Kenny Stancil

'Should be the last straw': Congress eyes $847 billion Pentagon budget while 40 million live in poverty

Anti-war advocates blasted U.S. lawmakers on Thursday, one day after it was reported that Congress is expected to pass an $847 billion military budget for the coming fiscal year even though the Pentagon recently failed its fifth consecutive annual audit and nearly 40 million people nationwide are living in poverty.

Last month, "the Pentagon once again failed to pass a basic audit showing that it knows where its money goes," the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies said in a statement. "And instead of holding out for any kind of accountability, Congress stands ready to give a big raise to an agency that failed to account for more than 60% of its assets."

Citing four people familiar with negotiations, Politico reported Wednesday that "an emerging compromise on annual defense policy legislation" is set to add $45 billion to President Joe Biden's already massive military spending request. The White House's March request for an $813 billion military budget for fiscal year 2023 represented a $31 billion increase over the current, record-breaking sum of $782 billion.

According to Politico, "The deal would set the budget topline of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act at $847 billion for national defense, and would go as high as $858 billion when including programs that fall outside of the jurisdiction of the Senate and House Armed Services committees." The Senate panel approved an equivalent military spending boost in June.

The National Priorities Project (NPP) called the bipartisan proposal to further increase military spending despite the Pentagon's persistent accounting and human rights failures "a sign of an agency that is too big, plain and simple."

"Other major government agencies have long since passed audits," said NPP. "But the Pentagon, with its global sprawl of more than 750 military installations, and a budget increase that alone could more than double the diplomacy budget at the State Department, is so big and disjointed that no one knows where its money goes."

According to NPP, one solution would be to make the Pentagon "a lot smaller."

Earlier this year, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)—co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus—unveiled the People Over Pentagon Act of 2022, which proposes slashing Pentagon spending for the next fiscal year by $100 billion and reallocating those funds toward threats that "are not military in nature," such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, and worsening inequality.

Although a majority of U.S. voters are opposed to military spending in excess of $800 billion, earlier efforts to cut the Pentagon's budget have failed to gain enough support to pass the House or Senate thanks in part to lawmakers who receive substantial amounts of campaign cash from the weapons industry, which benefits from relentlessly expanding expenditures.

NPP said Thursday that "after 20 years of war, and in a time when government spending is desperately needed elsewhere, the Pentagon's fifth failed audit in as many years (and having never, ever passed) should be the last straw."

"This isn't using our taxpayer dollars wisely," the nonprofit research institute continued. "It's robbing programs that we need, like the discontinued child tax credit that cut child poverty by half. And it's continuing the Pentagon's legacy of war, all for the benefit of the contractors who commandeer roughly half of the Pentagon's budget in any given year."

Approximately 55% of all Pentagon spending went to private sector military contractors from FY 2002 to FY 2021, according to Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute. "If this privatization of funds rate over the last 20 years holds," Semler wrote last December, arms dealers will rake in an estimated $407 billion in public money in FY 2022.

NPP director Lindsay Koshgarian told Truthout on Wednesday that "the same legislators who refused to continue child tax credits that cut child poverty in half are now choosing to add tens of billions of dollars to an already-enormous Pentagon budget."

"The bonus for the Pentagon is more than the entire annual climate investment under the Inflation Reduction Act," Koshgarian added. "The only ones who will benefit are the corporations that sell weapons to the U.S. and around the world."

Last year, NPP published a report showing that the U.S. has spent more than $21 trillion on militarization since September 11, 2001.

Citing that analysis, Jacobin's Luke Savage argued at the time that the nation's military spending—now even higher than it was at the height of the Cold War—is not only wasteful but also inherently anti-democratic:

Military spending allocated for 2022 considerably exceeds the cost of five separate Green New Deal bills. For a miniscule fraction of what America spent on the two-decade-long 'war on terror,' it could have fully decarbonized its electricity grid, eradicated student debt, offered free preschool, and funded the wildly popular and effective Covid-era's anti-poverty child tax credit for at least a decade. Spending public funds so lavishly on war inevitably means not spending them elsewhere, and it's incredible to imagine what even a fraction of the money sucked up every year by America's bloated military-industrial complex could accomplish if invested differently. Fundamentally, however, the case against the Pentagon's ever-expanding budget is a democratic one. Every year, the government of the world's most powerful country now allocates more than half of its discretionary funds to what is laughably called 'defense spending'—regardless, it turns out, of whether the nation is at risk of attack or officially at war.

"Corporate capture of Congress is a problem in most major policy areas," wrote Savage, "but defense contractors and other military concerns have a stranglehold that is arguably unmatched."

As NPP noted Thursday, enacting Lee and Pocan's legislation "would open the door for other critical investments—and stop rewarding an agency that doesn't even know where the money is going."

House passes paid sick leave bill to avert rail strike despite worker objections

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday by a margin of 221-207 to pass a concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that was rejected by over half of the nation's unionized rail workforce but that President Joe Biden urged Congress to force through to prevent a nationwide rail strike next month.

Only three Republicans joined 218 Democrats to approve the paid sick leave measure. Three Republicans and one Democrat abstained.

Just minutes earlier, 79 Republicans joined 211 Democrats to pass a strike-averting resolution that would impose Biden's heavily criticized tentative agreement, which in its original form does not guarantee any paid sick leave. Five Republicans did not vote.

Biden—a self-described "pro-labor president"—has been condemned by rail workers and progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups for pressuring Congress to use its authority under the Railway Labor Act of 1926 to ram through his deal to preempt a looming strike.

Prior to the intervention of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who submitted an amendment to add seven days of paid sick leave to the existing settlement on Tuesday night, progressives feared that House lawmakers would advance the White House-brokered pact without trying to improve it.

In a statement praising the House for taking action to prevent a rail shutdown that "would be devastating to our economy and families across the country," Biden failed to mention Bowman's amendment.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), by contrast, said Wednesday in a statement that she "was proud to work alongside Rep. Bowman to push for an amendment to a rail deal that would guarantee seven days of paid leave to railroad workers." Omar thanked House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and the chamber's leadership for bringing the amendment to the floor.

"Railroad corporations are raking in record profits—over $20 billion last year alone," said Omar. "Meanwhile, their workers do not even have the basic protections of a single day of paid or unpaid sick time. In the face of these record profits, railroad workers have made a simple, dignified request for the basic protections of paid leave."

"I will always stand with rail workers and workers around the world," she added, "and will do everything in my power to make sure their basic demands are not ignored."

Both the strike-averting resolution and the concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to Biden's deal now head to the Senate.

In a joint statement released in the wake of the House votes, 12 members of the upper chamber—including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—thanked Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh "for their hard work in negotiating a tentative agreement that is better than the disastrous proposal put forward by the rail industry."

However, they said, "Congress can and must make this agreement better."

The lawmakers continued:

For nearly three years our nation's rail workers have been fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. They have kept our trains on the track even while facing unprecedented challenges. Supply chain problems coupled with increased consumer spending and online shopping habits have put the freight rail industry under incredible strain. And as a result train crews have been working around the clock often with inflexible and unpredictable work schedules to transport everything from food and fuel to medical supplies and cleaning products. But even as the need for worker protections and workplace flexibility have grown, railroad companies provide zero days of paid sick leave to their workers. What this means is that if a rail worker comes down with Covid, the flu, or some other illness and calls in sick, that worker will not only receive no pay, but will be penalized and, in some cases, fired. That is absolutely unacceptable.

"During the first three quarters of this year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $21.2 billion in profits," says the statement. "Guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would only cost the industry $321 million a year—less than 2% of their total profits. Please do not tell us that the rail industry cannot afford to guarantee paid sick days to their workers."

"We commend the House for addressing this outrageous situation and guaranteeing paid sick days to every rail worker in America," Sanders and his colleagues concluded. "We urge the Senate to quickly take up the House-passed language for a roll call vote and urge our colleagues to support these workers. We look forward to bipartisan support."

When asked Tuesday night by MSNBC's Chris Hayes if he thinks at least 10 Republican senators would back the paid sick leave provision, which is necessary due to the upper chamber's anti-democratic 60-vote filibuster rule, Sanders mentioned that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) had indicated "significant" support for the amendment among his GOP colleagues.

"Look, you have a number of Republicans who claim—claim—to be supporters of the working class," said Sanders. "Well, if you are a supporter of the working class how are you going to vote against the proposal which provides guaranteed paid sick leave to workers who have none right now? So I am cautiously optimistic that we can get this done."

However, the fact that just three House Republicans voted for the measure does not bode well for its prospects in the Senate.

Notably, Cornyn reversed his openness to adding seven paid sick days to the contract on Wednesday, telling Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News: "I just think it's a bad idea for Congress to try to intervene and renegotiate these collective bargaining agreements between labor and management."

As Politico reported, "Rail workers will stay on the job until December 9, [but] certain hazardous materials are likely to start being sidelined over the weekend to avoid being stranded" in the event of a strike.

'Coordinated deception': Puerto Rican towns file RICO suit against big oil over climate change denial

A group of 16 Puerto Rican municipalities has sued Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and other fossil fuel giants for alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court and described by plaintiffs as a first-of-its-kind RICO case, accuses Big Oil of colluding to deny the climate-wrecking impacts of their fossil fuel products.

As Reuters reported Tuesday:

The towns say the companies coordinated a multibillion-dollar 'fraudulent marketing scheme' to convince consumers that fossil fuel products do not alter the climate. That campaign ran contrary to the companies' own studies showing their products accelerate climate change, resulting in more deadly storms, the lawsuit said.

The municipalities said the companies outlined a plan of deception in a joint memo that took aim at international climate negotiations in the 1990s. The coordinated deception spanning decades violates U.S. racketeering and antitrust laws among others, the suit claims.

The towns argue that roughly a dozen oil, gas, and coal corporations and other actors are financially responsible for and should pay to cover the damages suffered during the catastrophic 2017 hurricane season, which was intensified by planet-heating pollution.

"The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, featuring six major hurricanes and more than a dozen named storms, caused at least $294 billion worth of damages in the U.S. territory," Reuters reported, citing the lawsuit. "Hurricanes Irma and Maria contributed to an estimated 4,600 deaths and the failure of critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico, the municipalities said."

Marc Grossman, a partner at one of the firms representing the municipalities, called Puerto Rico "the ultimate victim of global warming."

The class action complaint comes just weeks after Puerto Ricans were once again left in the dark for a prolonged period of time after Hurricane Fiona overwhelmed the island's privatized electric grid, sparking protests in several communities as well as a hearing led by local lawmakers.

Fiona made landfall five years after the much stronger Maria triggered an islandwide blackout. In the wake of the 2017 disaster, the island's grid was entirely privatized by LUMA Energy, a joint venture owned by Canadian firm ATCO Ltd. and U.S. contractor Quanta Services Inc.

The United States paved the way for LUMA Energy's corporate takeover of Puerto Rico's grid, and Washington's ongoing domination of the island, which began more than 120 years ago, makes it more vulnerable to the devastating effects of hurricanes such as Maria and Fiona.

In a Jacobin essay published last month, Joe Wilkins wrote:

The commonwealth lost its ability to meaningfully influence structural decisions with a 2016 Barack Obama-era law called the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA or La Junta. This act allowed the U.S. Congress to infringe on the island's pecuniary autonomy through the appointment of a Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB). Since its formation, the FOMB has enacted severe austerity measures on public services in order to help Puerto Rico 'achieve fiscal responsibility and ultimately reestablish access to credit markets,' according to the text of the legislation. La Junta also gives the FOMB authority to deny unionized utility workers their right to strike. The FOMB's independence from Puerto Rican lawmakers meant that it could clear the way for Puerto Rico's public electrical company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), to sell commonwealth assets and outsource services related to the generation and transfer of electricity. In 2018, legislation was passed to enable the placement of Puerto Rico's energy grid under private management. That 2018 act revealed La Junta's true purpose: raising the bridge to make way for muck-dredging capitalists who have long lusted after utility contracts in the Global South. From then on it was inevitable that PREPA would seek a public-private partnership in order to improve the public grid. That's where LUMA came in.

The American Prospect's Ryan Cooper argued recently that "there are many proximate factors behind Puerto Rico's continued vulnerability to hurricanes and economic dysfunction. But the root problem is political inequality."

"It is an American colony: controlled by the United States government, but without any political representation for the people living there," wrote Cooper. "Until this inequality is rectified, it's a safe bet that Puerto Rico will never fully recover."

Dozens of states and cities around the U.S. have sued fossil fuel corporations in a bid to make highly deceptive polluters pay for climate change-related damages and adaptation costs, mostly in state court.

Oil and gas giants have tried repeatedly to shift jurisdiction over climate liability lawsuits from state courts to federal court, where they think they will be more likely to avoid accountability.

While federal appeals courts have rejected such attempts on multiple occasions this year, the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court is considering taking up an industry-led challenge to a February ruling with far-reaching implications.

Democracy defenders vow to sue after GOP-led Arizona county refuses to certify election

Pro-democracy advocates are expected to sue a rural Arizona county after a pair of GOP officials on Monday refused to certify this month's electoral outcomes despite a complete lack of evidence of miscounting.

Heeding the calls of former President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans who have repeatedly lied about voter fraud and advocated for rejecting the popular will, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors declined to certify the results of the November 8 midterm elections in which Democratic candidates won races for governor, secretary of state, and state attorney general.

"There is no reason for us to delay," said the board's Democratic chair, Ann English, who was outnumbered by the county's two Republican supervisors, Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd.

In a 2-1 vote, the board called for "a Friday meeting to have further presentation on the accreditation of the voting machines," according to Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl. Crosby demanded "presentations" from Democratic Secretary of State and Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs as well as "people who spoke November 18 about alleged issues with accreditation."

In the words of Democratic election attorney Marc Elias, "The only presentation Cochise is going to get is in a courtroom."

Elias, the founder of Democracy Docket, said the county "will be sued" for missing Monday's legally mandated deadline to approve the official vote tally.

Hobbs' office had previously pledged to sue if the county missed the deadline. Prior to Monday's vote, Arizona's election director, Kori Lorick, said in a statement that the secretary of state "will use all available legal remedies to compel compliance with Arizona law and protect Cochise County voters' right to have their votes counted" if the board refused to fulfill its "nondiscretionary duty."

Following the vote, Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for Hobbs, told The Associated Press that "the Board of Supervisors had all of the information they needed to certify this election and failed to uphold their responsibility for Cochise voters."

According to NPR, Crosby and Judd's move jeopardizes the votes of more than 47,000 residents in the GOP-dominated jurisdiction in southeastern Arizona, near Tuscon. Solis told the news outlet that the secretary of state's office intends to file a lawsuit on Monday.

As NPR reported:

Many election watchers have been raising concerns that Republican officials may disrupt the process for making the election results official after GOP leaders in Cochise County voted on November 18 to wait to decide whether to certify the results until the legal deadline on Monday.

They cited claims about the certification of election equipment, which Lorick confirmed had been tested and properly certified. Still, Crosby and Judd have called for a meeting on Friday to discuss the claims.

In the opposite corner of Arizona, another Republican-controlled county—Mohave County—may end up following Cochise County's lead in not certifying election results. Last week, GOP officials there said they want to hold off on making a decision until Monday's deadline in order to make a political statement. They recessed their meeting Monday and are set to resume their discussion later in the day.

Elsewhere in the country on Monday, Pennsylvania's Luzerne County Board of Elections also refused to certify the midterm results.

"Certifying election results is a ministerial task," Elias tweeted. "This is what election subversion looks like in 2022."

Suggesting that another lawsuit is coming, Elias wrote on social media that right-wing board members in Luzerne County should ask their counterparts in Arizona's Cochise County "how well this ends for them."

'Unconscionable': Georgia Supreme Court resurrects six-week abortion ban

Reproductive rights advocates responded with outrage Wednesday after the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the state's draconian law prohibiting abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Fulton County Superior Court blocked the six-week abortion ban just last week, after which Georgia reverted to the status quo ante of permitting abortion care through 22 weeks of pregnancy. But in a one-page order, the high court granted an emergency stay of the lower court's injunction, thus allowing the six-week ban—which cuts off abortion access before many people know they are pregnant—to take immediate effect once again while the state's appeal proceeds.

"It is unconscionable that the Georgia Supreme Court has chosen to deny pregnant people the ability to decide what is best for their own lives and futures," Amy Kennedy, vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement. "Our state's abortion providers are again being forced to turn away patients who then must leave the state for safe, time-sensitive, and essential healthcare."

Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women's Health Center, echoed that sentiment.

"It is cruel that our patients' ability to access the reproductive healthcare they need has been taken away yet again," said Jackson. "For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy. This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians' lives, and our patients deserve better."

The state Supreme Court did not provide any explanation for granting the attorney general's request to put the lower court's November 15 order striking down the six-week abortion ban on hold.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled last week that laws that violate the Georgia or U.S. Constitution when they are passed are invalid. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia's six-week abortion ban into law in the spring of 2019, when Roe v. Wade was still in force. It went into effect in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

In its Wednesday ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court also rejected abortion providers' request for 24 hours' notice prior to reviving the ban. As the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) explained, this means that abortion patients who were in waiting rooms when the decision was handed down "are being turned away and forced to seek healthcare elsewhere or else carry pregnancies to term against their will."

"Evidence shows that being denied an abortion can have lasting health and financial consequences for people and their families, including elevated health risks during and after pregnancy; and derailed educational, career, and life plans," CRR pointed out. "For some, the consequences of the ban can be deadly."

Alice Wang, staff attorney at CRR, said that "it is outrageous that this extreme law is back in effect, just days after being rightfully blocked."

"This legal ping pong is causing chaos for medical providers trying to do their jobs and for patients who are now left frantically searching for the abortion services they need," said Wang. "Georgians are again being denied control over their own lives and futures, but we will do everything in our power to strike down this ban for good."

As CRR noted:

During a trial held in October, healthcare providers and other experts testified that the abortion ban has had devastating consequences for Georgians' health and lives. The ban forces Georgians seeking abortion after the earliest weeks of pregnancy to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles out of state for care, and that's only if they can pull together the resources to do so. Georgians and other people seeking care in states where abortion is still legal face long wait times for appointments. Many of those who cannot surmount the tremendous financial and logistical barriers of getting abortion care in other states are forced to carry their pregnancy to term and give birth against their will.

Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, warned Wednesday that the state Supreme Court's decision will "exacerbate Georgia's maternal mortality and morbidity crisis."

"Reinstating this extreme abortion ban will cause immense harm, especially to Black Georgians and people with the fewest resources—who are least likely to be able to travel out of state for care and most likely to suffer severe medical consequences from forced pregnancy and childbirth," said Kaye.

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said that Wednesday's ruling makes it "even more important that we protect access in other states by preventing the U.S. Senate from passing a federal ban on abortion."

Republicans have threatened to pursue a nationwide abortion ban if they retake both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2024. The U.S. already has a substantially higher maternal mortality rate than other wealthy countries, and according to a recent analysis, prohibiting abortion at the federal level would increase maternal deaths by 24%.

"While this ruling is devastating, the case is not over," Kaye stressed. "We will never stop fighting to ensure that everyone, no matter their geography, race, or income, has the power to control their own bodies and futures."

Georgia Republicans are trying to scrap Saturday voting ahead of the Senate runoff election

Republican groups filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to block early voting this Saturday in the U.S. Senate runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP candidate Herschel Walker.

The Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Republican National Committee asked Georgia's high court to overturn a lower court's ruling that said state law permits early voting this Saturday, 10 days before the December 6 runoff.

As The Associated Press reported, "The time-sensitive legal battle began after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued guidance to county election officials that said early voting could not be held on November 26 because state law says it is illegal on a Saturday if there is a holiday on the Thursday or Friday preceding it."

Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is a state holiday that was originally created to honor Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate army that fought to preserve slavery. Lee's name wasn't removed from the holiday until 2015.

The Democratic Party of Georgia, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Warnock campaign sued last week to challenge Raffensperger's guidance, arguing that the prohibition on Saturday early voting after a holiday applies only to primary or general elections, not runoffs.

A Fulton County judge agreed, issuing an order on Friday that sided with the Warnock campaign and the Democratic groups.

Lawyers for the state challenged the lower court's decision, but the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a single-sentence ruling late Monday that rejected their request for an immediate reversal.

Raffensperger accepted that ruling and said the state would not launch additional appeals.

"The court has worked its will," Mike Hassinger, a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said in a statement. "We believe this is something the General Assembly should consider clarifying to avoid confusion in the future."

The Republican groups, however, appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday.

According to AP:

They argue that the interpretation of Georgia law put forth by the plaintiffs and accepted by [Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox] was incorrect. The runoff election set for December 6 is clearly a continuation of the November 8 general election and is subject to the prohibition on Saturday voting immediately after a holiday, they argue.
Counties had been relying on the guidance provided by Raffensperger as they prepared for the runoff election, under the assumption that voting would not be allowed November 26, the Republican groups argue. Only 10 counties—'all of them Democrat-leaning'—plan to hold early voting on Saturday, they note.
That 'sows confusion and inequity into the voting process, preventing the clarity and uniformity that Georgia's citizens deserve,' they argue.

The Warnock campaign and the Democratic groups have until 9:00 am ET Wednesday to file a response with the state supreme court.

Georgia compressed the time frame for runoff campaigns as part of a 2021 voter suppression law condemned by Democrats and voting rights advocates.

"The shortened calendar, less than a month from the general election, makes the early-voting period coincide with Thanksgiving," HuffPost noted. "Georgia law requires that counties hold five days of early voting from Monday, November 28, through Friday, December 2. But counties are also allowed to hold three additional days of early voting, and some counties want to offer early voting on Saturday, when many voters are off work."

Warnock and Walker, a former football star backed by ex-President Donald Trump, are set to face off in the December 6 runoff after neither candidate won more than 50% of the vote in the November 8 midterms.

Democrats have already secured 50 seats in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote giving them the slimmest possible majority. But the Georgia runoff is still consequential for several reasons.

Among other things, a victory by Warnock would ensure that Democrats have a majority on all Senate committees—allowing them to expedite the pace of judicial confirmations and other work. It could also reduce the obstructionist influence of right-wing Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Elizabeth Warren calls on Democrats to 'do more for American families—not less'

During her keynote speech at an economic policy conference held Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on Democrats to step up their efforts to rein in corporate greed and create a better economy for working-class households, arguing that doing so is essential to defeating the increasingly anti-democratic GOP.

"The 2022 midterms prove that Democrats can beat Republican extremism by fighting for working people and making our democratic values clear," Warren (D-Mass.) said at EconCon Presents, a meeting co-hosted by Demos Action, Economic Policy Institute Action, Economic Security Project Action, Groundwork Action, Omidyar Network, and Roosevelt Forward.

"As we face the possibility of an extremist Republican House majority intent on creating economic chaos to usher Donald Trump back into office, we should remember: Democrats need to do more for American families—not less," she continued, speaking just a day after the former president announced his 2024 campaign.

Republicans officially won narrow control of the House on Wednesday, just days after Warren warned that GOP lawmakers hell-bent on winning the White House in 2024 will "blow up the economy" and run ads blaming President Joe Biden for it unless Democrats use the current lame-duck session to abolish the U.S. debt ceiling—something conservative members of the party appear hesitant to do.

By retaining their Senate majority and losing just a handful of seats in the House, congressional Democrats vastly outperformed pundits' expectations and historical trends. But Warren wasn't surprised, telling conference participants that "lesson one from last week's midterms is that when Democrats fight for and deliver for working people, we win."

The lawmaker highlighted a few of the steps that congressional Democrats and the Biden administration took to improve the material circumstances of working people "without one single Republican to help us." Key achievements mentioned by Warren include the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), both passed through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

"Despite endless Republican attack ads designed to convince people otherwise, the evidence shows that, by and large, we got it right—the American Rescue Plan was popular," said the Massachusetts progressive. "It was also successful in saving the economy. It helped people survive the pandemic. And it helped us win elections."

"The IRA showed people Democrats were fighting to reduce costs," she continued. "And it helped us win elections."

Moreover, Biden's executive action canceling student loan debt—an attempt to provide financial relief to millions of working-class households that is currently being derailed by a GOP-led lawsuit and Trump-appointed judge—is one reason why "youth voter turnout last week was through the roof," she added.

There's plenty of evidence to back up Warren's contention that the Democratic Party's stronger-than-expected midterm performance happened because of their progressive economic policies—not in spite of them.

That includes exit polling conducted by Data for Progress, Groundwork Action, and Economic Security Project Action, which found that a majority of voters support Democratic policies to lower prices, including investing in domestic manufacturing and clean energy production, expanding social safety net programs, hiking taxes on corporations and holding them accountable for price gouging, and increasing Social Security benefits.

For more than a year between the passage of the American Rescue Plan and the IRA, however, "costs for families were rising, and a few Democrats blocked much of the president's agenda for working families," Warren said, alluding to Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and a handful of other corporate-backed party members.

"They torpedoed the president's plan to reverse the Trump tax giveaways," said Warren. "They blocked proposals to cut skyrocketing housing and child care costs. They thwarted efforts to fight corruption, end gerrymandering, defend democracy, and protect abortion rights."

"We got a lot done for American families," she continued. "But we could have done a lot more to show those families that we're on their side."

"If Democrats had delivered more of the things that touch people's lives—things like child care and housing—we could have picked up the additional votes we needed to hold the House and expand our Senate lead," she added. "Think what that would mean: We would be drafting legislation to get more help to American families instead of confronting a potential House Republican majority intent on creating economic chaos."

According to Warren: "Our performance in the midterms wasn't judged solely by what we did or didn't get done. It was also judged by our willingness to fight for the families who sent us to Washington."

She praised Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, in particular, for vowing to take on the CEOs who repeatedly admitted "they were boosting their profit margins on the backs of consumers," which meant ignoring the "Beltway commentators [who] rolled their eyes at the idea that Democrats ought to talk about" corporate profiteering.

"Candidates up and down the ticket called out price gouging, from Big Oil to grocery chains—and they won," said Warren. "Democrats also talked about what's at stake for our rights. They talked about our democracy. They talked about abortion. And they won."

Another key takeaway from the 2022 midterms, said Warren, is that "voters expect us to fight for them."

"They understand we can't solve every problem in two years," she acknowledged, "but they want to see us giving it all we've got. And if we get a little bloody, at least no one doubts where we stand."

Warren's message that Democrats should pursue downwardly redistributive policies more aggressively after losing control of the House echoes advice shared earlier this week by the economic justice group Fight Corporate Monopolies, which outlined popular measures that lawmakers can enact to improve the lives of ordinary people, or at least that Democrats can fight for to show voters who is on their side.

With Democrats in charge of the Senate and White House, "Republicans will try to impose economic pain on families so they can blame us and seize power for themselves," Warren noted. "The incoming GOP [House] majority represents a dangerous new force in American politics. Like their predecessors, they are openly hostile to voting rights, civil rights, abortion rights, and human rights."

"But these Republicans pose a new kind of threat," she continued, adding:

They have new members who were last in Washington alongside a mob that decided to storm the Capitol on January 6. Their ranks are now stacked with election deniers who have only one goal: install Donald Trump as president in 2024. These Republicans will use any tool they think might work to hurt working families—cut taxes for their wealthy donors, gut Medicare and Social Security, starve public schools and healthcare providers, and block any efforts to lift children out of poverty. They will use thinly disguised appeals to racism and xenophobia. Above all, Republicans will eagerly sow economic chaos so they can turn around and blame Democrats for economic chaos—all in service to moving Donald Trump a few inches closer to the White House. If Democrats let ourselves be bullied by Republican hostage-taking, we will hurt the families we came here to help. And, for good measure, we'll be voted out of office in 2024.

"Capitulating to extremists is not only wrong, it's a losing strategy," Warren stressed. "If ever there was a time for Democrats to grow a spine, this is it."

To avoid being bullied by House Republicans, Warren implored Democrats to "do everything we can in the lame-duck session to prepare for the chaos that is coming," insisting once again on the need to "eliminate the debt ceiling now."

She also urged Democrats to "go on offense" and "tell our own economic story." She provided a list of talking points:

  • Republicans are the party that brought us the 2008 financial crash;
  • Republicans are the party that ran up the deficit with $2 trillion in tax cuts for billionaires and billionaire corporations;
  • Republicans are the party that is actively working to cut Social Security and Medicare;
  • Republicans are the party that wants to leave millions of people shackled with student loan debt forever; and
  • Republicans are the party that doesn't want Medicare to negotiate prescription drugs and doesn't want the government to end corporate price gouging and doesn't want to make billionaire corporations pay a minimum tax.

"Listen to that list," said Warren. "There shouldn't be a single voter in the country who trusts Republicans on the economy. And, if we get out there and make our case, there won't be a single voter who trusts the Republicans on the economy."

"We need to start fighting back now," Warren added. "Where we can pursue legislative action to help working families, we should fight aggressively. When Republicans try to obstruct and the president can act by executive authority, he must do so."

Renewed calls to impeach Clarence Thomas after latest ruling on Jan. 6: 'It’s absurd he did not recuse'

A long-standing call for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to face impeachment proceedings was renewed Monday after the right-wing judge indicated in an unsigned dissent that he would have blocked enforcement of the House January 6 panel's subpoena for the communications records of Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward.

The House committee investigating the deadly January 6 insurrection "is seeking Ward's records related to her role in former President Donald Trump's effort to steal the 2020 election as a fake elector casting ballots in the Electoral College for Trump," HuffPost reported.

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for the panel to obtain Ward's phone records, rejecting the Arizona GOP chair's appeal. Right-wing Justice Samuel Alito joined Thomas in dissenting.

This marked the second time Thomas has tried to hinder the committee's probe of the Trump-led effort to remain in office despite his 2020 election loss—a plot in which Thomas' wife, right-wing activist Ginni Thomas, played a major role.

Thomas in January was the only justice to vote against the release of White House records to the panel. Two months later, text messages between former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas showed that she had been in communication with Trump's team about efforts to overturn President Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Weeks later, it was revealed that Ginni Thomas had lobbied Republican lawmakers in Arizona and other states to reject Biden's electors and appoint fake ones who would support Trump. Since late March, congressional Democrats have called on Clarence Thomas to recuse himself, resign, or be impeached for apparently trying to shield his wife's anti-democratic political activities from scrutiny.

"His wife, Ginni Thomas, pressured Arizona officials to illegally overturn Trump's loss," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based watchdog, noted Monday. "It's absurd that Thomas did not recuse."

"Justice Thomas must face an impeachment inquiry," the pro-democracy advocacy group Free Speech for People tweeted.

A petition calling for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures since details about Ginni Thomas' direct participation in Trump's failed coup were first made public.

'Not yet defeated': Thousands march outside UN climate summit

Hundreds of people rallied Saturday at the United Nations COP27 summit in Egypt to demand the fundamental political-economic transformations required to achieve climate justice.

"There can be no climate justice without human rights," declared the COP27 Coalition, an alliance of progressive advocacy groups that planned the protest as part of its push for "an urgent response from governments to the multiple, systemic crises" facing people around the world. "We are not yet defeated!"

"We march today as part of the global day of action," Janet Kachinga, spokesperson for the COP27 Coalition, said in a statement. "Solidarity is the cornerstone of climate justice."

"We are marching inside the U.N. space to highlight that our movements are unable to march freely on the streets of Egypt," said Kachinga.

Ahead of COP27, human rights groups denounced Egypt's repression of dissidents, including hunger-striking political prisoner Alaa Abd El Fattah. Since the conference began last week in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egyptian officials have been accused of spying on and otherwise intimidating participants.

"We refuse to greenwash the Egyptian government's denial of the right to freedom of association, assembly, and speech by marching in a government-controlled march in the streets of Sharm El-Sheikh," Kachinga continued.

Instead, from inside a designated Blue Zone governed by U.N. rules, activists sought "to lift up the voices and demands of all our frontline communities and movements facing repression because they dream of a better world," said Kachinga.

"We are at a crossroads of overlapping crises and governments are not on track to stop the worst of the climate crisis," said Kachinga. "COP27 needs to be a turning point for the climate crisis, and not a moment to silence people."

The U.N. recently published a series of reports warning that as a result of woefully inadequate emissions reductions targets and policies, there is "no credible path to 1.5°C in place," and only "urgent system-wide transformation" can prevent temperatures from rising a cataclysmic 3°C by century's end.

According to the latest data, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—the three main heat-trapping gases fueling global warming—hit an all-time high in 2021, and greenhouse gas emissions have only continued to climb this year.

Despite overwhelming evidence that new fossil fuel projects will lead to deadly climate chaos, oil and gas corporations are still planning to expand dirty energy production in the coming years, including in Africa.

"The call for greater oil and gas production is completely out of step with climate science," Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said Friday in a statement. "Presented as a necessity for development, new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure would instead simply lock a new generation into these dirty fuels, at a time when clean energy is viable and ready to be scaled."

"The rightful need of people in low- and middle-income countries for access to energy—for clean cooking, for healthcare, for education, for jobs, and many other key determinants of health—must not bring with it the health costs associated with fossil fuels," Miller added. "It is vital that high-income countries provide financial support for the transition in low- and middle-income countries."

Among the key demands of the COP27 Coalition is that the rich nations most responsible for causing the climate crisis "fulfill their obligations and fair shares by reducing their emissions to zero and providing poorer nations the scale of financial support needed to address the crisis."

The coalition argues that "repayment should include adaptation, loss and damage, technology transfer, and factor in debt cancellation for vulnerable countries [that] have been impoverished while dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis."

A recent U.N.-backed report estimates that poor nations will need a combined total of $2.4 trillion per year by 2030 to fight the climate emergency—including funding for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.

A separate analysis from Carbon Brief reveals the extent of wealthy countries' failures to mobilize far smaller sums of money to support sustainable development and enable equitable responses to escalating extreme weather disasters.

Since the COP15 meeting in 2009, developing countries have been promised that rich nations would provide at least $100 billion in climate aid each year by 2020. However, just over $83 billion was delivered in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. The Global North is not expected to hit its annual target, widely regarded as insufficient, until 2023.

The U.S. is most responsible for the shortfall, providing less than $8 billion toward the $100 billion figure in 2020. That constitutes a mere 19% of the country's approximately $40 billion "fair share," or what it should be paying based on its cumulative contribution to global greenhouse gas pollution.

U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to allocate $11.4 billion per year toward international green finance by 2024—less than 2% of the annual Pentagon budget and still far less than Washington's fair share—but congressional lawmakers approved just $1 billion in a $1.5 trillion spending bill passed earlier this year.

When it comes to the U.N.-backed loss and damage fund, just a handful of high-polluting countries have pledged a combined total of around $250 million so far, a tiny fraction of the $31.8 trillion that the world's 20 wealthiest economies collectively owe the Global South, according to the Climate Clock, a recently unveiled display at COP27.

"The science of climate breakdown has never been clearer, and seeing the suffering of my fellow Africans facing drought and famine, the impacts have never been more painful," said Mohamed Adow, a representative of the COP27 Coalition.

"It's no wonder that people are rising up across the world to make their voices heard that they will not stand for inaction from their leaders," Adow continued. "Unless more urgency is shown, marches will only be the start."

"Today we rise as a people, despite the restrictions, to demand our collective rights to a livable future," said environmental justice champion Nnimmo Bassey. "We demand payment of the climate debt accumulated by centuries of dispossession, oppression, and destruction."

"We need a COP led by the people and not polluters," Bassey continued, alluding to the massive presence of fossil fuel lobbyists at the meeting. "One that rejects ecocidal, neocolonial false solutions that will widen the emissions gap, burn Africa and sink small island states, and further entrench environmental racism and climate injustice!"

'Willing to sacrifice a livable planet': Fossil fuel industry condemned over its 'reckless expansion'

Despite repeated warnings that new fossil fuel projects are incompatible with averting climate disaster, oil and gas corporations "are on a massive expansion course" to increase dirty energy production in the coming years, according to an analysis released Thursday at the United Nations COP27 meeting in Egypt.

The new report by the German nonprofit Urgewald and 50 NGO partners, which denounces "an industry willing to sacrifice a livable planet," found that the vast majority of the world's oil and gas companies intend to scale up the extraction of fossil fuels in the years ahead, having collectively dumped $160 billion into exploration since 2020.

None of this investment is consistent with the International Energy Agency's (IEA) blueprint for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, a key component of meeting the Paris agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—beyond which impacts will grow increasingly deadly for millions of people, particularly those residing in poor nations that have done the least to cause the crisis.

The IEA made clear in its May 2021 report that no new oil and gas fields can be exploited if the world is to avoid climate catastrophe. But according to Urgewald, 96% of upstream fossil fuel companies (655 out of 685) are planning to expand their operations, and short-term expansion plans have increased by 20% since last year.

According to Urgewald, 512 of these companies are currently "taking active steps to bring 230 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bboe) of untapped resources into production before 2030."

If these fossil fuels are removed from the ground and burned, an additional 115 billion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide equivalent will be pumped into the atmosphere by the end of the decade. That's 30 times more greenhouse gas pollution than Europe generates each year.

Urgewald's report comes one day after Climate Trace revealed in a separate analysis that global emissions from oil and gas production are up to three times higher than reported.

"The outcome of our calculations is truly frightening," Fiona Hauke, senior oil and gas researcher at Urgewald, said in a statement. "Oil and gas companies' short-term expansion plans are not in line with the net-zero emissions course put forward by the IEA. Keeping these oil and gas resources in the ground is the bare minimum of what is needed to keep 1.5°C attainable."

As the report points out, even "if the oil and gas industry simply maintained its 2021 production level of 56.3 bboe, it alone would exhaust our remaining carbon budget within 15.5 years."

Just over a dozen corporations—including Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, Chevron, and Shell—are responsible for more than half of the industry's short-term expansion efforts, Urgewald found.

Just over a dozen fossil fuel giants—including Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron, and Shell—are responsible for more than half of the industry's short-term expansion, Urgewald found.

But "oil and gas companies are not only planning rapid development in the short term," the report notes. "Their massive build-up of new fossil fuel infrastructure is threatening to lock the world into a high-emissions pathway" at a time when the window to slash greenhouse gas pollution and avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis is rapidly closing.

Fossil fuel giants, especially those in the U.S., have been "happy to take advantage" of global energy market chaos unleashed by Russia's late-February invasion of Ukraine, the report continues, channeling their record-breaking profits into boosting fracking and LNG export capacity.

"Current midstream expansion plans will more than double liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity globally, and new mega-pipeline projects like the Trans-Saharan pipeline would stretch across entire continents and beyond," says the report. "Such oil and gas infrastructure is expensive to build, and its intended operational lifetime spans decades—a time horizon we simply do not have."

Nearly 20% of LNG import terminals under development are located in Europe, which has been hit especially hard by soaring energy prices, but liquefied gas is "a false solution," warned Lucie Pinson from Reclaim Finance.

"The newly planned projects will come too late to solve Europe's energy crisis," said Pinson. "But what they will do is lock us into a high-carbon future and pose severe stranded assets risks. Private financial institutions must acknowledge the responsibility they hold and withdraw their support from new fossil infrastructure projects."

Urgewald and its partners identified 289 companies that are constructing new oil and gas pipelines or LNG terminals.

"As of 2022, new import and export LNG terminals with a total capacity of 1,391.5 Mtpa (million tons per annum) are planned or under development," states the report. "The increase in LNG export capacity would, if fully used, release almost twice as much greenhouse gas per year as all operating coal-fired power plants in North America, South America, Europe, and Africa together."

Urgewald's findings are based on its "Global Oil & Gas Exit List" (GOGEL), a company-level database that covers 901 firms responsible for 95% of global oil and gas production. Earlier this year, GOGEL data was used to expose dozens of "carbon bomb" oil and gas projects that fossil fuel giants are planning to build at the expense of humanity.

The newly updated GOGEL data was presented at COP27, where delegates have been informed yet again that, in the words of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator."

Two weeks ago, the U.N. published a series of reports warning that there is "no credible path to 1.5°C in place" and that only "urgent system-wide transformation" can achieve the 50% drop in global emissions required by 2030 to prevent locking in cataclysmic temperature rise approaching 3°C by century's end.

As the new Urgewald analysis makes clear, the opportunity costs of the fossil fuel industry's continued investment in oil and gas production are immense.

"If global exploration expenditure since 2020 had been directed towards the energy transition, it could have almost doubled the U.S.'s 2019 onshore wind capacity," the report points out. "Egypt, the host country of COP27, is the perfect example of the complete disconnect between the action needed and the reality on the ground. Fifty-five companies are exploring for new oil and gas resources across Egypt while the world's governments come together in Sharm El-Sheikh to address the climate crisis."

Earlier this week, Guterres slammed the duplicitous nature of many corporate climate promises, arguing that "so-called 'net zero pledges' that exclude core products [coal, oil, gas] are poisoning our planet. Using bogus 'net zero' pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff."

According to Urgewald fossil fuel finance campaigner Katrin Ganswindt, "Over 20 European banks, insurers, and investors have published promising oil and gas policies" since GOGEL was launched, with eight of them publicly referring to the database. "But hundreds of financial institutions have yet to adopt strict, science-based exclusion criteria for oil and gas companies whose expansion plans are not in line with 1.5°C."

These "oil and gas companies are betting against our collective future," said Ganswindt. "Their behavior also creates a high economic risk, for their financial backers and for themselves. A financial institution that takes its net-zero commitments seriously cannot provide financing to companies that are recklessly busting our climate budget."

Last week, progressives urged U.S. President Joe Biden's Treasury Department to intervene after an investigation of the financial sector's net-zero commitments showed that the six biggest U.S. banks' climate targets and policies fall far short of what's needed to preserve a habitable planet. On Wednesday, another analysis found that major U.S. banks are responsible for one-third of oil and gas expansion projects currently underway.

As Urgewald's new report observes, "All over the world, from Uganda to the Philippines, local communities and activists are calling out oil and gas companies for their reckless expansion plans."

Omar Elmawi, executive director of Muslims for Human Rights and coordinator of the campaign to stop the EACOP pipeline, said that "the irresponsible, greed-addled expansion plans of oil and gas companies destroy local communities and whole ecosystems."

"They lead to persecution, displacement, and all manner of environmental and social harm," he continued. "African people do not want any of this. We demand the energy access and the just transition renewable energies can deliver. And we vehemently reject the prospect of another colonialist plunder of our home's natural resources at the hands of avaricious oil and gas corporations that corrupt governments and throw whole countries into chaos."

"Africa deserves better," Elmawi added. "Our planet deserves better."

'Rearranging the deck chairs as the climate ship is going down': Critics pan US carbon offset 'scheme'

The Biden administration faced sharp criticism from environmental justice champions on Wednesday after U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry unveiled a voluntary carbon offset scheme that he and philanthropic foundation partners say would unleash private investment to expedite a clean energy transition in low-income nations.

"Carbon offsets are not an answer in a world already on fire, under water, and facing mounting climate losses and damage," Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

"While the exact details are still unclear, the outlines of the U.S. proposal are out of step with the science, which calls for steep, absolute emission reductions as soon as possible if we are to have any chance of meeting the goals of the Paris agreement," said Cleetus.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations warned that there is "no credible path to 1.5°C in place" and that only "urgent system-wide transformation" can prevent cataclysmic levels of global warming.

But during the U.N. COP27 summit in Egypt, Kerry announced a new public-private partnership between the U.S. government, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bezos Earth Fund that leaves intact the capitalist social relations propelling climate breakdown.

An Oxfam analysis published two days ago showed that a single billionaire's investments produce a million times more greenhouse gas pollution than an average person in the bottom 90% of the global income distribution. And yet the Biden administration has enrolled Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—currently the world's fourth-richest person with a net worth of nearly $110 billion—in a purported effort to slash planet-heating emissions.

The partnership plans to launch the so-called Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA) "as an innovative, independent initiative to drive private investment in comprehensive energy transition strategies that accelerate the deployment of renewable power and the retirement of fossil fuel assets in developing countries," according to the U.S. State Department. The ETA is expected to operate until the end of this decade and possibly through 2035.

"Chile and Nigeria are among the developing countries expressing early interest in exploring the ETA's potential benefits," said the State Department. "Bank of America, Microsoft, PepsiCo, and Standard Chartered Bank have also expressed interest in informing the ETA's development, with decisions on whether to formally participate pending the completion of its design. The ETA will also be open to sovereign government investments and engagement."

According to the State Department:

The goal of the partnership is to establish a high-integrity framework enabling developing countries to attract finance to support their clean energy transitions. Operating at the scale of national or subnational jurisdictions, the ETA will produce verified greenhouse gas emission reductions, which participating jurisdictions will have the option of issuing as marketable carbon credits. The jurisdictional approach, similar to approaches currently employed in the forestry sector, will help avoid emissions leakage, ensure that emissions reductions are real and additional, and align a jurisdiction's power sector policies, investment priorities, and just transition strategies. While incentivizing system-wide transformation, jurisdictional arrangements can also help steer finance to discrete projects producing deep, rapid emission reductions. Revenue raised through the ETA will supplement other sources of finance being mobilized by governments, donors, and multilateral and private financial institutions in support of developing countries' energy transition. It will also help catalyze additional investment. By providing jurisdictions with fixed-price advance purchase commitments for verified emission reductions, the ETA will create a predictable finance stream that can unlock upfront private finance at more favorable rates.

The forestry sector's carbon market mechanisms cited by the State Department have, according to experts, completely failed to halt deforestation and human rights violations.

Perhaps anticipating such criticisms, the State Department said that the partnership will establish social and environmental safeguards "to help promote an inclusive, just transition."

"To promote environmental integrity in the use of carbon credits, one idea for the ETA will be to open it only to companies committed to achieving net-zero no later than 2050 and science-based interim targets," said the State Department. "Other provisions will establish strong transparency requirements and address how companies' investments in verified emissions reductions through the ETA could be recognized."

Not only have corporate net-zero pledges routinely been exposed as empty exercises in greenwashing, but climate justice advocates have long argued that the entire idea of "net-zero" is based on the flawed premise of "canceling out emissions in the atmosphere rather than eliminating their causes."

Cleetus, for her part, said Wednesday that "the private sector can and must play an important role in tackling the climate crisis."

"However, a voluntary carbon credit program won't guarantee deep, real cuts in emissions," she stressed. "It's tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs as the climate ship is going down."

"Low- and middle-income countries need grants-based public finance from richer countries to help them quickly transition away from fossil fuels, alongside the rest of the world," said Cleetus. "That's what the U.S. must deliver, rather than questionable carbon offset schemes that risk allowing companies to pollute at the expense of the planet."

In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kerry argued that "no government in the world has enough money to affect the transition."

The International Energy Agency, which has made clear that new fossil fuel projects are incompatible with averting climate catastrophe, estimates that annual investment in clean energy must triple to $4.2 trillion by 2030, with more than half of those resources allocated to the developing world.

"The entity that could help the most," Kerry told the Journal, "is the private sector with the right structure."

However, Vera Songwe, the co-author of a new U.N.-backed report estimating that poor nations will need a combined total of $2.4 trillion per year by 2030 to fight the climate emergency—including funding for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage—said Tuesday that "countries must have access to affordable, sustainable low-cost financing from the multilateral development banks to help crowd in investments from the private sector and philanthropy."

In a Wednesday statement, Kelly Stone of ActionAid USA emphasized that "carbon markets are not climate finance."

"Secretary Kerry keeps repeating that public finance alone will not be enough to meet our climate goals, but no one is actually claiming this," said Stone. "It's exhausting to hear this talking point over and over again when the U.S. still owes money to the Green Climate Fund for a 2014-era pledge."

A Carbon Brief analysis published earlier this week revealed the extent of wealthy countries' failures to mobilize money for sustainable development.

Developing countries have been promised since 2009 that rich nations would provide at least $100 billion in climate aid each year by 2020. However, just over $83 billion was delivered in 2020—the most recent year for which data is available—and the Global North is not expected to hit its inadequate target until 2023.

The U.S. is most responsible for the shortfall, providing less than $8 billion toward the $100 billion figure in 2020. That represents just 19% of the country's approximately $40 billion "fair share," or what it should be paying based on its cumulative contribution to global greenhouse gas pollution.

U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to dish out $11.4 billion per year in climate aid by 2024—less than 2% of the annual Pentagon budget and still far less than Washington's fair share—but congressional lawmakers approved just $1 billion in a $1.5 trillion spending bill passed earlier this year.

"Climate finance is fundamental to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement and the U.S. has already repeatedly failed to meet their obligations," Stone said. "Now is the time for the U.S. to take responsibility for how much it has contributed towards climate injustices."

"Carbon markets have historically failed to fulfill climate goals and often profoundly harm communities and undermine human rights," she added. "The secretary's claims that this time will be different aren't enough. There is no space for offsets if we are to meet a 1.5°C goal."

The New Republic's Kate Aronoff wrote Wednesday that "as the developing world's demands for wealthy countries to deliver climate finance grow louder than ever at COP27, the market-driven plan Kerry and other U.S. officials are endorsing looks a lot like a distraction from the issue at hand."

"The plan Kerry has proposed is a clear stand-in for something else: adequate financial commitments from rich countries like the U.S. to poorer countries at particular risk from climate-related disasters," Aronoff continued. "A new carbon trading scheme would be a poor substitute for the kind of climate finance these parties are calling for."

Watchdog group vows 14th Amendment insurrection clause challenge if Donald Trump runs in 2024

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told former President Donald Trump on Thursday that if he tries to return to the White House or runs for any other political office in 2024, the D.C.-based watchdog will, using the 14th Amendment's anti-insurrectionist clause, attempt to disqualify him for fomenting last year's deadly right-wing riot at the U.S. Capitol.

"Should you seek or secure any future elected or appointed government office including the presidency of the United States," CREW president Noah Bookbinder wrote in a letter sent to Trump, "we will pursue your disqualification under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on your engaging in the insurrection that culminated on January 6, 2021."

As the letter explains, "Section 3 of the 14th Amendment provides that no individual who engages in insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution—after having previously taken an oath to support it—shall hold any federal or state office (unless Congress, by a vote of two-thirds in each house, removes such disability)."

The letter continues:

CREW believes you are barred from holding office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment because you engaged in insurrection against the Constitution you swore to defend. On January 20, 2017, you stood on the West Front of the United States Capitol, placed your left hand on the Bible, and swore a sacred oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." On January 6, 2021, an insurrection that you incited culminated in a violent attack on the same hallowed grounds, where Congress was meeting to certify the Electoral College results of the 2020 presidential election pursuant to the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act, 3 U.S.C. § 15. By summoning a violent mob to disrupt the transition of presidential power mandated by the Constitution after having sworn to defend the same, you made yourself ineligible to hold public office again.

"The evidence that Trump engaged in insurrection is overwhelming," Bookbinder said in a statement. "We are ready, willing, and able to take action to make sure the Constitution is upheld and Trump is prevented from holding office."

There is precedent for using Section 3 of the 14th Amendment—originally adopted to disempower members of the Confederacy who engaged in the slaveholding states' treasonous insurrection against the Union—to hold accountable those who participated in Trump's coup attempt.

As CREW noted:

In September, a New Mexico judge ordered Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin be removed from office, following a lawsuit brought by CREW and others, ruling that the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection and that Griffin's participation in it disqualified him under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. That decision marked the first time since 1869 that a court has disqualified a public official under Section 3, and the first time that any court has ruled the events of January 6, 2021 an insurrection.

In his letter to Trump, Bookbinder wrote that "CREW is resolved to restore the fundamental expectation that sustains our democracy—that the American people elect their leaders and that government leaders accept those results."

"If you seek elected or appointed office despite being constitutionally disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment for engaging in insurrection," he added, "we and others loyal to the Constitution will defend it."

Oz's refusal to back wage hike shows he does not care about workers, says Fetterman

Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman released a video Friday highlighting the refusal of his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, to say whether he would vote to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour.

During Tuesday night's televised debate between the two candidates, Oz was asked three times if he supports lifting the nation's hourly wage floor, which has remained stagnant since 2009 and provides only a third of what a full-time worker needs to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home in the United States.

The super-wealthy celebrity television doctor failed to answer each time, baselessly claiming that "market forces have already driven up the minimum wage" even as roughly 650,000 Pennsylvanians are currently struggling to survive below, at, or near the minimum wage.

"It's clear that Oz does not give a shit about the working people of Pennsylvania," Fetterman campaign spokesperson Joe Calvello said in a statement. "If Oz does not believe that we need a higher minimum wage, then he should move out of his ten mansions and live on $7.25 an hour to show us how it's done."

Fetterman has previously drawn attention to how Oz, whom he calls an "out of touch" multimillionaire, exploited a tax break intended to help struggling Pennsylvania farmers when he purchased 34 acres of rural land in Montgomery County for $3.1 million late last year.

Oz, who is backed by former President Donald Trump and long resided in a New Jersey mansion he still owns, acquired the Pennsylvania farmstead—one of his many properties around the globe—weeks after he launched his Senate campaign. He used the address of a Pennsylvania house owned by his in-laws to switch his voter registration in 2020, when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced his impending retirement.

Oz "wears suits and shoes that cost more than some people make in a year," Calvello said Friday, "and yet he does not believe workers deserve dignity in their paycheck."

By contrast, Fetterman is an unequivocal supporter of congressional legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Fetterman is currently leading Oz in the polls by one percentage point, down from 10.2 percentage points last month. The outcome of this pivotal battleground state race will help determine which party controls the Senate.

Study reveals how Republican policies are killing Americans

The Republican Party's regressive policies are not just unpopular, but a new study out Wednesday suggests they are also deadly to those who live under them.

Working-age mortality rates have been rising for decades across the United States, but premature deaths are more pronounced in states where "conservative" policies predominate and less common in states that have adopted more "liberal" policies, according to peer-reviewed research published in PLOS ONE.

Policies that "expand state power for economic regulation and redistribution, protect the rights of marginalized groups, or restrict state power to punish deviant behavior" were defined by the study's authors as "liberal," while those with opposite aims were deemed "conservative."

For eight policy domains—criminal justice, marijuana, environment, gun safety, health and welfare, private labor, economic taxes, and tobacco taxes—the authors scored state-level measures enacted from 1999 to 2019 on a 0-to-1 continuum, with zero representing the maximum conservative score and one the maximum liberal score.

Using annual data from the National Vital Statistics System, the authors calculated state-level age-adjusted mortality rates during the same time period for deaths from all causes and from cardiovascular disease (CVD), alcohol-induced causes, suicide, and drug poisoning among adults aged 25 to 64.

When they merged the data on working-age mortality with data on state policy contexts, the authors found that liberal policies were associated with fewer early deaths among 25- to 64-year-olds between 1999 and 2019.

"Changing all policy domains in all states to a fully liberal orientation might have saved 171,030 lives in 2019," the researchers estimate, "while changing them to a fully conservative orientation might have cost 217,635 lives."

Study co-author Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told USA Today: "As an academic who does scientific research, I studiously avoided talking about politics in my professional work... But the data are pointing us to that as a determinant of health."

Even after controlling for state-specific environmental conditions and demographic characteristics, the authors found that states that invested more in public education and economic security had lower working-age mortality rates than states that gutted workers' rights, environmental regulations, and access to healthcare, including abortion.

"If a state policymaker were to say to me, 'it's unfair to criticize my state because I have a low-educated, low-income population,' I would ask them, 'why do you have a low-educated, low-income population?'" lead study author Jennifer Karas Montez, a professor of sociology at Syracuse University, told USA Today. "It's because of your policy environment."

Demonstrating how state policy contexts influence individual behaviors associated with premature deaths, researchers observed "especially strong associations... between certain domains and specific causes of death: between the gun safety domain and suicide mortality among men, between the labor domain and alcohol-induced mortality, and between both the economic tax and tobacco tax domains and CVD mortality."

Darrell Gaskin, a health economist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that some people "like to think about (working-age mortality) as failures of individuals, that they eat too much or use drugs, but that's all in context."

"If we don't have the proper regulations in place to protect people, then what happens is that they could be exploited," said Gaskin. "We always get the promise from conservative states that we're going to cut your taxes and regulation and make the environment better for business, and it comes with a cost."

With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, experts say it's important for working-age Americans to know whether they are voting for officials who support right-wing policies that increase the risk of early death or those who favor humane interventions that can help people lead longer and healthier lives.

As Woolf put it, the conservative policies associated with higher working-age mortality revolve around "helping the private sector to thrive in hopes that the economic gains would trickle down to those who need more assistance," while the liberal policies associated with lower working-age mortality focus on improving economic fairness and social and environmental well-being.

With their efforts to impose anti-union "right-to-work" laws, ban abortions, and curtail Medicaid, and their insistence on ignoring gun violence and the life-threatening climate crisis, Republicans have firmly established themselves in the camp that is actively increasing premature deaths among the nation's working-age population.

Although there is a wide range of positions among Democrats that stretch from more progressive to less so, lawmakers in the party are overall much more likely than their GOP counterparts to support life-affirming public goods and services of the sort detailed in the study.

The analysis precedes the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed Americans at a significantly higher rate than people in other wealthy countries.

While the nation's deadly for-profit healthcare model, lack of paid sick leave, and other federal policies associated with 40 years of bipartisan neoliberalism have received much blame from progressives, studies show that state-level Republicans' lackadaisical public health measures and the GOP's anti-vaccination propaganda have also exacerbated suffering during the pandemic.

IAEA chief calls for immediate 'protection zone' around shelled Ukrainian nuclear power plant

External power has been restored to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after operators were forced to rely on diesel generators for the second time in five days amid sustained shelling, but that only underscores the urgent need to establish a "protection zone" around the Russian-occupied facility in southeastern Ukraine, the head of the United Nation's atomic watchdog said Wednesday.

A pair of independent monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who have been stationed at Europe's largest nuclear plant since the conclusion of an inspection last month informed IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi around 8:30 am ET that the Zaporizhzhia facility had been reconnected to the grid several hours after a missile damaged an electrical substation more than 100 miles north of the site and caused it to go offline.

Calling the situation "precarious," Grossi tweeted: "We need a protection zone as soon as possible."

Hours earlier, before external power had been restored, the IAEA chief said that the "repeated loss of ZNPP's off-site power is a deeply worrying development, and it underlines the urgent need for a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the site."

Although all six nuclear reactors at the Zaporizhzhia plant have been shut down as of last month, a constant supply of electricity is still required to maintain critical safety systems and prevent a calamitous meltdown of the sort that unfolded 36 years ago at Chernobyl, roughly 400 miles away.

Diesel supplies at the Zaporizhzhia facility are limited, Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear operator Energoatom, said Saturday after the site's outside power was cut off due to shelling. The backup generators have an estimated 10 days worth of diesel, so "we are working on logistics to supply more fuel," he said at the time.

External power was restored Sunday before being severed again overnight. Energoatom blamed the latest blackout on Russian strikes, The Associated Press reported.

If the emergency generators run out of fuel, Kotin warned Saturday, "they will stop, and after that there will be a disaster. There will be a melting of the active core and a release of radioactivity from there."

According to AP, Energoatom on Wednesday accused Russian troops of blocking "a convoy carrying additional fuel for the backup equipment."

The latest developments come after Grossi on Tuesday met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg as part of the IAEA's efforts to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Grossi also sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week in Kyiv.

"The situation in the region around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and elsewhere has become increasingly dangerous, precarious, and challenging, with frequent military attacks that can also threaten nuclear safety and security," Grossi said in a statement Tuesday. "Now more than ever, during these extremely difficult times, a protection zone must be established around the ZNPP."

"We can't afford to lose any more time," he added. "The stakes are high. We must do everything in our power to help ensure that a nuclear accident does not happen during this tragic conflict, as it could cause even more hardship and suffering in Ukraine and beyond."

The IAEA chief similarly warned at the end of his team's fact-finding mission last month that "we are playing with fire."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently endorsed the recommendations outlined in the IAEA's latest report on the "seven indispensable pillars for ensuring nuclear safety and security in Ukraine," reiterating his call for Russian and Ukrainian forces to immediately halt fighting near the Zaporizhzhia facility and for both countries to agree to a demilitarized perimeter around the site.

Each nation has accused the other of being responsible for shelling at the site in recent weeks. Experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the mounting risk of a far-reaching disaster, pointing out that the Zaporizhzhia plant contains more radioactive waste than was present at Chernobyl when it exploded.

Radioactive contamination from that 1986 nuclear accident in what is now Ukraine left an area of more than 1,000 square miles uninhabitable and led to the illnesses and deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

"Any damage, whether intentional or not, to Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia—or to any other nuclear facility in Ukraine—could spell catastrophe, not only for the immediate vicinity, but for the region and beyond," Guterres said last month. "All steps must be taken to avoid such a scenario."

Just two weeks after the U.N. chief's remarks, a missile hit within 1,000 feet of another Ukrainian nuclear plant held by Russia, raising fears that the ongoing war could spark an immense environmental and public health calamity.

Zaporizhzhia is one of four Ukrainian regions that Putin recently annexed in violation of international law.

"While the nuclear plant has been under Russian control for months, the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control," AP reported over the weekend. "Putin signed a decree [last week] declaring that Russia was taking over the plant. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called it a criminal act and said it considered Putin's decree 'null and void.' Ukraine's state nuclear operator, Energoatom, said it would continue to operate the plant."

Paul Dorfman, a nuclear expert at the University of Sussex, told the newspaper on Wednesday that "what we've got here is the weaponization of civil nuclear, perhaps for the first time."

"In an increasingly unstable world," said the long-time critic of nuclear power, "it's important to understand this and what this implies for nuclear worldwide."

World Meteorological Organization: Clean energy must double by 2030 to stave off catastrophe

The worldwide supply of electricity from clean energy sources must be doubled by the end of the decade to limit global temperature rise—or else there is an increased risk that worsening extreme weather disasters turbocharged by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis will further diminish energy security and even imperil renewable power generation.

That's according to the annual World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of Climate Services report, published Tuesday, which includes input from 26 partners and focuses on energy this year because it "holds the key" to international agreements on sustainable development and climate action, with urgent and far-reaching changes needed to improve public and planetary health.

"The energy sector is the source of around three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. "Switching to clean forms of energy generation, such as solar, wind, and hydropower—and improving energy efficiency—is vital if we are to thrive in the 21st century."

"Net-zero by 2050 is the aim," said Taalas. "But we will only get there if we double the supply of low-emissions electricity within the next eight years."

According to climate justice advocates, the pursuit of "net-zero" is inadequate because it is "premised on the notion of canceling out emissions in the atmosphere rather than eliminating their causes."

As long as corporations and governments are allowed to proceed with the status quo in some places while they fund projects that purportedly curb pollution in other places, critics say, there is no evidence that overall emissions will be sufficiently reduced, meaning that the WMO likely understates the extent to which clean energy production must be scaled up by 2030.

Taalas, for his part, stressed that "time is not on our side, and our climate is changing before our eyes. We need a complete transformation of the global energy system."

Francesco La Camera, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), echoed Taalas' message, saying that "now is the time to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy future."

"Anything short of radical and immediate action will ultimately eliminate the chance of staying on the 1.5°C path," said La Camera. "The intertwined energy and climate crises have dramatically exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of an economic system heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Advancing the transition to renewables is a strategic choice to bring affordable energy, jobs, economic growth, and a resilient environment to the people and communities on the ground."

Research published last year found that eradicating greenhouse gas pollution within the next three decades would save tens of millions of lives worldwide. In addition, a 2018 report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimated that "bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual."

Despite the immense benefits associated with decarbonization, investment in renewables is woefully inadequate across the globe. Moreover, the amount of international public finance flowing to clean energy production in developing countries is actually declining, from a peak of $24.7 billion in 2017 to $14.2 billion in 2018 to $10.9 billion in 2019.

Even existing pledges "fall well short of what is needed to meet the objectives set by the Paris agreement—limiting global warming to well below 2°C—leaving a 70% gap in the amount of emissions reductions needed by 2030," says the report. "The 3.7 TW from renewables in 2030 pledged in the 56% of [nationally determined contributions] with quantified renewable power targets, if implemented, represent less than half of what is needed to keep the 2°C goal alive."

"The radical transformation of the global energy system requires a significant increase in annual investment in energy from just over $2 trillion globally to almost $5 trillion by 2030," the report notes. "Current levels of investment in renewable energy need to at least triple to put the world on a net-zero trajectory by 2050."

As the report points out, Africa—which is "already facing severe effects from climate change, including massive droughts, despite bearing the least responsibility for the problem"—has a "huge opportunity to close the gap" in global renewable energy supply.

According to the WMO, "Africa is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally, yet with only 1% of installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity."

"Bringing access to modern energy for all Africans calls for investment of $25 billion per year, which is around 1% of global energy investment today," the agency adds.

In addition to reducing deadly greenhouse gas pollution, pursuing an ambitious clean energy transition would alleviate the mounting pressure on global water supplies.

As the report explains:

In 2020, 87% of global electricity generated from thermal, nuclear, and hydroelectric systems directly depended on water availability. Meanwhile, 33% of the thermal power plants that rely on freshwater availability for cooling are already located in high water stress areas. This is also the case for 15% of existing nuclear power plants, a share expected to increase to 25% in the next 20 years. Eleven percent of hydroelectric capacity is also located in highly water-stressed areas. And approximately 26% of existing hydropower dams and 23% of projected dams are within river basins that currently have a medium to very high risk of water scarcity.

By contrast, the amount of water used to generate electricity from solar and wind is much lower.

One of the key findings of the report is that increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather—from droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves to floods to devastating winter storms exacerbated by the rapidly warming Arctic—is already jeopardizing the production and distribution of energy around the world, at a time when global demand is growing and projected to keep climbing.

Not only does this underscore how imperative it is to slash planet-wrecking emissions by ramping up the supply of renewables at a much faster pace, says the report, but it also demonstrates the need to invest more in improved durability, including early warning systems and other tools that increase the capacity to of green-powered grids to withstand and recover from stress.

According to the report, only 40% of climate action plans submitted to the United Nations "prioritize adaptation in the energy sector," and as a result, "climate adaptation-focused investments in the energy sector remain very low, at just over $300 million, tracked per year in 2019-2020."

"The transition to clean energy calls for investment in improved weather, water, and climate services that can be used to ensure our energy infrastructure is resilient to climate-related shocks and inform measures to increase energy efficiency across multiple sectors," states the report, which includes case studies detailing how localized efforts are enhancing decision-making.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said that "we urgently need to respond to the growing impact of climate change on energy systems if we are to maintain energy security while accelerating the transition to net-zero."

"This requires long-term planning and bold policy action to spur investment, which in turn needs to be underpinned by comprehensive and reliable weather and climate data," said Birol.

Acquittal of activists who saved dying piglets from Smithfield Foods sets 'right to rescue' precedent

Opponents of factory farms and animal cruelty celebrated Saturday night when jurors acquitted two activists who were each facing up to five-and-a-half years in prison on felony burglary and theft charges stemming from the 2017 removal of a pair of sick piglets from a Smithfield Foods factory farm in Utah.

The not-guilty verdict—a landmark decision establishing the legal "right to rescue" distressed animals in need of care—is "the culmination of a more than five-year pursuit that multiple agencies, including the FBI and the Utah attorney general's office," The Intercept's Marina Bolotnikova reported.

As Bolotnikova noted, the case "began after the activists published undercover footage revealing gruesome conditions at Smithfield, the nation's largest pork producer," in violation of Utah's 2012 ag-gag law criminalizing the collection of evidence of animal abuse and other illegal activities on factory farms.

Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer, members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rescued two dangerously underweight piglets, whom they named Lily and Lizzie, from Circle Four Farms in Beaver County in March 2017. The men took the piglets to receive emergency veterinary care and then transported them to an animal sanctuary in Colorado.

Cheers erupted in the courtroom on Saturday when Judge Jeffrey Wilcox announced the jury's unanimous decision to acquit both defendants following more than seven hours of deliberation. The trial had to be moved from Beaver County to neighboring Washington County after activists endured threats of violence and intimidation from local authorities, prompting a civil rights lawsuit.

"They just let a guy who walked into a factory farm and took two piglets out without the consent of Smithfield walk out of the courtroom free," Hsiung, who co-founded DxE in 2013, told reporters outside the courthouse in St. George, Utah. "If it can happen in southern Utah, it can happen anywhere."

During his closing remarks to jurors, Hsiung, a former Northwestern Law visiting professor who represented himself at trial, said: "I don't actually want you to acquit us on a legal technicality. I want you to acquit us as a matter of conscience. There's a big difference between stealing and rescue."

If you help establish the "right to rescue," Hsiung told the jury, "companies will be a little more compassionate to creatures under their stewardship. Governments will be a little more open to animal cruelty complaints. And maybe just maybe, a baby pig like Lily won't have to starve to death on the floor of a factory farm."

"We all have a duty to be kind," said Hsiung. "And your decision today, if you make a good one, will make the world a little bit of a kinder place, even for a baby pig of a factory farm."

As DxE pointed out in a statement:

A most unlikely character witness, Rick Pitman, testified in support of the defendants Friday. Pitman is the owner of Norbest, a turkey farming company in Utah, which Hsiung and Picklesimer previously investigated and were charged for, before striking up a friendship and annual Thanksgiving turkey rescue tradition.
During cross-examination, Assistant Utah Attorney General Janise Macanas asked Pitman if Hsiung's actions had caused him financial harm. Pitman replied, 'There's a difference between stealing a turkey and rescuing a turkey who is suffering.'

The case had been criticized by legal scholars as unconstitutional and politically motivated, given Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' possible financial ties to Smithfield.

"State and federal authorities have consistently shielded factory farms from transparency and accountability," said Matthew Strugar, an attorney who has been involved in every successful effort to overturn "ag-gag" statutes in the United States. "In nearly two decades of legal work, this case is one of the most egregious I've seen, in terms of denying defendants' constitutional right to a rigorous defense."

Although Hsiung and Picklesimer "documented dead and dying piglets in piles of feces and blood and claim the two piglets they removed were injured, sick, and starving," DxE noted, Wilcox ruled in February that "video of the rescue—and any evidence of the condition of the animals—is barred because it might arouse 'horror' in the jury."

As Bolotnikova explained Saturday, citing previous reporting by The Intercept, the FBI in August 2017 "chased the piglets across state lines and raided the sanctuary where they were living, bringing with them veterinarians who sliced off a piece of Lizzie's ear to perform a DNA test and confirm that she was the property of Smithfield Foods. (The animals were not removed from the sanctuary, and still live there to this day.)"

"Prosecutors alleged that the baby pigs, who were barely a week old when the activists removed them, were worth $42.20 each, or $84.40 in total, to Smithfield," Bolotnikova reported. "The U.S.-based pork producer is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based pork company WH Group, which reported $24 billion of revenue in 2019."

Hadar Aviram, a professor at UC Hastings Law who testified in favor of the activists, told The Intercept that "Smithfield has an enormous amount of financial interests that are wrapped up in this."

"They have an enormous amount to lose if this trial becomes public, and they cannot afford, or maybe they think they cannot afford, to give an inch to these people," said Aviram.

The pig rescue occurred during a DxE investigation to uncover whether Smithfield had followed through on its pledge to stop using two-foot by seven-foot gestation crates that make it impossible for pregnant pigs to turn around.

Hsiung, Picklesimer, and three others who pleaded out of the case discovered rows of pregnant pigs confined to such cages despite the company's promise to swear off of them. Evidence from the probe has been used in a lawsuit against Smithfield for misleading consumers, and it sparked nationwide protests against Costco, one of Smithfield's major buyers.

The animal rights activists also found "a facility packed with farrowing crates—similar to gestation crates, but with just enough additional room to fit nursing piglets—where female pigs are moved when they're ready to give birth," The Intercept noted. "The group found dead and rotting piglets inside the facility, as well as visibly ill and injured ones like Lily and Lizzie."

"A key part of the defense's case was that the piglets were on the verge of death when Hsiung and Picklesimer took them, and Smithfield routinely throws sick or dead animals away," the news outlet noted. "Had the animals remained in the company's possession, the defense argued, they would have been worthless."

By setting a "right to rescue" precedent, the activists' major victory against a multi-billion dollar industry could have far-reaching implications.

"This is huge. On many levels," Bolotnikova tweeted. "And it shows a hell of a lot about how out-of-touch red-state prosecutors and politicians are from the people they represent."

The U.S. Supreme Court, she added, will soon hear arguments over California's ban on gestation crates, which "were on trial in this case even though the judge didn't want them to be."

Freelance photographer says he was fired by NYT over support for Palestinian resistance

Hosam Salem, a Palestinian freelance journalist and photographer, said Wednesday that The New York Times terminated his contract over social media posts in which he "expressed support for the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation."

"After years of covering the Gaza Strip as a freelance photojournalist for The New York Times, I was informed via an abrupt phone call from the U.S. outlet that they will no longer work with me in the future," Salem wrote on Twitter. "I began working with the newspaper in 2018, covering critical events in Gaza such as the weekly protests at the border fence with Israel, the investigation into the Israeli killing of field nurse Razan al-Najjar, and more recently, the May 2021 Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip."

Salem explained that he was eventually informed that "the decision was made based on a report prepared by a Dutch editor—who obtained Israeli citizenship two years ago—for a website called Honest Reporting."

According to Salem:

The article, [on] which The New York Times had based its decision for dismissing me, gives examples of posts I wrote on my social media accounts, namely Facebook, where I had expressed support for the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

My aforementioned posts also spoke of the resilience of my people and those who were killed by the Israeli army—my cousin included—which Honest Reporting described as "Palestinian terrorists."

The editor later wrote an article stating that he had succeeded in sacking three Palestinian journalists working for The New York Times in the Gaza Strip, on the basis of us being "anti-Semitic."

"Not only has Honest Reporting succeeded in terminating my contract with The New York Times," said Salem. "It has also actively discouraged other international news agencies from collaborating with me and my two colleagues."

"What is taking place," he added, "is a systematic effort to distort the image of Palestinian journalists as being incapable of trustworthiness and integrity, simply because we cover the human rights violations that the Palestinian people undergo on a daily basis at hands of the Israeli army."

As Philip Weiss noted Wednesday in Mondoweiss, Salem's case "stands in stark contrast to the three Jewish reporters, Ethan Bronner, Isabel Kershner, and David Brooks, who carried on writing about the issue for The New York Times even when their children were enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces."

"The Times executive editor in 2010 overruled the public editor's recommendation that Bronner be removed from the post of Jerusalem bureau chief," Weiss pointed out, "saying that those who questioned his bias should not 'be allowed to deny the rest of our audience the highest quality of reporting.'"

"This is an important case because it shows the impossibility of even representing the Palestinian voice in the Western media," Weiss continued. "There is widespread support for armed resistance to Israeli occupation among Palestinians. Sorting out journalists who have not expressed such views at some time is something like looking for Palestinian reporters who support Zionism."

News of Salem's termination comes just days after progressive commentator Katie Halper was dismissed by The Hill for defending U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-Mich.) characterization of Israel as an apartheid regime—a label that numerous human rights organizations have used to describe the government's violent oppression of Palestinians.

The Supreme Court appears ready to obliterate what remains of the Voting Rights Act

"If the court sides with Alabama," wrote a pair of plaintiffs in Merrill v. Milligan, "political opportunities for people of color will disappear."

With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments Tuesday in Merrill v. Milligan, a pivotal case about map-rigging in Alabama, plaintiffs and other advocates are warning that the court's far-right justices are poised to effectively legalize racial gerrymandering and dismantle what remains of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

"If the court's right-wing supermajority has its way, Merrill v. Milligan will open the floodgates for racial gerrymandering across the country and diminish the political power of voters of color," Stand Up America deputy political director Reggie Thedford said Monday in a statement.

Although Black voters comprise nearly one-third of Alabama's population, the congressional map approved last November by the state's GOP-controlled Legislature contains just one majority-Black district out of seven total districts—the illegal result, civil rights advocates argued successfully in a lawsuit filed in federal district court, of "packing" most Black voters into a single district and "cracking" others across multiple districts. To date, no Black candidate in Alabama has ever won in a majority-white congressional district.

A trio of federal judges—including two appointed by former President Donald Trump—unanimously sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that Alabama's recently adopted congressional map unconstitutionally denies equal representation and likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by diminishing Black voters' ability to elect candidates of their choice.

As two of the plaintiffs—Evan Milligan and Khadidah Stone—wrote Monday in Slate:

After reviewing our arguments, the three judges agreed that Alabama's map discriminates by giving white voters—who are 63% of the population—total control over 86% of Alabama's congressional seats. The judges ordered Alabama to adopt a new map that respects the state's redistricting goals and contains two 'opportunity districts' where Black voters' preferred candidates have a fair chance to compete for votes.

Many potential maps were shown to state officials to address this. But Alabama simply ignored them, instead appealing our win to the Supreme Court of the United States. SCOTUS then stayed the lower court's decision without full briefing or argument, and without addressing the district court's powerful finding of discrimination. This decision—which underscores the problematic nature of making such momentous decisions on the court's 'shadow docket'—means that these midterm elections will continue to be tainted by a discriminatory map that dilutes Black voting power.

As the deeply unpopular high court takes up Merrill v. Milligan, the plaintiffs outlined "how Alabama plans to pursue victory in a case it could not win at home."

"First, Alabama claims that the VRA is unconstitutional as applied to congressional districts," wrote Milligan and Stone. "Second, Alabama is arguing that any use of race in redistricting is per se unconstitutional."

"Alabama is calling our plans discriminatory merely because our experts set out to show it is possible to draw two majority-Black districts," the pair continued. "The problem is that the Constitution does allow, and sometimes requires, legislatures to intentionally draw districts that recognize or protect communities of color."

Milligan and Stone warned that "a ruling that forces state and local governments to disregard race in map-drawing would have devastating effects on electoral representation."

In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that maps drawn by North Carolina Republicans in 2011 misused racial data and amounted to unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in two congressional districts. Just two years later, however, right-wing justices condoned partisan gerrymandering, contending that the practice is beyond the high court's purview.

Given that Black voters overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates, it can be difficult to disentangle racial gerrymandering from partisan gerrymandering, which is why progressives have long argued that the Supreme Court's refusal to outlaw the latter could effectively legalize the former.

That long-standing fear is relevant to the case now before the Supreme Court.

"If the court sides with Alabama," warned Milligan and Stone, "states would be free to ignore and divide communities of color and could even eliminate many existing minority opportunity districts so long as a state could conjure up a purportedly nonracial excuse for its actions."

"If this happens," they added, "political opportunities for people of color will disappear."

While the VRA has facilitated the participation of voters and elected officials of color nationwide, Chief Justice John Roberts' court has spent the past decade gutting the landmark civil rights law, beginning with anti-discrimination protections in 2013.

During Monday's hearing, liberal Justice Elena Kagan summarized the high court's recent assaults on the VRA. If the court's right-wing majority uses the Alabama case as an occasion to dismantle Section 2 provisions against the dilution of minority voters' electoral power, she asked, "what's left" of the law?

"We need representatives who are sensitive to the needs of Black communities, who can have a positive material impact by gaining equal investment, equal funding, and equal resources for Black communities in Alabama and those most adjacent to them," Milligan said last week in a statement.

"We're concerned that without protections from Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act," he added, "redistricting will be weaponized to strip Black communities of fair representation, and thus deny them equal access to resources and an equal voice in government."

Since Trump's loss in the 2020 presidential contest, GOP-controlled states have intensified their efforts to enact voter suppression laws and redraw congressional and state legislative maps in ways that disenfranchise Democratic-leaning communities of color and give Republicans outsized representation, which could help them cement minority rule for at least a decade.

Lindsay Langholz, director of policy and program at the American Constitution Society, said last week that "due in part to this court's open hostility to voting rights, we find ourselves in the midst of democracy's moment of truth."

"Will we continue to slide toward autocracy or forge a truly multiracial democracy?" she asked. "The decision in Merrill v. Milligan will help determine that future, with the potential to either foster or frustrate meaningful political representation for communities of color in this country."

Merrill v. Milligan is not the only case concerning the future of U.S. democracy that the high court has agreed to hear this term.

Also on the docket is Moore v. Harper, which threatens to give state legislatures—many of them highly unrepresentative due to rampant gerrymandering—virtually unchecked power to oversee and potentially skew federal elections.

"If both these cases go badly, it's not that America will stop having elections," Vox legal reporter Ian Millhiser wrote last week. "But the power to decide how elections are conducted—which ballots are counted, where district lines are drawn, and potentially even who is certified as the winner of an election—could rest with increasingly partisan officials, including the justices themselves."

That the nation's chief judicial body has agreed to hear such appeals at all, said Thedford, "is further proof that it has been hijacked by out-of-control political appointees with an undemocratic agenda."

"If Congress fails to stop them," he added, "they will continue to erode our democracy and our fundamental freedoms until we no longer recognize the country we live in."

Senate Republicans unanimously filibuster bill to get dark money out of politics

Proponents of democracy responded with disgust Thursday after Senate Republicans filibustered the popular DISCLOSE Act, which seeks to expose the super-wealthy donors who are spending unlimited amounts of undisclosed money to ensure that the U.S. government advances their interests at the expense of the vast majority.

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), author of the defeated legislation, said in a Wednesday floor speech, the bill's goal is to prevent corporations and billionaires from using dark money loopholes to "spew bile and slime" into the nation's political system.

After all 49 of his GOP colleagues in attendance voted to prevent debate on the legislation endorsed by President Joe Biden, Whitehouse released a statement slamming right-wing lawmakers for fighting to preserve "dark money's poisonous influence over American democracy."

"Today, Senate Republicans stood in lockstep with their megadonors and secretive special interests to protect the most corrupting force in American politics—dark money," said Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The American people are fed up with dark money influence campaigns that rig their government against them and stymie their priorities."

Whitehouse was far from alone in condemning the GOP.

"Once again, Senate Republicans sided with special interests and dark money—and against honest and transparent political debate," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tweeted. "Instead of voting for the DISCLOSE Act and cracking down on the dark money in our democracy, Republicans blocked it. Shameful."

Michael Sozan, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement that "at a time when the guardrails of our democracy are undergoing a severe stress test, it's lamentable that the Senate minority continues to give corporations, wealthy special interests, and foreign entities the ability to secretly spend vast amounts of money to influence election outcomes."

Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center, added that the failure "to advance, or even allow debate on, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act... disappoints those of us who have been fighting against the influence of secret spending."

"More importantly," he continued, "it deprives voters of important information about who is attempting to influence their vote and allows corruption to prevail by permitting special interests to continue anonymously rigging the system in their favor."

"It is past time for Congress to enact legislation that bolsters transparency requirements and fulfills voters' right to know who is spending on election influence—a right that has repeatedly been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, even as the court has struck down other campaign finance and election-related laws," said Potter.

The ability of the nation's wealthiest individuals to translate their disproportionate economic power into political clout has increased exponentially since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision eliminated effective limits on campaign contributions.

As Whitehouse's office noted, "Dark money in particular has skyrocketed despite the Supreme Court, by an 8 to 1 margin in Citizens United, upholding disclosure requirements as a means for citizens and shareholders to hold elected officials and corporate spenders accountable."

According to the Rhode Island Democrat, "Dark money political spending went from under $5 million in 2006 to more than $1 billion in 2020. Billionaire political spending increased by a factor of 70, from $17 million for the 2008 election to $1.2 billion for 2020."

Among other things, the DISCLOSE Act would require "organizations spending money in elections—including super PACs and 501(c)(4) dark money groups—to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle," his office explained. "In addition to election disclosure requirements, the bill requires groups that spend money on ads supporting or opposing judicial nominees to disclose their donors."

"The DISCLOSE Act would shine a light on special interest spending to neutralize its toxic effect, giving Americans' voices a chance to be heard," said Whitehouse. "Republicans heeded the wishes of dark money donors today, but the fight to pass this bill isn't over."

Given the GOP's unified opposition to the legislation, passing it requires that Senate Democrats abolish the upper chamber's 60-vote filibuster rule—a move corporate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have refused to support.

"Holding a vote on the DISCLOSE Act without pushing to end the filibuster highlights the fundamental flaw with Democrats in Washington: Their rhetoric and warnings about dark money have always been spot-on, but they have failed to take the actions necessary to actually stop the flow of secret cash distorting and corrupting American politics," The Lever reported earlier this week. "Meanwhile, the party has become increasingly reliant on these same dark pools of cash to help elect more Democratic lawmakers."

'A simple yes or no': Fetterman demands Oz share position on GOP’s proposed federal abortion ban

Moments after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the campaign of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman—the Democratic nominee for the key battleground state's open U.S. Senate seat—challenged Dr. Mehmet Oz, his GOP opponent, to clarify where he stands on reproductive freedom.

"Would you vote for Sen. Graham's bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks?" Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello asked Oz, a super-wealthy, right-wing celebrity television doctor backed by former President Donald Trump. "It's a simple yes or no question."

"'It should be left to the states' is not a real answer," Calvello added, preemptively shutting down what has become Republicans' typical response on the campaign trail since the U.S. Supreme Court's reactionary majority eliminated the constitutional right to abortion earlier this summer. GOP candidates' standard retort looks increasingly deceptive now that Graham has once again proposed a federal abortion ban.

"The people of Pennsylvania deserve to know how Oz would vote on this bill if he were in the U.S. Senate," said Calvello. "They deserve to know where he stands when it comes to an issue as fundamental as reproductive rights."

"John Fetterman's position on this issue is crystal clear," he continued. "John believes abortion is a decision that should only be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Washington. In the Senate, he will proudly cast the 51st vote to scrap the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade into law."

Oz did issue a statement after Graham unveiled his proposal to outlaw abortion throughout the U.S. after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But he refused to take a position on the bill, saying that he would "want to make sure that the federal government is not involved in interfering with the state's decisions on the topic."

In response, Fetterman said that "a federal abortion ban would sure seem to interfere with a state's decision on the topic of abortion."

"When you're a senator, you actually have to take positions," said Fetterman. "You have to take votes—sometimes hard votes."

"This isn't some TV show," he continued. "This matters. These are people's lives."

"Dr. Oz and his team need to stop the spin and stop the bullshit," Fetterman added. "This is a bill that he would actually have to vote on. Oz needs to tell us—yes or no, would you support this bill?"

Fetterman offered to "help him out and go first: I'm a HELL NO."

In a statement, Indivisible's national political director Dani Negrete said that "we would like to thank Sen. Graham for making it crystal clear to voters today that Republicans are running on a national abortion ban in these midterms."

"It's telling that even as MAGA candidates in competitive races like Blake Masters and Mehmet Oz are trying to hide their extreme positions on abortion, Republicans in Congress are already moving ahead with legislation that would restrict freedoms in all fifty states and cost untold lives," said Negrete.

"If Republicans gain control of Congress in November," Negrete added, "we can expect to see them fight harder for even more extreme restrictions on this essential freedom."

Fetterman was not the only Democratic Senate hopeful to sound the alarm about the GOP's crusade for a national abortion ban, which researchers have estimated would lead to a 24% increase in maternal mortality in the U.S.—already a much more dangerous place to be pregnant compared with other high-income countries.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who is narrowly leading the polls in Ohio's pivotal U.S. Senate race, quickly shared a campaign ad showcasing his far-right opponent J.D. Vance's support for completely ending access to abortion care.

"Vance would all too happily vote to jam [Graham's bill] through and codify the biggest act of governmental overreach in our lifetime," Ryan tweeted. "We can't let him get there."

On Monday night, when it became clear that Graham planned to soon unveil his abortion ban legislation, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes—the Democratic nominee in the crucial swing state's U.S. Senate race—warned, "This is what will happen if we don't expand our Democratic majority in the Senate, abolish the filibuster, and codify Roe."

"Everything is on the line this November," he added.

In a Tuesday statement, Barnes pointed out that his opponent, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), has a long history of supporting the GOP's assault on reproductive freedom, including:

  • fighting to uphold Mississippi's law banning abortion after 15 weeks;
  • calling the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade "the correct decision" and "a victory";
  • saying that if people don't like the abortion laws in their state they "can move"; and
  • co-sponsoring every version of Graham's abortion ban for the last ten years.

"Ron Johnson's willingness to compromise women's freedoms and put their lives at risk is disqualifying," said Barnes. "Once again, he's proving how out of touch he is with our lives and our values."

Like Ryan, Barnes and Fetterman are currently out-polling their respective Republican opponents but by wider margins.

The three candidates are widely viewed as the Democrats with the best chances to flip seats in the Senate. Such an outcome could help their party retain, and possibly expand, its razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.

"The stakes have never been higher," Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said Tuesday. "This election is critical. It's going to take all of us."

This piece has been updated to include a statement from Mandela Barnes as well as John Fetterman's response to the statement Mehmet Oz released regarding a 15-week federal abortion ban.

John Fetterman demands a 'simple yes or no' from Mehmet Oz on if he supports a national abortion ban

Moments after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the campaign of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman—the Democratic nominee for the key battleground state's open U.S. Senate seat—challenged Dr. Mehmet Oz, his GOP opponent, to clarify where he stands on reproductive freedom.

"Would you vote for Sen. Graham's bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks?" Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello asked Oz, a super-wealthy, right-wing celebrity television doctor backed by former President Donald Trump. "It's a simple yes or no question."

"'It should be left to the states' is not a real answer," Calvello added, preemptively shutting down what has become Republicans' typical response on the campaign trail since the U.S. Supreme Court's reactionary majority eliminated the constitutional right to abortion earlier this summer. GOP candidates' standard retort looks increasingly deceptive now that Graham has once again proposed a federal abortion ban.

"The people of Pennsylvania deserve to know how Oz would vote on this bill if he were in the U.S. Senate," said Calvello. "They deserve to know where he stands when it comes to an issue as fundamental as reproductive rights."

"John Fetterman's position on this issue is crystal clear," he continued. "John believes abortion is a decision that should only be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Washington. In the Senate, he will proudly cast the 51st vote to scrap the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade into law."

In a statement, Indivisible's national political director Dani Negrete said that "we would like to thank Sen. Graham for making it crystal clear to voters today that Republicans are running on a national abortion ban in these midterms."

"It's telling that even as MAGA candidates in competitive races like Blake Masters and Mehmet Oz are trying to hide their extreme positions on abortion, Republicans in Congress are already moving ahead with legislation that would restrict freedoms in all fifty states and cost untold lives," said Negrete.

"If Republicans gain control of Congress in November," Negrete added, "we can expect to see them fight harder for even more extreme restrictions on this essential freedom."

Fetterman was not the only Democratic Senate hopeful to sound the alarm about the GOP's crusade for a national abortion ban, which researchers have estimated would lead to a 24% increase in maternal mortality in the United States—already a much more dangerous place to be pregnant compared with other high-income countries.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who is narrowly leading the polls in Ohio's pivotal U.S. Senate race, quickly shared a campaign ad showcasing his far-right opponent J.D. Vance's support for completely ending access to abortion care.

"Vance would all too happily vote to jam [Graham's bill] through and codify the biggest act of governmental overreach in our lifetime," Ryan tweeted. "We can't let him get there."

On Monday night, when it became clear that Graham planned to soon unveil his abortion ban legislation, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes—the Democratic nominee in the crucial swing state's U.S. Senate race—warned, "This is what will happen if we don't expand our Democratic majority in the Senate, abolish the filibuster, and codify Roe."

"Everything is on the line this November," he added.

Like Ryan, Barnes and Fetterman are currently out-polling their respective Republican opponents but by wider margins.

The three candidates are widely viewed as the Democrats with the best chances to flip seats in the Senate. Such an outcome could help their party retain, and possibly expand, its razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.

"The stakes have never been higher," Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said Tuesday. "This election is critical. It's going to take all of us."

Nearly 50 million people are enslaved around the world: report

Nearly 50 million people were trapped in forced labor or forced marriage on any given day in 2021, according to a new report published Monday, the latest reminder that "the scourge of modern slavery has by no means been relegated to history."

The International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that the number of people around the globe living in slavery—defined as a situation of "exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power"—increased by 9.3 million from 2016 to 2021.

By the authors' estimate, nearly one out of every 150 individuals on Earth was enslaved last year. That includes 27.6 million in forced labor, up from 24.9 million five years ago, and 22 million in forced marriages, up from 15.4 million a half-decade ago.

"It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in a statement. "Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights."

As the report makes clear, "compounding crises—the Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, and climate change—in recent years have led to unprecedented disruption to employment and education, increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migration, and an upsurge in reports of gender-based violence."

This confluence of factors serves "to heighten the risk of all forms of modern slavery," says the report. "As is usually the case, it is those who are already in situations of greatest vulnerability—including the poor and socially excluded, workers in the informal economy, irregular or otherwise unprotected migrant workers, and people subject to discrimination—who are most affected."

Modern slavery "occurs in almost every country in the world, and cuts across ethnic, cultural, and religious lines," the ILO, Walk Free, and IOM noted. "More than half (52%) of all forced labor and a quarter of all forced marriages can be found in upper-middle-income or high-income countries."

The vast majority (86%) of forced labor happens in the private sector, while the remainder (14%) is imposed by state authorities. Commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 23% of private-sector forced labor, and almost four-fifths of those trafficking victims are women or girls. The remaining 63% of private-sector forced labor occurs in other industries.

Nearly one in eight of the roughly 28 million people subjected to forced labor last year were children (3.3 million). More than half of them were trapped in commercial sexual exploitation.

Although an estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriages in 2021, the "true incidence of forced marriage, particularly involving children aged 16 and younger, is likely far greater," according to the three groups that assembled the report. While every child marriage should be considered forced "because a child cannot legally give consent to marry," current estimates "are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages."

Compared with their non-migrant counterparts, migrant workers are over three times more likely to be pushed into forced labor. This injustice, the trio of organizations said, can be attributed to "irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices."

According to António Vitorino, director-general of the IOM, the new report "underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular."

"Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labor and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants—and potential migrants—at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status," said Vitorino. "The whole of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through implementation of the Global Compact on Migration."

Modern slavery, said Walk Free founding director Grace Forrest, "continues to underpin our global economy," but that doesn't have to be the case.

"It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality," said Forrest. "In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses."

Ryder, for his part, said that "we know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done."

To abolish modern slavery, the ILO, Walk Free, and IOM recommend that the following steps be taken jointly and immediately:

  • Improve and enforce laws and labor inspections;
  • End state-imposed forced labor;
  • Implement stronger measures to combat forced labor and trafficking in business and supply chains;
  • Extend social protection and strengthen legal protections, including by raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception;
  • Address the increased risk of trafficking and forced labor for migrant workers by promoting fair and ethical recruitment; and
  • Increase support for women, girls, and vulnerable individuals.

"Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental," said Ryder. "But governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a sound basis, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Trade unions, employers' organizations, civil society, and ordinary people all have critical roles to play."

Greenland's rapidly melting ice could raise sea levels one foot by 2050

The fossil fuel-driven climate emergency has already locked in so much ice melt in Greenland that sea levels will surge by nearly a foot in the coming decades, peer-reviewed research published Monday warns, underscoring the need to rapidly transform virtually all aspects of the global political economy.

Even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the Greenland ice sheet is set to lose at least 3.3% of its mass, or 110 trillion tons of ice, and that will cause almost a foot in global sea-level rise (SLR), says the study, published in Nature Climate Change. The authors don't specify a time frame for the melting and SLR, though they expect much of it to happen between now and 2100.

But rather than lead to despair, this projection of inevitable damage—made by scientists based at institutions in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States—should catalyze immediate and robust climate action, experts stress. Without it, the life-threatening situation confronting humanity is destined to grow far deadlier.

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that sea levels along the U.S. coastline would rise by an average of 10 to 12 inches by 2050, drastically increasing the threat of flooding in dozens of highly populated cities.

By mid-century, 150 million people worldwide could be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels, according to some estimates. The consequences of a one-foot SLR would be especially catastrophic for developing island nations, where low elevation and high poverty combine to increase vulnerability.

These countries, which have done little to cause the climate crisis now roasting the Greenland ice sheet, lack the financial resources for adaptation and face the prospect of being wiped off the map.

"Every study has bigger numbers than the last," William Colgan, a scientist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and co-author of the new paper, told The Washington Post. "It's always faster than forecast."

As lead author Jason Box, also from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told the newspaper, the finding that 3.3% of Greenland's ice sheet will be gone in a matter of decades regardless of what is done to halt planet-heating pollution represents "a minimum, a lower bound."

Things are all but guaranteed to get worse if humanity continues to burn fossil fuels. Should the record-breaking ice loss that occurred in 2012 become the norm, for example, the world is likely to see around two-and-a-half feet of SLR from Greenland alone, the study says.

By the same token, each fraction of a degree of warming that is avoided makes a difference.

If Greenland's ice sheet were to disintegrate completely, sea levels would rise more than 22 feet—"enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world's largest coastal cities" by the end of the century, scientists have warned, so the stakes for adequate climate action are still immense even if a certain amount of melting and SLR has been deemed irreversible.

Greenland is located in the Arctic, which has been heating up for over a century and is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. Dangerous feedback loops are of particular concern. The replacement of reflective sea ice with dark ocean water leads to greater absorption of solar energy, and the thawing of permafrost portends the release of additional carbon dioxide and methane—both leading to accelerated temperature rise that triggers further melting, defrosting, and destabilization.

In December, researchers estimated that the Arctic has been heating up four times faster than the rest of the globe over the past three decades. Another recent study found that 2021 was the 25th consecutive year in which Greenland's ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season than it gained during the winter. Rainfall is now projected to become more common in the Arctic than snowfall decades sooner than previously expected.

This context has a direct bearing on the new paper, which contains more dire predictions than other reports relying on different assumptions.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for instance, has projected that Greenland will lose roughly 1.8% of its mass and contribute up to half a foot of SLR by 2100 if humans continue spewing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"One reason that new research appears worse than other findings may just be that it is simpler," the Post explains. "It tries to calculate how much ice Greenland must lose as it recalibrates to a warmer climate."

"In the past, scientists have tried to determine what Greenland's ongoing melting means for the global sea level through complex computer simulations," the newspaper continues. "They model the ice itself, the ocean around it, and the future climate based on different trajectories of emissions." The result, in general, has been "less alarming predictions."

As the Post reports:

The new research 'obtains numbers that are high compared to other studies,' said Sophie Nowicki, an expert on Greenland at the University at Buffalo who contributed to the IPCC report. Nowicki observed, however, that one reason the number is so high is that the study considers only the last 20 years—which have seen strong warming—as the current climate to which the ice sheet is now adjusting. Taking a 40-year period would yield a lower result, Nowicki said.
Box, for his part, argues that the models upon which the IPCC report is based are 'like a facsimile of reality,' without enough detail to reflect how Greenland is really changing. Those computer models have sparked considerable controversy recently, with one research group charging they do not adequately track Greenland's current, high levels of ice loss.

For example, the processes causing ice loss from large glaciers in Greenland "often occur hundreds of meters below the sea surface in narrow fjords, where warm water can flick at the submerged ice in complex motions," the newspaper notes. "In some cases, these processes may simply be playing out at too small a scale for the models to capture."

Pennsylvania State University professor Richard Alley, an ice sheet expert who was not involved in the study, told the Post that "the problems are deeply challenging, will not be solved by wishful thinking, and have not yet been solved by business-as-usual."

One thing that's certain, Alley added, is that higher temperatures will lead to greater amounts of SLR.

"[The] rise can be a little less than usual projections, or a little more, or a lot more, but not a lot less," he said.

Corporate greed threatening to tank UN ocean treaty talks: Greenpeace

A fledgling international effort to protect the world's oceans from further damage is "on the brink of failure," and the governments of wealthy countries are primarily to blame, Greenpeace International warned Thursday.

Diplomats gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City are nearing the end of the fifth and final round of negotiations on a much-needed pact to protect biodiversity in the "high seas"—a global commons comprising the two-thirds of the ocean that lie outside the jurisdiction of any single country and where legally binding regulations are virtually nonexistent.

Conservationists have long hoped that the ongoing summit—described by some as the "last chance" to forge a robust global ocean treaty—would lead to the establishment of "Marine Protected Areas" and rules mandating environmental assessments prior to deep-sea mining and other industrial activities.

But a handful of mostly rich countries—including the United States, Canada, and members of the so-called High Ambition Coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction—have derailed progress made on the text by prioritizing "hypothetical future profits" that could be derived from extracting marine genetic resources over protecting aquatic species, according to Greenpeace.

"The oceans sustain all life on Earth, but the greed of a few countries means this round of talks for a U.N. ocean treaty are now set to fail," Laura Meller of Greenpeace's Protect the Oceans campaign said Thursday in a statement. "The High Ambition Coalition has utterly failed. They should be the No Ambition Coalition."

Members of the coalition have "obsessed over their hypothetical future profits, undermining all the other progress made at these talks," said Meller. "Unless ministers urgently pick up the phone today to their counterparts and hammer out a deal, this treaty process will fail."

The health of the world's oceans, which cover roughly 70% of the Earth and are indispensible to life on the planet, has been rapidly deteriorating as a result of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions, surging plastic pollution, and overexploitation.

The high ambition coalition pledged earlier this year to finalize a treaty in 2022 that would protect 30% of the world's oceans by 2030, but the proposed text is "lowering its ambition by the minute," said Greenpeace.

"Less than two months ago I was in Lisbon, at the U.N. Ocean Conference, listening to these leaders promise they would deliver a strong global ocean treaty this year," said Meller. "Now we are in New York and the leaders are nowhere to be found. They've broken their promises."

"We are sad and angry," Meller continued. "Billions of people rely on healthy oceans, and world leaders have failed all of them."

"It now looks like protecting 30% of the world's oceans [by 2030] will be impossible," she added. "Scientists say this is the absolute minimum necessary to protect the oceans, and failure at these talks will jeopardize the livelihoods and food security of billions. We're beyond disappointed."

Greenpeace also accused rich nations of taking "an unfair and neocolonial approach by refusing to commit any finance for the benefit of all countries."

The refusal of the U.S., Canada, and others to provide funding "will stop a treaty from being agreed here," the group added. "With talks set to fail, countries must now take urgent action, show flexibility, and find compromise to deliver a strong treaty text" by Friday.

'Deeply dangerous nonsense': Treasury Dept. debunks GOP lies about 87,000 armed IRS agents

An official from the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed Friday that, contrary to the unrelenting barrage of lies repeated by GOP operatives for over a week, the Internal Revenue Service is not going to hire 87,000 new agents to harass working people at their homes.

Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that was passed through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process last week and signed into law by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, choosing instead to condemn the package's relatively modest but popular tax reforms.

Despite analysts' predictions that the 98.2% of U.S. households with annual incomes of $400,000 or less will receive the same tax bill or a slight cut as a result of the IRA, far-right lawmakers have sown disinformation about how the law's provision of roughly $80 billion in new IRS funding over 10 years—money intended to help the agency crack down on rich tax cheats—poses a threat to every American.

Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) went so far as to claim that Democrats are "using the power of the federal government for armed robbery!" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has made similar allegations.

It's not just fringe members of the GOP who are spreading such falsehoods. One day before Boebert's tirade, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the highest-ranking Republican in the lower chamber, tweeted, "Democrats in Washington plan to hire an army of 87,000 IRS agents so they can audit more Americans like you."

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—currently a top contender, along with former President Donald Trump, to be the Republican Party's 2024 nominee for the White House—called hiring 87,000 IRS agents "a middle finger to the American public," making clear that he would prefer more "might at the border."

Where does this oft-repeated number of IRS agents come from?

"The 87,000 figure does exist, buried within a May 2021 Treasury Department report when the Biden administration was pushing a bigger spending bill with the same $80 billion IRS funding," Reuters noted Friday. "The report estimated the money could fund 86,852 full-time hires through 2031."

But the actual net increase in staff would be much lower, as the IRS expects more than 50,000 aging Baby Boomer employees to retire over the next half-decade.

In addition to an unspecified number of new revenue agents—there were 8,321 in fiscal year 2021—the agency is looking to hire tens of thousands of new information technology specialists and customer service personnel who can create a user experience more akin to online banking, Natasha Sarin, Treasury counselor for tax policy and administration, told Reuters.

There are 2,100 special agents in the IRS Criminal Investigation branch who are authorized to carry firearms, but right-wing assertions that all 87,000 new hires would be auditors, criminal enforcement agents, or armed are "deeply dangerous nonsense—and false," said Sarin.

"The speed and voracity with which [Republicans] are coming at this is really a testament to how important these resources are going to be—because there are many wealthy tax evaders that stand to lose a lot," Sarin continued.

The GOP's intentionally misleading attacks come after a decade of budget cuts approved by congressional Republicans left the IRS with 16,000 fewer employees in 2021 than it had in 2010.

As ProPublica has documented, the IRS now audits low-income taxpayers at the same rate as the top 1%, but that is a direct result of years of austerity, which have undermined the agency's ability to audit the rich.

The IRA's boost in IRS funding aims to rectify this injustice and to begin closing an estimated $600 billion annual "tax gap"—the difference between taxes paid and owed—by strengthening enforcement against the complex avoidance strategies used by the wealthy, especially those with murky sources of income.

New information technology hires will develop "tools to identify more high-end audit targets," Reuters reported. "To target wealthy taxpayers and handle sophisticated audits, Sarin said the IRS needs mid-career individuals with accounting and often tax law experience."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the increase in IRS funding will raise $204 billion in additional revenue over 10 years, while the Treasury projects that the real revenue impact will likely be $400 billion over a decade—a substantial portion of the IRA's climate and healthcare spending.

Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen instructed IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig—a scandal-plagued Trump appointee who spent decades battling the agency—to submit an $80 billion spending and hiring plan within six months. Yellen previously directed the agency not to use any new resources to increase audits of people making less than $400,000 per year.

Climate activists arrested outside Chuck Schumer's Manhattan office protesting 'dirty pipeline deal'

Climate campaigners were arrested on Thursday after demonstrating outside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's Manhattan office, where they expressed opposition to the fossil fuel-friendly permitting reforms the New York Democrat agreed to bring to the floor to secure Sen. Joe Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act.

"Sen. Schumer is sacrificing frontline communities and our clean energy future, all to placate a coal baron," Food & Water Watch senior New York organizer Laura Shindell, one of 10 activists taken into custody, said in a statement.

In addition to those who were arrested while conducting a peaceful sit-in at Schumer's office, dozens of others participated in Thursday's action, holding signs telling the majority leader to "Stop the Dirty Pipeline Deal" and "Off Fossil Fuels."

Last month, in a bid to gain Manchin's (D-W.Va.) support for the climate, tax, and healthcare package that congressional Democrats recently passed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process and President Joe Biden signed into law on Tuesday, Schumer held closed-door negotiations with the serial obstructionist.

"It's time for Sen. Schumer to block this 'permitting reform' proposal and protect our climate and communities, not ExxonMobil."

In exchange for Manchin's backing on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Schumer agreed to hold a separate vote on a bill that would advance permitting changes sought by the long-time coal profiteer and Capitol Hill's leading recipient of oil and gas money this election cycle.

According to a leaked one-page summary, the side deal would weaken environmental review procedures and limit public input on infrastructure decisions, thereby expediting new fossil fuel projects—including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a fracked gas development that Manchin's constituents and other Appalachian residents have been fighting for five years—even as experts warn that averting the worst effects of the climate crisis requires an end to new oil and gas extraction.

"Schumer's dirty side deal is a lose-lose-lose for our frontline communities and our climate, shortcutting the federal agencies and public processes meant to protect us and fast-tracking dangerous fossil fuel projects," said Shindell. "Sen. Schumer must reverse course on the dirty pipeline deal and recommit to preserving a livable future."

During Thursday's protest, a member of No North Brooklyn Pipeline questioned the sincerity of Schumer's stated opposition to pipelines in New York given that the agreement he reached with Manchin could make it easier to build them.

Because the proposed permitting legislation contains provisions that fall outside the purview of the budget reconciliation process used to pass the IRA, it must be pursued separately. A vote is expected in September, and passage of the bill is far from a foregone conclusion.

Frontline communities have urged Congress to reject the side agreement, and progressive lawmakers have made clear that they are under no obligation to support it.

In a recent statement, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said that "we will be united in defeating the separate Manchin 'permitting reforms' that will accelerate climate change and pollute Black, brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities."

"Now that the IRA has passed," she added, "there is absolutely zero reason that Congress should follow through on a backdoor handshake deal that directly undermines the purpose of the IRA. Manchin went back on his word to get [Build Back Better] done, and we owe him nothing now."

350NYC organizer Shayok Mukhopadhyay on Thursday called the IRA's claim to reduce peak U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2040 "debatable, given questionable methane accounting."

"What is not debatable," said Mukhopadhyay, "is that even this 42% does not account for the side deal struck between Sens. Manchin and Schumer to fast-track pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure in a separate bill."

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) "has expressed concern that this bill may be tied together with other must-pass legislation to incentivize legislators to vote in its favor," Mukhopadhyay noted. "This kind of backroom dealing that sacrifices the health of frontline communities and the stability of our climate must stop."

Grijalva, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, is pushing for a standalone vote on the permitting bill. "We're going to start early to urge a separate vote," he told The Hill last week.

Rachel Rivera, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy who works with New York Communities for Change, said Thursday that "as long as Sen. Chuck Schumer continues to acquiesce to Sen. Joe Manchin's dirty side deals that destroy bedrock climate protections, families like mine will continue to suffer."

"It's time," she continued, "for Sen. Schumer to block this 'permitting reform' proposal and protect our climate and communities, not ExxonMobil."

'Biggest win for tax fairness' in decades: Progressives cheer reforms in IRA

Following House Democrats' passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on Friday, progressives applauded the most significant changes to the federal tax code since 2017, when Republicans' highly regressive and deeply unpopular Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was enthusiastically welcomed by corporations and the wealthy.

Morris Pearl, former managing director at the investment firm BlackRock and now chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, called the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which President Joe Biden is expected to sign next week, the "biggest win for tax fairness we've seen in decades."

The IRA's 15% minimum tax on corporations with more than $1 billion in profits, 1% excise on stock buybacks, and increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to strengthen enforcement against rampant tax evasion by rich individuals and firms—provisions that would raise more than $700 billion in new revenue over a decade—are strongly supported by voters and mark "a significant step towards achieving economic equality," said Pearl.

But "while this bill establishes desperately needed changes to our tax laws and IRS funding, it is still a far cry from the systemic changes that we need in our society to rectify the hold the rich still have on every level of our economy," Pearl continued.

"We need to take care that we don't let ourselves become complacent," he added. "This is a step forward, but only one step in a long journey. We should use this win as an opportunity to revitalize the fight for economic justice and equality, and continue demanding more."

Pearl's sentiments were shared by others.

The IRA "requires some of the nation's most profitable billionaire corporations and wealthiest citizens to begin to contribute a fairer share of taxes to reduce the costs of essentials for working families and to make critical investments to save our planet from the devastation of climate change," said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness.

Enactment of this legislation "represents a historic rebuke of failed supply-side economics," Clemente added. "Hopefully, it signals an end to 40 years of Congress cutting taxes on the rich and corporations based on the false notion that the benefits will trickle down to working people."

Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), similarly described the IRA's tax provisions as "a historic turn in tax policy towards greater fairness."

"The near doubling of Internal Revenue Service staff, plus resources to upgrade IT capacity, means the agency will be able to investigate potential tax fraud in complex Wall Street firms," said Appelbaum. "IRS campaigns to crack down on private equity firm's improper use of management fee waivers for investors and monitoring agreements with portfolio companies will no longer be stymied by a lack of resources."

In other respects, however, Wall Street tycoons got off easy, thanks to right-wing Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), a top recipient of political cash from and staunch ally of the investor class.

Empowered by the indispensable nature of her vote in the evenly split Senate, Sinema made her support for the IRA contingent on the preservation of the so-called "carried interest loophole"—which benefits hedge fund managers and private equity moguls by allowing their investment income to be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of around 20% rather than the ordinary top income rate of 37%—and the exemption of private equity-owned companies from the 15% minimum tax on billion-dollar firms.

New Federal Election Commission filings show that Sinema has received more than $500,000 in campaign donations from private equity executives during the current election cycle, and according to OpenSecrets, the securities and investment sector as a whole has contributed more than $2.2 million to Sinema since she was elected to the Senate in 2017.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), Sinema's carve-out for private equity-owned corporations reduced the revenue impact of the IRA by $35 billion and her move to tank her party's modest proposal to reform the carried interest loophole—by increasing the holding period for investments to qualify for preferential tax treatment from three to five years—cost $14 billion.

Regarding Wall Street's ability to secure nearly $50 billion in savings through Sinema, CEPR senior economist Dean Baker told the Associated Press on Saturday that "it's pretty rare you see this direct of a return on your investment."

Despite the last-minute changes won by Sinema on behalf of her private equity donors, Appelbaum said that "the IRA made a historic breakthrough in taxing the wealthy and encouraging good behavior."

"Top executives of publicly traded companies," for instance, "will face a 1% tax on stock buybacks when they use company profits to increase the company's share price and enrich themselves instead of investing in technology, training, and raising workers' wages," said Appelbaum.

ITEP executive director Amy Hanauer, meanwhile, said: "Our nation will use the hundreds of billions of dollars this bill will raise over the next decade to tackle climate change, speed up clean energy initiatives, boost green jobs, fund healthcare, and reduce the deficit. Everyone in this country should be proud of this enormous policy accomplishment."

Although analysts say the IRA won't raise taxes on the 98.2% of U.S. households that earn $400,000 or less per year, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the legislation, which passed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of CEPR, said that "the historic nature of this moment is also seen in the Republican Party's unanimous opposition to the bill, and their failure to even put forth any alternative."

Instead, GOP lawmakers have railed against the bill's provision of nearly $80 billion in new IRS funding—telling ludicrous lies about how money intended to help the agency crack down on wealthy tax cheats will be used to hire "87,000 new agents" to harass working people at their homes. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) on Friday went so far as to claim that Democrats are "using the power of the federal government for armed robbery!"

In response, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said, "I know that Ms. Boebert would like everybody to be armed, as they are in her restaurant, but that's not what IRS agents do."

As ProPublica has documented, the IRS does now audit low-income taxpayers at the same rate as the top 1%, but that is a direct result of years of budget cuts that have undermined the agency's ability to audit the rich.

The IRA's boost in IRS funding seeks to rectify this injustice. Given that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has instructed the agency not to use any new resources to increase audits of people making less than $400,000 per year, the GOP's disingenuous attack, critics say, is a thinly veiled attempt to shield their wealthy benefactors.

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman argued that Republicans "should be forced to answer the question: Why? Why did you vote against drug price relief for seniors? Why did you vote against making large companies pay at least some of their taxes? Why did you vote against health care affordability? Why did you vote against incentives—no regulations, just incentives—to spur renewable energy?"

UN chief warns of 'catastrophic consequences' as Russia shells nuclear power plant

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday renewed his plea for an end to all military activity around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine after it was reported that fresh shelling has damaged multiple radiation sensors.

Any damage to Europe's largest nuclear power plant could lead to "catastrophic consequences" in the region and beyond, Guterres said in a statement issued ahead of an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss security at the site.

Ukraine and Russia should proceed with "common sense and reason" to avoid doing anything "that might endanger the physical integrity, safety, or security" of the sprawling facility, he said.

"Urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area," he added.

Guterres' comments came after Energoatom, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear power enterprise, said that missiles exploded near one of the plant's six reactors, damaging "several radiation sensors" and causing "extensive smoke."

As they did last weekend amid shelling that Guterres denounced as "suicidal," Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for the new strikes at the plant, which is being operated by Ukrainian technicians under the supervision of Russian soldiers who have controlled the region since March.

According to Reuters, which was unable to verify either side's account:

Ukraine's Energoatom said the plant's area was struck five times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored, but nobody were injured and radiation levels remained normal.
Meanwhile, the Russian-installed local officials said Ukraine shelled the plant for the second time in one day, disrupting the shift changeover of power plant workers.
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-installed regional administration, also wrote on Telegram that at least three strikes were near the radioactive isotope storage facility.

Reiterating a demand that Guterres and other officials made just days ago, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday called for the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Vienna-based watchdog, to send inspectors to examine the safety situation at the plant as soon as possible.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, meanwhile, told Reuters that Zaporizhzhia "is as of today not only in the hands of the enemy, but in the hands of uneducated specialists who could potentially allow for a tragedy to happen."

"Of course, it's difficult to even imagine the scale of the tragedy which could come into effect if Russians continue their actions there," he said. "We have to prepare for any scenario. The state emergency services together with the interior ministry and the regions ministry is discussing different scenarios that are needed, including the question of evacuations."

Linda Pentz Gunter, international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, warned earlier this week that "if even just one of the six operational reactors [at Zaporizhzhia] suffered catastrophic damage and released its radioactive inventory we are talking about a humanitarian disaster that would dwarf Chernobyl."

Radioactive contamination from that 1986 nuclear accident in what is now Ukraine left an area of more than 1,000 square miles uninhabitable and caused the illnesses and deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of people.

According to experts from Beyond Nuclear and elsewhere, reactors at Zaporizhzhia "contain far more radioactivity, both in the working reactors and in the irradiated fuel pools, than was present at the relatively new Chernobyl Unit 4 when it exploded."

Justice Department charges Iranian national connected to alleged John Bolton assassination plot

The United States Department of Justice has charged an Iranian citizen who it says is a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with attempting to hire an assassin to murder John Bolton, an ex-national security adviser in the Trump administration, multiple outlets reported Wednesday.

According to the Justice Department, Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, offered to pay unnamed individuals $300,000 in November 2021 to "eliminate" Bolton in Washington, D.C. or Maryland.

Federal officials said the assassination of Bolton would have been in retaliation for the U.S. military's January 2020 drone strike killing of Qasem Soleimani—a top commander in the IRGC, which is a branch of Iran's military—in Iraq.

"Poursafi is alleged to have said that after Bolton was killed, there would be another job, for which the hitman would be paid $1 million," The Guardian reported. "The person offered the money became an FBI confidential informant, and continued to exchange texts on an encrypted communications app with Poursafi."

The 45-year-old suspect, who the DOJ believes tried to orchestrate the plot from Tehran, remains at large abroad.

"If found and convicted, he would face up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, and up to 15 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot," the Washington Post reported.

As The Guardian noted:

Bolton was no longer national security adviser when the drone strike against Soleimani was carried out as the Iranian general was visiting Baghdad on January 3, 2020, but he is a longtime advocate of military action against Iran and a staunch opponent of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran. Secret Service cars have been reported to have been parked across the road from Bolton's house in the Washington area at least since early 2022.

In the immediate wake of Soleimani's assassination, Bolton tweeted, "Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran."

Bolton, who admitted on CNN last month that he has "helped plan coups d'état" in foreign countries, served as a national security adviser to former President Donald Trump for 17 months, resigning in 2019 over reported disagreements about whether to lift some sanctions against Iran as a negotiating tactic.

"Bolton, who did not want the sanctions lifted, was a main architect of the Trump administration's 'maximum pressure' campaign of escalating economic sanctions and threats of retaliation for Iran's alleged support of terrorism," the Post noted. "The idea was to cripple Iran's economy to the point that its leaders felt they must bargain away any nuclear ambitions and missile technology."

News of the FBI's search for Poursafi comes just two days after negotiators in Vienna said they're close to reviving the Iran nuclear accord that the Trump administration, with no small part played by Bolton, unilaterally tanked.

Before his stint in the Trump White House, Bolton, whom critics have called a "bloodthirsty warmonger," was a major cheerleader for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He served in senior arms control roles and eventually became ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Between the Bush and Trump presidencies, Bolton spent time working at right-wing think tanks, a private equity firm, and as a Fox News contributor.

'Lock and load': MAGA extremists lash out after Mar-a-Lago search

The far-right in the United States responded ominously to the FBI's Monday night search of former President Donald Trump's Florida mansion, with Republican lawmakers and television personalities baselessly accusing the Biden administration of weaponizing the Justice Department and popular as well as anonymous social media users beating the drums of a civil war.

"Lock and load," says the top comment related to the Mar-a-Lago search on—a pro-Trump comment forum that emerged after Reddit banned the r/The_Donald group of nearly 800,000 for repeatedly posting racist and misogynistic content in violation of its rules against harassment and targeting.

When one user asks, "Are we not in a cold civil war at this point?" another suggests that violence is imminent, with "authentic pain" coming soon.

According to NBC News reporter Ben Collins, the content shared on pro-Trump forums Monday night was arguably even more violent than what was posted in the lead-up to the deadly January 6, 2021 attack.

As he did before last year's insurrection at the Capitol, Trump only has "to ask us," notes one commenter. Another writes: "None of this demonstrating in the snow shit. Summertime was made for killing fields."

It wasn't just anonymous posters threatening to mow down their perceived political enemies. For instance, highly influential reactionary Steven Crowder tweeted, "Tomorrow is war," followed less than 12 hours later by, "Today is war." The NRA also leapt at the opportunity to boost gun sales.

Fox News hosts and guests, meanwhile, quickly disparaged the Mar-a-Lago search as a "partisan witch hunt," "dark day for our republic," "preemptive coup," "Third World bullshit," and the work of the "Gestapo" and "Stasi," as documented by Media Matters for America.

The right-wing outrage machine was adopting talking points that Trump laid out in a statement portraying himself as the victim of "prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the justice system, and an attack by radical left Democrats who desperately don't want me to run for president."

"Such an assault could only take place in broken, third world countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those countries, corrupt at a level not seen before," said Trump. "The lawlessness, political persecution, and witch hunt must be exposed and stopped."

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday:

We don't yet know much about what was in the search warrant used to raid Donald Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago on Monday. We do know that the raid concerned the removal of classified documents from the White House and that, according to Trump, agents raided his safe.
But we also quickly found out that a lot of influential people are rather uninterested in any of that, reflexively shouting 'witch hunt' and baselessly blaming President [Joe] Biden for the raid in a way that bodes very poorly for whatever comes next in this process. Trump has marshaled his army of supporters to declare, in knee-jerk fashion, any legal scrutiny of him a deep-state operation.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) endorsed Trump's unsubstantiated claim that the Biden White House is "using government power to persecute political opponents," calling it "something we have seen many times" from authoritarian regimes in impoverished nations "but never before in America." The House Judiciary Committee's Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), echoed that message.

During an appearance on Fox News, Jordan demanded that Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray—a Trump appointee—answer the GOP's questions about Monday night's search at Mar-a-Lago.

As Media Matters senior fellow Matthew Gertz explained, the Justice Department is not yet able to provide details given the ongoing nature of investigations into Trump's attempt to overthrow the U.S. government and other possible crimes, so the ex-president and his allies are "filling that vacuum" with baseless allegations of political malfeasance.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement that "when Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned," telling Garland: "Preserve your documents and clear your calendar."

Despite the fact that Garland hasn't yet publicly responded to the GOP's planned inquiry, McCarthy concluded that "the Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization" while Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel declared that "Democrats continually weaponize the bureaucracy against Republicans."

As the Post noted: "That's a lot of firm conclusions based on not much at all. But it's the fruit of years of Trump claiming persecution."

The newspaper continued:

This investigation hardly comes out of nowhere: Trump's handling of government documents has long been a focal point. The Washington Post reported as far back as February on Trump's 'relentless document destruction habits.' A couple of days later, the National Archives confirmed that it had retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago—including records marked as 'classified' and even 'top secret'—that should have been turned over, and then asked the Justice Department to investigate, which it clearly has.
The question from there is whether this is a matter that merits a search warrant. That the Justice Department would go this route would seem to suggest it sees something potentially incriminating beyond merely shoddy record-keeping and document retention. The department knows this decision will be harshly scrutinized; going down this path only for its destination to be a minor finding, ending in a slap on the wrist, isn't worth the blowback it'll get from 40% to 45% of the country.

Ironically, the Post added, Trump's supporters were "once quite consumed with the import of document security by would-be presidential candidates—and quite happy to promote the idea that their preferred candidate ought to 'lock' such an opponent 'up.'"

Trump relentlessly attacked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton over her private email server during the 2016 presidential campaign. Right-wing media outlets and members of Congress who condemned Clinton had much less to say when it was revealed that Trump unlawfully took documents to Mar-a-Lago.

Trump also tried to use his power as president to harm his political rivals, repeatedly asking Ukraine's president to investigate Hunter Biden. And although Clinton's home wasn't searched, the FBI did conduct a public probe of her use of a private email server in 2016—possibly contributing to her failure to win the White House that year.

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