Brett Wilkins

'Rein them in': Experts urge Congress to act as corporate profits skyrocket past previous records

Economic justice advocates on Wednesday responded to new U.S. government figures showing nonfinancial corporate profits soared to record levels during the third quarter of 2022 by urging congressional lawmakers—most of whom receive substantial corporate campaign contributions—to take action against the capitalist greed that progressive experts say is the main driver of inflation.

The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis reported nonfinancial sector corporate profits of $2.08 trillion during the third quarter, up from just under $1.9 trillion during the same period last year, $1.6 trillion in Q3 2020, and $1.37 trillion from July-September 2019.

Wednesday's figures follow similar record second-quarter profits of $2.07 trillion, as well as a 15.5% increase in Q2 after-tax profits as a share of gross value added for non-financial corporations—the biggest margin since 1950.

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working," Rakeen Mabud, chief economist and managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, said in a statement. "Powerful corporations in concentrated industries will keep prices sky high until lawmakers rein them in."

Numerous analyses, including a report released earlier this month by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, have shown that corporations are using soaring inflation as a pretext for consumer price gouging.

Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the Fed will continue to raise interest rates—albeit at a slower pace—in a continuation of the central bank's inflation-fighting strategy.

"Despite some promising developments, we have a long way to go in restoring price stability," Powell stated during an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "We will stay the course until the job is done."

Progressive economists and politicians stressed that corporate greed is the real culprit behind high prices, with former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeting Tuesday that "instead of raising interest rates and slowing the economy toward a recession, Congress and [President Joe] Biden should be taking aim at corporate price gouging."

Speaking earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, "Of course the Fed has a role to play in getting inflation under control, but there is a big difference between landing a plane and crashing a plane."

The watchdog group Accountable.US asserted Wednesday that "Corporate greed is driving inflation. As rising costs take a massive toll on American families, companies are raking in record profits and bragging about their sky-high prices."

The next Fed rate hike—which Powell said could come as soon as December—would be the seventh of the year. Earlier this month, the central bank raised interest rates by 0.75% for the fourth consecutive time.

New polling from Navigator Survey found that a majority of respondents believe that the government should focus on "cracking down on corporate greed and price gouging" over "stopping wasteful government spending and handouts."

"Our economic crisis isn't inflation, it's corporate greed," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who earlier this year introduced legislation that would impose a windfall corporate profit tax of up to 95% on companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue—argued earlier this month.

"You don't reduce inflation by giving tax breaks to billionaires and cutting benefits for the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor," Sanders contended. "You combat inflation by taking on corporate greed and passing a windfall profits tax. You combat inflation by taking on the power of the insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the giant food companies and lowering the outrageously high costs of healthcare, prescription drugs, gas, and groceries."

'Beyond unacceptable': Outrage in Houston over late notice from officials of boil water alert

Houstonians voiced outrage Monday after authorities took six hours to issue a boil water advisory to more than 2.2 million residents of Texas' largest city—and the nation's fourth-biggest—in the wake of a power outage at a purification plant.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said that a power outage occurred at East Water Purification Plant in Galena Park at 10:30 am on Sunday, causing water pressure to drop below the minimum required pressure of 20 PSI.

Six hours later, the city issued the advisory and posted on social media: "A boil water notice has been issued for the city of Houston. Everyone should boil the water before drinking, cooking, bathing, and brushing their teeth."

Many residents did not receive the city's notice until Sunday night. Responding to the late warning, journalist José de Jesus Ortiz wondered, "How and why in the hell did Houston officials wait until around 8 pm tell citizens that there was a power outage at a water plant in the morning?"

Clint Barnette, a geologist, tweeted: "The city of Houston has everyone's email address that has a water bill. We all pay it online. It's beyond unacceptable that we don't have an email from them saying there's a boil notice. No fucking excuse."

Meteorologist Casey Curry posted: "Seriously! Low water pressure THIS MORNING and you are just now letting us know to boil our water because it is unsafe. Would have been nice to know BEFORE my little girl showered, drank water from the tap, and brushed her teeth this evening."

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock explained that city officials needed to consult with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and review data about the water before notifying the public. Haddock also said there is no evidence of any contamination.

"The reason we're doing the water boil notice is it's a regulatory requirement," Houston Water Director Yvonne Williams Forrest said in an interview with KHOU, adding that the warning was issued "out of an abundance of caution."

Speaking during a Monday morning press conference, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said that the advisory may remain in effect until Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Houston Independent School District canceled classes for Monday.

Some took aim at the Republicans who run Texas, with one Twitter user quipping, "Houston, where the federal government can provide space travel, but the local Republicans can't provide drinking water."

Calling out Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Texas' Republican U.S. senators, the advocacy group Center for American Progress Action said that "the entire city of Houston is under a boil water notice after a power outage at a water treatment plant, 2.3 million people don't have access to clean water. Resilient infrastructure matters—so why did @tedcruz and @JohnCornyn vote no on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act?"

The Houston area has suffered from multiple water crises in recent years, including deadly brain-eating amoebas in Lake Jackson's drinking supply and millions of pounds of toxins spilled from petrochemical and other industrial sites during Hurricane Harvey.

'Carpetbagger' charges fly as Georgia GOP Senate candidate Walker's Texas tax break exposed

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker is the beneficiary of a tax break meant for permanent Texas residents—a possible violation of both Texas law and residency rules for voting and political candidacy in Georgia, CNN reported Wednesday.

Records reviewed by the network show Walker benefited from Texas' homestead tax exemption, shaving approximately $1,200 off his 2021 tax bill on his $3 million home in the Dallas-Ft. Worth suburb of Westlake. The Texas Tribune reports the former NFL star is expected to apply for the discount again this year, and would likely save about $1,500.

Reacting to the report, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock—who will face Walker in a December 6 runoff after neither candidate received 50% of the vote in this month's midterm election—asked on Twitter, "How can Herschel Walker represent Georgians when he doesn't even claim our great state as his primary residence?"

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, "only a homeowner's principal residence qualifies" for the break.

As CNN detailed:

Questions have swirled around Walker's residency since he actively began exploring the possibility of a Senate run in Georgia last year, and Democrats and Republicans alike hit Walker over the issue.

To run for office and vote in Georgia, 15 rules, not all of which need to be met, are considered for establishing residency, which include where the resident takes their homestead tax exemption and where they intend to live permanently. The U.S. Constitution only requires a potential senator to be an inhabitant of their state when elected.

"The state Supreme Court said that a homestead exemption alone was not dispositive evidence that could disqualify a candidate," Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University, told CNN.

"At the end of the day, this is more of a political problem than a legal one in all likelihood... where Walker can be painted as a carpetbagger," Kreis added. "It does call into question whether Walker's change of residency was made in good faith."

Indeed, comparisons with failed Republican Senate aspirant Dr. Mehmet Oz—who Democratic U.S. Sen.-elect John Fetterman's campaign successfully framed as a New Jersey opportunist out of touch with the Pennsylvanians he sought to represent—were filling Twitter feeds following publication of the story.

Charles Kuck, a professor at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, tweeted: "Herschel Walker is a liar, a carpetbagger, and a moron. Please vote responsibly. #VoteWarnock."

Memo lays out 'powerful case' for indicting Donald Trump on six federal charges

A model prosecution memorandum published Thursday by a team of U.S. legal experts lays out potential charges against Donald Trump related to the former Republican president and 2024 presidential candidate's handling of classified government documents since he left office last year.

The memo, which is based on publicly available information, was authored by a group of former federal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other legal experts and published at Just Security.

Before issuing an indictment, prosecutors compile a pros memo listing admissible evidence, possible charges, and legal issues pertaining to the case. According to the experts, that document subsequently "provides a basis for prosecutors and their supervisors to assess whether the case meets the standard set forth in the Federal Principles of Prosecution, which permit prosecution only when there is sufficient evidence to obtain and sustain a prosecution."

Ryan Goodman, a former Pentagon special counsel, current New York University law professor, and co-author of the new memo, said the team's "exhaustive analysis of all prior prosecutions brought under the same criminal statute that most directly applies to Trump shows how difficult it will be for the Justice Department to decline to issue an indictment here."

"Trump's conduct is indeed much worse than most of those prior cases and involves a host of aggravating factors that one seldom sees in cases brought under the Espionage Act's retention clause," Goodman added.

The controversial Espionage Act is a World War I-era law used to prosecute dissidents and whistleblowers from Eugene V. Debbs, Emma Goldman, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently probing possible Espionage Act violations committed by Trump, who was found in possession of classified documents allegedly including materials related to a foreign country's nuclear weapons.

Democracy 21 president and memo co-author Fred Wertheimer said that "Trump's status as a former president and as a current presidential candidate is and must be treated as irrelevant by Attorney General Merrick Garland in deciding whether to indict Trump."

"Garland's decision must be based on the facts, the law, and the standard of applying the law equally for all citizens, as detailed in our report," he added. "The process also is far too advanced to now start over with a special counsel to lead the investigation."

The memo analyzes six federal crimes:

  • Retention of national defense information (18 USC § 793(e));
  • Concealing government records (18 USC § 2071);
  • Conversion of government property (18 USC § 641);
  • Obstruction of justice (18 USC § 1519);
  • Criminal contempt (18 USC § 402); and
  • False statements to federal investigators (18 USC § 1001)

"Based on the publicly available information to date, a powerful case exists for charging Trump under several of these federal criminal statutes," the memo argues.

The document's authors explain that they "begin with the standard articulated" by Garland: "'Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor.' In other words, this case must be evaluated for prosecution like any other case with similar evidence would be, without regard to the fact that the case is focused on the conduct of a former president of the United States."

Memo co-author and Brookings Institution senior fellow Norman L. Eisen asserted that "if anyone else had handled even a single highly classified document in this way, they would be subject to investigation and likely prosecution."

"Donald Trump mishandled a huge volume of them," Eisen added. "No wonder that prosecutors seem to be closing in."

The memo's authors also walk through "every defense we could imagine" Trump might invoke.

"Our conclusion," wrote Goodman, is that "none of these potential defenses would provide a complete or effective defense."

'Phase out all fossil fuels': Action demanded as COP27 climate summit ends with little to show for it

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference winds down in Egypt, and with little progress apparent on key issues from loss and damage compensation to a clean energy transition, activists on Wednesday underscored the imperative to include a fossil fuel phaseout in the summit's final text and keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

"Those who've traveled across the [world] to fight for 1.5°C at COP27, and their communities at home, are sick of waiting as delegates avoid, delay, and greenwash," the climate action group 350.org tweeted, referring to the Paris agreement's preferential global heating target. "We need ALL fossil fuels phased out, gas included—keep it in the ground, and keep 1.5 alive!"

As rich nations ignore pleas from campaigners and Global South stakeholders to pursue loss and damage payments to the countries that have contributed the least to—but suffer the most from—the climate emergency, and as fossil fuel interests and the governments they influence work to ensure fossil fuels are included in COP27's final decision text, activists are growing more strident in their calls to action.

"This is our rallying cry—from actions, press conferences, to side events, today is the day where we, the civil society movement, are holding governments to account and demanding that an equitable, managed, and just phaseout of all fossil fuels must be in the cover decision of COP27," 350.org executive director May Boeve said in a statement.

Climate Action Network head of global political strategy Harjeet Singh said that "we came here to demand climate justice, but we know what's happening. There are more than 630 fossil fuel lobbyists who have turned this COP into an expo, and they are making the climate crisis worse. The fossil fuel industry is directly responsible for the death and destruction we are seeing around the world and this same industry is profiting from the crisis, making obscene profits."

Inger Andersen, who heads the United Nations Environment Program, lamented that "we've barely scratched the surface" of what needs to be done to salvage 1.5°C.

"The one year since Glasgow, frankly, has been a year of climate procrastination," she added, referring to last year's COP26 conference in Scotland. "By 2030, we need to reduce emissions by between 30% to 45%, but since COP26 we've shaved off 1%. So, we have a long way to go."

According to the International Renewable Agency, just 29% of global electricity generation currently comes from renewables, while carbon emissions continue an upward trend and new fossil fuel projects are ramped up in the face of fuel shortages caused by factors including Russia's invasion of Ukraine and production decisions by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Omar Elmawi, coordinator of the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) campaign, argued that it's "unacceptable to even consider huge projects" like EACOP "when rapid and deep emission cuts are needed to avoid catastrophic climate impacts."

"We do not accept that the need to address the energy crisis can be used to greenlight fossil fuel projects, including risky gas developments," Elmawi added. "This message needs to be heard, acted on, and commitments made to halt such projects. Finances should be channeled into a just transition to community-led renewable energy. We need true and real solutions for the African continent."

Fridays for Future Germany organizer Luisa Nebauer said that "this COP has turned into a fossil fuel energy theater. I can't believe that I am here, with two days left till the end of these climate talks, fighting for fossil fuel inclusion in the final text, when we know that the climate crisis is being caused by fossil fuels."

"Just because some industry leaders might be hurt when we tell them the era of fossil fuels has ended, their model does not work," she insisted. "This COP must be the one where fossil fuels come to an end."

Some countries are earnestly working toward a fossil fuel-free future. On Wednesday, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kenya, and Chile joined Italy, Finland, and Luxembourg as "friends" of the Beyond Oil and Gas (BOGA) Alliance. Launched last year by Costa Rica and Denmark at COP26 in Glasgow, BOGA—which counts 11 countries and territories as members or associate members, and now seven others as "friends"—is working "to facilitate the managed phaseout of oil and gas production."

Joseph Sikulu, 350.org's Pacific managing director, said in a statement that "the expansion of oil and gas is a threat to the existence of many small island developing states."

"The leadership shown from Tuvalu and Fiji as friends of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance comes just as our Pacific leaders fight to have the phaseout of fossil fuels included in the final text of the COP27 climate talks in Egypt," Sikulu added. "This is a David vs. Goliath fight for many of our islands, but this announcement is a resounding call that the Pacific is not standing down in the fight against oil and gas expansion."

There was a glimmer of hope Wednesday as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said his country would support a proposal to phase down all fossil fuels, if it focused on projects with "unchecked emissions."

"It's a step in the right direction to see John Kerry state U.S. support for a fossil fuel phasedown," 350's North America director Aube Giroux said. "The nuance however is in the details and the loopholes. The U.S. delegation is making a distinction between 'abated' and 'unabated' fossil fuel projects and ramping up their desire to use carbon capture and sequestration and carbon tax credits as means to mitigate the climate crisis."

"Fundamentally that is an insufficient approach that continues to provide cover for the fossil fuel industry to continue to drill for and burn fossil fuels that are destroying our planet," Giroux continued. "If the U.S. wants to be a real leader on climate, we need to see them push real solutions including investing in solar and wind."

"The U.S. needs to incorporate a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies with no caveats," she added, "and create a mechanism for these companies to pay for the damage they've caused, reinvesting the finances into a renewable energy economy."

'This isn't good': NATO scrambles for answers after explosion rocks Polish town near Ukraine border

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates...

Two people are reportedly dead after a Tuesday afternoon explosion at a Polish grain processing facility near the Ukrainian border that an unnamed U.S. intelligence official and Polish media attributed to a Russian missile strike, sparking fears of an escalation of the Ukraine war.

The cause of the explosion in Przewodów, a village in eastern Poland about four miles from the Ukrainian border, could not be immediately confirmed. Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller told reporters that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda convened an emergency session of the country's National Security Council to address the "crisis situation."

Mueller cautioned international media against publishing "unverified information."

Peace advocates and foreign policy experts have warned since the outset of the war that an errant missile strike on a NATO country or a military miscalculation by either side could dangerously escalate the conflict.

The unnamed U.S. official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, said multiple Russian missiles struck the grain center.

Reuters reports that the White House—which said it cannot confirm reports of a Russian missile strike—is working with the Polish government to gather more information about the incident. U.S. President Joe Biden has previously vowed to "defend every inch of NATO territory."

Pentagon spokesperson Gen. Pat Ryder, meanwhile, told reporters that "we don't have any information at this time to corroborate those reports and are looking into this further."

Under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, an attack on any member of the alliance is considered an attack on all. Poland joined NATO in 1999. When asked, Ryder did not say if the incident would trigger Article 5.

An Article 4 response could also be triggered by such an incident, which would include NATO members coming together to consult over a perceived security threat if any member demands such a meeting.

The Russian defense ministry issued a statement denying responsibility for the attack, calling media reports a "deliberate provocation."

According to The New York Times, Russian forces launched around 100 missiles targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure on Tuesday in what Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko called the largest coordinated attack on the country's power grid since the start of Russia's invasion.

Declining sperm counts 'could threaten mankind's survival': study

While it may sound like a plot element from a dystopian novel like The Children of Men or The Handmaid's Tale, an alarming study published on Tuesday found that worldwide sperm concentrations and counts have fallen by more than half since the 1970s, an accelerating crisis that experts say could pose an existential threat to humanity if not promptly addressed.

Published by an international team of researchers in Human Reproduction Update, the study analyzed data from 57,000 men in 53 countries, with results suggesting that average global sperm concentration declined from an estimated 101.2 million per milliliter in 1973 to 49 m/ml in 2018—a drop of 51.6%—while total sperm counts decreased by 62.3% over the same period.

The paper updates and enhances previous research that was limited in scope to North America, Europe, and Australia. The new paper found that for the first time, men in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are experiencing similar sperm declines as those in the three previously studied regions.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the researchers reported an accelerating rate of decrease, with sperm concentrations dropping by 1.16% each year since 1972—but falling by 2.64% annually since 2000.

Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, the lead author of the 2017 and 2022 studies, likened their findings to a "canary in a coal mine."

"We have a serious problem on our hands that, if not mitigated, could threaten mankind's survival," Levine said in a statement. "We urgently call for global action to promote healthier environments for all species and reduce exposures and behaviors that threaten our reproductive health."

What's causing sperm counts to perilously plummet? Levine told Health Policy Watch that "the primary suspect is a mother's exposure to man-made chemicals during pregnancy," with plasticizers, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, toxic gases, and air pollution believed to be among the chief culprits.

"We also know exposure in adult life and lifestyle choices such as smoking and poor nutritional habits can be associated with poor sperm count," Levine added.

Study co-author Shanna Swan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City—and author of Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race—said in a statement that the paper's findings "are consistent with adverse trends in other men's health outcomes, such as testicular cancer, hormonal disruption, and genital birth defects, as well as declines in female reproductive health."

"This clearly cannot continue unchecked," she asserted.

Studies have also shown a steady decline in testosterone levels during the 21st century.

While sperm concentration and count are not the only predictors of fertility, Richard Sharpe, a male reproductive health expert at the University of Edinburgh not involved in the new study, told The Guardian that "the key point that needs to be made is that this is desperately bad news for couple fertility."

"These issues are not just a problem for couples trying to have kids," Sharpe stressed. "They are also a huge problem for society in the next 50-odd years as less and less young people will be around to work and support the increasing bulge of elderly folk."

Human Rights Watch renews calls for a global treaty to ban 'killer robots' and 'autonomous weapons'

Noting that countries have been discussing a treaty banning autonomous weapons systems for nearly a decade "with no tangible results," Human Rights Watch on Thursday renewed calls—and outlined alternative strategies—for a global agreement prohibiting the development of so-called "killer robots."

The 40-page report, which was co-published with Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic, posits that "rather than accepting continuing stagnation" while trying to reach a deal within the framework of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), proponents of a legally binding instrument for banning killer robots should try something new.

"The longer the killer robots issue stays stuck in the current forum, the more time developers of autonomous weapons systems have to hone new technologies and achieve commercial viability," HRW senior arms researcher Bonnie Docherty said in a statement. "A new treaty would help stem arms races and avoid proliferation by stigmatizing the removal of human control."

"A new international treaty that addresses autonomous weapons systems needs a more appropriate forum for negotiations," Docherty, who is also associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Human Rights Clinic, added. "There's ample precedent to show that an alternative process to create legal rules on killer robots is viable and desirable, and countries need to act now to keep pace with technological developments."

HRW proposes negotiating a killer robot ban via the United Nations General Assembly—how the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons began life—or even independently from the U.N. altogether, an avenue that led to the treaties banning anti-personnel land mines and cluster munitions.

According to HRW:

In October, 70 countries expressed their support for 'internationally agreed rules and limits" on autonomous weapons systems in a joint statement to the U.N. General Assembly's First Committee on Disarmament and International Security.
There have also been more expressions of support for regulation from industry. In October, Boston Dynamics and five other robotics companies pledged not to weaponize their advanced mobile robots and called on others to "make similar pledges not to build, authorize, support, or enable the attachment of weaponry to such robots.'

The October statement stressed that a killer robot accord is "necessary, urgent, and achievable." However, major military powers including the United States and Russia oppose such a treaty.

"With major military powers getting ever closer to developing these dangerous systems, alternative options need to be pursued," the HRW report concludes. "It is time for states to initiate a process elsewhere to negotiate a new treaty on autonomous weapons systems."

Progressive economists warn of 'catastrophic outcomes' for workers as Fed hikes interest rates

As the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates—the fourth consecutive 0.75% increase and the sixth hike of the year—progressives stressed that Fed policy boosts the likelihood of a global recession and disproportionately harms low-income workers and other marginalized people.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell explained that the move was necessary to ease inflation, which has hit a 40-year-high due to factors including corporate profiteering, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the climate emergency.

"We've always said it was going to be difficult," he said, "but to the extent rates have to go higher and stay higher for longer it becomes harder to see the path" to avoiding recession.

"I would say the path has narrowed over the course of the last year," Powell added.

Progressive economists and activists refuted the Fed's approach.

Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick noted in a statement that "a chorus of economic experts have warned hiking interest rates again is a recipe for millions of Americans receiving pink slips, yet the Fed has decided to triple down on what is not working."

"Throughout the pandemic, the Fed should have been acting as stewards of the fragile economic recovery but instead have prioritized demands from big banks, hedge funds, and other Wall Street special interests at the great expense of average working families," she contended.

"If excessive interest rate hikes hasten the arrival of an otherwise avoidable recession, will the Fed take responsibility," added Zelnick, "or try to pass the buck as they keep making matters worse?"

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler said the Fed's latest rate hike "will have a direct and harmful impact on working people and our families" and "will not address the underlying causes of inflation."

"The Fed seems determined to raise interest rates, though it openly admits those rates could ruin our current economy as unemployment remains low and people are able to find jobs," she continued. "A recession would instead cause companies to hire fewer people, making it harder for young workers, workers of color, and others who have greater barriers finding jobs, and put downward pressure on the wages of all working people who will bear the brunt of an overactive monetary policy."

"Working people should not be the target of lowering inflation," Schuler added, "it should be corporations that are earning record profits."

Anticipating Wednesday's rate hike, Groundwork Collaborative chief economist Rakeen Mabud argued Tuesday that the move is a "misguided policy with catastrophic outcomes for the millions around the country who are already struggling to make ends meet."

"The Fed's rate-hiking frenzy is doing everything but lowering prices," she said. "Wage growth is slowing and mortgage rates are the highest in 20 years. If Powell wants to be taken seriously as a responsible steward of the economy, he should think twice before raising rates again."

Progressive former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted: "Memo to the Fed: Interest rate hikes aren't working because inflation is being driven by corporations using it as cover to price gouge the people."

Meta and TikTok busted for 'actively pushing' 'Stop the Steal 2.0' on eve of Brazil's presidential election

As Brazilians prepare to vote in Sunday's decisive presidential runoff, a report published Saturday revealed that social media giants Meta—Facebook's parent company—and TikTok are driving traffic to content promoting a military coup to overthrow Brazil's democracy.

The report—entitled Stop the Steal 2.0: How Meta and TikTok Are Promoting a Coup—was published by the San Francisco-based activist group SumOfUs and asserts that "on the eve of the second vote in Brazil's most important election in decades, Meta and TikTok continue to put the integrity of the election on the line through their disastrous recommendation systems."

The publication comes ahead of Sunday's second-round contest between far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro—who has said he may not accept the outcome of the election if he loses–and former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Aggregate polling showed the two candidates in a statistical dead heat on Friday.

According to the new report:

Meta claims that Brazil is a priority region and that the company is committed to enforcing policies and practices that uphold the integrity of the vote. But not only does SumOfUs' previous research show that the platforms are awash with conspiracy theories about the election, claims of electoral fraud, and calls for a military coup, this research report sets out how Facebook's recommender systems are actively pushing users towards this content.
Far-right extremists, who are openly agitating for a military coup, are operating freely on Meta's platforms, and Meta is not only allowing them to spread their message and recruit new members, but the platform's algorithms are prioritizing anti-democratic groups, accounts, and posts. The report also looked at the role TikTok is playing in tackling the growing problem of election disinformation on its platform, and found its moderation lacking...
The findings confirm civil society organizations' worst fears, that platforms like Facebook and Instagram are enabling bad actors to organize and recruit new members, just as it did in the U.S. 2020 elections, which ended in violent insurrectionists storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

"At this point, it is safe to say that Meta has become Bolsonaro's official disinformation machine," SumOfUs campaign director Flora Rebello Arduini said in a statement. "This is not Meta's first time wreaking havoc on democracy and Brazilians deserve better from this multi-billion dollar company."

"As this report shows," she added, "TikTok needs to up its game and not follow Meta's lead in fueling the disinformation crisis in Brazil."

On Saturday evening, SumOfUs activists projected an image of Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg setting the Brazilian flag alight with the message "Meta is destroying Brazilian democracy" at Kings Cross tube station in London, just around the corner from Meta's U.K. headquarters.

The new report comes amid warnings and acts of right-wing political violence. While no motive has yet been announced, on Friday local São Paulo-area politician Reginaldo Camilo dos Santos, a prominent supporter of da Silva and the left-wing Workers' Party running for Congress, was assassinated in a drive-by shooting near his home in Jandira.

Agência Pública, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism outlet, reported earlier this month that from August 16 and the end of the first round on October 2, there were at least 148 cases of electoral violence across the country.

A separate report published last week by the anti-corruption and human rights organization Global Witness revealed that YouTube approved 100% of Brazilian election misinformation ads submitted for approval, while Facebook accepted around half of such submissions.

'The worst possible news': UN report reveals greenhouse gas levels have hit all-time highs

Scientists and activists expressed shock and the need for urgent climate action Wednesday as the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization revealed that atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases fueling catastrophic global heating all hit record highs in 2021.

The WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin warns that atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide reached unprecedented levels last year. According to the report, carbon dioxide concentrations in 2021 were 415.7 parts per million (ppm), methane was 1908 parts per billion (ppb), and nitrous oxide was 334.5 ppb. These levels are, respectively, 149%, 262%, and 124% above pre-industrial levels.

The report notes that methane concentrations saw their biggest single-year increase since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago, while CO2 levels rose at a higher-than-usual rate.

"The brutal truth is here for everyone to see," climate scientist Bill McGuire tweeted in response to the new figures. "Far from emissions being brought under control, they are actually accelerating. This is the worst possible news."

"You can say goodbye to 1.5°C and 2°C too," he added, referring to the Paris agreement's targets for avoiding projected worst-case climate scenarios.

The new report came on the same day that the United Nations warned ahead of next month's COP27 climate summit that nations are falling far short of their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that global heating could hit a catastrophic 2.9°C by century's end absent immediate, meaningful action by major polluters to dramatically slash carbon emissions and transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement that this year's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin "has underlined, once again, the enormous challenge—and the vital necessity—of urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global temperatures rising even further in the future."

"The continuing rise in concentrations of the main heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction," he added.

Scientists fear soaring concentrations of methane—which is up to 87 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period—may have triggered a potentially irreversible climate feedback loop.

As the WMO bulletin notes, scientists still do not fully understand all causes of the sharp rise in methane levels in recent years. Methane is emitted during fossil fuel production and transport, as well as from agriculture and biogenic sources like wetlands.

Last September, the European Union and the United States pledged to voluntarily reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of the decade. More than 100 nations have signed on to their Global Methane Pledge.

The world's three leading methane emitters—China, Russia, and India—have not signed the pledge, nor have other major methane polluters like Australia and Iran.

In the U.S., efforts to slash methane emissions have been stymied by opposition from the fossil fuel industry and the politicians it influences through campaign contributions. For example, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose family owns a coal brokerage and who is currently by far the largest congressional recipient of oil and gas industry contributions, has been a staunch opponent of bold climate action.

Critics call the 30% target a step in the right direction but insufficient to adequately address the emissions crisis. The International Energy Agency said last October that a 75% reduction in methane emissions by 2030 is "essential" to combating the climate emergency.

"There are cost-effective strategies available to tackle methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel sector, and we should implement these without delay," Taalas argued.

"However, methane has a relatively short lifetime of less than 10 years and so its impact on climate is reversible," he added. "As the top and most urgent priority, we have to slash carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather, and which will affect climate for thousands of years through polar ice loss, ocean warming, and sea level rise."

Every nuclear power plant is a 'dirty bomb' in waiting: watchdog

With Ukraine and Russia each trading renewed accusations that the other is planning to weaponize Ukrainian atomic reactors, a leading anti-nuclear group warned Wednesday that all such power plants have the potential to become radioactive "dirty bombs."

"Like all nuclear power plants, Ukraine's reactors are inherently dangerous pre-deployed nuclear weapons," Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear said in a statement. "Nuclear power plants—and their mounting inventory of high-level nuclear waste—are inherently dangerous and their use should be permanently discontinued."

The group's warning comes as Russian officials this week doubled down on unfounded allegations that Ukraine is planning to weaponize a nuclear reactor, while Ukrainian officials accused Russia of carrying out secret construction work at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest such facility in Europe.

Russia's August shelling of Zaporizhzhia, as well as last month's Russian missile strike a few hundred meters from the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant near Yuzhnoukrainsk, have raised eyebrows and alarm among nuclear experts and other observers around the world. Experts also fear that possible Russian destruction of Ukrainian dams and other hydroelectrical infrastructure could leave the Zaporizhzhia plant without enough water to cool its reactors.

"The reality all of this exposes is that nuclear power plants are inherently dangerous with their large inventories of radioactive materials that must be protected for hundreds to thousands of years from escaping into the environment," Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear's director of reactor oversight, said in Wednesday's statement.

"The only reason there is such justifiably high anxiety right now about the possibility of these plants being used as dirty bombs—as well as the very real threat of a missile attack—is because of the lethal radioactivity that would be released, sickening and killing countless people and contaminating land and water indefinitely," Gunter continued. "This sends a clear message that using this already highly expensive form of electricity generation is, and was always, a mistake."

Last year, nuclear power plants generated more than half of Ukraine's electricity, second in the world only to France's 70%, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States and Russia, by comparison, got about 20% of their respective electric power from nuclear reactors in 2021. Germany, meanwhile, is in the process of shutting down its last three nuclear power plants, which are scheduled to stop operating later this year.

"Given that nuclear power is too expensive, too slow, too inflexible, and comes with significant safety, security, and proliferation dangers, the message could not be more obvious," Gunter contended.

"For the sake of our health, well-being, and the survival of the planet, we must transition rapidly away from nuclear power and dirty fossil fuels to flexible and fast renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation," he added. "All three of these, when combined, are demonstrably able to meet our current and future energy needs."

DOJ to investigate Bureau of Prisons after judge rips officials over inmate's death

The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that its inspector general's office will investigate the Federal Bureau of Prisons following a judge's excoriation of a warden at a Texas prison who let an inmate waste away from untreated cancer.

The DOJ said in a statement that its Office of Inspector General (OIG) "is investigating the circumstances surrounding the release from prison and subsequent death of Frederick Mervin Bardell, who was released from the Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas, on February 8, 2021, and died nine days later."

"In an order dated October 4, 2022, Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr., in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, who had previously reviewed Mr. Bardell's petitions for compassionate release, recommended that the attorney general, the OIG, or other appropriate investigative offices undertake an examination into the conditions of Mr. Bardell's confinement and treatment, and alleged misrepresentations to the court," the statement continued.

In his order, Dalton wrote that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and Seagoville warden Kristi Zook "should be deeply ashamed of the circumstances surrounding the last stages of Mr. Bardell's incarceration and indeed his life."

According to The Washington Post:

Bardell had served most of a 12-year sentence for distributing child pornography when, in late 2020, he asked for compassionate release from a prison in Seagoville, Texas to receive specialized treatment for colon cancer. Justice Department lawyers argued against his release, saying he could receive adequate treatment in prison and suggesting he might not have cancer, according to court papers.

Months later, Bardell was much sicker and again asked Dalton, an Orlando-based federal judge who presided over Bardell's sentencing, to release him for medical care. This time, the judge agreed and ordered the Bureau of Prisons to create a release plan. Instead, according to the judge, the Bureau of Prisons dumped Bardell on the sidewalk of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

Bardell was left without a wheelchair. He was weak and soiling himself with feces and blood throughout his homebound journey to Florida, and after arriving, his parents rushed him straight to hospital, where he died nine days later.

"With timely diagnosis and treatment, Mr. Bardell's attesting physician assessed his chances of survival at 71%," Dalton wrote in his October 4 order.

"No individual who is incarcerated by order of the court should be stripped of his right to simple human dignity as a consequence," the judge argued. "The purposes of incarceration, which include rehabilitation, deterrence, and punishment, do not include depriving a human being of the fundamental right to a life with some semblance of dignity."

"The treatment Mr. Bardell received in the last days of his life is inconsistent with the moral values of a civilized society," he added, "and unworthy of the Department of Justice of the United States of America."

'The elephant in the room': Top Fed official says corporate price hikes are fueling inflation

Progressives on Monday pointed to remarks by Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard acknowledging the role of corporate profiteering in exacerbating inflation to underscore their opposition to interest rate hikes and other monetary tightening that favors Big Business over workers.

While attributing high inflation to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Brainard—who was addressing a meeting of the National Association for Business Economics in Chicago—asserted that "there is ample room for margin recompression to help reduce goods inflation" in the retail economy.

"Retail margins have increased 20% since the onset of the pandemic, roughly double the 9% increase in average hourly earnings by employees in that sector," she noted. "In the auto sector, where the real inventory-to-sales ratio is 20% below its pre-pandemic level, the retail margin for motor vehicles sold at dealerships has increased by more than 180% since February 2020, 10 times the rise in average hourly earnings within that sector."

Brainard's nod to what one observer called "the elephant in the room" was secondary to her insistence that monetary tightening in the form of higher interest rates is the best way to tackle inflation.

"It will take time for the cumulative effect of tighter monetary policy to work through the economy broadly and to bring inflation down," she said. "In light of elevated global economic and financial uncertainty, moving forward deliberately and in a data-dependent manner will enable us to learn how economic activity, employment, and inflation are adjusting to cumulative tightening in order to inform our assessments of the path of the policy rate."

Noting that "the labor market's recovery from the pandemic-induced recession was a historic rebound," the progressive podcast "Pitchfork Economics" warned that "if the Fed keeps pursuing outdated, harmful solutions, they will push us into a longer, deeper recession with consequences that reverberate for years to come."

Meanwhile on Monday, Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said that the central bank's number one priority is reducing inflation—even if monetary tightening costs people their jobs.

"Ultimately, inflation is the most important thing to get under control. That's job one," Evans argued during an interview on MSNBC. "Price stability sets the stage for stronger growth in the future."

Members of the Fed's board of governors are widely expected to raise interest rates by 0.75% for the fourth consecutive time when they meet next month.

Last month, a trio of progressive political economists told members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform that the most effective way to curb rising prices is to take on the corporate profiteering fueling inflation.

"Even as input costs come down, corporate executives are gleefully reporting how they plan on keeping prices high," one of the economists, Rakeen Mabud of the Groundwork Collaborative, told the lawmakers. "Megacorporations are taking advantage of recent crises to make record profits for themselves and their shareholders."

Another one of the economists, former U.S. labor secretary and University of California, Berkeley professor Robert Reich, testified that "the inflation we are now experiencing is not due to wage gains; it is due to increases in corporate profits."

"And it's excessive profits, not wages, that need to be controlled," he added.

Reich and others have urged Congress and U.S. President Joe Biden to pass windfall profits tax legislation like the Ending Corporate Greed Act introduced in March by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the Senate and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in the House. If passed, the measure would impose a 95% tax on the windfall profits of major corporations.

'One of the biggest arsonists': World Bank blasted for 'investing' $15 billion into planet-scorching fossil fuels

A coalition of over 50 advocacy groups on Thursday published a report revealing that the World Bank has directly financed at least around $15 billion in fossil fuel development since the signing of the 2015 Paris climate agreement—despite the international financial institution's 2017 pledge to stop supporting oil and gas projects within two years.

Big Shift Global's report—entitled Investing in Climate Disaster: World Bank Finance for Fossil Fuels—"shows that even after the Paris agreement, climate science, and climate impacts should have been focusing minds" at the World Bank Group "on the need for a transition to clean renewable sources of energy."

Instead, "the group remained in a fossil-funding paradigm, harmful to people, countries, and planet," spending at least $14.8 billion supporting fossil fuel projects and policies since the landmark climate accord was signed.

The report's release coincided with a demonstration by activists with Glasgow Actions Team, who unveiled a banner reading "World Bank = Climate Chaos" outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the World Bank will hold its annual meetings next week.

The analysis was also published on the same day that U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged the World Bank to do more to combat the climate emergency.

"We agree with Secretary of Treasury Yellen that the development finance system needs to be fit for purpose in order to react to global challenges and crises, such as climate change," Glasgow Actions Team director Andrew Nazdin said in a statement.

"If the World Bank wants to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, it needs to stop funding fossil fuels and unlock billions in order to support the transition to renewable energy across the globe and end poverty and inequality," Nazdin added.

The report also comes amid calls by climate campaigners and U.S. Democratic lawmakers for the World Bank Group to fire its president, David Malpass—who was nominated by former U.S. President Donald Trump—after he refused to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels is heating the planet.

"World Bank President David Malpass recently refused to confirm that he accepts climate science," Big Shift Global said on its website. "While President Malpass has attempted to walk back his remarks, the bank's track record of a lack of climate action under his leadership speaks for itself."

Bronwen Tucker, public finance co-lead at Oil Change International—a member of Big Shift Global—said Thursday that "under Malpass, the World Bank Group is running backward on climate and just development."

"The World Bank Group still funds more fossil fuels" than any other multilateral development bank (MDB), "and they continue to lock Global South countries into expensive and volatile fossil fuel contracts through their heavy-handed policy lending programs," Tucker added. "They are blocking joint MDB Paris alignment efforts. Malpass must go."

The White House condemned Malpass' initial remarks, and according to reporting by Axios, the Biden administration is considering an attempt to remove the World Bank president and replace him, perhaps with former U.S. vice president and early climate champion Al Gore or current Biden climate envoy John Kerry.

Big Shift Global is "calling on all of the world's biggest public development banks to shift all their money out of dirty fossil fuels and into sustainable renewable energy to provide energy access for all."

The coalition added that multilateral development banks "such as the World Bank manage billions of dollars of public money," making them "key to financing the shift to a sustainable renewable global energy system."

Big Shift Global says these international financial institutions must:

  • End all direct and indirect finance to fossil fuels and promote a just transition;
  • Significantly scale up investment in sustainable renewable energy and ensure everyone has access to clean, safe energy;
  • Include strong environmental, social, and governance safeguards relating to fossil fuels and renewable energy; and
  • Be transparent and accountable about direct and indirect energy finance and in measuring emissions from the projects they fund.

According to the World Bank's own analysis, "Climate change may push over 130 million into poverty by 2030 and cause over 200 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050."

The World Bank says it is "the biggest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries," and that it intends "to go further in helping countries reduce poverty and rise to the challenges of climate change."

The international financial institution cites the more than $109 billion it says it has invested in climate finance—including a record $21.6 billion for fiscal year 2021—over the past six years.

However, the U.K.-based international charity Oxfam said this week that the World Banks' "reporting practices make it impossible to independently verify their climate finance claims."

"The Earth is on fire and the World Bank is one of the biggest arsonists in disguise," German Green politician Ute Koczy, an MDB expert at coalition member Urgewald, said in a statement Thursday.

"To date, this bank supports coal, oil, and gas," she added. "Greedy companies are lucky to have World Bank leaders in back. This has to stop. Exit fossil fuel finance now!"

'Legalize it': Advocates cheer presidential pardons of federal cannabis convictions

This is a developing story... Please check back for updates.

Reasserting that "no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he is planning to issue an executive order pardoning everyone convicted of low-level marijuana possession, a move that drew applause from drug policy reform advocates.

"Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives—for conduct that is legal in many states. That's before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction," Biden tweeted. "Today, we begin to right these wrongs."

"First: I'm pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession," the president stated. "There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden."

"Second: I'm calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses," he continued. "Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either."

"Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin—and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense," Biden asserted, adding that he's asking U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland "to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law."

According to

✎ EditSign the most recently available figures from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, less than 100 people were federally sentenced for simple marijuana possession in 2017.

However, campaigners against the failed War on Drugs hailed the president's announcement, with the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen tweeting, "This is huge."

Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said in a statement that "many of the efforts taken and proposed by the president today are long overdue."

"For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the administration to fulfill the president's campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction," he continued. "We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he is also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives."

Moving forward, the administration must work collaboratively with congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws," Altieri added. "Congress should be inspired by the administration's actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the president's desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history."

Anti-poverty campaigner Joe Sanberg said that "this is what pressure and advocacy look like. This must be the first of many steps to ending our decadeslong failed policies on marijuana. Thank you to the activists who made this possible. No one should ever be in jail (or have a criminal record) for using marijuana. No one."

U.S. Rep Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) tweeted: "Next up? Legalize it."

The president's move comes a day after a Morning Consult/Politico survey revealed that 3 in 5 U.S. voters believe marijuana should be legal nationwide.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories have legalized recreational cannabis as of this May, while 37 states allow medical marijuana.

'Where is the peace movement?' Diplomacy advocates decry renewed Ukraine weapons package

Proponents of a negotiated diplomatic solution to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine this week decried the Biden administration's latest military assistance package for the embattled country, warning that the longer the fight continues, the greater the chance of a catastrophic nuclear war.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the U.S. will deliver up to $625 million worth of additional armaments and ammunition to Ukraine following Russia's illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions last week, a move that prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to formally apply for NATO membership.

The new package includes four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and an unknown number of guided missiles; 16 155mm howitzers and 75,000 precision-guided artillery rounds; 1,000 155mm remote anti-armor mines; 16 105mm howitzers; 30,000 120mm mortar rounds; 200 MaxxPro mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles; 200,000 rounds of small arms ammunition; and other armaments.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new aid—which comes on top of more than $15 billion in American military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24—is "carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table when the time is right."

Peace advocates stressed that—with Russian President Vladimir Putin's repeated threats to use nuclear weapons—the right time is right now, and that the United States and NATO allies should stop trying to weaken Russia by prolonging the war.

"The longer the war goes on, the longer it's maintained, the more the prospects for a diplomatic settlement diminish," U.S. political dissident and professor Noam Chomsky told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman in a Monday interview. "The longer the war continues, the more the window closes."

However, Chomsky noted that the United States and Britain "are keeping to the principle that the war must continue to severely weaken Russia—meaning no negotiated settlements, with all the consequences that follow."

Harry J. Kazianis, senior editor at 19FortyFive and president of the Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank based in Washington, D.C., wrote Monday for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft that "tensions are rising by the second," while "the chances of a nuclear war increase significantly every day that passes."

"Considering the stakes—among them, the possibility that Russia will feel so boxed in that it will turn to its arsenal of 6,400 nuclear warheads and try to end the Ukraine war on its own terms despite the risk of a nuclear holocaust—one would think talks would already be happening as we speak," Kazianis continued.

"Sadly," he added, "due to the Western narrative that Ukraine is 'winning' the war against Moscow, the Biden administration appears to believe it can put enough pressure on Putin with more weapons for Ukraine that he will give up his newly annexed territories and go home with his atomic tail between his legs."

According to recent polling by the Quincy Institute and Data for Progress, 49% of Americans want Biden to do more to seek a diplomatic solution to the war.

"This is not just the United States," Jacobin staff writer Branko Marcetic told "Breaking Points" podcast hosts Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti on Tuesday. "There was a poll in Germany that shows most Germans, who are really feeling harshly the economic blowback of the sanctions, they want more diplomacy to try to end the war."

"This is also the prevailing opinion in most of the rest of the world, the Global South," he added. "You can look at... countries like Turkey, or say Mexico, who have attempted to try and broker some sort of peace agreement."

China has been a leading proponent of de-escalation and finding a diplomatic solution to the war. Speaking last week, Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations, said that his country's government "calls on all parties concerned to exercise restraint, refrain from actions that exacerbate tensions, and leave space for settlement through diplomatic negotiations."

"The pressing priority is to make every effort to de-escalate the situation," he added, "and guide the parties to restart diplomatic negotiations as soon as possible to open the door to a political settlement with legitimate concerns brought into the negotiations and viable options put on the table, in an effort to achieve an early ceasefire."

With Zelenskyy having signed a decree Tuesday asserting that the prospect of talks with Putin is "impossible"—while signalling an openness to future negotiations with a change in Russian leadership—many Western observers have argued that seeking a diplomatic solution is an exercise in futility at this point.

"Are there still negotiation possibilities? There's only one way to find out. That's to try," said Chomsky. "If you refuse to try, of course, there's no option, no possibilities."

Marcetic asked: "Where is the peace movement? There used to be a robust peace movement throughout the Cold War."

"All that seems to be gone," he added. "I wish that people were more active and more outspoken about this to demonstrate that, no, you know, nuclear war is not worth anything."

'Just kidding': Biden Administration yanks student debt relief for millions as GOP states sue

"The Biden administration told several million people they'd see their debt reduced by $10-20K, and a month later quietly wrote 'just kidding' on a website," said one affected borrower.

Progressives on Thursday decried the Biden administration's decision to exclude millions of people from its student loan relief plan, a move meant to thwart legal challenges like the lawsuit filed on the same day by six Republican-led states seeking to block President Joe Biden's proposal to cancel up to $20,000 of federal educational debt per borrower.

Politico reports worries over legal challenges from the student lending industry prompted the U.S. Department of Education to reverse course and no longer allow borrowers with Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL) and Perkins loans—which are guaranteed by the federal government but held by private lenders—to participate in the debt cancellation plan.

Biden announced last month that his administration will forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers who attended college without Pell Grants and who earn less than $125,000 individually, or $250,000 as a household. Borrowers who received Pell Grants will have $20,000 in federal debt erased.

The president's approval rating bounced by double-digits among young voters in the weeks after his announcement, which fulfilled a campaign promise and came just over two months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

However, student loan debtors expressed deep disappointment over Thursday's move, with one borrower and activist calling the administration's about-face a "gut punch."

Another, journalist Dell Cameron, tweeted: "The Biden administration told several million people they'd see their debt reduced by $10-20K, and a month later quietly wrote 'just kidding' on a website. Where's the legal threat over that?"

The administration's reversal came as six Republican-led states filed a lawsuit in a Missouri federal court Thursday arguing that the president's debt relief plan is "not remotely tailored to address the effects of the pandemic on federal student loan borrowers," a legal requirement under the administration's justification

✎ EditSign for the cancellation.

According to The Washington Post:

The suit emphasizes that Missouri's student loan servicer, which is part of its state government, could see a drop in revenue because borrowers are likely to consolidate their loans under the Federal Family Education Loan program.
On Thursday, however, the administration said it would exclude FFEL from the loan forgiveness program... That change could help head off legal claims against the policy, although it will mean that roughly two million of the 44 million otherwise eligible borrowers will not qualify for relief.

Politico cites June federal data showing there were more than four million borrowers with $108.8 billion in privately held student loans.

"Republicans want to keep you in debt for the rest of your life and take away student debt cancellation," the Debt Collective, the nation's first debtors' union, tweeted in response to the suit. "It is an interesting strategy to adopt before the midterms."

'Yeah right': Skepticism follows Pentagon report that it only killed 12 civilians in 2021

An annual report published Tuesday by the Pentagon claiming that the U.S. military only killed 12 noncombatants last year was met with skepticism by civilian casualty monitors, who perennially accuse the United States of undercounting the people killed by its bombs and bullets.

The U.S. Department of Defense "assesses that there were approximately 12 civilians killed and approximately five civilians injured during 2021 as a result of U.S. military operations," the report—the fifth of its kind—states.

However, the U.K.-based monitor group Airwars counted between 12 and 25 civilians likely killed by U.S. forces, sometimes working with coalition allies, in Syria alone last year, with another two to four people killed in Somalia and one to four killed in Yemen.

"Once again the confirmed civilian casualty count is below what communities on the ground are reporting," Airwars director Emily Tripp told Al Jazeera.

Airwars does not count civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan, where all of the 2021 casualties acknowledged by the Pentagon occurred. These incidents include an errant August 29 drone strike that killed 10 people—most of them members of one family—including seven children.

No one was ever held accountable for the attack, which Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley first described as a "righteous strike."

However, nearly 20 witnesses who spoke to CNN after a suicide bomber killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops on August 26 during the rushed American withdrawal from the country said that U.S. and British troops opened fire on the panicking crowd, killing and wounding many civilians.

"They were targeting people. It was intentional," said one survivor. "In front of me, people were getting shot at and falling down."

Although the U.S. military claimed all of the casualties at the airport that day were caused by the bombing, a doctor working at a local hospital said that "there were two kinds of injuries... people burnt from the blast with lots of holes in their bodies. But with the gunshots, you can see just one or two holes—in the mouth, in the head, in the eye, in the chest."

The Italian-run Emergency Surgical Center in Kabul said it received nine bodies with gunshot wounds following the bombing.

Despite all this—and forensic analysts' assertions that so many people could not have been killed by a single bomb—a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command refuted the claim that U.S. troops shot civilians at Kabul's airport, attributing eyewitness accounts, including by people who were shot, to "jumbled memories."

U.S. administrations have long been accused of undercounting civilians killed by American forces. During the administration of former President George W. Bush, top officials dismissed the carnage that critics warned the so-called "War on Terror" would cause, with one top general declaring that "we don't do body counts." The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the war died during Bush's two terms.

While civilian casualties declined dramatically during the tenure of former President Barack Obama, his administration was criticized for relying heavily upon unmanned aerial drones—whose strikes killed hundreds of civilians in more nations than were bombed by Bush—and for redefining "militant" to mean all military-aged males in a targeted strike zone in a bid to falsely lower noncombatant casualty figures.

Former President Donald Trump dispensed with pretenses, relaxing rules of engagement meant to protect civilians from harm and vowing to "bomb the shit out of" Islamic State militants and "take out their families." Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis—who earned his "Mad Dog" moniker during the fight for Fallujah in which hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded by American forces—said in 2017 that noncombatant deaths "are a fact of life" as the U.S. transitioned from a policy of "attrition" to one of "annihilation" in the war against Islamic State.

The result was a sharp increase in civilian casualties as U.S. and allied forces laid waste to entire cities like Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria, killing and wounding thousands of men, women, and children. As Common Dreams reported at the time, Trump's decision to loosen rules of engagement was blamed for a more than 300% spike in civilian casualties in Afghanistan as well.

U.S.-caused civilian casualties have declined precipitously with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, although deadly incidents still occasionally occur. The initial annual Pentagon civilian casualty report, released during the Trump administration's first year, admitted to 499 civilians killed by U.S. forces. The true figure is believed to be much higher.

Last month, human rights groups cautiously welcomed news that the U.S. military—which has killed more civilians in foreign wars than any other armed force on Earth in the post-World War II era—published a plan aimed at reducing noncombatant casualties.

'No water, no food, a hopeless life': Number of ultrarich individuals skyrockets as millions starve

"Those with the power and money to change this must come together to better respond to current crises and prevent and prepare for future ones," a coalition of charities asserted.

As a new analysis revealed that the global ranks of the superrich soared to a record number, a coalition of charity groups said Tuesday that hundreds of millions of people around the world are hungry—and that someone starves to death every four seconds.

At least 238 international and local charities from 75 countries signed an open letter noting that "a staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019."

"Despite promises from world leaders to never allow famine again in the 21st century, famine is once more imminent in Somalia," the signers stated. "Around the world, 50 million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries."

The letter—which was timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York—asserts that "the global hunger crisis has been fueled by a deadly mix of poverty, social injustice, gender inequality, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, with the lingering impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine further driving up food prices and the cost of living."

"Those with the power and money to change this must come together to better respond to current crises and prevent and prepare for future ones," the signatories argued.

The number of those with the most money grew to a record number last year.

According to an analysis published Tuesday by Credit Suisse, there were 218,200 ultra-high net worth (UHNW) people in the world in 2021, an increase of 46,000 from the previous year. The share of the world's wealth held by the richest 1% of people also increased from 44% to 46% last year.

Credit Suisse said there were 62.5 million U.S. dollar millionaires on Earth, and that all the wealth in the world added up to $463.6 trillion, while attributing what one of the report's authors called the "explosion of wealth" to soaring home and stock values.

A separate report published in July by letter signatory Oxfam revealed that profits from soaring food prices have enriched billionaires around the world by a collective $382 billion.

Meanwhile, Sumaya, a 32-year-old mother of four living in a camp for internally displaced people in Ethiopia's Somali region, lamented her family's dire situation in the charity groups' letter: "No water, no food, a hopeless life."

"Above all, my children are starving," she said. "They are on the verge of death. Unless they get some food, I'm afraid they will die."

Last week, Oxfam published a report underscoring how the climate emergency is exacerbating extreme hunger. The report examined 10 of the world's worst climate hot spots, where 18 million people are on the brink of starvation.

Mohanna Ahmed Ali Eljabaly of the Yemen Family Care Association, which also signed the charities' letter, said that "it is abysmal that with all the technology in agriculture and harvesting techniques today we are still talking about famine in the 21st century."

"This is not about one country or one continent and hunger never only has one cause. This is about the injustice of the whole of humanity," she continued. "It is extremely difficult to see people suffering while others sharing the same planet have plenty of food."

"We must not wait a moment longer to focus both on providing immediate lifesaving food and longer-term support," Elhjabaly added, "so people can take charge of their futures and provide for themselves and their families."

'Extremely traumatizing': Louisiana woman forced to travel 2,500 miles for an abortion shares her story

A Louisiana woman denied an abortion despite carrying a fetus with a fatally flawed skull revealed Wednesday that she traveled nearly 2,500 miles round trip to New York City in order to undergo the procedure.

Nancy Davis, 36, told The Guardian that she traveled from her hometown of Baton Rouge to a Manhattan clinic, where she terminated her wanted pregnancy on September 1.

That's because Louisiana is one of more than a dozen states with so-called "trigger laws" immediately banning abortions that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and half a century of federally guaranteed reproductive freedom in June.

"I felt like we made the best decision for our baby as well as ourselves," Davis said during a Monday appearance on "Dr. Phil."

"It's still taken an emotional toll on me. I have problems sleeping at night, I have problems eating; it's been very emotionally draining," she added. "It was extremely traumatizing, it was mentally draining in all aspects, it was physically draining."

When she was about 10 weeks pregnant in late July, Davis underwent an ultrasound at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge that showed her fetus was missing the top of its skull—a fatal condition called acrania. Babies with the rare condition usually die within days—and sometimes minutes—of birth.

While Louisiana's abortion ban has a broad exception for fetuses that would die outside the womb, acrania is not included on the state's list of medical conditions that qualify for such an exception.

Staff at Woman's Hospital, therefore, refused to perform an abortion on Davis, apparently worried about potential prosecution, imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture of their professional licenses if they did.

"Basically, they said I had to carry my baby to bury my baby," Davis said at an August 26 press conference. "I want you to imagine what it's been like to continue this pregnancy for another six weeks after this diagnosis. This is not fair to me and it should not happen to any other woman."

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Davis, said during the press conference that Louisiana's law was causing his client to suffer "unspeakable pain, emotional damage, and physical risk."

He added that the Republicans who implemented the state's ban "replaced care with confusion, privacy with politics, and options with ideology."

In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, 14 states have fully banned abortion or implemented six-week bans as of September 9, with a near-total ban looming in West Virginia.

Of those states, pregnant people in Louisiana seeking abortions must travel an average of 1,332 miles round trip for the medical procedure—the longest such trip in the nation, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

National medical groups have warned of the "irreparable harm" such laws will cause, while experts argue that poor and Black patients are disproportionately affected by such bans.

"Even in very obvious cases, cases the anti-abortion movement insists they don't oppose, these bans result in women being denied access to abortion," Joshua Stein, a postdoctoral student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., tweeted.

"That includes the case of the unnamed 10-year-old girl who was raped, unable to get an abortion in Ohio because of the state's laws, traveling to Indiana," he continued. "The state [attorney general] insisted the law didn't prohibit such cases, but the possible providers weren't sure and didn't want to risk liability."

"It also includes the many, many cases where doctors are forced to adopt the 'expectant management' (wait-and-see) approach even when abortion would be the greatest reduction of risk to the patient's safety, as in the Elise Taft case," Stein added, referring to a Wisconsin woman who suffered a miscarriage and subsequently required emergency lifesaving surgery that experts say will be denied to people in states with strict bans.

"The implementation of these bans means that people are seeing the real consequences, either when people they know try to access services or when brave women come forward to make their experiences public," said Stein.

"The GOP wants to change the topic away from that; the anti-abortion [movement] wants to change the topic away from that," he added. "They want to distract from the real, serious, and obvious consequences of their policies (consequences actual experts knew about for years). They shouldn't be allowed to."

Belying conservative claims that the abortion issue should be left up to the states to decide, influential Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Tuesday introduced what reproductive rights defenders have long warned is the GOP endgame: a national abortion ban.

Chilean left vows to 'come back stronger' after voters reject new constitution

Proponents of Chile's new progressive constitution pledged to keep fighting Sunday following their crushing defeat in a plebiscite whose outcome was cheered by the oligarchs and corporations who spent heavily on the "no" campaign.

With nearly all votes counted Sunday evening, the reject, or "rechazo," campaign was leading the approve, or "apruebo," effort, 60% to 40%.

The proposed document would have replaced a charter imposed during the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet with what proponents called the "world's most progressive constitution," replete with extensive rights for Indigenous peoples, women, and the environment. The proposal also guaranteed free healthcare, housing, and education.

Gabriel Boric, Chile's recently inaugurated democratic socialist president, acknowledged in a Sunday evening address to the nation that "the Chilean people were not satisfied with the constitutional proposal that the convention produced."

Boric added that "Chile trusts in its democracy."

"I will do all I can to build a new constitutional itinerary alongside the Congress and the civil society that will give us a text that, collecting the learnings of the process, aims to achieve a big majority," he added.

"Apruebo" advocates said the fight for a more just constitution is not over.

Rosa Catrileo, a constitutional delegate representing the Mapuche people, said that "it is never easy to move major transformations."

But, she added, "we resisted for 500 years and will continue to do so."

Bárbara Sepúlveda Hales, a constitutional attorney, tweeted: "Today we lost, but the fight to transform Chile continues. Thanks to the thousands who participated and debated to have an egalitarian constitution. Especially to the women who paved the way to advance for our rights."

"The horizon is one of change and it is inevitable," she added.

"The fears, the lies, were stronger," human rights activist Trinidad Lathrop tweeted. "How powerful is the power of money. But we're going to make it. Give yourselves some time to lick your wounds and then we'll come back stronger. For all and all... we are going to get ahead."

Amnesty International Chile tweeted that "today is a sad day. We have missed the historical opportunity to have a new constitution."

"But although the result of the plebiscite was not as expected," the group added, "we will continue fighting more than ever to live in fairer, more egalitarian, and more humane Chile."

While there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that Chile's constitution must change, it is not known how the process—which is expected to be highly contentious—will move forward.

Boric said he is confident that Chileans can work toward a constitutional consensus.

"When we act in unity," the president in his speech, "we get the best of us."

Washington Post Editorial Board ripped for 'neocolonial' article against Chile's new constitution

The editorial board of The Washington Post came under fire Sunday for arguing against Chile's proposed new constitution on the grounds that, if enacted, the document could make it harder for the United States to acquire Chilean lithium.

"Lithium"—the editorial's first word—"is a key input in batteries that run millions of laptops and upon which the United States is basing its electrified automotive future," the piece states.

"Chile sits atop the world's largest lithium reserves; it produced about 25% of the world's commercial supply in 2020," the editors continue. "Chile's impending September 4 referendum on a proposed new constitution... could recast the legal framework for mining in the South American nation, which has an 18-year-old free trade agreement with the United States."

Although the Post notes the new charter "would purge the political order of its vestiges of right-wing military rule and substitute progressive ideals" including "extensive women's and Indigenous rights along with environmentalism," the editors urge Chileans to "send its proposed constitution back for a rewrite."

Panning the Post's motto, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde tweeted, "Democracy dies in darkness… or in an editorial that in perfect neocolonial fashion argues that lithium trade to U.S. is more important than democracy in Chile."

Irish political analyst and former Sinn Féin adviser Duroyan Fertl asserted that "the opening lines of the Washington Post editorial on Chile's new constitution tell you everything you need to know about imperialism's motivation for opposing the democratic new charter."

Uahikea Maile, a professor of Indigenous politics at the University of Toronto, said that "while Chileans vote on a new constitution—replacing [a] charter imposed via dictatorship shaped by Chicago Boys, The Washington Post recommends the constitution be rewritten because it restricts U.S. access to lithium."

"Green or not, energy for the North continues to trump democracy in the South," Maile added.

Post owner Jeff Bezos and other billionaires including Bill Gates this year invested nearly $200 million in KoBold Metals, which according to Mining.com "is on a global search for key battery metals cobalt, lithium and nickel, as well as copper, which is key to the green energy transition."

Chilean minerals—and control over them—played an important role in the 1973 U.S.-backed military coup that overthrew democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende and ushered in 17 years of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Allende put forth a plan to nationalize Chilean copper that was unanimously approved by the country's Congress in 1971, an event celebrated as "Day of National Dignity."

But the plan incensed U.S. copper giants Anaconda and Kennecott, which dominated Chile's market. Those companies were among the U.S. corporations that actively aided Allende's ouster.

Ted Cruz worries working class might 'get off the bong' and vote after student debt relief

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz took a thrashing from progressives on Friday after he underhandedly acknowledged that President Joe Biden's move this week to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt per borrower is likely to help Democrats in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.

"If you are that slacker barista who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things, now has loans, and can't get a job, Joe Biden just gave you 20 grand," Cruz said on his Verdict podcast.

"Maybe you weren't gonna vote in November," he added, "and suddenly you just got 20 grand, and if you can get off the bong for a minute and head down to the voting station, or just send in your mail-in ballot that the Democrats have helpfully sent you, it could drive up turnout, particularly among young people."

Responding to Cruz's remarks, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted "this is what a leading Republican thinks of young 'slacker' Americans who took out loans to go to college."

Educator Chris Williams tweeted: "Apparently myself, a public school teacher who joined the Peace Corps out of college, and currently with over 20k in student loans after graduating in 2009, is a slacker according to Ted Cruz. Good to know."

Status Coup podcaster Jordan Chariton said on Twitter, "I've interviewed many 'slacker baristas' who work much harder and are MUCH smarter than Ted Cruz."

Cruz has been a vociferous critic of student debt relief. On Wednesday, he issued a statement condemning Biden's move and dubiously claiming on Twitter that it would "cost every taxpayer an average of $2,100."

It was far from Cruz's first questionable—if not downright false—tweet, which have run the gamut from defending former President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election to claiming that the Biden administration was going to fund the distribution of free crack pipes.

Because climate science 'does not grade on a curve,' experts says IRA not enough

While welcoming U.S. House lawmakers' passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on Friday, climate campaigners and some progressive lawmakers said the $740 billion bill does not do nearly enough to address the worsening climate emergency.

"Today, we celebrate the power of organizing," Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said after House lawmakers voted 220-207 along party lines to pass the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

The historic bill—which was passed in the Senate earlier this week and which President Joe Biden says he will sign into law next week—includes major investments in renewable energy development, a minimum tax on large corporations, and a landmark requirement for Medicare to directly negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs.

"But the science of the climate crisis does not grade on a curve—and it's clear that the IRA is not enough," she continued. "We need more from our government—and we need better leaders who will not let the fossil fuel industry stand in our way."

"As Americans across the country suffer right now from record flooding, crippling droughts, and deadly heatwaves, we need President Biden, Congress, and elected officials at every level of office to treat this crisis like the emergency that it is," Prakash added.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said in a statement that she was "proud to vote in support of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will take historic and much-needed actions to address the climate crisis and make healthcare more affordable."

Bush continued:

To be crystal clear, there are provisions in this bill that I do not support, such as the dangerous expansion of fossil fuels, insufficient protections of environmental review, and inadequate investments in environmental justice communities.
Despite these flaws, I believe that ultimately the good that this bill delivers, will have a profound effect on our ability to address the climate crisis with the urgency it demands. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House, as well as with movement leaders and advocates, to mitigate harm from any provisions that expand fossil fuels, and to ensure that the good provisions are equitably distributed.

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, called Friday "a very good day for America," lauding the IRA's prescription drug relief and climate provisions in particular.

However, Weissman said that "there is an urgent need for much more aggressive and far-reaching measures to prevent climate chaos and to build on the Inflation Reduction Act's down payment with far greater investments in and measures to advance environmental justice."

Weissman added that "there is a need to mitigate the harmful pro-fossil fuel measures" in the IRA, "including those which will concentrate pollution and ecological destruction on the Gulf South, Native American lands, and in communities of color."

Food & Water Watch noted that "the legislation does not include any policies that require emissions reductions, and does not address measures to restrict fossil fuel development."

While proponents tout the IRA's $369 billion in climate and energy security investments, critics point to measure's multibillion-dollar allocation for carbon capture—which Food & Water Watch's Mitch Jones says exists "solely to extend the life of the fossil fuel industry"—as a major cause for concern.

Moreover, the legislation forces a continuation of fossil fuel leases—and enables future drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico—in exchange for expanding wind and solar energy production on federal lands.

Union of Concerned Scientists president Johanna Chao Kreilick said that "this bill is not perfect. It contains some troubling provisions, including some that risk expanding fossil fuel extraction and use; and it doesn't go far enough to remedy the myriad ways in which oil and gas companies are polluting low-income communities and communities of color."

"The critical foundation the bill provides must be built upon to ameliorate those impacts, deepen U.S. emission reductions, and help communities become more resilient to climate change," she stressed.

Team Trump 'bullish' about exploiting FBI search to win reelection: report

While some supporters of Donald Trump called for defunding law enforcement or even waging civil war following Monday's FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, both backers and critics of the former U.S. president believe the raid could actually boost his reelection prospects.

Former Trump aide Alyssa Farah Griffin—who now condemns her former boss' purveyance of the deadly "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen—said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day" that the U.S. Justice Department may have "just handed Trump" the 2024 Republican nomination "or potentially the presidency."

"If it's seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious this is a very good day for Donald Trump," she added.

Politico's Meridith McGraw writes:

While Trump's team was bullish about the political benefits of being targeted by the FBI, the situation comes with clear and obvious downsides. Legal experts said that it would be highly unlikely that the agency would have taken such action without clear evidence of wrongdoing—noting the rarity of a former president being targeted so aggressively. The search would require the signoff of a federal judge or magistrate, who would issue the warrant based upon evidence of a potential crime.

On top of that, Trump is embroiled in a number of legal dramas and headaches, in addition to being the focus and target of the House January 6 committee. Focus groups of Trump 2020 voters have shown that even they have grown wary of the drama that accompanies his political ventures and are ready to move on.

Appearing alongside Farah Griffin on CNN Tuesday morning, Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio said he thinks Trump's inner circle is "delighted" by Monday's search of the ex-president's Palm Beach home.

"I think that they've been planning for this for years," he added. "He's been prepared for this strategy all along. He issued a campaign-style ad within hours. This was prepared in advance. He's an expert of spinning everything into publicity... and that hardcore Trump group, that 35% of the electorate, is gonna be electrified by this."

Michigan AG urges special prosecutor probe of alleged GOP-led effort to break into voting machines

Democracy defenders on Monday welcomed reports that Dana Nessel, Michigan's attorney general, is calling for a special prosecutor to probe allegations of a Republican-led attempt to feloniously break into voting machines after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The New York Times reports Nessel, a Democrat, is seeking to appoint a special prosecutor to review potential crimes committed by Matthew DePerno—a supporter of former President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 contest was stolen and a presumptive GOP candidate for attorney general. He stands accused of conspiring with more than half a dozen other Republicans to gain illicit access to the voting tabulators used in the 2020 election.

"These revelations hammer home the need for AG Nessel to promptly name a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest and investigate these very serious allegations," Quentin Turner, Michigan program director at the advocacy group Common Cause, said in a statement.

"We believe the alleged actions of Mr. DePerno highlight a well-known truth: Our democracy is in danger—both in Michigan and across the country. Mr. DePerno and his team's alleged behavior do not align with the values of Michiganders who believe in fair, safe, and accessible elections."

As the Times details:

According to the office of Ms. Nessel... Mr. DePerno and others persuaded local clerks in three counties to hand over election equipment and then took the machines to hotels and Airbnb rentals to perform "tests" on them. They returned the equipment, now damaged or improperly tampered with, in parking lots and shopping malls, the documents say...

Mr. DePerno's candidacy for attorney general has worried election experts, Democrats, and even many Republicans, who fear that he could use his powers to carry out investigations based on fraudulent claims or other forms of meddling in elections. He has also pledged to carry out inquiries of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Ms. Nessel, and [Secretary of State Jocelyn] Benson, all Democrats.

In a statement, DePerno accused Nessel of targeting him "for the 'crime' of investigating voter fraud in 2020." There is no evidence of any such fraud.

"Matthew DePerno represents a continued movement of partisan candidates who have aided the former president in uplifting the Big Lie—a destructive scheme to try and overturn our votes in the 2020 election," Turner said. "This rhetoric DePerno supports led to the January 6 insurrection, a bloody and violent attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power."

"We have seen several audits since the 2020 election results, and the fact remains that [President] Joe Biden fairly won the 2020 presidential election and Michigan's 16 electors," he continued. "We must denounce the Big Lie and those who refuse to uphold the will of the people in our elections."

"These allegations must be taken seriously," Turner added. "Matthew DePerno's alleged behavior is a direct attack on our democracy, and we must do everything we can to protect it and voting rights. A special prosecutor will allow a full investigation of these serious alleged infractions."

Bernie Sanders crafts amendment to close 'holes' in Medicare that 'are harming seniors'

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will offer an amendment to the Democrats' revived reconciliation bill that would affirmatively answer activists' demands to expand Medicare benefits, the senator's office told Common Dreams on Friday.

"Today, in the wealthiest country in the world, it is shameful that so many of our seniors must go without the dentures, eyeglasses, and hearing aids that they need."

Sanders' office said the Vermont independent will seek a roll call vote on including the overwhelmingly popular proposal to extend dental, hearing, and vision coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries, provisions that were previously stripped from Democrats' once-ambitious $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Now with key Democrats breathing fresh life into the recently moribund bill they nearly killed—albeit in favor of a dramatically shrunken package—Sanders is again pushing for the Medicare expansion he has long championed.

"Today, in the wealthiest country in the world, it is shameful that so many of our seniors must go without the dentures, eyeglasses, and hearing aids that they need," the senator's office explained.

Healthcare reform advocates have long called for expanding Medicare. Ideally, the popular program would be reformed or reinvented to cover everyone's needs under a universal, single-payer system. However, with Medicare for All still a distant goal in the United States, progressives have honed in on expanding Medicare to achieve more coverage for more people, especially seniors most in need.

"The holes in Medicare coverage are harming seniors as we speak," Sanders and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila (D-Wash.) wrote in a joint June 2021 analysis of a Data for Progress poll showing 83% of likely U.S. voters of all political affiliations back Medicare expansion.

The lawmakers continued:

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Poor oral health and untreated gum disease also leads to increased serious risk of heart attacks, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis, and worsened diabetes. And aging takes a toll on vision, leading to injury, cognitive impairment, and depression...
In the richest country in the world, the outrageous reality is that 75% of senior citizens who suffer from hearing loss do not have a hearing aid because of the prohibitive cost. Sixty-five percent of senior citizens have no dental insurance and no idea how they will be able to afford to go to a dentist.

"Combined, the lack of Medicare dental, vision, and hearing coverage put America's seniors at risk for a host of serious health conditions," Sanders' office told Common Dreams. "If Congress cares about our nation's seniors, we must expand the Medicare program to cover dentures, eyeglasses, and hearing aids."

Common Dreams also reported this week that Sanders will file additional amendments to the reconciliation bill that would end subsidies for fossil fuel companies and strengthen the proposed legislation's drug price provisions

Moderna revenue reveals pandemic has been 'lucrative smash-and-grab' for Big Pharma

As Moderna reported higher-than-expected revenue driven entirely by sales of its publicly funded Covid-19 vaccine, health equity campaigners on Wednesday renewed calls for pharmaceutical companies to waive patent protections in order to share their lifesaving technology with developing countries.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna reported $4.7 billion in second-quarter sales—a 9% increase over the same period last year—despite taking a nearly half-billion-dollar hit for write-downs on expired or soon-to-expire vaccine doses. Nearly all of the company's revenue came from sales of its Covid-19 vaccine, its only product on the market—and one whose development was funded entirely by U.S. taxpayers and contributions from private donors.

CNBC reports Moderna is also sitting atop an $18 billion cash pile, and intends to buy back $3 billion worth of its own stock. Furthermore, the company last week announced a $1.74 billion agreement with the U.S. government to supply up to 300 million doses of an updated Covid-19 vaccine for use against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

"Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine was developed totally by public funding. Yet the company has been allowed to make huge profits while doing next to nothing to ensure equitable access for people in lower-income countries," Mohga Kamal-Yanni, policy co-lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said Wednesday. "For the company's newly created billionaires, this pandemic has been a lucrative smash-and-grab operation."

Among the at least nine new billionaires created by pandemic-related capitalism are Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Moderna co-founder Noubar Afeyan, and immunologist and Moderna founding investor Timothy Springer.

Moderna has been widely criticized for selling its vaccines mostly to wealthier countries, even as billions of people in the Global South lack access to the lifesaving inoculations over two and a half years into the pandemic. The company has also come under fire for massively overcharging for its vaccine doses.

Like other pharmaceutical companies and almost all wealthy nations, Moderna long opposed a waiver for parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a proposal by India and South Africa—supported by more than 100 nations—that would lift some patent protections to allow developing countries to produce and distribute vaccines. A narrowly crafted World Trade Organization deal ostensibly meant to address vaccine inequities was condemned as a "sham" by activists earlier this year.

Moderna's pledge last year to build a Covid-19 manufacturing facility in Africa was dismissed by activists as largely a public relations stunt meant to thwart patent waiver efforts and marginalize a World Health Organization (WHO) messenger RNA (mRNA) technology transfer initiative in South Africa.

"Now Moderna is threatening the world's response to future pandemics," Kamal-Yanni said. "Broad patents filed by the company in South Africa could derail a WHO and African Union project aimed at responding to global health crises by rolling out mRNA vaccines made in low- and middle-income countries."

On Wednesday, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign noted that more than 100 manufacturers in low- to middle-income countries "have been identified with potential to produce mRNA vaccines," while urging Moderna to share its vaccine technology "for Covid and for the future."

Alain Alsalhani, vaccines pharmacist at MSF's Access Campaign, tweeted that "mRNA technology has important potential to beat back not just Covid but other epidemics. We should refuse to allow half of the world to get served first while the rest of the world looks on empty-handed."

Messenger RNA vaccines—which work by instructing cells to produce recognizable copies of viral protein against which the immune system can develop antibodies—are simpler and faster to make than alternatives, and can be adapted to combat not only new Covid-19 variants but also other diseases including HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. Moderna and others are also exploring potential mRNA monkeypox vaccines.

"In the Covid-19 pandemic, world leaders have allowed pharmaceutical companies to place extraordinary profits ahead of saving lives," said Kamal-Yanni. "And we have seen the huge impact on life and livelihoods in lower-income countries that is far more than in rich countries. Unless we change course, the world's response to a crisis like monkeypox will be just as brutally unequal."

'Climate endgame': Scientists call for studies on 'catastrophic' scenarios — including human extinction

The worst-case outcomes of an unmitigated climate emergency—civilizational collapse or even human extinction—are "dangerously underexplored" scenarios requiring further study, an analysis published Monday asserted.

In a perspective published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, climate scientists Luke Kemp, Chi Xu, Joanna Depledge, and Timothy M. Lenton argue that humanity must prepare for what they call the "climate endgame."

"It is time for the scientific community to grapple with the challenge of better understanding catastrophic climate change," the researchers write.

Although climate scientists say such catastrophic consequences are unlikely, the paper's authors caution that "facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naïve risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst."

"There is ample evidence that climate change could become catastrophic. We could enter such 'endgames' at even modest levels of warming," they warn. "Understanding extreme risks is important for robust decision-making, from preparation to consideration of emergency responses."

"This requires exploring not just higher temperature scenarios but also the potential for climate change impacts to contribute to systemic risk and other cascades," the authors add. "We suggest that it is time to seriously scrutinize the best way to expand our research horizons to cover this field."

The scientists propose a research agenda that seeks to answer four main questions:

  • What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events?
  • What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity?
  • What are human societies' vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk?
  • How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an "integrated catastrophe assessment?"

"Knowing the worst cases can compel action, as the idea of 'nuclear winter' in 1983 galvanized public concern and nuclear disarmament efforts," the analysis states. "Exploring severe risks and higher-temperature scenarios could cement a recommitment to the 1.5 °C to 2 °C guardrail" that the Paris climate agreement says is imperative to avoid an irreversible climate catastrophe.

"I think it's sane risk management to think about the plausible worst-case scenarios and we do it when it comes to every other situation, we should definitely do when it comes to the fate of the planet and species," study lead author Luke Kemp, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in England, told the BBC.

In a separate interview with The Guardian, Kemp said that "paths to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events. Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflict, and new disease outbreaks could trigger other calamities."

Study co-author Xu of Nanjing University in China told the BBC that "average annual temperatures of 29°C currently affect around 30 million people in the Sahara and Gulf Coast."

"By 2070, these temperatures and the social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers, and seven maximum containment laboratories housing the most dangerous pathogens," he added. "There is serious potential for disastrous knock-on effects."

Following Trump's lead, GOP pushes bill to make federal workers fireable 'at will'

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy's introduction Friday of a bill to make federal bureaucratic personnel at-will employees further stoked fears that marginalized workers will suffer discriminatory firings under a future Republican administration or even GOP-controlled Congress.

The Public Service Reform Act "will empower federal agencies to swiftly address misconduct and remove underperforming or ill-willed employees, creating a federal workforce focused on service to the American people," Roy (R-Texas) said in a statement.

The bill "would make all federal bureaucrats at-will employees—just like private sector workers—and claw back the inordinate protections some federal employees grossly abuse," he added.

The proposed legislation comes a week after reports that aides to former President Donald Trump are working to revive a plan to reclassify federal civil service personnel who worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations as at-will workers subject to easier termination.

Don Kettl, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, told Government Executive that "this is obviously a huge and major change, an effort to gear up a major assault on the federal employment system" that "is being helped and aided unquestionably by a set of groups like America First Works, Heritage Action for America, FreedomWorks, and Citizens for Renewing America, who have endorsed the bill."

"Much of the debate has largely been about if Trump is reelected," he added, "but what this makes clear is the efforts to try to change the civil service aren't just Trump necessarily, and if Republicans take control of Congress following the midterms, this may very well go from idea to specific action."

According to Government Executive:

Although the bill stands nearly zero chance of passing in the current Congress, experts say that it, combined with recent news that conservative political operatives with Trump's endorsement have devised plans to revive Schedule F, a proposal to strip the civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal employees in "policy-related" positions, indicates the civil service system as we have known it for the last 150 years will be under attack under the next Republican administration.

Although Roy says his bill "will provide justice to federal employees who are victims of discrimination or whistleblower retaliation," Kettl warned that the measure "dramatically limits the amount of whistleblowing activity that's possible," noting that "it creates a disincentive to blow the whistle because your retirement benefits could be reduced."

"When you put it together," he added, "it's a very big deal" and "would dramatically change the incentives for individuals who are being dismissed because of whistleblowing."

Author and transgender activist Brynn Tannehill worries that, should at-will employment become reality, "a purge of trans people from federal service" would follow a return of Trump or another Republican president to the White House.

Commenting on the mass firing of progressive staffers by San Francisco's new tougher-on-crime district attorney following Chesa Boudin's recall, socialist organizer Julian LaRosa recently argued for a codified employment termination standard similar to the one realized in the limited laws that labor activists led by Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union helped enact in Philadelphia and New York.

"Can we just get universal just cause in the workplace already?" he asked.

Testifying before New York City Council members in support of that city's 2021 just-cause law, former Chipotle worker Melanie Walker said she was suddenly fired by her manager one day for not smiling, even though there were no customers in the store.

"Everyone who's working needs to have some type of stability in your life," she said. "You should be able to go to work without thinking you have to be on eggshells all day, thinking that you can be fired at any moment for any cause."

"I'm loyal to you as a worker and you should be loyal to me," Walker added. "People still have to feed their families."

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