President Biden has signed legislation creating a new federal holiday for Juneteenth to mark the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration marks June 19, the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of the Emancipation Proclamation — signed by Abraham Lincoln more than two years prior — and that the Civil War had ended. A White House signing ceremony Thursday was kicked off by Kamala Harris, the first African American vice president.
Vice President Kamala Harris: “We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And we are here to witness President Joe Biden establish Juneteenth as a national holiday.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Thursday Republicans will use the filibuster to block the For the People Act, a sweeping bill to restore protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. McConnell’s pledge came as Senate Republicans rejected a compromise offer of a watered-down voting bill offered by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Senator Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema have refused calls from within their party to eliminate the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation, an infrastructure bill to combat catastrophic climate change, and other priorities of the Biden administration.
The House of Representatives has voted to repeal sweeping war powers granted to the president in 2002 ahead of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The bill to repeal the AUMF — or Authorization for Use of Military Force — was sponsored by California Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee. On September 14, 2001, days after the al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S., Lee spoke on the House floor opposing military action against Afghanistan. She was the lone voice of dissent on that day and went on to oppose the Iraq invasion in 2003. Congressmember Lee spoke again from the House floor Thursday, just ahead of the 268-161 vote in favor of repealing the AUMF.
Rep. Barbara Lee: “Now 18 years ago, in front of the infamous 'mission accomplished' banner backdrop, former President Bush told the nation that the major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In 2011, President Obama brought our combat troops home. And yet this authority remains on the books, vulnerable to misuse, because Congress has not acted to remove it. The Bush administration, yes, misled the American people by saying there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Iraq posed an imminent threat and by drawing a false connection between the tragic events of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. Those lies and misinformation had deadly consequences. The mistakes continue to haunt us today.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to oppose a repeal of the AUMF.
Brazil reported another 2,300 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing its official death toll during the pandemic to nearly half a million. This comes as a Brazilian Senate inquiry into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic shows his government failed to respond to 53 out of 81 communications sent by Pfizer offering to negotiate the sale of COVID vaccines to Brazil — leading to a disastrous delay in mass vaccinations.
Israeli warplanes bombed several sites in the Gaza Strip overnight in the second breach of the ceasefire that ended Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory in May. Israel’s military said the strikes targeted Hamas in retaliation for incendiary balloons launched from Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Israel’s assault last month killed at least 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people. At least 12 people in Israel, including two children, were killed by rockets fired from Gaza. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Israel’s actions may have constituted “war crimes.”
In the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians rallied Thursday at the funeral of Ahmed Shamsa, a 16-year-old shot in the head by Israeli forces at a protest Wednesday in the town of Beita. He was killed less than a week after Israeli soldiers shot dead 15-year-old Mohammed Hamayel at another protest against the expansion of an illegal Israeli settlement in Beita. Local Palestinians say Israeli settlers have repeatedly raided their town to chop down olive trees and vandalize their property with impunity.
In Iran, voters are at the polls today to elect a new president. Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative head of the judiciary and close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is widely expected to win. Raisi is under U.S. sanctions for his alleged involvement in the execution of political prisoners decades ago. The new president will succeed Hassan Rouhani at a crucial time, as talks continue to relaunch the Iran nuclear deal, from which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under President Trump, reimposing sweeping sanctions on Iran.
In a rare acknowledgment, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Wednesday his nation faces widespread food shortages due to international sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic and crop failures caused by last summer’s typhoons. The World Food Programme says about 40% of North Korea’s population is undernourished.
The Intercept reports a top official in the outgoing Bolivian government plotted to deploy hundreds of mercenaries from a U.S. military base near Miami to overturn the results of Bolivia’s election in October of 2020. Though the coup plot was never carried out, documents and recorded phone calls reveal the former Bolivian minister of defense, Luis Fernando López, discussed the plan with Joe Pereira, a former civilian administrator with the U.S. Army. Pereira, who has boasted of links to U.S. Special Forces, promised López he could mobilize thousands of foreign mercenaries to join elite Bolivian military units, renegade police squadrons and vigilante mobs to prevent Bolivia’s Movement to Socialism party from retaking power.
Joe Pereira: “I can get up to 10,000 men with no problem. I don’t think we need 10,000. … All Special Forces. I can also bring about 350 what we call LEPs, law enforcement professionals, to guide the police.”
Socialist candidate Luis Arce went on to win the Bolivian presidency in the first round of voting last October, putting an end to the far-right government which ousted President Evo Morales in a U.S.-backed coup in November 2019.
In a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act for a third time, after a challenge by Texas and 17 other Republican-led states. The group argued the individual mandate was unconstitutional after Congress did away with the penalty for not having coverage, as part of the 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy. Around 31 million Americans benefit from President’s Obama’s signature 2010 legislation. The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the individual mandate but found the plaintiffs could not prove they are harmed by the ACA in its current iteration.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nestlé and Cargill Thursday, after six former child slave laborers accused the massive corporations of complicity in their trafficking and enslavement. The men were trafficked from Mali as children and forced to work on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast which supplied the U.S. companies. Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general under President Obama, who represented Nestlé and Cargill, argued they should not be held responsible because they are corporations, not individuals.
In a blow for LGBTQ rights, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday a Catholic agency in Philadelphia that screens foster parents does not have to abide by city law and consider potential LGBTQ foster parents.
Advocates for abolishing the death penalty are calling out the hypocrisy of the Biden administration after the Justice Department requested the Supreme Court reinstate the execution of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, despite Biden’s pledge on the campaign trail to work toward eliminating federal capital punishment.
In South Carolina, two executions have been put on hold until the prisoners can be offered a choice of being killed by electrocution or a firing squad, as required by South Carolina’s recently passed capital punishment law.
As a record heat wave continues to scorch the western United States, with some 40 million people facing over 100-degree weather, wildfires continue to rage in the Southwest. In Arizona, the massive Telegraph fire merged with the Mescal wildfire and has burned over 200,000 acres. This comes as the Arizona Legislature approved a new funding package that will pay prisoners just $1.50 an hour to fight fires. Click here to see our interviews with California prisoner firefighters.
In Hong Kong, police have arrested five editors and executives of the Apple Daily newspaper, accusing them of colluding with foreign powers in violation of a sweeping national security law. The Apple Daily, which has been one of the most outspoken defenders of Hong Kong protests against Chinese one-party rule, vowed to continue its reporting. But media analysts warn that other news outlets will now think twice before crossing Chinese authorities. This is Hong Kong professor Rose Luqiu.
Rose Luqiu: “Of course it will have, definitely, an impact on the press freedom here in Hong Kong, because, first of all, it will create a chilling effect, although the government denies that. But think about that. If you’re a journalist working for a news media, you will be scared.”