At the White House, at least three more staffers have tested positive for coronavirus after last week’s election night gathering, where some 250 people packed the East Room of the White House, very few of them wearing masks. White House political director Brian Jack reportedly tested positive over the weekend, joining Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, attorney David Bossie, Housing Secretary Ben Carson and others.
Worldwide coronavirus cases have topped 52 million, with nearly 1.3 million deaths reported — though both figures are likely to be far short of the true toll. France has overtaken Russia to become the worst-affected country in Europe, reporting nearly 36,000 new cases on Wednesday alone.
In Argentina, President Alberto Fernández has gone into quarantine after a member of his Cabinet tested positive for coronavirus.
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky has been hospitalized with COVID-19, two days after announcing he’d tested positive. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced more than 11,000 new infections, a daily record.
Back in the United States, President-elect Joe Biden has named Ron Klain to be his incoming chief of staff. Under President Obama, Klain oversaw the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in 2014. He also served as chief of staff to the last two Democratic vice presidents, Biden and Al Gore.
Biden has formed over a dozen teams to advise him on staffing and running major government agencies. In These Times reports at least one-third of Biden’s Pentagon transition team works for the weapons industry or is part of an organization or company that receives money from the weapons industry.
Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are pushing the Biden team to place progressives in key Cabinet positions. Their dream team includes Barbara Lee as secretary of state, Elizabeth Warren as treasury secretary, Keith Ellison as attorney general, Bernie Sanders as secretary of labor, Mustafa Ali as EPA administrator and Deb Haaland as secretary of interior.
President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote over Donald Trump has now topped 5 million and continues to grow. No evidence has emerged to back up Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud, but on Wednesday Georgia’s secretary of state ordered a hand recount for the presidential race. The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump campaign is increasingly looking into ways to prevent key states from certifying election results, with the hope that Republican-led legislatures would then appoint pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College.
Trump’s refusal to concede the race may also be helping his campaign financially. Half of all money collected for the campaign’s legal challenges is quietly being reallocated to pay off campaign debt.
On Wednesday, Trump made his first public appearance since the race was called for Joe Biden. He placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day but made no remarks.
Former Pentagon officials are expressing alarm over President Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the purge of other top officials at the Pentagon and National Security Agency following the election. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen said Trump’s conduct is “more akin to a dictatorship than a democracy.”
Trump has replaced Esper with former Special Forces officer Chris Miller, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Miller has faced criticism for refusing to promise that intelligence agencies wouldn’t target Americans based on their political views.
Miller has hired retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor as a top adviser. Macgregor has called for instituting martial law at the U.S.-Mexico border and shooting unarmed migrants. He has also called for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Trump has also installed Anthony Tata as acting undersecretary of defense for policy. Tata is a former Fox News commentator who once called former President Obama “a terrorist leader” and has called Islam an “oppressive” and “violent” religion.
Former National Security Council official Ezra Cohen-Watnick has become acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security. In 2017, he pushed for the surveillance of White House staffers as a means to prevent leaks. He also advocated using covert action to overthrow the Iranian government.
Retired Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey warned, “We are watching a slow moving Trump coup to defy the Biden election.”
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan has won a second term in office, defeating Democratic challenger Al Gross and guaranteeing Republicans at least 50 seats in the U.S. Senate. The balance of power in Congress’s upper chamber will be decided in Georgia on January 5, where Democratic contenders Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are challenging Republicans incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
In Hong Kong, 15 opposition lawmakers are stepping down today to protest the firing of four of their colleagues by Chinese authorities enforcing a new “national security” law. It’s the latest setback to the movement by Hong Kongers to maintain their autonomy from China’s one-party rule. This is Kwok Ka-ki, one of the four Hong Kong Legislative Council members removed for failing to show clear loyalty to China.
Kwok Ka-ki: “Today, my mission as a legislator to fight for democracy, freedom in the chamber cannot be continued. But I would certainly promise that I would go along if all the people in Hong Kong continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong: freedom, democracy, justice and fair. And we should never give up.”
In immigration news, Vice reports U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning to deport another woman who says she underwent a nonconsensual gynecological procedure while imprisoned at Irwin Detention Center in Georgia. The 36-year-old Mexican woman, being referred to only as Yanira, is among over 50 others who have come forward since a whistleblower complaint alleged horrifying medical neglect, including forced sterilizations, being conducted at Irwin. Yanira has lived in the U.S. since she was 3, and has an 11-year-old daughter who is a U.S. citizen.
In news from Kentucky, The Louisville Courier-Journal has revealed the Louisville Police Department hid nearly 750,000 records documenting how two city police officers sexually abused minors. The youths were abused while taking part in the Explorer Scouts program, which was created for young people interested in law enforcement careers. Meanwhile, another woman in Louisville has accused former officer Brett Hankison of sexually abusing her in 2018. Nine other women provided statements in the lawsuit. In September, Hankison was indicted for shooting into the apartment of a neighbor during the deadly no-knock raid that ended Breonna Taylor’s life in March.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office has announced it will open an official probe into the death of Andrés Guardado, an 18-year-old Salvadoran American who was shot and killed in June by a sheriff’s deputy. This marks the first such investigation by the coroner’s office in more than three decades. An independent autopsy found Guardado was shot five times in the back.
An unprecedented internal investigation launched by the Vatican has found that Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI knew about and ignored allegations of sexual abuse against Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. The over 400-page report points to the Catholic Church’s systemic failure in handling sexual misconduct accusations, which in the case of McCarrick led to his rise in the church for decades. McCarrick was defrocked from the Vatican last year after a church trial found him guilty of sexually abusing minors.
In media news, the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Publishing have agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by Black and Latinx journalists who say they were paid less than their white male counterparts. Nearly 240 reporters, copy and line editors who worked at the L.A. Times between 2015 and 2020 could be eligible for a portion of the settlement.
In the Philippines, at least one person is dead, and millions are without electricity, after Typhoon Vamco struck the northern island of Luzon with sustained winds of over 100 miles per hour. It was the fifth tropical cyclone to affect the Philippines in the last three weeks. On November 1, Super Typhoon Goni killed at least 26 people after it came ashore as the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall.
Lakota water and land rights activist Debra White Plume has died. Born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, White Plume helped lead the fight against fossil fuel extraction and oil and gas pipelines. In 2016, Democracy Now! spoke with her at a protest camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where she joined water defenders fighting the Dakota Access pipeline.
Debra White Plume: “If the pipeline is put in, it’s going to leak or spill or burst or explode, and that oil is going to get into the water. And Dakota Access pipeline says they’re going to bury it 30 feet under, and they’re assuring everybody that it’s going to be safe. But I think Western science doesn’t really know everything it thinks it knows. And we need to make our decisions based on what’s best for Mother Earth and our coming generations. And that includes protecting our water. Water is under threat all over the world. Right now there are people who have no access to clean drinking water.”