progressive news roundup

Progressive News Roundup: The Less Visible Side of Politics

Progressive Hub Roundup

Last week we wrote of the high drama surrounding passage of the Infrastructure Bill and Build Back Better, the two parts of the signature spending legislation that Biden and most Democrats are fighting for in various forms. The high drama remains in force, but there are reasons to think that how Democrats fund their campaigns will make such scenarios less likely in the future.

As always, we keep our eyes on the less visible side of politics — items that might be overlooked in the rush of a nonstop news cycle. Here are some of ProgressiveHub.net’s highlighted stories and actions in recent days:

progressive news roundup

Senators, Who Should Be Regulating Big Tech, Hold Millions in Stocks

This comes from Sludge, a publication that covers political corruption. With the massive Facebook Papers leak, and tech CEOs visiting Capitol Hill this week for a purported grilling, Congress might be getting serious about regulating Big Tech. But, a cursory look under the hood reveals that senators in both parties are shoring up their portfolios with major tech stock holdings. Whether Congress has the political will to enact major regulatory tech reforms remains to be seen, but with millions in personal wealth on the line, we’re not holding our breath for these lawmakers to act.

Climate Emergency Includes the Threat of Nuclear Winter

Next week, world leaders are gathering in Scotland for the COP26 climate conference. On the one hand, it’s good and important that the world is focusing on the horrific threat posed by our current carbon trajectory. On the other, even the bulk of the climate movement is acting as though the threat of nuclear war has diminished. It hasn’t. In fact, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been moving the “Doomsday Clock” ever closer to cataclysmic midnight; the symbolic hands are now merely 100 seconds from midnight, in contrast to six minutes a decade ago.

Question of Labor Militancy Looms Large In Teamsters Election

For the first time in 25 years, Teamsters rank-and-file members are being presented with a ballot that does not have the name of James P. Hoffa, son of Jimmy Hoffa (the Teamsters president whose history and links to organized crime were depicted in Martin Scorsese’s 2019 dramatic biopic, The Irishman). Notwithstanding the recent resurgence of strike activity — resulting in this month being called “Striketober” — labor relations between the Teamsters and UPS are a bellwether for much of the labor movement.

Norway Breaks With NATO, Attending Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Meeting

This is big news for anyone interested in reducing military spending and, perhaps, the threat of nuclear war. Norway last week became the first Nato state — and first nuclear weapon complicit state– to commit to participating at the First Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The commitment was included in the government’s coalition agreement, released on October 13. The move by Norway breaks the hard line against the TPNW that Nato had sought to impose on its member states, and opens the doors for others in the alliance to follow suit.

Biden Administration Sabotaging Dialogue in Venezuela

Precisely how the United States engages in empire is often hard to see until after the dust settles. But with the Biden administration actively sabotaging talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, we can see the continuity of imperial policy even when a Democrat replaces a Republican in the White House. Paying close attention will be important for getting ready to oppose U.S. government efforts to foment or support a coup in Venezuela.

The Big Lie in Rahm Emanuel’s Senate Testimony

Jeff Cohen analyzes how the press gave cover to Rahm Emanuel when covering his confirmation hearing. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) deserves credit for questioning Emanuel about what he knew as Chicago’s mayor about the police murder of 17-year-old African American Laquan McDonald — and when he knew it. The Senate hearing marked the seventh anniversary of the 2014 killing, to the day. One thing we know for sure is that Emanuel was dishonest about the release of that video, and he recycled some of those lies — under oath — at his hearing. #RejectRahm


pill bottle on a pile of cash

Corporate Dems Cash Big Pharma Checks, Keep Prescriptions Costs High

By Julia Rock and Andrew Perez, Jacobin

The pharma-funded Democrats working to stop their party’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices say they are being misrepresented. Amid outcry from their constituents, these lawmakers have been indignantly telling local voters they are the people who are truly fighting for lower drug prices — even as they block their party’s promised drug pricing legislation. Now, new campaign finance disclosures show that their bait and switch happened as they raked in tens of thousands in campaign cash from pharmaceutical industry donors aiming to keep medicine prices as high as possible.

Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted last month to block Democrats from including their signature drug pricing measure in President Joe Biden’s health care and anti-poverty reconciliation bill, after voting for the same measure in 2019.

In response to constituent protest over their votes against the measure, the lawmakers claimed publicly that they are pursuing a more realistic means of lowering drug prices by proposing a watered-down version of the Democrats’ legislation — and insisted that they’re not doing the bidding of corporate interests.

pill bottle on a pile of cash

Peters and Schrader are among the few Democratic representatives who are publicly opposing the party’s plan to give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices. The measure is one of the most popular provisions of the reconciliation bill and has been a key campaign issue for Democrats.

This year between July and September, Schrader and Peters, whose campaigns have consistently relied on pharmaceutical industry cash, received $47,900 and $30,500, respectively from drug industry donors and executives at investment firms with pharmaceutical interests, according to new campaign finance disclosures reviewed by the Daily Poster. The two were among four Democratic lawmakers who voted against the party’s drug pricing plan in House committees on September 15.

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palestinian woman holding up peace sign with Palestine flag

Israel Labels 6 Palestinian Human Rights Groups “Terrorist Organizations"

By Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine

When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an executive order last week declaring six Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organizations,” the government did not even bother with putting on a facade of due process. With the swift stroke of a pen, the NGOs — Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union for Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — were instantly outlawed with neither a trial nor the opportunity to respond to the accusations against them.

Yet rather than question the dubious nature of this move, the vast majority of Israeli media outlets simply cribbed the Defense Ministry’s official statement on the matter, which accused the six organizations of serving as “arms” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — a secular, Marxist-Leninist party and movement deemed a terrorist group by Israel.

palestinian woman holding up peace sign with Palestine flag

The government claimed that the NGOs whitewashed funds intended for humanitarian reasons and transferred them for military purposes instead, further accusing the organizations’ employees of belonging, either in the past or present, to the PFLP. Right-wing Israeli groups, too, have for years tried to draw connections between these organizations and the PFLP in an effort to cut off their funding abroad.

The Defense Ministry’s decision was based on intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet, which it has not revealed to the public. But according to sources with knowledge of the legal case, the agency’s evidence is reportedly based on the testimony of a sole employee who was terminated from one of the organizations for corruption.

Evidence that contradicts the Shin Bet’s account, however, exists in spades. Over the past five years, under pressure from the Israeli government and pro-Israel NGOs, multiple European governments and private foundations that provide funding to Palestinian civil society have conducted extensive audits of each of the six organizations. None found any evidence of foul play.

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military battleship and jets causing climate change

Did You Know The Military Is Excluded From Climate Agreements?

By David Swanson, World Beyond War

In a remarkable feat of epistemic magic, 500 environmental and peace organizations and nearly 25,000 individuals have endorsed a petition that will be delivered to the COP26 climate conference — a petition proposing a solution that could add dramatically to efforts to protect the Earth’s climate, but a solution that it is impossible for most members of the homo sapiens species to become aware of.

military battleship and jets causing climate change

This seems a bizarre claim, but it has been more rigorously tested than a nuclear power plant, a Colin Powell speech, or 96% of election campaign promises. The following images make up a slide show that I have presented in more webinars than I can count — and just about exactly as many as I can stay awake for. In each, a similar discovery is made: nobody previously knew about the problem.

The problem is the exclusion of militaries from climate agreements. I begin by putting this in the context of the many things militaries are excluded from:

Then I show people the petition:

I even put the climate destruction of militaries in the context of the general environmental destruction of militaries:

War and preparations for war are not just the pit into which trillions of dollars that could be used to prevent environmental damage are dumped, and a means of preventing necessary cooperation, but also a major direct cause of that environmental damage.

The majority of “Superfund” sites in the U.S. are current or former military- related installations, sites designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where extreme hazardous waste threatens human health and the environment.

The U.S. military is among the top three largest polluters of U.S. waterways. It dumped 63,335,653 pounds of poison into waterways from 2010-2014, including carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals, rocket fuel, and toxic sewage.

The most deadly weapons left behind by war are landmines and cluster bombs. A 1993 U.S. State Department report called landmines “perhaps the most toxic and widespread pollution facing mankind.” Millions of hectares in Europe, North Africa, and Asia are under interdiction because of tens of millions of landmines and cluster bombs left behind by war.

Between 2001 and 2019, the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, roughly what all the cars in the U.S. emit in a year.

The U.S. Department of So-Called Defense is the largest institutional consumer of oil ($17B/year) in the world, and the largest global landholder with 800 foreign military bases in 80 countries. The U.S. military consumes more petroleum than a lot of entire nations.

By one estimate, the U.S. military used 1.2 million barrels of oil in Iraq in just one month of 2008. One military estimate in 2003 was that two-thirds of the U.S. Army’s fuel consumption occurred in vehicles that were delivering fuel to the battlefield.

Over three-quarters of the U.S. military’s petroleum consumption is for airplanes and helicopters; over half is by the Air Force. A B-52 bomber airplane flying for 1 hour puts out as much in greenhouse gases as an average car driver does in 7 years.

Some 30 to 40 percent of U.S. military greenhouse gas emissions is related to its bases, of which it has an enormous and disastrous supply.

The above image is copied from Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility. I asked him why governments don’t take up this issue, and he replied that they’re too busy with civilian sectors, an answer that misses the question of why the issue should be separated into those two areas given that we have only one planet.

Here’s a database of resources on this and many topics.

A Pentagon Report released in 2018 details widespread chemical poisoning of water supplies on military bases and in surrounding communities worldwide. The report identifies the presence of PFOS and PFOA chemicals in drinking water at levels known to be harmful to human health and linked to cancer and birth defects. At least 401 bases are known to have contaminated water. PFOA and PFOS chemicals are used in fire retardants during routine fire- training exercises on U.S. military bases worldwide. See: http://MilitaryPoisons.org

Here’s an attempt to magically create awareness.

Intersectionality!

Treating the problem as its solution won’t save us.

Then there’s the other problem.

Earlier this year, U.S. President Biden proposed to spend $1.2 billion on climate aid to poor countries. In 2019, according to USAID, the U.S. government handed out $33 billion in economic aid plus $14 billion in so-called military “aid.” Things that are no factor whatsoever in the distribution of this loot include women’s rights and environmental behavior.

Biden also proposed for the U.S. government to spend $14 billion on the climate, which compares rather unfavorably to the $20 billion it hands out annually in fossil fuel subsidies, not counting livestock subsidies, never mind the $1,250 billion the U.S. government spends each year on war and war preparations.

Another comparison you won’t see on your TV is that between the two most gigantic spending bills in the history of forever, the Infrastructure Extravaganza and the Build Back Better Reconciliation Bill, which would spend a combined $450 billion a year (or would have before being hacked away at), as compared to that $1,250 billion a year on militarism.

The President also said he wanted to reduce U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent by the year 2030. That sounds super fantastically better than nothing, right? But the fine print not found in the U.S. media reports includes that he actually means reducing 2005 levels by 50 to 52 percent by 2030. And the totally missing print that environmental activists know from past experience to object to includes such slimy practices as excluding from the calculation any emissions from imported goods or from international shipping and aviation or from the burning of biomass (that’s green!), plus the omission of predictable feedback loops, plus the building into the calculations the benefits of imaginary future pro-climate technologies. And then there are the things that even the environmental activist organizations tend to go silent on. These often include livestock. They almost always include militarism, which is generally excluded from climate agreements and even discussions about climate agreements.

There is plenty we can do, even including telling each other about the problem despite the impossibility of knowing about it.

We can even pass laws to take funding out of both weapons and fossil fuels, educating people about the connections between the two during the process, before all memories are swiftly wiped clean:


hillary clinto facing big donors, militarism, and big pharma with her back to a crying child

Hillary Clinton To Receive Humanitarian Award She Doesn't Deserve

Mark Wood, Medea Benjamin, Helen Caldicott, Margaret Flowers, Cindy Sheehan, David Swanson, World BEYOND War

Open Letter to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

We write to express serious concern about the selection of former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton to receive this year’s Catchers in the Rye Humanitarian Award.

The award was established to “honor an individual who has made sustained and significant contributions to the field of children’s mental health.”

We believe that an honest assessment of Clinton’s domestic and foreign policy record demonstrates a profoundly troubling disregard for the wellbeing of children and especially for the wellbeing of poor children of color.

hillary clinto facing big donors, militarism, and big pharma with her back to a crying child
Photo by Gage Skidmore

With regard to domestic policy, Clinton opposes universal state subsidized health insurance. The lack of universal health coverage leaves millions of children and their families without access to health care resources. She has been a solid ally of the for-profit health insurance and health care conglomerates, prioritizing private financial interests over public health and the public good. She served on the board of Walmart, a company whose record of aggressive anti-unionism and paying wages so low that many workers qualify for state aid is well-known. She has been a stalwart supporter of Wall Street firms and neoliberal policies that have resulted in record levels of socioeconomic inequality. As a result of these policies, millions of working families, and disproportionately families of color, struggle to meet the basic needs of their children, let alone possess the means to provide their children the resources needed to flourish.

Though Clinton served on the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), she lent considerable support as First Lady for her husband’s restructuring of welfare. About this legislation, founder and former president of the CDF Marian Wright Edelman wrote that “‘President Clinton’s ‘signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children.’” Mrs. Edelman’s husband, Peter Edelman, who served in the Clinton administration, resigned in protest, calling the legislation the worst thing president Clinton has done. Hillary Clinton regarded the welfare reform legislation to be a great success. She also supported her husband’s criminal justice reform efforts, which many scholars contend was racist and classist as it led to a massive increase in the incarceration of persons of color and the poor. The US now has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Hillary Clinton has been among the most hawkish of political figures in a nation that leads the world in military spending and militarism. She has consistently supported increased military spending and energetically advocated for every US military intervention. Clinton supported the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq, causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. She played an instrumental role in persuading the Obama administration to undertake a massive bombing campaign against Libya, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths and making Libya a haven for terrorist organizations and slave markets.  As thoroughly documented by Brown University’s Cost of War site, US military interventions supported by Clinton have resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, the majority of whom were children, and the destruction of life-supporting infrastructure. War is the ultimate crime against children and, as Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs wrote, Clinton’s “foreign policy ‘experience’ has been to support every war demanded by the US deep security state run by the military and the CIA.”

As secretary of state she supported the overthrow of the elected president of Honduras and the installation of the current regime that has engaged in savage repression and murder of poor and indigenous populations and which has fueled a massive migration of families, including tens of thousands of children, fleeing terror and seeking refuge in the United States. Last but not least, Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of some of the most tyrannical regimes in the world, all of which run roughshod over the health and wellbeing of children.

One could go on to enumerate many other examples of policies that Hillary Clinton has supported which have caused and are still causing immeasurable suffering to children and their families. Though she and the Clinton Foundation have supported efforts to improve the lives of children, Hillary Clinton’s record as First Lady, senator and secretary of state is overwhelmingly not favorable with regard to support for the health and wellbeing of children and especially for the wellbeing of poor children and children of color in the US and in other nations.

For these reasons, we implore you to reconsider your nomination of Hillary Clinton for this award.

There are so many others who truly deserve this important recognition.

Sincerely,

Medea Benjamin
Author and cofounder, Codepink: Women for Peace

Helen Caldicott MBBS, FRACP, MD,
Member of American  Board of Pediatrics,
Founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility – 1985 Nobel Peace Prize

Margaret Flowers, MD
Director, Popular Resistance

Cindy Sheehan
Host/Executive Producer of the Soapbox
Founder of the Women’s March on the Pentagon

David Swanson
Executive Director, World Beyond War

Mark D. Wood
Professor, Religious Studies
Director, School of World Studies 2013-2021
Virginia Commonwealth University


missiles ready to be fired

Norway Breaks With NATO, Attending Prohibition Of Nuclear Weapons Meeting

ICAN

Norway last week became the first Nato state — and first nuclear weapon complicit state — to commit to participating at the First Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW. The commitment was included in the government’s coalition agreement, released on 13 October. The move by Norway breaks the hard line against the TPNW that Nato had sought to exert on its member states, and opens the doors for others in the alliance to follow suit.

A return to Norway’s leadership on nuclear disarmament?

Norway’s elections in September led to a change of government, with Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party elected as Prime Minister. Gahr Støre is well-known to advocates of nuclear disarmament, having been supportive as foreign minister of Norway of the “humanitarian initiative” process which led to the negotiations of the TPNW.

“That Norway as the first Nato country confirms that it will participate as an observer at the nuclear weapons ban treaty’s first meeting of states parties sends an important signal to our allies that nuclear weapons are unacceptable,” says Tuva Widskjold, coordiNator for ICAN Partner ICAN Norway.

missiles ready to be fired
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Puerto Rico flag in front of field of solar panels producing renewable energy

Green Energy Could Help Solve Daily Puerto Rico Blackouts

Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News

Eddie Ramirez has never understood why his government doesn’t more aggressively pursue renewable energy.

When Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico in September 2017, shredding the energy grid and knocking out power for nearly all the island’s 3.4 million residents for months on end, Casa Sol—Ramirez’s five-bedroom bed and breakfast—was one of the only buildings in San Juan with working electricity, with 30 solar panels bolted to its roof.

When a large fire this June at an electrical substation in San Juan plunged more than 800,000 Puerto Rican homes into darkness and knocked out power to another 330,000 the following week, Casa Sol’s lights stayed on, even as its neighbors lost power.

And when a series of equipment failures and poor maintenance led to cascading power outages across the island in August, September and October, leaving hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans without electricity for days at a time and prompting calls for Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to resign, Ramirez and his solar-powered hotel carried on, business as usual.

Puerto Rico flag in front of field of solar panels producing renewable energy

“We don’t even know when it happens,” Ramirez said of the blackouts, which have become a daily part of life for many Puerto Ricans since June, when the private company LUMA Energy took over the island’s electricity transmission system.

With Puerto Rico’s grid still in shambles four years after Maria’s landfall, and $12.4 billion in federal aid earmarked to help repair the territory’s electrical systems and jumpstart its economy, many Puerto Ricans, like Ramirez, see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the island’s tattered power system as a modern grid powered by clean energy and far better at withstanding the worsening threats of the climate crisis.

But many Puerto Ricans worry their political leaders are squandering that opportunity by planning to rebuild the electricity grid with natural gas power plants that continue to emit greenhouse gases and feed lengthy transmission lines that are vulnerable to natural disasters.

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Biden admin sabotaging venezuela talks

Biden Administration Sabotaging Dialogue In Venezuela

Leonardo Flores, LA Progressive

The talks between the Venezuelan government and the extreme-right wing opposition had been going well. There are still outstanding issues to be resolved, like ending the economic war, but the discussions held in Mexico led to concrete electoral developments. The European Union agreed to send an electoral observation mission. The United Nations decided to send a panel of electoral experts. (Both institutions refused to observe the 2018 presidential and 2020 legislative elections, despite invitations from the government.) Thousands of opposition candidates registered to run in the mega-elections, which include voting for governors and mayors, as regional and local legislators.

Biden admin sabotaging venezuela talks

It’s a good thing that agreements on the elections were reached quickly, because the Biden administration, following in the Trump administration’s footsteps, has been actively undermining the dialogue. To recap, in 2018, the U.S. threatened an oil embargo and said it would welcome a coup just days before a comprehensive agreement was about to be signed. Then, in 2019, the Trump administration imposed a “full economic embargo” right as talks were going on. Now, it’s the Biden administration’s turn to try to sabotage the talks, although they’re doing it in a much subtler way.

Alex Saab

On October 16, the U.S. extradited Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab from Cape Verde. Before getting into why this relates to the dialogue, it’s worth highlighting a few facts about the case.

Saab was named a diplomat in April 2018. His arrest violates the Vienna Convention and is illegal. It will surprise no one that the U.S. insists on diplomatic immunity for its own people, but routinely disrespects these rights for Latin American countries. In addition to Saab, there’s been their attempted assassination of Assange in the Ecuadoran embassy in London and the seizure of the Venezuelan embassy in D.C.

Saab’s June 2020 arrest took place a day before an Interpol red notice was issued [link to roger harris article]; the notice was used to justify his arrest after the fact. This is one of the reasons why the Economic Community of West African States issued a binding decision calling for Saab’s release. In a letter, Saab denounced being “tortured to testify against Nicolás Maduro and sign my voluntary extradition to the United States.” His extradition came as he had a pending case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit; his hearing was postponed three times by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Miami.

Saab was extradited without the knowledge of his lawyers or family. His wife considers it a kidnapping. The extradition occurred one day before elections in Cape Verde. The winning candidate had previously said he would release Saab. During his time in Cape Verde, the U.S. sent the Cape Verde government $1.5 million in pandemic economic relief aid and announced plans for a new $400 million embassy, of which $100 million would go directly into Cape Verde’s economy.

The charges against Saab allege corruption in Venezuela’s premiere social programs. The Great Housing Mission has delivered 3.7 million homes for working class Venezuelans, the majority of those built under sanctions. Saab himself was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2019 for alleged corruption in the CLAP program, which delivers food and other necessities to 7 million Venezuelan families every month in a country of 30 million people.

He was detained by Cape Verde on a refueling stopover. He was headed to Iran to broker a trade deal that would bring fuel, food and medicine to Venezuela. Saab is one of the architects of Venezuela’s capacity for overcoming U.S. sanctions. The U.S. government wants him in order to destroy this capacity and make Venezuelans even more desperate.

The  opposition knew that any attempt to extradite Saab would threaten the talks, and apparently, the U.S. government had assured them they would not take the step. After his extradition, the Venezuelan government suspended the talks. This led to a predictable response by the media and D.C. think tanks that blamed President Maduro for the suspension.

Yet imagine if it had been the Venezuelan government that arrested an ally of Juan Guaidó in violation of international law. What would have happened? It would have been denounced by the U.S., its allies and the Venezuelan opposition. It would have scuttled the talks and the Venezuelan government would be blamed.

This sort of hypocrisy is also evident in the case of the six Citgo oil executives currently jailed in Venezuela on corruption charges. All six are Venezuelan-born citizens, though five have dual citizenship with the U.S. and one has a green card. Most media coverage identifies them all as U.S. citizens, perhaps to create the impression that they’ve somehow been kidnapped.

In a gesture of goodwill earlier this year, the Venezuelan government granted them house arrest. As a response to the extradition of Saab, they have now been returned to prison. The U.S. continually advocates for their release, despite the serious charges of corruption.

Similar treatment is offered to former Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez, who is wanted in Venezuela for corruption after seriously harming the country’s oil industry. Ramírez is currently in Italy, a NATO country that refuses to extradite him to Venezuela.

SDRs

The Saab extradition wasn’t the Biden administration’s only attempt to sabotage the dialogue. Gone virtually unreported in the media is the fact that the U.S. Treasury Department is blocking Venezuela from accessing what’s known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a sort of international currency issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Approved in August after a year-long delay due to objections by the Trump administration, the issuance of SDRs is meant to address the economic consequences of the pandemic. Hundreds of organizations, including CODEPINK, endorsed this issuance that would allow countries like Venezuela “to import items they need to address the pandemic, such as food, medicine …  and medical devices.”

But as is the case with Afghanistan, the IMF has blocked Venezuela from accessing its $5 billion in SDRs. It is understood that the Biden administration is behind this decision. This de facto sanction has gone virtually unreported by mainstream media, despite repeated denunciations by the Maduro government. Again, this decision to block Venezuela’s SDRs was taken by the U.S. during the ongoing talks.

To add insult to injury, the Treasury Department released a cringeworthy sanctions “review” on October 18. This review was meant to address the impact of sanctions on the global response to the pandemic. Instead, it offered a plan to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, while ignoring the calamitous effect it has on civilians. This review has been denounced by several advocacy groups, including the Sanctions Kill coalition, of which CODEPINK is a part.

The future of the dialogue

Even if the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and extreme right-wing opposition is completely canceled rather than just suspended, the electoral guarantees would likely remain in place. The Maduro government has done a lot to bring the more moderate opposition to the table, and many of their leaders have publicly broken with the Guaidó faction. Moreover, Venezuela is unlikely to do anything else that might threaten the participation of the UN and EU in the elections.

At this point it’s unclear what can save the dialogue. There has been media speculation about a possible exchange of Alex Saab for the Citgo 6. Family members of the Citgo 6 recently sent a letter to President Biden criticizing the U.S. government for not negotiating directly with Venezuela. An offer like this might not be enough to get the Maduro government back to the table, which rightly sees the case of the Citgo 6 as being lawful, and the extradition of Saab as illegal and politically motivated. And it’s unlikely that the Biden administration would offer this in the first place; if that deal had been available, it would likely have happened before Saab’s extradition.

The Biden administration seemingly has little interest in preserving the dialogue and it remains an open question whether anyone in Congress will challenge this reckless continuation of Trump’s policies. The Venezuelan people deserve better than another administration sabotaging a dialogue and imposing more deadly sanctions.

To join the growing campaign to free Alex Saab, please visit https://www.codepink.org/freealexsaab.


facebook thumbs down

Facebook Whistleblowers Confirm Tech Giant Can't Govern Itself

Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

Another former Facebook employee on Friday submitted a complaint to the U.S. government, bolstering whistleblower Frances Haugen’s recent criticism of the company in testimony to Congress and other formal complaints, and sparking fresh calls for accountability.

The new whistleblower affidavit submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was obtained by The Washington Post, which reports that the unidentified ex-employee accuses Facebook—which may get a new name in a rebranding as early as next week—of prioritizing growth and profits over limiting the spread of problematic content.

“Facebook cannot govern itself,” said Eric Null, U.S. policy manager at the group Access Now, in response to the Post‘s reporting. “The company repeatedly fails to live up to its promises, and, thanks to the whistleblowers and other prominent research, we have the receipts.”

facebook thumbs down

Null and other critics of the company were quick to reiterate demands for action by U.S. lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“Given what we now know about Facebook’s singular focus on growth over addressing its destructive behavior, and that it has been perpetuating and causing civil rights-related harms, Congress and the FTC need to crack down on Facebook and all big tech companies,” Null said. “Legislation, or FTC rules, should include strict data protection provisions that put an end to the pernicious hyper-targeting and data-obsessed advertising business model. Without it, Facebook, and Big Tech in general, will continue to wreak havoc at home and around the world.”

Free Press Action co-CEO Jessica González similarly said in a statement that “the latest whistleblower revelations confirm what many of us have been sounding the alarm about for years. Facebook is not fit to govern itself.”

“The social-media giant is already trying to minimize the value and impact of these whistleblower exposés, including Frances Haugen’s,” she said, accusing the company of “conducting a serial cover-up of practices that put communities of color and other minorities at great risk for hate, harassment, violence, and disinformation campaigns.”

Taking aim at the company’s CEO, González added that “not only are Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives failing to protect our elections and keep our communities safe, they are failing to fulfill their responsibilities to the company’s shareholders.”

“Zuckerberg has made multiple appearances before Congress and nothing has changed,” she said. “It’s time for Congress and the Biden administration to investigate a Facebook business model that profits from spreading the most extreme hate and disinformation. It’s time for immediate action to hold the company accountable for the many harms it’s inflicted on our democracy.”

The Post reports that the SEC affidavit alleges Facebook officials “routinely undermined efforts to fight misinformation, hate speech, and other problematic content out of fear of angering then-President Donald Trump and his political allies, or out of concern about potentially dampening the user growth key to Facebook’s multibillion-dollar profits.”

As the newspaper explains:

Friday’s filing is the latest in a series since 2017 spearheaded by former journalist Gretchen Peters and a group she leads, the Alliance to Counter Crime Online. Taken together, the filings argue that Facebook has failed to adequately address dangerous and criminal behavior on its platforms, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. The alleged failings include permitting terrorist content, drug sales, hate speech, and misinformation to flourish, while also failing to adequately warn investors about the potential risks when such problems surface, as some have in news reports over the years.

“Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives repeatedly claimed high rates of success in restricting illicit and toxic content—to lawmakers, regulators, and investors—when in fact they knew the firm could not remove this content and remain profitable,” Peters said in a statement.

The “most anguished line in the affidavit” relates to military officials in Myanmar using Facebook to spread hate speech during mass killings of Rohingya people, according to the Post. The whistleblower wrote that “I, working for Facebook, had been a party to genocide.”

In a statement to the newspaper, Facebook spokesperson said that its “approach in Myanmar today is fundamentally different from what it was in 2017, and allegations that we have not invested in safety and security in the country are wrong.” Asked about toxic content more broadly, she said that “we have every commercial and moral incentive—to try to give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible on Facebook.”

Just hours after reporting on and reactions to the new affidavit, The New York Times revealed Friday evening that internal Facebook documents show “employees sounded an alarm about misinformation and inflammatory content on the platform and urged action” both before and after last year’s U.S. election, “but the company failed or struggled to address the issues.”

One internal report highlighted by the Times—and previously published in full by BuzzFeed News—was about Facebook Groups, which, according to the new whistleblower, the company fails to adequately police. The report was specifically about users exploiting the Groups feature to “rapidly form election delegitimization communities on the site” leading up to January 6, when a right-wing mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“Hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back,” the internal report said, “to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection.”


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Insurance Companies Fighting Medicare Expansion In Reconciliation Bill

Julia Rock, Jacobin

As Medicare Advantage continues to drive profits for the nation’s major health insurance companies, the industry is lobbying against a provision in the reconciliation bill that could save the government nearly $150 billion over the next decade on a much-needed expansion of the country’s Medicare program and prevent even more money from being funneled to private health insurance companies.

Medicare Advantage — the privatized version of the national health insurance program for people over the age of sixty-five and people with disability status — has become a cash cow for private health insurers. As small- and medium-sized employers struggle to keep up with the skyrocketing costs of health care, private insurers are increasingly expanding into the Medicare Advantage market to buffer their profits.

A provision being considered as part of the reconciliation bill would add dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare without including those benefits in the calculation of the rate at which the federal government reimburses Medicare Advantage plans. Doing so could cut the cost of expanding Medicare benefits by 41 percent, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.

The vast majority of Medicare Advantage plans already provide dental, hearing, and vision benefits. But that hasn’t stopped private insurers and their front group, the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA), from demanding more money from Congress and spending $3 million on advertising campaigns since September to try to ensure their reimbursement rates go up if those benefits are also added to traditional Medicare plans…

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