Jessica Corbett

'Ecological Ponzi scheme': Dire scientific assessment warns humanity in denial of looming 'collapse of civilization'

In an example to the rest of the scientific community and an effort to wake up people—particularly policymakers—worldwide, 17 scientists penned a comprehensive assessment of the current state of the planet and what the future could hold due to biodiversity loss, climate disruption, human consumption, and population growth.

"Ours is not a call to surrender—we aim to provide leaders with a realistic 'cold shower' of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future," according to the perspective paper, co-authored by experts across Australia, Mexico, and the United States, and published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

Co-author Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University's Center for Conservation Biology—who has raised alarm about overpopulation for decades—told Common Dreams his colleagues "are all scared" about what's to come.

"Scientists have to learn to be communicators," said Ehrlich, citing James Hansen's warning about the consequences of "scientific reticence." Hansen, a professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute and former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified to Congress about the climate crisis in 1988.

Ehrlich was straightforward about how "extremely dangerous things are" now and the necessity of a "World War II-type mobilization" to prevent predictions detailed in the paper: "a ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health, and climate-disruption upheavals (including looming massive migrations), and resource conflicts."

"What we are saying might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But we need to be candid, accurate, and honest if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face in creating a sustainable future," said co-author Daniel T. Blumstein of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a statement about the paper.

"By scientists' telling it like it is, we hope to empower politicians to work to represent their citizen, not corporate, constituents," he said in an email to Common Dreams.

The paper, Ehrlich and Blumstein pointed out, comes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—which, according to Johns Hopkins University, has killed nearly two million people. Over the past year, the Covid-19 crisis has provoked calls for humanity to end its destruction of the natural world to prevent future public health catastrophes.

"We're all seeing the shocks to our global systems now from Covid and the rise of authoritarian leaders," Blumstein said. "Because our current ways of life are ecologically unsustainable (we're living in an ecological Ponzi scheme), we fully anticipate more—and more deadly—pandemics in the future. We expect civil unrest, wars, and famines. We are all shaken by the likelihood of the collapse of civilization as we know it."

The new warning from scientists, Blumstein noted, cites over 150 other papers "documenting the diverse and shocking decline in biodiversity and planetary 'health' and their consequences." Among the cited sources is a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report that in September revealed an "average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish between 1970 and 2016."

"In the midst of a global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to take unprecedented and coordinated global action to halt and start to reverse the loss of biodiversity and wildlife populations across the globe by the end of the decade, and protect our future health and livelihoods," WWF International director general Marco Lambertini said at the time.

The co-authors—including William J. Ripple of Oregon State University, who last year led thousands of scientists in declaring a climate emergency and earlier this month led a call for "a massive-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis"—echoed Lambertini's message while also underscoring the importance of increasing awareness about what's actually needed.

"Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth's ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization," the paper says.

"In fact, the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms is so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts," said lead author Corey Bradshaw of Australia's Flinders University in a statement. "The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymieing the action that is crucial for survival."

The paper explains that "while suggested solutions abound, the current scale of their implementation does not match the relentless progression of biodiversity loss and other existential threats tied to the continuous expansion of the human enterprise." According to its authors, "That we are already on the path of a sixth major extinction is now scientifically undeniable."

"With such a rapid, catastrophic loss of biodiversity, the ecosystem services it provides have also declined," the paper explains. Consequences include "reduced carbon sequestration, reduced pollination, soil degradation, poorer water and air quality, more frequent and intense flooding and fires, and compromised human health."

Highlighting estimates that the human population will near 10 billion by 2050, the scientists lay out how "large population size and continued growth are implicated in many societal problems," from food insecurity, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and an increased chance of pandemics, to crowding, joblessness, deteriorating infrastructure, and bad governance.

The paper also details the planetary impacts of dirty energy and carbon-intensive food production, and says that "while climate change demands a full exit from fossil fuel use well before 2050, pressures on the biosphere are likely to mount prior to decarbonization as humanity brings energy alternatives online."

A section on failed international goals declares that "stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country's priorities, trailing far behind other concerns such as employment, healthcare, economic growth, or currency stability."

"The dangerous effects of climate change are much more evident to people than those of biodiversity loss, but society is still finding it difficult to deal with them effectively," the scientists note, while decrying "utterly inadequate" efforts by governments to even try to meet the targets of the landmark Paris climate agreement.

They further decry the recent rise of right-wing, anti-environment agendas in countries including Australia, Brazil, and the United States—which recently denied President Donald Trump a second term. Ehrlich expressed hope that President-elect Joe Biden will work to deliver on the climate promises he made as a candidate.

Biden's vow to rejoin the Paris agreement "is positive news," but "it is a minuscule gesture given the scale of the challenge," Ehrlich said in a statement.

The president-elect "is moving in the right direction," Ehrlich told Common Dreams, pointing to the selection of former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate envoy. However, "the Paris goals are increasingly looking inadequate," and "Biden's political opportunities to do anything major may be greatly constrained," he added.

Blumstein stressed that "recycling, using less plastic, eating less meat, taking public transportation, and flying less, while all important, will simply not create the rapid change we need now to save much of the Earth's biodiversity and our lives."

According to Blumstein, "We need rapid political change."

He urged voters to elect leaders who will end fossil fuel use as well as "eliminate perpetual economic growth and properly price externalities so that the environmental costs are built into the price of a product." He also emphasized the importance of access to education and reproductive control, and the need to rein in corporate lobbying and enact campaign finance reform so politicians serve citizens' needs.

"Ultimately," Blumstein added, "we must focus on making equity and well-being society's goals—not the constant accumulation of more junk."

In their paper, the UCLA scientist and his 16 co-authors "contend that only a realistic appreciation of the colossal challenges facing the international community might allow it to chart a less-ravaged future."

It is "incumbent on experts in any discipline that deals with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to eschew reticence, avoid sugar-coating the overwhelming challenges, ahead and 'tell it like it is,'" they conclude. "Anything else is misleading at best, or negligent and potentially lethal for the human enterprise at worst."

Rep. Cori Bush pushes to expel lawmakers who incited violent assault on Capitol

In response to supporters of President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol during a joint congressional session on Wednesday in what many have denounced as a violent terrorist attack and attempted coup, newly sworn-in Rep. Cori Bush announced that her first formal act will target her colleagues who incited the chaos.

The siege of the Capitol came after an inflammatory speech by the president and as over 100 Republicans in Congress were in the process of contesting the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to take office in two weeks. The two chambers had ended the joint session to debate a GOP challenge to Arizona's presidential election results when the pro-Trump mob forced a lockdown.

"My first resolution in Congress will be to call for the expulsion of the Republican members of Congress who incited this domestic terror attack on the Capitol," tweeted Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and Democrat who took the oath of office to represent Missouri's First Congressional District on Sunday.

The announcement came after Bush said: "My team and I are safe. I am in disbelief. I can't believe domestic terrorists are roaming around inside the Capitol. I'm remembering being brutalized and treated like a domestic terrorist just for protesting to keep my people alive. St. Louis: you're in my heart right now."

Tweeting from her congressional account on Wednesday, Bush added that Trump "has incited a riot" and "our country deserves better."

Various progressive organizations and at least one fellow Democrat in Congress expressed support for Bush's forthcoming resolution.

Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.Y.)—who argued last month that Republicans backing Trump's effort to overturn the November election shouldn't be sworn in for the next session of Congress because they were violating the U.S. Constitution and House rules—tweeted that he has signed on to Bush's resolution.

"Any House members who have tried to overturn the election and install a dictatorship have violated the Constitution and should not sit in Congress," he said.

The group IfNotNow said it backs the resolution "100%" while People for Bernie thanked Bush for the move and Justice Democrats noted her leadership.

"This is the standard for Democratic members of Congress right now," declared Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas.

RL Miller, founder of the advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote and a member of the Democratic National Committee, tweeted: "Hey mainstream Dem leadership. You working with freshman @RepCori on this or making her look like an outlier?"

Miller, a Californian, specifically directed her message at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.).

Others quickly urged their members of Congress to sign on to Bush's effort:

Color of Change president Rashad Robinson thanked Bush for "holding the enablers accountable for the violence they incited," adding that "the entire Republican Party stoked this flame, and they are complicit in this."

As the Los Angeles chapter of the youth-led Sunrise Movement put it: "The problem is so much larger than making the Congress doors impenetrable. Let's start addressing the underlying issues that led to today."

In a statement Wednesday, Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash delivered a message to Biden, Pelosi, and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):

Today's coup attempt at the Capitol highlights that our nation is at a crossroads and both ways forward are on full display—the ugly reality of white supremacy, hate, and white nationalism versus a multiracial coalition of people working to restore the soul of America. There is no middle ground, and Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi cannot "compromise," "negotiate," or "come to the table" with the GOP tyrants who enabled today's violent terrorism. If Democrats deliver bold solutions that create jobs, ensure justice, and heal a divided nation, this year could launch a new era of politics like FDR and the New Deal and Democrats will be rewarded for decades to come.

Sunrise co-founder and national political director Evan Weber thanked Bush for the resolution. "They are tyrants," he said of those targeted by her resolution. "Expel and impeach every last one of them."

Brand New Congress said it "stands with" Bush and pointed out that "citizens fear for their lives right now."

"GOP terrorists invaded the Capitol," the group wrote on Twitter, and cops and the military "didn't stop them."

Declaring that "the Capitol is OUR Capitol" and "our representatives represent US," Brand New Congress said that the GOP "can no longer destroy democracy."

Journalist David Roberts said of Bush's resolution, "This is the only sane response."

Bush's resolution plans come amid calls for again impeaching Trump, removing the president from office under the 25th Amendment, or even arresting him. Her fellow Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) announced Wednesday that she is already prepping articles of impeachment.

Pelosi, meanwhile, announced Wednesday evening that after speaking with congressional leaders, the Defense and Justice departments, and Vice President Mike Pence (Trump was not listed), they have decided to proceed with certifying Biden's win "tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use."

As lawmakers returned to the Capitol, the Center for Popular Democracy Action co-executive director Brian Kettering said in a statement that "President Trump and the Republican congressmembers who refused to accept the fact that millions of us organized and voted to elect Joe Biden, and who illegally sought to contest battleground states' electors, are responsible for the violent attack on our country today."

"Make no mistake—by feeding lies about the election in order to undermine the voice of the people, they encouraged an angry mob of armed right-wing protestors and white supremacists to descend on our Capitol in a shocking display of physical violence and chaos that led to the disruption of government and the death of at least one person," Kettering continued.

Endorsing the calls for impeachment by Omar and others, Kettering declared that "Donald Trump and members of Congress must face consequences for inciting an attempted coup to stop the peaceful transition of power, which is enshrined into our Constitution." He also warned that the next two weeks "offer a terrible opportunity for Trump to continue to fan the flames of even more violence and abuse of his presidential power."

"Furthermore, we support the resolution introduced by Rep. Cori Bush calling for the investigation and possible expulsion of the members of Congress who have voiced support for a reversal of the election, a group which includes more than 120 representatives as well as 13 senators," he added. "We cannot stand by while the very people elected to protect our democracy encourage violent attempts to overthrow the government."

'Justice was not served': No charges against Kenosha cop who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake

A Wisconsin district attorney announced Tuesday that he will not file criminal charges against a white Kenosha officer, Rusten Sheskey, who on August 23 shot Jacob Blake in the back several times at point-blank range near a vehicle containing his children, paralyzing the Black 29-year-old and sparking deadly protests against police violence.

"This was a tragedy first and foremost for Jacob Blake, who still suffers from grievous injuries," said Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley during a Tuesday press conference while also revealing that "no Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense based on the facts and the laws."

The decision drew condemnation from civil rights defenders and advocates of police reform who have long criticized U.S. law enforcement's treatment of people of color.

Ben Crump—a nationally renowned civil rights attorney retained by the family of Jacob Blake and others injured or killed by police—along with co-counsels Patrick A. Salvi II and B'Ivory LaMarr said in a joint statement that they were "immensely disappointed" in Graveley's decision "not to charge the officers involved in this horrific shooting."

"We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice," the lawyers said. "Officer Sheskey's actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country, but the district attorney's decision not to charge the officer who shot Jacob in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed, further destroys trust in our justice system."

"This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country. It says it is OK for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children," they added. "It is now our duty to broaden the fight for justice on behalf of Jacob and the countless other Black men and women who are victims of racial injustice and police brutality in this country."

The lawyers vowed that they "will continue to press forward with a civil lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing and transparency at all levels," and urged people across the country to "continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time."

Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, similarly expressed disappointment that the district attorney decided against "holding police accountable for another example of their repeated use of excessive force against people of color."

"This continues the cycle of enabling police violence and evading accountability when they seriously injure and harm a Black person," Ott said in a statement. "Based on the video footage of the incident, it remains hard to see any reason to shoot Mr. Blake in the back repeatedly. But, as we've seen so many times before, the police in this case were held to a different standard of responsibility than the rest of us."

"Kenosha has given another terrible example in a national pattern of police using excessive force against people of color during routine encounters, escalating situations instead of defusing them and then being given a pass," he said. "This officer will continue with his career with the mistaken belief that he has done no wrong, while Jacob Blake will remain paralyzed and left to deal with the consequences of this officer's actions. Today, justice was not served."

Denouncing Graveley's decision as "foul and shameful," NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said, "It is yet another stark reminder of the free-willing atrocities committed against Black people at the hands of those entrusted to maintain public safety."

The district attorney explained Tuesday that he "would have to disprove the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves," and he did not believe the state would be able to do so.

According to the Associated Press:

Sheskey fired seven times, hitting Blake in the back four times and in the side three times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Graveley said the shots in the side show [Blake] had twisted toward the officer.

Graveley showed reporters an enlarged photo of what he said was Blake's knife, adding that Blake acknowledged to investigators he had it. The district attorney walked reporters through how he would have prosecuted the case, saying jurors would have had to put themselves in Sheskey's position and that the officer's self-defense claims would have held up given the circumstances of the case.

[...] The officers were not equipped with body cameras.

Carl Takei, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Trone Center for Justice and Equality said, "This decision—and the prosecutor's reliance on tropes of superhuman Black men to justify police fears—should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to police's role in Black communities since they began as slave patrols."

"All of this emphasizes how the criminal legal system, from police to prosecutors, have functioned to oppress and harm Black people," Takei added. "While accountability for the officer might have led to some semblance of justice, real justice would have been Jacob Blake never being shot in the first place."

Ahead of the announcement, the AP noted, Kenosha's Common Council "on Monday night unanimously approved an emergency resolution giving the mayor the power to impose curfews, among other things, and Gov. Tony Evers activated 500 National Guard troops to assist."

Johnson of the NAACP declared that "at this moment, the work of the American people is clear: we must continue to fight, organize, and mobilize against police brutality. Far too many Black lives have been damaged or lost due to the egregious malpractice of police officers, elected officials, and the justice system as a whole. While the visions of Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others play over and over in our minds, we must not grow weary until we've achieved police liability and substantive change is realized."

Outrage over Blake's shooting led to protests this summer as part of a national wave of racial justice demonstrations that began after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in May.

During Kenosha's summer protests, Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager from Illinois, allegedly shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third. Rittenhouse, who turned 18 after the incident, pleaded not guilty to all charges at a Tuesday hearing.

"This is sickening. No charges for the cop who shot Jacob Blake seven times, and meanwhile Kyle Rittenhouse is out on bail," Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of the advocacy group Indivisible, tweeted Tuesday. "There is no justice. The system is rotten to the core."

Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color of Change, said Tuesday that "in the absence of justice today, Kenosha deserves a full accounting of the clear misconduct in this case and an commitment to protect Black communities from this form of violence that has been allowed to run rampant in our country."

"America's policing problem has always been a threat to public safety, but the issue is spiraling in Kenosha," Roberts said. "The crisis in Kenosha reveals the ugly, racist double-standard of American policing where an armed white gunman can be detained peacefully while an unarmed Black man gets seven bullets in his spine."

Roberts reiterated his organization's call for the removal of Sheskey and Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis as well as a U.S. Justice Department probe of the city police department's policies, in addition to its investigation into this case.

He also urged President-elect Joe Biden to "upend our policing system and reimagine public safety in a way that protects and affirms Black lives," emphasizing that "as local officials continue to allow police violence to go unchecked, we desperately need the president-elect to follow through on his commitments to police accountability by using the full force of the federal government to investigate individual police shootings, police departments as a whole, and the prosecutors who give them cover."

This post has been updated to reflect additions to the Associated Press report.

'The power is literally in your hands': Biden ties Georgia runoff races to $2,000 relief checks

Just a day before Georgia voters will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, President-elect Joe Biden on Monday tied the push for $2,000 coronavirus pandemic relief checks to the results of state's two runoff elections while campaigning in Atlanta for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Ossoff and Warnock are facing off against Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively. Both Democrats winning the tight, closely watched races could pave the way for the $2,000 relief checks, which were approved by the Democrat-majority House but stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate during the last congressional session, despite support from President Donald Trump.

"Georgia—the whole nation is looking to you to lead us forward," Biden declared. "One state can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation. By electing Jon and the reverend, you can make an immediate difference in your own lives—the lives of the people all across this country."

"Because their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check—that money that will go out the door immediately to help people who are in real trouble," he explained. "Think about what it will mean to your lives. Putting food on the table. Paying rent. Paying part of your mortgage. Paying down the credit card. Paying the phone bill, the gas bill, the electric bill."

While praising the Democratic candidates as "talented," "principled," "qualified," "decent," and "honorable," Biden said that "they are bending the arc of history towards justice and hope and progress." He also emphasized the desperate need across the country in the midst of the worsening pandemic.

"The debate over $2,000 isn't some abstract debate in Washington. This is about real lives," Biden said. "If you send Jon and the reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now."

"If you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's just that simple. The power is literally in your hands," he continued. "By electing Jon and the reverend, you can break the gridlock that has gripped Washington and this nation."

Biden added that "with their votes in the Senate, we'll be able to make the progress we need to make on jobs, on healthcare, on justice, on the environment, on so many other things. By electing Jon and the reverend, you'll be voting to get the states the resources they need to get the vaccines distributed."

The incoming president has joined the chorus of critics who have recently called out the Trump administration for the nation's coronavirus vaccine disruption alongside broader condemnation of Trump's Operation Warp Speed and response to the public health crisis.

"This administration has gotten off to a God-awful start," Biden said of Trump on Monday, echoing his previous remarks. "The states need more money to do the job. They need the federal government that'll work with them, not attack them and leave them out there hanging."

Noting that state and local governments need money to keep emergency responders and teachers on the job, he said that "by electing Jon and the reverend, you'll be sending a powerful message to Congress and to the country that it's time for this nation, for God's sake, to finally come together."

Biden emphasized that "voting for Jon and the reverend won't just be good for America—it'll be good for Georgia, and here's why: when you vote for Jon and Raphael you'll be sending two senators who will fight for you, who will put Georgia first, who will put you first."

The former vice president accused Perdue and Loeffler of believing "it's more important to reward wealth than hard work in the tax system" and being loyal to Trump versus the people of Georgia. Biden added that he thinks the state's senators "should be loyal to you, to Georgia, to the United States Constitution."

"And if you vote for Jon and the reverend—that's what you're gonna get," he said, while also noting the potential—in the event of a Democrat-controlled Senate—for national policies to address the pandemic, the economy, healthcare, voting rights, criminal justice, racial justice, and climate change.

In an email to supporters on Monday, the advocacy group Indivisible Action delivered a similar message, highlighting the stakes in the Georgia runoff races: Covid-19 relief, the integrity of U.S. elections and democracy, and "our priorities in 2021."

"The truth is, most of the work we want to accomplish in the future, including necessary healing from the last four years, rides on this election," Indivisible said. "If we hope to ever address Covid-19, the climate crisis, racial justice, and so much more, we need to win a majority in the Senate."

Two of Biden's top Cabinet picks made more than $1 million from corporate clients and speeches

Antony Blinken and Janet Yellen—Obama administration alumni selected by President elect-Joe Biden to lead the State and Treasury departments, respectively—each made over $1 million dollars from corporate consulting and speaking fees over the past two years, according to financial disclosure forms made public on New Year's Eve.

Yellen, who chaired the Federal Reserve under former President Barack Obama, earned (pdf) over $7.2 million in speaking fees from Wall Street and major corporations. She disclosed payments from Bank of America, Barclays, Citadel, Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Google, Magellan Financial Group, Salesforce, and UBS, among other entities including universities. More than $1 million came from nine Citi speeches and she got over $800,000 from Citadel, a hedge fund founded by a GOP donor.

Blinken, meanwhile, has been paid (pdf) nearly $1.2 million by WestExec Advisors and is owed another $250,000 to $500,000 from the consulting firm he founded with other former Obama administration officials. He revealed that his clients have ranged from the investment management firm Blackstone as well as Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Canada, to tech giants such as Facebook and Microsoft, to the pharmaceutical company Gilead. Other clients include AT&T, Boeing, Sotheby's, and Uber.

"A Biden transition official said they filed the forms 'mid-week' before the Office of Government Ethics posted the forms late Thursday, New Year's Eve," according to Politico, which reported on the disclosures early Friday. As Politico pointed out:

Blinken has entered into a term sheet to sell his stake in WestExec, which is valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, according to the disclosure. He also plans to divest his stake in WestExec Ventures, a sister venture capital firm, according to the filing. His stake in WestExec Ventures is valued at between $1 million and $5 million.

Avril Haines, Biden's pick for director of national intelligence, was a principal and consultant at WestExec. She also disclosed (pdf) $180,000 in consulting fees from Peter Thiel's controversial data-mining firm Palantir. The Intercept reported in June 2020 that as Haines was being eyed for possible leadership posts in the former vice president's administration, her consultant work for Palantir disappeared from her biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she was a nonresident senior fellow.

While Biden's selections of the trio were met with mixed reactions, the disclosures elevated concerns about potential conflicts and drew critiques from some progressives.

Politico noted that Yellen has said she will go to the Treasury Department's ethics lawyers to "seek written authorization to participate personally and substantially in any particular matter" involving a firm she received compensation from in the prior year.

The disclosure also provoked defenses of the ex-Fed chair.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a top member on the committee that will evaluate Biden's pick for treasury secretary, told Reuters that "Secretary-designate Yellen is one of the world's top economic minds, and her perspective on economic matters has been widely sought after since she left the Federal Reserve."

A Biden transition spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that Yellen has given speeches "after several decades in public service" to discuss "her experiences and her views on what we can do as a country to build a stronger economy and increase our competitiveness."

"Her experience and expertise are the reasons President-elect Biden wanted her on his team working for him and on behalf of the American people to help us build back better from this economic crisis," the spokesperson added. "It's clear that leaders in academia, business, and economics were seeking informed, thoughtful insight on the economy during a chaotic time for the country when there were few trusted voices in government."

WHO chief urges rich countries to help ensure people everywhere can get vaccinated against COVID-19

One year after the international community first recognized the Covid-19 crisis—which has grown into a deadly, devastating pandemic—the head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday reiterated demands for ensuring equitable access to coronavirus vaccination amid ongoing vaccine development, testing, and deployment.

As of Wednesday evening, according to the Johns Hopkins University global tracker, the world had recorded more than 82.5 million Covid-19 cases and over 1.8 million deaths. The United States continues to lead both tallies, and even before December is officially over, it has been nation's deadliest month on record during the pandemic.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has taken so many lives and caused massive disruption to families, societies, and economies all over the world," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general. "But it also triggered the fastest and most wide-reaching response to a global health emergency in human history."

"Vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics have been developed and rolled out, at record speed, thanks to collaborations including the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator," he noted. "Equity is the essence of the ACT Accelerator, and its vaccine arm, COVAX, which has secured access to two billion doses of promising vaccine candidates."

"Vaccines offer great hope to turn the tide of the pandemic. But to protect the world, we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere—not just in countries who can afford vaccines—are immunized," the WHO chief emphasized. "To do this, COVAX needs just over four billion US dollars urgently to buy vaccines for low- and lower-middle income countries. This is the challenge we must rise to in the new year."

Tedros called for learning from the events of 2020, including the lesson that "governments must increase investment in public health, from funding access to Covid vaccines for all people, to making our systems better prepared to prevent and respond to the next, inevitable, pandemic."

He pointed out that "as it will take time to vaccinate everyone against Covid, we must keep adhering to tried and tested measures that keep each and all of us safe. This means maintaining physical distance, wearing face masks, practicing hand and respiratory hygiene, avoiding crowded indoor places, and meeting people outside."

The WHO leader also emphasized the importance of global solidarity:

Going into 2021, we have a simple, yet profound, choice to make: Do we ignore the lessons of 2020 and allow insular, partisan approaches, conspiracy theories, and attacks on science to prevail, resulting in unnecessary suffering to people's health and society at large?
Or do we walk the last miles of this crisis together, helping each other along the way, from sharing vaccines fairly, to offering accurate advice, compassion, and care to all who need, as one global family?
The choice is easy. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.

Tedros' comments came as the U.K. government on Wednesday became the first to give emergency authorization to a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, "with the first doses being released today so that vaccinations may begin early in the New Year," according to the biopharmaceutical company.

Charles Riley reported for CNN Business that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine "is cheaper and easier to distribute than alternatives, and is expected to play a crucial role in boosting the global economy next year," explaining that the company "has promised to supply hundreds of millions of doses to low- and middle-income countries, and to deliver the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis to those nations in perpetuity."

As Riley also noted:

They're making loads of doses: AstraZeneca says it's working with partners, including the Serum Institute of India, to build manufacturing capacity of up to three billion doses in 2021 on a rolling basis.
For comparison: Pfizer expects to produce as many as 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Moderna said last month that it's on track to manufacture 500 million to one billion doses next year.

Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for U.S. President Donald Trump's widely criticized Operation Warp Speed, said the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is in phase three trials in the United States but being manufactured ahead of the potential authorization. "If everything goes well, that read-out and emergency use authorization may be granted somewhere early in April," he said. "By that time, several tens of millions of doses of this vaccine will have been manufactured."

The U.S. government has already authorized and begun distributing the coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna as well as one from Pfizer and BioNTech. Bloomberg reported that as of early Wednesday, more than 5.1 million doses of various vaccines have been administered across 22 countries. Nearly half, 2.32 million doses, were in the United States, followed by China, the U.K., Israel, Russia, Canada, Bahrain, Germany, and Mexico, though some figures haven't been updated in several days.

Throughout the pandemic, some world leaders, officials in poorer countries, and justice campaigners have demanded that rich governments and vaccine developers work to ensure universal access to coronavirus vaccination. Members of an alliance calling for a #PeoplesVaccine are warning that nine out of 10 people in low-income countries could miss out on vaccination against the virus next year despite the development and distribution of multiple vaccines, many funded by public money.

Given that there aren't yet enough doses of all tested coronavirus vaccines to protect everyone, and the vast majority of existing and planned doses has already been claimed by wealthy countries, poorer nations and public health campaigners are pushing for the suspension of intellectual property rights for vaccines during the pandemic to enable the development of generic versions of vaccines and Covid-19 treatments, which some wealthy nations and vaccine developers have fought against.

Pardon Snowden? GOP lawmaker claims 'Trump is listening'

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida claimed Sunday the President Donald Trump, who has just over a month left in office, "is listening to the many of us who are urging him" to pardon National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been exiled in Russia since he exposed U.S. government mass surveillance in 2013.

The congressman's comment caught the attention of Snowden, who recently secured permanent residency rights in Russia but has long said his ultimate goal is to return to the United States if he is guaranteed a fair trial. Under then-President Barack Obama, the ex-contractor was charged with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials on surveillance to journalists.

Snowden shared Gaetz's tweet on Sunday, noting that he is a member of Congress:

As Common Dreams has previously reported, a diverse group of lawmakers, civil liberties advocates, and other public figures have called for Trump to pardon Snowden. Various other members of Congress and rights advocates on Sunday reiterated calls for Trump to grant the whistleblower a pardon:

After Trump floated the possibility in August—before his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, Obama's vice president, in November—the U.S.-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, for which Snowden serves as board president, emphasized that "no matter your feelings on Trump, a Snowden pardon would be a major win for those who care about fighting back against mass surveillance in the digital age."

Following Trump's remarks, a U.S. federal court ruled that Snowden has to pay over $5 million in book royalties and speaking fees to the U.S. government because his 2019 memoir, Permanent Record, violated nondisclosure agreements he signed while working for the NSA and CIA. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.

Gaetz's comment Sunday were prompted by a Twitter thread from Glenn Greenwald, who was one of the first journalists to report on leaked materials from Snowden and has long called for him to be pardoned. Greenwald noted in the series of tweets that Snowden—who announced in October that he and his wife Lindsay Mills, an American who lives with him in Russia, are expecting their first child—has used his platform to urge the president to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange:

Earlier this month, Snowden tweeted a message directed at Trump: "Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office, please: free Julian Assange. You alone can save his life."

The detention of Assange at London's Belmarsh Prison since April 2019 has drawn intense condemnation from human rights and press freedom advocates. The Australian journalist and publisher, who famously exposed U.S. war crimes, could soon be extradited to the United States, where he faces 17 counts of espionage and one count of computer fraud.

This week, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer called on British authorities to release Assange or place him under house arrest, citing the risk of him catching Covid-19 in prison. Melzer, who has described Assange's detention conditions as "torture," also said that his "rights have been severely violated for more than a decade."

UN chief at climate summit: 'Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?'

World leaders aren't doing enough to address the human-caused climate crisis.

That seemed to be the main message of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres' speech on Saturday at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, hosted by the U.N., the United Kingdom, and France in partnership with Chile and Italy to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement.

"Paris promised to limit temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees as possible. But the commitments made in Paris were far from enough to get there. And even those commitments are not being met," Guterres said. "Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. Today, we are 1.2 degrees hotter than before the industrial revolution. If we don't change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century."

"Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?" he asked. "That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached. Some 38 countries have already done so, recognizing the urgency and the stakes. I urge all others to follow."

Scores of government and business leaders from across the globe joined Saturday's virtual event, which followed the recent release of a series of alarming U.N. climate reports and came ahead of the U.K.-hosted COP26 in Glasgow—postponed until next November because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the need for urgent, ambitious action, "the dozens of leaders who spoke mostly offered tweaks to existing commitments or promises of bolder moves before crucial talks in Glasgow in late 2021, rather than breakthrough new policies to hasten the end of fossil fuels," Reuters reported.

Echoing a key takeaway from The Emissions Gap Report 2020, the latest edition of an annual publication from the U.N. Environment Program published Wednesday, Guterres said it is "unacceptable" that governments are giving Covid-19 relief and recovery money to polluters rather than fully committing to setting "our economies and societies on a green path in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

"This is a moral test," he said. "Every country, city, financial institution, and company needs to adopt plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050—and start executing them now, including by providing clear short-term targets. Key emitting sectors such as shipping, aviation, and industry must also present and implement new, transformational roadmaps in line with this goal."

"Technology is on our side. Sound economic analysis is our ally. Renewable energy is getting less expensive with every passing day," the U.N. chief continued. "Climate action can be the catalyst for millions of new jobs, better health, and resilient infrastructure. But let us remember that this transition must be just."

At the summit, "a total of 75 leaders announced 45 renewed pledges to cut emissions, 24 net zero commitments, and 20 adaptation and resilience plans," according to Bloomberg Green. "It is not enough and the clock continues to tick," warned COP26 president Alok Sharma. "The choices we make in the year ahead will determine whether we unleash a tidal wave of climate catastrophe on generations to come."

While some of the climate action plans put forth by the summit's participants were criticized as not bold enough, the Associated Press noted that some major economies were totally absent from the event. Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were not at the summit.

The Trump administration also declined to participate, but "American representatives at the virtual meeting included Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and U.S. business leaders, such as Apple chief executive Tim Cook," according to the AP.

Although President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement the day after the November election, President-elect Joe Biden—who won support from climate action advocates leading up to his defeat of Trump—on Saturday reiterated his commitment to returning to the accord.

"The United States will rejoin the Paris agreement on day one of my presidency," Biden said. "I'll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office."

"We have before us an enormous economic opportunity to create jobs and prosperity at home and export clean American-made products around the world, harnessing our climate ambition in a way that is good for American workers and the U.S. economy," added Biden, who served as vice president to President Barack Obama.

Biden recently appointed John Kerry, the former secretary of state under Obama who helped craft the Paris agreement, as his climate envoy—a move welcomed by Guterres but met with mixed reactions from climate campaigners in the United States.

In the midst of the summit, U.S. advocacy groups and progressive politicians issued renewed demands for bold action to address the planetary emergency, with some calling for a Green New Deal:

Writing for his newsletter The Phoenix on Friday, journalist and meterologist Eric Holthaus declared that "limiting warming to less than 1.5°C is an existential necessity. Joe Biden won't get us there on his own, but he could make a transformative leap in the right direction."

"The Covid pandemic turned back the clock on emissions worldwide. But it's changed nothing—yet—about the problem that got us here: Extractive capitalism working in partnership with white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism," Holthaus wrote. "To change everything, we need everyone healthy, valued, and loved."

"That means NOW IS A SUPER IMPORTANT TIME," he added. "If we return to business as usual post-Covid, it will be a disaster that may be unrecoverable. Climate change needs to be at the heart of every country's recovery plans in 2021."

House Democrat says a provision in the 14th Amendment means some GOP members shouldn't even be seated

Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell on Friday charged that some of his Republican colleagues shouldn't be sworn in for the next session of Congress, accusing them of violating the U.S. Constitution and attempting to "demolish democracy" by backing President Donald Trump's effort to overturn the November election, which he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chair of the Committee on House Administration, the New Jersey congressman specifically condemned the more than 100 House Republicans who are supporting a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that aims to block the four key battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all of which Biden won—from voting in the Electoral College.

Pascrell cites Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution, which gives each chamber of Congress final authority over membership, as well as Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which says:

No person shall be a senator or representative in Congress, or elector of president and vice president, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

"Stated simply, men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as members of the Congress," writes the longtime Trump critic.

"These lawsuits seeking to obliterate public confidence in our democratic system by invalidating the clear results of the 2020 presidential election attack the text and spirit of the Constitution, which each member swears to support and defend, as well as violate the rules of our House of Representatives, which explicitly forbid members from committing unbecoming acts that reflect poorly on our chamber," he adds.

Pascrell urges Pelosi and Lofgren to exercise their power to figure how they can respond to these alleged constitutional violations and, if possible, refuse to seat incoming members who, in his words, are "seeking to make Donald Trump an unelected dictator."

Their actions "must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms," he argues. "The moment we face now may be without parallel since 1860. The fate of our democracy depends on us meeting that moment."

The congressman was far from alone in condemning the behavior of GOP officials who have rallied around Paxton's long-shot lawsuit and other legal challenges to Biden's decisive victory. Earlier Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also slammed supporters of Trump's attempt to sow doubt about the security of the election.

"House Republicans are spending critical time when people are starving and small businesses are shuttering trying to overturn the results of our election," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, "but please tell us more about how 'both sides are just as bad.'"

Fellow Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Thursday that "they are attempting a coup in broad daylight and it should not be treated as anything less."

Eco 'sabotage': Trump EPA issues last-minute rule to make action harder for Biden

With President Donald Trump's first term soon coming to an end, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday finalized a rule that critics are calling a last-minute attempt to "sabotage" future efforts by President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration to tackle the intertwined climate and pollution crises.

Capping off nearly four years of Trump and members of his administration working to roll back over 100 environmental and public health protections in the service of corporate polluters, the new rule changes how the EPA calculates the costs and benefits of new policies on air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

The new requirements, as the Washington Post reports, "instruct the agency to weigh all the economic costs of curbing an air pollutant but disregard many of the incidental benefits that arise, such as illnesses and deaths avoided by a potential regulation. In other words, if reducing emissions from power plants also saves tens of thousands of lives each year by cutting soot, those 'co-benefits' should be not be counted."

Former coal lobbyist and current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the finalization during a virtual event with the Heritage Foundation, saying, "thanks to President Trump's leadership, we are ensuring that future rulemakings under the Clean Air Act are transparent, fair, and consistent with EPA governing statutes."

Environmental and public health advocates pushed back against Wheeler's framing, blasting the rule as not only yet another piece of the outgoing administration's deregulatory agenda but also a blatant attempt to hamstring Biden, who ran on a promise to deliver environmental and climate justice.

"For four years, this administration has waged war on public health by kowtowing to polluters," Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook said of Trump's first term. "Now, on the way out the door, this amounts to sabotaging the efforts of the incoming administration to protect Americans from dirty air."

"It will literally be a breath of fresh air to soon have a president and an EPA working each day to make Americans and the planet healthier and safe," he added of Biden's planned January 20 inauguration. "But Administrator Wheeler and President Trump are hellbent on making that job as difficult as possible."

The rule comes in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, noted Chris Saeger, a spokesperson for Accountable.US. Early research has tied air pollution to a heightened risk of dying from Covid-19, which had killed over 288,700 people in the United States, according to John Hopkins University's global tracker.

"Donald Trump must be held accountable for selling out Americans' air quality to big oil companies and fossil fuel lobbyists during a public health emergency," Saeger said. "To restore our nation, the Biden administration must raise standards for the air we breath by rejecting these irresponsible policies that reward the special interests the Trump administration used to work for."

Emily Davis, senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate & Clean Energy Program, also called on the next administration to forge a new path on pollution policy.

"This is an egregious 11th-hour attempt to handcuff the incoming administration and undercut the benefits of clean air—in the worst days of a global health crisis," she said of the new rule. "Our country is struggling to address racial injustice and a deadly pandemic magnified by pollution, which all heavily impact Black, Latino, and low-income people."

"The Biden administration should deep-six this dishonest and dangerous rule—and allow EPA to re-embrace its core mission, which is to protect public health and our environment," Davis added. "We'll use every tool, and look forward to working with the Biden team, to ensure that healthier future for all."