Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Today the Republican House and Senate passed the Republican Tax Reform Bill, a bill that has seen unprecedented disapproval by American citizens. According to The Hill, "Public polling on the GOP's tax overhaul indicates support hovering at less than 30 percent, which is even lower than the favorability toward ObamaCare when Democrats passed it in 2010". In addition, every democrat from both chambers opposed the bill.
The primary goal of the bill is to cut taxes, but the bill will also repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate and will open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Northern Alaska for oil and gas drilling.
Opening ANWR for oil development has been a top energy priority for Republicans and the oil industry for more than four decades, with Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) spearheading this initiative since the 1970's. Republicans claim that the region holds over 10.3 billion barrels of oil, however, the results from an exploratory well drilled in ANWR 30 years ago have never been released to show the presence of oil or not.
While Republicans like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), claim they will develop "safely" and in "non-wilderness zones", biologists have found that it is near impossible to repair damage to this biome. In addition, it is one of the most biologically diverse places in the Arctic and Subarctic and home to many Alaskan Tribes, such as the Gwich'in, who depend on the biodiversity of this region to survive.
The Gwich'in refer to this region as the "sacred place where life begins". It is the breeding grounds for the Porcupine River caribou, which sustain the physical, spiritual, and cultural well being of the Gwich'in. Any threat to the Porcupine River caribou is a threat to the Gwich'in.
The following is a statement from Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee:
"We refuse to accept this decision and we will continue to defend our sacred lands. Our identity is tied to this land and the beings that roam it, therefore we will stop at nothing until the calving grounds of the Porcupine River caribou herd are fully protected. We will rise up and protect the Arctic Refuge, ' The Sacred Place Where Life Begins', just as our ancestors have before us. In 1988, the Gwich'in people formed the Gwich'in Steering Committee in response to proposals to drill for oil. Our predecessors realized that oil development on the caribou calving grounds was a threat to the very heart of our people. It was then that we decided that the Gwich'in Nation would speak with one voice against oil and gas development on the Coast Plain. We will not stop. We will not waiver. We will continue to protect our way of life, as we always have. Our identity is non-negotiable and our human rights inalienable."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director for the indigenous environmental Network:
"In the strongest terms, we condemn the actions of the United States Congress for this direct assault upon the Gwich'in and Inupiat people of Alaska and Canada. The Indigenous Environmental Network has stood with the Gwich'in Steering Committee for over 25 years in the fight to protect their sacred lands and ways of life from oil development. We denounce this Tax Bill and its ANWR provision for what it is, a pandered legislation to big corporations and fossil fuel interests. We call upon Congress to stop this attack on Indigenous Rights. Stand with the Gwich'in Nation and help us keep fossil fuels in the ground!"
Established in 1990 within the United States, IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues (EJ). IEN's activities include building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.
"Thousands of Alaskans and over a million Americans from across the political spectrum have called for protection of Bristol Bay's one-of-kind salmon resource from massive open pit mining and today, the EPA delivered."
Environmental advocates in Alaska and across the United States on Tuesday applauded what one Indigenous campaigner called "historic progress" in the fight to protect Bristol Bay's ecosystems from the developers of Pebble Mine, a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine that would have led to the dumping of waste in the world's largest sockeye salmon run.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Tuesday its long-awaited "Final Determination" regarding protections for Bristol Bay, following more than a decade of litigation and campaigning by Alaska Natives and advocates.
Under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, the agency said, the EPA will prohibit "certain waters of the United States in the South Fork Koktuli River and North Fork Koktuli River watersheds from being used as disposal sites," and "prohibits future proposals to construct and operate a mine to develop the Pebble deposit."
"Today is a new day for Bristol Bay," said Earthjustice.
\u201cBREAKING: Today is a new day for Bristol Bay. After years of advocacy & litigation, @EPA has issued a Clean Water Act veto to ensure the proposed Pebble Mine won't destroy the Bristol Bay watershed, an Alaskan treasure & home to the world's largest remaining salmon runs.\u201d— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) 1675175188
The decision is the outcome of a 2019 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of tribal organizations and the advocacy group Earthworks, and follows "a fierce, decades-long battle waged by the people of Bristol Bay and so many others," said Earthjustice senior attorney Erin Colón.
"EPA today followed the law and science to establish enduring protections for the Bristol Bay watershed under the Clean Water Act," said Colón in a statement. "This is a major victory worth celebrating, but we cannot rest until even more permanent protections are in place. The Bristol Bay watershed is one of the world's great ecosystems, and the way of life and the abundant future it supports is worth the fight."
Advocates first challenged Pebble Limited Partnership's plan for the mine in 2010, when six tribes in the Bristol Bay area called on the EPA to protect the watershed, which is home to a 37.5 million salmon annually, supports a $2 billion commercial fishing industry, and has provided sustenance for Alaska Natives for generations.
The EPA restricted parts of the watershed from being used by the mining company in 2014, but the developers challenged those protections. In 2017, the agency withdrew them in a settlement with Pebble Limited Partnership.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also denied a key permit for the project in 2020—a decision that is now under appeal by the company.
Dyani Chapman, state director for Alaska Environment Action, said the previous restrictions and Tuesday's determination are in line with what Alaska Natives and environmental advocates have known for decades: "The headwaters of Bristol Bay are, quite simply, a really bad place for a mine."
"The region is home to an incredible range of wildlife and remains healthy because it's been spared a lot of the harsher touches of industrialization," said Chapman. "Over the past 20 years, scientists, the local Indigenous communities, fishermen, and broader public have asked repeatedly for strong and permanent protections for Bristol Bay. This EPA determination is a long-awaited win for sockeye salmon and the entire Bristol Bay region."
Advocacy group SalmonState noted that with two out of three Alaskans opposing the Pebble Mine, the EPA's decision "may be the most popular thing the federal government has ever done for Alaska."
"Thousands of Alaskans and over a million Americans from across the political spectrum have called for protection of Bristol Bay's one-of-kind salmon resource from massive open pit mining and today, the EPA delivered," said executive director Tim Bristol. "This is a victory for every single person—from Bristol Bay's tribal citizens, commercial fisherman, sport anglers, business leaders, chefs, scientists, and so many more—who [has] spoken out over the years, and we thank the EPA and the Biden administration for this well-considered, heavily documented, overwhelmingly popular move."
While celebrating the EPA's determination, advocates said they will continue pushing for congressional protections for the Bristol Bay watershed and acknowledged that the Biden administration's decision could be overturned by a future president. Pebble Limited Partnership also said it will likely appeal the decision.
"Today is a great day for Bristol Bay, and one that many thought would never come," said Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin. "While the immediate threat of Pebble is behind us, BBNC will continue working to protect Bristol Bay's salmon-based culture and economy and to create new economic opportunities across the region."
Verner Wilson, senior oceans campaigner at Friends of the Earth, called the action "a positive step forward" but expressed concern that "it doesn't go far enough."
"Given that Bristol Bay is the largest wild salmon fishery on the planet," said Wilson, "Congress and the state of Alaska must work together to protect it permanently."
"Put simply, Pfizer has plundered health systems for profit," said the People's Vaccine Alliance.
The U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer reported Tuesday that it brought in a record-breaking $100.3 billion in revenue in 2022 and $31.4 billion in profit, sums that campaigners decried as "sickening" in the face of an ongoing pandemic and persistent inequities in coronavirus vaccine access.
"In one year alone, Pfizer's revenue has exceeded the total health expenditures of more than 100 countries combined," Julia Kosgei, policy co-lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement. "If it were a country, Pfizer would sit in the wealthiest third of nation-states. And it has amassed this fortune while jacking up prices on Covid-19 vaccines amid a pandemic that has devastated people’s livelihoods. Put simply, Pfizer has plundered health systems for profit."
Pfizer, led by CEO Albert Bourla, is the manufacturer of one of the two available mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, as well as the oral coronavirus treatment Paxlovid. The company reported $56 billion in sales of its Covid-19 vaccine and Paxlovid, though it said it expects sales to drop in the coming year as it moves to hike prices significantly on its vaccine—a plan that has drawn international alarm and outrage.
Globally, more than 2,600 people are dying from Covid-19 each day on average. According to Our World in Data, just over 26% of people in low-income nations have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose as Pfizer and other pharmaceutical giants refuse to make their vaccine technology available to all—even though it was developed with the help of government funding and scientific advancements.
"Billions of people in developing countries still cannot access affordable Covid-19 medicines," said Kosgei. "Companies like Pfizer are gobbling up ever-greater proportions of health budgets and handing the spoils to wealthy shareholders—all while treating access for developing countries as little more than a PR initiative. We cannot go on like this."
The U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now called Pfizer's record earnings report "sickening."
"With this latest 'all-time high' announcement, Pfizer now has revenues higher than the GDP of 133 countries, including 8 E.U. member states, and is the first pharma company ever to make $100 billion in a year," noted Tim Bierley, the group's pharma campaigner. "But not content with doubling its revenues with a pandemic windfall, they are now still moving to aggressively hike the price of Covid-19 booster doses, putting even more pressure on already struggling public health systems."
"Their latest record-breaking revenues are further proof that the company treated the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich its shareholders," Bierley added. "We can't allow Big Pharma companies to hold us to ransom in this way. We need the government to be bold and break with the monopoly patent model that fails people everywhere. It's time to put people's lives above corporate profit."
"A people-funded vaccine should be cheap and freely available."
Both Pfizer and Moderna have signaled plans to raise the prices of their vaccines to somewhere between $110 to $130 per dose in the U.S. as the Biden administration moves ahead with the commercialization of coronavirus inoculations, tests, and treatments—shifting costs onto patients and insurers and leaving the uninsured to shoulder significant payments.
The U.S. government has previously paid around $30 per dose for Pfizer's vaccine.
In recent days, the Biden administration has faced growing calls to use the federal government's ownership of key patents and other leverage to force Moderna and Pfizer to make their vaccines affordable and readily available to all who want them.
"The Biden administration should not allow Moderna to more than quadruple the price of the Covid vaccine to $130 when it costs just $2.85 to produce," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted on Sunday. "The Covid vaccine must be used to save lives, not to further enrich the billionaire owners of Moderna."
Moderna and Pfizer are also facing backlash from lawmakers overseas over their planned price increases.
In a letter to Bourla and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel on Tuesday, British MP Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and three other lawmakers wrote that with the National Health Service "already under significant pressure and the costs of medicines increasing year on year, we are extremely concerned about the multiple impacts of a possible price hike."
"Throughout its development, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received huge amounts of public money and support internationally," the lawmakers wrote. "Even the mRNA technology that Pfizer/BioNTech employed in the Covid-19 vaccine is rooted in decades of publicly funded research. A people-funded vaccine should be cheap and freely available."
Peruvian security forces have met protests against unelected President Dina Boluarte with "indiscriminate violence," the U.S. lawmakers wrote.
Twenty House Democrats on Monday pressed the Biden administration to immediately halt the flow of security funding to the Peruvian government over its vicious crackdown on protests against unelected President Dina Boluarte, who rose to power following the arrest of leftist President Pedro Castillo last month.
Since Castillo's arrest and imprisonment—which drew vocal opposition from political leaders in the region—mass demonstrations have broken out and spread across Peru as largely low-income and Indigenous supporters of Castillo mobilize to demand his release, Boluarte's resignation, and sweeping constitutional reforms. Peru's security forces have swiftly and violently cracked down in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the uprising, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds more.
In a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, a group of House Democrats led by Reps. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) condemned the "indiscriminate violence" and "consistent use of excessive force" by Peruvian security forces and urged the administration to "publicly denounce these ongoing human rights violations."
The lawmakers also called on Biden to pause all security funding to Peru, which amounts to tens of millions of dollars annually. The House Democrats pointed with alarm to the U.S. ambassador to Peru's "recent meeting with the Peruvian minister of defense and announcement of $8 million in further U.S. funding for CORAH, a Peruvian government coca eradication program, which includes funding for forces involved in the egregious human rights violations that are currently taking place."
"We urge your administration to immediately suspend U.S. security assistance to Peru until the violent repression of protests ends and steps are taken by the country's authorities to investigate human rights crimes and prosecute those responsible," the lawmakers wrote.
\u201cThank you to @RepRaulGrijalva, @RepChuyGarcia, @JanSchakowsky and so many other colleagues for joining me in standing with the people of Peru. It is past time to demonstrate a dedication to human rights through actions, not just words.\nhttps://t.co/2joPwBZcBE\u201d— Rep. Susan Wild (@Rep. Susan Wild) 1675120811
Boluarte, who has imposed curfews in several regions and curtailed civil liberties, is urging Peru's conservative-dominated Congress to approve a plan to hold new elections this year instead of in 2024 in an effort to end the demonstrations. Resisting pressure to resign, Boluarte—who served as vice president under Castillo—has pledged to stay on as president until new elections are held.
As Agence France-Presse reported Monday: "Boluarte said that if lawmakers refused to bring forward the vote, she would propose a constitutional reform so that a first round of elections would be held in October and a runoff in December. Demonstrators are calling for immediate elections, as well as Boluarte's removal, the dissolution of Congress, and a new constitution."
In their letter, the 20 House Democrats raised concern that the Biden administration has granted legitimacy and support to the Boluarte government as it rolls back basic freedoms and kills demonstrators.
Less than two weeks after Castillo's arrest, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with Boluarte in which he
said he "looks forward" to working with her "on shared goals and values related to democracy, human rights, security, anti-corruption, and economic prosperity."
The Democratic lawmakers also pointed to the Biden administration's expressed support for "peace on all sides," a message that the members of Congress called "ambiguous" in the face of massive human rights violations.
"The U.S. government can and must do more," the lawmakers wrote. "We believe our proposed actions would send a powerful signal in support of fundamental rights and help promote effective engagement for a political resolution."