In other COVID news, more information has come to light about the early days of the pandemic. A new study reveals COVID-19 was likely already in the United States in mid-December of 2019, weeks before it was first identified in China. This all comes as the U.S. death toll from the virus has topped 270,000 — by far the highest total in the world.
Pressure is growing on Congress to pass a new COVID-19 stimulus bill. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a $908 billion proposal. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed including some COVID-19 relief inside a larger spending package that is needed to prevent a government shutdown. The House approved a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan in October, but the Republican-led Senate opposes the legislation. On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden introduced his economic team. Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen said the nation must act with urgency.
Janet Yellen: “Lost lives, lost jobs, small businesses struggling to stay alive or closed for good, so many people struggling to put food on the table and pay bills and rent — it’s an American tragedy, and it’s essential that we move with urgency. Inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn, causing yet more devastation.”
Multiple news organizations are reporting President Trump has discussed preemptively pardoning several members of his family, including three of his children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner and attorney Rudy Giuliani. A presidential pardon would give them protection from federal crimes but not state and local crimes.
Meanwhile, newly unsealed court documents have revealed the Justice Department is investigating a bribery-for-pardon scheme, where lobbyists allegedly made substantial political contributions in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence. Most details of the alleged scheme were redacted, including the identity of participants.
Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. He told the Associated Press, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” The statement is a rare act of defiance for Barr, a staunch Trump loyalist, as the president continues to make baseless claims of voter fraud even as his multiple lawsuits have failed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer responded to Barr’s statement.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “Well, in response to Attorney General Bill Barr, I guess he’s the next one to be fired, since he now, too, says there’s no fraud. Trump seems to fire anyone in that regard.”
As control of the Senate rests on two January runoff elections in Georgia, a high-level state election official slammed Trump for inciting violence against election workers.
Gabriel Sterling: “Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility. I get it. And you have the rights to go through the courts. What you don’t have the ability to do — and you need to step up and say this — is, stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”
Gabriel Sterling is Georgia’s voting system implementation manager and a Republican. He also took aim at Georgia’s two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, for not condemning the violent threats coming from Trump supporters.
The United Nations says it has reached a deal with Ethiopia’s government to allow humanitarian access to the northern Tigray region and start providing aid to some 6 million people caught in the crossfire of the deadly conflict. On Tuesday, the U.N. warned food has run out for tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in Tigray camps. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military action against regional forces one month ago, setting off a bloody conflict and adding to the already alarming number of displaced people and refugees in the country and neighboring nations. Ethiopia declared victory over the weekend after announcing it took control of the capital of Tigray, but the Tigray People’s Liberation Front says they are continuing to fight.
In Uganda, presidential candidate Bobi Wine suspended his campaign after members of his team were injured and his car was shot at. Bobi Wine told reporters his campaign team was being “tortured by security institutions,” adding, “Our campaign is affected by police brutality.” The rapper-turned-politician was seeking to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who’s been in power for 36 years, in next month’s election. According to the government, 54 people have died in protests after Bobi Wine was arrested last month and detained for two days.
In Hong Kong, prominent activist Joshua Wong has been sentenced to 13-and-a-half months in prison on charges of “illegal assembly” for a protest he organized last year. Fellow pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam also received slightly shorter sentences for their involvement in the protest. Rights groups condemned the sentencing. Amnesty International said, “By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next.”
In The Hague, climate justice advocates on Tuesday opened their case against fossil fuel giant Shell. The case is led by Friends of the Earth and is backed by over 17,000 Dutch citizens and six other climate organizations. The plaintiffs argue Shell has broken Dutch law and is committing human rights violations by knowingly sabotaging the Netherlands’ phase-out of fossil fuels. The case also accuses Shell of being aware for decades of the damage it has inflicted on the planet. This is Roger Cox, an attorney representing the environmental groups.
Roger Cox: “Royal Dutch Shell’s corporate policy is at odds with this global climate objective, and thus contributes to the realization of great danger to humanity, human rights, future generations, the environment and nature. The plaintiffs conclude that Royal Dutch Shell’s corporate policy is on a collision course with the global climate target.”
In Australia, firefighters continue to battle a massive bushfire that’s destroyed half of Queensland’s Fraser Island — the world’s largest sand island and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Environmentalists warn of catastrophic consequences for the habitats and wildlife on the island, as the blaze is now approaching an area inhabited by trees that are at least 1,000 years old. The fire started six weeks ago, in mid-October, triggered by an illegal campfire and amid a record-breaking heat wave.
New Zealand has declared a climate emergency and has pledged to have a carbon-neutral government by 2025. This is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: “It’s a declaration that now serves as a directive to all aspects of the public service around the urgency that we as a government require and the urgency that we require around action. It acts as a catalyst for change.”
Thirty-two other nations have previously declared a climate emergency, often as a symbolic act to spur top-down action on the climate crisis.
Rights groups have condemned Saudi Arabia over the decision to try prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul in terrorism court. Last month, al-Halthloul embarked on her second hunger strike over the past year. She was arrested in May 2018 after leading a movement to lift a ban on women drivers and to overhaul the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. Advocates have been calling for her release, along with at least five other Saudi women’s rights activists who are behind bars.
Back in the U.S., the Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case pitting six former child slave laborers against Nestlé USA and Cargill. The men were trafficked from Mali as children and forced to work on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, where they were routinely tortured. The farms supplied to the U.S. corporations, who the plaintiffs say were complicit in their enslavement.
In Oregon, a white man has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting a Black 19-year-old, Aidan Ellison, for playing music too loudly at a hotel parking lot in the city of Ashland last week. The white man, Robert Paul Keegan, reportedly left his hotel room when he heard the music, and started a confrontation with the teenager before pulling out a gun and shooting him in the chest. In response to Ellison’s shooting, civil rights advocate and attorney Ben Crump wrote on Twitter, “this was NOT about music. That’s false justification for killing a Black teen! This was a racially motivated shooting by a suspected white supremacist!!”
Hollywood star Elliot Page has come out as transgender. Oscar-nominated Page, who has starred in hits including “Juno” and “Inception” and is currently in the Netflix series “Umbrella Academy,” posted a heartfelt statement on social media, writing, “I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self.” Page thanked the trans community in his post and also highlighted the ongoing violence and murders of trans people, especially trans women of color.
Following the news, the Trans Journalists Association urged media outlets to stop the practice of deadnaming, or referring to someone by their former name. Founding member of the group, Oliver-Ash Kleine, said, “This is extremely disrespectful and dehumanizing. It undermines the person’s autonomy, gender and identity.”
Puerto Rican poet, writer and founder of the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Miguel Algarín, has died at the age of 79. Algarín was born in Puerto Rico before moving to New York as a child. He co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan after the poetry salon he started from his own living room outgrew the space. For decades, a community of poets and artists have performed in the iconic venue. Algarín taught at Rutgers University for over 30 years and is the recipient of three American Book Awards.