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Headlines for August 13, 2021 – Democracy Now!

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In Afghanistan, the Taliban has seized control of Kandahar and Herat, the country’s second- and third-largest cities. Taliban forces have also overrun Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province in the south. It’s one of 17 provincial capitals now under Taliban control. The Taliban accelerated its sweeping offensive last week as the United States was pulling out its troops after nearly 20 years in Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it is sending 3,000 extra troops to Kabul to help evacuate embassy staff. Britain and Canada are also sending in new troops. State Department spokesperson Ned Price spoke on Thursday. 
Ned Price: “We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In order to facilitate this reduction, the Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport.”
Aid groups are warning of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as tens of thousands flee their homes to escape the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Afghan government has reportedly offered a power-sharing proposal to the Taliban. 
China indefinitely closed a terminal at the world’s third-busiest container port Thursday after a single worker tested positive for coronavirus. The shutdown came as China struggles to maintain its ”COVID-zero” policy after it detected its first Delta variant infection last month.
Australia’s capital, Canberra, has begun a one-week hard lockdown after officials confirmed the first locally transmitted COVID-19 case in over a year. Almost half of Australia’s population is now in lockdown amid the nation’s largest COVID outbreak in a year.
Russia recorded a record high 808 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. It was Russia’s fifth record high daily toll this month — and came one year after the highly effective Sputnik V vaccine was approved. Fewer than one in five Russians are fully vaccinated, even though shots are widely available.
Here in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to certain immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday the shots will be made available to cancer patients, organ transplant recipients and others who are less able to mount an effective immune response to vaccines.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: “To be clear, this is a very small population. We estimate it to be less than 3% of adults.”
New Orleans and San Francisco said Thursday that all patrons to bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor spaces will be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test. New York City is adopting a similar requirement next week.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Indiana University may keep its requirement that students attending classes be vaccinated against COVID-19. Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned down a challenge to the requirement without comment and without referring it to the full court. 
In Florida, Brevard County’s fire chief is pleading with residents to cut back on 911 calls as a surge of COVID-19 cases is overwhelming hospitals and leading to a shortage of ambulances. In Broward County, teachers union president Anna Fusco says four Broward County school teachers died of COVID-19 in just one 24-hour period this week. And she said students are getting sick and dying across Florida, too.
Anna Fusco: “We had a student pass away in Duval County. We had a student pass away in Alachua County. And right here in Broward County, we have a 15-year-old high school student that is at a school that’s no less than five miles away from our union hall that is fighting for her life on a respirator.”
Over 800 Florida physicians have signed an open letter to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis calling on him to repeal his executive order punishing school districts and officials who order mask mandates and other public health measures. DeSantis has threatened to stop paying the salaries of school administrators who support mask mandates.
In Texas, Houston school board officials have voted to require all staff, students and visitors to wear masks on school property. The order defies a ban on mask mandates by Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked part of a New York state eviction moratorium, a ruling that housing advocates say could lead to thousands losing their homes. The moratorium, which was set to expire at the end of the month, barred landlords from evicting tenants who filled out a form claiming economic hardship, instead of going through a court hearing. This comes as new data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that nearly half of U.S. workers cannot afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.
Israel announced it will resume settlement building in the occupied West Bank after an almost year-long break. The settlements are considered illegal under international law and routinely dispossess Palestinians of their homes and land. Some 2,000 new units for Jewish settlers are expected to be approved next week, as well as 1,000 units for Palestinians living under Israeli military control.
At least 45 prominent Jewish American leaders are calling on AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — to apologize to progressive congresswomen of color, accusing the lobby group of putting their lives at risk with repeated Islamophobic attack ads. The ads link Congressmembers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to terrorism and mirror language used in death threats they have received. Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim congresswomen, and Tlaib is Palestinian American. They have been vocal critics of Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and its killing of Palestinians.
In immigration news, the number of asylum seekers apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has reached a nearly unprecedented level, with more than 212,000 people apprehended in July alone, including at least 19,000 unaccompanied children. People in Central America, the Caribbean and other regions continue to flee worsening poverty, violence and the impacts of the climate crisis. At a press conference in Brownsville, Texas, yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas once again warned asylum seekers not to come to the U.S., saying they’ll be turned away. This comes as Biden officials still have not located the parents of over 300 children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump administration. 
The Republican-led Texas Senate passed a sweeping voter suppression bill Thursday, following a 15-hour overnight filibuster by Democrat Carol Alvarado. Under Senate rules, Alvarado could not take bathroom breaks or drink water and was not allowed to sit or lean against her desk. Wearing sneakers and a back brace for support, she concluded her marathon filibuster Thursday morning.
Sen. Carol Alvarado: “Voter suppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere. Thank you. Gratefully, thank you, Mr. President and members.”
The bill now heads to the Texas House, where Democrats have successfully been delaying its passage by not showing up to vote, thus denying the chamber a quorum. Earlier this week, the House speaker signed 52 arrest warrants to compel the Democrats to return to the Capitol.
The wife of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul bought stock in Gilead Sciences, a drug company which produces the COVID-19 treatment remdesivir, in the early days of the pandemic. Senator Paul made the disclosure just this week, more than 16 months after he was legally required to do so. As a member of the Senate Health Committee, Paul was briefed on the emerging pandemic a month before the shares were purchased in February 2020. An aide for the senator claimed the disclosure was prepared last year and Rand Paul believed it had been submitted. Meanwhile, YouTube suspended Senator Paul on Tuesday for one week for spreading misinformation, after he claimed in a video that masks are ineffective at protecting against COVID-19.
The 2020 U.S. census data shows Asian and Latinx populations have boomed in the past decade, as the number of white people in the U.S. has fallen to under 60% for the first time on record. Census Bureau officials say the U.S. population is much more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before.
Over 9,000 anti-Asian incidents have been reported across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate. Women and older people are particularly at risk for the hate crimes. Rights groups have attributed the rise in violence to misinformation about the pandemic and the use of anti-Asian language by political officials, including former President Trump.
In Minnesota, climate activist Jessica Reznicek self-reported to the Waseca Federal Correctional Facility Thursday to begin serving an eight-year prison sentence for damaging parts of the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, Reznicek and fellow activist Ruby Montoya set fire to five pieces of heavy machinery being used to construct the pipeline. The two then moved up and down the pipeline’s length, destroying valves and delaying construction for weeks.
Reznicek’s imprisonment came the same week the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a major new report that the Earth could face runaway climate catastrophe unless drastic efforts are made to reduce greenhouse gases.

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