President Biden said Sunday the U.S. has put the darkest days of the pandemic behind it, even as he warned of the threat of new coronavirus variants. Biden spoke from the White House in a Fourth of July celebration, after his administration came up just short of its goal of administering at least one vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults.
President Joe Biden: “We all know powerful variants have emerged, like the Delta variant. But the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated. My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do.”
U.S. cases have fallen to their lowest levels since early 2020 but are rising in areas with lower vaccination rates — led by outbreaks in Missouri and Arkansas.
The United Nations is warning of a worsening famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where anti-government fighters have beaten back an Ethiopian military offensive after months of fighting that displaced an estimated 1.7 million people. This is U.N. aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham.
Ramesh Rajasingham: “More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine, and another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. Some are suggesting that the numbers are even higher. Thirty-three thousand children are severely malnourished. And moreover, the food insecurity crisis will continue to worsen during the impending rainy season.”
The conflict came amid a worsening drought fueled by the climate crisis, and followed a locust infestation in 2020 that devastated crops across eastern Africa.
In Honduras, a former U.S.-trained Honduran military officer and businessman has been found guilty of plotting the 2016 assassination of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca land and water defender. The Honduran Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that David Castillo, the former president of the hydroelectric corporation DESA, was a co-perpetrator in Cáceres’s murder. Cáceres was assassinated as she led the fight against the construction of DESA’s massive hydroelectric dam on a river in southwestern Honduras that’s sacred to the Lenca people. Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, one of Berta Cáceres’s daughters, celebrated Castillo’s guilty verdict.
Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres: “We are very satisfied, because, against all the obstacles, against a system of impunity, we have managed to get the president of the company, the construction company of the hydroelectric dam project Agua Zarca, to be found guilty. He was a person that was protected by the economic groups of the oligarchs in this country.”
A hurricane watch is in effect for parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast after Tropical Storm Elsa brought heavy rains and flooding to Cuba and the Florida Keys. Elsa is the earliest-ever fifth named storm of any Atlantic hurricane season, surpassing the previous record set just last year. This comes as much of the Northern Hemisphere continues to bake under record heat, fueled by the unfolding climate crisis. In India, tens of millions of people have been experiencing life-threatening heat with daily temperatures in New Delhi consistently reaching more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Iraq, protests have erupted in Basra, Baghdad and other cities as widespread power outages darkened homes and cut off water supplies to millions of people, even as temperatures topped 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the Gulf of Mexico, an underwater natural gas pipeline near an oil platform ruptured off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on Friday, creating a massive circular inferno on the surface of the ocean that was widely described as an “eye of fire.” Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex said it took fire crews about five hours to extinguish the flames.
The fossil fuel disaster came on the same day that an explosion and fire at Romania’s largest oil refinery killed one person and injured five others.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, an explosion at a chemical factory in the outskirts of Bangkok killed one person and left at least 33 others injured on Monday. Thai officials evacuated thousands of people from a three-mile radius of the plant, which housed about 50 metric tons of hazardous chemicals.
In Tennessee, environmental activists are celebrating the cancellation of the Byhalia Connection pipeline, which would have carried crude oil over an aquifer that provides drinking water to 1 million people. The company dropped its bid to build the 50-mile pipeline through predominantly Black communities in the Memphis area amid intense community opposition. Community leader Justin J. Pearson called the pipeline’s cancellation an “extraordinary testament to what Memphis and Shelby County can do when citizens build power toward justice.” The fight against the Byhalia Connection drew the support of civil rights leaders including Rev. William Barber, as well as former Vice President Al Gore, who called the pipeline a “reckless, racist rip-off.”
In Iowa, a federal judge has sentenced climate activist Jessica Reznicek to eight years in prison for damaging parts of the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016 and '17. U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger also ordered Reznicek to pay nearly $3.2 million in restitution. In 2016, Jessica Reznicek and fellow activist Ruby Montoya set fire to five pieces of heavy machinery being used to construct the Dakota Access pipeline. The two then moved up and down the pipeline's length, destroying valves and delaying construction for weeks. Their actions were inspired by the Plowshares Movement, which used nonviolent direct action to target nuclear warheads and military installations. Reznicek told Democracy Now! in 2017 she was trying to prevent climate catastrophe while protecting water aquifers in her home state of Iowa.
Jessica Reznicek: “I think that the oil being taken out of the ground and the machinery that does it and the infrastructure which supports it, that this is violent. These tools and these mechanisms that industry and corporate power and government power have all colluded together to create, this is destructive, this is violent, and it needs to be stopped.”
Israeli warplanes bombed parts of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, in what Israel’s military called retaliation for incendiary balloons launched from the besieged Palestinian territory. It was the latest violation of a tenuous ceasefire on May 21 that capped Israel’s 11-day assault on Gaza, which killed at least 260 Palestinians, including 66 children.
In Chile, an Indigenous Mapuche woman has been chosen to lead the rewriting of the country’s constitution. Elisa Loncón is a university professor and community advocate. She was picked by over half of the 155 delegates charged with drafting a new Chilean constitution that will replace the current document, created under the U.S.-backed dictator Augusto Pinochet. This is Loncón speaking Monday.
Elisa Loncón: “This convention today that I have the responsibility of presiding over will transform Chile, a plurinational Chile, an intercultural Chile, a Chile that does not go against the rights of women, the rights of citizens, a Chile that looks after Mother Earth, and a Chile that safeguards water against being dominated.”
In Eswatini, human rights advocates are denouncing the brutal crackdown on protesters following days of massive demonstrations against King Mswati III. Eswatini — formerly known as Swaziland — is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, with more than half of its citizens living in poverty. Meanwhile, King Mswati III is known for his lavish lifestyle, including owning expensive cars and palaces. Eswatini is currently facing a shortage of gas, food and other resources. Recent protests are the largest the landlocked nation has seen in its 53 years of independence. Amnesty International reported at least 20 protesters have been killed by state security forces, and dozens of others tortured, detained or abducted. There’s also been reports of the military and police firing live rounds at protesters, as well as internet blackouts.
In South Florida, the death toll from the Surfside condominium disaster has risen to 28, with 117 people still unaccounted for. On Sunday, search-and-rescue crews carried out a controlled demolition of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building in order to give search crews access to areas they were previously unable to reach. Meanwhile, the nearby city of North Miami Beach ordered the immediate evacuation of a half-century-old condominium Friday after a report determined the structure to be structurally and electrically unsafe.
In Massachusetts, police arrested 11 heavily armed men following a nine-hour standoff that closed parts of Interstate 95 on Saturday morning. Police first noticed a group of men in military-style gear as they refueled their vehicles with gas on the side of the highway. The men refused to put down their assault rifles or to identify themselves to officers. They were later identified as members of a group calling itself the “Rise of the Moors” — described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an African American “sovereign citizen movement” with a history of violent confrontations with law enforcement. A local prosecutor said the men were on their way to Maine from Rhode Island for “training.”
In sports news, outcry is mounting over the suspension of U.S. Olympic sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson after she tested positive for marijuana, which is legal in 18 U.S. states, including Oregon, where Richardson won the 100-meter race at the U.S. track and field trials last month. She has been a gold-medal favorite ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Cannabis is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances — even though medical research shows it has no performance-enhancing effects.
This comes as the International Swimming Federation is facing backlash for banning the use of swimming caps at the Tokyo Olympics designed for natural Black hair, saying the caps do not “fit the natural form of the head.” The caps are made by the Black-owned British brand Soul Cap.
Meanwhile, Republican Congressmembers Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton are calling for U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry to be banned from the Tokyo Olympics, following Berry’s peaceful protest at an Olympic trials medal ceremony last week, where she turned away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem.
Renowned Native Hawaiian activist, author and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask died this weekend in Honolulu after battling Alzheimer’s for years. She was 71. Trask was a devoted Native Hawaiian community advocate and a longtime opponent of the United States’ colonization of Hawaii who denounced the destructive impacts the military and tourism industries had on their sacred land. This is Trask speaking in 1993 in front of a crowd at Iolani Palace on the 100th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Haunani-Kay Trask: “We are not American. Say it in your heart. Say it when you sleep. We are not American. We will die as Hawaiians. We will never be Americans! … They took our land. They imprisoned our queen. They banned our language. They forcibly made us a colony of the United States. America always says they are democratic. Lies! That is a lie!”