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Viral Mask Disputes Continue as States Slow Reopening Plans

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  • As coronavirus cases across the country increase, more viral videos show mask confrontations escalating. 
  • At least 36 states have reported a rise in cases, with around 12 pausing or slowing reopening plans, especially ahead of the holiday weekend.
  • Meanwhile, the biopharmaceutical company Gilead has finally released its pricing plan for the drug remdesivir, which many believe sets the bar for the cost of future coronavirus treatments. 

Trader Joes Mask Incident 

Despite repeated calls from health experts for Americans to wear face masks in public, more and more videos from all over the country continue to surface of people going on tirades over mask requirements.

One incident that went viral this weekend involved a woman in North Hollywood, California who caused trouble at the grand opening of a Trader Joes on Friday. 

Viral video shows the shopper, with an empty handbasket, screaming at a store employee. It appears that she’s being asked to leave to store for not wearing a mask. “You f*cking b*itch!” she shouts as she slams the basket down. 

“You’re fucking Democratic pigs. All of you!” she adds before saying she was harassed by a man for not wearing a mask. 

According to another video from before the screaming ensued, a customer allegedly said, “F*ck you leave,” to her.

In a third clip, the woman screams at customers, saying she has a breathing problem. “My doctor will not let me wear a mask, so anyone harassing me to wear a mask, you guys are violating federal laws,” she says. 

However, a Facebook post from an alleged witness later suggested that the woman went to the store with the intention of making a scene. The witness pointed out that she went to the store with a mask on and took it off once inside. 

She never put anything in her basket, the Facebook user wrote, “Instead she was roaming the aisles and getting up in people’s faces, getting as close as possible,waiting for someone to inevitably tell her to put her mask back on.”

The user also expressed doubt in her claims of having a medical condition, noting that she must have waited in line for at least 30 minutes in the heat with her mask on to get inside.  

Fiesta Market Mask Incident 

Based on a video that is circulating online, it seems that a Fiesta Market in Dallas, Texas also recently found itself dealing with a similarly angry shopper. 

In this video, the shopper is seen throwing the grocery items out of her cart while also shouting obscenities. “Over a dumbass f*cking mask,” she says along with, “I don’t give a f*ck about Dallas and these dumb ass motherf*cking rules.” 

Especially following the Trader Joes incident, many are wondering if the shopper was looking to cause a scene because she actually had a mask in hand. 

Coronavirus Cases Surge

These mask disputes are continuing to emerge at a time when coronavirus cases across the country are rising. The United States broke another record Friday, reporting the highest number of new cases in a single day with at least 45,300 new infections.

As of now, at least 36 states have reported a rise in new cases. At least 12 have halted or rolled back on reopening plans like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, which are quickly becoming new epicenters for the virus.

Vice President Mike Pence has even postponed appearances in Arizona and Florida set for this week “out of an abundance of caution” due to the spikes. Pence is still expected to travel to those states to meet with governors and local officials, but the visits will no longer include campaign events.

With 4th of July weekend just around the corner, many are fearful of more potential spread, especially in Florida, after the state broke its single-day case record again Saturday with 9,585 new coronavirus cases. Another 8,530 new cases were recorded Sunday. 

In an effort to deal with the weekend rush, officials have ordered beaches in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach to be closed for the weekend. Miami- Dae County’s Mayor added parks into that order as well, warning that the closure could be extended if conditions don’t improve. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took his most drastic action yet in response to the post-reopening coronavirus surge, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.

Just a few hours later, Florida also shut down bars with an announcement from Halsey Beshears, Secretary of Department of Business & Professional Regulation.

Other states are moving to do this same in specific counties, especially in anticipation of the weekend festivities.

Drug Pricing 

At the same time, new reports about pricing for the drug remdesivir have emerged based on an open letter from Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day. 

Remdesivir is the first antiviral drug shown to effectively help treat coronavirus in a major clinical trial and it was authorized for emergency use in May. The benefits are limited of course, and it hasn’t lead to a statistically significant drop in deaths, but a government study found that remdesivir shortened coronavirus recovery time by 31% — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those given just usual care.

The biopharmaceutical company Gilead previously donated its supply of the drug to the U.S. and other countries, but people have been waiting to see what it could charge after that supply runs out. 

O’Day said government price will be $390 per dose, or $2,340 per patient for the shortest treatment course of five days and $4,290 for a longer treatment course of 10 days.

Nongovernment buyers will pay around $520 per dose for patients with private insurance, or approximately $3,120 for the shorter treatment and $5,720 for the longer treatment.

Around 90-95% of patients currently receive the shorter five-day treatment plan, O’Day told the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. is the only country for which Gilead has set tiered pricing. It will charge the government price in other developed nations with public insurance programs.

This pricing plan is a huge deal because many feel like Gilead is setting the bar for how future treatments will be priced. According to Politico, the numbers are in line with what many analysts had suggested. 

However, consumer advocacy groups criticized the pricing as high, particularly because Gilead received about $70 million in taxpayer dollars and assistance from the National Institutes of Health to run clinical trials. Others say the pricing is too high for a drug that has not been shown to reduce mortality.

O’Day, for his part, has said that shortening hospitalization saves about $12,000 per patient and said Gilead will have spent $1 billion on developing and making the drug by the end of this year. 

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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China Imposes Retaliatory Sanctions on US Officials Over Xinjiang Criticisms

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  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last week over the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
  • The decision was the latest escalation during a time of heightened tensions between the two nations over policies in Hong Kong, the trade war, and questions about sovereignty in the South China Sea, among other matters.
  • In response, China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
  • However, what exactly the Chinese sanctions will do is currently unclear as officials haven’t given specifics yet.

Sanctions and Counter Sanctions

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were sanctioned by China on Monday over their involvement in criticizing the nation’s actions in Xinjiang. Two other American officials faced sanctions as well for interfering in “China’s internal affairs,” as characterized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese sanctions were in retaliation over earlier sanctions the U.S. placed on Chinese officials last Thursday. The U.S. was able to do this following the passage of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act last month. That law allows the U.S. to place sanctions, in line with the Global Magnitsky Act, on officials who are involved in the ongoing repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

When the law was passed in mid-June, China warned that if the U.S. actually imposed any sanctions they would do the same in retaliation. after Thursday’s announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We urge the US to immediately rescind its wrong decision and stop making any remarks or moves that interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interests. The Chinese side will firmly fight back if the US obstinately pursues such agenda.”

Zhao Lijian, Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry speaking to reporters about US-imposed Sanctions. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Despite China’s threat, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain Chinese officials and organizations involved in Xinjiang on July 9. The sanctions include freezing the assets these officials hold in the U.S., as well as restricting the ability of the officials and their immediate family members’ to enter the U.S.

In a statement on July 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote, “The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.”

Out of the four named individuals in the sanctions, one stands out: Chen Quanguo. Chen is the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang and part of the Politburo and the highest-ranking Chinese official to ever be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. He first received infamy for his actions while doing the same job in Tibet from 2011-2016.

The Treasury Department named three other individuals who would have their assets frozen for helping Chen set up the surveillance and detention families in Xinjiang.

Additionally, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and the State Department added that officials who worked with the XPSB were also liable to have themselves and their families denied entry into the U.S.

When speaking about the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world.”

Tit-for-Tat Hostilities

However, these sanctions will likely end up being largely symbolic because these officials don’t travel to the U.S. in the first place. It’s also believed that their assets aren’t based in America but in China.

Even as a symbolic act, it still made China upset. On Monday, the country imposed its own sanctions against the four U.S. officials in retaliation, including the aforementioned Senators Cruz and Rubio.

Cruz was likely placed on this list for his work as part of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Two other officials part of that committee were also named, including Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sam Brownback, a lawyer who also serves as the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.,

Rubio was likely named over his co-sponsorship of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Interestingly though, China avoided issuing sanctions on the other co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ).

As far as what these sanctions will actually do, that’s a little unclear. So far, China hasn’t given any specifics as to what the penalties would be.

These recent sanctions are just the next step in ongoing tit-for-tats between the two countries. There’s an ongoing trade war, tensions over how Hong Kong is being treated by the mainland Chinese, issues over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and major problems with how the Chinese are treating ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The problems in Xinjiang are so bad, that there are pundits and experts calling it a cultural genocide.

Even outside of the US, China has increasingly been pressured to change course over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Al Jazeera) (NPR)

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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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