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Laid Off? You Can Still Sign Up for Obamacare

Mother Jones Magazine -

Roughly 9 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy. But, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those who have lost their employer-based health coverage don’t need to go uninsured.

Loss of job-based coverage counts as a qualifying event for a so-called “special enrollment period,” allowing people to sign up for an individual Obamacare plan outside of the annual open enrollment period, which ended on December 15. People typically have 60 days from their loss of coverage to enroll. Lower-income people may also be eligible to enroll in Medicaid.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which considers the ACA a “substantial health care safety net,” provides a handy calculator for estimating how much a marketplace plan might cost, based on an individual’s location, income, and household details.

For people who were already uninsured before the economy melted down, the picture is more complicated. Twelve states that run their own insurance marketplaces—including coronavirus hotspots like New York, California, and Washington—have opened special enrollment periods in response to the crisis, allowing anyone who lacked insurance prior to the pandemic to get covered. President Donald Trump reportedly considered opening a special enrollment period for residents of the dozens of other states that participate in the federally run insurance marketplace, but he ultimately decided against it.

Trump has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, siding with Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit that seeks to undo the health care law entirely. The short-term health insurance plans he espouses as an alternative do not have to comply with the ACA, meaning they could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or refuse to cover services like mental health care.

“Customers Don’t Adhere to the Six Feet of Distance at All”: A Butcher on Working Through the Coronavirus

Mother Jones Magazine -

Sean Krane, a 32-year-old butcher in Los Angeles County, has been working long hours during the coronavirus outbreak as an essential grocery worker at Vons. While some states, including Minnesota, Vermont, Michigan, and Colorado have designated grocery workers as emergency personnel, which qualifies them for emergency child care, California so far has not. Along with his United Food and Commercial Workers union local, Sean has joined an effort to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to classify grocery workers as emergency personnel and make sanitation protections and crowd control mandatory at stores. I spoke with him about his experience. You can hear Sean on our latest episode of Bite:

I’ve worked at Vons for 15 years. The thing that I like about my job is helping my community and also just my co-workers in general. I’m a butcher, I cut meat; it’s kind of an art, a craft in itself.

I have a girlfriend and a five-year-old son. It’s probably been a week or two weeks since I’ve stopped seeing them because of the whole outbreak, and I’m concerned about getting her grandparents sick.

“Customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

I normally work five days a week. The past two weeks, I’ve worked seven days, every single day, because we’ve been doing record sales that we’ve never even seen. Usually the busiest day in the meat department or in the store is two days before Christmas. The past two weeks, we’re beating those sales on a daily basis.

Courtesy Sean Krane

I tried contacting my union about the crowd control within the stores. It says 100 people on the front of the door, but there’s no one at the front door counting people coming in and out. And customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. Pretty much every time I’m going to load the meat case, I’m bringing out a whole dolly of meat or maybe a six-wheeler of ground turkey or chicken. And everyone will turn their head and see what I have on the cart, and they just want to come walk over and grab the cart from me. That’s probably the most scary thing, that people aren’t really observing or acting on the six feet of social distancing. It’s very stressful to work in those kinds of conditions.

My store manager went over today saying that we can wear gloves and masks, but the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] does not recommend it. They are giving us hand sanitizer and they’re allowing us to wash our hands every hour. They actually recommend us to be washing our hands and sanitizing rather than using gloves and masks.

I had a customer today that I politely asked if she could give me my six feet social distance, and she kind of gave me this dirty look. She was on the cell phone with a family member, I’m guessing, and kind of thought I was being rude for asking. It’s just hard to get everyone on board, I guess.

The best thing that a grocery shopper can do is give us a thank you. That’s been the biggest thing that I’ve seen lately within the past few days. There’s not many people that give me a thank you, but when they do, it goes a long way.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

‘These Devices Making the Super-Wealthy Super-Wealthier Will Have to Come Apart’ - CounterSpin interview with David Cay Johnston on the 2008 bailout

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

The March 27, 2020, episode of CounterSpin included an archival interview with David Cay Johnston about the 2008 bailout, which originally aired October 10, 2008. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The coronavirus is new, but economic shocks and the government response of bailing out certain industries are not. We have experience to draw from there. In 2008, the New York Times described the announced $700 billion bailout bill, presented to address the financial crisis, as, “One of the most favored new options being discussed in Washington and on Wall Street.”

Of course, many asked, “What about Main Street?”—the people whose calls to legislators had spurred the House’s initial rejection of the legislation. Once policy has that much-vaunted “bipartisan support,” it’s an elite media juggernaut.

But CounterSpin spoke with a journalist who’d been calling for skepticism from the start. David Cay Johnston, then recently retired from the New York Times, is an investigative reporter and the author of a number of books, among them Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill) and, most recently, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

When he spoke with CounterSpin in October 2008, he’d just issued a call for reporters covering the bailout not to “repeat the failed lapdog practices that so damaged our reputations in the rush to war in Iraq and the adoption of the Patriot Act.” CounterSpin asked him, first, for his general assessment of big media’s bailout coverage.

***

David Cay Johnston: The electronic coverage, broadcast television and cable, has been awful, absolutely awful, including both the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News, opening their newscasts on Monday night, September 29, when the stock market tanked, with a flat-out untrue statement. The very first thing they told their audience was that this was the biggest one-day decline ever in the stock market. It was only the third-biggest decline in just the last 21 years.

The coverage in the print media has gotten better as we have gone along. A lot of it is still very gullible. I’m particularly troubled by some areas of print, including the Washington Post, that just seem to accept that you need to trust the official version of events. But both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have actually done some extraordinary, solid reporting on this stuff, and have dug up some very troubling things.

New York Times (9/28/08)

JJ: I know you had a cite for a former colleague of yours, Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times, who’s done some reporting that maybe she’s the only one on, so there are some investigations going on there, right?

DCJ: There is some. Fundamentally, the problem here is the constant problem with Washington journalism, which is this idea that sources are what matter. And this is fueled by editors, who say, “Well, the reason we have you in our Washington bureau is to talk to the official sources.”

Well, you’d probably get better coverage if you had a reporter sitting in your newsroom in Chicago or Rochester, where I live, or Los Angeles, reading the government’s record and writing about all the things the government has to disclose. We’ve known there was a high risk of something like this happening, not exactly what would happen, but some kind of serious collapse, for 14 months.

And one of the questions I haven’t seen journalists asking is, “All right, when you were put on notice 14 months ago, in August of last year, what plans did Treasury and the other government agencies put in place in the event that the credit markets seized up, that there was a huge collapse of asset values?” And I’m fairly confident we will find out they didn’t do anything.

JJ: You mentioned the question of sources, and one of the things that we’ve complained about is the “no one saw it coming” angle, which you’re just touching on. It certainly looks a lot like the Iraq War story, where we were told, “no one could predict” the post-invasion scenario that we’re now experiencing. Well, in fact, of course, in both cases, people did predict the current situation. They just weren’t the folks we were seeing on TV. So I guess the question is, why are they still not the people we’re seeing on TV?

DCJ: Yes. Well, that, Janine, is exactly what troubles me. And in the case of the Iraq scenario, remember that we now know—we didn’t know then for sure, but we absolutely now know for sure—that the Bush administration was aware that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Knowing that, recognizing that you have an administration that will lie through its teeth to pursue a policy that’s cost thousands of Americans, and probably tens of thousands of Iraqis, their lives, why would you hesitate to think that they might not be telling you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about something dealing with money? Particularly when, as President Bush famously said when he ran for office, that the people at the top were his base, the haves and the have-mores.

Some of us have, for years, been warning about this. I wrote a book called Perfectly Legal, that came out five years ago, almost; I wrote it six years ago. And I say in the book, inevitably, these devices that are making the super-wealthy super-wealthier will have to come apart, because they involve artificially inflating assets. And when that happens, all of us will be worse off. Some of us—and I wasn’t the only one—wrote stories; there was a housing bubble four or five years ago. So it wasn’t like this wasn’t known. It wasn’t like there weren’t economists and government data telling you, sooner or later, the bubble had to prick and come apart.

Steve Rendall: I just want to note that in that piece by Gretchen Morgenson that Janine mentioned earlier, that you had blogged about, that in that piece, she actually had a scoop that showed that the CEO of Goldman Sachs was actually in the room as the bailout plan was being put together.

DCJ: Yeah, that’s right. And Gretchen Morgenson also revealed that Goldman Sachs is on the hook for as much as $20 billion from AIG, and that’s one of the important issues not being covered here. Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, has devised a plan that is exactly what one would expect from someone who spent his whole career at Goldman Sachs, the premier investment bank—and, by the way, where a lot of these toxic products and derivatives were cooked up and sold. And it turns out that one of his first actions, the one that the Wall Street Journal says triggered the panic, was the decision to not rescue Lehman Brothers, a competing bank.

Then he decides that he’s going to rescue AIG. Guess who benefits from that, first and directly? Goldman Sachs. Now we have pumped more than $120 billion into AIG, so that people who wanted to cash out of AIG could get their money. You think it just might be possible that a little bit of that money went to people who are either Goldman Sachs or its clients? Well, we don’t know, because the government isn’t asking, and neither are reporters demanding answers.

SR: Many people, perhaps over-hopefully, imagined that this crisis might lead to an actual reevaluation of what have been dominant ideas about regulation, the role of financial institutions and so on. What do you see as likely to happen, and what role should or could journalists play?

David Cay Johnston: “We now have 28 years of experience with Reaganism. The average income of the bottom 90% of Americans is today what it was back in 1980, when you adjust for inflation, and the incomes of the top tenth of 1% and above have gone through the roof.”

DCJ: You know, I’ve written two books about this, Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch, and they are about how we now have 28 years of experience with Reaganism. The average income of the bottom 90% of Americans is today what it was back in 1980, when you adjust for inflation, and the incomes of the top tenth of 1% and above have gone through the roof. It doesn’t work. It works if your goal is to take from those with less to give to those with more. But fundamentally, it doesn’t work.

And I think the public, after years and years and years, is beginning to change. Now, one thing I can tell you, as someone who does an enormous amount of radio around the country: Five years ago, I would always get hostile calls, and people would say things like President Bush has created the strongest economy in American history, which is utter nonsense.

I’m not getting calls like that anymore. I’m getting callers who are saying, What do we need to do to fix this? How do we address this?

And, by the way, the most fundamental thing is: Elect a different Congress! Elect a Congress that is not in the pocket of Wall Street and the companies that Wall Street finances, which is where most of the campaign contributions come from.

***

JJ: That was journalist and author David Cay Johnston, speaking with Steve Rendall and me in 2008.

 

An Interview With Elizabeth Warren: Trump’s $500 Billion Coronavirus “Slush Fund” and More

Mother Jones Magazine -

Few people know more about conducting financial oversight during an economic crisis than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the congressional panel that monitored how billions in federal bailout funds were spent—and misspent—following the 2008 crash. This week, she Zoomed with Mother Jones’ Washington, DC bureau chief David Corn from the back porch of her Cambridge home with her golden retriever, Bailey, by her side. Warren, who last month ended her presidential bid, discussed what could go wrong with the Trump administration’s $500 billion coronavirus corporate bailout fund and how best to monitor this “slush fund.” She also recounted her efforts two years ago to get answers from John Bolton after he abruptly disbanded the National Security Council’s global health security unit and talked about whether she is interested in the veep slot on the Democratic presidential ticket.

The Navy Has an Absurd Explanation for Why It Fired Captain Brett Crozier

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Monday, Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt dashed off a four-page letter to his superiors detailing the frightening conditions on his ship, where dozens of sailors had become ill with COVID-19. Because of the confined nature of the aircraft carrier, Crozier said in stark terms that his crew would be unable to safely quarantine infected sailors, a situation that increased the chances of the virus spreading to others. He said 90 percent of the sailors needed to disembark in Guam, where the ship was docked, or risk further infections. “The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline,” he wrote

Hours later, the San Francisco Chronicle published excerpts from Crozier’s letter. By Thursday, he had been relieved of his command. The Navy offered no detailed rebuttal of his letter. In describing his reasons for firing Crozier, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly sounded at times more like he was giving him a promotion than relieving him of command. “Captain Crozier is an honorable man who, despite this uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, has dedicated himself throughout a lifetime of incredible service to our nation,” Modly told reporters on Thursday. “And he should be proud of that.”

So what did Crozier do wrong? Here’s how Modly explained it:

The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though the ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and equipment in the fleet. And it wasn’t just sent up the chain of command. It was sent and copied to a broad array of other people. It was sent outside of the chain of command. At the same time, the rest of the Navy was fully responding. Worse, the captain’s actions made the sailors, their families, and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case.

That explanation makes it seem like the Navy’s primary problem was not with Crozier’s choice of words, but his method of delivery. Instead of contacting his superiors discreetly, he wrote a memo that—intentionally or not—could have been leaked. Or he leaked it himself. The Navy wasn’t too clear on that, either. 

Earlier in the press conference, Modly took time to note specifically that the Chronicle is Crozier’s “hometown newspaper,” but when pressed later over whether he believed that Crozier leaked the letter, Modly demurred. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know who leaked the information,” he said, adding that Crozier “sent it out pretty broadly. And in sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked.”

The Navy is in the midst of one of the more serious peacetime crises in its history, after already enduring turmoil in its top ranks. Modly, formerly the No. 2 civilian in the department, only took over in November after the Navy’s last civilian leader, Richard Spencer, was ousted for insubordination in a convoluted chain of events surrounding President Donald Trump’s intervention in the case of disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Crozier had racked up several major awards for outstanding service since graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1992 and seemed to clearly hold the support of his crew. A video circulating online of him leaving the Roosevelt to cheers from his sailors is one piece of evidence for that. Even Modly acknowledged that Crozier was beloved. 

Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors. #navy @UncleChaps @katebarstool @ZeroBlog30 @CaptainCons pic.twitter.com/M0aZhHNMXT

— Dylan Castillo (@Sotero269) April 3, 2020

Given the tenuous time and Crozier’s obvious track record, shouldn’t there be a stronger argument for firing him beyond the fact that his letter reached too many people? 

“I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said. “It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage. And it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”

Rather than raise unnecessary concerns among families, it seems that Crozier’s memo accurately reflected their fears. One mother of a sailor on board the Roosevelt who tested positive for COVID-19 told the Washington Post that the captain’s “letter touched on all the points that us, as family members, were feeling.” The parent of another sailor under Crozier’s command told the Post he “is a hero” who cares “tremendously for the well-being of my daughter and all her shipmates on board TR.”

Even if Navy officials were already responding to Crozier’s concerns in private, their urgency clearly did not match what he felt was necessary. On Tuesday, Modly outlined a possible reason for this in an interview with CNN. “We have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam,” he said. “The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities.” 

But in that same interview, he also said Navy leaders “don’t disagree” with Crozier’s assessment of the threat posed by COVID-19. By Thursday, when speaking with reporters to justify his decision to fire Crozier, Modly seemed to reverse that support. This time around, he said, Crozier’s letter “misrepresented the facts of what was going on on the ship.” When asked to cite a specific example, Modly said, “Well, you raise a particular level of alarm when you say 50 people on the crew are going to die. No one knows that to be true. It does not comport with the data we have.” 

Crozier’s advice to remove sailors quickly from the ship was ultimately heeded. On Wednesday, the Navy announced a plan to remove more than half of the sailors off the ship. In announcing that decision, Modly and Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, acknowledged a possible misunderstanding with Crozier. “The misunderstanding perhaps was the requirement of the speed to get people off the ship,” Gilday said. “In order to act on a requirement, we have to clearly understand the requirement.”

Crozier’s letter could not have made the timeline more apparent. “Decisive action is required,” he wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

The only thing decisive about the Navy’s response was the speed with which it fired Crozier. 

Guy Snodgrass, a former Pentagon official under Defense Secretary James Mattis who served with Crozier on the USS Ronald Reagan, said his firing “sets the Navy back significantly as a professional organization, losing trust with both the American public and Sailors.” High-profile Democrats have also latched on to Crozier’s ousting as an example of the Navy’s failure to properly address the accelerating coronavirus crisis among its ranks. In a statement to Reuters, Joe Biden said, “Donald Trump’s Acting Navy Secretary shot the messenger—a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors.” Tommy Vietor, an Obama administration national security official who co-hosts the popular liberal podcast Pod Save America, said on Twitter that it was “moving” to watch Crozier’s sailors wish him well, “but infuriating to know that he was fired for refusing to whitewash the disastrous coronavirus response.”

The Navy, in the meantime, expects there will somehow be no deleterious impact stemming from Crozier’s firing. “I trust that it won’t have a chilling effect,” Modly said. “I hope this will reinforce the fact: We have the proper way of handling this.” When time is running out in a crisis of unexpected magnitude, Captain Brett Crozier’s story raises the question of how proper that process really is.

Friday Cat Blogging – 3 April 2020

Mother Jones Magazine -

This is Hilbert a couple of days ago, distracted by some kind of shiny object while he was strolling along the fence. Little does he know that our squirrel flanked him while he was staring upward and made an end run to . . . somewhere. Whatever it is that squirrels go haring off at. After Hilbert was done with his promenade he jumped over into our neighbor’s yard to provide them with some company while they are sheltering in place. What a warmhearted cat!

The Economic Crash Is Going to Be Particularly Awful for Women and People of Color

Mother Jones Magazine -

The 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment last week have earned themselves a grim superlative: They, along with the 3.2 million people who filed the week before, mark the fastest-growing unemployment disaster in recorded US history.

These early numbers don’t tell us exactly who these jobless workers are, but we have some clues. Major retailers, which have closed stores after government orders to shelter in place, have furloughed staff without pay. There have been sweeping layoffs in the food service industry, which employs an estimated 15.6 million Americans, as major suppliers cut staff and most states limit restaurants to takeout only.

These layoffs have been especially bad for two groups—namely, the same people who were particularly screwed over in the last recession: women and people of color. National unemployment numbers haven’t been broken down by demographics yet, but state numbers are looking dire for these groups. Minnesota has reported that women make up nearly two-thirds of new unemployment applicants. In pre-pandemic times, they typically accounted for only a third of them.

The retail industry accounts for 10 percent of all private sector jobs, and the retailers most affected employ the most women. Almost half of the workers employed by restaurants are people of color—and those workers are concentrated in the sector’s poorest paid positions. The low pay that accompanies these positions doesn’t really allow for the sort of long-term savings that could soften the blow of a lost job. The median hourly wage for a retail sales worker, for example, is $11.70, and it’s just $10.47 for restaurant servers. Congress passed legislation last month to increase unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who’d lose their livelihoods as the pandemic raged, but for women and workers of color, that might not be enough. That’s because they’re likely to be among those who were never made whole after the Great Recession 12 years ago.

“Recovery had been uneven,” says Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The gains of the economy did not really trickle down to women or people of color in the ways that we might have expected.”

The end of the last recession marked the longest sustained stretch of economic growth in US history, but the benefits weren’t reaped universally across all Americans. A report from IWPR in September 2011 found that 39 percent of women—including 52 percent of Black women and 48 percent of Hispanic women—reported difficulties in paying monthly utility bills, compared to just 26 percent of men who said the same. Even as the wider economy improved, those gaps persisted. A 2017 analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that, adjusted for inflation, Black men and women across all races are earning less than they did in 2007.

What led to such an uneven recovery? Much of it has to do with how the recession reshaped the jobs landscape. Positions in the public sector, which historically were committed to fair and inclusive hiring, faced steep cuts as states committed to austerity measures, and many of those jobs never came back. The gig economy—premised on part-time, low-wage, benefits-free labor—ascended in its place, disproportionately employing workers of color, who, like all women, are also overrepresented in minimum wage work.

Beyond wages, the wealth of those populations also took a tremendous hit during the Great Recession. Both women and people of color have less wealth than white men and were more likely to dip into their retirement or other long-term savings accounts to stay afloat. Crucially, homeownership and property values never fully recovered, particularly for households of color. In 2009, the median Black household wealth dropped 53 percent, compared with just the 17 percent white households lost. “Home equity is used to start a small business, pay for retirement, and pay for college,” Mason says. “The last recession wiped all of that out.”

And so a wealth gap that persisted long before the Great Recession widened in its aftermath. In 2010, for example, the average white household had eight times the wealth of the average Black household. In 2014, white families had 13 times the wealth of their Black counterparts.

Those setbacks now form the fragile foundation for workers weathering this latest crisis. Women, still often relegated to the role of family caretaker, will find themselves particularly squeezed as dwindling workforce meets new demands at home. “This is a gendered crisis,” explains Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “They’re facing a double burden of being really strapped in the paid economy as well as trying to care for their family members—maybe children who now need homeschooling, or elderly parents and a spouse at risk of getting sick.”

Disparities in health care coverage put these populations in a precarious position. Roughly a quarter of women delayed or declined medical attention due to costs in 2017, while only a fifth of men did the same, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. That same year, a third of Black households skipped health care, compare to just 21 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking. “And that was in the good times,” says Christian Weller, an expert in labor and inequality at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “You can imagine what decisions people are making now.”

The natural conclusion of these conspiring circumstances leads to a doomsday scenario. Poverty rates will rise, Weller predicts, as people cut back on utilities, food, and prescription drugs necessary for preventative or long-term care. “Right now, there are a lot of things going wrong at the same time,” Weller says. “All of these inequalities already existed—they’re just magnified right now.”

The emergency relief bill Congress passed last week tried counteract the worst impacts of the current crisis, extending unemployment benefits to gig, freelance, and part-time workers for the first time ever. It also suspended six months’ worth of payments on federally held student loans, a burden that disproportionately affects borrowers of color.

But the experts I spoke with identified key shortcomings. Bahn wishes there had been more of an emphasis on labor standards and compensation, particularly for those who are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. Many of those who are still gainfully employed work in health care, regularly exposed to the deadly virus. Roughly three-quarters of hospital and health care workers are women, and while most of them are white, Black and Latinx workers are vastly overrepresented among home care and nursing home employees. “I’m just horrified thinking about people making $20,000 a year while dealing with the most vulnerable populations,” Bahn says.

Darrick Hamilton, an economist who studies disparities across race, says he’s particularly concerned about the one-time payment of $1,200 most adults will receive from the federal government. He says it’s neither sufficiently large nor sustained enough to keep people whole until the economy recovers. Hamilton also raised concerns about the small business loan program, which is already under scrutiny for how it plans to distribute emergency funds to firms. “Various small businesses—and particularly those that are black owned—are not capitalized to be able to withstand an economic downturn where you shut their business down for an extended period of time,” he says.

“I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons from 2008 at all,” IWPR’s Mason tells me. “We’re still targeting the largest amount of support for big businesses, and we’re doing so little for the people who will be suffering long after those businesses have rebounded.”

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in March

Mother Jones Magazine -

The American economy lost 701,000 jobs last month. We need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, which means that net job growth clocked in at—

Ahem. I suppose that accounting for population growth hardly matters at this point, does it? Just for the record, though, here’s the jobs chart for March:

This is for early March, by the way. The full extent of job losses due to COVID-19 won’t show up until next month.

And also just for the record, March was a fairly good month for wages. Average hourly wages for blue collar workers went up about 3 percent after accounting for inflation. That’s pretty good! Assuming you still have a job, that is. Most of you probably do, but there are obvious exceptions. I don’t normally bother showing job losses by category, but it’s worthwhile this time:

The biggest job losses by far came in four areas: retail, temp services, health care, and hospitality (which includes restaurants). I’m a little surprised about the job losses in the health care sector. There must be a specific story behind this, but I’m not sure what it is.

My Sister Has Been a Travel Agent for 30 Years. We Talked About Her Work Life During the Pandemic.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Michelle Mazzie has been a travel agent in Park City, Utah, for 30 years, serving mostly corporate clients and some leisure travelers. She also happens to be my sister. So when the travel industry became one of the first business casualties of the novel coronavirus, I started interviewing her about what that looked like on the ground as the pandemic first took hold.

Our first interview was on March 6. That’s the day Austin canceled its annual music and ideas festival South by Southwest. That’s also the day Vice President Mike Pence announced that 21 people aboard a Princess cruise ship were infected with the virus. President Donald Trump said he wanted to prevent it from docking in California because, “I don’t need to have the numbers [of US cases] double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” Businesses were canceling work travel; big conferences in Las Vegas and elsewhere were halted. I’d planned to write up the interview and post it soon after. But the travel industry proved to be a moving target. Everything we thought was true on March 6 turned was totally different a few days later. 

Within a week of that first conversation, every major sporting event in the country, from professional hockey to college basketball, got canceled. Schools closed, the economy started slowing, and the airlines were panicking. I couldn’t update my story fast enough to keep up, so we just kept talking. I’ve continued to interview my sister several times over the past month about what it’s been like to be a part of an industry that is imploding, with projected losses of more than $400 billion in 2020. Here’s what she told me. (Our interviews have been edited for clarity.)

Can you describe what it’s been like to be on the frontlines of the travel industry during the pandemic?

It’s been a nightmare. People are just exhausted. We’ve been working night and day to get people home. We’re trying to balance the needs of our clients while following the guidelines that each travel vendor has in place. But the guidelines have been changing multiple times a day. I feel like I need a law degree to figure out the logistics. I really don’t want to make an error that will cost my company money in the long run. It’s not an easy job. When the airlines won’t answer their phones, we’re the ones that are fielding everything. My company did layoffs for the first time in its 35-year history, and it’s my understanding that the largest travel management company in Utah laid off 200 people a few weeks ago. It’s been hard to watch the whole world come down like that.

When I first started talking to you about the industry in early March, you said you had friends in the travel business who were traveling around a lot right now and saying how great it was because there were no crowds. Has that changed?

Yep. Now people are definitely canceling their trips. I feel like there wasn’t a clear direction when all this started happening. I have a friend who was stuck on a ship. She went to Antarctica. They were supposed to disembark on March 17, but no one would let them dock. They sent her to the Falkland Islands. She finally got home on the 27th. 

 

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What sorts of issues have your clients run into in the past month?

I had a gal call, and she was actually in Seoul [just before all the travel bans] and was flying to Melbourne. She was worried her flight wasn’t going to go, if she was going to be stuck there. Her flight went, and I think she was wondering if they were even going to let her get off the plane connecting through Sydney. She made it. But in Seoul, she was very concerned she’d be stuck there for 28 days. That would be so interesting because do you stay in a hotel room for 28 days and who pays for that? How much does it cost to stay in a hotel room for 28 days and eat?

Are people pissed off about having to cancel or postpone trips?

Pissed off? No, they’re mostly scared. I haven’t had anybody that’s been pissed off. Leisure travelers, they’re definitely not pissed off. It’s more of a concern thing.

I have heard that getting your travel canceled or changed, especially with the airlines right now is a nightmare. The hold times to call sound really long. Are people freaking out about this?

I feel like I should really point out that this is why you should use a travel agent. We could get [a flight] canceled and get it all figured out for you a lot faster, so you don’t have to wait four hours on hold with Delta. There is actually value in a travel professional. We will sit on hold for four hours for you. People who don’t book with us have actually called and said, “Is there something you can do?” We help them the best we can, but it’s hard when we didn’t do the booking originally.

What sorts of interesting questions are you getting?

Somebody asked me, “Do you think the airports will be empty when I go?” I said, “I sure hope so!” They want to know, “Will I get a whole row to myself?”

The Trump administration has made a number of missteps during this crisis that seem to have had an adverse impact on travel, like when he announced during a March 11 prime-time TV address, with no advance warnings, that travel from Europe to the US would be banned. Lots of people paid ridiculous amounts of money to get home before the ban took effect, and then many got stuck in crowded lines at the airport when they arrived in the US. Have moments like that made things worse for travel agents?

It has gotten worse. After he gave his speech, travelers went into a panic, and they were calling wanting to know what he meant, and we didn’t know. We had no idea what he meant. Nobody knew. On the [after-hours] lifesavers line, it was just panic. When we have all these people who are already in Europe, and then he comes out and says there’s a ban, and now they can’t come home. It’s been a lot. People were upset. They really took it out on the lifesavers line.

You couldn’t pay me enough to go on a cruise, even before the coronavirus outbreak. So I’ve been shocked to see that right up until the companies were forced to shut down people were going on them. Are you seeing any sort of change of opinions about cruise ships now that so many people have gotten sick on them?

Nobody has said they won’t get on a cruise ship. They are more just like, “When do you think we’ll be able to go?” People love cruising.

Have you ever seen anything remotely like this before?

There was 9/11 when all the flights were cancelled, and then people didn’t want to travel. That was interesting. Then there was SARS in 2003 and that cost $50 billion in travel. I think it was SARS that really hit the travel industry. But they say that this is more comparable to 9/11 as far as what the travel industry is going to lose, and that’s a lot.

“I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with.”

Are you worried about your job?

My company has a contingency plan. I feel pretty confident in their plan, and I honestly believe that travel will come back because it always does. I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with. I don’t know how long it will go on. That’s the unknown of it, right?

When the outbreak first started to get really serious, people were saying there were travel deals to be had. Were there any deals? And are they now all just a fantasy?

There are a few deals now. I think if you wanted to try to fly tomorrow you could get a really good deal! But then you land in DC or somewhere, and you have to be quarantined for 14 days. I think you can fly from DC to Salt Lake now for like $200 for immediate travel or in June, to Hawaii from SLC is $400. Soooo there are a few deals. But everybody should just stay home.

Is anyone actually traveling anymore?

It’s funny because every day, I’m so busy still doing cancellations. If somebody calls to book a new trip, I’m like, “How do I do that?” We’re like, “You actually want to buy something? Are you sure?” That’s the first question. I am happy to issue a ticket because I know next week I’ll be canceling. It will give me something to do.

One of the hardest things I’ve found about the pandemic is the way it’s put life on hold. I’m a big planner, as you know, and this time of year we’re usually making all sorts of plans: summer camp, vacations, trips to see you. What do you tell people who are in this weird purgatory?

You really have to go on like everything’s fine and make your summer plans. You could interview me now about the Utah toilet paper shortage.

Democracy Dies in Blah Blah Blah

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

In a live appearance on the Fox News network (3/30/20), Donald Trump said it was good that Democratic proposals for increased voting protections and ballot access—including vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting, as well equipment and staffing to make voting safe during the pandemic—were not included in the coronavirus relief package.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

“There is scant evidence of actual large-scale voter fraud in this country,” Aaron Blake (Washington Post, 3/30/20) notes in his 14th paragraph.

If Trump was guilty of saying the quiet part loud, as a number of commentators pointed out, the Washington Post can be charged with saying a straight thing crooked. In the Post‘s March 30 account:

Trump didn’t expand on the thought. But he clearly linked high turnout to Republicans losing elections. The most generous reading of his comment is that he was referring to large-scale voter fraud resulting from the easier vote-by-mail options; Trump has in the past baselessly speculated about millions of fraudulent votes helping Democrats in the 2016 election. The more nefarious reading would be that allowing more people to participate in the process legally would hurt his party because there are more Democratic-leaning voters in the country.

Well, which do you want to be—”generous” or “nefarious”? And baseless speculation about fraud—that’s otherwise known as lying, right? So now the generous reading—not “unreasonable,” but “generous”—is that a person who has lied about this very thing is lying about it again. There had to be a clearer way to get that across.

The reporter, Aaron Blake, would likely say, if asked, that he believes, and thinks readers will take away, that “nefarious” reading. Yet here we have the specter of voter fraud—debunked again and again, including in the Post (e.g., 11/5/18)—being legitimized by consideration. Reporters may think this is tactful, grown-up language, when it’s actually misleading, milquetoast language that does the opposite of what journalism is meant to do—which is clarify issues, break down doublespeak, and help readers understand what’s happening.

Which is that the president of the country has declared himself an opponent of one person, one vote democracy. We already knew that, but he said it out loud, on the record. The thing to do would be to take him at his word, and to assume that his actions have been and will be of a piece with this expressed view. And if you really want to get wild, you might actually be critical of this anti-democratic position, call for resistance to it, and actually platform those who do resist it.

“Democracy dies in darkness,” the Post‘s Trump-era branding tells us. True, but sometimes also in broad daylight, if you smother it with blah blah blah.

ACTION ALERT: Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

The 2020 Election Is Now About the Coronavirus. Here’s How Progressive Groups Plan to Win It.

Mother Jones Magazine -

On March 8, a group of progressive opinion researchers wrapped up three days of polling American public attitudes on the coronavirus. By March 11, the day Navigator Research released those findings, the World Health Organization officially elevated the crisis to pandemic status, the NBA canceled its season, and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had COVID-19. That night, Trump gave an Oval Office address that failed to quell fears, setting off a market spiral the following morning.

“I remember feeling like we did a survey that is already out of date in four days,” says Bryan Bennett, the director of polling and analytics at the Hub Project, a progressive group that houses the Navigator Research project. “The only comparable experience, at least in my career, was during the initial part of the financial crisis. But this was just a whole other level.” 

“You can’t wait until October to tell the American people about how roundly he screwed this up.” 

As most Americans’ routines were upended by the virus, so was the political landscape. Even though the November elections were still eight months away, the coronavirus made it clear to progressive operatives and advocates that they had an immediate role to play, and that they could make a big difference by launching ad campaigns that define Trump on the election’s new and biggest question. Health care and the economy, already front-and-center on voters’ minds, were now even more urgent, and tied to a larger debate, the outcome of which will likely determine who occupies the White House next year: Whether President Donald Trump has failed in anticipating and responding to the crisis.

“The narrative Democrats set now forms the prism through which future news will be interpreted,” says Daniel Scarvalone, a digital strategist at the Democratic digital firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. “Not all Americans are going to watch the news and come to their own conclusions that Donald Trump is doing a bad job. They need their elected officials, state or city leaders, and campaigns to draw the connection between the Trump administration’s actions and the fact that their kids can’t go to school. And that’s the fundamental challenge Democrats have to deal with.”

Outside group spending has long had a major role to play in campaigns, and never more so given current campaign finance laws that allow super PACs and dark money groups to collect and spend unlimited sums. Often they play the bad cop, going negative and attacking the politician they oppose while allowing their preferred candidate to stay positive and appear above the fray. In 2012, the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action laid into Mitt Romney with ads portraying him as a heartless capitalist who shut down midwestern factories to turn a profit that defined the republican nominee for the rest of the election and helped sink his campaign.  

On March 12, a group dedicated to preserving and expanding the Affordable Care Act, called Protect Our Care, released the first political television ad that mentioned the coronavirus. It targeted Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) for his opposition to Obamacare. Montanans already worried about health care were now also worried about coronavirus, the ad’s narrator intoned.

But Protect Our Care quickly realized that as a group focused on health care, they had a larger role to play, and broadened its messaging to include the country’s biggest contest by setting up what it calls its “Coronavirus War Room,” a messaging hub meant to hold Trump accountable for the ways he has made the crisis worse. Last week, it began blasting off memos targeting Trump to the press while also acting as a messaging clearinghouse for other groups. Protect Our Care also started hosting calls three times a week with progressive groups to get everyone on the same talking points. Brad Woodhouse, the group’s executive director, said that last week’s Wednesday call hit its limit of 100 participants. 

“They’re gonna want to crown him the King of Corona.”

“Our focus at Protect Our Care and the Coronavirus War Room is largely on the accountability piece and with that it’s almost exclusively focused on Trump,” says Woodhouse, a longtime Democratic operative. “You can’t wait until October to tell the American people about how roundly he screwed this up.”

Woodhouse sums up the core messages pushed from the war room: “He screwed it up from the beginning, he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, he’s downplayed the crisis, he doesn’t listen to experts, and that continues to make the crisis worse.” You can see the strategy deployed in the emails his team blasts out, often three a day, which attack Trump on a range of issues, including the administration’s failure to prepare by ramping up testing and the manufacture of medical equipment and protective gear; its elimination of key offices and positions charged with pandemic preparedness; and by elevating Trump’s comments, like downplaying the need for ventilators, that contradict medical experts.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has been churning out press releases with the opposite message. On March 19, the campaign sent out a timeline of the “Trump administration’s decisive actions to combat the coronavirus,” including travel advisories regarding China and the dissemination of tests—though extensive reporting has shown the administration critically bungled testing for months, leading to a deficit that is still crippling the response. In multiple emails from the campaign’s “Trump War Room,” the campaign points a finger at the media, labeling it “dishonest.” In the past few days, the campaign has claimed that the Obama administration failed to stockpile medical equipment and blaming then Vice President Biden.

The president’s message has been embraced by conservative outlets, most notably Fox News. Like Trump, the network initially downplayed the crisis, with Sean Hannity, its most-watched host, calling the pandemic a hoax. (Nine days later, he falsely claimed he never had.) But eventually, it adopted a shift in tone more in line with public health warnings about the severity of the pandemic, but that nonetheless accommodated pro-Trump messaging. The network has aggressively pushed the anti-Malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 just as Trump has done, without mentioning that there is scant evidence to support their use. In the past few days, Fox hosts and guests have also floated the idea on air and in social media posts  that claims of overwhelmed hospitals are a conspiracy, circulating grassroots reports of purportedly empty local hospital parking lots and emergency rooms. The network also gave cover to an idea floated by Trump, but quickly-abandoned, that older Americans would be proud to sacrifice their lives to protect the economy for younger people.

“It’s absolutely crucial that voters hear the facts about Trump’s inaction and misleading statements.”

“One thing has been clear from the last five years of Trump, which is that he has enough right-wing information channels that even when we think he will implode, he rarely does,” says Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic consultant. “They’re gonna want to crown him the King of Corona like Eisenhower was after D-Day no matter what happens.”

To fight pro-Trump narratives, Democratic message warriors are looking for fresh data on how his words and actions are hitting home amid the crisis. For nearly two years, Navigator Research, which is operated by two progressive polling firms, Global Strategy Group and GBAO Research and Strategy in consultation with the Hub Project, has put out monthly polls to help guide progressive messaging on a variety of issues. Two weeks ago, the project decided to scrap the monthly poll and set up a daily tracker to understand people’s attitudes toward the coronavirus and Trump’s handling of the crisis. “We can’t handle this appropriately in real time as a progressive movement, as Democratic leaders, if we don’t understand how the public is processing it—because it is uncharted territory,” said Ian Sams, a Democratic strategist who consults with the Hub Project and Navigator Research. “We’ve never had 3 million people file for unemployment in a week.” Recent numbers show the situation is even more unprecedented: 10 million jobless benefit claims in two weeks.

Over the last two weeks, the project’s poll has captured data uncovering areas where Trump remains out of step with American opinion. When Trump floated the idea of prioritizing the economy over public health, the tracking poll released last Friday showed that people were more worried about their health and the health of those they know than the economy. Over the course of its first week, the poll showed Americans’ view of Trump’s overall handling of the crisis was trending downward. Small majorities last week believed Trump’s response has been “unprepared” and “chaotic.”

“Voters have deep concern about the character flaws of Donald Trump,” says Ferguson, who, in his work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign saw such opinions shape that election cycle. “They identify that he’s selfish, that he’s dishonest, and that he’s chaotic. But up until now, those flaws have never had a cost. Up until now people wrote those flaws off as ‘He tweets too much.’ Now, the fundamental character flaws of Donald Trump are having real consequences. That more than anything else may be his undoing.”

Multiple Democratic super PACs have begun to run advertisements on Facebook and on television to hammer this message, though campaign finance law prohibits them from coordinating with progressive groups that are subject to fundraising restrictions. Pacronym, a Democratic super PAC affiliated with the digital firm Acronym, announced on March 17 that it would spend $2.5 million through April on Facebook ads to educate voters about “how the Trump administration’s chaos and incompetence have weakened the nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis.” The effort is focused on battleground states.

“The fundamental character flaws of Donald Trump are having real consequences.”

Priorities USA Action, another Democratic super PAC, began running television ads last Tuesday in the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The ad splices clips of Trump downplaying the crisis with a growing chart showing the rising number of infections in the United States. The Trump campaign issued a cease and desist letter to TV stations asking them to remove the ad; the group responded by putting it on the air in Arizona as well. A version with updated numbers went up this week. On Wednesday, the group spent another $1 million on a television ad that contrasts Trump’s response with remarks Biden has made about how he would handle the crisis. It also began running a Facebook ad juxtaposing Trump and Biden.

“This is the most important issue in the country today,” says Katie Drapcho, Priorities USA Action’s director of research and polling. “I think it’s a defining moment for Trump’s presidency and the country. And our view is that it’s absolutely crucial that voters hear the facts about Trump’s inaction and misleading statements.” 

Last week, Unite the Country PAC, a super PAC started in 2019 to support Biden’s campaign, spent $1 million to broadcast an ad accusing Trump of failing in this time of crisis, and added another TV spot on the same theme on Tuesday. “We have a lot of partnerships with organizations on the IE side,” says Drapcho, referring to independent expenditures made by other super PACs, though not naming them. “[We] are making sure that we’re synced up with them as best that we can.” Protect Our Care, the group behind the Coronavirus War Room, launched new ads across Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania this week targeting Trump his unprepared response to the crisis.

As this new deluge of ads hits Trump in key states, America First Action, the main super PAC set up to defend Trump, appears to have been caught flat footed. After Trump aides and allies expressed concerns about the lack of air cover backing the president, America First Action announced it would spend $10 million to run television and digital ads attacking Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, set to begin in mid-April, nearly a month after Democrats began pounding the president.

Messaging is only one piece of what Democratic groups must address to compete effectively through the coronavirus crisis. Earlier in March, the calls run by Protect Our Care included legislative updates from Congress alongside information on public health. Looking forward, the logistics of campaigning during a pandemic loom. It’s one thing to figure out how to attack Donald Trump, it’s another to do so without rallies or door knocking. It’s a problem for the Democratic nominee, but also for organizers behind voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs. 

“You have a lot of progressive Democratic groups both rethinking their plans for events over the spring and summer and beginning to write Plan B for their canvas programs and door knocking in the fall,” said a Democratic consultant. “No one is implementing Plan B yet. But lots of people are putting pen to paper, because no one really knows.” Just as social gatherings have transitioned to FaceTime and Zoom, it seems certain that new forms of political organizing will be digitized.

But for now, working from their homes, many Democrats allies see the political response as urgent. Scarvalone, the digital strategist, points to Navigator Research’s finding that over 60 percent of Americans believe Trump was unprepared for the crisis. “But it isn’t yet translating into an equal percentage of people who hate how he’s handling it,” he says.

“We lose if we don’t make the consequences of his actions tangible to everyday people.”

Bama Athreya on Gig Economy & Covid-19

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

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This week on CounterSpin: The Wall Street Journal called frontline workers like grocery store employees and food deliverers “unexpected heroes” of the Covid-19 pandemic, which should prompt the question: Unexpected to whom? The truth is the US has always relied on low-paid, unprotected workers for all kinds of services, only now it’s called a “gig economy” and celebrated by some as some radical way forward, offering workers “flexibility” and a chance to “be your own boss.” Strikes going on around the country right now are an indication of how workers themselves are reacting to this moment, in which it’s being made painfully clear that they are deemed both essential and expendable at once.

We’ll talk about the gig economy with Bama Athreya, economic inequality fellow with the Open Society Foundations.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at recent coverage of voter protection, AP‘s coronavirus boilerplate and retail anti-heroes.

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Stimulus Checks Coming Soon for Low-Income Workers

Mother Jones Magazine -

If the IRS has direct deposit information for you, you’ll get your $1,200 stimulus payment in a couple of weeks:

Then, starting the week of May 4, the IRS will begin issuing paper checks to individuals, says the memo obtained by AP Thursday. The paper checks will be issued at a rate of about 5 million per week, which means it could take up to 20 weeks to get all the checks out. That timeline would delay some checks until the week of Aug. 17.

Hmmm. I suppose it’s too much to ask that they at least get the money out to the poorest folks first. Hell, knowing how they usually operate, they’ll probably—

The checks will be issued in reverse order of adjusted gross income, meaning that people with the lowest income will get payments first.

Oh. Well, good job.

I wonder why they’re issuing only 5 million checks per week? Is that literally the limit of the check printers they have? Or what?

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: April 2 Update

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here’s the coronavirus growth rate through April 1. France had a big jump today and is now right on the Italian track. Spain continues to skyrocket. Britain is now above the Italian track. And the United States recorded its first day with more than a thousand deaths. On the bright side, Italy now looks like it’s definitely starting to decline from its peak.

I’ve gotten a few questions about death rates recently. As you recall, a while back I switched from tracking cases to tracking deaths because the case numbers were too inaccurate. Now, however, there are questions about whether countries are even counting deaths accurately. And if they aren’t, how does that affect the charts?

Not much, I think. There’s been no suggestion that different countries are counting deaths differently, nor that the counts have changed over time. It’s mostly a matter of people dying at home and not getting counted. There are also legitimate questions of what “counts” as a coronavirus death. In any case, I don’t think any of this shows up as a systematic difference either between countries or over time, so the charts are still reasonably accurate. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

How to read the charts: Let’s use France as an example. For them, Day 0 was March 5, when they surpassed one death per 10 million by recording their sixth death. They are currently at Day 28; total deaths are at 900x their initial level; and they have recorded a total of 80.6 deaths per million so far. As the chart shows, this is exactly where Italy was on their Day 28.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

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