COVID aid in limbo as GOP blocks $2000 checks. Rand Paul publishes annual “Festivus” government waste report. Two new, more contagious COVID strains found in Nigeria and South Africa.
That and more below.
COVID aid in limbo as GOP blocks $2000 checks
Following President Trump’s demands for changes to the joint federal budget and COVID relief package, Congress took the bill back up for debate. Republicans have since blocked Democrat efforts to increase the $600 direct stimulus checks to $2000, per Trump’s request. Democrats then rejected Republicans’ attempt to reduce the foreign aid spending in the federal budget. Both houses then adjourned for the day until after Christmas.
Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that House Democrats would introduce a standalone bill on Monday for the $2000 checks. However, it does not seem that either she or the Democrats actually expect to get anywhere with it. Rather, she is putting the measure to a recorded vote so that Americans know exactly who is voting against the increased stimulus.
The delay also increases the peril of a government shutdown. Trump has already signed a stopgap spending bill to fund the government until he signs a new budget into law. That measure will expire at midnight on Monday, the day Congress will reconvene.
Rand Paul publishes annual “Festivus” government waste report
For the past several chairs, Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul has released an annual report on government waste. Paul has dubbed this the “Festivus” report after a fictitious holiday from the 90s comedy Seinfeld (“Festivus for the rest of us”) whose celebrants participate in the “airing of grievances”.
This year’s “Festivus” report documents $54 billion that Paul considers “totally wasted”. Along with the usual $billions on military spending and foreign aid, which Paul opposes, there are a number of other eyebrow-raising items. These include:
- $200,000 spent studying how people cooperate while playing e-sport video games
- $1 million spent walking lizards on a treadmill
- $1 million spent studying whether people will eat ground-up bugs
- $4 million spent on spraying alcoholic rats with bobcat urine
- $10 million spent on would-be coronavirus test tubes that turned up as used soda bottles
- $36 million spent on studying why stress makes hair turn gray
- $1 billion in coronavirus response funds which the military used on unrelated acquisitions
Two new COVID strains arise in Nigeria and South Africa
New COVID strains have been detected in Nigeria and South Africa in the last few days, making a total of three new strains detected in the past week. Like the strain in the UK, the Nigerian and South African strains are more contagious than the regular coronavirus. In the cases of the UK and South Africa strains, the strains now account for the majority of new cases.
Experts are particularly concerned about the South African strain as it is even more contagious than the UK strain (which is 70% more contagious than the regular coronavirus). The South African strain also shows a different kind and greater degree of mutation than the UK strain. It is unclear from present reports whether the South African strain is more deadly than regular COVID, which the UK strain does not appear to be.
In Nigeria, it is as yet unclear how far the new strain has spread. Like the other two mutations, they were detected in samples taken months ago.
More than 50 countries have enacted bans on travelers and freight coming from the UK in recent days. The UK has also placed travel restrictions on flights from South Africa.
So far, experts do not seem worried that current COVID vaccines will be less effective in protecting individuals from the new strains.
Ethiopian government forces kill 40 following massacre of 100
Yesterday, the Ethiopian military attacked and killed 40 people who they consider responsible for a civilian massacre on Wednesday. At around 4:00 AM on Wednesday, an unknown number of armed attackers descended on a village in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region, which borders Sudan. They first set fire to homes, and then killed civilians who fled, including children.
The Ethiopian central government has not said who the attackers were or what faction they might have been affiliated with. Amnesty International says they appear to be a group who is targeting ethnic minority communities viewed as “settlers” in the region.
Five current and former government officials, including a serving minister were also detained following Wednesday’s massacre. Some of these were apparently involved in or had knowledge of the massacre, while others were arrested for having failed in their duties.
In recent weeks, Ethiopian forces have been engaged in a civil war with militias of the Tigray minority group in the north of the country. It is not clear if this is in any way related to Wednesday’s massacre, though both sides have carried out attacks on civilians. Ethiopia has seen factional violence increase in recent years overall as rival groups vie for more land and power.COVID aid bill, Ethiopia, federal budget, government waste, new COVID strains, Nigeria, South Africa, stimulus checks, US news, world news