CODEPINK RETURNS TO THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE!
Sunday, May 8, Noon, Mother’s Day Bridge Walk for Peace
MOTHER’S DAY is for UNITING for PEACE! JOIN US!
To honor the history of Mother’s Day as a Day for Peace, we will read the “Mothers Day Proclamation,” written by Julia Ward Howe in post-Civil War days in response to the bloody carnage of the Civil War…..CODEPINK will gather, calling on all our sisters and brothers around the world to unite to abolish war.
BAN MILITARIZED DRONES, BAN NUKES…..YES PEACE & DIPLOMACY!
Russia: STOP BOMBING UKRAINE
USA: NO MORE WEAPONS……NEGOTIATE, DON’T ESCALATE
NO to NATO, YES to PEACE!
END WAR: 4 the CLIMATE & THE PLANET!
Gather at the bridge plaza on the SF side, near the eastern walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge. Arrive early for best parking.
Walk on the eastern walkway to the middle of the bridge.
Rally on SF side after the bridge walk.
Hope you can join us!
BE GREEN AND CARPOOL
See http://tripplanner.transit.511.org for public transit options.
Golden Gate Transit Buses 10, 70, 80
and SF Muni Bus 28 stop at the bridge (SF side).
FMI & carpooling: Toby, 510-215-5974
Leonard Peltier’s statement
on Rio Grande Water Walk:
Greetings my Relatives,
I would like to offer my support for all of you, as you walk and pray for world peace and to protect the water spirits of the Rio Grande. I know when you walk you carry a torch of light and hope that the world will finally get it right in these two fundamental parts of life. And I thank the organizations who have organized these important events.
From my limited point of view here behind these high gray walls I often shake my head in disbelief at what is going on in the world. The brutal attack on the people of Ukraine has captured the attention of people all over the world, as it should, but there are indigenous peoples in every part of the world who continue to struggle to survive every day in the face of "progress." I join you praying for help and relief for them now.
As an indigenous person myself I honor all of you. The stronger ones who can walk, and the Native people who will run. But I do not forget all of you who offer your voices and your support in all the ways you do to support these honorable efforts. Those who gather the food and cook and those who drive and those who write the letters and make the phone calls to seek support and public awareness.
I am now old enough to understand that for us, who grew up traditional indigenous, it was simply a part of our original instructions that we should Honor the Earth and water always, and protect them every day in every way.
No one ever heard the term "Earth Day" when I was young. It did not exist. It was your elders who invented it. And now I know that was what drew so many people in the 60's to acknowledging our way of looking at the natural world. I think they understood on a deep level that it is everyone's duty to protect the water and the earth for those yet unborn.
I cannot forget to send love to our Buddhist relatives who will help to lead your walk. I send them my love and respect. And my profound Thanks for standing up for us, and for me, all these years.
I live in a place that knows little of peace ,but I have not forgotten that PEACE should be the natural order of things. It is the most beautiful of things. All faiths know and acknowledge this.
But you, my sisters and brothers are living it and I am deeply grateful to you for keeping such a sweet dream alive.
You are my heroes. Thank You, and know I will join you in my prayers each day as you walk and speak for those who have no voices.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
Leonard Peltier 89637-132
USP Coleman 1
P.O. Box 1033
Coleman, FL 33521
Note: Letters, address and return address must be in writing—no stickers—and on plain white paper.
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.
Now on YouTube
Be sure to watch:
Stop the War in Ukraine, April 9 Online Rally
Is now on YouTube:
Alexey: Socialist Against War, Russia
Yuri: Ukraine Peace Activist
With Vijay Prashad, Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Medea Benjamin, MP Clare Daly, Tariq Ali and many others
Bucha Massacre Evidence and Russia’s Propaganda
By Eric Draitser, April 8, 2022
Exploring the newly emerging evidence of a Russian atrocity in the village of Bucha and debunking the fraudulent narratives of the Kremlin disinformation army on the Left.
Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached email@example.com.
With our partners in Europe, we are organizing protests to stop the war in Ukraine, call for Russian troops to leave Ukraine, and oppose NATO expansion. Find an action in your city or organize one here.
Here's the full petition:
Open letter: Solidarity with Russian anti-war protestors
Dear Russian anti-war protestors,
We, women and other feminists (including men) of the world, express our solidarity with you as you protest the devastating invasion of Ukraine, and we join your call for Russian troops to immediately leave Ukraine. We are aware of the risks you face from police and civil authorities and thank you for your profound bravery and sacrifice. We are also moved by the tremendous courage of the Ukrainian people in the face of disaster, and our hearts ache as we bear witness to Ukrainian families huddling in bomb shelters and parking garages, or facing long lines at the border after being forced to flee their homes.
We have experience standing up to our own governments’ aggression. During the U.S./NATO invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, we took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to oppose the horrific destruction of entire cities and the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Now, as Russian missiles mercilessly wipe out your neighbors’ homes, medical facilities, and schools in Ukraine, we see you take to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities in peaceful protest, and we are so deeply inspired and grateful.
As we oppose this brutal war being waged in your name, we are also aware of the role the U.S. and NATO have played in stoking the geopolitical crisis that led to this war. We have opposed NATO’s expansion into Central and Eastern Europe, and we continue to oppose NATO expansion today. We steadfastly believe Ukraine should be a neutral country.
Today, as Putin has put your nuclear arsenal on high alert, we see the terrifying possibility of this conflict spinning out of control. The U.S. and Russia are guilty of stockpiling 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, putting the entire world at risk, and violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. As we organize today to stop this war, we must work together in the future to force our governments to join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so we can rid the world of this existential threat to survival on our beautiful planet.
The imposition of sanctions aimed to damage the Russian economy also concerns us. We have no problem with taking yachts and private jets from oligarchs, but sanctions that hurt millions of ordinary Russians like you and impact the entire global economy are cruel and counterproductive. We have seen the devastating results of sanctions in countries from Cuba to Iran to North Korea–such sanctions harm the civilian population, particularly women, children, and the elderly, and fail to change government policies.
Instead of indiscriminate sanctions and fanning the flames by pouring more weapons into Ukraine, we demand that Russia and Ukraine engage in serious negotiations, with all the compromises this would entail.
As women and other feminists, we have had enough of senseless wars that destroy lives and communities while lining the coffers of weapons manufacturers. We’ve seen too many attacks on civilians from Yemen to Gaza to Ethiopia to Ukraine, and we’ve watched in horror as precious resources are poured into wars while families' basic needs for food, shelter, education, and healthcare go unmet and climate change threatens all life on our planet. A world of violence, hatred, and destruction is not the world we want for our children. With fire in our bellies and love in our hearts, we join with you — across borders — to demand an end to the bloodshed and the destruction.
Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!
No NATO expansion!
Peace Talks NOW!
This March 19th webinar for Ruchell “Cinque” Magee on his 83rd birthday was a terrific event full of information and plans for building the campaign to Free Ruchell Magee. Two of the featured speakers also spoke at the February 1 webinar for International workers’ action to free Mumia and all anti-racist, anti-imperialist Freedom Fighters—Jalil Muntaqim (who was serving time at San Quentin State Prison in a cell next to Ruchell!) and Angela Davis (who was a co-defendant of Ruchell’s!) A 50 year+ struggle!
Below are two ways to stream this historic webinar sent by the webinar organizers.
Here is the YouTube link to view Saturday's recording:
Here is the link to the Facebook upload:
After The Revolution
By David Rovics
It was a time I'll always remember
Because I could never forget
How reality fell down around us
Like some Western movie set
And once the dust all settled
The sun shone so bright
And a great calm took over us
Like it was all gonna be alright
That's how it felt to be alive
After the revolution
From Groton to Tacoma
On many a factory floor
The workers talked of solidarity
And refused to build weapons of war
No more will we make missiles
We're gonna do something different
And for the first time
Their children were proud of their parents
And somewhere in Gaza a little boy smiled and cried
After the revolution
Prison doors swung open
And mothers hugged their sons
The Liberty Bell was ringing
When the cops put down their guns
A million innocent people
Lit up in the springtime air
And Mumia and Leonard and Sarah Jane Olson
Took a walk in Tompkins Square
And they talked about what they'd do now
After the revolution
The debts were all forgiven
In all the neo-colonies
And the soldiers left their bases
Went back to their families
And a non-aggression treaty
Was signed with every sovereign state
And all the terrorist groups disbanded
With no empire left to hate
And they all started planting olive trees
After the revolution
George Bush and Henry Kissinger
Were sent off to the World Court
Their plans for global domination
Were pre-emptively cut short
Their weapons of mass destruction
Were inspected and destroyed
The battleships were dismantled
Never again to be deployed
And the world breathed a sigh of relief
After the revolution
Solar panels were on the rooftops
Trains upon the tracks
Organic food was in the markets
No GMO's upon the racks
And all the billionaires
Had to learn how to share
And Bill Gates was told to quit his whining
When he said it wasn't fair
And his mansion became a collective farm
After the revolution
And all the political poets
Couldn't think of what to say
So they all decided
To live life for today
I spent a few years catching up
With all my friends and lovers
Sleeping til eleven
Home beneath the covers
And I learned how to play the accordion
After the revolution
Free Em All—Mic Crenshaw and David Rovics featuring Opium Sabbah
“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!
Wrongful Conviction podcast of Kevin Cooper's case, Jason Flom with Kevin and Norm Hile
Please listen and share!
Kevin Cooper: Important CBS news new report today, and article January 31, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
By Michael Moore—VIA Email: email@example.com
American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.
And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.
And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.
The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.
For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?
President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.
For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.
The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.
This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:
President Joe Biden
E-mail: At this link
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Attorney General Merrick Garland
E-mail: At this link
I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet:
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022
(202) 691-6378 • firstname.lastname@example.org • 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 Sonali Kolhatkar
—LA Progressive, April 4, 2022
At only 19 years old, Joe Thompson is one of the youngest lead organizers with Starbucks Workers United (SWU), the umbrella organization at the forefront of one of the most exciting labor successes of the last few years. Thompson, who started working at the coffee chain at age 16, told me in a recent interview, “Starbucks likes to claim it’s super-progressive, and a lot of workers there are, but we’re the ones actually holding Starbucks accountable to that standard.”
The very first Starbucks location to successfully unionize was in Buffalo, New York, where a vote was held only last December. Since then, dozens more locations have voted to join SWU—whose parent company is Workers United, an affiliate of SEIU—and more than 200 other locations have filed for union elections.
Thompson, who uses they/them pronouns, and who describes their background as “working-class Hispanic,” lives in Santa Cruz, California, and works there as a shift supervisor at the first Starbucks in the state to petition for a union. That vote is expected to take place in May, and it will be a bellwether for union organizing at Starbucks cafés across California.
The nation’s most populous state has lagged behind New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Arizona on unionizing efforts at Starbucks primarily because, as per Thompson, California “does have better working conditions than a lot of other states.” The statewide minimum wage in California is $15 an hour, which is more than twice the federal minimum wage. Thompson also cites “better workplace protections” in California compared to other states.
The lesson here for anti-union forces is that poor wages and working conditions can prompt union activity. Unions are needed precisely because pro-corporate politicians have resisted raising the minimum wage and have weakened labor rights for decades.
Additionally, workers at California’s Starbucks locations “wanted to see what Buffalo could accomplish” before petitioning for a union, said Thompson. “After watching them win their vote, then we really started to organize.”
It’s no wonder that Starbucks worked so hard to stop organizers from successfully unionizing in Buffalo, flying in external managers and holding captive-audience meetings with CEO and founder Howard Schultz. The company was rightfully worried about the domino effect of a successful union vote triggering similar efforts elsewhere.
It seems as though the standard anti-union corporate playbook may have reached its limit as workers across the United States are seeing the benefits of labor organizing in the face of undignified work, meager pay, unpredictable hours, little to no benefits and few rights.
One of the most effective corporate anti-union tactics has been to disparage unions for charging fees (monthly or annual dues) to finance their protection of workers. Indeed, union dues were the entire basis of the Republican-led effort to pass so-called “right-to-work” laws in states around the country. It was also the central theme around which the online retail giant Amazon discouraged workers from organizing, saying instead that they could “do it without dues.”
But this tactic failed in the face of SWU’s organizing. “Before a union goes public, we’re inoculating our organizers,” said Thompson. “We’re telling them, ‘here’s exactly what Starbucks is going to say; here’s why it’s wrong.’” The union uses creative graphics via social media to explain how union dues are a perfectly reasonable price for collective bargaining rights that yield better working conditions. “We’re using Discord and other technology really to get workers engaged and to keep them there,” said Thompson.
The union’s overall messaging is savvy and effective, and it remains one step ahead of the company. For example, Starbucks refers to its employees not as workers but as “partners,” a slick PR term that implies a level playing field with the boss. But, weaponizing this wordplay against the company, SWU counters that only through the power of a union can workers truly be partners with their employer. “Partners becoming partners” has become a central theme of its organizing strategy.
Another aspect of the successful unionizing streak that may have caught Starbucks off guard is that most workers are relatively young and extremely cognizant of the social and political conditions under which they have come of age. “They’re all young people who are growing up during the Bernie Sanders era,” said Thompson. The same fearmongering against unions that may have worked with older Americans appears not to be working against these younger workers.
“We’re recognizing that we have power together, and young people are so fed up with not only their workplaces… but with a lot of other things too,” said Thompson. Among those things is the existential threat of climate change. “Being young right now, we don’t have a solid future ahead of us,” said Thompson, who volunteered for Sanders’ presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020, and said that their fellow Starbucks workers are “asking ourselves, what are we going to do to stand up and fight back against these corporations that are not only polluting the earth but also not paying us a living wage?”
“The simplest answer is to unionize,” said Thompson.
It is simple. And that elegant idea is a countervailing force to corporate power that businesses like Starbucks have been dreading since their inception. The company is already facing a lawsuit from the National Labor Relations Board for illegally retaliating against workers over their union organizing activity.
So overt is the company’s anti-union position that CEO Schultz recently announced that he was considering new benefits for workers, but only for those who did not join the union.
Thompson said, “that is clear union-related retaliation against organizing; it’s unlawful.” If Schultz goes through with such a step, Thompson promises that SWU will sue the company for unfair labor practices. “He is a bully… disconnected from his workers,” said Thompson of Schultz.
Although the Starbucks unionizing efforts have been wildly successful over a short period of time, voting to join a union is only the first—and easiest—step. The hard part comes during contract talks where the nuts and bolts of workers’ demands will be negotiated.
For example, Starbucks’ baristas are tipped workers and those whose wages do not have to meet minimum wage standards because they are expected to earn tips to compensate, resulting in the possibility of taking home appallingly low paychecks. But the company still refuses to allow customers to pay tips via credit card—a major issue that workers plan on raising during contract negotiations.
Given the geographic diversity of the company’s locations, contract negotiations could be unique to each state and even café. Thompson explained that in California where they are based, the union’s statewide organizing committee is currently putting together “an action plan” of the sort of contract that workers in the state want to negotiate, including the specific type of benefits they need.
That plan will form the floor of a contract that each unionized store in California will start from in their negotiations with Starbucks, adding on demands specific to each store as needed. Thompson’s Santa Cruz-based café, for example, will be including a demand for a security guard on its premises.
Not content with helping to lead a historic union organizing movement, Thompson is also running for office for a seat on the California State Assembly representing District 28 and is the youngest person to do so. Their campaign website says, “Joe knows what it’s like to not know when you’re gonna be able to eat your next meal and how it feels to be left behind by a system that allows for the rich to get vastly richer while the rest of us continue hard work for starvation wages.”
Anyone can unionize,” said Thompson, who remains optimistic even in the face of multiple dire crises facing young people like them. “Young workers are recognizing that we need to do something to protect ourselves and to fight for our values… The world we are living in is falling apart. And we can change that.”
By Conor Kostick
— Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, April 26, 2022
Flag of Russia on military uniform. (Shutterstock)
Wars are not light topics that can be dispensed of with simple formulas. I, for one, cannot imagine how the success of Russia would further the cause of democracy and socialism around the world. If you do, then say so, openly, so it can be debated in public. But don’t falsify tradition and history and hide behind pathetic slogans. To paraphrase Marx, we Marxists disdain to conceal our views and aims. —John Ganz, Ben Burgis’s “Bad History: Jacobin’s anti-Jacobins.”
There is a type of left argument around the war in Ukraine which has arisen in the West. It is one that condemns Putin’s invasion, but refuses to offer practical support to the people of Ukraine in resisting that invasion. It is the position one can read in Jacobin, or in statements by Chomsky, Corbyn, and the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. In Ireland we have the same type of response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine from People Before Profit and the Socialist Party of Ireland.
I will use the label Evasionist Left for this approach. It’s not clear how representative this trend is internationally, as many on the left do pro-actively support the resistance in Ukraine, e.g., parties such Razem in Poland; those associated with the Fourth International like Left Bloc and the Danish Red Green Alliance; and the main left party in Japan, the Japanese Communist Party.
Of course, there are pro-Russian figures around too, who claim to be on the left: although why anyone would want to be associated with Putin makes no sense. Russia is not in any way a socialist society. In fact, as Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis puts it, Putin can be understood to be developing a new form of fascism. Explicitly pro-Putin figures are relatively rare on the left, and while they are busy sharing Russian propaganda, are not hugely influential. The left arguments I want to address here are those of the groups and their supporters who express opposition to Putin, but who refuse to take any steps towards bringing about a military defeat for the Russian invasion and in particular, are strongly opposed to the people of Ukraine obtaining arms from the West.
The groups supporting the Evasionist Left position seem to be basing their approach on two ideas: 1) Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO and 2) The war in Ukraine is an “inter-imperialist war.” My goal is to argue that these ideas are wrong and that if you take them seriously, you will find yourself on Putin’s side in the war. Often, when I try to discuss these points with their supporters, I hear only silence when I ask them to really think through the consequences of their formulations. But the war itself allows for no evasion.
Typical of the Evasionist Left position are features that speak out against the war in Ukraine and all wars, such as the Irish People Before Profit statement: No To War. Oppose Putin’s Invasion. Stop NATO Expansion As with many articles by Jacobin and Stop the War (UK), the line taken by this statement is that Putin’s invasion should be condemned but the U.S. are to be condemned equally.
The article concludes: “The real hope lies in an antiwar movement that crosses the border of East and West and opposes both Putin and NATO. We salute the actions of the Irish Anti-War Movement in calling people out to protest. We urge the international movement that came together to oppose the Gulf War in the past to rise again against the twin aggressors of Putin and NATO.”
World peace arising from a mass movement from below East and West would be lovely, but what is evaded here is the question of whether the left should support Ukrainian military resistance to the invasion. “Opposing the war” is a comfortable position to adopt if you are on the other side of Europe to the columns of Russian soldiers. But what does this conclusion mean for the people of Ukraine? Perhaps it means they should not fight back? Or perhaps there is room for supporting armed resistance to the Russian invasion, if it is decoupled from NATO? The point here is that in many cases, no one knows what it means. This is not a position that informs the people of Ukraine or those who want to express solidarity with them of what to do.
While we strive for international uprisings against war, should we want the people of Ukraine to defeat the Russian invaders in the meantime? Should we support or sabotage NATO armaments moving to Ukraine? Should we send money and perform solidarity actions that will allow Ukrainian anarchists and socialists to further their military resistance to the invasion? Or should we discourage them from fighting back, because they are unwitting tools of NATO?
These practical questions are a good way to judge the two key formulations that the Evasionist Left are using. And yet Marx’s claim that socialists don’t hide their views doesn’t seem to apply on the topic of Ukraine, where it’s difficult indeed to ascertain how these questions would be answered. Just to be clear, my own answers and those of Independent Left (and many other socialists and anarchists in Ireland) are yes, a victory for Ukraine against Russia would be the best outcome for the left and the world generally and yes, we should support the people of Ukraine getting arms from wherever they can, including from NATO. As Taras Bilous, editor of the left-wing Ukrainian magazine Commons, puts it, “the Western left, which criticizes military aid to Ukraine are outrageous. Do they want us to fight with bows and arrows when we have shot all our bullets? Do they want the Russians to kill as many Ukrainians as possible? That there were more Bucha’s?”
Based on the limited number of publications and occasional social media post, including exchanges with me, many Evasionist Left supporters do not in fact welcome the Ukrainian resistance, do not support people like Taras Bilous in their efforts to defend their cities. And to justify this they have advanced the two arguments above. These slogans are crucial to the orientation of the Evasionist position, and I believe they are quite wrong.
1. Support for the resistance in Ukraine is support for NATO.
A rather bad-faith version of this argument was visible after a UCU-supported demonstration on April 9, 2022 in the UK, in which a call for victory to the Ukrainian people was described as being “for NATO intervention in Ukraine.”
Such comments echoed the misleading headline by the UK’s Socialist Worker reporting on the demonstration, where they interpreted the call for arming the Ukrainian people to be a call for NATO escalation. To say that the people of Ukraine need arms is not at all the same as saying NATO should send troops to fight in the war.
A Russian convoy is approaching your town. The people around you join the Ukraine territorial defense to fight, several of them form their own socialist and anarchist units which you have the option of joining. But those internationally making the same arguments as above say, “No. Don’t escalate. It will lead to more war horror. And potentially nuclear war. Instead, let’s appeal to the Russian antiwar movement to save us.”
The position of these ‘left’ activists brings peace, but it’s the peace of a Putin victory, which not only means your town witnesses hellish scenes of rape and murder, that you could perhaps have prevented, but it also undermines peace for the future. Because understandably, when scenes of slaughtered civilians reach neighboring countries there is a massive clamor for NATO assistance. Moreover, Putin will have concluded that after Syria and Ukraine, he can push on again, because fear of the horror of war, especially nuclear war, means the western left would prefer his victory to the victory of the resistance. And the Russian antiwar movement, that might have flourished as the Russian army was stalled and thrown back, is crushed by the wave of nationalism around the victorious Putin.
Fortunately, we are not yet in this scenario, above all because of the determination of the people of Ukraine not to surrender to the Russian invaders. Within the resistance to the invasion, the left are able to play an independent role. Here’s how Vitaliy Dudin, head of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization, Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement), described the situation from Cherkasy, Ukraine, on April 6, 2022:
“Some Social Movement activists, as well as many trade union members, have joined the TD as volunteers. It is worth mentioning that dozens of anarchists and socialists have formed their own unit within the TD, called the Resistance Committee.
“Secondly, a lot of leftists are helping as volunteers to supply the army or satisfy people’s humanitarian needs. One of the most effective initiatives in this regard is Operation Solidarity, which has managed to provide supplies to the militant left. We are also working to meet the needs of trade union members serving in the army.
“We have also worked with the nurses’ NGO Be Like Nina and helped them obtain medicines for hospitals that are taking care of wounded soldiers.
“Third, we see that a lot of people are protesting the invaders in occupied cities. We aren’t involved in such activity, but we support it. Of course, it is very dangerous because peaceful protests can be shot down by armed Russian soldiers. Such resistance proves that people are against the ‘liberation’ that seeks to turn their cities into grey-zones.
“Fourth, we as Social Movement continue to act as a political organization. We seek to counter Russian propaganda and call on our people to fight for a free and fair Ukraine.”
By contrast, if the politics of the war in the Ukraine are resolved by the Evasionist Left approach, then we will see a Putin victory. You can’t negotiate any settlement with Putin, even a bad one for Ukraine that nevertheless de-escalates the threat of nuclear war, unless you stop his army and force him to realize he can’t implement his plan to eradicate Ukraine as an independent nation.
There is a better-faith version of the argument against NATO weapons going to Ukraine, which is to say, “I do want Ukrainians to defend themselves, but I don’t trust the U.S. Whenever they arm a side in a war, they have their own imperialist goals.” This observation about the U.S. is, of course, correct, but do you really think people in Ukraine, especially the left, are under any illusions about the U.S. interests at play? There’s a patronizing assumption here that those demanding arms to prevent Russian soldiers from murdering their friends and families are dupes of U.S. intelligence.
Similarly, I’ve heard socialists in Ireland say, “we have to weigh up different dynamics here, on the one hand, Russian imperialism, for sure; but on the other, U.S. interests.”
If Ukraine is to defeat Russia, the people there obviously need modern weapons. Anarchists have described how they are currently having to use machine guns from 1944.
If you are someone who wants Russia to be defeated, but doesn’t want NATO armaments to arrive in Ukraine, you really need to think this through. Are you asking communities to defeat the Russian soldiers using only home-made Molotov cocktails and Second World War weapons? This seems to be the position of the Socialist Party of Ireland, who at least do support workers in Ukraine arming themselves. At the same time, however, their supporters are told: “In the Western capitalist countries opposition to NATO militarism and expansionism must always be a central feature of our propaganda, even where this is not currently the mood among the mass of workers. We stand against all military intervention on the part of U.S. and Western imperialism—this includes opposition to the provision of weaponry by NATO powers to the Ukrainian military. This in and of itself increases the threat of the conflict escalating more widely.”
Similarly, in a feature on April 25, 2022, Ukraine: The United States are now fighting a proxy war with Russia Kieran Allen (Socialist Workers Network, Ireland) argues that the Ukrainian people, “have every right to resist,” yet is opposed to them using NATO weapons.
It’s not at all unreasonable to keep an eye on what the U.S. is up to. No doubt there are U.S. hawks who are thinking now would be a perfect time to take Russia on and smash Putin’s army while he’s weak. We should oppose U.S. intervention of troops, ships, and aircraft, mainly because of the risk of nuclear war but also because of their own imperialist record. But that’s not happening right now: yes, NATO countries are supplying weapons to Ukraine but at the time of writing they have not entered the war with Russia with their own armed forces. Sitting on the fence now in fear of what the U.S. might do in future, again means not supporting those currently fighting the Russian soldiers. The same question faces the good faith left person as the bad: when the Russian convoy is approaching your town, do you fight back militarily? You can’t say, “well, there’s a balance of imperial interests to consider and I’m going to be neutral until I get non-NATO weapons.” That neutrality will be finished by a Russian bullet to the head to you and anyone else you have persuaded of your position.
Moreover, those trying to dress up this recognition of the interplay of rival imperialisms as if it’s something new are missing the obvious point that throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, U.S. and Russian imperialism always backed any movement that was fighting their rival. So, when Solidarnosc rose up against the Communist Polish government in 1980-81, the CIA rushed to fund and influence the union. That didn’t stop it being a genuine mass movement which socialists of the type now adopting the Evasionist position recognized and supported.
Finally, on the legitimacy of the people of Ukraine taking advantage of inter-imperialist rivalry to obtain arms from NATO, there are very clear left precedents. For those of the Evasionist Left viewpoint who are champions of Lenin, it is worth noting Lenin’s response when France and Britain offered to give military aid to Russia to fight Germany, when he wrote: “Please add my vote in favor of taking potatoes and weapons from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers.”
He later explained:
“The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were ‘Left Bolsheviks’ to be found who contemplated writing a ‘learned work’ on the ‘dirty deal’ of these Americans.”
2. The war in Ukraine is an “inter-imperialist war.”
A second justification for not supporting the people of Ukraine fighting back against Russia is based on the idea of “revolutionary defeatism.” The tone here for Rebel in Ireland was set by an article by Kieran Allen, entitled, “James Connolly and War”:
“The parallels with World War One in 1914 are striking. Then and now it was the weaker imperial power that began a new era of global conflict. In 1914, it was Austria who made the first moves. Today it is Russia, a country with a commodity driven economy and a GDP that is one tenth that of the USA.”
Just as James Connolly concentrated on challenging the propaganda of the Irish National Party and Britain, argues Allen, so socialists today should be revolutionary defeatists and recognize the main enemy is at home. Which means Irish socialists should concentrate on furthering the class war in Ireland.
Allen doesn’t spell out what revolutionary defeatism actually means in the context of the war in Ukraine: and the reason is surely that to publicly embrace the implications of his approach would be to declare that a Putin victory is the better outcome for those in the West. Again, let’s go back to the situation where a Russian column is approaching your town. A revolutionary defeatist position means that you should never give support to “our side” in the war, even if that results in the other side obtaining military victories. That was the position of Karl Leibknecht in Germany and the Bolsheviks in Russia. They really did mean that they preferred to see their own countries defeated than support their own national elites in their war aims. And they were right. But transpose this policy to the soil of Ukraine and revolutionary defeatism can only mean a refusal to join the resistance and a refusal to support Zelensky, even if that means Russian victories.
The Evasionist Left position of condemning the Russian invasion, declaring support for the right of the people of Ukraine to fight back, yet taking a “defeatist” approach toward Ukraine means giving no practical support for the resistance to the invasion. It is quite consistent with not wanting arms to get to Ukraine. Our main enemy (they say) is at home. It is our job to stop NATO. That might feel very principled from afar, but it abandons the left in Ukraine and the population more generally to military defeat, with all that means for the massacres of civilians and the strengthening of Putin.
This is the contradictory but inevitable outcome of a flawed analysis. And the analysis is flawed for the simple reason that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is nothing like the outbreak of the First World War. Within a week of Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia in 1914, all the European imperial powers were in a full-blooded war against one another. From the Russian invasion until now, we have not witnessed the equivalent to French and British armies crashing up against the German army.
The more obvious parallel to make with James Connolly’s world is that of British rule in Ireland. For centuries Britain tried to rule Ireland directly, eradicating the Irish language and crushing Irish culture. This is a clear parallel with Russia’s history in regard to Ukraine. Just as Connolly was right to take German weapons to support an armed rising against the British empire, so the Ukrainian people are right to take weapons from wherever they can to rise against the Russian empire.
In a related feature based on the same defeatist idea, John Molyneux argues the left should not support sanctions against Russia. Sanctions, he says, are a feature of NATO’s war against Russian. They are, “an integral part of a political offensive waged by one of the imperialist blocs in this conflict—the bloc which, as internationalist socialists and opponents of all imperialism East and West, we have a particular duty to oppose because they are the bloc to which our ruling class is affiliated.”
Again, the analysis is that this war is not one of Russian imperialism attempting to crush a smaller neighboring nation but an inter-imperialist war in which the main enemy is at home. In which case, one should not call for sanctions against Russia, because Russia is not the main enemy for the Western left: NATO is. Yet let’s go back to our approaching Russian convoy once more. Are there sanctions which will help stop that convoy reaching its target town in Ukraine? Yes, plenty of them. A good example is the closure of the tank factory at Uralvogonzavod.
And another, potentially even more decisive closure arose on the basis of a fire at the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant, Russia’s only internal source for vital chemicals.
The fire at the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant threatens to leave Russia without additives needed for advanced rocket and jet fuels; treatments and solvents for servicing metal parts; core input chemicals for explosive and solvents, traces and washes needed to manufacture electronics and circuits. So long as sanctions prevent these from being delivered at scale, Russian military efforts will be seriously hampered.
Not all sanctions are appropriate, some are less concerned with assisting Ukraine than developing Western business advantages. But when the people of Ukraine call for Western sanctions focused on stopping the Russian war machine, they are right to do so, and the left should listen to them and support them. Ironically, the Evasionist Left position in fact supports sanctions against Ukraine, applauding actions such as those of workers at Pisa Airport, Italy, who refused to load weapons and explosives destined for Ukrainian forces. By hindering the military resistance in Ukraine and refusing all sanctions against Russia, the practical effect of the Evasionist Left is to align their political energies with a victory for Putin.
Can we draw any lessons for the international left?
The contradiction in the Evasionist Left position—"we condemn Russia but we don’t support arming the resistance in Ukraine”—is an unstable one. Some members put more weight on the condemnation of Russia than others. Some even state online that they would welcome a victory for Ukraine. On the whole, though, the leadership of these parties place their emphasis on why we should not support Ukraine. Hopefully, the members who want to see Ukraine survive and throw out the Russian invaders will push back their leadership on the two formulations above (that support for Ukraine is support for NATO, and that it is an inter-imperialist war,) that directly oppose support for the resistance.
There’s a lesson here for the left in how the wrong positions have been arrived at, which is that we are witnessing the consequence of a top-down approach to socialist politics rather than a bottom up. The reason I have repeatedly asked the reader to imagine the approach of a Russian column of tanks and to think through your response is that this is exactly how billions of people have thought about these issues. The majority of the world’s working class empathize with the people of Ukraine, who before Putin’s invasion were bringing their kids to school, going to work, planning their weekly shop, collecting the kids, going to the playground, chatting with friends. They were exactly like us and then the hell of war descended on them from Russia.
The left can influence this public feeling of solidarity for Ukraine by making points about Western hypocrisy on refusing to cancel Ukraine’s debt, on refugees, on Palestine, and yes, on the imperialist role of NATO. But the best way to do that is to amplify the voices of Ukrainian socialists and anarchists who are putting their lives in the front lines against Putin’s army. This “bottom up” approach listens to the people of Ukraine and if you are on the left, to the voices of anarchists and socialists.[i]
The Evasionist Left model is a top down one, where the leadership derive their positions based on past experience and their reading of canonical Marxists texts, then the party apparatus delivers the position to the members. This means blunders are inevitable.
The Evasionist Left are in the process of making a serious mistake now and one where the equivocation of condemning Putin while not supporting the military resistance of the Ukrainian people cannot be sustained. There can be no hiding from the question of what to do when the Russian soldiers are coming. And if you are a member of one of these parties or organizations who thinks the Ukrainian people are right to fight back, then you have your own battle to avoid your party coming out of this war with a lasting reputation for having adopted a position whose practical consequence was to disarm those facing the Russian invasion.
[i] “War Diary of a Belarusian Anarchist Fighting in Ukraine [Part 1]”
“The Left in the West must rethink” — a conversation with Taras Bilous
By Argiris Malapanis and Mark Satinoff, May 3, 2022https://world-outlook.com/2022/05/03/we-lost-this-battle-but-well-win-the-war/
BROOKLYN, New York, May 2, 2022 — “We lost this battle, but we’ll win the war,” Michael Aguilar told fellow Amazon Labor Union (ALU) members, union supporters, and the media this grey, rainy afternoon. An Amazon worker at LDJ5, the company’s sorting facility in Staten Island, New York, Aguilar spoke to those gathered outside the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) office here today. The labor board had just announced the ALU lost the union representation election at LDJ5.
The final tally was 380 votes for to 618 against the union, with 2 voided ballots. Of the 1,633 workers eligible to vote, 1,000 cast ballots. This means 38% of the LDJ5 workers backed the ALU, compared to 55% at JFK8.
The LDJ5 election started three weeks after the ALU won a landmark vote at JFK8, Amazon’s fulfillment center next door employing 8,000 workers.
“The reality is we were so busy campaigning at JFK8, we lost a lot of ground at LDJ5 with the campaigns going on at the same time,” ALU vice president of membership Connor Spence told the media after the NLRB announcement.
“But also having lost JFK8, Amazon doubled the amount of union busting resources they were using at LDJ5. They broke the law twice as much, and we have numerous unfair labor practice charges that we’re in the process of filing,” Spence continued. “Regardless of the outcome… we’re going to build a union at LDJ5. Workers at LDJ5 will have just as much a part of building the ALU as JFK8 workers, despite the fact they’re not yet represented by the ALU. It was always going to be an uphill battle, but we’re just going to make the most of it from here. We’re all disappointed by the outcome, but we’re still optimistic about the movement going forward.”
The ALU’s successful effort to unionize JFK8 lasted 11 months. In contrast, ALU organizers had a little over three weeks between the news on April 1 of the ALU victory in the giant fulfillment center and the beginning of the voting at the smaller sorting facility across the street. In fact, “Amazon wanted to have it the next week, we had to fight to even get the three weeks,” ALU president Chris Smalls explained.
To maximize the chances of a victory at JFK8, the ALU had pulled all experienced organizers, including those working at LDJ5, into its first battle. Julian “Mitch” Mitchell-Israel, for example, the union’s field director who works at LDJ5, took a month off work to help the ALU’s campaign at JFK8. That weakened the effort to counter Amazon’s misinformation at his worksite.
“Amazon took all the resources they had at JFK8 and pushed them over to a building 1/7 of the size,” Mitchell-Israel told the press. “They were more willing to have intense union busting activity everywhere in the building. They were willing to break the law. And at the end of the day, we did everything we could to fight it. But while we were focusing so heavily to win JFK8, because it was the only thing on our minds for so long, they were able to plant a really deep anti-union seed into some of the workers here that three weeks was just not enough time to overcome. But as Connor said, this is a very small battle and a very large war, so if Jeff Bezos thinks he has won, he’s wrong. If Jeff Bezos thinks we’re not going to come back and win LDJ5 later, he’s wrong.”
Different set of challenges at LDJ5
The ALU faced a different set of challenges to convince workers at LDJ5 to vote in favor of the union than JFK8. LDJ5 has only been open since late 2020, and for most employees — up to 80% — the position is a part-time job and a second source of income. Organizers said both factors mean a larger percentage of workers had fewer grievances or were more vulnerable to the company’s anti-union propaganda. By comparison, JFK8 has been open since 2018 with a majority of workers working full time.
“Part-time workers may have a second full-time job, and their work at Amazon may be supplementary,” Mat Cusick said in an interview. Cusick, an ALU organizer at DYY6, a delivery station at Amazon’s Staten Island complex, works a part-time shift himself. “These are generally younger workers who may still be living at home, so they don’t have the same sort of commitment to a job.” There are also part-time workers who would like to be full-time, he noted, adding that it’s among these workers the ALU did find support at LDJ5. “But Amazon is building its model this way and bringing new part-time workers instead of turning part-time workers into full-time,” Cusick explained.
Between March 7, when the NLRB certified the ALU had collected enough signatures for a representation election at LDJ5, and April 25, when voting started, most ALU organizers who shouldered the day-day responsibility for countering Amazon’s relentless union-busting activities on the job at LDJ5 were relatively inexperienced.
“JFK8 organizers are Amazon workers that have been there for several years,” Smalls explained. “Organizers at LDJ5 have only been there for seven months… We talk about years of experience at Amazon compared to organizers that just had to get hired and learn the ins and out of the company and try to convince their coworkers. It’s a little difficult to do that.”
At LDJ5, Amazon doubled down on its anti-union campaign, disciplining and spreading smears of alleged corruption and other lies about union organizers. It forced workers to remove union banners and union literature from the break room, and at times shut down production to hold mandatory “captive audience” gatherings. During these anti-union meetings, Amazon workers were no longer invited to ask questions as they had been at such meetings at JFK8. This is likely because at JFK8 organizers succeeded in using such meetings to grill union-busting consultants.
How ALU neutralized union busters at JFK8
In an April 4 interview with the Huffington Post, Spence explained that Amazon ran a two-pronged campaign against the fledgling union at JFK8 — one “above ground” and the other “below ground.” The above-ground campaign consisted of the “captive audience” meetings where someone — often an Amazon manager — delivered scripted speeches and slideshows aimed at undermining support for the union.
The below-ground campaign belonged primarily to the consultants. Paid a typical rate of $3,200 a day apiece, these union busters worked the warehouse floor, pulling workers aside for one-on-one conversations. They stood out in their white-collar clothes and were usually white or Latino. Those who are bilingual focused on Spanish-speaking workers. Some said they were flying back and forth between New York and Bessemer, Alabama, where they were also trying to undermine a separate union campaign at the Amazon facility there led by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). (The RWDSU trailed slightly in that vote when results were announced on March 31. But 400 ballots challenged by either the company or the union can tip the balance, with the outcome to be settled in an upcoming NLRB hearing.)
“Their job is to operate in the shadows,” Spence said, referring to the union busters. “When you expose them for what they are, it makes it very difficult for them to do their job.” Some were nice. Some weren’t. Whatever their disposition, their goal was to turn workers against the union, he noted, and at JFK8 the union had more success exposing this.
Spence and his friends gathered whatever information they could. Consultants who have direct contact with workers in an organizing campaign have to report their fees to the Labor Department. Although these documents only shed light on past work, Spence and his friends were able to compile unflattering dossiers, to show workers that the consultants get rich “convincing poor people to stay poor.”
ALU organizers then created flyers identifying the most prolific union busters in the warehouse, listing where they’re based, typically far away, and how much money they had earned in anti-union campaigns. Union organizers put stacks of these flyers in break rooms throughout the facility to alert fellow workers to how much Amazon was spending on its anti-union campaign.
These paid union busters sometimes went out of their way to conceal their names on their badges. Spence said he urged union supporters to try to figure them out through chit-chat. When one consultant named David, for example, refused to divulge his last name, Spence found it on a warehouse list of third-party vendors: David Acosta. The union Twitter account then sent out a “union-busting alert” on Acosta, with his photo and disclosure forms listing his fees.
Spence said he would follow these union busters around JFK8, handing workers copies of the consultants’ Labor Department filings, showing their $400-per-hour fees.
“Their eyes would get really wide,” Spence said, referring to the workers. “ ‘What the fuck? How do they get this job?’ That was probably the best way to discredit them.”
Union organizers have evidence some of these consultants broke labor law by making threats or interrogating workers on their union sympathies, which is illegal. They started filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.
A culture of boldness proved crucial at JFK8. “We were able to get lots of workers to do affidavits,” Spence said. “A major component of our campaign was being brave and not capitulating to fear.”
As support for the ALU grew in JFK8, more workers put their names to these charges — something workers are often afraid to do for fear of retaliation. According to Spence, the more aggressive union busters started moderating their behavior as the unfair labor practice charges piled up, talking less directly about the union and more about working at Amazon.
Amazon learned from the experience at JFK8 and shifted tactics on the kind of union busters it deployed across the street, Cusick said. Most of the union busters the company used at LDJ5 were Amazon managers brought from other facilities across the country, rather than outside consultants, making it harder to discredit them as the ALU did successfully at JFK8.
‘The union will keep on pushing’
Acknowledging the loss at LDJ5, ALU vice president of organizing Derrick Palmer said the union would keep on pushing. “It’s going to continue to advocate for the workers, making sure that their voices are heard,” he told the press outside the NLRB office today. “There’s no way we’re going to stop or let this bring us down. It’s going to do the complete opposite. We’re going to go 10 times harder.”
Meanwhile, the ALU’s victory at JFK8 is still awaiting certification.
Amazon has filed 25 objections to the results at JFK8. In addition to challenging the union’s tactics, claiming ALU organizers “coerced” fellow workers into voting for the union, Amazon also claimed that the regional office of the labor board based in Brooklyn acted in a biased way against it.
According to ALU attorney Eric Milner, once Amazon questioned the independence of the labor board officials, “they really had no choice but to transfer the case out of the region so that a different region could evaluate Amazon’s conduct.” The case has been transferred to the NLRB’s Phoenix-based region.
Milner also said the ALU has solid evidence of multiple labor law violations Amazon committed during the LDJ5 election. The union has a week to decide whether to file with the NLRB objections to the company’s conduct in this vote. If the ALU were to forgo filing such a challenge, and the labor board certifies the announced LDJ5 vote, the union would have to wait 12 months before filing a new petition for another representation election.
When asked by a reporter what the union was fighting for, Smalls stated, “Job security, higher wages, better medical leave options, longer breaks, a pension, and free college.”
Amazon workers at about 150 facilities across the country have expressed interest in learning the lessons the ALU has drawn from its experiences in New York and applying them at their worksites because they are fighting for the same goals, Smalls said.
“Nothing’s changed,” said Smalls. “We’re still going ahead with our national call.” This is a nationwide organizing conference call the ALU has scheduled for June.
After a long and hard fight, Smalls said the ALU will take a breather to assess its next steps, and then “we’ll get right back into the fight. We’ll get back up and wipe off our shoulders. This is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s going to be wins and losses, but we’re going to live to fight another day. I’m a fighter. I’m not going anywhere. My team are fighters. They’re not going anywhere. We’re gonna hold our heads up high and continue to push forward.”
The former C.I.A. contract psychologist described both approved and unapproved interrogation techniques that he observed and carried out in the black sites.
By Carol Rosenberg, May 3, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/03/us/politics/uss-cole-waterboarding-torture.html
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — The psychologist who for the C.I.A. waterboarded a prisoner accused of plotting the U.S.S. Cole bombing testified this week that the Saudi man broke quickly and became so compliant that he would crawl into a cramped crate even before guards ordered him inside.
The psychologist, James E. Mitchell, also told a military judge that the prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was so scrawny that Dr. Mitchell and his interrogation partner, John Bruce Jessen, stopped waterboarding him after the third session at a secret site in Thailand in 2002 because they feared he might be hurt.
In that instance, they put him in a neck brace and strapped him to a gurney that served as the board. But when they tilted the board up to let him breathe after a “40-second pour,” the 5-foot-5, 120-pound prisoner nearly slid out of the straps to the floor, Dr. Mitchell said.
“He was snorting and blowing water out of his nose,” Dr. Mitchell testified. A former career military psychologist who said he learned the techniques at an Air Force survival school, Dr. Mitchell said the waterboarding episodes were so long ago that he could not recall whether the prisoner actually cried.
Defense lawyers for Mr. Nashiri questioned Dr. Mitchell on Monday and Tuesday about what went on for several weeks in the black site in November 2002. His testimony was meant to offer an account of what may have been on videotapes that senior C.I.A. leaders destroyed at a time when the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating the black site activities.
Mr. Nashiri, who was captured in Dubai in 2002, is accused of being the mastermind of the Qaeda suicide bombing of the Cole off Yemen in 2000, an attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors. His case is still in pretrial proceedings, and his lawyers have been calling witnesses in a long-running effort to exclude government evidence from his eventual death penalty trial. They argue that some of the case’s evidence is contaminated by torture or other U.S. misbehavior.
No rulings are expected soon on any of the key issues. In his testimony, Dr. Mitchell described his treatment of the defendant — to condition him to answer questions in interrogation — as having been strictly monitored by C.I.A. doctors and authorized by Justice Department lawyers.
Discussing the confinement box where the psychologists kept some prisoners, Dr. Mitchell said he and Dr. Jessen built it with the assistance of C.I.A. personnel to duplicate one that had been used to train certain Air Force personnel to survive capture and interrogation by the enemy.
At first, guards had to order the Saudi prisoner into the box, but in time, the prisoner “liked being in the box,” Dr. Mitchell said. “He’d get in and close it himself.”
Mr. Nashiri was absent from the hearing, voluntarily, and therefore did not hear the descriptions of his being held in a crude cell, nude and under bright lights — with the box kept there as well. Nor did he see a replica of the box that his Pentagon-paid defense team had built based on specifications cited in a Senate study of the C.I.A. black site program.
“When I heard him talk, I got the image of crate-training a dog and became nauseous,” said Annie W. Morgan, a former Air Force defense lawyer who serves on Mr. Nashiri’s legal team. “That was the goal of the program: to create a sense of learned helplessness and to become completely dependent upon and submissive to his captors.”
Dr. Mitchell also described some of the abuse Mr. Nashiri endured later in 2002 after the psychologist delivered the detainee to Afghanistan and the custody of the C.I.A.’s chief interrogator at the next black site. For Mr. Nashiri, it was the fourth stop on what would become a four-year odyssey of C.I.A. detention through 10 secret overseas sites.
The episodes Dr. Mitchell described included:
A member of an interrogation team used a belt to strap Mr. Nashiri’s arms behind his back and lift him up from behind to “his tiptoes,” Dr. Mitchell said. The prisoner howled, and Dr. Mitchell said he protested, fearing Mr. Nashiri’s shoulders would be dislocated. The treatment continued.
Guards forced a shackled Mr. Nashiri onto his knees then bent him backward, with a broomstick placed behind the prisoner’s knees.
The chief interrogator, ostensibly seeking to train Mr. Nashiri to address him as “sir,” used a stiff bristle brush to give Mr. Nashiri a cold-water bath, then scraped the brush from the prisoner’s anus to his face and mouth.
Dr. Mitchell said he learned only in recent days — from case prosecutors — that Mr. Nashiri had been subjected to “rectal feeding,” a procedure he said was mostly handled by C.I.A. doctors for medical reasons, except when the chief interrogator in Afghanistan chose to use it.
The Senate intelligence report on the program, which was made public in 2014, disclosed the practice of having agency medical staff insert a tube into the rectum of a C.I.A. prisoner who refused to eat or drink and then infusing liquid or puréed food into the detainee. Prisoners and their lawyers have described the procedure as rape. Majid Khan, a Qaeda courier, told a court last year that, when he was forced to undergo the procedure, the C.I.A. used “green garden hoses.”
Dr. Mitchell also briefly mentioned learning of the chief interrogator questioning Mr. Nashiri with a power drill and a gun in the period after he was waterboarded. Dr. Mitchell said he did not witness the conduct but reported it to C.I.A. headquarters, which had the inspector general investigate and disclose the misbehavior.
Dr. Mitchell described the cruel treatment as unnecessary and unapproved. After Mr. Nashiri was waterboarded and subjected to other “physical coercion,” including being slammed against a wall and held in the confinement box, he began answering questions about imminent attacks, Dr. Mitchell said.
Dr. Mitchell testified that he would visit black sites where Mr. Nashiri was being held across his four years of C.I.A. custody — including a secret site where he was held at Guantánamo Bay in 2003 and 2004 — to reinforce the prisoner’s cooperation with those questioning him. He would remind Mr. Nashiri, he said, that he did not want to return to “the hard times,” an allusion to the era of “enhanced interrogation.”
By Lindsay Owens, May 5, 2022
Ms. Owens is the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative.
Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times
Last fall, as container ships piled up outside the Port of Los Angeles, it looked as if inflation was going to be with us for longer than many had predicted. Curious how C.E.O.s were justifying higher prices, my team and I started listening in on hundreds of earnings calls, where, by law, companies have to tell the truth. While official statistics on inflation such as the Consumer Price Index can tell you that prices are rising, earnings calls provide rich, qualitative data that speak to why and how.
Executives from the nation’s largest publicly traded companies had a lot to report to their shareholders about supply chain snarls, product shortages and rising prices — mostly that they were very good for business. What was striking in the earnings calls was not the supply chain shortages or companies’ typical profit motives; it was the plain old corporate profiteering. The Economics 101 adage that “inflation is just too much money chasing too few goods” doesn’t come close to the full story. This raises the question: When companies are exploiting consumers in a time of national crisis, when should government step in?
Companies that historically might have kept prices low to pick up profit by gaining additional market share are instead using the cover of inflation to raise prices and increase profits. Consumers are now expecting higher prices at the checkout line, and companies are taking advantage. The poor and those on fixed incomes are hit the hardest.
As Hostess’s C.E.O. told shareholders last quarter, “When all prices go up, it helps.” The head of research for the bank Barclay’s echoed this. “The longer inflation lasts and the more widespread it is, the more air cover it gives companies to raise prices,” he told Bloomberg. More than half of retailers admitted as much when surveyed.
Executives on their earnings calls crowed to investors about their blockbuster quarterly profits. One credited his company’s “successful pricing strategies.” Another patted his team on the back for a “marvelous job in driving price.” These executives weren’t just passing along their rising costs; they were going for more. Or as one C.F.O. put it, they were “not leaving any pricing on the table.”
The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, said that sometimes businesses are raising prices just “because they can.” He’s right. Companies have pricing power when consumers don’t have choice. Sometimes this is because demand for consumer staples like toilet paper, toothpaste and hamburger meat is relatively inelastic. If you need a box of diapers, you need a box of diapers. Other times pricing power comes from concentrated market power. In industries like meatpacking and shipping — in which giants have over 80 percent of market share at times — it’s easier to take big markups when there aren’t major competitors to undercut you.
What we learned on these earnings calls was quickly reflected in data. Despite the rising costs of labor, energy and materials, profit margins reached 70-year highs in 2021. And according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, fatter profit margins, not the rising costs of labor and materials, drove more than half of price increases in the nonfinancial corporate sector since the start of the Covid pandemic.
Despite clear evidence that a majority of price increases are not justified by rising costs, there is a fierce debate in Washington about what, if anything, policymakers should do to address it. This debate primarily stems not from questions about the cause of price increases but from differing viewpoints on whether policymakers should play a role in ensuring fair and just prices.
Most economists believe that markets are efficient allocators of scarcity and that governments should have little, if any, role in guarding against unfair pricing. They argue that price hikes will help cool demand and alleviate scarcity by efficiently rationing goods by consumers’ ability to pay. If sellers take price hikes too far, customers will just go to a competitor across the street. But what if there are no competitors? Not to worry: Truly exorbitant markups will all but guarantee new businesses entering the market. Many economists even argue that publicly traded companies have an obligation to shareholders to bring in as much profit as possible. If they see any interventionist role of government, it is in suppressing demand through interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, a blunt policy tool with a high likelihood of throwing the country into a recession.
On the other side of the debate are a majority of Americans, including me, who look at the economy and see businesses exploiting supply chain bottlenecks, foreign war and a pandemic to bring in record profits on the backs of consumers. We don’t dispute that the system is working well for Fortune 500 companies and Wall Street investors, but we want lawmakers to stop the profiteering that has gone too far.
Although economists may not like to admit it, prices are not immune from political considerations. In fact, 38 states and the District of Columbia already limit price increases on certain goods through price-gouging statutes designed to prevent companies from capitalizing on abnormal disruptions, like pandemics and hurricanes, that lend themselves to scarcity and price gouging. In other words, the bulk of state legislatures have decided that although shareholders might like to see bottled water sold for $100 a gallon and gas for $5 after a hurricane, that is neither fair nor in the public interest.
Lawmakers must do even more. They should pursue a federal price-gouging statute to give regulators the authority to stop companies from exploiting crises to wring out more profit. Last week, Democrats in Congress announced plans to do just that. They could go further to discourage profiteering through the tax code — whether by increasing the corporate tax rate or by imposing excess-profits taxes like those proposed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Bernie Sanders. This is not new; the government took similar action during times like World War II and as recently as 1980 for oil and gas. Regulators, even without new legislation, should start by enforcing existing laws, including ones against price fixing, price gouging and collusion.
The supply shocks we are experiencing are just a dress rehearsal for those to come. Climate change will bring increasingly severe and frequent disasters that wipe out crops, flood manufacturing plants and disrupt trade routes. The White House Council of Economic Advisers admitted as much in its latest annual Economic Report of the President. More scarcity will undoubtedly bring more opportunities for profiteering, and policymakers need to close their introductory economics textbooks and actually look at the economy. The question we should be asking is not whether companies will exploit those disruptions — we know they will — but what we can do to stop it, or else companies will just make the rest of us pay the price.
By John J. Lennon, May 5, 2022
Mr. Lennon, a contributing editor for Esquire, has been incarcerated since 2002.https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/05/opinion/prison-reform-biden-pell-grant.html
FALLSBURG, N.Y. — In 2017, I was sitting in on a Columbia University course at Sing Sing. I heard that Elias Alcantara, a former White House aide in the Obama administration, was supposed to talk to the class, and I had a question.
Mr. Alcantara, who was then a senior fellow at the Center for Justice at Columbia, was 31. He told us his story: how he was born and raised in the Bronx, navigated the neighborhood, made it to college, then went to the White House. I imagined it was inspiring for some of my peers who looked like him, a first-generation American with parents from the Dominican Republic, to picture Mr. Alcantara, as I was, working alongside President Barack Obama. He fielded a few light questions. Then I asked mine: Why in eight years couldn’t President Obama get meaningful criminal justice reform passed?
“President Obama was proud of the progress the administration made on criminal justice reform,” Mr. Alcantara told me. “That said, one of his biggest regrets may have been not seeing a criminal justice reform bill passed in Congress during his time in office.”
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, which amended federal sentencing guidelines and provided federal prisoners with avenues to petition the court and ask for reduced sentences. In late 2020, before he left office, Mr. Trump signed an omnibus Covid relief bill. In it was a provision that lifted the 26-year-old ban on federal college aid, called Pell Grants, for incarcerated students at both federal and state facilities. After decades of being blocked, incarcerated people will be able to obtain federal funds to go to college.
The ban on federal college aid to prisoners was put in place in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also called the Clinton Crime Bill, which was co-authored by Joe Biden when he was a senator. President Biden has since said his support for the bill was a mistake. He has a chance to make it right.
If Jared Kushner, the privileged and powerful man married to Ivanka Trump, hadn’t had the humiliating experience of visiting his father in prison and hearing the man he idolized describe the awfulness of it all, I doubt we would have the First Step Act. What affected Mr. Kushner personally compelled him to persuade Mr. Trump that prison reform would benefit the president politically. By the end of his four-year term, Mr. Trump had signed more criminal justice reform legislation than any other president in the past generation (though his signatures didn’t tell the full story of his administration’s policies, which walked back some previous reforms). It is time for President Biden to back a bill that helps both incarcerated people and corrections workers — because our fates are inextricably linked.
I’m no fan of Mr. Trump. But I won’t diminish the significance of his signature. After 2023, when Pell Grant access goes into effect, prison education programs will become available to students across the country, maybe even surpassing the number that operated in the early 1990s, when 770 college programs were in 1,300 facilities nationwide. Access to college courses can be life-changing. Research has shown that education reduces recidivism. But education in prison can mean more than just that. Education programs also raise a big question: To what end do we educate ourselves? After I wrote an Op-Ed in 2015, faculty members for the Bard Prison Initiative responded in a letter to the editor, saying, “Prison education repurposes a captive space for the recovery of an ideal.” I agree.
On top of the Pell Grant ban, the 1994 crime bill’s “truth in sentencing” policies offered states billions of dollars to build new prisons. More than half of the states accepted the deal, including New York. The funding required that states agreed to amend their sentencing laws to keep violent offenders in prison for 85 percent of their sentence. In “Locked In,” John Pfaff, a Fordham University law professor, argued that high rates of admissions into prison on the front end, not “truth in sentencing” policies that kept people in for longer sentences on the back end, drove mass incarceration.
What Mr. Pfaff can’t speak to, but I can, is the overall toxic sentiment in the cell blocks when there are no incentives for those of us who committed violent crimes to do better or want better for ourselves. It brings to mind the James Baldwin quote taped to my cell wall: “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
I propose that President Biden consider what I’m calling a “hope and healing” bill. It would build on the benefits of education to offer more federal funding so that prisoners with mental health problems would be treated more humanely. It would also provide more vacation days for corrections officers and offer them resources to treat PTSD. They have a hard job, and it’s harder for them to treat us well if they are unwell themselves.
While writing this essay I was reading a white paper on the well-being of corrections officers titled “I Am Not Okay.” On top of elevated PTSD and suicides, C.O.s have high rates of depression, divorce and heart disease. We should not expect unwell and untrained people to treat people with serious mental illness or special needs, or to spot anxiety. According to the white paper, “officers either learn to leave compassion and empathy at the time clock or, like many other new recruits, they quit.”
States shouldn’t automatically get this funding. To be eligible to receive it, they should agree to enact “second look” legislation that affords every prisoner an opportunity to petition the court, after 15 years, for a sentence reduction. Or they can qualify by enacting other sentencing reform bills that shave off time for good behavior or send prisoners to a parole board. This federal “hope and healing” policy, which attempts to balance out the harm of “truth in sentencing,” would entice states to pass reform bills that are already written and languishing. New York has a couple now that are ready to be signed. With the possibility of getting a reduced sentence, many will behave better and participate in more positive programming.
I first heard about the “second look” review in an Op-Ed by a federal district judge who expressed regret for sentencing an enforcer for a drug gang to an 18-year sentence. It made me curious about whether my judge ever wondered what had become of me. In 2004, the judge who sentenced me to 28 years to life looked at me as if I was such a loser who’d squandered opportunities. I was. And I did. I never imagined I’d build my journalism career from a cell, but I sure wish I could tout my résumé in front of a judge today. This policy may give judges hope, too, for seemingly hopeless defendants who come before them.
When the federal funds dried up and colleges left in the mid-1990s, the hope did, too. When uneducated prisoners got out, they often came back. By the early 2000s, when I started my stint in state prison with a ninth-grade education, few college programs were left. (Others, like the privately funded Columbia courses offered in Sing Sing, came later.) We became a lost generation in American prisons. We were hardly jolly and drinking and traveling, though. By 2011, I got my high school equivalency diploma and joined the pilot college program in Attica, hosted by Genesee Community College, which was funded by the philanthropist Doris Buffett.
President Obama did make some progress toward increasing access to education in prisons. In 2015, the Department of Education took the first step toward the reinstatement of Pell Grants with an experimental program called Second Chance Pell. (An expansion of that program, which will enable thousands of prisoners at state and federal institutions to enroll in education and training programs, was announced last month.) College programs slowly started to pop up in prisons again. In 2019, a report from the Vera Institute found that Pell Grant reinstatement would enable hundreds of thousands of academically eligible prisoners to pay for higher education; it would lower recidivism rates and save states a combined $365.8 million per year. Last month, New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated people was restored. Access to education will change prisoners’ lives. But it should be paired with reforms to sentencing requirements, too.
When long passages of time in prison allow you to get away from the old you — earn degrees, gain emotional intelligence — there’s a new kind of harrowing hopelessness that sets in. You realize you’re ready to go, but you’re unable to leave. Even though some governors, like Kathy Hochul of New York, have pledged to make changes to the executive clemency process, we still need more realistic sentencing reforms happening in laws and the courts, too — reforms that give more people a shot at getting out one day.
A few cells down from me is Franklin McPherson, 35, who is the president of the Lifers and Long-Termers Organization at Sullivan Correctional Facility. Mr. McPherson is N.C.A.A.-basketball tall. At 20, he wasn’t a criminal, but he did feel lost. One night in 2007, he drove drunk and killed a man in a head-on collision on a Long Island road. When he woke up in a hospital jail wing, paralyzed and with face burns from the airbag explosion, he couldn’t remember what he’d done. He received 25 years to life for depraved-indifference murder. In prison, he not only rehabilitated his body, learning to walk again, but also educated his mind, earning a bachelor’s degree with honors from St. Thomas Aquinas College. The college program at Sullivan is sponsored by Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, a nonprofit run largely by formerly imprisoned people.
“I took a life, so I deserved to be here,” Mr. McPherson told me. “But at a certain point it’s overkill — I can’t get anything else from corrections. I feel like I was kept alive for a reason, so I know I needed to change my life. But there was never an incentive to do it.” When I shared my reform ideas with Mr. McPherson, he said he wished he could petition the court and show the judge how he’d changed. “We all deserve a second chance,” he said.
Still, not everyone in prison has the interest or intellectual capacity to go to college or learn a vocation in a technical trade school. Prisons should provide resources and support for inmates, including those with disabilities, who might be on different paths. My neighbor here is James Lorman, 34, a heavyset, tall fellow with short cropped hair, who has a bad habit of appearing in front of my bars with headphones on and yelling, “Hey, what’s up, John!” He has Landau-Kleffner syndrome, or LKS, which affects his speech and social skills.
Recently, he was issued a misbehavior report after being accused of saying something inappropriate to a female corrections officer (Mr. Lorman said he didn’t do it). Days later, I heard a male C.O. yell out, so everyone in the cell block could hear, that Mr. Lorman has a sex crime. The C.O. told him to write 100 times that he will never again disrespect a female staff member. Mr. Lorman can’t read or write. He did better when he was on psych meds, he tells me, but they stopped giving them to him. “I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t adapt too good in the general population,” he told me. He said he hopes he can be transferred to a specialized unit that provides mental health services at another state prison soon.
In addition to investment in education, states desperately need funding to address the mental health crisis in prisons. In 1955, when this country had about half the 330 million people it has today, we had a half million beds on state-run psych wards; in 2016 we had about 38,000. In 2006, a Department of Justice report said 24 percent of people in jail and 15 percent of those in state prisons reported symptoms that met the criteria for a psychotic disorder. And as a nation, we treat 10 of every 11 psychiatric patients housed by the government behind bars.
Prison is just about the worst place to suffer from serious anxiety. The other day I had to give a urine sample as a C.O. watched. I knew in advance that I had to give the sample, and I drank so much water my vision was fuzzy. Every time I felt I had to go, heat swarmed my chest and my heart bounced. After all these years, I’d developed anxiety. The C.O. looked annoyed, but also sad, like he had his own problems. A provision for “shy bladder” allows for you to be alone — but it’s nearly impossible to get the administration to approve it. Others with more serious issues are worse off. But it affects so many of us.
President Biden has been in office for only 16 months, so it’s unfair to compare records. But in spite of all the competing demands before him, he should want this reform, too — not because he was responsible for a lost generation of prisoners, and not because Mr. Obama regrets that he couldn’t get reforms passed. And he shouldn’t just do it to outdo Mr. Trump.
He should want this because it’s the right thing to do.
Shawn Williams, falsely accused of a 1993 murder in Brooklyn, won the largest settlement so far thanks to the alleged misconduct of a once-renowned homicide detective.
By Troy Closson, May 5, 2022
Shawn Williams, who was freed in 2018, joins a series of people released from prison after scrutiny of a detective’s record. Credit...Holly Pickett for The New York Times
Shawn Williams was only 19 when his life was upended.
He was accused of killing a man in Brooklyn in 1993, and, though no forensic evidence ever connected him to the murder, one woman’s testimony that she spotted him at the scene with a gun landed him in prison for 24 years.
The teenager steadfastly maintained his innocence as he watched the milestones of early adulthood pass behind bars. Then, several years ago, the supposed witness recanted, saying that Louis N. Scarcella, a prolific and once-renowned homicide detective, coerced her into naming Mr. Williams. The prisoner was eventually released.
Now, city officials will pay Mr. Williams $10.5 million to settle a federal civil rights suit against the former detective and two other officers. The award is believed to be the largest so far in the series of wrongful conviction cases spurred by the conduct of Mr. Scarcella, whose record has collapsed as similar accusations have mounted.
“No amount of money can give me back the years they took from me,” Mr. Williams, who is now 47, said in a statement Wednesday. “But I am going to keep rebuilding my life and looking ahead to a brighter future.”
The case exemplifies police abuses that have garnered attention in recent years as the city and the nation rethink the ethics and practices of law enforcement. Mr. Williams’s conviction was thrown out in 2018 amid a series of other exonerations in New York and across the country — many involving police or prosecutorial misconduct in cases from the 1980s and 1990s, an era marked by the crack epidemic in which murders and drug violence soared.
As officials once again face public and political pressure to ease gun violence and anxieties over crime, some residents fear that dubious practices could resurge — and that misconduct may grow increasingly common.
Mr. Scarcella, a flashy and swaggering detective, handled some of Brooklyn’s most notorious crimes in a unit that handled more than 500 homicides a year. His reputation began to collapse after one of his most celebrated investigations — into the murder of a Hasidic rabbi in Williamsburg — unraveled in 2013 and defense lawyers accused him of framing a suspect.
Since then, more than a dozen convictions he helped secure have been thrown out, and the city has paid tens of millions of dollars to settle civil suits over his cases with several still unresolved.
Mr. Scarcella, who retired from the Police Department in 1999, has repeatedly said that he stands by his work and did nothing wrong. Richard Signorelli, a lawyer who represents him, said Wednesday that Mr. Scarcella “categorically denies” all accusations of misconduct in Mr. Williams’s case, and stressed that the settlement did not represent an admission.
“He did nothing wrong,” Mr. Signorelli said, noting that a claim against the state that Mr. Williams filed under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act was dismissed this year. A judge ruled he did not meet “his heavy burden of proving his actual innocence.”
After the July 1993 shooting, Mr. Scarcella and his partner, Stephen W. Chmil, visited the supposed witness in her home across the street from the scene, displaying Mr. Williams’s picture in an array. She did not initially identify him, but during a later visit, told the detectives she had seen him with a gun at his waist on the night of the murder, lawyers for Mr. Williams wrote in their complaint against the city.
The detectives told the witness “they might turn to her son as a suspect if she did not provide them with one,” the court filing said.
The lawyers also wrote that the witness later left New York for Georgia “in part because she did not want to continue to participate” in a wrongful prosecution. But prosecutors obtained an order from a judge requiring her testimony. She was arrested and taken to New York “against her will” to testify, which Mr. Williams’s trial lawyers had not known, the complaint said.
Mr. Williams has said that he was in southern Pennsylvania at the time of the killing, and records place him there in the days before and after, the filing said.
Still, he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
“Shawn has been through the fire for nearly 30 years,” said David B. Shanies, a civil rights lawyer who represented Mr. Williams with Samuel P. Hershey, another New York-based lawyer. “It’s satisfying to see him come out the other side with his name cleared and some reparation for his ordeal.”
After Mr. Scarcella’s Williamsburg case fell apart, Brooklyn prosecutors launched an expansive probe into his record. More than 70 cases have now fallen under scrutiny, with several inquiries continuing.
The Williams settlement adds to the city’s long line of payouts in recent years over the detective’s work. Robert Hill, falsely accused of shooting a man in Crown Heights in 1987, received $7.15 million in 2015. His half-brother, Alvena Jennette, was also wrongly convicted — accused of killing a man for money in a separate case — and awarded $6 million, a similar amount to agreements in other suits.
In those cases and several others, prosecutors found that Mr. Scarcella had repeatedly relied on the same woman as a witness, even as her testimony often conflicted with others’.
Mr. Chmil has gained less notoriety than his partner and his cases were not separately reviewed by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. But he was named in Mr. Williams’s suit, and has been accused of similar dishonest behavior across his casework. He has denied wrongdoing, and Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, which has represented him, said that “settling this civil case was in the best interest of all parties.”
In the Rio Grande Valley, women seeking abortions navigate the complex challenges of religion, culture and a new Texas law.
By Edgar Sandoval, May 4, 2022
Dr. Blair Cushing reviewed a patient’s chart at Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, Texas. Credit...Callaghan O’Hare for The New York Times
McALLEN, Texas — The colorful murals outside the storefront clinic a few miles from the Mexican border celebrated “dignity, empowerment, compassion, justice.” Inside, there was a reminder posted on the wall for anyone who had begun to doubt it: “Abortion Is Legal in Texas!”
A 28-year-old woman peered anxiously at the sign and gently caressed a necklace with an image of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and hopeless situations.
Her situation indeed felt difficult: three young children at home, a husband in prison, an unfinished college education. Another baby, she told herself, would send her struggling family straight over the edge. “I never thought I would be here,” said the woman, who before coming in had driven past a few anti-abortion protesters demonstrating outside and had to stop her car to throw up. “It took me a lot to be here today. I have not been able to sleep for a week, running this day over and over in my head. I just know I can’t have this baby.”
The reminder that some early-term abortions remain legal in Texas comes as the state’s remaining clinics navigate a recent law that threatens punitive lawsuits for anyone aiding abortions beyond about six weeks of pregnancy. A draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that was leaked to reporters this week threatens to trigger an even more far-reaching law — passed by Texas lawmakers last year in anticipation of a day Roe v. Wade is overturned — that would subject abortion providers to potential sentences of life in prison or $100,000 fines.
Clinics like Whole Woman’s Health, the only abortion facility serving a population of a million people in the Rio Grande Valley, have been filled in recent weeks with women like the 28-year-old who are urgently trying to reconstruct their menstrual timetables and undergo ultrasound examinations to make sure they fall inside the six-week window.
By and large, the women at this clinic, located in the heavily Latino city of McAllen, about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, reflect some of those across the country who are likely to face the most formidable consequences from new state limits on abortion.
Data shows that poor or low-income women make up 75 percent of all those seeking to end their pregnancies. About 60 percent of those seeking legal abortions are Black or Hispanic, federal data shows, and analysts say it is these women who most acutely face the dilemma of balancing low-paying jobs with unpredictable schedules, high child care costs and the hope of attending college part-time with the reality of another child to support.
While some clinics in Mexico may continue to offer help with abortions, many women living in McAllen and surrounding U.S. communities could otherwise face a drive of more than 800 miles to reach the nearest legal abortion clinic in Las Cruces, N.M., should Whole Woman’s Health and other Texas facilities be forced to close.
The young woman sitting in the waiting room, who like others interviewed for this article did not want to be named in order to protect her privacy, said she could expect judgment and little help from her husband, now doing time for murder, and from most members of her family, if they found out she had aborted a pregnancy.
Most of those interviewed said that the culture in the Rio Grande Valley, predominantly Mexican American and heavily Catholic, forces women considering an abortion to do so alone and remain forever silent about it afterward.
“You know, in our culture, being Mexican, it is not really supported,” the woman said. “You feel like you can’t tell anyone.”
In the waiting room, where most of the women avoided looking at one another, she fretted. “What must they think of me?” she murmured. Then she let out a nervous giggle, remembering that they were probably all there for the same reason.
Her three children, ages 11, 9 and 7, are all in school now, but she is a year away from getting the degree in criminal justice she needs to get a job that pays better than her clerical work.
On the one hand, she said, “I just want to continue my career,” and on the other, “I need to take care of my babies, the ones I have now.”
Then she missed a period, despite using birth control, and a situation that she said previously seemed hard now felt impossible.
She said she had initially worried about the Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 — a model now being adopted in other conservative states — that deputizes civilians to file lawsuits against any doctor who performs an abortion after fetal cardiac activity, about six weeks of pregnancy. Doctors measure the start of pregnancy from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period, which is usually two weeks before a fetus is conceived. As a result, many women barely know they are pregnant by the time they are up against the six-week limit.
Though women are not supposed to be targeted under the law, she had read the recent news coverage about a woman who was accused of murder in nearby Starr County after having what was described as a “self-induced” abortion after six weeks. The woman was later released after a national outcry.
So when the doctor on duty at Whole Woman’s Health, Dr. Blair Cushing, informed the 28-year-old woman that she was under the law’s limit, at five weeks of pregnancy, her heart slowed down. “I didn’t want to be arrested too,” she said.
Dr. Cushing instructed her to take a single dose of mifepristone, the size of an aspirin, during an office visit the next day and a second dose, four tablets of misoprostol, within 48 hours.
The doctor read out a list of risks associated with medication abortion, which can include excessive bleeding, potential for retained tissue inside the uterus, infection and an allergic reaction to the medication.
Under state law, the doctor was required to show the patient her ultrasound scan, which at such an early stage of pregnancy usually shows little more than the gestational sac, the bag of fluid where the embryo is growing.
The law also requires doctors to talk to patients about the possibility of waning fertility and an increased risk of breast cancer for those who have abortions, a risk discounted by many experts who have studied it. Dr. Cushing said the materials she was required to discuss with her patients were intended “to try to mislead and scare women.”
The abortion itself, the doctor told the woman, would feel like a heavy menstrual period. “She told me, ‘You are early, there is really nothing there,’” the woman recalled after the initial consultation. “I feel OK. I’m trying to get through it. This is the right decision for me now.”
Not everyone follows through. Dr. Cushing and other medical providers said they have seen instances of women changing their minds after visiting the clinic.
“We understand that this is a very personal decision,” Dr. Cushing said. “That’s exactly what I tell patients. I want you to feel very confident about your decision. This isn’t something that you can take back.”
Another health worker, who began working at the clinic three months ago, said she sometimes shared with her patients that she had an abortion at the age of 18 when she was 10 weeks pregnant. Like many of her patients now, she said, she feared that a pregnancy could hurt her chances of getting a better job.
She had also worried about being ostracized by her family and neighbors if anyone found out, she said.
“Down here, we are raised Catholics and Christians and we don’t talk about sex in general,” she said. “We don’t talk about it because it’s taboo here.”
Across the Rio Grande Valley, churches talk about alternatives to abortion and often pledge to help women who face challenging pregnancies.
The Rev. Derlis Garcia, director of the Pro-Life Office with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, which includes McAllen, said the priority of the church was to protect the life of the unborn. Many of the region’s churches and centers open their doors to women who may be considering an abortion and offer counseling and support for those who have terminated their pregnancies.
“As Catholics in the Rio Grande Valley, we have deep concern for the most vulnerable, the baby in her womb,” Father Garcia said. “We care deeply as well about mothers in difficult circumstances.”
Since passage of the abortion law in September, the number of people seeking consultation at the clinic — on an average day, about 20 to 40 — has not shrunk, Dr. Cushing said. But the number of patients being turned away has increased, about 40 percent of those who come in. Many arrive past the six-week mark.
A 25-year-old woman who arrived at the clinic said she was worried she might be past that cutoff. The woman has a 1-year-old and 5-year-old, works at a low-wage job during the day and attends classes online. There was no room in that schedule for another pregnancy, she said. “Watching them grow up, balancing school and like balancing work and with everything going on, I think a third one is going to be too much,” she said.
Because she tends to have irregular periods, she explained, she took three pregnancy tests “after my body felt different” three weeks earlier. The first came out negative. The next two did not.
She sat quietly waiting her turn at the clinic, its walls decorated with portraits and quotes of inspiring women, including Michelle Obama, the former first lady, and Selena Quintanilla, the Tejano singer. On the wall of another room was a large quote from Jessica Farrar, a former Texas state representative: “We will not stop standing, we will not stop fighting.”
Alisha Moreno, a medical assistant, sat across from the woman and walked her through her next two days under the abortion pill regimen.
“That first pill stops the growth of the pregnancy,” Ms. Moreno told her.
She would be given ibuprofen and medication to treat nausea.
“After that, between an hour to two hours, you are going to start expelling the pregnancy out.” she went on. “So you’re going to be experiencing cramping, pain and passing of blood clots, maybe the size of your fists, or maybe less, just because you are early in your pregnancy.”
The woman nodded, signaling she understood before signing a form stating that she had walked into the clinic of her “own free will.” But she could not shake her nervousness. As she prepared to leave, Ms. Moreno offered to walk her to her car.
The woman smiled and politely accepted.
Robert Gebeloff contributed reporting.
By Alison Block, May 6, 2022
Dr. Block is an abortion provider.
Nick Oxford for The New York Times
For almost a decade as a family doctor in California, I have provided first-trimester abortions and trained family medicine residents to do the same.
My colleagues and I believe that offering competent, compassionate abortion care is a core aspect of reproductive health, and an important part of caring for families and communities. It is gratifying work, knowing I’m helping people choose the life path that makes the most sense for them. And I have been comfortable doing that work in a cultural environment that largely celebrates what I do as an act of feminist activism.
But as the abortion rights landscape in America has grown more dire in recent months — with numerous states moving to ban most abortions, and Roe v. Wade likely to be overturned by the Supreme Court this summer — I wanted to do more. So I traveled to abortion clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas earlier this year to learn to perform second-trimester procedures.
My family and I will soon be moving to a part of the country where there are many fewer abortion providers than in California, but where abortion is expected to remain legal in a post-Roe America. The state I’m moving to, like all states with decent abortion access, most likely will see an influx of patients after the coming Supreme Court ruling. And an increasing share of those patients are likely to need second-trimester abortions.
I didn’t pursue this training in the past because the work is physically and emotionally taxing, and the procedures are higher risk. I have always practiced medicine in places with plenty of abortion providers, so I was able to opt out. But as I watch abortion rights disintegrate, I feel I no longer have that luxury.
When I walked into the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City on the first day of my training, I felt a little scared. We get anti-abortion protesters outside my clinic in California, but the environment in Oklahoma feels more intense. There’s a truck parked outside that’s plastered with graphic images of fetuses, analogizing abortion providers to ISIS fighters. During my clinic tour, I’m shown the emergency exit “in case something crazy goes down” — code for anti-abortion violence.
You have to be dedicated to work at an abortion clinic anywhere, but those on the Trust Women staff are among the most dedicated I’ve met. They’re up against some of the most restrictive laws in the country, laws that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color; the governor just signed a Texas-style ban on most abortions this week.
When I was there, the clinic’s volume had more than doubled since Texas’ S.B. 8 went into effect, outlawing abortion in that state after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. The clinic was getting about 500 calls a day, with only a few people available to answer the phone.
Despite these hardships, the clinic is as welcoming as any I’ve seen. Smiles are detected everywhere, even behind masks. Posters on the wall say, “You can cry here.”
As of recently, some 90 percent of abortions in America occurred in the first trimester, but that number seems likely to change as states restrict abortions and it takes people longer to get their procedures. In this way, would-be first-trimester procedures that are outlawed in one state become second-trimester procedures in another.
The vast majority of abortions that I perform in my California practice are at six, seven or eight weeks of pregnancy — a period during which the gestational sac, a tiny piece of tissue that resembles a cotton ball, is about the size of a coin. While California has its own issues with health equity, my patients are largely able to get access to care so early because California has a large number of abortion clinics that are easy to get to. And, unlike in many states, including Oklahoma, it has a medical insurance structure that covers the cost of abortion.
In Oklahoma, the patients I saw were often one to two months further along than my patients in California typically are. They’d driven five hours, sometimes 10, to visit the clinic. They had sometimes been to crisis pregnancy centers that may have intentionally misled them with false information about abortion or given them inaccurate pregnancy dating. They often spent weeks arranging child care, getting time off work, raising funds, finding a place to stay, arranging rides.
I asked the Trust Women staff members where they send patients whose procedures can’t be done in the clinic. I was thinking about patients with complicated surgical histories, or those who want general anesthesia. They smiled wearily at my naïveté. There is nowhere else, they said.
“Nobody likes doing this,” a mentor said to me the first time I witnessed a second-trimester abortion as a medical student, more than a decade ago. As we were examining the pregnancy that we had just removed from the patient, my mentor went on to explain that we do this work because people need us, and we do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Many second-trimester abortion providers I know balance ambiguity and a sense of responsibility: The work is sometimes hard and complicated, and it is our duty to provide the care those patients need.
Those who are staunchly opposed to abortion value the life of the fetus more than the autonomy of the pregnant person. For me, the autonomy of the pregnant person is more urgent. I have been pregnant three times, and am the mother of three children whom I adore, so I understand the physical, emotional and financial toll of childbearing. The thought of being forced into an unwanted pregnancy is horrifying. The idea of giving birth to a child and having to make the decision to parent a child I do not want or give that child up for adoption is heart-rending.
Abortions, especially second-trimester ones, can be emotional and complex. But for me, condemning a person to an unwanted pregnancy is worse.
When I train my family medicine residents in abortion care, we review different scenarios for why a patient might be getting an abortion: because they’re too old or too young to have a child, because they were raped, because they have professional ambitions that don’t include child-rearing, because they can’t afford another child, because they have too many children, because they don’t want any children, because their fetus has anomalies. It’s important to go through these scenarios so residents can clarify their values and examine their biases.
But after 10 years of doing this work, I’ve come to realize that it is not my place, or anyone else’s, to require a justification for why someone is choosing to end a pregnancy. When I was a resident, I would admit heart attack patients to the hospital. Some had faulty genes. Others had poorly controlled diabetes or hypertension. Others had used methamphetamine. It was not my job to adjudicate based on life circumstance who was deserving of medical treatment. It was, and is, my professional and ethical obligation to treat the person in front of me for no other reason than that they need help, and I can help them.
Ultimately every possible reason for seeking an abortion collapses into one: They don’t want to carry this pregnancy to term. They don’t want to give birth to a baby. That’s enough for me. If we’re going to say we trust people to make decisions about their bodily autonomy, we have to trust them completely.
“Is it OK to be sad?” one of the Oklahoma patients I saw asks, as soon as her second-trimester procedure is over. “Of course it’s OK to be sad,” the staff and I tell her. “You’re allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling.”
Later on, I go for a walk along the Oklahoma River. The sky is the bright cornflower blue of spring, but the leafless trees and dry dull grass are still holding on tenaciously to winter. I look up at the trees, and their spread-out branches remind me of human anatomy, the arteries splitting into arterioles and capillaries, branching into ever finer points.
The natural world has all sorts of these redundancies, where life echoes life. I feel a deep wonder at the beauty of the natural world, and the complexities of the human experience within it. And I feel gratitude that, at least for now, I can continue to provide.
Merle Hoffman was on the front lines in the early 1970s, when women would travel to New York for abortions.
By Ginia Bellafante, May 6, 2022
Ginia Bellafante writes the Big City column, a weekly commentary on the politics, culture and life of New York City.
Merle Hoffman with coat hangers at a demonstration in 1980s New York. Credit...via Merle Hoffman
In 1970, three years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, four states, New York among them, repealed their anti-abortion statutes. At the time, Merle Hoffman was a concert pianist who had recently given up her professional ambitions. The world of classical music was too hermetic, but the sweeping political currents of the ’60s had not drawn her in either. She settled on graduate school in psychology, supporting herself with three jobs, one of them in the office of a doctor who wanted to open an abortion clinic and asked her to run it.
This was 1971. “I was home reading Nietzsche and criminology and psychology and practicing Chopin,’’ she told me two days after the country learned, via leak, of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion set to overrule Roe. “So this was not an obvious path.”
In the half-century since Ms. Hoffman accepted the position, she has been at the forefront of the reproductive rights movement as an activist and as the founder and president of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens, one of the first abortion clinics in the country, which grew to provide a range of health services. I asked her if, in the early years after Roe’s passage, she could have anticipated what now appears inevitable. The law “never seemed precarious but it always seemed vulnerable,” she told me. “I should have seen it though because I was going to funerals of people who were murdered.”
She recalled the service for her friend David Gunn in 1993, an obstetrician who performed abortions and who was shot to death outside his clinic in Pensacola by a fundamentalist Christian who had joined a fringe anti-abortion group, a few months earlier, headed by a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. “I was in the bathroom, and Ellie Smeal opened her coat,” she said. Eleanor Smeal had been the president of the National Organization for Women and helped found the Feminist Majority Foundation. “She was wearing a bulletproof vest.”
Ms. Hoffman was drawn to the work as soon as she began. “What wed me to this movement was the first patient,” she told me during our conversation this week. “Her name was Helen. She was from New Jersey. She was white, Catholic, married and had three children. She just couldn’t afford another.”
There were not yet protocols for counseling in this context, nor had much thought been given to it. “Everything was done for the first time,” she said. “How do I speak to this woman? I’m thinking, My God, what do I say?’ I talked and I just held her hand while she had the abortion. I realized the enormous power and vulnerability of the act — the choice.”
Ms. Hoffman became increasingly angry over what she began to call “iatrogenic pregnancies.” These were “caused by the ignorance and misinformation of physicians, the ego and arrogance,” she said, referring to doctors who told women there was no need to refit their diaphragms or that contraception wasn’t necessary right after giving birth.
At 32, married and “with all the accouterments,” Ms. Hoffman had an abortion because she was not ready to have children. (Twenty-six years later, she adopted a little girl from Siberia.)
It was the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which banned federal funding of abortion through Medicaid, that politicized her. She went to Queens College, her alma mater, and approached professors. “I banged on doors and said, ‘May I come in and address the class?’ I said, ‘Do you know what’s happening?’” The students, she found, were mostly apathetic.
Four years before that, in 1972, approximately 100,000 women from around the country traveled to New York City to get an abortion — about half traveled more than 500 miles, and some came from as far away as Arizona, Idaho and Nevada. Most went to large facilities with multiple operating rooms. Ms. Hoffman’s clinic was small at the outset; the cost of the procedure there was $77, and it was covered by HIP, the health insurer, which Ms. Hoffman said had thought about opening its own facility but did not want to rattle board members who had connections to the clergy or big labor unions.
As access to abortion spread in the aftermath of Roe, the need for women to get on a plane or drive for six hours to see the doctors who could help them greatly diminished. Only recently has the need resurfaced again. During the past few years, more and more people have come to Ms. Hoffman’s facility from outside New York — from Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio — as abortion laws have become increasingly prohibitive, as facilities have closed down, and as doctors who performed the procedures retired and were not always easily replaced.
A reversal of Roe would end abortion in 13 states immediately or very quickly; 14 more could restrict the procedure to 22 weeks or earlier, though many of those might also ban it completely. This would put more women in the position of traveling to terminate their pregnancies, presenting challenges to the infrastructure in place to help them, Ms. Hoffman predicted.
Over the past several decades, a network — an “overground railroad,” as she put it — has developed to accommodate women who must venture far from home to end their pregnancies. Choices, for example, works closely with the Haven Coalition, founded in 2001 by a counselor at an abortion clinic in New York. One day the counselor asked an out-of-town patient where she was staying, and the patient said that she was sleeping in her car because she could not afford a hotel.
The coalition formed as a nonprofit, soliciting volunteers to pick women up from their procedures, house them in guest rooms and on sofas and offer food and comfort. Since then, funds have been created to help women cover attendant expenses. “There’s a very supportive network in place, but it will be strained,” Ms. Hoffman said. “People — women, men of conscience — will have to look in the mirror and say ‘What can I do?’ and then do something.”
In 1989, Ms. Hoffman recalled, she stood outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, brandishing coat hangers along with hundreds of other protesters to challenge Cardinal John O’Connor’s support of Operation Rescue, an aggressive anti-abortion group. The same afternoon that we spoke, seven-foot-tall fences were being installed around the Supreme Court anticipating demonstrations.
“I’m reliving my youth,’’ Ms. Hoffman said. “My feeling is that we minimized the strength of the opposition.”
As Havana’s go-between with the U.S., he negotiated Elián González’s return to Cuba. He was also the country’s U.N. representative on two occasions.
By Sam Roberts, May 5, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/05/world/americas/ricardo-alarcon-dead.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Obituaries
Mr. Alarcón in 2001, when he was president of Cuba’s National Assembly. He served in that post for 20 years. Credit...Librado Romero/The New York Times
Ricardo Alarcón, who was once Cuba’s leading diplomat, the third most powerful Cuban Communist after Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, and his country’s most prominent conciliator with the United States, died on Saturday in Havana. He was 84.
His death was announced by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. No cause was specified.
From 1966 to 1978, and again from 1990 to 1991, Mr. Alarcón was Cuba’s representative to the United Nations. He served a term as vice president of the General Assembly and for two months was president of the Security Council.
He was appointed foreign minister in 1992 and from 1993 to 2013 was president of Cuba’s National Assembly, a legislative body that typically complied with President Castro’s agenda.
Fluent in English and known for his white guayabera shirts and Cohiba cigars, Mr. Alarcón became a familiar figure in the negotiations that ended an uncontrollable exodus of thousands of Cuban refugees to Florida on flimsy rafts when the Clinton administration agreed in 1994 to issue 20,000 visas annually to Cuban immigrants.
In 2000, he was instrumental in engineering the return of the young castaway Elián González from relatives in Miami to his father in Cuba after a fierce seven-month legal battle. The boy, who was about 5 years old at the time, had landed in a truck tire off Fort Lauderdale, set adrift after his mother and a dozen others fleeing Cuba drowned in a failed ocean crossing in the Florida Straits.
Mr. Alarcón’s role in the González case, and his success about a decade later in winning the release of five Cuban spies who had been accused of infiltrating anti-Castro refugee factions in Florida, were a prelude to the eventual normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
His success as a negotiator notwithstanding, Mr. Alarcón was aggressive in defending his country’s ideology and denouncing the United States.
“The Americans said, as early as 1959, that Mr. Castro had the support of the vast majority of people,” he told The Guardian in 2006. “They had to undermine that support by denying money and exports to cause hunger and unemployment and massive suffering that would have a people so disgusted that they would want change.”
“For me,” he added, “the starting point is the recognition that democracy should begin with Pericles’ definition — that society is for the benefit of the majority — and should not be imposed from outside.”
William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University in Washington, described Mr. Alarcón in an email as “an indefatigable supporter and defender of ‘the Revolution’” who, “in his dealings with the United States, never wavered in the belief that a more normal relationship would benefit both countries — and was possible.”
But Theodore Henken, a sociology professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York, added, also by email, that Mr. Alarcón was “far too comfortable in a system where the people hold no power to demand that their nonelected leaders remain accountable to them.”
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada was born on May 21, 1937, in Havana to a family described as upper middle class.
He entered the University of Havana in 1954 and, as a leader of the Students’ Federation and the Union of Young Communists, organized urban student support for the revolution as a civilian while the Castro brothers and Che Guevara battled guerrilla war on the entrenched American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Mr. Alarcón graduated with a doctorate in philosophy and humanities and, at 25, was named director of the Americas division of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. Four years later, he was appointed ambassador to the U.N., where he also served as president of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
He was also a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party until 2013. His closest aide had been arrested and charged with spying a year earlier, and he reportedly had fallen from grace because he was known as a Fidel Castro loyalist rather than a confidant of Raul Castro, who had assumed power in 2008.
He was married to Margarita Perea Maza, who died in 2008. Information on survivors was not immediately available.
One of Mr. Alarcón’s disciples, Deputy Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal, wrote on Twitter, “To Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, master of the diplomats of our generation, we will always keep deep respect, admiration and infinite affection.”
By Sharon Zhang, Truthout, May 5, 2021https://truthout.org/articles/thats-a-fact-amazon-unions-smalls-lambasts-anti-union-senators-in-hearing/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=77e07376-4f26-4746-9b6e-12d42fb0f129
Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, testifies during the Senate Budget Committee hearing titled "Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?" in Dirksen Building on May 5, 2022.
Amazon Labor Union (ALU) President Christian Smalls sharply rebuked U.S. senators for protecting Amazon from criticisms about its illegal labor practices at a Senate Budget Committee hearing led by Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on Thursday.
After Sanders delivered his opening speech, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) went on a tirade about how he thinks the independent Senator’s stances on the issues of Amazon illegally union busting and support of the labor movement in general are too politicized — even though Republicans dubiously claim to be the party of the working class. Graham said that it’s “very dangerous” that Sanders and the committee have determined Amazon to be, in Graham’s own words, “a piece of crap company.”
The hearing was held for lawmakers to examine whether companies that violate federal labor laws, often openly, should be allowed to contract with the federal government.
When Smalls began his testimony, he directly addressed Graham’s remarks.
“First of all, I want to address Mr. Graham. It sounds like you were talking about more of the companies and the businesses in your speech, but you forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate,” Smalls said. “And when we’re not protected, and when the process for holding these companies accountable is not working for us — that’s the reason why we’re here today.”
Smalls went on to say that it’s not “a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a workers thing.” He reminded Graham that he is also supposed to represent the interest of workers who may be abused by companies in his state.
Later in the hearing, Graham said that it’s unfair for the $1.2 trillion company to discuss their illegal conduct when there’s a legal system to file complaints about unfair labor practices — though labor experts generally acknowledge that the system’s lax punishments for breaking labor laws fail to deter union busting.
Graham asked Smalls if he had filed legal complaints against the company. “You had a process where somebody could advocate for your interest,” Graham said.
“There is a process that’s not working,” Smalls replied.
“Well that’s your opinion,” Graham quipped.
“That’s a fact,” Smalls said.
Workers and union organizers faced abusive conditions from Amazon as ALU was organizing two New York City warehouses in Staten Island, Smalls continued, facing traumatizing intimidation and coercion tactics as part of the company’s multimillion dollar union-busting campaign. At one point, Smalls and other organizers were arrested while handing out food to workers after Amazon called the police on the group.
Though Amazon faces charges of illegal union busting from the National Labor Relations Board, lax labor laws allow the company to get away with vast amounts of union busting moves, illegal or not, while facing little consequence. Sanders has asked President Joe Biden to cancel Amazon’s contracts with the federal government until the company stops union busting, but there’s no word from Biden yet on the request.
“We want to feel that the government is allowing us to use our constitutional rights to organize,” Smalls said. “The notion that people united in this democracy will outmatch tyranny is the oldest American ideal.” And though workers won the union at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse, Amazon is still refusing to meet at the bargaining table with the workers, despite the legal obligation to do so.
“To me, it just sounds like the corporations have the control, and they control whatever they want. They break the law, they get away with it — they know that already, that breaking the law during these election campaigns won’t be resolved during the election campaigns. So they purposely continue to break the law,” Smalls said, saying that the union had filed 40 unfair labor practices during the campaign. But despite the fact that many of these charges had merit, he said, the victims of these charges have still not gotten relief.
Smalls called for Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to form a union.
A group of convicted murderers came together to share knowledge on how to prove their innocence. It took decades, but it worked.
By Corey Kilgannon, May 7, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/07/nyregion/sing-sing-prison-exoneration.html
Photographs throughout the years of Jon-Adrian Velazquez with Dan Slepian, a journalist who helped him fight his conviction. Mr. Velazquez was granted clemency last summer after serving nearly 24 years in prison. Andrew Seng for The New York Times
There were five inmates, all of them sent to prison for murder at the height of New York City’s violent-crime wave in the 1990s. Though their cases were completely unrelated, they all shared a single, fervent belief: Each one knew he had been wrongly convicted.
One inmate in solitary confinement would stuff his ears with torn bedsheets so he could concentrate on drafting his appeals amid the chaos of the other prisoners’ yelling.
Another fixed a broken electric typewriter and muffled it with a pillow so he could type legal correspondence in his cell all night.
Another inmate’s activism and leadership attracted the support of prison administrators and celebrities like Martin Sheen and Alfre Woodard.
Another gained his freedom after a theater volunteer connected him with a newspaper reporter.
And it all started with an offhand comment that a Bronx homicide detective made to a television journalist about a fifth inmate, who was serving time for a murder that another man had committed.
When Dan Slepian, of NBC’s “Dateline,” decided to visit the inmate, it began a chain that would eventually help free these five men. Their tortuous quests for exoneration intersected largely inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the notorious maximum-security prison on the Hudson River some 30 miles north of New York City.
“What started with one wrongful conviction claim became a chain of human dominoes,” Mr. Slepian said, “where one innocent person led me to the next.”
The “Dateline” segments, which were broadcast over the span of a dozen years, bolstered each convict’s claims of innocence with new evidence and new witnesses, highlighting problems in how cases were investigated and prosecuted.
The chance of even a single inmate achieving exoneration is a long shot in the New York State prison system, where out of thousands of inmate appeals, only a handful are successful each year. The fact that these five men rallied to support one another is exceptionally rare.
In interviews with The New York Times, the men discussed how they bonded and worked together in prison to overturn the convictions that put them behind bars for a combined century’s worth of time. One after the other, they were released, but they would continue to help those left behind by visiting, donating money, raising awareness and even searching for other possible witnesses.
“Our relationships were reciprocal,” said one of the men, Jon-Adrian Velazquez. “These guys are my brothers.”
The last man out
In September, armed prison guards watched from atop tall concrete walls as a heavy steel door rumbled open to release a middle-aged man holding all of his possessions in a small mesh bag.
It was Jon-Adrian Velazquez, Inmate No. 00A2303, the last of these five to leave prison. He was 46 years old and had served nearly 24 years for a 1998 murder he insists he never committed. After numerous denied appeals, he was finally granted clemency and released.
He hugged his mother and two adult sons, who were little boys when he entered prison as a 22-year-old.
He also hugged Mr. Slepian, who had become a regular visitor over the past two decades.
Now that Mr. Velazquez has been released, Mr. Slepian’s reporting will be developed into a series called “The Sing Sing Chronicles,” to be produced by NBC News Studios and directed by the prominent filmmaker Dawn Porter.
“This is a horror story, that innocent people are sent to jail for something they didn’t do,” Ms. Porter said. “These men were supposed to get a fair hearing and a fair legal process.”
The men were all convicted when New York City, facing soaring crime rates, turned to aggressive policing strategies, some of which are being revived today to address the recent rise in violent crime.
Though otherwise unrelated, the five cases shared many of the same troubling traits common in wrongful convictions, including sloppy detective work, questionable legal representation, shaky witness identifications and withheld evidence.
“These five cases check all the boxes of how and why people are wrongfully convicted,” Mr. Slepian said. “But because jury verdicts are seen as sacrosanct, it is exceedingly rare to have a conviction overturned, even when disturbing flaws of a case are revealed.”
The National Registry of Exonerations adds roughly 200 wrongful conviction cases each year to its database but notes that the number of wrongful convictions is unknown and a great majority will probably never be overturned.
Over the past decade, New York City has paid out nearly $500 million in settlements to exonerees seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions.
Remarkably, these five cases did not rely on DNA evidence; not one was overturned by a miraculous lab result. Instead, each required the kind of arduous appeal process that is exceedingly difficult in the best of circumstances. In prison, where these inmates had limited access to phones, meager legal resources and virtually no internet, it was almost impossible.
“Something that could take a day on the outside could take me a month in prison,” said Mr. Velazquez, who was convicted in the 1998 murder of a retired police officer during a botched robbery of a gambling den the officer ran in Harlem.
The case against Mr. Velazquez relied heavily on the testimony of several witnesses who identified him in a lineup as the gunman. But Mr. Slepian’s decade-long investigation for a 2012 “Dateline NBC” segment raised troubling questions. Key eyewitnesses tracked down by Mr. Slepian either expressed doubts about their testimony or recanted entirely.
Despite Mr. Velazquez’s clemency, granted last August by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, his conviction remains. He has not been exonerated.
The first domino
Mr. Slepian’s involvement with the five men began in 2002 with a tip from a Bronx homicide detective regarding the high-profile killing of a bouncer outside the Palladium dance club in Manhattan in 1990.
The detective told him that two men — David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo — were languishing in prison for the shooting, even though two other men had actually committed the crime.
Mr. Lemus was serving his sentence at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
Eight years into his 25-years-to-life sentence, Mr. Lemus was studying relevant cases in the Green Haven law library and consulting lawyers on his appeal. His case was gaining momentum with press coverage that included a front-page story in The New York Times in 2000 detailing doubts regarding his conviction.
Mr. Lemus’s dedication impressed Mr. Velazquez, who in 2000 was a new inmate at Green Haven.
“We were just doing time,” Mr. Velazquez said. “But what he showed me gave me hope and showed me it was possible to fight.”
The two inmates bonded in the prison yard, and Mr. Velazquez began to pursue his appeal more actively.
Mr. Lemus also helped Mr. Velazquez land a porter job like the one he had, cleaning and running tasks for inmates. This job provided a degree of freedom to use the law library.
Mr. Slepian’s investigation of Mr. Lemus’s case for a 2005 “Dateline” segment helped uncover new evidence. Several months after the broadcast, Mr. Lemus’s conviction was vacated, and he was released after roughly 15 years in prison.
Before Mr. Lemus left Green Haven, Mr. Velazquez implored him, “Don’t forget me.”
He did not. Mr. Lemus visited Mr. Velazquez regularly, and after receiving a $1.25 million settlement in 2009 for his wrongful conviction, he donated more than $11,000 of it to Mr. Velazquez, enabling him to hire a private investigator for his case, among other expenses.
When Mr. Velazquez was finally released, Mr. Lemus, now 53 and living in Florida, sent him a new iPhone.
A prisoner without a lawyer
But perhaps Mr. Lemus’s greatest gift to Mr. Velazquez had come earlier, in 2002, when he introduced him to Mr. Slepian. This resulted in another “Dateline” segment that raised troubling questions about Mr. Velazquez’s conviction.
Mr. Velazquez resolved to help others seeking exoneration. “Dave passed a blessing to me in Dan, so I vowed to pass the torch forward as much as I could,” said Mr. Velazquez.
In 2005, Mr. Velazquez was transferred to Sing Sing. There, he would introduce Mr. Slepian to three other inmates with compelling wrongful conviction claims.
Sing Sing opened in 1825 and has a notorious reputation; more than 600 executions had been conducted in an adjacent prison building called the Death House, where the electric chair was known as Old Sparky. Its 1,375 inmates include convicted murderers and rapists. But it is also one of the most frequently requested of the state’s 44 prisons, partly because of its proximity to New York City, which makes it easier for many inmates’ families to visit.
Inmates can also earn master’s and bachelor’s degrees through affiliations with nearby colleges, and can take arts classes like jazz guitar, yoga and modern dance.
Once in Sing Sing, Mr. Velazquez took full advantage of the prison programs, becoming a popular leader as he continued work on his case.
But early on, he was an inmate with no lawyer. Prison rules and logistics make legal appeals difficult. Pay phones tend to be outside, in the prison yard, and are often controlled by gangs. Determined to be his “own best advocate,” he set out to prove he was wrongly identified by problematic witnesses.
He pored over legal books and consulted with other inmates in the law library, including a law clerk, Johnny Hincapie, whose infamous murder case was well known among the other inmates.
Jailhouse law 101
Mr. Hincapie was one of seven men convicted in the murder of 22-year-old Brian Watkins, who died trying to defend his parents on a Manhattan subway platform in 1990.
Mr. Watkins and his parents had traveled from Utah to New York to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament. While waiting for a train, they were surrounded by a group of teenagers demanding their money. One of them fatally stabbed Mr. Watkins.
Though Mr. Hincapie, who was 18 at the time, was not accused of actually stabbing Mr. Watkins, he still faced a murder charge; under state law, any participant in a mugging is held responsible if a victim dies.
Mr. Hincapie, who was arrested the day after the stabbing, claimed he was coerced into signing a confession. Despite his claim that he was not even on the subway platform when the stabbing occurred, he knew his chances were slim of proving his innocence.
Still, within months of his guilty verdict, he began writing letters, longhand, pleading for help from law firms, advocacy groups and foundations that help the wrongfully convicted.
“When you’re in prison, your resources are very, very limited,” Mr. Hincapie said recently. “So you find other cases that have similar attributes to yours, and you contact the attorneys from those cases for guidance.”
Initially, it was hard to find help, so he also began discussing his situation with Mr. Velazquez and with Eric Glisson, who was one of the “Bronx Six,” a group convicted in the murder of a cabdriver in the Bronx in 1995.
Mr. Velazquez took classes with Mr. Glisson, who was serving 25 years to life and seeking to overturn his 1997 conviction, which also was largely based on testimony from a problematic witness — in Mr. Glisson’s case, he was identified through a bathroom window a football field’s length away from the murder location.
Grabbing time in the law library, prison yard and classrooms, the three men began discussing how to file Freedom of Information Act requests and other means to procure documents supporting their claims of innocence.
“Anytime we’d learn something new, we’d discuss it with each other and see if it could work,” Mr. Velazquez said.
A constant backdrop to the legal lessons was navigating Sing Sing, then a brutal environment of violence, gangs and run-ins with correction officers.
“Of course, all the legal stuff is secondary to survival,” said Mr. Glisson. “Self-preservation is first and foremost. You got to always be on point because something is always going down.”
The three inmates caught the eye of Sing Sing’s superintendent, Michael Capra, who styled himself as a tough-but-fair prison warden and promoted educational and rehabilitative programs.
“These guys all had a similar outlook,” Mr. Capra said. “They were positive. They weren’t your average thug, and all of our staff saw something in them.”
Mr. Velazquez would eventually introduce Mr. Slepian to the few fellow inmates whose appeals he believed in. This included Richard Rosario, a tough, brooding man convicted in a 1996 murder in the Bronx.
Mr. Rosario’s bitterness over his wrongful conviction made him a defiant prisoner — not the sort of positive inmate who thrived under the superintendent, Mr. Capra. His behavior had resulted in long stretches of solitary confinement — by his estimate, a total of seven years.
Nonetheless, he was as devoted as the law library regulars, taking his legal materials into solitary with him and plugging his ears with paper and shreds of bedsheet to drown out the ranting from inmates in nearby cells. To call his lawyer, he had to be led to a nearby phone in shackles.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Mr. Rosario said of appealing from prison. “Nothing is structured. You have to learn everything on your own.”
A ‘one-man Innocence Project’
Mr. Velazquez, known as J.J., studied to become a certified paralegal and earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. He also became a teaching fellow, paired with Columbia University teachers, for inmate classes.
His leadership roles, which fostered relationships with other inmates and prison officials, would eventually help his path to freedom.
This included forming a tight relationship with Mr. Slepian, who lived a short drive from Sing Sing. Starting in 2007, the journalist would visit Mr. Velazquez so often that he became well known to the prison administration and gained unusual access.
Soon, inmates from Sing Sing and other prisons, noticing Mr. Slepian’s commitment to Mr. Velazquez, began asking for introductions.
“When J.J. said, ‘I got somebody for you,’ I knew that came after months of vetting a case,” Mr. Slepian said. “For me, here’s an inmate who became a one-man Innocence Project inside Sing Sing.”
Since claims of innocence are so common in prison, even among the guilty, Mr. Slepian said he approached each of the five cases skeptically, maintaining a cautionary presumption of guilt. “But after investigating their cases, I found information and stories that their juries never heard.”
The first one out of Sing Sing
In 2010, Mr. Slepian was in Sing Sing to produce a segment on Mr. Velazquez. His film crew had been given access to Honor Block, the living quarters for inmates with good disciplinary records. It was there that Mr. Velazquez introduced the producer to Johnny Hincapie.
When he was arrested, Mr. Hincapie was a slight, college-bound teenager from Bayside, Queens, who was DJing in nightclubs.
It was a fraught moment in the city. There were more than 2,200 murders in 1990. The subway stabbing inspired fear and anger in New York and was seen as a tipping point. The case was handled by some of the same detectives, using some of the same aggressive policing strategies, as the infamous Central Park jogger rape case the year before.
Mr. Hincapie said he was beaten and coerced into making a false confession by a detective who convinced him that admitting a minor role in the robbery would allow him to go home and receive lenient punishment. But he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Mr. Hincapie tried to make the best of it. While they worked on their cases, he and Mr. Glisson enrolled in the prison’s theater program. They acted together in productions like “Twelve Angry Men” and “West Side Story.”
Just when Mr. Hincapie had exhausted his appeals, his theater coach, Kim Breden, helped connect him with a newspaper reporter, Bill Hughes, who wrote an article that revealed new witnesses. They ended up testifying that he had not been near the subway stabbing.
Mr. Hincapie’s conviction was vacated by a judge in 2015 after he had spent 25 years in prison, and prosecutors finally dropped his case in 2017. He is 49 and lives in Florida.
‘I might die in prison’
For Mr. Glisson, the theater program provided respite from the frustrations of his appeal, which included writing hundreds of letters and perhaps 80 Freedom of Information requests. He searched tirelessly to find exonerating witness information withheld from his trial.
“I just kept trying — I was going to die on my feet, not on my knees,” said Mr. Glisson, who entered prison as a teenager with only a fifth-grade education.
Inside, he studied to be a paralegal in order to appeal his conviction and also earned a bachelor's degree.
His 6-by-8 cell, where he kept a “wall of hope” covered with articles about exonerated inmates, served as a repair shop where he fixed inmates’ radios, hot plates and other items in exchange for their allotment of stamps and envelopes, which he would use for legal correspondence.
After fixing a microwave oven for some correction officers, he was given a broken electric typewriter. Mr. Glisson repaired that, too, and spent his nights typing his legal appeals, muffling the typewriter with a pillow to avoid waking other inmates.
But by 2006, after 11 years in prison, he was notified that he had exhausted his last appeal.
It was at a rehearsal for “Macbeth” that the gravity of the situation set in. “I just broke down,” Mr. Glisson recalled, “realizing I might die in prison.”
But a volunteer with the program — Sister Joanna Chan, a nun known to the inmates as Grandma — noticed his despair and cryptically told him it was crucial to summon his best performance. After the show, she introduced him to Peter Cross, a Manhattan lawyer who had attended the play. He agreed to take on Mr. Glisson’s case pro bono and made crucial advances.
But it was Mr. Glisson himself who found the real murderer. In 2012, one of his Freedom of Information requests yielded suppressed documents showing that two gang members had used the cellphone of the Bronx cabdriver he had supposedly killed.
Mr. Glisson included this new information in a letter to federal prosecutors that happened to land on the desk of a federal investigator, John O’Malley.
Through another case, Mr. O’Malley knew that another man had confessed to killing a livery driver, information that would become crucial to Mr. Glisson’s exoneration.
But with that exoneration still delayed, Mr. Velazquez introduced Mr. Glisson to Mr. Slepian. A WNBC news segment aired in August 2012, after which Mr. Glisson, his conviction dismissed by a judge, was released at age 35 after serving nearly 18 years.
‘I have another one for you’
Even as his own appeals met denial after denial, Mr. Velazquez sat across from Mr. Slepian in a Sing Sing visiting room in late 2012 and told him, “I have another one for you.”
This was Richard Rosario, who was convicted on questionable witness testimony, despite providing the authorities with 13 alibi witnesses to confirm he had been in Florida when the murder was committed in the Bronx.
Neither the authorities nor his own lawyers ever went to Florida to interview them, and the issue of ineffective legal representation loomed so large in his case that it would eventually be considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
From 1998 until his release in 2016, Mr. Rosario sent hundreds of handwritten letters to lawyers, advocates and other authorities, seeking evidence that witnesses had wrongly identified him at trial. He began to receive police reports with redacted sections that hinted at problems with witnesses.
Mr. Slepian did travel to Florida to interview most of the 13 alibi witnesses, who included a deputy sheriff, a pastor and a federal correction officer.
It resulted in a 2016 “Dateline” series. That same month, Mr. Rosario’s conviction was vacated by the Bronx district attorney and he was released from Sing Sing.
When Mr. Rosario finally walked free out of a Bronx courtroom, he faced news cameras and said, “Free Jon-Adrian Velazquez.”
A fateful cell visit
As each of the other four inmates gained their freedom, reunited with their families and starting to pursue compensation settlements, Mr. Velazquez posted newspaper clippings about their releases on the walls of his cell.
“I wasn’t bitter about other guys being released,” he said. “In fact, I celebrated that.”
Each of the four returned to visit him in Sing Sing and supported his appeal. Mr. Glisson and Mr. Lemus sent him money to hire investigators.
Mr. Velazquez’s case drew support from celebrities who visited him in prison, including Martin Sheen, who visited twice. Also supportive were the actress Alfre Woodard, and the music industry executive Jason Flom, who visited him frequently.
Mr. Velazquez had forged a unique rapport with the prison’s administration, especially Mr. Capra, the superintendent, who wrote a letter supporting Mr. Velazquez’s application for clemency from the governor.
One day last August, the cellblock went silent as Mr. Capra showed up at Mr. Velazquez’s cell. He was holding a letter.
Mr. Velazquez had been granted clemency and was going home.
In a rare emotional moment for the by-the-books warden, he hugged Mr. Velazquez as the entire cellblock broke into shouts and applause.
Mr. Velazquez, who is still on parole, now works for the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, organizing prison visitation programs for civilians.
His is one of the first cases up for review by the post-conviction justice unit newly formed by Alvin Bragg, the new district attorney for Manhattan.
This past Monday, Mr. Velazquez was back at Sing Sing, meeting with Mr. Capra about creating a program for inmates.
“I made a promise to the men that I’d be back to help them,” he said. “I need to help the people I left behind.”
Company officials said the terminations were the result of an internal review, while the fired managers saw it as a response to the recent union victory.
By Karen Weise and Noam Scheiber, May 6, 2022
Amazon employees lined up in March to vote at the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
After Amazon employees at a massive warehouse on Staten Island scored an upset union victory last month, it turned the union’s leaders into celebrities, sent shock waves through the broader labor movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers. Now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.
On Thursday, Amazon informed more than half a dozen senior managers involved with the Staten Island warehouse that they were being fired, said four current and former employees with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The firings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, were seen by the managers and other people who work at the facility as a response to the victory by the Amazon Labor Union, three of the people said. Workers at the warehouse voted by a wide margin to form the first union at the company in the United States, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in at least a generation.
Word of the shake-up spread through the warehouse on Thursday. Many of the managers had been responsible for carrying out the company’s response to the unionization effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years of experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly as they related to Covid-19 and repetitive strain injuries, and that the company pushed them too hard to meet performance targets, often at the expense of sufficient breaks. Many also said pay at the warehouse, which starts at over $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York City.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had made the management changes after spending several weeks evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8, which is the company’s name for the warehouse. “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve, and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team,” said Kelly Nantel, the spokeswoman.
The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organizational change,” two people said. One of the people said some of the managers were strong performers who recently received positive reviews.
The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organized to form an upstart, independent union.
The company is challenging the election, saying that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the National Labor Relations Board was biased in the union’s favor. And the union is working to maintain the pressure on Amazon so it will negotiate a contract.
Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, testified on Thursday before a Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Mr. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.
A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board to certify the results of the recent election but affirmed that Mr. Biden had long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.
Amazon has said that it invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and that it provides pay above the minimum wage with solid benefits like health care to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.
More than 8,000 workers at the warehouse were eligible to vote, and the union made a point of reaching out to employees from different ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos and immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as those of different political persuasions, from conservatives to progressives.
Company officials and consultants held more than 20 mandatory meetings per day with employees in the run-up to the election, in which they sought to persuade workers not to support the union. The officials highlighted the amount of money that the union would collect from them and emphasized the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.
Labor experts say such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the bargaining process.
Roughly one month after the union victory at JFK8, Amazon workers at a smaller facility nearby voted against unionizing by a decisive margin.
The votes came during what could be an inflection point for organized labor. While the rate of union membership reached its lowest point in decades last year (about 10 percent of U.S. workers) petitions to hold union elections were up more than 50 percent over the previous year during the six months ending in March, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The number of petitions is on pace to reach its highest point in at least a decade.
Since December, workers at Starbucks have won initial union votes at more than 50 stores nationwide, while workers have organized or sought to organize at other companies that did not previously have unions, such as Apple and the outdoor apparel retailer REI.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.