The Rock of Talk 'Daily Blast' for Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

The Top 10 Links of the Day, NM Morning Local News Briefing and the Global and US News Snapshot

“It appeared as if the whole world was one elaborate system, opposed to justice and kindness, and set to making cruelty and pain.”― Upton Sinclair, Oil!

For the rest of the links, click “NEWS” on the ABQ.FM - Rock of Talk App. Download for Apple or Android.

Top 10 Stories of the Day

  1. New Mexico oil and gas workers worry about Biden presidency

  2. Sens. John Arthur Smith, Richard Martinez step down early

  3. ‘It was inevitable’: After 110 years, Tortugas cancels annual pilgrimage

  4. Criminal justice reform coalition pushes for legalization of recreational marijuana

  5. 4 Takeaways From the Michigan Senate’s Election Fraud Hearing

  6. Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge

  7. The Censorship of Dr. Briand

  8. Lawmakers to Biden: ‘Step it up’ on Cabinet diversity

  9. Second Amendment Litigants Hope To Try Their Luck With Amy Coney Barrett

  10. Who Funds The Statue-Topplers?

New Mexico News Snapshot

New Mexico residents endure long wait for virus results

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico residents have encountered longer lines for COVID-19 testing and are waiting several days or weeks for results as the pandemic surges throughout the state. Another 2,330 confirmed cases were reported Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to more than 99,400 since the pandemic began. State Health Department spokeswoman Marisa Maez says the waits are happening because more daily cases mean more testing. Some public health restrictions will be eased Wednesday, and officials in some New Mexico cities are opting to reopen senior centers, libraries and other facilities at reduced capacities. Rio Rancho, Roswell and Farmington are among them.

Peppered chub proposed by agency as endangered species

OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list a small minnow-like fish known as the peppered chub as an endangered species and designate parts of rivers in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico as its critical habitat. The agency on Tuesday published the proposal in the Federal Register. The proposal says the fish, once found in each of the four states and in Colorado, is now found only in one river from New Mexico into Texas and rivers in Kansas and Oklahoma must also be protected to ensure they could be relocated, if necessary, to prevent extinction.

Pop-up school for US asylum seekers thrives despite pandemic

MATAMOROS, Mexico — It started as a kind of pop-up school on a sidewalk to teach reading, writing and math to Central American children living in a camp of U.S. asylum seekers stuck in Mexico. Like countless other schools during the coronavirus pandemic, the so-called sidewalk school has had to go virtual. But instead of being hampered by the change, it has blossomed. Now some 20 teachers who are seeking asylum themselves give Zoom classes to Central American children in not only the camp, but at various shelters elsewhere in Mexico. Thousands of Central American families have been living in tents or at Mexican shelters since a Trump administration policy forced asylum seekers to wait south of the border as their cases proceed. 

Watchdog: US nuclear dump facing space, staffing challenges

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A nonpartisan congressional watchdog says the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump could run out of room if the number of drums shipped to the New Mexico site keeps expanding or if a new method for measuring the waste is upended as part of a legal challenge. The Government Accountability Office in a recent report said better planning is needed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to avoid potential disruptions. The U.S. Energy Department estimates the facility's existing physical space will be full around 2025. The agency faces a statutory limitation on how much waste can be entombed at the site.

Navajo Nation lawmakers consider extending junk food tax

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Lawmakers on the Navajo Nation are considering a bill to extend a 2% sales tax on unhealthy food and beverages sold on the reservation. The tribe approved the Healthy Diné Nation Act in November 2014 to tax food with minimal or no nutritional value. The tax expires this year unless lawmakers vote to extend it. The bill refines what would be subject to the tax, and clarifies its administration and enforcement. The Daily Times in Farmington reports that the tax has generated more than $7.5 million over the past few years. It is meant to fund things like wellness centers and walking trails.

New Mexico Land Office offers online Christmas tree permits

SANTA FE, N.M. — The State Land Office is joining other land management agencies in New Mexico in offering online Christmas tree cutting permits. The Land Office also is allowing people to get permits to gather sand for filling their luminarias, which are traditional holiday fixtures of candles inside paper bags weighted with sand. Permit applications, maps, directions and other information is available on the agency's website. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says her office is pleased to offer the low-cost permits as New Mexicans honor two long-held holiday traditions. Like other activities on state trust land, the tree cutting and sand gathering fees help support public schools.

New Mexico counties have long way to go under virus system

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico is moving to a county-by-county system for responding to COVID-19 that allows local communities to shed some restrictions on mass gatherings, restaurant dining, attendance at religious services and some nonessential businesses — if the virus retreats.. At this point, only one of New Mexico’s 33 counties — Los Alamos County — would be eligible to ease restrictions on gatherings and resume indoor dining at restaurants. The new system will take effect Wednesday. Over the past week, one person in every 155 people in the state was diagnosed with COVID-19. The state Republican Part said the governor was stoking false hope that restrictions may be lifted.

Deadly pursuit could lead to murder charges for defendants

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that defendants who cause deadly crashes while fleeing police can face felony murder charges under certain circumstances. The court's decision was announced Monday. It came in a case in which two people were accused of stealing a van in 2017 and fleeing police at high speeds through residential neighborhoods. The driver crashed into another vehicle, killing a mother and her teenage daughter. The court said aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer can serve as the underlying offense for felony murder. The case will be reevaluated by a state district court judge. 

Global and US Daily News Snapshot

CONGRESS TO DO LIST

Congress must pass a bill to avoid a government shutdown before December 11th. There is bipartisan coronavirus stimulus chatter. And, the House and Senate appear to have the votes to override a promised veto by President Trump of the annual defense bill. But COVID-19 changes everything, threatening again to curb the Capitol’s “new normal.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called off the daily GOP lunches. Potential cases could impede Congress’s ability to pass anything, short of a “Christmas miracle.”

NEW ATTEMPT AT COVID RELIEF

A bipartisan group of moderate members of Congress put forth a $908B "framework" for a COVID relief deal. Sen Manchin (D-WV) says bill text of this agreement could be ready "very soon" and the group would like it passed before lawmakers leave for Christmas. So far, there is no commitment from leadership to bring such a bill to either floor for a vote. And would Trump ever sign a bill brokered by people like Sen. Romney and Sen. Collins? Secretary Mnuchin is back on the hill today to testify before a House panel, so expect him to weigh in on the administration's position as well. 

BACKLASH OVER BIDEN PICKS

Neera Tanden, Joe Biden’s pick to lead the White House budget is facing increasing pushback from both progressives and conservatives. Tanden now appears to have deleted over 1,000 tweets since November 1, after posts targeting Republican senators, whose vote she will need for confirmation, resurfaced. Meanwhile, Progressives allied with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are fuming since Tanden has criticized Sanders and clashed online with progressives over policy differences. She’s not the only pick facing questions — Michèle Flournoy, said to be considered for defense secretary, has been attacked by some progressive groups on her at consulting firms that have represented military contractors and foreign governments. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says potentially picking Rahm Emanuel to join the cabinet (possibly Transportation Secretary) would be “divisive”, and more than a dozen progressive groups are urging Biden not to appoint people with "close ties to Google," including the tech giant's former CEO Eric Schmidt.

DEMOCRACY 2020 

After formally introducing key members of his planned economic team Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden will take part in a virtual roundtable Wednesday with workers and small business owners impacted by the economic crisis. During his remarks yesterday, Biden said “help is on the way” and pushed Congress to pass a COVID-stimulus relief package, adding his transition team is working on his “build back better” plan.  

GA SENATE RUNOFFS

A district judge has blocked three GA counties from erasing data on voting machines as GOP Electoral College nominees seek to inspect the machines, a move the defendants say would raise security risks. A briefing from the state is expected by 5pm today. Meantime, Sidney Powell has filed a direct appeal to the 11th circuit claiming the district court's order was insufficient. The legal battle playing out as the manager of GA's voting system criticized fellow GOPers including Pres Trump and Sens Loeffler and Perdue, for not condemning threats against election workers over unproven allegations of fraud.

MI / GIULIANI APPEARANCE

Rudy Giuliani will be making an appearance as President Trump's legal team contests election results in several states around the country. Today, Giuliani is speaking to the Michigan House Oversight Committee. The committee's chairman says it is an "opportunity for us to get definitive answers - in-person - about Mr. Giuliani's claims and evidence" about any wrongdoing. Michigan's election results were certified last week. 

STATES DECISION ON VACCINES 

As the coronavirus vaccine gets readied for distribution, states across the US will begin making determinations on who, when and how their residents will get the vaccine -- and some of those differing decisions could lead to controversy and conflict during an already contentious time. On Tuesday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis refuted a report that inmates were in contention for early distribution in his state.

CDC VACCINE DECISION

Residents and employees of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and health care workers who are especially at risk of being exposed to coronavirus should be the first people in the US to get the vaccine.  That's what the independent panel advising the CDC voted 13-1 to recommend.  The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, is expected to decide today whether to accept the proposal as the agency’s formal guidance to states as they prepare to start giving people the shots as soon as two weeks from now. The committee will meet again soon to vote on which groups should be next to receive priority.  Later this month, the FDA will consider approval of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

VACCINE WAITLIST: WHAT’S NEXT?

A group of CDC advisors have agreed to recommend long-term care residents be among the very first group to be vaccinated ? With limited supplies initially, there is general consensus that health care workers will need to be vaccinated in Phase 1, followed by first responders in Phase 1A. How to prioritize in Phase 1B is less clear. Governors have the operational authority to decide who gets the vaccine and when, and there’s still not enough doses for the most vulnerable. The CDC suggests the most deaths would be avoided by targeting Americans aged 65 years and older, but states might not get the supply to cover them all. We’ll get more when we hear from CDC Director Redfield Wednesday morning. There’s also questions over the order that should follow. Some are calling for inmates to be ranked in the top tiers of the federal criteria because of large prison outbreaks — even if that means they get it before teachers and the elderly.

RESTAURANTS AGAINST RELIEF PLAN

As Congress continues to argue over a stimulus bill, the restaurant industry is saying that more of the same won’t be enough. With over two million restaurant workers still unemployed, the Independent Restaurant Coalition said that the first round of PPP loans didn’t help their industry as advertised and that proposed legislation is “a Band-Aid on a bullet wound” to businesses that have been hemorrhaging money since the pandemic began. With cases skyrocketing and colder temperatures limiting outdoor dining that helped keep restaurants afloat, some restaurant leaders are asking for targeted relief to keep them from closing their doors for good.

HOSPITAL STAFFING SHORTAGES: WILL CARE BE IMPACTED?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, but none as hard as healthcare. As rising COVID-19 cases continue to grip the nation, hospitals are seeing a scramble to hire more nurses and doctors. The American Hospital Association tells Fox Business that hospitals in rural areas like the upper Midwest and west Texas which were already short staffed are in desperate need of doctors and nurses to work the COVID units. Meanwhile, some traveling nurse agencies are offering $4600 a week to work in New York COVID units and NY Governor Cuomo is urging retired doctors to come back to help.

UK / BRITAIN GETS VACCINE NEXT WEEK

Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from early next week.  U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday thanked scientists from Pfizer and BioNTech after the approval of their COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use by the country's drugs regulator.  Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency announced they had given the green light for emergency use of the vaccine early on Wednesday, which allows the U.K. to become one of the first countries to begin vaccinating its population.  The vaccine is expected to be administered to NHS frontline staff first, then care home workers and residents.  

SPECIAL RUNOFF ELECTION FOR JOHN LEWIS SEAT RESULTS

Former Atlanta City Council member Kwanza Hall has won a runoff election to briefly fill the seat in Congress of the late civil rights legend John Lewis. The 49-year-old Hall defeated former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin in Tuesday's special election. Hall will serve in Congress until Jan. 3 from the Atlanta area district. Both Democrats led a field of seven candidates in a September special election to replace Lewis, who died from cancer in July after 34 years in Congress. He was 80. Hall won't be Lewis' long-term replacement. State Sen. Nikema Williams easily beat a Republican in November for a full two-year term.

CDC & WHO WARN AGAINST TRAVEL TO MEXICO DUE TO COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico as the country grapples with rising COVID-19 deaths. The CDC has currently placed Mexico in the Level 4 risk category, which is the highest risk level for COVID-19. If anyone must travel to Mexico, the CDC recommends getting a viral test one to three days prior to traveling as well as prior to returning to the United States. The organization also says to wear a face mask during travel, says travelers should get tested three to five days after travel and says travelers should stay home for seven days after travel. On Monday, the head of the World Health Organization said that "Mexico is in bad shape” with the pandemic and urged its leaders be serious about the coronavirus and set examples for its citizens. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus's comments came as Mexico's death toll rose to 105,940 - the fourth highest in the world - with 1,113,543 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. The country's actual numbers are believed to be much higher partly because of low testing levels.

NTSB ISSUES REPORT ON DEADLY CRASH WHICH KILLED SEVEN BIKERS 

Systems meant to keep motorists safe failed to prevent a pickup driver on drugs from crashing last year into an oncoming group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, leading to the death of seven bikers, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday. The board unanimously approved a report that determined that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy's impairment from the drugs was the "probable cause" for him crossing the center line on a rural, two-lane highway and sparking the fiery crash. But it also blamed Massachusetts for allowing Zhukovskyy to continue driving, despite having infractions that included several for drunken driving. It also said a federal motor vehicle safety agency didn't do enough to address problems at the company Zhukovskyy worked for. "There were multiple failures on multiple levels of the system, the system that is supposed to provide a safety net to protect us when we're out on our nation's roadways," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters. "Unfortunately, that safety net had multiple holes in it."

TUCSON VOTES TO INSTITUTE OVERNIGHT CURFEW LATER THIS WEEK

At the urging of Mayor Regina Romero, the Tucson City Council voted Tuesday night to establish a mandatory nightly curfew for three weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew will take effect Friday and run through Dec. 23. Romero says she sought the curfew “for the safety and welfare and health of the citizens of Tucson.” It prohibits residents from being on public streets or spaces unless traveling to work or other essential activities. Romero says Pima County reported had a record-high 944 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, and hospitals in southern Arizona are on the verge of a crisis. Earlier Tuesday, state health officials reported 10,322 new known coronavirus cases and 48 additional deaths around Arizona.

PASADENA TO DEFY LA COUNTY OUTDOOR DINING BAN

The city of Pasadena has kept outdoor dining open despite Los Angeles County restricting restaurants to takeout to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. A surge of COVID-19 cases last week in the nation's most populous county led to a three-week end to outdoor dining and then a broader stay-home order that took effect Monday. Officials in the city famous for its Rose Parade said they chose more aggressive enforcement because Pasadena is smaller than other cities in the county and can more closely monitor its 600 restaurants. But it announced more restrictions Tuesday, saying only people in the same household can gather, which applies to outdoor seating.

WE OWN YOUR MANSION

Five homes in an upscale Seattle-area neighborhood have been visited in the past month by people who knock on their doors and claim to be the rightful owners of their property. The Moorish Sovereign Citizens claim they own all the land from Argentina to Alaska and order the homeowners to move out. Members of the movement have also been caught squatting in large homes across the country in the last decade.

INTERNATIONAL / IRAN TENSIONS

-Iran’s parliament voted Tuesday to stop nuclear inspections, if European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal don’t provide sanctions relief.

-Lawmakers also want to resume uranium enrichment at 20%, while building new centrifuges. After the session was complete, some chanted “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel.”

-The remaining participants to the JCPOA deal will have one month after the final approval of the bill to restore Iran’s access to the international banking system and provide this relief. The bill does require the final approval of the Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Khamenei. 

-This comes after one of the country’s top nuclear scientists was killed last Friday. Iranian leadership has blamed Israel, vowing to respond when the time is right.

-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump are scheduled to meet later today in Washington. The topic of Iran is expected to be on the agenda.

‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ FINANCES IN QUESTION

Critics have long questioned how donations are used by the Black Lives Matter movement, but now some of its own chapters are starting to ask questions as well. In a letter this week, 10 local chapters claim that that the Black Lives Matter Global Network is not forthcoming with its finances and providing little financial support to its chapters. The claims are raising eyebrows considering the group has reportedly raised millions. Racial equality organizations have raised over $5 billion worldwide and BLM is arguably its most prominent group.

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