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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: omicron variant

What Biden Hasn't Done (And What No President Can Do)

At Joe Biden's Wednesday press conference, a reporter cited a list of recent misfortunes before asking mournfully: "Did you overpromise to the American public what you could achieve in your first year in office?"

He might as well have asked Biden, "Have you been sitting at a desk in the Oval Office?" Overpromising is what presidential candidates do. You don't get 81 million votes, as Biden did, or even 74 million, as his opponent did, by informing people of all the problems you won't be able to solve.

Biden stoutly denied having led people to believe he would lead them to the land of milk and honey. "I didn't overpromise, but I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen," he insisted.

Judging from the polls, the president is a chorus of one in making that claim. Presidents rarely exceed expectations, particularly in their first year, and Biden has not smashed the template.

Ronald Reagan saw his approval rating sink steadily in his first year, and again in his second. In Barack Obama's first year, his approval rating dropped by 18 points. Donald Trump didn't suffer as big a decline in popularity only because he was so unpopular from the start.

The notable exception was George W. Bush, who had a gaudy 84 percent approval rating at the end of his first year. But that wasn't because of what he did; it was because of what Osama bin Laden did. The 9/11 attack instantly rallied the country behind Bush, who proceeded to spend the rest of his presidency squandering that support.

Biden's failure to live up to his own hype is not really in dispute. The website PolitiFact provides a list of his 100 most important campaign promises and determines that he has managed to keep just 16 of them — with 70 either "stalled" or "in the works."

Granted, he didn't say he would fulfill them all in his first year, but some promises have evaporated like the morning dew. Decriminalize marijuana? Amend the Constitution to ban private financing of political campaigns? Eliminate cash bail? Not gonna happen.

In some ways, though, Biden has been bolder than anticipated. The generous child tax credit in his American Rescue Plan went beyond anything he proposed as a candidate. His decision to withdraw from Afghanistan came as a surprise because it would have been politically safer to stay.

But presidents are judged less on what they do than on what happens while they happen to be in office. Biden gets blamed for inflation, which is mostly the product of policies fashioned by others, such as Trump and the Federal Reserve. He gets blamed for the persistence of the pandemic, which is equally persistent in countries where he wields no power. He gets blamed for not forging compromises with Republicans who damn him as a power-mad socialist election thief.

Biden is the latest victim of the unrealistic vision many people have of the office he occupies. Presidents don't guide the economy like a pilot flying a plane. Often, they have about as much control over it as a bull rider has over the bull.

Nor do presidents have the means to extinguish a highly contagious virus that has repeatedly confounded the world's most learned medical experts. Presidents can't effortlessly impose their will on Vladimir Putin, Central American migrants or oil-producing nations.

Nor do they command the obedience of Congress, particularly when they barely control either chamber. Biden may bestride the executive branch like a colossus, but it takes just one member of Congress — say, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — to thwart his legislative plans. The Supreme Court, which doesn't answer to voters or anyone else, has the power to upend his most treasured policies, as it did in striking down his vaccine mandate on large private employers.

Biden, of course, has inflicted some of his own wounds, as when he casually suggested that he could tolerate a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine. The Afghanistan pullout was no one's model of how to end a futile war. His conviction that he could sweet-talk Manchin into supporting his Build Back Better bill rested on fond hope and fairy dust.

But most of the things that have gone wrong in the past year are not Biden's doing — and the same is true of most of the things that have gone right. He's not Superman, Santa Claus or Satan. He's just a president.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Anti-Science Protest In Washington Is Trump’s Pandemic Legacy

Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of an interview with Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum following the announcement of the first case of “novel coronavirus” in the United States. Asked if he was worried about a pandemic, this is how Trump replied:

“No. Not it all. We have it totally under control. It’s one person, coming in from China. And We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Trump then went on to brag about his “great relationship” with Communist Party boss Xi Jinping. That first statement was just one of many that would come over the following months as Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A timeline of Trump statements on COVID-19 starting in February 2020

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This weekend in Washington D.C., there will be a gathering that’s estimated to draw over 10,000 people. These people will not be there to mourn the 887,000 known to have died from the virus in the United States. They won’t be there to celebrate the advances represented by the vaccines, or to call for protections against a wave of viruses that represents a growing threat to children. Instead, they’ll be there to carry on Trump’s legacy—downplaying the pandemic, touting false cures, and undermining science. And, of course, they organized this action using the site that, throughout the pandemic, has provided a welcome home to conspiracy theories and harmful claims: Facebook.

As NBC News reports, this weekend has been marked out for an anti-vaccine protest in Washington. That, of course, includes a featured role by Robert Kennedy Jr., who is currently suing Daily Kos in the attempt to dox an anonymous poster, along with his badly misnamed “Children’s Health Defense Fund.” Kennedy’s group will gather with other like-mindless groups and individuals — thanks to their ability to organize on a platform that continues to provide a centralized meeting place for misinformation and disinformation while churning out a pretense of action.

“The rally has been largely organized on Facebook and some extremist internet forums, and organizers have raised at least $200,000 on a crowdfunding site. Some nearby hotels in Virginia are sold out ahead of the event, according to the event’s organizers, who are arranging last-minute travel plans for latecomers.”

Really, that should be Facebook and other extremist internet forums.

But the group isn’t just gathering to promote lies about vaccines, or just to spread lies about the danger posed by the pandemic, or just to spread lies about the origins of the virus. They are also there to spread lies about COVID-19 treatments.

Key speakers include Dr. Robert Malone, a frequent guest on Joe Rogan’s anti-science podcast where he has advocated the use of an ineffective anti-parasitic drug, ivermectin, Kennedy’s group is bringing along their own set of pet quacks who are not just pushing ivermectin, but also the long disproven hydroxychloroquine.

It’s not quite been two years since Trump began pushing hydroxychloroquine as a “miracle” cure for COVID-19. Between March and November of 2020, Canadian researchers tried to put a value on the damage Trump had done by pushing an anti-malarial drug to treat a viral disease. In just the eight months they covered, that damage was significant. Because people were not just listening to Trump’s advice on false cures; due to the concern everyone had about COVID-19, these claims got three times the audience of Trump’s usual disinformation.

“From March 1 to April 30, 2020, Donald J Trump made 11 tweets about unproven therapies and mentioned these therapies 65 times in White House briefings, especially touting hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. These tweets had an impression reach of 300% above Donald J Trump’s average. Following these tweets, at least 2% of airtime on conservative networks for treatment modalities like azithromycin and continuous mentions of such treatments were observed on stations like Fox News. Google searches and purchases increased following his first press conference on March 19, 2020, and increased again following his tweets on March 21, 2020. The same is true for medications on Amazon, with purchases for medicine substitutes, such as hydroxychloroquine, increasing by 200%.”

Over the course of his remaining time in office, Trump took up the cause of other fake cures, including suggesting the possibility of injecting disinfectants and somehow getting sunshine inside affected people. As a direct result of these pushes from Trump and others on the right-wing, people have been poisoning themselves with colloidal silver, inhaling bleach, drinking absolutely toxic Miracle Mineral Solution, flooding poison control centers with overdoses of ivermectin, and downing fatal doses of hydroxychloroquine.

In the last two years, Republicans have discovered a very special way to get people to sign onto a regressive agenda — the power of greed. Whether it’s offering people the chance to collect a bounty on women seeking an abortion in Texas, or Florida pushing a bill that allows anyone to sue teachers over claims that their teaching is “woke,” Republicans have learned that dangling a chance to collect big bucks is the key to getting people stoked about the opportunity to finger Goody Bishop.

Democrats might want to consider harnessing that power. How about a law that allows people to sue anyone — especially if that anyone calls themselves “doctor” — who pushes harmful, disproven medical advice on television, podcasts, or social media?

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Biden White House Ramps Up Delivery Of Free COVID Tests And KN-95 Masks

The Biden administration is taking several steps to address the latest wave of COVID-19, including the creation of a response team designed to head off possible future variants of the coronavirus.

Experts say the month of February will likely be "tough" in terms of omicron, though there are signs that the wave may be peaking as reported infections and hospitalizations slow. Health officials are simultaneously concerned about future variants developing and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control continue to monitor the ever-changing situation.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, meanwhile, has made moves to address the crisis, recently launching the Pandemic Innovation Task Force, which is focused on developing treatments, vaccines, testing, and other tools to respond to variants that may appear within six months to two years.

Eric Lander, who serves as President Joe Biden's science adviser, leads the group along with Dawn O'Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bloomberg reported that the task force builds on the $65.3 billion, 10-year pandemic preparedness plan released by the White House in September to coordinate efforts across the government in the event of future outbreaks.

That plan is a reversal from former President Donald Trump, whose team, upon taking over, discarded the pandemic preparedness plan left in place by President Barack Obama's team and left the Office of Science and Technology Policy director seat vacant for two years.

The Biden administration on Tuesday also launched an official website to offer COVID-19 tests to every American household, a day ahead of the scheduled launch.

The site, COVIDtests.gov — which allows each household to order 4 free at home COVID-19 test kits, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service — immediately attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and was the most visited federal government page. According to the official federal government analytics site, it received over 47 million visits in its first 48 hours of operation.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration also announced that it would make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free. The masks are being sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile and will be sent to local pharmacies and community health centers for anyone to pick up.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Jan. 14 to reflect the fact that N95 caliber masks, in comparison to cloth masks, "offer the highest level of protection" against COVID-19 infection.

Biden has publicly voiced support for masks since the height of the pandemic in 2020 and has continued to publicly mask himself while promoting vaccination efforts.

Republished with permission from American Independent

Fox News Promotes Its Dumbest Anti-Vax Lie To Date

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, Fox News has been relentlessly undermining the vaccination effort, including by recklessly misinterpreting a Danish study on vaccine efficacy against the latest variant.

The study, circulated by professional COVID-19 “contrarian” Alex Berenson and mentioned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, was originally published on medRxiv, a website for preliminary studies that have not been peer-reviewed. A warning on the website states the studies “should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behavior and should not be reported in news media as established information.”

This warning did not stop Fox hosts and personalities from citing the study and cherry-picking data to claim that vaccination makes it more likely for an individual to contract COVID-19. The study found that 90 days post “vaccine protection,” or the date 14 days post-second dose, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine had negative vaccine efficacy. The authors of the study, however, explained the unusual result as “different behavior and/or exposure patterns in the vaccinated and unvaccinated cohorts causing underestimation of the vaccine efficacy.”

In an email to PolitiFact, one of the authors of the study also suggested that the negative efficacy could be explained by the fact that vaccinated people may test more than unvaccinated people and an overrepresentation of vaccinated people in the studied cohort. Furthermore, Fox hosts and personalities failed to convey the authors’ conclusion that “booster vaccination offer[s] a significant increase in protection” and that their “findings highlight the need for massive rollout of vaccinations and booster vaccinations.”

Article reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Biden Orders Insurance Companies To Cover Eight Monthly COVID Tests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Insurance companies will be required to cover eight over-the-counter at-home coronavirus tests per person each month starting Saturday, the Biden administration said, expanding access to highly sought-after kits as Americans grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The White House also said on Monday that there is no limit to the number of COVID-19 tests, including at-home tests, that insurers must cover if they are ordered or administered by a health care provider.

The measures are part of a bid by President Joe Biden to make testing more widely available to Americans facing soaring coronavirus cases due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.

In a speech in December, Biden outlined plans to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits and stand up new federal testing sites, adding to the 20,000 already in existence. However, experts decried the announcement as "too little too late" amid testing shortages nationwide.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that Americans should be able to order the tests online later this month, noting that all contracts for rapid tests should be awarded over the next two weeks. The first was signed last week.

Under the insurer coverage plan announced Monday, the administration said that insurers are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of their network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test.

It was not immediately clear what incentives were offered to insurers to agree to the plan. The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eric Beech and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman)

Airport Chaos As More Than 2,600 US Flights Are Cancelled

Washington (AFP) - Air travel continued to be severely disrupted in the United States on Saturday, with bad weather in parts of the country adding to the impact of a massive spike in Covid-19 infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

The United States had 2,604 cancelled flights, more than half of the 4,529 cancelled worldwide, shortly after 4:30 pm (2130 GMT), according to tracking website FlightAware.

In addition, 3,447 domestic flights were delayed on Saturday, out of a total of 7,602 worldwide for the day.

The worst affected US airline was Southwest, which had to cancel 13 percent of its flight schedule, according to the site.

In the United States, airports in Chicago were particularly hard-hit because of difficult weather, with a snowstorm expected in the area on Saturday afternoon and into the night.

The global air travel industry is still reeling from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Many pilots, flight attendants and other staff are absent from work after contracting Covid-19, or because they are quarantining after coming in contact with someone who has the infection.

Some 7,500 flights were cancelled by airlines worldwide over the Christmas weekend.

S&P 500 Hits Record Close As Omicron Fears Subside​​

By Lewis Krauskopf, Medha Singh and Bansari Mayur Kamdar

(Reuters) - Wall Street's main indexes posted solid gains for a third straight session on Thursday, with the S&P 500 marking a record-high close, as encouraging developments gave investors more ease about the economic impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Stocks ended the holiday-shortened week on a positive note, lifting sentiment heading into Christmas. Gains were broad among S&P 500 sectors, led by consumer discretionary and industrials, which both rose about 1.2 percent.

Vaccine makers AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc said their shots protected against Omicron as UK data suggested it may cause proportionally fewer hospital cases than the Delta variant, though public health experts warned the battle against COVID-19 was far from over.

The arrival of Omicron has helped ratchet up market volatility for much of the last month of 2021, which has been a strong year for equities.

“There was a lot of negative sentiment coming into the final part of the year, and investors have likely continued to see pretty strong economic growth and pretty positive developments as it relates to healthcare innovation around COVID and that is putting in a bit of a bid into equities and causing investors to look to allocate capital as they close out the year,” said Matthew Miskin, co-chief investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 196.67 points, or 0.55 percent, to 35,950.56, the S&P 500 gained 29.23 points, or 0.62 percent, to 4,725.79 and the Nasdaq Composite added 131.48 points, or 0.85 percent, to 15,653.37.

Defensive sectors, which have mostly outperformed in December, generally lagged on Thursday. The real estate sector fell 0.4 percent.

The S&P 500 has gained for three days, after falling in the three prior sessions.

“People are seeing the strength on Tuesday and Wednesday and all of a sudden everybody is more optimistic again,” said Robert Pavlik, senior portfolio manager at Dakota Wealth Management.

For the week, the S&P 500 rose 2.3 percent, the Dow gained about 1.7 percent and the Nasdaq climbed 3.2 percent.

Trading volumes were expected to be thinner than usual ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays. The stock market will be closed on Friday in observance of the Christmas holiday.

In another medical development against the pandemic, the United States authorized Merck & Co's antiviral pill for COVID-19 for certain high-risk adult patients, a day after giving a broader go-ahead to a similar but more effective treatment from Pfizer Inc. Merck shares fell 0.6%, while Pfizer dropped 1.4 percent.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held below pre-pandemic levels last week as the labor market tightens, while consumer spending increased solidly, putting the economy on track for a strong finish to 2021.

Tesla Inc shares rose 5.8 percent, gaining sharply for a second day after chief executive Elon Musk said on Wednesday he was "almost done" with his stock sales after selling over $15 billion worth since early November.

The S&P 500 is up about 26% so far this year. Still, the environment for equities could be changing heading into next year as the Federal Reserve is expected to begin raising interest rates in 2022.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.40-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.22-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 35 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 62 new highs and 80 new lows.

About 8 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, compared with the 11.8 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York, Medha Singh and Bansari Mayur Kamdar in Bengaluru; Editing by Uttaresh.V and Matthew Lewis)


Large Holiday Gatherings In U.S. Unsafe Even For Boosted, Fauci Warns

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Katharine Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 can be with family over the holidays but attending large gatherings is not safe, even for those who received a booster dose, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

The United States faces a second Christmas of upended holiday plans, with a surge in infections fueled by the now-dominant Omicron variant of the coronavirus forcing many to cancel travel, reconsider visiting loved ones, and question attending holiday parties.

"There are many of these parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions in the context of Omicron that you do not want to go to," Fauci said at a White House briefing.

Early evidence indicates Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant, said Fauci, citing studies from South Africa and Scotland, but warned Americans must remain cautious.

"This is good news. However, we must wait to see what happens in our own population which has its own demographic considerations," he said.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States rose 25 percent from the previous week to about 149,300 cases per day, said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, with average daily deaths up 3.5 percent at 1,200.

Omicron represents approximately 73 percent of cases across the country, said Walensky, and as high as 90 percen of cases in some areas, such as the eastern Atlantic states, parts of the Midwest, South, and northern Pacific states.

"This increase in Omicron proportion is what we anticipated and what we have been preparing for," she said.

The U.S. government will have 265,000 treatment courses of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 anti-viral treatment available by January and 10 million by late summer, said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized Paxlovid, Pfizer's pill for at-risk people aged 12 and above.

The government will provide any resources Pfizer needs for production and will distribute treatments to states and localities at no charge as soon as they are delivered, he said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Katharine Jackson; Additional reporting by Caitlin Webber in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bekk)