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HeadlinesJanuary 29, 2021

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South African Coronavirus Variant Detected in U.S. for First Time

Jan 29, 2021

The United States reported another 4,000 deaths from COVID-19 Thursday as a fast-spreading coronavirus variant first seen in South Africa was detected in the U.S. for the first time, with two cases in South Carolina. Daily U.S. infections have been on the decline after shattering world records earlier this month, but remain at extremely high levels of about 150,000 per day. Disease experts worry new variants — coupled with fatigue over masks and social distancing — could lead to another surge in cases.

Here in New York, Attorney General Letitia James said Thursday that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration undercounted COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%. Just hours after James’s announcement, New York Health Department officials added nearly 4,000 nursing home deaths to the state’s tally.

Novavax Vaccine Cut COVID-19 Cases by 90% in Trial But Lagged Against South African Variant

Jan 29, 2021

Drugmaker Novavax said Thursday its COVID-19 vaccine showed nearly 90% efficacy at preventing disease in patients in a large clinical trial in the U.K. But worryingly, the Novavax vaccine showed only a 50% efficacy rate in a smaller trial in South Africa, where a new variant of coronavirus has been spreading rapidly. The Novavax immunization is a protein-based vaccine that trains people’s immune systems to recognize the “spike proteins” that surround the coronavirus. Several mutations in the South African variant led to changes in the spike protein that can help it evade immune responses.

At the World Health Organization, emergencies director Dr. Mike Ryan said vaccine makers may have to tweak their formulas as the coronavirus continues to evolve. 

Dr. Mike Ryan: “Look at influenza. We change the vaccine composition twice a year, for the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, and we’re able to issue vaccines very, very quickly to combat the predominant flu strains every year. So there’s no reason, even down the line, if this virus evolves to a point where our vaccines begin to lose effectiveness — we can adapt those vaccines. And I believe we can adapt those vaccines quickly.”

President Biden Expands Affordable Care Act Enrollment Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Jan 29, 2021

President Biden signed an executive order Thursday restoring mandates of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid that were undermined under President Trump. Biden’s order also adds a new special enrollment period for people to purchase a healthcare plan through the federal insurance marketplace. That period runs from February 15 through May 15. 

President Joe Biden: “There is nothing new that we’re doing here, other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring the Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president.”

U.S. Economy Shrank by 3.5% in 2020 as Pandemic Took Hold 

Jan 29, 2021

The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% last year — the worst drop since 1946. The Commerce Department reports the economy grew by 4% in the last quarter of 2020, but that was not nearly enough to offset declines earlier in the year. Another 847,000 U.S. workers filed new jobless claims last week, with unemployment remaining historically high. On Thursday, Democratic leaders signaled they will attempt to push Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress by mid-March. 

“Brazen, Entitled, Dangerous”: Capitol Rioter Who Looted House Speaker’s Office Denied Bail

Jan 29, 2021

An Arkansas man who boasted to reporters about looting the office of House Speaker Pelosi on January 6 will remain behind bars while he awaits trial. On Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell denied bail to Richard Barnett, who infamously posed for photos with his feet on Pelosi’s desk and later showed off mail he’d stolen from her office. Judge Howell blasted Barnett as “brazen,” “entitled,” “dangerous” and “a braggart” who showed a total disregard for the law and the U.S. Constitution. She added, “We’re still living here in D.C. with the consequences of the violence in which this defendant is alleged to have participated. I can still see heavily armed National Guard troops patrolling from my window.”

House Speaker Blasts GOP for Assigning Racist Conspiracy Theorist to House Education Committee

Jan 29, 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed her Republican counterparts for giving Georgia freshman Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene a seat on the Education Committee after she claimed that many mass shootings were fake. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Assigning her to the Education Committee, when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when she has mocked the killing of teenagers in high school at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, what could they be thinking? Or is 'thinking' too generous a word for what they might be doing? It’s absolutely appalling.”

This comes as more disturbing revelations about Marjorie Taylor Greene have emerged from her social media history. In 2018, she falsely claimed a laser beam from space started the deadly Camp Fire in California. Greene cited “Rothschild Inc” — a common anti-Semitic trope — as being responsible. In fact, Pacific Gas & Electric has pleaded guilty in the deaths of 84 people killed in the wildfire. The QAnon-supporting lawmaker has also backed calls for violence against Democrats, promoted other anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and made racist remarks.

House GOP Leader Signals Devotion to Trump as Lawmakers Target Rep. Liz Cheney over Impeachment Vote

Jan 29, 2021

House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled continuing loyalty to Donald Trump on Thursday after a meeting with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. In a statement, McCarthy said Trump would help “a united conservative movement” to elect Republicans to the House and Senate in 2022.

McCarthy’s visit came on the same day that Florida Republican Congressmember Matt Gaetz led a rally at the Wyoming state Capitol, calling on voters to reject Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney during primary elections. Cheney is the third-highest-ranking Republican leader in the House and was one of 10 GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach the president for inciting the January 6 assault on the Capitol. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz: “If you want to prove that you have the power, defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election, and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees.” 

Congressmember Gaetz said he spoke with former President Trump ahead of the rally, and Donald Trump Jr. joined the rally by speakerphone.

Indian Farmworkers Call Off Upcoming March After Violent Clashes with Police

Jan 29, 2021

In India, farmworkers taking part in a historic uprising called off a march to Parliament next week following deadly violence during a protest earlier this week that left one person dead and hundreds injured. The head of the farmers union condemned the violence, which saw some farmers break off from the main protest and breach the historic Red Fort Complex, some driving tractors. Police pushed the farmers back with tear gas and batons. Indian police are using facial recognition technology to identify suspects in the Red Fort breach.

Pakistan Court Rules to Free Men Convicted of Kidnapping and Murdering Journalist Daniel Pearl

Jan 29, 2021

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled to release four men convicted of kidnapping and murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. His attackers famously recorded his beheading and sent the video to U.S. officials. The court cited insufficient evidence and inconsistencies in the case, which was reexamined last year. The White House described the decision to release the perpetrators as “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere,” and administration officials said they would seek to put one of the men, British national Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, on trial in the U.S.

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Robert Malley, Who Helped Negotiate Iran Nuclear Deal, to Be Named Special Envoy on Iran

Jan 29, 2021

President Biden is expected to name Robert Malley, a former adviser in the Obama and Clinton administrations, as the U.S. special envoy on Iran. Malley was a key figure in negotiating the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S.

Russian Authorities Crack Down on Social Media Ahead of More Protests as Navalny Speaks Out 

Jan 29, 2021

Russian authorities are cracking down on TikTok and other social media sites ahead of planned anti-corruption and anti-dictatorship protests being planned for the weekend. Last weekend’s rallies were met with extraordinary police violence and nearly 4,000 arrests, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities across 11 time zones in some of the biggest protests ever to challenge Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Police have stepped up arrests and home searches targeting supporters of opposition nationalist politician Alexei Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia earlier this month after surviving an assassination attempt in 2020. Navalny says the attack, using the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, took place on Putin’s orders. On Thursday, a court in Moscow ordered Navalny to be jailed for 30 days ahead of his trial. Navalny spoke by video link from jail. 

Alexei Navalny: “I want to say one more time: You won’t succeed in frightening us. In fact, we are the majority. You won’t manage to frighten dozens of millions of people who were robbed by those in power, despite the fact that those people who are now under arrest face hardships.” 

German Neo-Nazi Who Killed Official Walter Lübcke in 2019 Sentenced to Life in Prison

Jan 29, 2021

In Germany, a neo-Nazi who murdered regional political official Walter Lübcke has been sentenced to life in prison. Stephan Ernst shot Lübcke on the terrace of his house in 2019. Lübcke had been targeted by far-right extremists over his support of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies, which opened Germany’s doors to asylum seekers during the 2015-2016 refugee crisis.

Dutch Appeals Court Orders Shell to Pay Damages to Nigerian Farmers for Oil Spills

Jan 29, 2021

A Dutch appeals court has ruled Shell is responsible for oil spills in 2004 and 2005 in Nigeria’s Niger Delta and must pay damages. The case was brought by Friends of the Earth and Nigerian farmers who were seeking compensation for the leaks that contaminated their land and deprived them of income. The ruling could lead to more cases against Royal Dutch Shell.

GM to Phase Out Gas Cars, Aims to Go Carbon Neutral by 2040

Jan 29, 2021

General Motors said Thursday it will stop manufacturing cars that produce tailpipe emissions by 2035 as part of a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040. GM’s move to all-electric cars could cause other major automakers to follow suit. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found electric cars generate half the emissions of the average comparable gasoline car, even when pollution from battery manufacturing is accounted for. 

Lawmakers Demand Probe into Trading App Robinhood After It Blocked Stock Sales That Hurt Hedge Funds

Jan 29, 2021

Lawmakers are demanding a congressional investigation into the trading app Robinhood, after it stopped allowing users to purchase stock in the video game retailer GameStop and other companies. GameStop’s share prices have swung dramatically in recent weeks – at one point surging by over 1,800% – after amateur investors on Reddit boosted its price, costing billions of dollars in losses to major hedge funds that were betting on its share price to fall.

A class action suit brought Thursday accuses Robinhood of manipulating the open market to benefit hedge funds at the expense of amateur traders. New York Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response, “Gotta admit it’s really something to see Wall Streeters with a long history of treating our economy as a casino complain about a message board of posters also treating the market as a casino.” She added, “Anyways, Tax the Rich.” 

Veteran NYT Reporter Investigated for Racist and Sexist Language

Jan 29, 2021

In media news, The Daily Beast reports New York Times science and health reporter Donald McNeil Jr. was under investigation over offensive and racist comments he allegedly made while leading a trip to Peru with high school students in 2019. After the trip, several of the students told their parents McNeil had repeatedly made sexist comments and used the N-word. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said the investigation concluded McNeil’s “remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful.” McNeil has been at the paper since 1976 and is now a top coronavirus correspondent. 

CBS Suspends Two Execs over Charges of Sexist and Racist Behavior

Jan 29, 2021

In more media news, two top executives at CBS were suspended earlier this week over accusations of sexist and racist behavior, and following an investigation by the Los Angeles Times detailing how the two executives continuously bullied women journalists, blocked promotions for Black journalists and made racist comments. Peter Dunn, president of the CBS television stations, and David Friend, senior vice president of news, have been placed on administrative leave while a third-party investigation is ongoing.

Austin to Turn Hotel into Permanent Shelter for Unhoused People Using Diverted Police Funds

Jan 29, 2021

In Texas, the Austin City Council voted earlier this week to buy a hotel that will serve as permanent housing for dozens of chronically unhoused people, and use money taken from the city’s police budget to provide resources for the people who will live in the hotel. The council back in August voted to cut some $100 million from the police department’s budget. A recurring $6.5 million payment from those cuts is being set aside to fund permanent supportive housing and other services for unhoused people.

At Least 2 Mexican Nationals Among Six Dead After Nitrogen Leak at Georgia Poultry Plant 

Jan 29, 2021

In Georgia, at least six people were killed after a liquid nitrogen leak at a Gainesville poultry processing plant Thursday. Nearly a dozen others were sent to the hospital. The plant is owned by the Foundation Food Group. Mexican officials said at least two of the workers who died were from Mexico. Most of the workforce in Gainesville’s meat processing plants are Latinx. In 2019, four in every 100 meat processing plant workers in the U.S. recorded a workplace injury, and at least 12 people died at the workplace.

Pioneering African American Actor Cicely Tyson, Winner of Two Emmys, Dies at 96

Jan 29, 2021

And award-winning African American actor Cicely Tyson, who was born and raised in Harlem, New York, has died at the age of 96. In 1974, Tyson won two Emmy Awards for perhaps her best-known role as the lead character in the TV drama “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Tyson also had a supporting role in the 1977 television mini-series “Roots.” Cicely Tyson has played many acclaimed TV and movie roles, consistently portraying positive images of African American women. In 2005, Cicely Tyson spoke at a memorial service for the late Rosa Parks at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C.

Cicely Tyson: “I do believe that the reason why Rosa Parks did not move when ordered to do so was because she knew that King Jesus was her driver, and she was not to move. She was like a tree planted by the water, and she was not to be moved. I tell you, she was climbing Jacob’s ladder, and she was not to be moved. Climbing Jacob’s ladder, and she was not to be moved. I have to tell you that last night, yesterday, when I viewed her body, I was stunned by the strength that came from her face. Even in death, it was there.”

The late Cicely Tyson, speaking at the memorial service for Rosa Parks in 2005. Democracy Now! was there. Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96.

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