President Biden has arrived in the United Kingdom for his first overseas trip since taking office. After meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today, Biden will take part in the G7 leaders’ meeting in Cornwall and then head to the NATO summit in Brussels. He will end his trip in Geneva, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During his trip, Biden is expected to announce the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and donate them to 92 lower-income countries. Under the emerging plan, the first 200 million doses would be distributed by the end of this year, the rest by June of 2022.
World Trade Organization members have agreed to begin negotiations next week on a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines. South Africa and India first proposed the patent waivers in October of 2020 as part of an urgent effort to increase the availability of vaccines in poorer countries. The effort has languished for more than eight months amid opposition from pharmaceutical companies and wealthy WTO members. Since then, the world has recorded over 2.6 million COVID deaths and 140 million new infections. On Wednesday, Argentine President Alberto Fernández and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in a joint news conference that they support a waiver for COVID vaccine patents. This is Prime Minister Sánchez.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez: “Argentina and Spain are defending the liberation of vaccines, making them a global public good and, consequently, speeding up their distribution and increasing their production capacity for the whole of humanity to vaccinate all of our societies as quickly as possible and overcome this calamity that COVID-19 represents.”
The Biden administration initially opposed patent waivers for COVID vaccines, then reversed course in May amid intense pressure from advocacy groups and some Democrats. The European Union and several nations, including the U.K. and Switzerland, remain opposed.
India reported over 6,100 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday — the highest one-day death toll of any nation since the start of the pandemic. The high death tally came because one Indian state reported thousands of previously unreported deaths, adding to evidence that India has vastly undercounted the number of people sickened and killed by the coronavirus.
Haiti is experiencing its worst-ever surge of COVID cases, with hospitals stretched to their limits. A severe shortage of testing in Haiti is masking the true scale of the outbreak. This comes as Haiti has yet to administer a single shot of coronavirus vaccine.
In France, Parisians celebrated new freedoms Wednesday as officials eased coronavirus restrictions, reopening indoor restaurant service and rolling back curfews. COVID-19 cases are plummeting in France, where nearly one in five people are fully vaccinated.
In Afghanistan, masked gunmen killed at least 10 workers at a mine-clearing nonprofit in northern Baghlan province Tuesday. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, after the government initially blamed the Taliban. The head of the organization that was attacked, the British-based HALO Trust, said the assailants appeared to be targeting people from the Shia Hazara community. This is a survivor recounting the horrific attack.
Survivor: “They shot two people in the camp compound and then shot at other people inside the room. I was shot in the forehead and fell to the ground, but I got up again, and I escaped through the window. Ten people were martyred, and 13 or 14 others were injured and have now been taken to the hospital.”
In other news from Afghanistan, the Norwegian Refugee Council is warning that a severe drought threatens 3 million Afghans, who are already vulnerable due to years of conflict, food insecurity and the effects of the pandemic. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports the Pentagon is considering whether to intervene with warplanes or drones if Kabul is in danger of falling to the Taliban after the U.S. completes its withdrawal.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Colombian government to protect human rights and reform its police as ongoing popular protests demanding social reforms and an end to violence and inequality are now in their sixth week. Human Rights Watch says at least 34 people have been killed during protests, at least 20 of those at the hands of the police, though local groups estimate the toll is higher. This is union leader Carlos Rivas at a demonstration in Bogotá Wednesday.
Carlos Rivas: “This is an indolent state. It is a state that does not talk to the people; it talks through force and weapons. We want peace, democracy, life. We don’t want a state of terror. We don’t want a state where people are murdered but where there are minimum guarantees. They cannot assassinate the youth, who are the future of the country.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. will maintain hundreds of sanctions on Iran even if a deal is reached between the two parties to relaunch the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “Even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain, unless and until Iran’s behavior changes.”
Iran has said it will not come back into compliance with the agreement, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018, unless the U.S. lifts all sanctions. Talks between Iran and other world powers are set to resume this weekend, just days ahead of Iranian elections next Friday. Analysts say the results of the elections could complicate any progress made thus far as a host of conservative and hard-line candidates are vying to succeed President Hassan Rouhani.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is supporting the Justice Department’s decision to defend former President Trump against a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s. E. Jean Carroll filed the suit in 2019 after Trump said he would not have assaulted her because “she’s not my type.” Justice Department lawyers told a federal court this week Trump cannot be held personally liable for the comments since he made them while he was president. Attorney General Garland defended the decision to a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland: “The essence of the rule of law is what I said when I accepted the nomination for attorney general. It is that like cases be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes.”
E. Jean Carroll blasted the Biden administration for defending Trump, writing in a statement, “As women across the country are standing up and holding men accountable for assault–the DOJ is trying to stop me from having that same right. I am angry! I am offended!”
The Canadian company TC Energy says it is canceling construction of the 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried over 800,000 barrels of oil each day from Canada’s tar sands region across fragile ecosystems in the United States. The announcement came after the Biden administration revoked a key permit for Keystone XL in January, and follows years of Indigenous-led resistance against the project.
The cancellation came on the same day that Indigenous water and land defender Jasilyn Charger avoided jail time as she pleaded “no contest” to trespassing charges for an act of nonviolent civil disobedience against Keystone XL. Another Indigenous activist, Oscar High Elk, still faces up to 22 years in prison over what his supporters say are trumped-up charges.
Meanwhile, protests continue against construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. Prosecutors in Minnesota say 179 people were arrested and charged with trespassing after a mass civil disobedience action on Monday; another 68 were cited and released for public nuisance and unlawful assembly.
In eastern Arizona, fire crews are battling two massive wildfires that have consumed more than 177,000 acres. The fires come as climate scientists say the western United States is suffering the second-worst drought in 1,200 years, brought on by a combination of natural dry cycles and human-induced climate change. Lake Mead, the largest freshwater reservoir in the United States, along the Colorado River, is less than 36% full — its lowest level ever. Meanwhile, nearly 2 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area were placed under a water shortage emergency Wednesday as California’s drought continued to worsen.
The Louisiana State Police unit that killed Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old Black man, by tasering, punching and dragging him during an arrest in 2019 is under an internal investigation looking into whether officers are systematically targeting Black motorists for abuse. That’s according to the Associated Press, which reports investigators are probing the violent arrests of three other Black men by the same police unit: one who was punched, stunned and hoisted to his feet by his hair braids; another who was beaten after he was handcuffed; and yet another who was slammed 18 times with a flashlight. The investigation is focused on white officers with State Police Troop F — a notorious unit in northeastern Louisiana whose officers have mislabeled body-camera videos, turned off their cameras during arrests, and otherwise worked to hide evidence from investigators. Some of the troopers already face felony charges.
A new report by Public Citizen finds that 55 major U.S. corporations that paid no federal taxes last year spent a collective $450 million on political lobbying and campaigns since the 2016 election cycle. The companies also received $3.5 billion in tax rebates. Of the top 25 congressional recipients of the companies’ money, 20 are Republicans, and all voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which lowered the corporate tax rate. FedEx was the biggest spender, followed by Charter Communications, American Electric Power and Duke Energy.
Public Citizen urged Congress to close loopholes allowing for corporate tax avoidance, adding, “While paying nothing to support the upkeep of our government, these companies have been spending huge amounts of money to try to keep the game rigged in their favor.”
The White House revoked three Trump administration executive orders that sought to ban popular social apps TikTok and WeChat from operating in the U.S. Biden issued a new order that would review possible security risks for apps connected to foreign governments, in particular China. This came one day after the Senate passed a $250 billion bill designed to compete with technological, military and industrial advances out of China.
Pressure is growing on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to grant tenure to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is best known for producing The 1619 Project with The New York Times, an interactive project that reexamines the legacy of slavery. Her work became the target of right-wing attacks last year after the Trump administration threatened to pull federal funding from schools that use The 1619 Project in their curriculum.
Last Friday, a major funding partner of the university joined calls to grant Hannah-Jones tenure. And University of Maryland chemistry professor Lisa Jones declined a job offer by UNC over its treatment of Hannah-Jones. In a solidarity statement, Dr. Jones said, “Hearing of the delay of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure decision led me to reconsider whether the environment at the University of North Carolina would be conducive to the achievement of my academic aspirations, which include promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
In related news, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the “1836 Project” Monday. The name is a reference to The 1619 Project and marks the year Texas seceded from Mexico to evade Mexico’s ban on slavery.
Gov. Greg Abbott: “The 1836 Project promotes patriotic education about Texas and ensures that the generations to come understand Texas values.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones and others responded to the announcement of the 1836 Project by highlighting the fact that Texas had fully legalized slavery in its Constitution and was guilty at that time of lynching Black and Mexican Texans.