High-level diplomatic talks continued Tuesday amid ongoing tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border. In Kyiv, French President Emmanuel Macron signaled some progress during his talks one day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin quickly rebuffed any claims that Moscow had made any commitments toward deescalation. Russia is preparing to begin 10 days of military drills in Belarus with some 30,000 combat troops expected to participate. Meanwhile, Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Duda put on a unified front against Russia during a joint press conference Tuesday. This is President Macron.
President Emmanuel Macron: “We will continue to act in the coming weeks with simple objectives. The first one, it has been said: avoiding war. The peace and stability of the European continent are treasured by us, and we believe our duty is to do whatever is in our power to preserve it.”
The European leaders also warned again of “wide-reaching consequences” if Russia invades Ukraine. President Biden has also threatened to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia. After headlines, we’ll host a debate on U.S. sanctions being considered in Congress.
New York has become the latest Democrat-led state to drop some of its COVID restrictions, lifting its indoor mask-or-vaccine mandate for businesses starting today. Governor Kathy Hochul has not yet announced the future of New York’s schools mask mandate, which is set to expire in two weeks.
Pfizer announced a projected $32 billion in revenue this year from its publicly funded COVID-19 vaccine. That’s just part of Pfizer’s overall projected revenue of around $100 billion in 2022, with another $22 billion coming from the sale of its COVID pill Paxlovid. Pfizer has refused to share its technology with other countries in desperate need of vaccines. Oxfam said in response to Pfizer’s financial report, “Thousands of people in Africa are dying every day from COVID because companies like Pfizer have prioritized profits over saving lives. … No corporations should decide who lives and who dies.”
In other vaccine news, Johnson & Johnson has halted production of its coronavirus vaccine. The Dutch plant making the only usable doses of the shot switched over to production of an experimental vaccine unrelated to COVID. The pause, which started at the end of last year, is expected to last a few months. Many African nations, as well as the COVAX distribution program, rely heavily on J&J’s one-dose vaccine.
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have killed three Palestinians in the city of Nablus. Eyewitnesses said an Israeli soldier shot at their car after storming into the victims’ neighborhood in a civilian vehicle. Gunshots were heard for over one straight minute. Rights groups condemned the attack. This is a Palestinian official speaking Tuesday.
Ghassan Daghlas: “This is just another new crime and a new massacre, nothing strange from the Israeli government. This is the true face of Israel. Forces, occupation and settlers rule in Israel. And their government leader is a settler. So, definitely, there will be catastrophic results on the ground, but we will not allow them to kill our nation’s children in the light of day, when they are innocent, to kill them in cold blood. This is a crime.”
The World Food Programme is warning some 13 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing severe hunger due to persistent drought exacerbated by the climate crisis. Inflation and an increase in the cost of food have further compounded the problem, and people have been forced to leave their homes amid security concerns and regional conflict. In Ethiopia, more than 6 million people will require urgent humanitarian assistance by mid-March, according to the UN. In Somalia, over 7 million people need urgent aid.
Mohamed Adem: “We haven’t had the last two rainy seasons. We never experienced this before. We only see dust storms now. We are afraid that they will cover us all and become our graveyard, like what happens in the desert.”
The Biden administration has approved a possible $100 million sale of military equipment and services to Taiwan, including its Patriot missile defense system. The main suppliers are Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. China condemned the news, which comes amid ongoing tensions between Beijing and Washington, and between Beijing and Taipei.
In India, schools in the southern state of Karnataka have shut down as protests grow over a recent decision to ban hijabs and burqas in colleges. A social media video showing a hijab-wearing student being harassed at a college has further intensified the outrage over anti-Muslim persecution in Karnataka, whose local government is ruled by the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJ Party. Muslim students gathered in protest Monday.
Muslim student: “We will enter the classroom wearing our hijabs. We will not remove the hijabs until we receive an order from the High Court.”
Former Pope Benedict has asked for forgiveness following a recent report that found he failed to act in at least four cases of sexual abuse by priests when he was the archbishop of Munich. Benedict, however, denied having knowledge of, or covering up, any abuse. The report identified at least 235 sexual predators, along with around 500 survivors, spanning a period of over 50 years.
In Australia, former government staffer and rape survivor Brittany Higgins said she wanted to see more action, as she slammed the apology offered this week by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison for her attack and the culture of sexual abuse in Parliament. Last year Higgins accused a former colleague of raping her inside a minister’s office, setting off a major reckoning at the highest levels of Australian government. She spoke earlier today at the National Press Club in Canberra.
Brittany Higgins: “What bothered me most about the whole 'imagine if it were our daughters' spiel wasn’t that he necessarily needed his wife’s advice to help contextualize my rape in a way that mattered to him personally. All he could do — and that’s how he realized it was a bad thing. I didn’t want his sympathy as a father; I wanted him to use his power as prime minister.”
The University of California has agreed to pay over $243 million to settle lawsuits by more than 200 women who accused former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps of sexual abuse. The settlement does not cover another 300 former patients who are also suing over Heaps’s crimes. Heaps is facing criminal charges involving at least seven of the survivors.
In related news, three Harvard graduate students have filed a lawsuit accusing the Ivy League university of ignoring for years their sexual harassment accusations against anthropology professor John Comaroff, who threatened to ruin their academic careers if they reported him.
In California, the Oakland school board overnight voted to close two schools this year and five more in 2023. The board’s decision came just before 1:00 in the morning Wednesday after about eight hours of emotional public comment and debate from board members. The board’s plans drew widespread condemnation from students, teachers and parents, who held several actions leading up to Tuesday’s vote to pressure the board to keep the schools open. Community advocates say the move would disproportionately affect Black and Latinx students in low-income areas of Oakland. A group of teachers went on hunger strike over a week ago in protest. Click here to see our interview with one of those hunger strikers.
The Biden administration blasted a new anti-LGBTQ+ bill making its way through the Florida Legislature, with President Biden calling the legislation “hateful.” The so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, which would ban all discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, was approved by Florida’s Senate Education Committee Tuesday after Governor Ron DeSantis came out in support of the measure
Immigrant justice advocates are denouncing reports the Biden administration plans to expand its use of home confinement and to launch a pilot curfew program to monitor undocumented immigrants awaiting court hearings. The move is said to be part of an effort to decrease the use of private immigration jails. But rights advocates say the U.S. government is not only incarcerating more immigrants but also growing more reliant on ankle bracelet monitors and other surveillance devices as so-called alternatives to detention. Axios reports as of last week there were nearly 180,000 immigrants subjected to these practices, though the actual number may be much higher as current figures only account for the head of a household registered in such programs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the Republican National Committee’s decision to censure Congressmembers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for being part of the House’s investigation into the January 6 Capitol attack.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”
McConnell rebuked the RNC’s characterization of January 6 as “legitimate political discourse,” saying, “We saw it happen. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, defended the RNC’s move. McCarthy has refused to cooperate with the House committee’s investigation and faces a possible subpoena.