Headlines: February 3, 2021
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The top two major party leaders in the U.S. Senate have finally come to an agreement on the rules by which the 50-50 split body will function. Leading Democrat Chuck Schumer now takes formal power and Democrats will take control of committees — a welcome move for the Democratic agenda. President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks were being confirmed too slowly while Republicans remained in control of committees. This week the Senate confirmed former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary and Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary. Democrats will now also be able to speed up their plan to pass a new COVID-economic relief bill along party lines. Senator Schumer said, “We are not going to dilute, dither or delay,” the package. Rejecting a much smaller aid package presented by moderate Republicans, President Joe Biden indicated that while he is not willing to budge on $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, he may be open to negotiations over tailoring the checks by income. Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren, with an eye to the future, said upon being named to the powerful Senate Finance Committee, that she planned to introduce a new wealth tax on millionaires.
The House of Republicans in the meantime, is grappling with newly seated extremist Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene who has in the recent past championed the use of violence against Democratic lawmakers. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy met with Greene late on Tuesday but did not reveal the substance of the meeting. Now Democrats are planning a vote to strip her of her committee assignments on Thursday. The GOP meanwhile is at a fork in the road for their party, as several lawmakers are demanding punishment for the third highest ranking Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the ideological opposite of Greene, who took a strong position against former President Donald Trump’s incitement of violence against Congress. Whether the GOP chooses to censure Marjorie Taylor Greene or Liz Cheney will reflect the direction of the party toward either extremist conspiracy-minded fascism, or traditional conservatism. The House this week also passed a resolution imposing fines of up to $10,000 against those lawmakers who refuse to walk through a metal detector, in a response to the violent armed Capitol riot that some Republicans still openly support.
As the Senate gears up for the second Trump impeachment trial, more than 370 Democratic Congressional aides, in an unusual move, signed on to a letter demanding that the former President be convicted. The aides, who, like lawmakers, were in personal danger during the riot, gave Senators a choice, “Either you stand with the republic or against it.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now called for a “9/11 type commission” to study the security breaches at the Capitol on January 6th 2021. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has just declared the pro-Trump hate group Proud Boys, to be a terrorist group. The Proud Boys was among several that organized the January 6th riots.
In immigration news, new accusations of assault against asylum seekers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have emerged. The allegations center on Cameroonian asylum seekers who were forced into deportation proceedings, tortured, and even sent back to countries they had never set foot in. ICE, which is under the jurisdiction of Homeland Security, now has its reputation as a “rogue agency” further cemented as the Biden administration struggles to take control. Many ICE agents remain loyal to the former President who openly encouraged them to take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile the BBC just reported on a 9-year old Salvadoran migrant girl and her mother who have been in detention for more than 500 days in violation of an order prohibiting minors from being detained for more than 20 days. Biden’s team continues an effort to roll back the hundreds of anti-immigrant policies that Trump enacted, including family sponsorship for green card bans. The New York Times on Wednesday reported that even if Biden revokes the bans before they expire in March, a massive backlog of hundreds of thousands of visa applications will take years to work through.
Meanwhile, numerous Mexican police have just been charged in a horrific massacre of 19 Guatemalan migrants on the southern side of the border with the U.S. last month. More than a dozen of the victims were apparently headed to the United States when the mass killing took place in a shootout on January 22nd. The victims’ bodies were apparently burned in a pickup truck. The Washington Post explained that, “At the Trump administration’s behest, Mexico mobilized its army and police to deter migration, despite objections from human rights groups.”
As part of the project of undoing Trumpism, President Biden is moving quickly to nominate judges to federal courts, hoping to compensate for the extremist makeover of the judicial system that Trump and Mitch McConnell undertook. The Biden Justice Department has also just dropped a Trump-era federal lawsuit accusing Yale University of racial discrimination against Asian and white students.
In news from the pandemic, the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has shown promise in a new study. Researchers at Oxford University found that not only does the vaccine protect from infection but also transmission. Currently the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines being used in the US, although more than 90% effective at stopping infections, are not necessarily stopping transmission of the disease. The AstraZeneca vaccine appears to halt transmission as well. It is found to be 76% effective after one dose, and 82% effective 3 months later after a second dose. The Oxford study results have yet to be peer-reviewed and published, however.
A new survey of 34 U.S. cities found that while robberies and burglaries fell in 2020, the number of homicides rose sharply. The trends are seen as directly linked to the pandemic and possibly the Black Lives Matter protests. In some cities, like Milwaukee, homicides rose by a whopping 95%.
The world’s richest man and the CEO of the world’s largest retailer, Jeff Bezos, is stepping down from his position at Amazon and will become its “executive chairman.” A top Amazon officer named Andy Jassy is expected to take Bezos’ place at the helm of the company. The news comes as Amazon was found to be stealing the tips of delivery drivers of its Amazon Flex program. The company just reached a $61.7 million settlement in a legal case. Federal Trade Commission Chair Rohit Chopra explained that, “Amazon stole nearly one-third of drivers’ tips to pad its own bottom line.” The company is also struggling to prevent its warehouse workers from forming a union, engaging in a serious anti-union campaign based on fear-mongering.
The U.S. and Russia on Wednesday agreed to extend their last remaining bi-lateral treaty centering on nuclear weapons. Over the past four Trump years, the two nuclear powers dismantled two major treaties. State Secretary Antony Blinken, referring to the internal turmoil over political prisoner Alexei Navalny said in a statement, “Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important. Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, U.S. allies and partners, and the world safer.”