Headlines: March 18, 2020
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President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force gave another White House Press briefing about the government’s response to the spread of Covid-19. Trump opened his speech invoking the “Defense Production Act” and also reiterated his practice of calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus.” The New York Times explained that the Defense Production Act of 1950 gives, “the administration expanded powers to direct factories to produce face masks, gowns, gloves and other medical supplies needed to fight the virus.” A reporter confronted Trump about his new practice of using the term “The Chinese Virus” and whether it was racist. Trump was also asked about the availability of ventilators in the US but had no real answer.
Meanwhile Congress and the White House are readying a whopping $1 trillion economic plan to try to stabilize an economy that is teetering from the virus. According to AP, “In a memorandum, Treasury proposed two $250 billion cash infusions to individuals: A first set of checks issued starting April 6, with a second wave in mid-May. The amounts would depend on income and family size.” Trump has also asked lawmakers for an additional $46 billion emergency funding request to, “help the government fight the coronavirus and to reverse cuts proposed just last month to the Centers for Disease Control.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week estimated that the nation could face a whopping 20% unemployment rate if the stimulus package was not passed. But a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll has found that already nearly “1 in 5 households experiencing a layoff or a reduction in work hours.”
Meanwhile in the earlier coronavirus relief bill that the House and White House negotiated last week, there are now reports that the already watered down paid sick leave provisions were further eroded. The original bill only guaranteed 12 weeks of paid leave for those workers employed by companies with fewer than 500 employees. This left out about 80% of workers. Now, after Republicans made their changes, the paid sick leave provision only applies to those whose children are at home because of school closures.
Primary elections in three states were held on Tuesday: Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, and in all three former Vice President Joe Biden swept up a majority of votes, expanding his delegate lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Exit polls in Arizona, where Sanders had been projected to do well, reveal that older, more conservative Democrats showed up in large numbers to vote for Biden. Senator Sanders spoke via live video stream on Wednesday offering his prescriptions for what the US needs to do to tackle the coronavirus. Despite calls for him to suspend his bid for the Presidency and some reports that he had done so, Sanders’s campaign maintains that he remains in the race.
In other election news, an Illinois primary race for a congressional district represented by conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski was upended by a progressive challenger named Marie Newman. Lipinski is opposed to abortion rights and to the Affordable Care Act. Newman, who had the backing of the progressive group Justice Democrats, beat him in the primary by 2 percentage points. Meanwhile the states that have yet to vote in primaries around the nation are considering switching to entirely vote-by-mail in light of the coronavirus spread.
In more news of the spread of Covid-19, all 50 states around the US are now reporting infections and most areas have implemented school shutdowns, a ban on large gatherings, and some versions of recommended self-quarantines. In California there is an expectation that schools will not reopen for the rest of the school year and the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began distributing hundreds of thousands of meals to students and their families. Rampant poverty in the LA area has a majority of school children relying on the district for meals.
Big business-dominated industries like airlines, hotels, and auto companies have begun lining up with outstretched hands to the government looking for a handout to get through the pandemic. The airline industry wants government to give them $60 billion in taxpayer funds even though over the past decade companies spent 96% of their massive profits on buying back their own shares. The hotel industry is begging the government for even more – $150 billion with the mega corporation Marriott claiming it is at risk of falling apart. In 2019 alone Marriott returned a whopping $3 billion in profits to its shareholders.
The Trump administration says it is considering deploying thousands of National Guard troops to build temporary hospitals in California and New York to prepare for coronavirus-related cases. The New York Times published a disturbing set of maps estimating of where the nation could see a shortage of hospital beds if the virus continued to spread unchecked. The paper reports that, “In 40 percent of markets around the country, hospitals would not be able to make enough room for all the patients who became ill with Covid-19, even if they could empty their beds of other patients.” The Times also acquired a copy of a 100-page federal plan that was dated to last Friday – the same day that Trump announced the “national emergency” over the virus. The plan estimates that the pandemic, “will last 18 months or longer” and would emerge in “multiple waves.”
Meanwhile the government is getting ready to announce a border closure with Mexico using the coronavirus as justification to turn back all undocumented immigrants from entering the US. This, despite the fact that there are far more documented cases of the virus in the US than in Mexico. The government has also announced a “temporary” closure of the US border with Canada. Canada also has fewer cases than the US but more than Mexico.