Think all bacteria are microscopic? Tell that to these centimeter-long monsters

NPR - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:01
The new bacteria, named Thiomargarita magnifica, were discovered on sunken leaves in a Caribbean mangrove swamp.

The largest bacteria known to science have been discovered in the Caribbean. They're visible to the naked eye and surprisingly complex.

(Image credit: Olivier Gros/The Regents of the University of California, LBNL)

Categories: World News

Netflix lays off 300 employees as bad year continues to hit company

CNN World News - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 10:49
Netflix is laying off 300 employees in the midst of a rough year for the streaming giant.
Categories: World News

Why overturning Roe isn't the final goal of the anti-abortion movement

NPR - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 10:45

Law professor Mary Ziegler explains how the anti-abortion movement upended the GOP establishment and helped push the courts to the right. Her new book is Dollars for Life.

Categories: World News

Appeals Court Rules Against BDS Movement, Says Boycotts Aren’t Protected Speech

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 10:35

A federal appeals court has ruled that state laws punishing contractors for engaging in boycotts of Israel are not in violation of free speech rights, a ruling that advocates say will unconstitutionally chill all speech in favor of justice for Palestinians.

In 2017, Arkansas passed a law barring state contractors from taking part in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to exert nonviolent pressure on the government of Israel to end the country’s apartheid system and its violent displacement of Palestinians. The legislation requires companies that have contracts with the state to sign pledges that they will not take part in the movement, or else reduce their fees by 20 percent.

Arkansas Times, a newspaper based in Little Rock that was seeking to contract with a public university in the state, refused to sign a pledge that it would adhere to the new state-imposed standards.

The paper then attempted to sue the state over the law, losing the case in a district court setting but winning an appeal after a three-judge panel of the Eighth District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law violated the free speech rights of companies and organizations. On Wednesday, however, the full Eighth District Court issued an en banc ruling, reversing the original appellate decision.

The full court refused to recognize the free speech components of the case, claiming that economic and commercial decisions “are invisible” and “not inherently expressive” conduct — and that therefore, the law was not in violation of First Amendment speech rights.

“It’s a horrible reading, and it’s very inaccurate,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, adding that the ruling “will flip the First Amendment on its head.”

“It’s shocking to see we’re living in a time where our courts are deteriorating our rights and abilities to express ourselves,” Ayoub said.

The ruling was also condemned by Palestine Legal, an organization that protects the civil and constitutional rights of advocates for Palestine in the U.S.

“Boycotts are a powerful tool for seeking justice, as [previously] recognized by the Supreme Court,” the organization wrote. “Today’s decision ignores that history and precedent, treating Arkansas’ anti-BDS law as a restriction on purely commercial conduct that carries no political message.”

“This decision sets a dangerous precedent for anyone interested in seeking social, political, or economic change,” the group added.

In her dissenting opinion, Eighth Circuit Court Judge Jane Kelly wrote that the purpose of the Arkansas law appeared to be more political than economic — meaning that claims that the law has nothing to do with free speech are false.

“By the express[ed] terms of the Act, Arkansas seeks not only to avoid contracting with companies that refuse to do business with Israel,” Kelly wrote. “It also seeks to avoid contracting with anyone who supports or promotes such activity.”

Arkansas’s law prohibiting state contractors from exercising their speech rights through boycotts is just one of hundreds of bills proposed in recent years to similarly target organizations or individuals who advocate for Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians. Over the past seven years, 245 bills have been proposed to redefine anti-Semitism to include criticisms of Israel or to restrict boycotts against the country in support of Palestinian rights; of those bills, 52 have been passed into law.

Categories: World News

One year after Surfside condo collapse in Florida, a legal settlement is approved

NPR - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 10:27
In an aerial view, a cleared lot where the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building once stood is seen on June 22, 2022 in Surfside, Florida. This week marks the first anniversary of the tragic event where 98 people died when the building partially collapsed.

The $1.2 billion settlement is for unit owners and families of those who died in the condo tower. It was finalized one day before the anniversary of the disaster in which 98 people died.

(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Categories: World News

How Redbox became a Wall Street darling once again

CNN World News - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 09:51
It wasn't too long ago when some movie fans found that the easiest and cheapest way to watch movies in a post-Blockbuster world was to rent DVDs from Redbox kiosks at the drug store and other retailers. Ahh, the early 2010's. The rise of Netflix and other streaming services pretty much killed that business though.
Categories: World News

Eco-Détente Between US and China Could End Ukraine War and Salvage Climate

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 09:36

In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact.

No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it’s already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table.

This might seem like an ordinary territorial dispute between predator and prey. Ukraine’s central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975.

The pivotal nature of the current war seems obvious. Ukraine has for some time wanted to join western institutions like the European Union. Russia prefers to absorb Ukraine into its russkiy mir (Russian world). However, this tug of war over the dividing line between East and West isn’t a simple recapitulation of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no interest in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less in sending his troops westward into Poland or Germany, while the United States isn’t wielding Ukraine as a proxy to fight the Kremlin. Both superpowers have far more circumscribed aims.

Nonetheless, the war has oversized implications. What at first glance seems like a spatial conflict is also a temporal one. Ukraine has the great misfortune to straddle the fault line between a twentieth century of failed industrial strategies and a possible twenty-first century reorganization of society along clean-energy lines.

In the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could simply be absorbed into the world’s largest petro-state. Or the two sides could find themselves in a punishing stalemate that cuts off the world’s hungriest from vast stores of grain and continues to distract the international community from pushing forward with an urgently needed reduction of carbon emissions. Only a decisive defeat of Putinism — with its toxic mix of despotism, corruption, right-wing nationalism, and devil-may-care extractivism — would offer the world some sliver of hope when it comes to restoring some measure of planetary balance.

Ukraine is fighting for its territory and, ultimately, its survival. The West has come to its aid in defense of international law. But the stakes in this conflict are far more consequential than that.

What Putin Wants

Once upon a time, Vladimir Putin was a conventional Russian politician. Like many of his predecessors, he enjoyed a complicated ménage à trois with democracy (the boring spouse) and despotism (his true love). He toggled between confrontation and cooperation with the West. Not a nationalist, he presided over a multiethnic federation; not a populist, he didn’t care much about playing to the masses; not an imperialist, he deployed brutal but limited force to keep Russia from spinning apart.

He also understood the limits of Russian power. In the 1990s, his country had suffered a precipitous decline in its economic fortune, so he worked hard to rebuild state power on what lay beneath his feet. Russia, after all, is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, its second-largest oil producer, and its third-largest coal exporter. Even his efforts to prevent regions from slipping away from the Russian sphere of influence were initially constrained. In 2008, for instance, he didn’t try to take over neighboring Georgia, just force a stalemate that brought two breakaway regions into the Russian sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, Putin pursued strategies aimed at weakening his perceived adversaries. He ratcheted up cyberattacks in the Baltics, expanded maritime provocations in the Black Sea, advanced aggressive territorial claims in the Arctic, and supported right-wing nationalists like France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini to undermine the unity of the European Union. In 2016, he even attempted to further polarize American politics via dirty tricks in support of Donald Trump.

Always sensitive to challenges to his own power, Putin watched with increasing concern as “color revolutions” spread through parts of the former Soviet Union — from Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2005) to Belarus (2006) and Moldova (2009). Around the time of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, he began shifting domestically to a nationalism that prioritized the interests of ethnic Russians, while cracking down ferociously on dissent and ramping up attacks on critics abroad. An intensifying sense of paranoia led him to rely on an ever-smaller circle of advisors, ever less likely to contradict him or offer him bad news.

In the early 2020s, facing disappointment abroad, Putin effectively gave up on preserving even a semblance of good relations with the United States or the European Union. Except for Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the European far right had proven a complete disappointment, while his fair-weather friend Donald Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election. Worse yet, European countries seemed determined to meet their Paris climate accord commitments, which sooner or later would mean radically reducing their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

In contrast to China’s eagerness to stay on good terms with the United States and Europe, Putin’s Russia began turning its back on centuries of “westernizing” impulses to embrace its Slavic history and traditions. Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and India’s Narendra Modi, Putin decided that the only ideology that ultimately mattered was nationalism, in his case a particularly virulent, anti-liberal form of it.

All of this means that Putin will pursue his aims in Ukraine regardless of the long-term impact on relations with the West. He’s clearly convinced that political polarization, economic sclerosis, and a wavering security commitment to that embattled country will eventually force Western powers to accommodate a more assertive Russia.

He might not be wrong.

Whither the West?

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the West has never seemed more unified. Even previously neutral Finland and Sweden have lined up to join NATO, while the United States and much of Europe have largely agreed when it comes to sanctions against Russia.

Still, all is not well in the West. In the United States, where Trumpism continues to metastasize within the Republican Party, 64% of Americans are convinced that democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing,” according to a January NPR/Ipsos poll. Meanwhile, in a surprising Alliance of Democracies Foundation poll last year, 44% of respondents in 53 countries rated the United States, a self-proclaimed beacon of liberty, as a greater threat to democracy than either China (38%) or Russia (28%).

In Europe, the far right continues to challenge the democratic foundations of the continent. Uber-Christian Viktor Orbán recently won his fourth term as Hungary’s prime minister; the super-conservative Law and Justice Party is firmly at the helm in Poland; the anti-immigrant, Euroskeptical Swiss People’s Party remains the most significant force in that country’s parliament; and the top three far-right political parties in Italy together attract nearly 50% in public opinion polls.

Meanwhile, the global economy, still on neo-liberal autopilot, has jumped out of the pandemic frying pan into the fires of stagflation. With stock markets heading into bear territory and a global recession looming, the World Bank recently cut its 4.1% growth forecast for 2022 to 2.9%. The Biden administration’s perceived failure to address inflation may deliver Congress to Republican extremists this November and social democratic leaders throughout Europe may pay a similar political price for record-high Eurozone inflation.

Admittedly, the continued military dominance of the United States and its NATO allies would seem to refute all rumors of the decline of the West. In reality, though, the West’s military record hasn’t been much better than Russia’s performance in Ukraine. In August 2021, the United States ignominiously withdrew its forces from its 20-year war in Afghanistan as the Taliban surged back to power. This year, France pulled its troops from Mali after a decade-long failure to defeat al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants. Western-backed forces failed to dislodge Bashar al-Assad in Syria or prevent a horrific civil war from enveloping Libya. All the trillions of dollars devoted to achieving “full-spectrum dominance” couldn’t produce enduring success in Iraq or Somalia, wipe out terrorist factions throughout Africa, or effect regime change in North Korea or Cuba.

Despite its overwhelming military and economic power, the West no longer seems to be on the same upward trajectory as after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back in the 1990s, Eastern Europe and even parts of the former Soviet Union signed up to join NATO and the European Union. Russia under Boris Yeltsin inked a partnership agreement with NATO, while both Japan and South Korea were interested in pursuing a proposed global version of that security alliance.

Today, however, the West seems increasingly irrelevant outside its own borders. China, love it or hate it, has rebuilt its Sinocentric sphere in Asia, while becoming the most important economic player in the Global South. It’s even established alternative global financial institutions that, one day, might replace the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Turkey has turned its back on the European Union (and vice versa) and Latin America is heading in a more independent direction. Consider it a sign of the times that, when the call went out to sanction Russia, most of the non-Western world ignored it.

The foundations of the West are indeed increasingly unstable. Democracy is no longer, as scholar Francis Fukuyama imagined it in the late 1980s, the inevitable trajectory of world history. The global economy, while spawning inexcusable inequality and being upended by the recent pandemic, is exhausting the resource base of the planet. Both right-wing extremism and garden-variety nationalism are eroding the freedoms that safeguard liberal society. It’s no surprise, then, that Putin believes a divided West will ultimately accede to his aggression.

The Ukraine Pivot

There’s never a good time for war.

But hostilities have flared in Ukraine just as the world was supposed to be accelerating its transition to a clean-energy future. In another three years, carbon emissions must hit their peak and, in the next eight years, countries must cut their carbon emissions by half if there’s any hope of meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord by 2050. Even before the current war, the most comprehensive estimate put the rise in global temperature at a potentially disastrous 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century (nearly twice the 1.5 degree goal of that agreement).

The war in Ukraine is propelling the world full tilt in the opposite direction. China and India are, in fact, increasing their use of coal, the worst possible fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions. Europe is desperate to replace Russian oil and natural gas and countries like Greece are now considering increasing their own production of dirty energy. In a similar fashion, the United States is once again boosting oil and gas production, releasing supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and hoping to persuade oil-producing nations to pump yet more of their product into global markets.

With its invasion, in other words, Russia has helped to derail the world’s already faltering effort at decarbonization. Although last fall Putin committed his country to a net-zero carbon policy by 2060, phasing out fossil fuels now would be economic suicide given that he’s done so little to diversify the economy. And despite international sanctions, Russia has been making a killing with fossil-fuel sales, raking in a record $97 billion in the first 100 days of battle.

All of this could suggest, of course, that Vladimir Putin represents the last gasp of the failed petropolitics of the twentieth century. But don’t count him out yet. He might also be the harbinger of a future in which technologically sophisticated politicians continue to pursue their narrow political and regional aims, making it ever less possible for the world to survive climate change.

Ukraine is where Putin is making his stand. As for Putinism itself — how long it lasts, how persuasive it proves to be for other countries — much depends on China.

After Putin’s invasion, Beijing could have given full-throated support to its ally, promised to buy all the fossil fuels Western sanctions left stranded, provided military equipment to buoy the faltering Russian offensive, and severed its own ties with Europe and the United States. Beijing could have broken with international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF in favor of the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, its own multinational organizations. In this way, Ukraine could have turned into a genuine proxy war between East and West.

Instead, China has been playing both sides. Unhappy with Putin’s unpredictable moves, including the invasion, which have disrupted China’s economic expansion, it’s also been disturbed by the sanctions against Russia that similarly cramp its style. Beijing isn’t yet strong enough to challenge the hegemony of the dollar and it also remains dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Now the planet’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has been building a tremendous amount of renewable energy infrastructure. Its wind sector generated nearly 30% more power in 2021 than the year before and its solar sector increased by nearly 15%. Still, because of a growing appetite for energy, its overall dependence on coal and natural gas has hardly been reduced.

Reliant as it is on Russian energy imports, China won’t yet pull the plug on Putinism, but Washington could help push Beijing in that direction. It was once a dream of the Obama administration to partner with the world’s second-largest economy on clean energy projects. Instead of focusing as it has on myriad ways to contain China, the Biden administration could offer it a green version of an older proposal to create a Sino-American economic duopoly, this time focused on making the global economy sustainable in the process. The two countries could join Europe in advancing a Global Green Deal.

In recent months, President Biden has been willing to entertain the previously unthinkable by mending fences with Venezuela and Saudi Arabia in order to flood global markets with yet more oil and so reduce soaring prices at the pump. Talk about twentieth-century mindsets. Instead, it’s time for Washington to consider an eco-détente with Beijing that would, among other things, drive a stake through the heart of Putinism, safeguard Ukraine’s sovereignty, and stop the planet from burning to a crisp.

Otherwise, we know how this unhappy meal will end — as a Last Supper for humanity.

Categories: World News

Maine Chipotle Workers File to Form Company’s First-Ever Union

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 09:18

Workers at a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine, filed to form a union on Wednesday, hoping to become the first unionized workers at the food chain’s nearly 3,000 locations in the country.

The workers, who have formed an independent union known as Workers United, turned in their union petition with union cards signed by a majority of the roughly 20 workers in the store, according to union organizers.

Workers say that they face long hours and understaffing, leading to safety concerns. The union staged a two-day walkout last week to protest against unsafe working conditions after repeatedly being forced to open the store without proper staffing, putting the employees and the customers at risk, they said.

When the store is understaffed — often with half of the amount of people that are required to meet demand — workers say that they’re unable to do things like food temperature checks or cleaning tables in the restaurant.

“I care about these people more than anybody else,” employee Laramie Rohr told the Kennebec Journal. “I hope to improve working conditions, not have to have five people working 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week, to have the ability to close when you need to for safety reasons. Because we don’t want to serve bad food. We’re proud of our food, we’re proud of our workplace, we’re proud of our coworkers.”

Chipotle management says the fact that they responded with hiring initiatives after the walkout shows that the company is already capable of meeting employees’ concerns, but workers say that upper management has a pattern of not addressing workers’ needs, according to the Kennebec Journal.

The workers delivered a letter to management on Wednesday informing them of their intent to unionize. “We’re hoping that by forming this union we can work with Chipotle to achieve the goals we have in common, such as safe and healthy food, and good atmosphere, and safe and happy crew members, and all of the other things that make Chipotle different,” workers said in a statement.

“We are here to make things better by ensuring we have the tools and the support to meet Chipotle’s high standards while caring for ourselves, the crew that will come after us, and other food service workers who may see our efforts and feel empowered to stand up against the industry’s toxic culture,” they said.

The independent nature of Chipotle United echoes the union campaign waged by Amazon workers, who have been organizing under the independent Amazon Labor Union. Although Chipotle workers have sought help from established unions like Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), they are forming a union independently.

Chipotle workers in New York City have also been organizing a union effort, though they haven’t filed for a union petition yet. New York workers, organizing with SEIU Local 32 BJ, filed a labor complaint against the company earlier this year alleging that the company illegally retaliated against Brenda Garcia for her role as a union leader. The union also filed a complaint that the company has been surveilling and intimidating employees over the union.

If Chipotle workers successfully unionize, their victory could spark a wave of unionizations in stores across the country — much like Starbucks workers, who have unionized over 160 locations just in the past roughly eight months.

Categories: World News

South Africa's Zondo commission: Damning report exposes rampant corruption

BBC World News - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 08:34
President Cyril Ramaphosa vows to have learnt the lessons but many South Africans are not convinced.
Categories: World News

As Afghanistan Earthquake Death Toll Rises, US Sanctions Limit International Aid

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 08:07

A massive 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck southeastern Afghanistan early Wednesday has killed more than 1,000 people, according to local officials, though the death toll is expected to rise. The earthquake comes as the United Nations reports nearly half of Afghanistan’s population already faces acute hunger. Thousands more have been injured and lost their homes along with everything they own. “Many more will be dead, and we are now rushing with aid,” says Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He says he agrees with the Taliban government that U.S. sanctions on Afghanistan are making it more difficult for aid organizations like his to supply critical resources to Afghans.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Officials in southeastern Afghanistan say a massive earthquake early Wednesday has killed more than 1,000 people. Afghans described the moment the 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck their homes in Paktika province.

FATIMA: [translated] It was midnight when the quake struck. The kids and I screamed. One of our rooms was destroyed. Our neighbors screamed, and we saw everyone’s rooms.

FAISAL: [translated] It was about midnight when the quake struck. It destroyed the houses of our neighbors. When we arrived, there were many dead and wounded. They sent us to the hospital. I also saw many dead bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: The death toll from the earthquake is expected to rise. Thousands have been injured, lost their homes and everything they owned.

The earthquake comes as the United Nations reports nearly half of Afghanistan’s population already faces acute hunger. The Taliban has called for more international aid, while saying sanctions have hampered the government’s ability to respond to the multiple crises facing the country. Some aid groups, like the Norwegian Refugee Council, report their teams are now on the ground in Afghanistan to support affected communities with funds and emergency shelter.

For more, we’re joined by Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Now, he’s in Somalia, which we’re going to talk about in a minute.

But first, Jan, if you can talk about the situation in Afghanistan after this devastating earthquake and what kind of humanitarian work is underway, what needs to get to the affected area?

JAN EGELAND: The situation in eastern Afghanistan, in Khost and in Paktia, is truly desperate. It’s like all of the plagues of the Bible falling down on these very poor people at the same time.

So, we are — have been operational in Afghanistan for decades. We have 1,400 aid workers on the ground. We did not leave when the Taliban took over, nor did we leave these areas. So, from Khost, the city, we sent teams immediately.

And I just got some images of the devastation from our field workers on the ground. It is — these are very poor houses. They have weak structures, in very poor, mountainous communities. The number of people killed will go up. The 1,000 you just mentioned is too low. Many more will be dead.

And we are now rushing with aid. We will build shelter for the people who lost everything. And we’ll also try to have cash distributions to those who cannot afford anything at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: And your comment on the Taliban saying that sanctions are hurting aid efforts?

JAN EGELAND: No, of course. Of course. I mean, if you’re in a country where we, the aid organizations, cannot even do normal bank transfers — the banking system is paralyzed. The regime that took over is under heavy sanctions. It is much more difficult, much more costly to do aid work, but it’s not stopping us. We’re continuing to work.

We understand that people are as angry as we are that the Taliban are preventing girls from getting secondary education. But it will be the ultimate insult to these girls that they starve to death and perish in earthquakes because of our opposition to the education policies of Taliban.

So, of course, we have to help. And the sanctions must give a much more clear blanket exemption to humanitarian work. We need to be able to do financial transactions normally to our aid workers on the ground.

Categories: World News

As Governments Push Us “Back to Normal,” Don’t Forget About Prison Conditions

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 07:58

Across the globe, mask mandates are gone; airplanes, bars and sports stadiums are teeming; and governments, corporations, and bosses increasingly exhort and extort people to return to cubicles and office buildings, classrooms, and shopping malls. Yet, despite this push to return to “business as usual,” we must act to ensure that the pandemic-generated focus on prisons and jails — their deplorable conditions, the high rates of deaths, and the status quo of medical neglect — does not waver.

During the initial panic of the pandemic many nations, including the United States, were forced to recognize that prisons and jails were among the spaces hardest hit by COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In April 2020, Cook County Jail in Chicago was the nation’s top COVID-19 hot spot. Federal prison populations had a rate of COVID-19 three times higher than neighboring communities.

The inherently harmful nature of incarceration made the COVID-19 pandemic even more deadly. Devon Terrell, held in Illinois’s Stateville Correctional Center and a contributor to Illinois Deaths in Custody Project’s short film about COVID-19 in prison, Letters to Lost Loved Ones, described the lethal neglect: “Months came and went before soap, bleach, disinfectant were distributed,” he said.

Horrifically, even the reported rates in these prison hot spots were undercounts. Getting accurate information about COVID-19 rates is difficult inside prisons and jails, and in fact, some prisons, jails and states refuse to even collect this data, and/or test people inside prison for the virus. This reality is reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic, when former President Donald Trump argued against letting ill passengers leave a cruise ship, saying, “I like the numbers being where they are…. I don’t need to have the [confirmed COVID-19] numbers double.” Many officials’ positions regarding infection rates in prisons and jails seems to be, if we don’t test it or count it, it didn’t happen.

As members of the Illinois Deaths in Custody Project we — a group of artists, educators and researchers — were motivated in 2016 to work collectively to gather information about all deaths in prison in our home state. Outraged by the conditions inside prison and encouraged by practices in other countries, such as mandatory independent inquests after any death in custody, we began to push for access to information.

Using public records obtained under Freedom of Information Act requests and mail, we gathered, digitized and posted online data about deaths in Illinois prisons from 2010 through 2021. At the same time, we began publishing our findings, including a comprehensive factsheet — the first public document using Illinois Department of Corrections data about deaths in custody. We aimed to increase public knowledge about deaths in prisons, but far more importantly, we worked to foster accountability from those responsible for prison conditions and grow decarceration initiatives.

Our research illustrated that illness and death in prison has always been business as usual. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 80-100 people died in prison every year in Illinois, and nationally prisons are “increasingly deadly” places, according to Bureau of Justice data. Research by the Prison Policy Institute documents that incarceration arrests individual lives and “has shortened the overall US life expectancy by almost two years.”

In 2022 at least five prisons in Illinois had people with active cases of the deadly Legionnaires’ disease, yet the Illinois Department of Corrections made misleading statements about the presence of the bacteria causing the illness before finally acknowledging its spread.

It is not simply the conditions inside prisons that are deadly. People who work in prisons perpetuate harm: As documented by Chicago’s public radio podcast Motive, prison guards use violence against incarcerated people with impunity.

When the routine business of harm and death happens inside a prison, there is little transparency. Family and friends struggle to find out information about what has happened to their incarcerated loved one. When information is finally made available, usually through struggle and with pressure, it is often paltry, riddled with errors and confusing. Guards and other prison staff are rarely held accountable. There is no requirement for an independent inquest.

COVID-19 brought some mainstream media attention to death in prison. “The pandemic has only exacerbated the poor conditions that I’ve experienced for 35 years in prison” notes Henry Messenger, a writer incarcerated at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York. Documenting isolation, neglected health, refusal to provide needed care and violence instigated by guards, Messenger highlights the details of prisons’ business as usual that arrests lives, including during this pandemic. COVID-19 amplified that prisons have always facilitated premature death.

Organizing by loved ones, investigative journalism and the work of advocacy groups like ours has propelled some shifts. Some states have passed slightly more potent legislation that could incrementally force more transparency.

For example, in Illinois, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signed legislation in 2021 that requires prisons to notify immediate family members when an incarcerated person dies and to investigate those deaths. But why, families ask, can’t they be notified before children, parents and siblings die, such as when they become ill or are hospitalized? This legislation also has few mechanisms to enforce reporting requirements and does not mandate an independent inquest or investigation.

In this moment when a measure of public attention is still focused on COVID-19 and prison, we must also step back and keep our eyes on the wider landscape. Yes, it is important that there is transparency — all information related to our public institutions should be made fully available — but we know that transparency cannot be the end goal. In a nation with the world’s largest prison population, decarceration must be our goal.

The endless warehousing of people does not create public safety or build accountability if individuals harm one another. Instead, it fractures communities and ends lives.

In the early days of the pandemic, Indian author and political activist Arundhati Roy famously spoke about the pandemic as a “portal,” noting the pandemic created an opportunity to break with the past and imagine the world anew. How can we use the tiny portal that COVID-19 offered into a vision of a world without prisons, by laying bear the realities of death in prison? How do we keep the public’s attention on the business as usual of lethal prison conditions?

Even more importantly, how can we keep the nation’s attention on the lives, not just the deaths, of people in prison — who are always someone’s brother, mother, auntie, cousin?

Categories: World News

Probe of Fake Elector Scheme Grows as DOJ Seizes Nevada GOP Chairman’s Phone

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 07:47

The Justice Department on Wednesday served numerous subpoenas to Trump supporters involved in the fake elector scheme in a sign that its probe is expanding.

Federal agents served subpoenas to Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer, who served as a Trump elector, according to The Washington Post. Other subpoenas were served at the homes of Brad Carver, a Georgia lawyer involved in the fake elector scheme, and Thomas Lane, who worked on the Trump campaign’s efforts in Arizona and New Mexico, FBI officials told the outlet. Trump supporters involved in the Michigan fake elector scheme also received subpoenas, though it’s unclear if they were related to the federal investigation or a separate state probe. The New York Times reported that Shawn Flynn, a Trump campaign aide in Michigan, was subpoenaed in the federal probe.

FBI agents also served a search warrant at the home of Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald and seized his phone as part of the fake elector probe, according to local news outlet KLAS. A second warrant was issued to state GOP secretary James DeGraffenreid but FBI agents could not track him down on Wednesday.

Shafer, who has also met with Fulton County prosecutors investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss in the state, played a central role in organizing the slate of fake electors in Georgia and coordinated his efforts with the Trump campaign, according to CNN. The network also reported that the FBI sought phone contents from Carver, who signed on as a fake elector, as it investigates communications by state Republicans in a private Signal chat.

The DOJ previously served subpoenas to 15 other individuals involved in the fake elector scheme. Former President Donald Trump and his allies unsuccessfully plotted to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes in contested states by offering up so-called alternate slates of electors in hopes of sending the election to the House, where a majority of Republican-majority state delegations could ostensibly re-elect Trump. The National Archives alerted investigators to the scheme after flagging forged documents awarding Trump Electoral College votes in states he lost.

“From Virginia to Nevada today, several coordinated subpoenas and search warrants served and executed by the FBI and DOJ surrounding fake elector scheme. Sure doesn’t feel like a ‘nothingburger,'” tweeted former FBI investigator Peter Strzok.

“Turns out a massive conspiracy to produce false documents to Congress to overturn an election is maybe a bad idea?” quipped Amanda Carpenter, a columnist and former adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

FBI agents served a subpoena to Lane in Virginia, where he worked for the Republican National Committee after leaving the Trump campaign, according to the Post. A 2020 video showed him handing out documents for would-be Trump electors at an Arizona GOP event more than a month after the election.

The Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday linked Trump directly to the fake elector scheme, playing a clip of RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s deposition in which she recalled how Trump put her on the phone with attorney John Eastman “to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any of the states.”

The committee also showed a message exchange showing that a top aide to Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sought to hand fake elector information to then-Vice President Mike Pence during the Jan. 6 certification process but Pence’s aides demurred.

The DOJ previously interviewed other would-be Trump electors. Investigators appear to be interested in communications with about a dozen Trump allies, according to the Post, including Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Jenna Ellis and Eastman.

Would-be Trump elector Patrick Gartland, who was appointed to the Cobb County, Ga., Board of Elections, told the Post, “They wanted to know if I had talked to Giuliani.”

Categories: World News

Manchin Is Pushing Even More Harmful Means Testing for Health Care

TruthOut - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 07:16

Having tanked his party’s effort to expand Medicare and close the Medicaid coverage gap, Sen. Joe Manchin is now dangling his support for an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies as massive premium hikes loom for millions of people who buy insurance on the exchanges.

Insider reported Wednesday that Manchin has “signaled he’s open to extending enhanced subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would help Democrats avert a huge political threat in the November midterms.”

The American Rescue Plan — a Covid-19 relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law last year — included provisions that boosted ACA subsidies for low-income people and ended the income cap on subsidies. The changes were aimed at ensuring no one is forced to pay more than 8.5% of their total income to purchase health coverage in the ACA marketplace, which can be prohibitively expensive without federal subsidies.

But the provisions are set to expire at the end of the year in the absence of congressional action, sticking the roughly 14 million people who buy insurance on the ACA exchanges with dramatically higher premiums. Notifications of premium increases would begin going out in October, just ahead of the crucial midterm elections.

Even though eligibility for ACA subsidies — which progressives often characterize as gifts to the insurance industry — is already restricted on the basis of income, Manchin told Insider that he wants even more means testing, which he called “the main thing.”

“We should be helping the people who really need it the most and are really having the hardest time,” said Manchin, who supported the ACA subsidy boost in the American Rescue Plan. “With healthcare, people need help. They really do.”

That’s certainly true of people in his home state of West Virginia. After visiting a free medical clinic located just miles from Manchin’s riverfront home in Charleston, The Lever’s Andrew Perez reported earlier this week that one resident, Charles Combs, “has resorted to extracting his own teeth because dental care is too expensive.”

Traditional Medicare currently doesn’t cover dental services. Late last year, Manchin blocked an effort — spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — to expand the program to cover dental, vision, and hearing.

“The Charleston clinic made clear just how badly people need such care — and not just seniors, and not just West Virginians. Combs, for instance, is still in his 50s, while the clinic saw patients of all ages driving hours from Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia,” Perez noted. “The [Remote Area Medical] clinic hinted at the kind of universal healthcare system America could have, if not for senators like Manchin and their healthcare industry donors.”

“The organization doesn’t ask patients about what its team calls the ‘three I’s’: identification, income, or insurance,” Perez continued. “Patients are treated with kindness, compassion, and professionalism — and fairly quickly. All services are free.”

There are uninsured people in @Sen_JoeManchin’s state extracting their own teeth with a hammer.

— Marisa Kabas (@MarisaKabas) June 22, 2022

In an interview with Punchbowl News this week, Manchin voiced concerns about the price tag of extending the ACA subsidies — scrutiny he has not applied to the trillions of dollars in Pentagon spending he’s voted for over the past decade.

“The bottom line is there’s only so many dollars to go around,” Manchin said.

According to a recent analysis by Families USA, the roughly 23,000 West Virginians who buy health insurance coverage on the ACA exchanges will see their annual premiums rise by an average of $1,536 — 63% — if Congress lets the subsidy provisions expire.

“With little debate or media focus, Democrats are on the verge of dooming millions of Americans to huge new healthcare bills, which will in turn serve to ruin any hope Democrats have of winning the midterms,” journalist Jon Walker warned in The American Prospect earlier this year. “Beyond broadly hurting 14 million people, the end of these subsidies will create thousands of uniquely horrific stories of financial devastation.”

Categories: World News

Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar ex-leader sent to solitary confinement

BBC World News - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 05:52
Myanmar's deposed civilian leader, who is 77, was arrested after a military coup last year.
Categories: World News

In photos: Deadly earthquake hits Afghanistan

CNN World News - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 05:20
Afghanistan was rocked by its deadliest earthquake in decades on Wednesday when a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the country's east, killing more than 1,000 people and wounding many more, according to a regional official.
Categories: World News

Sexual harassment at Western Australia mines 'appalling and systemic'

BBC World News - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 23:41
It has been "generally accepted or overlooked" at sites run by large firms, a landmark report says.
Categories: World News

Brics summit: Members push for global clout amid Ukraine war

BBC World News - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 16:24
Leaders from India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa meet amid major shifts in geopolitics.
Categories: World News

As audiences return to Glastonbury and other festivals, will they cope?

BBC World News - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 16:20
After two years of cancellations, music fans could experience a mixture of relief and anxiety.
Categories: World News

Refugees previously despatched to Rwanda now in Europe

BBC World News - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 16:17
As the UK presses on with its asylum deal, refugees sent from Israel to Rwanda describe their experiences.
Categories: World News

Ukraine war: High school students pose in prom dresses among ruins

BBC World News - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 16:17
Photographer Stanislav Senyk organised a photo shoot of students in the bombed city of Chernihiv.
Categories: World News