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Headlines for October 29, 2021 – Democracy Now!

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President Biden on Thursday unveiled a framework for a revised version of his Build Back Better plan, which is aimed at combating the climate crisis while funding an array of social programs. Biden’s scaled-back plan would see the U.S. spend $1.75 trillion over a decade, with $555 billion for climate-friendly policies like tax credits for electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines and more energy-efficient buildings. Under pressure from conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, many progressive goals have been stripped from the original Build Back Better Act — among them, two years of free community college; paid family and medical leave; and a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Still, progressive lawmakers like Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders called the package transformational.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The president and many of us in Congress are trying to pass the most consequential piece of legislation in the modern history of this country for working families.”
Senators Sinema and Manchin both sidestepped questions Thursday over whether they will support the revised spending bill. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats defied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday, refusing to approve an infrastructure bill passed by the Senate. Lawmakers led by Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal say they want the infrastructure bill passed in tandem with the revised Build Back Better Act.
Top executives from BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell appeared before the House Oversight Committee Thursday. During six hours of testimony, they repeatedly refused to pledge to stop lobbying against congressional efforts to combat the climate crisis. New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney gaveled in the hearing.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney: “This is a historic hearing. For the first time, top fossil fuel executives are testifying together before Congress, under oath, about the industry’s role in causing climate change and their efforts to cover it up. For far too long Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe. That ends today.”
Throughout Thursday’s hearing, Republicans repeatedly apologized to the oil company executives, while progressives grilled them over their campaign to prevent action on the climate crisis. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “One thing that often gets lost in these conversations is that some of us have to actually live the future that you all are setting on fire for us. By 2028, crop yields are already projected to begin to fail, with famine beginning to hit the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney said she plans to issue subpoenas to force oil executives to turn over documents detailing what their own scientists were saying internally about climate change, as well as Big Oil’s efforts to misinform the public.
A new United Nations report warns at least 10 forests designated World Heritage sites have become net emitters of greenhouse gases, no longer absorbing more carbon than they emit. The disturbing trend is driven by drought, wildfires and deforestation, including in California’s Yosemite National Park.
China has submitted its climate action goals ahead of the COP26 United Nations climate summit, which opens in Glasgow next week. China says it plans to see its carbon dioxide emissions peak by 2030, achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. The pledge contains no significant new environmental goals. Climate activists say it’s far short of what’s needed from China to help prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.
In Scotland, protesters gathered Thursday near the site of next week’s COP26 summit, demanding countries take real action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Dylan Hamilton: “We have to try and remind world leaders what’s happening with the crisis. The world is literally on fire, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Andrew Nazdin: “From wildfires in the U.S. to flooding across the world, we are in a full-blown climate crisis. World leaders know this. They’ve seen what’s happening. Now is the time for them to come together here in Glasgow and hammer out a deal to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe.”
President Biden met with Pope Francis at the Vatican today ahead of the G20 summit in Rome. The pope has called for global vaccine equity and has urged world leaders to do more to tackle the climate crisis. In 2015, he penned the Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. On Thursday, before his departure for Europe, activists held a rally in Washington, D.C., to demand Biden keep his promise to make the COVID vaccine available to all countries, and to put people over profits. This is human rights advocate Pauline Muchina.
Pauline Muchina: “We talk about solidarity. We talk about global community. But we are hoarding vaccines. Five hundred million vaccines were promised by President Biden. How many of them have left the United States?”
Protesters: “Not enough!”
Pauline Muchina: “We hear of people throwing out vaccines. How many vaccines have been destroyed instead of shared around the world? It is time to end vaccines apartheid!”
The rally was followed by an all-night vigil in front of the home of White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients. More protests are expected in Italy over the weekend as the G20 gets underway.
In Sudan, at least one protester was killed Thursday on the fourth consecutive day of clashes between soldiers and demonstrators in Khartoum who oppose Monday’s military coup. 
A Guantánamo Bay prisoner and survivor of U.S. government torture gave a detailed account of his brutal captivity to a military jury Thursday. Forty-one-year-old Majid Khan is the first former prisoner of CIA black sites to describe so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in an open court. For more than two hours Khan described forced feedings, waterboarding and other physical and sexual abuse he endured, including extended periods of nudity, while he was detained in the CIA’s network of overseas prisons from 2003 to 2006. Khan was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and pleaded guilty to being an al-Qaeda courier in 2012. He’s being sentenced today.
In immigration news, The Wall Street Journal reports the Biden administration is in negotiations to pay millions of dollars in reparations to families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. The payments would amount to $450,000 per person. This comes as part of efforts to settle several lawsuits filed on behalf of hundreds of separated parents and children, who say they are still suffering from emotional distress, trauma and psychological harm.
Federal jury in Tacoma, Washington, has determined the private prison corporation GEO Group must pay minimum wage — rather than $1 a day — to immigrants detained at its Northwest Detention Center who are ordered to perform tasks like cooking and cleaning.
Facebook has changed its name to Meta as it attempts a major rebrand amid mounting scandals. The company said the name better reflects its expansion into virtual and augmented reality. It will keep the name “Facebook” for its popular social media app. The group Real Facebook Oversight Board said, “Changing their name doesn’t change reality: Facebook is destroying our democracy and is the world’s leading peddler of disinformation and hate. Their meaningless name change should not distract from the investigation, regulation, and real, independent oversight needed to hold Facebook accountable.” 
Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been charged with forcible touching, a misdemeanor crime, for allegedly groping his aide inside the Executive Mansion last year. The disgraced governor, who was forced to resign in August amid a flurry of sexual misconduct claims, will have to appear in court on November 17 for arraignment.
The Justice Department has agreed to pay an $88 million settlement to survivors and families of victims killed by a white supremacist in the 2015 mass shooting at the historically Black Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This comes after 14 plaintiffs filed a civil case against the FBI, accusing the agency of negligence for failing to prohibit the sale of the firearm convicted murderer Dylann Roof used in the massacre. 
In Virginia, jurors heard opening statements Thursday in the federal civil trial that charges the organizers of the deadly, white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 with an unlawful conspiracy to commit violent acts. In his opening statement, jailed neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell, one of 24 organizers of the deadly rally, made references to “Mein Kampf,” said the N-word and blasted anti-fascist advocates all within a matter of minutes.
In Oklahoma, prison officials on Thursday strapped condemned 60-year-old prisoner John Marion Grant to a gurney and injected him with a lethal cocktail of three drugs: midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. AP reporter Sean Murphy witnessed the execution.
Sean Murphy: “As the drugs began to flow, he — the first drug, midazolam, he exhaled deeply. He began convulsing about two dozen times, full body convulsions, and then began to vomit, which covered his face and began to run down his neck and the side of his face; continued to breathe for several minutes before two members of the medical team, or the execution team, came in and wiped his face. At that point, he was still breathing.”
After more involuntary convulsions and more vomiting, Grant was finally pronounced dead at 4:21 p.m. local time. It was Oklahoma’s first execution in six years; a string of botched attempts forced Oklahoma to halt such killings. It came after the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 Thursday to lift a lower court’s stay. Lawyers for Grant and another prisoner, Julius Jones, had argued Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail of lethal injection drugs would subject them to excruciating pain. They also said an Oklahoma law forcing them to choose their method of execution violated their religious rights and amounted to suicide. Oklahoma plans six more executions in the next several months. 
Lisa Brodyaga, pioneering lawyer and fierce defender of immigrant rights, has died at the age of 80. Brodyaga founded the first pro bono law office to represent refugees in U.S. immigration prisons. In the 1980s, she spearheaded efforts to defend thousands of Central American asylum seekers in the U.S., many of whom fled repressive and brutal U.S.-backed regimes. In recent years she fought for legal protection of children being held in cages near the border under the Trump administration. In 1986, Brodyaga founded the Refugio del Río Grande in South Texas, a safe community for refugees from around the world. She passed away at her home at the Refugio on Thursday. 

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