Educational Idea of the Day: July 27, 2020

Education: An Idea

After teaching fourth and fifth grade for over twenty years at excellent schools with excellent colleagues I have some ideas about what quality education should look like. The short answer is this: Children will thrive in an educational environment in which the work that they do is relevant, important, and practical. 

An historical example: When I was in high school I took trigonometry. I had a thoughtful and compassionate teacher who I remember fondly. However, I never understood what trigonometry was for. The subject, as presented, was not relevant to anything in my life. There was no question that I was concerned about that trigonometry helped me answer. The only reason the math class was important was that I needed to pass it. Getting a grade was not important enough to me to stimulate my learning. Finally, it seemed to me that trigonometry was all about memorizing facts. So, the practice of trigonometry was all about memorization of irrelevant material which wasn’t really important. This is a fairly accurate description of much of our current educational practice.

Several years later, I found myself teaching fourth and fifth grade math. In learning how to do measurements we encountered trees. How tall were they? All of a sudden trigonometry was relevant. We could use some trigonometric ideas to discover the height of trees. This was an important idea. If we wanted to see if a tree might fall on the school, we needed to know its height—an important question that needed to be solved.  Finally, I helped the kids design a practical device for measuring the angle from the ground to the top of the tree. Each kid had one. Each child became a surveyor as we went outside on a journey of discovery. Every tree and building became something to be learned about.

I know this idea—Make it relevant, important, and practical!—works because I saw it work over the course of two decades with a wide variety of children. I believe it works in every subject. More to come!

Corruption of the Day: July 27, 2020

Corporate Insiders Pocket $1 Billion in Rush for Coronavirus Vaccine

Well-timed stock bets have generated big profits for senior executives and board members at companies developing vaccines and treatments.

By David Gelles and Jesse DruckerJuly 25, 2020

A trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine announced by Moderna in January. Since then, Moderna insiders have sold shares totaling about $248 million.
A trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine announced by Moderna in January. Since then, Moderna insiders have sold shares totaling about $248 million.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

On June 26, a small South San Francisco company called Vaxart made a surprise announcement: A coronavirus vaccine it was working on had been selected by the U.S. government to be part of Operation Warp Speed, the flagship federal initiative to quickly develop drugs to combat Covid-19.

Vaxart’s shares soared. Company insiders, who weeks earlier had received stock options worth a few million dollars, saw the value of those awards increase sixfold. And a hedge fund that partly controlled the company walked away with more than $200 million in instant profits.

The race is on to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and some companies and investors are betting that the winners stand to earn vast profits from selling hundreds of millions — or even billions — of doses to a desperate public.

Across the pharmaceutical and medical industries, senior executives and board members are capitalizing on that dynamic.

They are making millions of dollars after announcing positive developments, including support from the government, in their efforts to fight Covid-19. After such announcements, insiders from at least 11 companies — most of them smaller firms whose fortunes often hinge on the success or failure of a single drug — have sold shares worth well over $1 billion since March, according to figures compiled for The New York Times by Equilar, a data provider.

In some cases, company insiders are profiting from regularly scheduled compensation or automatic stock trades. But in other situations, senior officials appear to be pouncing on opportunities to cash out while their stock prices are sky high. And some companies have awarded stock options to executives shortly before market-moving announcements about their vaccine progress.

The sudden windfalls highlight the powerful financial incentives for company officials to generate positive headlines in the race for coronavirus vaccines and treatments, even if the drugs might never pan out.

Some companies are attracting government scrutiny for potentially using their associations with Operation Warp Speed as marketing ploys.

For example, the headline on Vaxart’s news release declared: “Vaxart’s Covid-19 Vaccine Selected for the U.S. Government’s Operation Warp Speed.” But the reality is more complex.

Vaxart’s vaccine candidate was included in a trial on primates that a federal agency was organizing in conjunction with Operation Warp Speed. But Vaxart is not among the companies selected to receive significant financial support from Warp Speed to produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has entered into funding agreements with certain vaccine manufacturers, and we are negotiating with others. Neither is the case with Vaxart,” said Michael R. Caputo, the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs. “Vaxart’s vaccine candidate was selected to participate in preliminary U.S. government studies to determine potential areas for possible Operation Warp Speed partnership and support. At this time, those studies are ongoing, and no determinations have been made.”

Some officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have grown concerned about whether companies including Vaxart are trying to inflate their stock prices by exaggerating their roles in Warp Speed, a senior Trump administration official said. The department has relayed those concerns to the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It isn’t clear if the commission is looking into the matter. An S.E.C. spokeswoman declined to comment.

Andrei Floroiu, the chief executive of Vaxart, received stock options worth about $4.3 million in June. A month later, they were worth more than $28 million.
Andrei Floroiu, the chief executive of Vaxart, received stock options worth about $4.3 million in June. A month later, they were worth more than $28 million.Will Ragozzino/Patrick McMullan

“Vaxart abides by good corporate governance guidelines and policies and makes decisions in accordance with the best interests of the company and its shareholders,” Vaxart’s chief executive, Andrei Floroiu, said in a statement on Friday. Referring to Operation Warp Speed, he added, “We believe that Vaxart’s Covid-19 vaccine is the most exciting one in O.W.S. because it is the only oral vaccine (a pill) in O.W.S.”

Well-timed stock transactions are generally legal. But investors and corporate governance experts say they can create the appearance that executives are profiting from inside information, and could erode public confidence in the pharmaceutical industry when the world is looking to these companies to cure Covid-19.

“It is inappropriate for drug company executives to cash in on a crisis,” said Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Every day, Americans wake up and make sacrifices during this pandemic. Drug companies see this as a payday.”

Executives at a long list of companies have reaped seven- or eight-figure profits thanks to their work on coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

Shares of Regeneron, a biotech company in Tarrytown, N.Y., have climbed nearly 80 percent since early February, when it announced a collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a Covid-19 treatment. Since then, the company’s top executives and board members have sold nearly $700 million in stock. The chief executive, Leonard Schleifer, sold $178 million of shares on a single day in May.

Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron, said most of those sales had been scheduled in advance through programs that automatically sell executives’ shares if the stock hits a certain price.

Moderna, a 10-year-old vaccine developer based in Cambridge, Mass., that has never brought a product to market, announced in late January that it was working on a coronavirus vaccine. It has issued a stream of news releases hailing its vaccine progress, and its stock has more than tripled, giving the company a market value of almost $30 billion.

Moderna insiders have sold about $248 million of shares since that January announcement, most of it after the company was selected in April to receive federal funding to support its vaccine efforts.

The stock of Moderna, which has its headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., has more than tripled during its work on a vaccine. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

While some of those sales were scheduled in advance, others were more spur of the moment. Flagship Ventures, an investment fund run by the company’s founder and chairman, Noubar Afeyan, sold more than $68 million worth of Moderna shares on May 21. Those transactions were not scheduled in advance, according to securities filings.

Executives and board members at Luminex, Quidel and Emergent BioSolutions have sold shares worth a combined $85 million after announcing they were working on vaccines, treatments or testing solutions.

At other companies, executives and board members received large grants of stock options shortly before the companies announced good news that lifted the value of those options.

Novavax, a drugmaker in Gaithersburg, Md., began working on a vaccine early this year. This spring, the company reported promising preliminary test results and a $1.6 billion deal with the Trump administration.

In April, with its shares below $24, Novavax issued a batch of new stock awards to all its employees “in acknowledgment of the extraordinary work of our employees to implement a new vaccine program.” Four senior executives, including the chief executive, Stanley Erck, received stock options that were worth less than $20 million at the time.

Since then, Novavax’s stock has rocketed to more than $130 a share. At least on paper, the four executives’ stock options are worth more than $100 million.

So long as the company hits a milestone with its vaccine testing, which it is expected to achieve soon, the executives will be able to use the options to buy discounted Novavax shares as early as next year, regardless of whether the company develops a successful vaccine.

Silvia Taylor, a Novavax spokeswoman, said the stock awards were designed “to incentivize and retain our employees during this critical time.” She added that “there is no guarantee they will retain their value.”

Two other drugmakers, Translate Bio and Inovio, awarded large batches of stock options to executives and board members shortly before they announced progress on their coronavirus vaccines, sending shares higher. Representatives of the companies said the options were regularly scheduled annual grants.

Vaxart, though, is where the most money was made the fastest.

At the start of the year, its shares were around 35 cents. Then in late January, Vaxart began working on an orally administered coronavirus vaccine, and its shares started rising.

Vaxart’s largest shareholder was a New York hedge fund, Armistice Capital, which last year acquired nearly two-thirds of the company’s shares. Two Armistice executives, including the hedge fund’s founder, Steven Boyd, joinedVaxart’s board of directors. The hedge fund also purchased rights, known as warrants, to buy 21 million more Vaxart shares at some point in the future for as little as 30 cents each.

Selling Vaxart stock made more than $197 million in profit for Armistice Capital, a hedge fund that owned two-thirds of the company’s shares. Rafael Henrique/Getty Images

Vaxart has never brought a vaccine to market. It has just 15 employees. But throughout the spring, Vaxart announced positive preliminary data for its vaccine, along with a partnership with a company that could manufacture it. By late April, with investors sensing the potential for big profits, the company’s shares had reached $3.66 — a tenfold increase from January.

On June 8, Vaxart changed the terms of its warrants agreement with Armistice, making it easier for the hedge fund to rapidly acquire the 21 million shares, rather than having to buy and sell in smaller batches.

One week later, Vaxart announced that its chief executive was stepping down, though he would remain chairman. The new C.E.O., Mr. Floroiu, had previously worked with Mr. Boyd, Armistice’s founder, at the hedge fund and the consulting firm McKinsey.

On June 25, Vaxart announced that it had signed a letter of intent with another company that might help it mass-produce a coronavirus vaccine. Vaxart’s shares nearly doubled that day.

The next day, Vaxart issued its news release saying it had been selected for Operation Warp Speed. Its shares instantly doubled again, at one pointing hitting $14, their highest level in years.

“We are very pleased to be one of the few companies selected by Operation Warp Speed, and that ours is the only oral vaccine being evaluated,” Mr. Floroiu said.

Armistice took advantage of the stock’s exponential increase — at that point up more than 3,600 percent since January. On June 26, a Friday, and the next Monday, the hedge fund exercised its warrants to buy nearly 21 million Vaxart shares for either 30 cents or $1.10 a share — purchases it would not have been able to make as quickly had its agreement with Vaxart not been modified weeks earlier.

Armistice then immediately sold the shares at prices from $6.58 to $12.89 a share, according to securities filings. The hedge fund’s profits were immense: more than $197 million.

“It looks like the warrants may have been reconfigured at a time when they knew good news was coming,” said Robert Daines, a professor at Stanford Law School who is an expert on corporate governance. “That’s a valuable change, made right as the company’s stock price was about to rise.”

At the same time, the hedge fund also unloaded some of the Vaxart shares it had previously bought, notching tens of millions of dollars in additional profits.

By the end of that Monday, June 29, Armistice had sold almost all of its Vaxart shares.

Mr. Boyd and Armistice declined to comment.

Mr. Floroiu said the change to the Armistice agreement “was in the best interests of Vaxart and its stockholders” and helped it raise money to work on the Covid-19 vaccine.

He and other Vaxart board members also were positioned for big personal profits. When he became chief executive in mid-June, Mr. Floroiu received stock options that were worth about $4.3 million. A month later, those options were worth more than $28 million.

Normally when companies issue stock options to executives, the options can’t be exercised for months or years. Because of the unusual terms and the run-up in Vaxart’s stock price, most of Mr. Floroiu’s can be cashed in now.

Vaxart’s board members also received large grants of stock options, giving them the right to buy shares in the company at prices well below where the stock is now trading. The higher the shares fly, the bigger the profits.

“Vaxart is disrupting the vaccine world,” Mr. Floroiu boasted during a virtual investor conference on Thursday. He added that his impression was that “it’s OK to make a profit from Covid vaccines, as long as you’re not profiteering.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.

Article of the Day: July 18, 2020–A Southern Saint, working to restore the humanity of all people

John Lewis, front-line civil rights leader and eminence of Capitol Hill, dies at 80

John Lewis, a civil rights leader who preached nonviolence while enduring beatings and jailings during seminal front-line confrontations of the 1960s and later spent more than three decades in Congress defending the crucial gains he had helped achieve for people of color, has died. He was 80.

His death was announced in statements from his family and from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Advisers to senior Democratic leaders confirmed that he died July 17, but other details were not immediately available.

Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 29 and said he planned to continue working amid treatment. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said in a statement. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”

His last public appearance came at Black Lives Matter Plaza with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on June 7, two days after taping a virtual town hall online with former president Barack Obama.

While Mr. Lewis was not a policy maven as a lawmaker, he served the role of conscience of the Democratic caucus on many matters. His reputation as keeper of the 1960s flame defined his career in Congress.

When President George H.W. Bush vetoed a bill easing requirements to bring employment discrimination suits in 1990, Mr. Lewis rallied support for its revival. It became law as the Civil Rights Act of 1991. It took a dozen years, but in 2003 he won authorization for construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall.

In 2012, when Rep. Paul C. Broun (R.-Ga.) proposed eliminating funding for one aspect of the Voting Rights Act, Mr. Lewis denounced the move as “shameful.” The amendment died.

Mr. Lewis’s final years in the House were marked by personal conflict with President Trump. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Lewis said, rendered Trump’s victory “illegitimate.” He boycotted Trump’s inauguration. Later, during the House’s formal debate on whether to proceed with the impeachment process, Mr. Lewis had evinced no doubts: “For some, this vote might be hard,” he said on the House floor in December 2019. “But we have a mandate and a mission to be on the right side of history.”

Born to impoverished Alabama sharecroppers, Mr. Lewis was a high school student in 1955 when he heard broadcasts by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that drew him to activism.

“Every minister I’d ever heard talked about ‘over yonder,’ where we’d put on white robes and golden slippers and sit with the angels,” he recalled in his 1998 memoir, “Walking With the Wind.” “But this man was talking about dealing with the problems people were facing in their lives right now, specifically black lives in the South.”

Mr. Lewis vaulted from obscurity in 1963 to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which he helped form three years earlier. SNCC, pronounced “snick,” had quickly become a kind of advance guard of the movement, helping organize sit-ins and demonstrations throughout the South.

Within weeks of taking over SNCC, Mr. Lewis was in the Oval Office with five nationally known black leaders, including King, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins.

Labeled the “Big Six” by the press, they rejected President John F. Kennedy’s request to cancel the March on Washington planned for that August that promised to lure hundreds of thousands of protesters to the doorstep of the White House to push for strong civil rights legislation. The president argued that the march would inflame tensions with powerful Southern politicians and set back the cause of civil rights.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his aspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. Lewis, at 23 the youngest speaker, gave a prescient warning: “If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington. . . . We must say, ‘Wake up, America, wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.”

The toughest of the major addresses, Mr. Lewis’s text had in fact been toned down earlier that day at the behest of his seniors — including King, his mentor. They feared that explicit condemnation of the Kennedy administration’s timidity and the threat of a “scorched earth” approach would create a political backlash. (With the death of Mr. Lewis, all of the speakers from the March are now deceased.)

Retropolis: At the 1963 March on Washington, civil rights leaders asked John Lewis to tone his speech down

The contrast with his elders symbolized Mr. Lewis’s unusual role in those tumultuous years. At critical moments, he rebuffed their advice to give legislation or litigation more time. Handcuffs and truncheons never dulled his belief in confrontation. Yet he stoutly opposed the militant black nationalists such as Stokely Carmichael who would later take over SNCC.

As the last survivor of the “Big Six,” Mr. Lewis was the one who kept striving for black-white amity. Time magazine included him in a 1975 list of “living saints” headed by Mother Teresa. With only mild hyperbole, the New Republic in 1996 called him “the last integrationist.”

Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the civil rights movement who had known Mr. Lewis since the mid-60s, said in an interview, “His most distinguishing mark was steadfastness. He showed lifelong fidelity to the idea of one man, one vote — democracy as the defining purpose of the United States.

“John Lewis saw racism as a stubborn gate in freedom’s way, but if you take seriously the democratic purpose, whites as well as blacks benefit,” Branch added. “And he became a rather lonely guardian of nonviolence.”

On Inauguration Day 2009, Obama, the country’s first black president, gave Mr. Lewis a photo with the inscription: “Because of you, John.” It joined a memorabilia collection that included the pen President Lyndon B. Johnson handed him after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Ironically, Mr. Lewis had backed the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in the nominating contest’s early days because of a personal bond with both Clintons. But he switched allegiance once Obama gained some traction.

Bloody Sunday

Passage of the Voting Rights Act, which provided incisors for the 15th Amendment 95 years after its enactment, is the Lewis saga’s richest chapter, what he called “the highlight of my involvement in the movement.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act was beneficial in terms of public accommodations and employment, but its voting provision was ineffective.

Civil rights workers were attacked frequently, occasionally fatally. Torching and dynamiting of black churches were rising. Perpetrators, though often known, went unpunished. Local registrars continued to bar blacks. Only if black citizens could vote in large numbers, civil rights leaders believed, would Deep South officials enforce laws.

But Johnson told King in December 1964 that Congress, dominated by old-line Southern lawmakers, would reject new legislation.

Both SNCC and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) decided to step up organizing in Selma, Ala. Black residents there constituted half the population, but only 1 percent could vote.

Weeks of demonstrations produced only confrontations with police. During one set-to, an officer shot an unarmed local resident. In the aftermath, an SCLC staffer proposed a large protest march, from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery.

King was in Atlanta, where his senior advisers persuaded him to stay. The SNCC executive committee, increasingly resentful of SCLC’s dominance, voted to avoid the event. But SNCC Chairman Lewis would not allow himself to abstain. That decision, he said later, “would change the course of my life.”

March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday. With the SCLC’s Hosea Williams, Mr. Lewis led 600 people to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Selma’s outskirts. There, police and mounted “posse men” — deputized civilians — blocked them.

Ordered to disperse, the procession held its ground. The troopers charged. Network cameras filmed police in gas masks brutalizing unarmed men, women and children, many dressed for church. Millions that night saw police using clubs and tear gas chasing terrified civilians. Mr. Lewis, his skull fractured, went to the hospital along with 77 others.

“I remember how vivid the sounds were as the troopers rushed toward us,” he wrote in his memoir, co-authored with Michael D’Orso. “The clunk of the troopers’ heavy boots, the whoops of rebel yells from the white onlookers, the clip-clop of horses’ hoofs hitting the hard asphalt, the voice of a woman shouting, ‘Get ’em!’ ”

Bloody Sunday pricked the national psyche deeply. When King called for reinforcements for a second march to take place on March 9, which he would lead, hundreds of volunteers, white and black, hurried to Selma. A white minister was beaten and killed by segregationists.

Meanwhile, Johnson had an epiphany. Widespread revulsion was so keen that strong voting rights legislation would be politically feasible after all. The president announced the details to a joint session of Congress on March 15, equating Selma’s significance with that of Lexington, Concord and Appomattox.

When Johnson signed the bill Aug. 6, Mr. Lewis viewed it as “the end of a very long road.” It was also the beginning of the process that extended the franchise to Southern blacks, including Mr. Lewis’s mother, who had opposed her son’s activism.

The bigger revolt

John Robert Lewis was born Feb. 21, 1940, near Troy, Ala., the third of 10 children of Eddie Lewis and the former Willie Mae Carter. Tenant farmers for generations, they saved enough money to buy their own 100 acres in 1944.

John — called Preacher because he sermonized chickens — was the odd child out. He loved books and hated guns. He never hunted small game with other kids. His petition for access to the Pike County library went unanswered.

“White kids went to high school, Negroes to training school,” Mr. Lewis told the New York Times in 1967. “You weren’t supposed to aspire. We couldn’t take books from the public library. And I remember when the county paved rural roads, they went 15 miles out of their way to avoid blacktopping our Negro farm roads.”

College seemed impossible until the family learned of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. Aspiring black preachers willing to take campus jobs could attend free.

He arrived determined to perfect his “whooping” — preaching at a high emotional pitch — but he soon found the pull of social activism irresistible. With other Nashville students, he came under the influence of a Vanderbilt graduate student, James Lawson, who had been imprisoned for refusing military service during the Korean War.

Years later, Mr. Lewis successfully applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam conflict and broke with Johnson over the war issue earlier than the other “Big Six” leaders.

In ad hoc workshops, Lawson taught “New Testament pacifism” (how to love rather than strike the enemy tormenting you) and Gandhi-style civil disobedience (staying calm when punched in the head).

These lessons mattered in 1960 as the Nashville Student Movement conducted sit-ins aimed at forcing retailers to allow black customers to use the stores’ eateries. Mr. Lewis experienced his first arrest when police collared the quiet young demonstrators, not the roughnecks who had been knocking them off stools.

As the Nashville campaign broadened to include other targets, Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s legal lion, delivered a lecture at Fisk University in Nashville, advising restraint. Don’t go to jail, he suggested. Let the NAACP go to court.

Mr. Lewis was appalled. Marshall’s admonitions, he said, “convinced me more than ever that our revolt was as much against this nation’s traditional black leadership structure as it was against racial segregation and discrimination.” The students ultimately prevailed in Nashville.

King wanted to blend the Nashville activists and counterparts elsewhere into an SCLC youth auxiliary. But Lawson argued that SCLC was too cautious. Discussions on the issue led to SNCC’s creation in 1960. Mr. Lewis was an enthusiastic recruit.

Even before Mr. Lewis graduated in 1961 with his preacher’s certificate, he no longer aspired to the ministry. With other SNCC members from Nashville, he volunteered to join an older group, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), in riding inter-state buses throughout the South. The Supreme Court had already ruled that depots could not be segregated, but that decision was being ignored.

The “Freedom Rides” aroused fierce resistance. Arsonists torched buses in Anniston, Ala., and Birmingham. In several cities, police either looked the other way while crowds beat the riders or arrested the so-called “outside agitators.” Violence became so serious that CORE withdrew.

The SNCC contingent refused to quit. Mr. Lewis, who absorbed his share of bruises and arrests, wound up spending 22 days in Parchman Farm, a Mississippi penitentiary infamous for primitive conditions. But the Freedom Rides drew national attention to the desegregation campaign and attracted recruits. And the Kennedy administration began formal implementation of the Supreme Court decision.

SNCC gained prominence and confidence in its strategy. “We now meant to push,” Mr. Lewis recalled. “We meant to provoke.”

But the group suffered growing pains, including unstable leadership. In June 1963, SNCC’s third chairman resigned suddenly. Mr. Lewis came to Atlanta for an emergency meeting. It ended with his election as chairman.

Chronically broke, SNCC paid its chairman $10 a week plus rent for a dingy apartment. Mr. Lewis would hold the post for three years — longer than anyone else — but tensions scarred his experience. Continued attacks on blacks in the South, growing unrest in northern ghettos and the fact that mainstream leaders declined to break with Lyndon Johnson combined to strengthen SNCC’s separatist element.

Carmichael, that faction’s charismatic leader, preached black nationalism and criticized Mr. Lewis as too measured and accommodating, a “little Martin Luther King.” In 1966, Carmichael (who later renamed himself Kwame Ture) was chosen chairman. SNCC’s white members were shunted aside and urged to leave. Even 30 years later, Mr. Lewis would say of his ouster: “It hurt me more than anything I’ve ever been through.”

Mr. Lewis eventually returned to Atlanta to join the Southern Regional Council, which sponsored community development. In 1968, he joined Robert Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, as a liaison to minorities. He was with the entourage in Los Angeles when Kennedy was assassinated.

Although the murder devastated him, campaigning had sharpened Mr. Lewis’s interest in seeking public office. So did his marriage, later that year, to Lillian Miles, a librarian by profession and a political junkie by avocation. She was one of his principal advisers until her death in 2012.

Survivors include a son, John-Miles Lewis.

‘Off-the-charts liberal’ 

Mr. Lewis was serving as executive director of the Southern Regional Council’s Atlanta-based Voter Education Project, which helped register millions of blacks, when he ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House seat in 1977. The position had been vacated when Rep. Andrew Young was tapped by President Jimmy Carter to become ambassador to the United Nations.

Carter subsequently named Mr. Lewis associate director of ACTION, then the umbrella agency of the Peace Corps, VISTA and smaller antipoverty programs. Mr. Lewis headed the domestic division.

His enthusiasm for the assignment cooled when he concluded that the White House was indifferent to VISTA’s mission. He also refused to take sides when Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) challenged Carter’s renomination in 1980. His neutrality irked both camps.

Mr. Lewis resigned in 1979, returning to Atlanta determined to enter politics. He won a city council seat in 1981, part of that body’s first black majority. His initial gambit — to tighten the council’s ethics code — evoked angry resistance.

He cemented his contrarian image by opposing a major road project, arguing that it would disrupt residential neighborhoods and worsen pollution. The road’s backers, including a group of black clergy, gave the controversy a racial tinge. Opposition to the program, the ministers’ leaflet said, was “a vote against the [black] mayor and the black community.”

It was a familiar situation. “Once again,” Mr. Lewis observed in his memoir, “I was accused of not being black enough.” The project, reduced in scale, was approved. The cost for Mr. Lewis: outsider status throughout his five years on the council.

In 1986, when Mr. Lewis again sought the 5th Congressional District Democratic nomination, his opponent was State Sen. Julian Bond, once SNCC’s publicist. Bond was considered the prohibitive favorite.

Tall, handsome and charismatic, Bond was a celebrity. “Saturday Night Live” had him as a guest host. Cosmopolitan magazine anointed him one of America’s 10 sexiest men. He was a lecture circuit star. Profiles described Mr. Lewis as squat, scowling, wooden, humorless.

Atlanta’s black establishment flocked to Bond. So did prominent outsiders, including then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry, comedian Bill Cosby, actress Cicely Tyson and Edward Kennedy.

Mr. Lewis campaigned tirelessly, urging that citizens “vote for the tugboat, not the showboat.” He won by four percentage points because whites — particularly Jews — gave him overwhelming support. The acrid campaign corroded his once-strong friendship with Bond.

When Mr. Lewis arrived on Capitol Hill, the New York Times observed wryly that he was one of the few members “who must deal with the sainthood issue.”

Mr. Lewis was a nominal member of the Democratic leadership as senior chief deputy whip, but he was rarely involved in nose counting or legislative detail. Former representative Alan Wheat (D-Mo.), a colleague in the Congressional Black Caucus, said in an interview, “John’s biggest strength in the House was to motivate people, to gather impetus for key measures. He used his standing as a cultural icon for good causes, never for personal benefit.”

On both social and economic issues, Mr. Lewis lived up to the label he put on himself: “off-the-charts liberal.” Like other members of the Black Caucus, he consistently opposed domestic spending cuts. But he was just as vehement in his opposition to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, although many blacks — particularly Georgians — disagreed.

Unlike some other black notables, Mr. Lewis refused to participate in Louis Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March in Washington. He also denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic rants. When needled about racial loyalty, Mr. Lewis liked to say, “I follow my conscience, not my complexion.”

In 2010, Obama awarded Mr. Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. He continued to say that his conscience demanded that he teach young people the legacy of the civil rights movement. In 2013, he began a trilogy in comic book form called “March.” When a former supporter of the Ku Klux Klan named Elwin Wilson popped out of history in 2009, asking forgiveness for having severely beaten then-Freedom Rider Lewis in 1961 at a Greyhound bus station in Rock Hill, S.C., Mr. Lewis took him on three TV shows to show that “love is stronger than hate.”

He revisited the Edmund Pettus Bridge on anniversaries of Bloody Sunday, often accompanied by political leaders of both parties. “Barack Obama,” he mused, “is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

Article of the Day: July 14, 2020

As a former teacher (21 years), grandparent of school children, and father of a teacher, I believe it is imperative we follow expert scientific advice to protect those in schools. It is unconscionable that this should be politicized.

We ran the CDC. No president ever politicized its science the way Trump has.

The administration is undermining public health

David Satcher

President Trump participates in a roundtable on law enforcement Monday at the White House.
President Trump participates in a roundtable on law enforcement Monday at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

As America begins the formidable task of getting our kids back to school and all of us back to work safely amid a pandemic that is only getting worse, public health experts face two opponents: covid-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk.

As of this date, the CDC guidelines, which were designed to protect children, teachers, school staffers and their families — no matter the state and no matter the politics — have not been altered. It is not unusual for CDC guidelines to be changed or amended during a clearance process that moves through multiple agencies and the White House. But it is extraordinary for guidelines to be undermined after their release. Through last week, and into Monday, the administration continued to cast public doubt on the agency’s recommendations and role in informing and guiding the nation’s pandemic response. On Sunday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos characterized the CDC guidelines as an impediment to reopening schools quickly rather than what they are: the path to doing so safely. The only valid reason to change released guidelines is new information and new science — not politics.

One of the many contributions the CDC provides our country is sound public health guidance that states and communities can adapt to their local context — expertise even more essential during a pandemic, when uncertainty is the norm. The four of us led the CDC over a period of more than 15 years, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence.

We can reopen schools in the fall — if we close bars and gyms now

The CDC is home to thousands of experts who for decades have fought deadly pathogens such as HIV, Zika and Ebola. Despite the inevitable challenges of evolving science and the public’s expectation of certainty, these are the people best positioned to help our country emerge from this crisis as safely as possible. Unfortunately, their sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity. These efforts have even fueled a backlash against public health officials across the country: Public servants have been harassedthreatened and forced to resign when we need them most. This is unconscionable and dangerous.

We’re seeing the terrible effect of undermining the CDC play out in our population. Willful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths. America now stands as a global outlier in the coronavirus pandemic. This tragic indictment of our efforts is even more egregious in light of the disproportionate impact we’ve witnessed on communities of color and lower-income essential workers. China, using the same mitigation tools available to us and with a far larger population, has had just a tiny fraction of the 3.1 million cases reported here. The United States now has more cases and deaths than any other country and the sixth-highest rate of any large country in the world — and we are gaining on the other five. The United States is home to a quarter of the world’s reported coronavirus infections and deaths, despite being home to only 4.4 percent of the global population.

Sadly, we are not even close to having the virus under control. Quite the opposite, in fact.

That’s what makes it hard to plan for schools. Any parent with a young child knows that classrooms, cafeterias and school buses are petri dishes for the common cold and the flu, even in normal times. And although children are at lower risk for serious illness and death from covid-19, the same is not true for the adults who work in schools, nor for the families children and school staffers go home to each evening. We must pay careful attention to safer school policies, including those the CDC released, to do everything we can to reopen our schools — and our economy — as safely as possible. This cannot happen equitably without additional federal and state resources to ensure that every school district — no matter the Zip code — can take the necessary measures to protect children, teachers and staffers. Black, Latino and Native American communities have suffered disproportionately during the first six months of the pandemic. We cannot let this same tragedy unfold this fall in our schools. The CDC’s guidance is a call for all of our nation to work together so as many schools as possible can reopen as safely as possible. This will mean wearing masks correctly, increasing distance — including by closing bars and restaurants in many places — and tracking and stopping the spread of the virus by supporting patients and protecting contacts.

Trying to fight this pandemic while subverting scientific expertise is like fighting blindfolded. How well and how quickly we adhere to the advice of public health experts at the CDC will determine whether, how soon and how safely our schools can reopen.

It is not too late to give the CDC its proper role in guiding this response. But the clock is ticking.

The CDC is our best defense against pandemics. It needs reform — now.

Trump’s covid-19 inaction killed Americans. Here’s a counter that shows how many. 

To DeVos, the virus is an excuse to strip public money from public schools

Article of the Day: July 11, 2020


Robert Mueller: Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so

Roger Stone, former adviser to President Trump, leaves following a court hearing in Washington last year. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)By Robert S. Mueller IIIJULY 11, 2020    Add to list

Robert S. Mueller III served as special counsel for the Justice Department from 2017 to 2019.

The work of the special counsel’s office — its report, indictments, guilty pleas and convictions — should speak for itself. But I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so. 

Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy. It was critical that they be investigated and understood. By late 2016, the FBI had evidence that the Russians had signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic candidate. And the FBI knew that the Russians had done just that: Beginning in July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen by Russian military intelligence officers from the Clinton campaign. Other online personas using false names — fronts for Russian military intelligence — also released Clinton campaign emails.

Following FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination in May 2017, the acting attorney general named me as special counsel and directed the special counsel’s office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The order specified lines of investigation for us to pursue, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. One of our cases involved Stone, an official on the campaign until mid-2015 and a supporter of the campaign throughout 2016. Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers. Default Mono Sans Mono Serif Sans Serif Comic Fancy Small CapsDefault X-Small Small Medium Large X-Large XX-LargeDefault Outline Dark Outline Light Outline Dark Bold Outline Light Bold Shadow Dark Shadow Light Shadow Dark Bold Shadow Light BoldDefault Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%Default Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%Opinion | The Mueller report is riddled with Trump’s lies and manipulation

We now have a detailed picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s office identified two principal operations directed at our election: hacking and dumping Clinton campaign emails, and an online social media campaign to disparage the Democratic candidate. We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel — Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts. 

Uncovering and tracing Russian outreach and interference activities was a complex task. The investigation to understand these activities took two years and substantial effort. Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands. 

Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts. 

We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.

Political Article of the Day: July 9, 2020

Trump Wants a Backlash. Can He Whip One Into Shape?

Inevitably, the electorate’s response to the George Floyd protests has begun to run along familiar ideological fault lines.

By Thomas B. EdsallJuly 1, 2020

People protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality at Times Square in New York on June 7th.
People protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality at Times Square in New York on June 7th.Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

The public response to the demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd is now beginning to take shape more clearly along familiar ideological lines — in ways that are likely to propel politics this year and beyond, dividing left and right as Democrats and Republicans take opposing stands on the efficacy and even the legitimacy of this year’s protests against racism.

The New York Times-Siena College poll of 1,337 registered voters conducted June 17-22, for example, found that among Democrats, 89 percent had a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter, including 74 percent whose views were “strongly favorable.”

In contrast, 36 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Black Lives Matter, with 12 percent strongly favorable. Fully half of Republicans hold an unfavorable view of the movement, compared with 8 percent of Democrats.

When voters were asked by the NYT-Siena pollsters to choose between two statements about the George Floyd protests — either “I support the demonstrations because they’re mainly peaceful protests with an important message” or “I oppose the demonstrations because too many have turned to violent rioting” — Democrats supported the protests 82-15, while Republicans opposed them, 68-25.

What these numbers tell us is that the demonstrations, and the electorate’s reaction to them, will play a key role in the 2020 election.

In a June 12 survey, Pew Research reported that “Republicans and Democrats have vastly different views on the factors underlying the protests”: 80 percent of Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party say that “anger over Floyd’s death after his arrest by police and tensions between Black people and the police have each contributed a great deal to the protests.”

At the same time, “much smaller majorities (59 percent) of Republicans and Republican leaners say anger over Floyd’s death contributed a great deal” and that “tensions between police and Black people (57 percent) contributed a great deal” to the protests.

An even wider gap emerged in partisan responses to a question asking whether “longstanding concerns about the treatment of Black people in the country” contributed a great deal to the protests. 84 percent of Democrats agreed compared with 45 percent of Republicans.”

Republicans also took a far more negative view of the motivation of the many large groups of diverse protesters.

82 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that “some people taking advantage of the situation in order to engage in criminal behavior” was a major factor in the protests, more than double the 39 percent of Democrats who agreed.

There is a range of perspectives among scholars over who the protesters are, especially the white participants.

Joel Kotkin of Chapman University and the author of “The Coming of Neo-Feudalism,” and Michael Lind of the University of Texas and the author of “The New Class War,” take divergent positions.

In an article posted on June 10, “The Rebellion of America’s New Underclass,” Kotkin wrote:

The underlying causes of our growing civic breakdown go beyond the brutal police killing of George Floyd. Particularly in our core cities, our dysfunction is a result of our increasingly large, and increasingly multiracial, class of neo-serfs.

Kotkin elaborates: “Today’s serf class consists of the permanently marginalized — like the peasants of feudal times, these people are unlikely to move to a higher station,” and this class encompasses

many of our young people, white and otherwise, who appear to have little or no hope of attaining the usual milestones of entry into the middle class — gaining a useful and marketable skill, starting a small business, or buying a home or other property.

In a June 2 essay, published on the Tablet website, Lind sketches out another group of protesters he sees as a key component of the new metropolitan left:

The children of the white urban elite — some of them downwardly mobile for life, some of them just going through the underpaid intern phase of professional careers — have colonized rowhouses where workers once lived and have converted former factories and warehouses into settings for la vie bohème.

Lind continues:

This group of 20- and 30-somethings in the new urban bohemia are the constituency for the new progressive left. Children of the managerial overclass join the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and engage in purges and cancellations on Twitter and move to Brooklyn on allowances from their parents.

Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has been conducting detailed surveys of the demonstrators, presented a more nuanced view of the protesters in an email:

First and foremost, protest participants are highly educated. Over 62 percent reported a B.A. or higher at every protest where we surveyed,” although she acknowledges that they “may be feeling economic anxiety since they tend to be entering adulthood during the current economic crisis — the median age of protesters is 30 or younger depending on the day and location.

According to her surveys, conducted by interviewing every fifth person encountered at demonstrations, “more than 60 percent reported voting in primaries earlier this year, double the average for all voters, and many report contacting an elected official in the past year,” a strong signal of political engagement.

Fisher’s data from three days of polling in the District of Columbia showed that 52.9 percent of the protesters were white; 25 percent were Black; just over 10 percent were Asian-American and just under 4 percent were Hispanic. A quarter were 24 or younger.

The demonstrations have proved to be a highly effective tool for energizing young voters in behalf of Democratic candidates, especially Joe Biden, who has struggled to win over voters under the age of 45, many of whom supported other candidates during the primaries, Bernie Sanders in particular. In an articleposted June 28 at Business Insider, Fisher wrote that in studying the demonstrators:

Every single person surveyed at events in Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles over the past month reported that they would be supporting Joe Biden in the election. In fact, not one respondent reported that they would vote for Donald Trump.

There are some red flags for Democrats in Fisher’s data.

Fisher wrote that 60 to 65 percent of the demonstrators agreed with the statement “some level of violence is justified in the pursuit of political goals.”

“These numbers are in stark contrast to data collected at the March for Racial Justice in 2017,” when just 40 percent agreed some level of violence is justified, she wrote, “suggesting that in less than three years, the people who participate in protests about racial justice in the US have changed their opinions substantially.”

The views of protesters concerning the legitimacy of violence stand in contrast to the views of voters taken as a whole.

Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 72 percent of those polled disagreed with the statement “more violent protests and unrest are an appropriate response to the killing of an unarmed man by police,” including a solid majority of Democrats.

An even larger percentage (79), including 77 percent of Democrats, agreed with the statement: “The property damage caused by some protesters undermines the original protest’s case for justice.”

The Times/Siena survey asked voters whether they support or oppose “reducing funding to police departments,” a less extreme step than the call among some demonstrators to “defund the police.”

Nearly two thirds of voters polled, 63 percent, opposed reduction of funding of police departments, including 50 percent who said they “strongly oppose” such actions.

What makes these issues even more potentially polarizing, going into the 2020 election, is that there has been an increase in violent crime, especially homicide and shooting incidents, in the weeks since George Floyd was killed, in some of the cities experiencing sustained protests and anti-police demonstrations. These cities include Los AngelesAtlantaNew York and Chicago.

Donald Trump is already running ads online and on TV attempting to capitalizeon these trends. One spot shows looters and burning buildings while the words “Joe Biden fails to stand up to the radical left” appear on the screen. Another Trump ad that ran on Facebook warned: “Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem.”

Trump’s Twitter feed, in turn, continues to serve as a weapon in his drive to demonize Democrats and the left, Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post notedon June 30:

As the country convulses from incidents of police killings, mass protests and a rapidly spreading pandemic that has led to double-digit unemployment, the president seems most intent on inflaming an already burning culture war, using his Twitter feed to focus on vandalism by protesters and the well-being of statues that have been targeted.

At the end of May, the Trump campaign and allied committees had $259.1 million in the bank, twice as much as the $122.1 million available to Biden’s campaign.

Given the degree of voter polarization — especially in the context of a surging coronavirus and jarring economic upheaval — the outcome of the 2020 election is likely to be determined by factors other than money, perhaps most importantly by the success or failure of the George Floyd demonstrators in retaining unforeseen levels of public sympathy.

So far, Trump’s attempt to focus public attention on the looting, burning and sometimes indiscriminate toppling of statues has been outdone by the emergence of an ever longer list of African-American victims of police brutality, by new videos of police violence, much of it collected by T. Greg Doucette, a lawyer in North Carolina, and by the filing of murder charges on June 17 against an Atlanta police officer in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

For the moment, the electorate appears to be less racist than it was in 2016, and notably less comfortable with racism.

Nonetheless, Henry Louis Gates Jr, a university professor at Harvard and the director of the Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research there, warned in an interview that

Racism has been part of America’s cultural DNA since before the ink dried on the Constitution. Dominant in some and recessive in others, it’s a gene that has mutated over time yet remains part of the inheritance weighing us down, one generation to the next. The damage it has done is systemic and goes all the way down to the cellular level.

Traditionally, it has been the Democratic Party that was most vulnerable to fracture over race, racism, crime and family dysfunction. But this year, as my Times colleague Adam Nagourney pointed out on June 29 in “Trump’s Self-Inflicted Wound: Losing Swing Voters As He Plays to His Base,” the susceptibility to division is also a Republican problem: “Mr. Trump’s focus on his base at the expense of swing voters,” Nagourney wrote, “is almost certainly not enough to win him a second term.”

The key group, Nagourney continued, is the nine percent of the electorate identified in the Times/Siena poll as undecided, but these voters may be out of reach:

They, like much of the country, hold unfavorable views of Mr. Trump’s job performance, and particularly his response to the pandemic and to the demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.

Across the country, significant support has emerged for broad efforts to combat police brutality and racism, but that support is not monolithic. The current tilt in favor of the demonstrators is likely to face concerted, ugly pushback from Trump and his minions — and there are four long months to go before the election.

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