Israel Detaining Jewish Activists for Supporting Palestinian Rights

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ilana Novick.

Facing backlash against its controversial “nation-state bill” last month, Israel has detained Jewish writers and activists who oppose the law’s definition of Israel as an entirely Jewish state, with no mention of the value of democracy or equal rights for Palestinians.

On Sunday, writer, professor and political commentator Peter Beinart was on vacation, traveling from Greece to attend a family bat mitzvah in Israel when he was detained by the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, at Ben Gurion Airport in Jerusalem, he reported Monday in an article for The Forward.

Beinart’s was one of three such detentions at airports and border crossings in recent weeks.

Israel-born poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher arrived at Ben Gurion with his wife and infant daughter on July 29. Agents allowed his family through customs, but detained him for approximately three hours, claiming his involvement in nonviolent protests was a “slippery slope” to violence against the state, and asking him for the names of pro-Palestinian and peace organizations and of fellow activists and friends.

Rothman-Zechner called the experience “jarring and unpleasant,” but acknowledged how common and more abusive the situation is for countless Palestinians, and anyone else without his Israeli citizenship and white privilege.

He wondered how he would explain the incident to his daughter when she is older. “It’s painful to think about telling her one day, ‘Hey kid, on our first visit to Israel, your aba [father] was detained at the border because he thinks Palestinians are human beings deserving of equality,’ ” he said.

A week after Rothman-Zecher’s detention, Beinart’s former colleague, Simone Zimmerman, a founder of IfNotNow, an organization of young American Jews fighting Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, was detained with a friend, Abigail Kirschenbaum, at the Taba Border Crossing between Israel and Egypt.

According to New York magazine, the two “were held for roughly three and a half hours, had their phones inspected, and were asked a litany of queries about their opinions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their involvement with human-rights groups, and their interactions with Palestinians, among other topics.”

The incident involving Beinart occurred a week after that of Zimmerman and Kirschenbaum. While long an advocate for a two-state solution and Palestinian rights, in the past Beinart has been more cautious about separating his advocacy for the Palestinian people from his Zionism and defense of a Jewish state. Those nuances, however, may be lost on Israeli security forces.

“I was detained and interrogated about my political activities,” Beinart writes, describing how agents first detained him with his family, asking innocuous questions about where they were from and why they were in Israel before escorting Beinart separately to another room, where the questions turned accusatory and aggressive:

<blockquote>Was I involved in any organization that could provoke violence in Israel? I said no. Was I involved in any organization that threatens Israel democracy? I said no—that I support Israeli organizations that employ non-violence to defend Israeli democracy.</blockquote>

The agent then confronted Beinart about his participation in a protest on his last trip to Israel, one that Beinart explained was due to “the fact that Palestinians in Hebron and across the West Bank lack basic rights.” He described his involvement in The Center for Jewish Nonviolence.

The conversation took a strange turn after that, with the interrogator comparing the center with North Korea. As Beinart recalls:

<blockquote>He asked if the Center had incited violence, and I replied that, as its name suggests, it practices non-violence. My interrogator then replied that names could be misleading. The government of North Korea, he observed, calls itself a democracy but is not. I told him I didn’t think the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the North Korean government have much in common.</blockquote>

Beinart recognizes that he had immense privilege due to being white and Jewish and armed with the number of a lawyer he called, who helped set him free. He also was the only one of the three recent detainees to receive an apology from Shin Bet and a rare admission of wrongdoing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are sorry for the distress caused to Mr. Beinart,” a Shin Bet spokesperson said in a statement, The Times of Israel reports. Netanyahu called the incident “an administrative mistake” and “immediately spoke with Israel’s security forces to inquire how this happened.”

For Beinart, Netanyahu’s statement didn’t go far enough. On Monday he tweeted, “Benjamin Netanyahu has half-apologized for my detention yesterday at Ben Gurion airport. I’ll accept when he apologizes to all the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who every day endure far worse.”

 

 

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German Drug Company Sues Nebraska Over Use of Drugs for Lethal Injection

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The Washington Post reports that a German drugmaker, Fresenius Kabi, has sued the state of Nebraska in federal court over what the company believes is Nebraska’s plan to use two of its drugs in the lethal injection of convicted murderer Carey Dean Moore.

Moore was sentenced in 1979 for killing two Omaha cab drivers. Moore, the Post says, “is not contesting his sentence.” Still, as the Post reports, “the German company’s lawsuit could tie up his death sentence as the case moves through the legal system.”

While Nebraska has not revealed its sources for the drugs it plans to use for the execution, the Post reports that they are “a mix of the narcotic painkiller fentanyl citrate, the sedative diazepam, the muscle relaxer cisatracurium and potassium chloride, a drug that stops the heart.”

Fresenius Kabi believes it would be the source of the last two drugs. The Nebraska attorney general’s office said in a statement that “Nebraska’s lethal injection drugs were purchased lawfully and pursuant to the state of Nebraska’s duty to carry out lawful capital sentences.”

The death penalty is outlawed in the European Union, of which Germany is a member. Because of that ban, Fresenius Kabi’s lawsuit states that it could suffer “great reputational injury” if its drugs are used in Moore’s execution.

This isn’t the first time a pharmaceutical company has objected to its products being used for lethal injection. The Post reports that in July:

<blockquote>Multinational pharmaceutical company Alvogen accused the heads of Nevada’s prisons of working to illegally buy one of its drugs to use in an execution of [Scott Raymond] Dozier, who was convicted in 2007 of robbing, killing and dismembering a 22-year-old man in Las Vegas. He was also convicted in Arizona in 2005 of another murder and dismemberment near Phoenix.</blockquote>

In recent months, the Post continues, “Injectable drugs have become difficult to obtain because of several drug manufacturers’ refusal to sell their products to prisons for use in executions.”

An anonymous national death-penalty expert also told the media that these two cases could be a set-up for a “showdown” between the makers of injectable drugs and states that uphold the death penalty.

Moore’s lethal injection was originally scheduled for next week.

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Stephen Miller’s New Sinister Immigration Proposal

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Donald Trump has been open about his hatred of immigrants. He began his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and saying that America needs to build a wall to keep them out. Previously, he and his supporters defended these policies by claiming that they were focusing on undocumented immigrants, and not legal immigrants, who they claim “came the right way.”

But the Trump administration has shattered this pretense by setting up a denaturalization task force, designed to strip naturalized citizens convicted of even the most minor crimes of their citizenship. That hasn’t been enough, however, for vehemently anti-immigrant Trump adviser Stephen Miller.

NBC News reports that the administration is now planning a proposal “that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare.”

The move does not require congressional approval. Sources familiar with the situation told NBC that it is part of Miller’s grand plan. NBC points out that “Miller, along with several of his former congressional colleagues who now hold prominent positions in the Trump administration, have long sought to decrease the number of immigrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.”

The news organization notes that the move “would fall particularly hard on immigrants working jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families,” since the plan in its current draft would apply to those who have benefited from such programs as the Affordable Care Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and SNAP (food stamps) to support themselves and their families.

Louis Charles, a Haitian green card holder working toward citizenship, is an example. As NBC reports, “Despite working up to 80 hours a week as a nursing assistant, [Charles] has had to use public programs to support his disabled adult daughter.” Previously, this necessity would not have affected his citizenship application; under Miller’s plan, it will prevent him from attaining naturalization.

Immigration lawyers and advocates call the plan “the biggest change to the legal immigration system in decades and estimate that more than 20 million immigrants could be affected.”

NBC says that Trump administration policies are already having an effect:

<blockquote>Data from the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 indicates that the administration is on track for a decline in immigrants granted green cards by 20 percent. Data for the first two quarters of fiscal year 2018 for immigrants obtaining naturalized citizenship shows little change compared to the same period of 2016. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says they expect naturalization numbers to rise in the latter half of the year based on previous trends.</blockquote>

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials are rejecting accusations of discrimination. Spokesman Michael Bars told NBC that “USCIS has not changed the manner in which applications for naturalization have been adjudicated.”

Immigration advocates are preparing for a fight.

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Google Search App for China Prompts Employee Anger Over Chinese Censorship

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News broke Wednesday that Google is building a new search engine for China, sparking internal debate among employees over the ethics of selling a product to a country that censors its internet. This project has pitted Google employees concerned about privacy and free speech against executives eager to expand into a lucrative market.

The Intercept reports that the proposed search engine, code-named Dragonfly, will “blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.”

Based on internal Google documents, The Intercept writes that Dragonfly “has been underway since spring of last year and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.”

Most Google employees had no idea the project existed. The Intercept found:

Teams of programmers and engineers at Google have created a custom Android app, different versions of which have been named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” The app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government; the finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials.

It’s an abrupt change for Google, which was once extremely wary of China’s censorship laws. Now, The Intercept reports, the “the app Google is building in China will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable.”

Bloomberg adds that eight years ago, “Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose parents brought him to the U.S. to escape communist Russia, led a dramatic exit from mainland China in 2010 after the company refused to self-censor search content.”

Bloomberg reports that Dragonfly is one of a few projects the tech giant is exploring for a potential return to China, and that CEO Pinchai, “since coming on board in 2015, “has made no secret of his desire to take the search giant back to mainland China.” Brin, Bloomberg continues, has stepped back from his day to day duties at Alphabet, Inc. the unit that’s producing Dragonfly, leaving Pinchai with greater control.

Bloomberg observes that by contrast, Pinchai “sees China as a hotbed of engineering talent and an appealing market.”

Pinchai’s eagerness to work with China has created internal strife. One employee, who spoke to Bloomberg anonymously, called Dragonfly a “censorship engine,” saying, “People trust Google to share true information and the Chinese search app is a betrayal of that.”

Some employees took to Twitter to announce their anger. In a since-deleted tweet reported by Bloomberg, researcher Meredith Whittaker was succinct: “WTF.” She added that the company’s decision was “enabling mass politically-directed censorship of (AI-enabled) search.”

Employee response to Dragonfly, however, was not all negative. Some workers expressed cautious optimism, and even excitement, Bloomberg reports:

Some Googlers, however, posted missives of support for the project on internal message boards on Wednesday. Google’s mission of organizing the world’s information shouldn’t leave out a fifth of the planet, one person wrote in a post viewed by Bloomberg News. Another said that boycotting the country did little to change the Chinese government or “bring any positive change.”

The Dragonfly debate comes on the heels of another recent controversy when Google won a contract to develop artificial intelligence technology for the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which, as The New York Times explains, “uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes.”

The Times said that “Many of the company’s top A.I. researchers, in particular, worried that the Maven contract was the first step toward using the nascent technology in advanced weapons.” Upset that at the decision, 4,000 Google employees signed a petition “demanding ‘a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.’ ”

The Times also reports that “A handful of employees also resigned in protest, while some were openly advocating the company to cancel the Maven contract.”

In Dragonfly’s case, its success or failure may depend not on Google employee backlash to China’s censorship laws, but on Chinese consumers’ own search engine preferences.

As Bloomberg observes, while Google has stayed out of search in China, Chinese and other American companies have filled the gap. For example, ““Baidu Inc. has strengthened its grip hile Microsoft Corp.’s Bing operates in the country by censoring subjects and words.” Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, told Bloomberg that Google “faces an uphill battle in getting users who are now very accustomed to Baidu to switch.”

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After Trump’s Tax Bill, CEOs Rake in Millions in ‘Eye Popping’ Stock Payouts, Politico Reports

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During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump bragged that if he became president, “everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class,” referring to his proposed 35 percent tax cut. President Trump’s actual tax bill, however, was vastly different from what candidate Trump mentioned in his campaign speeches. Seven months after the GOP tax bill went into effect, a Politico analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission data reveals that instead of enriching middle-class Americans, “Some of the biggest winners from President Donald Trump’s new tax law are corporate executives.”

These executives, Politico explains, “reaped gains as their companies buy back a record amount of stock, a practice that rewards shareholders by boosting the value of existing shares.” In addition to their salaries, many corporate CEOs and other high-ranking executives receive compensation in stock. Since the tax bill, which cut corporate tax rates to 21 percent, was passed on Dec. 22, 2017, these executives, according to Politico, “have been profiting handsomely by selling shares.”

Instead of investing their tax savings into workers’ salaries, research and development or other areas that might benefit all employees, executives have been selling their stock. This practice, Politico reports, “is likely to increase, as Wall Street analysts expect buyback activity to accelerate in the coming weeks.”

“It is going to be a parade of eye-popping numbers,” Pat McGurn, the head of strategic research and analysis at Institutional Shareholder Services, a shareholder advisory firm, told Politico.

The practice is in sharp contrast to Trump’s promises of a tax cut that would benefit the middle class. What’s more, reports of already wealthy executives getting even richer off stock sales following the tax cut could, Politico observes, “undercut the political messaging value of the tax cuts in the Republican campaign to maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections.”

Democratic congressional candidates could easily create campaign ads highlighting how Oracle Corp. CEO Safra Catz sold $250 million worth of Oracle shares, the most shares sold by any executive. Or they could mention Mastercard’s Ajay Banga, who sold $44.4 million worth of stock one day in May, which, according to Politico, is “the largest single cash-out by an executive of the company in at least 10 years, months after the company announced a $4 billion buyback of its own stock.”

Politico found similar stock sales by executives from cigarette maker Altria, Eastman Chemical, biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, and TJX Companies (the parent company of TJ Maxx).

This practice of insider sales, Politico says, “feed[s] the narrative that corporate tax cuts enrich executives in the short term while yielding less clear long-term benefits for workers and the broader economy.”

Corporations emphasize that they’re also selling stocks back to their shareholders. Politico found that following the passage of the tax cuts:

<blockquote>Roughly 28 percent of companies in the S&P 500 mentioned plans to return some of their tax savings to shareholders, according to Morgan Stanley. Public companies announced more than $600 billion in buybacks in the first half of this year—already toppling the previous annual record. </blockquote>

Critics are also concerned about the connection between buybacks and insider sales. SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson, a Democrat, said that the link is clear. Politico reports: “He [Jackson] studied 385 buybacks since the beginning of 2017 and found that after half of them, at least one executive sold shares within the next month.”

Companies told Politico that critics were falsely looking for connections where there were none, defended the legality of the buybacks, or declined to comment.

Voters may not care about the intricacies of securities law, buybacks or insider sales. They might however, care that the CEOs of major corporations are getting wealthier—as their own paychecks decline.

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Amazon’s Facial Recognition Software Is Prone to Racial Profiling, Report Says

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Amazon’s business practices have been under fire from multiple fronts in 2018. Consumer advocacy groups claim that it sells books, toys and clothing with racist messages and symbols that violate the company’s own anti-hate speech policies.

In June, Amazon employees signed an open letter demanding that CEO Jeff Bezos stop selling AWS Rekognition facial recognition software to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They feared the product was being used to racially profile immigrants. In the letter, employees said they “refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.”

A new report from the ACLU shows that those workers may be right.

Using Amazon’s Rekognition software and 25,000 publicly available arrest records, researchers built a database and a face-searching tool. They then searched the database against all members of the U.S. House and Senate.

“The false matches,” the ACLU writes, “were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among them civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).”

The report also points out that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had already raised concerns about accuracy and racial profiling to Amazon:

<blockquote> In a recent letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concern about the ‘profound negative unintended consequences’ face surveillance could have for Black people, undocumented immigrants, and protesters.</blockquote>

The ACLU researchers believe that their findings back up the CBC’s fears. They write, “Nearly 40 percent of Rekognition’s false matches in our test were of people of color, even though they make up only 20 percent of Congress.”

When Buzzfeed contacted Amazon for a comment, a spokesperson defended Rekognition, saying the ACLU’s test would be improved by “ ‘following best practices’ around setting the confidence thresholds — the percentage likelihood that Rekognition found a match — used in the test.”

The spokesperson continued, “While 80% confidence is an acceptable threshold for photos of hot dogs, chairs, animals, or other social media use cases, it wouldn’t be appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty. … When using facial recognition for law enforcement activities, we guide customers to set a higher threshold of at least 95% or higher.”

The ACLU countered that Amazon doesn’t ask what their clients are using the facial recognition software for. What’s more, Amazon might recommend certain parameters for law enforcement use, but that doesn’t mean law enforcement will follow those parameters.

Jacob Snow, an attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, also points out that Amazon’s own website suggests an 80 percent confidence in matching human faces, not the 95 percent the spokesperson claimed.

Snow told Buzzfeed that he believes “These results demonstrate why Congress should join the ACLU in calling for a moratorium on law enforcement use of face surveillance.”

Lawmakers are also alarmed. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D.-Ill., who is among those falsely matched with an arrest record, asked in an email to Buzzfeed, “Are you sure Amazon isn’t just talking to Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson and Breitbart? Because they think all Latinos are criminals.”

He continued, “But on a more serious note: If this technology has not been proven effective and has a systematic bias against people of color, then it will hurt, not help, law enforcement and anyone else who uses it.”

 

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Voter Purges on the Rise, Minorities Affected Disproportionately, Report Finds

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“Things have changed dramatically,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. He was referring to what he saw as a reduction in racial discrimination in the South and a rise in black residents’ accessibility to voting since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The election of the first black president and higher rates of black voting since 1965, was reason enough for him and four other justices to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. It was a key provision that required Southern states with a history of voter discrimination to clear any changes to their voting laws with the federal government, under a process called preclearance.

However, according to “Purges: A Growing Threat to the Right to Vote,” a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the optimism shown in the Shelby County v. Holder decision hasn’t borne out. This is especially true when it comes to voter purging, the process by which people are taken off the voter rolls.

Voter purges are not inherently discriminatory. “When done correctly,” the report explains, “purges ensure the voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date.” When they’re abused, however, “purges disenfranchise legitimate voters (often when it is too close to an election to rectify the mistake), causing confusion and delay at the polls.” And the abuse post-Shelby v. Holder is rising.

“Our research,” the report says, “suggests great cause for concern that the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder … has had a profound and negative impact.”

The Brennan Center found that from 2014 to 2016, states removed almost 16 million voters from their rolls. Nearly 4 million more names were removed from voter lists during this period than from 2006 to2008. Worse, the report continues, “for the two election cycles between 2012 and 2016, jurisdictions no longer subject to federal preclearance had purge rates significantly higher than jurisdictions that did not have it in 2013.”

Researchers believe that 2 million fewer voters would have been removed from  2012 to 2016 had the states previously subject to preclearance purged at the same rate as those states not subject to it. Texas and Georgia are just two examples the authors highlight:

In Texas, for example, one of the states previously subject to federal preclearance, approximately 363,000 more voters were erased from the rolls in the first election cycle after Shelby County than in the comparable midterm election cycle immediately preceding it. And Georgia purged twice as many voters—1.5 million—between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2012.

As Michael Harriot adds in his analysis of the report in The Root, “These are not random, isolated cases. It is a methodical effort that disproportionately affects minority voters.”

The Brennan Center’s research and Harriot’s analysis bear this out.  He writes, “A federal court halted a purge after Hurricane Katrina after justices found that one-third of the purged names came from a majority black parish in New Orleans.” In 1986 in Louisiana, an official said  a voter purge “could really keep the black vote down considerably.”

Harriot explains the sometimes subtle, sometimes shockingly open, methods states use to purge minority voters in particular from their rolls:

Some states purge rolls based solely on names but non-whites are more likely to have the same names. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.3 percent of Hispanic people and 13 percent of black people have one of the 10 most common surnames, compared to 4.5 percent of white people.

Address changes, even within the same election districts, also impact whether someone gets purged. According to Harriot, black and latinx voters are more likely to move, and officials use a process called voter caging, which, Harriot says, “intentionally sends mail to verify addresses in a format that cannot be forwarded, leading to the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

The consequences of Shelby v. Holder continue to affect the voting landscape, and the Brennan Center researchers are not optimistic about the outlook for protecting access to the ballot. Voter purging was not the only impact of the case. After Shelby County v. Holder, the researchers write:

Of the nine states once fully covered by the Voting Rights Act, seven have passed restrictive legislation since 2010. Of the 41 states not fully covered, only 18 passed restrictive laws over the same period. Two of these states (Florida and North Carolina) each had several counties subject to the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 ensured state lawmakers and election officials  would at least have had more scrutiny from the federal government when it came to their voting operations and oversight.

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Media Conglomerate Tronc Slashes New York Daily News Staff

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Bear with us, today will be difficult.” This is how Grant Whitmore, general manager for media conglomerate Tronc, the parent company of the New York Daily News, began a morning newsroom meeting, HuffPost reported Monday. It was a prelude to an announcement by Tronc that the paper is laying off approximately 50 percent of its newsroom staff.

“We are fundamentally restructuring the Daily News,” said the email, which, according to HuffPost, was unsigned. It continued, “[W]e are reducing today the size of the editorial team by approximately 50 percent and re-focusing much of our talent on breaking news — especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility.”

It was a harsh blow for a staff that had already shrunk to 85 in November 2017, a result of five rounds of previous cuts by Tronc, according to the New York Post.

It was not the first time Tronc, which bought the Daily News in 2017, has decimated the staff of local newspapers. “Over the past several years,” The Daily Beast reports, “Tronc has made sweeping cuts at some of the country’s most famous newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among others.”

Rumors of the layoffs had been circulating for weeks. Study Hall, a newsletter and listserv for journalists, reported Thursday that up to 70 percent of the newsroom staff could lose their jobs, and that Editor in Chief Jim Rich was planning to resign in protest. He left Monday, as did Managing Editor Kristen Lee.

While Monday’s cuts fell short of 70 percent, the impact was nonetheless devastating.

“Make no mistake,” a Daily News staffer told The Daily Beast, “this is the death of local journalism in this city.” Another staffer continued, “Those who are still there are demoralized and have no desire to be part of what’s left.”

While local newspapers around the country have been subject to similar deep cuts, New York has been particularly hard hit in the last two years.

As Deadline reported in 2016, The New York Times “ended its coverage of restaurants, art galleries, theaters and other commercial and nonprofit businesses in the tri-state region, laying off dozens of longtime contributors and prompting protests from many of the institutions that will be affected.”

The Daily Beast analyzed the Times’ decline in local coverage, reporting that “[a] check of coverage for the week starting on the last Sunday of January finds that the paper ran 48 metro stories. This is less than half of the tally for 2009 (102) and less than a third of the 153 stories in the same period in 2001 (a figure that doesn’t include metro stories in the additional Sunday suburban sections published then).”

In 2016, The Wall Street Journal also laid of staff of its former New York local news section amid a restructuring and deeper newsroom cuts. In the fall of 2017, billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down Gothamist and DNAinfo New York, two websites with an entirely local New York City focus (not to mention the national network of -ist and DNAinfo sites), when employees tried to unionize.

According to HuffPost, laid-off Daily News staff members “were told that they’d be paid for 90 days” and “be eligible for transitional benefits after that.” An employee called it “a pretty decent package,” though certainly no replacement for a full-time job, and, for readers, no replacement for dedicated, local coverage.

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New Zealand Company Experiments With a Four-Day Workweek

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The four-day workweek has been the basis of countless on-the-job daydreams and idle, longing conversations among co-workers stuck late at the office when they’d rather be home.

This year, a New Zealand firm has taken the idea out of the realm of daydreams and into the reality of a pilot program experiment, in which all employees worked four days for the same pay as five. It was so successful, the New York Times reports, that the company’s board is considering making the change permanent.

The 240 employees of Perpetual Guardian, a company that handles trusts, wills and estates in Wellington, New Zealand, are now the enviable recipients of a four-day workweek. This wasn’t simply an act of corporate benevolence. It was a business decision. Perpetual Guardian had asked two researchers to study the effects of a shorter workweek and found an increase in employee productivity.

Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, told the Times that “supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.”

Mr. Haar told the Times that overall, “employees reported a 24 percent improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.” Plus, he continued, “their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

The idea for the original pilot came from the personal research of the company’s founder, Andrew Barnes. As the Times reports:

<blockquote>Mr. Barnes said he came up with the idea for a four-day workweek after reading a report that suggested people spent less than three hours of their workday productively employed, and another that said distractions at work could have effects on staff akin to losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.</blockquote>

After the schedule changes, Perpetual Guardian employees told the Times that the new “workweek motivated them to find ways of increasing their productivity while in the office.”

The article does not specify what the company defined as a long break. It does note that for most companies around the world, the option of a shorter workweek meant lower salaries or cramming more work hours into fewer days. France did mandate a 35-hour week in 2000, but as the Times remembers, “businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.”

Barnes however, said he believed his “was the first business in the world to pay staff for 40 hours when working 32.”

Another benefit for his employees included cutting the bane of many office workers’ existence: endless meetings. At Perpetual Guardian, “meetings were reduced from two hours to 30 minutes, and employees created signals for their colleagues that they needed time to work without distraction.”

Tammy Barker, a senior client manager at the company, described a situation many of us who have worked in crowded, corporate open offices have long dreamed of: breaking free of the directive to multi-task and actually focus on just one project at a time.

“Because there was a focus on our productivity,” Barker said, “I made a point of doing one thing at a time and turning myself back to it when I felt I was drifting off. At the end of each day, I felt I had got a lot more done.”

In a time when half of Americans aren’t using their paid vacation time,  the idea of borrowing from a New Zealand pilot program may feel like a pipe dream—even with the glowing reports. Meanwhile, Barnes is trying to spread the gospel to more businesses in New Zealand.

 

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New Poll: Trump Voters Believe They Will Be Personally Attacked by MS-13           

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President Trump can’t stop talking about the Central American gang MS-13. He does so at campaign rallies, on Twitter and even during his 2016 Time Magazine Person of The Year interview, when he told writer Michael Scherer, “They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met. They’re killing and raping everybody out there. They’re illegal.”

This consistent messaging has paid off; according to a new HuffPost/YouGov Poll, 85 percent of Trump supporters surveyed believe, as Dana Liebelson and Ariel Edwards-Levy write in HuffPost, the gang “is a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States as a whole.” Approximately half of those supporters “are worried a great deal or somewhat that they or a family member will fall victim to MS-13 violence.”

By contrast, “Only 32 percent consider MS-13 a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the country, and 13 percent are worried about the gang’s violence affecting themselves or a family member.”

The poll results, as Liebelson and Edwards-Levy write, indicate that “the Trump administration may be succeeding in inflating the perception of the gang’s national risk.” While the gang’s influence has expanded beyond its 1980s Los Angeles roots, it owes much of that strength to U.S. immigration policies.

As J. Weston Phippen explains in The Atlantic, MS 13 began when Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles became affiliated with the city’s gangs. After a 1987 Los Angeles police initiative called Operation Hammer put many gang members in prison, the Clinton administration decided to reduce the prison population by sending incarcerated immigrants back to El Salvador, which was in the midst of a civil war.

As Phippen writes, “In one four-year period, the U.S. deported more than 20,000 criminals to El Salvador, and with them they brought tactics learned from U.S gangs.”

El Salvador borrowed the LAPD’s strategy of jailing gang members. Phippen says, “the approach backfired.” Incarcerating gang members may have made MS-13 stronger.

Liebelson and Edwards-Levy explain that gang activity flourished in Central America after the U.S. deported gang members back there. Now, unaccompanied minors are coming to the United States fleeing that violence.

Nonetheless, Trump continues to overstate their influence. Liebelson and Edwards-Levy write that the gang is “less a sophisticated international organization than a collection of cliques engaging in violence, small-scale drug-dealing and other crimes. It has about 10,000 members nationwide, according to the Justice Department ― roughly the same as a decade ago.” Gang members are concentrated in Los Angeles, New York and outside Washington, D.C.

These nuances haven’t trickled down to many Trump voters, at least not the ones who responded to the latest HuffPost/YouGov poll. In fact, Trump’s speeches about MS-13 have also influenced his voters’ views on immigration. “Overall,” HuffPost reports, “87 percent of Trump voters want stricter immigration policies, compared with 15 percent of Clinton voters.

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