Millions of U.S. residents endured another day with shortages of water, heat or electricity Thursday, as the death toll from winter storms rose to at least 49. More than 13 million Texans remained under a “boil water advisory,” and some 200,000 had no power, days after Texas’s power grid collapsed amid record low temperatures. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid, said Thursday the state was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have led to a months-long blackout. This week’s power outages also led to big delays in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and soaring fuel prices.
During an earnings call Wednesday, executive Roland Burns of the natural gas producer Comstock Resources celebrated the winter weather disaster.
Roland Burns: “This week is like hitting the jackpot, you know, with some of these incredible prices. I mean, you know, frankly, we were able to sell at super premium prices for a material amount of production.”
On Thursday, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on Mexicans to ration electricity, after Texas shut off exports of natural gas amid the crisis.
Meanwhile, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz returned to his home in Houston Thursday, a day after his family fled to Mexico to escape the blackout and winter cold. Text messages show Cruz’s wife complained the family’s home was ”FREEZING” and invited others to join the family at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún. On Thursday, Senator Cruz defended his actions as he prepared to board a flight back to Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz: “Yesterday, my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends, and Heidi and I agreed, so I flew down with them last night, dropped them off here, and now I’m headed back to Texas and back continuing to work to try to get the power on.”
Senator Cruz was initially booked to stay in Mexico until Saturday. He was met by protesters calling for his resignation at Houston’s airport — and in the bitter cold outside his home.
In Peru, revelations that politicians secretly received China’s Sinopharm vaccine as early as last September — before it was even approved — have rocked the country. Then-President Martín Vizcarra was one of just hundreds who were reportedly given the shot as the country’s death toll surged.
Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine might not need to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, and is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow its shots to be stored at temperatures found in common pharmaceutical freezers. If approved, the change could greatly ease distribution of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Cuba is approaching the final testing phase for its own vaccine, Soberana 2, or Sovereign 2. Cuba has said it may offer the vaccine to tourists once it is approved.
In the United States, more than 2,500 people died of COVID-19 on Thursday, with another 70,000 new cases recorded. The official U.S. death toll is on pace to top a half of a million before the end of the month. The Washington Post reports that, on average, one person died of COVID-19 every 28 seconds in January. President Joe Biden is visiting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant in Michigan today to continue his push for a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Biden will appear at a virtual summit of G7 leaders to announce the U.S. will give $4 billion to COVAX, the international program to get vaccines to poorer countries. Former President Trump opted out of COVAX last summer.
Biden is also giving his first presidential speech aimed at an international audience. At a virtual meeting of the Munich Security Conference, Biden will focus on restoring U.S. ties with Western European allies in a united front against Russia and China.
In immigration news, the Biden administration issued new guidelines Thursday directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, to focus apprehensions and deportations on asylum seekers and immigrants who’ve recently crossed into the U.S. and those who are determined to be “national security and public safety threats.”
Immigrant justice advocates warn Biden’s new enforcement rules continue to criminalize immigrants and asylum seekers. They also denounced the targeting of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated immigrants and refugees. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union called Biden’s plan a “disappointing step backward,” adding, “While the Biden administration rightly acknowledges that immigrants are our family members, our coworkers, and our neighbors, for now it has chosen to continue giving ICE officers significant discretion to conduct operations that harm our communities and tear families apart.”
In Ethiopia, residents of the city of Axum have described a massacre by Eritrean troops last November. A deacon at the Church of St. Mary of Zion told the Associated Press as many as 800 people were killed by Eritrean soldiers who burst into the church, cornering and dragging out worshipers and shooting at those who fled. Some 3 million people have been displaced since a conflict broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region late last year, and opposition groups say at least 52,000 people have been killed.
The U.S. has said it is prepared to have talks with Iran and other parties involved in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which former President Trump unilaterally withdrew. The U.S. has said it would return to the agreement if Tehran came into full compliance, though Iran has repeatedly said the U.S. must first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump. On Thursday, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for Iranian diplomats to the U.N. in New York City.
The U.S. Capitol Police Department has suspended six officers without pay over their actions during the January 6 attack on Congress, including an officer who posed for selfies with members of Trump’s mob. Another officer wore a red MAGA hat and directed rioters around the Capitol. Twenty-nine other officers remain under investigation.
A federal appeals court has rejected a bid from New York police unions to keep disciplinary records from the public, after lawmakers last summer repealed the controversial “50-a” law amid the historic Black Lives Matter uprising. Advocates are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to release the records without delay. De Blasio said they could be released as early as next week.
Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday the 2.5 million women who had to leave the U.S. workforce due to the pandemic is a “national emergency,” as she urged support for the administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. At a virtual event on women and the economy hosted by Harris Thursday, California Congressmember Barbara Lee addressed the issue of poverty.
Rep. Barbara Lee: “This crisis has plunged more than 8 million more people into poverty since last year, about one in seven households nationwide, including more than one in five in Latino households, and many Asian American Pacific Islander and Native American households are struggling just to secure the food that they need.”
In Guatemala City, thousands took to the streets Thursday in a protest led by Indigenous leaders denouncing years of state violence against Indigenous communities. Protesters are also demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei. This is former presidential candidate and Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera speaking to the crowd.
Thelma Cabrera: “The worst pandemic that exists in Guatemala is corruption. It’s the theft that operates in the three branches of government of this colonial state, this nation-state. … Today we showed them that we are here and stronger than ever.”