News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

During his Thursday Coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House President Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of the massive unemployment figures that were released showing 6.6 million additional Americans had filed for unemployment benefits. He said it wasn’t a recession.  Trump also claimed to protect the social safety net.  He failed to mention that his latest budget proposal included steep cuts to those programs. In response to a reporter’s question about states and cities examining the need to release people from prisons and jails to avoid the spread of Covid-19, Trump said he would try to stop it.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for the first time participated in the task force press briefing and immediately put his foot in his mouth saying that the National Strategic Stockpile of needed equipment was the federal government’s to use and not available to states.  Critics pounced on his claim with Joe Lockhart, former Press Secretary under Bill Clinton saying, “Does anyone know any federal Americans? Where do they live? How many are there? Are they nice? Why do they need some much protective gear and ventilators?” Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub pointed out that the website of the National Strategic Stockpile clearly stated that the equipment is for the American people. Stunningly the Trump administration then changed the wording on the website to match Kushner’s controversial claim. The newly inserted language claims, “The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.”

The official jobs report for the month of March was just released, and, consistent with the numbers from the Labor Department of unemployment filings, the economy had a net loss of 701,000 jobs last month. The industry with the greatest job losses was leisure and hospitality with the restaurant business next. Hotels, travel, retail and construction also suffered big losses. A new poll of small business owners conducted by the US Chamber of Commerce has found that roughly one in four fear they will be forced to go out of business within two months. Eleven percent say they expect to close within a month. Meanwhile the portion of the recent $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package that was meant to support small businesses with loans was supposed to go into effect on Friday. Banks were supposed to start being able to accept loan applications but the Trump administration only released the details of the program to banks hours before it was to launch. Now banks are saying they were not prepared for the massive response. Bank of America said that by 10 am on Friday it had received 10,000 loan applications.

USA Today/Ipsos released a new poll on Friday showing that a majority of Americans feel that the government’s top priority ought to be saving lives, more so that saving the economy. They want drastic economic intervention that allows Americans to remain at home while staying financially afloat. Seventy nine percent support paid sick leave legislation. Another new poll, also by Ipsos in collaboration with ABC News found that Trump’s favorability rating over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic has fallen to 47%, down from 55% two weeks ago. A large majority of Americans are also deeply worried they will be infected by the disease. President Trump on Friday met with the CEOs of large oil and gas companies to offer the federal government’s help to the world’s wealthiest and most destructive industry that has been subsidized by tax dollars for decades. The CEOs of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Occidental hobnobbed with the President and his advisers at the White House after more than 40 House Republicans urged him to protect this massive wealthy industry that is also a direct threat to the global climate. Meanwhile the Trump administration will make millions of Americans for whom the IRS does not have direct deposit information wait until September to begin receiving their $1,200 stimulus checks. The details of the delay were outlined in a draft plan that was circulated on Thursday.

Amid the debate about whether the mass-wearing of cloth masks is an effective virus mitigation step, one city in Texas has decided to require its residents to wear some sort of face covering when outdoors – or risk a $1,000 fine. The Laredo City Council passed a motion requiring people to wear some sort of cloth mask when using public transportation, entering public buildings or pumping gas. New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio has officially recommended that city residents wear face coverings when outdoors, especially when around other people. The state of California has announced that wearing a mask could help mitigate the spread of the virus but warned residents not to consider it a substitute for social distancing or offer a “false sense of security.” State officials also warned the public should not use medical/surgical masks or n-95 masks as those are in short supply and ought to be reserved for healthcare workers. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti recommended mask wearing for all, saying, “I know this looks surreal…We’re going to have to get used to seeing each other like this … This will be the look.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also expected to issue a federal recommendation for people to wear masks while in public but the Trump White House says it won’t be mandatory.

Cases of coronavirus are surging in those states that delayed social distancing measures such as “safer-at-home” orders. In Florida confirmed Covid-19 infections have grown to 8,000 with 125 deaths so far. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis did not make a state-wide order to stay at home until this past Monday. In Georgia, another Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, issued a stay-at-home order this past Wednesday and on Thursday Kemp claimed that no one knew the virus could be transmitted by asymptomatic infected individuals until just now. In fact that type of transmission has been public knowledge for months. In New York City, still the epicenter of the virus in the US, Mayor DeBlasio has called for a national enlistment of healthcare workers to be organized by the military and sent to the frontlines of the disease – as in a war. And, a US Navy hospital ship called Comfort, has been idling in the New York Harbor this week but only 20 of its 1,000 beds are occupied even as city hospitals are overflowing and overwhelmed. Another floating hospital in LA called Mercy has only 15 patients. The obstacles are apparently military protocols and bureaucracy. has obtained leaked notes from an management meeting that included founder Jeff Bezos. The notes show that executives were planning a pretext to fire Christian Smalls, an organizer who led a one-day strike at an Amazon warehouse in New York over a failure to protect workers from Covid-19. The executives discussed the best way to demonize Mr. Smalls. Meanwhile news emerged that workers at 6 different Southern California Amazon locations have tested positive for the virus.

And finally singer and songwriting legend Bill Withers has died from heart complications. Withers, who was best known for songs like Lean On Me and Lovely Day, was 81.

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