Headlines: March 16, 2021
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week released a review of its Trump-era recommendations that were problematic and not based on scientific evidence. The new CDC head Rochelle Walensky had ordered the review and said in statement on Monday, “It is imperative for the American people to trust CDC. If they don’t, preventable illness and injury can occur — and, tragically, lives can and will be lost.” A large holdover from the previous administration was the skepticism fueled from the highest echelons of government over science and the seriousness of the virus. Now, Republicans are the most vaccine-hesitant group in the United States, posing a particular challenge to President Joe Biden’s administration. Another disturbing trend is how 25% of House Representatives have yet to be vaccinated in spite of having had access to the life-saving shots for months. In other communities of color in particular skepticism toward the medical establishment is also fueling vaccine hesitancy and the New York Times on Tuesday reported that in Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation there are currently more vaccines than people willing to get them.
Several European nations have paused their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in conjunction with Oxford university over concerns of potential links to severe blood clots. However, the European Union regulator remains “convinced” that there is no causal link and that any side effects are outweighed by the benefits of the vaccine. The BBC reports that, “the number of blood clots reported is no more than would have been expected to have happened naturally.” Meanwhile the U.S. drug manufacturer Moderna has just begun clinical trials on young children, as little as 6 months old. And China has just approved a fifth new vaccine for use.
Indigenous groups across the U.S. are celebrating Deb Haaland’s inauguration as head of the Interior Department as the former New Mexico Congresswoman becomes the first Native American Cabinet secretary in history. The U.S. Senate voted 51 to 40 to confirm her with 6 Democrats and 3 Republicans choosing not to vote. Haaland’s opposition to the fossil fuel and particularly the fracking industry is what scares some pro-oil and gas lawmakers and what has thrilled the climate justice movement.
The U.S. Commerce Department reports that retail sales fell by 3% in February in part due to poor weather and also because December’s stimulus checks were spent and struggling Americans are awaiting their next check from the American Rescue Plan. President Joe Biden and his team are focusing their PR efforts on that $1.9 trillion bill in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio as part of a sales pitch for the Democratic administration. Some recipients of the stimulus could lose part of their checks to debt collectors as Senate rules that worked around the filibuster prevented lawmakers from adding special protections from predatory lenders.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin was the latest Democrat to denounce the filibuster as antithetical to progress. Calling it a “weapon of mass obstruction,” Durbin made an impassioned plea to change the rules on the Senate floor, invoking the late conservative racist lawmaker Strom Thurmond’s use of the tactic. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who had perfected the art of the Senate as a legislative graveyard shot back vindictively at Durbin saying that ending the filibuster would result in a “completely scorched earth Senate.” He added that Republicans would use every procedural tool at their disposal to obstruct the Senate and turning it into, “a 100-car pileup, nothing moving.” McConnell also vowed that if Republicans regained control of the Senate, “We wouldn’t just erase every liberal change that hurt the country — we’d strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero, zero input from the other side.”
In news from the ongoing investigation into the January 6th Capitol riot, the Washington Post obtained an internal draft memo showing that the U.S. Army was moving to reject the D.C. Capitol police’s request for National Guards to protect against the expected pro-Trump crowds. The Post explained that, “the Army said the U.S. military shouldn’t be needed to help police with traffic and crowd management, as city officials had requested, unless more than 100,000 demonstrators were expected.” Meanwhile Republican Senator Ron Johnson is under fire for saying that he did not feel any sense of danger from pro-Trumpers on January 6th but that he would have worried had they been Black Lives Matter protesters or those identifying as “Antifa.” Insisting that his words were taken out of context, Johnson dug in his heels in a Wall Street Journal oped on Tuesday saying that he was being punished for, “challenging the left’s false narratives.”
A new report found that the murder rate in the United States remains high after a significant increase was observed in 2020 during the pandemic. The New York Times speculated that the reasons for the spike could be, “the various stresses of the pandemic; the surge in gun sales during the crisis; and less belief in police legitimacy related to protests over police brutality.” The Biden administration is now facing pressure to back two bills that the House recently passed requiring background checks for all gun purchases. So far, the White House has remained silent on the bills.
A day after the Vatican decided that the Catholic church would not bless same-sex unions since apparently God “cannot bless sin,” Reuters is reporting that, “A dissident band of Roman Catholic priests leading a disobedience campaign against the Vatican said on Tuesday they would carry on blessing same-sex couples in defiance of Church orders.” Meanwhile a prominent order of Catholic Jesuits in the United States has just made a commitment to atone for supporting the institution of slavery by raising $100 million in reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.
The Biden administration announced that more than 500 unaccompanied migrant children a day are attempting to cross the southern border of the United States, making it the largest surge in 20 years. A large part of the surge is linked to ongoing poverty and violence in Mexico and Central American nations like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. But because Homeland Security has a policy of turning away adults and not children, desperate parents are sending unaccompanied children across the border raising the specter of more family separations. As thousands of children are being housed in harsh and overcrowded conditions at border detention centers, the government is building two new facilities in Texas to hold children while they are being processed and before they are released into custody of parents or other adult sponsors in the United States.