Headlines: May 18, 2020
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President Donald Trump over the weekend fired the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick who had been investigating State Secretary Mike Pompeo, a strong Trump loyalist. Mr. Linick, who became the fourth Inspector General to be fired by Trump, was examining whether Pompeo abused taxpayer resources numerous times. Reports emerged last year of Pompeo demanding that diplomatic security agents run his personal errands among other things. The role of Inspectors General in government agencies is to be a watchdog to protect the public’s resources from being abused by officials. Democratic lawmakers are now demanding answers and requesting records over the reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went as far as saying his removal may have been “unlawful.” Stunningly, it has now emerged that Mr. Pompeo “recommended” to Trump that the watchdog be fired and that Trump agreed, as per a White House official speaking to NBC. Presidents that fire Inspectors General are required by law to lay out their reasons. Even some Republican lawmakers are worried about Linick’s firing and are calling on Trump to explain himself.
Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted vaccine czar who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration and testified before the House last week about the White House’s Covod-19-related incompetence, gave an interview to 60 Minutes. During the interview Dr. Bright said he saw all the signs of a pandemic early on. Lashing out angrily at Bright, President Trump deemed that, “This whole Whistleblower racket,” was, “causing great injustice and harm.” Trump also faced criticism from his predecessor Barack Obama over the weekend during the former President’s graduation speeches. Trump responded saying he hadn’t watched the speeches and that Obama, “was an incompetent president, that’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent.” Meanwhile Trump’s son, Eric in an interview on Saturday defended his father’s response to the pandemic and declared without evidence that, “after November 3rd, coronavirus will magically, all of the sudden, go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.” The younger Trump appeared to feed into a rightwing conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is not real and part of an elaborate hoax to ensure Trump doesn’t win reelection.
A vaccine trial by the biotech company Moderna has shown some early results that appear promising. Eight people who volunteered to receive two doses of a preliminary vaccine appear to have developed an immune response to it and found to have not had side effects. The Washington Post explained that, “The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies [in the blood of the volunteers] matched or exceeded the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.” However, the study is still in its very early stages and needs much more testing before it can be made available to the public. The company Moderna has collaborated with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop the vaccine. The company’s stock jumped on Monday upon news of the success of the preliminary trial. Troublingly, Trump appointed a Moderna board executive named Moncef Slaoui to be the US’s new vaccine czar. Mr. Slaoui owns more than $10 million in stock options at his former company. Senator Elizabeth Warren has demanded he divest immediately from his stocks in order to continue to serve his public role.
The Covid-19 pandemic has now infected nearly 5 million people worldwide and more than a quarter of those are in the US where nearly 1.5 million people have tested positive. For months the President claimed there were more than enough Covid tests in the nation for anyone to get one if they chose – a false claim. But now, just as several states around the nation do have enough tests for everyone, they are encountering a new problem of not enough people lining up to get tested. The Washington Post found at least a dozen states where the number of available tests far exceeded the number of people getting tested, with California and New Jersey having the largest gaps.
A new study has found that more than 200,000 lives may have been saved nationwide by stay-at-home orders and that more than 2 million hospitalizations may have been avoided. The study’s conclusions are the result of a model by mathematicians at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Conversely, new data from the Committee to Protect Medicare shows that Trump-supporting anti-lockdown protesters may be spreading Covid-19 as they congregate with one another in the hundreds and then return to their communities in different regions. The analysis is based on anonymized cell phone data.
Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar appears to be encouraging the anti-lockdown protests saying that the irresponsible behavior of the Trump supporters was, “part of the freedom that we have here in America.” He even went as far as claiming without evidence that there is no proof of an increase in infections where lockdowns are easing. He said that, “in places that are opening… we’re not seeing this spike in cases,” and that, “We still see spikes in some areas that are, in fact, closed.” Texas is the best example of a giant spike in cases of infection after the state reopened with nearly 2,000 new cases per day.
In election news, the Trump campaign for reelection together with the Republican Party is mounting an effort to recruit 50,000 volunteers nationwide to “patrol” voting sites in November and root out what they say is “voter fraud.” Given that there is no documented widespread trend of voting fraud, the move is a clear attempt to intimidate Democratic voters and ensure Trump’s reelection. It is validated by a 2018 court ruling allowing such patrols to take place without court approvals. Meanwhile Democratic Presidential candidate and presumptive nominee Joe Biden appears to be pivoting to the left in order to win more support. Several news reports suggest he is moving past his initial platform to return to a pre-Trump era and instead embrace bolder, more progressive positions. The LA Times explained that, “The forcefully populist messaging could help Biden in two ways: sharpening the contrast with Trump, who still holds an edge with voters on economic issues, and attracting those progressives who may still be smarting over his defeat of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic nominating contest.”
And finally at a virtual gathering of the World Health Organization China has pledged $2 billion to fight the spread of Covid-19 in developing nations. President Xi Jinping addressed the WHO saying, “We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.” But tensions between the US and China clouded the proceedings as the US has frozen funding to the body. Trump has indicated that he would extend the freeze of funds. Ahead of the meeting China had appeared apprehensive of a WHO-led investigation into the origins of the virus but at the Monday meeting President Xi backed the probe.