Headlines for November 17, 2021 – Democracy Now!
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As COVID-19 cases continue to creep up in the U.S., averaging around 85,000 daily cases, the Biden administration plans to purchase 10 million courses of Pfizer’s new COVID pill. Paxlovid has been shown to reduce hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in high-risk adults during trials. Pfizer requested emergency use authorization for the oral treatment on Tuesday. This comes as Pfizer announced a deal to make the pill available more cheaply in 95 low-and middle-income nations by allowing it to be manufactured as a generic. Vaccine and health equity advocates say the move is a good first step but condemned the fact that the deal excluded so many countries. Doctors Without Borders said, “The world knows by now that access to COVID-19 medical tools needs to be guaranteed for everyone, everywhere, if we really want to control this pandemic.” Meanwhille, vaccine makers continue to report massive profits from COVID treatments. Oxfam found that Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna are making combined profits of more than $1,000 every second, or $65,000 every minute.
In more vaccine news, the FDA is expected to authorize Pfizer booster shots for all adults as early as this week. A number of states have already expanded booster eligibility to all vaccinated adults.
In news from Canada, catastrophic flooding has killed at least one person in British Columbia and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. Some areas in the Pacific Northwest received nearly 10 inches of rain triggering landslides and overflowing rivers. Three major highways connecting Vancouver to the Canadian interior have been washed out. The flooding also forced the temporary shut down of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The climate-fueled record rainfall comes just months after wildfires devastated some of the same areas of British Columbia. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted, “After the hottest heat wave in Pacific Northwest history this summer, the rainy season there has begun with torrential flooding. We are in a climate emergency.”
In Australia, climate activists have disrupted rail shipments into the Port of Newcastle for an eleventh consecutive day, in a nonviolent direct action campaign aimed at halting exports from the world’s largest coal port. Some of the activists have locked their bodies to rail cars and railroad tracks; while others suspended themselves on platforms or giant tripods in the path of trains, forcing long delays as police struggled to remove them. At least 19 people have been arrested on charges that could see some of them jailed for up to 25 years. On Tuesday, activists suspended themselves from massive pieces of machinery, halting operations in the coal port.
Blockade Australia Activist: “I’m taking this action on the stolen land of the Worimi and the Awabakal people. This land was never ceded over by these people. Australia has been committing genocide against the First People of this land for 250 years now. Australia has been brutalizing the First People, has been brutalizing the land and the water.”
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, the jury in the trial of white teenage gunman Kyle Rittenhouse is deliberating for a second day today. Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and wounded a third during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020. In a highly unusual move, Rittenhouse was instructed by Judge Bruce Schroeder Tuesday to randomly draw the names of six jurors who were removed from the pool of 18 citizens who were sitting on the jury. The 12 remaining jurors then proceeded to deliberation. The random selection is typically done by a member of the court. One legal expert called Schroeder’s decision “an interesting piece of theater.” Meanwhile it’s been revealed trial consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, known for shaping jury selection in the OJ Simpson trial, worked with Rittenhouse attorneys in their selection process.
The State of Georgia has rested its case in the trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger. On Tuesday the medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified that Arbery died after being shot three times at close range—two of the bullets hit him including one that tore a big hole in the center of his chest. The jury was shown graphic video of Arbery’s wounds and his blood-soaked white t-shirt. The defense is beginning its case today.
In Oklahoma, advocates have been rallying outside the barricaded governor’s mansion ahead of the planned Thursday execution of prisoner Julius Jones. Jones was convicted of a 1999 murder but has maintained his innocence. Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board twice recommended that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole but the final decision now rests with Governor Kevin Stitt. The Innocence Project has said three prisoners incarcerated with Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, have said in sworn affidavits that Jordan told them that he committed the murder and framed Julius Jones.
The White House has revealed President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed for the two nations to begin holding nuclear arms talks. For decades the U.S. has maintained a vastly larger nuclear arsenal but China has been investing in new nuclear arms technology. Earlier this year China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. Satellite imagery suggests China is also building more than 100 new intercontinental missile silos. Meanwhile the United States is planning to spend over a trillion dollars in coming decades to modernize its nuclear arsenal.
In Burma, the military junta which seized power in the February 1 coup, has charged overthrown civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi with “election fraud and lawless actions”. Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since February, and is facing multiple other charges in secretive, closed-door court proceedings.
Meanwhile, US journalist Danny Fenster landed in New York Tuesday after being released from a Burmese prison on Monday.
Danny Fenster: “Not just journalists and prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and everywhere else, but for me in Myanmar, just a lot of citizens, doctors, teachers that are in prison right now. And, you know, that’s another point that everybody here is reiterating, this will be a short little celebration, but you know, let’s keep focused on what the actual story is here.”
A Burmese rights group has recorded over 10,000 arrests since the February coup. According to the UN, 126 members of the press have been arrested with 47 currently in detention.
In Chile, the Senate voted against impeaching President Sebastián Piñera, putting an end to the removal effort that was launched after allegations of corruption and financial misdeeds emerged following revelations in the Pandora Papers leak.
The Biden administration has banned Nicaraguan government officials, including President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, from entering the U.S. following recent elections which saw Ortega re-elected for a fourth time and which the U.S. and others have denounced as rigged. Leading up to the vote, authorities arrested some 40 opposition figures, including seven prospective presidential challengers. The travel ban came one day after the U.S. announced separate financial sanctions on Nicaragua. Ortega has long accused the U.S. government of interfering in Nicaragua and supporting a coup attempt in 2018. The Nicaraguan congress has also denounced the Organization of American States for passing a resolution declaring the election lacked “democratic legitimacy.”
In Burkina Faso, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital Ouagadougou Tuesday to demand President Roch Kaboré resign after a recent militant attack on a defense outpost in the northern border region killed 28 soldiers and four civilians. It was the worst recorded attack against troops during a four-year conflict that has killed thousands and displaced over one million people. Protesters on Tuesday also demanded the departure of French forces that patrol Burkina Faso, as well as neighboring Mali and Niger, whose presence they say leads to more attacks by insurgent groups.
Hermann Tassambedo: “We are not happy, there are too many killings, we are fed up, how many widows, how many orphans in this country. We came out in 2014 to create some change, but now there is no change, nothing has changed, the worst is here. They told us it will not be like before, why are we still seeing the worst?”
The State Department announced the U.S. is curbing refugee admissions in order to prioritize the resettlement of thousands of Afghan evacuees. The pause on admitting certain groups of refugees will run through January 11. The U.S. admitted just 400 refugees in October despite President Biden’s commitment to resettling up to 125,000 refugees this fiscal year.
North Dakota’s Republican governor Doug Burgum has signed legislation banning the teaching of critical race theory. Public schools are now barred from teaching students that “racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality.”
A Connecticut judge ruled far-right conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones was liable for damages in lawsuits brought by families of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, after Jones failed to turn over documents to the court. 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.
In labor news, workers at five branches of Pacific Northwest restaurant chain Burgerville have become the country’s first fast food employees to successfully unionize. The tentative agreement with Burgerville includes expanded sick leave, vacation benefits, paid parental leave and a reliable three-month schedule. It also guarantees pay rates that are higher than the statewide minimum wage.