Saturday, May 2, 2020

Last Call For Giving Them The Business

Small business owners don't want to use the Payroll Protection Program loans to actually keep workers on the payroll. They want to use it to pay off other things, because there's no point in paying workers with no demand.

When a $192,000 loan from the federal government’s small-business aid program arrived in his bank account last month, George Evageliou, the founder of a custom woodworking company, felt like one of the lucky ones.

Under the program’s rules, Mr. Evageliou has eight weeks from the day he received the cash to spend it. But nearly three weeks after the clock started on April 14, he hasn’t used a penny.

His quandary? If Mr. Evageliou wants his loan to be forgiven, he must spend three-quarters of it paying the 16 workers he laid off from Urban Homecraft, his Brooklyn business, in late March. But bringing his workers back now, when they can’t work in their fabrication shop or install woodwork in clients’ homes, won’t help his business. And if New York City remains shut when his eight weeks are up in mid-June, Mr. Evageliou would have to lay off his employees again — something he wants to spare them.

The government has “made this so hard to use,” he said. “It starts to feel like a lose-lose situation.”

The $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program was meant to extend a lifeline to small businesses battered by the pandemic, allowing them to keep employees on the payroll. But it has been dogged by problems. Countless small businesses couldn’t get money, and hundreds of millions of dollars instead flowed to publicly traded companies.

Now many of the small businesses that did get loans are sitting on the money, unsure about whether and how to spend it. That’s compromising the effectiveness of a program meant to help stabilize the country’s reeling economy.

Some owners don’t see the point of hiring back workers when business is so slow. Others chafe at having to use the money within eight weeks, when they would like to keep the financial cushion for longer. And many of the owners are confused about whether they have any flexibility. They would rather use the cash to retool their operations for an altered world or buy protective equipment for workers, but the rules require them to spend it on specific expenses, like payroll.

Owners also say they are afraid of running afoul of the program’s rules, which are complicated, ambiguous and still evolving. Accountants, lawyers and lenders are struggling to understand the nuances and offering clients tentative guidance.

“It’s chaos,” said Howard M. Berkower, a New York lawyer who advises corporate clients. “It’s impossible for businesses to have any degree of comfort that they’re following the rules when the rules are still being written.”

I don't know how I feel about this.

On one hand, I understand that the Trump regime tends to change the rules all they want to as far as enforcement, and I certainly would be wary of taking a PPP loan knowing that the regime could suddenly demand, say, all the money back from all PPP recipients in California or New York because of surprise fine print.

On the other hand, paying your workers would help solve the demand problem, now wouldn't it?

Meet The New Normal, Same As The Old Normal

America is increasingly deciding that stay-at-home orders aren't feasible anymore as cellular metadata shows traffic and grocery shopping patterns are returning to pre-lockdown numbers.

Apple’s Mobility Trends report shows that traffic in the US and other countries like Germany has pretty much doubled in the past three weeks. It had been down up to 72%. And location data provider Foursquare says that gas and fast food visits are back to pre-COVID-19 levels in the American Midwest.

Rural areas are following the same pattern.

“Gas station traffic has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in the Midwest, and in rural areas throughout the country,” Foursquare said yesterday in a blog post. “Foot traffic to quick service restaurants (QSRs) has risen over the past several weeks.”

Whether governments, medical professionals, and scientists want it to or not, people seem tired of the shutdown and eager to get back to some semblance of normal life.

Another sign of the impending return to normal?

Grocery store visits are down to normal levels, after being 30-40% higher than normal in late March as people tried to stock up for a long shutdown.

While the Apple data is measured by people searching Apple Maps for directions, the Foursquare data is captured by people actually visiting locations. 13 million Americans have granted the company permission to capture their data and use it in privacy-safe ways.

While more people are going more places, it hasn’t impacted a number of hard-hit industries just yet.:
Gyms: still down 65-69%
Clothing stores: still down 72%
Furniture stores: still down 56-60%
Movie theaters: still down 75%

Nail salons, on the other hand, are “only” down 38-42%, and hotels in the Midwest are down just 49%, compared to a 63-70% decline in other regions.

Interestingly, as Apple’s data from Canada shows, while driving and walking are edging back up to normal levels, people are avoiding transit, which is still down 79% from pre-Coronavirus levels. Driving by yourself is safe, apparently, but sitting in a bus or on a train with hundreds of others is not.

The economic damage is starting to come home to roost this month, and  businesses are going to tank very quickly still, but America is clearly done with staying at home.

That remains a serious problem because COVID-19 remains a serious problem.

The World Health Organization extended its declaration of a global health emergency on Friday amid increasing criticism from the Trump Administration about its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes exactly three months after the organization’s original decision to announce a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. At the time, only 98 of the nearly 10,000 confirmed cases had occurred outside China’s borders. 
But the pandemic continues to grow. More than 3.2 million people around the world are known to have been infected, and nearly a quarter million have died, according to official counts. There is evidence on six continents of sustained transmission of the virus.

All of this has led experts in the W.H.O.’s emergency committee to reconvene to assess the course of the outbreak, and to advise on updated recommendations, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director-general.

“The pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern,” Dr. Tedros said, adding that the crisis “has illustrated that even the most sophisticated health systems are struggling to cope with a pandemic.”

A rapid rise in new cases in Africa and South America, where many countries have weak health care systems, was alarming, he said. The acceleration is occurring even as the spread of the virus has appeared to slow in many countries in Asia and Europe.

Although people are slowly starting to return to work in China after weeks of lockdowns, businesses, schools and cultural institutions are still shuttered in most parts of the world. The virus has badly damaged the global economy.

But Trump and the GOP are convinced, along with now tens of millions of Americans, that this is 100% over.  And anyone who disagrees in the Trump regime is now being eliminated.

President Trump moved to replace the top watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services after her office released a report on the shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Friday night announcement, the White House nominated a permanent inspector general to take the reins from Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who has run the office since January.

The White House nominated Jason Weida, an assistant United States attorney in Boston, as permanent inspector general. The announcement said Weida was chosen because he has overseen “numerous complex investigations in healthcare and other sectors.” He must be confirmed by the Senate.

Grimm’s removal follows a purge of high-profile federal officials and inspectors general whose work has been critical of the president. Inspectors general at large agencies serve at the pleasure of the president, but they are considered independent monitors for waste, fraud and abuse.

Trump laced into Grimm at a news conference in April, after her staff report found “severe shortages” of testing kits, delays in getting coronavirus results and “widespread shortages” of masks and other equipment at U.S. hospitals.

The president demanded to know who wrote the report, calling the findings “wrong.” He then accused reporters of having withheld that Grimm had worked in the Obama administration.

“Where did he come from, the inspector general? What’s his name? No, what’s his name? What’s his name?” Trump responded on April 6, when asked about the report, which he said was politically biased. He then attacked Grimm on Twitter, writing, “Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report.” 
Grimm is a career investigator and auditor who joined the inspector general’s office, one of the federal government’s largest, in 1999 when Bill Clinton was president. She has served in Republican and Democratic administrations and is not a political appointee.

She took over the inspector general’s office in an acting capacity in January from another acting official, who retired.

"Everything's going to be normal in a couple of weeks" is the message now.

All of this will be gone by June.

It's fantasy.

Things are going to get horrific, very quickly.

Not Just Another Day In GunCanada

It took just two weeks from the date of Canada's most lethal mass shooting rampage for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to ban a number of assault weapons for sale.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an immediate ban Friday on the sale and use of assault-style weapons in Canada, two weeks after a gunman killed 22 people in Nova Scotia. 
“Canadians need more than thoughts and prayers,” he said, rejecting the reaction of many politicians after mass shootings. 
Trudeau cited numerous mass shootings in the country, including the rampage that killed 22 in Nova Scotia April 18 and 19. He announced the ban of over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms, including two guns used by the gunman as well as the AR-15 and other weapons that have been used in a number of mass shootings in the United States

“You do not need an AR-15 to take down a deer,” Trudeau said. “So, effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade, assault weapons in this country.” 
There is a two-year amnesty period while the government creates a program that will allow current owners to receive compensation for turning in the designated firearms or keep them through a grandfathering process yet to be worked out. 
Under the amnesty, the newly prohibited firearms can only be transferred or transported within Canada for specific purposes. Owners must keep the guns securely stored until there is more information on the buyback program. 
Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Canada’s public safety minister, said details of how the buyback program will work will be determined by the government and the other parties in Parliament. 
“We can’t prejudge what the result of the parliamentary process will be. That is when details about grandfathering would be determined,” Power said. 
Trudeau said the weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. 
“Today we are closing the market for military-grade assault weapons in Canada,” he said.

Imagine a government that responded to a mass shooting with more than "thoughts and prayers", with actual action and taking the time to do it right.

What a fantasy, right?

Canada keeps doing all these things that the right-wing says would be impossible here in a "free democratic nation", and yet the country hasn't imploded into a lawless hellmouth of debauchery and rivers choked with dead babies or whatever.

I kind of expect Trump to impose sanctions just to be an asshole.

Canada has problems, of course.  But Jesus, have you seen their neighbors?

Press The Meat, Con't

It's not just Trump going after the media relentlessly, but Mike Pence too.  If you think for a moment that Pence would be less arrogant, vicious or mean towards the media than Trump, think again.

Vice President Pence’s office has threatened to retaliate against a reporter who revealed that Pence’s office had told journalists they would need masks for Pence’s visit to the Mayo Clinic — a requirement Pence himself did not follow.
Pence’s trip to the clinic Tuesday generated criticism after he was photographed without a surgical mask — the only person in the room not wearing one. The Minnesota clinic requires visitors to wear masks as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus.

Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday that he was unaware of the mask policy until his visit was over.

But Steve Herman, who covers the White House for Voice of America, suggested that there was more to the story after Karen Pence’s interview.

“All of us who traveled with [Pence] were notified by the office of @VP the day before the trip that wearing of masks was required by the @MayoClinic and to prepare accordingly,” tweeted Herman, who covered the trip as part of his rotation as one of the pool reporters, who share information with other reporters in limited-space situations.

The tweet apparently enraged Pence’s staff, which told Herman that he had violated the off-the-record terms of a planning memo that had been sent to him and other reporters in advance of Pence’s trip.

Herman said he was notified by the White House Correspondents’ Association that Pence’s office had banned him from further travel on Air Force Two, although a spokesperson in Pence’s office later told VOA managers than any punishment was still under discussion, pending an apology from Herman or VOA.

VOA is continuing to talk with Pence’s staff, said Yolanda Lopez, the director of VOA’s news center. She said it wasn’t clear how the vice president intended to proceed.

By the way, Mike Pence can actually wear a mask when he's required to and actually wants to.

Vice President Mike Pence was photographed on Thursday wearing a mask while visiting a General Motors plant in Indiana in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgment of the criticism he has received for traveling the country without one.

Mr. Pence drew intense criticism for flouting the guidelines of the Mayo Clinic, which asks all visitors to its campus in Minnesota to wear masks, during a stop there this week.

It was not the first time he has refused to don a mask since resuming a heavy travel schedule representing the administration at graduations, hospitals and factories across the country. But because he appeared to be defying rules put in place by one of the country’s most renowned medical facilities, it seemed to strike a nerve.

At the time, Mr. Pence explained that because he was tested regularly for the coronavirus, he was not at risk of contributing to asymptomatic spread and therefore did not need to wear a mask — an argument that experts immediately dismissed.

Apparently as long as it's a red state, and Pence's home state, he's willing to play by the rules. Point that out though and you get banned. 

That's what this regime does to the press.
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