United in Action to STOP KILLER DRONES:
SHUT DOWN CREECH!
Spring Action, 2022
March 26 - April 2—Saturday to Saturday
Co-sponsored by CODEPINK and Veterans For Peace
“In His Defense” The People vs. Kevin Cooper
A film by Kenneth A. Carlson
Teaser is now streaming at:
Posted by: Death Penalty Focus Blog, January 10, 2022
“In his Defense,” a documentary on the Kevin Cooper case, is in the works right now, and California filmmaker Kenneth Carlson has released a teaser for it on CarlsonFilms.com
Just over seven months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered an independent investigation of Cooper’s death penalty case. At the time, he explained that, “In cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate punishment of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined.”
That investigation is ongoing, with no word from any of the parties involved on its progress.
Cooper has been on death row since 1985 for the murder of four people in San Bernardino County in June 1983. Prosecutors said Cooper, who had escaped from a minimum-security prison and had been hiding out near the scene of the murder, killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, a friend who was spending the night at the Ryen’s. The lone survivor of the attack, eight-year-old Josh Ryen, was severely injured but survived.
For over 36 years, Cooper has insisted he is innocent, and there are serious questions about evidence that was missing, tampered with, destroyed, possibly planted, or hidden from the defense. There were multiple murder weapons, raising questions about how one man could use all of them, killing four people and seriously wounding one, in the amount of time the coroner estimated the murders took place.
The teaser alone gives a good overview of the case, and helps explain why so many believe Cooper was wrongfully convicted.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons
Sign Petition at:
On the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement’s founding, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research launches the online exhibition, Let Cuba Live. 80 artists from 19 countries – including notable cartoonists and designers from Cuba – submitted over 100 works in defense of the Cuban Revolution. Together, the exhibition is a visual call for the end to the decades-long US-imposed blockade, whose effects have only deepened during the pandemic. The intentional blocking of remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions have prevented essential food and medicine from entering the country. Together, the images in this exhibition demand: #UnblockCuba #LetCubaLive
Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in organising a local exhibition of the exhibition.
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!
Kevin Cooper: Important CBS news new report today, and article January 31, 2022
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:
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
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
How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
By Michael Moore—VIA Email: email@example.com
American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.
And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.
And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.
The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.
For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?
President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.
For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.
The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.
This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:
President Joe Biden
E-mail: At this link
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Attorney General Merrick Garland
E-mail: At this link
I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet:
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Amir Locke, 22, was fatally shot as the police carried out a search warrant. He was lying under a blanket until an officer kicked the couch, revealing a gun, body camera video shows.
By Jesus Jiménez and Amanda Holpuch, Feb. 3, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/us/amir-locke-minneapolis-police-shooting.html
A screenshot from body camera footage of Minneapolis police officers entering an apartment with a warrant before fatally shooting a man. Credit...Minneapolis Police Department
Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis on Friday announced a moratorium on no-knock warrants one day after the Police Department released body camera footage of its SWAT team fatally shooting a man who was lying on a couch under a blanket during an early-morning raid.
The man who was killed, Amir Locke, 22, had a gun in his hand, but it is unclear whether he was aware that police officers had entered the apartment shortly before 7 a.m.
Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota, who led the prosecutions of former police officers in the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, said his office would join a review of the police shooting. The mayor said no-knock warrants could not be requested or conducted while the city evaluated its current policy.
The graphic and brief video released by the Police Department on Thursday night shows the encounter from Wednesday morning, when its SWAT team had been carrying out a warrant for the Saint Paul Police Department’s homicide unit.
In the video, an officer is seen quietly turning a key in the apartment door before officers file in and begin to yell.
“Police! Search warrant!” several officers are heard shouting.
“Hands, hands!” one officer says.
“Get on the ground!” another yells.
One officer kicked the back of the couch, jarring Mr. Locke and making a gun visible. The police fired at least three times in response.
The entire encounter took less than 10 seconds.
In a news release published the day of the shooting, the Police Department said officers had performed emergency aid on Mr. Locke, who died at a nearby hospital.
“I’m under no illusion that processing this video will be easy,” Amelia Huffman, the city’s interim police chief, said at a news conference on Thursday. “It won’t be. It shouldn’t be. These are wrenching videos to watch. They’re painful, but it’s necessary.”
Chief Huffman said that officers had a warrant for three locations in the apartment complex, and that Mr. Locke was not named in the original warrant.
Mr. Ellison, the state attorney general, said on Friday that his office would partner with the Hennepin County attorney’s office to review the shooting.
“Amir Locke’s life mattered,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement, promising the Locke family “a fair and thorough review.”
Mr. Ellison led the prosecution of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who pleaded guilty to federal crimes for the killing of Mr. Floyd, and Kimberly Potter, a former Minnesota police officer who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Mr. Wright.
The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement that one officer fired shots at Mr. Locke, and it released the personnel file of Officer Mark Hanneman.
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Mr. Locke’s family, compared the shooting of Mr. Locke, who was Black, to the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville police officers in March 2020 during a botched raid on her apartment.
“If we learned anything from Breonna Taylor it is that no-knock warrants have deadly consequences for innocent, law-abiding Black citizens,” Mr. Crump said at a news conference on Friday.
No-knock warrants allow the police to enter property without first announcing their presence and are primarily used when there is concern that evidence will be destroyed or officers will be put in danger.
Tony Romanucci, another lawyer representing Mr. Locke’s family, said Mr. Locke had “no idea” who was in his apartment. “Had they announced who they were and why they were there, this tragedy could have been averted,” Mr. Romanucci said.
Mayor Frey said in a statement on Friday that no-knock warrants would not be allowed while the city reviewed its policy with experts who helped create “Breonna’s Law,” an ordinance passed after Ms. Taylor’s death that bans no-knock warrants in Louisville.
During the moratorium, which the mayor said was “to ensure safety of both the public and officers,” the police must knock, announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering with a warrant.
Mr. Locke’s father, Andre Locke, said at the news conference that his son was the third oldest of eight siblings. He said his son had been working for the food delivery service DoorDash and was “a week away” from moving to Dallas, where his mother, Karen Wells, lives. Andre Locke said that several of his cousins worked in law enforcement and that one of them was a mentor to Amir.
“It was hurtful, it hurt deep to see my son executed, to see our son executed,” Mr. Locke said. “But the part that struck me the most was that he never got a chance to see or to know who killed him.”
Ms. Wells said she and her son would frequently talk on the FaceTime app when they were apart.
“I am going to miss just being able to see my son grow into a man, that’s what I am going to miss,” Ms. Wells said. “I am going to miss the fact that he didn’t, he won’t even get the chance to become a father and give us grandchildren.”
The Minneapolis Police Department has been under scrutiny since Officer Chauvin held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest in May 2020.
Mr. Floyd’s death generated widespread outrage, and protests across the country that summer called for social justice and police reform. An attempt to change policing in Minneapolis failed in November, when 56 percent of voters rejected a ballot measure that would have replaced the city’s Police Department with a public safety agency.
The release of the footage of Mr. Locke’s death came more quickly than in past cases, and after pressure from Representative Ilhan Omar and state officials.
Ten members of the Minneapolis delegation of the State House of Representatives had called for the footage to be released immediately in a letter to Mayor Frey and Chief Huffman.
“Minneapolis has a long path before us in establishing a trusting, effective and professional relationship between its Police Department and community,” the representatives wrote.
By Jennifer Finney Boylan, Feb. 6, 2022
Ms. Boylan is a contributing Opinion writer. She writes on L.G.B.T.Q. politics, education and life in Maine.https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/06/opinion/culture/transgender-passports-time-crossing-borders.html
When my mother saw the photo on my first passport, issued exactly one week before my 18th birthday, she said, “You look like you have a secret.”
I did have a secret: I was trans. I didn’t think I was all that adept at hiding it, but somehow no one seemed to know. Even my mother seemed oblivious to the journey I longed to embark upon.
This winter, I came upon a stack of passports, all but the most recent marked “Canceled.” Those travel documents, bearing the stamps of customs agents around the world, provide evidence of the places I have been. They also paint a picture of the journeys trans people like me go on, passages as harrowing, in their own way, as movement across borders can sometimes be.
That 1976 passport got me as far as Munich, then in West Germany. I spent the summer traveling around, having adventures. One warm mid-July night I found myself sitting around a campfire with a bunch of hippies, eating rich brown bread, singing Bob Dylan songs in my high school German. Toward dawn I peeled off with a blonde girl from Köln. Her hair came down when I removed her kerchief. Then she put her hand on my cheek. “Wir sind gleich,” she said. We are the same! This stung. What right did she have to say this thing out loud? “Entschuldigung?” Excuse me?
I don’t mean that you are a girl, she said, a little bewildered. I just mean we are alike.
Ah, I said. I’d lost something in translation.
Ten years later, new passport in hand, I traveled to Wales with my girlfriend. My undergraduate years at Wesleyan University were now five years behind me. I had spent my early 20s in New York, working at Viking Press and Penguin Books, hoping that somehow succeeding professionally would make it OK for me to stay a man. The plan hadn’t gone so well.
I’d published but a single piece, “The Five Strangest Places in America,” in High Times, the magazine of drug culture. In the issue that ran my story, there was a centerfold of a luscious pound of Colombian sinsemilla. I was proud of what I’d written, but I couldn’t show the magazine to my parents.
Just before this passport picture was taken [photo in article] I’d learned that my father’s melanoma was back. Later, as I wandered along the Welsh coast, all I could think about was him. He died a year and three days later, on Easter Sunday. A few days before he last closed his eyes, he squeezed my hand from the bed in which he lay. In a morphine dream he whispered, “The young men shall rule.”
My wife, Deedie, and I had been married for 10 years when I got a job teaching at University College in Cork, Ireland. That same year, I’d started talking to her about my gender — awkwardly, inarticulately. I didn’t know whether I had the courage to undertake the voyage of transition. Deedie didn’t know whether she could stay with me if I did.
Our children were then 2 and 4 years old. I was determined to live a more honest life. But what do you do if living honestly means putting the lives of the people you love in jeopardy? How can you expect the person you love to help you become yourself if that very process threatens to change what she holds most dear?
We spent that year in Ireland drinking Murphys, shopping for wild Atlantic salmon, listening to modern Irish folk bands like Nomos and North Cregg. One day, toward the end of our time in Cork, I climbed to the top of the Church of St. Anne. What am I going to do? I asked myself.
Someone started ringing the carillon as I stood there, the bells as loud as they could be. The song was “You Are My Sunshine.” “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
A year later I was on hormones
When I wrote to the State Department to ask for a change in the gender assigned on my passport, I had to enclose a letter from my surgeon. I provided a copy of my name change, too, stamped with the golden seal of the Probate Court of the State of Maine, the place we had made our home since I started teaching at Colby College in Waterville. Still, I was stunned when the envelope arrived in the mail with my new passport, my sex marked definitively: F.
My family had remained intact. Deedie decided that she loved me in either gender. In some ways, post-transition, we became closer than ever.
I didn’t especially need a new passport; I wasn’t going anywhere. It was the only time I’d renewed a passport without having a specific journey in mind.
A strange side effect of hormones was that for a while, I looked a lot younger than I was, taking me on a journey not only of gender, but of time travel as well. But by 2012, the clock had caught up with me. Still, I didn’t mind looking older. I now well understood society’s beauty expectations, for trans and cis women alike. But it’s not only the passage of time that’s visible in my face here; by 2012 I’d also seen exactly how cruel the world is to women like me.
By the time this photo was taken, I’d spent a decade advocating for the rights of L.G.B. and especially T people. It was good work, but it absolutely wore me down. Every day I learned of terrible fates of women like me: those lost to murder, those who lost their families, those whose children were told their fathers were dead.
In the wake of publishing my memoir, “She’s Not There,” I was often in the public eye. On more than one occasion I agreed to tell my family’s story on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, hoping that these appearances would help normalize the lives of families like ours. But each visit felt more demeaning than the last. On one program, I appeared with Deedie in hopes of sending the message that love can prevail. Instead, Oprah grilled us about our sex lives. On the flight back home, I put my head down on my tray table and cried.
Larry King raised an eyebrow when I was his guest and asked me if I had “a part missing.” I knew what he was getting at, but I refused to take the bait.
What I wish I’d said? “I’ve gained something.”
My wife and I visited Italy in late summer 2021. I’d been doing research for a book I was trying to write, about the cultural history of pizza. One day in Rome, we visited the Borghese Gallery. Together we gazed upon the pieces of Damien Hirst’s controversial “Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” works the artist said had been salvaged from the sinking of a fantastical ship. For a while I stood before a statue of a nude female form, covered with barnacles. It pierced me how beautiful she was.
When we got home, I updated my passport once more. I look at the no-longer-young woman in this passport photograph, and as Nora Ephron once said, I feel bad about my neck. Still, I am finally exactly who I’d always hoped I’d be. If I live as long as my mother — who died just shy of 95 — I will have lived more than half my life female. True, my outsides are more than a little worn down. But my heart has a peace I could never have imagined the night that girl in Munich put her hand on my cheek and said, “Wir sind gleich.” There are times when the journey of my life really does feel like a treasure salvaged from the wreck of the unbelievable.
When I finally got back to New York, I hastily filled out my customs form as we arrived at Kennedy Airport. Did I have anything to declare? Hell yes I have something to declare, I thought: I’m free. I wanted to shout it at the top of my lungs. But I said nothing as I handed the customs agent my form.
“Have a nice day, ma’am,” he said and opened the gate. “Welcome home.”
Many of the recommendations, proposed by a White House task force, would make it easier for federal workers and employees of contractors to unionize.
By Noam Scheiber, Feb. 7, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/business/economy/biden-union-membership.html
The White House on Monday released a report outlining several dozen steps it intends to take to promote union membership and collective bargaining among both public and private sector employees.
The report is the product of a task force that President Biden created through an executive order in April. A White House statement said the president had accepted the task force’s nearly 70 recommendations.
Many of the steps would make it easier for federal workers and employees of contractors to unionize, including ensuring that union organizers have access to employees on federal property, which does not always happen today.
The report also recommends creating preferences in federal grant and loan programs for employers who have strong labor standards, preventing employers from spending federal contract money on anti-union campaigns and making employees aware of their organizing rights.
When the task force was created, some White House officials indicated that they supported considering labor union membership as a factor in awarding government contracts, but the task force recommendations generally did not emphasize this approach.
Under federal procurement law, the government generally cannot deny contracts to companies it deems hostile to labor unions. But it may be able to consider a company’s posture toward unions as a factor in certain narrow cases — for example, when labor strife resulting from an aggressive anti-union campaign could substantially delay the provision of some important good or service.
The executive order Mr. Biden signed creating the task force required it to submit recommendations within 180 days, at which point the president would review them.
One key premise of the task force was that the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that protects federal labor rights, explicitly encourage collective bargaining, and yet, according to the Biden White House, no previous administration had explored ways that the executive branch could do so systematically.
The ambition of the task force was twofold: to enact policies for federal agencies and contractors that encourage unionization and to model best practices for employers in the public and private sectors.
The president’s task force will submit a second report describing progress on its recommendations and proposing additional ones in six months.
Union officials and labor experts consider Mr. Biden to be among the most pro-labor presidents ever. He moved quickly to oust Trump appointees viewed as unsympathetic to labor and to undo Trump-era rules that weakened protections for workers, and signed legislation that secured tens of billions of dollars to stabilize union pension plans.
Mr. Biden has occasionally used his bully pulpit to urge employers not to undermine workers’ labor rights or bargaining positions, as when he warned against coercing workers who were weighing unionizing during a prominent union election at Amazon last year. He later called Kellogg’s plan to permanently replace striking workers “an existential attack” on its union members.
Last week, Mr. Biden signed an executive order requiring so-called project labor agreements — agreements between construction unions and contractors that set wages and working conditions — on federal construction projects worth more than $35 million, a move that the White House estimates could affect nearly 200,000 workers. He had previously signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 per hour from $10.95.
But despite Mr. Biden’s backing, and polls showing widespread public support for unions, the rate of union membership nationwide remains stuck at a mere 10 percent, its lowest in decades.
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which Mr. Biden supports, would make it easier to unionize by preventing companies from holding mandatory anti-union meetings and imposing financial penalties on employers that retaliate against workers seeking to unionize. It passed the House in March but remains a long shot in the Senate. Democrats may seek to pass some of its provisions along party lines this year.
They don’t eat the bugs, and they’re definitely applying them to wounds, so some scientists think the primates may be treating one another’s injuries.
By Nicholas Bakalar, Feb. 7, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/science/chimpanzees-insects-medicine-wounds.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Science
Chimpanzees design and use tools. That is well known. But is it possible that they also use medicines to treat their own and others’ injuries? A new report suggests they do.
Since 2005, researchers have been studying a community of 45 chimpanzees in the Loango National Park in Gabon, on the west coast of Africa. Over a period of 15 months, from November 2019 to February 2021, the researchers saw 76 open wounds on 22 different chimpanzees. In 19 instances they watched a chimp performing what looked like self-treatment of the wound using an insect as a salve. In a few instances, one chimp appeared to treat another. The scientists published their observations in the journal Current Biology on Monday.
The procedure was similar each time. First, the chimps caught a flying insect; then they immobilized it by squeezing it between their lips. They placed the insect on the wound, moving it around with their fingertips. Finally, they took the insect out, using either their mouths or their fingers. Often, they put the insect in the wound and took it out several times.
The researchers do not know what insect the chimps were using, or precisely how it may help heal a wound. They do know that the bugs are small flying insects, dark in color. There’s no evidence that the chimps are eating the insects — they are definitely squeezing them with their lips and then applying them to the wounds.
There have been other reports of self-medication in animals, including dogs and cats that eat grass or plants, probably to help them vomit, and bears and deer that consume medicinal plants, apparently to self-medicate. Orangutans have been seen applying plant material to soothe muscle injuries. But the researchers know of no previous report of nonhuman mammals using insects for a medicinal purpose.
In three instances, the researchers saw chimps using the technique on another chimp. In one case, they saw an adult female named Carol grooming around a flesh wound on the leg of an adult male, Littlegrey. She grabbed an insect, and gave it to Littlegrey, who put it between his lips, and transferred it to his wound. Later, Carol and another adult male were seen moving the insect around on Littlegrey’s wound. Another adult male approached, took the insect out of the wound, put it between his own lips, then reapplied it to Littlegrey’s leg.
One chimp, an adult male named Freddy, was a particularly enthusiastic user of insect medicine, treating himself numerous times for injuries of his head, both arms, his lower back, his left wrist and his penis. One day, the researchers watched him treat himself twice for the same arm wound. The researchers don’t know how Freddy got these injuries, but some of them probably involved fighting with other males.
There are some animals that cooperate with others in similar ways, said Simone Pika, who leads an animal cognition lab at the University of Osnabrück in Germany and is an author of the study. “But we don’t know of any other instances in mammals,” she said. “This may be a learned behavior that exists only in this group. We don’t know if our chimps are special in this regard.”
Aaron Sandel, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, Austin, found the work valuable, but at the same time expressed some doubts. “They don’t offer an alternative explanation for the behavior, and they make no connection to what insect it might be,” he said. “The jump to a potential medical function? That’s a stretch at this point.”
Still, he said, “attending to their own wounds or the wounds of others using a tool, another object — that’s very rare.” Their documentation of chimps paying such attention to other chimps is, he added, “an important contribution to the study of social behavior in apes. And it’s still interesting to ask whether there is empathy involved in this, as it is in humans.”
In some forms of ape social behavior, it is clear that there is an exchange of value. For example, grooming another chimp provides relief from parasites for the groomed animal, but also an insect snack for the groomer. But in the instances she observed, Dr. Pika said, the chimp gets nothing tangible in return. To her, this shows the apes are engaging in an act that increases “the welfare of another being,” and teaches us more about the primates’ social relationships.
“With every field site we learn more about chimps,” she said. “They really surprise us.”
By Jessica Grose, Feb. 9, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/09/opinion/book-banning-parents.html
Last week, the book publisher Lisa Lucas started a conversation on Twitter about all of the potentially disturbing, sometimes naughty books that some kids of our vintage used to read without our parents paying the least bit of attention. “Flowers in the Attic,” a creepy, gothic tale of incest and child abuse by V.C. Andrews was a popular one, and I remember it getting passed around one summer at sleep away camp when I was 11. It scared the daylights out of me.
I was a voracious reader, and some of what I read in my tweens and teens was prurient and had close to zero literary value. (For instance, “Go Ask Alice,” a cautionary tale of drug use masquerading as a teen’s diary, which I thought was a true story until I was 30.) Other books provided tools for identity formation, in ways that in retrospect are hilarious and myopic. Like many dramatic, bookish teenagers, I loved “The Bell Jar,” which I’m pretty sure was on my sophomore English summer reading list.
After that, I read biographies of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes on my own, because I love mess and gossip. In college, I told at least one suitor that I wanted a passionate romance like theirs: The first time they met, at a party, Hughes ripped off Plath’s headband and earring, and Plath bit Hughes on the face. In true adolescent fashion, I glossed over the depressing ending of their story. I doubt that was the takeaway my teachers intended when “The Bell Jar” was assigned.
I mention all this because of the recent ongoing public debate, mostly among adults, about which books are “appropriate” for teenagers to read in schools. Book bans, even book burnings, are on the rise, and the latest round of discussion took off with the McMinn County, Tenn., school board’s decision to remove “Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust, from their district’s eighth grade curriculum.
For the record, I think bans are terrible for many reasons, including because they’re frequently about political fights among adults that spill into children’s lives when it’s not really about them. As my Times colleague Margaret Renkl wrote Monday in an Opinion essay, “the vast majority of teenagers in McMinn County already carry the modern world around in their pockets — the cussing and the sex and the violence and all of it.” Many recent bans are part of the general, misguided push against so-called critical race theory. Other bans are against books depicting any kind of non-heterosexual sex or romance. The American Library Association has a list of the top 10 most challenged books from 2001-2020 on its website, and sexual and racial content are popular recent reasons for banning.
More alarming are the threats to criminalize distribution of what politicians deem “pornographic” books. One Texas high school librarian told NBC News she was retiring earlier than planned because of these threats. “I got out because I was afraid to stand up to the attacks. I didn’t want to get caught in somebody’s snare. Who wants to be called a pornographer? Who wants to be accused of being a pedophile or reported to the police for putting a book in a kid’s hand?”
While it is distressing, none of this is new. An article published more than 40 years ago in Time magazine called “The Growing Battle of the Books” discusses a strikingly similar dynamic to the one we’re witnessing today, with books that have sexual, racial and religious content among the most banned.
The entire article is worth a read, but this paragraph stuck out to me as particularly relevant to our current struggle:
Few censors, if any, tend to see that censorship itself runs counter to certain basic American values. But why have so many people with such an outlook begun lurching forth so aggressively in recent years? They quite likely have always suffered the censorial impulse. But they have been recently emboldened by the same resurgent moralistic mood that has enspirited evangelical fundamentalists and given form to the increasingly outspoken constituency of the Moral Majority. At another level, they probably hunger for some power over something, just as everybody supposedly does these days. Thus they are moved, as American Library Association President Peggy Sullivan says, “by a desperation to feel some control over what is close to their lives.”
It’s not surprising to me that after two years of pandemic uncertainty and chaos, we’re in a moment where some parents want to exert control over something, anything for their kids, and I do have some empathy for that feeling, if not for the expression of it. Particularly because the early quarantines, when virtual schooling was happening everywhere, brought curriculum and teachers into our homes in much more intimate ways. In that moment, teenagers were at home instead of starting to grow away from their families, which is what they’re supposed to do. While parents always have some sway over their kids, this period of enforced togetherness possibly gave some parents the illusion that they still had full authority over their adolescents’ intellectual lives.
My mother, who practiced psychiatry for 40 years, used to tell me that you have until your kid is 12 to, if you will, brainwash them with your set of moral values. After that, their peers become as, if not more, influential than their parents. In the ’90s, Judith Rich Harris, an independent researcher, promoted the theory that parental influence matters less than we think in terms of child development.
Harris, who died in 2019, once wrote, “If teenagers wanted to be like adults they wouldn’t be shoplifting nail polish from drugstores or hanging off overpasses to spray I LOVE YOU LIƨA on the arch,” and that “If they really aspired to ‘mature status’ they would be doing boring adult things like sorting the laundry and figuring out their income taxes. Teenagers aren’t trying to be like adults: they are trying to distinguish themselves from adults!”
And thank goodness they are. In December, NPR ran a segment on book bans, and noted that in North Kansas City, Mo., a parent-led group got “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel, which are both memoirs by gay writers, removed from school libraries. “The district ended up putting those books back on shelves after students protested. Sixteen-year-old Aurora Nicol spoke at a school board meeting after the books were returned,” Nomin Ujiyediin reported.
Despite parental outbursts, teens are going to continue to find ways to assert themselves publicly and privately, and to get their mitts on whatever their parents don’t want them to read, see or discuss.
I'm so glad I read so many different kinds of books as a teenager, even the supposedly bad ones. Because it was fun, because I bonded with my friends over those books, because they gave me goofy ideas I could explore in my head without acting them out in real life; and some ideas that I had to act out in real life to experience the consequences of my choices. My older daughter is currently reading a book about sinister dolls who are constantly plotting against each other and attempting to avoid something called “permanent doll state.” I have no idea if she’s learning a damn thing from it, but she sure is enjoying herself.
By Charles M. Blow, Feb. 9, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/09/opinion/abbott-elementary-teachers.html
My mother has worked in the school system since I was in preschool. For most of that time she was a teacher. When she retired, she ran for the school board and won. She is now serving her third term. She’ll be 80 years old in November.
My brother is also a teacher, as is his daughter.
All my life I have seen up close the struggles and joys of teaching: the papers spread out on the dining room table, separated into two stacks, the ones that had been graded and those that had not. I would help my mother with her bulletin boards in the beginning of these years and help her process through the long parent-teacher conferences in the middle of these years.
I remember the home visits she made, sometimes to talk about a student who was struggling, sometimes to take dinner to a family that was hard on its luck.
I remember the students in our home as my mother bounced back and forth between helping them through homework and making dinner, so deeply connected to the children that they all called her Mama.
Maybe that is why the series “Abbott Elementary” has struck such a chord with me, because it reminded me of the beautiful struggle of people like my mother, who take on the all-consuming task of teaching.
That show is about a gaggle of well-meaning teachers — both Black and white — at a struggling, majority-Black Philadelphia elementary school with an aloof and incompetent principal. But it could well have been set anywhere.
The show is a sensation. It set ratings records for ABC and is only growing in popularity, resonating with many more people than just teachers and the people who love them.
The show illustrates that while there may be inequities in funding for these schools, there is no shortage of teachers who care and are determined to do the best they can for their students.
It refocuses the lens on the nobility of the profession, the way that teachers are driven more by mission than money, more by the need to make a difference than to make a killing.
There is a purity and innocence in it. It offers comfort in a time of strife and anxiety. Race is always present but not always central. This is a story about shared humanity.
It reminds you that many teachers are everyday heroes, not only teaching our children, but inspiring them, loving them and protecting them.
It is interesting that this show has burst onto the scene at the same time that a culture war is playing out in our schools and the teaching profession is straining under the weight of the pandemic.
Republicans in state after state are introducing bills to prevent educators from teaching a comprehensive, accurate version of American history, with all its complexities and trauma, especially as it relates to race. A report by the education website Chalkbeat last week found that at least 36 states have “adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism.”
A Florida bill, backed by that state’s governor, would prohibit schools and private businesses from making people (read “white people”) feel “discomfort” or “guilt” based on race. Good luck enforcing that. Exactly how does one measure discomfort and guilt? Are those floating emotions, presenting differently in different people?
Every Black child, or child of color, or gay kid could argue that the absence of accurate representation of their groups in class discussions makes them feel discomfort. The blindfold can always be flipped.
Furthermore, there is a raging debate about masking and vaccination in schools as the pandemic has been politicized. As an Axios/Momentive poll from August found, a parent’s political party tended to align with their opposition to school mask mandates, with 56 percent of Republican parents opposed to the mandates versus 24 percent of Independents and 4 percent of Democrats.
Because of this, the threats to teachers have increased dramatically, so much so that in October, the United States attorney general directed the F.B.I. and the U.S. attorneys’ offices to discuss strategies for addressing what it called a “disturbing trend”: “an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools.”
On top of all that, and perhaps because of it, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, including Black teachers. According to a report by the RAND Corporation last year, “nearly one in four teachers overall, and almost half of Black teachers in particular, said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.”
The teachers in “Abbott Elementary,” particularly the young, Black, idealistic ones, show us what is at stake as we tighten the vise on educators. They remind us that these are not just pawns in a political game, but real people, often the best kind of people, doing the best they can with too little and not been applauded nearly enough.
By Laura Reston, Feb. 11, 2022
Ms. Reston is a senior staff editor in Opinion.
Illustration by Anthony Gerace, Photograph by Getty Images
As politicians panic about inflation and the national debt, the people they represent have more immediate concerns on their minds. Their grocery stores are running out of chicken. Their electrical bills are tripling month over month. And they sometimes have to trek clear across town, 45 minutes, just to find a pack of toilet paper they can afford.
In a new focus group by Times Opinion, we set out to capture the day-to-day realities of people experiencing economic insecurity — people who, more often than not, live in a state of constant fear: a mother anxious that her young family has outgrown their two-bedroom apartment; a senior citizen, forced into retirement, watching her savings dwindle away; a woman on food stamps in Detroit, spending her evenings in a darkened living room, willing herself not to turn on the lights for fear of running up the utilities bill.
No focus group is meant to be conclusive. The 12 people who participated in this one were Democrats and independents, and some are wealthier than others, but each shared similar insecurities — not only about their own finances, but about the future of a world in which billionaires send “rockets out to space” while people “stand in soup lines for hours just to get a meal.” (Times Opinion is holding other focus groups featuring Republican voters.)
The conversation — moderated by a veteran focus group leader, Margie Omero, and condensed for clarity — lets us see the psychological cost of economic insecurity. Poverty warps the way we see the world: Every broken promise from a politician, or frustrating experience with a government agency, reinforces the feeling that we live in a system designed to thwart those who need its help the most. Our 12 participants also talked about hope and resilience, and the result is a quintessentially American mosaic that captures the everyday contradictions of life in a transformative era when millions of people remain stuck in place: confidence in capitalism, but anger at inequality; exasperation at cultural depictions of poverty, but trust that their neighbors understand their struggles; and always, the crippling fear about what the next month may bring.
Margie Omero: You’re all from different parts of the country. Just fill-in-the-blank for me: I feel “blank” about how the economy is going in my area. I feel “blank.”
Phyllis (52, white, from California, risk assessment interviewer, makes between $30,000 and $50,000): Scared.
Jennifer (28, Latino, Texas, part-time teacher assistant, makes between $20,000 and $30,000): Sad.
Rob (50, Latino, Illinois, unemployed but looking for work, makes less than $20,000): Ripped off.
Justin (35, white, Virginia, actor, makes between $30,000 and $50,000): Annoyed.
Margie Omero: Does anybody have a positive word?
Mary (68, white, Massachusetts, retired, makes between $50,000 and $75,000): Hopeful. I’m hopeful.
Margie Omero: Tony, how about you?
Tony (62, white, Arizona, business owner, makes between $30,000 and $50,000): I run a business out of my home. I do antique restoration and antique work. When I order stuff, it takes forever to get it. Customers, they’re really, really shy about doing business right now because of the Covid.
Jenny (49, white, Tennessee, licensed psychotherapist, makes between $50,000 and $75,000): I’m in Nashville, and it’s growing like crazy. We have tons of folks moving from California, Illinois, New York, places like that. It’s driving our housing market through the roof. And groceries are getting expensive. Some shelves are empty. And I hear that we’re not the only city.
Bekira (53, Black, Michigan, not working and not looking for work, makes between $30,000 and $50,000): I’m on a fixed income. I’ve been like that for 15 years. And the only way I’m going to get out of that is to go back to work. But the day the pandemic started roaring up, I had two job interviews, one for the post office and one with another company to get fingerprinted, but slowly but surely they were shutting the city down and then the state. Two years later, the only thing that I had was those $1,400 checks.
Sammie (68, Black, Nevada, retired, makes between $30,000 and $50,000): I drove gasoline tankers for 40 years. And my wife’s a retired nurse. We left Chicago going on three years ago now and came here, to Las Vegas. My wife got a job in two different places here as a nurse. And all of a sudden, she had a massive stroke. I’m taking care of her. I can’t go out and make money, like driving trucks again, because I got to be home with her. So I got to look for other means of making money.
Justin: I’ve been an actor for over 20 years. I’ve never had a recurring paycheck. I’m currently back with my parents. I’ve become one of those stereotypical millennials who just leeches off their parents. I’m not really happy about that. But I probably am privileged in my situation right now.
Jennifer: I lost my job like a year ago. I have three kids. And the smallest one, she just turned 1. Everything’s getting expensive. Diapers. Food. They eat a lot of food. Right now I’m staying in a two-bedroom apartment. I was looking into buying a house at the beginning of 2020, and then everything happened and people were outbidding us. I don’t have a lot of money to be putting on a higher price for a house.
Mary: I retired in March of 2020. And then I collected unemployment. I got severance. And I found a job working for an expert witness. It was very lucrative. $70 an hour. But all of it kind of fizzled. My salary went to zero. Luckily, I’m on Social Security, living off of what little savings I had. So yeah, I’m just anxious when I see all the bills coming in and the balance in my checking account going down. I haven’t had this worry for so many years. I did raise my daughter for 32 years on my own. So I mean, I had times where I didn’t have any money, but things got better, and now they’ve gone backwards. And at 68, it’s a tough time to be worrying about money.
Margie Omero: Let me ask this question because I heard a couple of people refer to it. Have there been folks here who have lost a job, who have gone on unemployment?
Hannah (25, white, New York, student, makes between $75,000 and $100,000): I reduced my hours. It was mostly because of burnout.
Bekira: I want to go to work but I’m scared of catching Covid, because I’ve known three people that died. If I die, my son is going to have to pay for that. He ain’t got no money to bury me. I don’t want to take that chance.
Margie Omero: Sometimes when I do these groups people say, “people are just walking out of their jobs and saying, I quit, and companies are having a hard time filling those positions. There are help wanted signs everywhere.” What do you guys think about that? Is that your experience?
Mary: I’ve put myself out there and said I’d like part-time remote work. And I get probably 20, 30 offers at full-time and at very little pay.
Hannah: I think people have realized that companies should be paying more and treating their employees better. At least a lot of people that I kind of talk to, their mentality, is, well, at this point, we should have a job that actually appreciates you.
Margie Omero: Is that part of what happened to you when you said I need to reduce my hours because of burnout?
Hannah: Yeah, a lot of nonprofits have the same mentality: you’re working for this cause, so you should be able to take lower pay and work crazy hours, because you’re such a good person. And then the C.E.O.s making 10 times your salary. And then just the long hours with little pay was really what did it.
Jenny: I’ve been self-employed as a psychotherapist, and I’m kind of burnt out at the end of this Covid. Not the end of Covid — we’re still going on. But I’m looking to go back into corporate America, into H.R. leadership-type roles. It’s taking longer than I thought. Corporations are taking longer to hire because they’re wanting to be more particular, or they’re scared because of the great resignation.
Margie Omero: I want to pause for a minute and ask about prices. How many people say that that’s on their minds, the cost of things going up?
Mary: I used to shop for what I wanted. Now I shop for what I need.
Rob: I go clear on the other town just to get toilet paper. I mean, clear — a 45-minute train ride just to get toilet paper.
Margie Omero: Sammie, you were nodding along about groceries getting more expensive.
Sammie: Yeah. Steaks. You might as well say “rich folks’ food” now. I mean, even chicken is just totally ridiculous. You go shopping, you see $98 up there, and you get home and see what you got, it’s like you don’t have nothing.
Phyllis: Can’t tell you the last time there was chicken breasts available when I’ve gone to the grocery store.
Angel (49, white, Missouri, self-described homemaker, makes less than $20,000): Here it was chicken wings. I’ve been looking for them since November.
Phyllis: The gas and electric just went through the roof here in San Diego. I thought we had a triple bill. It wasn’t a triple bill. Water’s next. It’s nuts. And they’re coming after the people that have done solar in California. You can’t win.
Bekira: My light and gas bill is like $130 a month. And I’m like, it’s just me here. I stay in a living room with all the lights cut off.
Margie Omero: What do you think is behind that? Why is that happening?
Mark (46, Asian or Pacific Islander, Washington, part-time teacher, makes less than $20,000): We have Rite Aids where I live. Over the holidays, so many shelves were just closed, empty. They didn’t have what they needed. It’s just the bottleneck, like ships and containers not getting where they need to be.
Tony: Everybody is raising prices. Like me, myself, being a business, I go out and I purchase products, and some of the products I buy, I’m paying double and triple for. For me to make an honest living, I have to charge my customer more. It’s a domino effect.
Margie Omero: Does anybody have a different point of view?
Bekira: I think a lot of companies were actually giving away stuff to help their communities — food and toilet paper and masks. Now they got to recoup that money somehow.
Hannah: The larger corporations, they have the money, I think, to absorb some of those market ebbs and flows, but they’re putting that on to the consumer.
Rob: I took my partner to a hotel last month, and we had to save up for a couple of months to go there. And we signed up for having a late checkout, $18. Well, when I got the final bill, I not only gave $75 for incidentals, but then they charged me $75 for a late checkout. That’s crazy.
Angel: There’s always corporations that are going to take advantage of a situation.
Justin: I actually feel like I’ve seen the opposite, personally. There are two examples I can think of. For instance, Kraft, Philadelphia Cream Cheese had a promotion over Christmas saying if you don’t make a cheesecake, we will send you $20 to buy a different dessert. And Domino’s is right now doing a promotion where if you go pick up the pizza yourself as opposed to having them deliver it to you, they’ll give you credit toward more pizza.
Margie Omero: Where do you think you’ll be in a year or two years? If we did this group again, do you think the challenges you’ve been talking about would be different?
Hannah: I think it depends on the political situation.
Phyllis: Every year we hope it’s better and that hasn’t been happening.
Bekira: Yeah, in two years, I think, my situation is probably going to be the same as it was before Covid. Getting my check, paying my rent, feeding my cats, my son borrowing money. But as far as the country is concerned, every day, something’s happening on the news. Now there’s going to be a war over Ukraine. I just feel sad for the country, really.
Jenny: Everything feels so unpredictable. It’s like ever since March of 2020, I don’t feel certain of anything anymore.
Margie Omero: So it’s not just economic.
Jenny: It’s economics, politics, relationships. I’m single. I date, and seems like we’re dating different, even. How we treat each other is different. What we prioritize these days is different.
Laura Reston: What do you think other people don’t get about your economic situation?
Bekira: People probably look at me as though I’m lazy, I’m content collecting the check and food stamps. When, in actuality, I’ve been working since I was 13 years old and going to school at the same time. That’s why my student loan debt is so high. And they get a misconception because I’m in Detroit, because I collect SSI and food stamps, that once again I’m not trying hard enough to get out there and up my income.
Tony: A lot of the people, a lot of the friends and family that I know, they pretty much do understand. I think the big problem is the government. The government doesn’t see people like us — what we’re going through.
Phyllis: People are more empathetic and sympathetic.
Hannah: Everyday people, like my friends and family, but not politicians.
Margie Omero: OK, let’s talk about the federal government. Do folks have examples of something the federal government is doing to address some of these things that people have been talking about?
Mary: I have student parent loans, over $40,000. My daughter has over $165,000. And we have received information saying that they are trying to either lessen them, lower the interest, or actually get rid of some of the balance. That’s the only thing I see the government doing.
Phyllis: I feel like there’s a lot of talk and no action. ‘Oh, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, we’re going to help you this way, we’re going to help you that way.’ I just feel like they’re dangling this carrot in front of you, but they’re not letting anybody grab that carrot and eat it.
Laura Reston: Phyllis, you said we hear a lot of talk and no action. This is for everyone: Tell me about a recent time you heard a Democrat who you feel really got it when talking about the economy, who really understood the challenges we’ve been discussing. Is there someone who comes to mind? And if so, what did they say?
Mary: Elizabeth Warren can be very down to Earth.
Hannah: Stacey Abrams.
Bekira: I feel that Joe Biden tricked us. He was saying all the right things. Again, with the student loan, but then his focus became about the Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.
Mary: Well, I mean, people are dying. By the millions.
Bekira: I lost three people. So I know. But life goes on for the rest of us still here. What’s going to happen once the Covid is settled? He needs to get back to business. My hope was the student loan situation. That’s what got me. And then now it’s like he lied about it.
Justin: I think he meant it. It just hasn’t been able to happen yet.
Laura Reston: So if there was one thing that each of you could ask the Democrats to fix for you or change for you — it can be a small thing. Something that would make your life easier day to day.
Jenny: The first thing that came to mind was, if we could have a fixed gas price. It’s a fantasy I have.
Margie Omero: Would that do it?
Jenny: I don’t know, but I like to fantasize that it would. And if I went to this gas station in this neighborhood, it’s the same price. And if I went to the next state, it’s the same price because gas costs this. Period.
Phyllis: I’m up on that cloud with you.
Justin: I’m afraid to say it. I’m afraid I’ll open up a can of worms, but having a vaccine mandate would help a lot more than it would hurt. We would see the economy getting back to normal.
Bekira: We vaccinate our babies, don’t we? They get their shot, and we cry when they cry. We don’t question what’s in it, right?
Mary: Because we trust science.
Justin: People being vaccinated would solve a lot of problems. Maybe it’s over-simplicity, but I think it’s one of those common sense things that people just aren’t getting for some reason.
Bekira: Because it’s a way to buck the government. Again, we microwave our food, we smoke weed, cigarettes, have unprotected sex, vaccinate our babies, but now we don’t want a shot.
Mary: It gets me crazy.
Margie Omero: OK. So imagine you’re in charge of the economy. You’re the boss. You could decide it. What would it look like?
Phyllis: The cost of living would go down for everybody.
Bekira: Your rental or your housing costs would be a reflection of your monthly wage. The cost of higher learning, as well.
Margie Omero: How many people have had to pay student loans?
Five people — Jenny, Bekira, Mark, Hanna, and Mary — raise their hands
Margie Omero: OK. Tony, how about you? You could design the economy.
Tony: Make it a little more fair between, say, a person that’s only getting $20,000 a year versus a person that’s making $100,000 a year.
Mary: How about a million? And never paying taxes. They are sending rockets out to space, when people are living on the street in every city in this country.
Margie Omero: So let me ask this question. What will the economy be like 10 years from now?
Tony: Compared to when I was a child, it’s just gotten progressively worse and worse and worse, and I think it will continue to get worse.
Hannah: I say the same. It’s hard to know, because it depends on what political parties are in charge over the next 10 years — and if the Earth is still standing. That’s also up in the air.
Margie Omero: So what would need to happen?
Angel: We need a woman president.
Mary: And we need a Senate that talks to each other and agrees and believes in the Constitution.
Mark: The change that needs to happen, it’s systemic. Just changing our party is not going to change it.
Jenny: I think lobby reform. If lobbyists didn’t have so much power over how our representatives voted for us, I think they could get back to voting for us.
Tony: Our voice needs to be heard.
Margie Omero: Do you feel like your voice is heard now?
Tony: No. And that’s the part that really irritates me. All my life, since I was 16 years old, I’ve been on my own and made my own way and paid taxes all my life, and it’s like, what do they keep doing with the taxes? You keep hearing about Social Security is going to go broke. Well, that’s money that we contributed in, and that was supposed to be for us when we retire. But they keep taking it, taking it and spending it any way they want. Do they come ask us? That money belongs to us, not to them. And here in Phoenix, Arizona, we’ve got more people on the street living out of cardboard boxes, having to stand in soup lines for hours just to get a meal.
Bekira: We haven’t talked about the drug crisis in this country. I’ve been clean for 16 years now. It starts when you’re young, sipping that first beer at the parties with your family, hitting cigarettes you stole out your mama’s purse, all that stuff builds your character. That’s why I didn’t finish college, and I owe student loans, and all this money. I can’t blame everything on the economy. I have to take some responsibility for what I did with my life. And until we do that and get a handle on that, then we’re going to be sitting here 10 years later talking about “woe is me,” the economy still messed up because the government is not giving us this and that.
Tony: I really don’t think politicians know what it’s like to not know where they’re going to get their next meal from, how they’re going to pay their next bill. I got an electric bill last month for $165. This month, my electric bill, $235. I didn’t change nothing. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense. I get $1,100 a month Social Security. My house payment is $1,450. That’s not counting all my other bills. I have to work 12, 16 hours a day, seven days a week to be able to just survive.
Mary: If the government contributed more toward school, college, the cost of school and the cost of health insurance, I think the economy would improve immensely. I mean, my daughter lives in Europe, and their taxes are higher, but their roadways are perfect. Her fiancé never paid one penny from kindergarten through college, and she has free health. They do pay like $50 a month, but she gets everything for free. And the government pays for that. They see where their taxes go. We don’t see where our taxes really go.
This 90-minute discussion, part of Times Opinion’s America in Focus series, was held over Zoom. The participants were selected by the moderator, Margie Omero, with guidance from Times Opinion. (Times Opinion paid her for the work; she does similar work for political candidates, parties and special interest groups.) The participants provided their ages, race or ethnicity, job background and income levels. As is customary with focus groups, their last names are not included.
Laura Reston is a senior staff editor in Opinion.
Adrian J. Rivera, an editorial assistant in Opinion, contributed to this article.
After nearly two years spent in a computer crouch, my favorite sweater and I have gone fuzzy.
By Steven Kurutz, Feb. 10, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/style/self-care/covid-pandemic-aging.html
I was 43 when the pandemic began. I am now 60.
That would seem to defy the laws of physics and common sense, but the rate of aging is not so simple as it was once thought to be. And pandemic burnout, though not a condition listed in Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, is a real thing, a sapping of spirit, if not the body.
An article published last month in the scientific journal Nature suggested that the pandemic has accelerated the aging process, not only for the millions who have contracted the virus, but also for those affected by the upheaval and isolation of remote life.
Others have noted wrinkled skin, graying hair, creaky joints and a chronic blah feeling described by the psychologist Adam Grant as “languishing.”
For many people who have had Covid-19, the arduous recovery has left them feeling “older than they are,” said Alicia Arbaje, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. For others, there is an impression of being thrown off course.
“It’s the sense of disconnect from your purpose: ‘Why am I even here?’” said Dr. Arbaje, who specializes in geriatric medicine. “Once you begin to lose touch with that, it creates a sense of chronic stress, which can directly accelerate aging.”
At her workplace, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Dr. Arbaje has noticed what she called a “moral distress” among her colleagues and herself. It manifests itself in weight gain, dark circles under the eyes, hair loss, a bone-deep tiredness.
“It’s this lack of brightness,” Dr. Arbaje said. “The full extent of their person isn’t showing. They’re weary.”
Partly because of my job as a writer, which can leave me sedentary even in the best of times, I’ve spent nearly two years sitting hunched at my desk. Sometimes I switch it up and take my laptop to the couch. Even as thoughts of exercise pester me, I find I can’t pull myself away from the screen.
My world has shrunk in the two years I’ve been working from home. I find myself looking forward to the mail and “PBS NewsHour.” My favorite sweater, so proud and fresh in 2019, has gone limp and fuzzy. Now I call it my house sweater.
I couldn’t bring myself to join the Peloton craze or the running boom, and my aerobic capacity has gone way down. While carrying my young son up a hill, I got so winded that I considered driving myself to the hospital.
I described my pandemic rut to Ken Dychtwald, a psychologist and gerontologist, mentioning that it had left me feeling like a 60-year-old. Dr. Dychtwald, who is 71, did not take kindly to that remark, saying it showed “a profound level of ageism.”
There are plenty of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who lead active lives, he told me, and they haven’t allowed the pandemic to dampen their spirits or keep them from exercising.
Dr. Dychtwald is part of this group. In addition to running his research and consulting company, Age Wave, with his wife, Maddy, he has gone swimming every day during the pandemic. He and his wife have also adopted an anti-inflammatory diet.
“And I practice yoga every day,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged the pandemic has been hard on everyone.
“I do agree with you that we have all aged,” Dr. Dychtwald said. “We’ve all gotten older during Covid in dramatic ways.”
I asked him if he had any ideas about why I felt so tired all the time and couldn’t bring myself to exercise.
“It’s probably depression,” he said. “You associate that with aging. This will pass.”
The perspective I lacked, he suggested, may come along by the time I’m actually 60.
“Older people are more inclined to feel gratitude for what they have experienced and what they have,” Dr. Dychtwald said. “Emotional intelligence rises as we age.”
The other day, with some effort, I laced up my running shoes and went for a jog. But can you really call it a jog when you go 10 blocks before the fire in your lungs makes you pull up heaving? After two years in a computer crouch, moving upright felt odd, unnatural, and I wondered if my decline was irreversible.
Dr. Arbaje, of Johns Hopkins, told me that was not the case.
“As long as we can get the body back into alignment, it’s a matter of letting it do what it knows how to do,” she said, “which is regenerate and recover.”
But she had an unsettling caveat: “Now whether Covid made a permanent impact and really shaved off a few years, it’s hard to tell. We won’t know, maybe for a few decades.”
By Jamelle Bouie, Feb. 11, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/opinion/supreme-court-alabama-maps.html
People trying to begin the voter registration process in Selma, Ala., Feb. 17, 1965. The Voting Rights Act was passed later that year. Credit...Associated Press
Under a traditionally liberal view of the Supreme Court, its decision on Monday to uphold, at least for this year, a Congressional map in Alabama that intentionally weakens the voting strength of Black people in the state is a betrayal of its duty to protect the rights of minorities, racial and otherwise.
Under a more historical view, it is the court doing what the court does.
First, a little background on Monday’s decision. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act bars any voting law or procedure that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race,” as the Department of Justice puts it. This includes situations where lawmakers have “cracked” minority communities into multiple districts in order to dilute the strength of their voters. To remedy this, courts can require states to create “majority-minority” districts in which these voters can then elect the candidates of their choice. This is especially important in places where voting is so polarized by race that minority communities are rarely, if ever, able to shape the outcome of an election.
Last year, Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature drew and passed a Congressional map that packed a large number of Black voters into a single district encompassing the cities of Birmingham and Montgomery, while spreading the remaining voters throughout six majority white districts. By “packing” one group of Black voters and dispersing the rest, Alabama Republicans successfully reduced the voting strength of the entire Black community in the state, which accounts for 27 percent of its population.
Black Alabamians filed suit. In January, after seeing evidence and hearing arguments from both sides, a three-judge district court panel (with two Trump appointees) agreed that the state had violated the Voting Rights Act. It ordered the Legislature to draw a new map containing a second majority-minority district. Republicans appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, where five members voted to stay the order, reinstating the original map.
This, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted with the majority, was not done “on the merits.” It was merely an attempt to keep the courts from disrupting the upcoming election which, he said, was “close at hand.” Except Alabama’s primary is not until May and its general election is not until November. There was, and there still is, plenty of time to draw new maps.
In the view of Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted with the minority despite his hostility to the Voting Rights Act, “the District Court properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction.” By granting a stay, the conservative majority has effectively changed the law, freeing Alabama (and other states) to devise the kinds of racial gerrymanders that the Voting Rights Act was in part written to prohibit. That is one reason my colleague Linda Greenhouse called the decision a “raw power play by a runaway majority that seems to recognize no stopping point.”
But again, historically speaking, we should not see this as an exception to the rule, but as the rule.
On July 9, 1868, the United States ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. As the historian Eric Foner explains in “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,” the amendment was written, among other things, to “establish general principles about the rights of the freed people and of all Americans.” Within a decade, however, the Court had radically narrowed the scope of that amendment, construing it as “a vehicle for protecting corporate rights rather than those of the former slaves.”
On Feb. 3, 1870, the United States ratified the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. It prohibited the national government and states from denying the right to vote on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and gave Congress the power to enforce that prohibition with “appropriate legislation.” It was written, specifically, to extend suffrage to Black men. But in 1876, Foner notes, the Supreme Court “overturned the convictions of Kentucky officials who had conspired to prevent blacks from voting in a local election.”
Writing for an 8-1 majority of the court, Chief Justice Morrison Waite conceded that the amendment grants “an exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of race,” but denied that it conferred the “right of suffrage” on anyone. His opinion opened the door to the kinds of restrictions — poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses — that Southern states would eventually use to disenfranchise their Black populations.
In the 1870s, Congress passed laws to punish acts of violence meant to deprive Americans of their constitutional rights, to outlaw discrimination in public accommodations and to prohibit exclusion from jury service. In the 1880s, the Supreme Court either invalidated those laws or rendered them a dead letter. In his 1883 opinion for the majority in the Civil Rights Cases, which held that neither the 13th nor the 14th Amendments gave Congress the power to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals, Justice Joseph P. Bradley declared that, “When a man has emerged from slavery” there must be “some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.”
It is Congress, and not the Supreme Court, that has, over time, done more to defend the civil and voting rights of all Americans. To do the same, the court has had to reverse its own work. As Nikolas Bowie, an assistant professor of law at Harvard, has written, “As a matter of historical practice, the Court has wielded an antidemocratic influence on American law, one that has undermined federal attempts to eliminate hierarchies of race, wealth, and status.”
Barring the unexpected, and assuming the presidency continues to swing evenly between the two parties, conservatives can expect to hold the Supreme Court for at least a generation. But this won’t be a new frontier as much as a return to form.
For most of its history, the Supreme Court — the 16 years of the Warren court notwithstanding — has been a friend to hierarchy and reaction. Thus, for Americans who want a more equal society, the Supreme Court has been, is and will continue to be an adversary, not an ally. Understanding that fact is the first step toward doing something about it.
A federal judge has overturned the Trump-era decision that removed the predators from the endangered species list.
By Catrin Einhorn, Feb. 10, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/climate/wolves-endangered-species-list.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Climate%20and%20Environment
Since federal protection for wolves ended, hunting has increased sharply in certain states. Credit...Vince Burton/Alamy
Gray wolves will regain federal protection across most of the lower 48 United States following a court ruling Thursday that struck down a Trump administration decision to take the animals off the endangered species list.
Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White, of United States District Court for the Northern District of California, found that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in declaring wolf conservation a success and removing the species from federal protection, did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains where they have rebounded most significantly.
Although the decision to delist wolves came under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has defended it in court.
“Wolves need federal protection, period,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization that has helped lead the legal fight. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be ashamed of defending the gray wolf delisting.”
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency was reviewing the decision.
The Trump administration’s decision to delist came despite concerns from some of the scientists who performed the independent review that is required before the Fish and Wildlife Service can remove a species from federal protection.
The ruling applies in 44 of the lower 48 states. Wolves in Montana and Idaho will remain unprotected because they were delisted by Congress in 2011. Wolves in Wyoming were delisted by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017. Wolves in New Mexico, which are considered a separate population, never lost protection.
After gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list, wolf hunting increased sharply in some states, including Wisconsin. In the spring of 2021, the state had to end its wolf hunting season early, after more than 200 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, far exceeding the state’s quota of 119. Ojibwe tribes were furious, having decided not to fill their tribal quota because wolves have a sacred place in their culture.
Deb Haaland, the secretary of the interior, published an essay in USA Today this week expressing concern about threats to wolves. She said that she was alarmed by reports from Montana, where nearly 20 wolves have been killed this season after leaving the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The Fish and Wildlife Service, she wrote, was evaluating whether it would be necessary to relist wolves in the Northern Rockies.
Wolves were some of the first animals shielded by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the decision has been politically charged ever since. Big predators have long been controversial in Western states, where ranchers complain of lost livestock.
Hunter Nation, an advocacy group that filed a brief in the case, criticized the ruling. “We are disappointed that an activist judge from California decided to tell farmers, ranchers, and anyone who supports a balanced ecosystem with common-sense predator management that he knows better than them,” said Luke Hilgemann, the president and chief executive of the group.
Judge White was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Before the arrival of Europeans, gray wolves thrived from coast to coast in North America, living in forests, prairies, mountains and wetlands. But two centuries of eradication campaigns caused them to nearly disappear from the lower 48 states. By the mid-20th century, perhaps 1,000 were left south of the Canadian border, mainly in northern Minnesota.
Their numbers began to rebound after the species was placed under federal protection in the 1960s. In the mid-1990s, the Fish and Wildlife Service embarked on a new chapter of wolf conservation, relocating 31 wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park. Their numbers quickly increased, and in 2020 about 6,000 wolves ranged the western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, with small numbers spreading into Oregon, Washington and California.
The United States is also home to the red wolf, a species that is listed as endangered. Its historical range included North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
A number of the stores’ nearly 500,000 employees have reported being homeless, receiving government food stamps or relying on food banks.
By Sapna Maheshwari and Michael Corkery, Feb. 12, 2022
"Kroger has one of the country’s starkest gaps between a chief executive’s compensation and that of the median employee. Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chief executive since 2014, earned $22.4 million in 2020, while the median employee earned $24,617 — a ratio of 909 to 1. The average C.E.O.-to-worker pay ratio in the S&P 500 is 299 to 1, with grocery chains like Costco (193 to 1) and Publix (153 to 1) lower than that."https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/12/business/kroger-grocery-stores-workers-pay.html
When Enrique Romero Jr. finishes his shift fulfilling online orders at a Fred Meyer grocery store in Bellingham, Wash., he often walks to a nearby plasma donation center. There, he has his blood drained, and a hydrating solution is pumped into his veins, a process that leaves him tired and cold.
Mr. Romero, 30, said selling his plasma made him feel “like cattle.” But the income he earns from it — roughly $500 a month — is more reliable than his wages at Fred Meyer, which is owned by the grocery giant Kroger. His part-time hours often fluctuate, and he struggles to find enough money to cover his rent, his groceries and the regular repairs required to keep his 2007 Chevy Aveo on the road.
“The economy we have is grueling,” he said.
Business has boomed during the pandemic for Kroger, the biggest supermarket chain in the United States and the fourth-largest employer in the Fortune 500. It owns more than 2,700 locations, and its brands include Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Ralphs, Smith’s, Pick ’n Save and even Murray’s Cheese in New York City. The company, which is based in Cincinnati, said in December that it was expecting sales growth of at least 13.7 percent over two years. The company’s stock has risen about 36 percent over the past year.
But that success has not trickled down to its vast work force of nearly 500,000 employees, a number of whom have reported being homeless, receiving government food stamps or relying on food banks to feed their families. A brief strike in Colorado last month by workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, at dozens of Kroger-owned King Soopers locations brought renewed scrutiny to the issues of pay and working conditions for grocery workers, who have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic.
The Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group that surveyed more than 10,000 Kroger workers in Washington, Colorado and Southern California about their working conditions for a report commissioned by four units of the food workers union, found that about 75 percent of Kroger workers said they were food insecure, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. About 14 percent said they were homeless or had been homeless in the previous year, and 63 percent said they did not earn enough money to pay for basic expenses every month.
“There is a race to the bottom that’s been going on for a while with Walmart and other large retail stores, and also restaurants, and to reverse that trend is not easy,” said Daniel Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable.
Kroger was the sole employer for 86 percent of those surveyed, partly because more than half had schedules that changed at least every week, making it difficult to commit to another employer. About two-thirds said they were part-time workers, even though they wanted more hours. Keeping workers part time is a strategy employers use to encourage turnover and reduce costs.
Kristal Howard, a spokeswoman for Kroger, said the report was “one-dimensional and does not tell the complete story.”
“Kroger has provided an incredible number of people with their first job, second chances and lifelong careers, and we’re proud to play this role in our communities,” she said. Ms. Howard added that the company had raised its national average hourly rate of pay to $16.68 from $13.66 in 2017, a 22 percent increase, and that its benefits package included health care, retirement savings, tuition assistance and on-demand access to mental health assistance.
Some of the workers said that even though other retailers and fast food restaurants had started offering higher starting wages than Kroger, the company’s health insurance and retirement benefits, which the union negotiated, were more generous than what other employers offered. Other part-time Kroger workers say they stay on the job because they don’t want to lose their seniority and the chance for a full-time role.
Despite some of the wage increases and benefits, working at a grocery store no longer provides the stable income and middle-class lifestyle that it did 30 years ago, workers say. The Economic Roundtable report studied contracts dating back to 1990 and said the most experienced clerks — known as journeymen — in Southern California made roughly $28 per hour in today’s dollars while working full-time schedules. Wages for top-paid clerks today are 22 percent lower, and those workers are far more likely to be working part-time hours.
Ashley Manning, a 32-year-old floral manager at a Ralphs in San Pedro, Calif., works full time but is regularly strapped for cash. Ms. Manning, the single mother of a 12-year-old, said she had worked at Ralphs for nine years and earned $18.25 an hour. It took her four years to reach full-time status, which guarantees 40 hours per week and comes with an annual bonus ranging from $500 to $3,000.
She said she struggled to pay rent and moved into her grandmother’s house after being evicted last spring. She has needed help from her family to help pay for a car. She has tried to make extra money through a party planning and decorating business, but demand for those services dried up in the pandemic.
“I would think, ‘I have a good job and make decent money,’ and I don’t,” Ms. Manning said. “I’m still on the poverty level.”
During the pandemic, grocery store workers have been recognized as essential to keeping society going, but they have also faced health risks. At least 50,600 grocery workers around the country have been infected with or exposed to the coronavirus, and at least 213 have died from the virus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Ms. Manning was hospitalized for Covid-19 last summer. She blames herself for her grandmother’s subsequent death from the virus in August.
“She was one of the people that would help me the most, if I was short on a bill or needed help, to pick my daughter up from school,” she said. But when her grandmother was in critical condition, Ms. Manning said, she was told that she couldn’t take more time off after being sick with Covid-19.
The illness and the company’s response were jarring, given that corporate workers had the flexibility to work from home, she said, adding that she ultimately took disability leave for a stretch.
Kroger has one of the country’s starkest gaps between a chief executive’s compensation and that of the median employee. Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chief executive since 2014, earned $22.4 million in 2020, while the median employee earned $24,617 — a ratio of 909 to 1. The average C.E.O.-to-worker pay ratio in the S&P 500 is 299 to 1, with grocery chains like Costco (193 to 1) and Publix (153 to 1) lower than that.
These disparities have fomented outrage among employees, who are also dealing with issues like fights over masks and theft and violence in stores.
In Colorado, more than 8,000 workers at the Kroger-owned King Soopers chain walked off the job last month when union contract negotiations broke down over wages, employee safety issues and scheduling.
Around the time of the strike, a nonprofit publication, A More Perfect Union, published an internal Kroger document in which the company acknowledged that one in five of its employees received government assistance in 2017. The document also included research showing that employee turnover was lower in places where it raised wages.
In response, Kroger said it had developed an improvement plan after the analysis, which included the wage increase and steps to improve tuition assistance and retirement benefits. The company commissioned its own study that stated last month that Kroger’s average pay and benefits in Colorado and three other Western states were higher than those of other retailers.
After more than a week of picketing, the union — Local 7 of the U.F.C.W. — won large concessions, including wage increases and a plan to move at least 500 part-time workers into full-time roles within a few months.
As successful as the strike was for workers in Colorado, Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, said the contracts covered only employees at specific Kroger chains, making it difficult for unions to gain broader leverage.
“When all contracts are local, how do you deal with a giant national company?” Mr. Cohen said. “Not very well.”
Kroger has tightly controlled labor expenses during the pandemic. The company offered hero pay and thank-you bonuses to workers in the early months of the pandemic but ended those well before vaccinations were available. (Grocery workers were also not given priority for vaccinations in many states.) While some municipalities like Los Angeles and Seattle sought to institute hazard pay mandates, Kroger and grocery lobbying associations fought such efforts.
Kroger’s resistance to wage increases peaked last year when the Los Angeles City Council approved a hazard pay mandate requiring large grocers and pharmacies to pay employees an additional $5 an hour for four months. In response, Kroger said it would close three stores in the area in May — two Ralphs locations and a Food 4 Less — blaming increased costs. The company pointed to a release at the time that said the stores were underperforming. But City Council members were left with the sense that the closures were retaliatory.
Paul Koretz, a member of the Council, said he had dealt with backlash from some constituents about the impending closing of a Ralphs in his district, a go-to for the local Orthodox Jewish community. He said Ralphs representatives had warned him that they would close the store if the mandate was instituted.
“I’m not sure I really believed that Ralphs would do it,” he said. “It just seemed so counterintuitive that you would mess with your very loyal customers.”
Shoppers in his district have adapted since the store closed. But he said he believed that the impact of the closings on employees and Council members’ fear of angering constituents probably had a chilling effect on other municipalities that were considering similar measures.
The mandated hazard pay gave many Kroger workers a glimpse of how their day-to-day lives could improve with more money. Areli Rivas, a part-time cashier at a Ralphs in Van Nuys, Calif., who is married to a full-time worker at the store, said the extra pay gave her “peace of mind.”
The mother of two said it was hard to justify purchases like a new backpack for her son, even though his current one is fraying. More pay would also allow her to get her daughter a new glasses prescription.
Some workers like Ms. Manning said that they couldn’t afford to shop at their store and that the employee discount of 10 percent applied only to Kroger-branded goods and did not always include produce and other essentials.
Kroger said that the discount covered 19,000 private-label food products and that it did include dairy, proteins and produce.
Pio Figueroa, 25, who has been working at a Ralphs in Laguna Beach, Calif., for about six years, said he was able to manage his monthly expenses now that he was among the highest earners in his store, making about $22.50 an hour. But at one point, he was making $15 or $16 per hour at the chain and struggled mightily.
“There were times I could only budget to spend $100 on food and everything a week,” he said. “So there were times I would go without a meal or definitely think, ‘What am I going to eat tonight?’”