Andrea Germanos

Study details how Trump unleashed 'outright slaughter' of wolves in Wisconsin

A new study published Monday estimates Wisconsin lost as much as a third of its gray wolf population after the Trump administration stripped federal protections for the animals and the state allowed for a public wolf hunt widely decried as being "divorced from science and ethical norms."

The February hunt, panned (pdf) by wildlife advocates as "an outright slaughter," killed 218 wolves—already far past the quota the state had set. But over 100 additional wolf deaths were the result of "cryptic poaching," University of Wisconsin–Madison environmental studies scientists found, referring to illegal killings in which hunters hide evidence of their activities.

The majority of those surplus deaths, the researchers estimate, occurred after the Trump administration announced on November 3, 2020 the lifting of endangered species protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. That shift became effective in January 2021.

According to the study, published in the journal Peerj, between 98 and 105 wolves died since November 2020 "that would have been alive had delisting not occurred."

An optimistic scenario puts the state wolf numbers for April 2021 at between 695 and 751 wolves. That's down from at least 1,034 wolves last year, representing a decrease of 27–33% in one year.

That decline, the researchers said, is at clear odds with Wisconsin's stated goal of the hunt "to allow for a sustainable harvest that neither increases nor decreases the state's wolf population."

"Although the [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] is aiming for a stable population, we estimate the population actually dropped significantly," said co-author Adrian Treves, a professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW–Madison, in a statement.

Cancellation of the state's next hunt, set for November, could allow for the wolf population to rebound in one or two years. Standing in the way of that is Wisconsin's mandate for a wolf hunt in the absence of federal protections, and kill allowances set on shaky scientific ground, according to the researchers.

Also troublesome is the fact that the state didn't mandate the collection of wolf carcasses for assessing data of wolf ages or detection of alpha females.

Co-author Francisco Santiago-Ávila said the results suggest the lifting of federal protections gave a subtle green light for more killings.

"During these periods, we see an effect on poaching, both reported and cryptic," he said. "Those wolves disappear and you never find them again."

"Additional deaths are caused simply by the policy signal," he said, "and the wolf hunt adds to that."

Citing "the importance of predators in restoring ecosystem health and function," the researchers offer recommendations including, at the federal level, a "protected non-game" classification for wolves. At the state level, authorities "should prove themselves capable of reducing poaching to a stringent minimum for a 5-year post-delisting monitoring period," the study said.

Wildlife advocates have already expressed concern that the wolf population hit seen in Wisconsin could be a harbinger of the fate of wolves in other states unless the Biden administration quickly restores federal protections for the iconic animals.

According to Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, "Quite simply put, post-delisting, too many wolves are being killed and there is absolutely no justification for it. No scientific justification. No ethical justification. No public safety justification. No economic justification."

WildEarth Guardians is among a handful of conservation organizations last month that released guides for laypeople as well as state agency wildlife policymakers to show how to best prioritize "wolf stewardship and a broader vision for conserving species in the face of global climate change and mass extinctions."

"New wolf plans informed by science and ethics are needed now more than ever, as the disastrous winter wolf hunt in Wisconsin showed," said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, expressing optimism the guides could be tools for "a more hopeful course in states' stewardship of these beloved animals."

'Existential risk': Leaked IPCC climate report draft 'reads like a 4,000-page indictment' of humanity's failure

Agence France-Presse reported Monday on the contents of a leaked draft of a United Nations intergovernmental climate panel report which warned that devastating effects of a warming world are set to hit far sooner than previously thought, with impacts including an additional tens of millions of people facing hunger by 2050.

"This is a warning of existential risk. Of survival. Of collapse," said climate movement Extinction Rebellion in response to AFP's reporting on what the draft contained.

The draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) document warns of sweeping impacts on weather events, food, ecosystems, and disease—changes expected even if global temperature rise is kept under the Paris climate agreement's second threshold of 2°Celsius. It also calls for systems-wide changes to avert a worst-case climate scenario.

"By far the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world, the report reads like a 4,000-page indictment of humanity's stewardship of the planet," reported AFP.

The final document is set to be released in February at the end of the formal review process.

IPCC responded to the media reporting with a statement indicating the draft document is likely based on the Second-Order Draft of the Working Group II report, which was circulated for review by governments and experts in December and January.

Because it is a confidential working document, the IPCC said it would not comment on the draft.

In a lengthy Twitter thread responding to the reporting, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe called the draft's assessment rightly "blunt" though unsurprising given that it's a synthesis report.

Referring to scientists, she added: "We've realized that if we don't spell out the fact that it's our civilization we've put on the chopping block ourselves, in words that everyone can understand, emphasizing risks that matter to everyone on this planet, who will?"

"Climate change isn't just one more priority on our already over-crowded list," Hayhoe wrote. "It is a threat multiplier that affects every single other priority already on it, from the air we breathe to the food we eat."

Despite the draft's grim assessment, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg found reason for hope.

Speaking to AFP, she said the document "confirms what we already knew"—that "the situation is very dire and that we need to act right now."

"At least I find that it's very hopeful," she said, "that many people are becoming more and more ready to tell it like it is," because "we can of course not face this crisis unless we tell it like it is, unless we are adult enough to tell the truth and to face the reality."

She added that "this could be something that could... wake people up, which is very hopeful."

Third FDA adviser resigns over approval of Alzheimer's drug as Big Pharma stock soars

Backlash over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's controversial approval of a new Alzheimer's drug grew Thursday with a third member of an agency advisory panel resigning in protest.

The latest resignation to hit the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee, as STAT first reported, came from Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor.

His action followed FDA's "accelerated approval" announced Monday for aducanumab, on which drug maker Biogen put an annual price tag of $56,000. Administered as a monthly intravenous infusion, it's the first drug to treat Alzheimer's disease that's been approved in nearly two decades—approval that came despite the panel's recommendation against it in light of lack of data showing efficacy.

In his resignation letter, Kesselheim wrote that it "was probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history," CNBC reported.

"At the last minute," wrote Kesselheim, "the agency switched its review to the Accelerated Approval pathway based on the debatable premise that the drug's effect on brain amyloid was likely to help patients with Alzheimer's disease."

The FDA erred in its approval, Kesselheim added to the New York Times, "because of so many different factors, starting from the fact that there's no good evidence that the drug works."

In a June 7 tweet, the day of the FDA announcement, Kesselheim wrote that "Accelerated Approval is not supposed to be the backup that you use when your clinical trial data are not good enough for regular approval."

Monday's announcement was followed by a surge in Biogen shares.


Kesselheim's departure followed the resignation of two other members of the advisory panel this week.

They included Mayo Clinic neurologist David S. Knopman, who told the Washington Post that he didn't "wish to be part of a sham process."

"The whole saga of the approval of aducanumab," Knopman wrote in his resignation letter, "made a mockery of the [advisory] committee's consultative process. While I realize that the committee is advisory, the approval of aducanumab appears [to] have been foreordained."

Washington University neurologist Dr. Joel Perlmutter also resigned and told STAT its was "due to this ruling by the FDA without further discussion with our advisory committee."

Aducanumab is administered as a monthly intravenous infusion and is meant not to stop the disease but slow the rate of a patient's decline.

As CNN reported Thursday:

Initial trials of the treatment, meant to be given to people very early in the course of disease before they develop dementia, did not indicate it helped at all. But the drug's maker, Biogen, re-analyzed data and said there was an indication it might help some patients. [...]

Clinical trials of aducanumab were stopped in 2019 because they failed to show the drug was effective.
But the drug's maker, Biogen, re-analyzed the data and said it showed some patients who got high doses of the drug had not improved, but had shown a slower rate of decline than other patients.

When the committee met in November, it rejected the drug.

Perlmutter warned at the time of "a huge danger in approving something that turns out not to be effective," citing "a risk of delaying good treatments and effective treatments for more than a couple of years, for many years,"

Another panel member, Dr. Scott Emerson said, said at the November meeting, "I'm highly critical of the fact that the FDA presentation today was so heavily weighted to just giving the same conclusions that the sponsor did," referring to Biogen.


Beyond the average $56,000 price tag per patient, there "will probably be tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs for screening and monitoring patients," the Times reported Tuesday. From the newspaper:

The drug is all but certain to unleash a gusher of profits for Biogen—the drug is expected to become one of the best-selling pharmaceutical products in the world within a few years—as well as for the hundreds of clinics expected to administer the drug.

Those billions of dollars in anticipated costs are likely to be shouldered largely by Medicare.

The drug's approval could drive up insurance premiums, according to healthcare policy experts. And it could add new out-of-pocket costs for some families that are already facing years of staggering costs for caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's.

An analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation released Thursday said that Medicare recipients prescribed the drug could face co-payments of $11,500 for a year, "which represents nearly 40% of the $29,650 in median annual income per Medicare beneficiary in 2019."

According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), "It's unconscionable to ask seniors and taxpayers to pay $56,000 a year for a drug that has yet to be proven effective."

"Medicare must be able to negotiate a fair price for prescription drugs," he tweeted Tuesday.

New UN climate report is a 'wake-up' call for a world on fire

Climate action advocates reiterated demands for urgent measures to rein in global heating after the World Meteorological Organization warned Thursday that there's a 40% chance the planet will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming in the next five years.

The WMO, a United Nations agency, also said in its update that there's a 90% chance at least one year between 2021 and 2025 will be the hottest on the books—a record currently held by 2016.

"We can change course, but the window is closing," tweeted climate group 350 Canada. "It's now a race to phase out fossil fuels as fast as possible."

WMO also predicted for the next five years an increased chance of more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and a drier Southwest.

"In 2021, the Arctic (north of 60°N) is likely to have warmed by more than twice as much as the global mean compared to the recent past," the agency added.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas stressed that the predictions reflect "more than just statistics."

"Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment, and sustainable development," he said in a statement.

"This study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris agreement on climate change," Taalas added, calling it "yet another wake-up call that the world needs to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality."

Climate scientists weighing in on the WMO's update suggested it is critical to focus on the broader trend of global warming rather than focusing on a single year breaking the 1.5°C threshold of warming, the more ambitious warming limit of the Paris climate accord.

"Once we get emissions to zero we are stuck with the warming that has occurred for many centuries to come, barring the use of planetary-scale negative emissions," tweeted Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute.

"This long-term commitment—rather than any short-term global temperature tipping point—is what I find to be the most compelling reason for pursuing ambitious targets," he added.

And, according to Joeri Rogelj, director of research and a lecturer in climate change and the environment at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, "A single year hitting 1.5° C doesn't mean the Paris limits are breached, but is nevertheless very bad news."

"It tells us once again that #ClimateAction to date is insufficient and emissions need to be reduced urgently to zero to halt #GlobalWarming," he said in a Twitter thread.

Human rights experts denounce Israeli attacks and confiscation of homes in East Jerusalem

Israeli forces are facing fresh condemnation from international human rights experts for their "excessive force" against Palestinian protesters in occupied East Jerusalem that left hundreds injured, and airstrikes into Gaza that killed dozens of people including nine children.

Also under scrutiny are Israel's attempted evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, which would amount to "war crimes," Amnesty International said Monday.

In a statement Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated its plea for an end to the violence, and also addressed the retaliatory rockets fired by Hamas into Israel that injured 17 Israeli civilians. The body appealed to Israel and Palestinian armed groups to respect international humanitarian law.

Referring to Israel's strikes into densely populated Gaza, an area deemed by occupation critics an open-air prison, spokesperson for the High Commissioner Rupert Colville said, "Any attack, including airstrikes, should be directed solely at military objectives and all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid civilian deaths and injury and damage to civilian objects."

"Israel must also refrain from punitive measures, such as additional closures and restrictions, that punish the entire civilian population of Gaza," he said.

Israel launched a new round of airstrikes into Gaza on Tuesday, bringing the death toll up to 26, according to the Associated Press. Retaliatory rockets fired from Gaza into Israel resulted in the first Israeli causalities from the latest spate of violence—two people in the southern city of Ashkelon—after which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said military forces would "increase both the strength and rate of the strikes."

Ahead of the latest round of airstrikes into Gaza, Israeli security forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque for a third consecutive night, "firing rubber-coated steel rounds, stun grenades, and tear gas at Palestinian worshipers inside the mosque in the final days of the holy month of Ramadan," as Al Jazeera reported. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which says it's been targeted as it attempted to provide aid to wounded worshipers and protesters, said that over 900 Palestinians were injured between May 7 and May 10 in East Jerusalem.

The repression drew condemnation from United Nations human rights experts Michael Lynk and Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

"The recent scenes of Israeli police and security forces attacking large crowds of Palestinian residents and worshipers is only intensifying a deeply inflammatory atmosphere in the city. A militarized response to civilian protests against discriminatory practices only deepens social divisions. Respecting rights is the only path forward," Lynk, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, and Rajagopal, special rapporteur on adequate housing, said in a statement.

Their statement also references the threatened evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which have elicited ongoing protests.

"An occupying power is prohibited from confiscating private property belonging to the protected population, and it must respect the body of existing laws which had governed the territory, unless it is absolutely necessary to alter them," said Lynk and Rajagopal.

"The forced transfer of the population under occupation is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which contribute[s] to the coercive environment now prevailing in East Jerusalem. As well," they continued, "these evictions breach the right to adequate housing—a core human right in international law."

Saleh Higazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, similarly condemned Israel's recent actions.

"The latest violence brings into sharp focus Israel's sustained campaign to expand illegal Israeli settlements and step up forced evictions of Palestinian residents—such as those in Sheikh Jarrah—to make way for Israeli settlers. These forced evictions are part of a continuing pattern in Sheikh Jarrah, they flagrantly violate international law, and would amount to war crimes," said Higazi.

Nabil el-Kurd, one of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah who's facing possible eviction, told Amnesty International that Israel's actions must prompt urgent action from the international community.

"Sheikh Jarrah is sending a message to the whole world, including the U.S. Congress, the U.K. Parliament, the French Parliament, the E.U. Parliament, the International Criminal Court, that what is happening to us is a war crime," said el-Kurd. "It is not just an eviction, but a war crime. Remember that."

"I do not know why the entire world is watching what is happening and letting Israel get away with it," said el-Kurd. "It is time they stopped spoiling Israel."

In the U.S. , some Democratic members of Congress are calling for a shift in ongoing policies and practices in which the U.S. continues to supply Israel unconditional miliaty aid and defends Israel's lethal military actions as "self-defense" while rejecting direct criticism of Israeli forces' deadly attacks on Palestinians and the ongoing illegal occupation.

Those voices include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and André Carson (D-Ind.).

In a joint statement Monday condemning the Gaza strikes and attacks on worshipers at Al Aqsa, the lawmakers said the threatened evictions are a "direct violation of international law, the Geneva Convention, and basic human rights."

"We condemn all violence in this conflict—these acts only serve to advance the political goals of the powerful at the expense of the suffering of the people," they said.

The lawmakers also denounced the lack of "accountability for Israel's wanton human rights abuses and continuing illegal seizures of Palestinian land" in the face of mere "lip service to a Palestinian state."

"It is long past time we finally take action to protect Palestinian human rights and save lives," the trio said.

US climate envoy John Kerry says 'we just have to end' fossil fuel subsidies

John Kerry, President Joe Biden's Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said Tuesday that "we just have to end the subsides" for fossil fuels to tackle the climate emergency.

Kerry made the remarks during a virtual panel—entitled "aising the Bar on Climate Ambition: Road to COP 26"—which was part of the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting.

"It's illogical," Kerry said of the subsidies, "at a moment we all know we have to incentive alternative, renewable, sustainable" energy.

He added that "technology necessary for about 50% of the [emissions] reductions is not yet available. It's going to come from future technology," he said. "How do we do that? We need incentives."

"You must create incentives for the right behavior, not the wrong behavior, and we have still have [fossil fuel subsidies] in the United States. We're going to try to end them," Kerry said. "They've got to be ended everywhere around the world."

The pledge to no longer prop up the dirty industry—long a demand of the climate movement—follows the White House's proposed repeal of fossil fuel subsidies.

The Made in America Tax Plan "would end long-entrenched subsidies to fossil fuels, promote nascent green technologies through targeted tax incentives, encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, and support further deployment of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power," the document states. Cutting off the subsidies "would increase government tax receipts by over $35 billion in the coming decade."

But, according to Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner John Noël, that's not enough.

"Fossil fuel corporations receive $15 billion in direct subsidies from the federal government every year. Not a dime of our tax dollars should go towards corporations that poison our communities and wreck our climate," Noël said last month.

He pointed to proposed End Polluter Welfare Act, "which would save taxpayers $150 billion over the next decade and allow us to invest in the clean energy economy of the future."

350.org U.S. policy director Natalie Mebane also lamented what she said was Biden's planned "investment in carbon capture projects that will only keep dirty power plants running."

"We want 100% renewable energy by 2030 that creates millions of jobs," she said. "The best way to decrease carbon emissions is to ensure a just transition and keep fossil fuels in the ground."

During Tuesday's panel, AFP reported, Kerry also criticized what he sees as lack of adequate climate action worldwide.

"Emissions are going up, we are on the wrong track—people are building back from Covid as if there were no reason to be thinking differently," said Kerry.

Biden releases Trump's 'repugnant' secret rules on use of lethal force overseas

President Joe Biden faced a fresh call to fully end "forever wars" after his administration released former President Donald Trump's secret rules regarding the use of lethal strikes outside of designated war zones.

The Biden administration released the partly-redacted 11-page document, "Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets," late Friday to the ACLU and New York Times, which had both filed transparency lawsuits to see the guidelines.

Biden suspended the rules once he took office, the Times reported, and began a review of them in March. That move prompted Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's national security project, to urge not a "review" but an end to the program. "Tinkering with the bureaucracy of this extrajudicial killing program will only entrench American abuses," she said at the time.

According to the Times: "The review, officials said, discovered that Trump-era principles to govern strikes in certain countries often made an exception to the requirement of 'near certainty' that there would be no civilian casualties. While it kept that rule for women and children, it permitted a lower standard of merely 'reasonable certainty' when it came to civilian adult men."

Author and director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law Karen J. Greenberg summed up the background recently, writing:

In his second term, [former President Barack] Obama did try to put some limits and restrictions on lethal strikes by [remotely piloted aircraft], establishing procedures and criteria for them and limiting the grounds for their use. President Trump promptly watered down those stricter guidelines, while expanding the number of drone strikes launched from Afghanistan to Somalia, soon dwarfing Obama's numbers. According to the British-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Obama carried out a total of 1,878 drone strikes in his eight years in office. In his first two years as president, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes.

The document's release follows a fall court order saying the Trump administration could no longer keep the rules secret or deny their existence.

"The United states will continue to take extraordinary measures to ensure with near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed in the course of operations, using all reasonably available information and means of verification," the Trump-era document states. However, it adds, "Variations to the provision... may be made where necessary."

Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement, "We appreciate this release, which confirms our fear that President Trump stripped down even the minimal safeguards President Obama established in his rules for lethal strikes outside recognized conflicts."

"Over four administrations," Kaufman continued, "the U.S. government's unlawful lethal strikes program has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black civilians in multiple parts of the world. Secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force is unacceptable in a rights-respecting democracy, and this program is a cornerstone of the 'forever wars' President Biden has pledged to end. He needs to do so."

Letta Tayler, associate director and counterterrorism lead with Human Rights Watch's Crisis and Conflict Division, shared the Times reporting on Saturday with a tweet saying the deadly force rules document was "Not surprising but no less repugnant: Trump stripped down already minimal safeguards from U.S. targeted killings."

Saturday also marked the 18th anniversary of former President Geroge W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech—a date noted by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who cast the sole vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

"Eighteen years ago, George W. Bush stood in front of a 'mission accomplished' banner backdrop and told the nation that 'major combat operations in Iraq have ended,'" Lee tweeted. "After the loss of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, it's time to finally put an end to our forever wars."

The COVID crisis in India declare a 'crime against humanity'

With Covid-19 cases soaring in India, acclaimed author and activist Arundhati Roy wrote Wednesday that her country is witnessing "an outright crime against humanity" as outside observers fear the crisis could hamper global efforts to rein in the pandemic.

As of Thursday, India now has the second highest number of total cases in the world—over 18 million—since the pandemic began, but a surge in recent weeks has made it into a global hot spot for daily infections and deaths.

So far, there have been over 204,000 official Covid-19 related deaths, but the true toll is likely far higher.

"I do not know of a single family that has not seen at least one of its members infected. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases every day and many more deaths," Pankaj Anand, humanitarian and program director with Oxfam India, said in a statement Thursday.

"The health infrastructure in India is bursting at the seams," said Anand, "and there are widespread reports of shortages of oxygen and other medical supplies in large cities."

According to the Associated Press: "India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge."

Headlines over the past few days—like "Round-the-clock mass cremations" and "Covid cases cross 18 million, gravediggers work round the clock"—put the crisis in bleak terms.

The crisis is clear to Jyot Jeet, chairperson of the Delhi-based organization Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, which provides free medical care and has been providing cremation services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Day in and day out, we are surrounded by the smell of burning flesh, and the sounds of crying families," he told NBC News.

The far-right government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for its response to the pandemic.

In an op-ed published Wednesday at the Guardian, Roy wryly described Modi as being "busy, busy, busy" with other matters like "Destroying the last vestiges of democracy," construction of "massive prison complexes," and watching as "hundreds of thousands of farmers [were] beaten and teargassed."

"The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster," she wrote. From the op-ed:

The number of Covid-protocol funerals from graveyards and crematoriums in small towns and cities suggest a death toll up to 30 times higher than the official count. Doctors who are working outside the metropolitan areas can tell you how it is. [...]
The precise numbers that make up India's Covid graph are like the wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums [former U.S. President] Donald Trump would drive past on his way to the "Namaste Trump" event that Modi hosted for him in February 2020. Grim as those numbers are, they give you a picture of the India-that-matters, but certainly not the India that is. In the India that is, people are expected to vote as Hindus, but die as disposables.[...]
The system hasn't collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps "failed" is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day just to mark ourselves present, like roll call in our school classrooms. We speak to those we love in tears, and with trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.

Writing in TIME on Thursday, Naina Bajekal gave a similar picture of devastation.

"India's crisis has blown well past the scale of anything seen elsewhere during the pandemic," wrote Bajekal. "Hospitals across the country are running out of oxygen supplies, ventilators, and beds. Indians are rushing to buy drugs like remdesivir, causing prices to surge, while labs struggle to process growing backlogs of Covid-19 tests."

Blame was also put at the feet of the Modi government, with Bajekal noting that "experts say the current crisis could have been avoided if the government had acted earlier."

Rather than intensifying public-health messaging and ramping up interventions like banning mass gatherings and encouraging mask wearing, Modi and his officials did the opposite. They held mass rallies ahead of elections and promoted the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that drew millions of worshippers to a single town—an event Jha predicts will end up "one of the biggest superspreader events in the history of humanity." On April 17, after India had overtaken Brazil to become the second worst-hit country in the world, Modi told a rally in West Bengal that he was "elated" to see such a large crowd.

The surging number of cases in India spells doom far beyond its owns borders.

As CNN reports:

The more the virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate and create variants that could eventually resist current vaccines, threatening to undermine other countries' progress in containing the pandemic, experts warn.
"If we don't help in India, I worry about an explosion of cases" around the world, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. That's why India's Covid outbreak is a global problem that needs a coordinated response. [...]
If the Indian outbreak can't be contained and spreads to neighboring countries with low vaccine supplies and weak health systems, experts warn the world risks replicating scenes witnessed in India—especially if newer, potentially more contagious variants are allowed to take hold.

That possible scenario drew concern from John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent," Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. "We do not have enough healthcare workers, we do not have enough oxygen."

Despite the fact that India is the world's top vaccine producer overall, just 2% of its population has been provided access to the Covid-19 vaccines thus far.

The Biden administration pledged this week to send India key medical aide—including oxygen, testing kits, and stockpiles of AstraZeneca vaccine supplies, but progressive U.S. lawmakers and outside groups say the White House must go further.

Public health advocates say the U.S. must stop vaccine hoarding, donate more supplies to WHO-led initiatives, and end its opposition to an India- and South Africa-led—and widely backed—push for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the World Trade Organization to allow for a massive boost in the production of coronavirus vaccines.

As WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said Thursday, "What's happening in India can happen anywhere else," and the virus "can rip through a population if you let it."

Scathing Human Rights Watch report says Israel is guilty of apartheid

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the policies and actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people amount to systematic "apartheid" and unlawful persecution that must be stopped.

The accusations related to Israel's actions in the occupied territories (OPT) and within Israel are laid out in a new report entitled "A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution." The findings are based on over two years of research and documentation including official government statements, internal planning documents, and interviews.

"Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT," the report states. "In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid."

The specific label of apartheid, the group notes, is accurate based on the Apartheid Convention and Rome Statute's definitions.

The accusation of persecution is based on "the widespread confiscation of privately owned land, the effective prohibition on building or living in many areas, the mass denial of residency rights, and sweeping, decades-long restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights," the publication says.

HRW also notes that the report is not comprehensive, as it does not include all human rights abuses in the areas, including those committed by armed groups or Palestinian authorities.

"Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel's rule over Palestinians does not change," HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement. "This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

Among the discriminatory actions detailed in the report is Israel's allocation, of lack thereof, of water to Palestinians. From the report:

Israel has used its control over parts of the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to serve its own citizens and settlers, in contravention of international humanitarian law which prohibits occupiers from exploiting natural resources for its own economic benefit. While 80% of the Mountain Aquifer's water recharge area lies beneath the West Bank, Israel directly extracts about 90% of the water that is withdrawn from the aquifer annually, leaving Palestinians only the remaining 10% or so to exploit directly. In monopolizing this shared resource, Israeli authorities sharply restrict the ability of Palestinians to directly exploit their own natural resources and render them dependent on Israel for their water supply. For decades, authorities have denied Palestinians permits to drill new wells, in particular in the most productive Western Aquifer basins, or to rehabilitate existing ones. While the Oslo Accords of 1995 included provisions that promised to increase Palestinian access to water, Palestinian extraction levels have largely remained at pre-Oslo levels while the population has increased.
Despite the establishment of a "Joint Water Commission" (JWC) as part of the Oslo Accords, the World Bank in 2009 noted that Israel has retained "virtually all the power," including veto power, over the West Bank's water resources. While approving virtually all requests for Israeli-proposed projects to serve settlers, the JWC has rejected many Palestinian-initiated projects, including all requests to drill in the Western Aquifer Basin. Israelis are often permitted to drill deeper into the Aquifer, regularly develop internal settlement water networks without seeking JWC approval, and can extract water without limit when it flows downstream into Israel without need for JWC approval, while Palestinians face strict extraction quotas...
In addition, Israeli authorities have almost entirely deprived Palestinians access to water from the Jordan River, the only major surface water resource in the West Bank, by diverting its flow upstream of the West Bank.

HRW says the findings should serve as a call to action to the international community.

Global powers like the U.S. and European Union's approach to Israel thus far "overlooks the deeply entrenched nature of Israeli discrimination and repression of Palestinians there [and] minimizes serious human rights abuses by treating them as temporary symptoms of the occupation that the 'peace process' will soon cure." This failure to hold Israel to account for its abuses, the report continues, has allowed the apartheid regime to "metastasize and consolidate."

Among the recommendations the report lays out are for the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity. The United Nations must also take action by establishing an envoy position focused on ending persecution and apartheid worldwide, and businesses operating in the OPT must stop contributing to any actions that facilitate the deprivation of Palestinian rights such as the demolition of their homes.

Israel, for its part, rejected the findings. Its foreign ministry dismissed the report's claims as "both preposterous and false."

Earlier his year, another human rights group—Israel-based B'Tselem—also said Israel acts as an apartheid regime in light of its policies "advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians."

B'Tselem's executive director Hagai El-Ad said at the time: "This sobering look at reality need not lead to despair, but quite the opposite. It is a call for change. After all, people created this regime, and people can change it."

HRW's Roth, in his statement Tuesday, gave a similar message.

"While much of the world treats Israel's half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long 'peace process' will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution," he said.

"Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is," said Roth, "and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it."

In 'paradigm shift,' Manhattan DA will no longer prosecute prostitution

The Manhattan district attorney's office in New York announced Wednesday what it called a "paradigm shift" by saying it will no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage.

"Over the last decade we've learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers," District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. "For years, rather than seeking criminal convictions, my office has reformed its practice to offer services to individuals arrested for prostitution. Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and supports solely on a voluntary basis."

At a virtual court appearance, Vance said his office was dismissing 914 prostitution and "unlicensed massage" cases to reflect the new policy.

His office is also dismissing over 5,000 "loitering for the purpose of prostitution" cases. State lawmakers in February repealed the law that criminalized such loitering. Dubbed the "walking while trans" law, its critics say (pdf) the law was used to targt BIPOC and transgender communities.

"By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach," Vance said, pointing the fact that many cases go back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Vance added that reforms would not have been possible "without the tireless work of dedicated individuals who changed not only our laws, but law enforcement's understanding of their lived experiences."

The move in New York follows similar steps already taken by other cities, as the New York Times noted:

Manhattan will join Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other jurisdictions that have declined to prosecute sex workers. Brooklyn also does not prosecute people arrested for prostitution, but instead refers them to social services before they are compelled to appear in court—unless the district attorney's office there is unable to reach them.

Abigail Swenstein, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society's Exploitation Intervention Project, welcomed the development. "Countless sex workers, those profiled as sex workers, and trafficking victims have suffered under the weight of convictions and warrants," she said. "These perpetual punishments extend into family and immigration court, and impact our clients' ability to find stability through housing and employment."

"However," Swenstein added, "today's announcement should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense." She called on lawmakers to pass the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, S6419, which would decriminalize sex work.

An analysis released in October by the ACLU provides evidence for that legislation, finding that full decriminalization of sex work better supported such workers' safety, health, and economic well-being compared to more restrictive and punitive approaches.

"Right now, millions of people are asking what we can do to reduce abuse by law enforcement, racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and our overall jail and prison populations," LaLa Zannell, the ACLU's Trans Justice campaign manager, said at the time.

"One policy that can achieve all of these goals—particularly for Black trans women and immigrants—is to recognize that sex work is work and treat it like any other industry," said Zannell. "Sex workers have been saying they face significant violence from police and clients for decades and it is time that we all listen to these voices when determining how to improve safety for sex workers."

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.