Common Dreams

Justice Amy Coney Barrett called on to recuse in big dark money case

Three Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday urged U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from a pending case revolving around the nonprofit arm of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded political advocacy group that spent heavily to ensure Barrett's confirmation to the bench last October.

In a letter (pdf) to Barrett, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) argue that Americans for Prosperity's big spending campaign in support of the newest justice's confirmation casts serious doubt on whether she can be impartial in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) is seeking to strike down a California law that requires certain nonprofit groups to disclose their major donors to the state attorney general's office. In March 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the California law on the grounds that it "serves an important governmental interest," prompting AFPF to take its case to the high court, which agreed to hear the challenge earlier this year.

With oral arguments set to begin on April 26, Whitehouse, Blumenthal, and Johnson call on Barrett to "consider seriously and address publicly the question of recusal in this case" given Americans for Prosperity's "full-scale campaign" in favor of her confirmation last year. The Democratic lawmakers argue that "there is no reasonable difference" between AFPF and Americans for Prosperity.

"The American people are alarmed about the seemingly dominant influence of special interests on our politics and government," the lawmakers write. "Our judiciary is a target of this massive influence apparatus. Now, in AFPF, the court takes up an important case that squarely implicates the power of big special interests to exercise their influence from behind veils of secrecy."

In an amicus brief (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court last month, Whitehouse and 14 other Democratic senators warned that a ruling in AFPF's favor would allow "dark-money contributors to secure broad constitutional protection of their anonymous influence, so they can attack any and all disclosure requirements in other contexts—a 'moon shot' to lock in dark money's hold on our politics and policymaking, possibly forever."

"The flotilla of anonymously funded and largely industry-aligned nonprofit organizations filing amicus briefs in support of [AFPF] should set off alarm bells that something bigger than California's tax disclosure law is at issue," the senators write. "The dots are not hard to connect. The bigger prize being sought is blanket constitutional protection of dark money and secret influence."

Vox's Ian Millhiser echoed that warning over the weekend, writing that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court's ruling "could allow political groups to operate with far more secrecy, allowing wealthy donors to shape American politics in the shadows."

Biden's bait and switch in Afghanistan

On Thursday, April 15, the New York Times posted an article headed, "How the U.S. Plans to Fight From Afar After Troops Exit Afghanistan," just in case anyone misunderstood the previous day's headline, "Biden, Setting Afghanistan Withdrawal, Says 'It Is Time to End the Forever War'" as indicating the U.S. war in Afghanistan might actually come to an end on September 11, 2021, almost 20 years after it started.

We saw this bait and switch tactic before in President Biden's earlier announcement about ending U.S support for the long, miserable war in Yemen. In his first major foreign policy address, on February 4, President Biden announced "we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen," the war waged by Saudi Arabia and its allies since 2015, the war he called "a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden declared "This war has to end."

As with last week's announcement that the U.S. war in Afghanistan would end, "clarification" came the following day. On February 5th, the Biden administration dispelled the impression that the U.S. was getting out of the business of killing Yemenis completely and the State Department issued a statement, saying "Importantly, this does not apply to offensive operations against either ISIS or AQAP." In other words, whatever happens in regard to the war waged by the Saudis, the war that the U.S. has been waging in Yemen since 2002, under the guise of the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by congress authorizing the use of the U.S. Armed Forces against those responsible for the September 11 attacks, will continue indefinitely, despite the fact that neither ISIS nor Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula existed in 2001. These other "offensive operations" by the U.S. that will continue unabated in Yemen include drone strikes, cruise missile attacks and special forces raids.

While what President Biden actually said regarding the war in Afghanistan last week was "We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat," and "We will reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorist threat to our homeland," the New York Times could not be far off as they interpreted those words to mean, "Drones, long-range bombers and spy networks will be used in an effort to prevent Afghanistan from re-emerging as a terrorist base to threaten the United States."

It appears from his statements and actions regarding the war in Yemen in February and regarding the war in Afghanistan in April, that Biden is not so much concerned with ending the "forever wars" as he is with handing these wars over to drones armed with 500 pound bombs and Hellfire missiles operated by remote control from thousands of miles away.

In 2013, when President Obama promoted drone wars claiming that "by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life" it was already known that this was not true. By far, most victims of drone attacks are civilians, few are combatants by any definition and even those targeted as suspected terrorists are victims of assassination and extrajudicial executions.

The validity of Biden's claim that U.S. "counter terrorism capabilities" such as drones and special forces can effectively "prevent re-emergence of terrorist threat to our homeland" is taken for granted by the New York Times- "Drones, long-range bombers and spy networks will be used in an effort to prevent Afghanistan from re-emerging as a terrorist base to threaten the United States."

After the Ban Killer Drones "international grassroots campaign working to ban aerial weaponized drones and military and police drone surveillance," was launched on April 9, I was asked in an interview if there is anyone in the government, military, diplomatic or intelligence communities who supports our position that drones are no deterrent to terrorism. I do not think that there is, but there are many people formerly holding those positions who agree with us. One example of many is retired General Michael Flynn, who was President Obama's top military intelligence officer before he joined the Trump administration (and was subsequently convicted and pardoned). He said in 2015, "When you drop a bomb from a drone… you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good," and "The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict." Internal CIA documents published by WikiLeaks document that the agency had similar doubts about its own drone program—"The potential negative effect of HVT (high value targets) operations," the report states, "include increasing the level of insurgent support […], strengthening an armed group's bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group's remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents."

Speaking of the effect of drone attacks in Yemen, the young Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana told Congress in 2013, "Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants." The drone wars the Biden administration seems hell bent on expanding clearly damage and set back security and stability in the countries being attacked and increase the danger of attacks on Americans at home and abroad.

Long ago, both George Orwell and President Eisenhower foresaw today's "forever wars" and warned of nations' industries, economies and politics becoming so dependent on the production and consumption of armaments that wars would no longer be fought with an intention of winning them but to ensure that they never end, that they are continuous. Whatever his intentions, Joe Biden's calls for peace, in Afghanistan as in Yemen, while pursuing war by drone, ring hollow.

For a politician, "war by drone" has obvious advantages to waging war by ordering "boots on the ground." "They do keep the body bag count down," writes Conn Hallinan in his essay, Day of the Drone, "but that raises an uncomfortable moral dilemma: If war doesn't produce casualties, except among the targeted, isn't it more tempting to fight them? Drone pilots in their air-conditioned trailers in southern Nevada will never go down with their aircraft, but the people on the receiving end will eventually figure out some way to strike back. As the attack on the World Trade towers and recent terrorist attacks in France demonstrate, that is not all that hard to do, and it is almost inevitable that the targets will be civilians. Bloodless war is a dangerous illusion."

The war is never the way to peace, the war always comes home. With the exception of four known "friendly fire" casualties, every one of the many thousands of drone attack victims has been a person of color and drones are becoming another military weapon passed on from war zones to urban police departments. Technical advances and proliferation of drones as a cheaper, more politically safe way for many countries to make war on their neighbors or across the globe make forever wars more intractable.

Talk of peace in Afghanistan, Yemen, the streets of the U.S., is not coherent while waging wars with drones. We must urgently demand a ban on the production, trade and use of weaponized drones and an end to military and police drone surveillance.

Brian Terrell is an Iowa-based peace activist who has spent more than six months in prison for protesting targeted assassinations at U.S. military drone bases.

Ron DeSantis signs 'outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional' bill into law

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law a bill that civil rights groups warn is designed to crack down on peaceful demonstrations and criminalize dissent by redefining "rioting" in an overbroad way and creating draconian new felonies for protest-related offenses.

While DeSantis and the bill's Republican sponsors in the Florida legislature presented HB1 as a response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters earlier this year, critics say the measure—crafted well before the January 6 attack—is in fact a reaction against the racial justice protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd last May.

"Let's be clear: this is not an anti-riot bill, regardless of what supporters claim," Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement Monday. "It is a bill that criminalizes peaceful protest, and the impact HB1 will have on Floridians cannot be disputed. Each and every provision harkens back to Jim Crow."

Kubic went on to warn that under the new law—which is part of a wave of similar Republican measures under consideration nationwide—protesters could be arrested and charged with a felony if others at a protest or gathering became violent or disorderly, even if they themselves didn't." According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, HB1 defines rioting as a public disturbance by at least three people with "common intent to mutually assist each other in disorderly and violent conduct."

"The goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice," said Kubic. "Every single Floridian should be outraged by this blatant attempt to erode our First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. It is outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional. Gov. DeSantis' championing of and signature on this law degrades, debases, and disgraces Florida and our democracy."

As the Orlando Sentinel reported Monday, the new law makes blocking a highway a felony offense and "creates a broad category for misdemeanor arrest during protests, and anyone charged under that provision will be denied bail until their first court appearance."

The law also "grants civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road, which Democrats argued would have protected the white nationalist who ran over and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer during the Charlottesville tumult in 2017," the Sentinel noted.

Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones said in a statement Monday that HB1 "undermines every Floridian's constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill."

"The governor's spectacle is a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and brown communities," said Jones.

Progressives fume as Democrats eye smaller corporate tax hike to appease centrists

Senate Democrats are reportedly considering lowering the corporate tax rate proposed in President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan from 28% to 25% to mollify centrists in the caucus, a backtrack that would leave hundreds of billions of dollars in potential revenue on the table.

Citing sources close to negotiations over the nascent infrastructure package, Axios reported Sunday that "Democrats close to the White House expect Biden will accept 25% and pocket it as a political win."

But progressives found little to celebrate in settling for a corporate tax rate 10% lower than it was during the Obama administration. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans lowered the rate from 35% to 21% as part of their massive and unpopular tax cut legislation.

"The top corporate tax rate before Trump was 35%. Saying 'corporations must pay their fair share' should mean that pre-Trump rates are the starting point," said Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner. "We also need to close the loopholes companies use to get away with paying $0 in federal income taxes."

Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—the most conservative Senate Democrat and a key swing vote—said in an appearance on a local radio show that he and "six or seven other" Democratic senators "feel very strongly" about moving to a 25% tax rate instead of 28%. Senate Democrats can't afford to lose a single vote given their narrow control of the upper chamber, leaving individual senators with significant power to shape legislation.

According to Axios, "Democrats who've privately hinted they may be uncomfortable with going to 28% include Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Jon Tester of Montana."

Manchin, for his part, has offered little by way of concrete justification for his push for a smaller corporate tax hike. In 2012, the West Virginia Democrat supported an Obama proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%—a rate Manchin now apparently believes is too high.

In response to Manchin's new stance on the 28% rate, political commentator Mehdi Hasan mocked the notion that Manchin "has put some super serious thought into the difference between a 25% and 28% corporate tax rate and isn't just trying to split the difference between GOP outlier position and reasonable Biden proposal."

Haggling over the proposed corporate tax hike comes as Democrats are attempting to chart a path forward for Biden's infrastructure package amid unified Republican opposition to the roughly $2.3 trillion plan. Last week, Manchin's fellow West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) suggested that keeping in place the current 21% corporate tax rate is a "non-negotiable red line" for the GOP in infrastructure negotiations—a position that one top Democrat rejected as absurd.

"Corporate revenue is down nearly 40% from the 21st century average since Republicans' tax giveaway," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. "In 2018, the United States was dead last among OECD countries in how much corporate tax revenue it collected as a share of GDP."

"Republicans' insistence that the most profitable companies in the world shouldn't contribute a single penny to investments in roads, schools, and our clean-energy future is simply not acceptable," Wyden added.

New study finds undisclosed ingredients in Roundup is lethal to bumblebees

Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The study reviewed several herbicide products and found that most contained glyphosate, an ingredient best recognized from Roundup products and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide.

While the devastating impacts of glyphosate on bee populations are more broadly recognized, the toxicity levels of inert ingredients are less understood because they are not subjected to the same mandatory testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Pesticides are manufactured and sold as formulations that contain a mixture of compounds, including one or more active ingredients and, potentially, many inert ingredients," explained the Center for Food Safety in a statement. "The inert ingredients are added to pesticides to aid in mixing and to enhance the products' ability to stick to plant leaves, among other purposes."

The study found that these inert substances can be highly toxic and even block bees' breathing capacity, essentially causing them to drown. While researchers found that some of the combinations of inert ingredients had no negative impacts on the bees, one of the herbicide formulations killed 96% of the bees within 24 hours.

According to the abstract of the study:

Bees exhibited 94% mortality with Roundup® Ready‐To‐Use® and 30% mortality with Roundup® ProActive®, over 24 hr. Weedol® did not cause significant mortality, demonstrating that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not the cause of the mortality. The 96% mortality caused by Roundup® No Glyphosate supports this conclusion.

"This important new study exposes a fatal flaw in how pesticide products are regulated here in the U.S.," said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now the question is, will the Biden administration fix this problem, or will it allow the EPA to continue its past practice of ignoring the real-world harms of pesticides?"

According to the Center for Food Safety, there are currently 1,102 registered formulations that contain the active ingredient glyphosate, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. In 2017, the group filed a legal petition calling for the EPA to force companies to provide safety data on pesticide formulations that include inert ingredients.

"The EPA must begin requiring tests of every pesticide formulation for bee toxicity, divulge the identity of 'secret' formulation additives so scientists can study them, and prohibit application of Roundup herbicides to flowering plants when bees might be present and killed," said Bill Freese, science director at the Center for Food Safety. "Our legal petition gave the EPA a blueprint for acting on this issue of whole formulations. Now they need to take that blueprint and turn it into action, before it's too late for pollinators."

Roundup—also linked to cancer in humans—was originally produced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer in 2018.

The merger of the two companies was condemned by environmentalists and food safety groups who warned it would cultivate the greatest purveyor of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides in the world.

'Completely unreasonable': Dems push back against GOP demand for no corporate tax hike in infrastructure plan

Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said Thursday that keeping in place the current 21% corporate tax rate is a "non-negotiable red line" in infrastructure negotiations, a position that Democratic lawmakers rejected as "completely unreasonable" as they face pressure from progressives to forge ahead without the GOP.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Thursday that "corporations have never contributed less to federal revenues than they do now" thanks in large part to the 2017 Republican tax cuts, which slashed the corporate rate from 35% to 21%.

"Our analysis of CBO data shows corporate revenue is down nearly 40% from the 21st century average since Republicans' tax giveaway," said Wyden. "In 2018, the United States was dead last among OECD countries in how much corporate tax revenue it collected as a share of GDP."

"Republicans' insistence that the most profitable companies in the world shouldn't contribute a single penny to investments in roads, schools, and our clean-energy future is simply not acceptable," the Oregon Democrat added.

Capito is part of a 20-member bipartisan group of senators that is aiming to construct an alternative to President Joe Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, but the GOP has yet to publicly offer any concrete suggestions—a signal, according to some observers, that Republicans are not actually interested in negotiating.

Earlier this week, Capito said an infrastructure package totaling between $600-$800 billion—a dramatic cut to Biden's opening offer—would be the "sweet spot" for Republicans. Asked to explain why she prefers that range, Capito replied: "It's just a ballpark figure. It doesn't—it may not even be that much. I don't know. I just kind of threw that out as a talking point."

"This is such a silly process," Adam Jentleson, a former Senate staffer, said in response to Capito's comments. "Republicans are unserious and there is simply no reason for Democrats to cut the bill by 60% or more. There's a point where bipartisanship starts becoming entirely about vanity and posturing."

If Senate Democrats refuse to heed growing calls to eliminate the 60-vote legislative filibuster, they will need to win over at least 10 Republicans or use the restrictive budget reconciliation process to pass an infrastructure package.

Following Capito's remarks on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—chair of the Senate Budget Committee—told HuffPost that he believes "Democrats have finally caught on that we're not going to be negotiating forever."

"If Republicans are serious, I'd love to hear their ideas," said Sanders. "If they're not, we'll have to move along."

Despite Republicans' vocal dismissals of his infrastructure proposal and refusal to entertain any corporate tax increases, Biden has publicly remained committed to pursuing compromise. Ahead of a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday, the president said that he is "prepared to negotiate as to the extent of the infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it."

While corporate tax hikes are anathema to big business-friendly Republicans, they are broadly popular with the U.S. public. According to a Morning Consult poll released last week, nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters support raising corporate taxes to fund Biden's infrastructure proposal.

Progressive lawmakers in the House and Senate, meanwhile, are pushing Biden and congressional Democrats to pursue a much more sweeping package that includes major investments in core infrastructure and climate as well as caregiving and other priorities.

"It's time to go big and it's time to go bold, and enact these as part of a single, ambitious package," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement last week, countering a push by some centrist Democrats to split the plan into two separate bills.

"We agree that it's time for transformative change," said Jayapal, "and we look forward to working with the Biden administration to expand on their proposal and ensure that the American Jobs Plan goes big to truly meet the needs of the public."

Warren and Smith reintroduce 'critical' bill to block US from starting nuclear war

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Adam Smith on Thursday reintroduced legislation to establish that "it is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first."

"Threatening to use nuclear weapons first makes America less safe because it increases the chances of a miscalculation or an accident," said Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement. "There are no winners in a nuclear war, and the U.S. should never start one."

Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, concurred, saying that "the United States should never initiate a nuclear war."

"This bill would strengthen deterrence while reducing the chance of nuclear use due to miscalculation or misunderstanding," he explained. "Codifying that deterring nuclear use is the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal strengthens U.S. national security and would renew U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and disbarment."

In addition to Warren and Smith, the bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Warren and Smith's ongoing push for the No First Use Act was welcomed by arms experts and advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons, some of whom pointed out that President Joe Biden has previously expressed support for such a policy.

Stephen Young, senior Washington representative and acting co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), highlighted Biden's remarks when he served as vice president under former President Barack Obama.

Biden said in a January 2017 speech that "given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today's threats, it's hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or would make sense in the view of the president and me."

Young said Thursday that "indeed, initiating a nuclear strike would be an enormous strategic and humanitarian disaster, most likely leading to a counterattack against the United States. The resulting mass death and destruction is why a U.S. president should never choose or be allowed to start a nuclear war."

"The legislation introduced today by Sen. Warren and Rep. Smith is strikingly short and simple," Young noted. "In 14 words, it commits the United States to never launching nuclear weapons first. These lawmakers deserve huge thanks for continuing to push for this sensible policy change."

"A no first use policy will reduce the likelihood of nuclear war in two ways," he continued. "First, no president will be able to start a nuclear war based on faulty information, like the false warnings of incoming nuclear attacks that have happened too many times in the past. Also, adversaries will be less pressured to use their nuclear weapons first during a crisis if they are confident that the United States won't attack them first and wipe out their nuclear arsenals."

Young urged Congress to urgently pass and Biden to sign the bill—a call echoed by Derek Johnson, chief executive officer of Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Johnson endorsed the "common-sense" bill "in the strongest possible terms" and called its reintroduction "an important step to enhance American and global security by helping ensure nuclear weapons are never used again."

"It is long past time for the United States to adopt a realistic policy that forgoes the possible first use of nuclear weapons," he said. "The risks that nuclear weapons will be used are unacceptably and unnecessarily high. The major risk of nuclear use today comes from the danger that a small or accidental clash or conflict will escalate quickly through confusion or fear and cross the nuclear threshold. America's decadeslong policy of threatening its own possible first use of nuclear weapons only adds to this danger."

Johnson continued:

Codifying no first use into law is the most important and immediate step the U.S. can take to lower the risk of nuclear conflict, strengthen global stability, and create new opportunities to pursue reductions in these dangerous and expensive arsenals.
There is no plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States makes sense. Threatening to do so only makes it easier for others to do the same, adding to the pressure on all to escalate quickly. Any use of nuclear weapons would be horrific and catastrophic, and we must take decisive action to make this scenario less likely in parallel with our long-term efforts to eradicate them.

He also cited Biden's 2017 speech, when the then-vice president expressed confidence that the U.S. can defend itself and its allies through non-nuclear means.

According to Johnson, "It is high time to act on that confidence, and for leaders in the U.S. and all nuclear-armed states to accept that true security cannot be built on threats of mass destruction."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The frat boy politics of the Republican Party may end in unseemly collapse — or national disaster

Joe Biden is thinking about the complexities of racial and social justice in America, vaccinating the population against COVID-19, combatting domestic terrorism, rebuilding the country's infrastructure, bringing back jobs and climate change. Donald Trump is thinking about money and revenge—and maybe about why his pal Vladimir Putin has all the luck.

Can you imagine how the Former Guy felt when he heard last week's news that his man-crush, Russian President Putin, just signed a law allowing him to run for two additional terms? Given the largely meaningless nature of elections over there, the legislation could keep Vlad in office until 2036, when he'll be 83.

Boy, Trump may have thought, how come he gets to do that and not me? I constantly have to lie about the election results, keep bellyaching that I won, and foment an attempted coup d'etat at the US Capitol. None of which worked. Let me tell you, it's exhausting! Now watch this putt...

Nonetheless, based on his great election fraud lie, all that prevarication does keep the Trump coffers filled with campaign dollars -- cash that's still being collected by the hour from the readily bamboozled. There's some $85 million in his Save America PAC, according to one of his advisors. Legally, much of it can be used for whatever Ol' Punkinhead feels like.

That's a good thing for Trump, because his much-vaunted business acumen continues to come back to nip him in the butt. Not only are his taxes and most of his other corporate records being ever more closely scrutinized for criminal activity by New York State Attorney General Tish James and Manhattan DA Cy Vance, but Dan Alexander at Forbes magazine reports, "From the time he entered the White House in January 2017 to his departure a few months ago, Donald Trump's fortune fell by nearly a third, from $3.5 billion to $2.4 billion. The S&P 500, meanwhile, increased 70%." You'll recall that he refused to divest his portfolio when he became president. As a result, "Trump bogged down his presidency with ethics issues for years, while also missing a chance to cash in on a market boom he helped propel.

If he had sold everything on Day 1, paid the maximum capital-gains taxes on the sales, then put the proceeds into a conflict-free fund tracking the S&P 500, Trump would have ended his presidency an estimated $1.6 billion richer than he is today.

The man's a financial genius. Just ask him. Or better yet, ask what remains of the Republican Party which, as per veteran GOP fundraiser Fred Zeidman, is being roiled by "a tremendous complication" – the controlling influence of Trump and his demand to continue leading the Republicans. "He's already proven that he wants to have a major say or keep control of the party," Zeidman told The New York Times, "and he's already shown every sign that he's going to primary everybody that has not been supportive of him. He complicates everything so much."

Saturday night, Trump went off his prepared remarks for a Republican National Committee donor dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort and delivered one of his notorious rants, still insisting he won the November election and profanely going after everyone from Biden and "Barack Hussein Obama," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Dr. Anthony Fauci to his supposed allies former Vice President Mike Pence, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – "a dumb son of a bitch" -- and McConnell's wife, Trump's former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Trump claimed that her appointment was a quid pro quo, a favor to insure Mitch's loyalty. Perhaps it was the most honest thing he said all night.

The man's crazier than a junkyard rat and yet the faithful still kneel before him. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 60 percent of Republicans continue to believe that Trump won the election – and 50 percent of them believe Trump's new big lie that the January 6 insurrection was actually a peaceful demonstration of love and respect, spoiled only when some nasty antifa infiltrators turned it violent.

Oh, for a simpler, saner time – and I don't mean that white American idyll that never was, a rightwing fever dream in which all is falsely remembered as sunshine, jellybeans and petroleum products burnt without a care. Rather, as columnist Frida Ghitis notes, "It wasn't very long ago that the country had two reality-based, generally centrist parties. Democrats and Republicans, with different philosophies, debated the merits of their ideas, in search of a workable compromise.

But then, bit by bit, the GOP started veering in a different direction. By the time Trump became president, the maximalist, nativist, conspiracy-driven, scandal-manufacturing, hate-stoking wing was already ascendant, propelled by the engines of Fox News and other far-right provocateurs. Trump's victory was the coup that toppled the old GOP and turned it into the extremist MAGA machine.

And now, what's left? A handful of old-fashioned, conservative Republicans in Congress and their supporters who apparently still believe in some semblance of democracy and the republic that gave their party its name. But they're overwhelmed by a crowd of fanatics and sycophants: men and women, in Frida Ghitis' words, busily "promoting the delegitimization of America's duly elected president, people who are endorsing or refusing to rectify dangerous lies."

You know who they are: Cruz, Hawley, Graham, Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, et al. They include, of course, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, "rewarded by recklessness," to use campaign strategist Rick Wilson's phrase, and as of this moment still standing, despite more and more evidence of his misogyny and possible abusive behavior, sexual and otherwise.

Like so many among these ranks, Trump fanboy Gaetz is one of the smarmy, privileged, attenuated frat boys who refuse to believe that rules and norms apply to them – much like the man who was their president and would be forever more if the rest of us become indifferent and lower our guard. Gaetz cares about his job title only as far as it gets him booked on talk shows and the lecture circuit – so far, he has failed to sponsor a single piece of significant legislation.

In his new memoir, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner describes these types of Republican rabblerousers as "the chaos caucus," not caring about the country but only about their power base and appearances on Fox News and right wing talk radio: "They didn't really want legislative victories," Boehner writes. "They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades."

Not that Boehner is blameless. He and so many Republican colleagues let themselves be bullied, then acquiesced to our current dilemma, yielding to those pledged to lunacy and a lemming-like fealty to a president as bereft of thought and feeling as they are. You see the results: a shattered party not of ideas and programs, but only insults and bogus intrigues. No wonder the Biden infrastructure proposals infuriate them; they have nothing to offer in return. (Remember Trump's Infrastructure Week, always imminent but never occurring over the whole four years of his presidency?)

They fear any and all success during Biden's first term. Think back to 1993, when now anti-Trumpist conservative Bill Kristol advised Republicans to shun any healthcare plan from Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a memo—Kristol was then head of the Project for the Republican Future—he warned his colleagues, "It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government."

Substitute the name Biden for Clinton and any of Biden's proposals for Clinton's failed healthcare plan and you see what today's GOP strategy is—a replay of Kristol's fears now made deeper and more paranoiac by the lowest common denominators who have taken control of the party. Their anger at Biden's early successes and their fury at the popularity of his proposed programs—even among many self-described Republican voters – have sent them 'round the bend.

Instead of opposition that in past years may sometimes have been based on actual conservative principles, all that really matters to them now is the personal power and campaign money that come from "winning." Mitch McConnell's risible warning to corporations last week that they should "stay out of politics" was a demonstration of just how frantic their party has become.

(McConnell, who relies on corporate dollars, backed away from his statement the very next day. It's worth noting that he made it in reaction to the opposition of many businesses—including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola—to Georgia's new voter suppression laws. Pained by the increasing voting power of Black, indigenous and people of color, rather than strategize as to how to win them over with ideas, the GOP has determined to stamp out their voices wherever possible, thus acknowledging just how feeble their party's ideology has become.)

Add to this mix a steady drumbeat of rabid, often ad hominem attacks on Democrats and those of different races, genders and creeds, characterized by a mad inclination toward nihilism and anarchy, that encourages such rightwing violence as January 6. Counterterrorism experts warn that this could bring the country down. A recent report from the Director of National Intelligence finds that domestic violent extremist (DVEs) "pose an elevated threat." Daniel Block, executive editor of The Washington Monthly, notes, "Unlike in the 1990s, when right-wing extremism was overwhelmingly disavowed by national Republicans, the modern GOP actively courts the far right."

Ever confrontational, with their rank brand of child-like bullying, a bad habit made worse by the words and deeds of their ex-president, in the end, Republicans are flailing and lashing out. At this point in time, West Virginia's Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is only fooling himself if he truly believes bipartisanship within this Congress is possible.

He makes a mistake in thinking these men and women are redeemable. They're not. But we can build and strengthen support from others with constructive change like much of what the Biden administration is proposing. We can end the filibuster to pass a program of legislation unlike anything since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and FDR's New Deal.

We've seen there is danger in the GOP's flailing; a lot of collateral, fatal damage can result. The party may be about to die like a harpooned whale, lashing out and dragging too many beneath the waves with it.

As the saying goes, when you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything. Republican leadership still clings to their #1 False Prophet, living in fear that Trump and his followers might turn on them and support opponents that he'll endorse if incumbents fail to toe the increasingly thin line that bends toward bloodshed and despair.

In November, we voted him out, kept control of the House and now hold a narrow lead in the Senate. But it was too close a call. To return him to the top office, Republicans will do anything—anything except come up with good, constructive ideas. Don't drop your guard: we cannot let him and his cult back in.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

'Shame': Biden to advance Trump-era sale of $23 billion in F-35s and a​rmed drones to UAE

The Biden administration has reportedly informed Congress that it is planning to advance a $23.4 billion sale of weaponry to the United Arab Emirates that was inked under former President Donald Trump, a move anti-war critics denounced as a betrayal of President Joe Biden's recent pledge to end U.S. support for "offensive operations" in Yemen.

One of the major members of the Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing and strangling Yemen since 2015, the UAE is set to receive 50 F-35 fighter jets, more than a dozen armed drones, and billions of dollars worth of munitions from the U.S. if the deal receives final approval.

A State Department spokesperson told HuffPost Tuesday that "the administration intends to move forward with these proposed defense sales to the UAE, even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials to ensure we have developed mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations before, during, and after delivery."

The spokesperson would not comment on the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs' ongoing lawsuit against the State Department over the sale, which the nonprofit group says is illegal.

"It is our hope that the Biden administration would put mitigating a humanitarian crisis of global proportions before putting arms in the hands of an aggressor nation like the UAE," Justin Russell, principal director of the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs, told HuffPost, referring to UAE interventions in Yemen and Libya.

Shireen Al-Adeimi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, said the decision to advance the $23 billion weapons sale is "more evidence that Biden's pledge to end the war on Yemen was only performative."

In December, the then-Republican-controlled Senate voted down a resolution that would have blocked the Trump White House's lame-duck arms sale to the UAE, prompting calls for Biden to swiftly cancel the deal upon taking office.

During his first week in the White House, the Biden administration imposed a temporary freeze on arms sales to the Saudi kingdom and said it would more closely examine the UAE deal. At the time, the UAE ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba evinced no concern about the move, saying that "the UAE anticipated a review of current policies by the new administration."

Anti-war activists warned that the UAE agreement, which will likely take years to complete, would put more high-tech weaponry under the control of a country that has shown complete disregard for human rights in Yemen and elsewhere.

"Just as you can predict the consequence of selling a loaded pistol to a serial murderer, you can anticipate the damage that will be wrought by this arms deal," Michael Eisner and Sarah Leah Whitson of Democracy for the Arab World Now wrote for The Nation in December. "The UAE has a well-documented track record of using its advanced weaponry to launch aggressive and unlawful incursions into other countries, engaging in systematic human rights violations, and war crimes along the way."

Kate Kizer, policy director at Win Without War, said Tuesday that allowing the UAE deal to proceed "is an absurd decision that flies directly in the face of President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken's stated commitment to centering human rights in our foreign policy."

"We have to stop choosing political expediency over human rights," Kizer added.


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