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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."

activists arrested

Sunrise Protesters Arrested at VP's House Demanding Biden Declare a Climate Emergency

Six young activists were arrested outside Vice President Kamala Harris' Los Angeles home on Monday while calling on the White House to declare a climate emergency, according to the youth-led Sunrise Movement.

Harris and President Joe Biden–Democrats who are seeking reelection in November—campaigned as climate champions in the 2020 cycle but have had a mixed record on the topic since entering office.

"My generation is spending our teenage years organizing for climate action because people like Kamala Harris have failed us," said Adah Crandall, one of the activists arrested after blockading the street outside her California residence overnight.

"We're ready to do whatever it takes to win a climate emergency declaration—we will camp out overnight, we will get arrested, we will mobilize our peers by the thousands to win the world we deserve," the 18-year-old continued. "The Biden administration are cowards for not standing with young people."

"The Biden administration are cowards for not standing with young people."

The White House has been praised for climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act as well was a recent pause on liquefied natural gas exports. However, the president has also faced criticism for continuing fossil fuel lease sales, backing the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Willow oil project, and skipping last year's United Nations summit.

Just last week, the Biden administration approved a license for a pipeline company to build the nation's largest offshore oil terminal off of Texas' Gulf Coast—despite surging fossil fuel pollution that is pushing up global temperatures.

Sunrise last week condemned the approval as "very disappointing" and also joined with Campus Climate Network and Fridays for Future USA to announce Earth Day demonstrations intended to pressure Biden to declare a climate emergency.

Biden claimed last year that "practically speaking," he had already declared a national climate emergency; however, as campaigners and experts have stressed, actually doing so would unlock various federal powers to tackle the fossil fuel-driven crisis.

"Our communities in California breathe toxic air from fossil fuels and face fires that destroy our homes," noted 18-year-old Ariela Lara, who was arrested at Harris' home.

"I'm on the frontlines raising my voice for my Black and Latine families and friends," Lara added, "because I know that we deserve to have affordable housing and healthcare, we deserve an administration who will fight for us, but instead of declaring a climate emergency, we are seeing Biden and Harris expand oil and gas production to record levels."

The action targeting Harris came after a February protest at Biden's campaign headquarters in Delaware that also led to arrests.

Free food is distributed to people in need

'Let Them Eat GDP Reports': 44 Million Americans Are Food Insecure

A U.S. anti-hunger group marked April Fools' Day on Monday with a snarky statement suggesting that hungry Americans "can eat positive economic statistics about the soaring stock market or the growing gross domestic product."

"Let them eat GDP reports," Hunger Free America declared of the 44 million Americans—including 13 million children—who live in food insecure households, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

GDP is the market value of all the finished goods and services produced in a country over a certain time period. Critics have long argued against using it as the premier indicator of how a nation is doing.

"The old school way of the elites fighting hunger was to say, 'let them eat cake,'" said Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg. "But the more modern approach is to say, 'let them eat a report of the nation's growing GDP, although the report offers empty calories.'"

"By focusing mostly on economic statistics that benefit mostly the wealthy—like stock indexes—the nation's political and media elites blithely overlook that hard evidence that the economy is still structurally unsound for large swaths of the public, and then those same elites are flummoxed as to why the public tells pollsters they are still not satisfied with the economy," Berg explained.

"The country's impoverished multitudes can now get all they can eat—assuming they can digest paper report pages."

"But the good news is that, none of that matters now, because truckloads of positive economic reports are being shipped to food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries nationwide, and the country's impoverished multitudes can now get all they can eat—assuming they can digest paper report pages and cardboard report covers, and don't mind a bit of poisonous ink," he quipped.

While inflation has eased in the United States over the past two years in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, corporations have engaged in price gouging that has kept costs high for Americans, everywhere from gas pumps to grocery stores to fast food restaurants.

"It's one thing for corporations to pass reasonable increased costs to consumers. It's another for them to line their coffers by exploiting Americans who are just trying to get by," the Groundwork Collaborative's Liz Pancotti said in January, as the group released a related report. "It's time to rein in corporate price gouging—or families will continue to pay the price."

Data released last month by the Federal Reserve shows that the top 1% of Americans are the richest they have ever been, with a collective $44.6 trillion in wealth, a record largely driven by the stock market. President Joe Biden and some progressive Democratic lawmakers recently renewed calls for wealth taxes, but such proposals are not expected to pass the divided Congress.

Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and has been so since 2009. Although state policymakers have taken action to raise pay for some or all workers, national legislation to boost wages also has not been able to get through Congress.

Rep. Veronica Escobar

House Dems Voice 'Deep Concern' Over Biden Claim That Israel Is Legally Using US Arms

More than two dozen House Democrats on Tuesday challenged the Biden administration's claim that Israel is using U.S.-supplied weapons in compliance with domestic and international law—an assertion made amid an ongoing World Court probe of "plausibly" genocidal Israeli policies and practices in Gaza.

Citing "mounting credible and deeply troubling reports and allegations" of human rights crimes committed by Israeli troops in Gaza and soldiers and settlers in the occupied West Bank, 26 congressional Democrats led by Texas Reps. Veronica Escobar—who co-chairs President Joe Biden's reelection campaign—and Joaquin Castro asked U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines "whether and how" their agencies determined Israel is lawfully using arms provided by Washington.

"We write to express our deep concern regarding the U.S. Department of State's recent comments regarding assurances from the Israeli government, under National Security Memorandum (NSM) 20, that the Israeli government is using U.S.-origin weapons in full compliance with relevant U.S. and international law and is not restricting the delivery of humanitarian assistance," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Cabinet members.

The letter acknowledges the "grave concerns" of institutions and experts around the world regarding Israel's "conduct throughout the war in Gaza, its policies regarding civilian harm and military targeting, unauthorized expansion of settlements and settler violence in the West Bank, and potential use of U.S. arms by settlers, in additional to limitations on humanitarian aid supported by the U.S."

The legislators noted Israeli attacks on aid convoys, workers, and recipients—like the February 29 " Flour Massacre" in which nearly 900 starving Palestinians were killed or wounded at a food distribution site—and "the closure of vital border crossings" as Gazan children starve to death as causes for serious concern.

While the lawmakers didn't mention the International Court of Justice's January 26 preliminary finding that Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza, their letter highlights the "stark differences and gaps in the statements" made by Biden administration officials and "those made by prominent experts and global institutions"—many of whom accuse Israel of genocide.

The lawmakers' letter came amid reports of fresh Israeli atrocities, including a drone strike on a playground in the Maghazi refugee camp in northern Gaza that killed at least 11 children. Eyewitnesses described a "horrific scene of children torn apart."

While Biden has called out Israel's "indiscriminate bombing" in Gaza—much of it carried out using U.S.-supplied warplanes and munitions including 2,000-pound bombs that can level whole city blocks—his administration has approved more than 100 arms sales to Israel, has repeatedly sidestepped Congress to fast-track emergency armed aid, and is seeking to provide the key ally with billions of dollars in addition weaponry atop the nearly $4 billion it gets annually from Washington.

This, despite multiple federal laws—and the administration's own rules— prohibiting U.S. arms transfers to human rights violators.

According to Palestinian and international officials, more than 110,000 Palestinians have been killed or wounded by Israeli forces since October 7. Most of the dead are women and children. At least 7,000 Palestinians are also missing and presumed dead and buried beneath the rubble of hundreds of thousands of bombed-out homes and other buildings.

Around 90% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been forcibly displaced in what many Palestinians are calling a second Nakba, a reference to the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Arabs from Palestine during the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948.

A growing number of not only progressive lawmakers but also mainstream Democrats are calling for a suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who was criticized earlier in the war for not calling for a cease-fire—stood beside a photo of a starving Gazan girl while declaring "no more money for" the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his "war machine."

Supreme Court protest

Watchdogs' Database Details Right-Wing Efforts to Sway US Supreme Court

A trio of progressive watchdog groups on Thursday unveiled a new database detailing the "troubling connections" between the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing justices, the conservative organizations that have intervened in cases before the court, and the wealthy donors funding them.

Take Back the Court, Revolving Door Project, and True North Research published the database at SupremeTransparency.org, which "shines a spotlight on the complex web connecting justices to powerbrokers and the organizations that those powerbrokers fund, lead, and are otherwise linked to."

The watchdogs found that nearly 1 in 7 amicus briefs filed during the 2023-24 Supreme Court term were lodged by at least one powerbroker-affiliated organization. This affects 32 different cases before the court.

"The current U.S. Supreme Court has gone rogue."

For example, in Moore v. United States—in which the Supreme Court could preemptively ban or limit wealth taxes—half of all amicus briefs were filed by groups affiliated with right-wing powerbrokers.

In Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, groups funded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch want to scupper the Chevron deference, a 40-year precedent under which judges defer to the legal interpretations of federal agencies if Congress has not passed any laws on an issue. Powerbroker-affiliated organizations have filed more than one-third of the amicus briefs seeking to overturn the Chevron doctrine.

"Far too often people with insidiously close ties to justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, such as Harlan Crow and Paul Singer, signal their interest in the outcome of cases by funding, leading, or influencing organizations that file amicus briefs," Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser said in a statement.

"There is just as much of a conflict of interest when a justice hears a case involving a benefactor as a named party and one in which the person who illicitly enabled their luxurious lifestyle is 'merely' similarly situated to one of the parties," Hauser added.

According to SupremeTransparency.org:

The current U.S. Supreme Court has gone rogue. The right-wing justices that make up the court's supermajority frequently toy with precedent and the rule of law to issue opinions that not only defy the will of a majority of Americans, but also rewrite constitutional principles, overturn widely respected legal precedents, and gut longstanding rules that protect the public interest.

In just the 2021 and 2022 Supreme Court terms alone, the court overturned Roe v. Wadeafter 49 years; gutted both the decades-old Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; overturned a 100+ year old gun safety law; eroded the National Labor Relations Act (adopted as part of New Deal reforms to protect workers); broke with their own procedures regarding standing to sue in order to block student debt relief; and reversed decades of precedent to end the decadeslong practice of race-conscious college admissions policies that promoted diversity and redressed discrimination. But this radically reactionary court and its radically reactionary justices aren't acting alone.

"Supreme corruption demands supreme transparency," said Take Back the Court president Sarah Lipton-Lubet. "It's no secret that the many of the rich benefactors cozying up to the conservative justices are the same people who fund right-wing organizations with business before the court."

"But too often, stories about the Supreme Court don't connect these dots—and as a result, they leave us with an incomplete picture," she continued. "The truth is right-wing powerbrokers are seemingly paying to play; they're funding groups that are weighing in on court cases even as they buy access to the justices who will rule on those cases."

"It's just one of the ways our Supreme Court is deeply, fundamentally broken," Lipton-Lubet added. "And it's a reminder of how urgent and necessary it is that we reform this corrupt court."

Last year, the Supreme Court adopted a Code of Conduct that contained few new rules, no enforcement mechanism, and was widely panned as a toothless public relations stunt. Bolder proposals for reforming the high court include term limits and increasing the number of justices.

Jeff Bezos speaks with a U.S. general

Report Sounds Alarm Over Growing Role of Big Tech in US Military-Industrial Complex

The center of the U.S. military-industrial complex has been shifting over the past decade from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to Northern California—a shift that is accelerating with the rise of artificial intelligence-based systems, according to a report published Wednesday.

The report—entitledHow Big Tech and Silicon Valley Are Transforming the Military-Industrial Complex—was authored by Roberto J. González, a professor of cultural anthropology at San José State University, for the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs.

The new paper comes amid the contentious rise of AI-powered lethal autonomous weapons systems, or killer robots; increasing reliance upon AI on battlefields from Gaza to Ukraine; and growing backlash from tech workers opposed to their companies' products and services being used to commit or enable war crimes.

"Although much of the Pentagon's $886 billion budget is spent on conventional weapon systems and goes to well-established
defense giants such as Lockheed Martin, RTX, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Boeing, and BAE Systems, a new political economy is emerging, driven by the imperatives of big tech companies, venture capital (VC), and private equity firms," González wrote.

"As Defense Department officials have sought to adopt AI-enabled systems and secure cloud computing services, they have awarded large multibillion-dollar contracts to Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Oracle," he added. "At the same time, the Pentagon has increased funding for smaller defense tech startups seeking to 'disrupt' existing markets and 'move fast and break things.'"

The report highlights the rise of a new class of billion-dollar military contractors, "a combination of gargantuan tech firms like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, and hundreds of smaller, pre-IPO startup companies supported by VC firms."

"The use of drones and AI-enabled weapons systems in Ukraine and Gaza, and a feared AI arms race with China, have fueled the
Pentagon's heavy investment in advanced digital tech," González wrote.

A lack of transparency is obscuring the true value of some of the largest military contracts to tech companies.

"One estimate indicates that U.S. military and intelligence agencies awarded at least $28 billion to Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (Google's parent company) between 2018 and 2022," the report states. "The actual value of these contracts is likely much higher, because many of the largest known contracts with U.S. tech companies are classified and withheld from public procurement databases."

González found that the five largest military contracts to major tech firms between 2018 and 2022 "had contract ceilings totaling at least $53 billion combined."

"Major tech firms are also awarded large subcontracts from relatively obscure intermediaries or 'passthrough' companies that are granted primary contracts from the Pentagon—evading scrutiny and analysis," the paper adds.

González said that multi-year software-as-a-service contracts "could make the Pentagon and CIA more dependent than ever on the expertise of technical experts from the private sector."

The risk of conflicts of interest increases as military-dependent tech companies go public.

"As just one example, since going public, more than half of Palantir Technologies' revenue has come from the federal government," the report states. "Recent Palantir contracts with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Air Force are worth more than $900 million. Palantir stock rose more than 170% in 2023."

There's also the danger of a "revolving door" between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon as many senior government officials "are now gravitating towards defense-related VC or private equity firms as executives or advisers after they retire from public service."

"The traditional 'revolving door' meant that a former defense official might accept an executive position with traditional weapons manufacturers; there are more lucrative options now," González wrote. "At least 50 former defense officials are working in VC and private equity, leveraging their connections with current officials or members of Congress to advance beneficial legislation for defense tech firms in their firms' investment portfolios."

"The implications are significant: The new 'revolving door' will accelerate military and intelligence agency funding for early-stage defense tech startups," the report states.

González details how "overblown, inaccurate, ideological talking points are driving defense funding for Big Tech," including "grandiose claims about the effectiveness of artificial intelligence; the overestimation of China's military and technological capabilities; the idea that America has the ability and duty to protect the world's democratic societies; and a steadfast belief that the best way to preserve U.S. dominance is through a free market that prioritizes corporate needs."

"These perspectives boost demand for military AI, and are promoted by a network of tech executives, venture capitalists, think tank analysts, academic researchers, journalists, and Pentagon leaders," he wrote.

Finally, the report warns that "aggressive Big Tech business models" can rush the development of weapons, endangering both combatants and civilians.

"Members of the armed services and civilians are in danger of being harmed by inadequately tested—or algorithmically flawed—AI-enabled technologies," the paper states. "By nature, VC firms seek rapid returns on investment by quickly bringing a product to market, and then 'cashing out' by either selling the startup or going public. This means that VC-funded defense tech companies are under pressure to produce prototypes quickly and then move to production before adequate testing has occurred."