MULTIPLYING LABOR'S POWER
Jun 1, 2022, 8:00 P.M., Eastern Time (U.S. and Canada)
You are invited to participate in this important labor webinar highlighting reports from union locals that have participated in movements addressing the environment, peace and militarism, racism, women’s rights, and other social justice issues.
We will hear about how unions can build and participate in the June 18 "Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls."
* Roz Pelles: Strategic Advisor to the Poor People’s Campaign and Labor Liaison for the Campaign’s June 18 "Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls"
* Angaza Laughinghouse: UE Local 150-NC Public Service Workers Union leader; co-founder of Black Workers for Justice
* Onika Shepherd: Long Island (NY) Political Director, 1199SEIU
* Norman Rogers: 2nd Vice President, United Steelworkers Local 675; refinery worker
* Gary Holloway: Field Director, United Steelworkers Local 675; refinery worker
* Adrienne Pagac: Former Co-President of the Teaching Assistants Association at UW-Madison (AFT 3220); Member, United Faculty and Academic Staff (AFT 223) at UW-Madison
* Martha Hawthorne: member, SEIU Local 1021; Traveling Musicians Union Local 1000; Co Chair, SEIU 1021 Climate Justice Committee; San Francisco Labor Council Delegate
* Michael Zweig, Moderator: member, UUP-AFT2190; Co-founder and former National Co-convener, U.S. Labor Against the War
This webinar is organized by founders and former leaders of U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW).
Tell Congress to Help #FreeDanielHale
U.S. Air Force veteran, Daniel Everette Hale has recently completed his first year of a 45-month prison sentence for exposing the realities of U.S drone warfare. Daniel Hale is not a spy, a threat to society, or a bad faith actor. His revelations were not a threat to national security. If they were, the prosecution would be able to identify the harm caused directly from the information Hale made public. Our members of Congress can urge President Biden to commute Daniel's sentence! Either way, Daniel deserves to be free.
Sign the petition:
If extradited to the United States, Julian Assange, father of two young British children, would face a sentence of 175 years in prison merely for receiving and publishing truthful information that revealed US war crimes.
UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that "it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America".
Amnesty International states, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
Human Rights Watch says, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
The NUJ has stated that the “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.
Julian will not survive extradition to the United States.
The UK is required under its international obligations to stop the extradition. Article 4 of the US-UK extradition treaty says: "Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense."
The decision to either Free Assange or send him to his death is now squarely in the political domain. The UK must not send Julian to the country that conspired to murder him in London.
The United Kingdom can stop the extradition at any time. It must comply with Article 4 of the US-UK Extradition Treaty and Free Julian Assange.
Laws are created to be followed
by the poor.
Laws are made by the rich
to bring some order to exploitation.
The poor are the only law abiders in history.
When the poor make laws
the rich will be no more.
—Roque Dalton Presente!
(May 14, 1935 – Assassinated May 10, 1975)
 Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.
“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.
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”
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022
(202) 691-6378 • email@example.com • www.bls.gov/cps
(202) 691-5902 • PressOffice@bls.gov
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions—the union membership rate—was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020—when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The 2021 unionization rate is the same as the 2019 rate of 10.3 percent. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
These data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. For further information, see the Technical Note in this news release.
Highlights from the 2021 data:
• The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent). (See table 3.)
• The highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). (See table 3.)
• Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.6 percent) than women (9.9 percent). The gap between union membership rates for men and women has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. (See table 1.)
• Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
• Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 83 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($975 versus $1,169). (The comparisons of earnings in this news release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
• Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (22.4 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2021, 7.0 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions, the same as in the private sector. (See table 3.)
Union membership decreased by 191,000 over the year in the public sector. The public-sector union membership rate declined by 0.9 percentage point in 2021 to 33.9 percent, following an increase of 1.2 percentage points in 2020. In 2021, the union membership rate continued to be highest in local government (40.2 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
The number of union workers employed in the private sector changed little over the year. However, the number of private-sector nonunion workers increased in 2021. The private-sector unionization rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in 2021 to 6.1 percent, slightly lower than its 2019 rate of 6.2 percent. Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.7 percent), motion pictures and sound recording industries (17.3 percent), and transportation and warehousing (14.7 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), professional and technical services (1.2 percent), food services and drinking places (1.2 percent), and insurance (1.5 percent).
Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2021 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.1 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); personal care and service occupations (3.9 percent); and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (4.0 percent).
Selected Characteristics of Union Members
In 2021, the number of men who were union members, at 7.5 million, changed little, while the number of women who were union members declined by 182,000 to 6.5 million. The unionization rate for men decreased by 0.4 percentage point over the year to 10.6 percent. In 2021, women’s union membership rate declined by 0.6 percentage point to 9.9 percent. The 2021 decreases in union membership rates for men and women reflect increases in the total number of nonunion workers. The rate for men is below the 2019 rate (10.8 percent), while the rate for women is above the 2019 rate (9.7 percent). (See table 1.)
Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2021 (11.5 percent) than White workers (10.3 percent), Asian workers (7.7 percent), and Hispanic workers (9.0 percent). The union membership rate declined by 0.4 percentage point for White workers, by 0.8 percentage point for Black workers, by 1.2 percentage points for Asian workers, and by 0.8 percentage point for Hispanic workers. The 2021 rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics are little or no different from 2019, while the rate for Asians is lower.
By age, workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1 percent. Younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2 percent.
In 2021, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.1 percent) continued to be considerably higher than that for part-time workers (6.1 percent).
In 2021, 15.8 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union, 137,000 less than in 2020. The percentage of workers represented by a union was 11.6 percent, down by 0.5 percentage point from 2020 but the same as in 2019. Workers represented by a union include both union members (14.0 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.8 million). (See table 1.)
Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,169 in 2021, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $975. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region. (See tables 2 and 4.)
Union Membership by State
In 2021, 30 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.3 percent, while 20 states had rates above it. All states in both the East South Central and West South Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it. (See table 5 and chart 1.)
Ten states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2021. South Carolina had the lowest rate (1.7 percent), followed by North Carolina (2.6 percent) and Utah (3.5 percent). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2021: Hawaii (22.4 percent) and New York (22.2 percent).
In 2021, about 30 percent of the 14.0 million union members lived in just two states (California at 2.5 million and New York at 1.7 million). However, these states accounted for about 17 percent of wage and salary employment nationally.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact on 2021 Union Members Data
Union membership data for 2021 continue to reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Comparisons with union membership measures for 2020, including metrics such as the union membership rate and median usual weekly earnings, should be interpreted with caution. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to an increase in the unionization rate due to a disproportionately large decline in the number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The decrease in the rate in 2021 reflects a large gain in the number of nonunion workers and a decrease in the number of union workers. More information on labor market developments in recent months is available at:
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:
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Susie Linfield, May 31, 2022
Ms. Linfield is a journalism professor and the author of “The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence.”
Mark Peterson for The New York Times
I know that stoning people to death is barbaric. But I never understood just what it entails — the slow, cruel process by which a defenseless human being is degraded and destroyed — until I saw a series of photographs taken by Somali photojournalist Farah Abdi Warsameh, which depict the stoning execution of a man accused of adultery by the insurgent group Hizbul Islam. While some charge that viewing such pictures is voyeuristic, these images made me face the terror, the blood and the sheer cruelty of this practice — one that, astonishingly, has not yet been tossed into the dustbin of history.
Photographic images can bring us close to the experience of suffering — and, in particular, to the physical torment that violence creates — in ways that words do not. What does the destruction of a human being, of a human body — frail and vulnerable (all human bodies are frail and vulnerable) — look like? What can we know of another’s suffering? Is such knowledge forbidden — or, alternately, necessary? And if we obtain it, what then?
These are questions that are being raised in the wake of last week’s mass shooting of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, which has plunged much of the country into an abyss of sorrow, rage and despair. On social media and in the press, some, including the former homeland security chief Jeh Johnson, have suggested that photographs of the slaughtered children, whose faces and bodies were apparently mutilated beyond recognition, be released to the public in hopes of garnering support for gun control legislation.
Mr. Johnson called this an “Emmett Till moment,” alluding to a photograph of the 14-year-old Black boy who was tortured and murdered by white racists in Mississippi in 1955. His mother had insisted on an open casket: Let the world — make the world — see what her son’s tormentors had done. And the world did: The photograph of Till taken by Jet magazine was reproduced throughout the country and abroad and helped invigorate the civil rights movement.
The question of how much violence we should see, and to what end, is almost as old as photography itself. But the question gains urgency in our age of unfiltered immediacy — of the 24-hour news cycle, of Instagram and Twitter, of jihadi beheading videos, of fake news and conspiracy theorists and of repellent sites like BestGore, which revel in sadistic carnage. What responsibilities does the act of seeing entail? Is the viewing of violence an indefensible form of collaboration with it? Is the refusal to view violence an indefensible form of denial?
In the case of Uvalde, a serious case can be made — indeed, I agree with it — that the nation should see exactly how an assault rifle pulverizes the body of a 10-year-old, just as we needed to see (but rarely did) the injuries to our troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A violent society ought, at the very least, to regard its handiwork, however ugly, whether it be the toll on the men and women who fight in our name, on ordinary crime victims killed or wounded by guns or on children whose right to grow up has been sacrificed to the right to bear arms.
But seeing and doing are not the same, nor should they be. Images are slippery things, and it is both naïve and arrogant to assume that an image will be interpreted in only one way (that is, yours) and that it will lead to direct political change (the kind you support). Anti-abortion activists frequently wave images of fetuses at their rallies; these photos denote, to them, a nascent human being in need of protection. To abortion rights advocates, the image is sentimental, manipulative and, frankly, disgusting.
After the Sandy Hook massacre, Michael Moore wrote that he hoped photographs of the dead children would be leaked, perhaps by a grieving parent. If so, “the jig will be up” for the National Rifle Association, he confidently predicted. “The debate on gun control will come to an end. There will be nothing left to argue over.”
This is childish thinking. Photographs tend to start arguments, not end them. And Mr. Moore could not have been more mistaken about the desires of the Sandy Hook parents. Partly in response, some of them pushed, successfully, for the passage of SB 1149, a Connecticut law that prohibits the disclosure of photographs and digital images of homicide victims. This raises another unresolved but increasingly exigent question: Do such photographs belong to the police, the F.B.I., the parents or the public? How to balance a family’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know?
There are many examples of photographs that gave history a nudge — sometimes even a vigorous one. Think of the My Lai massacre photographs, of the Abu Ghraib torture photos taken by American troops and of Darnella Frazier’s phone video of George Floyd’s murder. But just as the Till photograph didn’t end Jim Crow, the My Lai images didn’t end the Vietnam War (nor did press reports of the atrocity), the Abu Ghraib photographs didn’t end the Iraq war (or even lead to high-level prosecutions), and the Floyd video didn’t end police brutality. These photographs did support, encourage and strengthen public perceptions, political movements and public debates that were already in play. But none resulted in the kinds of immediate change that their supporters hoped for. When it comes to images, there are few Damascene moments, which is why most photojournalists are modest, if not pessimistic, about the influence of their work.
And viewers who look to photographs to effect political change should be careful what they wish for: Formulating political decisions on the basis of images can be treacherous. Photographs of skeletal Somalis dying of hunger — those by James Nachtwey are particularly brutal — were one of the key inspirations for the U.S.-United Nations intervention in Somalia in late 1992; less than one year later, Paul Watson’s horrific photograph of a gleeful crowd dragging an American soldier’s naked corpse contributed to our hasty retreat. (The Somali debacle was a major reason for the Clinton administration’s refusal to respond to the Rwandan genocide the following year.)
In 2004, Khalid Mohammed’s photograph of Iraqis in Falluja celebrating beneath the burned, mutilated bodies of American contractors hanging from a bridge resulted in what might be called the anti-Somalia effect: Rather than force a U.S. withdrawal, as some in the crowd had apparently hoped, the image encouraged an embarrassed President George W. Bush to order the Marine invasion of the city and intensify the war. The resulting battle was one of the longest and deadliest of the conflict. In its aftermath, one newspaper described Falluja as a “city of ghosts.”
The most vexing political conflicts are the most resistant to photographic interventions — as the Syrian civil war, now in its 11th year, shows. Nilufer Demir’s internationally disseminated photographs of little Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian refugee who washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach, inspired fervent responses of outrage and promises of action in 2015. But outrage proved easier than action, and the plight of Syrian refugees remained pretty much the same.
And one might well wonder why the so-called Caesar images — a trove of 55,000 photographs depicting Syrians tortured to death in the prisons of President Bashar al-Assad — had zero political effect. The photographs, which were smuggled out of Syria in 2013 and depict victims of eye gouging, strangulation and starvation, were shown to the U.S. Congress, at the United Nations and to the secretary of state at the time, John Kerry, as well as to other world leaders. Geoffrey Nice, a war crimes prosecutor, described them as akin to “getting the keys to the Nazi archive.” However, as this newspaper reported, “Syrian’s Photos Spur Outrage, but Not Action.”
In the case of Uvalde, all of this remains, for the most part, theoretical. It is highly unlikely that the grieving parents would ever consent to the publication of images of their children and equally hard to imagine that the pictures would not circulate on sites that would dishonor, if not defile, the victims. Images of dead children, after all, are different from all others. Children represent both innocence and promise — represent, in fact, our belief in the future. To see them violated elicits instinctual reactions of pity, anger, grief and shame. The question, though, is what we do with that vortex of emotions once it has been unleashed.
Despite the very real dangers of exploitation and misuse that disclosure of the Uvalde photographs would pose, I myself would like politicians to view them: to look — really look — at the shattered face of what was previously a child and to then contemplate the bewildered terror of her last moments on earth. But that would not mean that the jig is up. People, not photographs, create political change, which is slow, difficult and unpredictable. Don’t ask images to think, or to act, for you.
By Katherine Schweit, May 30, 2022
Ms. Schweit, an F.B.I. special agent who retired in 2017 after 20 years, created and ran the agency’s active shooter program after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. She is the author of “Stop the Killing.”
“But if the 78 minutes that the police in Uvalde waited before confronting the gunman at Robb Elementary are any indication, the answer is: We aren’t. Waiting so long, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday, ‘was the wrong decision. Period.’”
Children running to safety after escaping through a window during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. Credit...Pete Luna/Uvalde Leader-News, via Reuters
After watching the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, unfold after so many other shootings in recent weeks, I’m wondering what I might have missed when I was asked to start the F.B.I.’s active shooter program 10 years ago. Did I have my team focus on the wrong problems? Did I spend my budget wisely to find ways to save lives?
Every shooting is evaluated in three parts: How could we have prevented the shooting? Did we respond effectively to save lives? How are we helping the community recover? Last Monday, the F.B.I. designated 61 shootings in 2021 as active shooter attacks, up from 40 in 2020 and 30 in 2019. We aren’t preventing the shootings, I realized. Perhaps, I thought, we were doing better in responding to the attacks as they unfolded.
But if the 78 minutes that the police in Uvalde waited before confronting the gunman at Robb Elementary are any indication, the answer is: We aren’t. Waiting so long, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday, “was the wrong decision. Period.”
So why did the police leadership make that call?
In the first few years after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the F.B.I. spent more than $30 million to send agents to police departments around the country. The goal was to train local officers how to handle active shooters so they would know how to go after a shooter with confidence and neutralize the threat.
The day after the F.B.I. released its latest active shooter figures, Robb Elementary School was attacked. In the past two years, the Uvalde school district has hosted at least two active shooter trainings, according to reporting by The Times. One of them was two months ago. Current protocol and best practices say officers must persistently pursue efforts to neutralize a shooter when a shooting is underway. This is true even if only one officer is present. This is without question the right approach.
We need to understand why that protocol was not followed in Uvalde. I am still confident the F.B.I.’s focus on training to this standard was right, but I’m less confident in its execution. The officers who responded may have been unprepared for conflict, which can lead to fatal results. Law enforcement officers need to be mentally prepared before they arrive on the scene, so they can respond immediately.
Repetitive training builds practice and confidence. Big gatherings for training every few years are more expensive and less effective for muscle memory. Instead, departments should consider more virtual tabletop exercises they can run through in an afternoon. Have officers walk through schools and talk with one another about how they would respond. Require officers to check all their gear before they begin a shift.
Last year, active shooters killed 103 people and injured 140 others in 30 states. Five of those attacks were in Texas. Most of our more than 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States are in small departments. This is not the first time a law enforcement agency has failed in the way it responded. At times, training can become routine and be taken less seriously in any environment, but agencies should be careful to avoid complacency. Are they undertaking the training to check a box? Police department leaders need to tell their officers today what is expected of them and to understand that Americans demand it.
We also need to re-evaluate how we advise students and teachers to react when an active shooter enters a school. After Sandy Hook the federal government adopted the run, hide, fight model, which instructs students and teachers to run first if they can, then hide if they must and, finally, fight to survive.
Today schools, at best, are giving lip service to the first part of that mantra, to run. Most schools that train for a shooting urge students, teachers and other staff members to lock out or hide from a shooter but almost never to run for their lives if they can. My friend Frank DeAngelis, a retired principal of Columbine High School in Colorado, told me he wished his students and faculty had been taught to flee. At Sandy Hook, nine first graders survived when they were able to flee their classroom, thanks to their brave teacher Victoria Leigh Soto, who was shot and killed when she stood in front of the killer.
I still have nightmares about details from school shootings in which survivors told me they huddled under their desks, hoping against logic that the shooter would not see them. It’s hard to shed the images of victims’ bodies found huddled under plastic tables, behind cloth partitions or together in a group against a wall.
I remember telling my children that if someone approached them in a car while they were walking, they should run as fast and as far as possible. Yet in many school settings we have mistakenly discouraged students from trying their best to simply stay alive.
Now my youngest child is a teacher whose middle school classroom is near the end of a hall with a side door to the outside. The classrooms are filled with desks. She knows that killers who strike schools will take advantage of opportunities to find more victims. I share my daughter’s experience not to invite criticism of the actions of educators responding to lethal situations but to underscore how vital proper training is to the survival of teachers and their students.
We’re told the best way to learn is from the mistakes we make. According to data from the F.B.I., in recent years the average number of casualties per active shooter attack has declined even as the number of attacks has increased. I think this reflects better policing and improved public awareness.
Still, police will not likely be there in the critical first minutes of an attack on a school. In the aftermath of the wrenching tragedy in Uvalde, it’s clear that, nearly 10 years after Sandy Hook, we must ask ourselves if the training designed to safeguard us against killers in our schools is the training that is working.
By Maureen Dowd, May 28, 2022
Gabriella Uriegas, a soccer teammate of Tess Mata, who died in the shooting, cried at a makeshift memorial outside the Uvalde County Courthouse on Thursday. Credit...Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Once, when I thought of child sacrifice, I thought of ancient shibboleths.
In Aeschylus, Agamemnon lures his daughter Iphigenia to a spot she thinks is for her wedding, as the chorus urges: “Hoist her over the altar like a yearling, give it all your strength … gag her hard.” Agamemnon agonized but felt he had to sacrifice his daughter to appease a goddess and be granted favorable winds to sail against Troy. Small sacrifice to get your fleet moving.
In Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus kills his daughter, Lavinia, at the dinner table, after she has been raped and maimed by attackers. “Die, die, Lavinia!” he cries. “And thy shame with thee.” Small sacrifice to save your honor.
On “Game of Thrones,” Stannis Baratheon orders his sweet child Shireen burned at the stake, as she cries out for the father she adores, so black magic will melt the snows. Small sacrifice to get your starving army on the march.
Now, however, I think of child sacrifice as a modern phenomenon, a barbaric one that defines this country. We are sacrificing children, not only the ones who die, but also those who watch and those who fear the future.
Children having their tomorrows taken away. Small sacrifice if we can keep our guns. Why not let every deranged loner buy an assault weapon?
America is not a mythical kingdom ruled by fickle gods or black magic. Our fate is not in the stars. It is in ourselves. It is within our power to stop schools from becoming killing fields.
We have simply decided not to do it.
The shooter in Uvalde slipped into a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School, ominously announced, “Look what we have here” and fired more than 100 rounds.
The local police did nothing to stop the human sacrifice. Nineteen officers loitered in the hall for as long as 78 minutes as children died. How can you justify keeping assault weapons on the open market when police officers don’t engage with them, even with kids’ lives on the line?
As the officers waited, not bothering to break down a barricaded door, the 19 lambs went to slaughter, trapped in a blood-soaked classroom with an 18-year-old madman. In a haunting tableau, one little girl smeared herself with her dead friend’s blood to appear dead. Meanwhile, desperate parents tried to climb over a chain-link fence to save their children. The police, doing nothing more useful, kept busy by handcuffing at least one parent trying to get into the school.
A slain teacher’s husband died of a heart attack after he took flowers to her memorial at the school. They had four kids. Who will take care of them?
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas coldly said of the massacre, the sixth mass shooting in his seven years in office, “It could have been worse.” Donald Trump, who once told me if he was elected president, he would get in his limo and drive down to the National Rifle Association and bargain with it until he could get agreement to some common-sense solutions, spoke to the N.R.A. convention in Houston Friday evening and spouted gun lobby talking points — small price for the tens of millions it spent to get him elected. What a sociopathic jellyfish. It was sacrilege for him to make it seem as though the N.R.A. cared by reading the names of the dead children and teachers, with a bell gonging after each name.
What is wrong with this country? Republicans think they’re showing their toughness by preventing curbs on guns. But it’s a huge American weakness.
When a gunman killed 35 people in Tasmania in 1996, the Australian government passed such common-sense gun laws six months later that there has been only one mass shooting since. More than a million firearms were destroyed.
When an anti-Islamic extremist in Christchurch killed 51 people in two mosques in 2019, the New Zealand government banned most semiautomatic weapons 26 days later. There have been no mass shootings since.
As the inspiring New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said at the time, she could not have faced the surviving victims and told them, “Our system and our laws allow these guns to be available, and that is OK.”
The political debates here are empty and soulless, with Democrats dodging the issue and Republicans hardening even on mild proposals like requiring universal background checks, which has overwhelming public approval.
“Most Republicans in the Senate represent deeply conservative states where gun ownership is treated as a sacred privilege enshrined in the Constitution, a privilege not to be infringed upon, no matter how much blood is spilled in classrooms and school hallways around the country,” Carl Hulse wrote in The Times.
Republicans throw up a fog of nonsensical suggestions. Before speaking to the N.R.A. on Friday, Ted Cruz said schools should have only one entry point, with an armed guard. Guns don’t kill people. Doors do. During his speech at the N.R.A., Trump suggested turning schools into virtual jails and letting teachers pack pistols in class.
“Meaningful policy discussions over guns or voting or public health have left the room,” said my colleague Elizabeth Williamson, the author of the new book “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth.” “Spewing conspiracy theories and bench-clearing nonsense around mass shootings, elections and coronavirus is becoming a tribal signifier for some on the right.”
The Republicans are doing everything they can to stop women from having control over their own bodies and doing nothing to stop the carnage against kids; they may as well change the party symbol from an elephant to an AR-15.
America is stuck in a loop on guns — and it’s a fatal one. This country always cherished its frontier image, Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” shooting it out with the bad guys. But now when the bad guys start shooting, lawmakers just shrug.
We’ve become a country of cowards, so terrified of the unholy power of gun worship that no sacrifice of young blood is too great to appease it.
By Bethan McKernan in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Gaza City, May 30, 2022https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/30/impact-of-israeli-strike-in-gaza-akin-to-chemical-weapons-ngo-report-finds
An Israeli airstrike on an agrochemical warehouse during last year’s war in Gaza amounted to the “indirect deploying of chemical weapons”, according to a report analysing the attack and its impact.
Incendiary artillery shells fired by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) hit the large Khudair Pharmaceutical and Agricultural Tools warehouse in the north of the Gaza Strip on 15 May last year, setting fire to hundreds of tonnes of pesticides, fertilisers, plastics and nylons. The strike created a toxic plume, which engulfed an area of 5.7 sq km and has left local residents struggling with health issues, including two reports of miscarriages, and indications of environmental damage.
The extensive investigation, which involved analysing mobile phone and drone footage and CCTV, dozens of interviews with residents, and analysis from munitions and fluid dynamics experts, used 3D modelling of the warehouse to determine the circumstances of the attack.
It is the first publication by Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq’s newly established forensic architecture investigation unit, a first-of-its-kind collaboration in the Middle East with Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which carries out spatial and media analysis for NGOs and in international human rights cases.
Legal experts concluded from Al-Haq’s findings that while conventional weapons were used in the bombing, “the shelling of the warehouse, with knowledge of the presence of toxic chemicals stored therein, is tantamount to chemical weapons through indirect means. Such acts are clearly prohibited … and prosecutable under the Rome Statute of the international criminal court”.
Chris Cobb-Smith, a munitions expert, is quoted as saying: “There is no military justification for [advanced smoke projectiles] to be used here. It is inherently inaccurate and unsuitable for use in an urban environment.”
Two hundred and fifty six people in Gaza and 14 in Israel died in the 11-day war last May between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the besieged strip. Al-Haq said the strike on the Khudair warehouse was the first in a series of attacks deliberately targeting Gaza’s economic and industrial infrastructure, with half a dozen other factories and warehouses systematically bombed.
The international criminal court (ICC) opened an investigation in 2019 into war crimes allegedly committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Palestinian territory. Israel disputes the ICC’s jurisdiction.
The IDF said in a statement that in response to the onslaught of attacks by Hamas, Israel had “carried out a series of strikes on legitimate military targets in the Gaza Strip” last year during what in Israel is known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.
“The IDF takes all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians during operational activity,” a spokesperson said, adding that “the event in question” was being investigated by an internal IDF inquiry “to examine whether there were any deviations from the binding rules and make necessary adjustments based on lessons learned”.
Israa Khudair, 20, who lives with her husband and two children 40 metres away from the site of the agrochemical warehouse, suffered a miscarriage in the fifth month of her pregnancy, eight weeks after the attack.
“For months the smell was unbearable, like a car engine mixed with burnt oil, sewage and cooking gas, so of course we knew it could be harmful,” said her husband, Ihab, 26.
“I have had skin rashes since and so have most people here. We washed the house five times, and the furniture, but the smell stayed. It was like an oil on the walls … eventually in the winter the rain washed a lot of it away from the rubble of the warehouse.
“We are worried for our health now. One of my cousins, who is only 19, and my aunt also, got cancer recently and we think it is related to what happened here.”
Last year’s fighting was the third round of full-scale conflict between the Israeli state and Hamas since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, after which Israel and Egypt imposed a punishing blockade. Since then, the strip’s water, sewage and electricity infrastructure have all but collapsed, leaving Gaza’s 2 million residents struggling to deal with increasing levels of air, soil and water pollution.
Al-Haq, which operates in Gaza and the West Bank, has also come under attack from the Israeli authorities: last year, the NGO was one of six leading civil society and human rights organisations working in the occupied Palestinian territories designated as a terrorist organisation. The decision has been widely condemned by the UN, western governments and prominent international organisations such as Amnesty International.
Rula Shadeed, the head of Al-Haq’s monitoring and documentation department, said in a statement: “Without our professional documentation based on legal standards [Palestinians] cannot call for accountability and justice. Introducing new methodologies to enhance and complement the standard documentation and presentation of our work is very crucial.
“We are very proud that despite the illegal attacks and difficult times Palestinian civil society is facing, we still manage to continue and advance in our work, due to our strong belief in the importance of exposing the violations against our people and to hold perpetrators accountable.”
By Pamela Paul, June 1, 2022
Mark Peterson for The New York Times
Coming of age in the 1970s and ’80s, a kid took in a fair number of public service messages. Smokey Bear warned that only you could help prevent forest fires (if only this were entirely true). An actor dressed up as a Native American shed a single tear to get people to stop littering (or at least feel guilty when they did). The crash-test dummies made anyone bypassing a seatbelt look like a moron. Later campaigns against smoking, like the one featuring the singing cowboy, terrified many teenagers out of lighting their first cigarette.
Obviously, not everyone transformed into responsible citizens while imbibing these messages between doses of Sugar Pops and “Scooby-Doo.” If nothing else, “Schoolhouse Rock,” which similarly set forth principles around when to dump tea and reject kings, let us know that real change often required the passage of laws, and that’s not easy, as the oft-demoralized hero of “I’m Just a Bill” was known to wail. But simple messages stick, and when done well — particularly when lives are at stake — have proven highly effective.
Here’s how to start changing people’s minds about guns.
The disquieting fact remains that a staggering number of Americans clearly want — even love — to own guns: Not only does this country have more guns than people, but over the last 30 years, Americans have grown less supportive of stricter gun laws. Astonishingly, in 1959, 60 percent of Americans favored a ban on handguns except those used by police officers and other authorized persons; today that figure is 19 percent.
The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, points once again to the senselessness of this love affair.
Unfortunately, the most needed and most effective measures — repealing the Second Amendment, getting the Supreme Court to apply its supposed strict constructionism to the phrase “well regulated militia,” state laws regulating production and sales — have been stymied.
Given the lack of will, the half-measures and the overall inaction on controlling supply, we could make a serious effort to lower demand. Bearing in mind that the killers in Texas and Buffalo were both only 18, we could try to get through to the next generation. On average, men who grew up in gun-owning households and who have shot a gun report firing their first gun as at age 12, while women reported doing so at age 17. The gun industry spends an enormous amount of money on lobbying and on advertising, too.
We could counter its efforts to sell more guns with a massive public health campaign. Make guns less cool, less acceptable, less a part of the supposedly “American way of life.” Scare people. Gross them out. Even try humor.
Colorado took a baby step in the right direction with a public service campaign in 2021 emphasizing gun storage and safety. The goal there, in part, was to lower the appalling rate of teenage suicide, a noble effort, but it works on the assumption of gun ownership as an accepted state of affairs.
What if we got more ambitious with the messaging and went after gun ownership itself? An effective campaign against buying guns could take any number of tacks. It could look at the relentless news footage from the nation’s sweep of mass shootings — headlines that are hard to take as they occur but are even more devastating in the aggregate. An effective campaign could movingly tally the killings in a given time period as Gary Younge did in his book “Another Day in the Death of America” or in the vein of Jill Leovy’s blog The Homicide Report, which attempted to track every murder in Los Angeles County in a year. Or it could go personal, using a testimonial from a child who lost his sister in a school shooting or a teenager whose friend committed suicide at 14 using a weapon kept in the house by his own parents.
Before you shut this down as Tipper Gore territory or just say no to Nancy Reagan 2.0, consider the effect of other big public service campaigns, which are especially successful when it’s clear the message comes down to saving lives. Between the start of the seatbelt campaign and the early 2000s, one report found, usage rose from 14 percent to 80 percent, saving thousands of lives. The rate of drunken driving fatalities has continued to decline since the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign that began in 1983. One of the key components of Mothers Against Drunk Driving was its efforts to combat social norms.
Public education and creative P.S.A.s helped reduce teenage cigarette use significantly. While in the pocket of the tobacco industry, Hollywood played a key role in glamorizing smoking, but then later, after paid tobacco product placement was banned, clamped down on the appearance of smoking on film and TV. Those efforts are ongoing.
Sometimes, of course, a cigarette, like a gun, is key to a movie’s story line or characters. But the use of firearms onscreen can certainly be more intentional. Reaching for the gun in the course of storytelling isn’t always necessary. The best cinematic fight scene by far this year involved a weaponized fanny pack.
A forceful campaign could run ads during major events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars. And a savvy one could find teenagers not only on the big screen and in the classroom (where some Texas textbooks gloss over the Second Amendment), but also on platforms like TikTok and Discord. Through technology and schools, it could bring kids into creating and disseminating the message.
Trying to shift the consumer mind-set and public attitudes around guns is a challenge given how hardened gun culture is. It might move the needle only incrementally. But given the pain and loss guns are already inflicting on this country, would it hurt so much to try?
By Edward Niedermeyer, June 1, 2022
Mr. Niedermeyer is the author of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors” and has interviewed over 100 former Tesla employees.https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/01/opinion/elon-musk-tesla-twitter.html
Elon Musk’s repeated wavering on his deal to buy Twitter has roiled markets and raised fresh questions about his seriousness. His promises to preserve free speech, ban spam bots and dramatically boost revenue may have earned the blessing of the company’s founder, Jack Dorsey, but with Twitter’s stock falling well below his offer price, Mr. Musk appears to be reneging on a deal that has made even Wall Street grow skeptical.
For those of us who have followed Mr. Musk’s antics for some time, the latest twist in his bid for the social media platform is entirely in character. The way that he has managed and marketed his businesses from Tesla’s early days reveals a dysfunction behind the automaker’s veneer of technofuturism and past stock market successes. Often announcing new features without consultation with his team, he forces his employees to bridge the enormous gap between technological reality and his dreams. This disconnect fosters a negligent and sometimes cruel workplace, to disastrous effect.
In 2016, Mr. Musk promised that newly made Teslas would be able to drive themselves with nothing more than a future software update that Tesla owners could buy in advance for thousands of dollars.
That fully self-driving announcement that so delighted his fans came as a far more jarring revelation to the project’s engineers, who found out about their staggering new mission when Mr. Musk tweeted about it. Tesla buyers never got the promised software update. The cars still cannot drive themselves without humans. But every year since then, he has repeated different versions of this claim. His ability to repeatedly sell such science fiction fantasies to a credulous public is the foundation for a vast empire and fortune.
Tesla’s manufacturing engineers were aghast when, also in 2016, Mr. Musk publicly committed to developing a fully automated factory that required no human workers. Tesla built two assembly lines that attempted to automate tasks requiring levels of dexterity and flexibility that modern robotics is still far from attaining. He ultimately gave up and cobbled together a manual-labor-intensive production line in an open-air tent.
Mr. Musk took this as a new opportunity to build his legend, and he reported that he had slept in Tesla’s factories during this period, which he called “production hell.” What he left out of his self-aggrandizing was the reality for his employees. His presence brought no real manufacturing expertise to bear, just the overbearing pressure of a boss whose public shaming was punctuated by declarations like “I can be on my own private island with naked supermodels, drinking mai tais — but I’m not.”
In my reporting on Tesla, interviewing employees at times felt more as if I had been a therapist than a journalist, as they sought to untangle the pride and satisfaction they felt about their work from the trauma of working for Mr. Musk. Surviving 10 years of the grind at Tesla is a rare achievement, and it is common for talent to be squeezed dry or pushed out before the end of the company’s four-year stock vesting period.
This grim environment is all the more pronounced for women and racial minorities. Lawsuits by workers and California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing allege that Black workers were tasked with menial physical labor in parts of the factory nicknamed “the plantation,” where they were subjected to racist slurs and graffiti. Female workers have sued, alleging a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and groping by supervisors. Mr. Musk was indifferent, emailing workers who experienced abuse that “it is important to be thick-skinned.”
Mr. Musk’s interest lies in supervising entrepreneurial projects that result in flashy new components. In more prosaic areas of the business like manufacturing, service and sales, he tends to get involved only in order to put out the fires that regularly threaten the company’s immediate future (though not the literal fires that have repeatedly ravaged its Fremont, Calif., factory over the years).
This is the fundamental weakness of every organization run as a cult of personality: The dear leader can’t be everywhere or make every decision but often fails to provide the clear code of values that allows managers to independently shape their decisions around common goals. When the success of the company is tied to one man’s whims, you get bizarre phenomena like managers deciding whether or not to take issues to Mr. Musk based on the shade of blond of his wife’s hair that day (with platinum shades being correlated with better moods).
When the boss happens to run tunneling, rocket and brain-implant companies in addition to a high-profile car company, even the most brilliant minds will occasionally be too disconnected from the realities of the decisions that they must make. After the collapses of Theranos and WeWork — companies with similarly confident founders who insisted that they would achieve their soaring ambitions if given more time and money — Mr. Musk’s reliance on hype is especially jarring.
Indeed, the main difference between Mr. Musk and Silicon Valley’s fallen heroes is that he has been able to deliver on some promises: Tesla does make cars, and SpaceX does land rockets. But as a number of old promises like fully self-driving cars appear to be more aspirational and less plausible, the distinction between him and those fallen heroes is starting to lose its meaning. His long list of unfulfilled commitments — a fully solar-powered electric vehicle charging network, a fully automated manufacturing system, an autonomous minibus and even a rocket-powered flying car — wildly exceed his achievements.
By moving to buy Twitter, Mr. Musk has not only added another distraction to his long list but has also already shown the same drive to announce sweeping decisions in public. While he had some success in realizing user features at Tesla, his contradictory goals of increasing algorithmic transparency and eliminating spam bots on Twitter are the most obvious sign that he intends to impose his will on the service without drawing on the expertise of workers who have been wrestling with Twitter’s thorniest challenges.
Ultimately Mr. Musk’s goals for Twitter, as they are for Tesla, are not about making the right decisions for his companies or the people who make them possible. They are about playing to the crowd and burnishing the legend that keeps fresh bodies and minds moving through the businesses that chew them up and spit them out. Now if Twitter falls into his control, Mr. Musk will have seized the means of making the product he has always cared about most: his own myth making.
By Nina Larson
—Phys.org, May 31, 2022
The World Health Organization accused the industry of causing widespread deforestation, diverting badly needed land and water in poor countries away from food production, spewing out plastic and chemical waste as well as emitting millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.
In its report released on World No Tobacco Day, the UN agency called for the tobacco industry to be held to account and foot the bill for the cleanup.
The report, "Tobacco: poisoning our planet", looks at the impacts of the whole cycle, from the growth of plants to the manufacturing of tobacco products, to consumption and waste.
While tobacco's health impacts have been well documented for decades—with smoking still causing more than eight million deaths worldwide every year—the report focuses on its broader environmental consequences.
The findings are "quite devastating," Ruediger Krech, WHO director of health promotion, told AFP, charging that the industry is "one of the biggest polluters that we know of."
He slammed tobacco companies' frequent efforts to rehabilitate their image through beach cleanups and funding environmental and disaster relief organisations as "greenwashing".
"The tobacco industry dumps toxic waste into communities and depletes natural resources," he told a press conference.
"Tobacco is not only poisoning people, it's poisoning our planet."
The industry is responsible for the loss of some 600 million trees each year—or five percent of global deforestation—while tobacco growing and production uses 200,000 hectares of land and 22 billion tonnes of water annually, the report found.
It also emits around 84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, it said.
In addition, "tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals, which leech into our environment when discarded," Krech said.
4.5 trillion cigarette butts
He pointed out that each one of the estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts that end up in the oceans, rivers, sidewalks and beaches every year can pollute 100 litres of water.
And up to a quarter of all tobacco farmers contract so-called green tobacco sickness, or poisoning from the nicotine they absorb through the skin.
Farmers who handle tobacco leaves all day consume the equivalent of 50 cigarettes worth of nicotine a day, Krech said.
This is especially worrying for the many children involved in tobacco farming.
"Just imagine a 12-year-old being exposed to 50 cigarettes a day," he said.
Most tobacco is grown in poorer countries, where water and farmland are often in short supply, and where such crops are often grown at the expense of vital food production, the report said.
UN agencies have launched a project to try to help farmers transition to other crops.
At the same time the processing and transportation of tobacco account for a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions—with the equivalent of one-fifth of the global airline industry's carbon footprint.
In addition, products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also contribute significantly to the global build-up of plastic pollution, WHO warned.
Cigarette filters contain microplastics—the tiny fragments that have been detected in every ocean and even at the bottom of the world's deepest trench—and make up the second-highest form of plastic pollution worldwide, the report said.
Stressing that there is no evidence filters provide any proven health benefits over smoking non-filtered cigarettes, the UN agency urged policy makers worldwide to consider banning them.
The WHO also called for governments to immediately halt the some $500 billion in subsidies the tobacco industry receives each year, and also urged them to stop allowing taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up the industry's mess.
Each year, China for instance dishes out around $2.6 billion and India around $766 million, while Brazil and Germany pay some $200 million each to clean up littered tobacco products, the report found.
It is important, Krech said, that "the industry pay actually for the mess that they are creating."