Headlines: May 21, 2020
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The Labor Department just released its latest figures on the numbers of Americans that applied for jobless benefits last week and found that 2.4 million more people reported having lost their jobs. This brings the US’s total official unemployment figure to more than 38 million over 9 weeks since the coronavirus pandemic began. Economists worry that many of the lost jobs will never return. The US Census Bureau also released figures based on its Household Pulse Survey finding that nearly half of American households have been financially impacted by the pandemic. Forty seven percent of respondents report that they or someone in their household has lost their job since March 13th. Those living in tourism-reliant states were particularly hard hit.
Several more polls illustrate how Americans are behaving during the pandemic. Gallup’s new survey found that 65% of Americans are now avoiding public places – that’s down from 71% a week ago. Only 55% of people are in complete isolation. Disturbingly, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that a quarter of Americans have little to no interest in getting vaccinated if a Covid-19 vaccine is developed. Indicating how President Donald Trump has corroded public trust in science and government institutions, “Some 36% of respondents said they would be less willing to take a vaccine if U.S. President Donald Trump said it was safe, compared with only 14% who would be more interested.” Many are worried about the speed at which the vaccine is being developed as the President continues to tout his vaccine project as “Operation Warp Speed.”
And, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that about 2/3rds of Americans do not expect their lives to return to normal for at least six months. About half of those polled say they would vote by mail in their state if that option was made available to them. President Trump has railed against voting by mail claiming it feeds into voter fraud and disproportionately helps Democrats. But Trump himself votes by mail and now, according to The Hill, “At least 32 million people have already received or will soon receive absentee ballot applications in the mail, either for upcoming primary elections or November’s general elections.” Utah Senator Mitt Romney pointed out that in his very Republican state, a majority vote by mail.
Scientific researchers in Philadelphia, using anonymous cell phone tracking data to predict the spread of the virus based on people’s movements, are warning of a second wave of infections in Southern States in particular. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there was, “no doubt” there will be a second wave of infections. Another new study examined what would have been the impact of going into lockdown sooner in the year and determined that 36,000 American lives could have been saved had quarantines begun just one week earlier. In fact, according to the New York Times, “if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided.” A Reuters analysis of Covid-19 death rates found that the impacts of the virus are partisan: “Death rates in Democratic areas are triple those in Republican ones.” Democratic voters tend to be more non-white and are comprised of communities who suffer disproportionately from systemic health discrimination. They also tend to live in denser urban areas, whereas Trump-supporting Republicans tend to live in far-flung, more remote, and suburban areas. There are some exceptions in the study where Republican counties have higher death rates, especially those that are home to meat-packing plants.
In California, a thousand pastors say they plan to defy their state’s safer-at-home orders and hold in-person services on May 31st. The pastors signed a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom dubbed a “Declaration of Essentiality,” that complained, “the restrictions have gone too far and for too long.” There have been numerous reports over the past two months of church gatherings turning into super-spreader events and congregants and their pastors contracting the disease and even dying from it.
As central Michigan continues to reel from record flooding this week and the breaching of two major dams, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she will seek legal recourse on the dam failures. Numerous homes downstream from the dams were flooded under more than 9 feet of water and more than 10,000 people have been evacuated. A major Dow Chemical plant in the flooded area is feared to be contaminating the flood waters with toxic chemicals. President Trump, who has repeatedly attacked Whitmer and encouraged his base to do so as well, plans to visit the state this week – not to show support for flood victims – but to visit a Ford plant. Trump has been routinely visiting such factories in swing states, disrupting local police and security services on the taxpayer dime in what critics say is an unethical use of public funds for what are essentially reelection campaign events.
At all his events Trump refuses to wear a mask. Ahead of his visit to the Ford plant, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel slammed this behavior demanding he wear a mask. Nessel wrote, “It is not just the policy of Ford, by virtue of the Governor’s Executive Orders. It is currently the law of this State.” In a CNN interview she said that the state could take action against any plant or facility that allows him in without a mask and that, “if he fails to wear a mask, he’s going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state.” In fact Ford has already shut down two of its plants after its workers tested positive for the disease – one of those plants is in Dearborn, Michigan. Several Michigan towns have been struck hard by the virus, and the racial disparities among those infected are particularly striking.
The US Supreme Court has just ruled that House Democrats cannot access secret Grand Jury evidence from the Special Counsel’s probe into the Trump campaign, handing Republicans a major victory. The US Senate on Thursday confirmed House Republican John Ratcliff in a vote of 49 to 44 to be Trump’s new Director of National Intelligence. He will replace acting DNI Richard Grenell. The vote for DNI is traditionally not a partisan one but under Trump such norms have been overturned. And the State Department’s new Acting Inspector General – replacing the ousted Steve Linick – is Stephen Akard. Akard is the head of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions and a political appointee. By retaining his position and serving as IG, he is essentially acting as a watchdog for himself – a deep conflict of interest.
Trump announced he is withdrawing the US from the Open Skies treaty – an arms control treaty – with Russia. It is the third such retreat by Trump from a major arms treaty. Open Skies was negotiated about 30 years ago and allows nations to fly over one another with detectors to ensure they are not preparing for war. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Trump was angered by a Russian flight directly over his Bedminster, N.J., golf estate in 2017.”
As global cases of coronavirus infections top 5 million, the World Health Organization this week reported the worst day for new infections worldwide. Nearly two thirds of that jump in infections came from only 4 nations including the US. Meanwhile as Brazil’s major metropolis São Paolo, becomes the latest Covid hotspot, Trump said he is considering a travel ban. He said, “I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people.” The irony that the US still had more cases than any other nation was lost on the President.
And finally in Asia, Cyclone Amphan has charged through India and Bangladesh killing at least 80 people and leaving thousands of people homeless. The storm is the most powerful ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal and is complicating coronavirus mitigation efforts. Elsewhere in Asia China just announced a sweeping new national security law for Hong Kong that aims to wrest control of the defiant city from the local legislature.