Frontline health workers continue to receive the first wave of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the Moderna vaccine appears poised for authorization in the coming days. The hopeful news comes as the pandemic rages across the U.S., and officials warn the worst is yet to come. Over the past week, an average of more than 212,000 cases have been reported each day. Tuesday set a record for hospitalizations for the 10th day in a row, at nearly 113,000. U.S. deaths Tuesday again topped 3,000, reaching the third-highest daily death toll since the pandemic started.
In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral in Washington tolled its bells 300 times Tuesday evening to commemorate the 300,000 people in the U.S. who have died, as it did in September when the death toll topped 200,000.
In more medical news, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first rapid, over-the-counter home coronavirus test. It does not require a prescription.
Meanwhile, FDA staff are recommending watching for symptoms of Bell’s palsy in Pfizer and Moderna vaccine recipients, after a small number of trial participants got the condition. The FDA says it’s not clearly a side effect of the vaccine but warranted monitoring.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally acknowledged that Joe Biden won the November election — six weeks after voting ended.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”
In a private call, McConnell urged Republican senators not to join a House Republican effort to try to overturn the Electoral College. President Trump lashed out at McConnell on Twitter and vowed to keep fighting to stay in office despite losing the Electoral College and losing the popular vote by over 7 million votes.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro have all congratulated Biden following the Electoral College vote.
This comes as plans are moving forward for Joe Biden’s inauguration. On Tuesday, Biden’s inaugural committee urged supporters to stay home on January 20 due to the pandemic.
President-elect Joe Biden has picked former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to be secretary of transportation. If confirmed, Buttigieg will be the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history. As transportation secretary, he will oversee an agency with nearly 60,000 employees and a budget of over $72 billion. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg ran a city with a population of just 100,000 people. During his presidential run, Buttigieg pushed for expanded funding for public transportation but also more money for highways and driverless cars. Buttigieg previously worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company.
Biden is also set to nominate former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to be secretary of energy. Granholm has been a longtime advocate of renewable energy.
Biden is also reportedly planning to tap former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to oversee his domestic climate policy.
Meanwhile, Politico reports Biden has quietly expanded his transition team to include veterans from Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company, Facebook and Google.
Hundreds of immigrant rights activists participated in a car caravan Tuesday to Joe Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, urging him to implement immigration reform, criminal justice reform and cancel Puerto Rico’s debt within his first 100 days in office. Martin Torres, a member of Make the Road Action, said, “Our communities helped ensure Biden’s victory. Now, as he prepares to take office, we urge him to work with us to deliver an overhaul of immigration enforcement, including the moratorium on deportations, and a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.” In response to Tuesday’s action, President-elect Biden acknowledged the critical role played by immigrants and communities of color in fighting against Trump’s destructive policies. In a letter to the activists, Biden said, “Please know you will always have a seat at the table.”
Biden hit the campaign trail in Georgia Tuesday to urge people to vote for Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in next month’s twin Senate runoffs, which will determine control of the chamber. Biden deplored the Senate stalemate over a new coronavirus relief package.
President-elect Joe Biden: “The United States Senate should have passed the coronavirus and economic relief package months ago. People are hurting, millions out of work, small businesses closing. People are struggling to pay the rent, worried that after Christmas they’ll be thrown out before New Year’s.”
With just over one month left in his presidency, Trump is gutting the Endangered Species Act by rolling back habitat protections for at-risk species, including grizzly bears, whooping cranes and Pacific salmon. The new rule narrows the definition of “habitat” to areas where species currently live, but not those where animals might move to because of the climate crisis or areas where they have previously lived that could be restored. The policy group Environment America said in a statement, “Animals that have already lost so much of the land they once roamed. Now they face an uphill climb from competition with invasive species, the effects of global warming, and the lack of genetic exchange between fractured habitats. This new rule ratchets up the danger, making even modest recovery efforts unworkable for many species that have already been decimated by human development.”
In Bolivia, a scientific expedition in the Andes uncovered 20 previously unknown species. Scientists also saw plants and animals they had not seen for decades, some of which were believed to be extinct. Some of the new discoveries include the Bolivian flag snake and the lilliputian frog. The expedition in the Zongo Valley, near the capital La Paz, took place in 2017, but the findings were just released this week. This is Eduardo Forno of Conservation International, which led the effort alongside the municipal government of La Paz.
Eduardo Forno: “A healthy forest is a forest that is going to have wonderful species like the ones we found in Zongo. It’s going to have a lot more species than have been registered. One thousand seven hundred have been registered. What it is going to allow is to make sure that Zongo Valley is healthy. And that is a reflection of the need to have a healthy environment.”
Prosecutors with the International Criminal Court have rejected calls from Uyghur exiles to investigate China for genocide. Exiled Uyghurs have accused Beijing of holding more than 1 million people from mostly Muslim minorities in reeducation camps. The International Criminal Court said it was unable to act because the alleged crimes occurred in China, which is not a signatory to the ICC.
This comes as China is facing new accusations of relying heavily on forced labor to pick cotton in the province of Xinjiang, which produces more than a fifth of the world’s cotton.
The International Criminal Court says there is “reasonable basis to believe” the Philippines has committed crimes against humanity as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has taken thousands of lives. The crimes include murder, torture, and serious physical and mental harm. The ICC will decide on whether it will undertake a formal investigation in the new year, after the decision was delayed due to the pandemic.
European Union and British regulators unveiled draft laws that seek to halt Big Tech monopolies, as well as stop the spread of misinformation and harmful content online. The new rules are designed to rein in the power of so-called gatekeepers like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft and would impose hefty fines. The rules also offer a possible path to breaking up companies that repeatedly violate European antitrust laws. This is European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager.
Margrethe Vestager: “In this proposal, there is a sense of future proofing, because it’s also dynamic. We can do investigations, if it need be, so that we can see if gatekeepers are emerging, and we can put on them obligations. And this is, of course, because without enforcement, not worth much.”
In immigration news, a new rule is set to go into effect which would send some asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to El Salvador, instead of letting them receive humanitarian protection in the U.S. The Trump administration implemented similar deals with Guatemala and Honduras. Immigrant and human rights advocates say the policy puts already-vulnerable migrants in dangerous situations.
The Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted the life sentence of Myon Burrell, who walked free Tuesday after serving 18 years in prison. Burrell, who is Black, was sentenced to life when he was just 16 for the 2002 murder of an 11-year old girl, who was killed by a stray bullet. Burrell has always maintained his innocence. His case was thrust into the national spotlight early this year as then-presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar faced calls to suspend her campaign for leading the case against Burrell when she was Hennepin County’s district attorney. An Associated Press investigation found there was no physical evidence linking Burrell to the crime and that Klobuchar may have mishandled the case. The decision to commute Burrell’s sentence was made by Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. His sentence was shortened to 20 years, and he will serve the remainder on supervised release.
Shocking video has emerged from Chicago showing nine police officers raiding the home of a 50-year-old African American hospital social worker as she was preparing to go to bed. After breaking down her door, the police handcuffed the woman, who was naked, and held her for over 30 minutes before realizing they had entered the wrong home. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to block the release of the bodycam footage from the nine officers who took part in the 2019 raid. But a judge this week sided with the CBS outlet in Chicago, which then aired parts of the disturbing video along with an interview with the woman, Anjanette Young, who said she wanted the video to be shown.
Anjanette Young: “You see them running up to the apartment complex with the battering ram in their hand, a crowbar. It was so traumatic to hear the way the thing was hitting the door.”
Police officer 1: “Go, go, go, go, go!”
Police officer 2: “Police!”
Police officer 3: “Search warrant! Search warrant!”
Police officer 2: “Police search warrant!”
Anjanette Young: “And it happened so fast, I didn’t have time to put on clothes.”
Police officer 3: “Search warrant!”
Police officer 2: “Police search warrant!”
Dave Savini: “And suddenly she found herself frozen in fear, completely naked, in a room full of men.”
The police raid occurred in February 2019 while Rahm Emanuel was still mayor of Chicago.
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute finds farm employers in the U.S. have engaged in massive wage theft and repeatedly violated federal labor laws around safety and wages. The report, based on data from the Labor Department, shows employers withholding at least $76 million in wages from over 150,000 workers over the past 20 years, though researchers say the problem is likely much bigger since the government only investigates a small number of farm employers at one time. Many violations are also not reported due to workers’ immigration status.
Recent research has found farmworkers have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, yet many are forced to continue working in unsafe conditions.
Here in New York City, transportation workers and allies are holding a rally this morning to call on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to halt any planned layoffs, service cuts and fare increases as part of an upcoming budget. MTA workers say they are bearing the brunt of massive losses due to the coronavirus crisis, as they continue to provide vital services to the city, even as they were not given sufficient protections, including PPE, during the pandemic’s first wave. This is MTA worker Jonathan Beatrice from the group Local 100 Fightback.
Jonathan Beatrice: “They ultimately want us to pay for this crisis. They want us to pay for it, not any of the 118 billionaires that live in New York, some of whom have profited from this crisis. They want to freeze our pay. They want to eliminate our jobs. They want to lay us off. We need to come together and tell the MTA no.”