Headlines: May 7, 2020
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The latest Labor Department unemployment figures are in and, continuing the trend over the past two months, 3.2 million more Americans filed for jobless benefits. This brings the total number that have lost their jobs since the pandemic was declared to 33 million over 7 weeks. Most economists expect this number is an underestimate as it leaves out workers who don’t qualify for benefits or those who had trouble accessing benefits through their overwhelmed state agencies. The economic pain has not been evenly felt with a new poll finding that Latinos are almost twice as likely to lose their jobs as whites. The Washington Post/Ipsos poll found that of those surveyed 20% of Latinos had become unemployed and 16% of black respondents had as well. Among whites the number was 11%. The poll also found that a vast majority of laid off workers – 77% – expect to return to work after the economy reopened.
In spite of the record breaking devastation facing Americans, the stock market continues to remain buoyed indicating over and over again that the measures by which conventional economists tout the health of the economy mean little for the wellbeing of most Americans. According to The Hill, “The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 250 points… while the S&P 500 was up 38 points.” Meanwhile Democratic leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are readying an announcement for an ambitious economic relief package they say will help those who are hurting. In an interview on MSNBC Senate Minority leader Schumer explained new legislation that Democrats plan to unveil in the House.
President Trump, who is seeking payroll tax cuts rather than actual relief has insisted that the federal government spend half a billion dollars of taxpayer money to paint the US border wall with Mexico black. In spite of officials internally trying to convince the President that the paint was a waste of money Trump has decided that a black wall would be too hot to touch and was worth the money. The Washington Post explained that Trump has shared an anecdote about touching the surface of a black countertop that was hot from the sun as the basis for his desire.
Trump has moved one step closer to remaking the US Postal Service as part of yet another idea that he has long harbored. He named Louis DeJoy, a top GOP fundraiser and a businessman from North Carolina to the position of Postmaster General. Democratic Representative Gerald E. Connolly, chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service denounced the nomination saying DeJoy was a “partisan donor,” and that, “The Postal Service is in crisis and needs real leadership and someone with knowledge of the issues – This crony doesn’t cut it.” The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has warned that the US Postal Service was in financial peril and that it needed immediate intervention. Part of the problem is that more than a decade ago Congress forced the postal service to pre-fund 75 years’ worth of pension and retiree benefits – something that no other federally run agency is forced to do. A trade association of retailers that relies on USPS’s low-cost delivery charges has begun running ads against Trump’s idea to force the postal service to raise rates.
In other news, Associated Press published an exclusive of an internal document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that offers clear step-by-step guidelines on how states can reopen their economies and businesses. The White House shelved the report in line with Trump’s recent announcement that states were on their own to deal with the crisis. Connecticut’s Governor Ned Lamont demanded the federal government officially release the CDC guidelines saying to the President, “What have you got to hide? I think it would be very helpful for us.” The White House’s own guidelines are not nearly as specific as the CDC’s and the New York Times conducted a lengthy analysis showing that most states rushing to reopen businesses are not even following those. For example, according to the Times, “The White House said states should have a ‘downward trajectory’ of cases over a 14-day period before reopening. But most of the states reopening have actually had an increase of daily average cases in the past two weeks.”
As part of his push to weaken modest government support for health care Trump has moved to completely overturn the Affordable Care Act. The President told reporters on Wednesday, “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare.” His own Attorney General William Barr has been skeptical of that saying privately that some parts of the law ought to remain in place given the extreme healthcare needs of the public during a pandemic. Trump and the Republicans for years have been promising an alternative plan to the act they vociferously opposed but have yet to do so.
A new Harvard study has tied COVID-19 deaths to the effects of air pollution. The study is not complete and yet its controversial findings are rankling those in Washington. According to the Washington Post, “The researchers found that pollution emanating from everything from industrial smokestacks to household chimneys is making the worst pandemic in a century even more deadly.” Another study has concluded that there is a striking racialized component to the virus with those counties where African Americans live in disproportionate numbers being hardest hit. Fifty eight percent of all coronavirus deaths took place in black-dominated counties. And a third study about the spread of the virus nationwide has found that travelers from New York City to the rest of the country were the primary source of infections within the US. Trump has boasted that millions of lives were saved by cutting off travel from China to the US. But the virus was already in the US and cutting off travel within the US might have been far more effective.
Protests broke out overnight in Indianapolis after a black man was killed by police. Police apparently pursued the man who began livestreaming the chase on Facebook. Media outlets are reporting the victim as 21-year old Sean Reed. Meanwhile journalist Shaun King has launched a campaign calling on the US Justice Department to investigate the vigilante killing of a black man named Ahmaud Arbery in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia. Two white men are seen in a newly released video chasing down Arbery as he jogged, tackling him and killing him. Activists across the nation are being encouraged this weekend to #RunWithMaud as part of an awareness campaign about his killing.
In international news, more details are emerging about a failed armed attempt to capture Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that originated in the US. Two former Special Forces Americans launched what they called Operation Resolution at the behest of US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. The Washington Post said the plan, “could double as a screenplay for an episode of ‘Jack Ryan.’” The failed attempt was first reported by the Maduro government and is now being covered by US media. The Trump administration denies knowledge of it.