Documents show baby formula maker enriched shareholders amid deadly bacteria outbreak

Financial documents and whistleblower testimony spotlighted by The Guardian on Friday show that the U.S.-based baby formula producer Abbott used the massive windfall profits it accumulated between 2019 and 2021 to enrich shareholders, even amid a deadly bacteria outbreak that has triggered nationwide outrage and contributed to a formula shortage.

"Abbott detected bacteria eight times as its net profits soared by 94% between 2019 and 2021," The Guardian's Tom Perkins reported. "And just as its tainted formula allegedly began sickening a number of babies, with two deaths reported, the company increased dividends to shareholders by over 25% while announcing a stock buyback program worth $5 billion."

"Abbott chose spending billions on buying back its own stock instead of investing in critical upgrades."

Rakeen Mabud, chief economist at the Groundwork Collaborative, told the newspaper that "Abbott chose to prioritize shareholders by issuing billions of dollars in stock buybacks instead of making productive investments."

"It's important that we have high standards for something as vital as baby formula," Mabud added.

In late February, Abbott recalled a lot of its Similac PM 60/40 powdered formula that was manufactured at a plant in Sturgis, Michigan after an infant who consumed the product died of a cronobacter infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least four infants fell ill after consuming Abbott formula produced at the Sturgis facility, which has since been temporarily shuttered.

Abbott, which has faced a Justice Department complaint and scrutiny from federal regulators, insists that "there is no conclusive evidence to link Abbott's formulas to these infant illnesses." A whistleblower filing dated October 19, 2021 suggests the bacteria outbreak was caused by equipment at the Sturgis plant that was "failing and in need of repair."

"A number of product flow pipes were pitting and leaving pin holes," the complaint reads. "This allowed bacteria to enter the system and, at times, led to bacteria not being adequately cleaned out in clean-in-place ('CIP') washes. This, in turn, caused product flowing through the pipes to pick up the bacteria that was trapped in the defective areas of the pipe."

A footnote of the whistleblower document states that the "complainant was advised by an operator that leadership at the Sturgis site was aware of the failing equipment anywhere from five to seven years from the [bacteria outbreak] occurring."

The outbreak at the Sturgis facility—the largest baby formula plant in the U.S.—has exacerbated a nationwide baby formula shortage and, according to experts and progressive critics, spotlighted the dangers of corporate consolidation.

Abbott produces 43% of all baby formula in the U.S., and four companies—including Abbott—control roughly 90% of the nation's formula market. The concentrated industry has lobbied aggressively to weaken bacteria testing standards.

Earlier this week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—the chair of the Senate Finance Committee—launched an investigation into Abbott's tax practices, specifically "whether the company used its windfall from Republicans' 2017 tax cuts to enrich executives and shareholders, rather than ensure the safety of the manufacturing plant that produces infant formula."

"I have long been concerned that windfalls from sweeping tax cuts for mega-corporations enacted by the 2017 Republican tax law would be used for padding the pockets of corporate executives and wealthy shareholders," Wyden wrote in a letter to Abbott's CEO on Wednesday.

"It appears my concerns have been validated in this case," the senator added, "as Abbott chose spending billions on buying back its own stock instead of investing in critical upgrades to a plant essential to feeding our nation's infants."

Progressive Summer Lee declares victory with slim margin in PA primary

Summer Lee declared victory late Tuesday in the Democratic primary race to represent Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House, voicing confidence that the remaining uncounted votes will favor her campaign over corporate attorney Steve Irwin's.

"We built a movement in Western Pennsylvania that took on corporate power."

With 93% of precincts reporting, Lee holds a 446-vote lead over Irwin, a former Republican U.S. Senate staffer who benefited from super PAC cash that poured into the district in the contest's final stretch. Irwin has not conceded defeat as the race remains too close to formally call.

United Democracy Project (UDP), a super PAC founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), spent nearly $3 million in recent weeks boosting Irwin and attacking Lee, a progressive state representative who supports Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and Palestinian rights.

"The people took on the corporations and the people won," Lee said in a statement. "We built a movement in Western Pennsylvania that took on corporate power, stood up for working families, and beat back a multimillion-dollar smear campaign."

"This was never about one candidate—it was about the people of this district who have been left behind by corporations who put their profits over our lives," she added. "Today is a new way forward for everyone in the Commonwealth with no one left behind."

PA United, a group that ran a major field operation for Lee alongside Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party, said Wednesday morning that "as a long time leader of the progressive movement and the first Black woman to be elected as a state representative from Western PA, Summer's campaign energized a strong multiracial, working class base and overcame the political machine yet again."

"Summer Lee proved that money is surmountable when you organize and run on a progressive platform."

"PA United is proud to have helped Summer Lee overcome massive spending by her opponents and AIPAC and help supercharge her ground game," the organization added. "The supercharged field program is likely to have provided the margin of victory—knocking more than 30,000 doors, calling more than 35,000 people, and sending 25,000 texts to help ensure a victory. PA United will continue to stand by Rep. Lee through the November election and as she gets to work in Congress next year."

The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which also led a turnout operation in support of Lee in Pennsylvania's 12th District, declared in a statement that "this election pit people power against millions of dollars, and... Summer Lee proved that money is surmountable when you organize and run on a progressive platform."

"Young and working people were able to defeat Super PACs through local organizing," said Varshini Prakash, the group's executive director. "We showed our power, we knocked on doors, we called voters, and we decided this election."

If her victory is confirmed, Lee will face off against Republican Mike Doyle, the council president of Plum, Pennsylvania who ran unopposed in the GOP primary.

"We got here because of the power of the people," Lee said during her election party Tuesday night.

'We have to flip this seat': After Senate primary win, John Fetterman shifts focus to beating GOP

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman handily defeated Rep. Conor Lamb in the Democratic primary for the battleground state's open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, pitting the progressive against whichever right-wing candidate prevails in the deadlocked GOP contest between Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick.

"We're going to win in November the same way we won tonight—by fighting for every county, and every vote."

In a statement following his 33-point victory over Lamb, whose campaign was endorsed by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and bankrolled by Wall Street financiers, Fetterman thanked his supporters for sticking with him, particularly after he suffered a stroke just days before the election.

"The fact that so many of you entrusted me with your vote means the world to me, and it's something I'll never take for granted," said Fetterman, who underwent successful pacemaker implant surgery on Tuesday. "I'm feeling better every day, and I'm going to be back on the campaign trail to thank you all in person soon."

Fetterman—who has vowed to be a decisive Senate vote in favor of abortion rights, pro-labor legislation, and abolishing the filibuster—went on to emphasize the stakes of the upcoming contest between him and the Republican nominee, a race that will determine who fills the seat left open by Sen. Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) retirement.

The winner, Fetterman noted, could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.

"This is the most important race in the country," he declared. "Control of the Senate is going to come down to Pennsylvania, and we have to flip this seat. We have a hard fight ahead of us—but Pennsylvania is worth fighting for. We're going to win in November the same way we won tonight—by fighting for every county, and every vote. Because every place matters, and no place deserves to be written off."

Conceding defeat, Lamb promised to do "everything I can to help Democrats win" in the general election.

"Our entire democracy is on the line in November," said Lamb. "Democrats need to be unequivocally united in our defense of this democracy, and we will be. John's vote in the Senate is essential to protect this democracy, and he will have my vote in November."

President Joe Biden, who stayed on the sidelines in the closely watched Pennsylvania race, said in a statement that Democrats "are united around John, who is a strong nominee, will run a tough race, and can win in November."

Meanwhile, the GOP primary race between Dr. Oz—a television personality widely viewed as a crank and a peddler of dangerous misinformation—and McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, is likely headed for a recount as the latest tally showed Oz leading by just 0.2 percentage points with 94% of the vote counted.

Kathy Barnette, a far-right GOP candidate with a long history of bigoted rhetoric against Muslims and gay people, surged in the final weeks of the Senate campaign but ultimately fell behind Oz and McCormick, ending up with just under 25% of the vote.

"John is the perfect candidate for 2022—regardless of who the Republicans nominate tonight."

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Dr. Oz in the race, claiming that "people love him, otherwise he wouldn't have been on air for 18 years."

Fetterman's small-donor-funded campaign said late Tuesday that no matter who emerges as the Republican nominee, the lieutenant governor and former Braddock mayor is well-positioned to win in November.

"In a tough midterm election in which traditional Democrats are going to struggle, John doesn't have to convince people he’s not like other Democrats or other politicians—they can see it for themselves," the campaign said in a statement. "John is the perfect candidate for 2022—regardless of who the Republicans nominate tonight."

"To win in 2022, Democrats will have to do things differently," Fetterman's team added. "It won't just come down to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Margins in rural areas will matter. Democrats will have to focus on turning out voters across the state—in rural towns and cities."

Speaking at an election-night rally as the Democratic nominee continued his recovery in the hospital, Fetterman's wife Gisele told supporters that the November contest is "a race for the future of every community across Pennsylvania."

"For every small town, for every person who calls those small towns home, and for every person who's considered leaving because they didn't see enough opportunities," she added. "It's a race for a better Pennsylvania and for a better country."

Kremlin says Russia now considers US, European allies 'hostile states'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Moscow now considers the United States and its European allies "hostile states" as Western governments continue to pour heavy weaponry into Ukraine, which is attempting to beat back Russia's deadly invasion.

The West has also put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions with the goal of hampering Russia's economy and undermining the country's war machine.

During an event in Moscow on Tuesday, Peskov characterized the ongoing conflict as "a diplomatic war and a political war" between Russia and the Western nations backing Ukraine with economic and military support as well as intelligence.

"There are attempts to isolate us in the world. It's an economic war," said Peskov. "It is true that we keep referring to them mildly as unfriendly states, but I should say that they are hostile states, because what they are doing is war."

Peskov went on to say that "our national money...has been arrested" and assets "have been stolen."

"But we are going to fight for them, of course," he added.

The Kremlin spokesman's remarks came amid mounting fears that the West's response to Russia's illegal and devastating invasion has become a proxy war that could spiral into a direct military conflict between nuclear-armed powers.

Last month, U.S. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin vindicated such fears by declaring that one of the Biden administration's primary objectives in Ukraine is to weaken Russia, further dampening hopes of a diplomatic resolution to the war.

While the Biden administration has insisted it does not want a full-blown war with Russia and has publicly distanced itself from a hawkish Democratic lawmaker who recently said the U.S. is "fundamentally at war" with Russia by proxy, foreign policy analysts and anti-war campaigners argue that the White House is inflaming the conflict by prioritizing arms shipments to Ukraine over peace negotiations.

In a floor speech last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)—the chamber's second-ranking Democrat—slammed Republican lawmakers for criticizing the Biden administration's energy policies and declared that Congress should "get off this and really focus on the enemy," referring to Russia.

"I know there's a lot of politics here, but we're at war," Hoyer said.

Study finds many existing oil and gas sites must be shut down to avert climate disaster

A new study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that keeping global warming below the key 1.5°C threshold by the end of the century will require not just halting the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, but also shutting down many existing sites.

"Some existing fossil fuel licenses and production will need to be revoked and phased out early."

Led by Kelly Trout of Oil Change International, the study estimates that 40% of fossil fuel reserves at currently operational development sites across the globe must be left in the ground if the world is to have a 50-50 chance of adequately slashing carbon emissions and limiting warming to 1.5°C or below.

If fossil fuel reserves at existing sites are extracted, the researchers find, nations will "substantially exceed" the 1.5°C carbon budget that corporations and governments are already burning through at an unsustainable clip.

The paper, which relies on a commercial model of the world's
25,000 oil and gas fields, leaves unanswered the question of precisely which existing development sites should be shut down, noting that "it requires considerations of equity and of the best mechanisms to manage a just transition away from fossil fuel jobs and revenues within and between countries."

One recent analysis suggests that some of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world are planning or already operating more than 190 "carbon bombs," huge oil and gas projects that could unleash nearly 650 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions and doom efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

"Our findings show that halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget," said Greg Muttitt of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a co-author of the new study. "Some existing fossil fuel licenses and production will need to be revoked and phased out early."

"Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this in a fair and equitable way, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests," Muttitt added.

The research comes as the fossil fuel industry is exploiting Russia's assault on Ukraine—and the punitive measures the West has taken in response—to lobby for new fossil fuel development. In late March, the Biden administration pledged to ramp up U.S. gas exports to European Union members as they attempt to wean themselves off of Russian fossil fuels.

Climate advocates warned that the White House's initiative would likely spur the construction of new pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, potentially locking in more planet-warming pollution as scientists say emissions must be halved by 2030.

"Our study reinforces that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable response to Russia's war on Ukraine," said Trout, Oil Change International's research co-director. "The world has already tapped too much oil, gas, and coal. Developing more would either cause more dangerous levels of warming, if fully extracted, or create a larger scale of stranded assets."

Thijs Van de Graaf of Ghent University in Belgium, a study co-author, similarly cautioned that "each new coal mine, gas well, or oil field that is developed deepens political entanglement with the fossil fuel industry."

"Increasing the scale of extraction-related jobs and investments," he added, "only makes it harder for governments to manage."

Median pay of top CEOs hits record $14.7 million as workers strike over starvation wages

As workers across the U.S. attempt to unionize and walk off the job over brutal conditions and starvation wages, an analysis released Sunday found that the median pay package of top U.S. CEOs jumped to $14.7 million in 2021—the sixth consecutive record-breaking year for executive compensation.

According to the Wall Street Journal's review of data from more than 400 U.S. corporations, total CEO compensation "rose by at least 12% for most of the executives, and most companies recorded annual shareholder returns of nearly 30%." Nine CEOs made $50 million or more in total compensation in 2021, up from just one in 2016 and seven in 2020.

"Much of the pay consisted of equity awards that could ultimately prove to be worth more or less than initially reported," the Journal noted. "In 2020, the median pay package was $13.4 million for the same companies, with median cash compensation of $3.1 million."

The Journal's analysis showed that Expedia CEO Peter Kern brought in the highest total compensation—$294.57 million—among top CEOs last year. Other CEOs on the list include Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav ($216.06 million), ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott ($162.23 million), Apple CEO Tim Cook ($82.35 million), and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon ($77.62 million).

Rising CEO pay stands in stark contrast to the grim economic realities that ordinary workers are facing nationwide as inflation—driven in large part by corporate profits—erodes modest wage gains and expiring pandemic aid leaves vulnerable families without a safety net.

"While most of America struggles to put gas in the tank and pay the grocery bills, price-gouging, excessive-profit-taking CEOs used their captive boards to award themselves record pay," Jennifer Taub, a professor at Western New England University School of Law and an expert on corporate governance, tweeted in response to the Journal's findings.

As CEOs rake in huge compensation packages, workers at prominent U.S. companies with ultra-wealthy chief executives—including Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple—are trying to unionize in the face of relentless opposition from management.

In recent months, employees at more than 60 Starbucks locations in the U.S. have voted to form a union, winning a remarkable 90% of elections held thus far.

Additionally, as labor journalist Michael Sainato reported for The Guardian on Monday, "workers in America's fast-food and retail sectors who worked on the frontlines through the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing a trend of strikes and protests over low wages, safety concerns, and sexual harassment issues on the job."

"My weekly paycheck is no more than $200, $260 at the max," Ashley Sierra, a Dollar General employee who makes $11 an hour, told The Guardian. "I have three children, I cannot survive on $260 a week, it's just not working. It needs to get upped to at least $15 an hour, the bottom is $15, because we work so hard for so little."

Todd Vasos, Dollar General's CEO, made $16.45 million in total compensation last year.

Kagan pens scathing dissent as Supreme Court kills another campaign finance rule

In a decision Monday that liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned will further corrupt the nation's money-dominated political system, the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority struck down a campaign finance regulation limiting federal candidates' ability to use campaign funds to repay personal loans.

"When they give money to repay the victor's loan, they know he will be in a position to perform official favors."

Established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, the rule barred candidates from using more than $250,000 in campaign funds collected after an election to recoup their loans to their own campaign.

The legal challenge to the cap was brought by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who intentionally violated the $250,000 cap during his 2018 reelection bid in order to pursue a repeal of the limit, which he characterized as a violation of free speech.

As CNN explained:

A day before he was reelected in 2018, Cruz loaned his campaign committee $260,000, $10,000 over the limit—laying the foundation for his legal challenge to the cap... [H]e could have been repaid in full by campaign funds if the repayment occurred 20 days after the election. But Cruz let the 20-day deadline lapse so that he could establish grounds to bring the legal challenge.

The high court's 6-3 decision strikes another blow to the nation's campaign finance restrictions, which were already weak and rife with loopholes that big donors readily and frequently exploit.

"This extreme Supreme Court continues to erode our remaining campaign finance rules and enable even more corruption," Sean Eldridge, founder of the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, tweeted in response to the decision.

"Big Republican donor interests built their supermajority to deliver wins like this one."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) added that "the right-wing Supreme Court has issued yet another preposterous decision effectively legalizing government corruption at the request of Republicans."

In her dissent, Kagan argued that the court's ruling will make even more common the kinds of "crooked exchanges" that have long sullied the U.S. political system, which is awash in money from corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals.

"Political contributions that will line a candidate's own pockets, given after his election to office, pose a special danger of corruption," Kagan argued, pointing to the issue of recouping personal loans. "The candidate has a more-than-usual interest in obtaining the money (to replenish his personal finances), and is now in a position to give something in return. The donors well understand his situation, and are eager to take advantage of it. In short, everyone's incentives are stacked to enhance the risk of dirty dealing."

Kagan went on to contend that quid pro quos—political favors carried out in exchange for money, in this case post-election donations—could become more rampant thanks to the Supreme Court's new ruling, which was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, who helped orchestrate the high court's infamous Citizens United ruling and other attacks on campaign finance law.

"Post-election donors can be confident their money will enrich a candidate personally," Kagan wrote. "And those donors have of course learned which candidate won. When they give money to repay the victor's loan, they know—not merely hope—he will be in a position to perform official favors. The recipe for quid pro quo corruption is thus in place: a donation to enhance the candidate's own wealth (the quid), made when he has become able to use the power of public office to the donor's advantage (the quo)."

"The politician is happy; the donors are happy. The only loser is the public. It inevitably suffers from government corruption," she continued. "In allowing those payments to go forward unrestrained, today's decision can only bring this country's political system into further disrepute."

In a statement, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) voiced agreement with Kagan's dissent, calling the high court's ruling "another victory for right-wing donors in their assault on our campaign finance system, and another step toward unlimited special-interest spending in our elections."

"Big Republican donor interests built their supermajority to deliver wins like this one," Whitehouse added, "wins that help special interests skirt our democratic process to achieve what they want."

Activists push Louis DeJoy to hand over secret documents

A pair of green groups on Thursday appealed the U.S. Postal Service's rejection of a Freedom of Information Act request seeking to uncover details about the mail agency's contract to purchase more than 160,000 new delivery trucks, 90% of which are expected to be gas-powered.

"As the USPS forges ahead with its ill-conceived and controversial decision to pollute communities across the nation instead of electrifying their delivery trucks, we demand to see the details surrounding the agency's decision," said Elena Saxonhouse, managing attorney with the Sierra Club, which joined Elders Climate Action in filing the administrative appeal.

"As USPS proceeds to implement the Oshkosh contract, it should not keep the proposal leading to that contract secret."

The groups are specifically pressing the Postal Service to release the proposal that Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company, submitted before it won the lucrative 10-year deal to manufacture the new mail vehicles.

"The USPS must be more transparent about the Oshkosh proposal and contract," Saxonhouse said.

Spearheaded by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the Postal Service's decision to replace its aging and increasingly hazardous delivery fleet with mostly gas-powered trucks sparked outrage and pushback from climate organizations, Democratic lawmakers, and the Biden administration.

Last month, green groups joined forces with 16 state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit that aims to halt the Postal Service's agreement with Oshkosh, contending that the environmental impact analysis underpinning the deal is so shoddy that it violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

With their filing on Thursday, Sierra Club and Elders Climate Action alleged that the USPS is "improperly withholding records" related to the Oshkosh contract, which is worth billions of dollars.

"As USPS proceeds to implement the Oshkosh contract over the objections of the White House and many others," the filing states, "it should not keep the proposal leading to that contract secret."

Sierra Club and Elders Climate Action filed their initial FOIA request for records surrounding the agreement more than a year ago.

"The Postal Service's pass to pollute is reprehensible, and the public outcry around it should be evidence enough," Katherine García, director of Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement Thursday. "The significance of the harm done to climate and public health by introducing a new fleet of gas-powered trucks for decades to come can't be overstated."

"We will use all lawful means necessary to stop this short-sighted decision," García vowed.

The House Oversight Committee, led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), is also pushing the Postal Service to furnish more information about its vehicle purchase, which could have major implications for President Joe Biden's effort to electrify the federal fleet.

In a letter to DeJoy dated Wednesday, Maloney voiced concern that "the Postal Service relied on flawed assumptions to justify the purchase of gas-powered trucks while underestimating the cost savings and environmental benefits from electric vehicles."

Demanding more transparency from the agency, Maloney requested that the Postal Service turn over "all documents and communications, including all analyses, related to the determination of a planned 90/10 split of gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles."

Earlier this week, the oversight panel approved legislation that would toss out the Postal Service's environmental impact review of the new vehicle agreement and force the agency to conduct a new assessment.

"The Oversight Committee strongly supports the purchase of electric vehicles for the Postal Service's fleet, which will position the Postal Service as an environmental leader," Maloney wrote in her letter Wednesday. "An all-electric Postal Service fleet would reduce costs, increase reliability, and improve the Postal Service's ability to efficiently deliver mail and packages."

"Electrifying the next generation of Postal Service vehicles," the New York Democrat added, "is also essential to achieving the nation's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change."

'Flatly incomprehensible': White House prepares to ration vaccines as GOP obstructs COVID aid

The Biden White House is reportedly preparing to ration coronavirus vaccines as Senate Republicans continue to obstruct a multibillion-dollar Covid-19 aid package, sparking outcry from public health experts who say GOP obstruction is hampering the nation's pandemic response as infections rise.

Politico reported late Thursday that the Biden administration "may soon need to run its sprawling pandemic response on a shoestring budget" as Republicans in Congress hold up a $10 billion aid package that a bipartisan group of senators agreed to in late March.

"Among the sacrifices being weighed are limiting access to its next generation of vaccines to only the highest-risk Americans—a rationing that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, when the White House touted the development and widespread availability of vaccines as the clearest way out of the pandemic," Politico noted, citing unnamed people familiar with the administration's discussions.

"Other administration officials in recent weeks have weighed the prospect of transitioning responsibility for vaccines and some treatments to the traditional insurance market as early as next year," the outlet added, a move that would make it more difficult for low-income people and those without private insurance to obtain vaccines and treatments.

Dr. Uché Blackstock, an emergency physician and public health advocate, wrote on Twitter that "'ration vaccines' wasn't something I thought we'd be hearing in 2022, but here we are."

"It's a result of poor preparation, underinvestment in public health, political polarization, and Covid minimization," Blackstock added.

In response to Politico's reporting on the funding stalemate and the vaccine rationing that could follow, The American Prospect's Ryan Cooper lamented, "The stupidity of this is flatly incomprehensible."

"Our political institutions do not work," he added.

Lawmakers' failure to approve new coronavirus aid has already had serious consequences for the Biden administration's domestic pandemic response. In recent weeks, funding shortfalls have forced federal officials to shutter programs that covered the costs of coronavirus vaccines, tests, and treatments for the uninsured.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that "there appears to be no immediate pathway in the Senate for a long-stalled agreement" on coronavirus aid as Republicans continue to object.

Meanwhile, confirmed Covid-19 cases are ticking up across the U.S., an increase likely driven by a highly contagious subvariant of Omicron—commonly known as "stealth Omicron"—that now makes up nearly half of all new infections. The Biden administration warned last week that the U.S., which has officially recorded more than 1 million coronavirus deaths, could see 100 million new cases in the upcoming fall and winter.

"It's really concerning that, two-plus years into a global pandemic, we're still needing to have these arguments on how best to protect people," Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, told Politico on Thursday. "The people who will be impacted the most are the most vulnerable."

Congressional inaction is also hindering the global pandemic response. The $10 billion aid deal that Republican and Democratic senators reached in March would not include any money to fight Covid-19 outside the U.S.

Public health campaigners have long warned that rich countries and pharmaceutical companies' hoarding of doses and technology has resulted in an "artificial rationing" of vaccines and treatments, leaving poor nations without adequate access. To date, according to the World Health Organization, just 15% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

"At the current rate, it will take another two and a half years for low-income countries to be able to vaccinate 70% of their populations with an initial two doses," Robbie Silverman, the senior manager of private sector advocacy at Oxfam America, said in a statement Friday. "And this is simply unjust."

'We must find an agreement': Zelenskyy calls for direct talks with Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that he is prepared to hold direct talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin amid mounting fears that Moscow's invasion and the West's response have spiraled into a dangerous proxy war between nuclear-armed powers.

"We must find an agreement," Zelenskyy said in an interview with an Italian media outlet as deadly ground fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continues to intensify.

"Every day the war continues, the risk of its spreading grows."

Ukrainian and Western officials claimed Friday that Russian troops have begun pulling back from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, as Moscow focuses its assault on the eastern part of the country.

Zelenskyy stressed Thursday that while he is ready for talks with Putin—who has thus far declined calls for face-to-face negotiations—he would not accept "ultimatums" from the Russian side.

"As president, I am ready to speak with Putin, but only with him, without his intermediaries and on the terms of dialogue, and not ultimatums," Zelenskyy said.

"We want the Russian army to leave our land. We aren't on Russian soil," he added. "We won't save Putin's face by paying with our territory. That would be unjust."

The Ukrainian president's comments came as peace negotiations remained at a standstill and as Western governments, including the United States, continued pumping billions of dollars worth of heavy weaponry into the war zone. In the coming days, the U.S. Senate is expected to send to President Joe Biden's desk a package containing another $40 billion in military and economic aid package for Ukraine.

Last week, the Ukrainian newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda reported that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used a visit to Kyiv last month to pressure Zelenskyy to abandon the prospects of peace talks with Russia.

Based on unnamed sources from Zelenskyy's inner circle, the Ukrainian media outlet's report appeared to vindicate concerns that the West is more interested in inflicting damage on Russia than securing a diplomatic resolution to the war, which is now in its third month.

"Every day the war continues, the risk of its spreading grows," Andrew Murray of the U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition wrote in a recent analysis. "Other states could be drawn in by accident or design, and clearly Washington and London are seeing how far they can push their involvement without triggering wider war. Miscalculation is all too easy to envisage."

"The alternative—and urgent—perspective is of a ceasefire and peace talks," Murray added. "The outline of an agreement on Ukrainian neutrality, without membership of NATO but with some form of international guarantees, seems to exist."

In an op-ed for Common Dreams on Friday, Peace Action president Kevin Martin wrote that "the tragic, illegal war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine should end now, with a ceasefire and then a comprehensive peace agreement."

"It could be based on the previously negotiated 2015 Minsk II agreement, which is quite detailed and balanced in seeking to resolve territorial, political, cultural, and linguistic disputes," Martin argued. "What makes this war so ghastly is the eventual outcome was widely known and achievable before Russia invaded, namely Ukrainian neutrality, no NATO membership, and territorial, legal and political accommodations over Crimea and the Donbas region."

"Not one more Ukrainian civilian, or Ukrainian or Russian soldier, needs to die or be maimed for life in this senseless slaughter," he added.

'Let the floodgates open': Starbucks union scores first wins in California

Employees at two Starbucks locations in Santa Cruz, California won union elections on Wednesday, scoring the rapidly spreading movement's first victories in the nation's most populous state even as management intensifies its efforts to stamp out worker organizing.

The groundbreaking victories, like many of the Starbucks union's wins thus far, were nearly unanimous. The Ocean and Water location in Santa Cruz voted 13-1 in favor of joining Workers United—the national union representing Starbucks workers—and the Mission and Dufour shop voted 15-2 in support of unionization.

"Let the floodgates open in California,” Casey Moore, a spokesperson and organizer with Workers United, said during a news conference.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) congratulated the Starbucks workers in a Twitter post, calling the union votes "a major victory."

"Unions are the counterweight to corporate power," Khanna wrote. "It's time for Starbucks to pay fair wages and treat every worker with dignity and respect."

The union wins in California signal that organizing momentum is still growing at a remarkable pace amid aggressive pushback from management: More than 60 Starbucks locations nationwide have voted to unionize since the first union wins in December, and hundreds more have filed representation petitions with the National Labor Relations Board.

In an attempt to undercut the organizing wave, Starbucks in recent weeks has fired workers closely involved in unionization efforts, slashed hours at locations across the country, and threatened to deny new benefits and wage increases to employees who have voted or are in the process of voting to unionize.

The company's union-busting has drawn pushback from the NLRB. Last week, the labor board filed a massive complaint accusing Starbucks of unlawful intimidation and other offenses in Buffalo, New York.

On Tuesday, the NLRB asked a federal court in Tennessee to order Starbucks to reinstate seven Memphis workers who were fired as they tried to unionize. The board also said the corporation must "cease its unlawful conduct immediately so that all Starbucks workers can fully and freely exercise their labor rights."

Starbucks is now facing more than 50 formal complaints from the NLRB.

In an analysis of NLRB data, Matt Bruenig of the People's Policy Project projected Wednesday that the Starbucks union is "likely to have 6,384 workers at 228 locations in the next few months" if the current rate of organizing victories continues.

Bruenig noted that the union has won 90% of the elections at Starbucks locations thus far, consistently receiving 70-80% of the vote.

"If these same numbers hold for the 193 open cases where an election has not yet been administered," Bruenig wrote, "then the Starbucks union will soon win an additional 174 elections and thereby add an additional 4,870 workers to their rolls."

Analysis exposes Big Oil's plot to unleash climate-killing 'carbon bombs' worldwide

A new investigation published Wednesday reveals that some of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world—from Exxon in the U.S. to Gazprom in Russia to Aramco in Saudi Arabia—are planning or currently operating nearly 200 "carbon bombs," massive oil and gas projects that could unleash 646 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions and doom efforts to rein in planetary warming.

"They are destroying your future. They are doing it deliberately. They have been doing that for decades."

Research shared exclusively with The Guardian ahead of its formal publication identifies at least 195 "carbon bombs" that are either in the process of being built or already in place across the globe as scientists warn that fossil fuel use must be quickly phased out to prevent catastrophic climate outcomes.

Led by Kjell Kühne from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, the research specifically defines carbon bombs as "projects capable of pumping at least 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes," The Guardian noted in its detailed report on Wednesday.

Around 60% of the projects are already producing oil and gas, the research found.

"Projects identified include the new drilling wells springing up in the Canadian wilderness as part of the vast Montney Play oil and gas development, and the huge North Field gas fields in Qatar—named in the study as the biggest new oil and gas carbon bomb in the world," The Guardian reported.

"According to the research," the newspaper continued, "the U.S. is the leading source of potential emissions. Its 22 carbon bombs include conventional drilling and fracking, and span the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian Basin. Together they have the potential to emit 140 billion tonnes of CO2, almost four times more than the entire world emits each year."

Carbon bombs graphic

Greenpeace, an international climate advocacy organization, warned in response to the new reporting that "while governments dither and discuss, fossil fuel companies are charging full speed ahead with 'carbon bomb' projects, pushing us ever closer to an irreversible tipping point."

"We need action now," the group wrote on Twitter.

The Guardian's investigation comes as the oil and gas industry is under growing scrutiny for exploiting Russia's deadly war on Ukraine to drive up prices and rake in record profits. Fossil fuel giants have also been lobbying aggressively for new pipelines and other infrastructure projects that would advance Big Oil's long-term interest

As the newspaper observed, global energy chaos stemming from Russia's invasion has had the effect of "further incentivizing bets on new fields and infrastructure that would last decades."

"ExxonMobil has the largest of these climate-busting investment plans at $21 million a day through to 2030, followed by Petrobras ($15 million), Chevron and ConocoPhillips (both $12 million), and Shell ($8 million)," The Guardian reported. "Freeing the world from the grip of fossil fuels is made far harder by huge ongoing subsidies for the fuels, making them far cheaper than their true cost when the damage they cause is included—especially air pollution, which kills 7 million people a year."

"The G20 group of leading economies pledged in 2009 to phase out the subsidies," The Guardian added, "but little has been achieved."

Big Oil's carbon bombs threaten to imperil remaining hopes of limiting planetary warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, the goal of the Paris climate accord.

The World Meteorological Organization said Monday that there's now a 50% chance that the planet will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming in at least one of the next five years. In 2015, the chance of that happening was estimated to be roughly zero.

Separate research published in March by scientists at the U.K.-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warned that rich countries must cut off oil and gas production entirely by 2034 to give the world a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5°C or below by century's end.

"The world's climate scientists scream 'no more drilling' but oil majors, like Exxon and Shell, just carry on drilling," climate writer Andy Rowell tweeted Wednesday. "They are destroying your future. They are doing it deliberately. They have been doing that for decades."

'Our house is truly on fire': Earth now has 50 percent chance of hitting 1.5°C of warming by 2026

The World Meteorological Organization warned Monday that the planet now faces a 50% chance of temporarily hitting 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels over the next five years, another signal that political leaders—particularly those of the rich nations most responsible for carbon emissions—are failing to rein in fossil fuel use.

"For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise."

In 2015, by comparison, the likelihood of briefly reaching or exceeding 1.5°C of global warming over the ensuing five-year period was estimated to be "close to zero," the WMO noted in a new climate update. The report was published amid a deadly heatwave on the Indian subcontinent that scientists say is a glimpse of what's to come if runaway carbon emissions aren't halted. Thus far, the heatwave has killed dozens in India and Pakistan.

Signatories to the Paris climate accord have agreed to act to limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C—preferably to 1.5°C—by the end of the century. Climate advocates have deemed the 1.5°C target "on life support" following world leaders' refusal to commit to more ambitious action at the COP26 summit in Glasgow late last year.

"We are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement," Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the WMO, said in a statement Monday. "The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic. It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet."

"For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise," Taalas added. "And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and, our weather will become more extreme. Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us."

Dr. Leon Hermanson, a climate expert at the U.K. Met Office who led the WMO report, stressed that a short-lived breach of the 1.5°C threshold would not mean that the world is guaranteed to fall short of the Paris accord's most ambitious warming target, which climate experts and campaigners have long decried as inadequate.

Such a breach, however, would "reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period," said Hermanson.

The WMO's latest research also estimates that there is a 93% chance that at least one year between 2022 and 2026 will be the warmest on record. Currently, 2016 and 2020 are tied for the top spot.

Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C by 2100, countless people across the globe will still face devastating heatwaves, droughts, and other extreme weather, with the poor facing the worst consequences.

Meanwhile, key ecosystems could be damaged beyond repair in a 1.5°C hotter world. One recent study found that 99% of the world's coral reefs would experience heatwaves that are "too frequent for them to recover" if the planet gets 1.5°C warmer compared to pre-industrial levels.

Scientists behind the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report cautioned last month that if there's to be any hope of keeping warming to 1.5°C or below by 2100, "it's now or never."

"Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible," said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III.

'Cry more': Starbucks mocked for complaining about labor organizers' White House visit

Starbucks' union-busting management garnered little public sympathy Friday after it complained in a letter to the White House that labor organizers—including Laura Garza of Starbucks Workers United—were invited to meet with President Joe Biden but official company "representatives" weren't.

"We are deeply concerned that Workers United, which is actively engaged in collective bargaining with us and trying to organize all our stores and our +240,000 partners (employees), was invited to the meeting while not inviting official Starbucks representatives to discuss our view on the matter," A.J. Jones, senior vice president of global communications and public affairs at Starbucks, wrote in a letter to Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president.

The letter was made public a day after Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with several grassroots organizers—including Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls—in the Oval Office amid nationwide efforts by Starbucks and Amazon workers to unionize their workplaces in pursuit of better wages, benefits, and conditions.

Starbucks' complaints to the White House were met with widespread derision on social media, including from baristas and union organizers who have witnessed firsthand the company's aggressive and unlawful attacks on workers.

"A company which has threatened and fired people now demands the president meet with them," tweeted Buffalo barista Will Westlake, a member of the Starbucks Workers United Organizing Committee. "[Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz failed in his run for president, and now he thinks he can invite himself over."

Joe Calvello, communications director for Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman, expressed a prevailing sentiment among progressives on Twitter in response to Starbucks' letter. "Cry more," he said.

More than 50 Starbucks locations across the U.S. have voted to unionize in recent weeks, riding a wave of organizing spurred by historic election wins in Buffalo late last year.

Since then, Starbucks management has waged a relentless union-busting campaign that, according to organizers and the National Labor Relations Board, has consisted of retaliating against workers involved with unionization efforts, captive-audience meetings, and other tactics.

During an earnings call last week, Schultz announced that Starbucks will soon be implementing wage increases and new benefits for employees across the U.S.—excluding those who have voted to unionize or are currently working toward a union election.

Starbucks union organizers argued that such a move would be unlawful.

"These benefits, including ones we’ve demanded since the beginning of our campaign, are a response to our organizing efforts and we should celebrate the hard work that partners who stood up to Howard Schultz's bullying put in to make this happen," the Starbucks Workers United Organizing Committee said in a statement following the CEO's comments.

"Many of the proposed benefits have been proposed at the bargaining table in Buffalo," the statement continued. "Starbucks Workers United has already filed charges over Starbucks' threats to exclude unionized stores from receiving these new benefits. This isn't how labor law works, and Starbucks knows that."

US Postal Service sued to stop Louis DeJoy's 'unacceptable' gas-guzzling truck plan

A coalition of green groups sued the U.S. Postal Service on Thursday over Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's plan to buy a new delivery fleet composed almost entirely of gas-powered trucks, a move that climate advocates say was justified by a "deeply flawed" environmental impact analysis.

"Ninety percent of the new trucks would be combustion vehicles with a worse fuel economy than a gas-powered Ford F-150."

The Postal Service's analysis was so flawed, according to the new lawsuit, that it runs afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to thoroughly assess the climate impacts of their policy decisions.

"The Postal Service's plan to purchase thousands of combustion mail trucks will not only deliver pollution to every neighborhood in America, it's also unlawful," said Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney with Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign, said in a statement. "DeJoy's environmental process was so rickety and riddled with error that it failed to meet the basic standards of the National Environmental Policy Act."

"We're going to court to protect the millions of Americans breathing in neighborhoods overburdened with tailpipe pollution," Martinez added. "Mail delivery in this country should be electric for our health and for our future."

The USPS finalized plans to revamp its aging and downright dangerous vehicle fleet in February, prompting outrage from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers who say DeJoy—a Trump megadonor—is flouting much-needed efforts to electrify federal vehicles. The Postal Service currently has more than 230,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world.

Of the 165,000 new mail trucks the USPS is set to purchase from the Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation, just 10% overall are expected to be electric.

"USPS has decided to keep polluting communities at a time when federal agencies should be leading the way on electrification."

While the percentage of electric trucks was higher in the Postal Service's first order under the new plan—out of the 50,000 trucks in the initial batch, just over 10,000 were electric—it's unclear whether that trend will continue.

In an interview with the Washington Post earlier this month, DeJoy—who has faced calls to resign over the vehicle contract as well as his slowdown of mail delivery—insisted that an all-electric fleet would be too costly, a narrative that critics have disputed by citing research showing 97% of USPS trucks can be replaced with electric vehicles at a lower total cost than comparable gas and diesel vehicles.

"The policy of electrifying the fleet of the nation is a mission that I will support," said DeJoy. "But I would be negligent to spend all my money on doing that."

House Democrats have urged the USPS inspector general to investigate the multibillion-dollar contract with Oshkosh, citing "significant concerns" about the agency's assessment of the agreement's environmental impact.

According to the climate organizations leading the new lawsuit, which was filed in the Northern District of California, the Postal Service's analysis "included estimates for battery costs that were unrealistically high, with evaluations of gas prices that were unreasonably low even before the recent spike in gas prices to a national average of over $4 per gallon."

"The Postal Service's analysis was deeply flawed right from the start: the agency signed a contract and spent millions of dollars on a new combustion fleet before it even began conducting an environmental analysis," said the green coalition, which includes Earthjustice, CleanAirNow KC, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The groups added that the new model of gas-powered delivery trucks "gets a harrowing mileage of 8.6 mpg with the air conditioning on."

"Ninety percent of the new trucks would be combustion vehicles with a worse fuel economy than a gas-powered Ford F-150," they noted, "and worse mileage than the 1988 Grumman postal truck model when new."

Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement Thursday that "instead of moving forward with common-sense and available technology to mitigate the climate crisis, clean up our air, and create good union jobs, USPS has decided to keep polluting communities at a time when federal agencies should be leading the way on electrification."

"It's an unacceptable decision," said García, "and we won't let it slide."