February 23, 2021

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The Headlines

U.S. Politics

FBI Seized Congressional Cellphone Records Related to Capitol Attack (The Intercept)

Andrew Cuomo Isn’t the Only One Who Needs to Answer for COVID-19 (Jacobin)

Racial Justice

‘Justice Rooted in Compassion’: Asian, Black Progressives Stress Unity and Understanding Amid Attacks on Asian Americans (Common Dreams)

Economy and Labor

The Labor Movement Has a Card to Play—And We Need to Play It (In These Times)

Crediting Xenophobia—Rather Than Organizing—With Raising Workers’ Wages (FAIR)

COVID-19 Vaccine

Why We Can’t Make Vaccine Doses Any Faster (ProPublica)


Pandemic May Have Left 265 Million People With Acute Food Shortages in 2020 (Truthout)

Climate Crisis

Fossil Fuel Shock Doctrine: Naomi Klein on Deadly Deregulation & Why Texas Needs the Green New Deal (Democracy Now!)

Demands Grow for Texas to ‘Forgive All Utility Bills’ as Price Gouging by Energy Companies Sparks Outrage (Common Dreams)

What’s on Interior’s To-Do List? A Full Plate of Public Lands Issues—and Trump Rollbacks—for Deb Haaland (Inside Climate News)

U.S. Politics
FBI Seized Congressional Cellphone Records Related to Capitol Attack

Within hours of the Capitol riot on January 6, the FBI used special emergency powers to collect private cellphone data connected to people at the scene. Some of these records are related to members of Congress, an issue that raises potentially thorny legal questions.

The Intercept reports the FBI is using data from cellphone towers in the area to determine who was there. Call records and pinging off cell sites also allows investigators to map links between suspects, which a recently retired senior FBI official says include members of Congress.

The FBI has had to tread lightly in seeking Congress members’ records due to Constitutional protection for legislative work.

Andrew Cuomo Isn’t the Only One Who Needs to Answer for COVID-19

Early in 2020, a powerful healthcare industry group that donated large sums to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political machine drafted legislative writing to shield its executives from legal consequences if its cost-cutting, profit-maximizing decisions endangered nursing home residents’ lives.

Cuomo included this language in New York State’s budget and did not support repealing it when critics warned that allowing corporate misbehavior could risk lives. Cuomo’s administration instead withheld data about how many nursing home residents were dying: while New York’s health department had logged just 8,500 deaths, the true count is over 15,000.

Conservative media outlets and Republican senators are levying criticism against Cuomo, but Republican legislative proposals included word-for-word passages from New York’s corporate immunity law.

Jacobin writes, “The situation not only illustrates Republicans’ inauthenticity, but also a broken media ecosystem so devoted to partisan storytelling, it no longer consistently covers the bipartisan corruption that does not neatly fit a Red Team/Blue Team narrative.”

Racial Justice
Asian, Black Progressives Stress Unity and Understanding Amid Attacks on Asian Americans

Violent attacks on Asian Americans, many of them elders, are increasing across the nation amid the pandemic, economic crises, and in the wake of Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric. Common Dreams reports Asian and Black organizers are standing in solidarity to denounce violence and division at events, including a Saturday rally in New York City.

Hundreds of masked attendees demanded justice at the emergency rally for Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old San Francisco man who died in a brutal January 28 assault.

Anti-Asian bigotry has been rampant since the pandemic—Trump’s use of the phrase “China virus” coincided with the reversal of a more than decadelong decline in anti-Asian bias in the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, a San Francisco State University-based project documenting anti-Asian bigotry during the pandemic, reported more than 2,800 anti-Asian incidents nationwide between March and December of last year.

Economy and Labor 
The Labor Movement Has a Card to Play—And We Need to Play It

In These Times discusses the union organizing tool known as card check: “The ability for workers to form an official, legally recognized union by simply telling everyone they’re a union (and signing cards that say as much).”

Card check, or “majority sign-up,” has existed since the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, but as it currently stands in the U.S., employers can either recognize the union or force a formal election put on by the National Labor Relations Board. Forcing employers to recognize unions formed by card check without an election has been a priority for labor.

So far, the policy appears viable under Joe Biden’s administration, as he supported similar labor legislation in the past.

Crediting Xenophobia—Rather Than Organizing—With Raising Workers’ Wages

Last year, The Economist ran an article with a startling headline: “Immigration to America Is Down. Wages Are Up. Are the Two Related?” The anonymous author suggested they could be, at least for the short term.

Some right-wing personalities were quick to cite the article as support for Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies. And recently, on February 16, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said that he and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton were introducing legislation to raise the federal minimum wage—but only in exchange for further restrictions on undocumented immigrants seeking jobs.

As FAIR writes, The Economist’s argument depends on a correlation between the number of low-wage immigrants and the pay of low-wage U.S.-born workers. But most of recent history doesn’t show any such correlation. In reality, low-wage workers themselves won through campaigns pushing state legislatures and city councils to do the right thing.

COVID-19 Vaccine
Why We Can’t Make Vaccine Doses Any Faster

The Biden administration has ordered enough vaccines to immunize every American against COVID-19 and says it’s using the full force of the government to get the does by July. ProPublica discusses the intricacies of vaccine supply chains and why doses can’t arrive sooner.

The supply chains rely on highly trained staff, finicky ingredients, and expensive machinery. Surging demand and workforce disruptions are causing delays similar to those caused by shortages of household staples like toilet paper.

The Defense Production Act has limited utility on this front, as manufacturers must run extensive tests when adding new suppliers of raw materials or hardware.

 As of Feb. 17, the U.S. had distributed 72.4 million doses and administered 56.3 million shots, but fewer than 16 million people have received both of the two doses that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require for full protection. At best, it will take until June for manufacturers to deliver enough doses for the roughly 266 million eligible Americans age 16 and over.

Pandemic May Have Left Millions With Food Shortages

According to a United Nations World Food Program report, COVID-19 may have left up to 265 million people with acute food shortages in 2020.

Another U.N. reports states the combined effects of the pandemic and the emerging global recession “could, without large-scale coordinated action, disrupt the functioning of food systems,” causing health consequences “of a severity and scale unseen for more than half a century.”

Food insecurity in the U.S. has doubled overall and tripled in households with children. Black and Latinx families disproportionately report having too little to eat.

As Truthout explains, the pandemic has compromised global food systems, and “adapting to new ways of producing and transporting food will be key to our survival.”

Climate Crisis
Fossil Fuel Shock Doctrine

Millions of Texans are still suffering after severe winter weather devastated the state’s energy and water systems. About 8 million Texans remain under orders to boil water, and 30,000 homes still have no power.

Around 70 deaths have now been linked to the winter storms, including at least 12 people who died inside their homes after losing heat. Through the crisis, Texans are receiving outrageous electricity bills, raising calls for sweeping utility bill forgiveness.

Republican lawmakers in Texas are facing criticism for their handling of the crisis, their push to deregulate the state’s energy systems, and their unfounded attacks on renewable energy and the Green New Deal.

Democracy Now! speaks with Naomi Klein, who says, “The Green New Deal is a plan that could solve so many of Texas’s problems and the problems across the country, and Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer except for more deregulation, more privatization, more austerity.”

A Full Plate of Public Lands Issues—and Trump Rollbacks—for Deb Haaland

Public lands will play a pivotal role in the Biden administration’s climate change agenda. The national parks, wildlife refugees and national recreation areas overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior have been little-appreciated as climate solutions, though they’re crucial sinks for greenhouse gas emissions.

Interior lands also present a climate problem, as they hold vast reserves of fossil fuels, which generate pollution when extracted and burned. Joe Biden immediately began dismantling pro-drilling policies when he entered office, but his administration will have to adopt a climate-action mindset in daily decisions to clear Trump-era obstacles and address climate pollution in public lands.

Inside Climate News covers the administration’s climate to-do list and discusses the role of Interior nominee Rep. Deb Haaland, the New Mexico Democratic congresswoman who would be the nation’s first-ever cabinet secretary with Indigenous roots.

In Other News

1. Investigation reveals cause of Denver plane explosion that led to global grounding of Boeing 777s (The Independent)

2. Texas Pays the Price of the Culture War (The Atlantic)

3. Security Officials Testify About Failures At Capitol On January 6 (HuffPost)

4. Facebook v Australia: Who blinked first? (BBC)

5. Ahmaud Arbery killing remembered one year on: ‘Keep his name alive’ (The Guardian

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The Indy Brief is edited by Jeremy Lovelett.