Headlines: February 28, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:29 — 7.8MB)
The World Health Organization has raised its threat level over the new coronavirus strain spreading across the world from “high” to “very high.” WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday at a press conference explained his reasoning. The virus has now been detected in 60 countries, with more than 83,000 infected and 2,800 deaths. Outside China and South Korea, Iran appears to be most impacted with high level government officials being diagnosed including Iran’s deputy health minister. According to AP, “a visibly pale official sat only meters (feet) away from President Hassan Rouhani and other top leaders before she too reportedly came down with the virus.” There have been 34 deaths so far and 389 confirmed infections. In Italy, there have been 650 infections with 17 reported deaths. Germany reports nearly 60 cases of infection, Mexico has now confirmed its first two cases, and so has Nigeria – the first reported case to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Here in the US, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking whistleblower status after revealing that HHS workers greeted evacuated Americans from Wuhan, China, without proper training or protective clothing and gear. Wuhan is the epicenter of the Covid-19 virus. According to the Washington Post which first reported the story, “The whistleblower is seeking federal protection, alleging she was unfairly and improperly reassigned after raising concerns about the safety of these workers to HHS officials, including those within the office of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.” The whistleblower is a high-level official who has been recognized for her work at Health and Human Services with numerous awards. Concerns are growing that Donald Trump’s administration is ill-equipped to deal with a global pandemic like this one. Referring to himself in the third person, the President tweeted on Friday that the infection is spreading, “very slowly in the U.S. because President Trump closed our border, and ended flights, VERY EARLY.” He claimed that Democrats were unfairly blaming him. However in the state of California alone, Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed that there are now 33 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US’s most populous state. There are reports that US schools are being prepared for the virus with school administrations canceling trips and reconsidering perfect attendance awards.
Ahead of South Carolina’s primary race on Saturday a new poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden still ahead of his rival Presidential candidates but his lead has once more narrowed. After two polls earlier this week showed him leading by double digits, a new Post and Courier Change Research poll shows Biden four percentage points ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders meanwhile is leading in numerous Super Tuesday states including the two largest in the nation, California and Texas. The CNN polls show Sanders in California at 35% compared to Elizabeth Warren, the next most popular candidate, with less than half that at 14%. In Texas Sanders is polling at 29%, with Biden following at 20%. Sanders also has a double digit lead in Colorado with Pete Buttigieg following with less than half that at 12%. And in Warren’s home state of Massachusetts Sanders leads at 25% with Warren at only 17%.
Fox News released its latest national election poll and found that Sanders surged 8 points from January to cement a nationwide lead at 31% followed by Joe Biden at 18%. Nearly two thirds of surveyed voters – 65% – think Sanders could beat Trump in the general election – that’s higher than other Democrats. In a New York Times op-ed on Friday Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New Black, wrote, “Bernie Sanders Can Beat Trump,” and that “Most available evidence points in the direction of a popular vote and Electoral College victory.” Although Warren’s popularity has waned overall, one group is rallying behind her enthusiastically and that is transgender activists. The Guardian Newspaper reports that, “the Massachusetts senator’s dedicated outreach and focus on protecting black trans women in particular is unprecedented in American presidential politics,” and many transgender activists have been campaigning heavily for her. Meanwhile a new study at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has found that 378,000 transgender voters nationwide may have trouble casting ballots in the elections, largely as a result of Republican-backed voter-ID laws.
In other news, a federal judge has just issued a ruling in favor of environmental organizations challenging the Trump administration’s fast-tracking of oil and gas leases on public lands. About 67 millions acres in 11 states are at stake. The judge’s decision voids nearly 1 million acres of oil and gas leases based on the limits that the government placed on public input. U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush said the Interior Department’s decisions were “arbitrary and capricious,” and that, “Faster and easier lease sales, at the expense of public participation, is not enough.”
And a federal appeals court has just struck a blow to the Trump Administration’s central anti-immigrant policy of forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed. More than 60,000 have been forced to wait in harsh conditions in Mexico since last year, many of them eking out an existence in makeshift tent encampments and falling prey to drug cartel violence. The 3 judge panel ruled unanimously that the so-called Remain in Mexico policy was “invalid in its entirety.”
In international news Turkey’s government says that Russian forces in Syria have killed 33 of its soldiers in an airstrike, raising tensions even more in a highly volatile and violent region. Associated Press explained that, “The attack Thursday marked the deadliest day for the Turkish military since Ankara first entered the Syrian conflict in 2016 and also was the most serious escalation between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces, raising the prospect of an all-out war with millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reaching out to European allies and the US. The NATO alliance has already demanded Russia and Syria halt their bloody offensive in the rebel-stronghold of Idlib which has displaced nearly a million civilians. The US State Department released a statement saying, ““We stand by our NATO Ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iranian-backed forces.” In response to the killing of its soldiers, Turkey announced that it would no longer block Syrian and other refugees on its soil from heading to Europe. The governments of Greece and Bulgaria have responded by bolstering its border patrols.
And finally US representatives are anticipating the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan on Saturday – one week after a limited détente in violence has largely held. Although 19 security forces and 4 civilians were killed over the last week this actually represents a reduction in violence. Signing the deal will be a first step in a multi-part process that will inevitably include the US-backed Afghan government which has so far been excluded from talks.