Happy Friday, the country is melting down!
Lots of news today so let’s jump right to it.
Texas and Florida set yet another record for COVID-19 cases on Friday, continuing the sad, steep inclines that can be directly attributed to their respective governor’s recklessly early reopenings. Florida reported a gigantic spike in new cases on Friday, nearly hitting 9,000 for the first time.
Meanwhile, Texas has gotten so bad that Gov. Ken Abbott, who yesterday paused the state’s reopening and said rolling it back was the last resort, realized pretty quickly that merely keeping restaurants at 75% capacity and bars at 50% capacity wasn’t going to cut it or keep anyone safe. On Friday, he broke the emergency glass and ordered bars to close and restaurants to scale back down to 50% capacity. His order also limited public gatherings to 100 people — it was previously at 500 — and put a moratorium on river rafting because people just couldn’t help themselves.
The Florida cases really stick in my craw because the state was never all that safe from coronavirus. The numbers were always in the middle of the pack, even early on, and the state has so many vulnerable seniors. And yet, not only did the GOP force a reopening, it was cheered on by the malignant right-wing media, which has reached new levels of public depravity over the past few years. It’s one thing to go hard on a political rival or fear-monger about taxes, but openly cheering for policies that put millions of people at risk of dying.
Just over a month ago, Rich Lowry, who people seem to still treat as if he’s a moderately sensible person without extreme bloodlust, published a story in the National Review asking “Where Does Ron DeSantis Get His Apology?” which has aged about as well as Mickey Rourke.
Check this out:
In response to the spike, Florida just banned alcohol sales at bars, so that should fix things right up.
Don’t look now, but Ohio’s coronavirus numbers are spiking as well:
New Mexico’s cases are rising, as well, which is something to keep an eye on.
Insanity in North Carolina
OK, another COVID story, but I wanted to break this one out because it ties into so much of what I’ve been working on over the last few years.
In 1953, North Carolina passed a law that banned the wearing of masks and hoods in public, part of an effort to curb the rampant KKK. When the coronavirus took root, the state’s Democratic attorney general said that the law shouldn’t be an impediment to protective face masks, since they did not violate the intent of the 1953 ban, but when the legislature passed a coronavirus relief bill in early May, lawmakers still created an official exemption for those masks that would last until August.
The assumption when it passed was that the virus would be in serious decline come the end of July, but the exact opposite thing is happening right now, with case numbers continuing to climb. In an effort to get a handle on the virus, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday issued an executive order that mandated that North Carolinians wear masks while out in public. It’s a logical move — Texas and Florida refuse to do it, which is all you need to know — but of course, he’s running into problems.
First, Republicans are playing hardball on lifting the face mask ban or extending the exception to next year, as Democrats have proposed. In exchange, they want a guarantee that people caught not wearing a mask would not face any criminal charges or fines, which makes the mandate entirely unenforceable. It seemed they had a deal last night, but it fell through because of geniuses like this:
We're trying to work out that middle ground to where individuals can feel free to wear masks and can feel free of penalties and of being forced to wear masks," Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said after 3 a.m. Friday, when the legislature wrapped up its business, at least for the next two weeks.
Republicans really don’t need to be playing hardball on this, though, because a number of sheriffs across the state have already said that they won’t enforce the mandate.
By the way, as I was researching this story, I came across a photo of a legislator who decided that instead of wearing a mask, he’d cosplay as the dumbest guy to sign the Declaration of Independence. A bit more research revealed him to be Rep. Michael Speciale, a far-right Republican — originally and fittingly of the Tea Party — who is retiring this year after getting trounced in the GOP special Congressional election primary last year.
Here he is, in all his glory:
On the subject of mask requirements, a similar — if less arcane — battle is happening in Florida. Nikki Fried, the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the one statewide elected Democrat, is putting pressure on Gov. Ron DeSantis to just bite the bullet and do the bare minimum.
It’s Getting Heated in Georgia
A very acrimonious week in the Georgia legislature has lawmakers on edge and at one another’s throats. Legislatively, we’ve seen the state finally adopt a Hate Crimes law (good!) while continuing its assault on voters and handing even more power to dangerous police departments (very bad!). That last item led to a very bitter debate on the Assembly floor on Wednesday, with the bad blood subsequently spilling over to the lawmakers’ offices.
Here are the pertinent details:
Georgia State Patrol officers in the building were summoned to the fourth floor to defuse the confrontation between Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas and Republican state Rep. David Clark, though several witnesses said they weren’t necessary.
It was triggered by a Facebook post by Clark that said he was in “utter shock” over remarks on social media by another Democratic lawmaker.
Someone responded to Clark’s post with a meme depicting the garage pull rope formed as a noose that was found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace's garage this weekend.
Thomas said in an interview that she and another colleague demanded that Clark delete the comment after they saw it, and that she was upset when he told her he would “look into it” rather than committing to erasing the remark.
Sadly, “I’ll look into it” is as good a response as you’ll get from many Georgia Republicans when abject racism is waved in their faces.
The photo of the noose was later deleted.
They’re Trying to Kill People
Yesterday, I mentioned that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a letter, cosigned by other Republican state AGs, requesting that the Supreme Court repeal all of Obamacare. Shortly after I sent my email, word broke that the White House filed a similar brief, calling for the total teardown of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans have made the ACA their bête noire for most of the last decade, but trying to repeal it in the middle of the worst public health crisis in over a century is particularly mendacious. Not only would that strip over the two million Americans who have been infected with COVID-19 of protection for their pre-existing conditions, it steal take insurance from tens of millions of people. According to a new study, that includes nearly 500,000 Americans who signed up for a plan in the ACA exchanges after losing their jobs during this pandemic.
Unemployment Spike Coming!
As we now know, the increased unemployment benefits and direct stimulus from the CARES Act have actually decreased poverty in the United States over the last few months. Now, we have some solid numbers that show just how crucial they’ve been to middle-class families in the United States, as well:
In May of 2020, UI benefits were 14.6% of total wage and salary income, several times larger than the pre-coronavirus historical high of 2.5% that was registered during 2010.
In case you need to see it in graph form:
Lots more good data and info at the EPI’s site.