'A platform to spread lies': Media watchdogs warn networks against uncritical airing of Trump’s Jan. 6 event

In the lead-up to the first anniversary of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol later this week, media watchdogs are warning news networks and journalists against uncritical live coverage of Donald Trump's planned press conference and the lies the disgraced former president is expected to spew.

"It is critical that news networks do the right thing—refuse to carry it live, so they do not uncritically promote the lies and disinformation that is generated from Trump's speech in real time."

"Donald Trump's January 6 press event should be recognized for what it is: an opportunity for Trump to lie to downplay the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and set up his 2024 presidential campaign," said Angelo Carusone, president of watchdog Media Matters for America, in a Monday statement.

He stressed that "it is critical that news networks do the right thing—refuse to carry it live, so they do not uncritically promote the lies and disinformation that is generated from Trump's speech in real time."

"Trump has a well-established pattern of lying every time he opens his mouth," Carusone noted. "He has also had ample opportunities to weigh in on the insurrection—including when Fox hosts begged Trump to take action in real time to stop the riot. To give Trump a platform to spread lies and misinformation on this tragic anniversary would be to repeat the very mistakes that helped foment the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in the first place."

Carusone echoed the recommendations of New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who writes and edits the blog PressThink.

In a Sunday tweet, Rosen urged against carrying Trump's speech live or amplifying the former president's go-to lies that have been debunked.

Asked by a Twitter user why journalists and news outlets struggle with practices that seem "so simple and so obvious," Rosen responded: "Because the practice on view here—newsworthiness—is an incoherent grab bag of factors that doesn't take into account the damage a demagogue can do to the public sphere, or the truth value of an event. And because this particular speaker can be 'good' at lurid spectacle."

Some networks and journalists called out Trump's lies while he served as president. CNN reporter Daniel Dale used to be at the Toronto Star, "where he was the first journalist to fact-check every false statement" from Trump—who tends to push back against any critical coverage with the term "fake news."

Two days after the 2020 presidential election, before the race was widely called for President Joe Biden, multiple major U.S. networks cut away from a live speech in which Trump made several false claims, including that he had won reelection—lies that were repeated by his allies in Congress and beyond.

Trump also circulated his lies about the security and outcome of the election during a speech at a January 6 rally that occurred as Congress was in the process of certifying Biden's win—and dozens of Republicans were baselessly contesting the results.

"Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you," Trump told the crowd nearly a year ago. "We're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them."

Trump did not join his supporters in storming the Capitol, but lawmakers accused him of inciting the violence and his speech ultimately led to his historic second impeachment.

Despite his loss and two impeachments—along with facing civil and criminal investigations—75-year-old Trump is widely expected to run for president again in 2024, and political observers have long warned that his Big Lie about 2020 was just the beginning.

In a December 21 statement, Trump not only continued to lie about the election results but also blasted the House panel investigating the deadly Capitol attack, slammed so-called "Republicans in name only" (RINOs), and promoted his upcoming event. He said in part:

Why isn't the Unselect Committee of highly partisan political hacks investigating the CAUSE of the January 6th protest, which was the rigged Presidential Election of 2020? ...I will be having a news conference on January 6th at Mar-a-Lago to discuss all of these points, and more. Until then, remember, the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th.

As Newsweek reports, Trump's plan to host a press conference on Thursday has even been criticized by Republicans, including a former White House aide from his administration.

Trump's event is scheduled for 5:00 pm—a half-hour before a congressional prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol is set to start, meaning the ex-president is expected to provide, in the words of Politico's David Siders, "a vivid split-screen moment."

The January 6 anniversary comes amid rising concern about the state of U.S. democracy as well as outrage over failures by congressional Democrats and the Biden administration to take real action to protect it.

The results of an NPR/Ipsos poll released Monday show that a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans believe that U.S. democracy—and the nation—are "in crisis and at risk of failing."

While voters across the political spectrum are worried, the new survey found that unlike Democrats and Independents, less than half of Republicans accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, even though Trump's own officials attested to its security.

Trump's lawyers know it will be a disaster for him if he sits for a deposition in New York case: legal expert

New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks to question former President Donald Trump under oath for her investigation into possible fraud within the Trump Organization, multiple media outlets revealed Thursday.

The Washington Post—which broke the news, citing unnamed sources—reported that James requested a deposition at her New York office on January 7. A spokesperson for the attorney general declined to comment and representatives for Trump did not respond to the newspaper's requests.

Calling the development "an escalation we've been expecting," Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman said, "His lawyers have to know he would be a disaster but on what basis can he, an ordinary citizen now, try to resist?"

The New York AG's office is also participating in the criminal probe spearheaded by Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney.

The New York Times explained how Vance's investigation could interfere with James' attempt to secure Trump's testimony:

[James'] request comes as Mr. Vance is pushing to determine whether Mr. Trump or his family business, the Trump Organization, engaged in a pattern of criminal fraud by intentionally submitting false property values to potential lenders. Mr. Vance, a Democrat, did not seek reelection and is leaving office at the end of the year.
And because the two investigations overlap—both Ms. James and Mr. Vance are focused on whether Mr. Trump inflated his property values to secure financing, and their offices are working together—Mr. Trump could refuse to sit for a deposition once Ms. James formally subpoenas him.
His lawyers could ask a judge to block the deposition, arguing that Mr. Trump's testimony could be unfairly used against him in the criminal investigation, violating his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Amid speculation that attorneys for the former president may also point to James' bid to serve as New York's next Democratic governor as motivation for her request—as the Trump Organization did in a statement to the Post—James suspended her campaign and announced she would instead seek reelection as AG.

"I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general," she tweeted, noting that "there are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway."

The Trump Organization had said that "this is another political witch hunt."

"The only focus of the New York AG is to investigate Trump, all for her own political ambitions," the statement added. "This political prosecution is illegal, unethical, and is a travesty to our great state and legal system."

Noting the Post report, Tim O'Brien—author of the biography TrumpNation: The Art of Being Donaldtweeted that "Trump's biggest liability when he sits for depositions is that he's a pathologic liar. His lawyers have some work to do."

IN OTHER NEWS: GOP governor goes off on Trump for his destructive ego at Joe Biden’s democracy summit

GOP governor Phil Scott at Joe Biden’s democracy summit www.youtube.com

'Total asymmetric warfare': Georgia GOP redraws political map as Senate Democrats do nothing

Voting rights advocates within and beyond Georgia ramped up calls for congressional action after the Peach State's Republican lawmakers became the latest to approve a gerrymandered political map intended to give the GOP a political advantage for the next decade.

Following similar moves by GOP-controlled state legislatures in Ohio and Texas, the Georgia General Assembly sent the new congressional map to the desk of Republican Gov. Brain Kemp, who is expected to sign it into law. These redistricting efforts have come as right-wingers in the evenly split U.S. Senate block various voting rights bills and a handful of Democrats refuse to support killing the filibuster.

The Georgia GOP's map is designed to increase the number of congressional districts the party controls from eight to nine, leaving Democrats with just five. According to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Though Georgia's voters are split between the two political parties, none of the state's 14 congressional districts would be competitive."

It's not just the new congressional districts that serve Georgia's GOP. Democracy Docket notes that "the state House and Senate maps ... were criticized by Democrats for cementing a Republican advantage in the General Assembly and failing to account for the growth of Georgia's minority population."

RELATED: Black voters 'trying to move' after being gerrymandered into Marjorie Taylor Greene's district

Common Cause Georgia executive director Aunna Dennis said in a statement Monday that "when the redistricting process is led by the politicians, the maps will be drawn to benefit the politicians—and that's exactly what state legislators have done today."

"While these maps might be beneficial to the politicians in power, they are a complete disgrace to the voters of Georgia," Dennis declared. "None of the maps accurately reflect the changing population of our state."

"Our preliminary analysis shows that despite population growth in the state being driven largely by Black, Latinx and Asian populations, and despite the state's share of the white population decreasing by about 5% from 2010 to 2020, the amount of majority-BIPOC districts in these proposed maps have extremely marginal increases," she noted. "In fact, the new congressional map decreases the amount of majority-Black districts from the former district map."

Dennis said the maps were "intentionally designed to silence" communities of color and accused state leaders of continuing "to ignore the voters throughout the entire process." She also reiterated her group's support for independent redistricting commissions, saying that "district lines need to be drawn putting the interests of people, not politicians, first."

RELATED: Redistricting is an 'existential crisis' for Georgia Republicans: report

The Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia Rep. Mariam Paris, a Democrat, said the new district lines endanger two Democratic Black women in the state's congressional delegation, Reps. Nikema Williams and Lucy McBath.

"At a time when women are already underrepresented, particularly women of color, we should not be drawing maps that target women incumbents to make it harder for them to run and win in new districts," Paris said during the House debate. "But the map before us today does exactly that."

As the newspaper details:

The map redraws the Democratic-leaning district held by McBath, making it more Republican by extending north from metro Atlanta into conservative strongholds in Forsyth and Dawson counties. McBath won reelection last year with 55% of the vote, but under the new map, Republican voters would outnumber Democrats by 15 percentage points in next year's elections, according to the AJC's analysis.
McBath flipped the 6th Congressional District in 2018, winning election in an area that was once a Republican bastion represented by Newt Gingrich, who became speaker of the House and led the GOP to take control of the U.S. House in 1994. Now the district is poised to return to Republican representation.

McBath — whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2012 by a man who confronted him about the volume of his music — said Monday that Kemp, the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) "will not have the final say on when I am done fighting for my son."

RELATED: Legal threats fly as lawmakers build momentum for new Georgia voting map

Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams — a Democrat who formerly served as minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to Kemp in 2018 — suggested in a series of tweets Monday that the new map shows the GOP is struggling to compete in the state.

"The bill will be eagerly signed by a man who has spent more than a decade using his status to disempower voters of color and intimidate the groups and individuals who organize them," Abrams said. "But neither Lucy McBath nor Georgia's organizers and voters of color will give up so easily."

President Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia in 2020 — prompting then-President Donald Trump to pressure Kemp to call a special election and to ask Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" more than 11,000 votes, moves that have led to a criminal probe in Fulton County.

Mother Jones' Ari Berman, author of the book "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America," noted Monday that the new congressional map gives Republicans "64% of seats in a state Biden won with 49.5%."

Highlighting that the Georgia map is part of a national trend of GOP state lawmakers trying to give Republican congressional candidates clear advantages, Berman expressed frustration with Sens. Joe Manchin. D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who refuse to support abolishing the filibuster to pass federal voting rights protections.

"It's beyond enraging that Manchin and Sinema continue to say voting rights legislation needs 60 votes when [the] GOP [is] rigging elections and shutting Dems out of power for next decade on simple majority party-line votes," he said, calling it "total asymmetric warfare."

Calls for Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster have mounted as the chamber's Republicans have blocked the For the People Act, Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance on Monday even labeled the United States a "backsliding" democracy.

"Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around," tweeted Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. "Today's partisan redistricting decision at Georgia's State Capitol undermines voters' voices and harms our democracy."

"Congress must pass federal voting rights legislation," he added. "We can't wait any longer."

Artists, rights groups denounce 'invasive' palm-scanning of concertgoers by Amazon

More than 200 musical artists and 30 human rights groups on Tuesday endorsed a Fight for the Future-led campaign opposing the use of Amazon palm-scanning technology at Colorado's famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

"Introducing biometric surveillance technology at events, even just for the marginal-at-best 'convenience' of making the line move faster, makes music fans less safe."

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is owned and operated by the city and county of Denver, began using the technology—called Amazon One—as an optional replacement for physical or digital tickets earlier this year.

"Amazon signed a deal with entertainment company AEG to bring the technology to Red Rocks, which sells tickets on AEG's ticketing site, AXS," Fortune reports, noting that "it will be available at other venues in the coming months."

The new campaign includes an open letter calling on the venue and its ticketing partner to "immediately cancel all contracts with Amazon for the invasive Amazon One palm scanning technology, and ban all biometric surveillance at events and venues once and for all."

Signatories include Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigr, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, Gramatik, and Mannequin Pussy, as well as the organizations Access Now, American Friends Service Committee, Jobs With Justice, Kairos, Media Justice, Presente.org, and United We Dream.

"The spread of biometric surveillance tools like palm scans and facial recognition now threatens to destroy" concertgoers' experiences, the campaign warns, by transforming venues into "hotspots" for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, false arrests, police harassment, and identity theft.

The letter notes that in 2019, over 40 major music festivals "responded to activists' demands to reject invasive facial recognition technology," and that "AEG is one of the many companies that has taken a strong stand" against the use of such technology.

"Red Rocks, AXS, and AEG must now go one step further and refuse palm-scanning devices and all other forms of invasive biometric surveillance," the letter continues. "Our privacy, safety, and lives are at stake."

An Amazon spokesperson called the new campaign's claims "inaccurate" and said that "Amazon One is not a facial recognition technology—it is an optional technology designed to make daily activities faster and easier for customers, and users who choose to participate must make an intentional gesture with their palm to use the service."

The spokesperson added that "safeguarding customer privacy is a foundational design principle," explaining that "Amazon One devices are protected by multiple security controls, and palm images are never stored on the Amazon One device. Rather, the images are encrypted and sent to a highly secure area we custom-built for Amazon One in the cloud where we create your palm signature."

For some supporters of the campaign, concerns about the technology outweigh any convenience.

Evan Greer is director of Fight for the Future, which not only is spearheading this effort against Amazon—long criticized by rights groups for various business practices—but has also led similar efforts, such as a campaign launched earlier this year to end U.S. retailers' use of facial recognition technology.

Greer—also a musician who recently released an album titled Spotify is Surveillance—said in a statement Tuesday that "I don't want anyone coming to one of my concerts to have to worry that they'll be subjected to invasive surveillance, or coerced into handing over their sensitive biometric information to a corporation."

"Music festivals and many concert venues are already unsafe, exclusive, and inaccessible for many marginalized folks, including trans and nonbinary people," she added. "Introducing biometric surveillance technology at events, even just for the marginal-at-best 'convenience' of making the line move faster, makes music fans less safe."

"We have to stop this technology from spreading before it becomes impossible to avoid."

Fight for the Future campaign director Caitlin Seeley George, who lives near and has attended events at Red Rocks, said that "it pains me that this palm-scanning technology is being used in such a special place, on people who just want to go and enjoy a live show and likely don't understand the risks of giving over their biometric data—risks like identity theft and having data passed on to abusive law enforcement agencies or marketing companies."

"We have to stop this technology from spreading before it becomes impossible to avoid," she said, "and we expect places like Red Rocks to champion the safety of music lovers over this dangerous and invasive surveillance."

Siena Mann, campaign manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, pointed out that "biometrics collection is central to Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) and police departments' surveillance infrastructure," and expressed concern about law enforcement gaining access to the data.

"Thousands visit Red Rocks every month to experience amazing performances, not to be part of some dangerous biometric surveillance experiment," Mann said. "Amazon using the guise of convenience to convince droves of concertgoers to offer up their biometric data is twisted, disturbing, and unacceptable. Simply put, palm scans and other forms of biometric data collection, like facial recognition, are tools of state violence."

This post has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

'Manchin is a snake': Progressives urged to keep pushing for both bills

Supporters of passing the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package urged congressional progressives to maintain their position that it must move forward simultaneously with bipartisan infrastructure legislation after Sen. Joe Manchin accused his colleagues of holding the latter bill "hostage" and demanded an immediate vote.

During a Monday press conference, Manchin (D-W.Va.) said that "the political games have to stop" and called for the Democrat-held U.S. House of Representatives to swiftly vote on the infrastructure bill—which several Senate Democrats advanced in August with the expectation that it would only reach President Joe Biden's desk alongside the reconciliation package.

"Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill," Manchin declared, while signaling that he still does not back the compromise framework unveiled by the president last week, after intense negotiations with him and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the other party member who's pushed to weaken the legislation.

Manchin fell back on his long-standing concerns about the national debt and inflation, and advocated for more time to analyze the impacts of the reconciliation package, saying that "I'm open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward, but I am equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country."

In what The Hill described as a "veiled swipe" at Manchin, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday addressed "anybody in the Democratic caucus or elsewhere that's worried about fiscal responsibility and the deficit."

"The fact is... that according to the [Congressional Budget Office] the infrastructure bill runs up to a $250 billion deficit. It's not paid for," Sanders told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The legislation that I wanna see passed... is paid for in its entirety. It will not have an impact on inflation. So if we're talking about fiscal responsibility I think what we're trying to do with the reconciliation bill is the right thing."

Other progressive critics accused the West Virginia Democrat of personally tanking the infrastructure measure—known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF)—and encouraged progressive Democrats in the House to keep fighting to pass both bills together.

Summarizing Monday's developments, HuffPost senior politics reporter Kevin Robillard tweeted, "Just want to make sure I have the past 24 hours right: Progressives move towards doing what Joe Manchin wants, then he holds a press conference and says a bunch of stuff basically guaranteeing progressives won't do what he wants."

Indivisible's Leah Greenberg responded that "Joe Manchin is doing his very best to personally tank the BIF."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which makes up about a fifth of the House. In a pair of appearances on CNN and MSNBC, she seemed optimistic that Democrats could soon send both bills to Biden for final approval.

Noting the CPC's stated support for the watered-down $1.75 trillion reconciliation legislation announced last week, Jayapal said on MSNBC that "we are now awaiting negotiations amongst senators on prescription drug pricing, and child care, and some details on immigration," but as soon as those issues are addressed, "we will be excited to vote for both bills."

"We are taking the president's word at the fact that he believes he can get 50 votes in the Senate," Jayapal said of the reconciliation package, adding that she believes Democrats are "very, very close" to passing the two long-negotiated pieces of legislation.

During the CNN segment—which came after Manchin's brief press conference—Jayapal reportedly said she is "letting the president" deal with the West Virginia Democrat.

"The president says he can get 51 votes for the bill, we are going to trust him," the CPC chair said—referring to the fact that passing the reconciliation bill in the Senate requires the support of the full Democratic caucus plus Vice President Kamala Harris. "I trust the president."

"We will soon pass a transformational agenda that actually improves the lives of working families, creates millions of jobs, and takes bold action to save our planet," Jayapal tweeted Monday afternoon. "People elected us to deliver, and we're excited to do just that."

'This is ominous': Democrats worry the Supreme Court 'could destroy the planet'

As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares for a consequential United Nations climate summit in Scotland, the Supreme Court on Friday provoked widespread alarm by agreeing to review the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to limit planet-heating pollution.

"The Supreme Court could destroy the planet. Pass it on," tweeted Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in response to the decision.

"This is ominous."

Republican-led states and coal companies asked the justices to weigh in after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in January struck down the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule issued under former President Donald Trump.

The day before Biden took office, a divided three-judge panel said that the Trump-era rule—intended to replace former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which never took effect—"hinged on a fundamental misconstruction" of a key section of the Clean Air Act that resulted from a "tortured series of misreadings" of the law.

The justices will now consider whether that section of the Clean Air Act "clearly authorizes EPA to decide such matters of vast economic and political significance as whether and how to restructure the nation's energy system."

Though there was some initial confusion about the forthcoming review due to a typo in Friday's order that was later corrected, climate action advocates and legal experts frantically issued warnings about how a ruling from the high court's right-wing supermajority may impede the Biden administration's efforts to combat the climate emergency.

"This is the equivalent of an earthquake around the country for those who care deeply about the climate issue," Harvard University law professor Richard J. Lazarus told The New York Times. The court's decision threatens "to sharply cut back, if not eliminate altogether, the new administration's ability to use the Clean Air Act to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's power plant[s]."

The development comes a day after Biden announced a $1.75 trillion watered-down version of the Build Back Better Act that stripped out some climate provisions due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the corporate-backed, right-wing party members who has held up the package designed to include much of the president's agenda.

Although the Biden administration is still working on ways to cut emissions that don't rely on the section of the Clean Air Act in question, HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman explained how an unfavorable ruling from the Supreme Court could cause problems, given current conditions in Congress:

"It's only this one statute of the Clean Air Act, which is one of many tools the administration has," Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School's Sabin Center on Climate Change Law, told HuffPost. "I don't think it's a problem for most of the measures the administration might want. But there's this one particular tool that might be in trouble."
The court could, however, seek to "take this as an opportunity to rule more broadly about the ability of Congress to delegate decisions to agencies," by going after the non-delegation doctrine, and might "say Congress is going to have to give EPA authority over such an important area and be more clear and explicit."
That would likely constitute a victory for the plaintiffs. With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats need to vote in lockstep to pass a bill, giving unique power to lone senators like Manchin, whose opposition to climate regulations and personal family fortune tied up in a coal business have made him a magnet for fossil fuel industry donations throughout the past year. He'd be unlikely to vote for legislation granting the EPA new powers to regulate greenhouse gases. And Republicans are favored to win back at least one chamber of Congress in next year's midterm election.

This "is the most significant climate case to reach the Supreme Court since 2007, when the justices ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases could be regulated as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act," noted E&E News.

As the petitioners, including 19 states led by West Virginia, celebrated the court's announcement, campaigners such as David Doniger, senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate & Clean Energy program, vowed that "we will vigorously defend EPA's authority to curb power plants' huge contribution to the climate crisis."

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, meanwhile, signaled in a pair of tweets that the Biden administration will keep up its work to address climate-wrecking pollution.

The federal agency, Regan vowed, "will continue to advance new standards to ensure that all Americans are protected from the power plant pollution that harms public health and our economy."

Senate's corporate Dems blamed as Texas governor approves 'rigged' voting maps

Bolstering criticism of the few U.S. Senate Democrats who continue to impede key party priorities—including voting rights protections—by refusing to reform or abolish the filibuster, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed "extremely gerrymandered" political maps that could help the GOP retain control of the state for another decade.

"It is a monumentally bad idea to let politicians draw their own district maps."

Abbott's approval of Texas' new congressional, legislative, and State Board of Education districts—which will be used for next year's elections if not blocked in court—comes just after U.S. Senate Republicans filibustered the Freedom to Vote Act.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key opponent of killing the filibuster, failed to win 10 GOP votes in favor of that compromise federal legislation, which he helped craft after Republicans repeatedly blocked the bolder For the People Act earlier this year.

"The inaction by corporate Democrats in the U.S. Senate encourages this behavior," the group People for Bernie said in response to Abbott's move Monday.

Noting that the "rigged" Texas maps "consolidate white power as the white population is shrinking as a percentage of the state," journalist and voting rights expert Ari Berman wrote last week for Mother Jones:

This stranglehold on power will embolden Republicans to continue to pass extreme and unpopular policies, like the six-week abortion ban, permission to carry guns without a permit, and the sweeping voter suppression bill enacted in the last year.
Some of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering are achieved by targeting diverse communities and those who represent them.
Dismantling competitive districts in once-reliably Republican suburbs where Hispanic, Black, and Asian American voters are electing their preferred candidates or are on the verge of doing so is a defining feature of the new maps.

Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez noted in a statement Monday that redistricting intended to favor Republicans isn't new to the state.

"With his signature today, Gov. Abbott continues the shameful five-decade-long tradition of ramming through extremely gerrymandered maps in an undemocratic process," Gutierrez said. "These racially and partisan gerrymandered maps deny every voter in Texas from having an equal say in the issues we care about most, like a stronger economy, better schools, and affordable healthcare."

"None of the maps accurately reflect the changing population of our state. Instead, these maps are intentionally designed to silence Black and Brown voters from having a voice in our democracy and erase their representation in our government," he added. "This entire process served to remind us all as to why it is a monumentally bad idea to let politicians draw their own district maps."

The maps were already being challenged in court before gaining approval from the governor, and another suit targeting the congressional boundaries was filed Monday by voters and Voto Latino with support from the National Redistricting Action Fund (NRAF), an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

"We simply cannot allow Gov. Abbott to deny Texans a free and fair election through these undemocratic, gerrymandered maps that fail spectacularly to represent the state's growing communities of color," said Holder. "Abbott is running away from a fair fight and is doing everything possible to avoid elections with a map that properly reflects Texas' significant demographic growth over the past decade. These communities deserve a new map that complies with the Voting Rights Act and puts power back in the hands of Texans."

"The Texas GOP's efforts silence Latino voices through diminishing the power of their voting, packing and dividing them into convoluted district lines that lessen their representation, and making it harder to elect representatives of their choice," charged Voto Latino CEO María Teresa Kumar.

"Latino population growth was the primary factor in why Texas has been allotted two new congressional seats next cycle, yet these new redistricting lines are further evidence that Texas Republicans believe they can act with impunity in their crusade to suppress the vote," she said.

This is the first redistricting since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder.

"Ten years ago, the Texas GOP would've needed 'pre-clearance' before these new voting maps could go into effect—same for its voter suppression measures," lawyer and MSNBC columnist Dean Obeidallah explained Monday. "But with that key part of the VRA gutted—and with a 6-to-3 Republican majority on the Supreme Court—the GOP is going full throttle in its efforts to maintain white supremacy."

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the pre-clearance provision of the VRA, as soon as this week, though Republicans are expected to block the House-approved bill, as they have done with other voting rights legislation this session.

Following the failure of the Freedom to Vote Act last week, President Joe Biden said during a televised town hall that "we're going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster," confirming to host Anderson Cooper that he supported reforms to pass voting rights legislation "and maybe more."

'Cruel and unfathomable': Sinema pushing $100 billion in climate cuts from reconciliation bill

Already under fire from progressive activists and lawmakers for holding up congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden's agenda, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema drew additional ire Friday with reporting that she's proposed cutting $100 billion in climate provisions from the reconciliation package.

"Maybe if she actually took the time to speak to the people of her state, she'd realize how much their families need her to deliver action on climate."

The New York Times reported the proposed cuts, citing a pair of unnamed sources and acknowledging that Sinema (D-Ariz.), who started her political career with the Green Party, represents "one of the nation's hottest and driest states."

In response to the reporting, Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, similarly pointed out that "Sinema represents a state that has lost the lives of over 500 people to the climate crisis since 2020 alone."

"It is cruel and unfathomable that she's demanding severe cuts to lifesaving climate legislation, but not surprising since she's been meeting nonstop with corporate executives," she said. "Sinema is out of touch with her constituents and with what's happening across the globe on climate. Maybe if she actually took the time to speak to the people of her state, she'd realize how much their families need her to deliver action on climate."

"Biden cannot cave to this level of delusion," the Sunrise leader added, calling on the president to ensure the entire $3.5 trillion package is passed by the time he arrives in Scotland for a United Nations climate summit known as COP 26 at the end of the month.

"This is a matter of Joe Biden's legacy, human life and the future of our generation," Prakash said.

A spokesperson for Sinema, John LaBombard, continued the senator's trend of not publicly discussing her demands. LaBombard told the Times that "given the size and scope of the budget reconciliation proposal—and the lack of detailed legislative language, or even consensus between the Senate and House around several provisions—we are not offering detailed comments on any one proposed piece of the package while those discussions are ongoing."

Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are the only members of the Senate Democratic Caucus who don't support a $3.5 trillion price tag for the Build Back Better bill, which Democrats are trying to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to pass.

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Derrick Davis, a member of West Virginia New Jobs Coalition, hangs up signage during a community gathering and job fair on April 8, 2021 in Charleston, West Virginia.

Manchin Plan to Gut Biden Agenda Would Support 2 Million Fewer Jobs Per Year

Jake Johnson

Democrats are expected to protect a proposed $150 billion clean electricity program as well as about $300 billion in tax incentives for wind and solar power and electric vehicles, the Times noted. However, they may slash or scale back up to another $200 billion in other climate programs as part of an effort to win over Sinema and Manchin by reducing the package by $1.5 trillion.

According to the newspaper:

Those could include a number of programs designed to help poor people adapt to the destructive impacts of climate change, as well as $30 billion for a "Green Bank" to help communities finance construction of solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations, and $30 billion to create a "Civilian Climate Corps" that would hire young adults to work in climate mitigation and adaptation, with half coming from communities of color.
Another possible contender for the chopping block could be a $10 billion program to help rural electric cooperatives, which supply electricity to over 40 million people in rural communities. The money would aim to ease the price spikes that those rural residents could see in their power bills as the cooperatives make the switch from buying coal-fired power to wind and solar. Other potential cuts could include a $13 billion program to build new electric vehicle charging stations—including $1 billion to ensure that those stations are built in lower-income areas.

The revelation came a day after a few Senate Democrats as well as members of the Sunrise Movement and other advocacy groups gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to remind negotiators "No Climate, No Deal," and call for passing the reconciliation package before the U.N. summit.

Activists demand AT&T CEO to sever ties with far-right OAN network — or step down

Amid a flurry of criticism directed at AT&T after Reuters revealed its key role in the creation and funding of the far-right conspiracy-peddling One America News Network, a leading women's group on Thursday called on the telecommunications giant's chief executive officer to correct course or resign.

"If John Stankey is unwilling to correct this course by severing ties with OAN, firing anti-abortion extremist Ed Gillespie, and pledging to stop funding right-wing, racist, and anti-woman politicians, he should step down."

UltraViolet's ultimatum for John Stankey, CEO of world's largest communications company, came after Reuters reported that "90% of OAN's revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant."

In a statement, Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at UltraViolet, noted revelations about not only the news network but also AT&T's support for Texas lawmakers who sponsored a recently enacted abortion ban that's provoked national alarm.

"The leadership and tenure of now CEO and former COO John Stankey at AT&T is marked by his enabling of the radical, right-wing conspiracy platform One America News and the funding for anti-choice politicians behind Texas' dangerous abortion ban," she said.

Referencing the lies and conspiracy theories circulated by the news network, Spoo said that "this shameful legacy ties AT&T to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, the spread of fatal Covid-19 misinformation, and new laws in Texas that undermine the right to vote and obstruct access to abortion care."

"If John Stankey is unwilling to correct this course by severing ties with OAN, firing anti-abortion extremist Ed Gillespie, and pledging to stop funding right-wing, racist, and anti-woman politicians," Spoo declared, "he should step down."

Gillespie joined AT&T last year as senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs after a longtime consulting relationship with the company. Previously, he chaired the Republican National Committee and served as counselor to former President George W. Bush during his second term.

While AT&T has pushed back against the reporting, with spokesperson Jim Greer telling The Hill that "AT&T has never had a financial interest in OAN's success and does not 'fund' OAN," criticism of the company has piled up since the reporting broke Wednesday.

"We are outraged to learn that AT&T has been funneling tens of millions of dollars into OAN since the network's inception," said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement. "AT&T has as a result caused irreparable damage to our democracy. The press should inform the American public with facts, not far-right propaganda and conspiracy theories."

Johnson highlighted that Stankey has written that "our corporate value to Stand for Equality has never been more relevant, not only inside AT&T but outside, as well. It is a business imperative to champion equality, diversity, and inclusion in every aspect of our business."

The NAACP leader asserted that "for a corporation that fuels OAN, a network that continues to spread lies about the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, AT&T's values could not be any more performative and flat-out fake. We are sickened by these revelations."

Bush and Warren lead new bill to protect renters nationwide from eviction

With millions of people across the United States facing lapsed eviction moratoria, joblessness, and expired unemployment benefits as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a bill to help keep renters in their homes.

The pair led dozens of lawmakers in introducing the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 (pdf), which would clarify that the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the statutory authority to implement an eviction moratorium in the interest of public health, and call on him to do so in response to the current emergency.

"Housing is a human right, not a bargaining chip to let fall between bureaucratic cracks."
—Rep. Cori Bush

The bill, if passed, would direct HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to implement a national moratorium that automatically "applies to all residential eviction filings, hearings, judgments, and execution of judgments," and would remain in effect for at least 60 days after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Housing is a human right, not a bargaining chip to let fall between bureaucratic cracks," declared Bush (D-Mo.), who was previously homeless and has led multiple legislative proposals to address housing insecurity, including the Unhoused Bill of Rights.

Noting that the virus has killed over 670,000 people nationwide and infected millions more Americans, leaving an unknown number "permanently disabled from its aftereffects," Bush argued that "as the Delta variant continues to force individuals to quarantine, close schools, and stifle businesses, we must do all we can to save lives."

"That starts with keeping every person safely housed," she added. "The Keeping Renters Safe of 2021 will save lives and give us more time: time for renters to receive financial assistance, time for the economy to fully recover, and time for the pandemic to finally come to an end."

As Warren (D-Mass.) put it: "This pandemic isn't over, and we have to do everything we can to protect renters from the harm and trauma of needless eviction, which upends the lives of those struggling to get back on their feet."

"Pushing hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes will only exacerbate this public health crisis, and cause economic harm to families, their communities, and our overall recovery," the former bankruptcy law professor warned. "Congress must pass the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 to put the eviction moratorium back in place and clarify that HHS has the authority to protect renters throughout this public health crisis. Safe housing saves lives."

Their proposal comes after months of uncertainty over whether renters would be evicted during the public health crisis due to a series of actions by all three branches of the U.S. government.

In late July, just three days before the expiration of a national eviction moratorium that was in effect, President Joe Biden's White House called on lawmakers to extend it, claiming that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented the administration from doing so directly.

After the Democrat-controlled Congress failed to act to prevent evictions—in spite of pressure from Bush and other progressives who slept on the steps of the U.S. Capitol—the Biden administration took a new approach to a moratorium, which was also blocked by the court.

Meanwhile, Congress and its state and local partners have struggled to rapidly distribute billions of dollars in pandemic-related federal rental assistance—an issue for which Bush has also proposed legislative fixes.

"With millions of vulnerable renters at risk of being unhoused as Covid-19 deaths spike nationwide, Congress must act with urgency to prevent the impending eviction crisis and the trauma that would accompany it," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor of the new bill. "Without collective action, Covid-19 will continue to spread, lives and homes will continue to be lost, and the hurt our communities are experiencing will only get worse."

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)—another co-sponsor who joined Bush and Pressley on the Capitol steps last month—called out the Supreme Court's far-right majority for its "dangerous, partisan decision" striking down the administration's last-ditch effort to avert a national eviction crisis and emphasized Congress' responsibility to act now.

"In the world's richest nation, no one should have to experience housing insecurity—especially not during a deadly pandemic with the Delta variant ravaging our communities," Jones said Tuesday. "We have a moral obligation to ensure every person remains safe and housed for the duration of this pandemic and long after. That's exactly what our bill, the Keeping Renters Safe Act, would do."

In addition to five other progressive senators and dozens more House Democrats, the bill is supported by 82 organizations, including the National Coalition for the Homeless, National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), People's Action, Sunrise Movement, and Working Families Party.

Warning that the Supreme Court's latest decision "will have devastating and long-lasting consequences," NLIHC president and CEO Diane Yentel called on Congress to urgently pass Bush and Warren's bill.

"Without the moratorium in place," she said, "families will be pushed deeper into poverty, communities will struggle with increased spread of Covid-19, and our country will have a harder time containing the virus."

Architect of Texas abortion ban takes aim at LGBTQ+ rights while urging reversal of Roe v Wade

Advocates for reproductive freedom and LGTBQ+ equality on Saturday pointed to a legal brief filed in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could soon overturn Roe v. Wade as a crucial example of the broader goals of those fighting to end abortion rights across the United States.

"It's never just been about fetuses. It's about controlling sex," tweeted Muhlenberg College assistant professor Jacqueline Antonovich, a historian of health and medicine.

Both Antonovich and Elie Mystal, The Nation's justice correspondent, responded to a portion of the brief flagged by New York University School of Law professor Melissa Murray that challenges previous rulings from the country's highest court on not only abortion but also LGBTQ+ rights.

"Of course" the so-called "right to life" movement is also coming after cases that established key LGBTQ+ protections, said Mystal, "because it's never about 'life' and always about 'Christian fundamentalism.'"

The amicus brief (pdf) that Murray highlighted—co-authored by the architect of a new abortion ban in Texas—urges reversing Roe, the landmark 1973 ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to pre-viability abortions, and the related 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The brief also takes aim at Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case that overturned homophobic state sodomy laws, and the 2015 equal marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, suggesting that the court should not "hesitate to write an opinion that leaves those decisions hanging by a thread. Lawrence and Obergefell, while far less hazardous to human life, are just as lawless as Roe."

Zack Ford of the progressive group Alliance for Justice said Saturday that "this is hardly surprising. Conservatives know they've got the Supreme Court in the palm of their hands and they'll ask for anything and everything, including the return of sodomy laws. Remember, ALL anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice views stem from the same desire to control bodies."

The alarm over the brief—submitted for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case about a Mississippi abortion ban that the high court is set to hear this term—came exactly one year after the death of liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In the wake of Ginsburg's death, then-President Donald Trump nominated and the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate swiftly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump's third appointee to the court—creating a supermajority of six right-wing justices.

The high court's majority sparked concerns about how justices will rule in the Mississippi case by letting a contested Texas law take effect earlier this month. Just one piece of a historic GOP assault on reproductive rights this year, Texas' Senate Bill 8 not only bans abortion at six weeks but also empowers anti-choice vigilantes to enforce it—which, as the U.S. Justice Department explained in its lawsuit challenging the measure, is an "unprecedented scheme" intended to make it harder to strike down in court.

The legal mind behind S.B. 8, Jonathan Mitchell, "has spent the last seven years honing a largely below-the-radar strategy of writing laws deliberately devised to make it much more difficult for the judicial system—particularly the Supreme Court—to thwart them," according to The New York Times.

A former Texas solicitor general and clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Mitchell also co-authored the legal brief attacking Lawrence and Obergefell. His brief for the group Texas Right to Life—just one of several anti-choice filings submitted to the high court in late July—also states that "women can 'control their reproductive lives' without access to abortion; they can do so by refraining from sexual intercourse.'"

As The Guardian reports, the brief adds that "one can imagine a scenario in which a woman has chosen to engage in unprotected (or insufficiently protected) sexual intercourse on the assumption that an abortion will be available to her later. But when this court announces the overruling of Roe, that individual can simply change their behavior in response to the court's decision if she no longer wants to take the risk of an unwanted pregnancy."

While the Biden administration is taking on S.B. 8 in court and on Friday announced another series of actions intended to assist abortion seekers and providers in Texas, both the new ban and mounting concerns about the Mississippi case have provoked calls for the Democrat-controlled Congress to immediately expand the U.S. Supreme Court and codifying Roe.

Although congressional progressives in April introduced the Judiciary Act of 2021 (H.R. 2584/S. 1141), which would add four more justices to the Supreme Court, the measure has not advanced and its low co-sponsor numbers suggest that will not change during this session.

As for lawmakers reaffirming abortion rights nationwide, the U.S. House is set to vote on the Women's Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755/S. 1975) later this month. However, unless the evenly divided Senate abolishes the filibuster, it is unlikely to reach President Joe Biden.

Public health experts praise Biden's new vaccination efforts

With U.S. Covid-19 deaths rising and over a quarter of the eligible population still unvaccinated, President Joe Biden's sweeping new rules aimed at boosting vaccination rates have provoked predictable backlash from Republican lawmakers, right-wing voices, and anti-vaccine commentators but also widespread applause from public health experts and medical professionals.

The new policies come as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic—now largely driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant—has topped 655,500 and some hospitals, particularly in regions with lower inoculation rates, are struggling to treat both Covid-19 patients and those with other ailments.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the Boston Globe that the president "got it right" and his six-part national strategy to end the pandemic contains "the measures we need to get this pandemic under control."

Vaccinating the unvaccinated is one prong of Biden's plan. The president on Thursday signed a pair of executive orders requiring all federal workers and contractors who do business with the U.S. government to get vaccinated. He also directed the Labor Department to craft a rule requiring all employers with more than 100 workers to mandate inoculation against Covid-19 or weekly testing.

The administration is mandating vaccination for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. With children under age 12 still not eligible for any authorized Covid-19 vaccines, Biden is also requiring shots for staff in Head Start programs, Defense Department schools, and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools, and calling on states to adopt such requirements for all employees of educational institutions.

"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for?" Biden said in a speech Thursday evening outlining his administration's Covid-19 action plan. "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us."

Jha predicted that "the vaccine mandate[s] themselves are going to substantially drive up vaccination," noting that such requirements aren't always popular but often obeyed.

Without vaccine mandates, "we would be looking at thousands of people dying every day for weeks and months on out," the doctor added. "We have all the tools to prevent it. I was happy to see the president deploy those tools."

Jha applauded requiring hospitals that get Medicaid or Medicare dollars to mandate vaccination for workers, as well as the new rule for major employers, saying that "it is not safe at this moment to return to a workplace where there is a large number of unvaccinated people."

While Biden's latest moves have been blasted by some right-wing and anti-vaccine commentators as attacks on personal freedom, Jha pointed out that "people also have a right to be able to go to work and not get infected and not get sick and not die."

That position was echoed by Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, New York, in comments to Newsday.

"Your freedom stops when you're impacting other people's freedoms and rights," Glatt said. People who remain unvaccinated "are going to cause Covid to spread and they're going to help invite [vaccine-]resistant strains and variant strains to occur. That's the problem. It's not like you're living in a vacuum."

"Anything that will spur people to get vaccinated," he added, "is a good idea."

Glatt also noted how misinformation and publicity of "breakthrough" infections—or cases of fully vaccinated people getting Covid-19—have fueled vaccine hesitancy.

A study published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as Delta drove rising case numbers around the country this spring and summer, people who were not fully vaccinated were over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or die of Covid-19 than those who were fully inoculated.

"The vaccines are unbelievably good at preventing serious illness, ICU admissions, intubations, and death," said Glatt. "We haven't done a good enough job reminding everybody and showing them the statistics that unvaccinated people are 99% of the deaths in the United States right now of Covid, and hospitals are filled up with unvaccinated people."

The New York Times reported that alongside the praise, Biden's latest requirements drew warnings from experts that the rules may be "too little, too late" as well as "skepticism and outrage," including from Republicans such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who said her legal team "is standing by ready to file our lawsuit" against Biden's "unconstitutional rule."

GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona also took to Twitter with vows to challenge the president's moves. In his speech Thursday, Biden addressed some state leaders' anti-science actions throughout the pandemic, promising that "if these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way."

Asked about the threats of legal challenges while visiting a Washington, D.C. school on Friday, Biden declared: "Have at it."

"I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities," he added. "We're playing for real here—this isn't a game—and I don't know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn't think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I've suggested."

Legal experts anticipate Biden's new rules will soon reach the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court.

Alabama's WHNT News 19 discussed the business requirements with Eric Artrip, a Huntsville attorney and partner of Mastando & Artrip, LLC.

"The federal government has decided to go through the Department of Labor for these mandates and that's the same department that regulates mandatory minimum wage, time, and a half for each hour work above 40 for overtime payment, and things like that. Generally speaking, the federal government has the ability to regulate private employers for certain things that are of the matter of public concern, certainly, a global pandemic would qualify," he said.

Artrip explained that the mandates could be upheld by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, "which allows Congress and by extension, the administrative branch, the opportunity or the obligation in some respects to regulate private industry."

"Much like the U.S. government mandated Ford Motor Company to make airplanes in World WII, basically seize the reins of industrial powers in order to affect the war effort," he said. "Right now, being that we are in a global pandemic, the government has exercised its emergency powers to mandate vaccinations for private companies.

Some companies and business leaders echoed public health experts' praise for Biden's plan.

"We know vaccines, coupled with widespread and convenient testing, serve as powerful tools to help slow the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, keeping the U.S. economy open, and protecting America's workforce," said Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, according to the Times.

Matt Cohen, president and chief executive of the umbrella group Long Island Association, told Newsday that "in March 2020, we could have never fathomed that Covid-19 would have such a long-lasting and devastating impact" on the region's business community.

"Vaccines are critical to finally put this pandemic behind us, especially now that we are confronted with the Delta variant," Cohen said. "Encouraging vaccinations or requiring testing for the virus by larger employers will help ensure our region's economic recovery, and some have implemented it already."

Despite the potential legal barriers for Biden's newly announced policies, some public health experts want the president to go even further. Brown's Jha told the Globe that he wished the mandates applied to higher education institutions and airline travel.

"There will not be a day when somebody will wave a flag and everyone will go celebrate. We're not going to eradicate SARS-CoV-2," Jha warned, using the name of the virus that causes Covid-19. The pandemic will be over, he added, when so many people are immune that "the virus becomes a nuisance and not a threat."

Experts warn NOAA plan might 'delay' right whales extinction, but not save them

Conservation advocacy groups on Tuesday responded with alarm and disappointment to the Biden administration's long-awaited new rule for protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whales from Maine to Florida.

"There's no time to waste—the rule must be strengthened immediately with expanded time/area management and effective monitoring if North Atlantic right whales are to survive."
—Whitney Webber, Oceana

"After four years of rule-making, it's disheartening that despite the legal obligation to be stewards of North Atlantic right whales and help them recover, the government has once again failed to take aggressive action," said Oceana campaign director Whitney Webber.

The U.S. government estimates there are fewer than 370 North Atlantic right whales left in the world. Webber highlighted that the species is "sliding closer toward extinction due to known, human-caused risks, including fishing gear entanglements."

"In February of this year, an 11-year-old male known as 'Cottontail' was found dead off South Carolina after being entangled in fishing gear for months," she said. "With only around 360 whales remaining, there is no room for shortsighted solutions. We can recover this species, but it will take meaningful, strong regulations to keep deaths below one per year—the level the National Marine Fisheries Service says is needed to support recovery."

The rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service—an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also known as NOAA Fisheries—amends the government's Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan.

The plan aims to reduce deaths and serious injuries to North Atlantic right whales, fin whales, and humpback whales "in northeast commercial lobster and crab trap/pot fisheries to meet the goals of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act."

Since 2010, 34 right whales have died and 16 have been seriously injured, principally due to getting entangled in fishing gear or struck by vessels, according to NOAA Fisheries.

In a statement Tuesday, NOAA Fisheries detailed its new regulations that the agency expects will reduce the risk of death and injuries resulting from entanglement by 69%:

  • Reducing the number of buoy lines (lines that link the fisherman's floating surface buoy to the pot or trap) in the water;
  • Weakening the remaining lines so that whales can break free before becoming seriously injured; and
  • Improving how fishing gear is marked so NOAA Fisheries and partners can better identify the type of fishing gear associated with entanglements when they do occur, thereby informing future risk reduction measures.

The required gear modifications will take effect May 1, 2022—the start of the American lobster and Jonah crab fishing year—and changes to seasonally restricted areas will go into effect 30 days after the rule's publication.

"This rule represents years of work and collaboration on the part of fishermen, scientists, conservationists, and state and federal officials to develop strategies to reduce the dangers faced by North Atlantic right whales," said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and deputy NOAA administrator.

Michael Pentony, regional administrator for NOAA's Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, said that "the new measures in this rule will allow the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries to continue to thrive, while significantly reducing the risk to critically endangered right whales of getting seriously injured or killed in commercial fishing gear."

However, both the fishing industry and conservation advocates are critical of the new rule—which, as the Portland Press Herald pointed out, "does not include measures to help prevent ship strikes or reduce mortality and serious injuries in Canadian waters, which together account for the majority of right whale deaths."

Noting that the new regulations will make a 950-square-mile area of the Gulf of Maine "off-limits to traditional lobstering from October through January," the Press Herald reported Tuesday on officials' concerns that the changes will threaten the state's fishing industry.

Maine's congressional delegation and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills issued a joint statement criticizing the "burdensome regulations," saying in part that "we agree that we must protect the fragile right whale population, but we must do so without endangering human lives or livelihoods" and "there has not been a single right whale entanglement attributed to Maine lobster fisheries in nearly two decades."

Conservation groups, meanwhile, argued the regulations don't go far enough.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which has challenged NOAA Fisheries' failure to protect the species in court, noted the closures south of Nantucket—from February to April—and in the Gulf of Maine are seasonal, "despite evidence that right whales use the area year-round."

Offering a broader critique of the new rule, Kristen Monsell, the center's oceans legal director, declared that "we can't save this rapidly declining whale population from extinction with half-measures like this."

"This plan is better than nothing and a step in the right direction," she said. "But we've already waited far too long to protect North Atlantic right whales from deadly entanglements. It's time to get all vertical fishing lines out of important right whale habitat immediately and convert to on-demand ropeless fishing gear."

As Oceana's Webber explained:

The National Marine Fisheries Service's overreliance on weak rope, which is designed to break with the strength of an adult whale, is insufficient because it continues to put calves and juveniles directly in harm's way. Proven management tools that will reduce interactions with the roughly one million fishing lines are available, yet the government declined to consider these tools because they were "unpopular with stakeholders." Oceana and its members are stakeholders in this crisis as well. This disregard for public comment by the Biden administration is disappointing.
Oceana is committed to ensuring North Atlantic right whales have meaningful protection from all threats across their range, from Florida to eastern Canada. As it stands, this rule leaves the whales vulnerable and jeopardizes their future, as well as the future of the U.S. lobster and crab fisheries, which could be shut down if North Atlantic right whales are not protected. There's no time to waste—the rule must be strengthened immediately with expanded time/area management and effective monitoring if North Atlantic right whales are to survive.

Environment America's conservation program director Steve Blackledge also called on the Biden administration to go further in a statement Tuesday.

"It's good to see NOAA taking action to protect the endangered right whale, but unfortunately, the plan that was released today falls short," he said. "By our reading, the net effect will be to delay the extinction of this beautiful, massive creature. What we need is a plan to save it."

According to Blackledge, "The problem is that these rules would reduce the 'risk of death and serious injuries caused by entanglement' by 69%, and that's not enough to enable this species to rebound."

"We're calling on NOAA and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to respond to our petition and use emergency powers to close key right whale habitats to fishing—most are seasonal closures and one would be year-round," he added. "Let's be the generation that protected the right whale, not the one that watched it slowly disappear."

House Democrats demand repeal of fossil fuel subsidies in reconciliation bill

In a Monday letter to party leadership, dozens of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called for repealing fossil fuel industry subsidies in the reconciliation bill that lawmakers are now working on after approving the budget blueprint last week.

"We support a deal that sufficiently enhances climate justice, especially in repealing fossil fuel subsidies."
—54 House Democrats

The demand for the evolving Build Back Better Act was spearheaded by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and backed by 51 additional Democrats. Their letter (pdf) was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) but also sent to other key committee leaders.

The message to Democratic leaders follows party infighting that preceded the House's passage of the Senate-approved budget resolution that enables members of Congress to begin crafting the $3.5 trillion package. The Hill reports that "business lobbyists are increasingly optimistic that they can water down tax hikes and other measures" in the final bill, which Democrats plan to pass without any GOP support.

The letter highlights that in his fiscal year 2022 budget, President Joe Biden "committed to the inclusion of $121 billion in revenue raised from repealing fossil fuel subsidies, which includes $86 billion from tax breaks for foreign oil and gas income."

"We are greatly appreciative of the president's focus on repealing these harmful and wasteful subsidies," the letter says. "We support a deal that sufficiently enhances climate justice, especially in repealing fossil fuel subsidies. Congress must follow through in implementing the president's vision."

Citing findings from the International Monetary Fund and the advocacy group Oil Change International, the letter points out that the U.S. ranks second in the world for supporting gas and oil companies, and "federal and state governments give the fossil fuel industry over $20.5 billion in support each year through the tax code, inadequate royalty rates, and direct funding."

The lawmakers argue that "fossil fuel subsidies should be repealed because, instead of enhancing American energy independence or creating jobs, they simply enhance the profits of fossil fuel companies," noting research (pdf) from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Such subsidies "are a bad deal for American taxpayers," the Democrats assert, pointing to impacts on public health, infrastructure, and extreme weather exacerbated by global heating. They also emphasize warnings from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the necessity of rapidly and dramatically reducing planet-heating emissions and ending government giveaways to polluters.

"Curbing subsidies for this industry would also advance racial justice. Black and Brown communities are disproportionately affected by fossil fuel pollution," the letter says. The lawmakers further note that despite claiming at least $8.2 billion in coronavirus pandemic relief funds last year, the industry laid off 16% of its workforce—and "fossil fuel jobs are dangerous."

"For these reasons," the House Democrats concluded, "we implore you to include the repeal of fossil fuel subsidies in the Build Back Better Act."

The letter comes after more than 500 groups made similar demands of Democratic leadership earlier this summer. In addition to sending a letter, the organizations rallied outside the U.S. Capitol—joined by multiple lawmakers, including Khanna and Omar.

Omar and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are the lead sponsors of the End Polluter Welfare Act (H.R. 2102/S. 1167). Reintroduced this spring, the bill aims to close tax loopholes and eliminate federal subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

"Providing corporate giveaways during a time of widespread suffering to fossil-fuel companies is unconscionable," Omar said at the time. "Our resources should go to helping the American people get through this crisis—not providing giveaways to the very people responsible for polluting our water and lands. We should be fighting for a greener, more equitable future for all instead of making the fossil fuel industry more profitable."

'Democracy for sale': Analysis ties corporate consolidation to increased lobbying

An analysis published Wednesday about corporate consolidation and political lobbying in the United States found that large mergers—particularly in Big Tech, the pharmaceutical industry, and the oil and gas sector—has increased corporate control of American democracy.

"Corporate concentration and antidemocratic political influence go hand in hand."

The new research paper from the American Economic Liberties—entitled Project Democracy for Sale: Examining the Effects of Concentration on Lobbying in the United States (pdf)—was authored by Reed Showalter, an attorney and a fellow at the anti-monopoly group.

"Concentrated markets are bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation. But this research suggests that the concentration crisis in America is even more than a purely economic problem—it's also a democracy problem," Showalter said in a statement.

"We urgently need to understand and contain the power that monopolies have over the rest of us," he asserted. "Lawmakers, enforcers, and leaders cannot afford to ignore the widespread harms from concentration any longer."

The report emphasizes that "the bigger companies get, the more powerful they become. A large majority of Americans distrust concentrated economic power, and criticism of the world's largest companies is a regular part of discourse within America's political parties and around the world. Research has borne out the power of money in politics."

"Corporate lobbying works," the paper continues. "A number of studies show that the amount spent on lobbying positively impacts a firm's equity returns and market share. Firms that engage in lobbying also appear to have lower effective tax rates than those that do not."

Given those conditions, Showalter examined the U.S. internet, pharmaceutical, and fossil fuel sectors. The paper notes that the first case study "primarily includes digital platform companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix" and "does not extend, for example, to internet providers and other internet infrastructure companies."

The researcher found "a noteworthy relationship" between consolidation and political activity. Though the data is a bit limited—which the paper acknowledges, urging some degree of caution—it shows that "in all three industries, concentration appears to predict elevated lobbying spending."

According to Showalter:

In the oil and gas industry as well as among internet companies, the more market power a corporation acquires, the more it lobbies. In the pharmaceutical industry, the data is even more compelling. When pharmaceutical companies gained market power, they lobbied more, and when they lost market power, they lobbied less. One tentative conclusion from this analysis is that monopolies seek to acquire political power, whereas competitive businesses focus on competing with each other instead of dominating public rule-making bodies.

"In short, the results of this report suggest that not only is big business good at lobbying, but that bigger business leads to more lobbying," the paper says. "That means monopoly is a threat to representative democracy—and that protecting our democracy requires effective antitrust."

The report also addresses the political implications of Showalter's findings—specifically, the suggestion that the negative impacts of industry concentration "cannot be understood merely through the consumer welfare lens" and using that standard to govern antitrust "allows practitioners in the field to ignore non-price effects" of companies consolidating.

The new research "casts doubt on pure regulatory solutions that do not reduce concentration, since more lobbying can mitigate regulatory action or even turn regulatory choices into mechanisms to protect entrenched incumbents," the paper says. "If concentration begets political influence, then even a hypothetically economically efficient monopoly offering low consumer prices can still be an undemocratic usurper of political power."

In other words, according to the report, "stronger antitrust premised on reducing corporate concentration should be understood not just as a mechanism to address market power problems, but as an anti-corruption measure in itself."

Concluding that "corporate concentration and antidemocratic political influence go hand in hand," Showalter urges U.S. policymakers to recognize the limits of the consumer welfare standard when creating and implementing new regulations for major industries.

"The antitrust laws were a response to rising economic concentration, and the laws' framers recognized that concentrated economic power can poison our democracy," he writes. "This article is a starting point but hopefully also a reminder that antitrust is equipped and designed to grapple with the political ramifications of economic concentration. Those crafting and enforcing the doctrine should feel empowered to step into the shoes they were meant to fill."

The New York Times' "DealBook" newsletter noted Showalter's ties to President Joe Biden:

Showalter's report begins with an interesting acknowledgment, thanking Tim Wu, a former Columbia law professor who is now a technology and competition policy adviser at the White House. What's more, Showalter works at the law firm founded by Jonathan Kanter, whom President Biden recently nominated to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division. Showalter said that Kanter did not discuss the report with him and that his work as a fellow was separate from his day job. But he acknowledged more generally that the expansive approach to antitrust that his report advocated appeared to be ascendant in the halls of power.

The report comes as Congress is considering a package of antitrust bills advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in late June. Demand Progress executive director David Segal pointed out at the time that "many members are reciting Big Tech's talking points and pushing their amendments. This is why it is necessary that Congress act to break these companies up and diminish their power of speech, the economy, and our government."

"No matter what does or doesn't emerge from Congress in the coming weeks or months, it is vital that the Biden administration use existing tools to rein in the power of these monopolies," he added, calling Lina Khan, the president's pick to chair the Federal Trade Commission, "a tremendous step in this direction" and urging more similar actions that prioritize the public interest.

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