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People marvel at a refrigerator

First They Came For My Appliances: We Are Here For the Refrigerator Freedom Act

Okay all you naysayers whining shambolic House GOPers aren't doing their job just 'cause they're blocking border solutions, ignoring infrastructure, enabling Ukrainian deaths and barely keeping the government afloat: Listen up. Boldly showcasing their astute priorities, they will fight Monday to liberate your dishwashers, dryers, fridges and other home gizmos from a Marxist "avalanche" of new "Libby Boogyman" rules aimed at keeping the planet from vaporizing into air, and c'mon who cares about that?!

Ever-steadfast in upholding their tradition of chasing fictional ills - Mike 'Election Chicanery' Johnson is now vowing to require proof of citizenship to prevent (brown-skinned) non-citizens from voting even though it's already illegal, also "not a thing" - the GOP-led House Rules Committee meets Monday to discuss six bills to prep them for final votes on the House floor. The six bills are the Stop Unaffordable Dishwasher Standards Act, the Liberty in Laundry Act, the Affordable Air Conditioning Act, the Clothes Dryer Reliability Act, the Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act and the Refrigerator Freedom Act. Yes. They are real. They're in response to a number of Biden regulations or proposals aimed at addressing climate change, part of a $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act that seeks to lower costs, reduce energy use, cut pollutants and move to more green-energy practices.

To Republicans, however, they're aimed at letting tyrants "control everything Americans are able to do on a day-to-day basis," part of an insidious plot to allow "others" to come for their stuff, their choices and their God-given rights, evidently including the right to get a back-alley abortion with a coat hanger. (One sage: "REPUBLICANS: 'Keep gubmint OUT of our toasters and dish washers!' ALSO REPUBLICANS: 'We need surveillance cameras inside every cha-cha so we can keep an eye on what women are doing!'") Thus did Arizona's Rep. Debbie Lesko, declaring she is "proud (to) stand on the side of choice for American consumers," devise the Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act to prohibit "federal bureaucrats" from issuing an aforementioned "avalanche" of new energy standards "not technologically feasible and economically justified."

In March, Iowa's Rep.Mariannette Miller-Meeks echoed her, introducing and eventually passing theRefrigerator Freedom Act to prohibit the same offenses - now "not cost-effective or technologically feasible" - because Biden has "done nothing but implement outrageous regulations" that only limit choice, increase prices, disenfranchise toilets and blenders, and move us toward dictatorship. MAGA-ites, of course, applaud these red-meat efforts to rescue heat pumps, gas stoves, washing machines, showers and air fryers from domination. "Finally, following American and not Globalist priorities," said one. "I am sick and tired of the government telling us what we can and cannot buy and use." And after 11 GOP-run states sued over some of the changes, a judge dismissed the rules as "arbitrary and capricious."

That could also apply to a House focused on fighting to be able to buy a $7 toaster even if, okay, so it may burn your house down but FREEDUMB! Of course, confronting issues like national security or infrastructure require actual, unflashy, conciliatory, negotiating, attention-to-detail legislative work, and they're barely able to co-exist with their colleagues, never mind opponents, and anyway it's probably about time for another two-week recess, so let's go with hair dryers and ceiling fans. Along with the petty stupidity is the economic irony: Most appliances are made in China, so they're protecting Chinese companies from U.S. regulations, and for things made here, they're ensuring big business can be left alone to make over-priced, planet-killing, deliberately-soon-obsolete crap. Your tax dollars at work!

Predictably, the cognitive dissonance drew its share of mockery, with Digby noting, "We all know the GOP likes to focus on kitchen table issues, but this is ridiculous." Others argued that, "Insurrectionists are now GOP Congresspersons" and that, thanks in part to such diversionary tomfoolery, "The GOP has Ukrainian blood on their hands." "First they came for my appliances," one intoned. "I was not an appliance, so I said nothing." Another suggested a key addition to the GOP agenda: a "Stop Wasting Our Time on Meaningless Legislation Act." There were also triumphant stories of deliverance born of the GOP's hard and noble work. "In honor of the Refrigerator Freedom Act, I just opened my front door and set my newly liberated Frigidaire free," one reported. "Needless to say, it's running."

Traffic is seen at the Otay Mesa border crossing

'Victory for Cleaner Air' as Federal Court Upholds California Vehicle Emissions Standards

Three judges serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday affirmed the Biden administration's 2022 decision to preserve California's strict emissions standards—dealing a blow to a coalition of right-wing state attorneys general and fossil fuel industry groups that had challenged the rules.

The panel—made up of judges who were appointed by Democratic Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama—ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was right to reinstate its waiver, dating back to the 1970s, which allows California to impose stricter emissions standards than the federal government.

The waiver, which has helped the massive state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons annually, was introduced to help the state address smog stemming from congested freeways and roads in Los Angeles.

The Trump administration revoked the exception in 2018, and Biden reinstated it in 2022, a move that one Sierra Club leader said was "vital to California" and would have a "positive ripple effect on states across the country, driving forward climate progress and delivering cleaner air for millions of Americans."

On Tuesday, Sierra Club senior attorney Joshua Berman said the D.C. Circuit panel's ruling in Ohio v. EPA was "a victory for cleaner air and cleaner cars not just in California, but across the nation."

"The D.C. Circuit has reaffirmed California's critical role in protecting its residents from harmful vehicle emissions, thereby benefiting the many states that rely on adoption of California's standards to achieve and maintain the Clean Air Act's air quality mandate," said Berman.

California's strict emissions standards have been adopted by 17 states and Washington, D.C. since they were first introduced. The Biden administration recently approved new emissions standards for cars as well as buses and trucks that campaigners and experts said were progress but didn't go far enough.

Alice Henderson, director and lead counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the upheld standards "will save lives, protect people from the climate crisis and unhealthy air pollution, save drivers money, and help create good new jobs."

Scott Hochberg, transportation attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, which intervened in Ohio v. EPA in support of California's waiver, called on the state to now "go full speed ahead with strong car standards."

"This year California should continue to show national leadership on clean vehicles by adopting ambitious new standards for gas-powered cars, pickups, and SUVs," said Hochberg. "Importantly, this ruling ensures that the 17 other states that follow California can keep driving towards a future with cleaner air and cleaner vehicles."

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink

'Out-of-Touch Billionaire' Larry Fink Blasted for Calling 65 a 'Crazy' Retirement Age

Larry Fink, the billionaire CEO of the world's largest asset management firm, wrote in his annual letter to investors on Tuesday that it is "a bit crazy" that 65 is viewed as a sensible retirement age in the United States, drawing swift backlash from Social Security defenders and policy analysts.

Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, replied that the CEO of BlackRock apparently doesn't know the U.S. already raised the full retirement age for Social Security to 67 under a law passed during the Reagan administration—a change that inflicted benefit cuts across the board.

"I love how rich people are treated as sources of great wisdom when they obviously don't know their ass from their elbow," Baker wrote on social media.

While Fink, who is 71, wrote that "no one should have to work longer than they want to," he argued that "our conception of retirement" must change, pointing specifically to the Netherlands' decision to gradually raise its retirement age and tie it to life expectancy. (Fink does not mention that life expectancy in the U.S. has been trending downward in recent years.)

"When people are regularly living past 90, what should the average retirement age be?" Fink wrote. "How do we encourage more people who wish to work longer, with carrots rather than sticks?"

Alex Lawson, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Social Security Works, told Common Dreams in response to the BlackRock CEO's letter that "Larry Fink is the definition of an out-of-touch billionaire."

"He is welcome to work as long as he wants to, but that doesn't mean that everyone else—including people who do demanding physical labor—should work until they die," said Lawson.

"Half of Americans age 65 and older are living on less than $30,000 per year. This is absurd. Congress must expand Social Security."

Roughly half of older Americans have no retirement savings, a fact that Fink acknowledged in his letter.

While progressive lawmakers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have called on policymakers to expand Social Security benefits by forcing rich people like Fink to contribute more to the program, the BlackRock CEO argued that the private sector and federal government should team up to "ensure that future generations can live out their final years with dignity."

"What should that national effort do? I don't have all the answers," Fink added. "But what I do have is some data and the beginnings of a few ideas from BlackRock’s work. Because our core business is retirement."

Fink's letter comes days after the Republican Study Committee—a panel comprised of around 80% of the House GOP caucus—released a budget proposal calling for "modest adjustments to the retirement age for future retirees to account for increases in life expectancy" in a purported bid to "secure Social Security solvency for decades to come."

But progressives argue that rather than slashing benefits for new retirees to shore up the program, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap that allows the ultra-rich to pay the same amount into Social Security as someone who makes $168,600 a year.

Fink, for example, has a base salary of around $1.5 million. With the current payroll tax cap in place, Fink stopped paying into Social Security less than a month and a half into 2024.

"In the U.S. today, 12 million seniors are dealing with food insecurity," Sanders wrote on social media Tuesday. "Half of Americans age 65 and older are living on less than $30,000 per year. This is absurd. Congress must expand Social Security."

Sanders Seeks Public Input for Long Covid Moonshot Legislation

Sanders Seeks Public Input for Long Covid Moonshot Legislation

"As chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, it is my strong belief that the crisis of long Covid is a public health emergency that we can no longer ignore."

That's how U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began a Tuesday letter inviting public comment on a $10 billion bill he is crafting to address the crisis of at least 22 million Americans enduring chronic or relapsing symptoms after a Covid-19 infection.

"In January 2024, the HELP Committee held a hearing on the topic of long Covid where experts underscored the urgent need to aggressively find approved treatments for this terrible disease, to better educate medical professionals on how to diagnose long Covid, to better understand the risks associated with long Covid, and to identify potential therapeutic options, among many other things," notes the letter.

"Before getting Covid-19 in Los Angeles in March 2020, I was a runner for nearly two decades," Angela Meriquez Vazquez, a long Covid patient and former president of Body Politic, told the panel. "What started as a mild illness progressed over weeks with an increasingly scary set of symptoms, including severe levels of blood clots, a series of mini-strokes, brain swelling, seizures, painful heart palpitations, severe shortness of breath, extreme confusion, and numbness in my face, hands, and legs that progressed to an inability to walk for several days, and new onset of allergic anaphylaxis after every meal."

"We are living through what is likely to be the largest mass disabling event in modern history," she warned. "Not since the emergence of the AIDS pandemic has there been such an imperative for large-scale change in healthcare, public health, and inequitable structures that bring exceptional risks of illness, suffering, disability, and mortality."

Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in Saint Louis and one of the experts who testified earlier this year, pointed out that there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating the condition and "the ongoing and planned trials for long Covid are too slow and too small (i.e. underpowered) to provide definitive answers."

"We developed vaccines at warp speed. We are doing trials for long Covid at snail speed," the doctor said. "We don't go through an earthquake without dealing with its aftermath. We cannot live through the biggest pandemic of our lives without dealing with the aftermath."

Sanders' proposed legislation would provide a decade of mandatory funding to help the National Institutes of Health respond to the crisis. At the NIH, the bill would create a centralized coordinating entity for research activities, establish an advisory board, and require the federal agency to launch a new grant process for clinical trials as well as a database "for the storage and dissemination of de-identified patient data to make long Covid research more accessible."

The bill would also "require federal entities to provide continued education and support to patients, providers, and the public about the ongoing risks of long Covid, as well as how to identify and address it," explains the letter, which has an addendum detailing the plan.

The committee is accepting emailed feedback on the proposal at LongCovidComments@help.senate.gov through April 23.

"In my view, the time is long overdue for Congress to treat long Covid as the public health emergency that it is," Sanders said in a statement. "Congress must act now to ensure a treatment is found for this terrible disease that affects millions of Americans and their families."

Sanders, a longtime advocate of ensuring everyone in the nation has healthcare by passing Medicare for All legislation, stressed that "far too many patients with long Covid have struggled to get their symptoms taken seriously. Far too many medical professionals have either dismissed or misdiagnosed their health problems."

"That has got to change," he asserted. "We cannot turn our backs on the millions of Americans who continue to suffer from long Covid. I look forward to hearing from patients, experts, and researchers about what we must do to address this crisis."

Santa Marta 5

Salvadoran Court Decried for Letting Case Against 'Santa Marta 5' Continue

Human rights defenders on Wednesday condemned a Salvadoran court's decision to uphold what critics say are politically motivated murder and illicit association charges against five environmental activists.

Miguel Ángel Gámez, Alejandro Laínez García, Pedro Antonio Rivas Laínez, Teodoro Antonio Pacheco, and Saúl Agustín Rivas Ortega were arrested in January 2023 and accused of murdering María Inés Alvarenga—an alleged collaborator with the U.S.-backed Salvadoran regime that killed approximately 75,000 civilians during a 1979-92 civil war—when the men were Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels.

Defenders of the "Santa Marta Five" have highlighted not only the Salvadoran government's failure to show any proof of the men's guilt, but also the fact that perpetrators of civil war-related crimes are protected under a 1992 amnesty agreement between the government and FMLN.

"It is outrageous that the judge is allowing this trial to go forward despite the lack of any evidence of a crime," said John Cavanagh, a senior adviser at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies.

"The international community stands strong with the five leaders of the successful fight against mining, and we will join Salvadoran water defenders to continue to fight with them for justice in this case," he added.

Advocates for the five defendants have also noted how a "state of exception" imposed as part of right-wing Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's war on drug gangs has eroded due process and other rights. As Common Dreams has reported, tens of thousands of people have been arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned under the crackdown. More than 130 of them have died in state custody.

Some critics say it's no coincidence that the Santa Marta Five—who played a key role in winning a 2017 ban on metals mining in El Salvador—have been targeted by Bukele's government, which is taking steps to reverse the historic prohibition. Environmental activists have found themselves in the crosshairs.

Vidalina Morales, who heads the environmental and human rights group Association of Economic and Social Development (ADES)—where Santa Marta Five member Pacheco worked— toldAtmos earlier this year that by arresting the Santa Marta Five, Bukele's administration is "sending us a message."

"They want to open the path for these mining projects to come back," she explained. "They want to criminalize the social movements in this country."

"This is the life we're living in El Salvador," Morales added. "We feel so much fear for our lives and the lives of our families."

Viviana Herrera, the Latin America program coordinator at MiningWatch Canada, said Wednesday that "there is a well-documented pattern of criminalization across the Americas, where environmental defenders are slapped with unfounded charges in an effort to silence their opposition to mining and prevent their life-affirming work protecting water for future generations."

"We firmly denounce today's Santa Marta case ruling," she continued. "All five water defenders played pivotal roles securing an historic ban on metal mining in El Salvador, and this ruling is a clear threat to the rights of all Salvadorans who are protecting their water and environment."

"We express our heartfelt sorrow with the five water defenders and their families," Herrera added, "and will continue to call for the charges to be dropped until they are free."

Quakers lead a protest against U.S. military aid to Israel

US Tax Day Campaign Urges Congress to Stop Arming Israel's Genocide in Gaza

With the April 15 U.S. federal income tax filing deadline just around the corner, the American Friends Service Committee on Thursday announced a Tax Day campaign to demand members of Congress stop funding Israel's genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza.

AFSC—a Quaker group that has been active in Gaza since the Nakba, or Israeli ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Palestine in 1948—said it seeks to highlight how U.S. taxpayer dollars "are misused to fund war and militarism instead of life-sustaining programs."

This year, the group's focus is on U.S. military aid to Israel amid the ongoing Gaza genocide, in which at least 109,500 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli forces, often using weapons supplied by Washington—including 2,000-pound bombs that can level entire city blocks. The majority of Palestinians killed during the war have been women and children, including more than 13,000 minors.

According to AFSC:

Over the last six months, tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed using weapons provided by the United States. Humanitarian aid workers delivering vital assistance continue to be attacked and killed at unprecedented rates. The blockade and killing of humanitarian aid workers are causing widespread famine and starvation in Gaza.

"This scale of devastation is only possible because of financial, political, and military support from the United States," Jennifer Bing, who heads the AFSC's Palestine Activism Program, said in a statement. "We need our members of Congress to listen to their constituents and their conscience and say no to any additional military funding for Israel and yes to a cease-fire and humanitarian access."

AFSC general secretary Joyce Ajlouny said: "The U.S. government is deeply complicit in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian children and families. Our tax dollars are buying the bombs dropping on their loved ones and the tanks that are destroying their cities."

"As a Quaker and a Palestinian I know that this violence will never bring peace," Ajlouny added. "We need an immediate cease-fire, an end to military funding from the U.S., and a political process that will end the apartheid system and bring true peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians."

The U.S., which already gave Israel around $4 billion in annual military aid before the October 7 attacks, has approved more than 100 arms shipments to the key Middle Eastern ally over the past six months. President Joe Biden—who since October 7 has repeatedly circumvented Congress in order to expedite weapons transfers to Israel—is seeking an additional $14.3 billion in armed assistance to the country.

This, despite multiple domestic laws and the Biden administration's own rules barring arms transfers to countries that violate human rights.

Israel imports nearly 70% of its arms from the United States. Common Dreamsreported earlier this month that the Biden administration is pushing Congress to approve the sale of $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.