The World Health Organization says the number of new COVID cases jumped 12% across the globe last week as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread. Indonesia recorded 350,000 new cases over the past week — a 44% increase and the highest total in the world. England, which just lifted all COVID restrictions, reported almost 300,000 cases. Earlier today Thailand and South Korea both set new daily records for COVID infections. The WHO says the Delta variant is now in 124 countries and will soon become the dominant coronavirus strain worldwide. This comes as China has rejected calls by the WHO to open a new investigation into the origins of the pandemic. An earlier probe found it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan where the first cases were detected. But many public health experts say key questions remain unanswered over the virus’s origins. Meanwhile, the United States has announced its borders with Mexico and Canada will remain closed until at least August 21. Canada recently announced vaccinated Americans will be allowed to enter the country beginning August 9.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected the appointment of Republican lawmakers Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana to the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Pelosi said, “The unprecedented nature of January 6 demands this unprecedented decision.” Both Jordan and Banks had voted to overturn the 2020 election and have opposed investigating what happened on January 6, when Trump supporters violently tried to stop the counting of electoral votes. Earlier this week, Banks said Pelosi had created the committee “solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy responded to Pelosi’s decision by pulling all of the Republicans he had recommended for the committee. On Wednesday night, during a CNN town hall, Biden criticized those who downplay what happened on January 6.
President Joe Biden: “I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can’t listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.”
Federal authorities have arrested a special agent at the Drug Enforcement Agency for participating in the January 6 insurrection and for entering a restricted area outside the Capitol with his government-issued gun. Authorities also accused the DEA agent, Mark Ibrahim, of flashing his badge and gun outside the Capitol.
Senate Republicans have blocked a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill from moving ahead, but Democrats say the bill is not yet dead. All 50 Republicans voted against the measure after accusing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of rushing the process. The legislation includes almost $600 billion in new spending on public works projects, including money for roads and broadband.
The nation’s three largest drug distributors and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay states $26 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits over their role in the opioid crisis. A bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced the agreement on Wednesday. At least two states — Washington and West Virginia — have already signaled they will not sign on to the settlement. As part of the agreement, the companies do not have to acknowledge wrongdoing for their role in the crisis, which has killed over 500,000 people since 1999.
The Pentagon has confirmed four of the Colombian mercenaries accused of assassinating Haitian President Jovenel Moïse once received U.S. military training at Fort Benning in Georgia while they were members of the Colombian armed forces. Formerly known as the School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning has been used for decades to train Latin American soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency and counternarcotics. Critics have long described the training center as the “School of the Assassins.”
The Biden administration is urging a federal court to sentence drone whistleblower Daniel Hale to at least nine years in prison for leaking classified information about the U.S. targeted assassination program, according to a report in the Dissent newsletter. In March, Hale pleaded guilty to leaking documents about the U.S. drone program, which he participated in while in the Air Force. He will be sentenced on July 27.
Argentina has become the first country in Latin America to allow gender nonconforming citizens to use the gender-neutral “X” marker on their passports and national ID documents. Argentine President Alberto Fernández spoke at a ceremony Wednesday where the first nonbinary ID cards were issued.
President Alberto Fernández: “We have the need to open our heads to realize there are other ways to love and be loved, and there are other identities apart from the identity of a man or a woman, and they should be respected. And they’ve always existed, only that in other times they were hidden.”
Here in the United States, federal courts have temporarily blocked an Arkansas law banning gender confirming healthcare for transgender youth, as well as a West Virginia law banning trans student athletes. The ruling in the West Virginia case came after an 11-year-old trans student named Becky Pepper-Jackson sued the state after she was barred from trying out for the girls cross country team at her middle school. In a statement on Wednesday, Becky said, “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”
The Israeli government is launching a legal attack against Ben and Jerry’s over the company’s plan to stop selling ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as well as in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel’s ambassador to the United States has asked 35 U.S. governors to enforce state laws which make it a crime to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS. Meanwhile, Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma has called on his state to block the sale of Ben and Jerry’s, claiming the company’s new policy violates Oklahoma’s anti-BDS law. Ben & Jerry’s has said that continuing to sell ice cream in the settlements would be “inconsistent with our values.”
BuzzFeed has revealed confidential government informants played a critical role in the foiled plot to kidnap and take hostage Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer last year. Authorities have arrested 14 men in what prosecutors described as a “deeply disturbing” plot. The government’s case relied on the work of at least 12 confidential informants, including many under the direction of the FBI. BuzzFeed reports the informants had a “hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.” All of the 14 men who have been arrested have pleaded not guilty.
The state of Texas has begun jailing immigrants who cross the U.S. border by charging them with state crimes such as trespassing as part of a new anti-immigrant push by Republican Governor Greg Abbott. On Wednesday, Texas authorities announced three immigrants have been jailed so far in the town of Dilley, but the number of arrests is expected to soar in coming weeks.
President Biden has announced plans to nominate one of the nation’s leading antitrust attorneys, Jonathan Kanter, to lead the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Senator Elizabeth Warren praised the decision, saying it was “tremendous news for workers and consumers.” Since taking office, Biden has tapped three leading critics of Big Tech to top positions: Kanter at the DOJ, Lina Khan to head the Federal Trade Commission and Tim Wu at the National Economic Council.
The president of the upcoming U.N. climate talks in the United Kingdom has urged nations to ban the burning of coal as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Alok Sharma spoke to the journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now.
Alok Sharma: “I’ve been very clear that I want COP 26 to be the COP where we consign coal power to history. And actually, we are seeing some movements. I mean, if I talk about the U.K.’s own journey when it comes to coal power, you know, back in 2012, less than 10 years ago, 40% of our electricity was coming from coal; we are now at less than 2%. We brought forward the date to 2024 by which we will be coal-free in our electricity mix.”
The U.K. will host the next U.N. climate conference in November in Glasgow, Scotland.
In Canada, police in Toronto arrested 26 people Wednesday as authorities forcibly evicted unhoused residents living in an encampment near Lamport Stadium. According to the Encampment Support Network, several people who were trying to stop the evictions were hospitalized with injuries.
The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has fired the director of Friday’s opening ceremony for once joking about the Holocaust. The decision was made after a video emerged from 1998, when the director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was working on a comedy show.
Spanish Olympic swimmer Ona Carbonell has criticized the Olympic committee for imposing rules that made it nearly impossible for her to continue breastfeeding her child while at the Olympics. On Wednesday, she released a video expressing her “disappointment and disillusionment” after she decided she couldn’t bring her breastfeeding son to Tokyo while she competed.
Ona Carbonell: “So I had to take a very tough decision, together with my team, who’s been helping me a lot, with my family, because the Japanese government’s impositions are not compatible with my athletic performance and being with my family at the same time.”