Category Archives: Social Justice

Poverty is a political choice

A UN Rapporteur has just delivered a withering critique of the international system.

By Stephen McCloskey  Published 7-9-2020 by openDemocracy

Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, 22 June 2018. | Flickr/UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The United Nations Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, has just released his final report, a withering critique of international efforts to eliminate poverty which he describes as the result of “longstanding neglect” by “many governments, economists, and human rights advocates.”

Central to his report are the institutional failings of the World Bank in getting to grips with the scale of global poverty, which it persistently underplays using the flawed measurement tool of an international poverty line, or IPL. The IPL, argues Alston, sets the poverty benchmark at way too low a level to support a life of dignity consistent with basic human rights. Continue reading

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‘An Outrage’: Trump-Appointed Head of Global News Agency Won’t Extend Visas for Foreign Journalists

“It is appalling that the VOA’s new boss could be so reckless about the safety of journalists,” said PEN America.

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-10-2020

Photo: Voice of America (Public Domain)

Dozens of foreign journalists are expected to be sent back to their home countries from the U.S. following a decision on Thursday by the newly appointed head of the federal government’s global news agency to not renew their visas.

As Common Dreams reported, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) was taken over last month by Michael Pack, a close ally of Steve Bannon, former advisor to President Donald Trump. Continue reading

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‘The Public Has a Right to Know’: Fed Refuses to Release Documents on Fossil Fuel Industry’s Covid-19 Bailouts

“As the climate crisis demands an abrupt shift away from fossil fuels, the federal government should not be creating programs to bail out these polluters.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-9-2020

“The Federal Reserve was tasked with creating a massive program to protect workers’ livelihoods during an intense economic and public health crisis. We should, at the very least, expect transparency about how the program is structured,” said Food & Water Action attorney Adam Carlesco. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)

The Federal Reserve has missed a deadline to release documents requested by environmental group Food & Water Action in May to reveal the extent to which the central bank has used one of its major Covid-19 lending programs to rescue the faltering oil and gas industry.

“The public has a right to know if the Fed created an oil and gas bailout at the behest of an industry that has wreaked havoc on our air, water, climate, and potentially the global financial system,” Food & Water Action attorney Adam Carlesco said in a statement. “As the climate crisis demands an abrupt shift away from fossil fuels, the federal government should not be creating programs to bail out these polluters.” Continue reading

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Trump Friends and Family Cleared for Millions in Small Business Bailout

Beneficiaries of the PPP included a lettuce farming venture backed by Trump’s son, Kushner companies, and a dentist who golfs with the president. The figures were released after a lawsuit by several news organizations, including ProPublica.

By Jack GillumIsaac ArnsdorfJake Pearson and Mike Spies  Published 7-6-2020 by ProPublica

Businesses tied to President Donald Trump’s family and associates stand to receive as much as $21 million in government loans designed to shore up payroll expenses for companies struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal data released Monday.

A hydroponic lettuce farm backed by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., applied for at least $150,000 in Small Business Administration funding. Albert Hazzouri, a dentist frequently spotted at Mar-a-Lago, asked for a similar amount. A hospital run by Maria Ryan, a close associate of Trump lawyer and former mayor Rudy Giuliani, requested more than $5 million. Several companies connected to the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, could get upward of $6 million.

There’s no ban on businesses connected to Trump’s orbit receiving money. Democrats added a provision to the CARES Act excluding government officials and their family members from receiving some bailout funds, but not those from the PPP.

The firms sought funding under the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the Trump administration’s sweeping pandemic relief efforts. Created in late March by the CARES Act, it allowed small businesses — generally, those with fewer than 500 employees — to apply for loans of up to $10 million. The loans can be forgiven if used to cover payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.

The program paid out $521 billion to almost 4.9 million companies in an effort to provide relief for small businesses and their workers amid the sudden economic shock brought on by the pandemic. As applications slowed after the initial rush, $132 billion remained unspent, and Congress voted to extend the program.

After resisting releasing the names, the government bowed to pressure from critics and watchdog groups. On Monday, the administration disclosed only those entities that were approved by banks for loans over $150,000. A consortium of news organizations, including ProPublica, has sued the administration under the Freedom of Information Act to release the full list of recipients and loan details.

The program has been criticized for including some loan recipients, particularly large, publicly traded companies, and for favoring wealthier businesses that had existing relationships with banks. In some cases customers could essentially skip the line. Overall, however, many economists praise the PPP for having gotten billions to companies relatively quickly.

The New York Observer, the news website that Kushner ran before entering the White House and is still owned by his brother-in-law’s investment firm, was approved for between $350,000 and $1 million, data shows. A company called Princeton Forrestal LLC that is at least 40 percent owned by Kushner family members, according to a 2018 securities filing, was approved for $1 million to $2 million. Esplanade Livingston LLC, whose address is the same as that of the Kushner Companies real estate development business, was approved for $350,000 to $1 million. The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Peter Febo, responded, “Several of our hotels have applied for federal loans, in accordance with all guidelines, with a vast majority of funds going to furloughed employees.” The loans to Kushner-related companies were first reported by The Daily Beast.

In addition, up to $2 million was approved for the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a nonprofit religious school in Livingston, N.J., that’s named for Jared Kushner’s grandfather and supported by the family.

In April, a bank approved a loan of between $150,000 and $350,000 for the Pennsylvania dental practice of Albert Hazzouri, who golfs with Trump and frequents Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. In 2017, Hazzouri used his access to the president to pass him a policy proposal on club stationery on behalf of the American Dental Association. He addressed the note to Trump “Dear King.”

Hazzouri also leaned on his relationship with Trump in an unsuccessful bid to obtain a dentistry license to expand his business in Florida. Hazzouri didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

Firms tied to the president’s children also stand to benefit from the program. A small indoor lettuce farming business applied for funds between $150,000 and $350,000, SBA data show. Trump Jr. had invested in Eden Green Technology, a vertical farming company just south of Dallas, whose co-chair, Gentry Beach, was a Trump campaign fundraiser.

Trump Jr. purchased his shares as Beach sought Trump administration funding for his other global business interests, ProPublica first reported in December 2018.

The company has said Trump Jr. played no role in running Eden Green and was brought in during “U.S. friends and family fundraising efforts.” A spokesman, Trevor Moore, said that the company “followed the standard procedure” in applying for the PPP loan and that “receiving it has provided for the preservation of 18 jobs.” It’s not clear how much Trump Jr. invested or whether he’s been paid any dividends since purchasing his shares. Neither Trump Jr. nor a spokesman returned a message seeking comment.

Monday’s list included a Manhattan law firm whose marquee attorney has fiercely defended Trump for almost two decades. Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP — whose managing partner, Marc Kasowitz, was at one point the president’s top lawyer in the special counsel’s Russia investigation — was set to receive between $5 million and $10 million from Citibank, data show. (The largest loan a company could seek was $10 million.)

Once dubbed the “Donald Trump of lawyering” by The New York Times, Kasowitz represented Trump in the Trump University fraud lawsuit. and during the 2016 campaign he helped keep Trump’s 1990 divorce from being unsealed. ProPublica reported three years ago that Kasowitz bragged to friends that he made between $10 million and $30 million per year.

A law firm spokeswoman said its employees have maintained their full salary and benefits thanks to the PPP loan and “substantial cost-saving measures and greatly reduced partner distributions.” The firm has about 400 employees, data show. She said neither Kasowitz nor the firm had any conversations with anyone in the administration about the loan. Other major law firms, such as Boies Schiller Flexner and Wiley Rein, also received loans.

The loans helped a hospital executive tightly linked to another Trump attorney and confidant, Rudy Giuliani. Cottage Hospital, a 25-bed critical access facility in Woodsville, New Hampshire, received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP loans. The hospital’s CEO, Maria Ryan, is a longtime close associate of Giuliani’s.

During the last few years, Ryan has accompanied Giuliani on trips to Jerusalem, where the two visited the Hadassah Medical Organization, and to London, where they attended a two-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Last September, Giuliani brought Ryan to a state dinner at the White House.

Ryan currently co-hosts a talk radio show with Giuliani called “Uncovering the Truth.” She has referred to Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, as her “business partner.” Cottage Hospital’s annual revenues typically exceed $30 million, according to its most recent publicly available federal tax return. Ryan’s salary, the last filing shows, is nearly $300,000.

“Mr. Giuliani has nothing to do with the PPP loan,” Ryan wrote in an email to ProPublica. “We applied like any other small business through our bank.”

The loan data released Monday does not reveal the $30 billion in loans that have been canceled. Nor does it provide specific dollar amounts, but instead ranges of loan amounts. Businesses that spend the money according to key provisions of the program, which mainly involve continuing to pay workers, will have the loans forgiven.

Last week, Trump signed legislation to extend the program until early August.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

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As Colleges Resort to Online Learning, ICE Issues ‘Needlessly Cruel’ Rule Pushing International Students Out of US

“The Trump administration is using ICE to threaten universities into teaching in person by threatening international students with deportation if they’re all online.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-6-2020

Photo: pikist

Immigrant rights advocates were angered on Monday after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced international students whose U.S. schools are moving to an online-only model for the Fall 2020 semester will no longer be welcome in the United States.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a physics and astronomy professor at University of New Hampshire, wrote that the Trump administration is likely attempting to pressure American colleges into abandoning their distance-learning plans even as the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country. Continue reading

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Civil Rights Groups Sue NC City Over Law That ‘Effectively Bans Any Protest’

Ordinance in city of Graham “sends a clear message that racist monuments are valued more highly than Black lives and our constitutional rights.”

-By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published -7-3-2020

Gather to Demand Justice rally in Graham, NC Photo: Anthony Crider/flickr/CC

Civil rights groups on Friday filed a lawsuit against Alamance County and the city of Graham, North Carolina, after officials issued a new ordinance last week announcing the police department would not be issuing protest permits during the city’s current state of emergency.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU, and a local law firm filed the lawsuit and a temporary restraining order on behalf of Alamance County NAACP and eight individuals who were planning to protest at the Alamance County Courthouse in the center of Graham. Continue reading

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Police with lots of military gear kill civilians more often than less-militarized officers

A police tactical team in Ferguson, Mo., responds to 2014 protests against a white officer’s killing of Michael Brown, a young Black man. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Casey Delehanty, Gardner-Webb University

Police departments that get more equipment from the military kill more civilians than departments that get less military gear. That’s the finding from research on a federal program that has operated since 1997 that I have helped conduct as a scholar of police militarization.

That finding was recently confirmed and expanded by Edward Lawson Jr. at the University of South Carolina.

This federal effort is called the “1033 Program.” It’s named after the section of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act that allows the U.S. Defense Department to give police agencies around the country equipment, including weapons and ammunition, that the military no longer needs. Continue reading

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‘Day of Rage’: Palestinians and Global Allies Rise Up Against Annexation Plan and Israeli Apartheid

“The Palestinian struggle today is not just about fighting annexation, which we must continue to do. It is about dismantling the entire system of apartheid.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-1-2020

Photo: Days of Palestine/Twitter

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip—backed by allies across the globe—organized protests on Wednesday against the Israeli government’s looming plan to further its apartheid policy by annexing up to a third of West Bank territory under U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called “vision for peace” for the region, which was unveiled in January and championed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Gaza City, the Associated Press reports, thousands of protesters marched with Palestinian flags and signs decrying the annexation plan as a “declaration of war” on the Palestinian people. Following that demonstration, which reportedly ended peacefully in the early afternoon, other rallies were planned in the West Bank. Continue reading

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Should the president pick the attorney general?

William Barr walks through Lafayette Park before demonstrators were cleared by federal police on June 1, 2020. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Joshua Holzer, Westminster College

Attorney General William Barr recently announced, late on a Friday, that Geoffrey Berman was “stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

This announcement was news to Berman, who later contradicted Barr by declaring that he had not resigned and indeed had no intention of resigning. Barr then contradicted himself by informing Berman that since he had refused to resign, he had instead been fired. Continue reading

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‘Absolute Robbery’: Gilead Announces $3,120 Price Tag for Covid-19 Drug Developed With $70 Million in Taxpayer Support

“Taxpayers provided funding for the development of this drug. Now Gilead is price-gouging off it during a pandemic. Beyond disgusting,” said Sen.Bernie Sanders.

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-29-2020

Photo: Ivan Radic/flickr/CC

Consumer advocates reacted with disgust Monday to an announcement by Gilead Sciences that it will charge U.S. hospitals around $3,120 per privately insured patient for a treatment course of remdesivir, a drug which has proven modestly effective at speeding Covid-19 recovery times.

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program, called Gilead’s pricing—which works out to around $520 per dose for non-government buyers like hospitals—”an offensive display of hubris and disregard for the public” and slammed the Trump administration for failing to ensure that the price of a drug developed with substantial taxpayer support is affordable for all. Continue reading

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