Headlines: December 18, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:18 — 7.6MB)
Vice President Mike Pence received his Covid-19 vaccine shot on Friday, televising his experience in order to convince more Americans, including skeptical backers of President Donald Trump, to take the vaccine when it becomes available. The Capitol’s physician received enough vaccine doses to inoculate senior members of Congress as well as Supreme Court Justices. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed they would be getting the shots. President Trump has yet to be vaccinated although he has said he would take it. Political leaders began receiving the vaccine after health workers in hard hit states and nursing home staff and residents were prioritized. Now, vaccine supplies are also heading to Indian country, which has been hard hit. The Navajo nation of 170,000 people has had 20,000 infections and more than 700 deaths. Prison inmates have also been disproportionately impacted by the disease as one in five has contracted it and 1,700 have died from it. But incarcerated individuals have been excluded from vaccine plans as public health experts sound the alarm. Teachers are also hoping to be among the early recipients of the vaccine so that kids can get back to school in person as soon as possible. The Los Angeles Times on Friday reported that wealthy Americans are audaciously offering bribes to cut ahead of the vaccine line. According to the paper, “Some wealthy patients may get the shots sooner than the average person because they’re members of exclusive healthcare groups that offer the kind of high-quality, primary care most Americans can’t afford.”
Meanwhile as the U.S.’s vaccine supply is divvied up and sent to all corners of a desperate nation, there are reports of shortages already as the federal government reduces vaccine shipments without explanation even as the manufacturer, Pfizer, says there are millions of doses available but not yet shipped out. In a statement the company said, “We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.” States that had laid out complex plans for inoculation are now scrambling to account for far fewer doses than they were initially promised. It is not clear yet why the federal government is withholding the shipments of vaccines. Meanwhile the FDA is expected to approve a second vaccine on Friday, this one by Moderna corporation.
California has now become the hardest hit state in the nation with Southern California in particular becoming the new epicenter of the virus. ICU bed capacity is dangerously low. According to the latest data compiled by the CDC, although per capita deaths over the past week in the state remain low, per capita infections have skyrocketed in the last 7 days compared to the rest of the nation. The state has now activated its “catastrophic mass fatality” program. Meanwhile, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says that his 9-year old daughter has tested positive for the virus. He and his wife have tested negative.
Congress continues to grapple with a Covid-relief bill as news emerged that President Trump privately wanted stimulus checks as large as $2,000 to be sent to all Americans but was talked out going public lest he disrupt negotiations. Progressives slammed their colleagues for allowing Trump to show more generosity to a struggling population. Meanwhile one large Democratic Party ask in the bill—aid to struggling states and localities—has now reportedly been dropped from the bill. It may be up to President elect Joe Biden to authorize help for states once he takes office. Another solution could be for states to impose stiff taxes on their wealthiest residents, especially those whose fortunes have multiplied during the pandemic even as millions lost their jobs. New analysis by the New York Times shows that, “many states that are looking better now have among the most progressive tax structures in the country, and that is part of what has rescued them this year.”
In news about police violence the New York City Department of Investigation which oversees the NYPD found that city police badly abused their power and repeatedly violated the First Amendment rights of Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this year. Police arrested thousands of peaceful protesters, many of them handled roughly by law enforcement, leading the watchdog group to conclude in its 111-page report that, “Some police officers engaged in actions that were, at a minimum, unprofessional and, at worst, unjustified excessive force or abuse of authority.” The report also laid the blame on Mayor Bill DeBlasio. And, in the case of the Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery who was killed by white vigilantes in Georgia earlier this year, newly released video shows police arrived while Arbery was still alive but refused to offer him medical help before he passed away. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was found to have known about a video a year ago of a botched police raid against an African American woman who was arrested and held at gunpoint while naked. Mayor Lightfoot has apologized and pledged to do better.
Government officials have continued to warn of a grave risk to the U.S. from a wide-spread newly discovered cyberattack that is apparently linked to the Russian government. President elect Joe Biden has pledged to take on the issue when he steps into office while Trump has remained silent—as he has also done on other matters of importance. Republican Senator Mitt Romney called Trump’s silence “inexcusable,” while some lawmakers have inquired if the breach amounted to an act of war. Microsoft on Thursday said it had identified about 40 government agencies as well as non-government think tanks and companies, as having been compromised by the mass hacking. Microsoft President Brad Smith explained, “There are more nongovernmental victims than there are governmental victims, with a big focus on I.T. companies, especially in the security industry.”
Republicans are worried about their prospects in the two Georgia Senate runoff races as they campaign in the state with conflicting messages about Trump’s election loss there. GOP candidates vying for reelection, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are claiming that Trump could still win election once the (mythical) fraud has been rooted out but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is campaigning saying that Republicans need the two Senate seats because Trump lost. Trump himself continues to raise funds for his PAC on the basis of the Georgia races but has spent none of it. Meanwhile Loeffler, who has been caught posing with a former KKK leader, has now been found to have often taken pictures with various known white supremacists and nationalists. Voting rights advocates are now warning that recent changes to the number of polling places in some counties is suppressing early voting. Still, more than a million ballots have already been cast in the high-stakes races, indicating very high turnout.
President elect Joe Biden’s pick of Congresswoman Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department is being hailed as a win for the indigenous rights and environmental movement. She will become the nation’s first Native American Interior Secretary. However, she and several other Democratic members of the House being named to positions in the Biden administration now means that the Democratic Party’s lead has shrunk to only three votes. In a statement responding to the news Congresswoman Haaland said, “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior…It’s profound to think about the history of this country’s policies to exterminate Native Americans and the resilience of our ancestors that gave me a place here today.” I had interviewed Deb Haaland in 2018 when she ran for Congress and you can watch that interview on our website.