Headlines: March 15, 2021
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President Joe Biden has picked a top Democratic aide named Gene Sperling to oversee spending of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan designed to lift the economy from the devastation of the pandemic. Sperling had served under both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as director of the National Economic Council. The President, together with Vice President Kamala Harris are embarking on a tour of the nation called “Help is here,” to promote the benefits of the plan. According to Associated Press, “The White House has detailed a theme for each day, scheduling a focus on small businesses, schools, warding off evictions, and direct checks.” Meanwhile Axios reported that Goldman Sachs economists are predicting an 8% growth of the U.S. economy, which if correct, “would mark the largest economic expansion for the U.S. in generations.” According to Axios, “Not only would 8% annual growth denote a stupendous turnaround from the coronavirus pandemic, it would significantly outpace the firm’s growth expectations for the U.S. from as recently as late 2020.” To fund the American Rescue Plan, Mr. Biden is planning to raise taxes, which according to a report in The Hill includes, “raising the corporate tax from 21 percent to 28 percent; increasing the income tax rate on people making more than $400,000; expanding the estate tax; paring back tax preferences on pass-through businesses such as limited-liability companies; and setting up a higher capital gains tax rate for individuals making at least $1 million.”
As vaccinations continue ramping up across the U.S. parent groups are demanding that schools reopen fully after a year of remote education. There were several protests over the weekend in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their demands were underscored by a new report showing that a year into the pandemic, at least 12 million school-aged children continue to have no access to the internet. Meanwhile a group of scientists say that their research revealed social distancing between children in a school environment does not need to follow the 6-foot guidelines and that 3 feet of space between kids is just as good at preventing Covid-19 infections from spreading. On Sunday, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about the research on school re-openings on CNN. And a new report has found that the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of young people has been quite serious. A U.S. based non-profit group called Sapien Labs surveyed nearly 50,000 young people in 8 countries and concluded that more than a quarter of them are at risk of being diagnosed with clinical mental health disorders.
Among the surprising health impacts related to the pandemic are lead poisoning of children. The stay-at-home orders of the past year have resulted in more toxic exposure of young children. According to the New York Times, “Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the early months of the pandemic, roughly 10,000 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected.” And, the CDC also found that fewer smokers attempted to quit over the past year amid the stresses of the pandemic.
A majority of U.S. prison guards are refusing to take vaccines against the coronavirus in a disturbing new trend. Although rates of infection in prisons are more than 3 times as high as the general public, corrections staff are refusing the vaccine in alarmingly high numbers. A case study of how well vaccines are working are nursing homes where the infection rate among staff has dropped a whopping 83% after vaccines were dispensed. Nursing home residents have seen a drop of 89% in infections. A spokesperson for the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living told The Guardian, “the vaccine appears to be having a dramatic effect on reducing cases, which is extremely encouraging.”
Republicans remain among the most skeptical group and Senator Ron Johnson recently came under fire for suggesting without evidence that the immunity he had obtained from having the virus was far better than vaccine-induced immunity. Benjamin D. Singer, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Washington Post, “vaccination provides better and more durable immunity than natural infection.” This explains why so many people who had the virus report getting reinfected within a few months. Well-known GOP pollster Frank Luntz recently convened a group of Republican vaccine skeptics to conduct a focus-group study on what would convince them to get the shot. He found that people would not be moved by a PR effort that touted politicians getting the vaccine—even Donald Trump. Instead, according to one participant in the focus group, “We want to be educated, not indoctrinated.”
Growing numbers of nations are suspending the use of one company’s vaccines based on reports of serious blood clots. Nations like Germany, Netherland, and Ireland are suspending the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which has yet to received authorization for use in the United States. But the company maintains there is no link and the World Health Organization concurs.
In immigration news, reports have emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been dumping detainees who tested positive for Covid-19 at bus stations with no coordinated effort to get them healthcare or help them quarantine. Meanwhile CBS News reports that, “As of Sunday morning, U.S. Border Patrol was holding more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children in short-term holding facilities, including jail-like stations unfit to house minors.” The number of migrant children has increased from 3,000, to 4,200. Meanwhile Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar is leading an effort to end detention of migrants in local jails under the Biden administration. Omar’s office sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security saying, “In order to truly sever the financial incentives causing the expansion of an unnecessary and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration, we urge you to end contracts between the federal government and localities for the purposes of immigration detention.”
On the first anniversary of her death at the hands of Louisville police, Breonna Taylor was memorialized in Kentucky as a large crowd gathered to demand justice. Protesters gathered in cities across the United States including in Los Angeles where this program is based. Taylor’s boyfriend who was with her when she was killed, and against whom all charged were finally dropped, has now filed a federal lawsuit against Louisville police. Kenneth Walker III says his constitutional rights were violated in the botched raid that resulted in Taylor’s death and his arrest. On Sunday night at the Grammy awards, Black Lives Matter activist Tamika Mallory delivered a powerful speech about racial justice and police brutality.