As congressional leadership pushes Democrats to “act like we are winning” even as a few corporate-backed party members and business lobbyists water down the Build Back Better bill, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders reiterated Tuesday that the package must expand Medicare and include reforms to lower prescription drug prices.”Congress must finally have the courage to stand up to the greed of Big Pharma.””Bottom line is that any reconciliation bill must include serious negotiations on the part of Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry, lower the cost of prescription drugs,” Sander (I-Vt.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “That’s what the American people want.”Sanders also said that a “serious reconciliation bill must include expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids, and eyeglasses.”While Sanders has pushed for the inclusion of such benefits and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices throughout the budget reconciliation process, his comments come a day after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—who, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), has held up the package—made clear that he does not support expanding the federal healthcare program.In a video shared on Twitter, Sanders took aim at the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying and campaign contributions to prevent policies like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices:Sanders is set to deliver an address arguing that “we must end the greed of Big Pharma” at 8:00 pm ET Tuesday online at live.berniesanders.com.Deborah Burger, a registered nurse and a co-president of National Nurses United, warned Tuesday in an opinion piece for Common Dreams that a failure by Democrats to expand Medicare or pass drug pricing reforms could lead to Republicans regaining control of Congress next year.”All of the proposed provisions are enormously popular, as numerous polls have documented,” Burger noted. “The Democrats face a daunting, at best, challenge to maintain their very thin hold on majorities in the Senate and House next November. The reasons are multiple, from voter suppression, to gerrymandered Congressional districts in the many states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors, to the historic record.””Sens. Manchin and Sinema need to support Medicare expansion to ensure that older Americans receive the full healthcare they so desperately need—in West Virginia and Arizona as well as the rest of the country,” Burger argued. “Doing so would both address a healthcare crisis as well as show the American people that the Democratic Party stands with them.”The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) continued to send that message Tuesday, circulating a video about top priorities for the Build Back Better package, from the expanded child tax credit and climate action to affordable housing and the healthcare provisions:”Medicare should cover your eyes, ears, and teeth. It’s that simple,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, tweeted Monday. “It’s time to finally expand Medicare and guarantee seniors FULL coverage.””Voters delivered Democrats the House, the Senate, and the White House,” she added Tuesday. “Now it’s our turn to deliver transformational change to people across America by passing the Build Back Better Act. Let’s get this done!”

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The color of money. Andrey Elkin/iStock/Getty

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.For farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley—the Saudi Arabia of nuts—2021 brought many challenges. Scant snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range delivered almost no irrigation water to the region’s vaunted complex of dams and aqueducts. Record-high temperatures baked farm fields. Before this past weekend’s furious storms, California endured its driest year in recorded history. 
Yet the region’s ever-expanding and very thirsty almond and pistachio operations are thriving anyway. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s latest projections released this month, 2021 almond production will likely clock in at just 10 percent below last year’s, while the pistachio harvest is expected to hit a record high. In Kern county—the nut industry’s hub, located at the valley’s southern end—”optimism is holding as the year in tree nuts comes into clearer focus,” reports the Bakersfield Californian. That’s because lower almond supply will likely boost prices, more than offsetting reduced output; and pistachio prices could get a boost from a bad year in Iran, California’s main rival for global supremacy in that tasty nut. 

So how did the region’s farmers pull off such a lucrative harvest in a blistering-hot, drought-haunted year, largely cut off from irrigation water from the Sierra Nevada? The answer lies under their feet. In short, the valley’s farms have for decades tapped underground aquifers to supplement the dwindling supply of water offered by the mountain range, whose snowpack has declined dramatically in recent decades because of climate change. As their wells drain the aquifers, the ground literally sinks, snarling infrastructure like roads, bridges, and aqueducts. In response, agricultural interests scramble to deepen those very wells, as this startling August dispatch from Mark Arax, the valley’s great chronicler, showed.
As this flow of fast-vanishing groundwater keeps the San Joaquin Valley’s farms humming, chemicals—both naturally-occurring and agriculture–induced—concentrate in the remaining water, creating a toxic water supply for the region’s towns and rural communities, which are largely populated by farmworkers and their families. They also increasingly face the threat of being cut off from home water access altogether, as I demonstrated in a piece last month. 
In short, Big Nut managed largely to escape the impact of the drought, passing its burdens on to the people who make the San Joaquin Valley their home. But something will ultimately have to give. The rapid advance of climate change means that the robust annual snowpack the industry has banked on for decades is probably gone forever. Those aquifers, meanwhile, are a fast–disappearing resource. Enjoy those “Wonderful” pistachios while supplies last. 

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New polling finds that a majority of likely voters across parties are supportive of recent major labor actions as a strike wave sweeps the U.S. and the labor movement shows signs of a resurgence amid the pandemic.
The survey, conducted by Data for Progress on behalf of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), asked nearly 1,300 respondents if they approve or disapprove of workers striking for better wages. The one-question survey references the John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg strikes.
Among all respondents, 74 percent of likely voters say that they either strongly or somewhat approve the strikes, with only 20 percent disapproving — a 54-point margin. Support was strongest among Democrats, where 87 percent of respondents said they approved of the strikes. Still, a majority of Republicans also approved, with 60 percent saying as such and only 30 percent disapproving of strikes.
The survey results suggest that Americans are largely supportive of the current moment in the labor movement, colloquially known as Striketober, as more workers grow tired of working in poor conditions with little pay and few benefits.
This month, over 10,000 union workers for manufacturing company John Deere began striking, objecting to being forced to work long hours as demand for the company’s products soared during the pandemic. The union workers have also rejected proposals to create a tiered system that offers fewer benefits to workers who are newer to the company.
The John Deere workers joined over 90,000 other workers from various industries like health care, food manufacturing and film who voted to authorize a strike recently. Earlier this year, Nabisco workers kicked off a wave of major strikes in the U.S., with hundreds of workers drawing on “the radical energies of a recently resurgent labor movement in the United States — a momentous upswell in a key vector of working-class power,” wrote Tyler Walicek for Truthout.
The labor movement revival is happening against a backdrop of skyrocketing wealth inequality exacerbated by a deadly pandemic that has killed over 700,000 people and counting. In August, as COVID surged due to the Delta variant, and as labor was criticized for being unwilling to work for stagnant and low wages, workers quit their jobs in record numbers. The number of resignations surged to 4.3 million in August — the highest since agencies began recording data on quits in 2000.
The data suggested something that economists and labor advocates have been indicating in recent years: The U.S. is ripe for a major transformation in how workers are treated and compensated, which has been highlighted by the pandemic.
“For the past two years, coronavirus placed the importance of our nation’s workers at the forefront of voters’ minds,” Ethan Winter, Senior Polling Analyst at Data for Progress, told Truthout. “As workers flex their power, our polling shows that Americans across the political spectrum by and large support their fight for better working conditions and pay, a critical indicator of the power of the labor movement heading into 2022.”

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

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For those still playing along at home, still chasing the details of this long and ugly slog toward passage of a standard infrastructure bill and a second bill called the Build Back Better Act, this latest update brings grim tidings.
Due almost entirely to their own self-interest and devoted service to those who fund their campaigns, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have managed to either kill or mortally wound multiple elements of the social infrastructure bill that would have dramatically improved the lives of millions. Many of those items had already been removed from the standard infrastructure bill, on the promise they would be included in the second bill. This was a lie.
Gone, or almost gone from the bill are vital new climate provisions that would force utilities to move to clean energy; a Medicare expansion that includes dental, vision and hearing coverage; prescription drug pricing reform that is vital to funding the bill itself; free community college; new taxes on the ultra-wealthy; and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Manchin and Sinema did this, with some backstopping from a few House Democrats deep in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry. The Republicans barely had to get out of bed. “We’re still ‘no’ on everything,” they’ve occasionally reminded us as they sit back and watch the shit show unfold.
After days of relative silence as these provisions were stripped from the bill, Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) — by far and away the most constructive and fair-handed players in this process — sounded a warning alarm: If the Medicare expansion and climate provisions are removed from the bill, despite numerous promises they would be included, there is no promise the 96-strong Caucus will vote to approve it.
Without their votes, the bill is almost certainly doomed in the House, as less than 10 Republican House members have indicated they will support it. The Congressional Progressive Caucus votes are the margin, and at present, that margin is in peril.
“Bottom line is that any reconciliation bill must include serious negotiations on the part of Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry, lower the cost of prescription drugs. That’s what the American people want,” Sanders said forcefully on Tuesday, adding that a “serious reconciliation bill must include expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses.”
“Progressives are fighting to tackle the climate crisis, expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing, and guarantee family leave in America,” tweeted progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar. “These are the investments major countries make in their communities and we can too.”
“Medicare treats your eyes, teeth, and ears like they’re not part of your body,” tweeted progressive Rep. Cori Bush. “It makes no sense. The Build Back Better Act currently expands Medicare to cover vision, dental, and hearing. We need to make sure that happens.”
The Democratic senator from West Virginia coal was unmoved.
“Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday shut down one of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’s biggest priorities, expanding Medicare, which Manchin warned would undermine the solvency of the broader program,” reports The Hill. “Sanders insisted in a tweet Saturday that his proposal to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision must be included in a budget reconciliation package that is likely to come in well below the $3.5 trillion price tag Democratic leaders initially envisioned. But Manchin on Monday threw cold water on Sanders’s push to expand Medicare, warning the program faces insolvency in 2026.”
Manchin is also insisting the price tag for the social infrastructure bill be no higher than $1.5 trillion, a full $2 trillion less than the amount Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus settled on after much compromise.
This is the politics of fiction, of cowardly lions with gavels and titles, all roar and no bite.Because these are Democrats we are talking about, we are now required to cross the ever-treacherous span between the nauseating and the utterly surreal. On the far side of that chasm stand House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who have spent this entire endeavor watching Pelosi’s precious “moderate” Democrats gnaw through these bills like beavers.
At a historic crossroads that is nothing less than a genuine existential crisis, the speaker and the majority leader have watched as life-and-death provisions of these bills are chopped away by fellow Democrats chasing dollar signs around the building. Their advice to every Democrat in the face of this? Don’t worry, be happy!
“If we don’t act like we are winning, the American people won’t believe it either,” Hoyer reportedly told Democrats during a recent private meeting. Pelosi, for her part, has been telling her caucus that the contest is over, and the corporations have won again. “Embrace this,” she reportedly told the room during that same private meeting, “and have a narrative of success.”
Yes, of course, pretend to lead and have a “narrative of success” so people “believe we’re winning.” This is the politics of fiction, of cowardly lions with gavels and titles, all roar and no bite. That should have been the Democratic Party slogan since right about when Pelosi and Hoyer got involved in big-time politics. “Democrats: Pretending to Lead Since 1981, Because Reagan Was Scary and Republicans Say Mean Things.”
This is not entirely true, of course. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has from top to bottom fought the good fight since the beginning. If they could be criticized for anything, it is that they were credulous enough to believe the promise that those vital provisions stripped from the infrastructure bill would be revived in the Build Back Better Act.
Perhaps they should have chosen the infrastructure bill as their hill to die on, an immediate signal that compromising on such life-or-death provisions was unacceptable. That’s all hindsight, and besides, how much can the CPC do when the party’s leadership folds like a hotel laundromat?
Another twinkle of a bright spot: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wildly popular “two cents” campaign platform to tax the ultra-wealthy may become part of the Build Back Better Act, a replacement for the other taxation vehicles that were gutted from the bill. The idea being proposed is not exactly the same as hers, but it is a close cousin, and would do much to claw back some of the money Donald Trump gave away to his rich pals in December of 2017. Whether it survives the denuding process remains to be seen.
Soon, soon, Pelosi and company keep telling us. The bills will be ready for passage soon… but the Congressional Progressive Caucus may have something to say about that before the deal goes down. It’s a dirty business, and it’s not finished yet.

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Al Drago/The New York Times/Bloomberg

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.Less than a week out from COP26, the UN Climate Change conference, the United States has yet to develop a solid plan to rein in climate change. Opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator with deep ties to energy industries, has stripped the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) from the Democrats’ spending bill, removing roughly a third of the hoped-for emissions cuts and crippling the Biden administration’s goals of weaning America off fossil fuels and slashing net greenhouse-gas emissions to roughly half of their 2005 levels by 2030.
President Joe Biden last week announced a “Plan B” to meet emissions pledges without the CEPP—by using wind and solar energy incentives, new regulations, and clean energy laws. And while an analysis shows that such policies may help the US hit its emissions targets, there will be significant obstacles to their implementation. The Plan B also sidesteps meaningful fossil-fuel regulation, which is needed to curb global warming.
“The simplest way to look at the climate problem is fossil fuel production, because three quarters of global emissions and 80 percent of US emissions come from oil, gas and coal. So we cannot continue to produce more than we can afford to burn and still stay below the temperature guard rails,” notes Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. I called Siegel to talk about what lies ahead at COP26 next week—and what a weakened US climate policy means for the rest of the world.  
Without a clear path, environmental advocates fear that world leaders will fail to meet the urgency of this moment. Some, Siegel included, are calling on Biden to circumvent lawmakers and address climate through executive action. “It’s always been entirely predictable that we would be where we are right now with Congress, because this is where we’ve been for 30 years with Congress,” she told me. “Biden needs to transcend that thinking, realize that Joe Manchin is going to do the bidding of fossil fuel companies, and actually be the climate president we need, because we’re simply out of time.”
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
What will be the effect of Congress scaling back the proposed climate spending?
That’s up to President Biden. The President has really broad powers under existing law to do so many of the things that need to get done to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions and to bring the kind of package that he needs to bring to Glasgow in order to have success there. Additional spending from Congress would certainly be welcome, and is very important.
If the US isn’t meeting its emissions targets, how might developing nations respond?
Less action, to the detriment of everybody. That is what we’ve seen. The Clinton Administration went to Kyoto in 1997 and made a lot of commitments in terms of clean energy finance to countries like China and India, and then reneged on those. And then we saw a massive coal buildout in those countries. That didn’t have to happen. The irony of US politicians continuing to blame the current situation on China and India is that that happened in large part because the US reneged on its commitments.
Is it accurate to say that the US can make or break the effectiveness of the summit?
Yes. President Biden is going to make or break Glasgow, that is absolutely correct.
What are some executive actions Biden can take?
The number one thing is federal fossil fuel production. Twenty-five percent of US greenhouse gas emissions come from oil, gas, and coal that is publicly owned. It’s held in trust for the American people by the federal government. Historically, the government has auctioned it off to oil, gas, and coal companies for development and that needs to stop.
It is absolutely absurd for the federal government to be holding additional oil, gas, and coal lease sales—because there’s already enough oil, gas and coal in developed reserves to blow way past 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees. President Biden has promised to do this and also to wind down existing extraction on federal land. And he can do that under existing law, onshore and offshore.
What other executive actions are available?
The president can and must declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act. This is important for communicating the urgency of the problem, but it also unlocks emergency powers that the president can use. Generally, Congress controls the purse strings, but with emergency powers Biden can redirect a portion of military spending towards renewable energy infrastructure, for example.
He could also reinstate the crude oil export ban. When we were at the Paris climate talks in 2015, Congress lifted the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. This was because the North American fracking boom was just getting going. Lifting the ban just completely supercharged that. Crude oil exports shot up 750 percent, so that a quarter of US oil production is currently being exported. To put that ban back in place, in conjunction with these other policies that we’re advocating, is a really important piece of this. The only thing that Biden needs to do to reinstate that ban is to declare a national emergency.
Do fears of political repercussions play a role in Biden’s reluctance to take these actions?
They probably do, but I think those concerns are misplaced. For my entire career, the idea has been “if we just do a little bit, if we just pick the easy things, and we just get some compromise, and we just get some members of Congress to go along with it, then we’ll set ourselves up and then we can go faster later.” That approach has failed.
The fossil fuel industry and the politicians who are doing their bidding are going to throw everything they have into opposing climate action. The industry has lied for decades about climate science, has funded this massive disinformation campaign, and has blocked progress. In order to have a fighting chance at maintaining a livable planet, we need Biden to actually start taking the big, bold, transformative actions. He can do that under existing law.
If not, what happens?
If the Biden administration settles, that means climate catastrophe. We’re out of time for half-steps on climate. The United States is the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse polluter. We’re on a bus speeding toward the climate cliff and easing up on the accelerator a little bit is not going to prevent us from going over the cliff. We need the driver to slam on the brakes. And that’s what Joe Biden has to do.
One criticism of doing things by executive action is that they can be rolled back pretty easily by the next president.
Not everything can be rolled back necessarily. I agree with the premise that the next president can come in and reverse a lot of things. But that takes time. And when you put good, strong transformative policies in place, and they have several years, three years or seven years, to get going, we’re going to start reaping the benefits. As a practical matter, even if you have another pro-fossil-fuel, climate-denying president come in, they’re not going to be able to reverse it all.
President Obama withdrew a large portion of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from offshore oil and gas development and we were  in litigation over whether Trump could come in and undo that and we won in district court. Good, strong policies for what happens in the very near term are in place for three years. Even if another disastrous president comes in and tries to reverse it, in many ways they will not be able to do so. Trump did everything possible to revive the coal industry, but he couldn’t.
How might a pared-back US agenda deincentivize other nations?
The effect is tremendous. The United States for many, many years has been one of the top barriers to good, strong agreements and international progress. So it is essential that Biden take strong commitments to Glasgow. If he can’t get them out of Congress, he needs to bring them himself.
Biden has made statements suggesting he will still promise a strong commitment in Glasgow regardless of what happens with the spending bill. Will other nations buy that?
They’re not going to listen to it if he doesn’t go to Glasgow with a good package. And time is short. Biden can do it with the stroke of a pen. The Obama administration went to Paris and said, “Okay, here’s what we’ve done. And here’s what we’re gonna do.” The Paris Agreement is far from everything we need, but that’s why we have what we have. Climate targets and that agreement about what needs to happen to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees are because Obama went there and said, “I can put some commitments on the table.” Biden needs to do that, but so much more and so much faster.
What makes a strong climate package?
A good package has to be fair, ambitious and binding. Biden needs to commit to science-based reduction targets. Scientists have said we need to cut greenhouse emissions in half in the next decade to have a fighting chance. The US is the richest country in the world—the world’s largest cumulative climate polluter. It needs to be doing better than the global average, so it needs to be going 70 percent or more in reductions over the next decade, and then put in a lot of finance and support for developing countries that are already suffering appalling loss and damage from the crisis. There is this huge gap between the agreement to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees and what countries need to do to achieve that. The most important thing is not the promise for 2050. It’s the promise for the next decade.
You’re saying because we’ve long been the world’s biggest carbon polluter, we should now sacrifice more?
Yes. The United States in the 1990s agreed to do so. That was the basic agreement—that the richest countries who did the most to cause the problem would also do the most to fix it. And yet, having agreed to that, successive administrations have instead tried to blame the developing world.
 Do individual US states have a key role to play in all of this?
Absolutely. Leadership at the state level is absolutely important. That is why we have been pressing Governor Newsom on California’s dirty oil production—to actually join the first movers of the world in limiting fossil-fuel production. Governors, sub-national leaders from around the world, can definitely demonstrate leadership, and use their executive authority to get it done.
What are your thoughts on Biden’s so-called Plan B?
It’s my assumption that that’s not fully fleshed out yet. There is not enough in what the administration has announced to get us where we need to be. I think executive action should have been Plan A. That would have made far more sense, because that’s what Biden has total control over. Obama did the exact same thing: The administration said, “We’d like to pass climate legislation, but if we don’t, we’ll use our executive authority.” That just doesn’t make any sense. We’re in a climate emergency. The president needs to use all existing authority to move everything forward as quickly as possible, and then also try to get Congress to do its part. I don’t think the Plan B framing makes any sense and I would urge the administration not to use that.
What do you expect will come out of COP26?
The big thing is to up the commitments on emissions and fossil fuel production. There’s a huge gap between what needs to happen to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, and what countries have pledged. There’s a huge gap between the amount of oil, gas, and coal that can be dug up and burned and what the world’s fossil fuel producers are planning to do. Those gaps have to be narrowed by countries upping their emissions reduction pledges.
Does it seem possible the summit will result in the world meeting its emission targets?
That is extremely unlikely. However, we have to keep demanding it. 
What authority will an international climate treaty have?
Enforcement is always very difficult.  The United States agreed to do certain things back in the 1990s. It hasn’t done them and, unfortunately, there has been no consequence. It’s a global problem and we need a global solution—we desperately need international cooperation. The power of having a treaty each country has agreed to and will be accountable to is very important. To create the international norm, that world leaders will work together to get it done is incredibly important. We can’t underestimate the power of making that happen.
Do you think it’s problematic that a lawmaker like Joe Manchin, who is backed by fossil-fuel interests, is allowed to dictate climate policy?
Absolutely. This is a moral issue. It’s a question of life or death. The politicians who are opposing [ambitious reforms] are doing it for the sake of fossil fuel corporation profits and their own financial gain. And it’s morally shocking.

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When governors and state legislators impose bans on mask mandates in schools, they’re being jerks just because they can. Maybe it gives them some sort of cheap thrill to show that they can push people around, because there is no other reason to take such ridiculous action.

And what a waste of time and energy it is to have to fight back against jerks like these. It’s as frustrating as arguing with your drunk, fascist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. Where do you even begin to address the nonsense?

The bans may be preventing schools  “from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

But fight back we must. Because unlike your uncle, these jerks have the power to take actions that hurt people. And the people they stand to hurt most are children with disabilities, because, obviously, they are very vulnerable to contracting and being wrecked by COVID-19 if they’re forced to go to school where people feel no need to take any precautions.

So it is on their behalf that successful resistance to this silliness has emerged.

In May, Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation banning local school districts from implementing universal mask policies on school property. Shortly after the school year began, the Arc of Iowa, an organization that “promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” joined the ACLU in filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of several Iowa disabled students.

The suit charged that Reynolds’s policy violated the Americans With Disabilities Act as it subjected these students to an unnecessary health burden just for attending school. The lawsuit asked for a temporary restraining order stopping enforcement of the law, which the judge granted.

Families of disabled students in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Tennessee have also filed suits challenging mask mandate restrictions. It’s hilariously ironic that the executive order issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis restricting school mask mandates says one of its goals is to “protect children with disabilities or health conditions who would be harmed by certain protocols such as face masking requirements.”

Also at the beginning of the school year, the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to the state education director in Iowa, informing her that the office would be conducting an investigation to determine if the school mask mandate violates the ADA. 

The DOE also sent letters to the state education directors of Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, where similar school mask mandate bans were put in place. The letters expressed concern that the bans may be preventing schools  “from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

Let’s hope that all of these efforts are successful in fighting back against this mask-banning abuse of power, so the rest of us won’t have to.

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As dozens of states across the country prepare to begin or finalize the Constitutionally mandated process of redrawing their congressional districts, most Americans say they would prefer a nonpartisan commission take the lead in producing such maps, rather than state legislatures.
Most maps are redrawn, however, by legislatures, which means they’re often crafted by the political party in power, creating a conflict of interest. In Texas, for example, congressional lines that were recently redrawn and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will likely keep Republicans in the majority within that state’s delegation until at least the next census takes place.
Americans, for the most part, are untrusting of this manner of drawing political maps. An Economist/YouGov poll from August found that 50 percent of voters would prefer an independent commission to draw their own state’s congressional districts, while only 17 percent said they would like legislatures to be in charge.
But in spite of those preferences, most states employ the legislature-drawn method of redrawing maps, with 33 states using that process as their way of doing so. In just eight states are independent commissions used primarily to redraw congressional boundaries, while two other states use a hybrid model.
Unsurprisingly, Americans view the way maps are set to be drawn over the next year with a deeply skeptical eye. Just 16 percent of voters — less than one-in-six in the U.S. — in that same Economist/YouGov poll think their state’s districts will be redrawn fairly. Forty-four percent say they won’t be drafted in a fair way, while another 40 percent are unsure if they will be.
Americans are right to have misgivings about the way maps are being redrawn. According to the non-partisan anti-corruption group RepresentUs, at least 35 states are at risk of having their maps “rigged” — that is, to favor one party over another in an unfair way — during this cycle of redistricting.
“The redistricting laws in these states provide little protection against politicians manipulating district maps for partisan or personal gain,” the organization’s report read. “Unless these systems change in the next few months, more than 188 million people will live with the threat of gerrymandering and rigged maps for the next 10 years.”
The group, like many others with similar aims, had called on Congress to pass the For the People Act, which would have required all states to adopt nonpartisan redistricting processes. However, that bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster in June, and a similar bill, the Freedom to Vote Act (which would have provided safeguards to discourage partisan gerrymandering), was also blocked this past month.
While many states have yet to finish their redistricting processes (with a number of them not set to be completed until next year), six states have already finalized their maps. Court challenges to the boundaries they have drawn, however, have just started.
Several Latinx groups in Texas, for example, have already filed a lawsuit after the state legislature passed the redrawn maps last week. While Texas has gained two additional congressional seats as a result of last year’s census, the legislature did not produce any new seats that represent an area where nonwhite populations are the majority of a district’s population — in spite of the fact that Latinx people accounted for more than half of the state’s growth since 2010.
“Texas has a unique record of disregarding the growth of the Latino community that goes back decades and leads to successful lawsuits” like what was filed last week, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to NBC News. “The maps are typical of that long-standing and unique record of disregard for Latino civil rights.”

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Countries’ current climate pledges put the world “on track for a catastrophic global temperature rise” of about 2.7°C, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned Tuesday, calling a new report released ahead of a key summit “another thundering wake-up call.””The era of half-measures and hollow promises must end.”The Emissions Gap Report 2021, an annual assessment from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), comes as world leaders prepare to meet in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday for COP 26. They are set to discuss efforts to meet the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rise this century “well below” 2°C, preferably limiting it to 1.5°C.However, countries’ latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), along with other commitments made for 2030, suggest the international community will blow past both of those targets without more ambitious action to slash emissions, according to the UNEP report.”The emissions gap is the result of a leadership gap,” Guterres declared in his Tuesday address, noting that the report “shows that countries are squandering a massive opportunity to invest Covid-19 fiscal and recovery resources in sustainable, cost-saving, planet-saving ways.””Scientists are clear on the facts. Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions,” he said. “They need to come to Glasgow with bold, time-bound, front-loaded plans to reach net-zero.””To decarbonize every sector—from power, to transport, farming, and forestry. To phase out coal,” the U.N. chief continued. “To end subsidies for fossil fuels and polluting industries. To put a price on carbon, and to channel that back to creating green jobs. And obviously, to provide at least $100 billion each year to the developing world for climate finance.””Leaders can still make this a turning point to a greener future instead of a tipping point to climate catastrophe,” said Guterres. “The era of half-measures and hollow promises must end.”Various assessments released before the summit in Scotland have underscored the necessity of bold and immediate action, including the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the World Meteorological Organization’s announcement Monday that carbon dioxide concentrations in 2020 hit levels not seen for roughly three million years.Related Content Reflecting “a world of climate promises not yet delivered,” the new UNEP report also serves as a call to action, particularly for rich nations most responsible for the climate emergency.The report details how parties to the Paris agreement have put forth “insufficient” climate plans. The NDCs for 2030, if continued throughout this century, would still lead to a global temperature rise of 2.7°C beyond pre-industrial levels. Achieving nations’ net-zero pledges “would improve the situation, limiting warming to about 2.2°C” by 2100.However, Group of 20 (G20) nations—the world’s top economies—”do not have policies in place to achieve even the NDCs,” the report says, and making changes to meet the 2030 commitments would not be enough to put countries on a “clear path towards net-zero.”Meanwhile, this year “thousands of people have been killed or displaced and economic losses are measured in the trillions,” the report highlights, pointing to “extreme weather events around the world—including flooding, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and heatwaves.”As Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, put it: “Climate change is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem.””To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions: eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts,” Andersen said. “The clock is ticking loudly.””The world has to wake up to the imminent peril we face as a species,” she added, calling on countries to urgently implement policies to meet existing commitments. “It is also essential to deliver financial and technological support to developing nations—so that they can both adapt to the impacts of climate change already here and set out on a low-emissions growth path.”Related Content The report factors in new or updated NDCs from 121 parties, responsible for just over half of planet-heating emissions, submitted by the end of September as well as pledges from China, Japan, and South Korea—though countries continue to put forward plans in the lead-up to the summit.Alok Sharma, incoming COP 26 president, noted Tuesday that previous analyses projected “commitments made in Paris would have capped the rise in temperature to below 4°C.””So there has been progress, but not enough,” he said, referencing the new report. “That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments to 2030 if we are to keep 1.5°C in reach over this critical decade.”

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Top Democrats are preparing a new tax plan that would levy a tax on billionaires as a part of their tax reform plan in the reconciliation bill.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is working on a proposal that would levy a tax on investment incomes of billionaires, as well as a 15 percent minimum corporate tax to ensure that companies pay federal income taxes. The billionaire tax is a far smaller proposal than previous wealth tax proposals and would only affect the roughly 745 billionaires in the U.S. Democrats hope that it could be a crucial revenue source for the Build Back Better Act.
Importantly, the small tax proposal has the tentative support of Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Because of the two conservative Democrats — Sinema in particular — the party has been struggling to find ways to cover the cost of the reconciliation bill and appease Sinema and Manchin, who have fought hard to maintain the dismally low tax levels for corporations and the wealthy set by Republicans in 2017.
Democratic leaders are confident that the billionaire tax proposal will make it into the final bill. “We probably will have a wealth tax,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said on CNN over the weekend. The Finance Committee is expected to release a more detailed version of the proposal, which is expected to raise $500 billion for the bill, on Wednesday.
Targeting billionaires may be a popular move among the caucus if only because of how narrow the tax would be. Indeed, the tax wouldn’t even be levied on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, but only the richest — roughly 0.0002 percent of Americans. And it wouldn’t levy a tax on their wealth overall, as progressive lawmakers have previously proposed, but only on investment incomes. It is a small enough tax that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that she wouldn’t regard it as a wealth tax.
However, economists still say that the tax would be a step in the right direction, setting precedent for other future similar taxes. Economist Gabriel Zucman, who worked with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to craft her wealth tax proposal, told newsletter The.Ink that the tax would only apply to increases in the wealth — or what economists refer to as unrealized capital gains — rather than the entirety of the wealth.
“Billionaires own $5 trillion in wealth today, of which about 60 percent (roughly $3 trillion) corresponds to unrealized gains,” Zucman explained. “So you can think of this tax as a big one-time wealth tax on 60 percent of the wealth of billionaires, plus an ongoing annual tax on their future gains.”
Still, this will likely be insufficient to meet the demands of progressive advocates and lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who argues that billionaires shouldn’t exist while millions of Americans are struggling to pay bills and survive. A larger wealth tax could cover the entirety of the original reconciliation bill and more, rather than just a fraction of the paltry $1.9 trillion proposal before Congress now.
Warren has previously introduced a tax on the ultra-wealthy that would create a 2 percent tax on wealth over $50 million, and a 3 percent tax on wealth over $1 billion. The tax would affect the top 0.05 percent of U.S. households. Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, another economist who helped work on the bill, say it could raise over $3 trillion over the next decade — enough to cover nearly the entire $3.5 trillion price tag for the original reconciliation bill. Warren has advocated for the inclusion of the tax in the reconciliation bill, saying “we need to pass a bill that ensures that billionaires and corporations are finally paying their fair share.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has come out against the proposal even before it’s been released, saying that it would penalize people who have supposedly “invested wisely” while rewarding people who have “invested poorly.”
This is a perverse way of viewing wealth, especially since billionaires do not earn their wealth in the same way as the working class does, leading leftist advocates to liken their wealth to theft from the government and workers. Investing is already a highly prohibitive activity, available largely only to the wealthy; recent data has shown that a record 89 percent of individually-owned stocks are owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans.
Billionaires have grown their wealth massively during the pandemic, while the working class suffered under poor conditions and meager pay. As of earlier this month, U.S. billionaires have expanded their collective wealth by $2.1 trillion just over the past 19 months, a 70 percent increase. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve data shows that the top 1 percent of Americans have now hoarded 27 percent of the nation’s finances, more wealth than the amount owned by the entire middle class.

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, the Black liberationist long respected as a political prisoner and freedom fighter by friends and supporters, was granted a medical transfer on Monday to leave a Pennsylvania prison for treatment and hospice after five decades of imprisonment.
A former member of the Black Panther Party and a soldier in the Black Liberation Army, Shoatz organized inside prisons for decades to abolish life sentences without parole, inspiring activists and attorneys to take up the cause.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now considering whether a legal challenge to the state’s practice of denying parole hearings to people serving life sentences for certain second-degree murder convictions can proceed. All life sentences in Pennsylvania excluded the possibility of parole, and the state has the highest per-capita rate of people serving life sentences in the nation and the world, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The 78-year-old Shoatz, who remains highly influential within the Black liberation and prison abolition movements, is reportedly terminally ill after being diagnosed with cancer. In social media posts, activists and family members who spent years fighting for his release celebrated on Monday after a judge in Philadelphia agreed to transfer Shoatz from a prison to a hospital.
In 2014, Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after spending 22 consecutive years in “the hole” and later won a $99,000 legal settlement. Supporters say the solitary confinement amounted to retaliation against Shoatz’s efforts to organize other “lifers” and abolish what activists now call “death by incarceration,” or life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide whether to hear a lawsuit brought by six state prisoners challenging mandatory life sentences for people convicted the state’s “felony murder” rule. Under felony murder rules in Pennsylvania and most other states, a defendant can be held liable for second-degree murder if they participate in a felony crime that leads to a death — such as driving another person to a botched robbery — even if they did not kill the victim or intend for anyone to die.
Like those sentenced to death who may survive for years on appeal, life sentences all but assure that people with die in prison.Unlike other states, conviction under the felony murder rule in Pennsylvania carries an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole. The Center for Constitutional Rights reports that 1,100 people in Pennsylvania are serving life sentences for “felony murder” despite never intending to cause a death. Critics liken “death by incarceration” to the death penalty. Like those sentenced to death who may survive for years on appeal, life sentences all but assure that people with die in prison.
The United States is known for handing out much longer prison sentences than European countries, for example, where people convicted of serious crimes such as murder can serve two decades in prison or less.
“To be an outlier in the U.S. is to be the outlier in the world when it comes to life sentences,” said Bret Grote, the legal director of the Abolitionist Law Project, in an interview.
Tyreem Rivers, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, has been imprisoned since 1996 and is now in his 40s. At the age of 18, Rivers grabbed the purse of an elderly woman who fell as a result of the robbery. The woman contracted pneumonia while hospitalized two weeks later, and Rivers was convicted under the felony murder rule and received an automatic life sentence.
“Show [the Rivers case] to most people, and they will not understand why that teenager who committed that offense, should he survive to old age, must live the rest of his life in prison,” Grote said.
In a statement, Rivers said he and other people serving life sentences under the felony murder rule “bear a great sense of remorse” for the role they played in harming victims and have spent years in prison working to better themselves. Human rights attorneys are calling on the State of Pennsylvania to recognize that the plaintiffs have “undergone remarkable transformations despite the challenges and violence of incarceration and their pre-incarceration backgrounds.”
“I can honestly say we no longer think or act as we once did before having been sentenced to life without parole,” Rivers said.
Rivers and the other plaintiffs were all convicted in their late teens and early 20s. Indeed, researchers say many people serving life sentences in Pennsylvania and beyond were teenagers or young adults struggling under poverty at the time of the crime and are very different people today.
Abolitionists say caging people in prison is inherently violent and can cause serious harm rather than supporting people through a self-transformation or “rehabilitation.”
Harsh sentences for more serious crimes are also a major driver of mass incarceration, filling prisons even more than the “war on drugs” and creating an increasingly elderly prison population.
Prosecutors typically decide whether to pursue a “felony murder” charge that carries a life sentence. In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of people sentenced under the felony murder rule are Black and a disproportionate number come from Philadelphia, according the Center for Constitutional Rights. Overall, Black people are sentenced to life in prison at a rate 18 times higher than white people in Pennsylvania. Latinx people are sentenced to “death by incarceration” at a rate five times higher than whites in the state.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet agreed to rule on the merits of the lawsuit. Instead, the court will decide whether the case can proceed so that plaintiffs can collectively challenge the state ban on parole hearings for those serving life sentences, rather than pursuing their pleas for parole individually. The lawsuit argues that sentencing people to effectively die prison constitutes cruel and unnecessary punishment under the state constitution.
Unlike the plaintiffs in the case, Shoatz was not convicted under the felony murder rule. Shoatz, who is considered both a political prisoner and prisoner of war by supporters, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after a 1970 attack on a Philadelphia police station.
As they are today, tensions over racist police violence were running high in Philadelphia during the summer of 1970, when Police Chief Frank Rizzo ordered a crackdown on Black liberation groups ahead a national convention of the Black Panther Party. Anger boiled over after police once again killed an unarmed Black youth, and police were attacked in retaliation, leaving one officer injured and another dead. The attack prompted a raid on the Black Panther headquarters and the arrest of multiple activists.
Shoatz went underground but was arrested and convicted of murder two years later; supporters have said he was falsely accused. Shoatz escaped prison with other Black liberationists twice before being hunted by authorities and captured again. The liberationists were called the New African Political Prisoners of War.
Shoatz spent much of his life resisting solitary confinement, inspiring activists in the free world and working for the liberation of people sentenced to die in prison. Shoatz’s supporters say he is now free to rejoin his family during the final stage of his life.
Today, reform efforts to release aging “lifers” and limit or abolish life sentences without parole are underway in a handful of states. Abolitionists say reforms are not enough, and we must reimagine what accountability and support can look like to end mass incarceration and build a world without prisons.

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