In Afghanistan, violence and chaos continue around the Kabul airport as the U.S. scrambles to evacuate more people. Seven Afghans were killed Saturday in a stampede, while the Taliban were seen Sunday beating back people who were attempting to flee. NATO said at least 20 people died at, or around, the airport over the past week. Harrowing video showed an infant being passed to U.S. marines over a barbed wire fence Friday in a move of desperation. The baby has since been reunited with its father. Meanwhile, an Afghan evacuee gave birth to a baby girl on board a U.S. evacuation aircraft shortly after the plane landed at an air base in Germany. President Biden addressed the ongoing evacuations on Sunday.
President Joe Biden: “We’re bringing our citizens, NATO allies, Afghanis who have helped — in fact, has helped us in the war effort. But we have a long way to go, and a lot could still go wrong.”
Biden also suggested the U.S. may have to extend its presence beyond August 31 to continue evacuations. The military has evacuated 28,000 people since last weekend.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived for talks in Kabul Saturday as questions loom about an incoming Taliban government. Meanwhile, the Taliban says its forces have recaptured three districts north of Kabul after they were seized by local militias last week. Amid the ongoing turmoil, some Kabul residents called on the Taliban to improve the situation of ordinary Afghans as they resumed normal daily activities.
Kabul resident: “There are no jobs. And we call on the Taliban to establish a government and bring peace, stability and security all over Afghanistan and create job opportunities for us.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. is warning of a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. The World Health Organization says about half of Afghanistan’s population — including nearly 10 million children — already need humanitarian assistance, and the numbers are expected to soar as Afghanistan’s economic crisis intensifies.
As the Delta variant continues to fuel another devastating COVID surge, the U.S. is now averaging 1,000 daily deaths for the first time since March. One in five intensive care units across the country are at or above 95% capacity as some states are seeing more hospitalizations than during the winter peak.
Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife Jacqueline were hospitalized in Chicago after testing positive for coronavirus. The famed civil rights leader is fully vaccinated and received his first COVID-19 shot at a public event in January to encourage others to get the vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration is set to give full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as early as today. The approval is expected to lead to more workplaces and educational institutions enacting vaccine mandates.
In South Carolina, Republican Party leader and Trump loyalist Pressley Stutts has died of COVID-19. Stutts opposed mask and vaccine mandates and claimed that COVID-19 was a man-made disease. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump was booed at an Alabama rally Saturday after telling his supporters to get vaccinated.
The Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News is reporting the first U.S. COVID fatalities occurred earlier, and in more locations, than previously thought. Records now show COVID listed as a cause of death in California, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin as early as January 2020. Scientists say the virus could have been circulating in the U.S. in December or even November of 2019.
In international news, Sri Lanka began a 10-day lockdown Friday after COVID-19 cases surged to record levels, leaving hospitals overflowing with patients. About a quarter of Sri Lanka’s population is fully vaccinated.
Australian officials have extended a two-month lockdown in Sydney until at least the end of September amid Australia’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.
India has authorized emergency use of another Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine, after its producer said it prevented symptomatic infections in two-thirds of recipients. Regulators approved ZyCoV-D even though there’s no publicly available data on its performance in advanced clinical trials.
In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen has publicly received a shot of the home-grown Medigen vaccine. Regulators approved the two-dose vaccine last July — though a late-stage clinical trial remains ongoing.
In Tennessee, at least 22 people were killed and 20 are missing after torrential rains and flash floods hit parts of the state Saturday. One family lost twin babies after they were reportedly swept from their father’s arms. A hard-hit town reported a record 17 inches of rainfall in one day.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Henri lashed Northeastern states with heavy rains and winds over the weekend after making landfall in Rhode Island. Emergency declarations were issued for Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
In Mexico, Hurricane Grace slammed into the eastern state of Veracruz Saturday, killing at least eight people. Among the victims were six members of the same family, five of them children. The Category 3 hurricane also destroyed homes and businesses, leaving behind a scene of devastation.
Norma Sanchez: “You can see the municipalities destroyed. People are sick. There are a lot of needs. Authorities need to come and take note of the scene. We have no one to help us, to help a lot of people that are in a bad way with COVID-19. There’s a lot of need. Many are in need of help.”
Over 50 people are believed to have died after a dinghy carrying migrants and refugees from Africa capsized en route to Spain’s Canary Islands last week. Just one survivor was pulled from the sinking vessel. The U.N. says at least 250 people died on the perilous route in the first six months of 2021, though a local rights group says the number of deaths is eight times higher.
In Syria, four children were killed Friday as Russian-backed Syrian government forces leveled homes in a village in Idlib. The attack came one day after a similar assault south of Idlib killed five children. One day prior to that, Kurdish fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces killed three civilians, including a child, in a rocket attack near the Turkish-controlled city of Afrin north of Aleppo. UNICEF reports that, since July, at least 54 children were killed or injured in Syria.
In Gaza, dozens of Palestinians, including a 13-year-old child, were wounded Saturday after Israeli forces opened fire on a crowd of hundreds of protesters along the separation barrier with Israel. Protesters are calling for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip and to allow for the reconstruction of the territory following an 11-day assault on the territory that killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, earlier this year. Palestinian groups have vowed to continue demonstrations despite repression from Israeli forces, which also launched air raids in response to recent protests.
A new report by UNICEF warns nearly half of the world’s 2.2 billion children are at “extremely high risk” of severe floods, heat waves, drought and other impacts of the climate crisis. Some of the highest-risk countries include India, Nigeria and the Central African Republic — and other nations that are responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. The first-of-its-kind report was published in collaboration with Greta Thunberg and other youth climate activists on the third anniversary of Thunberg’s first student strike outside the Swedish parliament.
In more climate news, a new study shows deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has hit its highest annual rate in a decade. Since August of last year, the Amazon has lost over 10,000 square kilometers — an area roughly 13 times bigger than New York City.
In Bolivia, wildfires have burned nearly 700,000 acres, threatening the Ñembi Guasu natural protected area, an Indigenous autonomous territory near the border with Paraguay that is considered one of the world’s largest dry forests. This is a Bolivian environmental activist.
Carolina Ballivián: “In the last few years, Bolivia has become one of the biggest deforesters in the world. … The capital gain grows between $800 to $1,000 per hectare when that land is cleared, because it can be used as grazing pastures for livestock instead of maintaining it as a virgin forest.”
In Mexico, press freedom groups are demanding justice for Jacinto Romero Flores, a radio reporter who was shot dead outside his home in the state of Veracruz last week. He is at least the fifth Mexican journalist murdered so far this year. Romero covered politics and crime. He had reportedly received threats after reporting on allegations of abuse by local police. Mexican journalists are calling for an end to impunity.
Juan José Enríquez: “One of the main reasons why violence against journalists doesn’t stop is because the aggressors know they will remain unpunished. No one will do anything to them. A lot of journalists, just as the ones who are gathered here, feel abandoned by the authorities and by society, as well. Institutions have left us alone. Government institutions don’t protect journalists. They don’t work.”
Vice President Kamala Harris is in Singapore as part of a Southeast Asian visit this week. Harris addressed the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, saying the U.S. is focused on evacuation efforts. The visit, which was planned before recent events in Afghanistan, aims to strengthen U.S. ties with regional powers that could help stem China’s influence. Harris will travel to Vietnam Tuesday, becoming the first U.S. vice president to visit the country.
President Biden has nominated former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan. Progressive lawmakers called out the pick, with Missouri Congressmember Cori Bush tweeting, “Rahm Emanuel covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald. He must be disqualified from ever holding an appointed position in any administration. Call your Senator and urge them to vote NO.”
Meanwhile, veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns has been tapped as ambassador to China. So far, just one of Biden’s ambassador nominees has been confirmed: former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, who will be the U.S.’s top diplomat in Mexico.
In immigration news, the Supreme Court has temporarily suspended the reinstatement of the contested Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program. The move comes after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week rejected a Biden administration challenge to a ruling that allowed for the revival of the 2019 policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. The full Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on Tuesday. The program forced some 68,000 asylum seekers to wait in often dangerous conditions in Mexico while their cases made their way through U.S. courts.
In labor news, a California judge ruled Friday that Prop 22 is unconstitutional. The case was brought by the Service Employees International Union and drivers for ride-hailing companies. Prop 22, which passed last November, exempts companies like Uber and Lyft from having to classify their workers as employees, instead of independent contractors, depriving gig workers of basic wage and labor protections. Defenders of Prop 22 vowed to appeal the ruling.
More than two dozen Democratic lawmakers are calling on President Biden to halt construction on the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota until a thorough environmental review is undertaken.
Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders Winona LaDuke and Tara Houska met with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders last week to share the police violence suffered by water protectors at the Line 3 construction site. Activists say law enforcement ramped up their brutal attacks last week, dislocating one person’s jaw. But land and water defenders say they will continue their resistance.
Water protector: “We really need to be all standing beside each other and behind the Indigenous leadership in this movement that is — has so much to teach us about how to really walk right on this Earth and how to move forward in a world where we actually want to raise our children and live.”