Headlines: April 22, 2020
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The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a $484 billion economic stimulus package to continue tackling the economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic. The majority of funds – $310 billion – will be used to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. After news emerged that many large companies had taken advantage of loopholes in the first version of the PPP, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the second version of the bill would prevent large companies from taking advantage of taxpayer backed loans and forgivable grants. Most of the rest of the funding in the bill will support hospitals struggling with Covid-19 patients and to boost the US’s testing capabilities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed reporters after the vote and explained his view of the bill with respect to demands for a plan for widespread Covid testing. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday but not everyone supports it wholeheartedly. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in an interview said Congress was abdicating its responsibility.
Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appears to agree with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. Stiglitz likened the US’s response to the economic impact of the coronavirus as that of a “third world country.” He added, “If you leave it to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell [the Republican Senate majority leader] we will have a Great Depression. If we had the right policy structure in place we could avoid it easily.” Meanwhile NPR is reporting that big banks that processed the Paycheck Protection Program to lend money to small businesses themselves reaped $10 billion in fees. The outlet explained that, “The banks took in the fees while processing loans that required less vetting than regular bank loans and had little risk for the banks, the records show.”
In immigration news, a day after President Trump tweeted that he would ban all immigration temporarily because of the coronavirus, he announced a 60-day moratorium on green card applicants being allowed to move to the US. During a White House Press briefing on Tuesday he said, “I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration into the United States. By pausing, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs. It would be wrong to be replacing them with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad.” But then contradicting his desire to protect American jobs he carved out exceptions to the rules that included seasonal farm workers. The Washington Post explained that, “the president had once more announced a sweeping policy that was not yet ready for implementation, and his administration was trying to piece together an executive order for him to sign that would catch up to his whim.”
In other immigration news, the ACLU has launched a lawsuit demanding the federal government immediately take “drastic action” to release immigrant detainees in detention facilities near the border. An ACLU attorney said, “Court intervention is necessary immediately. There is no longer any time to waste.” The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Rikers Island Jail guards in New York were dying from one of the nation’s worst outbreaks of the virus. The paper says that, “Covid-19 cases among Rikers employees are now on par with levels seen in the most infected American workplaces, such as the USS Roosevelt and a pork plant in South Dakota.” In California a study has found that two people died in the state of the coronavirus on February 6th and 17th, earlier than the first nationwide case thought to have been documented in the state of Washington. The determination was made from autopsies of two people who died in Santa Clara County.
The latest death toll from the disease in the US is more than 45,000. According to Reuters, the total on Tuesday of this week means that fatalities are, “doubling in a little over a week and rising by a near-record amount in a single day.” Of the 2.5 million documented cases of infection worldwide, the US has 810,000 – that’s nearly one third. The numbers are continuing to rise even as President Trump and some Republican state governors push to reopen businesses. On Tuesday Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a shocking statement in a Fox News interview to justify ending quarantine in his state explaining that “there are more important things than living.” Meanwhile Robert Redfield the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that if states move to reopen too quickly, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.”
In other news, President Trump on Wednesday morning took a break from coronavirus-related items to threaten Iran. Out of nowhere he tweeted, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.” Al Jazeera explained, “Trump did not cite a specific event in his tweet or provide details. The White House had no immediate comment.” The only other context was provided by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist who told reporters, “The president issued an important warning to the Iranians, what he was emphasising is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense.”
In international news, even as the US government is failing to strongly intervene to save the economy, millions of people in Europe who have also lost their jobs or been temporarily furloughed are being paid directly by their governments. European governments like the UK, France, Sweden, and Germany are spending billions to directly financially support their citizens. According to the Wall Street Journal, the estimated numbers of unemployed across the continent is 18 million – compared to 22 million in the US alone. Elsewhere in the world, it is less a matter of paid leave and more of basic survival. The United Nations’ World Food Programme is warning that the pandemic could cause a global famine of “biblical proportions.” David Beasley, the WFP director, told the Guardian newspaper, “This is truly more than just a pandemic – it is creating a hunger pandemic. This is a humanitarian and food catastrophe.” But he also made the case that mass starvation was not inevitable: “If we get money, and we keep the supply chains open, we can avoid famine. We can stop this if we act now.”