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Pentagon Redirected Coronavirus Response Funds to Defense Contractors, WaPo Reports

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  • In March, Congress gave the Pentagon $1 billion under the Cares Act to help the country prepare and respond to the coronavirus. 
  • However, according to a Washington Post report, rather than using the money to build up the nation’s supply of medical equipment, the Pentagon funneled the majority of the funds to defense contractors and used it for making things like jet engine parts, body armor, and dress uniforms. It even gave funds to companies that had already received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • The report comes as healthcare officials continue to ask for more funding and medical equipment. Congress even criticized the Defense Department for not using the money as intended. 
  • Still, the Pentagon argues that the funds are crucial to niche manufacturers that have been impacted by the pandemic. It’s also asking for an additional $11 billion in the next stimulus package.

The Funds 

The Washington Post released a new report Tuesday highlighting how the Pentagon redirected taxpayer money meant for coronavirus response efforts.

Back in March, Congress gave the Pentagon $1 billion under the Cares Act to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.”  The fund was allocated under the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to compel U.S. companies to assist in producing items deemed essential to the national interest. 

After the money was allocated, however, the Department of Defense began reshaping how it would give out the funds in a way that deviated from what Congress had intended. Lawyers for the department concluded that the money could be used for defense production, including projects that had little to do with responding to the pandemic.

So rather than use that money to build up the nation’s supply of medical equipment, the report says the Pentagon funneled the majority of the funds to defense contractors and used it for making things like jet engine parts, body armor, and dress uniforms. 

For example, Firms like Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal received $183 million to “maintain the shipbuilding industry.” Tens of millions of dollars were given for space surveillance, drone and satellite technology.

According to the Post, $80 million was given to a Kansas aircraft parts business that was “suffering from the Boeing 737 Max groundings and the global shutdown of air travel,” and around $2 million was awarded to a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric. 

The newspaper also reported that at least 10 of the 30 companies that received assistance from the Defense Department had also received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. That program allocated billions of dollars in forgivable loans to the small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

This news made critics even more frustrated because it seemed to once again show how bailout funds have been handed out unfairly in certain sectors of the economy. 

For instance, the company Weber Metals received between $5 million and $10 million through the PPP in April to support 412 jobs, then it got an extra boost through a $25 million Department of Defense relief award in June. 

When pressed about this, a Defense Department spokesperson told the paper that the two bailout programs are not “in conflict or duplicative,” because a PPP loan does not make any directive with respect to supporting national defense.

Still, the Post notes that the Trump administration has done little to limit defense firms from accessing multiple bailout funds at once. He’s also not requiring the companies to refrain from layoffs as a condition of receiving the awards.

COVID Relief Money Still Needed 

This news comes as health officials across the U.S. continue to request funding for pandemic response efforts. In his Senate testimony just last week, CDC director Robert Redfield said states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. On top of that, reports of severe N95 mask shortages at hospitals around the country have continued to emerge. Both are precisely the types of issues that the money was meant to help address.

The Washington Post notes that the $1 billion is just a fraction of the $3 trillion in emergency spending that Congress approved earlier this year. Still, it shows how in many cases, the money is redirected to firms that weren’t originally targetted for assistance. 

It also shows how hard it is for Congres to track how this money is spent and intervene when changes are made. 

The Pentagon did initially plan to spend the bulk of the fund on medical supplies. In April, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that three-quarters would go toward medical resources and the rest to defense contractors.

Then in June, she told lawmakers during a congressional hearing that the department realized defense contractors had “critical needs as well.”

According to the report, DOD lawyers approved an arrangement where some $17 billion in Health and Human Services funding would be used for the medical industry instead, freeing up more money for defense contractors. Ultimately, the Pentagon presented a spending plan to Congress in June that set aside $688 million for the defense industry.

So essentially the Defense Department claims that the funds are crucial to niche manufacturers that need production from the economic instability caused by the pandemic. Like companies that make aircraft parts for military and commercial jets, for instance. They’ve been pretty impacted by the slowdown of air travel. 

Lord told the Post that her office had worked closely with Congress to meet the needs of both the medical and defense industries.

“We are thankful the Congress provided authorities and resources that enabled the [executive branch] to invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID,” she added.

“We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two.”

However, the Democratic-leading House Committee on Appropriations has made it clear that the Defense Department has not distributed the money as intended under the Cares Act.

The committee wrote in its report on the 2021 defense bill, “The Committee’s expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base).”

The Pentagon has countered that it has been fully transparent with Congress about its plans.  Still, the Post notes that the $1 billion in coronavirus funds came at a time when U.S. military spending was already near all-time highs.

According to the report, “the $686 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2019 is comparable to a typical year during the Cold War or the period shortly after 9/11, although it has declined somewhat as a percentage of the economy.”

It also notes that some of the major defense contractors have remained financially healthy despite all the pandemic related disruptions and have continued to pay stock dividends to investors.

Though its already given out millions, the Pentagon is requesting an additional  $11 billion in a potential new stimulus.

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

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All U.S. Adults Officially Eligible for COVID Vaccine

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  • As of Monday, every adult in the U.S. who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get one.
  • According to the CDC, more than 131 million people, roughly half of all American adults, have already gotten at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
  • The U.S. is currently on pace to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June, but experts worry that herd immunity could be complicated by vaccine hesitancy and when the shots are approved for children.
  • While vaccine hesitancy has decreased in recent months, it is still alarmingly high in some areas. Meanwhile, pending FDA approval, experts have said that they believe all children will not be able to be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022.

U.S. Opens Vaccine Eligibility

Adults in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who want a COVID-19 vaccine can now get one after the last few states opened eligibility Monday, officially meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 131 million people — half of all American adults — have already received at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, or about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.

The open eligibility deadline, which was initially set for May 1, comes as the vaccination rate has risen substantially in the last few months after a slow initial rollout. This month, the CDC said the U.S. has been administering an average of 3.2 million doses every day, up from around 2.5 million last month. 

At the current rate, the country is also on track to meet another accelerated goal of Biden’s: administering 200 million doses by his 100th day in office — a number that was originally set at 100 million.

Right now, the U.S. is on track to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June. 

Barriers to Herd Immunity

However, there are two major factors that will impact the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity: when the shots are approved for children and vaccine hesitancy.

Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the vaccine but only Pfizer’s version. Notably, Pfizer announced earlier this month that it applied for an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 to 15 eligible for its vaccine, and Moderna is set to release results from its trial on adolescents soon.

Experts worry the full administration could take a while, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday that he does not expect children of all ages to be eligible until the first quarter of 2022.

As far as vaccine hesitancy is concerned, polls have found that more people are willing to take the shot than before. Specifically, hesitancy has decreased in Black and Latino communities, where it was previously quite high.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from the end of last month found that 61% of adults said they were vaccinated or wanted to be — an increase of 55% from the month before, which was largely driven by the change of interest among Black Americans.

At the same time, the poll also found that fewer than half of Republicans said they have received at least one dose or intend to get it. Additionally, a recent analysis of data in nearly every U.S. county conducted by The New York Times found that both vaccination rates and willingness were lower on average in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.

“In more rural — and more Republican — areas, health officials said that supply is far exceeding demand,” the report noted. “And in interviews with more than two dozen state and county health officials […] most attributed low vaccination rates at least partly to hesitant conservative populations.”

Now, public health officials are also concerned that hesitancy will only get worse as officials investigate whether Johnson & Johnson’s shot is linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. Experts have said the risk is exceedingly low, even if some connection is found, including Dr. Fauci, who said Sunday that he believes federal regulators will likely resume J&J jabs later this week after they were paused last week in all 50 states. 

Still, many believe the bad press will likely spell trouble for vaccine-hesitant populations — not just for J&J but for all COVID vaccines — a fact that is especially worrisome as cases in the U.S. have spiked recently. Over the past seven days, the country has averaged 67,000 new cases a day, a significant jump from over 54,000 a month ago.

Others are more optimistic that the expanded eligibility will drive demand in states where it is low, and as a result, those numbers will drop.

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

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Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him

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  • Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
  • The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
  • The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
  • The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.

Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public

Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.

The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.

The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.

Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.

The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.

Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”

Renewed Backlash and Protests

Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman. 

“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday. 

Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.

“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.

“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”

Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.

“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”

Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.

However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)

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Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting

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  • Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
  • The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet. 
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
  • President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”

Eight Killed in Shooting

Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.

The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified. 

The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families. 

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

Gun Violence in the U.S.

This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year. 

The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.

Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”

“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference. 

“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.

“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter. 

Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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