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.”
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.
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.”
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”