Kenny Stancil

Critics are horrified as Biden restarts 'even worse' version of Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' policy

After the U.S. government announced Thursday that it has reached an agreement with Mexico to restart the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" program, immigrant rights advocates criticized the Biden administration for "hiding behind a flawed court order to justify" reviving a policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in makeshift camps along the southern border pending legal review of their cases.

Re-implementation of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program will begin as soon as Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement, adding that "once fully operational, MPP enrollments will take place across the Southwest border, and returns to Mexico will take place at seven ports of entry in San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Brownsville."

Mexico's "decision to accept the return of individuals enrolled in the program [is] subject to certain humanitarian improvements," DHS noted. According to the agency, which worked with the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, key changes to MPP include:

A commitment that proceedings will generally be concluded within six months of an individual's initial return to Mexico; opportunities for enrollees to secure access to, and communicate with, counsel before and during non-refoulement interviews and immigration court hearings; improved non-refoulement procedures; and an increase in the amount and quality of information enrolled individuals receive about MPP.
DHS will exclude particularly vulnerable individuals from being enrolled in MPP. In addition, DHS will provide Covid-19 vaccinations for all persons enrolled in MPP.

Immigrant rights advocates, however, stressed that MPP is an irredeemable violation of human rights regardless of the minor revisions proposed by the U.S. and Mexican governments.

"The Biden administration's shameful regression in restarting this unlawful Trump policy flies in the face of its own determination that no number of changes could render this deadly policy more humane or provide the access to the asylum system that the law requires," Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said in a statement.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a former immigration attorney who is now policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, concurred. In a detailed Twitter thread, he said that "allowing the tiny handful of people who manage to get lawyers (5-7%, compared to 60% inside the U.S.) to have more meeting opportunities before hearings... is not much of a help."

In her statement, Hincapié said that "since its creation, the Remain in Mexico policy has subjected tens of thousands of people to grave danger and violated their fundamental right to asylum in the United States."

The Washington Post reported that "officials in the United States are planning to initially use the MPP program primarily for single adult asylum seekers," who account for the majority of unauthorized border crossings, according to an unnamed Biden administration official.

"Mexico is willing to accept asylum seekers from Spanish-speaking countries, as with the previous version of the program, but migrants from 'all Western Hemisphere nations' will be eligible for return," the newspaper reported, citing an administration official.

In response, Reichlin-Melnick argued that "the Biden administration's choice to expand Remain in Mexico to everyone from the Western Hemisphere—including Haitians—makes the program even broader than it ever was under the Trump administration."

"[President Joe] Biden didn't just bring back Remain in Mexico," Reichlin-Melnick added. "He's made it even worse."

The Biden administration—praised in June for ending its predecessor's xenophobic policy—insists that restarting MPP is required because of a federal court order. Legal experts, however, argue that the Biden administration has far more leeway than it claims and is certainly not required to expand the program.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Republican officials in Texas and Missouri, a federal judge in August ordered the Biden administration to reinstate Remain in Mexico. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—which former President Donald Trump pushed in an even more conservative direction by appointing numerous far-right judges—"refused the administration's request to put the ruling on hold" and "ordered expedited consideration of the administration's appeal," the Associated Press reported.

On August 24, AP noted, the U.S. Supreme Court's six right-wing justices argued that "the Biden administration likely violated federal law in trying to end" Remain in Mexico and refused to block the lower court's ruling.

Nevertheless, as Reichlin-Melnick pointed out, "the lower court said Biden doesn't need to do the exact same implementation as Trump."

Moreover, said No More Deaths, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the Sonoran borderlands, officials in the Biden administration "were considering reinstating MPP well before the court gave them a convenient excuse to do so. Their hands aren't tied, this is a choice."

No More Deaths cited reporting by VICE—published almost a week before the Supreme Court handed down its decision—which said:

Senior U.S. officials have privately discussed reviving the Trump-era policy Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), colloquially known as "Remain in Mexico," in order to manage the number of migrants arriving at the border, according to three sources with knowledge of the discussions. Under the policy, the U.S. sent more than 70,000 asylum seekers from 2019-2021 to some of Mexico's most dangerous border cities to wait while their immigration cases were decided.
Biden heavily criticized the policy as a candidate and suspended it on his first day in office. But as border apprehensions jumped, high-ranking officials in the White House floated the idea of bringing the program back, and it's been bandied about for weeks among a small circle of government officials. Discussions have centered around whether there could be a gentler version of the policy—a notion immigration advocates decry as ludicrous.

The NILC's Hincapié on Thursday stressed that "the Biden administration must stop hiding behind a flawed court order to justify restarting Remain in Mexico."

"Instead," she continued, "it should do what we've been saying for months—abandon its indefensible embrace of failed deterrence strategies like Remain in Mexico and the unlawful Title 42 expulsion policy and restore full access to asylum for those seeking safety and freedom."

"Now is the time," added Hincapié, "for the Biden administration to discard misguided political calculus and instead lead with courage and humanity to do everything in its power to relegate Remain in Mexico to the past."

Voters from both parties overwhelmingly want Biden to crack down on corporate crime

Although President Joe Biden's domestic agenda has been hobbled to some degree by unified Republican obstruction as well as opposition from several right-wing Democrats, he still has the executive authority to challenge corporate abuses—and new survey data released Tuesday shows that an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters, regardless of political affiliation, want his administration to do just that by aggressively enforcing existing laws.

A whopping 80% of voters agree that "wealthy people and corporations are regularly not punished for breaking the law," including 84% of Democrats, 79% of Independents, and 77% of Republicans. In addition, 87% of voters agree that "when wealthy people and corporations are not punished for breaking laws, people lose trust in the government and the rule of law."

That's according to polling conducted by Data for Progress, which has teamed up with the Revolving Door Project to launch the Corporate Crackdown Project, the first installment of which focuses on steps the Biden administration can take—without relying on legislation from Congress—to protect workers from white-collar crimes such as wage theft, safety violations, and discrimination.

Voters also back increasing funding for federal investigations into corporate lawbreaking by a margin of +49 percentage points. Notably, this support crosses partisan lines: 70% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans think the Biden administration should be doing more to prosecute and limit corporate malfeasance.

"We were fairly sure that the public would support cracking down on corporate wrongdoing, but we're honestly surprised at just how enthusiastic people are, across all political persuasions, for these proposals," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said in a statement.

"The fact is that we're living in a populist moment of well-warranted anger toward greedy firms and the ultra-wealthy who lead them," Hauser continued, reiterating points that he made earlier this month. "Any Democrat who refuses to engage with that anger is simply ceding it to Republicans, who will direct it at the most vulnerable in society instead of the real cause of so much immiseration."

"President Biden is overdue to start using the considerable powers of the executive branch to crack down on corporate greed—and just as importantly, to very publicly message doing so," Hauser added. "He needs to show the people that he is on their side, not the side of the wealthy and well-connected few."

As Max Moran, research director at the Revolving Door Project, and Marcella Mulholland, political director at Data for Progress, argued Monday in a New Republic essay introducing the Corporate Crackdown Project, "a Biden administration that pursues crooked CEOs and brings down abusive corporate titans will find a willing audience in the American public."

"Many well-compensated pundits and political consultants," noted Moran and Mulholland, "have begun either preemptively writing obituaries for the [Democratic Party] or encouraging Biden simply to abandon his agenda and pivot, in some undefined way, to the center-right—where solutions are forever said to be at hand but never seem to emerge."

"But it may shock these pundits and consultants," the pair wrote, "that the president has methods of [solving big problems while under pressure] besides giving televised speeches or begging Congress to act."

Moran and Mulholland explained:

Through the existing powers of the executive branch, Biden can enact good policy, practice good politics, and make life tangibly better for people across the country. The prospects for the Biden administration still teem with possibilities—and the American people have their own ideas about what direction he should head.

We must recognize the common root cause of many of the problems we are currently enduring: corporate greed. For instance, the supply chain shortages we face are a consequence of threadbare logistics systems designed to cut as many corners as possible, all for the purpose of maximizing shareholders' profits. Additionally, the only way finally to stop Covid-19 is to get the whole world vaccinated as fast as possible, and the only way to do that is to open the intellectual property restrictions furiously guarded by Big Pharma manufacturers. Furthermore, the oil firms behind our environmental crisis shamelessly lied to the public about climate change for decades, all while violating anti-pollution and tribal sovereignty laws with impunity. In all of these cases, firms have not just defied the public interest—they've often broken the law.

Cracking down on abuses like these is the only way actually to address many of the problems Americans face today. Moreover, taking highly public action against these bad corporate actors makes for a very persuasive political argument that Democrats are fighting for ordinary, working people: I am on your team, and I will punish the people who cheated you.

"Importantly, cracking down on our golden age of white-collar crime does not require a single vote from Congress," the pair added. "All it takes is Biden fully utilizing the massive powers of the executive branch already at his disposal."

In the coming months, the Revolving Door Project and Data for Progress plan to release several "scorecards" for Biden's executive branch in order to highlight what his administration is doing well and illuminate how it could do more to rein in corporate abuses across a range of policy areas.

The first report in the series focuses on labor—"an issue dear to the president's heart and the party's electoral prospects," as Moran and Mulholland stressed.

Authored by Aidan Smith, a senior advisor at Data for Progress, and published Tuesday, Protecting Workers From Corporate Crime states that "nowhere is the government's failure to hold corporate crim[inals] accountable more evident to voters than in the realm of workers' rights."

"For far too long," Smith said in a statement, "the federal government has taken a hands-off approach towards corporate crime. For workers, this has meant that employers have been able to rob them of wages, deny them benefits, and discriminate against them with impunity."

While "Biden has pledged to be the most pro-labor president in American history," Smith pointed out, "his administration must crack down on employer crime against workers to prove he's serious about it."

Despite congressional gridlock, says the report, Biden has taken "meaningful steps... towards reversing the damage of the Trump administration's war on workers" by replacing "anti-worker Trump appointees" with "allies of organized labor" and overturning "many of the past administration's most heinous initiatives."

"Going forward," however, the report adds, "the Biden administration must continue to push for stronger labor regulations to protect workers' welfare."

As Smith emphasized, "Data for Progress polling finds strong support for regulations against employer abuses that would benefit millions of workers. These include restricting corporations' ability to misclassify workers to deprive them of benefits, stronger punishments for wage theft, and expanding labor protections for caregivers. Taking a hardline approach against corporate crimes against workers will allow Biden to prove he is on the side of the average American, not the privileged few."

The stakes could hardly be higher. A few weeks ago, as Biden's Build Back Better Act was being ruthlessly gutted by corporate Democrats—including the weakening of an immensely popular proposal to rein in Big Pharma's deadly price-gouging—Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that "the challenge that we face in this really unusual moment in American history is whether we have the courage to stand with the American people and take on very powerful special interests."

"If we fail—in my view, if the American people do not believe that government can work for them and is dominated by powerful special interests, the very fabric of American democracy is in danger," he added.

Data for Progress' new survey found that 75% of voters believe "the U.S. government prioritizes the interests of corporations and the wealthy," including 80% of Independents, 77% of Republicans, and 69% of Democrats.

Social scientists have long argued that the U.S. is an oligarchy in which the policy preferences of the poor are effectively ignored and that the nation's anti-majoritarian institutions—including the Electoral College, the Senate, and the Supreme Court—give Republicans advantages that could enable the far-right party to secure permanent minority rule.

In light of the current barrage of voter suppression laws being enacted and gerrymandered maps being drawn by state-level Republicans nationwide—an authoritarian assault on the franchise that comes in the wake of former President Donald Trump's failed coup attempt, which was endorsed by dozens of his congressional allies—an annual study published Monday for the first time characterized the U.S. as a "backsliding" democracy.

Meanwhile, other recent surveys have shown that roughly one-third of Republican voters, particularly those who trust right-wing media outlets, have embraced the potential need for "violence in order to save the country." The thoroughly capitalist GOP has demonstrated that it has no intention of cracking down on corporate crime, preferring instead to scapegoat immigrants and promise greater "order" in a world that is becoming more economically and environmentally insecure.

The Daily Poster's David Sirota and Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney recently co-authored a piece in Rolling Stone to mark the start of their new podcast series Meltdown, which explores how the Democratic Party's refusal to deliver real help to millions of people in the aftermath of the Great Recession "fueled the ascent of [former President] Donald Trump—and... continues to fuel the MAGA movement today."

When responding to the Great Depression, the pair wrote, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt "cast his progressive economic initiatives as both a weapon to fight the economic crisis and a shield against right-wing authoritarianism."

"Democrats still have time to wake up, realize the existential threat before them, channel Roosevelt, and enact policies that immediately help people in order to avert an even bigger meltdown than the one in 2016," Sirota and Gibney argued. "But time is running out."

Even in the absence of full cooperation from congressional Democrats, Biden can still deliver on several popular issues—including improving workers' rights, lowering drug prices, canceling student loan debt, and ramping up vaccine manufacturing—by using his existing executive authority.

"With a properly run executive branch," wrote Moran and Mulholland, "Biden can crack down on corporate abuses and rightly take public credit, to the likely thrill of voters in a tough election year."

'Pro-death cult strikes back': Right-wing judges block Biden’s vaccine rule for big companies

Progressives concerned about workplace safety and public health responded with dismay after a federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily blocked the Biden administration's attempt to require workers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested weekly.

Citing "grave statutory and constitutional" problems with the rule, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued the stay in response to a joint petition filed Friday by a coalition of businesses, conservative advocacy groups, and the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah.

That legal challenge, and separate lawsuits from Republican-led states, came just one day after President Joe Biden announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would begin enforcing its newly unveiled Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in the coming weeks. Companies with at least 100 employees have until December 5 to require unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors, and by January 4, they must require vaccinations or administer weekly tests.

Decrying the decision of the "right-wing Fifth Circuit," labor journalist Steven Greenhouse said on social media that "it's terrible for worker safety and public health that three conservative activist judges have suspended Biden's... new rule requiring workers at companies with more than 100 workers to get vaccinated or tested."

"OSHA's mission is to protect workers' health," Greenhouse continued, "but the appellate judges seem to forget that Covid has killed thousands of meatpacking, retail, and other workers."

More than 750,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic started last March, and the disease continues to kill nearly 1,100 people per day, most of them unvaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent studies confirm that vaccines save lives. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services analyzed the relationship between county-level inoculation rates and Covid-19 outcomes among U.S. seniors and found that vaccines helped ward off 265,000 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations, and 39,000 deaths during the first five months of 2021.

And in September, CDC researchers found that individuals in the U.S. who were not fully vaccinated last spring and summer were 11 times more likely to die after being infected with the coronavirus—and over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized—than those who were fully inoculated.

Greenhouse said that "the judges evidently sympathize with [Texas Republican Gov.] Greg Abbott's let-people-die stance—that it's overreach for OSHA to act strongly to protect workers from Covid."

David Michaels, a leader of OSHA during the Obama administration, also rebuked the federal appeals court, describing its decision as legally dubious and politically motivated.

"The same activist court that refused to stay Texas' law that permits bounty hunters to sue anyone who aids an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy has stayed an OSHA rule that is clearly within OSHA's authority, will save lives, and make workplaces safe," he told the New York Times.

According to the Times, "At the core of the legal challenge is the question of whether OSHA exceeded its authority in issuing the rule and whether such a mandate would need to be passed by Congress."

The newspaper reported:

The suit against the mandate stated that President Biden "set the legislative policy" of substantially increasing the number of Americans covered by vaccination requirements, and "then set binding rules enforced with the threat of large fines."

"That is a quintessential legislative act—and one wholly unrelated to the purpose of OSHA itself, which is protecting workplace safety," the suit said. "Nowhere in OSHA's enabling legislation does Congress confer upon it the power to end pandemics."

Corporate executives asked, and the Biden administration agreed, to delay implementation of OSHA's new ETS "until after the New Year, citing concerns about worker shortages during the important holiday season," Reuters noted.

Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda, meanwhile, said in a statement that the Labor Department, home to OSHA, is "confident in its legal authority" to issue vaccine requirements.

The vaccine rule for companies with 100 or more employees "applies to 84.2 million workers at 1.9 million private-sector employers," Reuters reported. "OSHA estimates that 31.7 million of [those] workers are unvaccinated and 60% of employers will require vaccinations, up from 25% today, resulting in another 22.7 million employees getting vaccinated."

Several million additional workers are covered by the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for employees of the executive branch, federal contractors, and staff at healthcare facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding. OSHA officials say they are considering expanding the jab-or-test rule to include companies with fewer than 100 workers.

"The Occupational Safety and Health Act explicitly gives OSHA the authority to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them," Nanda said. "We are fully prepared to defend this standard in court."

The Fifth Circuit panel's two-page order directs the Biden administration to respond to the request for a permanent injunction against the rule by 5 p.m. ET Monday.

As the Times noted, it remains unclear whether the court's stay "would be a procedural blip for the Biden administration or the first step in the unwinding of the mandate."

The newspaper explained that "after both sides have filed briefs, the court will decide whether to lift the temporary injunction, allowing the rule to proceed as planned, or whether to grant a permanent injunction. OSHA could then take the case to the Supreme Court."

While some legal experts argue that the Labor Department has the regulatory authority to compel private employers to protect the health of workers and the broader public through mandatory vaccination amid a deadly global pandemic, Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, told Reuters that "there will be so much litigation it will never see the light of day."

Twenty-four attorneys general threatened to sue the Biden administration over the rule back in September, and several followed through immediately after it was published in the federal register on Friday.

In addition to the petition filed with the Fifth Circuit, attorneys general in 11 states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

And in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia sued, with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis saying at a press conference that "the federal government can't just unilaterally impose medical policy under the guise of workplace regulation."

Roughly 70% of U.S. adults are fully inoculated against Covid-19, and about 80% have received at least one shot, according to the CDC. Recent polling shows that a majority of U.S. adults favor Covid-19 vaccination requirements, with only about one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents opposed.

OSHA, Reuters pointed out, is "fighting history. The agency has issued 10 ETS over its 50 years. Of the six that were challenged in court, only one survived entirely intact."

Donald Verrilli, U.S. solicitor general during former President Barack Obama's administration, however, told the news outlet that the Biden administration "wouldn't move forward unless they thought that they could defend it legally... I think the constitutional challenges are all going to fail."

More than 100,000 take to streets on Global Day of Action for Climate Justice

As diplomats from wealthy countries continue to say "blah, blah, blah" at COP26, over 100,000 people growing increasingly impatient with empty promises and inaction marched through Glasgow on Saturday, with thousands more hitting the streets in cities around the world during roughly 300 simultaneous demonstrations on a Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.

"Many thousands of people took to the streets today on every continent demanding that governments move from climate inaction to climate justice," Asad Rehman, a spokesperson for the COP26 Coalition, said in a statement. "We won't tolerate warm words and long-term targets anymore, we want action now."

"Today, the people who have been locked out of this climate summit had their voices heard," Rehman continued, "and those voices will be ringing in the ears of world leaders as we enter the second week of negotiations."

Rehman added that "the climate crisis has resulted from our broken, unequal societies and economies. We must transform our global economies into ones that protect both people and our planet instead of profit for a few."

The COP26 Coalition is a United Kingdom-based alliance of civil society groups and trade unions mobilizing around climate justice during the ongoing United Nations climate summit in Scotland. That's where governments "will decide who is to be sacrificed, who will escape, and who will make a profit," the coalition said. "We can either intensify the crisis to the point of no return, or lay the foundations for a just world where everyone's needs are met."

Saturday's actions in every corner of the globe came one day before the start of the People's Summit for Climate Justice, where ordinary individuals can "discuss, learn, and strategize for system change." From Sunday through Wednesday, participants can attend workshops in Glasgow or join online events.

The coalition's call to action emphasizes that those who have done the least to cause public health crises, including the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency and the deforestation-linked Covid-19 pandemic, "suffer the most."

"Across the world, the poorest people and communities of color are too often those bearing the brunt of the climate crisis," the coalition continued. "From coastal villages in Norfolk whose sea-defenses are eroding faster than ever, to people living by the Niger Delta rivers blackened by oil spillage."

Global crises of economic exploitation, racial oppression, and environmental degradation "not only overlap," the coalition added, "but share the same cause."

"We got to this crisis point," the coalition said, "because our political and economic system is built on inequality and injustice. For centuries, rich governments and corporations have been exploiting people and the planet for profit, no matter how much it harms the rest of us."

The solution, said the coalition, is "system change that comes from the ground up." Remedies that "not only reduce carbon emissions but create a fairer and more just world in the process... already exist and are being practiced, but our leaders lack the political will" to pursue "climate action based on justice, redistribution of resources, and decentralization of power."

"Justice won't be handed to us by world leaders or delivered by corporations," the coalition added. "Only we can imagine and build the future that works for all of us... through collective action, solidarity, and coordination" in local communities and at the international level.

That message was echoed by COP26 Coalition member War on Want, a U.K.-based organization that fights the causes of poverty and defends human rights.

In a video arguing that the dominant political-economic order is not broken, but rather "rigged," War on Want explains how the capitalist system "generates increasing wealth for the already rich and powerful at the expense of the majority of people on this Earth" and advocates for a Global Green New Deal to achieve climate justice.

From Crisis to Justice. Join us and fight for a Global Green New Deal for people and planet.

"Billionaires, corporations, and oligarchs don't measure failure in lives lost, houses flooded, communities destroyed, forests burned, or people locked into poverty," the video continues. "They measure success by their bank balance, by share prices, and by holidays in space."

"Where we see climate breakdown, poverty, and injustice, they see nothing but profit," states the video. "The climate crisis is a crisis of justice."

Echoing recent research highlighting the extent to which the Global North extracts resources from the Global South, War on Want notes that "from the shackles of slavery to the gunboats of colonialism, from imperialist interventions to the neoliberal rigging of the global economy," wealthy countries, and especially the elites within them, have drained trillions of dollars from impoverished nations, and that is reflected in their disproportionate share of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.K., the United States, and the European Union, for instance, have been responsible for nearly half of the world's carbon pollution, despite making up just 10% of its population.

Meanwhile, a new study shows that the world's wealthiest countries and worst polluters are spending over twice as much on border militarization to exclude growing numbers of refugees as they are on decarbonization.

Despite repeated warnings that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by the end of the century requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground and ramping up the worldwide production of clean energy, U.S. President Joe Biden has been approving extraction on public lands and waters at a dangerous clip, and he and the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell have both pushed for boosting the supply of oil.

Globally, fossil fuel use is projected to increase this decade even as annual reductions in coal, oil, and gas production are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

The planet is currently on pace for a "catastrophic" 2.7°C of heating this century if countries—starting with the rich polluters most responsible for exacerbating extreme weather—fail to rapidly and drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate the transition to renewable energy, and enact transformative changes.

Like Bolivian President Luis Arce, the COP26 Coalition stressed that "the multiple crises we face are not going to be solved with more exploitation of people and the planet, and cooking the books."

"Current government and corporation targets of 'Net Zero' do not mean zero emissions," the coalition explained. "Instead, they want to continue polluting while covering it up with crafty 'carbon offsets.' We need commitments and action to achieve Real Zero. That also means no new fossil fuel investments and infrastructure at home or abroad, and saying no to carbon markets, and banking on risky unproven technologies that allow countries and corporations to continue polluting."

In addition, the coalition said, "climate action must be based on who has historically profited and those who have suffered."

The alliance continued:

Indigenous peoples have been at the frontline of the root causes of climate change for centuries. Indigenous peoples, frontline communities, and the Global South cannot continue to pay the price for the climate crisis while the Global North profits.

Each country's carbon emission reduction must be proportional to their fair share: how much they have contributed to the climate crisis through past emissions. We must cancel debts of Global South by all creditors and the rich countries must provide adequate grant-based climate finance for those on the frontline of the climate crisis to survive. We must address the loss of lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems already occurring across the world, through a collective commitment to providing reparations for the loss and damage in the Global South.

In its video, War on Want stresses that "poverty, the climate crisis, inequality, and racism aren't accidental. They're political."

"The answer is people power," the group adds. "All across the world—from peasants sowing solidarity, workers fighting for a living wage, people resisting occupation, Indigenous communities defending communal lands, to climate activists taking to the streets—we are all coming together to challenge the system, uproot injustice, and fight for people and our planet."

Speaking at Saturday's rally in Glasgow, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Marshall Islands Climate Envoy to the United Nations, said that "we need the biggest emitters to be held responsible. We need financing to implement the solutions we are currently developing ourselves through our national adaptation plan."

"We contribute 0.00005% of the world's global emissions," Jetnil-Kijiner added. "We did nothing to contribute to this crisis, and we should not have to pay the consequences. We need to keep up the pressure [so] that COP26 doesn't allow offsets or endanger human rights and the rights of Indigenous people."

'You might as well bomb our islands': Palau president admonishes big emitters at COP26

On the third day of the COP26 climate conference, Surangel Whipps Jr., president of the Pacific island nation of Palau, reprimanded the leaders of wealthy countries, telling the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters: "You might as well bomb our islands."

"We see the scorching sun is giving us intolerable heat, the warming sea is invading us, and the winds are blowing us every which way," Whipps said Tuesday. "Our resources are disappearing before our eyes and our future is being robbed from us."

"Frankly speaking," he continued, "there is no dignity to a slow and painful death—you might as well bomb our islands instead of making us suffer only to witness our slow and fateful demise."

Cop26: 'You might as well bomb us,' says president of Palau

The president's comments came two days after the World Meteorological Organization released new data showing that the most recent seven years, including 2021, are on track to be the seven hottest on record and that sea-level rise reached a new high this year.

Last month, the International Energy Agency reiterated its message that expanding fossil fuel extraction is incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by the end of the century and that the production of clean energy must be scaled up immediately.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), meanwhile, said last month that the worldwide transition to renewable energy is far behind schedule—with fossil fuel use projected to increase this decade even as annual reductions in coal, oil, and gas production are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

If countries—starting with the rich polluters most responsible for exacerbating extreme weather—fail to rapidly and drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions, UNEP warned, the planet is on pace for a "catastrophic" 2.7°C of heating this century.

According to Whipps, there are similarities between the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency and a Palau legend in which a boy with a voracious appetite turns into a giant who "wouldn't stop growing."

"Due to his unruly appetite," Whipps told the summit audience, "the whole island community was forced to feed him... depleting all the natural resources."

When the giant boy attempted to eat them, the islanders "banded together, took bold action, and set fire to him," the president explained, describing the tale as "eerily reminiscent" of the present dilemma.

"Large emitters with their insatiable appetite for advancement are continuing to abuse our environment, threatening our very survival," said Whipps. "COP26 must light the fire."

Echoing recent criticisms of wealthy governments' inadequate and unfulfilled climate commitments, the president of Palau said that "devastated" island nations demand cooperative and transformative interventions, including a ramping up of green funding for developing countries—from the current pledge of $100 billion per year to the $4 trillion the World Bank says is necessary for mitigation and adaptation.

"Leaders of the G20, we are drowning and our only hope is the life-ring you are holding," he added. "You must act now, we must act together."

'Pelosi absolutely destroyed' the proposed tax on billionaires, says Democratic insider

Although right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin publicly attacked a proposed billionaires' tax almost as soon as it was unveiled, one journalist argued Wednesday that blaming the West Virginia coal baron for shooting down the popular provision is an oversimplification that lets other conservative Democrats—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly criticized the measure behind closed doors—off the hook.

Just hours after Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced his plan to make a few hundred super-rich tax dodgers pay a fairer share, Manchin threw cold water on the idea, calling it divisive to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to fund expanded public benefits and climate action by "targeting" those with $1 billion in assets or $100 million in annual income for three straight years. That led House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to declare that congressional support for the proposal is insufficient.

Given that he has done so much to weaken the Build Back Better Act, many believe Manchin alone is responsible for killing the billionaires' tax, but Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent made the case that this emerging narrative ignores the role played by other corporate Democrats.

For example, Pelosi, a multimillionaire from California, "sharply faulted the proposal at a caucus meeting earlier this week, according to a Democratic aide who overheard the remarks," wrote Sargent. "This aide told me Pelosi pronounced it a PR stunt that wouldn't accomplish anything."

"Pelosi absolutely destroyed it," said the aide.

According to Sargent:

Another senior Democratic aide rejected this idea, saying that Pelosi's criticism was confined to the fact that at the time there was no bill text for the proposal. Democrats coalesced around it only in recent days.
"The speaker expressed frustration Monday that there was no text and therefore impossible to score," this aide told me. "The thrust of her comments were about it being too late in the process not to have a codified proposal."

As Common Dreams has reported, the combined net worth of the nation's 745 billionaires skyrocketed by $2.1 trillion over the past year and a half, as millions were devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions. Taxing billionaires' unrealized stock gains emerged as a potential revenue-raiser after right-wing Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)—swimming in campaign cash from Wall Street—single-handedly blew up her party's plan to hike taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Sinema and other Big Pharma-bankrolled Democrats, including Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Reps. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), Scott Peters (Calif.), and Kurt Schrader (Ore.), have also undermined a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug costs, which would have protected Americans from deadly price-gouging and saved the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars per year—leaving the party scrambling to figure out how to pay for its increasingly anemic reconciliation bill.

Regarding the billionaires' tax, Sargent argued that "other Democrats are waiting in the cloakroom to kill it with no fingerprints."

Neal, for instance, "has questioned whether it will hold up in court. That would dovetail with Pelosi's private opposition, and both of them working together suggest there may be plenty of other House Democrats privately opposed."

Moreover, "other Senate Democrats appear to oppose the proposal but don't want to say so openly," Sargent added. "After all, it's not easy to come down on the side of protecting the wealth of billionaires."

World’s worst polluters spending over two times more on border militarization than on climate action

As the climate emergency wreaks havoc and displaces growing numbers of vulnerable people around the globe, the world's richest countries and biggest greenhouse gas emitters are responding in a dangerous manner—by prioritizing border militarization over efforts to mitigate fossil fuel pollution and adapt to a hotter planet.

That's according to Global Climate Wall, a new report published Monday by the Transnational Institute, which finds that rather than addressing the root causes of the climate crisis that is forcing millions of people from their homes, the world's wealthiest nations are investing more in violently repressing migrants.

Although "this is a global trend," the report focuses on the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia. Those seven high-income countries—responsible for 48% of the world's historic GHG emissions—spent an average of 2.3 times as much on arming their borders ($33.1 billion) as on climate finance ($14.4 billion) from 2013 to 2018.

When it comes to the ratio of spending on border militarization versus climate finance, the report spotlights the three worst offenders: "Canada spent 15 times more ($1.5 billion compared to around $100 million); Australia 13 times more ($2.7 billion compared to $200 million); [and] the U.S. almost 11 times more ($19.6 billion compared to $1.8 billion)."

Wealthy nations "have built a 'Climate Wall' to keep out the consequences of climate change" through "two distinct but related dynamics," the report explains:

First, a failure to provide the promised climate finance that could help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; and second, a militarized response to migration that expands border and surveillance infrastructure. This provides booming profits for a border security industry but untold suffering for refugees and migrants who make increasingly dangerous—and frequently deadly—journeys to seek safety in a climate-changed world.

"Climate finance could help mitigate the impacts of climate change and help countries adapt to this reality, including supporting people who need to relocate or to migrate abroad," the authors write. "Yet the richest countries have failed even to keep their pledges of [a] meager $100 billion a year in climate finance."

At the same time, "border spending by the seven biggest GHG emitters rose by 29% between 2013 and 2018," states the report. "In the U.S., spending on border and immigration enforcement tripled between 2003 and 2021. In Europe, the budget for the European Union (E.U.) border agency, Frontex, has increased by a whopping 2763% since its founding in 2006 up to 2021."

Denouncing the fact that "the richest countries offer only walls" as "more and more people are being displaced by the consequences of climate change," the Transnational Institute looked ahead to COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference that begins Sunday, and stressed that "migrant justice must be at the negotiating table!"

Climate-induced migration—which "is now a reality" that "takes place disproportionately in low-income countries" and is "shaped by the systemic injustice that creates the situations of vulnerability, violence, precarity, and weak social structures"—can stem from singular catastrophic events, such as extreme weather disasters, as well as from the "cumulative impacts" of drought, sea-level rise, or other deleterious environmental conditions that "gradually make an area uninhabitable," the report notes.

While most displaced people in the world today remain in their own country, many cross international borders, the authors point out, and that phenomenon is expected to become more common this century as the impacts of the climate crisis grow more severe, leading to an increase in the global refugee population.

Despite such projections—and in addition to refusing to pursue adequate decarbonization plans and offering paltry sums of funding to help impoverished nations deal with worsening conditions—rich countries most responsible for the intensification of extreme weather are fortifying their borders to keep out vulnerable migrants who are the least culpable, rather than taking steps to aid climate refugees.

Moreover, the report finds that the "border security industry," which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry driving the climate emergency, is already profiteering from wealthy countries' repressive responses:

  • This militarization of borders is partly rooted in national climate security strategies that since the early 2000s have overwhelmingly painted migrants as "threats" rather than victims of injustice. The border security industry has helped promote this process through well-oiled political lobbying, leading to ever more contracts for the border industry and increasingly hostile environments for refugees and migrants;
  • The border security industry is already profiting from the increased spending on border and immigration enforcement and expects even more profits from anticipated instability due to climate change. A 2019 forecast by predicted that the Global Homeland Security and Public Safety Market would grow from $431 billion in 2018 to $606 billion in 2024, with a 5.8% annual growth rate. According to the report, one factor driving this is "climate warming-related natural disasters growth"; and
  • Top border contractors boast of the potential to increase their revenue from climate change. Raytheon says "demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change." Cobham, a British company that markets surveillance systems and is one of the main contractors for Australia's border security, says that "changes to countries [sic] resources and habitability could increase the need for border surveillance due to population migration."

"This nexus of power, wealth, and collusion between fossil fuel firms and the border security industry shows how climate inaction and militarized responses to its consequences increasingly work hand in hand," the authors write. "Both industries profit as ever more resources are diverted towards dealing with the consequences of climate change rather than tackling its root causes."

"This comes at a terrible human cost," they add. "It can be seen in the rising death toll of refugees, deplorable conditions in many refugee camps and detention centers, violent pushbacks from European countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean, and from the U.S., in countless cases of unnecessary suffering and brutality."

Calling the report's findings "very grim," Patrick Bigger, a senior policy fellow at the Climate + Community Project, tweeted, "This is how [to] get climate apartheid and why solidarity must be central to climate policy."

That sentiment was echoed by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who tweeted that "maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

In a video address shared by the Transnational Institute, McKibben explained why it is impossible for wealthy nations to "stop climate change with guns."

"The prioritization of militarized borders over climate finance ultimately threatens to worsen the climate crisis for humanity," the authors of the report explain. "Without sufficient investment to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, the crisis will wreak even more human devastation and uproot more lives."

However, they continue, "government spending is a political choice, meaning that different choices are possible. Investing in climate mitigation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries can support a transition to clean energy—and, alongside deep emission cuts by the biggest polluting nations—give the world a chance to keep temperatures below [a] 1.5°C increase since 1850."

"Supporting people forced to leave their homes with the resources and infrastructure to rebuild their lives in new locations can help them adapt to climate change and to live in dignity," says the report.

"Migration, if adequately supported, can be an important means of climate adaptation," the report adds. "Treating migration positively requires a change of direction and greatly increased climate finance, good public policy, and international cooperation, but most importantly it is the only morally just path to support those suffering a crisis they played no part in creating."

UN urges world to act now to combat 'looming water crisis'

We need to wake up to the looming water crisis.

"That's what World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Tuesday to mark the publication of a new report, which shows that as the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency intensifies floods and droughts, access to clean water is expected to become even more unequal—increasing the importance of sustainable resource management.

2021 State of Climate Services: Water—compiled by the WMO, the weather branch of the United Nations, with input from more than 20 international organizations—finds that most countries are ill-prepared to handle the forecasted surge in what one reporter called "too much and too little water."

The report urges policymakers to "reduce the impacts of water-related disasters" and improve outcomes by swiftly ramping up investments in a variety of solutions, including "better climate services and end-to-end early warning systems."

"The water is draining out of the tub in some places, while it's overflowing in others," Maxx Dilley, director of the WMO Climate Programme, told Inside Climate News. "When scientists were starting to get a handle on what climate change was going to mean, an acceleration of the hydrological cycle was one of the things that was considered likely."

According to the report:

  • In the past 20 years, terrestrial water storage—the summation of all water on the land surface and in the subsurface, including soil moisture, snow and ice—has been lost at a rate of 1cm per year;
  • In 2018, 2.3 billion people were living in countries under water stress and 3.6 billion people faced inadequate access to water at least one month per year. By 2050, the latter is expected to be more than five billion;
  • Meanwhile, water-related hazards have increased in frequency for the past 20 years. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have increased by 134%, and the number and duration of droughts also increased by 29%; and
  • Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is vital to achieving long-term social, economic and environmental well-being. But, although most countries have advanced their level of IWRM implementation, 107 countries remain off track to hit the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030.
The report is accompanied by a story map, which makes clear that "water lies at the heart of the global agenda on climate adaptation, sustainable development, and disaster risk reduction."
During his speech at Tuesday's launch event and in the report's foreword, Taalas noted that "increasing temperatures are resulting in global and regional precipitation changes, leading to shifts in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, with a major impact on food security and human health and well-being."
"This past year has seen a continuation of extreme, water-related events," Taalas continued. "Across Asia, extreme rainfall caused massive flooding in Japan, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, and India. Millions of people were displaced, and hundreds were killed."
"But it is not just in the developing world that flooding has led to major disruption," said the WMO chief. "Catastrophic flooding in Europe led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage."
Taalas also pointed out that "lack of water continues to be a major cause of concern for many nations, especially in Africa."
Since 2000, WMO notes, drought has killed more than 700,000 people, with the majority of deaths reported in Africa.
Moreover, between 1970 and 2019, there were 11,072 disasters attributed to weather-, water-, and climate-related hazards that claimed over two million lives—roughly 70% of them in the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
"There is good news, however," Taalas argued. "Most nations are determined to improve the way water is managed, with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reporting that water is a top adaptation priority in the vast majority (79%) of parties' Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris agreement."
Of the countries "that mention water as a top priority in their updated NDCs," the report states, "the majority highlight actions that relate to capacity building (57%), forecasting (45%), observing networks (30%), and data collection (28%)."
"However, 60% of National Hydrological Services—the national public agencies mandated to provide basic hydrological information and warning services to the government, the public, and the private sector—lack the full capacities needed to provide climate services for water," according to the report. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face the greatest gaps.
When it comes to the U.N.'s sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6)—to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all—"the world is seriously behind schedule," says the WMO. "In 2020, 3.6 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation services, 2.3 billion lacked basic hygiene services, and more than 2 billion live in water-stressed countries with lack of access to safe drinking water."
While the report estimates that "the current rates of progress need to quadruple in order to reach the global target of universal access by 2030," international funding for IWRM did not increase between 2015 and 2019. "Despite a 9% increase in financial pledges made to tackle SDG 6, official development assistance (ODA) commitments remained stable at US$8.8 billion."
Based on its findings, the report makes the following six strategic recommendations for policymakers:
  1. Invest in IWRM as a solution to better manage water stress, especially in SIDS and LDCs;
  2. Invest in end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems in at-risk LDCs, including for drought warning in Africa and flood warning in Asia;
  3. Fill the capacity gap in collecting data for basic hydrological variables which underpin climate services and early warning systems;
  4. Improve the interaction among national level stakeholders to co-develop and operationalize climate services with information users to better support adaptation in the water sector. There is also a pressing need for better monitoring and evaluation of socio-economic benefits, which will help to showcase best practices;
  5. Fill the data gaps for climate services in the water sector. Members' data on climate services for water is missing from 65 WMO Members and particularly from SIDS; and
  6. Join the Water and Climate Coalition. This is organized by WMO in response to the need for integrated policy developments and improved practical solutions. The coalition provides countries with support to improve assessment of water resources as well as forecasting and outlook services for water.
"Time is not on our side," stressed Taalas. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, he said, "is a stark reminder that catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, and flooding will increase in frequency and severity if we fail to act now."
"Climate services and early warning systems," he added, "give us a vital opportunity to prepare and react in a way that can save many lives and protect livelihoods and communities across the world."

New report exposes corporate scheme to derail Biden agenda and 'upend democracy'

Corporations threatened by the prospect of paying a slightly higher tax rate and exercising a little less power over working people are spending millions to sabotage a far-reaching Democratic reconciliation bill that would expand the social safety net and bolster climate action.

That's according to Behind the Curtain: The Corporate Plot to Upend Democracy, a new report released Wednesday by People's Action, a nationwide network of groups organizing for social justice, and Dēmos, a progressive think tank.

"While everyday people are calling on Congress to put people first and safeguard their basic rights to housing, healthcare, and a clean environment, corporations are prioritizing profits and working hard to preserve an inequitable status quo," Dēmos senior policy analyst Daniella Zessoules said in a statement. "As we've witnessed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, this greed hits Black, brown, and low-income people hardest."

The report exposes how corporations are trying to ensure that the United States' wealthiest and most powerful entities "can reap obscene profits year after year at our expense" and "keep our elected officials from taking action to restore communities."

Just 20 corporations or industry groups—keen to preserve nearly $2.3 trillion in tax cuts the GOP passed in 2017 and to make permanent billionaires' $1.8 trillion pandemic windfall—have spent more than $201 million in lobbying so far this year, the report finds. Much of that corporate cash has been aimed at derailing progressive provisions in the popular and potentially historic tax reform and spending package that would invest up to $3.5 trillion over a decade to strengthen the welfare state and decarbonize the economy.

Although the reconciliation bill encapsulates the agenda demanded by tens of millions of voters who elected President Joe Biden and put Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, an ongoing "power grab"—led by several corporations and trade associations that represent them, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Realtors Asscoaition, and supported by aligned right-wing lawmakers—has put its passage in jeopardy, the report notes.

"We pulled the curtain back on corporate America to find they were trying to put Congress in a headlock," People's Action campaign director Sondra Youdelman said in a statement. "Now, Congress needs to do its job, fight these bullies, and pass a budget package for the people."

While "corporate influence to stop progressive change is nothing new," the report states, "the concentration of wealth and monopoly powers in recent years has added fuel to the flame."

"Corporate America wants to keep profits high and taxes low forever," adds the report. "They simply don't want to pay their fair share. That's why they're throwing millions of dollars into lobbying, campaigns, and political advertising to divide us and get legislators to back their agenda of permanent inequality."

The report highlights anti-democratic corporate spending and opposition to the Build Back Better Act's proposed reforms in the following six key issue areas, all of which are backed by a majority in the U.S.: increasing taxes on corporations and the ultra-rich, lowering drug prices, providing affordable healthcare, investing in public and affordable housing, tackling climate change, and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

For each issue area, the report explains measures included in the reconciliation package, shows polling results indicating popular support for the proposed investments and policies, and details what corporations are doing to obstruct the bill's passage.

According to the report:

  • Over two-thirds of voters support raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations;
  • Nearly 90% of adults want the government to negotiate lower drug prices;
  • A majority of voters want the federal government to reduce healthcare costs and expand coverage;
  • A majority of voters want the federal government to increase the supply of nonprofit and publicly owned homes;
  • Two-thirds of adults think the federal government is not doing enough to mitigate the climate crisis; and
  • Almost 70% of voters support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

And yet—even though the Build Back Better Act would take steps toward meeting the needs of millions of Americans who are facing rampant tax injustices, the world's highest prescription drug prices, skyrocketing healthcare costs and lack of insurance, evictions and foreclosures, extreme weather disasters, or the threat of deportation—corporations have vehemently fought against the reconciliation bill.

Leading offenders include Anthem, JPMorgan Chase, FedEx, Walmart, Exxon, Amazon, Pfizer, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, the report finds. Big Pharma and private health insurance companies have spent $171 million so far in 2021 on lobbying, the most of any industry.

As the report notes:

Rich corporations are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the American people from getting what they want: a government that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. Their massive use of corporate power to frustrate the will of the people on an issue-by-issue basis is part of a larger anti-democracy effort backed by corporate America.
As corporations seek to undermine the Biden plan's much-needed tax provisions, historic investments in drug pricing reform, healthcare, housing, climate, and immigration reform, they are also attacking our freedom to vote. Many of the same companies combating elements of the Build Back Better proposal are also bankrolling voter suppression legislation.

"Now we know who the real villains are behind the curtain, who want to keep our communities from getting what we need and deserve," the report concludes. "Corporations and the wealthy few are undermining our democracy. They are lobbying hard to preserve an unequal status quo, using money to steer government rather than allow a real democracy to bring about what the people overwhelmingly want—a country that works for all of us."

The report's publication coincides with a National Day of Action during which People's Action members plan to hold rallies denouncing opponents of the Build Back Better Act for undermining the well-being of the nation's economy and democracy.

Following Tuesday's action against JPMorgan in New York, demonstrations against these organizations are planned for Wednesday:

  • Greater Des Moines Partnership in Iowa;
  • FedEx in West Virginia;
  • Anthem in Indiana;
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Anthem in New Hampshire;
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield in Illinois;
  • Ajax Pavement Industries: Flint Asphalt Plant in Michigan;
  • Amazon in Colorado;
  • National Realtors Association in Delaware and New York; and
  • PhRMA in Idaho.

"We can't call the U.S. the greatest democracy in the world if our legislators allow a handful of corporations to derail the critical and wildly popular provisions in the Build Back Better package," Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said in a statement (pdf).

"These companies are lining politicians' pockets in hopes of securing a future of extreme inequality and climate catastrophe," Tyson added. "It's time for lawmakers to grow spines and show us who they work for: the people, not massive corporations."

Sanders holds the line against right-wing Democrats trying to cut Biden's spending bill

Pushing back against conservative Democrats' attempts to shrink the Build Back Better Act's price tag, Sen. Bernie Sanders reiterated Tuesday night that anything less than $3.5 trillion is unacceptable.

Asked by CNN's Anderson Cooper how the size of the reconciliation package will be decided, Sanders (I-Vt.) said, "It's gonna be $3.5 trillion."

"That's the compromise that's already been made," said Sanders, referring to the fact that progressive lawmakers would prefer to invest at least $6 trillion to mitigate inequality and carbon pollution. Last month, House and Senate Democrats passed a budget resolution greenlighting $3.5 trillion in spending to improve social welfare, strengthen labor rights, provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, and bolster climate action.

"The truth is $3.5 trillion is not enough," Sanders argued Tuesday, listing several items—including child care, pre-K, and affordable housing—that many congressional Democrats want to spend more on but can't due to self-imposed constraints.

With Democrats hoping to vote on the package by the end of the month, details of the Build Back Better Act are starting to emerge. So far, however, progressives have been disappointed by House Democrats' plan to tax the rich at a lower level than President Joe Biden proposed earlier this year and to maintain billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies. In addition, three corporate Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee threatened to derail the legislation if it includes a key provision to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices.

The bill is facing a major counter-offensive from corporate lobbyists, but it can be passed without Republican support in the House and, in the upper chamber, through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process as long as all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus vote for it.

Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, put the Build Back Better Act into a broader context during his interview with Cooper.

"When you look at the Gross Domestic Product of the United States, we're talking about close to $300 trillion over the next 10 years," he said. "This is $3.5 trillion, barely more than 1% of that."

"Furthermore," Sanders continued, "if I have anything to say about it, this legislation will be paid for [and] will not add to the national debt."

The reconciliation package "will be paid for," added the Vermont Independent, "by finally demanding that the wealthiest people in this country, who in some years pay zero... in federal taxes," along with "large corporations [that] pay nothing in federal taxes," contribute more to the public coffers.

Citing a recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, journalist David Moore wrote last week in Sludge that—when accounting for revenue raised through tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations, and when spreading out spending over a decade—the annual net cost of the Build Back Better Act is estimated to be between $100 billion and $175 billion per year, "less than the roughly $188 billion that the U.S. paid in 2020 to just three defense contractors: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing."

Right-wing Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)—as well as other deficit hawks who voted for last year's Pentagon budget—helped send more public money to a few weapons makers than the annual net cost of the reconciliation bill they claim is too expensive, Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute pointed out recently.

Sanders on Wednesday also drew attention to Washington's skewed priorities. "There's endless amounts of money," he noted, "when we go to war" and when it comes to "tax breaks for billionaires... But when we want to support working American families, suddenly we don't have enough money."

The American Prospect's David Dayen reported Wednesday that due to obstruction from Manchin and Sinema, who have "decided that they must have a cap on both spending and revenues," Democratic lawmakers are being forced to have "difficult conversations" about "whether to live with less on every policy in the Build Back Better Act, or to jettison some and make sure the policies remaining actually work and are politically potent."

For instance, the Biden administration called for investing $400 billion to improve Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). Based on the House Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the bill, however, less than $200 billion would be allocated to HCBS. Without adequate funding, pay increases for the low-wage home care workforce would be unlikely, undermining the prospect of better services sought by disability rights groups and advocates for the elderly.

Democrats, Dayen wrote, must now decide if they are willing to accept cuts and delays to a litany of proposed programs, "making them in some cases not work for a lot of people, or they can decide to do a few things well."

Biden, meanwhile, is coming under fire from critics in his own party for not playing a more active and obvious role in championing the popular Build Back Better Act. Notably, his relatively hands-off or behind-the-scenes approach to the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social infrastructure package stands in contrast to his strong public push earlier this summer for the bipartisan, $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the fossil fuel-friendly physical infrastructure bill passed last month by the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—with the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the president—is pursuing a "two-track" strategy that advances both pieces of legislation simultaneously, linking each bill's fate to the other.

Dayen and other critics have made the case that last month's unsuccessful effort by a small group of conservative House Democrats, who are bankrolled by Big Pharma and Big Oil, to decouple the two measures and extract an expedited vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill was a thinly veiled attempt, backed by Manchin and Sinema, to kill the social safety net and climate provisions contained in the reconciliation package.

Sanders warned last weekend that due to right-wing congressional Democrats' opposition to the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act—the passage of which at least 17 progressive House Democrats have said is a prerequisite to voting for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—the danger remains that both pieces of legislation could fail.

"It would really be a terrible, terrible shame for the American people," if that happens, said Sanders.


Happy Holidays!