Headlines: March 24, 2021
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The U.S. Senate held hearings on Wednesday over a landmark bill to revamp voting rights at the federal level. The House had passed the For the People Act some weeks ago. Now, without eliminating the filibuster it would be nearly impossible for Democrats to ensure passage in the Senate, especially considering the assault on voting rights is being spear headed by the opposition party. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the attacks in unflinching terms on the Senate floor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell countered by claiming there were no voter suppression efforts and implying that Democrats were trying to cheat.
Meanwhile Axios reported on Wednesday morning that, “People close to [President Joe] Biden tell us he’s feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party.” Additionally, the President apparently, “loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.”
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the economic recovery from the devastation of the pandemic. Referring to the rock-bottom interest rates he has maintained Powell said, “the recovery is far from complete, so, at the Fed, we will continue to provide the economy the support that it needs for as long as it takes.” Ms. Yellen took a measured approach in backing direct aid to jobless Americans saying that, “While unemployment remains high, it’s important to provide the supplementary relief.” She added that in the longer run “we do have to raise revenue to support permanent spending that we want to do.” Meanwhile Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib introduced an innovative piece of legislation to provide monthly $2,000 payments to all Americans until the pandemic ends and then $1,000 a month for a year following that. Her Automatic BOOST to Communities (ABC) Act would be funded by the U.S. Mint to produce $1 Trillion platinum coins to cover the costs. Although never before done, the idea is possible and legal.
March 24 is Equal Pay Day. The National Committee on Pay Equity defines it as the date that, “symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.” The group Fair Wage released a report on the wages of tipped workers to mark the day called Tipping Point: How the Subminimum Wage Keeps Incomes Low and Harassment High. Focused on women workers in the restaurant industry the report covers, “the prevalence of sexual harassment among tipped workers, its connection to tipped workers’ subminimum wage, and the consequences faced by survivors, including retaliation by employers for reporting.” Conditions for tipped workers were even worse during the pandemic the report found.
The New York Times this week published videos that it had obtained showing minute-by-minute details of the January 6th Capitol rioters attack on Officer Brian Sicknick who died shortly after the insurrection. Federal authorities have arrested two rioters who were shown to have used a chemical spray on Sicknick which is thought to be “bear spray.” If prosecutors can link the spray to Sicknick’s death, the two rioters will likely face murder charges.
In other news, authorities in Boulder, Colorado are still searching for a motive for Monday’s horrific mass shooting at a grocery store that claimed ten lives. The suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa faces ten counts of murder. It is now known that he purchased an assault rifle just 6 days before the shooting. President Biden on Tuesday in remarks from the White House called for an assault weapons ban and background checks, less than a week after 3 shootings in Atlanta, Georgia. Predictably Republicans pushed back against any attempt to control access to guns. But there is something that can be done even without legislation. Eighteen Attorneys General sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland to close what is called the “ghost gun” or “80 percent” loophole. According to the letter, “this loophole allows unserialized ghost guns to be bought and sold without oversight…This is not a theoretical problem: more and more, criminals are taking advantage of this loophole to obtain guns that are later used in crimes.” Data shows that gun violence claims thousands of lives a year but last year, during the pandemic, there was even more carnage making 2020 the deadliest year in decades.
The World Health Organization is warning that after weeks of declining numbers of infections and deaths, COVID-19 cases are surging once more on a global scale. The increase is being attributed to numerous factors including more transmissible variants of the virus, a relaxation of quarantine rules, and an extremely uneven rollout of vaccines. According to the Washington Post, “More than three-quarters of all new cases and deaths were reported in Europe and the Americas. Brazil, however, has been particularly devastated, reporting a record 3,251 deaths Tuesday — four times more than the much larger United States.” Additionally, “The global trend suggests that U.S. deaths, which have continued to fall for months, may soon rise again as well.” Progressive lawmakers like Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Bernie Sanders are pushing the Biden administration to support waivers for COVID-19 vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization so that other companies may begin producing the desperately needed vaccines.
Finally, the Sierra Club has just released a new report Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, which analyzes “fossil fuel financing from the world’s 60 largest commercial and investment banks.” The report concludes that, “banks poured a total of $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels from 2016–2020.” Although financing of the fossil fuel industry fell 9% last year the 2020 levels of funding are still higher than the 2016 levels.