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    Kharkiv at risk of becoming ‘second Aleppo’ without US aid, mayor says

    Kharkiv is at risk of becoming “a second Aleppo” unless US politicians vote for fresh military aid to help Ukraine obtain the air defences needed to prevent long-range Russian attacks, the city’s mayor has warned.Ihor Terekhov said Russia had switched tactics to try to destroy the city’s power supply and terrorise its 1.3 million residents by firing into residential areas, with people experiencing unscheduled power cuts for hours at a time.The mayor of Ukraine’s second city said the $60bn US military aid package, currently stalled in Congress, was of “critical importance for us” and urged the west to refocus on the two-year-old war.“We need that support to prevent Kharkiv being a second Aleppo,” Terekhov said, referring to the Syrian city heavily bombed by Russian and Syrian government forces at the height of the country’s civil war a decade ago.View image in fullscreenOn 22 March, Russian attacks destroyed a power station on the eastern edge of the city as well all its substations; a week later officials acknowledged a second plant, 30 miles south-east of the city, had been eliminated in the same attack.Power in the city, about 30 miles from the Russian border, was interrupted after another bombing raid this week, causing the metro to be halted briefly. Residents said there was usually a few hours’ supply a day in the city centre, although in the outskirts the situation was said to be better.Children are educated either online or in underground schools, for their own safety. The water supply remains on, but Terekhov said there were concerns the Russian military may switch to targeting gas distribution, after storage facilities in the west were attacked last week.Ukrainian leaders have begun asking western nations to donate Patriot air defence systems, requests for help that were thrown into sharper relief by the US and UK military support for Israel over the weekend when it neutralised an air attack from Iran.President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the allies’ defensive action “demonstrated how truly effective unity in defending against terror can be when it is based on sufficient political will” – before making a comparison to Ukraine.Iranian-designed Shahed drones used by Russia “sound identical to those over the Middle East”, he said. “The impact of ballistic missiles, if they are not intercepted, is the same everywhere.”The Ukrainian leader concluded: “European skies could have received the same level of protection long ago if Ukraine had received similar full support from its partners in intercepting drones and missiles.”Seven people were killed in Kharkiv when two rockets struck near an unused shopping mall on the ring road north of the city shortly after midnight on 6 April, leaving behind 4-metre-deep craters and military debris near a residential area.Nina Mykhailivna, 72, who lives nearby, said the shock from the strike “lifted her bed in the air” and was followed by about 90 minutes of secondary explosions, the most serious she had experienced during the war.Few residents have left the city since Russia increased its bombing campaign around the turn of the year, and Kharkiv remains a lively metropolis with busy restaurants and cafes, and some businesses thriving despite the threat.View image in fullscreenOleksii Yevsiukov, 39, and Viktoriia Varenikova, 30, run the Avex clothing factory in a residential district and have installed $20,000 worth of solar panels on the roof since the start of the conflict. The additions provide enough electricity to power the sewing machines for the 10 employees working below in the Soviet-era building, which is undergoing a total refurbishment.“We anticipated there might be power cuts from energy infrastructure attacks this winter,” Yevsiukov said. “We looked at solutions and decided a diesel generator was not suitable, expensive and not very eco friendly, so we ordered the solar panels last year.”A newly installed power bank stores enough electricity for two days’ use if the panels are unable to generate it, and a geothermal pump keeps the building warm, avoiding the need for gas. As such, the factory is self-sufficient, which could become necessary as the owners anticipate at least two more years of war.View image in fullscreenTheir company makes women’s swim and fitness wear for branded companies in Ukraine, and, the couple say, sales have grown even though the goods might be considered luxuries during wartime. With the factory refurbishment nearly complete, Yevsiukov said they planned to roughly double the workforce.Soon after the war began, Varenikova found out she was pregnant. Their son Max is now one, and she expresses the hope that war might be over by the time he is ready for school. “I want him to go to a normal school, not an underground school, not a school in the metro, not an online school.”However, not everybody is so optimistic. One of the firm’s employees, Liubov, said she was planning to leave her home in Kharkiv and move to central Ukraine for at least a month to provide a calmer environment for her two daughters, who can continue to take classes remotely.Russian bombing had become “much more frequent, much more often”, Liubov said. The comprehensive attack on 22 March was “very, very scary and loud” and “attacks could come at daytime or night-time, in any part of the city”.Liubov did not want to be photographed or give a surname, reflecting perhaps a concern about not wanting to be identified as someone leaving the city. “We’ve had to get used to everything, I wish we didn’t have to. We have power banks, we have storage of food, but we want this to be over soon. We simply want to live.” More

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    Republican senator Tom Cotton calls for vigilantism to break up Gaza protests

    The Republican senator Tom Cotton has urged Americans to “take matters into their own hands” when encountering pro-Palestine supporters, an apparent call to vigilantism as Israel’s military strikes in Gaza continued despite global calls for a ceasefire.Demonstrations on Monday by supporters of Palestine blocked roads in major US cities, including New York and Philadelphia; delayed flights at the bustling Chicago O’Hare and Seattle-Tacoma international airports; and caused traffic congestion on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.Cotton, a Republican, eventually appeared on Fox News and labeled the protesters “criminals”. He also expressed his sympathy for the people whose commutes were interrupted by Monday’s demonstrations, which demanded that the US government drop its military support of Israel.Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,100 mostly civilians and taking hostages. Israel responded with a ground and air onslaught that has killed more than 30,000 mostly women and children as well as pushed the region to famine.The far-right senator from Arkansas told the Fox News host Sandra Smith that as far as he was concerned, those who deserved his sympathies were “all those people who are trying to get to work or trying to pick up a kid”.He also said he “very worried about the diversion of police resources where it needs to be stopping crime in cities like San Francisco, where firefighters are having to go there when they might have calls for fires out”.He soon went further, arguing that people in his state would inflict bodily violence on the protesters, whom he called “antisemitic” and “pro-Hamas”.“If something like this happened in Arkansas on a bridge there – let’s just say I think there’d be a lot of very wet criminals that have been tossed overboard, not by law enforcement, but by the people whose road they’re blocking,” Cotton said.“If they glued their hands to a car or the pavement, well, [it would be] probably pretty painful to have their skin ripped off. But I think that’s the way we’d handle it in Arkansas.”Cotton said he “would encourage most people anywhere that get stuck behind criminals like this who are trying to block traffic, to take matters in their own hands” and solve the problem without involving police.It is not the first time Cotton had expressed such sentiments. In a notorious 2020 New York Times op-ed headlined Send In the Troops, the senator likened Black Lives Matter protests to a rebellion and urged the government to deploy the US military against demonstrators by invoking the Insurrection Act.“The Insurrection Act authorizes the president to employ the military ‘or any other means’ in ‘cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws,’” Cotton wrote. “These rioters, if not subdued, not only will destroy the livelihoods of law-abiding citizens but will also take more innocent lives. Many poor communities that still bear scars from past upheavals will be set back still further.“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”At the time, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement were exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and advocate for social justice after a white Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, a Black man, in plain view of a cellphone camera.Cotton argued in the 2020 piece that “a majority who seek to protest peacefully shouldn’t be confused with bands of miscreants”. He also falsely claimed that anti-fascist – or “antifa” – members had infiltrated Black Lives Matter marches, meriting a military response.Mainstream reaction to Cotton’s op-ed was largely negative, forcing the Times to issue a statement saying that the piece did not meet its editorial standards and should not have been published. The editorial page editor subsequently resigned, and his deputy was reassigned. More

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    Trump’s historic criminal trial enters second day as jury selection continues

    Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush-money trial enters its second day on Tuesday morning with continued jury selection. The commencement of Trump’s trial on Monday marked a momentous day in US history: when jury selection began, he became the first current or former American president to face a criminal trial.The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, brought the case against Trump, which involves purported payments aimed at keeping secret his alleged affairs with the adult film star Stormy Daniels and the Playboy model Karen McDougal. Prosecutors said Trump schemed to keep these alleged liaisons under wraps, so he would not suffer in the 2016 presidential election.The trial is unfolding amid a presidential contest in which Trump – who is all but guaranteed to be the Republican nominee – will go head to head with Joe Biden in November.Bragg’s office contends that Trump, whom a grand jury indicted in spring 2023 on 34 counts of falsifying business records, was part of an alleged “catch-and-kill scheme” from August 2015 until December 2017, with his then attorney, Michael Cohen.Trump’s former consigliere, who in 2018 admitted to federal charges for his involvement in that particular hush-money scheme, wired $130,000 to Daniels’s then attorney less than two weeks before the election. Cohen funneled these funds via a shell company.When Trump won his White House bid, he repaid Cohen with a smattering of monthly checks. These checks initially came from the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust – which was set up in New York to hold the president’s company’s assets during the 2016 presidency.Trumps payments to Cohen were later written on the company’s financials “disguised as a payment for legal services rendered pursuant to a non-existent retainer agreement”.As Trump allegedly framed these payments as recompense for legal consulting, he “made and caused a false entry in the business records of an enterprise”, prosecutors contended. He did so “with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof”, they said. More

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    What does Liz Truss’s book tell us about her American ambitions?

    In her new book, the former British prime minister Liz Truss directs scathing attacks and mockery at Joe Biden, president of her country’s closest ally. Biden was guilty of “utter hypocrisy and ignorance”, Truss writes, when the US leader said he “disagree[d] with the policy” of “cutting taxes on the super wealthy” in the mini-budget Truss introduced in September 2022, shortly after taking power.“I was shocked and astounded that Biden would breach protocol by commenting on UK domestic policy,” Truss adds. “We had been the United States’ staunchest allies through thick and thin.”Such harsh words between British and American leaders, in or out of office, would normally seem unusual. But Truss has scores to settle. By the time Biden spoke, in an ice-cream parlor in Portland, Oregon, Truss’s mini-budget had already caused panic over British pension funds, threatened to crash the UK economy and been withdrawn – a humiliating reversal for any prime minister, let alone one little more than a month into the job. Six days later, Truss was forced to resign.A year and a half later, offering the public her version of what went so terribly wrong, Truss still manages to thunder: “What the Biden administration, and the [European Union], and their international allies didn’t want was a country demonstrating that things can be done differently, undercutting them in the process.”Perhaps. Either way, Biden is still president while Truss is now a mere backbench MP for a constituency in rural Norfolk. But the release of her book, Ten Years to Save the West, alongside her founding of Popular Conservatism, a new pressure group, says a lot about where she sees her future.Far from taking her allowance and pursuing traditional, relatively sedate pursuits – lobbying, say, or trying to achieve peace in the Middle East – Truss wants to remain relevant on the global populist right, particularly in the US.Truss’s book is published in the US and UK on Tuesday. The American jacket carries praise from two hard-right senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, both vocal enemies of Biden. It also carries a different subtitle from the British edition. In the UK, Truss is said to offer “Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room”. In the US, she is “Leading the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment”.It’s a lot to pack in between the school run – Truss has two daughters – and her duties as a Norfolk MP. But it all points to a clear ambition to carve out a presence in rightwing US media, long on plain display.In February, Truss attended the CPAC conference in Maryland, giving an address to an audience of what Politico called “bewildered conservatives” before appearing with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former campaign chair and White House adviser, a leading far-right voice who pitched Truss into controversy with remarks about the jailed far-right figure Tommy Robinson.View image in fullscreenTruss will soon be back, visiting Washington to promote her book at the Heritage Foundation, the thinktank behind Project 2025, a vast and controversial plan for a second Trump administration.Truss’s relationship with Heritage is well established. She spoke there in 2015, as trade secretary and over the objections of the British ambassador, and accepted an award named after Margaret Thatcher there last year. Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage, also blurbs the US edition of Truss’s book.The foundation is a couple of miles from the White House, but Truss is hardly likely to seek contact with Biden or his administration. That may be just as well. Elsewhere in her book, she describes meeting the president at the White House in September 2021, when she was foreign secretary under Boris Johnson.“Our Oval Office meeting lasted around an hour and a half,” Truss writes, adding that this was not a sign of favor.“The truth was it owed more to Biden’s penchant for telling extended anecdotes in response to any issue that came up. ‘Ah, that reminds me …’ he would say, as his officials looked at each other with knowing smiles. Ten minutes later, the story would end and he would move on to something else.”Biden’s age, 81, and mental capacity to be president are the source of constant media speculation and political attack – and strong White House pushback. But Truss has more to say. At the Cop 26 climate conference in Glasgow, later in 2021, she “bumped into Joe Biden again. He remembered our meeting at the White House, telling me he’d never forget ‘those blue eyes’, even though we’d both been wearing Covid masks.”It is not clear if the reader should think Biden or Truss was under the impression mouth coverings also obscure the eyes.Truss is still not done. She includes the president with the former House speaker Nancy Pelosi among US politicians deemed “unhelpful” over Northern Ireland issues, their interventions “generally on one side of the argument, doubtless egged on by the Irish embassy in Washington”.She also describes how in September 2022, as prime minister, she attended the UN general assembly in New York. There, she says, “Biden regaled me with tales of the Democrat campaign trail, including an incident in which he had fallen over. He said, ‘I can see them thinking, ‘You can’t get up, grandpa’, but I got up.’“I formed the view that he was running again in 2024,” Truss writes, before risking a self-own by writing about a faux pas at the same event, when she called out “Hi, Dr Biden!” to “a blonde lady” who turned out to be Brigitte Macron, the wife of the president of France.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“I hope she didn’t hear!” Truss writes.The vignette about Biden at the UN is not the only one in Ten Years to Save the West in which Truss uses “Democrat” to refer to the Democratic party. It is a telling choice. Republicans have long used the incorrect term as a term of political abuse. Nor is it the only instance in which Truss – or her US editors – must adapt or explain her language.When writing about UK politics, as in most of the book, Truss must often offer translations or explanations for US readers. For one small but telling example, in referring to her distaste for National Insurance – a payroll tax that supports state pensions and unemployment and incapacity benefits – she calls it “a social security entitlement”. On the US right, “entitlement” is almost as dirty a word as “Democrat”.At least until the eve of publication day, Truss had shied from saying Donald Trump’s name but said she wanted a Republican in the White House in 2025. She says so in her book but abandons any pretense of subtlety when it comes to praising Trump, now the presumptive GOP nominee despite facing 88 criminal charges and multimillion-dollar penalties for tax fraud and defamation, the latter arising from a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”.Calling herself “an early fan of the TV show The Apprentice” who “enjoyed the Donald’s catchphrases and sassy business advice”, Truss says that when Trump entered politics in 2015, colleagues in parliament and “elderly ladies” in Swaffham, a town in her constituency, were united in “seem[ing] genuinely animated by the disruptive Republican candidate”. She makes a common link between support for Trump and support for Brexit – which she campaigned against before becoming its hardline champion on her way to leading her country.View image in fullscreenWhen Trump was president, Truss writes, she “chased” Boris Johnson “down a fire escape” in New York, to demand inclusion in a meeting between the British and American leaders. According to Truss, who was then trade secretary, that meeting saw Trump urge her and his own trade representative, Bob Lighthizer, to get on with talks for a UK-US trade deal – only for Johnson to try to make Trump focus on restoring the Iran nuclear agreement, a tactic that did not work.Truss never got her trade deal. In part, she blames “many in Number 10” Downing Street who “seemed to want to hold Trump at arm’s length for political reasons”.“The UK media provided universally negative coverage of Trump, and leftists in the Conservative party were keen to insult him at every opportunity,” Truss writes. “My view was that he was the leader of the free world and an important ally.”That view stands in stark comparison to her abuse of Biden, who beat Trump conclusively in an election Trump still refuses to concede. Furthermore, when it comes to the deadly fruits of that refusal – the attack on Congress Trump incited – Truss keeps her observations to a single paragraph.On 6 January 2021, Truss writes, she was “on a phone call with Bob Lighthizer”, “working on” removing a US tariff on Scottish whisky. From the Executive Office building, next to the White House, Lighthizer “remarked … in passing that the street was full of people with huge American flags walking towards Congress. Little did I realise how seismic that event would turn out to be.”Truss eventually saw the whisky tariff removed – in summer 2021, after “talks with the new Democrat administration”.“But with Joe Biden as president,” Truss writes, “it was made quite clear that a trade deal with the United Kingdom was no longer a priority. We had missed the boat.” More

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    Mike Johnson unveils complex plan for Israel and Ukraine aid as pressure rises

    Mike Johnson, the US House speaker, has unveiled a complicated proposal for passing wartime aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, rejecting pressure to approve a package sent over by the Senate and leaving its path to passage deeply uncertain.The Republican speaker huddled with fellow GOP lawmakers on Monday evening to lay out his strategy to gain House approval for the funding package. Facing an outright rebellion from conservatives who fiercely oppose aiding Ukraine, Johnson said he would push to get the package to the House floor under a single debate rule, then hold separate votes on aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and several foreign policy proposals, according to Republican lawmakers.However, the package would deviate from the $95bn aid package passed by the Senate in February, clouding its prospects for final passage in Congress.Johnson has faced mounting pressure to act on Joe Biden’s long-delayed request for billions of dollars in security assistance. It’s been more than two months since the Senate passed the $95bn aid package, which includes $14bn for Israel and $60bn for Ukraine.The issue gained new urgency after Iran’s weekend missile and drone attack on Israel. Congress, however, remains deeply divided.Johnson has declined to allow the Republican-controlled House to vote on the measure. The senate passed it with 70% bipartisan support and backers insist it would receive similar support in the House, but Johnson has given a variety of reasons not to allow a vote, among them the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues and reluctance to take up a Senate measure without more information.As the House has struggled to act, conflicts around the globe have escalated. Israel’s military chief said on Monday that his country will respond to Iran’s missile strike. And Ukraine’s military head over the weekend warned that the battlefield situation in the country’s east has “significantly worsened in recent days”, as warming weather has allowed Russian forces to launch a fresh offensive.Meanwhile, Joe Biden, who is hosting Petr Fiala, the Czech prime minister, at the White House, called on the House to take up the Senate funding package immediately. “They have to do it now,” he said.Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, also put pressure on Johnson and pledged in a letter to lawmakers to do “everything in our legislative power to confront aggression” around the globe, and he cast the situation as similar to the lead-up to the second world war.“The gravely serious events of this past weekend in the Middle East and eastern Europe underscore the need for Congress to act immediately,” Jeffries said. “We must take up the bipartisan and comprehensive national security bill passed by the Senate forthwith. This is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment.”In the Capitol, Johnson’s approach could further incite the populist conservatives who are already angry at his direction as speaker.Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican Congresswoman from Georgia, is threatening to oust him as speaker. As she entered the closed-door Republican meeting on Monday, she said her message to the speaker was: “Don’t fund Ukraine.”The GOP meeting was filled with lawmakers at odds in their approach to Ukraine: Republican defense hawks, including the top lawmakers on national security committees, who want Johnson to finally take up the national security supplemental package as a bundle, are pitted against populist conservatives who are fiercely opposed to continued support for Kyiv’s fight.On the right, the House Freedom Caucus said Monday that it opposed “using the emergency situation in Israel as a bogus justification to ram through Ukraine aid with no offset and no security for our own wide-open borders”.The Associated Press contributed reporting More

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    Trump’s hush-money trial: key takeaways from the first day

    Donald Trump struggled through the opening day of his New York criminal trial on Monday as the jury selection process formally got under way in Manhattan in the first criminal trial of a current or former US president.Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in trying to cover up hush-money payments to an adult film star that influenced the 2016 election.Trump himself did little during his time in the courtroom of the New York supreme court judge Juan Merchan. But the eventual proceeding showed the momentous nature of the case and highlighted Trump’s divisiveness.Here are the takeaways of day one of “People v Donald Trump”:Seating jury could take weeksLegal experts widely expected that seating a jury in the Trump case – 12 jurors and six alternates – was going to be a difficult and lengthy process as Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.But moving through the first 100 or so potential jurors showed just how tricky the “voir dire” process could be: more than half of the group told the judge they could not be impartial and were excused immediately.The voir dire process involves each potential juror reading their responses to a 42-point questionnaire and the judge reading out to the jurors the people who might serve as witnesses or otherwise come up at trial.The potential jurors’ reactions toward Trump were varied. One man smiled when he saw Trump. Another woman giggled and put her hand over her mouth, looking at the person seated next to her with raised eyebrows. And one of the potential jurors, who was excused, said leaving the courtroom: “I just couldn’t do it.”Trump’s lawyers are looking for a so-called “holdout juror” who could be partial to Trump and not convict on any of the counts – and thereby hang the jury for a mistrial.The process also appeared to tire out Trump. Before the jury selection began in the afternoon, Trump often appeared to nod off.Trump was stuck with judge despite delay tacticsTrump tried one more time before jury selection began to have the judge recuse himself from presiding in the case, claiming Merchan had conflicts of interest and had shown indications of bias that meant he could not be fair.The judge addressed two of Trump’s main complaints – and dismissed them summarily.In the first instance, the judge rejected Trump’s complaints about an interview he did with the Associated Press because he did not talk about Trump’s case, meaning the judge’s statements did not “reasonably or logically” reflect bias.And in the second instance, the judge said a podcast interview his daughter did in 2019, in which he said he disliked politicians using Twitter, similarly did not reflect bias against any party.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionProsecutors score two additional winsThe Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, had some partial wins on Monday morning, after Merchan allowed them to admit into evidence materials that would bolster their case that Trump’s falsification of records was to influence the 2016 election.The judge had previously ruled that prosecutors could not use as evidence the actual tape of Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, as well as a video of Trump referencing the Access Hollywood tape in a deposition in an unrelated case.But Merchan allowed prosecutors to admit into evidence the full transcript of the Access Hollywood tape, which means the infamous Trump quote that he could assault women and “grab them by the pussy” can be read to the jury at trial.The judge also allowed prosecutors to use an email chain in which the former Trump aide Hope Hicks forwarded the transcript to another former Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, asking if the tape was Trump’s voice. Conway then asked the ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who was doing damage control.Trump could yet be held in contemptTrump left the courtroom after the first day of his criminal trial with another cloud hanging over his head: whether he will be found in contempt for violating a gag order that prohibited from assailing potential trial witnesses.The former president was recently hit with an expanded gag order after he went after the judge’s daughter, alleging that her work doing campaign work for Democratic political candidates meant the judge was conflicted.But prosecutors asked Merchan to impose a $3,000 fine on Trump for attacking two potential trial witnesses – Stormy Daniels, the adult film star at the centre of the criminal case, and his ex-lawyer Cohen – and warning him that future violations could result in jail.The matter was scheduled for arguments at a 23 April hearing. Merchan promised to address the alleged gag order violations but said he did not want to get into it on Monday because they had several hundred potential jurors waiting. More

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    Trump speaks before historic criminal trial over ‘hush money’– video

    Donald Trump was seen arriving in court on Monday in his criminal trial involving the adult film actor Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump, the first former US president to face a criminal trial, is accused of paying Daniels and McDougal to cover up alleged extramarital liaisons that could have damaged his candidacy in the 2016 election. The trial is scheduled to start this morning, with jury selection in Manhattan supreme court More

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    In Maryland, female migrant laborers face an uncertain future as sea levels rise – photo essay

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    In the evening light, Maribel Malagón stepped outside into a rain storm.It was late October and Malagón, 53, had worked all day picking crab off the eastern shore of Maryland. That night, she and a handful of other seasonal workers walked to a neighbor’s house for an evening of prayer. On the way, Malagón clutched a pendant of St Judas, the patron saint of lost causes, that hung around her neck; she hoped he would hear her prayers for more work.About an hour later, when the women were ready to call it a night, the coastal waters had risen so high that the road leading back to their house was completely submerged.“We didn’t know which way to go. We were afraid that we would fall into the ditches,” Malagón said in Spanish, thinking back on that night two years ago. To make it back home, the women waded through knee-high murky waters. “The island is changing every year.”View image in fullscreenFor more than 20 years, Malagón has been coming to work in crab processing plants on Hoopers Island, one of the many island communities in the Chesapeake Bay.Hoopers Island, a chain of small islands linked by causeways, has been the center of the state’s seafood industry since the early 1900s. Due to its low-lying nature, the region has faced erosion and destructive storms over the years.But rising sea levels are increasing the frequency of flooding, creating uncertainty for the village’s watermen and their families, who have long depended on the seafood industry for their livelihoods. The situation is especially worrying for female migrants such as Malagón, who have limited job prospects back home in Mexico and wonder how long they will be able to work on the island.View image in fullscreenView image in fullscreen@font-face{font-family:Guardian Headline Full;src:url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-Light.woff2) format(“woff2”),url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-Light.woff) format(“woff”),url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-Light.ttf) format(“truetype”);font-weight:300;font-style:normal}@font-face{font-family:Guardian Headline Full;src:url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-LightItalic.woff2) 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    Twenty-four years ago, when Malagón first arrived on the island, her output was prolific. With the precision of a machine and a sharp tiny knife in hand, she would break off the claws, crack open the shells, remove the legs, and scrape out the white meat into containers in seconds. She estimates picking between 40 and 48lb of crab meat in her eight-hour shift.Now, she says 10 hours could go by, and she’ll only have picked 30lb. She suspects the crab population has decreased in number and size over the years.“The crab was huge in my first years here. Our hands would hurt from how big they were. We produced a lot of pounds, but unfortunately, we were paid $2 a pound back then,” said Malagón, who works for one of the five crab houses that remain.View image in fullscreenAubrey Vincent, the owner of Lindy’s Seafood, a processing plant on the island, said wages have significantly increased for her employees. They make about $16 an hour, compared to four or five years ago when they made $7.52 an hour, she said.Some employers pay workers per pound, so the more abundant the catch and meatier the crabs, the more money the women can send home.“For the past five or six years at least, the work is not 100% consistent every season, and it seems to sometimes vary across workplaces,” said Julia Coburn, director of projects and special initiatives at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), an advocacy group that supports workers in the region.“The workers are coming with certain expectations about what they can pick in a season and how much pay they can take home, and that’s changing. It’s having a widespread impact on their families beyond their immediate circumstances.”View image in fullscreenVincent said the unpredictable nature of the work has to do more with shifting environmental conditions and weather than any fluctuations in crab availability. She described an industry at odds with numerous economic conditions.“You’ve got a certain amount of costs [of doing business] that have gone up, just like everybody else’s expenses,” she said.Crab populations fluctuate yearly and have always been difficult to predict. But recent years have raised concerns among the state’s seafood houses, which have relied on the temporary worker program since the 1980s, to stay open.Each winter, when crabs are in semi-hibernation, Maryland and Virginia conduct a survey to estimate the number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. In the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, there was a dramatic decline in the blue crab population. Biologists, as well as the federal and state governments, believed that the problem was due to overfishing and poor water quality, causing a decline in habitat and food, which ultimately led to restrictions on the number of crabs caught for commercial sale in 2008.View image in fullscreenThe 2022 survey estimated 227 million crabs, the lowest ever recorded in the survey’s 33-year history. This led to new limits on the number of male and female crabs watermen could harvest. In 2023, the population bounced back to 323 million, a 40% increase; while these figures are encouraging, scientists urge continued vigilance based on low numbers of juvenile crabs.Today, researchers believe overfishing is less likely to be the sole contributing factor, and instead argue that factors related to the climate crisis could be affecting blue crab reproduction and survival.“We’re certainly seeing evidence in the data that reproductive success is declining,” said Tom Miller, a professor of fisheries science at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences who studies blue crab populations.View image in fullscreenThe climate crisis could affect the blue crab population in other ways. With shorter winters, crabs could face a longer fishing period, meaning more of them would be caught, said Miller. However, he added that the impact is unclear and an active area of research. Ocean acidification may also contribute to the shells of blue crabs becoming less strong, making them more susceptible to predators.Conservationists also believe pollution and the recent decline in the Bay’s underwater grasses is probably contributing to low blue crab numbers. Another factor could be the presence of the invasive blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay.“They’re going to be doubly impacted by not only shorter winters, but the shells will become less strong than they once were. There’s a lot changing in the world for crabs,” said Miller.The 2024 blue crab winter dredge survey results will be released in May.View image in fullscreenDespite the unpredictable and temporary nature of the work, many women in central Mexico vie for these positions when recruiters come to towns, hoping to score work authorization.“What we make here in a day would take us a week to make back home,” said Elia Ramírez Rangel, a crab-picker from Hidalgo.For women in particular, there is a dearth of job opportunities in their communities in Mexico and abroad in the US. For some, crab-picking is their best chance of finding sustainable work, said Coburn.View image in fullscreen“There is no source of work back home,” a laborer working on the island for 14 years said in Spanish. She spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity for fear of employer retaliation.In 1996, she left Mexico to make a living picking crabs in the Carolinas. She described having to make the arduous decision to leave her two children, aged nine and 11, in the care of her sister and family friends. Over the years, with her earnings and faith in God, she said she was able to afford a house and basic necessities like food and clothing for her children, who are now grown.“It’s been very difficult for me to be far away from them. Even though they’re grown up, I still feel like there’s a void,” she said in Spanish. “When I left them, I didn’t see their achievements, for example, in school. I missed their birthdays.”View image in fullscreenIn 2021, women made up just 12% of H-2B visa recipients to the US. On Hoopers Island, these women often describe coming to the US for work out of necessity. For nine months out of the year, they report leaving their families and children behind for a steady, albeit seasonal, paycheck.Some workers, like Malagón, come to Hoopers Island year after year to work in the local seafood industry, so long as their seasonal work visas are granted. Her father spent decades picking under the hot sun in California’s farmlands as a bracero. At the age of 22, she said poverty and desperation led her to follow in her father’s footsteps; later, she switched to picking crabs, a job her father described to her more suited for women.Over the course of the 20th century, crab-picking in the US became gendered and racialized work. Research shows picking crab meat was work delegated to women based on beliefs that their hands are typically smaller and more nimble. Some scholars argue hiring immigrant workers was a way to pay women less for the work.Crab houses say they have turned to workers from Mexico in recent decades because of a local labor shortage. In order to obtain visas, they need to prove local workers are not able to fulfill those jobs. Before the 1980s it was low-paid work largely carried out by Black women.View image in fullscreenThe journey from central Mexico to Maryland involves an arduous three-day journey by bus. For Malagón, the biggest sacrifice has been the time spent away from her sisters, mother and son.“Leaving was horrible,” said Malagón, who sends money home to her ageing father. Seasons spent laboring abroad have allowed her to transform her family’s once-dilapidated property in the countryside of Guanajuato into a comfortable living space.“The grace of God has given me license to build everything I wanted. I have comforts that I didn’t have before,” Malagón said in Spanish. “We used to sleep on the floor when we were kids, but now, thank God, we have beds. We’ve got a fridge, we’ve got a TV.”View image in fullscreenWith the rising cost of living and less predictable hours, some women report earning less than they once did.Previously, working 10-hour days six days a week could earn them $280 a week, but now, with workers reporting dwindling crab harvests, they sometimes only work three to four days a week and for shorter periods of time. Vincent said women have the opportunity to earn above their hourly rate if they are more productive.View image in fullscreenOther crab-house owners acknowledge that workers may take home less pay depending on the harvest. Jay Newcomb, the former owner of Old Salty’s, a popular crab house and restaurant on the upper island, said his employees make $5 a pound or $17.50 an hour.“That can fluctuate due to the quality of crabs, males versus females, the size of the crabs. Some days it may be better but we have to pay whatever is the highest,” said Newcomb, who downsized his operations in 2021 and sold Old Salty’s to open a smaller restaurant on nearby Taylors Island.The federal average rate is currently $16.42 an hour.View image in fullscreenTo fill their idle hours, many of the women make phone calls home, watch TV together, or look for ways to earn extra income. Currently, workers in Maryland’s seafood industry are exempt from minimum wage and overtime protections under state law.Without public transportation, they often pay or rely on favors from acquaintances to drive them 40 minutes to the nearest city of Cambridge for errands.Over time the repetitive hand motion of picking crab can result in arthritis, back pain, allergies to crab meat, and cuts to their hands from working quickly with the knives used to cut the shells open, according to CDM. Vincent acknowledged that crab picking, like other production jobs, can be physically demanding.View image in fullscreenThe advocacy group also said that women are disincentivized from reporting work-related issues or take sick days because their immigration status is tied to their employer, making them susceptible to labor abuses. Vincent said she provides an anonymous tip line where employees can report issues.Despite the challenges, the women emphasize that they are grateful for the opportunity to work and note that there have been some improvements over time.Today migrant workers have successfully gained more labor protections in part due to laborer testimony and a coalition of groups such as CDM, which have fought for policies that improve working conditions.Some women have begun organizing a Comité de Defensa, where they discuss ongoing issues such as Covid-19 vaccine information, accessing healthcare in this remote region, and how to report work-related injuries. Part of that work also involves disseminating information about their rights with other women on the island and their families, many of whom are also contractors.View image in fullscreenThe view from the cabin where Malagón rents from her employer overlooks the Honga River estuary and distant pine forests. A tree directly outside the house that once provided shade and a place to hang dry clothes was swept away in a storm recently, leaving only a small stump behind.This three-and-a-half-mile stretch of land known as Hoopersville is the middle island of the three that make up Hoopers, dividing the Honga River from the Chesapeake Bay.Surrounded by a lush ecosystem of marshland, wildlife and tall seagrass, the women are also geographically and socially isolated.View image in fullscreenNestled in Dorchester county, a tight-knit community with predominantly conservative values, the women say they turn to their faith in God and seek solace in each other’s company while away from home.@font-face{font-family:Guardian Headline Full;src:url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-Light.woff2) format(“woff2”),url(https://assets.guim.co.uk/static/frontend/fonts/guardian-headline/noalts-not-hinted/GHGuardianHeadline-Light.woff) 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    The narrow bridge connecting the middle to the upper island routinely floods in high tide, leaving the women trapped. Lower Hoopers Island, formerly Applegarth, became uninhabitable due to erosion, and a hurricane washed away the bridge in 1933.Malagón vividly remembers the first time she saw the bay’s waters encroaching on the doorstep of the house in 2006. “When I looked outside, I was terrified,” she said. “We had never seen the tide rise that high. Now we see it as more normal.”Flooding has become routine in recent years, threatening the daily lives and futures of locals and women alike.The Chesapeake Bay has risen by about one foot during the past century, which is nearly double the global average. By 2050, sea levels are projected to rise by as much as two feet. Climate models predict that over half of Dorchester county, the third-largest county in Maryland by land area, could be underwater by the end of the century.View image in fullscreenVincent said she has an emergency management plan for a major flooding event during work hours, where she would evacuate her employees, but says there’s only so much she’s responsible for as an employer.CDM argues there is a pressing need for climate adaptation measures from both governments and employers to safeguard seasonal workers’ wellbeing in the long run.“With roads washing out, the communication lines go down – it just increases all these layers of vulnerability,” said Coburn.“The truth is it’s very beautiful living here – except when the tide rises,” said the laborer who has worked on the island for 14 years. During a recent grocery trip to Walmart, 40 minutes away, she said her housemates were unable to return to the island because the bridge was closed due to flooding.View image in fullscreenLanguage barriers can make it difficult for women to stay informed and they often rely on word of mouth from other workers about the bridge flooding.With every passing season, the grueling nature of the job and looming precarity can take a toll emotionally and physically – some of the women question whether it’s worth coming back.“As long as we’re here, we’re going to make the most of it,” said Clara Ramrez, a worker at GW Hall & Son, one of the crab processing plants on the island. (GW Hall & Son did not respond to requests for comment.)Some owners share a common sentiment.“We just do the best we can with what we’ve got, and ultimately, everybody’s goal is the same: to try and make a living,” said Vincent.View image in fullscreenBack at the house, a group of women started to arrive for the new crab season that started on 1 April.This year more visas have been made available, and Vincent scored 80 visas for her employees through the lottery system. Speaking via WhatsApp from Mexico in early April, Malagón said she was getting ready to make the trip to Maryland via bus. If all goes well, she and the other workers from Lindy’s will arrive by 15 April.Newcomb, the former owner of Old Salty’s, said he won 23 employee visas this season, up from the roughly 18 or 20 he’s gotten in previous years.AE Phillips & Son, another crab house on the island, was unable to obtain visas and will not be operating this season, a major setback for the company and its employees.View image in fullscreenMalagón says she has put her faith in God for a bountiful season, with hopes of returning every year to have enough money to retire. Still, she worries for the future of the industry and the region itself.“If God allows it, my goal is to work for 10 more years. But if there’s no crab, what will we do then?”View image in fullscreen More