Headlines: February 10, 2021
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The second day of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump commenced on Wednesday with prosecutors building a compelling case of how he incited violence at the capital in January. House Impeachment manager Jamie Raskin offered a powerful metaphor for what he says Trump did, which was far worse than the proverbial “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas pointed out that for months before the election Trump repeatedly told his supporters that the only way he would lose would be if the election was stolen from him. House impeachment manager Joe Neguse drew the line between Trump and the January 6th rioters in their own words, introducing a new video during the hearing. Ahead of the second day’s hearing one Congressional aide said, “We’ll be using footage never seen before that shows a view of the Capitol that is quite extraordinary, and a view of the attack that has never been public before, which you will see for the first time, starting today.”
On Tuesday, day 1 of the impeachment trial, 56 senators voted to allow the proceedings to continue saying it was indeed constitutional to try a former president if the “high crimes and misdemeanors” were committed while in office. Six Republicans, including Senator Bill Cassidy joined all 50 Democrats in voting yes. The highlight of the first day, aside from compelling testimony by Congressman Jamie Raskin and a powerful video timeline of the January 6th events, was the ineptness of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, in particular Bruce Castor. The lawyer’s rambling unfocused speech confounded even Republicans and enraged Trump. At one point Castor claimed that if Trump was guilty he would have been arrested by the Justice Department. Mr. Castor also spoke out loud the words that his client had refused to say – that the former President was no longer in office because he lost the election. Pro-Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz who is not part of Trump’s legal team this time, reflected in an interview how poorly Castor did his job.
Critics are pointing out that in order to have the most compelling prosecution, impeachment managers must call witnesses. The group Free Speech for People sent a letter to the managers suggesting that victims of the attack should testify as well as Senators themselves who said after the January 6th riot that they had attempted desperately to get Trump on the phone to call for help but were unable to reach him. The group also wants Trump subpoenaed and required to testify in person, as well as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In fact, on Wednesday Georgia opened a criminal probe of Trump’s phone call to Raffensperger demanding he “find” votes to overturn that state’s results.
A new Gallup poll found that the Republican Party as a whole is less popular. Only 37% of respondents think positively about the GOP, down from 43% last November. Voter registration data shows that thousands of registered Republicans are leaving the party. In California alone 33,000 Republicans took steps to switch party allegiance. Nationwide the number is about 140,000.
In news from the pandemic, one reason for hope is that after months of suffering and deaths, virus related cases are finally declining. According to the New York Times, “The seven-day average of new cases…has fallen more than 50 percent since it peaked on Jan. 8.” A similar trend is being observed globally. However, mutations of the virus that are more easily transmissible could undercut the progress. Scientists are warning that a U.K. variant of COVID-19 is spreading fast through the U.S. and is expected to dominate infections by March. The CDC has released the results of a study it conducted finding that two masks are better than one at preventing infections.
The state of California now officially has had the highest number of COVID-related deaths of any state in the nation, surpassing even New York. California is the most populous in the nation, however. The weekly per capita cases of infection place California 20th in the nation out of 50 states. New York is currently at number 5. Meanwhile the Chicago teachers union has approved a deal with the city on returning to school in person starting on Thursday. The agreement includes 2,000 vaccinations offered to teachers in the first week and then 1,500 doses per week after that. About a tenth of all Americans have so far received their first vaccine shots and most are unhappy with the slow rollout of the inoculation effort as per a new poll. More worryingly, an AP-NORC poll shows that about a third of all Americans are skeptical of the safety of the vaccinations. The slow rollout combined with unfounded vaccine fears threatens a return to normalcy as it allows more time for variants of the virus to spread unchecked through the population.
In other news, a number of prominent celebrities have asked Joe Biden’s administration to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline. Collaborating with indigenous climate activists, actors and pop stars including Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Cher, and Cyndi Lauper, have written a letter urging the government to shut down the pipeline citing serious short- and long-term impacts to the environment. The pipeline is currently suspended as the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an environmental review.
Finally, in Myanmar, where a military coup based on claims of a fraudulent election remains in effect, resistance is widespread and in spite of police violence over the past week, tens of thousands of Burmese are protesting in the streets. One young student told AP, “As part of Generation Z we are first-time voters. This is our first time to protest as well…They negated our votes and this is totally unfair. We do not want that. We hope they release our leaders and implement a real democracy.” The Biden administration has just announced it will impose sanctions on Myanmar.