Headlines: March 25, 2021
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:15 — 7.6MB)
Jobless claims fell by 100,000 last week compared to the week before as per the latest Labor Department data. About 657,000 applied for new jobless claims last week, the lowest level since the pandemic’s first wave of joblessness hit the nation last year. In addition to jobless benefits Americans who qualify are surviving on one-time government payments of $1,400 passed in the American Rescue Plan. Now, some lawmakers are pointing out that about 30 million people who are retired or disabled have not received their checks because Trump-era holdovers in the Social Security Administration have refused to turn over needed data on those individuals to the IRS. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and others have demanded that President Biden fire Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul who was appointed by Trump.
In other financial news, Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced a bill to close corporate tax loopholes and increase the corporate tax rate to 35%. The bill is called the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act and would reverse a key provision of the Republican tax reform bill of 2017. Sanders also presented a bill called the For The 99.% Act which imposes a 45% tax on multimillion dollar estates. Those with assets worth over a billion dollars would be taxed at 65%. Senator Sanders presented the bills ahead of a hearing at the Senate Budget Committee which he chairs, that is focused on the inequities of the U.S. tax code.
Meanwhile Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday during a hearing where Janet Yellen testified, grilled the Treasury Secretary on why she has not taken on BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager that oversees a whopping $9 trillion in assets. Senator Warren is now the chair of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy and the Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. Warren challenged Yellen on why she has not labeled BlackRock with the designation “Too Big to Fail,” considering the potential damage to the U.S. and global economy if there is a crash.
In news from the pandemic, the embattled vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca released new data about the efficacy of its product a day after the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases challenged some of the figures it submitted for FDA approval, suggesting the company had cherry picked data. AstraZeneca resubmitted data on Thursday showing the vaccine to be 76% effective, slightly lower than the 79% figure it initially claimed. Covid infections in the U.S. have hit 30 million since the start of the pandemic and infection rates are disturbingly rising in many states after a decline and plateau. The race between virus and vaccines continues as 85.5 million Americans have so far received at least 1 or 2 vaccine shots. President Biden on Thursday held the first press conference of his tenure and focused on the pandemic. He announced a $100 million plan to fund an army of volunteer medical staff to aid vaccination efforts. Funds for the proposal would be drawn from the American Rescue Plan. Additionally Biden wants to focus a $10 billion vaccination effort at the nation’s hardest hit communities in the Covid crisis.
A group of researchers are on the verge of publishing a paper claiming that the U.S. could have saved 400,000 lives during the pandemic if it had had a more strategic federal approach to the crisis. Andrew Atkeson, an economist at University of California, Los Angeles says that while vaccines are being distributed we would still see a total of 670,000 deaths from the virus – a number that would have been nearly twice as high without vaccines. Meanwhile anti-vaccine lies continue to spread around the nation and a new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch has identified that a mere 12 people who are leading anti-vax advocates are responsible for the majority of disinformation. The report dubs them the Disinformation Dozen and points out how many of them remain active on social media spreading dangerous lies that are contributing to vaccine hesitancy.
The suspect in the Boulder, Colorado shooting made his first court appearance on Thursday to hear the ten charges of first degree murder that he faces. The 21-year old man is being held without bail and his defense may include claims of mental illness. The firearm with which he allegedly shot down ten people at a grocery store uses the same ammunition as an AR 15 assault rifle and yet is classified as a pistol. Referring to the Boulder shooting and the shootings in Atlanta, Georgia a week earlier, AP explained, “the latest suspected U.S. mass shooters to obtain guns because of limited firearms laws, background check lapses or law enforcement’s failure to heed warnings of concerning behavior.” A man carrying what appeared to be an AR 15 rifle and several other guns plus body armor was just arrested after he walked into a grocery store in Atlanta. A new USA Today/IPSOS poll found that two thirds of Americans support laws making it harder to purchase guns. But in a sign that registered Republicans are increasingly out of touch with the mainstream, support for gun control actually fell among GOP voters after the two mass shootings. Two years ago, 54% of Republicans supported gun control measures—today only 35% do. Democratic support remains high at 90%.
Vanita Gupta, nominated by President Biden for Associate Attorney General, has become yet another person of color that Republicans appear disturbed by during her confirmation hearings. Lisa Monaco, who is white, was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee to the position of Deputy Attorney General, while the same committee tried to hold up Gupta’s nomination. GOP Senator Chuck Grassley called Monaco a “consummate professional,” but according to him Gupta is “too extreme.” Ms. Gupta has served as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which may be why Grassley and others oppose her. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas also opposed Gupta and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow offered an explanation saying that in Tulia, Texas, in 1999, “dozens of people were arrested and convicted on bogus drug charges. The crooked cop behind the arrests was given an award by then-A.G., now-GOP Senator John Cornyn, but Vanita Gupta, then-NAACP lawyer, now-Biden DOJ nominee, exposed the travesty of justice and got the cases overturned.”
In other news, the U.S. Senate in a 52 to 48 vote finally approved Dr. Rachel Levine to the position of Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary. She too faced Republican opposition and becomes the first transgender American to win Senate confirmation to a government position.
In international news, Israel’s latest election results are in and incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just fallen short of the number of seats he needs to maintain power. He would now need to form a coalition with the Arab-Islamist Ra’am Party in order to remain Prime Minister. Meanwhile Doctors Without Borders has put out an urgent call for Palestinians to receive more vaccines. Netanyahu marched swiftly to vaccinate Israeli citizens—ostensibly in an election-related bid to gain popularity—and only allowed a very small number to be given to Palestinian territories.
And finally, Covid-related deaths in Brazil have surpassed 300,000, a tally that is only second to the United States. On Tuesday a record breaking 3,251 Brazilians died in a 24-hour period. The latest 100,000 deaths came in the last 75 days alone. President Jair Bolsonaro appears to be scrambling to respond after spending nearly a year downplaying the virus and mocking safety measures.