Headlines: December 4, 2020
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The U.S. economy added 245,000 new jobs last month according to new government data. The number was dismally low and was the fifth month in a row of slowed job growth. One reason was the ending of 93,000 temporary U.S. Census bureau jobs in February. There are about 10 million fewer jobs in the U.S. today than in November. Among those who have lost those jobs are many workers who are set to lose unemployment benefits in the face of Congressional inaction driven by the GOP-dominated Senate.
Republicans in the House on Thursday attempted to adjourn the session without addressing Covid-related economic relief. House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona introduced the measure and was promptly denounced by his Democratic colleagues. California Democrat Eric Swalwell called the move “batty,” and added, “Americans are in dire need of food and paychecks,” while New York’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez tweeted, “People are going hungry and they’re treating this like a game.” The motion to adjourn was defeated. Meanwhile a modest compromise bill introduced by conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans to the tune of $908 billion appears to be gaining momentum. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the phone about the bill. Among their differences are corporate liability protections, which McConnell wants, and aid to states which Pelosi wants. President elect Joe Biden has announced his support for the bill saying that it, “would be a good start,” but that, “it’s not enough.”
Covid-19 infections and deaths continue to break records with more than 217,000 new cases of infections reported on Thursday alone. And, more than 2,800 people died on Thursday nationwide, the second day in a row that broke records. The trend ought not to be surprising considering that in October compliance with social distancing guidelines fell to an all-time low as per a new study. And, new data shows Americans traveled during the Thanksgiving break despite warnings against resuming traditional family gatherings. The New York Times on Friday published the results of a survey of 700 epidemiologists and how they had changed their lifestyles during the course of the pandemic. While a majority had resumed errands like grocery shopping, begun treating their mail without precaution, and gathered outdoors with friends, most had not eaten indoors at restaurants, traveled by airplane, or exercised at an indoor gym.
President elect Joe Biden announced that among his first actions in office would be to call on Americans to adopt universal mask wearing for 100 days. The call was not as strict as the universal mask mandate he had backed during his campaign. In his interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Biden said, “On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction.” Biden has also invited the Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci to join his team as chief medical advisor and announced Dr. Vivek Murthy as his Surgeon General. Dr. Murthy served as Surgeon General under President Obama.
The New York Times reports that the Justice Department as recently as this summer investigated the roles of two people in President Donald Trump’s orbit in a bribery-for-clemency scheme. Elliott Broidy, a top fundraiser for Trump, and Abbe Lowell who is Jared Kushner’s lawyer, were both under investigation. The Times framed the story saying, “The scheme outlined by prosecutors underscores the transactional nature of Mr. Trump’s term, where people leveraged connections to him or framed their causes in terms of his personal or political benefit to influence his decisions.” Trump is reportedly considering “preemptive pardons,” which is pardons for people before they have been charged or convicted of crimes. Among the 20 or so people he is considering are his own family members and his lawyer. No President has ever contemplated such a thing before.
In other corruption-related news, a Trump aide named Heidi Stirrup has been banned from the premises of the Justice Department after she was caught trying to glean information about potential election fraud that she could relay back to the White House. AP explained that, “Stirrup is accused of approaching staffers in the department and demanding that they give her information about investigations, including election fraud matters.” Additionally, “Stirrup had also extended job offers to political allies for positions at some of the highest levels of the Justice Department without consulting senior department officials or the White House counsel’s office.” Trump has now appointed her to the board of visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted in a historic bill to decriminalize marijuana nationwide, voting to remove it from the federal government’s list of controlled substances. The Democrat-controlled House passed the bill 228-to-164 as growing numbers of states around the nation have legalized Cannabis. House Democrats linked the passage of the bill to the harm that the “war on drugs” has done to communities of color especially. Republican lawmakers opposed the bill making it unlikely to pass the Senate, however. Republican voters are largely in favor of legalization.
John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence has used provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act to collect internet data of Americans as per documents just obtained by the New York Times. The documents were part of correspondence between Ratcliffe to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon sent in November in response to a request for information from May. A slim majority of Senators in May voted to ban the use of Section 215 in the USA PATRIOT Act to collect internet search data. The government says that it stops short of obtaining the keywords that people submit to search engines. Senators plan to revive the issue during the Biden administration.
A massive fire in Southern California has prompted evacuations and road closures. The Bond Fire, burning unusually late in the year started in Orange County on Wednesday night and moved rapidly through several areas prompting evacuation orders at the same time that the state is unveiling its shelter-in-place restrictions. California has had an unusually bad fire season driven by climate change.
Acting as though climate change doesn’t exist, the Trump administration has kick started the sale of oil drilling licenses in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sale of oil drilling leases has been scheduled for January 6, just two weeks before a new administration is inaugurated. The Bureau of Land Management released a statement saying, “Oil and gas from the coastal plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities.” Environmental groups and indigenous Alaskans denounced the move.
In international news, in what is being considered the world’s largest uprising, 250 million Indians have taken to the streets to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neo-liberal market driven changes to India’s agricultural industry. Tens of thousands of farmers have laid siege to the capital New Delhi, blocking roads and highways and bringing the city to a standstill. They are joined by students, trade unionists, women’s groups and more and have a list of demands that includes overturning the anti-farmer reforms and enacting Covid-relief.