Headlines: January 28, 2021
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President Joe Biden’s latest executive push is aimed at healthcare as he spent Thursday showcasing the reopening of health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Biden also plans to address women’s access to reproductive health. The new president is showcasing his agenda with a new theme for every day and this week alone addressed American manufacturing, racial justice, and climate change.
Biden has also resumed regular coronavirus briefings at the White House and during one of the first such briefings officials admitted that it would indeed take months for most Americans to get vaccinated. Worse, Americans were warned to expect another 90,000 deaths in the next month alone. One bright spot is that daily documented cases of infections have begun to fall across the nation. One report pointed out that Wednesday was the, “10th day in a row that case counts have numbered less than 200,000.” But scientists are warning that the world is in a “race against time” with the emergence of new mutations of the COVID-19 virus that appear to be more transmissible. A variant of the virus first documented in the U.K. has just been found infecting several people in Alabama, including children.
Meanwhile a federal watchdog has concluded that a government agency named, “Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority” or BARDA, has for the past decade been used as a “slush fund” of sorts for all manner of expenses unrelated to its mission. According to the New York Times, millions of taxpayer dollars meant to fight threats to public health such as infectious diseases, were instead spent on, “the removal of office furniture, administrative expenses, news subscriptions, legal services and the salaries of other department employees.” Indeed, “the practice of diverting funds was so common, investigators found, that employees had a name for it: the “Bank of BARDA.” In a separate story, the House of Representatives has just opened an investigation into the Trump administration’s purchases of ventilators during the early months of the pandemic. The Washington Post found that, “11,200 ventilators made by a well-connected company were ill-suited for covid-19 patients and remain in a warehouse.” The government spent $70 million to buy the ventilators from a company named Combat Medical Systems. But the ventilators are inadequate and remain unused.
The Commerce Department on Thursday released its assessment of the U.S.’s economic activity in 2020 and found that although the economy fared better than expected, it was still the worst year for economic growth since World War II. The Labor Department also released its weekly numbers for jobless benefits applications and found that numbers remain high. A total of 873,966 people filed for unemployment last week. Adding to the evidence of widespread hardship among Americans the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday published data showing that the federal government spent nearly 50% more on food stamps than the year before, in large part due to pandemic-driven hunger. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who hopes to push through a bill championed by President Biden, warned that Democrats would go ahead with Republicans if need be. He said, “The dangers of undershooting our response are far greater than overshooting … so the Senate as early as next week will begin the process of considering a very strong COVID relief bill.” But Politico reports that the White House is now considering floating a pared down version of the bill in a bid to garner 60 votes in the Senate. Such a bill would be closer to $600-$800 billion rather than the original $1.9 trillion.
Wall Street hedge fund managers are deeply rattled over a Reddit collective beating them at their own game in stock purchases of the video-game chain store GameStop. Small investors collectively bought up enough shares of the company whose stock prices were rapidly falling in part due to hedge funds’ “short selling” the stock. But the collective stock buys by members of the “Wall Street Bets” group on Reddit drove prices up to more than $100 a share, up from only $3 a few weeks ago. Hedge funds that had bet on GameStop failing now owe billions and already some have gone out of business as the small-time investors have seen their fortunes rise. The news has prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to announce an investigation but Senator Elizabeth Warren has slammed hedge funds saying, “For years, the same hedge funds, private equity firms, and wealthy investors dismayed by the GameStop trades have treated the stock market like their own personal casino while everyone else pays the price.”
Republicans are attempting to respond to President Joe Biden’s barrage of executive orders saying they plan to fight specifically on the issue of climate change and calling the President’s climate policy “divisive and illegal.” The GOP is on the same side as fossil fuel companies who also vow to fight back. On Wednesday Biden said, “In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer.” Former Senator and presidential nominee John Kerry retorted to Republicans as well in a speech he gave in his new capacity as special envoy for the climate.
House Republicans are under increasing pressure to censure and denounce one of their own: newly seated Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose previous tweets from 2018 and 2019 openly calling for the execution of Democrats have earned new scrutiny. In a Facebook post Greene had said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “guilty of treason,” and that such a thing was “a crime punishable by death.” She is also under fire over a YouTube video of her harassing David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland mass school shooting in Florida just weeks after the incident that left numerous school kids and staff dead. Several Parkland survivors and families of victims have called on Greene to step down from Congress. Speaker Pelosi has demanded that all her committee memberships be rescinded. Meanwhile a reporter attempting to ask Greene about her false and violent claims at a townhall meeting, was threatened with arrest for doing so.
The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday for the first time admitted that “violent domestic extremists” are a serious threat to the United States. Without naming former President Donald Trump, DHS cited, “the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives,” and added that it is, “concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021,” and that, “the intent to engage in violence has not gone away.”
Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation to make Washington D.C. the 51st state in the nation. Currently the majority Black city, home to the nation’s capital, has no representation in the Senate, even as states with far smaller and whiter populations do. D.C. residents do have representation in the House, and it was D.C. representative Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton who introduced the measure which as of now has more than 200 co-sponsors. In a statement Norton said, “There’s never been a time when statehood for the District was more likely.”