Schools, and when they will reopen for in-person instruction, have become the biggest political issue in the state. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is running for governor and has talked about little else. We’re old enough to remember writing post after post trying to get him fired up to confront the challenge of how were were going to reopen schools and not having much luck.
Now the fire’s there, though.
Anyway, schools. It was a big week: The governor got into a row with the Legislature after its leaders proposed a much watered-down version of the plan he designed to lure districts into reopening with billions of dollars in spending.
There was also a protest here at dozens of closed schools from parents who want to see them open. And Tuesday, San Diego Unified School District’s next superintendent, Lamont Jackson, and board president Richard Barrera spoke at a forum.
On the governor versus the Legislature: The Los Angeles Times wrote that Gov. Gavin Newsom was disappointed in the Legislature’s proposed framework for the budget that modified his proposal to provide incentives to get schools open. He wants schools to open now and would give them billions of dollars if they did.
But the Legislature wants to give schools the money even if they wait until the spread of the virus goes down much further. And the legislation allows schools to wait until all educators are vaccinated – the governor has warned that requirement will delay reopening and should not be required before schools open.
One of the state’s top legislative leaders is San Diego’s Sen. Toni Atkins, the Senate president. She said all they’re trying to do is keep the conversation going.
“Here are two truths — California’s students need to get back in the classroom, and there is no easy solution to getting them there in the midst of the pandemic,” she wrote in a statement.
Some schools are open now — private schools and several public school districts, including in San Diego County. But most of the larger districts across the state remain closed.
What the San Diego teacher’s union wants: The hardest part of all this for many parents, besides the challenge of educating them each day while also, often, maintaining a career and housework, is that we have no idea what we’re actually waiting for. What are the conditions and levels of vaccination that will allow them to open schools?
This week, though, the Politics Report obtained one clue. At this month’s meeting of the San Diego Education Association, leadership shared a graphic of their demands.
In short, they want to see the case rate go down to the red tier – which means fewer than seven new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people (we’re at 22 right now). They also want to have the right masks and protective equipment and they want to have fewer kids in small classrooms (which seems like maybe a big deal). Finally, they want teachers to be fully vaccinated, not just the first shot.
That’s a steep hill but at least it’s a clear one.
The pressure for districts to find clarity like that is growing. Even Mayor Todd Gloria weighed in Friday.
“I’m calling on school districts to provide clear, specific timelines on getting kids back in the classroom. We need schools to reopen,” he wrote in a statement.
What the district is saying: Barerra appeared this week on a virtual forum on the topic hosted by Parents for Quality Education.
“I think we can be optimistic that the case rates will allow us to move into Phase 2. We are very blessed because our partnership with the city and County Board of Supervisors means we are confident we will begin to get our educators vaccinated as early as two to three weeks for now,” he said.
Phase 2 for San Diego Unified means that grades K-5 go back for half days just four days per week and higher grades go back just two days a week.
If Barrera is right, then by the union’s standard, they would have to get a second vaccine dose and then also wait for it to be fully effective — so as much as eight weeks from now. That’s late April or May. At that point, you only have a little more than a month before the school year ends. It does not restart until the end of August.
Meanwhile: The campaign to recall the governor is going to have a photo finish on its signature-gathering effort. They need almost 1.5 million and they have that many but, as we know all too well in San Diego, often signatures are invalid and you have to collect far more than the number needed to comfortably qualify for the ballot.
Former San Diego mayoral spokesman Ric Grenell, who was President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Germany, among many other roles, is actually preparing to run for governor in a recall campaign.
Also: Local Democrats were excited about Nathan Fletcher’s first State of the County speech as chairman of the Board of Supervisors because of its callout to labor unions and its list of progressive promises. Republican Supervisor Joel Anderson had only positive comments about the speech: “My partnership with Chairman Fletcher on transparency, closing down illegal pot shops and park funding in my district has already shown results for my district and county residents,” he said. “I look forward to working with him on a post-COVID economic recovery plan.”
And Carl DeMaio had this demonstration: Demanding schools and businesses be open, the radio show host also tried to rally support for the recall election and low-key for his friend Grenell.
WSJ: The U-T May Be Sold
Yeah, that was unexpected. The Wall Street Journal, which knows how to cover business issues very well, reported Friday that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong was considering selling the California Times, the company that includes the Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. One of the suitors was the firm Alden Golden Capital, an investment group that “has sucked much of the life out of the newspapers it already owns in places like Denver and San Jose,” as Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan put it.
Soon-Shiong immediately denied the report and said he was committed to the Times. He omitted the Union-Tribune, which led to hours of anguished tweets from Union-Tribune staff. But then he and his company clarified that neither paper was for sale.
“Dr. Soon-Shiong and his family continue to invest in and plan for the future of the California Times, which includes the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, and do not plan to sell,” Chris Argentieri, chief operating officer of the California Times, told a reporter from the paper.
Debate Time: The 79th
Wednesday at 5 p.m. Scott will be hosting a debate between the five candidates to represent the 79th Assembly District.
The Rules of the Local Recall
We ran across an interesting quirk this week in the recall rules in the city of San Diego. The rules are suddenly relevant as the effort to oust Council President Jen Campbell moves forward.
First, what you gotta know: Like many cities, San Diego has its own campaign finance law. Candidates for office in the city, for instance, can only accept contributions from real people – not corporations or trade groups or labor unions. And there are donation limits that depend on whether the candidate is running for a Council seat, or a citywide office. People who support a candidate, however, can form a separate committee free of those restrictions, known as an independent expenditure committee.
The only catch: The people who run an IE can’t strategize and coordinate with the people who run the official candidate committee.
The recall rules: But we also have ballot initiatives. The groups who support or oppose a ballot initiative have different requirements than candidates for office. They’re allowed to collect larger donations and get them from groups or corporations.
The city of San Diego treats a recall election like a candidate election. The state, meanwhile, treats them like ballot measure elections. In other words, Campbell is subject of a recall right now, as is Gov. Gavin Newsom, but they’re dealing with slightly different rules.
Campbell, in attempting to defend herself from the recall, will be subject to all the requirements of any other candidate seeking office. She won’t be able to take donations of more than $650, and they’ll have to come from real people (with one exception: political parties can contribute up to $11,850 to a Council member facing a recall, according to city regulations).
Here’s the twist: The committee urging District 2 residents to vote “yes” on recalling Campbell will be treated like an independent expenditure committee, meaning it’ll be able to take donations in excess of campaign limits, and from anyone.
In other words, Campbell’s committee opposing the recall will face a different set of campaign finance restrictions than the committee supporting the recall. If it qualifies, the recall will be on the ballot as two questions: a yes or no choice to knock Campbell out of office, and then a list of names vying to replace her that will only matter if the answer is “yes.”
Those candidates will have to run under the same set of campaign finance restrictions as Campbell.
That said, Campbell’s supporters would still be allowed to form an independent expenditure committee of their own to bolster the recall opposition. But that group would be restricted from coordinating with Campbell’s campaign.
Speaking of which: We confirmed this week that Dan Rottenstreich, a go-to Democratic campaign consultant, has signed on to run Campbell’s campaign. He said he’s filed the paperwork to open two committees, one as her formal 2022 re-election campaign, and one to oppose the recall. Rottenstreich has steered successful runs for City Attorney Mara Elliott, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Councilwoman Marni Von Wilpert, among others.
The “yes” campaign, meanwhile, has brought in Bridger Langfur, a former City Hall staffer for Councilwoman Barbara Bry and a campaign aide to County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, as its campaign coordinator. That campaign will begin collecting signatures on Feb. 24 and will have 99 days to do so.
Gary Gartner, a District 2 resident and party activist supporting the recall, said he expects the City Council’s vote on proposed regulations of short-term vacation rentals next week to motivate district residents to get involved in the campaign.
“In general, a recall is a drastic step to take, and some people say, ‘Why not wait until next June when there’s an election?’” Gartner said. “But then she’d still be in office almost two more years until December 2022 … from the height limit that passed citywide but not in District 2, there have been so many missteps from her where she’s not listening to her constituents.”
Also: Rottenstreich confirmed that he is the new political consultant for District Attorney Summer Stephan, who won her race to be the county’s top prosecutor in 2018 as a Republican but left the party in 2019 and is now an independent. She’s up for re-election in 2022.
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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
U.S. senator slams Apple, Amazon, Nike, for enabling forced labor in China
A U.S. senator on Thursday slammed American companies, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Nike Inc, for turning a blind eye to allegations of forced labor in China, arguing they were making American consumers complicit in Beijing’s repressive policies.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang region, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said many U.S. companies had not woken up to the fact that they were “profiting” from the Chinese government’s abuses.
“For far too long companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” Rubio said. “These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.”
Senator Ed Markey, who led the hearing with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, said a number of U.S. technology companies had profited from the Chinese government’s “authoritarian surveillance industry,” and that many of their products “are being used in Xinjiang right now.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific said in 2019 it would stop selling genetic sequencing equipment into Xinjiang after rights groups and media documented how authorities there were building a DNA database for Uyghurs. But critics say the move didn’t go far enough.
“All evidence is that they continue to provide these products which enabled these human rights abuses,” Rubio said of Thermo Fisher, noting that he had written the Massachusetts-based company repeatedly about the matter.
“Whenever we receive proof of forced labor, we take action and suspend privileges to sell,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Coca-Cola declined to comment. The other companies mentioned did not respond immediately to Reuters’ questions.
U.S. lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation that would ban imports of goods made in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor.
Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some western lawmakers say Xinjiang authorities have facilitated forced labor by arbitrarily detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps since 2016.
The United States government and parliaments in countries, including Britain and Canada, have described China’s policies toward Uyghurs as genocide. China denies abuses, saying the camps are for vocational training and to counter religious extremism.
Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told the Senate panel that Beijing’s “extreme repression and surveillance” made human rights due diligence for companies impossible.
“Inspectors cannot visit facilities unannounced or speak to workers without fear of reprisal. Some companies seem unwilling or unable to ascertain precise information about their own supply chains,” she said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, Richa Naidu, Aishwarya Venugopal and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more
The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.
The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.
U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.
G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.
A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.
Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.
U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.
The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.
“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.
‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’
Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.
“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.
“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.
Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.
Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.
The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.
GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.
Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)
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