OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
George Kimbrell, CTA, 571-527-8618, email@example.com; Nick Berning, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0748, firstname.lastname@example.org
Concerned by the growing body of scientific reports cautioning against the unregulated use of nanotechnology in consumer products, a coalition of nonprofit consumer safety and environmental groups sued the Food and Drug Administration today. The case is the first lawsuit over the health and environmental risks of nanotechnology and nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology is a powerful platform technology for taking apart and reconstructing nature at the atomic and molecular level. Just as the size and chemical characteristics of manufactured nanomaterials give them unique properties, those same properties -- tiny size, vastly increased surface area to volume ratio, and high reactivity -- can also create unique and unpredictable health and environmental risks.
The lawsuit demands FDA respond to a petition the public interest organizations filed with the agency in 2006, nearly six years ago. The coalition is led by the International Center for Technology Assessment, on behalf of fellow plaintiffs Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch, the Center for Environmental Health, the ETC Group and the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy.
"Nano means more than tiny; it means materials that have the capacity to be fundamentally different. Yet more and more novel nanomaterials are being sold infused into new consumer products every day, while FDA sits idly by," said George Kimbrell, ICTA Attorney. "The agency's unlawful delay unnecessarily places consumers and the environment at risk."
The eighty-page petition documents the scientific evidence of nanomaterial risks stemming from their unpredictable toxicity and seemingly unlimited mobility. The 2006 petition requested that the FDA take several regulatory actions, including requiring nano-specific product labeling and health and safety testing, and undertaking an analysis of the environmental and health impacts of nanomaterials in products approved by the agency.
Nanomaterials in sunscreens, one of the largest sectors of the nano-consumer product market, were also a focus of the action. The petitioners called on the agency to regulate nano-sunscreens to account for their novel ingredients rather than assume their safety, and to pull such sunscreens from the market until and unless the agency approves them as new drug products.
"Year after year goes by but we have yet to see the FDA do the bare minimum and require nanosunscreens to be labeled as such. This is a basic consumer right," said Ian Illuminato of Friends of the Earth. "We're well past the 1800s -- nobody likes or should be forced to use mystery chemicals anymore."
Since 2006, numerous studies and reports, including agency publications by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Inspector General, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, acknowledge significant data gaps concerning nanomaterials' potential effects on human health and the environment. Most troubling are studies using mice that show that nano-titanium dioxide when inhaled and when eaten can cause changes in DNA that affect the brain function and may cause tumors and developmental problems in offspring. One study found titanium dioxide nanoparticles were found in the placenta, fetal liver and fetal brain.
"It is unacceptable that the FDA continues to allow unregulated and unlabeled nanomaterials to be used in products consumers use every day," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "It is past time for this agency to live up to its mission and protect public health by assessing the health and environmental risks of nanomaterials, and to require labeling so that consumers know where these new materials are being used."
"The scientific consensus is that nanomaterials require specific testing to account for their novel capacities and potential risks. The FDA must do such testing as part of a pre-market safety assessment in a broader regulatory initiative to protect public health," said Steve Suppan of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
Friends of the Earth fights for a more healthy and just world. Together we speak truth to power and expose those who endanger the health of people and the planet for corporate profit. We organize to build long-term political power and campaign to change the rules of our economic and political systems that create injustice and destroy nature.(202) 783-7400
The ruling forces the airlines "to continue competing, eliminating anti-competitive revenue-sharing incentives and setting an important precedent against future consolidation in the industry," said one expert.
A Massachusetts-based federal judge on Friday sided with the Biden administration plus six states and the District of Columbia, which launched an antitrust challenge to American Airlines and JetBlue Airways' "de facto merger" for Boston and New York City.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) along with the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and D.C. filed a civil lawsuit over the airlines' Northeast Alliance (NEA) in September 2021.
"This case turns on what 'competition' means," U.S. District Court Judge Leo Sorokin, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, wrote Friday. "To the defendants, competition is enhanced if they join forces to unseat a powerful rival. The Sherman Act, however, has a different focus."
"Federal antitrust law is not concerned with making individual competitors larger or more powerful. It aims to preserve the free functioning of markets and foster participation by a diverse array of competitors," the judge added. "Those principles are generally undermined, rather than promoted, by agreements among horizontal competitors to dispense with competition and cooperate instead. That is precisely what happened here."
\u201cA federal judge ruled today that JetBlue and America's alliance amounted to an illegal merger. Another big win for DOJ Antitrust.\nhttps://t.co/wuzrarwi5b\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1684528367
Sorokin stressed that "American and JetBlue are two of the four largest carriers operating in New York, and two of the largest three in Boston. Delta Air Lines is the only other carrier with a large presence in Boston. Besides Delta and United Airlines, no other carrier matches or approaches in size the defendants' respective positions in New York."
After noting that the pair established the "first-of-its-kind alliance" in 2020, he explained:
This was a sea change in the relationship between two airlines that were direct and aggressive competitors with decidedly different business models and cost structures. There is no doubt that savvy executives representing both defendants earnestly believe the NEA promotes the interests of their respective shareholders and will strengthen American and JetBlue in their rivalry against Delta (and, to a lesser extent, United) in New York and Boston. It is similarly beyond dispute that the NEA involves substantial coordination by two powerful competitors in an industry that, on a domestic level, is closely regulated, highly concentrated, and often volatile.
Reutersreported that after Sorokin ordered the end of the alliance within 30 days, "JetBlue shares fell 1.8% for the day, while American closed down 1.5%," and both airlines said "they were evaluating their next steps."
Meanwhile, the DOJ, its state partners, and other critics of consolidation celebrated the initial court victory.
"Today's decision is a win for Americans who rely on competition between airlines to travel affordably," said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. "The Justice Department will continue to protect competition and enforce our antitrust laws in the heavily consolidated airline industry and across every industry."
\u201cA \u201cde facto merger\u201d between @JetBlue\nand @AmericanAir could have added $700 million in annual costs for consumers. Thanks to @JusticeATR and @MassAGO Campbell for fighting to keep the airline industry competitive\u2014this is a win for folks in MA and beyond. https://t.co/ZZxHFPVH33\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684595364
American Economic Liberties Project senior fellow for aviation and travel William McGee agreed that the DOJ Antitrust Division's successful challenge of the NEA "is a win for passengers and the public."
"Blocking this de facto merger forces JetBlue and American to continue competing, eliminating anti-competitive revenue-sharing incentives and setting an important precedent against future consolidation in the industry," McGee said. "We hope to see a similar ruling in favor of the Justice Department's suit against the JetBlue-Spirit merger, another illegal deal that would accelerate concentration and drive up fares nationwide."
\u201cThe context for this is a 45-year trend toward concentration and anticompetitive re-orientation of routes since the industry was deregulated in 1978. @WilliamJMcGee and I have a forthcoming piece describing the myriad failures of the deregulation experiment. This is a good day.\u201d— Lee Hepner (@Lee Hepner) 1684528029
As Common Dreamsreported in March, the DOJ joined with the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York, and D.C. to file a civil suit against the JetBlue-Spirit merger, arguing that "by eliminating that competition and further consolidating the United States airlines industry, the proposed transaction will increase fares and reduce choice on routes across the country, raising costs for the flying public and harming cost-conscious fliers most acutely."
McGee said at the time that by "blocking this blatantly anti-competitive deal, the Department of Justice is standing up for passengers, workers, and communities across the country."
"The FBI's systematic misuse of these resources proves that it (and the rest of the federal government) simply can't be trusted to wield this sort of power," said one campaigner. "Let 702 die."
Friday's "alarming" revelations about U.S. law enforcement's abuse of a powerful surveillance tool "confirmed the worst fears of advocates" and likely further complicated a brewing battle in Congress over reauthorizing a constitutionally dubious spying law.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—which is set to expire at the end of this year unless reauthorized by federal lawmakers—empowers the U.S. government to engage in warrantless surveillance of electronic communications. Although the law only authorizes targeting foreigners located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information, a massive amount of Americans' data is also collected.
On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), released a pair of redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions—one which revealed that in 2020 and early 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) misused the Section 702 database over 278,000 times.
"These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It's clear the FBI can't be left to police itself."
The "persistent and widespread" violations by the FBI—which is part of the DOJ—include searches for information related to crime victims, protesters arrested after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, donors to a congressional candidate, and people suspected of breaching the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The New York Times reported that "a senior FBI official said that in those cases, the analysts misunderstood the standard and were required to undergo additional training," and a representative for the DOJ disclosed that the unidentified political candidate lost to an incumbent lawmaker.
The ODNI's statement about the court documents insists that "all of these compliance incidents occurred prior to FBI deploying a series of remedial measures beginning in the summer of 2021 and through 2022. As a result, these compliance incidents do not reflect FBI's querying practices subsequent to the full deployment of the remedial measures."
However, exposure of the FBI's conduct prompted fresh demands from civil liberties advocates in Congress and beyond for seriously reforming or even ending Section 702, with several critics casting doubt on claims that the bureau—and other agencies with access to the collected data—will behave absent outside intervention.
\u201cA recent internal FBI audit suggests that the new changes have reduced the rate of non-compliance from 18% to 4%. At first blush, that sounds pretty good. But there are serious questions about the methodology for the audit. 15/22\u201d— Elizabeth Goitein (@Elizabeth Goitein) 1684523216
"These abuses have been going on for years and despite recent changes in FBI practices, these systematic violations of Americans' privacy require congressional action," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) declared Friday. "If Section 702 is to be reauthorized, there must be statutory reforms to ensure that the checks and balances are in place to put an end to these abuses."
"I am disappointed at the extent of the redactions in the opinions released today," he added, pledging to pressure ODNI to inform the public about the interpretation of the law behind closed doors. "There is important, secret information about how the government has interpreted Section 702 that Congress and the American people need to see before the law is renewed."
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, though he noted his hesitation to do so given that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has created the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government—which has been called the "Insurrection Protection Committee" and a "fascist power grab to evade accountability" by progressive lawmakers:
In the middle of Chairman Jordan's overzealous attack on federal law enforcement and the absurd claims advanced by the MAGA crowd on the weaponization subcommittee, I am hesitant to comment at all—but the abuse of FISA authority detailed in this opinion demands a response from all members of Congress. Section 702 exists only to protect the country from external threats to our national security. The government may only use it to target non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States. If the FBI insists on using it for routine domestic criminal investigations, without a warrant or probable cause, then perhaps they should not have access to this information at all. The problem is not that the FBI unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans of any particular political view. They appear to have conducted backdoor searches on Black Lives Matter protestors, January 6th rioters, and everyone in between. The problem is that they unlawfully targeted thousands of Americans. Period.
The FBI says that they have instituted new procedures to make this kind of abuse impossible. They have made that promise before. Without significant changes to the law to prevent this abuse, I will oppose the reauthorization of this authority.
Civil society groups that have for years sounded the alarm about Section 702 responded similarly to the latest revelations.
"Today's disclosures underscore the need for Congress to rein in the FBI's egregious abuses of this law, including warrantless searches using the names of people who donated to a congressional candidate," Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU's National Security Project, toldThe Associated Press Friday. "These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It's clear the FBI can't be left to police itself."
The Washington Postnoted that "this is not the only time the FBI has been in trouble for the database. Another recent audit found multiple problems, including that the FBI used the database to search for the name of a member of Congress."
\u201cViolations revealed in previous FISC opinions include searches targeting a U.S. congressman; a local political party; multiple U.S. gov\u2019t officials, journalists, and political commentators; and two \u201cMiddle Eastern\u201d men who were seen loading cleaning supplies into a vehicle. 6/22\u201d— Elizabeth Goitein (@Elizabeth Goitein) 1684523215
"For the FBI to misuse Section 702 to spy on people protesting the killing of George Floyd, political donors, and victims of crimes is an unspeakable abuse of trust," said Demand Progress senior policy counsel Sean Vitka. "Congress must enact comprehensive privacy protections for people in the United States, against all forms of warrantless surveillance, or Section 702 must fall. If the administration wants to see this law survive in any form, it should publicly embrace this reality."
The Biden administration in recent months has urged Congress to reauthorize Section 702, including in a February letter to top Democratic and Republican lawmakers from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence.
Vitka asserted that the "shocking" abuse is "unmatched since the days of J. Edgar Hoover," a former longtime FBI director also referenced by Jake Laperruque, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's Security & Surveillance Project.
"Even with the long history of FBI misuse of FISA 702, these latest revelations should set off alarm bells across Congress," said Laperruque. "The systemic misuse of this warrantless surveillance tool has made FISA 702 as toxic as COINTELPRO and the FBI abuses of the Hoover years. Absent a full overhaul of Section 702 and related surveillance powers, Congress should not allow the law to be extended past this year."
"For decades, we've seen surveillance abuse target political dissidents and marginalized communities, and worried a defensive search exception for FISA 702 could be misused the same way," he added, referring to queries seeking data on someone who may be a victim or target of a foreign influence operation. "This shocking example of 'defensive searches' being an excuse to pull up the communications of a batch of 19,000 political donors without a warrant should end the discussion of whether any type of 'defensive search' exception is safe or acceptable.”
\u201cCongress must end Section 702's unconstitutional surveillance. https://t.co/gBoRHAJOjy\u201d— EFF (@EFF) 1684527076
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, said in a series of tweets Friday that "it's time to end this charade once and for all. The Fourth Amendment requires the government to show probable cause to a court if it wants to access Americans’ communications."
"Backdoor searches provide an end-run around this requirement under the best of circumstances and they are indefensible when the [government] is violating its own minimal standards in ways that directly impact Americans' rights to engage in political protest, donate to political campaigns, or just live their lives free from [government] scrutiny based on race or ethnicity," she added. "Congress should not authorize Section 702 without sweeping reforms, starting with a warrant requirement to conduct U.S. person queries of any data the government obtained without a warrant based on the claim that it was not targeting Americans."
In a Friday opinion piece for Fast Company, Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, argued that the data collected under Section 702 "is nothing short of a loaded gun aimed at the heart of a democracy, a lawless digital dragnet systematically abused by those who swore to uphold the law."
The campaigner continued:
As civil rights groups warned would happen, FBI agents just couldn't help themselves. Rather than follow the limits that were supposed to protect Americans from this international dragnet, agents used this terrifying tool to target protesters and domestic suspects. And the abuses should be chilling to all of us, no matter where we sit on the political spectrum...
It would have been disturbing if these sorts of egregious examples happened just a few times, but to see the FBI's systematic misuse of these resources proves that it (and the rest of the federal government) simply can't be trusted to wield this sort of power.
"If the FBI is willing to break the law this brazenly, Congress and the administration must acknowledge that there's no set of guardrails, no Band-Aid, that can fix 702 and keep the public safe," he concluded. "The only way to safeguard our data and our rights is to do what we should have done a long time ago: Let 702 die."
"No other retailer in U.S. history has come anywhere close to such enrichment at public expense," asserted one opponent of the nine-figure subsidy.
Opponents of a contentious $1 billion subsidy for online retail behemoth Amazon's data centers in Oregon on Friday decried what one critic called "corporate welfare" for a company that raked in more than a half a trillion dollars in revenue last year.
Amazon already has four data centers in Morrow County, Oregon and plans on building six more Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud-computing facilities there. Earlier this month, Port of Morrow commissioners approved tax breaks for Amazon with an estimated value of $1 billion.
"With this new award, we now know of $6.1 billion in subsidies given to Amazon in the United States alone," said Kasia Tarczynska, a senior analyst at the public interest watchdog Good Jobs First. "No other retailer in U.S. history has come anywhere close to such enrichment at public expense."
\u201cAmazon gets a $1 billion corporate welfare payment for AWS data centers in rural Oregon, with residents getting one day's notice before the vote. https://t.co/4r0UzGAM7x\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1684516422
While local officials hope the incentives will secure $12 in billion new investment by Amazon in the remote county on the Columbia River about 185 miles east of Portland, opponents bristled when residents were given just one day's notice before the final commission vote.
Oregonians are also angered by Amazon's efforts to fight proposed state legislation that would compel data centers to use clean energy.
In a statement following the commission's vote, Amazon said that "we've been an active member of eastern Oregon communities since 2011, investing more than $15.6 billion while supporting thousands of local jobs."
"Investments like these create and support high-paying, highly skilled jobs in local communities, and projects that benefit local education, healthcare, public services, and more," the company added.
Common Dreamsreported last year that Amazon dodged $5.2 billion in federal corporate taxes in 2021 while paying an effective tax rate of 6%, far lower than the statutory 21%.
\u201cAmazon made $514 billion in 2022.\n\nWe can\u2019t believe we need to say this, but here goes: Amazon. does. not. need. tax. breaks.\n\nhttps://t.co/bAvzbQTWXD\u201d— Patriotic Millionaires (@Patriotic Millionaires) 1684005900
Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy said Friday that "in a 2016 study looking at major internet companies and their data center subsidies, we found a cost per job of almost $2 million."
"The AWS grab in Morrow could be several times that," he added. "At these obscene costs, the only clear outcome is a massive transfer of wealth from Oregon taxpayers to Amazon shareholders."
As Good Jobs First argued: "Oregonians should not pay Amazon to do what it would do anyway."