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Scott Westbrook Simpson
202.466.2061 | Simpson@civilrights.org
A coalition of 117 national civil rights and civic organizations has sent a letter to senators establishing five principles for ensuring that the Fiscal Year 2012 budget and debt limit deals address the nation's debt in a fair, equitable, and responsible manner.
In the letter, the coalition expresses concern about the inadequacy and unfairness of current budget proposals, stating that:
"[Congress]...has the potential to either improve our overall economic situation or make matters even worse. Some of the proposals that we have seen to date are overly simplistic and would, in reality, do little to solve our budgetary problems. Others are simply draconian."
The letter lays out five principles that the coalition urges the Senate to follow as budget negotiations unfold:
"Our coalition understands that deficit reduction is an important long-term goal for the nation," said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "But it cannot be accomplished without putting revenues on the table. Otherwise, the burden of reducing the debt will be laid at the feet of low- and moderate-income Americans and jeopardize a still-sluggish economic recovery."
The text of the letter with a full list of its signatories is below.
May 24, 2011
COALITION STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES FOR FY 2012 BUDGET AND DEBT CEILING NEGOTIATIONS
The undersigned 117 organizations represent persons of color, women, children, low- to moderate-income workers, people with disabilities, consumers, elders, people of faith, English language learners, LGBT people, educators, and many other Americans. Together, we have formed a coalition that is extremely concerned with the ongoing state of negotiations over the Fiscal Year 2012 budget. We write today to present you with a list of principles that our coalition believes are essential to address as the budget discussions move forward.
As Congress focuses attention on reducing our federal budget deficits, it has the potential to either improve our overall economic situation or make matters even worse. Some of the proposals that we have seen to date are overly simplistic and would, in reality, do little to solve our budgetary problems. Others are simply draconian.
As Congress continues its negotiations over the debt ceiling and the FY 2012 budget, we urge you to adhere to the following principles:
Thank you for your consideration.
9to5, National Association of Working Women
All Education Matters
Alliance for Retired Americans
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
American Network of Community Options and Resources
The Arc of the United States
Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice
Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Campaign for America's Future
Campaign for Community Change
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)
CFED, Corporation for Enterprise Development
Children's Defense Fund
Cities for Progress, Institute for Policy Studies
Coalition on Human Needs
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Committee for Education Funding
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Community Action Partnership
Direct Care Alliance
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Equal Justice Society
Family Equality Council
Food Research and Action Center
Friends of the Earth
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Health & Disability Advocates
Health Care for America Now
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
Japanese Americans Citizens League
Jewish Funds for Justice
Jewish Labor Committee
Latinos for a Secure Retirement
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of Women Voters of the U.S.
Mental Health America
Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund (MBELDEF)
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
National AIDS Housing Coalition
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Association for Children's Behavioral Health
National Association for Hispanic Elderly
National Association of Human Rights Workers (NAHRW)
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
National Community Reinvestment Coalition
National Congress of American Indians
National Congress of Black Women, Inc.
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council on Independent Living
National Disability Rights Network
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project
National Fair Housing Alliance
National Focus on Gender Education
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
National Health Law Program
National Immigration Law Center
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Legal Aid & Defender Association
National Low Income Housing Coalition
National Organization for Women
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Priorities Project
National Senior Citizens Law Center
National Skills Coalition
National Urban League
National Women's Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Not Dead Yet
The Office of Gender and Racial Justice, RE&WM, GAMC, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
PHI - Quality Care through Quality Jobs
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition (REHDC)
RESULTS: The Power to End Poverty
SER- Jobs for Progress National, Inc.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team
Social Security Works
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Southern Poverty Law Center
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
United for a Fair Economy
United States Student Association
U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA)
Voices for Progress
Wider Opportunities for Women
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe," said one advocate.
Economic justice advocates cried foul Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed legislation that aims to block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), along with right-wing Independent Sen. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.), joined Senate Republicans in supporting H.J. Res. 45.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which House Republicans approved last week with the help of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.), passed the Senate by a margin of 52-46. Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) didn't vote. The White House has vowed to veto the measure.
Passage of the legislation elicited a firestorm of criticism from progressive advocates and lawmakers.
"Forty-five million people with student loan debt will never forget when politicians, led by Republican extremists, went out of their way to push millions of working families, including their own constituents, into economic catastrophe by passing this reckless CRA resolution," Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) executive director Mike Pierce said in a statement.
"The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill."
The Biden administration's popular move to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes below $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment (IDR) program is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of deeply flawed legal challenges. A decision in the case is expected sometime this month, but right-wing lawmakers are doing everything in their power to sink the president's relief initiative regardless of how the high court rules.
Last week, the SBPC and the American Federation of Teachers warned of the "ruinous impact" H.J. Res. 45 would have on millions of working-class households nationwide, with AFT president Randi Weingarten condemning it as "an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
In addition to blocking the potential cancellation of up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower as well as money-saving changes to the IDR program, the CRA resolution would nullify the seventh and possibly eighth extensions of the federal student loan payment freeze first enacted by President Donald Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, it would retroactively undo several months of already-canceled payments and waived interest charges, immediately leaving tens of millions of people past due on their loans.
Furthermore, the CRA resolution seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean since September 2022. If that were to happen, a combined debt burden of nearly $20 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, would be put back on the shoulders of teachers, nurses, first responders, and others who recently finished making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that was enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
"Despite right-wing proponents' attempts to gaslight their own colleagues and the American people on the impact of this bill, this effort would push hundreds of thousands of public service workers back into debt and require the government to charge tens of millions of borrowers for interest that has already been canceled," said Pierce. "If enacted, it will cause irreparable damage to an already severely broken student loan system and undermine Americans' trust in our government."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning in the debt despair of our nation's student loan crisis," he added. "The American people are watching and expect President Biden to keep his promise to veto this horrendous bill and deliver on his promise of student loan debt relief once and for all."
\u201cRepublicans in the Senate + Dem Senators Manchin, Sinema and Tester just voted to kill student debt relief and *raise* student debt balances by retroactively adding interest.\n\nTester, Sinema and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024 and will have to explain their votes.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685644460
Ahead of a Wednesday vote to bring H.J. Res. 45 to the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said that "Republicans in Congress have shown time and time again that they'd much rather deliver relief to giant corporations and protect tax cheats than help working Americans whose biggest sin was trying to get an education."
On Thursday, the Massachusetts lawmaker called the bill's passage "shameful," and expressed confidence that Biden "will veto" it. Congress doesn't appear to have the two-thirds majority in each chamber needed to override a veto.
\u201cSenate Republicans just voted to block @POTUS' student debt relief plan, force millions to immediately pay back paused student loans & claw back relief from public servants. It's shameful. Thankfully we have President Biden who cares about working people & will veto this.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1685644466
Ahead of Thursday's vote, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member and former chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stressed that "this Republican bill wouldn't only rip away relief for borrowers who qualify under the president's plan."
"This CRA could impact the pause on loan payments and cause major problems for borrowers who have received relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs," Murray continued. "That means these Republican efforts could create the perfect storm for more than 260,000 public service workers who have already earned relief."
"Today's vote makes crystal clear exactly who stood up and fought to protect the economic livelihoods of millions of people with student loan debt—and who schemed to keep them drowning."
"If Republicans were to get their way and pass this bill into law," she added, "people across the country would have relief they are counting on snatched away from them, plans they have made upended, less money in their pockets, and monthly payments not just abruptly restarted—but maybe even abruptly jacked up by hundreds of dollars."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the HELP committee, echoed that sentiment.
"Republicans' cruel attempt to stand in the way of President Biden's plans to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans suffering under the crushing weight of student loan debt is damaging to our economy and wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing working families," said Markey.
"The loan forgiveness the president is proposing would mean the difference between buying a home, starting a business, and getting an economic leg up for nearly 50 million working and middle-class Americans, particularly for borrowers of color and their families," he concluded. "If you kicked Republicans in the heart, you'd break your toe."
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said one campaigner.
Climate campaigners on Thursday said that within days, President Joe Biden's promises to end public finance for fossil fuel projects may prove empty if plans that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation has indicated it has for an LNG project in Poland come to fruition.
The DFC, which oversees U.S. investments in development projects in lower- and middle-income countries, listed on its pending project list on May 23 a $500 million guarantee to support the Polish oil and gas company PKN Orlen to increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The pending transaction was listed ahead of the DFC's board meeting, which is scheduled for June 7.
Oil Change International (OCI) noted that the LNG listing was removed on May 30, but the "public information summary" remained live as of Thursday, suggesting the board could still approve the project.
The project, which would involve Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs helping the company to increase its imports, would be in direct contradiction to President Joe Biden's statement at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021 that his administration would end public finance for fossil fuel development after 2022.
"President Biden has cited his promise to end international public funding for fossil fuels as a sign of his ongoing commitment to climate leadership, even as he boosts fossil fuels and breaks many of his core climate promises at home," said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at OCI. "The Development Finance Corporation approving this dirty project would show once and for all these claims are nothing but empty words."
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels."
LNG is gas that has been cooled and liquefied after being extracted by drilling or fracking. As Common Dreamsreported in April, 116 climate action groups wrote to Biden ahead of the Group of 7 (G7) climate and energy meeting in Japan last month to warn that "the global LNG boom" must be stopped.
Campaigners say the continued expansion of LNG would harm communities that lie near fracking and drilling sites as well as LNG export terminals, while disregarding the warnings of scientists and energy experts who are unequivocal in their warnings that new fossil fuel extraction projects have no place on a pathway to keeping planetary heating under 2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
"If approved, this $500 million climate-wrecking handout would further threaten the air, land, and water of frontline communities in the United States and in Poland, making a mockery of Biden's purported commitment to environmental justice," said Rees. "A rapid buildout of 100% renewable energy is the only pathway to global energy security."
The DFC's potential approval of the project would mark the second time in less than a month that the Biden administration has agreed to finance new fossil fuel development. In May the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved nearly $100 million for the Balikpapan oil refinery in Indonesia.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also spoke at a recent Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference about a proposal for an 807-mile gas pipeline across Alaska and an LNG export terminal that he claimed would be in the United States' economic and national security interests.
"LNG is a false solution that will intensify the climate crisis and increase the world's dependence on fossil fuels," wrote Kay Brown, Arctic policy director for Pacific Environment, at Common Dreams on Thursday. "LNG is methane compressed and chilled to make it easier to transport. Methane emissions are 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, in the short term."
While Biden said at COP26 and at the G7 meeting that he is committed to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects past 2022, the White House has not released guidance outlining how that promise will be kept.
"Biden's refusal to publish public guidance upholding the international fossil fuel pledge is enabling DFC to keep funding dirty fossil fuel expansion," said Rees. "In removing this massive handout to the U.S. LNG industry from its pending project list, DFC is following Biden's lead and keeping ongoing fossil fuel support hidden from the public eye."
"Today is a day of justice. It's a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is—a war criminal, a bully, and a liar," said one of the journalists sued for defamation.
An Australian federal judge on Thursday ruled in favor of three newspapers sued for defamation by the country's most decorated living soldier, who the court found committed war crimes in Afghanistan, including the murder of civilians and unarmed prisoners.
Following harrowing testimony from fellow soldiers, Afghan civilians, and others, Justice Anthony Besanko of the Federal Court of Australia ruled that Fairfax Media newspapers The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times had "established the substantial truth" that former Special Air Service Regiment [SASR] Cpl. Ben Roberts-Smith is a war criminal who murdered four unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan.
Roberts-Smith—whose multimillion-dollar defense was bankrolled by billionaire Australian media mogul Kerry Stokes—is a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, the nation's highest military honor, as well as other awards including the Medal for Gallantry and Commendation for Distinguished Service. He fought in the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Today is a day of justice. It's a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is: a war criminal, a bully, and a liar," Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalist Nick McKenzie—a defendant in the suit—said following the ruling. "Today is a day of some small justice for the Afghan victims of Ben Roberts-Smith."
\u201cAustralia's most decorated living veteran was not defamed when accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan, a judge has ruled \u2014 calling the allegations he killed unarmed prisoners 'substantially true.'\u201d— DW News (@DW News) 1685634121
Besanko found that in 2012 Roberts-Smith marched a handcuffed civilian prisoner named Ali Jan to a cliff in the southern village of Darwan and kicked him off the edge. Jan survived but was severely injured; Roberts-Smith ordered a subordinate soldier to execute the man.
"Ali Jan was a father, Ali Jan was a husband. He has children who no longer have a father. He was a wife who no longer has a husband," McKenzie said.
While Roberts-Smith argued Jan was a suspected Taliban scout, Besanko wrote that the soldier "murdered an unarmed and defenseless Afghan civilian," that he "broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement and is therefore a criminal," and that he "disgraced his country Australia and the Australian army by his conduct as a member of the SASR in Afghanistan."
In 2009, Roberts-Smith is alleged to have pressured a newly deployed soldier to execute an elderly Afghan man found hiding in a tunnel in order to "blood the rookie," according to the court. Roberts-Smith machine-gunned the man's younger disabled companion to death and then took his prosthetic leg back to Australia, where he encouraged fellow soldiers to drink beer from it, an act the court called "callous and inhumane."
\u201cCW: Afghanistan War Crimes\n\nAustralian soldier Ben Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed Afghan man off a cliff and then ordered him shot; shot a teenage prisoner point-blank in the head; and gunned down a disabled man, whose prosthetic leg SAS soldiers later used to drink beer.\u201d— Rebecca J. Kavanagh (@Rebecca J. Kavanagh) 1685599535
Besanko also found that Roberts-Smith bullied a fellow soldier, while finding that the papers did not prove an allegation that he punched a woman with whom he was having an affair in the face after a 2018 argument in Canberra.
University of Sydney professor David Rolph, a defamation law expert, told the Morning Herald that the court's judgment "is a comprehensive victory for the media outlets" and "a vindication of the journalism in question."
"Defamation losses have a chilling effect for the media, particularly for serious investigative journalism," he added. "This decision should give media outlets some confidence that they can undertake public-interest journalism and prevail."
Sen. David Shoebridge (Green-New South Wales) called Besanko's ruling "an important win for fearless journalism in the public interest."
"It's a tragic fact that private media companies, not any part of the federal government, have taken on the public task of telling the truth about Australia's war record in Afghanistan," Shoebridge told the Morning Herald. "The official silence must now end."
\u201c"@benmckelvey said Australia needs to launch a royal commission \u2014 akin to a U.S. congressional inquiry \u2014 to understand what went wrong.\n\nThe defamation trial, he said, was \u201cjust a little peek through the crack in the door.\u201d"\u201d— White Rose Society (Australia) (@White Rose Society (Australia)) 1685600983
In 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained leaked documents—known as the Afghan Files—detailing SASR war crimes such as the murder of unarmed civilians including children. A subsequent parliamentary probe confirmed the commission of war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
On Wednesday, Reutersreported Australian defense chief Gen. Angus Campbell was warned by the United States—which has a long history of war crimes in Afghanistan and other countries invaded or attacked during the open-ended War on Terror—that allegations of SAS atrocities could trigger the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to countries that violate human rights with impunity.
Troops from other coalition forces—including Afghans, British, Germans, Polish, and Canadians—have committed or been complicit in atrocities during the Afghan war, as have Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State fighters.