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
Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal Update
The struggle continues!
At 12:45pm October 26, 2022, a proposed order denying Mumia Abu-Jamal’s constitutional claims of jury bias and suppressed evidence was issued by Common Pleas court Judge Lucretia Clemons.
Abu-Jamal’s defense petition included newly discovered evidence that had been buried in the prosecutor’s own files. This evidence documented key witnesses receiving promises of money for their testimony and evidence of favorable treatment in pending criminal cases. The petition also documented the abhorrent and unconstitutional practice of striking Black jurors during Mumia’s original trial.
Racism remains the ELEPHANT in the room.
“I am going to help them fry the n---word”--Original trial court Judge Albert Sabo said this in front of court clerk Terri Maurer Carter and fellow Common Pleas Court judge Richard Kline during the first week of Mumia’s 1982 trial.
Philadelphia ADA Jack McMahon made the policy clear in a 1986 training tape stating that getting “a competent, fair and impartial jury. Well, that's ridiculous,'…“You don't want smart people. But if you're sitting down and you're going to take Blacks, you want older Blacks." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag2I-L3mqsQ
If you put thick blinders on that block out all reality and rely on procedural minutia for cover, honestly, it is still impossible to avoid the scorchingly blatant racism of trial judge Albert Sabo, Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGill, Mayor and former police chief Frank Rizzo, District Attorney during Mumia’s trial Ed Rendell, and Ron Castille DA on appeal.
Yesterday, Judge Lucretia Clemons in her oral statements from the bench continued a common practice of adopting wholesale the Philadelphia District Attorney’s positions. These positions only seek to preserve convictions at all costs. These arguments prevent the defense from putting on the record evidence of discrimination. PCRA procedural rules such as time bar, due diligence, waiver, previously litigated, all avoid a judicial review of the merits.
The racism is so transparent and indefensible so the DA is using court created law to dismiss cases before hearing new suppressed evidence. This is a blatantly dishonest practice routinely used by the prosecution and the courts when everyone knows, and I mean everyone knows, that racism was a hallmark of the original trial.
Striking Blacks from the Jury
Judge Clemons stated that she was dismissing the claim of striking Black jurors on procedural grounds, without addressing the merits of the claim. She suggested that former counsel for the defense had not sought prosecutor McGill’s previously buried notes (notes that highlight his impermissible race based tracking and discrimination). Clemons adopts the prosecution position that the defense had the opportunity to receive these notes by merely asking the prosecution or cross examining ADA McGill in prior court proceedings. This is a key and deliberate misreading of the record. At no time were these crucial notes and the motivations that guided ADA McGill ever available to the defense. McGill struck Black jurors at a 71% rate, significantly higher than the strike rate for white jurors. His reasons for seating some white jurors and not seating nonwhite jurors were not on the record, they were in his notes.
One only has to look at the McMann training tapes that were made by the Philadelphia DA’s office which instructed district attorney’s how to strike black jurors. These were made after Mumia’s trial but they document the practice which was the norm in the office. This is the context for this ruling which misstates the record and ignores the reality in these Philadelphia courtrooms. Judge Lucretia Clemons and her law clerks complained on the record about how long it took them to find Pennsylvania cites to bolster their opinion. Why is Judge Clemons working so hard to avoid the elephant in the room?
Suborning Perjury: Paying Witnesses
Additionally, at issue is the note from supposed “eye witness” Robert Chobert that asked ADA McGill after the trial “where is the money that is owe to me?” This note was scrubbed from any filings and buried by the prosecution for 40 years. This dramatic “Brady evidence” previously unavailable to the defense, was dismissed by the Judge in her written opinion as not “being material.” Meaning it would not have affected the jury’s verdict. Underlying this is the wholesale adoption of the credibility determinations of the original trial court judge Albert “I am going to help them fry the n---word” Sabo. It allows his racist tainted rulings to stand.
She also dismissed records from ADA McGill that extensively track and monitor another key witness Cynthia White, who’s pending criminal cases were ALL were dropped by the prosecution following her testimony.
How can the court ignore the context. Note this information which follows had been previously prevented from being added to the record by Albert Sabo and other judges on appeal:
Photos from the Philadelphia Bulletin that prove Robert “I was on probation, did not have a license to drive a cab, and threw a Molotov cocktail into a school for pay” Chobert was not parked at the scene of the shooting. Chobert could not have witnessed the shooting. He was NOT parked directly behind the officer’s car as he claimed to be. The answer is: because the PCRA (Post Conviction Relief Act) allows the dismissal of this critical evidence through by time bar.
Finally, Judge Lucretia Clemons admonished the defense to limit their briefs challenging her proposed ruling to cite Pennsylvania law. It is commonly understood here, rather than being the birthplace of liberty, Pennsylvania is the place where the US Supreme Courts constitutional standards for criminal defendants are the very last place to be honored.
This case proves that racism reigns unabated in the American justice system, Mumia Abu-Jamal is the canary in the coal mine.
Judge Clemons’ 31pg proposed opinion will be available today, 10-27-22. The Defense has 20 days to reply, and prosecution given 10 additional days to respond before the court’s order dismissing Mumia’s request for a new trial becomes final and appealable.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent 42 years in prison for the death of Philadelphia Police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9th 1981. He has maintained his innocence and has sought his freedom by appealing to the very courts that now seek to preserve his unjust and unconstitutional conviction. At age 67 he has spent 42 years in prison.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a broadcast journalist and internationally recognized author. Mr. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence at SCI Mahanoy in Pennsylvania. He is the author of 13 books, holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and is currently working on the requirements to complete a PhD in the History of Consciousness Department at University of California Santa Cruz.
Noelle Hanrahan, Esq. email@example.com 415-793-7958 www. Prisonradio.org
Every act matters. Stand up. Join us as we launch Love Not Phear.
Cuando luchamos ganamos, When We Fight, We Win
Prison Radio Co-Director
Urgent support needed for cancer-stricken, imprisoned writer/artist, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson’s Legal Fund!
Cash App: $Solidarity2RIBPP
The US sanctions and embargo are preventing Cuba from rebuilding after Hurricane Ian.
The Biden Administration needs to act right now to help the Cuban people. Hurricane Ian caused great devastation. The power grid was damaged, and the electrical system collapsed. Over four thousand homes have been completely destroyed or badly damaged.
Cuba must be allowed, even if just for the next six months, to purchase the necessary construction materials to REBUILD. Cubans are facing a major humanitarian crisis because of Hurricane Ian.
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
By Ezekiel J. Emanuel, David Michaels, Rick Bright and Michael T. Osterholm, Oct. 19, 2022
The authors were members of President Biden’s advisory board on Covid-19, which counseled him during the presidential transition period on how to respond to the pandemic.
We are nearly three years into the Covid-19 pandemic, a health crisis so long, disruptive and deadly, it should have transformed the country’s preparation for the next public health emergency. Sadly, it has not.
We say this as members of President Biden’s Covid advisory board in the weeks before he took office. We have since followed and been part of the public health response to the pandemic. We are deeply dismayed by what has been left undone.
Improvements have emerged, of course. Foremost among them, the rapid development of vaccines, the widespread use of at-home testing and the adoption of environmental surveillance such as sampling of wastewater systems to predict community surges.
But these few successes only underscore how much more should and could have been done — and still needs to be done. There were many opportunities that would have permanently improved American health and the public health system. They have not yet been pursued. There is no question other health crises lie ahead. We need to assess the opportunities squandered or missed in the Covid pandemic and seize them now.
Even among the successes, there is much room for improvement.
Rapid, low-cost at-home testing could be deployed to detect multiple infectious agents at once. There is still no comprehensive reporting system for individuals to easily submit their at-home test results to public health agencies, rendering a broad swath of infections across the country invisible to officials trying to slow their spread. Likewise, the national reporting system for collecting and testing samples from wastewater treatment systems for Covid remains limited, uncoordinated and insufficiently standardized for a robust national surveillance system. If public health officials can’t track the data to mobilize a response to a crisis, the information that has been collected doesn’t do much good.
Congress’s unwillingness to appropriate federal money deserves much of the blame. But the failures are not all attributable to financial limitations. There has been a retreat from pandemic preparedness.
Perhaps the most important missed opportunity was the failure to prioritize systematic improvement of indoor air quality. All sorts of respiratory infections, including flu and common colds, as well as asthma and other medical conditions, arise because of airborne pathogens and particulate matter.
Early research from Italy suggested that six air replacements per hour in classrooms could reduce Covid infection risk by 80 percent. A study in California in 2013 found a significant reduction in student absences with improved ventilation. Other studies suggest improved cognitive functioning for adults and children with better indoor air. Air quality has been improved in some buildings and restaurants, but the effort has been haphazard. Most buildings left out, not surprisingly, include those where lower-income children and adults live, work or attend school, breathing air that is unhealthy.
To improve this situation, national indoor air quality standards should be set, and buildings should be required to post whether they meet those standards. The initial focus should be on schools, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, jails and prisons and other high-risk congregate settings.
The United States also needs to enhance its data collection and analysis. Throughout the pandemic, the country relied on data from Israel, Britain and South Africa to track the appearance of new variants and to measure the effectiveness of vaccination. Recognizing this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created an analytic branch to develop those capabilities. But analysis is only as good as the underlying data, and little has been done to bring the collection and integration of public health information into the digital age.
The C.D.C., the country’s principal public health agency, has acknowledged that it lacks a data infrastructure with clear standards that can accept and integrate information crucial to monitoring and fighting public health threats. This includes information from local and state health agencies and health systems tracking in near real time the actual number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, stratified by vaccination status, age, community and race. Public health officials will find themselves flying blind in the next emergency if this system is not fixed.
Improving worker safety has been another missed opportunity. Everyone in a workplace benefits if colleagues feeling flulike symptoms remain home. But this will happen only with a change in culture around sickness and, more important, the provision of paid sick leave to workers, especially for those in low-income jobs and the gig economy. Paid sick leave is particularly important in the health care, hospitality, public transportation and retail industries, where infections can most easily spread. But many employers still do not provide paid sick and family medical leave, and Congress has refused to pass legislation requiring it, despite the mountain of data on workplace spread from coronavirus and other respiratory infections.
Strategies also are still badly needed to connect public health agencies with high-risk but hard-to-reach populations. During the early days of Covid, much of the engagement with the public by health agencies was passive. Americans had to stand in line or sign up online for vaccines or masks or to order tests and sometimes request reimbursement from their insurers. This approach works for those with free time, broadband access and computer skills. But it is much more challenging for disabled people, older people living alone, individuals with low health literacy, non-English speakers and rural residents.
Instituting proactive outreach will be valuable in future emergencies — whether pandemics, hurricanes, wildfires or other disasters. Otherwise, these underserved groups will again be left out, widening disparities in care and outcomes.
The government has yet to ensure a stable domestic production capacity and raw material supply chains for personal protective equipment, including N95 and KN95 face coverings, gloves and disposable gowns, much less pharmaceuticals.
Nor has it fixed the system of clinical research, which proved slow in generating useful results on a range of concerns, such as optimal vaccine schedules and the evaluation of drugs to lessen Covid symptoms and prevent hospitalizations. The reliable clinical results proving the benefits of steroids and the problems with hydroxychloroquine tended to come from Britain and other countries. Yet the National Institutes of Health has not revamped how it organizes, funds and rewards scientists for participating in large, pragmatic clinical trials, especially but not only in public health emergencies.
The list could go on and on, including the poor response to long Covid.
The Covid pandemic laid bare the nation’s vulnerabilities to new and deadly pathogens that can spread quickly across the globe and kill people in vast numbers in awful ways. By living through the trauma of the past few years, scientists and public health experts have a much better understanding of how to prepare for the next health crisis, wherever it emerges. And it will emerge. Now that knowledge must be put to use. It will require determination, ambition and coordination at all levels of government. And money. We must act before the moment passes and the next crisis is upon us, leaving people to wonder why we did not do a better job of preparing.
By Peter Coy, Oct. 31, 2022
Illustration by The New York Times; image by CSA Images via Getty Images
“World War Zero” — the battle to save the planet by zeroing out carbon emissions — ought to be a bonanza for generators of electricity. Electric vehicles, heat pumps and other planet-saving technologies that don’t use fossil fuels do consume a lot of electricity. By one estimate, for the United States to eliminate fossil fuels entirely would require three to possibly even five times as much electricity-generating capacity in the coming decades as the country has now.
Gearing up to meet a surge in demand is what businesses do. It’s profitable. I’m pretty sure Hershey and Mars have been manufacturing more candy than usual in the past few weeks to satisfy trick-or-treaters.
But electricity-generating capacity in the United States grew just 0.3 percent from 2011 to 2021, according to my calculation based on data from the Energy Information Administration.
The agency doesn’t expect any big increase in the future, either. Its Annual Energy Outlook, a report that looks ahead to 2050, predicts capacity growth of just 1.7 percent a year in its central, or “reference,” case, which assumes current laws and regulations are unchanged (unless they’re already scheduled to expire). Capacity grows just 2.2 percent a year assuming a low cost for renewable energy. Incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act might bump those numbers up in next year’s forecast, but probably not a lot.
It’s far short of what would be needed for a fully electrified U.S. economy. So, no financial bonanza. And no planetary salvation.
As the world’s climate diplomats prepare to gather in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for their annual summit beginning Nov. 6, this should be an issue on the front burner, or rather the front coil.
I understand why electricity generators haven’t been adding capacity. They have an obligation to their owners — whether investors or governments — not to overspend on capacity that isn’t needed, and so far it has not been needed. Because of increasing efficiency, consumption of electricity in the United States has risen just 0.4 percent annually on average over the past decade. It would also be unfair to customers to raise their rates to cover construction of solar or wind farms that won’t be needed anytime soon. Still, if capacity really does grow that little, we’re all in trouble.
The estimate that three to possibly five times as much generating capacity will be needed for full electrification of the U.S. economy comes from Saul Griffith, whose research and design company, Otherlab, was contracted by the Department of Energy in 2018 to study patterns of electricity consumption. He put his findings into a 2021 book, “Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future.”
Of course, this assumes the new generation will be from renewable sources. It won’t do the planet any good if the new generation is from fossil fuels such as coal. It also assumes that transmission lines will be built to carry the juice to where it’s needed — not an easy problem given strong resistance to new power lines.
For a reaction to Griffith’s estimate, I interviewed Emily Fisher, the general counsel and senior vice president for clean energy at the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities. Could suppliers meet such a large demand, I asked her. She said, “That is a problem we are not likely to have this decade.”
OK, I said, but what about the next decade and beyond? After all, electricity generation and transmission lines can take years to plan and build. She said continued efficiency gains and time-of-day pricing would help limit the need for more capacity. Aside from that, she said utilities will be sure to build what’s needed.
“We’re the most heavily regulated and scrutinized industry in America,” she said. “So many people are watching.” And not only regulators — shareholders have a financial incentive to make sure the companies build enough to meet demand. “We are actively involved in a ton of scenario planning,” she said.
One way or another, supply and demand for electricity will have to be in perfect balance, because the electrical grid can’t operate any other way. (Too much demand can cause blackouts; too much supply can cause destabilizing voltage surges.) The other way to achieve long-term balance in the grid would be to settle for less than full electrification.
“Electrification is a centerpiece of global decarbonization efforts,” James Bushnell and David Rapson, economists at the University of California, Davis, wrote in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper titled “The Electrical Ceiling: Limits and Costs of Full Electrification.” “Yet there are reasons to be skeptical of the inevitability, or at least the optimal pace, of the transition.”
Price, as usual, will be the equilibrating mechanism. If electricity is in tight supply, its price will be higher and the most costly electrification projects — say, the manufacture of cement, steel, chemicals, glass and ceramics, which is now done with fossil fuels — simply won’t happen. “There is probably some level of electrification where doing more of it is going to get extremely costly,” Rapson said in an interview. “We don’t know what that level is.”
Done wrong, mass electrification of the economy could also harm reliability and equity, Ella Zhou, a senior model engineer for grid operations and planning at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., wrote in an email. For example, a big increase in home charging of electric vehicles, if not accompanied by strengthening of the distribution network or scheduling vehicle charging carefully, “could be a complete disaster,” she wrote. As for equity, she said technologies such as heat pumps, which provide heating, air conditioning and hot water, have a big upfront cost that could shut out lower-income families if no one’s paying attention.
Ari Matusiak, the chief executive of the nonprofit group Rewiring America, told me that batteries in homes and cars will improve the reliability of the network by standing ready to provide power to the grid to meet surges in demand. The answer to the high cost of devices such as heat pumps will be mass production, he said. As for the concerns raised by the economists at the University of California, Davis, he doesn’t deny that there are limits to electrification, but he’s optimistic that those limits are far from being reached. “The vast, vast, vast majority of the solution is electrification,” he told me.
Let’s just hope that the electrification of the economy won’t be short-circuited by a shortage of electricity.
By Jesse Bloom, Oct. 30, 2022
Dr. Bloom studies virus evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.
Viruses far more devastating than the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 have plagued humankind. Smallpox, for example, killed up to 30 percent of people it infected. Thanks to science, it’s now a plague of the past, with the last natural infection occurring in 1977.
But the last cases of smallpox came from a lab, when a British medical photographer was accidentally infected at the University of Birmingham Medical School in 1978. She died after transmitting the virus to her mother, but fortunately, it did not spread further. The respected virologist who headed the lab died by suicide, with colleagues saying he was hounded to death by journalists looking for someone to blame.
The year before, the world was swept by the 1977 influenza pandemic, caused by a previously extinct strain of influenza. While some have suggested this pandemic was triggered by a lab accident, many scientists (including me) think it most likely resulted from a misguided vaccine trial.
Repeats of those disasters seem unlikely. Research on the smallpox virus is now highly restricted, nobody would run vaccine trials with extinct influenza strains today, and lab safety has greatly improved since the 1970s.
But new scientific breakthroughs make it increasingly easy to identify dangerous viruses in nature, manipulate them in the lab and synthetically create them from genetic sequences. In just the past few weeks, scientists at Boston University reported making hybrids of variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, while the media reported on a proliferation of labs studying dangerous viruses. And so a debate rages: Is virology making us more or less safe?
I am a virologist who studies how mutations enable viruses to escape antibodies, resist drugs and bind to cells. I know virology has done much to advance public health. But a few aspects of modern virology can be a double-edged sword, and we need to promote beneficial, lifesaving research without creating new risks in the lab.
Viruses caused outbreaks long before labs existed. Throughout history, animal viruses have jumped into humans. Once viruses start spreading, they can evolve to become more transmissible or evade immunity, as we’ve seen with SARS-CoV-2.
Scientific research on these natural threats has immense benefits. Understanding of avian influenza has informed efforts to stop transmission in poultry, possibly preventing a pandemic. Covid-19 vaccines were based on studies of the spike protein of other coronaviruses. Scientists track how antibodies and vaccines work against new Covid variants using viruses that don’t replicate, called pseudoviruses, which pose no risk to humans.
None of this research requires a dangerous virus in the lab. It’s done by surveillance, studying parts of the virus or using pseudoviruses. But some experiments do require an actual virus, such as when testing drugs like Paxlovid. What if there is an accident? There are documented cases of scientists being infected with coronaviruses even in modern Biosafety Level 3 and 4 labs, which are used to study dangerous pathogens.
Most of the time these risks are quite low. A researcher is much more likely to acquire a virus at a grocery store than in a modern lab. Of course there is some risk — but we allow people to drive even though each year they have about a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying in a car accident.
But it’s different when research involves a virus that could plausibly spark a pandemic, which is the case when a virus can transmit from person to person and most people lack immunity. I would not be allowed to drive if my car accident could kill millions of people and cost trillions of dollars in economic losses. But potential pandemic viruses pose that risk.
Scientists mostly study viruses that lack pandemic potential. Sometimes they use “safe” viruses that are unable to infect humans or have been weakened in the lab. Or they study viruses that already circulate in humans and are unlikely to cause a pandemic if there’s an accident. In my view, the much-discussed Boston University study falls in this category because it combines two SARS-CoV-2 variants that recently circulated in humans.
However, scientists sometimes study viruses that have made isolated jumps from animals to people. For example, a new strain of avian influenza is currently infecting many birds and some other mammals like seals and foxes, but so far only a few humans. Virologists worry it could adapt to transmit in humans and spark a pandemic. As scientists, we want to test how well such viruses can infect human cells or evade countermeasures. But a lab accident could expose the scientist.
I think that such studies should use the safer methods described above whenever possible, but exceptions can be made. For instance, people are already coming into contact with influenza-infected birds, and judicious research in a high-level biosafety lab can help assess the threat.
But some scientists have taken it further, adding “gain of function” mutations that make potential pandemic viruses more transmissible. The National Institutes of Health funded two research groups to increase the transmissibility of an earlier strain of avian influenza that had killed hundreds of people but could not efficiently spread from person to person. Both groups created viral mutants that could transmit in ferrets. The Obama administration was so alarmed that it halted gain-of-function work on potential pandemic influenza viruses in 2014, but the N.I.H. allowed it to restart by 2019.
In my view, there is no justification for intentionally making potential pandemic viruses more transmissible. The consequences of an accident could be too horrific, and such engineered viruses are not needed for vaccines anyway.
Natural viruses that haven’t yet infected humans can also pose a risk if researchers try to find the most dangerous ones and bring them back to the lab for experiments.
Suspicions about a lab-accident origin of SARS-CoV-2 have been fueled by the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was involved in Chinese and international efforts to find and experiment with new high-risk coronaviruses. The W.I.V. says it did not perform experiments with viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, the pandemic shows just how dangerous these viruses are. The risk for accident isn’t outweighed by any concomitant benefit, because no one has explained how the pandemic would have been prevented if W.I.V. scientists had managed to experiment on such viruses beforehand. It also would not have helped with vaccines: Moderna designed its vaccine just two days after release of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence, without access to the actual virus.
A final category of pandemic risk involves viruses that used to transmit in humans but became extinct long ago — like the 1918 influenza virus. That virus was synthetically reconstructed and is now studied by a number of labs to understand why it was so deadly. Although this research is scientifically fascinating, I’ve come to think that experimenting on extinct pandemic viruses just isn’t worth the risk.
There are also some gray zones that don’t directly involve pandemic viruses, but deserve further discussion.
One gray zone is mutants of current human viruses that escape antibodies or drugs. Studying such mutants is essential in designing vaccines and is even part of the Food and Drug Administration’s review process for antiviral drugs. But scientists should avoid generating more mutations than would be expected to evolve naturally within a few years.
Another gray zone involves information. Advances in sequencing, computation and safe experiments enable increasingly good predictions of the effects of viral mutations. This information helps track evolution, update vaccines and design drugs. But it has become easy to transform information into actual viruses. What if someone uses information to design a well-intentioned but risky experiment, or even worse a bioweapon?
Well-intentioned accidents can be addressed by regulating risky experiments, but nefarious actors can’t be regulated. The cat may be mostly out of the bag, since information about how to create several dangerous viruses is already in the public domain. However, we should control the most high-risk information (like how to create smallpox from synthetic DNA) while not disrupting the free flow of data on which science depends.
Overall, most virology research is safe and often beneficial. But experiments that pose pandemic risks should be stopped, and other areas require continued careful assessment. Several groups are developing frameworks for oversight and regulation.
But who should ultimately decide?
Some virologists think we should have the final say, since we’re the ones with technical expertise. I only partially agree. I’m a scientist. My dad is a scientist. My wife is a scientist. Most of my friends are scientists. I obviously think scientists are great. But we’re susceptible to the same professional and personal biases as anyone else and can lack a holistic view.
The French statesman Georges Clemenceau said, “War is too important to be left to the generals.” When it comes to regulating high-risk research on potential pandemic viruses, we similarly need a transparent and independent approach that involves virologists and the broader public that both funds and is affected by their work.
Some companies and restaurants have continued to raise prices on consumers even after their own inflation-related costs have been covered.
By Isabella Simonetti and Julie Creswell, Nov. 1, 2022
“For years, food companies and restaurants generally raised prices in small, incremental steps, worried that big increases would frighten consumers and send them looking for cheaper options. But over the last year, as wages increased and the cost of the raw ingredients used to make treats like cookies, chips, sodas and the materials to package them soared, food companies and restaurants started passing along those expenses to customers. ...But amid growing concerns that the economy could be headed for a recession, some food companies and restaurants are continuing to raise prices even if their own inflation-driven costs have been covered. Critics say the moves are all about increasing profits, not covering expenses. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Chipotle did not respond to requests for comment."
Over the past year, the price of food eaten at home has gone up 13 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Credit...Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
A year ago, a bag of potato chips at the grocery store cost an average of $5.05. These days, that bag costs $6.05. A dozen eggs that could have been picked up for $1.83 now average $2.90. A two-liter bottle of soda that cost $1.78 will now set you back $2.17.
Something else is also much higher: corporate profits.
In mid-October, PepsiCo, whose prices for its drinks and chips were up 17 percent in the latest quarter from year-earlier levels, reported that its third-quarter profit grew more than 20 percent. Likewise, Coca-Cola reported profit up 14 percent from a year earlier, thanks in large part to price increases.
Restaurants keep getting more expensive, too. Chipotle Mexican Grill, which said prices by the end of the year would be nearly 15 percent higher than a year earlier, reported $257.1 million in profit in the latest quarter, up nearly 26 percent from a year earlier.
For years, food companies and restaurants generally raised prices in small, incremental steps, worried that big increases would frighten consumers and send them looking for cheaper options. But over the last year, as wages increased and the cost of the raw ingredients used to make treats like cookies, chips, sodas and the materials to package them soared, food companies and restaurants started passing along those expenses to customers.
But amid growing concerns that the economy could be headed for a recession, some food companies and restaurants are continuing to raise prices even if their own inflation-driven costs have been covered. Critics say the moves are all about increasing profits, not covering expenses. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Chipotle did not respond to requests for comment.
“The recent earnings calls have only reinforced the familiar and unwelcome theme that corporations did not need to raise their prices so high on struggling families,” said Kyle Herrig, the president of Accountable.Us, an advocacy organization. “The calls tell us corporations have used inflation, the pandemic and supply chain challenges as an excuse to exaggerate their own costs and then nickel and dime consumers.”
So far, food companies and restaurants have been able to raise prices because the majority of consumers, while annoyed that the trip to the grocery store or drive-through for takeout costs more than it did a year ago, have been willing to pay. But there are plenty of shoppers, including those with lower incomes or retirees on fixed budgets, who say the higher prices have led to changes in their routines.
Diane English, an 80-year-old partly retired artist who lives with her partner in Asheville, N.C., said she now shops at lower-price grocery stores like Aldi so she can afford her groceries. She also has stopped buying certain foods because they’re simply too expensive.
“I can’t remember the last time we had steak,” said Ms. English. A couple of weeks ago, she said, she looked at the meat department at The Fresh Market, a grocery store chain, and was dispirited at the high prices she found.
“We’re not going to do that,” she said. “We can’t.”
Over the last year, the price of food eaten at home has soared 13 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with some items spiking even higher. Cereals and bakery goods are up 16.2 percent from a year ago, closely followed by dairy, which has risen 15.9 percent.
The cost of eating at restaurants has risen 8.5 percent over the same period.
Even food executives have been surprised by how well the higher food prices have been accepted.
On a call with investors, James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s chief executive, said customers continued to buy the company’s products despite economic challenges.
“In the face of these pressures, consumers stayed resilient, and we continue to invest behind our loved brands to drive value in the marketplace and growth in our business,” Mr. Quincey said.
This summer, on a call with other Wall Street analysts, Jason English, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, noted that the food giant Conagra Brands had been able to price its products above inflation rates and recovered its profit margins.
Sean Connolly, the president and chief executive of Conagra, said that manufacturers saw their profits hit early by inflation and that maintaining robust profits was crucial to developing new products.
This summer, on a call with other Wall Street analysts, Jason English, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, noted that the food giant Conagra Brands had been able to price its products above inflation rates and recovered its profit margins.
Sean Connolly, the president and chief executive of Conagra, said that manufacturers saw their profits hit early by inflation and that maintaining robust profits was crucial to developing new products.
“We have to have healthy margins to be able to build out that innovation and get it to our customers in the market,” Mr. Connolly said on the call. Conagra did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Likewise, investors and analysts are closely watching the continued price hikes at Chipotle, wondering when it will become too much for its customers. In late October, the company said its profit margin widened in the third quarter, since it was able to increase the prices it charges faster than its own costs rose. The company said its prices in the final three months of the year would be nearly 15 percent higher than they were a year earlier.
“The average entree was around $8 nationally two years ago, and they’ve maybe taken $1.50 in price in the past two years,” said Sharon Zackfia, group head of consumer research at William Blair & Company.
She added: “I am intrigued by what happens when commodities fall again, and how do restaurants offer more value to the consumer without lowering prices? In the long arc of history, most restaurants do not lower prices.”
Still, some cracks are emerging. Not all companies have increased profits. Profit at McDonald’s, for example, fell because of how the strong U.S. dollar has weakened other global currencies. High prices for deli meat, fresh fish and frozen dinners have led some shoppers to stop buying those products, according to data from Information Resources Inc., a research firm.
Executives at Darden Restaurants said in September on a call with analysts that households with less than $50,000 in annual income were feeling the overall effects of inflation and eating less frequently at its Olive Garden and Cheddar’s restaurant chains. Rick Cardenas, the chief executive of Darden, said, “We are seeing softness with these consumers while conversely, we are seeing strength with guests in higher income households.”
Nicole Blaha, 53, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., started going to Walmart more frequently to stock up on things like granola bars and cereals to save money. She also uses an app called Ibotta to receive cash back on some of her purchases. It is one area of her life that has been affected by inflation where she feels like she can make substantiative changes.
“I actually find it easier to kind of work with the groceries piece and try to save some money where I can,” Ms. Blaha said. “You can’t argue with the electric bill.”
In grocery stores, consumers began increasingly switching to less expensive store brands in March, executives at TreeHouse Foods, a company that makes cookies, crackers, pickles and beverages for retailers, told Wall Street analysts on a call in August.
Steve Oakland, the chief executive of TreeHouse, told analysts that “consumers are making changes to reduce their spending, which include embracing store brands and the value that they represent.”
By Sharon Risher, Nov. 1, 2022
Ms. Risher, a minister, is the daughter of Ethel Lance and the cousin of Tywanza Sanders and Susie Jackson, victims in the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
The author, Sharon Risher, with a photograph of her mother, Ethel Lance, who was killed in the Charleston, S.C., church shooting in 2015. Credit...Kennedi Carter for The New York Times
This week, Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., will be formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and the families of those who were killed or injured will again have a chance to speak about the irreparable harm done to them.
I understand the anguish some of those families expressed last month after the jury decided to spare the gunman’s life. That’s because I have sat in a similar courtroom, under similar circumstances. Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, murdered my mother, two cousins and six others in 2015 at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. For that, he was sentenced to death.
I would never tell anyone how to feel in such a situation. I can only share my own story. And having lived through this awful experience — the loss of my loved ones, followed by a trial in which we had to hear about the terrible details of the murders again and to revisit all of the pain — I can say that Mr. Roof’s death sentence did not bring my family closure. It only prolonged our agony.
How can families of victims not want vengeance for what the killer has done? I was very conflicted throughout Mr. Roof’s trial. It brought me new misery to see such a young man with so much hate in his heart. But by the time the sentencing phase ended, I felt that killing him would do nothing to help me heal. After much prayer and asking God to help me, I knew in my heart that killing him would not solve anything.
Because he was sentenced to death, we are still suffering in ways that could have been avoided. Five years ago, Mr. Roof’s first appeal was rejected. It was two years after his crime, but just the experience of that appeal being a headline brought back all of the horror of his violence, renewing our wounds. Every time our case is in the news, I am returned to that terrible day and the searing pain of the weeks, months and years that followed. It almost feels as if he gets to continue the terror he intended to create, because the focus is on him, while his victims’ families wait for the supposed finality of an execution that may never come.
This is the unintended but very real consequence of the death penalty. Rather than helping my family heal, Dylann Roof’s death sentence has done the opposite.
Based on my experience and that of many others whom I know, some of the families of the Parkland victims may discover that Mr. Cruz’s sentence of life in prison brings them more peace in the end. After all, life without the possibility of parole might better be understood as death by incarceration. I certainly agree that such killers should never be free.
I hope that Nikolas Cruz’s sentence can be a turning point for the families, that it will allow them to move toward healing. We can never get our loved ones back. But for me, not having the uncertainty of a death sentence hanging over me would make it easier to focus on the positive memories of those I lost.
In the years since Mr. Roof’s trial, I have become active in the movement to abolish the death penalty. There are many reasons to oppose it, including that racism and other injustices taint the justice system in the United States. Getting rid of the death penalty also would bring a close to these torturous years of appeals for so many of us.
I pray that God will give the Parkland families comfort, and that God will give Nikolas Cruz the opportunity to understand and accept responsibility for what he has done and that he can find a way to use the remainder of his life for good, even in prison.
For everyone else, I want to say this: Please don’t speak for victims and their families or tell us what to think. The most powerful thing that you can do for family members of murder victims is simply to offer authentic and nonjudgmental presence. We just need to know that we have a community around us that is about love.