By Robert A. Vella
We kickoff this Monday in May with a focus on four related topics.
The public health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic continue to develop as the world tries desperately to salvage its neoliberal socioeconomic system which is not only widely seen as unsustainable (both environmentally and socially), but is also being critiqued as the perfect breeding ground for deadly contagions like COVID-19. CBS’ 60 Minutes aired three excellent segments on this problem last night including an intriguing interview with climate change journalist Bill McKibben all of which I highly recommend.
President Trump, faced with mounting criticism and public distrust, is characteristically lashing-out in all directions in an obvious attempt to shift blame onto others. Following the launch of his rhetorical war against China (which accused it of a coronavirus conspiracy), and his political threats hurled at former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden (which are also meritless, see: Barr Says He Doesn’t Expect Criminal Probe Into Obama or Biden), Trump is now attacking his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which has prompted a sharp rebuttal from the CDC). While his blame game will surely fire-up his base, it will do nothing to alleviate the larger political problems Trump has created for himself by refusing to take the pandemic seriously and refusing to mobilize the federal government to combat it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is coming under intense scrutiny for Trump’s firing of Inspector General Steve Linick who was investigating him for ethics violations and possibly for a shady arms sale to Saudi Arabia which bypassed Congress.
As the weight of opinion polls and analytical research indicate big trouble for the GOP’s election hopes this year, a curious dynamic is unfolding within the party. Republican state officials and other insiders are urging President Trump to prioritize the ongoing public health crisis as an election strategy. However, the party’s national leadership is pursuing the opposite strategy – so much so that they are conceding public support to the Democrats and are instead pumping money into voter suppression and intimidation efforts designed to reduce participation and turnout in the 2020 election. As I’ve said many times before, the GOP hates democracy.
According to the Bing COVID-19 Tracker, the number of global cases has reached 4,710,614. Active cases hit 2,663,247, which is 36,125 higher than yesterday, as well as 57% of the total of confirmed cases worldwide. Recovered cases rose by 38,659 to 1,732,344. For the time being, active cases and recovered cases are in balance. Fatal cases hit 315,023, a one-day gain of 3,202, and are now 6.7% of the world’s confirmed case total.
Total COVID-19 confirmed cases in the United States have hit 1,516,343, which is 33% of the world’s total. They topped 1.5 million a day ago. The number of active cases increased by 10,432 to 1,145,219, and recovered cases hit 281,192, higher by 8,667.
Fatal cases in America have hit 89,932, a gain of 512 in a day. They are 29% of the world’s total and 6% of U.S. confirmed cases. Deaths should reach 90,000 in the next day.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said that the United States would have a slow recovery from what he called the “biggest shock that the economy’s had in living memory,” suggesting that a full rebound from virus-induced lockdowns could take until the end of 2021.
In an interview on “60 Minutes,” the CBS program, Mr. Powell reiterated that both Congress and the central bank may need to do more to help workers and businesses make it through the sudden and sharp slump caused by efforts to contain the coronavirus.
“This economy will recover; it may take a while,” Mr. Powell said. “It may take a period of time, it could stretch through the end of next year, we really don’t know.”
What will be the new normals after the coronavirus pandemic? History shows the aftermath of plagues have brought about radical transformations for societies. So what changes could come in the aftermath of COVID-19? – an interview with Bill McKibben.
“A fundamental role of government is the safety and security of its people,” said Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of homeland security. “To me that means you have to maintain a certain base level so that, when an event like a pandemic manifests itself, you can quickly activate what you have and you have already in place a system and plan for what the federal government is going to do and what the states are going to do.”
That has not been the case this spring. The nation is reaping the effects of decades of denigration of government and also from a steady squeeze on the resources needed to shore up the domestic parts of the executive branch.
This hollowing out has been going on for years as a gridlocked Congress preferred continuing resolutions and budgetary caps to hardheaded decisions about vulnerable governmental infrastructure and leaders did little to address structural weaknesses.
The problems have grown worse in the past three years. Trump was elected having never served in government or the military. That was one reason he appealed to many of those who backed him. He came to Washington deeply suspicious of what he branded the “deep state.” Promising to drain the swamp, he has vilified career civil servants and the institutions of government now called upon to perform at the highest levels.
Trump’s blame game
A senior official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday offered a pointed rebuke of White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s scathing criticism of the top health agency in the latest sign of growing tension between the CDC and the White House.
In each case, Mr. Pompeo or other department officials denied wrongdoing, and the secretary moved on unscathed. But his record is now coming under fresh scrutiny after President Trump told Congress on Friday night that he was firing the State Department inspector general — at Mr. Pompeo’s private urging, a White House official said.
The inspector general, Steve A. Linick, who leads hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste at the State Department, had begun an inquiry into Mr. Pompeo’s possible misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife, according to Democratic aides. That included walking the dog, picking up dry-cleaning and making restaurant reservations, one said — an echo of the whistle-blower complaint from last year.
The details of Mr. Linick’s investigation are not clear, and it may be unrelated to the previous allegations. But Democrats and other critics of Mr. Pompeo say the cloud of accusations shows a pattern of abuse of taxpayer money — one that may mean lawmakers will be less willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt as congressional Democrats begin an investigation into Mr. Linick’s dismissal.
GOP election hopes
Donald Trump has made clear he will attack Joe Biden unmercifully in order to ensure the election is a choice between him and Joe Biden — rather than an up-or-down vote on the president’s handling of the coronavirus.
Scott Walker has a different view, at least when it comes to Trump’s chances in the all-important battleground of Wisconsin.
“I think it still boils down to a referendum on the president. They’ll beat up on Biden and they’ll raise some concerns,” said the former two-term Republican governor of Wisconsin, who lost his seat in 2018. But in the end, if people felt good about their health and the state of the economy, Trump will probably carry Wisconsin. If not, Walker said, “it’s much more difficult” for the president.
Walker is not alone among swing-state Republicans in his assessment of the president’s political prospects. Interviews with nearly a dozen former governors, members of Congress, and other current and former party leaders revealed widespread apprehension about Trump’s standing six months out from the election.
Many fret that Trump’s hopes are now hitched to the pandemic; others point to demographic changes in once-reliably red states and to the challenge of running against a hard-to-define Democratic opponent who appeals to a wide swath of voters. The concerns give voice to an assortment of recent battleground state polling showing Trump struggling against Biden.