Coronavirus cases continue to rise exponentially in the United States and have soared to their highest levels of the pandemic in some states with low vaccination rates. The number of confirmed U.S. cases has passed 36 million, with hospitalizations soaring and COVID-19 deaths once again on the rise. On Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said all U.S. military personnel would be required to get vaccinated by September 15 — or earlier, if the FDA grants final approval to the Pfizer vaccine before then. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby urged military members to get shots immediately.
John Kirby: “This isn’t just about you. It’s about your ship. It’s about your platoon. It’s about your squadron. It’s your opportunity to contribute to the health and readiness of your teammates, and thereby the nation.”
Canada has reopened its border to U.S. travelers for the first time since March 2020. Visitors will need to show a recent negative coronavirus test result and must prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — with exemptions for unvaccinated children under the age of 12.
California officials say it could be several more weeks before the largest single fire in the state’s history is contained. The Dixie Fire has already burned nearly half a million acres, sending a pall of smoke into the skies more than a thousand miles east of the flames. In Russia, meteorologists say smoke from massive wildfires in Siberia has reached the North Pole — for the first time on record.
In Greece, firefighters are battling wildfires in the suburbs of Athens for the fifth straight day. On Monday, hundreds of protesters gathered under smoky skies outside the Greek Parliament to protest the government’s handling of the blazes.
Nikos Loutos: “We are protesting against the government that has let the country burn because it puts profits before people. We are protesting because they spend millions on warplanes and police, and not for the fire brigade.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for his government’s failures responding to the fires and promised compensation to victims.
In Germany, officials said up to $35 billion would be needed to repair damaged buildings and infrastructure after deadly flooding last month killed nearly 200 people. July saw the heaviest rainfall many European countries have seen in at least a half-century.
Dozens of small island states said Monday that the accelerating climate crisis threatens their very existence. Their warning came as the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gravest warning yet on the climate crisis. In a statement, the Alliance of Small Island States said, “The stark fact is that if we keep warming to 1.5C we are still facing half a meter of sea level rise. But if we stop warming from reaching 2C, we can avoid a long term three meters of sea level rise. That is our very future, right there.”
In Afghanistan, the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Aybak Monday, overrunning the northern city without meeting any resistance. It’s the sixth provincial capital captured by the Taliban in just four days. Taliban fighters are reportedly moving in on northern Afghanistan’s largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif. Meanwhile, the United Nations said Monday the fighting in Afghanistan has killed at least 27 children since Friday — with over 1,000 civilians casualties in the last month.
A coalition of Indigenous groups from Brazil is asking the International Criminal Court to investigate far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of carrying out an explicit, systematic and intentional anti-Indigenous policy. In a statement, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil said, “We believe there are acts in progress in Brazil that constitute crimes against humanity, genocide and ecocide. Given the inability of the justice system in Brazil to investigate, prosecute and judge these conducts, we denounce them to the international community.” Bolsonaro has consistently supported mining, agriculture, and oil and gas projects on Indigenous lands and has repeatedly made racist comments about Indigenous peoples.
Back in the United States, the Senate is voting on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that would see major investments in roads, public transit, clean water and green energy. But critics say it’s far short of what’s needed to tackle the climate crisis. On Monday, Senate Democrats released a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that contains many priorities left out of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, including funding for a Civilian Climate Corps that would provide millions of jobs, while imposing a minimum tax rate on the richest U.S. corporations. The legislation would also lower the Medicare eligibility age; expand the child tax credit; fund paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; and provide tuition-free community college. Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, compared the package to reforms used to battle the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “This is a budget resolution that will allow the Senate to move forward on a reconciliation bill that, in my view, will be the most consequential and comprehensive piece of legislation for working people, for the elderly, for the children, for the sick and for the poor that this body has addressed since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal in the 1930s.”
Democratic leaders hope to pass the legislation through a process known as “budget reconciliation” that allows them to bypass a filibuster by minority Republicans. The legislation would also strengthen labor laws and would open a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants — but it’s unclear if those provisions would be allowed in the bill under Senate rules. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she will not bring the bipartisan bill to the House floor unless the reconciliation bill is also considered at the same time.
Here in New York, state lawmakers are moving ahead with preparations for impeachment proceedings against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York State Assembly Judiciary Committee has begun collecting thousands of pages of documents and testimony used as evidence in the New York attorney general’s damning report, which found Governor Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women in violation of state and federal law. Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine on Monday promised a swift impeachment probe.
Assemblymember Charles Lavine: “We anticipate that this process will be concluded very soon. … And when I say 'very soon,' I’m speaking about several weeks.”
In related news, the prominent lawyer Roberta Kaplan has resigned as the chair of Time’s Up over her role in advising Cuomo on how to respond to the sexual harassment allegations. Time’s Up is the organization that helps women who have been sexually harassed, abused or assaulted. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign has launched an internal probe into reports that its president, Alphonso David, helped Cuomo discredit a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. David is a former legal adviser to Cuomo.
A compensation program for the survivors of convicted predator and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein has finished its claims process. The Epstein Victims’ Compensation Program said Monday it had awarded $125 million to about 150 people out of 225 people who filed claims.
In related news, in New York, Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers, has filed a federal lawsuit against Prince Andrew, accusing the British royal of sexually abusing her at Epstein’s mansion in Manhattan and other locations in 2001, when she was a minor. Giuffre also accuses Prince Andrew of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Prince Andrew was a close friend of Epstein’s and has been accused of being involved in Epstein’s sex trafficking crimes. He is the son of Queen Elizabeth.
In New York, jury selection in R. Kelly’s sex trafficking trial began Monday — more than two years after he was charged with sexually abusing dozens of women and underage girls for nearly two decades. The singer faces multiple federal criminal charges, including sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor. Cases against R. Kelly have also been filed in Illinois and Minnesota. If convicted, he faces decades behind bars.
In Brooklyn, community organizers led a rally over the weekend urging the New York State Public Service Commission not to hike the monthly gas bill for over a million state customers to pay for the controversial North Brooklyn pipeline. The commission is expected to vote on the rate increase Thursday. The National Grid-owned pipeline would carry fracked gas through mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods in Brooklyn, despite bans on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure in New York, as well as significant community opposition. Activists rallied against the plans over the weekend.
Aderinsola Babawale: “This is resource extraction. This is the continuation of colonialism. This is a history that they do not want to acknowledge, but we do. We see it. And we are calling it out for what it is. We do not need any more toxic infrastructure. We cannot heal in the same environment that is making us sick.”
Gabriel Jamison: “Our fight for environmental justice goes beyond the call of ending fracked gas. Our community in Brownsville demands power and dignity to transform its own community.”