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This past week, the European Commission (EC) posted on its website its final report of the May 2012 audit its staff conducted of the Australian meat inspection system for products destined for Europe and concluded that the privatized meat inspection system called the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS), implemented in September 2011, was not in compliance with European Union food safety regulations. In the report, the EC audit staff concluded that by having company-paid inspectors perform post-mortem inspection of animal carcasses was a conflict of interest.
"European regulators have made the right call by rejecting Australia's privatized meat inspection scheme," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "It's time that U.S. regulators also reject a food safety regime where companies basically inspect themselves."
Specifically, the report issued by the EC said AEMIS was "not in line" with the Commission's regulations because it could not ensure that certifying officers would "have no direct commercial interests in the animals or products being certified".
In its response to the European Commission audit, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry informed the Commission that it was going to take some time to implement a new inspection procedure to avoid the conflict of interest issue.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), however, granted equivalency status to AEMIS in March 2011 based only on the findings from one Australian beef slaughter plant piloting the new inspection system. FSIS claimed that it had the authority to grant equivalency status to AEMIS based on a pilot project using a privatized inspection model in five hog slaughter plants here in the U.S. called the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in market hog slaughter. In May and August of this year, the USDA Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office respectively issued highly critical reports questioning the food safety objectives of that hog slaughter pilot project.
In January, July and October of this year, Food & Water Watch sent letters* to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack informing him that meat shipments exported to the U.S. from Australian plants using AEMIS were being repeatedly rejected by USDA import inspectors for visible fecal and ingesta violations at our ports-of-entry. In addition, Food & Water Watch warned the Secretary that it was receiving information that the European Commission was about to reject AEMIS as an inspection system for meat products exported to Europe because of the conflict-of-interest issue. The same concern was expressed by an FSIS auditor who visited the AEMIS pilot plant in 2011, yet his concerns were dismissed by his superiors in Washington.
"Food & Water Watch, again, calls on USDA to revisit the equivalency determination it made regarding AEMIS," says Hauter. "The determination was flawed since it was based on a pilot project - not the entire meat inspection system here in the U.S. In addition, the pilot project in hog slaughter upon which the equivalency determination was made has never been fully evaluated by FSIS to determine whether food safety is improved by privatizing inspection. As the Europeans have pointed out convincingly, there is an inherent conflict of interest having company-paid inspectors perform food safety functions. Lastly, USDA should withdraw its January 27, 2012 proposed rule to privatize poultry inspection because it suffers from many of the same deficiencies highlighted above."
* Food & Water Watch letters to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack are available at the following links:
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.
Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.(202) 683-2500
"The Forest Service has bent to the will of the oil and gas industry, and is placing fossil fuel profits above our environment and public safety."
The U.S. Forest Service on Monday gave a green light for the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline to run through the Jefferson National Forest, a decision that sparked outcry from conservationists who say the Biden administration is ignoring the fracked gas project's potentially devastating impacts on the environment and wildlife.
The Forest Service's new Record of Decision (ROD) approves construction of the long-delayed pipeline across a 3.5-mile corridor of the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County, West Virginia and Giles and Montgomery Counties, Virginia.
"I can see the Jefferson National Forest from my kitchen window," said Russell Chisholm, managing director of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) coalition. "This land is precious to me. It is home. The Biden administration is trying to destroy my home with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite the national forest's protected status."
"This unfinished, unnecessary pipeline project has accrued hundreds of violations," Chisholm added. "The Biden administration's next move must be to stop the MVP. On June 8th, we'll be on his front doorstep demanding he do so."
Monday's decision marks the third time the Forest Service has tried to allow Mountain Valley Pipeline construction through the Jefferson National Forest, which is home to threatened species, waterways, and old-growth forest.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected the Forest Service's 2018 and 2022 decisions granting approval for the project in the Jefferson National Forest, faulting the agency for failing to adequately consider "the actual sedimentation and erosion impacts of the pipeline," among other possible damage.
Appalachian Voices, one of the groups that sued over the previous authorizations, said Monday that the Forest Service's new decision "ignores outstanding concerns about the proposed changes to standards for soil health, old-growth forest, forest edge, species competition, and scenic viewshed standards will bring significant harmful impacts to biodiversity and lands held in the public trust."
"The Forest Service's preferred alternative to allow MVP to rip through the Jefferson National Forest grossly underestimates the lasting environmental harms from the project, ignores the overwhelming public opposition to sacrificing this treasured land, and shirks the agency's responsibility to steward forests," said Jessica Sims, the Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices. "We maintain that the Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot be built through the Jefferson National Forest without lasting damage to sensitive forests, habitats, and waters."
"Amending a forest plan 11 times to accommodate a ruinous project on treasured federal land," Sims added, "is unacceptable."
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake."
Developers of the multibillion-dollar Mountain Valley Pipeline still must obtain other federal approvals to finish the project, which is a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
"The Forest Service said it approved amendments to its Land and Resource Management Plan to allow the massive buried pipeline," The Roanoke Timesreported Monday. "But work in the national forest, which will include boring a tunnel under the Appalachian Trail at the top of Peters Mountain, cannot start until Mountain Valley has other permits in hand."
If completed, the pipeline would generate tens of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, the equivalent of roughly two dozen coal-fired power plants.
The Forest Service's latest decision comes weeks after U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm
reiterated the Biden administration's support for the Mountain Valley Pipeline in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), drawing outraged responses from environmentalists who say the White House is violating its pledge to treat the climate crisis as an existential threat.
Jill Gottesman, Southern Appalachian Landscape director for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement Monday that "the Forest Service has bent to the will of the oil and gas industry, and is placing fossil fuel profits above our environment and public safety."
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline will tear a hole in Jefferson National Forest that will scar the integrity of the forest, compromise our water, and sacrifice communities across Appalachia in its wake," said Gottesman. "We have no choice but to take this battle back to the court."
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," said the head of Americans for Tax Fairness.
Americans for Tax Fairness on Monday released the group's latest report on "the threat posed to American democracy by billionaire political spenders," revealing that last year their collective congressional campaign contributions topped $1 billion for the first time.
"That 'Billionaires' Billion' was almost three-quarters more than the tycoons' total spending on the last midterms, in 2018, and 300 times more than what billionaires spent on congressional races as recently as a dozen years ago," states the ATF report.
"The Billionaires' Billion—contributed by fewer than 500 individuals—represented about one of every nine dollars raised from all sources in the 2022 elections," the analysis continues, noting that 15 of the nation's richest households were responsible for $658 million, or nearly two-thirds, of the contributions.
"Nearly 80% of billionaire cash—$782 million—went to outside campaign groups," the document adds, and in eight key races that decided which party controlled the Senate, "billionaire donations supported Republican candidates over Democratic ones by almost a 5-1 margin."
\u201cIn the three states where billionaire support was overwhelmingly on the Republican side, the Republican won the Senate race.\n\nIn North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race.\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684157314
Democrats initially secured a slim majority in the Senate—including the two Independents who caucus with the party—after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won a runoff against GOP challenger Herschel Walker in December, but that victory was quickly tempered when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona became an Independent just days later.
Although Republicans lost five of the eight key Senate races, the ATF report explains, not only did billionaire spending encourage candidates to focus on positions favored by their wealthy benefactors, but also, in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin—won by GOP Sens. Ted Budd, J.D. Vance, and Ron Johnson, respectively—the superrich overwhelmingly backed the party and "Republican billionaires outspent the much smaller pool of Democratic billionaires by at least 9-to-1 in each race."
The GOP did seize control of the House of Representatives in last year's midterms—enabling their efforts to quash recent legislative victories and priorities of congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden, including the ongoing battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling to avert the first-ever U.S. default, which economists warn would be catastrophic for the global economy.
The current makeup of Congress makes it exceptionally difficult to pass any legislation—including campaign finance reforms that critics of billionaires' influence on the American political system have increasingly demanded since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which loosened restrictions on political spending.
\u201cWhen corporations and billionaires can buy elections, the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We need to end Citizens United and restore balance to our democracy.\u201d— End Citizens United (@End Citizens United) 1684165959
"Billionaires spending a billion dollars on a shopping spree for democracy should wake us all up to the threat posed by nearly unlimited wealth applied without limits to our elections," ATF executive director David Kass declared Monday. "There are well-known solutions to the problem, including overturning Citizens United and effectively taxing the biggest sources of billionaire wealth, which now often go lightly taxed if at all."
"Those tax reforms include taxing wealth like work by equalizing the top tax rate on investment and wage income, and closing the stepped-up basis loophole that allows investment gains to go untaxed forever," Kass added. "All that's needed is for Congress to heed the call of the American people to unrig a corrupt system."
In March, Biden unveiled a budget blueprint—which included various tax reforms—that then-ATF executive director Frank Clemente said "plainly shows whose side he's on: working families struggling with the high cost of healthcare, childcare, housing and more—not the wealthy elite and their big corporations rolling in dough and dodging their fair share of taxes."
However, the GOP continues to make clear that the party only plans to serve the rich with tax breaks, not force them to pay more. Citing three unnamed sources, The Washington Postreported Monday that "the White House recently gave Republican congressional leadership a list of proposals to reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes during the ongoing negotiations over the federal budget and the debt ceiling. But Republican negotiators rejected every item."
\u201cBREAKING: Republicans have rejected a proposal to lower the debt by closing tax loopholes for the rich.\n\nRepublicans created this debt crisis with their tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats can not cave to their demands that the rest of us pay for it.\nhttps://t.co/yH6ZzfK4Rq\u201d— Americans For Tax Fairness (@Americans For Tax Fairness) 1684183330
"On a phone call last week, senior White House officials floated about a dozen tax plans to reduce the deficit as part of a broader budget agreement with House Republicans, including a measure aimed at cryptocurrency transactions and another for large real estate investors," according to the Post. "They were all swiftly rejected by the GOP aides on the call."
"The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones," said the author of a new report.
The post-9/11 War on Terror may have caused at least 4.5 million deaths in around half a dozen countries, according to a report published Monday by the preeminent academic institution studying the costs, casualties, and consequences of a war in which U.S. bombs and bullets are still killing and wounding people in multiple nations.
The new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs shows "how death outlives war" by examining people killed indirectly by the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
"In a place like Afghanistan, the pressing question is whether any death can today be considered unrelated to war," Stephanie Savell, Costs of War co-director and author of the report, said in a statement. "Wars often kill far more people indirectly than in direct combat, particularly young children."
\u201cBREAKING: Our latest estimates reveal that deaths in post-9/11 war zones top 4.5 million.\u00a0\n\nRead more by @MiriamABerger in the @WashingtonPost: https://t.co/nefwgALoP6\u201d— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
The publication "reviews the latest research to examine the causal pathways that have led to an estimated 3.6-3.7 million indirect deaths in post-9/11 war zones," while "the total death toll in these war zones could be at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting, though the precise mortality figure remains unknown."
As The Washington Post—which first reported on the analysis—details:
Since 2010, a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians participating in theCosts of War project have kept their own calculations. According to their latest assessment, more than 906,000 people, including 387,000 civilians, died directly from post-9/11 wars. Another 38 million people have been displaced or made refugees. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has spent over $8 trillion on these wars, the research suggests.
But Savell said the research indicates that exponentially more people, especially children and the most impoverished and marginalized populations, have been killed by the effects of war—mounting poverty, food insecurity, environmental contamination, the ongoing trauma of violence, and the destruction of health and public infrastructure, along with private property and means of livelihood.
According to the report, "The large majority of indirect war deaths occur due to malnutrition, pregnancy and birth-related problems, and many illnesses including infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases like cancer."
\u201cThe @WashingtonPost covered it in today\u2019s exclusive. Fantastic coverage by @MiriamABerger [2/\nhttps://t.co/Rck6BCpVwi\u201d— Stephanie Savell (@Stephanie Savell) 1684180628
One 2012 study found that more than half of the babies born in the Iraqi city of Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among the pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45% experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the 2004 U.S. assaults on Fallujah. Geiger counter readings of depleted uranium-contaminated sites in densely populated Iraqi urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
The study also found that some deaths "also result from injuries due to war's destruction of infrastructure such as traffic signals and from reverberating trauma and interpersonal violence."
\u201cFactoring in Costs of War estimates of direct deaths of between 906,000 \u2013 937,000 people in these war zones brings the total of estimated deaths to at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting. [5/11] https://t.co/3m3JrCzqkR\u201d— The Costs of War Project (@The Costs of War Project) 1684181702
Savell said that "warring parties who damage infrastructure with an impact on population health have a moral responsibility to provide quick and effective assistance and repairs."
"The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones," she added. "The U.S. government could do far more than it currently is to act on this responsibility."