Headlines: March 18, 2021
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The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a day after a white man in Atlanta, Georgia was charged in the shooting deaths of 8 people, 7 of them women. The Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized numerous times but was never able to pass the U.S. Senate. Interestingly it was initially authored by then-Senator Joe Biden in 1994. The bill protects women against sexual violence, assault, domestic violence, and stalking among other things. Only 29 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill. A whopping 172 voted against it. The GOP opposition is in part based on the National Rifle Association’s opposition to the bill because it targets gun violence against women.
Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in the Atlanta-area murders of mostly Asian woman, was charged on Wednesday with 8 counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. His first court appearance scheduled for Thursday was abruptly cancelled after his lawyer waived his rights to a reading of the charges. Mr. Long apparently blamed a “sex addiction,” and police echoed that claim, in explaining his actions. But experts say, “There is no scientific consensus that such a diagnosis exists.” Captain Jay Baker, a deputy in the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, who has come under fire for suggesting that Long was simply having had, “a really bad day” when he allegedly committed the mass murders, has himself been implicated for having anti-Asian racist beliefs. Baker’s social media posts point to him promoting T-shirts with a racist slogan about COVID-19 being an “imported virus from Chy-na.” Meanwhile, Americans gathered to mourn at vigils in several cities across the country linking the murders of the women to a disturbing spike in anti-Asian racism and hate over the past year. While much focus has been on Long, his Southern Baptist faith, and more, very little so far has emerged about the victims of the shootings. The sole survivor of the shootings is a man named Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz.
In San Francisco, home to a large population of Asian Americans, a day after the shooting a woman in her 70s was assaulted when a white man in his 30s allegedly punched her in the face. But it was the man who ended up in the hospital after the woman fought back and apparently hit him with a piece of wood. President Joe Biden, addressing the trend of anti-Asian attacks said, “I know Asian-Americans are very concerned. Because as you know I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian-Americans for the last couple months, and I think it’s very, very troubling.” But he refused to condemn the Atlanta-area shootings to racism saying, “I am making no connection at this moment to the motivation of the killer.” Other Democratic lawmakers were bolder with Representative Grace Meng of New York naming the Republicans who voted no on her recent resolution against anti-Asian hate as part of a tweet saying, “there is blood on their hands.” Representative Marilyn Strickland of Washington who is the first Korean American woman in Congress said, “racially motivated violence must be called out for exactly what it is.” And Congresswoman Judy Chu of California who is the first Chinese American woman to have been elected to the House said in an interview on CNN that former President Trump was to blame.
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday held a hearing about anti-Asian hate where several Democrats directly implored their Republican Trump-supporting colleagues to stop fueling racism. Meanwhile, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on March 1st about domestic terrorist threats to the United States. The report was made public on Wednesday and concluded that, “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and militia violent extremists (MVEs) present the most lethal [domestic violent extremists] threats.” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said, “Today’s report underscores how we face the greatest threat from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, especially white supremacists, and militia violent extremists.” As if to underscore the report’s findings, a heavily armed Texas man was arrested on Wednesday afternoon in Washington D.C. outside the place where Vice President Kamala Harris’s family is expected to reside.
In other news, hundreds of organizations from around the world have signed on to a letter to President Biden and his top Cabinet officials demanding that the United States immediately end all taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas industry. The letter says, “We urge the Biden Administration to act swiftly to end new financing for all parts of the fossil fuel supply chain (including for gas), stop new U.S. fossil fuel support within 90 days across all government institutions, and work with other nations to end fossil fuel financing.” The letter comes at the same time as the Guardian newspaper published findings based on a trove of internal documents that show “The oil industry knew at least 50 years ago that air pollution from burning fossil fuels posed serious risks to human health, only to spend decades aggressively lobbying against clean air regulations.” Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is in the spotlight for hypocrisy on his pledge to be a climate warrior. The New York Times explained that Schumer, “is objecting to a plan that would raise costs for some of his constituents by bringing flood insurance rates in line with climate risks.”
In news from the coronavirus, more localities in the United States are removing tiered restrictions on who can obtain a vaccine, offering a taste of what lies in the future. While that is good news for those actively seeking a vaccine, it is also an indicator that there could be more vaccines than people who want them. Now experts are warning Americans to get their shot and continue sheltering-in-place as 15 states observed increased rates of infections and deaths from the virus. ABC news explained that, “Although the country’s national daily case average continues to fall — about 32.5% over the last month — nearly a third of all states have seen their average number of cases rise at least 10%.” Added to the troubling trend is the news that AMC Theaters will reopen nearly all its movie houses by this Friday in spite of the continued dangers of indoor gatherings. And, the European Union’s drug regulator has just announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in collaboration with Oxford University is indeed safe for use and not linked to increased incidence of blood clots. The vaccine rollout in many European nations had been paused based on fears of links to blood clots even though only a few dozen people out of many millions had developed clots after getting the vaccine – a rate that is even lower than in the general unvaccinated public.
In Minneapolis where the trial of Derek Chauvin continues, the judge in the high-profile case is considering whether or not to allow a mention of the victim George Floyd’s 2019 arrest. It is not clear if the judge is considering previous encounters that Chauvin had with other suspects where he used the same tactic of a knee to the neck as he did with Floyd.