The United Nations warned Monday that the world economy is “on a cliffhanger,” still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic whose impact will be felt for years but still expected to make a modest recovery of 4.7% in 2021 which would barely offset 2020 losses.
The U.N.’s new report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects said the once-in-a-century crisis sparked by the global impact of the coronavirus caused the global economy to shrink by 4.3% in 2020 -- the sharpest contraction in global output since the Great Depression that began in 1929 and far higher than the 1.7% reduction during the Great Recession of 2009.
“The depth and severity of the unprecedented crisis foreshadows a slow and painful recovery,” said U.N. chief economist Elliott Harris, the assistant secretary-general for economic development. “As we step into a long recovery phase with the roll out of the vaccines against COVID-19, we need to start boosting longer-term investments that chart the path toward a more resilient recovery -- accompanied by a fiscal stance that avoids premature austerity.”
According to the report, the lockdowns, quarantine measures and social distancing introduced during the second quarter of 2020 “helped to save lives but also disrupted the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”
By April, it said, “full or partial lockdown measures had affected almost 2.7 billion workers, representing about 81% of the world’s workforce.” And it said another 131 million people were pushed into poverty, many of them women, children and people from marginalized communities.
China, the world’s second-largest economy where COVID-19 first emerged, was the only country in the world to register positive economic growth in 2020 -- 2.4% -- and the U.N. forecasts that it will grow by 7.2% in 2021.
Hamid Rashid, chief of the U.N.’s Global Economic Monitoring Branch and the report’s lead author, told a news conference launching the report that China will account for about 30% of global growth in 2021. If that happens, he said, it will help many countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean that supply resources and commodities to China.
Also read; Global economy to shrink by 3.2pc: UN report
According to the U.N. forecasts, the U.S. economy will grow 3.4% in 2021 after shrinking 3.9% in 2020, Japan's economy will grow 3% this year after contracting 5.4% last year, and economies of Euro-zone countries will grow 5% in 2021 after shrinking 7.4% in 2020.
Developing countries saw a less severe contraction of 2.5% last year, and the U.N. is forecasting a 5.7% rebound in 2021.
The U.N. said “it will remain critical” that the Group of 20 -- the world’s 20 major economies accounting for nearly 80% of world output -- “return to the trajectory of growth, not only to lift the rest of the world economies but also to make the world economy more resilient to future shocks.”
The $12.7 trillion in global fiscal stimulus -- more than half from Germany, Japan and the United States -- “prevented a Great Depression-like economic catastrophe worldwide,” the U.N. said. “In dollar terms, stimulus spending per capital averaged nearly $10,000 in the developed countries, while it amounted to less than $20 per capita in the least developed countries,” the report said.
Rashid, the U.N. official, said the primary goal of the fiscal stimulus was to stabilize the global economy “so there was no drying up of liquidity.” This was achieved, he said, but the secondary goal was to stimulate investments and prevent bankruptcies and “here we see significant slack.”
Rashid said all the major economies saw significant increases in money supply, about 23% for the United States, which isn't surprising since most stimulus money went into the financial markets because households were unable to spend the money or businesses were unable to invest because they were uncertain about the future.
The big winners were stock markets, he said.
Looking at the major stock indexes, Rashid said, Japan’s Nikkei 225 increased about 45% between March and December and the Dow Jones and S&P 500 both went up by more than 30%, compared to average increases below 10% in the previous five years.
“And that is alarming because that shows the disconnect between the real economic activities and the financial sector activities,” he said.
The Biden administration is adding a sign language interpreter to its daily press briefings.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced the move during Monday’s briefing, and an interpreter could be seen on the White House’s YouTube stream of the event.
Psaki said President Joe Biden “is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families.”
It marks a shift from the Trump administration, which had only sporadic press briefings and didn’t include an interpreter until late in President Donald Trump’s term.
Last August, the National Association of the Deaf joined five deaf individuals in suing Trump and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, charging the failure to provide an interpreter undermined the ability of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans to access key information about the coronavirus pandemic.
The next month, a federal judge ordered the White House to include American Sign Language interpretation at all televised briefings on the virus. The ruling said the interpreter could be in the frame physically near the speaker or off-site. It said the White House was required to make the interpreter feeds accessible online and on television using a picture-in-picture format.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden administration will provide public briefings on the coronavirus pandemic starting Wednesday.
The briefings will feature public health officials. Psaki says they will occur three times a week and provide details on the government’s response to addressing the pandemic.
That’s a stark contrast to the Trump administration, which kept Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-diseases expert, and other top health officials on a short leash, with the West Wing press shop tightly controlling Fauci’s media appearances and offering few public briefings as the virus raged in recent months.
President Joe Biden signed an order Monday reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military.
The new order, which Biden signed in the Oval Office during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, overturns a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office. It immediately prohibits any service member from being forced out of the military on the basis of gender identity.
Biden's order says that gender identity should not be a bar to military service.
“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception," the order says. "Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
The order directs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to take steps to implement the order for the military and the Coast Guard. And it says they must reexamine the records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment due to gender identity issues under the previous policy.
It requires the departments to submit a report to the president on their progress within 60 days.
Biden had been widely expected to quickly overturn the Trump policy. And the move also was backed by Biden's newly confirmed defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who spoke of the need to overturn it during his Senate confirmation hearing last week.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said. “If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”
Under Biden's new policy, transgender servicemembers won't be discharged based on gender identity, and they can serve in their preferred gender once their transition is complete and recorded in the defense reporting system.
The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to equity issues that he believes continue to shadow nearly all aspects of American life. Ahead of his inauguration, Biden's transition team circulated a memo from Ron Klain, now the White House chief of staff, that sketched out Biden's plan to use his first full week as president “to advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities."
The move to overturn the transgender ban is also the latest example of Biden using executive authority in his first days as president to dismantle Trump's legacy. His early actions include orders to overturn a Trump administration ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, stop construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and launch an initiative to advance racial equity.
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender, but that changed during the Obama administration. In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
After Trump took office, however, his administration delayed the enlistment date and called for additional study to determine if allowing transgender individuals to serve would affect military readiness or effectiveness.
A few weeks later, Trump caught military leaders by surprise, tweeting that the government wouldn't accept or allow transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he wrote.
After a lengthy and complicated legal battle and additional reviews, the Defense Department in April 2019 approved the new policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to serve in their birth gender.
Under that policy, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who had signed an enlistment contract before the effective date could continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
But after that date, no one with gender dysphoria who was taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender was allowed to enlist. Troops that were already serving and were diagnosed with gender dysphoria were required to serve in their birth gender and were barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.
As of 2019, an estimated 14,700 troops on active duty and in the Reserves identify as transgender, but not all seek treatment. Since July 2016, more than 1,500 service members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria; as of Feb. 1, 2019, there were 1,071 currently serving. According to the Pentagon, the department spent about $8 million on transgender care between 2016 and 2019. The military’s annual health care budget tops $50 billion.
All four service chiefs told Congress in 2018 that they had seen no discipline, morale or unit readiness problems with transgender troops serving openly in the military. But they also acknowledged that some commanders were spending a lot of time with transgender individuals who were working through medical requirements and other transition issues.
As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol.
House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol late Monday evening, a rare and ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue their case. They are hoping that strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot will translate into a conviction and a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again.
But instead, GOP passions appear to have cooled since the insurrection. Now that Trump’s presidency is over, Republican senators who will serve as jurors in the trial are rallying to his legal defense, as they did during his first impeachment trial last year.
“I think the trial is stupid, I think it’s counterproductive,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. He said that “the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I’ll do it” because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.
Trump is the first former president to face impeachment trial, and it will test his grip on the Republican Party as well as the legacy of his tenure, which came to a close as a mob of loyal supporters heeded his rally cry by storming the Capitol and trying to overturn Joe Biden’s election. The proceedings will also force Democrats, who have a full sweep of party control of the White House and Congress, to balance their promise to hold the former president accountable while also rushing to deliver on Biden’s priorities.
Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8. Leaders in both parties agreed to the short delay to give Trump’s team and House prosecutors time to prepare and the Senate the chance to confirm some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Democrats say the extra days will allow for more evidence to come out about the rioting by Trump supporters, while Republicans hope to craft a unified defense for Trump.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday that he hopes that evolving clarity on the details of what happened Jan. 6 “will make it clearer to my colleagues and the American people that we need some accountability.”
Coons questioned how his colleagues who were in the Capitol that day could see the insurrection as anything other than a “stunning violation” of tradition of peaceful transfers of power.
“It is a critical moment in American history and we have to look at it and look at it hard,” Coons said.
An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. Still, the mounting Republican opposition indicates that many GOP senators would eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.
When the House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, exactly one week after the siege, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he didn’t believe the Senate had the constitutional authority to convict Trump after he had left office. On Sunday, Cotton said “the more I talk to other Republican senators, the more they’re beginning to line up” behind that argument.
“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton said.
Democrats reject that argument, pointing to a 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president who told them to “fight like hell” against election results that were being counted at the time, is necessary so the country can move forward and ensure such a siege never happens again.
A few GOP senators have agreed with Democrats, though not close to the number that will be needed to convict Trump.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he believes there is a “preponderance of opinion” that an impeachment trial is appropriate after someone leaves office.
“I believe that what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense,” Romney said. “If not, what is?”
But Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump when the Senate acquitted the then-president in last year’s trial, appears to be an outlier.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, said he believes a trial is a “moot point” after a president’s term is over, “and I think it’s one that they would have a very difficult time in trying to get done within the Senate.”
On Friday, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally who has been helping him build a legal team, urged the Senate to reject the idea of a post-presidency trial — potentially with a vote to dismiss the charge — and suggested Republicans will scrutinize whether Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were legally “incitement.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said last week that Trump “provoked” his supporters before the riot, has not said how he will vote or argued any legal strategies. The Kentucky senator has told his GOP colleagues that it will be a vote of conscience.
One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s nine impeachment managers said Trump’s encouragement of his loyalists before the riot was “an extraordinarily heinous presidential crime.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pennsylvania., said “I mean, think back. It was just two-and-a-half weeks ago that the president assembled a mob on the Ellipse of the White House. He incited them with his words. And then he lit the match.”
Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol and interrupted the electoral count as he falsely claimed there was massive fraud in the election and that it was stolen by Biden. Trump’s claims were roundly rejected in the courts, including by judges appointed by Trump, and by state election officials.
Rubio and Romney were on “Fox News Sunday,” Cotton appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and Romney also was on CNN’s “State of the Union,” as was Dean. Rounds was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”