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Amnesty International demanded the United States immediately conduct independent, credible, and transparent investigations into air strikes in western Afghanistan that reportedly lead to the death of more than 100 civilians, including women and children.
The civilians reportedly died as a result of aerial bombardment in support of Afghan National Army units engaged in heavy combat with Taliban in the western province of Farah overnight on Monday into Tuesday. According to the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, the Taliban were taking shelter in civilian homes during the fighting.
If the figures are verified, this attack was one of the deadliest for civilians since the United States ousted the Taliban in 2001.
Amnesty International pointed out the Taliban and other insurgent groups are documented to have frequently launched attacks from civilian areas knowing that they will attract military response from the Afghan government and allied international military forces.
Robert Wood, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, has announced a joint investigation with the Afghan government into the incident. In several previous incidents of civilian deaths allegedly caused by the U.S. military, the official investigation has been criticized as incomplete or inaccurate by the Afghan government as well as local and international human rights groups.
According to U.N. figures, last year alone saw 2,200 civilians killed, over half in insurgent attacks and nearly 40 percent by foreign and Afghan forces. There are currently around 70,000 foreign troops operating in Afghanistan, more than half of them from the United States.
Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.(212) 807-8400
"We are urging the U.N. to listen to the millions of people around the world who want an end to plastic pollution, rather than the interests of the oil and gas lobby."
More than 170 civil society groups and scientists warned Monday that lobbying by the deep-pocketed fossil fuel and petrochemical industries poses a dire threat to efforts to establish an effective global treaty curbing plastic pollution, which has inundated communities, waterways, and oceans across the planet with toxic waste.
In a letter to U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) executive director Inger Andersen and Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee for Plastics executive secretary Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, 174 advocacy organizations and scientists wrote that "the fossil fuel lobby is actively working to prevent the Plastics Treaty from containing essential controls on plastic production."
"Given the industry's power and influence—both within the U.N. and over national and regional governments—there is a strong risk that, unless measures to inhibit their influence are put in place, it will be impossible to negotiate the Global Plastics Treaty that people and the planet need," reads the letter, which comes a week before the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-2) is set to begin in Paris.
The letter's signatories are calling on the U.N. to take concrete steps to resist lobbying pressure from the fossil fuel industry, which is heavily invested in expanding plastic production—a process that relies on fossil fuels. Reutersreported last year that while "plastic industry groups representing firms like ExxonMobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and Dow Inc. have expressed support for a global agreement to tackle" global plastic pollution, they have privately been "devising strategies to persuade conference participants to reject any deal that would limit plastic manufacturing."
In response, the civil society groups and scientists are imploring UNEP to "urgently establish an Accountability Framework, including a regime-wide conflict-of-interest policy."
They're also urging the U.N. to control "polluting industries' infiltration of negotiation spaces" and guarantee that "the voices of independent scientists are heard."
"Currently too many of the scientific studies that inform member States and decision-makers are funded by industries with vested interests—making it extremely difficult to ensure facts and data are free from industry influence," the letter states. "This conflict of
interest effectively challenges the meaning of best available science and therefore cannot guarantee negotiations in good faith."
\u201cIn 1 week, governments are meeting to discuss a Global #PlasticsTreaty \ud83c\udf0e\n\nWorld leaders need to get it right! That means an ambitious treaty that will dramatically reduce plastic production\u2026. anything less & the treaty will fail.\n\n\ud83c\udfa4 @Lupita_Nyongo\n\nWatch & share \ud83d\udc49\u2026\u201d— Greenpeace International (@Greenpeace International) 1684754125
Last year, U.N. member states endorsed a resolution agreeing to establish a global, legally binding treaty regulating plastics through their full lifecycle—from production to disposal—by the end of 2024.
If allowed to continue unabated, plastic production is expected to triple by 2050, dooming efforts to clean up the world's plastic-ridden oceans.
Following the first round of treaty negotiations in December 2022, Greenpeace and other advocacy groups warned that major oil-producing nations—including the United States—slow-walked the discussions and attempted to curb their scope "at the behest of big oil and petrochemical companies."
It's clear that similar concerns will be prominent as the second round of treaty talks kicks off next week.
Louise Edge, global plastics campaigner for Greenpeace U.K., said Monday that "the Global Plastics Treaty is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve the plastics crisis."
"Whether it succeeds or fails depends on whether governments are bold enough to ensure that the treaty delivers what the science says is needed—a cap and phase down of plastic production," said Edge. "This essential measure will be fiercely resisted by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries that profit from plastic."
"We are urging the U.N. to listen to the millions of people around the world who want an end to plastic pollution, rather than the interests of the oil and gas lobby," Edge added.
"Free advice for the speaker of the House: if you want to cut spending so bad, start and end with the Pentagon budget," said one watchdog group.
With the U.S. just 10 days away from a possible default, House Republicans are now demanding a military budget even larger than the record $858 billion that Congress authorized for the current fiscal year as they continue pushing for steep cuts to key aid programs.
The GOP demand was reported over the weekend after Republican negotiators rejected a White House offer to "freeze" both military and non-military spending—an idea that congressional Republicans previously appeared open to—in exchange for a debt ceiling increase, causing talks to break down. The powerful defense industry, which donates heavily to Democrats and Republicans, howled in protest earlier this year at the prospect of military spending cuts.
Republicans are also, according toPolitico, "demanding work requirements for SNAP recipients that are more rigid than those they originally proposed" and "insisting on adding new immigration provisions from the GOP's recently passed border bill" while dismissing White House proposals to cut prescription drug spending and close tax loopholes exploited by the rich.
"Republicans in D.C. are pushing for a massive increase in the $858 billion Pentagon budget, a $1.8 trillion tax break to people who inherit over $1 billion, and a $3.5 trillion extension of Trump's tax breaks," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is urging President Joe Biden to act unilaterally to end the debt ceiling standoff, wrote over the weekend. "Oh, did they tell you how very, very concerned they are about the deficit?"
Higher military spending would mean that, in order for Republicans to achieve their stated spending-reduction goals, non-military spending would have to be slashed even more aggressively. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that cuts to other federal programs—from housing to childcare to medical research—"would be enormous" if military spending and veterans' healthcare were spared: "33% in 2024 rising to an eye-popping 59% cut in 2033."
The fresh GOP push for an even more bloated Pentagon budget came as a new "60 Minutes" investigation examined how private military contractors—a major lobbying force in Washington with nearly 800 registered influence-peddlers—price gouge the Defense Department with impunity, fueling the agency's annual spending growth.
"The gouging that takes place is unconscionable. It's unconscionable," Shay Assad, a former top contract negotiator at the Pentagon who previously worked at Raytheon—making him a so-called "reverse revolver"—told the program.
"No matter who they are, no matter what company it is, they need to be held accountable. And right now that accountability system is broken in the Department of Defense," said Assad. "If you're happy with companies gouging you and just looking you right in the eye and say, 'I'm gonna keep gouging you because I know you don't have the guts to do anything about it,' then I guess we should just keep doing what we're doing."
\u201c\u201cThe gouging that takes place is unconscionable. It's unconscionable.\u201d \n\nShay Assad, a former Defense Department contract negotiator, said the Pentagon overpays for almost everything \u2013 from missiles and planes to spare parts.\u201d— 60 Minutes (@60 Minutes) 1684710554
"This is what Rep. Barbara Lee and I have been talking about," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, tweeted in response to the "60 Minutes" probe. "We need to #AuditThePentagon."
A Pentagon-backed study released last month found, unsurprisingly, that "publicly traded U.S.-based corporations in the defense industrial base are, in aggregate, financially healthy."
"They are profitable," the study continued. "They generate substantial amounts of cash beyond their needs for operations or capital investment; the bulk is returned to shareholders so they can invest it elsewhere. They generate total returns to shareholders well in excess of what one might expect given their relative low risk to investors. Bankruptcies or other signs of financial distress are exceptionally rare. Strong financial performance was maintained even during periods of market turmoil."
Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, has estimated that more than half of all Pentagon spending between fiscal years 2002 and 2021 went to private contractors that provide the government with military equipment.
"Free advice for the speaker of the House: if you want to cut spending so bad, start and end with the Pentagon budget," the progressive advocacy group Public Citizensaid on Saturday. "Don't touch SNAP or Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid."
"MAGA House Republicans are threatening a default that could cost us millions of jobs and trigger a recession," said the president. "All because they are demanding deep cuts that will hurt hardworking families—even while they protect tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations."
Before a meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy planned for Monday, President Joe Biden on Sunday renewed his criticism of what GOP lawmakers are demanding in exchange for raising the debt ceiling to prevent an economically catastrophic default.
"I've done my part," Biden told reporters—pointing to his trillions of dollars in proposed spending cuts and new sources of revenue—before heading back to Washington, D.C. from Hiroshima, Japan, where he attended a three-day Group of Seven summit.
"Now it's time for the other side to move... from their extreme positions, because much of what they've already proposed is simply, quite frankly, unacceptable," Biden said of McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the other House Republicans holding the economy hostage.
\u201cMAGA House Republicans are threatening a default that could cost us millions of jobs and trigger a recession.\n\u00a0\nAll because they are demanding deep cuts that will hurt hardworking families \u2013 even while they protect tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.\n\nI\u2019ve got a plan to\u2026\u201d— President Biden (@President Biden) 1684685203
The president continued:
Let me be clear: I'm not going to agree to a deal that protects, for example, a $30 billion tax break for the oil industry, which made $200 billion last year—they don't need an incentive of another $30 billion—while putting healthcare of 21 million Americans at risk by going after Medicaid.
I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects $200 billion in excess payments for pharmaceutical industries and refusing to count that while cutting over 100,000 schoolteachers and assistants' jobs, 30,000 law enforcement officers' jobs cut across the entire United States of America.
And I'm not going to agree to a deal that protects wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders while putting food assistance at risk for... nearly 1 million Americans.
"It's time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely... on their partisan terms," Biden added, while also declaring that "America has never defaulted... on our debt, and it never will."
However, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that if Congress doesn't raise the debt limit soon, the federal government could run out of money to pay its bills by June 1. Growing fears of a default have prompted some legal scholars and progressive lawmakers to pressure Biden to stop negotiating with GOP hostage-takers and invoke the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says in part that "the validity of the public debt... shall not be questioned."
Among them is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who wrote in a Sunday email to supporters: "In a manner that is unprecedented and incredibly reckless and cruel, these Republicans have hijacked the debt ceiling process. Their position: If the Congress does not agree to impose savage cuts on the needs of working people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor, they will push the U.S. government to default on its debt. In other words, they are prepared to wreck our economy if they don't get their way."
"In my view, President Biden has the authority and the responsibility under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to make sure that we continue to pay our bills. The language in that amendment is quite clear," Sanders said, urging anyone who agrees to sign a petition "calling on President Biden to exercise that authority in order to protect the country from the savage Republican budget."
In response to a reporter's question Sunday, Biden said that "I'm looking at the 14th Amendment, as to whether or not we have the authority. I think we have the authority. The question is: Could it be done and invoked in time that it... would not be appealed and, as a consequence, pass the date in question, and still default on the debt? That's a question that I think is unresolved."
The American Prospect executive editor David Dayen suggested in a pair of tweets that rather than inquiring if Biden will invoke the 14th Amendment, journalists should be asking how he plans to respond to an existing lawsuit that involves it.
\u201cA good question from the Gang of 500, instead of "will you invoke the 14th amendment" (which is not how it works) is "you've been served, how will you respond?"\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1684678216
Earlier this month, lawyers for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE)—which represents roughly 75,000 workers across federal agenices—filed a suit against Biden and Yellen in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
NAGE, which has endorsed Biden for reelection in 2024, aims to have the debt ceiling law declared unconstitutional, and on Friday—after Dayen publicly pointed out lack of progress with the case—the union's legal team requested emergency action by the court.
Meanwhile, Politicoreported Friday that some Biden aides fear invoking the 14th Amendment "would trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness, and damage the economy," and "officials have warned that even the appearance of more seriously considering the 14th Amendment could blow up talks that are already quite delicate."
After departing Japan on Sunday, Biden spoke with McCarthy by phone from Air Force One. Following the call, the GOP speaker confirmed plans to meet with the president on Monday but also said that "my position has not changed."
Sanders, in his email Sunday, wrote that "Republicans' willingness to hold the world's economy hostage to their draconian and cruel demands, and their refusal to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, has made it seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time."
"The debt ceiling is about paying money that has already been appropriated and spent. It has nothing to do with future budgets and future spending," he stressed. "And throughout the history of our country, the U.S. government has always done what it is supposed to do—we pay our debts."