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What do communities do when the police retreat?

By Robert Klemko
What do communities do when the police retreat?
Margarita Ortega, center, talks with other members of the Little Earth Protectors as they patrol. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Joshua Lott

MINNEAPOLIS - The alert flashed across every cellphone in the city when the first curfew after George Floyd's killing began. A text, in all caps, was accompanied by a deep, repeating buzz.

When the phones rumbled, Margarita Ortega was helping neighbors in the South Minneapolis community of Little Earth move roadblocks they'd borrowed from construction sites, positioning them in the intersections surrounding the neighborhood. She shuddered, reminded of a 2013 movie depicting an American dystopia in which all violence, including murder, was made legal for one night each year.

"It was just like 'The Purge' sound," Ortega, 31, said. "I remember saying, 'I hope people don't take that sound as a reason to start purging.' Why would they play that sound today, of all days?"

That night last year, as protests broke out across the city, there were no police in Ortega's neighborhood, and so, the Little Earth Protectors were born. The community protection force of more than 80 members was shot at by looters, but no one was hurt, and every building in the government-subsidized, predominantly Native American community of more than 1,000 residents remained untouched. A different kind of purge took shape in the minds of Ortega and her fellow Protectors.

"I've always felt we've never really needed the police," Ortega said. "Those first nights confirmed that for me."

The Protectors are one of several neighborhood public safety groups that emerged here in the days and weeks after the city was rocked by protests that followed Floyd's death in police custody on May 25. Many of the groups continued operating throughout the summer and early fall, and they are ramping up again as Minneapolis braces for the end of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death, and beyond that, the inevitable warm-weather spike in crime.

Their successes may inspire other American communities that are seeking alternatives to traditional policing. On the other hand, their failures could empower those fighting for the status quo or for more-moderate change.

Ortega belongs in the former group. By night, she walks the neighborhood with the Protectors, a Glock pistol on her hip. By day, she's running for the Minneapolis City Council as an advocate for radical police reform in a city primed as few others are for sweeping changes in policing.

"What I hear from residents is that the police don't care. And they don't show respect. And they're limited in what they provide," Ortega said. "If you're dealing with a mental health issue, or a domestic issue, they can't really do much but take people to jail. That's all they're trained for. I want to see a public-safety system that is controlled and driven by the community."

The mayor's office said its goal is to empower community groups to work with police, not apart from them. Last Friday it announced a partnership with seven community patrol groups that will receive "roughly $1 million" in funding to cover large swaths of the city should the Chauvin trial verdict illicit a violent response. (Ortega's group is small in comparison with the seven organizations and is not included in the project). Mayor Jacob Frey said he hopes the groups can supplement law enforcement efforts to quell riots.

"There has been quite a bit of trust broken between our police and the communities they serve, and this helps to create another line of communication that is very much needed," Frey said. "Many of these organizations have really strong contacts and ties on the ground with individuals that could cause crime or violence. We want to make sure we have contacts with friends and family members of these individuals so we can stop the violence before it starts."

It's the kind of work the Little Earth Protectors have been doing since May, when the city's 3rd Precinct was abandoned by authorities and burned by rioters. The National Guard was called in, a curfew was imposed, and residents were told that if they called the police, there was a chance no help would arrive.

The day after the first night of rioting, Ortega and other community leaders called a meeting in the neighborhood park. They stood in a circle of about 40 men, women and teenagers, as they'd done numerous times before to discuss community issues, but this time was different: Gang leaders were invited. Rival gang factions had made Little Earth one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Minneapolis, but a bigger threat was emerging that night in May. Rioting threatened to touch homes and destroy community lifelines, including the nearest grocery store. Ortega wanted to organize a community patrol, and she wanted assurances that there would be no gang violence with the threat of outside violence looming.

"The gang leaders each wanted a cease-fire from the other side," Ortega said. "They wanted to know that we were all in this together."

The sides agreed to a truce. Community elders were asked to encourage their children and grandchildren to stay indoors. The Protectors patrolled the streets. Ortega, then a policy adviser for a city council member, was arrested on the first night along with a handful of her colleagues for breaking curfew. The charges were later dropped.

As the protests subsided days later, the Protectors rode the momentum. They made black T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the new group's name and logo and wore them on patrol. They bought radios and stayed in constant communication with a Little Earth security officer monitoring dozens of security cameras throughout the community. They stood on established drug corners and pushed trade out of the neighborhood, discouraged parking lot prostitution and monitored police activity. Local hospitals donated Naloxone, the opioid-overdose remedy administered via syringe, and the Protectors became paramedics in practice.

While the 3rd Precinct struggled to regain its footing - its ranks decimated by retirements, transfers and low morale - the Protectors expanded their influence, mediating domestic disputes and teenage fistfights that otherwise would have brought police. Women in their 50s and 60s stood in the center of the community to discourage gang traffic on a footbridge that was a magnet for it. They set a curfew: 10 p.m. for children, 11 p.m. for teenagers. By 11:15 p.m. each night the Protectors stood watch; the bridge was clear.

"The cops asked how we did it. We just went and stood under the bridge and the kids respected that," said Jacki Nadeau, 56. "And we fed them dinner. The Protectors are on scene all the time. The police just sit around in their cars, waiting for something bad to happen."

"Under the direction of Chief Medaria Arradondo, one of the pillars of the Minneapolis Police Department has been community engagement," said Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder. "Unfortunately, with budget cuts and staff reductions, our mission has become more mono-focused, and these staff members have been reallocated to 911 response and investigations.

"It is only natural that the community will see us in the lens of what our current service capacity dictates," Elder said. "The men and women of the MPD continue to work with our communities as time allows as we realize the importance of these positive relationships."

One Protector was shot and wounded in the buttocks in June by a man frustrated with roadblocks intended to disrupt drug trafficking. The male victim survived and the shooter escaped. Just two of the Protectors, Ortega and a man, carry firearms. The rest are unarmed.

"When the Protectors are around, crime is reduced. They know who's supposed to be here and who's not supposed to be here, so that helps in terms of curbing the outside influences," said Dave, the community dispatcher who monitors 77 active cameras positioned throughout the community. (He declined to give his last name because he is not authorized to speak to the media.)

Dave said he thinks the Protectors are fighting a war they can't win. Between Floyd's death on May 25 and Aug. 1 -- the most violent months of the year according to Minneapolis police violent crime data -- 183 shooting incidents were caught on camera in Little Earth, he said.

"It's dangerous, but they keep coming back out," Dave said. "If they want to do it, it's admirable, but they're bringing stones to a gunfight."

Elsewhere in the city, similar work is being done by seven larger groups: A Mother's Love; Center for Multicultural Mediation; NACDI (Native American Community Development Institute); Corcoran Neighborhood Organization and T.O.U.C.H. Outreach; C.E.O. (Change Equals Opportunity); Restoration Inc.; and We Push for Peace.

Trahern Pollard, the founder of We Push for Peace, describes as too late the effort to involve community organizations in preparations for potential unrest after a verdict in the Chauvin trial.

"In the next week or so, we'll be able to be somewhat impactful, but this should've happened a whole lot sooner," Pollard said. "I've had many a conversation, and I feel like Minneapolis is in a no-win situation. If society doesn't get what they want - which is an all-out conviction on all charges and 99 years in prison - they're not going to be satisfied. And then, 'Boom!' But we'll be as prepared as we can be."

The city is requiring the seven groups to have liability insurance. Their members do not have arrest powers; the city is asking patrollers to stay in constant communication with police and to call them when situations escalate beyond their control. The partnerships announced April 8 amount to a pilot program, with plans to expand to smaller, hyperlocal groups such as the Protectors if things go well this summer.

"Community members have been doing these things for an eternity," said Sasha Cotton, the city's director of violence prevention, who is leading the program. "They've always been on the front lines of keeping people safe. We're trying to institutionalize that and providing the training and tools to do that job well."

The city also would like to strengthen weak connections between Minneapolis's poorest communities and police, and build connections where none exist.

In 2015, Little Earth received the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the Department of Justice. The money went toward funding community safety efforts, studying the relationship between the neighborhood and police, and strengthening that relationship. Surveys conducted in 2019 and 2020 by Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., as part of the grant provide a window into a deep division between the police and those they were hired to protect and serve in one Minneapolis community.

According to a copy of survey results obtained by The Washington Post, when the police who patrolled Little Earth were asked whether they thought adults in the community make sure children are safe, 25.9% said yes; 82% of residents said yes. Seventy-three percent of community members said they thought residents were actively working to improve the safety of their neighborhood; 33% of officers agreed. More than 94% of officers said Little Earth residents should be concerned about being robbed or assaulted when outside their homes, compared with 49% of residents who thought the same.

Two-thirds of officers said they had not been to Little Earth for any reason besides responding a crime report in the previous two months, and the survey found that attitudes about the dangers in the community softened among officers who had visited for other reasons.

The survey also found just 39% of residents thought police provided people in their community with fair outcomes, 35% thought the police were honest, and 39% thought the police treated Little Earth residents with respect.

"There were very few areas where you saw the community answering identical to the police, and you don't begin to see any sort of agreement until officers begin to visit the community for reasons other than crime," said Shelly Schaefer, a co-author of the survey and an associate professor of criminology in Hamline's Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences. "I think that's particularly important to note as we have this push toward officer training tailored to community needs."

The grant helped, Little Earth community leaders said. They said they saw a handful of police officers making a greater effort to connect with the neighborhood when they were not responding to calls. The biggest impact, however, resulted from the neighborhood's emotional investment in community safety programs, which eventually evolved into the Protectors when the officers at the 3rd Precinct withdrew.

"Without that grant, and the buy-in we got from people who were really interested in making the community safer, I don't think we're able to make the Protectors happen," Ortega said.

After a two-month winter hiatus, the Protectors are back. Around 9 p.m. several nights a week, mostly on weekends, 20 or more men and women ranging from teenagers to seniors stand in a circle in silence by the footbridge. They light sage and "smudge," waving the burning herb across their bodies to ward off negative emotions and cleanse their minds. They stick pieces of cedar leaves in their shoes for good fortune. Then they're off to walk Little Earth.

They plan to be ready, should events turn violent after the Chauvin verdict.

Said Nadeau: "If it happens again, and people try to burn down this city, we'll be ready."

Essential, invisible: Covid has 200,000 merchant sailors stuck at sea

By Taylor Telford and Jacob Bogage
Essential, invisible: Covid has 200,000 merchant sailors stuck at sea
Cargo ships wait to enter the Port of Oakland on March 26, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

Brian Mossman says he has read "Moby Dick" nearly200 times. The 61-year-old captain of the container ship Maersk Sentosa says he revisits the Melville classic nearly every voyage, because each time reveals something new about the people who take to the sea: people like him and the two dozen merchant mariners on his crew.

Sentosa means "a place of peace and tranquility" in Malay, but Mossmansays the 1,048-foot super carrier is more of a "floating industrial plant." It runs around-the-clock hauling cargo to 14 ports in eight countries, from the eastern United States to the Middle East, supplying embassies and military bases and delivering humanitarian aid.

The work is risky, demanding and essential - 90% of the world's goods are transported by water - and merchant mariners typically work in months-on, months-off rotations to guard against burnout and the pervasivedangers of life at sea. But in March 2020, aglobal pandemic gave rise to new and unprecedented pressures: Shipping ports and airports closed. Cargo carriers prohibited shore leave for their crews.

And Mossman was faced with a simple fact: If one person became infected, the virus would spread greedily and easily in the close confines of the ship.

No lessons from Captain Ahab, his 38 years of seafaring or those of his forebears - a line of "able-bodied seamen" dating to 1757 - prepared Mossman for what came next: His crew was trapped aboard, with no certainty on when they could go home.

Mossman was forced to tell his mariners they had to keep working, a conversation that was replicated by captains and ship operators around the world. The U.S. Navy instituted a "gangways up" order that prevented military and civilian sailors alike from leaving their ships. Ports in even the most avidly seafaring nations refused to allow mariners ashore.

Roughly 400,000 seafarers were stranded on ships around the globe at the peak of the "crew change crisis" in late 2020, according to the International Maritime Organization; now, about 200,000 are stuck. Some have been at sea for as long as 20 months, though 11 months is the maximum time allowed by the IMO. The situation threatens to grow more dire in the coming months, industry experts say, as mariners desperately try to access to coronavirus vaccines, their situation complicated by a web of complex logistics and workplaces often situated thousands of miles offshore.

World leaders have called the crew change crisis a humanitarian emergency. It is also a cautionary tale about essential but oft-ignored global supply chains. Industry officials told The Washington Post there's been an increase in severe injuries and mental health concerns - including suicide at sea - as mariners have yearned to leave their ships and return home.

The industry also is grappling with staffing shortages while seeing unprecedented demand for its services, a situation that worsened when a container ship ran aground last month in the Suez Canal and blocked the crucial waterway for nearly a week.

Mossman and his crew weren't relieved until Aug. 5 - more than 10 weeks past their contract. Looking back, he said, it's hard to say whether it was the best voyage of his life or the worst. He's proud to have gotten the crew off safely, without illness or injury, but the stress took its toll. When he finally got home, he says, his blood pressure and blood sugar werethrough the roof. And the extra time away from his four children put a strain on the family.

He's back out at sea now, though still unvaccinated. But between the new dangers at sea and at home, the situation feels like wartime, he says.

"Those people over there, our soldiers, our sailors, they're depending on us to bring everything, from steaks to bullets," Mossman said. "Who am I to say 'Oh I can't go back, I can't do this anymore'? Somebody's got to do it."

- - -

Wander aboard a cargo vessel, pry open a container and enter a world that's both eminently recognizable and bizarre: bins filled with flat-screen televisions, pallets of clothing and fabric, drums of chemicals, car parts and plastics, all piled high on a ship that would dwarf a football field. It's less a ship than floating warehouse, with tiny apartments for the crew.

"Without seafarers, there is no world trade," said Christine Cabau Woehrel, the executive vice president for industrial assets and operations at the cargo carrier CMA CGM.

Consumers tend to think of commerce in terms of finished parts or at least in terms of large components, said Frank Kenney, the director of markets at Cleo, a supply-chain integration firm. But maritime cargo allows it all to travel together on the same ships, keeping prices lower for both producers and, ultimately, consumers.

"When you stop and think, 'How do we consume freight from China?' and the high cost of moving things via airplane," Kenney said, "you have to come to the conclusion that, 'Wow, there's so many things in my house that were sitting in a container on a ship.'"

Not much can stop or slow the methodical pace of world shipping. There is such a high volume of trade - and demand for consumer goods has only increased with the surge in online shopping - that a busy port or seemingly isolated problems on one ship or within the workforce do not have much of an impact on the flow of goods.

It takes a true disaster, such as a grounded ship blocking a major waterway, or a crew-change crisis, to stall the pace of the industry. The consequences are immediate for consumers, producers, dockworkers, transportation brokers and others: Products remain at sea or a continent away, and prices go up. But behind the scenes, the mariners are caught in the middle.

"If you have a just-in-time supply chain that is dependent upon those goods at that time . . . one little hiccup in that supply chain is very, very disruptive," said Ira Douglas, the vice president for labor relations at Crowley Maritime, a major U.S. shipping services company.

Maintaining licenses and certifications is essential in the maritime industry, and this hinges on in-person instruction and hands-on experience with equipment. But the International Maritime Organization has been offering waivers during the pandemic as maritime academies have halted classroom instruction and workers have not been able to leave their ships. Without proper certification, workers are unable to get new jobs.

Gerard Pannell is the director of training with the American Maritime Officers, the nation's largest union for deck- and engine-licensed mariners, at the STAR Center in Dania Beach, Florida. The facility has resumed training at 60% of its pre-pandemic capacity, but Pannell said the coronavirus pandemic has created a backlog in vital licensing and credentialing that will limit the ability of many workers to get jobs and advance their careers.

"It's going to take five years for this ripple in the cycle to work itself out," Pannell said.

Jake O'Boyle said the pandemic is "expediting" his retirement. The 66-year-old became a merchant mariner because he wanted to see the world, and he said a life of sailing on freighters and bulk carriers, oil tankers and container ships has taken him to more than 50 countries. But although the pandemic is beginning to ease, the kind of life he has known on the water seems distant.

"Not a lot of light on the horizon," he said. "The job has become a commitment to livelihood only."

O'Boyle, the captain of the Maersk Durban, which runs cargo and military aid between Egypt and Turkey, was stranded with his crew over the summer. It took the intervention of the U.S. State Department to finally get everyone home, he said. Some of his crew had been at sea for six months by that point.

Now he worries that the industry will have a hard time attracting young talent, further weakening the U.S. foothold in international trade. He called the shrinking workforce an Achilles' heel for national security.

American mariners make up just a fraction of the 1.7 million worldwide who move about11 billion tons of goods by ship each year, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. Global maritime trade is worth about $14 trillion.

"It's frightening to me that we are such a small presence in the maritime world," O'Boyle said. "Once it's dead, it's dead. And we are on life support in the American Merchant Marine."

- - -

The pandemic's disruption of the global shipping industry has robbed workers of some of their most basic rights, experts say. In December, the International Labour Organization ruled that governments had failed to uphold the minimum standards of seafarer rights as laid out by the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention, including access to shore leave, medical care and repatriation.

"This is an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis," said Fred Kenney, the director of legal and external affairs for the International Maritime Organization.

As a result, workers are struggling to contain physical and mental exhaustion. In a September crew change survey by the International Transport Workers Federation, 60% of seafarers said it was "more likely than not" that they or crewmates would be "involved in an accident that could harm human life, property or the marine environment due to fatigue while aboard.

"Extended time on vessels is worsening fatigue," Allianz warned in its 2020 Shipping & Safety report, adding that "human error is a contributing factor in 75 to 96% of marine incidents."

Any mistake or accident on the water can make waves throughout the global supply chain. The Ever Given, the Taiwanese container ship that became lodged in the Suez Canal, delayed roughly $10 billion a day of trade through one of the world's most critical waterways for the movement of oil and manufactured goods.

The ship's operator, Evergreen Marine, declined to comment for this report. Several U.S. federal agencies, including the Maritime Administration, the Committee on the Marine Transportation System and the Coast Guard, declined interview requests.

"I hope this incident will remind governments of the vital role that seafarers and shipping plays in keeping world trade moving," Guy Platten, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, said in a statement about the Ever Given. "Seafarers must not be forgotten as soon as this incident is over."

Ship captains, unions and international maritime organizations all told The Post that reports of suicides, at least anecdotally, have increased during the pandemic. But many factors make it difficult to track such deaths. No central body captures global data on this issue.

A civilian mariner on the Navy cargo ship USNS Amelia Earhart killed himself in July after reportedly struggling with extended time at sea, according to news reports. Shortly after, the heads of three of the largest Merchant Marine unions wrote to Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, the commander of the Military Sealift Command, to voice concerns about the "gangways up" restrictions that barred mariners from leaving their vessels in port and other mariners from coming aboard as relief.

"We are genuinely worried that if restrictions are not eased, the likelihood of shipboard emotional instability will increase," they wrote, cautioning that stress-related fatigue could lead to more injuries and ultimately create security vulnerabilities at military installations around the globe.

What about us, aren't we heroes? We're spending our lives here. We don't know when we're coming back home. We're all prisoners and our freedom is sacrificed in order to maintain worldwide trading.

Roger Harris, the executive director of the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network, which runs hotlines for nine major shipping companies, said the organization experienced a tripling of its call volume triple during the worst of the crew change crisis. It is still receiving far more calls than it did before the pandemic, Harris said, including from seafarers grappling with thoughts of suicide and twice the usual number of reports of fights aboard ships.

Unions and labor advocates say there have been numerous instances in the past year of mariners suffering medical emergencies aboard and not being able to go ashore for vital treatment. In a Facebook video from late January, Christo Mavroulis, a Greek captain, described the ordeal of trying to get medical care for one crew member off the coast of China. Mavroulis spent hours negotiating with port authorities but was unable to persuade them to take the ill man - a Chinese national - to the hospital.

"What about us, aren't we heroes?" Mavroulis said in the video. "We're spending our lives here. We don't know when we're coming back home. We're all prisoners and our freedom is sacrificed in order to maintain worldwide trading."

- - -

The merchant mariners who crew the U.S. fleet endure roughly the same process most Americans face to get coronavirus vaccine shots: They're on their own.

The United Nations called for the world's governments to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as "key workers" during the pandemic. But as of late March, just 56 of 174 IMO member states had designated seafarers as key workers.

Nations with international ports have a patchwork of regulations regarding if and when crew members are allowed to leave their ships, let alone get vaccinated. American sailors face similar difficulties.

I don't want to take the shot away from someone who's deserving, but [covid-19] spreads like wildfire, and the ship will be out of commission at least two weeks, most of the time longer. When it's tied up like that,... all the things that society needs to cope with this pandemic is also taken out of service.

Vaccine distribution is left up to state governors with guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security. Industry officials say they've had difficulty swaying state leaders to move maritime workers up in line because of the size and nature of the industry.

With fewer than 15,000 merchant mariners in the United States, competing for resources at the state level is difficult, they say, because governors tend to prioritize the industries that drive their economies. Though sectors as diverse as vehicle manufacture and agriculture are reliant on maritime trade, seafarers are too few - and distant - to garner much attention.

And because mariners are off work for weeks at a time between assignments, many do not live near ports. When their next contracts begin, they travel to meet their ships, which could be docked a few states away or halfway around the world. That makes vaccine access a logistical nightmare.

One of Crowley Maritime's captains, Douglas said, was not eligible for a vaccine in New Hampshire, his home state. He ended up getting the shot in Jacksonville, Fla., before boarding the ship for his most recent voyage, then got his second shot at another Florida port several weeks later.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico have been more responsive to the need to vaccinate maritime workers, but most states have been hit-or-miss in their approach, Douglas said.

Ed Hanley, the vice president for labor relations and marine safety and standards at Maersk, has argued in letters to state health officials that his crews should be treated as front-line workers because of the duties they perform aboard ships. Hanley has sought access to vaccine shots for the mariners in charge of ships' fire response teams and for those who have medical training. So far, the strategy has worked.

"I don't want to take the shot away from someone who's deserving, but [covid-19] spreads like wildfire, and the ship will be out of commission at least two weeks, most of the time longer," Hanley said. "When it's tied up like that, everything that's on board, all the medicine, the PPE, all the things that society needs to cope with this pandemic is also taken out of service."

The threat of the virus hangs heavy - not only in the risk of infection, but also in the steep consequences of disruption on a vessel. On such tightly crewed ships, having a single person out of action puts a significant strain on the rest. If the cook is sick, the crew still has to eat. Someone must always be standing watch.

Elizabeth Livi, a 24-year-old third mate from Fairlawn, N.J., worked on a ship with multiple covid-19 cases over the summer. She didn't become ill, but she said she saw the ripple effects. People were anxious, overworked, distracted. The ship was delayed a month.

"Every person's job is important," Livi said. "It's not like somebody can sit out and the ship will just operate normally."

- - -

Life at sea, which typically has merchant mariners home half the year and away for the other, places tough demands on workers and their families.

Sara Gasper is a port dispatcher in Houston. Her husband, Nick Gasper, is a captain with Maersk. They have a 3-year-old daughter.

"It's hard when he's gone," Sara said. "He misses lots of things." Nick takes pieces of home with him when he goes, like packets of pictures Sara puts together and Starbucks Cafe Verona, his favorite blend of coffee. "If I could bring my family, I would," Nick said.

Jason Woronowicz, 41, owes his life to the water. His father was a commercial fisherman in Long Island, N.Y. His mother worked at a bar by the water owned by his grandmother. They fell in love.

Woronowicz has been working on boats his whole life as a merchant mariner - on tugboats and cruise ships, now as a third mate on a Columbia University ocean research vessel. On March 7, 2020, he got married in a quiet beach ceremony in Florida just before the world shut down. He went to sea five days later.

"Didn't have much of a honeymoon," he said.

In mid-March, both of Woronowicz's parents were hospitalized with covid-19. With the world in lockdown, there was no way for him to get home, so he spent his time on the ship's shoddy satellite phone while making decisions about life support and ventilators. His wife was there, wearing a Tyvek suit, when his father died on March 31. The family waited weeks for the funeral so that Woronowicz could be there.

"To this minute, I don't remember flying home," Woronowicz said.

He had to look at the logbooks to pull the pieces together. As a merchant mariner, Woronowicz is used to missing holidays at home, and births and weddings. He had tried mentally to prepare for the possibility that he would be at sea when one of his parents died.

"In this industry, there's always a 50/50 chance something like this is going to happen while you're gone, but I didn't expect it to be like this," Woronowicz said. "I always hoped it would happen when I was around."

- - -

The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has exacerbated the tensions of life at sea, creating a mental health crisis among workers, experts and advocates say.

"Most of us like to have some semblance or illusion of control for our lives and livelihood," said the Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, the president and executive director of the Seamen's Church Institute, the largest welfare organization serving mariners and seafarers in North America. "One of the things that weighs on seafarers stuck at sea is the lack of control. It can be hard to cope when you have no sense of when things are going to be normal."

Marissa Baker, an assistant professor at the University of Washington who is conducting a mental health survey of U.S. mariners in partnership with the Coast Guard, said many have been reporting worsening sleep and deteriorating mental health. But she also said she's seen a greater receptiveness to mental health resources.

Every time I'm on a vessel, I always say, 'Thank you so much for your service, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for being here. Without you I have nothing, literally.'

The tension workers feel in being "essential yet invisible" has surfaced repeatedly in the responses to the survey, Baker said.

"They're a vital part of the supply chain, but it's something most of us take for granted."

Many major shipping lines are increasing Internet bandwidth on their vessels so sailors can more easily connect with their families back home, executives at Maersk, CGM CMA and Hapag-Lloyd said in interviews.

Maersk and CGM CMA have chartered flights, executives said, to change crews. The crew change crisis, they warn, cuts both ways for mariners. Some can't get off their ships. Others can't travel to join their ships, meaning they're at home without pay.

Silke Muschitz, the head of marine personnel for Hapag-Lloyd, said the company has begged governments worldwide to stop stigmatizing seafarers as carriers of disease.

"If you're not afraid of a seafarer, then why would you restrict them?" she said.

Maersk, Hanley said, has started paying its sailors bonuses to compensate them for remaining aboard ship at all times, even in ports that allow seafarers limited shore leave. The company has also picked up the tab for crew members' personal snacks and groceries, he said.

"It's little stuff," Hanley said, "but it makes them think, 'At least someone's thinking about us.'"

Cora DiDomenico, a chaplain with the Seamen's Church Institute, is tasked with caring for workers' mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The 27-year-old hangs out in the ports of New York and New Jersey, boarding anywhere from three to six vessels a day, trying to cram as much care and practical assistance as she can into each visit.

DiDomenico has always kicked off her visits by offering items the crew might need: SIM cards, groceries, help sending money home. But in the era of no shore leave, DiDomenico has become a de facto delivery driver. She has picked up prescriptions for a seafarer who ran out of vital medication after his contract was extended. She's been delivering packages from the sister of a mariner who lives in New York but can't get off the ship in his own hometown. She's gotten used to making runs to Dunkin' for 10 dozen doughnuts or to McDonald's for 20 Quarter Pounders.

The people with whom DiDomenico works are accustomed to being invisible. It rankles her that just a few years ago, she, too, knew nothing about this world; now she imagines bringing her future children to the port and worries about finding books for them in which shipping is represented.

"Every time I'm on a vessel, I always say, 'Thank you so much for your service, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for being here. Without you I have nothing, literally,'" DiDomenico said. "But a lot of times when I say that to a seafarer, they kind of dismiss it."

Before the pandemic, DiDomenico would visit during coffee breaks or lunchtime, when all the crew would have an opportunity to rest and speak with her. Now, she usually can go only as far as the gangway. She's learned to communicate with just her eyes. But the crew still see her white helmet with the words "SCI Chaplain" and come, with heartbreaking frankness, and share their troubles.

"I just need to let you know that my father died," a mariner might say.

Or else it's, "I just had to tell you: I just had a baby girl."

When she asks "Have you shared this with anyone?" the answer is generally no. But they light up without fail when she asks to see pictures.

In the past year, DiDomenico has seen more "depression, anxiety and isolation" than ever before. People talk more about their families, and about their sacrifices. The uncertainty - about when they'll go home or even set foot off their vessels - is hard for all to bear.

Sometimes, after visits, DiDomenico returns to her car and cries.

"Nobody signed up for this," she said.

The Philippines' drug war is putting more pregnant women behind bars. What happens to their children?

By Regine Cabato
The Philippines' drug war is putting more pregnant women behind bars. What happens to their children?
Rosemarie Santiago sits at home with her son Jericho, who was born while she was incarcerated in Manila. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by Hannah Reyes Morales.

MANILA, Philippines - Rosemarie Santiago was four months pregnant when she walked into prison. She left more than a year later as a mother who had spent just one day with her child.

She was taken to a Manila hospital to give birth to her son Jericho. The next day her siblings claimed him, and she returned behind bars. She would not see him for another nine months.

"When I came back, he was so thin," said Santiago, who was arrested in 2018 on drug charges. "I kept thinking about what could have happened if I had not been arrested."

Santiago is among hundreds of young mothers who give birth while in government custody in the Philippines, where the poor can wait up to a decade for a trial. Some women tend to their children in dismal conditions, sometimes handcuffed to their hospital beds. Others, like Santiago, surrender the child to family.

The most prominent recent case is that of activist Reina Mae Nasino, whose baby River died of pneumonia in October. The spectacle of the funeral, with a 23-year-old mother cuffed and unable to wipe her tears, was seen by critics of President Rodrigo Duterte as a jarring portrait of diminishing rights in the country. Duterte's expanding crackdowns on drugs has sharply increased prison populations and left an estimated 25,000 people dead - drawing criticism from rights activists around the world. Nasino is charged with the possession of illegal weapons, which she denies.

The national Bureau of Jail Management and Penology recorded more than 1,600 pregnant detainees and 485 births in the past two years. Around 80% of the women face cases related to drugs, said medical officer Paul Borlongan.

Drug-related charges against women jumped to more than 15,000 from 9,000 in 2015. Many are arrested alongside their partners and families, according to the Commission on Human Rights.

At least one other death of a detained activist's child was reported this year. Human rights advocates argue that babies have higher chances of survival if they are not separated from their mothers. The World Health Organization recommends at least six months for breastfeeding.

But rules in the jail management bureau manual cap a mother and baby's time together at one month. Anything more must be approved by a court. Many facilities enforce separation after only a day, citing health concerns for the child.

The treatment of incarcerated mothers is largely "prison-specific, judge-specific, warden-specific," said Inez Feria, director of NoBox Philippines, an organization advocating for drug policy reform. NoBox has supported calls to release mothers and other vulnerable people to decongest jails.

At the Correctional Institution for Women, mothers can spend up to a year with their children. As the only national prison for women, it can set different rules than the one-month limit for newborns that applies in most other detention facilities.

When The Washington Post visited in February, three young women and their babies shared a space called the "mothers' ward," across the hall from the cramped dorms of fellow inmates. The room had five beds - two mothers recently checked out - a shared bathroom, a pantry and a shelf of toys.

Superintendent Virginia Mangawit said a separate facility would still be ideal. They are always in need of bed space. The prison, built for 1,500 inmates, holds more than 3,000.

Santiago, the former detainee, said she was not involved in drugs but pleaded guilty on the advice of authorities to avoid a longer wait for trial. By the time she walked free in 2019, Jericho's father had left.

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda defended the one-month cap for new mothers to be with their babies. "[It] is in the best interest of the child given the atmosphere, the health risks, on the part of the baby," he said. "Are [critics] really saying that it's more okay to stay in a jail, given the conditions in our jails, rather than at home with a family?"

But human rights advocates say the Philippines is in violation of the "Bangkok Rules," guidelines from the United Nations on the treatment of women in detention. Under these requirements, determining the length of a mother and child's time together must be "made in the best interests of the child."

The rules also say cuffing mothers even during the transfer to a hospital "[violates] international standards," and every effort should be made to give pregnant women noncustodial sentences, among other recommendations on the facilities and health services that should be available.

In the Philippines, the Commission on Human Rights reports inconsistency in access to maternal health services. "None of the women mentioned availability of postnatal care or services for those experiencing postpartum depression," it said. Only 37 out of 84 women's dormitories have a breastfeeding room.

Raymund Narag, prison reform advocate and assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, said the lack of physical and legal structures forces bureau employees in the Philippines to come up with individual solutions. Jail officers sometimes convert their offices to nursing spaces or pool donations with the help of other detainees. At the national penitentiary, a prison employee adopted an inmate's child.

"Sometimes those coping mechanisms benefit other people but don't benefit others," said Narag, a former detainee himself, spending seven years in jail on murder charges for which he was eventually cleared. "You need new guidelines to deal with the concrete situation, not idealistic ones."

Experts suggest that these gaps be addressed through a new law, formal guidelines from the country's Supreme Court and revisions to the jail management manual.

Officials told The Post an interagency memorandum that would streamline rules and probably extend the time allotted for mother and child is under review. The Health Department hopes it will pass within the year. A Philippines Senate bill meant to aid incarcerated parents has been pending at the committee level since last year.

The issue can be personal for bureau employees. Hannah Nario-Lopez, a University of the Philippines assistant professor who conducts research and skills training in jails, says some female guards expressed frustration at online vitriol received after the Nasino case.

"At the end of the day, all women suffer here," she said. "[Anger at the] cruelty of the state, I think, should [be] directed to the critique of the system, lack of institutional support . . . rather than personal attacks on the officers."

In one case last May, jail guard Sallie Tinapay - who was nursing her own 8-month-old at the time - was assigned to watch over a detainee after childbirth. When the inmate could not produce milk, she fed the baby from her own breast.

"It was like she didn't want to breastfeed," she recalled. "She was thinking that they would be separated anyway."

The mother, who authorities did not identify for her privacy, could not secure a court permit that would prolong her hospital stay. Social services picked up the infant, and a relative claimed her later, Tinapay said.

The inmate has been released, jail management said.

"I hoped she would be set free," Tinapay said, "so she can take good care of her child."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

The most anti-refugee president in modern history might not be Donald Trump

By catherine rampell
The most anti-refugee president in modern history might not be Donald Trump


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By Catherine Rampell

The most anti-refugee president in modern history may not be Donald Trump. Right now, it's looking like Joe Biden.

At least according to the numbers.

Halfway through fiscal 2021, the United States has admitted only 2,050 refugees, State Department data show. At the current pace, about 4,100 people would be resettled here this year. That would be the lowest number since the modern refugee resettlement program began in 1980; the previous record low came last year, under Trump alone, at 11,814. Amazingly, monthly admissions have slowed since Biden took office. To put these numbers in context: Over the previous four decades, refugee admissions averaged about 78,000 annually, or roughly 19 times the total we're on track for this year.

This is not, presumably, what most Americans thought they were getting when they elected Biden.

Biden has spoken warmly of immigrants in general and refugees in particular. He has argued that welcoming the "huddled masses" is an American tradition, humanitarian duty and diplomatic advantage. Shortly after taking office, he announced plans to rebuild the refugee resettlement program, which had been hobbled by years of successively lower refugee admissions ceilings set by Trump. Biden said this process would begin by quadrupling the record-low ceiling that Trump had set for fiscal 2021 (taking it from 15,000 to 62,500).

More significantly, Biden said he would remove discriminatory eligibility criteria that Trump added mere days before the 2020 election. These impossible-to-meet admission categories effectively blocked nearly all refugees from African and Muslim countries from qualifying for resettlement in the United States, whatever the overall ceiling might suggest. These criteria are the main reason admissions have slowed to a trickle.

Biden announced all this in early February. His State Department submitted a detailed report to Congress on the new ceiling and eligibility criteria days later. State Department officials began booking flights for refugees who had been waiting for years -- people who had been fully screened for national security and public health concerns and deemed ready to go.

Then, astoundingly, Biden blocked his own policy from taking effect.

Without explanation, Biden never signed the paperwork, called a "presidential determination," legally necessary to lift Trump's restrictions. So, roughly 715 desperate refugees whose travel arrangements were made by Biden's own State Department -- many of whom had given away their possessions and vacated their homes in anticipation of relocation -- had their tickets abruptly canceled.

At least one family in a Tanzanian refugee camp was booked on a flight for February and rescheduled for another flight in March, because Biden hadn't completed his bureaucratic task in time for their original itinerary, according to the International Rescue Committee, the nonprofit resettlement agency assigned to receive them in Idaho. Ultimately, their travel was canceled, a sign that even State Department officials hadn't anticipated Biden's repeated and unexplained paperwork delays. Many families had similar experiences during Trump's presidency, when they were also booked and subsequently unbooked for flights.

Which suggests how little has changed since Trump left office, despite Biden's warm-and-fuzzy rhetoric.

Asked repeatedly (by me and others) what accounts for Biden's delay, White House officials have struggled to answer. Sometimes they try to blame Trump, complaining that his administration left a system in "disrepair" that requires "rebuilding." No doubt, Trump wrought a lot of damage upon the immigration system, and more resources would be necessary to reach the much higher refugee admissions that Biden claims he wants for the next fiscal year (125,000); currently, there aren't enough people sufficiently far along in the refugee-screening pipeline to meet that goal.

But none of this explains why the few thousand already fully vetted and deemed "travel-ready" by the State Department as of early March have not been allowed in. The only thing preventing their entry is Biden -- who refuses to do the right thing and sign a simple document.

The only explanation I can fathom for what's going on is that the White House fears ordinary Americans will confuse the refugee resettlement system with the surge of migrants at the southern border. "Refugees" and "asylum seekers" might sound synonymous, but the groups are subject to different sets of laws, screening procedures and executive authorities. One key difference is that refugees apply from abroad and are screened for eligibility before they arrive; asylum seekers apply from within our borders or at a port of entry.

In other words, refugees are doing precisely what both Biden and Republicans urge those fleeing persecution and violence to do: staying abroad, and not crossing into the United States unlawfully; proving to U.S. and international officials that their lives are indeed in danger, and that they meet the legal requirements for resettlement; enduring extensive screening to prove they don't threaten national security or public health; and then patiently waiting their turn for admission, a process that usually takes years.

And how is Biden rewarding them? The same way Trump did: by slamming the door.

- - -

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

How Tucker Carlson's racist rhetoric gives new life to Trumpism

By michael gerson
How Tucker Carlson's racist rhetoric gives new life to Trumpism


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By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Some in the Republican Party hope that it can eventually maintain the Trump coalition without the toxic excesses of Donald Trump's disordered personality. Already, a variety of talented and calculating figures -- Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) come to mind -- are trying to model populism minus the psychopathy. They are clearly imagining a day when a working-class and fundamentalist cultural revolt can be channeled into constructive public purposes. As one Republican congressional staffer has said: "Trump has changed the party forever, but that doesn't mean he will control the party forever."

It is a rational instinct. It also strikes me as a nearly impossible task. And Tucker Carlson illustrates why.

Every mention of the Fox News host, of course, plays into his career advancement strategy. He is the prime example of a professional troll. The Anti-Defamation League has demanded Carlson's firing for his unapologetic embrace of "replacement theory." Here is how Carlson defined this idea in the process of defending it last week: "The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate of the voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World."

Why people should be offended by this mystifies Carlson. "Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it," he continued. "No, no, no, this is a voting-rights question. I have less political power because they are importing a brand-new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American, guaranteed at birth, is one man, one vote, and they are diluting it."

There is a reason, of course, that "everyone" wants to make a racial issue out of this. Because it is a putrescent pile of racist myths and cliches. Nearly every phrase of Carlson's statement is the euphemistic expression of white supremacist replacement doctrine. "The Democratic Party" means liberals, which translates into Jews. They are importing "new people" from the "Third World" means people with black and brown skin. Those kinds of people, in the racist trope, are "obedient," meaning docile, backward and stupid. Their votes do not constitute real democracy because they are replacing the "current electorate" -- which is presumably whiter and less docile. These paler, truer Americans are thus deprived of their birthright of political dominance. And fighting back -- making sure the new Third World people have less power -- becomes a defense of the American way.

This is what modern, poll-tested, shrink-wrapped, mass-marketed racism looks like. Carlson is providing his audience with sophisticated rationales for their worst, most prejudicial instincts. And the brilliance of Carlson's business model is to reinterpret moral criticism of his bigotry as an attack by elites on his viewers. Public outrage is thus recycled into fuel for MAGA victimhood. And so the Fox News machine runs on and on.

Wouldn't it be best to simply ignore Carlson's provocations? That is increasingly difficult. Carlson plays the reprehensible but illuminating role of turning Trump's instincts into ideology. Carlson's redefinition of conservatism is insidious but coherent. And it seems to be prevailing.

In Carlson's version of the MAGA worldview, politics is played for the highest of stakes. "Western civilization" is under attack from liberalism. "America isn't falling to foreign invaders," Carlson has said. "It is rotting from within because the people in charge don't think it is worth preserving." And one of the main instruments that liberalism uses to secure power and undermine Western culture is elevation of "diversity" as a social ideal. In fact, according to Carlson, people from non-Western countries dilute and adulterate America's culture and heritage. Immigration makes the country "poorer and dirtier and more divided," he said in 2018. (Earlier, Carlson said Iraqis come from "a culture where people just don't use toilet paper or forks.") Mass migration, according to Carlson, is not merely a threat; the promotion of mass migration is a political conspiracy. Liberals are attempting to control the country by changing its ethnic makeup and polluting its culture. And this deprives true Americans -- those with, say, the racial makeup of Fox News viewers -- of their rightful place of social and economic influence.

Each day, Carlson gives a pure, accurate depiction of Trumpism. This viewpoint is not focused on the working-class economic dislocation caused by globalization, or even the moral panic resulting from rapidly changing cultural norms. It is an argument in favor of cultural purity, of social hygiene. Note Carlson's use of "dirtier" in describing immigrants, and his reference to toilet hygiene. Trumpism is an argument that Western society, and American society in particular, is being infected by dirty outsiders who are destroying the country's very nature.

Such a belief is difficult to reform around the edges. It can only be embraced or rejected. In the end, there can be no form of Trumpism with its hating heart removed.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is

I dare to hope for conviction

By eugene robinson
I dare to hope for conviction


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By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- After hearing in such clinical, heartbreaking, infuriating detail about George Floyd's final agonies, I want to believe justice is possible in the Derek Chauvin trial. I want to believe the jurors heard what I heard and felt what I feel. I want to allow myself to hope for it. But a part of me holds back.

The police officers who beat Rodney King to a pulp were acquitted. The self-appointed vigilante who shot Trayvon Martin to death was acquitted. The police officer who killed Philando Castile after a routine traffic stop -- just miles from the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd died -- was acquitted.

It feels risky to have any confidence that this time the outcome will be different, even though it feels as if it should be. It's not just that the prosecutors seeking to convict Chauvin of murder have presented what seems to me an overwhelming case. This trial and the context in which it's taking place are different from the other proceedings that led to such shattering disappointments.

Never that I can recall, in all the attempts to hold police accountable for unjustified killings of African Americans, have we heard such damning testimony from the highest levels of the police department in question. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told the jury last week that Chauvin, once he had Floyd in the prone position, should have quickly released the pressure he was applying to Floyd's neck and back -- rather than kneeling on Floyd for more than nine minutes.

"To continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back -- that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy," Arradondo testified. "It is not part of our training. And it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values."

Other officers took the stand to attest that Chauvin had never been trained to put his knee on any suspect's neck. The "thin blue line" solidarity that we've come to expect is present in this case, but in a way that excludes Chauvin. The only consensus we've seen thus far among police officers is that what Chauvin did was obviously, tragically, unambiguously wrong.

Police officers, including an expert witness on use of force from the Los Angeles Police Department, also blew holes in the likely defense argument that Chauvin was distracted or even threatened by the onlookers who watched and recorded Floyd's death. Surveillance video proves that there was no angry mob on the scene. Instead, a handful of horrified bystanders obeyed the command to keep their distance -- even as they implored Chauvin to relent because they feared they were watching a man being killed before their eyes.

Some of the most excruciating testimony has come from medical experts who described, in agonizing detail, the nature of Floyd's death. Martin Tobin, a Loyola University Medical Center pulmonologist and expert on the mechanics of breathing, had the jurors examine their own necks to identify the anatomical features he was describing: the hypopharynx toward the front, the nuchal ligament in the back.

For me, the most searing moments of the trial thus far came when Tobin used video footage to show how Floyd, his neck and chest compressed by Chauvin's weight, struggled to breathe -- how he desperately tried to use his right hand to push against the pavement or the officers' squad car to create space for his lungs to expand. And then Tobin showed the moment when Floyd's leg lifted in an involuntary spasm -- an anoxic seizure -- marking the lack of oxygen to the brain. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for at least two minutes after learning he had no pulse.

I've been a journalist my entire adult life. I am good at viewing tragedy with detachment because that is my job. But as I watched Tobin's testimony, I had to wipe tears from my eyes.

Floyd's death is fully documented on video recorded from multiple angles: the onlookers' cellphones, the officers' body cameras, a surveillance camera across the street. All the jurors have to do is believe their own eyes and ears. I should be able to expect that they will do so. I should at least be able to hope they will.

But hope still feels dangerous.

Eminent expert after eminent expert has explained why Floyd's heart disease and his history of opioid abuse did not cause his death. But Chauvin's defense has yet to make its case, which will surely try to paint Floyd as a junkie and a thug, a bad hombre who either deserved the treatment Chauvin gave him or would have dropped dead anyway from heart disease and drug use.

I want to believe jurors will see Floyd simply, and fully, as a man. Too often, that has been too much to hope for.

- - -

Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson

Unionizing Amazon won't be easy

By megan mcardle
Unionizing Amazon won't be easy


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By Megan McArdle

WASHINGTON - In the end, it wasn't even close. By late Friday morning, even with roughly a thousand ballots outstanding, so many workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, had voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that the "No" tally now represented more than half of all ballots cast.

As journalist and former labor movement strategist Rich Yeselson tartly suggested, unions shouldn't hold elections they're likely to lose this badly. Too, a newly opened warehouse in Alabama might not be the place to start a drive to unionize a national company.

But whatever your opinion about this election -- or unions more generally -- this likely won't be the last big and closely watched campaign to unionize an Amazon facility. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

For unions, the company represents something they haven't had since the early 20th century: a private-sector target with the kind of scope, and profit margins, to claim some real value for the workers.

The lack of such targets has been a significant reason the union share of the workforce has been in steady decline since it peaked in the mid-1950s, at around 35%. The left tends to blame Ronald Reagan, but by the time he famously broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, union membership had already declined to around 20% of the workforce. Nor can Reagan alone explain why unionization rates have declined almost everywhere in the world since 1990.

What has changed almost everywhere simultaneously is that manufacturing is a smaller share of employment in developed countries. In 1950, 3 out of every 10 American jobs were in manufacturing. In 2020, fewer than 1 in 12 jobs were. And compared with the labor-intensive industries that replaced them, manufacturing is fantastically productive.

Consider two giants: Walmart and General Motors. In 2020, General Motors generated about $790,000 in sales, and $41,500 in profit, for each of its 155,000 employees. Walmart had more than four times the annual revenue of General Motors, but needed almost 15 times as many employees to do so. Sales per employee were only $240,000, and the company's profit margin on those sales is also lower, so net income per employee was actually around $6,750.

That's not nothing, of course! But realistically, a union can't claim 100% of profits for workers, which creates a conundrum for would-be organizers. When net income per employee is that low, it's harder for unions to improve worker compensation net of the dues needed to pay for the union -- especially since a retailer whose employees are flung out across thousands of locations is likely to be more expensive for the union to organize, and represent, than even huge manufacturers with dozens of plants.

Unfortunately for American union organizers, U.S. manufacturing has increasingly been automated or outsourced, and what remains is facing fierce competition from companies abroad. Companies can't just jack up prices to compensate for higher labor costs, as their mid-century predecessors could. That's why unionization is increasingly concentrated in government jobs, which face limited competitive pressure, and which can be centrally organized.

That's also why Amazon represents such an enticing target. Amazon's dominance suggests it ought to have some pricing power. It has hundreds of thousands of new workers who could be brought into the union fold. Its warehouse facilities are even bigger than a Walmart Supercenter, so they're more efficient to organize; they're also significantly more productive than traditional retail. Yet since the company's whole business model now depends on being close to every consumer to facilitate quick delivery, it can't just move operations to a friendlier state, much less Vietnam.

But while unions want to organize Amazon, they still face a steep climb. More than half the company's operating income comes from Amazon Web Services. That money can't simply be transferred to the warehouse workers, since business lines being subsidized by more profitable products are vulnerable to cuts.

Yet take the AWS profits away, and Amazon looks a lot closer to Walmart than GM in organizing potential, even if you assume the company could raise prices a bit - and raising prices would be complicated by the fact that an estimated 60% of sales come from the site's third-party sellers. But an equally daunting problem might be the country that GM made.

Before mass automobile ownership, workers tended to cluster conveniently close together. Today's workers might come by car from an hour away and aren't so easy to reach. The very productivity that makes Amazon financially attractive to organize leaves little time for workers to pause and make friends with their co-workers, building social networks unions can leverage.

Those are structural disadvantages the union is apt to face at whichever Amazon facility it targets. So while the name of the town might be different in future organizing drives, the result might be much the same.

- - -

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

The new diet of worms

By gene weingarten
The new diet of worms


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By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON - A few weeks ago, I clicked on a news story and my jaw dropped. It dropped because I was trying to insert into my mouth a big fat bratwurst smothered in butter-sauteed onions.

Then I read the news story. It said that millennials are reporting an average weight gain of 41 pounds since the start of the pandemic. Wow, I thought. Those poor young men and women are stress-eating themselves to an early death. Alas, they lack the self-control and resilience of us older people. Then I decided, just for reassurance, to visit my bathroom scale. It had been a while.

My scale is one of those electronic ones, where you don't see your weight right away. First, a display flashes and rolls, like on a slot machine, and then it settles on your weight. In my case, it didn't settle gently like a leaf, it thudded down like a gunnysack of organ meat.

A few days later, in a panic, I started the worst diet of all time, one largely of my own invention. It's quite easy to summarize, and even easier to name: You only eat foods that repulse you. I call it the Eat [Feces] Diet.

Laugh if you want, but after 12 days I lost nine pounds. I do not feel sick. I feel terribly, terribly, horribly sorry for myself, but, hey, that's pretty much the state we're all in.

I should note that in the past I have launched other lunatic diets -- anything that could cause the loss of a pound or two (BEG ITAL)and (END ITAL)result in a column. Once I ate only dog food for a week. Another time I devised a diet where you could eat anything you want, and as much as you want, but you had to shovel the day's worth down in one five-minute sitting.

The E.S. Diet is worse than either. No fat or sugar or starch. No butter. If you use oil, it can only be a single spray-dot less than the diameter of a quarter, the sole purpose of which is to avoid pan-bottom charring, because char tastes kinda good. You can't eat fruits and veggies you like, such as tomatoes or beets or bok choy, but raw kale is fine because it tastes like crepe paper. If there are low-fat things you (BEG ITAL)kind (END ITAL)of like, you have to ruin them before you can eat them. I like chicken, but not the wan and fatless white meat, unless it is slathered with gravy. This diet requires you to eat only the wan and fatless white meat, but you have to first boil it to culinary death. Hot sauce is legal, but you have to use too much of it. You may also use salt, but only if you over-salt (BEG ITAL)and (END ITAL)over-pepper, (BEG ITAL)and (END ITAL)add three other emphatically flavored spices that notoriously quarrel: Mix and match among garlic, fennel, basil, cloves and cinnamon.

On the E.S. Diet you simply lose all desire for food. You'd be better off consuming protein pills on a spaceship. There is no limit to the serving size because there is no need for a limit. It is most effectively self-limiting.

Oh, and beer is OK in moderation. One does not last weeks on this monstrous regimen without spiritual help.

After the diet was done, I was so resentful, and so desperate for the sheer taste of taste, that I put myself on a second diet. This one was the photo negative of the E.S. Diet. It was confined only to my favorite food in the world. For the next three days, I had only raw oysters and clams. Lost another two pounds.

Then it was over. My first meal back was my favorite childhood comfort food, a peasant Russian dish called matzoh brei, a name my young kids had manhandled to "monster pie." It is ostentatiously opulent, involving matzoh, butter, cottage cheese, eggs and dollops of strawberry jam, all previously verboten. It was heaven. I had seconds.

By Day 2, post-diets, I had regained three pounds. Thirty-eight pounds to go, I guess.

- - -

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

Respectfully, Justice Breyer: Court enlargers aren't the problem

By e.j. dionne jr.
Respectfully, Justice Breyer: Court enlargers aren't the problem


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By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is an engaging, intellectually serious advocate of judicial modesty and compromise. Some years ago, he put forward an admirable concept he called "active liberty." It asked judges to recognize "the principle of participatory self-government" as the heart of the Constitution's purposes.

If I believed that today's judicial conservatives shared Breyer's approach and restraint, I might agree with his warnings last week against the movement to enlarge the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, most right-wing judges are not who Breyer wants them to be, and the court on which he serves is not as apolitical as he wishes it were.

The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis not because progressives are complaining but because of what they are complaining about: a reckless, right-wing, anti-democratic court majority, and a conservative court-packing campaign marked by the disgraceful Republican blockade against President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the unseemly rush to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett just before President Trump's defeat last November.

So I respectfully dissent from the skepticism Breyer expressed about court enlargement in a lecture at Harvard Law School last week precisely because I share his underlying principles.

For the same reason, I applaud President Biden for creating a commission on Friday to examine reforms to the courts, including the possibility of adding Supreme Court justices. Even if the commission doesn't endorse enlargement (though I hope it will), it underscores the nature of the crisis we confront.

Breyer's Harvard lecture offered a thoughtful historical argument for why protecting the court's legitimacy is vital to protecting liberty.

"If the public sees judges as politicians in robes," he said, "its confidence in the courts and in the rule of law itself can only diminish, diminishing the court's power, including its power to act as a check on other branches."

What Breyer declined to point out is that conservative justices are the ones who have turned themselves into party bosses through decisions such as Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to big money in politics.

"The rule of law depends on trust, a trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics."

Right. But then he added: "Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that latter perception, further eroding that trust."

"What I'm trying to do," he said at another point, "is to make those whose initial instincts may favor important structural change or other similar institutional changes, such as forms of court-packing, to think long and hard before they embody those changes in law."

Alas, the good justice has the causation arrow pointing in the wrong direction.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Trump were the court-packers. There would be far less talk of court enlargement if McConnell and Trump had not abused their power. Nor would enlargement be on the table if conservative justices had not substituted their own political preferences for Congress' decisions, notably on voting rights and campaign finance reform, 5-4 rulings on which Breyer, rightly, joined the dissenters.

Breyer also seemed unhappy that in reporting on a jurist's decision, media outlets are more inclined than in the past to mention "the name or the political party of the president who nominated the judge to office." But there's a reason for this. Particularly in cases affecting participation in elections, a judge's partisan provenance is hugely predictive of how he or she will decide them.

In fact, supporters of court enlargement have already thought "long and hard" before we got here. We're not the radicals. We're not the judicial activists. We're not the ones trying to overthrow decades of precedent.

In my ideal world, we would not have to worry about a thoughtful justice such as Breyer spending the rest of his days on the court. But that world no longer exists.

This is why many liberals are calling on the 82-year-old justice to resign. They want a Democratic president, backed by a Democratic Senate, to install his replacement. After Garland, only a fool would believe that a Republican Senate would give a Democratic president's appointee, no matter how moderate or qualified, a hearing.

The irony for Breyer is that he must quit to give his own principles a fighting chance in the future. I'd be sad to see him go, but not nearly as sad as I would be if Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor were the only liberals left on the court.

In his speech, Breyer declared that "the Constitution itself seeks to establish a workable democracy and to protect basic human rights." That's a bracing vision, and it's what advocates of court enlargement are trying to protect.

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E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

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