Headlines: July 16, 2020
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The world passed a grim new milestone in the coronavirus pandemic this week when a record single-day total of 230,400 new infections were documented. Of that number, 66,300 were in the United States alone – that was the second highest single-day total observed in the country. The US has had 3.5 million cases of infection overall and infection rates are rising in 41 of 50 states. Some Republican lawmakers appear to be in denial of the situation such as Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp who on Thursday declared that no cities or counties in his state could require mask wearing among the public. Atlanta City mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had ordered a mask mandate in her city and her office shot back saying, “The Mayor’s Order remains in effect, as science and data will continue to drive the City’s decisions. Masks save lives.” President Donald Trump, who has mostly eschewed mask-wearing made an appearance recently at Atlanta’s airport maskless. The mayor slammed the supposed “law-and-order” president saying, “by not having on the mask, President Trump did violate the law in the city of Atlanta.” In Florida where Covid-19 cases have overwhelmed hospitals, and where a whopping one-third of children who were tested are infected, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini claimed, “Florida’s doing just fine.” Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is bucking his party with a new op-ed in the Washington Post where he accused Trump of abandoning even Republican governors like him in the fight against the coronavirus. Hogan also related how Trump disparaged South Koreans when the Governor tried to obtain test kits from his wife’s home country.
Even states run by Democrats are seeing cases rising. In California, a record high of 11,000 new cases in a single day were documented this week. The virus is impacting farm workers in the state and is particularly rampant through the state prison system. Roughly half of all inmates at San Quentin prison have been infected. In the state of Washington, where the virus first made headlines, a resurgence is being documented six months after the state went into a very early lockdown.
A large part of the problem of controlling the virus is a very long lag time to get test results. In order for localities to control outbreaks via contact tracing, test results need to be available 24-48 hours after people get tested. In the US a typical wait time is 5 days by which time an infected individual could have spread the disease to dozens or hundreds of others. Meanwhile, a day after Trump ordered hospitals to submit Covid-19 data to the White House instead of the CDC, some of the data that had been stored on CDC.gov was removed. The Department of Health and Human Services will now report on the data. Many fear that the transfer of control over Covid data is a ploy to downplay the massive surge in deaths expected. And, the National Security Agency (NSA) announced on Thursday that Russian hackers have been attempting to acquire sensitive data on vaccine development from the governments of the US, UK, and Canada.
Another 1.3 million workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as per the latest Labor Department data. The number has remained steady at a relative-high for weeks now. For 17 weeks in a row more than a million workers a week have filed for jobless claims. Congress is moving toward extending unemployment benefits of $600 a week as the economy remains struggling. But Republicans, as per the LA Times, “remain adamantly opposed to extending the money and argue it discourages some workers from returning to their jobs.” Critics argue that employers could simply offer higher salaries as incentives to return to work. The unemployment benefits are having a positive impact on the economy as new indicators show a 7.5% jump in retail sales during the month of June. Clothing, cars, and furniture were among the industries where sales were strong. A new study confirmed that Americans are spending more money when they are home earning benefits than when they are working—a strong indicator of just how badly wages had been falling in the US. Another study—examining the one-time $1,200 stimulus checks that all Americans were supposed to receive—shows that Blacks and Hispanics received their checks significantly later than their white counterparts. Yet another study has found systemic racial disparities in online learning during the pandemic. Analysts for the Los Angeles Unified School District found that Black and Latino children had lower levels of participation in digital education.
Protests against racist police brutality are continuing in some parts of the country. In Louisville, Kentucky activists angry over injustice in the police killing of Breonna Taylor have been out in the streets for 45 days straight. In New York City, a pro-police march was found to have brazenly co-opted a Black-led prayer march against police violence. Posters linked to the NYPD for a “Blue Lives Matter” march conflated itself with the Black-led prayer march, resulting in confusion among Black organizers. When counter-protesters showed up against the pro-police march, NYPD officers pepper sprayed them. Meanwhile the New York Times asked if NYPD officers are deliberately pulling back from enforcing law and order as the city sees a spike in shootings. In the small town of Marion, Virginia, a Black teenage activist named Travon Brown was targeted for his organizing of a Black Lives Matter protest when a burning cross was found in Brown’s front yard. And in St. Louis, Missouri, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a black woman, has been the target of death threats and racism from Trump supporters after the President got involved in the high-profile case that she is investigating. Gardner is looking into Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the white couple who pulled guns on peaceful protesters that were marching by their house and who have now been found to have engaged in possible criminal activity.
A day after Ivanka Trump was thought to be in violation of federal ethics rules for promoting Goya Foods, her father dug his heels in. Trump posted a photo of himself doing the same. The Goya Foods brand is facing a mass boycott from its primarily Latino base after the company’s CEO praised Trump. Meanwhile Trump, angry at his consistently low poll numbers, fired his campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with Bill Stepien. In what appears likely to be an election ploy, the White House has reportedly begun weighing a travel ban to the US for Chinese government officials. Trump’s reelection campaign has fixated on Trump’s rival Joe Biden apparently being “too soft on China.” A new Quinnipiac University national poll found that, “Registered voters back Biden over Trump 52 – 37 percent.” The Trump campaign claimed the poll was biased because it questioned more Democrats than Republicans. But analysts point out that happened simply because there are more Americans who identify as Democrats than Republicans today. In other election news, Republicans have now scaled back their convention in Jacksonville, Florida over virus concerns. Some have pointed out the hypocrisy of Republican demands that children return to school in the fall.
The Justice Department on Wednesday carried out its second execution of a federal death-row inmate after a 17-year pause. In a manner that mirrored how the first execution played out, a lower court judge (the same one in both cases) first halted the killing but the US Supreme Court stepped in late in the evening and narrowly cleared the way for the execution of 68-year old Wesley Purkey. After apologizing to the families of the women he had killed, Purkey’s final words were, “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Finally in immigration news, despite the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Trump administration has been rejecting new applicants. And, a new report concludes that the US could have prevented the deaths of two undocumented children in its custody with timely pediatric medical care.