Common Dreams

Why this far-right Republican Party is not nearly as divided as some think: expert

There is an understandable eagerness to celebrate that the Republican party failed to generate a “red wave,” and even experienced some major defeats, in this year’s election. Equally understandable is the inclination to seize on post-election Republican in-fighting as a hopeful sign of the party’s weakening.

There is currently a blame game going on the right, and for perhaps the first time since 2016, some once-significant Republican leaders—former Governors Chris Christie and Larry Hogan, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, even Trump’s Attorney General William Barr—have called for a break with Donald Trump. Others, most notably former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have distanced themselves from Trump, positioning for possible runs in a 2024 presidential primary. The blame game is real. Equally real is in-fighting within the Republican Senate and House caucuses, especially the latter, where titular leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy face challengers who are making real demands as a condition of future support—demands that will no doubt be met, for both McConnell and especially McCarthy are unprincipled cowards willing to do whatever is necessary for them to hold power.

This is all very real. And every fissure within the Republican Party is worth noting and—if possible—exploiting. But it would be a huge political and even moral mistake to exaggerate the importance of these intra-Republican differences.

It is tempting to believe that voters this November repudiated election denialism and an obsession with The Big Lie and registered a preference for “normality.” And some voters did do this in some settings, like Michigan. But a great many did not. Wisconsin voters returned Democratic Governor Tony Evers; but they also returned Republican majorities to both houses of the state legislature, and re-elected Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, to the U.S. Senate. Texas voters re-elected far-right Governor Greg Abbott, and Florida voters re-elected even farther-right Governor Ron DeSantis, both of whom remain wedded to The Big Lie to this day, however much they might be out of favor with Trump, and however much their “accomplishments” extended beyond the re-litigation of 2020.

The voters who returned a majority of Republicans under the leadership of McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Elise Stefaniak, and Jim Jordan to the House surely did not repudiate election denialism. As CBS News observed: “In the next Congress, there are projected to be 156 GOP House members who have raised doubts about the validity of the 2020 election, an increase from the 147 GOP House members who, in January 2021, voted to object to the certification of the Electoral College.” Virtually every House Republican who voted against the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on January 6, and then voted against any effort to investigate that insurrection, is returning to Congress. Indeed, they will be accompanied by some new members who actually participated in or at least actively supported the January 6 episode. As the Washington Post reports: “While the Republican Party suffered surprising losses in the midterms, including defeats of many who bought into Trump’s false election claims, the arrival of freshman lawmakers who had come to Washington as pro-Trump activists on that violent day underscores the extent to which the House Republican caucus remains a haven for election deniers.”

The House Republican leadership made very clear, long before the election, that if the party was returned to power, it would use this power to subject the Biden administration and even House Democrats to relentless investigation. And now that its control of the House in 2023 is assured, the same leaders have reiterated this promise. Kevin McCarthy, virtually certain to be the next Speaker of the House, has gone further, pledging to remove three high-profile Democrats—Reps. Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar—from their important committee assignments in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s similar treatment of Marjorie Taylor-Greene in 2021. (Back in February 2021 Pelosi, when asked if she had concerns about a precedent being set, replied: “None, not at all . . . If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we’d be the first ones to take them off a committee.” Now McCarthy will punish some of the Democrats’ most public defenders of democracy, while elevating neo-fascist Greene to a major role in the new Congress.)

Writing in The New Republic, Alex Shephard argues that “A New Republican Civil War is About to Begin,” explaining that “the GOP’s old guard is pinning their renaissance on a Ron DeSantis renaissance. But Donald Trump’s counterestablishment has beaten them once before.” Shepherd’s piece nicely outlines the sources of friction within the Republican party and the foolishness of counting out Trump. At the same time, the piece’s caption is misleading. For there really is no longer a GOP “old guard,” though there are some, like McConnell, who are old and whose loyalty to the party preceded Trump and has often been tested by him. The GOP is the party of Trumpism even if there are now others, beyond Trump, who now might vie for its leadership—or might ultimately refuse to vie for leadership, ceding it to the twice-impeached, disgraced former President who remains the most popular leader among Republican voters, currently holding a 30 point lead over his nearest rival, DeSantis.

Yascha Mounck writes in The Atlantic about “How Moderates Won the Midterms.” Yes, some fanatics were defeated. But who are the “moderates” among the current leaders of the Republican Party either inside of Congress or outside of it? It is true that a handful of pretty far-right Republicans who refused to embrace the January 6 insurrection, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, won election. But these candidates are hardly “moderates”; Kemp’s support for the Senate candidacy of Herschel Walker furnishes clear proof of that.

Perhaps the best clue to the meaning of the current recriminations among Republicans is contained in a recent Guardian piece entitled “Trump for 2024 would be ‘bad mistake,’ Republican says as blame game deepens.” The piece quotes an important Republican who recently vacated his House seat to run for the U.S. Senate: “It would be a bad mistake for the Republicans to have Donald Trump as their nominee in 2024. . . Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans. Even a candidate who campaigns from his basement can beat him.”

These are powerful words . . . . spoken by Mo Brooks, until very recently one of Trump’s most fanatical supporters, who refused to concede Biden’s victory in 2020, and who spoke at Trump’s January 6 Ellipse rally, declaring “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

If ever there was a MAGA-inspired insurrectionist, it was Brooks, who entered the Alabama Senate race in 2021 with the blessing of Trump, only to run afoul of Trump’s ego, causing Trump to shift his support in the Republican primary to Big Lie proponent Katie Britt. Here is how Politico described the bitter battle that ensued between the two Republican candidates:

Even after Trump put his weight behind Britt in the runoff — and as public and internal polling showed Brooks’ prospects as weak — top conservative commentators like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin and Charlie Kirk declared their support for Brooks up to the final day of the campaign. Kirk, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward spent Monday night on a tele-town hall in support of Brooks, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also continued to lend their support.
. . . Throughout the runoff campaign, Britt continued to rack up her own endorsements from high profile Republicans, including Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). In the final weeks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the GOP nominee for governor in Arkansas, and commentator Steve Cortes have also put out statements and videos in support of Britt’s campaign. That follows several other incumbent senators endorsing her earlier this year.

Britt proceeded to win the primary and then the Senate seat in November’s election. The first woman elected to an Alabama Senate seat, Britt’s victory hardly attests to the failure of Trump-aligned election denial. And Brooks’s very public denunciations of Trump hardly attest to ascendancy of Republican “old guard moderates”—unless the likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Charlie Kirk, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rand Paul and Marjorie Taylor-Greene are considered voices of moderation. Indeed, once Britt won the primary, these leaders of The Grand Old Party came together behind her, just as they have all more recently denounced the Justice Department investigation of Trump, rallying behind Jim Jordan’s demand for Congressional investigation of the well-known Critical Race Theorizing Marxist, Merrick Garland.

This is moderation? This signifies real disagreements within the Republican Party?

It is surely true that some Republican voters have lost their appetite for Trump. It is just as true that Trump remains by far the most popular leader among Republican voters, and that, just as in 2016, it is very possible for him to win the Republican nomination, and the presidency, even without the support of a majority of voters. But the more important truth is that should Trump fail to be the Republican nominee in 2024, the nominee is very likely to be another far-right Republican, someone, like Ron DeSantis, whose intelligence and proven autocratic savvy make him even more dangerous.

As Jelani Cobb has recently argued in The New Yorker, Trumpism has an enduring power that far exceeds Trump himself, and “the forces of intolerance, racism, and belligerence he harnessed in American politics will persist” regardless of whether Trump ever again runs for political office.

These forces continue to circulate in civil society and the body politic, spreading lies and conspiracy theories, taking over school boards across the country, and waiting to be re-mobilized by Republican leaders in 2024. In the meantime, House Republicans will use their very real congressional powers to obstruct the Biden presidency, relentlessly attack the Democratic Party, and create chaos in the heart of the federal government.

Only a few short weeks and months ago it was widely understood by a wide range of commentators that the Republican Party is an explicitly illiberal party that most resembles “autocratic parties in Hungary and Turkey,” and is indeed an “antidemocracy party.” No less an authority than retired U.S. Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the premier Republican jurists in the country, said as much in public testimony before the House January 6 Committee, declaring that “one of our national political parties . . . the former President’s party cynically and embarrassingly rationalizes January 6,” refusing to commit itself to the Constitution and continuing to undermine the legitimacy of liberal democracy.

Yes, in this year’s election some of the most cynical and embarrassing Republican candidates were repudiated—though many were not. Yes, there is back-biting and in-fighting among Republican leaders jockeying for position as the next election cycle looms. But has the Republican Party really changed? Some might wish it has. But wishing does not make it so. And so the party continues to represent a clear and present danger to American democracy.

Scholars, attorneys and advocates urge Supreme Court to block GOP efforts to tank student debt relief

A broad coalition of legal scholars, attorneys, labor unions, and advocates filed amicus briefs this week imploring the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the Biden administration's student debt cancellation program, which lower courts have put on hold as Republican officials and right-wing groups attempt to block relief for tens of millions of borrowers.

The series of filings includes a 32-page brief led by the founders of the Student Loan Law Initiative, a project of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and the Student Borrower Protection Center. The law scholars argue that the Biden administration is perfectly within its right to forgive student loan debt "because Congress, through the plain language of the relevant statute, delegated precisely the authority exercised here."

"The relevant statutory text is clear as sunlight," the brief reads. "The HEROES Act of 2003 authorizes the secretary of education to 'waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under [T]itle IV of the [Higher Education] Act [of 1965] as the secretary deems necessary in connection with a... national emergency.' That is exactly what the secretary did here."

Former U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the lead author of the HEROES Act, submitted an amicus brief on Tuesday echoing that assessment.

"In short, the HEROES Act permits the reduction or elimination of a student borrower's debt burden by allowing the secretary to 'relinquish' or 'make more moderate' the provisions that require repayment of student loans," Miller wrote. "This understanding of 'waive' and 'modify' aligns with the way that agencies have interpreted these terms in similar statutory provisions."

Other amicus briefs in support of upholding the Biden administration's debt cancellation program were submitted this week by the American Federation of Teachers, the Student Borrower Protection Center, the National Consumer Law Center, Democracy Forward, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and other organizations. If the program is allowed to proceed, eligible student loan borrowers will receive up to $20,000 in debt relief.

"As briefs from a broad range of people, experts, and legal scholars show, President Biden's debt relief plan for student loan borrowers is legal, necessary, and appropriate," said Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward. "Debt relief will provide crucial assistance to a huge number of people around the country, including in the states whose leaders are currently suing to stop it."

The briefs were filed on the same day the Biden administration announced another extension of the student loan repayment freeze, which will now expire at the end of June.

Last week, the Biden Justice Department formally asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the administration's debt forgiveness program after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued an injunction halting the plan, siding with Republican officials from Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Kansas and leaving tens of millions of people in limbo.

On Wednesday, those six states submitted a brief urging the Supreme Court to reject the Biden administration's effort to restore the student debt cancellation program, which has paused applications as legal challenges unfold.

Right-wing Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has twice rejected emergency requests to block the debt relief plan in recent weeks.

Persis Yu, deputy executive director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said Wednesday that vulnerable student loan borrowers "deserve better than to be treated like political pawns."

"We have faith that the Supreme Court will see through the political chicanery and allow this critical program to deliver the relief that 40 million working- and middle-class borrowers desperately need," Yu added.

'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."

'Unconscionable': Georgia Supreme Court resurrects six-week abortion ban

Reproductive rights advocates responded with outrage Wednesday after the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the state's draconian law prohibiting abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Fulton County Superior Court blocked the six-week abortion ban just last week, after which Georgia reverted to the status quo ante of permitting abortion care through 22 weeks of pregnancy. But in a one-page order, the high court granted an emergency stay of the lower court's injunction, thus allowing the six-week ban—which cuts off abortion access before many people know they are pregnant—to take immediate effect once again while the state's appeal proceeds.

"It is unconscionable that the Georgia Supreme Court has chosen to deny pregnant people the ability to decide what is best for their own lives and futures," Amy Kennedy, vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement. "Our state's abortion providers are again being forced to turn away patients who then must leave the state for safe, time-sensitive, and essential healthcare."

Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women's Health Center, echoed that sentiment.

"It is cruel that our patients' ability to access the reproductive healthcare they need has been taken away yet again," said Jackson. "For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy. This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians' lives, and our patients deserve better."

The state Supreme Court did not provide any explanation for granting the attorney general's request to put the lower court's November 15 order striking down the six-week abortion ban on hold.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled last week that laws that violate the Georgia or U.S. Constitution when they are passed are invalid. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia's six-week abortion ban into law in the spring of 2019, when Roe v. Wade was still in force. It went into effect in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

In its Wednesday ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court also rejected abortion providers' request for 24 hours' notice prior to reviving the ban. As the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) explained, this means that abortion patients who were in waiting rooms when the decision was handed down "are being turned away and forced to seek healthcare elsewhere or else carry pregnancies to term against their will."

"Evidence shows that being denied an abortion can have lasting health and financial consequences for people and their families, including elevated health risks during and after pregnancy; and derailed educational, career, and life plans," CRR pointed out. "For some, the consequences of the ban can be deadly."

Alice Wang, staff attorney at CRR, said that "it is outrageous that this extreme law is back in effect, just days after being rightfully blocked."

"This legal ping pong is causing chaos for medical providers trying to do their jobs and for patients who are now left frantically searching for the abortion services they need," said Wang. "Georgians are again being denied control over their own lives and futures, but we will do everything in our power to strike down this ban for good."

As CRR noted:

During a trial held in October, healthcare providers and other experts testified that the abortion ban has had devastating consequences for Georgians' health and lives. The ban forces Georgians seeking abortion after the earliest weeks of pregnancy to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles out of state for care, and that's only if they can pull together the resources to do so. Georgians and other people seeking care in states where abortion is still legal face long wait times for appointments. Many of those who cannot surmount the tremendous financial and logistical barriers of getting abortion care in other states are forced to carry their pregnancy to term and give birth against their will.

Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, warned Wednesday that the state Supreme Court's decision will "exacerbate Georgia's maternal mortality and morbidity crisis."

"Reinstating this extreme abortion ban will cause immense harm, especially to Black Georgians and people with the fewest resources—who are least likely to be able to travel out of state for care and most likely to suffer severe medical consequences from forced pregnancy and childbirth," said Kaye.

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said that Wednesday's ruling makes it "even more important that we protect access in other states by preventing the U.S. Senate from passing a federal ban on abortion."

Republicans have threatened to pursue a nationwide abortion ban if they retake both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2024. The U.S. already has a substantially higher maternal mortality rate than other wealthy countries, and according to a recent analysis, prohibiting abortion at the federal level would increase maternal deaths by 24%.

"While this ruling is devastating, the case is not over," Kaye stressed. "We will never stop fighting to ensure that everyone, no matter their geography, race, or income, has the power to control their own bodies and futures."

'We did it': Environmentalists laud NY Governor for signing nation's first partial ban on crypto mining

Environmentalists celebrated after Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday approved a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel plants that power cryptocurrency mining operations which use proof-of-work authentication methods to validate blockchain transactions.

While the cryptocurrency industry and its allies opposed the measure—the Digital Chamber of Commerce said it was "severely disappointed" with Hochul's decision to sign the bill into law and set a "dangerous precedent" for energy rules—environmental campaigners heralded it as a model.

"This first-in-the-nation law should set the standard for every other state where crypto miners are coming in, extracting resources, and wreaking havoc," said Liz Moran, Earthjustice's New York policy advocate, in a statement. "Thank you, Gov. Hochul, for setting a precedent for the rest of the country and staying true to New York's climate law mandates."

After also thanking the bill sponsors, Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-125) and Sen. Kevin Parker (D-21), "and all of the advocates who were critical to this effort," Moran noted that the law requires a study by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

"We're very much looking forward to the DEC's fact-finding review, which we're confident will affirm what Earthjustice and the White House have already concluded: crypto mining is a major threat to climate security and needs to be closely regulated," she said.

In September, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club released a report titled, The Energy Bomb: How Proof-of-Work Cryptocurrency Mining Worsens the Climate Crisis and Harms Communities Now.

That same month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy put out a fact sheet highlighting that "depending on the energy intensity of the technology and the sources of electricity used, the rapid growth of crypto-assets could potentially hinder broader efforts to achieve U.S. climate commitments to reach net-zero carbon pollution."

Given the industry's impacts, Moran was far from alone in applauding Hochul's move.

The Divest NY coalition declared that "New York is once again leading the nation on climate."

"We did it!!!" Kelles said in a series of tweets, thanking the governor as well as fellow legislators who backed the bill, which passed the state Assembly in April and the Senate in June "despite enormous pressure from the crypto industry to stop it."

"This is a huge win for our planet and a sign that New York is not afraid to lead the nation in our climate policy," Kelles continued—adding that "I am just filled with so much hope for our planet because of my partners in this fight," whom she called "climate warriors."

In a memorandum Tuesday, Hochul pointed out that "the legislation would still allow the issuance of permits for eclectic energy facilities that use alternatives to carbon-based fuel, such as hydropower, which would permit growth and business development in this industry."

The Democrat's decision to endorse the bill came after she was noncommittal during a debate leading up to her reelection earlier this month and as the crypto industry faces heightened scrutiny.

As The New York Times reported Tuesday:

Earlier this month, the crypto exchange known as FTX suffered a swift and public collapse that led to its declaration of bankruptcy. The fall of what had been a trusted player in the new market has led to broader questions about the future of the exchange, as well as possible criminal charges for its principal, Sam Bankman-Fried.
Mr. Bankman-Fried had been in the process of lobbying New York regulators to permit his exchange to operate in the state. He is also a major Democratic donor who backed a super PAC that spent $1 million to boost Ms. Hochul's running mate, Antonio Delgado, in his primary race earlier this year.
The spending drew accusations from Ms. Hochul’s political opponents, who argued it was a signal that the industry was trying to exert its influence to pressure the governor into vetoing the mining moratorium.

In a Tuesday opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote that "FTX's implosion should be a wake-up call" and if the federal government does not adequately regulate the crypto industry, it will "take down the economy."

Georgia Republicans are trying to scrap Saturday voting ahead of the Senate runoff election

Republican groups filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to block early voting this Saturday in the U.S. Senate runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP candidate Herschel Walker.

The Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Republican National Committee asked Georgia's high court to overturn a lower court's ruling that said state law permits early voting this Saturday, 10 days before the December 6 runoff.

As The Associated Press reported, "The time-sensitive legal battle began after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued guidance to county election officials that said early voting could not be held on November 26 because state law says it is illegal on a Saturday if there is a holiday on the Thursday or Friday preceding it."

Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is a state holiday that was originally created to honor Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate army that fought to preserve slavery. Lee's name wasn't removed from the holiday until 2015.

The Democratic Party of Georgia, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Warnock campaign sued last week to challenge Raffensperger's guidance, arguing that the prohibition on Saturday early voting after a holiday applies only to primary or general elections, not runoffs.

A Fulton County judge agreed, issuing an order on Friday that sided with the Warnock campaign and the Democratic groups.

Lawyers for the state challenged the lower court's decision, but the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a single-sentence ruling late Monday that rejected their request for an immediate reversal.

Raffensperger accepted that ruling and said the state would not launch additional appeals.

"The court has worked its will," Mike Hassinger, a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said in a statement. "We believe this is something the General Assembly should consider clarifying to avoid confusion in the future."

The Republican groups, however, appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday.

According to AP:

They argue that the interpretation of Georgia law put forth by the plaintiffs and accepted by [Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox] was incorrect. The runoff election set for December 6 is clearly a continuation of the November 8 general election and is subject to the prohibition on Saturday voting immediately after a holiday, they argue.
Counties had been relying on the guidance provided by Raffensperger as they prepared for the runoff election, under the assumption that voting would not be allowed November 26, the Republican groups argue. Only 10 counties—'all of them Democrat-leaning'—plan to hold early voting on Saturday, they note.
That 'sows confusion and inequity into the voting process, preventing the clarity and uniformity that Georgia's citizens deserve,' they argue.

The Warnock campaign and the Democratic groups have until 9:00 am ET Wednesday to file a response with the state supreme court.

Georgia compressed the time frame for runoff campaigns as part of a 2021 voter suppression law condemned by Democrats and voting rights advocates.

"The shortened calendar, less than a month from the general election, makes the early-voting period coincide with Thanksgiving," HuffPost noted. "Georgia law requires that counties hold five days of early voting from Monday, November 28, through Friday, December 2. But counties are also allowed to hold three additional days of early voting, and some counties want to offer early voting on Saturday, when many voters are off work."

Warnock and Walker, a former football star backed by ex-President Donald Trump, are set to face off in the December 6 runoff after neither candidate won more than 50% of the vote in the November 8 midterms.

Democrats have already secured 50 seats in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote giving them the slimmest possible majority. But the Georgia runoff is still consequential for several reasons.

Among other things, a victory by Warnock would ensure that Democrats have a majority on all Senate committees—allowing them to expedite the pace of judicial confirmations and other work. It could also reduce the obstructionist influence of right-wing Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Joe Biden extends student loan payment freeze as 'baseless political lawsuits' threaten aid

Student debt relief campaigners on Tuesday welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to yet again extend a temporary pause on federal loan payments in response to Republican lawsuits targeting his cancellation plan.

"I'm completely confident my plan is legal. But right now it's on hold because of these lawsuits. We're not going to back down though, on our fight to give families breathing room," Biden said in a video, noting his administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.

Stressing that "it isn't fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments" while waiting on a court ruling, the president explained that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is extending the freeze to no later than June 30, 2023. Payments would restart 60 days later.

Unveiled in August, Biden's plan would cancel up to $10,000 in debt for federal borrowers with incomes below $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for households. Borrowers who received Pell Grants would have up to $20,000 forgiven.

After the GOP responded with a flurry of lawsuits, the Department of Education earlier this month stopped accepting applications for the relief program. However, tens of millions of Americans have already sent in their information, and the administration has pledged in emails to borrowers that "we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court."

Echoing Biden's confidence that the relief plan will ultimately take effect, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that the pause "gives student loan borrowers more opportunity to pay down their debt and reach important milestones in life like opening a savings account, purchasing a home, and saving for retirement."

Student Borrower Protection Center executive director Mike Pierce similarly stressed that "this extension means that struggling borrowers will be able to keep food on their tables during the holiday season—and the coming months—as the administration does everything it can to beat back the baseless and backward attacks on working families with student debt."

Peirce added that "the Republican politicians set on keeping their constituents in debt should take note: Borrowers made this happen and borrowers will continue to fight until student debt cancellation is won."

Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick also praised the administration's extension—which came amid growing calls for one—while slamming the right-wing interests attempting to kill the program.

"President Biden's repayment pause is a weight off the shoulders of millions of Americans dealing with crushing student debt," she said. "The baseless political lawsuits attacking the administration's relief policies could not come at a worse time as corporate greed continues to drive up prices and the economy heads towards a recession."

"As President Biden prioritizes average Americans in this moment of economic uncertainty, conservative judges and politicians are doing all they can to protect the bottom line of greedy special interests," she continued. "This is a welcome step towards stimulating the economy and providing some economic relief to millions of Americans."

Student Debt Crisis Center president Natalia Abrams praised the extension and warned of the expected impacts of resuming payments.

"Restarting student loan payments is simply not affordable for millions of Americans," she said. "Federal student loan payments must not resume during this critical time—and the pause should continue until the president's student debt cancellation plan is secured."

"We applaud the president for doing the right thing. Too many borrowers, parents, and students have yet to recover from the financial harm caused by the pandemic and the possibility of a winter surge in Covid-19 cases is proof that this crisis is not over," Abrams noted, calling cancellation "essential to helping borrowers recover from the pandemic."

Braxton Brewington, a spokesperson for the Debt Collective, said that "the least the Biden administration could do is not collect on a debt they promised they would cancel."

"This pause extension is necessary, but also the bare minimum," Brewington added. "What 45 million borrowers truly need is a Biden administration that won't allow fringe lawsuits and right-wing courts to undermine economic relief that's already been approved."

'Believe they are above the law': Outrage as Starbucks moves to close first unionized shop in Seattle

Starbucks announced late Monday that it will soon shutter yet another unionized location—this time the Seattle shop that was the first to unionize in the coffee giant's home city.

While Starbucks said in a statement that the planned closure is due to "safety and security" concerns, workers and union representatives characterized the decision as clearly retaliatory given the Broadway East and Denny Way's status as the first organized shop in the city where Starbucks was founded and is currently headquartered.

"Starbucks and [billionaire CEO] Howard Schultz believe they are above the law. They believe they can do whatever they want and get away with it," Starbucks Workers United wrote on Twitter. "This is unacceptable and will not stand."

December 9 is the final day before the store will be closed to the public. As Starbucks Workers United Seattle pointed out, that is the one-year anniversary of the first-ever Starbucks union victory in Buffalo, New York last year.

The Broadway and Denny location is one of several unionized stores in Seattle that Starbucks has moved to shut down in recent months as the company continues its relentless anti-union campaign across the country, drawing accusations of mass labor law violations and legal action from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

"On the average month between April and September, the union filed 43 [unfair labor practice] charges, more than one per day," Matt Bruenig of the People's Policy Project noted earlier this month. "The charges generally allege that Starbucks has engaged in retaliation against workers attempting to unionize."

More than 260 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize since last year, but not a single store has secured a contract as management and its anti-union Littler Mendelson attorneys engage in common stalling tactics and abruptly walk out of sessions before any real bargaining can begin.

Last week, thousands of unionized Starbucks workers from hundreds of stores across the country walked off the job to protest management's refusal to bargain in good faith and ongoing punishment of union organizers, which has led the NLRB to ask a federal court for a nationwide cease-and-desist order against the company.

Casey Moore, a Buffalo barista and a member of the National Starbucks Workers United Communications Committee, tweeted late Monday that "what Howard Schultz fundamentally misunderstands about this movement is that we are a fucking hydra."

"Cut down one of us, and there's five new workers to take their place," Moore wrote. "They can fire us, shut down our stores, send whatever messages they want to us, but WE'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. Nowhere. Not until we win a goddamn contract and hold this company accountable for every last worker they fired and every last store they closed."

Starbucks denies that its recent store closures had anything to do with unionization, but workers say a significant percentage of the stores shuttered were in the process of organizing. In August, Starbucks Workers United said that 42% of the stores the company closed in the preceding months were engaged in union activity.

Last month, Starbucks shut down the first unionized store in Colorado Springs a day before the date that the union had requested for the first bargaining session.

Earlier this month, Starbucks announced the closure of a Portland, Maine location that was the second store to unionize in the state.

Republicans are giddy about 'owning the libs.' The citizens they govern pay a tragic price

If dying young appeals to you, here's a simple bit of advice: move to a state or county controlled by Republicans.

At first glance, the images below appear to be political maps. And in the most real sense of the word they are: the county-by-county differences shown by the map from Jeremy Ney's brilliant American Inequality Substack newsletter and the state-by-state screen shot from the CDC's NCHS below it.

Both reflect, in large part, decades of regional policy differences.

Long-lived parts of America have generally embraced progressive policies dating back to FDR's New Deal; the early-death parts of our country most often reflect conservative opposition to everything from the working-class wealth that unionization and higher minimum wages bring, to the availability of healthcare through Medicaid expansion.


https://substackcdn.com/image/fetch/w_1456,c_limit,f_webp,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fbucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2Feb553faf-565e-477b-948f-f746b7480c81_1240x1042.png
Source: American Inequality by Jeremy Ney on Substack

2019 Life Expectancy by State — Source: National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control

To zoom out ever farther, since many conservative policies affect the entire country, consider what happened to the health of our nation in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. It's particularly visible when you compare the outcomes of our healthcare system with other developed countries.

Our World In Data lays it out starkly, as you will see below. One of the proudest accomplishments of the neoliberal Reagan Revolution was—following a bill Nixon signed in 1973 that opened the door—overturning laws in state-after-state that required both hospitals and health insurance companies to run as non-profits.

Reagan also, in 1983, ordered the DOJ, FTC, and SEC to essentially stop enforcing anti-trust laws dating back to the 1891 Sherman Act, resulting in the "Mergers & Acquisitions Mania" that characterized the 1980s and inspired the "greed is good" movie Wall Street starring Michael Douglas.

Health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturers all morphed from regional and competitive organizations into giant, monopolistic predators.

Their profits exploded and our lifespans collapsed. Every year now, they spread hundreds of millions of dollars around Washington DC and state capitols to prevent regulation and maintain the status quo.

We are, quite literally, the only country in the world with a corrupt Supreme Court that has legalized this kind of a vicious attack on its citizens by a bought-off political party and their morbidly rich donors.

The Republicans on the Supreme Court call it "free speech" but every other nation in the world knows it's simply naked, criminal, political bribery.


Le vs health exp 2020 version
Source: Our World in Data

As you can see above, the average American spends more than twice as much on healthcare every year as do the citizens of any other developed country in the world. And, as the Reagan Revolution really bit hard in the 1980s and 1990s, our average lifespans collapsed while corporate healthcare profits exploded.

And it's not just death by lack of healthcare that skews these statistics: if you're concerned about being murdered, it's also a good idea to avoid states run by conservatives. As the centrist Third Way think tank noted last month:

  • "In 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden.
  • "8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century."

It's true of Red cities as well. Again, from Third Way:

"For example, Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat [sic] mayor, despite their comparable populations.
"In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump."

And don't even think about having sex in Red states: they generally lead America in sexually transmitted diseases, presumably because most have outlawed teaching sex education in their public schools.

The five states with the highest rates of Chlamydia infections are Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and New Mexico. The highest rates of Gonorrhea are in Mississippi, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Speaking of schools, the states with the lowest educational attainment in the nation are entirely Red states. Ranked from terrible to absolutely worst, they are: Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Nevada, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

As giddy as Republicans are about "owning the libs," the citizens they govern pay a tragic price for the sport. They are literally dying as conservative politicians revel in their ability to cut taxes for the rich and suppress wages and healthcare for everybody else.

Republicans are about to take over the House of Representatives and begin their "investigations" into, well, anything that will distract from these terrible statistics. In the meantime, Americans, particularly those in Red states and counties, will continue to die at rates considered obscene by the standards of every other developed nation in the world.

Our next chance to put America back on track will be in two years, and we damn well better get ready.

Why we have the right-wing majority of the US Supreme Court to thank for GOP’s House takeover

Number of previously Democratic U.S. House seats Republicans captured in this year's midterm elections by drawing congressional districts rigged to their advantage, with the chamber now under GOP control while counting is still underway in some races more than a week after Election Day: more than 12

Year in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause, a case out of North Carolina, that partisan gerrymandering can't be challenged in the federal courts: 2019

Month in which the high court ruled in a redistricting case out of Alabama titled Merrill v. Milligan to suspend the Voting Rights Act's ban on racial gerrymandering, thereby freeing Republican lawmakers in that state and others including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas to draw maps that diminished Black voting power: 2/2022

Number of words the Supreme Court majority—which did not include dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts—offered to explain its decision to overturn the ruling of the lower court's three-judge panel, which had two Trump appointees: 0

As a consequence of Milligan, estimated number of congressional seats lost by Democrats this year: 7 to 10

In Florida, number of congressional seats the Republican Party picked up under a voting map ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) after he rejected a less extreme one drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature: 4

Year when Florida voters added an amendment to the state constitution to bar gerrymandering, which observers say DeSantis's congressional map likely violates: 2010

Month in which the Florida Supreme Court declined to rule DeSantis's gerrymandered voting map unconstitutional: 6/2022

Percent of the population that's Black in Florida's former 5th Congressional District, which had been represented by Black Democrat Al Lawson before the new map split it up and moved the parts into Republican districts: 46

The GOP's edge in Florida's congressional delegation under the previous congressional map: 16-11

The GOP's edge under DeSantis's map: 20-8

Date on which a federal court allowed a lawsuit challenging Florida's congressional map for diminishing Black power to move forward, though it removed DeSantis as a defendant by reasoning that governors do not directly enforce the map: 11/8/2022

The new congressional delegation party split in North Carolina, where court-ordered districts replaced a map drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature that was expected to yield a 10-4 GOP advantage : 7-7

New Republican majority on the previously Democratic-controlled North Carolina Supreme Court, which could result in a 10-4 map in 2024: 5-2

United Nations demands demilitarized zone around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as shelling continues

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency repeated a demand that the area surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine be established as a demilitarized zone on Sunday, after at least a dozen shells exploded at the plant.

Reports of the shellings were "extremely disturbing," Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement.

"Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable," said Grossi. "Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately. As I have said many times before, you're playing with fire!"

Russian forces have been occupying the plant and stationing military equipment there since March, following President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Strikes at the plant, which have been reported intermittently since the Russians seized the facility, have sparked fears of a nuclear accident, which experts say could spread radioactive material across Europe. So far no radiation leaks have been reported.

The Ukrainian state nuclear company, Energoatom, reported that Sunday morning's shelling damaged water storage tanks and a steam purge generator system.

All of the reactors at Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, have been shut down this year as a precaution, but previous shelling has damaged the plant's power supply, which could cause nuclear fuel to overheat.

"I'm not giving up until [a demilitarized] zone has become a reality," Grossi said Sunday. "As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever."

Ukrainian and Russian nuclear authorities each blamed the other side for the most recent strikes.

'Egregious': Tim Kaine rips decision to grant 'head-of state immunity' to MBS over Jamal Khashoggi murder

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine on Friday sharply criticized President Joe Biden's administration for claiming in a federal court filing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "enjoys head-of-state immunity" in a civil case brought by the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Virginia Democrat is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairs its subcommittee on human rights, and has been outspoken about the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, who lived in his state but disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

"I am deeply disappointed in the State Department's decision to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by the friends and family of Virginia resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi against Saudi defendants responsible for his gruesome execution," Kaine said. "President Biden has been very clear about this horrific crime. He declared in 2019: 'It was flat-out murder… We should treat it that way and there should be consequences.'"

Using the Saudi prime minister's nickname, the senator highlighted that "despite the U.S. intelligence community concluding that MBS approved the execution of Khashoggi, the Biden administration has imposed no direct consequences on the crown prince."

According to Kaine:

As disappointing as it is that the U.S. has been unwilling to hold MBS to account for the assassination of a U.S.-resident journalist, last night's announcement by the State Department is even more egregious. The case is a civil suit filed by the friends and family of Khashoggi in the hopes of acquiring even a modicum of justice from the Saudi defendants. The U.S. is not a party to the case. The Saudi defendants have full opportunity to defend their own actions in the federal proceedings.
The court offered the administration the option to express an opinion on the question of whether sovereign immunity doctrines protect MBS from the suit. The administration had no duty to take a proactive position and could have simply refrained from doing so. Instead, it has chosen to take the side of the party that our own intelligence agencies have concluded is responsible for the murder, and is standing against family members seeking recompense for this gross injustice.

"Why has the administration changed its view from the strong moral stance taken by the president in 2019?" Kaine asked. "Is the administration casting aside its confidence in its own intelligence community's judgment?"

"If the friends and family of Khashoggi are denied a path to accountability in the American court system, where in the world can they go?" he continued. "How can the U.S. look at any dictator in the world who is oppressing journalists and urge good behavior when we refuse to impose accountability for a shocking murder of an American-based journalist and even take affirmative steps to block efforts by the victim's friends and families to seek justice?"

Kaine was far from alone in expressing outrage over the State Department's decision. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancée, and human rights advocates around the world also condemned it.

Karen Attiah, who recruited the late journalist as a columnist for the Post, tweeted that "the Biden administration has failed all of us who fought for justice for Jamal Khashoggi. To shield the Crown Prince MBS from lawsuits is a disgusting betrayal."

"If you have enough money and power and are U.S. 'ally' you can get away with basically anything," she added. "And they release this news on a Thursday night before a major holiday weekend... as Twitter goes under. Cowards."

Bombshell report on right-wing influence on Supreme Court prompts calls for investigation

Advocates for court reform on Saturday called for Congress to investigate allegations that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito leaked a 2014 ruling to a right-wing donor, after The New York Times reported on the claim by a former leader of the pro-forced pregnancy movement.

Rev. Ron Schenck led an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization in 2014 when the court ruled on Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which allowed religious organizations to deny employees healthcare coverage for contraception.

The Times spent months investigating Schenck's claim—which he also detailed in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts in June—that Alito leaked the court's decision in the case to one of his top donors, three weeks before the ruling was publicly announced.

Schenck used his knowledge of the ruling to "prepare a public relations push," the Times reported, as well as telling the president of Hobby Lobby about it.

During his time as a crusader against abortion rights—an issue on which he's since changed his viewpoint—Schenck "recruited wealthy donors... encouraging them to invite some of the justices to meals, to their vacation homes, or to private clubs. He advised allies to contribute money to the Supreme Court Historical Society and then mingle with justices at its functions," reported the Times. "He ingratiated himself with court officials who could help give him access, records show."

Schenck sent a letter to Roberts in June—a month after the leak of a draft decision showing the court had voted to overturn Roe v. Wade—saying the information he gained about the Hobby Lobby ruling could be relevant to the court's inquiry into the recent leak. He told the Times he did not receive a response.

The story "strongly suggests Justice Alito leaked the 2014 opinion in Hobby Lobby, and describes a conspiracy by the far-right donor class to influence the Supreme Court Justices," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), calling for an investigation by the U.S. House.

Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, which advocates for the expansion of the court and has called for an ethics probe into right-wing Justice Clarence Thomas's alleged conflicts of interest, said the Senate Judiciary Committee "should immediately move to investigate the apparent leak by Justice Alito."

"The whistleblower in this report, Rev. Rob Schenck, should be called to testify about both the leak and the yearslong lobbying effort he once led to cultivate Alito and other Republican justices," he added.

"This bombshell report is the latest proof that the Republican justices on the court are little more than politicians in robes," said Fallon. "It's no wonder trust in the Court has hit a record low. Structural reform of the court, including strict new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever."

Jan. 6 panel created subcommittee for potential criminal referrals to DOJ

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has created a subcommittee to deal with "outstanding issues," including potential criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, the panel's chair confirmed Thursday.

Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told journalists at the Capitol that he established the subcommittee, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), "about a month ago."

The subcommittee's other members are Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the full panel's vice chair. Thompson noted that "they're all lawyers."

Raskin explained that "we're looking at potential referrals or criminal offenses and for civil offenses and for general lawlessness where it might not otherwise be obvious."

"We're looking at criminal and civil referrals for people who have broken the law and may have escaped scrutiny," added Raskin, who previously served as the lead manager for former President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment for inciting the Capitol attack with his "Big Lie" about the 2020 election.

Thompson said that "we need to have a decision as to what we do with the members who did not recognize the subpoenas. It's cleaning up every unfinished piece of work for the committee. And that part of it just fit better in some subcommittee. Let them come back and report, and we'll make a decision."

According to Axios, "Thompson said the panel will also look at how to respond to the DOJ's request for deposition transcripts and other information."

Trump announced his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, a day after he failed to comply with a subpoena from the select committee requiring him to appear for a deposition.

Thompson and Cheney said in a statement Monday that though the ex-president "initially suggested that he would testify before the committee, he has since filed a lawsuit asking the courts to protect him from giving testimony. His attorneys have made no attempt to negotiate an appearance of any sort, and his lawsuit parades out many of the same arguments that courts have rejected repeatedly over the last year."

"The truth is that Donald Trump, like several of his closest allies, is hiding from the select committee's investigation and refusing to do what more than a thousand other witnesses have done," they added. "Donald Trump orchestrated a scheme to overturn a presidential election and block the transfer of power. He is obligated to provide answers to the American people. In the days ahead, the committee will evaluate next steps in the litigation and regarding the former president's noncompliance."

The committee members voted unanimously to subpoena Trump at the end of the panel's last public hearing in October—an event that led New York University law professor Ryan Goodman to conclude, "I think they were trying to hand the Justice Department all the evidence on a silver platter."

Goodman was among former federal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other legal experts who on Thursday published a model prosecution memorandum laying out potential charges against Trump related to his handling of classified government documents since he left office.

Five congressional Republicans—Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Penn.), and Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), likely the next speaker of the House after the GOP won a majority in last week's midterms—have also ignored subpoenas from the select committee.

With Republicans set to take control of the House in January, the committee is on a tight deadline to conclude its work. Thompson told reporters Thursday that the panel is planning to release its final report next month.

"Our goal is to get it completed soon so we can get it to the printer," he said. "We plan to have our product out sometime in December."

Twitter in the edge of collapse as workers revolt against 'notorious union-buster' Elon Musk

Twitter workers reportedly quit by the hundreds Thursday after refusing to agree to billionaire CEO Elon Musk's demand that they work longer hours as part of his self-described "extremely hardcore" plan to overhaul the social media platform.

As a result, the company that Musk purchased for $44 billion just weeks ago is in chaos as the mass exodus of employees and the billionaire's earlier decision to fire roughly half of Twitter's workforce are threatening basic, day-to-day operations at the platform used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

"It's no coincidence that a notorious union-buster and flagrant violator of labor law is effectively running one of the most viable tools we have for union organizing into the ground," responded the AFL-CIO as news reports detailed the internal turmoil at the company as Musk and his advisers scrambled to stop key employees from quitting.

Citing people familiar with the rapidly deteriorating situation inside Twitter, The Washington Post reported that "the number of engineers tending to multiple critical systems had been reduced to two, one, or even zero."

"In an early sign that the number of those declining to sign was greater than anticipated, Musk eased off a return-to-office mandate he had issued a week ago, telling employees Thursday they would be allowed to work remotely if their managers assert they are making 'an excellent contribution,'" the Post added. "But it was too late to keep Twitter from a precarious position, several workers said."

One worker told the newspaper that "there is no longer even a skeleton crew manning the system," meaning the platform "will continue to coast until it runs into something, and then it will stop."

Corporate advertisers have also been rushing toward the exits, pushed by Musk's hasty revamp of the verification process—which enabled some embarrassing and revealing spoofs of large companies such as the pharma giant Eli Lilly and the weapons maker Lockheed Martin.

The apparently dire situation, brought on by Musk's haphazard and dictatorial management decisions, sparked a cascade of "RIP Twitter" posts on the platform as users—including journalists, lawmakers, prominent public figures, and ordinary people—wondered about the platform's immediate and long-term future.

"As a lot of freelancers have been saying, if Twitter goes down, our livelihoods suffer," tweeted labor journalist Kim Kelly. "Twitter is where I share my work, promote my book, connect with editors, sources, other journalists, workers, activists, and organizers. We all know no corporate media outlet is gonna hire me."

"One anti-worker, union-busting, sniveling, sack o' shit billionaire is casually torpedoing the livelihoods of thousands of precarious media workers in the name of 'free speech,'" Kelly wrote. "The media elite WILL BE FINE. Their platforms are safe. It's the rest of us who'll be hung out to dry."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has 13.5 million Twitter followers, connected the possible collapse of the platform to sky-high income and wealth inequality and policymakers' refusal to tackle it via higher taxes on billionaires like Musk.

"If only we had taxed the rich," the New York Democrat wrote, "maybe none of this would have happened."

Musk had given Twitter employees until 5:00 pm ET Thursday to accept his condition of longer work hours or leave the company and receive three months of severance pay. Hundreds of employees, including some in charge of important operations, appear to have chosen the latter.

"We are witnessing the real-time destruction of one of the world's most powerful communication systems," said Nicole Gill, co-founder and executive director of Accountable Tech, an advocacy group. "Elon Musk is an erratic billionaire who is dangerously unqualified to run this platform."

"Unless and until Musk can robustly enforce Twitter's existing community standards," Gill continued, "the platform is not safe for users or advertisers. Elon's 'hellscape' is already here."

The New York Times reported late Thursday that Musk and his top advisers "held meetings with some Twitter workers whom they deemed 'critical' to stop them from leaving" and "sent out confusing messages about the company's remote work policy, appearing to soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before warning their managers."

"Twitter later announced via email that it would close 'our office buildings' and disable employee badge access until Monday," the Times noted.

Musk, meanwhile, has continued making bizarre and flippant posts on the platform.

Jessica González, CEO of the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement Friday that "Musk has swiftly decimated Twitter's ability to maintain the platform's integrity, health, and safety."

"His reckless actions, including sacking most of his staff and compelling others to leave, have caused an explosion of hate speech, conspiracy theories, and fraud on the site," said González. "If there is one lesson that all social media platforms must take away from this debacle, it's that without protecting users from hate and lies, you have no company at all. Invest in the health and integrity of your platforms or risk extinction."

"Millions of people around the world rely on Twitter to challenge oppressive regimes, shed light on abuse and organize for justice," González added. "Minority groups that traditional media gatekeepers have kept from mainstream audiences have used Twitter to organize for a better world. That's why we'll continue to fight for a better Twitter, even as we aspire toward a non-exploitative platform that puts the public good over the hate-and-lie-for-profit model that animates every major social-media company."

'Morally deplorable': Biden admin recommends immunity for Mohammed bin Salman in Khashoggi Case

The Biden administration said in a U.S. federal court filing on Thursday that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be granted sovereign immunity in a civil case brought by the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a stance that human rights advocates condemned as a betrayal of the president's vow to hold the Saudi leader accountable.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in the new filing that the White House "has determined that Defendant bin Salman, as the sitting head of a foreign government, enjoys head-of-state immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts as a result of that office and is entitled to immunity from the court's jurisdiction of this suit while he holds that office."

"It's impossible to read the Biden administration's move today as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics."

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's fiancée, tweeted in response to the Justice Department's filing that "Jamal died again today."

While the Biden administration's intervention is non-binding, it will likely spell an end to the case, which sought "significant" monetary damages as well as "discovery from American law enforcement, intelligence, and administration officials to prove that the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi was ordered from the top of the Saudi leadership hierarchy."

Rights groups pointed out that while bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, has been the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia for years, his formal status as the country's prime minister—a position traditionally held by the king—was enshrined less than two months ago in what observers called an apparent scheme to ensure his immunity from legal action.

"It's impossible to read the Biden administration's move today as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics, including slashing oil output to twist our arms to recognize MBS' fake immunity ploy," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a group that Khashoggi founded.

"Rather than rewarding MBS with impunity for his merciless crimes, Biden should have stood up for American values and legal principles," Whitson added. "Whether or not MBS succeeds in worming out of this lawsuit, we will extract in discovery against his co-defendants every last bit of evidence about his role in this murders. Try as he might, he will not succeed in burying his crime."

A U.S. intelligence report released last year determined that MBS "approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill" Khashoggi, but the Biden administration has yet to take any steps to punish the crown prince directly despite U.S. President Joe Biden's campaign promise to make Saudi leaders "pay the price" for Khashoggi's murder.

Lina al-Hathloul, head of monitoring and communications for the advocacy group ALQST and the sister of Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, warned that the Biden administration's decision "will empower a regime that punishes its own citizens and U.S. citizens alike."

"Granting immunity is not only morally deplorable, but will also put the world on notice that America does not back up its words with action," al-Hathloul said.

In a letter accompanying the Justice Department's Thursday filing, State Department legal adviser Richard Visek insisted that the administration's position in the civil lawsuit against MBS and his co-conspirators has nothing to do with the "merits" of the legal challenge. Visek also reiterated the State Department's "unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

But the Biden administration was not required to express its view on whether MBS should be immune from legal action in U.S. courts. As DAWN noted in a press release, "Neither the Trump nor Biden administrations previously had agreed to Saudi government demands to suggest immunity for MBS in multiple lawsuits pending against him in the United States."

"The Biden administration's decision to suggest immunity for MBS in our lawsuit was an unnecessary, elective action that will serve only to undermine the most important action for accountability for Khashoggi's heinous murder," Whitson said. "It's beyond ironic that President Biden has single-handedly assured MBS can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable. Not even the Trump administration did this."

Khalid Aljabri, a U.S.-based doctor whose two siblings are currently political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, argued that "instead of siding with MBS and allowing him to manipulate the U.S. judicial system by title-washing his crimes, the Biden administration should have remained neutral and left it to the court to decide whether MBS deserves immunity or not."

"After breaking its pledge to punish MBS for Khashoggi's assassination," Aljabri continued, "the Biden administration has not only shielded MBS from accountability in U.S. courts, but has effectively issued him a license to kill more detractors and declared that he will never be held accountable.”

Elizabeth Warren calls on Democrats to 'do more for American families—not less'

During her keynote speech at an economic policy conference held Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on Democrats to step up their efforts to rein in corporate greed and create a better economy for working-class households, arguing that doing so is essential to defeating the increasingly anti-democratic GOP.

"The 2022 midterms prove that Democrats can beat Republican extremism by fighting for working people and making our democratic values clear," Warren (D-Mass.) said at EconCon Presents, a meeting co-hosted by Demos Action, Economic Policy Institute Action, Economic Security Project Action, Groundwork Action, Omidyar Network, and Roosevelt Forward.

"As we face the possibility of an extremist Republican House majority intent on creating economic chaos to usher Donald Trump back into office, we should remember: Democrats need to do more for American families—not less," she continued, speaking just a day after the former president announced his 2024 campaign.

Republicans officially won narrow control of the House on Wednesday, just days after Warren warned that GOP lawmakers hell-bent on winning the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming President Joe Biden for it unless Democrats use the current lame-duck session to abolish the U.S. debt ceiling—something conservative members of the party appear hesitant to do.

By retaining their Senate majority and losing just a handful of seats in the House, congressional Democrats vastly outperformed pundits' expectations and historical trends. But Warren wasn't surprised, telling conference participants that "lesson one from last week's midterms is that when Democrats fight for and deliver for working people, we win."

The lawmaker highlighted a few of the steps that congressional Democrats and the Biden administration took to improve the material circumstances of working people "without one single Republican to help us." Key achievements mentioned by Warren include the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), both passed through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

"Despite endless Republican attack ads designed to convince people otherwise, the evidence shows that, by and large, we got it right—the American Rescue Plan was popular," said the Massachusetts progressive. "It was also successful in saving the economy. It helped people survive the pandemic. And it helped us win elections."

"The IRA showed people Democrats were fighting to reduce costs," she continued. "And it helped us win elections."

Moreover, Biden's executive action canceling student loan debt—an attempt to provide financial relief to millions of working-class households that is currently being derailed by a GOP-led lawsuit and Trump-appointed judge—is one reason why "youth voter turnout last week was through the roof," she added.

There's plenty of evidence to back up Warren's contention that the Democratic Party's stronger-than-expected midterm performance happened because of their progressive economic policies—not in spite of them.

That includes exit polling conducted by Data for Progress, Groundwork Action, and Economic Security Project Action, which found that a majority of voters support Democratic policies to lower prices, including investing in domestic manufacturing and clean energy production, expanding social safety net programs, hiking taxes on corporations and holding them accountable for price gouging, and increasing Social Security benefits.

For more than a year between the passage of the American Rescue Plan and the IRA, however, "costs for families were rising, and a few Democrats blocked much of the president's agenda for working families," Warren said, alluding to Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and a handful of other corporate-backed party members.

"They torpedoed the president's plan to reverse the Trump tax giveaways," said Warren. "They blocked proposals to cut skyrocketing housing and child care costs. They thwarted efforts to fight corruption, end gerrymandering, defend democracy, and protect abortion rights."

"We got a lot done for American families," she continued. "But we could have done a lot more to show those families that we're on their side."

"If Democrats had delivered more of the things that touch people's lives—things like child care and housing—we could have picked up the additional votes we needed to hold the House and expand our Senate lead," she added. "Think what that would mean: We would be drafting legislation to get more help to American families instead of confronting a potential House Republican majority intent on creating economic chaos."

According to Warren: "Our performance in the midterms wasn't judged solely by what we did or didn't get done. It was also judged by our willingness to fight for the families who sent us to Washington."

She praised Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, in particular, for vowing to take on the CEOs who repeatedly admitted "they were boosting their profit margins on the backs of consumers," which meant ignoring the "Beltway commentators [who] rolled their eyes at the idea that Democrats ought to talk about" corporate profiteering.

"Candidates up and down the ticket called out price gouging, from Big Oil to grocery chains—and they won," said Warren. "Democrats also talked about what's at stake for our rights. They talked about our democracy. They talked about abortion. And they won."

Another key takeaway from the 2022 midterms, said Warren, is that "voters expect us to fight for them."

"They understand we can't solve every problem in two years," she acknowledged, "but they want to see us giving it all we've got. And if we get a little bloody, at least no one doubts where we stand."

Warren's message that Democrats should pursue downwardly redistributive policies more aggressively after losing control of the House echoes advice shared earlier this week by the economic justice group Fight Corporate Monopolies, which outlined popular measures that lawmakers can enact to improve the lives of ordinary people, or at least that Democrats can fight for to show voters who is on their side.

With Democrats in charge of the Senate and White House, "Republicans will try to impose economic pain on families so they can blame us and seize power for themselves," Warren noted. "The incoming GOP [House] majority represents a dangerous new force in American politics. Like their predecessors, they are openly hostile to voting rights, civil rights, abortion rights, and human rights."

"But these Republicans pose a new kind of threat," she continued, adding:

They have new members who were last in Washington alongside a mob that decided to storm the Capitol on January 6. Their ranks are now stacked with election deniers who have only one goal: install Donald Trump as president in 2024. These Republicans will use any tool they think might work to hurt working families—cut taxes for their wealthy donors, gut Medicare and Social Security, starve public schools and healthcare providers, and block any efforts to lift children out of poverty. They will use thinly disguised appeals to racism and xenophobia. Above all, Republicans will eagerly sow economic chaos so they can turn around and blame Democrats for economic chaos—all in service to moving Donald Trump a few inches closer to the White House. If Democrats let ourselves be bullied by Republican hostage-taking, we will hurt the families we came here to help. And, for good measure, we'll be voted out of office in 2024.

"Capitulating to extremists is not only wrong, it's a losing strategy," Warren stressed. "If ever there was a time for Democrats to grow a spine, this is it."

To avoid being bullied by House Republicans, Warren implored Democrats to "do everything we can in the lame-duck session to prepare for the chaos that is coming," insisting once again on the need to "eliminate the debt ceiling now."

She also urged Democrats to "go on offense" and "tell our own economic story." She provided a list of talking points:

  • Republicans are the party that brought us the 2008 financial crash;
  • Republicans are the party that ran up the deficit with $2 trillion in tax cuts for billionaires and billionaire corporations;
  • Republicans are the party that is actively working to cut Social Security and Medicare;
  • Republicans are the party that wants to leave millions of people shackled with student loan debt forever; and
  • Republicans are the party that doesn't want Medicare to negotiate prescription drugs and doesn't want the government to end corporate price gouging and doesn't want to make billionaire corporations pay a minimum tax.

"Listen to that list," said Warren. "There shouldn't be a single voter in the country who trusts Republicans on the economy. And, if we get out there and make our case, there won't be a single voter who trusts the Republicans on the economy."

"We need to start fighting back now," Warren added. "Where we can pursue legislative action to help working families, we should fight aggressively. When Republicans try to obstruct and the president can act by executive authority, he must do so."

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."

'This is positively dystopian': Florida judge strikes down censorship law championed by Ron DeSantis

In an order that begins by quoting the famous opening line of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, a federal judge on Thursday blocked key provisions of a Florida censorship law that aimed to restrict how state university professors teach race, gender, and U.S. history.

"'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,' and the powers in charge of Florida's public university system have declared the state has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of 'freedom,'" Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, an Obama appointee, wrote in his scathing decision, which temporarily halts enforcement of parts of the law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—a possible 2024 presidential candidate.

"To confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be, the state of Florida passed the so-called 'Stop WOKE Act in 2022—redubbed (in line with the state's doublespeak) the 'Individual Freedom Act,'" Walker continued. "The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this act, professors enjoy 'academic freedom' so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian."

The Thursday decision, which concludes that the GOP law violates the First Amendment rights of public university faculty and students, marks the second time Walker has ruled against the "Stop WOKE Act" in recent months. In August, the judge blocked the part of the law pertaining to private businesses.

Adriana Novoa, a University of South Florida history professor and a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement that Walker's Thursday ruling is a win "for the institutions of this country."

"I hope that the courts will defend the existence of a public education that cannot be manipulated by politicians to push any ideology, now and in the future," Novoa added.

Part of a recent wave of censorship laws advanced by Republicans in Florida and across the U.S., the "Stop WOKE Act" was billed as an attempt to "give businesses, employees, children, and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination."

But civil liberties groups and other critics of the law have argued it is both unjustifiable and exceedingly vague in its mandates, creating a chilling effect on educators as they attempt to teach their classes under the threat of state retaliation.

Emily Anderson, an assistant professor of International Relations and Intercultural Education at Florida International University, told the Miami Herald in August that "these policies have really led to increased efforts to silence and surveil academic speech."

"Academic speech matters, because it's a fundamental freedom that is really how our university system is grounded," said Anderson. "When we have policies that threaten speech, in my view, it shadows threats to all other protected rights."

In his ruling, Walker points to the eight specific concepts outlawed that are under the measure, including the notion that "such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, national origin, or sex to oppress members of another race, color, national origin, or sex."

"Despite [Florida officials'] insistence that the professor plaintiffs' proposed viewpoints must serve as a mirror image for each prohibited viewpoint, the proposed speech needs only to arguably run afoul of the prohibition," Walker wrote.

Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)—which sued Florida officials over the censorship law—said that "faculty members are hired to offer opinions from their academic expertise—not toe the party line."

"Florida's argument that faculty members have no First Amendment rights would have imperiled faculty members across the political spectrum," said Steinbaugh.

Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement that Walker's ruling "is a huge victory for everyone who values academic freedom and recognizes the value of inclusive education."

"The First Amendment broadly protects our right to share information and ideas, and this includes educators' and students' right to learn, discuss, and debate systemic racism and sexism," Sykes added.

'How democracy gets corroded': Right-wing group receives 2 dark money donations of $425 million

The right-wing dark money organization DonorsTrust was the beneficiary of two anonymous contributions of around $425 million each last year, according to a tax filing obtained by Politico, which described the gifts as "among the largest ever donations to a politically-connected group."

Politico reported Wednesday that DonorsTrust, a longtime funder of right-wing causes that describes itself as a defender of "free-market ideals," disclosed just three financial gifts in 2021.

"One contribution was listed for $427 million, and another for about $77 million," the outlet found. "The third donation was worth roughly $426 million—but not in cash. DonorsTrust noted that on December 30, 2021, it received hundreds of millions in 'closely held common stock in a C-corporation.' It did not provide greater details on the identity of that investment."

Dark money has become an increasingly pervasive force in U.S. politics in recent years, with big donors taking advantage of porous campaign finance laws and Supreme Court rulings that have opened the floodgates to untraceable political cash. In the decade that followed the Supreme Court's notorious 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, groups not required to reveal their donors dumped $1 billion into U.S. elections.

The 2022 midterms saw that trend accelerate: outside organizations, many of which are allowed under federal law to keep their donors hidden from the public, spent $1.6 billion this cycle alone to boost candidates across the country. Around $1 billion of that cash aimed to bolster Republican Senate hopefuls.

In response to Politico's reporting, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a trenchant critic of dark money's influence on the U.S. political system and judiciary, wrote on social media, "This is how democracy gets corroded by secret special influence—in roughly half-billion-dollar slugs."

"Who was it, and what did they buy?" Whitehouse asked. "Let me make a guess: the money was fossil fuel-related, and will buy continued Republican obstruction of obviously necessary climate measures. That's the pattern."

Whitehouse's guess may not be far off, given DonorsTrust's record. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) points out that the Koch network, a major booster of fossil fuels and climate denial, has "made significant contributions to DonorsTrust through their foundation called the Knowledge and Progress Fund."

"DonorsTrust promises to only funnel money to groups with an extreme anti-environmental bent," CMD adds.

According to Politico, DonorsTrust used the massive donations it received last year to "support a vast network" of conservative initiatives, "including a $17.1 million gift it made to The 85 Fund, a group founded by a major engine of the conservative movement: Leonard Leo."

The co-chairman and former executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leo has been instrumental in the right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court, and The New York Times reported last month that he is seeking to broaden his influence.

"His expanded effort focuses on a variety of causes," the Times observed, "including restricting abortion rights in the states; ending affirmative action; defending religious groups accused of discriminating against LGBTQ people; opposing what he sees as liberal policies being espoused by corporations and schools; electing Republicans; and fighting Democratic efforts to slow climate change, increase the transparency of money in politics, and expand voting access."

Leo, who controls a dark money organization called the Marble Freedom Trust, was also at the center of a massive—and likely unprecedented—donation that the Times, ProPublica, and The Lever reported in August.

Barre Seid, a Chicago business magnate with a long history of supporting right-wing groups that attack climate science, gave the Marble Freedom Trust $1.6 billion via "a series of opaque transactions over the past two years," ProPublica and The Lever noted.

'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 House Democrat is leading the charge to bar Donald Trump from ever being president again

As former President Donald Trump prepared to announce his 2024 presidential campaign Tuesday, Rep. David Cicilline was circulating a letter to his fellow Democratic lawmakers calling on them to support legislation that would bar Trump from running, citing his involvement in the January 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Lawmakers have until Thursday at noon to sign on as original co-sponsors of the legislation, which states that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars anyone from holding public office if they, "having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States... to support the Constitution of the United States... engaged in insurrection of rebellion against the same."

Trump "forfeited his right to ever hold federal office again for leading an insurrection against the United States," the Rhode Island Democrat wrote in the Dear Colleague letter. "This language in our Constitution clearly intended to bar insurrectionists from holding high office in the United States."

Cicilline noted that hearings held by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol earlier this year demonstrated that Trump "engaged in insurrection on January 6 with the intention of overturning the lawful 2020 election results."

The committee presented evidence showing that Trump planned for thousands of his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol where lawmakers were voting on the certification of the presidential election, and that he sought to make the march to the Capitol seem spontaneous. It also showed that he watched the chaos unfolding at the Capitol on television and refused to stop the attack, which was linked to several deaths.

Cicilline's plan to introduce legislation barring Trump from holding public office follows a letter sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to the former president earlier this month, in which the watchdog said it would pursue his disqualification "under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on your engaging in the insurrection."

"We warned him that should he decide to run again, we would be taking action to ensure the Constitution's ban on insurrectionists holding office is enforced," said CREW in a statement after Trump's announcement on Tuesday. "Now we will be. Trump made a mockery of the Constitution he swore to defend, but we will see that it is defended."

Also on Tuesday night, Free Speech for the People (FSFP) and Mi Familia Vota launched a campaign calling on secretaries of state across the U.S. to "follow the mandate of [Amendment] 14.3 and bar Trump from the ballot."

John Bonifaz, president of FSFP, thanked Cicilline for leading the push in Congress to block Trump from running, noting that "even without this legislation," state election officials are bound by law to uphold the 14th Amendment.

"Donald Trump's words and actions incited a violent riot on our nation's capital," said Héctor Sánchez Barba, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, before urging Americans to sign a petition urging officials "to uphold this critical provision."

13 Senate Democrats join Republicans to end COVID-19 emergency and kick millions off Medicaid

Thirteen members of the Senate Democratic caucus—including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer—joined Republicans on Tuesday in approving a resolution that would terminate the national emergency declaration for Covid-19, a move that would kick millions of people off Medicaid as experts warn of a winter infection and hospitalization surge.

While the White House said Tuesday that President Joe Biden will veto the resolution if it passes the House and reaches his desk, the Senate vote sparked outrage among public health experts and others who stressed the far-reaching implications of the resolution.

"This is appalling," tweeted Dr. Lucky Tran, a scientist and public health advocate. "This will affect the cost of vaccines, tests, and treatments, restrict access to Medicaid and telehealth, and restart student loan payments."

"Ending the Covid-19 Emergency Declaration will be disastrous for millions of Americans who are struggling to access healthcare, make rent, and pay off their student loans," Tran added.

Joining Schumer in voting for the resolution were Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Catherine Marie Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

Every Senate Republican with the exception of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)—who did not vote—also backed the resolution, which was put forth by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).

In a statement

✎ EditSign on Tuesday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned that enactment of the resolution would "unnecessarily and abruptly curtail the ability of the administration to respond to Covid-19."

"Preserving our ability to respond is more important than ever as we head into the winter, when respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19 typically spread more easily," the OMB said. "Strengthened by the ongoing declaration of national emergency, the federal response to Covid-19 continues to save lives, improve health outcomes, and support the American economy. Action by Congress to end these authorities abruptly and prematurely would be a reckless and costly mistake."

"If Congress passes this resolution," the agency added, "the president will veto it."

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a measure that Congress approved in 2020, loosened Medicaid eligibility requirements and restricted states from removing people from the program for the duration of the national emergency, which is currently set to expire in January.

The legislation's continuous coverage mandate allowed millions of people to obtain and keep health insurance as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy, throwing people out of work and off their employer-sponsored plans.

In a report released in August, the Biden Health and Human Services Department estimated that around 15 million people—including millions of kids—could lose Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage once the public health emergency declaration ends.

Advocates have also warned that millions of people across the U.S. could see their food benefits cut substantially once the Covid-19 emergency declaration ends.

"The U.S. must be ready to ensure that it does not jeopardize the health and food needs of households across the country," a trio of experts wrote in a STAT op-ed last month. "Urgent action by healthcare systems, community organizations, and all levels of government will be necessary to stabilize health and food security among those at greatest risk."

"While vaccines and treatments lessen the life-altering threat of Covid-19," they added, "it is important not to lose sight of the imminent danger to health posed by the expiration of effective expansions of Medicaid and SNAP."

'Unfortunate accident': Polish president says missile that killed two likely fired by Ukraine

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday said the missile that killed two people in Poland the previous day was likely fired by Ukrainian defense forces as they attempted to respond to a massive barrage of Russian airstrikes.

"Ukraine's defense was launching their missiles in various directions and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory," Duda said. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed that assessment at a press conference Wednesday following an emergency meeting of alliance ambassadors.

"Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks," Stoltenberg told reporters. "But let me be clear: this is not Ukraine's fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine."

The latest findings from NATO and Polish officials contradict the earlier claim by an unnamed U.S. intelligence official that the missile, which landed in a Polish village about four miles from the Ukrainian border, was fired by Russia—an assertion that on Tuesday intensified fears of a devastating escalation of the war.

Speaking to reporters at the G20 summit in Indonesia ahead of the emergency NATO meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden said late Tuesday that it is "unlikely" that the missile "was fired from Russia."

Foreign policy analysts and peace advocates have warned for months that the longer Russia's war on Ukraine lasts, the greater the chance that it will spread beyond Ukraine's borders and potentially spark a full-blown conflict between Russia and NATO.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, wrote in a column for The Washington Post on Tuesday that "the stakes are too high for us to sit idly by as the catastrophe spreads and the costs—and the risks—keep growing."

"It might be time to give diplomacy a chance in the Ukraine war," vanden Heuvel argued, citing recent comments by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a speech earlier this month, Milley offered U.S. casualty estimates for the war and said that "when there's an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved: seize the moment."

Vanden Heuvel emphasized that Milley is hardly "a peace activist or a squishy liberal" and suggested his comments signal a potential shift in the Biden administration's approach to the war.

"Despite public disavowals, the White House has tentatively been opening the door to negotiations," vanden Heuvel pointing to reports that Biden administration officials have privately urged Ukraine's leaders to show a willingness to engage in peace talks with Russia.

Trita Parsi of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft argued in an MSNBC column on Tuesday that the Biden White House is "right to pivot toward diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine war."

"Recent reporting has revealed that national security adviser Jake Sullivan earlier this month started discussions with Ukraine on ending the conflict while nudging Kyiv to show greater openness to diplomacy," Parsi observed. "Ukraine 'must show its willingness to end the war reasonably and peacefully,' U.S. officials reportedly relayed to Kyiv."

"As a direct result of Sullivan's efforts," Parsi added, "President Volodymyr Zelenskyy outlined five conditions for negotiations last week that no longer included the non-starter demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin be out of power before talks can take place."

'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."

Renewed calls to impeach Clarence Thomas after latest ruling on Jan. 6: 'It’s absurd he did not recuse'

A long-standing call for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to face impeachment proceedings was renewed Monday after the right-wing judge indicated in an unsigned dissent that he would have blocked enforcement of the House January 6 panel's subpoena for the communications records of Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward.

The House committee investigating the deadly January 6 insurrection "is seeking Ward's records related to her role in former President Donald Trump's effort to steal the 2020 election as a fake elector casting ballots in the Electoral College for Trump," HuffPost reported.

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for the panel to obtain Ward's phone records, rejecting the Arizona GOP chair's appeal. Right-wing Justice Samuel Alito joined Thomas in dissenting.

This marked the second time Thomas has tried to hinder the committee's probe of the Trump-led effort to remain in office despite his 2020 election loss—a plot in which Thomas' wife, right-wing activist Ginni Thomas, played a major role.

Thomas in January was the only justice to vote against the release of White House records to the panel. Two months later, text messages between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas showed that she had been in communication with Trump's team about efforts to overturn President Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Weeks later, it was revealed that Ginni Thomas had lobbied Republican lawmakers in Arizona and other states to reject Biden's electors and appoint fake ones who would support Trump. Since late March, congressional Democrats have called on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself, resign, or be impeached for apparently trying to shield his wife's anti-democratic political activities from scrutiny.

"His wife, Ginni Thomas, pressured Arizona officials to illegally overturn Trump's loss," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based watchdog, noted Monday. "It's absurd that Thomas did not recuse."

"Justice Thomas must face an impeachment inquiry," the pro-democracy advocacy group Free Speech for People tweeted.

A petition calling for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures since details about Ginni Thomas' direct participation in Trump's failed coup were first made public.

Trump accused of 'brazen' campaign finance violation a day before expected 2024 launch

A day ahead of his expected 2024 announcement, former President Donald Trump on Monday was hit with a campaign finance complaint that accuses him of unlawfully transferring a "colossal sum" of money from his leadership PAC to a super PAC that spent millions on this year's midterms—and is positioned to spend millions more on Trump's presidential bid.

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the watchdog organization that filed the complaint, alleges that Trump "directed the transfer" of $20 million last month from the cash-flush leadership PAC Save America to Make America Great Again, Inc., which dumped nearly $12 million into the midterm elections to boost Trump-friendly candidates.

MAGA, Inc., thanks to its status as a super PAC, is legally able to spend unlimited sums to support or oppose political campaigns.

CLC said the $20 million transfer, disclosed in a recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing, amounts to a "brazen attempt to circumvent the fundraising restrictions that apply to federal candidates, which are crucial to preventing corruption and its appearance."

Specifically, CLC's complaint argues that the move violates Federal Election Campaign Act provisions barring candidates and officeholders from spending unregulated "soft money" on federal elections.

"Because Trump was a federal candidate when his leadership PAC contributed $20 million to a super PAC that was actively spending in the 2022 midterms and is poised to spend again in the 2024 cycle, he and Save America blatantly violated soft money prohibitions," CLC noted in a press release.

Trevor Potter, CLC's president, said in a statement that "when federal candidates evade campaign finance laws designed to maintain transparency and combat corruption, they undermine our election system and damage voter trust."

"Former President Trump made it clear months ago, through his statements and actions, that he was running for president again in 2024—long before his leadership PAC, Save America, gave $20 million to a super PAC that then spent over $11 million on the 2022 midterms," said Potter. "By injecting this 'soft money' into a federal election, Trump violated the law, and the FEC must act."

According to OpenSecrets, the Save America PAC has raised more than $107 million and spent more than $68 million since its inception in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

In a blog post on Monday, CLC's Saurav Ghosh noted that "recent developments appear to indicate that the remaining $39 million of Save America's funds will be used as a war chest for Trump's 2024 presidential campaign."

"To date, MAGA Inc. has spent over $11.9 million on independent expenditures to help elect Trump-backed candidates around the country," Ghosh wrote. "The problem is that Save America's contribution [to MAGA Inc.], along with MAGA Inc. spending the money to influence the 2022 midterms, violated federal law and injected a huge amount of soft money into our federal elections."

"Trump was already a federal candidate when Save America gave MAGA Inc. the $20 million, far more the $5,000 per year that a leadership PAC like Save America can legally contribute to another committee," Ghosh added. "Trump's public statements show that by early 2022, he had decided to run for president and was simply delaying announcing that decision to avoid the campaign finance rules applicable to federal candidates. And he has clearly raised and spent far more than $5,000 through Save America to advance his candidacy."

CLC is hardly alone in raising alarm about Trump's campaign finance activity ahead of the official launch of his 2024 White House bid.

Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance lawyer and deputy executive director of the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation, told The Daily Beast late last month that "the only thing Trump cannot do with the millions and millions of dollars he's raised into his leadership PAC is support himself."

Thus, Ryan said, "the only plausible explanation" for the transfer from Save America to MAGA, Inc. "is to convert that money to be spent on his own campaign."

"Moving the money suggests he wants to spend it on himself," Ryan added. "It's illegal, but that seems to be the motivation and he will likely get away with it."

'Not yet defeated': Thousands march outside UN climate summit

Hundreds of people rallied Saturday at the United Nations COP27 summit in Egypt to demand the fundamental political-economic transformations required to achieve climate justice.

"There can be no climate justice without human rights," declared the COP27 Coalition, an alliance of progressive advocacy groups that planned the protest as part of its push for "an urgent response from governments to the multiple, systemic crises" facing people around the world. "We are not yet defeated!"

"We march today as part of the global day of action," Janet Kachinga, spokesperson for the COP27 Coalition, said in a statement. "Solidarity is the cornerstone of climate justice."

"We are marching inside the U.N. space to highlight that our movements are unable to march freely on the streets of Egypt," said Kachinga.

Ahead of COP27, human rights groups denounced Egypt's repression of dissidents, including hunger-striking political prisoner Alaa Abd El Fattah. Since the conference began last week in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egyptian officials have been accused of spying on and otherwise intimidating participants.

"We refuse to greenwash the Egyptian government's denial of the right to freedom of association, assembly, and speech by marching in a government-controlled march in the streets of Sharm El-Sheikh," Kachinga continued.

Instead, from inside a designated Blue Zone governed by U.N. rules, activists sought "to lift up the voices and demands of all our frontline communities and movements facing repression because they dream of a better world," said Kachinga.

"We are at a crossroads of overlapping crises and governments are not on track to stop the worst of the climate crisis," said Kachinga. "COP27 needs to be a turning point for the climate crisis, and not a moment to silence people."

The U.N. recently published a series of reports warning that as a result of woefully inadequate emissions reductions targets and policies, there is "no credible path to 1.5°C in place," and only "urgent system-wide transformation" can prevent temperatures from rising a cataclysmic 3°C by century's end.

According to the latest data, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—the three main heat-trapping gases fueling global warming—hit an all-time high in 2021, and greenhouse gas emissions have only continued to climb this year.

Despite overwhelming evidence that new fossil fuel projects will lead to deadly climate chaos, oil and gas corporations are still planning to expand dirty energy production in the coming years, including in Africa.

"The call for greater oil and gas production is completely out of step with climate science," Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said Friday in a statement. "Presented as a necessity for development, new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure would instead simply lock a new generation into these dirty fuels, at a time when clean energy is viable and ready to be scaled."

"The rightful need of people in low- and middle-income countries for access to energy—for clean cooking, for healthcare, for education, for jobs, and many other key determinants of health—must not bring with it the health costs associated with fossil fuels," Miller added. "It is vital that high-income countries provide financial support for the transition in low- and middle-income countries."

Among the key demands of the COP27 Coalition is that the rich nations most responsible for causing the climate crisis "fulfill their obligations and fair shares by reducing their emissions to zero and providing poorer nations the scale of financial support needed to address the crisis."

The coalition argues that "repayment should include adaptation, loss and damage, technology transfer, and factor in debt cancellation for vulnerable countries [that] have been impoverished while dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis."

A recent U.N.-backed report estimates that poor nations will need a combined total of $2.4 trillion per year by 2030 to fight the climate emergency—including funding for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.

A separate analysis from Carbon Brief reveals the extent of wealthy countries' failures to mobilize far smaller sums of money to support sustainable development and enable equitable responses to escalating extreme weather disasters.

Since the COP15 meeting in 2009, developing countries have been promised that rich nations would provide at least $100 billion in climate aid each year by 2020. However, just over $83 billion was delivered in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. The Global North is not expected to hit its annual target, widely regarded as insufficient, until 2023.

The U.S. is most responsible for the shortfall, providing less than $8 billion toward the $100 billion figure in 2020. That constitutes a mere 19% of the country's approximately $40 billion "fair share," or what it should be paying based on its cumulative contribution to global greenhouse gas pollution.

U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to allocate $11.4 billion per year toward international green finance by 2024—less than 2% of the annual Pentagon budget and still far less than Washington's fair share—but congressional lawmakers approved just $1 billion in a $1.5 trillion spending bill passed earlier this year.

When it comes to the U.N.-backed loss and damage fund, just a handful of high-polluting countries have pledged a combined total of around $250 million so far, a tiny fraction of the $31.8 trillion that the world's 20 wealthiest economies collectively owe the Global South, according to the Climate Clock, a recently unveiled display at COP27.

"The science of climate breakdown has never been clearer, and seeing the suffering of my fellow Africans facing drought and famine, the impacts have never been more painful," said Mohamed Adow, a representative of the COP27 Coalition.

"It's no wonder that people are rising up across the world to make their voices heard that they will not stand for inaction from their leaders," Adow continued. "Unless more urgency is shown, marches will only be the start."

"Today we rise as a people, despite the restrictions, to demand our collective rights to a livable future," said environmental justice champion Nnimmo Bassey. "We demand payment of the climate debt accumulated by centuries of dispossession, oppression, and destruction."

"We need a COP led by the people and not polluters," Bassey continued, alluding to the massive presence of fossil fuel lobbyists at the meeting. "One that rejects ecocidal, neocolonial false solutions that will widen the emissions gap, burn Africa and sink small island states, and further entrench environmental racism and climate injustice!"

'Take some ownership': AOC hits back after defeated DCCC chair lashes out

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday evening rebuked outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who had earlier claimed in an interview with The New York Times that the progressive congresswoman contributed little to campaign efforts and suggested her policy priorities—several of them popular with Democratic voters—are harming the party.

Ocasio-Cortez has spoken at length to both the Times and The Intercept since Tuesday's midterm elections about progressive politics and the Democratic Party, taking aim at what she called a "calcified political machine" in her home state and blaming decisions by New York State Democratic Committee chair Jay Jacobs and the "infrastructure" built by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the party's losses in New York.

Republicans flipped four U.S. House seats in the state and now represent 10 of New York's 26 congressional districts.

The congresswoman, who easily won her own race with more than 70% of the vote, noted that the Republican Party poured millions of dollars into defeating a state ballot initiative which would have protected a district map that was favorable to Democrats.

"The New York State Democratic Party didn't drop $1 in making sure that we got this thing passed," Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept on Wednesday.

Maloney sparked outrage on the left this year when he announced he would run in New York's 17th District instead of the 18th, which he has represented since 2013, ousting progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Speaking to the Times on Thursday, Maloney brushed off the notion that redistricting hurt the party and suggested suburban voters in the state, like those in the district he narrowly lost in the Hudson Valley, are turning against the party due to Republicans' messaging on crime rates and are rejecting progressive policy proposals.

"You have these suburban voters who are experiencing those messages coming out of New York City outlets, which were heavily focused on crime," Maloney told the Times. "There are other voices who should be heard, especially when suburban voters have clearly rejected the ideas that [Ocasio-Cortez]'s most associated with, from defunding the police on down."

The congressman also accused Ocasio-Cortez of offering little help to her fellow candidates while claiming that funding she did offer wasn't wanted by other Democrats:

I didn't see her one minute of these midterms helping our House majority... She had almost nothing to do with what turned out to be an historic defense of our majority. Didn't pay a dollar of dues. Didn't do anything for our frontline candidates except give them money when they didn't want it from her...

She's an important voice in our politics. But when it comes to passing our agenda through the Congress, or standing our ground on the political battlefield, she was nowhere to be found.

Ocasio-Cortez took to social media to respond, noting that she campaigned for Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in late October and saying Maloney had reached out to her regarding fundraising for House candidates.

She added that many members were happy to receive "early financial support to position themselves early" in the election cycle, and called on the corporate-backed wing of the party to "take some ownership" for rejecting more help from progressives.

At The Intercept, Ocasio-Cortez expanded on progressive Democrats' support for policies that are popular with crucial factions of the party's voter base, and the "moderate" wing's rejection of those issues, comparing Rep. Tim Ryan—a vocal opponent of President Joe Biden's student debt relief plan who lost a U.S. Senate race in Ohio—with Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a progressive who won the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey:

I do hope that there is a reflection on being outwardly antagonistic towards a very enthused progressive base, especially one in which young people delivered these wins. If you look at the difference between Tim Ryan and John Fetterman, as races, some of the preliminary data is suggesting that they had the same turnout in almost every demographic except young people. And as we know, young people skew way progressive within the party. And so when you outwardly antagonize, and outwardly seek to belittle and distance oneself from progressive values, you demoralize your base.

"It's not to say that everybody has to be holding the same line on progressive causes dependent on their community," Ocasio-Cortez added "But it doesn't—I do think that this is a signal that being outwardly antagonistic, including trying to defeat progressive candidates, trying to demoralize those bases, is not healthy for the prospect of democratic gains."

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."

BRAND NEW STORIES
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.