Jessica Corbett

Sanders, Barber to hold trio of $17 minimum wage rallies in Southeast US

"There are too many Americans trying to survive and raise families on $9, $10, or $12 an hour," said the senator. "This injustice must end."

On the heels of launching an effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour over five years, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday announced upcoming rallies to demand the pay hike in three states, where he will be joined by Bishop William Barber II.

Barber—Repairers of the Breach president, Poor People's Campaign co-chair, and founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School—plans to join Sanders (I-Vt.) to "make the moral case for raising wages."

Sanders and Barber are first headed to Durham, North Carolina, where they are set to be joined by Democratic Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam—who worked for the senator's 2016 presidential campaign—for a 7:00 pm ET rally at the Hayti Heritage Center on June 1.

The pair then plans to visit the Henderson A. Johnson Memorial Gymnasium at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee at 7:00 pm CT on June 2. State Rep. Justin Jones (D-52)—who gained national attention earlier this year for being expelled by GOP legislators over a protest demanding gun control, only to be promptly reinstated by Nashville's Metropolitan Council—is expected to join them.

A third rally hosted by the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 at their union hall in Charleston, South Carolina is scheduled for 4:00 pm ET on June 3. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-111) plans to join the event, in partnership with the South Carolina AFL-CIO.

"Low-income workers need a pay raise and the American people want them to get that raise."

A longtime advocate of increasing the U.S. minimum wage, Sanders and labor leaders announced their push for $17 per hour earlier this month. Though several states have set higher minimums, the federal rate of $7.25 hasn't changed since 2009.

"At a time of massive and growing income and wealth inequality and record-breaking corporate profits, we must stand up for working families—many of whom are struggling every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families," Sanders—who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee—said Monday.

"There are too many Americans trying to survive and raise families on $9, $10, or $12 an hour. It cannot be done. This injustice must end," he added. "Low-income workers need a pay raise and the American people want them to get that raise."

The progressive think tank Data for Progress last week released polling results that show 76% of likely voters across party lines would support a $17 hourly minimum wage—and 74% would support $20.

The survey, conducted in early May, also revealed that all likely voters believe Americans need to earn $26.20 per hour "to have a decent quality of life (that is, the ability to afford basic necessities such as groceries, rent or mortgage payments, transportation, and other essential bills without struggling)."

Plans for the rally series come after researchers at the University of California, Berkeley kicked off May by putting out a working paper that shows significant minimum wage increases can have positive effects on earnings and employment—countering claims from corporate lobbying groups that oppose such pay hikes.

While Sanders has the power to ensure his panel takes up the issue, legislation to increase the minimum wage nationwide is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden's desk, given the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Senate that still includes Democrats who partnered with the GOP in 2021 to block a measure that would have mandated a $15 hourly rate.

Corporate media continues to blow it on coverage of debt ceiling hostage situation

As negotiators for the White House and congressional Republicans continue their will-they-or-won't-they game with the global economy at risk, critics are calling out corporate media coverage of efforts to prevent a devastating U.S. default by raising the debt ceiling.

"There are three aspects to the substance and coverage of this debate that have been infuriating," saidRevolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser in a statement Friday. "First, the notion that 'modest cuts' to spending are inconsequential."

"Second is the role of inflation," Hauser continued, charging that the brewing potential deal between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "would be a catastrophe for government capacity, and coverage that ignores the role of inflation (hardly a low profile issue in 2023!) is wildly and indefensibly misguided."

"The notion that the president was trapped under the gun of McCarthy is ridiculous."

"Third, the notion that the president was trapped under the gun of McCarthy is ridiculous," he added. "Because the debt ceiling is an unconstitutional, incoherent excuse for a law and because there is an active lawsuit from the National Association of Government Employees [NAGE], Biden's status as a hostage merely reflects an advanced case of Stockholm Syndrome."

Given arguments that the president "has a wide number of ways out from the debt ceiling and no legal way to implement it," Hauser asserted, "the media needs to quit deferring to the debt ceiling's political theater and engage more with the essentially uncontroverted legal experts pointing out that it cannot be implemented in a constitutional manner."

The NAGE case has a hearing set for May 31, just days before the so-called X-date, or when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns the government could run out of money absent a debt limit hike. The union's suit and subsequent request for emergency action by the court this month initially sparked some hope that Biden might act unilaterally to avoid a default based on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."

However, as Common Dreams reported earlier Friday, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told CNN's Poppy Harlow that the president won't invoke the 14th Amendment and "we don't have a Plan B that allows us to meet the commitments that we've made to our creditors, to our seniors, to our veterans, to the American people."

By taking the 14th Amendment off the table, "Biden might inexplicably be cornering himself," The Washington Post's Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent wrote in a Tuesday opinion piece. "Biden should not make it harder for himself to follow the Constitution in defense of the country if and when it's the only option left."

Even if the White House and McCarthy do strike a debt ceiling deal by the X-date, now June 5, there are potential long-term consequences from the president—and the press—normalizing the GOP's economic hostage-taking. Waldman and Sargent wrote:

As Georgetown law professor Anna Gelpern notes, there's danger in not being fully prepared to honor the country's obligations and in allowing the integrity of U.S. credit to remain under threat of future extortion efforts. "There's downside risk to telling the world Congress can keep doing this," Gelpern said, adding that the standoff is already undermining confidence in the U.S. government.

Paradoxically, the more Biden expresses reluctance about the 14th Amendment, the more it encourages the public to perceive the standoff as a conventional budget negotiation. By contrast, if Biden flatly declared he will not allow extreme demands to interfere with his constitutional duty, Gelpern argues, the debate would be about "whether threatening to tank existing U.S. obligations is a legitimate tool."

CNN political analyst and Princeton University history and public affairs professor Julian Zelizer wrote in a Thursday opinion piece that "regardless of the outcome, Republicans have already won this political war. Once again, the GOP has weaponized a routine process. In doing so, it has normalized an extreme tactic that should not be considered a legitimate tool of partisan combat."

"Although former President Barack Obama hoped to have quashed this tactic in 2013 when he stood firm against the Tea Party Republicans during another round of debt ceiling threats (the GOP managed to extract significant concessions in 2011 using a similar approach)," Zelizer added, "an extreme cohort of Republican legislators has shown that this high-risk maneuver is not going away."

That's thanks to not only Biden's willingness to negotiate with GOP hostage-takers rather than challenge the constitutionality of the debt ceiling statute, but also media coverage that has helped to "normalize Republican legislative terrorism," as The American Prospect's Ryan Cooper put it earlier this month, specifically calling out Axios, CNBC, and Punchbowl News.

In a Friday opinion piece for Common Dreams, University of California, Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich took aim at "inexcusable" reporting from few other outlets:

I heard ABC News attribute the standoff on the debt ceiling to "polarization" in Congress. NPR blames the fight on "hyper-partisanship" in American politics. Reutersblames the stalemate on lawmakers "digging in on partisan positions."

"Partisan standoff" is the way most of the media is now characterizing the fight.

"Enough with the 'both sides' reporting on the debt ceiling," Reich demanded. "Republicans alone manufactured this looming disaster... The 'both sides' reporting is misleading the public and giving a free pass to McCarthy and his extremists."

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) expressed similar frustration with the media during a Wednesday press conference. Caucus Whip Greg Casar (D-Texas) told journalists that "if the hostage gets hurt, you all should be asking the hostage-takers, 'Why did you do that?' not asking the hostage, 'Why didn't you pick the lock faster?'"

Some reporters refuse to blame Republicans for the current crisis, even though they are willing to tank the economy for a potential electoral advantage in 2024, noted CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), echoing an off-hand remark from Biden a few days earlier.

In a Friday opinion piece for Common Dreams, radio show host and author Thom Hartmann explained how the ongoing fight fits into a trend that began decades ago—and "it all started with a guy named Jude Wanniski, who literally transformed American politics with a plan that the American mainstream media, astonishingly, continues to ignore."

The GOP strategist's plan was that during Republican presidencies, policymakers should pursue huge tax cuts and uncontrolled spending that stimulate the economy and raise the national debt—then, "when a Democrat is in the White House, Republicans must scream about the national debt as loudly and frantically as possible," he summarized.

"Following Wanniski's script, Republicans are again squealing about the national debt and saying they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling, possibly crashing the U.S. economy," Hartmann wrote. "And, once again, the media is preparing to cover it as a 'Debt Ceiling Crisis!' rather than what it really is: a cynical political and media strategy devised by Republicans in the 1970s, fine-tuned in the 1980s, and since then rolled out every time a Democrat is in the White House."

Under the most recent GOP president—Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection in 2024—Republicans in Congress supported multiple debt limit hikes "while providing trillions in tax cuts for the rich," Reich stressed Friday, declaring that "McCarthy and his band of MAGA crazies don't give a fig about the national debt."

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, while congressional Republicans continue to hold the economy hostage, they are crafting a soon-to-be-revealed tax cuts package that would further benefit wealthy individuals and corporations and add trillions to the deficit.

Right-wing US Supreme Court delivers 'catastrophic loss for water protections'

The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority on Thursday severely curtailed protections for "waters of the United States."

The decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is "unanimous in result but very split in reasoning," explainedSlate's Mark Joseph Stern. "The upshot of Sackett is that, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court dramatically narrows" which wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The majority opinion—authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by all of the court's other right-wing members except Justice Brett Kavanaugh—concludes that the CWA only applies to wetlands with "a continuous surface connection" to larger bodies of water, excluding those that are "adjacent."

Earthjusticedeclared in response to the ruling that "this is a catastrophic loss for water protections across the country and a win for big polluters, putting our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger."

Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was similarly critical, saying that "the Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands."

"The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price," Bapna warned.

"What's important now is to repair the damage," he added. "The government must enforce the remaining provisions of law that protect the clean water we all rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, irrigation, and more. States should quickly strengthen their own laws. Congress needs to act to restore protections for all our waters."

Elizabeth Southerland, former director of science and technology in EPA's Office of Water, noted that "since 1989, the U.S. government has used Clean Water Act authority to either prevent the filling of wetlands or to permit filling only when an equal acreage of wetlands is reclaimed or restored."

"Wetland preservation is critical for providing flood control, absorbing pollutants, preventing shoreline erosion, storing carbon, and serving as a nursery for wildlife," stressed Southerland, now a volunteer with the Environmental Protection Network.

Thursday's decision, she said, "is a big win for land developers and miners, who will now be free to destroy certain types of wetlands without paying for wetland reclamation," and "a big loss for communities who will have to pay more to treat their drinking water and respond to increased flooding and shoreline erosion."

The high court was criticized for hearing the case—brought by an Idaho couple denied a permit by the EPA—as the federal agencuy was finalizing a new waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule following the Trump administration's widely condemned rollback. The Biden administration's policy was just finalized in December.

"While Earthjustice and our allies are closely evaluating the impact of the Sackett decision on the new WOTUS regulation," said Sam Sankar, the legal group's vice president of programs, "we can say with certainty that the court has once again given polluting industries and land developers a potent weapon that they will use to erode regulatory protections for wetlands and waterways around the country."

House GOP rebuked for 'cruel and reckless' ploy to reverse student debt relief

Advocates of student debt relief on Wednesday blasted Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a resolution that critics said showcases "their contempt for workers and families" who are burdened by loans taken out to access higher education.

H.J. Res. 45 is a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which U.S. lawmakers can use to overturn federal regulations. The measure passed the House in a 218-203 vote mostly along party lines; Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.) were the only members of their party to join Republicans in supporting it.

The resolution is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even if it did, the White House has already made clear that President Joe Biden would veto it. The GOP measure—a clear message to voters ahead of the 2024 elections—would block Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) released a report detailing the "ruinous impact" the resolution would have on millions of borrowers.

"The record is clear: The damage caused by this cruel and reckless legislation will hurt working people, including millions of its right-wing supporters' own constituents," SBPC executive director Mike Pierce declared after the vote.

Pierce noted that "right-wing proponents have gone to great lengths to mislead their own colleagues and deny the truth—this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions [of] borrowers for interest that has already been canceled."

"Should this become law, it will cause irreparable damage to the student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in their government," he warned. "This is exactly what extreme conservative lawmakers want, they are just afraid to say it."

SBPC and 260 other groups also criticized the resolution's supporters in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, charging that "policymakers now seeking to reverse such critical relief through the CRA are ignoring the economic needs of their own constituents and threatening our nation's financial security."

"Congress should be acting to improve the circumstances of the American people," the coalition argued, "not attempting to thwart the president's efforts to ease the financial pressure that so many are feeling."

Another letter signatory, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), called out the GOP-led effort just ahead of the vote Wednesday.

"This is yet another political stunt from some members of Congress to prevent tens of millions of borrowers, including low-wealth individuals, service members, public service workers, women, and people of color from receiving relief ahead of the Supreme Court's decision regarding the fate of student debt cancellation, said Jaylon Herbin, CRL's director of federal campaigns.

Herbin warned that "resuming the payment pause without student loan forgiveness, let alone requiring students to retroactively pay months' worth of student loan payments, will add thousands of dollars into the average borrower's loan balance, lead millions into forbearance and default, and contribute to a widening racial wealth gap.”

"These actions are not only irresponsible but demonstrate a genuine lack of concern for the nation's overall economic health and the financial well-being of millions of U.S. individuals and families," he added.

The House vote came not only as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to Biden's debt relief plan, but also as congressional Republicans threaten to blow up the economy by refusing to raise the debt limit unless Democratic lawmakers and the president agree to spending cuts that would harm working people.

'In peril': UN chief warns war and climate crisis threaten global progress on human health

"Progress is in peril."

That was United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres' warning Sunday to the 76th World Health Assembly.

Over seven decades ago, he noted, "countries came together and affirmed some fundamental truths: that peace depends on health; that disease in one nation endangers all; and that achieving the greatest possible health for everyone, everywhere relies on cooperation."

Since the creation of the World Health Organization (WHO), Guterres continued, "human health has advanced dramatically: global life expectancy—up over 50%; infant mortality—down 60% in 30 years; smallpox—eradicated; and polio on the verge of extinction."

But now, "war and conflict threaten millions. The health of billions is endangered by the climate crisis. And the Covid-19 pandemic has stalled, and even reversed, progress in public health," the U.N. leader said in a video address kicking off the assembly.

"We can return to the path of progress. We can realize our ambitions for health and well-being for all. But only if the world works together. If we cooperate, despite the tensions straining relations between nations," he stressed.

Guterres called for "strengthening the independence, authority, and financing of the World Health Organization," and said that "it is vital to prepare for the health threats to come—from new pandemics to climate dangers—so that we prevent where we can, and respond fast and effectively where we cannot."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—who earlier this month declared Covid-19 over as a global health emergency—similarly urged international coordination during his welcome speech to the assembly. The agency leader said that "in 2020, I described Covid-19 as a long, dark tunnel. We have now come out the end of that tunnel."

"To be clear, Covid-19 is still with us, it still kills, it's still changing, and it still demands our attention," Tedros continued. The end of the emergency "is not just the end of a bad dream from which we have woken. We cannot simply carry on as we did before."

"This is a moment to look behind us and remember the darkness of the tunnel, and then to look forward, and to move forward in the light of the many painful lessons it has taught us. Chief among those lessons is that we can only face shared threats with a shared response," Tedros added. He stressed that the pandemic accord now being negotiated "must be a historic agreement to make a paradigm shift in global health security, recognizing that our fates are interwoven."

As the assembly—scheduled through May 30—got underway in Geneva, Switzerland, Guterres was in Hiroshima, Japan, for the Group of Seven (G7) summit, where he also underscored the importance of global cooperation while speaking to the press on Sunday.

"My message to G7 leaders is clear: While the economic picture is uncertain everywhere, rich countries cannot ignore the fact that more than half the world—the vast majority of countries—are suffering through a deep financial crisis," Guterres said. "The crushing economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, unsustainable levels of debt, rising interest rates, and inflation are devastating developing and emerging economies."

"There is a systemic and unjust bias in global economic and financial frameworks in favor of rich countries," he declared, highlighting that "access to Covid-19 vaccines was deeply unfair" and "the recovery has been extremely unbalanced."

While the U.N. chief argued that "it's time to reform both the Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions," referring to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, he also said that "even within the present unfair global rules, more can and must be done to support developing economies."

G7 countries are "central to climate action," Guterres said, noting the need for "faster timelines to phase out fossil fuels and ramp up renewables," an end to dirty energy subsidies, and financial support for developing nations that are disproportionately bearing the brunt of a crisis largely created by the Global North.

As Common Dreams reported earlier Sunday, since G7 leaders on Saturday put out a communiqué addressing a wide range of topics, campaigners around the world have decried the statement's support for further investments in planet-heating gas, calling it "a blunt denial of the climate emergency."

'Death sentence': G7 blasted for supporting natural gas investments

"Energy security can only be achieved by rapidly and equitably phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy, not locking in deadly fossil fuels and lining the pockets of oil and gas executives," said one critic.

Since Group of Seven leaders on Saturday put out a wide-ranging communiqué from a Japan-hosted summit in Hiroshima, climate action advocates from G7 countries and beyond have blasted the statement's support for future investments in planet-heating gas.

The statement comes after G7 climate, energy, and environment ministers were criticized for their communiqué from a meeting in Sapporo last month as well as protests around the world this week pressuring the summit's attendees to ditch fossil fuels and "deliver a clear and just renewable energy agenda for a peaceful world."

To meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris climate agreement, the new statement commits to "accelerate the phaseout of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net-zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest" along with "the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 or sooner."

"The G7 must stop using fossil fuels immediately—the planet is on fire."

The statement also highlights that last year, G7 nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—pledged to end "new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector, except in limited circumstances," though as recent analysis shows, some are breaking that promise.

The communiqué then endorses liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a solution to "the global impact of Russia's war on energy supplies, gas prices and inflation, and people's lives," referencing the invasion of Ukraine:

In this context, we stress the important role that increased deliveries of LNG can play, and acknowledge that investment in the sector can be appropriate in response to the current crisis and to address potential gas market shortfalls provoked by the crisis. In the exceptional circumstance of accelerating the phaseout of our dependency on Russian energy, publicly supported investment in the gas sector can be appropriate as a temporary response, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives without creating lock-in effects, for example by ensuring that projects are integrated into national strategies for the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen.

"The G7 energy outcome correctly diagnoses a short-term need for energy security, then promotes a dangerous and inappropriate lock-in of fossil gas that would do nothing to address this need," responded Collin Rees, United States program manager at Oil Change International (OCI). "Energy security can only be achieved by rapidly and equitably phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy, not locking in deadly fossil fuels and lining the pockets of oil and gas executives."

After accusing the summit's attendees of "using the war as an excuse," deflecting blame for current conditions, and neglecting Global South countries disproportionately suffering from the climate crisis, Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam, declared that "the G7 must stop using fossil fuels immediately—the planet is on fire."

Greenpeace International global climate politics expert Tracy Carty also demanded a swift end to fossil fuels, charging that "G7 leaders' endorsement of new fossil gas is a blunt denial of the climate emergency" which dooms "current and future generations."

Gerry Arances, executive director of the Philippine Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, similarly argued that "the endorsement of increased LNG deliveries and investment in gas in the G7 communiqué is no mere backsliding—it is a death sentence being dealt by the G7 to the 1.5°C limit and, in consequence, to the climate survival of vulnerable peoples in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and across the world."

"Unless they genuinely put forward the phaseout of all fossil fuels, Japan and all G7 nations spout nothing but lies when they say they have aligned to 1.5°C," he continued. "They cannot claim to be promoting development while subjecting our people to decades more of pollution and soaring energy prices. We reject this notion of a development powered by fossil fuels."

Looking to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) planned for later this year, Arances added that "Japan and G7 leaders should already be warned that civic movements will not tire in pushing back against fossil fuels and false solutions and in demanding a renewable energy transition."

"Civic movements will not tire in pushing back against fossil fuels and false solutions and in demanding a renewable energy transition."

Other campaigners also specifically called out the Hiroshima summit's host—including Ayumi Fukakusa, deputy executive director at Friends of the Earth Japan, who asserted that the country "has used the G7 presidency to derail the global energy transition."

"Japan has been driving the push to increase gas investments and has been promoting its so-called 'green transformation’ strategy," Fukakusa said of a "greenwashing scheme" featuring hydrogen, ammonia, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage technologies.

OCI Asia program manager Susanne Wong agreed that given the nation's promotion of gas expansion and technologies to prolong the use of coal, "this year's G7 is revealing Japan's failure of climate leadership at a global level."

"Activists mobilized 50 actions across 22 countries this week to demand that Japan end its fossil fuel finance and stop driving the expansion of gas and other fossil-based technologies," Wong added. "Japan will continue to face intense international scrutiny until it stops fueling the climate crisis."

Groups from other G7 countries also called out their political leaders. Petter Lydén, head of international climate policy at Germanwatch, said, "Most likely, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been a driving force behind the weak language on gas, which is a serious blow to Germany's international credibility on climate."

Citing sources familiar with summit negotiations, The New York Timesreported Saturday that "Britain and France fought the German effort" while U.S. President Joe Biden was caught between defending his climate agenda and "aiding other United States allies intent on increasing their access to fossil fuels."

OCI's Rees said the that "this betrayal continues a disturbing turn by President Biden and Chancellor Scholz from rhetorically committing to climate leadership to openly boosting fossil fuel expansion. History will not look kindly on world leaders who accelerate the pace of fossil fuel buildout in the face of worsening climate crisis."

'Chilling': Rights advocates explode on FBI for abusing surveillance tool 278,000+ times

Friday's "alarming" revelations about U.S. law enforcement's abuse of a powerful surveillance tool "confirmed the worst fears of advocates" and likely further complicated a brewing battle in Congress over reauthorizing a constitutionally dubious spying law.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—which is set to expire at the end of this year unless reauthorized by federal lawmakers—empowers the U.S. government to engage in warrantless surveillance of electronic communications. Although the law only authorizes targeting foreigners located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information, a massive amount of Americans' data is also collected.

On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), released a pair of redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions—one which revealed that in 2020 and early 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) misused the Section 702 database over 278,000 times.

"These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It's clear the FBI can't be left to police itself."

The "persistent and widespread" violations by the FBI—which is part of the DOJ—include searches for information related to crime victims, protesters arrested after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, donors to a congressional candidate, and people suspected of breaching the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The New York Times reported that "a senior FBI official said that in those cases, the analysts misunderstood the standard and were required to undergo additional training," and a representative for the DOJ disclosed that the unidentified political candidate lost to an incumbent lawmaker.

The ODNI's statement about the court documents insists that "all of these compliance incidents occurred prior to FBI deploying a series of remedial measures beginning in the summer of 2021 and through 2022. As a result, these compliance incidents do not reflect FBI's querying practices subsequent to the full deployment of the remedial measures."

However, exposure of the FBI's conduct prompted fresh demands from civil liberties advocates in Congress and beyond for seriously reforming or even ending Section 702, with several critics casting doubt on claims that the bureau—and other agencies with access to the collected data—will behave absent outside intervention.

"These abuses have been going on for years and despite recent changes in FBI practices, these systematic violations of Americans' privacy require congressional action," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declaredFriday. "If Section 702 is to be reauthorized, there must be statutory reforms to ensure that the checks and balances are in place to put an end to these abuses."

"I am disappointed at the extent of the redactions in the opinions released today," he added, pledging to pressure ODNI to inform the public about the interpretation of the law behind closed doors. "There is important, secret information about how the government has interpreted Section 702 that Congress and the American people need to see before the law is renewed."

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, though he noted his hesitation to do so given that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has created the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government—which has been called the "Insurrection Protection Committee" and a "fascist power grab to evade accountability" by progressive lawmakers:

In the middle of Chairman Jordan's overzealous attack on federal law enforcement and the absurd claims advanced by the MAGA crowd on the weaponization subcommittee, I am hesitant to comment at all—but the abuse of FISA authority detailed in this opinion demands a response from all members of Congress. Section 702 exists only to protect the country from external threats to our national security. The government may only use it to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States. If the FBI insists on using it for routine domestic criminal investigations, without a warrant or probable cause, then perhaps they should not have access to this information at all. The problem is not that the FBI unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans of any particular political view. They appear to have conducted backdoor searches on Black Lives Matter protestors, January 6th rioters, and everyone in between. The problem is that they unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans. Period.

The FBI says that they have instituted new procedures to make this kind of abuse impossible. They have made that promise before. Without significant changes to the law to prevent this abuse, I will oppose the reauthorization of this authority.

Civil society groups that have for years sounded the alarm about Section 702 responded similarly to the latest revelations.

"Today's disclosures underscore the need for Congress to rein in the FBI's egregious abuses of this law, including warrantless searches using the names of people who donated to a congressional candidate," Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU's National Security Project, toldThe Associated Press Friday. "These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It's clear the FBI can't be left to police itself."

The Washington Postnoted that "this is not the only time the FBI has been in trouble for the database. Another recent audit found multiple problems, including that the FBI used the database to search for the name of a member of Congress."

"For the FBI to misuse Section 702 to spy on people protesting the killing of George Floyd, political donors, and victims of crimes is an unspeakable abuse of trust," said Demand Progress senior policy counsel Sean Vitka. "Congress must enact comprehensive privacy protections for people in the United States, against all forms of warrantless surveillance, or Section 702 must fall. If the administration wants to see this law survive in any form, it should publicly embrace this reality."

The Biden administration in recent months has urged Congress to reauthorize Section 702, including in a February letter to top Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence.

Vitka asserted that the "shocking" abuse is "unmatched since the days of J. Edgar Hoover," a former longtime FBI director also referenced by Jake Laperruque, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's Security & Surveillance Project.

"Even with the long history of FBI misuse of FISA 702, these latest revelations should set off alarm bells across Congress," said Laperruque. "The systemic misuse of this warrantless surveillance tool has made FISA 702 as toxic as COINTELPRO and the FBI abuses of the Hoover years. Absent a full overhaul of Section 702 and related surveillance powers, Congress should not allow the law to be extended past this year."

"For decades, we've seen surveillance abuse target political dissidents and marginalized communities, and worried a defensive search exception for FISA 702 could be misused the same way," he added, referring to queries seeking data on someone who may be a victim or target of a foreign influence operation. "This shocking example of 'defensive searches' being an excuse to pull up the communications of a batch of 19,000 political donors without a warrant should end the discussion of whether any type of 'defensive search' exception is safe or acceptable.”

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, said in a series of tweets Friday that "it's time to end this charade once and for all. The Fourth Amendment requires the government to show probable cause to a court if it wants to access Americans’ communications."

"Backdoor searches provide an end-run around this requirement under the best of circumstances and they are indefensible when the [government] is violating its own minimal standards in ways that directly impact Americans' rights to engage in political protest, donate to political campaigns, or just live their lives free from [government] scrutiny based on race or ethnicity," she added. "Congress should not authorize Section 702 without sweeping reforms, starting with a warrant requirement to conduct U.S. person queries of any data the government obtained without a warrant based on the claim that it was not targeting Americans."

In a Friday opinion piece for Fast Company, Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, argued that the data collected under Section 702 "is nothing short of a loaded gun aimed at the heart of a democracy, a lawless digital dragnet systematically abused by those who swore to uphold the law."

The campaigner continued:

As civil rights groups warned would happen, FBI agents just couldn't help themselves. Rather than follow the limits that were supposed to protect Americans from this international dragnet, agents used this terrifying tool to target protesters and domestic suspects. And the abuses should be chilling to all of us, no matter where we sit on the political spectrum...

It would have been disturbing if these sorts of egregious examples happened just a few times, but to see the FBI's systematic misuse of these resources proves that it (and the rest of the federal government) simply can't be trusted to wield this sort of power.

"If the FBI is willing to break the law this brazenly, Congress and the administration must acknowledge that there's no set of guardrails, no Band-Aid, that can fix 702 and keep the public safe," he concluded. "The only way to safeguard our data and our rights is to do what we should have done a long time ago: Let 702 die."

Watchdog: 'Time to subpoena Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow'

"Our system of checks and balances demands that the Senate hold the Supreme Court accountable by compelling Thomas to testify publicly," said Stand Up America's Brett Edkins.

With the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee back at full force with the return of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the progressive group Stand Up America declared Thursday that "it's time to subpoena Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow," a right-wing Supreme Court justice and his billionaire friend who has spent decades lavishing him with secret gifts.

Facing calls to resign, Feinstein (D-Calif.)—who plans to retire after this term—came back to Capitol Hill this week after being absent for more than two months while recovering from shingles. Although advised by her doctors "to work a lighter schedule" for now, the 89-year-old joined the Senate panel Thursday to advance stalled judicial nominations.

"Now that Sen. Feinstein has returned, Senate Judiciary Democrats have no valid excuse not to subpoena Justice Thomas and begin an aggressive investigation into the extent of his wrongdoing," argued Brett Edkins, Stand Up America's managing director for policy and political affairs.

"Now that Sen. Feinstein has returned, Senate Judiciary Democrats have no valid excuse not to subpoena Justice Thomas."

"Our system of checks and balances demands that the Senate hold the Supreme Court accountable by compelling Thomas to testify publicly," Edkins said. "Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, and others involved in Thomas' numerous misdeeds should also be forced to answer questions from committee members."

Recent reporting by ProPublica revealed that Crow, a GOP megadonor, has treated Thomas to luxury travel, paid for his grandnephew's private school tuition, and bought and remodeled the justice's mother's home. Crow has also notably given Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee more than $450,000 in campaign cash, collectively.

Amid calls for investigation and even impeachment in response to revelations about Thomas' ties to Crow, The Washington Post reported last week that the justice's wife, Ginni Thomas, received tens of thousands of dollars from a right-wing nonprofit—and Leo used his role as an adviser to the Judicial Education Project to keep her name off the financial records.

"Our nation's highest court must be free from corruption and undue influence," said Edkins. "The Senate Judiciary Committee must use the full extent of its authority to hold Justice Thomas accountable. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty."

The panel, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), isn't alone in probing Crow's gifts to Thomas, which the justice did not disclose. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also set his sights on their relationship.

After the billionaire's attorney rebuffed Wyden's request for a "full accounting" of gifts he provided to Thomas' family, the senator pledged Tuesday to "send a full response to Mr. Crow's attorney in the coming days" and "discuss with my committee colleagues how best to compel answers to the questions I put forward last month, including by using any of the tools at our disposal."

Concerns about potential conflicts of interest and corruption involving the nation's top court extend beyond Thomas. Reports about Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch have also fueled calls for Congress to pass sweeping ethics rules.

Roberts last month declined Durbin's invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee—and due to Feinstein's absence and Republicans' refusal to allow a temporary replacement on the panel, the chair could not subpoena the chief justice.

'Debt limit chicken' is a direct result of anti-democratic US House elections

Amid rising fears that Republican lawmakers could soon force a catastrophic U.S. default, Fix Our House on Wednesday released a report arguing that "Congress lacks the incentive structure necessary to responsibly handle crucial tasks like raising the debt limit."

The release comes between a pair of meetings at the White House. After sitting down with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday, President Joe Biden told reporters they plan to come together again on Friday.

Biden and congressional Democrats are calling for a clean bill and stressing that GOP lawmakers took action on the debt ceiling three times under former President Donald Trump. However, House Republicans continue to hold the global economy hostage, demanding massive spending cuts that would affect working families—as demonstrated by their recent passage of the so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would increase the debt limit by $1.5 trillion or until March 31, 2024, whichever comes first.

Some fearful of a default—or even coming precariously close to one, given warnings that the deadline could be as soon as June 1—have pushed the president to take unilateral action, but Biden on Tuesday downplayed perhaps the most popular option: invoking part of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to keep paying the nation's bills.

"Just like in 2011 and 2013, Washington will hopefully find a way to avoid disaster. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Brinkmanship and crises aren't random accidents in our democracy—they are inevitable outcomes of an electoral system that incentivizes and rewards them," states the report from Fix Our House, which advocates for proportional representation.

The report—Debt Limit Chicken: Why Washington Plays Games With Disaster—criticizes "the winner-take-all election rules that make performative conflict easy and compromise difficult" along with calling for the creation of "a more functional electoral system that would disincentivize Congress from playing death-defying stunts with the full faith and credit of the U.S."

"The overwhelming majority of congressional districts are not competitive between the two parties," the report explains.

Citing another recently released Fix Our House publication, the document details that "90% of House elections last fall were decided by a margin greater than five percentage points. About 83% had a margin greater than 10 points. Landslides are normal; the average margin of victory in 2022 was 27.7% for Democrats and 30.2% for Republicans."

Although both parties have been accused of gerrymandering, since Republicans won narrow control of the House in the wake of redistricting last November—leading to a 222-213 divide in the lower chamber—experts have highlighted how current political maps served the GOP, and may continue to do so if they are not challenged in court.

The new report includes a section dedicated to the "five families" of the fractured House GOP: the Republican Study Committee, Republican Main Street Caucus, Republican Governance Group, Freedom Caucus, and Problem Solvers Caucus.

"As with the rest of the House, the overwhelming majority of the members of the five families don't face competitive general elections," the publication points out. "The average margin of victory for the members of each major caucus was a blowout election."

"In uncompetitive districts, the potential to be primaried is a much greater concern than a general election challenge," Fix Our House Co-Founder Lee Drutman said in a statement Wednesday. "That motivates representatives to focus on pleasing their voting base and disincentivizes compromise for fear of appearing too weak on 'the enemy."

"This problem is unique to America's outmoded system of single-member districts," Drutman added, "and it's only getting worse as urban-rural polarization makes it even harder to draw competitive districts."

As the report puts it, "gerrymandering is a huge problem," but it is not the only barrier to having 435 competitive districts.

"Rural voters are increasingly trending more to the right, and urban voters more to the left," the document says. "Voters are increasingly moving to places that better reflect their ideology. Red areas are getting redder, and blue areas are getting bluer."

"Even if the most fair-minded saints were drawing our congressional district maps, we would still have mostly uncompetitive districts," the report stresses. "And within the current system that we use to elect Congress, nothing can be done about it."

The report also emphasizes that "winner-take-all single-winner districts are not inevitable, and they are not in the Constitution."

In fact, "the Constitution specifically empowers Congress with the ability to change how its elections work, something Congress has done many times," the publication continues, urging federal lawmakers to pursue proportional representation.

Used by 80% of the world's democracies, proportional representation "disincentivizes binary conflict and showmanship and instead incentivizes coalition-building and compromise," the report states.

As the document explains:

Put simply, proportional representation is a system where a political party's share of votes in an election determines how many seats it holds in the legislature. Instead of each district electing one representative, a state divides into larger regions that each elect several representatives. The size of Congress—435 members—can be increased, or it can remain the same.

In a proportional system, voters can support multiple candidates, and each party wins seats in proportion to its share of the votes cast. For instance, if a region elects three representatives and the vote is 65% for Republicans and 35% for Democrats, it would elect two Republicans and one Democrat.

The existing U.S. system incentivizes "the us-vs-them conflict at the heart of the debt limit issue," the report concludes. "Thanks to the ever-escalating doom loop of polarization and dysfunction, the problem is worse than ever and will only grow more intractable. If we want to address this systemic problem, we need to look at systemic solutions."

Big food raking in massive profits from price hikes while Americans go hungry

"It's shameful that Americans are left food insecure and have to skip meals while corporations and their wealthy shareholders enjoy the spoils of supersized profits under unjustified price hikes."

As the U.S. government on Wednesday released its latest inflation report, the watchdog Accountable.US put out a new analysis detailing how Americans face food insecurity while major food corporations are padding their profits with price hikes.

"Big Food's staggering increase in earnings shows they did not need to raise prices so high on consumers but did so anyway to maximize record profits," said Liz Zelnick, director of Economic Security and Corporate Power at Accountable.US, in a statement.

"It's shameful that Americans are left food insecure and have to skip meals while corporations and their wealthy shareholders enjoy the spoils of supersized profits under unjustified price hikes," she added. "It's clear that the food industry will not hold itself accountable. It's time Congress do more to rein in corporate greed, one of the main factors currently driving up costs for families."

"It's time Congress do more to rein in corporate greed, one of the main factors currently driving up costs for families."

The Accountable.US report takes aim at General Mills, Kraft Heinz, and Mondelez—three of the top "at home" food companies in the United States based on market capitalization—focusing on January through March, the first quarter of this calendar year.

General Mills is one of a few companies that dominate the U.S. breakfast cereal market, with brands including Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp, and Lucky Charms. Kraft Heinz is known for not only ketchup and macaroni and cheese but also Jell-O, Kool-Aid, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Mondelez's top brands include Chips Ahoy! and belVita.

The companies' combined net earnings for the quarter rose by 51% year-over-year (YoY) to a combined $3.47 billion, and the trio collectively spent over $1.3 billion on shareholder dividends, Accountable.US found. Of the three, only General Mills saw its earnings drop from the first three months of 2022 to the same period in 2023—though the company still spent more on dividends this year compared with last year.

The first three months of this calendar year were the third quarter of General Mills' 2023 fiscal year. Accountable.US cited Reuters' March 23 report that the company "raised its fiscal 2023 forecasts for a fourth time after beating estimates for quarterly results, helped by price increases and steady demand for its packaged-food products."

The watchdog also highlighted that General Mills "saw its net earnings increase by nearly $2 billion YoY for the first nine months of FY 2023, as the company spent over $2.16 billion on its shareholders through a combination of dividends and stock buybacks."

For Kraft Heinz, the watchdog referenced Reuters reporting earlier this month that it "raised its full-year profit forecast on Wednesday on the back of higher prices and sustained demand for its packaged food items." The analysis adds that the company "saw its Q1 2023 net income increase by 7.1% YoY to $837 million and spent $491 million on shareholder dividends."

Accountable.US noted that during the first quarter of this year, "Mondelez—which touted price hikes for its double-digit increases in revenue and earnings—returned $928 million to shareholders through a combination of dividends and stock buybacks, after reporting $2.1 billion in profits, a 143% increase from last year."

The group used its new analysis to call out the Federal Reserve, saying that "the findings are the most recent evidence that while inflation is slowing, the Fed's single-minded policy of repeated interest rate hikes [is] doing little to contain the primary driver of rising costs—corporate greed."

The report also emphasizes recent admissions from economists that corporate greed is driving inflation—which progressive organizations and experts have been stressing for months in response to the Fed's interest rate hikes.

As the analysis points out, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Consumers have... been unusually willing to accept higher prices lately. Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said businesses are betting that consumers will go along because they know about supply bottlenecks and higher energy prices.

"They are confident that they can convince consumers that it isn't their fault, and it won't damage their brand," Mr. Donovan said.

According to the consumer price index report released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "the food at home index fell 0.2%" from March to April. While cereals and bakery products saw a slight increase, there were decreases for milk; nonalcoholic beverages; fruits and vegetables; and meats, poultry, fish, and eggs.

However, the bureau's report also provides context from the past year: "The food at home index rose 7.1% over the last 12 months. The index for cereals and bakery products rose 12.4% over the 12 months ending in April. The remaining major grocery store food groups posted increases ranging from 2.0% (fruits and vegetables) to 10.4% (other food at home)."

The Accountable.US analysis notes that in January and February, "food-equity advocates warned that 'food insecurity for millions of American consumers is worsening' despite overall inflation easing, with higher numbers of food stamp recipients reporting 'skipping meals, eating less, and going to food banks to manage costs.'"

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated throughout 2023 that based on household surveys, roughly 25 million people sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the previous seven days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nearly 34 million people live in food-insecure households—though research published last month suggests that figure is likely an undercount.

Additionally, food insecurity figures don't provide a full picture of how many families struggle to stay fed, as Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of food bank network Feeding America, explained to CNN in March: "The nuance is that some people are not 'food insecure' because they get access to the charitable food system. That doesn't mean they're able to achieve self-sufficiency."

U.S. households are also contending with losing assistance related to the Covid-19 pandemic—including the end of the expanded child tax credit, universal free school meals, and increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

As Common Dreams reported in late February, while experts warned that the end to boosted SNAP benefits would cause a rise in U.S. poverty, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman declared that "a decent society would not let this happen."

Members of Congress and legal scholars call on Biden to invoke 14th Amendment over debt ceiling

As congressional leaders prepare for a Tuesday meeting at the White House, Congressman Jamie Raskin, a constitutional scholar, affirmed Sunday that if GOP lawmakers won't raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts, President Joe Biden can invoke the 14th Amendment to keep borrowing and avert a catastrophic first-ever U.S. default.

Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says in part, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law... shall not be questioned."

Asked whether the president could and should use that part of the amendment to combat Republican efforts to hold the global economy hostage, Raskin (D-Md.) told MSNBC's Jen Pskai—Biden's former press secretary—that "I think he has that authority under these circumstances, absolutely, because the Congress has put him in a constitutionally untenable position."

"If he decides to default for the country, he's... violating the Constitution, because the 14th Amendment says you can't do that," Raskin said of Biden, pointing to a New York Times opinion piece by Harvard University professor emeritus Laurence Tribe.

Tribe—whose previous students include Raskin along with former President Barack Obama, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Elena Kagan—detailed why he has changed his mind on the debt limit argument.

"The question isn't whether the president can tear up the debt limit statute to ensure that the Treasury Department can continue paying bills submitted by veterans' hospitals or military contractors or even pension funds that purchased government bonds," he wrote Sunday. "The question isn't whether the president can in effect become a one-person Supreme Court, striking down laws passed by Congress."

Tribe continued:

The right question is whether Congress—after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place—can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.

There is only one right answer to that question, and it is no.

And there is only one person with the power to give Congress that answer: the president of the United States. As a practical matter, what that means is this: Mr. Biden must tell Congress in no uncertain terms—and as soon as possible, before it's too late to avert a financial crisis—that the United States will pay all its bills as they come due, even if the Treasury Department must borrow more than Congress has said it can.

Praising Tribe's piece for the Times, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted early Monday: "The Treasury has the [constitutional] obligation to pay our debts and spend the money Congress has already directed it to do. It really is that straightforward."

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week that "our best estimate is that we will be unable to continue to satisfy all of the government's obligations by early June, and potentially as early as June 1."

Appearing on ABC's "The Week" Sunday, Yellen confirmed the timeline she laid out for the speaker is "still our current thinking" and explained that "we've been using extraordinary measures for several months now, and our ability to do that is running out."

While acknowledging that Biden said Friday he was not yet ready to invoke the 14th Amendment, ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Yellen if it was still a possibility. She would not explicitly address whether the White House is considering the move, instead stressing that "our priority is to make sure that Congress does its job."

"There is no way to protect our financial system and our economy other than Congress doing its job and raising the debt ceiling and enabling us to pay our bills," Yellen said. "And we should not get to the point where we need to consider whether the president can go on issuing debt. This would be a constitutional crisis."

Led by McCarthy, House Republicans last month passed their so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, which would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or until March 31, 2024—whichever comes first—but also impose dramatic cuts that would notably impact lower-income households. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly called the bill "dead on arrival."

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and fellow Democrats are working on a "discharge petition" effort to force a vote on a clean bill raising the debt limit, but doing so would require support from at least five Republicans, which is unlikely.

In a Monday letter to Schumer, 43 GOP senators made clear that they are "united behind the House Republican conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling."

Meanwhile, Schumer, Jeffries, and other Democratic leaders on Monday released an updated version of their recent report warning that Republicans forcing a default would be catastrophic, "but even the threat of breaching the debt ceiling can have serious economic consequences for families."

Biden is set to meet with McCarthy, Jeffries, Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Tuesday "for what he called a separate negotiation on fiscal policy—even though it is effectively linked to the debt limit drama," the Timesnoted Monday.

The newspaper added:

White House officials said this weekend that Mr. Biden has been publicly and privately adamant that he will not bargain with Republicans over raising the limit. "Let's get it straight: They're trying to hold the debt hostage to get us to agree to some draconian cuts, magnificently difficult and damaging cuts," Mr. Biden told a meeting of cabinet members and other economic officials on Friday.

Citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of internal conversations, The Washington Postreported Monday that White House officials see unilateral actions—from invoking the 14th Amendment to minting a platinum coin worth $1 trillion—as "risky choices that could cause lasting economic damage" but also "do not want to take the proposals completely off the table."

The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which represents about 75,000 federal employees, cited the 14th Amendment in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that seeks to have the debt limit law declared unconstitutional.

NAGE's complaint, which names Biden and Yellen as defendants, argues the debt limit statute "is unconstitutional because it puts the president in a quandary to exercise discretion to continue borrowing to pay for the programs which Congress has heretofore duly authorized and for which Congress has appropriated funds or to stop borrowing and to determine which of these programs the president, and not the Congress, will suspend, curtail, or cancel altogether."

The filing adds that NAGE "seeks to protect all its members from additional extraordinary measures as well as major spending-related actions that will necessarily be taken without approval of Congress and that result in layoffs, furloughs, requirements for unpaid work, and loss of funding of the pensions and retirement plans of its members."

WHO declares end of COVID-19 global health emergency

The World Health Organization chief announced Friday that it is "with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had declared the emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, when there were fewer than 100 reported cases outside of China.

"In the three years since then, Covid-19 has turned our world upside down," Tedros noted Friday. "Almost 7 million deaths have been reported to WHO, but we know the toll is several times higher—at least 20 million."

"But Covid-19 has been so much more than a health crisis," he continued. "It has caused severe economic upheaval, erasing trillions from GDP, disrupting travel and trade, shuttering businesses, and plunging millions into poverty."

Stressing that the move does not mean the virus "is over as a global health threat," Tedros said that "it is time for countries to transition from emergency mode to managing Covid-19 alongside other infectious diseases."

The public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) "is a tool created within the International Health Regulations to help the WHO respond to disease events with the potential for global spread," STATexplained.

As the news outlet reported:

When a PHEIC is in place, the WHO director-general can make special recommendations, mainly aimed at discouraging countries from closing borders or restricting trade—actions that could deter countries from alerting the WHO if they are dealing with dangerous disease outbreaks.

Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency committee, said the decision to recommend an end to the PHEIC was in part due to the belief that the tool was not adapted to disease events that are sub-acute or chronic. Houssin acknowledged that there remains a risk that a more pathogenic variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus may emerge, and that a new PHEIC might need to be declared.The WHO's declaration comes days before the U.S. public health emergency will expire, on May 11.

The Biden administration announced Monday that when the U.S. emergency ends next week, so will Covid-19 vaccine requirements for federal employees and contractors as well as international air travelers—and agencies will start the process to cancel such mandates for Head Start educators, employees of some healthcare facilities, and certain noncitizens at land borders.

"While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces," the White House said, "we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary."

Bipartisan House bill introduced to ban congressional stock trading

Four members of the U.S. House of Representatives from across the political spectrum came together on Tuesday to introduce the Bipartisan Restoring Faith in Government Act, which would ban federal lawmakers and their immediate relatives from owning and trading stocks.

Momentum for such a ban has been growing in the wake of various investigations last year, but Democrats—who controlled both chambers of Congress in 2022, but now only have a slim majority in the Senate—failed to pass any of the related legislative proposals, despite their popularity among voters.

"The fact that members of the Progressive Caucus, the Freedom Caucus, and the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, reflecting the entirety of the political spectrum, can find common ground on key issues like this should send a powerful message to America," said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (D-Pa.), who is leading the new bill with Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

"We all view this as a critical first step to return the House of Representatives back to the people."

"We must move forward on issues that unite us, including our firm belief that trust in government must be restored, and that members of Congress, including their dependents, must be prohibited from trading in stocks while they are serving in Congress and have access to sensitive, inside information," Fitzpatrick continued. "This is basic common sense and basic Integrity 101. And we all view this as a critical first step to return the House of Representatives back to the people."

As Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and former chair of the Federal Election Commission, explained last September, "Congress passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act into law 10 years ago, but the STOCK Act did not decrease the appearance of corruption that arises when members of Congress engage in suspicious stock trades."

If passed, the new restrictions proposed by Fitzpatrick's diverse group would apply to all members of Congress as well as their spouses and dependents.

"The ability to individually trade stock erodes the public's trust in government," asserted Ocasio-Cortez. "When members have access to classified information, we should not be trading in the stock market on it. It's really that simple."

While the progressive "Squad" member has often clashed with Gaetz, their comments Tuesday made clear they agree on this topic.

"Members of Congress are spending their time trading futures instead of securing the future of our fellow Americans. We cannot allow the Swamp to prioritize investing in stocks over investing in our country," said Gaetz. "As long as concerns about insider trading hang over the legislative process, Congress will never regain the trust of the American people. Our responsibility in Congress is to serve the people, not hedge bets on the stock market."

Krishnamoorthi also agreed that "members of Congress must be focused on their constituents, not their stock portfolios."

The Hill on Tuesday highlighted some recent events that have fueled bipartisan support for a stock trading ban:

In 2022, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) husband sold millions of dollars worth of shares of a computer chip maker as the House prepared to vote on a bill focused on domestic chip manufacturing. A spokesman for Pelosi said at the time that he sold the shares at a loss.

Former Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who at the time was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also unloaded stocks at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently closed a probe of his trading activities without taking action.

The legislation unveiled Tuesday is supported by advocacy groups including the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"When members of Congress own and trade stock in companies they regulate they undermine the democracy that they were elected to serve," argued CREW policy director Debra Perlin. "It is Congress' duty to rebuild the trust that it has lost by banning members of Congress, their spouses, and their dependent children from owning or trading stocks. And that is precisely what the Bipartisan Restoring Faith in Government Act does."

The proposed "complete prohibition on congressional stock ownership demonstrates that in our democracy the public's needs, rather than members' stock portfolios, come first," Perlin added. "CREW commends Rep. Fitzpatrick for his work on this issue and strongly encourages Congress to pass stock ban legislation as quickly as possible."

Emma Lydon, managing director of P Street, the government affairs sister organization of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, similarly called on the House—which is now narrowly controlled by Republicans—to "take swift action to pass this critical, bipartisan anti-corruption legislation to restore public trust in our democracy."

"Elected officials should represent the interests of their constituents, not their own pocketbooks," declared Lydon. "It's a scandal that members of Congress are still allowed to own and trade individual stocks while casting votes that move markets and transform economic sectors."

Janet Yellen gives hard deadline for GOP to end economic hostage situation

After months of taking "extraordinary measures" to prevent a first-ever U.S. default, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday warned that "our best estimate is that we will be unable to continue to satisfy all of the government's obligations by early June, and potentially as early as June 1, if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit before that time."

Amid calls for a clean bill to raise the nation's arbitrary borrowing limit to avert a default that economists say could be catastrophic for the U.S. and global economies, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and 216 other Republicans last week passed what critics called a "debt ceiling scam" containing "extreme, harmful cuts against average Americans to protect billionaire tax breaks."

McCarthy went ahead with the vote despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warning that the House GOP's so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act is "dead on arrival" in the upper chamber, elevating concerns that congressional Republicans will continue risking a global economic crisis in hopes of forcing Democrats to agree to massive spending cuts.

"Given the current projections, it is imperative that Congress act as soon as possible to increase or suspend the debt limit in a way that provides longer-term certainty that the government will continue to make its payments," Yellen wrote to McCarthy on Monday, noting that "it is impossible to predict with certainty the exact date when Treasury will be unable to pay the government's bills."

"We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States," she added. "If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests."

As Yellen sent her notice to McCarthy, Schumer circulated a dear colleague letter declaring that with the vote last week on what Democrats have rebranded the Default on America (DOA) Act, "House Republicans sent a hard-right ransom note to the American people."

Pledging that "the Senate will show the public what this bill truly is" with "hearings to expose the true impact of this reckless legislation on everyday Americans," Schumer added:

Speaker McCarthy has surrendered to the far-right extremist members of his caucus and the DOA is their crown jewel. In backrooms, they pulled together a slew of unpatriotic and harmful policies that would take the country backwards. The DOA would cut critical funding to nearly all sectors of American life meaning fewer jobs, higher costs, and leaving policemen, first responders, border patrol, and our brave veterans all hanging out to dry. The DOA would repeal the historic green energy tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act, threatening over $150 billion in investments and 18,000 jobs that have been announced since Democrats passed that bill. The DOA would hamper our international standing by gutting funding for critical State Department programs and cutting-edge research facilities and sending jobs overseas.

Let's be perfectly clear: The Republican Default on America Act does nothing to actually resolve the looming debt crisis, and it has no hope of ever becoming law. If anything, the MAGA House Republicans' actions have increased the likelihood of default. It locks the House into an unacceptable and extreme position that pulls us even further apart. If Speaker McCarthy was a serious good-faith negotiator, he would not have let extremists take him hostage and move this debate in the wrong direction.

After reiterating that "the real solution is bipartisan support for a clean bill to increase the debt limit," Schumer concluded that "a reckless Republican-forced default could plunge the country into a deep and painful recession and destabilize the global economy. We will do everything we can to protect the American people and prevent a default."

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden also called out GOP leadership on Monday, saying during a National Small Business Week event that "we pay our bills, and we should do so without reckless hostage-taking from some of the MAGA Republicans in Congress."

Citing two unnamed sources, Politico reported Monday evening that Biden has invited McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—who has said the speaker and president need to reach an agreement—to "meet at the White House on May 9 to discuss the impending breach of the U.S. debt limit."

In a joint statement Monday, Schumer and Jeffries urged Republicans to "put aside partisan interests and do what is right and necessary for the American people," emphasizing that "we do not have the luxury of waiting until June 1 to come together, pass a clean bill to avoid a default, and prevent catastrophic consequences for our economy and millions of American families."

Earlier Monday, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted that Biden "rightfully says that raising the so-called debt ceiling should not be negotiable" and offered the president some advice: "Ignore McCarthy and the Republican radicals."

"Mr. President, your oath to uphold the Constitution takes precedence. As the supreme law of the land, the Constitution has greater weight than the debt ceiling," Reich wrote. "If House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, you are obligated by the U.S. Constitution and your oath of office to ignore the debt ceiling and continue to pay the debts of the United States."

"The Republicans want to lure you into a cynical game, Mr. President," he added. "The nation needs you to play hardball by ignoring them."

This post has been updated with a joint statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

'MAGA economic sabotage' as House Republicans pass debt ceiling bill 'to protect billionaire tax breaks'

A wide range of advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday fiercely denounced Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for narrowly passing their "debt ceiling scam" containing "extreme, harmful cuts against average Americans to protect billionaire tax breaks."

The so-called the Limit, Save, Grow Act was unveiled last week by GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and passed 217-215, with just four Republicans—Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.), and Matt Gaetz (Fla.)—joining Democratic opponents and three lawmakers not voting.

Although the House GOP bill would raise the federal government's arbitrary borrowing limit, averting a first-ever default that would be catastrophic for the U.S. and global economies, the legislation would also cap spending over the next decade, impose fossil fuel-friendly energy policies, restrict regulations, add work requirements for social programs, block President Joe Biden's contested student debt relief plan, and repeal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funds intended to reduce tax-dodging.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already said the bill is "dead on arrival" in the upper chamber and Biden has also slammed Republicans' attempted cuts, but given the risks of both the proposal and a potential default, critics still shared their outrage over the vote.

"Nearly every Republican in the U.S. House just voted to slash the already inadequate funding of the Social Security Administration (SSA)," said Social Security Works executive director Alex Lawson in a statement.

"Cuts to SSA are cuts to Social Security, and we will hold every single one of these members accountable," he added. "This vote shows that Republicans are united in support of cutting Social Security, while Democrats are united in support of a clean debt limit increase with no cuts to Social Security or any other benefits."

Also noting that the "dangerous" bill includes SSA cuts, which would force office closures and layoffs, delaying services for seniors, Alliance for Retired Americans executive director Richard Fiesta asserted that "a political party's budget reflects its values, and clearly the GOP does not value older Americans."

"The bill also slashes food assistance for more than 1 million low-income seniors—many of whom rely on government food programs to get their only meal of the day," he said. "It will cut oversight of nursing homes, putting thousands of the most vulnerable seniors at risk of living in alarming and unsanitary conditions. This is reckless and irresponsible."

"In addition, this bill jeopardizes millions of Americans' multiemployer pensions that are guaranteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," Fiesta continued. "Finally, it would lead to the eviction of at least 430,000 low-income families from Section 8 housing, 80% of which are headed by seniors."

Climate Action Campaign director Margie Alt charged that "with this vote, House Republicans showed us who they're really looking out for—the Big Oil companies and other corporate polluters whose profits they enhanced at the expense of the health and livelihoods of everyday Americans."

The Republican proposal would reverse some the Inflation Reduction Act's progress on jobs and environmental justice, and "ironically, the consequences would fall most heavily on red states," Alt noted. "In addition to a public health and environmental tragedy, this bill will create economic disaster. Every second we delay acting on climate costs Americans in lives lost, economic harm, and environmental degradation."

Earthjustice vice president of policy and legislation Raúl García argued that Wednesday's vote shows "Speaker McCarthy is willing to cave to the most extremist voices in his party to further their anti-clean energy and pro-polluter agenda."

"It's not a serious proposal, but instead a litany of damaging policies aimed at sacrificing the health and safety of our communities and catering to polluting industries," García said. "It's shameful that McCarthy and House Republicans are willing to hold our economy hostage, force the federal government into default, and sacrifice the creation of countless jobs in their districts at the behest of their corporate donors."

Leading up to the vote, the bill's opponents have pointed out that while House Republicans claim cuts are necessary for any bill that allows additional debt, in 2017, GOP lawmakers passed and then-President Donald Trump signed a law to provide corporations and rich individuals with tax breaks, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase the federal deficit by nearly $2 trillion over a decade.

"The MAGA House majority demands everyday Americans, from veterans to seniors to children, brace for harmful cuts while they protect every cent of the debt-ballooning Trump tax breaks for billionaires and corporations," declared Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, after the bill passed the chamber.

"House Republicans even lined up to gut resources needed to crack down on wealthy tax cheats, a foolhardy move that actually adds over $100 billion to the debt," he stressed, flagging the IRS cuts. "MAGA extremists insist millions of Americans give up health and food security, good-paying manufacturing jobs, and public safety at the same time they shamelessly propose trillions more in new tax giveaways for big corporations that never trickle down to anyone else and fuel the deficit."

"The MAGA majority offers nothing but a lose-lose proposition: harmful cuts that leave everyday Americans worse off—or a default crisis that crashes the economy, disrupts Social Security checks, and skyrockets interest rates on car loans and mortgages," Herrig added. "That's no choice—that's MAGA economic sabotage."

According to Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl, who also slammed the "draconian cuts" to social programs and IRS rollback, "The new House debt ceiling plan proves that the GOP really only cares about the rich."

"The House GOP just told America that they believe it is more important to make sure rich tax cheats can get away with breaking the law than it is to make sure poor families have access to food and healthcare," Pearl said. "This isn't a genuine attempt to balance the federal budget, it's just another extremist step by the GOP to cut critical social services in order to protect the wealth of tax cheats in the top 1%."

Democrats in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday renewed demands for raising the debt limit without any attached policies.

"Republicans just passed a bill that would kill jobs, take away federal benefits for millions, and make everyday life for Americans more expensive. This is completely unworkable," said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). "Let's pass a clean debt ceiling increase."

Blasting the bill as "a ransom note to the American people to suffer the Republican radical, right-wing agenda or suffer a catastrophic default," Schumer pledged Wednesday evening that "Democrats won't allow it."

Senate Democrat blasted for bill containing 'unprecedented giveaway' to mining industry

Green groups on Tuesday blasted U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto for introducing legislation that would reverse a recent judicial decision and alter federal mining policy in ways welcomed by industry but lambasted by land defenders.

Noting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that upheld an earlier ruling against the Rosemont copper mine in Arizona, Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) unveiled the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, which is also co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

"The bill would amend a 1993 budget reconciliation act but primarily clarifies definitions of activities and rights central to the 1872 Mining Law," The Associated Press explained. "The language is intended to insulate mines from the more onerous and likely most expensive standards imposed on the industry by the 9th Circuit ruling, which was a significant departure from long-established mining practices that environmentalists have fought for decades."

"Instead of making it easier for irresponsible mining companies to exploit our public lands, we should modernize our mining laws to deliver a more fair, just, and equitable hardrock mine permitting process."

While Cortez Masto—who last year narrowly won reelection and last month joined a failed GOP effort to gut water protections—highlighted that Nevada is home to "critical minerals... key to our clean energy future," and what the mining industry means for jobs in her state, environmentalists stressed that her bill would make it easier for companies to dump rock waste on and further disrupt public lands.

"This legislation is an unprecedented giveaway to the mining industry, one that would further entrench the legacy of injustice to Indigenous communities and damage to public lands held in trust for future generations," declared Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel.

"We need mining reform that serves the needs of mining-impacted communities and taxpayers," she argued. "Instead of making it easier for irresponsible mining companies to exploit our public lands, we should modernize our mining laws to deliver a more fair, just, and equitable hardrock mine permitting process."

Earthjustice senior legislative representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley agreed that the bill "is a wholesale giveaway to mining companies" that "have long abused" the 1872 law by "unlawfully claiming a right to destroy public lands to maximize profits."

Cortez Masto's bill "would condone that illegal practice, essentially giving mining companies a free pass to occupy our public lands and lock out other uses—including for recreation, conservation, clean energy, and cultural purposes," Miller-McFeeley said.

"Mining companies have left a trail of environmental destruction and human health catastrophes as a direct result of poorly regulated practices and corporate greed," he added. "As we prepare to source the raw materials needed to build out the clean energy infrastructure of the future, we urge Congress to stop doing the bidding of greedy mining corporations and instead, work on meaningful reforms that will protect communities, special places, and sacred sites from unnecessary destruction."

Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, also called out the Nevada Democrat's push, charging that "Sen. Cortez Masto has become a mining-industry puppet and is throwing communities, tribes, and wildlife under the bus."

"The United States should be leading the world in setting the highest environmental standards for mining, especially for minerals needed for the renewable energy transition," Donnelly continued. "Instead, she's leading a race to the bottom where the only winners are mining company shareholders."

The proposal exposes local divisions: The Nevada Mining Association, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council, and the company Nevada Vanadium all applauded it, but other groups, such as Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association, slammed the bill.

"Sen. Cortez Masto's legislation would betray U.S. taxpayers by greenlighting a project that would foreclose recreation opportunities, including hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and bird-watching, and threaten the water supply of ranches and nearby homeowners," said Thomas Nelson, the association's board president. "Corporate, industrial extraction industries should never be given free rein to damage public lands for the purpose of making profits. We must not exclude the public from the public lands that their tax dollars sustain."

John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch, warned that the legislation "would allow New Moly Mining Corp. to cover over federally protected public springs at Mount Hope here in Nevada with millions of tons of waste rock and create a forever source of water pollution."

"Given the enormous ecological and significant climate footprint of mining, the permitting needs to be careful and judicious," Hadder asserted. "This bill does just the opposite."

The Rosemont decision has already been cited in two other judicial decisions. As the AP detailed:

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno ruled in February that the Bureau of Land Management had violated the law when it approved Lithium Americas' plans for the Thacker Pass mine near the Nevada-Oregon line. But she allowed construction to begin last month while the bureau works to bring the project into compliance with federal law.

The 9th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments June 26 on environmentalists' appeal of Du's refusal to halt the mine even though she found it was approved illegally.

Last month, U.S. Judge Larry Hicks in Reno also adopted the Rosemont standard in his ruling that nullified Bureau of Land Management approval of a Nevada molybdenum mine and prohibited any construction.

As Cortez Masto and the other co-sponsors unveiled their bill on Tuesday, Native elders and other land defenders blocked construction on the Thacker Pass mine, with some holding a banner that said: "Enough is enough! Stop the destruction."

Green groups slam G7 'addiction to fossil fuels' after statement from climate ministers

Advocacy groups on Sunday expressed frustration with a joint statement in which climate, energy, and environment ministers from the world's top economies committed to tackling "the unprecedented triple global crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution" but also left the door open to investments in planet-wrecking fossil fuels.

The 36-page communiqué came out of a weekend meeting for ministers from the Group of Seven (G7)—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union. Japan hosted the ministerial event in Sapporo and is set to welcome world leaders from those nations to Hiroshima next month.

Allowing the G7's "addiction to fossil fuels to continue with their unsustainable consumption will have dangerous consequences for people and ecosystems," warned Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.

"Every new investment in planet-heating fossil fuels is a death sentence for the vulnerable communities who are already facing devastating storms, floods, and rising seas," Singh said. "The rich, industrialized countries are also shirking their responsibilities to provide adequate finance to help poorer nations adapt to and recover from the losses and damages caused by climate disasters."

"Every new investment in planet-heating fossil fuels is a death sentence for the vulnerable communities who are already facing devastating storms, floods, and rising seas."

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development, declared that "instead of delivering on climate finance obligations and fulfilling last year's commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels by the end of 2022, this year's Japan-led G7 continues its shameful disregard for what people and planet urgently need—a rapid, equitable, and just transition directly to renewable energy systems."

Referencing the bolder goal of the 2015 Paris agreement, the communiqué states that "we underline our commitment, in the context of a global effort, to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net-zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest in line with the trajectories required to limit global average temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, and call on others to join us in taking the same action."

However, noting the energy impacts of Russia's war on Ukraine, the statement adds that "investment in the gas sector can be appropriate to help address potential market shortfalls provoked by the crisis, subject to clearly defined national circumstances, and if implemented in a manner consistent with our climate objectives and without creating lock-in effects, for example by ensuring that projects are integrated into national strategies for the development of low-carbon and renewable hydrogen."

Oil Change International (OCI) earlier this month published a briefing about how major economies—particularly the G7 countries Japan, the United States, Italy, and Germany—have poured billions of dollars of public financing into new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal capacity over the past decade. That document followed the group's March report calling out multiple countries for breaking their promise to swiftly cut off public finance for international fossil fuel projects.

Pointing to the Group of Seven's related pledge from last year, OCI public finance campaign co-manager Laurie van der Burg said Thursday that a new International Energy Agency analysis "reinforces that for the G7 not to jeopardize the 1.5°C global warming limit, they must not backslide on this commitment by endorsing new gas investments."

"The science is crystal clear that leaving the door open to investments in new gas or LNG leaves the G7 off track for 1.5°C," van der Burg stressed Sunday. "In addition, the claim that last year's G7 commitment to end international fossil fuel finance has been met is an outright lie as evidenced by new investments in fossil fuel projects."

"G7 leaders must next month fully close the door to investments in new gas and LNG and instead maximize on their opportunity to shift billions in public money out of fossil fuels and into the clean energy solutions that can build a more energy secure, sustainable, and affordable future," she said. "The U.K., Canada, and France have shown this can be done, Japan, Germany, Italy, and the United States must urgently catch up."

Along with the gas language in the communiqué, "Japan won endorsements from fellow G7 countries for its own national strategy emphasizing so-called clean coal, hydrogen, and nuclear energy to help ensure its energy security," The Associated Pressreported, explaining that a timeline to phase out coal "is a long-standing sticking point" because the nation relies on it for nearly a third of its power generation.

"This G7 ministerial revealed Japan's failure of climate leadership at a global level," charged OCI Asia program manager Susanne Wong. "At a time when we rapidly need to phase out fossil fuels, this year's G7 host pushed for the expansion of gas and LNG and technologies that would prolong the use of coal. We need Japan to stop prioritizing corporate interests and derailing the transition to clean energy with its dirty energy strategy."

Friends of the Earth Japan campaigner Hiroki Osada similarly argued that the country "has become both a promise-breaker and Earth-destroyer at the same time by continuing to finance fossil fuel projects overseas."

"With no time to waste to address climate change, nothing can justify new investment in fossil fuels, and no exceptions can be allowed," Osada added. "Japan should immediately end international financial support to fossil fuels in line with its G7 commitment, and should also commit to a complete phase-out from coal by 2030."

"LNG is... a bridge that ends in a hotter, more dangerous world for all of us, especially the world's most vulnerable people and ecosystems."

While campaigners certainly took aim at Japan, they also criticized other nations represented at the meeting.

"The effects of Italy's nonexistent implementation of its stop funding fossils pledge are beginning to reverberate on the international scene, now also with the Japan-led G7 ministerial," said Simone Ogno of ReCommon Italy. "We urge that the other G7 members like France and the U.K. work to bring both governments back on track. This is especially important as Italy is scheduled to host the G7 next year."

Leading up to the meeting this weekend, climate campaigners told U.S. President Joe Biden that "the global LNG boom must be stopped in its tracks," warning of the impacts on frontline communities, and were outraged when his administration approved a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska, on the heels of greenlighting ConocoPhillips' Willow oil development in the state.

"LNG is not a bridge fuel to a clean energy future," Leah Qusba, executive director of Action for the Climate Emergency, wrote Friday for The Hill, highlighting the resulting methane emissions. "It's a bridge that ends in a hotter, more dangerous world for all of us, especially the world's most vulnerable people and ecosystems."

After the meeting, OCI United States program manager Collin Rees said that "despite G7 ministers' rhetorical games, new investments in gas and LNG cannot be 'consistent with our climate objectives.' This is a deadly lie inconsistent with science and justice."

"Joe Biden's team signing off on this language rings dangerously hollow just days after he approved a massive LNG project in Alaska that, if built, will devastate communities and the climate for decades," Rees continued. "Biden must stand up to Japan's dirty energy lobby at the G7 and stop doing the gas industry's bidding at home."

Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, even acknowledged during a Sunday interview with the AP that the international community has made progress over the past few years, "but we're not doing everything we said we'd do."

"A lot of countries need to step up, including ours, to reduce emissions faster, deploy renewables faster, bring new technologies online faster, all of that has to happen," said Kerry, who attended the meeting in Japan.

"If we're going to be responsible, we have to turn around and figure out how we are going to more rapidly terminate the emissions," he added. "We have to cut the emissions that are warming the planet and heading us inexorably toward several tipping points beyond which there is no reverse."

Abortion rights supporters protest at Supreme Court and throughout the country

From Florida and Texas to California and Illinois, demonstrators marched with chants like, "Red state, blue state, you can't hide, the war on abortion is nationwide," and "Fascist judges make me ill, hands off the abortion pill."

As legal fights raise concerns about the future accessibility of the abortion medication mifepristone, reproductive rights supporters on Saturday rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court and in cities across the country.

The demonstrations came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a recent ruling by Texas-based federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who struck down the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 2000 approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs often taken in tandem for abortions.

However, the high court's decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which reversed Roe v. Wade and overturned a half-century of abortion rights, is fueling fears of what the future holds, as Republican-controlled states across the country continue passing legislation to further limit the choices of pregnant people.

Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. president and CEO Laura Meyers, who spoke at the rally in the nation's capital, noted the Dobbs decision and, referring to Kacsmaryk's ruling earlier this month, said that "now we have judges who are not medical doctors making decisions that affect millions of people's lives."

"I am outraged," Meyers told The Washington Post. "I hope that the court relies on science, and not just junk and ideology. I hope that the court understands that the overwhelming vast majority of Americans do not want to see restrictions on abortion. Americans do not want judges and politicians interfering with our healthcare decisions."

ACLU of D.C. policy counsel Melissa Wasser, who also spoke at the rally, stressed that the long-term risks of rulings like Kacsmaryk's go far beyond abortion rights, saying: "Today it's mifepristone. Tomorrow it could be a vaccine."

"It could be another medication or lifesaving treatment," Wasser warned. "And that means that every fringe group can just go pick a judge, and with the stroke of a pen, millions of people will not get the lifesaving healthcare that they need."

Brittany House, a Washington, D.C. resident, shared with the crowd that when she had just graduated from university in 2012, "abortion gave me freedom," adding that as a 21-year-old, she "wouldn't have been able to support my child."

According toAgence France-Presse:

Many septuagenarians were also marching in front of the Supreme Court, outraged to see restrictions piling up in the country, 50 years after having fought for the right to an abortion.

An abortion 'saved my life,' said Barbara Kraft, who had an abortion in the late 1970s after serious complications during her pregnancy.

'I feel so strongly that women have to have the right to make that decision for themselves,' she said.

"The ACLU and Planned Parenthood and several other national partner organizations have been following this case out of Texas for months and we organized and coordinated to host rallies on the same day across the country," Samantha Chapman, the advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota, told a local news outlet.

"Self-managed abortion is safe and it is essential healthcare. I've done it," said Chapman. "People who support abortion access are never going to go away. We will continue to take care of ourselves and take care of our communities."

The Seattle Times reported that in Washington City, protesters marched down Pine Street through Capitol Hill and into the downtown area, where they blocked an intersection, while chanting, "Fascist judges make us ill, hands off the abortion pill," and "Abortion pills are under attack, we won't go back."

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, demonstrators in the Illinois city delivered speeches at Federal Plaza before marching through the Loop and Millennium Park, and similarly chanted, "Red state, blue state, you can't hide, the war on abortion is nationwide," and "Fascist judges make me ill, hands off the abortion pill."

Since the Dobbs ruling, Illinois has been inundated with "abortion refugees" who can't get healthcare in surrounding states.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights organizer Jay Becker warned that "we are facing the greatest threat to women's lives and freedoms since last summer when the Supreme Court decided women are second-class citizens."

"To revoke the approval of mifepristone is a major step toward banning abortion nationwide," Becker added. "This is all about female enslavement and whether women will be treated as full human beings or not."

Floridians gathered in West Palm Beach on Saturday to protest not only attacks on reproductive rights across the country but also a six-week abortion ban signed into law this week by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a presumed 2024 presidential candidate.

"We need to get mad and we need to show we're mad and this is going to change the whole country," said Ellen Baker, a board member of the Democratic Women's Club of Palm Beach County, which organized the rally. "I was in high school when Roe v. Wade was passed and so for me, it's, how can we go backward? How can my grandkids have fewer rights than me?"

The rally in Los Angeles, California featured a speech from Vice President Kamala Harris, who declared: "This is a moment that history will show required each of us, based on our collective love of our country, to stand up and fight for and protect our ideals. That's what this moment is."

As paper shows benefits of expanded child tax credit, Sinema challenger Gallego says 'bring it back'

"Bring it back."

That's what Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.)—who is running to replace Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) in 2024—said Friday in response to new research highlighting some benefits of the expanded child tax credit (CTC) of 2021.

Krista Ruffini, an economist and assistant professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy, shared a working paper about how Covid-19 pandemic stimulus and expanded CTC payments impacted infant health on the open access research platform SSRN.

After three rounds of stimulus checks throughout the first year of the pandemic, households with children received $250-$300 per child each month for the last six months of 2021 through the CTC expansion included in the American Rescue Plan relief package.

Ruffini found that "increased resources during pregnancy improve child well-being, and that unconditional cash transfers have large effects on infant health." Specifically, she connected an additional $1,000 with "increasing Apgar scores 0.02 points, reducing very low birth weight by at least 0.6 percentage points, and reducing preterm births by approximately 3 percentage points."

"Payment timing is also important: Resources received during the final months of a pregnancy yield a greater health benefit than those received earlier on," the economist explained. "Patterns in prenatal care and maternal health suggest that these benefits to infants accrue through both investments in children as well as improvements in the prenatal environment."

"The improvements in infant health documented in this paper are consistent with previous work showing that families used the payments on essential goods and services and to improve their financial position. It builds on this literature by showing that these improvements in material hardship benefited the next generation in ways that are expected to yield long-term benefits," she wrote. "These findings are particularly relevant as dozens of U.S. cities are piloting guaranteed income programs and policymakers contemplate a permanent expansion of the federal child tax credit."

Despite the well-documented benefits of the boosted CTC, including a dramatic drop in child poverty, congressional Democrats' efforts to lengthen the period of the program or even make it permanent have been unsuccessful.

After long joining with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to thwart various priorities of Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden, Sinema formally ditched the party in December and became an Independent. Although Sinema has not officially announced whether she will seek reelection next year, Gallego's campaign has gained national attention since launching in late January.

Throughout his campaign, Gallego has shared his experience growing up poor, as one of four children being raised by a single mother, and accused Sinema of fighting "for the interests of Big Pharma and Wall Street at our expense."

As Gallego's campaign said Friday:

"Sen. Sinema helped block the expanded child tax credit from being included in the Inflation Reduction Act—essentially giving a thumbs up to 3.7 million children living in poverty. While, simultaneously, she fought to protect the carried interest tax loophole—a favorite of her hedge fund donors."

"Growing up as the child of a poor, single mother, Ruben understands what the child tax credit means for millions of hard-working Americans and their children. That is why he has always been and remains a firm and vocal supporter of the child tax credit—because working families deserve to make ends meet and no child should ever have to worry about where their next meal will come from. In the Senate, Ruben will always fight for working people—because that's who he is and where he comes from."

While Sinema weighs whether to run for Senate again, her campaign filings for the first quarter of this year revealed Friday that she only raised $2.1 million, compared with Gallego's $3.7 million since launching his campaign.

Sinema "brought in funds from several prominent Republican donors and Wall Street sources. She raised more than $280,000 from employees of Blackstone, the private investment company, and $196,000 from employees of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm," Politico reported. "Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci also gave her campaign the maximum $3,300, while the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC gave $10,000."

Gallego's campaign highlighted that less than $6,000 of Sinema's funds for January through March came from small-dollar donors, while 98% of those who have given to his campaign are small-dollar donors.

"I'm proud to be running a people-powered campaign where 98% of my donors are small-dollar donors who chipped in less than $100," Gallego said. " It's unfortunate that Sinema has pursued a different strategy: catering to a small group of rich donors."

"It doesn't seem to be getting her very far," he added. "At the end of the day: this seat is not going to be bought by a few rich guys on Wall Street. It's going to be won with the support of regular, everyday Arizonans—and I'm proud to have them in my corner."

'Miscarriage of justice': Metro Nashville council reappoints Justin Jones

Cheers erupted Monday evening after Nashville's Metropolitan Council unanimously reappointed Democratic Rep. Justin Jones to the Tennessee House of Representatives after Republicans expelled him from the chamber last week over a gun control protest.

In sharp contrast with the Republican-dominated House's 72-25 expulsion vote on Thursday, all 36 council members supported Jones reclaiming his seat representing District 52.

Just before the "unprecedented" vote, Democratic Nashville Mayor John Cooper declared that "voters in District 52 elected Justin Jones to be their voice at the statehouse, and that voice was taken away this past week. So let's give them their voice back. I call on this body to vote unanimously, right now, to do just that."

Jones was the only candidate even considered. He was nominated by Delishia Porterfield, the Democratic council member for District 29, who called his expulsion a "miscarriage of justice."

Ahead of the Tennessee House's Monday night session, Jones marched with a police escort from City Hall to the state Capitol, where protesters chanted, "Welcome home!"

As The Tennessean reports:

Jones took a bullhorn in his hands and began speaking.

"Today we sent a clear message to Speaker Cameron Sexton [R-25] that the people will not allow his crimes against democracy to happen without challenge," he said. "This is not about one person. It's not about one position. It's about a movement of people empowered to restore the soul of what this building should represent and that is democracy."

Chancellor I'Ashea L. Myles led Jones in his oath on the steps of the Capitol as cheers erupted from the crowd. When he was done, he raised his fist into the air.

Along with Jones, Rep. Justin Pearson (D-86), a fellow young Black man, was expelled from the House last week. A third GOP expulsion resolution targeting Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-13), who is white, failed.

As Jones returned to the chamber Monday evening, he walked with Johnson—one arm linked with hers, and the other raised, with his hand in a fist.

'The exact opposite of what we need': G20's liquefied natural gas subsidies killing hope for livable future

Despite pledging to take action on the climate emergency, including by ending international fossil fuel financing, Group of 20 governments continue to pour billions of dollars into gas infrastructure expansion, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

"Oil Change International (OCI) finds that G20 government institutions were involved in financing 82% of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal capacity built from 2012-22," states the group's new report, highlighting at least $78 billion in public financing.

"Of the $234.6 billion total capital expenditure for the LNG export terminals built in the last decade, loans from international public finance institutions made up at least 24% of the total ($55.2 billion)," the report explains. "On top of this, these institutions provided $22.4 billion in equity investments and loan guarantees to insure against potential losses for other financiers."

The 17 completed projects included in the analysis have locked 928 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to "the annual emissions of 423 coal-fired power plants, nearly two times the annual emissions of Canada, or over three times the annual emissions of France."

OCI's briefing warns that another dozen projects expected to be completed by 2026 would generate an additional 654 megatonnes of yearly planet-heating pollution, or about the annual emissions of Germany—as climate scientists and energy experts emphasize the need to swiftly end the world's fossil fuel era.

"These shocking figures show that laggard countries need to catch up with leading governments and urgently change course to stop pumping taxpayers' money into gas projects that are wrecking our climate, leave the energy crisis unsolved, and will end up as stranded assets," asserted OCI public finance strategist Adam McGibbon.

At $39.7 billion, Japan leads the world in public financing for LNG export capacity 2012-26, followed by China ($25.4 billion) and the United States ($15.5 billion). Rounding out the top 10 "worst offenders" are South Korea, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

During the COP26 climate summit in Scotland two years ago, the United States, Italy, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands were among the 39 countries and institutions that signed the Glasgow Statement, agreeing to cut off financing for new international fossil fuel projects by the end of last year and instead invest in clean energy.

Japan initially held out, but under pressure from its fellow Group of Seven countries, ultimately agreed to the pledge last May. However, in July, at the urging of Germany and Italy, the G7 watered down its members' commitments specifically on gas.

With Japan set to host a G7 summit in Hiroshima next month, the nation's "leadership in the expansion of LNG development is the exact opposite of what we need," OCI campaigner Makiko Arima declared Wednesday. "Japan needs to take last year's G7 commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels seriously and stop funding gas projects."

"There is no time for so-called transition fuels, when fossil fuel dependency is exacerbating the climate and energy crises, and fossil fuel projects are harming communities and the environment," Arima added. "G7 countries need to do much more than make climate commitments that they break."

While the United States, Australia, and Russia top the list of counties, by emissions, where publicly financed LNG products were built in the past decade or are now underway, they are followed by nations that aren't the "worse offenders" in terms of funding: Mozambique, Canada, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Mexico.

As Common Dreams has reported, civil society groups across Africa have argued in recent months that "rather than doubling down on the obsolete and dirty energy systems," the African Union must "move away from harmful fossil fuels towards a transformed energy system that is clean, renewable, democratic, and actually serves its peoples."

Anabela Lemos, director of Justica Ambiental!/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, echoed that argument Wednesday.

While Global North nations, "the culprits creating the climate crisis, benefit from this gas," it is the Global South "who will suffer," Lemos stressed, noting that "Mozambique has been hit by four cyclones within three years that have displaced over 1 million people."

"The gas industry in Mozambique is devastating the country's climate, people, environment, and economy," she said. "Even though gas has been produced in Mozambique for decades, still only 30% of people have electricity access, and in Inhambane Province, where Sasol has been extracting gas for 20 years, displaced communities have seen no benefits."

"Northern governments and their companies involved in the Mozambique LNG Project in Cabo Delgado Province are complicit in forcing the already debt-ridden country into a fossil fuel lock-in, and pushing people into further poverty, by taking away their livelihoods and fueling a war that has created 1 million refugees," Lemos added.

Given the impacts of export terminals on both the climate and the communities around such facilities, OCI's report concludes with recommendations that include ending domestic subsidies and permits for fossil fuel development, scaling up finance for clean energy, and providing debt cancellation, climate finance, and loss and damage support for the Global South.

"To meet their climate obligations, governments should stop funding LNG expansion," said McGibbon. "In addition, those countries that have not already done so should join the Glasgow Statement initiative to show they are serious about solving the climate and energy security crises. Anything less is just hot air."

Ro Khanna endorses Barbara Lee for Senate

Congressman Ro Khanna announced on CNN Sunday that he will not run for U.S. Senate and is endorsing fellow California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee in the closely watched 2024 race for retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat.

"I have concluded that despite a lot of enthusiasm from Bernie folks, the best place, the most exciting place, action place, fit place, for me to serve as a progressive is in the House of Representatives," said Khanna, who co-chaired the 2020 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

"And I'm honored to be co-chairing Barbara Lee's campaign for the Senate and endorsing her today. We need a strong anti-war senator and she will play that role," the congressman told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

In a statement, Khanna stressed that "Barbara is the progressive leader Californians need right now, and her solid record as one of Congress' most outspoken champions of justice speaks for itself."

"I know Barbara will not only fight for, but will deliver on our progressive priorities that are long overdue like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and ending the filibuster," he continued. "There's a reason she's beloved by Gen Z. Because Barbara understands the issues facing young people today and knows it is our responsibility to protect our rights, our democracy, and the planet for the next generation."

"What's more, I believe that representation matters. And for far too long, our country's institutions have failed to reflect that reality," added Khanna, noting that there is not currently a Black woman serving as a Democratic senator.

So far, Lee's opponents are two other Democrats representing California in the U.S. House of Representatives: Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. Feinstein, who is 89, confirmed her long-anticipated retirement plans last month.

'Libraries saved my life': Internet archive to appeal 'chilling' federal ruling against digital books

Internet Archive vowed to appeal after a U.S. district court judge on Friday sided with four major publishers who sued the nonprofit for copyright infringement.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Internet Archives operated a controlled digital lending system, allowing users to digitally check out scanned copies of purchased or donated books on a one-to-one basis. As the public health crises forced school and library closures, the nonprofit launched the National Emergency Library, making 1.4 million digital books available without waitlists.

Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House sued Internet Archive over its lending policies in June 2020. Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York on Friday found in Hachette v. Internet Archive that the nonprofit "creates derivative e-books that, when lent to the public, compete with those authorized by the publishers."

"In a chilling ruling, a lower court judge in New York has completely disregarded the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books in favor of maximizing the profits of Big Media conglomerates," declared Lia Holland, campaigns and communications director at the digital rights group Fight for the Future.

"We applaud the Internet Archive's appeal announcement, as well as their steadfast commitment to preserving the rights of all libraries and their patrons in the digital age," they said. "And our admiration is shared—over 14,000 people having signed our pledge to defend libraries' digital rights at this week alone."

Holland continued:

From a basic human rights perspective, it is patently absurd to equate an e-book license issued through a surveillance-ridden Big Tech company with a digital book file that is owned and preserved by a privacy-defending nonprofit library. Currently, publishers offer no option for libraries to own and preserve digital books—leaving digital books vulnerable to unauthorized edits, censorship, or downright erasure, and leaving library patrons vulnerable to surveillance and punishment for what they read.

In a world where libraries cannot own, preserve, or control the digital books in their collections, only the most popular, bestselling authors stand to benefit—at the expense of the vast majority of authors, whose books are preserved and purchased by libraries well after publishers have stopped promoting them. Further, today a disproportionate number of traditionally marginalized and local voices are being published in digital-only format, redoubling the need for a robust regime of library preservation to ensure that these stories survive for generations to come.

A future in which libraries are just a shell for Big Tech's licensing software and Big Media's most popular titles would be awful—but that's where we're headed if this decision stands. No book-lover who wants an equitable and trustworthy written world could find such a future desirable. Accordingly, we plan to organize an in-person action to demand robust ownership and preservation standards for digital books and libraries. For updates on when and where, check

More than 300 authors last September signed an open letter led by Fight for the Future calling out publishers and trade associations for their actions against digital libraries, including the lawsuit targeting Internet Archive.

"Libraries saved my life as a young reader, and I've seen them do as much and more for so many others," said signatory Jeff Sharlet. "At a time when libraries are at the frontlines of fascism's assault on democracy, it is of greater importance than ever for writers to stand in solidarity with librarians in defense of the right to share stories. Democracy won't survive without it."

Fellow signatory Erin Taylor asserted that "the Internet Archive is a public good. Libraries are a public good. Only the most intellectually deprived soul would value profit over mass access to literature and knowledge."

Koeltl's ruling came just two days after the American Library Association released a report revealing that in 2022, a record-breaking 2,571 titles were challenged by pro-censorship groups pushing book bans, a 38% increase from the previous year.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the so-called Parents Bill of Rights Act, which education advocates and progressive lawmakers argue is intended to ban books and further ostracize marginalized communities.

'Extremely dangerous escalation': Putin to station Russian nukes in Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on state television Saturday plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus—an escalation anti-war campaigners had been warning about and that alarmed disarmament advocates and experts.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) "condemns this extremely dangerous escalation which makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely," the group declared in a series of tweets.

"In the context of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of miscalculation or misinterpretation is extremely high," ICAN added. "Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences."

The deployment decision comes 13 months into Russia's invasion of Ukraine and after the United Kingdom this week revealed plans to provide the invaded nation with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium (DU).

Putin said the U.K.'s announcement "probably served as a reason" why Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko agreed to the plan and argued that it won't violate Russia's international nonproliferation treaty obligations, according to a BBC translation.

As Reuters explained, "The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, signed by the Soviet Union, says that no nuclear power can transfer nuclear weapons or technology to a nonnuclear power, but it does allow for the weapons to be deployed outside its borders but under its control—as with U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe."

The United States, which has the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal after Russia, "long ago deployed their nuclear weapons on the territory of their allies, NATO countries, in Europe," the Russia leader noted. "We are doing the same thing that they have been doing for decades."

Russia "will not hand over" nuclear arms to Belarus, Putin insisted, explaining that his country has already given its ally an Iskander missile complex that can be equipped with weapons, plans to start training crews in early April, and aims to complete construction of a special storage facility for the nukes by the beginning of July.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and in the five years that followed, nuclear weapons based in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were transferred to Russia—where they have remained since.

"It's a very significant move," Nikolai Sokol, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, toldReuters of the deployment decision. "Russia had always been very proud that it had no nuclear weapons outside its territory. So, now, yes, they are changing that and it's a big change."

Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Nuclear Information Project, told Reuters that "this is part of Putin's game to try to intimidate NATO... because there is no military utility from doing this in Belarus as Russia has so many of these weapons and forces inside Russia."

Global Zero managing partner Derek Johnson said that "Putin's nuclear provocations are dangerous and unacceptable. U.S. and NATO must resist calls to respond in kind and avoid injecting nuclear weapons deeper into this war."

In addition to his nuclear announcement, Putin pointed out during the Saturday interview that Russia also has depleted uranium shells. As he put it: "I must say that certainly, Russia has something to respond. Without exaggeration, we have hundreds of thousands, namely hundreds of thousands of such shells. We are not using them now."

A U.K. Ministry of Defense official had confirmed earlier this week that "alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armor-piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium," which swiftly generatedconcerns about not only Russian nuclear threats but also public health and environmental impacts.

"DU shells have already been implicated in thousands of unnecessary deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses," stressed Kate Hudson, general secretary of the U.K.-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which has advocated for a moratorium on such arms. "Sending them into yet another war zone will not help the people of Ukraine."

'When we fight, we win!': LA school workers secure deal after 3-day strike

Union negotiators for about 30,000 school support staffers in California's Los Angeles County struck a historic deal with the second-largest district in the United States on Friday after a three-day strike.

Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, special education assistants, teaching aides, and other school staff—backed by about 35,000 educators of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)—walked off the job on Tuesday and continued to strike through Thursday.

The tentative contract agreement, which must still be voted on by SEIU Local 99 members, was reached with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) after mediation from Democratic Mayor Karen Bass.

The deal would increase the average annual salary from $25,000 to $33,000, raise wages by 30%, boost the district minimum wage to $22.52, provide a $1,000 Covid-19 pandemic bonus, secure healthcare benefits for part-time employees who work at least four hours a day, and guarantee seven hours of work for special education assistants.

"The agreement addresses our key demands and sets us on a clear pathway to improving our livelihoods and securing the staffing we need to improve student services," SEIU Local 99 said in a statement. "It was members' dedication to winning respect from the district that made this agreement possible."

The Los Angeles Times reports that during a Friday news conference at City Hall with Bass and Alberto Carvalho, the LAUSD superintendent, Local 99 executive director Max Arias declared that "here in California this agreement will set new standards, not just for Los Angeles, but the entire state."

"I want to appreciate the 30,000 members that sacrificed three days of work, despite low income, to raise the issue to society, that we as a society need to do better for all workers, all working people, for everyone," Arias added.

While the strike meant about 400,000 K-12 students weren't in classes for three days this week, "many parents stood in support of union employees," according toKTLA, with one local parent saying that "it's obvious all over the schools that we're really not putting the support where it's needed and our children are suffering because of that."

In a series of tweets, Local 99 thanked people from across the country for their solidarity this past week and stressed that the LA mayor, who has no formal authority over LAUSD, "was instrumental to getting the district to finally start hearing our demands."

Bass, in a statement, thanked Arias and Carvalho "for working together with me to put our families first" and emphasized that "we must continue working together to address our city's high cost of living, to grow opportunity, and to support more funding for LA's public schools, which are the most powerful determinant of our city's future."

Carvalho said Friday that "when we started negotiating with SEIU, we promised to deliver on three goals. We wanted to honor and elevate the dignity of our workforce and correct well-known, decadeslong inequities impacting the lowest-wage earners. We wanted to continue supporting critical services for our students. We wanted to protect the financial viability of the district for the long haul. Promises made, promises delivered."

Contract talks with district teachers are ongoing. When announcing support for Local 99's strike earlier this month, UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz said that "despite LAUSD having one of the largest school budgets and largest reserves in the nation—teachers and essential school workers are struggling to support their own families and live in the communities they work for."

The strike and pending deal in California come amid a rejuvenated labor organizing movement across the United States, with employees of major corporations including Amazon and Starbucks fighting for unions.

Dems detail 'catastrophic' costs if GOP hostage-takers force US default

Congressional Democrats on Thursday forcefully called out their Republican colleagues for holding the economy hostage by refusing to raise the country's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling without major spending cuts, risking the first-ever U.S. default.

Democrats declined to even try to raise the nation's arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional borrowing limit while they still controlled both chambers of Congress during last year's lame-duck session, setting up the current fight. Because the ceiling has already been hit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is now taking "extraordinary measures" to give lawmakers more time to act, but the deadline to do so looms, with a default possible as early as June, based on the latest federal estimates.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) along with other key party members came together Thursday to unveil an alarming six-page Joint Economic Committee (JEC) Democratic staff report.

"This report shows that a Republican default crisis means real dollars coming out of American families' wallets and savings decimated. This is not a hypothetical exercise to the millions of Americans—including veterans and seniors—who rely on the United States government for benefits, pensions, and disability," Schumer said in a statement.

"House Republicans' approach is dangerous and destabilizing," he added. "Even the threat of a breach will raise costs on everything from car loans to mortgages. Republicans are gambling with Americans' savings, benefits, and lives, all to play a political game."

Specifically, according to the report, if the GOP forced a historic and "catastrophic" default:

  • The average worker close to retirement could take a $20,000 hit to their retirement savings;
  • Small business loans could go up $44 a month, costing about $2,500 more over the course of the loan;
  • Debt-limit threats could weaken the dollar and push up prices for consumers;
  • A typical new homeowner could see their monthly mortgage payment go up more than $150, costing them an extra $54,300 over the life of their loan;
  • A family buying a new car could pay over $800 more if interest rates spike;
  • Americans with private student loans could see their monthly payments rise by $23, costing them nearly $4,200 in total; and
  • Families with credit card debt could see their monthly payments rise, making it harder for them to become debt-free.

"A decade ago credit rating agencies downgraded the U.S. credit rating after Republican debt limit brinkmanship, and it drove borrowing costs for the American people higher in a variety of ways," noted Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "This Joint Economic Committee report quantifies what kind of damage regular people could see if that happens again, and it is very bad."

"This would affect everyone who borrows money, including the United States government, which would have to pay more in its borrowing costs," he explained. "In other words, Republican hostage-taking on the debt limit would actually increase the deficit."

Beyer, Schumer, and Jeffries were joined at the news conference Thursday by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) as well as Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), the JEC chairman-designate, who stressed that "the debt ceiling is not a bargaining chip."

While several of them slammed "MAGA Republican in the House," 71-year-old Moore chose to describe the GOP lawmakers whose actions are jeopardizing not only the U.S. but also the global economy another way.

"I have a great-granddaughter that falls out and rolls on the floor when she can't have her way. I tell her she needs to get up because she's not gonna get it," Moore said. "Republicans need to get up and stop holding our economy hostage."

"We are not going to devastate our seniors and our children, and we will not sabotage the world's standard credit rating," the congresswoman declared. "Republicans need to get up off the ground and raise the debt limit!"

Adding to concerns about the U.S. and global economies are recent bank turmoil and repeated interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve—which, along with Congress, is facing criticism for regulatory rollbacks that experts tie to the bank failures.

As Punchbowl Newsreported Wednesday:

Instead of expressing caution, senior GOP lawmakers are leaning into their plans to demand spending cuts in return for raising the nation's borrowing limit. The Republicans we spoke to doubled down, arguing the same factors that led to the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank necessitate urgency in reducing government spending.

"This is the best time to do it," House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said of the debt limit fight. "That interest rate pressure that is creating some risk in the banking industry is a result of the inflation that has been induced by the massive amounts of spending."


Arrington's panel will play a central role in the Republican posture heading into negotiations with President Joe Biden. While House Republicans have yet to release their budget, GOP leaders have vowed to roll back spending to FY2022 levels. That would mean a cut of roughly $130 billion from last year's funding level. Democrats and the White House have assailed the plan as an attack on working families, seniors, and veterans, while Republicans insist the cuts are necessary to rein in inflation.

The Texas Republican said it "makes sense that when you have a debt ceiling negotiation," lawmakers would "reflect on the indebtedness of our country" and look to cut spending at the same time.

Punchbowl noted similar remarks this week from Reps. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) and John Rose (R-Tenn.) along with GOP Conference Secretary Lisa McClain.

Biden introduced his budget blueprint for FY2024 earlier this month. Though progressives condemned the president's historically high request for military spending as "madness" they also praised his push for massive social investments as well as tax hikes targeting wealthy individuals and corporations.

Meanwhile, "House Republican leaders did not respond to multiple questions from USA TODAY about when the GOP budget would be ready," the newspaper reported Wednesday.

As USA TODAY detailed:

An initial proposal from the House Budget Committee includes cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden's student debt cancellation, and funding for electric vehicles for the U.S. post office.

It also includes reinstating work requirements to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

A proposal from the House Freedom Caucus includes $131 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2024.

"Extreme MAGA House Republicans are showing us what they value: tax breaks for the rich," Biden said of the caucus' proposal. "They demand the biggest Medicare benefits cut in decades, ship jobs overseas, defund law enforcement, devastate our national and border security. It's a gut punch to the middle class."

As Liz Zelnick from the watchdog Accountable.US warned, "The MAGA extremists running the House fully intend to manufacture a disastrous default crisis by making demands they know to be nonstarters—like letting wealthy tax cheats and big polluters off the hook."

The Fed accused of 'playing with fire' after latest rate hike

Progressive economists and other experts blasted Federal Reserve leadership on Wednesday for raising interest rates yet again despite concerns about recent bank failures and how the quarter-point increase will impact the U.S. and global economies.

"Once again, interest rate hikes are going to fall hardest on low-wage workers and the poor—the same people who have already been hurt the most by rising prices," tweeted University of California, Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. "Higher rates could also imperil more banks, and risk even more financial chaos. The Fed is playing with fire."

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters Wednesday that although the Federal Open Market Committee "did consider" a pause on rate increases following the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank failures, officials ultimately decided to raise the federal funds rate to a range of 4.75-5%, the highest level since 2007.

"The Fed under Chair Powell made a mistake not pausing its extreme interest rate hikes," declared Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) a fierce critic of nine consecutive rate hikes since last March as well as the Fed's regulatory rollbacks that proceeded the bank collapses.

"I've warned for months that the Fed's current path risks throwing millions of Americans out of work. We have many tools to fight inflation without pushing the economy off a cliff," added Warren, who has repeatedly called for ousting Powell.

Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl—a bank bailout expert and former managing director at BlackRock—similarly contended that "the Fed's decision to keep pushing forward with rate hikes no matter the circumstances is a dangerous mistake."

Describing such hikes as "a blunt instrument," he stressed that high interest rates "are not well suited to the economic realities the country now faces—and will inevitably end up doing more harm than good."

Pearl continued:

In our modern economy, high interest rates are simply not an effective way to fight inflation. Rate hikes have disproportionately hurt just a few sectors, like housing, automobiles, and some banks and investors, while leaving many of the nation's largest employers relatively unscathed.

Rising interest rates do nothing to address a major cause of inflation, corporate price gouging, and actually make another long-term cause, lack of investment in new housing, worse. Instead, the Fed is betting that lowering employment and cooling wage growth is the best solution to inflation.

Higher interest rates may be a cure for inflation, but if they end up causing another banking crisis, or pushing the economy into a recession, the cure may be worse than the disease.

An analysis released Wednesday by Accountable.US explained that "SVB's failure was partly due partly to a 'plunge' in bond value and $1.8 billion in 'paper losses' amid the Fed's rate hikes. By the end of 2022, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) had warned that U.S. banks were 'sitting on $620 billion in unrealized losses' that may make their balance sheets appear healthier than they really are."

The watchdog group found that "at the end of 2022, the five biggest U.S. banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank Of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and U.S. Bank—reported a total of $233 billion in unrealized losses on held-to-maturity securities, including $54 billion in unrealized losses on Treasury securities. These same banks reported a combined $39.4 billion in unrealized losses on available-for-sale securities, including $12.7 billion in losses on available-for-sale U.S. Treasuries."

Liz Zelnick, director of economic security and corporate power at Accountable.US, warned Wednesday that "hiking interest rates, even if more slowly, will devastate Main Street and Wall Street alike by wiping out millions of jobs while sending Treasury securities into a downward spiral," acknowledging that the recent bank turmoil prevented an even bigger increase than 25 basis points.

"A recession and broken financial system are not worth the price of higher interest rates that have failed miserably to curb the corporate greed epidemic helping to drive up costs," Zelnick added. "To date, the Federal Reserve and Chairman Jerome Powell have been more than willing to let average American families bear the brunt of their job-killing strategy—but are they also willing to let their banker friends on Wall Street go down with the ship?"

The Hill highlighted that ahead of Wednesday's announcement, influential figures such as economist Paul Krugman and analysts for Goldman Sachs—in a Monday letter to investors—had advocated for pausing rate hikes.

"Bank stress calls for a pause," wrote Goldman Sachs analysts. "Banking is not just another sector of the economy because financial intermediation is vital to every sector. As a result, addressing stress in the banking system is the most immediate concern and must take priority over other less urgent goals for the moment. We expect that policymakers and staff economists at the Fed will have the same view."

During his Wednesday press conference, Powell insisted that "our banking system is sound and resilient with strong capital and liquidity. We will continue to closely monitor conditions in the banking system and are prepared to use all of our tools as needed to keep it safe and sound."

While Powell also emphasized the Fed's commitment to learning from the recent SVB and Signature failures to prevent repeat events, both the bank collapses and a year of rate hikes have fueled calls for his ouster.

Asked by CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday whether she had ever directly told President Joe Biden that he should fire Powell, Warren said she wouldn't talk about private conversations "but what I will say is I've made it very clear as publicly as humanly possible that I didn't think that he should be reconfirmed as chair of the Fed. And I think he's doing a really terrible job."

"And he's doing a terrible job on both fronts," she said, referring to the Fed's dual mandate. In terms of oversight, Powell "has spent five years weakening regulations over these multibillion-dollar banks," and on monetary policy, he is "risking pushing our economy into a recession."

"What he's trying to do is get two million people laid off, and one of the things that we need to understand: He wants to raise the unemployment rate by more than a point within a single 12-month period. We have done that before in this country. In fact, we have done it 12 times before. And out of all 12 times, how many times has it resulted in a recession?" she said. "The answer is 12."

'Important victory' for Florida higher education as court upholds block on DeSantis censorship law

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday kept in place a preliminary injunction against Florida GOP policymakers' school censorship law in what rights advocates celebrated as "an important victory for professors, other educators, and students."

The appellate court denied a request from Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration and higher education officials to block a district judge's injunction that is currently preventing enforcement of the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act—rebranded by its supporters as the Individual Freedom Act—in the state's public colleges and universities.

DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act "limits the ways concepts related to systemic racism and sex discrimination can be discussed in teaching or conducting training in workplaces or schools," parroting a Trump administration executive order that was ultimately rescinded by President Joe Biden, the ACLU explained last year.

The plaintiffs in one of the relevant cases, Pernell v. Florida Board of Governors, are represented by the national and state ACLU along with the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and Ballard Spahr, who first filed the federal suit last August—the same day U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a separate injunction against the law related to employers.

The new appeals court order upholds the injunction Walker issued in November, which began by quoting George Orwell's novel 1984. Calling the controversial law "positively dystopian," the judge wrote at the time that "the powers in charge of Florida's public university system have declared the state has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of 'freedom.'"

Leah Watson, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said Thursday that "the court's decision to leave in place the preliminary injunction is a recognition of the serious injury posed to educators and students by the Stop WOKE Act."

"All students and educators deserve to have a free and open exchange about issues related to race in our classrooms," Watson argued, rather than censored discussions that erase "the history of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals."

LDF assistant counsel Alexsis Johnson similarly stressed that "institutions of higher education in Florida should have the ability to provide a quality education, which simply cannot happen when students and educators, including Black students and educators, feel they cannot speak freely about their lived experiences, or when they feel that they may incur a politician's wrath for engaging in a fact-based discussion of our history."

The order also pertains to a challenge filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) in September.

"Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal," FIRE said Thursday. "Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion."

The Stop WOKE Act is part of a nationwide effort by Republican state lawmakers and governors—especially DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate—to curtail what content can be shared and discussed in classrooms and workplaces.

"Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism," according to an Education Week analysis updated on Monday. "Eighteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues."

ACLU of Florida staff attorney Jerry Edwards warned Thursday that "lawmakers continue to threaten our democracy by attempting to curtail important discussions about our collective history and treatment of Black and Brown communities."

"This is an important step in preserving the truth, civil liberties, and a better future," Edwards said of the 11th Circuit's decision.

Though legal groups welcomed the order, the battle over the law is ongoing. The court will eventually rule on the merits of the case—which DeSantis' press secretary Bryan Griffin highlighted Thursday, adding, "We remain confident that the law is constitutional."

Opponents of the law are also undeterred, as Ballard Spahr litigation department chair Jason Leckerman made clear.

"The movement to restrict academic freedom and curtail the rights of marginalized communities is as pervasive as it is pernicious," he said. "We are proud of the work we have done so far with our partners, the ACLU and Legal Defense Fund, but the fight is far from over. Today, we'll take a moment to savor this result—and then we'll keep working."

This post has been updated with comment from FIRE and Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary.

Echoing climate TikTok, Al Gore says Biden OK of Willow would be 'recklessly irresponsible'

From climate campaigners on TikTok to former Vice President Al Gore, people who care about the planet across the United States are pressuring the Biden administration to block ConocoPhillips' multibillion-dollar Willow oil project in Alaska.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a notice of availability regarding its final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Willow Master Development Plan in the Federal Register on February 6. It said that a final decision for the project would come no earlier than 30 days from then.

Leading up to the BLM's decision—which ConocoPhillips chairman and CEO Ryan Lance expects this week—opponents have stressed scientists' warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if humanity has any chance of preventing catastrophic global heating and meeting the Paris climate agreement's 1.5°C target for this century.

Announced by the Houston-based company in 2017, the 30-year development in the National Petroleum Reserve would produce up to 180,0000 barrels of oil a day at its peak and release over 9.2 metric tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide annually.

"We don't need to prop up the fossil fuel industry with new, multiyear projects that are a recipe for climate chaos."

"Some Native Alaskan Iñupiaq have also raised serious concerns about the project's local environmental impacts, including disturbance to local wildlife, disruption to traditional hunting practices, and a decline in air quality," BBC Newsnoted Friday.

Gore, a longtime environmentalist, acknowledged both local and global concerns on Friday in comments to The Guardian.

"The proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in Alaska is recklessly irresponsible," he said. "The pollution it would generate will not only put Alaska Native and other local communities at risk, it is incompatible with the ambition we need to achieve a net-zero future."

"We don't need to prop up the fossil fuel industry with new, multiyear projects that are a recipe for climate chaos," Gore continued. "Instead, we must end the expansion of oil, gas, and coal and embrace the abundant climate solutions at our fingertips."

Climate advocacy groups have been sending President Joe Biden and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that same message.

After the White House released its budget blueprint on Thursday, Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said that the "proposed budget—especially its investments in clean energy, jobs, and an end to oil and gas subsidies—is the kind of thing young people in this country want to see ahead of 2024."

"But President Biden has the power to act on climate and issues important to our generation without having to go through a Republican House," Prakash added. "He can reject the Willow Project, which goes against his own agenda to stop the climate crisis, and can do everything in his executive authority, like declaring a climate emergency and invoking the Defense Production Act, to jump-start our transition to clean energy."

Though Willow is backed by Alaska's three-member congressional delegation, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and the state Legislature, opponents of the project have taken social media by storm with the hashtag #StopWillow.

"I have never seen so many videos, so many comments, mentions about a climate topic on social media," 26-year-old Alaina Wood, a scientist and climate activist with more than 353,500 followers on the video platform TikTok, toldThe Washington Post Tuesday.

Elise Joshi, a 20-year-old University of California, Berkeley student and acting executive director of the nonprofit Gen-Z for Change, posted one of the earliest TikTok videos about the project, which now has over 300,000 views. She emphasized that "this is not environmentalist groups."

"This is young people as a whole, as a voter base, taking action," Joshi explained to the Post. "With Willow, this is one of the biggest actions we've ever seen on TikTok go forward. It has shown that we are willing to fight."

A petition urging Biden to stop Willow—now signed by more than 3 million people and promoted by groups including the Indigenous-led NDN Collective—declares that "there must come a point where human health, food security, environmental justice, and a functioning ecosystem come before corporate profit."

Pointing to the growing support for the petition, Alex Haraus, a 25-year-old TikTok creator whose Willow videos have millions of views, toldCNN, "If that doesn't emphasize the fact that it's everyday Americans pushing back, I don't know what does."

"This is not an environmental movement, it's much larger than that," Haraus added. "It's the American public that can vote."

Hazel Thayer, another climate activist who has posted TikTok videos with #StopWillow, toldThe Associated Press Wednesday that the proposed Big Oil project is "just so blatantly bad for the planet."

"With all of the progress that the U.S. government has made on climate change, it now feels like they're turning their backs by allowing Willow to go through," Thayer said. "I think a lot of young people are feeling a little bit betrayed by that."

Quannah Chasinghorse—a Han Gwich'in and Sicangu/Oglala Lakota land protector, climate justice activist, and fashion model from Eagle Village, Alaska and the tribes of South Dakota—wrote Friday in a CNN opinion piece opposing the project that "I've been inspired by the chorus of voices who have joined me."

"To date, #StopWillow (and related) videos from a diverse array of young creators have around 300 million direct views on TikTok alone," Chasinghorse noted. "In a matter of just a few days, #StopWillow catapulted to the top of social media conversations."

"As I watch millions of people join the #StopWillow movement, these staggering numbers send a clear message that today's youth expect President Biden and Secretary Haaland to step up," she added. "It reflects a game-changing trend that astute leaders should not ignore: They must deliver the climate leadership they promised by taking bold action to stop the Willow climate disaster before it's too late."

Even if the Biden administration gives Willow the green light, that approval is expected to be met with legal challenges.

"I think that litigation is very likely," Earthjustice senior attorney Jeremy Lieb told The Guardian. “We and our clients don't see any acceptable version of this project."

Progressives praise Biden budget: Investments for 'widespread prosperity and economic growth'

While blasting the White House's proposed $886 billion in military spending as "madness," progressives on Thursday also praised portions of U.S. President Joe Biden's fiscal year 2024 budget for sizable social investments that could lead to "broader opportunity, greater economic and health security, lower levels of hardship, and a nation where everyone can thrive."

"No one in the White House seriously believes that Congress will adopt it in its current form," Politiconoted of Biden's blueprint. "It's a messaging exercise. And as such, the White House sees no downside whatsoever to throwing out things that will never pass the Republican-controlled House. The fight is the point."

Still, the scope of the budget—which includes significant funding for the climate, childcare, democracy, education, healthcare, housing, violence prevention, and more, made possible in part through tax hikes for wealthy individuals and corporations—was celebrated by the likes of Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

"President Biden's 2024 budget invests in people and communities and creates a 21st century tax system that supports these investments to build toward an economy that works for everyone," Parrott said. "It lays out an agenda that would move us closer to a nation where everyone—regardless of their background, identities, or where they live—has the resources they need to thrive and share in the nation's prosperity."

Erica Payne, the founder and pesident of the Patriotic Millionaires, declared that "President Biden's proposed budget is the most ambitious tax plan we've seen from a president in decades—and a clear emphasis of the values that he and the Democrats stand for: investing in our country, fighting off corporate profiteering, protecting the social safety net, and doing so all while reducing our nation's budget deficit."

"The wealthiest Americans and corporations can easily afford to pay more—and hundreds of patriotic millionaires and billionaires are ready and eager to do their part to make sure all Americans can thrive," Payne added. "Let's be clear: As President Biden's budget lays out—we can invest in America, expand the social safety net, fight income inequality, and do it all while lowering taxes for working people—if we simply require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share."

The president's proposals to help American families include expanding the child tax credit from $2,000 per kid to $3,000 for those ages six and above, and to $3,600 for children under six; enabling states to increase childcare options for millions of kids; and funding a federal-state partnership that provides high-quality, universal, free preschool.

The budget also calls for boosting prevention services to reduce the number of children entering foster care as well as changes to the adoption tax credit to better serve families with lower incomes and those who choose legal guardianship.

Biden advocates for $59 billion in funding and tax incentives to increase the affordable housing supply; $10 billion to remove barriers to affordable housing developments; and $10 billion to address racial and ethnic homeownership and wealth gaps. The president proposes providing $4.1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program—and allowing states to use some of that money to provide water bill assistance to poor households, since a related program expires at the end of 2023.

Along with fighting for billions of dollars to ease hunger, the administration aims to pour money into high-poverty school districts as well as improve the affordability of higher education by increasing the discretionary maximum Pell Grant by $500, expanding free community college, and subsidizing tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled historically Black, tribally controlled, or minority-serving institutions.

"Time and again, President Joe Biden delivers on his promise to fight for American families, his commitment to fairness for all Americans, and his belief that everyone should have the freedom and opportunity to build a better life. This budget reflects those priorities and values by helping people continue to rebuild," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who highlighted various proposed investments in education and major federal programs.

In terms of healthcare, Biden pushes for putting billions of dollars into tackling cancer, increasing funds for veterans exposed to environmental hazards, and providing $471 million for reducing maternal mortality and morbidity rates, especially among Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women. He also wants to expand coverage of mental health benefits and make historic investments in the behavioral health workforce.

The president advocates for making healthcare premium cuts permanent and providing Medicaid-like coverage to individuals in states that have not expanded their programs under the Affordable Care Act. There are also provisions to cut prescription drug costs, improve Medicaid home and community-based services, and expand the National Health Service Corps as well as programs that train and support nurses.

Biden would also extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by at least 25 years. In addition to investing in Social Security Administration staff, a White House fact sheet says that the Biden administration "looks forward to working with the Congress to responsibly strengthen Social Security by ensuring that high-income individuals pay their fair share."

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said that "while the conservatives' approach is to 'cut, cut, cut!' earned benefits for future generations of retirees, President Biden's budget would fortify Medicare for the future by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share."

"Instead of 'kicking the can down the road' as some previous administrations and Congresses have done, the president's budget confronts the trust fund shortfall head-on—without burdening beneficiaries," Richtman continued. "In a society with massive wealth inequality, the wealthy can afford to pay a little more. Future seniors cannot afford benefit cuts."

While welcoming Biden's efforts to protect Medicare, Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, also suggested that "looking ahead, the administration should crack down on Medicare Advantage plans that profit by cherry-picking healthy seniors and restricting care for enrollees; expand dental, vision, and hearing benefits for Medicare enrollees; work with Congress to cap out-of-pocket expenses for seniors; and take a bolder stand against Big Pharma greed by expanding drug price negotiation to bring down the prices of more drugs sooner and cover all Americans, not just people on Medicare."

On the climate front, the budget proposes spending $4.5 billion on clean energy, $16.5 billion on climate science and clean energy innovation, and over $24 billion on conservation and to help build communities' resilience to devastating storms, drought, extreme heat, floods, and wildfires. The administration also pushes for investing nearly $2 billion in environmental justice efforts.

A coalition of over a dozen green groups stressed in a joint statement Thursday that "as our country deals with inflation, high energy prices, public health crises, biodiversity loss, and climate change, it is now more important than ever that Congress fully funds the agencies responsible for addressing these critical issues."

Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said that "President Biden's proposed budget—especially its investments in clean energy, jobs, and an end to oil and gas subsidies—is the kind of thing young people in this country want to see ahead of 2024."

"But President Biden has the power to act on climate and issues important to our generation without having to go through a Republican House," she noted. "He can reject the Willow Project, which goes against his own agenda to stop the climate crisis, and can do everything in his executive authority, like declaring a climate emergency and invoking the Defense Production Act, to jump-start our transition to clean energy."

Given the current conditions in Congress—with Republicans controlling the House and a Senate where the president's agenda is often thwarted by not only the GOP but also right-wing Democrats and a new Independent—Biden is certainly in for a battle.

That's especially the case considering that, as CBPP's Parrott noted, "the president's budget priorities stand in stark contrast with the emerging House Republican agenda—an agenda that pushes more tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations, and holds the economy hostage by demanding deep spending cuts in areas like K-12 schools, healthcare, medical research, college tuition help, and help buying groceries as the price for raising the debt limit."

"Taken together, this emerging agenda would increase hardship and narrow access to opportunity; widen already large differences in outcomes by race, ethnicity, and geography; and hurt the country as a whole," Parrott warned of GOP lawmakers' priorities.

ProsperUs coalition spokesperson Claire Guzdar argued that "President Biden's budget is driven by what we know works: investments in the people who keep our economy running. Lowering costs for families, strengthening Medicare and Social Security, and delivering investments in healthcare, housing, and climate are key to widespread prosperity and economic growth."

"President Biden must now fight to enact this budget and continue to reject dangerous calls for austerity and cuts to programs that strengthen our communities and our economy," Guzdar added.

A U.S. Senate Budget Committee hearing for the president's proposal is scheduled for the morning of March 15.

'Given us no choice': Bernie Sanders plans vote to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday announced plans to have the committee he chairs vote next week on whether to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who so far has refused to provide testimony about the coffee chain's federal labor law violations.

Sanders (I-Vt.) and the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) last month invited Schultz to appear before the panel to discuss the company's union-busting amid a national organizing wave.

In a February letter responding to the invitation, Starbucks noted that Schultz came out of retirement to temporarily return as CEO and will soon step down; he will be replaced on April 1 by Laxman Narasimhan. The company instead offered the testimony of chief public affairs officer AJ Jones II, who has been involved with workers' efforts to unionize at hundreds of stores nationwide.

The committee is now set to vote on the Schultz subpoena during an executive session on March 8 at 10:00 am ET—after which Sanders has scheduled a hearing about workers' right to organize featuring testimony from AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry, and Teamsters president Sean O'Brien.

"While Howard Schultz is a multibillionaire who runs a very profitable multinational corporation, he must understand that he and his company are not above the law," Sanders said in a statement. "The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed over 75 complaints against Starbucks for violating federal labor law and there have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against his company. These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers."

Sanders—who has supported Starbucks employees' organizing efforts since their first win in late 2021 and has previously called out the company's anti-union tactics in three letters to the chief executive—pointed out that "for nearly a year, I and many of my colleagues in the Senate have repeatedly asked Mr. Schultz to respect the constitutional right of workers at Starbucks to form a union and to stop violating federal labor laws. Mr. Schultz has failed to respond to those requests."

"He has denied meeting and document requests, skirted congressional oversight attempts, and refused to answer any of the serious questions we have asked. Unfortunately, Mr. Schultz has given us no choice, but to subpoena him," the senator continued. "A multibillion-dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable."

Starbucks spokesperson Andrew Trull said in a Wednesday statement to CNBC that "this is a disappointing development, but we will continue our dialogue with Chairman Sanders' staff and are optimistic that we'll come to an appropriate resolution."

The Associated Press reported that "if the vote passes—and it's likely it would, since Democrats are in the majority on the committee—Schultz would be required to appear before the committee on March 15."

Sanders announced the subpoena vote as Bloomberg revealed Wednesday that about four dozen white-collar Starbucks employees and managers "signed an open letter protesting the company's return-to-office mandate and its alleged union-busting," which "could also be a precursor to eventual unionization efforts" by the higher-level staffers.

The announcement and letter came a day after Sanders joined Democrats and one Republican in reintroducing the Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that would boost workers' organizing rights and crack down on union-busting.

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