Headlines: May 8, 2020
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The Labor Department just released the nation’s official unemployment rate saying it reached at a high of 14.7% in April – which is the highest level since the Great Depression. About ten years’ worth of job increases vanished over the span of one month. Among the hardest hit sectors is ironically health care where more than 1 million workers have lost jobs. The three hardest-hit states in the nation are Kentucky, Hawaii, and Georgia. Many laid off workers report being unable to access unemployment benefits because the demand has been so high. The New York Times profiled one woman who lost her job on March 13th and spent 8 straight weeks desperately attempting to file for unemployment benefits. Now, the Trump administration and several state Governors are so eager to restart the economy in spite of the fact that the coronavirus threat fremains real that they have cut off benefits before people even received their first check. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has followed through on his threat to cut off unemployment benefits for those workers who are too frightened for their health to return to work. And the state of Ohio has asked employers to report to the government those workers whose jobs are still open but are refusing to return to work over fears of catching the virus.
A new poll found that nearly three quarters of all Americans – about 71% – are worried about reopening businesses too fast rather than too slow. That’s 83% of people who identify as Democrats and 60% of those who say they are Republican. A new Harvard study underscores the widespread fears of moving to normal too fast as it found that only 9 states were doing enough testing of their populations (and seeing those tests return with less than 10% positive results) in order to safely reopen. Those states are Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. President Trump’s new press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday said to a reporter that it was nonsensical to test everyone. However, President Trump and his White House staff are constantly being tested for Covid-19 and have moved to a daily testing schedule in light of the recent news that one of Trump’s personal valets has tested positive for the disease. On Friday a staffer with Vice President Mike Pence’s office also tested positive for the disease. So far more than 75,000 Americans have died from the disease with 1.2 million reported cases of infection.
The White House is currently mulling a second postponement of this year’s IRS tax filing deadline saying it wanted to offer American’s economic relief. The April 15th deadline was moved to July 15thand now Trump wants to move it to September, regardless of the serious impact on the government’s revenue flow. Meanwhile, more reporting on the Paycheck Protection Program’s small business loan fund has found that several US companies who received loans had months’ worth of cash on hand to tide over the economic slowdown. Reuters’ analysis found that, “Forty-one publicly traded companies that got the emergency aid already had enough to cover basic expenses for two months or more when they applied for the funds… even if their revenue dropped to zero. Thirty had three months or more of cash.” As if to make matters worse for deserving businesses, the government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) was caught cutting its loan application limit from $2 million to $150,000 and has effectively blocked all new applicants. The SBA received about $50 billion in funding from recent stimulus bills but says it is being overwhelmed by applications. Meanwhile, Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Ed Markey have sponsored a new bill that would ensure a $2,000 monthly stimulus income to most Americans during the pandemic. Those making $120,000 a year or less would receive the monthly stipend if the bill became law.
In other news, the Justice Department this week decided to drop all charges against Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in what is widely being viewed as a highly unusual and deeply partisan move. Flynn’s arrest and charges were among the first that led to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler tweeted, “This is outrageous! Flynn PLEADED GUILTY to lying to investigators. The evidence against him is overwhelming. Now, a politicized DOJ is dropping the case. The decision to overrule the special counsel is without precedent and warrants an immediate explanation.” Mr. Nadler has apparently summoned Attorney General William Barr to answer for the move in a Congressional hearing but because of the pandemic the hearing has been postponed. Mr. Barr made a stunning statement about the decision to absolve Mr. Flynn in an interview on CBS. And the US Supreme Court on Friday granted Trump’s request to temporarily shield all redacted grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation.
The high-profile case of the murder of a black jogger in Georgia has finally resulted in the arrests of the murder suspects. The father-son duo of Gregory and Travis McMichael was arrested on Thursday evening in the fatal shooting of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery more than two months after the incident – which was captured on video. After numerous politicians denounced the lack of state action, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp this week called the shooting of Arbery, “absolutely horrific.” But there are no plans by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to probe why local law enforcement failed to hold the suspected killers accountable. It was only because Arbery’s family and local and national activists have been demanding justice for Ahmaud’s death did the GBI take action. Meanwhile in Indianapolis protests against police brutality have continued after officers killed 3 people in succession – two black men and one pregnant white woman. The three killings follow the high profile police shooting of another black man named Sean Reed who live streamed police chasing him on Facebook.
Racist policing is also being seen in New York City where the NYPD faces accusations of targeting people of color for violating social distancing rules. Out of 40 people recently arrested for those violations, 35 were black, 4 were Latino, and one was white. New Yorkers have documented plenty of social distancing violations in white communities and even pointed out how police walked through a crowded park handing out masks to sunbathing white New Yorkers.
A 5-year old child in New York City has become the first to die from a rare toxic shock-like complication being linked to the coronavirus that appears to be targeting children. And a 57-year old man in immigration detention has become the first immigrant in US custody to die from the coronavirus. He was being held in a privately-run facility. And an undocumented immigrant named Nicholas Morales wrote about his harrowing experience of trying to leave the dangerous confines of detention in an op-ed in the LA Times on Friday.
A number of social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo have banned a controversial new documentary about the coronavirus called The Plandemic. The film features a woman named Judy Mikovits who, according to the Washington Post claimed that, “wealthy people intentionally spread the virus to increase vaccination rates and that wearing face masks is harmful.” She also makes wild and unprovable claims about the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.