Headlines: February 22, 2021
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The United States officially marked half a million deaths from the coronavirus, a grim tally that is the highest of any nation in the world. In terms of death rate from the virus, the U.K. has the highest deaths per capita in the world with the U.S. at the fifth highest. Globally and in the United States, the rate of infections and deaths are falling to levels not seen since last Fall.
Two new vaccine studies from the U.K. offer hope. Using real world data, one Scotland study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine reduced virus-related hospitalizations by up to 85% after just the first dose, while AstraZeneca’s new vaccine reduced hospitalizations by 94%. A study of healthcare workers in England showed that the Pfizer vaccine reduced infections by 70% after the first dose and 85% after the second dose. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his plan to reopen schools in the U.K. in 2 weeks but bars and restaurants would remain shut. In a statement to the House of Commons, Johnson said, “We’re setting out on what I hope is a one-way journey to freedom.” In other international Covid-related news, the first vaccines have reached the occupied territory of Gazaafter the Israeli government finally allowed doses after ensuring its own citizens were vaccinated. Gaza so far has been given only 22,000 vaccines for a population of 2 million.
Back here in the United States, President Joe Biden announced on Monday that he would adjust the rules of the Paycheck Protection Program to better include very small businesses to access forgivable government loans. And, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s role in nursing home deaths continues to remain a focus of investigation and outrage. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezof New York has called for a full investigation into Cuomo’s actions.
AOC has also continued her social-media based fundraising efforts toward a state that is geographically far removed. Her campaign to raise funds for Texans struggling with devastating winter conditions and resulting man-made electricity and water disasters has resulted in $5 million of giving and the number keeps growing. In a tweet announcing the dollars raised, she wrote, “Charity can’t replace policy, but solidarity is how we’ll face climate change and build a better world.” A third of Texas residents are still facing disrupted water supplies as per a new report. Meanwhile those residents who were lucky enough to have their power remain uninterrupted are now facing sky-high bills of thousands of dollars because of spikes in wholesale prices. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner in an interview on Face the Nation said that the high bills were “foreseeable,” and that the state should cover those bills.
Meanwhile Texas governor Greg Abbott has remained largely out of sight, angering his constituency. The Washington Post explained that, “In the freezing darkness, many desperate Texans felt they were left to fend for themselves.” Many have compared his inaction and his deflecting of blame to government failures after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Another high-profile Republican, Senator Ted Cruz, spent the weekend trying to repair the damage to his reputation after he came under fire for fleeing his state to stay at a luxury hotel in Cancun, Mexico. Cruz posted photos of himself passing out water bottles to residents and serving food to first responders. He also denounced the high electricity bills that some residents were facing. The Texas Democratic Party released a new report on Monday showing that the state is ripe for flipping from red to blue by 2024, if the party invests more in voter turnout efforts. According to the report the Biden Presidential campaign last year refused requests to spend more money in turning out Democratic voters in Texas and subsequently lost that state to former President Donald Trump.
Trump has announced his first public appearance since leaving the White House on January 20th. He is to headline the upcoming Conservative Political Action Committee conference where he apparently plans to announce his control of the Republican Party and claim that he is the presumptive 2024 Presidential nominee. According to Axios, which broke the story, “Payback is his chief obsession,” and that, “Trump advisers will meet with him at Mar-a-Lago this week to plan his next political moves, and to set up the machinery for kingmaking in the 2022 midterms.” His former Vice President Mike Pence who Trump targeted for violence on January 6th, declined the CPAC invitation a day after Trump’s participation was announced. Meanwhile Trump loyalists in state Republican Parties are taking steps to purge anti-Trump critics from their ranks. And, a Suffolk University/USA Today survey found that 46% of GOP voters would leave their party to join a third party led by Trump. The poll also exposed the rampant ignorance of facts among the party’s base: “Fifty-eight percent of Trump voters called the [January 6th Capitol] insurrection ‘mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters.’”
However, in what was a blow to Trump’s team the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop the Manhattan District Attorney’s quest for 8 years of the former President’s tax returns. According to Associated Press, “The court’s order is a win for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019 as part of an investigation.” Vance’s office last year said they needed the tax documents because of “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.” The investigation includes payments that Trump reportedly made to two women as “hush money.”
In other news, Biden’s nominee for Attorney General Merrick Garland, faced a confirmation hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Garland, who was slated to be a Supreme Court justice under President Obama but was denied a hearing by Republican leaders in the Senate, apparently enjoys bipartisan support. But he does face some tough questions around how he would handle some ongoing politically sensitive investigations including the January 6th insurrection.
Opposition continues to mount against Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden. Both rightwing and progressive lawmakers have expressed opposition over her outspoken social media critiques in past years. Now, Maine Senator Susan Collins said she would vote against Tanden’s nomination.
Dominion, the company that manufactures voting machines used in 2020, has filed a massive $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Trump loyalist Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow. Dominion says that Lindell contributed to a “viral disinformation campaign” about its products while he sought to claim against all evidence that Trump won the election.
Racist attacks against Asian Americans have renewed calls for better record-keeping of hate crimes. Although the FBI does keep a database of hate crimes, critics say it is a vast undercount. Meanwhile a pro-Trump doctor in Florida was just charged with a hate crime after she reportedly attacked a Latino man in a grocery store parking lot on inauguration day saying, “This is not going to be Biden’s America, this is my America…We should have burned it all.” The 58-year old white woman and anesthesiologist who had been an ardent and fanatical supporter of Trump vandalized the man’s car as well but was not arrested until last Friday.