The United States has reportedly begun the final phase of evacuations of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from the Kabul airport. CNN is reporting the evacuations will end on Friday to give the military time to depart ahead of the August 31 withdrawal deadline. The U.S. has helped more than 95,000 people leave Afghanistan over the past 12 days, but as many as 1,500 U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan. The New York Times is reporting some 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. haven’t been evacuated yet. On Thursday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken vowed the United States would keep helping Americans leave Afghanistan even after troops withdraw on August 31.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so, along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so. That effort will continue every day past August 31st.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has warned Americans to stay away from the Kabul airport due to fears the militant group ISIS-K might bomb the area. This comes as The Wall Street Journal reports CIA and U.S. forces are conducting risky missions outside of the airport to extract U.S. citizens and Afghan allies. It is unclear if the CIA is coordinating its efforts with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon and congressional leaders have reprimanded Congressmembers Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Peter Meijer, a Republican from Michigan, for secretly flying into the Kabul airport, draining resources away from the evacuation effort. This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “This is deadly serious. We do not want members to go.”
The United States recorded more than 1,100 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, with over 170,000 new infections. For the first time since January, more than 100,000 U.S. residents are hospitalized with the disease.
Florida is having its worst week of the pandemic, with daily cases averaging 30% higher than January’s peak. In Florida’s Orange County, children aged 5 to 14 make up the largest group of new coronavirus cases, with a test positivity rate of around 20%. On Tuesday, the Orange County School Board approved a 60-day mask mandate for students, in defiance of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s ban on public health requirements in schools. More than half of Florida public school students are now under mask mandates.
Meanwhile, Delta Airlines on Wednesday said employees who refuse to get vaccinated will have to undergo weekly coronavirus tests and will have to pay a $200 monthly surcharge on their health insurance plans.
Here in New York, newly sworn-in Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday reported nearly 12,000 COVID-19 deaths not counted by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. In 2020, Cuomo reportedly instructed his aides to compile data that underrepresented nursing home deaths by counting only those who died inside nursing facilities, while excluding those who got sick there and later died in hospitals. Governor Hochul on Wednesday told NPR her administration would report COVID-19 deaths according to CDC standards.
Gov. Kathy Hochul: “There’s no opportunity for us to mask those numbers, nor do I want to mask those numbers. The public deserves a clear, honest picture of what’s happening, and that’s whether it’s good or bad. They need to know the truth, and that’s how we restore confidence.”
In Iran, officials have banned all nonessential travel between cities, as Iran’s Health Ministry reported a record daily COVID-19 toll with over 700 deaths on Tuesday.
In Australia, hospitals in Sydney have set up emergency tents outdoors in anticipation of a surge of patients, as Australia reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Pan American Health Organization warned Wednesday that vaccine inequity is unnecessarily prolonging the pandemic. The organization’s director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, said donations from wealthy countries were far too little to protect the hundreds of millions of people who remain vulnerable.
Dr. Carissa Etienne: “A handful of companies produce all the world’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines. Many of them are letting price and country of origin — not need — to determine how doses are rolled out. So, much of today’s vaccine supply remains in the hands of wealthy nations around the world. … We must expand regional pharmaceutical production so we can be in the driver’s seat of our own pandemic responses.”
Back in the United States, the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection has requested a massive trove of documents related to the attack, including internal Trump administration communications. The request to eight federal agencies covers records involving Melania Trump; Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump; Jared Kushner; Mark Meadows; Hope Hicks; Stephen Miller; and Kayleigh McEnany, among others. Investigators are focused on whether Trump wanted to use the military to remain in power — and whether administration officials considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump during his final weeks in office.
In Michigan, a federal judge has disciplined nine pro-Trump attorneys, including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, over their unsubstantiated claims in a lawsuit falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen. The lawyers will have to pay the legal fees for the city of Detroit and other defendants, and they face sanctions that could lead to their disbarment.
In Michigan, 25-year-old Ty Garbin was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison for his role in plotting to kidnap Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer last year. Garbin was the first of 14 men arrested over the plot to be sentenced, and received a reduced penalty after he agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
A U.S. appeals court has upheld the conviction and death sentence of white supremacist Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black worshipers at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. In 2017, Roof became the first federal prisoner sentenced to death for a hate crime.
In Louisiana, a lawyer for a Black motorist who was brutally beaten by a white State Police trooper more than two years ago has obtained body-camera video of the incident. The video from May 2019 was also obtained by the Associated Press. It shows officer Jacob Brown striking Aaron Larry Bowman with a flashlight 18 times. The assault left Bowman with a broken jaw, broken wrist, three broken ribs and six stitches on his head. Louisiana State Police waited 536 days to open an investigation — and only did so after Bowman brought a civil lawsuit.
Last December, state prosecutors charged officer Brown with aggravated battery and malfeasance in office; those charges remain on hold pending a federal investigation. Brown is from the same State Police unit — known as “Troop F” — whose officers killed Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old Black man, by tasering, punching and dragging him during an arrest in 2019. Troop F is under an internal investigation looking into whether white officers are systematically targeting Black motorists for abuse.
In climate news, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached their highest levels in human history last year, averaging more than 412 parts per million. That’s despite a modest slowdown in emissions due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. NOAA also reports global average sea level rose to a new record high, about 3.6 inches above 1993 levels, when satellite measurements began.
The United Nations is warning Madagascar is on the precipice of the world’s first “climate change famine,” with about 30,000 people experiencing the highest level of food insecurity recognized by the U.N. Severe hunger and famine are being driven by drought, deforestation and desertification that’s left over 1.1 million of Madagascar’s residents in need of humanitarian assistance. A World Food Programme official called the situation unprecedented, adding, “These people have done nothing to contribute to climate change. They don’t burn fossil fuels … and yet they are bearing the brunt of climate change.”
In Northern California, the massive Caldor Fire has spread to less than 20 miles from population centers in Lake Tahoe after it destroyed hundreds of homes. In Southern California, a rapidly expanding brush fire in San Bernardino County forced over 1,000 people to evacuate their homes northeast of Los Angeles. California remains on pace to record its worst-ever fire season — topping the previous record set in 2020.
Greece’s prime minister is calling for radical action to address the climate crisis, after a record-shattering heat wave fueled devastating wildfires that sparked panicked evacuations and sent vast plumes of smoke across Southern Europe. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed the Greek Parliament Wednesday.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “We recognize that dealing with the climate crisis is forcing us to change everything — the way we produce agricultural products, how we move around, how we generate energy and the way we build our homes. Everything must change in this immense effort to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis to whatever extent possible.”