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20 States Hold Protests to Reopen the Economy, Many Governors Want More Testing First

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  • Following a handful of protests last week, demonstrators in 20 states held protests calling for leaders to reopen the economy and put employees back to work.
  • At one Colorado demonstration, two medical workers blocked lines of protesters in vehicles from approaching the state capital.
  • President Donald has issued support for these protesters, saying that some states’ governors have gone too far with stay-at-home orders.
  • Governors, in turn, have criticized and urged the Trump Administration to provide more testing materials so they can accurately gauge if they can start to reopen their economies.

Medical Workers Standoff With Colorado Protests

Demonstrators in multiple states held protests against state stay-at-home orders over the weekend, and in some cases, there were met with counter-protesters. 

Such was the case in Denver, where two medical workers stood at a crosswalk and blocked lines of vehicles filled with protesters aiming to clog the city streets around Colorado’s capital. 

“This is a free country!” one woman shouted at one of the medical workers as he stood in front of her truck. “Go to China if you want Communism! Go to China! You can go to work, why can’t I go to work?” 

That specific interaction later went viral, and “go to China” trended on Twitter Monday morning. 

Colorado’s protest invoked the same name used in similar protest in Michigan last week: Operation Gridlock. In these protests, designed to literally gridlock the streets around state capitol buildings, demonstrators have called for an end to lockdown measures and for nonessential businesses to reopen.

Since Michigan and a handful of other smaller state protests last week, at least 20 states have held gatherings aimed at relaxing coronavirus-related measures, including Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Virgina, Tennessee, and Arizona.

Like in Michigan, a lot of people remained in their cars, socially distancing themselves from others; however, others also left their cars and marched in crowds, disregarding social distancing orders. 

In Texas, footage shows small children participating in such marches and even parents carrying infants. At that march, which was held on Saturday, protesters at times chanted, “Let us work!” and “Fire Fauci!”

“I think about the fear that was instilled in me from the initial shock of the outbreak, and it was too much,” protester Nathanael Curling told the Austin American-Statesman. “I don’t even get sick hardly anyways. I’m not going to catch the virus. I’m not rubbing up on people, coughing on people in public. You know, I’m not worried about transmitting a virus that’s just like another flu.” 

Health experts have repeatedly told people that this virus isn’t like the seasonal flu. This is because not only is this virus completely new and therefore easily spread, there also is no vaccine at the moment. 

Many people, however, are growing increasingly frustrated after losing their jobs or being furloughed until restrictions ease. For a lot of them, that means not being able to pay this month’s rent or other bills. As of Thursday, 22 million people have lost their jobs, wiping out a decade of job gains in the matter of a month.

But like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has argued, protests like this might only cause stay-at-home orders to be extended if cities or states experience spikes afterward.

Trump Supports Protesters

Despite his current issue of a stay-at-home recommendation until April 30, President Donald Trump appeared to support protesters on Friday.

In the first of a series of tweets, he called to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Following that, Trump tweeted similar messages for Michigan and Virginia.

The president’s seeming support for such protests was met with intense criticism from Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D), who said the president’s tweets had the potential to incite violence. 

“The president’s statements this morning encourage illegal and dangerous acts,” Inslee said “He is putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19. His unhinged rantings and calls for people to “liberate” states could also lead to violence. We’ve seen it before.” 

“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies – even while his own administration says the virus is real, it is deadly and we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” he added. 

On Sunday, at the direction of a reporter, Trump was sympathetic to those protesters’ cause and falsely said that all demonstrators had maintained social distancing. 

“If people feel that way, you’re allowed to protest,” he said. “I mean, they feel that way. I watched the protest, and they were all six feet apart. I mean, it was a very orderly group of people, but you know, some have gone too far. Some governors have gone too far. Some of the things that have happened are maybe not so appropriate, and I think in the end, it’s not going to matter because we’re starting to open up our states, and I think they’re going to open up very well. 

States Begin to Reopen

In fact, some states have already begun to issue preliminary rollbacks on closures. 

Notably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) gave the green light for some cities and counties to reopen beaches with restricted hours. While people aren’t allowed to sunbathe, they can still walk, swim and even fish. Once those beaches were opened on Saturday people flocked. In Jacksonville, aerial footage shows the beach flooded with visitors.

DeSantis’ move has also received some pushback because the same day, Florida recorded a record number of cases with 1,400 within 24 hours. 

In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz (D) signed an executive order reopening outdoor recreational businesses like golf courses and bait shops.

On Saturday, New York, Connectiticut, and New Jersey announced they would begin reopening marinas and boatyards.

Texas is also expected to lift some restrictions later this week by allowing what Governor Greb Abbott (R) calls “retail to-go,” which allows nonessential businesses to deliver or have customers pick up merchandise, though customers won’t be allowed to shop in store.

Trump and Governors Spar Over Testing

Still, things are moving slowly, and even with some of these reopenings, governors have criticized Trump for not doing enough to help states when it comes to testing. That includes providing equipment like swabs, reagents, and other chemical solutions required to run tests. 

The U.S. has been averaging about 146,000 tests a day, but state officials and public health experts have argued that number needs to be in the several hundred thousand or even millions each day. Last week, researchers at Harvard estimated that, in order to ease restrictions, testing needed to triple its current pace of testing. 

At the same time, though, Trump has said that governors are responsible for testing, also saying, “The United States has the most robust, advanced, and accurate testing system in anywhere in the world.”

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) later pushed back against those claims on CNN, saying, “To try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing, and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren’t doing our job, is just absolutely false.

“Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from all across the world,” he added.

Virginia Governor and physician Ralph Northam (D) also criticized Trump’s response on CNN.

“We’ve been fighting for testing,” he said. “It’s not a straightforward test. We don’t even have enough swabs, believe it or not. And we’re ramping that up. But for the national level to say we have what we need, and really to have no guidance to the state levels is just irresponsible because we’re not there yet.” 

Others like Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) have argued that only the federal government has the decision to tell the FDA to prioritize companies that are“putting a slightly different formula together.” 

DeWine went on to say that if the FDA would do that, he could probably double or even triple testing in Ohio.

Following concerns like that, Trump announced Sunday that the federal government was preparing millions of more swabs, though he stopped short of saying he would provide reagents. 

“We also are going to be using, and we’re preparing to use the Defense Production Act to increase swab production in one U.S. facility by over 20 million additional swabs per month,” Trump said. “We’ve had a little difficulty with one. So we’re going to call in — as we have in the past, as you know, we’re calling in the Defense Production Act, and we’ll be getting swabs very easily. Swabs are easy.” 

“We have millions coming in,” Trump later added while defending himself and hitting back against critical governors. “They’re very easy. In all fairness, governors could get them themselves. But we are going to do it. We’ll work with the governors and if they can’t do it we’ll do it.” 

On Monday morning, Trump accused Democratic governors of playing “a very dangerous political game.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (The Hill)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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Employers Can Opt-Out of Birth Control Coverage, SCOTUS Rules

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  • In a Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that employers can opt-out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees. Exceptions had initially been made to houses of worship, but a 2018 Trump Administration rule expanded that to include most employers, ranging from large public businesses to universities.
  • The court sided with Trump, ruling that his administration had the authority to provide religious exemptions.
  • Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the two dissenting votes, claiming it could harm healthcare access for women in the workforce.

SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration on Wednesday morning, ruling that employers can opt-out of providing birth control coverage on religious and moral grounds

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees, though exemptions were made for houses of worship who could refuse for religious reasons. Exemptions grew in 2014 when Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case ruling that certain closely held corporations, like family businesses, could also refuse birth control coverage if it contradicted their religious beliefs. 

Wednesday’s ruling pertained to a 2018 Trump administration policy that would allow most employers – ranging from small private businesses, to universities, to large public companies – to opt-out of contraception coverage for religious reasons. That rule was challenged by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which claimed they would have to cover contraception costs to those who lost coverage under the Trump administration. 

The court’s decision responded to two cases: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 ruling, they sided with Trump. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”

“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” he added.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a concurring opinion, claimed that the administration was “required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).”

Ginsberg’s Dissent

This could leave as many as 126,000 women without access to contraception within a year. According to Planned Parenthood, nine out of ten women will seek access to contraception at some point in their lives. While birth control is often used as a contraceptive, it is also used for a variety of other health reasons, including regulating menstrual cycles, lowering risks for various forms of cancer, and managing migraines, endometriosis and other ailments. 

“This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” Ginsberg wrote in the dissent. 

Ginsberg claimed that the court’s usually balanced approach of not allowing “the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs” was thrown away. 

“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests,” she added.

Responses to Ruling

She was not alone in critiquing the rulings. The National Women’s Law Center called it “invasive, archaic, and dangerous.” The Center fears the ruling could have a larger impact on low wage workers, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 

Dr. Daniel Grossman, the head of a research group at the University of California, San Francisco called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health also condemned the decision.

“No employer is welcome into the exam room when I talk to patients about their contraception options, why should they be able to dictate the method from their corner office?” he asked. 

On the other side, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council applauded the Supreme Court. 

“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that,” Perkins said in a statement. “We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Associate Press) (New York Times)

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