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ANTONIA JUHASZ, [email]
Juhasz is a fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism and was recently in Afghanistan. She wrote the just-published piece The New War for Afghanistan's Untapped Oil, which states: "With the close of 2012, the Pentagon has revealed a disturbing trend in Afghanistan: Taliban attacks remained steady, or in some cases increased, over 2011 levels. I experienced the Taliban surge firsthand this past November, and can offer a cause not cited in the Pentagon's report: oil and gas."
SONALI KOLHATKAR, [email]
Kolhatkar is co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence and is co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission. She said today: "The U.S.'s presence did not create peace and its departure will not create it either. The U.S.'s presence only served to strengthen the internal forces of war over more than a decade."
KATHY KELLY, [email] [in Afghanistan, 9.5 hours ahead of U.S. ET]
In Afghanistan since December 20, 2012, Kelly just wrote the piece "Seeking Security in Afghanistan" with Martha Hennessy. They are representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence and are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Hakim is with the APV.
Wrote Kelly and Hennessy: "This week, in Washington, D.C., Presidents Obama and Karzai will discuss a proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. Presumably, they'll note some of the main security problems Afghanistan faces.
"The people of Afghanistan have only seen cosmetic improvement in their living conditions. UNICEF reports that 36 percent of the people live in poverty and that over one million children suffer from acute malnourishment. According to available World Bank figures, about 73 percent of people in Afghanistan lack access to clean drinking water and 95 percent do not have access to sufficient sanitation. Limited access to medical facilities and the absence of knowledge, skills and the ability to effectively manage these diarrhoeal diseases usually leads to the death of 48,545 children each year -- approximately 133 children per day.
"In and around Kabul alone, there are an estimated 35,000 internally displaced refugees living in 50 camps. We've seen the wretched conditions there and walked away feeling ashamed of our warm clothes and easy access to food and potable water.
"Kabul appears secure, but it is merely a fragile 'bubble' where people feel relatively removed from fighting, compared to areas of the country afflicted by regular Taliban and NATO/ISAF attacks. A young Pashto friend of ours spoke to us with frustration yesterday about how little understanding people in Kabul have for people in his province, called Wardak, where people live in constant fear of drone attacks and night raids.
"The U.S. Congress doesn't seem to believe in non-military solutions. ... Over the past ten years of occupation, the United States could have assumed a responsibility to help establish a sustainable economy and infrastructure. Instead, although billions were spent (in October 2012 the office of the SIGAR, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, released its 17th and latest report on reconstruction reported that, after a decade, U.S. government spending approaches the $100 billion mark), the U.S. forces will leave behind many millions of war-weary, exhausted and economically desperate people."
Also see recent interview with Malalai Joya, "A Voice for Peace in Afghanistan: Stop This Criminal War".
A nationwide consortium, the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) represents an unprecedented effort to bring other voices to the mass-media table often dominated by a few major think tanks. IPA works to broaden public discourse in mainstream media, while building communication with alternative media outlets and grassroots activists.
"I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default," wrote AFGE's leader.
A union leader representing over 750,000 government employees on Tuesday pressured U.S. President Joe Biden to reject congressional Republicans' demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and to avert an economically devastating default by invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has continued to warn that the federal government could run out of money to pay its bills as early as June 1, some legal scholars and progressive lawmakers have encouraged Biden to combat the GOP's economic hostage-taking by invoking the section of the amendment which states that "the validity of the public debt... shall not be questioned."
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) joined those calls on Tuesday, with national president Everett Kelley writing to Biden to call for "unilateral action to ensure that the government continues to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations after the Treasury exhausts all extraordinary debt measures within the next several days."
"Our union members are the doctors, nurses, firefighters, border patrol agents, corrections officers, federal police, food safety inspectors, transportation security officers, and other public servants who keep the government running around the clock," Kelley noted. "They served tirelessly throughout the pandemic, defending the public, often at great personal risk. More than a few gave their lives to their country. It would be unconscionable now to agree to a budget deal that once again sacrifices their well-being on the altar of fiscal austerity."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions and result in further unwarranted cuts to federal jobs and compensation," the union leader stressed, taking aim at a key demand of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans, who passed their so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act late last month.
Noting that "many federal agencies that deliver services directly to the public, like the Social Security Administration, are already at the breaking point from years of inadequate funding," Kelley warned that they "can in no way withstand further budget cuts of the magnitude proposed by House Republicans in the morally bankrupt 'Limit, Save, Grow Act.' This bill, even in the most diluted form, would be an economic and humanitarian calamity."
"Clearly a default must be avoided at all costs," he added. "I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default under the Constitution's 14th Amendment. You have additional authorities to mint platinum coins under 31 USC § 5112. Please use these authorities now before it is too late."
Before returning to Washington, D.C. to continue negotiations with McCarthy, Biden told reporters on Sunday that "I think we have the authority" to invoke the 14th Amendment but given the potential for a legal challenge," the question of whether it could be done in time to prevent a default "is unresolved."
\u201cQ: "It sounds like the White House is now ruling out invoking the 14th Amendment as an option to get around the debt ceiling. Is that accurate?" \n\n@PressSec: "It is not going to fix the current problem that we have right now..."\u201d— CSPAN (@CSPAN) 1684871442
Politicoreported Friday that some Biden aides worry that "even the appearance of more seriously considering the 14th Amendment could blow up talks that are already quite delicate," and actually doing so could "trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness, and damage the economy."
Kelley's letter came as a federal judge scheduled a debt limit lawsuit hearing for May 31, the day before the so-called X-date. That case—filed by another union, the National Association of Government Employees, against Biden and Yellen—cites the 14th Amendment and aims to have the debt limit statute deemed unconstitutional.
"MAGA politicians... want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
As Republican leaders in the U.S. House prepare to hold a vote this week on legislation that would block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief, progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday warned of the "ruinous impact" the GOP's resolution threatens to have on millions of borrowers.
Last year, Biden moved to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes under $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment program. The White House's popular relief initiative is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to it. A decision in the case is expected next month.
House Republicans, however, are now attempting to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Biden's student debt policies regardless of how the high court rules. At issue is H.J. Res. 45, a CRA resolution that GOP lawmakers approved in committee earlier this month in a party-line vote. House Republican leadership on Monday scheduled the measure for a floor vote on Wednesday.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel."
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) sounded the alarm about the measure's wide-ranging potential consequences, warning that it "would destroy the lives of millions of borrowers and their families by forcing them to repay thousands of dollars in already forgiven debt."
"Right-wing special interests want their supporters to believe they are simply trying to stop Biden's student loan debt relief program, but there are far greater implications afoot," a new report from AFT and SBPC points out.
In addition to nullifying Biden's promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, H.J. Res. 45 would "reverse months of paused payments and already waived interest charges implemented as part of the government's pandemic response, immediately leaving 40 million student loan borrowers past due on their loans and adding tens of billions of dollars in new interest charges," the groups noted.
That's not all. The CRA resolution also seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean after making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
As AFT and SBPC explained:
If enacted, the Republican student loan CRA scheme would undo the seventh extension of the pause on federal student loan payments first enacted by President [Donald] Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The seventh extension lasted from September 2022 through December 2022. According to the Congressional Review Act, "[a]ny rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of [CRA resolution] shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect." The CRA scheme would thus also likely undo the eighth extension of the payment pause, a "substantially the same" executive action that began in January 2023 and is ongoing.
Based on their analysis of recently unveiled Department of Education data, the two groups estimated that if the CRA rolls back the seventh and eighth payment pauses, nearly 269,000 public service workers who accessed debt cancellation from September 2022 through March 2023 under the PSLF program would see their loan balances restored. The collective student debt burden put back on their shoulders would exceed $19.5 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, on average.
In addition, roughly 2 million public service workers would lose at least some progress made toward the future cancellation of more than $178 billion in student debt under the PSLF program. As a result, teachers, nurses, first responders, and others would be driven even further into debt as they continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis and brace for the possibility of additional economic devastation brought about by the GOP's current debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel," says the report.
In a statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten condemned H.J. Res. 45, calling it "a disaster."
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
"For years, the AFT and the SBPC have fought the damage forced by the Trump administration on student loan borrowers and their families," said Weingarten. "Now, MAGA politicians don't just want to stop that progress, they want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others. It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
"Public service workers have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of others," the union leader continued. "They care deeply about what kids and communities need. We have a duty to honor and respect them—that's why, 16 years ago, a bipartisan majority in Congress made a promise to help them erase their student debt in exchange for 10 years of repayments."
"We will not stand idly by as House Republicans try to return us to those dark days," she added.
SBPC executive director Mike Pierce called Wednesday's scheduled vote on the CRA resolution "a test of American values."
"Do we stand on the side of teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members who fought to keep our kids safe and our communities healthy throughout the pandemic, or do we betray their service in pursuit of Republicans' never-ending culture war?" Pierce asked.
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers," he added, "is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that "if Congress were to pass H.J. Res. 45, the president would veto it."
"This resolution," OMB stressed, "is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief."
"The good news," the authors of a new People's Action white paper assert, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."
Amid what many experts fear is a Republican-led slow-march toward fascism in the United States, a report published Tuesday by a progressive advocacy group answers the question: "How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism?"
The white paper—entitled The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy—was published by People's Action with support from the Democracy Fund and the endorsement of more than a dozen progressive groups.
"This simple truth—that ordinary people, organized effectively, have the power to drive social change upwards to create the conditions for justice, equity, and freedom—has been the power behind every great expansion of our democracy, from abolition and women's suffrage to civil rights and marriage equality," the paper notes.
\u201cThe antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and we need an #OrganizingRevival across America to activate this potential - but organizers and funders must shift how we work together. Read our new report: https://t.co/NH3R85UXEM\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684853375
Paper co-authors Beth Jacob and James Mumm said they interviewed more than two dozen leaders of national social change networks, academics, philanthropists, and organizers.
"Arevival and expansion of community organizing is essential to reinvigorating democracy across lines of difference; this is the foundation of a multiracial pluralistic democracy," the pair asserted. "Philanthropies that want to address the root causes of racial inequity need to partner with community organizing on a long-term agendathat builds enough relationships and power to make progress on structural racism."
"Community organizing and philanthropy can reduce economic uncertainty that is fueling authoritarianism and help people win and make meaning of public investments as building blocks of an inclusive economy," the authors added.
\u201c"...[A]ction can indeed be taken to combat the daunting backward trend toward authoritarianism..." Rev. Dr. B. DeNeice Welch, leader with @gamalielnetwork, pastor at Bidwell Church in Pittsburgh. #organizingrevival #antidotetoauthoritarianism https://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684855770
Among the paper's key findings:
"Organizers and philanthropy have a big task before us: to strengthen and defend democracy at a time when some feel that democracy fails them and others want to throw it out to advance an authoritarian agenda," People's Action executive director Sulma Arias said in a statement.
"Community organizing is the solution, and for it to work, it must be fundamental to what we do, not just a tactic or short-term strategy," Arias added. "This white paper outlines the shifts and investments we need to make it work."
\u201c"This strong, clear vision couldn't have come at a better time." @democracyfund's Shuya Ohno. \n#organizingrevival\n#antidotetoauthoritarianism\nhttps://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684854969
Ana Maria Archila of Action Lab, one of the groups endorsing the white paper, argued that "in order to avert the rise of authoritarianism, and address the combined crises of climate disaster, growing inequality, unprecedented levels of loneliness and political fragmentation, we must double down on efforts to build community and transform who holds power in our democracy."
"There are no shortcuts here," Archila added. "This moment requires community organizers, donors, and leaders to reinvigorate community organizing, and re-commit to a long-term strategy to bring into existence the multiracial democracy we want."
Jacob and Munn remain hopeful, as daunting as the task ahead may be.
"The good news," they wrote, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."