Headlines: July 23, 2020
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The US Labor Department released its latest figures showing that 1.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, marking a turnaround in the downward trend. For the first time in months, more people applied for the benefits than the week before signaling that the pandemic-related economic collapse is not close to ending. The Labor Department also announced that an additional 975,000 people filed for benefits from a federal emergency program intended to help freelancers, gig workers and part-time workers who have lost income. The news adds urgency to Congress’ main task this week: to extend existing unemployment benefits before they officially expire on July 30th. Currently out-of-work Americans have been eligible for up to $600 a week in benefits but Republicans have said they want to cut that down to a mere $100 a week. In a victory for proponents of a strong social safety net, the GOP on Thursday reportedly backed down on their demand to include a payroll tax cut into the bill. President Donald Trump had insisted on pushing a payroll tax cuts, which directly impacts Social Security and Medicare even though he has publicly insisted to his base that he would never cut those. Lawmakers are so disorganized over unveiling a comprehensive bill that the Washington Post described it saying, “the entire effort appeared to teeter chaotically on the brink of failure.”
Alongside jobless Americans waiting for Congress to do its job are small business owners—or at least those whose businesses have managed to survive the first 4 months of the pandemic. As infections and deaths continue to rise and states and cities shut down businesses, small business owners according to the Wall Street Journal are, “facing make-or-break challenges. Many may not last.” According to a new report by the online review company Yelp, the number of businesses that have permanently closed down now outnumber those that remain open. The report concludes that if a business has remained shut down it will likely never reopen.
Reports of the negotiations between the White House and Senate indicate that the GOP is unhappy about Trump’s idea to withhold federal funding from schools wanting to continue online instruction in the fall. The White House has now reportedly agreed to include $105 billion in Covid-related relief to schools. During his coronavirus task force press briefing which now only includes features him alone, Trump said he had no problem with his own children or grandchildren going to school in person in the fall. He also claimed he had a “national strategy” for reopening schools but failed to give any details. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos went further in making bizarre unscientific claims during a recent radio interview that, “More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves.” Health experts are perplexed by such comments from the nation’s highest ranked education expert.
Covid-19 cases continue to rise precipitously in the US with more than 4 million recorded infections. According to a tally by Reuters, there are 2,600 new documented infections every hour in the US alone. In what appears to be close to an exponential rate of increase, “It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases. It took another 43 days to reach 2 million and then 27 days to reach 3 million. It has only taken 16 days to reach 4 million at a rate of 43 new cases a minute.” The state of California now has more recorded cases of infection than any other state in the nation, although the per capita rate is lower than states like Texas and Florida. Texas in particular is setting records on infections and deaths and is now having to store the bodies of Covid-related deaths in refrigerated trucks. More than 10,000 people are being hospitalized currently.
On Wednesday President Trump, seeking to rewrite history yet again, blamed the anti-police demonstrations that broke out in late May as the reason for the increase, ignoring the fact that he had been pushing relentlessly for states to reopen well before that. The demonstrations—outdoors and mostly masked—have not yet been documented as contributing significantly to the rise in infections. Trump also implied that infections were coming to the US from Mexico even though it is likely to be the other way around. Fox News host Martha McCallum in an interview with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway demanded to know why Trump didn’t embrace mask wearing sooner when it could have actually made a difference. Realizing perhaps too late that mask-wearing is key to controlling infections, growing numbers of state and local leaders are issuing mandates for face coverings. In the Midwest in particular, Minnesota, Ohio, and Indiana have now all issued state-wide mandates for masks.
On Thursday the Trump White House announced an additional $5 billion in aid to US nursing homes in a move that is seen as an attempted counterplan to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s plan from earlier in the week for universal childcare, preschool and elder care. Nursing homes have been among the hardest hit in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anti-police protests have continued in Portland, Oregon, emboldened by the deployment of federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security. Thousands gathered out in the streets on Wednesday as federal officers dressed as military troops hit back with tear gas and batons. Portland’s own Mayor Ted Wheeler, who was facing derision from protesters for being too soft on police, was out in the streets and hit with tear gas. Wheeler said, “I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe…And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.” Portland’s City Council passed a measure on Wednesday barring local police from collaborating with the federal officers, while the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the officers’ attacks on volunteer medics. The Trump administration has now sent federal agents to Chicago, Illinois, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Kansas City, Missouri to quell what he says is rising crime.
In other news, the House on Wednesday voted to repeal Trump’s travel ban that targets Muslims – a ban that the Supreme Court affirmed. The symbolic victory was earned in a vote of 233-183 and is expected to not pass the Senate. And finally House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to Congressman Ted Yoho’s “apology” on the House floor for his misogynist cursing at her on the steps of the Capitol days earlier. Yoho’s words had been overheard by reporters and he claimed he was simply feeling passionate. Ocasio-Cortez refused to accept what she called his “excuse.”