Jeff Bezos praises Manchin for blocking Biden's corporate tax hike

Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' praise for Sen. Joe Manchin's obstruction of his own party's anti-poverty and climate action agenda "tells you everything you need to know" about the right-wing Democratic lawmaker, progressive organizers said Sunday as Bezos weighed in on inflation and government spending.

Bezos tweeted that the West Virginia Democrat saved the Biden administration "from themselves" by standing in the way of passing a methane fee and other far-reaching climate action, paid family leave, an extension of the Child Tax Credit, and other measures in the Build Back Better Act.

Since Manchin announced last December that he would not back the bill, he has called on his party to focus its spending proposal on reducing the federal deficit and easing inflation, which has pushed the prices of goods up by more than 8% in the last year.

As Common Dreams reported last month, Securities and Exchange Commission filings for 100 U.S. companies revealed that wealthy corporations have used inflation as a pretext for raising prices while boosting their profits.

Bezos' praise of Manchin came two days after he took aim at President Joe Biden for demanding that corporations "pay their fair share" in taxes to help bring down inflation.

The Build Back Better Act would have used revenue from higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans to invest in its anti-poverty and climate provisions. The president has criticized Amazon for its tax practices; the company effectively paid no federal taxes in 2017 and 2018 despite raking in hundreds of billions of dollars in sales revenue.

Bezos said Friday that while raising corporate taxes is "fine to discuss" and inflation must be gotten under control, the president's discussion of the two issues was a "misdirection."

CNBC reporter Brian Schwartz noted that Bezos is just the latest billionaire to align himself with Manchin and against Biden. As Common Dreams reported in January, Manchin was showered with thousands of dollars from Republican megadonor Ken Langone after tanking the Build Back Better agenda.

The economic justice group Americans for Tax Fairness (AFT) said Monday it should come as no surprise that Bezos, whose company is worth more than $1 trillion, is against a corporate tax hike and supportive of the right-wing Democrat who stopped the Build Back Better Act in its tracks.

"Jeff Bezos got $77 billion richer during the first two years of the pandemic," tweeted AFT. "Meanwhile, 99% of the world saw their incomes drop."

The White House on Sunday evening echoed AFT's comments.

"It doesn't require a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face, fights inflation for the long haul, and adds to the historic deficit reduction the president is achieving by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share," Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told Jeff Stein of The Washington Post.

Bates added that Bezos has timed his attacks on Biden's spending and taxation plans days after the president met with Christian Smalls, the former Amazon worker who organized a successful union drive at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York in April.

Biden also warned Amazon, "Here we come" following the union victory.

Greg Abbott considers challenging 1982 ruling requiring free public education

Days after rights advocates warned that the U.S. Supreme Court's expected overruling of Roe v. Wade portends rollbacks of numerous rights for people in the U.S., Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said he wants to challenge a 40-year-old ruling that affirmed states must offer free public education to all children.

"I can't believe this has to be said, but ALL children deserve access to a quality public education."

In a radio interview with right-wing host Joe Pagliarulo late Wednesday, Abbott discussed border security and agreed with the host's claim that the children of undocumented immigrants place a "real burden on communities" when they attend public schools, as the Plyler v. Doe ruling required states to allow in 1982.

"The challenges put on our public systems [are] extraordinary," Abbott said. "Texas already long ago sued the federal government about having to incur the costs of the education program... And the Supreme Court ruled against us on the issue about denying, or let's say Texas having to bear that burden."

"I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago," the governor added.

The Plyler case arose from a 1975 decision by the state of Texas to permit school districts to deny admission or charge tuition to undocumented immigrant families. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a class action lawsuit after Tyler Independent School District charged $1,000 per year to children who did not provide proof of American citizenship.

The case eventually was taken up by the Supreme Court and the justices ruled 5-4 that all children in the U.S. were entitled to free public education under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause.

Abbott's comments came two days after a draft opinion was leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court showing that the court's right-wing majority voted earlier this year to overrule Roe, a move that would eliminate abortion rights for millions of women in states hostile to reproductive justice.

"The leaked opinion is an invitation to all manner of challenges to deeply rooted precedents," said Tom Jawetz, former vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

Abbott's threat to the children of undocumented immigrants, said one healthcare advocate, exemplified the late comedian George Carlin's summation of the anti-choice movement's views on the rights of children.

"I can't believe this has to be said, but ALL children deserve access to a quality public education," said Gwenn Burud, a Democratic candidate for the Texas state Senate. "Unlike the other side, I understand what settled precedent means."

'Terrifying': GOP preparing 6-week Federal abortion ban if they win back Congress

Three national reproductive rights groups on Monday announced plans to spend $150 million campaigning for pro-choice candidates in nine states ahead of the 2022 midterm elections—just as a newly-unveiled Republican anti-choice strategy made it clear how crucial it will be to elect abortion rights advocates in November.

As the Washington Post reported Monday, Republican senators have had extensive discussions about the possibility of proposing a nationwide ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy if they retake Congress, as well as new restrictions if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"By them saying out loud that their goal is to push a nationwide abortion ban, it makes it clear that we have to elect more pro-reproductive health champions on the national level and in the states."

The prospect of a nationwide six-week ban is "terrifying," Kelley Robinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told the Post.

RELATED: Legal expert reveals two reasons why conservatives might have leaked Roe draft -- not the court's 'outraged liberals'

"By them saying out loud that their goal is to push a nationwide abortion ban, it makes it clear that we have to elect more pro-reproductive health champions on the national level and in the states," Robinson said.

Republicans have reportedly decided that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) may introduce the legislation, while anti-choice group the Susan B. Anthony List has lobbied potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates to include a nationwide six-week abortion ban in their platforms.

The party is also focusing on how to proceed if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, which its right-wing majority has signaled it is willing to do even though six out of 10 Americans support the 1973 ruling which affirmed that people in the U.S. have the constitutional right to have an abortion.

At least 12 states have "trigger bans" in place, which would automatically ban abortion care in those states once Roe is overturned. Several others have proposals that could become enforceable without the protections of Roe in place.

RELATED: 'This is her legacy': Critics pile on Susan Collins after leaked opinion overturning Roe

If Republicans win the House and Senate, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) told the Post Monday, the party will likely take advantage of their majorities and work to pass legislation which has already been introduced, such as a ban on minors traveling across state lines to get abortion care.

The GOP's preparations to capitalize on a post-Roe reality contrasts sharply with the Democrats' failure to stand united in defense of a woman's right to abortion care. In March, right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia—who has opposed eliminating the filibuster in order to pass his own party's agenda—joined the Republicans in blocking the Women's Health Protection Act, which would codify abortion rights into federal law.

As Democratic strategist Max Burns said on social media Monday, "A Democratic Senate chose to protect the filibuster instead of abortion rights. The first thing a GOP Senate will do is toss the filibuster aside to effectively ban abortion nationwide."

The news of the Republicans' plans comes as progressives warn the Democrats Party have failed to deliver for the working people who voted them into office in 2020. The White House is tempering expectations regarding student loan debt cancellation and numerous anti-poverty and climate action provisions have failed to pass as part of the Build Back Better Act—also due largely to objections from Manchin.

RELATED: If Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Texas will completely ban abortion

One way for Democrats to energize voters, said Burns "would be to find their voice on a national messaging campaign to push back against the GOP's plan to pass a federal ban on abortion after six-weeks—something a majority of Americans strongly oppose."

Meanwhile, the $150 million campaign being launched by Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPFA), NARAL Pro-Choice America, and EMILY's List will include ads, field programs, research, and polling in states with competitive congressional and gubernatorial races this year.

"Let this be a warning to the out-of-touch politicians standing in the way of our reproductive freedom," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of PPFA. "People are watching. People are furious. And this November, the people will vote you out."

Despite soaring profits, 19 Fortune 100 companies paid little-to-no taxes in 2021

In a year when many U.S corporations enjoyed record-breaking profits, some of the wealthiest companies in the nation paid little-to-no taxes according to a new analysis—or even accepted tax refunds—while working Americans continued paying their normal tax rates and faced rising prices for essentials.

"These are some of the largest companies in the world, pulling in billions of profits; yet none will owe a cent in federal income taxes."

That's according to a Center for American Progress (CAP) analysis released Tuesday that found 19 Fortune 100 companies paid effective tax rates in the single digits, if they paid anything at all.

The highest-earning Fortune 100 company, JPMorgan Chase, reported pre-tax earnings of $48.2 billion in 2021, but paid less than 6% in federal taxes despite an official corporate tax rate of 21%.

Amazon.com, which earned $35.1 billion in the U.S. in 2021, paid only 6.1% in federal taxes—all while its growth in profits over the past two years outpaced the wages the company paid its 1.1 million U.S. workers and while the company spent more than $4 million on union-busting to fend off organizing efforts at its warehouses.

"Corporations are looting America," said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in response to CAP's report.

As Reich noted, CAP's analysis showed that four Fortune 100 companies—AT&T, Charter Communications, American International Group (AIG), and Dow—will receive an income tax benefit, or refund, instead of paying taxes for 2021.

After earning $29.6 billion in 2021, AT&T reported a tax refund of $1.2 billion. Charter Communications reported a refund of $12 million after earning $6 billion, AIG will receive $216 million from the federal government despite $9.8 billion in earnings, and Dow will receive $46 million after earning $1.5 billion.

"These are some of the largest companies in the world, pulling in billions of profits; yet none will owe a cent in federal income taxes," wrote Ryan Koronowski, Jessica Vela, Zahir Rasheed, and Seth Hanlon at CAP. "As their investor filings show, many corporations pay a much lower actual—or 'effective'—rate on their profits because of the many ways they can reduce their taxable income under the current tax system. The low tax rates for these companies worsen an already unjust increase in inequality."

Of the Fortune 100 companies that actually paid taxes in CAP's analysis, UPS paid the highest tax rate at just 9.9%—still well below the tax rate established by President Donald Trump's so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). General Motors paid the lowest tax rate, paying 0.2% in federal taxes on $9.4 billion in earnings.

"Policymakers must act now to ensure that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share."

Large companies outside the Fortune 100 also managed to avoid paying taxes despite earning billions in 2021, according to the report. Software company Salesforce earned $2.7 billion but effectively paid $0 in federal income taxes, Duke Energy paid effectively no taxes on $3.7 billion in U.S. earnings, and Netflix paid an effective tax rate of just 1.1% on 5.3 billion in earnings.

"Is anyone else tired of paying more in taxes than corporations making billions of dollars?" asked political advocacy group Progress Iowa.

CAP cited two other reports showing how the wealthiest U.S. companies are avoiding taxes despite soaring profits. The financial data company FactSet collected data showing that S&P 500 corporations' four most profitable quarters happened in 2021, while the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) conducted an analysis "concluding that former President Donald Trump's TCJA allowed many companies to pay $0 in taxes."

The group noted that with control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, the Democratic Party could change the status quo and ensure wealthy corporations pay their fair share in taxes, as President Joe Biden tried to last year by proposing a 15% minimum corporate tax and measures to stop corporate tax dodging as part of the Build Back Better Act.

"Polls show that raising taxes on corporations is among the most popular elements of President Biden's economic agenda," said CAP. "Policymakers must act now to ensure that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share."

House Dems back marijuana industry workers in unionizing push

Workers in the marijuana industry joined union representatives and Democratic lawmakers Tuesday for a round table discussion about a growing push to organize workplaces in the sector and about federal legislation to protect workers' rights in all industries.

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). met with employees from marijuana businesses in New Jersey, where legal sales for recreational use began last week.

Recreational use of marijuana has now been legalized in at least 18 states, with the pace of decriminalization picking up in recent years.

At the same time, workers at Amazon, Starbucks, John Deere, and other workplaces have garnered national attention for forming labor unions and staging strikes to demand fair pay, stronger safety protections, and a say in decision-making.

"I think that one of the things we look at is the cannabis industry really is prime for organizing right now—just like you're seeing with Starbucks, just like you're seeing with Amazon," Pocan told Marijuana Moment ahead of the round table.

Hourly workers in cultivation and retail in the industry earn $15 per hour on average, according to a 2021 survey.

"We're here to basically talk from the perspectives of those workers, budtenders... who are trying to make a career out of it, trying to earn a livable wage, get earned time off that coincides with the amount of time that they spend at the facility, " said one worker named Emilio who attended the round table discussion.

"The cannabis industry really is prime for organizing right now—just like you're seeing with Starbucks, just like you're seeing with Amazon."

Cannabis workers in St. Louis and Manistee, Michigan have voted this month to join the United Food & Commercial Workers, becoming the first dispensary employees in each state to unionize.

At Root 66 in St. Louis, the eight budtenders who voted to unionize had concerns about a lack of consistent company policies and policy changes, no paid time off for sick leave or vacation, and low wages.

"Cannabis workers across the country are voting to join a union because they know it's the best way to secure good wages and benefits on the job," said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook after the vote in St. Louis on April 4. "Workers need economic security and fair treatment in the workplace, and cannabis workers are no different."

Pocan and Norcross, both union members themselves, have advocated for passage of the PRO Act, which the U.S. House passed in 2020 but which has been held up in the Senate due to right-wing opposition and the legislative filibuster.

The legislation "will help all sectors and make it easier for people who want to have an election actually be able to get an election and be able to form a union,” Pocan told Marijuana Moment.

"I think you have potential to see that with the cannabis industry, and that's a good thing," he said. "When people are organized, depending on the position, it's like $3,000 to $8,000 more they can make simply by being a member of a unionized business in cannabis."

West Virginians lead blockade of coal plant that's made Manchin rich

Organizers of the "Coal Baron Blockade" protest which targeted right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's coal empire Saturday afternoon reported that state police almost immediately began arresting campaigners who assembled in Grant Town, West Virginia.

"Sen. Joe Manchin's policies hurt poor people and hurt our environment so deeply that activists are ready to put themselves on the line," tweeted the Poor People's Campaign, which joined grassroots group West Virginia Rising and other organizations in the blockade.

Hundreds of campaigners participated in the blockade of Grant Town Power Plant, which receives coal waste from Enersystems, the company owned by the West Virginia senator's son. Manchin earns $500,000 per year from Enersystems—"making a very lucrative living off the backs of West Virginians," said Maria Gunnoe, an organizer of the action, this week.

At least 10 demonstrators had been arrested as of this writing.

"This is what the fight for a habitable planet looks like in real time," said Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come, of the dozens of campaigners who risked arrest.

Speakers and other participants highlighted the need for a just transition away from fossil fuels including coal, carrying signs that read "Solidarity with all coal workers."

"My dad worked in a chemical plant until he died of the exposure," said Holly Bradley, a ninth generation West Virginian. "We can all find common ground, but Joe Manchin is making it impossible."

While profiting from the Grant Town Power Plant, Manchin has obstructed President Joe Biden's domestic agenda while progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have worked to pass the Build Back Better Act.

The senator refused to back the bill if it included the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), a key climate provision which would have given federal grants to utilities which increase the electricity they get from renewable sources, as well as objecting to the extended Child Tax Credit, paid family leave, and other anti-poverty measures.

About 70% of Manchin's own constituents benefited from the Child Tax Credit last year, and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy found that an extension of the monthly payments "would drive an historic reduction in child poverty, lifting 22,000 West Virginia children above the poverty line."

Manchin's ties to Grant Town Power Plant have only worsened the financial burdens faced by West Virginians, which the senator showed little interest in lessening last year as he refused to back the Build Back Better Act. As Politico reported in February:

By 2006, when Manchin was governor, the plant's owners went before the West Virginia Public Service Commission and claimed it was on the verge of shutting down.
The commission, then chaired by Jon McKinney, a Manchin appointee, raised the rate that Grant Town could charge for its electricity from $27.25 per megawatt to $34.25. They also gave the plant a way to stay in business longer, by extending its power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy by eight years to 2036.
Those changes still reverberate today. West Virginia has seen some of the highest electricity rate increases in the nation. Its loyalty to coal is one reason for that.

In addition to costing West Virginians tens of millions of dollars for higher electricity, said Appalacians Against Pipelines on Saturday, "the air pollution released by Manchin's coal company is causing nine deaths per year."

"Yet it’s the people willing to put their bodies on the line for the world’s future being rounded up and handcuffed right now," the group tweeted.

Noam Chomsky warns of 'the most dangerous point in human history'

Far-right and authoritarian leaders in the U.S. and Russia are pushing the planet toward "the most dangerous point in human history," renowned scholar Noam Chomsky said in an interview published by The New Statesman Wednesday, pointing to Russia's war in Ukraine and the planetary emergency.

Chomsky condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's "criminal aggression" in Ukraine, where his forces have killed an estimated 1,430 civilians since their February 24 invasion according to the United Nations, and warned that the U.S. must help to negotiate peace to avoid nuclear war with Russia.

After calling in 2021 for "enhanced military cooperation with Ukraine"—suggesting that NATO expansion to the former Soviet state was possible—the U.S. should help protect Ukrainians from further suffering, Chomsky told senior editor George Eaton.

"We may move on to terminal nuclear war if we do not pursue the opportunities that exist for a negotiated settlement," said the University of Arizona professor.

Chomsky's comments came less than two weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden alarmed peace advocates by appearing to suggest regime change in Moscow—sparking fears that his comments could further provoke the world's largest nuclear power.

Some international observers have questioned whether the Kremlin has been negotiating in good faith during peace talks with Ukraine that have been taking place intermittently in the past month. Following the discovery of hundreds of civilian corpses in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha last week after Russian forces left the town—sparking accusations of war crimes—peace talks between Ukraine and Russia have been further complicated.

Chomsky, who is 93, said the current state of geopolitics brings to mind the "grim cloud of fascism" that hung over Europe during his childhood in the 1930s.

"It's just gotten worse," he said. "We are now facing the prospect of destruction of organized human life on Earth."

Aside from the threat of nuclear war, he said, the world is facing the planetary emergency and the refusal of wealthy countries to mitigate the crisis by taking sufficient action to draw down fossil fuel emissions and shift to renewable energy sources.

With the Democratic Party in the U.S. facing plummeting poll numbers and failing to deliver bold climate action and anti-poverty measures, the government could soon be in the hands of the Republican Party—which, because of the "fanaticism" of former President Donald Trump, Chomsky said, "barely regards climate change as a serious problem."

"That's a death warrant to the species," he said.

Trump, who continues to falsely claim that the 2020 election was "rigged" in favor of Biden, has begun holding campaign rallies where he's doubled down on spreading the "Big Lie" about his election loss.

"I can remember listening to Hitler's speeches on the radio. I didn't understand the words, I was six years old," Chomsky told The New Statesman. "But I understood the mood. And it was frightening and terrifying. And when you watch one of Trump's rallies that can't fail to come to mind."

"That's what we're facing," he said.

Chomsky noted that the advocacy of "young people dedicated to trying to put an end to the catastrophe," including the global grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, has given him "hope for the future."

"There are plenty of young people who are appalled by the behavior of the older generation, rightly," he added, "and are dedicated to trying to stop this madness before it consumes us all."

Russian artist depicts Bucha victims in photos staged around Moscow

As Moscow residents went about their morning early this week, they may have come across an artist laying face-down in front of government buildings and landmarks, recreating widely-seen images of the alleged massacre of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine which have sparked international outrage in recent days.

Wearing a brown jacket with their hands tied behind their back with white fabric, the artist appeared on a staircase outside the Kremlin, two streets crowded with pedestrians, and a bridge outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, according to images posted Monday by independent Russian media outlet Holod.

The U.K.'s Telegraph reported that the "Bucha-Moscow" action by an unidentified artist was in protest of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine.

The display came a month after the Russian Parliament passed a new law prohibiting the spread of so-called "fake" information about the country's military, which the government has repeatedly told the Russian public is not at war but is rather carrying out a "special military operation" to defeat far-right extremists in Ukraine.

Thousands of Russians have been arrested for demonstrating against the war, including some who have been detained after holding up blank signs.

Images of what Ukrainian officials have called the "Bucha massacre" began to surface on Saturday after Russian forces retreated from the Kyiv suburb. Authorities in Ukraine say they have uncovered more than 400 bodies in the town, with many buried in mass graves and some found with bound hands and gunshot wounds to the head.

The alleged civilian killings by Russian forces have been condemned as a "war crime" by U.S. President Joe Biden, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday called for Russia's expulsion from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"We cannot be serving this war. We have to use all methods of protest available for us."

Russia has denied involvement in the killings and has accused Ukrainian officials of staging a "hoax" and placing the bodies in the streets after Russian soldiers withdrew from Bucha last week.

Satellite imagery has refuted those claims, the New York Times reported Monday, with images and video showing "many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia's military was in control of the town."

Russian support for the war in Ukraine stands at about 83% according to a poll released last week by the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow, but international observers say surveys of the Russian public are unreliable due pressure to refrain from criticizing the government.

With anti-war protests outlawed in Russia, dissenters like the artist who replicated the Bucha images on Tuesday have begun staging unique demonstrations.

In another recent campaign, the Feminist Anti-War Resistance has placed crosses at dozens of locations around Russia, memorializing hundreds of people killed in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in recent weeks.

"We cannot be serving this war," said the group in a statement. "We have to use all methods of protest available for us."

'Body blow to working people': Right-wing Democrats reject Biden labor nominee

Economists and workers' rights advocates on Thursday condemned the latest setback for working people dealt by right-wing Democratic lawmakers, three of whom joined every Republican senator in opposing President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division after being aggressively lobbied by business interests.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) voted against allowing Dr. David Weil's nomination to move forward Wednesday evening, several months after the former Obama administration official was first nominated for the top wage regulatory role.

Manchin and Sinema have obstructed much of President Joe Biden's agenda since he took office—opposing the elimination of the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation and rejecting climate and anti-poverty provisions in the Build Back Better Act.

"This is really infuriating," said Chirag Mehta of the grassroots group Community Change, accusing the senators of repeatedly "delivering body blows to working people on behalf of big business."

Weil led the Wage and Hour Division for two years under former President Barack Obama—and had Manchin's support when he was nominated for the job in 2014—and now serves as a dean at Brandeis University.

Despite previously backing Weil, Manchin expressed late last year that he had doubts about the academic's nomination. On Thursday he claimed he was concerned that Weil would enact policies that would harm small businesses.

"The more accurately you diagnose the American economy, the less likely you are to be confirmed to a position with any control over it."

Weil is the author of The Fissured Workplace, which examines large corporations that classify workers as subcontractors and rely on franchisees in order to cut costs and avoid responsibility for ensuring fair working conditions. He has harshly criticized companies like Uber and Lyft for classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees, exempting them from benefits and workplace protections.

"The more accurately you diagnose the American economy, the less likely you are to be confirmed to a position with any control over it," said journalist Hamilton Nolan.

In the Wage and Hour Division, Weil would have overseen regulation and enforcement of overtime rules, minimum wages, and child labor laws, and could have advanced federal investigations into companies' classification of employees as independent contractors.

Right-wing groups including Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) lobbied Manchin, Sinema, and Kelly after Weil was nominated last year, casting him as a "radical" and complaining of Weil's opposition to so-called "right to work" laws which strip unions of collective bargaining power.

"If confirmed, Weil would use his power to implement the anti-worker PRO Act by executive fiat," ATR told Kelly and Sinema, referring to the legislation which would protect workers' right to organize their workplaces.

The senators' opposition to advancing Weil's nomination "shows the huge power of corporate lobbying," said former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.

"David Weil is one of the most innovative, pro-worker, and ambitious policy thinkers we've got," said Jake Rosenfeld, author of You're Paid What You're Worth. "It was unfortunate his Obama administration initiatives didn't survive the Trump years; it's shameful that Democrats have sunk his chance to try them again."

'This is a tipping point': AOC says Justice Thomas must resign

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday became the latest Democratic lawmaker to demand that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas resign in the wake of new revelations that his wife, right-wing activist Ginni Thomas, pushed at least one Trump administration official to try to overturn the 2020 election.

If Thomas does not step down, said the New York Democrat, his conduct "could serve as grounds for impeachment."

Ocasio-Cortez's call came days after the Washington Post reported that Ginni Thomas exchanged more than two dozen text messages with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after the election, urging him to "Help This Great President stand firm" while former President Donald Trump was claiming the election results were fraudulent.

Government watchdogs and a growing number of Democratic lawmakers have argued that Thomas' actions constituted a clear conflict of interest in cases her husband has heard since the election.

As Ocasio-Cortez noted on Twitter Tuesday, Justice Thomas dissented in a ruling regarding Trump's attempt to block the congressional committee examining the January 6, 2021 insurrection from viewing White House records.

The justice has not recused himself from hearing at least 10 cases related to the 2020 election which his wife worked to overturn, according to The Hill.

Ocasio-Cortez joined lawmakers including Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in calling on Thomas to step down. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was the first Democrat to call for Thomas' impeachment, while Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have demanded that the judge recuse himself from all cases involving the January 6 attack on the Capitol building.

Supreme Court justices are free to decide when it is appropriate to recuse themselves from hearing and ruling in cases; Jayapal called Thomas' decision not to recuse "stunning" and "outrageous."

"Clearly the Supreme Court is in need of ethics reforms," she told Politico Tuesday.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees impeachment powers and proceedings, told Politico Tuesday that he is "very concerned" about the reports of Ginni Thomas' communications with Meadows, but said, "It's much too early to talk about" impeachment or the possibility that Congress could censure Justice Thomas.

Ocasio-Cortez, however, said inaction by Congress would send "a loud, dangerous signal to the full court."

"This is a tipping point," the congresswoman added.

Zelensky calls for worldwide anti-war protests as Russian invasion enters second month

Exactly a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin began his military invasion of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president who has garnered international recognition for his wartime leadership, called on the global community to speak out in unison against Putin's attack.

"Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities. Come in the name of peace," Zelensky said in a video address that he posted on social media. "Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life. Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard."

Zelensky's call for global solidarity came as U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Europe for a three-day summit with world leaders regarding the conflict.

The Ukrainian president addressed the leaders of the NATO alliance in Brussels via video link from Kyiv, calling for urgent military assistance—but stopping short of asking NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a move which would require the countries to target Russian military planes and could trigger "World War III," according to experts.

The U.S. committed earlier this month to sending $800 million in military equipment to Ukraine.

"Say that people matter, freedom matters, peace matters, Ukraine matters. All as one, together, who want to stop the war."

"Ukraine asked for your planes," Zelensky told the NATO leaders Thursday. "So that we do not lose so many people. And you have thousands of fighter jets! But we haven't been given any yet. To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance—without restrictions."

The Ukrainian leader also warned that though he understands that the U.S. has no plans to send troops to fight Russian forces and that Ukraine is not part of NATO, "Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine. Does not intend and will not. It wants to go further."

Biden will reportedly announce new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, targeting dozens of the country's defense companies, more than 300 lawmakers, and powerful figures close to Putin.

Ukraine says that at least 2,500 of its civilians have been killed by Russian forces since the invasion on February 24.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported Thursday that more than half of Ukraine's 7.5 million children have been forced from their homes since the war began—one of the largest mass displacements of children since World War II.

More than 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country in the past four weeks, with more than two million resettling in Poland and hundreds of thousands arriving in countries including Hungary, Moldova, and Romania. Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. plans to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month launched an investigation into alleged "crimes against humanity" by the Russians. Putin's estimated 1,500 attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets have included a maternity hospital and nearly two dozen other healthcare facilities, 330 schools, and 900 residential buildings.

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have made limited progress in recent weeks, and Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Zelensky who is leading the negotiations, said Thursday that the talks could take months but expressed confidence that Russia is negotiating in good faith.

"Twenty-eight days of war have shown that Russia is not a country that can dictate conditions," Podolyak told ABC News. "It seems to me they really do want to resolve some issues in negotiations, because there is the sanctions pressure, military pressure from Ukraine. We have already put them in their place."

NATO has reported that as many as 15,000 Russian troops have been killed and 25,000 have been injured. Ukrainian officials say at least six generals are among those who have been killed, while Russia has acknowledged the death of only one general.

Tens of thousands of people across Europe took part in mass protests against Putin's invasion earlier this month, and thousands of Russians have been arrested for speaking out against the president.

"Say that people matter, freedom matters, peace matters, Ukraine matters," Zelensky urged people around the world Thursday. "All as one, together, who want to stop the war."

'World is racing toward the cliff': Belarus to host Russian nuclear weapons

Anti-nuclear groups on Monday decried a referendum in Belarus allowing for the country to host nuclear weapons, as the European Union warned the development puts the entire planet on a "very dangerous path."

"This move by [Lukashenko] is concerning at any time but particularly alarming given Putin's recent nuclear escalation in words and actions."

Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s high representative for foreign affairs, was among those calling the referendum vote into question, saying it was "orchestrated" by President Alexander Lukashenko "in a context of widespread human rights violations" and the government's "brutal repression against all segments of the Belarusian society."

But regardless of the criticism, the reported results of the referendum—which showed more than 65% of voters supporting changes to the constitution including a renunciation of the country's neutral and non-nuclear status as well as new broad powers and legal immunity for Lukashenko—are expected to allow Russia to launch nuclear missiles from the Eastern European country.

The vote took place as Belarus also prepares to send troops to Ukraine to support the Russian military in its invasion that began last week.

Derek Johnson, managing partner of the international anti-nuclear coalition Global Zero, called the Belarusian referendum "the most alarming thing I've seen in my entire professional career."

"The world is racing toward the cliff with no off-ramp in sight," Johnson said.

Days after drawing international condemnation by invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on his military to put nuclear forces on "high alert," sparking fears that the conflict has entered "a truly dangerous spiral," according to one historian.

Sunday's referendum was "particularly alarming," said the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), "given Putin's recent nuclear escalation in words and actions."

Lukashenko said in a statement Sunday that he may "turn to Putin to return the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions" following the fall of the Soviet Union.

"We are facing a tragedy for Ukraine, but also a major regional crisis with potentially disastrous implications for us all," said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres Monday. "The mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable."

Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde condemned the referendum results, noting that the Belarusian government, which has been run by Lukashenko for nearly three decades, has violated "international law and democratic principles" by incarcerating more than a thousand political prisoners and imposing "severe political repression."

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who ran against Lukashenko in the 2020 election before being exiled, said the public does not support the war against Ukraine, despite the government's claims.

The "best response" by the international community to the referendum result, said Franak Viačorka, senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, "would be sanctions."

"We stand with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in opposing this anti-democratic initiative and will work with civil society to restore Belarus' nuclear weapon free pledge," said ICAN. "We will always stand with democracy against weapons of mass destruction."

Critics want to know why 'bloodthirsty warmonger' John Bolton is still invited on TV

Anti-war advocates on Tuesday denounced the corporate media for giving former National Security Adviser John Bolton—a longtime proponent of regime change and U.S. military action around the world—a platform to discuss his views on the current tension in Ukraine.

MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell invited the former official for the Trump and George W. Bush administrations to discuss how President Joe Biden should confront Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent escalation of tensions.

"We really, really don't need John Bolton's opinions on a new war."

Bolton said that amid news that the Russian Parliament has authorized the use of military force and Putin issued new demands that Ukraine recognize Russia's claim to Crimea and that the West end weapons shipments there, the Biden administration must swiftly take aggressive action against Putin.

The White House's "gradual escalation" of sanctions against Russia is an "admission of a disastrous failure of policy," Bolton told Mitchell.

"Reminder," tweeted Sarah Reese Jones of Politicus USA. "John Bolton is a neo-con whose foreign policy has been consistently proven wrong. He was wrong about Iraq. He has been wrong about the Middle East. He was wrong about Afghanistan."

Bolton's comments came shortly before Biden announced the White House is joining the European Union in imposing a first round of sanctions against Russian individuals and groups in response to Putin's official recognition of the self-proclaimed people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Biden announced sanctions against two financial institutions, sovereign debt, and elite individuals in Russia Tuesday afternoon, calling them the "first tranche" of U.S. sanctions and saying the country could take more action if Russian forces advance further into Ukraine.

Bolton advised the White House to "bring the guillotine down on all the sanctions they've been contemplating and take additional steps" in order to avoid further military action by Russia, adding that the U.S. should have placed more troops in Ukraine several months ago.

"I think we should have had more American forces in Ukraine, not to fight the Russians but to train with the Ukrainians, and to show those Russian generals looking across the border and seeing American flags," Bolton told Mitchell. "Biden took that off the table, saying there would be no American forces involved, and he got nothing for it."

Considering Bolton's record as a war hawk who aggressively pushed the false claim that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction to justify the 2003 invasion of the country, urged former President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal against the advice of international experts, and urged regime change in Venezuela, critics including Win Without War called on media outlets to "STOP giving John Bolton airtime."

"Why is this person on my TV?" asked Andrew Lawrence of Media Matters for America, while podcast host Kyle Kulinski called Bolton "literally the last person on earth who should be giving foreign policy advice right now."

Mehdi Hasan, who also hosts a political news show on MSNBC, warned last week that media outlets that interview Bolton amid flaring tensions in Ukraine must at least "ask him some tough questions."

"We really, really don't need John Bolton's opinions on a new war," Hasan tweeted.

Pulitzer-winning Holocaust novel latest victim of GOP book-banning wave

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday countered a Tennessee school board's decision to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus, directing educators to its resources for teaching about the Holocaust and warning, "It is more important than ever for students to learn this history."

"Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors."

The McMinn County school board's decision to remove Maus from its eighth grade classrooms over its depiction of the atrocities committed by the Nazis garnered national attention Wednesday—the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—when The Tennessee Holler reported on the unanimous vote by the panel earlier this month.

The vote took place January 10, with school board members claiming they objected to the book's depictions of nudity—shown in the context of Holocaust victims being forced to remove their clothing in concentration camps—and "rough, objectionable language."

But writer and historian Michael Twitty urged observers to recognize "the real reason" GOP lawmakers want books like Maus banned.

"It's not cuss words/nudity," Twitty argued on social media. "It's anything that impugns the common enemy of white supremacy."

As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tweeted, the book, written by Art Spiegelman, whose father survived the Nazi regime's atrocities, "has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors."

Others followed the museum's lead, including a comic book store owner in Sunnyvale, California and a podcast host who each offered to donate copies of Maus to families and libraries in McMinn County and a German Studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina who offered a free online course on Maus for students in the county.

The ban on Maus comes as part of a wave of book banning in recent months as the Republican Party has promoted so-called "parental control" in public schools. GOP governors including Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Ron DeSantis of Florida have pushed the notion that parents should have more say regarding Covid-19 public health measures, the teaching of the history of racism in the U.S., and the books students read in schools.

Last week, school board members in Wentzville, Missouri voted to pull Toni Morrison's acclaimed novel The Bluest Eye from high school library shelves, against the recommendation of a review committee of local residents and school staffers who said removing the book would "infringe on the rights" of students.

The book, which tells the story of a Black girl growing up during the Great Depression, is frequently challenged or banned by school districts according to the American Library Association (ALA).

According to the organization, the push to control what books public school students have access to has ramped up in recent months amid the GOP crusade against educating students about the nation's history of racism, issues of gender, or other topics that might make right-wing ideologues uncomfortable.

"We're seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, in a statement late last year. "In my 20 years with the ALA, I can't recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis."

The group recorded "155 unique censorship incidents" between June and September 2021.

Other recent cases involve a Republican mayor in Ridgeland, Mississippi who is currently attempting to pull $100,000 in school funding over the inclusion of LGBTQ-themed books in school libraries and the Texas governor, who has called for an investigation into what he called "pornographic books," citing two that simply depicted LGBTQ characters and relationships.

Nurses' union slams CDC guidance shortening isolation period for healthcare workers with COVID-19

The largest nurses' union in the United States is condemning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's decision to shorten the recommended isolation period for healthcare workers who test positive for Covid-19, saying the move could be "dangerous" for both workers and patients.

National Nurses United (NNU) released a statement Friday, a day after the CDC released new guidelines saying healthcare workers who test positive for the disease will be able to return to work after seven days instead of 10 as long as they are asymptomatic and have a negative test.

"A more effective response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant would be for the CDC to improve existing post-exposure guidance to fully recognize that this virus is airborne, and to strike the false equivalency between face masks and respirators."

The "isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages," according to the agency.

The loosened guidelines are the result of healthcare companies' desire to maintain "business operations, revenues, and profits, without regard for science or the health of employees and the public," said NNU president Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, a registered nurse.

"Weakening Covid-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating Covid-19 surge yet, will only result in further transmission, illness, and death," said Triunfo-Cortez, referring to the Omicron variant which is now driving infections in the United States.

The seven-day average of new daily cases topped 197,000 on Friday, skyrocketing by 65% over the previous 14 days. Hospitalizations have also increased by 10% over the past two weeks, with officials in Massachusetts and other states calling in the National Guard to help overwhelmed hospital staff.

The outbreak is "significantly diminishing" the healthcare workforce as nurses and other personnel become ill, Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told The Guardian last week. The American Nurses Association has called on the Biden administration to declare the current shortage of nurses a national emergency.

Under the CDC's new guidance, in crisis conditions caused by a severe shortage of workers, infected healthcare workers could face "no work restriction" if they test positive for Covid-19.

The agency also indicated that fully vaccinated healthcare workers who have had booster shots will not be required to quarantine after a high-risk exposure, guidance which "ignores basic tenets of infection control and the precautionary principle," said NNU.

"A more effective response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant would be for the CDC to improve existing post-exposure guidance to fully recognize that this virus is airborne, and to strike the false equivalency between face masks and respirators," the union added.

Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases doctor at Stanford University, echoed NNU's call.

Some public health experts have expressed support for the CDC's new isolation guidelines, but workers' advocates are concerned that other industries will begin pushing for shorter quarantine periods—as some airlines have.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, on Thursday denounced a request to the CDC by Delta Airlines to shorten the 10-day isolation period for vaccinated airline workers who become infected with breakthrough cases to just five days. JetBlue Airways made a similar request last week.

Cutting the isolation period in half in the interest of protecting airlines' operations "may put flight attendants in a position to be forced to come back before they feel better," Nelson told CNBC.

"Flight attendants should not be expected to return to work until they test negative and do not exhibit symptoms," Nelson wrote to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Thursday. "We do not know if 10 days represents that 'magic number' but we do not see the justification for reducing the number of days at this time."

Hundreds of flights were canceled in the U.S. on Sunday, a day after the Omicron surge was linked to the cancellation of thousands of flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with crew members calling in sick.

"This is Omicron," tweeted health reporter Helen Branswell of Stat News. "When everyone gets sick at once, systems can't cope."