Bits ‘n pieces from east, west and beyond

| July 17, 2020 8:45 AM

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

Dogs at University of Pennsylvania are being tested to see if they can sniff the difference between people with COVID-19 and those without. The Week said similar work is underway in the U.K.

President Donald Trump has tweeted “It’s totally safe for schools to re-open” during a pandemic. He’s also tweeted that “It’s not safe for [Paul] Manafort and [Roger] Stone to be in prison” during a pandemic. (Manafort plead guilty to witness tampering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and Stone was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering.)

Trump commuted Stone’s sentence. Rep. Adam Schiff told ABC News the commutation is an impeachable offense if the pardon serves to protect the president from criminal liability.

The Education Secretary told Fox News that the Trump Administration is “very seriously” considering blocking federal funds to schools that don’t plan to re-open due to COVID-19.

To safely re-open schools, involving almost 51 million students, would require an estimated $200 billion injection of federal funds, according to The Washington Post editorial staff. Those funds would include investment in masks, ventilation improvements and the hiring of more cleaning staff. The U.S. House has passed the Heroes Act, which would allow schools to open safely and carefully with the use of evidence-based best practices. The next step: A hearing in the U.S. Senate.

Regarding three Arizona teachers that shared a room to conduct remote learning, CNN reported that all three ended up with COVID-19, despite all taking precautions. One teacher, age 61, died.

A man in his 30s died after attending a “COVID Party,” News 4 San Antonio reported. A person with the novel coronavirus hosted the party. The parties also have been held in Alabama, CNN said. Attendees reportedly put money in a pot, and the first to get the virus wins the money.

Trials using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients are so far showing safe and promising results, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. The plasma may provide temporary immunity while a vaccine is developed. Plasma trials began in April at UC-San Diego.

The president votes by mail, but calls the process “substantially fraudulent.” USA Today pointed out that all 50 states already allow mail-in ballots, and Military Times supports expansion of vote-by-mail, noting that Union troops during the Civil War voted via mail. CNN says one in four voted by mail during the 2016 and 2018 elections. Due to COVID-19 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vote-by-mail wherever possible.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan for rebuilding the pandemic-devastated economy includes boosting national production of personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The Hill says the plan is being called “Build Back Better,” with decidedly less emphasis on economic globalization. It will instead embrace investing tax dollars in U.S. companies, infrastructure, research and development, alternative energy, electric vehicles and “other emerging technologies.”

More than four million workers who turn 60 this year will get “substantially lower” Social Security benefits than those turning 60 last year, due to how Social Security adjusts to reflect aggregate economy-wide wages, said Social Security Works. There is a simple fix, SSW said: amend Social Security’s indexing of earnings so it does not result in lower benefits no matter what is happening with aggregate wages nationwide.

Social Security has a reserve of $2.9 trillion, and stability of the program would be boosted by allowing high income earners to pay into the program proportionate to what lower income earners pay.

In Congress, H.R. 40 and S.B. 1083, proposed legislation, call for a study of slavery, discrimination and reparations proposals.

COVID-19 cases amongst the young, said the Wall Street Journal, are soaring in Texas, Arizona and Florida (15,300 new cases in Florida on Sunday alone). The COVID-19 death tally in the U.S. was 138,088 on July 13 (it was 132,764 a week ago), according to Worldometer. And COVID-19 cases in the military are expanding at twice the rate of the national average, the Military Times reported.

Blast from the past: After the Civil War ended, reparations were paid (about $23 million today), not to the formerly enslaved, but to those who lost their slaves. They were eligible for payment for each freed person. One enslaver requested $2,000 (but was paid $657) for William Alexander Johnson, 22, who was said to be “a skillful mechanic, very ingenious in every branch of mechanism … employed in making models for patents, in making and repairing mathematical instruments.”

Those who had been enslaved were offered $100 to relocate outside the U.S. (Few did so.) In early 1865 the federal government proposed reparations for the freed people by offering 40 acres and a mule, an offer taken by 40,000 people by spring. But after Abraham Lincoln was killed, the new president, Andrew Johnson, reversed the policy and the new landowners were evicted.

The land was returned to white enslavers, forcing many former slaves into sharecropping, which became regarded as a new form of slavery. Attempts have been made ever since at making amends for lack of reparations, and have been rejected by Congress.