The last time I was in Russia, the summer of 2015, I came face to face with a contradiction. What if a place was unfree, but also happy? How long could it stay that way?
Moscow had blossomed into a beautiful, European city, full of meticulously planted parks, bike lanes and parking spaces. Income for the average Russian had risen significantly over the course of the previous decade. At the same time, its political system was drifting ever closer to authoritarianism.
Fifteen years earlier, Boris Yeltsin had left power in shame, apologizing on national television “for having failed to justify the hopes of the people who believed that we would be able to make a leap from the gloomy and stagnant totalitarian past to a bright, prosperous and civilized future at just one go.”
By the summer of 2015, his successor, President Vladimir V. Putin, had seemingly made Russia bright and prosperous. The political system he built was increasingly restrictive, but many had learned to live with it.
sentencing of her friend Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s popular opposition leader, who used his allotted time to give a speech against the war.
Ahmed Shah Massoud on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Putin had to clear the field of opponents.
Greg Yudin, a professor of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, argues it was the political opposition’s success, which began to accelerate in 2018 and 2019, that tipped Mr. Putin toward war.
Professor Yudin said it was inconceivable to Mr. Putin that there could be people inside Russia who wanted the best for their country, yet were against him. So he looked for traitors and nursed an obsession with the idea that the West was after him.
OVD-Info, a human rights group, substantially higher than in the protests in 2012, when about 5,000 people were detained over 12 months, said Ms. Arkhipova, who studied that movement.
Ms. Albats has stayed and is angry at Russian liberals who have not.
The message, she said, is that “Russian liberals, they don’t have any tolerance for any problems.” She added, “They just run away.”
argues that Russia is moving out of authoritarianism — where political passivity and civic disengagement are key features — into totalitarianism, which relies on mass mobilization, terror and homogeneity of beliefs. He believes Mr. Putin is on the brink, but may hesitate to make the shift.
“In a totalitarian system, you have to release free energy to start terror,” he said. Mr. Putin, he said, “is a control freak, used to micromanagement.”
However, if the Russian state starts to fail, either through a collapse of Russia’s economy or a complete military defeat in Ukraine, “unleashing terror will be the only way for him to save himself.”
Which is why the current situation is so dangerous, for Ukraine and for people in Russia opposed Mr. Putin.
“Putin is so convinced that he cannot afford to lose, that he will escalate,” Professor Yudin said. “He has staked everything on it.”
LVIV, Ukraine — Russian forces stepped up their campaign of bombardments aimed at devastating Ukraine’s cities and towns on Saturday, as the White House announced it was sending an additional $200 million in arms and equipment to help Ukraine, defying Moscow.
Soldiers fought street-by-street battles in a leafy suburb of Kyiv, the nation’s capital, and some residents wept as they dragged belongings across a destroyed bridge, trying to escape the violence. Russian forces detained the mayor of a captured city, an act that prompted hundreds of outraged residents to pour into the streets in protest.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Moscow of terrorizing the country in an attempt to break the will of the people. “A war of annihilation,” he called it.
He said an estimated 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the war, the first time the government had offered the number of its own soldiers killed.
Mr. Zelensky denounced what he called the kidnapping of the mayor — who had refused to cooperate with Russian troops after they seized his city — as “a new stage of terror, when they are trying to physically eliminate representatives of the legitimate local Ukrainian authorities.”
Russian forces have not achieved a major military victory since the first days of the invasion more than two weeks ago, and the assaults reinforced Moscow’s strategic turn toward increasingly indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets.
The American announcement of more arms for Ukraine’s military, including missiles for taking out warplanes and tanks, came just hours after Russia warned that convoys used for the “thoughtless transfer” of weapons to Ukraine would be “legitimate targets” for Russian forces.
Unable to mount a quick takeover of the country by air, land and sea, Russian troops have deployed missiles, rockets and bombs to destroy apartment buildings, schools, factories and hospitals, increasing civilian carnage and suffering, and leading more than 2.5 million people to flee the country.
The suffering has been particularly devastating in the besieged city of Mariupol, which is experiencing “the worst humanitarian catastrophe on the planet,” according to Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
At least 1,582 civilians have died since the Russian siege of Mariupol began 12 days ago, he said, and residents are struggling to survive and have been forced to bury the dead in mass graves.
“There is no drinking water and any medication for more than one week, maybe even 10 days,” a staff member who works for Doctors Without Borders in Mariupol said in an audio recording released by the organization on Saturday.
“We saw people who died because of lack of medication, and there are a lot of such people inside Mariupol,” the staff member said.
During a 90-minute call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France urged Mr. Putin to accept an immediate cease-fire, according to the French government, which described the talks as “frank” and “difficult.”
France said that Mr. Putin showed no willingness to stop the war, and said he “placed the responsibility for the conflict on Ukraine” and sounded “determined to attain his objectives.”
In its summary of the call, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin had discussed “several matters relating to agreements being drafted to meet the well-known Russian demands,” but did not specify those demands.
In the coming weeks, NATO, which has vowed to defend allied countries from any incursion by Russian forces, plans to gather 30,000 troops from 25 countries in Europe and North America in Norway to conduct live-fire drills and other cold-weather military exercises.
The exercises, which Norway hosts biannually, were announced more than eight months ago, NATO said, and are not linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which NATO said it was responding to with “preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory measures.”
But the training has taken on greater significance as Russia steps up its bombardment of Ukrainian population centers.
Around Kyiv, the capital, Russian forces have advanced into the suburbs but have been slowed by Ukrainian troops that have counterattacked with ambushes on armored columns. On Saturday, artillery fire intensified around Kyiv, with a low rumble heard in most parts of the city.
By Saturday, there were no indications of further efforts by the Russian army to move armored columns closer to the capital. Instead, soldiers appeared to be fighting for control of the towns along the highways that encircle it.
In Irpin, about three miles from Kyiv city limits, Ukrainian and Russian soldiers were fighting a street-by-street battle on Saturday, turning what was a quiet suburb just two weeks ago into a suburban battleground.
“We are trying to push them back but we don’t control the town,” said Vitaly, a Ukrainian soldier who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons.
He had taken up a position outside what would once have been an unlikely spot for combat: a gas station mini-market, its windows blown out by shelling, on the city’s western edge. Irpin is his hometown, and he joined the volunteer forces called the Territorial Defense Forces to try to protect it just two weeks ago.
He described Irpin’s Unity Street as Ukrainian-controlled; Central Street as a no-man’s land, exposed to both Ukrainian and Russian forces; and University Street as taken by Russian forces.
But the situation was fluid. Ukrainian soldiers had a “little island” around a shopping center near the city center, he said, but otherwise it wasn’t always clear who was where.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, residents awoke on Saturday morning to the sounds of a fierce battle hours after Russian shells hit several civilian areas, damaging a cancer hospital and sending residents fleeing into bomb shelters.
The early-morning fight was concentrated in the north of the city, said Col. Sviatoslav Stetsenko of the Ukrainian Army’s 59th Brigade, who was stationed near the front lines.
“They are changing their tactics,” Vitaliy Kim, the governor of the Mykolaiv region, said. “They are deploying in the villages and lodging in village schools and homes. We cannot shoot back. There are no rules now. We will have to be more brutal with them.”
For nearly two weeks, Russian forces have been trying to surround Mykolaiv and cross the Southern Buh River, which flows through the city and is a natural defense against a Russian push toward the west and Odessa, the Black Sea port that appears to be a prime Russian objective.
Russian forces had not crossed the river as of Saturday morning, Colonel Stetsenko said, but “they are continuing to shell Mykolaiv.”
In Melitopol, Russian troops on Friday forced a hood over the mayor’s head and dragged him from a government building, according to Ukrainian officials, prompting hundreds of residents to demonstrate in the streets.
“Return the mayor!” the protesters shouted, according to witnesses and videos. “Free the mayor!”
But nearly as soon as the demonstrators gathered, Russian military personnel moved to shut them down, arresting a woman who they said had organized the protest, according to two witnesses and the woman’s Facebook account.
The episode was part of what Ukrainian officials said was an escalating pattern of intimidation and repression. It also illustrated a problem that Russia is likely to face even if it manages to pummel cities and towns into submission: In at least some of the few cities and towns that Russia has managed to seize — mostly in the south and east — they are facing popular unrest and revolt.
Mr. Zelensky sought to tap into public rage in an address to the nation overnight.
“The whole country saw that Melitopol did not surrender to the invaders,” he said. “Just as Kherson, Berdyansk and other cities where Russian troops managed to enter didn’t.” He said that popular resistance “will not be changed by putting pressure on mayors or kidnapping mayors.”
Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fyodorov, had remained stubbornly defiant even after Russian soldiers took over the city after a fierce assault on the first day of the invasion. “We are not cooperating with the Russians in any way,” he had said.
Last weekend, with Mr. Fyodorov’s encouragement, people waving Ukrainian flags took to the streets of Melitopol and other occupied cities. For the most part, Russian soldiers stood aside, even as protesters commandeered a Russian armored vehicle in one town and drove it through the streets.
While the protests in Melitopol were quickly put down, the Ukrainian government renewed efforts to bring aid to Mariupol, dispatching dozens of buses with food and medicine, Ukrainian officials said.
Similar relief efforts had failed in recent days as fighting raged around the city and land mines pocked roads in the area. In an overnight address, Mr. Zelensky said that the inability to bring aid to the city showed that Russian troops “continue to torture our people, our Mariupol residents.”
Still, he said, “We will try again.”
Marc Santora reported from Lviv, Ukraine, Michael Schwirtz from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine; Eric Schmitt in Washington; Ivan Nechepurenko in Istanbul; Norimitsu Onishi in Paris; and Julie Turkewitz in Bogotá, Colombia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy makes a statement in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
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WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to American Jews for support on Monday with an unsparing account of Russian destruction in his country that he compared to the Nazi German army marching across Europe.
“This is just a pure Nazi behavior. I can’t even qualify this in any different manner,” Zelenskiy told an umbrellas group, the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, as he continued to press for more fighter planes from the West and a no-fly zone that NATO has so far rejected.
Zelenskiy ran through a list of the cities and towns he said had been destroyed by Russian forces, while outnumbered Ukrainians were fighting with everything they had, even when they had no weapons.
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“They are throwing themselves under the tanks – just for you to understand what’s happening here,” the Ukrainian leader, who is Jewish, said in a Zoom call.
The Russians are not letting people leave towns and cities they have attacked, are not allowing food and water to be brought in and are disconnecting the internet, television and electricity, he said.
“All of this happened during Nazi times,” he said. “The survival of the Ukrainian nation – the question will be the same as anti-semitism…. All of these millions of people are going to be exterminated.”
Zelenskiy said 13 people died in the bombing of a bakery in Kyiv on Monday and on Sunday, 50 children with cancer had to be moved after a missile hit a pediatric hospital in the city.
Russia calls the campaign it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and remove leaders it describes as neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its allies call this a pretext for an invasion to conquer the nation of 44 million.
The scope and scale of the Russian assault on his country was as unexpected and devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were for Americans, he said.
“They’re bombing the life out of everything that is moving,”
Zelenskiy told the group.
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Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
MEXICO CITY — At 49 years old and under five feet tall, Martha Izquierdo doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a TikTok influencer. But having survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, conquering social media was practically a cinch for this Mexican journalist.
Ms. Izquierdo, who lives in a small town in southern Oaxaca state, has amassed more than 600,000 followers on the social media platform, with her videos accumulating some 24 million likes.
What’s the message that has made her so popular in a time of pandemic and in a country experiencing record levels of violence?
“I started talking about issues that had to do with seeing life in a positive way,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “Confronting your fears, making people understand that each one of us is unique, irreplaceable.”
award-winning journalist with decades of reporting experience, Ms. Izquierdo is relatively new to social media stardom. As the pandemic began its assault on Mexico in 2020, she decided to open a TikTok account, where she goes by @marthaizquierdooficial.
a devastating toll on public health and the economy, Ms. Izquierdo offers her fans a dose of pure delight. And in a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbiamusic in her back yard, has made her extraordinary.
Her colorful outfits are part of her appeal, from traditional Oaxacan dresses to bikinis for the beach — the long scar from cancer surgery that slices across her belly proudly on display. But Ms. Izquierdo’s brand isn’t so much couture as confidence.
“If you have to start over, start over,” she said in one clip. “That’s what life is all about — never giving up.”
the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, reporting the news came with immense risks: Often, her work involved covering the cartel-fueled violence that has terrorized the country for decades.
In 2007, three newspaper sellers in a city near where she lived were killed, she recounted, by the violent Zetas cartel, whose assassins had mistaken their victims for journalists. When Ms. Izquierdo went to cover the killings, she received an ominous phone call saying she was next.
surrounded and detained by armed men. It was only when the army arrived that Ms. Izquierdo was released.
Still, despite continually confronting danger on the job, Ms. Izquierdo said her greatest challenge in life came when her partner of 18 years, who had been battling cancer and kidney problems, finally succumbed.
“I wanted to kill myself because I loved him so much that I stopped loving myself,” she said.
Then, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given eight months to live. Again, she thought about giving up.
But her friends and family convinced her to keep fighting. She underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, leaving her body scarred.
“I would cry in front of the mirror when I looked at myself because my body looked mutilated,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “I felt like Frankenstein.”
Eventually she defeated the cancer — but in 2017 it returned, this time in her stomach. In February of that year she had a heart attack.
After surviving a second heart attack months later, Ms. Izquierdo said everything changed. While unconscious, Ms. Izquierdo said she had a vision during which she heard her deceased partner’s voice telling her to go on living.
“If I came back to life it was for one purpose,” she said. “To keep living, to be happy, and to help other people with my life experience.”
It was that positive attitude that catapulted her to TikTok fame. But along with all the followers came the trolls, who called her overweight or unattractive. At first, the negative comments started getting to her; then, she decided to stop caring.
“When I was allowing myself to be affected by unfounded negative comments, I said to myself, ‘No — I love myself.’”
Before long, the number of negative comments started dropping, even as her followers increased. Watching haters change their attitude toward her, Ms. Izquierdo said, is what she considers one of the greatest achievements of her TikTok presence. That, and the messages she receives from fans telling her the effect she’s had on their lives.
A few weeks ago, one of those fans, Ms. Méndez, summoned the courage to contact her idol. The resulting phone conversation, she said, has turned her life around: She’s gone to see a specialist about losing weight and plans to start working out.
“I want to wake up dancing every morning like she does,” Ms. Méndez said. “She’s a woman worth her weight in gold.”
For Ms. Izquierdo, this kind of impact is the point of all her efforts.
“It’s all worth it if I can change someone who is facing a problem,” she said. “If I can make them smile.”
COPACENI, Romania — As a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashed over Eastern Europe last month, devastating unvaccinated populations, an Orthodox Church bishop in southern Romania offered solace to his flock: “Don’t be fooled by what you see on TV — don’t be scared of Covid.”
Most important, Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu told worshipers in this small Romanian town on Oct. 14, “don’t rush to get vaccinated.”
The bishop is now under criminal investigation by the police for spreading dangerous disinformation, but his anti-vaccine clarion call, echoed by prominent politicians, influential voices on the internet and many others, helps explain why Romania has in recent weeks reported the world’s highest per capita death rate from Covid-19.
On Tuesday, nearly 600 Romanians died, the most during the pandemic. The country’s death rate relative to population is almost seven times as high as the United States’, and almost 17 times as high as Germany’s.
Europe’s second-lowest vaccination rate; around 44 percent of adults have had at least one dose, ahead of only Bulgaria, at 29 percent. Overall, the European Union stands at 81 percent, with several countries above 90 percent. Complicating matters, Romania has been without a government since last month, when a centrist coalition unraveled.
some form of a vaccine requirement. Here’s a closer look.
As she spoke, a 66-year-old Covid patient, Nicu Paul, gasped for breath on a bed nearby. His wife, Maria, also suffering severe pulmonary problems from Covid, lay in the next bed. Mr. Paul said he had worked for 40 years as an ambulance driver and never gotten sick — “God saved me,” he said — so he decided against vaccination because “there are so many rumors about the vaccine that I did not know what to believe.”
Romania began vaccinating its citizens last December and put the program under the military, the country’s most respected institution, according to opinion polls. The second most trusted institution, however, is the Orthodox church, which has sent mixed signals on vaccines, with Patriarch Daniel in Bucharest telling people to make up their own minds and listen to doctors, while many local clerics and some influential bishops denounced vaccines as the Devil’s work.
Colonel Ghorghita said he had been shocked and mystified by the reach of anti-vaccination sentiment. “They really believe that vaccines are not the proper way to stop Covid,” he said, adding that this was despite the fact that “more than 90 percent of deaths are unvaccinated people.” Old people, the most vulnerable demographic, have been the hardest to convince, he said, with only 25 percent of people over 80 vaccinated.
In central Bucharest, huge signs display photographs of gravely ill patients in hospitals as part of a campaign to jolt people back to reality. “They are suffocating. They beg. They regret,” reads a caption.
Dr. Streinu-Cercel said she was uneasy with trying to reach people by scaring them. “We should be talking about science, not fear,” she said, but “fear is the only thing that got the attention of the general population.”
Distrust of just about everyone and everything is so deep, she said, that some of her patients “are gasping for breath but tell me that Covid does not exist.”
“It is very difficult when so many people are denying all reality,” she added.
At a vaccination center at her hospital, only a trickle of people pass through most days, though vaccines are free and increasingly necessary following new rules requiring vaccination certificates to enter many public buildings.
One of those getting vaccinated was Norica Gheorghe, 82. She said she had held off for months on getting a shot but decided to go ahead this past week after seeing reports that nearly 600 had died in one day. “My hair stood on end when I saw this number, and I decided that I should get vaccinated,” she said.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Covid disinformation in Romania mostly followed themes that found traction in many other countries, according to Alina Bargaoanu, a Bucharest communications professor who tracks disinformation, with people spreading wild conspiracy theories under fake names on Facebook and other social media.
But as the pandemic dragged on, she added, this largely fake virtual phenomenon morphed into a political movement driven by real people like Diana Sosoaca, an elected member of Romania’s upper house of Parliament. Ms. Sosoaca led a protest in the north of the country that blocked the opening of a vaccination center, denouncing the pandemic as “the biggest lie of the century,” and organized anti-mask rallies in Bucharest. Videos of her antics have attracted millions of views.
Ms. Bargaoanu, the disinformation researcher, said she suspected a Russian hand in spreading alarm over vaccines, but conceded that many of the most popular anti-vaccination conspiracy theories originate in the United States, making them particularly hard to debunk because “Romania is a very pro-American country.”
Colonel Ghorghita has taken to social media to rebut the more outlandish falsehoods, and also met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to ask them not to fan the flames of disinformation. “They don’t have a duty to recommend vaccination but they do have a duty not to recommend against it,” he said.
The Orthodox church is particularly important because of its strong influence in rural areas, where vaccination rates are half those in cities like Bucharest, where more than 80 percent of adults have received at least one shot.
In Copaceni, a rural county south of Bucharest, workers at a small clinic offering vaccines said they were appalled by Bishop Ambrose’s anti-vaccine tirades.
“I am fighting to get people vaccinated every day, and then he comes along and tells them not to bother,” said Balota Hajnalka, a doctor running the clinic.
Boryana Dzhambazova contributed reporting from Sofia, Bulgaria, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Rawiri Jansen, a Maori doctor, had an urgent message for the 150 people, mostly patch-wearing members of New Zealand’s plentiful street gangs and their families, who sat before him on a bright Saturday afternoon.
Covid is coming for them, he said. Cases in New Zealand’s hospitals are rising rapidly. Soon, dozens of new infections a day might be hundreds or even a thousand. People will die. And vaccination is the only defense. “When your doctors are scared, you should be scared,” he said.
By the end of the day, after an exhaustive question-and-answer session with other health professionals, roughly a third of those present chose to receive a dose then and there.
Having abandoned its highly successful “Covid-zero” elimination strategy in response to an outbreak of the Delta variant, New Zealand is now undergoing a difficult transition to trying to keep coronavirus cases as low as possible. On Friday, the country set a target of getting at least 90 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated — a goal, the highest in the developed world, whose success hinges on persuading people like those who gathered to hear Dr. Jansen.
intensely criticized, including by police leaders.
Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.
Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.
The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.
The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.
Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.
Chris Hipkins, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, acknowledged earlier this month that the decision to enlist gang leaders was an unusual one.
“Our No. 1 priority here is to stop Covid-19 in its tracks, and that means doing what we need to do to get in front of the virus,” he said. “Where we have been able to enlist gang leaders to help with that, and where they have been willing to do so, we have done that.”
Some gang leaders have acted independently to help the vaccination effort. They have connected members of their community to health officials, organized events with health professionals like Dr. Jansen, and streamed events on Facebook Live to allow an open forum for questions about rare health risks. In some cases, they have taken vaccines to communities themselves.
“Our community is probably less well informed; they’re probably not as health literate,” said Mr. Tam, the Mongrel Mob member, who is a former civil servant and who received the border exemption. Constant media criticism has turned them off from reading traditional news outlets, he added.
“They then resort to social media, because they have much greater control,” he said. “It’s also a space that perpetuates conspiracy theories and false information and all the rest of it.” Health advice has to come from trusted individuals and leaders in the community, he said.
In the past week, Mr. Tam has traveled almost the length of the country organizing pop-up vaccination events for members and their communities, as well as coordinating with other chapter leaders to get their members vaccinated, he said.
It was difficult work that put him at personal risk, he said, and that invited intense skepticism from people who thought of gangs only as violent or connected to organized crime.
“Why do we bother?” Mr. Tam said. “We bother because we care about those people that others don’t care about, as simple as that. They can talk about my gang affiliation, all the rest of it. But it’s that affiliation that allows me to have that penetration, that foot in the door. I can do the stuff that they can’t do.”
The transactions that created Chemours and reinvented DuPont laid the groundwork for a blame-shifting exercise that has made it difficult for regulators and others to hold anyone accountable for decades of contamination in North Carolina and elsewhere.
State attorneys general in Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York each sued the companies for having released toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil and for concocting a spinoff to shield DuPont from responsibility. Dutch prosecutors began criminally investigating Chemours for the use of PFOA at a factory in Dordrecht from 2008 to 2012, before Chemours was created.
Yet in courts, in the media and in public settings, DuPont and Chemours have used the spinoff to distance themselves from the problems.
In a court filing in Ohio, where the state has sued over pollution from the Washington Works factory on the West Virginia border, Chemours claimed that the contamination happened before “Chemours even came into existence.” In a securities filing this summer, Chemours stated that it “does not, and has never, used” PFOA. Yet Chemours continues to manufacture other versions of PFAS, including GenX.
DuPont adopted a similar stance. Because Chemours was independent and had assumed responsibility for Washington Works, DuPont claimed it had nothing to do with the pollution. In fact, DuPont insisted, because it was technically a new company, it had never even made the toxic substances in question.
In 2019, Chemours, deep in debt, sued DuPont. Chemours contended that the spinoff was conceived to get DuPont off the hook for its decades of pollution. According to the complaint, DuPont executives decided against a $60 million project that would have stopped Fayetteville Works from discharging chemicals into the Cape Fear River. Instead, DuPont executives made a $2 million change, which they abandoned shortly before they announced the Chemours spinoff.
The lawsuit asked, “Why bother spending money to fix the problem, DuPont apparently reasoned, when it could be conveniently passed on to Chemours?”
Andrea Jones hadn’t yet settled on a date to retire from her customer service job at United Airlines when Newark airport started looking like a ghost town in March 2020. After 28 years with the carrier, she still loved her work. But by the end of that month, she had hung up her blue uniform for the last time. She is still struggling with a sense of loss.
“I wasn’t at all ready to leave,” she said. “It hit me right between the eyes.”
Ms. Jones, 68, of East Windsor, N.J., retired to protect the health of her husband, George, who has multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Fortunately, the Joneses had a nest egg, and United offered a retirement package that enabled her to keep their health insurance.
Patricia Scott has not been so lucky. Ms. Scott, a special-education teacher in Stockton, Calif., retired in January to preserve her own health. A grandmother of 10, she survived breast cancer in 2016; her oncologist told her she couldn’t risk catching Covid-19 by returning to the classroom. Now, at age 66, she is on financial quicksand. “My income is half what it was,” she said. She is single and in debt. “I’m stressed, I’m depressed and I’m terrified.”
For many of the nearly three million workers ages 55 to 70 who have left their jobs since March 2020, retiring during the pandemic has inflicted two traumas. Like Ms. Jones and Ms. Scott, most felt they were forced out of work before they wanted to go, said Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics and policy analysis at the New School for Social Research. Among that subset, the majority, like Ms. Scott, were financially unprepared, Ms. Ghilarducci said.
research from the New School, far more older workers retired during the pandemic than during other recessions. After the 2008 financial crisis, for example, 1.9 million older workers left the labor force in the first three months of the recession. In the first three months of the pandemic last year, 2.9 million left the work force. The latest data shows that 1.7 million of the newer wave of retirees left despite financial uncertainty, Ms. Ghilarducci said.
Their departures generally were not a bid for a few extra years of bird-watching. “A lot of people were pushed out of their jobs,” Ms. Ghilarducci said; she attributed that push partly to age discrimination. “It used to be that employers would let the ones they just hired go first in a recession, but this time older people who have been in their jobs the longest have been hit hardest.”
Lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws was a factor, she said. So was what some employers saw as a rare opportunity created by the pandemic to get rid of older workers, who are perceived to be less productive and more expensive.
Regardless of the reason, the new army of reluctant retirees, disproportionately made up of Black workers and those who lack a college degree, according to June data from the New School, is in trouble. One key reason: Debt rates among Americans 65 and older are the highest they’ve ever been, Ms. Ghilarducci said. And they are likely to rise as more people are forced to draw down their assets to make ends meet. Collecting Social Security earlier than anticipated will add to their vulnerability, since claiming earlier will permanently reduce their benefits.
Even for people with a financial safety net, the hurdles can be significant. “There’s a lot of stress that comes with having retirement forced on you,” said Malcolm Ethridge, a financial adviser in Washington who has several newly out-of-work older clients. “It takes time to get past the disruption.”
Jovan Johnson, a certified financial planner in Atlanta, said Ms. Scott and others in her situation should start looking for a pro bono financial adviser who can help make sense of their money. “There are a lot of us out there who will help people out for free during a crisis,” he said. He recommends searching sites like the XY Planning Network.
The primary benefit of sitting down with a professional may be relief from panic, he said. But the 15 new retirees who have contacted him for pro bono help since the pandemic started, among them nurses and teachers, have also gained a better understanding of how to manage limited funds. “Everybody deserves to have a plan,” he said.
Pen and Brush after 23 years as executive director, the stress started last year, when she contracted Covid-19 and spent several weeks in an intensive care unit. She was not psychologically ready to retire, but because she has still not fully recovered, she felt she had to. “I was one of those people who was going to have to be wheeled out of there, I loved it so much,” she said.
Now she is adjusting to what she said was a more limited routine. Sunday nights and Mondays flummox her the most. “It’s like when you have that dream where you have a final exam and you’ve never been to class, or you forget your locker combination. I keep thinking, I have to go to work.” Instead, she takes walks with her husband, Wallace Munro, a retired actor, and visits the grocery store more than she thought she would ever want to.
“It’s something to do,” she said. “You have to restructure your life when something like this happens to you. It’s so easy to get depressed.”
Managing money in a sudden retirement
Mr. Johnson, the financial planner, offered tips on juggling your income and expenses when you’re thrust into joblessness with little warning.
Make sure that you do not have any old pension or 401(k) money out there from previous employers. People who have rolled over retirement accounts from previous employers often forget about them.
Don’t feel guilty for taking Social Security early — especially if you have no other option. You can begin claiming your benefits as early as age 62. However, the downside to claiming before your full retirement age (you can look it up on the Social Security website) is that your total monthly payments will be permanently reduced. If your income is below a certain threshold, your full Social Security payments might be tax-free.
Use Social Security payments for your nondiscretionary, fixed expenses and retirement assets for discretionary expenses, such as travel and entertainment.
Bridge the gap to Medicare, because the age of eligibility is 65. Consider plans under the Affordable Care Act. Typically, if your income is low enough, you may receive premium tax credits and other benefits if you choose a plan on the marketplace.
If Social Security and retirement savings cannot sustain your lifestyle, it’s time to consider Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and similar programs.
DALLAS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, HousingWire announced the winners of its annual Women of Influence award honoring 100 women shaping and propelling the mortgage, real estate and fintech industries forward. This year marks the 11th year of this award being recognized, with nominations growing and becoming more competitive every year.
The Women of Influence are selected by HousingWire’s Selection Committee based on their professional achievements within their organizations, but contributions to the overall industry, community outreach, client impact and personal success also factor into the committee’s decision.
“Another way to describe our Women of Influence honorees this year would be the women who are making an impact, which is something we saw woven into each of these amazing award winners,” Brena Nath, HW+ managing editor, said. “Congratulations to these women who are cultivating a new path forward for the housing industry and reimagining a better, more collaborative future.”
Many of this year’s winners’ mentor other women in the industry. Others coordinate volunteer programs for their employees or serve on advisory boards that inform the industry. All making a huge difference in their communities. These women are instrumental in paving the way for other women to also succeed in the housing industry.
Gretchen Pearson, President/CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties has been recognized by HousingWire as a 2021 Woman of Influence. Pearson successfully led the entire network of Drysdales through the pandemic year when business was anything but usual. Through her leadership and perseverance, clients not only received the same level of service they’d come to rely on with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, but were introduced to a bevy of new technology and services designed to help them reach their real estate goals despite the challenges faced by the pandemic.
“The winners of the Women of Influence award are truly remarkable! The contribution of these incredibly accomplished leaders to our industry is hard to overstate,” HousingWire Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler said. “We’re excited to honor them and shine a spotlight on their achievements.”
Pearson believes that at its core, real estate is about the relationships we build. She draws on her experience as an industry leader, a broker, a cancer survivor, a community activist, a wife, and a mother to inspire her employees and her agents; sharing her story openly and encouraging all to pursue their goals. As she says, “What matters most is that you are true to who you are.”
Since opening its doors in 2005, Drysdale Properties has grown by leaps and bounds. At present, the brokerage proudly supports 1,275+ agents in 46 offices, serving 24 counties across Northern California and Nevada. The list of accolades, awards, and recognitions for Pearson’s leadership and accomplishments is staggering and includes many “firsts” in the industry. A few recent accolades include:
Founder of the Drysdale Community Foundation
2020 QE Award Winner for Service Excellence for the fourth consecutive year
Swanepoel Power 200, recognized in the 200 Most Powerful and Influential Men and Women of Residential Real Estate Brokerage for 2021
Frequent speaker for WomenUP!, Inman Connect, and more
Led Drysdale Properties to be recognized in Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Elite Circle. Drysdale Properties ranked 16 in our Global Network
Pearson has always had a strong commitment to giving back to the communities served. A significant part of that commitment is the Drysdale Community Foundation. In 2021 the foundation donated $68,000 to local organizations.
“It is with no surprise that Gretchen received this award,” says Joe Manning, Chief Marketing and Technology Officer. “If I had to describe Gretchen in one word, it would be wise. She has the experience of up and down markets and shifting technologies. She can see goal line way before others and cares about the future of it more than anyone I know.”
About HW Media
HW Media is the leading digital community for real estate, financial services and fintech professionals to engage, connect and gain knowledge. Founded in 2016 through the acquisition of HousingWire, HW Media is based in Dallas, TX with team members across the country. HW Media is owned by Riomar Capital.
HousingWire is the most influential source of news and information for the U.S. mortgage and housing markets. Built on a foundation of independent and original journalism, HousingWire reaches over 60,000 newsletter subscribers daily and over 1.0 million unique visitors each month. Our audience of mortgage, real estate and fintech professionals rely on us to Move Markets Forward. Visit www.housingwire.com or www.solutions.housingwire.com to learn more.
About Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties is Northern California’s and Nevada’s fastest-growing, fullservice and 100% woman-owned real estate brokerage specializing in residential, luxury, relocation, commercial and property management. It is the No. 16 brokerage in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network; No. 69 for sales volume as ranked by REALTrends; and No. 67 in RISMedia’s Power Broker Top 500 Report. To learn more visit www.bhhsdrysdale.com
The presence of PFAS in oil and gas extraction threatens to expose oil-field employees and emergency workers handling fires and spills as well as people who live near, or downstream from, drilling sites to a class of chemicals that has faced increasing scrutiny for its links to cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems.
A class of man-made chemicals that are toxic even in minuscule concentrations, for decades PFAS were used to make products like nonstick pans, stain-resistant carpeting and firefighting foam. The substances have come under scrutiny in recent years for their tendency to persist in the environment, and to accumulate inside the human body, as well as for their links to health problems like cancer and birth defects. Both Congress and the Biden administration have moved tobetter regulate PFAS, which contaminate the drinking water of as many as 80 million Americans.
Industry researchers have long been aware of their toxicity. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when the environmental attorney Rob Bilott sued Dupont for pollution from its Teflon plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., that the dangers of PFAS started to be widely known.In settlements with the E.P.A. in the mid-2000s, Dupont acknowledged knowing of PFAS’s dangers, and it and several other chemical manufacturers subsequently committed to phase out the use of certain kinds of the chemical by 2015.
Kevin A. Schug, a professor of analytical Chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the chemicals identified in the FracFocus database fell into the PFAS group of compounds, although he added that there was not enough information to make a direct link between the chemicals in the database to the ones approved by the E.P.A. Still, he said it was clear “that the approved polymer, if and when it breaks down in the environment, will break down into PFAS.”
The findings underscore how, for decades, the nation’s laws governing various chemicals have allowed thousands of substances to go into commercial use with relatively little testing. The E.P.A.’s assessment was carried out under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to review and regulate new chemicals before they are manufactured or distributed.
But for years, that law had gaps that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals, experts say. Furthermore, the Toxic Substances Control Act grandfathered inthousands of chemicals already in commercial use, including many PFAS chemicals. In 2016, Congress strengthened the law, bolstering the E.P.A.’s authority to order health testing, among other measures. The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, still identifies the Toxic Substances Control Act as a program with one of the highest risks of abuse and mismanagement.
In recent days, whistle-blowers have alleged in the Intercept that the E.P.A. office in charge of reviewing toxic chemicals tampered with the assessments of dozens of chemicals to make them appear safer. E.P.A. scientists evaluating new chemicals “are the last line of defense between harmful — even deadly — chemicals and their introduction into U.S. commerce, and this line of defense is struggling to maintain its integrity,” the whistle-blowers said in their disclosure, which was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Maryland-based nonprofit group.