Headlines: June 23, 2020
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The nation’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, along with other government health officials testified to the House Energy and Commerce committee about the White House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats on the committee asked Dr. Fauci if there had been a slowdown in Covid-19 testing as per President Donald Trump’s recent public claim. Dr. Fauci said there was no decline in testing. When reporters asked Trump if he was joking about demanding that testing be slowed down he said he had been serious. When asked to assess the US’s approach to the coronavirus, Fauci said this. He warned that the next two weeks would be critical to take the kinds of action he described. In addition to Dr. Fauci, other officials testifying include Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration; and Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health.
Covid-19 infections are surging in some parts of the country particularly in the states of Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Reuters explained that surge as, “The United States saw a 25% increase in new cases of COVID-19 in the week ended June 21 compared to the previous seven days.” Health experts trace the jump in cases to Memorial Day when many states began relaxing their lockdown requirements. In southern states in particular, cases are rising fast among young Americans, in their 20s and 30s who may have gotten infected from congregating at bars and nightclubs on or after Memorial Day. Even in California there is an increase in cases with the nation’s most populous state reporting 6,000 new cases on Tuesday – a single-day record. Meanwhile a study of Medicare and Medicaid enrollees has confirmed that race is a strong predictor for who is likely to get infected and that Black Americans are the most vulnerable. But the study found that Medicaid recipients – whose incomes are so low that they qualify for government assistance, are far more likely than the general population to get infected, indicating that poverty is also a predictor.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that hand sanitizers manufactured by a Mexican company Eskbiochem is extremely dangerous as it has high levels of methanol. Sales of hand sanitizer have shot up since the pandemic was declared. In an indication of how weak the US’s regulatory systems are, the Washington Post reported that “The FDA stated that it contacted Eskbiochem on June 17 to recommend removing its hand sanitizers from the market. ‘To date, the company has not taken action’ to do so, the agency wrote Friday.”
The US economy continues to remain weakened by the pandemic and now more than 700 cities say they are putting off critical infrastructure repairs to roads and water systems because of a lack of cash flow. Individuals are also struggling and although President Trump now says he supports a second round of stimulus checks for the public, members of his own administration and his own party disagree. Meanwhile a number of economists published a study recently about efforts to save the economy and concluded that the government’s Paycheck Protection Program did little to save jobs. The study also found that the first round of stimulus checks had little impact because most spending went into already wealthy companies like Amazon and Walmart. The majority of the collapse the authors found, is due to the wealthiest Americans curtailing their spending.
A Guardian newspaper investigation has found that millions of Americans can no longer afford to pay for their water bills. The price of water and sewage increased an average of 80% between the years 2010 to 2018 in 12 cities that the paper examined. The Guardian called it “America’s expanding water poverty crisis.” In an op-ed in the same paper, Senator Bernie Sanders with his co-author Brenda Lawrence promoted the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (Water) Act in Congress.
In immigration news, the Trump administration has been found to be quietly deporting record numbers of undocumented children since the pandemic began – in violation of the US’s own anti-trafficking laws. Trump this week also sharply curtailed legal immigration, extending the 2-month green card ban to the end of this year. That ban impacts the ability of US citizens to sponsor their family members, including parents, in the same way that First Lady Melania Trump sponsored her parents to come to the US. Trump added to the list of those banned from entering the US, visas for a large variety of jobs including H1-B visa holders. The White House is claiming that the move will free up more than half a million jobs for Americans – with no evidence to back up such a claim. In a series of tweets, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wrote that the visa ban would have a “chilling effect” on the US economy. Meanwhile there are reports that the European Union may ban Americans from traveling to the continent over failures to contain the coronavirus.
In on-going protests against racist police violence, a new AP poll has found nearly all Americans believe that the US criminal justice system needs to be reformed. Ninety five percent of Americans believe there should be a complete overhaul, major changes, or minor changes to the current system. Meanwhile Amnesty International mapped out the police violence aimed at anti-police protesters over the past several weeks and found widespread, “human rights violations by US police against peaceful protesters – which were neither proportionate nor necessary to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective.” Researchers have also found that police unions spend tens of millions of dollars every year to undermine reform efforts and influence cities’ approaches to law enforcement. The Republican Party’s response to police violence was to introduce into the Senate a weak reform-based approach to policing which the NAACP is now urging Senators to reject. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to block the bill when it is debated on Wednesday.
As part of the movement to hold police accountable, protesters in various cities are tearing down statues of confederate era and colonialist leaders. Now Trump says he has authorized federal law enforcement to arrest anyone tearing down statues and charge them with crimes that have 10-year sentences. Trump has not called for any such punitive measures against police officers who kill human beings. He has also been tweeting videos of Black people committing individual crimes and asking why there are no protests aimed around those instances. Meanwhile Park Police on Monday stopped anti-racist protesters from tearing down a statue of Andrew Jackson near the White House. And, Rayshard Brooks, the Black man killed by police in Atlanta, Georgia recently, is being laid to rest in a church that was once led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hundreds of mourners paid their respects to Brooks and his family on Monday.
Finally, federal authorities announced that a US soldier was charged with leaking information about his unit to a “satanic neo-Nazi cult” to encourage them to attack and cause “the deaths of as many of his fellow service members as possible.” Twenty-two year old Ethan Melzer from Louisville declared himself upon arrest as, “a traitor against the United States.”