we tried to stretch it.
Beyond the dismay I felt about being unable to afford unadulterated burgers was the anxiety, the sense that things were out of control. Even though the incomes of most people were rising faster than inflation, Americans were unnerved by the way a dollar seemed to buy less with each passing week. That feeling may be one reason many Americans now seem so downbeat about a booming economy.
The inflation surge of the 1970s was the fourth time after World War II that inflation had topped 5 percent at an annual rate. There would be smaller surges in 1991 and 2008, and a surge that fell just short of 5 percent in 2010-11.
Now we’re experiencing another episode, the highest inflation in almost 40 years. The Consumer Price Index in November was 6.8 percent higher than it had been a year earlier. Much of this rise was due to huge price increases in a few sectors: Gasoline prices were up 58 percent, used cars and hotel rooms up 31 percent and 26 percent respectively and, yes, meat prices up 16 percent. But some (though not all) analysts believe that inflation is starting to spread more widely through the economy.
The current bout of inflation came on suddenly. Early this year inflation was still low; as recently as March members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, which sets monetary policy, expected their preferred price measure (which usually runs a bit below the Consumer Price Index) to rise only 2.4 percent this year. Even once the inflation numbers shot up, many economists — myself included — argued that the surge was likely to prove transitory. But at the very least it’s now clear that “transitory” inflation will last longer than most of us on that team expected. And on Wednesday the Fed moved to tighten monetary policy, reducing its bond purchases and indicating that it expects to raise interest rates at least modestly next year.
Inflation is an emotional subject. No other topic I write about generates as much hate mail. And debate over the current inflation is especially fraught because assessments of the economy have become incredibly partisan and we are in general living in a post-truth political environment.
But it’s still important to try to make sense of what is happening. Does it reflect a policy failure, or just the teething problems of an economy recovering from the pandemic slump? How long can we expect inflation to stay high? And what, if anything, should be done about it?
To preview, I believe that what we’re seeing mainly reflects the inherent dislocations from the pandemic, rather than, say, excessive government spending. I also believe that inflation will subside over the course of the next year and that we shouldn’t take any drastic action. But reasonable economists disagree, and they could be right.
To understand this dispute, we need to talk about what has caused inflation in the past.
Inflation, goes an old line, is caused by “too much money chasing too few goods.” Alas, sometimes it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes inflation is caused by self-perpetuating expectations; sometimes it’s the temporary product of fluctuations in commodity prices. History gives us clear examples of all three possibilities.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers suggested in July that today’s inflation most closely resembles the inflation spike of 1946-1948. This was a classic case of “demand pull” inflation — that is, it really was a case of too much money chasing too few goods. Consumers were flush with cash from wartime savings, and there was a lot of pent-up demand, especially for durable goods like automobiles, after years of wartime rationing. So when rationing ended there was a rush to buy things in an economy still not fully converted back to peacetime production. The result was about two years of very high inflation, peaking at almost 20 percent.
The next inflation surge, during the Korean War, was also driven by a rapid increase in spending. Inflation peaked at more than 9 percent.
For observers of the current scene, the most interesting aspect of these early postwar inflation spikes may be their transitory nature. I don’t mean that they went away in a matter of months; as I said, the 1946-1948 episode went on for about two years. But when spending dropped back to more sustainable levels, inflation quickly followed suit.
That wasn’t the case for the inflation of the 1960s.
True, this inflation started with demand pull: Lyndon Johnson increased federal spending as he pursued both the Vietnam War and the Great Society, but he was unwilling at first to restrain private spending by raising taxes. At the same time, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low, which kept things like housing construction running hot.
The difference between Vietnam War inflation and Korean War inflation was what happened when policymakers finally acted to rein in overall spending through interest rate increases in 1969. This led to a recession and a sharp rise in unemployment, yet unlike in the 1950s, inflation remained stubbornly high for a long time.
Some economists had in effect predicted that this would happen. In the 1960s many economists believed that policymakers could achieve lower unemployment if they were willing to accept more inflation. In 1968, however, Milton Friedman and Edmund S. Phelps each argued that this was an illusion.
Sustained inflation, both asserted, would get built into the expectations of workers, employers, companies setting prices and so on. And once inflation was embedded in expectations it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This meant that policymakers would have to accept ever-accelerating inflation if they wanted to keep unemployment low. Furthermore, once inflation had become embedded, any attempt to get inflation back down would require an extended slump — and for a while high inflation would go along with high unemployment, a situation often dubbed “stagflation.”
And stagflation came. Persistent inflation in 1970-71 was only a foretaste. In 1972 a politicized Fed juiced up the economy to help Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign; inflation was already almost 8 percent when the Arab oil embargo sent oil prices soaring. Inflation would remain high for a decade, despite high unemployment.
Stagflation was eventually ended, but at a huge cost. Under the leadership of Paul Volcker, the Fed sharply reduced growth in the money supply, sending interest rates well into double digits and provoking a deep slump that raised the unemployment rate to 10.8 percent. However, by the time America finally emerged from that slump — unemployment didn’t fall below 6 percent until late 1987 — expectations of high inflation had been largely purged from the economy. As some economists put it, expectations of inflation had become “anchored” at a low level.
Despite these anchored expectations, however, there have been several inflationary spikes, most recently in 2010-11. Each of these spikes was largely driven by the prices of goods whose prices are always volatile, especially oil. Each was accompanied by dire warnings that runaway inflation was just around the corner. But such warnings proved, again and again, to be false alarms.
How 2021 happened
So why has inflation surged this year, and will it stay high?
Mainstream economists are currently divided between what are now widely called Team Transitory and Team Persistent. Team Transitory, myself included, has argued that we’re looking at a temporary blip — although longer lasting than we first expected. Others, however, warn that we may face something comparable to the stagflation of the 1970s. And credit where credit is due: So far, warnings about inflation have proved right, while Team Transitory’s predictions that inflation would quickly fade have been wrong.
But this inflation hasn’t followed a simple script. What we’re seeing instead is a strange episode that exhibits some parallels to past events but also includes new elements.
Soon after President Biden was inaugurated, Larry Summers and other prominent economists, notably Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, warned that the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion bill enacted early in the Biden administration, would increase spending by far more than the amount of slack remaining in the economy and that this unsustainable boom in demand would cause high inflation. Team Transitory argued, instead, that much of the money the government handed out would be saved rather than spent, so that the inflationary consequences would be mild.
Inflation did in fact shoot up, but the odd thing is that overall spending isn’t extraordinarily high; it’s up a lot this year, but only enough to bring us more or less back to the prepandemic trend. So why are prices soaring?
Part of the answer, as I and many others have noted, involves supply chains. The conveyor belt that normally delivers goods to consumers suffers from shortages of port capacity, truck drivers, warehouse space and more, and a shortage of silicon chips is crimping production of many goods, especially cars. A recent report from the influential Bank for International Settlements estimates that price rises caused by bottlenecks in supply have raised U.S. inflation by 2.8 percentage points over the past year.
Now, global supply chains haven’t broken. In fact, they’re delivering more goods than ever before. But they haven’t been able to keep up with extraordinary demand. Total consumer spending hasn’t grown all that fast, but in an economy still shaped by the pandemic, people have shifted their consumption from experiences to stuff — that is, they’ve been spending less on services but much more on goods. The caricature version is that people unable or unwilling to go to the gym bought Pelotons instead, and something like that has in fact happened across the board.
Here’s what the numbers look like. Overall consumption is up 3.5 percent since the pandemic began, roughly in line with normal growth. Consumption of services, however, is still below prepandemic levels, while purchases of durable goods, though down somewhat from their peak, are still running very high.
No wonder the ports are clogged!
Over time, supply-chain problems may largely solve themselves. A receding pandemic in the United States, despite some rise in cases, has already caused a partial reversal of the skew away from services toward goods; this will take pressure off supply chains. And as an old line has it, the cure for high prices is high prices: The private sector has strong incentives to unsnarl supply chains, and in fact is starting to do that.
In particular, large retailers have found ways to get the goods they need, and they say they’re fully stocked for the holiday season. And measures of supply-chain stress such as freight rates have started to improve.
Yet supply-chain problems aren’t the whole story. Even aside from bottlenecks, the economy’s productive capacity has been limited by the Great Resignation, the apparent unwillingness of many Americans idled by the pandemic to return to work. There are still four million fewer Americans working than there were on the eve of the pandemic, but labor markets look very tight, with record numbers of workers quitting their jobs (a sign that they believe new jobs are easy to find) and understaffed employers bidding wages up at the fastest rate in decades. So spending does appear to be exceeding productive capacity, not so much because spending is all that high but because capacity is unexpectedly low.
Inflation caused by supply-chain disruptions will probably fall within a few months, but it’s not at all clear whether Americans who have dropped out of the labor force will return. And even if inflation does come down it might stay uncomfortably high for a while. Remember, the first postwar bout of inflation, which in hindsight looks obviously transitory, lasted for two years.
So how should policy respond?
To squeeze or not to squeeze, that is the question
I’m a card-carrying member of Team Transitory. But I would reconsider my allegiance if I saw evidence that expectations of future inflation are starting to drive prices — that is, if there were widespread stories of producers raising prices, even though costs and demand for their products aren’t exceptionally high, because they expect rising costs and/or rising prices on the part of competitors over the next year or two. That’s what kept inflation high even through recessions in the 1970s.
So far I don’t see signs that this is happening — although the truth is that we don’t have good ways to track the relevant expectations. I’ve been looking at stories in the business press and surveys like the Fed’s Beige Book, which asks many businesses about economic conditions; I haven’t (yet?) seen reports of expectations-driven inflation. Bond markets are essentially predicting a temporary burst of inflation that will subside over time. Consumers say that this is a bad time to buy many durable goods, which they wouldn’t say if they expected prices to rise even more in the future.
For what it’s worth, the Federal Reserve, while it has stopped using the term “transitory,” still appears to believe that we’re mostly looking at a fairly short-term problem, declaring in its most recent statement, “Supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic and the reopening of the economy have continued to contribute to elevated levels of inflation.”
Still, an unmooring of inflation expectations is possible. Given that, what should policymakers be doing right now? And by “policymakers” I basically mean the Fed; political posturing aside, since, given congressional deadlock, nothing that will make a material difference to inflation is likely to happen on the fiscal side, inflation policy mainly means monetary policy.
I recently participated in a meeting that included a number of the most prominent figures in the inflation debate — a meeting in which, to be honest, those of us still on Team Transitory were definitely in the minority. The meeting was off the record, but I asked Larry Summers and Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration, to share by email summaries of their positions.
Summers offered a grim prognosis, declaring, “I see a clearer path to stagflation as inflation encounters supply shocks and Fed response than to sustained growth and price stability.” The best hope, he suggested, was along the lines of what the Fed has now done, end its purchases of mortgage-backed securities (which I agree with because I don’t see what purpose those purchases serve at this point) and plan to raise interest rates in 2022 — four times, he said — with “a willingness to adjust symmetrically with events.” In other words, maybe hike less, but maybe hike even more.
Furman was less grim, saying, “We should not drop the goal of pursuing a hot economy,” but he wanted us to slow things down, to “get there by throwing one log on the fire at a time.” His policy recommendation, however, wasn’t that different. He called for three rate hikes next year, as the Fed said on Wednesday that it was considering.
Where am I in this debate? Clearly, a sufficiently large rate hike would bring inflation down. Push America into a recession, and the pressure on ports, trucking and warehouses would end; prices of many goods would stop rising and would indeed come down. On the other hand, unemployment would rise. And if you believe that we’re mainly looking at temporary bottlenecks, you don’t want to see hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of workers losing their jobs for the sake of reducing congestion at the Port of Los Angeles.
But what both Summers and Furman are arguing is that the inflation problem is bigger than temporary bottlenecks; Furman is also in effect arguing that tapping on the monetary brakes could cool off inflation without causing a recession, although Summers doesn’t think we’re likely to avoid at least a period of stagflation when bringing inflation down.
The Fed’s current, somewhat chastened, position seems almost identical to Furman’s. The latest projections from board members and Fed presidents are for the interest rate the Fed controls to rise next year, but by less than one percentage point, and for the unemployment rate to keep falling.
Perhaps surprisingly, my own position on policy substance isn’t all that different from either Furman’s or the Fed’s. I think inflation is mainly bottlenecks and other transitory factors and will come down, but I’m not certain, and I am definitely open to the possibility that the Fed should raise rates, possibly before the middle of next year. I think the Fed should wait for more information but be willing to hike rates modestly if inflation stays high; Furman, as I understand it, thinks the Fed should plan to hike rates modestly (in correspondence he suggested one percentage point or less over the course of 2022, matching the Fed’s projections) but be willing to back off if inflation recedes.
This seems like a fairly nuanced distinction. It is, of course, possible that bad inflation news will force far more draconian tightening than the Fed is currently contemplating, even now.
Maybe the real takeaway here should be how little we know about where we are in this strange economic episode. Economists like me who didn’t expect much inflation were wrong, but economists who did predict inflation were arguably right for the wrong reasons, and nobody really knows what’s coming.
My own view is that we should be really hesitant about killing the boom prematurely. But like everyone who’s taking this debate seriously, I’m hanging on the data and wonder every day whether I’m wrong.
Anthony Broadwater was exonerated in the 1981 rape of Ms. Sebold, now a best-selling author. When his lawyers saw the trial transcript, they could only wonder what took so long.
By Corina Knoll, Karen Zraick and Alexandra Alter, Dec. 15, 2021
Anthony Broadwater on Marshall Street, near Syracuse University, where Ms. Sebold first misidentified him as her rapist. Credit...Benjamin Cleeton for The New York Times
The young woman’s face was bruised in multiple places, her long brown hair matted with bits of leaves.
There was a fresh bump on the back of her head and a cut on the left side of her nose. Her tan cardigan and Calvin Klein jeans were streaked with dirt. Abrasions covered her body. Traces of blood and semen were found inside her vagina as well as on her underwear.
She was just 18, a freshman at Syracuse University who had arrived at the adjacent Crouse Irving Memorial Hospital in the early morning of May 8, 1981.
Her name was Alice Sebold. And she had been raped.
The assailant was a stranger, but Ms. Sebold had studied his appearance — his small but muscular build, the way he gestured, his eyes and lips.
And so, five months later, when she spotted a man named Anthony Broadwater near a restaurant on Marshall Street, Ms. Sebold knew she had solved her case. She reported him to the authorities, saying that Mr. Broadwater had said to her, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
At the trial the following year, Ms. Sebold took the stand and described how she had celebrated the last day of the school year at a friend’s apartment, then left to head back to her dormitory, following a brick path through Thornden Park.
She testified that a man had grabbed her from behind, punched her, threatened to kill her with a knife, dragged her by her hair, then raped her in what she described as a tunnel.
“Is there any doubt in your mind, Miss Sebold, that the person that you saw on Marshall Street is the person who attacked you on May 8 in Thornden Park?” the prosecutor asked.
“No doubt whatsoever.”
Years later, Ms. Sebold would recount in a best-selling memoir that she felt confident justice had been served. She had been sweaty and shaky by the end of her testimony but was bolstered by the words of a bailiff.
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years,” he said. “You are the best rape witness I’ve ever seen on the stand.”
From the Marine Corps to a police lineup
Anthony James Broadwater was born in Syracuse, the fourth of six boys, and lived for a while near Syracuse University, where his father worked as a janitor. He rarely set foot on campus, saying he felt that it was “off limits” to him and other young Black locals. Instead, he spent time at a community recreation center and the local Boys & Girls Club.
When he was about 5 years old, his mother died of pneumonia. It was he and his brother Wade who discovered her body on the couch in their living room.
Known as “Tony,” Anthony Broadwater was outgoing and rambunctious, often tussling with his siblings. Wade Broadwater recalled how his brother could get caught up in entertaining a crowd and was once stopped for letting kids ride on the roof of his car. While the police who patrolled the neighborhood were familiar with the brothers, Anthony Broadwater had never been accused of anything serious.
A skilled wrestler at Henninger High School, he dropped out around 17 and was intrigued when a Marine Corps recruiter said he could be on a flight to California within days. “I wanted to see the world and try to better myself,” he said.
Stationed at Twentynine Palms and Camp Pendleton, he ended up with a cyst on his wrist. He was discharged and received disability for the injury. He returned to Syracuse, where his father was ill with stomach cancer, and eventually took a job installing phones for a telecommunications company.
On Oct. 5, 1981, he and a friend drove over to Marshall Street, a stretch of restaurants and shops that had long served as a gathering place for college students. While his friend was inside a store, Mr. Broadwater recognized a police officer from his younger days. Later, in court, the officer and Mr. Broadwater would each remember calling out to the other, “Don’t I know you?”
The two made small talk, unaware that Ms. Sebold had passed Mr. Broadwater on the street and was watching their exchange.
Days later, Mr. Broadwater was taken into custody. Ms. Sebold had identified him as her rapist.
But when it came time for the police lineup, Ms. Sebold, who is white, looked at the Black men before her and indicated that her attacker was the last person in the row, Number Five. Mr. Broadwater was Number Four. She would insist an hour later that the two men had looked identical to her.
Studies would later show that misidentifications by eyewitnesses, especially those that are cross-racial, make up a large percentage of erroneous convictions.
Mr. Broadwater was charged with eight felony counts, including rape and sodomy. He was 20 years old.
‘He was emphatic throughout that they got the wrong guy’
In 1981, Syracuse was a city of 170,000 with a dwindling manufacturing industry. Located in Central New York at the edge of the Finger Lakes region, its economy had grown increasingly dependent on Syracuse University, although a disconnect loomed between students and their surroundings.
Locals, often called “townies,” were discouraged from going near the campus in the University Hill neighborhood in the center of the city. Black residents made up about 16 percent of the city’s population and tended to live in its poorer areas.
Onondaga County did not have a public defender’s division, so it relied on a list of volunteers in private practice who worked for a small hourly rate. The Broadwater case was assigned to Steven Paquette, a defense attorney two years into his career who had already represented dozens of clients.
Mr. Paquette, the son of a UPS driver, was the first in his family to attend college and was idealistic about criminal defense work. He often felt that his Black clients could not get a fair shake in a county where jury pools tended to be mostly white and conservative.
He found Mr. Broadwater to be unusual because he was intensely eager about cooperating with the district attorney’s office.
“He was emphatic throughout that they got the wrong guy,” recalled Mr. Paquette, now 66. “It was a disbelief coupled with a faith that once the facts were out, justice would be done for him.”
Mr. Paquette was one of more than two dozen people connected to Mr. Broadwater, Ms. Sebold or the rape case who spoke to The New York Times.
Times reporters also reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and exhibits, as well as Ms. Sebold’s memoir, for this article.
Mr. Paquette encouraged Mr. Broadwater to opt for a bench trial. The judge, Walter T. Gorman, was considered a thoughtful and competent adjudicator.
The state’s case was to be presented by William Mastine, a confident prosecutor whose law career would end the following decade after he pleaded guilty to defrauding a client, according to court documents and news reports.
At 6-foot-6, Mr. Mastine usually towered over others in the courtroom and enjoyed facing off against another lawyer on a final stage. “It’s not a rush, just a satisfaction that what you’re doing is right,” said Mr. Mastine, now 74.
He had been handed the Broadwater case only a week before, he said. “Based upon everything we had in front of us, he was the guy,” he said.
The trial began on May 17, 1982, and lasted just two days. DNA analysis was unavailable at the time, but a forensic chemist testified that a pubic hair from a Black person that had been recovered from the rape kit was “consistent” with the hair sample Mr. Broadwater had submitted.
Hair comparison has since been discredited as an unreliable science that can match little beyond a person’s race and is responsible for many wrongful convictions.
Ms. Sebold held firm to her account.
“I could not have identified him as the man who raped me unless he was the man who raped me,” she testified.
Mr. Broadwater was the last to take the stand, the only witness to testify for the defense. His lawyer asked him to discuss his unique facial markings — features Ms. Sebold had never reported, although she had described being a centimeter away from her rapist.
“I have a scar underneath my chin, and I had an operation in ’74 on my eye,” Mr. Broadwater testified. “Also, I have a chipped tooth.”
In his closing argument, Mr. Mastine, the prosecutor, reminded the court that Ms. Sebold had been a virgin, a detail brought up more than once throughout the case.
Afterward, the defense was startled when Judge Gorman immediately announced he was ready to rule.
He declared simply and with no insight into his decision that Mr. Broadwater was guilty of rape in the first degree.
Mr. Broadwater was taken into custody, departing from a courtroom devoid of any friends or family members. He had not asked anyone to attend the trial, certain that he would walk free.
A flawed trial described in a memoir
Ms. Sebold would go on to write “The Lovely Bones,” a novel about a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered. Published in 2002, it reached the top of the New York Times best-seller list, selling more than 10 million copies before eventually being adapted into a film.
Its success led readers to discover “Lucky,” the 1999 memoir Ms. Sebold had written about her own rape, in which she had changed the name of her attacker to Gregory Madison.
The raw, personal account of her trauma served as inspiration for many sexual assault victims and impressed those who had already acknowledged her writing talent.
“She was a considered person, a deeply honest-to-the-core writer, unstinting and tenaciously unwilling to offer anything but her best,” said the poet Tess Gallagher, one of Ms. Sebold’s professors at Syracuse, in an email to The Times. Ms. Gallagher had also accompanied Ms. Sebold to the preliminary hearing for the assault case.
“I was beside her then and remember how terrified she was in that courtroom,” Ms. Gallagher said.
The memoir follows Ms. Sebold’s entire journey through the criminal justice system.
In one scene, she recounts how a prosecutor she trusted, named Gail Uebelhoer, told her that the man she identified in the lineup was a friend of Mr. Broadwater and had tricked her by staring menacingly.
According to the book, Ms. Uebelhoer then coached her into explaining away the misidentification in front of the grand jury. When reached by The Times, Ms. Uebelhoer declined to comment.
Even slight or inadvertent nudges during lineups have been shown to influence a victim’s memory. According to the Innocence Project, lineups should be conducted in a double-blind manner, where the administrator does not know which person is the suspect and the witness is not assured the suspect is present.
Ms. Sebold also described being given a short break while testifying, during which she received a visit from Judge Gorman, who warmly asked about her family. “His tone was more gentle than the one he used in court,” Ms. Sebold wrote. Judge Gorman died in 2009.
These passages would help illustrate the flaws in Mr. Broadwater’s case. But not for two more decades.
‘I don’t know how they did this to you’
While in prison, Mr. Broadwater obtained his G.E.D. and studied the law, trying repeatedly to get his case revisited. At one point he hoped to retain Johnnie Cochran, sending $1,000 saved from his disability payments and custodial job. But the lawyer’s firm returned the money, informing him it did not handle post-conviction matters.
Mr. Broadwater’s father, who believed in his innocence, wanted to help but was undergoing chemotherapy. He died in 1983.
At each parole hearing, Mr. Broadwater refused to admit guilt, despite knowing he would fare better if he expressed responsibility for the crime. He wondered if he would die in prison like the man he watched get fatally stabbed during a fight.
Sixteen years crept by. He was finally released on the last day of 1998. But freedom came with a cage. A sex offender on parole, he had to abide by a curfew and was prohibited from most workplaces.
He relied on temporary gigs, taking a job at a metal plating factory, bagging potatoes, doing yardwork and roofing, mopping floors, scavenging for scrap metal. Night jobs were helpful, because they gave him the alibi he had lacked when police questioned him about Ms. Sebold. He believed he had been home at the time but had no proof.
Whispers that he was a rapist were deafening. Friends were scarce. Mr. Broadwater’s computer use had to be monitored after he was released, so he found it easier just to never learn how to work one. Still, he continued to reach out to lawyers.
One disappeared with $1,400. Another failed to obtain Mr. Broadwater’s file, which had been sealed. When a car accident left Mr. Broadwater with a neck injury, he set aside most of the $30,000 payout, hoping he could find a lawyer to take his case.
He began dating Elizabeth a year after his release. She was Baptist like him, had a sincere way about her and was a homebody. He wasted no time handing her a file with information about his past.
“If you’re going to be in a relationship with me, this is what I’m going to be fighting all my life,” he said. She pored over the papers in tears. “I don’t know how they did this to you,” she said. “I’m going to be with you.”
They moved into the dilapidated house his father had left behind. She wanted children, but Mr. Broadwater felt it would be unfair to bring kids into his difficult world.
He learned of Ms. Sebold’s memoir around 2006, but he had no interest in reading what he considered his own horror story.
A faulty conviction gets a fresh look
It was in the hands of another convicted felon that the case against Mr. Broadwater began to unravel.
Timothy Mucciante was a disbarred lawyer from Michigan who had gone to prison multiple times for fraud. His most wild scheme was one in which he convinced investors he would buy condoms and latex gloves and trade them in Russia for chickens that would be sold in Saudi Arabia. He pocketed the money instead.
After his last prison stint ended in 2010, Mr. Mucciante hoped to reform himself, he said.
“I certainly have a lot to make up for in terms of what I owe the world,” he said in an interview.
Earlier this year, Mr. Mucciante was forging ahead in a new career, having started his own film production company. He had joined other producers who were adapting Ms. Sebold’s memoir and planning to film it in Toronto. He offered to cover the film’s entire budget of 6.5 million Canadian dollars.
As Mr. Mucciante read the script and the book, he was struck by how little evidence was presented at trial. He said he began to doubt the memoir’s veracity and withheld funding until he was dismissed from the project, which never got off the ground.
But three people who worked on the film said Mr. Mucciante did not raise questions about the memoir, and that his contract was terminated in early June because he failed to deliver the money he had promised, claims Mr. Mucciante disputes.
Court documents show Mr. Mucciante, 62, has filed for bankruptcy on at least a dozen occasions, but he told The Times that he is currently financially stable.
In late June, Mr. Mucciante decided to take a deeper look at Ms. Sebold’s trial. He found and hired Dan Myers, a retired detective who had spent 20 years with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and was working as a private investigator.
Mr. Myers learned that Gregory Madison from the book was in fact Anthony Broadwater. He told The Times that a police officer who worked on the case had offered him a stunning admission: He did not believe the right man had been caught.
Mr. Myers connected Mr. Broadwater with David Hammond, a criminal defense lawyer he worked with who had served as a judge advocate in the Army. Mr. Hammond also helped represent Chelsea Manning as she appealed her conviction for espionage.
Intrigued, Mr. Hammond reached out to Melissa Swartz, a lawyer at a different firm known for her forensic expertise.
The two were friends and liked to team up. One of their cases was taking years to put together. But as they separately combed through Mr. Broadwater’s files, they began feverishly texting each other.
After talking at length with Mr. Broadwater and reading Ms. Sebold’s memoir, the lawyers discovered the arguments they could make for exoneration were astonishingly obvious: The flawed hair comparison testimony. The heavy reliance on Ms. Sebold spotting her rapist five months afterward. The misidentification during the police lineup. The fact that Mr. Broadwater had passed two polygraph tests.
All of it illustrated what, Mr. Hammond said, was a travesty hiding in plain sight: “Forty years, yet all it took was someone to pick up the trial transcript and, frankly, talk to Anthony and read ‘Lucky.’”
Soon the same revelations were had by William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney who joined Mr. Broadwater’s lawyers in their motion to overturn the conviction. A handful of years ago, he said, he had instructed his staff to review cases that used hair comparison. Mr. Broadwater’s name never came up.
Mr. Fitzpatrick said he emailed with Ms. Sebold and asked her about conversations that, as depicted in the memoir, were improper.
Ms. Sebold, he said, told him that a long time had passed by the time she wrote the memoir and that she had written scenes as she remembered them.
On Nov. 22, Mr. Broadwater arrived at a courthouse a block away from the one that had entombed him in a false narrative. He was 61 years old, with gray in his braids and a forehead creased with age.
When the judge announced his exoneration, he let out a gasp, leaned forward and cried.
An earth-shattering change’
Ms. Sebold said she had learned a few weeks before Mr. Broadwater’s exoneration that the district attorney was re-evaluating the case.
“It’s hard to unravel a truth I now know to be false and that has been part of my life for forty years and my work for twenty, without my whole understanding of truth and justice falling apart,” she said through a spokesman in an email to The Times, adding that she hadn’t been able to think about much else.
“Every word I’ve read that Anthony Broadwater has said has made me see him as a man who, though brutalized, somehow came through it with a generous heart,” she said. “To go from thinking he was the man who raped me to believing he was an innocent victim is an earth-shattering change.”
In an earlier statement posted to Medium, Ms. Sebold said that her “goal in 1982 was justice — not to perpetuate injustice” and that she was now wrestling with the realization that her rapist went free.
She said that Mr. Broadwater had become “another young Black man brutalized by our flawed legal system.” She added: “I am sorry most of all for the fact that the life you could have led was unjustly robbed from you.”
Scribner, which published “Lucky,” has ceased its distribution and will consider along with Ms. Sebold how it might be revised. “To do justice to the new reality and all the ramifications of the past would be a huge undertaking,” Ms. Sebold said in her email. “It might also be amazing.”
Fans of the author now find themselves grappling with the news that Mr. Broadwater had been a victim, too.
“I bought her books,” wrote one woman who contributed to a GoFundMe set up for Mr. Broadwater by a friend of Mr. Mucciante. “I owed him.”
Ms. Sebold, who lives in San Francisco, also has supporters who empathize with her complicated story.
“That that thing should have so defined her life and her art, and now it comes back into her life yet again — my heart really goes out to her,” said the author Tobias Wolff, who had been Ms. Sebold’s professor at Syracuse and who said she had come to him, distressed, after seeing the man she thought had raped her.
Among those expressing empathy is Mr. Broadwater. “That was very strong and courageous of her to do that, I know that was weighing on her mind,” he said of her statement. “She went through an ordeal, and I went through one too.”
He plans to seek financial restitution from the state and is considering filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. A documentary about him, spearheaded by Mr. Mucciante, is in the works with the film production company Red Hawk Films, according to Mr. Mucciante and two other producers involved in the project.
Mr. Broadwater recently got help setting up his first email address, as well as an online bank account. He hopes he and Elizabeth can one day take a vacation, see some relatives. And if they could settle into a farmhouse with a swath of land, that would be a nice way to live.
For now, the exterior of Mr. Broadwater’s life has not changed much since being exonerated. He walks with a cane, in need of surgeries for hip and knee injuries from football games played in prison. His physical limitations have made it hard to find a steady job. He cleans out houses, tows debris with his truck, and looks for discarded appliances to sell, recently scoring a refrigerator left on the side of the road.
“I’m just grateful, man, that I have the normalcy now of being a decent person to people’s eyes,” he said.
The last few weeks have been thrilling, he said. But it has been strange to receive so much public support. The villain in someone else’s story, it is not lost on him that he was, for most of his life, the only champion of his own.
Sheelagh McNeill and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.
By Ezra Klein, Dec. 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/16/opinion/factory-farming-animals.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=OpEd%20Columnists
It’s hard to know where your charitable dollars will do the most good. This year, I’ll focus most of my giving on GiveDirectly, which does exactly what it promises: Gives money to the world’s poorest people, without attaching strings, conditions or complexity.
Its approach has been proven to work, in part because it is built on a foundation of respect: GiveDirectly recognizes that the global poor are the experts on their own lives, and their own needs, and that what they are missing is money. When giving to ease human suffering, sometimes the simplest strategy is best.
But about 10 percent of my donations every year goes to easing, or ending, the suffering of factory farmed animals, which is mind-melting in its scale. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 80 billion — yes, billion — land animals are slaughtered each year for food, and, according to some estimates, between 51 and 160 billion farmed fish join them. The overwhelming majority of these animals are raised and killed in conditions with no analogue in history, and they suffer terribly. But farm animals are often an afterthought even in animal-related giving, in which two-thirds of the money goes to shelters.
Two strategies dominate among groups trying to help factory farmed animals. One is amelioration: trying to better the conditions of these animals now. Here, the Humane League and Mercy for Animals are my picks. The second is substitution: replacing the animals with meat made from plants or grown from cells. Here, the Good Food Institute, New Harvest and the Material Innovation Initiative are my recommendations. In choosing these groups, I’ve relied heavily on the work Open Philanthropy and Animal Charity Evaluators have done assessing the effectiveness of dozens of animal-suffering groups, as well as my own reporting.
Naming the groups is the easy part. Now comes the hard part: Persuading you that they’re worthy of your support.
How we treat farm animals today will be seen, I believe, as a defining moral failing of our age. Humans have always eaten animals. We’ve hunted them, bred them, raised them and consumed them. What’s changed over the past century is that we’ve developed the technology to produce meat in industrialized conditions, and that has opened vast new vistas for both production and suffering.
In past eras, we didn’t have the antibiotics and sanitation chemicals needed to keep so many animals crowded so closely together, nor the preservation and transportation technologies needed to ship them en masse. Disease would rip through thick flocks, and carcasses would spoil across long trips. Today, the factory farms that produce the overwhelming majority of meat, both globally and domestically, are dark marvels of technology, as are the carefully bred and managed animals inside them.
Since the 1950s, broiler chickens have roughly quadrupled in size, and it now takes them 6 weeks, not 15, to grow to slaughter weight. These are inventions, not just chickens. But the cheap meat they made possible sent demand skyrocketing: In the United States alone, the available amount of chicken meat per person has shot from about 10 pounds in 1910 to about 65 pounds in 2018.
In 2020, David Coman-Hidy, president of the Humane League, told me about his work trying to persuade companies to shift from live shackling of chickens to atmospheric killing. In live shackling, which remains the dominant method, workers turn chickens upside down to shackle them by their legs to a conveyor. These are birds that have barely ever moved being handled by low-paid workers with inhuman production quotas. The birds flap and squawk in terror, and the shackling can leave them with broken legs or dislocated hips.
The conveyor is supposed to drag them through electrified water, stunning them before their throats are slit. But the panicked, spasming birds sometimes miss the bath, and their throats are cut while they are conscious and terrified. If the kill isn’t clean, they are pulled through boiling water that defeathers them while still conscious. You can watch the process here, if you have the stomach for it.
The Humane League, and others, are trying to persuade chicken producers to simply gas the birds to death. I’ve never forgotten what Coman-Hidy said when I asked him how he could bear to spend his days negotiating over the finer points of chicken slaughter. “The thought experiment that helped me is if I could die, or have a member of my family die, by being euthanized by gas, or have what I just described happen to them, what would I give to get the gas? And the answer is everything.”
This is activism that does not permit itself the comforts of purity. The Humane League and Mercy for Animals have become, in a way, part of a system they loathe. They are fighting to see farm animals treated in a way that’s far beneath what they believe to be moral, but far above what’s become normal. And they’re succeeding.
Battery cages, for instance, are small cages where egg-laying hens are kept for almost the entirety of their mature lives. According to 2017 guidelines by United Egg Producers, each bird should have 67 to 86 square inches of usable space within the cage. As the Humane League notes, a typical piece of paper is no more than 90 square inches.
The European Union has phased out battery cages and India has declared them illegal. In the United States, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington have either banned them or are in the process of doing so. Dozens of companies have pledged to source only cage-free eggs, including Trader Joe’s, Unilever, Pizza Hut, Mars and Hormel Foods. By no means do these pledges render the lives of these chickens luxe, and many cage-free hens still suffer terribly. There is simply no way to humanely raise so many birds, in such close quarters. But better is better.
Most meat, of course, is produced outside the United States. And so the Humane League founded the Open Wing Alliance, which now has 80 member organizations in 63 countries, to share strategies and drive global campaigns, like the successful effort to convince Yum! Brands to go cage free. Mercy for Animals works in Brazil, India, Hong Kong and Canada.
But amelioration won’t reduce the number of animals being raised in industrial facilities for food. Substitution might. Do you really need a chicken to make a nugget? Or a cow to make a burger? When we slaughter a cow to produce ground beef, we used the cow as a machine to turn the plants the cow ate into meat. The question is whether we can replace the cow with something else that turns plants into meat.
For now, I’d say the plant-based burgers, sausages and nuggets are pretty good, and they’re getting better, fast. There’s no reason a Happy Meal nugget should ever involve a chicken. But there’s a long way to go in mimicking more texturally demanding meats, like bacon or fatty tuna or even steak.
Perhaps those meats can one day be grown directly. This has passed from the realm of science fiction into reality, and I’ve swallowed the evidence. A few months ago, I went to Upside Foods and tried “cultivated” chicken. When I said, a bit awed, that it tasted just like chicken, my hosts laughed and said that’s because it was chicken. They just took chicken cells and grew them into a chicken breast rather than an entire bird.
The question is whether this can be done at scale, for the hundreds of millions of tons of meat we eat. The technical challenges here are real, and some believe them insurmountable. Even if they can be overcome, the political challenges are daunting, too. Meat producers are organizing around the world to try and stop these products from coming to market, and to wrap them in red tape and warning labels if they threaten profits.
But the benefits to directly growing meat, at scale, would be incalculable — and not just for animals. Meat production is a huge driver of climate change, of deforestation and of pandemic and antibiotic risk. Having the meat we love without the health and environmental consequences it now imposes would prevent vast human suffering, too. This should be a moonshot we’re making as a society, but it’s being left, instead, to private capital, and so there’s too little basic science being done, and too many advances are patented and protected.
The Good Food Institute is the most important organization pushing this work. It’s second-to-none in the influence of its public policy efforts, its centrality to the ecosystem of companies and researchers, and its international footprint. It has also been effective at convincing traditional meat companies to explore alternative proteins, which could lead both to important products and turn political enemies into allies. It’s my top recommendation, though I want to note that Animal Charity Evaluators found some cultural turbulence in their staff survey. I’m glad to see that the Institute is taking those concerns seriously.
New Harvest is more directly focused on building the scientific community and funding the research to make cellular agriculture possible. It’s directly focused on the technical challenges of cultivated meat. If those aren’t solved, then all the lobbying efforts in the world won’t matter.
The Material Innovation Initiative is the third on my list. It’s trying to build alternatives to animal-based materials used for fashion, cars and home goods. There has been much less innovation and investment here than in alternative proteins, and that suggests enormous opportunities if an ecosystem of financing and information-sharing and start-ups can be built.
Technological advances, as well as the global desire for cheap meat, have turned this into an age of animal cruelty. But we can also see glimmers of how it might, one day, end. Perhaps we live in the lag between when it became possible to treat sentient animals as industrial inputs and when it will become unnecessary and perhaps even indecent to do so, because we will be able to grow or mimic most meat with less animal involvement, and abusive treatment of animals will be easier to abhor.
But that future is not assured. It must be created, and the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, the Good Food Institute, New Harvest and the Material Innovation Initiative are trying to do just that.