Guilt, grief and anxiety as young people fear for climate’s future

Reuters

Guilt, grief and anxiety as young people fear for climate’s future

Natalie Thomas, Barbara Lewis, Jonathan Shenfield October 22, 2021

FILE PHOTO: Environmental campaigners march ahead of the COP26 climate summit, in London

Environmental campaigners march ahead of the COP26 climate summit, in London.

FILE PHOTO: Global Climate Strike of the movement Fridays for Future, in Berlin

Global Climate Strike of the movement Fridays for Future, in Berlin

FILE PHOTO: Ice sculptures of children by Sand in Your Eye at New Brighton Beach

Ice sculptures of children by Sand in Your Eye at New Brighton Beach

LONDON (Reuters) – Overwhelmed, sad, guilty are some of the emotions young people say they feel when they think of climate change and their concerns world leaders will fail to tackle it.

Broadly referred to as climate anxiety, research has stacked up to measure its prevalence ahead of the U.N. talks in Glasgow, which begin at the end of the month to thrash out how to put the 2015 Paris Agreement on curbing climate change into effect.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-0/html/r-sf-flx.html

One of the biggest studies to date, funded by Avaaz, an online campaign network, and led by Britain’s University of Bath, surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16-25 years in 10 countries. It published its results in September.

It found around three quarters of those surveyed considered the future frightening, while a lack of action by governments and industry left 45% experiencing climate anxiety and distress that affected their daily lives and functioning.

Elouise Mayall, an ecology student at Britain’s University of East Anglia and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, told Reuters she had felt guilty and overwhelmed.

“What I’d be left with is maybe the sense of shame, like, ‘how dare you still want lovely things when the world is ending and you don’t even know if you’re going to have a safe world to grow old in’.”

She spoke of conflicting emotions.

“You might have sadness, there might be fear, there might be a kind of overwhelm,” she said. “And maybe even sometimes a quite like wild optimism.”

Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and lecturer at the University of Bath and one of the co-authors of the research published in September, is working to help young people manage climate-related emotions.

“They’re growing up with the grief and the fear and the anxiety about the future,” she told Reuters.

“SENSE OF MEANING”

London-based psychiatrist Alastair Santhouse sees climate change, as well as COVID-19, as potentially adding to the burden, especially for those pre-disposed to anxiety.

For now, climate anxiety alone does not normally require psychiatric help. Painful as it is, it can be positive, provided it does not get out of control.

“Some anxiety about climate change is motivating. It’s just a question of how much anxiety is motivating and how much is unacceptable,” said Santhouse, author of a book that tackles how health services struggle to cope with complex mental issues.

“The worry is that as climate change sets in, there will be a more clear cut mental health impact,” he added.

Among some of the world’s communities that are already the most vulnerable, extreme weather events can also cause problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.

Leading climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, 18, has experienced severe climate anxiety.

“It’s a quite natural response, because, as you see, as the world is today, that no one seems to care about what’s happening, I think it’s only human to feel that way,” she said.

For now, however, she is hopeful because she is doing everything she possibly can.

“When you take action, you also get a sense of meaning that something is happening. If you want to get rid of that anxiety, you can take action against it,” she said.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

tarbabys blog hacked !

John Hanno October 15, 2021

Dear tarbabys blog readers:

Our blog was hacked about 3 weeks ago. Our webhost has been trying to correct the malware problems so please be patient. I’m way behind in posting and will try to catch up in the next few weeks.

Whether posting and debating about the coronavirus and public health, the environment and the catastrophic consequences of global warming and climate change, the threats to America’s Democratic institutions, politics, voter suppression and intimidation, Veterans advocacy, fair labor practices or a long list of vital social and economic issues, truth tellers become a target for those who would like to silence public debate and speaking truth to power. We will not be silenced. Please stay tuned.

‘There have to be consequences:’ Judge ups sentences for U.S. Capitol rioters

Reuters

‘There have to be consequences:’ Judge ups sentences for U.S. Capitol rioters

Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball October 13, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge in Washington has repeatedly sentenced people who stormed the U.S. Capitol to more prison time than prosecutors sought, saying that even people who were not violent should face consequences for joining the unprecedented assault. 

  In the past week, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has imposed sentences ranging from 14 to 45 days on four people who pleaded guilty to unlawful parading and picketing inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6 — a misdemeanor offense. 

  “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” Chutkan said at one of the hearings. 

  More than 650 people have been charged with joining the Jan. 6 violence, when supporters of Republican Donald Trump fought with police, smashed windows and charged through the building in an attempt to overturn his election defeat. So far, more than 100 people have pleaded guilty, and at least 17 of those defendants have been sentenced. 

  Four people died on the day of the violence, one shot dead by police and the other three of natural causes. A Capitol Police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Four police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than 100 police officers were injured. 

  On Wednesday, Chutkan sentenced two cousins who breached the Capitol and took selfies while doing so to 45 days in jail. 

  Prosecutors had asked Chutkan to sentence each of the defendants — Robert Bauer of Kentucky, and Edward Hemenway of Virginia — to 30 days in prison. 

  A day earlier, Chutkan sentenced an unrelated defendant, Dona Sue Bissey of Indiana, to two weeks of incarceration. 

  Prosecutors recommended Bissey, 52, serve probation, citing her early acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with law enforcement. 

  Bissey’s friend, Anna Morgan-Lloyd, avoided jail time after pleading guilty to the same crime, receiving a sentence of three years of probation from a different judge in June. 

  Chutkan, a former public defender appointed to the federal judiciary by former President Barack Obama, last week sentenced another defendant who admitted to the misdemeanor charge, Matthew Mazzocco, to 45 days in prison. 

  That court hearing marked the first time that one of the judges overseeing the hundreds of Jan. 6 prosecutions imposed a sentence that was harsher than what the government asked for. 

  Chutkan is not the first judge to second-guess the Justice Department’s handling of the Jan. 6 prosecutions. 

  Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal court in Washington, has suggested prosecutors were being too lenient in allowing some defendants to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses. 

  At a hearing in August, Howell said even defendants facing low-level offenses played a role in “terrorizing members of Congress” on Jan 6. 

  During a plea hearing, the judge asked: “Does the government, in agreeing to the petty offense in this case, have any concern about deterrence?” 

  So far, no judge has rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors in a Jan. 6 case. 

  Almost all of the defendants to be sentenced so far pleaded guilty to non-violent misdemeanors. The Justice Department has signaled that it plans to seek much stiffer penalties for felonies. 

  In the case of Florida man Paul Hodgkins, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, the Justice Department requested an 18 month sentence. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss went lighter on Hodgkins, sentencing him to eight months. 

  (Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell) 

Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals

The Guardian

Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals

Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang October 17, 2021

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.

Related: Chemicals used in packaging may play role in 100,000 US deaths a year – study

The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.

The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.

The tally far exceeds a previous analysis that showed 29,900 industrial sites known or suspected of making or using the toxic chemicals. Map of PFAS possible locations

People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health.

Brown said he suspects there are far more sites than even those on the EPA list, posing long-term health risks for unsuspecting people who live near them.

“Once it’s in the environment it almost never breaks down,” Brown said of PFAS. “This is such a potent compound in terms of its toxicity and it tends to bioaccumulate … This is one of the compounds that persists forever.”

A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.

In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil.

‘Permeating all industrial sectors’

The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly.

The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)

“This shows how PFAS is permeating all industrial sectors,” said Peer’s executive director, Tim Whitehouse. PFAS possible locations by industry

PFAS chemicals are a group of more than 5,000 man-made compounds used by a variety of industries since the 1940s for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware. People can be exposed through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with PFAS.

The EPA acknowledges there is “evidence that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health outcomes in humans”. But the agency also says that there is only “very limited information” about human health risks for most of the chemicals within the group of PFAS chemicals.

EPA officials have started taking steps to get a grasp on the extent of PFAS use and existing and potential environmental contamination, as independent researchers say their own studies are finding reason for alarm. Last year, for instance, scientists at the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued a report finding that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water at worrisome levels.

The EPA is expected to announce a broad new “action plan” addressing PFAS issues on Monday. The list of facilities handling PFAS is one part of the larger effort by the agency to “better understand and reduce the potential risks to human health and the environment caused by PFAS,” EPA deputy press secretary Tim Carroll told the Guardian.

“EPA has made addressing PFAS a top priority,” Carroll said. “Together we are identifying flexible and pragmatic approaches that will deliver critical public health protections.”

Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS, said the EPA compilation of more than 120,000 facilities that may be handling PFAS and other recent moves shows the agency is taking the issue seriously, but more work is urgently needed.

“Unfortunately, where PFAS are used, there is often local contamination,” Birnbaum said. And while the EPA appears to be trying to get a handle on the extent of exposure concerns, progress “seems very slow”, she said.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) asserts that PFAS concerns are overblown.

Major manufacturers have backed away from the PFOS and PFOA-related chemicals that research has shown to be hazardous, and other types of PFAS are not proven to be dangerous, according to the chemical industry organization. “PFAS are vital” to modern society, according to the ACC.

But public health and environmental groups, along with some members of Congress, say the risks posed to people by industrial use of PFAS substances are substantial.

Four US lawmakers led by Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote to the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, on 6 October about their concerns regarding PFAS contamination of air and water from industrial facilities, saying: “For too many American families, this exposure is increasing their risk of cancer and other serious health problems.”

More than 150 advocacy groups also sent a letter to Regan calling for urgent action to address industrial discharges of PFAS chemicals, noting that many of the chemicals “have been linked at very low doses to serious health harms”.

Fears and foamy water

Locator map

One of the sites on the EPA list is the Clover Flat landfill in Calistoga, California, a small community in the Napa Valley area that is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The landfill sits on the northern edge of the valley atop the edge of a rugged mountain range.

Clover Flat has taken in household garbage, as well as commercial and industrial waste since the 1960s, but over time the landfill has also become a disposal site for debris from forest fires.

Though the EPA list does not specifically confirm Clover Flat is handling PFAS, the community has no doubt about the presence of the toxic chemicals. A May 2020 water sampling report requested by regional water quality control officials showed that PFAS chemicals were present in every single sample taken from groundwater and from the leachate liquid materials around the landfill.

Close to 5,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the landfill, and many fear the PFAS and other toxins taken in by the landfill are making their way deep into the community.

Geoffrey Ellsworth, mayor of the small city of St Helena in Napa county, said multiple streams cross the landfill property, helping rains and erosion drive the chemical contaminants downhill into creeks and other water sources, including some used to irrigate farmland. He has been seeking regulatory intervention but has not been successful, he told the Guardian.

A small group of Napa Valley residents have been working on a documentary film about their concerns with the landfill, highlighting fears that exposures to PFAS and other contaminants are jeopardizing their health.

“The water is full of foam and looks soapy and smells funny,” said 69-year-old Dennis Kelly, who lives on a few acres downhill from Clover Flat. His dog Scarlett has become sick after wading through waters that drain from the landfill into a creek that runs through his property, Kelly said. And for the last few years he has suffered with colon and stomach cancer.

Kelly said he fears the water is toxic, and he has noticed the frogs and tadpoles that once populated the little creek are now nowhere to be found.

“Pollution is going to be what kills us all,” Kelly said.

Flooding could shut down a quarter of all critical infrastructure in the U.S.

Axios

Flooding could shut down a quarter of all critical infrastructure in the U.S.

Andrew Freedman October 11, 2021

About 25%, or 1 in 4 units of critical infrastructure, such as police stations, airports and hospitals, are at risk of being rendered inoperable due to flooding, a comprehensive new report finds. The report points to climate change for heightening risks.

Why it matters: The new national inventory of flood risk during the next thirty years, which takes into account climate change-driven increases in sea levels and heavy precipitation events, is the first of its kind.

  • The report, from the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit flood research and communications group, presents a stark warning to communities of all sizes — the U.S. simply isn’t ready for the climate of today, let alone the extreme weather and climate events that are coming in the next few decades.
  • Specifically, during the next 30 years as the climate continues to warm, the flood risk situation will grow more dire, the report warns.

By the numbers: Consider these aggregate statistics from the “Infrastructure on the Brink” report:

  • About 2 million miles of road are currently at risk of becoming “impassable” due to flooding.
  • Nearly a million commercial properties, 17% of all social infrastructure facilities, and 12.4 million residential properties also have “operational risk,” according to the First Street analysis.
  • Over the next 30 years, the typical lifetime of a home mortgage, about 1.2 million residential properties, and 2,000 pieces of critical infrastructure (airports, hospitals, fire stations, hazardous waste sites and power plants) will also be at risk of becoming inoperable due to flooding from sea level rise, heavy rainfall, and in some cases a combination of the two, the report finds.

Infrastructure at risk of becoming inundated due to flooding in today’s climate. Courtesy: First Street Foundation

Context: The report comes during a year that has already featured a record 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the first nine months of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

  • Deadly flooding from Hurricane Ida demonstrated the vulnerability of urban areas of New York and New Jersey to flash flooding. Catastrophic flooding in the Nashville area in March is also on the billion-dollar disasters list for 2021.
  • According to the First Street analysis, which uses an open-access flood model that incorporates coastal and inland flooding, the most at risk county in the U.S. for flood risk is tucked into the extreme southwestern corner of Louisiana. Cameron Parish is sparsely populated, with just 5,600 people as of the 2020 Census, but it’s a hotbed of flood risks.

Of note: In Cameron Parish, the report shows that nearly 99% of residential properties, and similarly sky high counts of commercial and critical infrastructure structures, are already at risk of flooding so severe that it would knock them out of service.

  • Six of the seven top counties for risk are in the New Orleans area, Jeremy Porter, head of research and development at First Street, told Axios.
  • The communities most at risk are located in Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia, with 17 out of the 20 most at-risk counties in the country located in those states, the analysis concluded.
  • The city slated to see one of the biggest jumps in vulnerability between now and 2050 is Norfolk, Virginia, which is home to the world’s largest naval base, among other military installations.

How it works: Human-caused climate change is increasing sea levels around the world, but seas are rising especially quickly in the Mid-Atlantic region due largely to peculiarities in ocean currents.

  • In addition, Warming ocean and air temperatures are also translating into added water vapor in the atmosphere that can fuel stronger storms with heavier downpours.
  • The most recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found increasing evidence tying global warming to more extreme precipitation events.

What they’re saying: “Our nation’s infrastructure is not built to a standard that protects against the level of flood risk we face today, let alone how those risks will grow over the next 30 years as the climate changes,” said Matthew Eby, founder and executive director of the First Street Foundation, in a statement.

Pipeline developer charged over systematic contamination

Associated Press

Pipeline developer charged over systematic contamination

Michael Rubinkam October 5, 2021

Gas Pipeline Investigation 1-9
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at podium, speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks with members of the media after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, center left, meets with members of the public and the press after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Libby Madarasz displays a placard before Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks with members of the media after a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Libby Madarasz displays a placard as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, at podium, speaks during a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Shapiro filed criminal charges Tuesday against the developer of a problem-plagued pipeline that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The corporate developer of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline system that takes natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia was charged criminally on Tuesday after a grand jury concluded that it flouted Pennsylvania environmental laws and fouled waterways and residential water supplies across hundreds of miles.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the sprawling case at a news conference at Marsh Creek State Park in Downingtown, where Sunoco Pipeline LP spilled thousands of gallons of drilling fluid last year. The spill, during construction of the troubled Mariner East 2 pipeline, contaminated wetlands, a stream and part of a 535-acre lake.

Energy Transfer, Sunoco’s owner, faces 48 criminal charges, most of them for illegally releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties across the state. A felony count accuses the operator of willfully failing to report spills to state environmental regulators.

Shapiro said Energy Transfer ruined the drinking water of at least 150 families statewide. He released a grand jury report that includes testimony from numerous residents who accused Energy Transfer of denying responsibility for the contamination and then refusing to help.

The Texas-based pipeline giant was charged for “illegal behavior that related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline that polluted our lakes, our rivers and our water wells and put Pennsylvania’s safety at risk,” said Shapiro, speaking with Marsh Creek Lake behind him.

Messages were sent to Energy Transfer seeking comment. The company has previously said it intends to defend itself.

The company faces a fine if convicted, which Shapiro said was not a sufficient punishment. He called on state lawmakers to toughen penalties on corporate violators, and said the state Department of Environmental Protection — which spent freely on outside lawyers for its own employees during the attorney general’s investigation — had failed to conduct appropriate oversight.

In a statement, DEP said it has been “consistent in enforcing the permit conditions and regulations and has held Sunoco LP accountable.” The agency said it would review the charges “and determine if any additional actions are appropriate at this time.”

Residents who live near the pipeline and some state lawmakers said Mariner East should be shut down entirely in light of the criminal charges, but the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has long ignored such calls to pull the plug.

The August 2020 spill at Marsh Creek was among a series of mishaps that has plagued Mariner East since construction began in 2017. Early reports put the spill at 8,100 gallons, but the grand jury heard evidence the actual loss was up to 28,000 gallons. Parts of the lake are still off-limits.

“This was a major incident, but understand, it wasn’t an isolated one. This happened all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Shapiro, a Democrat who plans to run for governor next year. He said that spills of drilling fluid were “frequent and damaging and largely unreported.”

The pipeline developer continued to rack up civil violations even after Mariner East became one of the most penalized projects in state history. To date, DEP said Energy Transfer has paid more than $20 million in fines for polluting waterways and drinking water wells, including a $12.6 million fine in 2018 that was one of the largest ever imposed by the agency. State regulators have periodically shut down construction.

But environmental activists and homeowners who assert their water has been fouled say that fines and shutdown orders have not forced Sunoco to clean up its act. They have been demanding revocation of Mariner East’s permits.

Carrie Gross, who has been living with the roar of Mariner East construction in her densely packed Exton neighborhood all day, six days a week, for much of the last four years, fears that criminal charges will be just as ineffectual as DEP’s civil penalties.

“I would say this is just another example of Energy Transfer paying to pollute, and that’s part of their cost of doing business. Until somebody permanently halts this project, our environment and our lives continue to be in danger,” Gross said.

The dental hygienist lives about 100 feet from the pipelines and works about 50 feet from them. She said she worries about the persistent threat of sinkholes, a catastrophic rupture or an explosion even after construction is over.

Shapiro’s news conference was originally rescheduled for Monday, but was abruptly postponed after the state environmental agency provided last-minute information to the attorney general’s office. The new information led to the filing of two additional charges, Shapiro said.

Energy Transfer acknowledged in a recent earnings report that the attorney general has been looking at “alleged criminal misconduct” involving Mariner East. The company said in the document it was cooperating but that “it intends to vigorously defend itself.”

The various criminal probes into Mariner East have also consumed DEP, which has spent about $1.57 million on outside criminal defense lawyers for its employees between 2019 and 2021, according to invoices obtained by The Associated Press.

The money was paid to five separate law firms representing dozens of DEP employees who dealt with Mariner East. Together, the firms submitted more than 130 invoices related to Mariner East investigations, performing legal work such as reviewing subpoenas and preparing clients to testify, the documents show.

When Mariner East construction permits were approved in 2017, environmental advocacy groups accused the Wolf administration of violating the law and warned pipeline construction would unleash massive and irreparable damage to Pennsylvania’s environment and residents.

“If we have a system where … the punishment, the fines, are basically seen as just a price of doing business, then we’ll continue to have violations in the commonwealth,” said David Masur, executive director of Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment.

State officials “have a huge stick they could wield,” he added. “Maybe they just have to stop hesitating and use it.”

The Mariner East pipeline system transports propane, ethane and butane from the enormous Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale gas fields in western Pennsylvania to a refinery processing center and export terminal in Marcus Hook, outside Philadelphia.

Energy Transfer also operates the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which went into service in 2017 after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others during its construction.

Pandora papers: biggest ever leak of offshore data exposes financial secrets of rich and powerful

Pandora papers: biggest ever leak of offshore data exposes financial secrets of rich and powerful

Guardian investigations team October 3, 2021

Pandora Papers illustraion
The Pandora papers reveal the inner workings of what is a shadow financial world, providing a rare window into the hidden operations of a global offshore economy. Illustration: Guardian Design

Millions of documents reveal offshore deals and assets of more than 100 billionaires, 30 world leaders and 300 public officials

The secret deals and hidden assets of some of the world’s richest and most powerful people have been revealed in the biggest trove of leaked offshore data in history.

Branded the Pandora papers, the cache includes 11.9m files from companies hired by wealthy clients to create offshore structures and trusts in tax havens such as Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. They also shine a light on the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.

The files include disclosures about major donors to the Conservative party, raising difficult questions for Boris Johnson as his party meets for its annual conference.

More than 100 billionaires feature in the leaked data, as well as celebrities, rock stars and business leaders. Many use shell companies to hold luxury items such as property and yachts, as well as incognito bank accounts. There is even art ranging from looted Cambodian antiquities to paintings by Picasso and murals by Banksy.

The Pandora papers reveal the inner workings of what is a shadow financial world, providing a rare window into the hidden operations of a global offshore economy that enables some of the world’s richest people to hide their wealth and in some cases pay little or no tax.

What are the Pandora Papers

There are emails, memos, incorporation records, share certificates, compliance reports and complex diagrams showing labyrinthine corporate structures. Often, they allow the true owners of opaque shell companies to be identified for the first time.

The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington. It shared access to the leaked data with select media partners including the Guardian, BBC Panorama, Le Monde and the Washington Post. More than 600 journalists have sifted through the files as part of a massive global investigation.

The Pandora papers represent the latest – and largest in terms of data volume – in a series of major leaks of financial data that have convulsed the offshore world since 2013.

Setting up or benefiting from offshore entities is not itself illegal, and in some cases people may have legitimate reasons, such as security, for doing so. But the secrecy offered by tax havens has at times proven attractive to tax evaders, fraudsters and money launderers, some of whom are exposed in the files.

Perhaps the most significant offshore leak to date was the 2016 Panama papers, which consisted of 2.6 terabytes of data leaked from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The following year saw the release of the Paradise papers, most of which were from the offshore provider Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda. In total, that cache consisted of 1.4 terabytes of data.

Containing 2.94 terabytes, the Pandora papers is the largest of the three leaks. The files also come from a much wider array of offshore providers than previous leaks: 14 in total. Locations range from Vietnam to Belize and Singapore, and to far-flung archipelagos such as the Bahamas and the Seychelles.

Other wealthy individuals and companies stash their assets offshore to avoid paying tax elsewhere, a legal activity estimated to cost governments billions in lost revenues.

After more than 18 months analysing the data in the public interest, the Guardian and other media outlets will publish their findings over the coming days, beginning with revelations about the offshore financial affairs of some of the most powerful political leaders in the world.

They include the ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II, who, leaked documents reveal, has amassed a secret $100m property empire spanning Malibu, Washington and London. The king declined to answer specific questions but said there would be nothing improper about him owning properties via offshore companies. Jordan appeared to have blocked the ICIJ website on Sunday, hours before the Pandora papers launched.

The Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva.
The Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, and his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva. The Aliyev family has traded close to £400m of UK property in recent years. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The files also show that Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family has traded close to £400m of UK property in recent years. One of their properties was sold to the Queen’s crown estate, which is now looking into how it came to pay £67m to a company that operated as a front for the family that runs a country routinely accused of corruption. The Aliyevs declined to comment.

The Pandora papers also threaten to cause political upsets for two European Union leaders. The prime minister of the Czech republic, Andrej Babis, who is up for election this week, is facing questions over why he used an offshore investment company to acquire a $22m chateau in the south of France. He too declined to comment.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš
The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, is facing questions over why he used an offshore investment company to acquire a $22m chateau in the south of France. Photograph: Milan Kammermayer/EPA

And in Cyprus, itself a controversial offshore center, the President, Nicos Anastasiades, may be asked to explain why a law firm he founded was accused of hiding the assets of a controversial Russian billionaire behind fake company owners. The firm denies any wrongdoing, while the Cypriot president says he ceased having an active role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.

Not everyone named in the Pandora papers is accused of wrongdoing. The leaked files reveals that Tony and Cherie Blair saved £312,000 in property taxes when they purchased a London building partially owned by the family of a prominent Bahraini minister.

The former prime minister and his wife bought the £6.5m office in Marylebone by acquiring a British Virgin Islands (BVI) offshore company. While the move was not illegal, and there is no evidence the Blairs proactively sought to avoid property taxes, the deal highlights a loophole that has enabled wealthy property owners not to pay a tax that is commonplace for ordinary Britons.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair
Tony and Cherie Blair bought a £6.5m office in Marylebone by acquiring a British Virgin Islands offshore company. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The leaked records vividly illustrate the central coordinating role London plays in the murky offshore world. The UK capital is home to wealth managers, law firms, company formation agents and accountants. All exist to serve their ultra-rich clients. Many are foreign-born tycoons who enjoy “non-domicile” status, which means they pay no tax on their overseas assets.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is also named in the leak. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected in 2019 on a pledge to clean up his country’s notoriously corrupt and oligarch-influenced economy, is also named in the leak. During the campaign, Zelenskiy transferred his 25% stake in an offshore company to a close friend who now works as the president’s top adviser, the files suggest. Zelenskiy declined to comment and it is unclear if he remains a beneficiary.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, whom the US suspects of having a secret fortune, does not appear in the files by name. But numerous close associates do, including his best friend from childhood – the late Petr Kolbin – whom critics have called a “wallet” for Putin’s own wealth, and a woman the Russian leader was allegedly once romantically involved with. None responded to invitations to comment.

The Pandora papers also place a revealing spotlight on the offshore system itself. In a development likely to prove embarrassing for the US president, Joe Biden, who has pledged to lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system, the US emerges from the leak as a leading tax haven. The files suggest the state of South Dakota, in particular, is sheltering billions of dollars in wealth linked to individuals previously accused of serious financial crimes.

The offshore trail also stretches from Africa to Latin America to Asia, and is likely to pose difficult questions for politicians across the world. In Pakistan, Moonis Elahi, a prominent minister in prime minister Imran Khan’s government, contacted an offshore provider in Singapore about investing $33.7m.

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will come under pressure to explain why he and his close relatives amassed more than $30m of offshore wealth. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

In Kenya, the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has portrayed himself as an enemy of corruption. In 2018, Kenyatta told the BBC: “Every public servant’s assets must be declared publicly so that people can question and ask: what is legitimate?”

He will come under pressure to explain why he and his close relatives amassed more than $30m of offshore wealth, including property in London. Kenyatta did not respond to enquiries about whether his family wealth was declared to relevant authorities in Kenya.

The Pandora papers also reveal some of the unseen repercussions of previous offshore leaks, which spurred modest reforms in some parts of the world, such as the BVI, which now keeps a record of the real owners of companies registered there. However, the newly leaked data shows money shifting around offshore destinations, as wealthy clients and their advisers adjust to new realities.

Some clients of Mossack Fonseca, the now defunct law firm at the heart of the 2016 Panama papers disclosures, simply transferred their companies to rival providers such as another global trust and corporate administrator with a major office in London, whose data is in the new trove of leaked files.

Asked why he was migrating the new company, one customer wrote bluntly: “Business decision to exit following the Panama papers.” Another agent said the industry had always “adapted” to external pressure.

Some leaked files appear to show some in the industry seeking to circumvent new privacy regulations. One Swiss lawyer refused to email the names of his high-value customers to a service provider in the BVI, following new legislation. Instead, he sent them by airmail, with strict instructions they should not be processed in any “electronic way”. The identity of another beneficial owner was shared via WhatsApp.

“The purpose of this way to proceed is to enable you to comply with BVI rules,” the lawyer wrote. Referring to Mossack Fonseca, the lawyer added: “You are obliged to keep secrecy for our clients and to not make feasible at all a second ‘Panama papers’ story that happened to one of your competitors.”

Gerard Ryle, the director of the ICIJ, said leading politicians who organized their finances in tax havens had a stake in the status quo, and were likely to be an obstacle to reform of the offshore economy. “When you have world leaders, when you have politicians, when you have public officials, all using the secrecy and all using this world, then I don’t think we’re going to see an end to it.

He expected the Pandora papers to have a greater impact than previous leaks, not least because they were arriving in the middle of a pandemic that had exacerbated inequalities and forced governments to borrow unprecedented amounts to be shouldered by ordinary taxpayers. “This is the Panama papers on steroids,” Ryle said. “It’s broader, richer and has more detail.”

At least $11.3tn in wealth is held offshore, according to a 2020 study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “This is money that is being lost to treasuries around the world and money that could be used to recover from Covid,” Ryle said. “We’re losing out because some people are gaining. It’s as simple as that. It’s a very simple transaction that’s going on here.”

Pandora papers reporting team: Simon Goodley, Harry Davies, Luke Harding, Juliette Garside, David Conn, David Pegg, Paul Lewis, Caelainn Barr, Rowena Mason and Pamela Duncan in London; Ben Butler and Anne Davies in Sydney; Dominic Rushe in New York; Andrew Roth in Moscow; Helena Smith in Athens; Michael Safi in Lebanon; Robert Tait in Prague.

The US owes a debt to Haiti. Experts explain why their shared history led to a migrant crisis on the US’s border.

Insider

The US owes a debt to Haiti. Experts explain why their shared history led to a migrant crisis on the US’s border.

Christine Jean-Baptiste September 26, 2021

Masked protestor holding up a 'US hands off Haiti!' sign.
Demonstrators outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Service office in Miami on February 20 demand that the Biden administration cease deporting Haitian immigrants. Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images
  • The Biden administration faced backlash for dispersing Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border.
  • Experts say Haiti’s history of foreign interference has shaped perspectives and stunted progress.
  • They estimate France and the US owe Haiti billions in reparations for colonialism and occupation.

In the past week, nearly 14,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, were found in Del Rio, Texas, seeking asylum following a destructive earthquake and the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Instead of providing shelter and refuge for the migrants, the US continued to deport Haitians, who have for years been targets of imperialism and xenophobia, in what experts described as history repeating itself.

“Anything you have read about Haiti thus far will remind you of an all too common and limited narrative; the first Black Republic is ‘the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,'” the artist Gina Athena Ulysse wrote in a 2019 essay for Tikkun.

“What almost none of them will mention is that Haiti also has one of the highest numbers of millionaires per capita in the region,” she added.

Haitian scholars spoke with Insider about how assumptions and stereotypes about the island perpetuate limited narratives that can put Haitian migrants at risk.

“Cuba, Haiti, and all others are as complex as the US, Canada, and European countries, and allowing room for these latter to have complexity while expecting uniformity from these islands or island nations are quite uninformed and essentialist,” Manoucheka Celeste, an associate professor at the University of Florida, told Insider.

Political interference in Haitian politics shapes global perspectives

Haiti and the United States share an intertwined history as the second-oldest and oldest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

But the US refused to acknowledge Haiti’s 1804 independence from France for nearly 60 years, kicking off centuries of military coups and political meddling that devastated the Caribbean nation – from a decades-long US invasion and occupation in 1915 to disastrous aid and relief efforts today.

Experts have estimated that Haiti is owed billions in reparations from France and the US for the impact of colonialism, slavery, and the US’s theft of an uninhabited island that Haiti owns.

Celeste, whose book “Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the African Diaspora: Travelling Blackness” details this shared history, added that US imperialism influenced how Haitians are received and treated abroad today.

“Haitian immigrants have been particularly stigmatized, echoing images of Haiti as poor, dangerous, sick, and this impacts how we are received in communities, schools, employment opportunities, and all aspects of everyday life,” she said.

The Caribbean island has also been misrepresented through the media, experts said.

A misconception that Nadeve Menard, an author and professor of literature at the École Normale Supérieure of Université d’État d’Haïti, has noticed is that the current political climate is somehow unique.

“What is happening here is very much part of larger global networks,” she told Insider. “Aid industries need aid recipients, for example. The sophisticated weapons that gangs here are displaying are being sold by someone.”

Ménard added that “many people, Haitians and non-Haitians alike, are benefiting from what is happening here in very concrete ways.”

Coverage of climate disasters and corruption worsens anti-Haitian bias
Haitian migrant holding hand of child wearing an American flag, stars-and-stripes, hat.
Haitian migrants at a shelter. Thousands of Haitian migrants recently gathered in makeshift camps at the US-Mexico border. Pedro Pardo/ARP/Getty Images

Celeste’s research suggests that even though the Caribbean is an incredibly diverse region racially, ethnically, and linguistically, it makes international or US news only when “bad” or “strange” things happen, like a hurricane or a political crisis.

For example, there was a spike in global news coverage of Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake in 2010, with outlets gaining readers and revenue from a disaster affecting the country.

Experts said it was like clockwork that the media feeds on disaster reporting when it’s convenient.

Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida, said Haiti was seen as a failure whose problems are of its own creation, not of the outside world’s, and certainly not the fault of consistently accumulated historical injustices.

“We treat Haiti as a pariah that is undeserving of respect, let alone sovereignty,”

Following the president’s assassination, a rotation of Haitian politicians have wanted to claim power. That insecurity was made worse when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti’s southwest – and that exacerbated the migration crisis at the US’s southern border.

Amid the political reshuffles, publications have been quick to point out Haiti’s extensive corruption. Scholars call on observers to ask themselves why that is.

“It is problematic to imply that corruption only happens in Haiti or happens here more than elsewhere,” Ménard said.

“Nations like to present themselves as paragons of virtue, but often their representatives are very much implicated in the corruption they point to in other places,” she added.

On Tuesday afternoon, as images of US Customs and Border Protection agents grabbing Haitian migrants near Del Rio circulated, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said President Joe Biden found the footage “horrific” and “horrible.”

Psaki said the administration would launch an investigation to “get to the bottom of what happened.”

The Associated Press had reported days earlier that the Biden administration had kept deporting Haitian migrants after the images surfaced, with more flights scheduled.

Advocates say centering Haiti and its diaspora is key to progress

Scholars say the treatment of Haitians is based on racial stereotypes that existed long before this year. They challenged people moved by the recent events in Haiti to learn about Haiti from Haitians.

“The way to counter stereotypes is to go to sources where Haitians are speaking for themselves,” the Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat told Insider in an email, encouraging people to listen to Haitian youth and elders.

“We are not a monolith. Haiti is not a monolith. We don’t always agree. We have layers. We contain multitudes,” she added.

With the dehumanizing visuals of Haitian migrants at the border this week were renewed calls to help Haiti – a common sentiment on the internet.

In 2010, after the earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people, many celebrities could be found organizing concerts and benefits, singing songs, and centering themselves in the cause.

Edwidge Danticat

Danticat encouraged supporters to immerse themselves in Haitian-led cultural initiatives, including reading Haitian writers, listening to Haitian music, and taking in Haitian art and even social media.

Politicians and public figures have used their platforms to take a stance and remind people of the role of international communities in Haiti.

“I think the reason why we’re not seeing more help, if I’m going to be frank about it, is because they are Haitian,” Sunny Hostin, a cohost of “The View,” said on Wednesday.

Following Haiti’s traumatic year, many Haitian scholars have called out performative advocacy in the form of emojis, prayers and hashtags on social media.

Marlene Daut, a professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia, described the public outcry as opportunistic and meaningless, highlighting the role of disaster capitalism on other Caribbean islands, like in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.

“I think a lot of people, when they do charity, they want it to be easy,” she said. “If you really want to do good things for Haitians, then it involves the difficult work of finding out what that would be.”

With the diaspora and allies holding North America and Europe accountable, Daut said, it “could be a moment for a reckoning, if we allow it to be, and for it to not get swept under the rug again, and also to not repeat the past.”

“We need to remember that these things happened,” she said, “because there’s a dangerous moment right now in Haiti.”

‘We were them:’ Vietnamese Americans help Afghan refugees

Associated Press

‘We were them:’ Vietnamese Americans help Afghan refugees

 

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) — In the faces of Afghans desperate to leave their country after U.S. forces withdrew, Thuy Do sees her own family, decades earlier and thousands of miles away.

A 39-year-old doctor in Seattle, Washington, Do remembers hearing how her parents sought to leave Saigon after Vietnam fell to communist rule in 1975 and the American military airlifted out allies in the final hours. It took years for her family to finally get out of the country, after several failed attempts, and make their way to the United States, carrying two sets of clothes a piece and a combined $300. When they finally arrived, she was 9 years old.

These stories and early memories drove Do and her husband Jesse Robbins to reach out to assist Afghans fleeing their country now. The couple has a vacant rental home and decided to offer it up to refugee resettlement groups, which furnished it for newly arriving Afghans in need of a place to stay.

“We were them 40 years ago,” Do said. “With the fall of Saigon in 1975, this was us.”

Television images of Afghans vying for spots on U.S. military flights out of Kabul evoked memories for many Vietnamese Americans of their own attempts to escape a falling Saigon more than four decades ago. The crisis in Afghanistan has reopened painful wounds for many of the country’s 2 million Vietnamese Americans and driven some elders to open up about their harrowing departures to younger generations for the first time.

It has also spurred many Vietnamese Americans to donate money to refugee resettlement groups and raise their hands to help by providing housing, furniture and legal assistance to newly arriving Afghans. Less tangible but still essential, some also said they want to offer critical guidance they know refugees and new immigrants need: how to shop at a supermarket, enroll kids in school and drive a car in the United States.

Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have come to the United States, settling in communities from California to Virginia. Today, Vietnamese Americans are the sixth-largest immigrant group in the United States. Many settled in California’s Orange County after arriving initially at the nearby Camp Pendleton military base and today have a strong voice in local politics.

“We lived through this and we can’t help but feel that we are brethren in our common experience,” Andrew Do, who fled Saigon with his family a day before it fell to communism and today chairs the county’s board of supervisors, said during a recent press conference in the area known as “Little Saigon.”

The U.S. had long announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. But the final exit was much more frantic, with more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members killed in an attack on the Kabul airport.

In the last two weeks of August, the U.S. evacuated 31,000 people from Afghanistan, three-quarters of them Afghans who supported American military efforts during the extensive operations. But many Afghan allies were left behind with no clear way out of the landlocked nation under strict Taliban control.

Similarly, many Vietnamese Americans recall how they couldn’t get out before the impending fall of Saigon to communism. They stayed behind and faced long spells in reeducation camps in retaliation for their allegiance to the Americans who had fought in their country. Once they were allowed to return to their families, many Vietnamese left and took small boats onto the seas, hoping to escape and survive.

For some families, the journey took years and many failed attempts, which is why many Vietnamese Americans view the departure of the U.S. military from Afghanistan not as the end of the crisis, but the beginning.

“We have to remember now is the time to lay a foundation for a humanitarian crisis that may last long past the moment the last U.S. help leaves the Afghan space,” said Thanh Tan, a Seattle filmmaker who started a group for Vietnamese Americans seeking to assist Afghans called Viets4Afghans. Her own family, she said, made the trip four years after the U.S. left Vietnam. “We have to be prepared because people will do whatever it takes to survive.”

Afghans arriving in the United States may have a special status for those who supported U.S. military operations, or may have been sponsored to come by relatives already here. Others are expected to arrive as refuges or seek permission to travel to the United States under a process known as humanitarian parole and apply for asylum or other legal protection once they are here.

For parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Vietnamese Americans have signed up to sponsor people they have never met, said Tuấn ĐinhJanelle, director of field at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. He said a coalition of legal and community groups has secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. His sister, Vy Dinh, said she’s sponsoring a family of 10 including women in danger for working in medicine and teaching. “As soon as he called, I said, ‘Yes, I am in,’” she said.

Other efforts have focused on fundraising for refugee resettlement groups. Vietnamese and Afghan American artists held a benefit concert this month in Southern California to raise money to assist Afghan refugees. The event titled “United for Love” was broadcast on Vietnamese language television and raised more than $160,000, according to Saigon Broadcasting Television Network.

It also aired on Afghan American satellite television, said Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan American advocate and spokesperson for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign aimed at supporting asylum seekers. “They saw the need. They saw the parallels,” Askaryar said. “It’s really powerful to see that they saw that link of common humanity between the Afghan community and the Vietnamese community. We’ve been really touched and inspired.”

Thi Do, an immigration attorney in Sacramento, California, said he is also doing what he can to help. He was a boy when Saigon fell and his father, who served in the South Vietnamese army, was sent to a reeducation camp. When he returned, the family set out by boat into the ocean, hoping to reach a country that would take them.

Do remembers how the boat bumped up against dead bodies floating on the water and how his father apologized for putting him and his siblings in danger before throwing overboard his ID and keys from Vietnam. “’He said, ‘I would rather die here than go back there,’” Do said. They eventually reached Thailand and Malaysia, both countries that forced them back out to sea until they got to Indonesia and were processed at a refugee camp.

Decades later, Do said he has helped people fleeing persecution in his work as a lawyer, but until now nothing that has reminded him so much of Vietnam. He’s working with Afghan families who are filing petitions to bring their relatives here, but what happens next is complicated with no U.S. embassy in Kabul to process the papers and no guarantee the relatives will make it to a third country to get them.

“I see a lot of myself in those children who were running on the tarmac at the airport,” he said.

Biden Puts Another Former Public Defender Onto A U.S. Appeals Court

Biden Puts Another Former Public Defender Onto A U.S. Appeals Court

Veronica Rossman, a former public defender, now holds a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. (Photo: Handout . via Reuters)
Veronica Rossman, a former public defender, now holds a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. (Photo: Handout . via Reuters)

 

The Senate voted Monday night to confirm Veronica Rossman to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ― making her the only former public defender on that court and one of just a handful within the entire U.S. appeals court system.

Rossman, who is currently senior counsel at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming, was confirmed 50-42. Every Democrat present voted for her, along with two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine). See the full tally here.

Rossman’s confirmation is a win for President Joe Biden on two fronts. She adds to his current record of confirming more judges than any president in the last 50 years by this point in their terms. And she is the latest example of Biden following through on a promise to bring badly needed diversity to the nation’s courts ― both in terms of demographics like race and gender but also in terms of professional backgrounds.

Rossman, 49, has spent most of her career as a public defender, representing people in court who could not afford an attorney. Public defenders are hugely underrepresented on the nation’s courts; the vast majority of federal judges are former prosecutors and corporate attorneys. Rossman brings a much different perspective to the bench, having defended more than 250 indigent clients in her more than 10 years at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming.

“Her work on behalf of the indigent, defending the Constitution and the rights of those accused of crimes will bring much needed balance to a bench overwhelmed with former prosecutors and corporate lawyers,” said Chris Kang of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group.

Expanding professional diversity on federal courts can also affect case outcomes and the development of legal precedent. Judges with backgrounds as prosecutors or corporate lawyers are significantly more likely to rule in favor of employers in workplace disputes, according to a February study conducted by Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd. (Demand Justice provided some financial support for this study.)

Rossman is now one of just eight active judges in the entirety of the U.S. appeals court system with experience as a public defender. That’s out of a total of 174 currently active judges on U.S. appeals courts.

Put another way: Only about 4.6% of all active U.S. appeals court judges have experience as a public defender.

Biden is responsible for nominating four of those eight U.S. appeals court judges, just eight months into his presidency. The other four were nominated by President Barack Obama over the course of his eight years in the White House.

“As former public defenders, civil rights attorneys, labor organizers and more, Biden’s judicial nominees bring a wealth of professional and lived experience that will be invaluable to the federal judiciary,” said Rakim Brooks, president of the judicial advocacy group Alliance for Justice. “Our democracy works best when people have faith and trust in our courts, so it is essential that our courts are fully representative of the diversity of our nation ― not just the wealthy and the powerful.”