Headlines: March 12, 2021
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:20 — 7.6MB)
President Joe Biden on Thursday gave his first national public address from the White House, 50 days into his tenure and one year into the coronavirus pandemic. He made the case that his administration was using all available means to fight the virus. Biden emphasized the efforts toward vaccinating hard-to-reach communities. The President also laid out an ambitious agenda of beating the goal of 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days and announced that Americans would have universal access to vaccines by May 1st. Mr. Biden reminded Americans of the importance of remaining vigilant and adhering to social distancing guidelines even as the vaccination efforts ramp up.
Yet another vaccine maker has announced positive results of clinical trials of its product. Novovax’s Covid-19 vaccine has a 96.4% efficacy rate against the original strain of the virus after third stage trials. This is on par with Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines that are being widely used in the U.S. However, against the South Africa variant of the virus, Novovax’s second stage trial showed only a 48.6% efficacy although it still offered 100% protection against severe symptoms and deaths. Neither Pfizer nor Moderna have tested their vaccines against the South Africa variant yet. In other vaccine news, the U.S. is apparently sitting on a massive stockpile of AstraZeneca’s vaccines which have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Europe, which has approved that vaccine, has asked to tap into American supplies. But some nations are rejecting the vaccine altogether based on claims that it causes blood clots. The World Health Organization has maintained there is no evidence yet linking AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots.
In spite of Mr. Biden’s exhortations for Americans to get vaccinated, a whopping 30% of Americans say they would refuse the shot. This number includes 41% of all Republicans. In spite of social media crackdowns, anti-vaxx claims continue to proliferate online. The leading anti-vaccine activist Robert Kennedy, who has been banned from Instagram for spreading baseless conspiracy theories, has now released a documentary which audaciously uses the virus’s outsize impact on Black communities to weaponize anti-vaccine sentiments. According to NBC, “The hourlong film, which relies heavily on the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, promotes false claims that Covid-19 vaccination efforts are part of a larger, sinister experiment on Black communities.” Additionally the New York Times on Friday reported that, “Evidence suggests that some sexual and gender minorities — especially people of color — are hesitant to be vaccinated because of mistrust of the medical establishment.”
A new AP-NORC poll found that a year into the pandemic, poor people and people of color have borne the brunt of the resulting economic devastation. Meanwhile the Washington Post concluded that the “wealth of nine of the country’s top titans has increased by more than $360 billion in the past year.” They included Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. The paper explained that, “Amazon benefited while consumers shopped from home, as many of its bricks-and-mortar rivals struggled to keep pace. Google, Facebook and Microsoft helped power the new work-and-learn-from-home reality.”
In other news, Senator Bernie Sanders plans to bring the issue of union efforts by Amazon warehouse workers to Washington D.C. next week. The Vermont senator who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee has invited an Alabama warehouse worker and union organizer to testify at a hearing. Sanders has also invited Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Meanwhile the Guardian newspaper covered the appalling conditions under which Amazon’s delivery drivers are forced to work and how, “The Teamsters Union is now working with drivers” on the issue. The Biden Labor Department on Thursday ended two rules enacted by the Trump Administration that weakened federal worker protections.
The White House announced that those qualifying for stimulus checks under the newly passed American Rescue Plan could see direct deposits as soon as this weekend. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are rushing to define perceptions of the massive bill that is seen as the most ambitious expansion of the government social safety net in decades. Senator Sanders on Thursday denounced Republicans who had voted against the Covid relief bill over cost objections but who then went on to make the case for permanently ending real estate taxes. Sanders called it “Total hypocrisy!” Some Republicans are even going as far as claiming credit for the benefits of the bill they voted against. Biden’s next agenda items on immigration and infrastructure are already shaping up to face strong Republican opposition.
On the immigration front, Biden just rescinded Trump’s so-called “public charge” rule that barred those applying for legal status from accepting government aid. Meanwhile border facilities are getting overwhelmed with a new surge of unaccompanied minors and are keeping those minors in facilities longer than allowed. Meanwhile Arizona’s Republican-led legislature just passed a surprising bill granting undocumented students in the state to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities.
The Los Angeles Police Department was found to have severely mishandled Black Lives Matter protests in LA last year as per a new report. As jury selection in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd continues in Minneapolis, the judge has added a third degree murder charge. The Minneapolis City Council just approved a $27 million settlement in a civil suit brought by Floyd’s family.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a new threat to his political career – this time from Democrats who are leading an impeachment inquiry. And, Deb Haaland finally won Senate confirmation to assume the head of the Interior Department. She becomes the nation’s first indigenous Interior Secretary.
And, on his first day as U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland announced he would prioritize an investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol building. The DOJ is working to build a large conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers group over its activities in the riot. And former President Trump is facing growing numbers of civil and criminal lawsuits over his incitement of insurrection in the incident.