Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp has signed a sweeping elections bill that civil rights groups are blasting as the worst voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow era. The bill grants broad power to state officials to take control of election management from local and county election boards. It also adds new voter ID requirements, severely limits mail ballot drop boxes, rejects ballots cast in the wrong precinct and allows conservative activists to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. One provision would even make it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places.
The legislation sailed through both chambers of Georgia’s Legislature Thursday and was approved along party lines. Governor Kemp signed the bill in private, surrounded by six white men.
As the governor announced he had signed the bill, Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, who is African American, knocked on Governor Kemp’s door, saying the public deserved to witness his statement. She was arrested by several Georgia state troopers, dragged through the Capitol and pushed into a patrol car, even as she shouted that she was an elected official. Cannon’s arrest was witnessed by fellow Democratic state Representative Erica Thomas.
Rep. Erica Thomas: “But you’re going to tell me that you arrested a sitting state representative for nothing? She didn’t do anything but knock on the governor’s door. I’m done! I’m so done! I’m so done! Protect and serve who?”
State Representative Cannon was booked on two felony charges: obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence, and disrupting a General Assembly session. She was released Thursday night to cheering crowds of supporters, including Georgia’s U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who met with Cannon inside jail.
The New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund and other groups have sued to stop Georgia’s voter suppression law, arguing it violates the Voting Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
At the White House, President Biden held his first solo press conference since taking office Thursday, where he blasted Georgia’s Republican-led voter suppression efforts.
President Joe Biden: “What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick. … I mean, this is gigantic, what they’re trying to do. And it cannot be sustained. I’m going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.”
Also at his Thursday press conference, President Biden said he “can’t picture” U.S. troops in Afghanistan by next year. Biden responded to a question about the May 1 deadline for withdrawal, set under the Trump administration.
President Joe Biden: “The answer is that it’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline, just in terms of tactical reasons. … We’ve been meeting with our allies, those other nations that have — NATO allies who have troops in Afghanistan, as well. And if we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”
About 3,500 U.S. troops and another 6,500 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan — nearly 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
President Biden on Thursday announced a new goal of 200 million COVID-19 vaccine shots administered across the U.S. during his first 100 days in office — doubling his previous goal. This comes as the U.S. recorded over 67,000 new coronavirus infections Thursday and nearly 1,600 new deaths from COVID-19. Daily U.S. cases are on par with the peak of last summer’s surge and are once again rising, despite a mass vaccination campaign that’s fully inoculated 14% of the U.S. population.
More than 30 million people across the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, though public health officials believe the true number of infections is likely over 100 million, perhaps as much as a third of all U.S. residents. This comes as a new study finds seven out of 10 people hospitalized for COVID-19 had not completely recovered five months after their release.
Mexico’s official COVID-19 death toll has topped 200,000 — coming in third for fatalities after Brazil and the U.S. Many public health experts believe Mexico’s true death toll is likely closer to 300,000, due to a severe lack of testing and poor reporting on COVID-19 cases.
India has cut back on exports of COVID-19 vaccines amid a massive wave of cases across South Asia. India’s decision is slowing vaccination efforts in poorer nations, which are already lagging far behind rich countries like the U.K. and the United States.
Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea, which reported zero COVID-19 cases for months earlier in the pandemic, has seen a recent surge in cases that is overwhelming the nation’s healthcare system.
In northeast Syria, nearly 43,000 foreign prisoners linked to ISIS are being held unlawfully in conditions that may amount to torture, according to Human Rights Watch. Over half of them are children. The prisoners, who were detained over two years ago during the fall of the Islamic State “caliphate,” have been denied due process, and Human Rights Watch says their home countries are either ignoring their plight or refusing to help in their repatriation.
In Israel, the final vote count in Tuesday’s parliamentary election confirms Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies failed to secure a majority, with no clear path to victory. If Netanyahu and his Likud party fail to put together a governing coalition, Israel could be headed toward its fifth election to determine Israel’s next leader.
Meanwhile, the extreme-right Religious Zionist Party alliance, which includes openly racist and homophobic political parties, has won six parliamentary seats. The number of Knesset seats that will be filled by women dropped to less than a quarter.
In Egypt, dozens of ships carrying oil and shipping containers are idled in the Suez Canal after a massive container vessel ran aground. The ship, which is nearly a quarter-mile long, has cut off access through one of the world’s most important waterways, connecting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. Salvage crews are working to move the vessel, but warn it could be days or weeks to clear the blockage of the Suez Canal.
President Biden said the U.S. would respond to any escalation from North Korea, after it launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its eastern coast Thursday. It was North Korea’s first such launch since Biden took office, and defies a U.N. Security Council ban. Biden also said he is open to diplomacy with North Korea, conditioned on denuclearization.
Back in the United States, Senator Elizabeth Warren clashed with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee Wednesday over why the $9 trillion money manager company BlackRock doesn’t face more oversight from the Treasury Department.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Is BlackRock currently designated so that it receives that increased oversight?”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen: “It isn’t designated, but I think it’s important to understand” —
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “So that means it is not receiving the increased oversight from the Fed. Does, potentially, a $9 trillion investment company pose some risk to the American economy if it should fail?”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen: “Well, one needs to analyze what the risk is. An asset management company is very different than a bank.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “So, how do you analyze what the risk is, if you’re not actually doing the investigation through FSOC?”
BlackRock is the world’s largest asset manager. It also has close ties to the Biden administration.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing another scandal, after news outlets revealed Cuomo’s family — including his brother Chris, who hosts a show on CNN — were given special access to COVID-19 testing last spring. Cuomo is already facing calls to resign for covering up thousands of COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes and for his abusive treatment of women. Eight women, including some of his staff, have accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct.
New York lawmakers have reached a deal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state for adults 21 and over. The proposal would invest marijuana tax revenues into Black and Brown communities who have been disproportionately targeted by the decades-long war on drugs. A portion of marijuana business licenses would be reserved for business owners of color. The measure would also allow individuals to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at home and for marijuana to be delivered to people’s homes. The bill could pass the Democrat-controlled state Legislature as early as next week.
The New York City Council on Thursday passed legislation that would make it easier to sue police officers for use of excessive force and other forms of misconduct. The legislation would limit so-called qualified immunity, a decades-old legal protection that has given police officers near-immunity from lawsuits. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the legislation, making New York City the largest jurisdiction to limit police officers’ use of qualified immunity. The bill was among several other measures the council approved Thursday, including a $72 million plan to improve police practices and accountability.
The University of Southern California has agreed to pay over $1 billion in settlements to more than 700 women who accused former student health center gynecologist George Tyndall of sexually assaulting them. Last February, a federal investigation concluded the university had mishandled dozens of sexual assault reports against Tyndall, allowing the abuse to continue for years. Survivors have said Tyndall raped or forcibly touched them, and made racist and misogynistic comments while he sexually abused them. Tyndall was arrested in 2019. His trial is pending.
In Los Angeles, local media report about a dozen people were arrested Thursday night as protests continued over the violent police eviction of hundreds of unhoused people living in an encampment in the city’s Echo Park. A reporter with the L.A. Times and two reporters with the outlet Knock LA were also detained by police while covering Thursday’s protest. The expulsion of unhoused people from Echo Park comes after residents of the gentrified neighborhood complained to city officials and police about the encampment. Unhoused organizers say there is a major shortage of permanent and affordable housing options in L.A.
Fourteen Republican state attorneys general are suing the Biden administration over its moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands and water. Biden’s order was part of a string of executive actions addressing the climate crisis.
In northern Minnesota, witnesses say police arrested more than two dozen water protectors Thursday as they took nonviolent direct action to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline.
Police officer: “OK, you guys are all under arrest for unlawful assembly and trespass. Are you going to come out on your own free will?”
Tara Houska: “This is our land. It’s Anishinaabe territory.”
Police officer: “Yes or no?”
Tara Houska: “This is our land. It’s Anishinaabe territory. That’s the answer you get to the question that you asked.”
If completed, Enbridge Line 3 would carry more than 750,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day through fragile ecosystems — endangering lakes, rivers and wild rice beds. Construction crews were idled Thursday for more than four hours after land defenders locked their arms together as Indigenous water protectors sang and prayed. This is Indigenous activist and lawyer Tara Houska addressing the Biden administration.
Tara Houska: “We’re asking this administration, just like we asked the administrations prior, to do something different and to stand with Indigenous people. … It’s not enough to just cancel one project while others go through. One sacred is not more than another. None of us are sacrifice zones. And it’s time for change. We said no, and we’re still saying no.”