Headlines: March 17, 2021
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Eight people were killed, 6 of them Asian, 7 of them women, in a series of deadly shootings on Tuesday aimed at massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. The first shooting claiming four lives took place at Young’s Asian Massage around 5 pm on Tuesday; following that at 5:47 pm, three women were fatally shot at Gold Spa and then immediately across the street at Aromatherapy Spa another woman was killed. A 21-year old white male named Robert Aaron Long has been taken into custody in connection with the shootings. Atlanta police began immediately promoting a narrative that the suspect was struck by a “sexual addiction.” Sheriff Frank Reynolds of Cherokee County told press, “He made indicators that he has some issues, potentially sexual addiction, and may have frequented some of these places in the past.” Capt. Jay Baker claimed that he saw the spas as “a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms emphasized that the horrific and deadly violence came at the time when the nation was experiencing a spike in anti-Asian hate and racism. Mr. Long has just been charged with murder.
On the same day that the deadly shootings took place in Georgia, the group Stop AAPI Hate released its national report on anti-Asian hate over the past year documenting 3,795 incidents, the majority of which involved verbal harassment. More than 10% of all incidents involved physical violence and Asian women were 2.3 times more likely than men to be victims of hate. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism also released its new report on white supremacist propaganda in 2020 and found a, “huge increase of incidents from the previous year, with a total of 5,125 cases reported … compared to 2,724 in 2019.” It was apparently, “the highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents ADL has ever recorded.”
In other news, President Joe Biden for the first time endorsed a reform of the Senate filibuster rules. With 50 Republicans refusing to consider any Democratic legislation the mere threat of a filibuster is enough to derail all bills except those that can be passed in a limited manner through a budget reconciliation process. Now a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened a “scorched earth” policy against changing the rules, Biden said this in an interview on ABC, saying he supported reverting back to the old style of filibuster where Senators had to command the floor continuously through talking while on their feet and that as soon as they stopped, the bill in question had to move forward.
In other news, Republicans are fighting to use state-aid in the recently passed American Rescue Plan to fund tax cuts. According to the Washington Post, “Twenty-one Republican state attorneys general on Tuesday threatened to take action against the Biden administration over its new $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus law, decrying it for imposing ‘unprecedented and unconstitutional’ limits on their states’ ability to lower taxes.” The provision preventing the state aid from being used to lower taxes was tucked into the bill at the last minute by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Writing in Newsweek David Sirota said, “The provision, coupled with Biden’s upcoming plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, represents the first significant effort to explicitly combat the anti-tax movement that has dominated American politics for the last half-century.”
Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday held a major hearing on the crisis of income and wealth inequality in the U.S. The Senator tweeted ahead of the hearing, “Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, won’t be joining our hearing this morning on income and wealth inequality. But Jennifer Bates, who works at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, will testify about the need to build an economy that works for all of us.” Sanders introduced a bill on Wednesday to apply an added tax on those corporations whose CEOs make more than 50 times the median salary of its workers. Meanwhile 50 of his fellow progressives in the House signed on to a letter saying, “Hundreds of billions of dollars now directed to the military would have greater return if invested in diplomacy, humanitarian aid, global public health, sustainability initiatives, and basic research.”
Progressives in the House are also reviving a bill instituting an expansion of the Medicare program to all Americans. Currently only those over the age of 65 are able to enroll in the federal government-run health plan. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who authored the bill said, “Everybody is seeing the chaos and the destruction that the pandemic has caused … really making people look and [ask], could we have had something different had we had a Medicare-for-all system in place?” On Tuesday Public Citizen released a report concluding that, “Hundreds of Thousands of Deaths and Millions of Infections Would Likely Have Been Prevented Under Medicare for All.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive action on Tuesday to restore the voting rights of former felons. His action would impact nearly 70,000 people and comes at a time when Republican-led states are launching hundreds of bills to suppress the right to vote.
Democratic lawmakers are denouncing Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Ron Johnson as a “racist.” The ultra-conservative Senator had recently claimed he felt no danger from the Trump-loving crowd that attacked the Capitol on January 6th but would have felt differently had it been a group of Black Lives Matter activists. Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) said on CNN, “The guy is racist. This is not the first time he has indicated such.” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) went further in breaking Senate decorum by labeling Johnson a racist on the Senate floor.
The Movement for Black Lives in a scathing letter to Congress explained why it opposes the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which has been introduced into the House. The coalition of more than 100 racial justice organizations denounced the bill as investing in the same types of tired reforms that have not fixed policing and does not address what are considered the root causes of racist police violence. Meanwhile, the trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continues and two jurors were just dropped in the wake of a civil suit by Floyd’s family that was settled for $27 million. The judge in the case dropped the jurors over concerns that they would be unduly influenced by the settlement.
Finally, a declassified intelligence report released this week on Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. election concluded that, “Russian state and proxy actors who all serve the Kremlin’s interests worked to affect U.S. public perceptions.” According to the New York Times, “The declassified report represented the most comprehensive intelligence assessment of foreign efforts to influence the 2020 vote. Besides Russia, Iran and other countries also sought to sway the election,” and that, “China considered its own efforts but ultimately concluded that they would fail and most likely backfire.”