Headlines: December 17, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:02 — 7.4MB)
French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing symptoms, becoming the latest head of state to catch the virus. His diagnosis caused deep concern across Europe considering that he had recently met with several European leaders and other foreign officials including the Prime Ministers of Spain, Portugal and Belgium. Here in the United States the latest government officials to be diagnosed include Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Republican Congressman Joe Wilson. On Wednesday the U.S. experienced its highest daily death toll yet with 3,600 people dying from COVID-19. The total number of infected people since the pandemic began has surpassed 17 million. ICU beds are rapidly dwindling with reports of long Emergency Room waits and hospital beds being stuffed into hallways.
And FDA panel is expected to sign off on a second vaccine, this time produced by the company Moderna, using the same mRNA-based technology that Pfizer and BioNTech have used for their vaccine which is currently the only one formally approved by the FDA. The Pfizer vaccine is being rapidly deployed to health workers as well as nursing home staff and residents in all corners of the U.S. as those administering it have now discovered that the vaccine vials actually contain 1 or even 2 extra doses than expected. The discovery means that the supply secured by the U.S. government could help vaccinate more people than previously thought. Vice President Mike Pence and President elect Joe Biden will both receive the vaccine in the next several days and both will take their shots publicly.
The New York Times reports that two health workers in Alaska had to receive emergency treatment after developing anaphylactic allergic reactions from taking the Pfizer vaccine. One of the two had a more serious reaction and was treated several times with epinephrine shots before recovering. The other worker had milder symptoms. The reactions are similar to what was observed in two recipients of the same vaccine in the UK last week. Meanwhile vaccine skeptics continue to spread lies and misinformation and some local media outlets including progressive ones have unfortunately given a platform to those voices. The social media platform Twitter now says it will add warning labels or simply remove tweets containing “unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines.”
The economic damage from the pandemic continues to build with a new study showing that 8 million Americans fell into poverty since this past summer. The Washington Post summarized the study’s findings saying that, “It is the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago.” Jobless claims from last week have also risen to 855,000 as per the weekly Labor Department report – the highest number since September. Meanwhile members of Congress continue to fight over details of a COVID-relief package that they should have passed weeks ago.
A new compromise bill to the tune of $900 billion is apparently in sight that includes weekly benefits for jobless Americans and a one-time stimulus check. But Republicans, deeply worried that struggling Americans may receive too much help are apparently insisting that those receiving jobless benefits should not also receive a stimulus check. Analyst David Dayen who is a frequent guest on our program tweeted, “Senate Rs want to stop ‘double dipping,’ where an unemployed person might get $300/wk in federal UI & a $600 direct payment. (oh noes) But Senators also added a MASSIVE $100 billion ‘double dip’ letting businesses deduct PPP loans from taxes when they’re already tax-free.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made it his number one priority to ensure corporations are protected from worker lawsuits, is apparently now letting go of that demand in exchange for ensuring that the bill remains under a trillion dollars. Senator Elizabeth Warren slammed McConnell saying he, “is willing to let American families walk away with nothing,” while Senator Bernie Sanders said, “There is simply not enough money in the proposal to deal with the unprecedented crises that we now face.” But Sanders added, “What we got now is not enough but it is something.” Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said this is an interview on the Mehdi Hassan show responding to the latest iteration of the Covid relief package.
Thomas P. Bossert, the former homeland security adviser to President Trump and deputy homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush has written a damning op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday about recent cyberattacks on U.S. federal agency servers by hackers linked to the Russian government. Bossert wrote, “The magnitude of this national security breach is hard to overstate.” He explained, “In the networks that the Russians control, they have the power to destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people. Domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation — both hallmarks of Russian behavior.”
President elect Joe Biden has continued naming his top cabinet appointees and on Thursday touted Michael Regan, the top environmental regulator in North Carolina to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regan, who is African American, spent years working as an air quality specialist at the EPA before joining the nonprofit group, the Environmental Defense Fund. He displaces California’s top air quality regulator Mary Nichols who Biden had been considering as EPA head but who came under criticism from progressives for not doing enough on environmental racism. Biden has also picked Brenda Mallory, director of regulatory policy at Southern Environmental Law Center to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. And pressure is growing for him to pick Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico as Interior Secretary. Haaland would be the first Native American to lead the agency and has won the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Biden’s pick for Education Secretary has narrowed to two people: Leslie Fenwick, a dean at Howard University and Miguel Cardona, a top educational official in Connecticut. Both are outsiders to DC. A new survey found that a majority of Americans want Biden’s cabinet to exclude corporate lobbyists and executives.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that Biden would save the treasury a whopping $2.6 billion if he scraps President Trump’s plans to build a border wall. The internal estimates were just made public by the Washington Post.
And, the New York Times just analyzed Trump’s judicial appointees and found that they are far more conservative than even past conservative judges appointed by Republican Presidents. According to the Times, which reviewed more than 10,000 judicial opinions from the past 3 years, Trump’s “selections were nearly four times as likely to clash with colleagues appointed by Democratic presidents as those appointed by Republicans.” The judges are young and will be around for decades.