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HeadlinesMay 18, 2020

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U.S. Coronavirus Deaths on Track to Surpass 100,000 by June with Most States Partially Reopened 

May 18, 2020

There are now over 4.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 315,000 known deaths around the world. Here in the United States, official cases are nearing 1.5 million, with almost 90,000 deaths, representing over one-quarter of all fatalities and almost one-third of the confirmed cases — this despite the U.S. having less than 5% of the world’s population.

Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tweeted Friday the U.S. is on track to exceed 100,000 coronavirus deaths by June 1. Forty-eight states will be at least partially reopened this week as health experts continue to warn of the danger of a hasty end to lockdowns.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed Saturday new COVID-19 cases are predominantly coming from people leaving their homes to shop, exercise or socialize. He also announced New York will join neighboring New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware in partially reopening beaches for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Meanwhile, in California, Orange County’s coronavirus cases continue to mount, with over 4,000 cases reported. A new study published in the journal Health Affairs finds that places without any social distancing face 35 times more potential coronavirus cases.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Texas, with 1,800 new infections reported on Saturday — the highest single-day increase in Texas so far. Governor Greg Abbott started reopening the state in early May, allowing shops, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries to resume business. He is expected to announce further measures today.

House Dems Probe Firing of State Dept. Watchdog, Pass $3 Trillion Stimulus Bill

May 18, 2020

In Washington, D.C., congressional Democrats are launching a probe into President Trump’s ousting of State Department watchdog Steve Linick Friday. Congressmember Eliot Engel said Linick was fired as an “unlawful act of retaliation” after he opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Linick was reportedly looking into whether Pompeo used a political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife, including walking his dog and taking care of his dry cleaning.

Trump has removed at least four watchdogs in the past six weeks, including Health and Human Services watchdog Christi Grimm, whom he removed earlier this month after her office reported shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals. And in April, Trump ousted acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had been tapped to oversee the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, as well as the intelligence community’s inspector general Michael Atkinson, who alerted lawmakers to the whistleblower complaint that triggered Trump’s impeachment proceedings.

The House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package Friday. The bill would make testing and treatment of COVID-19 available to anyone who needs it, and includes funding for vote-by-mail, measures to release more vulnerable prisoners and increased housing protections. But progressives say the bill doesn’t go far enough, leaving out key proposals including the Paycheck Guarantee Act and recurring monthly stimulus checks of $2,000, as called for by Senator Bernie Sanders and some Democratic lawmakers. Both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have declared the bill “dead on arrival.”

Trump Names Ex-Pharma Exec and Army General to Lead Coronavirus Vaccine Effort

May 18, 2020

On Friday, Trump named Moncef Slaoui, a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline, and Army General Gustave Perna to lead the effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, which Trump has dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.” Some have raised a red flag over a possible conflict of interest as Slaoui holds $10 million in stock options at biotech company Moderna, Inc., which recently received $480 million in federal funding for coronavirus vaccine trials.

CDC Hits Back After WH Trade Adviser Criticism: CDC Director Is “Appointed by President Trump”

May 18, 2020

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for “let[ting] the country down” on testing Sunday. Navarro made the remarks on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In response, the CDC told CNN, “We should remind Mr. Navarro that the CDC is a federal agency part of the administration. The CDC director is an appointed position, and Dr. Redfield was appointed by President Trump. If there is criticism of the CDC, ultimately Mr. Navarro is being critical of the president.”

On Thursday, the White House released a six-page document outlining basic steps local governments could take to reopen their economies. The document’s release came after the White House shelved a more detailed — and much more strict — 68-page planning document produced by the CDC, requested by White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, and leaked to the media last week.

Obama Slams Trump Admin Response to Crisis: “A Lot of Them Aren’t Even Pretending to Be in Charge.”

May 18, 2020

President Obama criticized Trump’s response to the pandemic during two virtual commencement addresses over the weekend. This is Obama speaking Saturday to graduates of 74 historically Black colleges and universities.

Barack Obama: “More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally, torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Belgian Medical Workers Stage Protests Against Gov’t Response to Pandemic

May 18, 2020

In Belgium, medical staff staged a dramatic silent protest Saturday, as Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès made a visit to the Saint-Pierre hospital in Brussels. Doctors and nurses outside the hospital turned their backs to the street as Wilmès arrived by car. Medical workers are protesting against a move to recruit staff members they say are not qualified to help carry out nursing duties. They are also calling for increased recognition of their work.

Belgium has the highest per capita death rate in the world, with just over 9,000 deaths, representing 78 deaths per 100,000 people, though some say the high number could be due to its reporting system, which counts deaths of non-hospitalized people. In the town of Liège, doctors and nurses held a socially distanced flash mob to draw attention to their demands. This is a nurse speaking about the action.

Manu Delhaxhe: “This action is a bit to make people here in Belgium aware of the work we do with working conditions which are not always great, with patients who are not in very good shape. Personally, we are proud to be nurses.”

Italy Opens Up Businesses, Starts Holding Public Masses as Part of “Calculated Risk”

May 18, 2020

Italy, once the hardest-hit European nation, is further easing its lockdown measures. Shops, hair salons, restaurants and bars reopened for business today. Italy will also allow travelers from within Europe to enter without quarantining beginning in June. The Vatican and churches throughout Italy began holding public Masses again under new social distancing guidelines. This is Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte: “We are facing a calculated risk — in all conscience, I have to admit it very clearly — that the epidemiological curve could go upward. Our principles and values stay the same — first of all, the protection of life and the citizens’ health. These are nonnegotiable principles, but we have to face them in a different way in this second phase. We are facing the risk, and we have to accept it, because, otherwise, we will never get started again.”

Italy announced just over 150 coronavirus deaths Saturday — the lowest number of daily fatalities in over two months. Meanwhile, arrests were made at anti-lockdown protests in Germany, Britain and Poland over the weekend, as demonstrations against government restrictions mount. Spain and Israel also saw anti-lockdown protests over the weekend.

India Extends Lockdown as Coronavirus Grips Mumbai

May 18, 2020

In India, the nationwide coronavirus lockdown has been extended for another two weeks. Mumbai is feeling the most devastating impacts of the pandemic as the city of 20 million accounts for 20% of India’s COVID-19 cases and nearly 25% of the deaths. Hospitals are overflowing with patients, and social distancing is practically impossible in the city’s vast slum districts. India now has over 96,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths. 

Japan’s Economy in Recession; NHK Video Shows How Quickly COVID-19 Spreads in Social Settings

May 18, 2020

Japan’s economy is officially in recession and is expected to get worse as the coronavirus continues to cause massive disruptions to markets around the world. In other news from Japan, the country’s public broadcaster NHK has created a viral video showing how quickly coronavirus can spread in a social setting. Experimenters had 10 subjects share a buffet-style meal for a half an hour, after one of them secretly painted their hand with an invisible substance that fluoresces when exposed to ultraviolet light. At the end of the experiment a black light was turned on, revealing the substance had spread to several dishes, the hands of everyone at the table, and three of the participants’ faces.

Brazil’s Coronavirus Cases Soar as Toll on Indigenous Communities Raises Alarm

May 18, 2020

Brazil saw thousands of new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, surpassing both Italy and Spain to become the fourth most affected country in the world. On Friday, Brazil’s health minister quit after just a few weeks on the job. Nelson Teich gave no reason for his abrupt resignation, but he reportedly refused to support Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s promotion of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. The drug was touted by Bolsonaro’s U.S. ally, President Trump, but studies show it confers no benefit on coronavirus patients and has potentially deadly side effects. Last month, Bolsonaro fired his previous health minister for recommending social distancing measures.

Bolsonaro continues to dismiss COVID-19 as a “little flu,” and on Sunday he joined a packed rally of supporters in Brasília, pulling children out of the crowd for photographs in violation of public health advice. Bolsonaro wore a face mask during Sunday’s rally — unlike in other recent public gatherings.

Meanwhile, a new study finds over 400 cases of COVID-19 and 90 deaths among Indigenous people in Brazil, raising fears of a rapid spread in communities with little access to healthcare. This is a nurse in an Indigenous community outside the city of Manaus, speaking at a funeral for Chief Messias Kokama, who died of COVID-19.

Vanderlecia Ortega dos Santos: “Here, we still have this dream of quality education and health, because we have not yet been provided with assistance. His death is also representative of what’s lacking, a lack of healthcare, of what’s missing for those Indigenous who live in the city.”

Chile Prepares for Mass COVID Deaths; Reports of Secret Burials in Nicaragua Suggest Possible Gov’t Cover-Up

May 18, 2020

In Chile, gravediggers have prepared thousands of burial plots in the capital Santiago, as Chile recorded a massive spike in coronavirus cases over the last week. Chile’s Health Ministry on Sunday reported the total number of confirmed cases has risen to over 43,700 with a death toll of 450, triggering the government to enforce a mandatory lockdown in Santiago starting this past Friday, affecting 7 million people.

In Nicaragua, there are reports of clandestine burials for people who died of “severe respiratory issues,” prompting fear that the government of Daniel Ortega is hiding the real impact of COVID-19. 

Kenya Closes Borders over Fears of Medical Equipment and Personnel Shortages

May 18, 2020

Kenya has closed its borders with Somalia and Tanzania to stem the spread of the coronavirus as confirmed cases in the country are nearing 900 and health officials say they don’t have the necessary equipment or medical personnel to cope with the outbreak. 

Afghan Leaders Sign Power-Sharing Deal, Ending Months-Long Political Stalemate

May 18, 2020

In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal Sunday, putting an end to a months-long leadership crisis after both men declared victory in last September’s elections. Under the deal, Abdullah will lead peace talks with the Taliban. This comes as the country is still reeling after a brutal attack on a maternity ward in Kabul which killed at least 24 people, including babies, mothers and nurses.

Pandemic Puts Children at Increased Risk of Disease, Preventable Death, and Violence

May 18, 2020

The United Nations Children’s Fund warns millions of children are at risk of preventable deaths due to the pandemic’s strain on healthcare systems. One UNICEF model shows as many as 6,000 young children in low- and middle-income nations could die each day, as families lose access to nutritious food and hospitals collapse under a flood of COVID-19 patients, cutting off access to routine healthcare.

In the United States, new data show a steep drop in reported cases of child abuse — but experts think that conceals a surge of abuse taking place inside the home. With children largely out of sight during the lockdown, there’s little opportunity for teachers, coaches and social workers to report telltale signs of abuse.

Israel’s Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu Form Unity Government

May 18, 2020

Israel swore in a new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz Sunday, after the two former rivals agreed to a power-sharing deal last month. They will take turns serving 18 months each as prime minister, starting with Netanyahu. Neither man was able to win enough votes to secure the leadership after three separate elections over the past year. As he was sworn in, Netanyahu repeated his pledge to further annex the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu is under indictment for corruption and is scheduled to stand trial later this month.

In other news from Israel, the Chinese ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, was found dead in his home Sunday. China is sending a team to investigate, though both Israeli and Chinese authorities say the death is believed to be from natural causes.

Egyptian Newspaper Editor Arrested in Latest Attack on Independent Media

May 18, 2020

In Egypt, the editor-in-chief of the independent media outlet Mada Masr was released on bail Sunday, after her arrest for allegedly “filming a military facility” without a license. Lina Attalah was arrested outside the notorious Tora Prison, where she was interviewing Laila Soueif, a prominent human rights activist and mother of the jailed pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah. Abd El-Fattah has spent 35 days on hunger strike, demanding family visits and access to his lawyer amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Carbon Dioxide Levels at Record High Despite Emissions Drop from COVID-19

May 18, 2020

In climate news, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached their highest level in human history and continue to climb despite a modest decrease in carbon emissions due to the pandemic. With huge swaths of the world’s economy on lockdown, global emissions are expected to decline this year by a record 8%. But climate scientists say that’s not nearly enough to flatten the so-called Keeling Curve of carbon dioxide levels, now at about 415 parts per million. 2020 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, beating out 2016. 

Fugitive Rwandan Leader, Accused of Financing Genocide, Arrested in France

May 18, 2020

French police have arrested a man long accused of helping to finance the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. Eighty-four-year-old Félicien Kabuga was arrested in a raid near Paris on Saturday. In 1997, he was indicted for war crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

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Frances Goldin, Famed New York Housing Activist, Dies at 96

May 18, 2020

The legendary book agent and housing activist Frances Goldin has died at the age of 96. In 1951, at the age of 27, Goldin ran for New York state Senate on the American Labor Party slate headed by W.E.B. Du Bois. She later helped preserve the Lower East Side of Manhattan by organizing to stop Robert Moses’s plan to bulldoze 12 blocks of the neighborhood in the name of so-called urban renewal. She helped start the Cooper Square Committee that advocated for tenant rights, community-based planning and affordable housing. As a literary agent, Goldin’s clients included Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, Democracy Now!'s Juan González and the internationally renowned imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Goldin talked about Mumia's case on Democracy Now! in 2014.

Frances Goldin: “Our prison system locks up millions of people who have never committed a crime in their life, the prime one being Mumia Abu-Jamal, who never killed anybody. And the woman who is grieving her departed husband, she grieved for the person who really killed the guy, and not for Mumia, who had nothing to do with that murder, and who has, incidentally, become one of the leading intellectuals in the United States.”

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