The United States reported nearly 2,600 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, as the official U.S. death toll passed 666,000 — or two-thirds of a million people. Officially, one out of every 500 U.S. residents has died of a coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic.
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration have expressed skepticism over a push by the White House to authorize third “booster” doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. An assessment by FDA staff released Wednesday found that vaccines currently in use in the U.S. still afford protection against severe disease and death. The World Health Organization has called for a global moratorium on booster shots through the end of the year, as many low-income nations have been unable to acquire vaccines for more than a tiny fraction of their populations.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all new immigrants to the United States, beginning on October 1. The U.S. already requires immigrants to be vaccinated against hepatitis, measles, mumps, polio and rubella.
Pope Francis called Wednesday on Catholics worldwide to get vaccinated against COVID-19, in an apparent rebuke to a U.S. cardinal who was hospitalized with the disease after anti-vaccination comments. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who is in his early seventies, was hospitalized with severe COVID-19 in August and placed on a ventilator. He survived, but now faces an intensive rehabilitation. Cardinal Burke previously called vaccinations “totalitarian” and repeated a conspiracy theory that COVID vaccines carry hidden microchips. Speaking to journalists aboard a return flight to Rome Wednesday, Pope Francis rejected anti-vaccine sentiment and said getting a shot is an “act of love.”
Pope Francis: “It is a bit strange, because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines. As children, we were vaccinated for measles, polio. All the children were vaccinated, and no one protested.”
Some of gymnastics’ biggest stars offered a scathing account of the FBI’s failure to stop serial sexual abuser, USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. This is Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney.
McKayla Maroney: “This was very clear, cookie cutter pedophilia and abuse. And this is important, because I told the FBI all of this, and they chose to falsify my report and to not only minimize my abuse, but silence me yet again. I thought, given the severity of the situation, that they would act quickly for the sake of protecting other girls. But instead, it took them 14 months to report anything, when Larry Nassar, in my opinion, should have been in jail that day. The FBI, USOC and USAG sat idly by as dozens of girls and women continued to be molested by Larry Nassar.”
Simone Biles, four-time Olympic gold medalist and widely considered to be the greatest gymnast of all time, also spoke before the Senate.
Simone Biles: “I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse. To be clear — sorry.”
Sen. Dick Durbin: “Take your time.”
Simone Biles: “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and [perpetuated] his abuse.”
Lawyers say that in the time between the FBI being told of Nassar’s crimes and his 2016 arrest, Nassar abused another 120 people. FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized to the gymnasts during the hearing. Last week, the FBI fired an agent involved in the investigation into Nassar. Both the gymnasts and senators on the Judiciary Committee called out Justice Department leadership for failing to appear at Wednesday’s hearing. Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to testify in October.
In New York, as the federal trial for accused sexual predator and trafficker R. Kelly continues, a survivor and former backup dancer told the court earlier this week she saw Kelly engaged in a “sexual situation” with rising R&B superstar Aaliyah when she was just 13 or 14 years old. Kelly and Aaliyah were married in 1994 using falsified documents when Aaliyah was only 15 and Kelly was 27. R. Kelly faces multiple federal criminal charges, including sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and forced labor.
In China, a leading figure in the country’s #MeToo movement says she will appeal her case after a judge dismissed her sexual assault and harassment claims. Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former television intern, accused a well-known host of forcibly kissing and groping her in his dressing room, but she says the court refused to consider key evidence in her case. She addressed the court’s decision.
Zhou Xiaoxuan: “I don’t know if I still have the courage to stick with it for another three years, so I don’t know if this time will be a farewell. But if it is a farewell, then it’s really disappointing to have to say that I or we have failed like this.”
The International Criminal Court said Wednesday it will open a full investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed as part of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. After weighing evidence on more than 200 victims, the ICC’s judges found evidence that a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place” and that Philippine authorities “failed to take meaningful steps to investigate or prosecute the killings.” Last year, a United Nations report found at least 8,600 people have been killed in the drug war unleashed by Duterte, with some estimates suggesting the true toll could be three times higher.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has delayed a decision on a case that could determine if thousands of Indigenous people can reclaim stolen ancestral lands. The move by Brazil’s high court to indefinitely suspend a ruling came after thousands of Indigenous people representing 176 groups camped out in the capital Brasília to condemn the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
The White House said Wednesday the U.S. will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia in a new trilateral military partnership. The coalition is known as AUKUS, short for Australia, United Kingdom and United States. Its formation comes as President Biden continues to pressure U.S. allies to take a more aggressive military posture toward China. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Biden at a virtual summit Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “And the first task of this partnership will be to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, emphasizing, of course, that the submarines in question will be powered by nuclear reactors, not armed with nuclear weapons. And our work will be fully in line with our nonproliferation obligations.”
The U.S., U.K. and China are among the nine nations known to possess nuclear weapons. None of them have signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Neither has Australia, which says it supports the retention and potential use of U.S. nuclear weapons on its behalf.
The White House said President Biden has “complete confidence” in U.S. General Mark Milley Wednesday, following reports he circumvented the official chain of command in order to prevent possible actions from former President Trump. A new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa says Milley called his Chinese counterpart twice, as well as U.S. military officials, as he feared Trump, who he believed was in mental decline, could start a war with China. According to the book, Milley also told senior officers he should be involved in any attempt to launch a nuclear weapon, that all decisions had to go through him. Milley was reportedly motivated in large part by a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called Trump “crazy” and asked what measures are available to stop him from launching a war or nuclear weapons.
The Justice Department says it will ban federal law enforcement officers from using chokeholds during arrests and will bar no-knock entries while executing warrants except in rare cases. The change in policy came as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, is scheduled to be arraigned today in a separate federal civil rights case. An indictment by a federal grand jury found evidence that in 2017 Chauvin held a 14-year-old boy by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, in handcuffs and not resisting. The encounter left the boy bleeding from his ears and needing two stitches.
The city of Philadelphia will pay $2 million to Rickia Young, a Black mother who was attacked by a horde of police officers and separated from her young child in October last year. Young was driving past an anti-police brutality protest when the assault took place. Critics say the settlement, which comes from taxpayer dollars, does nothing to hold the Philadelphia police accountable for their brutal attack. Click here to see our interview with Rickia Young’s lawyer