Democrats Prepare $6 Trillion Infrastructure Bill That Sidesteps GOP

Senate Democrats are in talks over a $6 trillion reconciliation package that would sidestep Republican opposition and contain provisions over and above President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposals to address the climate crisis and expand Medicare. The package would adopt many provisions from Biden’s twin economic packages, the $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.9 trillion American Families Plan. It would include provisions to expand the child tax credit and establish universal pre-kindergarten and paid leave, according to The Washington Post — all provisions that are currently missing from the infrastructure proposal offered by centrist senators, which has been panned by progressives.

Supreme Court Backs Catholic Foster Care Agency in LGBTQ Discrimination Case

This morning the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Philadelphia violated the First Amendment when the city declined to renew a contract with a Catholic social service agency that refused to consider placing youth in need of foster care with LGBTQ families. The judgment was unanimous. While it’s crucial to consider the implications of this case — Fulton v. City of Philadelphia — for non-discrimination rules, we should also take a broader lens and recognize the harm that the foster system itself does to LGBTQ, BIPOC and working-class communities.

Transgender Students Protected Under Title IX, Education Department Says

The Department of Education announced this week that it would interpret Title IX protections for across the U.S. to include protections for LGBTQ students, including transgender students that are being targeted by conservative legislation in numerous states. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona made the announcement, which reverses a Trump administration policy, on Wednesday.

Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz Suggest FBI Attacked Capitol

The evolution — or devolution, if you will — of the right’s January 6 narrative continues apace, but is steering toward strange waters. When it happened, it was deemed an appalling attack against the very fabric of democracy … but Donald Trump didn’t like that, because the attackers were his people, and so the story began to change. It was antifa! Black Lives Matter protesters! No, that didn’t stick. Wait, they were peaceful tourists! See how they stay within the ropes as they carry their Confederate battle flags and lengths of pipe! Ten minutes with the footage from the front stairs and hallways batted that one down.

To Pave the Way for Medicare for All, We Need to Overcome “Citizens United”

There’s only one person in this photograph/video of last week’s G7 meeting who represents a country where an illness can destroy an entire family, leaving them bankrupt and homeless, with the repercussions of that sudden fall into poverty echoing down through generations. Most Americans have no idea that the United States is quite literally the only country in the “developed world” that doesn’t define healthcare as an absolute right for all of its citizens. That’s it. We’re the only one left.

EPA Workers Demand the Removal of Fossil Fuel Stocks From Their Retirement Plans

This article was originally published at Labor Notes. Not long ago, workers at the Environmental Protection Agency were battling the Trump Administration’s many attempts to interfere with both their agency’s mission and their rights on the job.

FBI Probes Allegation That DeJoy Used Illegal Scheme to Rise as GOP Megadonor

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating Republican campaign donations in connection to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his former company. As first reported by The Washington Post, FBI agents have been looking into campaign contributions potentially made by people currently and formerly employed by DeJoy. Sources told the publication that investigators have also issued a subpoena to the embattled postmaster general in connection with the donations.

New Report Finds Police-Perpetrated Killings in 2020 Were Vastly Underreported

According to The Guardian newspaper, 1,093 people were killed by police in the United States in 2020. Meanwhile, the website Mapping Police Violence, another well-respected source for such information, puts that number slightly higher at 1,127, and Statista claims it is 1,021. These figures reflect a consensus that has existed since around 2015 that, in general, police in the United States kill about 1,000 people per year.

COVID Isn’t Over — the US Must Do More to Combat It Worldwide

Environment & Health Right-Wing Disinformation Campaigns Are Targeting State Climate Initiatives Environment & Health COVID Isn’t Over — the US Must Do More to Combat It Worldwide War & Peace Barbara Lee Introduces Bill to Help Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Economy & Labor Report Shows Stimulus Checks Significantly Reduced Hardship for Families Politics & Elections The Fight Against Fascism Isn’t Over Politics & Elections 100+ Democracy Scholars Issue Dire Warning About Threats to Voting Rights in US I was asked to take my mask off for the first time yesterday. Well, that’s not quite accurate. Better to say I was invited to remove my mask when I popped into my local bodega (yes, we have bodegas in New Hampshire). The counterman was all smiles when he said it, maskless himself. The store was empty and I didn’t want to seem rude, so off it came… and it felt for all the world like I was standing there without pants. I’ve been fully vaxxed for a while now, but I still wear a mask when I’m going to be around people. Part of it is habit at this point, part of it is an act of solidarity with those who have to wear them, and part of it is the fact that I haven’t had so much as a case of the sniffles since I started wearing one. Come winter and no matter the current COVID circumstances, a mask will continue to be part of my accessorizing for that reason alone, and I’ll bet you a buck I won’t be the only one. The tissue companies are going to take a hit. God, the masks. Our symbol for the age. If I live another 50 years, I will still never escape a feeling of melancholic anger whenever I see one. Every one of them should have “It Did Not Have To Be This Way” stamped on the front. They represent death, injury, failure and fear to me, and one thing more: They are a reminder that a stunningly large portion of this country won’t do a damn thing to help anyone else if it involves being mildly inconvenienced, even if it makes the difference between life and death. That’s the glass-half-empty-and-cracked perspective, which probably isn’t entirely fair. Millions and millions of people took mask-wearing to heart, to help themselves and their neighbors, and our stratospheric infection numbers have sharply declined. More than half the country over the age of 12 has gotten at least one shot, which is also serving to put a lid on new cases. Those cases are still emerging every day by the thousands, but the difference between now and last winter is both staggering and heartening. After an unendurably protracted run of months stuffed to bursting with death and sorrow, we are finally heading in the right direction. The people, by and large, deserve credit for this, including the many who poured themselves into mutual aid efforts when the situation was most dire. The scientists who conjured these vaccines like pulling a dove from a top hat deserve a parade, as do the medical professionals who turned themselves into hamburger fighting this virus. President Biden also deserves a slice of the credit for this turnaround. The man may be about as inspirational as a bag of oyster crackers, and there have been stumbles regarding communication, but the change since January is nothing short of an astonishment. Given the sack of mayhem Biden was handed when he got the keys to the joint, his administration’s ability to pull us out of the tailspin we were in will stand as one of the more impressive acts of leadership we’ve seen around here in a long time. It is time to stop talking about leadership. It is time to lead. That being rightly said, I still believe the drive to fully reopen — and to forget — is happening too soon. The green grass and warm springtime breezes can’t alter the fact that, while things are improving here, the COVID situation around the world is worse than ever. If something is not done about it expediently, we are likely to face… what? Would it be a fifth wave, or are we still riding the first one? In any event, it behooves us to remember that the murderous Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 did a good deal of its killing in a third wave that came in 1919. The rest of the world is sick as hell right now, and in this regard, borders are meaningless. On Wednesday, a report emerged claiming that a vicious new virus variant had emerged in Vietnam. This one was actually a hybrid of the U.K. and India variants. I was an English Lit major, and the idea that two variants could meet up and make a super-variant had never crossed my screen. Yet another terrifying COVID fact none of us can un-know. Fortunately, the World Health Organization announced today that the virus rampaging through Vietnam “does not meet the global health body’s definition of a new variant, though it is still very transmissible and dangerous,” according to The Washington Post. While this is welcome news, it is also a stark reminder that the longer COVID is allowed to burn, new and deadly variants will continue to appear, and one of them might figure out how to pick the lock on our precious vaccines. Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, India, South America and now parts of Africa are setting the bar very high for the number of new infections per day, and their health care infrastructure is beginning to wobble badly. Malaysia is heading into a mass lockdown that will last two weeks, and Peru currently has the highest COVID mortality rate per capita in the world. “In Africa, concerns are growing over the possible arrival of a new wave powered by a more transmissible variant of the virus, with the health systems in many countries at risk of being quickly subsumed by a surge of infections,” reports the Post. “A recent study found that the continent has the world’s highest death rate of patients critically ill with covid-19, thanks to limited intensive care facilities and reserves of vital medical supplies like oxygen.” The Biden administration is moving to help these international hotspots, but there is concern these actions are not nearly enough. Over the next two weeks, the administration will announce its plans to distribute 80 million vaccine doses around the world. That sounds like a nice beefy number, until you remember the global number of infections to date is more than twice that amount, and two weeks is a damn long time when your house is on fire. The president has also signaled that he is in favor of waiving international patent protections for the vaccines, so countries can manufacture the shots themselves. This proposal, naturally, is facing strong pushback from the pharmaceutical industry and its battalion of lobbyists. “The battle mirrors the one during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990s,” reports NPR, “when drug companies warred with global health officials who sought to produce generic treatments. Drugmakers eventually retreated after former South African President Nelson Mandela accused the companies of using patents to profit from his country’s health crisis.” In this window of time when we seem to have a handle on the pandemic here at home, nothing less than a massive, global Berlin Airlift-style rescue mission is warranted. If Biden dickers around the edges of this and COVID makes another run on our shores, all the goodwill the president has accumulated will fall to dust, and my guy at the bodega won’t be inviting me to remove my mask anymore. It’s pretty nice out now, but as any Stark will tell you, winter is coming. It is time to stop talking about leadership. It is time to lead. The world needs our help, and we have the capacity to give it. Let’s roll. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Police Are Backing Bills That Make It Easier to Crush Nonviolent Protests

Environment & Health Right-Wing Disinformation Campaigns Are Targeting State Climate Initiatives Environment & Health COVID Isn’t Over — the US Must Do More to Combat It Worldwide War & Peace Barbara Lee Introduces Bill to Help Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Economy & Labor Report Shows Stimulus Checks Significantly Reduced Hardship for Families Politics & Elections The Fight Against Fascism Isn’t Over Politics & Elections 100+ Democracy Scholars Issue Dire Warning About Threats to Voting Rights in US Following the global wave of demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, Republican state legislatures mounted a counterattack, introducing a deluge of “anti-riot” bills designed to make it easier for law enforcement to clamp down on demonstrations perceived as disorderly. According to a PEN America report from late April, Republicans have proposed at least 100 “anti-riot” bills in 33 states from last June to this March. These measures aim to address protest-related activities by greatly expanding the definition of “riot,” granting criminal immunity to drivers who hit “rioters” with their cars, suspending state benefits for those who participate in a “riot” and increasing penalties for demonstrators who block traffic. Over the past several months, the bills have sparked progressive pushback over the perception that they grant the police unchecked power to crack down on nonviolent protests and chill free speech rights. Indeed, reports now make clear that police organizations and their allies have played an outsized role in introducing and supporting these measures, often by advocating and lobbying for them behind the scenes. According to new research released this month, police officers, police unions and law enforcement lobbyists have supported one or more “anti-riot” bills in at least 14 states since last June. “Anti-riot” bills in 19 states have been sponsored by legislators with backgrounds in law enforcement. Because lobbying records are inconsistent from state to state, these figures may be underestimates. “Almost nobody knows right now that police are pushing for these bills,” Connor Gibson, an opposition researcher who compiled the data, told Salon in an interview. “People are not surprised that police are lobbying for bills that let police off the hook and push the blame to protesters. But I don’t think that should be the measure of why this trend is important.” Consider H.B. 445 in Alabama, which broadens the definition of “riot” and heightens the legal penalties against protesters who block traffic. The bill, which has been indefinitely postponed, was sponsored by at least nine state lawmakers who are or were affiliated with various police departments and/or organizations. The bill’s primary sponsor, GOP Rep. Allen Treadway, is a retired Birmingham assistant police chief. Two co-sponsors, Reps. Allen Farley and Phillip Pettus, respectively served as police chief in Satsuma Police Chief and an Alabama state trooper. In North Carolina, a similar bill is being considered that was sponsored by a total of seven police-affiliated lawmakers. The bill’s two primary sponsors, Reps. Charles Miller and Allen McNeill, respectively served as deputy chief of the Brunswick County sheriff’s office and chief deputy of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office. “Police culture is deeply embedded in our state legislatures,” Gibson said, observing that “many legislators have conflicts of interest when it comes to holding the police accountable.” These bills are also heavily influenced by police organizations like Fraternal Order of Police and the Sheriffs Association, whose state chapters have lobbied for several different “anti-riot” bills throughout the country since June. Consider Florida’s H.B. 1, which became law in April. The comprehensive measure – which makes “aggravated rioting” a felony, denies bail to those charged of a misdemeanor during a protest and grants civil legal immunity to motorists who drive through demonstrators blocking a road — was supported by the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a broad coalition of organizations focused on the state’s criminal justice and corrections system. Barney T. Bishop III, the CEO of Florida Smart Justice Alliance, explained his organization’s stance in an interview with Salon, disputing the notion the H.B. 1 would embolden those on the far right to retaliate against social justice protesters. “It’s not about emboldening anybody,” he said. “Florida is as opposed to the Proud Boys and the far-right groups as we are to the far-left groups.” His explanation of the bill’s aims, however, suggest otherwise. “Protesters today feel that they can go anywhere they want, do anything they want — beat on cars, cuss and try to incite violence from police by screaming in their face,” Bishop added. “There are people that will incite violence. Most of the time it will be the people in the protests themselves or the people behind the protests, like George Soros and antifa and BLM.” There is little evidence, however, that last year’s wave of social justice demonstrations after the Floyd murder was plagued by violence. According to a report last September by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), about 95% of all demonstrations from last May to last August were peaceful. By comparison the report notes that “authorities have used force — such as firing less-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray or beating demonstrators with batons — in over 54% of the demonstrations in which they have engaged.” Nora Benavidez, director of PEN America’s U.S. Free Expression Programs, affirmed ACLED’s findings, telling Salon that the Republican-backed “anti-riot” bills “are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Legislators are predicating their bills on a circumstance that characterizes protests as somehow inherently criminal.” As in the Florida case, a newly-enacted “anti-riot” bill in Iowa, S.F. 342, was backed by various police-affiliated organizations, including the Iowa Peace Officers Association, the Iowa State Police Association, the Iowa Fraternal Order of Police, the Iowa State Patrol Supervisors Association and the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association, according to state lobbying records. Interestingly, the Iowa Peace Officers Association and the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association were initially “undecided” on the bill after it was introduced in February. At the time, the bill simply sought to prevent police officers “from being discharged, disciplined, or threatened with discharge” if their names appeared on the “Brady list,” which tracks officers who might lack credibility in certain legal cases involving the police. Since then the bill has morphed into full-fledged “anti-riot” legislation, which won the support of the two law enforcement associations. Adam Mason, state policy organizing director for the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, told Salon that the Iowa bill reflects the overrepresentation of police interests in the state’s legislature. “We absolutely believe in having a citizen legislature,” Mason said, “but that also means we need to have a diversity of opinions. That would mean having legislators from all walks of life. It seems these legislators feel like they don’t have to listen to community members because they’re coming from concentrated backgrounds in law enforcement.” Bishop disagreed. “There’s no more conflict of interest than a doctor selected to the legislature proposing medical legislation,” he told Salon. A major reason why “anti-riot” bills are controversial are their provisions which specifically grant civil and criminal immunity to drivers attempting to flee “riots” — especially given the violent counterattacks social justice protesters have seen in recent years. In 2017, during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, an alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a throng of counter-protesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The driver was later convicted of first-degree murder. More recently, in February of this year, an admitted Klansmen drove his truck into a group of peaceful protesters near Richmond, Virginia, though nobody was seriously injured. Last year, NPR reported that there had been “at least 50 vehicle-ramming incidents since protests against police violence erupted nationwide in late May,” a marked increase from prior years. Gibson told Salon that the uptick in vehicle-related violence against protesters is precisely what makes the recent surge in “anti-riot” bills so concerning. “You can’t be a politician and not be aware that there is an undercurrent of informal vigilante justice,” he explained, “where the police are emboldening white supremacists to take things into their own hands.” Most of the driver immunity provisions are predicated on two conditions: that the driver was fleeing a “riot” in order to protect themselves and that they exercised “due care” in the course of colliding with demonstrators. But the reality in court might not be so straightforward. Sgt. Fred Lepley, senior director of the Iowa State Police Association, which supported S.F. 342, told Salon that incidents in which protesters threaten drivers are often “difficult to comprehend” without proper context. Lepley said that the provisions are designed to “assist citizens that are attempting to remove themselves from a dangerous situation but find that protesters are purposely forcing their hand by standing in front of the vehicle refusing to let them leave and possibly attempting to get at the driver to do harm. In many of these cases the driver is driving very slow and the protesters intentionally get in front of the vehicle, placing themselves in harm’s way.” Oklahoma Rep. Justin Humprey, a Republican who sponsored H.B. 1674 — which also contains a driver immunity provision — echoed Leple, saying by email that “this bill is about protecting the public” and that it “enables a person to protect their family and themselves from criminals who demonstrate intent to commit harm.” Salon could not find evidence that recent demonstrators have deliberately impeded traffic in an effort to provoke or harm drivers. Other states where police organizations have actively supported “anti-riot” bills include Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Idaho, Connecticut, Arkansas and Arizona. Though most of these bills have surfaced within the last couple of years, Gibson told Salon that the Republican sense of urgency for their implementation has no logical or historical basis. “Rioting was already a dangerous, illegal type of behavior,” he said, “but people still did it. These politicians are deluding themselves if they think that making rioting extra-illegal is going to change anything. They’re trying to throw peaceful protesters in jail because that is more of a thorn in their side than the riots are.” This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.