April 15, 2021

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to advance legislation that would set up a committee to study the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black people in America. The party-line 25-17 vote will send the legislation to the full House for the first time since the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) first introduced it in 1989. Conyers kept introducing the bill every year until his retirement in 2017, after which its current sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), took over.

The bill, HR 40 — after the broken post-Civil War promise to give former enslave people 40 acres and a mule — would create a 13-member commission to study the history of slavery and subsequent discrimination against Black Americans, then recommend possible remedies to address the lasting impact of those racial injustices.

"The goal of this historical commission and its investigation is to bring American society to the new reckoning with how our past affects the current conditions of African-Americans," said Jackson Lee. "Reparations are ultimately about respect and reconciliation — and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future."

Republicans argued that slavery ended in 1865 and reparations are unjust because, as Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) phrased it, "paying reparations would amount to taking money from people who never owned slaves to compensate those who were never enslaved." Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), the only Black Republican on the panel, argued that "reparation is divisive, it speaks to the fact that we are a hapless, helpless race and never did anything but wait for white people to show up and help us, and it's a falsehood."

The typical white U.S. households has 10 times the net worth of a Black household, Black Americans are less likely than other racial groups to own a home, and the Black poverty rate is twice the rate for white Americans. Much of that is due to decades of policies that hindered Black homeownership and other accumulation of generational wealth. By one estimate, the cost of compensating the descendants of enslaved Black people could be up to $12 trillion, USA Today reports.

If passed by the full House, HR 40 faces long odds overcoming a GOP filibuster in the Senate, where Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced a companion bill. Peter Weber

11:25 a.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its public COVID-19 guidance to explicitly state that the coronavirus can be transmitted via aerosols — smaller respiratory particles that can float — inhaled at a distance greater than six feet from an infected person, particularly while indoors, bringing ventilation practices to the forefront. The new language marks a change from the federal health agency's previous stance that transmission of the virus typically occurs through "close contact, not airborne transmission."

Infectious disease experts have warned that the CDC and the World Health Organization (which has also updated its guidance) were overlooking evidence of airborne transmission during the pandemic, The New York Times notes, and some have stressed the need for the CDC to strengthen its recommendations for preventing exposure to aerosolized virus, especially in indoor workplaces like meatpacking plants.

Good ventilation should be one of the primary things to focus on, Dr. David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington School of Public Health and the head of the Occupation and Safety Health Administration during the Obama administration, told the Times. Dr. Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech, explained that "if you're in a poorly ventilated environment, virus is going to build up in the air, and everyone who's in that room is going to be exposed."

Sociologist Zeynep Tufecki, who has long been pushing for such a change, called it "one of the most crucial scientific advancements of the pandemic" that should provide a lot of clarity going forward. Read her Twitter thread on the issue here and learn more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

10:45 a.m.

India recorded 4,187 new COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the government said Saturday, marking the first time the country, which is in the midst of a record-breaking surge of infections, has tallied 4,000 fatalities in a day. India's death toll, which has been questioned by health experts, officially sits at 238,270, the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil.

India also added 401,078 cases on Saturday, a slight drop from the previous day, but the country's peak is not expected until the end of May. While cases appear to be stabilizing in large cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, the coronavirus is spreading in rural areas and southern states, several of which have ordered lockdowns. Oxygen and critical care bed shortages remain a major concern. Read more at Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse. Tim O'Donnell

7:55 a.m.

More than 200 people were injured Friday night after a protest over the threat of evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers had gathered at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism (known as the Temple Mount in that faith), for the final Friday of Ramadan, and many remained for the protest, which reportedly erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed. The police reportedly fired rubber bullets at the crowd, while video footage shows the demonstrators throwing chairs, rocks, and shoes at the officers.

The United States and other foreign governments called for calm and expressed concern about the potential evictions, but Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days. Worshippers will return to Al-Aqsa on Saturday for the most sacred night of Ramadan, while Sunday night marks Jerusalem Day, when Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem. And on Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions. Read more at Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

May 7, 2021

Conservative TV host Greg Kelly, who once complained that the impeachment of Donald Trump was racist against "white folk," was put on the defensive over his choice of pants on Thursday after posting a photo with said former president.

"Those are BUGLE BOY jeans I'm wearing," the Newsmax host had tweeted, drawing attention to his multi-pocketed khakis.

"Honestly one of the most f--ked up pairs of pants I've ever seen," one horrified onlooker wrote, while another observed, "It looks like a pair of cargo pants mated with some jodhpurs and its offspring got all of the worst jeans … er, um genes."

Kelly followed up by insisting that the pants were very expensive — "the truth is, they're BALMAIN (the most prestigious brand in PANTS)" — which just goes to show, you really can't buy good taste.

Read more at Newsweek. Jeva Lange

May 7, 2021

As the dreaded Elon Musk-hosted Saturday Night Live episode draws nigh, the show is out with its first teaser.

"Let's find out just how live Saturday Night Live really is," Musk says in the clip. "I'm a wild card, so there's no telling what I might do." (The Atlantic claims Musk's "eccentricity is good fodder for sketch comedy," which is clearly … debatable).

While some SNL members have made their disdain clear, Pete Davidson said no one discussed the controversy when they took Musk out to dinner pre-show, as is tradition. "I just don't understand why this is the dude everyone's so freaked out about," Davidson said. "I was like, 'What did he do? He's just like a really wealthy businessman that makes, like, nerd s---.' I don't know. He's really nice. I'm excited."

Read more at Entertainment Weekly. Jeva Lange

May 7, 2021

Remember that time when everyone (and The Daily Mail) was so mad about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry trying to trademark "Sussex Royal," and in doing so, cruelly placing Queen Elizabeth "in an invidious position, given her long-held conviction of refusing to allow working members of the family to profit from their positions"?

Well, People reports that the British monarch has since started selling Sandringham-branded beer, brewed from plants grown on her Norfolk estate, as well as a Royal Collection Trust gin, which retails for $41 a bottle and will "help preserve the Queen's extensive art collection."

Writes Celebitchy, "HOW GAUCHE! How tacky! I assume all of the royal reporters are up in arms about how dreadful it is that the Queen is monetizing the Crown in such a disgusting and cheesy way."

Read more at Celebitchy and People. Jeva Lange

May 7, 2021

As the IRS deals with a significant backlog, a new report suggests one factor is ... printers that don't work?

That's according to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which said the Internal Revenue Service is having difficulty processing tax returns in part thanks to issues with broken printers and copiers, Politico reported on Friday.

During on-site walkthroughs of IRS offices, a "major concern that surfaced" was "the lack of working printers and copiers," with management estimating that as of the end of March, 42 percent of printers for workers involved with processing returns weren't usable, the report said.

IRS employees said "the only reason they could not use many of these devices is because they are out of ink or because the waste cartridge container is full," per the report. Evidently, the IRS' contract for the printers ended in September 2020, and while the agency subsequently entered into a new contract, employees said the "new contractor may not have been coming into the sites to replace the old printers due to COVID-19 concerns."

The IRS back in March delayed this year's tax filing about a month, which would give taxpayers more time to figure out what they owe in light of Congress' COVID-19 relief bill. But another issue, as the The Washington Post reported, was that the agency has been grappling with a "mounting backlog" of tax returns that need to be processed. According to the new inspector general report, "more than 8.3 million individual tax returns and transactions remained to be processed" as of the end of 2020 — and while the agency has also had other problems including staffing issues, a lack of functioning printers and copiers has contributed "to the inability to reduce backlogs." Brendan Morrow

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