Crisis looms for millions of Americans with several important federal benefit programs set to expire at the end of this year. And still there is no sign that Congress will act.
Meanwhile, some worry that a speedy United States withdrawal from Afghanistan could allow violence and chaos to spread in the region. But many people there will reportedly welcome a reprieve from getting bombed.
And lastly, Pfizer could seek regulatory approval for a coronavirus vaccine within days. It’s a hopeful sign that experts say shows this pandemic won’t go on forever, even if it feels like it.
THESE ARE THE STORIES YOU NEED TO KNOW:
About twelve million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, CBS News reports. The benefits cutoff could push many households into poverty. Two key government programs authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – or CARES Act – expire on December 26. One is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides jobless aid to freelance and gig workers. That would deprive seven point three million workers of urgently needed income, according to a study released yesterday by the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. Another four point six million workers face being dropped from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits, another CARES Act program.
It gets worse. According to Bloomberg News, a whole range of pandemic aid programs are set to expire in the new year. There is a year-end deadline on measures that froze student- loan payments, offered mortgage forbearance and halted evictions. The same is true of Federal Reserve lending programs for small businesses and local governments. Some Covid- 19 assistance could potentially be attached to a spending bill needed to avoid a federal government shutdown. But Bloomberg reports that with Congress deadlocked and a White House transition looming, the outlook for another stimulus package this year is bleak.
Lawmakers from both parties told NBC News yesterday that they were pessimistic about passing coronavirus relief billin the near future. The impasse is about the price tag and what programs should be funded: House Democrats are pushing for a $2.2 trillion plan, and Senate Republicans want a paltry $500 billion bill. This winter will test how much human suffering our leaders can tolerate without lifting a finger. My guess is a lot.
ROCKETS ATTACK GREEN ZONE
There is troubling news, as usual, from the America’s wars abroad. The Associated Press reports that an accelerated US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, announced this week, has rattled both allies and adversaries. There are fears of worsening violence and chaos, which some say could embolden the local Islamic State affiliate to regroup. The Pentagon now says some twenty five hundred troops will leave by January, just days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, leaving another two thousand US forces in place. A US withdrawal would be welcome in most of rural Afghanistan where civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire between Taliban and government forces, the AP reports.
Civilians casualties are the focus of new research cited by the Washington Post. Using US military geolocation data being made public for the first time, the British watchdog group Airwars has pinpointed locations for hundreds of strikes in Iraq and Syria. Those strikes resulted in more than fourteen hundred civilian deaths. The US pounded ISIS militant targets with more than thirty four thousand air and artillery strikes since 2014. The Post says that the massive US firepower decimated the group. But the gains came at significant civilian cost. That’s typical in modern warfare – civilians, not those in uniform, suffer most.
Finally, the Post reports that three rockets landed in the US Embassy complex within Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone yesterday. They were apparently fired by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia. The attack comes amid rising tensions with Iran in the waning days of the Trump administration. Another rocket reportedly landed elsewhere in the zone, and the Iraqi army said in a statement that another three fell outside the area, killing a young child and wounding five Iraqi civilians. The US military claims there were no injuries to US personnel or damage to American facilities. But they’ve said that before, and it turned out not to be true.
VACCINES ENTERING REGULATORY PHASE
Some more promising news about the coronavirus pandemic, via the Post: Pfizer said yesterday that it plans to submit an application for emergency authorization of a vaccine within days. According to an analysis performed near the end of a clinical trial, the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech is 95 percent effective at preventing illness.
In the trial, half of the nearly forty four thousand participants received the experimental vaccine and half received a placebo, the Post reports. As those people went about their normal lives, they were exposed to the virus in the community. Physicians tracked all cases with symptoms to see whether the vaccine had a protective effect.
The data have not yet been published or peer reviewed but will be scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration and an independent advisory committee that makes recommendations to the agency. That panel of outside experts is likely to meet to consider the Pfizer application during the second week of December, per the Post. The committee might scrutinize data from biotechnology company Moderna the following week. Moderna said this week that an early analysis of its vaccine showed it was nearly 95 percent effective.
The Pfizer and Moderna data suggest that there is an end date to the pandemic, according to Peter Hotez, a dean at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He told the Post QUOTE It looks great. It looks like a home run ENDQUOTE. US government officials anticipate having forty million doses of both vaccines by the end of the year. That’s enough to vaccinate twenty million people, because each requires two doses. Why not three for good measure?
AND NOW FOR SOME QUICKER QUICKIES:
Democrats in the US House of Representatives re-elected Nancy Pelosi as Speaker yesterday by voice vote, the New York Times reports. She suggested it could be her last term in the position, adding QUOTE I consider this a gift ENDQUOTE. No need to thank us, really.
Apple will pay $113 million to settle an investigation by nearly three dozen states into the company’s practice of slowing customers’ old iPhones. The so-called Battery-gate saga surfaced in 2017, the Post reports, as iPhone users began to discover that some of their older devices experienced slowdowns after they updated to a newer version of iOS. The terms of Apple’s settlement don’t require it to admit guilt. But we all know the truth.
Donald Trump’s reelection campaign yesterday demanded a recount of the vote in two Democratic-leaning counties in Wisconsin. Trump trails Joe Biden by more than twenty thousand votes in the state, a margin that experts told the Post he is unlikely to make up during a recount. As required by state law, the campaign is paying $3 million to cover the costs of the partial recount. At this point, I’d pay that much to hear Trump admit he lost.
At least ten thousand pro-democracy protesters marched on Thailand’s police headquarters yesterday, spraying it with paint and water pistols. The march came one day after violent clashes in which six people were shot and dozens more injured, the Guardian reports. Youth-led protesters are demanding reforms to the monarchy and the constitution, and calling for the removal of the prime minister, a former army general who took power in a coup. That’s a tall order, so send some good vibes to Thailand today, folks!
That’s all for the AM Quickie. Join us this afternoon on the Majority Report.
NOV 19, 2020 - AM QUICKIE
HOSTS - Sam Seder & Lucie Steiner
WRITER - Corey Pein
PRODUCER - Dorsey Shaw
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER - Brendan Finn