In legal news, the Supreme Court sided with New York religious groups who were challenging coronavirus restrictions on gatherings. Justice Amy Coney Barrett played a key role shifting the court’s position in the 5-4 decision. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.” Governor Cuomo called the ruling “irrelevant” since the rules were intended for areas that are no longer considered high risk.
Joe Biden has named the first-ever all-women White House communications team. Jen Psaki, President Obama’s former communications director, will serve as White House press secretary. Karine Jean-Pierre, formerly with the political organizing group MoveOn, will be principal deputy press secretary. Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s campaign communications director, will move on to become the White House communications director. Pili Tobar, who previously worked for the immigration reform group America’s Voice, will serve as deputy White House communications director. On Vice President Kamala Harris’s team, Biden’s former campaign advisers Symone Sanders and Ashley Etienne will become chief spokesperson and Harris’s communications director, respectively.
Biden is also expected to nominate two women of color to key economic positions: Cecilia Rouse, who is African American, a Princeton labor economist, to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, and Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden would be the first woman of color and the first South Asian woman in the role. But many progressives object to her playing a role in the incoming administration, citing her organization’s cozy relationship with corporate funders, her record of antagonizing and undermining progressive Democrats and her hawkish foreign policy positions.
Meanwhile, two alums from the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, will hold key economic positions. Brian Deese, a current executive at the investment giant, will be Biden’s pick for the National Economic Council. And Wally Adeyemo, senior international economic adviser under Obama, will act as Janet Yellen’s top deputy at the Treasury Department. Climate activists have condemned the picks due to BlackRock’s funding of fossil fuel companies, among other issues.
Joe Biden is currently recovering from fracturing his foot while playing with his dog.
President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results appear to be exhausted as he faced a string of defeats over the weekend. Lawsuits in Pennsylvania were rejected both by the state’s Supreme Court and a federal appeals court. And a recount in two liberal Wisconsin counties, ordered by the Trump campaign, cemented Biden’s victory there.
Trump said for the first time he’ll leave office if the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden, even as Trump refuses to concede the election, which Biden won in both the Electoral College and popular votes by wide margins. On Thursday, Trump attacked Reuters reporter Jeff Mason for asking when he would concede.
President Donald Trump: “Between you people — don’t answer — don’t talk to me that way. You’re just a — you’re just a lightweight. Don’t talk to me that way. Don’t talk to — I’m the president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”
In May, Trump mocked Mason for refusing to take off his mask while asking him a question at a press briefing. Meanwhile, Trump has turned on Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp as the state gears up for two Senate runoffs that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Trump said he was “ashamed” that he endorsed Kemp, as he ranted on Fox News about losing the Georgia vote.
Iran held a state funeral today for Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top nuclear scientist who was assassinated while driving on a highway outside of Tehran on Friday. Iran accused Israel of orchestrating the killing, which Iran says may have been conducted by an automatic remote-controlled machine gun placed inside an empty vehicle. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will retaliate at the proper time.
President Hassan Rouhani: “This brutal and cowardly terror attack showed that our enemies are experiencing weeks of anxiety, weeks when they feel their stress is being reduced and global conditions are changing.”
Many analysts say the assassination of the Iranian scientist was designed to make it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Ethiopia’s prime minister said Saturday his military had taken complete control of the capital of the northern Tigray region, capping a three-week offensive against separatists that forced tens of thousands to flee to Sudan amid reports of mass atrocities. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, refused international demands for talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Members of that group accused Ethiopia’s military of shelling heavily populated areas of the capital Mekelle.
In Nigeria, scores of people were killed Saturday as armed men on motorcycles descended on farmworkers harvesting rice fields in a rural part of Borno state. The United Nations says at least 110 people were killed in the massacre; at least 30 of the victims were reportedly beheaded. No group has claimed responsibility, but Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province are active in the area.
The Nigerian Army has admitted its soldiers were armed with live ammunition when they opened fire on protesters at an October 20 demonstration in Lagos. Twelve peaceful protesters were killed in the assault at the Lekki toll gate as they demanded authorities disband the notorious police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS.
In France, public opposition to a highly contested new security law is mounting after recent high-profile incidents of police violence. The law would ban the publication of images of police officers and increase police powers. Images of French police officers beating Black music producer Michel Zecler, while hurling racial epithets at him, went viral last week. President Emmanuel Macron said the images “shamed” France. The officers have been suspended and could face charges. On Saturday, award-winning Syrian photojournalist Ameer Alhalbi was taken to the hospital with a broken nose and other injuries after police assaulted him while he was covering a protest opposing the new law. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday the wording of the new law would be reviewed.
In India, thousands of farmers continue to protest for the fifth straight day against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to deregulate agricultural markets. Opponents say the neoliberal policy is a boon to corporations and repeals key labor and farm price protections that could have a devastating impact on the livelihood of farmers.
The ongoing protests come after an estimated 250 million workers, farmers and their allies across India participated last Thursday in what is believed to be the largest organized strike in history.
In Thailand, protests continue calling for the resignation of the prime minister, democratic reforms and constraints on the power of the monarchy. Five leaders in the youth-led pro-democracy movement reported to Thai police today as they face charges related to defaming the monarchy. On Sunday, thousands marched to a military barracks, where one of the five protest leaders called for military power to come fully under government control.
Parit Chiwarak: “Control of the King’s Guard should be brought under the government’s rule, the government that the people elected. For the king to have a direct command means intervening in governance and using his excessive power. An army should belong to the people, not the king.”
Meanwhile, protesters are warning of a possible military coup attempt, which they say they will do everything they can to oppose. Thailand has seen many coups over the years, most recently in 2014, which installed the current prime minister.
Maher al-Akhras, a Palestinian man who went on a 103-day hunger strike against his imprisonment without charge, was released last Thursday by Israeli authorities. Al-Akhras told reporters, “My freedom is the freedom of my people, and we have won over the occupation with our will and determination.”
Canada banned the export of some medications to the U.S. before a new rule takes effect today, allowing U.S. pharmacists to import Canadian drugs in bulk. Canada enacted the ban to prevent prescription shortages on its own soil. A major pharmaceutical lobbying group is suing over the new rule, saying the federal government cannot pass off the responsibility of ensuring the safety and cost-effectiveness of imported drugs to state authorities.
The Justice Department has issued a new rule that could allow federal executions to take place by firing squad, electrocution or poison gas starting on December 24. It’s not clear whether any methods other than lethal injection would be used for the three executions scheduled in January after the new rule takes effect. Joe Biden said while campaigning he now supports eliminating the federal death penalty despite previously helping to expand it.
In environmental news, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit for the Pebble Mine, likely putting an end to the proposed multibillion-dollar copper and gold mine in Alaska that would have been among the world’s largest. The project was determined to be “contrary to the public interest” and not in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists and local Indigenous groups have long fought against the mine, which they say would have poisoned their communities and devastated Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery.
President Trump announced on Twitter he pardoned his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn has twice pleaded guilty in court to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in 2016. Flynn also admitted to lying about his lobbying for Turkey, which a Biden administration Justice Department could still decide to pursue.
Thousands of Amazon workers participated in a global action on Black Friday to demand fairer wages, hazard pay during the pandemic, and for the retail behemoth to start paying taxes. Social and climate justice groups also joined the #MakeAmazonPay actions, which took place across 15 countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Germany and Poland. Protesters are also demanding Amazon commit to better environmental practices and to allow workers to unionize.