Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a sweeping voter suppression bill that would make it harder to vote by mail, limit ballot drop boxes, impose new voter ID requirements and criminalize giving food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places. DeSantis signed the bill in a private ceremony Thursday that was broadcast on “Fox & Friends.” A spokesperson for the governor barred reporters and other camera crews from observing the ceremony, telling at least one reporter the event was a Fox News “exclusive.” DeSantis was surrounded by a group of Republican lawmakers — none of them African American.
Gov. Ron DeSantis: “Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country. I’m actually going to sign it right here. It’s going to take effect. So, there you go. The bill is signed.”
Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones responded, “This blatant voter suppression is Jim Crow 2.0 and will make it harder for voters — from low-income rural white communities to the elderly to communities of color — to have their voices heard. It is clearly part of a coordinated, targeted assault strategy as Florida joins a long list of states pursuing similar disenfranchisement efforts in recent months.”
The Texas House of Representatives early this morning passed a Republican-backed voter suppression bill after an all-night session. The House bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate bill before heading to the desk of Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has signaled he’ll sign the legislation.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Ohio have introduced a bill that would put severe restrictions on ballot drop boxes and absentee voting.
India reported nearly 4,000 COVID-19 deaths Friday, with over 414,000 new infections, breaking the world record it set one day earlier. In India’s southwestern state of Goa, more than half of all people tested have coronavirus infections, one of the highest positivity rates of the pandemic.
Japan has extended a nationwide state of emergency as infections surge less than 80 days before the start of the Olympics. An online petition titled “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives” gathered a quarter-million signatures in its first two days.
A new study from the University of Washington estimates the true toll of the pandemic is far higher than governments have reported. Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation say COVID-19 has caused about 6.9 million deaths worldwide, more than double the official figure. Topping the list is the United States, with over 900,000 estimated deaths, followed by India with more than 650,000 deaths. The researchers projected about 600,000 deaths each in Mexico, Brazil and Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she opposes a push at the World Trade Organization to waive patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Since the WTO operates by consensus, Germany’s opposition could derail efforts to transfer vaccine technology to factories in places like India and Brazil. Over 100 nations, led by South Africa and India, say the move is desperately needed to increase the availability of vaccines in the Global South. They were given a boost Wednesday when the Biden administration said it would no longer oppose a waiver. French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday joined the call to waive patent rights on COVID vaccines, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-nation bloc was open to debate on the issue.
Ursula von der Leyen: “The European Union is also ready to discuss any proposal that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner. And that’s why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for waiver on intellectual property protection for COVID vaccines could help achieve that objective.”
In Brazil, at least 25 people were killed Thursday as heavily armed police raided one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas. The assault by anti-narcotics officers came despite a Brazilian Supreme Court order prohibiting such raids during the pandemic. It was the deadliest single police assault in Rio’s history. Residents of the Jacarezinho favela said police arrived with guns blazing.
Jacarezinho resident: “They pointed a gun at me. With a rifle, they told me that I had to die, because I went to talk to them. Just because I asked where my son’s body was, they pointed a gun at me.”
Reporter “Did your child die today?”
Jacarezinho resident: “He died. They arrived shooting.”
Human rights groups condemned the raid as a massacre with clear signs of execution-style killings, citing video showing bloodstained mattresses and blood-soaked stairwells. Two passengers on a passing commuter train were injured by stray gunfire. Amnesty International said, “It’s completely unacceptable that security forces keep committing grave human rights violations … against residents of the favelas, who are mostly Black and live in poverty.”
The Pentagon has sent military reinforcements to Afghanistan to oversee the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces. Biden announced U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But violence has been surging in the already-volatile country in recent weeks, as the Taliban condemned the U.S. failure to respect the earlier May 1 deadline for pullout, agreed to under the Trump administration. The New York Times reports at least 139 government forces and 44 civilians were killed in the past week, the highest weekly death toll since October.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is warning Afghan women’s access to healthcare is at risk due to cuts in international aid. The group said “donors are locked in a waiting game to see whether the withdrawal of foreign troops will result in the Taliban gaining greater control of the country. But this is no excuse for cutting funds for essential services that aid groups have managed to deliver in insecure and Taliban-controlled areas.”
In Virginia, CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin interrupted a shareholder meeting of General Dynamics Wednesday to protest the company’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries. Medea Benjamin addressed General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic, who she says has personally pocketed $21 million a year.
Medea Benjamin: “So, if you have a model where you need global conflict, where you need wars to be able to make money, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with this company, and you ought to have some more moral reflection about how you earn your billions of dollars.”
The Justice Department is warning Arizona’s Republican-ordered recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County could be violating federal voting and civil rights laws. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said observers have witnessed ballots and laptops left unattended and untrained workers using inconsistent procedures. The private company hired by the Arizona Republican Party to carry out the audit, called Cyber Ninjas, also says it has been directly contacting voters to verify voter registrations, which could constitute voter intimidation.
In addition, Cyber Ninjas — whose CEO has openly promoted conspiracy theories about the election, including from prominent QAnon figures — is far behind the May 14 deadline to finish the audit. As of Wednesday, only about 10% of the 2.1 million ballots had been counted. The Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds said that all elections materials must be vacated on May 14, but auditors now say they will just pause, then resume the count, if needed.
Meanwhile, New York Congressmember Elise Stefanik, whom top Republicans have backed to replace Liz Cheney in her leadership role, said on Steve Bannon’s podcast Thursday she supports the Arizona recount.
A Colorado Republican lawmaker was reprimanded Thursday after he used a racist term during a debate in the Colorado General Assembly. Representative Richard Holtorf, who is white, referred to a colleague as “Buckwheat” during Wednesday’s legislative session.
Rep. Richard Holtorf: “And I’m getting there. Don’t worry, Buckwheat. I’m getting there.”
Speaker pro tempore: “I’m sorry.”
Rep. Richard Holtorf: “Now, what I’d like to say” —
Speaker pro tempore: “Sir.”
Rep. Richard Holtorf: “What I’d like to say — that’s an endearing term, by the way.”
Speaker pro tempore: “Representative Holtorf, we must maintain order in here and not refer to any individuals other than — in any inappropriate manner.”
Rep. Leslie Herod, who is Black, rushed to the podium to confront Holtorf over his racist remarks as the General Assembly broke for a recess.
New York’s attorney general says the nation’s largest broadband companies funded a secret campaign to influence the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. Attorney General Letitia James said Thursday an investigation by her office found that in 2017, “The broadband industry hired marketing companies that co-opted and created identities and filed nearly 18 million fake comments with the FCC and sent over half a million fake letters to Congress in support of the repeal.” Supporters of net neutrality say protections are needed to preserve an open internet and to bar internet service providers from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was injured in a suspected bomb attack Thursday. The 53-year-old Nasheed, who is the current speaker of the Maldives parliament, became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2008 but was ousted in a 2012 coup and was granted asylum in Britain before he returned to the Maldives in 2018. He put the fight against the climate crisis front and center of his presidency and has been hailed as a “climate hero.” Thursday’s attack has sent shock waves throughout the Maldives and is being investigated as an act of terrorism. Click here to see our interviews with Mohamed Nasheed.
Indigenous leaders and climate activists are holding a global day of action today to halt and defund the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. Protests are taking place at banks in cities across the U.S., as well as in Japan, Switzerland, Sierra Leone, Costa Rica, Canada and across Europe. This is Jackie Fielder of Stop the Money Pipeline.
Jackie Fielder: “And so, we have more than 50 actions across the U.S. and actions across seven other countries, as well as three other continents, protesting the banks that are underwriting loans to Enbridge, the company behind the Line 3 pipeline. Line 3 would result in an additional 193 million tons of greenhouse gases every single year, and it violates Indigenous rights of the Anishinaabe people and their right to free, prior and informed consent.”
On Thursday, water protectors blockaded a so-called man camp at the Enbridge site to mark “Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2-Spirit” Awareness Week. Indigenous activists said, “The violence committed on our land becomes the violence committed on our people.”