• U.S.
    LA Times

    'I've never seen Las Vegas like this': As coronavirus brings change, Sin City feels the effect

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  • Politics

    Trump Pushes $1.2 Trillion Stimulus, $1,000 Checks in Two Weeks

    (Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is discussing a plan that could amount to as much as $1.2 trillion in spending -- including direct payments of $1,000 or more to Americans within two weeks -- to blunt some of the economic impact of the widening coronavirus outbreak.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pitched $250 billion in checks to be sent at the end of April with a second set of checks totaling $500 billion four weeks later if there’s still a national emergency, according to a person familiar with the matter.“Americans need cash now, and the president wants to give cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks,” Mnuchin said Tuesday at a White House briefing alongside President Donald Trump.“It is a big number,” Mnuchin told reporters later on Capitol Hill. “This is a very big situation in this economy, we put a proposal on the table that would inject $1 trillion into the economy.”The administration had been discussing a total aid package of $850 billion, but discussions later included spending as much as $1.2 trillion, according to people familiar with the matter.The cash payments would be part of a stimulus plan Mnuchin is negotiating with Congress. The administration hasn’t decided on how much to send Americans, but wants the checks to exceed $1,000, according to two people familiar with the matter.Mnuchin’s proposal included $300 billion for small business loans, $200 billion in stabilization funds, $250 billion in cash payments and a possible second round of checks, people familiar with the matter said. Including tax deferrals, that would bring the cost of the plan to around $1.2 trillion.Mnuchin said the administration will aim not to send checks to millionaires but stressed the need for urgency. The checks will be subject to some kind of income test, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.He said he talked Tuesday morning with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and he met with Republican senators at the Capitol later.The Senate GOP will work with the administration to come up with a stimulus bill and then begin negotiating with Democrats, whose votes will be needed to get the package through, McConnell said.“We’re not leaving town until we’ve constructed and passed another bill,” he said.The Senate will vote on the House-passed package and not try to combine it with a stimulus plan.While some Senate Republicans object to the House bill, “my counsel to them was to gag and vote for it,” McConnell said. Any shortcomings can be addressed in the next piece of legislation.Earlier Tuesday, Trump said, “I think we’re going to do something that gets money to them as quickly as possible.” The president said he still favored a payroll tax holiday but indicated he was willing to defer to his advisers and a growing number of lawmakers who are getting behind direct payments.Mnuchin also said the government intends to keep stock markets open.Plunging stock prices and the abrupt drop-off of consumer spending during a time of social distancing has crystallized the need for Congress to act quickly and boldly. The Federal Reserve has already used much of its toolbox to shore up the economy, leaving policymakers to dull the extent of the damage with fiscal stimulus.News of stepped-up government efforts to offset the financial damage caused by the outbreak prompted a rebound in U.S. stocks. The S&P 500 jumped as much as 7% before paring back to 4%, continuing a streak of volatility last seen during the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average notched a 2% gain.The Senate on Tuesday was poised to take up a House-passed economic relief measure. That package, negotiated by Mnuchin and Pelosi last week and endorsed by the president, pays for virus testing, bolsters unemployment and food assistance and will send tens of billions in fresh aid to states.Its centerpiece gives workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave to deal with issues involving the coronavirus, including staying home to care for children home from school. The tax credits for paid family, sick and medical leave in the virus bill would cost nearly $104.9 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.It wasn’t clear whether the Senate would attempt to add additional provisions to that legislation or take up a bigger stimulus bill separately.Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican leader, said lawmakers have not determined a path forward on added stimulus beyond the House bill, but various options are under discussion.“We’re not going to slow the process down on the House-passed package unless there’s a good reason to do it,” he said.‘Practical Limitations’The idea of issuing checks to Americans has been endorsed by lawmakers across the ideological spectrum. But it may not be practical to get money to Americans as fast as Trump desires. When Congress sent stimulus checks in 2009 to combat the financial crisis it took more than two months from the signing of the bill to checks hitting the mail.It’s quickest and simplest for Congress to send the same amount to every individual person, but still will take months to happen, Marc Gerson, a former tax counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, said. If lawmakers decide to give more money to lower-income workers, it becomes even more complicated.“There are practical limitations with cutting checks,” he said.Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that if the checks do, in fact, go out in two weeks, the boost to the economy will be seen in three weeks. “That’s how much people are already pressed. Those checks will go right into revolving debt payments like mortgages or credit cards, or putting food on the table.”In a further move to relieve financial stress on average Americans, Mnuchin said that individual taxpayers can get a deadline extension on paying taxes of up to $1 million and corporations can defer tax payments of up to $10 million. The deferments can total as much as $300 billion, Mnuchin said, up from $200 billion he proposed last week.The 90-day delay gives taxpayers additional time to pay their outstanding tax liabilities without interest or penalties. The White House is encouraging taxpayers to still file by April 15 if they don’t owe the IRS any money.‘Substantial Reduction’Trump on Monday advised Americans not to meet in groups larger than 10, to avoid restaurants and bars and to educate their children at home if practicable. Vice President Mike Pence said that if those social-distancing guidelines are followed, the U.S. may see “a substantial reduction in the spread of the coronavirus.”There have been more than 5,000 cases of the virus in the U.S. and 91 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.Pence also said Tuesday the White House is asking construction companies to donate their supplies of N95 air-filtering masks to hospitals and to “forgo making additional orders” in order to ensure health-care workers have sufficient access to the gear.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Style
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  • Business

    The Nation Is Shutting Down. For Walmart, It’s Time to Step Up

    (Bloomberg) -- With anxious shoppers hoarding everyday goods and non-essential stores shuttered, the coronavirus pandemic presents a never-before-seen crisis for American retailers. Walmart Inc. appears better prepared to deal with it than its peers.Hefty investment in e-commerce, health care and its 1.5-million strong workforce have the world’s largest retailer poised to supply large swaths of the nation as governments and other businesses grapple to respond to the unprecedented threat. Rival Amazon.com Inc. stands to benefit as well, but Walmart can leverage its store network and clout with suppliers to gain a leg up.Even so, the challenge of stocking the nation amid a run on essential goods will be a stern test, even for an operation on Walmart’s scale.“Walmart prides itself on crisis management and really is at its best when it can help solve a giant problem,” said Brandon Fletcher, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein.After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Walmart’s truckers shuttled bottled water, diapers and socks to displaced residents -- often before the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up. When the Great Recession crimped consumer spending, Walmart’s low prices and wide assortment made it ideal for those trading down and cocooning at home.“Like prior failures of the federal government in Katrina, Walmart is ready to act,” Fletcher said. “What is new is that Walmart is only in a position to act because of embracing radical change to its business model.”These changes span across the company, but are most evident in its market-leading online grocery business. Walmart has spent the past five years aggressively expanding that service, in part to provide a bulwark against Amazon’s dominance of most other areas of online shopping. Now, that investment could pay off as coronavirus-conscious consumers, stuck at home, eschew brick-and-mortar stores for the web.‘Uniquely Positioned’As online grocery shopping goes mainstream, Walmart will be the main beneficiary. One-third of shoppers surveyed by Gordon Haskett Research Advisors on March 13 said they bought food online over the past week, and of those, 41% were doing so for the first time. For those newbies, Walmart was by far the most popular option, capturing more than half of orders. Amazon and its Whole Foods chain garnered only 14%.“As more people stay at home to work, with kids to take care of, having groceries delivered becomes a life saver,” said Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of e-commerce researcher Marketplace Pulse. “Walmart is uniquely positioned to enable that.”With restaurants across the nation now closing their doors, more meals will be eaten at home, further increasing Walmart’s “share of stomach,” according to UBS analyst Michael Lasser.Even so, the retailer hasn’t been immune to the shortages of some staples that have plagued U.S. retailers in recent days. Walmart’s next-day delivery service, which it rolled out last year to match a similar offering from Amazon, is currently unavailable in many regions, while supply of some items like toilet paper varied depending on location. As manufacturers ramp up production, Walmart stands at the front of the queue, given that it sells more of just about everything than any other retailer.During the outbreak, Amazon and other retailers have reported glitches in e-commerce as capacity is tested by unprecedented demand. Amazon is hiring 100,000 workers to bolster its delivery network and is prioritizing food and medicine deliveries to cope with demand. To date, Walmart hasn’t announced any changes to its hiring plans. Health FocusHealth has also been an area of focus Walmart. As Americans furiously scrub their hands and hospitals brace for an influx of patients, that strategy appears well timed.In recent months, Walmart has opened two health centers that offer a range of medical and mental-health services, all for a flat fee with no insurance required. A third is coming this summer. The company has identified the complex, expensive U.S. health system as a huge business opportunity.In line with that strategy, the company has said it will make its parking lots available for drive-thru testing in communities impacted by Covid-19 -- the disease caused by the coronavirus -- and is working through those details with the federal government.The company’s presence in Washington’s corridors of power has also been enhanced as its CEO, Doug McMillon, now serves as chairman of the Business Roundtable, the lobbying arm of Corporate America. The position allows McMillon to advocate for issues he’s championed inside Walmart, such as expanding employee benefits.That’s timely, as the coronavirus has thrust corporate policies on paid leave into sharp focus. Walmart revamped its employment policy last year by introducing protected paid time off, and last week enacted an emergency leave policy to allow employees to stay at home if they’re unable to work.But there’s still room for improvement. According to The Shift Project, a nationwide survey by sociologists of tens of thousands of retail workers, Walmart has 347,000 U.S. associates who can’t or don’t take advantage of sick leave.Walmart has invested heavily in new areas that put it in good stead as the coronavirus outbreak roils life across the U.S., but the company can’t lose sight of the basics now, said Ken Harris, a managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group: “For Walmart, this is the World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup all wrapped up in one.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Lifestyle
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  • World
    National Review

    COVID-19 Is the Chinese Government’s Curse upon the World

    The World Health Organization and other sensitive souls have instructed us to stop referring to the new strain of coronavirus as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese” flu because of the racist connotations. I’m disinclined to curb my speech to placate Chinese propagandists — and it seems to me the aversion to those terms is less about racism than about averting blame. But in the spirit of comity, and avoiding disparaging an entire nation, I’m happy to call it the ChiCom Flu moving forward.There are many traditional naming conventions that don’t really make that much sense. Somewhat weirdly, for example, we often name diseases after the people who “discover” them -- Hodgkin’s disease after Thomas Hodgkin, Parkinson's disease after James Parkinson, and so on.But naming viral diseases after places — Guinea Worm, West Nile Virus, Ebola, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc. — is probably just intuitive. Viruses “come” from someplace, after all, and thus people gravitate to those names. I doubt we came up with “Lyme disease” because of some deep enmity towards Connecticut.Anyway, “COVID-19” or “H1N1” don’t exactly roll off the tongue.The latter was, until very recently, widely referred to as the “Spanish flu,” a virus that killed around 675,000 Americans and tens of millions of others around the world in the early 1900s. “Spanish flu” has now retroactively fallen into disfavor as well. And to be fair, there is some historical evidence that the virus may actually have originated in China or France, so if we must call it the French flu moving forward, so be it.But while the Spanish have a good case to be annoyed, the Chinese government does not. As Jim Geraghty notes, the Communist Chinese have been far more effective in stopping the spread of information about the coronavirus than in stopping the spread of the coronavirus itself. Today, for example, China expelled most American journalist from the country.Early on, the Communists destroyed samples and suppressed vital information that could have helped mitigate the damage of this new strain of coronavirus. The government also silenced doctors who warned about the disease. Some were censured for “spreading rumors” or sharing test results with colleagues, and some were forced to write a self-critical public letters — a Marxist mainstay — admitting that the warning “had a negative impact.” The Chinese Communists probably let five million people leave Wuhan without screening, according to the Wall Street Journal.The Chinese Communists, like all Communists, hide their societal problems. There is no crime, disease, or addiction in the collectivist state. This kind of secrecy and dishonesty can be disastrous, especially in a highly interconnected world.Though millions of Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty through free trade, with modernity comes some basic responsibilities — like, for instance, not killing everyone in the world with preventable zoonotic diseases.The Chinese regime is perfectly capable of administering an array of authoritarian policies to suppress the rights of its own people. But it’s apparently unable to exert even mild cultural pressure warning them that their eating habits can be extraordinarily dangerous, and hold the potential of creating massive socioeconomic problems.If reports are correct, it was in Wuhan’s popular “wet markets” that vendors were selling the bats — and possibly snakes — that may have caused the COVID-19 outbreak. “Wet” because the meat sold in its unsanitary stalls was only recently slaughtered.This kind of thing happens quite often. And not always in China, of course. But the avian influenza was likely transmitted to humans from chickens in a “wet” market. Scientists have been warning for years that the eating of exotic animals in southern China “is a time bomb." Acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) also originated in China, and probably jumped to humans through bats. Other coronavirus strains are also likely connected to bats.I hate to thrust my Western cultural values on anyone, but maybe it’s time to stop eating bats.It's important to stress that it’s not the Chinese people who are the problem. Just look at their success in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, or the United States. The ChiComs are the problem. If the Chinese government spent as much time working on educating its people and regulating dangerous markets as it does on secrecy and propaganda efforts, maybe it wouldn’t have to worry as much about diseases being named after it -- or about the catastrophic death and economic pain their negligence helps cause.