Headlines: August 3, 2020
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A Vanity Fair report on the Trump administration’s strategy to contain the coronavirus pandemic has garnered outrage. According to the report, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner was part of a group that corresponded frequently to discuss the rapidly spreading virus. One, “public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force,” spoke to the media outlet and apparently, “because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically.” The unnamed expert said, “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.” Numerous organizations and figures demanded that Kushner resign immediately based on this reporting.
If indeed the Trump Administration’s plan was to let the virus ravage blue states, in reality Republican-leaning states are among the hardest hit, suggesting the disturbing policy may have backfired. Florida on Sunday broke its own record for the largest death toll in a single week from the virus, at 1,230. Those who claimed that the Coronavirus would wane during the summer months appear to have been proven deadly wrong. Infections have risen the world over and the month of July was the single worst month since the pandemic was declared with 8 million new infections – about the same number as was recorded in the first six months of the year. In the US, July was also the worst month with 1.87 million new cases of infection.
Meanwhile as the Trump administration places most of its emphasis on vaccine development to tackle the pandemic, scientists are expressing skepticism that the process may be getting politicized as the President pushes to have a viable vaccine before the November election. “The longer that vaccines are tested before being released, the likelier they are to be safe and effective,” said the Washington Post which interviewed several scientists. Even the World Health Organization has urged caution. W.H.O. head Tedros Ghebreyesus said on the matter, “there’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.”
The White House Coronavirus Task force head Dr. Deborah Birx is now advising those who live in multi-generational households to even wear masks indoors in order to protect the most vulnerable members of a family. She has said the virus is in, “a new phase,” and that “What we are seeing today is different from March and April — it is extraordinarily widespread.” Trump attacked her for making such a claim calling her, “pathetic.” Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she does not trust Dr. Birx saying over the weekend, “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee so, I don’t have confidence there, no.” Instead Pelosi praised Dr. Anthony Fauci, who testified to Congress last week. Trump apparently mistrusts both Birx and Fauci, and tweeted a video of Dr. Fauci’s testimony with the caption, “Wrong!” and added his often-repeated claim that the US only has the world’s largest caseload of infections because there have been more tests conducted.
In spite of the virus worsening, some schools have begun to reopen around the country and on Monday Associated Press reported that, “Parents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee will also be among those navigating the new academic year this week.” While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has bizarrely said that children are “stoppers” of the virus, several recent studies show the opposite—that children may be even better at spreading the virus than adults. A summer camp in Georgia where children interacted without masks offers a cautionary tale. According to the Washington Post, “76 percent of the 344 campers and staffers whose test results were available to C.D.C. researchers had been infected with the virus — nearly half the camp.” And CNN reports that, “Georgia’s largest school district has confirmed that around 260 employees have either tested positive for Covid-19 or have been exposed.” That district will start school with online learning next week but a week ago hundreds of parents in Georgia protested to demand their kids return to school in person. According to a new Gallup poll, only 36% of parents of school-aged children want to return to in-person instruction in the Fall—a drop of 20 points since late May.
Days after the CARES Act unemployment benefits expired, Congress has yet to come to agreement on a new economic relief bill. Senators returned to Capitol Hill after enjoying a 3-day weekend but apparently remain far apart. AP explained that, “The White House is seeking opportunities to boost … Trump, like another round of $1,200 stimulus payments and extending the supplemental jobless benefit and partial eviction ban. [House Speaker] Pelosi, the top Democratic negotiator, appears intent on an agreement as well, but she’s made it clear she needs big money for state and local governments, unemployment benefits, and food aid.” Indeed state budgets are in serious peril as per a new report which examined in detail the massive projected shortfalls. According to the Tax Policy Center which conducted the study, “Personal income and general sales taxes…are projected to decline drastically through fiscal 2021. Corporate income taxes…also are expected to fall sharply,” leaving states with a total $200 billion shortfall. Trump has considered taking unilateral action if Congress does not budge. Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has continued attacking the $600 a week in jobless benefits saying in an interview, “we can’t be paying people more to stay home,” and claiming without evidence that, “There are cases where people are overpaid.” Experts have suggested that paying people to stay home is precisely what is needed in order to keep the economy afloat and curb the spread of Covid-19.
In Portland, Oregon where federal officers pulled back after weeks of violent attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters, fresh demonstrations intending to re-center the activism, devolved into violence. Two protesters were arrested on Saturday. And, a new Gallup poll found that 70% of African Americans personally know someone who was mistreated by police, compared with 41% of the general population. The US Navy Seals says it is investigating a video from 2019 that was just posted online and that showed dogs being encouraged to attack a man wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey during a training session. NFL star Kaepernick famously protested police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, earning the ire of racists everywhere.
President Trump has focused his wrath on the Chinese start up social media company TikTok which is hugely popular especially among young people and many critics of Trump. Trump claims there are national security concerns and has pressured Microsoft to buy up the software from the Chinese company ByteDance. Trump had threatened to ban the social media platform in spite of railing against other companies for censoring him. He has now backed off from the ban for 45 days.
In election news, former Vice President Joe Biden has increased his edge over Trump in several battle-ground states. Trump has claimed without evidence that a Biden presidency would result in jobs disappearing. Critics pointed out that jobs have already disappeared under his presidency. Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn said in an interview, “I don’t think he plans to leave the White House. He doesn’t plan to have fair and unfettered elections. I believe that he plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold onto office.”
And finally the Washington Post reported over the weekend that the US ambassador to Brazil has requested that Jair Bolsonaro’s government “do the U.S. a favor,” to help Trump stay in office through reducing Ethanol tariffs. House Democrats are now demanding an investigation into what would be the fourth country after Russia, Ukraine, and China, that Trump’s government has been documented asking for political favors.