In what the World Health Organization is describing as a “monumental moment,” the Biden administration has announced it now supports temporarily waiving intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines. In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said, “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.” India and South Africa first proposed the waiver in October, but the United States and other wealthy nations blocked the World Trade Organization from even opening negotiations on the proposal. Supporters of the waiver say the move will help increase the availability of vaccines, but they are also pressing Biden to back waivers on intellectual property rights on COVID treatments and diagnostics, as well.
While COVID cases are surging around the world, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting a sharp decline in U.S. cases by July if enough people get vaccinated. Cases are already at their lowest level since October. On Wednesday, the U.S. reported about 44,000 daily infections and more than 750 deaths. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is urging adults to get vaccinated.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: “We are not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close. All of us are getting fully vaccinated, and continuing our prevention efforts can help us turn the corner on the pandemic as early as July and set us forward on a path toward a more normal lifestyle.”
A federal judge has thrown out a nationwide moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich — a Trump appointee — ruled Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it ordered a halt on evictions to prevent community spread of the coronavirus. The CDC had extended the moratorium through June. Millions of U.S. homeowners can’t make their monthly mortgage payments, and about one in five U.S. renters are behind on their rent, with Black and Latinx households disproportionately affected.
A new study finds the world faces “rapid and unstoppable” sea level rise in the coming decades, unless nations meet their pledges to cut emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement. The study in the journal Nature warns that failure to meet the Paris goals could mean a global temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, enough to cross a tipping point that would lead to the irreversible melting of Antarctica’s vast ice sheets. The resulting sea level rise would flood coastal communities around the globe, with a “catastrophic” 33 feet of sea level rise by 2300.
The United Nations warned Wednesday of soaring rates of hunger, child mortality and maternal deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Food Programme reported at least 155 million people required urgent food aid in 2020 — a five-year high — with at least 28 million people one step away from famine. Meanwhile, the United Nations Population Fund said a global shortage of midwives is leading to as many as 4.3 million preventable deaths of mothers and babies each year.
Former President Trump’s Facebook account will remain suspended — at least for now. On Wednesday, an Oversight Board set up by Facebook upheld the January 7 ban, saying Trump’s rhetoric created a “serious risk of violence,” but the board said Facebook should review whether the ban should be indefinite.
Federal prosecutors have charged an Army National Guard infantryman with violent entry over his role in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Abram Markofski of Wisconsin is one of over 40 veterans or active-duty soldiers charged over the insurrection.
The number two Republican in the House of Representatives is calling for the ouster of Congressmember Liz Cheney from her leadership role, after she joined a handful of Republicans in voting to impeach President Trump earlier this year. Minority Whip Steve Scalise on Wednesday backed New York’s Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney as House Republican Conference chair. Cheney fired back, writing in today’s Washington Post, “While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”
Israel’s president has given opposition leader Yair Lapid a chance to form a new government, threatening to end the rule of longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu failed to cobble together a majority coalition after a March 23 election showed no clear winner. It was Israel’s fourth consecutive inconclusive election and came as Netanyahu went on trial to face corruption charges. Yair Lapid has called on Palestinians to resume peace talks — if they agree to recognize large Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In the occupied West Bank, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy named Said Odeh has died after being shot twice in the back by Israeli forces in a village south of Nablus. The Israeli troops then reportedly blocked an ambulance from reaching the boy for 15 minutes. He died before he reached a hospital.
The Biden administration has rescinded a Trump-era Labor Department rule making it easier for gig economy companies to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Share prices of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash fell on the news. The rule helped the companies to evade basic wage and workplace protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
South Carolina lawmakers have approved a bill requiring death row prisoners to choose whether they will be electrocuted or shot to death, if lethal injection drugs are not available. Republican Governor Henry McMaster has promised to sign the bill, making South Carolina the fourth state to allow executions by firing squad.
In Arkansas, further evidence has emerged that a condemned prisoner who was put to death four years ago did not commit the 1993 murder for which he was convicted. Ledell Lee professed his innocence until his execution by lethal injection in April 2017. The ACLU and the Innocence Project said this week that genetic testing found DNA from an unknown person — rather than Lee — on a club used in the murder and on a bloody shirt that was found wrapped around the weapon.
The International Olympic Committee has banned the slogan “Black Lives Matter” from apparel worn by athletes at the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo. The IOC also said it will punish athletes who raise a fist or kneel during the playing of the national anthem. The IOC cited a rule stating, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The order comes more than 50 years after U.S. athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in the Black Power salute during the national anthem at a 1968 Olympic prize ceremony as a protest against racism in the United States.
Former U.S. intelligence analyst Daniel Hale has been unexpectedly arrested and jailed ahead of his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 13. In March, Hale pleaded guilty to one count of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act for leaking classified documents about the secretive U.S. drone and targeted assassination programs. On Saturday, Amy Goodman interviewed National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and asked him about Daniel Hale.
Edward Snowden: “Daniel Hale is one of the most consequential whistleblowers. He sacrificed everything — an incredibly courageous person — to tell us that the drone war, that, you know, is so obviously occurring to everyone else, but the government was still officially denying in so many ways, is here, it is happening, and 90% of the casualties in one five-month period were innocents or bystanders or not the target of the drone strike. We could not establish that, we could not prove that, without Daniel Hale’s voice.”
Edward Snowden was speaking on a virtual panel with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg that I moderated. Watch the full interview here.