Joe Manchin fumes after Bernie Sanders Op-Ed in West Virginia paper calls out obstruction of Biden agenda

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia lashed out Friday after a major newspaper in his home state published an op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders that called out Manchin's obstruction of his own party's Build Back Better reconciliation package.

"Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs," Manchin said in a statement shared on social media.

"No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that," he added.

At issue is an op-ed by Vermont Sen. Sanders—an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats—published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in which he calls the proposed reconciliation bill "an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes."

Sanders details how the proposal would take action to tackle the climate emergency and make sweeping investments in Americans' wellbeing including through lowering prescription drug prices, expanding Medicare, continuing cash payments to working class parents, and making community college tuition-free.

"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation," wrote Sanders. "Yet," he continued, "the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote 'yes.' We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin." The other is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"This is a pivotal moment in modern American history," Sanders continued. "We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont, and the entire country and create policy which works for all, not just the few."

The op-ed was published the same day the New York Times and CNN reported that Manchin's opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program—dubbed "the most impactful climate investment under consideration in Congress"—would likely mean it's left out of the budget package.

'Bought and paid for': New filing reveals Kyrsten Sinema pads campaign coffers with more Pharma and finance funds

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the right-wing Arizona Democrat obstructing her party's $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, is the recent beneficiary of six-figure largesse from pharma- and finance-linked donors apparently rewarding her opposition to the flagship social and climate investment legislation, according to campaign finance disclosures filed Friday.

Politico and The Daily Poster report that Sinema raised over $1.1 million between July and September, with 90% of the campaign donations coming from outside Arizona. At least $100,000 of those contributions came from individuals or entities linked to the pharmaceutical and financial services industries.

According to Politico, Sinema has "raised more campaign money in the last three months than in any quarter since she became a senator."

Politico reports:

Her individual donors... included a who's-who of powerful people in the pharmaceutical industry. Top donors included the pharma giant Gilead's CEO, Daniel O'Day, who gave $5,000 this past quarter. Another $2,900 came in from Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks. The executive chair of Merck's board, Kenneth C. Frazier, also gave $2,900, as did the chair and CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb, Giovanni Caforio.
The CEO of Genentech, Alexander Hardy, gave $2,500. Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's executive vice president for policy and research, Jennifer Bryant, senior vice president for federal advocacy Anne Esposito, and executive vice president for public affairs Debra DeShong, each gave $1,000.

The Daily Poster adds that Sinema also received approximately $47,000 from executives at Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a private equity firm that owns a large stake in Abzena, a company providing "outsourced research, development, and manufacturing services... to biopharmaceutical companies."

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted earlier this week that Sinema has received over $750,000 from Big Pharma throughout her career.

While Sinema campaigned on a promise to "lower prescription drug prices," she has been one of the staunchest congressional opponents of allowing Medicare to leverage its tremendous purchasing power to negotiate lower medication prices.

Among Sinema's biggest financial services industry donors disclosed in the new filing are Goldman Sachs president John Waldron, who gave the maximum allowable amount of $5,800; Blackstone senior managing directors Giovanni Cutaia and Eli Nagler, who donated a combined $5,700; and Facebook co-founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who both gave the maximum amount. The Winklevoss twins have amassed a multi-billion-dollar cryptocurrency empire; Sinema is a member of the Senate subcommittee charged with regulating digital currencies.

The new disclosures came as Sinema traveled to Europe to raise more campaign cash, and as the head of an advocacy group linked to the billionaire-backed Koch network urged her to "stay strong" in her efforts to torpedo her party's budget reconciliation package.

Responding to the new reports, musician and environmental activist Bill Madden tweeted, "This is what someone who's bought and paid for looks like."

How 'insanely corrupt' South Dakota became a magnet for the wealth-hoarding megarich

Experts on the wealth-hoarding strategies and subterfuges of the world's superrich are weighing in this week on why "billionaires love South Dakota" after a bombshell report revealed that the Republican-led state is a leading global destination for plutocratic tax cheats.

"South Dakota has sheltered billions in wealth linked to wealthy individuals previously accused of serious financial crimes and labor violations."

One of the biggest revelations in the Pandora Papers—a gargantuan cache of nearly 12 million documents revealing the hidden wealth and secret dealings of hundreds of the world's wealthiest people, published Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)—is just how much of a fortune-magnet South Dakota has become.

Drawn by low taxes and some of the nation's most generous trust laws, "shady billionaires from around the world are going to South Dakota," said Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions, and co-editor of at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

As a result, the Mount Rushmore State "now rivals Switzerland, Panama, the Cayman Islands, and other famous tax havens as a premier venue for the international rich seeking to protect their assets from local taxes or the authorities," The Guardian reports.

Writing for Common Dreams Monday, Collins further explained:

Findings suggest that South Dakota has sheltered billions in wealth linked to wealthy individuals previously accused of serious financial crimes and labor violations. Two examples: Brazilian orange juice baron Horst Happel was fined $88 million in 2016 for underpaying his workers. In 2017, he moved substantial wealth to a trust in South Dakota. Carlos Morales Troncoso was the former vice president of the Dominican Republic. He ran a sugar company called Central Romana... that was accused of human rights violations. He set up trusts for his daughters in the Bahamas that were moved, after his death, to South Dakota.

Vehicles including granter-attained annuity trusts (GRATs) and so-called "dynasty trusts"—through which wealth can be sequestered for generations, even centuries—attract the über-rich to South Dakota by design.

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Why Billionaires Love to Park Their Dynastic Wealth in Places Like South Dakota

Chuck Collins

Suzanne Garment, author of Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics, wrote for NBC News Tuesday that "spurred by economic need," South Dakota has become "a leader in abolishing the rule against perpetuities—the old doctrine that limits the lifespan of a trust. One version of the rule says a trust must vest—that is, it must distribute its assets—within a stated amount of time."

"But not in South Dakota," she continued. "In South Dakota today, a trust can last, well, forever. The state couples this permissive regime with strict secrecy. As opposed to records in states like New York, court documents relating to South Dakota trusts are permanently private: Even the existence of such a trust is not public."

"As a result, it is virtually impossible to discover who has established a South Dakota trust, who benefits from it, or whether legal challenges to it have been filed," Garment added.

Collins is calling on Congress to address the issue.

"Lawmakers should act at the federal level to shut down or discourage the formation of dynasty trusts and GRATs for the purposes of tax avoidance and dynastic succession," he said. "Actions could include the passage of a federal 'rule against perpetuities,' banning certain trust arrangements, and taxing income and wealth in trusts."

South Dakota isn't the only place in the United States where the rich are hiding their treasures. Other U.S. states named in the Pandora Papers include Delaware, Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

"The world is going to be looking at us differently after the Pandora Papers," said Collins. "They're going to see that the United States is the weak link now in the system of global financial transparency."

Whistleblower warns Facebook is a threat to children and democracy in scathing testimony

Two days after a bombshell "60 Minutes" interview in which she accused Facebook of knowingly failing to stop the spread of dangerous lies and hateful content, whistleblower Frances Haugen testified Tuesday before U.S. senators, imploring Congress to hold the company and its CEO accountable for the many harms they cause.

Haugen—a former Facebook product manager—told the senators she went to work at the social media giant because she believed in its "potential to bring out the best in us."

"But I'm here today because I believe Facebook's products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy," she said during her opening testimony. "The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people."

"The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages," she continued. "I came forward because I believe that every human being deserves the dignity of truth."

"I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety," Haugen added. "Facebook consistently resolved its conflicts in favor of its own profits."

"In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people," she said.

Addressing Monday's worldwide Facebook outage, Haugen said that "for more than five hours, Facebook wasn't used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies."

"It also means that millions of small businesses weren't able to reach potential customers, and countless photos of new babies weren't joyously celebrated by family and friends around the world," she added. "I believe in the potential of Facebook. We can have social media we enjoy that connects us without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger, and sowing ethnic violence around the world. We can do better."


Doing better will require Congress to act, because Facebook "won't solve this crisis without your help," Haugen told the senators, echoing experts and activists who continue to call for breaking up tech giants, banning the surveillance capitalist business model, and protecting rights and democracy online.

She added that "there is nobody currently holding Zuckerberg accountable but himself," referring to Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)—chair of the Senate Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee—called on Zuckerberg to testify before the panel.

"Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror today and yet rather than taking responsibility, and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing," he said.

"Big Tech now faces a Big Tobacco, jaw-dropping moment of truth. It is documented proof that Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children," Blumenthal continued.

"The damage to self-interest and self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation," he added. "Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, rejection, and self-hatred will impact this generation for years to come. Our children are the ones who are victims."

Pandora Papers: 'Biggest-ever' bombshell leak exposes financial secrets of the super-rich

In what's being called the "biggest-ever leak of offshore data," a cache of nearly 12 million files published Sunday laid bare the hidden wealth, secret dealings, and corruption of hundreds of world leaders, billionaires, public officials, celebrities, and others.

The bombshell revelations—known as the Pandora Papers—were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and include private emails, secret contracts, and other records obtained during a two-year investigation involving more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories.

"This is the Panama Papers on steroids," said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle, referring to the 2016 exposé of the tax-evading secrets of the super-rich. "It's broader, richer, and has more detail."

According to The Guardian:

More than 100 billionaires feature in the leaked data, as well as celebrities, rock stars, and business leaders. Many use shell companies to hold luxury items such as property and yachts, as well as incognito bank accounts. There is even art ranging from looted Cambodian antiquities to paintings by Picasso and murals by Banksy.

"There's never been anything on this scale and it shows the reality of what offshore companies can offer to help people hide dodgy cash or avoid tax," said ICIJ's Fergus Shiel, who added that the people in the files "are using those offshore accounts, those offshore trusts, to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of property in other countries, and to enrich their own families, at the expense of their citizens."

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The leaked documents reveal how some of the world's wealthiest people avert the financial consequences of their misdeeds by using offshore entities. Dozens of current and former world leaders feature prominently in the files, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

While most of the richest Americans do not appear in the files, The Washington Post reports that "perhaps the most troubling revelations for the United States... center on its expanding complicity in the offshore economy."

"South Dakota, Nevada, and other states have adopted financial secrecy laws that rival those of offshore jurisdictions," the paper says. "Records show leaders of foreign governments, their relatives, and companies moving their private fortunes into U.S.-based trusts."

ICIJ said Sunday that the "publication of Pandora Papers stories comes at a critical moment in a global debate over the fairness of the international tax system, the role of Western professionals in the shadow economy, and the failure of governments to stanch the flow of dirty money into hidden companies and trusts," and that the documents "are expected to yield new revelations for years to come."

Joe Manchin is 'holding a gun to the planet's head': climate critics

Climate campaigners on Friday responded to Sen. Joe Manchin's unrelenting obstruction of his own party's efforts to spend $3.5 trillion to combat the climate crisis and make other major social investments by accusing the right-wing West Virginia Democrat of doing the fossil fuel industry's bidding, and drawing attention to the "modern-day coal baron's" staggering conflicts of interest.

Manchin—Senate Democrats' 50th and potentially decisive vote on the pending Build Back Better and bipartisan infrastructure bills—admitted Thursday that he planned to pass legislation containing at least $25 billion in potential fossil fuel subsidies and then torpedo the more ambitious $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package funding robust investments in climate solutions.

Manchin's insistence on a top-line reconciliation bill spending level of $1.5 trillion defies the wishes of the vast majority of his own constituents and has drawn fire from progressive critics, some of whom noted the senator's consistent support for annual Pentagon budgets approaching or surpassing $700 billion.

Others have drawn attention to the fact that Manchin is currently the top congressional recipient of fossil fuel industry donations, and last year personally earned roughly three times as much income from investments in his son's coal company as he did from his congressional salary. Since his election to the Senate in 2010, Manchin has made more than $4.5 million from his family's coal business. He has also earned the praise of an ExxonMobil lobbyist for obstructing climate action.

"Should any lawmaker with such a sizable financial conflict of interest wield decisive influence over what the U.S. government does about a life-and-death issue like the climate emergency?" asked Covering Climate Now executive director Mark Hertsgaard in a Thursday column calling Manchin a "modern-day coal baron."

"Shouldn't there be public discussion about whether that lawmaker should recuse himself from such deliberations?" Hertsgaard added.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate advocacy group, wrote Friday that "Joe Manchin is actually doing the work of the fossil fuel industry."

"The Biden administration was trying to... move toward the clean energy world that both physics and finance demand—but the fossil fuel industry won't let it, and Manchin is their hostage-taker," he continued. "Whatever deal emerges today will be judged on... whether or not it allows us to meet [President Joe] Biden's target of cutting emissions in half by 2030. If Manchin gets his way, that won't happen."

"Manchin came to power with an ad showing him shooting climate regulations," added McKibben, "now he's holding a gun to the planet's head."

On Thursday, Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement, said, "Let's be clear, progressives are not the ones delaying the vote—Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are."

"The reality is that while our movement has been fighting like hell to pass historic climate, immigration, and economic policies, Manchin and Sinema have been in backroom fundraisers finding ways to kill the $3.5 trillion climate and jobs package to help working people," she added. "Let's stop pretending that there's anything else going on."

'Eye-popping rip-off': Americans pay nearly double rest of world combined for top meds

As public health advocates fumed over efforts by right-wing congressional Democrats to water down prescription drug pricing reforms proposed in their own party's flagship Build Back Better package, a report published Thursday by a leading progressive advocacy group revealed that Americans are paying nearly twice as much for the 20 bestselling medications as the rest of the world combined.

"Empowering Medicare to push back against inflated drug prices is the responsible and commonsense way to stand up to the industry's greed."
—Rick Claypool,
Public Citizen

The Public Citizen report, entitled United We Spend, compares U.S. revenue from the top 20 "blockbuster" drugs to global sales figures as reported by pharmaceutical companies in their annual U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, or foreign equivalents.

According to the analysis, U.S. sales of the top 20 medications totaled $101.1 billion in 2020, while sales of the same drugs totaled $57 billion in the rest of the world.

The report found that "drugs with significant sales revenue disparities include Gilead Sciences' HIV medication Biktarvy, which had U.S. sales revenue five times greater than the rest of the world; AbbVie's autoimmune disease drug Humira, which had U.S. sales revenue four times greater than the rest of the world; and Eli Lily's Type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity, Roche's multiple sclerosis drug Ocrevus, and Amgen and Pfizer's autoimmune disease drug Enbrel, all three of which had U.S. sales revenue more than triple the rest of the world."

Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and co-author of the report, said Thursday that "this eye-popping rip-off Big Pharma is getting away with is an insult to the American people."

"Empowering Medicare to push back against inflated drug prices is the responsible and commonsense way to stand up to the industry's greed—which, certain members of Congress should be reminded, lawmakers in both parties have been promising to do for years," Claypool added.

A survey published Thursday by Invest in America and Data for Progress revealed that 73% of likely U.S. voters support allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

However, Republican and some Democratic lawmakers have been fighting efforts to reduce prescription drug prices, and other reforms. For example, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—who campaigned on a promise to "lower prescription drug prices"— has been one of the staunchest congressional opponents of allowing Medicare to leverage its tremendous purchasing power to negotiate lower medication prices.

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, members of Congress have been the leading beneficiaries of Big Pharma largesse, as drugmakers and private health insurers have spent $171 million so far in 2021 on lobbying—the most of any industry.

In the House, three key Democrats blocking drug pricing reform—Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), and Kurt Schrader (Ore.)—have taken a combined $1.6 million from Big Pharma over the course of their careers. In the Senate, two leading Democratic opponents of robust pricing reform—Sinema and Sen. Tom Carper (Del.)—have received more than $1.2 million in career pharmaceutical industry campaign contributions.

Earlier this week, a group of 160 patient advocates from across the United States sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanding that congressional Democrats include drug pricing reforms—especially allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription rates—in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.

"Millions of American families ration medicine to help pay the bills," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program. "Until now, the U.S. government has not even asserted power to help by negotiating more reasonable prices. Drug corporations clearly are taking advantage of that weakness, and abusing their monopoly privileges—and everyone in the U.S. is paying for it."

A 'cartoonish' level of corruption: Kyrsten Sinema blasted for fundraising from business groups opposed to Dem agenda

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema faced blistering rebuke Monday following reports that the right-wing Arizona Democrat will solicit large campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists staunchly opposed to her party's flagship $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget reconciliation package.

The New York Times reports Sinema is scheduled to host a Tuesday fundraiser with five influential business lobby groups. According to the paper:

Under Ms. Sinema's political logo, the influential National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and the grocers' PAC, along with lobbyists for roofers and electrical contractors and a small business group called the S-Corp Political Action Committee, have invited association members to an undisclosed location on Tuesday afternoon for 45 minutes to write checks for between $1,000 and $5,800, payable to Sinema for Arizona.

These organizations vehemently oppose the Build Back Better bill, which Robert Yeakel, the director of government relations at the National Grocers Association, recently called a "laundry list of tax hikes."

Sinema also rejects the bill as proposed. Along with a small coterie of conservative Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, she has defied her party—and the wishes of a majority of U.S. voters—by rejecting the proposal's $3.5 trillion price tag.

"So Kyrsten Sinema is using the reconciliation fight to collect $5,800 checks from corporate PACs opposing the bill?" tweeted Sawyer Hackett, executive director of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's People First Future PAC.

"Each of these PACs overwhelmingly support[s] Republicans over Democrats," Hackett added.

Sinema and others also came under fire over the weekend for opposing tax hikes on corporations and the super-rich to finance Democrats' reconciliation package, with Demand Progress campaign director Robert Cruickshank accusing right-wing Democrats of "carrying water for big corporations and billionaires who don't want their taxes to go up."

As Sinema gets ready to collect checks from opponents of the Build Back Better bill, House Democrats are preparing to pass the sweeping social welfare, infrastructure, and climate measure later this week. House progressives are threatening to block bipartisan infrastructure legislation unless conservative Democrats support the full $3.5 trillion proposal.

"So Kyrsten Sinema is using the reconciliation fight to collect $5,800 checks from corporate PACs opposing the bill?"
—Sawyer Hackett, People First Future

On Saturday, The Daily Beast reported that the Arizona Democratic Party passed a resolution vowing that if Sinema "continues to delay, disrupt, or vote to gut the reconciliation package of its necessary funding" and keeps opposing filibuster reform, it will "go officially on record and will give Sen. Sinema a vote of no confidence."

Democratic organizer Kai Newkirk told The Daily Beast that "the Arizonans who did the work to elect Sinema have had enough of her betraying the voters who put her in office. It's time for her to show the bare minimum of accountability and stop obstructing the agenda that Democrats, including her, campaigned on and were elected to deliver."

"Sinema is setting her political future on fire," Newkirk added. "If she doesn't change course drastically and soon, it will be too late."

Health experts 'speechless' as DeSantis taps anti-mask vaccine skeptic for Florida surgeon general

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came under fire from Democratic lawmakers and public health experts following the Republican's Tuesday announcement that Dr. Joseph Ladapo—who opposes mask and coronavirus vaccine mandates—would be the state's next surgeon general.

"I'm speechless. I attended medical school with Dr. Joseph Ladapo and to say I'm shocked by his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates is an understatement."
—Dr. Uché Blackstock, physician

The Miami Herald reports Ladapo, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, will oversee the Florida Department of Health pending confirmation by the state's Republican-controlled Senate.

Known for advocating individual liberty over community-based precautions in the fight against Covid-19, Ladapo's views on masks and vaccines closely align with those of DeSantis, whose July executive order banning school mask mandates was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge the following month.

"Florida will completely reject fear as a way of making policies," Ladapo said during a Tuesday press conference in Tallahassee.

"Vaccines are up to the person. There's nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure," he added. "The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn't the only path to that. It's been treated almost like a religion. It's just senseless."

According to The New York Times, Florida currently has the United States' highest number of daily Covid-19 deaths, the nation's second-highest per-capita mortality rate, and a death rate nearly three times the national average.

As The Guardian reports:

Last week, Florida surpassed 50,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic begun, with around one in every 400 Florida residents who were alive in March 2020 now dead from the virus. Only cancer and heart disease has killed more Floridians in this time.

In a June opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, Ladapo and Yale epidemiologist Harvey A. Risch wrote that "the risks of a Covid-19 vaccine may outweigh the benefits for certain low-risk populations, such as children, young adults and people who have recovered from Covid-19." The authors cited reports in the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)—which are unverified and can be filed by anyone.

Ladapo also raised alarm among public health experts after signing the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement by a trio of public health experts calling on governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people in order to spread the coronavirus to enough people to achieve herd immunity.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the herd immunity theory proposed in the declaration "scientifically and ethically problematic," while National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci blasted the document as "nonsense and very dangerous."

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.)—who served as Florida's Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 and is running for the office again as a Democrat—tweeted Tuesday that Ladapo's selection as surgeon general "is a complete slap in the face to the families of the more than 50,000 Floridians who have died from Covid."

In a statement, Florida state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-18) said that "the governor has chosen someone who has questioned the safety of the Covid vaccines, has advocated against masks as a way to stop the spread of the virus, and who believes herd immunity through natural infection is the best possible way to end this pandemic."

Kyrsten Sinema targeted for obstructing Build Back Better act

Hours after 13 Sunrise Movement activists were arrested at the Students March on Congress for Climate Action in Washington, D.C., members of the youth-led environmental group rallied for a Monday evening protest outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's Phoenix office to demand that the Arizona Democrat support at least a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that funds robust measures to combat the climate emergency.

"While Sen. Sinema caters to fossil fuel executives in D.C., young Arizonans are outside her office demanding she listen to them as they face record drought and extreme heatwaves killing their communities."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement

"While Sen. Sinema caters to fossil fuel executives in D.C., young Arizonans are outside her office demanding she listen to them as they face record drought and extreme heatwaves killing their communities," Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement Tuesday.

Activists have joined progressive U.S. lawmakers in pushing back against efforts by Republicans and right-wing Democrats including Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seeking to defeat or dilute the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, a popular package that, if passed, would fund bold climate action, poverty alleviation, healthcare and education expansion, and infrastructure improvements.

Sinema and Manchin also oppose abolishing the filibuster, a move that would allow Democrats to pass the package and address other Democratic priorities without reaching the current 60-vote threshold or having to rely on the budget reconciliation process.

"Sen. Sinema and Democrats, who do you work for? Do you work for the young, BIPOC, and working people who put their lives on hold to elect you?" asked Prakash. "Or do you work for ExxonMobil and fossil fuel corporations, who pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and have caused the climate crisis in the first place?"

In July, the climate advocacy group Oil Change U.S. revealed that Sinema, Manchin, and four other conservative Democratic senators collectively received nearly $330,000 in contributions from ExxonMobil lobbyists.

Prakash said that President Joe Biden and Congress "must pass at least a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package to boldly invest in our infrastructure and pass a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps so we can finally kick off the decade of the Green New Deal."

The Civilian Climate Corps is a proposed government jobs program that would put people to work directly combating the climate crisis.

"Failing to deliver on the mandate Democrats were elected on means that they risk disillusioning young people, their base, and holding onto power in 2022," Prakash warned. "We did our part, now it's time for Democrats to deliver on their promises."

Warnings of Trump-like insurrection ahead of Bolsonaro rallies in Brazil

As supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro prepare to take to the streets for orchestrated demonstrations Tuesday, warnings within the country and across the world are growing that the embattled right-wing leader is seeking to foment an insurrection or possibly a military coup with similar undertones to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol incited by former President Donald Trump.

"We are gravely concerned about the imminent threat to Brazil's democratic institutions—and we stand vigilant to defend them ahead of 7 September and after."
—Open Letter

"Right now, President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies—including white supremacist groups, military police, and public officials at every level of government—are preparing a nation-wide march against the Supreme Court and Congress on 7 September, stoking fears of a coup in the world's third largest democracy," said over 150 lawmakers, academics, and former government officials in a joint statement issued Monday.

Among the signatories of the statement—spearheaded by Progressive International—are ex-national leaders including former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and former Colombian President Ernesto Samper; current parliamentarians such as Greece's Yanis Varoufakis, Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.); academics including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West; and other notable leftist figures like Argentine artist and Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.

The signers noted that "Bolsonaro has escalated his attacks on Brazil's democratic institutions in recent weeks. On 10 August, he directed an unprecedented military parade through the capital city of Brasília, as his allies in Congress pushed sweeping reforms to the country's electoral system, widely considered to be one of the most trustworthy in the world. Bolsonaro and his government have threatened—several times — to cancel the 2022 presidential elections if Congress fails to approve these reforms."

The letter continues:

Now, Bolsonaro is calling on his followers to travel to Brasília on 7 September in an act of intimidation of the country's democratic institutions. According to a message shared by the president on 21 August, the march is preparation for a "necessary counter-coup" against the Congress and the Supreme Court. The message claimed that Brazil's "communist constitution" has taken away Bolsonaro's power, and accused "the judiciary, the left, and a whole apparatus of hidden interests" of conspiring against him.

"Members of Congress in Brazil have warned that the 7 September mobilization has been modeled on the insurrection at the United States Capital on 6 January 2021, when then-President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to 'stop the steal' with false claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential elections," the letter states. "We are gravely concerned about the imminent threat to Brazil's democratic institutions—and we stand vigilant to defend them ahead of 7 September and after."

"The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule," the progressives conclude. "Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now."

Opposition lawmakers have previously warned that Bolsonaro is attempting to ape Trump's failed electoral subversion effort by making spurious claims that Brazil's electronic voting is susceptible to tampering, and that he would have won the 2018 election in the first round were it not for fraud.

Recent polls put Bolsonaro's approval rating at a historically low 23% as he faces a series of massive protests and calls for impeachment over his administration's mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption scandals, a weakening economy, and accusations of genocide and ecocide for his exploitation of the Amazon and disregard for the nation's Indigenous people.

With Brazil's Independence Day observed on September 7, critics warn Bolsonaro is exploiting the national holiday to stir his base and further entrench hostility to the nation's democratic systems.

"The time has come to declare our independence for good, to say we will not allow some people in Brasilia to impose their will on us," the president said in a thinly veiled swipe at the Supreme Court and Congress during a speech to supporters last week. "The will that matters is yours."

He added: "If you want peace, get ready for war."

"Bolsonaro supporters are very reactionary, they're going to want to go to war. The president can't control it if there's violence. He's taking a calculated risk."
—Andre Rosa, political consultant

Critics say Bolsonaro—a former army captain who has waxed nostalgic for the country's former U.S.-backed military dictatorship—is making a dangerous gambit that could provoke violence. Numerous social media posts promoting Tuesday's rallies contain violent imagery, with the slogan "independence or death" trending on Twitter.

"Bolsonaro supporters are very reactionary, they're going to want to go to war," political consultant Andre Rosa told Agence France-Presse. "The president can't control it if there's violence. He's taking a calculated risk."

Marcelo Zero, a senatorial adviser for the leftist Worker's Party (PT), accused Boslonaro of trying to co-opt Independence Day.

"Bolsonaristas think they are the only patriots, therefore, they are the only ones eligible to participate in September 7," wrote Zero. "They are the only 'green and yellows,' the rest are riffraff of another color. Those who oppose them—who disagree with them in any way—are not real Brazilians. They are traitors who should leave the country or, as the president candidly said, go to the 'end of the beach'—a dictatorship-era military euphemism for execution."

Graciele Marques dos Santos, a PT city councilwoman in Sinop, Mato Grosso state, told The Guardian that many of Bolsonaro's supporters consider him "a messenger of God."

"I think we could see tragedies. People here feel so angry," said dos Santos. "The head of our nation is someone who incites hatred and violence. It's awful, it's horrible."

House Dems introduce bill to lower Medicare age to 60

In an effort to expand healthcare access to tens of millions of Americans in the continuing absence of a more ambitious universal care program, more than 125 House Democrats on Friday introduced legislation that would lower the age of general Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60.

"Congress and President Biden should immediately deliver for the people by prioritizing the expansion and improvement of Medicare in the upcoming Build Back Better package."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

The bill (pdf)—which is led by Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Joe Neguse (Colo.), Susan Wild (Pa.), Haley Stevens (Mich.), and Debbie Dingell (Mich.)—would bring 23 million more Americans into the government-run program. The policy is supported by President Joe Biden, who—though he continues to oppose Medicare for All—promised to lower the Medicare eligibility age during his 2020 presidential campaign.

Sponsors of the new proposal hope it will be included in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill supported by Biden and progressive lawmakers—as well as a majority of U.S. voters. While both houses of Congress have passed the budget blueprint for the landmark package, congressional Democrats are facing an aggressive push by corporate lobbyists and right-wing colleagues from both sides of the aisle to eliminate or weaken crucial provisions.

Proponents of the Medicare expansion bill said it would save many lives.

"Lowering the Medicare eligibility age will not only be life-changing for at least 23 million people, it will also be lifesaving for so many across America who will finally be able to get the care they need and deserve," Jayapal said in a statement announcing the new bill.

Researchers have found that there is a massive increase in the diagnosis of cancer among Americans who reach the age of 65 that could have been detected much earlier if they had access to Medicare.

Medicare eligibility expansion is also popular policy—and seen by many Americans, especially progressives, as a gateway to more ambitious healthcare reform. According to a Data for Progress survey in June, 60% of likely U.S. voters support lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, while a March poll from Morning Consult found that 55% of respondents favor Medicare for All.

Many of the lawmakers who support the new bill are also co-sponsors of the Medicare for All Act of 2021, which was introduced by Jayapal and Dingell in March.

"We are the only industrialized nation that does not have guaranteed access to healthcare for all its citizens—this needs to change now," Dingell said on Friday. "We're working on ensuring universal healthcare, and this includes lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 so that more adults can get the critical access to the quality, affordable healthcare they need."

Healthcare advocacy groups welcomed the new bill.

"The creation of Medicare transformed the lives of seniors by guaranteeing them access to healthcare and eliminating healthcare bills that threw many into poverty," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement.

Weissman added that, if passed, the new bill "can have a similarly transformative effect on the lives of tens of millions of Americans, guaranteeing care, keeping people out of medical bankruptcy, and opening up life choices."

Jayapal said that "expanding and improving" Medicare "is not only the right thing to do from a policy perspective, it is also what the majority of Americans across party lines support."

"Congress and President Biden," she added, "should immediately deliver for the people by prioritizing the expansion and improvement of Medicare in the upcoming Build Back Better package."

Majority of US voters favor $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill: Poll

Underscoring what critics call the out-of-touch nature of Republican and right-wing Democrats' opposition to the Build Back Better bill supported by the Biden administration and progressive U.S. lawmakers, new polling published Wednesday confirmed that a majority of likely American voters favor the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

The Invest in America and Data for Progress survey (pdf) of 1,201 likely U.S. voters, conducted from August 27 to August 30, found that 61% of all respondents supported the $3.5 trillion spending proposal. Among Democratic voters, support for the measure soared to 83%, while 58% of Indpendent and third-party voters, and 40% of Republicans, backed the bill.

Some of the bill's individual provisions saw even higher support among survey respondents, including long-term care (80%), power grid modernization (74%), and updating K-12 schools (71%). Even the bill's more controversial components enjoyed majority support, including a pathway to citizenship for migrants (61%) and free community college (59%).

While Republicans and right-wing Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin (W-Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have balked at the bill's $3.5 trillion price tag, the survey found that a majority of all queried voters do not want to cut provisions from the proposed budget. For example, 75% want long-term care to remain in the package, while 69% and 64% respectively say that power grid modernization and updating K-12 schools should not be removed.

Surveyed voters expressed even stronger support for the proposed $550 billion bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which would invest in the nation's roads, bridges, railways, broadband internet, and environmental resiliency. Sixty-nine percent of all likely voters—including 81% of Democrats, 68% of Independents and third-party supporters, and 55% of Republicans—back the proposed legislation.

Furthermore, 60% of survey respondents said they agree with the statement that "the wealthy and large corporations currently aren't paying their fair share" of taxes, and that "to fund investments in long-term care for seniors, healthcare, and clean energy, we should raise taxes."

The U.S. Senate approved the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint without a single Republican vote on August 11, while the House passed the measure along party lines nearly two weeks later. As congressional Democrats advance the process of translating the proposal into legislative text, they face an aggressive corporate lobbying campaign to slash or weaken crucial provisions.

Earlier this summer, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who played a key role in drafting the bill and has held a pair of Midwestern town halls to promote it—called lobbying efforts against the proposal a "sign of the greed that pervades corporate America."

'A big win': USPS must turn over docs about DeJoy's potential conflicts of interest

A leading government ethics watchdog on Wednesday cheered a federal judge's ruling ordering the United States Postal Service to hand over documents concerning potential conflicts of interest involving embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates on Tuesday granted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) a full summary judgment (pdf) and ordered the United States Postal Service (USPS) to give the advocacy group seven documents it requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

USPS claimed the documents were FOIA-exempt. According to Law & Crime, "Four of the documents concerned a request for a certificate of divestiture from DeJoy and the remaining three concern his recusal from matters where he may have a conflict of interest."

As CREW explained Wednesday:

Over the past seven years, the USPS has reportedly paid approximately $286 million to XPO Logistics, DeJoy's ex-employer, and has "ramped up its business" with the company since DeJoy's appointment as postmaster general. After his appointment, DeJoy continued to hold financial interests in XPO totaling between $30 and $75 million. DeJoy also held a significant amount of stock in Amazon, a major USPS competitor.

Earlier this month, Common Dreams reported on growing calls to fire DeJoy following the revelation by The Washington Post that USPS will pay XPO Logistics $120 million over the next five years. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) responded to the Post report by calling DeJoy a "walking conflict of interest."

Last Friday, a Post report that DeJoy had purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of publicly traded bonds from Brookfield Asset Management—where USPS Board of Governors Chair Ron Bloom is a managing partner—fueled further calls for DeJoy's termination, with Connolly calling Bloom and the postmaster general "bandits" whose "conflicts of interest do nothing but harm the Postal Service and the American people."

CREW communications director Jordan Libowitz called Bates' order "a big win not just for CREW, but for transparency advocates everywhere."

"DeJoy's decision-making as postmaster general has raised some serious ethical questions—now we should finally get some answers," Libowitz added.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on Monday sent President Joe Biden a letter urging him to sack everyone former President Donald Trump appointed to the USPS board. Pascrell welcomed the Tuesday court order and reiterated his call for Biden to fire Trump appointees and "show DeJoy the door now before it's too late."

DeJoy and six of the nine USPS governors, including Bloom, were appointed by Trump; the rest are Biden appointees.

In addition to the alleged conflicts of interest in connection with XPO Logistics and Brookfield Asset Management, CREW, in advocating DeJoy's ouster, notes that:

  • DeJoy and his wife, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, got their jobs after contributing $2 million to Trump's campaign coffers;
  • DeJoy is the first person in decades to lead the USPS without any previous experience in the agency;
  • DeJoy is under federal investigation for allegedly operating a scheme where he asked employees of his former company to make campaign contributions, then arranged for bonus payments to reimburse the employees; and
  • DeJoy apparently violated federal criminal laws by commanding the USPS to make policy changes at the agency that would depress or delay voting by mail in the 2020 election.

"Bottom line: Louis DeJoy has overseen an attack on the Postal Service and on American democracy itself," CREW tweeted Wednesday. "The USPS Board of Governors must fire him before it's too late."

Calls to aid Afghan refugees 'in grave danger' grow following Biden's address

Following a major White House address on Monday for which he was both praised and panned by progressives after explaining his decision to withdraw most American troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden was urged to redouble efforts to ensure the safe passage of as many Afghan refugees as possible—especially those who aided the nearly 20-year U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the nation now reverting to Taliban rule.

"I stand squarely behind my decision," Biden declared during a 20-minute speech that came amid the Taliban's chaotic reconquest of Afghanistan. "After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces."

"I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America's warfighting in Afghanistan," the president said. "I cannot and will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another country's civil war."

Biden continued:

The events we're seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan as known in history as the graveyard of empires. What's happening now could just as easily happened five years ago or 15 years in the future. We have to be honest, our mission in Afghanistan has taken many missteps, made many missteps over the past two decades. I'm now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan, two Democrats and two Republicans.

"I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth president," Biden said. "I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here."

In a stark departure from his predecessor, Biden stated, "I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me," while also acknowledging that the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government "did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated."

While some progressive observers called Biden's speech "honest," "clear-eyed," and a "refreshing" departure from former President Donald Trump, others accused the current president of "finger-pointing" and minimizing U.S. culpability in a crisis nearly 20 years in the making.

Other progressive politicians, journalists, and advocates eschewed lauding or lambasting the president's speech, instead focusing on the urgent need to evacuate and accommodate as many Afghan refugees as possible amid fear of renewed Taliban atrocities, especially against occupation collaborators.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) responded to Biden's address by asserting that "the urgency of the moment now demands we marshal an international coalition to evacuate every Afghan citizen who is fleeing for their lives."

In a statement, Refugee Council USA said that it "calls upon the Biden administration to bring Afghan refugees to safety immediately."

"America's resettlement agencies and other refugee-serving organizations are ready to help and are capable of welcoming many thousands of additional refugees, Special Immigrant Visa recipients (SIVs), and other Afghans in need of protection with the support of local communities," the group added.

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, noted in a statement that "there are still roughly 80,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders and their families in grave danger—not to mention the tens of thousands in other vulnerable populations, including journalists, women's rights activists, NGO workers, and others."

"To frame the perspectives on U.S. withdrawal as either 'stay in a forever war' or 'save our allies' is a false dichotomy," O'Mara Vignarajah added. "We are simply calling on the administration to keep our promise. Our allies protected us, and in turn, we vowed to protect them. We call upon President Biden to immediately evacuate all U.S. citizens, American-affiliated Afghans, and other vulnerable populations."

The National Iranian American Council called for "immediate steps to support Afghans on the ground and save as many lives as possible," as well as "a shift away from militaristic policies and toward diplomacy-centric approaches that protect human rights and our shared humanity."

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