Headlines: February 13, 2020
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President Donald Trump continued with his post-impeachment acquittal vendettas brazenly coming to the defense of his convicted friend Roger Stone. This time he took aim at the US District judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson. Trump tweeted, “Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” In fact Judge Jackson did not have control over Manafort’s prison conditions. Trump has also attacked the forewoman on the grand jury involved in Stone’s case saying she had “significant bias.” Trump’s public criticisms came after he targeted four federal prosecutors who had worked on the Special Counsel’s investigation into his campaign and also the case against Roger Stone. All four prosecutors resigned from the case and many current and former prosecutors are now aghast at the President’s highly unethical and inappropriate interference in federal cases involving his friends. Attorney General William Barr appears to be compliantly doing Trump’s bidding. The New York Times on Thursday pointed out that, “In 2001, William P. Barr, describing his first stint as attorney general, under President George Bush, spoke of the department’s protected status in the post-Watergate era. ‘You didn’t mess around with it, didn’t intervene, you didn’t interfere,’ he recalled in an oral history.”
The American Bar Association on Wednesday released a statement intended to rebuke the President for his interference saying it “steadfastly supports judicial independence and the sound exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” Additionally the ABA said, “Public officials who personally attack judges or prosecutors can create a perception that the system is serving a political or other purpose.” Meanwhile the House Judiciary Committee demanded that Attorney General Barr testify about improper interference in Stone’s sentencing. Mr. Barr has agreed to testify on March 31st. Trump’s supporters have continued defending the President’s flouting of the limits of his power. His former chief of staff Steve Bannon told the Washington Post, “He is mad and he should be mad. … Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it.”
The US government’s deficit continues to grow – made worse by Republican tax cuts on businesses and wealthy Americans. But according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, ballooning deficits will pay for themselves in spite of calculations from the Congressional Budget Office showing otherwise. Mnuchin said, “[W]e believe that the tax cuts will pay for themselves over a 10-year period of time, it’s how we score them.” Meanwhile, billionaires like Jeff Bezos are benefiting most from the tax cuts as the Amazon CEO made news headlines for his record-breaking $165 million purchase of a mansion in Los Angeles. In contrast the Trump government has continued its push to cut the food stamp program that offers nutrition assistance to the poorest Americans. Nine members of Congress who were once beneficiaries of the program wrote a letter to the Administration urging it to drop the cuts.
In electoral news, prominent defenders of Wall Street and corporate-dominated capitalism have continued their attacks on Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders. Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein worried that Sanders’ Democratic Socialist approach to use tax dollars to fund programs for taxpayers would “ruin” the economy. He complained, “Sanders is just as polarizing as Trump AND he’ll ruin our economy and doesn’t care about our military.” Asked if he agreed with him, US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, “I think Lloyd Blankfein couldn’t be more right on that.” Meanwhile Sanders is also facing opposition from a prominent labor union in Nevada. The Culinary Workers Union says it opposes his idea for Medicare-for-All because it would undermine the employee benefits they have fought for. The next primary takes place in Nevada on February 22nd as a caucus.
As the trial of disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein wraps up, his defense attorney stunned observers with her closing arguments that fly in the face of years of advocacy work by rape survivors. Attorney Donna Rotunno said that the prosecution against Weinstein, “strips adult women of common sense, autonomy and responsibility.” Weinstein faces charges of assault and rape from six women in the case but many dozens more have opened up publicly about how he preyed upon them, in a cultural earthquake that lent momentum to the #MeToo movement. As she wrapped up her defense of Weinstein, Rotunno said of his accusers, “In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make to further their own careers.” Critics say her arguments blame and shame victims.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution removing a barrier to the Equal Rights Amendment to be ratified by states. The constitutional amendment was first introduced nearly 100 years ago and has become a political football for decades. In order to amend the US Constitution, three quarters of all states have to ratify it and last month the state of Virginia ratified the ERA becoming the 38th state and pushing past the minimum requirement. But critics claim that too much time has passed since the ERA’s introduction. This is Representative Lois Frankel speaking on the floor of the House on Thursday. The Senate has a similar resolution that has been introduced. Republicans have opposed giving women equal rights to men because they fear it will enshrine the right to an abortion.
The news outlet McClatchy – one of the nation’s largest publishers – has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The California-based McClatchy currently publishes 30 newspapers and is $700 million in debt. According to the Washington Post, “Twenty percent of all U.S. newspapers have closed since 2004.”
The US Senate just voted to curb Trump’s power to wage war on Iran without Congressional approval. The bi-partisan measure, which passed 55-45 was introduced by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine who said, “When we stand up for the rule of law — in a world that hungers for more rule of law — and say ‘this decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,’ that’s a message of strength.” Eight Republican Senators joined Democrats in passing the bill.
And finally on the coronavirus front, just a day after new infections were thought to be leveling off, updated numbers from China show them spiking. Associated Press explained that, “the hardest-hit province of Hubei applied a new classification system that broadens the scope of diagnoses for the outbreak.” There are now about 60,000 confirmed infections of the fast-moving disease and although about 1,000 have died, almost all have died in China. Japan just announced its first fatality linked to the disease – it becomes the second coronavirus-related death to have taken place outside China. Meanwhile the Chinese government, in a bid to show it is taking the situation seriously, has fired a number of top government officials over their handling of the outbreak.