The Biden administration has announced plans to send 25 million COVID vaccine doses to dozens of countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where new infections continue to surge. The majority of the doses will be distributed through COVAX, a program backed by the World Health Organization. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday the initial shipments were part of a broader plan to send a total of 80 million doses abroad by the end of June.
Jake Sullivan: “Our approach also prioritizes South and Southeast Asia, including countries like India, Nepal, the Philippines and others that are undergoing surges right now. It recognizes our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, which received our first shared vaccines, and friends like the Republic of Korea, where our military shares a command.”
Public health experts say the U.S. plan falls far short of what is needed to address the global crisis. Based on current vaccination rates, the People’s Vaccine Alliance estimates it could take 57 years to fully vaccinate everyone in low-income nations.
The World Health Organization is warning of a sudden, sharp increase in the spread of COVID-19 in many parts of Africa that could lead to a continent-wide wave of new infections. Cases are rising in at least 14 African nations — and are up by 30% in many areas over just the past two weeks. Hospitals in Uganda report they’re becoming overwhelmed with COVID patients, while South Africa appears to be entering a third wave of infections. The WHO warns the surge is coming as shipments of vaccines to African nations have come to a “near halt.” Africa has administered vaccine doses to just 31 million people out of a population of 1.3 billion, with only 7 million people in Africa fully vaccinated.
Midterm elections are taking place in Mexico this weekend, with the ruling party of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his allies favored to retain their majority. At least 89 politicians have been killed in the run-up to the election; 35 of those were candidates running for Sunday’s vote. Around 21,000 local and national seats are up for grabs. Mexican electoral law requires half of a party’s candidates to be women. In addition, around 2% of surveyed candidates in this election identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
The lawyers for a Saudi man imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay are asking a court to reverse a decision by a military judge to permit information obtained through torture by CIA interrogators. Lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri say he was tortured for four years at multiple “black sites” around the world. Nashiri is accused of plotting the attack on the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, which killed 17 sailors; he is facing the death penalty. Nashiri’s defense says that, if permitted, it would be the first time evidence obtained through torture would be used in such a case.
Human rights groups are accusing the Biden administration of vastly underreporting the number of civilians killed by the U.S. military in 2020. A Pentagon report made public on Wednesday finds U.S. forces killed 23 civilians last year during military strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The British watchdog group Airwars says that, even by a conservative estimate, the true toll is nearly five times higher, at 102 civilian deaths. Airwars says the official Pentagon count ignores the killing of 69 civilians in Afghanistan flagged by U.N. monitors, among other shortcomings. Airwars also says the Pentagon failed to pay out any compensation to civilians affected by U.S. attacks in 2020, even though Congress made millions of dollars available for such payments.
The World Health Organization warns the Gaza Strip faces “staggering health needs” with as many as 200,000 Palestinians requiring aid, following Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the besieged territory last month. Israel’s assault damaged about 30 health facilities, destroyed 1,800 residential units and damaged more than 14,000 other homes. The WHO is calling for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza and for Israel to allow Palestinians to seek treatment outside Gaza whenever needed.
On Thursday, top Biden administration officials welcomed Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Washington, D.C., promising “ironclad” U.S. support for Israel despite growing international outrage over the widespread killing of civilians, including at least 66 children, during Israel’s assault on Gaza. Gantz met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and was welcomed to the Pentagon by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: “I wanted to reiterate that the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. We are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself against regional threats such as those posed by Iran, its proxies and terrorist groups.”
Actions are planned across the country, including in Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and New York, under the banner “Block the Boat,” to prevent Israeli-operated cargo ships, owned by shipping giant Zim, from unloading on U.S. soil, as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or BDS — movement. Zim transports Israeli weapons, as well as consumer goods.
In related news, the United Educators of San Francisco last month became the first American K-12 public school union to endorse the BDS movement amid the deadly Israeli assault on Gaza.
Facebook is expected to announce it will no longer allow politicians to break the social media company’s rules on hate speech. The decision is based on recommendations from Facebook’s Oversight Board and comes as the social media giant is weighing whether to permanently ban former President Trump from its platform over his racist comments and his incitements to violence ahead of the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
Mike Pence is defending his record as vice president under Trump — even while offering limited criticism of the former president. Speaking at a dinner hosted by New Hampshire Republicans on Thursday, Pence called January 6 a “dark day in the history of the United States.”
Mike Pence: “You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day, but I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.”
The New York Times reports Trump has been telling people he expects to be reinstated as president by August.
The FBI is investigating whether Postmaster General Louis DeJoy violated federal campaign finance laws during his tenure as the top executive at New Breed Logistics. That’s according to The Washington Post, which previously reported DeJoy pressured former employees at the company into donating to Republican candidates, before paying them back with large bonuses.
DeJoy is a Republican megadonor with no prior Postal Service experience. In 2020, he imposed sweeping operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that dramatically slowed down mail delivery ahead of the presidential election, when a record number of voters were relying on mail-in ballots due to the pandemic.