'Historic victory': Bayer to end US residential sales of glyphosate-based herbicides

In a move that environmental groups celebrated as a "historic victory" following years of campaigning to remove Roundup and similar weedkillers from store shelves, Bayer on Thursday announced that it will halt the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides to consumers in the U.S. lawn and garden market by 2023.

"Bayer's decision to end U.S. residential sale[s] of Roundup is a historic victory for public health and the environment," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), said in a statement.

"As agricultural, large-scale use of this toxic pesticide continues," he added, "our farmworkers remain at risk. It's time for EPA to act and ban glyphosate for all uses."

While calling the announcement "an important victory to protect the health of Americans," Kendra Klein, senior scientist at Friends of the Earth, stressed that "action on this toxic weedkiller can't wait until 2023. Major home and garden retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's must lead the industry by ending the sales of Roundup immediately."

The key ingredient found in Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide, is glyphosate. Described by the World Health Organization as "probably carcinogenic," glyphosate poses threats to human health and to pollinators such as bumblebees and monarch butterflies.

Bayer stated that it will switch Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers to formulas that "rely on alternative active ingredients" in order to "manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns."

Thursday's decision came in response to several legal battles that Bayer, a German pharmaceutical and biotech corporation, inherited when it acquired Monsanto, a U.S. agrochemical giant and creator of Roundup, in 2018.

Last year, Bayer announced multiple massive settlements totaling more than $11 billion to compensate individuals harmed by two Monsanto herbicides.

In one case, the company agreed to pay $10.9 billion to about 125,000 people who alleged the use of Roundup was to blame for their cancer diagnoses.

The Roundup litigation settlement was preceded by three high-profile lawsuits, in which juries sided with plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma "in finding that their exposure to glyphosate contributed to their cancers," CFS explained. "Plaintiffs Edwin Hardeman, DeWayne Johnson, and Alberta and Alva Pilliod were each awarded between $25 to $87 million."

"Massive amounts of glyphosate will continue to be sprayed in parks, schools, and on food crops."
—Kendra Klein, Friends of the Earth

Two months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco affirmed a lower court ruling in Hardeman v. Monsanto, which found that Monsanto had failed to disclose the dangers glyphosate poses to human health and must be held accountable for the cancer suffered by users of Roundup.

By upholding the previous judgment against Monsanto, Kimbrell said at the time, the court "unanimously rejected Bayer's argument that Mr. Hardeman and thousands of others harmed by their products are prohibited by federal law from suing to redress their injuries."

In a separate settlement last year, Bayer agreed to pay $400 million to thousands of farmers whose crops had been damaged as a result of the widespread drift of Monsanto's dicamba herbicide. That agreement was preceded by two lawsuits that, according to CFS, "likely provided impetus for Bayer to settle."

In California, jury trials over Monsanto's Roundup and dicamba products continue to be held.

Meanwhile, CFS is also currently representing a coalition of farmworkers and environmentalists in a lawsuit that seeks to reverse the Environmental Protection Agency's approval of glyphosate, which was reviewed and registered in January 2020 by Trump administration officials.

While President Joe Biden's EPA admitted in May that the Trump-era assessment of glyphosate was flawed and requires a do-over, the agency failed to provide a deadline for a new decision and argued that Roundup should remain on U.S. shelves in the meantime.

Given that Bayer's decision to stop selling glyphosate-based herbicides by 2023 only applies to consumers in the U.S. lawn and garden market, Klein emphasized that "the battle against this toxic chemical is far from over."

"Massive amounts of glyphosate will continue to be sprayed in parks, schools, and on food crops," she added. "Retailers and regulators must act now to ban this cancer-linked weedkiller."

'No one is safe': Phone numbers of 3 presidents and other world leaders on Pegasus spying list

The Washington Post on Tuesday revealed that three presidents, 10 prime ministers, and a king are among the more than 50,000 individuals whose phone numbers appeared on a leaked list of potential targets of Pegasus, the military-grade spyware licensed by Israeli firm NSO Group, prompting human rights defenders to call for a global crackdown on the surveillance industry's invasive technologies.

According to the Post, the phone numbers of hundreds of public officials, including 14 heads of state and government, appeared on the list. It was not possible to confirm if the world leaders' smartphones had been infected with Pegasus, however, because none agreed to a forensic analysis of their iPhones or Android devices.

The newspaper reported that the list included three siting presidents (France's Emmanuel Macron, Iraq's Barham Salih, and South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa) and three current prime ministers (Egypt's Mostafa Madbouly, Morocco's Saad-Eddine El Othmani, and Pakistan's Imran Khan). Also on the list were seven former prime ministers, whose numbers were added while they were still in office, according to time stamps.

"If 10 prime ministers and three presidents can't be safe from mercenary spyware, what chance do the rest of us stand?" asked John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto. "Since the hacking industry is incapable of self-control, governments must step up."

Railton's message was echoed by Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who has lived in Russia with asylum protections since leaking classified materials on U.S. government mass surveillance in 2013.

"No one is safe from the out-of-control designer spyware industry," said Snowden. "Export controls have failed as a means of regulating this easily abused technology. Without an immediate global moratorium on the trade, this will only get worse."

After obtaining the leaked list of phone numbers, Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media nonprofit, and Amnesty International shared the data with more than 80 journalists from 17 news outlets in 10 countries. The media consortium's collaborative investigation, dubbed the Pegasus Project, was first made public on Sunday. Since then, partner newsrooms have been disclosing more information about the worldwide reach of Pegasus, NSO's signature hacking tool.

As the Post reported Tuesday:

NSO—just one of several major players in this market—says it has 60 government agency clients in 40 countries. In every case, the company says, the targets are supposed to be terrorists and criminals, such as pedophiles, drug lords, and human traffickers. The company says it specifically prohibits targeting law-abiding citizens, including government officials carrying out their ordinary business.

But recent revelations about the targeting of activists, journalists, and politicians contradict NSO's claims.

Etienne Maynier, a technologist at Amnesty's Security Lab, said Sunday in a statement that the Pegasus Project hopes "the damning evidence published over the next week will lead governments to overhaul a surveillance industry that is out of control."

So far, there has been a strong outcry from experts and critics who say that Pegasus malware has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday in a statement that the revelations "are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people's human rights."

"If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true," she added, "then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity."

Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, on Sunday argued that "the number of journalists identified as targets vividly illustrates how Pegasus is used as a tool to intimidate critical media. It is about controlling [the] public narrative, resisting scrutiny, and suppressing any dissenting voice."

"Until this company and the industry as a whole can show it is capable of respecting human rights," she added, "there must be an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technology."

'Pandemic is not over': As Delta variant spreads, US Surgeon General 'worried about what is to come'

During appearances on multiple Sunday talk shows, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy expressed dismay over the current surge in Covid-19 cases—more than half of which are now linked to the highly transmissible Delta variant—throughout the country, especially in areas with low inoculation rates, and urged people to get vaccinated swiftly.

"We've made so much progress over this past year, but what I worry about are those... millions of people in our country who are not vaccinated."
—Dr. Vivek Murthy

"I am worried about what is to come because we are seeing increasing cases among the unvaccinated in particular," Murthy told Dana Bash, host of CNN's "State of the Union."

"And while if you are vaccinated you are very well protected against hospitalization and death, unfortunately, that is not true if you are not vaccinated," said Murthy.

According to the surgeon general, 99.5% of Covid-19 deaths now occurring in the U.S. are among the unvaccinated.

"That's why it's so important," said Murthy, "that we take every measure possible to make sure people have the information they need about the vaccine, to make sure they have access to the vaccine, and to help them get vaccinated as quickly as possible." He added that "it is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic."

The surgeon general's comments came amid a dramatic nationwide increase in the average number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average number of new reported cases (26,306 per day) has grown by 69.3% since last week, while the average number of hospitalizations (2,794 per day) and deaths (211 per day) have grown by 35.8% and 26.3%, respectively, during the same time period.

Although the U.S. made some progress in combating the virus during the first few months of the year, the highly transmissible Delta variant has become dominant in recent weeks at the same time as fewer people have been getting vaccinated, leading to an uptick in infections and mortality.

Last week, the number of doses administered per day (270,592) declined by 35.7% compared with the previous 7-day moving average. Since peaking in mid-April, when the U.S. was giving out roughly 3.4 million shots each day, on average, the pace of vaccination has declined steadily. Overall, 55.8% of the total U.S. population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while less than half (48.4%) have been fully inoculated.

US vaccination rate

As the U.S. vaccination drive stalled, the global circulation of more contagious variants continued. While the Delta variant was responsible for just over 3% of new cases at the end of May, the CDC now predicts that 57.6% of reported cases can be attributed to it.

The rapidly spreading Delta variant is hitting states and counties with low vaccination rates particularly hard.

A recent CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University and the CDC showed that "states that have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents reported an average of 2.8 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people each day last week, compared to an average of about 7.8 cases per 100,000 people each day in states that have vaccinated less than half of their residents."

Earlier this month, researchers at Georgetown University pinpointed five undervaccinated clusters in the U.S. that are impeding the ability of the nation and world to contain the pandemic.

According to the team's analysis: "The five clusters are largely in parts of eight states, starting in the east in Georgia and stretching west to Texas and north to southern Missouri. The clusters also include parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, and are made up of mostly smaller counties but also cities such as Montgomery, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Amarillo, Texas."

President Joe Biden on Friday accused social media platforms of "killing people" by allowing misinformation about vaccines and other coronavirus-related topics to proliferate on their sites. According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, just 12 people are responsible for almost two-thirds of all anti-vaccine posts on social media, and yet "all of them remain active on Facebook."

When asked by Bash if conservative news outlets are also complicit in the dissemination of deadly misinformation, Murthy said that "I think all of us, including the media... individuals, and health professionals have the responsibility to share the truth about health... as science informs us."

"Unless we are honest about the consequences of our communication with people, unless we are rigorous about ensuring that what we communicate is actually sourced from science and not from opinion on critical issues like the vaccine... then we are going to ultimately put people at risk," added Murthy, who on Thursday released a Surgeon General Advisory entitled Confronting Health Misinformation (pdf).

As Common Dreams reported on Friday, experts have been particularly alarmed by Covid-19 lies and misinformation promoted by right-wing cable news and websites. Fox News has been a hotbed of anti-vaccine propaganda from both hosts and guests, but the network is not alone in spreading misinformation and sowing doubt. Last week, Newsmax host Rob Schmitt made a Social Darwinian argument that vaccines are "against nature."

During her Sunday morning segment, Martha Raddatz, host of ABC's "This Week," asked Murthy: "If we don't get this under control now, what do you anticipate the fall looking like?"

"I am deeply concerned," Murthy responded. "We've made so much progress over this past year, but what I worry about are those... millions of people in our country who are not vaccinated."

As millions of students prepare to return to school next month, Murthy drew attention to the vulnerability of young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

"We have to still protect our children under 12 who don't have a vaccine available to them." Murthy added. "Our kids depend on the people around them being protected, being vaccinated in order to shield them from the virus. And that's why, again, it's so important for us to get vaccinated."

ABC News reported Sunday that "amid a surge in cases, Los Angeles County reinstated its indoor mask mandate in all public places for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, and at least 10 additional counties in California, including the city of Berkeley, have highly recommended all residents wear masks indoors again."

Murthy told Raddatz that "in areas where there are low numbers of vaccinated people, where cases are rising, it's very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures, like the mask rules coming out of L.A.," adding that he "anticipate[s] that will happen in other parts of the country."

Alluding to the public health crisis that has killed nearly 610,000 people in the U.S. and over four million worldwide, Murthy told Chris Wallace on Sunday during an interview on Fox News that "this pandemic is not over."

'Democracy will be on the ballot': Analysis shows 1/3 of GOP midterm candidates embrace Trump election lies

Underscoring the extent to which the increasingly anti-democratic GOP has embraced former President Donald Trump's groundless and dangerous accusations of widespread voter fraud in last year's presidential race, a new analysis by the Washington Post shows that hundreds of Republican candidates expected to compete in upcoming contests have endorsed Trump's "big lie" that the 2020 election was stolen.

"What's really frightening right now is the extent of the effort to steal power over future elections."
—Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold

"Of the nearly 700 Republicans who have filed initial paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run next year for either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, at least a third have embraced Trump's false claims about his defeat," the Post reported Monday.

At the federal level, there are dozens of "current Republican officeholders, lining up to seek reelection, who have backed Trump's efforts over the past eight months by questioning the validity of the 2020 result, taking legislative votes, or signing on to official efforts to overturn it," the newspaper noted, adding that 136 of the GOP's candidates for next year's vital midterm races are current members of Congress who voted against the certification of President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6.

Trump's falsehood that he would have been victorious last November had it not been for cheating Biden supporters was enthusiastically taken up by the GOP at the state level, too. Despite a complete lack of substantiating evidence, that fabrication continues to be invoked by right-wing candidates hoping to win office this year or in 2022.

"Of the nearly 600 state lawmakers who publicly embraced Trump's false claims, about 500 face reelection this year or next," the Post noted. "Most of them signed legal briefs or resolutions challenging Biden's victory." Moreover, at least 16 of them participated in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, during which a mob of Trump's supporters sought to reverse his loss.

Although the violent coup attempt carried out six months ago failed, the lies that sparked it have been "weaponized," in the words of voting rights expert Ari Berman, to fuel a wave of voter suppression bills nationwide. Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets and GOP lawmakers—who in May voted against the establishment of an independent January 6 commission and last week opposed the formation of a House select committee to investigate the attack—have engaged in a successful effort to minimize the severity of the insurrection or misattribute blame for it, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

As of May 14, Republican lawmakers in 49 states had introduced at least 389 bills that would either make it harder for millions of Americans—especially communities of color and other Democratic-leaning constituencies—to vote, or grant state legislatures more power to shape electoral outcomes in ways that undermine the will of voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice's latest tally.

While 22 of the GOP's proposed voter suppression bills have been signed into law in 14 states so far, 61 bills are moving through 18 state legislatures, and the potential election of more pro-Trump candidates increases the likelihood of the enactment of measures restricting access to the ballot or empowering right-wing lawmakers to overturn results they deem unfavorable.

The Post reported that "dozens of candidates promoting the baseless notion that the election was rigged are seeking powerful statewide offices—such as governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, which would give them authority over the administration of elections—in several of the decisive states where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the outcome and engineer his return to the White House."

"What's really frightening right now is the extent of the effort to steal power over future elections," Jena Griswold, the Democratic secretary of state in Colorado, told the newspaper. "That's what we're seeing across the nation. Literally in almost every swing state, we have someone running for secretary of state who has been fearmongering about the 2020 election or was at the insurrection."

"There is no political remedy for this except its utter electoral destruction."
—Charles Pierce, journalist

"Democracy will be on the ballot in 2022," said Griswold.

The Post characterized the Republican Party's "growing roster" of anti-democratic candidates as "merely the latest step" in the GOP's authoritarian turn, "which includes the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from a House leadership position after she denied Trump's stolen election claims, as well as the censure of state officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), after he refused to contest Trump's defeat there."

Last week, in addition to further empowering dark money groups to manipulate elections through untraceable campaign contributions, the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority upheld voter suppression policies approved by Arizona's Republican-controlled state Legislature, delivering a substantial blow to what remains of the Voting Rights Act and potentially greenlighting the GOP's assault on the franchise and rule of law.

As Common Dreams has reported, pro-democracy advocates have emphasized that by passing the popular For the People Act, known as H.R. 1 and S. 1, congressional Democrats can nullify nearly all of the GOP's voter suppression efforts.

While House Democrats passed H.R. 1 in March without the support of a single Republican, the Senate, which is split 50-50, last month failed to garner the 60-vote supermajority required to pass S. 1 after Republicans deployed the legislative filibuster to block debate on the bill.

That's why progressives have spent months urging Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster rule so the For the People Act—which would increase ballot access nationwide by implementing automatic voter registration, limit states' ability to purge voters from the rolls, require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions, set up a publicly financed small-dollar donation matching system for candidates who reject high-dollar contributions, and enact other democratic reforms—can be passed by a simple majority of federal lawmakers.

In fact, progressives say, the future of U.S. democracy may well depend on eliminating the filibuster and protecting fundamental voting rights by enacting not only the For the People Act but also the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would increase the number of high court justices from nine to 13.

In addition to the key electoral roles played by state attorneys general, secretaries of state, and governors, the Post noted, "Congress has the power to approve—or block—the Electoral College outcome, as it did after the insurrection at the Capitol had finally been contained on January 6. If Republicans take back control of either the House or Senate, Democrats and voting rights advocates worry that Congress might play a very different role in future elections than it did this year."

Allison Riggs, an election lawyer at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the newspaper that she has "real pause about the role the 'big lie' will play not only in campaigns next year but in challenges to a fair and accessible election," adding that "we expect it."

Journalist Charles Pierce, for his part, argued Tuesday in an Esquire column about the GOP's anti-democratic trends that "there is no political remedy for this except its utter electoral destruction."

"It must be made so painful for these politicians to hold these beliefs that they get scared straight," he wrote.

Socialism increasingly seen as 'badge of pride' in the United States

While a majority of U.S. adults still have more positive than negative perceptions of capitalism, less than half of the country's 18 to 34-year-olds view the profit-maximizing market system favorably, and the attractiveness of socialism continues to increase among people over 35, according to a new poll released Friday.

The online survey, conducted June 11-25 by Momentive on behalf of Axios, found that 57% of U.S. adults view capitalism in a positive light, down from 61% in January 2019, when the news outlet first polled on these questions. Then and now, 36% are critical of the exploitation of the working class and the environment by the owning class.

Perceptions of capitalism have remained consistent among adults ages 35 and older, meaning that the system's dwindling popularity is driven by the nation's young adults. According to the poll, 18 to 34-year-olds today are almost equally likely to hold a negative opinion of capitalism as a positive one (46% vs. 49%). Just two years ago, that margin was 38% vs. 58%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the severity of the climate emergency, capitalism is particularly unpopular among 18 to 24-year-olds, with negative views outweighing positive views by a margin of 54% to 42%.

Even young Republicans appear to be changing their views. Whereas 81% of Republicans and GOP-leaners between the ages of 18 and 34 perceived capitalism positively in 2019, that figure has plummeted to 66% in 2021.

Between the January 2019 poll and the latest survey, the world has been rocked by severe public health and economic crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Jon Cohen, the chief research officer for Momentive, predicted that "the pandemic is sure to have lasting impact for decades to come."

As a result of the deadly catastrophe that has unfolded over the past year and a half, Axios argued, millions of Americans have been forced "to re-evaluate their political and economic worldview."

The news outlet attributed shifting views to two factors. First, the coronavirus crisis exposed profound injustices in the U.S. and globally. And second, government responses to the calamity demonstrated the extent to which state intervention has the potential to mitigate or exacerbate hardship.

Although 52% of Americans still take issue with socialism, the percentage of U.S. adults with favorable views of socialism increased from 39% in 2019 to 41% in 2021. While positive perceptions of socialism dipped slightly among young adults—from 55% two years ago to 51% now—that decline was offset by an increase in the number of adults over the age of 35 who view socialism in a positive light.

Socialism is especially appealing to Black Americans (60% now vs. 53% in 2019) and women (45% now vs. 41% in 2019), two groups that would benefit disproportionately from the downward redistribution of resources and power. Less than half of women in the U.S. (48%) view capitalism in a positive light, down from 51% two years ago. It is worth noting that working-class mothers have been hit particularly hard by the ongoing economic crisis, in large part due to a lack of affordable child care.

Deciphering the meanings of "capitalism" and "socialism" can be difficult, given that both are abstractions being interpreted by Americans through the highly distorted lens of more than a century of pro-capitalist and anti-socialist propaganda.

Looking beyond those terms, the survey found that 66% of U.S. adults want the federal government to implement policies to reduce the worsening gap between rich and poor. That's up from 62% in 2019, which is before the nation's 660 billionaires saw their combined fortunes surge by more than $1.1 trillion amid a devastating pandemic.

Two years ago, just 40% of Republicans under 35 said the government should pursue policies that close widening gulfs in income and wealth. Today, 56% of people in that group want lawmakers to curb inequality.

"Politicians looking to attack opponents to their left can no longer use the word 'socialist' as an all-purpose pejorative," noted Axios. "Increasingly, it's worn as a badge of pride."

Wealth hoarding by 'silver spoon oligarchs' is endangering US democracy: report

The growing concentration of wealth in fewer hands—including among corporate robber barons' descendants who continue, after multiple generations, to wield the "financial, political, and philanthropic clout" afforded by enormous inheritances to "advance their dynasty-building agenda"—intensifies working-class suffering in the U.S. and poses a threat to society and democracy.

"By 2020, the 50 families had amassed $1.2 trillion in assets. By comparison, the bottom half of all U.S. households—an estimated 65 million families—shared a combined total wealth of just twice that, at $2.5 trillion."

That's according to Silver Spoon Oligarchs: How America's 50 Largest Inherited-Wealth Dynasties Accelerate Inequality, a new report out Wednesday from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Analyzing data from Forbes, IPS tracked the assets of the country's 50 wealthiest families—"including the Waltons, the Kochs, the Mars family, and many others, some well-known and others relatively unknown"—from 1983 to 2020.

The "staggering" fortunes of dynastic families, whose "wealth is becoming increasingly persistent," increased at "10 times the rate of ordinary families," IPS pointed out.

"For the 27 families that were on both the Forbes 400 list in 1983 and the Forbes Billion-Dollar Dynasties list in 2020," wrote the report's authors, "their combined assets have grown by 1,007% over those 37 years. This is an increase from $80.2 billion to $903.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. In contrast, between 1989 and 2019, the wealth of the typical family in the U.S. increased by just 93 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars."

Moreover, "those at the very top are blowing away even their closest competition," the report said. "The five wealthiest dynastic families in the U.S. have seen their wealth increase by a median 2,484% from 1983 to 2020." According to IPS:

  • In 1983, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his children were worth just $2.15 billion (or $5.6 billion in 2020 dollars). By the end of 2020, Walton's descendants had a combined net worth of over $247 billion, an inflation-adjusted increase of 4,320%.
  • The Mars candy dynasty has seen its wealth increase 3,517% over the past 37 years, from $2.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $94 billion by 2020. The family has also spent large sums on public policy advocacy to change tax laws.
  • Cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder and her descendants have seen their wealth grow from just $1.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $40 billion in 2020. This is a growth rate of 2,465%.

The past 15 months, in particular, have been a boon for dynastic families, who have enjoyed substantial wealth gains amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the top 10 families on the Forbes dynasty list have had a median growth in their net worth of 25%," researchers found. IPS has consistently highlighted the skyrocketing amount of wealth held by the nation's 660 billionaires, who have seen their combined fortunes balloon by more than $1.1 trillion amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Much of the media's focus today is on new wealth billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk, who have become centi-billionaires in their lifetimes," noted the progressive think tank.

Chuck Collins, co-author of the report and author of the new book, The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions, said in a statement that "when we focus on the surging fortunes of first-generation billionaires—and their shocking tax avoidance—we forget to look at the troubling growth of dynastic families and the changes in tax policies that will enable the children of today's billionaires to become tomorrow's oligarchs."

"In a healthy democratic society with a functioning tax system, wealth disperses over decades as people have children, pay their taxes, and give to charity," Collins added. "But with a weak tax system on wealth—as confirmed by the recent leak showing low billionaire taxes—we are now seeing wealth accelerate over generations, leading to consolidated wealth and power," he said.

"Members of the Busch, Mars, Koch, and Walton families have together spent more than $120 million over the past 10 years lobbying for taxation, labor, and trade policies favorable to their interests and investments."

According to the report, the children and grandchildren of some corporate executives—"who may be up to seven generations removed from the original source of their family's wealth"—tend to "focus less on creating new wealth and more on preserving existing systems that extract ongoing rents from consumers and the real economy."

"America's dynastic families, both old and new, are deploying a range of wealth preservation strategies to further concentrate wealth and power—power that is deployed to influence democratic institutions, depress civic imagination, and rig the rules to further entrench inequality," the authors wrote. "This tax avoidance means less support for the infrastructure we all rely on to preserve our health, safety, and quality of life."

IPS drew attention to the strategies that inherited-wealth dynasties use to consolidate their vast economic fortunes and fortify their immense political power:

  • Dynastically wealthy families wield a great deal of political power, and use it to further their interests. Some dynastic families spend millions lobbying for favorable tax, labor, and trade policies. Several have corporate political action committees which give millions to candidates and campaigns. Many family members give to candidates and PACs; several serve on policy advisory boards; and a few have served in government themselves, including as governors, cabinet members, and even vice president.
  • Dynastic families exploit their philanthropic power too, through charities and foundations. The top 50 families have set up more than 248 foundations between them, housing more than $51 billion in assets. While many move much-needed revenue to broader public interest charities, others fund groups working to reduce taxes on the wealthy and roll back regulations that constrain corporate profits. Some funnel millions to donor-advised funds, which can fund dark-money political advocacy. And in a few cases, family members have used them to compensate themselves.

"Members of the Busch, Mars, Koch, and Walton families have together spent more than $120 million over the past 10 years lobbying for taxation, labor, and trade policies favorable to their interests and investments," according to IPS.

To counter the anti-democratic influences of dynastically wealthy families that "have gained massive and unaccountable financial, political, and philanthropic power... while giving relatively little back to the society that has enabled their fortunes," IPS called for "a more progressive tax system as well as new efforts to shut down the hidden wealth system."

Regarding more progressive taxation, IPS endorsed several existing proposals, including:

  • Greater oversight and enforcement by the IRS, as outlined in the Stop Cheaters Act introduced in February by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.);
  • An emergency pandemic wealth tax, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for last July when he introduced the Make Billionaires Pay Act;
  • An annual wealth tax, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed in the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act she unveiled in March;
  • A millionaire surtax;
  • A progressive estate tax, as outlined in the For the 99.5 Percent Act introduced in March by Sanders and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.);
  • An inheritance tax on heirs; and
  • State-level estate and wealth taxes.

However, "none of these proposals will succeed," IPS stressed, "unless the U.S. shuts down the tax loopholes, offshore tax havens, and dynasty trusts that enable the very wealthy to hide their wealth at a dizzying pace."

In order to "shut down the hidden wealth system," IPS urged lawmakers and the White House to:

  • Establish a federal rule against perpetuities, which would limit the lifespan of trusts;
  • Outlaw certain types of trusts; and
  • Strengthen administrative actions by the executive branch.

In their conclusion to the report, the authors emphasized that "these trends are alarming for the health of a republic that aspires to widely held prosperity and opportunity."

"If we stay on our current trajectory, families of inherited wealth will exert ever more control over public policy and the public pocketbook," they added. "But we can choose to move in a new direction: to enact economic policies that strengthen society as a whole, ensuring equal opportunity and dignity for all, not just the very few."

Every GOP senator but one votes against confirmation of Kristen Clarke -- first Black woman to lead DOJ civil rights division

In a 51-48 vote on Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Senate confirmed Kristen Clarke as the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, making the longtime progressive legal advocate the first Black woman to lead the division founded in 1957.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the lone Republican senator to vote to confirm Clarke, who served for the past five years as the president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal justice.

Clarke's colleagues at the Lawyers' Committee celebrated Tuesday's historic confirmation of the group's former leader.

"With today's confirmation of Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights, civil rights enforcement will once again be a top priority for the Department of Justice," Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee, said in a statement.

"All people nationwide can be confident that we now have a civil rights leader who will enforce federal laws that protect us from discrimination and defend constitutional rights," Hewitt continued. "Having known Kristen for more than two decades and most recently serving as her top deputy, I know she is exactly the person we need at this moment when threats to civil rights have peaked."

Hewitt added that Clarke "has extensive experience protecting the fundamental right to vote and prosecuting hate crimes, and is a proven consensus builder who will be pushing institutions to change while making them stronger. Kristen's work will help to make the promise of equal justice for all a reality."

The Lawyers' Committee described Clarke's "extraordinary record of protecting civil rights."

"For nearly 20 years, she has worked at our nation's leading civil rights legal and advocacy organizations, and led the Civil Rights Bureau at the New York Attorney General's office," the group noted, adding that during her time leading the Lawyers' Committee, the organization "filed more than 250 lawsuits to protect voting rights, advance equal educational opportunity, defend victims of hate crimes, support fair housing, and def[y]modern-day segregation."

Clarke's confirmation was also praised by Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 U.S.-based social justice organizations.

"This is an historic, important moment for our nation as Kristen Clarke becomes the first woman, and notably, the first Black woman, confirmed to lead the Civil Rights Division," said Henderson. "In this crucial role, Clarke will no doubt continue her lifelong commitment fighting tirelessly for equal justice under the law for every individual in this country, including people of color facing racial and sex discrimination, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities targeted because of their faith."

"The Justice Department," Henderson added, "is in superb hands as it continues to restore its role as chief enforcer of our civil rights."

'Direct attack on the First Amendment': Trump DOJ hammered for secretly obtaining journalists' phone records

Advocates for press freedom responded with outrage after the Washington Post reported Friday that former President Donald Trump's Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records and attempted to obtain the email records of three Post journalists who covered Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the newspaper, Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous all received letters from the Justice Department earlier this week alerting them that "pursuant to [a] legal process" that reportedly took place in 2020, the DOJ had acquired "toll records associated with" the three journalists' work, home, or cell phone numbers between April 15, 2017 and July 31, 2017.

"We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists," said Cameron Barr, the acting executive editor of the Post. "The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment."

The records taken include the numbers, times, and duration of every call made to and from the targeted phones between mid-April and late July 2017, but do not include what was said, the newspaper reported. DOJ officials also obtained, but did not execute, a court order to access the reporters' work email accounts. Those records would have indicated the dates and addresses of emails sent to and from the journalists during that three and a half month period.

"The letter does not state the purpose of the phone records seizure, but toward the end of the time period mentioned in the letters, those reporters wrote a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts indicating that in 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had discussed the Trump campaign with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia's ambassador to the United States," the Post noted.

According to the Post:

Justice Department officials would not say if that reporting was the reason for the search of journalists' phone records. Sessions subsequently became President Donald Trump's first attorney general and was at the Justice Department when the article appeared...
It is rare for the Justice Department to use subpoenas to get records of reporters in leak investigations, and such moves must be approved by the attorney general. The letters do not say precisely when the reporters' records were taken and reviewed, but a department spokesman said the decision to do so came in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump's attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.

Officials in President Joe Biden's Justice Department, tasked with notifying the reporters about records that were obtained during the Trump administration, tried to justify the collection of journalists' phone records, claiming that it was part of what department spokesperson Marc Raimondi called "a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information."

"The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required," said Raimondi.

First Amendment advocates were highly critical of the DOJ's decision to seize journalists' communications records in an attempt to identify the sources of leaks, saying the practice dissuades citizens from sharing information that can help reveal the truth, hold the powerful accountable, and improve the common good.

"This never should have happened," the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. "When the government spies on journalists and their sources, it jeopardizes freedom of the press."

The Post noted that "both the Trump and Obama administrations escalated efforts to stop leaks and prosecute government officials who disclose secrets to reporters."

As the newspaper explained:

During the Obama administration, the department prosecuted nine leak cases, more than all previous administrations combined. In one case, prosecutors called a reporter a criminal "co-conspirator" and secretly went after journalists' phone records in a bid to identify reporters' sources. Prosecutors also sought to compel a reporter to testify and identify a source, though they ultimately backed down from that effort.
In response to criticism about such tactics, in 2015, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued updates to the rules about media leak investigations aimed at creating new internal checks on how often and how aggressively prosecutors seek reporters' records.
In response to Trump's concerns, Sessions and others discussed changing the rules to seek journalists' phone records earlier in leak investigations, but the regulations were never changed.

However, "in early August 2017—days after the time period covered by the search of the Post reporters' phone records—Sessions held a news conference to announce an intensified effort to hunt and prosecute leakers in government," the Post noted.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called on the Justice Department to explain "exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past."

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), meanwhile, described the seizure of the three Post journalists' phone records as "a direct attack on the First Amendment by the Trump Justice Department."

"Anyone who was involved in this authoritarian style intimidation and is still at the Justice Department should be fired," the lawmaker said, adding that "history... is not going to be kind to Bill Barr."

After being cut off by GOP senator, Stacey Abrams releases 6-minute rundown of Georgia's attack on voting

One week after Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana repeatedly cut off voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams as she tried to explain her objections to the voter suppression law recently passed by GOP lawmakers in Georgia, Abrams on Tuesday shared an uninterrupted video in which she outlined how specific provisions of Senate Bill 202 restrict Democratic-leaning constituencies' access to the ballot.

During a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week on voting rights, Kennedy asked Abrams to "give me a list of the provisions that you object to."

Abrams began to list several anti-democratic components of the new law. She expressed her opposition to provisions that: remove access to the right to vote; shorten the federal runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks; and restrict the time that a voter can request and return an absentee ballot application—before being interrupted by Kennedy.

She went on to mention that the law "eliminates over 300 hours of drop box availability" and "bans nearly all out-of-precinct votes." In addition, Abrams noted, enabling counties to adopt a 9:00 am to 5:00 pm voting window instead of using the previous statewide standard of 7:00 am to 7:00 pm limits the franchise, especially for working-class individuals "who cannot vote during business hours."

After just a couple of minutes, Kennedy "threw in the towel," as political reporter Greg Bluestein put it in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Okay, I get the idea. I get the idea," said the Republican senator.

But Abrams, the founder of a voting rights group called Fair Fight Action, hadn't finished.

On Tuesday, Abrams tweeted a nearly six-minute video that describes additional provisions that she and other progressive critics of Senate Bill 202 say will make it harder for Georgians—particularly those living in communities of color where Democratic candidates enjoy much stronger support than their Republican counterparts—to vote.

"I know we got cut off before, so let me continue," she began on Tuesday.

In the video, Abrams provides a thorough account of the anti-democratic features of the new Georgia law, which she says:

  • criminalizes the distribution of water or food to voters waiting in long lines;
  • "codifies voter caging, meaning that an individual can challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters in their county";
  • removes Georgia's secretary of state from the state's board of elections;
  • authorizes the state Legislature to appoint a majority of members on the state's board of elections, "stacking it with their allies";
  • allows the state's board of elections to unilaterally replace local election officials;
  • limits the number and location of ballot drop boxes;
  • requires voters without a driver's license or state ID to "surrender their personal information and risk identity theft just to receive an absentee ballot";
  • reduces the time frame to request an absentee ballot by 109 days and stops the request period 11 days before the election;
  • bans mobile voting units used by 11,000 elderly and disabled voters last year in Fulton County;
  • sets a new minimum standard of just eight hours for early voting;
  • prohibits early voting locations from operating outside of specific hours; and
  • "eliminates the online absentee ballot request portal, forcing county boards to manually enter every application."

The new video also has clips from Abrams' interaction with Kennedy last week, including when the senator asked, "Is that everything?"

"Nope!" Abrams responded Tuesday. "With all due respect, I'm not done yet, senator."

Abrams pointed out that GOP lawmakers attempted to include even more restrictive measures in earlier versions of Senate Bill 202.

"Let's not forget that Republicans wanted to eliminate Sunday voting, but we stopped them," Abrams said. "And Republicans wanted to eliminate no excuses absentee voting, but we stopped them. And Republicans wanted to eliminate automatic voter registration."

"But, wait for it, we stopped them," she added.

Senate Bill 202—which Georgia's Republican lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp have characterized as an attempt to "restore confidence in the integrity of the state's electoral system"—is part of the GOP's nationwide attack on voting. As of March 24, legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

In addition to Georgia, voter suppression bills have been signed into law in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, and Utah.

Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman, a voting rights expert, has argued that in the wake of former President Donald Trump's failed attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, state-level Republicans are "weaponizing Trump's lies" about fraud in an attempt to roll back voting rights following last year's historic turnout.

While the GOP has attempted to justify its increasingly extreme voter suppression push by appealing to the need to strengthen "election integrity"—even though President Joe Biden's victory came in an election the federal government's top cybersecurity official called "the most secure in American history"—right-wing figures have on more than one occasion admitted the real reason they are opposed to making voting more accessible is because doing so hurts Republicans' electoral chances.

"If we don't do something about voting by mail, we're going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country," Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News host Sean Hannity last November.

In Tuesday's video, meanwhile, Abrams noted that "in Fulton County, our largest county and one that is predominantly African American, the number of drop boxes will be reduced from 38 to eight for no good reason other than Republicans want to make it harder for people of color to vote."

Last month, Biden signed an executive order promoting access to the polls, while House Democrats, without the support of a single Republican, passed the For the People Act, a sweeping set of popular pro-democracy reforms.

Voting rights advocates say that Senate Democrats can "thwart virtually every single one" of the GOP's voter suppression bills by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. If Senate Republicans try to stand in the way, progressives say, the Democratic-led Congress will need to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster rule.

Study reveals rapid melting of glaciers has shifted earth's axis

Since 1980, the planet's north and south poles have moved roughly four meters in distance, and new research shows that shifts in the Earth's rotational axis have accelerated since the 1990s as a result of the widespread melting of glaciers—a clear manifestation, scientists say, of the climate emergency.

"Faster ice melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s," Shanshan Deng—a researcher from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciencestold the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Thursday.

In a study published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letter, Deng and her co-authors found that changes in terrestrial water storage—particularly the accelerated loss of water stored on land due to melting glaciers—redistributed enough of the world's mass to drive "the rapid polar drift toward the east after the 1990s."

As The Guardian explained Friday:

The planet's geographic north and south poles are the point where its axis of rotation intersects the surface, but they are not fixed. Changes in how the Earth's mass is distributed around the planet cause the axis, and therefore the poles, to move.
In the past, only natural factors such as ocean currents and the convection of hot rock in the deep Earth contributed to the drifting position of the poles. But the new research shows that since the 1990s, the loss of hundreds of billions of tons of ice a year into the oceans resulting from the climate crisis has caused the poles to move in new directions.
The scientists found the direction of polar drift shifted from southward to eastward in 1995 and that the average speed of drift from 1995 to 2020 was 17 times faster than from 1981 to 1995.

The AGU noted that "researchers have been able to determine the causes of polar drifts starting from 2002 based on data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a joint mission by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, launched with twin satellites that year and a follow-up mission in 2018."

Data from the GRACE satellites has enabled scientists to "link glacial melting to movements of the pole in 2005 and 2012, both following increases in ice losses," The Guardian reported. "But Deng's research breaks new ground by extending the link to before the satellite's launch, showing human activities have been shifting the poles since the 1990s, almost three decades ago."

While Deng's team showed that the accelerated decline in water stored on land stemming from glacial losses "is the main driver" of polar drift since the 1990s, the researchers wrote that groundwater depletion in non-glacial regions has also contributed to the movements.

"Groundwater is stored under land but, once pumped up for drinking or agriculture, most eventually flows to sea, redistributing its weight around the world," The Guardian noted. "In the past 50 years, humanity has removed 18 trillion tons of water from deep underground reservoirs without it being replaced."

Vincent Humphrey, a climate scientist at the University of Zurich who was not involved in the study, told AGU that the new research "tells you how strong this mass change is—it's so big that it can change the axis of the Earth."

This shift in the Earth's axis, however, is too small to affect daily life, Humphrey added. It could change the length of day, but only by milliseconds.

Nonetheless, other climate experts such as Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, have said before that the mere fact that the climate crisis is driving polar movements demonstrates "how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet."

Biden wins cheers after sending the strongest signal yet that he's willing to play hardball

President Joe Biden was praised by progressives on Thursday after reiterating his support for returning to the talking filibuster and indicating for the first time that he is willing to go further, if necessary, to overhaul the archaic and undemocratic 60-vote rule that gives the minority party in a narrowly divided Senate considerable power to kill legislation.

During his first press conference as president, Biden noted that there were 58 filibusters between 1917 and 1971, when senators who wished to block bills were required to hold the floor and speak continuously "until you collapsed."

"Last year alone, there were five times that many," the president said. "So it's being abused in a gigantic way."

Joining a growing number of Democratic senators who support significantly weakening or outright abolishing the filibuster, Biden said last week that the modern filibuster—which can be deployed via email—has produced so much obstruction that "democracy is having a hard time functioning" and expressed his desire to bring back the talking filibuster, a significant departure from the current no-show version.

On Thursday, the president again advocated for reviving the talking filibuster. But he also added that he would have "an open mind about dealing with certain things that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote."

Those remarks were an apparent reference to overcoming the GOP's nationwide voter suppression push and corresponding opposition to the For the People Act, a popular and comprehensive set of pro-democracy reforms that passed the House earlier this month without Republican support and was introduced last week in the Senate.

Regarding his willingness to reform the filibuster to achieve his legislative goals, Biden told reporters:

I want to get things done... consistent with what we promised the American people. And in order to do that, in a 50/50 Senate, we've got to get to the place where I get 50 votes, so that the vice president of the United States can break the tie, or I get 51 votes without her.
We're going to get a lot done. And if we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we'll have to go beyond what I'm talking about.

In response to Biden's strongest endorsement to date of filibuster reform, Battle Born Collective executive director Adam Jentleson, who previously served as a staffer for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), applauded the president in a statement.

"President Biden is refusing to let a Jim Crow relic block the results he promised to deliver. He is making clear that he knows he can be a transformational president on par with FDR if—and only if—he ends or reforms the filibuster," said Jentleson. "To achieve the goals he has identified, filibuster reform must succeed in actually breaking Washington gridlock, and allowing the public business to move forward."

The president's statement of his willingness to "go beyond" a return to the talking filibuster came after weeks of warnings from progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers that much of the Democratic agenda—including a major expansion of voting rights, sweeping labor law reform, and climate action—is destined to languish in the Senate's legislative graveyard as long as the 60-vote rule remains in place.

Jentleson called Biden's comments Thursday "an unmistakable signal that he is willing to do what it takes to end gridlock and deliver results."

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