Headlines: December 8, 2020
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Britain became the first nation in the world to start a mass vaccination campaign with what scientists are deeming a fully tested vaccine for Covid-19. Using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, UK authorities are carrying out a nearly unprecedented public health campaign of delivering shots first to healthcare workers, then elderly people with underlying conditions, and so on. The vaccine will require a “booster” shot 21 days later. Although China has already vaccinated more than a million people, the vaccine it is using is still considered experimental and has only passed through a mid-stage clinical trial. The UK is facing some criticism however from scientists who worry that the regulatory approval process for Pfizer’s vaccine was rushed. Here in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has just confirmed the safety and efficacy of the same vaccine which the government has purchased 100 million doses of – enough to vaccinate 50 million people. The FDA released a document stating that it had, “a favorable safety profile, with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an [emergency authorization].”
On the same day that the UK began its inoculation efforts, news emerged that the Trump administration had been given the opportunity to lock in additional supplies from Pfizer but passed on the offer. Hoping to claim the development of a vaccine as part of his legacy Trump is hosting a vaccine summit at the White House on Tuesday where he will sign a largely symbolic executive order asserting that Americans will receive the vaccine before other nations. But Pfizer chose to develop its vaccine without direct US government funding and its representatives refused to attend Trump’s summit saying it did not want to politicize its work. Trump has fomented confusion about the virus and politicized simple precautions like wearing a mask. On Tuesday Trump loyalist Senator Ron Johnson held a Senate hearing at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that contradicted government efforts to beat the virus. The New York Times described his witnesses this way: “There is a prominent vaccine skeptic, an outspoken critic of masking and social distancing, and at least two doctors who have promoted the use of an anti-parasitic drug that government scientists have recommended against using to treat the coronavirus.” Meanwhile Assistant Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, Admiral Brett Giroir, spoke to CBS on Tuesday saying this about vaccines.
In other news President elect Joe Biden plans to name former Iraq war commander Lloyd Austin to head the Defense Department after his initial pick Michelle Flournoy faced stiff opposition from antiwar groups. If confirmed by the Senate Austin would become the nation’s first African American to lead the Pentagon. But progressives balked at this news too pointing out that Austin, a retired general, promptly joined the board of weapons manufacturer Raytheon after he left the military. The company has aggressively lobbied against the ending of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in its devastating U.S. backed war on Yemen. Like General John Mattis who Trump appointed to lead the Pentagon, Austin’s nomination would require a waiver as he has been a civilian for less than the required 7 years. Jim Golby, who has been a special adviser to both Vice Presidents Mike Pence and Joe Biden, publicly opposed Austin’s nomination in an op-ed on Tuesday saying, “After a tumultuous four years, we need civilian leadership and a return to normalcy.”
The Democratic-dominated House is on the verge of passing a bi-partisan Defense bill to the tune of $741 billion dollars. Trump opposes the bill but only because it includes a rider to rename military installations that are named after Confederate generals. Trump has also demanded that any legislation include a repeal of Section 230 of a different and unrelated bill – the Communications Decency Act – which he has long railed against because it curbs his ability to spread lies on social media without any checks.
President Trump’s coup attempt continues to be thwarted. Tuesday is the so-called “safe-harbor” deadline for state-level election challenges to be fully resolved and as of now Joe Biden has still clearly won the 2020 election. After failing to convince Georgia Republicans to overturn the democratic will of its people, Trump reportedly tried the same in Pennsylvania, asking the Republican House speaker of that state to engineer a win for him. The President’s strategy of stacking courts with conservative justices as a path to undemocratic rule has seemingly backfired. AP explained, “Judges have heard the cases and have been among the harshest critics of the legal arguments put forth by Trump’s legal team, often dismissing them with scathing language of repudiation. This has been true whether the judge has been appointed by a Democrat or a Republican, including those named by Trump himself.” The Trump campaign’s lawyers are also now facing calls for disbarment for bringing lawsuits without bases. And, there is now speculation that Trump and First Lady Melania, who are planning to go to their Florida resort for the holidays, may simply remain there. Meanwhile Christopher Krebs, the fired Cybersecurity Trump official who spoke out against Trump’s attacks on election integrity, is suing the Trump campaign and the campaign lawyer who said he should be shot.
In other news, millions of Americans are going hungry and in the world’s richest nation, many are turning to food banks for the first time in their lives this winter. According to Associated Press, “Those fighting hunger say they’ve never seen anything like this in America, even during the Great Recession of 2007-09.” In a nation that prides itself on so-called “personal responsibility” and individualism, the reliance on food aid comes with a lot of stigma. A $4.5 billion food aid program instituted by the Trump administration is running out of money early, even before its expiration date of December 31st. The state-run Farmers to Families Food Box program was aimed at pandemic-related hunger and is running out of food at the same time that several other federal food aid programs are expiring.
Mr. Biden has reportedly tapped former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to lead the same agency. Advocacy groups like Food and Water Watch are opposing the choice saying Vilsack’s record, “clearly demonstrates why he would be a very bad pick to lead the USDA.” The Center for Food Safety said Vilsack would be, “a huge step backwards in our urgent need to support agricultural systems that protect public health, the environment, and mitigate the ongoing climate crisis.”
Congress is readying a stop-gap measure to fund the federal government through the end of the year, attempting to avert another shutdown. Some lawmakers are trying to attach a Covid-relief bill to the government funding bill given the on-going Senate refusal to tackle the aid package.
And finally, Los Angeles County’s new District Attorney George Gasçon, who took over from the vilified Jackie Lacey has announced an end to the cash-bail system as one of his first formal actions. Mr. Gasçon, who ran as a progressive, with the backing of Black Lives Matter LA, has unveiled a series of reforms that also includes a ban on prosecutors seeking enhanced sentencing, and lighter sentences for low-level offences. Gasçon released a statement saying, “We can break the multigenerational cycles of violence, trauma and arrest and recidivism that has led America to incarcerate more people than any other nation.”