Millions of U.S. women at risk after 'regressive' attack on abortion rights by Supreme Court: U.N. experts

High-level experts with the United Nations have issued a joint statement condemning the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that reversed decades of legal precedent protecting abortion rights for women.

"The regressive position taken by the US Supreme Court in June 2022, by essentially dismantling 50 years of precedent protecting the right to abortion in the country, puts millions of women and girls at serious risk," said the 13 experts, all appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, on Friday.

According to a statement issued by the UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR):

Abortion bans in 14 States have made abortion services largely inaccessible and denied women and girls their fundamental human rights to comprehensive healthcare including sexual and reproductive health. The experts said the bans could lead to violations of women's rights to privacy, bodily integrity and autonomy, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, equality and non-discrimination, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and gender-based violence.

Such state-level bans on abortion and other restrictions to reproductive care, say the experts, are having far-reaching and negative impacts. In addition, they are a violation of international human rights law.

"Women and girls in disadvantaged situations are disproportionately affected by these bans," the experts said, referring to those in marginalized communities, living on low incomes, in abusive relationships, or in rural regions with little access to care or support services.

Last month, the U.S.-based National Abortion Federation (NAF) released a new report showing that "violence and disruption" against abortion providers and clinics rose sharply since the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization by the Court in the June of 2022 that overturned protections in Roe v. Wade.

NAF has been tracking such attacks since 1977, but Melissa Fowler, the group's chief program officer, said in May that the new statistics since last year prove "anti-abortion extremists have been emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the cascade of abortion bans" passed by Republican-controlled legislatures nationwide.

"As clinics closed in states with bans, extremists have simply shifted their focus to the states where abortion remains legal and protected, where our members have reported major increases in assaults, stalking, and burglaries," said Fowler.

In Friday's statement, the UN experts said they were "particularly alarmed by the increasing reports of threats to the lives of abortion service providers across the country" as well as by a new pattern of surveillance—including electronic tracking—being used against people seeking abortion care.

The joint statement urged both federal and state governments in the U.S. "to take action to reverse the regressive rhetoric seeping through the legislative system and enact positive measures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion."

The experts who issued the statement were: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (chair), Ivana Radačić (vice-chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ana Brian Nougrères, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Joe Manchin 'not ruling anything out' when asked about 2024 third-party presidential run

Sen. Joe Manchin—the West Virginia lawmaker reviled by progressives for his climate-killing policies and many Democrats over his repeated sabotage of his own party's agenda—said Sunday he has still not decided about whether he might make a third-party run for president in 2024.

Asked by "Fox News Sunday" host Shannon Bream if he's decided on a possible run with the billionaire-backed "No Labels" or otherwise, Manchin applauded the group "pushing very hard to the centrist middle" and "making commonsense decisions," but dodged a direct answer to the question.

"If Plan A shows that we're going to the far reaches of both sides, the far left and the far right, and the people don't want to go to the far left and the far right, they want to be governed from the middle," Manchin said. "I think there is… you better have that Plan B available and ready to go."

When pressed by Bream on his consideration of a presidential run, Manchin replied, "Not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out."

Last month, as Common Dreams reported, journalists with More Perfect Union dove into the secretive funding of No Labels—which offers itself as a harmless, more middle-of-the-road option to the two major political parties in the U.S.—and found that much of the money behind the group comes from "a whole lot of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy."

\u201cA group calling themselves "No Labels" has suddenly emerged as a huge financial backer of Kyrsten Sinema.\n\nThey're also floating the idea of running Joe Manchin for President.\n\nWe dug into them, and found a whole lot of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy.\u201d
— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1684768082

In a 2018 column, financial industry watchdogs Porter McConnell and Rion Dennis identified No Labels as part of a cabal of so-called "centrists" who are really just "wolves of Wall Street in sheep's clothing," hiding behind their harmless-sounding name to mask very insidious intent.

"For years, the group No Labels and its close partner, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, have quietly promoted policies that are wrapped in the mantle of bipartisanship and pitched as "non-ideological," while being in the pay of corporate interests," McConnell and Dennis explained. "They produce reports, sponsor events, and weigh in on policy on behalf of unnamed corporate donors."

Critics of a No Labels' candidate in 2024 say it's strikingly obvious that the true motive for such a move would be to slice off enough gullible voters to create a path for Donald Trump's reelection.

Manchin is up for reelection this year to defend his U.S. Senate seat, but according to a poll released last week he is currently trailing the top Republican challenger, Gov. Jim Justice, by 22 points in a hypothetical general election contest.

'Nothing to brag about': Progressives vent fury over Biden's 'big win'

President Joe Biden delivered his first televised address from the Oval Office on Friday night to applaud the final result of legislative negotiations between his administration and Republicans in Congress who took the U.S. economy hostage over the debt ceiling, but progressive critics found the victory lap hard to take given the details of the deal and the devastating impacts they will have.

"It was critical to reach an agreement and it's very good news for the American people," Biden said during his remarks from the White House. "No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed. We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse."

But what Biden called a "big win for our economy and the American people," progressives—who argue the entire debt ceiling law is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th amendment and warned since last year that Republicans would orchestrate a crisis to protect wealthy tax dodgers and corporations while imposing fresh cuts on key social programs—should be seen for what it is: a kick in the face to the planet, democracy, and the material needs of poor and working-class Americans.

"Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction." —Sen. Bernie Sanders

Warren Gunnels, majority staff director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said on social media Friday, the final legislation—which Biden is expected to sign into law Saturday—should be seen as "a big win for the donor class and a big loss for the 99%."

"It's nothing to brag about," Gunnels added.

"Not everyone got what they wanted?" Nina Turner, former Ohio State Senator and congressional candidate, asked rhetorically. "The 1% and the military-industrial complex got exactly what they wanted."

As Common Dreamsreported, Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet this week said Biden signing the agreement into law would be "as good an outcome as our industry or our company could ask for at this point," noting that it calls for "3% growth for two years in defense where other areas of the budget are being reduced."

Journalist and author Mark Jacobs suggested that much of the coverage in the corporate press has been friendly to Biden's framing of the legislative result, but that this should be challenged.

"Here's the news media's takeaway on the debt ceiling deal: Yay! Bipartisanship works!" said Jacobs. "Here's the reality: GOP radicals held the economy hostage, Democrats paid the ransom, and bipartisanship is badly broken."

In addition to across-the-board spending caps for non-defense discretionary spending—which economists note is a real-world cut, given inflation, to key programs that serve tens of millions working class individuals and families—the deal greenlit permitting reforms for oil and gas projects desired by the fossil fuel industry and will force fast-track approval of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline that frontline communities in West Virginia, Virginia, and elsewhere have opposed for years.

Katie Bergh and Dottie Rosebaum, policy analysts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, detailed this week how changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contained in the deal championed by Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy "would put almost 750,000 older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance through an expansion of the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement."

"The older adults who lose access to SNAP would lose about $8 per person per day in benefits," explained Bergh and Rosenbaum. "These individuals often have very low incomes, and the loss of SNAP will push most of those affected into or deeper into poverty."

At the same time, the deal championed as a "big win" included large cuts to the IRS budget that a CBO analysis this week showed will actually cost the federal government over $40 billion in lost revenue and increase the deficit—the opposite result of what the GOP claims regarding the budget but very much in line with helping wealthy tax dodgers and corporations pay less each year.

In a Friday op-ed explaining his opposition to the legislation, Sen. Sanders said the only thing good to say about the bill was that it was not worse—which it certainly could have been.

"At a time when this country is rapidly moving toward Oligarchy, with more wealth and income inequality than we've ever experienced, I could not in good conscience vote for a bill that cuts programs for the most vulnerable while refusing to ask billionaires to pay a penny more in taxes," Sanders wrote. "Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction."

"The fact of the matter is that this bill was totally unnecessary," Sanders concluded in his op-ed. "The President has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to protect their corporate sponsors."

'Corruption. Plain and simple': Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasts Ginni Thomas over secret payments

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni Thomas are under fresh scrutiny as yet another revelation, this one reported by the Washington Post on Thursday evening shows Ginni received tens of thousands of dollars in off-the-book compensation from a powerful right-wing nonprofit shortly before the group "soon would have an interest before the court"—a pivotal voting rights case.

Based on documents reviewed by the Post, right-wing judicial activist Leonard Leo used his role as an advisor to the nonprofit, the Judicial Education Project, to ask GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, later a top aide to President Donald Trump, to pay Ginni Thomas a large sum but keep her name off the financial records.

"Leo, a key figure in a network of nonprofits that has worked to support the nominations of conservative judges," the reporting explains, "told Conway that he wanted her to 'give' Ginni Thomas 'another $25K,' the documents show. He emphasized that the paperwork should have 'No mention of Ginni, of course.'"

In response to the new revelations, Kyle Herrig, president of the public interest advocacy group Accountable.US, said "Leonard Leo has written the definition of court corruption. These shady schemes are a call to action to bring about ethics reform at the highest levels of the judiciary."

In defense of the secrecy of the payments to Ginni Thomas's firm—which according to the Post totaled $80,000 between June 2011 and June 2012, but may have been more overall—Leo said in a statement to the newspaper that it was necessary to keep her name out of any disclosures because of how "disrespectful, malicious and gossipy people" can be in the political sphere.

"I have always tried to protect the privacy of Justice Thomas and Ginni," Leo claimed.

Crucially, months after these payments were made to Ginni Thomas, the Judicial Education Project filed an amicus brief in the case Shelby County v. Holder, taking the side of those opposed to a key provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As the Post notes:

The court struck down a formula in the Voting Rights Act that determined which states had to obtain federal clearance before changing their voting rules and procedures. Clarence Thomas was part of the 5-to-4 majority.

Thomas issued a concurring opinion in the case, arguing that the preclearance requirement itself is unconstitutional. Thomas's opinion, which was consistent with a previous opinion he wrote, favored the outcome the Judicial Education Project and several other conservative organizations had advocated in their amicus briefs. He did not cite the Judicial Education Project brief.

But progressive political observers said the corruption was impossible not to see—especially given the wave of revelations about lavish gifts and financial arrangements between Justice Thomas and billionaire Harlan Crow, a right-wing mega-donor.

"This is corruption. Plain and simple," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in reaction to the latest revelation. "And each day that passes, the Supreme Court is looking less like a bench and more like an auction house. Thomas should resign immediately and Roberts should see to it that he does."

'Untenable': John Roberts blasted for refusing to testify over Supreme Court ethics scandals

Progressive critics have condemned the refusal of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts to accept an invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee over a string of alleged ethics violations by Justices on the Court, specifically Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

Roberts finally responded late Tuesday night to an invitation issued over two weeks ago by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who chairs the committee, following revelations that Thomas had accepted lavish gifts from a billionaire right-wing activist over the course of decades without disclosing them.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Gorsuch had sold property to the head of a powerful law firm that has repeatedly had business before the Court without disclosing the identity of the purchaser.

"While the Supreme Court is on fire with scandals, Chief Justice John Roberts refuses to answer questions about the long list of troubling ethics issues undermining the credibility and integrity of our nation's highest court."

In his letter to Durbin on Tuesday, Roberts said he "must respectfully decline your invitation" and cited the separation of powers as the key reason he would not appear. But critics, including Democratic lawmakers and outside watchdogs, denounced the decision.

"Under Roberts, the Supreme Court has unraveled constitutional rights and seen several justices engage in corrupt financial arrangements. Now he is refusing to answer questions," declared Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in response. "How does Roberts expect SCOTUS to maintain authority if they reject accountability themselves?"

Ocasio-Cortez has been among those lawmakers in the House calling for Thomas to be investigated or impeached over the revelations contained in a pair of stories by Pro Publica this month.

"This is an untenable position," said Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, in response to Roberts' refusal to appear.

"While the Supreme Court is on fire with scandals, Chief Justice John Roberts refuses to answer questions about the long list of troubling ethics issues undermining the credibility and integrity of our nation's highest court," Herrig continued. "We need urgent reform to restore public trust in our Court—and we need it now."

In a statement in the wake of the Thomas' revelations, Brett Edkins, managing director of policy and political affairs for Stand Up America, said that it will be up to Congress to seek judicial reforms to curb ethics violations that many argue have led to wholesale corruption on the Court.

"Thomas is unfit to serve on any court, let alone our nation’s highest court. His failure to disclose his close financial dealings with a GOP billionaire has single-handedly destroyed what little credibility this MAGA Court had left," Edkins said.

"Congress has a constitutional duty to hold this Court in check," he added. "Failing to hold Justice Thomas accountable, hold hearings, and pass a Supreme Court code of ethics would be a dereliction of that duty."

Durbin has said the hearing on May 2 will go on with or without the participation of Roberts or the other Justices.

"I extended an invitation to the chief justice, or his designate, in an attempt to include the court in this discussion," Durbin said. "But make no mistake: Supreme Court ethics reform must happen whether the court participates in the process or not."

'Paging the FTC': Experts warn Musk's misleading celebrity Twitter blue checks are violation

Experts warned Sunday that the practice of Twitter adding official blue check marks to high-profile users on the social media platform without their consent could be a violation of FTC guidelines meant to prevent fraud.

The mysterious application of the blue checks—indicating that people had voluntarily paid to be members of the new Twitter Blue premium plan controversially launched by billionaire owner Elon Musk—was a source of endless online conversation over the weekend after living celebrities like basketball star LeBron James and novelist Stephen King as well as deceased people like food writer Anthony Bourdain and slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi had the checks applied to their accounts.

On Friday, Musk confirmed he was paying "personally" to keep the checks on at least some of these accounts.

The so-called "purge" began last week, when many institutions, organizations, and individuals discovered that the traditional "blue check" verifications they'd enjoyed for years—which indicated they were who they said they were and came at no cost—disappeared. (Full disclosure: Common Dreams, a nonprofit and independent news outlet, was stripped of its blue check verification last week.)

Over the weekend, others who said they did not sign up for the new Twitter Blue program started noticing new checks appearing on their accounts without warning.

According to Timothy Karr, senior director of strategy and communications for the media advocacy group Free Press, what Musk is doing with the blue checks is a violation of rules set up by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

"Musk has 'gifted' checks to celebrity Twitter accounts and other influencers without first seeking permission," said Karr. But because the blue checks "act like endorsements of Twitter Blue," the new paid program that charges $8 for premium access and status on the platform, this is where the violation comes in.

"False endorsements violate FTC rules, legally exposing Musk," argued Karr.

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic, backed up this legal assessment.

"Considering that the blue check states that someone is subscribed to and paying for a product, falsely adding that to large accounts may constitute a deceptive trade practice," said Caraballo in an online post. "Paging the FTC."

Unverified reports indicate that voluntary and paid signups for Twitter Blue have been meager, with estimates in the low double-digits or maybe several hundred. Either way, a far-cry from what would be needed to generate any meaningful profit from the program, which Musk indicated was the goal.

Writing for Mashable on Saturday, Chance Townsend detailed the mess of the whole episode:

Musk appears to have mistaken the past prestige associated with ID verification for something that can be commodified. But it now looks like that bubble has burst. With legacy accounts having had their checkmarks removed, and the platform's only ID verification system now saddled with stigma, the platform is facing a bad impersonation problem — a complication that spurred major advertisers to back out of Twitter in previous months.

Meanwhile, with others online citing Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, which covers rules about trademark and false endorsements, Caraballo argued that Stephen King or others who were “gifted” the check marks could bring legal challenges to Musk under the statute.

"Anyone given this without their approval could have grounds to bring a false endorsement claim," she said. "That would be separate from a FTC investigation over deceptive trade practices."

Earlier this month, one of Twitter's top lawyers, Christian Dowell, who had been directly involved with the company's ongoing discussions with the FTC over privacy and data issues, resigned.

In his Sunday thread on Twitter, Karr mentioned Dowell's departure and then remarked, "Seems Musk never hired someone to fill that position."

Alabama governor slammed after ousting top education official

The state of Alabama's top early education official was forced out Friday by Gov. Kay Ivey over a teacher resource guide—one that promotes inclusion of various kinds of families and acknowledges the reality of racism in the nation's history—the Republican leader denounced as too "woke."

After an apparent refusal to denounce the book or accept its removal, Barbara Cooper, head of the Alabama Department of Early Education, was compelled to tender her resignation, which Ivey accepted.

The text in question is a widely-used resource guide for early childhood educators that informs teachers that the "early education system is not immune" from the forces of "systemic and institutional racism" embedded in the history and development of the United States.

The book, according to a review of its contents by the Associated Press, also urges inclusion and understanding for young children coming into education programs from all kinds of different families.

"Early childhood programs also serve and welcome families that represent many compositions. Children from all families (e.g., single parent, grandparent-led, foster, LGBTQIA+) need to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity, and worth," states the resource guide.

A spokesperson for Ivey's office, Gina Maiola, identified the book as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Developmentally Appropriate Practice Book, 4th edition and told reporters that copies of the text had been removed from all classrooms in the state.

Maiola said the book's glossary "includes equally disturbing concepts that the Ivey Administration and the people of Alabama in no way, shape or form believe should be used to influence school children, let alone four-year-olds."

The NAEYC, a national accrediting board that supplies materials and performs reviews for educational institutions and teachers nationwide, states on its website that the organization "promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research."

According to AP:

The book is a guide for early childhood educators. It is not a curriculum taught to children. The governor's office, in a press release, cited two examples from the book—one discussing white privilege and that "the United States is built on systemic and structural racism" and another that Ivey's office claimed teaches LGBTQ+ inclusion to 4-year-olds. Those sections, according to a copy of the 881-page book obtained by The Associated Press, discuss combating bias and making sure that all children feel welcome.

On Friday evening, the NAEYC sent a statement to in response to the ouster of Cooper, who happens to sit on the group's national governing board, and about the resource guide itself.

"For nearly four decades, and in partnership with hundreds of thousands of families and educators, Developmentally Appropriate Practice has served as the foundation for high-quality early childhood education across all states and communities," NAEYC said in the statement.

"While not a curriculum, it is a responsive, educator-developed, educator-informed, and research-based resource that has been honed over multiple generations to support teachers in helping all children thrive and reach their full potential," the group continued. "Building on the good work that is happening in states and communities, NAEYC looks forward to continuing its partnership with families, educators, and policymakers to further our shared goals of offering joyful learning environments that see, support, and reflect all children and their families."

Megan Carolan, an early childhood researcher, responded to the story online by saying Cooper's ouster was "massively concerning and, I suspect it echoes what many teachers and districts have had to navigate locally."

"This book was a NAEYC-developed resource used as a guide, not curriculum," Carolan added. And while Alabama ranks poorly in public education performance overall, she remarked that the state "is commonly hailed as a success in early childhood education."

'Their worst nightmare': Trump plots White House return — but worries about 'very dangerous' U.S. election system

The former presidents of Brazil and the United States took the stage at CPAC on Saturday where both fascist politicians continued to sow doubt about their respective electoral defeats as they received standing ovations from the annual convention's far-right attendees.

Brazil's disgraced former leader Jair Bolsonaro—whose supporters stormed government offices in January after his successor, leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn into office—was brought onto the stage this year's "diminished" CPAC gathering to blaring rock music and loud cheers from the crowd.

Addressing the American audience, Bolsonaro indicated once more his doubts that he lost the Brazilian election fairly, saying, "I had way more support in 2022 than I had in 2018, and I don't understand why the numbers said the opposite."

"I thank God for the mission of being president of Brazil for one term," he said, but hinted at a possible third run for president by adding: "But I feel deep inside that this mission is still not over."

When Trump took the podium as the convention's keynote appearance, there again was raucous applause.

During his speech, he singled out Bolsonaro in the audience and said it was a "great honor" to be appearing with the "very popular" former president.

"Our getting back in the White House is their worst nightmare," Trump said of Democrats and his other political opponents. "But it is our country's only hope."

Trump went on to call the electoral process in the United States a "very bad" and a "very dangerous system" that only he and the far-right attendees at CPAC can overcome.

During the speech, Trump vowed to "finish what we started" as the enthusiastic crowd chanted "Four more years! Four more years!"

In the traditional straw poll taken each year by CPAC attendees, Trump won in a landslide, the convention's organizers announced on Saturday, with the former president taking 65 percent of the vote.

The second-place finisher was Florida's far-right Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did not attend the gathering this year despite many viewing him as the strongest GOP challenger to Trump in a possible 2024 primary matchup.

Shocking videos after earthquakes in Syria and Turkey show devastation that left more than 1,600 dead

Thousands of collapsed buildings, widespread destruction, and deep anguish were reported alongside over 2,300 dead and thousands more injured after a pair of earthquakes—an initial 7.8 tremor on the Richter scale in the early morning and another that measured 7.5—devastated Syria and Turkey on Monday.

Amid dozens of aftershocks—and the quakes being also felt in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories—the full scale of the destruction and the ultimate death toll remains unknown, though early estimates of the dead and wounded were rising by the hour.

According to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the quakes as the most severe in the nation since 1939.

The first quake occurred just after 4:00 am local time in Kahramanmaras province, north of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, while the second took place in the southeastern Turkey.

One television crew was reporting on the first quake in the city of Malatya, when the second one hit:

According to Al-Jazeera:

Rescuers were digging through the rubble of levelled buildings in the city of Kahramanmaras and neighbouring Gaziantep. Crumbled buildings were also reported in Adiyaman, Malatya and Diyarbakir.

The death toll in government-held areas of Syria climbed to 339, according to Syrian state media, with deaths reported in the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartous.

Around the globe, human rights champions and political leaders offered sympathy to those impacted by the disaster and vowed emergency assistance to both Turkey and Syria.

Agnes Callamard, head of Amnesty International, said her organization was "in deep sorrow" following news of the disaster.

"We extend our deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones, and call for the Governments and international community to provide speedy search and relief," Callamard said.

Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations, said, "We at UNHCR stand in solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria affected by today's devastating earthquake and are ready to help provide urgent relief to the survivors through our field teams wherever possible."

Kevin McCarthy finally elected Speaker after selling 'soul to sedition caucus'

After nearly a week of chaotic voting on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California was elected Speaker of the House of the 118th Congress just after midnight early Saturday morning after finally securing enough votes in the 15th ballot.

The final tally was 216 votes for McCarthy and 212 votes for Democrat Hakeem Jeffries of New York, after 6 far-right holdouts, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), lowered the threshold to secure the speakership by voting "present" instead of registering a vote for another GOP member.

"McCarthy made dangerous concessions to the most fringe members of the House in exchange for their support in his effort to become Speaker."

Progressive critics responded to the final vote by noting the price paid to win over the hostage-takers in the Republican conference.

"Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly put his personal ambitions ahead of our democracy," said Sean Eldridge, president of Stand Up America, referencing the GOP leader's membership in the "Sedition Caucus" to whom he said the new speaker had "sold his soul."

"He voted against certifying President Biden's victory and obstructed the investigation into the January 6 attack on our country," Eldridge said.

Eldridge noted that over 70% of the current GOP conference in the House "are election deniers, including every single member of GOP leadership." That fact, he said, "should be chilling to every American who cares about protecting our democracy and our freedoms."

"This week," said Eldridge, "McCarthy made dangerous concessions to the most fringe members of the House in exchange for their support in his effort to become Speaker. The punishment for his political cowardice will be presiding over the GOP's conference of chaos for the next two years. Unfortunately, it's the American people who will pay the price."

\u201cHe committed to do anything but focus on what the American people actually care about. \n\nInstead, Speaker McCarthy will continue to do what he\u2019s done for the past 6 years: awkwardly cover for MAGA embarrassments while careening from one self-inflicted political fiasco to another.\u201d
— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1673069548

The 15th ballot followed a dramatic 14th ballot vote in which tensions soared on the floor of the House chamber.

The nearly five-day battle for the speakership is over.

'Long live democracy!' Brazil celebrates Lula's return as right-wing reign of Bolsonaro ends

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday to celebrate the inauguration of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose return to the nation's highest office also marked the exit of far-right Jair Bolsonaro who left his country and arrived in the U.S. state of Florida ahead of the weekend's transfer of power.

After being sworn in during a ceremony at the National Congress, Lula addressed the assembled lawmakers as he lamented the "terrible ruins" left by Bolsonaro, though he did not actually mention his predecessor by name. But Lula also issued a message of renewal and hope.

"Our message to Brazil is one of hope and reconstruction," Lula said in the speech. "The great edifice of rights, sovereignty, and development that this nation built has been systematically demolished in recent years. To re-erect this edifice, we are going to direct all our efforts."

"Democracy was the big winner in this election," he declared. "Long live democracy! Love live the Brazilian people!"

Following his call for reconstruction, he vowed to "rebuild the nation and make a Brazil of all, for all."

Lula, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010, beat Bolsonaro in a highly-contentious election in October amid concerns that the incumbent—often compared to former U.S. president Donald Trump—would not ultimately concede or relinquish the office.

Supporters of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da SilvaSupporters of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva queue at a security checkpoint as they wait to enter the Esplanada dos Ministerios to attend his inauguration ceremony in Brasilia on January 1, 2023. - Lula da Silva, a 77-year-old leftist who already served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010, takes office for the third time with a grand inauguration in Brasilia.(Photo by DOUGLAS MAGNO/AFP via Getty Images)

In the capital city of Brasília on Sunday, throngs of Lula supporters were seen in the streets ahead of a presidential motorcade bringing the returning president to his swearing-in ceremony.

Music and dancing in the streets added to a festive atmosphere even as a strong security presence acted as a reminder of the reluctance by Bolsonaro and his right-wing supporters to admit defeat at the polls. As the Washington Postreports:

the carnival-like party on New Year's Day comes against a tense backdrop, as supporters of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro remain camped outside army barracks here and across the country, calling for a military overthrow of the incoming government to keep their candidate in office.

The threat of potential violence not far from the Planalto Palace, where Lula will be sworn in for a third term as president of Latin America's most populous country, is a stark reminder of the division in the country he is now tasked with governing.

With Bolsonaro seeking refuge in Florida amid investigations into his political dealings and possible corruption during his time in office, the New York Times notes that this means "there will be no ceremonial passing of the presidential sash on Sunday, an important symbol of the peaceful transition of power in a nation where many people still recall the 21-year military dictatorship that ended in 1985."

Interviewed by the Associated Press on Saturday, Lula supporter Eduardo Coutinho, who traveled from his home to Brasilia for the inauguration, said the ousted far-rights president's departure is nearly as sweet as Lula's return.

"I wish I were here when Bolsonaro's plane took off, that is the only thing that makes me almost as happy as tomorrow's event," Coutinho said. "I'm not usually so over-the-top, but we need to let it out and I came here just to do that. Brazil needs this to move on."

'Why are these conflicts allowed?' Corporate giving to group tied to Supreme Court sparks concern

Both alarm and concern were expressed Saturday in response to new reporting about a charitable group with close ties to the U.S. Supreme Court that has been soliciting and accepting donations from corporate interests and far-right activists with cases before the court.

The New York Times exposé focused on the activities and fundraising of the Supreme Court Historical Society, a nonprofit that claims its mission is "dedicated to the collection and preservation" of the Court's history.

While the group refused to disclose its donors to the Times, reporters from the newspaper determined that much of the funding came from powerful companies like Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Time Warner, and Facebook as well as anti-abortion activists like Rev. Rob Schenck.

According to the newspaper:

The society has raised more than $23 million over the last two decades. Because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to publicly disclose its donors—and declined when asked to do so. But The New York Times was able to identify the sources behind more than $10.7 million raised since 2003, the first year for which relevant records were available.

At least $6.4 million—or 60 percent—came from corporations, special interest groups, or lawyers and firms that argued cases before the court, according to an analysis of archived historical society newsletters and publicly available records that detail grants given to the society by foundations. Of that, at least $4.7 million came from individuals or entities in years when they had a pending interest in a federal court case on appeal or at the high court, records show.

In the case of Chevron, the oil giant actively gave to the society even as it had a pending climate litigation working its way through the court.

In response to the new revelations, public interest attorney Steven Donzinger, who was himself targeted by Chevron for his work aimed at holding the company to account for its polluting activities in Ecuador, said the implications were "horrifying."

"Why are these conflicts allowed?" asked Donzinger.

Others quoted by the Times said the effort by people like Rev. Schenck, who admits to using the charitable group as a way to get other anti-abortion activists closer to the justices, creates a clear conflict of interest.

Charles Fried, a Harvard Law professor who once served as solicitor general in the Reagan administration and counts himself a donor to the Historical Society, told the newspaper he was so "horrified" by Schenck's behavior that he may no longer give.

"It's disgusting," Fried said. "Many of the people who contribute have the same reasons I do. You go to a cocktail party and support a good cause. But it turns out that for some people it's not that innocent."

While the Times notes that the Historical Society is "ostensibly independent of the judicial branch of government," the reality is that "the two are inextricably intertwined," with court justices serving as chair of the board and hosting gala events where exclusive access is reportedly part of the allure.

The left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said the reporting raises "significant questions" about the group which has "raked in millions—a significant chunk of it from groups with cases before the Court" over the last two decades.

Fix the Court, which acts as a watchdog organization for the U.S. Supreme Court, said the justification for the Historical Society's existence just doesn't hold water.

And Gabe Roth, the group's executive director, told the Times that if money was an issue for funding such a project it would be the best solution—one free of ethical concerns—for Congress to simply appropriate the money needed to maintain the history of the Court.

'She's just awful': Critics swing after Kyrsten Sinema ditches Dems

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced early Friday morning that she has officially left the Democratic Party, registering as an independent in her state and surprising very few people who have seen her as a major obstacle to her party's progressive agenda while serving powerful corporate interests.

"She's driven by which corporations and lobbyists are giving her the most money — which makes her an elected mercenary, not an elected representative of the people."

"In the most shocking, surprising, and unexpected news in modern American political history," MSNBC host and commentator Mehdi Hasan tweeted with clear sarcasm, "Senator Kyrsten Sinema is leaving the Democratic Party."

The move makes sense, Hasan continued, "because 1) she was never really a Democrat, and 2) she can’t win a Dem primary in 2024. So Sinema being Sinema…"

In an op-ed in The Arizona Republic explaining her decision, Sinema equated the far-right and increasingly fascist faction of the Republican Party with those on the Democratic side pushing harder for action on climate, economic equality, and universal healthcare by expressing her concern that "the loudest, most extreme voices continue to drive each party toward the fringes."

"When politicians are more focused on denying the opposition party a victory than they are on improving Americans' lives, the people who lose are everyday Americans," argued Sinema. "That's why I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington. I registered as an Arizona independent. "

In the still closely-divided Senate, Sinema's move will not be without impact in terms of the power balance, but ultimately that will depend on which party caucus she joins:

PBS News correspondent Lisa Desjardins quoted a Sinema spokesperson who said the senator "intends to maintain her committee assignments through the Democratic majority."

Having helped Republicans and corporate interests block key pieces of legislation that would actually "improved American's lives" during her tenure in the Senate—siding with donors in the private equity industry in legislative battles for public investment and infamously voting down a federal minimum wage increase in 2021—progressive critics expressed incredulity Friday over her altruistic explanations.

"Apparently 'independent' is the new way to say 'corporate lobbyist,'" said radio host Dean Obeidallah in response to the news.

With the party exit coming just two days after Democrats secured a larger 51-49 majority over the Republicans when Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia defeated far-right Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election on Tuesday, Hasan was not alone in skewering Sinema's timing.

"Sinema owes her entire career to the Democratic Party, she's been endlessly indulged by party leadership, but she waits till a moment of celebration for the Democrats to make this announcement," he said. "Like I've said before, it goes way beyond politics or ideology—she's just awful."

As a reminder, he added, "America has no higher minimum wage, no extended child tax credits, and no voting rights protections because of Kyrsten Sinema."

In its response to the news, the "Primary Sinema" campaign, an effort by voters in Arizona frustrated with the senator's refusal to back President Joe Biden's agenda, said: "Today, Kyrsten Sinema told us what we've already known for years: she's not a Democrat, and she's simply out for herself."

"For the last year," the statement continued, "we've been laying the groundwork to defeat Kyrsten Sinema because Arizonans deserve a Senator who cares about them, and not special interests. In one way, Sinema just made our jobs easier by bowing out of a Democratic primary she knew she couldn't win. Now, we'll beat her in the general election with a real Democrat."

Update: The piece has been updated to include comment from the Primary Sinema campaign.

'Monumental victory': Manchin's industry-backed permitting reform defeated again

Progressive lawmakers in Congress and outside environmental campaigners celebrated a defensive victory overnight and into Wednesday after a much-maligned oil and gas industry giveaway was left out of the major military NDAA spending bill introduced for passage in the U.S. House.

"We cannot, and will not, stop until Manchin's dirty deal is completely defeated."

The darling of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the latest version of the Energy Security and Independence Act (ESIA) is permitting reform legislation for energy projects that critics have dubbed a "dirty deal" that would undermine progress to fight the climate emergency while exposing vulnerable communities to harmful impacts of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

After failure to ram the proposal through earlier this year, Manchin hoped to ram through approval of the fossil fuel industry-backed scheme that would undermine environmental protections and diminish the voices of frontline opponents opposed to damaging pipelines and similar projects by having it inserted into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

But after weeks of campaigning by climate action groups and other progressive advocates—and indications that Manchin would not find the necessary Republican support in the Senate—the proposal was absent when the House version of the NDAA was unveiled late Tuesday.

According to Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, in a statement early Wednesday: "Congress was right to heed environmental justice leaders and reject Sen. Manchin's deadly fossil fuel giveaway for the second time in three months."

Warning that the "dangerous legislation would do far more harm than good and be a deep stain on the climate legacy of any politician involved in its passage," Reese said the political reality must be made clear to lawmakers going forward: "fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with climate action."

"The #DirtyDeal to fast track fossil fuels and dangerous extraction has been defeated for another day," said Honor the Earth, which rallied with Indigenous communities and lobbied lawmakers to oppose the deal. "We will keep organizing for a livable economy informed by Indigenous values like respect for the water, land and people."

The fact that Manchin has twice tried to use large must-pass spending legislative packages to try and push through his "dirty deal," said Sierra Club deputy legislative director Mahyar Sorour, means that climate action advocates and Democrats in Congress have seen this game before.

"Manchin's so-called 'permitting reform' bill didn't garner major support, and this time around was no different," said Sorour. "Its dangerous ideas have no place in must-pass legislation today or in any future bill."

Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, said, "The dirty permitting deal did not belong in the NDAA, or any other must-pass legislation, and we are pleased that it was not included in the latest text. We are grateful to the many Members of Congress who have made their opposition clear to a bill that would set back progress on environmental justice and climate solutions."

Just ahead of the NDAA's release on Tuesday, the Congresssional Progressive Caucus officially announced its opposition to the permitting proposal, though individual members had been voicing objections to its inclusion for weeks.

"While many within the CPC are supportive of accelerating and expanding renewable energy transmission," the caucus said in a statement, "progressives have raised objections to a specific approach under consideration that entrenches new fossil fuel infrastructure, undermines judicial independence, rolls back environmental protection law, and impedes frontline communities' input or ability to contest polluting infrastructure in their areas, among other concerns."

Other climate campaigners, while celebrating the second defeat of Manchin's proposal, indicated their fight is not over yet.

"This most recent setback for Manchin's dirty energy giveaway is a monumental victory for the environmental movement, whose strong opposition once again stopped this scheme in its tracks," said Ariel Moger, government and political affairs director at Friends of the Earth.

"Manchin's efforts to tie his dirty deal to any must-pass legislation he can get his hands on are undemocratic and potentially devasting for the planet," Moger added. "With momentum on the side of frontline communities, the fight will continue until the bill dies at the end of this Congress. We cannot, and will not, stop until Manchin's dirty deal is completely defeated."

That message was echoed by Reese, who said, "We've defeated Manchin's dirty deal twice so far, and we'll do it as many times as we must until communities and the climate are safe from rampant oil and gas expansion."

Fetterman taps person who literally wrote the book on killing Senate filibuster as chief of staff

U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman on Friday announced two key staff hires for his office on Friday, including tapping the author of a book calling for the abolishment of the arcane Senate filibuster to be his next chief of staff.

The Pennsylvania Democrat said in a statement that he has hired Adam Jentleson to oversee his D.C. office as chief of staff and that longtime party operative and labor organizer Joseph Pierce will be his state director.

A veteran of the Senate who served under former Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Jentleson also wrote the 2021 book, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern State and the Crippling of American Democracy, which examines Senate rules that powerful interests have exploited to obstruct progressive legislation with overwhelming majority support among the American public.

Throughout the first two years of the Biden administration, Jentleson was a key voice calling for Senate reforms to enact pressing priorities.

When Republicans blocked an effort in the Senate in May of 2021 to establish an official inquiry into the January 6 insurrection, Jentleson, then serving as executive director of the advocacy group Battle Born Collective, said it would be a "dereliction of duty" for Democrats not to reform the chamber's rules to push the measure through.

"There is no longer any question about whether Republicans will put country over party—it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that they will not," Jentleson said at the time. "The only question that remains is whether Democrats will take the steps necessary to protect our democracy, and end the filibuster."

On the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections, Fetterman repeatedly vowed to support the end of the filibuster in the Senate if it would allow for key legislation to pass on gun control, labor protections, abortion rights, or voting access.

At a September rally with voters, Fetterman denounced the U.S. Supreme Court ruling destroying the abortion rights and said, "Send me to D.C. and you will know I will be there to be that vote to scrap the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade."

While Jentleson has been spearheading Fetterman's transition team since winning in Pennsylvania against Republican Mehmet Oz, Pierce served as statewide political director on the winning campaign.

"Joe and Adam are the best in their fields and I am honored that they have both accepted key staff positions for my office," Fetterman said in a statement on Friday.

"It will be invaluable to have a veteran of the Senate and a veteran of state politics in these key positions as we serve the people of Pennsylvania," he added. "Between Adam's deep understanding of the Senate and Joe's wealth of knowledge and experience serving the people of our commonwealth, I am confident that my office will be ready to fight and deliver for the people of Pennsylvania on day one."