Samsung says it eked out a profit rise before the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic hit

Samsung, the world's largest smartphone maker, eked out a rise in profit last quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to disrupt supply chains and cripple global demand.
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The WHO now recommends cloth masks for all
A woman wearing a face mask walks past a wall with drawings in a street of Havana, Cuba on May 13, 2020. Cuba is one of several countries that have made masks mandatory. | Amil Lage/AFP via Getty Images The general public should wear masks in public spaces where physical distancing is impossible, the agency says. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday announced changes to its guidelines on who should wear a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic and where they should wear it. The new guidance recommends that the general public wear cloth masks made from at least three layers of fabric “on public transport, in shops, or in other confined or crowded environments.” It also says people over 60 or with preexisting conditions should wear medical masks in areas where there’s community transmission of the coronavirus and physical distancing is impossible, and that all workers in clinical settings should wear medical masks in area with widespread transmission. It’s a major update to the agency’s April 6 recommendations, which said that members of the general public “only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with Covid-19” or “if you are coughing or sneezing.” At a WHO press conference on June 3, Michael Ryan, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said WHO still believes that masks should primarily be used “for purposes of source control — in other words, for people who may be infectious, reducing the chances that they will infect someone else.” And on Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus offered a few words of warning as part of the announcement: “Masks can also create a false sense of security, leading people to neglect measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing. I cannot say this clearly enough: Masks alone will not protect you from Covid-19.” But the changes finally bring the WHO in line with many countries around the world that have made masks mandatory in crowded public spaces, including Cuba, France, Cameroon, Vietnam, Slovakia, and Honduras. While it has not made masks a requirement, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since April 3 suggested “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Many health experts have wondered why it’s taken this long for the WHO to update its mask guidelines, given the accumulation of evidence that they may be helpful and have few downsides. Eric Topol, a research methods expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, calls WHO’s delay “preposterous.” He adds, “I have great respect for the World Health Organization — but they got the mask story all wrong, and we have lost people because of it.” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, agrees, saying, “Everyone should be wearing a mask.” Here’s what the research suggests and why experts think WHO has now revised its guidelines. AFP via Getty Images People in face masks shop for plants and flowers in Hong Kong on March 22, 2020. In April, researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Maryland found that masks stopped sick people from spreading Covid-19 in Hong Kong. Why wear a mask? The WHO didn’t cite any particular research for its dramatic change, noting only that it “developed this guidance through a careful review of all available evidence and extensive consultation with international experts and civil society groups.” But there have been a number of recent studies that experts point to as the best evidence for mask use in the general public to reduce Covid-19 transmission. And a growing number of doctors, scientists, and public health experts have been calling for universal masking in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces. One meta-review published in Lancet waded through 172 studies on Covid-19, SARS, and MERS, from 16 countries and six continents. Its authors determined that masks — as well as physical distancing and eye protection — helped protect against Covid-19. The studies reviewed evidence both in health care and non-health care settings and then adjusted the data so they could be directly compared. The researchers found that your risk of infection when wearing a mask was 14 percent less than if you weren’t wearing a mask, although N95 masks “might be associated with a larger reduction in risk” than surgical or cloth masks. Other literature reviews have not been as favorable. Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia and one of the advisory bodies on infection prevention of Covid-19, coauthored one such preprint review in early April. “In evidence-based medicine, randomized-controlled trials are supposed to trump observational studies,” he says, “And randomized-controlled trials have all been pretty much negative on face masks in the community.” The Lancet piece, he notes, gives more consideration to observational studies with surgical masks. A few recent observational studies on mask use by the public in this pandemic, however, support general mask usage to prevent the spread of Covid-19. One from Hong Kong concluded, “mass masking in the community is one of the key measures that controls transmission during the outbreak in Hong Kong and China.” Another concluded that if 80 percent of a population were to wear masks, the number of Covid-19 infections would drop by a 12th, based on observations from several Asian countries where mask-wearing is common. There’s been some debate over the efficacy of homemade cloth masks and surgical masks (especially compared to N95s masks, which have more evidence behind them) for the general public. But one recent article, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that even cloth masks block some viral particles from escaping. The general consensus is that masks are better at keeping your viral particles from spreading to others than keeping someone else’s from spreading to you. Catherine Clase, the lead author of the Annals of Internal Medicine piece, says that one study she reviewed found even a single layer of cotton tea towel tested against a virus aerosol reduced transmission of virus by 72 percent. “One thing to remember,” she says, “is that a mask doesn’t need to be perfect” to bring down the average number of people being infected by one sick person. “It just has to reduce the probability of transmission to some degree.” William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, notes that previous data on masks and viruses came out of the SARS and MERS epidemics, which involved viruses that weren’t as transmissible. “Masks were thought of then as more personal protection as opposed to community protection,” he said, helping explain why masks weren’t widely regarded as particularly effective. But with Covid-19, the rate of asymptomatic patients may be as high as 40 percent, requiring a shift in thinking about masks from protecting the wearer to protecting the community. And so Clase concludes that while cloth masks may not protect you from inhaling someone else’s germs, “the evidence that they reduce contamination [from sick people] of air and surfaces is convincing, and should suffice to inform policy decisions on their use in this pandemic.” Clase adds, “The pandemic is not going particularly well. So this is probably worth employing now and doing the additional research later.” Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images A family walks wearing masks in Downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. Why the WHO may have had trouble reaching consensus on universal masking The WHO generally does very thorough reviews of evidence, as the whole world’s health rides on their recommendations. This may explain their delay in recommending the general public wear masks. The agency used to largely base its decisions around expert advice, says Hunter. “They would get together a group, and they would use these experts to drive WHO guidelines.” But in 2007, a Lancet paper criticized the agency for not following evidence-based medicine, which prioritizes randomized controlled trials. As a result, Hunter says, “WHO went through a major upheaval in its guideline development practices. Now, it has to base its recommendations on systematic reviews,” and each guideline development committees now have methodologists. “I think [the delay] reflects a general principle often followed by scientists, which is not to change practice until the evidence is strong and definitive,” Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care sciences at the University of Oxford, wrote in an email responding to questions. “Whilst many people (including me) believe that is already the case, some scientists on WHO committees have been waiting for additional evidence to strengthen the case.” Greenhalgh argued in early April that it was time to apply the precautionary principle to pandemic response and that the public should wear masks “on the grounds that we have little to lose and potentially something to gain.” But David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH) advisory board, says the agency “is very cautious to only use evidence when we have it. We don’t make any precautionary measures if we don’t have any contributing evidence.” Any guideline you make does an assessment of risk and benefit, and you want to get as much information as you can STAG-IH itself was asked to look into the evidence for and against mask use in early May and compiled a report for the WHO that was made public on May 25. The finding “supports mask use by the general public in the community to decrease the risk of infection,” the WHO said in a statement to Vox, noting that in updating their guidance, they took the STAG-IH advice into consideration. Cliff Lane, the clinical director at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and another member of STAG-IH, says the WHO is ”very good at trying to get a diverse set of opinions before making recommendations.” But he admits he doesn’t know why the WHO has timed its recommendations for masks the way it has. He is one of many experts Vox interviewed who noted that it’s difficult to conduct a randomized, double-blind controlled study of mask use in the general public. Because of ethics and practicality, “much of the epidemiologic data on the impact is inferred,” he says. This magnifies a general problem he sees: “Any guideline you make does an assessment of risk and benefit, and you want to get as much information as you can.” For example, if wearing a mask provides a sense of false security and encourages people to stop social distancing, then consequences may not be worth it. “It’s not a trivial decision,” he says. Heymann says the WHO’s delay in recommendation comes in part from needing to consider evidence from around the world. “WHO takes longer because there’s a need to obtain consensus from global experts and inform six regional offices.” Hunter added that nation-states can make decisions based in part on politics or educated guesses. “But WHO cannot take political decisions like that. It has to try to get consensus opinion among scientists, because people look to WHO to make decisions on hard evidence wherever possible.” As Heymann sees it, “WHO is just the gold standard. Countries many times are ahead of WHO — there’s no need for them to wait for WHO to make recommendations.” Topol, on the other hand, says the best reason he can think of for the WHO not recommending everyone wear masks is because of the worry over a global shortage of masks, particularly in the US. Perhaps, he says, “They didn’t want to have masks maldistributed, because of the dire need for, and lack of, PPE for health care personnel.” But, he adds, “That’s not the reason to say you don’t need masks — that’s the reason to say we desperately need to make masks.” “The world needs the WHO — and it needs it now more than ever” The WHO has been under a lot of scrutiny since the beginning of the pandemic. And it recently got worse: At the end of May, President Trump announced that the US would pull out of the WHO altogether, potentially withdrawing a significant portion of the agency’s funding. But the WHO isn’t alone in being slow to suggest mask use. Countries like Venezuela made masks mandatory on March 14, and the Czech Republic made the move on March 18. But the US CDC also originally recommended against masks for the public, only changing its guidance to universal masking on April 3. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the CDC, explains that during an emergency, experts have to look at new information and evaluating decisions. He led the emergency planning and response at the CDC for four years, and says, “When guidance went up, it was always interim. Early on, what you don’t know always exceeds what you do know, and as you learn more, you make changes.” Sometimes those changes are minor, and sometimes, as in the case of the CDC’s mask guidance, they are significant. “In order for that to make sense to the public, you need to have something that we’re lacking right now: direct communication,” Besser says. “That’s valuable because it engenders trust in settings of crisis, where there are things people should do to protect their health. They’re much more likely to do them if they trust the messenger.” Unlike the CDC, which has been roundly criticized for its lack of press briefings, the WHO is still holding daily conference calls during the pandemic. “The WHO, like the CDC, is far from perfect, and is flawed in many ways,” says Gostin. “Having worked with WHO for 30 years, I can say they can be maddeningly bureaucratic and unresponsive. But the world needs the WHO — and it needs it now more than ever.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Black Lives Matter sues Bill Barr for order that led to tear gas attack on peaceful protesters
Attorney General Bill Barr (second from right) walks through Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, during a demonstration on June 1, 2020. Shortly after this picture was taken, Barr personally ordered law enforcement to clear the area of protesters. | Joshua Roberts/Getty Images The lawsuit faces an uphill battle in a judiciary controlled by Republicans. The District of Columbia chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with four individual protesters, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against President Donald Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and an array of police and federal officials who were allegedly involved in a violent police attack on peaceful protesters on June 1 in Washington, DC. The suit is Black Lives Matter DC v. Trump. As president, Trump has immunity from lawsuits seeking money damages for his official actions. Yet Barr, who reportedly gave the order to remove the demonstrators from Lafayette Square, a public park adjacent to the White House, could potentially be held personally liable to both the Black Lives Matter chapter and the individual protesters. (On Friday, Barr claimed that he did not give the order, but his own Justice Department admitted that he gave the order earlier this week.) Although lawsuits challenging police misconduct are common, it is exceedingly rare for a sitting US attorney general to assume direct command over law enforcement officers in the field. So this is an unusual case wherein a Cabinet official could be held liable for the actions of officers he personally oversaw. The suit also names as defendants Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secret Service Director James Murray, in addition to 120 unidentified law enforcement officers. Its plaintiffs seek both money damages and an injunction preventing federal law enforcement from continuing to use the tactics it deployed in Lafayette Square. The suit raises strong allegations that officers acting under Barr’s command violated the constitutional rights of protesters. But merely showing that the officers violated the Constitution will not be enough for the plaintiffs in Black Lives Matter to prevail, in large part because law enforcement enjoys broad — if not entirely insurmountable — immunity from civil suits. Indeed, the Black Lives Matterplaintiffs will need to overcome a dizzying array of legal obstacles that stand in the way of victims of police violence. Moreover, those plaintiffs must litigate their case before an increasingly conservative judiciary that appears determined to erect more barriers in front of plaintiffs challenging abuse by federal law enforcement. Black Lives Matter could end in defeat for the protesters, in other words, even if Barr and the officers violated the Constitution. The plaintiffs have strong arguments that their constitutional rights were violated There are strong arguments that officers acting under Barr’s command violated the First Amendment rights of protesters. Although the First Amendment offers broad protection to political demonstrators, the government may still impose reasonable “time, place and manner” restrictions on such demonstrators. The right to protest doesn’t mean that someone can break into Barr’s home and yell at him while he eats dinner with his family. But First Amendment rights are strongest in places where the public traditionally gathers openly and freely. As the Black Lives Matter complaint points out, “Lafayette Square is a traditional public forum where First Amendment rights are at their apex.” That means that the government bears an unusually high burden if it wants to restrict free speech in this location. Moreover, one of the gravest sins under the First Amendment is “viewpoint discrimination.” That is, the government is almost never allowed to treat different speakers differently because it agrees with the message of one group and disagrees with the message of another one. But President Trump has signaled that he intends to do just that. The day before Barr allegedly ordered police to clear protesters out of Lafayette Square, Trump tweeted about protesters demonstrating against police violence that “these people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW.” And yet, one day earlier, Trump seemed to actively encourage his own supporters to rally near the same location where the Lafayette Square demonstration took place. The professionally managed so-called “protesters” at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd. They were just there to cause trouble. The @SecretService handled them easily. Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2020 The government may not actively encourage protests by people with a conservative viewpoint, while using violent tactics to discourage peaceful protesters with a different viewpoint. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment protects “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and a violent attack by law enforcement officers typically amounts to a “seizure.” The government, in other words, must show that it was reasonable to remove peaceful protesters using rather extreme law enforcement tactics. And it must do so in the face of credible allegations that the real reason the protesters were removed is so that Trump could have a photo op at a nearby church. Existing law frequently protects law enforcement officers who commit illegal acts Even if Barr and the officers under his command did violate the constitutional rights of protesters, however, the Black Lives Matter plaintiffs must clear an array of legal hurdles in order to prevail. For one thing, both Barr and most of the officers present in Lafayette Square are federal employees. The plaintiffs in Black Lives Matter seek money damages against these officers, in addition to an injunction “ordering Defendants to cease engaging in the unlawful acts” alleged in their lawsuit. Most of the claims in Black Lives Matter arise directly under the Constitution, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents(1971) permits lawsuits seeking money damages from federal law enforcement officers who violate the Constitution. But the Court’s Republican majority is hostile to Bivens. Indeed, it recently signaled that it may overrule this decision. In its 5-4 decision in Hernández v. Mesa(2020), the majority warned that Bivens suits are “a ‘disfavored’ judicial activity,” and the Court has even suggested that if Bivens were “decided today,” it is “doubtful we would have reached the same result.” If the Black Lives Matter plaintiffs manage to clear this hurdle, they still must overcome a doctrine known as qualified immunity. As the Supreme Court held in Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982), qualified immunity provides that “government officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” But some courts have defined the term “clearly established law” exceedingly narrowly. One recent federal appeals court decision, for example, held that police who trashed a woman’s home and saturated it with tear gas, after she gave them permission to enter in order to search for her ex-boyfriend, were entitled to qualified immunity. The court’s opinion suggests that, in order to overcome qualified immunity, the woman would have had to produce a binding precedent holding that when a homeowner gives police consent to enter their home, that consent does not include permission to smash windows or to fire chemical weapons into the house. It’s possible that courts hearing the Black Lives Matter case will impose a similarly high burden on the plaintiffs in that case. The Black Lives Matter plaintiffs also face a heavy burden in their quest for an injunction. In City of Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983), the Supreme Court held that a victim of a police chokehold could not obtain an injunction preventing the Los Angeles Police Department from using similar chokeholds in the future unless he could show that “he was likely to suffer future injury from the use of the chokeholds by police officers.” That is, he had to show that he was likely to be choked a second time by a Los Angeles cop. Similarly, the Black Lives Matter plaintiffs could have to show that they are likely to be gassed or hit with rubber bullets a second time by federal law enforcement officers. Given the fact that the protests remain ongoing, and that police violence appears to be widespread in response to these nationwide protests, Black Lives Matter may be the rare case where a plaintiff can show that they are likely to experience the same form of police violence twice. But Lyons remains a high bar for any plaintiff seeking to enjoin police misconduct. The bottom line is that law enforcement frequently engages in violence and gets away with it, not because the violence is lawful, but because the Supreme Court gives extraordinary protection to rogue police. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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“Extinction breeds extinctions”: How losing one species can wipe out many more
The Ethiopian wolf, Canis simensis, is an endangered species. Fewer than 1,000 individuals are left in the wild. | Roger de la Harpe/Universal Images Group via Getty Humans are causing a mass extinction. And humans can stop it. Earth is now in the middle of a mass extinction, the sixth one in the planet’s history, according to scientists. And now a new study reports that species are going extinct hundreds or thousands of times faster than the expected rate. The researchers also found that one extinction can cause ripple effects throughout an ecosystem, leaving other species vulnerable to the same fate. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they write in their June 1 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. With the accelerating pace of destruction, scientists are racing to understand these fragile bits of life before they’re gone. “This means that the opportunity we have to study and save them will be far greater over the next few decades than ever again,” said Peter Raven, a coauthor of the study and a professor emeritus of botany at Washington University in St. Louis, in an email. The findings also highlight how life can interact in unexpected ways and how difficult it can be to slow ecological destruction once it starts. “It’s similar to climate change; once it gets rolling, it gets harder and harder to unwind,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t know what the tipping points are, and that’s scary.” It’s worth pausing to reflect on what “extinction” means: a species completely and forever lost. Each one is an irreparable event, so the idea that they are not only happening more often but also might be sparking additional, related extinctions is startling. And these extinctions have consequences for humanity, from the losses of critical pollinators that fertilize crops to absent predators that would otherwise keep disease-spreading animals in check. So researchers are now looking closely at which animals are teetering on the edge of existence to see just how dire the situation has become, and to figure out what might be the best way to bring them back. Hundreds of animals are on the brink of extinction over the next two decades There is tremendous biodiversity on earth right now. The number of species — birds, trees, ferns, fungi, fish, insects, mammals — is greater than it ever has been in the 4.5 billion-year existence of this planet. But that also means there is a lot to lose. The new study examined 29,400 species of vertebrates that live on land — mice, hawks, hippos, snakes, and the like. These species from all over the world were cataloged by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Out of those examined, 515 species — 1.7 percent of those studied — were found to be on the brink of extinction, meaning fewer than 1,000 individuals were left alive. These species include the vaquita, the Clarion island wren, and the Sumatran rhino. And half of these 515 species have fewer than 250 individuals left. If nothing is done to protect them, most of them will go extinct over the next 20 years. PNAS Species at the edge of extinction include (A) the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler), (B) the Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob), (C) the Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: Gerardo Ceballos), and (D) the Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; image credit: Gerardo Ceballos). But these species on the precipice of the abyss are not spread evenly across the world; they’re concentrated in biodiversity hotspots like tropical rainforests. That makes sense because tropical forests have the most variety of species to begin with and they have the highest rate of habitat destruction. “About two-thirds of all species are estimated to occur in the tropics, and we know less about them than those in other parts of the world,” said Raven. “[Y]et more than one-quarter of all tropical forests have been cut in the 27 years since the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity.” Losing one endangered species can endanger many others The species teetering on the edge of eternal loss often live alongside other endangered species, even if they are present in greater numbers. The species on the brink then serve as loud sirens of the possible bigger threat to other life in their environs. As species within a pond, forest stand, or watershed die off, others soon follow. In many cases, species interact with others in complicated and often unforeseen ways that aren’t recognized until they are gone. For example, if a plant-eating insect dies off, the plants it eats could run rampant and choke off other vegetation. Meanwhile, the birds that feed on the insect could be without an important food source. Each of these subsequent changes could have myriad other impacts on distant species, and so on and so on. The disruption can continue until the ecosystem is hardly recognizable. Scientists have observed these kinds of rippling disruptions in ecosystems for decades in places like the Amazon rainforest, watching what happened when species went extinct in a given area or when a habitat fractured into pieces. As these ecosystems degrade or collapse, humans stand to lose a lot of functions from nature they take for granted, like forests that generate rainfall for aquifers or mangroves that shield coasts from erosion. Many land vertebrates, for instance, are critical for spreading the seeds of trees. Without them, the makeup of a forest could transform. Even if a less diverse prairie, forest, or desert were to remain, it would be more vulnerable to shocks like fires and severe weather. Diverse ecosystems act as buffers against environmental extremes, and without them, humans will face more risks of phenomena such as heat waves without vegetation to cool the air, or they may suffer more coastal inundation without mangroves to absorb waves. And as humans build closer to areas that were once wild, they face higher risks of exposure to threats such as animal-borne disease and wildfire. So the economic and health costs of runaway extinctions could be immense. Humans are the problem, and humans are the solution The new study is part of a steady stream of grim news for endangered species. In 2019, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a massive 1,500-page report on global biodiversity. The report concluded that up to 1 million species are at risk of extinction, including 40 percent of all amphibian species, 33 percent of corals, and about 10 percent of insects. And a unifying theme among the various studies of extinctions is that humans are to blame. Through destroying habitats, spreading disease, raising livestock, dumping waste, overharvesting, overfishing, and climate change, the 7.5 billion humans on this planet have become their own force, unlike any that exists in nature. “We are in no sense simply a part of the global ecosystem anymore, living in a broad, wide world,” said Raven. “[W]e are one species, totally dominant, among the millions of others that exist.” It’s true that species do go extinct naturally, but the rate of extinction now is thousands of times higher than the expected background rate. It can be difficult to tease out whether an organism disappeared as a direct consequence of human activity or because a species it depended on was wiped out by people, but both types of losses stem from humanity. “We can’t easily reverse the trend but can learn as much as we can in the time we have left,” Raven said. However, the fact that human activity is driving the vast majority of these extinctions means that changing human activity can help pull back vulnerable species from annihilation. Conservation policies have already proven effective at thwarting some permanent losses, like the Endangered Species Act in the United States. It’s even spurring the recovery of several species, like the bald eagle. And there is still time to rescue otherspecies that are on the brink. But saving what’s left will require concerted action, and time to act is running out. “You do not want to get into a deep depression. You want to get involved and do the very easy things we can do to prevent us from destroying the planet,” said Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation at Duke University and president of Saving Nature, an environmental conservation nonprofit. “The important story is there is a lot we can do about it.” Since humans are causing most of the destruction that is driving extinctions, humans can change their behaviors in ways to protect life. One of the most effective steps people can use to protect endangered species is to protect the environments where they live, shielding them from mining, drilling, development, and pollution. “We can definitely make a difference. We can slow the pace of extinction,” Greenwald said. “We know how to do that. We can set aside more area for nature.” Another tactic is building corridors for connecting fragmented ecosystems, creating larger contiguous areas. That can allow the synergy between species to grow and build a more resilient ecosystem that could better withstand the disappearance of a species and restore those in decline. However, the threats to so many species have been building for years and they can’t be reversed overnight. It will take a sustained global conservation effort to protect the precious few and restore them to the multitudes that once swam, flew, and walked the earth. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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How racist policing took over American cities, explained by a historian
The state militia was called in on the south side of Chicago during the 1919 race riots. | Chicago Tribune historical photo/Tribune News Service via Getty Images “The problem is the way policing was built,” historian Khalil Muhammad tells Vox. Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old black boy, was stoned to death by white people in 1919 after he swam into what they deemed the wrong part of Lake Michigan. In response, black people in Chicago rose up in protest, and white people attacked them. More than 500 people were injured and 38 were killed. Afterward, the city convened a commission to study the causes of the violence. The commission found “systemic participation in mob violence by the police,” Khalil Muhammad, a professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and author of the book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, told Vox. “When police officers had the choice to protect black people from white mob violence, they chose to either aid and abet white mobs or to disarm black people or to arrest them.” In the process of compiling the report, white experts also testified that “the police are systematically engaging in racial bias when they’re targeting black suspects,” Muhammad said. The report “should have been the death of systemic police racism and discrimination in America.” That was in 1922. It’s almost 100 years later, and thousands of Americans are in the streets daily, protesting the same violence and racism that the Chicago commission documented. It may seem like nothing can change, but Muhammad said the last several weeks could be a wake-up call for some Americans to what policing in this country really means. Part of that awakening, though, also involves understanding the history of police violence.Muhammad’s work focuses on systemic racism and criminal justice; The Condemnation of Blackness deals with the idea of black criminality, which he defines as the process by which “people are assigned the label of criminal, whether they are guilty or not.” That process has been a vicious cycle in American history, Muhammad explains, wherein black people were arrested to prevent them from exercising their rights, then deemed dangerous because of their high arrest rates, which deprived them of their rights even further. I spoke with Muhammad by phone to better understand this history, what it means today, and what it would take to make 2020 and beyond different from 1922. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows. Anna North Can you trace how the idea of black criminality appeared in America, starting with slavery? Khalil Muhammad The notion of criminality in the broadest sense has to do with slave rebellions and uprisings, the effort of black people to challenge their oppression in the context of slavery. Slave patrols were established to maintain, through violence and the threat of violence, the submission of enslaved people. But we really don’t get notions of black criminality in the way that we think of them today until after slavery in 1865. The deliberate choice to abolish slavery, [except as] punishment for crime, leaves a gigantic loophole that the South attempts to leverage in the earliest days of freedom. What that amounts to is that all expressions of black freedom, political rights, economic rights, and social rights were then subject to criminal sanction. Whites could accuse black people who wanted to vote of being criminals. People who wanted to negotiate fair labor contracts could be defined as criminals. And the only thing that wasn’t criminalized was the submission to a white landowner to work on their land. Shortly afterwards, a lot of the South builds up a pretty robust carceral machinery and begins to sell black labor to private contractors to help pay for all of this. And for the next 70 years, the system is pretty much a criminal justice system that runs alongside a political economy that is thoroughly racist and white supremacist. And so we don’t get the era of mass incarceration in the South, what we get is the era of mass criminalization. Because the point is not to put people in prison, the point is to keep them working in a subordinate way, so that they can be exploited. Anna North What was happening in the North while this mass criminalization was happening in the South? Khalil Muhammad There had already been African Americans [in the North] before the end of slavery, and they were subjected to forms of segregation. But it wasn’t really until the beginning of the 20th century, when streams of black migrants began to move to northern cities, and particularly during World War I and what became known as the Great Migration, that we began to see the increased ascription of black people as prone to criminality, as a dangerous race, as a way of essentially limiting their access to the full fruits of their freedom in the North. Social science played a huge role. What we’d call today “academic experts” of one kind or another, were part of the effort to define black people as a particular criminal class in the American population. And what they essentially did was they used the evidence coming out of the South, beginning in the first decades after slavery. They used the census data to point to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. They were almost three times overrepresented in the 1890 census in southern prisons. So that evidence became part of a national discussion that essentially said, “Well, now that black people have their freedom, what are they doing with it? They’re committing crimes. In the South and in the North, and the census data is the proof.” And so people began to build on that data and add to it. Police statistics began to become more important in determining how black people were doing, whether they were behaving or not. We quickly moved from census data to local data, from South to North, and we begin to see the consolidation of a set of facts that black people have a crime problem. Anna North So it’s a cycle: Black people were incarcerated in the South, and because they were incarcerated, this whole theory that black people were criminal was built on top of that? Khalil Muhammad That’s exactly what I’m saying. Of course, there’s no footnotes or asterisks to what was happening in the South. People just take the data at face value, kind of like people take the data at face value today. They just look at the data and say, “Oh, well of course, look what’s happening in these communities.” Anna North How do we see these attitudes about black criminality play out in policing around the country, leading up through the 20th century to the present? “When police officers had the choice to protect black people from white mob violence, they chose to either aid and abet white mobs or to disarm black people or to arrest them” Khalil Muhammad Once we have the consolidation of the fact that crime statistics prove nationally, everywhere, that black people have a crime problem, the arguments for diminishing their equal citizenship rights are national. They’re not just southern any longer. And they’re at every level of society — local, state, federal. They are existing in cultural products like The Birth of a Nation, the first truly major Hollywood film release. Black criminality becomes the most dominant basis for justifying segregation, whether legal or by custom, everywhere in America. It had already defined the heart of the Jim Crow form of segregation, but it really begins in the Great Migration period to shape the maldistribution of public goods for black people — access to neighborhoods, access to schools, access to hospitals, access to forms of leisure. And, of course, all of these restrictions are enforced by white citizens but most especially by local law enforcement, by police officers. In the South, police were less on the front lines because there were fewer of them. There was more vigilante enforcement of white supremacy: A white man really could shoot a black man or woman down in the middle of the street and get away with it. That was less likely to happen in the North — what was more likely to happen was for a white resident to simply call the police. The same basic idea that in white spaces, black people are presumptively suspect, is still playing out in America today. The idea that police officers should prevent crime in black communities, rather than simply policing the borders of black communities, is what gave us stop and frisk, which actually is not just from the 1990s or inspired by “broken windows” policing, but versions of it were playing out very officially in the 1960s. And by looking at the archives, which I’ve done in my book, unofficially and unnamed, going back to the 1910s and ‘20s. So this idea that you can prevent crime in a community where the crime statistics say a lot of crime happens, and presume that a certain demographic of black men — especially in that community — are likely criminals, that logic begins as early as the 1960s. And it’s still playing out. While that pattern played out, one of the things that happens during Prohibition is that the manufacturing and distribution of alcohol creates this massive underground economy, which is now being regulated by white ethnic men who don’t sue each other in civil court, but actually shoot at each other when they’re competing over the spoils of bootlegging. And a lot of that action is deliberately put in black communities. The speakeasies, the corruption is hidden within black communities. Everyone is complicit in this: The bootleggers are complicit, the police are complicit. The only people who aren’t complicit are everyday working-class black people who don’t want what’s happening in their communities to be happening. The effect of that is to produce yet another battery of crime statistics coming out of northern cities that shows high rates of arrest of black people during the Prohibition period, when in fact, they’re being targeted for political clampdowns of overwhelmingly white underground activity. It’s just remarkable. And yet again, the white public doesn’t read any footnotes or get any asterisks to it. What they get is evidence of disproportionate numbers of arrests in the black community during a time where just about everybody knew who was behind bootlegging. [But] black people — black reformers, black activists, black scholars, black journalists — were always documenting what was happening to them. They were always resisting and they made some headway, beginning in the 1920s, around calling attention to systemic police racism and discrimination. Anna North That’s the next thing I wanted to ask about. I know that you wrote about this a little bit in your Washington Post op-ed last year — talk to me a little bit about the history of protests against racist policing. Khalil Muhammad The earliest days of the civil rights movement were focused on the problem of lynching. The NAACP literally begins because of lynching. And [one] reason was because of the threat of lynching in the North. It’s not to say that the progressives who founded the organization in 1910 didn’t care about lynching that had been going on in the South. But it was kind of like a George Floyd moment. It was like, “Holy smokes, if this can happen in Springfield, Illinois, where a lynching had occurred in 1909, then we’ve got to draw a line in the sand.” Alongside their focus on racial violence in the earliest days, they also began to pay attention to police violence, particularly in the North, because the NAACP leadership was in northern cities. It was headquartered in New York. And so what was happening in their own backyards was more like systemic police violence than lynch mobs. And that began the process, particularly for W.E.B. Du Bois, who establishes kind of a police blotter, or let’s call it a police-brutality blotter, and the primary magazine for the organization. Ida B. Wells, who was also another founder of the NAACP, begins to organize around police violence and other forms of racial violence in those cities. African Americans themselves start to resist policing and call attention. Ministers, teachers, bricklayers — essentially what was the working and professional class of black America at the turn of the 20th century are very vocal, and they demand police reform. They demand accountability for criminal activity amongst the police and they don’t get any of it. By the 1920s, the first of a series of race riots erupts in East St. Louis, spreads to Philadelphia. Another one occurs in Chicago. The Chicago one is sparked by the death of a [17-year-old] swimming in Lake Michigan who crosses an aqueous color line. Black people are outraged. They want justice. White people take offense and begin to attack them in their communities. “The same basic idea that in white spaces, black people are presumptively suspect, is still playing out in America today” And what comes out of that is the first blue-ribbon commission to study the causes of riots. In that report, the Chicago commission [concludes] that there was systemic participation in mob violence by the police, and that when police officers had the choice to protect black people from white mob violence, they chose to either aid and abet white mobs or to disarm black people or to arrest them. And a number of people testify, all of whom are white criminal justice officials, that the police are systematically engaging in racial bias when they’re targeting black suspects, and more likely to arrest them and to book them on charges that they wouldn’t do for a white man. This report in 1922 should have been the death of systemic police racism and discrimination in America. It wasn’t. Its recommendations were largely ignored. And a decade later, Harlem breaks out into what is considered the first police riot, where African Americans believe that an Afro-Puerto Rican youth has been killed by the police. Turns out he hadn’t been, but the rumor that he had leads to a series of attacks directed towards white businesses in Harlem and against the police. And eventually, that uprising leads to the Harlem riot report in 1935. That report comes to the same conclusion, notes there needs to be accountability for police that need to be charged and booked as criminals when they engage in criminal activity. They call for citizen review boards and an end to stop and frisk, which they name in the report. And Mayor [Fiorello] La Guardia, the mayor of New York, shelves it, doesn’t do anything with it, doesn’t even share [it] with the public. The only reason it ever saw the light of day was because the black newspaper, the Amsterdam News, published it in serial form. And a similar report is produced in 1943, and another report in 1968. They essentially all keep repeating the same problem. Anna North Given the history of clear identification of this problem, is now any different? Are we seeing any shift in attitudes of white Americans toward the idea of black criminality? Will we see any changes come out of this moment? Khalil Muhammad If we count the last two weeks as evidence of some outward show of consciousness and commitment to something different, I would say this: This moment is very helpful when it comes to taking on this question. The problem is that none of us can know how long this will last. None of us can know whether the simple charging of three other men and eventual conviction for all involved in the killing of George Floyd will be the answer people were looking for who are newcomers to this. But I can tell you that a lot of the activists and movement leaders, the organizers, academics like myself, know that this has never been a problem about one, two, three, or four officers who unjustly kill an unarmed, innocent black person — and I say innocent because George Floyd had not been convicted of anything. We know that this has never been about that. The problem is the way policing was built and what it’s empowered to do, which is — to put it in terms that are resonant in this moment — they’ve been policing the essential workers of America. And the fact that black people over index as the essential workers of America, when in fact, that was what their presence here was meant to be about: to provide the labor to build wealth in America, and then the only form of freedom that they really ever had, which was the freedom to work for mostly white people. In this pandemic moment, I think we’re able to see more clearly that the very people we’re willing to sacrifice the civil rights and civil liberties of are the very people we also depend upon to keep our utilities running and our groceries coming into our homes. What this moment leads us to is a crossroads for most newcomers to define justice beyond an individual case or even cases, but to define justice as a form of limiting what police officers have been able to do, which is to protect white privileges in America. Some people call that defunding the police. Some people call it abolition. But what it all means is that there should be less policing of black America and more investment in the [socioeconomic] infrastructure of black communities. And police officers are not the people to do that work. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
1 h
The Trump Regime Is Beginning to Topple
Over the course of his presidency, Donald Trump has indulged his authoritarian instincts—and now he’s meeting the common fate of autocrats whose people turn against them. What the United States is witnessing is less like the chaos of 1968, which further divided a nation, and more like the nonviolent movements that earned broad societal support in places such as Serbia, Ukraine, and Tunisia, and swept away the dictatorial likes of Milošević, Yanukovych, and Ben Ali.And although Trump’s time in office will end with an election and not an ouster, it is only possible to grasp the magnitude of what we’re seeing and to map what comes next by looking to these antecedents from abroad.As in the case of many such revolutions, two battles are being waged in America. One is a long struggle against a brutal and repressive ideology. The other is a narrower fight over the fate of a particular leader. The president rose to power by inflaming racial tensions. He now finds his own fate enmeshed in the struggle against police brutality and racism.[George Packer: Shouting into the institutional void]The most important theorist of nonviolent revolutions is the late political scientist Gene Sharp. A conscientious objector during the Korean War who spent nine months in prison, Sharp became a close student of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles. His work set out to extract the lessons of the Indian revolt against the British. He wanted to understand the weaknesses of authoritarian regimes—and how nonviolent movements could exploit them. Sharp distilled what he learned into a 93-page handbook, From Dictatorship to Democracy, a how-to guide for toppling autocracy.Sharp’s foundational insight is embedded in an aphorism: “Obedience is at the heart of political power.” A dictator doesn’t maintain power on his own; he relies on individuals and institutions to carry out his orders. A successful democratic revolution prods these enablers to stop obeying. It makes them ashamed of their complicity and fearful of the social and economic costs of continued collaboration.Sharp posited that revolutionaries should focus first on the regime’s softest underbelly: the media, the business elites, and the police. The allegiance of individuals in the outer circle of power is thin and rooted in fear. By standing strong in the face of armed suppression, protesters can supply examples of courage that inspire functionaries to stop carrying out orders, or as Sharp put it, to “withhold cooperation.” Each instance of resistance provides the model for further resistance. As the isolation of the dictators grows—as the inner circles of power join the outer circle in withholding cooperation—the regime crumbles.This is essentially what transpired in Ukraine in 2014. When the country’s president backed away from plans to join the European Union, a crowd amassed in Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan. The throngs initially had no avowed intention or realistic hope of overthrowing the kleptocratic president, Viktor Yanukovych. But instead of letting the demonstrators shout themselves hoarse in the thick of subfreezing winter, Yanukovych set about violently confronting them. This tactic backfired horribly. A movement with limited aims became a full-blown revolution. Oligarchs quietly slunk away from a leader they had long subsidized. Lackeys who had faithfully served the regime resigned, for fear of attracting the public’s ire. In the bitter end, Yanukovych found himself isolated, alone with his own family and his Russian advisers, destined for exile.[David A. Graham: Trump has imprisoned himself in the White House]It is astonishing how events in the U.S., despite all the obvious imperfections of the analogy, have traced the early phases of this history. This is observable in the images of the crowds on successive nights, as Trump’s violent suppression of the protests in Lafayette Square has only caused their ranks to swell. And it’s possible to see how elites, in the course of just a few days, have begun to withhold cooperation, starting with the outer circles of power and quickly turning inward.Twitter’s decision to label Trump’s posts as misleading was a hinge moment. For years, the company had provided the president with a platform for propaganda and a mechanism for cowing his enemies, a fact that long irked both critics outside Twitter and employees within. Only when Trump used Twitter to threaten violence against the protests did the company finally limit the ability of users to see or share a tweet.Once Twitter applied its rules to Trump—and received accolades for its decision—it inadvertently set a precedent. The company had stood strong against the bully, and showed that there was little price to pay for the choice. A large swath of S&P 500 companies soon calculated that it was better to stand in solidarity with the protests, rather than wait for their employees to angrily pressure them to act.A cycle of noncooperation was set in motion. Local governments were the next layer of the elite to buck Trump’s commands. After the president insisted that governors “dominate” the streets on his behalf, they roundly refused to escalate their response. Indeed, New York, Virginia, and Maryland rebuffed a federal request to send National Guard troops to Washington, D.C. Even the suburb of Arlington, Virginia, pulled its police that had been loaned to control the crowd in Lafayette Square.As each group of elites refused Trump, it became harder for the next to comply in good conscience. In Sharp’s taxonomy, the autocrat’s grasp on power depends entirely on the allegiance of the armed forces. When the armed forces withhold cooperation, the dictator is finished. Of course, the U.S. is far more democratic than the regimes Sharp studied and doesn’t fit his taxonomy neatly. But on Wednesday, the president’s very own secretary of defense explicitly rejected Trump’s threat to deploy active-duty military officers to American streets. It’s among the most striking instances of an official bucking a president in recent decades.[Adam Serwer: Trump gave police permission to be brutal]The examples of Serbia, Ukraine, and Tunisia show how even the subservient unexpectedly break from a leader once that leader is doomed to illegitimacy. And to an extent, the cycle of abandonment has already begun. Jim Mattis’s excoriation of his old boss prodded Trump’s former chief of staff Jim Kelly and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to echo his condemnation of the president. As each defector wins praise for moral courage, it incentivizes the next batch of defectors.Even if the protests fizzle—and the parade of denunciations comes to an end—it’s worth pausing to marvel at the moment. Despite the divisions of the country, a majority of its people joined together in shared abhorrence of the president, at least for an instant. Sectors of society that studiously avoid politics broke with their reticence. In a dark era, when it seemed beyond the moral capacities of the nation, it mustered the will to disobey.
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Tropical Storm Cristobal continues to track toward Gulf, could bring 1 foot of rain
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Gulf Coast hunkers down for Tropical Storm Cristobal
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