President Joe Biden has laid out a six-point plan to bring the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic under control, after a summer that saw skyrocketing rates of infections, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. Speaking from the White House Thursday, Biden said he was ordering nearly all federal employees and contractors to get COVID-19 vaccinations within 75 days. He also said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will require large employers to have their workers inoculated or tested weekly. Violators face fines of up to $14,000 per infraction.
President Joe Biden: “Despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot. And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19. Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they’re ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID in their communities. This is totally unacceptable.”
The Republican National Committee immediately promised to sue the Biden administration over its vaccine mandates. South Carolina Republican Governor Henry McMaster tweeted, “we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
The first international passenger flight out of Afghanistan’s Kabul airport since the end of the U.S. withdrawal landed in Doha Thursday. The Qatar Airways plane held over 100 passengers, including Americans, Canadians and Britons. But the fate of many more who are still trying to leave Afghanistan, both foreign nationals and Afghans, is unknown.
Meanwhile, there have been increasing reports of Taliban intimidation and violence against journalists, aid workers, activists, women and others. The U.N. said its Afghan staff have been subjected to threats, physical abuse, and some offices were looted. This is journalist Taqi Daryabi, who was arrested while covering a women’s protest in Kabul on Wednesday and tortured in detention.
Taqi Daryabi: “For about 10 minutes, about seven or eight people were beating us as much as they could. They would raise sticks and beat us with all of their strength. … When they treat journalists like this, it’s possible that journalism will stop in Afghanistan within a few months. It will be destroyed. What we want from the Taliban is for them to be responsible for the security and well-being of journalists.”
The Syrian army entered the southern, rebel-held city of Daraa Wednesday for the first time in over a decade amid a fragile Russian-brokered truce. Daraa was the birthplace of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. Human Rights Watch said civilians in the area are facing dire shortages of food, medicine, power and other basic necessities amid a recent escalation in attacks by Syrian government forces and their allies. Meanwhile, the Syrian Civil Defense says at least five civilians were killed in government shelling attacks in Idlib province earlier this week.
In immigration news, the Biden administration has extended temporary protected status, or TPS, by another 15 months for some 400,000 immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal. This means they’ll be able to continue working and living in the U.S. without the threat of deportation through December 2022. Meanwhile, immigrant justice advocates continue to urge Congress to pass permanent immigration relief that includes a path to citizenship for TPS holders and millions of undocumented people in the U.S.
A new whistleblower complaint is denouncing the ongoing abuse faced by unaccompanied migrant children held at the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, Texas. BuzzFeed reports children were burned after bathing in blistering water, had their blood drawn without explanation and were constantly threatened with deportation. This is the third complaint detailing unsafe and brutal conditions at Fort Bliss, where the Biden administration set up large tents to hold thousands of unaccompanied migrant children.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of Texas death row prisoner John Henry Ramirez, who says the state violated his religious freedom after it denied Ramirez’s request to have his pastor hold his hand or touch him and pray with him in the death chamber. The Supreme Court will likely argue the case in October or November.
The U.S. Justice Department has sued Texas over its near-total ban on abortions, calling it unconstitutional. The law, which bans abortion starting around six weeks of pregnancy — even in cases of rape or incest — circumvents the federal protection of abortion rights by deputizing private citizens to enforce it. This is Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Attorney General Merrick Garland: “Thus far, the law has had its intended effect. Because the statute makes it too risky for an abortion clinic to stay open, abortion providers have ceased providing services. This leaves women in Texas unable to exercise their constitutional rights and unable to obtain judicial review at the very moment they need it.”
The Justice Department is seeking an injunction on the law.
President Biden has withdrawn the nomination of David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Chipman, a 25-year ATF veteran, was attacked by Republicans and the NRA for being a gun control advocate. And two Democrats — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Montana’s Jon Tester — would not commit to confirming Chipman, while Maine independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, said he would vote against his confirmation. The Newtown Action Alliance responded, “The reason why there has been only one Senate-confirmed ATF director in the last 15 years is because the gun industry profits when gun laws are not enforced. David Chipman should have been confirmed.”
Meanwhile, climate activists blasted Biden’s pick of Willie Phillips to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Phillips has represented oil and gas interests while working in corporate law.
The Biden administration moved Thursday to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from development, including a proposed gold and copper mine that would have destroyed the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery. Environmentalists and Indigenous groups in the region have long fought the proposed Pebble Mine, an open-pit mine that would require construction of a massive power plant, natural gas pipeline and huge, toxic tailing ponds.
In Massachusetts, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said Thursday his university will no longer invest its $42 billion endowment in fossil fuel companies. The announcement was a victory for the campus organization Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, which was founded in 2012. The group tweeted, “It took conversations and protests, meetings with administration, faculty/alumni votes, mass sit-ins and arrests, historic legal strategies, and storming football fields. But today, we can see proof that activism works, plain and simple.”
In labor news, Nabisco workers in five states remain on strike one month after workers at a Portland, Oregon, plant walked off the job to protest management’s demands for changes to work schedules and cuts to overtime pay. Some workers have been forced into 16-hour shifts during the pandemic; others were asked to work 12-hour shifts three to four days a week, including on weekends. This is Nabisco worker April Flowers-Lewis, who joined a picket line outside a Chicago plant in August.
April Flowers-Lewis: “We have a family just as well as the people in human resources and management. While we’re working on the weekend and being forced, they’re at home with their families. We can’t even get a chance to enjoy birthday parties for our grandkids. We can’t go away to take our kids to college, because we’re being forced to work. We can’t enjoy our husbands, our spouses, because we’re at work. By the time we get off work, it’s go home, go to sleep, try to fix up something to eat, get into bed and be back at work.”
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, New York, workers at five Starbucks locations have joined an unprecedented push to unionize the coffee and fast-food chain. Members of the newly formed Starbucks Workers United have filed petitions for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board. They say they’ve faced an intense union-busting effort by Starbucks corporate executives.