Headlines: August 7, 2020
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More than 160,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus in the United States—a tally that was unimaginable just a few months ago. The virus is one of the leading causes of death in the nation this year. Worldwide cases of infection are at 19 million, with US cases comprising a quarter of those despite having only 4.25% of the world’s population. Researchers at the University of Washington estimate that by the end of the year there could be 300,000 fatalities linked to the virus. But a new model estimates that 70,000 lives could be saved this year if more Americans simply wore face coverings. Still, across the nation many states are allowing schools to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. In New York, where cases peaked earlier this year and Covid deaths are at near zero, schools will reopen with some in person instruction and masks required as per Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Some in-person schooling will also resume in New York City, which has the nation’s largest public school district and had the largest Covid-19 outbreak of any city in the nation.
President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the extent of the virus’ spread and its grim death toll in the US, has poured taxpayer money almost exclusively into vaccine development but now new reports show that vaccine trials may be deeply biased. The cohort of volunteers on whom Covid-19 vaccines are being tested are mostly white even as people of color are disproportionately impacted. Meanwhile a new Gallup poll released Friday shows that more than a third of all Americans say they would refuse a Covid-19 vaccine if one were developed. Whites are more likely than people of color to get a vaccine shot. A second Gallup poll on the same day shows demographic differences in mask wearing habits and finds that women are more likely than men, and people of color more likely than white Americans to wear masks in indoor or outdoor settings. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to cover their face.
The latest jobs report is out and shows that in the entire month of July the US economy added only 1.8 million new jobs—much lower than economists were hoping. By comparison the weekly job loss rate has been more than a million every week for 20 weeks straight. And frontline federal workers are demanding hazard pay in a new lawsuit against the government. The American Federation of Government Employees filed the lawsuit and one lawyer involved said the suit is necessary because workers, “are risking their health and safety to go to work. They have the types of jobs that are necessary to keep the country up and running and safe.” Meanwhile Congress remains in deadlock over an extension of economic benefits for impacted Americans. A week after the CARES Act unemployment benefits expired Senators once more left Washington D.C. for a long weekend without reaching a deal. After a 3-hour meeting with lawmakers on Thursday evening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We’re very far apart. It’s most unfortunate.” On Friday Pelosi announced that the White House rejected the Democrats’ compromise to reduce the size of the House package from $3.4 trillion to about $2 trillion, which meant asking the GOP-controlled Senate to double their $1 trillion bill to match. “‘We’ll take down a trillion, if you add a trillion in.’ They said absolutely not,” explained Pelosi.
The largest disagreement is over continuing the $600 a week to jobless workers even though the payments were shown to have boosted the economy. The statistics show that black workers benefited most from the payouts as they equalized pay in a deeply unequal society. Black workers are also more likely to lose jobs with new figures showing that the rate of joblessness between Blacks and whites increased for the third month in a row this July. Meanwhile the Paycheck Protection Program which offered government-backed loans to businesses ends this Saturday and could also hamper an economic recovery if not extended. And, as the CARES Act federal eviction moratorium remains expired with no financial relief in sight, a whopping 40 million Americans are at risk of being evicted by the end of the year.
In the latest on the Black Lives Matter movement, a protester in New Jersey has been charged with a felony count of cyber harassment for posting an image of an unidentified police officer on Twitter and asking others to help identify him. Four other people who retweeted his request are also being charged. In Utah, activists with Black Lives Matter are facing potential life sentences for felony charges related to vandalism and property destruction. The potential sentences are so severe because of gang enhancements that have disproportionately locked away people of color for years for minor crimes. In Portland, Oregon, where federal agents were deployed by Trump to target BLM, protests continue and now Mayor Ted Wheeler is accusing activists of “attempting to commit murder.” Wheeler, who was himself teargassed by federal officers some weeks ago, denounced attacks on public buildings and accused activists of helping to reelect Trump. Federal agents have now been deployed to Chicago, Illinois.
As the NRA faces a lawsuit from New York over serious corruption and malfeasance—a lawsuit that seeks to dissolve the gun lobby group — commentators around the country sent the organization their “thoughts and prayers.” For years such a reaction was forthcoming from the NRA each time a mass shooting claimed lives. The NRA’s embattled head Wayne La Pierre who has been personally named at the center of the corruption probe, remained defiant saying, “we’re ready for a fight.”
In election news, a progressive Black activist named Marquita Bradshaw has won the Democratic primary for that state’s Senate seat being vacated by Republican Lamar Alexander. Bradshaw defeated an attorney named James Mackler who had won the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in what appears once more to be a progressive upset within the party. On November 3rd Bradshaw will face Trump-backed Republican Bill Hagarty who is a former ambassador to Japan. The Senate seat at stake has been held by Republicans since 1994.
Trump signed two executive orders this week restricting the popular Chinese-run social media apps TikTok and WeChat, citing “national security” concerns. The orders, which will take effect in 45 days, are seen as a sharp escalation of Trump’s anti-China reelection strategy. A day after Trump signed the orders, an American company that contracts with the federal government was found to have embedded software in several smartphone apps that allowed it to track the movement of hundreds of millions of Americans. The company, Anomaly Six LLC has strong ties to American defense and intelligence agencies. In other tech news, Facebook just removed the largest group on its platform dedicated to the extremist rightwing conspiracy movement called QAnon. The group had about 200,000 members and its removal was based apparently on the spread of misinformation and violations of anti-harassment policies. Facebook also recently removed so-called “troll farms” of hundreds of Russian-origin fake accounts claiming to be African American supporters of Trump.
CNN’s chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, has just published an excerpt of his forthcoming book called, “The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World.” According to Sciutto, “Amid escalating tensions with both North Korea and Iran, President Donald Trump’s advisers hesitated to give him military options fearing the President might accidentally take the US to war and deliberately informed their counterparts in both countries that they did not know what the President would do next.” In other words, Trump’s military advisers were afraid to advise him. Sciutto quoted Joseph Yun, who served as President Trump’s special representative for North Korea, as saying, “We used to only think of Kim Jong Un as unpredictable. Now we had Trump as unpredictable… and I would communicate that… You had to be careful what options you gave him.”