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HeadlinesDecember 29, 2021

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U.S. Coronavirus Infections Hit All-Time High

Dec 29, 2021

U.S. coronavirus infections have reached an all-time high, surpassing even January’s terrible peak, with cases now averaging 267,000 a day and rising rapidly. Hospitalizations are up, too, with nearly 80,000 U.S. hospital beds filled, though that figure is about half of the number hospitalized during last winter’s surge.

On Wednesday, the CDC revised its estimate of the percentage of U.S. Omicron variant infections downward, suggesting the dangerous Delta variant is continuing to circulate widely.

The FDA is warning that over-the-counter rapid antigen tests might be less sensitive at detecting the Omicron variant. The warning comes as the Biden administration is preparing to make a half-billion tests available, for free, to U.S. households.

Here in New York, there’s been a fivefold increase in the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 this month. Dr. James Schneider is head of pediatric care at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

Dr. James Schneider: “We’re seeing record numbers of admissions of all children, of all ages, from newborns all the way through 21 years of age, in hospitals and in ICUs with Omicron. Not to say that it’s more severe, but my experience so far is that it’s not less severe, at least in kids; it’s just that it’s much more contagious.”

Omicron Drives Record Rates of Infection in Several European Countries

Dec 29, 2021

In Europe, coronavirus cases have surged to pandemic-level highs in Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom. In India, hospitals are warning of a new wave of infections, with a spike of Omicron infections in the capital New Delhi. Meanwhile, new data show South America has surpassed Europe as the world’s most vaccinated continent, with nearly 63% of adults having received at least two shots. Africa is at the bottom of the list, with just 8.6% of adults fully vaccinated. 

Taliban Fire Warning Shots at Dozens of Women Protesters in Kabul

Dec 29, 2021

In Afghanistan, dozens of women took to the streets of Kabul Tuesday condemning the Taliban’s recent attacks on women’s rights, including a ban on long-distance travel for Afghan women unless they have a male escort.

Protester: “The Taliban say, 'Do not enter any car without a man.' Where can we get a man? What about widows who don’t have a man? Where can they find a man? This is not the proper way. We are not women of 20 years ago. We are educated women, and we will not keep silent under the Islamic Emirate.”

Tuesday’s peaceful action was violently repressed by Taliban soldiers, who fired their rifles into the air to break up the protest. A number of the Afghan women were reportedly injured after the Taliban gunfire set off a stampede.

U.N. Envoy Warns of Civilian Toll as Saudi-Led War on Yemen Escalates

Dec 29, 2021

The United Nations envoy to Yemen says the war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition has escalated sharply in recent weeks, threatening the lives of civilians. Hans Grundberg said in a statement, “2021 is ending on a tragic note for Yemenis, millions of whom are struggling with poverty, hunger, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.”

Mahmoud Abbas Meets Israeli Defense Minister

Dec 29, 2021

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas traveled to central Israel Tuesday for talks with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. It was Abbas’s first visit to Israel in more than a decade. It’s not clear what the pair discussed; after the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters there was no peace process underway with the Palestinians, adding, “And there won’t be one.” Abbas has faced protests among Palestinians after he canceled planned legislative and presidential elections earlier this year.

Death Toll from Brazil Flooding Rises to 20

Dec 29, 2021

In Brazil, the death toll from unprecedented flooding in the northeastern state of Bahia has risen to 20, with some 35,000 people displaced after a pair of dams collapsed over the Christmas holiday. Eighty-one-year-old Vitoria Rocha lost her home — and nearly lost her life — after her town became engulfed in floodwaters.

Vitoria Rocha: “When I got here and saw the destruction, I could not believe it. It seemed as though what I was seeing was not happening. My home torn apart, all my things destroyed, everything is a mess.”

Kodiak, Alaska, Hits 67°F as Climate Emergency Fuels Extreme December Weather

Dec 29, 2021

Here in the U.S., the climate emergency is leading to more extreme winter weather. Alaska set a record-high December temperature of 67 degrees in the town of Kodiak on Sunday, while other parts of Alaska saw record December rainfall, with temperatures as much as 45 degrees above average. Meanwhile, in California, Lake Tahoe has recorded more than 16 feet of snow in December, breaking a snowfall record set in 1970.

Climate Emergency Cost Global Economy Nearly $200 Billion in 2021

Dec 29, 2021

A new report by the charity Christian Aid finds the combined toll of 2021’s worst climate disasters cost the global economy nearly $200 billion. Topping the list was Hurricane Ida, which killed 115 people while causing $65 billion in damage. Other costly weather events included the Texas winter storm and intense flooding in Europe over the summer. The report found the six costliest years for climate disasters have all come since 2011 and that without dramatic action to curb emissions, future climate disasters are likely to become much more deadly and expensive.

South African Court Halts Shell Oil’s Offshore Oil Exploration Plans

Dec 29, 2021

A South African court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to halt its plans to explore for oil in the pristine Wild Coast of eastern South Africa. Under the order, Shell must immediately halt underwater seismic tests, which can devastate whales, dolphins, seals and other marine animals. The court’s ruling follows a massive campaign against offshore drilling led by South African environmental defenders.

Russia Shutters International Memorial, Which Chronicled Soviet Abuses

Dec 29, 2021

Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered International Memorial, one of the country’s oldest and most respected human rights groups, to close down. Memorial focused on recovering and preserving the memory of millions of people who were executed, imprisoned or persecuted during the Soviet era. But Russian officials accused the group of being a “public threat” receiving funding from Western powers. Rights advocates have denounced the court’s ruling. This is an attorney with Memorial.

Genri Reznik: “We disagree with the decision. We think it’s illegal and unjustified. The claim was insolvent. But these kinds of cases have a powerful political motivation.”

Chinese Police Close Hong Kong News Outlet Stand News, Arrest Staffers

Dec 29, 2021

In Hong Kong, the independent media outlet Stand News has shut down after hundreds of national security police raided its newsroom Wednesday, arresting at least seven people, including senior staff. Stand News launched in 2014 and was one of the most prominent publications in Hong Kong opposing Chinese one-party rule.

Family of Valentina Orellana-Peralta Demands Justice for 14-Year-Old Killed by LAPD

Dec 29, 2021

In California, the family of Valentina Orellana-Peralta is demanding justice after the 14-year-old girl was fatally shot last week by a Los Angeles police officer while she tried on dresses inside a department store’s dressing room. Valentina died in her mother’s arms. This is Soledad Peralta speaking at an emotional family press conference Tuesday.

Soledad Peralta: “There was nothing I could do. To see a son or daughter die in your own arms is one of the greatest and most profound pains that any human being can imagine.”

Valentina and her mother came to the U.S. from Chile about six months ago. The girl’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana, recently reunited with his family in L.A. At Tuesday’s press conference, he said, “It is like my whole heart has been ripped out of my body.”

Colorado Gunman’s Shooting Spree Leaves 5 Dead, 2 Injured

Dec 29, 2021

In Colorado, a gunman went on a shooting spree in several locations around Denver Monday, killing five people and wounding two others — including a police officer — before he was shot dead by police. Witnesses to one of the shootings described a chaotic scene as they hid from gunfire in the storeroom of a cellphone store.

Anne Wilson: “There was probably maybe like seven or eight gunshots and then like another set of maybe five more. … Scary. It’s scary that this is what goes on nowadays. It’s not an uncommon event for there to be public shootings. It’s sad. It’s scary.”

The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 687 mass shootings in the United States this year alone.

Judge Rejects First Amendment Claims of Proud Boys in Capitol Riot Conspiracy Case

Dec 29, 2021

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will allow a major January 6 conspiracy case against leaders of the far-right Proud Boys organization to proceed. On Tuesday, District Judge Timothy Kelly rejected claims by Proud Boys leader Joseph Biggs and three other defendants that their actions at the deadly riot were protected by the First Amendment. They face a number of charges, including felony obstruction. 

Jan. 6 Committee Defers Request for Trump Records as White House Cites National Security

Dec 29, 2021

The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has agreed to defer its request for hundreds of Trump administration records. The White House has rejected Trump’s blanket claims of executive privilege, but Biden administration lawyers argue releasing all of the documents could compromise national security and undermine future presidents’ claims of executive privilege.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Dies at 82

Dec 29, 2021

Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who served as Senate majority leader during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, has died at the age of 82. During Obama’s presidency, Reid shepherded through several major bills including the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and a $787 billion stimulus package that followed the financial crisis of 2009. Obama paid tribute to Reid Tuesday, writing that he would not have become president had it not been for Reid’s encouragement and support.

Harry Reid was one of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2002. Reid would later call his vote a “horrible mistake,” telling The Nevada Independent, “It tainted my heart. It was the wrong thing to do. But I was sucked in by General [Colin] Powell and others and I believed them. So I regret that, yes, I do.”

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