What Happened Today: September 29, 2022
Ian leaves thousands in Florida trapped by historic floodwaters; Army doctor indicted for espionage; The Making of Nikole Hannah-Jones
The Big Story
The rebuilding of roads and bridges across southern Florida could take years, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday after Hurricane Ian, one of the strongest storms to ever strike the United States, made landfall on Wednesday. With winds upwards of 155 mph, the massive Category 4 hurricane struck the southwest of Florida where winds eventually decelerated to 75 mph before the storm moved northeast through the central portion of the state. Weather projections forecast that the storm will strengthen as it moves toward the coast of South Carolina, where it’s expected to make landfall on Friday.
At least two people were confirmed dead as a result of the storm, DeSantis said Thursday, but the full death toll may be significantly higher. Speaking of Lee County in southwest Florida, Sheriff Carmine Marceno told reporters that “while I don’t have the confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.” Some 30,000 emergency responders spent the night and much of Thursday morning deploying 250 aircraft, 300 boats, and 1,600 high-water vehicles to attend to the thousands of residents trapped or endangered by historic levels of flash flooding occurring throughout the state. In central Florida, the Little Wekiva River near Orlando recorded floods more than a foot above the previous highest flood mark. “Along the Little Wekiva, we are at an historic point. It’s never been like this before in recorded history,” said Alan Harris of the Office of Emergency Management.
Some 2.5 million residents were without power for periods of Thursday, with significant outages concentrated in the southwestern region where the storm made landfall. President Biden declared the storm a major disaster, which will release federal aid to cover the costs of recovery for the first 60 days. With rescue efforts ongoing as the storm moves along the Atlantic seaboard, the full impact remains difficult to assess.
In the Back Pages: The Making of Nikole Hannah-Jones
→ An army doctor, Jamie Lee Henry, and his wife, Anna Gabrielian, were indicted on conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury in Baltimore after they provided sensitive army medical records to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian diplomat. Henry, who was the Army’s first openly transgender officer, handed over the private medical files for five patients at the Fort Bragg medical facility to an undercover agent while his wife, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, turned over the medical records of a Naval Intelligence Officer’s spouse, pointing to issues that “Russia could exploit,” federal prosecutors said in their indictment. Henry had hoped to fight with the Russians in Ukraine, he told the agent, because he allegedly believed “the United States is using Ukrainians as a proxy for their own hatred toward Russia.” Gabrielian, for her part, said she was “motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail,” according to prosecutors.
Read More: https://www.thebaltimorebanner.com/community/criminal-justice/johns-hopkins-doctor-and-spouse-an-army-doctor-indicted-for-trying-to-leak-medical-information-to-russia-TVCKU2TGUJB7JIH7M6D4GKMHZ4/
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During an event focusing on food insecurity in the United States, which currently affects more than 8% of American children, President Biden searched the room looking for the late Rep. Jackie Walorski, who had been a strong advocate for food security until her death this past August in a car crash. “Jackie, are you here?” Biden said. “Where’s Jackie?” Later that afternoon, Biden’s press secretary attempted to explain the president’s search for the dead congresswoman by saying Walorski was “top of mind” for the president. “The confusing part is, why, if she and the family is top of mind, does the president think that she’s living and in the room?” one reporter asked.
→ Cerebral, the telehealth startup that is being investigated by the Justice Department for its allegedly lax prescription practices, prescribed a minor in Missouri antidepressants without the knowledge or consent of his parents, who only learned that he was being treated for depression and taking a generic version of Prozac after he committed suicide. Missouri law requires that mental health providers receive parental consent for all minors in treatment, and Cerebral failed to verify the age of numerous patients. According to a company memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, identity verification checks—including age verification checks—were less than thorough because internal data found such verification checks to be barriers to retention.
→ A bylaw written by UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group at the ninth best law school in the country, advocates against inviting any speakers supportive of “Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” That bylaw has now been signed by nine other student groups. The bylaw and its popularity has caused concern among Jewish students on a campus that was central in the 1960s free speech movement. “Students should not be forced to choose between identifying as either ‘pro-Palestine’ and thereby ‘anti-Israel,’ or ‘pro-Israel’ and thereby ‘anti-Palestine,’” the Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law wrote in a statement. “To say otherwise is antithetical to the dialogue around which our educational community is built. We are troubled that this by-law creates an environment in which only one viewpoint is acceptable.” The law school’s dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, noted that as a progressive Zionist, the new bylaw would ban him from speaking.
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→ Quote of the Day:
We have an abundance of retail space, we have an abundance of office parks that are no longer being utilized. And we have a real deficit of housing. Let’s use that land for what it should be for: homes.
California Assembly member Buffy Wicks, on a new bill she steered to passage that rezones large swaths of the city currently underdeveloped due to strict zoning laws. Restrictive zoning laws in large metropolitan areas have long been blamed as one of the main sources of the affordability crisis, with areas zoned as office parks or retail sectors being blocked from further development, making land more scarce and thus more expensive. Bills to change an area’s zoning laws are often derailed by divisive lobbying efforts from real estate developers, construction unions, and local governments, and such a fate almost befell Wicks’ bill until an 11th-hour compromise between lawmakers and union leaders.
→ Graph of the Day
Somewhere downstream from artists and entrepreneurs, “the creator” gets paid to transform his or her inner life into monetizable social media stuff: images, videos, memes, bits of wit. While millions of people contribute to the information slipstream—25% of the planet, according to one recent study from Adobe—a scant few of them do it well enough to eke out a living. The Adobe study estimates that there are some 300 million creators worldwide—that is, people contributing to the churn of digital content that the world consumes—and that 4.3% of those creators earn more than $100,000 for their efforts. For many of these high-earning creators, meanwhile, the dream is to reach the more profitable creator tier of influencer, which, as the graph above shows, can be more salubrious for a creator’s mental health than spending time with loved ones, exercising, or being outside.
→ Despite a global recession on the horizon and new IPOs facing the most hostile marketplace in more than a decade, Porsche sped along in high gear on Thursday as its debut as a publicly traded company in Europe became the largest initial listing for a German company since 1996. Spun out from parent company Volkswagen, Porsche has a new valuation of about 75 billion euros, which makes it worth almost as much as the entirety of Volkswagen (80.1 billion euros), though analysts cautioned that Porsche’s splashy debut was likely a one-off public offering because of its unique luxury car status and strong financials, with the freeze on other offerings likely to continue. The huge infusion of cash will fund the attempt by Volkswagen and Porsche to electrify 80% of their product line by 2030, with Porsche’s new electric Taycan selling more than its iconic 911 sports car in 2021.
→ Song of the Day
Coolio, the rapper whose singles “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage” helped define the 1990s music landscape, died Wednesday afternoon at the age of 59. The cause of death was not known at the time of publication Thursday. Legally known as Artis Leon Ivey Jr., Coolio had spent his younger years in Compton, California, in a gang, with a drug addiction that he later overcame in his twenties, when he embraced spirituality and Christianity and became a firefighter to fight fires alongside the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He soon turned more of his attention toward music and the emergent Los Angeles rap scene. His label, Tommy Boy, moved “Gangster’s Paradise” off his own record to the soundtrack for the film Dangerous Minds, where the single, with a sample from Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” became the biggest hit of 1995 and won Coolio a Grammy.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
TODAY IN TABLET:
Russia’s Great Transformational Failure by Maria Snegovaya
Hopes that post-Soviet Russia would join the ranks of prosperous liberal democracies have proven to be a chimera
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The Making of Nikole Hannah-Jones
The native daughter of working-class Waterloo who became the great reframer of American history
By Marc Weitzmann
“We were a biracial family, and as such we had all met racial issues one way or another,” said Cheryl Novotny Hannah, the mother of perhaps the most famous and influential journalist in the United States today. “But after Nikole took Mr. Dial’s Black history class at West High School at 16, she was talking about Black stuff all the time.”
It was Nov. 23, 2021, the week of Thanksgiving, at West High School’s auditorium in Waterloo, Iowa. I’d spotted Cheryl—a silver-blond woman of 70 with a round face and a big, warm smile that both highlighted and tempered her outspokenness—as she struggled between the rows of chairs, clinging to her walker, making her way toward the front row. She sat a few seats away from thin, young, charismatic Quentin Hart, Waterloo’s first Black mayor, recently reelected for the fourth time, whose website quoted at length from the hometown hero and the evening’s star guest, Nikole Hannah-Jones. I was sitting two rows behind, with Denny McCabe, one of Hannah-Jones’ high school history teachers, and his wife. Behind us, filling up roughly two-thirds of the auditorium, a crowd of some 700 people was waiting for Hannah-Jones to appear onstage alongside Ray Dial, the Black studies teacher who first introduced her to the significance of the year 1619 and to unconventional writers who would influence her thinking on American history. They were here to present the book version of The 1619 Project, which had been released a week earlier. A handful of kids—the future after-school students of the 1619 Freedom School program that Hannah-Jones would open soon in downtown Waterloo, I was told—were also in attendance.
I had spent the previous two days visiting Waterloo’s East Side, the poorest part of the neglected city of some 67,000, where the Black residents used to live. I’d seen the half-decrepit wooden houses lining empty streets, the two grocery stores, the abandoned churches, and the city’s last bordello, which closed in the late 1940s, but whose three little blue houses still stand in a vacant weed-covered lot, 10 minutes away from the Hannah home, where Hannah-Jones grew up and where Cheryl still lives today. There was a sign warning people against committing suicide in front of the railroad tracks, near the remains of the Illinois Central Railroad line. During the Great Migration between 1910 and 1970, millions of Black people fled the Jim Crow South for predominantly urban lives in the North; on the Illinois Central Railroad, which connected Chicago with New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, Waterloo was a way station for many. Those who disembarked there were met on the platforms by recruiters from the city’s two main economic hubs at the time: the John Deere factory, which supplied agricultural equipment to farmers throughout the region, and the Rath Packing Company plant, whose ruined, massive brick walls and black windows still tower over the area. Hannah-Jones’ father, Milton, worked in the Rath slaughterhouse for three years in the mid-1970s.
The Annals of Iowa catalogs the names of some of Waterloo’s forgotten working-class heroes—Velma Otterman Schrader, Punchy “CIO” Ackerson, Lowell Hollenbeck—who, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, started agitating for “anti-racial unionism”; by 1950, they put together an Anti-Discrimination Committee within the slaughterhouse’s workforce. Most Black residents during that era were first hired as strikebreakers; it was only in later years, after having worked their way in with force, that they would finally be allowed to do certain low-paid, difficult jobs at the Rath plant, such as floor cleaning and carcass disposal. The Anti-Discrimination Committee was conceived by Local 46, the slaughterhouse’s union affiliated with the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), as a strategy to push back against management’s cynical use of the city’s African Americans. It succeeded: Leading Black unionists like Russell Lasley and the Burt brothers soon joined Local 46. Attempts at racial integration were successful enough in this era that during the massive strike of 1948, when a Black strikebreaker shot a white union member dead, Local 46 was able to prevent any interracial fallout among the plant’s workers. By then, the nondiscrimination program of Local 46 had been adopted by the UPWA nationwide, in effect transforming the union into a powerful agent of the rising Civil Rights Movement across the country.
During the 1950s, the Local 46 struggle began to spill over into Waterloo as a whole, thanks largely to Anna Mae Weems, a local NAACP activist. Weems was one of the first Black women to gain admission to Rath’s all-white sliced bacon department, where she was at first met with hostility by the white women who worked there, but soon became their union representative. She quickly merged Local 46’s labor activism with the Waterloo NAACP’s civil rights program, so that both jointly fought for job opportunities for African Americans in grocery stores downtown and filed charges against restaurants that refused to hire them. It was Weems, who is now 96 years old, who invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to town in 1959. They grew so close that almost a decade later, in the spring of 1968—only a few months before King was assassinated—she traveled with him to Memphis to support the sanitation workers strike. She then returned to Waterloo to help catalyze the Black students strike at East High School—a movement that would give birth, among other things, to the first Black-owned educational radio station in Iowa, KBBG, to this day one of Waterloo’s main cultural assets.
After another period of political activity in the 1970s and early 1980s, when several Black citizens, mostly female, ran in city council and Board of Supervisors elections with biracial support, Waterloo’s activist engine eventually sputtered out. Facing structural changes in the meatpacking industry, the Rath plant began to fire its permanent employees in favor of a cheaper seasonal migrant workforce from Eastern Europe before shutting down completely in 1984-85, putting an end to Waterloo’s relative prosperity. But the lessons of the city’s consequential history remain palpable and relevant: Like Weems and King, Waterloo as a whole embodied an approach to the civil rights struggle that understood issues of race and class as overlapping.
Nothing like this was mentioned on the evening Nikole Hannah-Jones came to West High to speak on the history of race in the United States. The event began with a speech by a young educator and administrator there, Akwi Nji, who introduced herself as “a teacher, an artist, and also a mother,” whose work involves, she said, the creation of “textile narratives” (clothing whose colors and materials are meant to “reveal” and “unveil racial injustices”), and who praised Hannah-Jones, in the American class-blind parlance of the day, “for her work as a journalist, a writer, a communicator—which is to say, her work as an artist.” In the same vein, Nji also praised Hannah-Jones for making Time magazine’s list of what she called, in a rising crescendo, “the 100 most influential personalities in the world.” Quentin Hart then took the stage for a briefer, more mayoral speech before offering Hannah-Jones a giant mock key to the city, a good-humored gesture that helped underline the quasi-informality of the whole evening: the general feeling that we were witnessing a family reunion of sorts. The city’s golden child had made it big, really big—a fact that was at least as significant as the message she was there to preach.
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