Saturday, March 28, 2020

Editorial: Trump Botches Virus Response

Republicans have been accusing Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus pandemic, because the Grand Oligarch Party desperately hopes to avoid accountability for the Trump administration’s botching of the response to the crisis.

Trump isn’t responsible for the virus coming out of China, but he is responsible for his administration’s incompetent reaction since Chinese authorities told the United Nations’ World Health Organization about the epidemic on Dec. 31.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed the potential impact of the virus with Chinese health authorities on Jan. 3 and US intelligence officials warned Trump and Congress about the global danger posed by the coronavirus in early January, the Washington Post reported March 20, but the White House waited weeks before they begin implementing public health measures that might have slowed the spread of the virus and Trump continued to minimize the threat posed by the virus in his tweets and public statements.

“Inside the White House, Trump’s advisers struggled to get him to take the virus seriously, according to multiple officials with knowledge of meetings among those advisers and with the president,” the Post reported. But Trump resisted and continued to assure Americans that the coronavirus would never run rampant as it had in other countries.

“I think it’s going to work out fine,” Trump said on Feb. 19. “I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus.”
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted five days later. “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Trump boasts that on Feb. 3 (two months after US officials learned about the threat) he banned foreigners who had been to China in the previous 14 days from entering US, but the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the US on Jan. 21 and federal authorities were unwilling and/or unable to ramp up the nation’s testing capabilities.

The World Health Organization in mid-January adopted a test developed by German scientists, which might have allowed the US to start widespread testing in January. Instead, US authorities tried to develop their own tests, which were flawed and delayed distribution.

After a historic drop in the stock market in late February, Trump finally set up a task force to address the virus on Feb. 26, and put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the effort, but he continued to minimize the threat, which he called a Democratic “hoax.” Two days later, Trump predicted a “miracle” would make the virus disappear.

Trump finally declared a national emergency on March 13, but he said, “I don’t take any responsibility at all,” for the federal response for the outbreak. Instead, he blamed the Obama administration for the delay in conducting wide-scale testing. Trump apparently referred to the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 — during the George W. Bush administration — which enabled the Food and Drug Administration to require labs to get agency permission to perform certain tests during a public health emergency. But the reasons the Trump administration blocked the UN-approved tests remain unclear.

Three days later, on March 16 — nearly three months after first receiving warnings from his intelligence officials — Trump finally admitted that all was not well: “I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic,” he said as he admitted, “[the virus is] not under control for any place in the world.” He endorsed “social distancing” for at least 15 days to keep the virus from spreading, but left it to governors and local officials to order people to stay at home. And he suggested people might need to go back to work March 30 to reopen the economy, regardless of whether the contagion is under control.

Trump could order factories converted to produce protective gear and ventilators under the Defense Production Act to prepare for an expected rush of patients, but he has refused to follow through, reportedly because he doesn’t want to look like a socialist.

Trump also refused to release protective gear and ventilators from a federal stockpile, arguing that “We’re not a shipping clerk,” and told governors to find their own face masks and ventilators.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also lectured Chinese authorities about being more transparent about the virus, which would be laughable, coming from the secretive and press-bashing Trump administration, if the matter weren’t so serious.

Congress passed two coronavirus relief packages, the first $8.3 billion bill providing funding for research and development of vaccines, the CDC, FDA and Agency for International Development and state and local public health efforts; the second bill, costing $105 billion, provides for free tests (when you can get them) and ordered two weeks of paid sick leave for some workers who are idled because of the pandemic and up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for parents who are caring for children whose schools have closed.

At press time, Democrats were balking at a third stimulus bill, estimated to cost $1.8 trillion, in which Senate Republicans proposed to give Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin broad discretion to secretly dole out $500 billion in grants and loans to bail out corporations, many of which used tax relief in 2018 to buy back their own stock rather than invest the windfall in expanding their businesses.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been a leader in the Democratic response to the virus emergency. Warren on March 17 rolled out eight conditions she argued should be placed on any company that receives government funds to help stay afloat during the pandemic, including a permanent ban on stock buybacks, a three-year ban on dividends or executive bonuses, a $15 minimum wage and setting aside board seats for employee-elected representatives. She also calls on cancelling $10,000 in student loan debt.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., staked out a similar position. And in the days since, Trump and some Republican senators have indicated they would back restrictions on bailouts going to stock buybacks.

“To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives, and laying off workers,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.

Joe Biden, who announced March 23 he would take a more active role in criticizing Trump’s response to the health crisis, embraced a proposal by Schumer, Warren and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) to increase Social Security benefits by $200 a month for all recipients over the next two years. Biden also supported the student debt cancellation proposal.

Pelosi on March 23 unveiled House Democrats’ stimulus package, which includes funding for states to carry out a mandate to ensure America can hold its November elections as scheduled in a safe manner, even if the coronavirus continues to be a threat.

The Democrats include $4 billion to help states implement voting by mail. The bill would require that states offer 15 days of in-person early voting, allow registered voters to cast ballots by mail without an excuse, and mail every registered voter a ballot in case of an emergency like the current one. Additionally, the bill mandates that online and same-day voter registration be made available in every state.

Republicans likely will be hostile to the effort to make it easier to vote, but Democrats should hold the line and demand that any further stimulus measures guarantee that citizens have the right to cast a vote in November. — JMC

Update: The coronavirus relief bill Congress passed Friday, March 27, did not go as far as Democrats hoped, but it will deliver cash payments to practically everyone in America, expand unemployment insurance for people who lose their jobs due to the pandemic and prevent people from losing their jobs in the first place, so that their employers remain their main source of income, Arthur Delaney reported at HuffPost

The bill creates a $350 billion “paycheck protection program” that essentially pays small businesses not to lay off their workers for the duration of the outbreak. The government will lend money to firms to cover their payroll and other costs for eight weeks, and then forgive the loan if the firms avoid layoffs. 

The unemployment compensation, by contrast, amounts to about $260 billion, according to an estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, while the rebate payments to households amount to $290 billion. 

Employers who lose business or are ordered to shut down because of the outbreak can also get a refundable tax credit for part of their payroll costs. 

The bill included $400 million to help states pay for voting by mail, but Senate Republicans refused to agree to the requirement that states allow voters to cast ballots by mail without an excuse. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats agreed to the compromise bill to hurry the processing of assistance to working families who are stressed by the coronavirus emergency but she noted Democrats would push for the vote-by-mail requirement and other provisions in future bills.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2020

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Copyright © 2020 The Progressive Populist

Friday, March 27, 2020

Selections from the April 15, 2020 issue

COVER/Marshall Auerback 
What will the post-coronavirus global economy look like?

Trump botches virus response

Coronavirus pandemic reveals just how devastating the greed of for-profit insurance has become


Pastors as politicians

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Build strength close to home

Affordable Care Act marks 10th birthday in Trump’s pandemic;
Hospitals scramble to face COVID-19, FEMA can’t say how many masks are on the way;
Hospitals fear there aren’t enough ventilators for COVID patients;
Democratic voe still like Medicare for All;
Democratic voters still like Medicare for All;
Trump gets a boost in polls, but why?
White nationalists seek to weaponize COVID-19 pandemic;
Thinking outside the box: Giving Steven Mnuchin a $500 billion debit card;
Maybe don't give William Barr the power to take a chainsaw to habeas corpus;
Climate and policy experts call for green stimulus bill to put Americans back to work;
Child abuse cases increase;
Ky. legislature rushes stricter voter ID bill through lege ...

Time to think our way out of our ills

Vote your heart

We’re all in this together

The establishment fights back against Sanders

Vulnerable and forgotten: The homeless and COVID-19

OSHA needs a prescription for safety

Open a window, America

When a virus and virulent racial supremacy collide

Trump’s brand is chaos

We’re off

Coronavirus and the ‘shock doctrine’

Churchill vs. Vaudeville: Who would you prefer in a crisis? 

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Lessons from the Twilight Zone: Feds need to back up state and local governments

Barring the door against coronavirus 

There’s more than corona out there

Back to politics as usual

COVID-19 and the real Italian lesson

Reclaiming vacant homes

Marching against oblivion: International Women’s Day in Mexico City

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
On diversity

Legacy music

Joe Biden: Pro and con

The day of the hunters: Must we burn Blumhouse? 

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

and more ...

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Editorial: Biden Rises Back to Life

Bernie Sanders perhaps got a little heady after his success in the first three Democratic primary contests. After battling Pete Buttigieg to a draw in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders appeared to hit his stride when he roared out of Nevada with a head of steam, based on a 40% plurality in a seven-candidate race, which got him 24 national delegates, but after five years calling for a revolution that would break up the Democratic establishment, he shouldn’t have been surprised when the establishment fought back.

But Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., was The Man who brought Joe Biden back to life with his endorsement three days before the South Carolina primary, and that was the sign black voters, who form the base of the state’s Democratic Party, needed as they helped Biden get 48% of the primary vote in South Carolina for the former vice president’s first win. That set up a showdown on March 3, when 14 states voted on “Super Tuesday.”

Exit polls showed majorities of Democratic voters in every Super Tuesday state said they would prefer a nominee who can beat Trump over one with whom they agree on other issues. Clyburn’s advice resonated, along with the endorsements of former rivals Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke on the eve of Super Tuesday, and they apparently helped Democratic voters conclude that Biden had the best chance of beating Trump and helping downballot Democratic candidates. Biden won Super Tuesday with 63% of Alabama primary voters, 53.3% in Virginia, 43% in North Carolina, 41.7% in Tennessee, 40.5% in Arkansas, 38.7% in Oklahoma, 38.6% in Minnesota, 34.5% in Texas, 34% in Maine and 33.5% in Massachusetts. Bernie won Colorado with 36.8%, Utah with 32.8% and his home state of Vermont with 50.7%. A week after the election, California was still being counted, but Sanders led with 34%. However, on March 10 Biden won primaries in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho.

Sanders had to be disappointed in the failure of younger voters to turn out en masse for the Super Tuesday primaries. Participation by voters younger than 30 didn’t exceed 20% in any state, according to an analysis of exit polls.

Given the huge turnout, including youth turnout, in the 2018 midterms, many had predicted, or at least hoped, that the trend would continue during the 2020 Democratic primaries. But so far, at least, there is no clear evidence of greater participation by the young people that Sanders has said he can motivate to get out to the polls.

Young voters were an important part of the coalition that propelled Sanders to victory in California, where Sanders led Biden by 34% to 27.2%. But those under age 30, who voted for Sanders over Biden by 61% to 7%, made up just 11% of the electorate, according to exit polls. Another 35% were between the ages of 45 and 64, and they split between Biden (27%) and Sanders (26%), while voters who were 65 or older were 30% of the electorate and they voted for Biden over Sanders, 38% to 18%.

In Texas, voters under 30 voted for Sanders over Biden by a margin of 58% to 13%, but just 15% of voters were younger than 30, while 38% were between 45 and 64, and they voted for Biden over Sanders 42% to 21%, and 25% were 65 and older, and those seniors voted for Biden over Sanders by 43% to 16%.

Even in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, voters younger than 30 made up just 11% of Super Tuesday voters, according to exit polls. Nearly 70% of voters were over age 45.

Health care remains an important issue for Democratic voters, and exit polls showed a majority of voters in every Democratic primary so far supporting a government-run plan that replaces private health insurance. Support for a government insurance plan ranged from 50% in Massachusetts and South Carolina to 58% in Michigan and Missouri, 63% in Texas, 69% in Maine and 73% in Vermont.

But even if Democrats regain the Senate majority, they have been told they can’t expect a Medicare for All bill to pass Congress anytime soon because Republicans would block it with a filibuster in the Senate, which normally would require 60 votes to overcome. That would require Democrats to oust 13 Republicans. Including special elections in Arizona and Georgia, Republicans will be defending 23 seats in November, but flipping 13 seats is on the far side of unlikely. However, if Democrats pick up three seats and win the vice presidency, they would regain control of the Senate. If they keep control of the House — and if the Supreme Court declares the ACA unconstitutional — Democrats could pass most of the elements of the Medicare expansion through the Senate with a simple majority by using the budget reconciliation process.

Democrats used the reconciliation process to amend the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and Republicans used the process to try to repeal the ACA (and to pass their massive tax cut for billionaires and corporations) in 2017.

Democrats might not be able to pass all of the provisions of the Medicare for All bills sponsored by Sanders in the Senate and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in the House through reconciliation, but they could lower the eligibility age for Medicare and eliminate cost sharing, as amendments to the Social Security Act. Biden would rather reinforce the ACA and add the public option for Medicare, but the Supreme Court could force the Democrats’ hand by overturning Obamacare after the election, as Republicans have demanded.

Democrats need to flip at least three Senate seats (if they also win the vice presidency) to regain control of the Senate. Recent polls by Public Policy Polling have found at least four Republican incumbent senators trailing Democratic challengers by four or more points, including Sara Gideon leading Sen. Susan Collins 47-43 in Maine, Mark Kelly leading Sen. Martha McSally 47-42 in Arizona, Cal Cunningham leading Sen. Thom Tillis 46-41 in North Carolina and John Hickenlooper leading Sen. Cory Gardner 51-38 in Colorado. Two-term Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who had earlier ruled out a Senate race when he was running for president, gave Democrats hope March 9 when he launched a challenge of Sen. Steve Daines.

Democrats also are targeting Sen. Jodi Ernst, R-Iowa; an open seat in Kansas, where polarizing vote suppressor Kris Kobach, who lost a governor’s race in 2018, is the likely Republican candidate; two seats in Georgia, where Democrats can be competitive if they manage to stay on voter rolls; and challenges of “Moscow Mitch” McConnell in Kentucky, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Sen. John Cornyn in Texas.

Democratic Sen. Doug Jones faces long odds in winning re-election in Trump-loving Alabama, but he might get some help from a seven-candidate Republican primary fight that set up a March 31 runoff between former Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is trying to win back the seat he gave up to disappoint Trump as attorney general, and Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who has become a MAGA acolyte and let the first round with 33.39% of the vote, followed by Sessions with 31.65%. Republicans also are targeting Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, who led his Republican challenger by six points in a February Quinnipiac poll.

The Democratic presidential race isn’t over yet — less than half of the states have been heard from —but if the Sanders team wants to overtake Biden they’ll need to do a better job getting their supporters to the polls in the remaining 27 states. And please, don’t say anything you can’t walk back after the nomination is decided. Whichever side wins will need the support of the rival campaign to beat Trump in the fall. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2020

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Copyright © 2020 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the April 1, 2020 issue

COVER/Marshall Allen Caroline Chen, J. David McSwane and Lexi Churchill, ProPublica
US hospitals say they’re ready for coronavirus. Their infection control violations say otherwise. 

Biden rises back to life

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
‘If everyone lit just one little candle ...’


Poverty and the arts

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Pondering a sick extinction? 

You’ll never guess whose people were messing with Florida elections;
Sanders didn’t expand his base;
Republicans resume smearing Hunter Biden;
‘Sanctity of life’ means something different in Alabama;
Pentagon vacancies hit record high;
Trump still sucking up taxpayer dollars from Secret Service;
Anti-choice epublican reality TV star leverages Trump pardon in attempt to unseat John Lewis ...

Paltry research funding

Some are just cons, others are dangerous to democracy

Mike Pence is the worst person to lead a coronavirus response

From Katrina to COVID-19: Governing is no game

We are all vulnerable

A simple prescription for a longer life: Equality

An epidemic of insecurity

Let’s get real about Medicare for All

Check Chinese contamination of medical equipment and prescription drugs

Uncle Joe is on top, and that’s no malarkey

JASON SIBERT  Redirect arms spending into affordable housing

Race, again, in North Carolina

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Retroactive denial, or, I changed my mind

B-minus won’t beat an epidemic 

Once again, indigenous census quandry

Searching for the great moderate

Coronavirus and the health of the body politic

Struggling for shelter: Interviewing Dominique Walker

Asia struggles with coronavirus

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Prejudential black history

Was boomer music better?

Indies, inclusivity, equality

An open letter to the Holy Father from Frank Lingo

and more ...