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Tennessee suspends ex-senator’s law license over guilty plea

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has suspended the law license of a former Tennessee state senator who pleaded guilty last month to violating federal campaign finance laws.

The court suspended former Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey’s law license Thursday at the request of the Board of Professional Responsibility, pending further orders by the court. The state Supreme Court cited its own rules requiring the suspension because of Kelsey’s guilty plea.

The board, which oversees regulates the practice of law in Tennessee, said it will hold formal proceedings to determine the final discipline against Kelsey.

Kelsey had previously pleaded not guilty to the campaign finance charges in the case related to his failed 2016 congressional campaign, calling them a “political witch hunt” and claiming he was “totally innocent.” He then changed his plea in front of a federal judge late last month.

The move came after his co-defendant, Nashville social club owner Joshua Smith, pleaded guilty in October to one count under a deal that requires him to “cooperate fully and truthfully” with federal authorities.

Kelsey pleaded guilty to two counts: conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission, and aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive contributions on behalf of a federal campaign. He faces up to five years in prison for each count. He and Smith are both awaiting sentencing.

Kelsey ignored reporters’ questions on the way in and out of court during his change of plea hearing, and he has still not publicly addressed his change of plea.

In October 2021, a federal grand jury in Nashville indicted Kelsey and Smith, who owns The Standard club, on several counts each. The indictment alleged that Kelsey, Smith and others violated campaign finance laws by illegally concealing the transfer of $91,000 — $66,000 from Kelsey’s state Senate campaign committee and $25,000 from a nonprofit that advocated about legal justice issues — to a national political organization to fund advertisements urging support of Kelsey’s 2016 failed congressional campaign.

Prosecutors allege Kelsey and others caused the national political organization to make illegal and excessive campaign contributions to Kelsey by coordinating with the organization on advertisements, and that they caused the organization to file false reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Kelsey, a 44-year-old attorney from Germantown, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004 as a state representative. He was later elected to the state Senate in 2009.

In March, Kelsey announced on Twitter that he would not seek reelection.

After his indictment, Kelsey continued to represent parents and schools as intervenors in a case in which they wanted the state’s two-county school voucher program to take effect. The program backed by GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had long been blocked in court until the state Supreme Court ruled in its favor in May.


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AP Investigation: Prison boss beat inmates, climbed ranks

The prison staff didn’t know much about the new acting warden. Then, they say, he made a bizarre and startling confession: Years ago, he beat inmates — and got away with it.

Thomas Ray Hinkle, a high-ranking federal Bureau of Prisons official, was sent to restore order and trust at a women’s prison wracked by a deplorable scandal. Instead, workers say, he left the federal lockup in Dublin, California, even more broken.

Staff saw Hinkle as a bully and regarded his presence there — just after allegations that the previous warden and other employees sexually assaulted inmates — as hypocrisy from an agency that was publicly pledging to end its abusive, corrupt culture.

So at a staff meeting in March, they confronted the then-director of the Bureau of Prisons and asked: Why, instead of firing Hinkle years ago, was the agency keen to keep promoting him?

“That’s something we’ve got to look into,” Michael Carvajal responded, according to people in the room.

Three months later, the Bureau of Prisons promoted Hinkle again, putting him in charge of 20 federal prisons and 21,000 inmates from Utah to Hawaii as acting western regional director. Among them: Dublin.

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MULTIPLE ALLEGATIONS

An Associated Press investigation has found that the Bureau of Prisons has repeatedly promoted Hinkle despite numerous red flags, rewarding him again and again over a three-decade career while others who assaulted inmates lost their jobs and went to prison.

The agency’s new leader defends Hinkle, saying he’s a changed man and a model employee — standing by him even as she promises to work with the Justice Department and Congress to root out staff misconduct. And Hinkle, responding to questions from the AP, acknowledged that he assaulted inmates in the 1990s but said he regrets that behavior and now speaks openly about it “to teach others how to avoid making the same mistakes.”

Among the AP’s findings:

— At least three inmates, all Black, have accused Hinkle of beating them while he was a correctional officer at a Florence, Colorado federal penitentiary in 1995 and 1996. The allegations were documented in court documents and formal complaints to prison officials. In recent years, colleagues say, Hinkle has talked about beating inmates while a member of a violent, racist gang of guards called “The Cowboys.”

— One inmate said he felt terrified as Hinkle and another guard dragged him up a stairway and slammed him into walls. Another said Hinkle was among guards who threw him to a concrete floor, spat on him and used racist language toward him. A third said Hinkle slapped him and held him down while another guard sexually assaulted him.

— The Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department knew about allegations against Hinkle in 1996 but promoted him anyway. The agency promoted Hinkle least nine times after the alleged beatings, culminating in June with his promotion to acting regional director.

— At least 11 guards connected to “The Cowboys” were charged with federal crimes, but not Hinkle. Three were convicted and imprisoned. Four were acquitted; four pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Hinkle was promoted twice before the criminal investigation was over.

— In 2007, while a lieutenant at a Houston federal jail, Hinkle was arrested for public intoxication at a music festival after police say he got drunk, flashed his Bureau of Prisons ID card and refused orders to leave. After the case was dropped, the agency promoted Hinkle.

— Hinkle has also come under fire as a senior agency leader. The Justice Department rebuked him in March after he was accused of attempting to silence a whistleblower, and the Bureau of Prisons said it was taking corrective action after he impeded a member of Congress’ investigation and sent all-staff emails criticizing her and the agency. Three months later, he was promoted to acting regional director.

— The Bureau of Prisons, already under intense scrutiny from Congress for myriad crises and dysfunction, did not publicize Hinkle’s promotion. Instead, the agency left his predecessor’s name and bio on its website and refused requests for basic information about him.

The AP has spent months investigating Hinkle, obtaining more than 1,600 pages of court records and agency reports from the National Archives and Records Administration, reviewing thousands of pages of documents from related criminal cases and appeals, and interviewing dozens of people. Many spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation or because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Together, they show that while the Bureau of Prisons has vowed to change its toxic culture in the wake of Dublin and other scandals — a promise recently reiterated by the agency’s new director, Colette Peters — it has continued to elevate a man involved in one of the darkest, most abusive periods in its history.

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`WE ARE ALL HUMAN’

The extent of Hinkle’s alleged misconduct and his subsequent rise to the upper ranks of the Bureau of Prisons has never been revealed. The AP’s findings raise serious questions about the agency’s standards, its selection and vetting of candidates for top-tier positions, and its explicit commitment to rooting out abuse.

“As a minimum, the music festival incident, handling of the whistleblower, and the congressional investigation exhibit his extremely poor judgment,” said Allan Turner, a former federal prison warden who reviewed the AP’s findings.

“This should have been a red flag for any promotion board and is certainly not the appropriate level of judgment expected of someone serving in a leadership role in a correctional institution or in a region,” said Turner, a research professor emeritus in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

This story is part of an ongoing AP investigation that has uncovered deep, previously unreported flaws within the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of about $8 billion.

AP reporting has revealed rampant sexual abuse and other criminal conduct by staff, dozens of escapes, deaths and severe staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies.

In response to detailed questions from the AP, Hinkle conceded that he beat inmates as a correctional officer but said he has made significant changes to his life since then, including seeking professional treatment and quitting alcohol. He said he was disciplined — a two-week suspension for failing to report abuse of an inmate — and that he cooperated fully with investigators.

“With the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, and through professional help, I have made the most of my opportunity for a second chance to serve the Bureau of Prisons honorably over the past twelve years,” Hinkle said.

“I cannot speak to why some are dredging up history from so many years ago, but my distant past does not reflect who I am today,” Hinkle added. He “vehemently and categorically” denied using racial slurs, targeting whistleblowers and any recent allegations of misconduct.

“My story I share with my fellow staff has more to do with hope and change after getting help and not self-medicating with alcohol,” Hinkle said. “We are all human and make mistakes. There is no shame in admitting our problems and seeking help.”

The Bureau of Prisons responded to detailed questions about Hinkle with a statement from Peters defending him and the agency’s decisions to promote him.

“Mr. Hinkle has openly acknowledged his past mistakes, gone through the employee discipline program, sought professional help and reframed his experiences as learning opportunities for others,” Peters said. “Today, I am confident he has grown into an effective supervisor for our agency.”

At the same time, Peters said she remains committed to working within the agency and the Justice Department and with Congress “to root out staff misconduct and other concerns.”

The AP also filed requests with the Bureau of Prisons under the Freedom of Information Act for background information on Hinkle, including his job history, work assignments and official photograph. The agency claimed it had “no public records responsive” to AP’s request.

The agency also denied a request for Hinkle’s disciplinary records, saying that “even to acknowledge the existence of such records … would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

___

‘ONE OF THE ORIGINAL COWBOYS’

Hinkle showed no privacy concerns when he stood up in front of his boss, wardens and union brass and told them what he had done.

It was 2020. The new regional director, Melissa Rios, was holding court at regional headquarters in Stockton, California. Suddenly here was Hinkle, her deputy, talking at length about how he brutalized inmates long ago.

“I am one of the original Cowboys from Florence,” Hinkle said, according to people who were there. He also said, according to them: “We were abusing inmates” and “we were assaulting them.”

Around the room, people looked at each other, puzzled. Was it intended as a cautionary tale? Or was he bragging?

Fresh from the Marine Corps, Hinkle was among the first wave of correctional officers hired to staff the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. The prison, opened in 1993, was part of a cluster built in the high desert 110 miles (175 kilometers) south of Denver to relieve overcrowding elsewhere. Next door, an even higher-security prison was springing up: the super-max “Alcatraz of the Rockies” for terrorists, mob bosses, drug lords and other dangerous felons.

The federal inmate population had tripled since 1980, fueled by a surge in violent crime and mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Within the Florence penitentiary’s freshly poured walls, “The Cowboys” were taking over.

One guard told a grand jury that the prison’s captain had given a “green light” for “The Cowboys” to attack inmates. In particular, “The Cowboys” ran roughshod over the special housing unit or SHU (pronounced “shoe”) — a prison within the prison for inmates with disciplinary problems.

They’d walk around wearing “Cowboys” baseball caps and leave a “Cowboys” medallion as a calling card. They’d throw a ball painted with “Cowboy Love” into a cell, wait until an inmate picked it up and then rush in and jump him.

They’d meet during off hours to talk about beatings. They’d stress secrecy, bribe inmates with cigarettes to stay quiet, and repeat slogans like “you lie ’till you die.”

In all, prosecutors said, “The Cowboys” beat more than two dozen prisoners — many of them Black — in less than three years.

___

BEATINGS, NO CONSEQUENCES

Hinkle was accused of assaulting at least three inmates. The allegations were detailed in court actions and formal complaints to agency officials. Two said Hinkle beat them as he and other guards brought them to the penitentiary’s special housing unit on Oct. 29, 1995, after a violent uprising at Florence’s neighboring medium-security prison.

Both men said they were in full restraints — handcuffs, chains, and shackles — and unable to protect themselves from guards wearing helmets, elbow pads and knee pads.

Marion Bryant Jr. alleged in a lawsuit, later settled by the Bureau of Prisons for $7,500, that Hinkle and other guards dragged him up a flight of stairs and slammed him into walls in a dark hallway. He said guards held his arms, tripped him, kicked his groin and taunted him with racial slurs.

“We’ll kill you if you f— with staff,” they said, according to Bryant.

Bryant said Hinkle and another officer then carried him down some stairs, dragged him down a hall and threw him on a cell floor, where Hinkle removed his restraints and his clothing.

“I’m terrified. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” Bryant testified in a 2000 deposition.

Bryant, a former University of Utah linebacker, said in court documents that he sustained bruised ribs, a busted lip and injuries to his left shoulder but wasn’t seen by prison medical staff for more than a week.

Norman McCrary accused Hinkle and three other guards of slamming him to a concrete floor, spitting on him, and calling him a “f—— n——.”

Bryant and McCrary, both in for drug offenses, were among two dozen inmates taken to the SHU in the wake of the uprising.

Bryant was accused of breaking off a table leg in the melee and swinging it at a prison worker “in a threatening manner.” He denied the allegation but later pleaded guilty to assaulting a correctional officer, adding two years to his sentence. Bryant said he was held in the special housing unit for six months after his alleged beating.

Hinkle was accused by a colleague in court proceedings of assaulting a third inmate, Reginald McCoy, around the same time. McCoy, 52, told the AP that Hinkle was among four guards who slapped him and held him down while a guard fondled his genitals.

McCoy, who also goes by the name Kojovi Muhammad and is serving a life sentence for cocaine distribution, said another guard punched him in the jaw, causing him to spit up blood and knocking his teeth out of place. He pretended to be unconscious until they left.

One guard told a grand jury investigating “The Cowboys” in 2000 that McCoy was sent to the SHU for allegedly following a female employee around, and that once he was in a holding cell, Hinkle and other guards assaulted him.

Prosecutors listed McCoy’s assault among dozens of acts in the indictment of seven members of the “The Cowboys.” They did not mention Hinkle, who wasn’t charged.

Bureau of Prisons policy bars workers from using “brutality, physical violence, or intimidation toward inmates, or use any force beyond what is reasonably necessary to subdue an inmate,” with punishment ranging from reprimand to firing.

Bryant tried to fight back through the legal system. Within weeks of his alleged beating, he filed a staff assault complaint through the prison’s administrative remedy process and later added a tort claim seeking $2 million. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division closed its investigation in February 1997, saying there was “insufficient medical evidence” and “insufficient eyewitness corroboration.”

The Bureau of Prisons also denied Bryant’s tort claim, writing that its investigation “does not reveal evidence to show that you suffered any actual personal injury as a result of negligence, omission, wrongful acts, or improper conduct on the part of Bureau of Prisons staff.”

Bryant filed a prisoner’s civil rights lawsuit against Hinkle and other officers in April 1997. The Bureau of Prisons settled with Bryant in 2003, the same year he was released from prison, but fought until after his death in 2015 to keep the terms secret.

___

A SECOND CHANCE AND MORE TROUBLE

Within a year of the Justice Department closing its investigation into Bryant and McCrary’s allegations, the Bureau of Prisons promoted Hinkle out of Florence.

By February 1998, he was a senior officer specialist at a low-security prison at the federal prison complex in Beaumont, Texas, northeast of Houston. The position, which was to be awarded through a competitive selection process, put Hinkle one rung below management.

Bryant had just filed his lawsuit, and the FBI investigation into “The Cowboys” was ongoing. Two years later, though, the Bureau of Prisons promoted Hinkle into management as a lieutenant at its Houston jail.

But in October 2007, Hinkle was arrested for public intoxication after authorities say he refused to leave an all-day music festival when security ejected him for not having a ticket.

“Some punk inside made me f—— leave,” Hinkle told a sheriff’s deputy, according to an arrest report obtained by the AP through an open records request from the Montgomery County, Texas sheriff’s office.

It was around 9 p.m. at the annual Buzzfest festival, featuring The Smashing Pumpkins and other alt-rock favorites, in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands. Hinkle, then 41, flashed his Bureau of Prisons ID and told the sheriff’s deputy that “he was an officer just like” him.

In that moment, though, the deputy saw Hinkle — his breath smelling of booze, defying orders to leave — as a “danger to himself and others” and told him he was under arrest for public intoxication. As the sheriff’s deputy turned him around to handcuff him, Hinkle stiffened his body and resisted, according to the arrest report. Several other officers had to help.

After 16 months, prosecutors dropped the case just before trial, sparing Hinkle the maximum penalty — a $500 fine — and, more importantly, the prospect of a criminal record.

Hinkle’s lawyer in the case, Earl Musick, said Hinkle had misplaced his ticket after entering. Musick said he found several witnesses who would’ve testified that Hinkle wasn’t intoxicated. Prosecutors decided to withdraw the case after they had trouble finding witnesses to support the allegations, Musick said.

“He was completely innocent of that,” Musick said. “They got pissed off at him for some reason and hung that charge on him.”

Hinkle stayed in Houston, where he’d bought a house and remarried, until 2012 — nearly 12 years after he’d arrived. It was his longest gap between promotions.

Then, the Bureau of Prisons promoted him again and again in rapid succession.

— In 2013, Hinkle was made deputy captain of the federal prison complex in Forrest City, Arkansas. A year later, he was the captain of the federal prison complex in Beaumont, Texas.

— In 2016, the agency promoted Hinkle to assistant administrator of the correctional programs division at its Washington, D.C. headquarters, giving him a hand in setting policies and overseeing operations at all 122 federal prison facilities.

— In 2018, the Bureau of Prisons sent Hinkle to help run its newest and one of its most dangerous facilities, making him associate warden — second-in-command — at the federal penitentiary in Thomson, Illinois. Among his duties: Overseeing staff sexual abuse training and compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Then, in January 2020, the agency sent Hinkle west as deputy regional director.

___

‘MESS UP, MOVE UP’?

Hinkle’s rise is a stark example of what Bureau of Prisons employees call the agency’s “mess up, move up” policy — its tendency to promote and transfer troubled workers instead of firing them.

Hinkle had never worked in the western region before and had never been a warden, often a prerequisite for a top regional post. And yet there he was, appointed to help run one-fifth of the nation’s federal lockups and given a $40,000 raise. This year, Hinkle is on pace to make $176,300, according to government data.

Employees say Hinkle has been a foul-mouthed bully who leads through fear and intimidation. Inmates allege in court filings that, on his watch, they’ve been subjected to “Cowboys”-style violence from correctional officer “goon squads” roughing them up after a hunger strike at an Oregon federal prison.

Hinkle has been accused of targeting employee whistleblowers; questioning the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic as it raged in federal prisons; defending the ex-Dublin warden charged with sexually abusing inmates; and, in an ad hoc security policy, female workers say he ordered them to take off their bras when they arrived for work.

“I’ve never heard one positive thing about the guy,” said Aaron McGlothin, president of the union at the federal prison in Mendota, California. “Everybody says the same thing,” he says — that Hinkle is “narcissistic” and “arrogant.”

McGlothin said Hinkle sent a lieutenant to videotape union members protesting understaffing last year outside the Mendota prison. Union leaders at another federal prison, in Herlong, California, said Hinkle threatened to discipline them for insubordination after they spoke up about staffing shortages.

Union representatives have complained repeatedly to the Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department about Hinkle. They’ve written to Attorney General Merrick Garland and his top deputy, Lisa Monaco, pleading for his removal, and they’ve sought help from members of Congress.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., had her own hostile encounter with Hinkle when she visited Dublin in February. Her assessment: “He’s a thug.”

Speier said Hinkle was dismissive of Dublin’s sexual-abuse crisis — worrying more about the prison’s reputation than the inmates — and tried to block her from speaking one-on-one with women who reported abuse.

“The lens through which he looked at the issue wasn’t that this was some horrible cultural rot — it was that it was an embarrassment,” Speier said. “I think he’s risen through the ranks by being part of the team… He came off as arrogant. He just really didn’t get it.”

The Bureau of Prisons made Hinkle acting warden at Dublin in January after former warden Ray Garcia and several other workers were arrested for sexually abusing inmates. Garcia was convicted Thursday after a week-long trial.

Hinkle told Dublin staff that he was there to help the prison “regain its reputation,” but employees say his two months in charge left the facility even more tattered. They say Hinkle attempted to silence an employee whistleblower and even threatened to close the prison if workers kept speaking up about misconduct.

Employees say Hinkle met alone with a female worker who filed a harassment complaint against a prison manager, a violation of established protocols that gave the appearance he was trying to keep her quiet. Afterward, the woman said she felt blindsided and was reluctant to proceed.

The episode led to rare public condemnation from the Justice Department, which said in a March statement: “These allegations, if true, are abhorrent.”

Employees say Hinkle also showed little sense of the crisis that brought him to Dublin, wrongly claiming to workers that what Garcia was accused of was consensual sex — even though the law, which he oversaw training on at Thomson, is clear that no such thing exists between inmates and prison workers.

Hinkle left Dublin at the end of February, returning to his deputy regional director duties while a new, permanent warden took over. A week later, Carvajal was at the prison, pledging to look into employees’ concerns about how Hinkle kept getting promoted instead of fired.

Nevertheless, on June 10, Carvajal sent a memo to Bureau of Prisons staff announcing that he was promoting Hinkle to acting western regional director indefinitely. Rios, the regional director, was on leave for a family emergency and not expected back, but the agency said she returned in late September, bumping Hinkle back to deputy regional director.

And that’s where he remains, at least for now. Under Justice Department policy, Hinkle must retire next May when he turns 57. That, said Hinkle, is precisely what he plans to do.

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On Twitter, follow Michael Sisak at http:// twitter.com/mikesisak and Michael Balsamo at http:// twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/


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Wholesale inflation further slowed in November to 7.4%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wholesale prices in the United States rose 7.4% in November from a year earlier, a fifth straight slowdown and a hopeful sign that inflation pressures across the economy are continuing to cool.

The latest year-over-year figure was down from 8% in October and from a recent peak of 11.7% in March. On a monthly basis, the government said Friday that its producer price index, which measures costs before they reach consumers, rose 0.3% from October to November for the third straight month.

Still, a measure of “core” producer prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, accelerated, rising 0.4% from October to November. The core figure had risen just 0.1% from September to October. Looked at over the past 12 months, though, core producer prices were up 6.2% in November, less than the 6.7% in October.

The latest figures reflect an ongoing shift in inflation from goods to services. The cost of goods rose just 0.1% from October to November, with wholesale gas prices tumbling 6%. (Food prices were an exception: They jumped 3.3% last month, fueled by costlier vegetables, eggs and chicken.)

By contrast, services prices rose more, up 0.4%, led mostly by more expensive financial services. The wholesale cost of airfares and hotel rooms both fell, though, and overall services prices have slowed in the past three months.

“Overall inflation is moving in the right direction, though at a slow pace,” PNC Financial Services Group said in research note. “The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy tightening plans will remain aggressive until clear, consistent signs of inflation’s demise have been demonstrated.”

Rising prices are still straining Americans’ finances, particularly for food, rent and services such as haircuts, medical care and restaurant meals. Yet several emerging trends have combined to slow inflation from the four-decade peak it reached during the summer. Gas prices have tumbled after topping out at $5 a gallon in June. Nationally, they averaged $3.33 a gallon Thursday, according to AAA, just below their average a year ago.

And the supply chain snarls that caused chronic transportation delays and shortages of many goods, from patio furniture to curtains, are unraveling. U.S. ports have cleared the backlog of ships that earlier this year took weeks to unload. And the cost of shipping a cargo container from Asia has fallen sharply back to pre-pandemic levels.

As a result, the prices of long-lasting goods, from used cars and furniture to appliances and certain electronics, are easing.

Friday’s producer price data captures inflation at an early stage of production and can often signal where consumer prices are headed. Next week, the government will report its highest-profile inflation figure, the consumer price index. The most recent CPI report, for October, showed a moderation in inflation, with prices up 7.7% from a year earlier. Though still high, that was lowest year-over-year figure since January.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, in a speech last week, pointed to the decline in goods prices as an encouraging sign. Powell suggested that housing costs, including rent, which have been a major driver of inflation, should also start to slow next year.

The Fed chair also signaled that the central bank will likely raise its benchmark interest rate by a smaller increment when it meets next week. Investors foresee a half-point Fed hike, after four straight three-quarter-point increases.

Yet Powell noted that services prices, which reflect the largest sector of the U.S. economy, are still increasing at a historically fast pace. Rapidly rising wages are a key driver of services inflation, he noted. That’s because as wages rise, many businesses pass on their higher labor costs to their customers through higher prices, which drives up inflation.

Pay is still rising quickly and could continue to fuel higher inflation through most of next year. In last week’s jobs report for November, the government reported that average hourly pay jumped 5.1% from a year earlier, far above the pre-pandemic pace. Powell said wage gains closer to 3.5% would be needed to bring inflation down toward the Fed’s 2% annual target.


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After midterms, GOP reconsidering antipathy to mail ballots

ATLANTA (AP) — In Georgia’s Senate runoff, Republicans once more met the realities of giving Democrats a head start they could not overcome.

According to tallies from the secretary of state, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock built a lead of more than 320,000 votes heading into Tuesday’s election. He topped Republican Herschel Walker by an almost 2-1 ratio in mailed ballots and had an advantage of more than 250,000 early, in-person votes over Walker. So even with Walker gaining more votes on Election Day, the challenger lost by nearly 97,000 votes.

It was only the latest example of how Republicans have handed Democrats an advantage in balloting due to former President Donald Trump’s lies about the risks of mail voting. Conservative conspiracy theorists urged GOP voters to wait until Election Day before casting their ballots and spun tales about how such a strategy would prevent Democrats from rigging voting machines to steal the election.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election or this year’s midterms.

One problem with such a strategy is the random glitches that often arise on Election Day.

In Arizona’s most populous county, for example, a printer error created long lines at several voting locations on Nov. 8. Republicans ended up losing several statewide contests, including for governor and secretary of state, although Maricopa County officials said all voters had a chance to cast a ballot and that all valid ballots were counted.

The race for Arizona attorney general, where the GOP candidate is behind by just over 500 votes, is heading to an automatic recount.

In northern Nevada, a snow storm made travel tricky on Election Day. The Republican candidate for Senate lost his race by 8,000 votes. In Georgia’s runoff, rain drenched the state as the disproportionately Republican crowd finally made its way to the polls.

Overall, Republican turnout was fairly robust in the midterms, suggesting the party did not have many problems getting its voters to the polls. But the loss in Georgia, which enabled Democrats to gain a Senate seat during an election where the GOP hoped to retake the chamber, was the last straw for several conservatives.

“We’ve got to put a priority on competing with Democrats from the start, beat them at their own game,” said Debbie Dooley, a Georgia tea party organizer who remains loyal to Trump but is critical of how he has talked about the U.S. election system.

In Washington, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader, told reporters: “We’ve got to get better at turnout operations, especially in states that use mail-in balloting extensively.”

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in an interview on Fox News this week that Republican voters need to cast ballots early.

“I have said this over and over again,” she said. “There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early.’ And we have to stop that.”

McDaniel did not name the main person in 2020 who was attacking voting before Election Day — Trump.

When the U.S. went into lockdown during the March 2020 primaries, the nation’s voting system shifted heavily to mail. The then-president began to attack that manner of casting ballots, saying Democratic efforts to expand it could lead to “levels of voting that if, you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump continued to baselessly claim mail balloting would lead to massive fraud, then blamed that imaginary mass fraud for his loss in November even after his own Department of Justice found no such organized activity. Trump’s lies helped spur the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, new GOP-backed laws tightening election regulations in Republican-led states and a wave of Republican candidates running for statewide posts in the 2022 elections who embraced his conspiracy theories.

Academic research has shown that mail voting increases turnout but doesn’t benefit either party. It is, however, normally pushed by campaigns. Once they have locked in some votes by mail, they can focus turnout operations on the laggards and get them to vote by Election Day.

Mail voting also provides a hedge against bad weather, equipment mishaps, traffic jams and other Election Day woes that can discourage voters.

Republicans in states such as Florida and Utah set up robust systems of mail voting and kept expanding their footprint. In states such as Colorado that mail every voter a ballot, older, conservative-leaning voters were the ones most likely to return their ballots by mail.

Still, the GOP has traditionally been more skeptical of mail balloting, though it was not a central piece of party identity until Trump made it so in 2020. But even conservatives who push back against expanding mail voting warn that the party has to wake up to reality.

“There is a tension on the right between folks who say, ‘They’re the rules and you’ve got to play by them,’ and those who say, ‘No, you do not,’” said Jason Snead of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group that advocates for tighter restrictions on mail voting. “I think there’s a lot of reevaluation and reassessment going on.”

“You can stand on principle and say, ‘I am not going to do this,’ but it’s a drag on performance if you do,” Snead said.

He noted that Republicans with robust early voting programs, such as Govs. Brian Kemp in Georgia and Ron DeSantis in Florida, easily won their elections while those who echoed Trump’s conspiracy theories mostly lost.

One of the worst performances for election conspiracy theorists was in Pennsylvania, where the Republican candidate for governor, who had watched as protesters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, lost by nearly 15 percentage points. The GOP also lost a Senate seat there and control of the lower house of the legislature.

Democrats out-voted Republicans by mail by more than 3-to-1, netting 69% of the nearly 1.25 million mail ballots cast in the state. That was almost one-fourth of a total of nearly 5.4 million ballots cast.

Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a massive overhaul of the state’s voting system in 2019, allowing anyone to cast a ballot by mail. Many Republicans had second thoughts in 2020 after Trump began to castigate mail voting. GOP lawmakers and their allies have since fought in court to throw out the law and inflate the number of mail ballots rejected for technicalities.

Top party officials in the state are now reassessing.

“Republican attitudes on mail-in ballots are going to have to change,” said Sam DeMarco, chair of the Allegheny County GOP. “President Trump is running across the country telling people not to use it, and it’s crushing us.”

___

Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.


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Fight to curb food waste increasingly turns to science

Hate mealy apples and soggy french fries? Science can help.

Restaurants, grocers, farmers and food companies are increasingly turning to chemistry and physics to tackle the problem of food waste.

Some are testing spray-on peels or chemically-enhanced sachets that can slow the ripening process in fruit. Others are developing digital sensors that can tell — more precisely than a label — when meat is safe to consume. And packets affixed to the top of a takeout box use thermodynamics to keep fries crispy.

Experts say growing awareness of food waste and its incredible cost — both in dollars and in environmental impact — has led to an uptick in efforts to mitigate it. U.S. food waste startups raised $300 billion in 2021, double the amount raised in 2020, according to ReFed, a group that studies food waste.

“This has suddenly become a big interest,” said Elizabeth Mitchum, director of the Postharvest Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, who has worked in the field for three decades. “Even companies that have been around for a while are now talking about what they do through that lens.”

In 2019, around 35% of the 229 million tons of food available in the U.S. — worth around $418 billion — went unsold or uneaten, according to ReFed. Food waste is the largest category of material placed in municipal landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which says rotting food releases methane, a problematic greenhouse gas.

ReFed estimates 500,000 pounds of food could be diverted from landfills annually with high-tech packaging.

Among the products in development are a sensor by Stockholm-based Innoscentia that can determine whether meat is safe depending on the buildup of microbes in its packaging. And Ryp Labs, based in the U.S. and Belgium, is working on a produce sticker that would release a vapor to slow ripening.

SavrPak was founded in 2020 by Bill Bergen, an aerospace engineer who was tired of the soggy food in his lunchbox. He developed a plant-based packet — made with food-safe materials approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — that can fit inside a takeout container and absorb condensation, helping keep the food inside hotter and crispier.

Nashville, Tennessee-based hot chicken chain Hattie B’s was skeptical. But after testing SavrPaks using humidity sensors, it now uses the packs when it’s catering fried foods and is working with SavrPak to integrate the packs into regular takeout containers.

Brian Morris, Hattie B’s vice president of culinary learning and development, said each SavrPak costs the company less than $1 but ensures a better meal.

“When it comes to fried chicken, we kind of lose control from the point when it leaves our place,” Morris said. “We don’t want the experience to go down the drain.”

But cost can still be a barrier for some companies and consumers. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, ended its multi-year partnership with Goleta, California-based Apeel Sciences this year because it found consumers weren’t willing to pay more for produce brushed or sprayed with Apeel’s edible coating to keep moisture in and oxygen out, thus extending the time that produce stays fresh.

Apeel says treated avocados can last a few extra days, while citrus fruit lasts for several weeks. The coating is made of purified mono- and diglycerides, emulsifiers that are common food additives.

Kroger wouldn’t say how much more Apeel products cost. Apeel also wouldn’t reveal the average price premium for produce treated with its coating since it varies by food distributor and grocer. But Apeel says its research shows customers are willing to pay more for produce that lasts longer. Apeel also says it continues to talk to Kroger about other future technology.

There is another big hurdle to coming up with innovations to preserve food: Every food product has its own biological makeup and handling requirements.

“There is no one major change that can improve the situation,” said Randy Beaudry, a professor in the horticulture department at Michigan State University’s school of agriculture.

Beaudry said the complexity has caused some projects to fail. He remembers working with one large packaging company on a container designed to prevent fungus in tomatoes. For the science to work, the tomatoes had to be screened for size and then oriented stem-up in each container. Eventually the project was scrapped.

Beaudry said it’s also hard to sort out which technology works best, since startups don’t always share data or formulations with outside researchers.

Some companies find it better to rely on proven technology — but in new ways. Chicago-based Hazel Technologies, which was founded in 2015, sells 1-methylcyclopropene, or 1-MCP, a gas that has been used for decades to delay the ripening process in fruit. The compound — considered non-toxic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — is typically pumped into sealed storage rooms to inhibit the production of ethylene, a plant hormone.

But Hazel’s real breakthrough is a sachet the size of a sugar packet that can slowly release 1-MCP into a box of produce.

Mike Mazie, the facilities and storage manager at BelleHarvest, a large apple packing facility in Belding, Michigan, ordered around 3,000 sachets this year. He used them for surplus bins that couldn’t fit into the sealed rooms required for gas.

“If you can get another week out of a bushel of apples, why wouldn’t you?” he said. “It absolutely makes a difference.”

The science is promising but it’s only part of the solution, said Yvette Cabrera, the director of food waste for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Most food waste happens at the residential level, she said; lowering portion sizes, buying smaller quantities of food at a time or improving the accuracy of date labels could have even more impact than technology.

“Overall as a society, we don’t value food as it should be valued,” Cabrera said.

___

AP National Writer and Visual Journalist Martha Irvine contributed from Belding, Michigan.


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Griner swap wasn’t what U.S. hoped for, but what it could get (AUDIO)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s surprise announcement last July lacked any detail, but its meaning was crystal clear.

In a rare comment on secret talks, he said the Biden administration had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to end the imprisonment of two Americans: WNBA star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

The message was plain, for those closely following the cases:

To get Griner and Whelan home, the U.S. would agree to the release of Viktor Bout, an imprisoned Russian arms dealer with the ominous nickname of “the Merchant of Death.” The Russians had made no secret of their desire to get Bout home.

On Thursday, Bout and Griner began their journeys home after a dramatic one-for-one swap. Yet Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia. The deal wasn’t all that U.S. officials had wanted. But after months of difficult private negotiations and angry public accusations, it was, they concluded, the best they could get.

It came together in the past few days after the administration grudgingly accepted that though the Russians would not budge on Whelan, they were prepared to relent on Griner, creating imperfect but ultimately workable options for a U.S. government under pressure to make a deal.

“This was not a choice for us on which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one American or none,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive who had regularly traveled to Russia, was arrested in December 2018 while visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding. He was convicted of espionage charges that he and the U.S. government say are baseless and is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

“For totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up,” Biden said Thursday.

Griner’s arrest in February on drug possession charges made her instantaneously the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as a gay Black woman, her prominence in women’s basketball and her imprisonment at a time of war combined for an unusual confluence of storylines in sports, politics and diplomacy.

For weeks, the focus seemed to center on legal aspects of the case and questions of her guilt or innocence. But that changed in May after the U.S. designated her a wrongful detainee, a move that placed her case with the government’s top hostage negotiator and came just after a separate prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia.

Griner’s guilty plea last summer and nine-year prison sentence made it clear her best hope for release was through a prisoner swap. Blinken’s public reveal of a “substantial proposal” created speculation of who beyond Bout, a notorious arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence, the U.S. might be willing to release in a two-for-two exchange — and who else Russia might want.

Lawyers for Alexander Vinnik, an accused Russian cryptocurrency launderer recently extradited to California, advanced his client’s name to officials in Russia and the U.S., but he was ultimately left out of Thursday’s deal.

“We think that he is a good candidate, remains a good candidate,” said one of Vinnik’s lawyers, David Rizk. “He’s somebody that both sides have a lot of interest in, and he’s also somebody who hasn’t killed anybody. He hasn’t committed any violent crime.”

A senior administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said Thursday that the U.S. “explored a wide range of alternatives and permutations that we felt were, frankly, quite generous in resolving both cases.” The official did not elaborate.

Throughout the fall, there were few signs of progress, with U.S. officials repeatedly saying that Russia had yet to respond in good faith to their offer. Blinken spoke by phone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in July in the highest-level known contact between the two sides since Russia invaded Ukraine, but Russian officials gave no hint that headway had been made.

As U.S. officials talked directly with Russian counterparts, Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and top deputy Mickey Bergman held backchannel discussions in Russia and other countries with their own contacts to try to find middle ground.

“We were aiming, working together, for a two-for-two but I think the geopolitical situation prevented us from doing the two-for-two – in other words, the increasingly hostile relationship” between the countries, Richardson said in an interview.

Back in Washington, officials were repeatedly stressing the extent to which the U.S. viewed the cases of Griner and Whelan through the same lens and with the same urgency. In September, Biden hosted Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, for separate meetings at the White House.

But the reality, administration officials now say, is that Russia viewed Whelan’s case differently, with one official saying Moscow “put him through sham proceedings that convicted him of trumped-up espionage charges.” Russia, the official said, had “rejected each and every one of our proposals for his release.”

A potential thaw for Griner was evident in recent weeks. Biden told reporters after the midterm U.S. elections that he was hopeful Russia would now be more willing to negotiate her release. A Russian official said last week a deal was possible by the end of the year.

Progress escalated this week. Cherelle Griner was invited to the White House for a meeting with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and she was with Biden Thursday morning when he was notified Griner was secure.

Brittney Griner was put through to the Oval Office and Biden said, “It’s Joe Biden. Welcome, welcome home!” one official said of the conversation.

In anticipation of the transfer, Griner was relocated from the Russian penal colony where she arrived last month and was flown to the United Arab Emirates for the transfer. Arriving there, too, was Bout, who was not presented with his official clemency paperwork until U.S. officials knew Griner was also present.

The deal brought a joyful end to an agonizing wait for Cherelle Griner, who in June told The Associated Press how a phone mixup by the U.S. government left her unable to connect with her wife on the couple’s four-year wedding anniversary. Just two months ago she said her wife was at her “absolute weakest moment in life right now.”

The final outcome was less joyful for the Whelan family, though they said they supported the administration’s action. Elizabeth Whelan was visited in Massachusetts by a U.S. official bearing the news. Paul Whelan himself was also briefed by the administration.

“To realize now that not only didn’t it include him, but also that there may not be any other things that the U.S. currently has control over that could bring Paul home — that’s a new thing to be thinking about,” brother David Whelan said in an interview.

____

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani and Colleen Long in Washington and Kathleen Foody in Chicago contributed to this report.

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP


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Santa visit brings joy to a frosty Alaska Inupiaq village

NUIQSUT, Alaska (AP) — Though the weather outside was frightful, schoolchildren in the northern Alaska Inupiac community of Nuiqsut were so delighted for a visit by Santa that they braved wind chills of 25 degrees below zero just to see him land on a snow-covered airstrip.

Once again, it was time for Operation Santa Claus in Alaska. And here in Nuiqsut, a roadless village of about 460 residents on Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope, the temperatures may have been plunging but the children were warming quickly.

Never mind that Santa left Rudolph at home to catch a ride on an Alaska Air National Guard cargo plane to Nuiqsut, just 30 frosty miles (50 kilometers) south of the Arctic Ocean. Here, just a reindeer skip and a hop from the North Pole, the students were abuzz with good cheer.

“Some of them were out on the deck and they were jumping up and down, excited to see the plane coming in,” said Principal Lee Karasiewicz of the Trapper School, as he kept watch over pupils from the 160-student K-12 facility privileged to get a pre-Christmas visit from the jolly, fat one.

“They knew right away by the size of the plane, who was on that plane,” Karasiewicz said of the students.

When Santa and Mrs. Claus stepped off the hulking cargo plane, some of the children rushed to greet him with hugs, their beaming parents snapping photos on their phones.

Year after year across the decades the Alaska National Guard has delivered gifts, supplies and often Christmas itself to a few tiny rural Alaska communities, trying in particular to make things merry in villages hit by recent hardships.

Operation Santa Claus began back in 1956 when the residents of one community, St. Mary’s, found themselves without money to buy gifts. Townsfolk stung by flooding and then a drought that wipe out their subsistence hunting and fishing opportunities were forced to spend Christmas money on food instead. That’s when the guard stepped in, bringing them donated gifts and supplies.

For Nuiqsut, the adversity came last spring when an oil production facility about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from town sprang a natural gas leak. Though oil workers evacuated, there was no mandatory evacuation in Nuiqsut even though the community was put on alert, said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the town’s mayor.

Subsequently, she said, some people began experiencing symptoms related to gas exposure, such as headaches or trouble breathing. About 20 families, including some with pregnant women or elders and others with special medical conditions, decided to self-evacuate.

Long accustomed to helping out in disasters, the guard sent its tribal liaison official to the town after the leak was contained. The official spoke with community members and relayed their concerns back to guard leadership.

The Santa event held the last Tuesday in November was “a wonderful opportunity” to show children the guard in a different light — not always coming around just when there’s trouble, Ahtuangaruak said.

“It’s about bringing in the National Guard in a non-stressful event so the kids could see them doing good work that’s not during a scary event,” she said.

While there were a few puzzled faces of children sitting on Santa’s lap for the first time, there was nothing frightening about the visit — and certainly no lists of who was naughty or nice.

Once all had gathered in the school gym, each child had the opportunity for a short visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and each received a backpack brimming with snacks and books, hygiene supplies and a gift.

Qannik Amy Alice Woods, a second grader, didn’t want to open her backpack just yet. This was her first experience with Santa Claus, but he won her over like every other child in the world.

“He’s cool,” she said, flashing two thumbs up before heading to the bleachers to enjoy a fresh banana, a hard-to-find item above the Arctic Circle. Children also got a more location-appropriate treat: ice cream sundaes.

Fourth grader Mallory Lampe also had her first direct meeting with Santa but didn’t wait to open her backpack. “I got this kind of toy,” she exclaimed with joy, holding up an interactive creature whose eyes light up when you press its nose.

The Alaska National Guard delivered more than 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) of gifts for the children of Nuiqsut. For the last 53 years, the program has been conducted in conjunction with the Salvation Army.

The two other villages served this year were Scammon Bay, which experienced fuel and food delivery problems last year, and Minto, chosen because it had never had a visit in the program’s history, said Dana Rosso, a spokesperson for the Alaska National Guard.

About 650 pounds (295 kilograms) of gifts were delivered to Minto for about 65 children, and nearly 1,800 pounds (816 kilograms) of gifts for the 325 or so children in Scammon Bay.

During a mission briefing before the plane left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage for Nuiqsut, Santa gave the volunteer elves an important tip.

In Alaska Native culture, it’s considered rude to refuse a request or a gift offered by someone, even taking part in a dance.

That’s why near the end of the program in Nuiqsut, Santa and Mrs. Claus were on the school gym floor with uniformed guard members and scores of others performing a traditional Alaska Native dance. It started when a local drum and dance group performed to honor their guests, and it quickly turned into an impromptu hootenanny.

At the end of the last song, a beaming Mrs. Claus grabbed one of the dancers and hugged her tightly to show her gratitude.

“We can’t go to all of our villages, but when we have a village celebrate this opportunity, it’s a celebration that transfers through the tundra drums across our state,” Mayor Ahtuangaruak said. “We all get to share in the joy.”


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UC’s academic workers strike brings stress to undergraduates

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — A month into the nation’s largest strike involving higher education, the work stoppage by University of California academic workers at 10 campuses is causing stress for many students who are facing canceled classes, no one to answer their questions and uncertainty about how they will be graded as they wrap up the year.

Some 48,000 student employees walked off the job on Nov. 14 to demand higher wages and better benefits. The employees, represented by the United Auto Workers Local 5810, say they were left with no other choice but to strike to demand increased wages necessary to keep up with the sky-high rents in cities like Berkeley, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Last week, university officials agreed to a 29% pay hike for postdoctoral employees and academic researchers who make up about 12,000 of the 48,000 workers. The university system also agreed to provide more family leave time, childcare subsidies and job security.

But the postdoctoral employees and researchers have refused to return to work until a deal is also reached for the 36,000 graduate student teaching assistants, tutors and researchers who are bargaining separately for increased pay and benefits. The strike is being closely watched and could have a ripple effect at schools across the country.

Colleges and universities increasingly rely on graduate student employees to do teaching, grade papers and conduct research that had previously been handled by tenured faculty.

Many University of California students fear the strike may extend well into next year, disrupting their plans to apply to degree programs.

University of California, Berkeley sophomore Janna Nassar said she believes academic workers should be better paid, but she is growing concerned as the strike continues. She was counting on final review sessions with her graduate student instructor for one of her economics classes before she takes the final exam next week. But now the 18 year old said that’s not an option.

Before the strike, she said she attended lectures for that class three times a week and two discussion sessions with the graduate student instructor. She is required to complete the class before she can declare a major in economics next year.

“This is the hardest I have studied in all of my semesters here, and I feel the least prepared,” she said. “It’s really disheartening to know that I might have to declare late or maybe I won’t be able to declare econ and will have to choose another major.”

Susana Sotelo, a UC Berkeley sophomore who plans to declare a psychology major, said four of her five classes were taught by graduate student instructors or lecturers. Those classes have been canceled or moved online and turned optional.

The one class taught by a psychology professor also moved online and he told the students that no new material would be taught for the rest of the semester to support the strike, she said.

Sotelo, 19, said she is not yet sure how she will be graded for her classes except for her psychology class, which will be considered successfully completed if she turns in her research project. Ironically, her research work is about the stress undergraduate students go through when choosing a major.

“My one professor has been very understanding. He sent various emails saying that to support the strikers, he would not give any assignments and would cancel discussions,” Sotelo said.

The average pay for UC student employees is about $24,000 annually and many academic workers say they have to skip meals or take additional work to make ends meet with their meager salary.

Jonathan Mackris, who is pursuing a doctorate in film and media at UC Berkeley, said he teaches an undergraduate class about silent film history but often must take on other jobs, including grading papers or teaching reading and composition.

He said he brings in $2,100 a month and pays $1,870 for a studio apartment near campus. His landlord recently told him his rent will increase to $1,950.

“I go through phases where sometimes I’ll wake up at like two in the morning and like be really stressed about it,” he said.

The bargaining units say they are demanding the university agree to pay that will lift workers out of “rent burden,” which is defined by the federal government as having to pay at least a third of your salary toward rent.

The student workers are also demanding childcare, no more supplemental tuition for international students and better protection from harassment in the workplace, especially for scientific researchers who can be pressured into working long hours into the night and on weekends.

UC officials said in a statement they believe the proposals they have made to the bargaining units “are fair, reasonable and honor the important contributions these bargaining unit members make toward the University’s mission of education and research.”

The university said it has proposed total compensation for those working part-time to range from $46,757 to $74,798, depending on the bargaining unit title and campus.

“The proposals offered by the university to the UAW would place our graduate students and academic employees at the top of the pay scale across major public universities and on par with top private universities,” the university said in a statement.

If graduate employees and researchers win better pay at the UC system, it could prompt similar changes at colleges that compete with UC or where graduate workers are organizing unions, said Tim Cain, associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia.

“If the unions succeed in getting close to what they’re seeking, it will be eye-opening,” he said, adding that “if the conditions fundamentally change at the UC schools, then the marketplace changes for other schools as well.”

Across the country, 75% of academic workers doing research in labs, libraries and archives, and teaching undergraduate courses are graduate students, according to Cain.

Cain sees the strike as part of a broader shift in U.S. labor after the pandemic placed a heavier burden on workers and drew attention to nationwide wage disparities.

“We’re in a moment where there is a great deal of labor activity among workers who are not well treated by larger systems, and I think a number of people working in higher education see themselves as part of that larger disruption,” he said.

What the effects of the disruption will be on UC undergraduate students whose education had already been in disarray because of the pandemic remains to be seen. But for Nassar, who isn’t certain if she will be able to declare an economics major, the effect seems long-lasting.

“It’s like a breaking point,” she said. “It’ll probably affect us for the rest of our undergraduate careers.”

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Associated Press writer Collin Binkley contributed from Washington.


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Officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s back faces sentencing

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s back while another officer kneeled on the Black man’s neck is expected to be sentenced Friday to 3 1/2 years in prison for manslaughter.

J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty in October to a state count of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. The plea came on the same day jury selection was set to begin in his trial. His guilty plea — along with another officer’s decision to let a judge decide his fate — averted what would have been the third long and painful trial over Floyd’s killing.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went limp. The killing, which was recorded on video by a bystander, sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice.

Kueng kneeled on Floyd’s back during the restraint. Then-Officer Thomas Lane held Floyd’s legs and Tou Thao, also an officer at the time, kept bystanders from intervening. All of the officers were fired and faced state and federal charges.

Kueng, who is already serving a federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights, will appear at Friday’s sentencing hearing via video from a low-security federal prison in Ohio. Kueng has the right to make a statement, but it’s not known if he will.

Floyd’s family members also have the right to make victim impact statements.

As part of his plea agreement, Kueng admitted that he held Floyd’s torso, that he knew from his experience and training that restraining a handcuffed person in a prone position created a substantial risk, and that the restraint of Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances.

Kueng agreed to a state sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison, to be served at the same time as his federal sentence and in federal custody.

Kueng’s sentencing will bring the cases against all of the former officers a step closer to resolution, though the state case against Thao is still pending.

Thao previously told Judge Peter Cahill that it “would be lying” to plead guilty. In October, he agreed to what’s called a stipulated evidence trial on the aiding and abetting manslaughter count. As part of that process, his attorneys and prosecutors are working out agreed-upon evidence in his case and filing written closing arguments. Cahill will then decide whether he is guilty or not.

If Thao is convicted, the murder count — which carries a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years in prison — will be dropped.

Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges last year and is serving 22 1/2 years in the state case. He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced to 21 years. He is serving the sentences concurrently at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona.

Kueng, Lane and Thao were convicted of federal charges in February: All three were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the killing.

Lane, who is white, is serving his 2 1/2-year federal sentence at a facility in Colorado. He’s serving a three-year state sentence at the same time. Kueng, who is Black, was sentenced to three years on the federal counts; Thao, who is Hmong American, got a 3 1/2-year federal sentence.

___

Groves reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

___

For more AP coverage of the killing of George Floyd: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd


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