Julia Conley

'There must be consequences': Democratic leaders demand Boebert's removal from committees

Democratic House caucus leaders are demanding that Rep. Lauren Boebert be removed from her committee assignments following racist remarks she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar, condemning the Colorado Republican for putting the progressive Democrat and Muslims across the U.S. in danger.

In a statement released Wednesday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Congressional Asian Pacific American Chair Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Congressional Equality Caucus Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) condemned both Boebert's conduct and the refusal of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to hold members of his caucus accountable for bigotry.

"Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has absolutely failed in leading his caucus to condemn hatred and bigotry, much less to maintain any basic standards of decency within the halls of Congress," said the Democrats. "He is unwilling or unable to control his own members from inciting violence against other members of Congress or encouraging bigotry and hatred. If he cannot lead his own caucus, he certainly will never be able to lead the House of Representatives."

As Common Dreams reported last week, Boebert released a video in which she was seen falsely claiming that Omar, who is Somali-American, was mistaken for a suicide bomber by Capitol Police and calling Omar a member of the "jihad squad."

Amid warnings that such rhetoric directly endangers Muslims in the U.S., Boebert refused to publicly apologize for her remarks, instead demanding in a phone call with Omar that the Minnesota Democrat apologize for her so-called "anti-American" rhetoric.

On Tuesday, Omar shared at a press conference that following Boebert's incendiary remarks, she received a violent death threat on her voicemail in which the caller said, "You will not live much longer."

"Today, we are calling for Representative Boebert to be removed from her committee assignments," wrote the Democratic caucus leaders. "There must be consequences for vicious workplace harassment and abuse that creates an environment so unsafe for colleagues and staff that it invites death threats against them. There must be consequences for elected representatives who traffic in anti-Muslim and racist tropes that make all Muslims across the country less safe. There must be consequences when members of Congress demonize an entire religion and promote hate from their positions of public trust."

Nearly a week after Boebert shared the video, McCarthy has not condemned her comments. The Republican leader was widely criticized in November after Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) shared an animated video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—to which McCarthy responded only with a brief statement that Gosar "took the video down and he made a statement that he doesn't support violence to anybody."

Gosar was ultimately censured by the House and stripped of his committee assignments, with only two Republicans voting with the House Democrats in support of the move.

"It should not be a partisan issue to condemn the explicit harassment and dangerous abuse of a colleague based on their religion, but this is the level to which the GOP leader and too many members of the Republican party have sunk," wrote the caucus chairs. "In refusing to hold his membership accountable, Representative McCarthy condones this hatred and the danger it incites."

The chairs' statement followed a press conference in which Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) pointed to Gosar's and Boebert's videos as well as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-Ga.) use of the term "jihad squad," which she used to refer to Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and other progressive people of color in the House.

"Why isn't the Republican conference going to act on this?" said Jeffries. "What more does Kevin McCarthy need to see?"

Right-wing groups are already laying the groundwork for a post-Roe world

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear opening arguments Wednesday in a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade and threaten abortion rights for millions of people across the country, right-wing anti-choice groups are preparing to ensure that anyone who becomes pregnant in the U.S. is forced to continue the pregnancy.

The consideration of Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban represents a moment the anti-choice movement has been waiting for since 1973, when Roe v. Wade affirmed that pregnant people have the right to obtain abortion care until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

After a number of extreme forced-pregnancy laws passed by right-wing state legislatures were overturned by federal courts in recent years, Mississippi officials are asking the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade in addition to allowing their law—which includes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest—to stand.

Former Vice President Mike Pence called on the Supreme Court Tuesday to "make history" by overturning the ruling—a move that would swiftly put in place abortion bans in 12 states that have "trigger bans," including Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and in 14 other states that have severely restricted access to care.

Pence claimed in his remarks that "Americans are ready for an end to the judicial tyranny of Roe v. Wade"—despite the fact that only 27% of Americans back overturning the decision and 60% support upholding it, according to recent polling by ABC News/The Washington Post—and that the right to obtain abortion care should be left up to state legislatures.

Anti-choice groups including Students for Life of America and Americans United for Life are lobbying state-level lawmakers to pass new abortion restrictions and bans in the event that Roe is overturned.

"We've had a post-Roe strategy for the last 15 years," Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told Politico Tuesday.

The strategy includes launching a $5 million anti-choice ad campaign that will run in 20 U.S. cities and working with federal Republican lawmakers to ban online sales of pills used for medication abortions, which reproductive rights advocates say more and more people facing unwanted pregnancies may rely on if Roe is overturned.

With red states passing extreme forced-pregnancy bills in recent years, states including Louisiana and Mississippi have seen skyrocketing demand for abortion pills that can be accessed by mail, according to international nonprofit group Aid Access.

"This is a window into what the world will look like if the Mississippi and Texas bans are allowed to go into effect," Abigail Aiken, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of Aid Access's study, told Politico in May. "The people who are looking for abortions will not just suddenly say: 'Oh, I guess it's illegal now, so I won't get one.' They will look for whatever options they can find, including those outside the law."

Pregnant people in states that have passed bans—including Texas, where a six-week ban was allowed by the Supreme Court to stand in September—have increasingly traveled across state lines in recent months to access care, overwhelming clinics in states including Oklahoma and Kansas. According to the Guttmacher Institute, patients seeking care in Louisiana would have to drive an average of 666 miles, one way, to see a provider if americ is overturned.

With right-wing groups rallying to strip Americans of their right to obtain abortion care should Roe be overturned, pro-choice advocacy groups prepared to demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, demanding not only that the law be upheld but also that the Senate pass the Women's Health Protection Act, which would keep abortion access free from medically unnecessary restrictions and create a statutory right for providers to provide abortion care.

"Abortion is healthcare, and the majority of Americans agree: We need to defend Roe v. Wade," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) earlier this week. "Congress can do that by passing the Women's Health Protection Act to protect access to abortion for everyone—regardless of their zip code. Let's get it done."

Democrats face warning that there's a 'big glaring problem' in their child care plan

Advocates have heralded the so-called "universal" pre-kindergarten and child care programs included in the Build Back Better Act as a "game-changer" for families across the United States, but progressive policy analyst Matt Bruenig warned Monday of a "glaring problem" in the legislation that's likely to leave millions of children missing out on the benefits.

As Democrats did when they passed an expansion of Medicaid benefits as part of the Affordable Care Act under the Obama administration, Bruenig wrote, the party has left an opening for states with Republican governors or legislatures to reject the federal funds needed for the programs, as well as the state-level cost-sharing required by the Build Back Better Act.

Only 14 states and the District of Columbia have a so-called Democratic trifecta, with Democrats serving as governors and controlling both upper and lower legislative chambers, meaning that children in 37 states will need state-level Republicans to pass corresponding legislation to enact pre-K and child care programs—something they're not likely to do, Bruenig said.

"There are many reasons to believe that state-level Republicans will not go along with these two programs," wrote the People's Policy Project founder, noting that GOP lawmakers are unlikely to want to pass social spending or assist a Democratic president, particularly in issues related to education, considering that "the Republicans have recently adopted a schools-focused electoral strategy based on the idea that Democrats are using the schools to push left-wing viewpoints on race and gender."

"It seems utterly delusional to not see state non-participation as a massive threat to these two programs."

As Reuters reported last week, Republican lawmakers in Idaho rejected $6 million in federal early childhood education funding, claiming the money would "advance liberal teachings on race relations and encourage mothers to work outside the home."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also already hinted at pushing Republican states to reject the $390 billion included in the Build Back Better Act for universal pre-kindergarten and subsidized child care, saying this month that "the Biden administration wants to insert itself into the most intimate family decisions and tell parents how to care for their toddlers."

As another example from recent history, Republican states refused to implement the expansion of Medicaid that was included as a provision of the Affordable Care Act; nearly eight years after the expansion went into effect, 12 states including Texas, Florida, and North Carolina still have not implemented the program.

"Nobody knows the future of course, but it seems utterly delusional to not see state non-participation as a massive threat to these two programs," Bruenig wrote of child care and pre-kindergarten.

Under the Build Back Better Act, the federal government would fully fund the program at first, with the state taking on more of the burden over time. If adopted, states with higher rates of childhood poverty—the majority of which are Republican-controlled—would receive more federal money per capita for the programs.

As Bruenig details in a previous post on the cost-sharing portion of the program, "the federal government would pick up a small fixed-dollar amount in the first three years, pick up a high and then declining percentage of costs for the next three years, and then pick up no costs in year seven."

Cost-sharing for child care and pre-K under Build Back Better plan.

The proposal would allow local governments to work directly with the federal government to set up child care and education programs, but Bruenig noted on social media that "it only sets aside $1 billion per year for localities in non-participating states to do that. It's just not remotely enough money."

"If Democrats are serious about actually providing these benefits to families across the country, they need to amend the legislation right now to provide for a direct federal role," wrote Bruenig.

'Inexcusable': Manchin leads charge against Biden’s pro-union electric vehicle tax credit

Advocates for both workers' rights and climate policy are condemning Sen. Joe Manchin's latest statements opposing provisions in the Build Back Better Act, the $1.75 trillion social spending and climate action package that has already been substantially weakened due largely to the right-wing Democrat's objections to numerous anti-poverty and environmental measures.

Manchin's most recent opposition is to tax incentives for electric vehicles made by American workers who are represented by unions.

At an event last week with officials from Toyota, whose plant workers have no union representation, the senator told Automotive News that incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles from the only three auto companies with unions—the U.S.-based Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—would be "un-American" and "wrong."

"We shouldn't use everyone's tax dollars to pick winners and losers," Manchin told the outlet at the event, where Toyota announced it would be investing $240 million in a non-union West Virginia plant to produce hybrid vehicles.

Toyota and other foreign-run auto companies have been lobbying against the provision, while United Auto Workers (UAW) has expressed support. If passed as it's written now, the Build Back Better Act would provide purchasers of electric vehicles with a maximum tax credit of $7,500, and would add a $4,500 credit on top of that starting if the vehicle is manufactured by unionized workers.

As Earther reported Monday, the tax incentive could have a major impact on Americans' ability to purchase vehicles not solely reliant on fossil fuels, as "price still remains the number one barrier in preventing new [electric vehicle] adoption."

A 2020 survey by Ipsos Global showed that consumers would be willing to pay only 10% more for electric vehicles. The tax credit would bring down the cost of some electric vehicles by $12,000 to around $20,000, far below the current average cost of about $42,000.

President Joe Biden said last month that he wants workers and companies that benefit from the tax incentive to be "here in Michigan, not halfway around the globe."

Ray Curry, president of the UAW, said last month the tax incentive "would be a win for auto manufacturing workers" while also encouraging "nonunion manufacturers to let their workers freely organize."

Evidently, writer and attorney David Lurie said, "Manchin thinks being pro-labor is un-American."

Joining Manchin in opposition to the tax incentive are Republican lawmakers including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose states would also benefit from promoting the purchase of electric vehicles from non-union companies like Nissan and Tesla.

With the Senate evenly split between the Democrats and Republicans, Biden and Senate Democrats need Manchin's support to pass the Build Back Better Act—a dynamic that's directly resulted in the scrapping of provisions including the Clean Energy Performance Program and paid family and medical leave.

Now, said progressive campaign group Our Revolution, Manchin's opposition to the tax credits is "inexcusable."

"Our climate is running out of time—yet Manchin wants to stand in the way of affordable and sustainable solutions," said the group. "Shame!"

Fatal film set shooting followed outcry by union crew members over safety protocols

The news of the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a Hollywood film set intersected with the nationwide surge in labor movement activity Friday, as reports surfaced about unsafe working conditions and protests by union crew members on the set.

As the Los Angeles Times reported late Friday, the accidental shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of "Rust" took place six hours after several union crew members left the location and were replaced by non-union workers.

In the days preceding the shooting, crew members raised concerns about numerous safety issues on the set, including the requirement that employees drive 50 miles from Albuquerque to the filming location near Santa Fe each day after working 12- to 13-hour days, as well as several accidental discharges of prop guns.

On October 16, a stunt double for Alec Baldwin—who fired the shot that killed Hutchins Thursday afternoon—accidentally fired a gun that he had been told was not loaded, prompting one crew member to express concerns to the unit production manager in a text message.

"We've now had [three] accidental discharges," said the worker. "This is super unsafe."

Another crew member told the Times that following the accidental firing of the prop gun, producers did not conduct an investigation into how or why it had occurred or review safety protocols with the cast and crew.

The Times reported that Hutchins "had been advocating for safer conditions for her team" during the 21-day shoot.

"The backstory about the failure to listen to the union workers who had fought for the set to be safe is vital to know," tweeted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, called the incident "a tragedy and a heartbreaking example of why production companies MUST take the safety and protection of our filmmakers more seriously."

Early on Thursday morning, several members of the camera crew reportedly arrived on set and submitted their resignations due to the safety concerns. The workers are represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which nearly staged a work stoppage including 60,000 film and TV crew workers last week over widespread concerns regarding labor conditions in the industry, before reaching a tentative three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

According to Variety, producers called security officers to remove the union crew members who had submitted their resignations and quickly replaced the workers with non-union workers. Hutchins and a Steadicam operator were the only original members of the camera crew left on the film set when the fatal accident occurred.

On Thursday, Baldwin was reportedly told by crew members that the prop gun he was using in a scene was "cold," or not loaded with any ammunition including blanks, but when he fired the weapon a bullet hit Hutchins as well as the film's director, Joel Souza. Hutchins was rushed to a hospital, where she later died, and Souza was briefly hospitalized.

According to Variety, a 911 caller from the film set was heard telling a crew member they were supposed to check the prop guns to ensure they weren't loaded.

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn't the solution you think it is," tweeted author and actress Quinn Cummings.

West Virginia constituents decry 'immorality' of Joe Manchin

West Virginians were joined by economists and economic justice campaigners at a virtual press conference hosted by the Poor People's Campaign on Friday where they condemned Sen. Joe Manchin's refusal to back the Democratic Party's far-reaching Build Back Better Act, pointing out how people across his home state stand to benefit from the legislation—and suffer if the senator succeeds in tanking the proposal.

While President Joe Biden and the majority of Democrats in Congress—as well as voters across the country—aim to pass a $3.5 trillion 10-year investment including a long-term extension of the child tax credit that's sent hundreds of dollars per month to families with children, tuition-free community college, universal pre-kindergarten, and other social supports, Manchin has proposed a smaller package that the Poor People's Campaign said will offer a fraction of the help to West Virginians that's included in Biden's plan.

The Poor People's Campaign decried "the immorality of Manchin's proposal, which hurts the same people that the Biden plan helps."

According to Sarah D. Anderson, global economy director at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), who joined the press conference, the Build Back Better Act would create 17,290 jobs for West Virginians—nearly 10,000 more than Manchin's plan.

Under the president's proposal, paid family and medical leave would allow 88,000 people in West Virginia to take leave each year, and the child tax credit expansion would increase economic security for 346,000 children across West Virginia as well as lifting 23,000 children out of poverty.

Manchin has proposed work requirements and a $60,000 income cap for the child tax credit expansion, as well as slashing the paid leave proposal from 12 weeks to just four.

"We are at a crossroads, we're at a fork in the road here in the United States," said Anderson. "As lawmakers are negotiating right now they are helping to decide, which path are we going to go on? Are we going to pursue an equitable path that will be good for children and the aged and others to give them economic security and a dignified life? Or are we going to continue to let so much of our country's vast resources flow into the pockets of people at the top?"

The "lives and livelihoods" of Manchin's own constituents "are really hanging in the balance as lawmakers continue to negotiate," she added.

Kaylen Marie Barker, a West Virginian who has experienced generational poverty despite having a master's degree, also spoke at the press conference about tuition-free community college, which the president said Thursday night had been dropped from the proposal after Manchin "and one other person" in the Senate said they would not support it.

"Investment in higher education like free community college would be invaluable to the people in West Virginia," said Barker. "We have nine community colleges across the state that would empower workers to provide better for their families and surrounding communities."

"West Virginia has been locked into an economy that forces workers into low-wage jobs with no hope for advancement, and after decades of this our hope is dwindling," she added. "The cuts that Sen. Manchin has negotiated into the agenda hurt our state."

The press conference was held ahead of a rally planned for Sunday at the West Virginia State Capitol, where Poor People's Campaign leaders and West Virginians will speak out in favor of the Build Back Better agenda.

'Dangerous trajectory': Report details a world set to consume fossil fuels at full speed

Climate campaigners on Wednesday said a new report from the United Nations and several leading research institutes offers a "damning indictment" of governments around the world, showing that more than a dozen countries plan to continue producing fossil fuels in the coming decade at a rate that could make it impossible to limit the heating of the globe to the 1.5°C threshold.

"Recent announcements by the world's largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels. But... there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future."

With less than two weeks to go until the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 26), the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) joined with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and E3G to publish the 2021 Production Gap Report, showing that countries plan to produce about 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global heating. The yearly Production Gap Report was first released in 2019. Since then, numerous reports have shown that continued fossil fuel production is incompatible with avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis—including ones by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—and that shifting to renewable energy production would create eight million new jobs worldwide.Still, the report shows that the gap between governments' planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the production levels consistent with meeting the temperature rise limit set by the Paris climate agreement in 2015 is largely unchanged since the first Production Gap Report.

"The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C," said Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist. "However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn."

UNEP and its partner institutes examined the plans and policies of 15 countries that are major fossil fuel producers, including the U.S., U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia. Collectively, the governments in the report are projected to increase their oil and gas production while only slightly decreasing coal production.

The fossil fuel production plans described in the report—including that of the U.S., which is projected to increase oil production by 5.2% and gas by 3.8% in the next decade, representing some of the greatest increases in fossil fuel investment—"set the planet on a dangerous trajectory," said climate action group 350.org.

"World leaders need to put their resources where their rhetoric has been—stopping the extraction of oil and gas and directing attention to how we will finance the transition to climate justice instead," said Namrata Chowdhary, chief of public engagement at the organization. "For the first time in 30 years, fossil fuel reductions are on the table at the U.N. climate negotiations—the only real question is whether political leaders will demonstrate the urgency and wisdom required of them, or whether the outcome will once again contain only empty promises." The Production Gap Report noted that the countries profiled have recently announced plans to reach greenhouse gas emission reduction targets through their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) following the Paris climate agreement, including some that have pledged net-zero emissions by 2050, such as the U.S. and Great Britain.

"The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C."

"Recent announcements by the world's largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels," said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in response to the report. "But, as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future. It is urgent that all remaining public financiers as well as private finance, including commercial banks and asset managers, switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all."

Pledges and cuts to international financial support for fossil fuels "need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C," said Lucile Dufour, senior policy advisor for IISD.

Campaigners and global policymakers urged countries to sign on to international agreements aimed at addressing the "demand and supply of fossil fuels simultaneously," as Andrea Meza, Costa Rica's minister for environment and energy, said.

"We must cut with both hands of the scissors," said Meza. "That is why, together with Denmark, we are leading the creation of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to put an end to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, plan a just transition for workers, and start winding down existing production in a managed way."

The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) requires countries to impose a "complete and immediate ban on new licensing for oil and gas exploration and production," with wealthy countries "going beyond a ban on licensing [by] committing to stop all new development of oil and gas extraction projects."

Advocates also urged countries to sign on to a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT), which, as Common Dreams reported last month, would establish "a binding global plan" to end new expansion of fossil fuel production, phase out existing production, and "invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally."

"For decades countries have been negotiating targets and constraining emissions but behind our backs the fossil fuel industry has been growing production," said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the FFNPT Initiative. "This report makes clear no new oil, gas, and coal projects fit with climate action and governments must act now to wind down fossil fuel production. A Fossil Fuel Treaty would help governments do that in a way that is just and equitable."

This 3-minute video explains how a top Democrat turned paid family leave into an industry giveaway

In just over three minutes, People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Tuesday explained in a video posted to social media how a paid leave proposal put forward in the U.S. House would be a "disaster" for working families—and a boon for the private insurance industry.

Produced by the outlet More Perfect Union, the video describes how House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—who counts the insurance industry as his top contributor since taking office more than three decades ago—put forward a plan to replace President Joe Biden's straightforward proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Democrat Gutting Biden's Paid Family Leave Plan www.youtube.com

Under Biden's plan, the SSA would provide new parents with cash benefits to cover a portion of their wages for 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child—a modest proposal considering the amount of paid time off parents have in other wealthy countries. Ten countries—including Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and Norway—offer more than a year of paid leave.

Neal's proposal, released by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, suggests that the 16-term congressman believes even 12 weeks of partial pay is too generous for workers in the United States.

Under Neal's plan, Bruenig explains, the federal government would distribute cash benefits not directly to new parents but to employers, which would then pay insurance companies to provide paid leave to workers—if they meet certain criteria.

The proposal, Bruenig wrote in a blog post last month, "is a complicated mess riddled with design problems that could be easily fixed."

As Bruenig explains in the video, Neal's plan contains three major flaws:

  • It excludes parents who haven't worked in the three to six months prior to adoption or childbirth, allowing insurers to discriminate against new parents who recently finished school or job training, those with work-limiting disabilities or pregnancies that kept them from working, or who faced unemployment;
  • It includes no minimum benefit level, allowing workers to receive benefits equal to or less than 85% of what they earned, so "low-paid workers who cannot afford to give up 15% of their pay would not be able to access the program"; and
  • It provides 12 weeks of paid leave per parent, so two-parent households are eligible for twice as much leave as one-parent families, and single parents would be left with higher child care bills.

The proposal "needlessly [turns] Biden's paid leave ambitions into a private insurance giveaway," said Bruenig, by allowing insurance companies to reject an estimated one in three new mothers, based on the first provision, and limit the benefits offered to new parents.

"It would also be a disaster for the federal budget, because businesses that take a below average amount of paid leave would be able to extract money out of the system for their own profit," Bruenig explained in the video.

Bruenig noted that Neal's plan has won endorsements from the insurance industry, including Prudential, which praised the proposal as a "partnership between employers, employees, and benefits providers," and Sun Life, one of the nation's largest insurers.

As The American Prospect reported last month, "the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group that lobbied Neal to include private business, praised the final product... thanking Neal for 'the opportunity to partner and for continued dialogue.'"

Passing Neal's proposal instead of Biden's straightforward paid family leave plan—like other proposals put forth by right-wing corporate Democrats as lawmakers debate the president's Build Back Better agenda—is likely to harm the Democratic Party in upcoming elections, Bruenig said, as well as failing to help working families who have been demanding paid leave for years.

"Passing a poorly designed paid leave proposal is a dangerous political game for Democrats," said Bruenig. "Voters would rightly blame them for the difficult and inefficient program they've now been forced to deal with, wiping away what should have been a political winner."

"When we make voters feel that government can't deliver," he added, "it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

Press freedom coalition says DOJ must drop Assange case after CIA plot revealed

A coalition of more than two dozen press freedom groups on Monday intensified an earlier call demanding the U.S. Department of Justice drop its charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying the demand is now even more urgent due to recent reports that the CIA plotted to kidnap—and possibly kill—the journalist.

In a letter sent Friday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, groups including the Knight First Amendment Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders said the prosecution of Assange by the U.S. government is "a threat to press freedom around the globe."

"We appreciate that the government has a legitimate interest in protecting bona fide national security interests, but the proceedings against Mr. Assange jeopardize journalism that is crucial to democracy," wrote the organizations. "In our view, a precedent created by prosecuting Assange could be used against publishers and journalists alike, chilling their work and undermining freedom of the press."

As Common Dreams reported last month, under former President Donald Trump, the CIA reportedly discussed kidnapping or assassinating Assange, who is currently imprisoned in London's maximum-security Belmarsh prison.

Yahoo News first reported the revelations that officials at the "highest levels" of the agency considered attacking Assange, as well as "extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group's members, and stealing their electronic devices."

"In February, members of this coalition wrote to the Acting Attorney General, urging that the criminal charges against Mr. Assange be dropped," the groups said. "We now renew that request with even greater urgency, in light of a recent story in Yahoo News describing alarming discussions within the CIA and Trump administration."

The letter comes two months after the Biden administration won an appeal at the United Kingdom's High Court in its case seeking to extradite Assange. Earlier this year, Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled that extradition would "be oppressive by reason of Assange's mental health" and would pose a risk to the WikiLeaks' founder's life due to conditions in U.S. prisons.

Assange is charged in the United States with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for publishing classified U.S. military documents that revealed U.S. war crimes.

After news outlets around the workd published countless reports based on the information provided by Assange and WikiLeaks,the coalition wrote Monday that "journalists routinely engage in much of the conduct described in the indictment: speaking with sources, asking for clarification or more documentation, and receiving and publishing official secrets."

"News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound public significance," the advocates wrote.

As former intelligence consultant and press freedom advocate Edward Snowden tweeted Monday, the case against Assange "criminalizes the sort of journalism you read every week in the newspaper."

The Freedom of the Press Foundation noted Monday that last year, it identified the U.S. government's prosecution of Assange as "the most dangerous press freedom issue."

"The actions laid out in the indictment are virtually indistinguishable from common practices in newspapers around the country. It's exactly why both The New York Times and The Washington Post—themselves no fans of Assange—have denounced the charges against him in the strongest terms," wrote Parker Higgins, advocacy director for the group.

"And it's why everyone who cherishes our press freedom rights should too," he added.

New study reveals the group that was crucial to toppling Trump in 2020

Calling into question widespread perceptions of lower-income Americans and their level of political engagement, a new study released Friday detailed the high turnout among poor voters in the November 2020 elections—particularly in battleground states which helped deliver victories for President Joe Biden and Democrats in the Senate and House—following a concerted effort by campaigners to engage with low-income communities regarding the issues that mattered to them in the election.

Released by the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR); the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice; and Repairers of the Breach, the study shows that of the 168 million Americans who cast ballots last year, 59 million, or 35%, had an estimated annual household income of less than $50,000, classifying them as poor or low-income.

According to the report, titled "Waking the Sleeping Giant: Low-Income Voters and the 2020 Elections" and written by Kairos Center policy director Shailly Gupta Barnes, those voters were among the Americans that the Poor People's Campaign reached out to last year when it held a non-partisan voter outreach drive across 16 states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The organization reached over 2.1 million voters, with campaigners speaking with them about "an agenda that includes living wages, healthcare, strong anti-poverty programs, voting rights, and policies that fully address injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy," according to the report.

The Poor People's Campaign found "that the reason poor and low-income voters participate in elections at lower rates is not because they have no interest in politics, but because politics is not interested in them."

"They do not hear their needs and demands from candidates or feel that their votes matter," wrote Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign, in the foreward to the report. "They are less likely to vote because of illness, disability, or transportation issues, not to mention the rise of voter suppression laws—all systemic barriers rather than individual failures."

"Intentional efforts to engage these voter" in the leadup to the 2020 election,contact the groups found, were key to turning out low-income voters in states where Biden's margin of victory was near or less than 3%, including:

  • Arizona, where low-income people represented 39.96% of voters;
  • Georgia (37.84%);
  • Michigan (37.81%);
  • Nevada (35.78%); and
  • Wisconsin (39.8%)

"While the data cannot be used to claim that being contacted by PPC:NCMR was the only factor that drove them to vote, we can say that our efforts to directly reach out to low-income, infrequent voters improved their turnout rates in these states," the report reads.

The groups highlighted the case of Georgia, which was carried by Biden—marking the first Democratic presidential victory in the southern state since 1992. Outreach by the Poor People's Campaign helped encourage more than 39,000 Georgians who didn't vote in 2016 to cast ballots last year—"accounting for more than three times the final margin of victory for the presidential contest in the state."

The racial demographics of low-income voters in Georgia were fairly evenly split between Black and white low-income voters, with 1.9 million low-income white voters casting ballots last year and 1.6 million Black Georgians going to the polls. Another 164,000 low-income voters were classified as Hispanic.

In other states carried by Biden, white people made up a larger share of eligible lower-income voters reached by the PPCNCMR, including in Michigan, where 2.95 million out of 3.8 million poor voters were white; Pennsylvania, where three million of the state's 3.95 million eligible low-income voters were white; and Wisconsin, where 1.8 million out of 2.1 million low-income voters were white.

The statistics present "a challenge to the media-driven narrative that emerged out of 2016 and before, i.e., that white low-income voters are the de facto base of the Republican Party and delivered Donald Trump into the White House," wrote Gupta Barnes.

"While the narrative that white low-income voters are voting not only against their own interests, but also the interests of other racial segments of low-income voters, persisted through the 2020 elections, our analysis suggests something significantly different," the author added. "The findings suggest that, rather than writing white low-income voters off, it is possible to build coalitions of low-income voters across race around a political agenda that centers the issues they have in common."

Though the Poor People's Campaign made an intentional effort in 2020 to reach low-income voters, listen to their concerns, and urge them to turn out in the elections, the report notes that legislative action must be taken to turn last year's high turnout among poor Americans into a long-term reality.

"To realize the potential of the low-income electorate, our voting infrastructure must be expanded to encourage these voters to both register and vote," the report reads.

As Common Dreams has reported this year, the PPCNCMR has campaigned extensively to urge the passage of the For the People Act, which would outlaw partisan gerrymandering, expand early voting, establish a national automatic voter registration system, and take other steps to strengthen the country's election system.

"While mechanisms to increase registration are important for low-income voters, there is an even greater need for policies and legislation that increase their ability to cast a ballot and actually vote," wrote Gupta Barnes.

Additionally, the report says, Democrats must identify—and pass—"an agenda that appeals to important concerns of low-income voters across race, that is, issues like raising hourly wages, stimulus payments, paid leave, housing, and healthcare."

"According to exit polls, 72% of Americans said they would prefer a government-run healthcare plan and more than 70% supported raising the minimum wage, including 62% of Republicans," the report reads. "In Florida, the $15/hour minimum wage referendum got more votes than either of the two presidential candidates."

The report comes as progressives in Congress are pushing back against corporate Democrats' claims that the Build Back Better Act—the spending package which would invest $3.5 trillion in climate action, child care, affordable housing, and other measures to help lower- and middle-income people—is unaffordable.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, the Poor People's Campaign held a press conference on Capitol Hill this week to demand the legislation's passage.

The report, wrote Gupta Barnes, "underscores why the needs and concerns of low-income voters must be brought more fully into our political discourse, platforms, and campaigns—and why candidates who are elected on these platforms must live up to their campaign promises."


Happy Holidays!