A massive Arctic air mass settled over the central United States on Monday, spawning deadly accidents, leaving millions without power and breaking records for snowfall and low temperatures from Nebraska to Oklahoma to Texas. In Houston, 1.4 million people remained without electricity for a second straight day after the city recorded an all-time record low of just 17 degrees. This is Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Mayor Sylvester Turner: “It is a system-wide failure across the state. … These are not rolling blackouts. These are power outages at a huge, unprecedented scale.”
Climate scientists say severe winter weather has become much more frequent as the Arctic warms rapidly due to human activity.
Here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing an investigation for not initially reporting close to half of the 15,000 coronavirus deaths at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the pandemic. On Monday, Cuomo acknowledged his role but stopped short of an apology.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “We should have provided more information faster. We were too focused on doing the job and addressing the crisis of the moment, and we did not do a good enough job in providing information. I take total responsibility for that.”
Republican state senators are calling for Governor Cuomo’s impeachment. They’re also demanding a special session to strip Cuomo of his emergency powers — a call that at least 14 Democratic state senators have joined.
Democrat Jessica Ramos tweeted, “People died and Cuomo lied. Then he had the gall to write a book.” It’s a reference to Cuomo’s best-seller “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” — which does not include information on how many New York nursing home residents died of coronavirus.
The World Health Organization has granted emergency use authorization to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s just the second vaccine, after Pfizer’s, to be approved for the WHO’s COVAX initiative, aimed at bringing vaccines to lower-income countries across the world. On Monday, the new head of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, warned against vaccine nationalism, saying attempts by wealthier nations to hoard vaccines would backfire.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: “The pandemic is a problem of the global commons. So taking care of the population and being nationalistic with respect to vaccines won’t work this time.”
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s former finance minister and former managing director of the World Bank. On Monday, she became the first woman and the first African appointed to lead the World Trade Organization.
In northern Iraq, a civilian contractor was killed and nine people were injured Monday in a rocket attack on a U.S. military base in the city of Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. A little-known Shia organization calling itself Guardians of Blood claimed responsibility, promising it would carry out more attacks targeting the U.S. occupation.
The New York Times reports that Taliban fighters have surrounded major population centers across Afghanistan, as the Biden administration weighs whether to honor an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops by May 1. On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the U.S.-led military alliance was not ready to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right.”
Earlier this month, a congressionally appointed panel known as the Afghanistan Study Group recommended the Biden administration should renege on a U.S. agreement to withdraw by May.
The U.S. is removing Yemen’s Houthi rebels from the government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, reversing a last-minute move by the Trump administration which Yemenis and international aid groups warned would only worsen the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. This comes as the U.N. warns hundreds of thousands of children in Yemen could die this year from severe acute malnutrition unless they receive urgent care. The World Food Programme cut food rations to millions last year due to lack of funds. This is Abdul Malik al-Wahedi, the head of a Sana’a hospital malnutrition ward.
Abdul Malik al-Wahedi: “There are several reasons for the increase in malnutrition — for example, the withdrawal of aid organizations; the rising price of oil; organizations that no longer provide medication, basic nutrition needs, food aid, especially in conflict zones.”
In the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, renowned Sahrawi activist Sultana Khaya was brutally assaulted last weekend by Moroccan agents in her home in the city of Boujdour, where she and her entire family have been held under house arrest since last November 19, days after the renewal of armed conflict in the territory.
On February 13, Sultana was waving a large flag from her rooftop when Boujdour’s police commissioner hurled a rock and struck her in the head. Videos and photographs of the assault and of Khaya’s head injuries went viral.
The next day, dozens of Sahrawi women approached the family home in solidarity but were beaten away by police. As Sultana protested her house arrest, the same police officer struck her in the back of her neck with a nightstick, and she again passed out.
Khaya’s family is worried about her injuries but says that Morocco-run hospitals are not safe places for Sahrawi activists, and police have not allowed the family to summon a doctor to the house.
In 2016, Democracy Now! interviewed Sultana for our documentary “Four Days in Western Sahara: Africa’s Last Colony.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 60 people were killed — and hundreds more remain missing — after an overloaded ferry boat capsized in the Congo River. Officials say the modified whaling vessel had about 700 passengers on board and that so far only 300 survivors have been found.
Palestinian authorities say Israel has halted the shipment of 2,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Gaza Strip, where they were due to be administered to frontline medical workers. The besieged territory is home to more than 2 million people but has yet to receive any vaccine.
This comes as Israeli health officials reported a nearly 95% drop in symptomatic coronavirus infections among 600,000 Israelis who received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. About 30% of Israeli citizens have received at least one vaccine dose — the highest rate of any major nation — but that figure excludes Palestinians in the Occupied Territories who remain largely unvaccinated.
Back in the United States, a federal appeals court has thrown out an Arkansas state law prohibiting government contractors from participating in boycotts of Israel, ruling it violates their First Amendment rights. In a statement celebrating the ruling, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “Just as African-Americans had the constitutional right to participate in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and just as anti-apartheid activists had the constitutional right to boycott South Africa’s government, every American has the constitutional right to boycott the Israeli government over its human rights abuses of Palestinians.”
A warning to our audience: The next stories contain disturbing images and descriptions of violence. In Missouri, the city of St. Louis is paying a $5 million settlement to a Black police officer who was assaulted by white officers in 2017 while working undercover at an anti-police-brutality protest. Luther Hall was reportedly thrown to the ground, kicked and beaten with a baton, leaving him severely injured. In a lawsuit filed in 2019, Hall says the white officers then tried to cover up the assault. At least four officers involved in the attack were federally indicted in 2018.
In California, an investigation is underway after a Los Angeles police officer reported fellow officers made and circulated a Valentine’s Day meme with an image of George Floyd and the words “You take my breath away.” L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón wrote on Twitter, “Celebrating the murder of a Black man at the hands of police demonstrates a profound absence of humanity.” Last summer, massive racial justice protests erupted across the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A viral video shows white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly gasped for air and said, “I can’t breathe.”
In New Jersey, advocates are demanding the firing of two Paterson police officers involved in the beating of a Muslim, Arab American teen this past December. Osamah Alsaidi, who was 19 at the time of the assault, posted the video on social media. The video shows officers Kevin Patino and Marcos Martinez apprehending Alsaidi while he’s walking. One of the officers is seen repeatedly punching Alsaidi, who is then tackled to the ground, where the officers continue to beat him. Alsaidi was reportedly later diagnosed with a concussion and head trauma.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement, “To see such a reprehensible attack happen at the hands of those who supposedly serve and protect Paterson residents is more than disheartening, it is revolting and deserving of immediate punishment.” The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation.
In Guatemala, dozens of girls and women led a bike caravan in Guatemala City Saturday, protesting skyrocketing violence against women, children and youth in the country. The protesters rode their bikes to the Constitutional Plaza, lining up in front of the presidential palace, where they were met with police. Chants of “We just want to play in peace” echoed through the crowd of young girls.
Protester: “No more missing girls! We demand justice!”
Protests erupted following the recent killing of 8-year-old Sharon Figueroa. Her body was found last week in a northern region of Guatemala after she went missing for two days. In 2020 alone, nearly 500 femicides were reported in Guatemala, and at least 60 children were killed.