Headlines: March 9, 2020
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A massive slide in stock values on Monday triggered a halt on trading as the S&P 500 fell by 7 percentage points within 5 minutes of the market opening. Already that economic indicator had fallen 12 points from its peak in February. According to the New York Times, “The drop on Monday was the worst for stocks in the United States since August 2011, when a congressional fight over the debt ceiling pushed the United States to the brink of defaulting on its debt.” Although stock prices have fallen, they have done so after months of growth, leaving current prices at levels similar to last summer. The stock market jitters are largely linked to the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world where quarantines and stockpiling have hampered distribution, labor markets, supply lines, and transportation. Oil companies appear to be the most impacted at the moment. Globally there has been a similar outlook with Associated Press reporting that, “The main stock indexes in Britain and Germany were down by almost 7%. Japan’s benchmark closed down 5.1% while Australia’s lost 7.3% and the Shanghai market in China was off 3%.”
Worst affected by the coronavirus spread is Italy where more than 7,000 infections are reported and 366 have died. More than 16 million people are officially under quarantine. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expanded the quarantine to Lombardy in northern Italy where the disease has had the greatest impact. So far it is the largest Covid-19-related quarantine outside China. One resident of Milan told the New York Times, “We are the new Wuhan,” referring to the Chinese city where the virus is thought to have originated. More than 2 dozen prisons have seen inmate riots over fears of the coronavirus spreading in close quarters. There was even a mass escape of inmates at one prison. Italy’s stock market did not even open as expected and when it did prices had fallen 11%. In China, the virus spread appears to have slowed down relative to the rest of the world. The Wall Street Journal reported that confirmed cases outside China tripled over the past week. Chinese authorities have been touting the effectiveness of their top-down virus prevention measures. Meanwhile over the weekend a hotel in the Chinese city of Quanzhou that had been used to house people under observation for coronavirus infections, collapsed killing 10 and trapping 23.
Here in the US, the cruise ship that was docked off the coast of California has been allowed to disembark in Oakland. The LA Times explained that, “Of the 2,500 passengers aboard the ship, those in need of immediate medical care or those with preexisting medical conditions will get off the ship first on Monday followed by California residents.” Aside from passengers there are more than 1,000 crew members, mostly non-Americans, who will be quarantined on board the ship. Another cruise ship – this time near Florida – has had two crew members that tested positive for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now issued guidelines warning people – especially the elderly – from traveling on cruise ships and taking long plane flights. On Sunday the US State Department also issued a warning saying that, “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.”
Meanwhile as President Donald Trump met with his economic advisers on Monday to discuss how to respond to the coronavirus spread, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, together with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement on Monday laying out a set of conditions for any economic package. The two leaders said in their statement, “We are demanding that the administration prioritize the health and safety of American workers and their families over corporate interests.” They want paid sick leave for workers who are under quarantine or who have to stay at home to care for kids whose schools are shut down due to the virus. They are also demanding a boost to the social safety net including food stamps and unemployment insurance, and widely available and free tests for the virus. So-called “gig workers,” are especially affected, having no paid sick leave. Over the weekend, ride share companies Uber and Lyft, gave into pressure saying they would ensure drivers under quarantine would be compensated for lost wages.
Meanwhile Trump, who has attempted to appear optimistic as his much-touted economic miracle fades, says he is not worried about the virus. Speaking to reporters from his Florida resort over the weekend he said, “”No, I’m not concerned at all…No, we’ve done a great job with it.” On Monday two members of his party, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Paul Gosar announced self-imposed quarantines after attending the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual meeting where they apparently interacted with a person diagnosed with Covid-19. Former Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, echoing the favored Trump Administration line said to CPAC attendees, “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to [the coronavirus] today is that [Democrats] think this is going to be what brings down the president. That’s what this is all about.” Trump replaced Mulvaney with his close ally Representative Mark Meadows shortly after.
In election related news, Trump over the weekend re-tweeted a video shared by his social media manager Dan Scavino, of Democratic Presidential front runner Joe Biden that was edited so as to give the impression that Biden was urging Trump’s reelection. But the video was cut off before Biden finished his thought, which unedited versions of the video showed. Twitter has now placed a label on the original tweet that reads “manipulated media,” to warn users of the deception. Meanwhile Biden’s popularity has continued to soar after last week’s Super Tuesday elections. In a new CNN poll released just before several states vote on March 10th, “52% of registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they want to see Biden win the nomination, while 36% say they’d rather see [Vermont Senator Bernie] Sanders win.” Former Presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris threw their weight behind Biden. Sanders in the meantime won an endorsement from former candidate Jesse Jackson, whose own Presidential bid Sanders had once backed. At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan Jackson endorsed Senator Sanders. Senator Elizabeth Warren meanwhile has continued to refuse to endorse a candidate despite several requests from Sanders.
In international news there were massive marches in Latin America over the weekend marking International Women’s Day. Mexican women marched in a 2-day protest and national strike to speak out on violence against women. Nearly 100,000 women participated in Mexico City many of them wearing the color purple. In Santiago, Chile, 150,000 women marched along with 40,000 more in other parts of the country. Marches also took place in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Bogota, Colombia and elsewhere.