Headlines: March 23, 2021
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A 21-year old man identified as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa has been charged with the murders of ten people in a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado on Monday. The shooting took place at a grocery store called King Soopers and left ten people dead including a 51-year old Boulder Police Officer named Eric Talley who responded to an emergency call. The victims are: Denny Strong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowika, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65. So far there is no known motive for the killings but Alissa’s brother who spoke to the Daily Beast said, “[It was] not at all a political statement, it’s mental illness…The guy used to get bullied a lot in high school, he was like an outgoing kid but after he went to high school and got bullied a lot, he started becoming anti-social.” The shooting comes less than a week after a horrific series of three linked shootings in and around Atlanta, Georgia that left 8 people dead.
The Boulder shooter used an AR-15 style assault rifle. The mass shooting came just days after a judge overturned a Boulder city ban on assault rifles that had first been enacted after the Parkland mass shooting in Florida. The U.S. Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on Tuesday titled “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) opened the hearing calling the issue of gun violence a “public health crisis,” and added, “We won’t solve this crisis with prosecutions after funerals. We need prevention before shooting.” Senator Richard Blumenthal responded to the standard conservative response of sending “thoughts and prayers” to families of victims. In 2020 alone, gun violence claimed more than 41,000 lives in the U.S. The progressive group Indivisible posted a tweet saying, “You’re going to see another round of ‘we can’t do anything yet, there was a tragedy’ hand-wringing, but we must end gun violence now. Let’s eliminate the filibuster and pass real gun violence prevention legislation.”
In other news, U.S. health officials have cast doubt on the just-published clinical trial results for the already embattled AstraZeneca vaccine. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases took the unusual step of releasing a statement after midnight saying it was concerned that, “AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.” According to AP, “AstraZeneca responded that the results, which showed its shot was about 79% effective, included information through Feb. 17 but appeared to be consistent with more up-to-date data. It promised an update within 48 hours.” Meanwhile the Biden Administration is taking steps to increase trust in vaccines among the largest demographic of skeptics in the nation: white conservatives. The White House has partnered with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Nascar and the American Farm Bureau to develop messaging.
Internationally China is struggling to retain trust in its vaccines, Sinovac and Sinopharm on which Chinese authorities have yet to release third stage clinical trial results. The United Arab Emirates has most enthusiastically embraced China’s vaccine but now a small number of those who were vaccinated are being invited to get a third shot amid concerns that it does not provide as strong an immune response to Covid-19 as thought. Sinovac has announced that its vaccine is safe enough to dispense to children as young as 3.
In other news the U.S. Senate has confirmed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary. Walsh, who has now resigned from his mayoral position, has roots as a union leader and was confirmed by a vote of 68 to 29. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka who lobbied hard for Walsh’s confirmation, said, “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this moment. For four years, working families have lived with a Labor Department devoted to serving a handful of elite interests. Now, the power to enforce safety and equity in our workplaces has been handed from a ruthless corporate lawyer to a proud union brother.”
In other news the Biden White House is readying a set of two new spending bills to address the U.S.’s infrastructure needs, education, workforce development and clean energy transition. Mr. Biden’s advisers are reportedly preparing a $3 trillion package to present to the President and Congressional leaders this week. According to the New York Times, “Officials have discussed offsetting some or all of the infrastructure spending by raising taxes on corporations, including increasing the 21 percent corporate income tax rate and a variety of measures to force multinational corporations to pay more tax in the United States on income they earn abroad. That strategy is unlikely to garner Republican votes.”
A new report by the group Avaaz has found that in spite of Facebook’s stated ban on hate speech, hundreds of groups with deeply disturbing views have flourished on the social media platform and helped feed the misinformation that drove the January 6th attack on the Capitol. The report, “identified 267 pages and groups – in addition to “Stop the Steal” groups – with a combined following of 32 million, spreading violence-glorifying content in the heat of the 2020 election.” Avaaz also asserts that, “Despite clear violations of Facebook’s policies, 118 of those 267 pages and groups are still active on the platform and have a following of just under 27 million – of which 59 are Boogaloo, QAnon or militia-aligned.”
Meanwhile pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who was among the most high-profile attorneys pushing a conspiracy about election theft since November 2020 is now saying in court documents in a lawsuit that, “no reasonable person would conclude” that her outlandish claims of voting machine bias, “were truly statements of fact.” Powell, alongside others, is facing a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, whose voting machines she and other Trump loyalists claimed were rigged against Donald Trump.
In international news, State Secretary Anthony Blinken is meeting on Tuesday with European diplomats in Brussels to prepare for a face-to-face NATO Summit in June that organizers are promising will be “virus-free.” On the same day the foreign ministers of Russia and China met in a defiant show of unity against Europe and the U.S. According to AP, “Wang Yi and Sergei Lavrov rejected outside sniping at their authoritarian political systems and said they were working to further global progress on issues from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic.”
And finally, the 2021 World Happiness Report has been released and found that in spite of the tumultuous nature of the past year there was surprising positivity and resilience in nations across the world. One of the report’s authors Jeffrey Sachs said, “I don’t want to leave an impression that all was well, because it’s not.” But apparently the data suggest that, “people have not thrown up their hands about their lives.”