Aid workers and Afghan authorities are struggling to reach areas devastated by an earthquake Wednesday that killed more than 1,000 people and injured over 1,600 near the city of Khost. It was the deadliest quake in Afghanistan in 20 years. There are reports entire villages have been destroyed. Survivors are using their bare hands to rescue people trapped under rubble. Communication lines are down in parts of the area, and torrential rain has washed away roads, making many areas impossible to reach. Recent flooding has killed at least 400 Afghans. The Taliban has called for more international aid, while saying sanctions have hampered the government’s ability to respond to the multiple crises facing the country. On Wednesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs pledged to help Afghanistan.
Jens Laerke: “It’s in a country that’s already on the brink. We know that. Its food security situation is where we are talking about we’re close to a famine-like situation. So people are really already hanging on by a thread. So, when this disaster comes on top, the de facto authorities in Afghanistan did reach out and asked the U.N. for help. Of course, we stand ready to help anybody in Afghanistan.”
The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is holding its fifth public hearing today. Democracy Now! will stream the hearing beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern at democracynow.org. The committee will focus on Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election. Witnesses will include former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took the post following the resignation of William Barr.
The committee has pushed its next hearing back to July in order to give committee members more time to review a flood of new evidence into Trump’s coup attempt, including previously unknown video of Trump and his associates recorded by a documentary filmmaker before and after January 6. The filmmaker, Alex Holder, recently complied with a subpoena from the committee for his footage. He will be privately deposed by the committee today. The New York Times reports Holder’s video includes an interview from December 10, 2020, with Ivanka Trump in which she defended her father’s challenging of the election result. She said, “He has to take on this fight. Look, you fight for what you love the most, and he loves this country.” Her comment appears to contradict her testimony to the January 6 committee that she accepted William Barr’s assessment from earlier in December 2020 that there was no widespread election fraud.
The Justice Department has subpoenaed the chair of the Georgia Republican Party for information related to Trump’s plot to submit fake electors to the Electoral College. Subpoenas have also been issued to other individuals involved in fake elector plots in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia. Meanwhile, the seditious conspiracy trial of Enrique Tarrio and other members of the far-right Proud Boys has been pushed back to at least December due to the ongoing House January 6 hearings.
In news from Uvalde, Texas, the head of the school district’s police force, Pete Arredondo, has been placed on administrative leave as criticism mounts over the police response to last month’s school massacre when an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 fourth graders and two teachers. On Tuesday, Texas’s Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw described the local police handling of the shooting as an “abject failure.” McCraw said there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to confront the gunman three minutes after the gunman entered the school; however, officers waited over an hour in the hallway. Meanwhile, the mayor of Uvalde has accused McCraw of continuing to “lie, leak, mislead, or misstate information” to cover up mistakes made by the state police. On Tuesday, McCraw revealed 91 state troopers responded to the school shooting; many of the officers were from Operation Lone Star, a joint mission of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Military Department. McCraw has also revealed both local and state police faced a problem with police radios not working inside the school. On Wednesday, Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez sued Texas’s Department of Public Safety for withholding documents related to the shooting. The lawsuit states, “In the wake of the senseless tragedy, the people of Uvalde and Texas have demanded answers from their government. To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame.”
An adviser to Ukraine’s president has said the fight for Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine is “entering a sort of fearsome climax.” If Russia succeeds in fully capturing the two cities, it would give Russia control of the entire Luhansk region. Meanwhile, two drones reportedly struck an oil refinery in southwestern Russia, sparking a large fire. Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack. In other news from the war, Reporters Without Borders has accused Russian forces of executing Ukrainian photojournalist Maks Levin in March. Levin’s work had appeared in BBC, Reuters and other international outlets.
President Biden has called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months in a bid to lower gas prices, which have topped $5 a gallon in the months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden: “Today I’m calling for a federal gas tax holiday, state gas tax holiday [or] the equivalent relief to consumers; oil companies to use their profits to increase refining capacity rather than buy back their own stock; gas stations to pass along the decree — excuse me, not the decree, but the decrease in oil prices to lower prices at the pump. And together, these actions could help drop the price at the pump by up to $1.00 a gallon or more.”
Many economists and progressive lawmakers have criticized Biden’s proposal. Congressmember Pramila Jayapal tweeted on Wednesday, “Gas tax holiday won’t make it down to consumers or stop the profiteering of oil & gas companies. It also robs the Highway Trust Fund of necessary infrastructure funds. An excess profits tax on oil companies with a rebate to consumers is a better solution.” While the price of gas has soared in recent months, oil and gas companies are making record profits, taking in over $41 billion during the first three months of the year.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara Wednesday in a move to fully normalize relations between the two nations. The visit marked Mohammed bin Salman’s first trip to Turkey since the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, criticized Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Turkey, saying it “doesn’t change the fact that he is a murderer.” President Biden is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia next month in part to push Saudi Arabia to pump more oil.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee Wednesday. Last week the Fed ordered the largest interest rate increase since 1994. Powell acknowledged the rate hike could lead to a recession and would not lead to lower gas and food prices. Powell was questioned by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Chair Powell, will gas prices go down as a result of your interest rate increase?”
Jerome Powell: “I would not think so, no.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “OK. And that matters because gas prices are one of the single biggest drivers of inflation. … Chair Powell, will the Fed’s interest rate increases bring food prices down for families?”
Jerome Powell: “I wouldn’t say so, no.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “The reason I raise this and the reason I’m so concerned about this is rate increases make it more likely that companies will fire people and slash hours to shrink wage costs. Rate increases also make it more expensive for families to do things like borrow money for a house. And so far, the cost this year of a mortgage has already doubled.”
The city of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, has agreed to pay $3.25 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Daunte Wright’s family. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by a police officer last year after he was pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his car mirror. The officer, Kim Potter, who is white, was recently sentenced to two years in prison. As part of the settlement, the Minneapolis suburb also agreed to change its policies and training related to traffic stops.
Here in New York City, three men who were recently held at the city-run Rikers Island jail complex have died in less than a week. The deaths are leading to new calls for control of the jail to be handed over to an outside body. Dr. Robert Cohen, who serves on the Board of Correction which oversees Rikers, said, “The City of New York, despite their best efforts, is not capable of maintaining a minimally safe environment for people in custody.” At least nine people have died so far this year after being held at Rikers.
A federal appeals court has upheld a law in Arkansas that requires all state contractors to sign a pledge declaring that they will not boycott Israel. Arkansas is one of numerous U.S. states to have passed legislation to criminalize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other groups criticized the ruling. CAIR’s Lena Masri said, “By declaring Arkansas’ Anti-BDS Law to be constitutional, the court has tacitly endorsed a Palestine-exception to the First Amendment.”
In Australia, the head of the foundation which distributes one of the country’s most prestigious journalism awards has denounced the United Kingdom’s decision to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Adele Ferguson, the chair of the Walkley Foundation, has called on Australia to intervene to help Assange, who is an Australian citizen. Ferguson said, “Assange has been languishing for years and it is high time he is brought home. Press freedom and human rights are vital to our society and what is happening sets a very dangerous precedent at a time when press freedom in this country is being chipped away. This is the time for the government to stand up for press freedom.”