Headlines: December 14, 2020
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The first vaccinations to be given in the U.S. outside of a clinical trial have begun. The momentous occasion came at lightning speed less than a year after the declaration of the global coronavirus pandemic. In spite of the fact that President Donald Trump had said that New York wouldn’t receive the vaccine until later, the state hardest hit in the early days of the pandemic was the first to administer shots. Healthcare workers at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens began receiving the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine at 9 am on Monday, just 3 days after the US Food and Drug Administration—under threat from the White House — approved it for use. Nursing home residents and workers will also be among the early receivers of the vaccine. Nursing homes have lost a whopping 110,000 people – almost a third of the entire national death toll. AP reports that there are fears among seniors about taking the vaccine, saying, “Some who live and work in homes question if enough testing was done on the elderly, if enough is known of side effects and if the shots could do more harm than good.” Still, overall skepticism about the vaccine appears to be falling with a new poll showing a large majority of Americans now saying they will get the vaccine. The Ipsos poll found 40% of the population wanting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them, another 44% saying they want to wait to get it and about 15% saying they will never get it.
Plans for the White House to be first in line to get the vaccine were inexplicably scrapped, perhaps to undercut the perception that Trump and his staff have placed themselves above ordinary Americans in access to cutting-edge treatments. “People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” tweeted Trump after the New York Times reported on the plans. He added, “I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.” Pfizer’s CEO says his company will produce 50 million doses this year and another 1.3 billion next year. In other Covid-related news, new research suggests that people with certain genetic makeup are more vulnerable to the fatal risks of the coronavirus. The study is the biggest of its kind so far and the Washington Post summarized its results saying, “people with blood type A were at higher risk of severe infections, while having blood type O was somewhat associated with a protective effect. It also noted a location on chromosome 3 linked to respiratory failure.”
The electoral college met on Monday to cast their votes as per official state election results for the November 3rd presidential race. The date of the meeting is set by law and electors are set to cement Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. On January 6th, a joint session of Congress will convene, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence, for the votes to be tallied. Trump and many members of the Republican party have tried to get GOP-dominated state houses to force elector votes to be cast for the incumbent. On Monday White House adviser Stephen Miller said on Fox and Friends that “an alternate slate of electors in the contested states is going to vote, and we’re going to send those results up to Congress.” The move is unprecedented and has no basis in the law. Trump has lost every legal bid to overturn the election results in court, the latest being a loss at the Wisconsin Supreme Court where justices on Monday dismissed a demand to invalidate 220,000 votes. On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected outright and with little comment, Texas’ bid to invalidate swing state votes.
Thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington DC over the weekend to support their president, bringing with them a wave of violence and hate. Vandals destroyed property and burned Black Lives Matter signs on Black Churches in DC prompting one pastor to say, “it was reminiscent of cross burnings.” Police are now investigating the incidents as hate crimes. Several people were stabbed near a bar where members of the hate group Proud Boys gathered. Four are in critical condition and 8 DC Metro police were also injured. Thirty three people were arrested. As Michigan’s electors gathered to cast votes, the state legislature closed down due to what authorities called “credible threats of violence.” Meanwhile Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler who is facing a reelection challenge, says she did not know that a man she recently posed for a photo with is a former Ku Klux Klan leader named Chester Doles, who posted the photo to a social media account with the caption, “Save America, stop Socialism!” Early in-person voting in Georgia began on Monday for the January 5th Senate races.
Hoping to restart stalled Covid-economic-relief talks, yet another bi-partisan group of lawmakers on Monday unveiled a $908 billion deal. But this time, they split their bills into two. Politico explained, “One would be a $748 billion piece of coronavirus relief with less controversial items like schools and health care; the other would marry $160 billion in money for local governments with a temporary liability shield.” Congress faces a year-end deadline for unemployment benefits that are running out but even if they pass a bill into law this week, new benefits will likely take weeks to get to those in need. Meanwhile Congress is also scrambling to come to agreement on a federal government funding bill to the tune of $1.4 trillion. The omnibus compromise bill is necessary in order to stave off a government shutdown. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say they want to combine the Covid relief bill with the government funding bill.
The U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments were among several government agencies whose servers were found to have been compromised as part of what is being seen as a serious hacking attempt linked to the Russian government. According to the Washington Post, “Officials were scrambling over the weekend to assess the nature and extent of the intrusions and implement effective countermeasures, but initial signs suggested the breach was long-running and significant.” The Russian embassy in the U.S. called the accusations “baseless.”
An op-ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal by a man named Joseph Epstein has drawn widespread criticism for its deeply sexist attack on in-coming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden that claimed she should not use the term “doctor.” Epstein, referring to the Doctor of Education using the term “kiddo,” in his first sentence, went on to “mansplain” that “A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child.” Epstein, who admits he has not earned a doctorate, has now been slammed from nearly all quarters for his outrageously misogynistic screed even as the Wall Street Journal’s editors defend their decision to print it.