Human Rights

'Disgusting sense of entitlement': Report reveals a scheme to get vaccines meant for an Indigenous community

A wealthy couple has come under fire for traveling to Canada's remote community of Yukon to take COVID-19 vaccines designated for indigenous seniors.

According to The Washington Post, the couple has been identified as Rodney Baker, a 55-year-old casino executive and president, and his wife, Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old actress. It has been reported that the couple, residents of Vancouver, Canada, are now facing charges for violating Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA).

The two are accused of "breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek," reports Yukon News. The couple is said to have traveled from Vancouver to Whitehorse, Canada before chartering a private jet to Beaver Creek, home to a very small population of mostly the White River First Nation.

The couple's actions have led to stark scrutiny from local officials. On Monday, Jan. 25, Mike Farnworth, the British Columbia solicitor general, released a brief statement to the Vancouver Sun as he shared his reaction to the news. "I can't believe I've ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass."

In a statement released to The Post, the White River First Nation also condemned the couple's behavior as they demand stricter consequences for their actions. Given the couple's financial status, the nation believes that the fine they are currently facing is "essentially meaningless." It has been reported that investors have revealed Baker earned "more than $10.6 million in 2019" as the executive of Great Canadian Gaming, Corp.

Chief Angela Demit said, "It's clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naive."

Janet Vander Meer, who serves as the director of the White River First Nation's coronavirus response team also argues a similar stance insisting the couple should face greater consequences for their actions.

"Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who's palliative, was in the same room as this couple," Vander Meer told during a discussion on Monday. "That's got to be jail time. I can't see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It's just mind-boggling."

How Joe Biden is proving he won't hesitate to use his power to undo Trump's damage

On day one of his presidency, Joe Biden signed numerous executive orders to undo his predecessor's "deeply inhumane" anti-immigrant policies. These included reversing the "Muslim ban," ensuring non-citizens are counted in the census, pulling back on the harsh deportation priorities of the past four years, and cutting off funds to Donald Trump's most vaunted border wall with Mexico. For many among us who feared that Biden would hesitate to use his presidential power to undo Trump's damage, these actions offer immediate vindication of the idea that there is indeed a difference to the lives of marginalized human beings between having a Democrat versus a Republican in the White House.

Anticipating Biden's executive actions on immigration, the Trump administration created some potentially difficult hurdles to Biden's agenda, via a series of so-called Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment (SAFE) agreements between a handful of states and the Department of Homeland Security, which signed them during Trump's final days in office. These agreements require cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies and require a 180-day notice of intent to terminate. It was Trump's parting shot to a nation that uses and abuses immigrant labor, revenue, culture, and other benefits.

But President Biden has not restricted himself to executive actions on immigration. He has sent an outline of a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress for consideration that has as its centerpiece a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented residents of the nation. It is a bold move but precisely the correct one in a nation reeling from four toxic years of Donald Trump. Given that Trump rode into office on the winds of anti-immigrant hate that he vigorously fanned during his campaign, it is fitting that Biden begins his term by undoing the damage by whatever means he can—legislative and executive action.

With a view to the long-term problems of immigration, Biden's proposed bill includes a mechanism for immigrants registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to immediately apply for legal residency if they meet certain work or educational criteria. Those enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, as well as farmworkers, will also be eligible for the same. Others in the nation without papers as of January 1, 2021, would have a five-year pathway to legal residency if they pay their taxes and pass a background check, and then have the option of pursuing citizenship three years later.

It will not be an easy task to pass such a bill. For decades, congressional failure to tackle immigration reform has stemmed from a toxic recipe that includes one-part Republican intransigence and one-part Democratic spinelessness. Those two forces have worked in tandem to ensure the nation marches ever-rightward. Democrats will need to adopt the combative and aggressive posture that Republicans do when they cut safety net programs or hand more money to billionaires.

As if on cue, Republicans denounced the bill before they had even read it. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called it "blanket amnesty," while Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas denounced it as "total amnesty." Iowa senator and top-ranking Republican Chuck Grassley echoed the same, calling it "mass amnesty," and a "nonstarter." Even Trump's former White House adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of the cruelest anti-immigrant policies of the past four years, and who by all rights ought to disappear from public view in shame, had the audacity to speak out against the bill.

When Republican critics of the Biden immigration plan use the word "amnesty" to refer to an arduous pathway to citizenship, they are already playing hardball. By characterizing the plan in these terms, they are once more playing into nativist sentiments in the American public to stoke mass resentment and imply that those breaking U.S. law will simply be forgiven without consequence. It is the same dangerous impulses that gave rise to Trump.

If anything, the word "amnesty" when used in relation to immigrants ought to be associated most directly with the GOP demigod Ronald Reagan, whose signature on a sweeping immigration bill helped nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants. In order to reconcile the cognitive dissonance on Reagan's mythical status and their racist anti-immigrant hate, conservatives turned to their favorite pastime: claiming the opposite is true. In a 2013 op-ed, Cotton claimed that Reagan considered the bill to be "the biggest mistake of his presidency." More recently, former Arizona state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward echoed the same, saying it was Reagan's "biggest regret." It was not.

A researcher with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization, wrote on the far-right website the Daily Caller that the claim of Reagan's regret is built on hearsay and concluded that "Reagan would understand that his law failed to stop illegal immigration, not because we allowed people to stay, but because we refused to allow more to come." He added, "in his farewell address, he said he wanted an America 'open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.' That doesn't sound like regret to me."

Indeed, various times over many years, Republicans have openly backed immigration reform that offered pathways to citizenship. "The reason we have Donald Trump as a nominee today is because we as Republicans have failed on this issue," said former Republican congressman Raúl Labrador, a Tea Party conservative who was one of the "gang of eight," a bipartisan group of lawmakers who came tantalizingly close to pushing through comprehensive immigration reform during President Barack Obama's second term. Even Fox News' virulently nativist host Sean Hannity said nearly a decade ago, "If people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done."

The Trump presidency revealed just what is wrought when anti-immigrant sentiment infuses the ideology of a political party. By any ethical standard, the GOP ought to have been cowed after four years of shamelessly backing a president openly seething with a hatred for nonwhites and who after fanning the flames of racism for years guided his white supremacist mob to attack the Capitol itself. But Republicans have proven over and over again that there is no depth to which they will not fall to declare self-righteous shock at the barest hint of progress if it is under Democratic leadership. Regardless of political brinkmanship, the well-being, safety and security of millions of human beings are at stake, people who are forced to exist in the margins of a society that is content with exploiting them indefinitely.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Joe Biden is already facing the first test of his commitment to diplomacy in Iran

President Biden's commitment to re-entering the Iran nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA—is already facing backlash from a motley crew of warhawks both domestic and foreign. Right now, opponents of re-entering the deal are centering their vitriol on one of the nation's foremost experts on both the Middle East and diplomacy: Robert Malley, who Biden might tap to be the next Iran envoy.

On January 21, conservative journalist Eli Lake penned an opinion piece in Bloomberg News arguing that President Biden should not appoint Malley because Malley ignores Iran's human rights abuses and "regional terror". Republican Senator Tom Cotton retweeted Lake's piece with the heading: "Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn't believe their luck if he is selected." Pro regime-change Iranians such as Mariam Memarsadeghi, conservative American journalists like Breitbart's Joel Pollak, and the far-right Zionist Organization of America are opposing Malley. Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed opposition to Malley getting the appointment and Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a close advisor to the prime minister, said that if the U.S. reenters the JCPOA, Israel may take military action against Iran. A petition opposing Malley has even started on

What makes Malley such a threat to these opponents of talks with Iran?

Malley is the polar opposite of Trump's Special Representative to Iran Elliot Abrams, whose only interest was squeezing the economy and whipping up conflict in the hopes of regime change. Malley, on the other hand, has called U.S. Middle East policy "a litany of failed enterprises" requiring "self-reflection" and is a true believer in diplomacy.

Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, Malley helped organize the 2000 Camp David Summit as Special Assistant to President Clinton; acted as Obama's White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region; and was the lead negotiator on the White House staff for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. When Obama left office, Malley became president of the International Crisis Group, a group formed in 1995 to prevent wars.

During the Trump years, Malley was a fierce critic of Trump's Iran policy. In an Atlantic piece he coauthored, he denounced Trump's plan to withdraw and refuted critiques about the sunset clauses in the deal not extending for more years. "The time-bound nature of some of the constraints [in the JCPOA] is not a flaw of the deal, it was a prerequisite for it," he wrote. "The real choice in 2015 was between achieving a deal that constrained the size of Iran's nuclear program for many years and ensured intrusive inspections forever, or not getting one."

He condemned Trump's maximum pressure campaign as a maximum failure, explaining that throughout Trump's presidency, "Iran's nuclear program grew, increasingly unconstrained by the JCPOA. Tehran has more accurate ballistic missiles than ever before and more of them. The regional picture grew more, not less, fraught."

While Malley's detractors accuse him of ignoring the regime's grim human rights record, national security and human rights organizations supporting Malley said in a joint letter that since Trump left the nuclear deal, "Iran's civil society is weaker and more isolated, making it harder for them to advocate for change."

Hawks have another reason for opposing Malley: his refusal to show blind support for Israel. In 2001 Malley co-wrote an article for the New York Review arguing that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian Camp David negotiations had not been the sole fault of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat but included then-Israeli leader Ehud Barak. The U.S. pro-Israel establishment wasted no time accusing Malley of having an anti-Israel bias.

Malley has also been pilloried for meeting with members of the Palestinian political group Hamas, designated a terror organization by the U.S. In a letter to The New York Times, Malley explained that these encounters were part of his job when he was Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, and that he was regularly asked by both American and Israeli officials to brief them on these meetings.

With the Biden administration already facing opposition from Israel about its intent to return to the JCPOA, Malley's expertise on Israel and his willingness to talk to all sides will be an asset.

Malley understands that re-entering the JCPOA must be undertaken swiftly and will not be easy. Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for June and predictions are that a hardline candidate will win, making negotiations with the U.S. harder. He is also keenly aware that re-entering the JCPOA is not enough to calm the regional conflicts, which is why he supports a European initiative to encourage de-escalation dialogues between Iran and neighboring Gulf states. As U.S. Special Envoy to Iran, Malley could put the weight of the U.S. behind such efforts.

Malley's Middle East foreign policy expertise and diplomatic skills make him the ideal candidate to reinvigorate the JCPOA and help calm regional tensions. Biden's response to the far-right uproar against Malley will be a test of his fortitude in standing up to the hawks and charting a new course for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Peace-loving Americans should shore up Biden's resolve by supporting Malley's appointment.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ariel Gold is the national co-director and Senior Middle East Policy Analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

Biden orders the 'most significant anti-hunger actions in modern times'

Social justice organizations and Democratic lawmakers on Friday welcomed President Joe Biden's expected executive actions boosting federal food aid as part of a broader and immediate coronavirus relief effort.

"As someone who has relied on food stamps and works in Congress to make sure we continue to fund SNAP benefits, I'm grateful the president is taking steps to make sure struggling families and workers can put food on the table during this pandemic," tweeted Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Biden's pick to lead the Interior Department.

SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, has faced surging demand in the economic fallout triggered by the pandemic.

The White House, in a statement, framed the actions as components of "equitable emergency economic relief" that would "help Americans persevere through the pandemic."

More specifically, as CNN reported:

The first of Friday's executive orders calls for the Department of Agriculture to consider enhancing Pandemic-EBT benefits by 15%, which would give a family with three children more than $100 in additional support every two months. The program, part of the relief packages Congress passed last March, provides funds to low-income families whose children's schools have closed to replace the free or reduced-price meals they would have received.
Also, the order directs the department to consider allowing states to boost food stamp benefits for about 12 million Americans who did not benefit from an earlier increase in emergency allotments included in the congressional relief packages. The order would bump up benefits for a family of four by 15% to 20% per month.

"While we await the details of this order," said the Massachusetts-based organization Project Bread, "we applaud the Biden administration for placing food insecurity among their top priorities. Federal nutrition programs like SNAP and Pandemic EBT are critical in the fight against skyrocketing rates of food insecurity during this crisis."

Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine also welcomed the news.

"Finally, a president who cares about alleviating people's suffering," tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

According to Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, Biden's action represented "a bold, common-sense move to address the nation's joint hunger and public health crises."

"These actions represent the most significant administrative actions by the federal government to fight domestic hunger in modern times," said Berg, calling the boosts in food aid "both smart and compassionate."

The benefits of the actions go beyond helping to combat food insecurity and its related adverse health impacts, he said. "Because hunger makes it harder for people to get back to work, and because food aid programs boost U.S. food companies and workers, these actions to increase the federal domestic food safety net will help the nation build back the economy better.", a project of the Center for American Progress, noted that as "many as 50 million Americans are food insecure right now. We need to keep pushing to make sure they're all fed."

Biden's LGBTQ Executive Order is just the start – here are the other pro-equality actions the administration is taking

President Joe Biden is quickly establishing himself as America's most pro-LGBTQ president ever.

In his first 24 hours President Biden has signed a wide-ranging executive order on LGBTQ equality, added gender-neutral pronouns options to the White House website, nominated a Pennsylvania physician who will become the nation's first Senate-confirmed openly-transgender government official, nominated the first openly-LGBTQ person to his Cabinet, and announced he will reverse Trump's ban on open service for transgender military members.

The Biden administration Secretary of State nominee, Antony Blinken, has also announced the State Dept. will allow U.S. embassies to fly the LGBTQ pride flag again, and reinstate the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons role.

But there's more.

Before the election the former Vice President promised to pass the Equality Act in his first 100 days. Last week an administration official said it might not happen that quickly but it is still a priority.

The Biden administration has also committed to hiring LGBTQ people. It now has the first openly-LGBTQ State Dept. spokesperson, Ned Price. Karine Jean-Pierre is the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, and Pili Tobar is the White House Deputy Communications Director.

Biden's LGBTQ+ executive order is garnering tremendous praise.

It is "the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president," the Human Rights Campaign says.

Calling it "a revolution," Slate's Mark Joseph Stern sums up the Biden administration's focus on LGBTQ equality, describing it as "the most sweeping expansion of LGBTQ rights in American history."

The executive order mandates the federal government enforce federal law, as defined in last year's landmark Supreme Court Bostock case, "to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life," as HRC notes.

The language in President Biden's order is a striking departure in tone, motivation, and deed from anything ever seen in the Trump administration.

"Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love," Biden's LGBTQ executive order begins. "Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation."

The order is not just a directive, it is an educational document.

"Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation manifests differently for different individuals, and it often overlaps with other forms of prohibited discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race or disability," it says. "For example, transgender Black Americans face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and violence, including fatal violence."

"It is the policy of my Administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation," it specifies. "It is also the policy of my Administration to address overlapping forms of discrimination."

Relatives, activists and attorneys demand justice for unarmed Black man killed by Columbus police

Grieving relatives of Andre' Hill—an unarmed Black man shot dead by police in Columbus, Ohio earlier this week—along with their lawyers and community activists demanded justice at a Saturday afternoon candlelight vigil and news conference in the Ohio capital.

"My dad was my best friend," Hill's daughter Karissa Hill said at the vigil, according to WBNS. "He was my protector and my provider."

"Big daddy meant a lot in my home, to my kids, and to me," she added, referring to the name by which Hill's three grandchildren called him.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family, told the audience that "until we get justice for Andre' Hill, there won't be no peace in Columbus, there won't be no peace in Ohio, there won't be no peace in America."

Hill "wasn't an intruder, he wasn't a criminal, he wasn't doing anything nefarious," Crump said. "His crime was he was a Black man."

"We want to find out how many times Andre' was shot, that's why we're going to do an independent autopsy," Crump added.

Hill, 47, was standing inside the garage of a friend's home early Tuesday morning when he was killed by veteran Columbus officer Adam Coy, who was responding to a neighbor's non-emergency disturbance complaint, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Footage from Coy's body camera shows the officer approaching an open door to a dark garage as Hill walks from behind a parked car toward him, holding up a cell phone in one hand. His other hand is not visible.

There is no audio in the footage leading up to the shooting, as neither Coy nor the officer who responded to the call with him had their body cameras turned on until after the incident. However, the cameras have a "look-back" feature that captures 60 seconds of video—but not audio—before they are turned on.

What is clear from the video is that Coy opened fire within 10 seconds of encountering Hill. The audio resumes as Hill is seen lying on the ground and Coy orderes him to put his hands out to his sides and roll over on his stomach. But Hill, who can be heard groaning in the video, does not move until Coy rolls him over.

The two officers waited four minutes before they called for medics. Five minutes into the video, Hill still hasn't received medical attention. Another officer who arrived at the scene can be heard suggesting, "let's cuff him up."

Columbus Police Chief Tom Quinlan on Thursday announced he had begun termination proceedings against Coy.

"Today is Christmas Eve," Quinlan said in a video explaining his decision, "a time when we should be gathering with those we love. The family of Andre' Hill has nothing to celebrate this holiday. Someone very important won't be with them this holiday, or any other."

"A Columbus police officer is responsible for that," the chief added. "And that breaks my heart. This is why today I am announcing action to terminate Officer Adam Coy."

Coy—who was roundly blasted by city officials for failing to turn on his body camera or render aid to Hill after shooting him—has a history of excessive force complaints during the course of his 19-year career. The Dispatch reported Coy had nine complaints filed against him in 2003 alone—including four in one month.

A visibly disturbed Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther spoke at a Wednesday press conference.

"To see [Hill] lying in the driveway, minute after minute after minute, with no attempt to render aid and comfort... I've never seen body-worn camera footage like that," he said.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is overseeing the investigation of Hill's killing, the Dispatch reported.

In reversal, Pennsylvania Supreme Court bans most warrantless police searches of vehicles

This week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down a decision that will affect police departments all over the Keystone State. Police, according to the ruling, will no longer be able to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles unless there is probable cause to believe that a crime has taken place and there are emergency circumstances that necessitate immediate action.

This ruling reverses the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's 2014 ruling in the case Commonwealth v. Gary, which cleared a path for warrantless searches in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Samantha Melamed explains, "The ruling will likely require the Philadelphia Police Department and others across the state to rewrite their policies on vehicle searches. Philadelphia's current directive permits warrantless searches whenever police have reason to believe contraband is present."

Melamed notes that in 2019, an Inquirer analysis "found that Philadelphia police were searching more than 2,000 people a month, on average, based on that policy. About 80% of those searches involved Black drivers, but police found such contraband as guns or drugs in their cars only 12% of the time."

Melamed adds, "Philly police also stopped more than 25,000 drivers in five years based on an alleged odor of marijuana

Trump plan to revive the gallows, electric chair, gas chamber and firing squad recalls a troubled history

The way the federal government can kill death row prisoners will soon be expanded to ghoulish methods that include hanging, the electric chair, gas chamber and the firing squad.

Set to take effect on Christmas Eve, the new regulations authorizing an alternative to lethal injections – the method currently used in federal executions – were announced by the Justice Department on Nov. 27.

The federal move follows the example of several states, including Oklahoma and Tennessee, that have revived alternative methods in the face of challenges to their lethal injection protocols and problems in the supply of drugs needed in the process.

It is not clear whether the administration actually intends to employ the newly announced methods. It may only want to have them in reserve if any of the individuals scheduled for execution before January's inauguration – five, according to the Department of Justice – should succeed in challenging the current execution protocol.

What is clear is that these new regulations send a message about the lengths the administration will go to kill as many death row inmates as possible before Joe Biden takes office and, as expected, halts the federal death penalty.

If the president and Department of Justice succeed in their plan, the period from July 14, 2020, the date of the first of Trump's federal executions, through January 20, 2021 will be the deadliest in the history of federal capital punishment in nearly a century.

As someone who has studied execution methods in the U.S., I see in the new regulations echoes of a troubled history of less-than-perfect execution methods.

To grasp their full significance, it is necessary to look at the record of hanging, the electric chair, the gas chamber and firing squads. Each of them has been touted as humane only to be sidelined because its use was found to be gruesome and offensive. Given that history, there are questions over whether the administration's plans serve any purpose other than continuing a death penalty system deemed to be a cruel outlier among modern societies.

The noose and the chair

Let's start with hanging.

Hanging was the execution method of choice throughout most of American history, and it was used in America's last public execution in 1936, when Rainey Bethea was put to death in Owensboro, Kentucky. When done correctly, the noose killed by severing the spinal column, causing near instantaneous death.

Crowds watch as attendants adjust a black hood over Rainey Bethea.

AP File Photo

But, all too often, hanging resulted in a slow death by strangulation and sometimes even a beheading. Given this gruesome record and hanging's association with the lynching of mainly Black men, by the end of the 19th century the search for other execution methods began in earnest.

The first of those alternatives was the electric chair. At the time it was adopted, it was regarded as a truly modern instrument of death, a technological marvel in the business of state killing. Hailed by penal reformers as a humane alternative to hanging, the electric chair was first authorized in 1888 by New York state following the report of a commission that concluded, “The most potent agent known for the destruction of human life is electricity…The velocity of the electric current is so great that the brain is paralyzed; it is indeed dead before the nerves can communicate a sense of shock."

Yet, right from the start, electrocution's potency was a problem. Its first use in the 1890 execution of convicted murderer William Kemmler was horribly botched. Reports of the execution say that “After 2 minutes the execution chamber filled with the smell of burning flesh." Newspapers called the execution a “historic bungle" and “disgusting, sickening and inhuman."

In spite of the Kemmler debacle, the electric chair quickly became popular, being seen as more efficient and less brutal than hanging. From the start of the 20th century until the 1980s, the number of death sentences carried out by this method far outstripped those of any other method.

But electrocutions continued to go wrong, and eventually several dramatic botched executions in Florida helped turn the tide. Included were two executions, one in 1990, the other in 1997, in which the condemned inmates caught fire.

The gas chamber

By the start of the 21st century, states all over the country were abandoning the electric chair. As Justice Carol W. Hunstein of the Supreme Court of Georgia explained, “Death by electrocution, with its specter of excruciating pain and its certainty of cooked brains and blistered bodies," was no longer compatible with contemporary standards of decency.

A gas chamber at San Quentin prison from 1959.

AP Photo/Clarence Hamm

One alternative to electrocution was the gas chamber, but it too has its own history of problems. First adopted in Nevada in 1922, executions using lethal gas were to take place while the condemned slept. Death row inmates were supposed to be housed in airtight, leak-proof prison cells, separate from other prisoners. On the day of the execution, valves would be opened that would fill the chamber with gas, killing the prisoner painlessly.

This plan was soon abandoned because officials decided it would be impractical to implement it, and states constructed special gas chambers fitted with pipes, exhaust fans and glass windows on the front and back walls for witness viewing. But deaths by lethal gas were never pretty or easy to watch.

Inmates regularly fought against breathing the gas as it entered the chamber. They convulsed, jerked, coughed, twisted and turned blue for several minutes before they died.

Far from solving the problems associated with hangings or electrocutions, lethal gas introduced its own set of horrors to the institution of capital punishment. In fact, by the end of the 20th century, 5% of executions by lethal gas had been botched.

As a result, states used gas as the sole method of execution only from 1924 to 1977, and it was last used in 1999. By then, the gas chamber had become a relic of the past because of its inability to deliver on its promise to be “swift and painless" and its association with the Nazi use of gas to kill millions during the Holocaust.

The firing sqaud

Finally, the firing squad. Of all of America's methods of execution, it has been least often used. From 1900 to 2010, only 35 of America's 8,776 executions were carried out using this method, and since 1976 just three people have faced a firing squad, with the last one carried out in Utah in 2010.

The execution chamber at Utah State Prison used in the U.S.'s last firing squad execution.

AP Photo/Trent Nelson, Pool, File

Critics point out that because death by guns evokes images of raw, frontier justice in a society awash in gun violence, this method mimicked something that the law wished to discourage. Nonetheless, Utah revived the firing squad in 2015 due to challenges to the state's lethal injection protocol.

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While it has some contemporary proponents who claim it is the least cruel of all execution methods, the history of the firing squad is marked by gruesome mistakes when marksmen missed their target. In the 1951 execution of Eliseo Mares, for example, four executioners all shot into the wrong side of his chest, and he died slowly from blood loss.

A cruel history, revived

While Trump's Department of Justice is now holding out the prospect of using these previously discredited methods of execution, it cannot erase the cruelty that marks their history. That history stands as a reminder of America's failed quest to find a method of execution that is safe, reliable and humane.The Conversation

Austin Sarat, Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

REVEALED: Anti-LGBTQ nonprofits, businesses and schools received millions in PPP funds

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) recipient list released has revealed that several non-profit organizations, businesses, and schools with policies that are particularly discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals received millions in loan funds amid the pandemic, according to information released by the Small Business Administration.

The program, which was intended to be a financial relief effort for small businesses facing peril amid the coronavirus pandemic, awarded a total of approximately $2.5 million to seven groups including "the American College of Pediatricians, American Family Association, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), Church Militant/St. Michael's Media, Liberty Counsel, Pacific Justice Institute and Ruth Institute," according to NBC News.

It has been reported that all seven groups have been categorized as "anti-LGBTQ hate groups" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). According to the data, the American Family Association received $1.4 million of the $2.5 million total.

Now, LGBTQ advocates are speaking out about the latest reports criticizing the pandemic program and the Trump administration's priorities. Cassie Miller, an SPLC data analyst, criticized the Trump administration for funding discriminatory groups while true small businesses suffer.

"Extremist movements thrive in climates of political uncertainty," she said. "Now, the government is doing even more to help hate groups by handing them millions of dollars in forgivable loans."

Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog firm, Accountable.US, also criticized the priorities of the administration which led to bailouts for larger businesses — the exact opposite of the program's intended purpose.

"It is hard to find a clearer example of the Trump administration's warped priorities than allowing countless mom-and-pop shops to go under without proper relief while bailing out wealthy and well-connected anti-LGBTQ enterprises on Americans' dime," Herrig said in an email.

Justin Nelson, president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, also had a similar perspective. as he expressed concern about LGBTQ-owned small businesses that have faced pandemic-related struggles similar to mom and pop businesses. Despite submitting applications for PPP loans, Nelson indicated that only a small number of the businesses were awarded funds.

"These folks are worried about keeping the lights on," he said. "We had a number of businesses that applied, and only a small number that received funding."

The legacy of philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson: Moral pioneer who wrote 'A Defense of Abortion' dies at 91

Just as the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade was headed before the United States Supreme Court, a new journal of academic philosophy prepared to publish its inaugural issue including an innovative argument from Judith Jarvis Thomson. That 1971 paper, "A Defense of Abortion," published in Philosophy & Public Affairs, became one of the most influential pieces of contemporary applied ethics, an enduring part of the legacy left behind when she died at 91 on Nov. 20, 2020.

"It has had such an incredible impact on people who have taken philosophy classes," Sally Haslanger, a professor of philosophy and women's and gender studies at MIT, where she worked alongside Professor Thomson, told me. "Almost anybody who teaches contemporary moral problems or an intro to moral philosophy is likely to teach that paper."

The key genius of the paper, one of the sources of its originality and staying power, is that it conceded to the opponents of abortion their strongest premise: that a fetus is a person worthy of full moral concern. Thomson didn't defend this view — in fact, she had serious objections to it — but she wanted to show that even if we believe a fetus has as much a right to live as anyone else, it doesn't follow that abortion is impermissible.

To make her case, Thomson spun an elaborate and memorable thought experiment:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you."

"I imagine you would regard this as outrageous," she told her readers, counting on the widely shared view that the kidnapped person would not be obligated to give over their body in this way.

The paper goes on to argue that this case, along with increasingly fanciful examples that illuminate different features of pregnancy and address potential counterarguments, show something perhaps unexpected about our moral intuitions: A right to life is not always the end of an ethical argument. We are not morally required to forfeit control over our bodies, even if death of another may be the foreseeable result. Abortion, therefore, may be permissible, even if pro-life arguments about the moral status of the fetus are correct.

It was an impressive argument, and it resonates today in the feminist rallying cry "My body, my choice."

"It's had a huge influence in the field. No argument about abortion can proceed without taking her arguments really seriously, even if it ends up opposing abortion," Kate Manne, a philosophy professor at Cornell University who worked with Thomson while studying at MIT, told me.

Despite its remarkable impact, though, Manne argued the central thesis of "A Defense of Abortion" is still underappreciated.

"I actually think it should have had more influence than it did," she said. "We're still at this annoying dialectical point where the personhood of the fetus is taken establish the impermissibility of abortion in wider culture. So it's still a very good thing that Judy's piece showed that that's far too quick. But in a way, I wish it had had more uptake."

Thomson's paper isn't just notable for its influence or the importance of its ideas about morality. As a piece of philosophy, it's exceptionally inventive and lucid. It's also particularly memorable. The structure of the thought experiment she used didn't need the patient with a kidney ailment be a violinist, as opposed to an unidentified person, but these kinds of details add color and life to what could otherwise be a stark examples. Her personal humor and charm were reflected in her writing.

"She's quite witty about it," Manne said of Thomson's argumentation style. "She says if she needed Henry Fonda's cooling touch upon her fevered brow, it would be 'frightfully nice for him to fly in from the West Coast to apply it' and save her life. But she isn't owed that by him."

Of course, excessively creative thought experiments in an argument have the potential to bog a paper down or complicate an argument unnecessarily, if not deployed right. But Thomson was a master of the form, using a series of whimsical examples to convince the reader of the plausibility of her view while never abandoning or distracting from the rigor of her argument.

But while it's undoubtedly her best-known contribution to philosophy, the paper on abortion didn't define her career. Within academia, Thomson wasn't known solely as a philosopher of applied ethics. Much of her work focused on foundational issues in philosophy and metaphysics, such as the nature of normativity, moral objectivity, composition, and action.

In its own way, Thomson's presence in these debates was perhaps as bold and unflinching as her views on abortion.

"Philosophy is male-dominated, but metaphysics is the most-male dominated, even now," Haslanger explained. "I came up in a period in grad school in the '80s, mainly. Judy was already producing really stunning work. And I started my career in analytic metaphysics. This remains a field where there are not very many women. And I would look in the bibliographies of the books I was encouraged to read or the articles I was encouraged to read, just looking for any name of a woman. And there were always only two, pretty much: Ruth Barcan Marcus and Judith Jarvis Thomson."

Thomson made significant contributions, for example, to debates about the concept of goodness, which she leveraged to make nuanced arguments against one of the most dominant theories in philosophical ethics.

In Thomson's view, good "isn't the kind of thing appropriately applied to states of affairs," said Haslanger. Something can't merely be good, simpliciter. It has to be good in some way. "So you can have a good toaster, or a good breakfast, or a good person. But a good state of affairs — states of affairs don't have criteria of goodness built into them."

This conclusion, she argued, was a big problem for utilitarianism and other consequentialist theories, which hold, more or less, that actions are to be judged by the consequences or states of affairs that they bring about. For Thomson, this view wasn't even really coherent, Haslanger said.

But she could be surprisingly effusive about views she didn't hold. Once, in a talk of hers I heard addressing another objection to utilitarianism, Thomson began by emphasizing the strengths of the view, arguing that there were many things about the theory to recommend it. "Many things," she stressed, repeating herself for emphasis.

First and foremost, the best reason to be impressed with utilitarianism was the simplest: "It's a theory!" she exclaimed.

Thomson made clear that many of the alternatives to utilitarianism that have been proposed over the years wouldn't merit this designation. And for her, utilitarianism's status as a full-fledged theory was undoubtedly high praise.

Her firm opposition to utilitarianism, though, was manifest in another of her philosophical contributions that has reached far beyond the academy and into the popular imagination: Trolley problems.

She actually credited the invention of the problem type to philosopher Philippa Foot, but it was Thomson who clarified and popularized the topic, which has become a sub-field of ethics in its own right known as trolleyology. In her first paper laying out the problem, she put forward the now-standard formulation:

Suppose you are the driver of a trolley. The trolley rounds a bend, and there come into view ahead five track workmen, who have been repairing the track. The track goes through a bit of a valley at that point, and the sides are steep, so you must stop the trolley if you are to avoid running the five men down. You step on the brakes, but alas they don't work. Now you suddenly see a spur of track leading off to the right. You can turn the trolley onto it, and thus save the five men on the straight track ahead. Unfortunately, Mrs. Foot has arranged that there is one track workman on that spur of track. He can no more get off the track in time than the five can, so you will kill him if you turn the trolley onto him. Is it morally permissible for you to turn the trolley?

Almost everyone seems to agree that it's permissible to turn the trolley, she explained. More debate breaks out when you ask whether you are morally required to turn the trolley. But the structure of the case lends itself to endless variation: What if you're not the driver, but just a bystander able to pull a lever and divert the trolley? What if the trolley loops around, such that the crushing of the one person isn't just an alternative to the deaths of the five, but would actually slow the trolley and thus be the means by which the others are saved? And why does this case strike us so differently than a case of a surgeon who kills one unsuspecting healthy person to harvest organs that will save the lives of five patients who would otherwise die?

On an austere consequentialist or utilitarian approach to moral reasoning, all these problems have simple answers: make the choice that results in the most lives saved, that does the most good. But Thomson reveled in complexities and qualifications of our moral commitments, and she rejected simplistic solutions. This wasn't mere pedantry for its own sake — she was deeply concerned with the principles that underlie our intuitions in these cases and what they can tell us about morality.

Her work on the topic eventually led her to change her mind about a key part of the problem, which she explained once in a seminar at MIT in 2013 that I was lucky enough to attend. She argued that a bystander watching the trolley would not be permitted, despite what she had previously believed and argued, to pull a switch to save the five people and kill the one.

How did she reach this startling conclusion? She imagined a new scenario in which the bystander had the opportunity to flip the switch to direct the trolley away from the five people and toward herself. Were she so noble, she might be willing to make that choice. But in Thomson's view, she wasn't obligated to make this choice. In an argumentative move that echoes the insight from "A Defense of Abortion," she posited that morality doesn't require us to sacrifice our lives for the lives of five others.

But if that's the case, she reasoned, then how can the bystander in the original case make the decision for the one person on the track to sacrifice her life for the other five? The bystander can't justify that choice, in Thomson's view. Despite what most people's intuition tells them, it's not permissible to flip the switch to kill one and save five from the oncoming trolley.

Her views weren't unforgiving or completely absolutist, though. If the cost were high enough, you might be obligated to flip the switch. Were the trolley carrying a bomb and on a course to destroy New York City, you ought to kill the one person to save the lives of millions.

"We must save New York!" she said.

One characteristic about Thomson that came through both in her writing and when she spoke was a firm belief that when discussing these kinds of ethical questions, there is a correct answer, even if it's hard to discern. In one seminar I attended at MIT, the group discussed whether the concept of "ought" is objective or subjective. Does it make sense to think of what we "ought" to do in a moral dilemma as reflecting the objective conditions, or our subjective perception of those conditions?

Debating this question, naturally, brings up more clever thought experiments, some of which seem to suggest that "ought" must be interpreted objectively, while others suggest a subjective interpretation of "ought" is best. It seemed to me that the solution is to simply stipulate that sometimes "ought" is used in a subjective sense, and sometimes it is used in an objective sense.

Thomson disagreed. She believed "ought" is objective — end of story. The clever counterexamples that suggest otherwise were certainly worth considering for her, but they weren't a reason to back down from the idea that there was a definitive answer to the puzzle.

This conviction stood out, especially because it was matched by fierce wit.

"There was just no one like her," said Haslanger. "To have a woman being really right in the thick of it, out-arguing others and making her way. It was really inspiring to me."

Thomson's confidence, fortitude and toughness were undoubtedly necessary for the career she had. Without this disposition, she may not have lasted in the world of academic philosophy or had such an impact at the time she entered the field.

"I found it in the eighties and nineties just awful to try to survive in mainstream analytic metaphysics," Haslanger explained. "It was just grueling. And that Judy did that a whole generation ahead of me is just mind-boggling. And she would comment on that now and then. She wasn't someone to complain or make a fuss about things that happened to her along the way. But you can't survive it unless you're very strong-minded and very determined, and brilliant. And she was all those things."

But if that toughness helped her survive, she didn't feel a need to abandon it once she had reached the pinnacle of her career. She was known as a fierce critic of students' papers. Getting the mechanics of a philosophical paper right — not just the argument, but the structure and the presentation of the ideas, down to the level of the sentence — was a top priority for her.

Manne remembered how Thomson subjected her work as a grad student to exacting standards. Those lessons stayed with Manne and influence her writing to this day, though she doubted that Thomson would always be satisfied with the results.

"She brought me into her office," Manne recounted, "having read a paper of mine, and very plainly said, in a tone that was genuinely warm: 'This paper is terrible!'"

Manne added: "She was incredibly tough, but I always got the sense that she was tough in the service of making people better philosophers. She was never just mean."

For Haslanger, this side of Thomson was an asset. Haslanger joined the philosophy department faculty at MIT when Thomson was the only other woman.

"I'm known for my strong feminist, anti-racist views, and I express them often and loudly. And I came to MIT, and it was the first time in my career where I could be the feminist 'good cop,' because Judy had spent so many years already being the feminist 'bad cop.' So we kind of worked together quite well. And it was such a relief," said Haslanger. "We definitely worked well together on encouraging people, and insisting, in fact, that people take women seriously."

She added: "She really was a symbol, an icon for many of us, who gave us hope and gave us courage to carry on."

It's notable, though, that — with the one clear exception — Thomson's work itself wasn't feminist philosophy. She generally worked on the traditional types of ethical and metaphysical questions handed down in the canon of philosophy, a canon that was historically fashioned by men. Questions that male philosophers have tended to ignore, such as those about the nature of gender oppression, say, didn't draw Thomson's scrutiny in the way traditional questions about the relationship between the statue and the clay or personal identity over time did.

The exception, of course, is her defense of abortion — what she's best known for.

"The fact that she just did what she did was a powerful feminist intervention. Her being who she was was a feminist intervention. I don't think that her work draws on gendered experience, or shows herself to draw on her feminist commitments to intervene in a debate, except for the abortion paper," said Haslanger.

"Whether or not she would have avowed it, I do think there's something feminist about her tough and unapologetic stance on bodily autonomy being something that is important, and that people have a right to, within limits," said Manne. "It really is about ways in which we've perhaps been myopic about the fact that women are entitled to bodily control, even if others depend upon them for their lives, which really is a deeply feminist point."

Outrage as police training materials label Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization

One law enforcement training group is facing backlash after circulating guidance that included false claims and conspiracy theories about Black Lives Matter (BLM).

According to KOLD, the guidance, titled "Understanding Antifa and Urban Guerrilla Warfare," has been distributed by the Indiana-based law enforcement training organization, International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA)). Its verbiage has come under fire as it contains various falsehoods about the Black Lives Matter movement while labeling its activists as terrorists.

One of the conspiracy theories suggests that the activist organization is "supposedly funded by China and that money is then donated to the Democratic Party."

"Antifa and Black Lives Matter have no intentions to negotiate," the document reads. "These are revolutionary movements whose aims are to overthrow the U.S. government."

The document also includes more demeaning remarks about BLM activists describing those who participated in the nationwide protests for civil rights over the summer as "useful idiots" who were working for "hard-core, terrorist trained troops," according to The Hill.

Phillip Atiba Goff, a Yale University professor and expert on racial bias in law enforcement, has described the dangerous document being used as training guidance for law enforcement as "stunning" and "distressing."

"It's stunning. It's distressing in many ways. It's untethered to reality," said Goff, CEO of the Center for Policing Equity. "I worry that it leads to people dying unnecessarily."

Harvey Hedden, ILEETA's executive director, defended the document as he dismissed the concerns as "differences of opinion."

"There will always be differences of opinion on training issues but so long as the disagreements remain professional and not personal we do not censor these ideas," Hedden said. "I am willing to allow the trainer to evaluate the information themselves."

He added, "Just like law enforcement, I am afraid BLM has earned some of these criticisms and others might be overgeneralizations."

But criminal justice activists argue otherwise. Despite Hedden's defense, Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns for the racial justice advocacy organization Color of Change expressed concerns about how this type of guidance could intensify an already-troubling police culture.

Sherice Nelson, assistant professor of political science at Southern University and A&M College, also expressed concern about the robust amount of "wildly outlandish" misinformation in the document. Nelson said, "This document is below the belt because of how much misinformation there is, how many conspiracy theories there are, how much violence it promotes and how many reasons it gives to justify dehumanizing people."