Headlines: May 26, 2020
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Christi Grimm, the Principal Deputy Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services testified at a virtual Congressional hearing with the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday Grimm had come under fire from President Donald Trump earlier this year for her report criticizing HHS’s shortages of medical equipment for hospitals as the coronavirus pandemic had begun to spread around the US. Trump had moved to replace Grimm from her position soon after she issued the report – part of a troubling pattern from the Trump administration to oust federal government watchdog officials. House Oversight Committee chair, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) opened the hearing saying, “it is our responsibility to protect inspectors general from political interference.” USA Today explained that, “The Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, criticized Democrats for holding a virtual briefing and defended the administration’s handling of Grimm’s report, saying any allegation Grimm was fired for retaliation was ‘incorrect.’”
The Trump administration has turned in a report to Congress about its plan for strategic national testing. The report, which Congress demanded, was turned in on the day of the deadline – this past Sunday. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the 81-page report which is meant to outline the federal government’s plan on tackling the pandemic through systematic testing, tracking, and treatment ahead of states reopening businesses. Lawmakers and state authorities have been demanding the plan for months but the Trump administration refused to release it to the public and instead followed the letter of the law in submitting it to four Congressional committees. The document, according to the Washington Post, “lists the testing targets each state reported to federal officials for May, totaling 12.9 million tests nationwide, rather than laying out goals the federal government is calling on each state to meet.” The plan also states that the federal government is planning on purchasing 100 million swab tests to distribute to states but has given itself until the end of the year to do so.
On Memorial Day weekend, as the New York Times memorialized some of the victims of Covid-19 in its pages, President Trump instead went golfing – and without a mask. He also retweeted a Fox News host’s criticism of his rival Joe Biden over the presidential candidate’s decision to wear a mask during a Memorial Day event with his wife. Trump continued his Twitter tirade attacking numerous female politicians such as Nancy Pelosi and Stacey Abrams and also former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. And, he threatened to pull the Republican National Convention from its planned location of Charlotte, North Carolina saying that the Democratic Governor Ryan Cooper was in a, “shut down mood.” Trump continued his unhinged behavior by going on the offensive against the state of California for taking on the task of sending every voter in the state a mail-in ballot for the general election. Trump, who votes by mail, bizarrely claimed, “The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history.” He fantasized, “People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and ‘force’ people to sign. Also, forge names. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”
An examination of Trump’s European travel ban enacted on March 11th seems to have had the opposite effect in spreading the virus to the US. The Washington Post described how Trump’s abrupt announcement of a travel ban sparked a massive rush for Americans to travel back home under the wire, causing huge crowds at airports as thousands of people jostled past one another and, “a policy intended to block the pathogen’s entry into the United States instead delivered one final viral infusion.” Further, “As those exposed travelers fanned out into U.S. cities and suburbs, they became part of an influx from Europe that went unchecked for weeks and helped to seal the country’s coronavirus fate.” Scientists have confirmed that the viral strain spreading through the US originated from Europe, not China.
In other news, thousands of Americans flocked to beaches and waterfronts over the weekend, ignoring social distancing rules. Local authorities were stunned as photos from a pool party at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri went viral. Crowded gatherings also took place in Houston, Texas and Daytona Beach, Florida. Huffington Post reported from a busy Gulf Shores beach in Alabama where beachgoers expressed little concern over the life-threatening pandemic. One man said, “if we get it, we get it,” while another woman said, “Everybody has got to go somehow. I don’t want to die but, I mean, if that’s what God has in store for my life, then that’s OK.” Meanwhile in New York City, the national epicenter of Covid infections and deaths, hospitals are preparing for a second wave of infections. There are reports of growing numbers of New Yorkers migrating away from the city they once loved as one paper described it as, “a shadow of its pre-pandemic normal.”
As the stock market surged on Tuesday, White House Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett came under fire for referring to people as “human capital stock” in an interview. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed his comments saying, “An ugly term w ugly history, but for many powerful ppl it‘s their most honest view of workers: human stock. By their logic, the moment a person stops being useful to profit motive (retirement, health, etc) they are a liability. That’s the system we live in.” As if to underscore her comments, workers in the meat industry have returned to work this week even as more than ten thousand have been infected. The big meat packing companies Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS are hard hit but have forced workers back after successfully lobbying the Trump administration to declare meat packing an “essential industry.”
In other news, video of a white police officer in Minneapolis killing a black man in broad daylight has sparked new accusations of racist police brutality. Echoing the last words of Eric Garner in New York, the victim, who was identified as George Floyd, repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as the officer knelt on his neck for well over five minutes. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said, “It is sickening to watch this black man be killed while helplessly begging for help.” Multiple witnesses demanded the officer stop kneeling on Floyd’s neck saying he was clearly dying. The FBI has now reportedly begun an investigation as activists plan a protest. On the same day as the shocking video of Floyd’s killing, news broke of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park threatening to call the police on a black man who was birdwatching and had asked her to comply with park rules by leashing her dog. The woman, named Amy Cooper, said on camera while dialing 9-11, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” She has now had her dog taken away from her, lost her job and been publicly shamed. And, lawyers for the family of Ahmaud Arbery say that the federal government is investigating the white vigilante killing in Georgia of a 25-year old black jogger as a “possible hate crime.”
Finally, Brazil has recorded the highest single-day death toll from Covid-19 in the world. According to Reuters, on Monday, “Brazil registered 807 deaths over the last 24 hours, whereas 620 died in the United States.” The Trump administration has now moved ahead by two days a travel ban from Brazil for non-US citizens. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has followed Trump’s playbook in downplaying the virus, ignoring social distancing, blaming the media, and touting unproven and dangerous drugs as cures.