Headlines: March 13, 2020
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The reality of the global coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States full force and across the country communities are implementing so-called “social distancing” measures as President Donald Trump declares a national emergency. Trump will be invoking the “Stafford Act” which apparently allows Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster responses. His emergency declaration also enables him to access $40 billion of funds allocated by Congress. The move came after leading healthcare groups including the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association publicly called for it.
Meanwhile the state of Louisiana became the first to postpone its primary election which was set to take place on April 4th. Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio will be voting in primaries on Tuesday March 17th and as of this recording those primaries are still on. The next Presidential debate, featuring the top two front runners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, is still scheduled for this Sunday but has been moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Washington DC. Both campaigns have moved to the digital realm asking their staffers to telecommute.
Trump on Friday announced his administration has awarded $1.3 million to two companies to speed up the development of virus testing kits. Trump explained on Twitter that, “The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!” He also slammed his own government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which has taken the lead in the fight against the infections. Trump said the CDC has, “always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic.” The number of tests being conducted across the country is incredibly low with states testing fewer than 100 people a day and the CDC testing about 77 over the entire week. Meanwhile on Thursday California Representative Katie Porter at a hearing challenged CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to use his authority to make virus testing free to all Americans, doing the math in full view.
As of Friday morning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House were reportedly near an agreement on a bill to tackle the impact of the coronavirus. The Associated Press explained that, “Central to that effort is free testing for the virus and guaranteed sick pay for workers who are taking time away from jobs, along with an infusion of dollars to handle unemployment benefits and boost food programs for children, families and seniors.” The bill will be an aid package that complements the $8.3 billion bill passed earlier to deal with the virus. On New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez made an unusual appearance on Fox News to urge Congress to pass the bill. President Trump has been urging a payroll tax cut as a way to provide relief to Americans but of course cutting taxes will reduce revenues needed for social safety net programs. He has also refused to allow states to use Medicaid funds to respond to the coronavirus, and has decided to move ahead with planned cuts of food stamps despite the clear expectation that more Americans will be relying on food stamps with coronavirus-related layoffs. On Thursday the Federal Reserve injected $1.5 trillion to make available short-term loans to Wall Street lenders in an effort to stabilize the economy as stocks swung wildly up and down. The Fed is also expected to reduce interest rates to zero next week.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said there were no plans for President Trump to personally be tested for the coronavirus after news emerged earlier this week that he was directly exposed to a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus. The official was pictured in photos standing right next to Trump during a visit from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that took place at Trump’s Florida resort. Two GOP lawmakers who were at the resort have decided to self-quarantine for two weeks – Senators Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott. Now news has emerged that Trump’s adviser and daughter Ivanka, and Attorney General William Barr met with an Australian official a week ago who has just tested positive for the coronavirus. And, in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie has tested positive for the disease.
Across the US schools are closing including in the states of West Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon as well as Washington D.C. Schools in Ohio and Maryland closed earlier in the week. In Ohio, the Health Department Director Amy Acton estimated that 1% of the population of the state may have already been infected. That’s more than 100,000 people – a far higher estimate than in any other state so far. In California Los Angeles and San Diego school districts have announced school closures, and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order on Thursday allowing the state to take over hotels and other facilities to house potential coronavirus patients if and when needed. The entertainment industry has come to a standstill with NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS halting production in response to the outbreak. Disney has announced the shutting down of its theme parks in California and Florida, and New York’s Broadway theaters have canceled shows. College basketball has been suspended as have sporting events by Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the Masters Golf tournament. The Boston Marathon has also been postponed until September.
In other news, a 19-year old pregnant woman from Guatemala died this week after climbing the US border from Mexico near El Paso, Texas. The young woman named Mirian Stephany Girón Luna fell while climbing the wall and died later from her injuries. Although health workers tried to deliver her baby, they were unsuccessful. The Supreme Court this week reaffirmed the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy forcing asylum seekers to live in Mexico while their cases are being processed. It is not clear if the woman who died was affected by that policy.
Chelsea Manning has finally been released from prison. The former Army private turned whistleblower had survived yet another suicide attempt earlier this week. A judge on Thursday ruled that she did not need to remain in prison. Manning had been re-incarcerated after refusing to testify against Wikileaks. The judge said, “Ms. Manning’s appearance before the grand jury is no longer needed… Her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose.” According to the Washington Post, “Manning is still liable for $256,000 in fines levied by the judge for her refusal to testify.”
And finally the US, amidst its coronavirus crisis, launched airstrikes on Iraq this week killing five members of Iraq’s security forces and one civilian. The strikes were apparently in retaliation for the killings of 2 American troops and a member of the coalition forces. The Iran-backed Iraqi militia that is thought to be responsible and was apparently targeted by the US airstrikes, vowed to hit back.