Los Angeles County will require everyone — including those who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 — to resume wearing masks indoors, as infections of the Delta variant continue to rise across the United States. After months of decline, hospitalizations and deaths have begun climbing again, with over 35,000 U.S. infections reported Thursday. The biggest hot spots are in areas with low vaccination rates, but cases are rising in nearly every state. Meanwhile, vaccinations have slowed to just over a half-million shots per day, down from a peak of over 3 million daily shots in April.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop obstructing a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization. In a statement, caucus chair Pramila Jayapal wrote, “as long as Germany withholds its approval of the TRIPS waiver, it threatens the lives of millions of people around the world and our ability to crush the virus.” Her statement came as protesters briefly confronted Merkel outside the White House as she arrived for talks with President Biden.
The World Health Organization warns the pandemic triggered a massive decline in the number of children vaccinated against measles, polio, meningitis and other preventable diseases. This is WHO immunization director Kate O’Brien.
Dr. Kate O’Brien: “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major backsliding on childhood vaccination, taking us back more than a decade. An estimated 23 million children have missed out on basic vaccines through the routine immunization services in 2020. That is the highest number of unprotected children since 2009.”
Over 110 people have died following massive floods in west Germany and Belgium — triggered by some of the heaviest rainfall many European countries have seen in at least a century. Most of the fatalities are in Germany, where some 1,300 people have also been reported missing. Several villages in Germany are almost completely destroyed after torrents of water, often carrying trees and other debris, raged through them. Heavy floods were also reported in Luxembourg and the Netherlands, where thousands of people in the southern province of Limburg were told to evacuate Thursday.
Raging wildfires in the western United States and Canada are filling the sky with smoke across much of North America. Hazardous air quality was reported Thursday in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota, with hazy conditions as far east as New York. In California, a rapidly growing wildfire prompted officials to order the evacuation of a community just 10 miles from the town of Paradise, which was almost completely destroyed by a fire three years ago. In Oregon, the massive Bootleg Fire has now consumed an area larger than New York City.
New research published in the journal Nature confirms that parts of the Amazon rainforest are emitting more carbon dioxide than they absorb, driven by deforestation, fires and warming temperatures. The findings come as new data from Brazil’s government showed record levels of deforestation in the Amazon for the fourth straight month.
The Washington Post is reporting that an unspecified number of Colombian nationals arrested over Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination last week received U.S. military training while they were part of the Colombian armed services. On Thursday, Colombian President Iván Duque said some of the ex-soldiers who were part of the assassination team were aware of the plot to kill Moïse, while others thought they were there to provide security. Authorities say key suspects had met in Florida and the Dominican Republic over the past year to plot the assassination, but participants to those meetings say they were planning ahead for when Moïse stepped down as president.
Meanwhile, the U.S. sent 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Haiti this week and promised to send more. It’s the first batch of coronavirus vaccines Haiti has received. On Thursday, President Biden was asked if the U.S. would send military forces into Haiti.
President Joe Biden: “We’re only sending American marines to our embassy to make sure that they are secure and nothing is out of whack at all. But the idea of sending American forces into Haiti is not on the agenda at this moment.”
President Biden called Cuba a “failed state” and said communism was a “universally failed system.” Biden offered to send vaccines to the island if they would be administered independently of the government. But Cuba’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in far fewer deaths and cases than the U.S., proportionate to its population. Cuba is also developing several domestic vaccines. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has blamed the recent unrest and economic crisis on the devastating U.S. blockade and sanctions.
South Africa’s government says it has deployed 25,000 troops to protect businesses after crowds ransacked and burned retail shops and warehouses during several days of protests. It’s one of the largest deployments of South African troops since the end of white rule under apartheid. The demonstrations erupted after former President Jacob Zuma began his 15-month jail sentence for refusing to testify in a corruption probe. They’ve since focused on grinding poverty and record levels of unemployment, exacerbated by the pandemic.
In the Netherlands, renowned crime reporter Peter R. de Vries died yesterday after being shot in an attack in Amsterdam last week. The 64-year-old was a household name in the Netherlands, investigating cold-case killings and reporting on organized crime for decades. He had received death threats in the past and was previously given police protection. In a statement, de Vries’s family said, “We are unbelievably proud of him and at the same time inconsolable.”
Back in the United States, the IRS has begun monthly payments to the families of nearly 60 million children — averaging out to $483 per family per month. The payments are an advance on a temporary increase in the child tax credit, as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden in March. At the White House, Biden hailed the payments as the biggest new government benefit since Social Security.
President Joe Biden: “For every child under the age of 6, a parent will get $3,600 a year. For every child 6 to 17, they’ll get $3,000 per year. … And to give you a sense of how transformative this is, this would be the largest-ever one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States of America.”
The payments are set to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress takes action to extend the larger child tax credit beyond 2021.
In immigration news, President Biden’s pick to head Immigration and Custom Enforcement, ICE, testified in front of the Senate Thursday. In his confirmation hearing, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Texas pledged to uphold the “rule of law” and said he planned to continue allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to collaborate with ICE. His comments were a stark contradiction to Gonzalez’s previous move to end the controversial program in Harris County in 2017 during his time as sheriff. Immigrant justice advocates also condemned Gonzalez for not mentioning plans to address the systemic abuse and accusations of human rights violations that have plagued ICE for years.
A new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general finds Indianapolis FBI officials for months failed to properly investigate serious sexual abuse accusations against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, stating FBI officials exhibited “extremely poor judgment.” The report found that the former agent in charge of the Indianapolis FBI office and another unnamed agent failed to follow up with key witnesses or alert other law enforcement agencies of the crimes. The neglect led to Nassar abusing or assaulting more than 100 other gymnasts between the time the FBI first heard of the accusations in 2015 until Nassar’s arrest the following year. The two FBI agents also made false statements and omitted key information in trying to hide failures in the Nassar investigation. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting and abusing more than 160 women and girl athletes.
In Washington, D.C., Capitol Police arrested at least nine people as they took part in a demonstration at a Senate office building in defense of voting rights, led by prominent Black women. One of those arrested was Ohio congressmember and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Joyce Beatty.
Protesters: “… turn me 'round. We fight for voting rights, and we — turn me ’round. We're gonna keep on walking, keep on talking, marching on to freedom land.”
The group chanted “Pass the For the People Act.” Congressmember Beatty wore a T-shirt reading “Protect Our Voting Rights.” She tweeted an image of herself walking with arms linked to other Black women defending democracy, writing, “We will not be turned around. We will keep walking. We will fight for freedom. We will fight for our right to vote!” Following her arrest, Congressmember Beatty also tweeted “#GoodTrouble,” quoting her friend, the late congressmember and civil rights leader John Lewis.