Headlines: November 18, 2020
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The Trump administration killed thousands of civilians in Iraq and Syria as part of its aggressive bombing campaign to defeat the Islamic state, reports the Washington Post. Calling it, “a new accounting of the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State,” the paper based its reporting on a new study by the UK based group Airwars that relied on the U.S. military’s geo-location data. According to the Post, “The United States has conceded 1,398 civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, though others say the actual number is much higher.” The period covered is from 2015 to 2020 which includes the last two years of the Obama administration, indicating that destructive wars and civilian killings have been a bi-partisan practice. Additionally, there have been “more than 34,000 air and artillery strikes since 2014, decimating the group and forcing survivors underground.” The data fill the vacuum left by the U.S. government’s refusal to reveal detailed information about its bombing campaigns.
In other news, Pfizer and its partner company BioNTech announced on Wednesday that the latest results from it Covid-19 vaccine trial showed a 95% effectiveness rate and that it was only days away from seeking approval for public distribution through the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer’s announcement comes just a few days after a competing effort led by Moderna showed 94.5% effectiveness, and a week and a half after Pfizer’s own initial announcement. Pfizer and BioNTech tested their vaccine on a large cohort of 44,000 racially diverse volunteers, half of whom received the vaccine and the other half a placebo. One hundred and seventy people developed the disease of which 162 were in the control group. Meanwhile the FDA just approved the nation’s first at-home Covid-19 testing kit that promises results in 30 minutes. The situation in the U.S. remains grim with more than 11 million infections so far. It is estimated that right now there are about 3 million infectious people nationwide. Deaths continue to mount as well with nearly a quarter of a million fatalities. In comparison the seasonal flu claims 24,000 to 62,000 deaths a year.
Among those most recently infected is the number three person in line for the Presidency, Senator Chuck Grassley. The 87-year old Iowa Republican is under quarantine and says he has no symptoms so far. Dozens of lawmakers have tested positive for the virus so far. Meanwhile the Trump administration’s efforts to combat the virus by crafting a celebrity-laden ad campaign aimed at “defeating despair” has been cancelled – just like Mr. Trump’s Presidency. President elect Joe Biden has announced he will meet with front-line healthcare workers while Trump focuses on a recount of votes in Wisconsin.
The President remains enraged over his election loss and on Tuesday fired Christopher Krebs, the senior-most cyber-security official in the administration who appeared to have failed Trump’s loyalty test. Krebs had defied Trump by certifying the 2020 election as one of the most successful and secure in recent history. Senator Angus King of Maine denounced the firing saying, “Of all the things this president has done, this is the worst…To strike at the heart of the democratic system is beyond anything we have seen from any politician.”
Meanwhile in Georgia where an internecine battle has broken out among Republicans over Trump’s election loss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in an interview that Trump might have won the state if he hadn’t spent months undermining absentee voting. Trump lost the state of Georgia to Biden by less than 14,000 votes.
In Michigan, an elections board in Wayne County on Tuesday refused to certify the results of that state’s election in what seemed a nakedly partisan effort. After an outcry from state election officials and voters in Detroit (which is part of Wayne County), the officials relented and certified the results. Now GOP officials in Arizona are attempting a similar partisan effort to postpone certifying the results of Maricopa County where Trump lost.
Trump continues to feed the conspiracy theory that he didn’t lose the election and that it was all rigged against him (even though his party won seats in the same election). One of his latest social media posts was so outrageous—a claim that dead people voted—that even Fox News’ virulently pro-Trump host Tucker Carlson spoke against it. But the lies are having an impact with about half of all Republicans according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll believing that the race was “rigged.” A new Politico-Morning Consult poll shows that a mere 46% of voters believe Trump should concede immediately. It has been well over a week since media outlets called the presidency for Joe Biden which is when Trump was expected to concede like previous losing presidents before him have done. Republican officials are enabling Trump as many red state governors are also refusing to acknowledge president elect Biden.
In economic news, while Wall Street was buoyed by positive vaccine news this week, millions of Americans remain at the edge of survival. If Congress doesn’t take steps to extend unemployment aid before it runs out at the end of the year 12 million Americans could be impacted. Additionally, a nationwide eviction moratorium expires on December 31st. And even if Congress passes extensions it is unclear if Trump will agree, as the White House this week busied itself on finalizing last-minute cuts to the government’s safety net programs.
A federal judge has just barred the Trump administration from proceeding with its expulsion of underage children crossing the U.S. border. Under cover of the pandemic Homeland Security had been rapidly deporting thousands of children who entered the U.S. in spite of laws protecting them. According to AP, the ruling “bars only the expulsion of children who cross the border unaccompanied by a parent. The government has expelled nearly 200,000 people since March, including adults, and parents and children traveling together.”
And finally, a new report is sounding the alarm on the health of coral reefs in the U.S. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration together with the University of Maryland conducted the first ever study of its kind and concluded that coral reefs near the nation’s shorelines are in serious decline. One of the scientists explained that, “Our work in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans shows a dire outlook for coral reef ecosystem health, from warming ocean waters, fishing, disease, and pollution from the land.” Florida’s reefs are the worst of all with only about 2% that has not degraded. Coral reefs provide natural barriers to storm surges and are a critical part of the underwater ecosystem that supports fisheries and other industries.