Bits ‘n’ Pieces: December 23, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

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

On Sunday U.S. Congress agreed on a COVID-19 relief package. It includes $600 stimulus checks for every adult and child, but less than that for people earning more than $75,000, and no checks for those earning more than $99,000. Federal unemployment will be $300 a week. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s liability shield to protect businesses from virus-related lawsuits was excluded, and the eviction moratorium was extended by one month. Budget items including transportation, the Paycheck Protection Program, vaccine distribution and expansion of food benefits received an appropriation of $275 billion.

The U.S. Army chief of staff declared Dec. 18, “there is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.The Atlantic pointed out that such a statement should not be needed, but was in response to multiple media reports that President Donald Trump was making plans for a White House coup with advisers Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

A number of countries in East Asia and the Pacific have returned to near-normal living conditions despite COVID-19 — all without vaccines. TIME magazine reports those nations have suppressed the virus with testing, isolating those infected, quarantining those exposed, wearing face masks and avoiding crowds.

So far COVID-19 has cost the U.S. economy $16 trillion, according to TIME. Currently 40% of Americans have a pre-existing condition making them more vulnerable to the virus, and 9% have antibodies, per a Stanford University estimate. Letting COVID-19 run free in younger Americans is expected to cause up to 2.5 million deaths. A study from South Korea shows as many as 90% of COVID-19 patients may have a lingering condition after recovery. The WEEK reports that those conditions can include extreme tiredness, concentration difficulties, or failing to regain senses of taste and smell. U.K research shows similar findings. 

Vaccine distribution hit a glitch: The Trump administration blamed Pfizer for production problems; Pfizer says it shipped every load the government asked for and millions of doses are ready pending further instructions. But, according to NPR, Washington state officials were told they and other states would see a 40% cut in shipments. The uncertainty has made it difficult for managing distribution efficiently.

Trickle-down economics holds no value, according to a new study from the London School of Economics and King’s College London. The study reviewed data from “advanced economies” from the past 50 years. It found tax cuts mainly widened inequality and had no significant influence on jobs or growth. The study is already being referred to in U.S. Congress, where concern about how to rebuild an economy damaged by COVID-19 is under debate.

The International Monetary Fund said the global economy will shrink 4.4% this year. Kristalina Georgieva, head of the IMF, says reconfiguring the economy will require three things: recognizing that exiting the COVID-19 health crisis comes first, making sure support for a better economy does not see premature withdrawal and wise use of fiscal stimulus money. Of the latter she said climate change should be a key focus; job creation will involve bringing emissions down while putting people back to work. But she indicated that needs to occur without making the rich richer, requiring policy intervention and “more proportionality in taxation” that supports growth.

Halting construction of the Trump administration’s U.S.-Mexico border wall is expected to save $3.3 billion, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Building the 738 miles of new fencing was expected to cost $15 billion, of which a third came from Congress and the rest from the Department of Defense. The fence has cut through national forests, wildlife preserves and public lands and has been slowed where it involved eminent domain from private land owners. Four hundred miles have been completed. The new compromise pandemic relief bill included $1.4 billion for the wall.

Suspected Russian interference in the form of widespread government computer hacking did hit the National Nuclear Security Administration, The New York Times reported. So far there’s no evidence that critical defense systems there were compromised. The cybersecurity breach is said to be the biggest in more than two decades. Biden has promised action but, as of press time, Trump has said nothing about a White House response.

Blast from the past: “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” — George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, Irish playwright, critic and political activist.

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