Headlines: March 23, 2020
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The US Senate has restarted talks on Monday over a massive $2 trillion coronavirus-relief bill to shore up the economy. Talks broke down over the weekend after Senate Democrats balked at the disproportionate help in the Republican’s bill being offered to corporations over ordinary Americans and their households. In attempting to justify why much of the tax-payer funded financial help goes to the top sectors of society, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asserted, “This isn’t corporate welfare…This helps all American workers.” The Washington Post explained that as it stands the bill, “would direct $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. It would also create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states and another $350 billion to help small businesses meet payroll costs.” The Post also offered up more detail on Democratic opposition, saying the party’s, “concerns have focused on a $500 billion funding program for loans and loan guarantees Republicans want to create, which some Democrats are labeling a ‘slush fund’ because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money. There is little precedent for a program with a similar size and scope.” The current piece of legislation being debates is the third funding bill that Congress is tackling focused on the impact of the coronavirus.
Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has earned praise for offering an alternative proposal that would shore up the economy by focusing on people’s needs. Her proposed plan includes distributing debit cards loaded with $2,000 to every American that would be re-charged with $1000 a month every month until a year after the end of the crisis. She notes that her plan would be deficit neutral despite the huge anticipated price tag because it, “would be funded directly from the Treasury, using its legal authority to create money via coin seigniorage, which is a statutory delegation of Congress’s constitutional power of the purse.” Tlaib’s idea has received praise from a number of economists and business reporters. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve on Monday unveiled new, drastic measures to prevent the economy from teetering off a cliff. Fed chairman Jerome Powell announced 90 minutes before the start of trading on Monday that there would be no limit to purchases of Treasury and Mortgage backed securities this week.
Meanwhile President Donald Trump has continued to make the coronavirus crisis all about him. He railed on Twitter that in his scouring of media coverage of the pandemic, “and all I see is hatred of me at any cost.” On Friday Trump made headlines for having a meltdown after a reporter asked him what he would tell Americans who are scared. Trump is also fearful of the economic collapse that the coronavirus could trigger as reports point out that all economic gains made over the past several years have already been wiped out. The President appeared to suggest that a quarantine of only 15 days might be sufficient as he retweeted a suggestion that read, “15 days, then we keep the high risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work.” He also tweeted in all caps, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” His reelection campaign has centered on the health of the economy – not people.
Trump’s former home, New York City, is quickly being considered the epicenter of the US outbreak of Covid-19 with 5% of all cases worldwide – not just the nation – being reported. According to the New York Times, “more than 15,000 people in New York State have tested positive, with the vast majority in the New York City region. That is about half of the cases in the United States.” By Sunday 114 people had died in the city. In the state of California, there are so far 1,800 cases of infections and 35 deaths. A Navy hospital ship based in San Diego has been deployed to Los Angeles in anticipation of more infections. Nationwide there are now a reported 35,200 infections and 471 deaths.
Although President Trump has said he has called on the National Guard to be activated in New York, California, and Washington, to provide resources to those states, Governors and mayors across the US are expressing frustration at the federal government’s inaction particularly on Trump’s refusal to invoke the Defense Production Act. The decades-old law gives the President the authority to call on industries to mass-produce necessary equipment, which in the case of the coronavirus epidemic would mean personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers that is in short supply. Trump has said he would invoke the law but has so far not done so.
Several members of the US Senate are under quarantine after Kentucky’s libertarian Republican Rand Paul became the first senator to test positive for Covid-19. Senator Paul, who was one of only 8 lawmakers to vote against a paid sick leave bill reportedly, “went about his routine for days after being tested, potentially exposing many colleagues.” Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney are among those now self-quarantining over potential exposure. When a reporter informed Trump that Romney was self-quarantining, the President said sarcastically, “Gee, that’s too bad.” Romney has been one of the President’s few Republican critics. And the New York Times is reporting that scientists say that losing one’s sense of smell may be a critical symptom of the coronavirus before other symptoms emerge. One expert said, “anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate.”
In election news, former Vice President Joe Biden who is the Democratic Party’s presidential frontrunner, has struggled with visibility since his campaign was forced into the digital realm. Unlike his rival Senator Bernie Sanders who has held several successful online roundtables and fireside chats, and even raised $2 million for impacted communities, Biden has barely spoken publicly. The hashtag #WhereIsJoe has been trending on Social media.
In international news, a reported 1.5 billion of the world’s population has been asked to quarantine itself in the face of the coronavirus. That’s one fifth of the world’s population. Health workers have become the most impacted group. According to Associated Press, “Spain reported that more than 3,900 health care workers have become infected,” and, “British health workers pleaded for more gear, saying they felt like ‘cannon fodder.’ In France, doctors scrounged masks from construction workers, factory floors, an architect. In China, where the virus first ravaged cities, things have begun to normalize. Cuba, which constantly faces criticism in the Western media, has deployed a small army of its doctors and nurses to Italy – the nation with the highest death toll from the virus so far. The tiny island has so far sent five other teams to battle the coronavirus in countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua.
A major headline on Monday unrelated to the coronavirus was that California’s embattled utilities company PG&E will be pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the case over the devastating Camp Fire that killed at least 85 people.
And finally US State Secretary Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Monday to do damage control as an internal conflict within the Afghan government threatens to unravel a hard-won peace deal with the Taliban. Two men have declared themselves President in Afghanistan and are running parallel governments: incumbent Ashraf Ghani, and Vice president and former warlord Abdullah Abdullah.