Millions of people in Texas are suffering as a new winter storm hits the state amid a deadly power and water crisis. As Texas experiences record-low temperatures, 600,000 homes remain without power after the collapse of the state’s own underregulated electrical grid. Some Texans are sleeping in their cars for heat. More than 12 million Texans face water disruptions, and residents in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and other areas have been ordered to boil tap water to ensure its safety, but many don’t have electricity. Some parts of the state have no running water at all. Texas is also running out of food as the storms have disrupted key supply chains. The powerful winter storms have left at least 38 dead across Texas and other states.
Life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year during the first six months of 2020, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is the largest drop since World War II. Life expectancy for Black Americans dropped 2.7 years and 1.9 years for Latinx people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall death rate from COVID-19 for Black Americans is three times higher than for white Americans.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is defending his decision to prioritize giving vaccines to wealthy Floridians living in two mostly white, planned communities with ties to the billionaire Uihlein family — one of the biggest donors to the Republican Party. On Wednesday, DeSantis threatened to block vaccines from going to communities who criticize his actions.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: “But, look, I mean, if Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it, and we’re totally happy to do that.”
At the United Nations, Mexico has denounced wealthy nations for hoarding COVID vaccines, saying the unequal distribution system will harm the globe. This is Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaking earlier this week.
Marcelo Ebrard: “We are going to present Mexico and Latin America’s position in regard to what is happening in the world, the inequality, the lack of fairness when it comes to vaccine access. The countries that produce vaccines have very high vaccination rates, and Latin America and the Caribbean, much less.”
In Mexico, less than 1% of the population has received at least one vaccine shot, compared to over 12% in the United States. Over 177,000 people have died from COVID in Mexico — the world’s third-highest total after the U.S. and Brazil. According to the World Health Organization, there were nearly 130 countries as of last week with no vaccines. On Wednesday, Gaza received 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine after the shipment was initially blocked by Israel. Gaza health authorities say the first vaccines will go to at-risk residents but not medical personnel, since there are not enough doses. Meanwhile, El Salvador and South Africa have also begun vaccination campaigns.
New research shows top executives at Pfizer, Moderna, Merck and other vaccine manufacturers sold nearly $500 million of stock last year as the value in the companies soared due to the pandemic.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn have opened a probe into New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo for covering up thousands of deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic. More than 15,000 nursing home residents died in New York — nearly double what Cuomo had initially disclosed. Meanwhile, Democratic New York Assemblymember Ron Kim has revealed Cuomo called him at home last week to threaten him for speaking out about the issue. Kim said Cuomo threatened to “destroy me.” This comes as New York lawmakers prepare to vote next week on stripping Cuomo of emergency executive powers during the pandemic.
Democratic lawmakers are introducing President Biden’s immigration plan to Congress today. The legislation includes an eight-year path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some immigrants could face a shorter process, including farmworkers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and immigrants who have temporary protected status. In other news from Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren have criticized Biden for refusing to back a plan to cancel $50,000 in student debt.
In Burma, protesters have taken to the streets for a 13th straight day to oppose the February 1 military coup. On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Rangoon in the largest anti-coup rally to date. Some protesters rallied outside the Chinese Embassy to criticize Beijing’s support for the military junta. Nearly 500 people have been charged and detained in Burma over the past two weeks.
Bolivia’s Central Bank has returned a nearly $350 million loan from the International Monetary Fund which had been given to Bolivia after the 2019 coup. The head of Bolivia’s Central Bank said the move was needed to defend the economic sovereignty of the country.
President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday for the first time since taking office four weeks ago. According to the White House, the leaders discussed Iran, military cooperation, as well as Biden’s support for Israel’s recent normalization of ties with several countries in the Arab and Muslim world. Meanwhile, the White House has announced it will “recalibrate” its relationship with Saudi Arabia by holding talks with Saudi King Salman instead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In other news from the Gulf, the BBC has aired video of a princess in Dubai who says she is being held hostage by her father, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a close ally of the United States. Princess Sheikha Latifa has not been seen in public since she tried to escape the UAE in 2018.
Sheikha Latifa: “I’m a hostage. And this villa has been converted into a jail. All the windows are barred shut. I can’t open any window. … I’ve been by myself, solitary confinement, no access to medical help, no trial, no charge, nothing.”
That was Princess Sheikha Latifa speaking in a newly aired video. Her older sister Shamsa hasn’t been seen in over 20 years, since being seized on the streets of Cambridge, England, after she tried to flee her family’s estate.
The U.S. has approved nearly $200 million in arms sales to Egypt despite ongoing human rights abuses. This comes as Egyptian American activist Mohamed Soltan said Tuesday Egyptian authorities raided the homes of his family members, taking some into detention.
In northern Nigeria, unidentified gunmen have kidnapped as many as 42 students and teachers at a boarding school. At least one student was killed. Amnesty International described the attack as a possible war crime and called on the Nigerian government to do more to protect students.
The South Carolina House has passed a sweeping anti-choice bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state. Democrats criticized Republicans for prioritizing the bill over all other legislation at a time when the state is facing a health and economic crisis.
The White House has announced President Biden supports studying whether reparations for slavery should be given to Black Americans. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue. Speakers included UCLA law professor E. Tendayi Achiume.
E. Tendayi Achiume: “Reparations is about undoing structures, structures of racial injustice, that are a result of legacies of enslavement, such that pointing to individuals who are Black who have succeeded, who are people of African descent and who are descendants even of slaves, and pointing to their successes can’t negate the fact that we have persisting structures of injustice that have to be addressed, including through a reparations frame.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is facing criticism for failing to protect residents in federally subsidized housing from lead poisoning and contamination. An internal watchdog report obtained by The Washington Post reveals HUD neglected its own environmental regulations at an apartment complex in East Chicago, Indiana, which was built on top of a toxic site. In 1998, a study showed 30% of children under the age of 6 had elevated levels of lead in their blood, but HUD took years to address the issue. The Intercept recently reported more than 9,000 federally subsidized housing properties sit within a mile of a Superfund site.
The right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has died at the age of 70. His daily program was filled with racist conspiracy theories and disinformation, and it helped transform the Republican Party, leading to the rise of Donald Trump. Over the years, Limbaugh often targeted Barack Obama, people with AIDS, immigrants, environmentalists and feminists, whom he dubbed “feminazis.” He also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, climate change and smoking. He died of lung cancer.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, authorities have demolished Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino via a controlled implosion. Donald Trump opened the 39-story building in 1984, but it had been vacant since the casino closed in 2014, leaving 1,000 workers out of a job.