Support Google and Amazon workers who say, No Tech for Apartheid!
Thursday, September 8th, 12:30pm
Embarcadero Plaza—Market St. and Steuart St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Please register here to let us know you can join us:
Stand in solidarity with workers that don’t want their labor to be used to violate human rights!
Google and Amazon are providing the technology for the Israeli government and military to build tools to watch, track, and identify Palestinians: from facial detection surveillance to sentiment analysis that claims to assess the emotional content of pictures, speech, and writing; along with the infrastructure to store the troves of data that make this surveillance possible. Just as such technology is used in the US to surveil and criminalize Black, brown, Muslim, Palestinian and other marginalized communities, Amazon and Google’s technology will further enable the Israeli apartheid regime to collect mass data and surveil Palestinians—all to uphold and expand its violent occupation and apartheid system.
Amazon and Google workers and progressive organizations have been organizing to end their companies’ contract with the Israeli government. On September 8th, Amazon and Google tech workers will lead direct actions in front of their offices in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City to escalate the pressure on their companies.
JVP Bay Area is working with our partners in the Palestine Action Network to support the San Francisco action and show the workers that our Bay Area community supports the No Tech for Apartheid campaign.
Come out to support them!
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national membership organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for the freedom, equality, and dignity of all the people of Israel and Palestine. Become a JVP member today.
Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area
P.O. Box 589, Berkeley, CA 94701
Leonard Peltier’s Walk to Justice Demands Release of Political Prisoner
Minneapolis, Minnesota – On September 1, Leonard Peltier’s Walk to Justice departed from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The march will pass through multiple cities, finally ending in Washington, DC on November 14. Rallies and prayer sessions will be held along the route. The walk is being coordinated by the American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council to demand elder Leonard Peltier’s release from federal prison.
Leonard Peltier’s fight for justice
Leonard Peltier has been unjustly held as a political prisoner by the U.S. government for over 46 years, making him one of the world’s longest incarcerated political prisoners. He is the longest held Native American political prisoner in the world. Peltier was wrongly convicted and framed for a shooting at Oglala on June 26, 1975.
At the time, members of the Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were being endlessly terrorized and targeted by paramilitaries led by the corrupt, U.S.-government backed tribal chairman Dick Wilson. 64 people were killed by these paramilitaries between 1973 and 1975. The Lakota people called on the American Indian Movement (AIM) for protection, and Peltier answered the call. During the night of June 26, 1975, plainclothes FBI officers raided the AIM encampment at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A shootout ensued, and two FBI officers, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, and one Native man, Joe Stuntz, were left dead.
In the ridiculous trial that followed, the two other Native defendants, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, were completely exonerated. Peltier, on the other hand, was used to make an example. The FBI coerced a statement from a Native woman who had never met Peltier at the time she gave her statement. This false evidence was used to extradite Peltier from Canada, where he had fled after the shootout, and is used to imprison Peltier to this day.
The struggle continues
Leonard’s true “crime” is daring to fight back against the everyday oppression Native people face under the imperialist regime of the United States. Growing up on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Leonard lived through the U.S. government’s genocidal programs to forcibly assimilate Native peoples. Recently, Peltier opened up about his experiences in the Wahpeton Indian School. This was one of many boarding schools used to brutalize Native children into leaving behind their culture. Children were beaten constantly, especially for practicing any portions of their culture or speaking their language. Many didn’t make it out alive. This was part of the U.S. government‘s larger policy of intensifying attacks on the sovereignty of the First Nations. These experiences, among many more, led Peltier to become a member of the American Indian Movement to continue the fight back against genocide of Native peoples.
Peltier is a lifelong liberation fighter who has sacrificed immensely for the movement. He is also a 77-year-old elder with numerous chronic health problems, exacerbated by his fight with COVID earlier this year. Despite his innocence and health problems, the U.S. government has refused repeated calls for clemency for Peltier. Throughout his years of imprisonment, many have demanded Peltier’s freedom, including Nelson Mandela and, most recently, a UN Human Rights Council working group.
The time for Leonard Peltier to finally be released from prison is now. Join the fight to free Leonard Peltier, and to free all political prisoners!
There are many ways to support the march and strengthen the call to free Peltier. These include:
· Joining all or part of the walk
· Joining a rally
· Sponsoring the caravan with a hot prepared meal
· Dry food donations
· Hosting lodging/camping
· Driving a support vehicle
· Raising awareness of Peltier’s cause locally
· Promoting the caravan and rally
Monetary donations (can be sent via PayPal here)
Those interested in volunteering with the caravan can sign up here.
Learn more about Leonard Peltier and his case here:
—Liberation News, September 3, 2022
URGENT ACTION NEEDED!
We demand that ALL "illegal abortion" charges against Madison County, Nebraska women be dropped
In Madison County, Nebraska, two women- one the mother of a pregnant teenager who was a minor at the time of her pregnancy and is being charged as an adult- are facing prosecution for self managing an abortion. In an outrageous violation of civil liberties, Facebook assisted the police and county attorney in this case by turning over communication between the daughter and her mother regarding obtaining abortion pills which is not illegal in Nebraska. The prosecutor has used this information to charge the daughter, her mother, and a male friend who assisted them after the fact with illegal abortion along with additional trumped up charges of "concealing a body."
We demand that ALL charges be dropped against all three of them and we ask that you call the office of Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith at 402-454-3311 Ext. 206 with the following:
"I am calling to demand that all charges against Jessica Burgess, her daughter, and their friend be dropped. In your own words- no charges like this have ever been brought before. That is because criminalizing abortion is unjust and unconstitutional. We will not stand for any charges being brought against any pregnant person for the outcome of their pregnancy OR anyone who assists that pregnant person. Drop all charges NOW."
You can also email County Attorney Smith here.
If you pledged to #AidAndAbetAbortion- NOW is the time to stand up for these women in Nebraska as this could be any of us in the future.
National Women's Liberation (NWL) is a multiracial feminist group for women who want to fight male supremacy and gain more freedom for women. Our priorities are abortion and birth control, overthrowing the double day, and feminist consciousness-raising.
NWL meetings are for women and tranpeople who do not benefit from male supremacy because we believe we should lead the fight for our liberation. In addition, women of color meet separately from white women in Women of Color Caucus (WOCC) meetings to examine their experiences with white supremacy and how it intersects with male supremacy to oppress women of color.
Learn more at womensliberation.org.
Questions? Email email@example.com for more info.
No to red-baiting in the reproductive justice movement
National Radical Women statement
By Nga Bui, NYC
At a time when a united mass movement to defend reproductive justice is needed more than ever, NYC for Abortion Rights and nearly two dozen organizations have chosen to launch an anti-communist attack against one of the most visible activist groups, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. Radical Women, a veteran socialist feminist organization with decades of experience in the movement for reproductive justice, denounces this dangerous game of divide and conquer.
The “Statement Against RiseUp4AbortionRights” – signed by NYC for Abortion Rights, United Against Racism & Fascism NYC, Brooklyn People’s March, Shout Your Abortion, The Jane Fund, Chicago Abortion Fund, Chicago DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group and others – deplores Rise Up’s connections to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). It labels this well-known fixture on the Left as a personality cult. It accuses both Rise Up and RCP of using pyramid schemes to raise money and exploitative methods to recruit. These unsubstantiated claims are bolstered by other “crimes”: wearing white pants stained with fake blood, holding die-ins, using coat-hanger imagery, and describing forced pregnancy as “female enslavement.” The Statement calls on “repro groups to now unite in discrediting Rise Up publicly” and demand that “the group step back from pro-abortion spaces.” This divisive attack is like a dog-whistle to corporate media, which is crawling all over the issue in coverage from Daily Beast and The Intercept.
Imperfect as Rise Up may be, the reality is the group has been out front nationally in defense of abortion – though not the only group as they have claimed. It has consistently organized protests and used audacious tactics such as unfurling huge banners at sports events to draw media attention to the issue. It has broadened its messaging after being criticized that its single-issue focus on women having abortions was transphobic and limiting. Its green wave imagery is omnipresent and its anti-capitalist message is spot-on. Its boldness has resonated with youth.
Truth be told, it has been largely the Left, including Radical Women, that organized rallies, speak outs, marches, and protests throughout last year to draw attention to the impending Supreme Court debacle. Meanwhile, moderate feminist organizations pushed online fundraising and waited for the Democratic Party to ride to the rescue.
One has to think that some of the venom expressed in the Statement is from groups that did much less than Rise Up and may begrudge its appeal to young people. Others may be driven to undermine the influence of the Left in the movement overall. How condescending it is for them to demand that Rise Up disappear rather than trust young supporters to reach their own conclusions about whether Rise Up’s strategies work in the long run.
Radical Women initiated the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice a year ago in order to build the kind of coalition effort we think is urgently needed to preserve abortion and achieve full reproductive justice. The Mobilization has attracted feminist groups, grassroots organizations, unions, radicals, and individuals coming together in common cause. Though Rise Up in many instances put itself in competition with actions announced by the Mobilization, we managed to work cooperatively with it in various cities, including in NYC. Rather than demanding political conformity, we believe in respectfully debating differences. With the right wing intensifying its attacks on the most vulnerable, a united front of working-class organizations is essential to pushing them back.
Red-baiting, smearing people or groups for their radical associations, is not acceptable in the movement. It needs to be stopped before it further hurts the very women, people of color, non-binary, trans and poor folks looking to find a channel for their rage as their rights are stripped away. There’s no denying that those of us fighting for abortion rights and reproductive justice will have differences of opinions. It is essential we learn to work together with mutual respect instead of excluding, silencing and witch-hunting one another. Organizations and independent activists can unite around issues while maintaining our differences. The future of reproductive justice and all social movements depends on it.
—Radical Women, August 2, 2022
CUBA URGENTLY NEEDS OUR HELP TODAY!
MATANZAS IS NOT ALONE!
The unprecedented massive fire at the Supertanker Base in Matanzas province has not abated. Dozens of people have suffered burns, 16 firefighters are still missing, and thousands are evacuated. Heroic efforts by firefighters and civil defense are 24/7.
Supplies are urgently needed to save the lives of the burn and other victims affected by the fire. The Hatuey Project is working to provide some of the most critical supplies for burn and other patients.
Please make a monetary donation so we can buy medical items in bulk and ship immediately to Matanzas.
Cuba has been through so much during the time of pandemic. Despite a heroic and successful campaign to vaccinate virtually all of Cuba from COVID, this summer has been particularly taxing for all of Cuba. Now the fire has added to the hardship.
Please click here to make a donation to The Hatuey Project for Matanzas Relief. Every donation to Hatuey is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, The Alliance for Global Justice.
On behalf of The Hatuey Project, we thank you.
Nadia Marsh, MD, Assoc. Prof. of Clinical Medicine
Simon Ma, MD, MPH, Family Medicine
Rachel Viqueira, MHS, Epidemiologist
Brian Becker, Executive Director, ANSWER Coalition
Gloria La Riva, coordinator, Hatuey Project
ABOUT THE HATUEY PROJECT
We are health providers and social justice activists concerned about the harmful effects of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. We have inaugurated this medical aid project to extend solidarity to the Cuban people, with the procurement of vital medicines and medical equipment.
Cuba has already shown that its remarkable health care and scientific/biotech systems are fully capable of serving the 11+ million people on the island, providing excellent quality, universal and free care to everyone. But more than 240 measures by the Trump administration that turned the screws even further on Cuba’s people — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — have created a truly difficult situation for the people. We have already taken part in direct delivery of vital medicines over the last year, and we aim to do much more.
We invite you to join in our project in any way you can: With your monetary contribution, as well as helping procure major donations from pharmaceuticals and other medical providers. We are fully volunteer; all of the donations we receive will go strictly to acquire medical aid. Shipping costs will be held to the utmost minimum. The Hatuey Project is fiscally sponsored by the Alliance For Global Justice, so all donations are tax-deductible. Join our effort today!
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.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
A large group attempting to cross into Texas was overcome by a fast-moving current, the authorities said.
By David Montgomery and Miriam Jordan, Published Sept. 2, 2022, Updated Sept. 3, 2022
Concertina wire along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas. Credit...Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
AUSTIN, Texas — Nine migrants drowned and 37 others were rescued as they tried to cross the raging waters of the Rio Grande to reach the United States on Thursday, administration officials said.
The migrants were among scores of people crossing the river near Eagle Pass, a town in southern Texas that has become a major entry point for migrants in the last year.
After heavy rains, the Rio Grande is several feet higher than normal, and law enforcement officials have reported making a number of rescues, including some over the previous weekend as migrants struggling to keep their heads above water were being dragged by turbulent currents.
Rick Pauza, spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection office in Laredo, Texas, said in a statement that the authorities were continuing with the aid of the local fire department and sheriff’s office to search for possible survivors.
In addition to the nine migrants who died, 37 others were rescued, the statement said, among a total of 53 migrants taken into custody by the U.S. authorities at the scene. The Mexican authorities apprehended an additional 39 migrants who were part of the group.
The fire chief in Eagle Pass, Manuel Mello, said fierce currents had swept a number of migrants downstream as they attempted to cross about a mile south of the international bridge.
Drownings have become an everyday occurrence in that section of the border, typically as many as one a day, and sometimes more, said the chief, a 58-year-old Eagle Pass native.
About two months ago, he said, 12 bodies were recovered on the same day — six by the Mexican authorities and six by U.S. rescue officials — after another large group tried to cross into the United States.
More recently, two boys, one 3 years old and the other 3 months old, slipped from the grasp of an uncle as they were attempting to cross, he said. The older boy drowned, and the infant was rushed to a San Antonio hospital in critical condition.
In Thursday’s tragedy, Chief Mello said, his firefighters used a swift-water rescue boat to recover the body of a young man in his 20s, clad only in underwear, while Border Patrol agents recovered the bodies of three other men found amid cane and brush on the edge of the Texas side of the river.
Once a quiet stretch of the border, the Del Rio Border Patrol sector, which includes Eagle Pass, has become one of the busiest crossing points into Texas for migrants.
Since the start of the 2022 fiscal year, agents have intercepted 376,000 migrants there, twice as many as during the same period last year. In July alone, border agents encountered 50,000 migrants in the Del Rio area, the equivalent of the number that would typically cross over a two- to three-year period.
Fatalities during migrant border crossings are common, but they have been on the rise as tightened U.S. border restrictions, exacerbated by a pandemic-related public health rule, have encouraged more desperate people to take risks.
In July, 53 migrants died in the back of a suffocating tractor-trailer that had no functioning air-conditioning, the deadliest smuggling event in the country to date.
The number of fatalities typically climbs in the summer months as migrants brave triple-digit temperatures during desert crossings in Arizona and heavy rain causes water levels to rise in the Rio Grande.
The Eagle Pass area has become the principal entry point for Venezuelans, who have been arriving illegally in the United States in record numbers in the last year, fleeing economic and political turmoil in their country. The Border Patrol encountered 110,467 Venezuelans along the southern border in the first nine months of this fiscal year, compared with 47,408 in the entire 2021 fiscal year.
More than 14,000 Venezuelans were apprehended after crossing the river in the Del Rio sector in July. About 10,000 Cubans were also taken into custody, another group that has been arriving in ever-larger numbers amid economic hardship and a crackdown on political dissent.
In September 2021, 13,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, entered the United States without permission in Del Rio, setting off a humanitarian crisis as authorities struggled to process them.
Since March 2020, agents have used a public-health emergency authority, Title 42, to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants back to Mexico. But those from far-flung countries — Asians, Africans and South Americans, most of them Venezuelans — are not accepted by Mexico. They are processed by U.S. border officials and released into the country with orders to appear in court for deportation proceedings. They now represent about four of every 10 crossers.
During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2022, Border Patrol agents along the southern border made more than 1.8 million apprehensions, and the number for the year ending Sept. 30 is expected to surpass two million, a record high, even though unauthorized crossings have declined in the recent hot summer months.
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.
The actress said that she had begun chemotherapy and vowed not to “let any of this interfere with my climate activism.”
By Matt Stevens, Dani Blum and Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Sept. 2, 2022
Jane Fonda in 2020. Credit...Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times
The actress Jane Fonda announced on Friday that she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer of the lymph system, and that she would be undergoing chemotherapy treatments for six months.
“This is a very treatable cancer,” she wrote in a post on her Instagram account. “I feel very lucky.”
Fonda, 84, a highly decorated star who has long been an activist for social causes, also wrote in her Instagram post that she felt lucky to have health insurance as well as “access to the best doctors and treatments.”
“I realize, and it’s painful, that I am privileged in this,” she said. “Almost every family in America has had to deal with cancer at one time or another and far too many don’t have access to the quality health care I am receiving and this is not right.”
Fonda is a two-time Academy Award winner for her performances in “Klute” and “Coming Home.” She has also worked as a producer, documentarian and activist. In 2019 she was arrested multiple times after staging protests in Washington to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in America, said Dr. Matthew Matasar, an oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who specializes in the illness. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be more than 80,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma this year.
“There are actually over 100 different types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Dr. Matasar, but the defining characteristic of the illness is that it develops in the immune cells.
People ages 60 and older are more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, director of the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Medicine, and the earlier it is detected, the better chance a person has of surviving.
While it’s unclear what kind Ms. Fonda has been diagnosed with, all types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are treatable and some patients even go into long remission. “It’s not a death sentence,” said Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.
Symptoms of unmanaged non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can include pain, night sweats, weight loss, swelling and fevers, although some kinds of lymphoma can be asymptomatic and are found “accidentally while doing tests for other purposes,” Dr. Matasar said.
The severity of the illness depends on where the lymphoma originates, Dr. Dahut said. If it starts in the brain, the prognosis is worse. Outcomes are better if it’s localized to a lymph node. Underlying health issues may complicate a patient’s response to chemotherapy, particularly for older people. But, “some people have very, very good prognosis,” he said.
“I’m doing chemo for 6 months and am handling the treatments quite well,” Fonda wrote in her post, “and, believe me, I will not let any of this interfere with my climate activism.”
By Emily Hanford, Sept. 1, 2022
Ms. Hanford is a senior education correspondent for American Public Media
Illustration by Chloe Scheffe; photographs by Internet Archive; Carlton Smith, via Library of Congress; Everyday Basics and Drahomír Posteby-Mach, via Unsplash; Mikus, via Wikimedia Commons; and photos-public-domain.com
The most important thing schools can do is teach children how to read. If you can read, you can learn anything. If you can’t, almost everything in school is difficult. Word problems. Test directions. Biology homework. Everything comes back to reading.
But a lot of schools aren’t teaching children how to read. It came as a shock to Corinne Adams. “Public school should be this sacred trust between the community and the school,” she told me. “I’m going to give you my child, and you’re going to teach him how to read. And that shattered for me. That was broken.”
Her son was in kindergarten in Rhode Island when schools closed because of the pandemic. She sat next to him and watched as he was taught to read over Zoom. In kindergarten and again in first grade, her son and his classmates were taught that when they came to a word they didn’t know, they should look at the first letter, look at the picture in the book and think of a word that would make sense. They weren’t told to sound out the word.
Ms. Adams encountered a method for teaching children how to read that is contradicted by decades of scientific research and yet remains popular in schools. As many as a quarter of elementary schools use Units of Study, the curriculum her son’s school was following. Far more schools teach the same word-reading strategies as part of an approach to teaching reading broadly known as balanced literacy. In a 2019 survey by Education Week, 72 percent of elementary special education and K-2 teachers said their schools used balanced literacy.
These word-reading strategies are a crutch, kind of like training wheels, that allow children to “read” books without knowing how to actually read the words. They’re based on the belief that most children will eventually figure out how to read words and spell them if they spend enough time with books.
But research shows that children need to be taught how their written language works. It doesn’t happen naturally through exposure to print. Some kids learn easily; they don’t need much instruction. But learning to read is hard for more children than you might realize.
It’s not about intelligence. Lots of very smart people have a tough time learning how to read. G. Reid Lyon, a former chief of child health and human development at the National Institutes of Health, told Congress in 1998 that learning to read is a “formidable challenge” for about 60 percent of children. They need direct and explicit instruction. Lots of children weren’t getting that kind of instruction in 1998. And they’re still not getting it.
Here’s what happens in response: Parents who notice there’s a problem take care of it themselves. If they can.
By the fall of her son’s first-grade year, Ms. Adams was very worried about him. He could memorize simple books and use the pictures if he was stuck on a word, but he couldn’t read the words out of context. He was frustrated and falling behind. So she decided to teach him herself. She was a stay-at-home mother who had time to figure out what she needed to do and money to buy books and teaching materials. Other parents turn to private tutoring, which can cost hundreds of dollars an hour.
“The families will provide the safety net,” said Todd Collins, a school board member in Palo Alto, Calif., where the median household income for parents of children in public school is close to a quarter of a million dollars a year. “If we fail in something fundamental like reading, you can be damn sure the parents will hire a tutor or put them in private school or the kid will get taught at home. And that kid will learn to read.”
This exacerbates inequality in an already unequal education system. And I think it’s one reason reading programs that aren’t providing adequate instruction have remained popular for so long. People point to good test scores in an affluent district that is using one of these programs, and they say: Look, it’s working. And they point to low test scores in a poor district using the same program and say: Oh, it’s poverty.
But all kinds of kids, from all kinds of families — rich, poor and middle class — need more help with reading than they’re getting in school. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, 65 percent of fourth graders scored basic or below basic in reading.
There’s increasing awareness that many children are struggling because they’re not getting the instruction they need. At least 30 states have instituted new policies or laws to try to bring schools in line with the science of reading. Some of that change has been fueled by reporting done by me and other journalists. It’s also been fueled by parents — many of them in affluent school districts — who have been speaking up about their children’s reading difficulties.
And a big push is coming from teachers, too. Many of them are ditching the word-reading strategies and asking their schools for new materials and better training, both of which are expensive.
Ms. Adams thinks often about what might have happened to her son if she hadn’t intervened. And she thinks about parents who may have no idea their children aren’t getting the instruction they need — or might not have the means to fix the problem even if they do.
“That’s wrong,” she told me. “Your kid should go to school and learn how to read. Baseline. Because if they can read, they can teach themselves anything.”
In a single ballot on Sunday, Chileans will decide on abortion, universal health care, rights for nature and a record expansion of constitutional rights.
By Jack Nicas, Published Sept. 3, 2022, Updated Sept. 4, 2022
Copies of the proposed constitution were handed out last week in Constitution Square, in front of La Moneda, where the president’s offices are housed. Credit...Tomas Munita for The New York Times
SANTIAGO, Chile — Voters in Chile on Sunday could transform what has long been one of Latin America’s most conservative countries into one of the world’s most left-leaning societies.
In a single ballot, Chileans will decide whether they want legal abortion; universal public health care; gender parity in government; empowered labor unions; greater autonomy for Indigenous groups; rights for animals and nature; and constitutional rights to housing, education, retirement benefits, internet access, clean air, water, sanitation and care “from birth to death.”
It is perhaps the most important vote in the 204-year history of this South American nation of 19 million — a mandatory, nationwide plebiscite on a written-from-scratch constitution that, if adopted, would be one of the world’s most expansive and transformational national charters.
After three years of protests, campaigning and debate, the country’s future boils down to a simple, single question: Approve or reject?
If voters approve the text, Chile, which legalized divorce only in 2004, would suddenly have more rights enshrined in its constitution than any other nation. If they reject it, Chile would have little to show for what had once been seen as a remarkable political revolution.
Now, it appears the sweeping ambition of Chile’s proposed constitution could also be its downfall.
Many Chileans worry that the new charter would too drastically change their country, and their concerns have been amplified by confusion over the details, uncertainty over the impact and rampant misinformation.
“How the hell do you vote on a constitution with 388 articles?” said Gabriel Negretto, a political science professor in Chile who has studied constitutional reforms across the world. “You are overwhelming voters.”
Chile fits into a recent trend of new constitutions providing more human rights than older charters, Mr. Negretto said. The three current constitutions with the highest number of rights, Ecuador, Bolivia and Serbia, were all enacted since 2006.
If voters reject the proposed Chilean constitution, it would be a major setback for the new administration of President Gabriel Boric, a tattooed, 36-year-old former student-protest leader who took office in March, but has quickly faced plummeting approval ratings amid rising inflation and crime. The constitution would enable Mr. Boric to carry out his leftist vision, while rejection could mire his term in more political fighting about what to do next.
A year ago, most Chileans would have bet that the country would embrace the proposed constitution. There has long been widespread discontent with the current constitution, which has roots in the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 until 1990.
In 2019, nationwide protests that left 30 people dead led Chile’s political leadership to grant a referendum on the constitution. A year later, nearly four out of five Chileans voted to replace it.
But now polls suggest that Chileans will reject the replacement. In May, details emerged about the sheer scope of the final proposal, and since then, “rechazo,” or reject in Spanish, has had a consistent and sizable edge in polls over “apruebo,” or approve.
“I’m waking up at 5 in the morning. I’m very stressed,” said Claudia Heiss, a political science professor at the University of Chile who helped the government create the process to draft a new text.
“I think that ‘rechazo’ will win,” she added. “And all of this will be for nothing.”
Still, there is a wild card. Since, unlike other elections, Sunday’s vote is mandatory, with a minimum penalty of $30 for failing to cast a ballot, voter turnout could break records.
A rejection of the proposed constitution would be a huge historical exception. Over the past 230 years, 93 percent of the 179 national plebiscites on new constitutions have been accepted, according to an analysis by Zachary Elkins and Alex Hudson, two political scientists.
“The fact that we have a discussion of who’s going to win is a failure of the political system,” Ricardo Lagos, the president of Chile from 2000 to 2006, said in an interview.
Mr. Lagos, a center-leftist who had been an ardent supporter of a new charter, said leftists who controlled the process overreached. “This constitution is extremely partisan,” he said.
Mr. Lagos declined to say how he would vote, suggesting instead that he may cast an empty ballot.
The 170-page text would make the Chilean state, which has long had a limited role in its citizens’ lives, the guarantor of more than 100 rights, more than any other national constitution in the world, according to an analysis by the Comparative Constitutions Project, a global survey of constitutions run by Mr. Elkins and Tom Ginsburg, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
Those rights range from the profound to the mundane to the peculiar.
In addition to housing, health care and education, the new constitution would enshrine the right to freedom of expression, religion and worldview. There would be the right to free time, physical activity, sex education, cybersecurity, the protection of personal data and “free and full legal advice” for anyone “who cannot obtain it.”
Chileans would have the right to “adequate, healthy, sufficient, nutritionally complete and culturally relevant food”; the right to develop their “personality, identity and life projects”; and the right to “live in safe and violence-free environments,” to “age with dignity” and to die “a dignified death.”
Workers would have the right to “equitable, fair and sufficient” pay and to unionize and strike. And citizens would have the right to choose their identity, “in all its dimensions and manifestations, including sexual characteristics, gender identities and expressions.”
Chileans would also have “sexual and reproductive rights,” including that women could have “a voluntary interruption of their pregnancy,” language that would enshrine the right to an abortion more explicitly than any other national constitution, Mr. Ginsburg said.
It would be a momentous shift for Chile, which banned all forms of abortion until 2017, when it legalized the procedure only in cases of rape, an unviable fetus or a threat to the mother’s life.
One of the constitution’s clearest immediate changes would be a mandate that women hold at least 50 percent of many government positions, the first such requirement in any constitution, Mr. Ginsburg said.
The most contentious proposal is defining Chile as a “plurinational” state, meaning that 11 separate Indigenous groups, which account for nearly 13 percent of the population, could be recognized as their own nations, with their own governing structures and court systems. That would represent some of the most expansive rights for Indigenous people anywhere, according to experts.
The constitution also states explicitly that “nature has rights” and “the state and society have the duty to protect and respect them.” It also orders the state to protect animals, “recognizing their sentience and their right to live a life free from mistreatment.”
Constitutional law experts said that such provisions are probably intended to push Chile’s Congress to adopt environmental protection laws, but that they could also allow lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of a forest or a threatened species.
Chilean economists estimate that implementing the new constitution would cost the government 9 percent to 14 percent of Chile’s gross domestic product of $317 billion. “That’s the cost of satisfying the basic needs of the Chilean men and women: that they get a good education, they have access to health care, a decent pension and a home,” said Alvaro García, Chile’s former economic minister.
The constitution would also reshape the government by eliminating the Senate, strengthening regional governments and allowing Chilean presidents to run for a second consecutive term.
Chile’s proposed constitution is so bold and unconventional in large part because it was drafted by many political outsiders who were allowed to run for the constitutional convention that drafted the document.
Fresh off protests against the political establishment, Chileans voted for independents to fill more than half the 155 seats, electing lawyers, academics, journalists, two actors, a dentist, a mechanic, a chess master and a bevy of left-wing activists, including one who became famous for protesting in a Pikachu costume. Seventeen seats also went to Indigenous people.
Leftists won more than two-thirds of the convention’s seats, putting them in full control of the process since a two-thirds majority was necessary to add measures.
The motley crew deciding Chile’s future drew unwanted attention at times. There was the woman who gave a speech bare-chested and the man who left his camera on while showering during a remote vote. Many voters felt that the convention was not taking the process seriously.
“The behavior of the convention members pushed people away the most,” said Patricio Fernández, a leftist writer who was a convention member.
In recent months, Chileans have been bombarded with marketing from the “apruebo” and “rechazo” campaigns, some of it misleading, including claims that the constitution would allow abortion in the ninth month of pregnancy and ban homeownership.
On Thursday night, each side held closing rallies. Hundreds of thousands of “apruebo” supporters packed downtown Santiago and watched concerts by famous Chilean music acts, from rap to Andean folk.
“I’ve already lived, but I want deep change for the children of Chile,” said María Veloso, 57, who runs a food stand.
In a wealthier part of town, in a hillside amphitheater named after the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a much smaller crowd gathered to mark their campaign to reject the leftist text. (Mr. Neruda, ironically, was a communist.) Hundreds of people waved Chilean flags and danced to an act impersonating the flamboyant Mexican singer Juan Gabriel.
“Here in Chile, they’re defending dogs more than babies,” said Sandra Cáceres Ríos, 50, an herb seller.
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, there is more political negotiating ahead. In the case of approval, Chile’s Congress, which is ideologically split, will be tasked with figuring out how to implement many of the changes. Lawmakers could try to significantly limit the scope or impact of some policies, such as abortion or Indigenous rights, by passing laws interpreting the constitution’s language in a narrow way.
Ultimately, the real effect of many provisions would probably be determined by the courts.
If the text is rejected, Mr. Boric, Chile’s president, has said that he would like to see a new convention draft another proposed charter.
He would, in other words, like to try it all again.
Pascale Bonnefoy and Ana Lankes contributed reporting from Santiago, Chile.
The rejected constitution would have legalized abortion, adopted universal health care and enshrined more than 100 constitutional rights, a global record.
By Jack Nicas, Published Sept. 4, 2022, Updated Sept. 5, 2022
Jack Nicas, a correspondent in South America, spent the past week in Chile talking to the people who wrote the proposed constitution and those who voted on it.
Celebrating the rejection of the proposed constitution in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday. Credit...Tomas Munita for The New York Times
SANTIAGO, Chile — For the past three years, Chileans have fought over a path forward for their country in the form of a new constitution, written entirely from scratch, that would transform their society and grant more rights than any national charter before it.
On Sunday, voters overwhelmingly rejected that text.
The proposed changes had looked to remake one of the most conservative countries in Latin America into one of the world’s most left-leaning societies, but Chileans decided that went too far.
With virtually all of the ballots counted, 62 percent of voters rejected the proposal.
The emphatic rejection was an abrupt ending to a long and sometimes painful process that had promised a political revolution for this South American nation of 19 million, but instead leaves Chile deeply divided over its future.
Chile is left, for now, with the same system of laws that has its roots in the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990.
Now the question is what comes next.
President Gabriel Boric said in an address to the nation Sunday night that, starting Monday, he would meet with leaders of Congress to begin a new process toward a rewritten constitution.
“Chileans’ decision demands our institutions and political leaders to work harder, with more dialogue, respect and care, until we reach a proposal that reflects us all,” said Mr. Boric, a leftist who was betting on the new constitution to help him carry out his vision for the country.
“As president of the republic, I take this message with great humility,” he added. “We must listen to the voice of the people.”
Chile’s decision to replace its constitution began in 2019, with nationwide protests first spurred by a 4-cent hike in subway fares. The unrest ultimately left 30 dead.
In the wake of the violence, political leaders agreed to put the nation’s Constitution up for referendum, and in 2020, nearly four out of five Chileans voted to scrap it.
But the transformational vision laid out by a constitutional convention of 154 elected members, many of them political outsiders, proved too drastic of an overhaul.
Now, Chile’s political establishment will have to decide the next steps, and it appeared that the broad rejection on Sunday had given Chile’s conservatives control.
“There is no question that the 1980 Constitution is dead,” said Isabel Allende, a leftist senator and the daughter of the former socialist president, Salvador Allende, who died by suicide in 1973 as Mr. Pinochet’s military coup was closing in on the presidential palace.
“The right has committed that, in the case that the proposal was rejected, there would be a new constitution,” she added. “So hopefully they keep their word.”
Ximena Rincón, a centrist senator who helped lead the campaign to reject the new charter, said in a speech to supporters: “We have a new opportunity, and we cannot miss it.”
The vote on Sunday was an enormous setback for Mr. Boric, a tattooed, 36-year-old former student-protest leader who took office in March. He has quickly faced plummeting approval ratings amid rising inflation and crime. Now, instead of using a new constitution to shift the country leftward, much of his term is likely to be mired in more political fighting about the country’s constitutional future.
Chilean voters rejected a 170-page, 388-article proposal that would have legalized abortion, mandated universal health care, required gender parity in government, given Indigenous groups greater autonomy, empowered labor unions, strengthened regulations on mining and granted rights to nature and animals.
In total, it would have enshrined over 100 rights into Chile’s national charter, more than any other constitution in the world, including the right to housing, education, clean air, water, food, sanitation, internet access, retirement benefits, free legal advice and care “from birth to death.”
And it would have eliminated the Senate, strengthened regional governments and allowed Chilean presidents to run for a second consecutive term.
The text included commitments to fight climate change and protect Chileans’ right to choose their own identity “in all its dimensions and manifestations, including sexual characteristics, gender identities and expressions.”
The proposal’s sweeping ambition, and decidedly leftist slant, turned off many Chileans, including many who previously had voted to replace the current text. There was widespread uncertainty about its implications and cost, some of which was fueled by misleading information, including claims that it would have banned homeownership and that abortion would have been allowed in the ninth month of pregnancy.
Economists expected the proposed changes to cost from 9 percent to 14 percent of Chile’s $317 billion gross domestic product. The country has long been one of the lowest relative spenders on public services among major democracies.
Many voters were particularly opposed to language that defined Chile as a “plurinational” state. That meant 11 Indigenous groups, which account for nearly 13 percent of the population, could have been recognized as their own nations within the country, with their own governing structures and court systems. The proposal became a centerpiece of the campaign to reject the charter.
The five regions where the charter was most resoundingly rejected are in the south, where violent conflict between the logging industry and Indigenous activists has persisted for years.
“I feel a lot of sadness, a lot of pain,” said Elizabeth Painemal Rain, a silversmith and community leader with the Mapuche Indigenous group in Nueva Imperial, a small city in the south. “There has to be a change,” she said. “But the change is not going to be like we wanted it to be, as it was established at the beginning.”
Many Chileans had also grown concerned about the constitutional convention that wrote the proposal, particularly its most left-wing members.
After the constitutional referendum in 2020, Chileans elected more than 150 people to write the new system of rules. Independents won more than half the seats, including lawyers, academics, journalists, two actors, a dentist, a mechanic, a chess master and a bevy of left-wing activists, including one who became famous for protesting in a Pikachu costume. Seventeen seats went to Indigenous people.
Leftists, who won more than two-thirds of the seats, took full control of the process; they did not need a single vote from conservative convention members to approve additions to the proposal.
As a result, said Ricardo Lagos, the center-left president of Chile from 2000 to 2006, the proposal was “extremely partisan.”
But it was the highly publicized behavior of some of the convention’s members that might have repelled Chileans even more. One constitution member was revealed to be faking a cancer diagnosis he had used in his election campaign. Another took a shower with his camera on during a remote vote.
Patricio Fernández, a leftist writer who was a member of the convention, said he regretted that those headlines might have helped spoil a historic opportunity for his country.
“I’m far from believing that this is a perfect proposal,” he said before the vote. “But it is a democratic agreement that incorporated many voices that historically have been marginalized in Chile.”
María Eugenia Muse, 57, a health-insurance saleswoman, was leaving a polling station in a wealthy neighborhood in Santiago late Sunday afternoon with her 84-year-old mother on her arm. They both had voted to draft a new constitution in 2020 — and to reject the proposed replacement on Sunday.
“It was a fiasco, an embarrassment what they did,” she said. “The constitution they wrote is not the constitution of Chile, of the Chilean people. It is the constitution of one group.”
Karina Guadalupe, 39, a civil-industrial engineer, was listening nearby and in visible disagreement. “We need a change,” she said, noting that next year would be the 50th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship that gave rise to the current charter. “It’s incredible that we’re continuing with this Constitution in place.”
Pascale Bonnefoy and Ana Lankes contributed reporting.
Abbott’s lawyers at Jones Day negotiated secret settlements and used scorched earth tactics with families whose infants fell ill after consuming powdered formula.
By David Enrich, Sept. 6, 2022
David Enrich, the business investigations editor for The New York Times, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice,” from which this article is adapted.
A formula shortage left parents scrambling to feed their babies. Credit...Bing Guan/Reuters
Early on a Saturday morning in 2013, Mark Bennett, a federal judge, walked into his chambers in the courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa. He’d been out of town for a speaking engagement and was hoping to catch up on work. A surprise awaited him as he entered his office: Cardboard boxes were stacked everywhere. His immediate thought was that another judge might be moving in.
Another judge was not moving in. Judge Bennett was presiding over a case in which Abbott Laboratories, the sprawling health care company that dominated the market for infant formula, was being sued on behalf of a girl, Jeanine Kunkel, who five years earlier had suffered severe brain damage after consuming the company’s powdered formula. Jeanine couldn’t speak, sit up or even swallow, and the tragedy had nearly destroyed her family.
The boxes cluttering Judge Bennett’s chambers were filled in large part with evidence that Abbott’s lawyers wanted to be able to introduce at the upcoming trial.
After more than two decades on the federal bench, Judge Bennett had a pretty good guess as to what was going on. The accusations in the lawsuit posed a threat to Abbott, which had staked its reputation on being family-friendly and devoted to health and safety. Judge Bennett figured that to protect an important client, the company’s outside lawyers, from the international law firm Jones Day, were trying to snow their opponents with tens of thousands of pages of paperwork. Even if the materials were only tangentially related to this particular case, the plaintiffs’ lawyers would need to spend countless hours poring over the documents to see what they contained.
A couple of days later, at a meeting in his chambers, the judge laced into Abbott’s lawyers. Their conduct, he told me, was “the worst by a factor of 10” that he had seen in his 20 years as a judge.
Judge Bennett, who retired in 2019 and now teaches at Drake University’s law school, may not have liked it, but the lawyers were effective. Over the ensuing months, Abbott prevailed in court, the poisoning of a newborn baby went largely unnoticed and the company continued making and selling its powdered formula just as it had done before.
Nobody was prepared for what would happen nearly a decade later. In early 2022, after several infants fell ill and regulators found unsanitary conditions at an Abbott factory in Sturgis, Mich., the company voluntarily recalled its powdered formula and shut the plant. (No proof has emerged that the problems at the Sturgis factory caused the infant illnesses and deaths.)
The closing caused a severe shortage of the formula that most American infants are fed. Desperate parents struggled to feed their children. Angry lawmakers convened hearings. Government agencies opened investigations. The Biden administration organized an airlift to import formula from overseas. The crisis focused attention on shortcomings with food safety and industry oversight.
The scrutiny was new, but the phenomenon wasn’t. Over the years, newborns on rare occasions have fallen sick or died after being fed powdered formula. Until recently, however, the pattern largely lurked below the public and political radar. One big reason is that Abbott and its lawyers, at times deploying scorched earth legal tactics, have repeatedly beaten back attempts to hold the company liable.
Several lawyers who have worked on baby-formula cases said they were not aware of a plaintiff ever beating Abbott or its competitors at trial. “These are tough, tough cases,” said William Marler, a Seattle lawyer who has sued companies for spreading food-borne illnesses.
Much of this, of course, comes down to good lawyering. Jones Day — a 129-year-old law firm with roots in Cleveland and a powerful political practice in Washington — is a goliath in corporate litigation, having represented companies like R.J. Reynolds, Purdue Pharma, General Motors and Smith & Wesson.
Often Jones Day dukes it out with other giant law firms that are also representing enormous companies. When the opposing sides shower each other in paperwork, discovery requests, venue changes and objections, it usually resembles a fair fight. But as the Abbott cases illustrate, when the resources and tactics of Big Law are brought to bear against poor families and their overwhelmed lawyers, the results tend to be lopsided.
Jones Day lawyers told me the firm didn’t do anything unusual or untoward as it sought to fend off families like Jeanine’s. Kevyn Orr, the partner in charge of Jones Day’s U.S. offices, said the firm’s only goal “was to prove the truth that Abbott’s infant formula was not contaminated when it was opened.”
Daniel Reidy, who until his retirement as a Jones Day partner represented Abbott, disputed elements of Judge Bennett’s critique, noting, for example, that the boxes in his chambers also contained the plaintiff’s evidence. Mr. Reidy said the judge was “deeply and irrevocably prejudiced against ‘big firms.’”
There is little doubt, though, that Abbott’s victory streak was one of the forces that kept the connection between infant illness and the powdered formula from becoming a scandal sooner. “If there had been a large verdict, it would’ve gotten a lot of national publicity,” Judge Bennett said. When that didn’t happen, “what’s the focus for the public? Not much.”
I learned about Jones Day’s work for Abbott as I conducted research for my forthcoming book, “Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice.” (This article is largely based on my reporting for the book.)
In January, I asked an Abbott spokesman, Scott Stoffel, for comment. “Healthy infants and children are at the heart of what we do and ensuring the quality and safety of our products is a top priority,” he replied in an email on Jan. 25. “Our products undergo rigorous quality checks,” he went on, “to ensure that they meet both the nutritional and safety needs of infants and children.” In a follow-up email, Mr. Stoffel noted that the company was “very sympathetic to the families in these situations” but that juries had concluded Abbott was not to blame.
Barely three weeks later, Abbott agreed to begin recalling its powdered formula.
‘Time Is on Their Side’
A few large companies control the $2.1 billion market for infant formula — none more so than Abbott, which before this year’s crisis accounted for nearly half of formula sales.
Unlike breast milk and bottled formula, the powdered version is not sterile. (Its advantages include being less expensive than the ready-to-pour variety.) Academic and government studies have repeatedly found that powdered formula can be a breeding ground for a type of bacteria, Cronobacter sakazakii, that in babies can cause meningitis. Even when treated swiftly, the illness can lead to severe brain damage or death.
A study in 2012, by a longtime official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that it was “extremely unusual” for Cronobacter infections to occur in babies who were not fed powdered formula. In another paper, published in 2020, other C.D.C. officials studied scores of cases of infant meningitis since 1961 and found that in the vast majority — 79 percent — the baby had recently consumed powdered formula.
But in any individual case, it can be hard to prove what caused an infection. The potentially deadly bacteria resides in dirt and water; studies have found it in kitchens. Because the bacteria can clump together in formula containers, it’s possible for a sample to test negative even if Cronobacter was in the powder that went into a baby’s bottle.
Nick Stein, a lawyer with a small practice in Indiana, recalled the first time he encountered a case involving contaminated formula. A woman walked into his office with her toddler, limp in her arms, and explained that the child had suffered brain damage after being fed formula. Mr. Stein negotiated a settlement. More cases followed, and they, too, resulted in settlements that required Mr. Stein and his clients to keep quiet.
In 2005, Mr. Stein received an email from Kimberly Sisk in rural Pisgah Forest, N.C. Her son, Slade, had suffered debilitating brain damage after consuming Abbott’s Similac powdered infant formula in 2004. Ms. Sisk, who lived in a mobile home and worked as a house cleaner, faced a lifetime of medical costs. In February 2007, Mr. Stein and a colleague, Stephen Meyer, sued Abbott in state court in North Carolina.
The ensuing seven-year battle would become a case study for how firms like Jones Day use their mastery of the legal system to grind down — and in some cases attack — plaintiffs who have limited money and time on their hands.
The first volley came in late 2007. Jones Day filed a motion seeking to remove Mr. Stein and Mr. Meyer from the case. The rationale was that, in an unrelated infant-formula case in Kentucky, Mr. Meyer had been in touch with an expert witness that Abbott had used in a different case. It turned out the expert had an ongoing relationship with Abbott. None of this had anything to do with Ms. Sisk’s case. But the trial judge concluded that the contact with the expert “constitutes the appearance of impropriety” and granted Abbott’s motion. An appeals court reversed the decision. Then, in 2010, the State Supreme Court upheld the initial ruling.
More than three years had passed since Ms. Sisk’s lawsuit was filed, and the case hadn’t progressed. Now she had no lawyers. Mr. Stoffel, the Abbott spokesman, denied that the company was trying to delay the legal proceedings, but Ms. Sisk was skeptical. “Time is on their side,” she said. “It behooves them to stretch it out.”
Mr. Stein, for his part, sounded a little awestruck by Jones Day’s hardball tactics. “It’s a different league than we all play in,” he told me. “It was brutal.”
Ms. Sisk hired another lawyer, Stephen Rathke, a former local prosecutor in Minnesota. He refiled the suit in state court. Abbott then removed the case to federal court, which essentially restarted the legal process.
A ‘Hush-Hush’ Offer
Abbott’s strongest defense was that the powdered formula that Ms. Sisk had in her possession when Slade got sick had tested negative for Cronobacter. At the same time, a test of her kitchen sink had turned up traces of the bacteria.
Ms. Sisk — who described herself as a neat freak who obsessively sanitized Slade’s bottles and used store-bought distilled water to mix with the powdered formula — said this was because she’d dumped her son’s unfinished milk down the drain. Jones Day argued that it was a sign that the Cronobacter that infected Slade came not from Abbott’s formula but from Ms. Sisk’s home. There is no way to know for sure who was right.
The case dragged on. At one point in 2012, when Jones Day objected to a routine filing made by Mr. Rathke, a federal magistrate judge slammed the firm for making “nonsensical” claims that are “a waste of judicial resources.”
The trial was scheduled to get underway in early 2014 — nearly a decade after Slade fell ill. In late 2013, Abbott offered to settle the case for $900,000, Ms. Sisk said. She and her lawyers regarded that as inadequate; by their math, she was staring at something like $3 million in expenses associated with Slade’s care. Plus, Ms. Sisk said, “they told me if I settled, I had to keep everything hush-hush.” That was a nonstarter.
After Ms. Sisk turned down the settlement, Abbott cranked up the heat. Shortly before the trial began, two Jones Day lawyers, June Ghezzi and Paula Quist, informed the court that they planned to introduce as evidence a restraining order that had been imposed against a member of the Sisk family in 2012 — about eight years after Slade got meningitis. The restraining order stemmed from an assault that involved neither Ms. Sisk nor Slade. Jones Day argued it was relevant because it caused stress that may have contributed to a seizure Slade had.
Mr. Rathke, Ms. Sisk’s lawyer, wrote in a court filing that this was “nothing more than an attempt to smear this family” and that “Abbott and its attorneys should be ashamed.” Jones Day ended up not mentioning the restraining order at trial.
The firm didn’t need it to win. Jones Day managed to sow doubt about the source of the bacteria. After a weeklong trial, the jury concluded that Abbott was not liable.
Immediately afterward, Jones Day sought a court order sealing some trial testimony and evidence on the grounds that they contained confidential information about Abbott’s testing and food safety protocols and “its sanitation, housekeeping and hygiene.” It wasn’t an unheard-of request, but when the judge granted it, details about Abbott’s factory in Sturgis, Mich. — the one that was shut down earlier this year — vanished from public view. (Late last month, Abbott announced that it would resume making Similac infant formula in Sturgis and that the product would begin shipping in about six weeks.)
‘Not Going to Answer’
As he worked on the Sisk lawsuit, Mr. Rathke was also battling Abbott in a similar case in Iowa. This one involved Jeanine Kunkel, and it would highlight how corporate litigators can flatten outmatched opponents — and potentially cross ethical lines in the process.
Years earlier, when Jeanine and her twin brother were 12 days old, she’d been diagnosed with meningitis after being fed Abbott’s powdered formula, which her parents had received in a Similac-branded gift bag from St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City.
Jeanine’s parents, Troy Kunkel and Megan Surber, told me that her twin did not drink the formula and did not fall ill.
Mr. Kunkel and Ms. Surber didn’t have much money. They lived in a small house, which Troy had spruced up with carpet and other materials he procured through his job as a construction worker. Their marriage was buckling under the pressure of caring for their brain-damaged child.
Ms. Surber’s mother had seen a TV ad for Mr. Stein and urged her daughter to call him. Mr. Stein, who had lost his appetite for fighting Abbott and Jones Day, referred the Kunkels to Mr. Rathke. In 2011, Mr. Rathke sued Abbott, seeking $16 million in compensatory damages to cover a lifetime of caring for Jeanine.
The case was assigned to Judge Bennett, who soon became troubled by what he saw from Jones Day. First there was the mountain of evidence in his chambers. Then he began flipping through the transcripts of depositions that Mr. Rathke and Ms. Ghezzi, the Jones Day partner, had taken of witnesses. “I was shocked by what I read,” the judge told me.
Time after time, as Mr. Rathke questioned Abbott employees, Ms. Ghezzi had interrupted with objections that seemed intended to steer the witnesses’ testimony. That was potentially a violation of the federal rules of civil procedure, which require objections to be “stated concisely in a nonargumentative and nonsuggestive manner” and warn that “an excessive number of unnecessary objections may itself constitute sanctionable conduct.”
In August 2012, for example, Mr. Rathke deposed two Abbott employees, a research scientist specializing in neonatal nutrition and a quality-assurance manager at Abbott’s Arizona factory. Over the course of about seven hours, Ms. Ghezzi lodged objections 115 times — an average of once every three or four minutes. And that didn’t count what Judge Bennett said in a subsequent court filing were hundreds of other interruptions by Ms. Ghezzi. The overall volume, he wrote, was “astounding.”
To determine the safety of its powdered baby formula, Abbott draws small samples from large batches of the product at its factories. At one point, Mr. Rathke asked a witness whether she thought there was any correlation between what was found in those samples and the finished product that was shipped to customers. It was, as Judge Bennett later put it, a “completely reasonable” question.
Ms. Ghezzi interjected: “Objection — vague and ambiguous.”
“That would be speculation,” the witness echoed. Mr. Rathke rephrased. Ms. Ghezzi interrupted again: “Object to the form of the question. It’s a hypothetical; lacks facts.”
“Yeah, those are hypotheticals,” the witness parroted. Mr. Rathke rephrased the question one more time.
Ms. Ghezzi: “Same objection.”
“Not going to answer,” the witness stated.
“You’re not going to answer?” Mr. Rathke asked.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s speculation. It would be guessing.”
“You don’t have to guess,” Ms. Ghezzi chimed in.
Over and over, this tag-team routine played out. During a break in one deposition, Mr. Rathke’s co-counsel, a Sioux City lawyer named Tim Bottaro, took Mr. Rathke aside. Ms. Ghezzi was dominating what was supposed to be the plaintiff’s deposition. “Why don’t you just let June do the deposition?” Mr. Bottaro recalled saying. “You’re getting steamrolled!”
The depositions were important. Before the trial, Abbott sought a summary judgment ruling based in part on them. Portions would be read aloud to jurors during the trial. There was no telling what the witnesses might have said if Ms. Ghezzi hadn’t objected every few minutes, and Judge Bennett said he found it “inconceivable” that her interruptions had not influenced their testimony.
At trial, Mr. Rathke and his expert witnesses argued that the sole logical explanation of how Jeanine got sick was that the bacteria was in the powdered formula. That was the only thing Jeanine had consumed, and it was a common carrier of Cronobacter.
Jones Day’s strategy, as is the norm in product liability cases, was to raise doubts and cast blame elsewhere. An expert witness testified that Jeanine’s symptoms showed up so soon after she consumed the formula that she must have already been infected at the time of the feeding. The lawyers noted that the formula that the government tested didn’t contain Cronobacter. Maybe visitors had brought the bacteria into the house? Perhaps it was on the bottle that Megan had used or in the water that she had mixed with the powder. Really, it could have come from anywhere.
The jury deliberated for seven hours before delivering its verdict: Abbott was not liable.
Mr. Rathke called Jeanine’s parents. “I hate to tell you this, but we lost,” he said.
A Slew of Lawsuits
Judge Bennett was not stunned by the verdict — he’d been impressed by the Jones Day team’s lawyering during the trial — but he told me it was the wrong outcome. “If it had been a bench trial, I would have ruled for the plaintiffs in all likelihood,” he said. (Mr. Stoffel, the Abbott spokesman, said that if the judge felt that way, he could have entered a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor or granted a new trial.)
After its recall of formula this year, Abbott has been sued at least 30 times in federal courts around the country. Lawyers representing plaintiffs in those cases said the amount of evidence that has recently entered the public domain — including a lawsuit that the Justice Department filed against Abbott and a whistle-blower complaint submitted to the F.D.A. by a former employee — makes them optimistic that they will fare better against Abbott than their predecessors did.
Abbott, though, already appears to be laying the groundwork for a robust defense, repeatedly stating that there is no proven link between its formula and the infants who recently fell sick or died. (Mr. Stoffel said Jones Day is not representing Abbott on any of the recently filed lawsuits.)
For the Kunkel family, all of this has been an infuriating reminder of their legal ordeal — and how Abbott managed to avoid public attention to their child nearly dying after consuming powdered formula.
“They didn’t want nobody to know” about the risks, Mr. Kunkel told me in August. “How many more families have been hurt since then?”
By Christy Thornton, Sept. 7, 2022
Ms. Thornton is an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Colombia, one of the world’s top producers of cocaine, has long been a key partner in Washington’s failed war on drugs. But Gustavo Petro, the country’s newly sworn-in president, has made good on a campaign pledge to take the country in a different direction. Last month, he said he would end forced eradication of coca, and support legislation to decriminalize and regulate cocaine sales in an effort to undercut illicit markets and the profit motive that drives them.
Here at home, the Biden administration has also signaled an important shift. In April, Dr. Rahul Gupta, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, introduced a new strategy that directs federal resources to harm-reduction services. The aim is to prevent deaths from opioid overdose by increasing access to medical treatment and addiction recovery programs, and promoting alternatives to incarceration for minor drug-related offenses.
This new strategy recognizes that the way we have approached the drug problem here at home hasn’t worked. But U.S.-led international drug control efforts have also been a staggering failure, contributing to violence, degradation and displacement in places like Colombia, which largely export cocaine. It has also fueled the move toward synthetic opioids like fentanyl, driving overdose deaths here at home. The Biden administration’s new forward-thinking national policies are a step in the right direction, but the president must go further and end the global drug war.
In the 1980s, the United States began working closely with the Colombian National Police to reduce illegal drug production and trafficking, including by eradicating coca fields and intercepting smugglers. Then in 1999, President Bill Clinton signed into law Plan Colombia as violence and drug trafficking escalated and a concern about guerrilla influence grew. The plan sought to stabilize the nation and undermine drug production, among other things. But the militarized crackdown failed to stamp out cocaine production.
Plan Colombia has also taken a staggering human toll. The Truth Commission created in 2016 as part of that country’s peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia recently found that the war on drug trafficking left more than nine million victims, a vast majority of whom were civilians. More than 450,000 people died, 121,768 went missing, thousands were kidnapped, raped or tortured, and millions were displaced. The panel called on Colombia and the United States to move toward the legal regulation of drugs.
In the meantime, the drug overdose crisis in the United States killed more than 107,000 people last year alone, a significant acceleration of a deadly trend that has claimed nearly a million lives in the past two decades. Dr. Gupta — the first medical doctor to hold the position of drug czar — knows the impact of this crisis firsthand, having served as health commissioner in West Virginia, the state with the highest overdose mortality rate.
Though a place like West Virginia may seem removed from the jungles of Colombia or the mountains of Mexico, they are connected by U.S. drug control policy. Prohibition measures abroad not only have failed to stop the flow of drugs but also have been a key driver of the deadly innovations in the drug supply here at home.
While forced eradication can temporarily decrease the supply of drug crops in a particular location, studies have shown that these reductions are always temporary. In fact, experts have long recognized that crackdowns in one place merely create a “balloon effect” in which production and trafficking shift to another place. Cultivators move production to locations under less scrutiny, and traffickers move to new territory — as we have seen in the shift in recent years from Colombia to Mexico and Central America.
Further, going after high-profile kingpins merely splinters drug trafficking organizations into new factions, increasing competition and violence in source countries. As a result, traffickers are pushed into ever more remote and often ecologically fragile areas — with devastating environmental effects that contribute to displacement.
And perhaps most important, militarized source-control measures and increased border security efforts actually create incentives for traffickers to find new profit sources that are easier to manufacture and transport, as we’ve seen over the decades — from cannabis to cocaine and heroin, to methamphetamines, and now to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Combined with a well-documented crackdown on overprescribed prescription painkillers here in the United States, this has led to an explosion in the supply of the fentanyl that is driving our overdose crisis.
Ultimately, more than four decades of the U.S.-led war on drugs abroad has not only failed to reduce the supply of illicit substances — it has actually made them more dangerous. A recent U.N. report found that global drug use is up 26 percent from a decade ago. Another survey by the Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed that despite decades of these source control measures, drug prices remain steady, purity and potency remain high, drugs remain widely available, and overdoses are skyrocketing.
“It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed,” President Petro said during his inauguration speech, echoing an argument that has been made by other Latin American leaders in recent years. Promoting policies that foster violence overseas will do nothing to reverse the trend toward an increasingly unsafe drug supply here at home.
The Biden administration has taken key steps to address our failures here at home — but to find lasting success, it must end our drug war abroad, as well.