President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Vivek Murthy to serve as U.S. surgeon general to help lead the response to the coronavirus crisis. Murthy previously served as surgeon general for over two years under President Obama. On Thursday, Biden told CNN he will order new public health measures as soon as he takes office.
President-elect Joe Biden: “My first day I’m inaugurated to say I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction if we occur that — if that occurs, with vaccinations and masking, to drive down the numbers considerably.”
Researchers at the University of Washington project the U.S. coronavirus death toll could reach nearly 540,000 by April 1. The same researchers recently projected that if 95% of Americans wore masks consistently, over 68,000 lives would be saved by March 1.
Italy recorded 993 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday — a daily record. The Italian government has declared a national curfew and said Thursday it will bar people from traveling between regions over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Iran’s official coronavirus cases count topped 1 million on Thursday. In October, a member of Iran’s medical association said the true death toll in Iran could be four times higher than the official number, which now stands at nearly 50,000.
In the Gaza Strip, officials have ordered schools and mosques to close as part of a partial lockdown, as more than 800 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed Thursday. Among those infected are senior members of Hamas, including its leader, Yahya Sinwar.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres warned Thursday the world could be suffering negative effects from the pandemic for decades to come.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Let’s not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades, to come. Extreme poverty is rising. The threat of famine looms. We face the biggest global recession in eight decades.”
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on Thursday refused to hear the Trump campaign’s lawsuit seeking to disqualify nearly a quarter-million ballots in the state’s largest Democratic counties. The Trump campaign has lost or withdrawn at least 28 lawsuits seeking to invalidate the results of the 2020 election.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah has resigned her post. She served in the role for just 240 days.
President Trump tweeted late Thursday he will veto the massive $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act, because Republican senators refused to include an amendment to strip legal protections for social media companies. Trump is demanding the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to punish Twitter and Facebook, which he has accused of censoring his false and misleading tweets about the coronavirus and the 2020 election.
The U.S. is pulling dozens of staff from its embassy in Baghdad ahead of the anniversary of the Trump-ordered assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. It’s unclear whether the move will be permanent, and comes as tensions are flaring in the region following the killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, last week.
Egypt has freed three human rights workers from prison amid international outcry over an unprecedented crackdown on activists and journalists. Gasser Abdel-Razek was arrested at his home last month, just days after two other staffers for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were also arrested. They had recently hosted foreign diplomats to discuss human rights abuses in Egypt.
In Bangladesh, human rights advocates are condemning the relocation of thousands of Rohingya refugees to an isolated island — hours away from the mainland. Police on Thursday escorted refugees, who were put on buses for the long trek from Cox’s Bazar to a port town, where they’ll then be put on boats en route to Bhasan Char island, which is prone to flooding, frequent cyclones, and only emerged from the ocean two decades ago. The island has never been inhabited. Two aid workers told Reuters refugees were pressured into the move by government officials, who threatened them or offered them cash in exchange. Human Rights Watch called the refugees’ relocation “nothing short of a dangerous mass detention of the Rohingya people in violation of international human rights obligations.”
In immigration news, NBC News reports attorneys tasked with reuniting children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border have finally been given key information critical to finding the children’s relatives, after months of pleading for the information. Documents filed in federal court in California last week say attorneys have now obtained phone numbers and other data that had not previously been made available by the Trump administration. This comes as lawyers say they have found the parents of nearly 40 children among 666 refugee kids whose families they couldn’t track down. The children were taken away from their families between April and June 2018 at the height of Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy.
In more immigration news, The Arizona Republic reports dozens of asylum seekers and allies led a protest Wednesday in the border sister cities of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, demanding President-elect Joe Biden restore asylum proceedings. Nearly 80 people marched side by side, separated by the massive border wall. Asylum seekers remain stuck on the Mexican side as the Trump administration has used COVID-19 as a pretext to suspend asylum claims. Asylum seekers are also urging Biden to kill other Trump policies, including the “Remain in Mexico” program, which has forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their asylum cases are resolved in U.S. courts.
The U.S. has banned cotton imports from a major Chinese producer which it accuses of using the slave labor of imprisoned Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. China has denied the accusation. In related news, formerly imprisoned Uyghurs have said they were forced to consume pork, which is prohibited in Islam, among other abuses.
In India, demonstrators formed a human chain in the city of Bhopal Wednesday to commemorate the lives lost and renew calls for justice in the deadliest industrial disaster in history. In 1984, a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory killed an estimated 20,000 people and poisoned another half-million. The U.S. company and its parent firm, Dow Chemical, have refused to pay for clean-up.
Rachna Dhingra: “Up until today, people have been fighting for a life of justice and honor. And they are fighting because both the state and the federal government have closed their eyes and ears. There is still poisonous water today. The gas victims have not received proper compensation for the problems that they have been facing for a lifetime.”
The Trump administration has announced plans to sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the first time. The January 6 lease sales could complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to permanently protect the pristine region, which is extremely rich in biodiversity and has been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
In Southern California, two firefighters were injured as a wildfire east of Irvine exploded in size Thursday, fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds and bone-dry conditions. The Bond Fire has burned over 6,400 acres and is only 10% contained. Over 4 million acres have burned across California so far this year, shattering all previous records.
In Georgia, Republican Senator David Perdue has traded stocks, bonds and mutual funds nearly 2,600 times over the past six years — often in companies within his Senate committees’ oversight. That’s according to The New York Times, which reports Perdue has been the Senate’s most prolific stock trader by far, sometimes reporting 20 or more transactions in a single day. Perdue faces Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in a January 5 runoff election in Georgia that will determine the balance of power in the Senate.
Florida attorney Bill Price faces a felony investigation after he urged fellow Republicans to violate the law by registering to vote in Georgia. The investigation follows these remarks Price made in early November in a since-deleted Facebook Live video.
Bill Price: “We have to win on January 5th. And I will invite each and every one of you to be my roommate in Georgia. I’m moving to Georgia. I’m changing my voter registration right now. And I’m inviting 2 million people to be my roommate.”
Under Georgia state law, it’s a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison to register to vote as a nonresident without proper qualifications. Price later told reporters in Atlanta he was only making “humorous comments” — but elections officials in Georgia’s Paulding County say Price did, in fact, register to vote at his brother’s address.
In Philadelphia, a Black mother who was attacked with her family in October by a horde of police officers is speaking out about the harrowing experience. Rickia Young was driving an SUV with her 2-year-old son and teenage nephew when officers descended on the vehicle, broke all its windows, assaulted and arrested Young, pulled her 16-year-old nephew from the car and grabbed her child, who suffered a bump on his head from the assault. Rickia Young says she and her young son are physically and emotionally traumatized.
Rickia Young: “He is petrified. And he’s only 2 years old. My mom and my nephew asked him what happened. He was saying, '[bleep] car. [bleep] door. Open door,' and up there banging his hand, like as if — like, you know, the cops was banging on the car. He just kept repeating it like he’s still trying to tell the story. Like, he acts out. He bite his nails. He pull his hair now. He never did those things before. He’s traumatized. He is going through something. He knows words, but, you know, he can’t express to me how he’s feeling.”
Democrats introduced a resolution Wednesday to amend a clause in the 13th Amendment that bans the enslavement of people with the exception of “involuntary servitude” as punishment for being convicted of a crime. Racial justice advocates have long argued the clause is a loophole that’s allowed new forms of slavery in the U.S., and have likened mass incarceration to slavery as prisoners are forced into harsh labor for the profit of private prison companies.
The ceremony for the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, was held Thursday. Four winners shared the honor this year: Indigenous rights and environmental activist Lottie Cunningham Wren of Nicaragua, Belarusian pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski, U.S. civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, and Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was returned to prison one day before the ceremony after being temporarily released last month due to her worsening health.
Bryan Stevenson was presented his award by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit and now works alongside Stevenson at the Equal Justice Initiative. This is Stevenson speaking at the ceremony.
Bryan Stevenson: “I work in a country that has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. I work against a system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. We work to overturn this horrific era of mass incarceration in America that has been brought about by the politics of fear and anger. And in too many places across the world, we’re being governed by people who preach fear and anger. And fear and anger are the essential ingredients of oppression and abuse. And we need a community of people to stand up against this. That’s what human rights work is about for me. It’s about challenging these conditions that have been so brutal, so toxic, so critically unfair. There are thousands of innocent people in our jails and prisons, and we’re going to continue fighting for them.”
Bryan Stevenson was speaking from a civil rights exhibition put on by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. The exhibition features hundreds of jars of soil collected from various lynching sites around the United States.