Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, December 16, 2022


Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal march down JFK Blvd. past the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice and City Hall, in Philadelphia, Friday, December 16, 2022.Jessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

This just in: Judge will rule in three months:

Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a police officer, pursues one more appeal. He is facing a skeptical judge.

Abu-Jamal has brought numerous appeals over the decades. The judge in his current appeal appears impatient with that.

by Craig R. McCoy

Published an hour ago


Forty-one years and one week after Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot to death, the latest defense team for his convicted killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, sought Friday to convince a skeptical judge to overturn his life sentence.


Abu-Jamal, 68, has filed eight appeals since his conviction on charges of killing Faulkner, who was 25 when he died on Dec. 9, 1981. His one victory came in 2001, when a federal judge overturned Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, but upheld his conviction.


In the latest appeal, his lawyers drew upon material they found in six file boxes related to Abu-Jamal’s case that city prosecutors turned over to the defense in 2019, saying staff had inadvertently found them while searching for office furniture.


Abdul-Jamal’s lawyers say the material suggests that prosecutors paid one key witness to testify against him during his 1982 trial, improperly promised leniency to another witness in her pending prostitution cases and improperly barred Black jurors from hearing the case.


Prosecutors say the defense has imposed a falsely sinister reading of benign material. And Common Pleas Court Judge Lucretia Clemens strongly signaled in a 30-page opinion last fall that she is leaning toward dismissing the defense appeal.


However, she gave the two sides one last chance Friday to argue their positions. The lawyers did so in a courtroom filled with about 50 Abu-Jamal allies, as well as Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, and a smaller number of her supporters. Abu-Jamal, imprisoned in a state facility near Hazelton, was not there.


Clemens said she would rule within three months. Before ending the hearing, the judge asked the prosecutors and defense lawyers to make sure that the Abu-Jamal’s lawyers had reviewed every scrap of evidence that the District Attorney’s Office could share.


“I do not want to do this again,” she said.


After his conviction and especially during his years of Death Row, Abu-Jamal became an international cause celebré. In August, Brown University announced that it had bought his private papers for an undisclosed amount.


At the time of the murder, Abu-Jamal was driving a taxi after losing his job as a journalist with public radio in Philadelphia after he became fascinated by the counter-culture group MOVE. He encountered Faulkner at 4 a.m. after noticing that the officer had pulled over his younger brother in a car stop at 13th and Locust Streets.


Prosecutors said he shot Faulkner in the back and then stood over him and shot him in the face. Faulkner, in turn, shot Abu-Jamal in the chest, and he was found, wounded, next to Faulkner’s body.


In the appeal, defense lawyer Judith Ritter, a professor at Widener University-Delaware Law School, said the new material showed that eyewitness Robert Chobert wrote to the original prosecutors several weeks after the trial asking, with uncertain spelling, “I have been calling you to find out about the money own to me.”


She said this was evidence Chobert was to be paid for his testimony. But Assistant District Attorney Grady Gervino told the court the letter was not evidence of any such deal. The original prosecutor, Joseph McGill, has said in a sworn statement that Chobert was merely asking about money for lost wages for the days he was on the stand.


Abu-Jamal’s lawyer also cited a newly discovered 1982 memo from the District Attorney’s Office about another witness in the case, Cynthia White, who has since died. In it, a supervisor wrote that White should be “vigorously prosecuted” in pending prostitution cases, but also that the assigned assistant district attorney should talk with McGill first.


Ritter said this suggested White expected to be given a break in her cases in return for helping convict Abu-Jamal. Gervino rejected this interpretation and noted that both McGill and White have said they had no deal.


Finally, the defense questioned whether McGill had improperly barred Black candidates from the jury, which was made up of 10 white members and two Black members. They noted that the new files showed that McGill had noted the race and gender of some of the potential jurors.


Gervino said McGill had been keeping track of race in case the defense sought to bring a future legal challenge to the jury on racial grounds.

Published Dec. 16, 2022



Railroad Workers United Launches Major Fundraising Campaign


Railroad Workers United (RWU) has received a remarkable outpouring of support and solidarity as our struggle for a fair contract has caught national attention, and the daily realities of our working conditions have reached the hearts and minds of our communities. Railroaders, friends, and allies are joining our membership organization, subscribing to our newsletter service, and asking how they can help.


Despite actions by Congress and the Biden Administration, we intend to continue to organize for our dignity and job quality, and fight exploitation by Class I rail carrier billionaires.


We are a group of fighting railroaders, and we fight for all workers.


Amid this season of giving, RWU humbly asks you to help propel our campaigns and capacity building forward. Your donation will support:


·      Expanding our campaign for public ownership of the railroads

·      Fighting to consolidate the railroad craft unions to achieve one strong and unified voice at the next round of bargaining — organizing for which begins today!

·      Funding research, development, and labor education

·    Building our staff and administrative capacity to meet the needs of a growing membership, and to support member organizing


By giving to Railroad Workers United, you become a steward of fairness and decency on the railroads, which are so crucial to the supply chain. Join our struggle and please donate today. Thank you!


Donate Here - Help Build the Movement!






On the morning of December 16th, 2022, Dr. Mutulu Shakur was released from prison on parole!

The decision to grant parole is based on federal law guidelines for “old law” prisoners, finding that Dr. Shakur poses no threat to the community, taking into consideration his exemplary conduct in prison, his medical condition and how much time he has served. Mutulu is now with his family. This victory was secured by the steadfast support of his legal team, his family and his community comprised of all of you.


Family & Friends of Mutulu Shakur (FFMS) is greatly appreciative of everyone’s support over the course of Mutulu’s decades in prison. We ask that everyone respect Dr. Shakur’s privacy while he spends the holidays with his family and concentrates on his health and healing. Any inquiries to FFMS can be directed to info@mutulushakur.com, and we will be sure to release more information as it is available. May everyone celebrate the achievement of securing his release and deepen our commitment to a more just future.


See the Ways to Support page for the most up-to-date information on how you can reach out to and support Dr. Mutulu Shakur:




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. nhanrahanlaw@gmail.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


Noelle Hanrahan

Prison Radio Co-Director




Urgent support needed for cancer-stricken, imprisoned writer/artist, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson’s Legal Fund!

Fundraiser for an attorney to represent Rashid’s struggle for medical care
A campaign is underway to hire an attorney to represent Kevin Rashid Johnson’s struggle for medical care. The prison has denied this care to him, despite a cancer diagnosis discovered over one year ago for which no treatment has yet been provided.

Here is the donation link for Rashid’s legal fund: 
Please be as generous as you can.


Prostate cancer can be cured if discovered and treated before it spreads (metastasizes) beyond the prostate. But once it spreads it becomes incurable and fatal.

Rashid's prostate cancer was discovered over a year ago and diagnosed by biopsy months ago, before it had spread or any symptoms had developed. However, he has now developed symptoms that indicate it likely has metastasized, which would not have happened if he had begun receiving treatment earlier. Denied care and delayed hospital appointments continue, which can only be intended to cause spreading and worsening symptoms.

I just received word from Rashid through another prisoner where he is, that he was transported on October 25, 2022 to the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) hospital, which is a state hospital where Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials also work. MCV appears to have a nefarious relationship with the VDOC in denying prisoners needed treatment. Upon arrival to the hospital he was told the appointment had been rescheduled, which has now become a pattern.

The appointment was for a full body PET scan to determine if and to what degree his cancer has metastasized. When he met with a radiologist on October 4, 2022, after 3 prior re-schedulings, there was concern that his cancer may have spread because of symptoms he's begun developing. This is his fourth rescheduled hospital appointment which has delayed appointments for weeks to months, preventing him from receiving care.

Because of delayed testing and denied care Rashid has developed symptoms that continue to worsen, which include internal bleeding and pain. The passage of time without care is worsening his condition and making the likelihood of death from the spread of his cancer more certain.





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.



Dear friends, 

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:




Ruchell’s Website: 



Charlie Hinton


No one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side



Tell Congress to Help #FreeDanielHale


I’m pleased to announce that last week our client, Daniel Hale, was awarded the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The “Corner-Brightener Candlestick” was presented to Daniel’s friend Noor Mir. You can watch the online ceremony here.

As it happens, this week is also the 20th anniversary of the first drone assassination in Yemen. From the beginning, the drone assassination program has been deeply shrouded in secrecy, allowing U.S. officials to hide significant violations of international law, and the American Constitution. In addition to the lives directly impacted by these strikes, the program has significantly eroded respect for international law and thereby puts civilians around the world in danger.

Daniel Hale’s revelations threw a beam of light into a very dark corner, allowing journalists to definitively show that the government's official narrative was a lie. It is thanks to the great personal sacrifice of drone whistleblowers like Hale that public understanding has finally begun to catch up to reality.

As the Sam Adams Associates note:

 “Mr. Hale was well aware of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment to which other courageous officials have been subjected — and that he would likely suffer the same. And yet — in the manner of his famous ancestor Nathan Hale — he put his country first, knowing what awaited him at the hands of those who serve what has become a repressive Perpetual War State wreaking havoc upon much of the world.”

We hope you’ll join the growing call to pardon or commute Hale’s sentence. U.S. citizens can contact your representatives here.

Happy new year, and thank you for your support!


Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)

Twitter: @JesselynRadack



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)[1]

[1] Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.







Screenshot of Kevin Cooper's artwork from the teaser.


 “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.



A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Video at:


Screen shot from video.

Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.




Email: contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info

Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603


Bury My Heart with Leonard Peltier

How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?

By Michael Moore

—VIA Email: michaelmoore@substack.com

LEONARD PELTIER, Native American hero. An innocent man, he’s spent 44 years as a political prisoner. The prosecutor who put him behind bars now says Peltier is innocent. President Biden, go to Mass today, and then stop this torture. (Sipa/Shutterstock)

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


Phone: 202-456-1111

E-mail: At this link



Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland


Phone: 202-208-3100

E-mail: feedback@ios.doi.gov


Attorney General Merrick Garland


Phone: 202-514-2000

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”



The Moment

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!



Union Membership—2021

Bureau of Labor Statistics

U.S. Department of Labor

For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022

Technical information: 

(202) 691-6378 • cpsinfo@bls.gov • www.bls.gov/cps

Media contact: 

(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).

Union Representation

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: 

www.bls.gov/covid19/effects-of-covid-19-pandemic-and- response-on-the-employment-situation-news-release.htm.



Resources for Resisting Federal Repression

Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests. 

The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page. 

Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.

Emergency Hotlines

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: 

National Hotline

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: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective






1) ‘Cuba Is Depopulating’: Largest Exodus Yet Threatens Country’s Future

The pandemic and tougher U.S. sanctions have decimated Cuba’s economy, prompting the biggest migration since Fidel Castro rose to power.

“Many experts say that U.S. policy toward the island is helping fuel the very migration crisis that the administration is now struggling to address.”

By Ed Augustin and Frances Robles, Dec. 10, 2022


Roger García Ordaz has tried to leave Cuba for the United States 11 times. “Of course I am going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there,” he said.

Roger García Ordaz has tried to leave Cuba for the United States 11 times. “Of course I am going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there,” he said. Credit...Eliana Aponte Tobar for The New York Times

BARACOA, Cuba — Roger García Ordaz makes no secret of his many attempts to flee.


He has tried to leave Cuba 11 times on boats made of wood, Styrofoam and resin, and has a tattoo for each failed attempt, including three boat mishaps and eight times picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent home.


Hundreds of homemade, rickety boats have left this year from the shores of Baracoa, a fishing village west of Havana where Mr. García, 34, lives — so many that locals call the town “Terminal Three.”


“Of course I am going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there,” he said. “Or if the sea wants to take my life, so be it.”


Living conditions in Cuba under Communist rule have long been precarious, but today, deepening poverty and hopelessness have set off the largest exodus from the Caribbean Island nation since Fidel Castro rose to power over half a century ago.


The country has been hit by a one-two-punch of tighter U.S. sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic, which eviscerated one of Cuba’s lifelines — the tourism industry. Food has become even more scarce and more expensive, lines at pharmacies with scant supplies begin before dawn and millions of people endure daily hourslong blackouts.


Over the last year, nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2 percent of the island’s 11 million population, have migrated to the United States, most of them arriving at the southern border by land, according to U.S. government data.


Even for a nation known for mass exodus, the current wave is remarkable — larger than the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis combined, until recently the island’s two biggest migration events.


But while those movements peaked within a year, experts say this migration, which they compare to a wartime exodus, has no end in sight and threatens the stability of a country that already has one of the hemisphere’s oldest populations.


The avalanche of Cubans leaving has also become a challenge for the United States. Now one of the highest sources of migrants after Mexico, Cuba has become a top contributor to the crush of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been a major political liability for President Biden and which the administration considers a serious national security issue.


“The numbers for Cuba are historic, and everybody recognizes that,” said a senior State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. “That said, more people are migrating globally now than they ever have been and that trend is certainly bearing out in our hemisphere, too.”


Many experts say that U.S. policy toward the island is helping fuel the very migration crisis that the administration is now struggling to address.


To appeal to Cuban American voters in South Florida, the Trump administration discarded President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement, which included restoring diplomatic relations and increasing travel to the island. President Donald J. Trump replaced it with a “maximum pressure” campaign that ratcheted up sanctions and severely limited how much cash Cubans could receive from their families in the United States, a key source of revenue.


“This is not rocket science: If you devastate a country 90 miles from your border with sanctions, people will come to your border in search of economic opportunity,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser under Mr. Obama and was the point person on talks with Cuba.


Although President Biden has begun to retreat from some of Mr. Trump’s policies, he has been slow to act for fear of angering the Cuban diaspora and incurring the wrath of Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat and a powerful Cuban American who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said William M. LeoGrande, a professor at American University, who has written extensively on U.S.-Cuba relations.


The administration has also expressed concerns over human rights on the island following the Cuban government’s crackdown on massive protests last year.


“These two reasons — one domestic politics and one foreign policy — reinforce one another,” Mr. LeoGrande said.


While any significant rollback of sanctions remains off the table, the two governments are engaged in efforts to address the extraordinary migration surge.


Washington recently announced that it would restart consular services in Havana in January and issue at least 20,000 visas to Cubans next year in line with longstanding agreements between the two nations, which officials hope will dissuade some people from trying to make dangerous journeys to the United States.


Havana has agreed to resume accepting flights from the United States of Cubans who are deported, another move to try to discourage migration. The Biden administration has also reversed the cap on money that Cuban Americans are allowed to send to relatives and licensed a U.S. company to process the wire transfers to Cuba.


The Cuban government has long blamed Washington’s sanctions and a decades-old trade embargo for crippling the country’s economy and pushing people off the island, and says a law in place since 1966 that gives most Cubans who meet certain criteria a fast track to residency is a key reason for migration surges.


The law essentially assumes that all Cubans are political refugees who need protection, but has been widely criticized for giving them privileges that are not provided to any other nationality.


But Cuba also has a long history of using migration to rid the nation of those it considers malcontents. When political unrest grew, Fidel Castro would publicly bid the agitators — he called them “degenerates” and “worms” — good riddance.


Some 3,000 people left from the port of Camarioca in 1965, and 125,000 departed from Mariel in 1980. In 1994, street protests led to an exodus of about 35,000 people, who washed up on Florida shores on inner tubes and rickety vessels.


Cuba’s free fall has been accelerated by the pandemic: Over the last three years, Cuba’s financial reserves have dwindled, and it has struggled to stock shore shelves. Imports — largely food and fuel — have dropped by half. The situation is so dire that the government electric company boasted this month that electrical service had run uninterrupted that day for 13 hours and 13 minutes.


Last year, fed up by the economic decline and a lack of freedom compounded by a Covid-19 lockdown, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the biggest antigovernment protests in decades. A crackdown followed, with nearly 700 people still imprisoned, according to a Cuban human rights group.


Cubans of fewer means try to leave by building makeshift boats, and at least 100 have died at sea since 2020, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has intercepted nearly 3,000 Cubans at sea in the past two months alone.


But these days most Cuban migrants fly off the island, with relatives abroad often paying the airfare, followed by a tough overland journey. (Cuba lifted an exit visa requirement to leave by air a decade ago, though it is still illegal to leave by sea.)


The floodgates opened last year, when Nicaragua stopped requiring an entrance visa for Cubans. Tens of thousands of people sold their homes and belongings and flew to Managua, paying smugglers to help them make the 1,700-mile journey by land to the U.S. border.


Katrin Hansing, an anthropologist at the City University of New York who is on sabbatical on the island, noted that the soaring migration figures do not account for the thousands who have left for other countries, including Serbia and Russia.


“This is the biggest quantitative and qualitative brain drain this country has ever had since the revolution,” she said. “It’s the best and the brightest and the ones with the most energy.”


The departure of many younger, working-age Cubans augurs a bleak demographic future for a country where the average life expectancy of 78 is higher than for the rest of the region, experts said. The government already can barely afford the meager pensions the country’s older population relies on.


The hemorrhaging of Cubans from their homeland is nothing short of “devastating,” said Elaine Acosta González, a research associate at Florida International University. “Cuba is depopulating.”


Just a few years ago, the country’s future seemed far different. With the Obama administration loosening restrictions on travel to Cuba, American tourists pumped dollars into the island’s fledgling private sector.


Now, travel is again severely limited and years of economic downturn have for many Cubans extinguished the last embers of optimism.


Joan Cruz Méndez, a taxi driver who has tried to leave three times, looked out to the sea in Baracoa and explained why so many boats that once lined the town’s shores are gone, along with their owners.


“The last thing you can lose is hope, and I think a large part of the population has lost hope,” said Mr. Cruz, recounting how he had once made it out 30 miles to sea only to be forced to turn back, because too many people onboard got seasick and vomited.


In March, Mr. Cruz, 41, bought a plane ticket for his wife to fly to Panama and tapped his savings to pay a smuggler $6,000 to get her to the United States, where she claimed political asylum. She is working at an auto-parts store in Houston.


In the woods just beyond the town, people were busy building more boats, stripping motors from cars, electric generators and lawn mowers.


When the sea is calm, they wait for the local Cuban Coast Guard contingent to clock off its shift, before carrying the makeshift vessels on their shoulders through town and over craggy rocks before lowering them gently into the water.


In May, Yoel Taureaux Duvergel, 32, and his wife, Yanari, who was five months pregnant with their only child, and four others set out in the wee hours. But their motor broke. They started rowing, but were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard just a few miles from the United States and taken back to Cuba, where Mr. Taureaux tries to get by doing odd jobs.


Asked why he had tried to leave, he laughed. “What do you mean why did I want to leave?” he said. “Don’t you live in the Cuban reality?”


He intends to try again. “Once you start, you can’t stop,” he said.


Sitting beside him, Maikol Manuel Infanta Silva, 19, had sold his family’s refrigerator to build a boat that sank. He, too, will try again.


By law, he is supposed to be serving in the military, but he fled and tries to make a living catching fish with a harpoon.


In Cuba, he said, “everything keeps getting worse.”



2) The Root Cause of Violent Crime Is Not What We Think It Is

By Phillip Atiba Goff, Dec. 12, 2022

Phillip Atiba Goff is the chair and Carl I. Hovland professor of African American studies and professor of psychology at Yale University.


A large and well-worn combat boot about to crunch down on a small, cheerful patch of colorful flowers.
Illustration by Lauren Peters-Collaer; Photograph by yeraylc, via Getty

There is a prevailing narrative about crime that positions bad people as the problem and toughness — in the form of police and prisons — as the solution. It’s emotionally powerful, enough to make politicians allocate money for more cops and more jails in order to avoid being labeled weak, or worse, pro-crime. The recent decision by Mayor Eric Adams of New York to get more homeless mentally ill people involuntarily committed — which shocked even the N.Y.P.D. — is just the latest example.


But policies like this have little if any effect on violent crime, in part because they do not address what causes the problem.


The 2022 midterm elections, in which the Republican Party poured considerable sums into a tough-on-crime message and did far worse than expected, offers hope that change is at last possible. Candidates with the courage to do so can run — and win — on a promise to reduce the causes of violence, addressing it before it occurs instead of just punishing it when the damage is already done.


If throwing money at police and prisons made us safer, we would probably already be the safest country in the history of the world. We are not, because insufficient punishment is not the root cause of violence. And if someone is talking about how tough they are and how scared you should be, they care more about keeping you scared than keeping you safe.


The tough-on-crime narrative acts like a black hole. It subsumes new ideas and silences discussions of solutions that are already making a difference in people’s lives. And it provides bottomless succor to politicians who are more interested in keeping themselves in power than keeping people safe.


I have seen the message of “strong communities keeping everyone safe” open the minds of Republican voters, Democratic voters, and many in between. It is backed up by science. Academics, government commissions and even many police chiefs have agreed with the substance behind the message for decades. And there is evidence, including the results of last month’s midterms, that it can work politically on a larger scale.


Local successes can be harder for national and statewide candidates to take credit for. But they are still better off telling a story about solutions than trying to out-punish their opponents. Senator-elect John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, often advertised his efforts to eliminate shooting deaths as the mayor of Braddock, Pa.


In contrast, many New York State Democrats defaulted to a defensive posture. In the closing weeks of the midterms, Gov. Kathy Hochul cut an ad highlighting stricter bail terms and trumpeted increased police presence in New York City. Sean Patrick Maloney sought (and received) the endorsement of the powerful Police Benevolent Association of New York City even though his district is not in the city. It didn’t work. Hochul survived an unexpectedly close race, but Maloney lost his seat, as did many other Democrats in the state.


Even in areas that have doubled down on punishment, the police are finding it exceedingly difficult to solve crimes. This is particularly true of homicides. In New York City, by contrast, the decision to end the unconstitutional tactic of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of mostly young Black and brown men did not lead to a spike in crime.


Meanwhile, local policies that get closer to the cause are showing results. Dozens of communities are demonstrating how to ensure safety and, in many cases, save money along the way. In Austin, Texas, a 911 call from a person reporting a mental health emergency used to get directed to the police. Now, if there is no immediate danger, dispatchers have the option to transfer the call to a mental health clinician. In the first eight months after the program’s 2019 launch, 82 percent of calls that were transferred were handled without police involvement, which resulted in savings to the taxpayer of $1,642,213. By the 2021 fiscal year, the program was involved in almost 2,000 calls. In Brooklyn, young people who completed an alternative program for illegal gun possession had a 22 percent lower rearrest rate than peers who went to prison. In Olympia, Wash., a new unit of the Police Department that provides “free, confidential, and voluntary crisis response assistance” has responded to 3,108 calls since 2019, all while minimizing arrests and with zero injuries to responders.


Communities that have adopted these approaches have not done away with enforcement; they have just required less of it. In Denver, a five-year randomized control trial of a program that provides housing subsidies to those at risk of being unhoused found a 40 percent reduction in arrests among participants. These kinds of results are why localities from New Jersey to New Mexico are restructuring their local governments to invest in the social determinants of health and safety.


And yet, as I have learned over more than two decades of work in this field, the black hole narrative cannot be changed by statistics alone. If you want policies that actually work, you have to change the political conversation from “tough candidates punishing bad people” to “strong communities keeping everyone safe.” Candidates who care about solving a problem pay attention to what caused it. Imagine a plumber who tells you to get more absorbent flooring but does not look for the leak.


Because the old narrative is so ingrained, candidates often assume that voters agree with it. But common sense and recent polling show that a majority of voters are concerned about crime and also supportive of changes in how we keep communities safe. This has fueled thousands of local innovations across the country. City governments, community groups and nonprofits are comparing notes on what works. And organizations like One Million Experiments are tracking innovations aimed at producing scalable solutions that do not rely on punishment. Reducing crime and reducing reliance on punishment only seem incompatible if you accept, as the narrative black hole dictates, that police and prisons are the only solution.


Voters know the status quo does not work. In the run-up to 2024, for the sake of public safety, candidates need to give them real alternatives. That is the only way to get out of the black hole and into the light.



3) As Protests Rage, Iran Executes Another Man, This Time in Public

Majidreza Rahnavard was hanged after being accused of killing two members of a paramilitary force in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

By Emma Bubola, Dec. 12, 2022


This image was taken from a video reportedly showing protesters marching in Zahedan, southeastern Iran, on Friday.

This image was taken from a video reportedly showing protesters marching in Zahedan, southeastern Iran, on Friday. Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iran announced on Monday that it had hanged a man in a public execution in what is believed to be the second death sentence carried out against a protester since the Islamic Republic began a crackdown on antigovernment demonstrations that first flared in September.


The man, Majidreza Rahnavard, was hanged in the city of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, “in public in the presence of a group of people” from the city, according to the news agency Mizan, which is overseen by the Iranian judiciary.


The news agency posted images of a young man in light clothes that it said was Mr. Rahnavard, his head covered, hanging from a rope attached to a crane at night.


Mr. Rahnavard was accused of stabbing to death two members of the Basij militia — a plainclothes volunteer force that is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — and of wounding four other people in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad last month, Mizan said. A court convicted Mr. Rahnavard of “moharebeh,” or “waging war against God,” the agency reported.


Mashhad, like other cities across Iran, has been the scene of furious protests for the past three months, with protesters calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. The protests erupted in September after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in the custody of the morality police after being arrested and charged with violating the country’s strict head scarf law.


Mizan said that Mr. Rahnavard was arrested on Nov. 19 as he was planning to flee Iran. The agency did not give Mr. Rahnavard’s age or provide further details about him.


Mr. Rahnavard is one of 11 people accused of being protesters who have so far been sentenced to death by Tehran, according to Iran Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization based in Oslo. Last week, the Iranian government announced that it had hanged a 23-year-old prisoner accused of blocking a street in Tehran and of attacking a member of the Basij militia with a machete. He was also accused of waging war against God.


The speedy executions were seen as an intensification of the government’s response to the demonstrations and an attempt to intimidate protesters who have been calling for the end of clerical rule.


At least 458 people, including 63 children, have been killed in the continuing nationwide protests, according to Iran Human Rights, and thousands more were said to have been arrested.


According to Mizan, Mr. Rahnavard was judged in court in the presence of his lawyers; witnesses; and “the martyrs’ family members,” referring to the victims’ relatives, in a trial that began on Nov. 29. The agency said that Mr. Rahnavard had confessed to having made a mistake and that he had come to the conclusion that the protesters were wrong.


Iranian activists and public figures called the proceedings a “mock trial” and said that Mr. Rahnavard had been denied due process.


“Majidreza Rahnavard was sentenced to death based on coerced confessions, after a grossly unfair process and a show trial,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, said in a statement. “There is a serious risk of mass-execution of protesters,” he added.


An organization that shares updates about the protests, 1500 Tasvir, posted on Twitter that Mr. Rahnavard’s mother had visited him in prison but had not been told that he would be executed.


The Human Rights Activist News Agency, an Iranian opposition website based in the United States, said that Mr. Rahnavard was 23 and had been working in a fruit shop in Mashhad before his arrest.


The German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said on Monday that the European Union would impose new sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards.


“We are targeting in particular those who are responsible for the executions, the violence against innocent people,” Ms. Baerbock told reporters in Brussels.


Leily Nikounazar and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.



4) Israelis Have Put Benjamin Netanyahu Back in Power. Palestinians Will Likely Pay the Price.

By Diana Buttu, Dec. 13, 2022

Ms. Buttu is a lawyer and former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organization.


Photo of Israel’s prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu standing between two Israeli flags.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

HAIFA, Israel — As the prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu finalizes the formation of Israel’s most extreme right-wing government to date, I, along with other Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories, am filled with dread about what the next few years will bring.


Every day since the elections, Palestinians wake up with a what-now apprehension, and more often than not, there’s yet another bit of news that adds to our anxiety. The atmosphere of racism is so acute that I hesitate to speak or read Arabic on public transportation. Palestinian rights have been pushed to the back burner.


We Palestinians live knowing that a vast majority of Israeli politicians don’t support an end to Israel’s military rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip nor equality for all of its citizens. We are made to feel as though we are interlopers whose presence is temporary and simply being tolerated until such time as it is feasible to get rid of us.


According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 48 percent of Jewish Israelis agree that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” I look around in my mixed Haifa neighborhood and wonder which of my neighbors voted for the extremist candidates who have voiced similar opinions. “It is only a matter of time before we are gone,” my friends tell me. To add insult to injury, Israelis blame Palestinians for the rise in extremism and racism, rather than looking at how racism has become normalized in Israeli society. It is blaming the victim rather than the aggressor.


Since his recent election, Mr. Netanyahu has been offering important positions in government to vocal anti-Palestinian politicians. The incoming governing coalition includes the extremist and racist Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, party, whose leaders have a history of supporting violence against Palestinians.


Itamar Ben-Gvir, a settler who leads the Jewish Power party, has been convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist group. Earlier this month, Mr. Ben-Gvir reportedly hailed an Israeli soldier who fatally shot a Palestinian young man in the West Bank during a scuffle — an act caught on video and widely circulated on social media — by remarking, “Precise action, you really fulfilled the honor of all of us and did what was assigned to you.” Israel’s current police chief blamed him for helping ignite the surge in violence in May 2021. He will now be minister for national security, putting him in charge of Israel’s domestic police and border police in the occupied West Bank, home to roughly three million Palestinians.


Over the course of decades, and especially since the erection of the wall along the West Bank, Israelis seem to have become immune to how Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and what it is to be Palestinian in Israel. Conversations with neighbors in Haifa about the nakba — or “catastrophe,” in which hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were expelled with the creation of Israel in 1948 — or Israel’s military occupation that amounts to apartheid or even racism in Israel are always met with denial or with justification, so we have learned never to speak to one another.


On Dec. 1, Mr. Netanyahu inked a coalition agreement with Bezalel Smotrich, another settler and head of the Religious Zionism party, naming him minister of finance and giving him control over a Defense Ministry department. Mr. Smotrich has called himself a “proud homophobe” and has said that the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank by suspected Jewish militants in which an 18-month-old child and his parents were burned to death was not a terrorist attack. In 2016, he said that he was in favor of segregation between Jewish and Palestinian women in Israeli hospital maternity wards.


Last year, Mr. Smotrich mentioned that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, didn’t “finish the job” of expelling Palestinians in 1948. He has also promoted a subjugation plan in which Palestinians (who accept the plan) would be considered “resident aliens” while those who do not would be dealt with by the Israeli Army. As part of his Defense Ministry post, Mr. Smotrich will have unprecedented authority over the policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and over Palestinian construction, and will be able to appoint the heads of the administration responsible for the government’s civil policy in the West Bank.


Both the Jewish Power and the Religious Zionism party platforms are almost exclusively focused on Palestinians and about ensuring that Jewish supremacy reigns. The Religious Zionism party aims to retroactively legitimize settlements in the West Bank.


I fear that Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians will only increase in the near future as I consider the record of Mr. Netanyahu and his previous coalitions — a history of relentless race-baiting and incitement of prejudice against Palestinians in Israel, the passage of the Jewish Nation-State law (which enshrines the privileging of Jewish citizens), the open fire policy, Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian homes, its continued colonization of the West Bank and repeated mass bombings of Gaza.


With Mr. Ben-Gvir, Mr. Smotrich and other extremists in his coalition, Mr. Netanyahu will very likely continue in this path, particularly since he has been the enabler of so many of these policies. Jewish Power and Religious Zionism are natural extensions of Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. Failing to recognize this is akin to putting one’s head in the sand.


If there is any silver lining to our grim situation it might be that the rise of Mr. Ben-Gvir and his fellow extremists will open the eyes of more Americans. Some former State Department officials and diplomats have already called upon the Biden administration not to deal with the most extreme members of the new Israeli coalition. American Jewish groups have also expressed alarm at the new coalition. But American policy is unlikely to change in response to these dark tidings. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken of “equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice and dignity” for Israelis and Palestinians, but what guarantees will he be offering to ensure that Palestinians live in freedom and security with this new government?


As Israel lurched further to the right, the United States and other Western governments continued to normalize and legitimize extremists once deemed beyond the pale — from the notorious former general Ariel Sharon, when he became prime minister, to the race-baiting ultranationalist and settler Avigdor Lieberman when Mr. Netanyahu, during his second run as prime minister, made him a cabinet minister in 2009.


At the time, the appointment of Mr. Lieberman — who had called for loyalty oaths for Israel’s Palestinian and Jewish citizens and a redrawing of borders that would strip Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship — was widely criticized. But soon enough American and European officials were meeting with Mr. Leiberman.


There is little hope that this won’t happen this time, too, and what was unthinkable but a few years ago will become a reality, with Palestinians inevitably paying the heaviest price for Israel’s electoral choices.



5) Senate Report Finds Widespread Sexual Abuse of Women in Federal Prisons

Federal Bureau of Prisons employees have abused female inmates in at least 19 of the 29 federal facilities that have held women over the past decade, the report says.

By Glenn Thrush, Dec. 13, 2022


A watchtower stands over Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Florida.

Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Florida, where numerous women have said they were abused by prison employees. Credit...Phelan Ebenehack/Reuters

WASHINGTON — In 2019, Lauren Reynolds took the lonely, terrifying, trailblazing risk of identifying the officer who pressured her for sex when she served at a federal women’s prison in Florida — and quickly found out she was one of at least 10 women who had been abused.


“There’s a lack of accountability, a secrecy, if nobody gets out there and talks about it,” said Ms. Reynolds, whose decision to speak to investigators prompted other women to expose yearslong rampant sexual abuse at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman, another harrowing chapter in an epidemic of assaults against female prisoners at the 160,000-inmate Federal Bureau of Prisons.


A bipartisan Senate investigation is now revealing damning new details about the bureau’s handling of the problem. Buttressed by interviews with dozens of whistle-blowers, current and former prison officials and survivors of sexual abuse, a report set to be released on Tuesday paints a stark and disturbing picture of a crisis that Justice Department officials have identified as a top priority.


Among the findings to be made public by a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee: Bureau employees abused female prisoners in at least 19 of the 29 federal facilities that have held women over the past decade; in at least four prisons, managers failed to apply the federal law intended to detect and reduce sexual assault; and hundreds of sexual abuse charges are among a backlog of 8,000 internal affairs misconduct cases yet to be investigated.


A committee analysis of court filings and prison records over the past decade found that male and female inmates had made 5,415 allegations of sexual abuse against prison employees, of which 586 were later substantiated by investigators.


The plague of sexual assault at the Bureau of Prisons, a Justice Department agency hamstrung by labor shortages, budget shortfalls and mismanagement, had become increasingly evident in recent years. The perpetrators have included male employees at every level of the prison hierarchy: warden, pastor, guard — and the warehouse manager who targeted Ms. Reynolds as she served the final year of a 12-year prison sentence.


The report criticizes the department’s leadership for failing to bring charges against many of those accused of abusing inmates at the now-shuttered women’s unit at Coleman, in rural Central Florida. It also takes to task the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, assigned to review abuse allegations, for declining to investigate six male officers at Coleman accused of abusing prisoners.


All six officers “already had admitted to sexually abusing female prisoners under their supervision,” the report’s authors wrote. “None of these six officers was ever prosecuted.”


Under federal law, any sexual contact between a prison employee and a prisoner is illegal, even if it would be considered consensual outside the system. Guards at Coleman, when confronted with evidence that they had sex with female inmates, admitted they were worried about being charged with a crime in affidavits to be made public by the subcommittee on Tuesday.


In May 2021, the federal government paid 15 women who had served at Coleman at least $1.25 million to settle a case cited extensively in the report. That included Ms. Reynolds, who got a college degree after leaving prison and now works for a construction company.


“If you sweep it under the rug, nothing will change,” she said.


Investigators identified three other prisons as sites where abusers were allowed to target female inmates with relative impunity: the Metropolitan Correctional Center and Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn, both in New York, and Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, near Oakland, Calif.


A former warden at Dublin, Ray Garcia, was found guilty of seven charges of sexual abuse this month after molesting female inmates and forcing them to pose for nude photographs.


As of May, 17 current or former employees at Dublin were under investigation for sexual abuse, including the prison’s former pastor.


The situation at Dublin, which prompted Senator Jon Ossoff, the Georgia Democrat who leads the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to embark on his panel’s broader investigation last spring, has also spurred the Justice Department to consider an overhaul of its policies governing compassionate release orders for inmates who have been abused.


In September, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco wrote a letter to the prisoners’ rights group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, saying that she had ordered the bureau’s new director, Colette S. Peters, to “review whether B.O.P.’s policy regarding compassionate release should be modified” to accommodate female prisoners who had been assaulted by federal employees.



6) Those Adorable Endangered Creatures Are Not the Point

By Michelle Nijhuis, Dec. 14, 2022

Ms. Nijhuis is the author of “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.” 


A grid of four images. The first image shows bison grazing in a field. The second image shows a beaver swimming. The third shows a blue and white butterfly on a flower. The fourth shows two cheetahs sitting side-by-side.
Ongoing efforts to protect biodiversity have returned bison to the prairie, led to beavers as partners in restoration, helped restore the Fender’s blue butterfly’s prairie habitat and stabilized the cheetah population in Namibia. Credit...Clockwise from top left, Gianluigi Guercia/AFP, via Getty Images; Niki Chan Wylie for The New York Times; Herika Martinez, AFP, via Getty Images; David G. Densley, via Shutterstock

On Dec. 4, the world’s fastest land animal briefly became an influencer. With the encouragement of conservation groups, wildlife fans observed International Cheetah Day with #savethecheetah videos, facts and fund-raising appeals. “The cheetah is racing against extinction! Spread the word,” a post in circulation read.


Conservation groups, urban zoos and makers of animated films have long relied on the charisma of large, fuzzy and highly endangered species to draw attention. Entreaties to save the cheetah, a species that numbers fewer than 7,000 worldwide, raised more than $4 million from U.S. donors last year. Cheetahs do need humans’ help to survive. But by creating and leveraging what one researcher calls “spectacles of extinction,” such campaigns distract from a larger crisis that threatens all species, including ours.


When humans destroy forests, grasslands, swamps, coral reefs and other living systems, we are not only harming other species but also destroying our own food supplies, subjecting our homes to extreme weather and polluting our air and water. Though we treat conservation as an altruistic pursuit — a special interest championed by a passionate few — it’s also a selfish cause. We should approach conservation not as an opportunity for heroics, but as an obligation to the relationships we depend on for survival.


This week, delegates from more than 190 countries are gathered in Montreal for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, where they are trying to agree on a strategy for halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and reversing it by 2050. Other goals include protection of the estimated one million species that human activity is driving toward extinction, many of which are more immediately threatened by habitat destruction and over-hunting than climate change.


But compared with the 2021 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, or its follow-up meeting in Egypt last month, this gathering is getting little press coverage. And while there are some protesters in the streets of Montreal, the mass movement for biodiversity is far smaller than the one demanding climate justice.


One reason for the relative quiet may be that it can be easier, and in some cases more satisfying, to focus on spectacles of extinction. Rescuing a threatened species from oblivion is enormously difficult, but it is far simpler than changing our priorities to restore the complex, interdependent systems of life on Earth.


Biodiversity protection is more complicated than climate protection, since it relies less directly on technology such as cheaper solar panels and has fewer clear measures of success.


So we dwell, with appalled fascination, on the northern white rhino, a subspecies that has only two surviving members — both female — and whose future may depend on the ability of reproductive scientists to turn skin cells into stem cells and eventually into viable sperm and egg cells. We ponder curiosities such as so-called de-extinction, an unproven technology that may one day succeed in creating a hybrid individual with DNA from extinct and extant species, but will never reverse extinction. Or we post and donate on behalf of vulnerable species on other continents, conflating our concern with effective action. Suzanne Brandon, a Ph.D. student in sociology who studied the experiences of “voluntourists” in Namibia, found that while they felt outrage about the overall plight of the species, they were largely unaware or dismissive of local conservation policies and practices.


That’s the real trouble with spectacles of extinction: By seizing our attention and our hearts, they obscure the countless ongoing efforts to protect biodiversity from the ground up. Throughout the plains of North America, for example, the Indigenous communities whose expertise the conservation movement has long ignored are returning bison to the prairie ecosystem. In watersheds in North America and Europe, beavers, once persecuted as pests, have been embraced by an enthusiastic network of landowners and public-land managers as partners in restoration. Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, a small, not particularly flashy butterfly called the Fender’s blue inspired a collaboration that has not only recovered the species but helped restore its prairie habitat. And in Namibia, a leader in the worldwide community-led conservation movement, a national system of local conservancies has enabled those who live alongside endangered and other species to both participate in their protection and benefit from the resulting tourism and hunting opportunities. Thanks in part to the sustained efforts of Namibian conservancy members, the country’s cheetah population is not — for now, at least — racing against extinction, but stable.


All of these endeavors are at least a little bit selfish, benefiting their hardworking human participants as well as other species. None, of course, is anything close to a cure-all. But with political savvy and persistence, they are beginning to change attitudes and economies, creating opportunities to fulfill our broader obligations to the rest of life. They need all the support they can get — from the delegates in Montreal, from governments at every level and from all of us whose futures depend on their success.



7) New Zealand Bans Cigarette Sales to Everyone Born After 2008

The new laws are aimed at eliminating most smoking by 2025 and slashing the number of licensed tobacco retailers.

By Tiffany May, Dec. 14, 2022


Cigarettes for sale in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2014.
Cigarettes for sale in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2014. Credit...Jason Oxenham/Getty Images

New Zealand on Tuesday passed extensive legislation aimed at preventing minors from becoming smokers, including a lifetime prohibition on cigarette sales to everyone born after 2008.


Under the new laws, which take effect next year, the country’s smoking age of 18 would be raised year by year until it applied to the whole population. Beginning in 2023, those under 15 would be barred from buying cigarettes for the rest of their lives.


The legislation is the result of more than a decade of public health campaigns. In 2011, New Zealand first announced its plans to reduce smoking levels to below 5 percent of the population by 2025, a target extending across all ethnic groups, including Indigenous Maori and Pacific Island citizens. Over the years, the price of cigarettes has been hiked to among the highest in the world, with a pack of cigarettes costing about $20.


With these measures, smoking has declined overall. The national smoking rate for adults has halved in the past decade. Only 8 percent of New Zealand’s adult population smoked every day in 2022, according to government statistics.


“This legislation accelerates progress towards a smoke-free future,” the country’s associate health minister, Ayesha Verrall, said in a statement on Tuesday.  “Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives.”


By the end of next year, 90 percent of the country’s 6,000 tobacco retailers will have lost their licenses. Nicotine levels in tobacco and vaping products must be significantly reduced under the new laws, rendering them less addictive. Violators of the new rules could be fined up to 150,000 New Zealand dollars, or roughly $96,000.


Antismoking advocates have emphasized the need to engage Maori and Pacific Island communities, who were first introduced to tobacco after European settlers in the late 1700s used the addictive substance to trade goods. About a quarter of Maori adults smoked every day, beginning at age 14, according to government statistics. They also suffered at higher rates from diseases related to smoking, compared with other ethnic groups.


Catherine Manning, a manager at the Takiri Mai te Ata Regional Stop Smoking Service, said that Indigenous communities should be engaged and supported in programs that can help them quit.


“It is our whānau, hapū and iwi who’ve disproportionately shouldered the burden of this destructive substance,” she said in a statement released by Health Coalition Aotearoa, using the Maori words for extended family, clan and nation.


Communities need adequate resources to help people quit, the statement continued.


The new laws had critics among far-right lawmakers, who argued that the ban would fuel a black market and impact the livelihood of convenience-store owners who sell cigarettes.


“This will drive up the trade of black-market tobacco with high nicotine, driving those addicted to cigarettes to turn to crime to feed their habit,” Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of the ACT Party, wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “The gangs will be rubbing their hands with glee.”


The government had earlier acknowledged that, despite the public health benefits, the new legislation could contribute to increased smuggling by organized-crime groups. Experts said that imports to the country could be more carefully scrutinized as a solution.


New Zealand is not the first country introducing laws aimed at dramatically reducing smoking. In 2004, Ireland first banned indoor smoking in pubs and workplaces and on public transport, prompting dozens of countries — including Brazil, Norway and Uganda — to introduce similar laws. Bhutan banned cigarette sales altogether in 2005 but reversed the restriction in 2020, when officials worried that traffickers would fuel outbreaks of the coronavirus.



8) Once You See the Truth About Cars, You Can’t Unsee It

By Andrew Ross and Julie Livingston, Dec. 15, 2022

Andrew Ross and Julie Livingston are New York University professors, members of NYU’s Prison Education Program Research Lab and authors of the book “Cars and Jails: Freedom Dreams, Debt, and Carcerality.”


A collage featuring a black midcentury car, two police officer, part of a map showing a mountain range, and swoops of red, white and blue from the American flag.
Yannick Lowery

In American consumer lore, the automobile has always been a “freedom machine” and liberty lies on the open road. “Americans are a race of independent people” whose “ancestors came to this country for the sake of freedom and adventure,” the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce’s soon-to-be-president, Roy Chapin, declared in 1924. “The automobile satisfies these instincts.” During the Cold War, vehicles with baroque tail fins and oodles of surplus chrome rolled off the assembly line, with Native American names like Pontiac, Apache, Dakota, Cherokee, Thunderbird and Winnebago — the ultimate expressions of capitalist triumph and Manifest Destiny.


But for many low-income and minority Americans, automobiles have been turbo-boosted engines of inequality, immobilizing their owners with debt, increasing their exposure to hostile law enforcement, and in general accelerating the forces that drive apart haves and have-nots.


Though progressive in intent, the Biden administration’s signature legislative achievements on infrastructure and climate change will further entrench the nation’s staunch commitment to car production, ownership and use. The recent Inflation Reduction Act offers subsidies for many kinds of vehicles using alternative fuel, and should result in real reductions in emissions, but it includes essentially no direct incentives for public transit — by far the most effective means of decarbonizing transport. And without comprehensive policy efforts to eliminate discriminatory policing and predatory lending, merely shifting to electric from combustion will do nothing to reduce car owners’ ever-growing risk of falling into legal and financial jeopardy, especially those who are poor or Black.


By the 1940s, African American car owners had more reason than anyone to see their vehicles as freedom machines, as a means to escape, however temporarily, redlined urban ghettos in the North or segregated towns in the South. But their progress on roads outside of the metro core was regularly obstructed by the police, threatened by vigilante assaults, and stymied by owners of whites-only restaurants, lodgings and gas stations. Courts granted the police vast discretionary authority to stop and search for any one of hundreds of code violations — powers that they did not apply evenly. Today, officers make more than 50,000 traffic stops a day. “Driving while Black” has become a major route to incarceration — or much worse. When Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer in April 2021, he had been pulled over for an expired registration tag on his car’s license plate. He joined the long list of Black drivers whose violent and premature deaths at the hands of police were set in motion by a minor traffic infraction — Sandra Bland (failure to use a turn signal), Maurice Gordon (alleged speeding), Samuel DuBose (missing front license plate), and Philando Castile and Walter Scott (broken taillights) among them. Despite widespread criticism of the flimsy pretexts used to justify traffic stops, and the increasing availability of cellphone or police body cam videos, the most recent data shows that the number of deaths from police-driver interactions is almost as high as it has been over the past five years.


In the consumer arena, cars have become tightly sprung debt traps. The average monthly auto loan payment crossed $700 for the first time this year, which does not include insurance or maintenance costs. Subprime lending and longer loan terms of up to 84 months have resulted in a doubling of auto loan debt over the last decade and a notable surge in the number of drivers who are “upside down”— owing more money than their cars are worth. But, again, the pain is not evenly distributed. Auto financing companies often charge nonwhite consumers higher interest rates than white consumers, as do insurers.


Formerly incarcerated buyers whose credit scores are depressed from inactivity are especially red meat to dealers and predatory lenders. In our research, we spoke to many such buyers who found it easier, upon release from prison, to acquire expensive cars than to secure an affordable apartment. Some, like LeMarcus, a Black Brooklynite (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy under ethical research guidelines), discovered that loans were readily available for a luxury vehicle but not for the more practical car he wanted. Even with friends and family willing to help him with a down payment, after he spent roughly five years in prison, his credit score made it impossible to get a Honda or “a regular car.” Instead, relying on a friend to co-sign a loan, he was offered a high-interest loan on a pre-owned Mercedes E350. LeMarcus knew it was a bad deal, but the dealer told him the bank that would have financed a Honda “wanted a more solid foundation, good credit, income was showing more,” but that to finance the Mercedes, it “was actually willing to work with the people with lower credit and lower down payments.” We interviewed many other formerly incarcerated people who followed a similar path, only to see their cars repossessed.


LeMarcus was “car rich, cash poor,” a common and precarious condition that can have serious legal consequences for low-income drivers, as can something as simple as a speeding ticket. A $200 ticket is a meaningless deterrent to a hedge fund manager from Greenwich, Conn., who is pulled over on the way to the golf club, but it could be a devastating blow to those who mow the fairways at the same club. If they cannot pay promptly, they will face cascading penalties. If they cannot take a day off work to appear in court, they risk a bench warrant or loss of their license for debt delinquency. Judges in local courts routinely skirt the law of the land (in Supreme Court decisions like Bearden v. Georgia and Timbs v. Indiana) by disregarding the offender’s ability to pay traffic debt. At the request of collection agencies, they also issue arrest or contempt warrants for failure to appear in court on unpaid auto loan debts. With few other options to travel to work, millions of Americans make the choice to continue driving even without a license, which means their next traffic stop may land them in jail.


The pathway that leads from a simple traffic fine to financial insolvency or detention is increasingly crowded because of the spread of revenue policing intended to generate income from traffic tickets, court fees and asset forfeiture. Fiscally squeezed by austerity policies, officials extract the funds from those least able to pay. This is not only an awful way to fund governments; it is also a form of backdoor, regressive taxation that circumvents voters’ input.


Deadly traffic stops, racially biased predatory lending, revenue policing have all come under public scrutiny of late, but typically they are viewed as distinct realms of injustice, rather than as the interlocking systems that they are. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it: A traffic stop can result in fines or arrest; time behind bars can result in repossession or a low credit score; a low score results in more debt and less ability to pay fines, fees and surcharges. Championed as a kind of liberation, car ownership — all but mandatory in most parts of the country — has for many become a vehicle of capture and control.


Industry boosters promise us that technological advances like on-demand transport, self-driving electric vehicles and artificial intelligence-powered traffic cameras will smooth out the human errors that lead to discrimination, and that car-sharing will reduce the runaway costs of ownership. But no combination of apps and cloud-based solutions can ensure that the dealerships, local municipalities, courts and prison industries will be willing to give up the steady income they derive from shaking down motorists.


Aside from the profound need for accessible public transportation, what could help? Withdraw armed police officers from traffic duties, just as they have been from parking and tollbooth enforcement in many jurisdictions. Introduce income-graduated traffic fines. Regulate auto lending with strict interest caps and steep penalties for concealing fees and add-ons and for other well-known dealership scams. Crack down hard on the widespread use of revenue policing. And close the back door to debtors’ prisons by ending the use of arrest warrants in debt collection cases. Without determined public action along these lines, technological advances often end up reproducing deeply rooted prejudices. As Malcolm X wisely said, “Racism is like a Cadillac; they bring out a new model every year.”



9) Nurses in U.K. Strike for First Time, Seeking Higher Pay

The walkout is just one of a series of industrial actions across Britain this month as ballooning inflation, rising interest rates and a recession put pressure on workers.

By Megan Specia, Dec. 15, 2022

Nurses on a picket line outside a London hospital on Thursday. The strike comes as the N.H.S. is in crisis, with declining working conditions for clinical staff and amid the spillover pressures of the pandemic.

Nurses on a picket line outside a London hospital on Thursday. The strike comes as the N.H.S. is in crisis, with declining working conditions for clinical staff and amid the spillover pressures of the pandemic. Credit...Henry Nicholls/Reuters

LONDON — Nurses across Britain went on strike on Thursday demanding a raise and better working conditions, the first such walkout by nurses in the history of the country’s revered National Health Service.


Despite freezing temperatures across much of Britain, nurses picketed outside a number of hospitals as the 12-hour strike began. Wearing hats and gloves and holding signs that read “Staffing shortages cost lives,” they called for higher pay and more workers.


Nurses will still be staffing the most vital services, such as intensive care units and chemotherapy, dialysis, and some pediatric services, but nonurgent medical attention will be much less available. Hospitals and other health facilities say that they have tried to manage schedules to ensure the safety of patients during the action.


The nursing strike is one of a series of industrial actions taking place across Britain this month as sky-high inflation, rising interest rates and a recession put pressure on workers. Rail employees, airport baggage handlers and ambulance workers are among the others scheduled to stage walkouts over the next several weeks.


The strike comes as the N.H.S. is in crisis, with declining working conditions for clinical staff and amid the spillover pressures of the pandemic. There have been record delays for ambulance response times and a major backlog for medical procedures, among many other problems.


The nurse’s union, the Royal College of Nursing, has asked for a 19 percent raise, noting that small increases in the past have made it hard to attract and retain workers. Nurses are leaving the profession at high rates, citing low pay and staff shortages that force them to work long hours, according to union representatives.


The government has said such a raise is unaffordable and has offered a much smaller increase.


Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said in a video statement ahead of the strike that her members were “committed to our patients and we always will be.”


But, she added: “When as a society did we stop valuing the very basics of human care and dignity? This is not who we are. It is not unreasonable to demand better.”


The union came to the decision to strike after polling its more than 300,000 members, who make up about a third of the health service’s work force.


On Thursday, nurses were striking across England, Wales and Northern Ireland after negotiations broke down, though nurses in Scotland called off their strike after a new pay offer. An estimated 100,000 nurses are expected to take part in England alone across 53 different N.H.S. organizations. Nurses in all but one area were striking in Wales, and nurses across Northern Ireland all walked out.


Representatives for the union met with the British health secretary, Steve Barclay, on Monday, but union representatives said that the meeting had been brief and had failed to achieve any of their stated aims.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, speaking on Wednesday in Parliament, said that the nurses had been offered a “fair” pay deal and that the government had “consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes,” referring to the various strikes planned for this month.


Mr. Sunak added that he wanted to “put it on record what we’ve done for nurses,” noting that they were given a 3 percent raise last year, even as many other public sector wages were frozen.


But amid soaring inflation, that raise does not amount to much, union representatives say, adding that the sector has long been underfunded, leaving nurses struggling to get by.


“It’s pay recovery, it’s not asking for additional monies, if you break it down,” said Ms. Cullen, the union head, speaking to the BBC from a picket line early Thursday. She said that the union had been unable to come to an agreement because the government had refused to consider a further raise.


More industrial action in the N.H.S. is expected. Nurses plan to strike again on Dec. 20, while the ambulance service has walkouts scheduled for Dec. 21 and Dec. 28.



10) Paintbrush in Hand, a Russian Muralist Wages His Own War

An 84-year-old artist, defying Moscow’s crackdown on dissent, wants his country to acknowledge misdeeds both past and present.

By Valerie Hopkins, Dec. 14, 2022

Reporting from Borovsk, Russia


An antiwar painting by Mr. Ovchinnikov that had been vandalized.

An antiwar painting by Mr. Ovchinnikov that had been vandalized. Credit...Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

An 84-year-old artist was standing in front of one of the many murals he has painted in his provincial hometown one recent day when a group of young women passed by. They had traveled some 60 miles from Moscow just to see his latest work, and they tittered at the encounter.


“This is so cool,” said one. “You are the main attraction of town.”


The artist, Vladimir A. Ovchinnikov, has long covered the walls of the town with pastoral scenes, portraits of poets and daily life, in the process earning himself a reputation as the “Banksy of Borovsk.” But it is his political art that is now attracting attention. At a time when dissent is being crushed across Russia, Mr. Ovchinnikov has been painting murals protesting the invasion of Ukraine.


It is a comparison he does not appreciate. Unlike the mysterious British-based street artist, Mr. Ovchinnikov works for all to see. And where a politically charged new Banksy offering may be cause for sensation, Mr. Ovchinnikov’s murals are not always welcomed — at least, not by the authorities.


“I draw doves, they paint over them,” he said.


Mr. Ovchinnikov is a rare dissident in Russia, where public criticism of the war can land people in jail or exile. He said his age and his family history offered a modicum of protection, even though he has been fined, questioned by the authorities and pelted with snowballs.


“I am different from the majority of people: I’m almost 85 years old, and I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “If you are of working age, you can lose your job, and they will pick you up faster. I, an old man, seem to be treated differently.”


He also said his own history — he did not meet his father until age 11 because his father had spent 10 years in a gulag, and his grandfather and uncle were killed by the state — drove him to denounce violence and war. Upon his retirement as an engineer in Moscow, he settled in his father’s house in Borovsk. His father had chosen the town because as a former political prisoner, he was forced to live at least 60 miles away from the capital.


For his service as the town’s public conscience, Mr. Ovchinnikov has repeatedly clashed with local officials. Amid the domestic crackdown that has accompanied the war, he has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. Many of Mr. Ovchinnikov’s murals are covered over within days or weeks.


Across from the town’s voenkomat, or military commissariat, the cream-colored walls on Lenin Street are smeared haphazardly with gobs of white paint. Underneath, Mr. Ovchinnikov said, is his painting of a girl wearing the blue and yellow of Ukraine as three missiles fly overhead. Underneath, in large, bold letters: “Stop this!!!”


After painting over the graffiti, the authorities turned their attention to Mr. Ovchinnikov, fining him 35,000 rubles, about $560, and accusing him of “discrediting the Russian armed forces.”


“A fine for the fact that I want peace,” Mr. Ovchinnikov said. “I’m discrediting our military. How disgraceful.”


His supporters sent donations to help him cover the fine.


Nearby, in the town’s small central park, Mr. Ovchinnikov pointed to a statue of Lenin. It is not unlike those standing in practically every Russian town to this day. “That’s our leader,” he said sarcastically. The statue, he noted with a wry smile, is pointing straight at the voenkomat.


In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and fomented separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Ovchinnikov drew a Ukrainian flag on the statue’s pedestal. “I didn’t have time to write ‘Glory to Ukraine,’” he said. “They came and picked me up right away.”


Russia under Vladimir V. Putin has sought to airbrush its history.


It prefers, for example, to portray Joseph Stalin as the leader who led the Soviet Union to victory in World War II, and minimize the scale of the crimes the state under his rule committed against its own people. Memorial, a human rights organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for its work chronicling political repression, has been dismantled.


In Borovsk, where he moved after retiring from his career as an engineer, Mr. Ovchinnikov is fighting a lonely battle to keep the memory alive.


Tucked behind Lenin in the park is a vandalized black stone, a monument to the those who were repressed during the Stalin era. Mr. Ovchinnikov had campaigned for it — but he is the one who vandalized it. He had wanted the memorial to include the names of all those from Borovsk who had been repressed.


“I wrote ‘trampled and forgotten,’ and higher on the rock, ‘return their names,’” he said, referring to the idea that he was restoring dignity to the victims, who are currently a nameless and uncounted mass.


That, too, was covered up with paint.


Nearby, at the center of the park, stands a memorial to those who defended the Soviet Union during World War II. On its large back wall in 2019, Mr. Ovchinnikov erected his own memorial, one dedicated to the repressed. He painted a huge banner with portraits of people who had been shot. “Executed Future,” he called it.


“I wrote down the names of only those shot,” he said. “There are 186 of them. But those who met their end in the camps — I should have added them.”


As he walked to the front of the memorial, he paused to examine the list of names of the soldiers who died during the war.


“For every 100 people who died on the battlefields, 170 were shot by our authorities,” Mr. Ovchinnikov said. “Yes, they have something to hide. But I think that the only reason they don’t want people to know about the scale is that they don’t want people to know what our government is capable of doing.”


Farther down the street, he took a piece of charcoal from his pocket and traced four numbers faintly visible under a fresh coat of paint: 1937, the year that Stalin’s repression peaked. “The fact we’re trying to forget our tragedy, our repression, is one of the reasons for what is happening in Ukraine now,” he said.


Many people feel uncomfortable when confronted with the painful history — and present — and do not welcome Mr. Ovchinnikov’s art.


In the town’s central market, an older man pulling a cart stopped in front of a mural of his that was commissioned by the local butcher. It showed an artist holding a large goblet in front of a still life with meat.


“If I had my wall defaced like this, I would paint over it,” the man told Mr. Ovchinnikov gruffly.


Other residents who appreciate his apolitical art but back the war are rankled by his support for Ukraine.


“It was not right to draw that,” said Aleksei, 32, pointing to a mural with sunflowers and another one next to it called “Nostalgia,” which featured a Russian woman and a Ukrainian woman holding hands. “Nostalgia” had been vandalized: The Ukrainian woman’s eyes had been gouged out.


“Ukraine is not on our side but against us, and we don’t need Ukraine to exist,” said Aleksei, who declined to give his surname. “They started the war. We didn’t start the war.”


Last month, Mr. Ovchinnikov was pelted with snowballs when he was updating some antiwar graffiti by the main road.


“First I wrote ‘Z: madness,’” he said, referring to the letter that has become a symbol of support for the invasion. “They painted over it. Then I wrote ‘Z: Shame.’ They painted over it. Then I wrote ‘Z: Fiasco.’”


That was in November. Soon after, a major from the intelligence services came to his home to question him.


“With the inscription, I had the goal of conveying to the population and guests of the city of Borovsk that the special military operation is a failure and that it must be stopped,” he wrote in his official statement, using the Kremlin’s euphemism for the war.


“I do not repent for what I have done. I do not feel my guilt. I had to do what I did.”



11) What We Know About Ronald Greene’s Death

The Louisiana State Police said Mr. Greene died in 2019 after crashing during a police chase, but video later showed troopers shocking, choking and beating him. Five officers have now been charged.

By The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2022

A sign reading “justice for Ronald Greene” at a protest.
Demonstrators marched to the governor’s mansion from the Capitol in Baton Rouge, La., in May 2021. Credit...Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

More than three years after Ronald Greene, a Black man, died in police custody in Louisiana, five law enforcement officers were charged on Dec. 15 in connection with the deadly encounter.


The authorities initially said Mr. Greene had been pursued by troopers because of a traffic violation and that he had refused to stop and resisted arrest. His death, in May 2019, was ruled accidental and was attributed to cardiac arrest.


Two years later, The Associated Press published body-camera footage that showed Mr. Greene being beaten and left handcuffed and face down for more than nine minutes. His family commissioned its own autopsy, which found that he had sustained severe injuries to his skull and had wounds on his face.


The footage brought Mr. Greene’s case, which initially drew little notice, to national attention amid a series of cases in which Black men died during encounters with the police.


Here’s what we know about the case.


Who was Ronald Greene?


Mr. Greene, 49, lived in Monroe, La. He was married, worked as a barber, and had reportedly gone into remission after battling cancer for two years. He was on his way to meet his wife in Florida when he was pulled over just after midnight on May 10, 2019, by state troopers in Union Parish, east of Shreveport in northern Louisiana.


What was his family told about his death?


The authorities told Mr. Greene’s relatives that he died from injuries he sustained in a crash outside Monroe after he failed to stop immediately for a traffic violation, a lawyer for his family said.


The A.P. initially reported, citing the Union Parish coroner, that Mr. Greene’s death was ruled accidental and was attributed to cardiac arrest, and that the coroner’s file made no mention of any struggle with the police.


What does the body-camera footage show?


In May 2021, two years after Mr. Greene’s death, The A.P. obtained body-camera footage of the episode and published three excerpts. The footage shows Mr. Greene’s S.U.V. stopped on the side of the road. Troopers are seen opening his vehicle and jolting Mr. Greene with a stun gun, and Mr. Greene is heard to scream “I’m sorry” and “I’m scared.”


According to The A.P., which said it had obtained 46 minutes of video footage from the encounter, one trooper wrestled Mr. Greene to the ground, put him in a chokehold and punched him in the face. Another trooper is seen briefly dragging Mr. Greene by shackles on his ankles as he lay on the ground.


In the clips published by the A.P., covering more than two minutes, Mr. Greene is seen being jolted again with a stun gun while lying handcuffed on the ground.


The A.P. reported that the troopers, who were white, left Mr. Greene lying facedown and moaning for more than nine minutes, as they wiped blood from their hands and faces. “I hope this guy ain’t got AIDS,” one of the troopers is heard to say, adding an expletive.


Video from several minutes later shows Mr. Greene limp, unresponsive and bleeding from his head and face, and he is then seen being loaded onto an ambulance gurney with his arm cuffed to a bedrail, according to The A.P.


Did the entire footage become public?


Yes, eventually.


The Louisiana State Police had described the release of the footage obtained by The A.P. as “premature” and unauthorized, and a state police spokesman said the agency could not yet release it because the encounter was the subject of an administrative and criminal investigation.


But two days after The A.P. published excerpts, the state police released what they said was all of the video of the encounter, including a 46-minute clip and additional footage from body and dashboard cameras. Col. Lamar A. Davis, the state police superintendent, said the parts that had been released without official authorization had not been “provided to the public in its full capacity, or context.”


What do the police say happened?


Mr. Greene’s family said state troopers initially told them that Mr. Greene died on impact after crashing his vehicle into a tree during the chase, according to The A.P.


A single-page crash report, released later by the state police and reviewed by The A.P., said that troopers tried to stop Mr. Greene for an unspecified traffic violation, but that he refused to pull over and troopers pursued him.


The report says that the chase ended when Mr. Greene’s vehicle crashed; that he was taken into custody after struggling with troopers; and that he became unresponsive and died on the way to a hospital, The A.P. reported. The news agency said the crash report did not mention any use of force by troopers.


The state police later released a statement acknowledging that the troopers did use force in the encounter, and saying the use of force was justified. It did not open an internal investigation until 474 days after Mr. Greene’s death, according to The A.P.


What does the Greene family say happened?


Mr. Greene’s family sued the police for wrongful death in May 2020, arguing that he had died as a result of a struggle with troopers that “left him beaten, bloodied and in cardiac arrest.”


In their lawsuit, Mr. Greene’s relatives said that there was no sign that the front of Mr. Greene’s vehicle had struck anything, and that his airbag had not deployed.


The suit alleges that two troopers pinned Mr. Greene down and shocked him three times with a Taser while he begged them to stop. Emergency medical technicians who were called to the scene found Mr. Greene unresponsive, with several stun-gun barbs stuck in his body, according to the lawsuit. Included in the court papers are photos that circulated online, appearing to show Mr. Greene’s bruised and bloodied face.


The family commissioned an independent autopsy that found severe injuries to Mr. Greene’s head and skull and several wounds to his face, the family’s lawyer said. After examining the damage to Mr. Greene’s vehicle, which was mostly on the rear driver’s side, an accident reconstruction expert concluded that it was inconsistent with a fatal collision, the lawyer said.


In 2020, federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation into Mr. Greene’s death. In June of this year, the Justice Department announced that it had initiated a broader investigation into the Louisiana State Police over accusations of officers engaging in abusive and discriminatory behavior.


What has happened to the officers involved?


The charges announced on Dec. 15 — which include a single count of negligent homicide for one of the five officers — came from an indictment handed up by a state grand jury in Louisiana, officials and lawyers for Mr. Greene’s family said.


The state police said two troopers had been placed on administrative leave because of the indictment. One of them, Master Trooper Kory York, was charged with the most serious offenses, including negligent homicide and 10 counts of malfeasance in office. (Trooper York had previously received a 50-hour suspension and returned to active duty.) The other, Lt. John Clary, who was charged with malfeasance in office and obstruction of justice, was the highest-ranking trooper at the scene.


Two others with the state police, Trooper Dakota DeMoss and Capt. John Peters, were both charged with obstruction of justice. Christopher Harpin, a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy, was also named in the indictment, charged with three counts of malfeasance in office.


Trooper DeMoss was placed on leave last year after he was arrested in an unrelated case, in which he and three other troopers were charged with using excessive force and deactivating body cameras during arrests.


Another trooper involved in the arrest, Chris Hollingsworth, was killed in a single-vehicle highway crash in 2020. The A.P. reported at the time that he had been notified hours earlier that he would be fired for his part in Mr. Greene’s fatal arrest.


Reporting was contributed by Dan Levin, Michael Levenson, McKenna Oxenden and Rick Rojas.



12) Starbucks Union Strikes at Dozens of Stores as Talks Stall

Workers are pressing for a contract and accuse the company of anti-labor tactics. Management blames the union for the lack of bargaining progress.

By Noam Scheiber, Dec. 16, 2022

Reporting from Chicago


Starbucks workers held signs and chanted during a strike on Friday in St. Paul, Minn.

Starbucks workers held signs and chanted during a strike on Friday in St. Paul, Minn. Credit...Kerem Yücel/Minnesota Public Radio, via Associated Press

The union organizing Starbucks workers declared a strike at dozens of stores on Friday, the latest escalation in its campaign to secure a labor contract.


The strike is intended to last for three days at many of the stores, according to Workers United, the union representing the workers. It follows a one-day strike at roughly 100 stores last month.


Workers involved in the strike say they are protesting the company’s slow pace of bargaining and its recent closing of unionized stores, including one near Broadway and Denny Way in Seattle. They also complain about understaffing and cuts to their hours.


“Starbucks sent a clear message when they closed the Broadway and Denny store,” Michelle Eisen, a Buffalo-based barista who has been a leader of the union campaign, said in a statement. “They’re doubling down on their union-busting, so we’re doubling down, too. We’re demanding fair staffing, an end to store closures, and that Starbucks bargain with us in good faith.”


Several Starbucks workers at a store in Chicago stood outside in snowy conditions holding picket signs, but the store remained open, and a manager said he was preparing orders for pickup.


The union, which represents workers at more than 250 of the roughly 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States, said Starbucks representatives had walked out of dozens of bargaining sessions this fall after shortly after they began, preventing progress on a contract.


The company said it closed the Seattle store along with more than 35 others nationwide since July, typically because of security concerns, including about 10 unionized stores.


It said that its negotiators had walked out of bargaining sessions because union representatives sought to broadcast the sessions to co-workers outside the room using video-chat software, potentially inhibiting the discussions, but that negotiators had “come to the table time after time prepared to bargain in good faith.”


The union won its first vote at a store in Buffalo last December, and the campaign spread quickly across the country during the first half of this year.


But organizing has slowed in recent months, with filings for union elections dropping from about 70 in March to fewer than 10 in August.


Workers United has argued that Starbucks impeded the organizing campaign by firing dozens of union supporters and excluding unionized stores from recent wage increases and new benefits.


The federal labor board has issued numerous complaints over these accusations, and judges at the agency have ruled against the company in some cases. The company has appealed at least one of the rulings.


Starbucks has said that the firings reflect violations of company policies and that it is legally prohibited from granting new benefits and wage increases at unionized stores without bargaining over them first.



13) The Rich Get College Subsidies While the Student Debt Debate Goes On

As debt relief for student loan borrowers faces scrutiny, wealthy families can amass millions of dollars in tax-favored 529 college savings plans.

By Ron Lieber, Dec. 13, 2022

Ron has been writing about 529 plans for at least 18 years and will start paying for college in about 18 months.


An illustration of two grandparents, a woman and a man, throwing money into an oversize graduation cap.
Robert Neubecker

For months now, we’ve been in a nationwide debate over whether we should cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for tens of millions of people. Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the hundreds of billions of dollars at stake — and talking heads will debate, yet again, who is deserving of help in America.


The student debt cancellation program excludes people with especially high incomes. But hiding in plain sight is another federal program — 529 college savings plans — that offers the biggest benefits to wealthy families.


With the right accounting and legal moves — ones that have never been subject to the kind of scrutiny that debt cancellation has faced — people with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spare can create 529 accounts that will end up holding millions of dollars. With some careful planning, no taxes will come due for most people as long as future generations use the money to pay for college (say, $84,000 a year at a private university like Duke), graduate school (hello, half-a-million-dollar New York University dental school) and any other related educational costs, including high-rise dorms and Apple laptops.


These maneuvers result in something that finance types have started referring to as “Dynasty” 529 plans. The accounts provide a marked contrast to the legacy of indebtedness that is emerging in families with fewer means. After all, it’s hard to save much in a 529 plan when you’re still paying off your own student loans as your children start college themselves. Then, those children borrow, too — and the parents may borrow even more to help pay the kids’ tuition.


To take a cleareyed view of who is getting what from the federal government in the realm of higher education, it helps to take a snapshot of how things work at this moment.


Slowly over time, we’ve decided that it is perfectly fine for two-thirds of college graduates to have borrowed tens of thousands of dollars along the way. “The choice we’re making is to shift the burden onto children,” said Victoria J. Haneman, a Creighton University law professor who has written about Dynasty 529 plans and the tax advantages they provide for the wealthy.


An elaborate governmental infrastructure has emerged to do the lending. In fact, most parents and graduate students can borrow whatever they want from the federal government, up to the full cost of attendance minus aid, no matter how little they earn. Schools like this, a lot.


Student loan repayment plans are numerous and confounding enough that the quasi-governmental bill collectors frequently give young adults bad advice about which plan to choose. Then, lawyers working at the behest of the federal government stick it to the destitute when they try to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy court.


As a kind of apology for all of this, President Biden wants to lop up to $20,000 off the federal student loan balances of people who earn no more than $125,000 a year ($250,000 if you’re married). Eyebrows up at the break for this six-figure crew, certainly.


To beat back skepticism, the White House proposed to limit the $20,000 offer to people who started college with very little — those who, back when they were students, qualified for federal Pell Grants for people from low-income families. Everyone else would get up to $10,000 of relief.


The White House also noted that nearly one-third of the debtors now eligible for relief did not finish school and are burdened with the debt but not the degree that would probably have made loan payments more affordable. Overall, close to 90 percent of the deleted debt dollars were supposed to go to people earning less than $75,000 a year.


Most people with five-figure incomes have trouble saving a lot of money for college in 529 plans, which allow users to invest money in stock funds that can outrun tuition inflation over time. Tax breaks that come with the accounts — whether they are state income tax deductions for deposits or the avoidance of federal taxes upon withdrawal — are often more valuable to people with the highest incomes.


Now, enter those Dynasty 529 plans. Two years ago, an accountant and financial planner named Jeffrey Levine — beloved on tax Twitter for his lengthy, in-the-moment dissections of complicated legislation — wrote a kind of treatise on the topic on the website kitces.com.


In a somewhat bemused, can-you-believe-this-is-real tone that ran over 6,000 words, he outlined the possibilities. In short, wealthy individuals can front-load large 529 deposits in such a way that the accounts can pay for several college educations decades from now and still have money left over for other family members pursuing higher education in future generations. It’s all legal, and if you jump through a few modest hoops, it’s generally tax-free.


In fact, Mr. Levine spreadsheeted a jaw-dropping situation where two aspiring grandparents each invest $15,000 a year and let the money grow for 35 years. In that time, they could pay full tuition for four potential grandchildren, assuming a $30,000 annual bill today that would grow at a 5 percent annual rate.


Even after the generous grandparents did all of that, there would be over $3 million left over to let ride for future generations.


“My personal feeling is that it is absolutely insane,” said Mr. Levine, who is the chief planning officer at Buckingham Strategic Wealth. Nevertheless, he is a fiduciary sworn to act in every client’s best interest. That means telling the ones with the most money how to create wealth of the fantastic dynastic variety.


There ought to be a law, right? Funny you should ask. In 2015, President Obama proposed taxing future earnings in 529 accounts. The blowback from the upper middle class was so severe — and from Democrats and Republicans alike — that he rescinded the plan in the same month that he introduced it.


“I still think it’s the most ridiculous public policy episode I’ve been involved with, in my life,” said Jason Furman, who was chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers at the time and is now a Harvard professor.


In reviewing this episode, we should be clear that we did not, as a nation, feel the need to call on The Supremes to weigh in on the legality of maintaining tax-favored savings for millions of people who could afford many college educations anyway. We just canceled the cancellation of their sweet, juicy subsidy without a vote in Congress or a trial. Trying again to limit 529 plans would be politically complicated, and courage is both lacking and impractical in Washington these days.


President Biden has done what he can — even if nine justices declare debt cancellation to be an overreach. He has made progress with improving various student loan programs and adjusting many rules.


But on a per-saver, per-student basis, it is the wealthy who have the best opportunity to extract the largest breaks from the federal government when it comes to saving and paying for college. We should ask, repeatedly, why this is so and live in the discomfort that comes from the realization that there are no good answers.



14) U.S. Health Officials Seek New Curbs on Private Medicare Advantage Plans

Proposed regulations would crack down on misleading ads for the private plans and would enhance scrutiny of denials for coverage of medical care.

By Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz, Dec. 17, 2022


A white minibus with red-and-blue markings and stars spells out MedicareBus on the side.
A Senate report last month outlined deceptive advertising practices, including the use of a bus by a company in Ohio to advertise with the name “Medicare,” while the website went to an independent insurance agency. Credit...U.S. Senate Committee on Finance

Federal health officials are proposing an extensive set of tougher rules governing private Medicare Advantage health plans, in response to wide-scale complaints that too many patients’ medical claims have been wrongly denied and that marketing of the plans is deceptive.


Medicare Advantage is the private-sector alternative to the federal program covering those 65 and over and the disabled. By next year, more than half of Medicare recipients are expected to be enrolled in private plans. These policies are often less expensive than traditional Medicare and sometimes offer attractive, additional benefits like dental care.


Despite their popularity, the plans have been the subject of considerable scrutiny and criticism lately. A recent report by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that several plans might be inappropriately denying care to patients. And nearly every large insurance company in the program, including UnitedHealth Group, Elevance Health, Kaiser Permanente and Cigna, has been sued by the Justice Department for fraudulently overcharging the government.


The period leading up to this year’s enrollment deadline, Dec. 7, amplified widespread criticism about the deceptive tactics some brokers and insurers had used to entice people to switch plans. In November, Senate Democrats issued a scathing report detailing some of the worst practices, including ads that appeared to represent federal agencies and ubiquitous television commercials featuring celebrities.


Federal Medicare officials had said they would review television advertising before it aired, and the new rule targets some of the practices identified in the Senate report that caused some consumers to confuse the companies with the government Medicare program. A proposed regulation would ban the plans from using the Medicare logo and require that the company behind the ad be identified.


“It is certainly a shot across the bow for brokers and insurers in response to the rising number of complaints about misleading marketing activities,” said Tricia Neuman, the executive director of the center for Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Ms. Neuman and her team routinely review television ads from the plans.


The proposal would also allow beneficiaries to opt out of marketing calls for plans and would limit how many companies can contact a beneficiary after he or she fills out a form asking for information. The Senate report described patients who had received dozens of aggressive marketing calls they did not request.


David Lipschutz, an associate director at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said that while the federally proposed rules did not include everything on his wish list, the goals were wide-reaching and significant.


“This is really a meaningful response,” he said. “And where we sit, we don’t get to say that that often.”


Mr. Lipschutz said that the changes would ultimately be judged by how effectively and aggressively Medicare enforced the standards. Much of the deceptive marketing is now conducted by brokers, agents and other third-party marketing firms who are paid commissions when they enroll people, not by the insurers themselves. The proposed rule would hold insurers accountable for the actions of the firms they hire.


“These proposals are an important step toward protecting seniors in Medicare from scammers and unscrupulous insurance companies and brokers,” Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement.


The rules would also address the health plans’ use of techniques that require the company to approve certain care before it would be covered. Patients and their doctors complained to Medicare that the private plans were misusing prior authorization processes to deny needed care. The inspector general’s report estimated that tens of thousands of individuals had been denied necessary medical care that should be covered under the program.


The new proposal would require plans to disclose the medical basis for denials and rely more heavily on specialists familiar with a patient’s care to be involved in the decision-making. Medicare has also established tighter time limits for answers on authorizations; patients now often wait up to 14 days. The new rules would also require authorization to cover the full length of a treatment so patients don’t have to continually request identical approvals.


Dr. Meena Seshamani, the director of the Center for Medicare and a deputy administrator at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the changes had been influenced by thousands of public comments solicited by the agency and by lawmakers.


“The proposals in this rule we feel would really meaningfully improve people in Medicare’s timely access to the care they need,” she said.


The insurance industry has said it is generally supportive of regulators’ efforts to protect Medicare enrollees from deceptive marketing, and the Better Medicare Alliance, a group that advocates for Medicare Advantage, said it agreed with officials “that there must be no room in the system for those who would deceive seniors,” according to a statement from the group’s chief executive, Mary Beth Donahue.


Ms. Donahue added that her group was continuing to review the agency’s proposals on how patients have to seek prior authorization for treatment. She said the organization hoped to work with Medicare officials to improve the process.


Hospitals, which have been pushing for changes that would address their concerns that insurers were abusing prior authorization, applauded the proposals. But they emphasized that the Biden administration’s health officials would have to commit to enforcing the stricter oversight.


“The agency really needs to keep their eye on the ball,” said Molly Smith, the group vice president for public policy at the American Hospital Association, a trade organization.


The proposed regulations are not yet final. Health officials are soliciting comments from the public and may make changes.