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HeadlinesFebruary 23, 2021

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AG Nominee Merrick Garland Pledges to Prosecute January 6 Insurrectionists

Feb 23, 2021

President Biden’s nominee to become the next attorney general, Merrick Garland, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday he would prioritize prosecuting the white supremacists who stormed the Capitol on January 6. He compared the task to his prosecution of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in the 1990s. Garland said he did not regret seeking the death penalty against bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001, but said he’s since altered his views on capital punishment. 

Judge Merrick Garland: “I am very concerned about the large number of exonerations that have occurred through DNA evidence and otherwise, not only in death penalty convictions but also in other convictions. … The data is clear that it has an enormously disparate impact on Black Americans and members of communities of color, and exonerations also that something like half of the exonerations had to do with Black men.”

In an emotional moment, Merrick Garland said he felt an obligation to pay the United States back for granting asylum to his family.

Judge Merrick Garland: “I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us.”

Confirmation Hearings Open for Deb Haaland for Interior Secretary, Xavier Becerra for HHS Secretary

Feb 23, 2021

The Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding confirmation hearings today for New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland to become secretary of the interior. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra faces two days of Senate confirmation hearings starting today on his nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra helped lead the fight to defend the Affordable Care Act from attacks by former President Trump and the Republican Party, and he has also voiced support for Medicare for All in the past.

Meanwhile, the Senate votes today on whether to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Tom Vilsack for secretary of agriculture. 

U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 500,000

Feb 23, 2021

The United States recorded another 1,400 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the U.S. death toll since the start of the pandemic to more than a half a million — by far the highest of any nation in the world. The bells at the National Cathedral in Washington tolled 500 times Monday to commemorate the 500,000 people who’ve died in just the last year. That’s more than the entire population of Miami, Florida. In a sunset ceremony at the White House, President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses led the country in a moment of communal mourning. 

President Joe Biden: “So, today, I ask all Americans to remember, remember those we lost and those we left behind. But as we remember, as we all remember, I also ask us to act, to remain vigilant, to stay socially distanced, to mask up, get vaccinated when it’s your turn. We must end the politics and misinformation that’s divided families, communities and the country. And it’s cost too many lives already.”

Biden has ordered flags on federal property to fly at half-staff for five days as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall across the United States and the vaccine effort is speeding up.

In Connecticut, health authorities say they will now administer COVID-19 vaccines based solely on age, eliminating priority status for most essential workers, with residents 55 and older and teachers prioritized.

President Biden to Meet Virtually with Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau

Feb 23, 2021

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting today with Joe Biden, who’s carrying out his first bilateral meeting as president. The two will meet virtually, as the U.S.-Canadian border remains largely closed due to the pandemic. They’re expected to discuss vaccination campaigns, the climate crisis and Trudeau’s opposition to Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The meeting comes a day after Canada’s House of Commons voted to declare that China is committing genocide against more than a million minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The nonbinding resolution passed on a vote of 266 to 0, with Trudeau and members of his Cabinet abstaining.

Supreme Court Won’t Block Release of Trump Tax Returns to Manhattan Prosecutors

Feb 23, 2021

The Supreme Court has refused to block the release of former President Trump’s tax returns to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Trump blasted the move in a statement, calling it a “threat to the very foundation of our liberty.” New York prosecutors are investigating hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign and whether the reimbursements made to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, were illegally accounted for as a legal expense.

Boeing 777 Jets Grounded After Engine Explosion Scatters Debris Over Colorado

Feb 23, 2021

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded dozens of Boeing 777 passenger jets, after an engine failure on a United Airlines flight Saturday nearly led to disaster. 

Pilot: “United 328, heavy. Mayday. Aircraft just experienced engine failure, need a turn immediately.”

The pilots of United Flight 238 are being hailed as heroes after an emergency landing that saved all 229 passengers and 10 crew aboard. The explosion occurred just minutes after the plane took off from Denver’s airport bound for Hawaii. Scattered engine parts fell across a swath of the city of Broomfield, but no one on the ground was injured. The National Transportation Safety Board says a preliminary investigation found the engine — manufactured by Pratt & Whitney — showed signs of metal fatigue. This follows two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed all 346 people aboard.

U.N. Calls for Rescue of Rohingya Refugees Stranded at Sea

Feb 23, 2021

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is calling for help finding a group of Rohingya refugees who’ve been stranded at sea off the coast of Bangladesh after their boat broke down Saturday, leaving them adrift without food or water. Human rights workers say at least eight people have already died on the boat, which is carrying refugees believed to have left from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s largest refugee camp with a population of some 1 million Rohingya.

Colombian Inquiry Reveals Army Carried Out 6,400 Extrajudicial Killings from 2002-08

Feb 23, 2021

In Colombia, an inquiry by a special court has revealed the Colombian Army carried out over 6,400 extrajudicial killings, known as “false positives,” between 2002 and 2008. The Army then falsely deemed their victims as leftist rebels, in order to boost their combat kill rates and appear as if they were winning Colombia’s half-century, U.S.-backed conflict against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. A peace deal was signed in 2016. 

Italian Ambassador to Congo Among 3 Killed in Ambush of World Food Programme Convoy

Feb 23, 2021

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, three people were killed Monday following an ambush on a U.N. humanitarian convoy in the eastern region of the country, near the city of Goma. Among the dead was the Italian ambassador to Congo, Luca Attanasio, and a Congolese driver for the World Food Programme. The group was headed to a World Food Programme initiative at a school when their vehicles were reportedly hijacked by unidentified armed men. Several others were injured. Over 2,000 people in eastern Congo were killed in brutal attacks by armed groups last year, and over 5.2 million have been displaced.

Haitian Protesters Blast U.S. Support for Jovenel Moïse, Who Has Refused to Step Down

Feb 23, 2021

In Haiti, massive protests continue demanding President Jovenel Moïse to step down, accusing him of illegally extending his term. Hundreds of people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Sunday as mobilizations entered a third week. This is one of the protesters speaking Sunday.

Protester: ’’We, the young people, are the path to the liberation of Haiti. We will continue fighting until we regain sovereign status. Because we know that it is the Americans, foreign powers, the Organization of American States and the U.N. who are supporting President Jovenel Moïse, it is they who support these thieves. I send a message to Joe Biden and to them: I know that our resources interest them, but we continue fighting to regain our sovereignty.”

Offshore Oil Spill Hits Israel’s Beaches, Devastating Wildlife

Feb 23, 2021

Israel is warning people to stay away from beaches after an offshore oil spill began polluting a 100-mile stretch of Mediterranean coastline. The massive tar slick has devastated ocean wildlife, including sea turtles and a 55-foot fin whale that washed ashore dead in southern Israel. It’s being called one of Israel’s worst-ever environmental disasters.

Texas Refineries Flared 337,000 Pounds of Toxic Chemicals as Winter Storm Hit

Feb 23, 2021

In Texas, environmentalists are sounding the alarm over toxic pollution from oil refineries that scrambled to shut down amid last week’s unprecedented winter storm. Reuters reports Texas refineries burned off — or “flared” — more than a third of a million pounds of toxic benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide as temperatures dropped below freezing. 

Meanwhile, households and local governments in Texas continue to report astronomically high energy costs after Texas’s deregulated energy market allowed for a huge spike in prices. The publicly run utility in the city of Denton was charged $207 million in recent days — more than its entire annual budget.

U.N. Probe Finds Erik Prince Broke Libya Arms Embargo to Aid Rebel Commander

Feb 23, 2021

United Nations investigators have found that Erik Prince — a Trump ally who founded the mercenary company Blackwater — broke a U.N. arms embargo on Libya by supporting a militia commander who was seeking to overthrow Libya’s internationally recognized government. The New York Times reports a confidential U.N. investigation reveals how Erik Prince deployed mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019, in support of renegade former General Khalifa Haftar. Prince faces possible U.N. sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on his bank accounts and other assets.

Virginia Lawmakers Vote to Outlaw Capital Punishment

Feb 23, 2021

Virginia is set to become the first state in the South to outlaw capital punishment, after lawmakers voted Monday to abolish the death penalty. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has pledged to sign the legislation. Virginia has carried out nearly 1,400 executions since 1608, when it became the first British colony in North America.

New Jersey Governor Signs Bills Legalizing and Decriminalizing Marijuana

Feb 23, 2021

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills into law Monday legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana. The legislation creates a regulated marijuana industry and addresses the disproportionate arrests of people of color over marijuana possession. On Monday, Governor Murphy said the move was long overdue.

Gov. Phil Murphy: “As of this moment, New Jersey’s broken and indefensible marijuana laws, which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, and which disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise, are no more.”

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