Jessica Corbett

'Banking for the People': Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez unveil bill to foster creation of public banks across US

"It's long past time to open doors for people who have been systematically shut out and provide a better option for those grappling with the costs of simply trying to participate in an economy they have every right to—but has been rigged against them."

That's according to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a handful of other progressives in Congress introduced legislation on Friday they say "would provide a much-needed financial lifeline to states and municipalities, as well as unbanked and underbanked residents, that have been left in dire straits by the Covid-19 pandemic."

Specifically, as a joint statement from the congresswomen explains, the Public Banking Act (pdf) would enable "the creation of state and locally administered public banks by establishing the Public Bank Grant program administered by the secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board which would provide grants for the formation, chartering, and capitalization of public banks."

"We spent $30 trillion in the global crisis from 2007-2009 propping up financial institutions that held the country hostage for their reckless behavior. Only $8 trillion dollars has been committed thus far in the Covid-19 pandemic," Tlaib noted. "These banks have been, are, and will continue to depend on the public dollar. It is time for this relationship to be reciprocated and have the banks work for the people and not solely privatized profits wreaking havoc on communities of color."

In addition to allowing the Treasury secretary and the Fed's board to give grants to public banks for "bank formation, capitalization, developing financial market infrastructure, supporter operations, covering unexpected losses, and more without the requirement to provide matching funds," the bill:

  • Allows the Federal Reserve to charter and grant membership to public banks, and in conjunction with the appropriate federal agencies, establish a separate regulatory scheme with respect to these.
  • Establishes public banking incubator program to provide technical assistance to public member banks to develop technologies, practices, and data that promote public welfare.
  • Establishes new liquidity and credit facilities at the Federal Reserve to provide direct federal support to state and local public banks and their communities;
  • Prohibits investment in fossil fuel projects.

Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez argue that public banks not only would benefit city and state governments and aspiring entrepreneurs due to lower interest rates and fees, but also could result in broader community benefits by, for example, funding public infrastructure projects. Ocasio-Cortez called their legislation "monumental."

"Public banks are uniquely able to address the economic inequality and structural racism exacerbated by the banking industry's discriminatory policies and predatory practices," she said. "The creation of public banks will also facilitate the use of public resources to construct a myriad of public goods including affordable housing and local renewable energy projects. Public banks empower states and municipalities to establish new channels of public investment to help solve systemic crises."

The other half of the Squad—Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—and Reps. Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Al Green (D-Texas), Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) are backing the bill, as are 29 outside groups.

Organizations supporting the measure include the California Public Banking Alliance (CBPA), Take on Wall Street, Americans for Financial Reform, Beneficial State Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Action, Americans for Financial Reform, California Reinvestment Coalition, Center for Popular Democracy, Community Change, Farm Aid, Institute for Policy Studies, Jobs With Justice, NJ Citizen Action, Oil Change International, Oil Change International, People's Action, Strong Economy for All, UNITE HERE, Working Families Party, Democracy Collaborative, ACRE, and Public Citizen.

Climate Justice Alliance policy coordinator Anthony Rogers-Wright expressed excitement that "our values regarding the need for a rapid Fossil Fuel phaseout" are represented in the bill, highlighting evidence that economically, "Big Oil is in big trouble and the people don't want the money they keep in their banks utilized to bailout or finance an industry that's killing people and planet."

Take on Wall Street campaign director Porter McConnell explained that her group supports the Public Banking Act "because public banks can create jobs and boost the local economy, save cities and states money, and lend counter-cyclically to blunt the impact of Wall Street booms and busts."

"As we learned recently from the Paycheck Protection Program, when you pay big Wall Street banks to provide public goods, they inevitably reward themselves and their friends at the expense of white, Black, and brown working families," McConnell said, referencing the business loan program established in March by Congress' last Covid-19 relief measure. "We deserve a financial system for working families, not the big banks."

More than 2 dozen constitutional law experts endorsed a bill to create 18-year term limits for Supreme Court

Over two dozen constitutional law experts on Friday endorsed legislation recently introduced by a trio of House Democrats that would establish 18-year term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The endorsement letter (pdf) signed by professors and scholars across the country, along with a former U.S. senator and a former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, comes as the Senate GOP is trying to confirm right-wing Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's third nominee to the high court, before the November general election.

The ongoing political battle over the Supreme Court vacancy that resulted from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death has elevated discussions and proposals to reform the high court. The term limits bill (pdf) was unveiled last month by Reps. Khanna (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), and Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.).

"We can't face a national crisis every time a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court," Khanna said while announcing the Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act (H.R. 8424), which would allow presidents to nominate two new appointees per four-year term.

The legal experts said in their endorsement:

We are pleased that a formal legislative proposal to limit future justices to 18 years of high court service has been introduced and is advancing public discourse on court reform.
Though the bill is not perfect, we believe it to be a critical piece in prescribing how our country's leaders can work to depoliticize the Supreme Court and its confirmation process.

Their support for the bill came just a day after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and the rest of the panel's Republicans flouted their own rules—in the face of a boycott by Democratic members—and voted to advance Barrett to the full chamber.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week that he expects Trump's nominee to be confirmed on Monday, just over a week before Election Day, when Trump formally faces off against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is leading in national polls.

Biden explained in a promotional clip of a forthcoming "60 Minutes" interview released Thursday that if he is elected, he will form a bipartisan commission of constitutional scholars to offer recommendations for "how to reform the court system," which he said is "getting out of whack."

While the former vice president said the possible reforms would "go well beyond packing" the court, attorney and activist Miles Mogulescu declared in an opinion piece for Common Dreams last week: "It's time for Biden and the Dems to call bullshit! It's Republicans who are the true court-packers."

Mogulescu also detailed various ways that a victorious Biden and Democratic lawmakers could "begin to unpack the courts," from increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to introducing term limits for those appointed to the nation's highest court, noting Khanna's bill.

"A more indirect way would be to grant statehood to the District or Columbia and Puerto Rico," Mogulescu wrote. "This would represent justice in its own right, since residents of those jurisdictions are tax-paying American citizens without voting representation in Washington."

"But it would also add four new senators," he explained, "diminishing the impact of the current situation where the Republican Senate 'majority,' which is about to confirm Barrett on a party-line votes, was elected by nearly 15 million fewer voters than the Democratic 'minority.'"

Trump secured massive windfall then poured millions into 2016 campaign: Times report

The New York Times continued its explosive reporting on President Donald Trump's tax records on Friday by divulging that he engineered an eight-figure windfall shortly before contributing $10 million to his "self-funded" 2016 presidential campaign—which sparked fresh calls for probing the president's tax and business practices.

"The more we learn about what Trump is hiding in his tax returns, the worse it looks," Tax March tweeted Friday with a link to the report. The group is leading a coalition of progressive organizations behind the #WePaidMore campaign to raise awareness about the country's "utterly rigged" tax system, as demonstrated by Trump's actions.

The latest piece for the Times' investigation into Trump tax documents obtained by the newspaper—which kicked off last month with a bombshell exposé detailing how he paid little-to-no federal income taxes in the years leading up to his presidency—generated concerns the president illegally funded his campaign with a business loan.

Times journalists Susanne Craig, Mike McIntire, and Russ Buettner report that as Trump struggled to raise money for his White House run in 2016, he secured "more than $21 million in what experts describe as highly unusual one-off payments from the Las Vegas hotel he owns with his friend the casino mogul Phil Ruffin."

As the trio of journalists detail:

The tax records, by their nature, do not specify whether the more than $21 million in payments from the Trump-Ruffin hotel helped prop up Mr. Trump's campaign, his businesses, or both. But they do show how the cash flowed, in a chain of transactions, to several Trump-controlled companies and then directly to Mr. Trump himself.
The bulk of the money went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees. The Trump-Ruffin joint venture wrote it all off as a business expense.

The report raises concerns about potential legal problems related to both claiming the tax deduction and whether the payments are technically campaign contributions.

Just weeks before the 2016 election, "the Trump-Ruffin partnership borrowed $30 million from City National Bank in Los Angeles," according to the Times. "Mr. Trump signed the loan documents in New York City, but tax records show that Mr. Ruffin personally guaranteed nearly the entire amount, should the company ever be unable to pay."

"The partnership was not required to disclose on its tax returns how the borrowed money would be spent," the reporters note. "But the timing of the loan, combined with the partnership's lack of available cash that year, strongly suggests that the loan funded the millions of dollars in payments to Mr. Trump."


Campaign Legal Center (CLC) president and former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission Trevor Potter said in a statement Friday that "if Trump took out a bank loan in the LLC's name for the purpose of financing his election, then the Trump campaign violated its legal reporting requirements by failing to disclose the loan, and failing to disclose that Trump's Vegas property was used as collateral."

"If Trump secretly financed his 2016 campaign using an undisclosed bank loan backed by a billionaire developer, then voters have been illegally deprived of important information about the true sources of Trump's financial support," he said. "Additionally, if the LLC took a tax deduction for the payments to Trump, it would mean that Trump secretly relied on taxpayers to help subsidize his 2016 campaign."

"Disclosure to voters in 2016 would have been important, since Trump's claim that he was self-financing his campaign was central to his campaign message, and created a veneer of credibility for him to accuse rivals of being beholden to wealthy special interests," Potter added. "Voters had a right to know where Trump was getting the money for his campaign."

The Times report goes on to detail Ruffin's friendship with the president and years serving as a "wingman for Mr. Trump's political ambitions." Jennifer Renzelman, a spokesperson for Ruffin, told the newspaper that the 85-year-old was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the hotel in question and that "all tax statements go to the people who work on his taxes."

White House spokesperson Judd Deere called the report "yet another politically motivated hit piece inaccurately smearing a standard business deal," and said that "during his years as a successful businessman, Donald Trump was longtime partners with Phil Ruffin and earned whatever payments he received."

Meanwhile, tax and campaign finance experts, reporters, and other political commentators highlighted the legal concerns raised and called for further investigation:





New global report warns nearly 40% of plants are at risk of extinction

Humanity's destruction of nature has made an estimated two in five plant species worldwide at risk of extinction, according to an assessment published Wednesday by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom.

The fourth annual report, entitled State of the World's Plants and Fungi (pdf), draws on the expertise of 210 researchers from 42 countries for what professor Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at RBG Kew, calls an "unparalleled collaborative effort" that aims to put the planet and all its inhabitants on a more sustainable path.

"Open your fridge, peek into your medicine cupboard, examine your living room, feel your clothes. For thousands of years, we have searched nature to satisfy our hunger, cure our diseases, build our houses, and make our lives more comfortable," Antonelli writes in the report's introduction.

"But our early exploration of useful traits in species relied on rudimentary tools, and Indigenous knowledge was lost as local traditions were downplayed and globalization emerged," he adds. "As a result, humanity is still a long way from utilizing the full potential of biodiversity, in particular plants and fungi, which play critical roles in ecosystems. Now, more than ever before, we need to explore the solutions they could provide to the global challenges we face."

The report comes on the heels of a United Nations assessment that the international community has failed to fulfill any of the biodiversity targets that were set a decade ago as well as the latest edition of World Wide Fund for Nature's flagship publication, which warned that "nature—our life-support system—is declining at a staggering rate." Specifically, WWF found "an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish between 1970 and 2016."

Throughout the report's 12 chapters, researchers address the importance of seeking out species before they disappear and calculating extinction risk; ways that plants and fungi can be used in terms of food, energy, healthcare, and more; how biological resources can be used more wisely; and the conditions in the U.K. and its territories.

"Natural ecosystems provide useful services for humanity, such as regulating climate, preventing floods, and filtering water. As the building blocks of ecosystems, plants and fungi have the potential to help us address current environmental challenges, such as climate change," the report notes. "However, these natural benefits could be compromised by biodiversity loss, caused by humans clearing or degrading natural vegetation and over-harvesting wild species, as well as by shifting weather patterns."

Given the importance of plants and fungi, "we need to have a rough idea of the conservation status of every species," Eimear Nic Lughadha, conservation scientist at RBG Kew and lead author of the extinction chapter, explained in a statement. Lughadha highlighted advancements with artificial intelligence, adding, "the techniques are good enough to say, 'this area has a lot of species that haven't been assessed but are almost certainly threatened.'"

In 2019 alone, 1,942 plants and 1,886 fungi were scientifically named for the first time, according to the report—which adds that "current threats to global biodiversity, from climate change, logging, and land-use change, make the task of cataloguing species a race against time."

Only six species of medicinal fungi have been assessed for conservation status, "one of which, Fomitopsis officinalis, a wood-inhabiting parasitic fungus, has already been pushed to the brink of extinction," the report says. Out of 25,791 known medicinal plants, 5,411 have been assessed and 723—or 13%—are threatened.

Professor Monique Simmonds, deputy director of science at RBG Kew and lead author of the commercialization chapter, told the Guardian that humanity should look to nature for treating coronaviruses and other diseases with pandemic potential. As she put it: "I am absolutely sure going forward that some of the leads for the next generation of drugs in this area will come from plants and fungi."

The report also notes that even though there are at least 7,039 plants that hold potential as foods, "just 15 crop plants contribute to 90% of humanity's energy intake, and more than four billion people rely on just rice, maize, and wheat." As an RBG Kew statement explained, "Relying on a handful of crops to feed the global population has contributed to malnutrition and left us vulnerable to climate change."

Stefano Padulosi, co-author of the food chapter, said that "the thousands of underutilized and neglected plant species are the lifeline to millions of people on Earth tormented by unprecedented climate change, pervasive food and nutrition insecurity, and economic disempowerment."

"Harnessing this basket of untapped resources for making food and production systems more diverse and resilient to change should be our moral duty to current and future generations," declared Padulosi, former senior scientist at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

Antonelli agreed, saying broadly that "the data emerging from this year's report paint a picture of a world that has turned its back on the potential of plants and fungi to address fundamental global issues such as food security and climate change. Societies have been too dependent on too few species for too long."

"At a time of rapid biodiversity loss, we are failing to access the treasure chest of incredible diversity on offer and missing a huge opportunity for our generation," he added. "As we start the most critical decade our planet has ever faced, we hope this report will give the public, businesses, and policymakers the facts they need to demand nature-based solutions that can address the triple threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, and food security."

Scientists find new signs of 'climate breakdown' in study of warming oceans

In a rare calm moment during a historically active Atlantic hurricane season, an international team of climate scientists on Monday published a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change showing that human-caused global heating is making the world's oceans more "stable"—which, as co-author Michael Mann explained, is "very bad news."

Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, detailed researchers' findings about ocean stratification in a piece for Newsweek. Using "more comprehensive data and a more sophisticated method for estimating stratification changes" than past studies, the scientists found that "oceans are not only becoming more stable, but are doing so faster than was previously thought."

The team—led by Guancheng Li of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in China—specifically found that stratification globally increased by a "substantial" 5.3% from 1960 to 2018, mostly in the upper 650 feet or so of the world oceans. "This seemingly technical finding has profound and troubling implications," Mann noted.

"The more stable the upper ocean, the less vertical mixing that takes place. This mixing is a primary means by which the ocean buries warming surface waters. So the surface warms up even faster. It's what we call a 'positive feedback'—a vicious cycle," he wrote. "That's bad for a number of reasons."

Noting the ongoing storm season and previous warnings from scientists—including him—that the increasingly devastating recent hurricanes "have fed off warmer surface waters," Mann explained that "a more stably stratified ocean potentially favors more intense, destructive hurricanes." Warmer waters also "absorb less atmospheric carbon dioxide" and "hold less dissolved oxygen."

In other words, the new study indicates that "humans have made the oceans more stable, and the result will be more extreme weather and the acceleration of climate change," as study co-author John Abraham wrote Monday for The Guardian. Like Mann, he detailed the research team's findings about the stratification of the oceans, and the implications. Then, he added:

It is not all doom and gloom. The good news is we know why the climate is changing and we know how the oceans are responding. We can do something about this problem—we have the ability to slow down climate change. We just lack the will and leadership.
But if 2020 has shown us anything, it has revealed that humans can change and adapt quickly to situations. There is hope that we can navigate the challenges resulting from a more stable ocean—but we must start immediately.

Both co-authors' pieces provoked calls for swift, bold, global efforts to address the climate crisis:



Ending his piece on a similar note, Mann wrote that "in short, it's unwise to be complacent given the accumulating scientific evidence that climate change and its impacts may well be in the upper end of the range that climate scientists currently project. There is ever-greater urgency when it comes to acting on climate. But there is agency as well. Our actions make a difference—something to keep in mind as we head into a presidential election whose climate implications are monumental."

Mann is on the mounting list of climate experts and advocates supporting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his effort to oust President Donald Trump—who has, at various points, ignored and exacerbated the climate emergency. Earlier this month, the editors of Scientific American as well as the political action arms of both 350 and Friends of the Earth also endorsed the former vice president.

"The stakes are clear and present," Tamara Toles O'Laughlin from 350 Action said of the general election, for which early voting is already underway in some states. "The planet cannot withstand four more years of Trump."

Democrats urged to 'pick a fight for once' over RBG seat as Collins and Murkowski oppose pre-election vote

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Here are the 50 'most egregious' ways Trump has attacked workers — while falsely claiming to be their champion: report

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