The House of Representatives is set to vote today on a 10-year, roughly $2 trillion bill to combat the climate crisis while expanding social programs. The vote comes after Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent more than eight hours delaying a planned vote Thursday with a long and winding speech attacking Democrats over spending, the border crisis, China, Afghanistan, gas prices and more. The latest version of the Build Back Better Act is dramatically smaller than initially proposed, after conservative Senate Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin demanded cuts. But it still contains many key elements of President Biden’s legislative agenda.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Thursday halted the planned execution of Julius Jones, a Black man who was sentenced to death for a 1999 murder he’s always insisted he did not commit. Jones’s reprieve came just hours before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection. Hundreds of death penalty opponents erupted in cheers inside the Oklahoma state Capitol as news broke that Julius Jones’s life had been spared. But as a condition of granting clemency, Governor Stitt said Jones shall never be eligible for commutation, pardon or parole for the rest of his life. This is Rev. Christine Byrd, a longtime supporter of Julius Jones and his family.
Rev. Christine Byrd: “I am overjoyed. I know that some people will not see it as a victory, but Julius’ life was spared today, and so I am thankful that there will not be an execution today. Would we have wanted something different? Yes. But I am thankful that he will live another day.”
In Louisiana, 75-year-old Henry Montgomery walked out of Angola prison on Wednesday, winning parole nearly 58 years after he was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he committed as a teenager. Montgomery’s case was central to a Supreme Court ruling that extended the possibility of parole to hundreds of people with life sentences for juvenile crimes.
Belarus on Thursday opened a heated warehouse to hundreds of asylum seekers who spent weeks enduring winter weather and squalid conditions in tent encampments along the Polish border. European Union countries have accused Belarus of tricking migrants into massing at the border in retaliation for EU sanctions. Belarus, meanwhile, accused its neighbors of brutality. Video distributed by Belarus shows Lithuanian border guards kicking an Iraqi asylum seeker in a sleeping bag and siccing a dog on him. Elsewhere, three photojournalists covering the crisis say Polish border guards verbally abused and handcuffed them while authorities searched their equipment.
Meanwhile, over 400 Iraqi asylum seekers were deported from Minsk on Thursday. This is Mohsen Addi, a member of Iraq’s persecuted Yazidi community, speaking after arriving at an airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Mohsen Addi: “I would have stayed 'til death, but my family was in danger. If the situation doesn't improve in Iraq in a year or two, I’ll leave again. If there is no solution, I’ll be forced to leave.”
Austrian officials have reimposed a nationwide lockdown and will require nearly all residents to be vaccinated by February 1, after COVID-19 cases hit a new record high. It’s the first such vaccine mandate in Europe.
In Germany, officials said they will exclude unvaccinated people from some public venues in areas where hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients.
Russia reported a record number of COVID deaths today for the third straight day with over 1,250 fatalities. The WHO says Europe is the current epicenter of the pandemic and the only region where deaths are on the rise.
Meanwhile, a new study published in the British Medical Journal found mask wearing cuts coronavirus transmission rates by more than half, while hand-washing and physical distancing sharply reduced the risk of getting infected.
In Canada, an estimated 18,000 people remain cut off by floodwaters and mud slides after torrential rains brought what officials have described as a one-in-500-year flood. The crisis is on track to become the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. The disaster struck the same region that endured record-shattering temperatures and unprecedented wildfires over the summer, brought on by the climate crisis.
In Kenya, the United Nations warns some 2.4 million people are struggling to find food after a searing drought killed off livestock and led to widespread crop failures. Parts of northern Kenya have received less than 30% of normal rainfall levels.
Brazilian government data show deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has reached its highest level in over 15 years, increasing by 22% in the past year. At the recent U.N. climate summit, Brazil pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.
Meanwhile, in Ecuador, a historic hearing was held this week in the Amazonian jungle over a plan to expand mining in the region, which Indigenous communities oppose and say cannot go ahead without free and informed consent. This is Waorani activist and 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Nemonte Nenquimo.
Nemonte Nenquimo: “After this hearing, we are hoping they will do the same thing in other Indigenous nations where there are similar cases which we’ve won, and we want it to be enforced. Decision-making in the territory is our decision.”
Indian authorities have extended a shutdown on schools as the toxic air pollution smothering the capital Delhi worsens. All schools and colleges are now indefinitely closed, and over half the city’s 11 coal-based power plants have been ordered to stop operations.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government is withdrawing the highly contested agricultural laws that triggered mass mobilizations across the country over the past year. It’s a major victory for farmers who argued the reforms deregulating agricultural markets would eliminate key labor and income protections.
Concerns are mounting for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who mysteriously disappeared from public view after she accused a top Chinese politician of sexual assault. Thirty-five-year-old Peng made the accusation against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in a social media post on November 2 and has not been seen since. Censors deleted the post from social media platform Weibo within 30 minutes of its publication, and Chinese authorities have since dodged or denied the issue. The Women’s Tennis Association threatened to cut ties with China and say an email published by Chinese state media, purportedly written to the WTA by Peng, was a fraud. Tennis’s biggest names, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, have tweeted out messages of support with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
In Georgia, defense attorneys rested their case Thursday after calling just seven witnesses in the trial of three white men who chased down and shot dead 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. Under cross-examination, Travis McMichael conceded Arbery did not threaten him in any way before McMichael took out his shotgun. He also conceded that his claim that Arbery grabbed his gun contradicted what he told police hours after the shooting.
Outside the courthouse, hundreds of Black pastors, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, gathered for a rally, a week after a defense attorney unsuccessfully attempted to ban them from the courtroom. Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.
The city of Aurora, Colorado, has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by the family of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was tackled by police, placed in a chokehold and later injected with a large amount of the powerful sedative ketamine. He died several days later. At the time, McClain was walking home with an iced tea from the corner store.
A Senate debate over President Biden’s nominee to become a top banking regulator turned acrimonious Thursday after Louisiana Republican John Kennedy accused her of loyalty to the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union. If confirmed, Saule Omarova would become the first woman, first immigrant and first person of color to serve as comptroller of the currency. Omarova grew up in Soviet Kazakhstan and came to the U.S. in 1991. As a child, she was required to join a Soviet youth group. That became the basis for Senator Kennedy’s questioning.
Sen. John Kennedy: “I don’t mean any disrespect. I don’t know whether to call you professor or comrade.”
Saule Omarova: “Senator, I’m not a communist. I do not subscribe to that ideology. I could not choose where I was born.”
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren rushed to Omarova’s defense.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “The attacks on your nomination have been vicious and personal. We’ve just seen them — sexism, racism, pages straight out of Joe McCarthy’s 1950s Red Scare tactics. It is all there on full display. Welcome to Washington in 2021.”