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[l] at 2/5/23 6:10am
Last April, Governor Abbott of Texas began sending migrants from the US southern border to Washington, D.C., with Arizona joining soon after. The media attention around this program has largely quieted down, but the buses continue to come. Despite a lack of coordination from Texas and Florida, and limited communication from Arizona, cities across the country quickly mobilized mutual aid networks to get migrants to their final destinations or help them resettle in their new communities. Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs, will continue to send migrants out-of-state, but with one key difference: she promises to send migrants to their final destination. We have yet to see if the implementation will differ from her predecessor’s, but we hope this will provide migrants with actual relief. The Biden administration recently began cracking down on crossings from Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Haitians, while creating a new humanitarian parole program for a limited group of eligible migrants from these nationalities. As a result, the number of people seeking asylum at the border has dropped, as people explore other alternatives. This will likely slow the rate of buses arriving from the border, but many cities are still in need of resources to welcome the recent arrivals. Continue reading for the latest news in several cities across the U.S., and how to take action in your local community. Washington, D.C. Buses continue to arrive at the vice president’s home, which is not easily accessible to public transit, volunteers, and service providers. This intentional lack of regard for migrants is just one of the ways that the governors’ busing was never about helping migrants but instead proving a political point. This cruelty was no clearer than on Christmas Eve, when Texas dropped off over 100 migrants, including young children, in front of the vice president’s house after midnight in freezing temperatures. Thankfully, mutual aid organizers were already there to greet them and bring them to shelter. The number of buses arriving each week has slowed, but Sanctuary DMV continues to support recent arrivals, migrants that have decided to settle in the DMV region, and long-term residents. Here are a few ways to support their work: Volunteer to help with everything from greeting buses to sorting donations Gift supplies on the online wishlist. There is a separate list for baby supplies Drop off winter clothing, undergarments, and baby supplies Purchase a “Melt ICE” T-shirt Donate For a full list, click HERE. New York City New York has received the largest number of migrants, with an estimated 42,000 asylum seekers since last Spring arriving in search of shelter and basic services. Not all of these migrants are from the buses, but the exponential increase in buses, coupled with the lack of coordination or communication from Texas, has placed an immense strain on shelter capacity and city services. Tensions are high as this week, city officials suddenly evicted asylum seekers from the hotel where they had resided for weeks, planning to move them to a remote facility in Brooklyn that lacks privacy, heating, and access for the migrants to reach their place of work. Mutual aid groups and nonprofits continue to provide most of the support for asylum seekers, but there is hope for a better response from elected officials. On February 1st, Governor Kathy Hochul announced she would include $1 billion in the New York state budget to welcome and provide social services to asylum seekers. This likely isn’t enough to address the current crisis, but it is a promising first step, and will hopefully serve as an example for other state governors to welcome migrants humanely. Here are a few ways to support asylum seekers in New York City: Buy supplies on Amazon wishlist or Target wishlist Drop off new clothing, toiletry, and hygiene items Donate a bike Donate to support Team TLC NYC Click HERE for a full list of ways to support. Chicago Since August, Chicago has received an estimated 5,000 migrants, of which nearly 4,000 accepted shelter from the city or state of Illinois. This has placed a great strain on Chicago’s shelter space, driving nonprofits to largely take on the work of finding temporary housing, leaving people stranded in police stations for days at a time. World Relief is looking for volunteers to greet buses, and you can see where to gift supplies or bring donations HERE. Visit the city of Chicago’s website for ways to gift items, donate, or volunteer.
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[l] at 2/5/23 5:44am
The word “inequality” is everywhere in the media. It usually refers either to race, gender, rich vs. poor, or other differences between human beings. Absent from the public debate is the biggest perpetrator of “inequality” against human beings—the corporate entity itself.Ever since 1886 when a U.S. Supreme Court reporter, in a headnote for the Court’s opinion, wrote that corporations possessed equal rights under the Constitution, judges and corporatist legislators have equipped corporations with an arsenal of inequitable rights. (The Constitution makes no mention whatsoever of “corporation” or “company”).How is that possible with the 14th Amendment mandating equal protection under the law? Because this central provision for our alleged rule of law didn’t take into account the contrivances of corporate lawyers, corporate judges, and corporate-indentured lawmakers.Corporations that are created by state charters are deemed “artificial persons.” States like Delaware and Nevada have made a revenue business out of chartering corporations under permissive laws that concentrate power at the top of autocratic commercial hierarchies, leaving their shareholder-owners with very few options other than to sell. Since the early 1800s, states have chartered corporations giving their shareholders limited liability. The maximum they can lose is the amount of dollars invested in their company’s stocks or bonds. The modern history of corporate law is now aimed at maximizing the limited liability of the corporation itself.The following twelve examples of inequality are shocking:The corporate entity protects owners and shareholders from business debts and other liabilities. Yet, individual business owners are not personally shielded from business-related debts or liabilities.Bankruptcy laws favor corporations mightily over individuals. Bankrupt corporations can cancel their labor union contracts, are free from lawsuit liabilities against them, and can even get judges to grant retention bonuses for the culpable executives so they can provide parties with their alleged historical memory. Then under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company, having shed its liabilities, can reorganize and be back in business. If it is a giant bankrupt company like General Motors was in 2009, its recreation can get many billions of taxpayer dollars because it is considered “too big to fail.” Compare all these privileges with an individual going bankrupt no matter how wealthy he or she may have been. No contest.Under criminal laws, corporations have huge advantages. Unlike most individuals who commit serious crimes, corporations have lawyers who shield them with “no-prosecution” or “deferred prosecution” agreements instead of criminal penalties. Unlike individual criminals, corporations cannot be jailed, and are almost never executed (that is having their charter pulled and put out of business, unless they are small business crooks). Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the big banks may even be too big to be prosecuted. While the big corporations, having cost the lives of many people and sickened more, continue on their merry profiteering ways. In this category are the large drug, chemical, auto, oil, coal, and hospital chains.Wrongfully injured people suing corporations under tort law find corporations can endlessly delay, with their insured or deductible legal expenses. Victims who are desperate for money to pay medical and other bills, cannot deduct their legal expenses and may not have insurance. Corporations can force low settlements because of their inequality of status and power.Unequal taxation is a Niagara of inequality. The top federal tax rate for individuals is 37% and only 21% for corporations, before a plethora of loopholes. Why should an individual businessperson or any individual have to pay 37% and face an economic disadvantage vis-a-vis a competitor that only pays 21%? The baseless response is that there is a rational classification for this unfairness—nonsense.Unlike individuals, corporations can create their own parents—(holding companies) for evasive purposes. They can also create hundreds of children (subsidiaries) to evade all kinds of law enforcement. The tax and non-regulatory haven of the Grand Cayman Islands has thousands of corporations “domiciled” there. One large building—Ugland House—“houses” 12,000 corporations. Real humans would be insufferably cramped if they attempted to quarter themselves with such inorganic efficiencies. Until the decision last month by the Third Circuit of Appeals, saying no to profitable Johnson & Johnson’s corporate lawyers, corporations could create a subsidiary and put in it all the pending lawsuits by injured consumers, declare the subsidiary bankrupt, and then leave the harmed plaintiffs with little recourse. This is called the “Texas two-step” a creation of corporate lawyers.Corporations’ one-sided contracts requiring you to sign or click on, turn you into contract peons. Freedom of contract is gone. Your status is reduced to obeying the harsh impositions by banks, auto dealers, insurance companies, credit card companies, utilities, etc. Try to escape and go to a competitor. No dice. They all have the same restrictions, with minor variations. These long, inscrutable fine-print handcuffs require you to waive your right to go to court for a trial by a jury of your peers.The antitrust laws, being little enforced over the years, have resulted in monopolies or shared monopolies, replete with manipulative powers that make a mockery out of an alleged free marketplace. How’s that for inequality—destroying the right to and benefits from a competitive market?Corporations are given monopoly licenses by the FCC to control 24/7 what we own—the public airwaves. The radio and TV corporations get this bonanza free of charge along with the power to decide who gets on and who doesn’t. No individual could either have such a status or in any way challenge these license renewals made virtually automatic by the corporatized U.S. Federal Communications Commission.Emanating from these inequalities, embedded in corporate-lobbied unequal laws, are the realities of raw economic, political, and cultural power that intimidate and coerce mere human mortals. Corporations are able to survive and thrive after horrendous overcharges, crimes, and casualties—the opioid and other drug companies, the vast toxic pollution of air, water, and food, the crimes of Wall Street, and the exploitation of workers’ health and economic well-being. Corporations continue, as they are not human, without feeling the sanctions of social shame, guilt, or ostracism. Mere humans have no such inherent escapes.Other derivative political power allows corporations to strategically plan and control the lives of humans with algorithms and monopoly patents. They get away with direct marketing that exploits children and circumvents their parents’ authority, breaking long-held cultural barriers to mass gambling online, and continuing to discriminate against women and minorities, as workers and consumers.The biggest prize of all for the uses of corporate-dominant inequality over real people is the control of the Congress, state legislatures, country boards, city councils, and elections along with the selection of judges. Their assemblage of ever larger entrenched legal and illegal inequalities produces a multiplier effect, achieving deeper inequalities as corporate control over capital, labor, technology and choice of jurisdictions here and abroad intensifies their privileges and immunities.All these drives for maximum power and control are maturing the corporate state—as Wall Street and Washington merge. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a formal message to Congress in 1938, called the control of government by private power “fascism.” In 1933 Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote an opinion warning about big corporations becoming a “Frankenstein monster” in our midst.So, all you fighters against inequality between people leap into the Big Leagues and confront the biggest progenitors of inequalities of all—giant corporations. Grab hold of the roots if you wish to prevent the bitter fruits. End cruel exploitation provided by these double standards.

[Category: Citizens united, Corporate power, Corruption, Us supreme court, Corporate personhood, Inequality]

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[l] at 2/5/23 5:27am
Last month, we joined more than 1000 representatives from all sectors of civil society who came together in Santiago de Chile to debate the future of – and threats to – public services the world over. Participants discussed the chronic underfunding which continues to drive economic inequality, injustice and austerity, and the neocolonial policies that maintain the status quo. Today those debates have resulted in the launch of “Our Future is Public: The Santiago Declaration for Public Services” – a momentous agreement signed by more than 200 organisations vowing to work to “transform our systems, valuing human rights and ecological sustainability over GDP growth and narrowly defined economic gains.”One of the most damaging initiatives that has deeply affected the delivery of public services and infrastructure projects on all continents is the rise of public-private partnerships, or PPPs. They have long been promoted by institutions such as the World Bank as a silver bullet to close the so-called gap to finance investments in services and infrastructure. The premise is that the private sector can deliver these services more efficiently and to a higher standard than the public sector, despite extensive evidence to the contrary. We lay the pitfalls of PPPs bare in our new report History RePPPeated II: Why public-private partnerships are not the solution – the second in a series of investigations documenting the impacts of PPPs across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Launched at the Santiago conference with some of the partners responsible for investigating and authoring the case studies, the report not only highlights negative impacts of PPPs, but sets out recommendations for how to better finance infrastructure and public services in the face of false solutions that have been proposed given the context of the current polycrisis. These narratives wholly reflect red flags that are raised in the Santiago Declaration.Through these investigations, we discovered failures on multiple levels in PPPs covering infrastructure such as roads and water supplies, as well as vital public services like healthcare and education. From escalating costs for the stretched public sector to environmental and social impacts, we found time and again that communities had been ignored, displaced, and had their basic rights violated by thoughtless projects designed and implemented in the pursuit of profit. A prime example is that of the the Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) in Nepal. First announced nearly a quarter of a century ago, the project’s aim was to deliver clean, reliable and affordable water to 1.5 million people in Kathmandu. And yet, 24 years later, residents are still waiting, while communities at the Melamchi water source are facing scarcity of water and eroded livelihoods. Instead of safe, clean drinking water – an internationally recognised human right – they have witnessed an extraordinary revolving door of private companies and institutional funders, including the World Bank, who have each failed to deliver. To add to the MWSP’s colossal failure, 80 hectares of farmland have been lost to the project, a heavy blow to local residents, and up to 80 households have been forcibly displaced due to construction.Who owns and controls our resources and public services became even more vitally important with the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. Market-based models cannot be relied upon to deliver on human rights or the fight against inequalities as they are accountable only to their shareholders and not to their users. This resulting focus on profit is overwhelmingly apparent in our case study from Liberia. Here, US firm Bridge International Academies (now NewGlobe) ‘abandoned’ its students and teachers during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, shutting down schools and cutting teachers’ salaries by 80-90 per cent, despite being paid by the government. And yet, in 2021 the Liberian government indefinitely extended the project, effectively subsidising a US for-profit firm at a cost that is at least double government spending on public schools. In Peru, the Expressway Yellow Line has emerged as one of the most controversial projects ever carried out. This toll road was supposed to ease congestion issues in the capital city Lima, but instead toll rates have been unreasonably increased on at least eight occasions. This generated almost $23 million for the private company involved and transpired with the complicity of public officials. Meanwhile, the Peruvian state suffered economic damages of US$1.2 million due to under the table negotiations between public officials and the private company, which led to the incorrect implementation and improper modifications of the contract years after it was initially signed. Today, questions regarding the project and conflicts surrounding its implementation remain, while Lima residents’ expectations of quality road infrastructure to improve living conditions for those who have been most affected, continue to go unmet.The human cost of the PPP projects showcased by History RePPPeated II is self-evident, but they are far from the exception. Rather they serve to illustrate common failures with the PPP model that risk compromising fundamental human rights and that undermine the fight against climate change and inequalities. Their continuing promotion is one of the many reasons why we support the Santiago Declaration. Together with all its signatories, we will strengthen resistance to PPPs with their focus on private-led interests and promote public-public or public-common partnerships for a future that is public.

[Category: Common good, Public goods, Santiago declaration, Public-private partnerships]

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[l] at 2/5/23 5:06am
Republicans and right-wing commentators suddenly want to save the whales—and much of the news media is buying it.As a humpback whale was found on the shore at Brigantine, New Jersey on January 12—the seventh dead whale to wash up on a New York or New Jersey beach since December 5—local Republicans rushed to blame it on offshore wind development projects.“Not even the whales can survive [New Jersey Gov.] Murphy’s Energy Master Plan,” lamented the Jersey GOP on Twitter (1/18/23). The partisan account linked to a story in the New Jersey Monitor (1/17/23) with the alarming headline “Debate Grows Over Offshore Wind, as Whale Deaths Mount.” The article began by laying out that debate—”environmentalists put out dueling calls to continue or curtail offshore wind work”—before including an important clarification about wind farm construction and the whale deaths: “no evidence shows it caused the casualties.”The project in question is the recently approved 1,100 megawatt wind project that Danish company Ørsted is expected to build off the New Jersey coast this year. It is projected to power more than half a million homes by 2025. Pre-construction activities, including probing the seabed with a metal rod to test the nature of the soil, have begun.According to federal National Marine Fisheries Service reports (2/22/18, 4/4/18, 5/4/18) this method of surveying, known as cone penetration testing or CPT, had little noise impact and has not been found to injure marine mammals. A representative from Ørsted told FAIR that the company is not currently using acoustic tests such as sonar in these surveys off the East Coast, and wasn’t in December, either. Ørsted did use acoustic surveys in the early stages of its project, which ended in September 2022.‘Whales paying the price’That didn’t stop Fox News’ Jesse Watters (1/11/23) from professing outrage. “Something unusual is happening to these whales,” he said: Maybe this has something to do with it: New Jersey is actively preparing to build massive wind farms right off the coast. And the whales are paying the price, probably. These experts are saying these projects are killing these whales. In case you missed the point, the report was accompanied by all-caps chyrons with messages like “WIND SURVEYING IS KILLING OUR WHALES,” “OCEAN WINDMILLS ARE THE PROBLEM” and “WINDFARMS ARE UGLY AND THEY KILL WHALES.”This is from the same Jesse Watters who just two months ago (11/29/22) brought a lobsterman on to condemn Whole Foods for pulling lobsters from its stores due to the risk lobster fishing gear poses to whales. He has also spent much of his career working to discredit the climate movement and dismiss activists as hysterical (Mediaite, 8/5/19; Jesse Watters Primetime, 7/7/22, 9/7/22; Media Matters, 7/21/21, 2/2/22, 10/18/22). But now, suddenly, Watters is a whale conservationist.The “expert” Watters brought onto his January 11 show was Mike Dean (mistakenly identified as Mike Davis), affiliated with Protect Our Coast NJ, a right-wing nonprofit that has accepted fossil fuel money, disguised as a pro-ocean environmental group (Intercept, 12/8/21). On his Twitter feed, Dean expresses opposition to climate science, and regularly retweeting climate denial posts (Media Matters, 1/12/23).“The industrial wind companies are out there pounding the seabed with sonar,” Dean incorrectly claimed. “Common sense would tell you that’s what killed these whales. That’s the only new thing going on out there right now.” Unusual mortality eventsYour “common sense” should take a few other facts into account. First, whale deaths on the Jersey coast have not been isolated to this past December and January. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson said they’re part of a larger spate of “unusual mortality events” the agency has been documenting since 2016, predating these recent wind farm projects (AP, 1/9/23). NOAA Fisheries recorded 17 unusual mortality events of endangered right whales on the East Coast in 2017, and 10 in 2019. It counted no dead right whales in 2022, and one so far in 2023. Humpback whale “unusual mortality events” on the East Coast ranged from 34 in 2017 to 10 in 2021.Meanwhile, some factors unrelated to wind farms are new: The Port of New York and New Jersey has been the nation’s busiest in recent months, as labor disputes and congestion routed many ships from the West Coast (Post & Courier, 1/13/23).Also new: The Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA noted that there currently are a high number of large whales in the Mid-Atlantic, due to high numbers of fish they eat remaining in the waters. A 2018 Rutgers study found that warming oceans may be sending crustaceans and numerous fish species further north during the winters. Increasing populations of menhaden—small fish that whales feed on—have also been documented off the mid-Atlantic coast (CNN, 1/20/23).Sonar, which uses low-frequency noise to detect objects, can potentially interfere with whale navigation (Science.org, 3/21/22). But it’s hardly new. It’s long been in use on the ocean floor by the US military, which often uses it in training missions. Sonar and seismic testing are also used to find oil and gas deposits under the sea bed. Sonar used for wind energy construction surveying is expected to have a much lower sonic impact than the seismic air guns used in fossil fuel exploration (CNN, 1/20/23). Causes of whale deathsLeading causes of deaths for whales include ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear. In fact, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, along with scientists from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Mystic Aquarium and Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute, performed a necropsy on the whale found in Brigantine, and determined that a ship strike most likely caused its death, though the investigation is not complete.According to NOAA, which recently published an FAQ (1/20/23) about its ongoing research on “interactions between offshore wind energy projects and whales on the East Coast,” thus far no whale deaths have been linked to offshore wind development.Skepticism over the ethics, business practices and environmental impacts of a large international company like Ørsted is healthy. But so is listening to scientists. Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment, told the Post & Courier (1/13/23) that so far, scientists don’t know much about how offshore wind farm construction will affect right whales, but that her main concern is ship traffic during construction—not sonar before it.“Meyer-Gutbrod worries that exaggerated claims about wind energy may distract from implementing evidence-based policies that can be a life raft for the species,” the article said.The distraction is exactly the point for fossil fuel shills and their Fox cheerleaders. Fox’s Tucker Carlson (1/13/23) lamented that, instead of blaming offshore windmills for whale deaths, “the federal government is harassing the people who need the least harassment: commercial fishermen and lobstermen on the East Coast.” In reality, as of 2020, entanglements with commercial fishing gear, along with ship strikes, had “killed or seriously injured at least 31 right whales…since 2017 alone,” according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. ‘Stop offshore wind’But rather than correcting misinformation, local and national papers often amplified false and misleading claims from Fox, Republican politicians and pseudo-environmental fossil fuel–backed groups.“Murphy & Wind Companies Ignore US Navy Report; Sonar Can Kill Whales” shouted a headline at the Downbeach Buzz local news site (1/17/23).“Six Dead Whales Wash Up in a Month. Stop Offshore Wind for Investigation, NJ Groups Say,” was a headline at Advance Publications‘ NJ.com (1/9/23). The piece opened with the drama of a dead whale: Tire tracks in the sand marked the burial ground of a massive humpback whale Monday. The dead 30-foot female whale washed up ashore Saturday and two days later lay buried underneath, leaving behind a decaying rotten smell. It followed this up with quotes from Clean Ocean Action, a conservationist group opposed to this wind project, offering a clear suggestion of where readers’ sympathies ought to lie.The story did go on to debunk as false or unsubstantiated the groups’ major claims: that the whale deaths were “unprecedented,” that offshore wind were authorized to “hurt or kill more than 157,328 marine mammals.” But that wasn’t enough to shift the piece’s anti–wind power framing.Other groups cited included right-wing and fossil fuel-friendly Protect Our Coasts NJ (whose politics the site did not identify), the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and Defend Brigantine Beach—a Facebook group with some members sharing the aforementioned Watters and Carlson segments.A few days later, the online paper (NJ.com, 1/13/23) was back with “Seventh Dead Whale Washes Up at Jersey Shore. Calls to Stop Offshore Wind Work Grow.” The article “balanced” statements from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA against statements from two Republican politicians and Clean Ocean Action.NY1 and NBC4 New York both published an AP piece (1/9/23) that led with accusations and claims made by the groups critical of the wind farm, waiting until the seventh paragraph to begin to reveal that each claim was unsubstantiated or debunked by the piece’s expert sources. Consequences of CO2 This coverage, seemingly more interested in elevating conflict than clarity, misses why wind and other renewable energies are needed in the first place: our world’s unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels—the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change (IPCC, 2018). Never mind that we may run out of them by the end of the century.At least a quarter of CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels is absorbed by the ocean, acidifying the water and threatening sea life. CO2 in the air causes algal blooms that lower oxygen levels in the water. Wastewater from fracking often contains substances like arsenic, lead, chlorine and mercury that can contaminate ground and drinking water.And this is if all goes as planned. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill harmed or killed nearly 26,000 marine mammals, along with 82,000 birds of 102 species, about 6,000 sea turtles and “a vast (but unknown) number of fish… oysters, crabs, corals and other creatures.”Humans aren’t exempt from the damage either, of course. A 2021 Harvard study (2/9/21) found that “more than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution.”And the fossil fuel industry is smart. Exxon knew about climate change and its own role in it since 1977, and subsequently spent millions on misinformation campaigns (Scientific American, 10/26/15). It used pseudo-science to cast doubt on the climate change science it knew to be true (NPR, 10/27/21), and to undermine the feasibility, efficiency and profitability of renewable energy (ASAP Science, 9/9/20).We can’t blame individuals for being confused by clandestine fossil fuel industry lies—they’re designed to be confusing!Before the sudden concern for whales, opposition to wind farms off the coast of the Jersey Shore was based on a not-in-my-backyard attitude from residents who didn’t want their ocean views altered, and who were concerned about the subsequent effect on tourism (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/15/21).“They will not be able to look out on the horizon and dream,” one woman was quoted.“Enjoy the View While It Lasts,” declared an NBC 10 Philadelphia headline (6/17/22) last summer. Note that the wind farm in question will be approximately 15 miles out to sea. ‘Non-scientific’ and ‘dangerous’ At a January 17 news conference covered by NJ.com (1/17/23), climate activists said blaming these whale deaths on offshore wind energy was “baseless,” “non-scientific” and “dangerous.” The outlet quoted Jennifer Coffey, executive director of non-profit Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions: I think anytime anyone uses the guise of science without actually looking at the data to further their own agenda is dangerous, and when we’re talking about combating climate change the stakes could not be higher. If local Republicans want to voice their dissatisfaction with Governor Murphy, they’re entitled to do that. But news media’s complicity in using feigned concern for dead whales to shield residents’ fiscal conservatism and fossil fuel interests undermines genuine environmental activism and ignores our planet’s desperate need for clean energy.
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[l] at 2/5/23 4:23am
Last month, the Biden administration unveiled a slate of new agency-level actions it claimed would “protect renters and promote rental affordability.” The announcement followed nearly a year of public pressure from Congressional Democrats and the tenant-led Homes Guarantee campaign to get President Biden to crack down on rent-gouging and unjust evictions. In late January, the campaign sent the White House a list of 11 essential policy directives to include in its tenant protection plan. Unfortunately, the White House’s final action slate was a far cry from what tenants — millions of whom are only one missed paycheck or life emergency away from eviction — had been asking for. In a press statement, Homes Guarantee campaign director Tara Raghuveer said the White House Plan falls short “of using the full power of the administration to regulate rent and address market consolidation by corporate landlords.” The plan consists largely of voluntary, incremental measures that do almost nothing to help tenants today. Almost all of the campaign’s essential demands are missing from the White House plan, including any material rent regulations or efforts to integrate good cause eviction protections into existing federal housing programs. In lieu of these measures, the Biden plan includes something called the “Resident-Centered Housing Challenge”, a set of nonbinding voluntary pledges from real estate industry groups to “improve the quality of life for renters.” Among the Challenge’s participants are the National Association of Realtors (NAR), National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), and National Apartment Association (NAA), all groups who (as I’ve previously written in this newsletter) represent corporate landlords whose anticompetitive practices have fuelled the rental housing crisis. These groups spent much of the last year lobbying the White House to ignore tenants’ demands for robust rent regulations and tenant protections. Their efforts ultimately succeeded, with the final Biden plan failing to include the bare minimum that tenants had asked for. If the White House thought they would be rewarded by the industry for caving to its demands, they were sorely mistaken. NAR and NMHC immediately issued crocodile tear-laden press statements arguing the Biden plan contained “duplicative and onerous regulations” that would “drive housing providers out of the market” (as if private developers are doing a great job solving the crisis on their own currently!). NAA, saying the quiet part out loud, boasted in a press release that their lobbying efforts had “helped avert an executive order advanced by renters advocates and members of Congress, which would have imposed immediate policy changes.” That’s right, they openly bragged about keeping life terrible for tenants through sheer force of Washington muscle. Journalism should be about holding the powerful accountable, not reprinting their talking points. Taken together, the real estate industry’s public statements and behind-the-scenes lobbying paint a clear picture of what’s really going on here: corporate lobbyists flexed their power, got the White House to fold, and are publicly warning Biden not to test them again. Unfortunately, instead of exposing this underlying dynamic or pushing back on the real estate industry’s lies, many media outlets are instead quoting industry press statements without fact-checking their claims or properly reporting on their lobbying work. CNN and Yahoo! News both quoted press statements from NAA President Bob Pinnegar and NAR President Kenny Parcell (not that one) claiming the White House’s plan would increase housing costs for renters and was inferior to supply-focused policy alternatives. Forbes and Marketwatch likewise quoted NMHC’s press release trashing rent control as a “failed policy” and praising the group’s members as “competitive [and] resident centered.” None of these outlets compared the industry’s “sky is falling” assertions about Biden’s policies (or federal housing regulations in general) to independent economic analyses to assess whether their claims had any merit. Worse, none of the outlets listed above mentioned these groups’ functions as lobbying fronts for rent-gouging private equity landlords. NAR, for example, was described by CNN and Yahoo! News as merely a “real estate industry representative group,” with no mention of the fact that it was 2022’s biggest lobbying spender in the entire country, includingand spent millions to kill the Build Back Better Act’s sorely-needed investments in public housing supply. Marketwatch characterized NMHC as an “industry group” while Forbes referred to it merely as a “private housing actor.” Neither outlet mentioned that NMHC’s “competitive [and] resident-centered” members are among the nation’s biggest corporate landlords and pandemic evictors, or that NMHC has previously lobbied for lucrative corporate tax loopholes and against the CDC’s eviction moratorium. Marketwatch likewise referred to NAA as another “industry group,” while CNN and Forbes both described it as a “network of over 95,000 members owning and operating more than 11.6 million apartment homes globally” – a definition taken straight from the group’s own website. Despite quoting NAA’s press statement, it seems none of these outlets read the whole thing: NAA’s open admission in its press statement to killing an executive order on rent-gouging is nowhere to be found in the CNN, Forbes, or Marketwatch coverage. The media’s deference to industry is nothing new. Last October, I wrote for this newsletter about how the mainstream press often presents real estate lobbying groups as neutral “experts” when reporting on the housing crisis, and fails to disclose their obvious conflicts of interest. Just a month after I wrote that, NPR’s Jennifer Ludden again proved my point by quoting NMHC spokesman Jim Lapides for a story on rent control — without even once explaining what NMHC is or disclosing who its members are. Even reporting about the industry’s own lobbying efforts lacks vital context. In a Politico story about industry lobbying published one week before the White House plan’s release, RealPage chief economist Jay Parsons told reporter Katy O’Donnell that federal regulation was unnecessary, as “the balance of power [in the market] has shifted toward renters -- they’re going to have more options, more competitive pricing and better deals.” Nowhere in O’Donnell’s piece does she mention that RealPage is currently being sued by renters for seemingly helping a cartel of corporate landlords artificially inflate rents in violation of federal law. While it’s not inherently a faux pas to quote industry reacting to policies that could affect them, the problem comes when industry’s claims are taken at their word unquestioningly — especially when the same credulity isn’t extended to tenants. It’s fairly common to see groups like the Homes Guarantee campaign referred to as “activist collectives” and the like by the mainstream press, in such a way as to signal to readers that this group has a political perspective and their views should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s fine, but reporters should also apply the same approach when quoting industry groups who have their own political agendas. Too often, if an industry group has an acronymed, dull-sounding name and dresses its lobbyists up in nice suits and clean haircuts, they’re taken as the serious “adults in the room,” even when what they’re saying is utter nonsense. For examples of good coverage of Biden’s plan, look to alternative media.“Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, for example, spoke to Tara Raghuveer and tenant organizer Davita Gatewood about how Biden’s plan actually measured up to tenants’ material needs and prior asks of the administration (during Goodman’s interview, Raghuveer called out the National Apartment Association by name for its gloating press statement and anti-tenant lobbying work). Similarly, The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein, doing what many mainstream journalists apparently failed to do, actually read the NAA’s full press statement and highlighted the group’s gloating about killing a tenant-backed executive order. Indiana University Law Professor Fran Quigley, writing for Jacobin, likewise cites Raghuveer’s and the housing industry’s reactions as evidence of the weakness of Biden’s plan. Housing reporters in the mainstream press need to learn from these examples and do a better job of accurately covering the rental housing beat. Organizations like the National Association of Realtors aren’t neutral forums where industry professionals chitchat: they’re lobbying groups which exist to make their members richer, often at the expense of renters. They should be considered just as political as tenant’s advocates, if not more so. Journalism should be about holding the powerful accountable, not reprinting their talking points.

[Category: Corporate media, Joe biden, Renter protections, Revolving door project, Housing]

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[l] at 2/5/23 3:14am
China's Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement Saturday condemning the Pentagon for shooting down a balloon that Beijing says was a civilian aircraft that drifted over the United States by mistake."The Chinese side clearly requested that the U.S. appropriately deal with this in a calm, professional, and restrained manner," the ministry said, again dismissing the Pentagon's claim that the high-altitude balloon was part of a surveillance operation aimed at monitoring sensitive military sites."For the United States to insist on using armed force is clearly an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention," the ministry continued, invoking force majeure, which under international law refers to unforeseen circumstances that are beyond a state's control. China has claimed the balloon was a civilian weather research aircraft that was blown way off course by unexpected winds."China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of the enterprise involved, and retains the right to respond further," the ministry concluded.War hawks in the Republican Party, including former President Donald Trump, predictably reacted with hysteria to the Pentagon's Thursday announcement that it detected the balloon over the state of Montana."President Biden should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists. Bring the balloon down now and exploit its tech package, which could be an intelligence bonanza," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the most vocal warmongers in Congress. "And President Biden and Secretary Austin need to answer if this was detected over Alaskan airspace. If so, why didn't we bring it down there? If not, why not? As usual, the Chinese Communists' provocations have been met with weakness and hand-wringing."An unnamed Pentagon official said Saturday that this latest incident is one of several times a Chinese balloon has been detected in U.S. airspace in recent years. The other balloons were not shot down."[People's Republic of China] government surveillance balloons transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the prior administration and once that we know of at the beginning of this administration, but never for this duration of time," the official said in a briefing with reporters. Tensions between the U.S. and China have risen sharply in recent months, largely over Taiwan. The Biden administration recently announced that it is expanding the U.S. military's footprint in the Philippines, a move widely characterized as a message to China.As The New York Times reported Thursday, "A greater U.S. military presence in the Philippines would... make rapid American troop movement to the Taiwan Strait much easier. The archipelago of the Philippines lies in an arc south of Taiwan, and the bases there would be critical launch and resupply points in a war with China. The Philippines' northernmost island of Itbayat is less than 100 miles from Taiwan."Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said late last month that the odds of a U.S. war with China within the next two years are "very high," echoing the assessment of the head of the Air Mobility Command.Far from promoting diplomatic talks with China, Republicans in Congress appear bent on ratcheting up tensions further—and some Democrats are joining them. Last month, with overwhelming bipartisan support, House Republicans established the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.Upon her appointment to the panel on Thursday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) called the Chinese Communist Party "a threat to our democracy and way of life" and said the select committee represents the "best opportunity to accomplish real results for Americans and respond to China's aggression." Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chair of the select committee, has said the panel's goal is to help the U.S. "win this new Cold War" with China. Nearly two dozen House progressives issued a statement last month opposing the formation of the committee, saying the U.S. "can and must work towards our economic and strategic competitiveness goals without 'a new Cold War' and without the repression, discrimination, hate, fear, degeneration of our political institutions, and violations of civil rights that such a 'Cold War' may entail."

[Category: Joe biden, Pentagon, Us military, China balloon, China]

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[l] at 2/4/23 1:42pm
The White House on Saturday condemned a newly introduced Republican bill that would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, a law that includes a number of changes aimed at lowering costs for Medicare recipients.Unveiled Thursday by freshman Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.), the bill has 20 original co-sponsors and is endorsed by several right-wing groups, including the Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity.The Biden White House argued that rolling back the Inflation Reduction Act, which also contains major climate investments, would represent "one of the biggest Medicare benefit cuts in American history" as well as a "handout to Big Pharma." According to Politico, which first reported the White House's response to the GOP bill, the administration is planning to release "state-by-state data indicating how this would affect constituents in different areas.""House Republicans are trying to slash lifelines for middle-class families on behalf of rich special interests," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement. "Who on earth thinks that welfare for Big Pharma is worth selling out over a million seniors in their home state?” The Inflation Reduction Act authorized a $35-per-month cap on insulin copayments for Medicare recipients, as well as an annual $2,000 total limit on out-of-pocket drug costs.The bill will also, among other long-overdue changes, allow Medicare to begin negotiating the prices of a subset of the most expensive prescription drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which fiercely opposed the law and are working with Republicans to sabotage it. The newly negotiated prices are set to take effect in 2026.Ogles, whose two-page bill would eliminate the above reforms, repeatedly attacked Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs and protections during his 2022 campaign for the U.S. House. \u201cNEW @Campbell4TN ad in TN-5: \u201cExtreme Andy Ogles in his own words \u2014 a SUPERCUT\u201d\n\nWatch @AndyOgles back a no exceptions abortion ban, cutting Medicare & Medicaid, eliminating Dept of Ed, impeaching Biden, deny the election was legit, etc\u2026 do better, TN-5.\nhttps://t.co/YhCRGXIPsU\u201d — The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler) 1667748662 The White House's critique of Ogles' bill comes as Biden is facing pressure from advocates and physicians to cancel a Medicare privatization scheme that his administration inherited from its right-wing predecessor and rebranded.It also comes as the White House is locked in a standoff with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republican lawmakers have pushed for deeply unpopular cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other critical federal programs as a necessary condition for any deal to raise the country's borrowing limit and avert a catastrophic default."In less than a month, MAGA extremists have threatened to drive the economy into a recession by defaulting on our debt, promised to bring up a bill to impose a 30% national sales tax, and now have introduced legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress said in a statement. "This will cut taxes for corporations who earn billions in profit while empowering Big Pharma and Big Oil to continue ripping off the American people.""It is vital that all Americans understand what is at risk if MAGA extremists succeed in passing their latest dangerous idea: millions of lost jobs, millions more without health insurance, and higher costs for lifesaving insulin, utilities, and more," Gaspard added.

[Category: Joe biden, Republican party, Andy ogles, House gop, White house, Medicare]

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[l] at 2/4/23 1:10pm
The United States military shot down a Chinese balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, according to the Associated Press."An operation was underway in U.S. territorial waters to recover debris from the balloon, which had been flying at about 60,000 feet and estimated to be about the size of three school buses," AP reported. "Before the downing, President Joe Biden had said earlier Saturday, 'We're going to take care of it,' when asked by reporters about the balloon. The Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard worked to clear the airspace and water below."Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed in a statement that "at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command" successfully downed the balloon "off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace."The U.S. has said it believes the high-altitude balloon was a part of a surveillance operation, something China has denied. "The airship is from China," a spokesperson for the country's foreign ministry said Friday. "It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation."The U.S. first detected the balloon over the state of Montana earlier in the week, leading Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his planned trip to China as tensions between the two countries continue to rise.As Jake Werner of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft wrote Friday, members of Congress have "used the incident to hype fears about China," citing House China Select Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher's (R-Wis.) claim that the balloon posed "a threat to American sovereignty" and "a threat to the Midwest."Werner stressed that "foreign surveillance of sensitive U.S. sites is not a new phenomenon," nor is "U.S. surveillance of foreign countries.""The toxic politics predominating in Washington seems to have convinced the Biden administration to further restrict communications with Beijing by calling off Blinken's trip," Werner added. "Letting war hawks set America's agenda on China can only end in disaster. Conflict is not inevitable, but avoiding a disastrous U.S.-China military confrontation will require tough-minded diplomacy—not disengagement."

[Category: China, Joe biden, Us military, Antony blinken, Pentagon, China balloon]

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[l] at 2/4/23 10:39am
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled earlier this week that a leftist presidential ticket headed by Indigenous human rights defender Thelma Cabrera should be barred from the June ballot, prompting fury and vows of mass protests from Cabrera's supporters.Thursday's ruling—which Cabrera's young political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice—stems from Guatemala electoral authorities' refusal to certify the candidacy of Cabrera's running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas. Reporting indicates that election officials have justified stonewalling Rodas—a longtime target of Guatemala's right-wing political establishment—by citing supposed "anomalies during the collection of compensation" upon his departure from the ombudsman post last year.But Cabrera and Rodas contend that the electoral tribunal's decision is a politically motivated attempt to keep a left-wing party—whose base is largely rural—off the ballot, which is set to include the daughter of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.Montt's victims were largely Indigenous peasants.Last month, the same electoral body that deemed Cabrera and Rodas disqualified from the June ballot ruled that Zury Ríos can participate, despite a constitutional provision barring the relatives of coup leaders from serving as Guatemala's president. Ríos was blocked from the 2019 presidential ballot on those grounds.That year, as Nick Burns of Americas Quarterly recently reported, Cabrera "gave the Guatemalan political establishment a shock" by winning 10% of the vote in the presidential election."It was the most successful presidential run by an indigenous person in Guatemala’s modern history—the only other was by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in 2007, who won 3% of the vote," Burns noted. "Cabrera’s biography is striking. She grew up in a Maya Mam family of poor laborers on a coffee plantation on Guatemala's Pacific coast and was married at 15. She described in a book how she and her sister Vilma went to school through the sixth grade because their mother—who could not read or write—saw education as crucial."Cabrera's supporters have vowed to "paralyze the country" with large-scale demonstrations if the electoral body's decision isn't reversed."If they do not do it, we are going to take over the international airport, the three ports of the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all state institutions," said one MLP supporter. "We are Indigenous, we are Maya, and we can be out here for a month!" \u201c#EUElecciones2023 Manifestantes amenazan con tomar el Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora, los tres puertos del pa\u00eds y el TSE si no se inscribe al binomio presidencial del MLP | V\u00eda @noel_solis \n\n\ud83d\uddf3\ufe0f\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\uddf9 #Elecciones2023 #EleccionesGT #GUATEVOTA2023\u201d — Emisoras Unidas (@Emisoras Unidas) 1675357690 Daniel Zovatto, a political scientist and expert in Latin American elections, said the tribunal's ruling against the MLP presidential ticket amounts to an "electoral coup" that "vitiates the integrity and credibility" of the upcoming contest.Rodas, a human rights champion, lamented in response to the decision that "democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back.""They are afraid of the people and their sovereign decisions," he said.

[Category: Democracy, Indigenous, Jordán rodas, Rios montt, Thelma cabrera, Guatemala]

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[l] at 2/4/23 6:15am
It’s hard to find words after yet another brutal police killing of a Black person, this time of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, captured in horrifying detail on video footage released last week. But the words we use—and in that “we,” the journalists who frame these stories figure critically—if we actually want to not just be sad about, but end state-sanctioned racist murders, those words must not downplay or soften the hard reality with euphemism and vaguery. Yet that’s exactly what the New York Times did in recent coverage. In its January 28 front-page story, reporter Rick Rojas led with an unflinching description of the brutal footage, noting that Nichols “showed no signs of fighting back” under his violent arrest for supposed erratic driving.Yet just a few paragraphs later, Rojas wrote: “The video reverberated beyond the city, as the case has tapped into an enduring frustration over Black men having fatal encounters with police officers.”People get frustrated when their bus is late. People get frustrated when their cell phone’s autocorrect misbehaves. If people were merely “frustrated” when police officers violently beat yet another Black person to death, city governments wouldn’t be worried, in the way the Times article describes, about widespread protests and “destructive unrest.”By describing protest as “destructive,” while describing state-sanctioned law enforcement’s repeated murder of Black people as “Black men having fatal encounters with police officers,” the Times works to soften a blow that should not be softened, to try to deflect some of the blame and outrage that rightfully should be aimed full blast at our country’s racist policing system.That linguistic soft-pedaling and back-stepping language was peppered throughout the piece, describing how police brigades like the “Scorpion” unit these Memphis police were part of are “designed to patrol areas of the city struggling with persistent crime and violence”—just trying to protect Black folks from ourselves, you see—yet they mysteriously “end up oppressing young people and people of color.” Well, that’s a subject for documented reporting, not conjecture. When a local activist described himself as “not shocked as much as I am disgusted” by what happened to Tyre Nichols, the Times added, “Still, he acknowledged the gravity of the case”—as if anti-racist activists’ combined anger, sorrow and exhaustion might be a sign that they can’t really follow what’s happening or respond appropriately.Folks on Twitter (1/28/23) and elsewhere called out the New York Times for this embarrassing “Black people encounter police and somehow end up dead” business, but the paper is apparently happy with it. So much so that the paper came back a few days later with an update (2/1/23), with the headline: “What We Know About Tyre Nichols’ Lethal Encounter With Memphis Police.”In it, Rojas and co-author Neelam Bohra wrote in their lead, “The stop escalated into a violent confrontation that ended with Mr. Nichols hospitalized in critical condition. Three days later, he died.”Journalism school tells you that fewer, more direct words are better. So when a paper tells you that a traffic stop “escalated into a violent confrontation that ended up with” a dead Black person, understand that they are trying to gently lead you away from a painful reality—not trying to help you understand it, and far less helping you act to change it.

[Category: Black lives matter, Police killing, Tyre nichols]

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[l] at 2/4/23 6:12am
Postal jobs have long been a road to the middle class for Black Americans. The Postal Service began employing Black workers shortly after the Civil War and became a major source of good, middle-class jobs for this share of the workforce in the early 20th century. During the 1940s, civil rights advocacy, combined with wartime needs, created even more opportunities for Black postal workers. By the mid-1960s, their leadership had increased significantly, with the three biggest post offices in the country — New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — all headed by Black postmasters. By the end of the 20th century, Black employees made up 21 percent of the U.S. postal workforce.In 2022, Black workers made up 29.0 percent of the Postal Service workforce — more than double their 12.6 percent share of the total U.S. labor force. According to an Institute for Policy Studies analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, postal workers have by far the highest median annual wage ($51,730) and the highest median hourly wage ($24.87) among the 10 occupations with the heaviest representation of Black workers.Three of these 10 occupations have median hourly wages below $15 per hour. Of the 10 occupations with the largest shares of Black workers, USPS was the fifth-largest employer, with more than 600,000 employees. Wage data are from the May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates supplemental tables. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsThe Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that the wage gap between white and Black workers is narrower among postal workers than among private sector employees. The Economic Policy Institute has found that Black workers’ share of USPS jobs is significantly higher than their share of all public sector jobs.Many Black families stand to gain from expanded postal financial services The Postal Service faces constant pressure to make deep spending cuts that would be devastating for customers and employees across the country. Instead of cutbacks that could drive away customers, decisionmakers should explore new revenue sources, particularly those that would help meet important social needs, such as postal banking.Black families would benefit significantly from expanded postal financial services. According to an FDIC survey, 11.3 percent of all Black households and 9.3 percent of Latino households did not have bank accounts in 2021, compared to just 2.1 percent of white households.Among households with income between $15,000 and $30,000, 29.3 percent of Black households and 26.5 percent of Hispanic households were unbanked, compared with 13.6 percent of White households. Single mothers and adults with disabilities were also more likely than other Americans to be “unbanked.”Families without bank accounts are much more likely to have to use high-cost financial services. For example, 21.8 percent of unbanked households used check cashing — almost 10 times the share of banked households that use such services. And 15.5 percent used money transfer services, more than double the 6.6 percent share of banked households that use these services.Among all families without bank accounts, the most-cited reason was that they couldn’t afford minimum balance requirements. Other major reasons included distrust of banks, high and unpredictable fees, and inconvenient locations. A 2019 S&P Global report found that majority Black neighborhoods have lost more bank branches than non-majority-Black neighborhoods. JPMorgan, for example, reduced the number of branches in majority-Black areas by 22.8 percent from 2010 to 2018, compared to a decline of 0.2 percent in the rest of the country.With more than 31,000 post offices across the country and a high level of public trust, USPS is well-positioned to provide dependable, affordable financial services. According to a 2015 USPS Office of Inspector General report, expanding postal financial services such as check-cashing, ATMs, and electronic money orders could generate as much as $1.1 billion in annual revenue.Members of Congress have introduced legislation for two approaches to expanded postal financial services. These include a Treasury-backed savings system at the post office similar to what existed in the United States from 1911 to 1967 and individual FedAccounts accessible through local post offices in conjunction with the Federal Reserve.These proposals would provide reliable, affordable alternatives to predatory financial firms. They could also facilitate distribution of federal stimulus checks. Every community across the United States benefits from a strong USPS.Rather than weakening this vital public infrastructure, policymakers should focus on strengthening — and expanding — this service to meet 21st century needs.

[Category: Privatization, Inequality, Unions, Workers, Us postal service]

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[l] at 2/4/23 6:10am
On 25 January, roughly six weeks after being sworn in following her predecessor’s removal, Peruvian president Dina Boluarte finally recognized that elections were the only way out of political crisis. Elections were rescheduled for April 2024, much earlier than the end of the presidential term she’s been tasked with completing, but not soon enough for thousands who’ve taken to the streets demanding her immediate resignation. Boluarte’s call for a ‘national truce’ has been met with further protests. Their repression has led to major bloodshed: the Ombudsman’s office has reported close to 60 dead – mostly civilians killed by security forces – and 1,500 injured.What happened and what it meansIt’s unusually easy to impeach Peru’s presidents: a legislative majority can vote to remove them on vaguely defined grounds.Pedro Castillo, elected president in July 2021, had already survived two removal attempts and faced a third. On 7 December he made a pre-emptive strike: he dissolved Congress and announced a restructuring of the judiciary, as former president Alberto Fujimori had done decades earlier in the ‘self-coup’ that started several years of authoritarian rule.Castillo announced the establishment of an exceptional emergency government where he would rule by decree and promised to hold congressional elections soon. The new Congress, he said, would have the power to draft a new constitution.But unlike Fujimori, Castillo enjoyed meager support, and within hours Congress voted to remove him from office. He was arrested and remains in pretrial detention on rebellion charges. Vice-president Boluarte was immediately sworn in.In the whirlwind that followed there was much talk that a coup, or a coup attempt, had taken place – but opinions differed radically as to who was the victim and who was the perpetrator.The prevailing view was that Castillo’s dissolution of Congress was an attempt at a presidential coup. But others saw Castillo’s removal as a coup. Debate has been deeply polarised on ideological grounds, making clear that in Peru and Latin America, a principled rather than partisan defense of democracy is still lacking.Permanent crisisRecent events are part of a bigger political crisis that has seen six presidents in six years. In 2021, a polarising presidential campaign was followed by an extremely fragmented vote. The runoff election yielded an unexpected winner: a leftist outsider of humble origins, Castillo, defeated the right-wing heiress of the Fujimori dynasty by under one percentage point. Keiko Fujimori initially rejected the results and baselessly claimed fraud. Castillo’s presidency was born fragile. It was an unstable government, with a high rotation of ministers and fluctuating congressional support. Although Castillo had promised to break the cycle of corruption, his government, himself, and close associates soon became the target of corruption allegations coming not just from the opposition but also from state watchdog institutions. Castillo’s response was to attack the prosecutor and ask the Organization of American States (OAS) to apply its Democratic Charter to preserve Peruvian democracy supposedly under attack. The OAS sent a mission that ended with a call for dialogue. Only two weeks later, Castillo embarked on his short-lived coup adventure.Protests and repressionAccording to Peru’s Constitution, Boluarte should complete Castillo’s term. But observers generally agree there’s no way she can stay in office until 2024, never mind 2026, given the rejection she faces from protesters and political parties in Congress.A wave of protests demanding her resignation rose as soon as she was sworn in, led mostly by students, Indigenous groups, and unions. Many also demanded Castillo’s freedom and government action to address poverty and inequality. Some demands went further, including a call for a constituent assembly – the promise Castillo made before being removed from office—to produce more balanced representation, particularly for Indigenous people. For many of Peru’s poorest people, Castillo represented hope for change. With him gone, they feel forgotten.Four days into the job, Boluarte declared a regional state of emergency, later extended to the whole country. Protests only increased, and security forces responded with extreme violence, often shooting to kill. No wonder so many Peruvians feel this isn’t a democracy anymore.The state of Peruvian democracyThe Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index rates Peru as a ‘flawed democracy’. A closer look at the index’s components suggests what’s wrong with Peruvian democracy: it gets its lowest score in the political culture dimension. In line with this, the Americas Barometer shows Peru has one of the lowest levels of support for democracy in Latin America and is the country where opposition to coups is weakest.Peru’s democracy scores low on critical indicators such as checks and balances, corruption, and political participation. This points to the heart of the problem: it’s a dysfunctional system where those elected to govern fail to do so and public policies are inconsistent and ineffective.According to every survey, just a tiny minority of Peruvians are satisfied with their country’s democracy. The fact that no full-fledged alternative has yet emerged seems to be the only thing currently keeping democracy alive. Democratic renewal is urgently needed, or an authoritarian substitute could well take hold.

[Category: Autocratic, Democracy, Dina boluarte, Pedro castillo, Protest, Peru]

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[l] at 2/4/23 5:43am
“We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the 1970s that their core product was baking our planet. And just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science.Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie. And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Davos, January 18, 2023Liberal democracy is now close to failing. One reason for this is that it has proved incapable of protecting the public interest from severe damage caused by big corporations. The next few years will tell whether it withers and dies or rights itself and survives. Democracy is based on the consent of the governed. Sometimes this can mean serving the wants and desires of the majority, but to survive long-term, democracy must work for everyone. It can’t leave a large minority behind. Nor, may it allow the public interest to be severely harmed.To ensure neither will occur, there must be a shared commitment among the governed to not cause great harm to each other. At least to this extent, citizens must commit to the obligations of citizenship as well as take advantage of its rights.The bad news is that corporations, the world’s most powerful citizens, are unburdened by any obligations of citizenship. Such obligations were eliminated in the late 1800s when legislatures mistakenly decided they were unnecessary. In fairness, this was decades before big companies developed the technology and size capable of causing the severe harm we are experiencing today. Democracy recognizes that some citizens will take advantage of the absence of law to pursue their own interests in ways that harm others. It assumes that before too much damage can occur, the elected representatives of the people will enact a new law which prevents such behaviour from continuing. Such laws contain the damage. In this way, democratic government fulfills its purpose to protect the public interest. However, this assumption is no longer valid. Through lobbying and financing the campaigns of politicians, big corporations (and their trade associations) have become proficient at delaying and frustrating the passage of new laws which would prevent them from continuing to destroy. Corporations weren’t present when the American founding fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution. The word “corporation” doesn’t appear anywhere in the document. The concept of the modern corporation didn’t arrive on the scene until nearly 100 years later when its obligations to the public interest were eliminated.Try to imagine the drafting of the Constitution in 1787 if modern corporations were present. Had the founding fathers been able to foresee the developments in technology and the changes in corporations which would occur over the next 250 years, would they have originated the same form of government which now so inadequately protects the interests of individual Americans? It seems unlikely. That raises the question, what needs to change: democracy or the corporation? Changing democracy means changing the Constitution. That’s not easy and deciding how to change it is not obvious.The good news is that changing the corporation is much less difficult and the necessary change is readily apparent. We can no longer assume corporate behaviour which severely harms the public interest can be brought under control by new laws passed by local, state, or national governments. Unlike the founding fathers, we now know better.Corporations are all formed under laws which can be amended relatively easily. No government-sponsored institution should be encouraged to continue causing severe harm. Obligations to the public interest which were removed long ago can be reinstated. The key to restoring the assumption upon which democracy is based is to impose on corporate directors a legal obligation to not severely harm the public interest. When a company discovers that it is causing severe harm by significantly contributing to the warming of the planet, killing millions of people each year or otherwise, its directors must have a legal duty to make it stop. The duty of directors in existing law to “act in the best interests of the company,” must be amended to clarify that this obligation does not extend to circumstances where it will result in severe harm to the environment, human rights, the public health and safety, the dignity of employees or the wellbeing of the communities in which the company operates. Nineteenth century legislatures passed laws which to this day encourage corporate directors to continue with their intentional destruction of the public interest. The way to correct this mistake is to balance the rights of corporations once again with at least the bare minimum obligations of citizenship, obligations upon which democracy depends.

[Category: Common good, Corporate charters, Democracy, Public interest, Corporate power]

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[l] at 2/4/23 5:29am
Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer said Friday that progressives won't stop working to stem the flow of untraceable cash into national primary contests after the DNC Resolutions Committee blocked a vote on her proposed dark money ban for the second time. Whitmer, a DNC member, told Common Dreams that "time and time again, we've watched 'dark money' used to silence the voices our party most needs to hear." "Our party and our country need strong Democratic candidates willing to speak truth to power, but when their messages can be drowned out in a flood of untraceable expenditures, many candidates are questioning why they should even run," Whitmer said. "Restoring faith in our democracy has never been more urgent, and that all-important work should start in our own primary elections." Whitmer sponsored the proposed dark money ban alongside fellow DNC member James Zogby, who previously served as chair of the resolutions panel. If approved, the resolution would have prohibited dark money donations in Democratic primary contests and established guidelines for investigating any violations of the ban. On Thursday, members of the DNC Resolutions Committee—who likely faced pressure from DNC leadership—stayed quiet when the proposed ban was put up for consideration, so the measure did not receive a vote. Had the committee approved the proposal, which was backed by dozens of DNC members, it would have gone to the full DNC for a vote this weekend. (The DNC doesn't publicize membership lists for its standing committees.) "Although we were disappointed that the Resolutions Committee once again chose not to move our resolution forward, we will keep fighting to make our primaries a fair and level playing field for all candidates," Whitmer told Common Dreams. Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have repeatedly railed against the scourge of dark money, decried its corrupting influence, and pledged to rein it in—only to balk at pressure for substantive action. The party's platform, adopted in 2020, states that "we will bring an end to 'dark money' by requiring full disclosure of contributors to any group that advocates for or against candidates." Yet as the DNC leadership, headed by Chair Jaime Harrison, refuses to act on its rhetoric—and as congressional Republicans block broader legislative efforts to curtail dark money—Democratic incumbents continue to benefit from untraceable donations, which are frequently used to undercut progressive challengers. Last year, the newly formed dark money group Opportunity for All Action Fund spent around $600,000 to bolster Reps. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), and Danny Davis (D–Ill.). All three went on to defeat their progressive primary opponents and win reelection. That pattern played out across the country, though some candidates—including Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), who was aggressively targeted by AIPAC's super PAC—were able to overcome torrents of opposition spending and prevail in November. "In races around the nation, we've seen these underhanded tactics used to silence debate on critical issues, with competing views buried under an avalanche of dark money-funded messaging." According to an August 2022 study by the Wesleyan Media Project, nearly 70% of pro-Democratic Senate ads up to that point in last year's election cycle were funded by groups that don't disclose any of their donors. "Letting our primaries devolve into auctions, rather than elections, has done more than simply create an unequal and unfair playing field," Whitmer said during the DNC Resolutions Committee's last gathering in September. "In races around the nation, we've seen these underhanded tactics used to silence debate on critical issues, with competing views buried under an avalanche of dark money-funded messaging." At this weekend's DNC meeting in Philadelphia, members are expected to approve a presidential primary calendar that would bump South Carolina up to the first-in-the-nation primary slot—a plan that has drawn criticism from some progressives. But the issue of dark money is likely to be brushed aside once again. While Democrats in Congress continue to push legislation to curb dark money across the board in federal elections, progress will be virtually impossible with a closely divided Senate and a Republican-controlled House, leaving internal party rule changes one of the only viable paths toward genuine campaign finance reform in the near future. Larry Cohen, a DNC member and the board chair of Our Revolution, wrote in an email Friday that the DNC and state-level Democratic parties "have extensive rules relating to the nominating process, which provide many opportunities to block dark and dirty money." "What happens inside the Democratic Party and inside party caucuses of elected Democrats is frequently ignored by progressives, who are generally more comfortable protesting and working solely outside the party. Of course, protest is essential, and new party-building is fine," Cohen wrote. "But for those of us who believe we must fight in every possible way to advance progressive issues and win real power, we ignore party reform at our peril, even as we demand broader electoral reforms, such as fusion and ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and more."

[Category: Campaign finance, Corruption, Democratic party, Super pacs, Dark money, Judith whitmer, Dnc]

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[l] at 2/4/23 4:39am
Surprising most analysts and forecasters, employers added a whopping 517,000 jobs in January, according to Friday morning’s monthly labor report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was almost twice the growth from December’s 260,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent, the lowest since 1969.What does this mean?It may mean very little. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s monthly report can bounce around a lot, depending on seasonal weights and samples. Next month’s job number could be far lower.Also, keep your eye on wage growth. Average hourly earnings climbed in January at a slower pace than in December — by an annualized 4.4 percent, down from 4.8 percent in December. With prices still rising faster than wages, most workers continue to suffer declining real wage – that is, declining purchasing power.But the strength of the labor market is likely to worry the Fed, which last Wednesday raised interest rates for the eighth time in a year – although only by a quarter of a percentage point this time. “The labor market continues to be out of balance,” Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, said earlier this week. He stressed that we won’t have a return to his target 2 percent inflation in the service sector “without a better balance in the labor market,” adding “I don’t know what that will require in terms of increased unemployment.”As I’ve said many times over the past year, this worry is misplaced. Most of the upward pressure on prices domestically is coming from big corporations with the market power to raise prices faster than their costs are rising. Much of the rest is coming from continuing supply shocks abroad, including Putin’s war’s effects on global energy and food prices, and China’s lockdowns followed by COVID.And, as Friday’s report shows, wage gains are slowing and they lag behind price increases.The basic reality is American workers don’t have the power to raise their wages. Big American corporations have the power to raise their prices. The Fed should not be aiming to increase unemployment as a means of slowing prices.

[Category: Unemployment, Interest rates, Jerome powell, Jobs, Robert reich, Federal reserve]

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[l] at 2/4/23 4:10am
Nikki Haley will reportedly announce the start of her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on February 15, becoming the first GOP 2024 candidate after Donald Trump. Since it’s likely that Haley will emphasize foreign policy issues in pitching her candidacy, it’s worth examining her public record more closely to see what kind of foreign policy she thinks the U.S. should pursue. There is no question that Haley is a long-shot contender for the nomination. Trump’s decision to seek renomination after his 2020 defeat has created an unusual situation for other potential candidates as they are faced with the prospect of having to compete with a former president. But as a former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, her presidential ambitions have been no secret — one of the main reasons why she went to work for Trump in 2017 was to further those ambitions.Once hailed as one of the future leaders of the party, Haley is one of those Republican “rising stars” that hasn’t risen very far yet. Her 2016 endorsement of Marco Rubio ahead of the South Carolina primary was supposed to represent the dawn of a “new” Republican Party, but it turned out that Haley’s endorsement didn’t count for much in her home state. Now Haley is arguably too close to Trump to please his opponents, but she is also not enough of a loyalist to satisfy his core supporters. In trying to have things both ways for years, repeatedly switching between embracing and criticizing Trump, Haley has left herself with no obvious base of support. Like Marco Rubio, Haley will probably have a much bigger cheering section among hawkish policy intellectuals than she will among primary voters.Like most former governors, Haley has relatively little foreign policy experience. Prior to her stint as U.N. ambassador, she was not involved in major foreign policy debates. Trump initially asked Haley to be secretary of state in his first term, but she declined the offer citing her lack of experience. Unlike her potential rival for the nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Haley has not served in Congress and doesn’t have a voting record that voters could use to assess her judgment on foreign policy issues. Despite that, Haley has said enough publicly about her views while in government and in the years since then that we can get a clear picture of what she believes. To the extent that there is a fight among Republicans over the direction of their party’s foreign policy, Haley is squarely in the camp of the hawkish internationalists that have dominated the GOP’s policymaking apparatus for decades. This made her a reliable defender of some of Trump’s most aggressive moves when she worked in the administration, but it will also likely alienate many Republicans that have become more skeptical about the wisdom and necessity of foreign interventions. If Haley managed to become the nominee, she would be something of a throwback to the pre-Trump Republican Party. Jacob Heilbrunn recently argued that “Haley represents the Republican old guard, at least when it comes to foreign policy,” and that seems right. While she was representing the U.S. at the United Nations, Haley sometimes seemed to be running her own foreign policy alongside the one coming out of the State Department. As a result, her relationship with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reportedly a contentious one. She tried to use her position in New York to build up her credentials as a foreign policy hawk, and she wasn’t interested in coordinating with Foggy Bottom. Despite the diplomatic position she held, she was not very diplomatic. She preferred lecturing, making demands, and talking about “taking names” of countries that failed to endorse U.S. proposals. While she excoriated certain pariah regimes for their human rights abuses, U.S. allies and partners were always spared from the same treatment. Consistent with Trump’s preferences, the U.S. withdrew from several U.N. bodies and international agreements while Haley was in the administration, and according to her own account, she had no problem with any of these decisions. Haley was an enthusiastic supporter of the decision to quit the U.N. Human Rights Council, which had the effect of ceding influence to all the most abusive states. Haley is hardly the first ambassador to the U.N. to engage in selective human rights criticism, but in her case the double standard on display was even more noticeable than usual.Haley’s legacy from her time in the Trump administration was mostly one of advancing hardline policies. She was particularly proud of her role in securing more sanctions on North Korea at the start of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. She was also one of the leading opponents of the nuclear deal with Iran inside the administration at the time. First she pushed for Trump not to certify Iranian compliance and falsely claimed that there was proof that Iran was violating the deal, and then she supported reneging on the agreement entirely. She not only defended Trump’s decision to launch an illegal attack on Syria in 2017, but she also spoke about it in terms that suggested that she hoped the U.S. would go on to pursue regime change. Haley left before some of the most controversial actions of Trump’s presidency in the second half of his term, but it seems reasonable to assume that she would have continued supporting hardline positions until the end.Since leaving government service, Haley has continued to speak out on foreign policy issues with the same combative rhetoric that she preferred using as ambassador. Her advocacy group, Stand for America, has staked out extreme hardline positions on foreign policy. Her foreign policy commentary has sometimes been peppered with snide partisan attacks, as it was when she claimed that Democrats were the “only ones mourning” Iranian IRGC general Qassem Soleimani after Trump ordered his assassination. Haley and her organization have been vocal supporters of U.S. regime change policy in Venezuela. She has also argued for the far-fetched option of a treaty alliance with India against China.There is so little daylight between Haley’s own positions and those of Trump that it will be difficult for her to criticize anything he did as president. Haley’s foreign policy record is bound up with Trump’s to such an extent that she will struggle to distinguish herself from him. The campaign announcement later this month will give Republican voters another option, but with respect to foreign policy Haley won’t be able to offer much more than an echo of Trump’s own views.

[Category: Donald trump, Election 2024, Republican party, Nikki haley]

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[l] at 2/3/23 5:56pm
After REI employees in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio walked off the job Friday morning, the recreational equipment retailer agreed to schedule a union election vote next month and stopped pushing to exclude certain workers.Following successful union drives at two other REI stores, employees in Beachwood last month filed for a union election with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking representation with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).John Ginter, a sales associate at the Beachwood REI, told Cleveland-based Ideastream Public Media that he and his co-workers are seeking better working conditions. "We are basically making demands that we have a livable wage, that we are able to live our lives outdoors, like REI's mission statement includes," he said. "So having a better work-life balance, being able to care for ourselves and to increase benefits for employees across the spectrum, whether or not they are part-time, full-time, whatever that situation would be."According to the report: "Ginter alleged REI has some 'pretty rigid stipulations' with regard to which employees are eligible for benefits and accrual of sick time. He also said he believes his REI location is 'not living up to our diversity, equity, and inclusion statement.'"Beachwood workers launched their brief unfair labor practice (ULP) strike Friday as an NLRB hearing got underway at the federal agency's Cleveland office. \u201c\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8Alert: our store is closed due to our ULP strike. Stand in solidarity with us @rei co-op members and ask the company to #letREIvote https://t.co/HytMzwzBAI\u201d — REI Union Cleveland (@REI Union Cleveland) 1675439795 In a ULP charge that RWDSU filed Thursday with the NLRB, the union claimed REI "engaged in the unlawful surveillance of workers and/or created an impression of surveillance of the workers at the Beachwood store." RWDSU has also accused REI of putting forth "meritless assertions to delay the election" by claiming that sales leads, bike shop workers, and "casual" employees—or those who work part-time with irregular schedules—should not vote. "RWDSU vehemently disagrees with REI's objections," the union said in a statement. "It is especially galling because, as the company unnecessarily fights RWDSU in Ohio, it is currently bargaining contracts with workers holding these same classifications at the SoHo, New York and Berkeley, California stores. REI's hypocrisy is union-busting plain and simple and is a meek attempt to exclude more than half of the proposed bargaining unit to be eligible to vote." \u201cIn a petty move by local management we're locked out for the day. The main office says we can come back tomorrow, but enjoy this video of the type of attitude we have to put up with every day from local management ...\u201d — REI Union Cleveland (@REI Union Cleveland) 1675457892 REI pushed back against RWDSU's characterization of its intentions in a Thursday statement to Axios, saying that the NLRB hearing was "to ensure that all employees who hold the right to vote are included in the voting process."The agreement reached Friday includes all eligible workers at the location, "a reversal from REI's position last week," according to RWDSU. "The union election will take place on March 3, 2023 from 12:00 pm-6:00 pm ET at the Ohio store." New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber tweeted Friday evening: "One thing I've learned covering labor over the past several years: Your labor rights are typically as robust as the power you and your co-workers can muster at the workplace. This case was a perfect example."More Perfect Union similarly said, "Strikes work." \u201cCleveland REI workers went on strike this morning, and just hours later the company agreed to all of their demands. Strikes work.\u201d — More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1675450448 U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Shontel Brown, Ohio Democrats who are not related, expressed solidarity with the REI workers in their state this week. Others, from the REI union in SoHo to UNI Commerce to the AFL-CIO, have also publicly supported the Beachwood workers this week. \u201c\ud83d\udea8\u2757\ufe0fHey @REI: You might want to update your website. \n\nThere is NOTHING respectable about a workplace environment where employees are harassed, intimidated & prevented from exercising their LEGAL RIGHT to vote in a fair union election. \n\nSolidarity with @reiunioncle! #letREIvote\u201d — AFL-CIO (@AFL-CIO) 1675441800 If the Ohio employees vote to form REI's third union nationwide, RWDSU would represent approximately 55 workers there—though RWDSU noted that "the store currently operates at a 60% staffing level of its full capacity, potentially increasing that number to over 70."As the Beachwood workers prepare for next month's election, contract negotiations are underway in Berkeley, and 10 fired employees—including two bargaining team members—are accusing REI of retaliation, which the company denies.Meanwhile, in Washington state on Tuesday, REI laid off 167 people, or 8% of headquarters workers. President and CEO Eric Artz said that "in the face of increasing uncertainty, we need to sharpen our focus on the most critical investments and areas of work to best serve our members and grow the co-op over the long term."

[Category: Sherrod brown, Beachwood, National labor relations board, Ohio, Retail wholesale and department store union, Shontel brown, Unions, Workers, Rei]

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[l] at 2/3/23 5:16pm
After decades of criminalization, Australia's government said Friday that it will legalize the prescription of MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of two medical conditions, a historic move hailed by researchers who have studied the therapeutic possibilities of the drugs.Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said in a statement that starting July 1, psychiatrists may prescribe MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), commonly called "Molly" or "ecstasy" by recreational users, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin—the psychedelic prodrug compound in "magic" mushrooms—for treatment-resistant depression. "These are the only conditions where there is currently sufficient evidence for potential benefits in certain patients," TGA said, adding that the drugs must be taken "in a controlled medical setting." Advocates of MDMA and psilocybin are hopeful that one day doctors could prescribe them to treat a range of conditions, from alcoholism and eating disorders to obsessive-compulsive disorder. David Caldicott, a clinical senior lecturer in emergency medicine at Australian National University, told The Guardian that Friday's surprise announcement is a "very welcome step away from what has been decades of demonization." Caldicott said it is now "abundantly clear” that both MDMA and psilocybin "can have dramatic effects" on hard-to-treat mental health problems, and that "in addition to a clear and evolving therapeutic benefit, [legalization] also offers the chance to catch up on the decades of lost opportunity [of] delving into the inner workings of the human mind, abandoned for so long as part of an ill-conceived, ideological 'war on drugs.'" \u201cFrom 1 July this year, medicines containing the psychedelic substances psilocybin and MDMA can be prescribed by specifically authorised psychiatrists for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and treatment-resistant depression.\n\nRead more: https://t.co/rJI9dRs3M7\u201d — TGA Australia (@TGA Australia) 1675387806 MDMA—which has been criminalized in Australia since 1987—was first patented by German drugmaker Merck in the early 1910s. After World War II the United States military explored possibilities for weaponizing MDMA as a truth serum as part of the MK-ULTRA mind control experiments aimed at creating real-life Manchurian candidates. A crossover from clinical usage in marriage and other therapies in the 1970s and '80s to recreational consumption—especially in the disco and burgeoning rave scenes—in the latter decade sparked a conservative backlash in the form of emergency bans in countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies MDMA and psilocybin as Schedule I substances, meaning they have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Patients who've tried MDMA therapy and those who treat them say otherwise. A study published last year by John Hopkins Health found that in a carefully controlled setting, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy held promise for "significant and durable improvements in depression."The California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)—the world's premier organization for psychedelic advocacy and research—interviewed Colorado massage therapist Rachael Kaplan about her MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD:For the majority of my life I prayed to die and fought suicidal urges as I struggled with complex PTSD. This PTSD was born out of chronic severe childhood abuse. Since then, my life has been a journey of searching for healing. I started going to therapy 21 years ago, and since then I have tried every healing modality that I could think of, such as bodywork, energy work, medications, residential treatment, and more. Many of these modalities were beneficial but none of them significantly reduced my trauma symptoms. I was still terrified most of the time...In my first MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session I was surprised that the MDMA helped me see the world as it was, instead of seeing it through my lens of terror. I thought that the MDMA would alter my perception of reality, but instead, it helped me see... more clearly... The MDMA session was the first time that I was able to stay present, explore, and process what had happened to me. This changed everything... There are no words for the gratitude that I feel.Jon Lubecky, an American Iraq War combat veteran who tried to kill himself five times, told NBC's "Today" in 2021 that MDMA therapy—also with MAPS—enabled him "to talk about things I had never brought up before to anyone.""And it was OK. My body did not betray me. I didn't get panic attacks. I didn't shut down emotionally or just become so overemotional I couldn't deal with anything," he recounted. "This treatment is the reason my son has a father instead of a folded flag," Lubecky said in a message to other veterans afflicted with PTSD. "I want all of you to be around in 2023 when this is [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved. I know what your suffering is like. You can make it."MAPS' latest clinical research on MDMA—which is aimed at winning FDA approval—is currently in phase three trials. The Biden administration said last year that it "anticipates" MDMA and psilocybin would be approved by the FDA by 2024 and is "exploring the prospect of establishing a federal task force to monitor" therapeutic possibilities of both drugs. \u201cFounder and Executive Director of @MAPSnews, @RickDoblin Ph.D., discusses a new #psychedelic study that supports MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (#PTSD) on @FoxBusiness. \n\nhttps://t.co/im1QEz3vdR\u201d — Psychedelic Science (@Psychedelic Science) 1675357038 Like MDMA, psilocybin—which occurs naturally in hundreds of fungal species and has been used by humans for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes for millennia—remains illegal at the federal level in the U.S., although several states and municipalities have legalized or decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, or have moved to do so. There have also been bipartisan congressional efforts to allow patients access to both drugs. Legislation introduced last year by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would permit therapeutic use of certain Schedule I drugs for terminally ill patients. Meanwhile, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) passed amendments to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act providing more funding for psychedelic research and making it easier for veterans and active-duty troops suffering from PTSD to try drug-based treatments.

[Category: Australia, Biden administration, Depression, Drugs, Healthcare, Mdma, Multidisciplinary association for psychedelic studies, Psilocybin, Ptsd, Therapy, War on drugs]

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[l] at 2/3/23 3:50pm
As a deadly strain of avian influenza continues to decimate bird populations around the world and spread among other animals, some scientists are warning that mammal-to-mammal transmission has emerged as a real possibility with potentially catastrophic consequences for humans.Over the past year, officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have detected cases of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu in a variety of species, including bears, foxes, otters, raccoons, and skunks. Last month, a cat suffered serious neurological symptoms from a late 2022 infection, according to French officials who said that the virus showed genetic characteristics consistent with adaptation to mammals.Most of these infections are likely the result of mammals eating infected birds, according to Jürgen Richt, director of the Center on Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at Kansas State University.More alarming, multiple researchers argue, was the large outbreak of H5N1 on a Spanish mink farm last October, which could mark the first known instance of mammal-to-mammal transmission."Farmworkers began noticing a spike in deaths among the animals, with sick minks experiencing an array of dire symptoms like loss of appetite, excessive saliva, bloody snouts, tremors, and a lack of muscle control," CBC News reported Thursday. "Eventually, the entire population of minks was either killed or culled—more than 50,000 animals in total.""A virus which has evolved on a mink farm and subsequently infects farmworkers exposed to infected animals is a highly plausible route for the emergence of a virus capable of human-to-human transmission to emerge."A study published two weeks ago in Eurosurveillance, a peer-reviewed journal of epidemiological research, described the outbreak and its public health implications. Notably, the authors wrote that their findings "indicate that an onward transmission of the virus to other minks may have taken place in the affected farm."As CBC News noted, "That's a major shift, after only sporadic cases among humans and other mammals over the last decade."Michelle Wille, a University of Sydney researcher who focuses on the dynamics of wild bird viruses, told the Canadian outlet that "this outbreak signals the very real potential for the emergence of mammal-to-mammal transmission."It's just one farm and none of the workers—all of whom wore personal protective equipment—were infected. However, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto-based infectious disease specialist, warned Thursday that if the virus mutates in a way that enables it to become increasingly transmissible between mammals, including humans, "it could have deadly consequences.""This is an infection that has epidemic and pandemic potential," Bogoch told CBC News. "I don't know if people recognize how big a deal this is."A "mass mortality event" involving roughly 2,500 endangered seals found off the coast of Russia's Caspian Sea last month has also raised alarm.According to Phys.org:A researcher at Russia's Dagestan State University, Alimurad Gadzhiyev, said last week that early samples from the seals "tested positive for bird flu," adding that they were still studying whether the virus caused the die-off.Peacock warned there have been mixed reports from Russia about the seals, which could have contracted the virus by eating infected seabirds.But if the seals did give bird flu to each other it "would be yet another very concerning development," he added."The mink outbreaks, the increased number of infections of scavenger mammals, and the potential seal outbreak would all point to this virus having the potential to cause a pandemic" in humans, he said.Among birds, the mortality rate of H5N1 can approach 100%, ravaging wild bird populations and poultry farms alike. The World Organization for Animal Health told BBC News on Thursday that it has recorded almost 42 million cases of H5N1 in wild and domestic birds since the current outbreak started in October 2021. Another 193 million domestic birds have been culled in an attempt to curb transmission.The highly pathogenic strain of avian flu also frequently causes death in other mammals, including humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 870 cases of H5N1 were reported in humans from 2003 to 2022 and they resulted in at least 457 deaths—a fatality rate that exceeds 50%.The virus has "not acquired the ability for sustained transmission among humans," the WHO stated last month. "Thus the likelihood of human-to-human spread is low."However, a December report from the U.K. Health Security Agency warned that the "rapid and consistent acquisition of the mutation in mammals may imply this virus has a propensity to cause zoonotic infections," meaning that it could jump to humans.Dr. Wenqing Zhang, head of the WHO's global influenza program, told BBC News on Thursday that the threat posed by the virus spilling over "is very concerning and the risk has been increasing over the years as reflected in the number of outbreaks in animals as well as a number of infections in humans.""We're closely related to minks and ferrets, in terms of influenza risks... If it's propagating to minks, and killing minks, it's worrisome to us."As CBC News reported this week: "Most human infections also appeared to involve people having direct contact with infected birds. Real-world mink-to-mink transmission now firmly suggests H5N1 is now 'poised to emerge in mammals,' Wille said—and while the outbreak in Spain may be the first reported instance of mammalian spread, it may not be the last."Wille warned that "a virus which has evolved on a mink farm and subsequently infects farmworkers exposed to infected animals is a highly plausible route for the emergence of a virus capable of human-to-human transmission to emerge."Louise Moncla, an assistant professor of pathobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, told the outlet that viruses often adapt to new host species through an "intermediary host.""And so what's concerning about this is that this is exactly the kind of scenario you would expect to see that could lead to this type of adaptation, that could allow these viruses to replicate better in other mammals—like us," Moncla explained.The alarm bells sounded this week echo long-standing warnings about the growing prospects of a devastating bird flu pandemic.In his 2005 book, The Monster at Our Door, the late historian Mike Davis wrote that "the essence of the avian flu threat... is that a mutant influenza of nightmarish virulence—evolved and now entrenched in ecological niches recently created by global agro-capitalism—is searching for the new gene or two that will enable it to travel at pandemic velocity through a densely urbanized and mostly poor humanity."Alluding to the "constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses," the WHO recently stressed "the importance of global surveillance to detect and monitor virological, epidemiological, and clinical changes associated with emerging or circulating influenza viruses that may affect human (or animal) health, and timely virus-sharing for risk assessment."To avert a cataclysmic bird flu pandemic, scientists have also emphasized the need to ramp up H5N1 vaccine production, with Wille pointing out that "a very aggressive and successful poultry vaccination campaign ultimately stopped all human cases" of the H7N9 strain of the virus in the early 2010s.Others have also criticized the global fur farming industry, citing the spread of bird flu as well the coronavirus among cruelly confined minks."We're closely related to minks and ferrets, in terms of influenza risks," Dr. Jan Hajek, an infectious diseases physician at Vancouver General Hospital, told CBC News. "If it's propagating to minks, and killing minks, it's worrisome to us."

[Category: Agriculture, Animal rights, Biodiversity, Capitalism, Environment, Globalization, Pandemic, Public health, Vaccines, Bird flu]

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[l] at 2/3/23 3:03pm
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey on Friday joined thousands of scientists from across the globe in demanding that the American Geophysical Union answer for its decision in December to expel two climate researchers from its Fall Meeting after they staged a brief, peaceful protest urging their colleagues to engage in climate activism. In a letter to the AGU, the Massachusetts Democrat denounced the organization's "gross overreaction" and warned that it could "have a chilling effect on scientifically informed activism by climate scientists." As Common Dreams reported last month, Rose Abramoff and Peter Kalmus walked on stage in between speakers at the meeting on December 15 in Chicago, and displayed a banner reading, "Out of the lab and into the streets." The protest lasted roughly 30 seconds, but officials responded by ripping the banner out of the scientists' hands and, according to Kalmus, taking their badges and removing them from the meeting."It is as baffling as it is disappointing that AGU apparently paired its important efforts to promote global understanding of climate change with efforts to suppress actions taken in furtherance of it."HEATED reported in late January that Kalmus and Abramoff were threatened with arrest if they returned and were told that their workplaces would be contacted. On January 3, Abramoff was fired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee."A source with knowledge of the AGU ethics process implied [an organization official] had not contacted [Oak Ridge], and that the tip off had come from a colleague at Oak Ridge," HEATED reported. "But AGU would not confirm that on the record, citing the ongoing investigation."Markey noted in his letter on Friday that, "discordantly," the conference welcomed comments by former Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada about the "ethical and moral responsibility" scientists have to place their research and knowledge at the "center of political action," even though it may be "very unpopular.""Sadly, AGU's response to Drs. Abramoff and Kalmus appears to have validated former President Quesada's prescient warning," wrote Markey. "It is as baffling as it is disappointing that AGU apparently paired its important efforts to promote globalunderstanding of climate change with efforts to suppress actions taken in furtherance of it."The senator, who co-sponsored Green New Deal legislation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), called on the AGU to answer a number of questions about their actions, calling for clarification about whether officials threatened the scientists and contacted their workplaces as well as asking about potential conflicts of interest at the organization."AGU acknowledged funding from Chevron as recently as 2020, and previously voted to continue receiving money from Exxon," wrote Markey. "Does AGU currently accept sponsorship or any other form of funding from fossil fuel companies for the annual Fall Meeting or any other activities? If not, when did AGU stop taking such funding? If yes, what safeguards are in place to ensure that AGU is not influenced by such funding in how it responds to climate protest?"More than 2,300 scientists have signed a separate letter condemning AGU's actions.

[Category: Civil disobedience, Ed markey, American geophysical union, Climate scientists, Climate]

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[l] at 2/3/23 2:08pm
On the morning of January 18, agents from nine agencies, including the FBI and its local counterpart, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, descended on a section of Atlanta’s South River Forest occupied by activists. For the past two years, hundreds had lived in the section of the Weelaunee forest, in tents and treehouses, in order to block its planned conversion into a police training facility—a “cop city” complete with a mock village, firing ranges, and a Black Hawk landing pad. That morning, the agents were under orders to “eliminate the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center of criminal activity.”It is still unclear why the task force opened fire. But after twelve shots rang out, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita (or “Little Turtle”), a young, trans forest defender of Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous ancestry, had been hit and killed. Terán’s death marks the fifth protest fatality at the hands of US law enforcement since the start of the George Floyd rebellion in May 2020: David “Ya Ya” McAtee, was killed by a National Guardsman’s bullet in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 1, 2020; Sean Monterrosa, was gunned down by undercover police in Vallejo, California, the very next day. Michael Reinoehl and Winston “Boogie” Smith, Jr., both antifascists, were hunted down and “neutralized” by US Marshals within months of each other. And it’s not just protesters: In the past month, the police have killed Tortuguita, Tyre Nichols and Keenan Anderson.This latest wave of police killings comes on the heels of the most lethal year on record for police-civilian encounters. Yet the response of the political class has been to capitulate to rightwing scare tactics and inflated claims of a crime wave, effectively writing yet another blank check for police violence.It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between centrist and conservative talking points; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution can read like the lurid headlines of the New York Post with their condemnation of “police abolitionists, environmental extremists, and anarchists.” Talking heads at Fox News, in between segments like “Antifa Is Ravaging America,” have been using leading Democrats to make their point that the tree-sit protests amount to acts of terror. All of this has made strange bedfellows of centrist Democrats and MAGA Republicans who, in a rare show of unity, have been loudly calling for a clampdown on “out of control crime” and beating the drum for “law and order.” Right-wing talking points notwithstanding, the current landscape for protest policing is one that’s been shaped by the legacy of American apartheid, Southern lynch law, and centuries of slavery. As such, it is structurally skewed in favor of the police – and, according to multiple studies, systematically biased against Black Lives Matter and the political left. The bias is so extreme that officers are fully three times more likely to use force on “leftwing” protesters than rightwing ones. And when it comes to deadly force, the doctrine of qualified immunity, recently reaffirmed by the courts, means an officer can effectively shoot to kill without consequences. In a context of renewed protest and possible civil unrest, current US law enforcement strategy, as we saw in Terán’s fatal shooting, makes escalation almost inevitable, de-escalation unthinkable, and lethal outcomes ever more likely for those at the receiving end of state violence.But several mechanisms work together to create these conditions. The first is a military-style chain of command which sees itself at war with enemies domestic and foreign. This hierarchy leaves little room for ambiguity as to who was responsible for the killing of Terán: the commanding officers who gave the orders, the agencies that employed them, and the elected officials who deployed them against the forest defenders. Governor Brian Kemp has been leading the charge, vowing to "bring the full force of state and local law enforcement down on those trying to bring about a radical agenda" and calling for "swift and exact justice" aimed at "ending their activities."Georgia’s governor has since gone one step further, declaring a state of emergency and calling up to 1,000 members of the National Guard, who, according to the declaration, “shall have the same powers of arrest and apprehension as do law enforcement officers.” A similar state of exception was in effect when David McAtee and Sean Monterrosa were executed by a National Guardsman and an undercover policeman, respectively, in June 2020.Another link in the chain is the pipeline between the military and the police, whereby the tools, tactics, technologies, and advanced weaponry from America’s counterinsurgency wars overseas are imported, requisitioned, and reinvented for use on civilian populations here at home. The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which has experienced something of a revival under the Trump and Biden administrations, is partly responsible for this military supply chain, equipping local law enforcement with a seemingly limitless supply of “less-lethal” munitions, high-powered rifles, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and full-spectrum battle equipment. Cop City itself represents a prime example of this failed approach to public safety.Other military tools and tactics are brought to the police by way of programs like the private-sector Law Enforcement Charitable Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative, or the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, headquartered in Glynco, Georgia. And yet studies now show that while militarization increases the risk of loss of life, it has little to no observable effect on measures of crime or safety.And it’s not just a matter of surplus supply. It is also a question of political demand: Who has an interest in building “Cop City,” in the process displacing DeKalb County’s Black communities, and empowering the police to use deadly force to evict the forest defenders and end the protests? It’s not the people of Atlanta: During a public comment period after the mayor announced the plan to build the training facility, nearly 70 percent of the 1,166 responders expressed opposition to it. All signs point to the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF): a private-public partnership that’s been a driving force behind “Cop City” and a major player in local politics. Its executive board is a veritable who’s who of corporate power and inherited wealth. Last year, the foundation expended large sums of its donors’ money lobbying for police expansion.Another leading partner in the land grab is Shadowbox Studios, an entertainment firm whose real-estate tycoon CEO, Ryan Millsap, is “ideologically” aligned with the project due to a “deep respect for private property.” Millsap plans to turn another 40 acres of the forest into what demonstrators have called a “Hollywood dystopia.” Millsap has likened the protests to “organized crime,” while APF (formerly Coca-Cola) spokesman Rob Baskin has called them a "fringe group" that has "routinely resorted to violence and intimidation" against "police officers [and] executives from construction companies." Between Shadowbox Studios and the Fortune 500 firms that make up the board of the APF, the donor class has been unabashed in its incessant demand for a heavier hand.Meanwhile, homeland security in Georgia appears to be engaged in a similar strategy, conflating tree-sits with terrorist acts, local activists with “outside agitators,” and environmentalism with “homegrown extremism.” It doesn’t appear to matter whether the persons of interest are armed or unarmed, sitting in a treehouse or sowing chaos in the streets: As the domestic terrorism charges against the Atlanta 19 reveal, the treatment is effectively one and the same. Atlanta’s assistant police chief, Carven Tyus, has admitted in private meetings with his advisory council “Can we prove they did it? No. Do we know they did it? Yes.”We do not know exactly how or under what pretext the task force opened fire. One of the tactical officers involved was injured during the raid, but in the absence of body cam footage—or of any independent inquiry whatsoever—we may never learn the full story of what went down that day. But we are obliged to name the shooting of Terán for what it was: an extrajudicial execution, carried out by hired men armed with military assault weapons, paramilitary training, and qualified immunity from prosecution—in other words, a death squad in all but the name.

[Category: Atlanta, Black lives matter, Cop city, Forest defenders, Police violence, Police killing]

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