Headlines: December 10, 2020
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration convened a panel on Thursday to decide whether or not to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The panel met a day after a record-breaking 3,100 people died in the United States in a 24-hour period. In the Los Angeles area where this program is produced, new infections and deaths are driving California total and in the San Francisco Bay area, officials say hospitals will run out of ICU beds in 17 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now projecting a nationwide death toll of 362,000 by early January. Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is the head of President elect Joe Biden’s Coronavirus task force said, “There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now.”
The message was lost on President Donald Trump however who held a crowded indoor Hanukkah Party at the White House during which he proclaimed that somehow he would win an election he lost. Dozens of people at the White House and in Trump’s orbit have been infected, including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. But, like Trump himself, Mr. Giuliani boasted of the special treatment with experimental drugs that he was given—the same drugs that are being rationed to the rest of the nation. Giuliani said in an interview, “If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital frankly…Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.” He has left a trail of exposure during his recent travels including in Michigan and Arizona where he spoke at hearings usually without wearing a mask. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has just announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
As the pandemic spreads to smaller cities that had previously been less impacted, new battles over face coverings are breaking out. In Boise, Idaho, which has been hard hit, a public health meeting ended early before holding a contentious vote to mandate mask-wearing in public. Aggressive anti-mask protesters reduced one official, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, to tears as she worried about her child’s safety when protesters surrounded her home. She said, “I increasingly don’t recognize this place. There is an ugliness and cruelty in our national rhetoric that is reaching a fevered pitch here at home, and that should worry us all.”
The latest Labor Department figures on unemployment show a sharp increase in the number of laid off Americans who filed for jobless benefits last week. More than 947,000 people filed for claims, up nearly a quarter of a million from the week before. About 40% of American households are now reporting lower incomes than they had before the pandemic hit. In spite of these dire figures Senate Republican leaders refuse to consider extending jobless benefits or sending stimulus checks, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holding out in order to protect corporations from worker-lawsuits. The House did pass a 1-week spending bill kicking the can down the road to fund the federal government past its funding deadline.
President Trump also appears immune to the pain of Americans as he remains fixated on overturning the election results. In the latest phase of his coup attempt he has joined a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General that 17 states have signed on to. The suit which is aimed at the Supreme Court demands that the election results of four swing states be overturned: Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. All 17 states are dominated by the GOP and their Republican Attorneys General are staking their reputation on Trump’s desire to remain in office undemocratically. Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced he would be willing to argue the case before the Supreme Court. Reporters with the Atlanta Journal Constitution say that Trump called Georgia’s State Attorney General warning that other Republican AGs should not signal their opposition to the lawsuit. Even though a record breaking 80 million Americans cast ballots for Joe Biden – the largest number ever to back a president—only one quarter of all Republicans, as per a new poll, accept the results. The Washington Post’s editorial board warned on Wednesday that Trump’s lies about the election are increasing the potential for violence.
In other news, former Bernie Sanders campaign chair and state senator in Ohio, Nina Turner ended speculation about a House run after she filed papers to that end. Turner has her eye on a seat that is likely being vacated by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge who has been named by President elect Biden as his pick to head the Housing and Urban Development department. Turner is a fierce and outspoken progressive who has garnered a loyal following among Sanders’ supporters.
Among Biden’s latest picks is also Susan Rice as his domestic policy adviser and Denis McDonough to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rice was Obama’s National Security Advisor while McDonough was his White House chief of staff. The latest name on the short list for the critically important position of Attorney General is Alabama Senator Doug Jones who just lost reelection to Republican Tommy Tuberville. The naming of that position is now tricky for Biden considering that his son Hunter, a long-time favorite Republican target – said he was under investigation by the federal government over tax issues. There is deep irony in Hunter Biden being investigated by the Trump administration where nepotism and business conflicts of interest run rampant.
The city of Minneapolis which became Ground Zero for Black Lives Matter protests this past summer has just voted to cut nearly $8 million from its police budget. The resolution was part of a city budget that fell short of permanently cutting the number of police officers and came after weeks of contentious city council meetings. The initial proposal was to cut $14 million from a massive $179 million police budget, but that cut was halved to $7.7 million. Meanwhile the U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama over appalling conditions in its state prison system. According to the DOJ complaint which was filed this week, Alabama’s men’s prisons are unconstitutional, and fail to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse from fellow inmates and prison guards.
The U.S. government on Wednesday also filed a major lawsuit through the Federal Trade Commission against Facebook calling for it to be broken up into smaller entities. The suit claims that the social media giant has been unfairly dominating competition in the field and using unfair advantages in the digital industry. Mark Zuckerberg may be forced to break his media empire up by selling off What’s App and Instagram, two major popular applications that he now owns. Forty eight out of 50 Attorneys General joined the FTC in the lawsuit, which will likely continue under the incoming Biden administration. New York’s Attorney General Letitia James said, “For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.”
Senate Republicans, together with a handful of Democrats voted down a bill that would have stopped the Trump administration’s weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates. The Trump White House had used weaponry as incentive for the UAE to recognize the state of Israel. Opponents of the deal said it would fuel the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen. The $23 billion sale includes Reaper drones and F-35 jets.