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Attorney General Eric Holder, appearing today before the House Judiciary Committee, will face questions on his operation of the Justice Department. Though the hearing is a general oversight hearing, the hearing likely will be dominated by committee members pressing the attorney general for a top-to-bottom criminal investigation of the legal culpability of those involved in the Bush administration's torture program.
The ACLU has been strongly urging Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the interrogation techniques against detainees held by the United States. Last month, a petition supporting that action was delivered to Holder with over a quarter million signatures gathered by the ACLU and several other groups.
"Attorney General Holder can no longer put off the decision to criminally investigate those responsible for torture," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "No one is above the law. It is not enough to simply admonish those responsible; they must be held to the same legal standards as any American who committed a crime. Those who ordered and implemented the horrific policies of torture must be brought to justice. The appointment of an independent prosecutor is a vital step towards restoring America's rule of law."
There is mounting public evidence that crimes of torture were committed, including memos produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) obtained through FOIA litigation brought by the ACLU, several congressional hearings and a report released last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee. These documents make clear that important decisions on the use of torture and abuse were made in the White House, at the Pentagon, and at the headquarters of the CIA and the Justice Department.
Additionally, yesterday the Obama administration reversed its decision to make public by May 28 a "substantial number" of photos depicting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel. The photos, which were ordered to be released in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, include images from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan at locations other than Abu Ghraib.
"Instead of hiding evidence of torture by locking away photos and documents, the Obama administration should be focused on appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate whether top government officials committed torture crimes," said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. "Only a full and fair criminal investigation can assure Americans that we can reclaim our values, that no one is above the law, and that torture has stopped and will not happen again."
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
One lawmaker joined protesters in chanting, "We love trans people, we need trans people, trans people belong here!"
This is a developing story... Please check back for possible updates...
Transgender and nonbinary Nebraskans and their allies flooded the state Capitol on Friday as lawmakers began the final round of debate on Legislative Bill 754, the so-called "Let Them Grow Act," which would ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans minors.
The state is one of more than two dozen where Republicans have proposed bills prohibiting young people from getting healthcare that medical experts say reduces depression and suicidal ideation in teenagers struggling with gender dysphoria.
Lawmakers including state Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh (D-6) and Megan Hunt (I-8) have led a monthslong filibuster of L.B. 754, with Hunt telling her colleagues that blocking the bill's passage is a matter of protecting her own transgender son as well as young people across the state.
On Friday, Cavanaugh joined protesters gathered outside the Legislature floor in chanting, "We love trans people, we need trans people, trans people belong here!"
\u201cSenator Cavanaugh chanting in solidarity with the crowd.\n\nhttps://t.co/DtuvTPYMGi\u201d— Erin Reed (@Erin Reed) 1684518484
Earlier this week, the unicameral Legislature—which is officially nonpartisan but has twice as many Republicans holding seats as Democrats—voted to attach a 12-week abortion ban to L.B. 754.
Opponents of the bill presented during the debate a letter signed by more than 1,000 medical providers from across Nebraska, who called the 12-week ban "ill-informed" and said the bill, "in its monstrous, newly amended form, is a direct attack on the medical community of our state."
\u201cThis is the first page of the letter from more than 1k #Nebraska medical professionals @NebraskaMegan said is about to be read onto the floor by @senatormachaela.\u201d— Aaron Sanderford (@Aaron Sanderford) 1684513194
The progressive political commentary site Seeing Red Nebraskareported that as many as four protesters were arrested for demonstrating at the Capitol as the lawmakers debated.
\u201cThey appear to be arresting some protestors.\n\nhttps://t.co/aItWSGtQ43\u201d— Erin Reed (@Erin Reed) 1684527974
A vote on L.B. 754 was expected as early as Friday evening.
"It's already hard enough for parents to make ends meet and now they're being put at the center of these dangerous political games," said one advocate.
As Republican lawmakers on Friday walked away from negotiations over raising the United States' arbitrary debt limit, claiming the Biden administration has been "unreasonable" in its refusal to accept steep spending cuts, a new survey showed how a majority of U.S. families are already struggling to afford essentials that would become even less accessible if the GOP gets its way.
ParentsTogether Action on Friday released the results of a survey taken this week of nearly 500 low- and middle-income families, finding that 75% of parents who benefit from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would be unable to provide their families with nutritious foods without the program, whose funding would be reduced by 12%—$800 million—under the debt ceiling plan put forward by the Republicans.
More than half of WIC recipients told ParentsTogether that they would not have been able to afford food for themselves and would have been forced to forgo eating meals to feed their children if it weren't for the program. Sixty-four percent of recipients said they would have been unable to afford formula for their infants and 35% said they would not have had the breastfeeding support they needed.
Currently 53% of all infants born in the U.S. benefit from financial and nutritional assistance through WIC, up from 43% in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Republicans are holding parents, children, and grandparents hostage by threatening to default on our debt if they don't get the budget cuts they're demanding."
The Biden administration has warned that the the cuts proposed by House Republicans would lead to a loss of crucial food, formula, and breastfeeding assistance for as many as 1.7 million women, children, and infants.
Ailen Arreaza, executive director of ParentsTogether, said in a statement that the GOP's strategy "will backfire."
"Republicans' proposed budget illustrates just how far they're willing to go to protect billionaires and corporations. Their cruel plan to take WIC away from 1.7 million pregnant or postpartum parents and their babies—leaving countless infants without the formula they need to survive and taking away nutritious food from breastfeeding mothers—is not going unnoticed," she said.
"Republicans are holding parents, children, and grandparents hostage by threatening to default on our debt if they don't get the budget cuts they're demanding," Arreaza added. "It's already hard enough for parents to make ends meet and now they're being put at the center of these dangerous political games."
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said Thursday, House Republicans released their fiscal year 2024 agriculture appropriations bill this week, including the "harmful policy changes and deep funding cuts" needed to "adhere to the austere funding caps" included in the party's debt ceiling proposal.
"To cut funding without putting eligible applicants on waiting lists, the bill guts the increase to benefits for fruit and vegetables that has been in place since 2021 and was implemented based on a recommendation by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine," wrote CBPP senior policy analysts Katie Bergh and Zoë Neuberger. "This would cut benefits for nearly 1.5 million pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding participants and roughly 3.5 million children aged 1 through 4."
One million adults aged 50 to 55 would also be excluded from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if they can't meet work requirements proposed by the GOP.
\u201cThis doesn't just take food out of the mouths of kids and new moms, but it reverses incredible progress in building healthier diets for the next generation. #WIC fruit and veggie benefits led to increased and more varied consumption of produce.\u201d— Brian Dittmeier (@Brian Dittmeier) 1684417560
"Folks need to remember that these efforts to shrink the pie of federal spending are completely disassociated from the actual need of families in this country," said Dittmeier. "When there's growing need for WIC, slashing benefits is far from the right answer."
The survey by ParentsTogether also suggested that the GOP's cuts to food assistance would further reduce the ability of parents across the country to save money for emergencies.
Seventy percent of respondents told the group that rising costs of food, housing, and other essentials have left them unable to save for the future any longer, and 64% said they've already had to spend some of their savings or emergency funds.
"We can say with certainty that societies and economies absolutely do not just take a hit and recover," said the lead author of research showing a downturn after the warm phase could last 14 years or longer.
With experts anticipating El Niño will return in the months ahead, a pair of Dartmouth College researchers warned this week that the long-term cost to the global economy could be as much as $3 trillion by 2029—which could be largely felt by poorer countries.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate pattern that affects sea surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific Ocean, has three phases: the cooler La Niña; neutral, which the world is now experiencing; and the warmer El Niño that is expected soon.
"El Niño triggers far-reaching changes in weather that result in devastating floods, crop-killing droughts, plummeting fish populations, and an uptick in tropical diseases," explained a Dartmouth statement about the study, published Thursday in the journal Science.
Doctoral candidate Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of geography at the college, examined economic conditions for several years after the 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Niño events. They connected those two warm phases to $4.1 trillion and $5.7 trillion in global income losses, respectively—far higher than previous estimates.
"El Niño amplifies the wider inequities in climate change, disproportionately impacting the least resilient and prepared among us."
"We can say with certainty that societies and economies absolutely do not just take a hit and recover," said Callahan, the study's lead author, noting that their data suggest an El Niño-related downturn could last up to 14 years or longer.
"In the tropics and places that experience the effects of El Niño, you get a persistent signature during which growth is delayed for at least five years," he continued. "The aggregate price tag on these events has not ever been fully quantified—you have to add up all the depressed growth moving forward, not just when the event is happening."
The pair found that the gross domestic product of the United States was roughly 3% lower in 1988 and 2003 than it would have been without the preceding El Niño events—and, for the latter phase, GDPs in coastal tropical countries were more than 10% lower.
"The global pattern of El Niño's effect on the climate and on the prosperity of different countries reflects the unequal distribution of wealth and climate risk—not to mention the responsibility for climate change—worldwide," said Mankin. "El Niño amplifies the wider inequities in climate change, disproportionately impacting the least resilient and prepared among us."
"The duration and magnitude of the financial repercussions we uncovered suggests to me that we are maladapted to the climate we have," he added. "Our accounting dramatically raises the cost estimate of doing nothing. We need to both mitigate climate change and invest more in El Niño prediction and adaptation because these events will only amplify the future costs of global warming."
Models for the latter research showed that sea surface temperature extremes were about 10% more intense for the six decades after 1960, compared with the previous 60 years. Co-author Mike McPhaden, a senior research scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that "the big events pack the most punch, so even though 10% doesn't sound like much, it juices up the strongest and most societally relevant year-to-year climate fluctuation on the planet."
"In practical terms, this translates into more extreme and frequent droughts, floods, heatwaves, wildfires, and severe storms, just like we observed during the recent triple dip La Niña that ended in March," McPhaden toldThe Guardian.
\u201cNew Perspective!\n\nAnthropogenic impacts on twentieth-century #ENSO variability changes\n\nWenju Cai and colleagues explore the greenhouse warming-related effect on post-1960 El Ni\u00f1o/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability \ud83c\udf21\ufe0f\ud83c\udf0a\n\nhttps://t.co/43UtXPtIQ4\nFree: https://t.co/MJBnQbrgbi\u201d— Nature Reviews Earth & Environment \ud83c\udf08 (@Nature Reviews Earth & Environment \ud83c\udf08) 1684405844
Given that observed trend and expectations it will continue, the Dartmouth researchers project that even if countries pursue their pledges to cut planet-heating emissions, global economic losses related to El Niño could reach $84 trillion for the 21st century.
"If you're estimating the costs of global warming without considering El Niño," Mankin warned, "then you are dramatically underestimating the costs of global warming."
"Our welfare is affected by our global economy, and our global economy is tied to the climate," he said. "When you ask how costly climate change is, you can start by asking how costly climate variation is. We're showing here that such variation, as embodied in El Niño, is incredibly costly and stagnates growth for years, which led us to cost estimates that are orders of magnitudes larger than previous ones."
The Associated Pressreported Thursday that "some—but not all—outside economists have issues with the new research out of Dartmouth College, saying its damage estimates are too big."
However, McPhaden welcomed the findings, telling the AP that he has long believed previous estimates were far too low and the "big loser during El Niño is the Global South."
While the Dartmouth projections suggest 2023's looming warm phase could cost trillions of dollars, the NOAA scientist stressed that "the economic impacts of the El Niño that is predicted for later this year will depend on how strong it is."
"Monster El Niños" like the 1997-98 event "can be hugely damaging with lingering effects that carry over into following years," he said. "On the other hand, if it turns out to be a garden variety El Niño, the consequences may be more muted and the recovery time shortened."