Headlines: August 6, 2020
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Lebanon’s capital Beirut continues to reel from a massive explosion earlier this week that devastated the city leaving at least 137 people dead, injuring thousands, and leaving 300,000 homeless out of a population of 2.2 million. International rescue teams flooded into the city to help pull survivors and corpses out of the rubble. The major port that is in ruins was home to the main grain silo that fed the city and was a hub for the majority of the entire nation’s imports. Anger mounted across Lebanon over what residents see as massive government negligence over the improper storage of highly explosive chemicals in a warehouse for 7 years that had been abandoned by a Russian shipping company. The blast was so massive that it registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake, leaving behind a 700-foot crater. The city’s residents began burying the dead and planning major protests. Although Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has promised a thorough investigation into the explosion, most Beirutis were unconvinced and many have even called for politicians to be executed. French President Emmanuel Macron visited the city bringing several tons of medical supplies with him as he surveyed the damage to his nation’s former colony.
Here in the United States, the latest Labor Department figures show that another 1.2 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week – the 20th week in a row with numbers of more than a million. The economy remains precarious as Congress allowed unemployment insurance benefits to expire while so many Americans remain unemployed. The political deadlock over a new Covid-relief bill remains in place as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed her Republicans colleagues in an interview on CNBC. When asked why there was no appetite among Republicans for offering financial relief to struggling Americans she said, “Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn for what you just described.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has remained on the outside as talks have happened largely between House Democrats and the White House finds himself in a bind. According to the New York Times, McConnell is, “caught in a family feud between a group of endangered incumbents in his party who are desperate for pandemic relief legislation that is tied up in slogging negotiations, and a significant portion of Senate Republicans who would rather do nothing at all.” There is some agreement from Republican Senators on a bailout of the airline industry as 16 of them on Wednesday joined their colleagues to extend a $16 billion loan program that would help airline employees remain on the job.
The US Census had been conducting a weekly “household pulse survey” that showed many Americans struggling with hunger during the pandemic. After weeks of disturbing data about the plight of Americans during the Covid crisis, the Census Bureau has suspended the survey indefinitely. Meanwhile more agribusinesses continue to file for bankruptcy in the US in spite of record levels of federal subsidies to the tune of $33 billion this year. And, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a new bill that attempts to tax the pandemic profits of a group of billionaires in order to fund healthcare for all Americans for a year. In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday Sanders laid out his plan, called Make Billionaires Pay Act, for a 60% tax on the windfall profits of 467 billionaires who got much richer over the past 6 months.
Coronavirus cases continue to rise in the US and on Thursday Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested positive for it during routine White House testing ahead of his planned meeting with President Donald Trump. Ironically Trump is visiting Ohio to tout the apparent fall in virus cases in the state. The President was penalized on Wednesday on two social media platforms for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. When Trump’s official Facebook account posted a video of him claiming on a Fox News show that the virus does not affect school-aged children, the company took down the post. The Team Trump account on Twitter, which is Trump’s election campaign account, posted the same video and was slapped with a temporary ban on tweeting. Trump denounced the actions to curb his dangerous lies as “flagrant bias.”
Confirming that Trump’s claim of kids being “totally immune” to the virus is a lie, 116 school children in Mississippi were just quarantined after several tested positive. The children had begun their fall term just a week ago. The school superintendent said the spread of the virus was not a good enough reason to shut down schools. A similar situation played out in Georgia where in-person school instruction resumed resulting in packed school campuses and almost no masks or social distancing. A new survey of teachers and parents showed that about two-thirds of teachers and parents agree that schools should not resume in-person instruction yet. Eighty two percent of teachers say that they are worried about teaching in person. The journal Pediatrics just published the largest survey to date on how race and socio-economic factors impact children during the pandemic and the results confirm what advocates have been fearing: that nonwhite children are far more likely to be infected by Covid-19 than white children. Conducted in the Washington DC area, the survey found that, “just about 7% of white children tested positive, whereas 30% of Black children and more than 45% of Latinx children did.”
Former deputy attorney general Sally Yates in a Congressional hearing on Wednesday blew apart many of the conspiracy theories and falsehoods that Republican allies of Trump have been spreading on how they thought that the Obama Administration was spying on the Trump campaign. Here is Senator Ted Cruz questioning Yates. Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin opined that, “Republicans have been so immersed in a false account of events and in conspiracy-mongering for a failed president that they seemed startled when Yates corrected them again and again.” In another investigation into the Trump business, Deutsche Bank has now turned over the financial records that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had been demanding for months. Mr. Vance is investigating possible criminal activity at the Trump organization and the documents that the bank handed over were loan application records from the Trump company.
The city of Seattle, Washington just voted to cut its police budget and reduce the number of police officers in a major victory for Black Lives Matter activists. Mayor Jenny Durkan joined the city’s police chief in denouncing the plan that was voted on unanimously 9-0 by the city council. Police layoffs are expected to begin in November. Meanwhile Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf testified at a Congressional hearing on Thursday and was questioned about the use of his agents in cities like Seattle, and Portland, Oregon against anti-police activists. Mr. Wolf said that while agents were pulled back they remain on “standby” in Portland.
And finally, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James has just sued the National Rifle Association (NRA) to begin the process of disbanding the nation’s most powerful pro-gun lobby group. According to AP the lawsuit follows, “an 18-month investigation [that] highlighted misspending and self-dealing allegations that have roiled the NRA and its longtime leader, Wayne LaPierre.” At the same time Washington DC’s Attorney General sued the NRA Foundation over similar charges of corruption and self-dealing.