A record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, marking a drastic downshift in the U.S. labor market caused by the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reports.
Bloomberg: “The figure topped all analyst estimates and compared with a median projection of 3.76 million.”
New York Times: “The speed and scale of the job losses is without precedent. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.”
Daily Beast: “An unclassified briefing document on the novel coronavirus prepared on Feb. 3 by U.S. Army-North projected that ‘between 80,000 and 150,000 could die.’ It framed the projection as a ‘Black Swan’ analysis, meaning an outlier event of extreme consequence but often understood as an unlikely one.”
“In other words, the Army’s projections on Feb. 3 for the worst-case scenario in the coronavirus outbreak are, as of this week, the absolute best-case scenario–if not a miraculous one.”
“One week after the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion emergency relief bill aimed at limiting the financial trauma from the coronavirus pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would move slowly on considering any follow-up legislation and would ignore the latest efforts by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to jump-start talks,” the Washington Post reports.
“McConnell’s sweeping dismissal of Pelosi’s urgent call for action underscored the uncertainty and fierce political warfare in Congress as the coronavirus outbreak shuts down much of the nation and throttles the economy, with little consensus on what should follow the biggest rescue package in U.S. history and lingering tensions from those negotiations between McConnell and Pelosi.”
Said McConnell: “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of a special House committee charged with overseeing the unprecedented, multi-trillion dollar federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Hill reports.
She said the panel would be modeled on the World War II committee led by then-Sen. Harry Truman.
Pelosi tapped Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to lead the bipartisan panel, which will be authorized “to examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus and ensure the taxpayers’ dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent.”
“The Treasury announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who typically do not file a tax return will automatically get the $1,200 payment and no longer must submit anything extra,” the Washington Post reports.
“The announcement is a reversal from earlier in the week when the Internal Revenue Service said everyone would need to file some sort of tax return in order to qualify for the payments. Democrats and some Republicans criticized the IRS for requiring so many extra hurdles for this vulnerable population to get aid when the government already has their information on file.”
“The reversal came as the Trump administration tries to rapidly get stimulus payments out to Americans in the face of the quickest economic decline in modern history.”
“President Trump has repeatedly assured Americans that the federal government is holding 10,000 ventilators in reserve to ship to the hardest-hit hospitals around the nation as they struggle to keep the most critically ill patients alive,” the New York Times reports.
“But what federal officials have neglected to mention is that an additional 2,109 lifesaving devices are unavailable after the contract to maintain the government’s stockpile lapsed late last summer, and a contracting dispute meant that a new firm did not begin its work until late January. By then, the coronavirus crisis was already underway.”
Playbook: “Six weeks ago, the issue set would have looked completely different than it does today. The economy is contracting, people are dying, and yet the president’s approval ratings have held steady. The campaign has been reduced to a single overarching topic: the coronavirus.”
“But, as sure as the sun rises, Democrats again believe they have a potent weapon to wield against President Trump and the White House: health care. Trump never was able to replace Obamacare, as he promised on the campaign trail; and the administration will not reopen the exchanges to help people get covered during this time of distress.”
This exchange at yesterday’s briefing shows the incredibly disjointed White House message on health care.
“The White House Correspondents Association on Wednesday voted to remove One America News, a small right-wing media organization, from the rotation for a seat in the briefing room, an extraordinary rebuke of the network for violating social distancing guidelines put into place to protect the health of its members,” CNN reports.
“The decision was made after a fringe personality for the far-right media outlet, Chanel Rion, continued to attend the briefings, in defiance of the WHCA’s new rules limiting the number of journalists in the room.”
New York Times: The pro-Trump media’s coronavirus distortion.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) called on his city’s residents to start covering their faces whenever they are out in public as part of an effort to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
New York Times: “In areas where public officials have resisted or delayed stay-at-home orders, people changed their habits far less. Though travel distances in those places have fallen drastically, last week they were still typically more than three times those in areas that had imposed lockdown orders, the analysis shows.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) “said he is preparing a statewide shelter-in-place order across Georgia to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a turnabout after weeks of balking at taking more drastic steps to combat the pandemic,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Said Kemp: “Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt symptoms. We didn’t know that until the last 24 hours.”
However, health officials have long known that the virus could be transmitted this way.
“In the areas worst hit by the pandemic, Italy is undercounting thousands of deaths caused by the virus, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows, indicating that the pandemic’s human toll may end up being much greater, and infections far more widespread, than official data indicate.”
“Italy’s hidden death toll shows what could lie in store for the worst-hit areas of the U.S., Europe and many other countries in the weeks ahead if the coronavirus is not tamed fast. The burden that the pandemic puts on health-care systems can cause so many deaths that it is hard to gauge the full human cost.”
Robert Samuelson: “When I began writing about economics in the early 1970s, I made a private vow that I would never use the word ‘depression’ in describing the state of the economy. The economists and politicians who occasionally did so were, I thought, engaged in partisan hyperbole. Their game was to scare people into thinking the end of the world was at hand or to pressure Congress to enact a favored piece of economic legislation.”
“Well, times change. I revoke my vow.”
“It’s not that I’ve concluded that we’re already in a depression. But we could be. For the first time in my life, I think it’s conceivable. This obviously would be a big deal. It implies permanently higher levels of unemployment (though joblessness would still fluctuate), greater economic instability and a collision between democracy and the economic system.”
“The world is almost certainly ensnared in a devastating recession delivered by the coronavirus pandemic,” the New York Times reports.
“Now, fears are growing that the downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and as fear of the virus reconfigures the very concept of public space, impeding consumer-led economic growth.”
“The pandemic is above all a public health emergency. So long as human interaction remains dangerous, business cannot responsibly return to normal. And what was normal before may not be anymore. People may be less inclined to jam into crowded restaurants and concert halls even after the virus is contained.”
“Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert and the face of the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, is facing growing threats to his personal safety, prompting the government to step up his security,” the Washington Post reports.
“The concerns include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers.”
“The FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported, according to the agency’s latest data,” Axios reports. “The spike’s timing suggests it may be driven at least in part by the coronavirus.”
Around two million guns were bought in the U.S. last month, the New York Times reports.
“The surge in gun sales as coronavirus spreads across the country is second highest on record, after January 2013, the month when President Obama began his second term in office and the Sandy Hook School shooting raised calls for increased gun legislation.”
“The government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging,” the Washington Post reports.
NBC News: “The memo says that Americans who have their direct deposit information on file will receive their payments in mid-April, ‘likely’ the week of April 13. The document estimates that about 60 million Americans will receive checks at that point.”
“About three weeks after those deposits go out, the IRS will start issuing paper checks, likely the week of May 4, according to the memo. The office that issues paper checks can process about 5 million checks per week, so it could take 20 weeks – nearly 5 months – to get them all out.”
The Daily Beast on President Trump’s change in “tone” this week on the pandemic:
“Afterwards, the press noted the difference in ‘tone,’ with several pundits and reporters speculating that the gravity of the moment was finally weighing on the man in the Oval Office. And Trump… almost assuredly noted the praise he received from them for his more ‘presidential’ tune.”
“That’s because to a person, they say, there is no one who more voraciously consumes media coverage of himself. And over the past three years, the president has periodically remarked—sometimes with a self-aware chuckle or smirk—about how ‘easy’ it is for him to trigger praise from a typically adversarial press simply by acting ‘nice’ during a particularly weighty moment.”
Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) reflects in The Hill on a meeting with Andrew Cuomo, then HUD Secretary, on a low income housing project in Huntington, NY.
“Cuomo stepped out and smiled through all the obligatory handshakes and photos. He was warm and gracious. Then we stepped into the office of the town supervisor. Cuomo took a seat and wiped off the smile from his face. He asked us why the housing development proposal had not yet been approved. The town attorney explained that Huntington was complying with relevant state and federal laws. Cuomo was unmoved. He demanded that the town either do more or face grave consequences from the Justice Department. He walked out of the building, and his black SUV drove away.”
“One of my colleagues remarked that Cuomo bullied us. I thought about that moment as I watched his career advance from Cabinet secretary to New York attorney general and eventually governor. Today he is a leader whose daily coronavirus briefings command global attention. He is not a bully. But he is triggered when he sees someone standing in the way of a remedy to a crisis. He has an overpowering desire to fix what is broken.”
“The Trump administration has decided against reopening Obamacare enrollment to uninsured Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, defying calls from health insurers and Democrats to create a special sign-up window amid the health crisis,” Politico reports.
“Despite having committed to transferring 2,000 ventilators in military stocks to FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the Pentagon has not shipped any of them because the agencies have not asked for them or provided a shipping location,” CNN reports.
New York Times: “A Korean War-era law called the Defense Production Act has been invoked hundreds of thousands of times by President Trump and his administration to ensure the procurement of vital equipment.”
“Yet as governors and members of Congress plead with the president to use the law to force the production of ventilators and other medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he has for weeks treated it like a ‘break the glass’ last resort, to be invoked only when all else fails.”
“The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to announce its final rule to roll back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards, relaxing efforts to limit climate-warming tailpipe pollution and virtually undoing the government’s biggest effort to combat climate change,” the New York Times reports.
“The new rule would allow vehicles on American roads to emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the cars than they would have under the Obama standards and hundreds of millions of tons more than will be emitted under standards being implemented in Europe and Asia.”