Jessica Corbett

Judge rules against Biden continuing 'inhumane' Trump policy to deport families

In a major win for asylum-seekers and human rights advocates, a federal judge on Thursday ordered President Joe Biden's administration to end a Trump-era policy of using Covid-19 pandemic to justify the swift deportation of migrant families.

The Trump administration first invoked Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act, early last year. Biden has faced global criticism for continuing the policy. After failed negotiations with the Biden administration, advocacy groups that had initially sued while former President Donald Trump was in office resumed their legal challenge of the expulsions last month.

"President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today," Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement welcoming U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan's Thursday ruling.

In a 58-page ruling, Sullivan agreed that the Title 42 expulsions weren't supported by federal law. The judge's order, widely cheered by rights groups, is set to take effect in 14 days.

Politico noted Thursday that the Biden administration made its position on the policy clear last month:

[The] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated order that maintained there is still a public health justification for the Biden administration to continue kicking out migrants. The order can remain in effect indefinitely.
Sullivan's order applies only to families, meaning the Biden administration can continue to expel single adults arriving at the U.S. southern border. Unaccompanied children have been exempt from being expelled using Title 42.

The Biden administration has not only resisted pressure to end Title 42 expulsions—instead deporting hundreds of thousands of people—but also announced in July that families who couldn't be expelled under the policy would be "placed in expedited removal proceedings," which rights activists slammed as "vile."

Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at the ACLU, pointed out Thursday that "there are so many ways the government can safely permit these families to go through the asylum process, in ways that ensure everyone's health is protected. Quarantine, testing, and vaccination."

Wang also took to Twitter to explain portions of Sullivan's decision, which she called "a beacon of hope" that "reaffirms our pride in being a nation of refuge, as Congress intended."

The Texas-based group RAICES—which was part of the coalition challenging the "inhumane and unnecessary" Title 42 policy—similarly applauded the judge's decision.

"This is not the end of the battle against this practice," RAICES said, "but it is a major step to ensure that the U.S. welcomes these asylum-seeking families—as we should."

Sawyer Hackett, executive director of People First Future, a political action committee launched by former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, also celebrated the news.

"We haven't had a real asylum system for 18 months," Hackett said. "This is a huge win for human rights."

Manchin blasted for urging 'pause' to Dems’ $3.5T spending plan as climate change batters US infrastructure

With dozens dead across the Eastern United States in the wake of Hurricane Ida this week, Sen. Joe Manchin on Thursday drew the ire of progressives by opposing Democrats' plan to quickly pass a $3.5 trillion package that would improve social programs and tackle the climate emergency.

The youth-led Sunrise Movement delivered a concise response to Manchin's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which the West Virginia Democrat outlined a position that jeopardizes not only the $3.5 trillion package his party aims to advance using the budget reconciliation process—due to the threat of a GOP filibuster in the Senate—but also a smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill.

"Abolish the Senate," said Sunrise Movement communications director Ellen Sciales, whose family home flooded late Wednesday as the remnants of Ida struck the Northeast.

Senate Democrats, including Manchin, approved the budget blueprint for the $3.5 trillion package in mid-August, and the House passed it along party lines nearly two weeks later. President Joe Biden supports Democrats' plans to swiftly pass both that package—for which party leaders are now crafting formal legislation—and the bipartisan bill.

However, Manchin argued in an op-ed described by critics as "laughable" that "instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget reconciliation legislation."

The right-wing Democrat—who has had a key role in negotiations with the White House about legislation investing in physical and human infrastructure—wrote in part:

A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not. While some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions. I have always said if I can't explain it, I can't vote for it, and I can't explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion.

Another reason to pause: We must allow for a complete reporting and analysis of the implications a multitrillion-dollar bill will have for this generation and the next. Such a strategic pause will allow every member of Congress to use the transparent committee process to debate: What should we fund, and what can we simply not afford?
I, for one, won't support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.

The Debt Collective pushed back on Twitter, declaring: "Debt is being weaponized here to commit extraordinary violence. Debt is being used as the alibi for mass extinction. Joe Manchin is using debt as a weapon and aiming it directly at your job, directly at your children, directly at our futures."

Citizens for Tax Justice said that "Sen. Manchin talks a lot about spending, the debt, and what we can and cannot afford, failing to mention even once that we could pay for it all by simply requiring the richest Americans and tax-dodging corporations to pay their fair share of taxes."

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) responded to the op-ed with photos of the damage that the storm and subsequent flooding did to his district overnight Wednesday. He asked, "How much destruction do we need to see before it's worth investing in our climate?"

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—who is among the progressives threatening to withhold support for the bipartisan bill unless lawmakers urgently advance the broader package—noted not only the impact of the storm but also fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil's reported lobbying of Manchin regarding infrastructure legislation.

Rather than Manchin's proposed pause on the popular reconciliation legislation, Ocasio-Cortez said, "maybe we hit the 'cancel' button on this so-called 'bipartisan' charade of an Exxon lobbyist-drafted infrastructure bill unless we actually pass a law that helps people's lives with healthcare expansion, childcare, climate action, etc."

As Common Dreams has reported, progressives have condemned the bipartisan measure for funding "false" climate solutions and pointed to it as proof that it is necessary to simultaneously advance a $3.5 trillion bill.

"Alternatively," Ocasio-Cortez added, "if we want to bring down the $3.5 [trillion] we can bring back taxing the rich and boosting IRS enforcement that [moderates] originally worked so hard to trim back!"

Writer Zach Carter suggested that Manchin's op-ed "is all-in for tanking the Biden presidency" and whatever strategy Biden and Democratic leadership are pursuing with him "isn't working."

"Manchin has had [about six] months to learn what this bill does," Carter noted. "He's been involved in serious negotiations over it all year. He now says that he has no idea what the bill does. And he thinks that's a smart thing to say in public."

"It's really not hard to figure out what's on the agenda," he added, pointing to a White House fact sheet. "The public can read about it on the internet. Manchin is begging people to believe that he's a fool."

'Catastrophic injustice': Judge OKs Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan that Shields the Sacklers

In a bench ruling delivered over several hours on Wednesday, a U.S. judge approved a Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan widely criticized for giving the Sackler family immunity from civil lawsuits related to the company's drug OxyContin and and profiteering that critics say escalated the nation's opioid epidemic.

"The deal grants 'releases' from liability for harm caused by OxyContin and other opioids to the Sacklers, hundreds of their associates, as well as their remaining empire of companies and trusts," NPR explained.

In a statement condemning the development, Rick Claypool, a research director for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said that "allowing the billionaires at the root of the opioid crisis to walk free while thousands of its victims are in prison is a catastrophic injustice."

"Purdue Pharma is the reason the Sackler family are billionaires, and after today's settlement they will remain billionaires," Claypool continued. "The greed of some Sacklers fueled an opioid epidemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans, gripped millions in the claws of addiction, devastated communities across the country, and cost over $2.5 trillion."

The researcher noted that "meanwhile, on any given day, 450,000 incarcerated people are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes."

drug offenses

"The Biden administration has the authority to pursue leniency for nonviolent drug offenders, whose unnecessary and cruel incarceration must be replaced with support to help communities heal the raw wounds the opioid epidemic left behind," Claypool said.

"The administration also has the authority to continue the last administration's criminal investigation and indict any member of the Sackler family who committed crimes while pursuing opioid profits," he added. "On both fronts, the administration should exercise its authority without delay."

As Reuters detailed, the bankruptcy plan, valued at more than $10 billion, will "dissolve the drugmaker and shift assets to a new company owned by a trust rather than the Sackler family members."

Reuters continued:

The Sacklers have denied allegations, raised in lawsuits and elsewhere, that they bear responsibility for the U.S. opioid epidemic. They have said they acted ethically and lawfully while serving on Purdue's board.
The Purdue bankruptcy plan includes a $4.5 billion contribution from Sackler family members. The contribution is in the form of cash that would be paid over roughly a decade and also includes $175 million in value from relinquishing control of charitable institutions.

Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, "provisionally approved the plan, saying he wanted modest adjustments," according to the New York Times.

Journalists live-tweeting the orally delivered ruling reported that Drain declared that "this is not the Sacklers' plan," despite the civil immunity from opioid cases being a key goal of family members.

Adam Levitin, a Georgetown Law professor specializing in bankruptcy, pushed back against Drain's criticism of reporters, academics, and lawmakers and argued that the plan aligns with what the Sacklers wanted.

"Drain's shifting the goal posts and setting up a strawman," he said. "No one informed is claiming that the Sacklers are getting criminal immunity. They're just keeping a multi-billion dollar fortune despite having wrought terrible harm to millions of people."

Brian Mann of NPR noted that although Drain said the plan wasn't defined by the Sacklers, he also acknowledged "at length that members of the family placed their wealth (which [the judge] estimates at $11 billion) offshore where there is 'a substantial issue of collectability.'"

"It is incredibly frustrating that people can send their money offshore," said Drain. The judge also highlighted the lack of apology from the Sackler family, adding that "a forced apology is not really an apology, so we will have to live without one."

Journalist Gerald Posner, author of the book PHARMA, shared various lines of the bench ruling, including Drain's point that prosecutors could pursue criminal claims against the Sacklers.

Though the Sacklers have never been charged and maintain their position that the family has no responsibility for the opioid crisis, NPR noted last week that "Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty twice to criminal wrongdoing in its marketing of OxyContin, first in 2007 and again last year."

The outlet also reported Tuesday on Purdue Pharma's "stealth campaign" aimed at preventing a potential appeal of the bankruptcy settlement by the U.S. Justice Department.

According to Reuters, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is also "preparing to appeal if necessary."

'The climate crisis is here and killing us'

With search and rescue efforts underway and widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Ida barreling into the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 storm, the youth-led Sunrise Movement on Monday urged President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.

"Today my heart aches for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. On the 16th anniversary of Katrina, a storm that many still haven't recovered from, families are traumatized by yet another devastating climate catastrophe," said Varshini Prakash, the group's executive director, in a statement.

"Let's be clear: This was preventable," she continued. "It was preventable that New Orleans lost its power. It was preventable that people had to evacuate their homes. It was preventable that shelters face both a climate disaster and a Covid-19 surge. And it was preventable that people would lose their lives—especially poor people, and Black and Brown communities who don't all have the privilege of evacuating."

Though there is only one confirmed death from Ida so far, both Biden and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said Monday that the number is likely to grow.

"What more do politicians need to realize that the climate crisis is here and killing us?" asked Prakash. "The time for incrementalism and watered down 'solutions' is over. While community members and aid groups provide support to victims of the storm, what is President Biden doing?"

"Biden must declare a climate emergency to mobilize the federal government towards addressing these climate disasters and tackling the climate crisis head on," she added. "We're done with thoughts and prayers and so are the communities of the Gulf South. We need action now."

The president on Monday met virtually with various leaders of communities impacted by Ida, detailed the federal response to the storm, and promised regional governors and mayors that "we're going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover."

Sunrise was from far from alone in highlighting the powerful storm's connection to how global heating impacts hurricanes. As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, experts are already calling Ida "the poster child for a climate change-driven disaster."

The advocacy group was also joined by other progressives in calling for the U.S. government to ramp up its efforts to combat the global, human-caused climate emergency.

"Unless we shift away from fossil fuels, storms will only get stronger," warned Friends of the Earth Action. "This is exactly why we need to hold this dangerous industry accountable."

Scientists continue to sound the alarm about what the future will hold without sweeping changes across several sectors worldwide—warnings that have fueled demands that U.S. policymakers pursue bold climate action, including in the $3.5 trillion package that congressional Democrats are crafting to pass alongside a limited bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Legislation introduced in February by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would direct Biden to declare a national climate emergency and mobilize every resource available to address the crisis.

At the time, Sunrise expressed support for the proposal, with Prakash calling it "a good sign that our leaders are finally understanding what young people and climate activists have been shouting from the rooftops for years—that the fires that burned our homes to rubble, the floods that took our family and friends with them, are a climate emergency, and bold action must be done now to save our humanity and our future."

'Democracy for sale': Analysis ties corporate consolidation to increased lobbying

An analysis published Wednesday about corporate consolidation and political lobbying in the United States found that large mergers—particularly in Big Tech, the pharmaceutical industry, and the oil and gas sector—has increased corporate control of American democracy.

The new research paper from the American Economic Liberties—entitled Project Democracy for Sale: Examining the Effects of Concentration on Lobbying in the United States (pdf)—was authored by Reed Showalter, an attorney and a fellow at the anti-monopoly group.

"Concentrated markets are bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation. But this research suggests that the concentration crisis in America is even more than a purely economic problem—it's also a democracy problem," Showalter said in a statement.

"We urgently need to understand and contain the power that monopolies have over the rest of us," he asserted. "Lawmakers, enforcers, and leaders cannot afford to ignore the widespread harms from concentration any longer."

The report emphasizes that "the bigger companies get, the more powerful they become. A large majority of Americans distrust concentrated economic power, and criticism of the world's largest companies is a regular part of discourse within America's political parties and around the world. Research has borne out the power of money in politics."

"Corporate lobbying works," the paper continues. "A number of studies show that the amount spent on lobbying positively impacts a firm's equity returns and market share. Firms that engage in lobbying also appear to have lower effective tax rates than those that do not."

Given those conditions, Showalter examined the U.S. internet, pharmaceutical, and fossil fuel sectors. The paper notes that the first case study "primarily includes digital platform companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix" and "does not extend, for example, to internet providers and other internet infrastructure companies."

The researcher found "a noteworthy relationship" between consolidation and political activity. Though the data is a bit limited—which the paper acknowledges, urging some degree of caution—it shows that "in all three industries, concentration appears to predict elevated lobbying spending."

According to Showalter:

In the oil and gas industry as well as among internet companies, the more market power a corporation acquires, the more it lobbies. In the pharmaceutical industry, the data is even more compelling. When pharmaceutical companies gained market power, they lobbied more, and when they lost market power, they lobbied less. One tentative conclusion from this analysis is that monopolies seek to acquire political power, whereas competitive businesses focus on competing with each other instead of dominating public rule-making bodies.

"In short, the results of this report suggest that not only is big business good at lobbying, but that bigger business leads to more lobbying," the paper says. "That means monopoly is a threat to representative democracy—and that protecting our democracy requires effective antitrust."

The report also addresses the political implications of Showalter's findings—specifically, the suggestion that the negative impacts of industry concentration "cannot be understood merely through the consumer welfare lens" and using that standard to govern antitrust "allows practitioners in the field to ignore non-price effects" of companies consolidating.

The new research "casts doubt on pure regulatory solutions that do not reduce concentration, since more lobbying can mitigate regulatory action or even turn regulatory choices into mechanisms to protect entrenched incumbents," the paper says. "If concentration begets political influence, then even a hypothetically economically efficient monopoly offering low consumer prices can still be an undemocratic usurper of political power."

In other words, according to the report, "stronger antitrust premised on reducing corporate concentration should be understood not just as a mechanism to address market power problems, but as an anti-corruption measure in itself."

Concluding that "corporate concentration and antidemocratic political influence go hand in hand," Showalter urges U.S. policymakers to recognize the limits of the consumer welfare standard when creating and implementing new regulations for major industries.

"The antitrust laws were a response to rising economic concentration, and the laws' framers recognized that concentrated economic power can poison our democracy," he writes. "This article is a starting point but hopefully also a reminder that antitrust is equipped and designed to grapple with the political ramifications of economic concentration. Those crafting and enforcing the doctrine should feel empowered to step into the shoes they were meant to fill."

The New York Times' "DealBook" newsletter noted Showalter's ties to President Joe Biden:

Showalter's report begins with an interesting acknowledgment, thanking Tim Wu, a former Columbia law professor who is now a technology and competition policy adviser at the White House. What's more, Showalter works at the law firm founded by Jonathan Kanter, whom President Biden recently nominated to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division. Showalter said that Kanter did not discuss the report with him and that his work as a fellow was separate from his day job. But he acknowledged more generally that the expansive approach to antitrust that his report advocated appeared to be ascendant in the halls of power.

The report comes as Congress is considering a package of antitrust bills advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in late June. Demand Progress executive director David Segal pointed out at the time that "many members are reciting Big Tech's talking points and pushing their amendments. This is why it is necessary that Congress act to break these companies up and diminish their power of speech, the economy, and our government."

"No matter what does or doesn't emerge from Congress in the coming weeks or months, it is vital that the Biden administration use existing tools to rein in the power of these monopolies," he added, calling Lina Khan, the president's pick to chair the Federal Trade Commission, "a tremendous step in this direction" and urging more similar actions that prioritize the public interest.

Nancy Pelosi runs over right-wing Dems as House approves $3.5 trillion budget blueprint

In a party-line vote Tuesday afternoon that followed contentious negotiations, U.S. House Democrats adopted a resolution to advance a key voting rights bill, bipartisan infrastructure legislation, and a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint to invest in climate action, Medicare expansion, child care, free community college, and other progressive priorities.

The resolution (pdf) set up final votes for the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). It also crucially includes formal approval of the Senate-approved budget blueprint that some Democrats are calling the "Build Back Better Plan," enabling Democrats to begin working on that package.

The 220-212 vote came after a small group of right-wing Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) threatened to block the $3.5 trillion budget resolution—for a package Democrats intend to pass without any GOP support using a process that avoids a filibuster in the evenly split Senate—if the House didn't first pass the bipartisan bill, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Joe Biden's commitment to passing the two proposals in tandem.

After negotiations with Gottheimer's group Monday and Tuesday, language was included in the resolution to guarantee a House vote on the bipartisan deal no later than September 27.

The outcome of Tuesday's vote was expected by Pelosi, who told Democrats earlier Tuesday during a caucus meeting: "I'm sorry that we couldn't land the plane last night, and that you all had to wait. But that's just part of the legislative progress... I think we're close to landing the plane."

In a statement later Tuesday, the speaker said that in consultation with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, she is committing to passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill by next month's deadline. She continued:

Passing an infrastructure bill is always exciting for what it means in terms of jobs and commerce in our country. Now more than ever, it also has to be a part of protecting our environment. I know that Chairman DeFazio will do the best possible job to that end in the Build Back Better Act.
We must keep the 51-vote privilege by passing the budget and work with House and Senate Democrats to reach agreement in order for the House to vote on a Build Back Better Act that will pass the Senate.
I thank Congressman Gottheimer and others for their enthusiastic support for the infrastructure bill and know that they also share in the Build Back Better vision of President Biden.

Meanwhile, progressive leaders in Congress emphasized the importance of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package and expressed frustration with the so-called "moderates" like Gottheimer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leader in the effort to advance the budget reconciliation bill as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, turned to Twitter to highlight the consequences if Democrats fail to pass it:

"Unless Congress passes the reconciliation bill, the $300 monthly checks sent to every working family in America will expire in December," Sanders said in a separate tweet. "We cannot let that happen. These checks are a big reason why childhood poverty in America has been cut by 61%. No reconciliation bill, no deal."

Not long before Tuesday's vote, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), tweeted that "there's nothing 'moderate' about voting against top Dem priorities like child care, paid leave, healthcare, immigration and climate action."

In a CPC statement after the vote, Jayapal said that the "transformative" $3.5 trillion budget resolution "is a win for the American people."

Going forward, Jayapal added, "our position remains unchanged: We will work to first pass the Build Back Better reconciliation bill so we can deliver these one-in-a-generation, popular, and urgently needed investments to poor and working families, and then pass the infrastructure bill to invest in our roads, bridges, and waterways."

In comments to NBC News following the vote, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that she is "not committing to any date" and the Democratic leadership "absolutely should not" count on her yes vote for the bipartisan plan if the bolder reconciliation package is delayed beyond the September 27 deadline.

Jayapal, in her statement, reiterated that the bipartisan bill and Democrats' package "are integrally tied together," and said that CPC members "remain united with congressional leadership and President Biden in our mission to enact the entire Build Back Better agenda that voters put us in the majority to accomplish—and every elected Democrat should do the same."

'Tinkering around the edges of the climate crisis': Central banks accused of 'dawdling' as world burns

Despite needing to "play a critical role in catalyzing the rapid shift of financial flows away from oil, fossil gas, and coal," 12 major central banks "have instead tinkered at the edges," according to a report released Tuesday.

The new analysis (pdf) from two dozen advocacy groups including Oil Change International (OCI) examines financing and policies of central banks from Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The report says that "with a few isolated exceptions—such as decisions by the French and Swiss central banks to partially exclude coal from their asset portfolios—central bank activity on carbon pollution and the climate crisis has been limited primarily to measures to increase financial market transparency."

"While some central bank executives claim that tackling the climate crisis is beyond their mandates," the report continues, "at the same time they have positively reinforced fossil fuel financing, and even directly financed fossil fuel production."

"The science is clear," the report emphasizes, noting that even the International Energy Agency now acknowledges that limiting global heating to 1.5°C this century—the more ambitious temperature target of the Paris climate agreement—requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

The analysis centers on 10 criteria for assessing how central banks' actions align with the Paris agreement's objective, examining asset management practices, rules and support for commercial banks, and policy and research.

David Tong, Global Industry campaign manager at OCI and an author of the report, said in a statement Tuesday that "central banks have access to powerful tools to confront the climate crisis, but they aren't using them."

"Instead of using their power to cut off finance for fossil fuels, they are making themselves busy tinkering around the edges of the climate crisis," he said. "The climate crisis is too dire and too urgent for such critical institutions to be dawdling when they could be leading the finance sector in a new, climate-safe direction."

Each of the 12 central banks has its own section in the report—which comes as President Joe Biden is under pressure to appoint "a real climate leader" to head the U.S. Federal Reserve, currently led by Jerome Powell, whose term expires in February.

"In 2020, Federal Reserve (the Fed) executives began to refer to climate risk in speeches," says the section on the U.S. central bank. "Simultaneously, however, the Fed worked to maintain and even increase fossil fuel finance from the United States, the world's number-one provider of fossil fuel finance."

The report highlights that "the Fed's asset purchase programs launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic, were strongly weighted toward 'dirty' industries in general, and to fossil fuel producers in particular." It also points out that the bank "has used neither monetary instruments nor prudential regulation to constrain fossil fuel financing," and "there is no regulatory framework for, or legal definition of, sustainable finance in the U.S."

The eight largest U.S. banks provided $1.243 trillion in fossil fuel from 2016 to 2020, which the report notes is "more than twice as much as China's 13 largest banks, the second-largest group of fossil fuel financiers," underscoring the potential impact of imposing new restrictions.

"This report is yet another reminder that central banks are the referees of our economy," declared Tracey Lewis of the group, which launched a campaign targeting the Fed last month. "When banks do bad—like financing fossil fuel companies hell-bent on planetary destruction—the ref is supposed to blow the whistle."

Lewis pointed to the upcoming United Nations climate conference, which will partly focus on fossil fuel finance, adding that "ahead of COP 26 in November, the Federal Reserve must use their legal authority to manage climate risk and steer us off fossil fuels fast."

The report also comes just ahead of the Fed's Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, which will be held virtually this week due to the pandemic. The theme of this year's annual conference is "Macroeconomic Policy in an Uneven Economy," which Yahoo! Finance noted "could ignite a debate on the Federal Reserve's policies as they relate to racial inequality and climate change."

The advocacy groups behind the new report are urging all central banks to implement urgent changes to address the climate emergency. They call for not only adapting asset management and regulatory practices to align with global temperature goals but also undertaking research of climate-related risks and requiring similar action from commercial banks.

The organizations also encourage governments to "amend the mandates of central banks where necessary to give them the power to support the managed decline of fossil fuel production by facilitating an end to fossil fuel finance, in line with the Paris agreement."

Explaining the evolution of central banks, Tong said that "they reinterpreted their roles to confront the 2008–2009 financial crisis, and again in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Now, they must do the same to confront the climate crisis—not just as a threat to financial stability, but as a threat to humanity."

"If these central banks won't act, the governments they report to must step in," he asserted. "They need to make it clear that central banks can be leaders in ending dangerous fossil fuel finance, rather than laggards propping up an industry driving our climate chaos."

Danisha Kazi, a senior economist at the U.K. organization Positive Money, which endorsed the report, warned that "while central banks continue to shy away from their duty to the public, the most vulnerable, particularly communities in the Global South, will continue to bear the ever-intensifying brunt of their inaction."

'Deeply concerning': Biden treasury guidance fails to end US support for fossil fuels abroad

Climate campaigners on Monday expressed disappointment with a new U.S. Department of the Treasury guidance on fossil fuels that President Joe Biden called for in a January executive order.

Biden's Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (E.O. 14008) directed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to "develop a strategy for how the voice and vote of the United States can be used in international financial institutions, including the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, to promote financing programs, economic stimulus packages, and debt relief initiatives that are aligned with and support the goals of the Paris agreement."

Yellen said in a statement Monday that with the department's new guidance (pdf) for multilateral development banks (MDBs), "the United States takes bold, proactive steps to address the climate crisis by working with our international partners to establish a clear path to end… support for fossil fuels except in exceptional circumstances while helping developing countries build a strong and sustainable future."

Progressive U.S. advocacy groups were far more critical, pointing to scientists' warnings about the necessity of keeping fossil fuels in the ground to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement's temperature goals and prevent climate catastrophe.

"While the guidance introduces novel, broad-based restrictions on U.S. support for fossil fuel projects at the MDBs, it pays a lot of lip service, but has little teeth," said Luisa Galvao, international policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FOE) U.S., in a statement.

An analysis (pdf) authored by Galvao points out that the guidance "allows for continued U.S. support for midstream (e.g. transportation) and downstream (e.g. power plants) gas investments" in certain countries and "could also conceivably allow for continued U.S. support for gas exports, which is mostly in the form of" liquefied natural gas (LNG).

An official FAQ for the guidance "refers to the possibility of gas serving as a transition fuel away from coal in market access countries, despite the science," Galvao highlights, acknowledging how gas impacts the planet.

Bronwen Tucker, research analyst at Oil Change International, said in a statement Monday that "the Biden administration had a clear opportunity to take a stand against financing for fossil fuels at MDBs, but it is in danger of badly missing the mark."

"Any credible analysis of the clean alternatives, development impacts, and Paris agreement alignment the guidance says it will test for would find that new gas projects should not be financed," Tucker continued. "The U.S. has a large sway at the MDBs, and so it's critical that President Biden and Secretary Yellen add clear and strict details to their proposed gas finance conditions immediately."

"Otherwise, up to 40% of the total fossil fuel finance from the MDBs where the U.S. is a member could continue," she added. "That's $1.6 billion per year for gas pipelines, power plants, and LNG terminals that the climate and frontline communities can't afford."

The FOE analysis also notes that the guidance "will allow U.S. support for some carbon capture utilization and storage," and it "calls for MDBs to accelerate coal decommissioning around the world, but fails to lay out clear principles to avoid new risks and harms that could arise from this process."

"While the guidance calls on the U.S. to oppose policy-based operations when policy reforms are targeted towards or are likely to expand fossil fuels," the FOE document says, "it does not provide details on how this screening will be done."

"Another significant loophole, the guidance stipulates that the U.S. will determine its voting position on financial intermediary (FI) investments based on how likely FIs are to use MDB finance towards fossil fuels," Galvao continues. "However, the lack of disclosure of FI subprojects and investments at MDBs remains a key issue."

FOE further notes that "missing from this guidance is how the U.S. will use its 'voice and vote' in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure its activities are aligned with the Paris agreement, as Treasury was instructed to do" in Biden's January order.

As Galvao put it in her Monday statement: "The Treasury guidance leaves loopholes for continued fossil fuel financing that are so big, you can drive an LNG ship through them."

"Continued support for fossil fuel expansion in developing countries," she warned, "will subject the world's most vulnerable communities to displacement, illness, and livelihood loss, and developing economies to the risks and injustice of a delayed transition to clean energy."

Oil Change International senior campaigner Collin Rees said that "President Biden and Secretary Yellen's refusal to oppose public finance for all fossil fuels is deeply concerning."

"Even one penny of public money going to deadly fossil gas projects is unacceptable in the midst of our climate emergency," he declared, "and the new U.S. guidance is less ambitious than similar United Kingdom and European Investment Bank policies."

Noting that "this guidance could saddle the lowest-income countries with out-of-date energy and lead to frontline communities continuing to face deadly impacts from gas projects," Rees argued that "instead of doubling down on gas, Biden and Yellen should focus on ensuring adequate U.S. and MDB support to pursue a just transition to renewable energy in these countries."

Monday's announcement, which comes as the Biden administration faces pressure from civil society groups and U.S. lawmakers to enact bold climate finance policies, "is proof that the era of public finance for fossil fuels is coming to a close, but gas continues to be a deadly sticking point," Rees said.

Looking ahead to a United Nations summit for Paris agreement parties set to kick off in Scotland on October 31, he added that "the United States can't be a credible climate leader at COP 26 while using public money on fossil fuels—climate leaders don't support new gas projects."

Louisiana and Mississippi health systems on brink of collapse as low-vaccinated regions suffer

Though coronavirus outbreaks largely driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant are now even occurring in U.S. counties where over half the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, as of Friday afternoon the hospitals in two states with among the nation's lowest vaccination rates—Louisiana and Mississippi—were dangerously overwhelmed.

Louisiana has seen the most Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days compared to every other state in the country, and only 38% of Louisianans are fully vaccinated, according to data from The New York Times.

Mississippi has the third-most recent cases in ranking, and only has a vaccination rate of 35%. Both states have seen major increases in hospitalizations over the past two weeks.

Since the U.S. inoculation effort began, public health experts—including the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci—have repeatedly emphasized that the authorized vaccines not only lower the risk of getting Covid-19 but also decrease the chances of hospitalization or death for vaccinated individuals who experience a "breakthrough" infection.

That position was backed up by a Times analysis involving 40 states and Washington, D.C. published earlier this week—though the newspaper noted that the data "generally spanned the period from the start of the vaccination campaign until mid-June or July, before the Delta variant became predominant in the United States."

The Times found that "fully vaccinated people have made up as few as 0.1% of and as many as 5% of those hospitalized with the virus in those states, and as few as 0.2% and as many as 6% of those who have died."

In Louisiana, vaccinated people were 1% of all Covid-19 hospitalizations and 1.4% of deaths. In Mississippi, those figures were 0.4% and 0.6% percent, respectively. Florida—one of the other states experiencing a large surge in infections and with a vaccination rate of 50%—was among the states not included in the analysis.

Currently, about 90% of coronavirus patients in Louisiana hospitals are not fully vaccinated, The Guardian reported Friday, citing the state's department of health. The report continued:

While fear of the Delta variant has led to some increase in vaccinations in the state, Louisiana's healthcare system is straining to keep up with the rate of new infections. Hospitals in southwest Louisiana have diverted ambulances to Texas to find a facility with the capacity to take care of patients. Southwest Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Laura last year, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state.

There are fewer intensive care unit beds in the region than there were… the day after Hurricane Laura came ashore as a Category 4 storm, said Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, the regional medical director for Region 5. "It's incredible that we had more capacity the day after Hurricane Laura, with hospitals evacuating—with no power and no water—than what we have right now," she said.

The influx of sick Covid-19 residents is overwhelming ambulances too, which are responding to significantly more calls, said Dr. Chuck Burnell, the chief medical officer for Acadian Ambulance. "Delta is very bad," he said. "It's put a strain on every facet of the healthcare system."

Staff shortages are also an issue across the state, with over 6,000 open nursing positions.

Louisiana neurologist Robin Davis, who has come in on her days off to relieve nurses at Ochsner Medical Center in a New Orleans suburb, told The Associated Press, "I was giving bed baths on Sunday, emptying trash cans, changing sheets, rolling patients to MRI."

"We're trying to provide the most consistent care we can, but to do that we need more hands," Davis said. "One of the biggest issues for our nurses is, the volume of patients is such that we're having to create beds that didn't previously exist."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in late July that 45 hospitals had requested assistance from the state for additional resources.

"It pains me to say this, but this surge is on us. How bad it gets, how long it stays bad, how many people ultimately die—on us," the Democrat said last month, pleading with the public to get vaccinated. "We can do better. It's entirely within our control."

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, one expert is warning the entire hospital system could soon collapse.

"If we track back a week or so when we look at the case positivity rate, the rate of new cases, the rate of hospitalizations—if we continue that trajectory within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we're going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi," Dr. Alan Jones said Wednesday.

Jones is the associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC)—which, as Mississippi Today reported Thursday, "is so overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients during the state's worst wave of cases that it is constructing a field hospital in a parking garage to increase capacity."

The UMMC expert's warning came the same day that Mississippi broke its daily records for new Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and intensive-care use. According to the state health department, while 4,412 cases were confirmed on Wednesday, 1,490 people were hospitalized and 388 were in intensive care.

"Let us be very clear," the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, told the AP, "that the vast majority of cases and hospitalizations and deaths are unvaccinated."

As Common Dreams reported last week, stories of American patients on their deathbeds, expressing regrets about not getting vaccinated, continue to circulate on social media.

Bryan Thompson, a 43-year-old Mississippi man, didn't lose his life but did lose part of a limb. After declining to get vaccinated, he contracted Covid-19, and eventually had to be rushed to the emergency room, where doctors found several blood clots in his leg.

"It eventually got to the point where there was just no hope to save anything," Thompson told Fox 8 last month. "I had to have my leg, it's been amputated from right underneath my knee."

"People are saying, you know, what's the point of getting the vaccine. I can still get [Covid-19]. And then yes, that's true. I'm not gonna lie to you—you can still get it," he added. "But the chances of it being so severe to where you lose a leg, like I have, I've lost my leg. Like I can't… there's a lot of things that I'm not going to be able to do anymore in my life."

'Long past time to fire DeJoy': Postmaster general's ex-company lands $120 million contract

U.S. lawmakers and ethics advocates on Friday reiterated calls for firing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after The Washington Post revealed that the United States Postal Service awarded a $120 million contract to XPO Logistics, a company he helped run and "with which his family maintains financial ties."

"Louis DeJoy is a walking conflict of interest," declared Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "He had no business being named postmaster general, and he has no business continuing to serve."

"It's long past time to #FireDeJoy," added Connolly, chair of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, which has legislative jurisdiction over the Postal Service.

Connolly was far from alone in responding to the report by calling for DeJoy's removal.

"How in the world is Louis DeJoy still the postmaster general?" asked Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). "It is long past time to #FireDeJoy."

DeJoy's personal spokesperson referred most of the newspaper's questions to USPS—whose spokesperson "said that DeJoy did not participate in the procurement process for the XPO contract, which was competitively bid." The company's spokesperson noted that XPO was not awarded some other contracts it sought.

Under the contract that XPO got, it will take over two centers that organize and load mail. Dena Briscoe, president of the American Postal Workers Union branch for Washington and Southern Maryland, told the Post that the move felt like a "slap in the face" to workers.

"This is the work that they've been doing for years and years and years," Briscoe said, "and you're going to segregate it away from them, put in another building, give it to a company that previously had a [top executive] that is now our postmaster general. A lot of our members are taking offense to that."

As the Post detailed:

The new contract will deepen the Postal Service's relationship with XPO Logistics, where DeJoy served as supply chain chief executive from 2014 to 2015 after the company purchased New Breed Logistics, the trucking firm he owned for more than 30 years. Since he became postmaster general, DeJoy, DeJoy-controlled companies, and his family foundation have divested between $65.4 million and $155.3 million worth of XPO shares, according to financial disclosures, foundation tax documents, and securities filings.

But DeJoy's family businesses continue to lease four North Carolina office buildings to XPO, according to his financial disclosures and state property records.

The leases could generate up to $23.7 million in rent payments for the DeJoy businesses over the next decade.

Although the leases to XPO were cleared by government ethics officials before DeJoy took office last year, some experts are still critical—such as Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"There's no question he's continuing to profit from a Postal Service contractor," Canter said. "He can comply with these technical legal requirements… but it does create an appearance issue about whether it's in his financial interest to continue to make policy that would benefit contractors like XPO."

Friday's calls for the USPS Board of Governors to fire DeJoy are just the latest from the past year. He has been accused of slowing down mail service before the 2020 election and now faces a criminal probe over GOP political donations; DeJoy has denied any wrongdoing on both fronts.

DeJoy's "14-month run as postmaster general has been a masterclass in cronyism and deception," Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said in response to the Post reporting. "The amount of suspicion I had about him and his efforts to intentionally undermine delivery times at [USPS] could have filled the Grand Canyon. The Board of Governors should #FireDeJoy."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who led previous calls for the board to oust the postmaster general, said Friday that "Louis DeJoy should've been fired long ago for his sabotage of USPS. He is under federal criminal investigation and now may be using your post office to wet his beak. The postal governors protecting him need to be fired first. This is an outrage."

DeJoy is spearheading a controversial 10-year reform plan for USPS that would involve cutting hours, slowing first-class delivery, and raising prices—an approach that has also provoked demands for his immediate ouster.

The 10-year plan was a key focus of a Board of Governors meeting Friday—the first that included all three members appointed by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate.

"Ronald Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general and one of Biden's nominees, took the most aggressive approach in criticizing DeJoy's plan, saying the delivery slowdowns would hinder the agency's ability to provide prompt and reliable service without federal funding," reported Government Executive.

According to the outlet:

He said the plan is "strategically-ill conceived, creates dangerous risks that are not justified by the relatively low financial return, and doesn't meet our responsibility as an essential part of America's critical infrastructure." USPS expects to save about $170 million annually from the changes, a small fraction of its operating budget.
"There is no compelling financial reason to make this change," Stroman said. "The relatively minor savings associated with changing service standards, even if achieved, will have no significant impact on the Postal Service's financial future."

Stroman accused DeJoy and the existing board members of abandoning the customers most loyal to and dependent on the Postal Service and said the plan would accelerate people and businesses turning away from the mailing system. He added that "rarely, if ever," has a USPS policy change received such widespread pushback.

DeJoy, for his part, acknowledged to the board that the plan involves some "uncomfortable changes," while doubling down on it: "We are confident we are headed in the right direction."

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) disagrees. In a March letter urging DeJoy's firing, she wrote that his "pathetic 10-year plan to weaken USPS demonstrates that he is a clear and present threat to the future of the Postal Service and the well-being of millions of Americans, particularly small business owners, seniors, and veterans, who depend on an effective and reliable USPS to conduct daily business, safely participate in democracy, and receive vital medication."


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