Kenny Stancil

Washington Post publisher says Biden DOJ 'intensified' Trump-era attacks on press freedom

In an opinion piece, the Washington Post's publisher on Sunday accused President Joe Biden's Justice Department of exacerbating the Trump administration's assault on press freedom and called for a "full accounting" of the Biden DOJ's recent practices in order to prevent such a "brazen infringement of the First Amendment rights of all Americans" from happening again.

Recent reporting revealed that during the last days of then-President Donald Trump's term, DOJ officials authorized subpoenas to secretly obtain the phone and email records of reporters at the Post, CNN, and the New York Times. In the wake of the revelations, Biden last month condemned the unconstitutional actions taken by his predecessor's Justice Department and vowed that his administration would protect the rights of journalists and, by extension, those of the public.

"Unfortunately," Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote Sunday, "new revelations suggest that the Biden Justice Department not only allowed these disturbing intrusions to continue—it intensified the government's attack on First Amendment rights before finally backing down in the face of reporting about its conduct."

According to Ryan:

After Biden took office, the department continued to pursue subpoenas for reporters' email logs issued to Google, which operates the New York Times' email systems, and it obtained a gag order compelling a Times attorney to keep silent about the fact that federal authorities were seeking to seize his colleagues' records.
Later, when the Justice Department broadened the number of those permitted to know about the effort, it barred Times executives from discussing the legal battle with the Times newsroom, including the paper's top editor.

Ryan argued that "this escalation, on Biden's watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing."

Following last month's bombshell report about the Trump DOJ's seizure of three Post journalists' communications records, the newspaper "immediately requested an explanation and answers to several questions from the Justice Department as well as a meeting with the attorney general," Ryan wrote Sunday.

"To date, no answers have been provided and the meeting has yet to take place," he added. "This delay is troubling."

Although Biden last month called apprehending journalists' communication records in an attempt to identify the sources of leaks "simply, simply wrong" and insisted that he "will not let that happen," his Justice Department tried to justify the Trump administration's intervention at the Post as part of "a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

As Ryan noted Sunday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has been unable to explain the discrepancy between Biden's denunciation of the Trump administration's actions plus his assurances that he would not permit such practices to continue, on the one hand, and his own Justice Department's behavior, on the other. She did, however, issue a statement "disavowing White House knowledge of the actions that appear to have continued for several months during Biden's presidency."

While First Amendment advocates have long argued that cracking down on journalists and their sources dissuades people from sharing information that can help expose the truth, hold the powerful accountable, and improve the common good, the Obama-Biden administration and the Trump White House both went to great lengths to prevent leaks and punish government officials for divulging information to reporters. Before the Trump-era "war on whistleblowers," the Obama DOJ prosecuted nine leak cases, more than all previous administrations combined.

In his opinion piece, Ryan wrote that:

Throughout U.S. history, there have been inevitable differences between news organizations seeking to shed light on government activity and government officials seeking to preserve secrecy. As a society, we have become accustomed to these tensions. For the most part, they have been constructive and good for the health of our democracy. However, the egregious acts by the outgoing Trump Justice Department, and the apparent doubling down on them during the Biden administration, should alarm all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.
The First Amendment is not a special privilege of the press but, rather, a fundamental right protecting all Americans. It empowers citizens to hold their elected officials to account by ensuring that wrongdoing, even at the highest levels, will be brought to light. Much of this reporting would be impossible without courageous government employees who, after learning about serious misdeeds, improper programs conducted under the cloak of secrecy, or other actions contrary to America's fundamental principles and national interests, take the risk of speaking to reporters in confidence to bring such conduct to the attention of their fellow citizens.

"Trump's actions, and the expansion upon them during the Biden administration, pose a grave threat to our ability as a nation to keep powerful officials in check," Ryan stressed.

While he argued that the Biden DOJ's Saturday statement that it "will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from the media doing their jobs" is a step in the right direction, Ryan added that "it does not guarantee that the Biden administration—or future administrations—will not resume these intrusive tactics."

"There must be clear and enduring safeguards to ensure that this brazen infringement of the First Amendment rights of all Americans is never repeated," Ryan continued.

Moreover, "The inconsistency between presidential words and Justice Department deeds dictates the need for full accountability and transparency regarding the actions taken by the exiting Trump Justice Department and those of the incoming Biden administration," he wrote. "A full accounting should be produced and released for the American public to see."

US Air Force plans to buy more bombs 'better-suited for operations in the Pacific'

Soon after President Joe Biden called for a gargantuan $753 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022, the U.S. Air Force indicated that it plans to buy fewer small-diameter bombs in favor of spending heavily on "state-of-the-art, long-range weapons that are better-suited for operations in the Pacific," Military.com reported Tuesday.

The Air Force's proposal is consistent with other investments outlined in Biden's Pentagon budget request, including billions of dollars for U.S. nuclear weapon modernization and the so-called Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is purportedly aimed at "countering China's military build-up in Asia."

Regarding the Air Force's budget, Military.com reporter Oriana Pawlyk noted that:

The service has requested $161 million to buy an initial production of 12 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW (pronounced "Arrow"), hypersonic weapons to move it out of the research and development phase. Despite the service shifting more resources toward the ARRW program last year, the missile failed its first flight test a few weeks ago.
The Air Force also wants to increase its procurement of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range, or JASSM-ER, stealth cruise missile, an advanced weapon with a range of roughly 600 miles, the budget documents state. Officials have previously stated the JASSM and its cousin, the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM, can be used for stand-off precision strikes throughout the vast expanses of the Pacific region.

"To fund those efforts," Pawlyk wrote, "the service will reduce its purchases of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, the first iteration of the small-diameter bomb, and Hellfire missiles."

According to Military.com, Maj. Gen. James D. Peccia, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary overseeing the budget at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, told reporters Friday that "the service has reached 'healthy inventory levels' of those munitions and now will focus on the more advanced weapons."

As Pawlyk explained:

The Air Force will ask Congress for about 1,900 JDAM munitions, according to the documents, compared to 16,800 last year. The service wants to buy only 1,176 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles this year, down from 4,517 last year. And it plans to reduce its buy of GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I, or SDB I, to 998 from 2,462 last year.
To bolster its inventory of conventional munitions that allow aircraft to stay outside the range of enemy air defenses, the service's funding request for JASSM-ER, which incorporates low-observable technology, has increased by $211 million "to grow production line capacity." The Air Force wants to buy 525 missiles this year, up from 400 last year, the budget states.

Dave DeCamp of Antiwar.com wrote Friday that Biden's $753 billion military budget proposal "emphasizes research for new weapons technology, which the U.S. sees as vital for competition with China and Russia."

In a statement on the budget, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin identified China as the Pentagon's main focus. "The budget provides us the mix of capabilities we need most and stays true to our focus on the pacing challenge from the People's Republic of China," he said.

As DeCamp pointed out, "The budget request asked for over $112 billion for research, development, testing, and evaluation, known as RDT&E. It is about a 5% increase from the 2021 budget and is the highest-ever request for RDT&E."

Furthermore, DeCamp noted:

U.S. military officials frequently say that investment in technology like artificial intelligence, robotics, space and cyber capabilities, and hypersonic missiles are needed to compete with Beijing in the coming years. Space Force's top scientist recently said human augmentation to create super-soldiers should be embraced by the U.S.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley explained to lawmakers on Thursday why the Pentagon was focused on research. "We are trying right now to put down payments on investments that are going to pay huge dividends five, 10, 15 years from now for a future force that will be able to compete successfully with any adversary out there, to include China," he said, according to Stars & Stripes.

Milley warned that China seeks an equal footing with the U.S. military. "They are not our peer or our near-peer just yet, but they are rapidly growing and their objective is by probably the mid-2030s, for sure by the mid-century, to be equal to or greater than the United States military," he said.

The U.S. currently spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined, according to the Institute for Policy Studies' National Priorities Project. Moreover, a recent analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that while China's military budget increased by 1.9% last year, U.S. military spending in 2020 was 4.4% higher than in 2019.

Last month, a coalition of 66 advocacy groups penned a joint statement expressing their deep concerns "about the growing Cold War mentality driving the U.S. approach to China," which "threatens to fuel destabilizing arms-racing and risks escalation towards a predictably devastating conflict."

"The new Cold War with China currently being pushed in Washington does not serve the millions of people demanding change across this country nor the billions of people affected by U.S. foreign policy abroad, and will instead lead to further insecurity and division," the coalition said. "Worryingly, both political parties are increasingly latching onto a dangerously short-sighted worldview that presents China as the pivotal existential threat to U.S. prosperity and security and counsels zero-sum competition as the primary response."

"The true global security challenges of today—like economic inequality and lack of opportunity, climate change, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, financial crises and supply chain disruption, and ethnonationalism—will require joint, non-military solutions with China and other countries," the coalition continued.

"What everyday Americans need to secure their futures," the groups said, "is not the suppression of the Chinese economy—one that is intimately intertwined with our own—but a fundamental restructuring of our own economy through investments in innovation and green jobs; strengthening labor and raising wages; rooting out systemic racism, sexism, and inequality; and ensuring affordable healthcare, housing, education, and a livable planet."

"More broadly," the coalition added, "the prosperity of working people in the United States and China alike demands building a more equitable global economy that maximizes human wellbeing overall rather than corporate profits."

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza 'may constitute war crimes,' says UN human rights chief

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday that Israel's most recent airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip—which killed more than 200 Palestinians and decimated civilian infrastructure—"may constitute war crimes," and also warned that preventing further escalations of violence depends on addressing the fundamental issues of displacement and ongoing occupation.

Michelle Bachelet's speech was delivered at a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council requested by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Palestine. The United States, which provided diplomatic and military support to Israel throughout its latest assault on the occupied Palestinian territories, "did not sign up to address the talks, where it has observer status, appearing to shun the ninth session held on Gaza since 2006," Reuters reported.

Israel's 11-day bombardment of Gaza killed over 240 Palestinians, injured nearly 2,000, displaced tens of thousands, exacerbated the Covid-19 pandemic, and caused a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe with widespread hunger and lack of access to clean water.

The bombing campaign included "shelling, missiles fired from fighter aircraft, and attacks from the sea," Bachelet noted. "Although reportedly targeting members of armed groups and their military infrastructure, Israeli attacks resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects."

"Governmental buildings, residential homes and apartment buildings, international humanitarian organizations, medical facilities, media offices, and roads connecting civilians to essential services such as hospitals" were partially or totally destroyed, said the U.N. official.

"Despite Israel's claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard," she added.

While it is "a violation of international humanitarian law to locate military assets in densely populated civilian areas or to launch attacks from them," Bachelet said in an apparent reference to Hamas, whose projectiles killed 10 people in Israel, "the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law."

Israel's attacks on the densely populated coastal enclave, home to two million people, "raise serious concerns of Israel's compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law," Bachelet noted. "If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes."

"Unlike Israeli civilians, who have the benefit of the 'Iron Dome' and professional military forces to assist in their protection," said Bachelet, "Palestinian civilians have virtually no protection against airstrikes and military operations." Furthermore, she continued, "they have no place to escape to, due to the Israeli land, air, and sea blockade that has been in place for the last 14 years."

Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, also addressed the Human Rights Council's 47 member states at Thursday's meeting in Geneva. He described Gaza as "the world's largest open-air prison," where residents are "cut off from the outside world" by Israel's "comprehensive and illegal" blockade.

The council-appointed independent expert said that Israel's "occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power." Stressing that Israel's occupation would not end "without decisive international action," Lynk reiterated his call for the latest escalation of violence to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Al Jazeera reported that during Thursday's meeting, the council debated a draft resolution to investigate Israeli violence in Gaza as well as "systematic" abuses of Palestinians throughout the occupied territories and inside Israel.

In her comments, Bachelet said that Palestinians "have the right to live safely and freely in their homes, with adequate and essential services and opportunities, and with respect for their right to life and physical integrity. The lived reality of the occupation, however, is that they are instead systematically deprived of fundamental rights and freedoms due to every human being."

While the high commissioner welcomed the May 21 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, she emphasized that "unless the root causes of this violence are addressed, it will sadly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences."

As Bachelet acknowledged, it is impossible to understand Israel's recent deadly onslaught without taking into account its ongoing effort to forcibly expel Palestinians from the land they have lived on for generations.

The latest round of violence was sparked when Israeli security forces cracked down on Palestinians who were resisting Israeli settlers' state-backed effort to demolish and confiscate homes in the Al-Bustan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. That was followed by a May 10 raid of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in which peaceful worshipers were attacked by security forces eager to repress Palestinian resistance to dispossession.

Just hours after the cease-fire was announced, Israeli police forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound once again, firing stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas at Palestinian worshipers and demonstrators. Moreover, the mass arrests of Palestinians who have participated in recent protests against ethnic cleansing have continued despite the truce.

"In Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the risk of evictions remains and continues to fuel tensions," said Bachelet. "Such evictions should cease, in line with Israel's obligations under international law," she continued, urging "the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the process of evictions."

Bachelet noted that "while the shocking loss of life and destruction in Gaza has justifiably made headlines around the world, the alarming situation in the West Bank has gone unnoticed by many."

"Tension, protests, and violence, including the heavy use of force by Israeli Security Forces has reached levels not seen in years," said Bachelet, who added that she is "also extremely troubled by the documented incidents of settlers using live ammunition to attack Palestinians, in some cases alongside" soldiers.

As of May 24, according to Bachelet's office, 28 Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed East Jerusalem, had been killed and roughly 6,800 injured this month as a result of Israel's assault.

"There must be a genuine and inclusive peace process to address these root causes and bring the occupation to an end," said Bachelet.

The high commissioner stressed that "in any such processes and for any resulting agreements, the respect and protection of human rights must be fundamental, including accountability for past human rights violations and abuses. Only when human rights are fully respected and protected can trust start to be built between the various communities and a durable, lasting, and just peace be achieved."

New report reveals top Trump officials at the EPA hid the danger of a toxic herbicide

A new report released Monday by a federal oversight agency revealed that before former President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency reapproved use of dicamba in 2018, high-ranking officials in the administration intentionally excluded scientific evidence of certain hazards related to the herbicide, including the risk of widespread drift damage.

The Office of the Inspector General found that the 2018 decision by the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs to extend registrations for three dicamba products "varied from typical operating procedures."

Specifically, according to the IG report, "the EPA did not conduct the required internal peer reviews of scientific documents," which paved the way for "senior-level changes to or omissions" of research detailing the drift risks of the weed-killer.

While "division-level management review" of pesticide safety documents is typical, staff scientists at the EPA told the IG that senior leaders were "more involved in the 2018 dicamba decision than in other pesticide registration decisions." In addition, "staff felt constrained or muted in sharing their concerns," the government watchdog's report noted.

"Now that the EPA's highly politicized, anti-science approach to fast-tracking use of this harmful pesticide has been fully exposed, the agency should cancel dicamba's recent approval, not try to defend it in court," Stephanie Parent, a senior environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in response to the new report.

"The EPA knows that anything less is likely to result in yet another summer of damaged fields and lost profits for farmers choosing not to use dicamba," Parent added.

Over the past four years, dicamba products sprayed "over the top" of soybean and cotton crops genetically engineered to resist the herbicide have "caused drift damage to five million acres of soybeans as well as orchards, gardens, trees, and other plants on a scale unprecedented in the history of U.S. agriculture," according to the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Recent research also indicates that dicamba endangers human health. Last year, a team of epidemiologists found that use of the weed-killer can increase the risk of developing numerous cancers.

The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the 2018 approval of three dicamba products sold by agrochemical giants BASF, Corteva, and Monsanto, which was acquired three years ago by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer.

In response to the lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned the Trump EPA's approval of those three products in June 2020 and ruled that the agency had violated the law when it "substantially understated" the "enormous and unprecedented" amount of damage caused by dicamba herbicides in 2017 and 2018 and "entirely failed to recognize the enormous social cost to farming communities."

And yet, just days before the November presidential election, the Trump EPA rushed to approve new five-year registrations for dicamba products created by Bayer and BASF and extend until 2025 the registration of another dicamba product developed by Syngenta.

As a result, farmers and advocacy groups were once again forced to sue to challenge the approval of the destructive weed-killer. According to the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity, that was the third time the EPA had registered dicamba herbicides, each time with additional restrictions that have failed to curb drift damage.

Referring to the IG evaluation released Monday, George Kimbrell, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, said that "this report admits what we knew already: dicamba's approval was politically tainted. EPA unlawfully promoted the profits of pesticide companies instead of following the law and sound science, putting chemical companies over protecting farmers and the environment."

"The disappointing part," Kimbrell added, "is that EPA nonsensically continues to stand by the plainly political dicamba decision rushed through just days before the 2020 election, just five months after the court's striking down of the 2018 approval."

Progressives to Biden: 'You are making a huge mistake' by weakening infrastructure proposal

Progressives called it a "huge mistake" Friday after the White House announced President Joe Biden had preemptively slashed his own infrastructure proposal by approximately $600 billion in order to appease Republicans and some corporate-friendly Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

"President Biden knows this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real change, which is why he campaigned on a bold climate vision and began his administration with a historic Covid relief bill," said Ellen Sciales, press secretary for Sunrise Movement. "He can't follow that up by going small and selling out our multiracial, cross-class movement of working people to compromise with politicians who would rather ensure billionaires get tax cuts than make sure we get paid a living wage."

Biden's offer to downsize his American Jobs Plan, described by progressives as already inadequate, from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion—including reduced investments in sorely needed broadband, among other projects—came just days after congressional Republicans missed the president's Tuesday deadline to provide him with their own counter-proposal.

Progressive critics argued that Biden's unprompted embrace of spending cuts is a political disaster that threatens to undermine the nation's attempt to recover from the pandemic-driven economic downturn and to confront the looming climate emergency.

"If the president continues down this path, how will he justify his choices to the workers, caregivers, climate refugees, and so many other members of our communities who need support to survive?" asked Kaniela Ing, climate justice campaign director at People's Action.

Arguing that "we need to Build Back Better, not Build Back in Bad Faith," Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Ashley Thomson emphasized the need to "build on and go bigger than the vision President Biden offered on the American Jobs Plan—not capitulate to bad-faith negotiations from Republicans that want us to compromise on justice, on climate, and on our futures."

"Millions of voters have given the Biden administration a mandate to be bold and tackle the interlocking crises facing our country—the continued fallout from Covid-19, racial injustice, economic inequality, and the worsening climate crisis," Thomson added. "Even more, our movement has given Washington the THRIVE Act, a blueprint for creating 15 million jobs while furthering racial and economic justice."

As Sciales noted: "Not a single Republican senator voted for the popular, much-needed Covid relief package and Democrats passed it anyway. That's the correct strategy. Democrats must take their power seriously and do what's needed with or without the GOP."

Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, said in a statement that "Republicans are not a serious governing party and the Biden administration should stop treating them like one."

"Since the moment Biden took office, Republicans have shown they are more interested in lying about the last election than in solving today's crises," Epting added.

Earlier this week, several Democratic lawmakers advocated for quickly enacting a robust and comprehensive infrastructure package regardless of whether their right-wing colleagues approve of it.

"While bipartisan support is welcome, the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments," 60 House Democrats wrote in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—whom Sciales earlier this month chastised for engaging in "performative negotiations" with the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has already vowed to oppose any spending proposals that include even modest tax hikes on the richest Americans and corporations.

In her statement Friday, Sciales said that "if Democrats learned anything from the past ten years, it has to be that negotiating against ourselves doesn't work."

"Let's not mince words: this is a demonstrable failure of a political strategy," she said of Biden's latest offer. "We can't repeat the same mistake and expect a different result."

"Our message to President Biden is simple: you are making a huge mistake," said Sciales. "Voters in 2022 and 2024 will not ask whether you were nice to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); they will look to whether or not you dealt with the climate crisis and created millions of new union jobs when you had the chance."

'A real hotspot': Study finds the Arctic warming 3 times faster than the rest of the Earth

Over the past five decades, the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) issued that warning on Thursday in a new report (pdf) that summarizes the latest findings on Arctic change and projections of future transformations under different climate scenarios. The publication of AMAP's report coincides with this week's meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavík, Iceland, which brings together policymakers from countries bordering the region.

According to the report, the Arctic's annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period. Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.

"The Arctic is a real hotspot for climate warming," Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told Agence France-Presse on Thursday.

AMAP stressed that the current transformation of the Arctic environment is adversely affecting the livelihoods and food security of Arctic communities, especially Indigenous ones. Arctic warming also poses risks to unique terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems in the region, some of which are vulnerable to irreversible harm. Moreover, the report emphasized, "changes in the Arctic have global implications," especially if potentially negative feedback loops are triggered.

"No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming," the report said. "The rapid mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other Arctic land ice contributes more to global sea-level rise than does the melting of ice in Antarctica."

Some projections estimate that by 2050, 150 million people worldwide will be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels.

Without an adequate international effort to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, that number could be far higher.

According to the report, the latest climate models indicate that "annual mean surface air temperatures in the Arctic will rise to 3.3–10°C above the 1985–2014 average by 2100, depending on the course of future emissions."

"Under most emission scenarios," the report said, "the vast majority" of climate models "project the first instance of a largely sea-ice-free Arctic in September occurring before 2050," and possibly as early as 2040.

Because each fraction of a degree of warming makes a difference, the stakes for adequate climate action are immense.

If the global temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the report pointed out, an ice-free Arctic summer is 10 times more likely than if planetary heating is limited to 1.5ºC, the more ambitious target of the Paris agreement.

A growing number of countries, including major economies like the United States and the European Union, have recently pledged to cut GHG emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade on the way to net-zero by midcentury.

Climate justice advocates, meanwhile, have pushed rich countries to go further, and even far less progressive energy advisers have insisted they start by keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Sanders introduces bill to audit the Pentagon to 'end the absurdity' of wasteful military spending

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders on Wednesday introduced the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2021, which would require the Department of Defense to do starting in 2022 something unprecedented in its history: pass a full independent audit.

"The Pentagon and the military industrial complex have been plagued by a massive amount of waste, fraud, and financial mismanagement for decades. That is absolutely unacceptable," the Vermont Independent said Wednesday in a statement.

If we are serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively, we have got to end the absurdity of the Pentagon being the only agency in the federal government that has not passed an independent audit," he added. "The time is long overdue for Congress to hold the Defense Department to the same level of accountability as the rest of the government. That is the very least we can do."

Federal agencies have been mandated by Congress to comply with annual audits by the Government Accountability Office since 1990.

Under the bill (pdf)—which is co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and comes one week after Sanders led a hearing on waste and fraud at the Pentagon—each branch of the military and office of the DOD that fails an independent audit would return 1% of its annual budget to the Treasury.

That could amount to a substantial sum of money, given that the Pentagon receives hundreds of billions of dollars in funding each year despite ample evidence of its widespread accounting abuses. Last month, President Joe Biden proposed a $715 billion budget for the Pentagon for fiscal year 2021—an increase from the current $704 billion level approved by Congress under former President Donald Trump.

Since then, Biden has faced backlash from progressives who have called for reallocating a portion of those funds in order to better meet social needs rather than further pad defense contractors' bottom lines.


As Sanders' office noted, the Defense Department remains the only federal agency in the U.S. that has been unable to pass an independent audit, despite the fact that the Pentagon gobbles up more than half of the nation's discretionary budget and controls assets in excess of $3.1 trillion, or roughly 78% of the entire federal government.

The Costs of War Project recently estimated that the U.S. has spent $2.26 trillion on military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion, which marked the beginning of a two-decade-long war that has killed at least 241,000 people.

Meanwhile, according to Sanders' office:

In 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded that $31-60 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan had been lost to fraud and waste. In 2015, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion in funding for reconstruction projects. In 2018, an audit conducted by Ernst & Young for the Defense Logistics Agency found that the Pentagon could not properly account for some $800 million in construction projects
[...]
Congress has appropriated so much money for the Defense Department that the Pentagon does not know what to do with it. According to the GAO, between 2013 and 2018 the Pentagon returned more than $80 billion in funding back to the Treasury. And, over the past two decades, virtually every major defense contractor in the U.S. has paid billions of dollars in fines and settlements for misconduct and fraud—all while making huge profits on those government contracts.

The U.S. spends more on its military than the next 12 countries combined, and, according to Sanders' office, "about half of the Pentagon's budget goes directly into the hands of private contractors."

Sanders' office stressed that the nation's massive military spending occurs in a context in which "half of our people are struggling paycheck to paycheck, over 40 million Americans are living in poverty, and over 500,000 Americans are homeless including roughly 40,000 veterans."

In a statement, Wyden said that "taxpayers can't afford to keep writing blank check after blank check for the Pentagon to cash."

"If the Department of Defense cannot pass a clean audit, as required by law, there ought to be tough financial consequences," he added.

Bernie Sanders declares that 'Palestinian lives matter' in powerful op-ed

Offering further evidence that the rights of Palestinians are receiving more vocal support from U.S. Congress members than at any time in living memory, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday published an opinion piece in the New York Times demanding a more "even-handed" and morally consistent approach to Israel and Palestine that promotes peace.

Early in his essay, the Independent senator from Vermont posed a question: "Why do we only seem to take notice of the violence in Israel and Palestine when rockets are falling on Israel?"

Whenever this happens, Sanders noted, Democratic and Republican administrations declare, as President Joe Biden did earlier this week, that "Israel has the right to defend itself."

"Why is the question almost never asked: 'What are the rights of the Palestinian people?'" Sanders continued.

"Israel has the absolute right to live in peace and security," the lawmaker wrote, "but so do the Palestinians. I strongly believe that the United States has a major role to play in helping Israelis and Palestinians to build that future."

"While Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable," Sanders wrote, "today's conflict did not begin with those rockets."

The senator proceeded to highlight just some of the recent steps taken by the Israeli government and settlers to violently oppress Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

As examples, Sanders cited the forced expulsion of Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank as well as the ongoing blockade on Gaza that "makes life increasingly intolerable for Palestinians."

In addition, Sanders denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to "marginalize and demonize Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution, and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel."

Sanders emphasized that "in the Middle East, where we provide nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior."

"We must change course and adopt an even-handed approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians, as well as existing U.S. law holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses," wrote the senator.

"If the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage," he added, "we must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it's politically difficult. We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter."

Biden warned against repeating Obama's 'fatal political mistakes' with Republicans

After President Joe Biden met with the Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers of Congress on Wednesday to try to "reach a compromise" on his infrastructure plan, climate justice advocates urged the administration to "avoid the fatal political mistakes of the Obama era: not acting at the full scale of the economic crisis in an effort to be bipartisan, and falling short in delivering on promises made."

"We are up currently against the ticking time bomb of an unrelenting climate crisis and an economic crisis wearing down working people," Ellen Sciales, Sunrise Movement's press secretary, said in a statement. "Each day the process of passing an infrastructure package is delayed by performative negotiations with the GOP—who are clearly disinterested in working with Democrats—another day goes by that we are not healing our planet or getting people good jobs to support their families."

Underscoring the GOP's intransigence, Sciales proceeded to offer examples of congressional Republicans' deep-seated antagonism toward Democratic lawmakers.

"When Mitch McConnell says '100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration,' believe him," Sciales said of the Senate minority leader, a Kentucky Republican. "The GOP has made it clear that they are a party bent on upholding manipulative and violent politics, and proved it when not a single Republican senator voted for the popular, much-needed Covid relief package."

Moreover, Sciales said, Wednesday's vote ousting right-wing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from a GOP leadership role for her refusal to go along with former President Donald Trump's reckless lie that the 2020 presidential race was "stolen" from him "is just another stark reminder that the Republican Party has devolved to a delusional, dangerous group that cannot even acknowledge the simple reality that Biden won the election."

"These are not people we should pretend will work with us in good faith," she added, echoing a point made last week by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Indeed, as Common Dreams reported last month, Republican lawmakers have already vowed to oppose Biden's $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan—the White House's two-pronged approach to improving the nation's physical and social infrastructure—as long as the spending proposals include even modest tax hikes on the richest Americans and corporations.

The American Jobs Plan would increase the corporate tax rate, close offshore tax loopholes, and disincentivize outsourcing jobs. The American Families Plan would increase the marginal tax rate for households with annual earnings above $400,000, increase the capital gains rate for the wealthiest Americans, and provide the Internal Revenue Service with sorely needed resources to crack down on rampant tax evasion.

In addition to their opposition to raising revenue through progressive tax reform, the GOP has also claimed that only a small portion of Biden's proposed investments can be considered "real" infrastructure, drawing rebukes from progressives.

While they have denounced Republican lawmakers for being unwilling to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund a post-pandemic economic recovery, Senate Democrats will need to win over at least 10 Republicans or use the restrictive budget reconciliation process to pass an infrastructure package if they keep refusing to heed growing calls to eliminate the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Republicans don't appear to have budged as a result of Wednesday's talks. For the first time in his presidency, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for an in-person meeting in the Oval Office.

Afterward, McConnell told reporters that the two camps still needed to "define what infrastructure is," and reiterated that Republicans are "not interested" in reversing the 2017 tax cuts for the rich, suggesting that little progress was made during the nearly two-hour long discussion.

In her statement, Sciales stressed that "Biden can't get distracted by this false idea of bipartisanship when there's so much at stake. He must learn from the Obama-era mistakes and act urgently, without compromising with the Republican Party of violence."

Alluding to left-wing criticisms of Biden's infrastructure proposal—which falls far short of progressives' demands for $10 trillion of investments in green jobs, renewable energy, clean transit, sustainable housing, and the care economy this decade—for being "woefully" insufficient, Sciales emphasized that "Biden's infrastructure package is already a compromise."

"It can't be watered down further, especially to cater to a party that is fueled by the profits and donations of fossil fuel executives and that'd rather ensure billionaires get tax cuts than make sure working people get paid a living wage," she added.

Sunrise's call for Biden to forego negotiations with Republicans in order to prioritize delivering material gains to working-class Americans—as promised to the millions of voters who gave Democrats unified control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government—comes just two days after members of Sunrise embarked on a 400-mile march from New Orleans to Houston to pressure the White House and Congress to rapidly and adequately confront the climate emergency.

On their journey—which traverses the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry as well as cities that have been hard-hit by the convergence of inequality and extreme weather—the economic and environmental justice campaigners are demanding that Biden include the Sunrise-backed proposals for "Good Jobs for All" and a Civilian Climate Corps in his infrastructure plan.

'Direct attack on the First Amendment': Experts slam Trump DOJ for secretly obtaining WaPo journalists' phone records

Advocates for press freedom responded with outrage after the Washington Post reported Friday that former President Donald Trump's Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records and attempted to obtain the email records of three Post journalists who covered Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the newspaper, Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous all received letters from the Justice Department earlier this week alerting them that "pursuant to [a] legal process" that reportedly took place in 2020, the DOJ had acquired "toll records associated with" the three journalists' work, home, or cell phone numbers between April 15, 2017 and July 31, 2017.

"We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists," said Cameron Barr, the acting executive editor of the Post. "The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment."

The records taken include the numbers, times, and duration of every call made to and from the targeted phones between mid-April and late July 2017, but do not include what was said, the newspaper reported. DOJ officials also obtained, but did not execute, a court order to access the reporters' work email accounts. Those records would have indicated the dates and addresses of emails sent to and from the journalists during that three and a half month period.

"The letter does not state the purpose of the phone records seizure, but toward the end of the time period mentioned in the letters, those reporters wrote a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts indicating that in 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had discussed the Trump campaign with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia's ambassador to the United States," the Post noted.

According to the Post:

Justice Department officials would not say if that reporting was the reason for the search of journalists' phone records. Sessions subsequently became President Donald Trump's first attorney general and was at the Justice Department when the article appeared...

It is rare for the Justice Department to use subpoenas to get records of reporters in leak investigations, and such moves must be approved by the attorney general. The letters do not say precisely when the reporters' records were taken and reviewed, but a department spokesman said the decision to do so came in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump's attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.

Officials in President Joe Biden's Justice Department, tasked with notifying the reporters about records that were obtained during the Trump administration, tried to justify the collection of journalists' phone records, claiming that it was part of what department spokesperson Marc Raimondi called "a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

"The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required," said Raimondi.


First Amendment advocates were highly critical of the DOJ's decision to seize journalists' communications records in an attempt to identify the sources of leaks, saying the practice dissuades citizens from sharing information that can help reveal the truth, hold the powerful accountable, and improve the common good.

"This never should have happened," the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. "When the government spies on journalists and their sources, it jeopardizes freedom of the press."


The Post noted that "both the Trump and Obama administrations escalated efforts to stop leaks and prosecute government officials who disclose secrets to reporters."

As the newspaper explained:

During the Obama administration, the department prosecuted nine leak cases, more than all previous administrations combined. In one case, prosecutors called a reporter a criminal "co-conspirator" and secretly went after journalists' phone records in a bid to identify reporters' sources. Prosecutors also sought to compel a reporter to testify and identify a source, though they ultimately backed down from that effort.
In response to criticism about such tactics, in 2015, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued updates to the rules about media leak investigations aimed at creating new internal checks on how often and how aggressively prosecutors seek reporters' records.
In response to Trump's concerns, Sessions and others discussed changing the rules to seek journalists' phone records earlier in leak investigations, but the regulations were never changed.

However, "in early August 2017—days after the time period covered by the search of the Post reporters' phone records—Sessions held a news conference to announce an intensified effort to hunt and prosecute leakers in government," the Post noted.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called on the Justice Department to explain "exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past."

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), meanwhile, described the seizure of the three Post journalists' phone records as "a direct attack on the First Amendment by the Trump Justice Department."

"Anyone who was involved in this authoritarian style intimidation and is still at the Justice Department should be fired," the lawmaker said, adding that "history... is not going to be kind to Bill Barr."

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