The Rock of Talk 'Daily Blast' for Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
The Top 10 Links of the Day, NM Morning Local News Briefing and the Global and US News Snapshot
SNAP benefits help local economies because the benefits are spent at local grocery stores - with locally grown and locally-made products. I remember many years ago, while on food stamps, I advocated for the benefits to be spent at local farmers markets - a move that has helped local economies even more. -Deb Haaland. (Happy Birthday Deb!)
Top 10 Stories of the Day
New Mexico News Snapshot
Albuquerque eyes spike in drag racing during pandemic
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Officials in New Mexico’s largest city are planning to crack down an a surge in illegal street racing and other disruptive driving that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic. They say they’ll seek regulations to help them. Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said Wednesday during a telephone town hall that the city is expanding late-night patrols in response to reckless driving including racing. He said the city will also lobby state lawmakers for stiffer penalties. He described illegal drag racing, loud mufflers and other tire-squealing maneuvers. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller linked the spike to pressures of the pandemic.
Affordable senior housing planned for New Mexico trust land
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State officials say a blighted parcel along historic Route 66 in Albuquerque will be the new home of an affordable housing project for seniors. State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard has signed a lease for the state trust land that will allow a subsidiary of the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership to move forward with the project. The four-story senior living space will consist of more than 90 low-rent units. The housing partnership won an auction for the trust land earlier this year. To help with the project, the partnership received low-income housing tax credits through the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.
2 longtime Democratic New Mexico senators vacate seats early
SANTA FE, N.M. — A longtime New Mexico state senator has announced he is retiring from his position a month before his four-year term was scheduled to expire. He lost his bid for reelection this year. Democratic state Sen. John Arthur Smith, who had served eight terms and was chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, announced Tuesday he wanted to spend more time with his family. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said Smith’s colleague Democratic state Sen. Richard Martinez also submitted his resignation early this week. It’s unclear whether anyone will step into the two positions before the start of the next legislative session, scheduled to begin in mid-January.
Virgin Galactic gets NASA contract, prepares for test flight
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Virgin Galactic has been selected to provide regular access to flights for NASA payloads as the space agency conducts more research and development and plans for exploratory missions. NASA announced the partnership Monday and says the flight and integration services will benefit the agency's Flight Opportunity program managed out of Edwards, California. Virgin Galactic joins other companies with similar commercial contracts with NASA. The agency says the contracts are worth a combined $45 million. Virgin Galactic is preparing for its first test space flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The window for that flight opens Dec. 11.
2 engines, 12 cars on freight train derail in New Mexico
VADO, N.M. — Burlington Northern Santa Fe says two engines and 12 empty cars that were part of a BNSF freight train derailed in the southern New Mexico community of Vado early Wednesday morning. The railroad said in a statement that cause of the derailment was under investigation and that the train's engineer was taken to a hospital to be treated for minor injuries. The derailment left one engine on its side and the other off the rails but upright. The state Department of Transportation said parts of several highways were closed. Additional information was not immediately available.
New Mexico surpasses 100K infections, reports 40 deaths
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has marked another grim milestone with confirmed COVID-19 infections surpassing the 100,000 mark. State health officials on Wednesday also reported a new record for the number of related deaths in a single day with 40. The latest numbers come as some public health restrictions are eased following a two-week lockdown. Like elsewhere, New Mexico has been dealing with a surge. Data show about half of the state's total cases have been reported in just the past month, and laboratories have been busy with increased demand for testing. Health officials expect an uptick in the coming weeks as a result of gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday.
New Mexico jail seeks to return stolen money to inmates
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Officials are seeking to return funds that were stolen from inmates’ accounts at the Bernalillo County jail over several years. The Metropolitan Detention Center said Tuesday it is trying locate 99 former inmates so the misappropriated money can be refunded. An independent audit recently made public by the state auditor’s office alleges that a former fiscal supervisor at the jail tapped into inmate trust accounts to issue fraudulent debit cards. Jail officials were tipped off in 2019 when a former inmate called about money missing from the account. Officials say they've instituted new procedures and taken other corrective actions.
Officials say snow-loving bird resilient to climate change
DENVER — Government biologists say a bird that roosts in the snow high in the U.S. Rocky Mountains is expected to survive warming temperatures over the next several decades and therefore won’t be getting special protections. The white-tailed ptarmigan is the smallest grouse in the North America. It's found only in alpine regions of Colorado and a sliver of Northern New Mexico. The birds occurred historically in Wyoming but are believed to be gone from the state. While their habitat is expected to deteriorate as climate change brings hotter conditions, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists determined enough suitable habitat will be left through 2050 for the species to survive.
Global and US Daily News Snapshot
CAPITOL HILL UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Andy Williams made a career belting out his Christmastime staple "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". But everyone on Capitol Hill knows December is the worst time of the year in Congress as lawmakers race to finish their work. There's simply too much to do. Lawmakers are sprinting to finish a bill to avoid a govt shutdown next wk. There are still efforts to conjure a coronavirus stimulus package. And, the House & Senate must pass the final version of the annual defense policy bill, which Pres Trump is threatening to veto. If Trump follows through, it appears the House & Senate have votes to override Trump for the first time. And, House Majority Ldr Hoyer wants to get everyone out by Dec 11 so they can quarantine for the holidays, then re-quarantine to come back to start the new Congress on Jan 3.
TRUMP JUDICIAL CONFIRMATIONS
Senate Majority Ldr McConnell is living up to his promise to "run through the tape" and confirm as many conservative judges as he can before Pres Trump leaves office. As Trump continues to name new nominees, he is taking full advantage of being only the second president in a century to receive such confirmations, even after his party has lost the White House. Some nominees are making waves along the way, but action in the GOP-controlled Senate is continuing at a rapid pace, with another batch of nominees scheduled for consideration next week. With Pres-elect Biden also signaling he will also prioritize filling judicial seats when he takes office, the current president is running out of time to add to his already massive list of confirmations.
DANGERS OF THE RETURN OF EARMARKS
Is pork making a comeback?! It has been a decade since the practice of federal earmarks, or congressionally directed projects, was curtailed, but with Joe Biden in the White House and a likely divided Congress, both parties will be forced to come together to annually fund the federal govt and tackle challenges facing the country. That's got spending hawks fearing the return of waste and pet projects. Senate Appropriations Cmte Chair Shelby and Vice Chair Leahy have signaled their support to restore the practice of appropriation bill earmarks.
GA ELECTIONS / ATLANTA
GA's Secy of State has launched an investigation into liberal groups, including one founded by Stacey Abrams, which are accused of trying to register out-of-state or deceased voters ahead of next month's US Senate runoff elections. Pres Trump tweeted yesterday that he'll be going to the state for a "big Trump rally in support of our two great Republican senators," an event which will take place on Saturday evening. This, as the deadline for GA's 159 counties to finish its recount of the votes in the presidential election passed at midnight.
MI GIULIANI APPEARANCE / LANSING
Rudy Giuliani appeared in front of the MI House Oversight Cmte as Pres Trump's legal team contests election results in several states around the country. The cmte's chair said it was an "opportunity for us to get definitive answers - in-person - about Mr. Giuliani's claims and evidence" about any wrongdoing. MI's election results were certified last week.
NV ELECTION HEARING / CARSON CITY
Even though NV has certified Joe Biden as the winner of its 6 electoral votes, the Trump campaign goes before a state court judge this afternoon to officially contest the election. The Republican campaign cites "substantial irregularities, improprieties and fraud" in the vote counting process. They contend the NV election results are illegitimate and want the judge to either declare Trump the winner or toss out the election entirely.
MAC'S PUB / STATEN ISLAND
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of Mac's Public House on Staten Island last night to protest NY's coronavirus restrictions, a show of support for the general manager following his arrest for refusing to close his pub during the pandemic. Mac's Public House first found itself at the center of controversy when the owner decided to continue indoor dining despite being in a state-designated coronavirus micro-cluster orange zone, where it is illegal. The Sheriff’s office arrested Danny Presti Tuesday night and issued a partial vacate order for the business. Owner Keith McAlarney said he took the actions he did because his business would not survive another shutdown.
VACCINE MANDATE / NEW YORK
Can your boss require you to get a COVID vaccine to go to work? A recent Gallup poll found 42% of Americans say they would not get the vaccine, but employers may be able to require it. In the past, OSHA has given employers the legal right to mandate a flu vaccine, like the H1N1 shot, while offering a medical or religious exemption. This time, the US Labor Dept is staying silent on any guidance for the COVID vaccine. And that's part of the problem, according to one employment atty, who believes people could lose their jobs if they refuse. He's advising businesses avoid a mandate and instead educate their workforce about the new vaccines to avoid a major pushback.
CA COVID SURGE
CA posted yet another COVID record this week, averaging more than 14,000 cases per day and 8,200 hospitalizations. The rising numbers are putting pressure on local & state officials to take more aggressive action to slow the spread before it overwhelms hospitals. On Monday, Gov Newsom warned a new statewide "Stay At Home Order" could be coming, even though major population centers like Los Angeles & San Francisco are already back under lockdown.
AUSTIN MAYOR CONTROVERSY
Austin TX Mayor Steve Adler has now apologized after coming under fire for holding a 20-person outdoor wedding for his daughter and then taking a family vacation to Mexico in early November, at the same time he posted a video to Facebook telling residents to stay home and take careful measures to stop the spread of covid-19 – warning from his hotel room in Cabo San Lucas, “this is not the time to relax.” The mayor posted another FB video Wednesday night, saying he regretted that travel, he would not travel now and he apologizes for setting a bad example… however he still maintains he didn’t violate any of his or TX Gov Abbott’s orders. This latest incident follows a recent string of lawmakers appearing to not follow their own covid guidance.
STATE FUNDS DRYING UP AHEAD OF DISTRIBUTION
Federal relief dollars for states are running out just as Governors are counting on extra funds for mass vaccine distribution. NY Gov Cuomo says 170,000 doses are expected in NY by Dec 15, but distribution could cost the state $1bil and the federal govt has not offered any addl aid. And OH Gov DeWine admits his state does not have the money to pass out the vaccine. A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a nearly trillion dollar relief bill this week to send local govts addl aid, but the odds of getting that done by year's end are looking slim. We look at what options states have to get doses out once they're ready for distribution.
"BIRTH TOURISM" RING BUSTED
On Wednesday, prosecutors charged six people with running the “birth tourism” operation on Long Island, which facilitated the births of an estimated 119 babies to Turkish women since at least 2017. The costs of the births were fraudulently billed to the state, causing New York’s Medicaid program to lose more than $2.1 million, prosecutors said. In total, the defendants received about $750,000 in payments from pregnant women, prosecutors said. Birth tourism is a longstanding phenomenon. In recent years, it has drawn mostly well-off mothers from China, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and Nigeria to the U.S. for birthright citizenship. A 2018 case involving the stabbing of three babies at a maternity center in Queens exposed the risks of the unregulated practice. Earlier this year, the State Department gave visa officers more power to stop pregnant women from visiting the United States if the women were suspected of traveling to give birth. The new rule described giving birth as “an impermissible basis” for visiting the United States.
LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST SEC. OF STATE FOR PURGING VOTER ROLES
A lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges that almost 200,000 Georgia voters were wrongly removed from the voter registration list ahead of the election. Three voter advocacy groups sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) for the “wrongful cancellation” of 199,908 voter registrations after falsely assuming they had moved and changed their addresses. The groups call for the voters to have their registration restored ahead of the state’s Jan. 5 runoff races, which will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
SEARCH FOR 6 MISSING PEOPLE SUSPENDED DUE TO LANDSLIDE CONCERNS
A search for at least six missing people was suspended Wednesday evening after heavy rains triggered avalanches, landslides and flooding across southeast Alaska, according to reports. The largest landslide -- about 600 feet -- occurred in Haines, about 90 miles northwest of Juneau, earlier in the afternoon, trapping about 30 people. As of Wednesday evening, Alaska State Troopers said four homes had been destroyed and six people were unaccounted for. “There is approximately nine feet of mud and trees covering the area,” Troopers said. “SAR (Search and rescue) operations have been suspended for the evening due to rumbling unstable ground.” Search and rescue efforts lasted until nightfall. Rescue teams will be departing Thursday morning for Haines on an Army Guard helicopter to assist in coordinating SAR efforts and "provide valuable resources," authorities added. Severe turbulence was prohibiting the Guard helicopter from conducting operations Wednesday. Haines Borough Mayor Douglas Olerud said there has been a wide range of damage in the area, along with smaller landslides in the community of roughly 2,000 people.
WI-KENOSHA SHOOTER PRELIMINARY HEARING TODAY
A 17-year-old from Illinois accused of killing two men during an August protest in Wisconsin was due in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing in the case. Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, is also charged in the wounding of a third person on Aug. 25 during a night of unrest in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a local Black man. Rittenhouse told police he was attacked while guarding a business and that he fired in self-defense. He was freed from jail last month after posting $2 million bond, with most of the money raised through a legal defense fund set up by conservatives portraying him as a patriot protecting other people's property. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have painted Rittenhouse as a trigger-happy white supremacist. Rittenhouse is charged with homicide and attempted homicide for fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz. A preliminary hearing is the stage at which a court decides whether enough evidence exists to proceed to trial. The Kenosha County district attorney's office didn't respond to interview requests, and Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards declined an interview ahead of Thursday's hearing.
In a filing this week, Richards asked the court to dismiss two of the six counts against Rittenhouse. He argued that a misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 isn't supported by the law -- an argument that the court already rejected once.
OHIO PLACES OHIO ON QUARANTINE LIST
Ohio health officials are cautioning state residents to avoid traveling to … Ohio. The Buckeye State has just added itself to the state’s COVID-19 travel restriction map amid a resurgence of the global pandemic, WEWS-TV reported Wednesday. That means Ohio is among 14 states the health department says should be avoided by Ohioans — and any Ohioan traveling from their own state must quarantine themselves for two weeks after they get back home to, well, Ohio. But the reason for the glitch is no joke. “The state has seen record levels of cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the past week, and all Ohioans can help to limit the spread and impact of this virus,” the Ohio Health Department said in a statement. “This includes recommendations to stay at home except for necessary trips for supplies, consistent mask-wearing when around others, and frequent handwashing.” The state added itself to the map after its seven-day positivity rate rose above 15 percent for the first time since the first week in April. Ohio has reported nearly 440,000 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, with more than 6,600 deaths, the health department said.
CHINA HITS BACK AT US OVER VISA RESTRICTIONS
China on Thursday accused critics in the U.S. government of "an escalation of political suppression" against Beijing following a report of new visa restrictions on members of China's ruling Communist Party and their immediate family members. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China would "make representations" to the U.S. following the report Thursday in the New York Times that such people would be limited to one-month, single-entry visas. Hua called Washington's approach "totally inconsistent with the U.S.'s own interests," and said it would damage America's global image. "I think it is obvious to all that this is an escalation of political suppression by some extreme anti-China forces in the U.S. out of strong ideological prejudice and deep-rooted Cold War mentality against China," Hua said at a daily briefing. The Times report could not immediately be confirmed, but follows earlier hints that Washington was planning such a move, possibly even including a total ban on all 92 million Communist Party members. It wasn't clear how the restrictions would be enforced since many members do not play active public roles in the party's institutions. The restrictions would be the latest punitive measure taken against China's leadership and economy amid sharpening disputes over human rights, the coronavirus pandemic, trade, technology, Taiwan and a host of other issues. On Wednesday, the U.S. said it would block imports from a major Chinese producer of cotton goods because of its
PENTAGON / RUSSIA; CHINA THREAT
Navy Secy Kenneth Braithwaite announced a major organizational change to the Navy, renaming Fleet Forces Command, which had been focused on terrorism for the past 2 decades, to the "US Atlantic Fleet" to take on Russia's rising navy, who are deploying closer to American shores. China also now has 25 shipyards and the US has only 1. Pentagon says, for the first time, China "has the largest navy in the world." America's adversaries are emboldened to test US military dominance.
INFLUENCER FOUND DEAD
The mother of a Texas social media influencer whose naked corpse was discovered along a Houston highway this past weekend told Fox News that she's convinced foul play was involved in her daughter's death. Stacey Robinault said her daughter, Alexis Sharkey, lived with her husband in a gated community in Houston and “never expressed any fear of anything to me.” Alexis's husband Tom said he's received death threats since the tragic news broke and has reportedly rejected the notion that he and his wife had a fight on the night she went missing. Police say they're not ruling out foul play at this point, but have not named any suspects or released a cause of death pending completion of the full autopsy.
-The US embassy in Baghdad will withdraw some personnel amid rising tensions in the Middle East.
-This will be a temporary move to ensure Americans remain safe. The embassy has been targeted with rockets multiple times over the past year.
-Iran is promising to launch some sort of counterattack against American or Israeli targets, after one of the country’s top nuclear scientists was assassinated last week.
-One month from today will mark the one-year anniversary of the US drone strike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. Iran responded to this killing by firing ballistic missiles at a military base in Western Iraq that housed US troops.
-In an interview with the New York Times, President-elect Joe Biden said he is still committed to rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, that President Trump pulled out of in 2018.
BIG APPETITE FOR BIG CARS
Fmr Pres Obama is taking a swipe at Americans who drive big cars in his new memoir. Obama writes, "Americans loved our cheap gas and big cars more than we cared about the environment." The statement being in reference to the 2010 BP oil spill. A decade later, despite the left's push to go green, there is still a huge demand for big cars and trucks, especially now that these vehicles are more gas efficient and cleaner than ever. We look at why Americans are still choosing to buy big cars and why gas cars and hybrids remain a viable alternative to electric cars in much of the country.
SURGE IN DELIVERY SCAMS
Cyber sales are seeing records and that's sparking a surge in shipping-related scams, with cybersecurity firm Check Point research saying scams are up 427% from a month ago. Bad actors are sliding through the cracks with "phishing" emails, containing links to trick victims into giving them personal information by pretending to be official websites. Amazon has been the most impersonated brand, with 65% of fake delivery emails originating from hackers posing as Amazon services. Another big concern are "porch pirates" who are taking boxes straight from victims' front steps. Average victims have lost 3 packages during the quarantine alone, costing them an average of $175.05.
HIGH TUITION COSTS SPARK STRIKES & PROTESTS
Students are standing up to schools that are demanding full tuition for what students are calling a diminished product. At Columbia Univ, more than 1,400 students are threatening to withhold their tuition payments next semester. Students have filed 2 class action lawsuits at Georgia Tech and the Univ of Georgia saying that the schools should return a portion of the tuition they accepted from online students. College tuition has increased 1,400% in the last four decades, and college applications are declining.