In Northern California, the death toll from the McKinney Fire has risen to four, after authorities found the remains of two more victims Wednesday. Slow-moving thunderstorms have slowed the spread of the blaze, which has consumed 57,000 acres, but the rain triggered local flooding and shifted concerns to the threat of mudslides. This comes as the northeastern United States is baking under a heat wave that threatens to topple records in parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire today.
In Washington, D.C., seven U.S. veterans and their allies were arrested outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as they protested the military’s role in driving the climate crisis. A 2017 study found the Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than many of the world’s countries, including Sweden and Portugal.
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres slammed oil and gas company greed, saying governments should tax profits made after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed fuel prices to new highs. Guterres said the largest fossil fuel companies earned nearly $100 billion in profits during the first quarter of this year alone.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “I urge people everywhere to send a clear message to the fossil fuel industry and their financiers that this grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only common home, the planet.”
On Capitol Hill, Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema has signaled she wants changes to a budget reconciliation bill containing many of President Biden’s legislative priorities on energy, taxes and healthcare. In a private call with Arizona’s Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Sinema questioned part of the Inflation Reduction Act that would impose a 15% minimum tax on corporations. Sinema also questioned a provision to close the “carried interest loophole,” which taxes private equity and hedge fund managers at lower rates than most U.S. workers.
Environmentalists are sounding the alarm over billions of dollars in new tax breaks and subsidies that oil and gas companies would receive as part of the compromise deal agreed to last week by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. On Wednesday, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders said he’ll offer amendments that would strip out a requirement tying new investments in green energy to mandatory lease sales of millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas companies.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “In my view, if we are going to make our planet healthy and habitable for future generations, we cannot provide billions of dollars in new tax breaks to the very same fossil fuel companies that are currently destroying the planet.”
The U.S. Senate has voted to add Finland and Sweden to NATO in a major expansion of the military alliance, and the first since North Macedonia joined NATO in 2020. Wednesday’s Senate vote was 95 to 1, with only Missouri Senator Josh Hawley voting “no.” All 30 NATO members are expected to complete the ratification of Finland and Sweden by the end of the year.
Indonesia, Australia and Japan have begun joint combat exercises with the United States on the island of Sumatra. Though the drills are held annually, these are the largest ever and come just after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which China condemned as a provocation. Earlier today, China’s military fired several ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan as it began large-scale air and naval drills near the self-governing island, which China considers part of its territory.
President Biden has signed an executive order to help patients seeking abortions to travel to states that still allow the procedure. Biden signed the order as Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill to protect abortion care providers from violent threats and attacks.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s Department of Revenue said this week it will allow state residents to claim fetuses and embryos as dependents — a tax deduction worth up to $3,000. In June, a federal appeals court upheld a Georgia law defining a developing embryo as a “person” as soon as fetal cardiac cells begin activity, typically around six weeks of pregnancy.
In Indiana, Republican Congressmember Jackie Walorski and two members of her staff were killed in a head-on collision on Wednesday. The driver of the other vehicle was also pronounced dead at the scene. Walorski served on the House Ways and Means Committee and was seeking reelection to a sixth term in November’s midterm elections. She was 58 years old.
In Guanajuato, Mexico, journalist and businessman Ernesto Méndez was shot and killed Tuesday night along with two other people after gunmen stormed a liquor store he owned and opened fire. Méndez ran the online news source “Your Voice” and had previously reported threats. He is the 13th media worker to be killed in Mexico this year alone.
In Austin, Texas, far-right conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones admitted from the witness stand Wednesday that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, was real. Jones’s admission came at his civil trial, where he faces a $150 million defamation lawsuit from families of schoolchildren killed at Sandy Hook. For years Jones spread conspiracy theories that the Newtown shooting was a government hoax and the victims’ families were paid actors, resulting in online harassment and death threats for Sandy Hook families. The 2012 massacre claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six educators. This week, Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was among the 20 children killed in the massacre, confronted Alex Jones from the witness stand.
Scarlett Lewis: “I wanted to tell you to your face, because I wanted you to know that I am a mother, first and foremost — and I know that you’re a father — and my son existed. You’re still on your show today trying to say that I’m — implying that I’m an actress.”
This week, lawyers for the Sandy Hook families revealed that Alex Jones’s attorneys sent them every text message Jones sent for the past two years — apparently by mistake. On Wednesday, the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection signaled it may subpoena Jones’s messages as it investigates his contacts with planners of the January 6 attack.
A top Justice Department official said Wednesday his agency has investigated more than 1,000 threats to election workers over the past year. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the pace of violent threats has increased sharply since former President Trump and his backers falsely claimed that the 2020 election was rigged.
Kenneth Polite: “Threats to the election community remain a national public safety issue requiring a national response, regardless of politics. The trauma experienced in this community is profound and unprecedented.”
The warning came a day after Trump-backed candidates who deny the results of the 2020 election won primary elections in Arizona and Michigan.
The National Labor Relations Board has ordered a union of striking coal miners in Alabama to pay $13.3 million in damages to the Warrior Met Coal company, 16 months after they walked off the job to protest huge cuts to their pay, pensions and healthcare benefits. The NLRB cited the strike’s financial toll on Warrior Met’s labor and security costs, as well as “lost revenues for unmined coal.” In a statement, the United Mine Workers of America called the NLRB’s ruling a “slap in the face” of workers and said it has no intention of paying the fine. Union President Cecil Roberts said, “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike.”
In more news from Alabama, a subsidiary of Hyundai has been accused of using child labor at a factory that produces parts for the Korean automaker. Reuters reports that underage workers, in some cases as young as 12, recently worked at a metal stamping plant operated by SMART Alabama LLC, which supplies parts to Hyundai’s flagship U.S. assembly plant in nearby Montgomery.
Labor advocates are sounding the alarm over a bipartisan House bill that would gut protections for workers in the gig economy. The Worker Flexibility and Choice Act would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to end minimum wage and overtime protections for workers at companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft. The National Employment Law Project warns the bill would “radically erode fundamental worker protections in the United States to the benefit of big corporations, allowing them to require workers to sign away basic rights as a condition of work.” The bill is co-sponsored by two House Republicans and Democratic Congressmember Henry Cuellar of Texas. In May, Cuellar defeated progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros by just 289 votes, after winning the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn, who joined Cuellar on the campaign trail.
Radical activist and longtime member of the Catholic Worker movement Tom Cornell died on August 1 at the age of 88. Cornell, who blended traditional Catholicism with radical activism, used his actions and writings to bring Christian nonviolence and war resistance to the forefront of Catholic life. Cornell worked closely with Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day and was a co-founder of Pax Christi USA.