Headlines: February 25, 2021
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Yet another new variant of the coronavirus has been found, this time in New York according to researchers. The first emergence was as far back as last November. After the United States passed its grim milestone of half a million deaths amid a downward trend in infections and deaths, some epidemiologists are now worried about a new surge in March due to more transmissible mutations of the virus. As the United States scrambles to vaccinate its population through a confusing labyrinth of local and state initiatives, the prioritizing of nursing homes appears to have paid off. Once experiencing the worst outbreaks in the nation, deaths at nursing homes are falling faster than the general population—a trend that coincides with the vaccine campaign. President Joe Biden on Thursday marked the 50 millionth vaccine dispensed in the U.S., to highlight his promise of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. Meanwhile a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examining fitness centers found strong evidence of the virus’s spread, largely as a result of poor mask wearing. Indoor gyms where people hyperventilate while engaging in strenuous activities created the perfect storm for transmission.
As many children remain stuck at home attempting to get through digital schooling, a new poll by Pew Research found that a majority of Americans think all teachers should be vaccinated before schools can reopen in person. Interestingly lower income people of color are more likely to back waiting until all teachers who want the vaccine get it before reopening. The nation’s second largest school district, LAUSD, is reportedly getting 40% of all vaccines for teachers in Los Angeles County to ensure that public school teachers and support staff can obtain them. And, the LA County Board of Supervisors this week voted to give all grocery store workers a $5 an hour “hero” pay raise for as long as the pandemic continues. The latest Labor Department figures on unemployment show a slight easing of economic pressure with 110,000 fewer workers filing for new jobless benefits last week. The total number, 730,000, is still extraordinarily high.
President Biden on Wednesday finally revoked Presidential Proclamation 10014, the green card ban that his predecessor had enacted last April under cover of the pandemic that effectively stopped most legal migration to the U.S. The ban was set to expire on March 31st and impacted hundreds of thousands of people. In a White House memo Biden said the ban, “does not advance the interests of the United States. To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here.” U.S. Consulates around the world remain closed due to the pandemic however, impacting visa interviews, and a massive backlog of hundreds of thousands of applications could take years to tackle. In other immigration news, since Biden took office immigration lawyers and advocacy organizations have reunited 105 undocumented children with their parents who were forcibly separated by the previous administration as a deterrent. There are still more than 500 children whose parents are yet to be tracked down. The Trump administration went out of its way to keep families separated by refusing to turn over information even when legally forced to end the cruel practice.
Republicans are standing firm against Biden and the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill. The bill was slated to pass the House on Friday. But, according to Associated Press, “the White House seemed to rule out a procedural Senate power play to protect one provision most treasured by progressives: a minimum wage hike.” The minimum wage increase is popular across the nation among Americans as well. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy denounced the bill as, “too costly, too corrupt and too liberal,” without bothering to explain exactly how it was so, especially considering that it is a far smaller bill than last year’s CARES Act. President Biden is hoping to win over Republican governors in the absence of GOP Congressional support. The president also revoked one of the most controversial Trump orders that designated liberal Democrat-run cities as “anarchist” jurisdictions.
GOP House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is facing criticism once more for her xenophobia. On Wednesday Congresswoman Marie Newman of Illinois spoke on the House floor in favor of the Equality Act. Representative Greene, who has been stripped of all her committee assignments for being a racist extremist conspiracist, attempted to adjourn the bill’s hearing and tweeted that the Equality Act was apparently against “women’s rights, women’s sports and “religious freedom.” In response Representative Newman whose office is across from Greene’s, put up the trans pride flag on her wall saying Greene, “tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil.’ Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.” Greene, refusing to be cowed, pasted a sign on her wall saying, “There are two genders, male and female. Trust the science.” Except that scientists have determined that “sex is anything but binary.” All House Republicans backed Greene’s motion to adjourn the bill. It is likely to pass the House nonetheless.
As the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicks off this week an awkward moment captured the rift within the Republican Party over former President Trump. Top ranking House Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney gave a press conference on Wednesday, where Cheney said, “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.” Reports indicate that this year’s CPAC will center on Trump’s pet peeves: his fantastical claim that he won the 2020 election and his Twitter ban. The former president is slated to close out the event as its main speaker.
President Biden on Wednesday nominated three people to fill openings at the US Postal Service after a hearing featuring Trump appointee Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General indicated DeJoy’s inappropriateness for the role. The move to fill those three positions means that, in the words of the Washington Post, “the new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially the votes to oust DeJoy.” On Wednesday House Representative Cori Bush confronted DeJoy at the hearing saying, “Currently the board includes only white men. This grotesque lack of representation is a critical opportunity to diversify the board’s ranks.” She went on to ask, “Do you see it as a problem that the board of governors of the United States Postal Service looks like a millionaire white boys club?” Mr. DeJoy avoided responding directly to her question. Mr. Biden’s three appointees are all women and people of color. They will face Senate confirmation hearings but critics of Republican lawmakers have noticed a clear pattern of discrimination at confirmation hearings where women and people of color face harsher questioning while white male appointees sail through unchallenged.
Finally, in international news, Facebook has taken a stand in Myanmar, cutting off members of the military who have imposed a new chapter of dictatorship using harsh repression against a rising tide of resistance. For years Myanmar’s military generals used Facebook to spread propaganda and the social media platform was only too happy to remain neutral — until now. Facebook has also reached an agreement with Australia’s government over a simmering dispute on paying for news. The company says it will pay $1 billion to the news industry over 3 years.
A quick correction to a story we reported yesterday about the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who championed beat poets (although he didn’t identify as one). His bookstore and publishing house City Lights is located in San Francisco, not Berkeley, a fact which I ought to have known as I have personally visited City Lights and highly recommend it.