The U.S. recorded over 2,500 deaths and over 215,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases yesterday. As the average number of daily cases has sailed past 200,000, health experts say the first signs of spikes related to Thanksgiving travel are starting to emerge. Cases have risen over the last week in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden officially introduced his coronavirus response team and outlined his goals for tackling the pandemic when he takes office.
President-elect Joe Biden: “Masking, vaccinations, opening schools. These are the three key goals for my first 100 days. … This team will help get at the latest — at the last 100 million COVID-19 vaccine — at least 100 million COVID vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first hundred days.”
A new report finds that as many as nine out of 10 people in dozens of poorer countries around the world could miss out on the coronavirus vaccine next year as the bulk of the supply is bought up by wealthier nations. The People’s Vaccine Alliance says wealthy countries are hoarding enough doses to vaccinate their populations nearly three times over.
In other vaccine news, Iran says U.S. sanctions have prevented it from making a payment to COVAX — the U.N.'s mechanism to ensure fair distribution of vaccines — possibly putting its receipt of nearly 17 million doses in jeopardy. That amount would cover around 10% of Iran's population.
In California, coronavirus cases inside prisons have once again skyrocketed with more than 4,000 active infections among prisoners — the highest number since the pandemic began. Altogether, over 22,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 in California, and at least 90 have died. Prisoners at San Quentin say authorities are preparing to transfer people to other prisons despite COVID-19 levels being at an all-time high. This is award-winning incarcerated journalist Juan Haines speaking to Democracy Now! from San Quentin.
Juan Moreno Haines: “The problem with the transfer is all California prisons are enclosed and unventilated. All throughout the state, our leaders are telling us to stay at home, don’t mingle with people that you don’t know, wear a mask inside — and which we’re all doing that inside of these buildings. But I know we can’t be operating on alternative facts when it comes to enclosed, unventilated buildings. We can’t have one set of rules for restaurants, gyms, nail salons, etc., and another for prisons.”
In New Jersey, dozens of activists have been leading daily protests outside Bergen County Jail for two weeks in solidarity with immigrant prisoners held at the facility who have been on hunger strike for nearly one month. Immigration rights advocates reported Monday at least four of the six hunger strikers had been taken to the emergency room unconscious. The hunger strikers are demanding better health and safety conditions, and the release of all prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In news from Washington D.C., the White House put forward a $916 billion stimulus package Tuesday in the hopes of breaking a stalemate in Congress. The proposal provides some relief for state and local governments and includes liability protections for businesses, which Republicans have insisted on. It does not include the weekly enhanced unemployment benefits from the first stimulus bill but would extend other federal unemployment programs that expire soon. It would include one-off direct payments of $600 per person, half the amount of the previous bill.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Republican challenge to the election results in Pennsylvania. Trump and Republicans have lost some 50 legal challenges since Trump was defeated by Joe Biden in the election, and have failed to overturn results in any state. Despite this, congressional Republican leaders rejected a resolution Tuesday recognizing Biden as president-elect.
President-elect Joe Biden will reportedly select Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary, reprising the role he held under former President Obama. The news drew immediate condemnation from progressives and environmental and labor activists over Vilsack’s track record of supporting corporate interests over farmers’, loosening regulations, and backing of genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops. Vilsack also backed the megamerger between Bayer and Monsanto. He is currently the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, which represents large corporate dairy interests. Many small family farms have been decimated in recent years due to agricultural monopolies and plunging dairy prices.
In other Cabinet news, Ohio Congressmember Marcia Fudge has been tapped to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If confirmed, Fudge would be the first Black woman to lead HUD. Following the news, many progressives expressed hope former Ohio state senator and prominent Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner would run for Fudge’s congressional seat.
In international news, Ethiopia admitted federal troops fired at and detained U.N. workers in the conflict-torn northern Tigray region for attempting to enter areas they say are forbidden. Humanitarian groups have been trying to reach refugees and displaced people in the embattled region as they warn the situation is “increasingly critical” with shortages of food, clean water and other necessities.
This comes as Reuters is reporting the United States believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopian military in its battle against Tigrayan forces. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied the reports. Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a historic peace deal in 2018, ending two decades of hostilities.
A new study shows the number of Afghan civilians killed in airstrikes led by the U.S. and allies has risen by 330% since 2017. The study, published by the Costs of War Project at Brown University, reports in 2019 alone about 700 people were killed by airstrikes carried out by the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, Save the Children reports Afghanistan was one of the most dangerous countries in the world for children as a result of the ongoing war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban. U.N. data showed over 26,000 children had been killed or injured from 2005 to 2019.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the Élysée Palace Monday, saying France would continue to sell weapons to Egypt. This comes despite mounting accusations of human rights violations against Sisi’s government, including the use of forced disappearances, mass arrests and torture amid an unprecedented crackdown on activists and journalists. This is President Macron speaking Monday.
President Emmanuel Macron: “I will not condition matters of defense and economic cooperation and disagreements over human rights, first because I believe in the sovereignty of the peoples and in respect of our legitimate and reciprocal interests.”
The number of displaced people around the world because of conflict topped 80 million in 2020, in what the United Nations calls a “bleak milestone.” The U.N. said the pandemic exacerbated the displacement crisis, despite calls early on from the secretary-general for a global ceasefire while the world battles COVID-19. Areas that saw significant fresh displacement include Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, Yemen and Africa’s Central Sahel region.
In Greece, Human Rights Watch warns refugees and aid workers may be at risk of lead poisoning from a new refugee camp built by Greek authorities on a former military shooting range on the island of Lesbos. Human Rights Watch says authorities didn’t conduct proper testing on the soil before moving thousands of refugees to the new camp. In September, over 12,000 refugees were displaced after a massive fire completely destroyed the Moria Camp. Currently over 7,500 people, mostly from Afghanistan and Syria, are living in the new camp.
In U.S. immigration news, the Trump administration has agreed to extend temporary protected status for people from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan and Nepal until at least October 2021. The extension is part of a deal between the U.S. government and plaintiffs who have sued to preserve TPS, after the Trump administration killed the humanitarian relief program earlier this year. This comes as immigration rights advocates have been demanding the Trump administration give TPS to refugees from all Central American countries devastated by Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
In related news, the Norwegian Refugee Council is warning that over 400,000 people in Honduras and Guatemala are in urgent need of humanitarian aid in the wake of the two hurricanes.
In Texas, the U.S. Army has fired or suspended 14 officers and soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. This comes following an investigation into sexual assaults and murders at Fort Hood, including the bludgeoning to death of 20-year-old soldier Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found in July. The probe was spurred in large part by pressure and advocacy from the Guillén family. In response to the news, Vanessa’s sister Mayra Guillén said on Twitter, “This isn’t justice. Those responsible need to be held accountable not just fired. #JusticeForVanessaGuillen.”
In Portland, Oregon, at least seven people were arrested Tuesday during a standoff between police and over 100 housing activists who are attempting to reclaim the home of an Indigenous and Black family evicted in September. Authorities say the family was not protected by eviction moratoriums because their home had been foreclosed. Protesters have been camping outside the home to protest gentrification and evictions in Portland. A local business owner told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “We should help another family stay in the community. We shouldn’t want to destroy them so we can build sky rises and apartment complexes to get wealthy.”
A federal appeals court has rejected the Trump administration’s approval of the construction of the country’s first offshore oil production facility in federal Arctic waters. The proposed project involved building a nine-acre artificial island so a private company could drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea. This comes as the Trump administration is racing to sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before Joe Biden’s inauguration. A major lease sale is scheduled for January 6.
The longtime activist Soren Ambrose has died in Kenya at the age of 57 from complications due to COVID-19. He was a key strategist in the anti-globalization movement. As a member of the group 50 Years Is Enough, he helped organize the April 2000 protests in Washington against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In 2001, the Financial Times credited Ambrose with “trying to dismantle the world’s financial architecture.”