WNBA star Brittney Griner landed in San Antonio, Texas, early this morning after her release Thursday from a Russian prison in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The prisoner swap ends Griner’s 10-month ordeal, which started with her arrest at a Moscow airport for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil. She had been sentenced to nine years in a Russian labor camp. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the news at the White House Thursday with Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner.
Cherelle Griner: “Today my family is whole, but, as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole. And so, BG is not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home.”
Cherelle Griner went on to say she is committed to helping free Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who remains imprisoned in Russia.
The House of Representatives passed the Respect for Marriage Act Thursday in a 258-169 vote, which enshrines federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature. While the law would not prevent states from banning same-sex marriage if the conservative-led Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, it would force those states to recognize marriages from another state. This is Democrat Pramila Jayapal speaking Thursday from the House floor.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “As the mother of an incredible trans daughter, I’m here to fight for her rights and those of all LGBTQ people, who for too long have been denied the dignity and the respect that they deserve. And as someone who is myself in an interracial marriage, it is far past time that we codify those rights.”
Thirty-nine Republican congressmembers joined with Democrats in supporting marriage equality.
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema says she is leaving the Democratic Party and has registered as an independent. Her announcement came just days after Democrats clinched a 51-seat majority in the Senate with Raphael Warnock’s runoff victory in Georgia. Sinema spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: “Both parties have created this kind of requirement or a pull towards the edges that you just unthinkingly support all of one party’s viewpoints. It’s made it difficult to find folks who are willing to work together and solve problems.”
Sinema did not say whether she would continue to caucus with Democrats as an independent, but said she expects to keep her committee assignments, making that scenario appear likely. Sinema, who started out with the Green Party, has gradually shifted further to the right. She was elected to the Senate in 2018 and, along with West Virginia conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, has blocked the party from passing essential legislation, including the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, tackling climate change and infrastructure. Sinema also voted against changing filibuster rules to pass key voting rights legislation.
A former conservative Christian lobbyist testified before a House Judiciary Committee panel Thursday, detailing how the far-right group Faith and Action systematically lobbied conservative Supreme Court members, leading to the alleged 2014 leak by Justice Samuel Alito of the landmark Hobby Lobby ruling before it was announced. The court ruled in favor of the craft store chain, which argued it could deny covering the cost of birth control to workers, citing religious freedom. This is Rev. Robert Schenck.
Rev. Robert Schenck: “Operation Higher Court involved my recruitment of wealthy donors as stealth missionaries who befriended justices that shared our conservative social and religious sensibilities. … Throughout this ordeal, I’ve had to look deeply at what my cohorts and I did at the Supreme Court. I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and compromised the high court’s promise to administer equal justice.”
The House hearing came after Schenck told The New York Times last month that a wealthy conservative donor informed him about the court’s yet-to-be-published decision after she and her husband had dinner with Alito and his wife. Alito has denied the claims.
The House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly in favor of an $858 billion military spending bill. Just 45 Democrats and 35 Republicans voted against the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Among them was outgoing New York Democratic Congressmember Mondaire Jones, who wrote after the vote, “While working families are being crushed by inflation, we shouldn’t be spending $45 billion MORE than the president requested in the NDAA. Certainly not on top of an already bloated $800+ billion dollar Pentagon budget full of lobbyist giveaways.” Meanwhile, President Biden warned Thursday the U.S. will face “disastrous consequences” if lawmakers fail to pass a sweeping spending package by a December 16 deadline in order to avoid a government shutdown.
A new report finds Iranian security forces are targeting women protesters with shotgun fire to their faces, breasts and genitals. The Guardian spoke to doctors and nurses who’ve treated protesters in secrecy to avoid arrest and who said women frequently arrive with these wounds on their bodies. Security forces have also been accused of firing shots into protesters’ eyes, blinding hundreds of women, men and children who have participated in the mass mobilizations.
In Qatar, a migrant worker from the Philippines has died after a workplace accident at the training site for the Saudi national soccer team. The death, reported on Wednesday, came as Qatar’s government faces allegations of gross human and labor rights abuses at worksites associated with the FIFA World Cup. On Thursday, the chief executive of the Qatar World Cup, Nasser al-Khater, was asked by a Reuters reporter about the latest death of a migrant worker.
Nasser al-Khater: “We’re in the middle of a World Cup, and we have a successful World Cup. And this is something that you want to talk about right now? I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your — in your sleep.”
In a statement, Amnesty International condemned those remarks, adding that Qatari authorities “continue to simply write off vast numbers of deaths as being due to 'natural causes' despite the clear health risks associated with working in extreme temperatures.”
The family of an imprisoned whistleblower says he’s been held in solitary confinement and tortured in a Qatari prison during the opening weeks of the World Cup. Abdullah Ibhais was serving as the deputy communications director for Qatar’s Supreme Committee, which organized the World Cup, when he was arrested and accused of bribery in November 2021. He was sentenced to five years in prison on what his family says are trumped-up charges, after he interviewed migrant workers who had gone on strike over months of unpaid wages — including workers building stadiums for the games.
This week, Ibhais’s family said in an open letter that Abdullah was subjected to torture after he contributed footage to the ITV documentary “Qatar: State of Fear?” This is James Lynch, co-director of the human rights group FairSquare, reading from the family’s letter.
James Lynch: “Abdullah spent four of those days, between 2nd and 6th of November, in complete darkness in solitary confinement, after being physically assaulted by the prison guards. He was in a cell of two-by-one meters with a hole in the ground as a bathroom and with temperatures near freezing, as the prison’s central air conditioning was used as a torture device.”
Abdullah Ibhais’s family also blasted the FIFA soccer federation, calling it complicit in Abdullah’s imprisonment.
In Honduras, human rights defenders are warning of possible violations after the government of President Xiomara Castro enacted a state of exception, suspending some constitutional rights in Honduras’s two largest cities, the capital Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. The move is part of a massive crackdown on gangs and crime. Thousands of police have been deployed in both cities to target people suspected of being involved in criminal activity with arbitrary arrests and searches. The measure is scheduled to be in place for one month, but Honduran lawmakers have the power to extend it. A similar decree was imposed in neighboring El Salvador in March.
A new report by Human Rights Watch condemns ongoing abuses under El Salvador’s state of exception, enacted nearly one year ago by President Nayib Bukele to address gang violence. Security forces are accused of mass arbitrary arrests and detentions, forced disappearances, and torture. Salvadoran authorities have targeted low-income neighborhoods with indiscriminate raids, arresting over 58,000 people, including more than 1,600 children. At least 90 people have died in police custody since the state of exception began in March. This is Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
Juanita Goebertus: “We are convinced that a security policy is needed to dismantle the gangs, but a policy based on the violation of human rights is not sustainable. A policy that simply concentrates on sending marginalized youths to jail without even the possibility of defending themselves and having their cases heard by a judge is not sustainable.”
Here in New York, dozens of students at The New School have announced an indefinite occupation of one of the university’s buildings in solidarity with some 1,500 part-time faculty members who’ve been on strike since mid-November. They’re demanding the university provide affordable and reliable health insurance; higher wages to match skyrocketing inflation; job security; and protections against discrimination and harassment. This week The New School said it had stopped paying wages and healthcare premiums to the part-time staff on the picket line — prompting outrage from the strikers.
Christen Clifford: “Hi, my name is Christen Clifford, and I am a member of the part-time faculty at The New School, and we are currently on strike. And yesterday the management of The New School said they were going to take away our healthcare. I am currently at the cancer center waiting for a biopsy. Please, please, please, give us our healthcare. Please, give us a fair contract.”
Striking workers received a new offer from New School management Thursday; they will remain on strike as they review the offer.
Hundreds of striking New York Times workers and their supporters rallied on picket lines in Manhattan’s Times Square Thursday in a one-day walkout, demanding the newspaper’s managers agree to a new contract after more than a year and a half of union negotiations. Bill Baker, a New York Times worker and union leader, said actions taken by management do not comport with the pro-union and workers’ rights sentiments often found in the pages of The New York Times.
Bill Baker: “It’s problematic for us when they speak externally about labor and about the right for people to work and organize and fair wages and stuff, but when they speak to the workers internally, they say something different.”