Taliban Back In Action | Attending a COVID-19 Party | Church and State, Inseparable
July 14, 2020
“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.“ ― George Carlin
Church and State, Inseparable
(Pacific Press via Getty Images)
Congress created the $659 billion Cares Act: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) beginning in April to keep small businesses afloat and Americans employed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Loans were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Normally houses of worship and faith-based organizations promoting religious beliefs aren’t eligible for money from the Small Business Administration (SBA). However, Congress allowed faith groups and other nonprofits to participate in the PPP, as long as they abided by the SBA’s “affiliation rule,” which says only businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including all subsidiaries, are eligible.
The US Roman Catholic Church immediately began promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules. The church also started an aggressive lobbying effort to get an exception to the SBA’s affiliation rule. And despite the SBA rule disallowing loan applicants who’ve received bankruptcy protection, four dioceses in bankruptcy from mounting claims of sexual abuse by clergy sued the government to receive loans.
Intense early preparation, lobbyists, lawsuits, a special exemption, and a phone call with President Trump enabled the Catholic Church to amass at least $1.4 billion, and possibly more than $3.5 billion, in taxpayer-backed COVID-19 relief aid. The bulk of the money was approved during the loan program’s first two weeks, when demand was so high the initial $349 billion was quickly exhausted, and many local businesses were shut out.
Many millions went to dioceses that had paid hundreds of millions in settlements or sought bankruptcy protection due to clergy sexual abuse cover-ups. So far at least 3,500 of those loans are forgivable.
Arguably, the special consideration the government gave faith groups in the loan program has further eroded the wall between church and state provided for in the First Amendment, allowing religious groups that don’t pay any taxes to gain more access to public money.
Duda Doubles Down
(NurPhoto via Getty Images)
- Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has won a second term, barely squeaking by his opponent, Warsaw’s Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski. It was the closest presidential election in the country since the end of Communist rule in 1989. Turnout was very high, with 68.18 percent of the electorate casting ballots.
- Trzaskowski supported LGBT rights, and the majority of people under age 50 voted for him, but overall his supporters made up only 48.97 percent of the total count. Duda’s promise to protect “traditional families” appealed to older voters and church goers; he received 51.03 percent of the total vote.
- In his first five year term, Duda and his Law and Justice party fought to control the courts and media, undermining open political debate and the rule of law, while stoking fear of gay people, the European Union, and foreigners. Trzaskowski had cast the election as a fight for the soul of the nation.
- To Duda’s opponents, Sunday’s loss was the last best chance to protect a path toward a healthy democracy. The next parliamentary elections aren’t scheduled until 2023, so Duda’s victory means he can continue reshaping Poland with his nationalist agenda that critics fear is undermining democratic institutions. (NYT)
Taliban Turns Up the Heat
- The Taliban has been engaged in a bloody wave of violence across northern Afghanistan. On Monday, insurgents bombed the entrance to an Afghan intelligence complex in the city of Aybak, some 150 miles northwest of Kabul, then stormed the offices in a sustained gun battle. At least 11 people were killed, and more than 60 wounded.
- The opening of official peace talks between the insurgency and the Afghan government has been stalled for months. But the US and the Taliban signed a preliminary peace deal in February that began the withdrawal of American forces.
- In that deal, the Taliban guaranteed they wouldn’t attack American targets, but the agreement lacked any guarantee of a cease-fire with Afghans. American officials have said they had an understanding with the Taliban that insurgents would reduce their levels of violence by 80 percent and not attack inside major cities and population centers. Monday’s attack in Aybak appears to breach that understanding. (NYT)
Additional World News
- US rejects nearly all Chinese claims in South China Sea (AP)
- TikTok’s problems are all about China — and they’ll be hard to fix (Verge)
- China announces retaliatory sanctions against Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (Guardian)
- Singapore Slumps Into Recession With Record 41.2% GDP Plunge (Bloomberg, $)
- Sudan Will Scrap Alcohol and Apostasy Laws, and End Flogging (NYT, $)
- A second revolution? Syrians take to streets under Russia’s watchful eye (Guardian)
- ‘I Felt Defenseless’: Seoul Mayor’s Secretary Speaks Out About Alleged Abuse (NYT, $)
- Ghislaine Maxwell must stay in jail due to ‘extreme flight risk’, prosecutors say (Guardian)
- Trudeau admits ‘mistake’ while facing third ethics inquiry in office (BBC)
- Coronavirus autopsies: Small vessel blood clotting found in patients, pathologist says (CNN)
- Can you catch Covid-19 twice? A doctor suggests herd immunity could be wishful thinking (Vox)
- Anthony Fauci: ‘We are living in the perfect storm’ (Financial Times)
- The End of California’s Coronavirus Miracle (Atlantic, $)
- How California failed at coronavirus testing from the start (LA Times, $)
- California Closes Indoor Businesses Statewide As COVID-19 Cases Surge (NPR)
- Pittsburgh Seemed Like a Virus Success Story. Now Cases Are Surging. (NYT, $)
- How the Smallest State Engineered a Big Covid Comeback (Politico)
- U.N. Report Says Pandemic Could Push Up To 132 Million People Into Hunger (NPR)
- Why Is the COVID-19 Death Rate Down? (Atlantic, $)
- How Covid-19 has changed grocery shopping (BBC)
Trump Executes Execution
- The Trump administration began trying to revive capital punishment at the federal level within months of the president’s 2017 inauguration. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had imposed a de facto moratorium on executions due to problems getting execution drugs while long-running legal challenges to lethal injections played out in federal courts.
- A new lethal injection protocol was announced in 2019, and the first federal execution in 17 years was scheduled for 4 pm on Monday, July 13. But at 9 am that morning, Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, DC issued an injunction ordering the US Department of Justice to delay four executions scheduled for July and August to allow continuation of the condemned men’s legal challenges against the new protocol.
- The judge sided with a medical expert cited by the inmates, writing in her order: “The scientific evidence before the court overwhelmingly indicates that the 2019 Protocol is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”
- Sentenced to death for killing three members of an Arkansas family in 1996, Daniel Lewis Lee was due to be executed by lethal injection at the Justice Department’s execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. (Reuters)
A Perilous Party
- A 30-year-old Texas man thought that COVID-19 was a hoax, so he attended a COVID-19 party, the premise of which is to test whether the virus really exists or to intentionally become exposed in an attempt to gain immunity.
- Some health officials and public officials doubted the existence of COVID-19 parties, but they were all wrong. The chief medical officer at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio said the man advised he had attended a gathering with an infected person to test whether the virus was real. He soon became infected and was hospitalized.
- Shortly before he died, he told his nurse: “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.” No additional information was given about when or where the party was, how many people were there, if there were more parties, how long after the event the man was hospitalized, or who the man was.
- There have been similar reports about students at the University of Alabama gathering to bet on who could get infected with the virus first, with the sickened winner taking home the money. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- Monthly U.S. Budget Deficit Soared to Record $864 Billion in June (NYT, $)
- Millions Have Lost Health Insurance in Pandemic-Driven Recession (NYT, $)
- US judge rules Georgia’s six-week abortion ban violates constitution (Guardian)
- 17 states, DC sue Trump administration over visa rules for college students (CNN)
- Betsy DeVos insists all US children should be in school this fall (Guardian)
- Los Angeles and San Diego schools to remain online-only in autumn (Guardian)
- Chicago Police Department arrest API shutdown is its own kind of ‘cover up’ (Chicago Reporter)
- Explosion Aboard Navy Warship In San Diego Injures At Least 57 (NPR)
- Headed to the Convention? Not I, More Republicans Are Saying (NYT, $)
- Trump Says He “Disagreed” With Privately Funded Border Wall, So Why Did His Administration Award the Builder $1.7 Billion in Contracts to Erect More Walls? (ProPublica)
- Presidents Leave. Czars Stick Around. (Atlantic, $)
- Inside Democrats’ 2020 Plan (NYT, $)
- Washington’s NFL team confirm they will drop racist ‘Redskins’ nickname (Guardian)
Koalas With Chlamydia
- As taboo as it may be to admit, sexually transmitted diseases are quite prevalent amongst humans. 1 in 10 sexually active teenagers are likely infected with chlamydia, the world’s most prevalent STD. With 131 million new cases popping up every year, finding a cure to this intimate illness is a significant public health concern.
- In search of this STD solution, humans are turning to an unlikely ally: koalas. Yes, koalas, the lethargic leaf eaters. As it turns out, a variety of mammals deal with chlamydia, and the key to a vaccine may be found in the smelly bum of a koala bear.
- Chlamydia, unlike other STDs, contains a limited number of gene variations, meaning the bacteria plaguing koalas is remarkably similar to the one that promotes infertility issues in humans. This genetic similarity is allowing scientists to run entire chlamydia vaccine trials on koala bears, without risking human health.
- The stakes of these trials are high for man and marsupial alike. Humans can go years without showing symptoms of the disease, allowing it to linger for years without treatment and complicate efforts to have a baby later in life. Chlamydia also accounts for around 40% of koala hospital visits at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital.
- If a koala vaccine be found, it will represent a rare win-win scenario in medical animal testing. Humans will find themselves one step closer to a complete eradication of pesky STDs, while koalas will be rewarded with a manmade cure for their entire species to enjoy. (NYT)
- Why intellectuals are scared of ‘cancel culture’ (Verge)
- How Can the Press Best Serve a Democratic Society? (New Yorker, $)
- Palantir Goes to the Frankfurt School (Boundary 2). Palantir is one of the largest and most controversial Silicon Valley companies you’ve never heard of. The company deals in big data analytics, working with governments and companies on projects including tracking terrorists and profiling immigrants for deportation.
- An Evangelist for Remote Work Sees the Rest of the World Catch On (NYT, $)
- Teletherapy, Popular in the Pandemic, May Outlast It (NYT, $)
- The remote work experiment that upped productivity 13% (BBC) The experiment showed that some people were more productive than others while working from home, so don’t feel too bad if you’re burning out right now.
- I Have Cancer. Now My Facebook Feed Is Full of ‘Alternative Care’ Ads. (NYT, $). While many are focused on Facebook’s stance on moderating its content, the company also needs to improve its ad vetting process to protect people from misinformation which could literally affect their lives.
- Why email loses out to popular apps in China (BBC)
- New equation ‘could predict earthquakes better’ say Edinburgh experts (BBC)
- Flailing States: Anglo-America Loses its Grip (London Review of Books)
- Here be black holes: Like sea monsters on premodern maps, deep-space images are science’s fanciful means to chart the edges of the known world (Aeon)
- Korean Pop, Away From The Hit Factories (NPR)
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