A British court has ruled in favor of the U.S. government’s appeal to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face criminal charges in the United States. A London district judge had previously ruled Assange should not be extradited because he would likely die by suicide in a U.S. prison. U.K. Judge Timothy Holroyde said he was satisfied with a pledge from the United States that Assange would not be held in a maximum-security prison in Colorado. Outside the court, supporters rallied for Assange’s release, warning his extradition would be a major blow to press freedom worldwide.
This comes two days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the White House’s virtual Summit for Democracy, where he announced U.S. efforts to support independent journalism and reporters targeted for their work.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden welcomed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the democracy summit — rather than Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Nicolás Maduro.
Juan Guaidó: “We are convinced that we can save democracy and therefore save Venezuela. Some think that the 'bad guys' are winning, but I think it is exactly the opposite.”
The Biden administration continues to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader. That’s despite his involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2019 and his failed bid in 2020 to storm parliament with a group of lawmakers in order to forcefully swear himself in as Venezuela’s leader. Guaidó was also linked to a failed coup plot in 2020 led by Venezuelan dissidents and an American mercenary company.
A federal appeals court has rejected former President Trump’s attempts to keep White House documents secret from the House committee investigating the January 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The ruling sets up an emergency review at the Supreme Court, which will weigh whether President Biden had the authority to waive Trump’s claims of executive privilege. On Thursday, the January 6 committee released slides from an internal White House PowerPoint presentation that argued then-President Trump should declare a national security emergency in order to delay certification of the results of the 2020 election. The 38-page presentation concluded, “Trump wins!”
The New York Times reports Attorney General Letitia James may soon subpoena Trump to testify under oath in a civil fraud investigation. Separately, James announced Thursday she’s pulled out of the New York governor’s race in order to focus on her investigations, which includes a criminal probe into Donald Trump.
Here in the U.S., at least four states have called in the National Guard to assist overwhelmed doctors and nurses after a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases led to a 15% jump in hospitalizations in just two weeks. Nearly all U.S. cases are linked to the Delta coronavirus variant, though health officials warn the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly. On Thursday, federal regulators approved booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The World Health Organization warned Thursday the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly worldwide. In South Africa, coronavirus infections are up by more than 250% in a week — nearly all of them Omicron cases. And the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency said Thursday Omicron appears to be outcompeting Delta and is likely to become the dominant variant in Britain. Kate O’Brien, the head of the WHO’s Department of Immunization, warned rich countries against hoarding vaccines in response to the new variant.
Dr. Kate O’Brien: “As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine.”
In Chiapas, Mexico, at least 54 people were killed and over 100 injured Thursday when a truck carrying migrants overturned. Most of the victims were people from Central America. Witnesses described a horrific scene, after the trailer fell on its side, split open and spilled bodies onto the pavement. The crash came the same week the Biden administration restarted and expanded the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers and after the U.S. and Mexico agreed to crack down on migrant caravans. Advocates say the policies have forced migrants to take on more dangerous and clandestine routes to reach the U.S. border.
Filipino journalist Jesus “Jess” Malabanan was shot dead Wednesday by unknown assailants. Fifty-eight-year-old Malabanan reported for a number of outlets, including Reuters, where he worked on their coverage of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs. The reporting won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize. Rights groups say dangers facing journalists have increased under Duterte. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines found 21 media workers have been killed since he took office. This comes as noted Filipina journalist Maria Ressa accepted the Nobel Peace Prize today.
Police in Daytona Beach, Florida, say they’ve thwarted a gunman’s plans to carry out a mass shooting at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. On Thursday, police announced the arrest of 19-year-old John Hagins, who was carrying a backpack containing a collapsible semi-automatic rifle, ammunition and several magazines, including one loaded with 32 bullets. Police Chief Jakari Young says officers were alerted to the plot after two students reported Snapchat group messages they received from Hagins.
Jakari Young: “He referenced Columbine. He said once he was done at that firing range, he was going to campus to enact a Columbine. … By the grace of God, those two students came forward and thwarted that plan.”
In a historic workers’ victory, employees at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, have voted to unionize. The Elmwood Starbucks is the first among the coffee chain’s 9,000 U.S. locations to form a union. Workers cheered as the results of their vote were announced. Nineteen employees voted in favor and eight against forming a union. The union drive — and Starbucks’ union-busting attempts — garnered nationwide attention and drew support from labor advocates, including Senator Bernie Sanders. Lexi Rizzo, a shift supervisor at the newly unionized shop, spoke at a Sanders town hall earlier this week.
Lexi Rizzo: “I’ve seen the price of our health insurance go up and coverage go down every single year. I’ve seen partners be denied maternity leave because they just were not getting scheduled enough hours to be eligible. … I don’t agree that if we are unhappy with the way Starbucks is, that we should just leave. I believe that when you love something, you fight to make it better. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our union campaign.”
A union vote failed at a second Buffalo Starbucks location, and a third election at the Buffalo airport Starbucks has not yet been confirmed, after nearly half of the “yes” votes were challenged. The National Labor Relations Board will now review those votes.
A court in Texas has ruled against part of the state’s near-total ban on abortions but stopped short of issuing an injunction that would block its enforcement. The law, known as S.B. 8, allows private citizens — anywhere in the United States — to sue healthcare workers and others for facilitating an abortion in Texas. Those who succeed win a $10,000 “bounty.” A state judge in Austin ruled Thursday the law violates the Texas Constitution, but will allow it to remain in effect while proponents appeal the ruling.
Reproductive justice advocates hope to make California a sanctuary for people seeking an abortion, as the Supreme Court weighs a major case which could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. A coalition of over 40 groups are urging California lawmakers to expand reproductive health services ahead of the court’s ruling, which is expected by summer of 2022. This is Jodi Hicks of Planned Parenthood California.
Jodi Hicks: “Guttmacher Institute did a report that predicts a 3,000% increase in people that will find California as their closest clinic, should Roe v. Wade be overturned.”
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, more than two dozen states are expected to move ahead with abortion bans.
In Chicago, a jury found actor Jussie Smollett guilty of falsely reporting a hate crime. Smollett was arrested in 2019 and accused of lying to the police about suffering a violent homophobic and racist assault. During Smollett’s trial, two brothers who were personal acquaintances of the former “Empire” actor testified he paid them $3,500 for the staged attack and instructed them to place a noose over his neck while shouting lines like “This is MAGA country.” Smollett faces up to three years in prison. He was released on bond, and his lawyers vowed to appeal.
In New York City, environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger has been sent home under a pandemic-related early release program to serve the rest of his six-month prison sentence from his apartment. Donziger was sentenced in October for contempt of court, after a corporate prosecutor tied to the oil and gas industry went after him for successfully taking on Chevron on behalf of Indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose land and water were contaminated by the oil giant. International rights groups and a number of U.S. lawmakers, including Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, have called for his release. Donziger, who had already spent over two years under house arrest before his prison sentence, vowed to continue fighting for his freedom and to hold Chevron accountable for its crimes.
New Zealand has proposed new laws to outlaw the sale of cigarettes to upcoming generations and dramatically curtail the availability of tobacco. New Zealand Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall expects the laws will begin rolling out in 2024.
Ayesha Verrall: “We are legislating for a smoke-free generation by making it an offense to sell or supply tobacco products to those aged 14 when the law comes into effect. As they age, they and future generations will never legally be able to purchase tobacco, because the truth is there is no safe age to start smoking.”
More than 11% of New Zealanders over the age of 15 smoke, but that rate reaches nearly 30% among the Indigenous Maori population.