The bright spot in Trump's coronavirus response

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Person, woman, man, camera, TV … if you get it in order you get extra points.” – President Donald Trump bragging about his performance on a test given to screen people for dementia.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

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US weekly jobless claims rose to 1.4 million last week, more than economists expected and the first increase in months. It signals that the recovery has stalled as the virus surges in the South, West, and Midwest. More than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the pandemic.

Senate Republicans have ditched the payroll tax cut from their proposed relief bill. They’re proposing another round of stimulus checks instead. President Trump seems to have abandoned his insistence that the bill include the payroll tax cut. Republicans are still trying to keep the bill under $US1 trillion, compared to the $US3 trillion bill House Democrats passed.

The Trump campaign is pressuring cell phone companies to allow it to send spam texts. Earlier this month, the Trump campaign tried to send millions of texts to people who had not signed up for them, but carriers blocked the texts for fear of huge FCC fines. Campaign officials are protesting, and Jared Kushner called to complain.

Portland’s mayor was teargassed by federal agents. Ted Wheeler was in the crowd when federal paramilitaries fired gas to disperse them. Earlier Wheeler had been booed by protesters, who blame him for harsh tactics used by local police against them.

Trump keeps talking about that ridiculous cognition test. He’s obsessed with it.

VIEWS OF THE DAY

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump’s vaccine purchase is a good use of $US2 billion – a bright spot in an otherwise terrible coronavirus response.

One of the few parts of the Trump Administration’s pandemic response that hasn’t been a disaster has been its emergency economic policy.

Trump’s public-health response has been awful, start to finish. Slow, dishonest, arrogant, divisive, mean, stupid, and incompetent. That the richest and most powerful country in the world still has one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises is a disgrace.

The Trump Administration has also failed to understand that there is no separating “public health” and “the economy.” As studies of the Great Influenza of 1918 and the real-time performance of the US economy clearly show, the economy won’t fully recover until we get the virus under control.

But…

The Trump Administration’s various emergency financial moves – aided by Congress and the Fed – were big, fast, and effective. So far, they have helped tens of millions of Americans and offset a lot of economic pain.

Yes, Congress now needs to approve another aid package. It needs to include an extension of the emergency unemployment supplement – not necessarily the same $US600 a week, but a decent chunk of this. It also needs to include help for the states. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin also dangled the possibility of another emergency bill later this year.

Yesterday, the US biotech company Pfizer announced that the US had placed a $US2 billion order for 100 million doses of a yet-to-be-approved coronavirus vaccine and planned to make the vaccine free for Americans. That’s a smart use of $US2 billion of taxpayer money. And it follows other generally smart (not perfect, but good) financial moves the Administration has made to soften the blow of this tragedy.

Now if only the Administration could summon some of the same competence with respect to public health. – HB

Trump has gone from zero to Mad Max on China policy

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A week ago I wrote a column about how the China hardliners in DC have to be upset, since the White House hasn’t really implemented their policies over the last three years. Trump was too focused on scoring a trade deal.

Well, some crazy stuff has happened in US-China relations since then.

  • The US shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston.
  • Trade talks have stalled.
  • The US placed sanctions on Chinese officials involved with human/civil rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
  • The White House is considering banning Communist Party members from the US (90 million people).
  • The US retaliated against China for a crackdown on US journalists with a crackdown on Chinese journalists in the US.
  • Attorney General Barr made a speech accusing tech giants of being too cosy with China.
  • The State Department made noise about China’s “unlawful” buildup of military bases in the South China Sea.

This is a jarring amount of aggressive policy in two weeks time, and you can expect more in the 103 days until the election. Trump thinks battering China will help his poll numbers (though we haven’t seen evidence of that yet), so he’s making up for lost time. Aside from throwing the book at China, the strategy here is unclear.

What this does to the US-China relationship is highly unpredictable. In just 2 weeks this ride has gone from extremely bumpy to rollercoaster – and it can get much worse. – LL

Trump’s letting his dictator freak flag fly

John Rudoff/Getty Images

It took three and a half years, but Trump is fully leaning into his long-held strongman fantasies.

The president is following up his federal incursion of unidentifiable Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents into Portland, ostensibly to protect federal buildings from violent protesters, by sending hundreds more agents into various “Democratic” cities to fight crime.

Such unconstitutional federal overreach once terrified conservatives, but no more because Orange Man Good.

In my new column I argue that names like Ruby Ridge, Waco, and the Bundy Ranch used to be shorthand among “constitutional conservatives” who believed any federal intervention into local police matters portended a coming dictatorship.

Now that Trump is making “send in the feds” a staple of his administration, we no longer have to pretend he believes in the constitution or limited government, and we no longer have to pretend his obedient foot soldiers do either. – AF

Cuomo makes it even harder for bars and restaurants to stay afloat

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, still riding on his undeserved public reputation as a coronavirus hero, is dialling back one of the only quality-of-life improvements caused by the pandemic: “to-go cocktails.”

Bars and restaurants struggle even in economically healthy times to turn the most modest of profits. Typically, staying in the black means selling alcohol at huge markups.

Cuomo however, is outraged by scattered incidents of large groups of people congregating outside bars. (He’s presumably not outraged by photos of him not wearing a mask, hugging and backslapping officials during his trip to Georgia this week.)

But why react when you can overreact?

To mitigate crowds of potential disease vectors, Cuomo has ordered the State Liquor Authority to make it harder for establishments to serve booze.

The temporary rules announced in March allowed for the sale of to-go alcohol, but only with the purchase of food. To get around this arbitrary restriction, some places were selling bags of “Cuomo chips” for a dollar.

The new requirements consider salads, soups, hot dogs, wings, and sandwiches as among the accepted minimums for a desperate bar or restaurant to sell its most profitable item to willing customers.

Because I’d never advocate for wanton lawlessness, I’d suggest serving a single Cuomo-branded “pig in a blanket” – which could be either a hot dog or a sandwich – for a buck. – AF

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk plans to launch an insurance company, he told investors Wednesday. He believes all the data from Tesla cars about driver behaviour will allow him to set lower, more accurate premiums. Tesla is already experimenting with insurance in California, though the rollout was messy.

Goldman Sachs advises investors to avoid Apple stock for now. The pandemic could delay the next iPhone launch, which could pull earnings down 6% in the fourth quarter.

LIFE

The moment the parents in the college-admissions scandal realised they were in huge trouble. According to a new book, a bunch of them were arrested and put in the same LA jail cell, and one of them mentioned the name Rick Singer. “Mouths fell open. A sense of understanding spread, followed by dread.”

Fox News has dumped an anchor who showed up visibly sick during the coronavirus surge in March. Heather Childers said she had a negative test, and tried to get Trump to intervene on her behalf.

THE BIG 3*

Ford

Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler fans are brawling online. The 2021 Bronco – another boxy off-road vehicle – takes direct aim at the Wrangler, and Wrangler owners are not happy about it.

Maine brewery cancels a Women for Trump event after backlash. Brewery owners say they didn’t realise the Lara Trump shindig was an official campaign event.

A Trump campaign image of a cop being attacked is actually a 2014 photo from Ukraine. Facebook says it won’t remove the misleading ad.

*The most popular stories on Insider today.

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