Headlines: February 17, 2021
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Millions of Texans are still waiting for their electricity coverage to resume after 3 days of a brutal winter storm that is pushing the state to breaking point. To make matters worse, more snow is expected in a fresh storm on the horizon. Describing the state of emergency, the New York Times wrote, “Pipes froze and burst across the state, icicles hung from kitchen faucets in Houston, ambulances in San Antonio were unable to meet the surging demand and the county government in coastal Galveston called for refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies they expect to find in freezing, powerless houses.” As is usually the case, the power outages have hit residents in minority neighborhoods disproportionately harder and black and brown residents were among the first to lose electricity. Experts say they will likely be among the last to see their power restored. About 4 million people are still without power across the southern and central part of the nation and at least 30 people have died in Texas as well as Missouri, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has blamed wind turbines freezing in the cold temperatures for the power outages saying on Fox News, “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America… it just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas, as well as other states.” But critics pointed out this was not true. According to the Washington Post Abbott’s own energy department reported that “most of Texas’s energy losses came from failures to winterize the power-generating systems, including fossil fuel pipelines.” Meanwhile Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after publishing a lengthy Facebook post in which he blamed residents for being too lazy to arrange for their own electricity and water in the crisis and that it was not the government’s responsibility to ensure basic necessities. Boyd took down the post after public outrage and resigned.
In other news, President Joe Biden during his televised townhall meeting this week on CNN said he was optimistic that Americans would have open access to COVID-19 vaccines by the end of July. The remarks follow from a more pessimistic tone last week when Biden warned about logistical and distributional challenges. Biden also emphasized that there would be more equitable distribution of vaccines to hardest-hit communities. The White House announced that states would begin receiving 13.5 million doses collectively per week, a large increase.
During his townhall appearance one attendee asked him about college debt forgiveness. But the President said he would not support a plan to forgive $50,000 of student debt saying that he didn’t think he had the authority to do it. It is unclear why he would have the authority to forgive $10,000 but not $50,000. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shot back on Twitter, “The case against student loan forgiveness is looking shakier by the day. We’ve got the *Senate Majority Leader* on board to forgive $50k. Biden’s holding back, but many of the arguments against it just don’t hold water on close inspection.” During his town hall Mr. Biden also addressed his on-going support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Progressives worry he is open to negotiating down that wage increase. Fast food workers in 15 cities across the country on Tuesday walked off their jobs to demand a wage raise to $15 an hour.
In other news from the pandemic, the World Health Organization has announced that global cases of infections are declining, saying, “The number of global new cases reported has continued to fall, with 2.7 million new cases last week, a 16% decline compared to the previous week.” In the United States the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has begun opening mass vaccination sites in neighborhoods that have lacked access to the vaccines. Oakland, California, and the campus of Cal State LA were among the West coast sites. The Biden administration has also announced a $1.6 billion investment in the nation’s testing and sequencing capacity. Meanwhile the state of New York has filed a lawsuit against Amazon accusing the company of failing to properly protect its workers from catching the virus. Internationally, the Gaza Strip was finally able to get its first vaccines after an initial delay by Israel. Palestinians were entirely left out of the Covid-19 equation as Israel raced to acquire vaccines for Israelis and earned the praise of the world.
Right wing radio talk show host and shock jock, Rush Limbaugh, known for his racist, misogynist and white supremacist rhetoric, has died. He was 70 and had complications related to lung cancer. Former President Donald Trump broke his silence to praise Limbaugh in an interview calling him “irreplaceable,” and that, “[h]e was with me right from the beginning.” Trump has also been busy trashing Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who until very recently was as ardent a Trump loyalist as one could find. McConnell even voted to acquit Trump during the second Senate impeachment, but his speech denouncing Trump on the Senate floor prompted the former President to demand his party replace McConnell. Trump called McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.” GOP Senator Lindsey Graham admitted on Fox News that it was too late for his party to separate itself from Trump saying it didn’t have “a snowball’s chance in hell” of taking back Congress without the former President’s support. Trump faces a legal investigation into his role over inciting a violent mob to attack lawmakers on January 6th.
The Biden administration has rejected a last-minute deal that pro-Trump officials struck with the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff. The union deal was struck with the intention of hampering Biden’s ability to make changes to immigration policy and required that the union sign off on policy changes. In other demands to unravel Trump’s influence on government, Democrats are urging the President to fire Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. DeJoy is a Trump loyalist who faced accusations of trying to sabotage the postal service in favor of Trump.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest school district in the nation, has just reached a deal to eliminate a third of all police officers on its campuses and ban the use of pepper spray on students. The deal also includes spending $25 million on programs aimed at youth of color. The move is significant and is captured in the sentiment “Defund the Police” that became a rallying cry last summer. During his CNN townhall President Biden rejected the idea of defunding the police and instead emphasized a reformist approach that involves increased funding to police.
Associated Press on Wednesday published an exclusive report on how the Trump administration in its last days in office sanitized the details of its killing spree of federal death row inmates. AP reporters witnessed all executions and found that government accounts of the 13 deaths as uneventful were incorrect and that those killed by lethal injection did not die peacefully.
And finally, the trial of Paul Rusesabagina in Kigali, Rwanda has just begun. Mr. Rusesabagina who became internationally famous for being the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda now stands accused of terrorism charges that he says are spurious. AP explained that the man “praised for saving ethnic Tutsis during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, has no chance at a fair trial because of his outspoken criticism of longtime Rwandan President Paul Kagame and human rights abuses.”