Headlines: May 28, 2020
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The death toll from the coronavirus in the US has officially passed the grim milestone of 100,000. In comparison to the seasonal flu, which kills about 25,000 to 60,000 Americans over the course of a year, the Covid-19 virus has, even with stringent quarantine measures, killed more than 100,000 over just 4 months. The fatalities disproportionately impact communities of color, especially African Americans. Using the District of Columbia as an example, the Washington Post pointed out, “46 percent of residents are black, [and] 76 percent of those who have died of covid-19 were black. In contrast, although the city’s population is 37 percent white, whites account for only 11 percent of deaths.” President Donald Trump, who just months ago claimed the virus would “miraculously” be gone by April made a brief mention of the “very sad milestone” of 100,000 deaths on his Twitter feed. His son Eric Trump instead chose to celebrate the latest stock market bump, tweeting, “GREAT DAY for the DOW.”
In spite of the younger Trump’s excitement, new data show that the US economy is expected to shrink between 5-6% this year and that 2020 will be the worst year for the stock market in a decade. The latest Labor Department data show that an additional 2.1 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, bringing the 10-week total unemployed to more than 40 million. On the same day American Airlines announced it would be cutting 30% of its management and administrative staff. Reuters analyzed the CEO pay of several major companies that have furloughed or laid off workers and found that they continued to lavish their executives with massive compensation packages. The companies included Sonic, Build-a-Bear, Red Robin, and Signet Jewelers. Refusing to acknowledge the grim state of the economy, the Trump White House is breaking with decades of precedent in forgoing its traditional economic forecast for the year. The “mid-session review,” as it is called is a document that the White House has produced every year since the 1970s. According to anonymous White House officials Trump will simply not release the projections this year, likely because it will reflect poorly on his reelection. One of the officials speaking to the Washington Post justified the move saying, “we remain in complete accordance with the law as there is no statutory requirement to release this information, just precedent.”
Upset that Twitter dared to fact check his wildly false claims on voting-by-mail President Trump plans to sign an executive order this week targeting social media companies. Critics doubt Trump has the authority to unilaterally target companies. On Wednesday a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by a conservative group that claimed companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple, are politically biased against their views. Two of the 3 judges were appointed by Republican presidents. Meanwhile Arizona has launched a lawsuit against Google charging it with violating consumer protection laws in the state. The state claims that Google continues to track its Android phone users even if they turn off digital tracking.
Protests continued in Minneapolis for a second day over the police killing of a black man named George Floyd. Police fired tear gas and protesters burned a building and vandalized cars in what appeared to be scenes out of a war zone. The Washington Post explained that, “A group of officers stood in front of a nearby precinct and tried to disrupt the crowd with flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets.” The protests turned deadly as one man was killed at the hands of a store owner as per law enforcement authorities. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey has called on the National Guard to come into the city as the protests escalate. Demonstrations took place in other cities as well include Memphis, Tennessee and Los Angeles, California. In Los Angeles, where this program is based, hundreds of people gathered to link the death of Floyd to fatal killings of black men and women at the hands of LAPD officers. At one point the protesters blocked the 101 freeway for about 15 minutes during which several people surrounded a police cruiser. One man was on the cruiser as it drove off, leading him to fall to the ground. News outlets report that he was taken away by emergency responders. There were no arrests. The FBI and the Justice Department have announced that they are conducting a “robust criminal investigation” into Floyd’s killing and that it was a top priority.
Meanwhile The Daily Beast has reported on a group calling itself Cowboys for Trump that has been leading anti-lockdown protests. The group’s leader Couy Griffin calls himself a “super-fan” of Trump and said at a recent rally at a church in New Mexico, “I’ve come to a conclusion where the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” He reiterated his views to The Daily Beast saying to Democratic Governors Ralph Northam and Gretchen Whitmer, “You get to pick your poison: you either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope.” When asked if his group was recommending violence he said, “as far as I’m concerned, there’s not an option that’s not on the table.”
A new poll has found that Trump’s relentless criticism of voting by mail has had an impact on his supporters. The Reuters/Ipsos poll found Republicans were nearly twice as skeptical as Democrats over the accuracy of elections held by mail. But in an illustration of just how partisan Trump’s attacks are, his reelection campaign has demanded that Republican voters in the swing state of Pennsylvania be given options to vote by mail. Trump himself votes by mail. Meanwhile the Trump administration is making it impossible for new citizens to vote this November as it has suspended swearing-in ceremonies for those who have just passed their citizenship exams. Even as Trump claims it is time to end the lockdown, his selective shutdown of swearing-in ceremonies could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of new voters.
Larry Kramer, the fierce activist, author, and playwright died on Wednesday at the age of 84 from pneumonia. Kramer was best known for his powerful and defiant demand to end the AIDS epidemic through the prominent organization he founded, Act Up. Susan Sontag called him, “One of America’s most valuable troublemakers.” Kramer, whose provocative approach to activism earned him enemies and friends, lived with HIV and related illness for much of his life. He is survived by his husband David Webster.
In international news, Covid-19 is spreading rapidly through Latin America where fatalities from the disease now account for 40% of the global daily death toll. According to Bloomberg, “It is, without question, the new epicenter of coronavirus.” Brazil has the highest number of infections in Latin America and is second only to the US globally. About a thousand people per day are now dying from Covid-19 in Brazil. Experts warn that the disease has yet to peak in many nations. In Mexico, reports are emerging of the medical system’s weaknesses killing more people than necessary. According to the New York Times, “as the pandemic strikes, some patients are dying from neglect or from mistakes that are easily prevented.”
The African nation of South Sudan is struggling with its fragile peace deal as reports emerge of massacres by armed militants. Just months after a new government was formed to end a war that has claimed 400,000 lives, the new cycle of violence threatens to upend it. Among recent massacres that killed hundreds and destroyed villages were medics with the group Doctors Without Borders as well as some UN aid workers. Meanwhile one of South Sudan’s Vice Presidents Hussein Abdelbagi has tested positive for Covid-19 becoming the fifth top government official to have been infected.
Finally, China’s parliament has officially approved the sweeping new “national security” law to rein in dissent in Hong Kong. The anti-sedition laws are aimed at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement which has resumed its mass protests resulting in hundreds of arrests this week.