So It Begins
January 22, 2021
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“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln
Covid-19 daily deaths in the US hit a record high — over 4,400 — on Day One of President Biden’s new administration. The situation is worse than imagined. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows some 25 million Americans have contracted the virus, and the death toll will reach half a million next month, according to Biden. Roughly 17 million doses of the two vaccines currently in use have been administered since the December 14th start date. Because both drugs require two separate doses, the overall number includes only those individuals having received both their shots.
Biden’s first full day in office was Thursday; he reminded reporters the virus had already cost more American lives than those lost in WWII. Defeating it would be “a wartime undertaking,” he said. He added to Wednesday’s 15 executive orders by putting pen to 10 more aimed at expanding access to testing and safety equipment, reopening schools safely, and reaching his administration’s goal of administering 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days in office.
One order authorized agencies to use the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law allowing the federal government to direct private companies to manufacture and deliver things necessary for national defense purposes. Biden’s predecessor had declined to invoke the act neither for bolstering production and delivery of PPE, nor for the manufacturing, delivery, and administering of the vaccine.
Another Biden order established a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board, which will focus on expanding the supply of test kits and increasing access to testing. Biden had directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Wednesday to start creating the first federally-backed community vaccination centers — with the goal of having 100 operational in the next month. On Thursday, he instructed FEMA to increase federal reimbursement for the cost of National Guard personnel and emergency supplies for states and tribes from 75% to 100%.
Other orders address the discovery and development of additional treatment protocols, enhancing the nation’s production, sharing and analysis of COVID-19 data, and tackling disproportionate effects of the coronavirus on underserved areas and communities of color.
Biden also directed the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance, not only to childcare providers, but educators at all levels from elementary to post-graduate, on how to safely reopen schools — something omitted by the previous administration.
WHO Let The Dogs Out On The Pandemic? Not Us, Says China
- In the year since the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing’s leaders have tried hard to stifle information and divert blame for the pandemic’s origin, while officials and researchers assured the public China’s vaccines would win the global development race. But recent data showing China’s vaccines are far less effective than represented has opened a chasm between expectation and reality.
- It has turbocharged efforts by Chinese state media to disseminate virus conspiracy theories to undermine public confidence in Western vaccines. A team from the World Health Organization has been in Wuhan attempting to investigate the virus’s origins, another reason to explain China’s aggressively promoted propaganda to muddy the waters.
- “This defensiveness is all certainly against the background of the WHO investigation and a return of China to the media spotlight,” said a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. (WaPo, $)
Court Condemns Kremlin’s Contemptuous Cleansing
- The small Caucasian nation of Georgia declared its independence from Russia in 1991. Later, pro-Russian separatists took control of two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2008 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared his intent to bring the two regions back under Georgian control, which instigated a bitter five-day war between Russian-backed separatists and Georgian forces.
- Even after the ceasefire, Russian ground troops continued entering ethnic Georgian villages, sealing off entrances and exits. Ossetian forces and other irregular soldiers then systematically burned down Georgian homes and entire villages, carrying out summary executions and threatening individuals with death if they refused to leave.
- It is estimated some 192,000 people in the separatist territories were displaced as a result. In 2018 Georgia sued Russia for war crimes, human rights violations, and a “rampage” across its territory during the military conflict. Finally, in a landmark decision Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights held Moscow accountable for multiple violations during the August 2008 fighting.
- The court found the Kremlin guilty of unlawfully rounding up ethnic Georgians, murdering civilians, torturing prisoners of war, expelling villagers from their homes in South Ossetia, and looting and burning Georgian homes. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- China fires parting sanctions at Trump officials; seeks ‘better angels’ in Biden team (WaPo, $)
- Honduras lawmakers seek to lock in ban on abortion for ever (Guardian)
- Iran in the Biden era: Hope tempered by broken promises (WaPo, $)
- UK insists it will not grant EU ambassador full diplomatic status (Guardian)
- EU eyes scheme to share surplus COVID-19 vaccines with poorer nations (Reuters)
- Frustration in Europe, North America over Pfizer vaccine delays (Al Jazeera)
- Twitter says locked account of China’s U.S. embassy for Xinjiang-related tweet (Reuters)
- WeChat users in California sue Tencent over censorship (WaPo, $)
Pentagon Officials, Now Penta-gone, Play Politics On Exit
- The efforts of senior White House appointees at the Pentagon to obstruct the orderly transition of presidential power is unprecedented in modern history and will hobble the new administration on key national security matters.
- Members of President Joe Biden’s incoming administration were blocked from accessing critical information about current operations, including the troop drawdown in Afghanistan, upcoming special ops missions in Africa, and the Covid-19 vaccine distribution program. Briefings on pressing defense matters were delayed to the last minute and truncated, or simply never happened.
- “Defense has traditionally been a bipartisan business between and among professionals,” said a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. But the outgoing team’s conduct went far beyond the norm.
- While the military side of the house — the Joint Staff and the geographic combatant commanders — were more cooperative, Trump loyalists on the civilian side set up roadblocks at every turn. “They really should not be allowed to get away with this,” said one transition official. “To play politics with the country’s national security is just really unacceptable.” (Politico)
Without Hesitation, Biden Starts Negation of Ongoing Deportation
- President Biden has taken immediate steps to alleviate some of the past administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary David Pekoske announced that starting Thursday, DHS would suspend deportations for certain noncitizens in the US for 100 days, and stop new enrollments in Migrant Protection Protocols.
- That policy, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” requires tens of thousands of asylum seekers, who are trying to enter the US from the southern border, to remain living in unsanitary and potentially dangerous situations in Mexico as they await their American court hearings.
- Pekoske said the US “faces significant operational challenges at the southwest border as it is confronting the most serious global public health crisis in a century.” Pausing some enforcement measures gives the agency breathing room in which to fully review current policies and programs. (NPR)
Additional USA News
- Illinois poised to become first state to end wealth-based pre-trial detention (Guardian)
- Current, Deadly U.S. Coronavirus Surge Has Peaked, Researchers Say (NPR)
- Grocers Have A Strategy To Get Their Workers Vaccinated Against COVID-19: Pay Them (NPR)
- Jen Psaki’s first White House press briefing heralds return to normality (Guardian)
- QAnon believers struggle with inauguration (NYT, $)
- ‘No more broken treaties’: indigenous leaders urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access pipeline (Guardian)
- Lobby lockdown: Biden bans advisers from taking corporate bonuses (Al Jazeera)
- U.S. envoy Kerry says climate change measures must be stepped up (Reuters)
- Hours After Biden Inauguration, Federal Agents Use Tear Gas in Portland (NYT, $)
Whose Land Is It Anyway?
- Some might argue that today’s America has never been more divided. But as President Biden said in his inauguration speech, divisions have always been here. The president will strive to narrow and heal the worst of these. But the truth is there are Americans living in a parallel universe, where misinformation becomes their facts, and the truth has no place.
- Biden’s inauguration committee wanted to showcase themes of togetherness, tolerance, acceptance, — a United States of America, one that belongs to all its people. So Jennifer Lopez sang: “This land is your land, this land is my land. This land was made for you and me.
- Sure sounds like it means America belongs to everyone in it. But that’s not what the working-class, quasi-Communist son of the Great Depression, Woody Guthrie, was thinking about when he came up with the song in 1940. It was actually a parody — at the very least a challenge — to the patriotic God Bless America. Some of Guthrie’s original verses suggested the US belongs to everybody, regardless of land ownership.
- The song’s been altered and scrubbed over time, most iterations excising the radical verses. It’s a song anyone can adopt, but there are limits to the inclusiveness of “you and me.” Much like the line, “All men are created equal,” it had to be determined what is meant by “all men.” When written it didn’t mean women, didn’t mean Black people, certainly didn’t mean Native Americans. So does This Land Is Your Land’s democratic message also sin by omission? The meaning of “you and me” really depends on who’s singing it, and who’s hearing it. (BBC)
- Living in the shadow of rebellion: India’s Gond tribe (Al Jazeera)
- Is This a Fossilized Lair of the Dreaded Bobbit Worm? (Wired)
- Oldest carbonates in the solar system (Phys)
- This Chinese Lab Is Aiming for Big AI Breakthroughs (Wired)
- Bernie Sanders And His Mittens Win The Inauguration Day Meme Game (NPR)
- Amid One Pandemic, Students Train for the Next (NYT, $)
- Martin Luther King, Jr was radical: We must reclaim that legacy (Al Jazeera)
- Bodyguard is a mobile app that hides toxic content on social platforms (TechCrunch)
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