US/NATO Aggression at the Russian Border
A conversation between US, Russian and Ukrainian Peace activists
Webinar, Sunday, February 6,
12 noon Eastern (US/Canada)
Click here to register:
Speakers will include:
Ajamu Baraka, National Organizer, Black Alliance for Peace
Larissa Shessler, Chair, Union of Political Emigrants & Political prisoners of Ukraine
Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
Joe Lombardo, Coordinator, United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC)
Vladimir Kozin, Correspondent member, Russian Academy of Science
Leonid Ilderkin, Coordinating Council of the Union of Political Emigrants and Political Prisoners of Ukraine.
Corporate media in the US has been warning about a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This, Russia denies. But this propaganda has been used by the Biden Administration to whip up sentiment for war. Billions of dollars of US arms have been sent to Ukraine, Ukraine has massed an estimated 145,000 troops on the Russian border with US “advisors” supporting their effort. For years the US and its Western allies have moved NATO into Eastern European and former Soviet States in violation of agreements made with Russia. They have installed missiles at the Russian border and conducted “war games” at the Russian border. Today’s threat is a threat against a major nuclear power that puts the entire world in danger. Join us for this important webinar with voices for peace from Russia, Ukraine and the US.
Click here for UNAC's statement on the situation on the Russian border: https://nepajac.org/USrussia.htm
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
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, February 2, 2022
Several thousand troops will be sent to NATO member nations in Eastern Europe to reassure allies anxious over tensions surrounding Ukraine. The U.S. has said it will not deploy troops to Ukraine in the event of conflict there.
President Biden has approved the deployment of about 3,000 additional American troops to Eastern Europe, administration officials said on Wednesday.
The troops, including 1,000 already in Germany, will head to Poland and Romania, the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, said. Their purpose will be to reassure NATO allies that while the United States has no intention of sending troops into Ukraine, where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has been threatening an invasion, Mr. Biden would protect America’s NATO allies from any Russian aggression.
“Its important that we send a strong signal to Mr. Putin and the world that NATO matters,” Mr. Kirby told reporters at a news conference. “We are making it clear that we are going to be prepared to defend out NATO allies if it comes to that.”
At the moment, Russia is threatening Ukraine, not Romania or Poland. But Mr. Putin has made clear his distaste for both NATO and the post-Cold War redrawing of the map of Europe, which put former Soviet republics and satellite countries in the West’s foremost military alliance at his doorstep.
The president’s decision comes days after Pentagon leaders said that Mr. Putin had deployed the necessary troops and military hardware to conduct an invasion of Ukraine. Senior Defense Department officials also said that the tense standoff was leading the United States, its NATO allies and Russia into uncharted territory.
The number of Russian troops assembled at Ukraine’s borders has reached well north of 100,000, the officials said, publicly confirming for the first time what intelligence analysts have described for weeks.
Close to 2,000 of the troops — most of them coming from the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, N.C. — will be going to Poland, Mr. Kirby said. While many of those troops are paratroopers, Mr. Kirby said he did not expect the Airborne troops to deploy to Poland in a “tactical operation,” which would raise the ire of Russia even more.
The troops being moved to Romania will complement French troops being deployed there, Mr. Kirby said.
The administration has not ruled out sending additional troops to Europe, and still has 8,500 American troops on “high alert” for possible deployment to a NATO rapid response force.
Mr. Kirby also said there would be no change in the status of the small number of American troops in Ukraine. More than 150 U.S. military advisers are in Ukraine, trainers who have for years worked near Lviv, in the country’s west, far from the front lines. The current group includes Special Operations forces, mostly Army Green Berets, as well as National Guard trainers from Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
“It’s a big, unambiguous signal,” said Jim Townsend, a former top Pentagon official for Europe and NATO policy. “It’s also significant that they are going to the Black Sea. Finally, the Black Sea region is being recognized as a major theater. It’s not just the Baltics.”
James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who was the supreme allied commander at NATO, echoed that assessment.
“This is a smart, tight and focused deployment that provides real combat punch by linking up with the very capable U.S. troops already stationed in Europe,” he said. “But its symbolic value is even higher in reassuring the Baltics and Eastern Europeans that NATO is tangible and real in its deployable combat power.”
There are currently 4,000 American troops deployed to Poland and 900 in Romania, as well as about 100 U.S. forces in Lithuania, and 60 in Latvia and Estonia on temporary, rotational assignment.
By Benjamin Mueller and Eleanor Lutz, Feb. 1, 2022
Two years into the pandemic, the coronavirus is killing Americans at far higher rates than people in other wealthy nations, a sobering distinction to bear as the country charts a course through the next stages of the pandemic.https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/02/01/science/covid-deaths-united-states.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Health
The ballooning death toll has defied the hopes of many Americans that the less severe Omicron variant would spare the United States the pain of past waves. Deaths have now surpassed the worst days of the autumn surge of the Delta variant, and are more than two-thirds as high as the record tolls of last winter, when vaccines were largely unavailable.
With American lawmakers desperate to turn the page on the pandemic, as some European leaders have already begun to, the number of dead has clouded a sense of optimism, even as Omicron cases recede. And it has laid bare weaknesses in the country’s response, scientists said.
“Death rates are so high in the States — eye-wateringly high,” said Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who has supported loosening coronavirus rules in parts of Britain. “The United States is lagging.”
Some of the reasons for America’s difficulties are well known. Despite having one of the world’s most powerful arsenals of vaccines, the country has failed to vaccinate as many people as other large, wealthy nations. Crucially, vaccination rates in older people also lag behind certain European nations.
The United States has fallen even further behind in administering booster shots, leaving large numbers of vulnerable people with fading protection as Omicron sweeps across the country.
The resulting American death toll has set the country apart — and by wider margins than has been broadly recognized. Since Dec. 1, when health officials announced the first Omicron case in the United States, the share of Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus is at least 63 percent higher than in any of these other large, wealthy nations, according to a New York Times analysis of mortality figures.
In recent months, the United States passed Britain and Belgium to have, among rich nations, the largest share of its population to have died from Covid over the entire pandemic.
For all the encouragement that American health leaders drew from other countries’ success in withstanding the Omicron surge, the outcomes in the U.S. have been markedly different. Hospital admissions in the U.S. swelled to much higher rates than in Western Europe, leaving some states struggling to provide care. Americans are now dying from Covid at nearly double the daily rate of Britons and four times the rate of Germans.
The only large European countries to exceed America’s Covid death rates this winter have been Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, poorer nations where the best Covid treatments are relatively scarce.
“The U.S. stands out as having a relatively high fatality rate,” said Joseph Dieleman, an associate professor at the University of Washington who has compared Covid outcomes globally. “There’s been more loss than anyone wanted or anticipated.”
As deadly as the Omicron wave has been, the situation in the United States is far better than it would have been without vaccines. The Omicron variant also causes less serious illness than Delta, even though it has led to staggering case numbers. Together, vaccines and the less lethal nature of Omicron infections have significantly reduced the share of people with Covid who are being hospitalized and dying during this wave.
In Western Europe, those factors have resulted in much more manageable waves. Deaths in Britain, for example, are one-fifth of last winter’s peak, and hospital admissions are roughly half as high.
But not so in the United States. Record numbers of Americans with the highly contagious variant have filled up hospitals in recent weeks and the average death toll is still around 2,500 a day.
Chief among the reasons is the country’s faltering effort to vaccinate its most vulnerable people at the levels achieved by more successful European countries.
Twelve percent of Americans 65 and over have not received either two shots of a Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or one Johnson & Johnson shot, which the C.D.C. considers fully vaccinated, according to the agency’s statistics. (Inconsistencies in C.D.C. counts make it difficult to know the precise figure.)
And 43 percent of people 65 and over have not received a booster shot. Even among the fully vaccinated, the lack of a booster leaves tens of millions with waning protection, some of them many months past the peak levels of immunity afforded by their second shots.
In England, by contrast, only 4 percent of people 65 and over have not been fully vaccinated and only 9 percent do not have a booster shot.
“It’s not just vaccination — it’s the recency of vaccines, it’s whether or not people have been boosted, and also whether or not people have been infected in the past,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Covid-19 modeling consortium.
Unvaccinated people make up a majority of hospitalized patients. But older people without booster shots also sometimes struggle to shake off the virus, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, leaving them in need of extra oxygen or hospital stays.
In the United States, cases this winter first surged in more heavily vaccinated states in the Northeast before moving to less-protected states, where scientists said they worried that Omicron could cause especially high death tolls. Surveys suggest that the poorest Americans are the likeliest to remain unvaccinated, putting them at greater risk of dying from Covid.
America’s Omicron wave has also compounded the effects of a Delta surge that had already sent Covid deaths climbing by early December, putting the United States in a more precarious position than many European countries. Even in recent weeks, some American deaths likely resulted from lengthy illnesses caused by Delta.
But Omicron infections had edged aside Delta by late December in the United States, and epidemiologists said that the new variant was most likely responsible for a majority of Covid deaths in the U.S. today.
“These are probably Omicron deaths,” said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at a branch of the C.D.C. “And the increases we’re seeing are probably in Omicron deaths.”
Still, the United States’ problems started well before Omicron, scientists said. Americans began dying from Covid at higher rates than people in western European countries starting in the summer, after the United States had fallen behind on vaccinations. During the Delta surge in the fall, Americans were dying from Covid at triple the rate of Britons.
By tracking death certificates that list Covid as a cause of death or as a contributing factor, Dr. Anderson said, the C.D.C. is able to ensure that it is counting only those people who died from Covid — and not those who might have incidentally tested positive before dying for unrelated reasons.
It is too early to judge how much worse the United States will fare during this wave. But some scientists said there were hopeful signs that the gap between the United States and other wealthy countries had begun to narrow.
As Delta and now Omicron have hammered the United States, they said, so many people have become sick that those who survived are emerging with a certain amount of immunity from their past infections.
Although it is not clear how strong or long-lasting that immunity will be, especially from Omicron, Americans may slowly be developing the protection from past bouts with Covid that other countries generated through vaccinations — at the cost, scientists said, of many thousands of American lives.
“We’ve finally started getting to a stage where most of the population has been exposed either to a vaccine or the virus multiple times by now,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Referring to American and European death rates, he continued, “I think we’re now likely to start seeing things be more synchronized going forward.”
Still, the United States faces certain steep disadvantages, ones that experts worry could cause problems during future Covid waves, and even the next pandemic. Many Americans have health problems like obesity and diabetes that increase the risk of severe Covid.
More Americans have also come to express distrust — of the government, and of each other — in recent decades, making them less inclined to follow public health precautions like getting vaccinated or reducing their contacts during surges, said Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet on Tuesday by Mr. Bollyky and Dr. Dieleman of the University of Washington found that a given country’s level of distrust had strong associations with its coronavirus infection rate.
“What our study suggests is that when you have a novel contagious virus,” Mr. Bollyky said, “the best way for the government to protect its citizens is to convince its citizens to protect themselves.”
While infection levels remain high in many states, scientists said that some deaths could still be averted by people taking precautions around older and more vulnerable Americans, like testing themselves and wearing masks. The toll from future waves will depend on what other variants emerge, scientists said, as well as what level of death Americans decide is tolerable.
“We’ve normalized a very high death toll in the U.S.,” said Anne Sosin, who studies health equity at Dartmouth. “If we want to declare the end of the pandemic right now, what we’re doing is normalizing a very high rate of death.”
By Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbardhttps://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/02/03/world/us-raid-syria-isis
President Biden said on Thursday that the leader of the Islamic State died during a raid by U.S. Special Operations commandos in a risky pre-dawn attack in northwest Syria. Rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed during the raid.
In brief remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden said the choice to target the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, using the Special Forces was made to minimize civilian casualties, despite the greater risk to American troops.
Speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Mr. Biden was understated as he described the ISIS leader’s history, saying that he had ordered a series of atrocities, including against the Yazidi people. “Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”
He said the operation was a warning to terrorist groups.
“This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said.
Mr. Biden said Mr. al-Qurayshi died when he exploded a bomb that killed him as well as members of his own family.
Before his White House remarks, Mr. Biden said in a statement, “All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
The helicopter-borne assault carried out by about two dozen American commandos, backed by helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets, resembled the raid in October 2019 in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces raided a hide-out not far from where Thursday’s operation took place.
The airborne raid came days after the end of the largest U.S. combat involvement with the Islamic State since the end of the jihadists’ so-called caliphate three years ago. American forces backed a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria as it fought for more than a week to oust Islamic State fighters from a prison they had occupied in the city of Hasaka.
Little is known about Mr. al-Qurayshi, who succeeded Mr. al-Baghdadi, or ISIS’s top command structure. But analysts said the death of the Islamic State leader was a significant blow to the terrorist group.
American helicopters ferried the commandos into position after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh, a town close to the border with Turkey in rebel-held Idlib Province, according to eyewitnesses, social media reports and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain.
A tense standoff briefly ensued, with loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for everyone in the house to surrender, neighbors said. Then an explosion rocked the building. After that, some of the house’s occupants had not emerged and a major battle erupted, with heavy machine gun fire and apparent missile strikes.
During the operation, one of the American helicopters suffered a mechanical problem, was forced to land and was later destroyed by American attack aircraft. After about three hours, the American commandos and their remaining helicopters flew off, witnesses said.
Given the fluid nature of early reports in a complex raid like Thursday’s operation, the military’s initial version may be incomplete. Accounts of other events have at times turned out to be contradictory or sometimes flat wrong.
Reporting was contributed by Falih Hassan, Muhammad Najdat Hij Kadour, Asmaa al-Omar, Hwaida Saad and Evan Hill.
For the past year, scientists have been looking for the source of strange coronavirus sequences that have appeared in the city’s wastewater.
By Emily Anthes, Feb. 3, 2022
Monica Trujillo, a microbiologist at Queensborough Community College, filtered bacteria from a wastewater sample containing traces of coronavirus. Credit...Jackie Molloy for The New York Times
Last January, a team of researchers searching for the coronavirus in New York City’s wastewater spotted something strange in their samples. The viral fragments they found had a unique constellation of mutations that had never been reported before in human patients — a potential sign of a new, previously undetected variant.
For the past year, these oddball sequences, or what the scientists call “cryptic lineages,” have continued to pop up in the city’s wastewater.
There is no evidence that the lineages, which have been circulating for at least a year without overtaking Delta or Omicron, pose an elevated health risk to humans. But the researchers, whose findings were published in Nature Communications on Thursday, still have no idea where they came from.
“At this point, what we can say is that we haven’t found the cryptic lineages in human databases, and we have looked all over,” said Monica Trujillo, a microbiologist at Queensborough Community College and an author of the new paper.
The researchers themselves are torn about the lineages’ origins. Some lean toward the explanation that the virus is coming from people whose infections aren’t being captured by sequencing. But others suspect that the lineages may be coming from virus-infected animals, possibly the city’s enormous population of rats. Even then, the favored theory can change from day-to-day or hour-to-hour.
Answers remain elusive.
“I think it’s really important that we find the source, and we have not been able to pin that down,” said John Dennehy, a virologist at Queens College and an author of the paper.
The researchers — who also include Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, Davida Smyth, a microbiologist at Texas A&M University and others — have been sampling wastewater from 14 treatment plants in New York City since June 2020. In January of 2021, they began doing targeted sequencing of the samples, focusing on part of the gene for the virus’s all-important spike protein.
Although this approach provides a limited look at the viral genome, it allows researchers to extract a lot of data from wastewater, in which the virus is typically fragmented.
Viral fragments with novel patterns of mutations appeared repeatedly at a handful of treatment plants, the researchers found. (They could not disclose the specific plants or areas of the city, they said.)
“To date we have not seen these variants among clinical patients in N.Y.C.,” said Michael Lanza, a spokesman for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found similar sequences in one California sewershed, said Rose Kantor, a microbiologist at the university.
The scientists’ continuing quest to figure out where the sequences are coming from highlights both the potential of wastewater surveillance, which can help scientists keep tabs on how the virus is evolving, and the challenge of making sense of any anomalies pulled out of the murk.
“We really struggled trying to understand what it was that we had,” Dr. Trujillo said.
The lineages could be coming from people whose infections have escaped detection or whose virus has not been sequenced.
But the fact that they kept turning up at the same few wastewater plants makes this theory less likely, the researchers said, given that New Yorkers, and any variants they may be carrying, tend to move throughout the city without restriction.
Still, Dr. Dennehy speculated that the sequences could be coming from people who are confined to long-term health care facilities in just a few areas of the city. But he has not been able to prove it.
“We were able to pin it down to a very small area of the sewershed,” Dr. Dennehy said. “And I emailed doctors and hospitals in those areas and never once got a response to my emails.”
Indeed, people who have compromised immune systems may have more difficulty fighting off the virus, giving it more opportunities to mutate. Many scientists theorize that Omicron emerged from an immunocompromised patient.
Intriguingly, some of the cryptic lineages have some of the same mutations as Omicron, or mutations in the same locations. Laboratory experiments suggest that these lineages may also be able to evade some antibodies.
The New York City lineages might be a result of the same kind of selective pressure to evade some of the body’s immune defenses, the researchers theorize.
An animal origin?
On the other hand, the lineages have been circulating for long enough now that they should have appeared in at least one sample sequenced from an infected person, some scientists said.
“To have something in a sewershed that you’re detecting, you need a fair bit of it around,” said Dr. Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research.
Dr. Johnson, the Missouri virologist, agrees. He favors the hypothesis that the sequences are coming from animals, perhaps a few specific populations with limited territories. In May and June of 2021, when the number of human Covid-19 cases in the city was low, the mysterious lineages made up a greater proportion of the viral RNA in wastewater, suggesting that they may have come from a nonhuman source.
The researchers initially considered a diverse array of potential hosts, from squirrels to skunks. “This is a very promiscuous virus,” Dr. Johnson said. “It can infect all kinds of species.”
To narrow down the possibilities, they went back to the wastewater, assuming that any animal that was shedding virus might be leaving its own genetic material behind, too.
Although a vast majority of the genetic material in the water came from humans, small amounts of RNA from dogs, cats and rats were also present, the scientists found.
Dr. Johnson has been considering rats, which roam the city by the millions. In his lab, he created pseudoviruses — harmless, nonreplicating viruses — with the same mutations present in the cryptic sequences. The pseudoviruses were able to infect both mouse and rat cells, he found. The original version of the virus does not appear able to infect rodents, although some other variants, like Beta, can.
“So in and of itself, that isn’t huge data, but it is at least consistent with the idea that it’s coming from rodents,” Dr. Johnson said.
Since last summer, the scientists have been working with Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to look for signs of the virus in blood and fecal samples from local rats. So far, they’ve come up empty.
“Maybe we’re not hitting the right animals,” Dr. Dennehy said.
Or maybe rats aren’t the source of the mystery lineages. Scientists have repeatedly found that human can pass the virus to animals, especially pets, zoo animals, farmed mink and others with which they are in frequent contact. That has raised concerns that the virus might establish itself in an animal reservoir, where it might mutate and get passed back to humans.
But rats have not typically been high on the list of concern, and there has not been any evidence that the virus is circulating in wild rats. The pathway by which humans could have infected rats is also unknown.
“Nothing makes perfect sense,” Dr. Johnson said.
But some kind of animal origin remains a possibility, scientists said.
“It’s just as plausible, if not more plausible, than a human origin,” Dr. Lauring said.
So the search continues. Dr. Johnson has developed a new technique that can amplify only non-Omicron sequences, which should make it easier to detect the lineages. He has also begun searching for similar lineages in sewage samples from other states, which might help provide further clues to their origins.
“We will know eventually,” Dr. Johnson said.
Jason Van Dyke has served three years of a nearly seven-year sentence. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the teenager’s death, which put a spotlight on police misconduct.
By Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith, Feb. 3, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/us/chicago-police-van-dyke-laquan-mcdonald.html
CHICAGO — When Jason Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, was convicted in 2018 of the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, some Chicagoans saw a promise of justice: Mr. Van Dyke would serve time in prison for shooting the Black teenager 16 times, an act that was captured on a dashboard camera and widely viewed by the public.
Three years into a nearly seven-year sentence, Mr. Van Dyke, who is white, is expected to be released from custody in the coming days. Activists in Chicago have greeted the prospect of Mr. Van Dyke’s freedom with outrage and called on federal officials to file civil rights charges against him, saying his prison term has fallen far short of a fair punishment for murder.
Mr. Van Dyke’s early release was expected under Illinois rules that give credit to prisoners for good behavior. Activists had long criticized the original sentence — 81 months — as too lenient.
But the Rev. Marvin Hunter, Mr. McDonald’s great-uncle, who has acted as a family spokesman, said he did not plan to participate in a planned demonstration on Thursday or protest Mr. Van Dyke’s release.
“Justice, in our eyesight, was getting a conviction,” he said. “It wouldn’t benefit anyone in this country for Jason Van Dyke to go back to jail and get 100 years or 1,000 years.”
The killing of Mr. McDonald in October 2014 placed a spotlight on police misconduct toward Black Chicagoans, prompted changes to the Police Department — officers now wear body cameras while on duty — and forced its superintendent out of his job. The fallout over the video, which was released to the public 13 months after the killing and only after a judge’s order, was widely seen as a factor in the decision by Rahm Emanuel, then the mayor of Chicago, not to seek a third term.
Mr. Emanuel, now the United States ambassador to Japan, faced questions about his handling of the case during his confirmation hearing last year.
As questions about Mr. Van Dyke’s release have grown, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected in 2019, has defended her record on policing issues while acknowledging the continuing impact of the case. At a news conference this week, she described trying to protect her daughter from seeing the video of the shooting after it was released in 2015.
“That was a very difficult and fraught time in our city,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “And I think that many people carry the trauma of that moment and others like it with them to this very day.”
In the aftermath of Mr. McDonald’s murder, before becoming mayor, Ms. Lightfoot led a panel that found a pattern of systemic racism in the Chicago Police Department. She said there had been improvements since then, including in police training and oversight, though she acknowledged that more needed to be done.
“There has been some change — not enough,” she said. “Not enough by any stretch of the imagination.”
Mr. Van Dyke, the first Chicago police officer to be convicted in an on-duty murder in almost 50 years, was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one count for each bullet he fired. Prosecutors requested a sentence of at least 18 years in prison, but Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced him to less than half of that.
Judge Gaughan sentenced Mr. Van Dyke only on the murder count; a penalty for the aggravated battery counts could have resulted in a much longer prison term.
William Calloway, a community organizer who in 2015 pressed for the release of the video of Mr. McDonald’s murder, described the response to the shooting and conviction as a watershed moment for Chicago.
“We finally held a police officer accountable,” Mr. Calloway said. “The justice system didn’t give him the punishment to match his crime, but a just verdict was rendered for murder, so it gave us a lot of hope to keep fighting.”
Mr. McDonald was shot after Chicago officers were summoned to the city’s Southwest Side to investigate a report of a person with a knife trying to break into vehicles in a trucking yard. Officers followed Mr. McDonald for several blocks, and at one point requested that an officer with a Taser be sent to the scene. Not long after, Mr. Van Dyke arrived on the scene and opened fire as Mr. McDonald appeared to be veering away from officers.
Mr. Calloway and other activists and family members — including Mr. McDonald’s grandmother Tracie Hunter — planned to gather on Thursday afternoon outside a federal courthouse in Chicago to reiterate demands for a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. McDonald’s death.
Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois released a letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Tuesday, asking him for an update to an investigation that the Justice Department began in 2015. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
Kim Garecht, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, confirmed this week that Mr. Van Dyke was in custody, but she would not provide information on the timing of his release.
“For safety and security purposes, the department cannot disclose any information regarding his current location or pending release from IDOC custody,” she said in an emailed statement.
By Stanley Reed, February 3, 2022
Apartments in London. Rising prices for gas and electricity have become a major political issue in some European countries. Credit...Andrew Testa for The New York Times
The price many British households pay for their heat and electricity is set to rise by 54 percent in April, the government’s energy regulator, Ofgem, said Thursday. The big jump, caused mainly by a surge of global natural gas prices, is expected to exacerbate concerns over inflation and the cost of living in Britain.
The regulator said that for customers paying by direct debit from their bank account, annual charges would increase by 693 pounds ($940), to £1,971. The big rise will affect about 22 million customers who currently buy energy under a price cap set by the regulator.
Ofgem said natural gas prices, which hit record levels in December and remain elevated, had driven the increase. The regulator evaluates the market twice a year and allows energy providers to pass on costs such as increases in the price of gas, a major source of electric power generation, to consumers.
“We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s chief executive, in a statement.
Rising energy prices have become a major political issue in many countries, especially in Europe, with governments scrambling to find ways to ease the pain and avoid blowback from voters. The rising prices are also a threat to the effort to reduce carbon emissions, with some lawmakers calling for scrapping so-called green tariffs, extra charges added to bills in Britain and elsewhere to help pay for wind and solar power and other clean energy.
The high prices for natural gas have also led to a shake-up among utilities. According to Ofgem, 29 companies with 4.3 million customers have either gone bankrupt or otherwise left the market over the last year. Many of these companies were relatively small, and the wipeout of the sector has led to criticism that Ofgem has been lax in its financial requirements for energy providers. Consumers will be charged for some of the costs incurred by companies in taking on the customers of failed rivals.
According to Ofgem, generation costs like the purchase of gas will make up more than half of new energy bills, while green tariffs will come to about 8 percent.
On Thursday, immediately after the regulator’s announcement, the British government said it would allocate £9.1 billion to help consumers with their bills. Among the measures are a £200 discount customers will receive on their bills beginning in October. The sums would be recovered over the next five years when, the government apparently expects, costs are lower.
To critics, these measures fell short. Martin Young, an analyst at Investec, an investment bank, said that natural gas futures indicate that bills might need to surge again to around £2,300 in October, negating the government aid.
Greenpeace UK, the environmental group, said the government supports were “devastatingly scant for the poorest households, and aren’t sufficiently targeted to those who need them the most.”
Greenpeace called for new taxes on the profits oil companies are making from booming prices to finance additional relief for consumers.
Jessie Sander had just started a job at a synagogue in Scarsdale. But then a blog post she had written was found.
By Liam Stack, Feb. 3, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/nyregion/synagogues-israel-opinion.html
Last summer, Jessie Sander had been on the job at a Jewish school in Westchester County for less than a month when a meeting with her boss took an unexpected turn. Was she comfortable working at a Zionist institution? he asked.
Her boss, Rabbi David E. Levy of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., had come across a recent blog post she had written that renounced Zionism and sharply criticized Israel, Ms. Sander, 26, said in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 25. The rabbi had questions: Did she support Hamas? When she called herself “anti-Zionist,” what did that mean?
Ms. Sander, who is Jewish, explained her beliefs to the rabbi and said she would not discuss politics in her classes. The rabbi said he agreed with much of what she said and later praised her as a good role model for their students, Ms. Sander said.
Then, one week later, Rabbi Levy and Eli Kornreich, the temple’s executive director, fired her.
When she asked why, Mr. Kornreich said “it’s just not a good fit,” she recalled. “In the earlier meeting, I was like, ‘Wow, here’s a manager who gets it and says, ‘No one should fire you for your political beliefs,’ then at the next meeting it was, ‘Oh, except for me.’”
Rabbi Levy and Mr. Kornreich declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement to the community, Warren Haber, the synagogue president, said it “made this termination decision after much consideration and in accordance with WRT’s religious mission.”
Mr. Haber said the synagogue’s work was based on the religious principle of Clal Yisrael, which calls for “strengthening our commitment to Israel and the Jewish people of all lands and working to establish understanding and commonality among the various expressions of Judaism.”
The firing of Ms. Sander drew rebukes from left-wing Jewish groups and highlighted a generational divide over Israel among American Jews that is driving some of Judaism’s most delicate internal debates: What is the relationship between Zionism and Jewish identity? When it comes to Israel, should there be limits to what employees or members of Jewish institutions can believe or say?
Ms. Sander began her job at the school last July and was fired 15 days later. Since then, she said, she has worked four part-time jobs to support herself, none of which provide health insurance or other benefits.
Her lawsuit, which was filed before New York State Supreme Court in Westchester, accuses the school of violating labor law by firing her “because of her uncompensated lawful recreational activity, outside of work hours, off the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property.” It seeks her reinstatement to her old job, plus compensatory damages.
Debate over Israel, including sometimes strong criticism of its policies, is not unusual at synagogues in the United States, especially those that follow the Reform movement. The Union of Reform Judaism, an umbrella group of Reform congregations, describes itself as a movement that “accepts and supports the foundational aim of Zionism: the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people.”
At Westchester Reform Temple, rabbis have criticized Israel in the past. In his Rosh Hashana sermon in September, Rabbi Jonathan Blake criticized “extremists, cynical political officials and wealthy patrons” in Israel for promoting “a grandiose vision of Jewish totalitarianism in the biblical Holy Land.”
But their critiques never challenge the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, as opposed to a state whose structure favors no ethnic or religious group.
In the blog post, published on May 20 during last year’s conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, Ms. Sander and a co-author, Elana Lipkin, wrote that they embraced a position that “rejects the Zionist claim to the land of Palestine.”
The post continued, “Zionism is not equivalent to, or a necessary component of, Jewish identity.”
They also described Israeli actions against the Palestinians as genocide and accused Jewish institutions in the United States of spreading “one-sided narratives and propaganda” about the conflict.
Marc Stern, the chief legal officer of the American Jewish Committee, said Ms. Sander’s lawsuit may have little chance of success because the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that religious institutions have broad leeway in employment matters.
“It seems to me a complete nonstarter that any court would say that some doctrine — whether Zionism or any other doctrine — is or is not part of the faith that a school wants to pass on to students,” Mr. Stern said.
“The plaintiff in this case is saying, ‘My individual right to speak is being infringed upon,’ and that may be true,” he said. “But that comes up against other peoples’ right to say, ‘We want to form a community of people that share one set of beliefs, so you’re not welcome here.’”
“You can go and find another synagogue, or form a new synagogue, but you can’t force other people to accept your views,” he said.
Ms. Sander said she grew up in a Reform congregation in upstate New York, where she was elected president of the youth group and her mother taught Hebrew school, she said.
She described her family as Zionist but said she began to question those beliefs as a teenager in Hebrew school, when her class read a short story that included a debate between an Israeli and a Palestinian character.
“The Jewish tradition involves questioning and wrestling with complex ideas, which is one of the things I love about Judaism and especially Reform Judaism,” she said. “We are constantly in dialogue with these ideas that are way older than we are.”
Ms. Sander’s views on Zionism reflect a growing shift among younger Jewish Americans. According to a major survey published last year by the Pew Research Center, slightly less than half of American Jews under the age of 29 described themselves as feeling an emotional attachment to Israel, compared with more than two-thirds of Jews over 65.
The survey also found that 27 percent of young American Jews said caring about Israel was not an important part of what being Jewish meant to them, a belief shared by only 8 percent of those over 65.
That dynamic has begun to assert itself in the city’s politics as well. During Israel’s conflict with Hamas last year, the mayoral candidate Andrew Yang walked back a statement of support for Israel that might have once seemed like political boilerplate after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, called it “utterly shameful.”
Rabbi Blake, in his Rosh Hashana sermon, identified that trend as a source of concern.
He cited a 2021 survey of 800 Jewish voters from the Jewish Electorate Institute that found 25 percent of respondents believed Israel was an “apartheid state” and 22 percent said it was “committing genocide against the Palestinians.”
“In such an emotionally charged milieu, with such hysterical rhetoric framing the public conversation around Israel, is it any wonder that our students feel worried and confused?” he said. “We should all feel worried and confused. I know I do.”
Peter Beinart, a Jewish writer who argues in favor of creating a single democratic state in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said younger American Jews have seen “a different snippet of history,” resulting in different attitudes than their parents and grandparents when it comes to Israel.
“For older American Jews it was easier to see Israel as a David versus an Arab Goliath,” he said. But younger people “are more likely to see Israel as a regional superpower that is fundamentally confronting the Palestinians, who are a stateless population that lack in various ways basic rights.”
Mr. Beinart is one of 78 Jewish writers, academics and activists who signed a public letter in support of Ms. Sander. He said he thought Jewish institutions should welcome people who hold a wide range of views about Israel.
“What I think synagogues need to do is host these conversations,” he said in an interview. “They need to be places for people who have strong views and for people who, frankly, don’t know what they really think, which is also a lot of people.”
Ms. Sander, previously a public school special-education teacher in New York City, was hired to teach the Hebrew language and a leadership class at the Jewish Learning Lab, the educational arm of Westchester Reform Temple. She said she believed the conversation with Rabbi Levy about her political beliefs, held within the first few days of working at the school, was the reason she was fired.
At one point in the discussion, Rabbi Levy asked her if she was “calling for a second Holocaust,” Ms. Sander said. “I physically remember the feeling I got in my chest,” she continued. “That is when I realized the conversation took a more serious turn and was a conversation about my career and future employment.”
By Frank Bruni, Feb. 3, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/opinion/surveillance-virginia-citizen-tip-line.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Guest%20Essays
The citizens of Virginia have been called to battle. They’ve been shown the enemy. They’ve been armed — not with physical weapons, but with an email address where they can send reports of anything suspicious that they see in their children’s schools, anything they deem disrespectful in their children’s classrooms, anything in a teacher’s or administrator’s conduct that rankles.
That’s no simple encouragement of greater involvement in their children’s education. It’s a summons to surveillance. It’s a blessing for snitching. Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the email address — basically, a digital tip line — early last week, vaguely explaining that he was interested in reports of “divisive practices” for cataloging and “rooting out.” His action springs from his pledge, during his campaign for governor, to stop the teaching of critical race theory or anything like it in the state’s public schools, but it’s broader and fuzzier than that. It’s also ripe for abuse.
And it brought to mind the terrible abortion law enacted by state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott last year in Texas, where just about anyone who knows or suspects that a Texan has aided someone in getting an abortion can file a civil lawsuit against that person and, if the suit succeeds, expect at least a $10,000 reward. A person can collect that reward multiple times by identifying abettors of additional abortions. Vigilantism meets bounty hunting meets some nuclear version of political partisanship in a country that needs more prompts for coolheaded civility, not more pushes toward hot-blooded vengeance.
This is scary and wrong. Put aside your position on abortion, about which there are deeply felt differences of opinion and understandable debate, and your interest in public-school pedagogy, which is a subject of legitimate discussion. Is the way to address Americans’ disagreements to transform citizens into snoops and have them turn on one another? Our leaders should point us toward common ground, not add whole new weapons to our battlegrounds. In Virginia and Texas, they added weapons.
In West Virginia, too. Last November, as Donald Trump assiduously sowed doubts about the integrity of American elections, its secretary of state, Mac Warner, announced a “See Something, TEXT Something!” program that created a phone number to which the state’s residents could send text messages about suspicions that a person or people were voting illegally or engaged in voter fraud. It “allows a citizen easy and immediate access to file a confidential complaint,” he said in a written statement about the effort. As with Youngkin’s tip line in Virginia, its potential misuse as a tool for pure harassment and partisan recrimination is enormous.
Does anyone really doubt that the Virginia tip line will receive some complaints from parents who are merely steamed that a teacher was stern with or aloof to their child? Or that the West Virginia phone number will be texted by a few people bothered that neighbors with darker skin head to the same voting site that they visit?
In the decades since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, with our growing awareness of the porous and penetrable boundaries of cyberspace, we have worried plenty — and rightly — about government surveillance, about how easy it can be for unseen actors employed by the state to spy on and meddle with us.
The Virginia, Texas and West Virginia developments suggest another kind of surveillance, born not of technology but of tribalism and so utterly of this acrimonious moment, when so many Americans are so edgily on guard and so eager to point fingers. What we sweepingly and inexactly refer to as cancel culture is, in part, the online aggressiveness of Americans who patrol for transgressions and prosecute the transgressors. And there can be a thin line between holding people accountable because they’ve done clear wrong and mercilessly vilifying them because they have contrary views or expressed themselves clumsily.
We lose sight of it. We cross it. And our leaders are just as lost. They should be uniting us, not inciting us. The latter is all too easy: We’re dangerously riled up as is.
Workers at the e-commerce giant overwhelmingly voted down a union last year, but labor regulators threw out the result citing company misconduct.
By Noam Scheiber and Karen Weise, Feb. 4, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/business/amazon-alabama-union-election.html
An organizer with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union in front of the Amazon fulfillment warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., last March. Credit...Bob Miller for The New York Times
During the first union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, early last year, organizers largely avoided visiting workers at home because Covid was raging and few Americans were vaccinated.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union believed the precaution was prudent even if it made persuading workers harder and may have contributed to the union’s lopsided defeat.
On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail out ballots to workers at the same warehouse in a so-called re-run election, which the agency ordered after finding that Amazon behaved improperly during the last campaign.
But for this election, which runs through March 25, the labor movement is pulling few punches. Several national unions have collectively sent dozens of organizers to Bessemer to help rally workers. And organizers and workers have spent the past several months going door-to-door to build support for the union.
“It’s a huge difference that was made possible by vaccinations,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail workers president. “By the time people start voting on Monday or Tuesday, we will have gone to every single door — all 6,000 workers.”
None of those changes make the odds of a different outcome high, however. Unions have won fewer than half of similar re-run elections since late 2010, versus far more than half of all elections during that time, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.
“In cases where the margin of victory is pretty significant one way or the other, the outcome often doesn’t change the second time,” said David Pryzbylski, a management-side lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg.
Those odds may be longer still at a company like Amazon, which has the resources to hire consultants and saturate workers with anti-union messages, as it did during the last election.
Turnover at Amazon is high — over 150 percent a year even before a recent surge of quitting nationwide — and could introduce uncertainty because it’s unclear how new workers will respond to arguments on either side.
But in practice, such turnover could further dampen the union’s support, said Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, since frustrated workers may leave rather than wait out a campaign. Many workers who support the union have complained about punishing productivity targets, insufficient break times and low pay, which is just under $16 an hour for a typical, entry-level full-time position.
“We’re proud to create both short-term and long-term jobs with great pay and great benefits,” said Barbara Agrait, an Amazon spokeswoman. She added that employees have access to health benefits as soon as they join the company and that more than 450 employees have been promoted at the Alabama warehouse since it opened in 2020.
Amazon has previously said that its performance targets take into account safety and employees’ experience.
For Amazon, which is facing challenges to its labor model on multiple fronts, there is little incentive to ease its resistance to the union. Last year, California approved a law that would restrict the company’s use of productivity targets, and the roughly 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters elected a new president who promised a large investment in unionizing the company.
Amazon also faces the prospect of at least one more union election this year. In late January, the labor board determined that organizers at JFK8, a massive warehouse on Staten Island, had submitted enough signatures to warrant a vote. The organizers are trying to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union, rather than working with established groups. The labor board will hold a hearing in mid-February to determine how many workers could be eligible to vote, as well as the timing and terms of the election.
This week, the same union filed a petition for an election at a neighboring Amazon facility on Staten Island.
In many ways, the mechanics of the revote in Alabama will be similar to the mechanics of the initial election. Though both the union and Amazon pressed for in-person voting, albeit at an off-site location in the union’s case, the labor board decided to run another mail-in election because of the pandemic.
Variations on practices that the labor board cited when invalidating the last election also remain in place, prompting the union to urge changes to the way the new election will be conducted. Not least is a so-called collection box that Amazon lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to install last year near the warehouse entrance, where workers were urged to deposit their ballots.
Amazon has said it sought the collection box to help workers vote safely, and that it did not have access to ballots deposited inside of it. But a regional director of the labor board found that Amazon had “essentially hijacked the process” by procuring the box. “This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results,” the regional director wrote.
Yet in the run-up to the revote, the regional director allowed the Postal Service merely to move the box to a “neutral location” at the warehouse, rather than remove it entirely. The union argued in a request for an appeal that there is no neutral location on the site, and that the new location is still in view of Amazon’s surveillance cameras. A decision on the appeal could come during or after the election.
Some employees also say that despite reaching a nationwide settlement with the labor board in December to give union supporters more access to colleagues while at work, Amazon is still making it difficult for them to plead their case where they work.
Isaiah Thomas, a ship dock worker at the warehouse, recently received a letter from management saying he had violated the company policy against solicitation by talking to co-workers about the union during his break, though the company did not officially discipline him over the alleged violation.
“You were interfering with fellow associates during their working time, in their work areas,” the letter said. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge arguing that the letter violates the company’s settlement with the labor board.
Yet the circumstances of the second election do appear to differ from those of the first election in some key respects. There is, for one thing, the fact of the finding by the labor board that Amazon violated union election rules, which organizers say comes up regularly in conversations with workers.
Mr. Appelbaum, the union president, said the on-the-ground presence of other unions was substantially higher than last year, thanks partly to the urging of Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., of which the retail workers union is a part.
Even non-A.F.L. unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters have dispatched organizers to Alabama, underscoring the high stakes for labor.
“I think there’s a recognition of the importance and transcendent nature of this fight,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “People throughout the labor movement understand that we cannot let Amazon go unchallenged or else it’s going to set the model for what the future of work is going to look like.”
He said that workers felt less intimidated by Amazon this time, with more of them speaking up during mandatory anti-union meetings. Pro-union workers also now wear T-shirts advertising their support for the union twice each week in a show of solidarity.
One group of workers recently delivered a petition with over 100 signatures to managers complaining of undignified treatment, low pay and insufficient breaks and break room equipment. Ms. Agrait, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company encouraged constant communication between workers and managers.
Mr. Thomas, the ship dock worker, spends two days each week knocking on the doors of colleagues and said in an interview that many workers who voted against the union last year say they are supportive this time because the company hasn’t followed through on promises to act on their feedback.
“A lot of folks said they wanted to try to give Amazon a chance, but they didn’t meet their end of bargain,” he said. “Now they actually want to help form this union.”
Gregory and Travis McMichael had previously agreed to plead guilty, but a federal judge rejected the deal, which offered 30-year sentences. They have now affirmed their original not-guilty pleas.
By Richard Fausset, Published Feb. 3, 2022, Updated Feb. 4, 2022
Gregory McMichael, who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, now faces federal hate crime charges. Credit...Pool photo by Stephen B. Morton
ATLANTA — Travis and Gregory McMichael, two of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in state court, have reaffirmed their pleas of not guilty in their federal hate-crimes case, after their proposed agreements to plead guilty were rejected. Their decision virtually ensures that they, along with a third man, will be subject to an upcoming trial that may highlight ugly expressions of racism that were not brought up in their murder trial.
The McMichaels and their neighbor William Bryan were found guilty in November of murdering Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, whom they chased through their neighborhood in a pair of trucks in February 2020. The pursuers, all white men, were each given life sentences in January.
The men were also charged with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping, for which they could also face life sentences. But with the approach of Feb. 7, the date when jury selection is set to begin, the federal case was rocked by disagreement over plea deals the McMichaels recently reached with the Justice Department.
In a federal court hearing in Brunswick, Ga., on Monday, Judge Lisa Godbey Wood rejected the deal the government had reached with Travis McMichael, 36, essentially nullifying an identical deal reached with his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, as well.
The judge’s decision came after Mr. Arbery’s family members passionately criticized the deals in court. Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, specifically objected to a key provision of the agreements that would have allowed the McMichaels to serve 30-year sentences in federal prison, as opposed to the Georgia state prison system, which is generally considered more dangerous.
On Thursday night, Gregory McMichael’s lawyer, A.J. Balbo, and the Justice Department filed notice with the court stating that Mr. McMichael’s plea agreement had been withdrawn, and announced that the two sides were ready to go to trial.
In a courtroom on Friday morning, Travis McMichael indicated that he, too, wished to go to trial, telling the judge he wanted to withdraw his earlier decision to plead guilty.
As of Friday morning, the Justice Department had not filed any documents indicating that they had a reached a deal with Mr. Bryan, 52.
In the murder trial, prosecutors shied away from emphasizing the racial dimensions of the crime as they presented their case to a nearly all-white jury, focusing instead on the rash nature of the decisions the three white men had made that day. The men had suspected Mr. Arbery of a series of break-ins in the neighborhood. After Mr. Arbery visited a house under construction — a house he had been in numerous times before — the McMichaels armed themselves and gave chase in a pickup truck, with Mr. Bryan joining in, in a separate truck.
After several minutes, the men used their trucks to hem Mr. Arbery in. A clash ensued between Mr. Arbery and Travis McMichael, who shot Mr. Arbery three times with a shotgun at close range.
Evidence that the men harbored racist sentiments has surfaced in pretrial motions and hearings. A September 2020 filing in the state case indicated that the state of Georgia had gathered evidence including “racial” Facebook posts and text messages from Travis McMichael and Mr. Bryan, and what were described as a “racial Johnny Rebel Facebook post” and an “Identity Dixie Facebook post” from Gregory McMichael.
These and a number of other instances could now take center stage in the federal trial after the state jury was given no opportunities to consider them. But some legal experts say that it may prove difficult for federal prosecutors to win convictions on the hate crime charges, even though there will be little doubt that the men made racist statements before they chased Mr. Arbery.
“It’s not just proving that they’re racists, and not just proving that they killed Ahmaud Arbery without justification,” Page Pate, a Georgia lawyer and legal analyst, said. “It’s proving that their racism is the reason they killed Ahmaud Arbery.”
At Monday’s hearing, which focused on Travis McMichael’s proposed plea deal, the government articulated a nuanced position about the way racism motivated him.
“Travis McMichael did not belong to any hate groups, and did not set out on Feb. 23, 2020, to carry out an act of violence against an African American person,” said Tara M. Lyons, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “But he had made assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery that he would not have made if Ahmaud Arbery had been white.”
Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, declined to comment on Thursday evening, as did J. Pete Theodocion, the lawyer for Mr. Bryan.
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.”