Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Dec. 31, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

What’s in the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021? The document, at nearly 6,000 pages, which many in media say members of Congress did not get a chance to read before voting on it, has $900 billion for stimulus relief and includes expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program, $15 billion for the entertainment industry, $20 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, a $6.3 billion tax deduction for corporate meals (proposed by Republicans, to boost the restaurant industry), $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, $8 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, $20 billion for COVID-19 testing, $20 billion for vaccines that would be given free to those unable to afford them, $82 billion for education, $10 billion for child care assistance, $45 billion for transportation, $7 billion to increase broadband, $26 billion for food assistance the agriculture industry, $1.4 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and $2.5 billion for race car tracks. 

The bill contains no funds set aside to aid state and local governments, no funds for hazard pay for essential workers and no stimulus checks for dependent adults. The Washington Post notes that the 50 biggest U.S. companies all showed a profit since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House passed $2,000 stimulus checks in a vote on Dec. 28. Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will “consider” it. Since the Senate is currently dominated by Republicans, the reality of a larger stimulus check remains unclear, despite the president urging its passage.

About deficits: According to The Atlantic, 10 years ago the annual deficit was $1.3 trillion; today it’s $3.1 trillion. Under President Barack Obama the national debt was $9 trillion and under Trump it has ballooned to $21 trillion. This has prompted Republicans to initiate talks about austerity. But, according to The Atlantic’s economics columnist, there is a “quiet revolution” happening regarding the understanding of deficits and debts, in that they may not be as scary as some think.

That’s not to say government overspending should be encouraged, “but,” writes Mark Zandi, chief economist and Moody’s Analytics, “we’re in a period where it’s important for governments to be expansive with fiscal policy. We’re not going into a death spiral with investors jacking up interest rates because we’re spending more.” 

To grapple with the current economy requires investing federal spending to get “more bang for the government’s buck,” and short-term that means proven stimulus funds for food assistance, unemployment payments, and aid to state and local governments. Longer-term investments that boost the economy include addressing childhood poverty and the racial-wealth gap, boosting high-quality public education, tackling the opioid crisis, repairing decrepit infrastructure, strengthening inadequate broadband networks, confronting high-carbon utilities and improving public transit. Not on the list: tax breaks and tax write-offs for business meals. 

Testing of stored blood samples from December 2019 and January 2020 for COVID-19 antibodies, according to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, shows the virus was in the U.S. “earlier than previously recognized.” Critiques of the article include the explanation that the antibodies were from a seasonal coronavirus infection, and not from the COVID-19 coronavirus, stated.

To read the names of every American who is known to have died from COVID-19 or related causes in 2020, allowing one name per second, would take from 5 p.m. on a Tuesday to 10 a.m. the next Saturday. But by then there would be 8,000 more deaths, pushing the reading time to noon, according to The Washington Post.

Among adults ages 25 to 44 there were 12,000 more deaths than normal in 2020, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. According to JAMA, COVID-19 is the driving force behind those extra deaths, and they exceeded opioid deaths in the same age range.

Greta Thunberg, TIME magazine’s youngest-ever Person of the Year for her championing of climate change solutions, on lessons from 2020: “It is possible to treat a crisis like a crisis … to put people’s health above economic interests … to listen to the science.” 

One of the 2020 “words of the year” is “Blursday,” a term that indicates lacking the normal job structure due to COVID-19, the difficulty some have determining the day of the week. 

Blast from the past: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Attributed to Vladimir Lenin, 1870-1924, Russian revolutionary, politician and political theorist.

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