Andrea Germanos

Humanity on course to 'incinerate our only home' without transition to renewables: United Nations chief

The head of the United Nations on Wednesday criticized the "broken" global energy system that's leading humanity "ever closer to climate catastrophe" and urged world leaders to instead grab onto "the lifeline... right in front of us"—a transition to renewable sources.

"We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition, before we incinerate our only home," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

His remarks were delivered in a video address alongside the release of the World Meteorological Organization's latest flagship report, the State of the Global Climate 2021.

That publication, according to Guterres, represents "a dismal litany of humanity's failure to tackle climate disruption."

The report notes that four out of seven climate indicators hit record levels last year.

Since greenhouse gas concentrations hit a new global high in 2020, reaching 413.2 parts per million, real-time data from monitoring sites including Mauna Loa in Hawaii confirm the rising trend of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide continued in 2021.

Additionally, 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest years on record, the report states, while sea-level rise also hit a new record.

Ocean heating continued as well, with the heat content in 2021 marking the highest on record. "It is expected that it will continue to warm in the future—a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial timescales," the report warns.

"It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record," said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. "Our climate is changing before our eyes."

"The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come," Taalas continued. "Sea level rise, ocean heat, and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented."

He added that "some glaciers have reached the point of no return and this will have long-term repercussions in a world in which more than 2 billion people already experience water stress."

Despite investments made in disaster preparedness thus far, "much more needs to be done," said Taalas, "as we are seeing with the drought emergency unfolding in the Horn of Africa, the recent deadly flooding in South Africa, and the extreme heat in India and Pakistan."

To address the clear planetary crisis—and stressing that "we don't have a moment to lose"—Guterres said that dependence on fossil fuels must end.

He detailed five key actions to speed up a global transition to renewables.

First, renewable energy technology must be made "a global public good," which entails removing roadblocks such as intellectual property rights, he said.

Guterres also called for ensuring global access to renewable energy components and raw materials.

An additional step states must take is to "level the playing field" for renewables by eliminating systems that favor fossil fuels and instead fast-tracking approvals for green projects like solar and wind.

As a fourth step, the U.N. chief said that governments must eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

Lastly, Guterres called for a tripling of private and public investments in renewable energy to reach $4 trillion annually. Financial institutions have a role to play, he said, directing them to "fully align their entire lending portfolios with the Paris Agreement, by 2024 at the latest," and "to end all high-emissions high pollution finance."

"If we act together," said Guterres, "the renewable energy transformation can be the peace project of the 21st century."

More than one million Californians sign petition to put $18 minimum wage on November ballot

Advocates pushing to raise California's minimum wage to $18 an hour heralded a key development Thursday as they began submitting more than one million signatures to get the Living Wage Act on the November ballot, easily surpassing the roughly 623,000 required.

"California Voters have been clear: people working full time should be able to afford life's basic needs," said anti-poverty activist Joe Sanberg, who filed the ballot initiative, in a statement.

The state's current minimum wage for employers, $15 an hour, was implemented just this year, though the wage drops to $14 an hour for companies with fewer than 26 employees.

Sanberg says the wage floor is clearly insufficient.

"Californians simply cannot afford to support a family on the current minimum wage—which amounts to just $32,000 a year for someone working full-time," he said. "Raising the minimum wage in the Golden State is a moral imperative."

If the Living Wage Act passes in November, it would increase the minimum wage incrementally, boosting it $1 per year until reaching $18 on January 1, 2025 for employers with 26 or more workers. Employers with fewer workers have an additional year to hit that minimum wage.

Thereafter, the minimum wage for all employees would also increase over time to keep pace with inflation and the cost of living.

Sanberg estimates that wage increase could mean an additional $6,420 per year for more than 5 million workers.

Beyond organizational backers like the California Faculty Association, Unite Here Local 11, and SEIU Local 87, the proposal appears to have strong public support.

Supporters of the ballot initiative point to a survey conducted last month of 1,200 likely voters in the state showing 76% in favor of raising the wage.

"Raising the minimum wage," said California Labor Federation executive secretary-treasurer Art Pulaski, "is one of the strongest anti-poverty measures we have as a state."

"For low-wage workers, a higher minimum wage is life-changing," he said. "Better wages for workers also means they have more to spend at local businesses in our communities. If we're serious about combating poverty and reducing inequality, raising the minimum wage is an absolute necessity."

According to Sanberg, successful passage of the initiative could reverberate nationwide.

"Not only are we going to give 6M+ California workers a raise," he tweeted Thursday, "we're going to set a new bar for working people all over the country."

Hundreds of organizations press POTUS to 'end the fossil fuel era' and 'save life on Earth'

Over 520 organizations told President Joe Biden on Wednesday to urgently "end the fossil fuel era" and commit to a rapid renewable energy transition rooted in justice and a more peaceful world.

The demand was delivered in a letter that points to a "cascade of emergencies" currently facing humanity including the climate crisis and Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, which "share the same dangerous thread: dependence on fossil fuels."

"Russia's invasion into Ukraine is fueled by their fossil fuel extraction power, and the world's reliance upon it," the signatories, including global groups like Climate Action Network International and 350.org, wrote.

The letter declares that "war makes it more apparent that fossil fuel dependence puts people at risk and makes energy systems insecure" and points to fossil fuel extraction and combustion's wide-ranging adverse impacts from driving the biodiversity crisis to causing deaths worldwide.

In order "to preserve a livable planet," the letter outlines four broad steps to make an exit from fossil fuels. They include a stop to any new permits or financing for coal, oil, and gas extraction and related infrastructure. The letter puts a 2030 deadline for coal extraction and 2031 deadline for gas extraction by richer nations such as the U.S.

Nuclear must also be phased out, given it's "an inherently dirty, dangerous, and costly energy source," the letter asserts.

Economic policy must also advance a fossil fuel exit; that necessitates no further subsidies for the industry but instead a tax on "windfall profits."

The letter additionally calls for the creation of "an international plan for an equitable phaseout of fossil fuel production and use in line with the 1.5ºC target" of the Paris climate agreement, one that recognizes "the historical responsibility of rich industrialized countries for the climate crisis and the necessity of their leadership, and the different capacity of countries to rapidly transition and diversify their economies."

Additional steps are needed, the coalition says, to ensure a future renewable energy system doesn't "repeat the violence of the extractive, fossil fuel past."

On this front, the signatories say global cooperation is a must. Related steps include ensuring renewable energy deployment goes to the Earth's estimated one billion people still without electricity. And, where possible, decentralized renewable energy-based systems—like roof-based and community solar—should be prioritized.

Extraction of minerals needed for green technology must not run afoul of human and Indigenous rights, nor unleash devastation on ecosystems, Biden was told.

From the local to the global level, "agreements and approaches to drastically scale up the transfer of technology and finance" must additionally be undertaken.

"This is the opportunity of our lifetimes to stop the violence of fossil fuels and build a new era of peace and justice to confront the climate crisis," the signatories conclude.

Jean Su, Energy Justice Program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the U.S. signatories to the letter, said some of Biden's recent actions on fossil fuels—including resumption of oil and gas lease sales on public lands and plans to increase gas exports to Europe as a response to Russia's invasion—are steps in the absolutely wrong direction.

"The fossil fuel blood money funding Russia's war machine reveals the link between dirty energy and deadly conflict," she said. "But instead of working to break this vicious cycle, President Biden is doubling down on fossil fuels with expanded exports and broken-promise federal leasing."

The right response to Russian's invasion, said Su, "isn't more drilling, but an energy transformation built on renewables, justice, and peace. The good news is that President Biden has the executive tools to break free from fossil fuel oligarchs and turn the U.S. into a renewable-energy powerhouse."

"The violence of fossil fuels," she added, "must come to an end to save life on Earth."

'It looks exactly like war crimes': Russian troops accused of 'unspeakable horrors' in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials on Sunday accused Russian forces of carrying out a "deliberate massacre" in Bucha as images of what appear to be dead civilians littering the city's streets sparked global outrage.

Evidence of the apparent atrocities came after Russian forces retreated from areas around Kyiv, including Bucha, which sits just northwest of the capital.

Agence France-Presse reported Saturday that its journalists saw "at least 20 bodies on a single street" in Bucha. All of the corpses were in civilian clothes, the agency reported, and at least one had his hands tied behind his back with a piece of white cloth.

According to Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: "These people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat."

"How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?" he asked.

Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk claimed to Reuters Saturday that those left on the streets "were shot in the back of their heads. So you can imagine what kind of lawlessness they perpetrated here."

Zelenskyy spokesperson Sergey Nikiforov told BBC's "Sunday Morning" that authorities found in Bucha and other areas where Russian troops have departed had "mass graves filled with civilians."

“We found people with hands and legs tied and bullet holes in the back of their heads," he said, "and half-burned bodies as if somebody tried to hide their crimes."

"I have to be careful with my wording," he said, but "it looks exactly like war crimes."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday, "Bucha massacre was deliberate,"

In a statement, Kuleba called on the International Criminal Court to "thoroughly collect all evidence of Russian war crimes" in Bucha and other Kyiv-area towns retaken by Ukrainian forces.

European officials also expressed condemnation Sunday over the alleged acts in Bucha.

"Shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region," tweeted European Council President Charles Michel, adding the hashtag #BuchaMassacre.

The E.U., said Michel, is also readying further sanctions targeting Russia.

Russian authorities, for their part, denied the reports regarding Bucha as "fake" and suggested Ukrainians created the mass grave.

POTUS urged to adopt 'no-first-use nuclear policy'

Dozens of progressive lawmakers in the United States and Japan are urging President Joe Biden to make a "sensible" shift and commit the U.S. to a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons "at any time or under any circumstances."

The demand, which is also directed at Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, came in a letter dated Friday.

The effort was led by lawmakers including Congressional Progressive Caucus chair U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as well as Progressive Caucus of Japan chair and Diet House of Representatives member Masaharu Nakagawa.

The group's call comes as Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine has escalated fears of atomic warfare, especially as Russian President Vladimir Putin has waved a "nuclear saber" with recent declarations.

Biden last month signed off on his administration's Nuclear Posture Review, a policy which, to the disappointment of nonproliferation advocates, walks back his 2020 campaign promise of no-first-use. The NPR, according to U.S. officials, instead leaves open the possible use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear warfare.

But, the lawmakers stressed in their letter, "it is never too late to commit to a no-first-use policy."

Addressing the "nuclear umbrella" security alliance between the two nations, the letter states: "A no-first-use policy would not weaken the U.S. ability to protect Japan and itself from a nuclear attack. That protection is based on the promise of U.S. nuclear retaliation, not on the ability to strike first. In fact, a no-first-use policy would increase protection against a nuclear attack by reducing doubt, miscalculation, and the possibility of an accidental nuclear launch."

Additionally, "a U.S. declaration stating that it would never start a nuclear war, supported by Japan, would breathe new life into international efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate the danger of nuclear war," the lawmakers assert. "This is especially important at a time when tensions between the nuclear-weapons-possessing states, especially between the United States and China, are increasing."

As The Associated Press reported Saturday, Russia's attack on Ukraine has added new fears of a nuclear exchange.

"For U.S. officials and world leaders, discussions of how to respond to a limited nuclear attack are no longer theoretical," AP reported.

"One overarching concern is that by casting some nuclear weapons as tactical weapons to be used in battle, Russia could break the nearly eight-decade global taboo against using a nuclear weapon against another country." Yet, AP added, "even comparatively small tactical nuclear weapons approach the strength of the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II."

The demand to the U.S. and Japanese leaders came a week after 16 Nobel Peace Prize winners released an open letter calling for an immediate end to the assault of Ukraine and the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

"The time to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is now. It is the only way to guarantee that the inhabitants of the planet will be safe from this existential threat," they wrote.

"It is either the end of nuclear weapons," they said, "or the end of us."

'The environment is collapsing': an ice shelf the size of Los Angeles just broke off of Antarctica

Satellite imagery showing the recent "complete collapse" of the Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica sparked fresh alarm over the climate emergency on Friday.

"While humans are killing humans, and governments are spending on weaponry as if there is no tomorrow, the environment is collapsing—so that there will be no tomorrow," said former Greek finance minister and Progressive International co-founder Yanis Varoufakis.

The collapse, as The Guardian and CNET reported Thursday, occurred around March 15.

During that week, an unprecedented heat wave hit the region, with parts of East Antarctica seeing temperatures 40 degrees Celsius above normal. Scientists attributed the "freakish" warming to an atmospheric river.

The outlets pointed to a tweet with satellite imagery shared by Catherine Walker, an Earth and planetary scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and NASA.

Stef Lhermitte of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands on Friday shared time-lapse video of the change:

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Antarctic ice sheet expert Bertie Miles also provided historical visual context for the collapse:

In a March 17 press statement, the interagency National Ice Center (USNIC) confirmed that iceberg C-38 calved, or broke free, from the Conger Ice Shelf. "C-38 comprised virtually all that remained of the Conger Ice Shelf, which was adjacent to the Glenzer Ice Shelf which calved last week as iceberg C-37," the USNIC said.

Ice shelves, as NASA describes, are "floating tongues of glaciers that extend over the ocean" and "slow the rate at which Antarctica's glaciers contribute to global sea level rise" by holding back the flow of ice into the sea.

At roughly 1,200 square kilometers, according to the reporting, the Conger Ice Shelf was about the size of Los Angeles.

Despite that "relatively small size," said glaciologist and climate scientist Peter Neff, the collapse still represents "a significant event."

Andrew Mackintosh, an ice sheet expert at Australia's Monash University, made a similar observation.

"This ice shelf may have been small but it is in EAST Antarctica, a region previously considered less vulnerable," he said. "It's a wake-up call."

In a Twitter thread responding to the new reporting, Guardian columnist and climate activist George Monbiot pointed to a need for "systemic" changes to address the climate crisis and asked, "How many more warnings do we need that we are facing the prospect of a cascading regime shift?"

"The shift will push planetary conditions into a new state," he continued. "This state will be hostile to the species that thrived in the old one. Species like us."

Monbiot further lamented that climate-related changes remain "at the bottom of the agenda" and asserted that "in retrospect, if there is a retrospect, we'll see the current phase of our slide towards disaster as the least comprehensible of all."

"We knew what was happening. The writing was on the wall," he added. "Yet we carried on opening new oil fields, driving SUVs, leaving homes uninsulated."

Australia's Great Barrier Reef devastated by 'fourth major bleaching event since 2016': report

An assessment of the Great Barrier Reef's health released Friday reveals widespread bleaching of the world's largest coral organism, sparking fresh demands for the Australian government to ditch fossil fuels and finally commit to protecting both the UNESCO site and planetary health.

"While not yet officially declared a mass bleaching event, this is still disastrous news for our reef, the marine life, and communities that rely on its health," said Dr. Lissa Schindler, Great Barrier Reef campaign manager with the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

The March 18 update from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority suggests a fourth major bleaching event since 2016 is underway and points to warmer than average sea surface temperatures—0.5−2°C above average throughout the park, with some areas ranging 2−4°C above average.

"Bleaching has been detected across the marine park—it is widespread but variable, across multiple regions, ranging in impact from minor to severe," the assessment states.

"Most observations of bleaching have been of paling or fluorescing," the update continues, "but several locations have whole colonies bleached white"—a status "consistent with the patterns of heat stress experienced on the reef this summer."

Of particular note, say reef defenders, is that the widespread bleaching comes during a La Niña year, which can help cool waters.

"This is a sure sign that climate change caused by burning coal, oil, and gas is threatening the very existence of our reef," declared Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate impacts campaigner Martin Zavan.

According to bleaching expert Prof. Terry Hughes, "Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are not supposed to bleach in cooler La Niña summers. 2022 is a first, thanks to anthropogenic heating."

Hughes also pointed to the marine park authority's aerial surveys that "reveal (so far) a footprint of mass bleaching similar to 2017, when the central 500km region was hardest hit."

"How many more maps will it take to trigger real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?" he asked.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced sustained criticism from climate campaigners for doubling down on fossil fuel projects amid the planetary emergency. The prime minister also drew sharp criticism last year after launching a successful lobbying effort to keep the reef off a list of World Heritage Sites considered "in danger." Reporting earlier this month that the Australian government pushed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to soften its assessment of the reef being "in crisis" sparked additional criticism.

In a lengthy Twitter thread Friday, Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter debunked Morrison's claims of having protected the reef and pointed to the government's multiple climate failures.

"Preserving the reef would require clear and meaningful climate action, like a meaningful net-zero plan and a moratorium on new coal, oil, and gas projects," said Ritter. "Instead, Australia was recently ranked last out of 170 nations for climate action."

Ritter also noted that last year his group "delivered legal notice directly to Scott Morrison [and] advised he is in breach of his World Heritage Treaty obligations to protect the reef."

"So, it's time to cut the crap," he added. "We know the reef is in danger, but we also know how to protect it."

Addressing the prime minister, Ritter said, "Do your job to safeguard Australians and our magnificent natural heritage, by speeding up our transition to clean energy and urgently phasing out fossil fuels."

The update was released just days before UNESCO's reef monitoring mission begins.

AMCS's Schindler said that the mission delegates must "witness the severity and widespread nature of this devastating event and while out there the Morrison government should explain to the mission why they continue to approve and cut red tape for fossil fuel projects."

Democrats propose taxing profits on oil companies as prices skyrocket

Congressional Democrats on Thursday introduced the bicameral Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax to target price gouging by profit-gorging fossil fuel companies amid Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

"This is a bill to reduce gas prices and hold Big Oil accountable," declared Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who's leading the measure in the U.S. House.

"As Russia's invasion of Ukraine sends gas prices soaring," said Khanna, "fossil fuel companies are raking in record profits. These companies have made billions and used the profits to enrich their own shareholders while average Americans are hurting at the pump."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced the legislation in the upper chamber along with co-sponsors including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The proposal followed President Joe Biden's announcement earlier this week of a ban on U.S. imports of Russian fuels and amid swelling accusations that Big Oil has been taking advantage of the crisis in Ukraine to "pad their bottom line with war-fueled profits."

The Democrats' proposal aims to get some relief for Americans, who are facing average gas prices of $4.31 a gallon.

Big oil companies, specifically those that produce or import at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day, are targeted under the measure. They would face a per-barrel tax—whether the oil is domestically produced or imported—equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019.

The measure exempts smaller companies, which, according to a statement from the lawmakers, account for roughly 70% of the domestic production. This approach is meant to deter the larger multinational producers from simply raising prices.

The tax imposed on the energy firms would be quarterly. Consumers would receive quarterly rebates, with the relief phasing out for single filers earning more than $75,000 annually and joint filers earning more than $150,000 annually. The lawmakers project the tax to raise $45 billion per year at $120 per barrel of oil, delivering to single filers $240 annually and joint filers $360 annually.

"While Putin's war is causing gas prices to go up, Big Oil companies are raking in record profits," Warren said in a statement. "We need to curb profiteering by Big Oil and provide relief to Americans at the gas pump—that starts with ensuring these corporations pay a price when they price gouge, and using the revenue to help American families," she said.

A number of social justice and climate groups heaped praise on the legislative proposal.

According to Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, "The oil and gas industry got the world into this mess by lobbying and lying to keep us hooked on fossil fuels. Now they're using the war in Ukraine to distract us from the fact that they are ripping off hard working Americans with high gas prices as they reap record earnings."

"It's time we stop allowing Big Oil to use its record profits, earned on the backs of hard-working American families, to reward wealthy shareholders and CEOs, and instead make them pay a fair share to lower the cost for consumers," he added.

Collin Rees, U.S. program director at Oil Change International, welcomed the proposal as precisely the opposite of what the fossil fuel lobby has called for to counter Putin's power, namely expanded domestic fossil fuel production.

"The so-called 'solutions' to the energy crisis being put forward by Big Oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute would do nothing but further line their own pockets and lock in a climate-wrecking, fossil-fueled future," he said. "What’s needed now is immediate relief for American consumers, which is what this commonsense windfall profits tax bill would provide."

The bill also drew plaudits from Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth, which released an analysis Thursday along with BailoutWatch finding that Big Oil CEOs have "absolutely" used the spiked in fuel prices triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine to "price-gouge and profiteer."

In a statement responding to the new legislation, Ross said: "All-American oil oligarchs are profiteering off the war in Ukraine while sacrificing our communities and climate. The windfall profits tax will require Big Oil to pay their fair share while putting billions of dollars back into the pockets of taxpayers."

The COVID-19 pandemic is 'far from over': WHO chief says billions still at risk

The head of the World Health Organization stressed Wednesday that the global Covid-19 pandemic is still "far from over" and lamented the ongoing and "major" barriers in getting vaccines and treatments "everywhere they are needed."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' remarks at a press briefing came just days before the two-year anniversary of the global health agency officially declaring the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

In the years since, the virus has killed over six million people worldwide—a death toll estimate that many experts agree in reality is far higher—as public health campaigners have continued to lambast vastly unequal access to lifesaving jabs and technology, including through coronavirus-related intellectual property protections.

While Covid-19 cases and deaths are waning, Tedros said that the pandemic "will not be over anywhere until it's over everywhere."

He noted for example that currently "many countries in Asia and the Pacific are facing surges of cases and deaths" and also expressed concern over some countries' drastic reduction in testing.

The WHO also announced new self-testing guidance, saying they should be offered alongside lab testing.

Such kits, The Associated Press reported, "have rarely been available in poor countries."

Tedros added that the health agency and its partners are working on procuring additional funding to rapidly get self-tests to those countries requesting them.

Campaigners with the Peoples Vaccine Alliance, meanwhile, are gearing up to mark Friday's anniversary with virtual and in-person events centered on the demand to the monopolies that large pharmaceutical companies have maintained over the ownership of patents and manufacturing of vaccines and other treatments.

"As we enter the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, billions of people worldwide still don't have access to Covid vaccines and treatments," organizers declare. "Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are recording profits of over $1 million per hour and world leaders refuse to stand up to them."

"Join us," they said, "to demand world leaders stand with people, not Big Pharma, and finally end this pandemic."

Ted Cruz's pro-corruption case will go before the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case brought by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that's been described as "the latest attempt to dismantle federal campaign finance rules."

At issue in the case—Federal Election Commission (FEC) v. Ted Cruz for Senate—is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, and a $260,000 loan Cruz made to his Senate reelection campaign just ahead of the 2018 election.

A provision of the campaign finance law puts a $250,000 limit on how much a campaign can raise post-election to pay a candidate back.

According to legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu, Cruz's campaign "took this case to the Supreme Court by having Cruz intentionally lend and seek repayment of $260,000—just $10,000 over the limit—seemingly for the purposes of arguing that the limit violates the First Amendment."

But the $250,000 limit, argue Daniel I. Weiner and John J. Martin of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law—one of the groups that filed a brief in support of the law—"is a straightforward anti-corruption measure."

In a blog post last week, they explained:

The Supreme Court has held that candidates have the right to spend as much of their own money as they want to get elected—wealthy self-funders often tout their lack of reliance on donors as proof that they are incorruptible (an argument the court itself has echoed). But fundraising after an election to recoup personal funds turns this argument on its head: Instead of being independent from donors, a winning candidate—now an elected official—is raising money that will go directly into the official's own pocket. The corruption risk is obvious.

Sam Horan of the Campaign Legal Center—which also filed an amicus brief in support of the law—similarly wrote Tuesday that "using post-election contributions to repay a candidate's personal loans effectively allows private parties and special interests to send funds into a candidate's pocket after the campaign has come to an end."

"Any minimal burden generated by the limit," added Horan, "is justified by the important anti-corruption purposes it serves—the same purposes that underlie restrictions on gifts to officeholders in place across all levels of government."

The arguments in the FEC case come just ahead of the 12th anniversary of the high court's Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates to unlimited political spending in elections. The 2010 decision, Public Citizen executive vice president Lisa Gilbert said last month, made "a mockery" of campaign finance laws.

Citizens United "chipped away at" the McCain-Feingold Act, as did a 2008 ruling in which the Supreme Court "struck down the so-called millionaire's amendment that aimed to level the playing field when wealthy candidates financed their own campaigns," as CNN noted. "That provision had relaxed contribution limits for opponents of self-funded candidates in an attempt to close the funding gap."

Should the right-leaning court side with Cruz in his case, the impact on campaign finance could be felt broadly.

"Ultimately," according to CLC's Horan, "the statute challenged in Cruz is a matter of common sense: The corruption risk inherent in post-election payments effectively made to candidates themselves is obvious and acute. In crafting the limit, Congress addressed this risk without unduly burdening speech. The Supreme Court should uphold Congress' work."

But regardless of how the decision falls, there remains a question of "how much longer Congress will continue ceding the development of campaign finance law to the judiciary, whose preoccupations in this area tend not to be shared by the broader public," wrote the Brennan Center's Weiner and Martin.

The pair point to "much-needed" reforms related to campaign finance that are included in the House-passed Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act—Democrats' election bill set to come before the Senate later Wednesday.

Changes included in that law, they wrote, would counter "the court's incremental deconstruction of federal campaign finance law, whose consequences include the proliferation of 'dark money' from undisclosed sources, loopholes that permit foreign spending on U.S. campaigns, and rampant spending to evade remaining candidate contribution limits."

"By addressing these issues," said Weiner and Martin, "Congress can respond to the real concerns Americans have about the role of money in politics and the broader health of our democracy."

Sinema's MLK Day tweet sparks online fury

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema set off a flurry of furious condemnation Monday with a tweet to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day just days after she helped sink Democratic Party hopes to pass voting rights legislation.

The tweet by the corporate Democrat from Arizona, stating that "today we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," came as progressive lawmakers urged against remembrances of Dr. King that gloss over or ignore his radical legacy and vision.

Sinema, along with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have faced sustained rebuke over their opposition to reforming the Senate filibuster in order to pass the most significant voting rights legislation since the Civil Rights Era.




Working Families Party responded with archival video footage of the assassinated civil rights leader denouncing the filibuster.

"I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting," King said at a July 5, 1963 press conference.

That same quote was shared in a tweet Friday by Bernice King, MLK's daughter, in which she tagged Sinema as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

A day earlier, Sinema reiterated her opposition to changing the rules of the filibuster, including for a carve-out to pass a pair of bills strengthening voting rights.

Voting rights defenders including members of King's family, who led an MLK Day march in the nation's capital Monday, have told lawmakers there should be "no celebration without legislation."

"Today," Martin Luther King III tweeted Monday, "we honor my father and the #MLKLegacy by turning out in Washington, D.C. to call on @POTUS & the Senate to eliminate the filibuster & pass the voting rights legislation our democracy needs."

'We must reverse course': Progressives demand Biden end sanctions to avert mass starvation in Afghanistan

Progressive U.S. lawmakers and human rights advocates are urging the Biden administration to immediately lift economic sanctions on Afghanistan that are fueling a humanitarian disaster and as famine threatens millions in the war-torn nation.

"Aid groups have predicted that if current U.S. economic policy toward Afghanistan continues, there could be more civilian deaths this year than there were in 20 years of war," the Congressional Progressive Caucus tweeted Sunday. "The Biden administration can, and must, act now."

The Taliban seized control of the country in August following the U.S. military's withdrawal after two decades of a military occupation that enriched weapons makers but did little to benefit the Afghan people. Following its defeat, the U.S. then imposed new sanctions the Taliban government, while the World Bank and IMF froze crucial assets.

While last summer's troop pullout received widespread corporate media coverage, the country crisis is now largely absent from news reports. There's been a "stunning plunge" in coverage, as foreign policy analyst Jim Lobe put it late last month, despite "unprecedented levels of hunger and starvation for which U.S. sanctions bear important responsibility."

Warnings from aid groups about the humanitarian impacts of Western nations cutting off vital aid to the country were clear in the weeks following the military withdrawal. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, for example, warned of "imminent collapse of health services and widespread hunger"—crises made worse by the coming harsh winter and a fuel crisis.

In a mid-December statement, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program's country director in Afghanistan, put the situation in stark terms.

“Afghanistan is facing an avalanche of hunger and destitution the likes of which I have never seen in my 20 plus years with the World Food Program," she said.

With a new year underway, the situation remains dire; the International Rescue Committee said last week that Afghanistan was the country "most at risk of worsening humanitarian crisis in 2022."

As a result of the international community's suspension of most nonhumanitarian aid and the freezing of billions of assets, said IRC, "most health clinics have closed and the economy has spiraled downward (risking near-universal poverty)."

According to one Afghan identified as Awesta who works with IRC, "The international community has turned its back on us."

"The healthcare system is on the brink of collapse," the person said, and "most Afghans can't afford to feed themselves or their families, and, with millions marching towards famine, I am desperately concerned for the people of my country.”

The humanitarian group estimated that "throughout early 2022, 55% of Afghans will face acute food insecurity, including nearly 9 million people at emergency levels—one step before famine conditions."

"Food insecurity is likely to deepen in 2022 as the country is facing shortages of food, rapidly rising food prices, and an ongoing drought," the group said, noting that the food crisis coincides with an increasingly critical situation for girls and women, who face a "higher risk of gender-based violence, child marriage, and exploitation and abuse as resources become scarce and needs go unmet."

Writing Sunday at The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain put the blame squarely on "U.S. sanctions policy" for "pushing Afghans over the edge."

As Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote this December, after returning from a trip to Afghanistan on behalf of the WHO, "I can clearly state that if the United States and other Western governments do not change their Afghanistan sanction policies, more Afghans will die from sanctions than at the hands of the Taliban."
The deaths will be brought about as a result of deliberate policy decisions made in the U.S. Alongside new sanctions imposed after the Taliban takeover, the U.S. froze nearly $10 billion of Afghanistan’s central bank holdings here. The Biden administration refuses to release the funds despite ongoing public protests by Afghans.

Author and Jacobin staff writer Branko Marcetic also noted that "for months, the IMF, World Bank, aid organizations, and others stopped the flow of foreign aid to the country—which, before the Taliban takeover, had accounted for three-quarters of public spending and 43 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP." The country's healthcare system and economy, he added, are "nearing collapse."

"This is an almost wholly man-made crisis," wrote Marcetic, "and the reason it’s being engineered and stubbornly held in place is because Washington and European powers, in their telling, don't want to 'reward' the Taliban for their medieval treatment of women." But that logic, he said, is both critically flawed and "repugnant."

"The ones bearing the brunt of all this are ordinary Afghan people, whom Washington and its allies are using as ransom to force the Taliban to stop repressing . . . those same people, who these governments are busy humanitarianly starving to death," he continued. "This makes no sense, and it suggests that none of it has anything to do with concerns for Afghan people's welfare, but rather is about punishing a faction of political foes that embarrassed Western militaries."

To avert further humanitarian catastrophe, a group of 46 House Democrats last month urged President Joe Biden to urgently stop imposing and supporting economic policies that threaten to plunge Afghanistan—"which relies overwhelmingly on imports that require hard currency—deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis."

"Punitive economic policies will not weaken Taliban leaders, who will be shielded from the direst consequences," the lawmakers wrote, "while the overwhelming impact of these measures will fall on innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty."

Biden commerce secretary panned for remarks 'in defense of Big Tech monopolies'

Comments made Wednesday by the Biden administration's Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo expressing concern about legislative proposals in the European Union tackling Big Tech's power elicited a chorus of criticism from monopoly opponents.

In video remarks flagged by technology company coalition Chamber of Progress, Raimondo addresses the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), which she said she understands to be "moving quickly through the E.U.'s legislative process."

"We have serious concerns that these proposals will disproportionately impact U.S.-based tech firms and their ability to adequately serve E.U. customers and uphold security and privacy standards," said Raimondo.

"Now more than ever," she continued, "we encourage officials to continue listening to our concerns by stakeholders before finalizing their decision."

Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, called Raimondo's remarks "in defense of Big Tech monopolies and in opposition to European efforts to address their market power... wildly inappropriate and inconsistent with President [Joe] Biden's executive order on competition policy," referring to the July order targeting technology giants.

"Big Tech is a serious threat to global democracy and honest commerce," Miller said, which is "why Congress, state attorneys general, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, the Federal Trade Commission, and officials at every level of American society are advancing policies to tame these dominant firms."

As Politico EU recently reported, "economy ministers from across the bloc rubber-stamped common positions on the" DSA and DMA last month, paving "the way for the E.U. Council and Parliament to hammer out final texts next year."

The outlet added:

Presented by the [European] Commission in December 2020, the legal texts lay out rules to force tech companies to better police content on their platforms and to boost digital competition by limiting the sprawling power of tech giants such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft.
Companies that would violate the new laws could face fines of up to 10% of their global revenues.

According to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—who's repeatedly said that "we should break up Big Tech"—Raimondo's statement is "wrong" and "contradicts the president's July announcement that a 'small number of dominant internet platforms' are undermining our economy and must be held accountable."

Raimondo, Warren added in her tweet, "should stop defending these monopolists from scrutiny and contradicting that policy."

The Commerce chief's suggestion E.U. officials should listen to tech giants "now more than ever" also drew pushback from Demand Progress legal director Ginger Quintero-McCall.

"Secretary Raimondo's comments about European efforts to address Big Tech's dominant power are highly concerning and inconsistent with President Biden's executive order on competition and the positions of many of his most prominent appointees with jurisdiction over corporate power," she said. "Many agencies within the Biden administration are currently working in line with the president's order to find ways to take on Big Tech, and representatives of the U.S. government should not be interfering with the E.U.'s attempts to do the same."

Countering Raimondo's framing of the proposed legislation, Quintero-McCall said the measures don't represent "the E.U. targeting U.S. national companies" but rather "the E.U. targeting monopolies, some of which are based in the U.S.—and action by the E.U. is poised to benefit smaller companies and consumers across the globe, including in the U.S."

"We should not allow for the interests of massive corporations to be conflated with the interests of the American people," she added.

Biden's choice of Raimondo for Commerce secretary received pushback from progressives from the get-go, with some seeing her as evidence of a "corporate captured" Cabinet. A campaign led by Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project previously assessed Raimondo as "a steadfast ally of Wall Street and corporate America throughout her time in politics, selling out pensioners to hedge funds, slashing social services, and making enemies of labor unions."

Gitmo jurors compare CIA torture to acts by 'most abusive regimes in modern history'

Seven out of the eight members of a military jury called for clemency to be granted in the case of a Guantanamo detainee in light of his detention without due process and said his abuse at the hands of the CIA was "closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history" rather than the euphemistic "enhanced interrogation techniques" claimed by the agency.

The call from the military officials, the New York Times reported Sunday, came in a handwritten letter to the senior official reviewing the case of 41-year-old Majid Khan, whom the jury sentenced on Friday to 26 years in prison.

The jurors in their letter said the denial of "basic due process" for Khan was "an affront to... the concept of justice."

Khan's sentencing followed his landmark testimony Thursday about the brutality he endured at secret CIA sites for three years beginning in 2003 until he was taken to Guantanamo in 2006. The details of his torture first emerged in 2015.

Khan's accounts to jurors last week included being "raped by CIA medics," waterboarded, hung naked from a ceiling beam, and chained to the floors for days.

"The more I cooperated and told them," Khan, said at the hearing, "the more I was tortured."

The jurors' letter, dated Friday, stated that they "recommend clemency" and noted that "Khan committed serious crimes against the U.S. and partner nations" for which he pled guilty, that he expressed remorse for the impact of those actions, and that he's cooperating with prosecutions.

"Khan was subjected to physical and psychological abuse" that "was of no practical value in terms of intelligence or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests," the letter stated.

"Instead," the seven jurors wrote, "it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government."

Born in Pakistan, Khan came with his family to the U.S. and grew up and graduated high school outside Baltimore. He returned to Pakistan in his early twenties to get married. He has admitted to being a courier for al-Qaeda.

Khan was a vulnerable target for recruitment to terrorist activities, the jurors wrote, because of his young age and because he was still mourning the loss of his mother. The jurors also deemed Khan "not a threat for future extremism."

According to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, part of the team representing Khan, the 2012 plea deal he reached with the U.S. government supersedes the 26-year sentence he was dealt last week, meaning he should be released in February 2022.

Despite former President Barack Obama's campaign vow to close the prison, Guantanamo is now in its 20th year.

Wells Dixon, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents Khan, said in a Friday statement, "We look forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that when Majid is transferred from Guantanamo at the conclusion of his sentence in February, he has the necessary support to allow him to move on with his life and be a positive, contributing member of society."

'End the Jim Crow filibuster': Republicans rebuked after torpedoing voting rights bill

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a compromise voting rights bill—the Freedom to Vote Act—sparking a deluge of criticism from Democrats and progressive groups who said it was the latest evidence of the need to get rid of, or at least reform, the filibuster.

"No Senate rule should stand in the way of the freedom to vote."

"Like clockwork, you can always count on Senate Republicans to filibuster any attempt to make our democracy functional," said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy for the Indivisible Project, in a statement.

The failed procedural vote had been expected. Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the measure, but the motion received just 49; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) changed his vote to no to be able to bring it up for a later vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposed the more sweeping and twice-GOP-filibustered For the People Act, helped craft the Freedom to Vote Act, which Democrats unveiled last month.

Supporters of the measure say it would provide a much-needed counter to the wave of voter suppression measures in at least 19 states. Among other provisions, the Freedom to Vote Act would ban partisan gerrymandering in congressional redistricting, make Election Day a national holiday, and enact an automatic voter registration system.

According to Stand Up America executive director Christina Harvey, "Manchin has exhausted every possible means of passing this bill on a bipartisan basis, and the American public has patiently waited while he has attempted to win support from an immovable Republican caucus."

"There is no compromise voting rights bill that will appease Senate Republicans, and today's filibuster made that clear," she said. "Senator Manchin tried. It didn't work. Now, we're out of time. The only way to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation and safeguard our freedom to vote is to end the Jim Crow filibuster."

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn similarly decried the filibuster as a tool "long used to stymie civil rights legislation [that] must not be abused again to defend the new Jim Crow laws being passed across the country to make it harder to vote today—particularly in Black and Brown communities."

"We appreciate Sen. Manchin's continued outreach to his colleagues across the aisle," Hobert Flynn added, "but it has become abundantly clear that no amount of negotiating will get 10 Senate Republicans to support a comprehensive voting rights package by the time we need this to pass. No Senate rule should stand in the way of the freedom to vote, and senators must act with urgency to pass this bill."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also said that action is needed in the face of "Republican-led legislatures chip[ping] away at the bedrock of our democracy."

"We applaud Senate Democrats who voted for urgently needed solutions to an unprecedented attack on voting rights. But the next step is clear," she said in a statement. "The Senate must reform, if not end, the archaic filibuster, and pass federal legislation to protect voting rights. It is the only way forward—and inaction is simply not an option."

Manchin threatening key climate provision

Advocates for bold action to slash planet-heating emissions expressed concern Friday and Saturday following reports that a key climate program in the still-evolving reconciliation package may be neutered or taken out completely.

Resistance to the program's inclusion is coming from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, along with fellow rightwing Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has been a major obstacle to Democrats securing the 50 votes needed for Senate passage of the Build Back Better package.

The new reporting centers on the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) described in a Saturday tweet as "the most impactful part of the Build Back Better Act from a climate perspective" and "puts our electric sector on a path to zero emissions."

"To take it out," he said, "is to decide that climate change isn't a problem."

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben also expressed concern about CEPP potentially being cut out.

"This is high on the list of most consequential actions ever taken by an individual senator," McKibben tweeted. "You'll be able to see the impact of this vain man in the geologic record."

CNN reported on the development Saturday, citing three congressional sources:

"[Manchin] is not there on the CEPP period. We've been trying," one Democratic aide with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN. The aide told CNN that Democrats are trying to find ways to restructure the program to fit Manchin's concerns while still reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
"Whatever comes through will not be called the CEPP, but we're strongly hoping and thinking there will be ways to meet what he wants," the aide said, adding, "If there's a deal to be struck in the next few days, I don't think there's anything resembling CEPP in there."
The New York Times first reported the measure would likely be cut.

Reporting out Saturday by the Washington Post, meanwhile, suggests CEPP could remain but be weakened.

According to the Post:

One of the ideas under consideration would establish a scaled-back, voluntary emissions trading system among aluminum, steel, concrete and chemicals manufacturers that would provide federal funding to help companies curb pollution, according to two people close to the negotiations.

In a statement Saturday in response to the Times' report, the Sierra Club stressed a need to keep CEPP intact—and for the Biden administration to commit to further actions to slash emissions as well, including ending all fossil fuel subsidies.

"Ultimately," the environmental group said, "any final deal must meet the climate test of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030. Right now, that means including the CEPP, and that is why environmental advocates have fought for it as an important priority alongside the clean energy tax incentives and so many of the other policies and climate investments that are in this bill."

"If the CEPP were to be abandoned," the group said, "President Biden and congressional Democrats must deliver bold NEW investments in other climate priorities to close the emissions gap and meet the president's international climate goals in the coming days and weeks as the U.N climate negotiations near."

Joe Manchin fumes after Bernie Sanders op-wd in West Virginia paper calls out obstruction of Biden agenda

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia lashed out Friday after a major newspaper in his home state published an op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders that called out Manchin's obstruction of his own party's Build Back Better reconciliation package.

"Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs," Manchin said in a statement shared on social media.

"No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that," he added.

At issue is an op-ed by Vermont Sen. Sanders—an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats—published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in which he calls the proposed reconciliation bill "an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes."

Sanders details how the proposal would take action to tackle the climate emergency and make sweeping investments in Americans' wellbeing including through lowering prescription drug prices, expanding Medicare, continuing cash payments to working class parents, and making community college tuition-free.

"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation," wrote Sanders. "Yet," he continued, "the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote 'yes.' We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin." The other is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"This is a pivotal moment in modern American history," Sanders continued. "We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont, and the entire country and create policy which works for all, not just the few."

The op-ed was published the same day the New York Times and CNN reported that Manchin's opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program—dubbed "the most impactful climate investment under consideration in Congress"—would likely mean it's left out of the budget package.

'Planetary health declaration' issued ahead of key biodiversity summit

Just ahead of a major United Nations summits on biodiversity and the climate—and amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—a global consortium has launched a planetary health declaration in which they "raise an alarm that the ongoing degradation of our planet's natural systems is a clear and present danger to the health of all people everywhere" that must be countered with a fundamental paradigm shift transforming nearly every aspect of society.

"The planetary health science is clear," the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health, published Tuesday at The Lancet, states. "We can no longer safeguard human health unless we change course."

Authored by the Planetary Health Alliance, a global coalition hosted within the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the declaration is endorsed by over 250 organizations representing 47 countries.

"The urgency of this moment is hard to overstate," said declaration lead author Sam Myers, director of the Planetary Health Alliance and research scientist at Harvard, in a statement ahead of the launch.

The document centers on what various stakeholders—from urban planners to governments to artists—must urgently do as part of the "Great Transition," what the declaration authors frame as the necessary "fundamental shift in how we live on Earth."

To the agricultural sector, the document recommends utilizing "all ways of knowing, including the latest science and millennia of traditional and Indigenous knowledges, to implement agricultural systems that meet demand and reduce pressure on natural systems."

Economists, meanwhile, are urged to reject a focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in favor of "metrics and investments that support preservation and regeneration of Nature, human well-being, equity, and happiness—the things we truly value."

Numerous recommendations are laid out for governments with "an urgent first step" being promoting "public access to health services as a human right." Covid-19 recovery plans must also focus on decarbonizing the energy sector and ensuring equity for the most disenfranchised and marginalized communities.

The general public is also called to action.

"We invite you to consider yourself a partner in planetary healing," states the declaration. "We all live together in an interconnected world and the actions of each of us inspire others. Therefore, together, we pledge to dedicate our lives to the service of humanity, and to the protection and restoration of the natural systems on which humans and all other species who share our home depend."

Put together, the document says its recommendations should serve as "a compass guiding us towards the most promising pathways to support a more just and resilient post-pandemic world."

Courtney Howard, an emergency physician in Canada and a contributor to the declaration, put the document in the context of global vaccine inequity.

"In the midst of Covid, disparities in vaccine accessibility must be part of the same conversation as addressing planetary emergencies," Howard said in a statement.

"On an interconnected planet, no one is safe until everyone is safe," she added. "We need vaccine equity, and in the long run, protecting nature will be the true vaccine against future pandemics and other planetary emergencies."

Top Democrat says USPS banking pilot is 'welcome' — but DeJoy must still be fired

News Monday that the U.S. Postal Service recently rolled out a pilot program in four cities allowing limited payroll and business check-cashing services was welcomed by a top Democrat who called it a "welcome start" to fuller postal banking services but stressed that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy must still be fired.

The remarks from Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), posted online by The American Prospect's David Dayen, reference the "predatory" practices by payday lenders often faced by unbanked Americans as well as the lawmaker's hope for "a new postal board and post master general."

"The future of USPS depends on implementing postal banking. Postal banking will unite rural and urban communities and crush predatory payday lenders," Pascrell said in a thread.

"One more thing," Pascrell added. "Today would be a great day to fire the Trump appointees on the postal board of governors and then fire Louis Dejoy. They all need to be fired."

Pascrell's demand—which came amid widespread sustained calls for DeJoy's ouster over conflicts of interest and a plan Democrats warned would cause a "death spiral" of the Postal Service—followed reporting Monday by the Prospect and other outlets that, starting on September 13, in USPS locations in Washington, D.C. Baltimore, Falls Church, Va., and the Bronx, customers have been able to cash checks up to $500 in exchange for a gift card. The program represents a collaboration of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the Postal Service.

"The well-being of the Postal Service—that the people in the country so overwhelmingly support—in the future is partly going to rest on these kind of expanded services," APWU president Mark Dimondstein told the Washington Post.

"New services will not just have the post office doing well by the people," he said, "but will bring in needed revenue."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)—who, like Pascrell and other lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—has called for a pilot postal banking program, tweeted Monday that the new development "is a great first step towards creating a full postal bank."

"Families who don't have access to a bank will be able to cash paychecks without paying predatory fees," she said, "and it would generate billions to help the USPS survive and thrive."

According to Causten Rodriguez-Wollerman, deputy director at the ACLU, however, "This program is the bare minimum." The postal board, he said, must "do much more."

He noted for example that "in the United States, 59% of zip codes don't have a bank but 100% of zip codes have at least one post office."

"The USPS must launch postal banking pilots in thousands of post offices across the country to provide affordable financial solutions for all," said Rodriguez-Wollerman.

'This is big': House passes amendment to cut US complicity in Saudi bombing of Yemen

Anti-war groups on Thursday welcomed the U.S. House's passage of an amendment to the annual defense bill that would cut off the flow to Saudi Arabia of U.S. logistical support and weapons "that are bombing civilians" in Yemen.

"This is BIG," tweeted the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) following the afternoon 219-207 vote, which fell largely along party lines, with just 11 Democrats voting "no."

At issue was Rep. Ro Khanna's (D-Calif.) amendment to H.R. 4350, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It's one of dozens of amendments to the NDAA under consideration by the House this week.

According to Khanna, the vote "sent a clear message to the Saudis: end the bombing in Yemen and lift the blockade."

Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, he made a succinct case for why the measure is so needed.

Khanna said his amendment "would end all U.S. logistical support and transfer of spare parts for Saudi warplanes that are bombing Yemen, that are bombing schools, that are killing children, that are bombing civilians in the largest humanitarian crisis around the world."

"We're not going to use taxpayer dollars to give them equipment for their planes to bomb Yemeni kids," Khanna added, urging his colleagues to help "finally begin to end this war."

The California Democrat's effort is being buoyed by anti-war groups like FCNL, which joined a coalition of progressive groups this week in a statement declaring that "by suspending the sale of arms and ending U.S. participation in the Saudi coalition's war and blockade, Congress can prevent a humanitarian catastrophe from spiraling further out of control as it reasserts its constitutional authority on matters of war and peace."

Another signatory to the letter, CodePink, argued Thursday that while the House vote was welcome, the NDAA still needs broader changes.

"If this amendment makes it through the NDAA conference with the Senate," the group wrote in a Twitter thread, "it would end logistical and spare parts support to the Saudi-led war on Yemen that's left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis on the brink of death and millions more on the brink of starvation."

"While we support Khanna's amendment, we do not support the NDAA (as a whole) without a significant cut to the Pentagon budget," the group added. "Regardless, the amendment remains a strong message to the Biden administration that Yemen can't wait."

The vote came on the heels of the United Nations food agency highlighting the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where "people are suffering immensely."

"We're literally looking at 16 million people marching toward starvation," World Food Program executive director David Beasley said Wednesday at a high-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

"We need this war to end, number 1, and if donors are getting fatigued, well, end the war," he added. "World leaders need to put the pressure on all parties involved to end his conflict because the people Yemen have suffered enough."

'Grim and alarming' UN report details 'catastrophic' global failure on climate

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned Thursday that humanity's "future is at stake" with governments' climate commitments, as he marked the launch of a U.N.-backed report he called "an alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are."

"This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise, and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives, and livelihoods on every continent," wrote Guterres in a foreword to the report, United in Science 2021.

"Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," he continued, "limiting warming to 1.5°C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend."

The third edition of the multi-agency United in Science report was compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and brings together assessments from partner organizations including the Global Carbon Project (GCP), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Guterres also gave a video message alongside the launch in which he said that "we continue to destroy the things on which we depend for life on Earth."

The U.N. chief noted in his remarks that developed nations aren't immune from climate-related disasters, pointing to recent events like Hurricane Ida, which "cut power to over a million people in New Orleans" and left New York City "paralyzed by record-breaking rain that killed at least 50 people in the region."

United in Science 2021 - video message from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres www.youtube.com

Key points noted in the report are that concentrations of key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O)—continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels dropped in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related economic slowdown. And while there remains "uncertainty about the global post-pandemic recovery," the report warns that decline appears to be temporary, pointing to "initial estimates for 2021 [that] show a strong recovery in emissions with a possible return to pre-Covid levels within a year or two."

The report also highlights the warming planet's impact on Arctic sea ice.

"In every year from 2017 to 2021," the report stated, "the Arctic average summer minimum and average winter maximum sea-ice extent were below the 1981–2010 long term average. In September 2020, the Arctic sea-ice extent reached its second lowest minimum on record."

The publication further notes the climate crisis' impacts on human health.

"The increased occurrence of wildfires leads to peaks in air pollution concentrations," the publication states, and "long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to chronic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart diseases, effects on the nervous system and diabetes." The study also cites increasing evidence related to how "the compound effects of air pollution and Covid-19 may lead to increased Covid-19 mortality."

It's also likely that the annual global mean temperature will be between 0.9°C and 1.8°C above pre-industrial conditions for the period of 2021–2025, with a 40% chance of a single year within that five-year span being 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, the report shows that global demands for governments to "build back better" from the pandemic have fallen on deaf ears. "We are not going in the right direction," he wrote in a foreword to the report.

Joeri Rogelj, one of the authors of the report and the director of research and lecturer in climate change and the environment at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said the publication is another call to action.

"The messages in this report provide a grim and alarming picture," he said in a statement. "We are experiencing unprecedented climate change. We have caused it. And our actions to date are largely insufficient to avoid it from getting worse."

"The combined evidence in this report should empower anyone to make sure the report's messages are heard in places of power by those making decisions about our future," said Rogelj, pointing to COP 26, the upcoming U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, as "a key date where the world will have to come together to take the decisions necessary to halt climate change within our lifetimes."

New climate analysis highlights near total global failure to meet 1.5°C targets

A new analysis reveals a near total global failure of governments to have climate action and targets on track for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Released Wednesday by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), the assessment rated just one nation,The Gambia, as "1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible," and found the United States' overall climate action—despite a welcome "U-turn on climate change" since the Trump administration—to be "insufficient."

The analysis, which covered policies of 36 nations and the European Union, framed the widespread failings as particularly glaring given the "absolute urgency" of climate action made clear by the most recent IPCC report, a publication United Nations chief António Guterres declared "a code red for humanity."

CAT, a watchdog effort of Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute, described a "2030 emissions gap" in projecting how governments' plans and current policies largely fall short of being on track to meet the 1.5˚C threshold of warming.

The analysis said "the IPCC is clear that getting onto a 1.5°C pathway means reducing emissions by 50% by 2030" and that meeting that goal "is no longer a matter of feasibility, but rather one of political will."

Such will appears to be lacking.

In a statement, Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute pointed to May, after U.S. President Joe Biden's "Leaders Summit on Climate" and the international Petersberg Climate Dialogue, when "we reported that there appeared to be good momentum with new climate action commitments, but governments then had only closed the emissions gap by up to 14%."

"But since then," said Höhne, "there has been little to no improvement: nothing is moving. Governments have now closed the gap by up to 15%, a minimal improvement since May. Anyone would think they have all the time in the world, when in fact the opposite is the case."

This latest assessment from CAT includes new factors in its ratings systems, reflecting net zero targets as well as "an overall rating, the domestic target, policies and action, fair share, climate mitigation finance (either on providing mitigation finance, or detailing what international support is needed), and land use and forestry (where relevant)."

Based on overall ratings, the U.K. is the only G20 nation deemed "almost sufficient," a classification that covers six other countries including Nepal and Costa Rica.

Like the U.S., the EU, Germany, Norway, and Japan's overall climate plans were assessed as "insufficient." Canada joined Brazil, Australia, India, and UAE as countries whose plans were deemed "highly insufficient."

A small group of countries had overall climate plans classified "critically insufficient."

"Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Thailand perform so badly on climate action," the analysis found, "that if all governments were to adopt this approach, global warming would reach beyond 4°C."

To move in the right direction, the analysis urged developed nations "to further strengthen their targets to reduce emissions as fast as possible, to implement national policies to meet them, and to support more developing countries to make the transition."

In terms of energy sources, all governments should take advantage of the falling costs of renewables to boost such installations while also ditching plans for any continued coal and gas infrastructure, the analysis said.

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, stressed the need for swift action to rein in emissions.

"The IPCC has given the world a 'code red' warning on the dangers of climate change reinforcing the urgent need for the world to halve emissions by 2030," he said in a statement. "An increasing number of people around the world are suffering from ever more severe and frequent impacts of climate change, yet government action continues to lag behind what is needed."

"While many governments have committed to net zero," he said that "without near-term action achieving net zero is virtually impossible."

The publication was released on the heels of a global study revealing widespread climate anxiety in young people, with 58% of the 10,000 16-25-year-olds surveyed feeling "betrayed" by government inaction on the climate emergency.

"This study shouldn't be a moment of pity," said German climate activist Luisa Neubauer. "The adequate answer to this study would be drastic climate action."

US public is clear: War in Afghanistan wasn’t worth it

As corporate media amplify pro-war voices to cover developing events in Afghanistan, two polls out Sunday showed the U.S. public has little appetite for continuing the 20-year war.

A new CBS News/YouGov survey, conducted August 18-20, found that 63% approve of President Joe Biden's decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, and just 37% disapprove. Just 47%, however, approve of the way Biden is handling the troop withdrawal.

Separate polling from NBC News, conducted August 14-17, asked if the war in Afghanistan was worth it. Sixty-one percent said it was not, compared to 29% who said it was. The last time the poll asked the question was in June of 2014 when similar percentages were found. At that time, 65% said the war wasn't worth it, compared to 27% who said it was.


Those findings mirror a poll out last week from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Conducted leading up to and after the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, the survey found 62% of U.S. adults believed the war in Afghanistan wasn't worth fighting.

The surveys were released amid still emerging and chaotic scenes of Afghan civilians trying to flee Taliban takeover of the country. The British military said Sunday that seven people were killed as a result of a crowd crush at the Kabul airport.

Rightwing media have responded to the scenes of those trying to flee with fearmongering about the possible influx of Afghan refugees into the U.S. Human rights advocates, meanwhile, are calling on the Biden administration to "urgently do more" to help evacuate those most at risk of harm, including those who worked with U.S. and NATO forces, journalists, and women's rights activists.

Specific actions that should be taken, the groups, including Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch, said in Friday letter (pdf) to Biden, are working with allies to ensure those fleeing get to the Kabul airport safely and increasing the administration's stated goal of evacuating 5,000-9,000 people per day.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN Sunday that in the last 24 hours, the U.S. helped secure the evacuation of nearly 8,000 civilians, with 3,900 people on U.S. military aircraft and another 3,900 on partners' aircraft.

There 'will never be' a US military solution in Afghanistan: Rep. Barbara Lee

Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee—who cast the sole vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was used to justify the war in Afghanistan—reiterated on Sunday her assessment that "there is no military solution" to address the worsening chaos in that country.

Lee's (D-Calif.) remarks came in an interview on MSNBC's "American Voices with Alicia Menendez" as the Taliban effectively took control of the country and desperate Afghans tried to flee.

"Our focus now," said Lee, "has got to be... the safety and security of everyone at this moment, and I think it's a very dire situation."

"This is an example, though, that there is no military solution," she said. "We've been there 20 years, we have spent over a trillion dollars, and we have trained over 300,000 of the Afghan forces," Lee added, calling the current situation "a tragedy."

Citing Brown University's Costs of War Project's estimate that the war in Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers over $2 trillion, guest host Anand Giridharadas asked Lee about just where all the money ended up.

After acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and Afghan civilians who lost their lives as a result of the war, the California Democrat pointed to "many, many reports [showing] that there was an enormous amount of corruption" and graft.

"It was just an untenable situation," she said.

Asked if the U.S. would learn any lessons from current disaster, Lee said: "Listen, 20 years ago I said that there was no military solution in Afghanistan. Of course we have to deal with the terrorist threats, of course we have to deal with national security."

"But," she said, "we have to remember we have three stools of our foreign and military policy: diplomacy, development, and defense." And those three aspects have "been out of balance."

"We need to get back to rebalancing," said Lee, praising the Biden administration for what she said was "doing the right thing" by pulling out of Afghanistan.

Lee's 2001 vote against the AUMF was referenced on Sunday by MSNBC political analyst Mehdi Hasan in a Twitter thread in which he lamented that "those of us who warned against invading and occupying Afghanistan 20 years ago have been tragically, awfully, vindicated."

"I also wish everyone had listened to Rep. Barbara Lee back in September 2001," he wrote.

According to the Costs of War Project, over 5.3 million Afghans have been displaced since the U.S. occupation and invasion in 2001. The project further estimates that 241,000 people have died as a direct result of the war.

Study details how Trump unleashed 'outright slaughter' of wolves in Wisconsin

A new study published Monday estimates Wisconsin lost as much as a third of its gray wolf population after the Trump administration stripped federal protections for the animals and the state allowed for a public wolf hunt widely decried as being "divorced from science and ethical norms."

The February hunt, panned (pdf) by wildlife advocates as "an outright slaughter," killed 218 wolves—already far past the quota the state had set. But over 100 additional wolf deaths were the result of "cryptic poaching," University of Wisconsin–Madison environmental studies scientists found, referring to illegal killings in which hunters hide evidence of their activities.

The majority of those surplus deaths, the researchers estimate, occurred after the Trump administration announced on November 3, 2020 the lifting of endangered species protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. That shift became effective in January 2021.

According to the study, published in the journal Peerj, between 98 and 105 wolves died since November 2020 "that would have been alive had delisting not occurred."

An optimistic scenario puts the state wolf numbers for April 2021 at between 695 and 751 wolves. That's down from at least 1,034 wolves last year, representing a decrease of 27–33% in one year.

That decline, the researchers said, is at clear odds with Wisconsin's stated goal of the hunt "to allow for a sustainable harvest that neither increases nor decreases the state's wolf population."

"Although the [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] is aiming for a stable population, we estimate the population actually dropped significantly," said co-author Adrian Treves, a professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW–Madison, in a statement.

Cancellation of the state's next hunt, set for November, could allow for the wolf population to rebound in one or two years. Standing in the way of that is Wisconsin's mandate for a wolf hunt in the absence of federal protections, and kill allowances set on shaky scientific ground, according to the researchers.

Also troublesome is the fact that the state didn't mandate the collection of wolf carcasses for assessing data of wolf ages or detection of alpha females.

Co-author Francisco Santiago-Ávila said the results suggest the lifting of federal protections gave a subtle green light for more killings.

"During these periods, we see an effect on poaching, both reported and cryptic," he said. "Those wolves disappear and you never find them again."

"Additional deaths are caused simply by the policy signal," he said, "and the wolf hunt adds to that."

Citing "the importance of predators in restoring ecosystem health and function," the researchers offer recommendations including, at the federal level, a "protected non-game" classification for wolves. At the state level, authorities "should prove themselves capable of reducing poaching to a stringent minimum for a 5-year post-delisting monitoring period," the study said.

Wildlife advocates have already expressed concern that the wolf population hit seen in Wisconsin could be a harbinger of the fate of wolves in other states unless the Biden administration quickly restores federal protections for the iconic animals.

According to Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, "Quite simply put, post-delisting, too many wolves are being killed and there is absolutely no justification for it. No scientific justification. No ethical justification. No public safety justification. No economic justification."

WildEarth Guardians is among a handful of conservation organizations last month that released guides for laypeople as well as state agency wildlife policymakers to show how to best prioritize "wolf stewardship and a broader vision for conserving species in the face of global climate change and mass extinctions."

"New wolf plans informed by science and ethics are needed now more than ever, as the disastrous winter wolf hunt in Wisconsin showed," said Amaroq Weiss, senior West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, expressing optimism the guides could be tools for "a more hopeful course in states' stewardship of these beloved animals."

'Existential risk': Leaked IPCC climate report draft 'reads like a 4,000-page indictment' of humanity's failure

Agence France-Presse reported Monday on the contents of a leaked draft of a United Nations intergovernmental climate panel report which warned that devastating effects of a warming world are set to hit far sooner than previously thought, with impacts including an additional tens of millions of people facing hunger by 2050.

"This is a warning of existential risk. Of survival. Of collapse," said climate movement Extinction Rebellion in response to AFP's reporting on what the draft contained.

The draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) document warns of sweeping impacts on weather events, food, ecosystems, and disease—changes expected even if global temperature rise is kept under the Paris climate agreement's second threshold of 2°Celsius. It also calls for systems-wide changes to avert a worst-case climate scenario.

"By far the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world, the report reads like a 4,000-page indictment of humanity's stewardship of the planet," reported AFP.

The final document is set to be released in February at the end of the formal review process.

IPCC responded to the media reporting with a statement indicating the draft document is likely based on the Second-Order Draft of the Working Group II report, which was circulated for review by governments and experts in December and January.

Because it is a confidential working document, the IPCC said it would not comment on the draft.

In a lengthy Twitter thread responding to the reporting, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe called the draft's assessment rightly "blunt" though unsurprising given that it's a synthesis report.

Referring to scientists, she added: "We've realized that if we don't spell out the fact that it's our civilization we've put on the chopping block ourselves, in words that everyone can understand, emphasizing risks that matter to everyone on this planet, who will?"

"Climate change isn't just one more priority on our already over-crowded list," Hayhoe wrote. "It is a threat multiplier that affects every single other priority already on it, from the air we breathe to the food we eat."

Despite the draft's grim assessment, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg found reason for hope.

Speaking to AFP, she said the document "confirms what we already knew"—that "the situation is very dire and that we need to act right now."

"At least I find that it's very hopeful," she said, "that many people are becoming more and more ready to tell it like it is," because "we can of course not face this crisis unless we tell it like it is, unless we are adult enough to tell the truth and to face the reality."

She added that "this could be something that could... wake people up, which is very hopeful."

Third FDA adviser resigns over approval of Alzheimer's drug as Big Pharma stock soars

Backlash over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's controversial approval of a new Alzheimer's drug grew Thursday with a third member of an agency advisory panel resigning in protest.

The latest resignation to hit the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee, as STAT first reported, came from Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor.

His action followed FDA's "accelerated approval" announced Monday for aducanumab, on which drug maker Biogen put an annual price tag of $56,000. Administered as a monthly intravenous infusion, it's the first drug to treat Alzheimer's disease that's been approved in nearly two decades—approval that came despite the panel's recommendation against it in light of lack of data showing efficacy.

In his resignation letter, Kesselheim wrote that it "was probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history," CNBC reported.

"At the last minute," wrote Kesselheim, "the agency switched its review to the Accelerated Approval pathway based on the debatable premise that the drug's effect on brain amyloid was likely to help patients with Alzheimer's disease."

The FDA erred in its approval, Kesselheim added to the New York Times, "because of so many different factors, starting from the fact that there's no good evidence that the drug works."

In a June 7 tweet, the day of the FDA announcement, Kesselheim wrote that "Accelerated Approval is not supposed to be the backup that you use when your clinical trial data are not good enough for regular approval."

Monday's announcement was followed by a surge in Biogen shares.


Kesselheim's departure followed the resignation of two other members of the advisory panel this week.

They included Mayo Clinic neurologist David S. Knopman, who told the Washington Post that he didn't "wish to be part of a sham process."

"The whole saga of the approval of aducanumab," Knopman wrote in his resignation letter, "made a mockery of the [advisory] committee's consultative process. While I realize that the committee is advisory, the approval of aducanumab appears [to] have been foreordained."

Washington University neurologist Dr. Joel Perlmutter also resigned and told STAT its was "due to this ruling by the FDA without further discussion with our advisory committee."

Aducanumab is administered as a monthly intravenous infusion and is meant not to stop the disease but slow the rate of a patient's decline.

As CNN reported Thursday:

Initial trials of the treatment, meant to be given to people very early in the course of disease before they develop dementia, did not indicate it helped at all. But the drug's maker, Biogen, re-analyzed data and said there was an indication it might help some patients. [...]

Clinical trials of aducanumab were stopped in 2019 because they failed to show the drug was effective.
But the drug's maker, Biogen, re-analyzed the data and said it showed some patients who got high doses of the drug had not improved, but had shown a slower rate of decline than other patients.

When the committee met in November, it rejected the drug.

Perlmutter warned at the time of "a huge danger in approving something that turns out not to be effective," citing "a risk of delaying good treatments and effective treatments for more than a couple of years, for many years,"

Another panel member, Dr. Scott Emerson said, said at the November meeting, "I'm highly critical of the fact that the FDA presentation today was so heavily weighted to just giving the same conclusions that the sponsor did," referring to Biogen.


Beyond the average $56,000 price tag per patient, there "will probably be tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs for screening and monitoring patients," the Times reported Tuesday. From the newspaper:

The drug is all but certain to unleash a gusher of profits for Biogen—the drug is expected to become one of the best-selling pharmaceutical products in the world within a few years—as well as for the hundreds of clinics expected to administer the drug.

Those billions of dollars in anticipated costs are likely to be shouldered largely by Medicare.

The drug's approval could drive up insurance premiums, according to healthcare policy experts. And it could add new out-of-pocket costs for some families that are already facing years of staggering costs for caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's.

An analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation released Thursday said that Medicare recipients prescribed the drug could face co-payments of $11,500 for a year, "which represents nearly 40% of the $29,650 in median annual income per Medicare beneficiary in 2019."

According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), "It's unconscionable to ask seniors and taxpayers to pay $56,000 a year for a drug that has yet to be proven effective."

"Medicare must be able to negotiate a fair price for prescription drugs," he tweeted Tuesday.

New UN climate report is a 'wake-up' call for a world on fire

Climate action advocates reiterated demands for urgent measures to rein in global heating after the World Meteorological Organization warned Thursday that there's a 40% chance the planet will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming in the next five years.

The WMO, a United Nations agency, also said in its update that there's a 90% chance at least one year between 2021 and 2025 will be the hottest on the books—a record currently held by 2016.

"We can change course, but the window is closing," tweeted climate group 350 Canada. "It's now a race to phase out fossil fuels as fast as possible."

WMO also predicted for the next five years an increased chance of more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and a drier Southwest.

"In 2021, the Arctic (north of 60°N) is likely to have warmed by more than twice as much as the global mean compared to the recent past," the agency added.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas stressed that the predictions reflect "more than just statistics."

"Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment, and sustainable development," he said in a statement.

"This study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris agreement on climate change," Taalas added, calling it "yet another wake-up call that the world needs to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality."

Climate scientists weighing in on the WMO's update suggested it is critical to focus on the broader trend of global warming rather than focusing on a single year breaking the 1.5°C threshold of warming, the more ambitious warming limit of the Paris climate accord.

"Once we get emissions to zero we are stuck with the warming that has occurred for many centuries to come, barring the use of planetary-scale negative emissions," tweeted Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute.

"This long-term commitment—rather than any short-term global temperature tipping point—is what I find to be the most compelling reason for pursuing ambitious targets," he added.

And, according to Joeri Rogelj, director of research and a lecturer in climate change and the environment at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, "A single year hitting 1.5° C doesn't mean the Paris limits are breached, but is nevertheless very bad news."

"It tells us once again that #ClimateAction to date is insufficient and emissions need to be reduced urgently to zero to halt #GlobalWarming," he said in a Twitter thread.

Human rights experts denounce Israeli attacks and confiscation of homes in East Jerusalem

Israeli forces are facing fresh condemnation from international human rights experts for their "excessive force" against Palestinian protesters in occupied East Jerusalem that left hundreds injured, and airstrikes into Gaza that killed dozens of people including nine children.

Also under scrutiny are Israel's attempted evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, which would amount to "war crimes," Amnesty International said Monday.

In a statement Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated its plea for an end to the violence, and also addressed the retaliatory rockets fired by Hamas into Israel that injured 17 Israeli civilians. The body appealed to Israel and Palestinian armed groups to respect international humanitarian law.

Referring to Israel's strikes into densely populated Gaza, an area deemed by occupation critics an open-air prison, spokesperson for the High Commissioner Rupert Colville said, "Any attack, including airstrikes, should be directed solely at military objectives and all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid civilian deaths and injury and damage to civilian objects."

"Israel must also refrain from punitive measures, such as additional closures and restrictions, that punish the entire civilian population of Gaza," he said.

Israel launched a new round of airstrikes into Gaza on Tuesday, bringing the death toll up to 26, according to the Associated Press. Retaliatory rockets fired from Gaza into Israel resulted in the first Israeli causalities from the latest spate of violence—two people in the southern city of Ashkelon—after which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said military forces would "increase both the strength and rate of the strikes."

Ahead of the latest round of airstrikes into Gaza, Israeli security forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque for a third consecutive night, "firing rubber-coated steel rounds, stun grenades, and tear gas at Palestinian worshipers inside the mosque in the final days of the holy month of Ramadan," as Al Jazeera reported. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which says it's been targeted as it attempted to provide aid to wounded worshipers and protesters, said that over 900 Palestinians were injured between May 7 and May 10 in East Jerusalem.

The repression drew condemnation from United Nations human rights experts Michael Lynk and Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

"The recent scenes of Israeli police and security forces attacking large crowds of Palestinian residents and worshipers is only intensifying a deeply inflammatory atmosphere in the city. A militarized response to civilian protests against discriminatory practices only deepens social divisions. Respecting rights is the only path forward," Lynk, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, and Rajagopal, special rapporteur on adequate housing, said in a statement.

Their statement also references the threatened evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which have elicited ongoing protests.

"An occupying power is prohibited from confiscating private property belonging to the protected population, and it must respect the body of existing laws which had governed the territory, unless it is absolutely necessary to alter them," said Lynk and Rajagopal.

"The forced transfer of the population under occupation is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which contribute[s] to the coercive environment now prevailing in East Jerusalem. As well," they continued, "these evictions breach the right to adequate housing—a core human right in international law."

Saleh Higazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, similarly condemned Israel's recent actions.

"The latest violence brings into sharp focus Israel's sustained campaign to expand illegal Israeli settlements and step up forced evictions of Palestinian residents—such as those in Sheikh Jarrah—to make way for Israeli settlers. These forced evictions are part of a continuing pattern in Sheikh Jarrah, they flagrantly violate international law, and would amount to war crimes," said Higazi.

Nabil el-Kurd, one of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah who's facing possible eviction, told Amnesty International that Israel's actions must prompt urgent action from the international community.

"Sheikh Jarrah is sending a message to the whole world, including the U.S. Congress, the U.K. Parliament, the French Parliament, the E.U. Parliament, the International Criminal Court, that what is happening to us is a war crime," said el-Kurd. "It is not just an eviction, but a war crime. Remember that."

"I do not know why the entire world is watching what is happening and letting Israel get away with it," said el-Kurd. "It is time they stopped spoiling Israel."

In the U.S. , some Democratic members of Congress are calling for a shift in ongoing policies and practices in which the U.S. continues to supply Israel unconditional miliaty aid and defends Israel's lethal military actions as "self-defense" while rejecting direct criticism of Israeli forces' deadly attacks on Palestinians and the ongoing illegal occupation.

Those voices include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and André Carson (D-Ind.).

In a joint statement Monday condemning the Gaza strikes and attacks on worshipers at Al Aqsa, the lawmakers said the threatened evictions are a "direct violation of international law, the Geneva Convention, and basic human rights."

"We condemn all violence in this conflict—these acts only serve to advance the political goals of the powerful at the expense of the suffering of the people," they said.

The lawmakers also denounced the lack of "accountability for Israel's wanton human rights abuses and continuing illegal seizures of Palestinian land" in the face of mere "lip service to a Palestinian state."

"It is long past time we finally take action to protect Palestinian human rights and save lives," the trio said.

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."

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