The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 150,000 on Wednesday — the highest of any nation by far — with California and Florida reporting single-day records for fatalities. With the virus continuing to spread out of control, researchers at Johns Hopkins University are calling for a “reset” in the U.S. coronavirus response with universal mask mandates, federal support for expanded testing and a new round of stay-at-home orders in hot spots. And in an open letter published Wednesday, the Association of American Medical Colleges writes, “If the nation does not change its course — and soon — deaths in the United States could be well into the multiple hundreds of thousands.”
In Texas, President Trump was photographed wearing no mask Wednesday as he toured an oil rig and attended a campaign fundraiser — a violation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide mask mandate.
In Houston, Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at United Memorial Medical Center, said COVID-19 will continue to surge unless people adhere to basic public health measures like mask-wearing.
Dr. Joseph Varon: “I’m pretty much fighting two wars: a war against COVID and a war against stupidity. And the problem is that the first one I have some hope about winning, but the second one is becoming more and more difficult to treat.”
In Mexico, coronavirus deaths have topped 45,000. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continues to resist calls for a mask mandate, even as his government’s health ministers urged Mexicans to cover their faces to stop the spread of the disease.
Dr. Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez: “The Mexican government, as I announced this morning, recommends the use of face masks. But we’ve also been very clear — and when the explanation comes, some people get upset — that we’re not going to make it an obligatory measure from the Mexican government.”
In Portland, Oregon, federal agents fired tear gas at protesters Wednesday as hundreds of Black Lives Matter demonstrators rallied for a 63rd consecutive night outside a downtown federal courthouse. The crackdown came just hours after Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she’s reached a deal with the Trump administration to have federal agents withdraw from Portland, calling them “an occupying force.” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf disputed her claim, saying the agents would only pull out once federal property is secure.
On Capitol Hill, the heads of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon testified Wednesday before the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced numerous questions about Facebook’s purchase of Instagram. Newly released internal Facebook emails reveal the purchase was made to “neutralize a competitor.”
House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler said Google and Facebook have “greatly threatened journalism” due to their dominance in online advertising. Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline openly called for breaking up the Big Tech companies.
Rep. David Cicilline: “This hearing has made one fact clear to me: These companies, as exist today, have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up; all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws, first written more than a century ago, work in the digital age.”
Cicilline also warned the companies may emerge stronger and more powerful in the wake of COVID-19. The hearing came just days after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly made $13 billion in a single day.
President Trump openly bragged Wednesday of his administration’s efforts to block a program aimed at desegregating white suburbs. Trump tweeted, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood. Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren responded to Trump’s tweet, writing, “This is blatant racism from the President of the United States. And it’s disgusting.”
Last week, Housing Secretary Ben Carson announced the termination of an Obama-era fair housing rule that required communities receiving federal funding to address housing segregation.
Around 200 people have been displaced in Denver, Colorado, after local and state police closed down a large encampment where people without homes have been living. No advance notice was given before the Wednesday morning sweep of Lincoln Park. Around 150 tents were removed. One member of the Denver School Board, Tay Anderson, was hospitalized with a concussion after being knocked over by police while protesting the raid.
The Pentagon said Wednesday it’s pulling 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany, after President Trump accused Berlin of failing to spend enough on its own defense. This is Pentagon chief Mark Esper.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper: “I think Germany is the wealthiest country in Europe. Germany can and should pay more to its defense.”
The troop drawdown drew fire from congressional hawks in both parties. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah called it a “a gift to Russia,” and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said, “Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin.”
The Trump administration has quietly neutralized a small federal agency focused on preventing industrial disasters. The Center for Public Integrity reports that work at the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has come to a halt, with just one voting member left on the agency’s board of directors out of a possible five. Without a quorum, the board will not be able to release the final reports from any of its 13 pending investigations.
In climate news, new data shows communities in the United States with large African American and Latinx populations will be hardest hit from climate change in the coming decades. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. counties with more than 25% Black or Latinx residents will face far more days of extreme heat than whiter counties by mid-century if the targets of the Paris climate accord are not reached.
In Morocco, authorities arrested journalist Omar Radi Wednesday on what press freedom advocates call
“retaliatory charges.” Radi reported on the role of the Moroccan state and big business in dispossessing farmers of their tribal lands. He has spoken out about facing harassment and surveillance.
An Amnesty International report alleges authorities hacked Radi’s phone using Pegasus spyware from the Israeli company NSO Group. Now a court has charged Radi with undermining state security by receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence, and also charged him with rape.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement that “Moroccan authorities in the past have plainly tried to make any charge against him stick in retaliation for his work as a journalist,” and called on them to “release Radi [and] investigate any sexual assault charges in a credible and transparent manner.” Radi spoke to Democracy Now! before his arrest.
Omar Radi: “I stopped cooperating with the police because they’re asking empty questions and questions that don’t respect the presumption of innocence. So I’m not playing this game. If they have something, they just arrest me and send me to the prosecutor and then to trial, but I’m not playing this Q&A game with the police, that just want me to confess that I was something I never was.”
Radi’s lawyers deny all the charges against him. He is reportedly being held in a prison in Casablanca that is a COVID hot spot. Click here for our full interview with Omar Radi.
The funeral for civil rights icon and 17-term Congressman John Lewis is today at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Former President Barack Obama will give the eulogy. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are also expected to attend. President Trump is skipping the funeral. He also refused to pay respects to John Lewis while his body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol.