Andrea Germanos

US climate envoy John Kerry says 'we just have to end' fossil fuel subsidies

John Kerry, President Joe Biden's Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said Tuesday that "we just have to end the subsides" for fossil fuels to tackle the climate emergency.

Kerry made the remarks during a virtual panel—entitled "aising the Bar on Climate Ambition: Road to COP 26"—which was part of the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting.

"It's illogical," Kerry said of the subsidies, "at a moment we all know we have to incentive alternative, renewable, sustainable" energy.

He added that "technology necessary for about 50% of the [emissions] reductions is not yet available. It's going to come from future technology," he said. "How do we do that? We need incentives."

"You must create incentives for the right behavior, not the wrong behavior, and we have still have [fossil fuel subsidies] in the United States. We're going to try to end them," Kerry said. "They've got to be ended everywhere around the world."

The pledge to no longer prop up the dirty industry—long a demand of the climate movement—follows the White House's proposed repeal of fossil fuel subsidies.

The Made in America Tax Plan "would end long-entrenched subsidies to fossil fuels, promote nascent green technologies through targeted tax incentives, encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, and support further deployment of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power," the document states. Cutting off the subsidies "would increase government tax receipts by over $35 billion in the coming decade."

But, according to Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner John Noël, that's not enough.

"Fossil fuel corporations receive $15 billion in direct subsidies from the federal government every year. Not a dime of our tax dollars should go towards corporations that poison our communities and wreck our climate," Noël said last month.

He pointed to proposed End Polluter Welfare Act, "which would save taxpayers $150 billion over the next decade and allow us to invest in the clean energy economy of the future."

350.org U.S. policy director Natalie Mebane also lamented what she said was Biden's planned "investment in carbon capture projects that will only keep dirty power plants running."

"We want 100% renewable energy by 2030 that creates millions of jobs," she said. "The best way to decrease carbon emissions is to ensure a just transition and keep fossil fuels in the ground."

During Tuesday's panel, AFP reported, Kerry also criticized what he sees as lack of adequate climate action worldwide.

"Emissions are going up, we are on the wrong track—people are building back from Covid as if there were no reason to be thinking differently," said Kerry.

Biden releases Trump's 'repugnant' secret rules on use of lethal force overseas

President Joe Biden faced a fresh call to fully end "forever wars" after his administration released former President Donald Trump's secret rules regarding the use of lethal strikes outside of designated war zones.

The Biden administration released the partly-redacted 11-page document, "Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets," late Friday to the ACLU and New York Times, which had both filed transparency lawsuits to see the guidelines.

Biden suspended the rules once he took office, the Times reported, and began a review of them in March. That move prompted Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's national security project, to urge not a "review" but an end to the program. "Tinkering with the bureaucracy of this extrajudicial killing program will only entrench American abuses," she said at the time.

According to the Times: "The review, officials said, discovered that Trump-era principles to govern strikes in certain countries often made an exception to the requirement of 'near certainty' that there would be no civilian casualties. While it kept that rule for women and children, it permitted a lower standard of merely 'reasonable certainty' when it came to civilian adult men."

Author and director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law Karen J. Greenberg summed up the background recently, writing:

In his second term, [former President Barack] Obama did try to put some limits and restrictions on lethal strikes by [remotely piloted aircraft], establishing procedures and criteria for them and limiting the grounds for their use. President Trump promptly watered down those stricter guidelines, while expanding the number of drone strikes launched from Afghanistan to Somalia, soon dwarfing Obama's numbers. According to the British-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Obama carried out a total of 1,878 drone strikes in his eight years in office. In his first two years as president, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes.

The document's release follows a fall court order saying the Trump administration could no longer keep the rules secret or deny their existence.

"The United states will continue to take extraordinary measures to ensure with near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed in the course of operations, using all reasonably available information and means of verification," the Trump-era document states. However, it adds, "Variations to the provision... may be made where necessary."

Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement, "We appreciate this release, which confirms our fear that President Trump stripped down even the minimal safeguards President Obama established in his rules for lethal strikes outside recognized conflicts."

"Over four administrations," Kaufman continued, "the U.S. government's unlawful lethal strikes program has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black civilians in multiple parts of the world. Secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force is unacceptable in a rights-respecting democracy, and this program is a cornerstone of the 'forever wars' President Biden has pledged to end. He needs to do so."

Letta Tayler, associate director and counterterrorism lead with Human Rights Watch's Crisis and Conflict Division, shared the Times reporting on Saturday with a tweet saying the deadly force rules document was "Not surprising but no less repugnant: Trump stripped down already minimal safeguards from U.S. targeted killings."

Saturday also marked the 18th anniversary of former President Geroge W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech—a date noted by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who cast the sole vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

"Eighteen years ago, George W. Bush stood in front of a 'mission accomplished' banner backdrop and told the nation that 'major combat operations in Iraq have ended,'" Lee tweeted. "After the loss of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, it's time to finally put an end to our forever wars."

The COVID crisis in India declare a 'crime against humanity'

With Covid-19 cases soaring in India, acclaimed author and activist Arundhati Roy wrote Wednesday that her country is witnessing "an outright crime against humanity" as outside observers fear the crisis could hamper global efforts to rein in the pandemic.

As of Thursday, India now has the second highest number of total cases in the world—over 18 million—since the pandemic began, but a surge in recent weeks has made it into a global hot spot for daily infections and deaths.

So far, there have been over 204,000 official Covid-19 related deaths, but the true toll is likely far higher.

"I do not know of a single family that has not seen at least one of its members infected. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases every day and many more deaths," Pankaj Anand, humanitarian and program director with Oxfam India, said in a statement Thursday.

"The health infrastructure in India is bursting at the seams," said Anand, "and there are widespread reports of shortages of oxygen and other medical supplies in large cities."

According to the Associated Press: "India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge."

Headlines over the past few days—like "Round-the-clock mass cremations" and "Covid cases cross 18 million, gravediggers work round the clock"—put the crisis in bleak terms.

The crisis is clear to Jyot Jeet, chairperson of the Delhi-based organization Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, which provides free medical care and has been providing cremation services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Day in and day out, we are surrounded by the smell of burning flesh, and the sounds of crying families," he told NBC News.

The far-right government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for its response to the pandemic.

In an op-ed published Wednesday at the Guardian, Roy wryly described Modi as being "busy, busy, busy" with other matters like "Destroying the last vestiges of democracy," construction of "massive prison complexes," and watching as "hundreds of thousands of farmers [were] beaten and teargassed."

"The crisis-generating machine that we call our government is incapable of leading us out of this disaster," she wrote. From the op-ed:

The number of Covid-protocol funerals from graveyards and crematoriums in small towns and cities suggest a death toll up to 30 times higher than the official count. Doctors who are working outside the metropolitan areas can tell you how it is. [...]
The precise numbers that make up India's Covid graph are like the wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums [former U.S. President] Donald Trump would drive past on his way to the "Namaste Trump" event that Modi hosted for him in February 2020. Grim as those numbers are, they give you a picture of the India-that-matters, but certainly not the India that is. In the India that is, people are expected to vote as Hindus, but die as disposables.[...]
The system hasn't collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps "failed" is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds of thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day just to mark ourselves present, like roll call in our school classrooms. We speak to those we love in tears, and with trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.

Writing in TIME on Thursday, Naina Bajekal gave a similar picture of devastation.

"India's crisis has blown well past the scale of anything seen elsewhere during the pandemic," wrote Bajekal. "Hospitals across the country are running out of oxygen supplies, ventilators, and beds. Indians are rushing to buy drugs like remdesivir, causing prices to surge, while labs struggle to process growing backlogs of Covid-19 tests."

Blame was also put at the feet of the Modi government, with Bajekal noting that "experts say the current crisis could have been avoided if the government had acted earlier."

Rather than intensifying public-health messaging and ramping up interventions like banning mass gatherings and encouraging mask wearing, Modi and his officials did the opposite. They held mass rallies ahead of elections and promoted the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that drew millions of worshippers to a single town—an event Jha predicts will end up "one of the biggest superspreader events in the history of humanity." On April 17, after India had overtaken Brazil to become the second worst-hit country in the world, Modi told a rally in West Bengal that he was "elated" to see such a large crowd.

The surging number of cases in India spells doom far beyond its owns borders.

As CNN reports:

The more the virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate and create variants that could eventually resist current vaccines, threatening to undermine other countries' progress in containing the pandemic, experts warn.
"If we don't help in India, I worry about an explosion of cases" around the world, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. That's why India's Covid outbreak is a global problem that needs a coordinated response. [...]
If the Indian outbreak can't be contained and spreads to neighboring countries with low vaccine supplies and weak health systems, experts warn the world risks replicating scenes witnessed in India—especially if newer, potentially more contagious variants are allowed to take hold.

That possible scenario drew concern from John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent," Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. "We do not have enough healthcare workers, we do not have enough oxygen."

Despite the fact that India is the world's top vaccine producer overall, just 2% of its population has been provided access to the Covid-19 vaccines thus far.

The Biden administration pledged this week to send India key medical aide—including oxygen, testing kits, and stockpiles of AstraZeneca vaccine supplies, but progressive U.S. lawmakers and outside groups say the White House must go further.

Public health advocates say the U.S. must stop vaccine hoarding, donate more supplies to WHO-led initiatives, and end its opposition to an India- and South Africa-led—and widely backed—push for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the World Trade Organization to allow for a massive boost in the production of coronavirus vaccines.

As WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris said Thursday, "What's happening in India can happen anywhere else," and the virus "can rip through a population if you let it."

Scathing Human Rights Watch report says Israel is guilty of apartheid

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the policies and actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people amount to systematic "apartheid" and unlawful persecution that must be stopped.

The accusations related to Israel's actions in the occupied territories (OPT) and within Israel are laid out in a new report entitled "A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution." The findings are based on over two years of research and documentation including official government statements, internal planning documents, and interviews.

"Human Rights Watch concludes that the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT," the report states. "In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid."

The specific label of apartheid, the group notes, is accurate based on the Apartheid Convention and Rome Statute's definitions.

The accusation of persecution is based on "the widespread confiscation of privately owned land, the effective prohibition on building or living in many areas, the mass denial of residency rights, and sweeping, decades-long restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights," the publication says.

HRW also notes that the report is not comprehensive, as it does not include all human rights abuses in the areas, including those committed by armed groups or Palestinian authorities.

"Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel's rule over Palestinians does not change," HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement. "This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

Among the discriminatory actions detailed in the report is Israel's allocation, of lack thereof, of water to Palestinians. From the report:

Israel has used its control over parts of the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to serve its own citizens and settlers, in contravention of international humanitarian law which prohibits occupiers from exploiting natural resources for its own economic benefit. While 80% of the Mountain Aquifer's water recharge area lies beneath the West Bank, Israel directly extracts about 90% of the water that is withdrawn from the aquifer annually, leaving Palestinians only the remaining 10% or so to exploit directly. In monopolizing this shared resource, Israeli authorities sharply restrict the ability of Palestinians to directly exploit their own natural resources and render them dependent on Israel for their water supply. For decades, authorities have denied Palestinians permits to drill new wells, in particular in the most productive Western Aquifer basins, or to rehabilitate existing ones. While the Oslo Accords of 1995 included provisions that promised to increase Palestinian access to water, Palestinian extraction levels have largely remained at pre-Oslo levels while the population has increased.
Despite the establishment of a "Joint Water Commission" (JWC) as part of the Oslo Accords, the World Bank in 2009 noted that Israel has retained "virtually all the power," including veto power, over the West Bank's water resources. While approving virtually all requests for Israeli-proposed projects to serve settlers, the JWC has rejected many Palestinian-initiated projects, including all requests to drill in the Western Aquifer Basin. Israelis are often permitted to drill deeper into the Aquifer, regularly develop internal settlement water networks without seeking JWC approval, and can extract water without limit when it flows downstream into Israel without need for JWC approval, while Palestinians face strict extraction quotas...
In addition, Israeli authorities have almost entirely deprived Palestinians access to water from the Jordan River, the only major surface water resource in the West Bank, by diverting its flow upstream of the West Bank.

HRW says the findings should serve as a call to action to the international community.

Global powers like the U.S. and European Union's approach to Israel thus far "overlooks the deeply entrenched nature of Israeli discrimination and repression of Palestinians there [and] minimizes serious human rights abuses by treating them as temporary symptoms of the occupation that the 'peace process' will soon cure." This failure to hold Israel to account for its abuses, the report continues, has allowed the apartheid regime to "metastasize and consolidate."

Among the recommendations the report lays out are for the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity. The United Nations must also take action by establishing an envoy position focused on ending persecution and apartheid worldwide, and businesses operating in the OPT must stop contributing to any actions that facilitate the deprivation of Palestinian rights such as the demolition of their homes.

Israel, for its part, rejected the findings. Its foreign ministry dismissed the report's claims as "both preposterous and false."

Earlier his year, another human rights group—Israel-based B'Tselem—also said Israel acts as an apartheid regime in light of its policies "advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians."

B'Tselem's executive director Hagai El-Ad said at the time: "This sobering look at reality need not lead to despair, but quite the opposite. It is a call for change. After all, people created this regime, and people can change it."

HRW's Roth, in his statement Tuesday, gave a similar message.

"While much of the world treats Israel's half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long 'peace process' will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution," he said.

"Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is," said Roth, "and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it."

In 'paradigm shift,' Manhattan DA will no longer prosecute prostitution

The Manhattan district attorney's office in New York announced Wednesday what it called a "paradigm shift" by saying it will no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage.

"Over the last decade we've learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers," District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. "For years, rather than seeking criminal convictions, my office has reformed its practice to offer services to individuals arrested for prostitution. Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and supports solely on a voluntary basis."

At a virtual court appearance, Vance said his office was dismissing 914 prostitution and "unlicensed massage" cases to reflect the new policy.

His office is also dismissing over 5,000 "loitering for the purpose of prostitution" cases. State lawmakers in February repealed the law that criminalized such loitering. Dubbed the "walking while trans" law, its critics say (pdf) the law was used to targt BIPOC and transgender communities.

"By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach," Vance said, pointing the fact that many cases go back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Vance added that reforms would not have been possible "without the tireless work of dedicated individuals who changed not only our laws, but law enforcement's understanding of their lived experiences."

The move in New York follows similar steps already taken by other cities, as the New York Times noted:

Manhattan will join Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other jurisdictions that have declined to prosecute sex workers. Brooklyn also does not prosecute people arrested for prostitution, but instead refers them to social services before they are compelled to appear in court—unless the district attorney's office there is unable to reach them.

Abigail Swenstein, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society's Exploitation Intervention Project, welcomed the development. "Countless sex workers, those profiled as sex workers, and trafficking victims have suffered under the weight of convictions and warrants," she said. "These perpetual punishments extend into family and immigration court, and impact our clients' ability to find stability through housing and employment."

"However," Swenstein added, "today's announcement should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense." She called on lawmakers to pass the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, S6419, which would decriminalize sex work.

An analysis released in October by the ACLU provides evidence for that legislation, finding that full decriminalization of sex work better supported such workers' safety, health, and economic well-being compared to more restrictive and punitive approaches.

"Right now, millions of people are asking what we can do to reduce abuse by law enforcement, racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and our overall jail and prison populations," LaLa Zannell, the ACLU's Trans Justice campaign manager, said at the time.

"One policy that can achieve all of these goals—particularly for Black trans women and immigrants—is to recognize that sex work is work and treat it like any other industry," said Zannell. "Sex workers have been saying they face significant violence from police and clients for decades and it is time that we all listen to these voices when determining how to improve safety for sex workers."

'Fire every board member then fire DeJoy': Lawmaker fury grows over Postal Service leadership

Democratic lawmakers issued fresh calls late Monday for President Joe Biden to remove all six members of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors to enable the ouster of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after the board declared its "full support" for the Republican megadonor accused of openly sabotaging the agency.

"Instead of holding DeJoy accountable, the USPS Board of Governors confirmed what I always suspected was true: The six current members are all DeJoy loyalists," tweeted Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Duckworth was reacting to the response she received from the postal board regarding her March 25 letter demanding it fire DeJoy for cause, citing his "pathetic 10-year plan to weaken USPS" as evidence that "he is a clear and present threat to the future of the postal service and the well-being of millions of Americans, particularly small business owners, seniors, and veterans, who depend on an effective and reliable USPS to conduct daily business, safely participate in democracy, and receive vital medication."


The letter to Duckworth signed by postal board chairman Ron Bloom described DeJoy as a "transformational leader" who "continues to enjoy the board's full support."

The new 10-year strategy, the letter asserts, will "achieve service excellence adapting the postal service to the evolving needs of the American people, which will make our product offerings more attractive to prospective customers."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.)—who called on Biden in January to purge the postal board for having remained silent during "the devastating arson of the Trump regime"—criticized the board's response to Duckworth.

"Every single member of the postal board should be fired," Pascrell tweeted Monday. "They're openly complicit in DeJoy's sabotage and arson. Fire every board member then fire DeJoy."

Duckworth, in a separate tweet Monday, said, "I'm re-upping my February request that @POTUS use his legal authority to remove the entire Board for cause."

The lawmakers' calls were echoed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"We'd love to see some spring cleaning at the postal service. Fire Louis DeJoy," the government watchdog tweeted.


Last month, over 50 U.S. House members, including Pascrell, similarly urged Biden to replace the postal board, the only body with the power to directly fire the postmaster general. The lawmakers said in the letter that the current six members of the board should be replaced "with nominees of the caliber of your recent nominees for the three vacant board seats." The letter (pdf) added:

Under the tenure of this BOG, the postal service was blatantly misused by President Trump in an unsuccessful gambit to influence a presidential election, the Postal Service is currently failing to meet its own service standards with historically low rates of on-time delivery, and conflicts of interest appear to be a requirement for service. Because of their lax oversight, many families struggling through the pandemic still await delivery of their stimulus checks, credit card statements, or event holiday cards. The nonpartisan Postal Service Office of Inspector General found that the BOG allowed their hand-picked postmaster general (PMG) to implement significant operational changes in the milieu of the election and the pandemic without conducting any research into the impacts and ramifications of these changes.

"The board has remained silent in the face of catastrophic and unacceptable failures at a moment when the American people are relying on the postal service the most," the lawmakers wrote. "It is time to remove all governors and start over with a board vested with the expertise and acumen this nation needs in its postal service leadership."

Biden administration embraces a 'revolutionary moment' with a major climate announcement

Climate action groups and ocean defenders issued strong praise Monday after the Biden administration announced its intention to boost the nation's offshore wind capacity with a number of steps including preparing forfede leases in an area off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

"Today's announcement marks a revolutionary moment for offshore wind. This powerful renewable resource has been waiting in the wings of our energy system for too long, and now it can finally take center stage," Hannah Read, an associate with Environment America's Go Big on Offshore Wind campaign, told Common Dreams.

Taken together, the initiatives will create 77,000 jobs, generate enough electricity to power over 10 million homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to the administration.

The plan would general 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030—a capacity that would surpass the roughly 19 GW predicted (pdf) in 2019 by some industry analysts. As NBC News noted, the nation's offshore wind capacity is largely untapped:

[W]hile on-land wind farms have flourished in recent years, offshore wind has yet to take off in a significant way, in part due to bureaucratic and permitting hurdles that were a source of major frustration for renewable energy companies during the Trump administration. As of now, the U.S. has only one operational offshore commercial wind farm, with just five turbines.

According to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, making up for such inaction is urgent.

"For generations," Haaland said in a statement, "we've put off the transition to clean energy and now we're facing a climate crisis."

Although "every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that," Haaland said that "not every community has the resources to rebuild, or even get up and relocate when a climate event happens in their backyards." She noted that the "climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families."

"As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and the climate crisis, we must transition to a brighter future for everyone," said Haaland.

Among steps announced by the Interior, Commerce, and Energy departments were a data sharing agreement between NOAA and offshore wind development company Ørsted Wind Power North America to help development of infrastructure; the identification of nearly 800,000 acres in the shallow ocean triangle known as the New York Bight to be "Wind Energy Areas"; $8 million for 15 new offshore wind research and development projects; and notice that BOEM would launch an Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind's proposed 1,100 megawatt facility off the coast of New Jersey.

"The ocean energy bureau said it will push to sell commercial leases in the area in late 2021 or early 2022," the Associated Press reported.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.)—who's previously introduced legislation to incentivize offshore wind—framed the development as "a sea change in American energy policy and a new day in the fight against climate change."

"This is a down-payment on our national future for our children and their children after them," Pascrell tweeted.

Read, with Environment America, said the administration's announcement could serve as a major catalyst.

"The potential to power our country using clean, renewable energy off our coasts is immense, and the Biden administration's commitment forges a path to take full advantage of offshore wind. This federal leadership should give states the confidence to continue making bold commitments to go big on offshore wind. Now that the executive branch is throwing its weight behind timely and ambitious development, it's full-steam ahead," she said.

The news also drew praise from climate group 350.org, which, like Haaland, put the announcement in the context of the multiple crises gripping the nation.

"This is the type of climate action we need from the Biden administration: major investment in renewable energy that creates thousands of good-paying union jobs," the group's U.S. communications director Thanu Yakupitiyage said in a statement.

"In this moment of compounding health, economic, racial, and climate crises," Yakupitiyage continued, "it's beyond time to get our country off fossil fuels and on track towards a renewable future that centers the working class and communities of color."

For Oceana, the administration's good news for offshore wind must be matched with an equally important element—a forceful departure from dirty energy.

"We applaud the Biden-Harris administration helping to make offshore wind a reality in the United States—a necessary step in our climate strategy," said Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer with the group, adding that it must also have "strong protections for ocean habitat, especially for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale."

But for "the U.S. to successfully take full advantage of this unlimited resource that can help solve our climate and energy challenges, Oceana is calling for permanent protections from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling as well," Savitz added.

Anti-democratic garbage': McConnell gets rebuked for calling voting rights bill a 'power grab'

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was rebuked Wednesday for his assertion that proposed pro-democracy legislation was a "power grab" by Democrats while at the same time denying that state-level GOP lawmakers are pushing voter suppression measures nationwide.

McConnell made the provocative remarks during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on S.1, the For the People Act.

Senate Democrats introduced the legislation last week after its passage earlier this month in the House. Applauded by progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups, the bill includes democracy reforms like enacting no-excuse voting by mail, boosting campaign transparency, and restoring Voting Rights Act protections.

According to the Kentucky Republican, however, S.1 is "clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of the political system."

"We should be finding ways to rebuild trust, not destroy it further. That's exactly what a partisan power grab would guarantee," he said.

Advocacy group Public Citizen rejected the minority leader's characterization of the bill as "anti-democratic garbage."

"Mitch McConnell called the For the People Act a 'power grab.' This is a bill that stops voter suppression and ends gerrymandering," the group tweeted. "How depraved do you have to be to insist that more people voting is somehow a power grab? What sort of anti-democratic garbage is that?"

In a separate tweet, Public Citizen suggested McConnell "is absolutely terrified of a bill that simply makes it easier for people to vote. This tells you all you need to know."

McConnell also falsely claimed at the hearing that "states are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever."

But that "denial," Eric Lutz wrote at Vanity Fair, "doesn't settle the matter any more than a kid covered in crumbs denying he raided the cookie jar would."

Summing up the backdrop that belies McConnell's claims, MSNBC's Steve Benen wrote Wednesday:

a recent Washington Post analysis noted that the GOP push to impose new voting restrictions may very well amount to "the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction." As of last week, the Brennan Center found that more than 253 bills restricting voting access had been carried over, pre-filed, or introduced in 43 states.
The Associated Press reported that the Republican Party's "nationwide campaign to restrict access to the ballot" has become the GOP's "unifying mission," eclipsing other traditional issues.

Today alone, as author and voting rights expert Ari Berman noted on Twitter, state Senate Republicans in Michigan rolled out 39 bills that would curtail access to the polls.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also highlighted "a nationwide effort to limit the right to vote" that "smacks of Jim Crow."

Watchdog group CREW said that if "McConnell had any good arguments against the For the People Act, he would not be lying about states' efforts to suppress the vote or the racist history of the filibuster"—a reference to his inaccurate claim Tuesday that the Senate filibuster has "no racial history at all."

Taking issue with the overall message delivered by Republicans on Wednesday, Christina Harvey, managing director at Stand Up America, called on Democratic lawmakers to cut through GOP lies.

"Today's hearing made clear that Republican lawmakers will stop at nothing to suppress the vote—including blatantly lying to the American people about the For the People Act," she said.

Harvey praised Democrats for making "an incredibly compelling case for passing this landmark anti-corruption and pro-democracy legislation" and criticized GOP senators like Ted Cruz of Texas who "continue to spread the same disinformation that led to the Capitol insurrection."

She further urged Democrats to "move quickly to pass this bill with 51 votes before the end of [President Joe] Biden's first 100 days in office."

CDC head sounds alarm as new COVID cases surge in states across US

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that the nation was at "a fork in the road" in determining the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and warned of "another avoidable surge" of Covid-19 cases as states loosen pandemic-related restrictions.

"The apparent leveling off of cases and hospital admissions after the consistent declines we saw in these outcomes in early January through the end of February, I consider to be very concerning," Walensky said at a White House press briefing.

While Covid-19 deaths are in decline nationally, "they remain at elevated levels," she said.

Walensky also expressed concern that regions including the "Northeast and the Upper Midwest are beginning to again see a significant rise in cases."

Those factors "should serve as a warning sign for the American people," said Walensky, adding that some states' loosening of restrictions amid the spread of coronavirus variants and a still-high level of cases "is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation."

"We must act now," she said. "I am worried that if we don't take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge, just as we are seeing in Europe right now and just as we are so aggressively scaling up vaccination."

She urged Americans "to recommit to doing the right thing" to stop the spread of the virus through proven measures including masking, social distancing, and crowd avoidance.

As Walensky noted, the vaccination rollout is already under way. According to the CDC, nearly 83 million Americans have received at least one dose. Nearly 45 million Americans—about 13.5% of the total population—have been fully vaccinated.

And yet, as CNBC reported Saturday, coronavirus cases are rising in 21 states including Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey.

Focusing on Michigan, ABC News reported Sunday:

The Great Lake State currently has the country's fourth-highest average of new Covid-19 cases per capita, with New Jersey leading the country. For the past three weeks, the daily case average has doubled. In the last week alone, the state's average has increased by 53%.
The seven-day average is now over 2,500 new cases a day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on Wednesday, Michigan reported a total of 3,164 new cases, its highest single-day case total since early January.

Those figures should be cautionary for residents of other states as well. From STAT News on Saturday:

"What happens in Texas affects the rest of the nation," said epidemiologist Camara Phyllis Jones of Morehouse School of Medicine, citing one state that has ended its mask mandate and rolled back other restrictions. "We cannot wall ourselves off."

Speaking on the Today show on Monday, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, made an appeal similar to Walensky's.


"We're basically at the 10 yard line," said Jha, "and we should be able to run this into the end zone," referring to "when all high-risk people have been vaccinated."

He warned that "we're loosening [coronavirus-related restrictions] a little too early, and the cost of this is that a lot of people are going to get infected and sick when we can avoid that by just holding on a little bit longer."

According to Johns Hopkins University, over 542,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19.

Trump says McConnell is 'hanging by a thread' — and warns of potential catastrophe for the GOP

Former President Donald Trump said Monday that elimination of the legislative filibuster would be "catastrophic for the Republican Party."

Trump's remarks on the inaugural episode the right-wing podcast "The Truth with Lisa Boothe" came as progressive lawmakers and groups continue to criticize the Senate rule requiring most legislation to reach 60 votes to advance—calling it a "Jim Crow relic" that's standing in the way of popular and necessary legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnnell (K-Ky.), said Trump, is "hanging by a thread right now with respect to the filibuster."

"And if they get the [filibuster], he's hanging on Joe Manchin, who always goes with the Democrats," Trump said of the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia.

"Joe talks, but he ends up going with the Democrats," said Trump.

"Now there's another great senator from the state of Arizona," Trump said of another conservative Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. "He's hanging by a thread and if they get rid of the filibuster, if they knock it out, it will be catastrophic for the Republican Party," said Trump.

McConnell, for his part, said on the Senate floor last week that elimination of the filibuster would lead to "chaos" and, once Republicans were in the majority, they would retaliate by passing "all kinds of conservative policies" including anti-worker so-called "right-to-work" legislation and a "Massive hardening of security on our southern border."

Manchin, meanwhile, has not backed elimination of the filibuster but said this month support a return to the talking filibuster because the tool "really should be painful and we've made it more comfortable over the years," because minority senators can obstruct legislation by simply filing their objections.

President Joe Biden has also indicated his support for bringing back the talking filibuster during an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos last week.

"I don't think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days," Biden said. "You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking."

The introduction in the Senate last week of the For the People Act further catalyzed progressives' demand for getting rid of the archaic tool.

"While GOP lawmakers across the country propose legislation that would strip millions of Americans of their right to vote, Senate Democrats have introduced sweeping legislation that would protect voting rights, reduce the impact of big money in our elections, and add tens of millions of eligible Americans to the voter rolls," Stand Up America president Sean Eldridge said in a statement last week.

He said that there's "too much is at stake to delay a vote on this critical legislation or to allow archaic Senate rules to kill the bill."

"The only path forward now for Democrats to stop Republicans from suppressing the vote," added Eldridge, "is to swiftly end the filibuster and pass the For the People Act now."

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