Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, August 20, 2023


Join the March to End Fossil Fuels!

September 17th, 1-4:00 P.M., NYC


On September 17th, People Vs. Fossil Fuels—a broad coalition of over 1,200 climate and environmental justice groups, is planning a massive demonstration during the United Nations Climate Action Summit.


"The United Nations is calling on world leaders to take real steps to lead us off fossil fuels to protect people and the planet. On September 20th in New York, the UN Climate Ambition Summit will gather world leaders to commit to phasing out fossil fuels."Thousands of us will take to the streets before the summit to demand President Biden take bold action to end fossil fuels. Other direct actions are being planned all week in the lead up to the march and across the country!


Sign Up:







No one is coming to save us, but us.


We need visionary politics, collective strategy, and compassionate communities now more than ever. In a moment of political uncertainty, the Socialism Conference—September 1-4, in Chicago—will be a vital gathering space for today’s left. Join thousands of organizers, activists, and socialists to learn from each other and from history, assess ongoing struggles, build community, and experience the energy of in-person gatherings.


Featured speakers at Socialism 2023 will include: Naomi Klein, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D.G. Kelley, aja monet, Bettina Love, Olúfẹmi O. Táíwò, Sophie Lewis, Harsha Walia, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Astra Taylor, Malcolm Harris, Kelly Hayes, Daniel Denvir, Emily Drabinski, Ilya Budraitskis, Dave Zirin, and many more.


The Socialism Conference is brought to you by Haymarket Books and dozens of endorsing left-wing organizations and publications, including Jacobin, DSA, EWOC, In These Times, Debt Collective, Dream Defenders, the Autonomous Tenant Union Network, N+1, Jewish Currents, Lux, Verso Books, Pluto Press, and many more. 


Register for Socialism 2023 by July 7 for the early bird discounted rate! Registering TODAY is the single best way you can help support, sustain, and expand the Socialism Conference. The sooner that conference organizers can gauge conference attendance, the bigger and better the conference will be!


Learn more and register for Socialism 2023

September 1-4, 2023, Chicago



Attendees are expected to wear a mask (N95, K95, or surgical mask) over their mouth and nose while indoors at the conference. Masks will be provided for those who do not have one.


A number of sessions from the conference will also be live-streamed virtually so that those unable to attend in person can still join us.

Copyright © 2023 Jacobin, All rights reserved.

You are receiving these messages because you opted in through our signup form, or at time of subscription/purchase.


Our mailing address is:


388 Atlantic Ave

Brooklyn, NY 11217-3399


Add us to your address book:








Drop the Charges on the Tampa 5!

Sign the Petition:


The Tampa 5—Gia Davila, Lauren Pineiro, Laura Rodriguez, Jeanie K, and Chrisley Carpio—are the five Students for a Democratic Society protesters at the University of South Florida who were attacked by campus police and are now facing five to ten years in prison for protesting Governor Ron DeSantis' attacks on diversity programs and all of higher education.


On July 12, 2023, the Tampa 5 had their second court appearance. 


The Tampa 5 are still in the middle of the process of discovery, which means that they are obtaining evidence from the prosecution that is meant to convict them. They have said publicly that all the security camera footage they have seen so far absolves them, and they are eager to not only receive more of this evidence but also to share it with the world. The Tampa 5 and their supporters demand full transparency and USF's full cooperation with discovery, to which all of the defendants are entitled.


In spite of this, the charges have not yet been dropped. The case of the five SDS protesters is hurtling towards a trial. So, they need all of their supporters and all parties interested in the right to protest DeSantis to stay out in the streets!


We need to demand that the DeSantis-appointed, unelected State Attorney Susan Lopez and Assistant Prosecutor Justin Diaz drop the charges.


We need to win this case once and for all and protect the right of the student movement—and all social movements in the United States—to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and to protest.


Defend the Tampa 5!


State Attorney Susy Lopez, Prosecutor Justin Diaz, Drop the Charges!


Save Diversity in Higher Education!


Protesting DeSantis is Not a Crime!

How you you can help:


1. Host any or all of the Tampa 5 in your city or on your local campus as we conduct a speaking tour around the country


2. Sign your organization onto this petition and help us spread the word about the Tampa 5:



The Tampa 5 are students and workers who attended a Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society protest on March 6th to save diversity programs at the University of South Florida and to oppose Ron DeSantis' anti-education bill, HB999. They were attacked, arrested, and now charged with felonies by the University of South Florida Police Department. Their felonies and potential prison time were doubled by the unelected, DeSantis-appointed state attorney, Susan Lopez, and her underling, Justin Diaz. They now face five to ten years in prison for exercising their right to protest and freedom of speech. The students were suspended and one of the five, the campus worker, Chrisley Carpio, was fired from her job at the university.


On June 24th, over 130 attendees of an emergency defense conference founded a new organization: the Emergency Committee to Defend the Tampa 5, which is national in scope. We are embarking on a long-term defense campaign to get the charges dropped and to defend the right to free speech in the state of Florida, and we need your help!


Thanks so much for your solidarity and support so far, and we'll see you in the streets!



Dear friends and comrades,


McCarthyism Is Back: Together We Can Stop It


We stand together against the rise of a new McCarthyism that is targeting peace activists, critics of US foreign policy, and Chinese Americans. Despite increased intimidation, we remain steadfast in our mission to foster peace and international solidarity, countering the narrative of militarism, hostility, and fear.


Sign on to the statement:



As the US government grapples with a major crisis of legitimacy, it has grown fearful of young people becoming conscious and organized to change the world. Influential media outlets like The New York Times have joined right-wing extremists in using intimidation tactics to silence these advocates for change, affecting not only the left but everyone who supports free speech and democratic rights.


The political and media establishments, both liberal and conservative, have initiated McCarthy-like attacks against individuals and organizations criticizing US foreign policy, labeling peace advocates as "Chinese or foreign agents." This campaign uses innuendo and witch hunts, posing a threat to free speech and the right to dissent. We must oppose this trend.


Scientists, researchers, and service members of Chinese descent have been falsely accused of espionage and unregistered foreign agency, often with cases later collapsing due to insufficient evidence. Similar to the old “Red Scare” and McCarthy periods, when scores of organizations and leaders like W.E.B Du Bois, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King Jr and others were attacked with fact-less accusations, today, prominent organizations and individuals, including CODEPINK, The People's Forum, and Tricontinental Institute have been targeted, with smears and accusations propagated by outlets like The New York Times.


Their strategy paints a sinister image of a secret network funding the peace movement. However, there's nothing illegal or fringe about opposing a New Cold War or a "major power conflict" with China, views shared by hundreds of millions globally. Receiving donations from US citizens who share these views is not illicit.


Media outlets have tried to scandalize funding sources of several organizations that are on the frontlines working with anti-racist, feminist, anti-war, abolitionist, climate justice, and other movements throughout the United States and globally. Meanwhile, when white neoliberal philanthropists flood the non-profit complex with significant funds to support their political agendas this is rarely scrutinized or made accountable to the communities they impact.


From The New York Times to Fox News, there's a resurgence of the Red Scare that once shattered many lives and threatened movements for change and social justice. This attack isn't only on the left but against everyone who exercises their free speech and democratic rights. We must firmly resist this racist, anti-communist witch hunt and remain committed to building an international peace movement. In the face of adversity, we say NO to xenophobic witch hunts and YES to peace.


Initial signers:

CODEPINK • The People's Forum • Tricontinental Institute for Social Research • ANSWER Coalition • Anticapitalism for Artists • Defend Democracy in Brazil • Families for Freedom • IFCO/Pastors for Peace • Mulheres de Resistencia do Exterior • Nodutdol • NYC Jericho Movement • NYC Young Communist League • Pivot to Peace • Radical Elders • Abby Martin • Andy Hsaio • Ben Becker • Ben Norton • Bhaskar Sunkara • Brian Becker • Carl Messineo • Chris Hedges • Claudia de la Cruz • Corinna Mullen • David Harvey • Derek R. Ford • Doug Henwood • Eugene Puryear • Farida Alam • Fergie Chambers • Gail Walker • Geo Maher • Gerald Horne • Gloria La Riva • Hakim Adi • Heidi Boghosian • Immanuel Ness • James Early • Jeremy Kuzmarov • Jill Stein • Jim Garrison • Jodi Dean • Jodie Evans • Johanna Fernandez • Karen Ranucci • Kenneth Hammond • Koohan Paik-Mander • Lee Camp • Lisa Armstrong • Manolo de los Santos • Manu Karuka • Mara Verheyden-Hilliard • Matt Hoh  • Matt Meyer • Matteo Capasso • Max Lesnik • Medea Benjamin • Michael Steven Smith • Nazia H. Kazi • Radhika Desai • Rania Khalek • Richard M Walden • Robin D.G. Kelley • Roger Waters • Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz • Ruth Wilson Gilmore • Salvatore Engel di-Mauro • Sheila Xiao • Stella Schnabel • Vijay Prashad • Vivian Weisman



Free Julian Assange

Immediate Repeated Action Needed to Free Assange


Please call your Congressional Representatives, the White House, and the DOJ. Calls are tallied—they do count.  We are to believe we are represented in this country.  This is a political case, so our efforts can change things politically as well.  Please take this action as often as you can:


Find your representatives:



Leave each of your representatives a message individually to: 

·      Drop the charges against Julian Assange

·      Speak out publicly against the indictment and

·      Sign on to Rashida Tlaib's letter to the DOJ to drop the charges: 

           202-224-3121—Capitol Main Switchboard 


Leave a message on the White House comment line to 

Demand Julian Assange be pardoned: 


             Tuesday–Thursday, 11:00 A.M.–3:00 P.M. EST


Call the DOJ and demand they drop the charges against Julian Assange:

             202-353-1555—DOJ Comment Line

             202-514-2000 Main Switchboard 



Mumia Abu-Jamal is Innocent!


Write to Mumia at:

Smart Communications/PADOC

Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM-8335

SCI Mahanoy

P.O. Box 33028

St. Petersburg, FL 33733



  Ruchell “Cinque” Magee Walks Free!

On July 28, he was released from prison after 67 years of being caged!

“Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today. It’s the same but with a new name.”


“My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system of slavery…This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system.”


“You have to deal on your own tactics. You have a right to take up arms to oppose any usurped government, particularly the type of corruption that we have today.” – Ruchell Magee


We’re raising money to ease his transition to the outside and I’m writing to ask for your help by making a donation. We have launched a Fundrazr on-line to collect funds. Here is the link:  



Will you help? And share, too?


Thanks to Michael Schiffmann and Linn Washington Jr. Addressing the Issue of Political Prisoners in the United States: Mumia Abu-Jamal and Ruchell Magee


A more in-depth and recent article on Ruchell, “Slave Rebel or Citizen?” is very worthwhile by Joy James and Kalonji Jama Changa. Read it here: 



And more background – the “50th Anniversary of the Marin Courthouse Rebellion:”



Also the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of George Jackson—99 Books



Previously Recorded

View on YouTube:




Featured Speakers:


Yuliya Yurchenko, Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich and author of Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketization to Armed Conflict.


Vladyslav Starodubstev, historian of Central and Eastern European region, and member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization Sotsialnyi Rukh.


Kirill Medvedev, poet, political writer, and member of the Russian Socialist Movement.


Kavita Krishnan, Indian feminist, author of Fearless Freedom, former leader of the Communist Party of India (ML).


Bill Fletcher, former President of TransAfrica Forum, former senior staff person at the AFL-CIO, and Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Including solidarity statements from among others Barbara Smith, Eric Draitser, Haley Pessin, Ramah Kudaimi, Dave Zirin, Frieda Afary, Jose La Luz, Rob Barrill, and Cindy Domingo.



Update on Ed Poindexter and Urgent Health Call-In Campaign


Watch the moving video of Ed's Niece and Sister at the April 26, 2023, UN EMLER Hearing in Atlanta: https://youtu.be/aKwV7LQ5iww


You can also watch Ed speaking about himself some years ago thanks to Sister Tekla, who was able to interview Ed and Mondo some years ago: https://youtu.be/sps0s4zeJxg.

More of these videos will be forthcoming.


Ed needs to be released to live the rest of his life outside of prison, with his family! (His niece Ericka is now 52 years old and was an infant when Ed was targeted, stolen from his home, jailed, framed, and railroaded.)


Friends and Comrades,


Thank you so very much for your phone calls and communications in support of Ed Poindexter’s health care!


We have learned from Ed’s family that a date has been set for Ed to go to an outside doctor to be evaluated for a hearing device. (Thank you, callers!) We have also learned that Ed will not be fitted for a prosthesis within the foreseeable future. The reason for this is that Ed is unable to sit up for more than a few seconds on his own. He is unable to get himself out of bed by himself. Ed cannot go to the restroom without substantial help. There is a fear of him falling.


The prison’s response has been to suggest that Ed try harder at physical therapy—so that he might be able to tie his own shoes again and perform basic self-care—but he cannot. Our position is that he is too weak because of the near daily kidney dialysis and multiple other health problems. As you know, he has lost sight in one eye, and is unable to hear. While he may have been weakened by being wheelchair bound for years, the fact that the institution amputated his left leg below the knee (without notice to the family) has made recovery of strength in his legs difficult. Add to this that Ed is extremely ill from kidney disease, and the near daily kidney dialysis artificially making his kidney’s function causes him to vomit his food and makes him ill overall. All of these combined illnesses have resulted in Ed not being able to even hold his frame upright for more than a few seconds.


Therefore, in protection of Ed’s basic rights as a human being to health care and human dignity, we demand that Ed be seen by an outside high ranking National Medical Association Certified geriatric physician or team of physicians who specialize in heart, kidney, and geriatric health. We demand the evaluation be by a physician connected to a reputable hospital so that Ed’s entire condition: eyes, heart (recall that Ed underwent triple bypass heart surgery in 2016) kidneys, neuropathy, amputated leg, serious inability to balance his frame, and hearing can all be evaluated as a whole.


It is the family’s belief that Ed is experiencing a diminishing quality of life that it is irreversible, and we demand an outside doctor also evaluate him for this obvious fact. If it is determined by a reputable doctor that Ed is experiencing a diminishing quality of life; we want his status changed at the prison to reflect this reality.


Please call the numbers below and write to demand that Ed be seen by an outside doctor at a state-of-the-art hospital facility—for the purpose of evaluation specifically as to whether his condition is diminishing and irreversible—taken as a whole.


Ed Support Committee and Family and Concerned Members of the Community




Acting Medical Director Jeff Kasselman, M.D.: 402-479-5931 jeffrey.kasselman@nebraska.gov


Warden Boyd of the Reception and Treatment Center: 402-471-2861


Warden: Taggart Boyd

Reception and Treatment Center

P.O. Box 22800

Lincoln, NE 68542-2800

Phone: 402-471-2861

Fax: 402-479-6100


Jeff Kasselman, M.D.

Acting Medical Director,

Nebraska Department of Corrections

Phone: 402-479-5931

Email: jeffrey.kasselman@nebraska.gov


Sample Message:


“I’m calling to urge that Ed Poindexter, #27767, be given appropriate medical care. I demand that be seen by an outside high ranking National Medical Association certified geriatric physician or team of physicians who specialize in heart, kidney, and geriatric health. I demand the evaluation include Ed’s entire condition: eyes, kidneys, diabetes, neuropathy, amputated leg, serious inability to balance his frame, and hearing. ”


You can read more about Ed Poindexter at:




Updates From Kevin Cooper 

March 23, 2023 

Dear Friends and Comrades, 

This is Kevin Cooper writing and sending this update to you in 'Peace & Solidarity'. First and foremost I am well and healthy, and over the ill effect(s) that I went through after that biased report from MoFo, and their pro prosecution and law enforcement experts. I am back working with my legal team from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

'We' have made great progress in refuting all that those experts from MoFo came up with by twisting the truth to fit their narrative, or omitting things, ignoring, things, and using all the other tactics that they did to reach their conclusions. Orrick has hired four(4) real experts who have no questionable backgrounds. One is a DNA attorney, like Barry Scheck of the innocence project in New York is for example. A DNA expert, a expect to refute what they say Jousha Ryen said when he was a child, and his memory. A expect on the credibility of MoFo's experts, and the attorney's at Orrick are dealing with the legal issues.

This all is taking a little longer than we first expected it to take, and that in part is because 'we' have to make sure everything is correct in what we have in our reply. We cannot put ourselves in a situation where we can be refuted... Second, some of our experts had other things planned, like court cases and such before they got the phone call from Rene, the now lead attorney of the Orrick team. With that being said, I can say that our experts, and legal team have shown, and will show to the power(s) that be that MoFo's DNA expert could not have come to the conclusion(s) that he came to, without having used 'junk science'! They, and by they I mean my entire legal team, including our experts, have done what we have done ever since Orrick took my case on in 2004, shown that all that is being said by MoFo's experts is not true, and we are once again having to show what the truth really is.

Will this work with the Governor? Who knows... 'but' we are going to try! One of our comrades, Rebecca D.   said to me, 'You and Mumia'...meaning that my case and the case of Mumia Abu Jamal are cases in which no matter what evidence comes out supporting our innocence, or prosecution misconduct, we cannot get a break. That the forces in the so called justice system won't let us go. 'Yes' she is correct about that sad to say...

Our reply will be out hopefully in the not too distant future, and that's because the people in Sacramento have been put on notice that it is coming, and why. Every one of you will receive our draft copy of the reply according to Rene because he wants feedback on it. Carole and others will send it out once they receive it. 'We' were on the verge of getting me out, and those people knew it, so they sabotaged what the Governor ordered them to do, look at all the evidence as well as the DNA evidence. They did not do that, they made this a DNA case, by doing what they did, and twisted the facts on the other issues that they dealt with.   'more later'...

In Struggle & Solidarity,

March 28, 2023

"Today is March 28, 2023

I spoke to Rene, the lead attorney. He hopes to have our reply [to the Morrison Forster report] done by April 14 and sent out with a massive Public Relations blast.

He said that the draft copy, which everyone will see, should be available April 10th. 

I will have a visit with two of the attorneys to go over the draft copy and express any concerns I have with it.

MoFo ex-law enforcement “experts” are not qualified to write what they wrote or do what they did.

Another of our expert reports has come in and there are still two more that we’re waiting for—the DNA report and Professor Bazelon’s report on what an innocence investigation is and what it is not. We are also expecting a report from the Innocence Network. All the regional Innocence Projects (like the Northern California Innocence Project) in the country belong to the Innocence Network.

If MoFo had done the right thing, I would be getting out of here, but because they knew that, somewhere along the line they got hijacked, so we have to continue this fight but we think we can win."

An immediate act of solidarity we can all do right now is to write to Kevin and assure him of our continuing support in his fight for justice. Here’s his address:

Mr. Kevin Cooper

C-65304. 4-EB-82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974


Background on Kevin's Case


January 14, 2023

Kevin Cooper has suffered imprisonment as a death row inmate for more than 38 years for a gruesome crime he did not commit. We are therefore extremely disappointed by the special counsel’s report to the Board of Parole Hearings and disagree strongly with its findings.  Most fundamentally, we are shocked that the governor seemingly failed to conduct a thorough review of the report that contains many misstatements and omissions and also ignores the purpose of a legitimate innocence investigation, which is to independently determine whether Mr. Cooper’s conviction was a product of prosecutorial misconduct. The report failed to address that critical issue. The evidence when viewed in this light reveals that Kevin Cooper is innocent of the Ryen/Hughes murders, and that he was framed by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. 


The special counsel’s investigation ordered by Governor Newsom in May 2021 was not properly conducted and is demonstrably incomplete. It failed to carry out the type of thorough investigation required to explore the extensive evidence that Mr. Cooper was wrongfully convicted. Among other things, the investigation failed to even subpoena and then examine the files of the prosecutors and interview the individuals involved in the prosecution. For unknown reasons and resulting in the tragic and clearly erroneous conclusion that he reached, the special counsel failed to follow the basic steps taken by all innocence investigations that have led to so many exonerations of the wrongfully convicted. 


In effect the special counsel’s report says: the Board of Parole Hearings can and will ignore Brady violations, destruction of exculpatory evidence, planted evidence, racial prejudice, prosecutorial malfeasance, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel; since I conclude Cooper is guilty based on what the prosecution says, none of these Constitutional violations matter or will be considered and we have no obligation to investigate these claims.


Given that (1) we have already uncovered seven prosecutorial violations of Brady v. Maryland during Mr. Cooper’s prosecution, (2) one of the likely killers has confessed to three different parties that he, rather than Mr. Cooper, was involved in the Ryen/Hughes murders, and (3) there is significant evidence of racial bias in Mr. Cooper’s prosecution, we cannot understand how Mr. Cooper was not declared wrongfully convicted.  The special counsel specifically declined to address ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial or the effect of race discrimination.  We call on the governor to follow through on his word and obtain a true innocence investigation.

Anything But Justice for Black People

Statement from Kevin Cooper concerning recent the decision on his case by Morrison Forrester Law Firm

In 2020 and 2022 Governor Newsom signed in to law the “Racial Justice Act.” This is because the California legislature, and the Governor both acknowledged that the criminal justice system in California is anything but justice for Black people.

On May 28th, 2021, Governor signed an executive order to allow the law firm of Morrison Forrester (MoFo) to do an independent investigation in my case which included reading the trial and appellant transcripts, my innocence claims, and information brought to light by the 9th circuit court of appeals, as well as anything else not in the record, but relevant to this case.

So, Mr. Mark McDonald, Esq, who headed this investigation by Morrison Forrester and his associates at the law firm, went and did what was not part of Governor Newsom’s order, and they did this during the length of time that they were working on this case, and executive order. They worked with law enforcement, current and former members of the L.A. Sheriff’s department, and other law enforcement-type people and organizations.

Law enforcement is the first part of this state’s criminal justice system. A system that both the California legislature, and the Governor acknowledge to be racist, and cannot be trusted to tell the truth, will present, and use false evidence to obtain a conviction, will withhold material exculpatory evidence, and will do everything else that is written in those two racial justice act bills that were signed into law.

So, with the active help of those pro-police, pro-prosecutor, pro-death penalty people working on this case to uphold my bogus conviction we cannot be surprised about the recent decision handed down by them in this case.

While these results are not true but based on the decisions made in 1983 and 1984 by the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, these 2023 results were not reached by following the executive orders of Governor Newsom.

They ignored his orders and went out to make sure that I am either executed or will never get out of prison.

Governor Newsom cannot let this stand because he did not order a pro-cop or pro-prosecutor investigation, he ordered an independent investigation.

We all know that in truth, law enforcement protects each other, they stand by each other, no matter what city, county, or state that they come from. This is especially true when a Black man like me states that I was framed for murder by law enforcement who just happened to be in the neighboring county.

No one should be surprised about the law enforcement part in this, but we must be outraged by the law firm Morrison Forrester for being a part of this and then try to sell it as legitimate. We ain’t stupid and everyone who knows the truth about my case can see right through this bullshit.

I will continue to fight not only for my life, and to get out of here, but to end the death penalty as well. My entire legal team, family and friends and supporters will continue as well. We have to get to the Governor and let him know that he cannot accept these bogus rehashed results.

MoFo and their pro-prosecution and pro-police friends did not even deal with, or even acknowledge the constitutional violations in my case. They did not mention the seven Brady violations which meant the seven pieces of material exculpatory evidence were withheld from my trial attorney and the jury, and the 1991 California Supreme court that heard and upheld this bogus conviction. Why, one must ask, did they ignore these constitutional violations and everything that we proved in the past that went to my innocence?

Could it be that they just didn’t give a damn about the truth but just wanted to uphold this conviction by any means necessary?

No matter their reasons, they did not do what Governor Gavin Newsom ordered them to do in his May 28, 2021, executive order and we cannot let them get away with this.

I ask each and every person who reads this to contact the Governor’s office and voice your outrage over what MoFo did, and demand that he not accept their decision because they did not do what he ordered them to do which was to conduct an independent investigation!

In Struggle and Solidarity

From Death Row at San Quentin Prison,

Kevin Cooper


Call California Governor Newsom:

1-(916) 445-2841

Press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish, 

press 6 to speak with a representative and

wait for someone to answer 

(Monday-Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. PST—12:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EST)






The writers' organization PEN America is circulating this petition on behalf of Jason Renard Walker, a Texas prisoner whose life is being threatened because of his exposés of the Texas prison system. 

See his book, Reports from within the Belly of the Beast; available on Amazon at:


Petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/protect-whistleblowers-in-carceral-settings



Sign the petition:




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.







A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Self Portrait by Leonard Peltier

Video at:


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




Email: contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info

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



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!



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: 


Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312

San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or fbi_hotline@nlgsf.org

Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963

National Hotline

If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:


National NLG Federal Defense Hotline: (212) 679-2811






1) Opioid Settlement Money Is Being Spent on Police Cars and Overtime

As states and counties spend the first wave of billions of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry, public health groups are challenging how some funds are being used.

By Jan Hoffman, Aug. 14, 2023

Jan Hoffman has been reporting on the national opioid litigation since 2017.

Heavily armed troopers and police in riot gear and large military vehicles lined in a city street.
Law enforcement departments have been receiving opioid settlement money for policing resources like new cruisers, overtime pay, phone-hacking equipment, body scanners and restraint devices. Credit...Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

After years of litigation to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for the deadly abuse of prescription painkillers, payments from what could amount to more than $50 billion in court settlements have started to flow to states and communities to address the nation’s continuing opioid crisis.


But though the payments come with stacks of guidance outlining core strategies for drug prevention and addiction treatment, the first wave of awards is setting off heated debates over the best use of the money, including the role that law enforcement should play in grappling with a public health disaster.


States and local governments are designating millions of dollars for overdose reversal drugs, addiction treatment medication, and wound care vans for people with infections from injecting drugs. But law enforcement departments are receiving opioid settlement money for policing resources like new cruisers, overtime pay for narcotics investigators, phone-hacking equipment, body scanners to detect drugs on inmates and restraint devices.


“I have a great deal of ambivalence towards the use of the opioid money for that purpose,” said Chester Cedars, chairman of Louisiana’s advisory opioid task force and president of St. Martin Parish. The state’s directives say only “law enforcement expenditures related to the opioid epidemic,” added Mr. Cedars, a retired prosecutor. “That is wide open as to what that exactly means.”


On Monday, 133 addiction medicine specialists, legal aid groups, street outreach groups and other organizations released a list of suggested priorities for the funds. Their recommendations include housing for people in recovery and expanding access to syringe exchange programs, personal use testing strips for fentanyl and xylazine, and medication that treats addiction.


They expressly stated that no funds “should be spent on law enforcement personnel, overtime or equipment.”


“Law enforcement already gets a lot of funding, and I’m sure they would say it’s never enough,” said Tricia Christensen, an author of the proposed priorities, who is the policy director at Community Education Group, which has been tracking opioid settlement money across Appalachia. But the opioid money, she said, “is really unique.”


Groups that monitor opioid settlements use various criteria to estimate the total payout. But even employing the most conservative tabulation, the final amount could well be north of $50 billion when pending lawsuits are resolved, notably the multibillion-dollar Purdue bankruptcy plan, which the Supreme Court temporarily paused last week.


At first glance, that looks like a fabulous trove of money. In reality, it will be parceled out over 18 years and is already dwarfed by the behemoth dimensions of the opioid crisis, now dominated by illicit fentanyl and other drugs.


The spectacle of states as well as thousands of cities, counties and towns all struggling to determine the most effective uses of these desperately needed funds is raising many questions.


Underlying the wrangling is a push for greater transparency in awarding the money and a determination not to repeat the mistakes of the Big Tobacco settlement 25 years ago. State governments have used most of the $246 billion from tobacco companies to plug budget holes and pay for other projects, and reserved relatively little to redress nicotine-related problems.


Now, states and local governments have committees to determine appropriate allocation of the opioid money. Sheriffs and police officials comprise less than a fifth of the members on those task forces, according to a recent analysis by KFF Health News, Johns Hopkins University and Shatterproof, a national nonprofit that focuses on addiction.


But public sentiment in many communities favors ridding the streets of drug dealers as a means of abating the crisis.


When Samuel Sanguedolce, the district attorney of Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, presented his budget to the County Council in November, he made a pitch for some of the county’s settlement money, about $3.4 million so far.


“With 10 more detectives, I could arrest those cases around the clock,” he said, referring to drug dealers. “I think this is a good way to use money that resulted from this opioid crisis to assist those detectives without putting it on the taxpayers.”


“And I’ve asked not just for detectives,” he continued. “But hiring people, of course, costs money, in the way that they need guns and vests and computers and cars.”


In many areas of the country, the lines between law enforcement and health care can be somewhat blurred: Police and sheriffs’ departments are also emergency responders, trained to administer overdose reversal drugs. Louisiana is dedicating 20 percent of its opioid money to parish sheriffs.


Sheriff K.P. Gibson of Acadia Parish, who represents sheriffs on Louisiana’s opioid task force, said that he intended to use the $100,000 his department is set to receive for “medical needs” of people in the jail, including various opioid treatments and counseling. The goal, he said, is to help inmates become “productive citizens within our community,” once they are released.


Public health officials and addiction treatment specialists are also concerned about another use of the money: grants for faith-based rehab programs that prohibit federally approved medications like Suboxone and methadone, which blunt cravings for opioids.


“I would be open to a faith-based cancer program, but not one that doesn’t let you take effective medicines to treat the cancer,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has released its own guidance principles for the settlement funds.


Throughout the years of negotiating opioid settlements, lawyers for states, tribes and local governments and those defending drug distributors, manufacturers and pharmacy chains struggled to avoid the pitfalls that emerged from the Big Tobacco litigation.


This time, local governments have struck agreements with state attorneys general over the allocation of the money. Legislatures are largely excluded from most of the funds.


Johns Hopkins praised Rock County, Wis., as a jurisdiction that strove to get a full picture of local needs for the money: It put together a working group to review evidence-based literature and conducted surveys and meetings to elicit community suggestions.


In North Carolina, county governments receive 85 percent of the funds, which have reached nearly $161 million so far. Having signed onto the core principles worked up with the attorney general, the counties have great discretion in spending their allotments.


“When you look at who addresses the issues of the opioid epidemic, it’s addressed locally by E.M.S., social services and jails. Those are all county functions in North Carolina, so that’s why it made sense for them to get the bulk of the resources,” said Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, who helped negotiate the national opioid settlements.


Each county is establishing its own priorities. Stanly County, he said, is setting up teams to reach people who have just survived overdoses, hoping to connect them with services. Mecklenburg County has directed some of its funding for post-recovery education and job-training programs.


Such uses can help to lift a community stricken by addiction, said Ms. Christensen, whose group monitors opioid settlements for 13 states. “I really subscribe to the idea that overdoses are often ‘deaths of despair’ — that the reason many folks spiral into chaotic drug use has a lot to do with what has happened to them and their lack of opportunities,” she said. “So how can we invest in the community to prevent that from happening generation after generation? That’s why I think community input is so important in this process.”


The groups that released the new set of priorities cited examples of promising use of the funds. Michigan’s plans include adding rooms in hospitals so that new mothers can stay with infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Kentucky is giving $1 million to four legal aid groups to represent people with opioid-related cases.


“I was blown away by that,” said Shameka Parrish-Wright, executive director of VOCAL-KY, a community group that worked on the priorities documents. Ms. Parrish-Wright, a former candidate for Louisville mayor who had been addicted to drugs, homeless and incarcerated, added: “Those legal entities are really helpful in making sure we deal with paraphernalia charges and evictions. People coming out of treatment are sometimes discriminated against because of those charges and can’t get housing or jobs.”


VOCAL-KY has not applied for settlement money but works closely with groups that do. Its members attend meetings held by Kentucky’s opioid task force. “Knowing that Black and brown and poor white communities are dealing with it the worst, we pushed them to have another town hall in those communities,” Ms. Parrish-Wright said.


With Big Tobacco’s cautionary tale shadowing these debates, the issue of accountability looms. Who ensures that grantees spend their money appropriately? What sanctions will befall those who color outside the lines of their grants?


So far, the answers remain to be seen. Christine Minhee, a lawyer who runs the Opioid Settlement Tracker, which analyzes state approaches to spending the funds, noted that on that question, the voluminous legal agreements could be opaque.


“But between the lines, the settlement agreements themselves imply that the political process, rather than the courts, will bear the actual enforcement burden,” she said. “This means that the task of enforcing the spirit of the agreement — making sure that settlements are spent in ways that maximize lives saved — is left to the rest of us.”



2) A Queens Woman Walks a Well-Worn Path to Housing Court

A tenant complained to the management company about problems in her building in Jackson Heights, without success. Now she is waiting for her day in court.

By D.W. Gibson, Aug. 14, 2023

A portrait of a young woman wearing a V-necked, short-sleeved burgundy blouse.

Alva Campos and two of her fellow tenants filed a case in housing court against their landlord regarding 54 open violations in the building, including exposed lead paint in her apartment. Credit...Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

When Alva Campos’s lease expired in July of 2021, the management company for her building mailed her a renewal. It included a rent increase of $60, or 1.5 percent, on her $4,000 monthly rent. Making the higher payments would be difficult for her family —  her partner works as a line cook while she raises three children under age 10 — but they could make it work. They had already taken on two roommates to help with the rent.


Ms. Campos, however, didn’t get around to signing the lease right away and the small delay has had a lasting effect.


“A new management company took over and sent a letter with a revised renewal offer,” Ms. Campos said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “It had more than a 10 percent increase to $4,460.”


This was more than her family could pay for their apartment. But the proposed increase was just one of her problems. With a new owner and a new management company, things started to change in the building.


“They stopped doing repairs,” she said, describing an overall diminution of services — a broken intercom system, cockroaches in the halls and vacant apartments being “warehoused,” or kept empty after tenants leave.


Throughout 2022, Ms. Campos struggled to get repairs and infestation issues addressed. “There’s no on-site super,” she said. “Management told us to call them, but they don’t live in the building and they don’t respond to our calls. There’s no responsible person we can talk to.”


She said when she did connect with someone it didn’t go well. “There was harassment by the management. They berated me over the phone.”


The limited liability company that owns the building, HCEC L.L.C., was formed two months before it bought the property in October of 2021. The publicly-listed officer for the company, Mark Anthony, did not respond to multiple inquiries from a reporter.


The management company, Everest Buildings Management, responded with an emailed statement, “Those tenants are retaliating with exaggerated lies and complaints simply because they do not want any rent increases.”


According to records from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (H.P.D.), the building has 54 open violations, eight of which pertain to Ms. Campos’s apartment.


$4,000| Jackson Heights, Queens


Alva Campos, 34


Occupation: Homemaker


On proximity to amenities: Ms. Campos found her family’s current four-bedroom apartment, which is close to public transportation, in Jackson Heights three and a half years ago. “Everything is close — and I don’t drive,” she said. “Even the school where my kids go is just a block away.”


On connecting with Communities Resist: When the tenant association in Ms. Campos’s building was looking for help to address violations, they reached out to Shekar Krishnan, their local city councilman. Mr. Krishnan, a lawyer who previously focused on housing discrimination at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, put the tenant association in contact with Communities Resist, a nonprofit that he co-founded in 2019.


Ms. Campos used to pay her rent electronically, but when the conflict about the rent increases came up, she said she was shut out of the electronic payment system. She wasn’t given a mailing address for the new management company so she started dropping old-fashioned paper checks, each for $4,000, into a mail slot at the shuttered management office on the first floor of her building. “Each month I pay,” she said, “the check is cashed.”


When she explained to the management company that she couldn’t pay the proposed 10 percent increase, Ms. Campos received a revised proposal. “The second offer was more than $4,600,” she said.


Then came a third proposal for $4,788.


“Each time they sent a new offer it was for a higher rent. If I can’t pay $460 more, how can I pay almost $800 more?”


When she told management she couldn’t pay $4,788, she received a notice informing her that she had 90 days to vacate the apartment. “It made me feel so bad because I didn’t know what to do,” she said.


In its written statement, Everest Buildings Management cited three years without rent increases during the pandemic as the reason for the increases. “Unfortunately landlords have to increase rents to cope with the increased cost of maintenance, taxes, utilities, etc. Property taxes and operating expenses go up against the landlord’s wishes, while rent increases happen against the tenant’s wishes,” the email read.


In February of 2023, while the rent conflict continued, Ms. Campos contacted 311, New York City’s help line, in an effort to address ongoing repair issues. An H.P.D. inspection documented a variety of violations in Ms. Campos’s apartment, including missing window guards and exposed lead paint.


Workers sent by H.P.D. were able to install the window guards in under an hour but addressing the lead paint required much more preparation and time. “So, after several weeks,” Ms. Campos said, “the city sent a crew to work on the lead paint. But management stopped the city from completing the repairs. They got about halfway done with the work for the day and stopped. I was nervous, I was in shock — I didn’t know what to do.


At the beginning of 2023, Ms. Campos and other members of the tenant association reached out to Communities Resist, a community-based law office that focuses on low-income tenants experiencing housing issues. Ms. Campos gained legal representation through the organization, along with two other tenants in the building, and in June filed a case in Housing Court  against HCEC L.L.C. and Everest Buildings Management.


The tenants are asking for a court order to correct the existing violations. Additionally, they are asking the court for a finding that the long-term negligence described in court documents amounts to harassment, and they’re seeking punitive damages.


Everest Buildings Management would not comment on the court case.


While she awaits her next court date, Ms. Campos says she has two things on her mind. “First, my kids. When I tell them we might have to move, they get so sad. My oldest says, ‘No, Mom, I have my teachers here, my friends, my neighbors.’ Now she is worried all the time.”


The second thing on her mind is safety. Not only is she concerned about her children living with daily exposure to lead paint, but she is also worried about the possibility that she might be adding to her family’s precarity.


“I fear retaliation,” she said. “I’m afraid to put my name out there. It’s scary. My hope is that sharing my story will encourage other to speak up. I know that even in the tenant association there are people nervous to speak up about certain things. I hope this will encourage them.”



3) What We Know About the Wildfires in Hawaii

With the death toll at 106 and rising, officials have begun announcing names of the dead as families that survived the disaster begin the long, hard road toward recovery.

By Adeel Hassan, Published Aug. 10, 2023, Updated Aug. 16, 2023

A view of a long row of metal structures, seemingly parts of destroyed buildings, twisted and blackened by fire.

Much of Lahaina was destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire in western Maui, Hawaii. Credit...Philip Cheung for The New York Times

One week after brush fires in Maui, exploded into the country’s deadliest wildfires in more than 100 years, the authorities have begun announcing the names of the dead, residents’ patience with the government response has worn thin, and the dimensions of the tragedy are still coming into focus.


The death toll is 106 and virtually certain to grow, officials said. Along with mourning the dead, residents will be facing the daunting reality of trying to survive and rebuild in the most expensive state in the country, with a cost of living that is almost twice the national average and housing costs three times the national average, according to the World Population Review.


Fueled by dry grasses and spread by high winds, the fires devastated the historic town of Lahaina, once the royal capital of Hawaii, and some residents there ran into the ocean to avoid the heat and the flames.


In Lahaina, more than 2,200 structures were damaged — the vast majority of which were residential — and about 2,170 acres burned, according to the Pacific Disaster Center, a research center managed by the University of Hawaii.


The Maui Emergency Management Agency estimated that it would cost $5.52 billion to rebuild.


The death toll seems certain to keep rising.


The toll of at least 106 deaths makes the fires on Maui one of the worst natural disasters in Hawaii’s history, and the nation’s deadliest wildfires since 1918, when blazes in northeast Minnesota killed hundreds of people.


Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii has cautioned that the official death toll could go up significantly. “Over the course of the next 10 days, this number could double,” he said in an interview Monday with CNN.


Officials began announcing names of the dead on Tuesday. Robert Dyckman, 74 and Buddy Jantoc, 79, both of Lahaina, were among those killed, the County of Maui said in a news release.


Dozens of people have also been injured, some critically.


The slow pace of identifying victims has been dictated, officials said, by the large-scale destruction and by Maui’s remoteness, which complicated the arrival of out-of-state search dog teams. As of Tuesday, the teams had searched about 32 percent of the disaster zone.


Four deceased victims had been identified so far using their fingerprints, Chief John Pelletier of the Maui Police Department said on Tuesday. Officials have 13 DNA profiles of the deceased and 41 DNA samples provided by people searching for missing relatives, and will check them for matches, Maui County officials said.


Help feels out of reach for many survivors.


Days after the disaster, frustrated residents in West Maui said that they were receiving far more help from an ad hoc network of volunteers, some ferrying supplies in their own boats, than they were from the government.


After the fire devastated Lahaina, a group that includes evacuees and nearby residents remained cut off from power and internet service. Some evacuees slept in parks; others stayed in their own homes that had survived the disaster or with friends in the wider community of that part of the island.


County and federal aid efforts have gathered pace over the past few days. FEMA has made nearly $2 million in payments to about 1,200 survivors as of Tuesday, [that’s just about $1600.00 each! Chump change! —BW (BAUAW)]an agency official said. About 3,400 people have applied for assistance, said Keith Turi, the deputy associate administrator for response and recovery.


Questions are also mounting about the failure of many warning sirens to operate and about fire hydrants that ran dry, raising worries that more people could have been saved with a better emergency response.


What caused the fires?


No single cause has been determined, but experts said one possibility was that active power lines that fell in high winds had ignited a wildfire that ultimately consumed Lahaina.


Brush fires were already burning on Maui and the island of Hawaii on Aug. 8. Maui County officials informed residents that morning that a small brush fire in Lahaina had been completely contained, but they then issued an alert several hours later that described “an afternoon flare-up” that forced evacuations.


The fires on the islands were stoked by a combination of low humidity and strong mountain winds, brought by Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm hundreds of miles to the south in the Pacific Ocean.


Worsening drought conditions in recent weeks probably also contributed. Nearly 16 percent of Maui County was in a severe drought a week ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.


Law firms have begun filing lawsuits on behalf of victims, claiming that Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility and the parent company of the power provider on Maui, is at fault for having power equipment that could not withstand heavy winds and keeping power lines electrified despite warnings of high winds.


At a news conference on Monday, Shelee Kimura, the chief executive of Hawaiian Electric, said the company did not have a shut-off program and contended that cutting the power could have created problems for people using medical equipment that runs on electricity. She also said turning off the power would have required coordination with emergency workers.


What’s next?


There are widespread fears that rebuilding will be difficult or impossible for many residents. State and local officials on Monday said that they would consider a moratorium on sales of damaged or destroyed properties, to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of the tragedy.


And the Hawaii Tourism Authority said visitors planning to travel to West Maui within the next several months should delay their trips or find another destination. Most of the 1,000 rooms in the area have been set aside for evacuees and rescue workers.


The hit to the tourism industry presents a major challenge to rebuilding the island’s economy.


A longer-term worry is the changing climate.


The area burned by wildfires in Hawaii each year has quadrupled in recent decades. Invasive grasses that leave the islands increasingly susceptible to wildfires and climate change have worsened dry and hot conditions in the state, allowing wildfires to spread more quickly, climatologists say.


Kellen Browning and Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.



4) One Family’s Toxic Train Wreck Ordeal: Illness, Exile and Debt

The Albright family left town after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near their Ohio home. Now, they are back, facing personal, medical and financial crises in a newly divided community.

By Emily BaumgaertnerPhotographs by Brian Kaiser

Emily Baumgaertner and Brian Kaiser reported from East Palestine, Ohio, and Monaca, Pa., Aug. 16, 2023

Evy Albright stands behind the mesh curtain of a yard trampoline, peering between a zipper entrance with a look of concern on her face. She holds a toy basketball and wears a bright yellow dress with pink flowers and wide, billowy sleeves.
Evy Albright, whose family experienced health symptoms after the February train derailment in their village of East Palestine, Ohio. They sought refuge in Pennsylvania.

When Jessica Albright returned with her family to their home in East Palestine, Ohio, last month after four months away, she opened the car door and took a deep breath — then stopped and thought: Maybe not too deep. Hauling suitcases up the steps, she tried to discern whether the acrid scent in the air had lessened.


The mother of three could not be certain — of the smell, of its effects or of the correct next steps for her family. After a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed a half-mile from the Albrights’ house in February, a series of mysterious health symptoms forced Ms. Albright; her husband, Chris, and two of their daughters to move to a hotel room in Pennsylvania 20 miles away.


Now, they were back, not because their health issues had resolved, or because the house had been proven free of contaminants. They were back because they had $41 left in their savings account and felt they had no other choice.


Despite several weeks of intense focus, national attention has long since shifted away from East Palestine, where the Ohio governor has declared the air and water safe, and the Environmental Protection Agency has cited “no evidence to suggest there is contamination of concern.” Schools reopened, the town held its annual street fair, and when summer came, the picnic tables at The Dairy Mill soft-serve stand were crowded once more.


But 200 cleanup workers still arrive each day, working on the 1.4 million gallons of liquid wastewater and 3,293 tons of excavated soil that, according to the Ohio E.P.A., must still be removed. Earlier this summer, independent researchers warned of chemical contamination in buildings near the derailment site. Hundreds of people have reported symptoms associated with the derailment in recent months. And lawmakers have been flooded with calls and emails from residents and business owners who say they cannot enter their buildings for more than a few minutes without getting headaches.


The derailment and burning of the train’s toxic freight generated hundreds of unknown compounds, scientists say. However, linking any health issues directly to the toxins is difficult, since even the ones detected are not fully understood. Six months later, residents still have little information about how they might be affected by any lingering chemicals, making it impossible to assess long-term risks.


Ms. Albright, 43, contemplated this as she unpacked toiletries in a house that no longer felt like home, in a town that had become deeply divided with infighting and conspiracy theories.


For her, as for many, the uncertainty transcended the question of whether the air, soil, and water were toxic, to a personal one: For a family in the throes of medical, emotional and financial crisis, what would come next?


Night of fire


The little brick house on East Main Street was where two families had become one. The home was where Ms. Albright raised Kaedance, now 20, and Lainy, 17; where Chris Albright, 48, had moved in and become the girls’ stepdad almost a decade ago; where he and Ms. Albright brought their newborn daughter, Evy, now 8, home from the hospital.


Until six months ago, Mr. Albright left early each day to work as a foreman on a gas pipeline. Ms. Albright worked as a case manager for students with special needs and as an office manager at a local gym. Kaedance had transferred to a nearby campus so that she could live with her family; Lainy was hoping to become cheerleading captain. Evy, already at an 11-year-old reading level, was teaching herself to use FaceTime while spinning circles on a hoverboard in the living room.


On Feb. 3, after a high school basketball game, Lainy saw something on Snapchat about a fire. When Ms. Albright took their dogs, Maggie and Stanley, into the yard before bed, she smelled burning plastic, peered around the front of the house and froze: She could see the flames.


Mr. Albright told her to leave with the girls. He stayed, but police came by twice and warned, “If it gets bad, we aren’t coming back.” So he took his pickup truck and fled, too.


After they left, Norfolk Southern officials grew concerned about a chemical reaction that could send shrapnel into neighborhoods. Losing daylight, the company gave the fire chief 13 minutes to decide whether to vent and burn: Dig ditches, rig the cars with explosives, and light the contents on fire. “Blindsided,” he said, he agreed.


Within two days of the intentional burn, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio declared East Palestine safe. Air quality samples measured contaminants “below safety screening levels,” and residents could return, he said — so, that evening, the Albrights did.

“The birds have started singing again,” Ms. Albright said in an interview that week, “a natural indicator that things are getting better.”


She had heard rumors of government cover-ups, and when she put her girls to bed each night, she found herself worrying about potential long-term effects, like cancer — but when schools reopened, she sent them back.


“For them,” she said, “we’re just wanting to keep things as normal as possible.”


Nausea, headaches and breathing trouble


The first signs that their lives would be far from normal appeared in Mr. Albright’s primary care doctor’s notes, after his appointment on Feb. 22:


His appetite is down over the past few weeks.

Yesterday morning he had some dry heaving.

This morning he vomited while he was in the shower.

Some difficulties in taking deep breaths.


Mr. Albright had no medical history of concern. Certainly seems to have some symptoms that correspond to the recent train derailment and vinyl chloride spill, Dr. Jason Rodriguez wrote. He prescribed an albuterol inhaler and gave Mr. Albright the phone number for the county health department.


Mr. Albright didn’t know, but the day before his medical appointment, a group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Texas A&M universities had driven past his house in a van, testing the ambient air with a mass spectrometer. The device detected acrolein, a chemical irritant that slows breathing and causes burning in the nose and throat, at a level six times higher than normal. Animal studies show that long-term exposure to acrolein can cause nasal lesions or damage to the lining of the lungs.


The consulting firm hired by Norfolk Southern, meanwhile, had been testing houses for contamination using a hand-held device that could not detect some chemicals at specific thresholds. At one building, about eight blocks from the Albrights’ house, the firm reported “no detection” five times, despite a “super glue” smell so pungent that the staff fled the premises.


“The air monitoring team left within 10 minutes, due to the unpleasant/overwhelming odor,” one of the inspectors wrote in documents provided to the E.P.A. and obtained by The Times.


The building’s owner ordered private testing for $900. It detected butyl acrylate — a compound used to make paints and plastics and that causes respiratory irritation and breathing difficulty — among other chemicals, and enough soot for the insurance company to declare the contents of the space a total loss.


But no one offered to test the Albrights’ house, and the family could not afford private testing. Instead, the family read a statement from the governor on Feb. 26: The E.P.A. had “conducted indoor air testing at a total of 578 homes. No contaminants associated with the derailment were detected.”


The air seemed much clearer in Meadville, Pa., about 80 miles northeast, where Mr. and Ms. Albright took Evy to an overnight hockey tournament on March 4, and Mr. Albright felt significantly better there. When they returned home, the odor was stifling.


Ms. Albright tracked everyone’s symptoms in a pocket calendar: Evy had a cough, sore throat and nausea. Lainy had eye irritation and a headache. Mr. Albright felt as if he couldn’t breathe.


That week, seven field workers from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry fell ill while doing door-to-door community surveys near the Albrights, according to federal incident reports reviewed by The Times. They experienced many of the same symptoms — sore throats, headaches and nausea — and were sent back to their hotel to recover. The incident was kept private.


Two weeks later, Mr. Albright’s doctor scheduled him for an X-ray and CT scan of his chest, which showed fluid collecting in his lungs.


4 people, 2 dogs, 1 hotel room


On a Friday in March, while Mr. Albright was vomiting, Ms. Albright heard a rumor that Norfolk Southern would reimburse East Palestine residents for the cost of a hotel room. They left town immediately for Monaca, Pa., a half-hour drive just across the Ohio River, moving into a 400-square-foot room in a turquoise and brown hotel tucked behind a self-storage warehouse and a farm equipment supplier called Rural King.


Home2 Suites was among the only hotels that would accept 60-pound dogs, and it cost $235 per night. They got a $23 discount after a month, when they were considered residents. Norfolk Southern gave them $1,000 on a prepaid card upfront — enough for three nights — but for the more than 100 nights that followed, Ms. Albright traveled to the Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center in East Palestine on a biweekly basis to have hotel bills reimbursed after the fact. The final cost was more than $22,000.

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern said that he could not comment on the family’s specific arrangement but that the train company routinely worked with families to pay hotel bills upfront for those who requested it.


“Norfolk Southern remains committed to making it right for the residents of East Palestine and surrounding communities,” he said, including making reimbursements for groceries, gas and other items to people who temporarily relocated.


The 40-mile round trip to the East Palestine schools was too far of a commute before Ms. Albright’s shifts, so Evy did worksheets from the hotel bed in Room #311 and took spelling tests on Zoom once a week. She kept in touch with her best friends, Jordyn and Braelynn, through an iPad gaming platform Roblox. Lainy taught herself pre-calculus and anatomy; her 11th grade U.S. government class couldn’t be taken virtually, so her teacher referred her to a college-level personal finance class instead. (Kaedance stayed with her boyfriend’s family to be closer to work and school.)


The family bought a $6 griddle to make grilled cheese sandwiches and used the hotel room microwave to make ramen — until Evy forgot to add water one evening and almost set the room on fire. Some nights, they ate McDonalds, or they waited until after 9 p.m., when they could get wings at Primanti Brothers for half-price.


Before dawn on March 28, Mr. Albright went to Pittsburgh for an echocardiogram. The results were crushing.


Markedly dilated ventricle, a cardiologist’s follow-up notes read. His ejection fraction, or the percentage of blood being pumped out with each heartbeat, — normally 50 percent or higher — was down to about 15 percent.


The doctor ordered a catheterization; Mr. Albright would be admitted overnight and fitted with a LifeVest, a round-the-clock external defibrillator for people at risk of sudden cardiac death.


Mr. Albright’s cardiologist, Dr. Matthew M. Lander, said it was unlikely that the toxins in East Palestine had wholly caused Mr. Albright’s heart failure. Still, given the rapid deterioration, Dr. Lander was confident that the chemicals — or the stress — had likely exacerbated the condition.


“I would be hard-pressed to think this is not related,” he said in an interview.


Lainy, already reeling from the cramped hotel room and social isolation, took her father’s news especially hard. She begged her mother to drive an hour to the high school, where a teacher pulled her aside. Lainy broke down. She needed a therapist, she said, but her mother couldn’t find one since her insurance policy was through Ohio, but they were staying in Pennsylvania.


For one week in May, Ms. Albright tried dropping Lainy off at the East Palestine house each morning before work, so she could catch a ride to school. Within 10 minutes, Lainy always had a gushing nosebleed — five times in one week.


Mr. Albright took Lainy to Applebee’s, just the two of them, and before her buffalo chicken tenders were at the table, he looked her in the eyes. “I’m not going anywhere — I’m going to be around, you know,” he remembers saying. “Just so I can keep bugging you.”


With Evy, he used fewer words, taking her out of the hotel every few days to fish for bluegill and rainbow trout at Brush Creek in Beaver Falls, Pa. He wanted to make for normal summer nights together. He taught her to cast, watch, reel. More than anything, he said, he wanted to teach her patience.


They often sat in silence, Evy fidgeting and Mr. Albright trying to forget the image of the 3,500 fish that had been floating, dead, in the streams back home.


“Evy knows,” Mr. Albright said, “but only what a 7-year-old should know.”


Financial crisis


Ms. Albright hardly had time to process her husband’s diagnosis. Financial constraints were beginning to suffocate them.


The pipelining company wasn’t willing to bring Mr. Albright back to work while he was wearing a LifeVest — too much of a liability — and agencies in Ohio and Pennsylvania bounced his unemployment claim back and forth for months. Ms. Albright tried to generate enough income from her two jobs to get by.


The family still owed monthly rent on their East Palestine house. Comcast kept sending bills, despite the vacancy. And while Norfolk Southern continued to reimburse hotel bills, the Albrights didn’t have enough cash to pay upfront.


One afternoon, at Norfolk Southern’s assistance center, Ms. Albright found herself pleading for help from an unsympathetic staffer. She burst into tears.


“I felt so dehumanized,” she wrote in a text to The New York Times.


No mother would choose a life for her children of burned ramen in a one-room home, she thought. But now, she couldn’t even choose that.


She knew the family needed to return to the East Palestine house, and she went first. Between her shifts, she ripped up the carpets and hauled them into the basement; bundled curtains and clothing into trash bags; brushed away the strange powdery substance that kept collecting on Evy’s playhouse.


It was she, not her husband, who ended up in the emergency room, in late May with stroke-level blood pressure. She had no medical history; her doctor suspected stress. She was given two medications and went back to work.


A divided town


The community that the Albrights returned to last month was nothing like the one they had left. The main road into town was restricted — reserved for cleanup crews with badges — and two massive blue vats of potentially contaminated water had been erected downtown. The family’s street was dotted with “For Sale” signs, moving trucks, vacant houses.


Their tiny town, long divided by a railroad track, was now divided over what was worse: ignoring the potential health effects or risking economic disaster, as property values and small businesses grew weaker the longer the fiasco wore on.


The yard banners that had declared, “The greatest comeback story in American history” and “E.P. will not be derailed,” were mostly gone. Instead, neighbors and relatives were no longer speaking. Some people suspected — hoped — that families like the Albrights were simply paranoid and psychosomatic. Others openly speculated that they were faking their symptoms to get more cash from Norfolk Southern.


“A bunch of gold diggers trying to ack like they have chemist degrees,” one resident wrote on an online message board. “Your nothing but a embarrassment to East Palestine.”


Andrew J. Whelton, an environmental engineer who has led six field investigations to East Palestine since the derailment and has urged the E.P.A. and lawmakers to act, believes that chemical contamination inside buildings is still acute. In his view, the E.P.A. — the official incident commander of the recovery efforts — has too often deferred to Norfolk Southern and its consulting firm on key aspects of chemical surveillance.


“It’s not unusual that we’re seeing this pollution,” he said in an interview. “What is unusual, though, is the government turning a blind eye to this and allowing it to continue.”


The E.P.A. did not respond to multiple requests for a response but has maintained in recent public statements that “there is no evidence to suggest there is contamination of concern inside structures.”


One of the first mornings back, Evy pattered into the kitchen barefoot, weaving around boxes, negotiating with her parents whether she really did need to brush her hair. The rising sun caught her blue eyes through the window, as she nestled her head into her father’s chest, listening to his heart, reciting the steps she should take if the LifeVest were to sound.


At 7 a.m., they left for Pittsburgh — for another medical appointment — where Mr. Albright’s new cardiologist would tell him that several medication dosages would need to be increased, that there would be a $30 co-pay, more restrictions and more testing.


That night at home, Evy would crawl into her parents’ bed and fall asleep with an air purifier humming nearby.


It doesn’t do much to help the odor, they said, but it does drown out the trains.



5) What It Means to Call Prostitution ‘Sex Work’

By Pamela Paul, Aug. 17, 2023

A photograph of a door in Amsterdam’s red light district.
Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos

Last week at the National Organization for Women’s New York office, women’s rights advocates, anti-trafficking groups and former prostitutes convened to galvanize New Yorkers to take action against the city’s booming sex trade. In addition to arguing for enforcement of existing laws — and for the penalization of buyers and pimps as opposed to the women and children who are their victims — they wanted to send an important message about the language used around the problem.


“The media uses terms like ‘sex work’ and ‘sex worker’ in their reporting, treating prostitution as a job like any other,” said Melanie Thompson, a 27-year-old woman from New York City who introduced herself as a “Black sex-trafficking and prostitution survivor.” The language of “sex work,” Thompson argued, implies falsely that engaging in the sex trade is a choice most often made willingly; it also absolves sex buyers of responsibility. (My colleague Nicholas Kristof recently profiled Thompson, who now works for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.)


“I urge the media to remove the terms ‘sex work’ and ‘sex worker’ from your style handbooks,” she said.


In reporting the event afterward, The New York Post used the term “sex workers.”


The Post is hardly alone. In what at first glance might seem like a positive (and possibly “sex positive”) move, the term “sex work” suddenly appears to be everywhere. Even outside academic, activist and progressive strongholds, “sex work” is becoming a widespread euphemism for “prostitution.” It can also refer to stripping, erotic massage and other means of engaging in the sex trade. It’s now commonly used by politicians, the media, Hollywood and government agencies. But make no mistake: “Sex work” is hardly a sign of liberation.


Why, you might wonder, does exchanging money for sex need a rebrand? Derogatory terms like “hooker” and “whore” were long ago replaced by the more neutral “prostitute.” But “sex worker” goes one step further, couching it as a conventional job title, like something plucked out of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” Its most grotesque variant is the phrase “child sex worker,” which has appeared in a wide range of publications, including BuzzFeed, The Decider and The Independent. (Sometimes the phrase has been edited out after publication.)


The term “sex work” emerged several decades ago among radical advocates of prostitution. People like Carol Leigh and Margo St. James, who helped convene the first World Whores' Congress in 1985, used “sex work” in an effort to destigmatize, legitimize and decriminalize their trade. Not surprisingly, this shift toward acceptability has been welcomed by many men, who make up a vast majority of customers. The term subsequently gained traction in academic circles and among other progressive advocacy groups, such as some focused on labor or abortion rights.


I first heard the term in the early ’90s while living in Thailand, where I offered to volunteer for an organization aimed at helping local women caught up in prostitution. I’d been in enough bars with friends where underage girls flung themselves onto my companions’ laps, showering them with compliments, encouraging them to drink. Just being present seemed like complicity in what felt like a mutually degrading ecosystem. We all knew many of these girls had been sold into sex slavery by their own desperately poor parents.


But rather than focus on challenging systems of exploitation, the organization I was planning to help, led largely by Western women, aimed to better equip “sex workers” to ply their trade, such as negotiating for more money. I changed my mind about volunteering. I certainly didn’t want to make life more difficult for girls and women caught up in prostitution rings, but I couldn’t in good conscience help perpetuate the system.


No advocacy worker wants to stigmatize the women or children who are trafficked or who resort to prostitution. Survivors of the sex trade should never be blamed or criminalized. Nor should the humanity of individuals working in the sex trade be reduced to what they do for money. Both opponents and advocates of the term “sex worker” share these goals. Many of those urging legitimacy for the sex trade also take a stand vehemently — and presumably without seeing any contradiction — against child labor, indentured servitude and slavery.


But as with those close competitors for the title of “oldest profession,” the reality of prostitution isn’t worth fighting for. Though data is often incomplete, given the difficulties of tracking a black market, research from those who work with survivors indicates that only a tiny minority of people actively want to remain in prostitution. Those who enter the sex trade often do so because their choices are sorely circumscribed. Most prostitutes are poor and are overwhelmingly women; many of them are members of racial minorities and immigrants; many are gay, lesbian or transgender. Many, if not most, enter the trade unwillingly or underage (one oft-cited statistic shows the most common age of entry is between 12 and 16; some have also disputed this). They are frequently survivors of abuse and often develop substance abuse problems. Many suffer afterward from post-traumatic stress disorder. To say that they deserve attention and compassion is to acknowledge the breadth of their experience, not to deny them respect nor cast them solely as victims.


That some prostitutes eventually come to terms with their situation does not mean that they would have chosen it if they had better options. Melanie Thompson, who was kidnapped and sold as a prostitute at age 13, said at the meeting last week that by age 16, she told herself prostitution was her own choice. “We had to believe that in order to continue to endure,” she explained.


The urge to maintain that illusion is understandable. The term “sex work” whitewashes the economic constraints, family ruptures and often sordid circumstances that drive many women to sell themselves. It flips the nature of the transaction in question: It enables sex buyers to justify their own role, allowing the purchase of women’s bodies for their own sexual pleasure and violent urges to feel as lightly transactional as the purchase of packaged meat from the supermarket. Instead of women being bought and sold by men, it creates the impression that women are the ones in power. It is understandable that some women prefer to think of themselves that way, and certainly a vocal portion of them do.


But we owe it to listen to the other side as well. “We are not here out of a sense of morality about sex,” said Alexander Delgado, the director of public policy at PACT, an organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation and which co-sponsored last week’s event (along with Mujeres en Resistencia NY/NJ, Voces Latinas, World Without Exploitation and several other organizations). “The sex trade is a place where violence occurs and not a place where work happens.”


At a time when labor rights have gained traction and the Me Too movement has raised awareness around sexual harassment and abuse, it’s important that activists choose their targets wisely. The momentum of their hard-won victories should not be misplaced. A small, often elite, minority of people who work happily in the sex trade shouldn’t dictate the terms for everyone else.


“Prostitution is neither ‘sex’ nor ‘work,’ but a system based on gender-based violence and socio-economic inequalities related to sex, gender, race and poverty that preys on the most marginalized among us for the profitable commercial sex industry,” Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, told me.


In recent years, language has undergone drastic shifts in an effort to reduce harm. Sometimes these shifts result in contorted language that obscures meaning. Sometimes these shifts make people feel better without changing anything of substance. And sometimes they do move the needle toward positive change, which is always welcome. But the use of “sex work,” however lofty the intention, effectively increases the likelihood of harm for a population that has already suffered so much. To help people hurt by the sex trade, we need to call it like it is.



6) Driverless Car Gets Stuck in Wet Concrete in San Francisco

Though driverless cars have not been blamed for any serious injuries or crashes in the city, they have been involved in several jarring episodes.

By Michael Levenson, Aug. 17, 2023


A white and red, driverless Cruise car with its front wheels stuck in wet concrete. A person in an orange safety vest stands next to the vehicle, near a traffic cone.

A Cruise driverless vehicle drove into a paving project on Tuesday in San Francisco. This latest incident comes as California expands the use of autonomous vehicles in the city. Credit...Paul Harvey

Driverless vehicles promise a future with less congestion and pollution, fewer accidents resulting from human error and better mobility for people with disabilities, supporters say.


But every now and then, one of the cars runs into trouble in a way that casts a bit of doubt on that bold vision.


So it was on Tuesday in San Francisco, where a driverless car somehow drove into a city paving project and got stuck in wet concrete.


Paul Harvey, 74, a retired contractor who lives in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood, took a photo of the car with roof-mounted sensors, tipped slightly forward, its front wheels mired in the freshly poured concrete.


“I thought it was funny,” Mr. Harvey said in an interview on Wednesday. “I was kind of pleased because it illustrated how creepy and weird the whole thing is to me.”


The incident, previously reported by SFgate.com, happened just days after California regulators agreed to expand driverless taxi services in San Francisco, despite the safety concerns of local officials and community activists.


In a 3-to-1 vote last week, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates self-driving cars in the state, gave Cruise and Waymo permission to offer paid rides anytime during the day, throughout the city.


Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary, had been offering taxi service in one-third of the city while Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was offering free trips to passengers.


The mishap on Tuesday involved a Cruise vehicle, according to city officials who said it was not clear how the car had ended up in concrete.


Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works, said that the paving project on Golden Gate Avenue had been marked off with construction cones and that there were workers with flags at each end of the block.


“That portion of the road has to be repaved, at Cruise’s expense,” Ms. Gordon said. “Fortunately, no one was injured.”


Ms. Gordon said that city officials had been “voicing concerns” about the vehicles, which have driven onto fire hoses or “just stopped in the middle of the road.” She said that the city was willing to work with the companies but that “there’s still a lot of work to do, we believe.”


A Cruise spokesman, Drew Pusateri, confirmed that one of the company’s driverless vehicles had “entered a construction area and stopped in wet concrete.”


Mr. Pusateri said the company had “recovered” the vehicle, although it was not clear if it was able to drive out of the concrete or if it had to be pulled out. He said the company was in contact with city officials about the incident.


Driverless cars have become a common sight in San Francisco, a tech hub where they are often seen on test drives, gathering data that is used to improve their autonomous technology.


Though driverless cars have not been blamed for any serious injuries or crashes in San Francisco, they have been involved in several jarring episodes.


On Friday night, as many as 10 Cruise driverless cars stopped working near a music festival in San Francisco’s North Beach, causing traffic to back up, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, which reported that the company had blamed “wireless connectivity issues.”


In January, a Cruise vehicle entered an area where firefighters were working and did not stop until a firefighter started “banging on its hood and smashing the vehicle’s window,” according to city records. In May, a driverless Waymo car blocked a fire vehicle while it was backing into a station.


Driverless-car companies have strongly defended their safety records, particularly when compared with the tens of thousands of people who die in car crashes every year in the United States.


Referring to its autonomous vehicles, Cruise said in a statement in April, “Throughout our first million driverless miles, our A.V.s were involved in fewer collisions, were the primary contributor to fewer collisions and were involved in fewer severe collisions with meaningful risk of injury than human drivers were in a comparable driving environment.”


Paul Leonardi, a professor of technology management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said it would be foolish to expect driverless cars to operate perfectly. The cars, like any new technology that relies on machine learning, need to operate in real-world conditions to improve.


“It needs to experience a diverse set of use cases so it can learn, and driving into wet concrete is one of those use cases,” Professor Leonardi said. “We might frame this as a positive that all it did was get stuck in the concrete.”


He added that when driverless cars encounter conditions like cones and wet concrete, they “can learn from it and the machines can figure out what to do better next time.”


Yiwen Lu contributed reporting.



7) Using Frederick Douglass to Rationalize Slavery? In Florida, Yes!

By Charles M. Blow, Aug. 16, 2023

A black-and-white photo in a golden frame shows Frederick Douglass wearing a suit and looking solemn.
Heritage Art/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign may be floundering as he struggles to win over Republican voters with his deadpan robotic demeanor, and he may be shuffling campaign staff like he’s taking a mulligan, but the damage he did to Florida to get himself to this moment is still rippling through the state.


Last month, the Florida Department of Education announced that grade-school teachers could use videos produced by Dennis Prager’s PragerU Kids in their classrooms.


PragerU is no more a university than Trump University was. In fine type at the bottom of its webpage, it admits that “PragerU is not an accredited university, nor do we claim to be. We don’t offer degrees, but we do provide educational, entertaining, pro-American videos for every age.”


In reality, PragerU is little more than a propaganda media site. The Southern Poverty Law Center takes an even dimmer view of its credentials, saying, “PragerU seems to be yet another node on the internet connecting conservative media consumers to the dark corners of the extreme right.”


As for Prager himself, this is a man who said on his radio show in 2020, “It is idiotic that you cannot say the N-word.” And last year he falsely claimed that “if you see a noose on a college dorm of a Black student, the odds are overwhelming that the noose was put there by a Black student.”


“If you see the N-word on a dormitory building,” he continued, “the odds are overwhelming that a Black student actually did that. We’re filled with race hoaxes.”


In short, Prager is poison on the racial question, and anything springing from his efforts should, by definition, be considered tainted, particularly when it comes to race.


DeSantis’s destruction of Florida’s schools is awash in this taint. Soon, students could be watching videos like one produced by PragerU that features two children, Leo and Layla, who appear to be white, traveling back in time to talk to Christopher Columbus. In it, a cartoon Columbus says that the first Indigenous people he met when he landed in the Bahamas, the Taino, a subgroup of the Arawak, were “peaceful, curious and really helpful.” Later, he says, “I ordered my men to treat them well.”


Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” tells a different story, detailing how Columbus described the Arawak in his log at the time. “They would make fine servants,” Columbus wrote. “With 50 men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”


Visions of enslavement danced in his eyes from the beginning. And so, he acted.


As Columbus put it in one of his letters, “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force.”


In the video, the cartoon Columbus rationalizes slavery, saying: “Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no? I don’t see the problem.”


Well, I see a huge problem. In the video, being enslaved or killed are presented as the only options for the Indigenous, which is blasphemous. Slavery was a brutal, inhumane institution, but it wasn’t always deadly. Under Columbus, though, death was a prominent feature of the institution.


According to Zinn’s history, on Columbus’s second trip, he set up headquarters in what would become Haiti, “taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor,” and in 1495 he and his crew went on a great slave raid, rounding up 1,500 men, women and children. They loaded 500 on ships back to Spain, but 200 died en route.


When the Arawaks tried to fight back, they were overwhelmed by the Spaniards’ weapons. Those captured were hanged or burned. That’s when the mass suicides of the Arawaks began. As Zinn writes: “Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”


In another video, the two children travel back in time to talk to Frederick Douglass. One of the first things that the girl says to him is, “You have really cool hair.” Seriously?


The cartoon Douglass says in the video:


“Our founding fathers knew that slavery was evil and wrong, and they knew that it would do terrible harm to the nation. They wanted it to end, but their first priority was getting all 13 colonies to unite as one country.”


Nowhere in the video does it mention that most of the prominent founders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were themselves enslavers.


Then, perhaps most outrageously, the cartoon Douglass says, “I’m certainly not OK with slavery, but the founding fathers made a compromise to achieve something great: the making of the United States.”


Frederick Douglass would never! He despised the compromises that maintained and prolonged slavery.


In the video, the cartoon Douglass says that the year is 1852. But just two years before, the Compromise of 1850, which included a beefed-up fugitive slave law that even punished people who participated in the Underground Railroad, was passed. Douglass detested this “compromise.”


In an 1853 speech, Douglass blasted the compromise as one that “reveals with great clearness the extent to which slavery has shot its leprous distillment through the lifeblood of the Nation.”


Eight years later, in 1861, after Abraham Lincoln defended the Fugitive Slave Act as an attempt to assuage Southern slavers, Douglass called him an “excellent slave hound” and the “most dangerous advocate of slave-hunting and slave-catching in the land.”


To David Blight, the definitive biographer of Douglass, PragerU’s video is appalling and a joke, but in an interview with me, he recognized the danger that it could be compelling to a young student.


Is anyone, ultimately, served by this promoting of logical fallacy and bastardizing of history? As Blight explained it, the video “really does appeal to that version and vision of history that so many Americans still want. They want to be left feeling good at the end of the day. They don’t want to be threatened. They want to sleep at night. They want to know that the greatest of Black leaders really were on their side.”


Using Douglass in any way to soften slavery is a desecration. And, that is DeSantis’s educational legacy in the state.

DeSantis has said, “In the state of Florida, we’re proud to stand for education, not indoctrination, in our schools.” But this summer, at a Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, Prager admitted to his indoctrination efforts. Speaking about criticism he received, he said: “All I heard was, ‘You indoctrinate kids,’ which is true. We bring doctrines to children. That’s a very fair statement. I said, ‘But what is the bad of our indoctrination?’”


In the true hypocritical form of many conservatives, their issue is not with indoctrination itself but with whether they get to control the form and function of that indoctrination.



8) 47 Days in Extreme Heat and You Begin to Notice Things

By Terry Tempest Williams, Photographs by Michael Lundgren, Aug. 18, 2023

Ms. Williams is the author of “When Women Were Birds.” She wrote from her home in Castle Valley in southern Utah.

A photograph of the red rocks of a dry ephemeral pool.
A dry ephemeral pool southwest of Moab, Utah.

Aridity is baked into the people and places of the American Southwest. We possess a dry demeanor influenced by a landscape that is often cracked and weathered by wind, water and time. You see it in our faces and you feel it on the ground, but we hardly have a vocabulary for the extreme version of heat and drought we are now living through.


In Castle Valley, according to our town’s weather keeper, we have had 47 days this summer where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, and the average high was 107 degrees. At its peak the heat reached a sweltering 114 degrees. From Texas to Phoenix to the Four Corners, there has been no relief.


You notice things in sustained heat. Paying attention is a strategy for survival. Down by the Colorado River, the sand that is usually supple is now gray like concrete and as unyielding. My footprints leave no impression. Willows that border the river appear as tattered drapes, silver-green, hiding birds like yellow-breasted chats and summer warblers held hostage by the sun. The red rock landscape I love and have lived in for a quarter of a century is a blistering terrain. The heat bears down on our shoulders with the weight of a burning world.


We can hide from the heat in the desert in our air-conditioned homes, ours cooled by a heat pump powered by solar panels. But there is no place on Earth where we can escape the climate emergency for the duration. This is not being a doomer. This is dwelling with the facts that mirror our own lived experience. A U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation report tells us the average temperatures in the Colorado River Basin are “projected to increase by 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit during the 21st century,” and even more in the upper Colorado Basin where Castle Valley sits. With climate change heightening extreme temperatures, drought, fires and floods, we find ourselves entangled in a cascade of consequences.


Further south, out Diné (Navajo) neighbors who have lived with desert heat through the generations are installing solar panels on their homes for greater efficiency, though some have no electricity and running water at all. This can be life threatening. Many throughout our desert communities are confronting the possibility that this untenable sustained heat and drought will force us to leave.


Here in the Castle Valley blast furnace, we are sandwiched between red cliffs and mesas that absorb the heat and radiate it back to us. It is not a conversation, it is a scalding. We are being broiled in beauty. The morning songs of meadowlarks and Say’s phoebes have gone silent, and only roosters can be counted on, calling forth the apocalypse accompanied by the predawn chorus of sizzling insects.


And what an array of insects and spiders have appeared this summer. Insects are coldblooded, and their body temperatures depend on the outside temperatures. In summer, they flourish, growing, mating, reproducing, multiplying quickly, especially in the heat. Entomologists around the globe have warned that insect populations and activity will increase with rising temperatures. With the wet spring and the plants that flourished from it, the locusts are thriving, eating everything in sight down to nubbins. Walking through thigh-high grass in the valley creates clouds of grasshoppers moving like an army advancing in the heat of war.


What are we to believe but the promise of days that are even hotter as we squint into heat waves that blur the horizon, turning our minds into dust. I can’t think, I can only watch what is before me: a tarantula hawk wasp with a blue-black body and bright orange wings draped over its ominous stinger. My eyes focus as it drags a four-inch green locust across our porch at a rapid clip. What else does one do in the stinking hot desert? For over 15 minutes, I keep up with the assassin speeding to its burrow over rocks and in between prickly pear cacti where it finally lays the locust down.


When you are living in relentless heat, you become easily distracted, irritable. The fans, swamp coolers and heat pumps we have in our homes can only take you so far out of the malaise. You feel you have become worthless, listless, prostrate for much of the afternoon, watching clouds as you pray for rain. If prone to hypochondriac tendencies, you feel certain you are terminal with multiple forms of cancer all fighting your blood cells at once. You become limp, despondent and slow moving, like a lizard at high noon.


Your taste in entertainment changes. I find the only thing I can digest with any sort of comprehension because it requires none is “The Kardashians.” I can now recite their names from the oldest to the youngest: Kim, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie — and the mom — I have forgotten one — I guess I can’t name them after all. This is what happens. Your eyes can’t even follow faces on a screen, much less words on a page.


Time is irrelevant. Clocks and calendars become the sun and moon. I take long night walks. My eyes pull color out of the dark. Red cliffs become blue. The green shining eyes of deer create boundaries I do not cross. Shooting stars are the script of hallucinations. Coyotes howl.


You lose your mind. Life becomes the mirage on the horizon — the shimmering line between what is real and what is imagined is faintly drawn. A hundred ravens fly by and disappear into the folds of the cliffs. Did they or didn’t they? Jack rabbits run straight through barbed wire fences without a pause. True or false?


You look in the mirror and your face cracks. Wrinkles become crevasses that no cream can cure. You start looking like the landscape itself, red, burned and peeling. You are eroding. You curse the swamp cooler for its clamoring and dream of a landscape of ice. You take cold showers. You suck on rocks.


But then, in the first week of August, suddenly a desert plant, Sacred Datura, explodes with large white trumpet blooms. Its tendrils and perfume seduce sphinx moths to pollinate them at night, igniting the darkness like lit candles. In mid afternoon, the desert smells like rain, petrichor, a blessed word that means there will be water. Winds touch our parched lips and we watch clouds gathering and darkening as temperatures drop.


We stay outside mesmerized by the approaching storm and when it hits, the rains come. We stand against the gusts of wind watching the dry brittle willow branches waving wildly as the rain falls faster, harder, bending and breaking all that could snap. We run inside not for cover but to find as many pitchers and bowls as we can carry to the porch to catch rainwater for the mourning doves who have been panting in the shadows day after day.


My husband and I finally sit down in the rain, our backs against the front door and watch lightning strike all around us. We begin counting “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three,” and the crack of thunder begins. We hope the rains lasted long enough to quell any sparks that will ignite the grasses that could consume us on another day. Within minutes, the rain stops, the sky opens to blue and we await the rainbow that will arch over the valley like a homecoming banner.


I walk the wet ground toward Round Mountain and address the weather gods frankly, “I will never leave, please don’t make me leave, what if we are forced to leave?” What if the Colorado River runs dry and our aquifer beneath our valley floor dries up and we have no water to drink? What if our house is taken by fire? A year ago, flash floods roared within 50 feet of our home.


What if?


Where would we go?


The next morning, we found a dead garter snake outside our front door in the shape of a question mark.



9) Inside a ‘Nightmare’ Lockdown at a Wisconsin Prison

Inmates who have been confined mostly to their cells for more than four months describe unsanitary conditions and a dearth of medical care. Experts say dire staffing shortages are likely to blame and are leading to lockdowns across the country.

By Mario KoranPhotographs by Jamie Kelter Davis, Aug. 19, 2023

Mario Koran is a New York Times Local Investigations fellow based in Milwaukee.

Bright lights shine over the Waupun Correctional Institution at night.

Waupun Correctional Institution in southeast Wisconsin has been locked down since March. Prison officials have not said when normal operations will resume.

Waupun Correctional Institution in southeast Wisconsin has been locked down since March. Prison officials have not said when normal operations will resume.


Prisoners locked in their cells for days on end report walls speckled with feces and blood. Birds have moved in, leaving droppings on the food trays and ice bags handed out to keep inmates cool. Blocked from visiting the law library, prisoners say they have missed court deadlines and jeopardized appeals. Unable to access toilet paper, one prisoner tore his clothing into patches to use for tissue.


One thousand inmates incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in southeast Wisconsin, have been confined mostly to their cells for more than four months, ever since prison officials locked down the facility and halted many programs and services.


More than two dozen inmates at Waupun, the state’s oldest prison, have revealed to The New York Times that since late March they have been forced to eat all meals in their cells, received no visits from friends or family, seen complaints of pain ignored and been allowed limited, if any, fresh air or recreation time.


The state’s Department of Corrections has offered little explanation about the lockdown or why it has lasted so long.


“There were multiple threats of disruption and assaultive behavior toward staff or other persons in our care, but there was not one specific incident that prompted the facility to go into modified movement,” said Kevin Hoffman, the department’s deputy director of communications. According to state data, nearly 100 assaults have occurred there in the past fiscal year.


Others familiar with the sprawling penitentiary suggest another reason for the restrictions: dire staffing shortages.


More than half of the prison’s 284 full-time positions for correctional officers and sergeants remain unfilled, state data shows. The shortages have severely hobbled the facility’s ability to operate safely, according to former wardens, correctional officers and members of Waupun prison’s community board.


“If I was the warden right now, I’d have that institution on lockdown, too,” said Mike Thurmer, who once ran the prison and now sits on its community relations board. “You can’t have a 40 or 50 percent vacancy rate and not have at the very minimum a modified lockdown.”


What is happening in Waupun illustrates a reality at prisons across the country: Lockdowns, once a rare action taken in a crisis, are becoming a common way to deal with chronic staffing and budget shortages.


Critics say these shutdowns became easier to justify during the pandemic, when prison officials could cite the need to control the spread of the Covid. But even as most Covid-related restrictions have been lifted, lockdowns continue to be applied.


“They are using it at the drop of a hat because it makes day to day operations easier,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director for the A.C.L.U.’s National Prison Project.


Waupun is not the state’s only prison where inmates are locked down. Eighty miles northeast, those at the maximum-security prison in Green Bay have been effectively locked down since June. Inmate advocates have shared reports of prisoners protesting conditions inside the institution, but the Department of Corrections would confirm only that there were unspecified security threats.


Green Bay’s prison has a vacancy rate for correctional officers and sergeants of 40 percent.


State prisons across the country have been denying inmates showers, exercise and timely medical care. In Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas, thousands of people have been kept in their cells as officials scrambled to hire more officers.


Last year, a former lawmaker and director of an association that represents prison workers in Oklahoma said staffing shortages had led to increased violence and repeated lockdowns.


And in the federal prison system, which is also suffering severe labor shortages, officials in recent years have turned to nurses, teachers and cooks to guard inmates as nearly one-third of correctional officer jobs sat vacant. Staffing shortages led one prison in Texas to lock inmates in their cells on the weekends.


The practice extends to jails, where offenders typically await trial or serve sentences shorter than a year. In 2022, inmates at one Pennsylvania jail were placed on lockdown after officials called a state of emergency because of low staffing levels. More recently, officers at Prince George’s County jail in Maryland said a shortage of guards resulted in frequent lockdowns and forced overtime for officers.


The effects of chronic staffing shortages


Given the staffing shortages, some prison officials in Wisconsin and elsewhere said their facilities would be impossible to manage without lockdowns.


But studies show there may be more at stake. A survey of inmates across 19 prisons in the United Kingdom found that 84 percent of those who responded from higher-security prisons said their mental health had deteriorated over the course of lockdowns during Covid outbreaks because of boredom, anxiety and limited social interactions.


Lockdowns often also restrict family visits, as they have in Waupun, which research has long shown can negatively affect the likelihood of successful reintegration after an inmate is released.


Ms. Gregg said parallels can be drawn between lockdowns and solitary confinement, which can lead to long-term psychological damage. Limited access to libraries, a loss of educational opportunities and a denial of substance abuse treatment — all of which frequently result from lockdowns — can mean the punishment prisoners already experience is compounded.


With its 53 percent staff vacancy rate, Waupun is the most short-staffed facility in a chronically understaffed state prison system. Supplemental correctional officers come in on a rotating, two-week basis to provide relief for full-time staff, but the help may not go far enough.


The lockdown at Waupun has led to delays in medical care and psychological services. Multiple inmates said prisoners were cutting themselves or threatening self-harm simply to get medical attention. And even then, they said, assistance was slow to arrive — if it came at all.


Inmates at the maximum-security prison have been convicted of felonies ranging from drug possession to burglary to murder. The Times interviewed prisoners by phone and email.


“People are threatening suicide every day, and there’s no treatment here,” said a Waupun inmate, Jayvon Flemming, referring to mental health care. “You have to harm yourself or threaten suicide just to get staff’s attention. I’m in a nightmare.”


“I’ve attempted suicide four times in the past months just because of this lockdown and not being able to go outside to get sunlight,” said another inmate, Ashton Dreiling.


“We’ve received no indication that this is the case,” Mr. Hoffman, the Department of Corrections spokesman, said when told of allegations that inmates were threatening suicide or self-harm more often since the lockdown began.


Wisconsin prisons also face a shortage of staff for health care (24 percent) and psychological services (27 percent), according to data from the Department of Corrections. One Waupun inmate, Kevin Burkes, has been living with pain and blurry vision — a possible complication, medical records indicate, of an autoimmune disorder. In June, he submitted a request to see a doctor but received a reply that read, “No optical during lockdown.”


Mr. Hoffman acknowledged that early on, appointments were limited to those deemed necessary by medical professionals. Routine appointments are now allowed more frequently, he said.


Lonnie Story, a civil rights attorney based in Florida, agreed in August to represent Waupun inmates in a class-action lawsuit against the state.


Mr. Story said their complaints have been notably consistent. “What’s setting off legal alerts and red flags in my mind are the medical aspects — complaints about the ventilation system, the denial of medical treatment and the denial of psychological evaluations or treatment,” he said.


The exact number of lockdowns that occur in federal and state prisons is not clear, because there is no national tracking system. There are no standards for how lockdowns are implemented or how long they can last, Ms. Gregg said, and there is little oversight for the practice.


The Wisconsin Department of Corrections cannot say whether the lockdown at Waupun is the state’s longest, because it does not formally record the numbers. But those familiar with the state’s prison system said lockdowns typically last just days or weeks, not months.


In April, Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia, introduced a bipartisan bill in Congress, the Federal Prison Oversight Act, which would require the Department of Justice’s inspector general to review the 122 correctional facilities within the Bureau of Prisons and assess the frequency and duration of lockdowns.


The office of Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, whose administration oversees Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections, told The Times that ensuring prison safety is a top priority and that his office will continue to rely on the D.O.C.’s judgment. The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the cause of the restrictions or steps it might take if the lockdown continued.


Sean Daley, a representative for AFSCME, the union that serves as an advocate for Wisconsin prison guards, said he would not be shocked if staff shortages were at least partly to blame for the lockdown at Waupun.


“The system is breaking, if it’s not broken yet,” Daley said. “And Waupun can be a glaring example of that under its current state.”


Outnumbered, overworked and underpaid


Lawmakers hope an increase in pay will improve recruitment and retention, although hiring enough new staffers to provide relief may take months. The state Legislature agreed to raise starting pay for correctional officers to $33 an hour from $20.29 an hour and made additional money available for those working at maximum-security prisons and facilities with vacancy rates above 40 percent.


But Mike Thomas, a former correctional officer who worked at Waupun’s prison for seven years before he retired as a captain, said the pay increase was only one piece of the puzzle.


Dangerous conditions, forced overtime and lack of time off contributes to high burnout rates among correctional officers. Mr. Thomas recalls working 75 days straight, many of them double shifts. It was so difficult to plan for days off, he said, that many resorted to calling in sick when they needed a personal day.

Since mid-2012, Waupun has seen 440 assaults on staff. At least 95 occurred this fiscal year — more than any other Wisconsin prison and nearly double the number of the next closest facility, according to D.O.C. data. When adjusted for the prison population, Waupun’s incident rate in fiscal year 2023 is the third highest and seven times the state average.


In testimony sent to state lawmakers in January, Brian Wackett, a correctional officer, described an urgent need for pay raises to attract and retain more officers.


Waupun prison had a night last year, he said, when they only had eight staff members working inside the prison. “They have 900 inmates there, and no one can adequately supervise them all at a given time,” he said.


Inmates can’t get basic services


Many inmate jobs inside the prison have been put on hold. In-person college classes for prisoners, offered by Trinity International University, were paused at the end of March, according to a representative from the college.


Policies that say prison staff must offer inmates showers at least twice a week, as well as four hours of recreation outside of their cells, have been suspended during the lockdown.


The D.O.C. said recreation is still offered but that the frequency and duration were dependent on staffing levels. Some inmates claimed they received one hour a week of exercise. Others said recreation was offered inconsistently, and often canceled if prisoners broke minor rules, like not standing up for morning head count.


In addition to the loss of educational opportunities, inmates like Chase Burns said they were denied visits to the law library, a right guaranteed by the Supreme Court. The D.O.C. said inmates can still request materials from the library. But multiple prisoners report those requests are delayed until a librarian can fulfill the search, making it difficult to file documents by court deadlines.


Days after responding to questions from The Times, the prison began allowing library visitation for those with a court date within 45 days.


Mr. Flemming, the Waupun inmate who described how prisoners were threatening suicide to get medical attention, said his biggest fear was not being able to summon help in a medical crisis.


He said he recently had trouble breathing and requested immediate assistance, but it took four days for a nurse to see him. When she came, he said, she charged him $7.50 for a medical co-pay, took his vital signs and told him he was on a list to be seen by a doctor. His breathing problems continued.


“There’s no ventilation in these cells,” he said, adding that there was no way to call out to staff in a medical emergency. “We shouldn’t have to live like this.”


Jamie Kelter Davis and Justin Mayo contributed reporting.


This article was reported in partnership with Big Local News and Wisconsin Watch and with support from the Data-Driven Reporting Project.



10) Hawaiian Electric Was Warned of Its System’s Fragility Before Wildfire

The utility knew it needed to upgrade its equipment but did not make changes that could have reduced risks of fires, energy experts said.

By Ivan Penn and Peter Eavis, Aug. 19, 2023


An aerial view of the devastation in Lahaina, with service trucks on a road in the foreground, some with cherry pickers to reach electrical equipment. Mountains and clouds are in the distance.

Hawaiian Electric crews working to repair damaged power lines in Lahaina, Hawaii. Go Nakamura for The New York Times

Hawaiian Electric has known for years that extreme weather was becoming a bigger danger, but the company did little to strengthen its equipment and failed to adopt emergency plans used elsewhere, like being prepared to cut off power to prevent fires.


Before the wildfire on Maui erupted on Aug. 8, killing more than 100 people, many parts of Hawaiian Electric’s operations were showing signs of stress — and state lawmakers, consumer groups and county officials were saying that the company needed to make big changes.


In 2019, Hawaiian Electric itself started citing the risk of fires. The company said that year that it was studying how utilities in California were dealing with similar threats.


Two years later, in a report about Hurricane Lane in 2018, the Maui County government warned of the potential that “aboveground power lines that fail, short or are low-hanging can cause fire ignition (sparks) that could start a wildfire, particularly in windy or stormy conditions.”


But it wasn’t until last year that the company asked state regulators to authorize it to spend $190 million to strengthen power poles and other equipment — a request that is still pending. Even when it is approved, the work will take several years to complete.


Attention turned to the company after the emergence of a video recorded on Aug. 8 that appeared to show a power line in Lahaina throwing off sparks and igniting dry grass just hours before the fire devastated the city. In addition, data from sensors owned by a company called Whisker Labs appear to show major faults with the company’s systems just as the wind picked up.


“This is not a highly reinforced system,” Robert McCullough, of McCullough Research, an energy consulting firm in Portland, Ore., said about Hawaiian Electric’s system. “It has not been hardened.”


Utility executives and regulators across the United States have been stunned by the ferocity and frequency of weather-related disasters in recent years, including several major wildfires in California and the 2021 winter storm in Texas that left much of the state without light or heat for days.


But energy experts say these calamities and their effect on electric grids should not have been surprising. In many places, utilities have neglected to sufficiently maintain and improve electric grids for decades, and regulators and lawmakers have largely looked the other way.


“The problem with the electric utilities in the United States is they act like the protected monopolies in the face of catastrophic risk,” said Michael Wara, a scholar focused on climate and energy policy at Stanford University who thinks Hawaiian Electric could have done a lot more to prevent its equipment from becoming a potential cause of fires. “But nature doesn’t care that they’re a protected monopoly. You need to act like a regular company facing a major risk.”


The industry has known for years that electrical equipment can set off fires when high winds cause poles and power lines to break and collide with dry vegetation. Power lines can also set off fires if they become overloaded because utilities haven’t upgraded them or put in place other safeguards.


“Substantial investments in adaptation, hardening and resilience are being made to help mitigate risk,” said Scott Aaronson, senior vice president of security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry trade organization.


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Electric utilities in California have had to pay billions of dollars to fire victims in recent years. Hawaiian Electric might have to make big payouts, too. At least four lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Maui residents, and the company’s shares and bond prices have plunged.


In a securities filing on Friday, Hawaiian Electric said that it was consulting with advisers as it seeks “to endure as a financially strong utility that Maui and this state need.”


Our business reporters. Times journalists are not allowed to have any direct financial stake in companies they cover.


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Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, including an electrical engineer, are helping the Maui fire department determine the cause of the fire. The bureau is the primary federal agency that investigates fires and arson.


Hawaiian Electric is a unique utility. Because the state is made up of many islands spread over 1,500 miles, the company operates many electric grids and imports fuel to run power plants. As a result, the state has the highest electricity rates in the country. That makes it much harder for the company and the state to invest in expensive grid upgrades.


“There’s always been a push and pull on how to pay for it,” State Senator Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran said, referring to plans to improve the electric grid. “The utility doesn’t want to pay for it unless they can pass on the cost to the ratepayers.”


The $190 million proposal Hawaiian Electric made to improve its grid would, among other things, have replaced aging power poles with new ones, including 80 in Maui. Energy experts said many of the company’s poles were probably not strong enough to withstand winds that hit Lahaina.


Some of the company’s poles are surrounded by invasive grasses that can become explosive tinder in the dry season. Experts have long warned that too little was being done to check the spread and growth of the grasses.


“A lot of our concerns were that this infrastructure is way past due,” Jennifer Potter, a former member of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission who lives on Maui, said, pointing in particular to the poles. “Many that have been compromised have been compromised for years.”


Ms. Potter left the commission in November after four years there.


The commission did not respond to a request for comment.


Hawaiian Electric said it had spent $111 million on vegetation management and $287 million on equipment replacement, strengthening the grid, inspections and using technology like drones and laser imagery to monitor and control the grid since 2018.


“We’re going to look at every decision we made, every tactic we employed to act on the wildfire threat on Maui,” said Jim Kelly, a spokesman for the utility. “Outside voices speak confidently about what happened and what we did or didn’t do, but the facts are that we took the threat seriously and were confronted by an extraordinary climatological event on Aug. 8.”


But some experts say Hawaiian Electric should have done more.


Mr. Wara said that Hawaiian Electric could have established a power shut-off program in consultation with local authorities and emergency services. In California, after warning residents and local officials, utilities shut off power when high winds approach to reduce the chance that power lines will ignite fires.


Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land, a Hawaii nonprofit group that represents consumers before the state Public Utilities Commission, said he “strongly supports” power shut-off programs. The utility, he said, has been dismissive of the idea.


“We’ve been raising climate change for more than two decades, and the utility has been really slow in dealing with it,” Mr. Curtis said. “Certainly Hawaiian Electric knew that Lahaina was the most vulnerable place. They’ve known that for years.”


Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric’s chief executive, said after the fire that the company had not shut off power in Lahaina because electricity was needed to keep water pumps and medical devices running.


“In Lahaina, the electricity powers the pumps that provide the water — and so that was also a critical need during that time,” Ms. Kimura said at a news conference on Monday. “There are choices that need to be made — and all of those factors play into it.”


Many residents in California have complained about utility power shut-off programs. Utilities there have come up with ways to address some of the concerns raised by residents and Ms. Kimura. San Diego Gas & Electric opens shelters that have electricity for residents facing a power shut-off. The utility also provides backup generators to power water pumps and other critical equipment.


Lawmakers in Hawaii, seeing the growing threat of extreme weather linked to climate change, also pursued measures to bolster the grid. Having seen the vulnerabilities of Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria in 2017, Lorraine R. Inouye, a state senator, introduced a bill in 2018 aimed at strengthening electrical equipment to better withstand natural disasters. The bill did not advance.


“If it went into effect, today we would have been in a better position,” she said.



11) What Just Happened at West Virginia University Should Worry All of Us

By Leif Weatherby, Aug. 20, 2023

Mr. Weatherby is an associate professor of German and the director of the Digital Theory Lab at New York University. 

A photo illustration of a classroom of students with blue and red circle stickers obscuring their faces.
Illustration by Shoshana Schultz/The New York Times

In proposing last week to eliminate 169 faculty positions and cut more than 30 degree programs from its flagship university, West Virginia, the state with the fourth-highest poverty rate in the country, is engaging in a kind of educational gerrymandering. If you’re a West Virginian with plans to attend West Virginia University, be prepared to find yourself cut out of much of the best education that the school has traditionally offered, and many of the most basic parts of the education offered by comparable universities.


The planned cuts include the school’s program of world languages and literatures, along with graduate programs in mathematics and other degrees across the arts and pre-professional programs. The university is deciding, in effect, that certain citizens don’t get access to a liberal arts education.


Sadly, this is not just a local story. Politicians and state officials, often with the help of management consultants, are making liberal arts education scarce in some of the poorest states in the union. This trend, typically led by Republican-controlled legislatures and often masquerading as budgetary necessity, threatens to have dire long-term effects on our already polarized and divided nation.


Administrators at West Virginia University devised the plan to restructure the school with the help of a consulting company called rpk Group, which also works with the Universities of Missouri, Kansas and Virginia, among other schools. The stated purpose of the proposal is to address an expected decline in student enrollment at the school that will create a projected $45 million budget deficit.


But the projected deficit is the result of overly aggressive planning more than it is a financial liability created by the humanities. E. Gordon Gee, the president of West Virginia University, once promised that the school would have 40,000 students by 2020, but the figure is still well under 30,000 across three campuses and is projected to drop. Mr. Gee is now covering up his own failures at the expense of his state’s citizens, instead of putting his efforts toward recruiting and obtaining donor money to fund a broad education for West Virginians.


What’s more, cutting humanities programs — which make up a sizable minority of the majors slated to be cut, alongside pre-professional and technical programs — is not necessarily the best way to save money. There is substantial evidence that humanities departments, unlike a majority of college athletics programs, often break even (and some may even subsidize the sciences). In defense of its proposed cuts, West Virginia University has cited declining interest in some of its humanities programs, but the absolute number of students enrolled is not the only measure of a department’s value.


The finances aren’t the point, anyway. The humanities are under threat more broadly across the nation because of the perceived left-wing ideology of the liberal arts. Book bans, attempts to undermine diversity efforts and remodeled school curriculums that teach that slavery was about “skill” development are part of a larger coordinated assault on the supposed “cultural Marxism” of the humanities. (That absurd idea rests in part on an antisemitic fantasy in which left-leaning philosophers like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse somehow took control of American culture after the Second World War.) To resist this assault, we must provide broad access to a true liberal arts education.


The campaign to overturn the liberal arts is politically motivated, through and through. The Democratic Party has lost the working class, while the Republican Party has made electoral gains among the least educated. With the help of consultants, Republicans seek to gut the (nonprofit or public) university in the name of a “profit” it doesn’t even intend to deliver. The point instead is to divide the electorate, and higher education is the tool.


I grew up in rural upstate New York. I was lucky: My parents put a liberal arts education above all other goals. But I know what it looks like when people are told they can’t have nice things, and it’s ugly. Taking liberal arts education away from the least privileged — implying that they are future laborers and nothing else — helps ensure that they develop a resentment of “elites.” That’s an animus whose political consequences should be uncomfortably familiar by now.


The resentment fostered by cuts like those at West Virginia University won’t be aimed at the true culprits. The long-term effect will be bitterness toward those who have access to the liberal arts education that remains on offer in many blue states and at elite universities — what the scholar Lisa Corrigan calls a “two-tier educational system.” This outcome is likely to fortify many Republican voting strongholds.


Democratic politicians need to fight back in these culture wars, defending the humanities (rather than disparaging them) and loudly dissenting from the view that education is just job training. College presidents like Mr. Gee should promote and recruit rather than cutting and running. An unholy alliance of far-right ideology and mercenary venture capitalists has politicized the classroom. We must reject their vision of America and insist that a liberal arts education accessible to more than just the elite is one of the great foundations of a democracy.



12) Why Were Nearly 100 Bears Shot by the State of Alaska?

By Jon Waterman, Aug. 20, 2023

A lone bear in a wild landscape, seen from above.
A grizzly bear along the Denali Park Road in Denali National Park and Preserve. Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Waterman is a former ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve and the author of National Geographic’s “Atlas of the National Parks” and the forthcoming “Atlas of Wild America.”


I recently had the good fortune to spot grizzly bears on back-to-back days near the road that runs through the center of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. “Glimpse” might be a better word. These lords of the tundra, as magnificent and arresting as Denali itself glowing incandescently 18,000 feet above, vanished quickly, apparently having seen me or caught wind of my scent.


This all happened before I could even steady my camera. Had I been a hunter instead of a photographer, I wouldn’t have had time to fire off a shot. But nearly 100 brown bears (a bigger, coastal version of the grizzly bear) several hundred miles away were not so lucky. They were slaughtered by state game workers, shot from the air in and around Wood-Tikchik State Park in southwestern Alaska.


The bears had no chance.


Those killings of 94 brown bears, five black bears and five wolves over 17 days in May and June when caribou were calving were ordered to boost calf survival by the Alaska Board of Game (six governor-appointed men and one woman who are hunters, big game guides, trappers or fishermen, not scientists). At a board meeting where the decision was made, state wildlife biologists presented data that showed that the state’s predator control program involving wolves had been ineffective in bolstering the herd. But the board nonetheless voted to extend the wolf control program and add bears to the effort. The reason, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was that “predator control is an immediate tool” that can be used “to attempt to reverse the herd’s decline.”


It was a foolish and hapless effort to protect what is left of the plummeting numbers of the Mulchatna caribou herd.


In 2011 the Alaska Board of Game authorized a predator control program to reduce the wolf population to help the herd, which is important for subsistence hunting in the roughly 50 remote communities within its range. Since 2011, more than 470 wolves in the region have been killed, including more than 140 as part of the state’s predator control program, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Still, the caribou herd had fallen to 12,000 animals by 2017, where it remains, from about 200,000 in 1997.


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In 2020, Alaska Fish and Game biologists who studied the herd discovered that up to a third of the animals sampled were suffering from brucellosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria that can result in infertility, late-term abortions and lameness. Scientists have also raised concerns in an ongoing study about the availability of sufficient nutrition for the herd after finding large variability in the condition of the caribou in the fall, with a lower percentage of fat in lactating females.


Killing wolves had made no difference. Worse, dead wolves could no longer work to keep the herd healthy by culling sick caribou. Bears, which subsist on protein-rich plants for much of their diet, will kill caribou calves, but there is little evidence that this affects overall herd populations.


Indeed, in a recent opinion article in The Anchorage Daily News, 34 retired Alaska scientists and wildlife managers wrote that “bear control is unlikely to substantially increase caribou numbers given current nutrition, disease and illegal harvest issues.”


Historically, caribou herd populations rise and fall cyclically. More recently, herds have been in precipitous decline throughout North America because of climate change, habitat loss, hunting and disease. The state’s ongoing study of the Mulchatna herd found that out-of-season hunting is the “predominant cause of death in adult females” and that “none of our current data streams point to predators as a significant challenge” to adult caribou.


Like other park tourists, I went to Denali to enjoy the wilderness. I saw caribou and moose and came upon wolf tracks. I also hoped to photograph bears — like those shown by the State of Alaska to promote tourism. I was left to wonder how state tourism officials and the Alaska Board of Game could work against each other.


“The plan to exterminate bears in such an extreme manner is best described as shameful,” Dr. Gary Kofinas, an emeritus professor of resource policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told me. He said that the board, through “disrespectful arrogance,” had “based its decision on little data, no scientific review, no meaningful opportunity for public comment and a disregard for the decision’s implications to the ecosystem as a whole.”


The killing program has ended for this season. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game now plans to review the results to determine whether “further bear and wolf reductions during the spring calving season is warranted.” At least two lawsuits have been filed to stop the bear killings. Predator control programs are slated to continue in the region until 2028.


Tony Knowles, a former governor of Alaska, is among many in the state who want the predator control program shut down. “This Mulchatna massacre is not just a local Alaskan issue of people shooting from a plane. They killed 94 brown bears without any scientific support,” he told me. “This hopefully will be a shock wave that will cause a new look all over America on how we handle our wildlife and what that means to our environment.”


Alaska needs to revamp its outdated Intensive Management Law, passed in 1994 to ensure that certain populations of moose, caribou and deer are sufficient to provide food for Alaskans. When the animals’ numbers decline, the Board of Game is authorized to reduce predators like bears and wolves. But a study published last fall in the journal Diversity by three wildlife biologists raised questions about this approach. It found no increase in moose harvests in a region in south-central Alaska after bears and wolves were killed to reduce predation. The authors argued that the state needs “more well-rounded wildlife-management” approaches that “consider more than just harvest” of moose, caribou and deer.


One of the study’s authors, Sterling Miller, who worked for the state for two decades as a research wildlife biologist, told Alaska Public Media last month that he thought the state’s fish and game and wildlife conservation agencies have “not done adequate analysis and in some cases even misled the Alaska public about whether or not these programs are accomplishing their objectives.”


Catching sight of those two grizzlies in Denali before they vanished like ghosts, I realized that our wilderness and our nation would be empty without bears. The country’s wildlife, including wolves and caribou, now need us as much as we need them.


Alaska’s predator control efforts hark back to an inhumane, unscientific, 19th-century attitude toward bears and wolves as evil scourges, rather than sentient beings that keep the ecosystem balanced. They are animals that must be wisely protected. Killing bears and wolves to boost game populations must be stopped.


Jon Waterman is a former ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve and the author of National Geographic’s “Atlas of the National Parks” and the forthcoming “Atlas of Wild America.”



13) Lahaina Fire Prompts a Shift in Maui’s Long-Running Water Fights

After a fight over water on the day of the Lahaina fire, the governor says the state has “tipped too far” in trying to preserve water.

By Michael Corkery, Mike Baker and Shawn Hubler, Aug. 20, 2023

A firefighter sprays water from a hose at a patch of sandy, burned ground, with barren trees all around.
A Maui County firefighter mopping up the Upcountry fire in Kula, Hawaii, last week. Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Hours before the wildfire became an inferno that wiped out the historic Hawaiian town of Lahaina, officials at the West Maui Land Company reached out to the state with an urgent request.


The company, a real estate developer that supplies water to areas southeast of Lahaina, took note of the dangerous combination of high winds and drought-parched grasses Maui was facing. It asked for permission to fill up one of its private reservoirs in case firefighters needed it.


But there was no active wildfire in the area at that time, and state officials, apparently concerned that the diversion could affect water allocations to a nearby farmer, took several hours to approve the request, according to the company. In the interim, a brush fire that had been contained that morning flared up once again and swept through Lahaina, burning everything in its path.


It is unlikely that filling up the private reservoir would have changed the course of the Lahaina wildfire, state officials say, and winds were so high that day that helicopter crews would have been unable to reach it. But the incident is causing a political uproar, the latest in a long-running debate over how Hawaii’s water is doled out among the state’s competing interests — real estate companies, large farms, tourism facilities and residents.


“We need to act faster in an emergency,” the West Maui Land Company wrote to the state water regulator in the wake of the Lahaina blaze, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.


The fire prompted a series of moves from Gov. Josh Green’s administration in recent days to break what he called an “impasse” over water allocation, temporarily loosening regulations on key streams on the island of Maui and petitioning the state Supreme Court to expand access to others to raise the amount of water available to fight wildfires.


Last week, his administration said it was “redeploying” a top official at the state Commission on Water Resource Management, the agency blamed for delaying the diversion to the private West Maui reservoir.


The official, M. Kaleo Manuel, was regarded as someone responsive to environmental groups and Indigenous residents who want to preserve stream water for traditional uses and limit water diversions by private companies. The state said that the job change for Mr. Manuel, who along with state agency officials, has declined to comment on the issue, “does not suggest that First Deputy Manuel did anything wrong.”


In an interview with The New York Times, Governor Green acknowledged the challenge of balancing the competing demands for water.


“But in my opinion, we tipped too far one way and people became gun-shy and they didn’t want to use water for anything,’’ he said.


Water has long been a point of tension in Hawaii, where European and American owners of sugar cane plantations altered the landscape in the 1800s to irrigate their crops. Now, with Maui’s growth as one of the world’s most desirable places to vacation, with landscaped resorts, pools and golf courses, water systems are strained.


In Maui, much of the fresh water comes from a series of streams that run out of the mountains and eventually into the ocean. Small traditional farmers tap these streams, as do huge commercial farms and luxury subdivisions. Water is also pumped from the ground through wells.


Advocates who want water preserved for Native Hawaiian cultural uses, such as the growing of taro, a staple of traditional meals, say the governor is using the fire to undo decades of necessary limits on water use, paving the way for more building across Hawaii.


“It is appearing to be increasing clear that the Green administration intends to remake Hawaii, stripping native Hawaiians and the public of their most basic protection against the exploitation of land and water,” said Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, a water policy consultant who has served in several government roles related to land use and Native Hawaiian affairs.


“He is removing anyone standing in his way,’’ he said.


The water supply of Lahaina, where the fire’s destruction was centered, comes from a system operated by Maui County that is managed separately from the West Maui Land Company’s operations.


Firefighters in Lahaina reported that their hoses went nearly dry at the height of the blaze, a problem that the county attributed not to basic water supply but to a precipitous drop in water pressure caused by the destruction of so much piping during the height of the fire.


Glenn Tremble, an executive with West Maui Land, said firefighters began tapping into their potable water system to fight the blaze after the Lahaina system lost pressure. But that water comes from wells, not the reservoir system. The reservoir water would be accessible mostly to helicopter-based fire crews, which were unable to fly in the high winds on the day of the fire.


Mr. Tremble said he believed that firefighters used hundreds of thousands of gallons from the company’s hydrants on the southern edge of the fire’s final footprint, but declined to discuss details saying he wanted the focus to be on helping the people affected by the fires.


West Maui Land manages three water companies and develops residential subdivisions and sells homes.


The fire eventually spread southward toward one of the company’s neighborhoods, but those houses all appear to have survived.


The rapid spread of the blaze, fed by hurricane-force winds, raises questions about whether it may have overwhelmed firefighters no matter how much water was available. Governor Green said the scarcity of water reserves did not inhibit firefighters “in the moment” that the fire pushed through Lahaina.


The state’s fresh water legally resides in a public trust for the benefit of the people of Hawaii. But how the water actually gets to people is a convoluted and deeply politicized process.


A century ago, sugar plantations owned and operated a system of irrigation ditches and reservoirs on Maui that were loosely regulated. After the farms shut down, many of these systems were bought by private companies or real estate developers.


Starting in the 1970s, a series of state court rulings established priorities for water protection that include the exercise of Native Hawaiians’ traditional and customary rights, which cover taro farming.


But Indigenous advocates and environmentalists are constantly tangling with water companies over how much the companies are permitted to divert.


Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said conservationists had supported the use of water for fire reserves. But he said he worried that water companies and large landowners use fire protection as an excuse to hoard water for commercial purposes.


“No one has opposed the need to reserve water for firefighting, but we want to know how much they actually use for that purpose,’’ Mr. Tanaka said.


Some environmentalists say there are several unanswered questions about the incident involving the West Maui Land Company, including whether the company’s request to fill up its reservoir was prompted by a request to use that water from the fire department — which would have indicated how seriously fire officials considered the need for more water.


Before granting permission — and hours before the blaze had engulfed the town — the state water agency had asked the company whether the fire department had made such a request. But the company did not indicate in its correspondence with the state, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times, whether fire officials had done so.


In its initial delay in approving the request, the state had asked the company to first secure the approval of a nearby farmer, who used the water supply to grow traditional crops. But because power supplies had been disrupted during the high winds, the company said, it was unable to reach the farmer. With the escalation of the fire, the state ultimately approved the diversion anyway.


Every year, the stakes of the water debate get higher, as the potential for lucrative land development attracts investors from around the world.


In 2018, a venture backed by a Canadian pension plan purchased 41,000 acres of farmland in central Maui.


The venture, called Mahi Pono, is currently using the land to farm limes, macadamia nuts, coffee and other crops.


In 2019, it acquired partial ownership of East Maui Irrigation, a company that provides water to farmers and residents.


A state judge had placed tighter limits on the amount of water that East Maui Irrigation could divert from streams, after the Sierra Club raised objections.


But the day after the Lahaina fire, the state asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to take up the case and loosen restrictions on the streams that East Maui Irrigation draws from in order to bolster future firefighting efforts.


Mahi Pono and the Canadian pension plan declined to comment on the water issues in Hawaii.


The area of West Maui, where Lahaina is located, only recently came under a much more extensive network of state water management control. The new regulatory structure meant that water companies and landowners would need to undergo an extensive permitting process, which involves public input, to draw water. Water permits can be regularly re-evaluated.


But in the wake of the fire, the West Maui Land Company has asked the Green administration to suspend the state’s water management of that part of the island.


Mr. Tanaka of the Sierra Club said he worried that doing away with state oversight would turn the region’s water situation into “the Wild West,” where companies “can take as much as they want.”


But Governor Green, in an online interview last week with Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, said it was likely that the state would modify its oversight of West Maui’s water as part of broader efforts to ensure more water was available for fighting fires.


“The world has changed,’’ he said. “It is a drier planet. We have to have a much more honest discussion about water.”


Kirsten Noyes contributed research.