Survivors of the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, are asking congressional Republicans to publicly censure Marjorie Taylor Greene for suggesting the school shooting was a “false flag” and for harassing a teenage survivor on Capitol Hill in 2019, reports the Guardian’s Lois Beckett.
Greene, the newly elected Georgia congresswoman who is known for her support of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, was filmed in March 2019 as she followed 18-year-old David Hogg, one of the students who survived the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school, outside Capitol Hill.
In the video, Greene also echoes false yet frequently spread conspiracy claims that mass shooting survivors and family members of victims are “crisis actors” and the attacks that killed their loved ones were staged as a plot to pass gun control laws.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among the 17 students and staff killed in the shooting, told the Guardian: “She hasn’t disowned any of it. She hasn’t said, ‘I was wrong.’ She hasn’t said, ‘I’m sorry to the families I’ve hurt.’ She hasn’t said, ‘I accept the truth around Parkland, Sandy Hook, and 9/11.’ She has let the lie live. That makes her incapable of serving as a representative in Congress.”
US economy sees worst year for growth since Second World War
Those fourth quarter economic figures that came out earlier work out to the US having the worst year for growth since the end of the Second World War. It’s a dismal coda to the Trump presidency, during which he frequently boasted of building the greatest economy in history. Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam write for the Washington Post:
The economy shrank by 3.5 percent last year as the novel coronavirus upended American business and households, making 2020 the worst year for economic growth since 1946. It is the first time the economy has contracted for the year since 2009, when Gross Domestic Product shrank by 2.5 percent during the depths of the Great Recession.
This is the last GDP report from former president Donald Trump’s tenure. Until the pandemic, Trump was on track for an economic record that put him near the middle of the pack among recent presidents. But the covid-19 crisis has ensured that he is likely to have overseen the slowest economic growth of any president in the period since the Second World War.
It may have been on the receiving end of a lot of jokes, but Robert Burns reports for the Associated Press that Trump’s Space Force is likely to survive through the Biden era.
The reason Space Force is unlikely to go away is largely this: elimination would require an act of Congress, where a bipartisan consensus holds that America’s increasing reliance on space is a worrying vulnerability that is best addressed by a branch of the military focused exclusively on this problem. The service celebrated its one year anniversary in December.
The new service also is linked to an increasing US wariness of China, which is developing capabilities to threaten US satellites in space and which has become, in the minds of some, the singular national security challenge. Russia, too, stands accused by Washington of seeking to challenge American dominance in space.
“They’re building capabilities to use space against us. We have to be able to respond to that,” Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Security Space Association, an advocacy group, last week, referring to Russia and China.
Joe Biden has not publicly commented on his intentions with Space Force. His defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, has been noncommittal, while also stressing the strategic importance of space.
Although some see it as a Trump vanity project, in the military it’s seen more soberly as an affirmation of the need to more effectively organize for the defense of US interests in space.
While far smaller than any other branch of the military, Space Force is acquiring the standard trappings of a service, including an official flag, logo, seal and doctrine. It has launched commercials to attract recruits. The force is planning to expand its ranks from 2,400 active-duty members to 6,400 by the end of this year.
Still, there have been mis-steps along the way. Social media and Marvel Comics fans were incredibly amused when, after lengthy debate, it was decided last month that Space Force members would be called “guardians”, echoing the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Number of Americans filing first-time unemployment claims falls slightly to 847,000
The US economy grew at an annual rate of 4% in the fourth quarter, following 33.4% growth in the previous quarter, when the economy bounced back after sharp declines earlier in the year caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the advance estimate from the US Commerce Department.
That’s essentially the last verdict on the Trump era, writes Courtenay Brown at Axios.
It shows a sharp slowdown in growth compared to the previous quarter, as the pandemic got worse and government aid petered out.
Meanwhile other data just out shows that the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment claims fell slightly to 847,000 last week. Lucy Bayly at NBC News notes:
Economists had predicted a total of 875,000 claims for the week ended 23 January.
Ten months into the pandemic, the weekly figure — which is a proxy for layoffs — continues to hover just below 1 million. That’s five times higher than its pre-pandemic average, though far lower than the March peak of 7 million.
“Thanks to Covid-19, there are still 10 million jobs missing from the economy, and there are still 14.5 million people claiming unemployment benefits. People need help,” said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America. “Maintaining stimulus spending, in particular, income support, has been the right thing to do all along and it still is.”
There will be more follow-up to these figures on our business live blog today:
Nina Lakhani has also written for us today on the theme of demands on Joe Biden’s environmental policies:
Border communities and environmentalists are urging Joe Biden to take immediate steps to remediate the environmental and cultural destruction caused by construction of the border wall during the previous administration.
Donald Trump sequestered $15bn – most of it from military funds – to partially fulfill an anti-immigration campaign promise to build a “big beautiful wall” along the southern border with Mexico.
As a result, hundreds of miles of the borderlands – including sacred Native American sites and protected public lands – have been bulldozed, blasted and parched over the past four years, with little environmental assessment or oversight thanks to waivers suspending dozens of federal laws in order to expedite construction.
Biden ordered construction to pause on his first day in office, but community leaders and experts consulted by the Guardian warned that urgent action is needed to stop the damage to fragile biodiverse landscapes and scarce water sources getting worse. They are urging Biden to:
- Cancel the outstanding contracts, most of which the army corps of engineers awarded to a handful of firms with little transparency. Top officials at these firms are regular donors to the Republican party. The Government Accountability Office will soon publish its audit of the army corps’ role in the wall including the contracts and status of construction.
- Deploy a team of experts including hydrologists, ecologists, zoologists and botanists, community and tribal advocates to assess the damage, and formulate a plan to restore critical habitat, waterways, wildlife migration corridors and tribal cultural sites.
- Tearing down the wall where safe to do so, and allocate federal funds for the clean-up to ensure hundreds of tonnes of metal, concrete and barbed wire are safely disposed of.
- Rescind the waivers which suspended 84 federal laws that mandate protections relating to clean air and water, endangered species, public lands, contracts and the rights of Native Americans.
- Withdraw scores of lawsuits against private landowners on the border that seek to strip them of their land through eminent domain.
Read more of Nina Lakhani’s report here: Biden faces call to heal environmental and cultural scars of Trump border wall
Back to more serious matters, and on the environment, Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, writes for us today to say that Joe Biden doesn’t get a climate pass yet just for cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline:
There is every reason to celebrate the end of a decade-long fight against Keystone XL. Tribal nations and Indigenous movements hope it will be a watershed moment for bolder actions, demanding the same fates for contentious pipeline projects such as Line 3 and the Dakota Access pipeline.
Biden has also vowed to review more than 100 environmental rules and regulations that were weakened or reversed by Trump and to restore Obama-era protections to two Indigenous sacred sites, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which are also national monuments in Utah. And he issued a “temporary moratorium” on all oil and gas leases in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, sacred territory to many Alaskan Natives.
None of these victories would have been possible without sustained Indigenous resistance and tireless advocacy.
But there is also good reason to be wary of the Biden administration and its parallels with the Obama administration. The overwhelming majority of people appointed to Biden’s climate team come from Obama’s old team. And their current climate actions are focused almost entirely on restoring Obama-era policies.
Biden’s policy catchphrases of “America is back” and “build back better” and his assurance to rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” should also be cause for concern. A return to imagined halcyon days of an Obama presidency or to “normalcy”– which for Indigenous peoples in the United States is everyday colonialism – isn’t justice, nor is it the radical departure from the status quo we need to bolster Indigenous rights and combat the climate crisis.
It takes all sorts to make the world go around, and I note that for our books desk New York writer and journalist J Oliver Conroy has taken on the unenviable task of reading the weirdest Trump-era erotica so you don’t have to.
In recent years, Amazon’s e-books market has nurtured a flourishing cottage industry of self-published romance and erotic literature – and the Trump years have inspired many to put pen to paper. The most successful authors (most write under pseudonyms) are known for their prolific publication, thesaurus-aided descriptions of the human anatomy, and responsiveness to current events. The surreality of the past four years was particularly generative of their creative juices. With the Trump era now drawn to a chaotic close, we decided to review four of the most memorable entries in this niche literary genre.
I’m strangely drawn to the title “My Antifa Lover”, although slightly disappointed that Conroy opted to review Chuck Tingle’s “Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Physical Manifestation Of Tromp’s [sic] Twitter Ban That Should’ve Come Years Sooner But Fine Now That It’s Here High Five” rather than the frankly superior “Domald Tromp [sic] Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On”. No, I have no idea how the internet got us here either, really.
The Biden administration already has a very different approach to promoting Covid information to what went on before under Donald Trump. Dr Anthony Fauci described himself as “the skunk at the picnic” under that administration, but the new president has promised a new era of openess, with regular briefings from officials.
Fauci will be up before an audience again today – he will be joining a virtual event hosted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
AFT president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Becky Pringle will also take part in the online “town hall” style event, which will discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and its specific impact on educators, students and schools.
Fauci will answer questions from educators around the country and engage in an in-depth conversation with Weingarten and Pringle about reopening schools safely, testing, and vaccines roll-out. It takes place at 6 pm EST, you can submit questions in advance, and watch it either on Facebook or on YouTube.
The regulatory changes Biden is asking federal health officials to undertake today aren’t likely to happen overnight, because hastily written rules are more easily overturned in court, as the Trump administration repeatedly found out. Time and again, federal judges ruled that Trump officials had ran roughshod over legal requirements for regulators, such as demonstrating they’ve considered all sides of an issue.
The idea of reopening Obamacare’s health insurance markets for a period of time has broad support though, including from consumer groups, professional medical associations, insurers and business organizations.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes for the Associated Press that although the number of uninsured Americans has grown because of job losses in the coronavirus economy, the Trump administration did little to address the issue.
The Obama-era Affordable Care Act law covers more than 23 million people through a mix of subsidized private insurance sold in all states, and expanded Medicaid adopted by 38 states, with Southern states being the major exception. Coverage is available to people who don’t have job-based health insurance, with the Medicaid expansion geared to those with low incomes.
Of some 28 million uninsured Americans before the pandemic, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that more than 16 million were eligible for some form of subsidized coverage through the health law.
Experts agree that number of uninsured people has risen because of layoffs in the coronavirus economy, perhaps by 5 million to 10 million, but authoritative estimates await government studies due later this year.
The role that race should play in deciding who gets priority for the Covid-19 vaccine in the next phase of the rollout is being put to the test in Oregon as tensions around equity and access to the shots emerge nationwide, reports Gillian Flaccus for the Associated Press.
An advisory committee that provides recommendations to Oregon’s governor and public health authorities will vote later today on whether to prioritize people of color, target those with chronic medical conditions or focus on some combination of groups at higher risk from the coronavirus. Others, such as essential workers, refugees, inmates and people under 65 living in group settings, are also being considered.
The 27-member committee in Oregon, a Democratic-led state that’s overwhelmingly white, was formed with the goal of keeping fairness at the heart of its vaccine rollout. Its members were selected to include racial minorities and ethnic groups, from Somalian refugees to Pacific Islanders to tribes. The committee’s recommendations are not binding but provide critical input for Gov. Kate Brown and guide health authorities crafting the rollout.
“It’s about revealing the structural racism that remains hidden. It influences the disparities we experienced before the pandemic and exacerbated the disparities we experienced during the pandemic,” said Kelly Gonzales, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a health disparity expert on the committee.
The virus has disproportionately affected people of color. Last week, the Biden administration reemphasized the importance of including “social vulnerability” in state vaccination plans with race, ethnicity and the rural-urban divide at the forefront and asked states to identify “pharmacy deserts” where getting shots into arms will be difficult.
Overall, 18 states included ways to measure equity in their original vaccine distribution plans last fall and more have likely done so since the shots started arriving, said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied vaccine fairness extensively.
Some, such as Tennessee, proposed reserving 5% of its allocation for “high-disadvantage areas,” while states like Ohio plan to use social vulnerability factors to decide where to distribute vaccine, he said.
Attempts to address inequities in vaccine access have already prompted backlashes in some places. Dallas authorities recently reversed a decision to prioritize the most vulnerable ZIP codes primarily communities of color after Texas threatened to reduce the city’s vaccine supply. That kind of pushback is likely to become more pronounced as states move deeper into the rollout and wrestle with difficult questions about need and short supply.
To avoid legal challenges, almost all states looking at race and ethnicity in their vaccine plans are turning to a tool called a “social vulnerability index” or a “disadvantage index.” Such an index includes more than a dozen data points everything from income to education level to health outcomes to car ownership to target disadvantaged populations without specifically citing race or ethnicity.
“The point is not, ‘We want to make sure that the Obama family gets the vaccine before the Clinton family.’ We don’t care. They can both safely wait,” he said. “We do care that the person who works in a meatpacking plant in a crowded living situation does get it first. It’s not about race, it’s about race and disadvantage.”
Los Angeles is vaccinating health care workers, first responders and residents older than 65. But as the region battles one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the US, people are chasing vaccine doses ahead of their allotted tier, queuing in lines for hours, visiting sites after the official time ends. Information about where to show up for extra doses and when is typically passed word of mouth.
Officially, there is no waiting or end-of-the day policy, county officials say. But given the dire health emergency, they also don’t want doses to go to waste. The gap between these two creates a space for “vaccine vultures” to swoop down.
It’s hard to put a number on how many people are scoring vaccine doses ahead of schedule, but it could be a few dozen each day at each of the six mega sites scattered around the 500 square miles of Los Angeles county.
That there are vaccines left over at all is due to several factors. About 10% of people with appointments do not show up for their shot, according to press reports. Vials containing the Moderna vaccine have to be used within six hours after opening before they have to be thrown out. And while vials are supposed to contain five doses, injectors can often coax six doses out of them.
In a mid-January statement, Los Angeles county said its department of public health “does not condone wasting of any precious vaccine doses and has not and is not directing providers to throw away unused doses”. The statement added that the county was moving to set up vaccine clinics on quick turnaround whenever it learned of potential vaccine expirations. (The county public health department did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
Dr Monya De, an LA-area physician who volunteered at the Inglewood Forum, which is one of six mega sites for vaccine dispersal in LA county, said some family members accompanying seniors to get their shot asked if there were any available for them as well. “Our instructions are to vaccinate only the person who was registered,” she said. “It’s a volume issue: we have a large volume of people in LA who need to get vaccinated.”
But De said she did wonder about resource allocation and if the current approach is the best way to get the most needles in the most arms. “I could see potentially the instruction being changed to: yes, if you have an extra vaccine you can inject people who are coming along in the same family.”
Read more of Katharine Gammon’s report here: Los Angeles residents stalk Covid vaccine sites in hopes of leftover doses
Trevor Hunnicutt at Reuters provides this breakdown of the actions on healthcare we are expecting from Joe Biden later today:
- Biden will restore access to Healthcare.gov with an executive order on Thursday afternoon. The order will allow people to sign up for insurance through the government exchange from 15 February to 15 May. The program is normally accessible for just six weeks a year.
- Biden also plans to direct federal agencies to “re-examine” Trump-era policies like work requirements that made it more difficult for people to qualify for Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for low earners.
- He will rescind the “Mexico City Policy” – also known as the “Global gag rule” – that bans US funding for international non-profit organizations that provide abortion counseling.
Biden has vowed to shore up the Healthcare.gov and other programs created under former President Barack Obama’s sweeping 2010 Affordable Care Act. He has argued that the changes are more urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
Republicans have long opposed the healthcare restructuring law, criticizing the cost and quality of care as well as extensive government involvement in healthcare markets.
The nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as Joe Biden’s preferred secretary of Homeland Security looks like it is the first cabinet position to get mired in Republican delaying tactics in the Senate, as Manu Raju and Veronica Stracqualursi report for CNN:
In confirming Republican plans to filibuster, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters yesterday on Capitol Hill that “there’s a number of problems” with Mayorkas’ nomination.Republicans argue that Mayorkas hasn’t been properly vetted on immigration issues and are calling for an additional hearing into his nomination.
The Senate has scheduled a procedural vote to break the filibuster at 1: 45pm ET today. After the Senate breaks the filibuster – which requires 51 votes – the final confirmation vote will be Monday evening.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri attempted to block Mayorkas’ quick consideration after last week’s hearing, arguing in a statement that Mayorkas had inadequately explained how he will secure the US southern border.
In a letter Tuesday, Cornyn led seven other Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee in demanding a hearing for Mayorkas before their panel. They argued that Mayorkas spoke about “immigration priorities at length” during his 19 January hearing proving that immigration issues will be a “top focus” of his, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over immigration matters.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who is set to chair the Judiciary Committee, told CNN, “I don’t see why that’s necessary” and called the request for a hearing “totally political.”