As the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics kicked off in Tokyo today in a mostly empty stadium, COVID-19 cases linked to the games rose to 110. Thirteen athletes are among the positive cases. The majority of Tokyo residents opposed the Olympics going ahead amid a surge of coronavirus infections. We’ll have more on this after headlines.
In other coronavirus news, Italy has introduced a “green pass,” which restricts entry to stadiums, museums, theaters, indoor restaurants and other social gathering places to only vaccinated people.
Here in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky warned the country is at another “pivotal moment” in the pandemic, urging unvaccinated people yet again to get inoculated to protect themselves and their communities. Hospitals in areas with the largest spikes in cases are warning things are likely to get much worse. This is Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital in Missouri.
Erik Frederick: “If you are just starting to see this in your community and your vaccination rates are low like ours, you can expect this to go beyond what you saw last year. The Delta variant is much more contagious. It’s making people sicker. It’s getting into a younger population. There is a lot less mitigation in place than last year.”
Meanwhile, in California, Los Angeles officials said 20% of new cases are now being reported in vaccinated people as the Delta variant has taken hold.
In more sports news, the NFL is ramping up pressure on all players to get vaccinated, saying teams will have to forfeit games and players will go unpaid if there is a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated team members.
The Biden administration has imposed new sanctions on Cuba’s defense minister and the Interior Ministry, with President Biden warning, “This is just the beginning.” The move comes in response to recent anti-government protests denouncing the economic crisis during the pandemic and reports of government repression. People have been scrambling to cope amid shortages of medicine, food and other resources largely due to catastrophic U.S. sanctions. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez denounced the sanctions as “unfounded and slanderous” and said the U.S. should enforce such measures on itself instead “because of daily acts of police repression and brutality.” This comes as over 400 politicians, intellectuals, clergy members, artists, activists and former heads of state are calling on Biden to immediately lift the 243 sanctions the Trump administration imposed on Cuba. The group — which includes former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Noam Chomsky and Cornel West — printed a full-page ad in today’s New York Times headlined “Let Cuba Live.”
Congressmember and Congressional Black Caucus Whip Hank Johnson was arrested Thursday alongside prominent African American voting rights advocates as they protested ongoing attacks on democracy in front of a Senate building. Harvard professor and former NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright and Color of Change president Rashad Robinson were also among those arrested. Before their arrest, the men were joined by other activists and Black congressmembers on the steps of the Supreme Court, where they called for abolishing the filibuster and for senators to pass the For the People Act. This is Rashad Robinson speaking yesterday.
Rashad Robinson: “Don’t come to us and ask us for our vote by day and stay silent when they take away our power by night. We will not go back. And I want to say that there were no good old days. There is only a path forward. There is only a path forward with all of us being able to be heard, recognized and visible.”
In India, over 200 farmers launched a sit-in and led a protest near the Parliament in New Delhi Thursday marking some eight months of resistance against three pro-corporate agricultural laws enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Farmers are continuing to pressure Modi’s government to repeal the laws, which deregulate agricultural markets and roll back key labor and income protections. Millions of farmers and opponents of the reforms have staged multiple strikes across India since at least last November. Agriculture is the leading source of income for more than half of India’s 1.3 billion population.
In South Africa, the death toll in recent anti-government protests has risen to at least 337 people. Thousands of others have been arrested. 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.
At least 20 refugees are presumed to have drowned off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea Wednesday. This week alone, the Libyan Coast Guard has intercepted seven vessels and apprehended hundreds of refugees, including children, as they attempted to reach Europe for safety. Amnesty International reports that in the first half of this year, over 7,000 refugees have been apprehended and forcibly returned to prison camps in Libya. Meanwhile, the number of refugees who have died while attempting to reach European soil by sea has more than doubled compared to the first six months of 2020. So far this year, over 1,100 people have perished.
The Pentagon said it launched overnight airstrikes against Taliban targets in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Thursday. U.S. officials say they will continue to conduct airstrikes until they complete their withdrawal at the end of August, and that most of the recent strikes in Afghanistan came from unmanned drones.
In related news, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to provide 8,000 more special visas for Afghans who worked as interpreters, contractors and security personnel for the U.S. during its occupation. The visas will also cover their families.
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to increase the Pentagon budget by $25 billion above President Biden’s request, in a move likely to face opposition from progressive Democrats who are seeking to cut military spending.
Activists gathered in front of the Cultural Attaché Office for the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C., Thursday to protest the planned rendition of former Guantánamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov back to Russia. He is currently being held in a UAE prison after being released from Guantánamo Bay in 2017, where he was held without charge for 15 years. Advocates say 17 other former Guantánamo prisoners are now locked up in the UAE under inhumane conditions. This is Helen Schietinger of Witness Against Torture.
Helen Schietinger: “They’ve been tortured. These men will live with that for the rest of their lives. We owe them reparations. We need to make sure that they are in good situations, and continue to follow them and support them in attempting to make the rest of their lives fulfilled.”
Forty labor, healthcare and other advocacy groups are calling on President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to halt the shutdown of the largest U.S. generic drugs plant at the end of this month. One thousand five hundred people are on the verge of losing their jobs at Viatris’s Mylan Pharmaceuticals plant in West Virginia, which will start outsourcing its manufacturing to India. The groups say the move will leave the U.S. with virtually no domestic production of generic pharmaceuticals, threatening the supply chain for essential drugs.
The House Committee on Financial Services held one of its first hearings on public banking this week. New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who last year introduced the Public Banking Act with Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, said public banks would help support local economies and infrastructure, and help combat inequality and structural racism in the banking industry. But most states and cities have to rely on commercial banks because there is no public option. This is Deyanira Del Río from the New Economy Project testifying at Wednesday’s hearing.
Deyanira Del Río: “A public bank would be chartered to serve the public good, and it would remove the profit-seeking shareholders from the equation and allow for other benefits other than maximizing profits.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “And a public bank ostensibly wouldn’t have, you know, billionaire CEOs that are paid hundreds or thousands times the amount that their lowest employees are made. Is that correct?”
Deyanira Del Río: “Yes, that’s certainly our vision for public banking.”
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has decided not to designate Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as being “in danger.” Australia had been feverishly lobbying to avoid the label, which would have meant the site is at risk of losing its World Heritage status. Extreme ocean temperatures due to the climate crisis have caused the reef to degrade, including extensive coral bleaching. UNESCO’s decision will be reconsidered in 2022.