Brett Wilkins

101 Nobel laureates urge world leaders to 'keep fossil fuels in the ground'

On the eve of Earth Day and the start of U.S. President Joe Biden's Leaders Summit on Climate, a group of 101 Nobel laureates published a letter urging world leaders and governments to "keep fossil fuels in the ground" as a critical first step toward addressing the climate emergency.

The letter—which was signed by Nobel peace, literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, and economic sciences laureates—notes that the climate emergency "is threatening hundreds of millions of lives, livelihoods across every continent, and is putting thousands of species at risk." It adds that "the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—is by far the major contributor" to the crisis.

Signers of the letter—who include Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the Dalai Lama, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, and Muhammad Yunus—said that "urgent action is needed to end the expansions of fossil fuel production, phase out current production, and invest in renewable energy."

The letter continues:

The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for almost 80% of carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution. In addition to being the leading source of emissions, there are local pollution, environmental, and health costs associated with extracting, refining, transporting, and burning fossil fuels.

These costs are often paid by Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities. Egregious industry practices have led to human rights violations and a fossil fuel system that has left billions of people across the globe without sufficient energy to lead lives of dignity.

For both people and the planet, continued support must be given to tackling climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris agreement. Failure to meet the Paris agreement's temperature limit of 1.5°C risks pushing the world towards catastrophic global warming. Yet, the Paris agreement has no mention of oil, gas, or coal.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry continues to plan new projects. Banks continue to fund new projects. According to the most recent United Nations Environment Program report, 120% more coal, oil, and gas will be produced by 2030 than is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Efforts to meet the Paris agreement and to reduce demand for fossil fuels will be undermined if supply continues to grow.

The signatories urge world leaders to do the following "in a spirit of international cooperation":

  • End new expansion of oil, gas, and coal production in line with the best available science as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United Nations Environment Program;
  • Phase out existing production of oil, gas, and coal in a manner that is fair and equitable, taking into account the responsibilities of countries for climate change and their respective dependency on fossil fuels, and capacity to transition; and
  • Invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally, support dependent economies to diversify away from fossil fuels, and enable people and communities across the globe to flourish through a global just transition.

"Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change," the letter concludes. "Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable. The fossil fuel system is global and requires a global solution—a solution the Leaders Climate Summit must work towards. And the first step is to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

The Nobel laureates' letter comes two days after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that humanity stands "on the verge of the abyss" as the climate crisis pushes the world "dangerously close" to hitting the 1.5°C target limit of warming.

Guterres said that the world is "way off track" of the goal of reducing by 2030 global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, which scientists say is necessary to avert the worst impacts of the climate emergency.

Doctors Without Borders is horrified by the 'humanitarian catastrophe' of Brazil's Covid-19 response

Doctors Without Borders on Thursday denounced what it called the Brazilian government's "failed Covid-19 response," warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe" anf t in the South American nation whose pandemic death toll is second only to the United States and calling for a "science-based reset."

"After accounting for over a quarter of global Covid-19 deaths last week, Brazil does not have an effective plan in place to deal with the pandemic," the international medical charity, known by its French acronym, MSF, charged in a blog post.

"The pandemic in the country has become politicized, and the government has not adopted science-based measures to try to bring it under control," the group said, referring to the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro—who has dismissed Covid-19 as a "little flu" while refusing to follow or promote mask-wearing, quarantines, and social distancing despite having contracted the virus last year. Bolsonaro has also encouraged large gatherings and disparaged vaccines.

"The lack of political will to adequately respond to the pandemic is killing Brazilians in their thousands," said MSF. "Last week, Brazilians accounted for 11% of the world's Covid-19 infections and 26.2% global Covid-19 deaths. On 8 April, 4,249 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded in a single 24-hour period, alongside 86,652 new Covid-19 infections."

According to Johns Hopkins University's global coronavirus tracker, nearly 362,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, trailing only the United States and its more than 565,000 deaths.

"Last week, intensive care units were full in 21 out of 27 of Brazil's capitals," said MSF. "In hospitals across the country there are ongoing shortages of both oxygen, needed to treat patients who are severely and critically ill, as well as sedatives, needed to intubate critically ill patients. As a result, our teams have seen patients, who may have otherwise had a chance at survival, being left without appropriate medical care."

Pierre Van Heddegem, emergency coordinator for MSF's Covid-19 response in Brazil, said that "not only are patients dying without access to healthcare, but medical staff are exhausted and suffering from severe psychological and emotional trauma due to their working conditions."

MSF international president Dr. Christos Christou said that "public health measures have become a political battlefield in Brazil. As a result, science-based policies are associated with political opinions, rather than the need to protect individuals and their communities from Covid-19."

"The Brazilian authorities have overseen the unmitigated spread of Covid-19," Christou continued. "Their refusal to adapt evidence-based public health measures has sent too many to an early grave. The response in Brazil needs an urgent, science-based reset."

Driving home his point once again during a Thursday press conference, Christou added: "I have to be very clear in this: the Brazilian authorities' negligence is costing lives."

Top WHO epidemiologist warns coronavirus pandemic 'growing exponentially' around the world

The World Health Organization's head epidemiologist on Monday warned that humanity has reached a "critical point" in the coronavirus pandemic, which despite increased vaccination is "growing exponentially" around the world.

"Last week, we had 4.4 million cases," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the American epidemiologist who leads the WHO's emerging diseases unit, during a Geneva-based media briefing. Kerkhove said global coronavirus infections rose 9% last week, with deaths rising by 5%.

Kerkhove told the webinar that "it's the seventh week in a row" with at least 4.4 million new cases.

"If you compare that to a year ago we had about 500,000 cases being reported per week," she said. "This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures. It is the time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check of what we need to be doing."

"Vaccines and vaccinations are coming online, but they aren't here yet in every part of the world," Kerkhove continued. "There are a lot of concrete steps that are being made to increase vaccine capacities vaccine production and rolling vaccines out but right now, there are tools that we have; we have to be using them right now."

"We need governments to support individuals so that the control measures that are in place are applied consistently in a coherent manner," she added.

Speaking at the same webinar Monday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that "the Covid-19 pandemic is a long way from over," while reaffirming ways people can lower their risk of coronavirus infection.

"Physical distancing works, masks work, hand hygiene works, ventilation works," he said. "Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine, and compassionate care—they all work to stop infections and save lives."

Tedros warned that "confusion, complacency, and inconsistency in public health measures and their application are driving transmission and costing lives."

"We too want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming," he said. "But right now, intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying—and it's totally avoidable."

With more than 168,000 new coronavirus infections reported Monday, India overtook Brazil as the second-worst infected country behind the United States, and accounting for one in six new infections globally, according to Reuters. The news came as at least hundreds of thousands of people flocked to bathe in the Ganges River for the Kumbh Mela religious festival in Haridwar in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.

In the United States, coronavirus infections have risen 11% over the past two weeks, with 48,147 new cases and 296 deaths reported on April 11, according to the New York Times.

Parts of Minnesota, the Texas panhandle, and especially Michigan are the latest U.S. Covid-19 "hot spots." On Monday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said that Michigan—which just began reopening a few weeks ago—should "shut things down."

Walensky's remarks came after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appealed to the federal government for more vaccine doses. Noting that it takes several weeks for vaccination to reduce caseloads, Walensky said that "if we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact."

According to Johns Hopkins University, 562,428 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States—nearly one-fifth of the global pandemic death toll of over 2.9 million.

'Retire, Breyer': Progressive group joins call for SCOTUS justice to step down

A left-leaning advocacy group on Friday joined the growing chorus of calls for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer to retire so that President Joe Biden can nominate a liberal replacement while Democrats control the Senate.

Demand Justice published a statement Friday urging Breyer "to retire so that President Biden can appoint the first-ever Black woman Supreme Court justice."

The group—founded in 2018 by former Obama administration staffers amid then-President Donald Trump's successful effort to pack federal courts with far-right judges—launched an online petition declaring that "it's time for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to announce his retirement."

The petition states that Breyer "has been a distinguished justice, but now is risking the Senate falling into Republican hands before Democrats can confirm Biden's nominee."

"We have waited long enough for a Black woman Supreme Court justice," the petition asserts. "And with a 50-50 Senate, there is no time to waste. We need to start the process of confirming a Black woman justice now. Tell Justice Breyer: Put the country first. Don't risk your legacy to an uncertain political future. Retire now."

Demand Justice also hired a billboard truck that was spotted circling the Supreme Court with the "Breyer, Retire" message.

"We are now firmly in the window when past justices have announced their retirement, so it's officially worrisome that Justice Breyer has not said yet that he will step down," said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon. "The only responsible choice for Justice Breyer is to immediately announce his retirement."

"We cannot afford to risk Democrats losing control of the Senate before a Biden nominee can be confirmed," Fallon added. "Justice Breyer is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt at this point. Those worried about the court's future should speak up to ensure he understands the need for him to time his retirement wisely."

While campaigning for president, Biden repeatedly said he would nominate a Black woman to the nation's highest court if he had the opportunity—a step he called "long overdue."

"I'm looking forward to making sure there's a Black woman on the Supreme Court," the former vice president said days before the 2020 South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.

The risk of Democrats losing control over the Senate—which confirms Supreme Court nominees—is not limited to the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections. The Hill notes that if any member of the Senate Democratic caucus from a state with a GOP governor leaves office for any reason, their replacement would most likely be a Republican.

The Senate is currently evenly split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote in the case deadlock.

According to The Hill:

Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia appointed by former President Obama, is considered a top candidate to make history on the high court. Biden recently nominated her to fill Merrick Garland's open seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While Demand Justice is the latest group to urge Breyer's retirement, there have been calls for the 82-year-old to retire since Biden's election. In January, University of California, Berkeley constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told The Washington Post that "stepping down when there is a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate to replace him... is his best way of ensuring that someone with his values and his views takes his place."

In 2014, Chemerinsky published an op-ed urging the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire while Obama was in office. She did not, and since she was still serving on the bench when she died last September, Trump was able to replace her with far-right nominee Amy Coney Barrett—his third successful appointment to the high court.

The Demand Justice campaign launched on the same day that Biden signed an executive order establishing a commission to explore possible Supreme Court reforms—including increasing the number of justices as allowed by the Constitution. Breyer's opposition to "court-packing" has been cited by some of those who are calling on him to retire.

Amazon admits drivers do sometimes pee in bottles

Faced with irrefutable evidence and the prospect of yet another public relations debacle, Amazon apologized on Friday to Rep. Mark Pocan for an "incorrect" tweet denying that its delivery drivers sometimes urinate in bottles while on the job because they don't have time to find and use restrooms.

The Twitter feud between the tech titan and Pocan (D-Wis.) began late last month when the latter responded to a tweet by Dave Clark—head of Amazon's worldwide consumer unit—that took a swipe at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a vocal supporter of the unionization effort by workers at the company's Bessemer, Alabama warehouse.

"I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace," Clark tweeted, touting Amazon's $15 hourly pay floor.

Pocan, who is chair emeritus of the House Progressive Caucus, shot back that "paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a 'progressive workplace' when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles."

Amazon retorted: "You don't really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?"

According to Jason Del Rey at Recode, the directive to fight back against Pocan's tweet came from outgoing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who "expressed dissatisfaction in recent weeks that company officials weren't more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms."

However, after Motherboard published Amazon driver testimonials confirming that some of them do indeed relieve themselves in their delivery vehicles—and a photo of a bottle full of what it said is urine—the company apologized to Pocan.

"This was an own-goal, we're unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan," Amazon said in a blog post. "First, the tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers."

"We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed," the company admitted, adding that it "will look for solutions" to the problem.

Amazon also said the issue is "industry-wide" and is "not specific to Amazon." Indeed, Uber and Lyft drivers, as well as drivers for delivery companies including FedEx and UPS, have long complained about how difficult it can be to find restrooms while on the job.

On Saturday, Pocan shrugged off Amazon's apology, tweeting that "this is not about me, this is about your workers—who you don't treat with enough respect or dignity."

"Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you've created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone & finally, let them unionize without interference," he wrote.

As GOP fumes, Georgia Dems share mixed reactions to MLB's All-Star Game relocation

As Republicans predictably cried foul over Major League Baseball's Friday decision to relocate the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia's restrictive new voting law, prominent Democrats blamed the GOP for the economic toll the move will take on the Peach State.

Voting rights campaigner and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams—a Democrat whose loss some prominent observers have blamed on voter suppression—weighed in on MLB's decision to deprive their state of an event that generates anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to over $100 million in revenue.

Abrams said in a statement that the Republicans behind the new law passed it "knowing the economic risks to our state" yet "prioritized making it harder for people of color to vote over the economic well-being of Georgians."

"Like many Georgians, I am disappointed that MLB is relocating the All-Star Game," she said. "However, I commend the players, owners, and league commissioner for speaking out."

"Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states," Abrams added. "Georgia Republicans must renounce the terrible damage they have caused to our voting system and the harm they have inflicted on our economy."

In a statement Friday, MLB commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said he "decided the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year's All-Star Game and MLB draft."

"Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," Manfred said. "In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the nonpartisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game's unwavering support."

Manfred said that although the All-Star Game will be relocated, "we will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron," the Hall of Famer who played outfield for the Atlanta Braves when he broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in 1974, and who was a beloved community leader until his death in January.

The decision to pull the Midsummer Classic from Atlanta came after the state's Republican-controlled Legislature passed, and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law, a sweeping voting restriction bill that critics say targets minority and urban voters.

As the Washington Post reported at the time, the law will "impose new identification requirements for those casting ballots by mail; curtail the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots; allow challenges to voting eligibility; make it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line; block the use of mobile voting vans, as Fulton County did last year after purchasing two vehicles at a cost of more than $700,000; and prevent local governments from directly accepting grants from the private sector."

Georgia's two Democratic senators had differing views on the MLB move. In a statement, Sen. Raphael Warnock said that "businesses and organizations have great power in their voices and ability to push for change, and I respect the decision of the players to speak out against this unjust law."

"It is not the people of Georgia or the workers of Georgia who crafted this law, it is politicians seeking to retain power at the expense of Georgians' voices," he continued. "Today's decision by MLB is the unfortunate consequence of these politicians' actions."

"It is my hope that businesses, athletes, and entertainers can protest this law not by leaving Georgia but by coming here and fighting voter suppression head on, and hand-in-hand with the community," added Warnock. "Additionally, the urgency to pass federal voter protection laws grows every day, and I will continue to be a leader in that fight."

On the other hand, Jon Ossoff, Georgia's other Democratic senator, strongly opposed the relocation.

"I absolutely oppose and reject any notion of boycotting Georgia," he told the right-wing National Review. "Georgia welcomes business, investment, jobs, opportunity, and events. In fact, economic growth is driving much of the political progress we have seen here."

"Georgia welcomes the world's business," Ossoff added. "Corporations disgusted like we are with the disgraceful voter suppression bill should stop any financial support to Georgia's Republican Party, which is abusing its power to make it harder for Americans to vote."

'Threat to democracy': Brazil's Bolsonaro faces growing calls to resign

Beset by political, public health, and environmental crises amid an emerging progressive consensus for his impeachment, historic Cabinet turnover, and soaring Covid-19 deaths, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday faced a chorus of calls to resign.

Calling Bolsonaro "a threat to democracy," opposition lawmakers on Wednesday filed an impeachment request against the far-right president, accusing him of attempting to co-opt the country's military "in an authoritarian way," according to O Globo.

The lawmakers' move came a day after the heads of all three branches of the armed forces resigned following Bolsonaro's dismissal of Defense Minister Gen. Fernando Azevedo e Silva on Monday.

"The use of the armed forces by violent means or based on grave institutional threats is an extremely serious matter," the lawmakers wrote. "Given the dark past lived by Brazil's democratic institutions, such conduct rises to the level of criminal responsibility."

March 31 marked the 57th anniversary of the 1964 U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the democratically elected reformist President João Goulart and ushered in a 21-year period of military dictatorship, under which tens of thousands of people—including future President Dilma Rousseff—were tortured, murdered, or disappeared.

Bolsonaro, an army officer during the dictatorship, has prasied the military regime while taunting its victims and lauding one of its leading torturers as a "national hero."

Remembering the coup, former Chamber of Deputies President Arlindo Chinaglia—who like Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a member of the Workers' Party (PT)—told The Guardian that "we have a president who is trying to pressure the armed forces into serving his coup-mongering, authoritarian delusions."

Marcelo Freixo, a federal deputy representing Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), asserted Wednesday that Brazilians "cannot be bystanders to this barbarism."

"There is an attempt by the president to organize a coup," said Freixo. "It is already underway, and that is why we are reacting."

On Wednesday, six potential candidates for the 2022 presidential election released a joint statement remembering the destruction of democracy in 1964 and warning that three decades after the restoration of the democratic constitution, "Brazil's democracy is under threat."

"There is no shortage of examples of the way authoritarianism can emerge from the shadows if societies are careless and fail to speak up in defense of democratic values," cautioned the statement.

On the same day, Bolsonaro's replacement defense minister, Gen. Walter Souza Braga Netto, raised eyebrows and ire by releasing an official Defense Ministry statement arguing that the 1964 coup should be "understood and celebrated."

"Events that took place 57 years ago... can only be understood from the context of the time," said Braga. "Brazilians realized the emergency and took to the streets, with broad support from the press, political leaders, churches, the business sector, various sectors of organized society, and the armed forces."

Compounding Bolsonaro's troubles, opposition leaders on Wednesday also asked the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU) to investigate the president for alleged improper payments to social media influencers to promote scienticially dubious Covid-19 treatments.

"It is absurd for the federal government to continue sponsoring advertising campaigns that encourage so-called early treatment, a practice widely contested by the scientific community, without any proof of its effectiveness," the lawmakers' request stated.

One of the departing military chiefs, army Gen. Edson Leal Pujol, had angered Bolsonaro by criticizing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which according to Johns Hopkins University has claimed over 321,000 Brazilian lives, the world's second-highest death toll after the United States.

More than 66,000 Brazilians have died of Covid-19 in March, with epidemiologists warning that the crisis will worsen.

Bolsonaro—who has been dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" for his political and ideological affinity with the former U.S. president—has dismissed Covid-19 as a "little flu," and has refused to follow or promote mask-wearing, quarantine measures, and social distancing. Bolsonaro, who contracted the virus last year, has also encouraged large gatherings and disparaged vaccines.

Adding insult to political injury, "Bolzo Day" trended on Twitter Thursday—April Fools' Day.

GOP attack on democracy surges as Texas voter suppression bill passes senate

As Republican lawmakers in nearly every U.S. state introduce hundreds of voting restriction bills, Texas took center stage Thursday after its Senate approved a measure opponents say disproportionately targets minority and urban voters by limiting when, where, and how people can vote.

Senate Bill 7—pased in an overnight 18-13 party-line vote following recent public testimony overwhelmingly against the proposal—would limit extended early voting hours, ban "drive-thru" voting, and outlaw sending vote-by-mail applications, among other controversial measures.

One provision in the bill would require an equal number of voting machines at countywide polling stations, which Myrna Pérez, elections director at the Brennan Center for Justice, calls "a backdoor way of eliminating large voting centers that could be used by large numbers of city residents."

Another provision would force voters utilizing the disability exemption for mail-in voting to show documents proving their condition. And in a move Pérez says "openly invites the harassment of voters," the bill would allow partisan poll-watchers to record video of people casting their ballots.

Although Republicans control both houses of the Texas legislature, the governor's office, and all nine seats on the state Supreme Court, Democrats have made significant political inroads in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1988.

A post-election analysis by The Texas Tribune last year found that Democrats turned out record numbers of voters in cities and suburbs, and voting rights advocates are warning that these are precisely the people that S.B. 7 seeks to disenfranchise by making it more difficult for them to cast their ballots.

For example, more than 127,000 Houston-area residents voted via drive-thru early voting last year. More than half of these voters were Black, Latinx, or Asian, according to the Associated Press.

"Hearing all of that, who are you really targeting when you're trying to get rid of drive-thru voting?" Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado said in an AP interview.

State Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, told the Tribune that "as I see this bill, it's a pure case of suppression."

"There are some things in here that are really offensive," he said. "This hurts to the core."

Ofelia Alonso, who volunteers with the civil rights advocacy group Texas Rising, drove hundreds of miles from her home in Cameron County along the Mexican border to the state Capitol in Austin to testify against S.B. 7 last week.

"Honestly, because we all work doing voter registration, we know how nonsensical this bill is," Alonso said, according to the AP. "It makes absolutely no sense to criminalize people for wanting to participate in democracy, which should be our goal. It is almost like Texans get punished for coming out and voting in large numbers."

Brett Edkins, political director at the nonprofit grassroots advocacy group Stand Up America, blasted S.B. 7 as "a shameful attack on the right to vote" and "a disgusting display of partisanship from Texas Republicans."

"It's clear that the Republican Party believes the only way they can win future elections is to keep millions of Americans from casting their ballots," Edkins said in a statement Thursday.

The Texas bill is but the latest in a wave of GOP attempts to restrict voting access across the nation. According to the Brennan Center—a law and public policy institute at the New York University School of Law—as of March 24 GOP lawmakers have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, a 43% increase from even just a month earlier.

Furthermore, the states which have introduced the most voter restriction bills—Texas (49), Georgia (25), and Arizona (23)—are all states in which Democrats have either won major victories or made significant inroads in recent elections.

In Georgia—where voters handed Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and played a decisive role in President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory—Republican Gov. Brian Kemp last week signed into law a sweeping voter restriction bill that, among other things, criminalizes the distribution of water to people waiting to vote.

Republicans vehemently deny that bills restricting voting rights are meant to suppress voters, despite right-wing leaders occasionally admitting otherwise. However, voting rights advocates say GOP intentions are clear.

"Let's not forget: These efforts to restrict votes do not arise from a problem based in facts or reality," the Brennan Center's Pérez wrote in an analysis Tuesday. "Rather, they rest on the Big Lie, the disproven notion that there was mass voter fraud in 2020."

"Prominent Texas leaders actively amplified lies of voter fraud in the aftermath of the last election," Pérez continued. "In fact, they are still spreading lies about voting in order to bolster their case for suppressive bills."

"In a recent Texas House Elections Committee hearing, the Texas attorney general's office claimed that yearly cases of voter fraud were rising swiftly," she added. "This claim turned out to be not only highly misleading, but further investigation revealed that prosecutions are reportedly disparately targeting minorities."

The day after Pérez wrote those words, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a review of the case of Crystal Mason, a Black Fort Worth woman sentenced to five years in prison for inadvertently filling out an invalid provisional ballot that was never counted in the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this month, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.)—one of the two Democrats whose 2021 victory flipped the U.S. Senate—slammed what he called the GOP's "massive and unabashed assault on voting rights" as "Jim Crow in new clothes."

Like many Democrats, Warnock touted the For the People Act—a sweeping voting rights and anti-corruption bill passed by the House on March 3—as a "major step in the march towards our democratic ideals by making it easier, not harder, for eligible Americans to vote by instituting common sense, pro-democracy reforms."

Brennan Center president Michael Waldman agrees. "The For the People Act... would stop the new wave of voter suppression, cold," he testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration last week. "It stops it in its tracks, and Congress has the power, the right, the authority—constitutionally and legally—to do this."

"Will we live up to our best ideals?" Waldman asked during his testimony. "Will we build a multiracial democracy that really represents all people, or will we allow a drive to take place to turn the clock back to cut back on voting rights? This legislation would be a significant and long overdue milestone for our country."

Pentagon to lift Trump-era ban on transgender troops

Reversing one of former President Donald Trump's most egregious civil rights rollbacks, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday—International Transgender Day of Visibility—that it would soon allow openly trans people to serve in the U.S. military.

In a statement, the Pentagon said that as of April 30, the Defense Department's Obama-era policy—which for the first time allowed trans people to serve—would be restored, "provided all appropriate standards are met."

Under the new policy (pdf), the military will bar discharge or denial of re-enlistment based on gender identity, as well as allow transgender troops to transition while serving. The Defense Health Agency will also establish clinical procedures for the treatment of troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

"These policies are based on the conclusion that open service by transgender persons who are subject to the same high standards and procedures as other service members with regard to medical fitness for duty, physical fitness, uniform and grooming standards, deployability, and retention is consistent with military service and readiness," the Pentagon said.

Emma Shinn, president of the trans troop advocacy group SPART*A and a captain in the Marine Corps, said in a statement that she is "elated that the approximately 15,000 transgender service members proudly serving across the globe can rest easier knowing that their service to our nation is seen, valued, and that they can continue to serve as their authentic selves."

Brock Stone, a petty officer first class in the Navy who sued the Trump administration, told The 19th that he is relieved by the policy shift.

"I joined the Navy in 2006 to serve my country, and my idea of patriotism includes speaking up for myself and anyone else who's being held down," Stone said. "No one in this country should be afraid to be themselves, to walk down a street, to apply for a job, to go out in public, or to exist."

LGBTQ advocates also largely welcomed the Pentagon's policy shift.

"We are thrilled the military is putting this ugly and shameful chapter in our nation's history behind us and once again embracing our nation's highest ideals of equal opportunity for all," Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights—which fought in court for trans troops to serve openly again—told Vox.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement that "President [Joe] Biden and the Pentagon have moved swiftly and certainly to undo the discriminatory and unjust transgender military ban put in place by the former president."

"This is a great day for America's service members, who deserve a commander in chief who understands the service and sacrifice that come with putting on the uniform of the United States military," added Ellis.

There were thousands of transgender troops openly serving in the ranks without fuss, fanfare, or financial burden at the time of the Trump ban. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon, allowing trans people to openly serve would have a "minimal impact" on readiness and healthcare costs.

The RAND study estimated there would be but 30 to 140 new hormone treatments per year, and between 25 and 130 gender reassignment surgeries performed at a cost of $2.4 to $8.4 million dollars—less than the cost of one battle tank, or around 0.001% of the Pentagon's $824 billion budget at the time.

"So the biggest, baddest most $ military on Earth cries about a few trans people, but funds the F-35?" tweeted former soldier Chelsea Manning—who is trans—in July 2017, a reference to the $1.7 trillion fighter jet program. "Sounds like cowardice."

'Major political crisis' breaks out in Brazil as virus spikes and Bolsonaro purges top ministers

Brazil's political stability was in doubt Tuesday after the heads of all three military branches resigned following President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissal of his defense minister, one of six Cabinet officials who have recently left or been forced out of an administration whose popularity has plummeted amid soaring Covid-19 deaths in South America's largest nation.

Folha de São Paulo reports Gen. Edson Leal Pujol, Adm. Ilques Barbosa, and Lt.-Brig. Antônio Carlos Bermudez—respectively commanders of the army, navy, and air force—resigned a day after Bolsonaro fired Defense Minister Gen. Fernando Azevedo e Silva.

The Guardian, citing local reporting, said Bolsonaro demanded Pujol's dismissal because the general resisted the far-right president's efforts to politicize the military. Bolsonaro is an open admirer of Brazil's former U.S.-backed military dictatorship—under which tens of thousands of people were tortured, murdered, and disappeared—and has praised a leading military torturer from that period as a "national hero."

Pujol had also criticized Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which according to Johns Hopkins University has claimed nearly 314,000 lives in Brazil, the world's second-highest death toll after the United States.

Ernesto Araújo, Bolsonaro's erstwhile foreign minister, also resigned Monday. The far-right diplomat—known for his fondness for former U.S. President Donald Trump and his disparagement of China—had increasingly alarmed progressives and much of the international community by denying the climate crisis and attacking reproductive and other human rights.

Under Bolsonaro and Araújo, the international standing of Brazil—which, since the restoration of democracy, has been widely viewed as a "soft power superpower"—has deteriorated dramatically.

The BBC reports Bolsonaro has replaced the six departed Cabinet ministers with people linked to a coalition of right-wing parties that support the president in Congress.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, decribed the complex and still-developing situation as a "major political crisis" for the country.

Bolsonaro—often called "Trump of the Tropics" for his political and philosophical closeness with the former U.S. president—has dismissed Covid-19 as a "little flu," and has refused to follow or promote mask-wearing, quarantine measures, and social distancing, despite having contracted the virus last year. He has also encouraged large gatherings and disparaged vaccines.

Last week, Bolsonaro lied on national television about his actions—or lack thereof—to control the pandemic on a day health authorities recorded 3,158 Covid-19 deaths across the country. Calls for the impeachment of the embattled president over his handling of the pandemic have grown louder in recent months.

"We can't overcome this crisis with Bolsonaro, he is the crisis incarnate," tweeted Gleisi Hoffman, a federal deputy from Paraná state and president of the Workers' Party (PT), the main opposition party. "There is no doubt that this is a crime against life and against public health," she added.

With presidential elections looming in 2022, Bolsonaro also faces the threat of a challenge from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and PT leader whose political rights were restored earlier this month after a Supreme Court justice annulled several criminal convictions related to the wide-ranging Car Wash corruption scandal.

Da Silva, popularly known as "Lula," is widely viewed as a favorite to wrest the presidency from the flagging Bolsonaro. At a rally earlier this month, da Silva said that Brazil "is disorganized and falling apart because it has no government."

The former president had even stronger words for the Bolsonaro administration after Brazil passed the grim milestone of 300,000 Covid-19 deaths last week, calling the coronavirus pandemic "the biggest genocide in our history."

"We must save Brazil from Covid-19," argued da Silva. "Brazil will not withstand it if this man continues to govern in this way."


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