Oh Look, More Dead Kids
What to say. More gun carnage, this time in Nashville, where three children and three adults were shot dead at a private Christian school - so much for God's protection - in America's 90th school shooting this year. But GOP legislators and Gov. Bill Lee are on it: They've eliminated permits, licenses, registration or background checks to get more guns, they've banned drag shows and trans health care, and they're praying with all their hearts (and bloody hands). One more time: #ItsTheFuckingGuns.
The shooting at the Covenant School, which serves about 200 children from preschool through sixth grade, killed students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all 9 years old; also killed were substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, head of school Katherine Koonce, 60, and custodian Mike Hill, 61. Their 28-year-old murderer, Audrey Hale, shot out a side door and headed for the second floor; police "engaged" and shot dead Hale about 14 minutes after they arrived. They later said Hale was a transgender former student who reportedly used he/him pronouns, had written a manifesto and drawn detailed maps targeting the school, was armed with two (legal) assault rifles and a handgun, and had no criminal record. Firefighters and police took surviving children to a nearby Church to be reunited with family; they said they sought to keep students "from seeing exactly what was going on, but we're sure they heard the chaos surrounding this."
Along with this year's 89 shootings at elementary through 12th-grade schools - there's actually a K-12 School Shooting Database - there have been 127 mass shootings in the only country where this regularly happens, possibly because America has more guns - almost 434 million - than people. After gun violence long being one leading cause of death for US children, the pandemic saw guns becamethe top killer of kids, constituting not only a public health crisis but a racist one in which black children are 100 times more likely to be shot by guns than white kids, with all the accompanying trauma. In an only-in-America moment at Monday's press conference by Police, Ashbey Beasley, who with her son survived last year's shooting at an Illinois July 4th parade and is now visiting family in Nashville, stepped to the mike. "Aren't you guys tired (of) having to cover all these mass shootings?" she asked, "How is this still happening? How are our children still dying?"
Maybe it's still happening and they're still dying because both GOP-controlled, NRA-funded bodies of Tennessee's state legislature and GOP Gov. Bill Lee, who tweeted he was "praying for the school, congregation, and Nashville community," have persisted in passing bills making it easier to buy guns: no state permit required for purchase, no registration, no license, no permit for both concealed or open carry, no background checks for private sales, and in Lee's latest brilliant proposal, suggesting lowering the age to purchase from 21 to 18. WTF: What could go possibly wrong? Earlier this month, Lee also made Tennessee the first state to criminalize public drag shows; on the same day he signed legislation banning gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth. Evidently confusing AR-15s with drag queens and health care even though neither has ever committed mass murder, Republicans said they passed both laws In the holy name of "protecting children."
Maybe it's still happening because freshman GOP Rep.Andy Ogles, whose Nashville district includes Covenant School, last year celebrated the birth of baby Jesus by posing with his wife and children holding assault rifles in front of their Christmas tree with the quote, "The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good." In response to news of the shooting, he said he was "devastated by the tragedy," "sending thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost" and "closely monitoring" blah blah. Constituents were....unimpressed: "You're a hack," "GFY you POS," "Groomer," "They died for your hobby," "#bloodonyourhands." George Santos-like, Ogles also evidently lied about his entire bio and resume in his campaign, claiming he was an economist, police officer and international sex crimes expert when he wasn't any of those things. He seems nice.
Maybe it's because, per a devastating new report by The Texas Tribune, Uvalde police did nothing for over an hour as a shooter murdered 19 children and two adults because they "could've been shot," “we weren’t equipped to make entry without several casualties,” and they got so scared when they found out the shooter had an AR-15 they felt "there was no way of going in." Or because the chair of Michigan's GOP compared Democratic proposals for expanded background checks and requirements for gun owners to safely store weapons to the Holocaust - "History has shown us that the first thing a government does when it wants total control over its people is to disarm them...This is the last stand on Earth" - and then doubled down because "We're a different Republican Party" that won't "run away" and besides people get "way too offended." "It's been a party that's always apologizing," she told the Detroit News. "We’re done.”
Or because Alabama Rep. Barry Moore recently announced at Family Firearms in Troy he wants to make the AR-15 the "National Gun of America," sagely arguing, "The anti-2nd-Amendment group won’t stop until they take away all your firearms...Any government that would take away one right would take away them all.” Or that Smith & Wesson now evidently features Proud Boys cradling assault rifles to sell their new Perception Brand "goods for the tactical athlete," with “tacticool” items like t-shirts bearing brass knuckles and "Support Your Local Enforcer" - what one critic calls, "a dog whistle so damn loud that non-dogs can hear it." Or that a 3-year-old girl found a loaded gun in a Houston home and accidentally shot dead her 4-year-old sister even though there were five adults in the apartment at the time, prompting a sheriff's deputy to note, "We continue to send the message that this is very preventable."
It's still happening, says Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, because Republicans "don't seem to give a crap about our children." Or in the immortal words of Jon Stewart, eviscerating Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm for pushing several bills to loosening gun laws, including the nation's first anti-red flag law, "When it comes to children that have died, you don't give a flying fuck." As usual, Stewart captures the mood of enraged Americans, especially right now in the grim shadow of yet more senselessly, obscenely dead children. Hashtags trending: #ItsTheFuckingGuns, #IHateItHere, #RepublicansAreADeathCult, #ProLifeMyAss, #GOPHasBloodOnTheirHands. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee's prayers have been ferociously answered by constituents done with crap about books, drag queens, side doors: "Shame on you," "More blood on your hands," "How do you sleep at night?" "Dead kids guv. Dead kids," "Fuck you Bill Lee and fuck the NRA," "Eff you and your effing 'prayers,'" "Go fuck yourself," "Fuck. You," and, "It's the guns. It's the guns. It's the fucking guns."
Las Vegas: AR-15
Sandy Hook: AR-15
San Bernardino: AR-15
Colorado Springs: AR-15
Poway synagogue: AR-15
Sutherland Springs: AR-15
Tree of Life Synagogue: AR-15
Last year's Christmas card from GOP Rep. Andy Ogles, who "represents" the district where the Covenant school shooting took place.Twitter photo
Senior Climate Activists Rally Across US to 'Stop Dirty Banks'
Thousands of seniors outraged at big banks for continuing to underwrite the expansion of coal, oil, and gas projects took to the streets in cities across the United States on Tuesday to demand that financial institutions "stop funding climate chaos."
Held 24 hours after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres—citing the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—called for an end to fossil fuel financing, the "Stop Dirty Banks" national day of action was organized by Third Act, an alliance of activists over the age of 60 co-founded by veteran campaigner Bill McKibben, and more than 50 other progressive advocacy groups.
The first elderly-led mass climate demonstration in U.S. history, which featured more than 100 rallies around the country, aimed to pressure financial institutions to stop bankrolling the planet-heating pollution that scientists have linked to worsening extreme weather.
Despite pledging to put themselves and their clients on a path to "net-zero" greenhouse gas emissions, the world's 60 largest private banks dumped $4.6 trillion into coal, oil, and gas projects from 2016 to 2021. Just four U.S. financial giants—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America—are responsible for a quarter of all fossil fuel financing identified since the Paris agreement entered into force.
"We must break the big banks' addiction to Big Oil."
“Today is a major drive to take the cash out of carbon," McKibben said Tuesday in a statement. "We want JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America to hear the voices of the older generation which has the money and structural power to face down their empty, weasel words on climate. We will not go to our graves quietly knowing that the financial institutions in our own communities continue to fund the climate crisis."
"We're going to hit the streets and banks today in a wave of gray power," McKibben continued. "We will be colorful and noisy but our message is serious: We want the banks to move out of fossil fuels. The lives and livelihoods of our children and grandchildren depend on a drastic change and banks are the key to this."
In Washington, D.C., participants continued a 24-hour "rocking chair rebellion" that began Monday.
On Tuesday, people in D.C. also staged a die-in to draw attention to the lethal consequences of fossil fuel lending.
Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous warned that "the big banks feel beholden to an industry literally driving us toward human extinction."
"What we're asking these banks to do," said Jealous, "is to have the moral clarity to say to their clients, 'You cannot keep expanding into the Arctic, you cannot keep expanding into the Gulf, you cannot keep drilling in Africa and throughout the globe. Because what you're doing is putting our communities, our future, and the climate at risk.'"
Closing out the rally in the nation's capital, Jealous declared, "We must break the big banks' addiction to Big Oil."
In New York City, protesters of all ages shut down traffic.
They also used giant mock scissors to "cut up" a cardboard credit card.
In addition to symbolically destroying a fake credit card, many people cut up real cards taken from their wallets.
"Third Act has gathered 17,000 pledges from bank customers to close their accounts and cut up their credit cards if the banks continue to fund fossil fuels," the group said. "These pledges were sent in recent weeks to the bank CEOs and in-person at bank branches from Burlington to Cleveland, from Oakland to New York."
"By continuing to finance fossil fuel expansion, Wall Street banks undermine our ability to meet our climate goals, and contradict their own climate pledges," said Ben Cushing, director of the Sierra Club's Fossil-Free Finance campaign. "These demonstrations are only the beginning of what each of us can do to hold big banks accountable for their role in the climate crisis."
"This spring, we'll also be engaging with the banks' biggest shareholders in the lead-up to their annual meetings to support key climate votes," Cushing added. "It's a critical moment to push the banks to stop the flow of money to new fossil fuel expansion, to stop greenwashing their emissions targets, and to end the burden of dirty energy on frontline communities."
'Shocking and Immoral': Report Details Private Equity's Stranglehold on US Healthcare
Private equity's ownership of U.S. healthcare providers is incompatible with the needs and best interests of patients and should be checked with federal legislation, according to a report published Wednesday by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
Critics of for-profit care have long decried private equity's focus on maximizing returns through practices including slashing staff, surprising patients with astronomical bills, and eschewing low-margin care upon which vulnerable populations rely. The new report—authored primarily by Public Citizen healthcare policy advocate Eagan Kemp—examines investment firms' impact on more than a dozen healthcare sectors, from reproductive health through end-of-life care.
"Private equity acquisitions in the healthcare sector have steadily climbed since the financial crisis in 2009, particularly in the past five years," a summary of the report notes. "Unlike acquisitions of hospitals, which typically occur under a public spotlight, the private equity industry's acquisitions of physician practices and other healthcare business lines often occur with little or no disclosure or public scrutiny, hindering the ability of regulators and watchdogs to monitor the effects of private equity ownership."
According to the report:
In general, the private equity industry's business model poses risks to the long-term sustainability of entities that the industry acquires. That is, in large part, because private equity purchases are typically financed with debt that is immediately transferred onto the books of the businesses acquired, thus leaving the acquired entities with debt burdens to manage.
Meanwhile, private equity investors seek outsize returns on an accelerated timeline, generally aiming to exit investments in three to five years with returns of 20%-30% per year. This objective induces them to take short-sighted steps to supercharge profits or otherwise wring capital out of the assets they acquire.
The risks posed by private equity investments in healthcare are particularly acute. After all, the services healthcare providers offer can spell the difference between life and death. Private equity has targeted segments of the healthcare industry since at least the 1990s, with many predictable outcomes. Among them, shocking lapses in safety have occurred, prices have risen faster than at non-private equity acquired entities, and patients have been subjected to price gouging schemes.
The conflict between providers' obligations to provide the best care and private equity investors' insatiable appetites for maximized [returns] provides is clear. "You can't serve two masters," a doctor who previously worked for private equity-owned U.S. Dermatology Partners toldBloomberg. "You can't serve patients and investors."
"Thanks to a lack of transparency, we don't know everything about private equity's incursion into healthcare. But what we do know is shocking and immoral" said Kemp. "The damage that private equity has wrought on Americans' healthcare from cradle to grave, simply for profit, has become a life-or-death situation. Transparency and oversight are needed, stat."
The report suggests legislative solutions including Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) Stop Wall Street Looting Act and Rep. Pramila Jayapal's Healthcare Ownership Transparency Act. The latter, according to Jayapal's office, "would require private equity firms and other financial interests to disclose ownership stakes in healthcare facilities including nursing homes."
A September 2022 Public Citizen report detailed how federal regulators had failed to implement a 2010 law requiring nursing homes to disclose their owners. Other investigations during the Covid-19 pandemic found that home healthcare, hospice, and nursing facilities and services owned by investment firms often provided a lower standard of care.
"We applaud Rep. Jayapal's ongoing effort to shine a light on the dangerous toll private equity vultures are taking on our health," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement. "Adequate regulation of this predatory industry is acutely critical when it comes to the healthcare sector."
Trump Rally in Waco Called Not a Dog Whistle, But a 'Blaring Air Horn' to Far-Right
While former U.S. President Donald Trump's 2024 campaign insists it is purely coincidental that his planned Saturday rally in Waco, Texas falls during the 30th anniversary of a deadly 51-day siege targeting a religious cult, some Texans and extremism experts aren't buying it.
Since law enforcement—including Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents—carried out the botched operation at a Branch Davidian compound near Waco from February 28 to April 19 in 1993, the event has been a source of anti-government sentiment for the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and U.S. militia movement members.
"When Donald Trump flies into Waco on Saturday evening for the first major campaign event of his 2024 reelection quest, dog ears won't be the only ones twitching," the Houston Chronicle editorial board argued Thursday. "Trump doesn't do subtle; dog-whistle messages are not his style. The more apt metaphor is the blaring air horn of a Mack 18-wheeler barreling down I-10."
"'Waco' has become an Alamo of sorts, a shrine for the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, and other anti-government extremists and conspiracists."
"The GOP-friendly city of Waco—Trump won McLennan County by more than 20 percentage points in 2020—has every right, of course, to host a former president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but 'Waco,' the symbol... means something else entirely," the board stressed. "'Waco' has become an Alamo of sorts, a shrine for the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, and other anti-government extremists and conspiracists."
The twice-impeached former president faces potential legal trouble in multiple states and at the federal level for everything from a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to trying to overturn his 2020 electoral loss and inciting the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump, a documented serial liar, took to his Truth Social platform last weekend to say that he would be arrested Tuesday—as part of a New York grand jury investigation into the hush money—and call for protests. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Thursday that Trump "created a false expectation that he would be arrested."
In a Truth Social post on Friday, Trump
warned of "death and destruction" if he is indicted—which led the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to charge that "he's not being subtle, he's threatening prosecutors with violence."
The Chronicle board tied Trump's legal problems to his Waco trip:
Thirty years later, the anti-government paramilitary groups feeding off lies about the "deep state" and a stolen election periodically visit the modest, little chapel on the site of the sprawling, ramshackle building that burned to the ground. Although the Branch Davidians had nothing to do with anti-government conspiracists, chapel construction was funded by loud-mouthed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Militia members and conspiracists know exactly what Trump's Waco visit symbolizes. They have heard him castigate the FBI and the "deep state," particularly after agents searched for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. How they'll respond to his remarks, particularly if he shows up as the first former president in American history to face criminal charges, has law enforcement in Waco and beyond taking every precaution. What he says will likely set the tone for the presidential campaign to come. Every American should be concerned.
Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung wrote Friday in an email to The New York Times that Waco was chosen "because it is centrally located and close to all four of Texas' biggest metropolitan areas—Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio—while providing the necessary infrastructure to hold a rally of this magnitude."
The Chronicle board noted other local options, writing that "the Waco Regional Airport and an expected crowd of 10,000 or so fit the bill. Of course, Temple or Belton or Killeen (home to Fort Hood) would have fit the bill, as well—without the weight of symbolism."
The Texas newspaper was far from alone in sounding the alarm about Trump's upcoming trip to Waco.
"Waco is hugely symbolic on the far right," Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, toldUSA TODAY. "There's not really another place in the U.S. that you could pick that would tap into these deep veins of anti-government hatred—Christian nationalist skepticism of the government—and I find it hard to believe that Trump doesn't know that Waco represents all of these things."
"Waco has a sense of grievance among people that I know he's got to be trying to tap into," Beirich added. "He's being unjustly accused, like the Branch Davidians were unjustly accused—and the deep state is out to get them all."
The newspaper pointed out that "though Trump has held more than 100 campaign rallies and similar events, and mounted a near-daily schedule of them during his campaigns, this week's appears to be the first one ever held in Waco."
Megan Squire, deputy director for data analytics at the Southern Poverty Law Center, also rejected the Trump campaign's suggestion that the trip isn't connected to the 1993 standoff and what means to many members of the far-right.
"Give me a break! There's no reason to go to Waco, Texas, other than one thing," Squire told USA TODAY. "I can't even fathom what that's about other than just a complete dog whistle—actually forget dog whistle, that is just a train whistle to the folks who still remember that event and are still mad about it."
Even some right-wing figures are openly making the connection, as TIMEreported: "Posting on the messaging app Telegram, far-right activist and conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer called the rally in Waco 'very symbolic!' A few MAGA influencers on social media noted the choice of location, with one calling it 'a meaningful shot across the brow of the deep state.'"
Nicole Hemmer, a Vanderbilt University associate professor of history and author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics and Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s, wrote in a Friday opinion piece for CNNthat Trump's trip is "a provocation of historic significance."
"When Trump became president in 2016, rather than becoming synonymous with the federal government as previous chief executives had done, he styled himself as both its victim and its adversary, promoting conspiracies about the deep state and encouraging supporters to keep him in power by any means necessary," Hemmer highlighted. "In choosing Waco as the kickoff site for his campaign rallies, he has signaled that his courtship of extremist groups will continue, and that he sees his role as a pivotal figure in the far-right mythos as central to his efforts to retake the presidency."
In First TikTok, AOC Says Solution Is Not Ban But Strong Privacy Laws
Amid a national debate over whether Congress should ban TikTok, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday posted her first video on the social media platform to make the case for shifting the focus to broad privacy protections for Americans.
The New York Democrat's move follows TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as rights content creators, privacy advocates, and other progressive lawmakers rallying against a company-specific ban on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
Supporters of banning TikTok—which experts say would benefit its Big Tech competitors, Google, Meta, and Snap—claim to be concerned that ByteDance, the company behind the video-sharing platform, could share data with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, digital rights advocates such as Fight for the Future director Evan Greer have argued that if really policymakers want to protect Americans from the surveillance capitalist business model also embraced by U.S. tech giants, "they should advocate for strong data privacy laws that prevent all companies (including TikTok!) from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone."
Ocasio-Cortez embraced that argument, saying in her inaugural video: "Do I believe TikTok should be banned? No."
"I think it's important to discuss how unprecedented of a move this would be," Ocasio-Cortez says. "The United States has never before banned a social media company from existence, from operating in our borders, and this is an app that has over 150 million Americans on it."
Advocates of banning TikTok "say because of this egregious amount of data harvesting, we should ban this app," she explains. "However, that doesn't really address the core of the issue, which is the fact that major social media companies are allowed to collect troves of deeply personal data about you that you don't know about without really any significant regulation whatsoever."
"In fact, the United States is one of the only developed nations in the world that has no significant data or privacy protection laws on the books," the congresswoman stresses, pointing to the European Union's legislation as an example. "So to me, the solution here is not to ban an individual company, but to actually protect Americans from this kind of egregious data harvesting that companies can do without your significant ability to say no."
"Usually when the United States is proposing a very major move that has something to do with significant risk to national security, one of the first things that happens is that Congress receives a classified briefing," she notes, adding that no such event has happened. "So why would we be proposing a ban regarding such a significant issue without being clued in on this at all? It just doesn't feel right to me."
The "Squad" member further argues that "we are a government by the people and for the people—and if we want to make a decision as significant as banning TikTok," any information that could justify such a policy "should be shared with the public."
"Our first priority," Ocasio-Cortez concludes, "should be in protecting your ability to exist without social media companies harvesting and commodifying every single piece of data about you without you and without your consent."
UK Stokes Health, Nuclear Fears With Decision to Send Ukraine Depleted Uranium Shells
Dismissing a warning from Russia that it would regard the deployment of Western depleted uranium munitions in Ukraine as an act of nuclear war, a top British defense official said Monday that the United Kingdom will send DU armor-piercing tank rounds to Ukrainian homeland defenders—a move condemned by peace campaigners in the U.K. and beyond.
Responding to a written question from Raymond Jolliffe, 5th Baron Hylton, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords, about "whether any of the ammunition currently being supplied to Ukraine contains depleted uranium," Minister of State at the Ministry of Defense Lord Annabel MacNicoll Goldie said that "alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armor-piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles."
In addition to the British tanks, U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as well as German Leopard 2 tanks can fire DU rounds—although American officials have not said whether such munitions would be included as part of military aid to Ukrainian forces fighting a yearlong Russian invasion.
Fired from tanks, aircraft, and field artillery, DU rounds—which are extremely dense—are ideal for piercing hardened armor. However, the exploding shells produce radioactive dust that contaminates soil, water, and air for many years. U.S. Army training manuals warn that DU contamination "will make food and water unsafe for consumption" and requires soldiers to wear protective clothing when in or near contaminated areas.
U.S. and allied forces fired DU munitions during the 1991 and 2003-11 invasions of Iraq, and in Syria during the campaign against Islamic State. Miscarriages, birth defects, and cancers soared in Iraq after both wars. According to one study, more than half of the babies born in Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among pregnant women in the study, over 45% experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the battles for Fallujah. Geiger counter measurements of DU-contaminated sites in Iraqi cities have consistently shown radiation levels 1,000 to 1,900 times greater than normal.
"Like in Iraq, the addition of depleted uranium ammunition into this conflict will only increase the long-term suffering of the civilians caught up in this conflict," Kate Hudson, general secretary of the U.K.-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said in a statement. "DU shells have already been implicated in thousands of unnecessary deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses."
"CND has repeatedly called for the U.K. government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts," Hudson added. "Sending them into yet another war zone will not help the people of Ukraine."
In January, Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, cautioned NATO countries against giving Ukrainian forces DU shells, warning that "if Kyiv were to be supplied with such munitions for the use in Western heavy military hardware, we would regard it as the use of 'dirty nuclear bombs' against Russia, with all the consequences that entails."
"Another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left."
Asked if the U.K.'s move brought the world closer to nuclear war, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters Tuesday that "another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left."
Responding to Goldie's announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin—who last week was hit with an International Criminal Court war crimes arrest warrant—said Tuesday that "if all this happens, Russia will have to respond accordingly, given that the West collectively is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component."
On Telegram Tuesday, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decried what she called a "Yugoslav scenario," a reference to NATO's use of DU rounds during the 1999 air war in Serbia and Kosovo, which many believe caused a surge in leukemia in the region—both among the local population and foreign troops deployed there.
Zakharova added that "it is naive to believe that only those against whom all this will be used will become victims. In Yugoslavia, NATO soldiers, in particular the Italians, were the first to suffer. Then they tried for a long time to get compensation from NATO for lost health. But their claims were denied."
Numerous researchers and veterans groups believe DU may be the cause of the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome afflicting hundreds of thousands of U.S. and coalition troops, although in 2021 the Pentagon concluded there is "no link" between the illness and DU.
"CND has repeatedly called for the U.K. government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts."
Peace groups have long campaigned for a ban on DU munitions. The United Nations General Assembly last year approved an Indonesian draft resolution expressing concerns about "the health risks and environmental impact" of DU weapons and calling for a "cautionary approach" to their use. The vote was 147-4, with the U.S., U.K., France, and Israel dissenting and 24 nations abstaining.
Tlaib Leads Call for $1.2 Billion in Humanitarian Aid for War-Torn Yemen
"Without a significant increase in American assistance... we fear that 2023 will be a heartbreakingly deadly year for everyday Yemenis," Tlaib and 23 other House Democrats wrote.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Monday led two dozen House Democrats in urging Congress to allocate at least $1.2 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen—whose people have suffered eight years of U.S.-backed Saudi war—in next year's budget.
"As we approach the 8th anniversary of the Yemen war, the country remains stuck in a devastating cycle of conflict and humanitarian crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives," Tlaib (D-Mich.) and 23 other lawmakers wrote in a letter to House Subcommittee on State and Foreign Relations Chair Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
"Yemen has the grim title of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with over 4 million Yemenis displaced and an estimated 80% of the country's 30 million people reliant upon some form of assistance for their survival," the letter, which was first sent last week, asserts.
The letter's authors lament that "international appeals for assistance for Yemen have consistently [fallen] short of their goals by large margins" and that "the continuous reduction in funding has greatly exacerbated the humanitarian suffering."
The United Nations "has had to close over 75% of its lifesaving programs, and the World Food Program has been forced to cut or reduce food distribution to 8 million people, increasing the number of areas at risk of famine," the letter notes.
"Without a significant increase in American assistance (which we believe would incentivize foreign nations to increase their support in turn), we fear that 2023 will be a heartbreakingly deadly year for everyday Yemenis," the signers assert.
The lawmakers urge Congress to include at least $1.2 billion "for humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts in Yemen" in the budget for fiscal year 2024. They also ask the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development "to develop programming that directly invests in sustainably developing long-term economic opportunities for Yemenis."
Tlaib is one of four dozen bipartisan House lawmakers who last June introduced a War Powers Resolution to end "unauthorized" United States military involvement in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen's civil war.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), introduced a similar measure in the Senate. Last December, Sanders withdrew the resolution just before it was slated for a floor vote, while vowing to work with the Biden administration on ending U.S. involvement in the war.
UN Refugee Agency Says Biden Asylum Plan 'Incompatible' With International Law
"As proposed, the regulation would restrict the fundamental human right to seek asylum," said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Monday urged the Biden administration to consider rescinding its proposed anti-asylum rule, which critics have compared to former President Donald Trump's "transit ban" that denied asylum to anyone who had traveled to the United States through a third country.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security last month proposed the new rule, which would subject asylum seekers to prompt deportation if they don't have "documents sufficient for lawful admission."
Migrants who pass through other countries en route to the U.S. without first claiming asylum there will be labeled ineligible to claim asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border—a violation of the internationally recognized right to seek asylum, said the UNHCR, echoing a number of refugee rights groups.
"As proposed, the regulation would restrict the fundamental human right to seek asylum for people who passed through another country and arrived in the United States without authorization," said the agency, which is headed by Filippo Grandi. "UNHCR is particularly concerned that, even with the regulation's grounds for rebuttal, this would lead to cases of refoulement—the forced return of people to situations where their lives and safety would be at risk—which is prohibited under international law."
"Key elements of the proposal are incompatible with principles of international refugee law," said the agency.
The UNHCR submitted comments on the proposed rule as part of the U.S. government's federal rule-making process. The public comment period for the proposal ends Monday.
The new rule, titled Circumvention of Legal Pathways, has been proposed to go into effect for two years after the expiration of Title 42, the pandemic-era policy which gave border agents the authority to expel immigrants at the southern U.S. border. Title 42 is currently scheduled to expire in May.
The UNHCR noted that the United States' mass denial of asylum for people arriving in the country after Title 42 expires would put strain on other countries which are already hosting millions of refugees.
"In line with the goals of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection and other international commitments, it is essential that countries work together to secure collaborative and coordinated responses to increasing movements of refugees and migrants in the Americas," said the agency, referring to the 2022 agreement between Western Hemisphere countries that aimed to "create the conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration and to strengthen frameworks for international protection and cooperation."
The agency added that it is committed to supporting "broader reform efforts" regarding the U.S. immigration system aimed at improving "the fairness, quality and efficiency of the asylum system."
The UNHCR included recommendations for the U.S. system in its public comment, including:
- Introducing integrated border processing, reception, and registration to ensure asylum-seekers are identified as soon as possible after entering the U.S. and can be directed to the services they need, as well as helping to reduce overcrowding at ports of entry and minimizing delays and inefficiencies;
- Providing legal information, aid, and representation at the earliest possible stage to contribute to fairness and efficiency;
- Providing "non-adversarial adjudication," in which authorities could work with asylum applicants to "establish necessary facts and analyze them in accordance with international standards";
- Introducing "differentiated case processing modalities," in which straightforward cases with fewer legal or factual questions could be "streamed into accelerated and/or simplified procedures," allowing authorities "to enhance protection and build efficiencies by dedicating greater resources to the adjudication of complex claims."
"UNHCR stands ready to support these efforts throughout the region, including with the United States," said the UNHCR, "with a focus on genuine responsibility sharing, strengthening asylum systems and building safe pathways to protection and solutions."
The UNHCR has denounced the Biden administration's immigration policies in the past, warning in January that the president's expansion of Title 42—in which up to 30,000 people from specific countries would be sent to Mexico each month unless they met certain requirements—was "not in line with refugee law standards."
'What Color Shirts'? Far-Right Ben-Gvir to Get Control Over Israeli National Guard
The former head of Israel's police accused the national security minister of "dismantling Israeli democracy" and "turning Israel into a dictatorship."
Democracy defenders on Monday sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agreement to place the country's National Guard under the control of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right extremist who has advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Netanyahu's move is in exchange for a promise from Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party to remain in the prime minister's governing coalition despite an earlier threat to exit if Netanyahu delayed a highly controversial judicial overhaul. Facing massive street protests and a general strike by the nation's largest trade union, Netanyahu agreed on Monday to postpone the legislation until April or early May.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets Sunday to protest Netanyahu's firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who a day earlier advocated for a monthlong pause to the judicial reform.
"Instead of democracy, Israel doubles down on fascism against Palestinians."
Netanyahu explained in a televised address Monday that he is "not willing to tear the country apart," while asserting that "there must not be civil war."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in response to Netanyahu's deal with his security minister: "We already saw what happened when Ben-Gvir wanted to suppress the protests, now one can only imagine what will happen when he has his own militias."
It is important to understand—the "National Guard" that Netanyahu promised is a private armed militia that will answer directly to Ben-Gvir. This is a police unit intended first and foremost to act in mixed cities, first and foremost against the Arab population. Such power in Ben-Gvir's hands = certain violation of Arabs' rights. Advancing such a proposal will also enable him to use these forces against the protests and demonstrators.
This is a new and dangerous addition to the coup d'état that we are witnessing. As if it is not enough to act against the judicial system, now we see operative steps to take authorities from the police and turn them into Ben-Gvir's Revolutionary Guards.
"The National Guard must be under the police rather than under the control of Lehava and the rest of the Kahanists," asserted Gilad Kariv, a member of Israel's parliament representing the center-left Israeli Labor Party, as he referenced the far-right Jewish supremacist political group and followers of Meir Kahane, the Orthodox rabbi convicted of terrorism before being assassinated in 1990.
For progressive critics, the idea of Ben-Gvir having a military unit under his direct control presents a frightening prospect.
Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting the Kahanist terror group Kach after he advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. He is also an open admirer of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish supremacist who murdered 29 Palestinian worshippers at a mosque in the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.
Moshe Karadi, former general commissioner of the Israel Police, told the Times of Israel that Ben-Gvir "has formed a private militia for his political needs."
"He's dismantling Israeli democracy" and "turning Israel into a dictatorship," Karadi added.
Currently a unit within the Israel Border Police, the National Guard was established under the previous Israeli government amid rising Palestinian resistance and in the wake of the 2021 military assault on Gaza.
Statement: Energy bill would wreak havoc on lands, waters and taxpayers
Progress Michigan Celebrates Gov. Whitmer Restoring Worker Freedom