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President Trump Selects VP Mike Pence to Oversee U.S. Coronavirus Response

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  • President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence will now head U.S. response efforts to fight the coronavirus.
  • The decision that has been met with pushback from those citing Pence’s delayed response to a 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana.
  • In California, a case of “unknown origin” has seemingly appeared, suggesting a possible community spread of the virus and more undetected cases across the country.
  • Internationally, China is beginning to see a decrease in new cases and deaths, but other countries like South Korea, Iran, and Italy are seeing spikes.

Trump Places Pence in Charge of U.S. Response

At a press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. government’s coronavirus response team as the virus continues to spread internationally.

Trump said he was handing the role to the vice president because of Pence’s experience handling health crises in Indiana when he was governor, saying those experiences qualified him for this role.

“This team has been, at your direction, Mr. President, meeting every day since it was established,” Pence said at the announcement.

“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and help of the American people.” 

Pence also cited his response to a MERS—Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—outbreak in Indiana in 2014. Pence, however, was notably silent on a mention of a 2015 HIV outbreak in Austin, Indiana.

Pence’s response to that event has caused pushback with this latest announcement, with many citing his delayed response to that HIV outbreak. 

“He just revealed how ignorant he is about the situation,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who works for the World Health Organization, said of Trump’s appointment of Pence.

In that Indiana incident, 30 people were confirmed to have HIV after sharing needles to abuse the painkiller Opana. Health officials then asked Pence to supply the town with clean syringes to help prevent the outbreak.

At first, Pence refused because syringe exchange programs were illegal in Indiana and because he opposed any form of drug use. While he refused, though, cases continued to grow. After 29 days, Pence ultimately supplied those syringes as part of a needle exchange program. By that time, the number of cases had jumped to 80. 

There has also been a significant amount of criticism aimed at the Trump Administration’s handling of the coronavirus, with some critics pointing to the fact that Trump fired the U.S. pandemic response team back in 2018 to cut costs.

At Wednesday’s press conference, however, Trump defended the White House’s response during the outbreak, saying, “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low.”

Trump asked Congress Monday to release $2.5 billion to help fight the coronavirus. Half of that would then be directed as emergency funding. Then on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer followed up Trump’s proposal with an $8.5 billion counter-proposal. 

Possible Community Spread in the U.S.

Also on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement confirming the possibility that a patient with the coronavirus may have caught it via community spread.

In this context, community spread would result when a person becomes infected without having traveled abroad (for instance, to China) and without coming into contact with anyone confirmed to have contracted the virus. The patient in question has not been out of the country and has not knowingly been around anyone with the virus. 

If this case is later confirmed to be from community spread, that would suggest that the virus is currently circulating undetected in the U.S. since it is usually asymptomatic for the first 14 days. 

However, the CDC still said it’s also possible that this person may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected, meaning it is also possible that this might not actually be a case of community spread.

That person is a resident of Solano County, California.

Several counties in California have also declared local emergencies. Those include San Diego, Santa Clara, and Orange counties. San Francisco, a city-county, also declared an emergency on Wednesday despite having no confirmed cases. 

Of the decision, Mayor London Breed has said the move is an effort to be prepared for if/when the virus does hit the city.

Declaring an emergency in San Francisco, an international hub, will lead to several changes:

  • It helps clear up funds so that the city can be reimbursed later by the state and federal governments.
  • It allows staff such as public health nurses, case managers, and social workers to focus only on essential duties and focus on preparedness and prevention.
  • It allows officials to look at shelters and other opportunities to expand as well as to assess the city’s capacity to respond to an outbreak.

What’s Happening Across the World?

Globally, as of Thursday, more than 82,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus. More than 2,800 people have died. 

Similar to previous reports, the vast majority of cases and deaths still remain in China. Outside of the country, only about 4,000 people have been infected and about 60 have died from the coronavirus. 

On Thursday, China announced 433 new cases as well as 29 deaths, which is in line with their numbers from recent days. In fact, the country has actually begun to see a drop in the number of cases and deaths, which had previously spiked to more than 1,000 cases and 100 deaths a day. 

Outside of China, other countries are seeing a much different story as they work to contain fresh outbreaks. Over the past week, South Korea, Iran, and Italy have all seen a sharp spike in cases. 

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked schools on Thursday to shut down through March and until after spring break. Saudi Arabia has also banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Mecca.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “The advice we have received today is…there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.”

“And as a result, we have agreed today and initiated the…coronavirus emergency response plan,” he added.

As of right now, the COVID-19 outbreak has not been declared a pandemic. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (USA Today)

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US Records 4.8 million Job Gains in June, But Let’s Look at the Full Picture

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  • The jobs report for June showed that the U.S. gained 4.8 million jobs back last month and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% in May.
  • President Trump touted the report in a press conference, saying the U.S. is seeing record-breaking numbers and that economy was coming back strong.
  • However, as many pointed out, unemployment is still the highest its been since World War II and over 1 million people are still filing for unemployment every week.
  • Others also noted that the data from the report is from the week of June 12 and does not show the recent business closures made by governors in several states reimposing restrictions due to coronavirus spikes.
  • Economists have warned that the renewed closures in some states and the fact that many other states have slowed their planned reopenings will result in more layoffs.

June Jobs Report

The U.S. economy gained 4.8 million jobs in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% the month before, according to a monthly report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Thursday.

Following the publication of the June report, President Donald Trump touted the new numbers during a press conference Thursday morning.

“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back,” he said. “It’s coming back extremely strong.” 

“This is not just luck, what’s happening. This is a lot of talent,” he continued. “All of this incredible news is the result of historic actions my administration has taken working with our partners in Congress to rescue the U.S. economy.”

Trump also repeatedly claimed the job gains and employment numbers provided in the BLS report were record-breaking on multiple fronts.

However, many have noted that the only reason the U.S. is seeing record-breaking job gains is because it has experienced the record-breaking job losses. 

That fact has even been echoed by members of Trump’s administration, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who acknowledged that unemployment is still extremely high by historical standards at the press conference Thursday.

Throughout the pandemic, American’s have seen unemployment rates similar to that of the Great Depression. Even now, unemployment is still the highest its been since World War II.

What the Data Shows

There are still over 17 million American’s unemployed, according to the BLS report. While it is true that we gained 4.8 million jobs back last month, more than 1 million people filed for unemployment every week in June including this past week, which saw 1.4 new claims.

There are also a number of other indicators in the BLS data that show that American’s are hurting.

For example, while the number of people temporarily laid off decreased by 4.8 million, the number of permanent job losses actually increase last month, rising by over half a million to 2.9 million total. 

That suggests that many of the people going back to work are those who were furloughed during the shutdowns, meaning that the economy is simply getting back jobs it had temporarily lost, not adding or creating new jobs. 

That fact was also noted by numerous Twitter users who sought to point out the holes in the president’s remarks. 

“No, Trump did NOT create 4.8 million jobs in June – some people went back to their old jobs,” one user wrote.

Many other users also compared the unemployment rates of Black people and other people of color to that of white people, likely in response to Trump championing minority job growth while speaking at the press conference Thursday.

“African-American workers, really happily for me, made historic gains, with 400,000 jobs added last month alone and that’s a record,” he said. “Hispanic employment is up by 1.5 million jobs, a record by a lot.” 

However, the BLS data minority unemployment has consistently remained higher than white unemployment— especially for Black people. In fact, according to a report from Reuters, the gap in U.S. Black and white unemployment rates is widest its been five years.

“Jobless rates for both groups fell in June, but the rate for whites came down at a much faster rate. The white unemployment rate fell 2.3 percentage points to 10.1% from 12.4%, while the rate for Blacks dropped 1.4 points to 15.4% from 16.8%,” the report said.

According to the BLS data, unemployment fell from last both groups in general, the unemployment rate among Black men over 20 actually rose from May to June, growing from 15.5% to 16.3%

While the discrepancy between Black and white unemployment was the most significant, white unemployment is still quite a bit lower than Hispanic unemployment which was 14.5% last month, and Asian unemployment, which was 13.8%.

Those numbers appear to support the claims of numerous experts who have said that people of color have been disproportionately hurt by the economic crisis.

“Disproportionately, the layoffs have been in lower wage occupations, in lower wage positions,” Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution told the New York Times. “That has disproportionately affected African-Americans and Hispanics.”

Growing Concerns

While the BLS report does show the discrepancies between Trump’s rosy outlook and reality, it is only part of the picture.

There are several issues with the BLS data, and the agency has made readily apparent. It has repeatedly warned that the actual unemployment numbers are higher than what has been reported because of flaws in the data collection process. On Thursday, the BLS said that it believes the official unemployment rate for June is actually a whole percentage point higher.

But that is not the only problem. Arguably the biggest issue is that the data in this report was taken the week ending June 12, and since then, a number of states have shut down businesses again in response to the recent spikes in coronavirus cases.

Just in the last week, the governors of Florida and Texas have shut down bars and other commercial activities. California has stopped indoor restaurant dining and closed movie theaters in most major cities. Arizona has also shut down water parks, bars, and gyms.

Numerous other states have postponed their planned reopenings. As a result, some workers are now reportedly getting laid off for the second time. 

Those closures and delays are expected to grow as cases continue to surge. On Thursday, the U.S. reported a new record of 50,000 coronavirus cases on a single day. New cases have risen a whopping 50% in the last month, according to the Washington Post

With those numbers rising and states with huge economies like Texas and California reimposing restrictions, many economists are worried that Americans will see more layoffs.

“The virus drives the economics,” Betsey Stevenson, a member of former President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers told the Times. “We’re not going to have people going back to work. In fact, we’re going to see more people staying home.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)

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Jeffrey Epstein Confidante Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested

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  • Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and confidante of Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire Thursday morning.
  • Maxwell has long been accused of helping Epstein in an alleged scheme to sex traffic underage girls. 
  • She is being charged with: enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, two related conspiracy charges, and two perjury charges. 
  • According to the indictment against her, Maxwell would befriend young women for Epstein, knowing he would later abuse them. She would also allegedly help create and normalize the environment in which they were abused, and in some cases was present for their abuse. 
  • She has repeatedly denied the allegations against her and is expected to appear in front of a federal court Thursday afternoon.

Maxwell Arrested in New Hampshire

Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s long time associate who has been accused of helping him in his alleged sex trafficking schemes, was arrested on Thursday morning in New Hampshire.

Maxwell has been charged with six counts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, two related conspiracy charges, and two perjury charges. She has consistently denied allegations that she procured minors for Epstein.

Last year, Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and later died in his jail cell in August, with authorities ruling his death a suicide. Epstein, a wealthy financier who ran in powerful social circles, had long been accused of grooming underage girls for sex. In 2008, he was convicted of procuring a minor for prositution in Florida. 

Maxwell is a British socialite known to be Epstein’s close friend, and at one point, girlfriend. After he was charged in 2019, she seemingly went off the grid. News tabloids speculated on her whereabouts for months, as she was connected to the high profile case and implicated by many of Epstein’s alleged victims. 

“Maxwell assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18,” an unsealed indictment claims. “The victims were as young as 14 years old when they were groomed and abused by Maxwell and Epstein, both of whom knew that certain victims were in fact under the age of 18.”

In addition to this, the indictment claims that Maxwell attempted to conceal her crimes and lied when she was questioned about her conduct, including one instance where she was under oath in 2016. 

Details of Indictment

According to the indictment, Maxwell would attempt to befriend underage girls by asking them about their lives. She and Epstein would take them to the movies or on shopping trips. During these outings, the victims were either allegedly alone with Maxwell or Epstein, or with both of them at once.

“Having developed a rapport with a victim, Maxwell would try to normalize sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein,” the indictment continues. 

Apparently, having Maxwell in the room during these interactions “helped put the victims at ease because an adult woman was present.”

The indictment said Maxwell normalized abuse by massaging Epstein in front of victims, and then encouraging the victims to massage Epstein themselves. Many of those massages involved a minor being nude or partially nude, and then led to Epstein sexually abusing them. 

According to the indictment, these crimes happened at Epstein’s residences in New York, Palm Beach, New Mexico and London. While many have accused Maxwell of partaking in this behavior for a long time, this indictment specifically refers to crimes alleged to have happened between 1994 and 1997. 

Maxwell is expected to appear in front of a federal court Thursday afternoon.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Guardian) (Bloomberg)

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NYC Cuts $1 Billion From Police Budget as Protestors Occupy City Hall

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Photo by Reed Dunlea for Rolling Stone

  • New York’s City council announced that they were cutting $1 billion from the police budget⁠—a demand made by protesters who have been occupying the area in front of City Hall for over a week.
  • However, less than half of the proposed “cuts” actually cut money. Most of the funding being taken away from the police department is just being shifted to other departments.
  • Even then, the largest cut is to overtime pay, and DeBlasio has openly said he’s not sure if the cuts can be made if the protests continue. The biggest funding shift is to place school safety officers under the purview of the Education Department⁠—which already pays for the officers.
  • Numerous activists and city councilmembers condemned the plan, saying it falls way short, including the Council Speaker, who helped draft the proposal, and who blamed Mayor Bill De Blasio for the lacking legislation. 

New York City Council Announces Cuts

The New York City Council announced Tuesday that it was cutting $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) $6 billion operating budget, and moving some of those funds to education and social services.

The decision comes amid intensifying pressure for cities nationwide to reduce the amount of funding allocated to their police departments⁠— which represents the single highest budget expenditure for most major cities. 

While several cities have taken steps to scale back police funding at ⁠some level, many have been closely watching New York City, which is home to the largest and most expensive police force in the country.

With the city’s July 1 budget deadline looming, there has been increased pressure for officials to act. Over the last week, hundreds of protesters have been occupying the area outside of city hall— with many camping out overnight— to demand deeper cuts to the police budget.

The protest first started last Tuesday when about 100 people occupied City Hall Park, and since then, it has grown significantly. Some activists have reportedly said they will still stay after the budget deadline, but the general aim of the organizers who put together the demonstrations was to get the city council to cut the police budget by $1 billion.

NYPD Budget Cuts

While Tuesday’s announcement may sound like the city council gave the protesters exactly what they wanted, that is not the case for a number of reasons.

First of all, less than half the so-called “cuts” actually cut any funding. According to a press release from Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office, only $430 million will be actually cut from the department’s budget, while the $537 million will just be shifted to other departments.

Even then, some of the cuts are still up in the air. For example, the biggest single cut is more than $350 in overtime pay, but De Blasio has said that might not be possible if protests or other things that require a lot of police happen.

Just since George Floyd’s death on May 25, NYPD paid out $115 million in overtime.

There are also some major holes in the funding that’s being shifted to other departments. For example, over $400 million of funds they say they are shifting will be moved to school safety officers to be under the purview of the Department of Education. 

However, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the Education Department already funds that program and gives the Police Department $300 million a year to operate it. In other words, one of the biggest funding “shifts” is not a shift at all— it just means that the Education Department will now operate a program it was already funding.

Responses

Numerous people have responded to the announcement with anger, arguing that the move is simply smoke and mirrors and that the city is just shifting the money around without making any substantive cuts to the police budget.

“Defunding police means defunding police,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in a statement. “It does not mean budget tricks or funny math.”

“It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools. It does not mean counting overtime cuts as cuts, even as NYPD ignores every attempt by City Council to curb overtime spending and overspends on overtime anyways,” she continued.

“These proposed ‘cuts’ to the NYPD budget are a disingenuous illusion. This is not a victory. The fight to defund policing continues.”

A number of protest leaders and organizers echoed that sentiment, saying the proposal was not what they asked for.

“We are being gaslit,” said activist Jawanza James Williams. “This movement is about so much more than the $1 billion, and this means they don’t understand what we’re saying.”

Numerous city council members also voiced their dislike of the plan, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who helped lead the process in drafting the proposal.

“To everyone who is disappointed — and I know that there are many, many people who are disappointed that we could not go further, I am disappointed as well,” he said. “I wanted us to go deeper.”

“This is a budget process that involves the mayor who would not budge on these items,” Johnson added, placing the blame squarely on De Blasio.

Other council members also said the cuts did not go far enough, like Councilman Brad Lander, who voted no on the proposal and called it “more budget-dancing than meaningful reductions.”

However, at the same time, there were plenty of council members that opposed the cuts because they did not want the police budget to be reduced at all.

“We know what we’re doing and we know that what we’re doing will create a more violent city, and yet we’re doing it anyway,” said Councilman Joseph Borelli.

“Black folks want to be safe like everyone else, we just want to be respected,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller, co-chairman of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said. “We can’t allow folks from outside our community to lecture us about Black lives and what we need in our communities.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (The New York Post)

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