Environment & Health New COVID Variants Threaten to Make Pandemic Permanent Economy & Labor COVID Relief Packages Dramatically Reduced Poverty. They Should Be Permanent. Economy & Labor Predatory Banks at Walmarts Made Over 100 Percent of Profits From Overdraft Fees Environment & Health Biden to Set Goal for Half of All Vehicle Sales to Be Electric by 2030 Environment & Health MO Coroner Says He Alters Death Certificates If Families Dislike COVID Inclusion Environment & Health Biden Made Big Compromises on Climate — and Movements That Backed Him Are Livid President Joe Biden is launching a push on Thursday to curb vehicle emissions and set a benchmark for the U.S. to begin phasing out gas vehicles. Biden is expected to sign an executive order setting a goal for half of all vehicles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030, which will likely play a key role in helping the U.S. meet Biden’s climate goals. He is also expected to reinstate and tighten tailpipe emission standards set under President Barack Obama (but rolled back by Trump) to cut greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up vehicle efficiency. The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., making up 29 percent of emissions in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Without swift vehicle electrification, climate goals set by the administration like cutting emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 will be hard to reach, experts say, Still, Biden’s announced goal for vehicle electrification will be difficult to achieve, logistically and politically. “There’s a battle on every front. There’s a battle in Congress. There’s a battle in the courts. There’s a battle against time,” Jody Freeman, Harvard Law School environmental and energy law director, told The Washington Post. Indeed, as this summer’s climate events have demonstrated, time is of the essence on climate legislation. And with climate measures being carved out of the infrastructure plan, there are few options left for legislators who want to curb the climate crisis to do so. In the latest and possibly final version of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure funding ended up being cut by nearly 96 percent of Biden’s original proposal. Vehicle manufacturers have said that their compliance with Biden’s order hinges on funding and support for building more charging stations from Congress. The latest bipartisan bill calls for only $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, half of the $15 that was allocated for charging stations in the June bipartisan framework. Car manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Honda have signalled their support for Biden’s electrification goals. But the American manufacturers and United Auto Workers will only take the pledge to make 40 to 50 percent of their new car sales electric if the bipartisan bill passes with the $7.5 billion in EV charging funding. Biden will also reinstate vehicle mileage standards rolled back by Donald Trump. Starting with 2023 car models, Biden will propose higher mileage standards in hopes of cutting emissions by 3.7 percent a year, mirroring a California vehicle emissions reduction plan. In 2025, the emissions cuts will ramp up by a 5 percent increase annually, and possibly more after that, the Associated Press reports. Climate and environment groups have shared mixed views on Biden’s plans. “This proposal is headed in a better direction, but the Biden administration can and should be more ambitious,” Environment America Carbon Campaign Director Morgan Folger said in a statement. “Over 5 years ago, the Obama-Biden administration took the strongest federal action to reduce global warming pollution in history, only to be stalled out by the automakers reneging on their promise…. We can’t turn back the clock 5 years, so we have to go even faster to zero out pollution from our cars and trucks and solve this climate crisis.” Simon Mui, deputy director for clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the administration for taking action but told The Washington Post, “This proposal delivers less carbon pollution reductions than the Obama-era standards and includes unfortunate loopholes that undercut progress.” Climate advocates have also recently taken umbrage with Biden for making major compromises on climate despite early promises for ambitious emissions reductions. “Today, the prospect of serious action on the scale needed to address the climate emergency, and the image of the Biden administration as being committed to climate action, are both in shambles,” wrote Basav Sen for Truthout. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Economy & Labor Pelosi Is Wrong – Biden Has the Power to Cancel Student Debt, and He Should Culture & Media Glen Ford’s Journalism Fought for Black Liberation and Against Imperialism Environment & Health EPA Approval of PFAS for Fracking May Spell a New Health Crisis for Communities Politics & Elections Both the Delta Variant and Thin-Willed Democrats Are Lethal to Our Society Environment & Health Biden Promotes $100 Incentives to Encourage Unvaccinated to Get Their Shots Environment & Health Exxon-Influenced Senators Carved Climate Out of Infrastructure Almost Entirely When President Trump used his executive authority to pause the nearly $2 trillion in outstanding student loan payments and interest back in March 2020, there was no pushback from legal experts or uproar from Congress members, from neither Democrats nor Republicans. Of course, the sudden advent of a deadly, airborne viral pandemic signified a future so grim that partial student loan cancellation seemed uncontroversial, even for an unforgiving Trump administration. While former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos didn’t tout the temporary pause as partial debt cancellation, that’s actually what it was. Notably, both DeVos and the Trump White House pointed to the Higher Education Act as authority that made the payment pause legally acceptable. This is the same authority activists and progressive Democrats are urging Biden to use to deliver on his campaign promise of unilateral cancellation for all borrowers. That’s why Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claims earlier this week that President Biden didn’t have the power to cancel student debt by executive action were so jarring. “People think that the President of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness,” she said, adding “He does not. He can postpone, he can delay, but he does not have that power…. The President can’t do it. That’s not even a discussion. Not everybody realizes that.” Legal experts, members of Congress, and actions taken by the Biden administration clearly belie the Speaker’s arguments. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said on CNN later that night, “The president does have the power to cancel student loan debt. You know how I know that? Because President Obama did it. President Trump did it. And President Biden has already done it.” Indeed, the Biden administration extended the federal student loan payment moratorium into September, ensuring more debt cancellation via executive action as a result. Let’s say you were enrolled in Public Service Loan Forgiveness or an Income-Driven Repayment plan during the moratorium. Non-payment counted toward your monthly qualifying payment timeline, meaning borrowers whose 10- or 20-year payment plan end dates fell under the 16-month pause became beneficiaries of debt cancellation through executive action. “If you normally pay $400 a month in loans for qualifying PSLF payments, didn’t pay while the moratorium was placed, and received PSLF in July 2021, your accumulated monthly payments, or essentially $6,400 of debt, was canceled via the executive order suspension,” said Alexis Goldstein, Director of Financial Policy at the Open Markets Institute. Beyond those enrolled in forgiveness programs, for 16 months now, the pause has unilaterally canceled interest for every borrower covered under the moratorium, allowing nearly 45 million Americans to pay significantly less over the same amount of time. Pelosi is flat-out wrong when it comes to the limits of executive power on debt cancellation. She took the lazy route, long trodden by naysayer politicians: Proclaim the mechanism needed to deliver bold actions doesn’t really work instead of implementing morally just, politically popular proposals that uplift everyone. We see this playing out in realms beyond debt cancellation. For example, despite a massive victory in Georgia, Senate Democrats said the parliamentarian, an unelected nonpartisan that seemingly gained insurmountable influence over the quality and quantity of major legislation, now controls our fate on everything from a $15 minimum wage to the climate crisis. Of course, Biden says he would have “strongly supported” an extension of a crucial eviction moratorium, but due to a pesky opinion by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, not an actual ruling, the White House was forced to punt responsibility to Congress in the eleventh hour to apply the same moratorium Biden already extended through executive action. According to Pelosi, when it comes to student debt, Biden’s executive authority legally justifies partial loan cancellation, just not more partial loan cancellation. Along with the theme of abrupt powerlessness, it’s evident that Pelosi and Biden have yet to truly engage with the fundamental arguments for eliminating the $1.8 trillion in student debt, particularly because they’ve both made the weakest possible arguments against it. Pelosi dug even deeper with her nonsensical remark, questioning the policy wisdom of a student debt jubilee and undermining her Democratic colleagues’ push for cancellation in the process. “Suppose your … child just decided they at this time did not want to go to college, but you’re paying taxes to forgive somebody else’s obligations. You may not be happy about that,” Pelosi said. This would be a strong point if one were opposed to every single public good. (Bye, bye libraries!) Thanks to economist Stephanie Kelton’s recent expansion on the framework of Modern Monetary Theory, which acknowledges the federal government doesn’t actually need our tax dollars to pay for vital programs, we don’t need to engage and ultimately reify Pelosi’s dangerous argument. As Kelton notes in her book The Deficit Myth, unlike households, the federal government cannot go broke because it issues the currency it spends. In other words, the real challenge isn’t raising funds, rather we’re in a political battle over how public money is spent, and on who — the wealthy or working people. Ideology aside, arguments like Pelosi’s misrepresent how student debt cancellation works financially. The “cost” to the taxpayer comes on the front-end, when the loans are made. From there, it’s all a guessing game as to how much of the debt will be repaid by borrowers. The government often guesses wrong, and the Department issues re-estimates to correct, as they did in late 2020. Further, the government often employs utterly draconian collection techniques to squeeze payments out of defaulted borrowers who can’t afford it: garnishing wages; seizing Child Tax Credits, EITC, or tax refunds; or taking away social security benefits from seniors in default. (Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of student debtors. In 2015, 40,000 seniors had their Social Security garnished due to student loans.) To add to the chaos of failed herculean attempts by the government to collect on ballooning student loans, several major loan service providers (Granite State, PHEAA, and Cornerstone) have recently announced they would end their contract collecting student debt for the government, leaving more than 10 million borrower accounts in the lurch and increasing pressure on Biden to extend the moratorium and cancel the debt altogether. Debt cancellation would be one of the largest bottom-up economic stimulants in U.S. history. It’s actually cheaper for the government to write off this debt than it is to keep it on government books. In fact, debt cancellation would be one of the largest bottom-up economic stimulants in U.S. history, creating millions of jobs and boosting annual GDP by up to $108 billion per year for the next ten years. And because student debt is disproportionately held by women and students of color, the one-time executive action would narrow enormous gender and racial wealth gaps. If racial equity and economic prosperity aren’t convincing enough for Pelosi, perhaps she should take a cue from the voters that put her in office. Just this week, San Francisco officials passed a bold resolution calling on Biden to cancel all federal student debt, joining a chorus of other major cities crying out for an economic stimulus and debtor liberation. But Pelosi isn’t alone in her misunderstanding of how debt works, who holds it, or how it can be wielded. Biden too has made very poor arguments against cancellation, insinuating that canceling student debt would mostly benefit graduates who went to Ivy League universities, individuals who must be unworthy of debt cancellation because the institutions they attended are so elite that free attendance would be unfair, right? This was quickly refuted by activists who pointed out that just 0.3% of federal student loan borrowers are estimated to have attended Ivy Leagues, that 98% of Harvard undergrads have no student loans at all, and that if we really wanted to address Biden’s newfound concerns about the rich getting richer, we could simply impose a wealth tax. While Biden’s recent remarks on student debt have all been debunked or met with outrage, his dismal record on student loans and borrower protections goes back decades. In 2005, Biden was one of the 18 Democratic senators who broke ranks and cast a vote for a Republican-led bill that stripped bankruptcy protections from private student loans, giving birth to a mammoth predatory industry that caused “enormous financial problems for working families.” In the 1970s, Biden backed the Middle Income Student Assistance Act, eliminating income restrictions on federal loans to expand eligibility to everyone. In 1980, Biden voted to extend loan eligibility to students with no parental financial support, leading to the first explosion of default rates. Biden’s history as a foot soldier for corporate lenders and their lobbyists is more than troubling. However, the fact that in 2020 he campaigned on unilateral debt cancellation and reversing the legislation he championed decades ago highlights the power of debtor organizing and the severity of our nation’s student debt crisis. Biden campaigned on the “immediate” cancellation of at least $10,000 of student debt per borrower as crucial COVID-19 relief. He later committed to much more, including full cancellation for students who went to public colleges or HBCUs earning under $125,000. In April, the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Biden would make a decision on student debt cancellation after instructing the Department of Justice to draft a memo on Biden’s legal authority. The White House has not provided an update on when the memo would be released, despite Klain’s initial timeline of a “few weeks,” leaving the verdict out on whether Biden will keep his campaign promise. It’s unlikely that Biden will cancel student debt out of the goodness of his heart, and it’s doubtful that a memo determining his authority to eliminate debt at broad-scale will be the final feather that weighs the ideological scale in our favor. What we’ll need is strong debtor organizing to push us over the edge — collective financial leverage so powerful it mimics the conditions that allowed for even a Trump administration to cancel debt. The Debt Collective, a debtors’ union and member organization I’m a part of that went as far as to write an executive order for Biden, is planning a Washington, D.C., action in September as the moratorium is slated to end. For those who want to push for full student debt cancellation and free college, joining that action would be a great place to get started. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Environment & Health EPA Approval of PFAS for Fracking May Spell a New Health Crisis for Communities Politics & Elections Both the Delta Variant and Thin-Willed Democrats Are Lethal to Our Society Environment & Health Biden Promotes $100 Incentives to Encourage Unvaccinated to Get Their Shots Environment & Health Exxon-Influenced Senators Carved Climate Out of Infrastructure Almost Entirely Environment & Health Chomsky: We Need Genuine International Cooperation to Tackle the Climate Crisis Politics & Elections The Right Wing Wants Misinformation and Manufactured Ignorance, Not Democracy The final negotiations over the infrastructure bill have ground funding down to a paltry $550 billion, from what began as a $2.25 trillion proposal from President Joe Biden. The bipartisan group of senators overseeing the negotiations cut about $29 billion in new spending from the previous draft, eliminating $20 billion of what little climate spending was left in the bill, E&E News reported. Compared to the previous draft of the bill announced in June, the latest and final draft of the bill removes $10 billion from public transit spending and $5 billion from electric school bus funding. It also effectively cut electric vehicle charging infrastructure in half from the previous draft from $15 billion to $7.5 billion. The cuts are yet another instance of drastic reductions that the bipartisan group has repeatedly made to climate provisions from Biden’s original proposal. Electric vehicle funding fell by nearly 96 percent from the first proposal of $174 billion, and transportation funding in general took a $263 billion cut. The bipartisan group, along with Biden, touted the bill as a success. “This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things,” Biden said in a statement. But, so far, the infrastructure negotiations have done more to frustrate Democratic lawmakers and progressive movements than to give them something to celebrate. Progressives have been saying for months that they wouldn’t support a bill that didn’t sufficiently address the climate crisis, adopting the mantra “no climate, no deal.” The sharp cuts to climate provisions in the bipartisan deal are a sharp contrast from the $10 trillion climate, justice and infrastructure bill that progressives had introduced earlier this year, called the THRIVE Act. The bill aims to reduce emission while boosting justice initiatives over the next decade, and climate advocates have lauded it as one of the only proposals in Washington that comes close to matching the scale of the climate crisis. Though the THRIVE Act has little chance of passing, all hope isn’t lost for climate-focused progressives. Democrats were hoping to tack on climate and other provisions cut from the negotiations onto a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that they could pass through a simple majority vote as long as all Democratic senators were on board. However, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) recently announced opposition to that plan, throwing progressive support for watered-down reconciliation and infrastructure bills into question. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) highlighted the enormous sacrifices of bipartisanship. What was gained: “Bipartisanship” What was lost: pic.twitter.com/QxjDXiHb1s — Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) July 30, 2021 Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) pointed out that the motivation of the bipartisan group to cut climate provisions from the bill might have come directly from fossil fuel lobbyists. “Exxon lobbyists bragged about how much influence they had in this deal,” she said on Twitter. “This is what that influence looks like,” she said, sharing the E&E News report on the climate provisions being cut. Indeed, an explosive June report from Greenpeace found that Exxon, continuing decades-long practices of fighting climate policy, was “working hard behind the scenes to eliminate the proposed funding” for Biden’s climate policies. The lobbyists had also targeted a number of the conservative Republicans and Democrats in the bipartisan group, including Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Sinema, John Tester (D-Montana), Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
President Joe Biden on Thursday urged state and local governments to use financial incentives, in the form of $100 payments, to convince their residents to receive coronavirus vaccines. In May, the Treasury Department authorized governments to use funds derived from the American Rescue Plan in order to create such incentives. But now, the administration is making a direct plea to local governments to follow through. “Treasury stands ready to give technical assistance to state and local governments so that they may use the funds effectively to support increased vaccination in their communities, and Treasury will partner with the Department of Health and Human Services throughout this effort,” a statement from the Treasury Department said.
Democrats on Tuesday renewed their call for President Joe Biden to extend the student loan debt pause and make good on his campaign promises to cancel student debt. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) held a press conference urging Biden to extend the student debt pause once more. The pause is currently set to end at the end of September.
A Democratic congressman has introduced legislation that would bar former President Donald Trump from being able to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives without being an actual member of that legislative body. A little-known quirk of the Constitution grants members of the House the ability to name whomever they want to serve as speaker. “The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers,” Article I of the Constitution states. In practice, there has never been a speaker of the House selected who was not also elected to serve in the House in the first place. But many Trump supporters have suggested that Republicans, if they win the 2022 midterm races, could name the former president to that role. After that is done, these Trump loyalists have posited, Trump could lead the call for impeaching both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. If they are removed from office successfully, Trump, theoretically as speaker of the House, would then become president, as that position is the second in line (after the vice president) to the presidency.
Former president George W. Bush recently took a break from painting portraits of the wounded soldiers he fed into the maw of dual wars 20 years ago to complain about the end of one of those wars. In a rare interview, given to German news agency Deutsche Welle (DW), Bush had himself a nice little sad about the fact that the Biden administration was finally shutting down U.S. military involvement in the two-decade bottomless pit that was, and will ever be, his Afghanistan conflict.
The corporate media have been bashing the Cuban government in response to the recent protests in Cuba, while President Joe Biden claims, “We stand with the Cuban people.” But they ignore or minimize the leading cause of economic suffering in Cuba: the U.S.’s illegal and punishing economic blockade that Biden has left in place. Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has maintained the blockade against Cuba. Although former President Barack Obama was constrained by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act from completely lifting the blockade — which is now exclusively within the power of Congress — he took several steps to ease its effects on the Cuban people.
With the latest term of the Supreme Court having come to a close last week, Democrats appear anxious to know whether the Court’s current oldest justice, Stephen Breyer, plans to step down, a move that would allow them to confirm a replacement named by President Joe Biden in the near future. The anxiety is perhaps warranted, as Democrats do not want to see yet another Supreme Court seat fall to a judge nominated by a Republican president, especially after the death last fall of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg enabled former President Donald Trump the opportunity to further cement the right-wing ideological composition of the High Court.
Former President Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election to now-President Joe Biden, has finally seemed to acknowledge that he will never be named the true winner of that year’s presidential race. While being interviewed by Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Trump continued with his typical (and false) talking points on election fraud he has made over the past seven months, including bragging about his popular vote totals. “We were supposed to win easily, 64 million votes,” Trump claimed. “We got 75 million votes and we didn’t win, but let’s see what happens on that.”