News & Politics

Saudi operatives involved in Jamal Khashoggi 2018 murder received paramilitary training from US firm: report

Although journalists all over the world were under attack in 2018, the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul that year was especially disturbing. According to new reporting in the New York Times, four of the men involved in the killing received paramilitary training in the United States.

Khashoggi, a native of Saudi Arabia, was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018. Major media outlets reported that the killers were operating under direct orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which MBS denied. Although former CIA Director Gina Haspel didn't believe him, then-President Donald Trump maintained that there was no evidence that MBS wasn't telling the truth and stressed that he considered the Saudi royal families valuable allies of the United States.

In an article published on June 22, Times journalists Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes and Michael LaForgia report, "Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement. The instruction occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi's killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom."

The firm that trained the four Saudis in 2017, according to the Times reporters, was Tier 1 Group, an Arkansas-based company owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

"There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia," Mazzetti, Barnes and LaForgia explain. "But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents committed horrific human rights abuses. It also underscores the perils of military partnerships with repressive governments and demonstrates how little oversight exists for those forces after they return home."

Louis Bremer, a senior executive of Cerberus, has acknowledged that Saudi operatives received paramilitary training from Tier 1 but has emphasized that no one at Tier 1 or Cerberus had any knowledge that any of them were planning violence against Khashoggi. The Times quotes Bremer as saying, "T1G management, the board and I stand firmly with the U.S. government, the American people and the international community in condemning the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

Trump nominated Bremer for a top position at the Pentagon, but the nomination was withdrawn following questions about the training of Saudis in the United States.

The Times isn't the first major media outlet to report that Saudi operatives involved in Khashoggi's murder received training in the U.S. In a March 29, 2019 column, the Washington Post's David Ignatius wrote, "Tier 1 Group and DynCorp are both owned by affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, a privately owned investment group based in New York. The company wouldn't confirm or deny whether any of the 17 perpetrators of the Khashoggi killing who were sanctioned by the Treasury Department had been trained under the Tier 1 contract. But a source close to Cerberus said, 'We know that this horrendous incident occurred' and that 'companies must emphasize rigorous ethical evaluation policies' in light of such an event.'"

'Far from the gold standard': GOP Arizona county official condemns sham audit

One Republican official in Arizona is telling the truth about his political party's controversial audit taking place in Maricopa County, Ariz. On Tuesday, June 22, Republican Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer appeared on CNN where he discussed the audit with host Anderson Cooper.

The interview began with Cooper offering a quick assessment about the audit describing it as a "meshugas," a Yiddish word to describe "craziness." Richer responded with a statement suggesting he agreed with the host.

"That's the right word for it," Richer said, adding, "This is insane just from a competence standpoint. We've had 13 other states visit, and I would say to them, this is not the audit you want."

He had no qualms about sharing his honest opinion of the audit as he admitted that it is truly "insane."

"This is far from the gold standard of audits," Richer said. "You're looking for the Ernst & Young of accounting, or the Latham & Watkins of law firms. You're not looking for a newbie company who has never done this before, who as CNN very capably showed doesn't even have office space and is sending the data off to a mysterious house in Montana. That's not the gold standard."

Richer went on to discuss the reports circulating about voting system data being moved to a remote lab in rural Montana. Richer noted that the move seems suspicious. "I mean, there is no good reason for doing this," Richer admitted.

The Republican official, who defeated a Democratic incumbent in his state back in 2020, has made it clear that he refuses to indulge in the shenanigans surrounding this audit. On May 17, Richer appeared on CNN's Erin Burnett where he said, "Just stop indulging this. Stop giving space for lies."

Several other Republicans in the state have also echoed similar sentiments and verbalized their concerns about the audit. In a letter to Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann, the Republican-led Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sounded off about the audit.

"Our state has become a laughingstock," the board wrote. "Worse, this 'audit' is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic."

Republicans won't even debate 'For the People Act' as they flood states with voter suppression bills

Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would protect voting rights across the United States and improve ballot access. The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. The For the People Act is "the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965," says Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman. "It just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the fight over voting rights. Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster today to block the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would restore protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled the first procedural vote on the legislation today even though Democrats do not have the votes to move it forward. That's because two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose eliminating the filibuster. Last week, Manchin offered a watered-down voting bill, but that, too, faced opposition from Republicans.

The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote around the country. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer accused Republicans of backing voter suppression.

MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER: Let's dispense with this nonsense. There is no real principle behind these policies. They're not about election integrity. They're not about voter fraud. These policies have one purpose and one purpose only: making it harder for younger, poorer, nonwhite and typically Democratic voters to have — to access the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: While today's Senate vote on the For the People Act is expected to fail, voting rights advocates say the fight has just begun. More than 70 groups have backed a national campaign called "Deadline for Democracy" to push senators to protect voting rights during the upcoming Senate recess.

We're joined now by Ari Berman, reporter for Mother Jones, his new cover story for the magazine headlined "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History." He is author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ari. Why don't you start off —

ARI BERMAN: Hi, Amy. Good to see you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us. Start off by explaining what the For the People Act is and exactly what is happening today.

ARI BERMAN: The For the People Act is the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would expand voting access for millions of Americans through policies like automatic and Election Day registration, two weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, preventing discriminatory voter ID laws and voter purging, public financing of elections, a ban on partisan gerrymandering — all of that for federal elections. So, it would set really expansive rules for federal elections in all 50 states, so you have the same right to vote if you live in Oregon compared to if you live in Texas.

And what's happening is that Republicans are going to block a vote on whether to even debate this bill. The vote today in the Senate is not a vote on the For the People Act; it's a vote to even debate the For the People Act. And so, it just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Ari, given the fact that the Republicans have signaled that they're going to do everything possible to kill the bill, why do you feel — what's the sense of why the Democrats have decided to press for a vote?

ARI BERMAN: Well, they want to show how obstructionist Republicans are being. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is building a case here that Republicans have now blocked the January 6 commission, which had strong bipartisan support. They have blocked votes on paycheck fairness. They are blocking votes on gun control, on climate change and a whole host of other popular issues. And they are blocking a vote on the most fundamental right in democracy, the right to vote. And so, he wants to lay out a case of all of the Republican obstruction to convince Democrats that they need to either abolish or pare down the filibuster in order to pass these critical bills. Now, I don't know if they're going to succeed in doing that. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, some other Democrats have been very steadfast they will not weaken or get rid of the filibuster. Nonetheless, Schumer is hoping that Republican obstruction will give them no other choice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Manchin. He was backing another voting rights act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Could you talk about the differences between the two and what's happened with even the one that Manchin was backing?

ARI BERMAN: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, that requires states with a long history of discrimination, like Georgia and Texas, to once again have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Now, what the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act does is it blocks new voter suppression efforts in states with a history of discrimination, both in the past and present, but it would not block voter suppression laws that are already on the books, nor would it put in place policies to make it easier to vote nationwide. That's what the For the People Act does.

And so, these bills are really meant to work together. The For the People Act is meant to expand voting access all across the board, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is supposed to stop voter suppression in the places where voter suppression has historically been most prevalent. It's not an either/or thing. That's what Manchin has said, that he wants one bill, not the other, although now he's backing a revised For the People Act. But these bills really were viewed by voting rights advocates as two bills that were supposed to work together so that there would be expansive federal legislation protecting the right to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you can explain — in what Manchin has proposed, Stacey Abrams, the leading voting rights activist in the country, from Georgia, has come out and endorsed, saying this would be acceptable — though McConnell says he wouldn't accept it — and accepted his idea of voter ID, though that voter ID could be any number of kinds of ID. Is that right, Ari? Can you explain this, the significance of Abrams endorsing Manchin's revision of the bill?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, I think most Democrats would rather see something passed rather than nothing, when it comes to protecting voting rights. And Manchin's proposal is a mixed bag, but it has a lot of policies that voting rights advocates support. Manchin wants Election Day to be a national holiday. He wants a ban on partisan gerrymandering. He wants automatic voter registration. He wants two weeks of early voting. He wants more disclosure of dark money. Those are all things that voting rights advocates strongly support.

Now, there are some things that they're not so crazy about. Manchin supports a less restrictive version of voter ID. It's not the same voter ID laws that have been implemented in places like Texas, but it basically says, if you don't have photo ID, you can still vote with things like utility bills. So, that's not quite as bad as strict ID. He would still allow some version of voter purging.

So, there are things in there that are good in Manchin's proposal. There are things in there that are bad. But the point is, no Republicans have come out to support his proposal, so the question is: Why are Democrats compromising over voting rights, when Republicans won't even support that compromise to begin with? Why not introduce and pass legislation to actually solve the problem, if Republicans aren't going to support it to begin with? Use the power you have, because the other side is not going to accommodate you regardless.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari, you recently reported about how dark money groups are writing Republican voter suppression bills across the country. Your piece featured leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer, speaking at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, in April.

JESSICA ANDERSON: Iowa was the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly, and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed. At the end of the day, the bill that Governor Kemp signed and the Georgia Legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended. … We're working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel, on our behalf, give them the model legislation, so it has that grassroots, you know, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. So that's leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer. Explain the significance of what she's saying.

ARI BERMAN: This was a really explosive video that Mother Jones published in conjunction with the watchdog group Documented, who obtained the video, showing that Heritage Action, the sister group of the Heritage Foundation, one of the largest right-wing think tanks, was actually writing model legislation for the states to make it harder to vote. They brag in the video that they wrote 19 provisions of a Texas bill, eight provisions of a Georgia bill, three provisions of an Iowa bill.

So you have a dark money group — we don't know its donors — raising millions of dollars from secret billionaire donors, who are writing legislation making it harder to vote all across the country. And Republicans have portrayed this legislation as organic, bottom-up legislation responding to the worries of their constituents, when in fact you have dark money groups in Washington that are exporting a voter suppression agenda to the states.

And that's the exact thing that the For the People Act would stop. The connection between dark money and voter suppression is exactly what the For the People Act targets. And what Heritage is doing is they are spending $24 million to make it harder to vote in eight battleground states. And they are trying to block H.R. 1, which they say will destroy our democracy. And they are specifically targeting people like Joe Manchin to get them to oppose H.R. 1 and to keep the filibuster to prevent voting rights legislation from passing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ari, you mentioned the $24 million that are being raised for suppression. There was a report in The New York Times today that a Democratic-leaning PAC, Priorities USA, is putting up $20 million for voter education and registration before the upcoming midterm elections. Could you talk about this whole battle over voter suppression in a historical context, its relationship to past efforts to suppress the vote in American history?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, well, there's a lot of echoes about the voter suppression that's happening right now and the voter suppression that happened in the past. That's what my Mother Jones cover story about Jim Crow was about. The pattern that existed during the Jim Crow era and during Reconstruction was that you had new voters turn out — Black voters were enfranchised; that was followed by violence, fraud, intimidation to try to prevent Blacks from voting; then that was followed by attempts to change the laws to prevent Blacks from voting altogether, when states like Mississippi rushed to change their constitutions. And the same pattern is playing out today, which you had much higher turnout in 2020; you had new people turn out; that was followed by an attempt to try to overturn the election; then that was followed by states rewriting their laws to achieve the same outcomes as the insurrection.

And one of the key parallels between the Jim Crow era and today was that Congress had an opportunity to protect voting rights. They passed a bill in 1890 to protect voting rights. It passed the House; it was killed by a filibuster in the Senate. And that's why disenfranchisement laws were allowed to go forward in places like Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama and all across the Jim Crow South. And the same kind of pattern is playing out today, which is that Republicans are rushing to disenfranchise voters, the House has passed legislation to stop it, but it's going to be killed by a Senate filibuster. If that happens, Republicans are going to be able to undermine voting rights in the states for decades, and Democrats are going to be virtually powerless to be able to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you about Georgia and Arizona. Arizona is finishing up, they say, this week their — what some call their "fraudit," the audit of so-called voter fraud. And many are concerned that's going to be used as a model around the country, including Georgia. At the same time, you have Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saying he's removed over 100,000 names from the state voter rolls, saying most of them were linked to change of address or from residences where election mail had been returned to sender. And you have the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, saying there's "nothing Jim Crow" about the recent voter suppression law passed in Georgia. Put all of that together.

ARI BERMAN: Well, what Republicans are doing is they are weaponizing the big lie on every front. They are keeping alive the lie that the election was stolen, through these bogus audits. They are making it harder to vote in so many different ways. The Georgia law that Brian Kemp says has nothing to do with Jim Crow has 16 different provisions making it harder for Democratic constituencies and communities of color to be able to vote, which is why Stacey Abrams calls it "Jim Crow in a suit and tie." They're actually making it easier to overturn election results. They are purging local election officials. They're taking over county election boards. They're taking over state election boards. In 14 different states, they are politicizing election administration in an unprecedented way.

So, it's a "flood the zone" strategy when it comes to voter suppression. It's not one tactic; it's not another tactic. It's all of these different tactics to make it harder to vote. And that's why federal legislation is so important, because if the Congress doesn't step in to block these voter suppression efforts, these attempts to overturn elections, Republicans are just going to be emboldened, and they're going to go further and further and further. And the crazy things we're seeing in Arizona, the crazy things we're seeing in Georgia, these are going to become the new normal, if Congress doesn't act.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, reporter for Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. We will link to your piece, "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History."

Next up, we look at the climate crisis and the debate over infrastructure spending. Stay with us.

Newly released records show the staggering number of Secret Service agents who contracted COVID-19 under Trump

In 2020, during the Trump administration, 881 active Secret Service employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. This, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), included a majority, 477, of secret service "special agents," and 249 from the "uniformed division." This follows suit with the scant information that leaked out early on during the pandemic, when it was known that the Secret Service was facing at least 11 active COVID-19 cases and dozens more in quarantine because of exposure.

The FOIA documents do not give granular details about which agents may or may not have been in daily contact with Trump or his administration's personnel. Analysis by CREW of the documents obtained does give this peek into how dangerous a job being a Secret Service employee was under a science-denying administration: "The list consists of 477 Special Agents, 249 members of the Uniformed Division, 131 working in Administrative, Professional, Technical Positions, 12 Investigative Protection Officers and 12 Technical Security Investigators." Those 477 "special agents" are employees in the division that "is responsible for protecting the president and vice president, as well as the families of these leaders and other government officials."

Back in October of 2020, Donald Trump was being treated for COVID-19, getting jacked up on steroids, at Walter Reed Medical Center, Maryland. After releasing a short video where he told Americans that "It's been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the REAL school. This isn't the 'let's read the book' school. And I get it. And I understand it. And it's a very interesting thing." Trump appeared for a photo op, driving around and waving at supporters who had gathered at the hospital.

Whether or not the Secret Service agents forced to protect this sick and self-absorbed man ended up sick themselves is unknown. What is known is that the Trump administration frequently flaunted their disregard for CDC public health warnings, and recommendations to wear masks and socially distance one another. The Secret Service was also forced to protect every anti-science member of the Trump family during the pandemic. The list of administration officials and people within the range of the corrupt Republican administration who tested positive was long and never-ending. It was known that more than 130 Secret Service officers were in quarantine after President Joe Biden won the election in Nov. 2020.

If those records and the Secret Service's own numbers are to be believed, almost 14% of the entire "workforce contracted COVID-19—including more than 19 percent of the uniformed service," between March of 2020 and March of 2021. ABC News spoke with Secret Service spokesperson Justine Whelan who said that "Now and throughout the pandemic, the Secret Service was fully prepared and staffed to successfully meet these challenges." I do not doubt that the Secret Service in our country worked double time to do the very difficult job they had. It's just disappointing that America forced them to have to do that job for such an awful set of people.

Biden DOJ may defend Trump in Capitol riot lawsuits over presidents' 'sweeping immunity for comments while in office'

The Biden Dept. of Justice may defend Donald Trump, the former president, for remarks he made inciting the January 6 insurrection. Columnist E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump sexually assaulted her and is suing him for defamation, is furious.

'ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?" asked Carroll, who famously posed for the cover of New York Magazine in the dress she was wearing in Bergdorf-Goodman the day she says Trump, in the 1990's, raped her in a dressing room. She is also seeking his DNA, which she says remains on the dress, to prove he raped her

"The DOJ–using the same rational they used to defend Trump in my case–may defend Trump in the Capitol Insurrection suit brought by the illustrious Representative @RepSwalwell," she tweeted.

Many were furious when then-Attorney General Bill Barr stepped in to have the DOJ take over the case, especially since the federal government cannot be sued for defamation. The case theoretically could have then been dismissed.

But it lives on, and the Biden DOJ, under the direction of Attorney General Merrick Garland, has now taken to defend the former president in Carroll's defamation case.

On Tuesday Reuters reported the Biden DOJ may defend Trump in lawsuits alleging he incited a violent coup and deadly insurrection.

"The Biden administration paved the way for that possibility, say constitutional scholars and lawyers in the cases, by arguing in an unrelated defamation case against Trump that presidents enjoy sweeping immunity for their comments while in office – and the right to a defense by government lawyers," Reuters reports.

The decision to defend the former president "has profound implications for several ongoing lawsuits, including one filed by two U.S. Capitol Police officers seeking to hold Trump liable for injuries they suffered defending the building in the Jan. 6 attack."

But noted constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe calls the DOJ's decision to defend the former president a legal blunder of "Titanic" proportions.

"It would be very difficult for the Justice Department to change course now," Tribe, a Harvard University constitutional law professor and a frequent critic of Trump. "The Titanic is aimed at the iceberg."

GOP 'death cult' isn't hyperbole: Republicans reject green infrastructure as Western states face historic drought

As lawmakers in Washington continue to negotiate over an infrastructure bill that Democrats say needs to include major new funding to address the climate crisis, much of the U.S. is experiencing record heat, with many western states seeing record temperatures, drought and water shortages. "The climate crisis is here now," says climate and energy researcher Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The climate crisis is really happening right now, and every single year we delay on passing a climate bill, the worse the crisis gets."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

President Joe Biden is planning to meet with lawmakers in a push to reach a bipartisan agreement on a new infrastructure plan. The group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators recently proposed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, but many Democrats have criticized the deal for not doing enough to address the climate crisis, among other issues. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are considering a $6 trillion package that could be passed through the reconciliation process if all 50 Democrats agree to vote for it.

The debate over infrastructure and combating the climate emergency comes as western states are facing daily reminders of the crisis, including drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Many cities have already broken all-time heat records even though it's still June. Last week, Phoenix recorded five days in a row of temperatures over 115 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever. Santa Fe, New Mexico, tied its all-time high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Forecasters are predicting it could hit 110 degrees next week in Portland, Oregon. About 26% of the West is experiencing exceptional drought. Water levels at Lake Mead have dropped to their lowest levels ever recorded.

We're joined right now by Leah Stokes. She's an assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy policy. She's the author of Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us, Professor Stokes. So, talk about the desperate situation, the drought in the West, and how that links, very practically, to this debate over infrastructure spending.

LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you talked about it at the top of the segment here. You know, the reality is, it's not just the West that's in a debate. It's really about half of the entire country that is facing really a historic drought. Scientists are saying that in some parts of the West they're seeing a drought that's worse than we've seen in, you know, something like four centuries.

So, the fact is that the climate crisis is here now. The drought, the heat waves that you talked about, setting record temperatures all across the western United States, and really even reaching into parts of the Midwest, these are the signatures of climate change. And the fact is that the climate crisis is on our doorstep.

And the question is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to continue to talk about having infrastructure day or infrastructure week for another four years, or are we actually going to see Congress act and pass a bold climate package this summer?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, you've said that the Biden administration and the Senate and House Democrats are committed to true climate action. But how do you see this playing out, given the clear Republican resistance? What do you think is doable? And of the stuff that's not doable, what kind of public pressure needs to come on Washington to get it done?

LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you're right that we need to keep the public pressure up. I noticed at the top of the hour you talked about Sunrise's marches, which have been happening in both California and across the Gulf Coast. You know, there have been lots of actions, whether that's against Line 3 or for these kinds of infrastructure negotiations, that have been trying to raise awareness of lawmakers of just how urgent the climate crisis is. And we really need to keep that up.

And the good news is that just a week or two ago, a group of senators — we have over 12 senators at this point now — have said, in the line of Senator Markey, "No climate, no deal," meaning that if there is not climate change in the package that moves forward this summer, they're not going to move a package forward this summer. And I think that's really shaken free the negotiations in Congress, because what we're now seeing is that Majority Leader Schumer is saying, "OK, we can have a two-track process. We can continue along with this bipartisan idea that's been going on for several months now, and we can finally start the budget reconciliation process for the broader infrastructure package that Senator Sanders is helping to lead." So I think that we're starting to see this two-track process develop. But the fundamental thing that's part of this process is "No climate, no deal." We have to have a bold climate package, that's happening through the budget reconciliation process, pass this summer.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the president has already sharply reduced his initial proposal on infrastructure. What's in the bipartisan policy package now, and what's been excluded so far?

LEAH STOKES: Well, we don't actually know a lot of what is in the bipartisan policy package. There was a two-pager that came out a couple days ago, and it said that there would be about $600 billion in new spending, so things like, overwhelmingly, roads and bridges and sort of that kind of infrastructure. There was some more hopeful things, though, because previous Republican proposals have included, for example, zero dollars for the power grid, while this proposal included about $73 billion for the power grid. There's also significant investments in public transit. So, you know, there are decent ideas in this bipartisan approach, but it is not a substitute for a climate bill at the scale that's necessary.

And there's also been questions raised about some of the pay-fors for this Republican bill. For example, they've been talking about putting taxes on electric vehicles — the exact opposite thing one should be doing right now. And Senator Sanders, in particular, has said that he is not interested in a proposal that does that, nor is President Biden, who campaigned on saying that he would not raise taxes for anybody making $400,000 or less. So, the pay-fors in the bipartisan approach are really lacking right now. They include things like repurposing COVID bills — sorry, COVID funds, which probably need to be spent on COVID. So, I think we need a little bit more details. And it's clear that this bipartisan group is trying to work to figure out exactly what their plan is to pay for this new spending.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the climate crisis in the West — I mean, we live in information silos that are determined in all different ways, including geographically — and for people to understand the significance of what's happening, throughout Arizona, California and beyond?

LEAH STOKES: Absolutely. You know, I've only lived in California since 2015, and the droughts and fires and heat waves that I have experienced in that short time are really unprecedented. You know, I lived through the Thomas Fire, which was then the largest fire in modern California history. And there's been information going around lately that that's actually now the seventh-largest fire, and that only took place in 2017.

So, a lot of people in the western United States are just experiencing year after year of extreme heat waves, extreme drought, extreme fires, that we've really never seen before. This is why scientists are beginning to talk about things like megadroughts and megafires and mega-heat waves, these huge-scale events that don't just span the western United States but go all the way to the Midwest, with record temperatures happening in June and then another record event likely to happen next week. It's only June. Normally these kinds of extreme heat waves come in August. And we know from climate scientists that this is climate change, that heat waves are more than twice as likely to be happening because of climate change. And that's from science that's a few years old. I'm sure scientists are looking at what we're seeing right now; they're even more alarmed.

So, the climate crisis is really happening right now, and every single year we delay on passing a climate bill, the worse the crisis gets. Folks may remember that over a decade ago we tried to pass a climate bill, the Waxman-Markey bill. It failed in the Senate. And we have already had the president propose this American Jobs Plan at the end of March, and we have been waiting for almost three months to see Congress act. And while we wait, we see climate change happening all across the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Professor Stokes, I wanted to ask you about the state roles in addressing the climate crisis. We are seeing reports all around the country now that state governments have more cash and more surplus than they've ever had in their histories, as a result of rebounding tax revenues and also federal assistance. California, New York, New Jersey, all these states have more money to spend this year than they've ever had before. And I'm wondering what your sense is of what states could be doing to direct some of those funds, since this is basically a one-shot situation for this year, perhaps next year, in terms of being able to address climate change at the state level?

LEAH STOKES: That's a great question. You know, the great thing about acting on climate change is that it is an investment. When we're talking about infrastructure, when we're talking about one-time spending, it's actually spending that pays itself back, both through the infrastructure itself as well as through job creation, all kinds of things throughout the economy. So, I think that you're right that governors should be looking at spending money on climate change, building, for example, clean energy, helping to build more public transit and support that infrastructure, because if you put the money in at time one, it can actually pay you back over many years.

So, I do think that the states have an important role to play. But the federal government really has the power of the purse. And we're not talking about sort of a one-time surplus. We're talking about spending trillions of dollars on the climate crisis. And that is really just a down payment on the scale of the crisis. So, I think that we can't sort of look away from the federal government. We have to see them act alongside states.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you, finally, talk about the report that you just co-authored with the Sierra Club, Professor Stokes, called "The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges," looking at greenwashing by utility companies?

LEAH STOKES: Absolutely. So, several months ago, I worked with the Sierra Club to research: What are utilities planning to do? And they put out a lot of corporate pledges, saying that they wanted to decarbonize by, let's say, 2050. But we compared those pledges to their actual investment behavior, to their proposals that they make about what they'd like to build. And the fact is, across this country we have about 230 fossil gas plants currently proposed. If those plants were built, it would be absolutely devastating for the climate crisis. And so, on the one hand, we have utilities saying, "Yes, we want to clean up. We want to address climate change," but, on the other hand, we have them proposing massive amounts of fossil infrastructure.

And so, how do we reconcile these two things? Well, we have to recognize that if we really want to clean up our infrastructure, we need to have federal legislation, specifically a federal clean electricity standard. President Biden campaigned and won on a plan for 100% clean power by 2035. And it's clear that there's a lot of support from some utilities, as well as within Congress, to pass a clean electricity standard that would target 80% clean power by 2030.

And I wrote another report with Evergreen Action and Data for Progress which looked at how exactly we can do that as part of the budget reconciliation process. So, if we really want to get on top of the climate crisis, the power sector is the most important place to start, because if we have clean electricity, like 80% clean power by 2030, because of this clean electricity standard, and we combine that with electrification — things like electric vehicles, electric stoves and heat pumps — we can actually decarbonize about 75% of our economy. And when we talk about President Biden's goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030, if we have that clean electricity standard and we pass that through Congress — we go to 80% clean by 2030 — the fact is we'd be more than halfway to meeting the president's goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030.

So, really, there's no substitute for laws, unfortunately. It's one thing for utilities to say they'd like to do things, but we actually need legislation to make sure they do things. And that legislation at the federal level can actually be an investment to help them do things and to help them get on track with the pledges that they claim that they want to fulfill.

AMY GOODMAN: Leah Stokes, we want to thank you so much for being with us, assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy policy, author of Short Circuiting Policy, also co-host of the podcast A Matter of Degrees. She is also on the advisory board at Evergreen Action.

Next up, striking coal miners from Alabama are here in New York to protest on Wall Street. The miners have been on strike since April. Stay with us.

Whistleblowers accuse Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of distorting testimony to get their lawsuit dismissed

"Whistleblowers say Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is distorting testimony to get their lawsuit dismissed" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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A group of former top aides to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reiterated in a court filing this week that they believe Paxton committed crimes while in office, and suggested that Paxton is intentionally mischaracterizing witness testimony in their whistleblower case against him for political reasons.

The aides are taking issue with a brief and a press release issued on June 2 where Paxton's lawyers asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to throw out the case four aides filed against the state's top lawyer in which they allege he fired them for reporting his alleged illegal behavior to federal and state authorities. Paxton, who has denied the charges, said he fired aides last year because they had gone “rogue" and made “unsubstantiated claims" against him.

Paxton's lawyer said in June that in a trial court hearing on March 1, former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer would not say he specifically saw Paxton commit a crime, but only that he had “potential concerns" about Paxton's dealings with real estate developer Nate Paul. Paul is a political donor and friend of Paxton who the whistleblowers allege Paxton helped with his legal issues in exchange for personal favors.

Paxton's lawyers argued that the appeals court should overturn a trial court decision denying the Office of the Attorney General's plea to dismiss because the court doesn't have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

But in a new brief filed on Monday by the whistleblowers' lawyers, they argue Paxton's lawyers took the exchange they cited out of context to argue Mateer never saw Paxton commit a crime. They said Mateer's comment was in response to a specific question about whether any employees raised concerns about Paxton's behavior in June 2020, three months before former employees reported Paxton's behavior to law enforcement.

“This claim distorts Mateer's testimony," the brief states. “In fact, Mateer testified unequivocally that he believed at the time of Appellees' FBI report—and still believes today—that Paxton committed crimes, including abuse of office and bribery." They also point out that Mateer signed a letter on Oct. 1, 2020 that alerted the attorney general's office that the whistleblowers had reported Paxton's behavior to the FBI, further proving Mateer believed Paxton had violated the law.

Mateer, who is not a plaintiff in the case, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Paxton's lawyer.

The whistleblowers' attorneys say the AG's office did not accurately explain to the appeals court that Mateer's potential concerns were specifically in response to a question about Paxton and Paul's relationship in June 2020.

“OAG took even greater license in its [June] press release, predicting victory because its brief shows that Mateer “swore under oath that Paxton committed no actual crimes," the lawyers wrote in a footnote in the brief. “Given the … OAG's mischaracterization of what Mateer 'swore under oath,' perhaps this portion of OAG's brief was written for an audience other than the justices of this Court."

A lawyer in the case told The Texas Tribune they believed the press release was written for Paxton's supporters and Texas voters, rather than to make a legal argument.

Paxton issued the press release hours before Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced he is running against Paxton for attorney general in the 2022 Republican primary. Since then, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman has also announced her candidacy for the position.

Paxton will likely face sharp criticism for this lawsuit during the primary campaign, as well as the six-year-old felony fraud case in which prosecutors claim Paxton persuaded investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it while he was in the Texas House of Representatives.

The lawyers asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to consider this appeal without hearing oral arguments. If the court decides to hear arguments, the aides requested it happen as quickly as possible.

The four former aides also laid out in detail in the filing the specific instances where they believe Paxton broke the law.

In February, they alleged in a court filing that Paul helped Paxton remodel his house and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. In return, the aides allege, Paxton used his office to help Paul's business interests, investigate Paul's adversaries and help settle a lawsuit. The filing in February was the most detailed explanation as to what the former aides believe Paxton's motivations were in what they describe as a “bizarre, obsessive use of power."

They also alleged Paxton improperly intervened in multiple open records requests to help Paul gain access to government documents after his company had been raided by the FBI.

“Paxton personally spoke to Paul about the subject matter; told [whistleblower Ryan M.] Vassar that he did not want to assist the FBI or DPS; took personal possession for several days of files that OAG could not officially release to Paul; and specifically directed the release of the FBI's unredacted brief to Paul," the brief states.

The whistleblowers also allege Paxton used AG resources to help Paul in a lawsuit filed against him by an Austin charity and pressured staffers to issue a legal opinion that would help Paul, despite the fact the ruling was inconsistent with previous opinions. The whistleblowers say in the court filing that they reported their concerns to multiple authorities and “spent several hours with two FBI agents telling what they had observed, answering questions, and discussing reasonable inferences they could draw."

The brief also rejects Paxton's repeated argument that he cannot be sued under the Whistleblower Act because he is not a public employee.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at

'Cowards like you': Dad of Parkland shooting victim slams Marco Rubio's remarks on 'fatherlessness'

Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) Father's Day took a bit of a turn on Sunday when his words about fatherhood came back to haunt him.

The Florida lawmaker recently sparked outrage with his remarks suggesting the United States' social issues are a result of "fatherlessness." Now, tons of Twitter users, including the father of a Parkland shooting victim, have fired back at the senator for his careless words, according to The Independent.

In a tweet posted on Father's Day, Rubio insisted "billions in government spending is no substitute for fatherhood."

"Every major social problem in America can be linked to fatherlessness," the senator wrote. "Wherever involved fathers are rare, crisis is certain to follow."

Fred Guttenberg, the father of one Parkland shooting victim, was among the Twitter users who quickly sounded off in response to the lawmaker's controversial remarks.

Obviously angered, Guttenberg tweeted a fiery response using the Capitol insurrection as an example to indicate how frivolous the lawmakers words were.

"WTF is wrong with you Marco Rubio?" Guttenberg sounded off. "Are you saying all of the January 6th insurrectionists lacked fathers."

Guttenberg continued with more blistering, critical remarks about the senators claims saying, "Closer to home, are you saying the impact of gun violence on Americans is because of a lack of dads. No Marco, it is because of cowards like you."

Rep. Omari Hardy (D-Fla.) also responded to Rubio.

Emphasizing that he, himself, has two mothers, Hardy tweeted, "My two mothers and I want you to know that you're a clown."

Power, wealth and justice in the time of COVID-19: The global north returns to 'normal'

Fifteen months ago, the SARS-CoV-2 virus unleashed Covid-19. Since then, it's killed more than 3.8 million people worldwide (and possibly many more). Finally, a return to normalcy seems likely for a distinct minority of the world's people, those living mainly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and China. That's not surprising. The concentration of wealth and power globally has enabled rich countries to all but monopolize available vaccine doses. For the citizens of low-income and poor countries to have long-term pandemic security, especially the 46% of the world's population who survive on less than $5.50 a day, this inequity must end, rapidly — but don't hold your breath.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

The Global North: Normalcy Returns

In the United States new daily infections, which peaked in early January, had plummeted 96% by June 16th. The daily death toll also dropped — by 92% — and the consequences were apparent. Big-city streets were bustling again, as shops and restaurants became ever busier. Americans were shedding their reluctance to travel by plane or train, as schools and universities prepared to resume "live instruction" in the fall. Zoom catch-ups were yielding to socializing the old-fashioned way.

By that June day, new infections and deaths had fallen substantially below their peaks in other wealthy parts of the world as well. In Canada, cases had dropped by 89% and deaths by 94%; in Europe by 87% and 87%; and in the United Kingdom by 84% and 99%.

Yes, European governments were warier than the U.S. about giving people the green light to resume their pre-pandemic lifestyles and have yet to fully abolish curbs on congregating and traveling. Perhaps recalling Britain's previous winter surge, thanks to the B.1.1.7 mutation (initially discovered there) and the recent appearance of two other virulent strains of Covid-19, B.1.167 and B.1.617.2 (both first detected in India), Downing Street has retained restrictions on social gatherings. It's even put off a full reopening on June 21st, as previously planned. And that couldn't have been more understandable. After all, on June 17th, the new case count had reached 10,809, the highest since late March. Still, new daily infections there are less than a tenth what they were in early January. So, like the U.S., Britain and the rest of Europe are returning to some semblance of normalcy.

The Global South: A Long Road Ahead

Lately, the place that's been hit the hardest by Covid-19 is the global south where countries are particularly ill-prepared.

Consider social distancing. People with jobs that can be done by "working from home" constitute a far smaller proportion of the labor force than in wealthy nations with far higher levels of education, mechanization, and automation, along with far greater access to computers and the Internet. An estimated 40% of workers in rich countries can work remotely. In lower- and middle-income lands perhaps 10% can do so and the numbers are even worse in the poorest of them.

During the pandemic, millions of Canadians, Europeans, and Americans lost their jobs and struggled to pay food and housing bills. Still, the economic impact has been far worse in other parts of the world, particularly the poorest African and Asian nations. There, some 100 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty.

Such places lack the basics to prevent infections and care for Covid-19 patients. Running water, soap, and hand sanitizer are often not readily available. In the developing world, 785 million or more people lack "basic water services," as do a quarter of health clinics and hospitals there, which have also faced crippling shortages of standard protective gear, never mind oxygen and ventilators.

Last year, for instance, South Sudan, with 12 million people, had only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds. Burkina Faso had 11 ventilators for its 20 million people; Sierra Leone 13 for its eight million; and the Central African Republic, a mere three for eight million. The problem wasn't confined to Africa either. Virtually all of Venezuela's hospitals have run low on critical supplies and the country had 84 ICU beds for nearly 30 million people.

Yes, wealthy countries like the U.S. faced significant shortages, but they had the cash to buy what they needed (or could ramp up production at home). The global south's poorest countries were and remain at the back of the queue.

India's Disaster

India has provided the most chilling illustration of how spiraling infections can overwhelm healthcare systems in the global south. Things looked surprisingly good there until recently. Infection and death rates were far below what experts had anticipated based on the economy, population density, and the highly uneven quality of its healthcare system. The government's decision to order a phased lifting of a national lockdown seemed vindication indeed. As late as April, India reported fewer new cases per million than Britain, France, Germany, the U.K., or the U.S.

Never one for modesty, its Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, boasted that India had "saved humanity from a great disaster by containing Corona effectively." He touted its progress in vaccination; bragged that it was now exporting masks, test kits, and safety equipment; and mocked forecasts that Covid-19 would infect 800 million Indians and kill a million of them. Confident that his country had turned the corner, he and his Bharatiya Janata Party held huge, unmasked political rallies, while millions of Indians gathered in vast crowds for the annual Kumbh Mela religious festival.

Then, in early April, the second wave struck with horrific consequences. By May 6th, the daily case count had reached 414,188. On May 19th, it would break the world record for daily Covid-19 deaths, previously a dubious American honor, recording almost 4,500 of them.

Hospitals quickly ran out of beds. The sick were turned away in droves and left to die at home or even in the streets, gasping for breath. Supplies of medical oxygen and ventilators ran out, as did personal protective equipment. Soon, Modi had to appeal for help, which many countries provided.

Indian press reports estimate that fully half of India's 300,000-plus Covid-19 deaths have occurred in this second wave, the vast majority after March. During the worst of it, the air in India's big cities was thick with smoke from crematoria, while, because of the shortage of designated cremation and burial sites, corpses regularly washed up on riverbanks.

We may never know how many Indians have actually died since April. Hospital records, even assuming they were kept fastidiously amid the pandemonium, won't provide the full picture because an unknown number of people died elsewhere.

The Vaccination Divide

Other parts of the global south have also been hit by surging infections, including countries in Asia which had previously contained Covid-19's spread, among them Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Latin America has seen devastating surges of the pandemic, above all in Brazil because of President Jair Bolsonaro's stunning combination of fecklessness and callousness, but also in Bolivia, Columbia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. In Africa, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among 14 countries in which infections have spiked.

Meanwhile, the data reveal a gargantuan north-south vaccination gap. By early June, the U.S. had administered doses to nearly half the country's population, in Britain slightly more than half, in Canada just over a third, and in the European Union approximately a third. (Bear in mind that the proportions would be far higher were only adults counted and that vaccination rates are still increasing far faster in these places than in the global south.)

Now consider examples of vaccination coverage in low-income countries.

  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Vietnam, and Zambia it ranged from 0.1% to 0.9% of the population.
  • In Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, and South Africa, between 1% and 2.4%.
  • In Botswana and Zimbabwe, which have the highest coverage in sub-Saharan Africa, 3% and 3.6% respectively.
  • In Asia (China and Singapore aside), Cambodia at 9.6% was the leader, followed by India at 8.5%. Coverage in all other Asian countries was below 5.4.%.

This north-south contrast matters because mutations first detected in the U.K., Brazil, India, and South Africa, which may prove up to 50% more transmissible, are already circulating worldwide. Meanwhile, new ones, perhaps even more virulent, are likely to emerge in largely unvaccinated nations. This, in turn, will endanger anyone who's unvaccinated and so could prove particularly calamitous for the global south.

Why the vaccination gap? Wealthy countries, none more than the United States, could afford to spend billions of dollars to buy vaccines. They're home as well to cutting-edge biotechnology companies like AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer. Those two advantages enabled them to preorder enormous quantities of vaccine, indeed almost all of what BioNTech and Moderna anticipated making in 2021, and even before their vaccines had completed clinical trials. As a result, by late March, 86% of all vaccinations had been administered in that part of the world, a mere 0.1% in poor regions.

This wasn't the result of some evil conspiracy. Governments in rich countries weren't sure which vaccine-makers would succeed, so they spread their bets. Nevertheless, their stockpiling gambit locked up most of the global supply.

Equity vs. Power

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who leads the World Health Organization (WHO), was among those decrying the inequity of "vaccine nationalism." To counter it, he and others proposed that the deep-pocketed countries that had vacuumed up the supplies, vaccinate only their elderly, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, and healthcare workers, and then donate their remaining doses so that other countries could do the same. As supplies increased, the rest of the world's population could be vaccinated based on an assessment of the degree to which different categories of people were at risk.

COVAX, the U.N. program involving 190 countries led by the WHO and funded by governments and private philanthropies, would then ensure that getting vaccinated didn't depend on whether or not a person lived in a wealthy country. It would also leverage its large membership to secure low prices from vaccine manufacturers.

That was the idea anyway. The reality, of course, has been altogether different. Though most wealthy countries, including the U.S. following Biden's election, did join COVAX, they also decided to use their own massive buying power to cut deals directly with the pharmaceutical giants and vaccinate as many of their own as they could. And in February, the U.S. government took the additional step of invoking the Defense Production Act to restrict exports of 37 raw materials critical for making vaccines.

COVAX has received support, including $4 billion pledged by President Joe Biden for 2021 and 2022, but nowhere near what's needed to reach its goal of distributing two billion doses by the end of this year. By May, in fact, it had distributed just 3.4% of that amount.

Biden recently announced that the U.S. would donate 500 million doses of vaccines this year and next, chiefly to COVAX; and at their summit this month, the G-7 governments announced plans to provide one billion altogether. That's a large number and a welcome move, but still modest considering that 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70% of the world.

COVAX's problems have been aggravated by the decision of India, counted on to provide half of the two billion doses it had ordered for this year, to ban vaccine exports. Aside from vaccine, COVAX's program is focused on helping low-income countries train vaccinators, create distribution networks, and launch public awareness campaigns, all of which will be many times more expensive for them than vaccine purchases and no less critical.

Another proposal, initiated in late 2020 by India and South Africa and backed by 100 countries, mostly from the global south, calls for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend patents on vaccines so that pharmaceutical companies in the global south can manufacture them without violating intellectual property laws and so launch production near the places that need them the most.

That idea hasn't taken wing either.

The pharmaceutical companies, always zealous about the sanctity of patents, have trotted out familiar arguments (recall the HIV-AIDS crisis): their counterparts in the global south lack the expertise and technology to make complex vaccines quickly enough; efficacy and safety could prove substandard; lifting patent restrictions on this occasion could set a precedent and stifle innovation; and they had made huge investments with no guarantees of success.

Critics challenged these claims, but the bio-tech and pharmaceutical giants have more clout, and they simply don't want to share their knowledge. None of them, for instance, has participated in the WHO's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), created expressly to promote the voluntary international sharing of intellectual property, technology, and knowhow, through non-restricted licensing.

On the (only faintly) brighter side, Moderna announced last October that it wouldn't enforce its Covid-19 vaccine patents during the pandemic — but didn't offer any technical assistance to pharmaceutical firms in the global south. AstraZeneca gave the Serum Institute of India a license to make its vaccine and also declared that it would forgo profits from vaccine sales until the pandemic ends. The catch: it reserved the right to determine that end date, which it may declare as early as this July.

In May, President Biden surprised many people by supporting the waiving of patents on Covid-19 vaccines. That was a big change given the degree to which the U.S. government has been a dogged defender of intellectual property rights. But his gesture, however commendable, may remain just that. Germany dissented immediately. Others in the European Union seem open to discussion, but that, at best, means protracted WTO negotiations about a welter of legal and technical details in the midst of a global emergency.

And the pharmaceutical companies will hang tough. Never mind that many received billions of dollars from governments in various forms, including equity purchases, subsidies, large preordered vaccine contracts ($18 billion from the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed program alone), and research-and-development partnerships with government agencies. Contrary to its narrative, Big Pharma never placed huge, risky bets to create Covid-19 vaccines.

How Does This End?

Various mutations of the virus, several highly infectious, are now traveling the world and new ones are expected to arise. This poses an obvious threat to the inhabitants of low-income countries where vaccination rates are already abysmally poor. Given the skewed distribution of vaccines, people there may not be vaccinated, even partially, until 2022, or later. Covid-19 could therefore claim more millions of lives.

But the suffering won't be confined to the global south. The more the virus replicates itself, the greater the probability of new, even more dangerous, mutations — ones that could attack the tens of millions of unvaccinated in the wealthy parts of the world, too. Between a fifth and a quarter of adults in the U.S. and the European Union say that they're unlikely to, or simply won't, get vaccinated. For various reasons, including worry about the safety of vaccines, anti-vax sentiments rooted in religious and political beliefs, and the growing influence of ever wilder conspiracy theories, U.S. vaccination rates slowed starting in mid-April.

As a result, President Biden's goal of having 70% of adults receive at least one shot by July 4th won't be realized. With less than two weeks to go, at least half of the adults in 25 states still remain completely unvaccinated. And what if existing vaccines don't ensure protection against new mutations, something virologists consider a possibility? Booster shots may provide a fix, but not an easy one given this country's size, the logistical complexities of mounting another vaccination campaign, and the inevitable political squabbling it will produce.

Amid the unknowns, this much is clear: for all the talk about global governance and collective action against threats that don't respect borders, the response to this pandemic has been driven by vaccine nationalism. That's indefensible, both ethically and on the grounds of self-interest.

Allen Weisselberg isn't the only Trump Organization exec being probed by the Manhattan DA’s office

Major media outlets have been reporting extensively on the role that Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, plays in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.'s criminal investigation of the company. But Vanity Fair's Bess Levin, in her June 21 column, emphasizes that Weisselberg isn't the only one in the Trump Organization who Vance's office is taking a close look at. Vance, Levin notes, is also probing Trump Organization COO Matthew Calamari.

"As part of its criminal investigation into Donald Trump, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has, for many months now, been trying to get Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg — who knows where all the bodies are buried and could likely put the dots together for a jury — to flip," Levin explains. "Thus far, it doesn't appear as if he's done so, but the fact that Weisselberg could reportedly face charges this summer presumably ups the chances he'll cooperate to save himself. In the meantime, though, Cyrus Vance, Jr.'s office is apparently looking into another figure who may have some extremely helpful information to share. The Wall Street Journal reports that New York prosecutors are investigating Matthew Calamari, Trump's bodyguard turned chief operating officer, and the question of whether or not he was the recipient of 'tax-free fringe benefits,' as part of their probe into the company possibly giving out such perks to employees as a way to avoid paying taxes."

Calamari hasn't been charged with anything in connection with Vance's investigation of the Trump Organization. Neither has Weisselberg or former President Donald Trump. But Levin notes that according to Wall Street Journal sources, prosecutors have advised both Calamari and his son, Matthew Calamari Jr., to hire lawyers — which, Levin observes, is "generally not a great sign."

"(The older) Calamari has reportedly lived for years in an apartment at the Trump Park Avenue building on the East Side and driven a Mercedes leased through the Trump Organization," Levin notes. "His son, Matthew Calamari, Jr., also lives in a company-owned building. Junior joined the family business in 2011 right after graduating high school and was named corporate director of security in 2017, according to a LinkedIn profile."

Vance's office recently convened a grand jury, which, according to Washington Post reporters Jonathan O'Connell, Shayna Jacobs, David A. Fahrenthold and Josh Dawsey, is "expected to decide whether to indict the former president, according to two people familiar with the development, and is pressing Weisselberg to provide evidence implicating Trump."

Watch: DC mayor smacks down 'incorrect' Ron Johnson after he says residents don't deserve statehood

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday pushed back against Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-WI) suggestion that residents of her city don't deserve statehood because they have a greater interest in the federal government than other Americans.

The confrontation occurred during a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"Those individuals who are within the District obviously have a vested interest in a very powerful federal government," Johnson said while arguing against statehood. "Which is counter to the power vested in the states [and] the states want to maintain their sovereign power."

"To me, this seems just like a naked power grab," he continued. "In 2020, 92.2% of D.C. votes went to the Democratic candidate; 5.4% went to the Republican candidate. In the last 80 elections, no Republican candidate has gotten more than 10% of the vote."

Johnson went on to cite the median income of the residents as a point against statehood.

"In the end, people choose to live here," he added before turning to Bowser to complain about how insurrectionists were treated after breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6.

"Have you seen any information as to how much damage was done during the summer rioting?" Johnson wanted to know.

But Bowser insisted on responding to Johnson's suggestion that D.C. residents do not deserve equal representation because they have a vested interest in the federal government.

"Thank you, Senator, for your interest in the District," she began. "But I have to address first by talking about the residents of D.C. -- 700,000 people, hardworking individuals who educate their children, start businesses, and work in the District."

"It would be incorrect to say that D.C. residents have more of an interest in the federal government than other Americans," the mayor added.

Johnson quickly interrupted: "That's not the question I asked you. Could you answer the question I asked you? Do you have a property damage estimate from the summer riots?"

"I'm glad to hear you say that you are opposed to riotous behavior, whether it happened on 16th Street or here at the Capitol," Bowser replied.

"Could you answer the question?" Johnson interrupted again. "Do you have an estimate of the property damage during the summer riots?"

The senator then suggested that the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 are being treated unfairly compared to other rioters.

"If you're asking about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation operates, you'll have to address those questions to them," Bowser said. "We do not permit any riotous behavior, whoever is conducting it."

Watch the video below from C-SPAN.

DC mayor smacks down 'incorrect' Ron Johnson for opposing statehood

via C-SPAN

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