- At the top of Wednesday’s coronavirus press briefing, President Trump announced plans to double U.S military resources in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to ramp up efforts against drug cartels.
- The operation is also viewed as part of increased pushes to add strain on Venezuela’s leader Nicolás Maduro, who the U.S does not recognize as the country’s legitimate president.
- CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing during the announcement after considering it off-topic, with some reporters criticizing Trump for abusing the pandemic briefings for other political measures.
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the U.S. is enhancing its focus on drug cartels and counternarcotics operations in an unusual start to the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefings.
“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there’s a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit this situation for their own gain, and we must not let that happen. We will never let that happen,” the President said.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. was doubling military resources in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to combat the flow of illicit drugs.
“Included in the force package are Navy destroyers and combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft and elements of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade,” Esper added.
President Trump explained that the U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments, and provide other support for eradication efforts. He also said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.
Pressure on Venezuela
The timing of the announcement came as a bit of a surprise since the coronavirus briefings are usually dedicated to the pandemic response efforts, but officials drew a link between the spreading virus and the new military operation.
Esper said criminal organizations are trying to capitalize on the fact that governments are distracted by the outbreak. He suggested that deploying the military vessels and ramping up pressure on cartels is also meant to put added strain on Venezuela’s embattled leader Nicolás Maduro.
The United States and dozens of other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president after considering Maduro’s 2018 re-election a sham. Still, Maduro has remained in power, backed by Venezuela’s military as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.
“Corrupt actors, like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela, rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power,” Esper said. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro’s criminal control over the country.”
But experts say the enhanced mission has been months in the making as the U.S. increases efforts to oust Maduro. Last week, the U.S. indicted him on charges including drug trafficking while offering a $15 million reward for his arrest and conviction. And on Tuesday, the Trump administration even offered to begin lifting sanctions on the country if the opposition and members of Maduro’s Socialist Party form an interim government without him.
After President Trump announced his new anti-drug efforts, Jorge Rodriguez, Venezuela’s information minister, said the operation was an attempt to divert attention from the U.S. government’s “erratic handling of the coronavirus crisis.” However, he added, “if it is a serious effort to stop drug trafficking, we are willing to collaborate.”
Networks Turn Away During Announcement
According to Deadline, CNN and MSNBC each turned their broadcasts away as Trump made the announcement. It was reported that the networks found it off-topic, especially as Trump began to talk about the construction of the wall along the southern border.
CNN’s John King seemed annoyed by the timing of the announcement, accusing Trump of abusing the briefings for other measures during a time when American’s are learning that 200,000 could die from the virus.
“When you are an incumbent president, to bring that into a briefing in the middle of a pandemic, the day after the incredibly sobering news the administration rightfully delivered to the American people yesterday, is shameless and it’s political.”
“The president has other opportunities to do this. There are 24 hours in a day. He has all the buildings of the government still at his disposal,” he continued.
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd shared similar criticism, saying “If President Trump had important coronavirus news to tell us, it must not have trumped this.”
Both networks eventually returned to the briefing once the focus shifted solely to the pandemic, however, each broke away again before it ended.
Some networks and journalists have been debating in recent weeks whether or not they should be airing the briefings live. They argue that at times, the President has used rhetoric seen in his campaign rallies and often dispells inaccurate information that is impossible to fact check in real-time.
On the other side, some have said cutting briefings amounts to censorship. The networks have already faced backlash from White House officials and the Republican National Comittee for previous times they have cut away.
See what others are saying: (Deadline) (Bloomberg) (Reuters)
US Records 4.8 million Job Gains in June, But Let’s Look at the Full Picture
- 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.”
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)
Jeffrey Epstein Confidante Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested
- 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)
NYC Cuts $1 Billion From Police Budget as Protestors Occupy City Hall
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.
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.”