The Rock, Bernal Hill, San Francisco
Olivia Rodrigo - F*** You (feat. Lily Allen) (Glastonbury 2022)
With Olivia Rodrigo and Lily Allen
[Verse 1: Lily Allen]
Look inside, look inside your tiny mind
Then look a bit harder
'Cause we're so uninspired, so sick and tired
Of all the hatred you harbour
So you say it's not okay to be gay
Well, I think you're just evil
You're just some racist who can't tie my laces
Your point of view is medieval
[Chorus: Lily Allen]
Fuck you, fuck you very, very much
'Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So please, don't stay in touch
Fuck you, fuck you very, very much
'Cause your words don't translate
And it's getting quite late
So please, don't stay in touch
[Verse 2: Olivia Rodrigo, Lily Allen & Olivia Rodrigo]
Do you get, do you get a little kick out of being small minded?
You want to be like your father, it's approval you're after
Well, that's not how you find it
Do you, do you really enjoy living a life that's so hateful?
'Cause there's a hole where your soul should be
You're losing control of it
And it's really distasteful
[Chorus: Olivia Rodrigo, Lily Allen & Olivia Rodrigo]
Fuck you, fuck you very, very much
'Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So please, don't stay in touch
Fuck you, fuck you very, very much
'Cause your words don't translate
And it's getting quite late
So please, don't stay in touch
Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you
Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you
[Verse 3: Lily Allen]
You say you think we need to go to war
Well, you're already in one
'Cause it's people like you that need to get slew
No one wants your opinion
Doctors for Assange Statement
Doctors to UK: Assange Extradition
‘Medically & Ethically’ Wrong
Ahead of the U.K. Home Secretary’s decision on whether to extradite Julian Assange to the United States, a group of more than 300 doctors representing 35 countries have told Priti Patel that approving his extradition would be “medically and ethically unacceptable”.
In an open letter sent to the Home Secretary on Friday June 10, and copied to British Prime Minster Boris Johnson, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, the doctors draw attention to the fact that Assange suffered a “mini stroke” in October 2021. They note:
“Predictably, Mr Assange’s health has since continued to deteriorate in your custody. In October 2021 Mr. Assange suffered a ‘mini-stroke’… This dramatic deterioration of Mr Assange’s health has not yet been considered in his extradition proceedings. The US assurances accepted by the High Court, therefore, which would form the basis of any extradition approval, are founded upon outdated medical information, rendering them obsolete.”
The doctors charge that any extradition under these circumstances would constitute negligence. They write:
“Under conditions in which the UK legal system has failed to take Mr Assange’s current health status into account, no valid decision regarding his extradition may be made, by yourself or anyone else. Should he come to harm in the US under these circumstances it is you, Home Secretary, who will be left holding the responsibility for that negligent outcome.”
In their letter the group reminds the Home Secretary that they first wrote to her on Friday 22 November 2019, expressing their serious concerns about Julian Assange’s deteriorating health.
Those concerns were subsequently borne out by the testimony of expert witnesses in court during Assange’s extradition proceedings, which led to the denial of his extradition by the original judge on health grounds. That decision was later overturned by a higher court, which referred the decision to Priti Patel in light of US assurances that Julian Assange would not be treated inhumanely.
The doctors write:
“The subsequent ‘assurances’ of the United States government, that Mr Assange would not be treated inhumanly, are worthless given their record of pursuit, persecution and plotted murder of Mr Assange in retaliation for his public interest journalism.”
“Home Secretary, in making your decision as to extradition, do not make yourself, your government, and your country complicit in the slow-motion execution of this award-winning journalist, arguably the foremost publisher of our time. Do not extradite Julian Assange; free him.”
Julian Assange remains in High Security Belmarsh Prison awaiting Priti Patel’s decision, which is due any day.
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.
Recently I’ve started working with the Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee. On March 17, Ruchell turned 83. He’s been imprisoned for 59 years, and now walks with a walker. He is no threat to society if released. Ruchell was in the Marin County Courthouse on August 7, 1970, the morning Jonathan Jackson took it over in an effort to free his older brother, the internationally known revolutionary prison writer, George Jackson. Ruchell joined Jonathan and was the only survivor of the shooting that ensued. He has been locked up ever since and denied parole 13 times. On March 19, the Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee held a webinar for Ruchell for his 83rd birthday, which was a terrific event full of information and plans for building the campaign to Free Ruchell. (For information about his case, please visit: www.freeruchellmagee.org.)
Below are two ways to stream this historic webinar, plus
• a petition you can sign
• a portal to send a letter to Governor Newsom
• a Donate button to support his campaign
• a link to our campaign website.
Please take a moment and help.
Note: We will soon have t-shirts to sell to raise money for legal expenses.
Here is the YouTube link to view the March 19 Webinar:
Here is the Facebook link:
Sign the petition to Free Ruchell:
Write to Governor Newsom’s office:
No one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side
Tell Congress to Help #FreeDanielHale
U.S. Air Force veteran, Daniel Everette Hale has recently completed his first year of a 45-month prison sentence for exposing the realities of U.S drone warfare. Daniel Hale is not a spy, a threat to society, or a bad faith actor. His revelations were not a threat to national security. If they were, the prosecution would be able to identify the harm caused directly from the information Hale made public. Our members of Congress can urge President Biden to commute Daniel's sentence! Either way, Daniel deserves to be free.
Laws are created to be followed
by the poor.
Laws are made by the rich
to bring some order to exploitation.
The poor are the only law abiders in history.
When the poor make laws
the rich will be no more.
—Roque Dalton Presente!
(May 14, 1935 – Assassinated May 10, 1975)
 Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.
“In His Defense” The People vs. Kevin Cooper
A film by Kenneth A. Carlson
Teaser is now streaming at:
Posted by: Death Penalty Focus Blog, January 10, 2022
“In his Defense,” a documentary on the Kevin Cooper case, is in the works right now, and California filmmaker Kenneth Carlson has released a teaser for it on CarlsonFilms.com
Just over seven months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered an independent investigation of Cooper’s death penalty case. At the time, he explained that, “In cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate punishment of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined.”
That investigation is ongoing, with no word from any of the parties involved on its progress.
Cooper has been on death row since 1985 for the murder of four people in San Bernardino County in June 1983. Prosecutors said Cooper, who had escaped from a minimum-security prison and had been hiding out near the scene of the murder, killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, a friend who was spending the night at the Ryen’s. The lone survivor of the attack, eight-year-old Josh Ryen, was severely injured but survived.
For over 36 years, Cooper has insisted he is innocent, and there are serious questions about evidence that was missing, tampered with, destroyed, possibly planted, or hidden from the defense. There were multiple murder weapons, raising questions about how one man could use all of them, killing four people and seriously wounding one, in the amount of time the coroner estimated the murders took place.
The teaser alone gives a good overview of the case, and helps explain why so many believe Cooper was wrongfully convicted.
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: 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”
By Margaret Atwood*
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
*Witten by the woman who wrote a novel about Christian fascists taking over the U.S. and enslaving women. Prescient!
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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
They contain the food additive titanium dioxide, which is in thousands of food products. Here’s what we learned about its safety.
By Rachel Rabkin Peachman, July 26, 2022
If you’ve been paying attention to nutrition headlines lately, you may have noticed a recent lawsuit that claimed that Skittles — the colorful candies of “taste the rainbow” fame — were “unfit for human consumption” because of the presence of a “known toxin” called titanium dioxide.
The class-action lawsuit, filed July 14 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, said that Mars Inc., the maker of the candies, had “long known of the health problems” the chemical compound posed, and that it had even publicly committed in 2016 to phase the substance out of its products. Yet, according to the complaint, the candy company “flouted its own promise to consumers” and continued to sell Skittles with titanium dioxide, posing a “significant health risk to unsuspecting consumers.”
But what is titanium dioxide, exactly? And should you be concerned about it in your candy — or in any other food, for that matter? Here’s what we know.
What is titanium dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is a chemical compound, derived from a naturally occurring mineral, that is processed and used as a color additive, anti-caking agent and whitener, among other things, in thousands of food products across a range of categories. These include many chewing gums, baked goods, sandwich spreads, salad dressings and dairy products like cottage cheese, ice cream and coffee creamers, said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit focused on consumer health and safety.
Sweet treats and candies also make up a large share of food products that contain the substance. One recent E.W.G. review concluded that “thousands of children’s sweets,” including Starburst and other candies marketed to kids, contained it.
Titanium dioxide is also used in a variety of nonfood items, such as certain medications, sunscreens, cosmetics, paints and plastics.
Is it safe to eat?
It depends on whom you ask. Since 1966, the Food and Drug Administration has recognized the use of titanium dioxide in human food as safe, so long as it doesn’t exceed 1 percent of the food’s weight.
But despite its widespread use, studies published since the 1960s have raised questions about its safety. A 2015 review of mostly animal (but some human) studies, for instance, found that titanium dioxide did not just pass through the body, as research in the 1960s suggested. Instead, the researchers found, the additive could be absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestines and accumulate in certain organs, potentially damaging the spleen, liver and kidneys.
A subsequent animal study published in 2017 linked titanium dioxide with an increased risk of intestinal inflammation, cancer and damage to the immune system. This research was concerning enough that in 2019, the French government called for a ban of titanium dioxide by 2020.
And in 2021, another review of animal and human studies raised the possibility that titanium dioxide could play a role in inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer.
This year, after an assessment of the scientific literature by the European Food Safety Authority, the European Union decided to ban titanium dioxide in food. The agency highlighted its concern that the additive could damage DNA and lead to cancer. While more research is still needed, the agency concluded that it could not establish a safe level of titanium dioxide in food.
Britain and Canada, however, disagreed with the European Union’s decision and continued to allow titanium dioxide in food.
Norbert Kaminski is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology and the director of the Center for Research on Ingredient Safety at Michigan State University whose own animal research on titanium dioxide has been partially funded by industry groups such as the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association and the International Association of Color Manufacturers. He said that the studies used to justify banning the ingredient in the European Union contained methodology flaws. He added that a 1979 study by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, found no link between titanium dioxide and cancer. In that research, mice and rats were given the chemical compound in extremely large doses — amounting to 2.5 to 5 percent of their diet — across two years.
In response to a request for comment, an F.D.A. official said that the agency has reviewed the findings of the European Union’s ban and concluded that the available studies “do not demonstrate safety concerns connected to the use of titanium dioxide as a color additive.”
But Pierre Herckes, a professor of chemistry at the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University who was an author of a 2014 study on titanium dioxide, said that based on the current research, which is mixed, it’s tricky to say whether consumers should limit their consumption of the additive. “I don’t have a clear yes or no,” he said.
Dr. Herckes did say, however, that given that sweet treats and candies contain some of the highest levels of titanium dioxide and are mostly consumed by children, there is reason for concern, given their smaller bodies and higher relative doses. “If there is damage to the DNA, classical carcinogenicity, that is cumulative over time. When you are exposed to that in the younger years, it can hit you in later years,” he said.
What can I do if I want to avoid it?
While Mars Inc. is in the process of phasing out titanium dioxide in its products sold in Europe, the company has yet to take action in the United States, where titanium dioxide is still permitted.
In an emailed statement to The Times, Justin Comes, vice president of research and development at Mars Wrigley North America, said that the company’s use of titanium dioxide “is in full compliance with government regulations. While we do not comment on pending litigation, all Mars Wrigley ingredients are safe and manufactured in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements established by food safety regulators, including the F.D.A.”
Mars Inc. did not respond when asked if it planned to remove the additive from its products sold in the United States.
Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said that he was baffled as to why the company wasn’t removing titanium dioxide from the U.S. market. “Maybe because the F.D.A. has not told them they’re going to ban it,” he said.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said that steering clear of the additive could be difficult, since food companies aren’t required to include it on their ingredient lists, and not all companies do. The chemical compound may be especially hard to avoid in processed foods that might simply state “color added” rather than list the specific ingredients used.
Your best bet, then, for limiting your consumption of titanium dioxide is to choose products that don’t contain added coloring. Or you could stick to eating unprocessed, whole or organic foods when you can, said Marion Nestle, a professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
Dr. Nestle noted that food additives like titanium dioxide were generally used to make “junk food look healthy and taste better.” She added that “those are not foods that a nutritionist would be likely to recommend except in very small quantities.”
The larger issue, though, Dr. Nestle said, is that the F.D.A. does not have the staff or the funds to do the necessary scientific review of this additive or countless others that are in our food supply.
The agency has long needed to review the thousands of food additives that it deemed safe decades ago, based on research that was typically provided by the industry or based on no research at all, Mr. Faber added.
“Titanium dioxide is really the poster child for many chemicals that were reviewed, in some cases, more than 50 years ago for safety by the F.D.A. and haven’t been reviewed since,” he said. “So titanium dioxide is part of a bigger story about regulatory failure.”
That’s why legislators have introduced bills that would require the F.D.A. to better ensure the safety of chemicals before they are added to food and to regularly assess them for safety. Barring that, it’s left up to each food company to decide if it will include additives like titanium dioxide in their products, just as it’s up to individual consumers to decide if they will eat them.
As for Skittles in particular, Dr. Nestle said that since there are suspicions that the additive may be carcinogenic, “Mars should take it out. They shouldn’t be using it.” She added, “Why take a chance?”
Should this affect your choices in the supermarket? And will this affect the outcome of the lawsuit against Mars Inc.? It seems that the jury is still out.
They tend to have the weakest social services and the worst results in several categories of health and well-being.
By Emily Badger, Margot Sanger-Katz and Claire Cain MillerGraphics by Eve Washington, July 28, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/28/upshot/abortion-bans-states-social-services.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=The%20Upshot
The case against Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic in Jackson, Miss., wound up ending Roe v. Wade. Mississippi ranks last in the nation in infant mortality. Credit...Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
In Mississippi, which brought the abortion case that ended Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Gov. Tate Reeves vowed that the state would now “take every step necessary to support mothers and children.”
Today, however, Mississippi fares poorly on just about any measure of that goal. Its infant and maternal mortality rates are among the worst in the nation.
State leaders have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, leaving an estimated 43,000 women of reproductive age without health insurance. They have chosen not to extend Medicaid to women for a full year after giving birth. And they have a welfare program that gives some of the country’s least generous cash assistance — a maximum of $260 a month for a poor mother raising two children.
Mississippi embodies a national pattern: States that have banned abortion, or are expected to, have among the nation’s weakest social services for women and children, and have higher rates of death for infants and mothers.
According to a New York Times analysis, the 24 states that have banned abortion (or probably will) fare worse on a broad range of outcomes than states where abortion will probably remain legal, including child and maternal mortality, teenage birthrates and the share of women and children who are uninsured. The states likely to ban abortion either have laws predating Roe that ban abortion; have recently passed stringent restrictions; or have legislatures that are actively considering new bans.
The majority of these states have turned down the yearlong Medicaid postpartum extension. Nine have declined the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which provides health care to the poor. None offer new parents paid leave from work to care for their newborns.
“The safety net is woefully inadequate,” said Carol Burnett, who works with poor and single mothers as executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, a nonprofit. “All of these demonstrated state-level obstacles prevent moms from getting the help they need, the health care they need, the child care they need.”
Many anti-abortion activists have acknowledged that improving the health and livelihoods of mothers and young children is an important goal for their movement: “This has been my lecture to the pro-life movement for the last year,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life. “No woman stands alone in the post-Roe America.”
But in many of these states, skepticism of government aid runs as deep as opposition to abortion. And racism has played a role over generations in weakening safety nets for all poor residents, researchers and historians say.
Studies have repeatedly found that states where the safety net is less generous and harder to access tend to be those with relatively more Black residents. That has further implications for Black women, who have a maternal mortality rate nationally that is nearly three times that of white women.
Social spending is not the only answer to poverty and poor public health, and some in the anti-abortion movement stress that they want to help women and children — just not with more government spending. But there is a strong link between state policy choices and outcomes for mothers and children, researchers have found.
Perhaps the clearest example is health insurance. Numerous studies have tied it to improved health and financial security for poor Americans. Since 2014, states have had the option to expand their Medicaid programs to cover nearly all poor adults, with the federal government paying 90 percent or more of the cost. But nine of the states planning to ban abortion have not expanded it, citing opposition to Obamacare, which Republicans have long vowed to repeal; a disinclination to offer health benefits to poor Americans who do not work; or concerns about the 10 percent of the bill left to state governments to finance.
“Closing the Medicaid gap is the first and best option for women’s health care,” said Allison Orris, a senior fellow focused on health policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Since 2021, states have also had the choice to expand Medicaid to cover women for a full year after a birth instead of two months. Just 16 states have declined to do so or opted for a shorter period — all but three of them are also banning or seeking to ban abortion.
Women who are poor and pregnant are eligible for Medicaid across the country, and the program pays for four in 10 births nationwide. But health experts say it also matters that women are covered for an extended period after birth, and for the years leading up to pregnancy. Conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and substance abuse can lead to pregnancy complications and poor infant health. Research suggests that Medicaid expansion can reduce maternal mortality. Medicaid also pays for contraception.
Paid family leave and subsidized child care are another example. None of the states that have banned abortion (or are likely to) guarantee parents paid leave from work to care for and bond with their newborns. Just 11 states and the District of Columbia do. Paid leave has been shown to benefit infants’ health and mothers’ physical and mental health as well as their economic prospects.
In most states, there is no guaranteed child care for children until they enter kindergarten at age 5. Subsidies available to low-income families cover a small segment of eligible children, ranging from less than 4 percent in Arkansas (which now bans abortion) to more than 17 percent in Vermont (which passed abortion rights legislation).
In many states, the subsidies also present a conundrum: Parents are required to work to get them, yet they can’t find or start work without child care. Some states add other obstacles. Mississippi requires single mothers to file for child support from fathers before they can receive subsidies. Also, a job paying minimum wage — which is not higher than the federal floor of $7.25 in 20 states — doesn’t necessarily pay enough to cover even subsidized care.
Support for families is different in some states once children are 3 or 4. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia offer or have committed to offering universal preschool. Unlike with other family benefits, anti-abortion states are roughly as likely as other states to offer public preschool. Six of those 13 states ban abortion or probably will.
“This is consistent with a view that education is a public responsibility,” said Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, while other safety-net programs “fall outside the accepted sphere of public responsibility in the conservative states.”
Poorer states may have fewer resources to fund benefits like parental leave, or state supplements to the federal earned-income tax credit. But what they choose to do with federal grants can be revealing, said Zachary Parolin, a professor of social policy at Bocconi University in Milan who has studied how states use the broad discretion given to them by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare program.
“You can’t say Alabama gives very little cash assistance for low-income families with children because it can’t afford” the program, Mr. Parolin said. “It has a TANF program, and it’s primarily funded by the federal government.”
But in 2020, Alabama spent only about 8 percent of its welfare funds on direct cash assistance to families. Mississippi spent 5 percent. Instead, states often spend these grants on a wide range of other programs like pro-marriage advertising campaigns and abstinence-only sex education (in 2020, a state auditor in Mississippi found that the state misspent millions of federal welfare dollars, including on speeches that were never delivered by the former quarterback Brett Favre).
Mr. Parolin’s research has shown that states with larger Black population shares tend to spend the least on cash assistance, widening the poverty gap in America between Black and white children. The Times analysis similarly found that states likely to ban abortion devote a smaller share of welfare funds to basic assistance.
States with less generous safety-net programs also frequently use complex rules and paperwork to further limit access to benefits, said Sarah Bruch, a professor of social policy and sociology at the University of Delaware. States could help women and families, she said, not just by investing more in the safety net, but also by making it easier to find and use.
Angela Rachidi, a senior fellow studying poverty and safety-net programs at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said the government has some role to play, but not alone: “We have a broader responsibility as a society — employers, churches, community organizations — to ensure moms feel they can bring those kids into the world.”
Evidence so far suggests that those organizations will struggle to meet the growing need.
After the Supreme Court decision, other governors banning abortion trumpeted their commitment to pregnant women and children. “Being pro-life entails more than being ‘pro-birth,’” wrote J. Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, in an executive order signed July 11.
Oklahoma ranks among the bottom 10 states on measures of child poverty, infant mortality and the share of women of reproductive age without health insurance.
In Texas on the day of the ruling, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that the state had “prioritized supporting women’s health care and expectant mothers in need.” On Wednesday, the governor’s press secretary, Renae Eze, said, “We look forward to continuing working with the Legislature to ensure the health of all Texas women and their families.”
Mr. Abbott pointed to Texas’ decision to offer mothers six months of postpartum Medicaid coverage. The state declined the full year of coverage offered by the federal government. Texas has also used techniques to purge children from Medicaid coverage for paperwork lapses. It has a higher rate of uninsured children and women of reproductive age than any other state.
In its legislation restricting abortion, Texas set aside $100 million over two years for a program that connects women with counseling, education and supplies, called Alternatives to Abortion. That funding pales in comparison with another benefit, which Texas has declined — the estimated $6 billion in federal funds each year that it’s losing by choosing not to expand Medicaid.
Josh Katz contributed reporting.
Sources: Poverty data (2019) from the American Community Survey; uninsurance data (2019) from the A.C.S.; low-birthweight-babies data (2019) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; teen births data (2019) from the C.D.C.; maternal mortality data (2018-20) from the C.D.C.; infant mortality data (2018-19) from the C.D.C.; Medicaid expansion data (2022) from the Kaiser Family Foundation; paid leave data (2022) from the National Partnership for Women and Families; prekindergarten data (2022) from the National Institute for Early Education Research; minimum wage data (2022) from the Department of Labor.
Outcomes table: Maternal mortality data (2018-20) from the C.D.C.; infant mortality data (2018-2019) from the C.D.C.; poverty data from the A.C.S. (2019); uninsurance data from the A.C.S. (2019).
Policies table: Medicaid expansion data (2022) from the Kaiser Family Foundation; paid leave data (2022) from the National Partnership for Women and Families; prekindergarten data (2022) from the National Institute for Early Education Research; minimum wage data (2022) from the Department of Labor.
By Kendall Ciesemier, July 31, 2022
Ms. Ciesemier is a writer and producer and the host of the A.C.L.U. podcast “At Liberty.”https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/31/opinion/disability-rights-anti-abortion.html
Thirty years ago, when my mother was pregnant, an ultrasound revealed troubling abnormalities: the fetus’s organs were misarranged. This condition, she was told by her doctor, correlated with a wide variety of disabilities that could cause the baby to die at birth. The doctor told my mother that she could seek an abortion. She wanted her to know her options.
My parents had good health insurance, a steady income and a strong support system. They chose to proceed with the pregnancy. A few months later, I was born to a crowd of doctors waiting to assess and treat my condition. I had my first of many major surgeries at 8 weeks old. My parents went to sleep every night praying I’d see another birthday.
Two liver transplants and countless other lifesaving interventions later, I’m now a 29-year-old woman sitting squarely in my own reproductive window. But with the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to legal abortion, it’s clear that I will not have the same freedom to make choices about my own body that my mother had.
Despite the fact that abortion opponents would champion my disabled “life” in my mom’s womb, the laws they’ve levied across the country now put my life and that of other disabled and chronically ill people in danger by potentially forcing us to carry a pregnancy to term even in the face of serious health consequences.
Those of us who are disabled and pro-choice, as I am, often find ourselves confronted with confusion and contradiction. This is a hard conversation. Arguing for choice isn’t arguing for the termination of disabled fetuses; if it were, I wouldn’t be pro-choice.
Abortion opponents like to use disabled fetuses as pawns to support their politics. To be honest, sometimes it works on me. I feel a lot of fury that the value of disabled people is often overlooked or ignored. But I know this inner conflict is manufactured and sold to me, not of me.
By invoking a story about valuing disability, abortion opponents can connect abortion to the dark practice of eugenics, or the systematic removal of unsavory traits in a population to achieve genetic supremacy. If they can liken ending a pregnancy for a fetal abnormality to genocide, they can liken their advocacy to protecting disabled lives. They are forgetting, however, that pregnancy can endanger disabled people. Removing abortion access is not protecting our lives; it is putting them in danger.
Growing up in a conservative town, I became familiar with this story line: “No one should have an abortion, even if there is something wrong with their baby,” my high school friend would say. “Kendall, you’re a miracle baby. Surely, you are happy you are alive.” I was already firmly pro-choice then, but my disability was used as the evidence in her argument, the gotcha in our debate.
What my friend didn’t understand was that disabled fetuses grow up to be disabled people with their own reproductive needs. In some cases, these needs include access to abortion. It is key to our health care — just as integral to our well-being as mobility aids, surgeries and medications.
Take my case: Pregnancy in organ transplant recipients like me is a high-risk endeavor. Should I choose to become pregnant one day, my pregnancy will need to be carefully considered and closely monitored. Many transplant recipients and a slew of others living with chronic health conditions are on medications that have irreversible and negative effects on a fetus, and in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, they would need access to abortion. Pregnancy can also threaten our transplanted organs.
Even in anti-abortion states where abortion is still legal in the case of a life-threatening situation, what constitutes life-threatening is narrow. Cancer likely isn’t threatening enough to warrant terminating a pregnancy. Bleeding out might be, but doctors and hospitals will have to make that call in real time by consulting their lawyers. Then there’s the cruel truth disabled people know better than most: Your health can be harmed in life-altering ways without causing what doctors call imminent death.
Disabled people have long been sexually infantilized, opening the door for paternalism to run roughshod over our bodies and lives. We are more than three times as likely to be victims of sexual violence and rape as our nondisabled peers. The same movement that has fought to block access to abortion throughout history has sought to control and brutalize disabled pregnant people and parents by engaging in state-sanctioned eugenics.
In the 1927 case Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court gave states permission to sterilize those held in public institutions. At the center of the case was a woman who had been raped and become pregnant. She was committed to an institution, where she was forced to give up her baby, and then she became the focus of a burgeoning eugenics movement that sought to sterilize disability, poverty and color out of American society.
Control over the reproduction of disabled people still exists. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a 2007 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, affirmed the government’s interest in forcing two disabled people to have abortions, saying that “accepting the wishes of patients who lack (and have always lacked) the mental capacity to make medical decisions does not make logical sense and would cause erroneous medical decisions.” In June he made a total moral about-face as one of the five Supreme Court justices to overturn our individual liberty by withdrawing our constitutional right to an abortion.
The loss of access to legal abortion has entirely altered the process of deciding whether to have children. It has magnified both the danger of getting pregnant and my fear. It is deeply ironic that the people who swore they were fighting for my right to exist now threaten my right to thrive and survive. The hypocrisy is enraging.
These actions are not about respecting the sanctity of our lives. They are about controlling them. What chronically ill and disabled people need is autonomy to make the health care choices right for them. It’s what we all deserve.
By Peter Coy, July 29, 2022
Illustration by The New York Times; images by CSA Images via Getty Images
There are 17 songs on Napster with the title “Paycheck to Paycheck.” I know because I listened to all of them. (You’re welcome.) These aren’t covers — each has its own lyrics, some pretty good. I like the version by a singer-songwriter named Darrell Bailey because it refers to economists:
Recession or depression
It all sounds the same to me
On TV the experts try to tell us
It’s temporary for you and me
But in the meantime there ain’t no money
For the little man in the Land of the Free
When you’re living paycheck to paycheck
The hard times, they come free
The lyrics of the 17 “Paycheck to Paycheck” songs are about backbreaking work, bad bosses and past-due bills. They’re about people scraping by, on the edge of failure.
Given that, what should we make of the following claim? “Close to two-thirds of the U.S. population — about 157 million adults — currently live paycheck to paycheck, making it the main financial lifestyle in the United States.” That’s from a June report by the lending marketplace LendingClub in cooperation with PYMNTS.com, a payments data company. One-third of people earning $250,000 a year or more are living paycheck to paycheck, says the study, which was based on a survey and government data.
What the LendingClub report says to me is that we don’t have a good agreed-upon definition for what living paycheck to paycheck really means. If the definition of it encompasses almost two-thirds of Americans, I’d say, just looking around, that it’s too broad.
For example, let’s say you have a high income but you sock away money every month in a 401(k) plan for your retirement and a 529 plan for your kids’ education. You spend money on vacations, clothes, restaurants, home renovations. These expenses on average eat up all of your monthly pay. By one definition you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but you could pare back these expenses if you needed to.
It seems to me that “paycheck to paycheck” should be reserved for people whose monthly nut — unavoidable expenses like rent or mortgage, utilities, gasoline and food — consumes everything they bring home. One big emergency expense such as a transmission repair or hospital bill can break them.
Other surveys have found other results, generally less dire. MagnifyMoney, a unit of LendingTree, conducted a survey this year that found “50 percent of working Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck, meaning they have no money left after all expenses are paid.” WTW, a benefits consultant, said in June that “among workers earning $100,000 or more, the number of employees living paycheck to paycheck doubled from 18 percent in 2019 to 36 percent this year.”
It’s clear that survey methodology and question-wording matter. The Bank of America Institute says in a July 19 report that the percentage “does not seem as high as some media headlines” that put the figure over 50 percent. The institute says that across income groups, the share of spending that is discretionary is above 60 percent: “This tends to imply that while some people may be living paycheck to paycheck, they may still have scope to reduce their discretionary spending if they need to.” (That discretionary share sounds high to me, but I get the idea.)
Oddly enough, the Bank of America Institute found that customers with annual incomes of $250,000 or more are the most likely to have inflows to their accounts that are 15 percent or more smaller than the outflows from their accounts. That’s based on anonymized data from 40 million bank accounts for the first three months of this year.
Richer people who seem from their bank accounts to be spending beyond their means are probably pumping money into brokerage accounts and mortgage payments, which build housing wealth. They may get bonuses at times other than the first quarter, which is what the institute studied. And being older on average, they tend to have accumulated savings to draw on, David Tinsley, a senior economist at the institute, told me.
The good thing about the Bank of America Institute data is that it’s plentiful and objective, unlike surveys, which cover fewer people and are necessarily subjective. The bad thing is that you can’t always tell from financial flows why people are doing what they’re doing and how they perceive their own situations.
Surveys have a valuable role, and they’re better if they ask objective questions. I like the Federal Reserve’s annual survey, which asks people how they would pay for an unexpected $400 expense. The share who said they would cover it with cash or its equivalent — an indication of financial strength — has steadily risen, to 68 percent last year from 50 percent in 2013.
People’s ability to cover an unexpected expense grows if you give them a little more time. Fifty-five percent of U.S. adults say they “certainly” could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month, according to an annual survey by the TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. That’s up from only a quarter who said so in the financial crisis year of 2009.
Annamaria Lusardi, a professor of economics and accountancy at George Washington University who co-directs the survey, told me that financial fragility is a serious issue in the United States, whatever the “paycheck to paycheck” surveys show. “I think we should still be alarmed,” she said. “Finance is becoming very complicated. It’s becoming difficult to make those decisions and very easy to be in trouble. There are so many opportunities to be in debt and spend. And few to save.”
Or as the singer Darrell Bailey told me when I reached him at home in Greenville, S.C.: “I have lived hard growing up. I know what it’s all about with nothing to eat in the house but sugar. I’ve always got up and went to work. I’ve lived both ends. I’ve worked since I was 16. I’m 53 now. You just pray for people who are having hard times. All you can do is get out and make a living every day.”
The Environmental Protection Agency found that water at a mobile home park that mostly serves agricultural workers contained almost 10 times the allowable limit of arsenic. But housing alternatives are hard to find.
By Ana Facio-Krajcer and Jill CowanPhotographs by Alex Welsh, July 31, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/31/us/oasis-mobile-home-park-coachella.html
THERMAL, Calif. — Three times a week, Pascual Campos Ochoa, 26, loads up a duffel bag with a brown fleece blanket and a plastic container of oatmeal. A van picks him up from the dusty trailer park where he lives — where stray dogs wander among the carcasses of old cars and working electricity is not a given — and takes him to a clinic for kidney dialysis.
Mr. Campos Ochoa is the youngest person to require the treatment at the clinic; he has been on dialysis since he was 18 and is waiting for a kidney donor.
Still, it was not until recently, he said, that he considered that his health problems may be tied to the trailer he has shared with his family for 16 years at the Oasis Mobile Home Park — and the water tainted with high levels of arsenic that spewed for years from its aging pipes.
For years, people living at the park, home to a little more than 1,000 residents in about 230 units, have suffered from a variety of health problems. They have varied from persistent rashes and hair loss to kidney disease like Mr. Campos Ochoa’s and even cancer — that residents and their advocates say may be caused by contaminated water.
In 2019, the United States Environmental Protection Agency found levels of arsenic in the park’s water as high as almost 10 times the allowable limit. Arsenic, which is naturally occurring, has been linked to those ailments, as well as an array of other severe and chronic symptoms.
No comprehensive study has been done of the causes and extent of the health issues at Oasis, and the agricultural work most residents do consistently ranks among the nation’s most hazardous occupations.
New management at the park said it has spent more than $400,000 since November to fix the water problems — plus more than $840,000 to provide alternative water. But residents are still being warned not to drink the water or use it for cooking, bathing or brushing their teeth. Government agencies, including the E.P.A. and Riverside County, as well as community advocates, all agreed that the living conditions at Oasis have been untenable.
And the park’s residents say they are trapped there — unable to find other homes they can afford in a county that has become a magnet for Californians priced out of other parts of the state.
So even if one family moves out of Oasis, new tenants almost immediately fill the vacancy.
“We have nowhere to go,” Eudelia Ochoa Gutierrez, 45, Pascual’s mother, said in Spanish, fighting back tears.
The dilemma reflects both the continuing plight of California’s largely immigrant agricultural workers and how the state’s housing crisis has also become a health and safety emergency for many of its most vulnerable residents.
And, like the lead contamination of water in Flint, Mich., it’s an extreme illustration that many Americans can’t count on having clean, safe water.
A state audit recently found that just in California, one of the nation’s richest states, almost a million people lack access to clean drinking water. Most at risk are often farmworkers, who have been forced to live in substandard housing in isolated communities far from municipal water systems, often relying on water from agricultural wells.
Because of its size and residents’ complaints about other health and sanitation issues, Oasis has been a magnet for attention. But dangerous levels of arsenic have been found in numerous small systems not hooked up to the regional Coachella Valley Water District’s water system, according to the E.P. A.
A 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water infrastructure a “D” rating and said the United States needs to invest $1 trillion in the next 25 years to upgrade water systems.
For many years, residents who complained of strange smells or rashes after using the water were assured it was fine. But in 2019, the E.P.A. ordered the park’s owner, Scott Lawson, to reduce arsenic levels to lawful limits and to provide free bottled drinking water in the meantime.
Two more orders, the latest in September 2021, said the park needed to fix water quality issues that “endanger residents.”
Mark Mazda, the lawyer representing Sophia Clark, a daughter of Mr. Lawson’s who was appointed administrator of the park after he died last year, said Mrs. Clark has been working in good faith with the E.P.A. since November and has hired a certified water treatment firm.
A notice sent to residents said that from late May to July arsenic levels in the water were near or below allowable limits. Mr. Mazda said the water coming out of residents’ taps was now clean, and the water treatment regimen put in place should provide clean water until the park can achieve a long-term solution of hooking up to the Coachella Valley Water District’s water system. But there is no plan in place for that to happen.
“She has really made an effort here, and a successful one, to turn this issue around,” Mr. Mazda said of Mrs. Clark. “I’m not saying the park is the Four Seasons. It’s not, but she’s really made an effort to really improve that park and the water issue.”
But the notice sent to residents citing the improvements also included the warning not to drink, cook with, bathe in, or brush their teeth with the park water.
Julia Giarmoleo, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said that improvements had been made but satisfactory lab tests have not been consistent. She added that untreated water with high arsenic levels has still been distributed to people’s homes and that various parts of the E.P.A. order, including developing adequate plans to flush out the system, have not been met. Until the park shows consistently satisfactory water-quality readings for a year, it will be required to provide bottled water for residents.
“The system remains out of compliance,” she said.
Residents and their advocates say the solution is to find a safe place for residents to live, not to fix a site that is compromised at too many levels.
Raul Ruiz, the United States representative who grew up in the area and lived in a trailer home as a child, said a solution should involve relocating residents to preferential housing and the construction of affordable housing.
He said stricter enforcement would not just be important for Oasis but, “It’s going to send a message to other unscrupulous mobile home park owners that have not been permitted or that are noncompliant with E.P.A.’s clean water orders, that it will no longer be tolerated.”
Mr. Lawson was a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, as is Mrs. Clark. Because the park is on tribal land, local officials say the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs is effectively in charge of enforcing water quality directives, but community advocates, local leaders and the new management say that the agency has not stepped in to help.
In a statement, the bureau said it was working with officials at other agencies and that the E.P.A. had the authority to enforce its own order.
“The B.I.A. takes its responsibility seriously to administer land held in trust for Indian tribes,” the statement said. “Due to multiple legal jurisdictions involved, this is a complex issue that requires cooperation and collaboration to resolve.”
Mrs. Clark’s husband, James Clark, said the lack of progress was maddening. “It seems like no one is trying to help,” he said. “So we’re trying our best, with limited funds and with limited resources.”
Last year, the area’s State Assembly member, Eduardo Garcia, and the nonprofit Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability were among those who helped the county secure a $30 million state grant aimed at helping to move out residents and to build new affordable housing. But the effort to decide what to do with the money has been slow and contentious.
Many mobile home parks in the area have their roots in the era of California’s Bracero Program, which brought Mexican workers to the state’s fields during World War II.
Advocates say the county has not invested enough in planning or infrastructure to house the region’s farmworkers — many of whom are undocumented and are hesitant to speak up about poor housing conditions.
At the same time, a growing number of Californians have headed for the vast desert east of Los Angeles, driving up housing costs there, too. The Coachella Valley’s booming tourism industry has compounded the problem.
For Leadership Counsel organizers like Omar Gastelum, who grew up at a park not far from Oasis, the fact that families have been living in unsafe conditions at Oasis is made more galling by the wave of luxury development sprouting up in the region. The Thermal Club, a gated vacation home development that includes private auto-racing tracks, is just a 10-minute drive away.
Mr. Gastelum’s colleague, Lesly Figueroa, pointed out a swath of land with striking mountain views slated to become an exclusive golf course.
County leaders, Ms. Figueroa said, “have the upper hand when these developers come in.” They could, she said, require developers to pay impact fees that could help extend utilities to poorer communities nearby or include low-income housing in their plans.
But there is a sense of inevitability that conditions will persist. Officials and advocates agree that it will take years to provide affordable housing for California’s poorest workers and to complete needed water and sewer upgrades.
V. Manuel Perez, the Riverside County supervisor who represents the area, declined requests for an interview.
In a lengthy statement, he said the county has been working with local, state and federal partners to extend clean water and build more housing.
“The lack of housing and investment dates back to the recession, the lack of funding, and other priorities by leaders of that time,” he said in the statement. “There are over 400 unpermitted mobile home parks that I inherited. This is a challenge that I and others will consistently work on.”
Mike Walsh, a Riverside County housing official whose job includes planning for how best to use the $30 million grant, said that relocating Oasis residents was a complicated game of musical chairs. He said that many of the families moving in behind them have left homes where conditions were even worse.
“We’re fighting against the tide,” he said.
Meanwhile, residents do their best to get by on the tattered edges of American life. Sometimes, against all odds, they reach for something more.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Torres and her husband, Luis Manuel Ortiz, went to buy Fernando a truck, something inexpensive to drive to school. Instead, on impulse, they bought him his dream car, a 2020 cherry red Dodge Charger Scat Pack that cost $59,000 that they don’t have.
Mrs. Torres put the $2,500 down payment on her Visa card. They take on extra agricultural work when they can, but she has stopped working lately to care for Fernando whose cancer has spread to his spine. She said neither she nor her husband talk about the bills with their son.
“What’s important is that he’s happy with his car,” Mrs. Torres said.
Fernando, an 11th grader, keeps his car spotless, and parks it in the carport of his family’s mobile home.
Inside the car’s dark interior, a reddish-brown rosary with the image of a teenage boy hangs from the rear-view mirror.
After Fernando’s kidney surgery last year, his grandmother introduced him to the story of St. José Luis Sánchez del Rio, a 14-year-old boy who was killed for refusing to denounce his Catholic faith.
In his bedroom, Fernando also has a small statue of the teenage martyr, who died in 1928 and was canonized in 2016.
On a recent afternoon, standing in his bedroom with Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright” playing in the background, Fernando talked about his patron saint and how he starts and ends his day with a prayer.
“I pray to him before I go to sleep, and when I go to school in my car,” Fernando said. “I ask him to take care of my health, to take care of my family, my friends, and my car.”
More school employees are carrying guns to defend against school shootings. In Ohio, a contentious new law requires no more than 24 hours of training.
By Sarah Mervosh, July 31, 2022
Over the course of three days, school employees practiced shooting, tying a tourniquet and responding to fast-paced active shooter drills. Credit...Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times
RITTMAN, Ohio — Mandi, a kindergarten teacher in Ohio, had already done what she could to secure her classroom against a gunman.
She positioned a bookcase by the doorway, in case she needed a barricade. In an orange bucket, she kept district-issued emergency supplies: wasp spray, to aim at an attacker, and a tube sock, to hold a heavy object and hurl at an assailant.
But after 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas, she felt a growing desperation. Her school is in an older building, with no automatic locks on classroom doors and no police officer on campus.
“We just feel helpless,” she said. “It’s not enough.”
She decided she needed something far more powerful: a 9 millimeter pistol.
So she signed up for training that would allow her to carry a gun in school. Like others in this article, she asked to be identified by her first name, because of school district rules that restrict information about employees carrying firearms.
A decade ago, it was extremely rare for everyday school employees to carry guns. Today, after a seemingly endless series of mass shootings, the strategy has become a leading solution promoted by Republicans and gun rights advocates, who say that allowing teachers, principals and superintendents to be armed gives schools a fighting chance in case of attack.
At least 29 states allow individuals other than police or security officials to carry guns on school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As of 2018, the last year for which statistics were available, federal survey data estimated that 2.6 percent of public schools had armed faculty.
The count has likely grown.
In Florida, more than 1,300 school staff members serve as armed guardians in 45 school districts, out of 74 in the state, according to state officials. The program was created after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018.
In Texas, at least 402 school districts — about a third in the state — participate in a program that allows designated people, including school staff members, to be armed, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. Another program, which requires more training, is used by a smaller number of districts. Participation in both is up since 2018.
And in the weeks after the Uvalde shooting, lawmakers in Ohio made it easier for teachers and other school employees to carry guns.
The strategy is fiercely opposed by Democrats, police groups, teachers’ unions and gun control advocates, who say that concealed carry programs in schools — far from solving the problem — will only create more risk. Past polling has shown that the vast majority of teachers do not want to be armed.
The law in Ohio has been especially contentious because it requires no more than 24 hours of training, along with eight hours of recertification annually.
“That, to us, is just outrageous,” said Michael Weinman, director of government affairs for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, the state’s largest law enforcement organization. By comparison, police officers in the state undergo more than 700 hours of training. And school resource officers — police assigned to campuses — must complete an additional 40 hours.
Supporters say 24 hours is enough because while police training includes everything from traffic tickets to legal matters, school employees tightly focus on firearm proficiency and active shooter response.
Studies on school employees carrying guns have been limited, and research so far has found little evidence that it is effective. There is also little evidence that school resource officers are broadly effective at preventing school shootings, which are statistically rare.
Yet arming school employees is finding appeal — slight majorities among parents and adults in recent polls.
Of the five deadliest school shootings on record, four — in Newtown, Conn., Uvalde, Texas, Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas — have happened in the last 10 years.
It was this possibility that brought Mandi and seven other educators to a gun range tucked amid the hayfields and farm roads of Rittman, in northeast Ohio.
Over the course of three days, Mandi practiced shooting, tying a tourniquet and responding to fast-paced active shooter drills. Her presence on the range, firing her pistol under the blazing sun, cut a contrast to the classroom, where she dances to counting songs with 5-year-olds, dollops out shaving cream for sensory activities and wallpapers her classroom with student artwork.
That she was being trained at all spoke to the country’s painful failure to stop mass shootings, and to the heavy responsibilities piled onto teachers — catching students up from the pandemic, handling mental health crises in children, navigating conflicts over the teaching of race and gender and now, for some, defending their schools.
Mandi, in her 40s, arrived at the training with nervous anticipation. She had been a teacher for a dozen years and has children of her own. She wanted to be sure she could carry her gun safely around students. “I get hugs all day long,” she said.
And then there was the prospect of confronting an actual gunman. Could three days of training prepare her for the unthinkable?
‘Time Is All That Matters’
The educators had come from Ohio and as far as Oklahoma for a 26-hour course by FASTER Saves Lives, a leading gun training program for school employees. It is run by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, a Second Amendment organization that works alongside a major gun lobbying group in Ohio. The lobbying group, the Buckeye Firearms Association, supported the new state law for school employees.
Over the past decade, the foundation estimates it has spent more than $1 million training at least 2,600 educators.
Its approach aligns closely with an argument that has become a hallmark of the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
In this view, teachers are the ultimate “good guys.”
“We trust them with our kids every day,” said Jim Irvine, an airline pilot and a longtime advocate for gun rights who is president of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation and volunteers as a director with FASTER.
Their philosophy is that saving lives during school shootings is a matter of speed, and that schools cannot afford to wait for the police.
At Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, the first 911 call was made after about five minutes, and the first officers arrived at the school less than four minutes later. Still, 20 children and six adults were killed. In Parkland, Fla., the gunman killed 17 people in just under six minutes.
Even in Uvalde, where the police have been criticized for waiting on site for more than an hour, the gunman is believed to have fired more than 100 rounds within the first three minutes, according to a state report.
“Time is all that matters,” Mr. Irvine said. “It’s that simple.”
Of the eight school employees being trained, Mandi was in some ways an anomaly. She was the only woman in the group. Several others were administrators — a superintendent, a principal — rather than teachers.
In other ways, she was typical.
Everyone had some comfort with guns. Mandi described hunting with her husband and shooting at a gun range on weekends. She said she had taken other firearms classes, including concealed carry training, one of the prerequisites to participate in FASTER.
Like others, she worked in a rural area, where carrying guns in schools is more common, in part because of longer response times by the police. One group in the training, from Oklahoma, estimated the response time in its area was at least 22 minutes.
“The last thing I want is for people to think we are just a bunch of gunslinging teachers who want an excuse to carry guns in schools,” said Mark, a middle-school teacher in Ohio who described measuring his school’s hallway to determine how far he needed to learn to shoot.
“I love my kids,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep them safe.”
School districts typically require anonymity as a tactical and safety strategy, so that would-be gunmen cannot plan around armed employees. While the school community may know someone on campus has a gun, employees and parents will not be told who.
That makes the choice of candidates especially crucial.
“We don’t always consider an individual that’s like, hey, jumping up and down,” said Malcolm Hines, an assistant superintendent in Suwannee County, Fla., where armed employees must pass a psychological screening and complete 144 hours of training. “My spidey senses always go up on that, if someone is too eager.”
In Mandi’s district, the superintendent said candidates must be approved by the school board. In addition to going through the FASTER training, they must meet annually with the sheriff’s department and may be removed if their skills are not up to par.
At the FASTER program, much of the training focused on firearm proficiency. The group practiced shooting for hours. Up close and far away. Right-handed and left-handed. Small circular targets and life-size human silhouettes.
“I want to be perfect,” Mandi said, noting that accuracy would be paramount if she ever needed to fire her gun in school.
Instructors offered safety and technical critiques, timed individuals’ shots and urged teachers and administrators to be assertive.
All of it was aimed at one thing: stopping a gunman in the act.
“This is a very reactive way to think about gun violence prevention,” said Sonali Rajan, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who studies school gun violence.
School gunmen are often teenagers in suicidal crisis. To intercept them beforehand, experts recommend mental health support, systems to identify children who may become threats and tighter gun laws, including mandates on safe storage.
“It’s one of the laws that has the best evidence,” said Andrew R. Morral, a lead gun policy researcher for the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan think tank.
In the face of an attack, one effective strategy is to lock classroom doors. More and more school districts have also hired school resource officers.
Still, campus police have not reliably prevented mass violence.
In one infamous example, a school resource officer present at the high school in Parkland stayed outside during the attack. In Uvalde, the school district had added officers to its police force and doubled spending on security in recent years.
“If trained law enforcement couldn’t stop that, what makes you think an ill-trained teacher or other school employee would be able to?” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, which opposed the new law.
This Is Only a Test
FASTER touts its program’s rigor.
Though not required by state law, some districts require teachers and administrators to pass the FASTER course, which includes a shooting qualification test — with distances ranging from close up to as far as 50 feet. To pass, participants must make at least 26 out of 28 shots.
Some, like Mandi, scored 28 out of 28.
Shooting in a controlled environment on the gun range, though, does not necessarily translate to high stress, real-world scenarios. Even police officers lose accuracy on the street, with hit rates below 50 percent.
“I would consider those to be marksmanship tests, to show you can handle the firearm safely, but they are not combat shooting,” said Pete Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, which specializes in active shooter training.
A more dynamic environment came later, when Mandi and her classmates practiced simulated scenarios in an empty school building. Experts say these kind of live scenarios offer more realistic preparation.
Mandi said she heard gunshots — blank shots — ring out in the hallways. Peering into a classroom, she saw a role player pointing a gun, and threatening to shoot, amid teacher and student actors. She aimed at the role player with a rubber bullet and was encouraged, she said, that she did not miss. (Because of media restrictions on campus, The New York Times was unable to attend this portion of the training.)
Other scenarios called for de-escalation. In one example, two role players tussled over a gun, making it difficult to tell who had brought the firearm and who was a bystander.
“We learned that it is just as important not to pull the trigger,” Mandi said.
The program did not include formal training on how implicit bias might affect decision-making.
Black and Hispanic Americans are killed by the police at significantly higher rates than white Americans, and in school, Black students experience the highest rates of suspension of all racial groups.
At one point in the program, the group fired at a row of paper targets showing a photo of a Black woman holding a handgun. Later, the targets showed a white man with a rifle.
But some experts say that targets should show a greater mix of race, gender and age, so as not to reinforce stereotypes or prime the mind to see particular groups as a threat.
“If you are trying to look at bad guys, then there should be an array of bad guys,” said Tracie Keesee, a co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “We also know the prominent folks who do the types of shootings in schools are not Black women.”
Mr. Irvine said the training is meant to focus on risk, not race. Shooting is warranted only if there is an “imminent threat to innocent people,” he said.
For critics, the everyday dangers are among the most worrisome.
Mass shootings, for all their heartbreak, remain exceedingly rare in a country with nearly 130,000 schools and 54 million schoolchildren.
Teachers, principals and janitors, on the other hand, interact with students every day.
“Arming teachers doesn’t make kids safer,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a network of parents fighting for stronger gun laws. “In fact, it increases the chances that a teacher’s gun will fall into the wrong hands or discharge unintentionally.”
Laws vary by state but often are not specific about how teachers must carry or store guns.
In one case, two first graders in Ohio found a gun after an employee in a concealed carry program left it in an unlocked case near her desk. Students have also discovered guns on buses and in school bathrooms, according to news reports.
A Growing Stealth Force
By the end of the program, Mandi and her classmates had enough training to carry a gun in school under the new Ohio law. They are part of a growing, and somewhat experimental, stealth force in schools.
The outcome is far from known.
While there have been anecdotes of armed citizens intervening in public shootings, such as the recent case at an Indiana mall, “that is an anomaly,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, who studies mass shootings.
Most mass shootings end when a gunman is shot or subdued by the police, dies by suicide or leaves the scene.
FASTER officials said they were not aware of any graduates of their program who had responded to a school shooting.
Jennifer, a school custodian who volunteers as an instructor with FASTER, said that in four years of carrying in her school, she had never needed her weapon. She doesn’t doubt her ability, she said, but believes the hardest part would be using her firearm on a student. She recalled a time when a middle schooler she had been mentoring threatened to bring a gun to school.
“My heart just dropped,” she said, adding that administrators were able to intervene.
For Mandi, the decision to be armed in the classroom seemed like a better solution than wasp spray or a tube sock.
She has worked through logistical details, like how she will carry her pistol: inside her waistband, in a holster meant to prevent accidental discharge. She did handstands, to check that her gun remained secure. When students come for hugs, she plans to turn her hip to direct them to the other side of her body.
To keep up her training, she goes to the gun range each week, she said.
And while she acknowledged other, important policies could help prevent school shootings, she did not feel she could afford to wait for change.
“We’ve got to help the kids right now,” she said.
By Sarah Smarsh, Aug. 3, 2022
Ms. Smarsh is the author of “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.”https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/03/opinion/kansas-abortion-vote-roe.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Opinion
TOPEKA, Kan. — Lines of Kansas voters, resolute in the August sun and 100-degree heat, stretched beyond the doors of polling sites and wrapped around buildings on Tuesday to cast ballots in a primary election. A few suffered heat exhaustion. Firefighters passed out bottles of water.
When polls closed at 7 p.m. Central time, many were still in line and legally entitled to get their turn. The Wichita Eagle reported that one Wichita woman cast the final vote at her polling site at 9:45 p.m. after waiting in line for nearly three hours. Poll workers, understaffed amid the likely record turnout, worked brutally long hours for democracy.
This inspired showing responded to a clear threat against reproductive rights. In the first state vote on abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, Kansans unequivocally batted down the state legislature’s proposed amendment to remove the right to an abortion from the state Constitution.
These citizens of the Plains put me in mind of the row of century-old cedar trees, planted close together so that their branches interlocked, that shielded my family’s small farm from powerful winds. As such “shelter belts” prevent soil erosion across the region, Kansas voters — underestimated by shocked liberals across the country — stood against the erosion of personal freedom.
Passage of the amendment would have made way for the conservative state legislature to further limit or completely ban abortion, threatening the health, bodily autonomy and survival of not just pregnant Kansans but pregnant people who travel to the state for otherwise inaccessible care. Neighboring Missouri and Oklahoma, as well as Texas and other nearby states, have banned or severely restricted abortion. A spokesman for Trust Women, an abortion clinic in Wichita, reported a 60 percent increase in out-of-state patients over the past year and a doubling of overall patient volume since last year.
In a state where registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats, the results reveal that conservative politicians bent on controlling women and pregnant people with draconian abortion bans are out of step with their electorates, a majority of whom are capable of nuance often concealed by our two-party system.
This is not news to many red-state moderates and progressives, who live with excruciating awareness of the gulf between their decent communities and the far-right extremists gerrymandering, voter-suppressing and dark-moneying their way into state and local office. Too often, election results say more about the conditions of the franchise — who manages to access it, and what information or misinformation they receive along the way — than they do about the character of a place.
Not so this time, even as anti-abortion lawmakers and their supporters tried every trick. They placed a major voter referendum on a primary election ballot, in order to sneak it through amid expected low voter awareness and turnout. They wanted to favor conservative votes in a state where Democrats often have little to vote on during a midterm primary and therefore stay home. To boot, some 30 percent of Kansas voters are unaffiliated and so unable to vote for candidates in primary elections. Independents could vote on the abortion measure but might not have known.
The anti-abortion side used confusing language in the amendment, which suggested a yes vote would ban taxpayer funding of abortions — a ban that already exists — or allow for laws protecting victims of rape and incest, who already have legal access to abortion. They insisted they had no designs on passing a total ban on abortion, but The Kansas Reflector obtained audio from a meeting in which a state senator and amendment advocate promised to attempt to pass just such a ban. On top of that, the day before the election, Kansas voters received deceptive texts to vote yes to preserve “choice,” confusing untold numbers of voters.
With this atmosphere in mind, alongside polls that were way off-target, cynical pundits and hopeful abortion rights supporters alike were stunned by the extent of the amendment’s failure — a nearly 18-percentage point margin, with 95 percent of votes tallied — in an initiative some predicted would require days or even weeks of counting and recounting in order to call.
Even more striking, perhaps, is who helped ensure that it failed — say, Osage County, population about 15,700, which has backed the Republican candidate in all presidential elections after 1964. Mr. Trump won 71 percent of the 2020 vote there. Yesterday, 56 percent of its voters rejected the amendment, with 93 percent of votes reported.
Despite red-and-blue maps suggesting that the political fault line of our era runs between urban and rural areas, much of the countryside joined cities like Wichita and Kansas City in voting down the amendment. Fourteen Kansas counties that went for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, as well as all five that went for Joe Biden, saw majority votes against the amendment. Even in counties where most voted yes, sizable numbers voted no.
Kansas’ existing abortion regulations will remain unchanged, at least for now. Kansas requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and permission from parents or a judge for minors seeking the procedure. Providers must share language with patients designed to discourage them from getting an abortion. After 22 weeks of pregnancy, abortion is legal only to protect the woman’s life or when her health is severely compromised.
Republican lawmakers’ attempts to ban second-trimester abortions resulted in a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling of 6-1 that the state Constitution guarantees the “right of personal autonomy,” including the freedom to decide whether to continue a pregnancy. The decision, in effect, closed the door on new state legislation curbing or ending abortion rights without first altering the Constitution.
Had they succeeded in doing so with the voter initiative on Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who is up for re-election this fall, no doubt would have vetoed subsequent anti-abortion legislation. But the legislature’s conservative supermajority would most likely have overridden a veto.
Instead, Kansas remains a beacon of liberty within the region.
The state has been such a beacon before. In 1861, Kansas established itself as a free state — provoking murderous raids by pro-slavery factions and helping to incite the Civil War. A few years later, in 1867, Kansas held the first voter referendum on women’s suffrage in the United States, also seeking to eliminate the word “white” from voter qualifications in the state Constitution three years before the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Both ballot measures failed, but Kansas voters would grant women the full right to vote in 1912, well ahead of the 19th Amendment.
Kansas has a history of relative reproductive freedom, too, and related turmoil. The Wichita clinic of George Tiller, one of the nation’s few physicians who performed rare third-trimester abortions, was pipe-bombed in 1986. Anti-abortion zealots from across the country descended on Dr. Tiller’s clinic with disruptive mass protests during the summer of 1991. He survived being shot by an anti-abortion fanatic in 1993. In 2009, he was murdered inside his Wichita church.
The clinic where Dr. Tiller worked is now called Trust Women, a stalwart in the national movement for reproductive rights. In this latest struggle, the staff of Trust Women spoke out against the amendment alongside other Kansas voices, including doctors, Christian ministers, small businesses across the state, the state native Janelle Monáe and two Catholic nuns. Legions of volunteer phone-bankers and door-knockers prompted voter action and made clear what was at stake.
But Kansans didn’t do it alone. Support — donations, text messages of solidarity, a letter of encouragement from Gloria Steinem — came from far and wide, boosting the resources and morale of a place often stereotyped as a conservative monolith and presumed a pointless investment for Democratic campaigns.
The most dismal aspect of our political climate is the ease with which many liberals and progressives dismiss and disdain whole states and regions — as though every Kentucky flood victim voted for Mitch McConnell, as though ideology should be a litmus test for assistance amid acute suffering, as though such places are undeserving charity cases rather than rural landscapes from which resources are extracted to make possible the lives of urban dwellers who sit in judgment.
Yet, somehow again with Tuesday’s vote in Kansas, not this time. In many ways, across state and even party lines, we did it together.
There is no other way.
All reasonable Americans must plant ourselves in a long row and lock arms against the terrible wind from the far right. As we brace together for this post-Roe season, take heart: In the first battle, Kansas held the line.
The police fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment in Louisville, Ky. Officials said two officers had lied in order to get a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Aug. 4, 2022
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the four officers “violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death.” Credit...Xavier Burrell for The New York Times
Federal officials on Thursday charged four current and former police officers in Louisville, Ky., who were involved in a fatal raid on the apartment of Breonna Taylor, accusing them of several crimes, including lying to obtain a warrant that was used to search her home.
The charges stem from a nighttime raid of Ms. Taylor’s apartment in March 2020, during which officers knocked down Ms. Taylor’s door and fired a volley of gunshots after her boyfriend shot an officer in the leg, believing that intruders had burst into the home.
Two officers shot Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
Merrick Garland, the attorney general, said at a news conference that members of an investigative unit within the Louisville Metro Police Department had included false information in an affidavit that was then used to obtain a warrant to search Ms. Taylor’s home.
Mr. Garland said federal prosecutors believe that by doing so, the officers “violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death.”
Three of the officers also misled investigators who began looking into Ms. Taylor’s death, Mr. Garland said, including two that he said had met in a garage in the spring of 2020 and “agreed to tell investigators a false story.”
The killing of Ms. Taylor, who was Black, helped to set off protests in the spring and summer of 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and led to intense scrutiny of the police department in Louisville.
This is a developing story that will be updated.
By Marion Renault, Aug. 5, 2022
Ms. Renault is a health and science journalist.https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/05/opinion/cancer-cluster-colonia-woodbridge.html
Al Lupiano, his wife and his sister all had brain tumors.
It started in 1999 when Mr. Lupiano, then 27, was diagnosed with a noncancerous one. Twenty-two years later, in 2021, doctors discovered that his wife, Michele, had a tumor, a benign acoustic neuroma on the left side of her brain. On the same day, his sister, Angela, learned she had a fast-growing malignant tumor, also on the left side of her brain.
All three had attended Colonia High School in Woodbridge, in central New Jersey, and soon enough, Mr. Lupiano began asking on Facebook and on a local news site if any other graduates had similar diagnoses. After Angela died in February, at the age of 44, Mr. Lupiano says, he started his outreach in earnest, fueled by a promise to his late sister to seek an explanation. “Something is wrong here,” he said.
On April 10, Mr. Lupiano’s list of former students and staff members with primary brain tumors hit 100 names.
Jason Wisinski, who lost his wife and sister-in-law, both Colonia High alumnae, to primary malignant brain tumors at the age of 38, became one of many convinced that a cluster — a hyperlocal blight of cancer — could explain why so many young residents were succumbing to tumors. “There’s something there, in Colonia,” Mr. Wisinski said. “I’m 99.99 percent convinced.”
But in the field of public health, cancer clusters are defined by statistics, not gut instincts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a true cancer cluster must represent a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases — of the same type of cancer, or those proven to share the same cause, within a specific population over a set time. This is a high bar to clear.
Of the estimated 1,000 suspected cancer clusters reported to health departments each year, only a small fraction will prove themselves to be statistically significant cancer surges. And experts have been able to identify a clear cause in only a tiny percentage of those. (In one scientific review of 428 cancer cluster investigations over 21 years, for example, just one in eight cases was a confirmed increase in cancer and only one investigation revealed a definitive source.)
Despite these odds, cancer cluster designations are considered crucial for both health officials interested in protecting public safety, and communities who fear they’ve been exposed to cancer-causing agents. The designation is the first, prerequisite step on the path toward a full-throated response, from investigation to cleanup and remediation and, potentially, legal recourse.
In 2016, Congress passed Trevor’s Law, named after a survivor of childhood brain cancer linked to a suspected cluster in Idaho deemed too small to study. “What happened in my community continually repeats itself throughout this entire country, year in and year out,” that survivor, Trevor Schaefer, told lawmakers in 2011. “Parents are trying to get authorities to investigate these clusters and to discern what caused the disease patterns. Scientists and health activists say the government’s current response to disease clusters ranges from piecemeal to nonexistent.”
Among other things, the law calls for periodic updates to federal cluster investigation guidelines — work that the C.D.C., compelled by the legislation, began in 2018. In its first update to the guidelines since 2013 (which are expected to be finalized this year) the agency acknowledges that barriers to discovering and declaring true clusters remain. However, the agency accepts a greater responsibility for helping communities cope with this uncertainty and the lack of resolution that often characterizes these investigations. “We recognized that communication guidance was an area that warranted attention,” said Patrick Breysse, director of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in an email statement.
The updates also move to de-emphasize statistical significance as the main criterion for investigating suspected cancer clusters in order to make more room for other criteria, such as mortality and electronic health record data, neighborhood patterns of cancer and even community-created lists of individuals with cancer diagnoses.
What happened in Woodbridge illustrates the need for these changes, especially those aimed at bolstering the relationship between a concerned community and the public health experts facing the difficult task of investigating a suspected cluster.
Even before Mr. Lupiano’s list had reached 100 people, it had drawn the attention of local and national news media and had catalyzed public officials to act. “There could be a real problem here, and our residents deserve to know if there are any dangers,” Woodbridge’s mayor, John McCormac, said in April.
The Woodbridge town council spent $221,000 to deploy 83 radon testing devices and conduct radiological testing at the school building and encircling 28-acre campus. Officials also reviewed local data on naturally occurring radioactive deposits and followed up on reports of a radioactive rock discovered in a science classroom in 1997.
The state’s environmental agency confirmed that the water company — which does not use water from ground wells known to be pollution-prone — serving the area had not had any violations for radiological contaminants since at least 2004. The state’s health department calculated it would be statistically ordinary for about 120 former students and staff members to have developed brain tumors in the decades since the school was built in 1967.
On May 26, Mayor McCormac and state environmental and public health officials held a news conference in the high school’s gymnasium to share their final determination: There was no indication of any potential radiological hazards that would warrant further inquiry. By the time students let out for the summer, the case was closed.
“There never was a cancer cluster,” Mr. McCormac said in June. “We have to accept the results.”
But many in the community do not accept them. The investigation wasn’t thorough enough, residents argue, and didn’t involve water testing or analysis of the soil beyond radiological tests. “What we were not prepared for was for the state to say, ‘We’re satisfied,’ after doing one simple test,” Mr. Lupiano said.
Rich Strack, who taught English and philosophy at Colonia for about 30 years, likened the situation to a “dark cloud” hanging over the school. “The study doesn’t close anything. It opens up more questions, more doubts, more anxieties, more concerns,” he said. “It doesn’t just go away because the test says all clear.”
In Woodbridge and elsewhere, unresolved concerns — regardless of whether more can be done, scientifically — can seed deep distrust and suspicion in suspected cluster communities. That’s why scientists and responders bear a great responsibility when it comes to helping citizens navigate uncertainty around a disease like cancer, which on its own can feel random and inexplicable.
For public health officials, resolving this tension is the macro version of bedside manner: How do you reassure a frightened patient that nothing’s wrong? And when do you need to check your own biases, and take patients’ concerns more seriously?
About one in three people develop cancer over a lifetime and one in five will die from it. While the death rate from cancer is dropping thanks to improving treatments and early detection, the total number of cancer cases in the United States is expected to rise by 50 percent compared to 2015 cases due in large part to aging populations.
When faced with terminal disease, people often look for an overarching explanation as a way to cope with an unbearable reality. They may seek answers where there are not any — or where they are impossible to dredge out.
“There’s something special about cancer,” said Richard Clapp, a cancer epidemiologist and a professor emeritus at Boston University. “It confers such chaos into the people who are affected by it.”
Humans are awash in potential cancer-causing agents, and it is practically impossible to determine the cause of a given case. Cancer does not awaken all at once. Instead, an amalgam of carcinogens, genetic predispositions, social factors, lifestyle choices, natural aging and the random chance of spontaneous mutation sets it off, bit by bit, year by year, even decade by decade.
“By the time you see a tumor in a mammogram, it may be that that tumor has been growing for six years,” said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s very hard to pinpoint what it is that initiated that process.”
Of the 120 or so known carcinogens, some are inescapable, like sunshine, engine exhaust, air pollution or the asbestos still embedded in millions of older buildings. Others we choose to consume: alcohol, tobacco, processed meat, tanning beds. Some workers, such as miners and firefighters, are exposed to known carcinogens during their careers. The natural world can also pose a threat via volcanic ash or toxin-spewing fungi. There are hundreds more probable carcinogens of varying ubiquity under study, from pesticides to parasites, night shifts and indoor fires.
But not all carcinogens cause cancer every time. Some depend on the type of exposure, others unleash carcinogenesis only in people with the right genetic predisposition. Dose, too, is a major factor.
This helps explain why cluster investigations so often fail to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Since cancer can take such a long time to manifest, evidence of what caused it has ample time to disappear. People move in and out of town. Pollution gets cleaned up or dissipates into the air. People struggle to recall their past daily lives — which seat they sat in during high school chemistry, or where their drinking water came from five years ago. “You’re looking for footprints in the sand long after the tide has come and gone,” said Dr. Clapp.
A nationwide constellation of state cancer databases was put in place in 1992, but these cancer registries often fail to account for changes in residency. The size of neighborhood clusters are often too small to yield statistically significant results. Beyond the adoption of genomic testing, which might identify a telltale genetic signature among patients with the same kind of cancer, no technological fix yet promises to address these problems.
In the case of Colonia High School, many of these valid limitations apply. The New Jersey cancer registry offers little help, since not everyone who went to or worked at Colonia still lives in Woodbridge, and not everyone in Woodbridge went to Colonia. When the state health department calculated the number of brain and other nervous system tumors that would expected among the cohort of students and staff from 1968 to 2021, it concluded it could be up to 120 individuals — just slightly under Mr. Lupiano’s count of about 125 (though he believes his tally is an undercount). At least one epidemiologist I spoke to for this article told me that, just glancing at the numbers, he wasn’t surprised that public officials have determined Colonia was not a true cluster.
Even so, these constraints do not relieve public health departments from their duty to do all they can to address their constituents’ concerns — even if they can’t deliver definitive answers and even if they are under strain themselves. “The perception of a cluster in a community may be as important as, or more important than, an actual cluster,” the C.D.C. observed in 1990.
In addition to leaning less heavily on statistical significance, the federal agency’s new updates also call for an evolution in the interpersonal aspects of a cluster investigation. “The draft guidelines promote listening skills and empathy on the part of state and local health department representatives, the sharing of information upon which decisions are made, and developing communication plans in advance of concerns being raised to build trust and credibility,” said Dr. Breysse. That could look like presenting the public with clearer timelines of an investigation’s course of action, creating portals to gather community feedback and encouraging “two-way communications from the start.”
After all, there has been a long history of patients serving as a critical warning system for epidemiology, with concerned residents having alerted public health officials to mercury poisoning diseases, birth defects caused by rubella, and toxic drinking water contaminants. “Very often the first time public health officials learn about a potential community health threat,” said Dr. Morello-Frosch, “is through community members themselves.”
At the Colonia High School news conference in May, reporters pressed a panel of state experts on the decision not to test water and soil, even if just to reassure concerned community members that there was nothing there.
That kind of follow-up could potentially have the opposite effect, said Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection, and send “the wrong message” that the suspicions deserved any more resources than what had already been invested.
One month later, Mayor McCormac echoed this sentiment to me: “It’s frustrating that people who hoped that there was no radiation on the site now are upset that there’s not,” he said. “They asked us to do this and we did it. We did exactly what they wanted.”
But some still want more. Edyta Komorek, an environmental scientist and mother of a Colonia High School rising junior and freshman, was not pacified by the results. “If I trusted those numbers, I would be relieved and I would be happy,” she said.
At an educational board meeting in June, Mrs. Komorek laid out the possible leads she and others would like to see explored, like whether the school’s 1960s-era building materials contain mercury or formaldehyde. Schools in North Brunswick and Trenton, as well as in Greenwich, Conn., and Northport, N.Y., were discovered to have been constructed on or near contaminated soils. “It is not unfathomable that it may have happened in Colonia,” Mrs. Komorek told the board.
Several people raised questions to me about the state health department’s analysis. Why would they include classes as recent as 2021 when we know many cancers take decades or longer to develop? Why hasn’t anyone confirmed Mr. Lupiano’s list, in order to have an official tally to compare to the official estimate?
It’s unclear whether any of those questions will ever be answered, and if they are, how residents would receive the responses. For a community desperate for sense-making answers, it may be a bitter truth: There is more cancer around us than we can comprehend, and yet not enough to make scientific sense of.
“Even if evidence is black and white, it’s hard to convince people of something they aren’t prepared to believe,” said Robert Laumbach, a professor of public health at Rutgers University who is leading a federal study of “forever chemicals” in Gloucester County, in southwestern New Jersey. “They can find reasons to doubt. Some people will not be convinced.”
But Mr. Lupiano said he ultimately hopes — one way or another — to be assured that all is as it should be. “Prove to us there’s nothing,” he said.
Most of the top leaders received bonuses above $200,000 in the last fiscal year, as Amtrak worked to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
By Mark Walker and Niraj Chokshi, Aug. 5, 2022
Stephen Gardner, who became Amtrak’s chief executive this year, has received more than $766,000 in short-term incentive bonuses since 2016. Credit... Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Amtrak’s top executives received six-figure incentive bonuses in 2021, their biggest payouts in years, despite the service’s lackluster financial performance and weak ridership caused by the pandemic, according to data obtained by The New York Times.
The compensation data, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed that annual incentive payouts made to Amtrak’s senior leaders have grown significantly in recent years. Nine top executives received bonuses exceeding $200,000 in the 2021 fiscal year, up from six executives in 2019. Far smaller bonuses were awarded in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and none were given in 2015 or 2020.
Last year’s payouts came as the federal government made its largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak started operating in 1971. As part of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed in November, Congress set aside $66 billion for the rail sector, a third of it specifically for Amtrak, which has for years called for greater investment to update, modernize and expand passenger rail service in the United States.
Amtrak has lost money ever since Congress created it a half-century ago to serve as the nation’s passenger rail operator. The service appeared to be on the verge of breaking that losing streak in late 2019, but the coronavirus erased that hope.
As ridership plunged early in the pandemic, lawmakers provided Amtrak with $3.7 billion in emergency relief. The rail service furloughed more than 1,200 workers, encouraged others to leave with buyout offers and paused hiring for 16 months.
Last fall, its work force was still 1,500 employees — or more than 8 percent — smaller than it was before the pandemic. The service has been hiring rapidly, but ridership this year through May was still down more than a third from the same period in 2019.
Amtrak said the executive bonuses were based on metrics such as ridership, customer satisfaction and financial performance.
Qiana Spain, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, said in a statement that the incentive payments were aimed at helping the rail service “attract and retain talent.”
In order to earn incentive compensation, “Amtrak must achieve a high level of corporate performance, in support of our company’s strategic plan — and employees must also meet their individual performance goals,” she said. “The company has not made any incentive payments without first meeting its financial target.”
John Samuelsen, the president of the Transport Workers Union, whose members include nearly 1,500 service workers, mechanics and inspectors at Amtrak, said he was disgusted by the payouts.
“They gave themselves nice fat bonuses off the backs of workers that were exposed to harm’s way,” he said. “It just underscores the reason why there should be worker representatives on the Amtrak board.”
No bonuses were given in 2015, but in 2016 the rail service awarded some incentive pay to top executives. It spent no more than $500,000 annually on payouts in 2016, 2017 and 2018 as it narrowed its losses.
That changed in 2019. With Amtrak getting close to breaking even, the size of the bonus payouts to top executives nearly quadrupled, rising to a total of nearly $1.8 million, from just over $480,000 the year before. Amtrak paid no bonuses again in 2020, as the virus brought travel to a near standstill. But in 2021, it paid out $2.3 million, despite reporting its lowest revenue and biggest losses in more than a decade.
Stephen Gardner, who became Amtrak’s chief executive this year, has received more than $766,000 in short-term incentive bonuses since 2016, more than any other executive. Eleanor Acheson, the service’s general counsel and corporate secretary, was close behind, having received nearly $727,000 over that period. Amtrak declined to provide a fuller picture of how its executives are compensated, including salaries.
Of the dozen members of Amtrak’s current leadership team, all but three received bonuses of more than $200,000 last year, ranging from about $230,000 to more than $293,000 for Mr. Gardner, who was president at the time.
A spokesperson said the service increased short-term incentive payouts for managers throughout the company in 2019 to make jobs more competitive and desirable. Amtrak has no private sector counterpart, though the bonuses paid last year pale in comparison with what transportation industry executives earn. The chief executives of freight railroads, which are profitable, received millions in bonus and incentive payments last year, for example.
“I know that in all markets everyone is looking to recruit good people, but this is a bit surprising,” Patricia Quinn, the executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, one of Amtrak’s state partners, said of the bonuses. “I would hope that these are conversations, as state partners, we could have going forward because we all want to align our goals with Amtrak.”
Ms. Quinn said Amtrak did not discuss goal-setting and incentive payouts with its partners. And, in a January audit, Amtrak’s inspector general reported that about a third of the company’s state partners had “low trust” in Amtrak on cost-sharing issues.
The company said it created the short-term incentive program in 2013 after making changes to its pension program and closing it off for new employees joining the company.
In the 2019 fiscal year, ending in September, Amtrak customers took nearly 33 million trips with the company, a slight increase from the year before. Revenue was also up slightly, while customer satisfaction fell just shy of a goal for the year. In 2021, however, Amtrak reported only about 12 million customer trips, well below the number the year before. The service also reported its worst revenue and losses in more than a decade. Customer satisfaction was well below where it stood before the pandemic, though it surpassed a goal set for the year.
Jim Mathews, the president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, said Amtrak put a lot of stock into its customer satisfaction index, a measurement he takes issue with because it does not capture the full scope of the company’s performance.
Mr. Mathews said he would like to see incentive compensation tied to bringing the company back to its prepandemic level and building up from there.
“They don’t have the same tools to hand out incentives — they don’t have stock or options to make these jobs more attractive,” he said. “That said, I think these are all good jobs, and as an advocate I would really like to see these payouts not only tied to the customer satisfaction index but to the recovery scores.”
The executives have their work cut out for them. Not only is Amtrak still working to recover from the pandemic, but it also needs to prepare to put the influx of congressional funding to good use.
The company said in a report this year that the money was an “unprecedented level of funding for capital projects” and would help to modernize its fleet and stations, replace major bridges, improve reliability, expand service and replace old equipment. Rail advocates and insiders welcomed the federal spending, saying it will help to address longstanding problems and priorities for passenger rail in the United States, too.
But Amtrak’s inspector general has raised concerns about the company’s ability to hire the workers it needs to spend the new funds wisely. In a December report, it concluded that Amtrak’s human resources department lacked the leadership and staff it needed to “effectively recruit, screen, hire and onboard new employees.”
In an update last month, the inspector general said Amtrak was making progress, including by reviewing compensation companywide to ensure that salaries are competitive, but added that there was more work to do.