Headlines: March 22, 2021
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Coronavirus infections in several U.S. states have begun to rise once more after months of declining cases. Scientists fear yet another surge as the race to vaccinate competes with a fatigued population eager to return to normalcy. The city of Miami Beach, Florida over the weekend symbolized the problems of reopening too soon and in a patchwork way as uncontrolled crowds of people swarmed into the city to enjoy their Spring Break. Miami Beach officials imposed a curfew that has now been extended for 3 weeks. According to the New York Times, “Officials went so far as to approve closing the famed Ocean Drive for four nights a week until April 12…The strip, frequented by celebrities and tourists alike, was the scene of a much-criticized skirmish on Saturday night in which police officers used pepper balls to disperse a large crowd of sometimes unruly and mostly unmasked revelers just hours after the curfew had been introduced.” Police arrested more than a 1,000 people. Like other Republican run states, Florida did not seriously enforce shelter-in-place orders and mask ordinances. A recent editorial in the Florida Times-Union called the state’s pandemic response “a horror show,” and offered the following assessment: “Almost 2 million cases and more than 32,000 dead. Businesses closed, people brought to the brink, with little help from a state unemployment system that was designed to fail.”
In other pandemic news, the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, produced in collaboration with Oxford University has finally been assessed in the United States. A large clinical trial conducted in the U.S. concluded that the vaccine offered, “100% efficacy against severe or critical disease and hospitalization,” and had, “79% vaccine efficacy at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.” The AstraZeneca vaccine had been widely used across Europe. But because the vaccine had been associated with rare instances of blood clots – 37 cases out of 17 million—the resulting pause in Europe to conduct an assessment, has now resulted in a massive loss of public trust in the vaccine. A YouGov poll found majorities did not trust the vaccine in Germany, Italy and Spain. However the UK government has moved full-speed ahead with vaccinating its population using the AstraZeneca shot and tensions with Europe, already exacerbated because of Brexit, are now even higher. Here in the United States, vaccine skepticism in Black and brown communities has diminished since last year as per new polls. Non-white communities are now as likely as white Americans to trust the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
In other news, House Democrats are making a renewed push for Washington D.C. to be granted statehood in a new hearing being held on Monday by the House Oversight Committee. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton who is the only Congressional representative from D.C. and who serves in a non-voting capacity said, “Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the democratic process, watching as Congress votes on matters that affect the nation with no say of their own, or watching as Congress votes to overturn the laws of the duly elected D.C. Council with no say of their own.”
As prosecutions related to the January 6th Capitol Riot continue, the Justice Department prosecutor Michael Sherwin who had led the investigation before turning it over to another prosecutor in March, gave an interview on 60 Minutes where he said that the evidence he has seen most likely support charges of sedition against rioters. 60 Minutes host Scott Pelley also asked why so many people were simply allowed to leave that day and not be arrested. He was also asked if former President Donald Trump might face charges. Trump’s associate Roger Stone, who he pardoned before leaving office is now also under investigation in connection to the riot.
Thousands of people gathered at vigils and rallies across the nation over the weekend to mourn the mass shootings in Atlanta that claimed 8 lives, the majority of them Asian women. Among the largest rallies was one that took place in New York City where New York State Senator John Liu and activist Linda Sarsour were among the speakers. The New York Times on Monday revealed that Mario González, whose wife Delaina Ashley Yaun was among the victims of the Atlanta shooting, was held handcuffed by police for 4 hours while he remained anguished over the fate of his wife. He said, “Maybe because I’m Mexican, I don’t know…Because the truth is, they treated me badly.” Crabapple First Baptist Church where the alleged shooter was a member and which preaches a fundamentalist view of Christianity, has now disavowed Robert Aaron Long. Saying that the shooting, “displays the total corruption of mankind,” the evangelical church sought to distance itself from the man who now faces multiple murder charges. It remains to be seen if Long will face hate crimes charges under Georgia’s new hate crimes law. But newly elected Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) dismissed the hesitation to label the incidents as hate crimes saying, “We all know hate when we see it.”
New research shows tax evasion among America’s wealthiest is resulting in the theft of more than a trillion dollars from the U.S. Treasury. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The top sliver of high-income Americans dodge significantly more in income taxes than the Internal Revenue Service’s methods had previously assumed,” and that, “the top 1% of households fail to report about 21% of their income, with 6 percentage points of that due to sophisticated strategies that random audits don’t detect. For the top 0.1%, unreported income may be nearly twice as large as conventional IRS methodologies would suggest.” Responding to the research, the New York Times published an editorial on Monday promoting a new resolution that Congressman Ro Khanna of California had introduced in February called the “Stop Cheaters Act.”
An estimated 50,000 Israelis demonstrated outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding his resignation just a few days before an election. It will be Israel’s fourth election in just 2 years. Netanyahu faces serious charges of bribery, corruption and fraud although he has bet his future on overseeing an aggressive vaccine drive that has made Israel the envy of the world. This week’s election is seen as a referendum on Netanyahu.
And finally, famed Egyptian feminist and activist Nawal El Saadawi has died. El Saadawi was known for her fierce commitment to gender equality in the Arab world and had published more than 50 books. She passed away at the age of 89 in Cairo.