Finally, a BP subsidiary will finish cleaning up the former smelting site it acquired in 1977

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced on Friday that the Atlantic Richfield Company (AR) agreed to finish cleaning up the site of a former copper smelting site that the BP subsidiary had assumed control over all the way back in 1977. The Anaconda Co. Smelter was in operation for nearly a century. It closed in 1980; three years later it was deemed a superfund site by the EPA. According to a press release, the operation polluted soil across its 300-square-mile footprint, including in residential yards and industrial areas, contaminated creeks, surface water, and groundwater, and left dangerous waste products in its wake further contaminating the area.  

While substantial work has been done to remediate and address many of these environmental concerns, the site still contains a handful of major areas that require cleanup, including a waste consolidation process that is expected to last over the next decade according to the EPA’s most recent background about the site. It’s not just the superfund site that AR will be cleaning up, either: Under a consent decree, the company must finish remediating residential yards in two towns and clean up soil in the areas above Anaconda. The company must also close its remaining slag piles, a waste product from copper smelting that contains known carcinogens like arsenic and lead.

Speaking about this substantial step in addressing the superfund site, District of Montana U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich shared what it means for residents and anyone harmed by Anaconda’s prior operations:

“I was born in Anaconda the same year the smelter closed and while I never saw smoke coming out of the smokestack that still stands over Anaconda, I know what it represents. It is a symbol representing the hard work of many Anacondans, including members of my family, that built our town, but it’s also a symbol of a Superfund site that has existed for far too long. If the smokestack represents our past, this consent decree represents our future. Many people, some who are no longer with us, worked diligently to get us to this point and I’m grateful beyond words for all of their work. Our water will be cleaner, our soils will be purer, our slag will be covered, and our future will be brighter because of this historic agreement.”

The total estimated cost to finish the cleanup and remediation process is $83.1 million. AR has already agreed to pay the EPA Superfund Program a $48 million reimbursement for agency costs between the EPA and Justice Department. AR will also pay around $185,000 to the U.S. Forest Service for its work in future remediation activities on Forest Service land.

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Black Music Sunday: Much ado about Lizzo and James Madison's flute

The flute is an instrument that dates back to ancient times. The United States Library of Congress has quite a collection of almost 1,700 of them, western and non-western, and until last week, I doubt very much that it was of interest to the general public. That changed when singer, rapper, and classically trained flutist Melissa Viviane Jefferson, who goes by Lizzo and happens to be a Black woman, was invited by our current Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, to visit the collection and play some of them. One of instruments was a crystal flute that was owned by former U.S. President James Madison.  

So for today’s #BlackMusicSunday, let’s take a look at what happened, explore the furor, and in the process listen to some fantastic Black female flutists.

It all started when Hayden tweeted at Lizzo:

IM COMING CARLA! AND IM PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!! https://t.co/aPcIthlqeo— FOLLOW @YITTY (@lizzo) September 24, 2022

Hayden was appointed as Librarian of Congress by former President Obama, and is the first woman and first Black woman to ever hold that position.

Lizzo then visited and tried out a number of flutes, including Madison’s. But just who is Lizzo? 

Lizzo was born as Melissa Viviane Jefferson in Detroit, Michigan, on April 27, 1988. Lizzo’s family was part of a Pentecostal church in Detroit. Due to their faith, gospel music held sway in their household. Lizzo’s parents also listened to Elton John, Queen and Stevie Wonder. When Lizzo was 9, her family moved to Houston, Texas. There, she has said, her horizons expanded to include Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott and twerking.

In fifth grade, Lizzo started playing the flute, an instrument she became devoted to and eventually played in her high school marching band. Though the flute was her focus, Lizzo also rapped. She was writing rhymes as a teenager and formed groups with her friends. Lizzo’s flute skills resulted in a scholarship to the University of Houston, where she studied music performance. She initially planned to continue her studies at the Paris Conservatory and eventually play in concert halls.

In addition to hours of flute practice, Lizzo continued to rap and perform in shows while in college. By her junior year, she decided to leave school to focus on making her name in the music industry. She explained on the radio program Fresh Air, “I was like, I’m already performing. What do I need a music performance degree for? And I just stopped.”

She went on to do just that, and in the course of her career she has received three Grammys, a Primetime Emmy, and awards from Billboard, Soul Train, and BET.  

Lizzo’s visit to the Library of Congress became big news: 

A flute @lizzo played in the Main Reading Room Monday (with permission from some lucky researchers who were there!) looks similar to the crystal one she had at her concert, but is actually plexiglass. It is also very rare & was manufactured when the material was first invented.🔊 pic.twitter.com/3i33D9NdQV— Library of Congress (@librarycongress) September 28, 2022

From the Washington Post report:

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Lizzo was even able to borrow Madison’s flute for her performance in D.C.:

Lizzo reverently took Madison’s crystal flute in hand and blew a few notes. This isn’t easy, as the instrument is more than 200 years old. She blew a few more when she was in the Great Hall and Main Reading Room. Then, reaching for a more practical flute from the collection, she serenaded employees and a few researchers. It filled the space with music as sublime as the art and architecture.

Cameras snapped and video rolled. For your friendly national library, this was a perfect moment to show a new generation how we preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage. The Library’s vision is that all Americans are connected to our holdings. We want people to see them.

So when Lizzo asked if she could play the flute at her Tuesday concert in front of thousands of fans, the Library’s collection, preservation and security teams were up to the challenge. When an item this valuable leaves any museum or library, for loan or display in an exhibition, preservation and security are the priorities. At the Library, curators ensure that the item can be transported in a customized protective container and a Library curator and security officer are always guarding the item until it is secured once more.

So why is there an issue? Apparently right-wing racist pundits and commentators found it to be totally offensive that a big Black woman, in seductive attire, who *gasp* is a rapper, would be on stage with a holy object (that Madison flute) and wiggle her hips—i.e “twerk.”

Here’s Lizzo’s tweet about her performance with the crystal flute:

YALL… I PLAYED THE 200-YEAR-OLD CRYSTAL FLUTE FROM THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON STAGE IN D.C. 😭😭😭😭 @LibnOfCongress thank you ❤️ pic.twitter.com/u07gCaRTH4— FOLLOW @YITTY (@lizzo) September 28, 2022

I’m not going to post direct links to the remarks from racists. They are easy enough to find if you want to waste your time.

RELATED: World’s most famous flute player plays a flute. Conservatives explode in racist outrage

Here’s one of many tweets with a rebuttal :

I’m a white guy with an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War and I have no clue why Lizzo playing the crystal flute was “humiliating white people” or “desecrating American history and heritage.” It was an effective way to introduce part of LoC’s collection to the public. pic.twitter.com/CJIXJY7enp— Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly) September 29, 2022

Here’s some more anti-racist pushback:

Fabulous superstar singer Lizzo is living rent-free in the empty minds of racists today for masterfully playing a 200 year old crystal flute they never even knew existed until she played it. Must be exhausting to live with such hate day in and day out.— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) September 29, 2022

Ben Shapiro is apparently upset that Lizzo played James Madison’s flute while scantily clad. Meanwhile, Madison owned people while dressed in layers of uncomfortable clothes. The takeaway? What you wear says nothing about your morality or decency. Write that shit down Ben. Please— Tim Wise (@timjacobwise) September 29, 2022

LBGTQ Nation compiled quite a few of the virulently racist comments (if you are interested).

I especially appreciated seeing this comment from Texas AP History teacher Emily Glankler, who has an illuminating Anti-Social Studies blog, along with a YouTube channel, and posted her take on TikTok. She explains that President James Madison, whose flute Lizzo played, was a slaveholder, architect of the notorious Three-fifths Compromise that allowed slaveholding states to count Black people as three-fifths of a human, and that Lizzo playing the crystal flute in the Capitol of the nation which was built on slave labor—is simply amazing! Give her a listen.

A history teacher @antisocstudies explains the historical significance of @lizzo playing James Madison’s 200-year-old crystal flute pic.twitter.com/FN1EuAdyGI— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) September 29, 2022

In honor of Lizzo’s use of the flute, let’s visit her Grammy awards performance in 2020. (At 4:21 she plays the flute.)

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And this comedic take on the Jazz flute scene in Anchorman:

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Rolling Stone’s Jon Blisten reported on her amazing video after she accepted Will Ferrell’s #FluteAndShoot challenge:

The clip stars Lizzo, Este Haim and Rightor Doyle, and is practically a shot-for-shot remake of the original Anchorman scene with Lizzo modestly accepting an invitation to perform – “Honestly, I’m not even prepared!” – while simultaneously pulling a flute from the sleeve of her dress. As Lizzo rips through the smooth jazz remake of “Juice,” she tramples on top of tables, randomly pops up in the bathroom and turns the instrument into a boozy flamethrower all before closing the performance with a mighty flute drop.

I watched all the Sturm und Drang unfold over Lizzo having “tarnished by twerking” around a white presidential Founding Father’s historical relic. I’m sure all the backlash had nothing to do with her being a female flutist, or even a Black female flutist, and everything to do with the Founding Father mythology this country embraces, ignoring their legacy as slaveholders. It got me to dive into my music collection and I decided to revisit some notable Black women who were and are known as mistresses of the flute. 

In the jazz world, as in many other music realms, most notable flutists have been male: Hubert Laws, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, Eric Dolphy, and Dave Valentin come to mind immediately. However, wading through my collection, I instantly pulled up some Bobbi Humphrey, who in many ways reminds me of Lizzo simply because she was a crossover artist for decades, playing a mix of jazz, pop, and R&B.  

Here she is on her first Blue Note album,  with trumpeter Lee Morgan:

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All About Jazz covers her career and biography:

She has been named “First Lady of the Flute” by the critics and listeners alike and, from the accomplishments in her musical career, deservedly so. For three decades now, Bobbi Humphrey has been playing her special brand of music to audiences around the world. Her professional career began in 1971 when she was the first female signed to Blue Note Records.

Certainly a lady playing a flute must have seemed something of a novelty then. Humphrey proved, however, she was not just a “first” or novelty, but a talent to be reckoned with. For in 1973, her LP, Blues and Blues was not only a huge commercial success, but established a strong crossover market for her. Also, in 1973, she was invited to the prestigious Montreux International Music Festival in Switzerland where Leonard Feather, noted critic of the Los Angeles Times, acclaimed her “the surprise hit of the festival”. Since then Humphrey has continuously proved her sustaining power, for today she is the only successful female urban-pop flutist on the scene. Further proof is the fact that she was acclaimed “Best Female Instrumentalist” (1976 and 1978 to both Billboard and Record World, and “Best Female Vocalist” in Cashbox. This is certainly a milestone for any instrumentalist.

Born in Marlin, Texas and raised in Dallas, Humphrey’s training on flute began in high school and continued through her years at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. It was there that Dizzy Gillespie spotted her when he served as a judge in a school-wide competition . With Gillespie encouraging her to pursue a career in New York City, Humphrey wrote a letter to New York’s famed Apollo Theatre and received a telegram soon afterwards telling her, “We have reserved a spot for you on Amateur Night”. She didn’t take further convincing , nor did she have trouble finding her “spot” in the music industry.

One of her big hits in the crossover mode is heard here, with visuals from Wattstax, a hugely successful festival in 1972 which celebrated African American music, art, and culture:

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In 1976 Stevie Wonder invited her to play on what would become one of his iconic albums, Songs In the Key of Life. Here she is taking the flute solo on “Another Star,” which is over eight minutes long.  Humphrey’s solo starts at 6:05.

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I haven’t been able to find anything about what’s she’s up to today—her website is no longer available, and at 72, she may be retired. Wherever she is, I thank her for the music.

I went to Howard University with another notable flutist, Sherry Winston. AllMusic has this short bio by MacKenzie Wilson:

At age 11, Winston first picked up the flute and by the time she was a student at Howard University, she was already shaping a name for herself. She began touring with a jazz ensemble, which included R&B chanteuse Roberta Flack, later landing herself a job as the National Director of Jazz Promotions at Columbia Records. There, Winston shaped the careers of Miles Davis, George Michael, Hubert Laws, and the Marsalis Brothers. Her defining role in the music industry, however, was not to be on the business side: Winston yearned to have a recording career as a flutist. She issued Do It for Love just prior to her major-label Grammy-nominated debut Love Is… in 1980. Love Madness followed in 1986, but Winston took a long break before releasing her fourth album Life Is Love and Love Is You in mid-2000.

Here are two of my favorite Winston tunes. The first is her lyrical cover version of Stevie Wonder’s “All is Fair in Love”:

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The second is a lively lilting tune with an Afro-Caribbean beat.

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My final selection for today, though I’ll have more in the comments below, is from Nicole Mitchell. Her website gives you an overview of her work:

Nicole M. Mitchell is an award-winning creative flutist, composer, bandleader and educator. She is perhaps best known for her work as a flutist, having developed a unique improvisational language and having been repeatedly awarded “Top Flutist of the Year” by Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association (2010-2017). Mitchell initially emerged from Chicago’s innovative music scene in the late 90s, and her music celebrates contemporary African American culture. She is the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Sonic Projections and Ice Crystal, and she composes for contemporary ensembles of varied instrumentation and size, while incorporating improvisation and a wide aesthetic expression. The former first woman president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Mitchell celebrates endless possibility by “creating visionary worlds through music that bridge the familiar with the unknown.” Some of her newest work with Black Earth Ensemble explores intercultural collaborations; Bamako*Chicago, featuring Malian kora master, Ballake Sissoko, made its American debut at Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival in September 2017.

Encyclopedia.com provides some insight into her background:

A native of Syracuse, New York, Mitchell was born around 1967. Her father, an engineer, moved the family to Anaheim, California, when she was eight years old, and she spent most of her youth in Southern California—and found that racist attitudes gave her more problems there than in Syracuse. For example, her neighbors told her not to stand in front of their house because her presence would drive down property values. With a natural aptitude for music, math, and physics, she started playing the piano and the viola in fourth grade. She switched to the flute at age fifteen, she told J. F. Tapiz of TomaJazz.com, because “the sound drew me in and I identified with it spiritually.” She tried out for her high school jazz band but was turned down because the director did not want to make the special effort necessary to allow a flute to be heard over trumpets and trombones.

Enrolling at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Mitchell studied math while she thought about trying to become a classical flutist and listened to musicians such as Irish classical superstar James Galway. Her first extended exposure to playing jazz came as a sophomore at UCSD, when she took an improvisation class from jazz trombonist Jimmy Cheatham. Cheatham introduced her to the flute recordings of 1960s multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, and she was instantly hooked. With little outlet for her jazz energies at UCSD once she was finished with Cheatham’s course, she began performing on the streets of San Diego for spare change. Far from being immersed in her own world, she would tailor her improvisations according to her impressions of individual passers-by.

She would ultimately wind up in Chicago, where she was street busking:

For a talented jazz player, street busking in downtown Chicago (her usual spot was the corner of Jackson and Wabash streets) was a better bet than San Diego: Chicago was home to a large community of progressive jazz players, many of whom were associated with a collective called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The collective dated back to the mid-1960s but was (and remains) a potent force in Chicago jazz, nurturing large, freeform ensembles that would influence Mitchell’s own music profoundly. Other musicians she met on the street steered her toward the AACM, and soon she was playing in an all-female AACM group called Samana that experimented with vocals, hand percussion, and other instruments such as a sitar.

Here she is in 2019 performing live in concert in Atlanta, where she tells a story with her flute.

YouTube Video

The Atlantic Center for the Arts in collaboration with Civic Minded Five and Timucua Arts Foundation presented Nicole Mitchell, live at Timucua in July 2019.With her were Doug Mathews and Anthony Cole, and for the finale, the associates from ACA Residency # 174 joined in for a newly minted piece: Border Parade.

Check out the lively “conversation” between flute and kora in this Black Earth Ensemble performance.

YouTube Video

I hope today’s story has introduced you to some flutists you didn’t know, or brought back memories of those you already did.

As for Lizzo, I am happy to report that her playing a dead white president’s flute has raised a lot of consciousness about the Library of Congress’ collections, which will hopefully send some of her millions of fans exploring.

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Hurricanes and Leadership

We begin today with an interesting piece by Aaron Blake of The Washington Post about how hurricanes have a way of defining the careers of municipal, state, and national leaders.

Two prominent examples will always spring to mind. One is Katrina, in which a slow and botched response was among the reasons George W. Bush left office in 2009 as one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history. By contrast, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) hands-on approach and bipartisan work with President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy made him historically popular in his home state.[…]

During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration sent hundreds of troubled and jobless World War I veterans to work camps in Florida to build a highway to the Florida Keys, in part to keep them from protesting in Washington. A year later, in 1935, a hurricane threatened the area, but officials dithered on evacuating the men. Ultimately, what’s become known as the Labor Day hurricane killed an estimated 260 of them, prompting extensive political damage control from the administration. (Ernest Hemingway wrote a piece titled, “Who Murdered the Vets?” but FDR was able to preempt blowback in Congress and largely keep it out of the news.)

By 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appeared to recognize the benefit of at least the appearance of a more hands-on approach to storm response. A day after Hurricane Betsy, a Category 4 storm, struck New Orleans, he was on the ground to coordinate the response. Four years later, another devastating storm along the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Camille, solidified the role of the federal government in disaster response.

The first Google hit for a search of “LBJ Hurricane Betsy” led me to this September 26, 2005 essay “High Water” by David Remick of The New Yorker. After the fold is an excerpt from Remnick’s essay.

In the Ninth Ward, Johnson visited the George Washington Elementary School, on St. Claude Avenue, which was being used as a shelter. “Most of the people inside and outside of the building were Negro,” the diary reads. “At first, they did not believe that it was actually the President.” Johnson entered the crowded shelter in near-total darkness; there were only a couple of flashlights to lead the way.

“This is your President!” Johnson announced. “I’m here to help you!”

The diary describes the shelter as a “mass of human suffering,” with people calling out for help “in terribly emotional wails from voices of all ages. . . . It was a most pitiful sight of human and material destruction.” According to an article by the historian Edward F. Haas, published fifteen years ago in the Gulf Coast Historical Review, Johnson was deeply moved as people approached and asked him for food and water; one woman asked Johnson for a boat so that she could look for her two sons, who had been lost in the flood.

This is your President! I’m here to help you!

That’s leadership.

Let’s move on to other pundits.

Maggie Koreth of FiveThirtyEight writes about research showing a direct correlation between living through natural disasters and belief in climate change.

“Disasters make environmental problems more salient,” he said. Paserman’s research has found that, between 1989 and 2014, congresspeople from districts hit by a hurricane were more likely to sponsor or co-sponsor environmental regulatory bills in the following year. And he’s not the only one who has noticed similar correlations. According to another study, which looked at abnormal temperature and precipitation trends between 2004 and 2011, members of Congress whose home states were experiencing weird weather were more likely to vote for all kinds of environmental legislation. More broadly, international research from 34 countries found that nuclear disasters increased the number of renewable-energy policies implemented for as long as seven years after the event. […]

A 2021 review of existing literature discovered ample evidence that living through a natural disaster is associated with higher levels of self-reported belief that climate change is a problem and a greater concern about what this might do to you and your family. Our own polling with Ipsos earlier this month showed something similar. Even among Republicans, nearly half of those who had experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years told us they were worried about climate change, compared with only 17 percent who hadn’t experienced a natural disaster.

But there are limits to the ability of a disaster to prevent future calamities. For one thing, the same review paper that showed increased belief in climate change didn’t find a corresponding increase in behaviors that would deal with that issue. And changes in belief are still heavily moderated by what people already think. For example, in a 2019 survey of people who experienced severe flooding in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013-14, the ones who walked away with the highest levels of concern about climate change were those who had already attributed floods to global warming.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times theorizes that remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to increases in both home prices and rents.

At first glance, the pandemic housing price surge may seem reminiscent of the 2000s bubble. But this time really is different, in a couple of ways.

What happened from 2000 to 2006 looked, even at the time, like pure speculative fever rather than a response to a real surge in housing demand. How could you tell? By the fact that the surge in home prices wasn’t matched by a surge in rents…

This time, however, rents have soared along with home prices. Official data, which measures how much renters are paying, on average, has lagged the rental rates on new leases, which are a better indicator of demand. Rental data is, however, available from a number of private sources like Realtor.com, Apartment List and Zillow. This data suggests that market rents have gone up around 25 percent since the beginning of the pandemic — not quite as much as home prices but still a lot (although they seem to be plateauing)…[…]

So what happened? Like many people, I’ve speculated that the pandemic-induced rise in remote work led to a demand for more space at home. New research from economists at the San Francisco Fed supports this view. They found that remote work expanded most in locations where it was already relatively common and that home prices rose the most in these locations. (“Migration controls” refers to the Fed’s attempt to measure this relationship with and without the separate, though not unrelated, movement of workers from place to place.)

Forrest Wilder of Texas Monthly reviews and grades out the Texas gubernatorial between Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke. 

Debates are generally treated by political professionals and the media as important events in the democratic process. And yet, in the past twelve years—over four gubernatorial races—three of the four gubernatorial debates occurred on a Friday night during football season in Texas. (In 2010, Rick Perry refused to debate altogether.) This suggests that the candidates—at least some of them—do not want them to matter. Scheduling a single, hour-long, audience-less debate during Friday night lights is not a scenario that invites broad public attention; it’s a perfunctory nod to the idea that informed citizens deserve to see candidates directly engage each other. And yet the ritual requires that a winner and loser be declared. How else to prove that the debate matters than to crown a champion?

So who won, Abbott or O’Rourke? If I must give an answer, it is this: let’s call it a draw . . . which gives Abbott the edge because of how much ground O’Rourke needs to make up in order to be the first Democrat to win a statewide race since some of y’all were in diapers. Tonight’s mano a mano, at least by Texas gubernatorial standards, featured two veteran campaigners well versed in their positions and confident in their antagonisms. It was not the sad spectacle of 2018, when Greg Abbott had nothing to fear from the hapless Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, and yawned his way through the debate and toward a thirteen-point victory.

A Friday night during football season? In Texas?

Stunned reactions keep coming in with respect to Ukraine reclaiming Lyman. Andrey Gurulyov, former deputy commander of Russia’s southern military district, said he couldn’t explain the defeat. He blamed in on a system of lies, “top to bottom” and was suddenly disconnected. pic.twitter.com/O4aoRqVx96— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) October 2, 2022

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post write about the complex diplomacy surrounding women’s rights during Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip to Asia.

But a more sensitive and politically charged goal was left largely unstated: burnishing Harris’s role on the potent issue of women’s rights, a sensitive mission in two male-dominated countries that lag starkly behind other developed nations on gender equity.

It was a balancing act for Harris. Japan and South Korea are strong allies that the United States considers pivotal to countering China’s growing aggressiveness, and she came to strengthen ties with the two countries, not alienate the men who lead them. But at seemingly every turn, the vice president sought to highlight the chasm that exists between genders here and provide living proof that a more equitable path exists.

“I do strongly believe that when women succeed, all of society succeeds,” she said at a roundtable featuring South Korean women on Thursday. “I also believe the real measure of the state of a democracy is measured by the strength and standing of women. … If we want to strengthen democracy, we must pay attention to gender equity and put in the hard work of lifting up the status of women in every way.”

Vanessa Barbara writes for The New York Times about the hope and anxieties surrounding Brazil’s fast approaching presidential election. 

On the surface, things seem calm. An outsider walking through the streets would not get the impression that a presidential election is about to be held. Looking out the window, I notice that the Brazilian flags — which have come to represent support for Mr. Bolsonaro — have been removed from the neighboring facades. An ambiguous sign: It could be a pre-emptive response to defeat, or the calm before the storm. There’s not even much talk among friends and family concerning the election; the lines were drawn in 2018 and have not moved much since then.

Yet for all the social polarization, there is still enormous support for democracy here: 75 percent of citizens think it is better than any other form of government. Right from the beginning, Mr. da Silva has been trying to exploit that common feeling and open up a broad front against Mr. Bolsonaro. He picked a former adversary from the center-right, Geraldo Alckmin, as his running mate; assiduously courted business leaders; and secured endorsements from prominent centrists. In this comradely atmosphere, supporters of the center-left candidate, Ciro Gomes, currently about 6 percent in polls, may even throw their votes behind the former president. If that happens, Mr. Bolsonaro will surely be beaten.

That glorious prospect does little to dispel the anxiety enveloping the country. It’s physically impossible not to dwell on what might happen. The possibilities are terrifying: The polls might be wrong, and Mr. Bolsonaro could win. The polls might be right, and Mr. Bolsonaro could refuse to concede defeat, and even initiate a coup. Each day now seems to be the length of a day on Venus — around 5,832 hours — to go by the agitation of my Twitter feed.

What’s for breakfast? Try Rosa Parks’s recipe for peanut butter pancakes. You can find the recipe in her own handwriting from the @librarycongress collection. https://t.co/SkxiSsW9r1 pic.twitter.com/vLNYBDnbVy— Carla Hayden (@LibnOfCongress) October 1, 2022

Interestingly, many of the comments within the Twitter comment thread have remarked that Rosa Parks handwriting looks similar to their own grandmothers.

Looks like my grandmother’s handwriting, too.

Finally today, The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer about the one word that may have doomed Pennsylvania’s proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

Over the summer the Pennsylvania legislature passed language that, if passed in a second session, and then approved by voters as a ballot question, would add the following line to the state constitution: “This constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” Because it’s a constitutional amendment and not a regular bill, Gov. Tom Wolf — who is avowedly pro-choice — can’t veto it. The process leapfrogs him.

Whether due to low information or just apathy, Pennsylvanians tend to overwhelmingly approve ballot questions. Among the 49 proposed amendments that voters have considered since 1968, they’ve approved 43 of them. So state Republicans, who have commanding control of both the state House and Senate, figured this was an easier path toward banning abortion in Pennsylvania than through the regular legislative process, which would be subject to the governor’s veto. Last week Wolf filed a lawsuit against this and other constitutional amendments in Commonwealth Court, but it remains to be seen how that will play out. For the moment, the legislature knows it has the upper hand.

What the legislature doesn’t know, apparently, is how to write.

According to Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University, the drafters’ inclusion of the (frankly unnecessary) phrase “any other right relating to abortion” might prevent a court from finding personhood in the unborn — something that forced-birthers have been trying to do in state after state for decades.

Have a good day, everyone.

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Fighting California’s fires requires carceral reform and a just transition

by Ray Levy Uyeda

This article was originally published at Prism

Fall is a tough season for Da’Ton Harris, a wildland firefighter who spends multiple weeks at a time attempting to tamp down fires without hoses. Harris and his crew of 20 other firefighters with the Urban Association of Forestry and Fire Professionals, where he’s a superintendent, are responsible for cutting down a forest to its soil so that, theoretically, there’s less fuel to burn. It’s a critical job, especially as climate change continues to dry up California’s forests and prolong the summer heat, which now overlaps with increased winds during typical fall months—creating a ripe environment for wildfire.

Many firefighters have been at the front lines of these dangerous jobs while being incarcerated, but policies block them from being hired by municipal fire stations after their release because they have conviction and felony records, despite the growing need for more firefighters to combat intensifying wildfires.

California legislators are starting to acknowledge this reality. In 2021, a state law went into effect that may make it easier for firefighters who were trained while they were incarcerated to expunge a felony conviction from their record, which is needed to gain the required licensing to become a municipal firefighter. Harris, a staff member at Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP), which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs, went through the expungement process this year.

“With me being able to get this off my record, I can try to head back to school to work for a paramedic license, so I can work closer to home,” Harris said. He lives in Victorville, California, with his wife and five children, and he said that he’ll be able to go to his son’s baseball games and maybe even help coach the team. The expungement, he said, will change everything.  

Advocates say the change in the law is a prime example of the progress that needs to happen around felony records and removing employment restrictions for those who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. However, others warn that reforms to a system that is restrictive by design won’t bring about the justice needed to address climate change-induced wildfires or change the way a conviction record can shadow someone long after they’ve served their sentence.

While incarcerated wildland firefighters are tasked with combating the consequences of climate change, justice-involved community leaders and grassroots activists say that the intertwined issues of climate change and retributive policies of incarceration deserve a deeper look that questions the efficacy of piecemeal solutions to systemic issues. They also echo a call for a just transition, a union term for shifting the workforce away from harmful industries to those that don’t risk climate and ecological balance.

“It’s a really good starting point”

The new law opens up a career pathway previously closed to formerly incarcerated people trained in firefighting. Because of the lengthy approval process for expungement, advocates say this fall will be the first wildfire season where firefighters with expunged records will serve.

The law is designed to address a systemic problem that many formerly incarcerated firefighters face: municipal fire stations require an emergency medical technician (EMT) license for employment, yet EMT licensing boards discriminate against those with felony convictions. The law, often referred to by its legislative number AB 2147, only applies to those who were trained at “conservation camps” operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). There are 36 such wildland firefighting training camps across the state.

“It’s a really good starting point,” said Genna Rimer, the director of supportive services at FFRP. “Five years ago, this wasn’t even an option … Things are changing within the criminal legal system.”

Rimer helped launch the organization’s AB 2147 project. In partnership with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Rimer and the team of social work students she oversees prepare the application materials required by the court for expungement. So far, Rimer and her team have helped 34 people file petitions for expungement.

For some individuals, the expungement process has taken nearly a year, says Ashleigh Dennis, a litigation staff attorney at Root & Rebound, a reentry advocacy organization. She explains that the organization has had to inform judges and court clerks that the law was changed in 2021, that individuals are, in fact, eligible for felony expungement, and that the court itself has to request specific documentation from the CDCR.

In August, the first expungement petition was granted to one of Dennis’ clients. “We’ve seen that [the law] does do what it’s supposed to do, which is very exciting,” Dennis said. She was nervous about the outcome, Dennis said, given how much education her organization had to provide to the court clerks, but she was happy her fears were proven wrong.

Providing avenues for full-time employment with benefits isn’t just an acknowledgment of the work that formerly incarcerated people have already proven themselves capable of; it could also provide financial stability.

Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative, said that prior to an incarceration, Hispanic and Black women report average earnings of $11,820 and $12,735, respectively. For Hispanic and Black men, those wages are $19,740 and $17,625. White men and women have the highest incomes among their formerly incarcerated and non-justice-involved peers. For comparison, a firefighter in Los Angeles can earn $75,000 annually.

“It’s definitely not where we need to be”

It’s common for states and industries to have licensing requirements for jobs—like the EMT license in California that bars many formerly incarcerated people from being hired, regardless of their experience and expertise. At least 27,000 requirements across the country prevent formerly incarcerated people from receiving licenses or accreditation. Of those 27,000 prohibitions, over two-thirds are permanent exclusions, and over one-third are automatic and mandatory—meaning that formerly incarcerated people can’t petition for an exemption.

While formerly incarcerated firefighters have already proven themselves as capable and committed to the work, petitioners are required to demonstrate again a “personal moral evolution,” a legal demand that dates back centuries; in the U.S., morality has long been attached to labor, employment, and perceived proximity to the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.

Rimer says that there are other caveats in the law that hamper someone’s ability to craft a life for themselves on the outside. For instance, expungement opportunities don’t apply to people who played other roles at conservation camps, like cooks or maintenance staff. Not to mention that approval of an expungement petition is discretionary, which means that someone’s employment opportunities and economic freedom are left to the opinion of a single person. Rimer estimates that five people whom FFRP helped file petitions for were denied expungement, with at least one of those being denied for not providing enough evidence of rehabilitation.

These pitfalls in the law are opportunities to figure out what needs to be done next, but Rimer says they’re also a reminder of how far the law has come. “It’s definitely not where we need to be,” she said.

Woods Ervin, an organizer with Critical Resistance, a grassroots movement to dismantle the prison-industrial complex, says that these gaps in the new law illustrate the layers of economic disenfranchisement that formerly incarcerated people face. The lack of access to political and economic systems equates to what he calls a“social death,” where restriction and surveillance continue long after someone has been released.

“I think that the issue of the cycle of imprisonment and economic instability is that a prison is oftentimes a catch-all for people who were in precarious economic conditions before they were incarcerated,” Ervin said.

The positioning of incarcerated firefighters as essential to the wildland firefighting workforce is a political choice, and it doesn’t have to remain that way, Ervin said. Critical Resistance and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) are utilizing a just transition framework, he said, and urging the state to make use of cost savings from prison closures by expanding public sector jobs.

Even with the state’s reliance on incarcerated firefighters, Ervin says that California prisons often lack wildfire evacuation plans for their incarcerated residents. An analysis by The Intercept found that California ranks highest of all states for the sheer number of facilities at the highest risk levels for wildfire.

But for advocates of decarceration, the reliance on incarcerated firefighters is a misguided attempt to address the symptom of the problem of climate change with the underlying cause of another—mass incarceration. A coalition of 80 grassroots organizations in the state, under the umbrella organization CURB, is demanding that the state close 10 prisons by 2026. Closing just five prisons would save the state $1.5 billion per year by 2025, Ervin said, which are funds that could be rerouted to disinvested communities for education, health care, child care, and other public programs. The state is currently working to close the minimum security prison in Susanville.

How climate change is a criminal justice and economic justice issue

For formerly incarcerated firefighters who don’t want to go through the lengthy and potentially unfulfilling process of petitioning for expungement, there’s always the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Justin Schmollinger, a deputy chief with the state agency, says that CAL FIRE has always hired people with prior convictions, including promoting formerly incarcerated firefighters to leadership positions within the agency.

CAL FIRE partners with CDCR to run the 36 conservation camps in the state, with about 40-60 people per camp, Schmollinger said. Most often, incarcerated wildland firefighters are trained to work in “hand crews,” which use tools to clear away brush and debris. While on a fire, crews of incarcerated firefighters do the same work as non-incarcerated firefighters; the difference is their pay and the opportunities available to them down the line.

“I’m with those guys more than I am with my own family, so you get to talk, and the thing that was hardest for these individuals is just getting a regular job—just getting a job in McDonald’s,” Schmollinger said.

What worries Schmollinger these days are the numbers. Recently, CAL FIRE has had to close eight conservation camps, and even then, he says that the remaining camps are supposed to have around 100 incarcerated firefighters. Across the state, Schmollinger said that the ideal incarcerated workforce is 2,584 firefighters. Right now, Schmollinger said, there are 813.

He attributes this to a shift in incarceration policies in the state as a whole, as well as the releases initiated after the onset of COVID-19. In 2020, the state’s incarcerated population declined by 23%—though researchers note that at the onset of the pandemic, prisons were overcrowded by 33%.

The increasing intensity of climate change is a refraction point for other, often coexisting issues in the state: a declining wildland firefighting population, a push to recognize the colonial origins of fighting rather than working with fire, a grassroots call entering the mainstream to dismantle an expensive and racist carceral system, and a recognition that those who were trained as firefighters while incarcerated should be able to continue and build on their career.

This is all the evidence needed for a just transition, Ervin said. A wildfire management plan can’t be built in part on access to low-wage laborers. The idea of a workforce devoted to public projects and climate change readiness is not a new one, though it was repopularized by the Green New Deal, legislation introduced in 2019 by Democratic then-freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The growing need for climate mitigation strategies nationwide, coupled with a reckoning around the system of mass incarceration, is fodder for shifting the underlying conditions that lead to catastrophic weather and incarceration. And as we inch closer to climate points-of-no-return, also called “tipping points,” experts say that climate change must be tackled with more urgency.

In a way, Harris’ experience speaks to what is possible when we offer opportunities to learn trade skills rather than continue to punish someone by withholding access to economic systems. “Firefighting really gave me a platform so I can really do something different,” Harris said. Without firefighting, he said, “I honestly don’t know where I’d be at.”

“We need to keep wildfires in ecosystems and out of communities”

What concerns Shaye Wolf, the climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is that the state is funding the wrong firefighting tactics. California’s ecosystems evolved with wildfire, Wolf said. About one-third of the state is forested, land that needs to burn to remain healthy. Fire is naturally restorative and a necessary part of the forest ecosystem, not an external harmful force onto ecosystems, as dominant cultural narratives today would suggest.

CAL FIRE’s own resources point to the many benefits of fire, like killing bugs and pests, clearing debris from the forest floor, and rejuvenating soil systems. California Native tribes have long practiced cultural burning for land stewardship, food production, and ceremonial reasons. For the nearly two centuries that California has been a state, official policy has advocated for the suppression of fire. For that time, official policy supported the destruction of Native peoples, tribes, and traditional foodways. It’s in large part because of Native practices that the state began to change its tune on fire, recognition of fire that also comes over 100 years after the state outlawed cultural burning.

“We’re still in this period of fire suppression where most fires that start are extinguished,” Wolf said. The number of wildfires are increasing, as is the length of fire season in the state and the intensity of the burning, which Wolf attributes to climate change.

Since the 1970s, she said, California has experienced about a fivefold increase in the amount of area burned every year. In the late 1990s, about $650 million of CAL FIRE’s budget, adjusted for inflation, was dedicated to fire response. Now, that number hovers around $2.3 billion. Fire prevention remains less than 10% of the CAL FIRE budget.

Hotter summers parch the landscape, and fire season has extended into months with stronger winds, which breathe oxygen into wildfires and help them spread. “Fire has become more destructive in California because traditional firefighting tactics don’t work during that extreme fire weather,” Wolf said.

What many Californians would be surprised to learn is that CAL FIRE wildland firefighting may, in fact, contribute to negative changes in forest ecosystems, which are critical stewards of 60% of the state’s water supply.

But as a firefighting tactic, “[t]he state pours most of its money into cutting forests,” Wolf said. “They call it thinning [and] fuel reduction.”

It sounds benign, Wolf said, but the long-term impact worsens the climate crisis and contributes to wildfire damage. Analysis of a 2013 fire in Oregon found that heavily logged forests burned more intensely than those that hadn’t been thinned, and researchers say that the 2018 Camp Fire in California was able to move quickly because of forest thinning. “Increased fire speeds reduced the evacuation time window for residents of Paradise, where at least 130 people died,” researchers wrote.

Instead, “[w]e need to keep wildfires in ecosystems and out of communities,” Wolf said. The state can address root causes of the climate crisis and impacts of fire on communities, but current wildland firefighting techniques do neither of these things. She advocates for more funding for home hardening—constructing houses with materials that are resistant to fire, as well as putting screens on vents, installing roof sprinkler systems, and clearing debris away from the surrounding area of one’s home.

The state also has the power to get to the underlying cause of so many wildfires, Wolf said, like extraction of oil and fracking, which often are situated near communities of color.

“The Newsom administration has the power now to stop new oil drilling, phase out existing drilling, and oversee a rapid just transition to 100% renewable.”

Ray Levy Uyeda is a staff reporter at Prism, focusing on environmental and climate justice. Find Ray on Twitter @raylevyuyeda.      

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. Our in-depth and thought-provoking journalism reflects the lived experiences of people most impacted by injustice. We tell stories from the ground up to disrupt harmful narratives, and to inform movements for justice. Sign up for our newsletter to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Even a pandemic didn't get paid sick days for most low-wage workers, this week in the war on workers

More than two years into the pandemic (still not over, President Biden!), there have been nearly 100 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States. In the early part of the pandemic, some workers benefited from a first-ever federal paid sick leave law, and a growing number of states require paid sick leave for many workers. But many workers have had to face COVID-19 with no paid sick time, and as usual, the burden falls most heavily on the workers who already have the least.

Just 38% of the bottom 10% of workers have paid sick days, while 96% of the top 10% have the benefit, the Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould writes, highlighting recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And if you’re in the lowest-paid 10% of workers, you cannot afford to take unpaid time off work without serious sacrifice. Leisure and hospitality is the industry where the lowest percentage of workers—53%—have paid sick leave, even though many of those jobs are public-facing, bringing an increased risk of contracting COVID or any other virus, and an increased risk of passing it on.

● Home Depot workers have filed to form the first union at the retail behemoth, Jonah Furman reports.

● Employers’ productivity standards are not real science. Here’s how to push back, Michael Childers writes at Labor Notes.

● The child care crisis just keeps getting worse, Rachel Cohen reports—and a child care crisis is itself an issue for the workers in that industry and for parents who need care for their children to be able to work.

● Seven hundred Bobcat workers in North Dakota voted to join the United Steelworkers.

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Too many of us have been harassed, threatened & even physically assaulted. And too many of us have felt like Apple has let us down. We’re tired of feeling unsafe at work. Apple workers need a union to give us a voice to address safety concerns. Please hear what we have to say. pic.twitter.com/xXy34OjTA4— Apple Retail Union (@Apple_Union) September 29, 2022

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NEW: Trader Joe’s union-busting has reached a new low. The company shut down an entire store in New York—the only Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in the country—days before its workers were set to unionize. Customers are appalled by the decision, and the workers are speaking out. pic.twitter.com/OtB6MYD7E0— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) September 30, 2022

Since Dobbs, women have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers across the country, and the first person to dig into these stunning trends was TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier, who’s our guest on this episode of The Downballot. Bonier explains how his firm gathers data on the electorate; why this surge is likely a leading indicator showing stepped-up enthusiasm among many groups of voters, including women, young people, and people of color; how we know these new registrants disproportionately lean toward Democrats; and what it all might mean for November.

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Ukraine update: Now that Lyman is liberated, Ukraine selects its next target

On Saturday evening in Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are moving block by block through the city of Lyman, looking into houses, checking IDs of any residents still there, and accepting the surrender of any Russian forces willing to lay down arms. Russian casualties north of the city, and along the highway to the east, are reported to be horrendous, and it’s probably going to be some time before any since of the true scale of the carnage becomes clear. But with darkness falling over Lyman, at least for the moment, those conducting the door to door search report relative peace. There have already been images showing Ukrainian soldiers at the building Russia was using for their local HQ. No one was home.

Лиман🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/kvYLcqyRSj— IgorGirkin (@GirkinGirkin) October 1, 2022

It may seem like the siege of Lyman went on for an extended period, but it’s really been less than three weeks since Izyum was liberated. In that time, Ukraine has freed over 1,400 square kilometers and dozens of localities. Not bad for a period in which Ukraine was also consolidating its control over the 300+ towns and villages it had just liberated, handling thousands of Russian prisoners, and incorporating hundreds of abandoned Russian vehicles.

What Ukraine just accomplished in the area around Lyman is an amazing example of multi-tasking. And of being able to execute a plan, even in the face of the enemy. The came, they saw, they maneuvered the holy hell out of it.

Here’s a new map, and for once there is not a big blob of yellow and red stretching out around Lyman.

Lyman is suddenly kilometers from the front line.

As of Saturday, there are likely Russian troops still remaining in Lyman, in Zarichne, and in the woods and fields east of both. Ukrainian forces are trying to locate survivors from the running battle fought along the highway. Expect to see some of the new hardware they’ve acquired from that “Russian lend lease program” in the next few days.

Even before the final round of combat got rolling around Lyman, there were reports of Ukrainian troops showing up 30km to the east at Kreminna. With a population of 18,000 before the war, Kreminna is almost the same size as Lyman, but until last week it was a position that Russia almost seemed to have ignored. In fact, local officials once let it be known that there were no Russians in the city and ran up a Ukrainian flag, before the Russians came back and put a stop to that.

Over the last two weeks, much of the reinforcement and materiel coming into Lyman has come through Kreminna, but that may not be a good indication that the city has been built up or prepared as a defensive position. Which may be why there are multiple reports on Saturday that the first response of Russian forces there to the unexpected appearance of Ukrainian troops, was to run away.

On the other hand, there were plenty of reports on both Telegram and Twitter over the last month that Russia had pulled out of areas that it had definitely not left. The number of false “Russia has withdrawn from (insert town here)” in the last two weeks has been so high, that even if there’s not a single Russian troop in Kreminna, someone will need to walk around the town with a camera before most people are going to buy it. For now assume that Kreminna is will stocked with Russian forces.

The expectation of most observers is that Ukraine will now move toward Svatove, which is to the north, behind that arc of towns that have “boxes” in them. Those represent locations where Russian sources say Russia is preparing a defensive line, expressly to prevent Ukraine from reaching Svatove from the south. But of course, those positions were hardened on the assumption that Ukraine would try to move up the highway directly from Lyman to Svatove, because TWRWD (that’s what Russia would do).

If we back away a step, it’s clear that Ukraine has options.

Northeast Ukraine

Over along the Oskil River, Ukraine has forces on the south of Borova, and another force coming down the river which is just 15km to the north. It’s certain that Ukraine would like to liberate Borova, which is the largest town in Kharkiv Oblast still occupied by Russia. On the other hand, they don’t need Borova to move down the wide open P07 highway, through the heart of Kharkiv Oblast, and into Luhansk. Maybe Russia has also hardened some locations in that direction, but there aren’t many hills, or towns, along that route to make a good stopping point.

Ukraine could go for Svatove straight down the P07 without bothering to take Borova. It could take Kreminna, or bypass it, and move toward Svatove from the south. Or it could ignore Svatove completely and go for Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk. 

It could do none of the above.

While Russia continues to dash itself on the rocks at Bakhmut, seemingly unable to think of anything else worth doing. Ukraine has plenty of options. Most likely it will do what it’s done in the past month—look for the location where Russia is vulnerable, maneuver for position to avoid marching straight into artillery and massed troops, and accept Russia’s surrender when they cut off and destroy that position.

It’s certainly fun to speculate about where Ukraine goes next. We probably won’t have to wait long to find out.

Kherson

As this was being written, both Russian and Ukrainian sources began reporting what looks to be a serious shift in Kherson. One Russian source indicates that Ukrainian forces are “pouring in” along “the whole northern border.” Another insists they have to retreat because the Ukrainian forces “have many vehicles.”

I don’t yet have enough specifics to map what’s happening. As best I can tell, the major push seems to be just a few miles on the west side of the Dnipro River. It seems like Ukraine may be about to come at the Kherson area in a whole new way. Stay tuned.

Zelensky: Ukrainian flag is in Lyman, our advances continue “There is no trace of any pseudo-referendum there,” the president said, adding that Russians will soon see a “more and more” different reality compared to what their officials say. https://t.co/Yu3jBNcuu3— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) October 1, 2022

Russian military reporter Lysycyn with more cope (though realistic), saying Ukrainians have higher ground to shell Kreminna, Rubizhne, Lysychansk, Severodonetsk. Says leaving Lyman was a crime.https://t.co/mObdDyQap7 pic.twitter.com/Nsk6hvlb6B— Dmitri (@wartranslated) October 1, 2022

Saturday, Oct 1, 2022 · 8:20:51 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

🤡 Russian Defense Ministry: “the troops were withdrawn from #Lyman to more favorable frontiers” It turns out that in Russian language there are a lot of replacements for the term “military defeat”: – gesture of goodwill; – regrouping; – withdrawal to more favorable frontiers. pic.twitter.com/yP9HTHMRzy— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 1, 2022

Saturday, Oct 1, 2022 · 8:49:57 PM +00:00

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Mark Sumner

Here’s more on that advance Ukraine is making in the Kherson area. Russia had actually managed to recapture a few villages in this area over the last three weeks. Now it looks like Ukraine is taking them back quickly. Then we’ll see if push turns into a major drive toward one of the two critical objects: Kozatske (across from Nova kakhovka) or the city of Kherson.

Armed Forces of Ukraine launched a tank offensive in the Kherson region Russian military correspondents report that the 1st tank battalion and the 1st infantry battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine moved out of Novovorontsovka in the direction of Khreshchenivka and Lyubymivka pic.twitter.com/Gw2ycBw42M— ТРУХА⚡️English (@TpyxaNews) October 1, 2022

Saturday, Oct 1, 2022 · 11:28:12 PM +00:00

·
Mark Sumner

This is the second time Ukraine has liberated the giant watermelon. Let’s keep him free this time. 

Ukrainian defenders fully liberated Osokorivka including the Watermelon landmark, Kherson Oblast pic.twitter.com/BP3L0tTCR9— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) October 1, 2022

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How immigration advocates are challenging discriminatory utility policies in the South

by Tina Vásquez and Makaelah Walters

This article was originally published at Prism

This article was published in collaboration with Facing South

There are certain memories seared into Salvador’s brain, scenes of what it was like for communities of color in LaGrange, Georgia, before a lawsuit pushed the city to end discriminatory practices that denied Black and Latinx community members access to basic utilities.

Salvador, who is using a pseudonym because of his immigration status, still remembers how a single undocumented mother in his community struggled to care for her small children when she was forced to go days without water and electricity because she didn’t have a Social Security number or the $500 “security deposit” required in lieu of this form of identification.

For approximately 20 years, LaGrange had a utilities ordinance that took unpaid fines from the municipal court for minor violations—like driving with a suspended license—and tacked them onto utility bills. The goal was to get residents to pay their fines by holding the threat of losing water and electricity over their heads. Scalawag reported that 90% of the residents subject to the court debt policy were Black and largely lived in a segregated part of town. LaGrange also required a Social Security number for utility accounts, effectively denying untold numbers of undocumented immigrants the ability to access water and power.

In 2020, the city reached a settlement with the NAACP, Project South, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and seven residents who sued LaGrange three years earlier for discriminating against Black and Latinx renters and homeowners. Shortly after, the city announced it would no longer attach non-utility debt to residents’ utility bills or require a Social Security number as part of the utility application process.

These weren’t just bad city policies, according to Salvador. They amounted to state-sanctioned discrimination.

“Georgia is a place with a lot of racism,” Salvador said in Spanish. “Of course it’s not just racism against immigrants or Latino people; it is racism against African Americans. This is why these communities still experience a lot of problems here, and why we couldn’t access these services.”

Salvador noted that his immigration status made him fearful of joining the fight against LaGrange’s discriminatory policies. But ultimately, he decided to talk to attorneys for the lawsuit because he was tired of seeing people in his community experience overwhelming hardships—the same hardships that could have befallen his family. For over a decade, Salvador rented his home from a Georgia-born immigration activist. If not for this stroke of luck—and the fact that the utility account was in the activist’s name—Salvador’s family wouldn’t have been able to turn on their water or electricity.

While LaGrange changed its utility ordinance, data obtained by Facing South and Prism from Project South show that basic services like water and electricity continue to be unattainable in many communities of color across the South due to discriminatory policies that are baked into how jurisdictions do business.

“Once we saw what happened in LaGrange, we got the sense that this is not an isolated instance,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s legal and advocacy director.

Project South’s data shows that 90% of Georgia’s localities have policies in place that resemble the former LaGrange ordinance. To access basic utility services—including water, gas, and electricity—counties require at least one, or sometimes two, forms of state-issued identification in addition to a Social Security number.

In letters to more than 300 municipal leaders in Georgia, Project South outlined how these ordinances violate two federal laws: the Privacy Act and the Fair Housing Act.

“Because the vast majority of residents who lack a Social Security Number are noncitizens, your requirement of a Social Security Number, as well as your refusal to accept valid  ‘foreign’ identification documents, has a disparate impact on individuals of a particular race or national origin,” the letter reads in part.

A problem beyond Georgia

These utility policies disproportionately impact the estimated 339,000 undocumented immigrants who call Georgia home and do not have access to any form of identification, which hinders them from being able to easily do everyday tasks—like opening a bank account—and denies them access to basic services they are entitled to as taxpayers.

Project South’s letters to municipal leaders included three requests: that each city promptly review the relevant requirements for providing utility services, revise the relevant policies and documents, and inform city employees of the proper requirements to ensure that all residents have access to essential utilities.

56 Georgia localities were unresponsive to the organization’s letter. The other more than 200 remaining localities either refused to update their policy, or agreed to update their policies but refused or delayed making updates to their website—a critical tenet of Project South’s demands.

“It is essential for these localities to have the information updated and uniform across all the various media, and to also educate their staff as to the new policy,” Shahshahani said.

She said that for undocumented people seeking utility services, seeing ID requirements on a municipality’s website can have a chilling effect. In that moment of fear and hesitation, an undocumented person is more at risk for entering into an exploitative contract with a landlord—some of whom seek out undocumented immigrants for exploitation.

For example, police recently arrested a North Carolina man for targeting Latino residents with a housing scam in which he collected rent for properties he did not own. The 29-year-old posed as a landlord in Winston-Salem and entered into housing rental or “rent-to-own” agreements with Latino families for abandoned properties he did not have permission to rent out or sell. Between Dec. 1, 2019, and Feb. 1, 2022, he allegedly collected more than $50,000 in rent from six victims. Earlier this summer, two more victims came forward, one of whom spent $63,200 on property renovations for a home they thought they were going to be able to purchase.

Discriminatory utility policies also impact undocumented immigrants beyond Georgia. Project South has sent letters to 16 municipal leaders in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas regarding denial of utility services for residents without a Social Security number. The letters prompted 10 cities to review their utility policies, but only six made the requested policy changes and subsequent updates to their website.

“Every day that they refuse to change their policies, to bring them into accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other types of human rights norms and principles, they are committing human rights violations,” Shahshahani said. “That’s exactly what we need to be calling it.”

Southern grassroots organizations are also trying to address these discriminatory policies, which are hurting members of their communities. Luis Mata, policy coordinator at Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), told Facing South that denial of utility services is a common experience among the state’s growing population of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that protects from deportation eligible immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The issue first arose in 2018, when Middle Tennesseans began reaching out to TIRRC. They reported trying to set up electricity service from their local cooperative during the winter months but were denied when they were unable to provide the two required forms of state-issued ID and a Social Security number.

The cooperative insisted this was permitted under the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, but the law requires creditors to take “reasonable” steps toward preventing identity theft. According to Mata and the affected residents, requiring two forms of ID in addition to a Social Security number was excessive. The cooperative agreed to expand its accepted forms of identification to include foreign passports, foreign consular IDs, individual taxpayer identification numbers, and birth certificates.

“We always hope it is a misunderstanding of the law and not just a genuine interest to deprive immigrants of basic necessities,” Mata said. “Regardless, we are striving to open up the willingness to accept alternate forms of documentation there because we’ve seen it done.”

Project South has secured revisions of similar ordinances in 12 municipalities in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. The group intends to continue its advocacy efforts in those states as well as in Alabama and Tennessee.

“We shouldn’t have ever had to go to court to litigate about this matter,” Shahshahani said. “Everybody, regardless of their immigration status, should have the right to access essential services, such as utilities.”

Tina Vásquez is the editor-at-large at Prism. She covers gender justice, workers’ rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.

Makaelah is a writer for Facing South, an online magazine published by the Institute for Southern Studies. She is the institute’s 2022 Julian Bond Fellow. Previously, she was a reporter for the Watauga Democrat and an editorial assistant for the nonprofit advocacy group Appalachian Voices.

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. Our in-depth and thought-provoking journalism reflects the lived experiences of people most impacted by injustice. We tell stories from the ground up to disrupt harmful narratives, and to inform movements for justice. Sign up for our newsletter to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Biden admin faces pressure from U.N. human rights experts to end ICE's harmful 287(g) policy

The racist 287(g) agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement agencies have frequently been criticized by advocates and lawmakers alike. These are the deeply flawed agreements that allow local police to behave as federal deportation agents.

In fact, these agreements are so deeply flawed that a U.N. committee is now the latest to urge the Biden administration to end this program once and for all. Civil rights advocates say the call from the 18 independent human rights experts who serve on the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is “unprecedented for the administration.”

RELATED STORY: ICE pledged review of flawed 287(g) agreements more than a year ago, but still no decision

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“At a hearing in Geneva earlier this month, committee members pressed Biden administration officials to explain their failure to end racist immigration practices, citing the 287(g) program for ‘indirectly promot[ing] racial profiling,’” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said. ”In Congress, no representative has ever pressed Biden officials over the continued pain felt by America’s immigrant communities, to this degree.” 

The ACLU said that key in the U.N. committee’s recommendations to “effectively combat and end the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement officials” within the U.S. government is advice to terminate the flawed policy. The committee said in its report (which is described as “scathing” by the ACLU) that it “remains concerned” about the “persistence of the practice of racial profiling” by ICE, as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

“This isn’t the first time the UN Committee has called on the U.S. government to end the 287(g) program—it also did so in 2014 during the Obama administration,” the ACLU said. “By then, it was already clear that the decade-old program was a vehicle for racist law enforcement officials to harass immigrants.”

In fact, the Justice Department under the Obama administration had in 2011 “concluded that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona engaged in a pattern and practice of constitutional violations, including racial profiling of Latinos, after entering a 287(g) agreement,” American Immigration Council said last year. 

The ACLU previously noted that the Obama administration took decisive action to begin winding down 287(g) agreements, with Congress slashing the program’s funding by nearly half. “By the end of the Obama administration, only 34 local agencies remained in the program.” But 2017 would mark the beginning of a drastic rise in the number of agreements.

While ICE had pledged a review of the policy, lawmakers have criticized the agency’s delayed timeline. Nor has the Biden administration acted on a pledge to terminate 287(g) agreements entered into by the previous administration. But the policy is effectively on the ballot in regions like Frederick County, Maryland, where the Democratic challenger for sheriff is running on a platform ending the department’s agreement with ICE.

“It’s time for members of Congress to press the Biden administration—just as the UN Racial Justice Committee has done,” the ACLU said. “The 287(g) program is a racist, broken relic. The Biden administration needs to abandon it.”

U.N. entities have rebuked U.S. immigration policy numerous times in the past. The U.N. Refugee Agency has issued numerous statement expressing alarm related to the Biden administration’s use of the debunked Title 42 policy quickly deporting asylum-seekers in violation of their rights. In 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Office said the previous administration’s family separation policy “runs counter to human rights standards and principles.”

So much is on the line this election, and we need to make sure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballots. Sign up to volunteer for Election Protection to fight voter suppression and rampant disinformation. From field work to remote work you can do at home, there is something for every volunteer with Election Protection.

RELATED STORIES:

In Maryland’s Frederick County, flawed and racist ICE agreement is at center of sheriff’s race

‘Get me some of those taco eaters’: This ICE program empowers terrible sheriffs to be even worse

Immigrant communities describe ‘relief’ after Georgia sheriffs terminate ICE agreements

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Medical industry donations pour in for Texas AG Ken Paxton, other abortion ban supporters

Hospital groups, drug manufacturers, and insurance companies are some of the largest donors to anti-abortion candidates.

By Jessica Goodheart, for Capital & Main

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is the top law enforcement officer and a zealous anti-abortion crusader in a state that has become ground zero in the right’s efforts to eliminate access to the procedure. Abortion bans, like the one in Texas, put reproductive health at risk and are likely to increase maternal mortality, according to recent studies.

Yet Paxton and other anti-abortion elected officials continue to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care industry campaign contributions through direct fundraising and through a political action committee that bundles contributions. Drug manufacturers, hospital groups, and insurance companies are some of the largest donors to anti-abortion candidates for attorneys general via the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) has contributed $48,745 to Paxton since 2005, including $5,000 in 2022. TMA represents the very doctors Texas prosecutors can now charge as felons for providing abortion care. The political action committee DHR Health, a Rio Grande Valley hospital chain, where a doctor recently had to weigh his potential prosecution under the ban when deciding whether to administer an emergency abortion, is Paxton’s largest medical industry contributor. The physician-owned hospital chain donated $50,000 to Paxton this election cycle and more than $260,000 to his campaigns since 2005.

Paxton’s actions have contributed to creating an environment that has turned the lives of patients seeking abortion care and their doctors upside down, according to doctors and advocates.

“We’re talking about potential criminal liabilities, life in jail for providing an abortion,” said Bhavik Kumar, a Southeast Texas physician who provided abortion care in limited cases until late June, when the Dobbs decision was handed down and his clinic ceased offering the procedure. The shifting legal landscape in Texas, which had the nation’s severest abortion restrictions prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, has left Kumar worrying about what he can and cannot say and do and with “very little energy to actually be able to fully help people.” Kumar is on the board of the New York-based Physicians for Reproductive Health.

the ban’s chilling effects

Tony Ogburn, a doctor with DHR Health in Edinburg, Texas, recently experienced the ban’s chilling effect when his patient undergoing a miscarriage risked a major hemorrhage, Newsweek reported. She delivered a stillborn baby on her own, allowing him to avoid the potential legal liability of performing an emergency abortion. An abortion is only permitted in Texas to save the life of the mother or to prevent “substantial impairment of bodily function.”

The Texas Medical Association, which opposes the ban, said in an email to Capital & Main, “TEXPAC—TMA’s political action committee—supports candidates for myriad reasons and various issues.” DHR Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Just this year, Ken Paxton has received at least $146,500 in contributions from medical associations, a hospital group, and an insurer.

On June 24, hours after Roe was overturned, Paxton issued an advisory that said that a 2021 abortion ban on the books would be triggered in 30 days and offered to “assist any local prosecutor who pursues criminal charges” against providers who could be charged with a felony for providing an illegal abortion. Texas is one of a dozen states where most abortions are currently banned, and about half the states in the country are expected to outlaw or limit the procedure.

In July, Paxton filed a lawsuit that succeeded in blocking the Biden administration from enforcing federal guidance that protected doctors if they need to terminate a pregnancy as part of emergency treatment. He claimed in the suit that the administration was attempting to “transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.” Just this year, Paxton has received at least $146,500 in contributions from medical associations, a hospital group, and an insurer, according to OpenSecrets, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that tracks data on campaign finance.

With the overturning of Roe, the tension between those donations and some of the donors’ missions has become more pronounced. A statement from Texas Medical Association, issued after the Dobbs decision, condemns the Texas ban’s interference in the doctor-patient relationship. “TMA is unwavering in its stance against intrusions by government or other third parties that impede the patient-physician relationship, and any criminalization of acceptable and appropriate medical practices that may jeopardize that relationship or patients’ safety.” The TMA filed an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful effort to block the enactment of Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year that prohibited an abortion as early as six weeks. The TMA has donated $297,000 to politicians that backed trigger laws in the state since 2005, according to a Business Insider investigation.

Gov. Greg Abbott

Paxton has sought to curtail abortion rights going as far back as 2003 when, as a state legislator, he voted to require that doctors inform patients that abortions might lead to breast cancer, even though cancer researchers say no such link exists.

Ghazaleh Moayedi is a Texas OB-GYN who has been an outspoken advocate for abortion rights. She recently joined abortion rights groups in a lawsuit against Paxton and other elected officials intended to forestall potential prosecution by state officials for helping Texans gain access to legal abortions in other states.

With the overturning of Roe, the tension between donations to anti-abortion candidates and some of the donors’ missions has become more pronounced.

She has been troubled by medical associations’ support for federal and state lawmakers opposed to abortion rights. In May, she criticized their support for lawmakers who oppose abortion. “Why does ACOG [the American College of Gynecologists] do it? For that matter, why does AMA [the American Medical Association] & TMA do it?,” she tweeted after a colleague noted that ACOG had contributed to Republican lawmakers in Congress who voted in 2021 against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have prohibited restrictions on abortion services. Moayedi declined to be interviewed by Capital & Main.

Along with the AMA, ACOG has denounced the overturning of Roe v. Wade and filed a friend of the court brief in opposition to the Mississippi ban upon which the U.S. Supreme Court decision was based. But its agenda is broader than just abortion rights, according to an email from the group. “There is indeed a tension to balancing the many policy priorities of a medical organization,” according to a statement ACOG provided to Capital & Main. “ACOG’s advocacy across party lines has helped pass several new laws that will improve the health and lives of clinicians and their patients.”

dark money and right wing donors

One of Paxton’s biggest contributors is the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA), a campaign committee that bundles large corporate donations with dark money from right-wing donors. More than $1.2 million of RAGA’s contributions in 2022 came from the health care industry, according to a Capital & Main analysis of IRS filings provided by True North Research. RAGA donated $250,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2022.

RAGA is an important force in a number of other state attorney general races that involve anti-abortion candidates, including those in the presidential battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada, where Matt DePerno, Eric Toney, and Sigal Chattah, respectively, are all running against pro-choice candidates in November.

RAGA’s top medical industry donors in 2022 were Centene Management Company LLC, a Missouri-based managed care company; Aetna Inc., a Connecticut-based insurance company; Pfizer, a New York-based pharmaceutical company; and Anthem, an Indiana-based insurance company.

Each of these publicly traded companies donated more than $100,000 to RAGA. Centene, which operates in Texas, donated $350,000. Pfizer, which has also donated more than $20,000 directly to Paxton since 2006, according to OpenSecrets, makes Cytotec, a drug that induces abortions.

Paxton, who is also under indictment for federal securities fraud, is not alone among anti-abortion candidates and officeholders who have received campaign contributions from the medical industry. Across the country, close to 1,000 health care companies, insurers, clinics, care facilities, pharmacies, drug companies, and medical associations have given more than $14 million to 444 state legislators and 13 governors responsible for enacting trigger laws since 2005, according to Business Insider.

Paxton is in a close race with Rochelle Garza, a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney, who had not received any direct contributions from the health care industry as of mid-July, according to OpenSecrets. Paxton “supports banning abortion in all cases at any stage of pregnancy without any exceptions,” said Caroline Duble, political director of Avow, a Texas pro-choice advocacy organization that is supporting Garza. “Only 11% of Texans support that extreme of an abortion ban. So he’s way out of step with the average Texan.”

 Sonny Moskowitz contributed to this story.

This story first appeared at Capital & Main.

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Dark money swoops in to steal state supreme courts for the right. Help us defend them

The Republicans are answering Daily Kos and Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a boatload of dark money in order to keep the Ohio Supreme Court and control redistricting in this swing state. The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) has just plunked down $2 million for TV ads in the state for the last three weeks of the election.

The RSLC usually focuses on state legislatures, but is branching out with the help of some very dark money. Open Secrets reports the group got $1.6 million from Judicial Crisis Network in the last cycle for which they have records, 2020, and nearly as much from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The JCN is the dark money group headed up by Carrie Severino, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and co-founded by Leonard Leo. He’s the guy who created the current Supreme Court through the Federalist Society. OpenSecrets described JCN as having “unmatched influence in recent years in shaping the federal judiciary.”

Now they’re using their influence to shape state judiciaries, too, in this case specifically to influence redistricting. The Republican legislature had several congressional maps rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court in a series of 4-3 votes, with the court finding the legislative and congressional district plans were illegally gerrymandered under state law to favor Republicans. Those anti-gerrymandering laws were adopted by Ohio voters and added to the state constitution in 2015 and 2018.

That’s 21st-century Republicanism in a nutshell: If you can’t change the law, control the people who interpret the law. If you can’t win an election, change how the votes are counted.

Help in the fight against that. If you’ve got $10 or $100 to spare, you can help keep democracy alive in the state supreme courts.

It’s also not just Ohio; they’re going to spend at least $5 million on state supreme court races nationally this year. That’s absolutely flooding these races, which normally have a total budget of around $1 million.

We can’t match the kind of dark money Leonard Leo can bring to bear, but we can help the slate of fantastic candidates Daily Kos has endorsed in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina, too. David Nir introduced them last month.

In Michigan, incumbent Justice Richard Bernstein and state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden

In North Carolina, incumbent Justice Sam Ervin and Judge Lucy Inman

And in Ohio, incumbent Justice Jennifer Brunner, Judge Terri Jamison, and Judge Marilyn Zayas

And in case you missed it, here’s the pitch (like you need to be convinced to help save democracy).

You know who can STOP those awful voter suppression & abortion bans that Republicans are passing? State supreme courts! That’s why I’m working with Daily Kos to make sure we win 7 crucial races in 3 swing states. Donate here & let me know when you do:https://t.co/u0sihikN8z pic.twitter.com/uG78nuLujz— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) August 17, 2022

Please contribute what you can to these fantastic candidates, and help keep our democracy functioning and out of the clutches of the right.

Good judges are more important now than ever. In this episode of The Downballot, we shine a spotlight on elections for state supreme courts: actor and activist Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Together, Daily Kos and Julia are proud to announce their endorsement of seven Democratic candidates running for closely divided courts in Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio. You can support this slate by going to JusticewithJulia.com and donating today.

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