Biden’s First 100 Days, Explained

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on January 20, 2021 (Photo: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was inaugurated in 1933, he moved with unprecedented speed to counter the effects of the Great Depression. Since then, the symbolic nature of the first 100 days of a presidency has been an indicator of both a new president’s priorities and their willingness to fulfill their campaign promises.

President Joe Biden has been put in a similar situation as FDR was nearly 90 years ago, but instead of reversing a depression, Biden will be held responsible for reversing the course of a pandemic that has resulted in massive economic, social and political turmoil.

Here is what Biden is expected to try to achieve during his first 100 days in the White House.

COVID-19 response

One of the first things Biden did during his transition was to create a COVID-19 advisory board composed of 13 health experts to advise him on how to best address the virus as president. The board includes a former commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a former surgeon general and an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale.

In addition to the advisory board, Biden named Dr. Anthony Fauci as lead medical adviser on COVID-19 and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith as the COVID-19 equity task force chair.

Biden has also announced that he plans to issue a nationwide mask mandate and has committed to rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO) on his first day in office, an organization the United States pulled out of during the summer.

The Biden administration has also pledged to push for a US$1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which would include US$1,400 direct payment checks for qualifying citizens. This would be on top of the US$600 direct payments that were included as part of the previous stimulus package, ultimately bringing the total to US$2,000, the number that Congressional Democrats have been advocating for since the beginning of negotiations.

Biden has committed to distributing 100 million vaccinations throughout the US during his first 100 days. If he and his team succeeds, it will be considered one of the largest vaccine rollouts ever to be completed in such a short amount of time.

Climate change

Climate change was a major point of Biden’s campaign and a subject that he fought to keep near the top of the agenda even during the pandemic.

Before launching any policies, Biden made clear his intention to fill his cabinet with people who prioritize climate change. Choices such as Pete Buttigieg for transportation secretary have signaled that President Biden is pushing for movement on the issue of climate change outside of traditional spheres.

Biden has committed to immediately rejoining the Paris climate accord, an agreement that former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of in November after the necessary one-year waiting period that followed his notifying the United Nations.

Biden has expressed interest in organizing a climate world summit to evaluate climate action with nations that have high carbon emissions. The prospect of such a summit has received skepticism over just how realistic it will be to carry out during a pandemic, leading to the possibility that it might not take place until late 2021, or even later.

Biden has also pushed for a US$2 trillion investment into clean energy and sustainable practices, with the goal of getting the country to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Finally, Biden has promised to rapidly reverse many of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks on environmental standards.

Economy

Biden has his work cut out for him in trying to get the economy back to where it was before the pandemic began. At its peak, the pandemic left more than 20 million Americans unemployed.

Biden has expressed his desire to create five million jobs through investments in his proposed “Made in America” plan, a move that would inject nearly US$700 billion into domestic manufacturing and development.

He has also committed to raising corporate income taxes to 28%, a significant increase after the tax cuts signed into law in 2017 by Republicans. Biden has stressed that Americans making under US$400,000 would not be taxed any more than they currently are.

Foreign policy

Biden’s return to the White House is certainly going to mark a stark change in tone from that of his predecessor, with many curious as to whether the incoming Biden administration will result in civility making a comeback.

Biden has tweeted that “We need a leader who will be ready on day one to pick up the pieces of Donald Trump’s broken foreign policy and repair the damage he has caused around the world,” implying that under his administration there would be a number of changes put in place to repair the US’ relationships with its allies.

The Middle East will certainly present Biden with similar problems as those it presented to former Presidents Trump and Obama. The Biden administration will possibly take into greater consideration human rights around the world, which might see a return to some Obama-era policies. 

Among other things, the Biden administration is expected to remove immigration restrictions put into place on those coming from Muslim-majority countries, infamously known as Trump’s “Muslim ban.” 

Though Biden will embrace some of the Obama administration’s policies with regard to foreign policy, it is likely Biden’s administration will blaze its own trail with regard to relations with China

The trade war enacted under the Trump presidency has seen the US take a largely solitary approach in its dealings with China. While Biden will likely dial back the aggression Trump showed China, he is expected to make use of the leverage created by Trump in his own relations to China rather than returning to an entirely multilateral strategy, like that seen under Obama. 

In any case, Biden will be expected to stand firm on issues of human rights, such as concerns over China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim population.

Biden’s positions toward the European Union will certainly be friendlier than Trump’s, considering the US and Europe’s shared interest in combating climate change

Rejoining the Paris climate deal will be a step toward improving relations with the economic bloc and the EU is likely the least of Biden’s concerns given the sheer number of values they share with the US. 

However, there is some question as to the exact tone Biden will set toward economic policy in the EU. With American tech giants under the microscope and free trade becoming a major issue over the past five years, it’s possible that Biden will consider a slightly less aggressive version of some Trump-era tariffs.

Racial justice

After a summer that saw thousands of Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, Biden owes his election in part to those who expect him to tackle issues of racial injustice.

Biden has promised to institute a national police oversight commission in his first 100 days that would be part of a Department of Justice investigation into instances of police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct. 

He has also pledged to address criminal justice reform by encouraging Congress to pass the SAFE Justice Act, a bill that would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent offenses. These acts came in large part as a response to the national outcry over the police killing of George Floyd.

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Biden has said that he will put a halt to the construction of the wall that Trump promised along the US-Mexico border. He has also committed to reforming the US asylum system and the treatment of people at the border, including putting a stop to the migrant protection protocols put in place under Trump and ending the practice of separating immigrant families trying to enter the US.

Biden is also expected to improve relations with tribal nations by investing in the restoration of tribal lands and addressing the health disparities that became apparent during the pandemic. He has also made his intentions clear in moves like nominating New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland to be the first Native American secretary of the interior.

LGBT rights

Biden has promised to end Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military on his first day. He has also committed to a return of Obama-era guidelines for schools relating to the protection of transgender children, particularly in regards to access to bathrooms, locker rooms and sports. 

Biden has also stated that he will push Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would allow for increased protections of LGBT Americans, specifically legislating that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is unlawful discrimination based on sex. The bill was passed in the House in 2019 but died in committee in the Senate. 

Education

Biden has expressed support for extensive changes to the US public education system, including increased pay for teachers, though his education agenda comes largely without a timeline. He has also expressed interest in some level of student loan forgiveness, though the exact degree to which he is willing to forgive student loan debt is unclear. 

Biden has been supportive of eliminating tuition at public universities for students whose families make under US$125,000 annually.

How much will really Biden really accomplish?

Until the victories of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Georgia runoff election, it was unclear whether or not the Senate would be controlled by Republicans or Democrats heading into the 2021 legislative year. As a result, just how much of Biden’s agenda would be able to get through Congress unimpeded was a matter of speculation. 

But now, with Democrats holding a majority in the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, Biden is certain to have an easier time seeing his nominees and various parts of his agenda confirmed. 

However, following the siege of the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6 and the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, just how much time Congress will be able to devote to Biden’s agenda in the next few weeks remains speculative. 

Ultimately, while Biden’s agenda is highly ambitious, with the US Congress now in Democratic hands, much of it may just be attainable.

Safety Concerns Soar as Planes Return to the Sky

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on December 30, 2020. (Photo: Marco Bello, Reuters)

As Americans traveled home for the holidays in the highest numbers seen in airports since the pandemic started, it appears that the airline industry may finally be starting to pull out of the unprecedented slump that 2020 has found it in. 

The numbers that have been released so far still aren’t anything resembling past holiday travel, with the week leading up to Christmas seeing fewer than eight million passengers going through TSA checkpoints in the United States, barely 40% of that from the same period last year.

Nevertheless, the increase in travelers in recent weeks has been taken as positive news for an industry that has had little of that this year. But the return of passenger jets to the skies brings with it a number of other challenges and could, according to aviation experts, have problematic or even dangerous consequences.

Grounded

The impact of COVID-19 on the global travel industry was largely unprecedented. With a number of countries enacting travel bans and many passengers afraid to fly due to the pandemic, air travel came to a screeching halt. By mid-April, more than 16,000 passenger jets worldwide were grounded and the number of planes in active service was the lowest it had been in 26 years.

This mass-grounding of aircraft presented one significant problem for the world’s airline industries – where could all these grounded planes be safely stored?

Aircraft need specific conditions to be stored long-term. According to Boeing’s guide on the subject, “Parking creates the risk that an airplane may not be properly protected or that system functionality may not be properly restored.” The guide goes on to say that “The procedures established to preserve an airplane during parking and later restore it to in-service condition are extensive and lengthy, but necessary to ensure airworthiness.”

Parked planes can experience damage due to a number of factors, including heat, humidity, ice, hail and wind. Additionally, insects and birds often try to nest in parked planes.

Precautions taken to protect stored aircraft include topping off fuel tanks to prevent the planes from rocking in the wind and rotating the wheels several times a month to prevent rusting.

Cleared for liftoff?

According to the TSA, the three busiest air travel days since the end of March all had around 1.2 million travelers. Two of those came in the week leading up to Christmas, with the third coming in the week before Thanksgiving.

This small surge allowed airlines some solace after a year that has cost tens of thousands of airline employees their jobs and billions in losses to the industry itself.

However, aviation experts have expressed concern over the sudden return of so many planes to the skies after nearly nine months of inactivity.

Maintenance of aircraft has been a major concern and inspections have found insects nesting in key components of aircraft, resulting in major issues.

There has also been the fear that returning pilots might be out of practice.

“Flying an aircraft can be quite technical,”Greg Waldron, a managing editor of the aviation magazine FlightGlobal, told the BBC. “If you haven’t been doing it for a while, it’s certainly not second nature like riding a bike.”

The last several months have already seen an increase in the number of unstabilized approaches, which can result in rough landings, runway overshoots and, in severe cases, crashes. More than a hundred people have died this year from crashes caused by unstabilized approaches, including passengers on a Pakistan International Airlines flight back in May and an Air India Express flight in August.

Waldron says that airlines are aware of the issue and that many have booked extra flight-simulator time for their pilots.

These fears have come in addition to those of travelers flying on the Boeing 737 Max, which, after having been grounded for more than a year after over 300 people died in crashes aboard its planes, was cleared in November by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allowing flights to resume in December. 

With the airline industry as eager to bid farewell to 2020 as anyone, officials hope that safety concerns due to the record number of grounded flights aren’t just one more thing they have to worry about going into the new year.

Who is Pete Buttigieg?

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on December 24, 2020. (Photo: Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

On December 15, United States President-elect Joe Biden announced his former opponent Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for the secretary of transportation.

Buttigieg is the first of Biden’s former rivals that the president-elect has named to a position in his cabinet.

The appointment is being seen as a step toward political growth for the former mayor who sent unexpected ripples through the Democratic primaries.

“This position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” said Biden in a statement announcing the selection. “I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision – he will bring people together to get big things done.”

Pete’s early years

Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg was born on January 19, 1982, to parents Joseph and Jennifer Buttigieg, and was raised in South Bend, Indiana. Both parents taught at the University of Notre Dame, his father as a literature professor, and his mother as a linguist.

Being the son of two Notre Dame professors, Pete unsurprisingly excelled academically. He became his class valedictorian at Saint Joseph High School and later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University as a history and literature major in 2004.

Buttigieg was awarded the Rhodes scholarship and spent the next few years studying at the University of Oxford, where he graduated with a B.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics.

During his years in university, Pete involved himself in politics as much as possible. He later worked as a director by a consulting firm in Washington, DC, and eventually worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.

Buttigieg is fluent in eight languages, including English, Arabic, Dari Persian, French, Italian, Maltese, Norwegian and Spanish.

South Bend’s Mayor Pete

In January of 2012, Pete took office as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He was only 29 years old at the time, making him the youngest mayor to be elected in a US city with a population of over 100,000.

In 2015, after returning to South Bend from his time in the military, Pete came out publicly as gay, becoming Indiana’s first openly elected gay executive. In the same year, Buttigieg met Chasten Glezman, a junior high school teacher. The two announced their engagement in 2017 and were married in 2018.

Buttigieg faced scrutiny as mayor in 2015 after federal authorities discovered that South Bend’s police were illegally wiretapping some officers’ phone calls. Buttigieg later asked for the resignation of the police chief Darryl Boykins, the city’s first Black police chief. Boykins later sued the city on discrimination charges. Buttigieg later admitted the event was his “first serious mistake as mayor.”

Despite the scandal, Buttigieg won reelection with more than 80% of the vote in November of 2015.

During his time as mayor, Buttigieg secured US$200 million in private investment in downtown South Bend. He is credited with sparking massive job growth and transforming the city through programs that repaired and rehabilitated abandoned buildings and other various urban development projects.

Military career

Pete enlisted in the military in 2007 and in 2009 became a Navy Reserve Officer. During his first term as the mayor of South Bend in 2014, he was deployed to the Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he took part in the Afghan Threat Finance Cell and worked to disrupt the financial structures of terrorist networks.

During this stint, he also worked as an armed driver for his commander, a job Buttigieg referred to as “military Uber.” He also was in charge of protecting the vehicle from ambushes, telling CNN in 2019 that “It often fell to me to make sure that the vehicle was either being driven or was being guarded properly.”

It was also in Afghanistan where Buttigieg learned Dari, a dialect of Persian, to communicate with locals.

By the end of his time in the Middle East, Buttigieg had earned the rank of lieutenant and received the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

Candidacy for president

In April 2019, Buttigieg (who many just referred to by this point as “Mayor Pete”) launched his bid for the US presidency, becoming the first openly gay man to make a serious presidential run.

At the beginning of the race, Buttigieg lacked the name recognition required of many to last in the race. By the end of the year, however, Mayor Pete was trailing the longtime leaders of the party – Joe BidenBernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren – by only a few points.

Throughout the campaign, Pete brought much to the table as a Democratic candidate. As a member of the LGBT community, he provided inroads for groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Family Equity Council. 

Buttigieg also defines himself as a devout Christian, challenging what many see as a contradiction between faith and sexuality. In a speech in 2019, Buttigieg addressed the former Governor of Indiana, and current vice president, Mike Pence, saying, “if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Pete’s military career created connections with veterans’ groups and military circles, where he received considerable support. His overseas experience and formal education, as well as his wide range of spoken languages, also gave him credibility in international relations.

In February, Pete finished in a virtual tie with Sanders in the Iowa caucus, but he could not sustain the momentum through the rest of the primaries. In March, Mayor Pete dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden for president. “Our goal has always been to unify Americans to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for our values,” he told his supporters at his final rally. “The best way to keep faith with these goals and ideals is to step aside and to help bring our party and our country together.”

Buttigieg as transportation secretary

Speculation as to the role Mayor Pete would play in the Biden administration has been rampant since he made his endorsement in March. After Biden defeated President Donald Trump, Buttigieg’s name was mentioned for secretary of Veterans Affairs, ambassador to the United Nations, and ambassador to China, in addition to secretary of transportation.

Now, with his nomination as secretary of transportation, Buttigieg has become the first openly gay person to be nominated for a permanent cabinet position.

The position will likely be an important one, given Biden’s commitment to creating greener transportation networks. On the Biden-Harris transition website, the administration promises to “Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options.”

There has been some question about Buttigieg’s qualifications for the job. As mayor, transportation infrastructure was not a major part of his agenda. However, some funding from private investment into the city was put toward improving the city’s transportation.

Additionally, some of his supporters were disappointed in the relative unimportance of the role of transportation secretary compared to some of the other roles Buttigieg was reportedly considered for.

However, this relative unimportance may come in handy when the Senate is tasked with reviewing and approving all cabinet positions. Unlike some of Biden’s other cabinet selections, Buttigieg does have some level of political charge around him. 

In the event that the Senate remains Republican after the Georgia Senate runoff election on January 5, it would be significantly easier to confirm Buttigieg in a less pivotal role.

If confirmed as transportation secretary, Buttigieg is expected to make transportation more environmentally friendly and to challenge the history of highways being constructed through disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The pick is far from an early one, but a place in Biden’s cabinet is unsurprising and will provide Buttigieg, a relatively young politician, the opportunity to build his resume.

Russian hack penetrates US computer systems, Trump downplays threat

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on December 21, 2020. (Photo: Sergio Flores, Reuters)

On December 19, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of a massive hack that affected several federal agencies in the United States.

The hack came through a backdoor vulnerability in a software update from SolarWinds, an IT management company.

In addition to federal agencies, thousands of companies worldwide also use SolarWinds’ Orion software. Nearly 18,000 of its customers received the vulnerable update between March and June of this year. Federal agencies affected include the Commerce Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the US Postal Service and the National Institutes of Health.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published a statement declaring the hack a “grave risk” to local, state and federal governments, as well as private organizations.

The attack is believed to have been carried out by the Russian foreign intelligence service known as the SVR. Russia has denied involvement.

“Hackers employed by nation states are a different breed,” said Steven Ostrowski, a senior director at CompTIA, an IT education organization, in a statement to TMS. “They can and will play the long game. They don’t go away because they have no fear of recrimination even if detected. Nation states simply deny their existence and move on.”

Since Thursday, US intelligence agencies have begun briefing members of Congress, including members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Republican Chairman of the committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and the top Democrat on the committee, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, issued a joint statement Thursday saying the hack “appears to be ongoing and has the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation.”

Throughout the initial news of the hack, President Trump remained silent. He made his first public comments on the matter through a pair of tweets on Saturday, where he downplayed the threat of the hack. He also contradicted the statements of several Congressmen and his own Secretary of State by making the baseless claim that “it may be China” responsible for the hack instead of Russia.

….discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA. @DNI_Ratcliffe @SecPompeo— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020

In the same set of tweets, the president also stated without evidence that the hack “could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election.” 

Trump’s claims run counter to a joint statement issued by national, state and private election officials last month that “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”

“This software is not even used on voting machines,” said Perry Toone, an IT strategist, to TMS. 

“The hack really doesn’t mean much for the everyday person and their data. This is a national security hack conducted by a nation-state (Russia) and focused on high-value targets/data.”

SolarWinds has said it will cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US intelligence community and other investigating agencies trying to learn more about the malware, its victims and its effects. The company said that any affected customers should update their software to the latest version to protect themselves.

“There’s a lot that’s still unknown about the operation, who was compromised, and what data or secrets were stolen,” Toone said, “and the fact that it went unnoticed for nine months tells us that this story is far from over.”

Trump loses second court case over TikTok ban as Biden’s China stance solidifies

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on December 16, 2020. (Photo: Mike Blake, Reuters)

On Monday, the Trump administration’s attempt to block TikTok in the United States over national security concerns was blocked for a second time by a federal court judge.

The judge, Carl Nichols of the US District Court in Washington, DC, said that the Secretary of Commerce “likely overstepped” its use of emergency powers given by the president, adding that the Commerce Department had “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by failing to consider obvious alternatives.”

The White House has been locked in legal fights against the Beijing-based social media platform since August, when President Donald Trump first signed a series of executive orders that would sever all economic ties between the US and both TikTok and WeChat.

Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok was first blocked in October, just weeks before the ban would have taken effect. The verdict stemmed from a lawsuit brought by TikTok influencers in Pennsylvania. The Trump administration has since appealed.

Origins of the TikTok ban

On July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US was looking into banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps. This came amid tense discussions about the role of Chinese technology in the US, discussions that weren’t limited to only TikTok but involved other Chinese-owned companies as well, including Huawei.

The announced ban on TikTok came only a couple of weeks after a campaign rally held by Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event, the first rally since nationwide closures caused by COVID-19, saw significantly lower than expected attendance. The low attendance was attributed by many to anti-Trump TikTok users reserving tickets to the event without actually showing up.

A month later, on August 6, President Trump signed an executive order designed to ban the app in the US – an act many saw as retribution for his poorly attended rally.

According to a statement by the Commerce Department, the point of the ban would be “to safeguard the national security of the United States.” It also accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of having “demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S.”

The date of the app’s official ban has been pushed back several times due to a mix of court blockings and attempts by TikTok to divest in order to remain in the US.

TikTok in a Biden administration

Despite Trump’s occasionally inconsistent stance on China, the tough measures he has attempted to impose on TikTok didn’t surprise many as they came from a president who has already levied hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports during his time in office.

But many see Biden’s stance on the app as an indicator of whathis administration’s relationship might be with China.

Biden is expected to bring a stable but firm hand to relations with China, with most experts in agreement that the president-elect should take advantage of the aggressive, unilateral approach that was put in place under the Trump administration, while also returning a sense of stability to the relationship between the two countries.

“The Biden administration will handle things with China much differently and China already knows that,” Kevin Bell, a patent expert and former China Embassy adviser, told TMS. “There will be less volatility by the Biden administration and a renewed pattern of more traditional diplomatic exchanges.”

“The Trump administration’s recent actions are giving China’s President Xi a platform to retaliate in kind,” he said. “A race to the bottom is not the way the US should be treating diplomacy towards China. It gets the US nowhere.”

Biden told reporters in September that he sees TikTok as “a matter of genuine concern,” but has yet to state a position either in support of or in opposition to a ban.

Airlines see holiday surge despite a record increase in COVID-19 cases

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally published by The Millennial Source on December 7, 2020 (Photo: Kamil Krzacynski, Reuters)

Despite health and safety warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the days surrounding Thanksgiving turned out to be some of the busiest air-travel days in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the country back in March.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that the ten-day period from November 20 to November 29 saw 9.5 million passengers screened, around 35%-45% of the number of travelers seen during the same time frame in 2019. Four individual days within that period saw more than one million travelers screened.

This comes as the coronavirus is surging across the country, with numerous states reporting a record number of cases. On November 19, the CDC urged Americans to avoid traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The surge in the number of people traveling did bring some much needed good news to the airline industry however, allowing cash-strapped airlines the opportunity to increase their schedules. American Airlines said it increased its schedule by about 15%, or 500 flights, during Thanksgiving week.

The airline industry in the pandemic

The airline industry was possibly one of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic, but it suffered uniquely in that it faced problems on two fronts.

It saw clientele turn away due to the obvious health risks of being in proximity with strangers for hours on end, but the economic recession also meant there was less money that people had to spend on flying in the first place.

This came as a sort of one-two punch to the industry, which has experience dealing with health crises and financial crises individually, but not together.

“I’ve seen some crises in my time,” said Boet Kreiken, the executive vice president for customer experience at KLM, a Dutch carrier. “The Iraq War, 9/11, Sars, the Icelandic volcano eruption. I know in the gut what that feels like. But this was something else. I was staring at the chart and got so involved in thinking about the consequences that the others had to tell me twice: ‘Boet, start the meeting!’”

In the initial weeks of the pandemic, people largely stopped flying, with April 14 seeing record low numbers of passengers, with the TSA reporting that travel on that day was just 4% of what it had been on the same day a year earlier. By the time May rolled around, around 65% of passenger planes were put into storage, the data and analytics company Cirium reported.

The massive downturn in air travel was not kind to airlines, with estimates that the industry as a whole would be subject to losses of US$84.3 billion this year.

The US industry received US$25 billion in a mix of grants and loans from the CARES act. This money was allocated in April as a bailout for airlines and required that airlines not enact major employee layoffs or salary cuts. European airlines received more than EU€30 billion in bailouts, while Asia’s Singapore Airlines received around US$13 billion.

But, after months of the pandemic, the bailout money began to run out. In September, United and American Airlines started moving ahead with furloughs affecting more than 32,000 US workers.

A chance at recovery

With the prospects of a vaccine on the rise, returning to the rates of travel that the industry saw in 2019 might be possible by late 2021, investors estimate.

The question of whether demand will return to normal in a post-COVID world, though, is unknown.

“COVID gives companies a reason to rethink travel expenses,” said Jeff Pelletier, an executive at the Dallas-based analytic firm Airline Data. “Not every company will cut back, but some will. They’ll figure they’d rather spend a couple of bucks on a zoom meeting instead.”

The increased publicity around the increased safety procedures put into effect by airlines appears to have led travelers to feel more comfortable flying now than they were in the early months of the virus, even without a vaccine having yet been distributed. But demand has not yet risen to even half of the demand seen in previous years, in large part due to health experts advising against unnecessary travel.

Uncertainty ahead

Airlines recognize that the landscape is changing and will continue to change in the months and years ahead, but the timeline for a return to normalcy is uncertain at best.

With no new stimulus package, airlines have been forced to lay employees off without any concrete plans to rehire them.

Though the brief spikes in plane travel seen over Thanksgiving week and likely to continue throughout the winter holidays have provided some relief to a hurting industry, any serious relief would have to see the number of passengers approaching what it was before the pandemic.

Even the industry itself isn’t specifically encouraging travel. “Do we want to see them travel? Yes, but only if it’s safe for them,” said Airlines for America chief executive officer Nick Calio. “There’s a variety of factors involved in that for each individual traveler.” Despite the uncertainty, one thing seems clear: it will be a long time until flights look the way they did a year ago.

Republicans Herald “The year of the Republican woman”

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan MonroeOriginally published by The Millennial Source on December 3, 2020 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage, Reuters)

The 2020 congressional race in the United States has been dubbed by many as “the year of the Republican woman” as more than a dozen Republican women beat their Democratic challengers to win seats in the 117th Congress.

This number includes 15 Republican women elected to the US House of Representatives, more than doubling the previous total number of women in the chamber and bringing the new number of female Republican representatives to 28. In contrast, there will be 89 Democratic women with seats in the House.

In all, next year will see 141 female legislators in Congress, up from the 127 that were serving this year. This marks a clear shift in a Republican Party that has historically been controlled by white men.

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Republican political consultant Julie Conway speculated about the reason for this increase in an interview with NBC News, saying, “I think everybody’s looking for the magical reason why 2020 was such a good year for Republican women, but the reality is, it’s a combination of a lot of things over a lot of years … seats that were winnable, and incredible women running for those seats, and the infrastructure around them finally at a point that they were able to get at least some of the help they needed to get them over certain obstacles and then they were able to be successful because they, quite frankly, worked their tails off.”

Many are seeing this change as a response to the Democratic races won by women in 2018, where more than a hundred Democratic women won seats in Congress.

Mace also added that women and minorities will need to be the future of the Republican party for years to come. “I look at our freshman class right now, and we really reflect the faces of America – the diversity and the inclusion we have in the Republican Party. That is our future, and if we don’t get on board with recruiting the right people – minorities, women, veterans, etc. – then we’re going to lose in the future.”

In addition to the uptick in the number of Republican congresswomen being elected, there were a few notable people of color in the party to be elected this year. Burgess Owens, a Black former NFL player, won in Utah’s 4th district. Yvette Herrell, a Cherokee Nation member who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, won New Mexico’s 2nd. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, two Korean-American women from California, won the state’s 48th and 39th districts while Carlos Gimenez, a Cuban immigrant, and Maria Salazar, daughter of Cuban exiles, won Florida’s 26th and 27th districts.

These elections have been referred to as a wake-up call for Democrats, who have historically held the female and minority votes by a significant margin. In the 2008 election between then-Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain, more than two-thirds of Hispanics voted for Obama, as did 95% of Black Americans. This year, however, Biden received only 89% of the Black vote and in Florida (a key battleground state) he received only 42% of the Cuban vote.

Despite the decreasing number of minorities who vote for Democrats, the party still has the more diverse coalition in Congress, with more than a hundred people of color in Congress.

“I don’t think any political entity or party should take any constituency for granted,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina based strategist. “If there’s one thing election after election teaches us, it’s that no voting bloc is monolithic.”

Democrats will have the opportunity to add one more person of color to Congress on January 5 in the Georgia runoff elections, where the Reverend Raphael Warnock is running for a Senate seat against Republican Kelly Loeffler. The fate of Warnock and his fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff will determine whether Republicans or Democrats hold the Senate majority in the 117th Congress.

Amazon announces US$500 million in holiday bonuses for frontline employees

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan MonroeOriginally published by The Millennial Source on December 1, 2020 (Photo: Kevin Mohatt, Reuters)

Amazon announced bonuses for its employees the day before Black Friday, including more than US$500 million for its frontline employees.

Amazon employees in the United States and United Kingdom who are employed between December 1 and December 31 will be eligible for a bonus of US$300 (for full-time employees) or US$150 (for part-time workers).

The company also said it would be investing over US$750 million in additional pay for its frontline hourly workers. Whether this will come as additional pay or in some other form, like paid time off, is unclear.

Amazon provided a similar bonus in June, which it dubbed a “thank you bonus,” for its employees and partners who worked during the pandemic. The bonus included US$500 for full-time employees and US$250 for part-time workers.

The new bonus brings the total that the company has spent globally on bonuses and incentives in 2020 to over US$2.5 billion.

“Our teams are doing amazing work serving customers’ essential needs, while also helping to bring some much-needed holiday cheer for socially-distanced families around the world,” wrote Dave Clark, Senior Vice President of Amazon’s Worldwide Operations, in a statement released on Thanksgiving Day. “I’ve never been more grateful for—or proud of—our teams.”

These bonuses come after strikes around the world for hazard pay, better health and safety guidelines, and better communication and contact tracing within warehouses.

In October, Amazon workers in several cities in Germany took part in a union strike during its Prime Days sales event. The company claimed that the strikes did not have an effect on its ability to function. After the sales event, a British union argued that Amazon had cut social distancing guidelines during the increased sales period and that doing so had endangered employees’ health.

Later that month, Amazon announced that nearly 20,000 of its employees had contracted COVID-19.

In November, workers in Alabama filed to unionize, a move Senator Bernie Sanders referred to as “a shot heard around the world,” in a state known for being harsh on unions.

Amazon has a record of being anti-union, repeatedly citing its industry-leading US$15 per hour starting pay.“It is great that workers are getting more this holiday season, [but] it is not enough,” said Christy Hoffman, a general secretary for a trade union group called UNI Global union, in an interview with CNN. “To show it values its workforce, Amazon should collectively bargain wages and conditions with workers throughout its operations, rather than make one time unilateral gestures of appreciation.”