In Georgia, two high school students have been suspended after they published images of classmates ignoring social distancing guidelines and not wearing masks at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Hannah Watters says she was ordered to remain home from school for five days after she tweeted a photo and a video of unmasked students crowding her school’s hallways on the second day of the new school year. She told CNN her only aim was to call attention to unsafe conditions.
Hannah Watters: “I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county, because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now weren’t being followed.”
During a Paulding County School District meeting in May, board chair Jeff Fuller said coronavirus guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control were unfair, because the disease was “not affecting” students.
Jeff Fuller: “I don’t like to use this language, but those CDC guidelines, in my opinion, are complete crap. … I want us, as a school district in Paulding County, to lead the way in an absolute normal return to normal activities on August 3rd, if we are allowed to by law, without buying into the hype.”
The school district’s superintendent has called masks a “personal choice” and says they’re encouraged — but not required — at school. There’s widespread community transmission of coronavirus in Paulding County, and at least one teacher has resigned rather than risk in-person classes.
India has become just the third country, after the U.S. and Brazil, to record 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases, after reporting a record 62,000 new infections on Thursday. The number of cases in India has doubled over the past three weeks.
The number of confirmed cases in Africa has surpassed 1 million — with more than half of those in South Africa. But the total is widely believed to be a vast undercount due to a shortage of tests. The World Health Organization says the peak of the pandemic has yet to come in Africa.
In Mexico, the death toll has topped 50,000 — the world’s third-highest total behind the United States and Brazil.
In Peru, the death toll has reached 20,000. Peruvian doctors warn the country’s health system is overwhelmed.
Dr. Rosulo Narciso: “We’re overcrowded. We have no staff, no doctors, no nurses, no medication, no personal protective equipment, no oxygen. What do we do?”
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 1.2 million U.S. workers filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the lowest total since March, but still an extraordinary level by historical standards.
On Thursday, Senators Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Make Billionaires Pay Act, a 60% tax on over $700 billion in windfall profits made this year by the top 0.001% of Americans. Senator Sanders wrote, “We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while everyone else gets poorer and poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans.”
The United Nations is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Lebanon following Tuesday’s massive explosion at the Port of Beirut that killed at least 157 people, injured 5,000 others and left 300,000 homeless. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut Thursday and said France was ready to aid Lebanon — but only if officials enact reforms cracking down on widespread corruption.
On Thursday, Lebanese police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters who gathered outside the Parliament. There are plans for a massive mobilization on Saturday calling for the ouster and arrest of Lebanese officials who allowed thousands of tons of unsecured highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer to remain unsecured at the Port of Beirut for six years leading up to Tuesday’s blast.
Here in New York, Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday against the National Rifle Association, seeking to dissolve the gun lobby group over what she called a “culture of self-dealing, mismanagement, and negligent oversight that was illegal, oppressive, and fraudulent.” James said the NRA’s chief executive officer, Wayne LaPierre, and other top officials broke state and federal laws while enriching themselves and their families.
Attorney General Letitia James: “Mr. LaPierre exploited the organization for his and his family’s financial benefit and the benefit of a close circle of NRA staff, board members and vendors. Specifically, Mr. LaPierre spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the NRA’s charitable assets for personal private plane trips for himself and his family, including extended family when he was not present.”
The lawsuit seeks to remove LaPierre and other top executives from the NRA and to bar them from ever serving on a nonprofit board in New York again. LaPierre and the NRA are major supporters of President Trump.
In Ohio, President Trump on Thursday accused campaign rival Joe Biden of being against God, guns and fossil fuel energy. Trump was speaking to supporters after arriving at an airport in Cleveland.
President Donald Trump: “He’s following the radical-left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God.”
On Thursday, the Commission on Presidential Debates rejected a request by the Trump campaign to hold a fourth debate with Joe Biden and to move the first debate up to the first week of September.
The State Department has announced Elliott Abrams will become the administration’s new special representative for Iran. Abrams will also continue as special representative for Venezuela, where he has led the Trump administration’s unsuccessful efforts to topple the Venezuelan government.
In 1991, Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Abrams defended Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt as he oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala in the 1980s. Ríos Montt was later convicted of genocide. Abrams was also linked to the 2002 attempted coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
The peace group CodePink slammed Elliott Abrams’s new appointment, saying, “The dangerous conflict resulting from Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement will be exacerbated by a man committed to Washington’s failed policies of regime change.”
On Capitol Hill, President Trump’s nominee for a top Pentagon post was grilled Thursday over his company’s alleged ties to the Saudi hit squad that assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Louis Bremer — a former Navy SEAL turned investment banker — sits on the board of directors of a military training company named Tier 1 Group. Last year, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius revealed the CIA warned other U.S. government agencies that Tier 1 employees may have trained some of Khashoggi’s killers. On Thursday, Senator Tim Kaine asked Bremer about the allegations.
Louis Bremer: “I do know that we train Saudi nationals as part of our engagements with the kingdom as an allied nation. We train other nations, as well. But I have no knowledge of that.”
Sen. Tim Kaine: “So, until today, you had not been aware that an allegation had been made that a company on which you sit as a director, with a small board of directors, had potentially been involved in training the Saudis who were particpants in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi?”
Louis Bremer: “Senator, I don’t have any recollection of that.”
Meanwhile, a former top Saudi intelligence official exiled in Canada said in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a hit squad to Toronto to hunt him down and kill him. The 106-page complaint was filed by Saad Aljabri in U.S. civil court. It claims Prince bin Salman tried to hide his corrupt business dealings by ordering Aljabri’s assassination.
President Trump has issued two sweeping executive orders that would essentially ban the use of the Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat in the United States in 45 days, citing national security reasons. More than 100 million people in the United States have downloaded TikTok, a viral video service. WeChat is a widely used app by Chinese Americans for messaging and other services. China condemned the orders as a “nakedly hegemonic act.” The executive orders come as the Trump administration has been actively working to help Microsoft purchase some of TikTok’s overseas operations.
BuzzFeed reports Facebook deleted misinformation warnings against high-profile right-wing pages and reportedly fired an employee who collected evidence of Facebook giving such pages preferential treatment. This comes as Facebook employees have repeatedly questioned Facebook executives over their handling of right-wing, white supremacist media outlets that publish fake news. In one instance, the company allowed Breitbart News, which is a Facebook news partner, to circulate a video promoting unproven treatments for COVID-19 and discouraging the wearing of face masks.
In sports news, players with the Women’s National Basketball Association are urging fans to elect Georgia Senate Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock in November. Warnock is seeking to unseat Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA’s franchise the Atlanta Dream. On Tuesday night, several players arriving at the league’s coronavirus “bubble” in Florida were spotted wearing black T-shirts that read ”VOTE WARNOCK” in white letters.
This comes after Loeffler, a white woman and supporter of President Trump, slammed the WNBA’s racial justice initiative for the 2020 season, saying any alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement sends a message of “exclusion,” as they seek to defund the police. Loeffler claimed in a recent letter to the WNBA the players “called for the removal of Jesus from churches … and promoted violence and destruction across the country.”