Headlines: February 24, 2021
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved a new COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson. In an analysis that was more detailed than the approval process for Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s products, the FDA found that the new 1-shot vaccine had a 72% efficacy rate against the virus in the U.S. In South Africa where a new variant has taken hold, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 64% efficacy rate. The New York Times explained that this new vaccine, “can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for at least three months, making its distribution considerably easier than the authorized vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which require two doses and must be stored at frigid temperatures.”
Still, vaccine distribution in the United States remains chaotic, slow, and inequitable. Vaccines set aside for California’s hardest hit communities through the use of special codes, were used, often unwittingly, by wealthier, less vulnerable individuals through confusing website registrations. A new Covid-19 variant now confirmed to be spreading through California has been found to be more contagious as per two new studies. It is not yet clear if it is deadlier or less susceptible to vaccines although scientists suspect it to be so. So far more than half a million people have lost their lives in the United States alone. Now, a new report shows billionaires have minted money off the crisis, seeing their wealth continue to grow exponentially. The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), determined that collectively the nation’s 664 billionaires increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion. Meanwhile another report found that incidents of domestic violence rose sharply in the United States over the past year. The study’s authors expect their figures are an underestimate as they are based only on reported data. They also found that data from other nations like Argentina, Mexico, Italy, and Sweden did not see a rise in domestic violence.
In international news, Israel has been stockpiling vaccines and using them as diplomatic levers, offering them to nations in exchange for political support, while ignoring a dire need for vaccines among occupied Palestinians. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Guatemala, and Honduras are among those slated to receive desperately needed vaccines from Israel in exchange for moving their embassies to Israel’s declared capital of Jerusalem. And Ghana became the first African nation to receive vaccines through Covax, a global vaccine sharing initiative. In Afghanistan, where decades of war, poverty, and corruption has greatly complicated the pandemic, has also begun receiving vaccines through Covax. Overall, Covid-related deaths fell 20% last week as per new data from the World Health Organization.
Security officials testifying this week to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about the January 6th pro-Trump attack on the Capitol, said rioters came “prepared for war.” Steven Sund, the Capitol police chief who resigned after the riot said his officers were prepared for a protest, not, “a military-style coordinated assault.” According to AP, “a key warning flare from the FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia, of a ‘war’ on the Capitol was sent the night before to the Capitol Police’s intelligence division,” but Sund says he only heard about it a day before this week’s hearing. The FBI is facing accusations of downplaying the intelligence and sending it via email to lower-level officials on the eve of the riot. Meanwhile the Justice Department is facing difficulty over keeping charged rioters in jail as judges across the country challenge their logic – a courtesy rarely given to left-wing protesters who are jailed or to poor people of color awaiting trial.
Two Senate committees charged with taking on the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget have abruptly postponed their hearings. The controversial Tanden is facing opposition from both the left and right and the postponement does not signal good news for her. Meanwhile Biden’s Agricultural secretary nominee Tom Vilsack faces opposition from Senator Bernie Sanders over his refusal to protect family farms and Black farmers when the Ag Secretary under Obama. Sanders became the first Senator caucusing with Democrats to vote against a Biden nominee. William Burns, Biden’s choice to lead the CIA, had a confirmation hearing on Wednesday where he pledged to toe the two-party line on hostility toward China and Russia. Burns is likely to win confirmation as he is seen as an uncontroversial pick. Biden’s pick for Attorney General, Merrick Garland, also appears to be winning over enough Republicans to sail to confirmation, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who once prevented a hearing for Garland as a Supreme Court Justice nominee. But Deb Haaland still faces Republican opposition to being Interior Secretary. On Tuesday Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, accused Haaland of painting his party members with broad brush strokes when she tweeted “Republicans don’t believe in science.” He made no reference to four years of racist, sexist, violent, and white supremacist tweets from President Donald Trump.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy who was appointed by Trump spoke before the House Oversight and Reform committee as he faces calls from Democrats to be removed. DeJoy said he plans to slow down the delivery of First Class mail – currently among the cheapest forms of delivery services available to Americans.
Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate Parliamentarian, is a woman most Americans have never heard off. But in her position she is now emerging as the key to determining which aspects of Biden’s economic stimulus bill can be passed through budget reconciliation and therefore a simple Senate majority. At stake is the federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. Senate Democrats have been slow to commence debate over the massive bill. Meanwhile the CEOs of over a hundred major corporations including Google, Comcast, and Goldman Sachs have written a letter to Congress urging it to pass Biden’s package. And, a new poll found that a majority of Americans want the government to invest more money into healthcare, education, and anti-poverty programs.
Officers involved in the Rochester, New York killing of a black man named Daniel Prude last March will not be facing charges as per a grand jury decision this week. Prude was having a mental health crisis and was naked in the middle of the street when police put a hood on his head and forced him down until he was asphyxiated. He died days later at a hospital. Protesters are gathering to demand justice for Prude and one group marched to the Rochester police department. And the Biden Justice Department has just launched a new grand jury investigation into the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis even as a murder trial in Minnesota is set to begin soon.
A Trump-appointed federal judge has just indefinitely blocked the Biden Administration’s plan to halt all deportations for 100 days. The judge claimed that the Biden administration failed to justify the ban. Although the ruling does not require Biden to resume the fast pace of deportation that took place under Trump, there have been hundreds of deportations in February including of Haitian immigrants to a homeland in political crisis. Biden also continues to keep Trump’s executive order-green card bans in place.
And finally, the famed “godfather of beat” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, passed away this week at the age of 101. Ferlinghetti was a Bay-area based legend, publisher, poet, writer and activist whose City Lights bookstore and publishing house is a iconic part of San Francisco* and long-time friend of Pacifica Radio.
*During the broadcast Sonali erroneously mentioned that City Lights was located in Berkeley, not San Francisco. We apologize for the error.