Headlines: December 9, 2020
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Hospital beds across the United States are almost at full capacity as the number of COVID-19 patients rises precipitously. The burden is mostly borne by Intensive Care Units as hospital administrators warn there may be nowhere to put patients. About ten percent of Americans currently live in areas where their local hospitals’ ICU beds are full or have only 5% capacity left. Meanwhile a new study confirmed that the reasons for Black and brown Americans being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus are because of social inequities, not genetics. The research from New York University examined more than 11,000 patient records and found that social and environmental factors for people of color determine their exposure.
On Tuesday President elect Joe Biden laid out a three-point plan for combating the virus’ spread. His speech was a study in contrast with President Donald Trump who held a “vaccine summit” at the White House where he lauded that fact that up to 15% of Americans had gotten infected, calling the high rate of infections in the U.S. “terrific” and a “very powerful vaccine in itself.” He spent much of his time at the podium railing against his election loss.
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalizes its approval of a COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer in collaboration with BioNTech, the question of how to distribute it to Americans now falls to state governments. The lack of a nationalized healthcare system in the U.S. means that such large-scale efforts are nearly impossible to streamline on a nationwide basis. Vaccines are coming to the U.S. at a time of deep skepticism even though it is the only way in which the pandemic will end with minimal loss of life. But a new Gallup poll shows that support for taking a vaccine has inched up to 63% in the U.S. now.
Meanwhile in the UK where inoculations have already begun two people with a history of allergic reactions to vaccines have developed such reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. The occurrence prompted the British government to warn against getting the vaccine for those who have a history of such allergies. A very small percentage of all populations have such reactions and they fall into the category of people such as infants and the elderly who require the protection that mass vaccinations bring. China’s vaccine has finally received formal approval from a state government and that is the United Arab Emirates whose authorities claimed a rate of 86% efficacy without sharing any data to support it. And, poorer nations are left scrambling to obtain vaccine supplies as wealthier nations rush to buy up stocks.
As economic relief for pandemic-stricken Americans continues to stall in Congress a bi-partisan group of lawmakers from both the House and the Senate unveiled new details on a $908 billion bill they are backing. But missing from the announcement were details on aid to states and cities which are reeling from budget shortfalls. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others denounced the bill in a letter saying it, “does not go anywhere near far enough.” And in a lengthy Twitter thread House Democrat Katie Porter of California ripped into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for essentially vetoing an earlier bill that had support from both parties because he wanted to protect corporations from worker lawsuits over Covid-safety issues. Porter explained, “The same McConnell who said that President Trump is ‘100% within his rights’ to pursue baseless lawsuits alleging election fraud is now refusing to pass urgently-needed relief unless it strips those same rights from the most vulnerable among us.” The White House offered its own proposal for a $916 billion bill that completely excludes unemployment benefits even though joblessness remains unsustainably high and benefits are expiring.
There is no debate over funding the military even as financial aid for Americans remains contentious. The House in a veto-proof majority supported by both major parties just passed a massive defense bill of more than $700 billion. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota pointed out the hypocrisy saying, “If Congress can afford to spend $740.5 billion on a Pentagon Authorization bill, we can afford stimulus checks for the American people.” She added, “Congress should focus on responding to the urgent needs of the American people—not passing a bill to appease defense contractors.” New research by the group Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies on Wednesday concluded that 651 billionaires in the U.S. have seen their wealth increased by a collective $1 trillion since mid-March. That increase in wealth alone is, “[m]ore than it would cost to send a stimulus check of $3,000 to every one of the roughly 330 million people in America.”
In news from President Trump’s on-going coup attempt the U.S. Supreme Court this week released a unanimous one-sentence rejection of his effort to overturn the results from Pennsylvania. A court that has three Trump appointees has refused to entertain the president’s challenges, which, in the words of the New York Times, “failed to attract even a whisper of dissent in the court’s first ruling on a challenge to the outcome of the election.” Still, fear of Trump and his armed backers is rife in the Republican Party with Kim Ward, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate saying she was worried about retaliation. Ward said Trump pressured her in a phone call to sign a letter to overturn the election results and that if she didn’t sign it, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has been an exception to the rule, bucking his party in declaring Trump’s coup efforts “unacceptable.” The Arizona Republican Party retweeted from its official account one Trump supporter’s claim that he was “willing to give my life for this fight” to support Trump. The @AZGOP retweet daringly said, “He is, Are you?” Meanwhile the state of Texas has decided to help Trump thwart democracy by joining what has been deemed a “longshot lawsuit” against the states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin whose voters dared to choose Joe Biden over Trump.
In Georgia where two high-stakes Senate races take place January 5th, voting rights groups are calling attention to the closures of more than half of all early polling places in Cobb County, the third most populous county in the state. Senator Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent facing off against a Democrat, has been revealed to benefit from potential insider trading. Before the Senate CARES Act that Loeffler voted on became public, her husband reportedly bought shares in industries that saw a boost from the bill. The move is similar to what the other Republican incumbent David Perdue stands accused of doing.
As one of his final acts in office Trump is rushing to finalize a rollback of regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency by changing the way it does its cost-benefit-analysis of air pollution. The Administration is also rushing to sell off California oil leases – the first such auction of federal lands in 8 years. The move is sure to spark legal challenges. But in a win for climate activists the massive New York state pension fund, considered “one of the world’s largest and most influential investors,” announced it will divest from its fossil fuel investments within five years.
And finally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet expressed optimism for a world without Trump as President. She said, “For human rights. I think it (the Biden administration) will be much, much, much better.”