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Headlines for August 31, 2021 – Democracy Now!

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The U.S. military has completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, bringing an official end to the longest war in U.S. history. Marine General Frank McKenzie said the last troops flew out of Kabul just before midnight local time in Kabul on Monday.
Gen. Frank McKenzie: “Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11th, 2001.”
The Taliban and its supporters celebrated the U.S. withdrawal, setting off fireworks and firing tracer bullets into the night sky. The Taliban is now in full control of Afghanistan, including the Kabul international airport, which the U.S. used to evacuate over 120,000 people fleeing the Taliban over the past 17 days.
According to the Costs of War Project, the U.S. spent over $2.2 trillion in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By one count, over 170,000 people died in the fighting.
Hurricane Ida has been downgraded to a tropical depression after it hit the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 storm on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Monday, Ida continued to bring torrential rain and flooding to Louisiana and southern Mississippi, where two people died when a flooded highway collapsed. Louisiana’s main utility company Entergy says it could be weeks before it restores electricity to nearly a million people in the storm’s path, including all of New Orleans, as temperatures rise to near 90 degrees.
The U.S. COVID-19 outlook continues to worsen, with hospitalizations rising and deaths averaging more than 1,300 per day. On Monday, the Biden administration announced a civil rights probe into five states that have banned local officials from mandating masks. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights argues those states are endangering students with disabilities who are at greater risk of COVID-19 by denying them equal access to safe in-person instruction.
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has made good on his threat to punish local school boards that mandate masks in schools. On Monday, Florida’s education commissioner said the state was withholding funds in Alachua and Broward counties equal to the monthly salaries of school board officials there. That’s despite a court ruling Friday by a Florida judge who ruled DeSantis overstepped his authority by banning mask mandates.
Florida is in the grips of one of the world’s worst COVID-19 surges, averaging more than 16,000 hospitalizations and 260 deaths per day. The Central Florida Disaster Medical Coalition recently shipped 14 portable morgues to area hospitals to handle an overflow of bodies.
In Haiti, survivors of the massive August 14 earthquake are growing desperate as they continue to face shortages of food, shelter, medicine and other resources after thousands lost their homes and everything they owned. This is a resident of the hard-hit city of Les Cayes.
Michel Pierre: “My house was destroyed by the earthquake. Several of my family members died. I had 13 goats: 11 died; I have two left. I came to the market to see if I can sell the two that remain. We have nothing. We need help.”
This comes as a coalition of over 300 rights groups are denouncing the Biden administration’s ongoing deportations to Haiti. The groups are urging Biden to stop the removal of Haitian asylum seekers and to expand temporary protected status, or TPS, and other immigration relief for Haitians. In a letter, the groups say more Haitians have been deported since Biden took office than during all of fiscal year 2020.
More than 500 refugees were rescued from an overcrowded fishing boat off of the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend. The boat had reportedly departed from Libya. Some of the refugees showed signs of having been physically abused or tortured, and Italian officials are investigating whether some of the refugees had been wrongfully imprisoned in Libya.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports Eur opean Union officials are planning a coordinated response to block large numbers of Afghan refugees from arriving in Europe. This comes as the United Nations says some half a million Afghans could flee by the end of the year following the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan.
The United Nations says the world’s last stockpile of leaded gasoline has been burned up, completing a worldwide phaseout of the toxic additive tetraethyl lead after a century of use. The fuel additive improved engine performance but led to the widespread contamination of air, water and soil. The U.N. said the phaseout of leaded gasoline will protect children from brain damage and will prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths each year from heart disease, strokes and cancer. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called on nations to build on the environmental victory.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “We must now turn the same commitment to ending the triple crisis of climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution. We need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We need global mobility with no emissions at all.”
More than 50,000 residents of California and Nevada have been ordered to evacuate the Lake Tahoe region after the massive Caldor Fire swept closer to populated areas. The evacuation order includes prisoners at the El Dorado County Jail and the entire city of South Lake Tahoe, home to 22,000 people. The forecast continues to call for extremely low humidity and strong winds, with red flag warnings in effect for the northern Sierra and western Nevada.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service has ordered all of California’s national forests to be closed to the public until September 17, citing the threat of extreme fire conditions to public safety. More than 15,000 firefighters are battling dozens of California wildfires.
A federal judge has struck down a Trump-era rule that dramatically rolled back protections of the Clean Water Act. In 2019, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency redefined its “Waters of the United States” rule to end protections for hundreds of thousands of miles of streams and rivers and more than half of all wetlands. Six federally recognized Native American tribes sued, and on Monday a U.S. district judge in Arizona took their side, ruling the Trump administration’s process was riddled with errors and that allowing the rule to proceed could lead to “serious environmental harm.”
Texas abortion providers filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday seeking to halt a Texas state law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected — which is often just six weeks into a pregnancy. The law also makes anyone in Texas eligible to sue patients, medical workers, or even a patient’s family or friends who “aid and abet” an abortion. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, the law is due to take effect Wednesday. Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement, “In less than two days, Texas politicians will have effectively overturned Roe v. Wade.”
Texas’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives advanced a bill Monday that would cut off access to abortion pills for people who are more than seven weeks pregnant. Democratic Representative Donna Howard of Austin spoke out against the legislation.
Rep. Donna Howard: “I’m really tired of every single session, having to come here and debate one more obstacle to a woman having a right to choose her own — what happens to her own body and her own destiny.”
A House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection has asked nearly three dozen telecommunications and social media companies to preserve records related to the January 6 assault. That includes data from smartphones used by members of Congress and their staff. Some Republican lawmakers — including Mo Brooks of Alabama, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Paul Gosar of Arizona — have been accused of taking “active roles” in promoting the deadly Capitol insurrection.
Prominent lawyer John Pierce, who’s defending some of the most high-profile Capitol rioters, has failed to appear in court in recent days amid reports he’s been hospitalized with COVID-19. An associate said Pierce was on a ventilator and unresponsive. Pierce mocked the use of face masks during the pandemic and pledged he would never get vaccinated.
In Mexico, relatives of people who’ve been disappeared led a protest Monday outside the presidential palace in Mexico City, marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. They’re accusing the Mexican government of failing to act to find their loved ones. This is Arely Ramirez, whose brother and uncle were disappeared in November 2020.
Arely Ramirez: “This is not life. Since the day of their disappearances, this is not life. We live to look for them. You go to sleep thinking about them. You wake up thinking about them. This is life for us.”
Since the launch of the U.S.-backed so-called war on drugs in 2006, some 90,000 people have been disappeared in Mexico.

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