10 things you need to know today: June 29, 2020

The global COVID-19 death toll surpasses 500,000, Mississippi lawmakers vote to replace state flag, and more

A COVID-19 test site
(Image credit: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

1. Coronavirus global death toll hits 500,000

The global COVID-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 on Sunday, with a total of more than 10 million cases. More than 125,000 people have died in the U.S., and more than 2.5 million infections have been confirmed there. New cases continued to soar in several states. Florida is closing its beaches again to fight a spike. "Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) backtracked on reopenings of bars in Los Angeles and six other counties, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who let businesses start reopening in early May before shutting down bars again Friday, warned that COVID-19 had taken a "very swift and very dangerous turn" in his state.

The Associated Press

2. Mississippi lawmakers vote to replace flag containing Confederate emblem

Mississippi state lawmakers on Sunday overwhelmingly voted to replace the state flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag symbol. The approval of the bill came as protesters demanding an end to systemic racism call for taking down statues of Confederate figures. The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who reversed his opposition and said Saturday he would sign it. The bill calls for a commission to come up with a new design to send to voters in November. "I would guess a lot of you don't even see that flag in the corner right there," said state Rep. Ed Blackmon, who is Black, before the vote. "There are some of us who notice it every time we walk in here, and it's not a good feeling." Mississippi's is the last state flag to include the Confederate emblem.

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CBS News

3. Pence tells Texans to wear face coverings

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking Sunday at a Dallas event, urged Americans to wear face masks to prevent spreading of the coronavirus. Cases have spiked in Texas, one of the earliest states to start letting businesses reopen in early May. Pence encouraged Texans to practice social distancing and stay away from senior citizens, who have been the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Pence praised Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), both for his "decisive action" to reopen the state's economy, and for scaling back on the reopenings by ordering bars to close again after coronavirus infections subsequently spiked. Pence, Abbott, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wore masks during the event, something President Trump declines to do in public.

The Washington Post

4. Trump faces backlash after retweeting video showing man shouting 'white power'

President Trump on Sunday retweeted a video in which one of his supporters in a Florida retirement community, The Villages, shouts "white power" at a group of protesters calling for racial justice. The video, which also was laced with profanity, was later deleted from Trump's feed. White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump "did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters." Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, said "the entire thing was offensive. Certainly, the comment about white power was offensive." The Florida Democratic Party called for the state's voters to reject Trump in November, saying that by retweeting the video he was thanking "white supremacists."


5. Report: Russian bounties linked to deaths of U.S. troops

Russian bounties paid to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan were believed linked to the deaths of an unspecified number of U.S. troops, The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing intelligence gathered from interrogations. The New York Times first reported about the plot on Friday, saying the Trump administration had been discussing it since at least March. After finding a large amount of American cash during a raid on a Taliban outpost, U.S. intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan reportedly told their superiors as early as January that they suspected Russia was paying militants bounties to kill U.S. and coalition troops. Trump tweeted on Sunday morning that "nobody briefed me or told me ... about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an 'anonymous source' by the Fake News @nytimes."

The New York Times The Washington Post

6. Starbucks becomes latest company to pause social media ads

Starbucks on Sunday said it would pause social media ads, becoming the latest major company to do so since the launch of a campaign led by civil rights organizations boycotting Facebook to get it to do more to stop racist and violent content. The coffee chain said it was suspending Facebook ad buys as it discusses fighting hate speech online with civil rights organizations and media partners. Starbucks said it was not participating in the "#StopHateforProfit" ad-boycott campaign. Other companies that have halted ad buys on Facebook and, in some cases, other social media, include European consumer-goods giant Unilever, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, REI, Magnolia Pictures, jeans maker Levi's, and many smaller companies.

The Associated Press

7. 4 San Jose police officers fired over racist and anti-Muslim Facebook posts

The San Jose, California, Police Department placed four officers on administrative leave on Sunday after an anonymous blogger accused current and retired officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. "We have no place for this," said the city's police chief, Eddie Garcia. One of the posts said Muslim women's hijabs should be repurposed as nooses. Another said "Black lives don't really matter." The case followed similar incidents elsewhere, including an Alabama officer fired for a post depicting an armed Black protester in a rifle scope's crosshairs, and three Wilmington, North Carolina, officers were fired after a recording surfaced in which one was heard saying he "can't wait" to start "slaughtering" Black people.

The New York Times

8. Gunmen attack Pakistan stock exchange

Four gunmen tried unsuccessfully to storm Pakistan's stock exchange in Karachi early Monday. The attackers drove up to the exchange's front gate. Two got into a parking area before all four were killed in a gun battle with security forces. At least four security officers were killed, officials said. Traders and officials reportedly took shelter inside the exchange during the hour-long clash. Social media posts purportedly from the Baluchistan Liberation Army claimed that the separatist group was responsible for the attack. The B.L.A. is an insurgent movement in Pakistan's resource-rich Baluchistan Province, where the group in recent years has targeted Chinese interests linked to large development projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative.

The New York Times Reuters

9. Ex-police officer expected to plead guilty to being Golden State Killer

Seventy-four-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. is expected to plead guilty Monday to being the Golden State Killer, a rapist and murderer who terrorized California four decades ago. Under the deal with prosecutors, DeAngelo is expected to be spared the death penalty for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges in six counties. Survivors of assaults that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s expect him to admit to up to 62 rapes, but he won't be prosecuted in those cases because they happened too long ago. "I've been on pins and needles because I just don't like that our lives are tied to him, again," said Jennifer Carole, the daughter of Lyman Smith, who was killed in 1980 at age 43. Smith's wife, 33-year-old Charlene Smith, was raped and killed in the same incident.

The Associated Press

10. China announces visa restrictions against U.S. individuals over Hong Kong

China said on Monday it would impose visa restrictions on Americans for "egregious conduct" related to Hong Kong. The sanctions came in response to U.S. sanctions against any Chinese officials linked to actions that erode the self-control Hong Kong has had since the former British colony was returned to China's control. China's legislative body is drafting a national security law for Hong Kong that pro-democracy activists say will harden Beijing's control over the financial hub and result in a crackdown on dissent. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not specify any U.S. individuals expected to be targeted, but said the restrictions were a direct response to the U.S. sanctions, which he called an attempt "to obstruct China's legislation for safeguarding national security" in Hong Kong.


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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.