Headlines: July 24, 2020
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A federal judge just ruled that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers are prohibited, “from arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” against journalists and legal observers in cities like Portland, Oregon. The ruling was in response to an ACLU lawsuit and the organization’s interim executive director Jann Carson celebrated it as a victory saying, “Federal agents from Trump’s Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are terrorizing the community, threatening lives, and relentlessly attacking journalists and legal observers documenting protests.” Early Friday morning DHS officers once more fired tear gas at protesters in the downtown area of the city and Reuters explained that, “Journalists were clearly identifiable in the crowd” being targeted. Now, as officers are also being deployed to Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in what the White House has dubbed “Operation Legend,” Attorney General William Barr erroneously claimed that the FBI had already arrested 200 people in Kansas City, as justification for more officers. The Inspectors General of the Justice Department and Homeland Security have announced an investigation into the officers’ use of force, their arrests, and how they have conducted themselves. Even the United Nations has warned against abuses.
The protests in Portland that federal officers are targeting, have centered around police brutality. Now, the state where this chapter of American protest began in May—Minnesota—has adopted a broad set of reforms intended to prevent killings at the hands of police. Gov. Tim Walz signed the Minnesota Police Accountability Act on Thursday banning chokeholds like the one that Officer Derek Chauvin used to kill George Floyd. It also requires officers to report their colleagues that they witness breaking the law. Gov. Walz assured protesters, “This is only a beginning.” Meanwhile an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has found a shocking use of excessive force in Alabama state prisons. The 30-page document concluded that corrections officers, “use force as a form of retribution and for the sole purpose of inflicting pain.”
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue from a downtown park early Friday after protesters tried to topple it. School board members in Springfield, Virginia just renamed Robert E. Lee High School after the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis. And the state of Virginia has quietly removed 8 confederate-era statues and busts from its capital overnight, including one of Robert E. Lee. On Thursday the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 86-14—a bill that includes the renaming of military bases that have confederate names. The White House has vociferously insisted on preserving the racist legacy of the pro-slavery American Confederacy even over the military’s own objections.
The main part of the NDAA, which 37 Democrats joined Republicans in voting for, appropriates a whopping $740.5 billion to fund the Pentagon. A day earlier an amendment brought by Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey to cut the Pentagon’s funding by 10% failed. A similar amendment in the House failed after many Democrats joined Republicans to vote it down. Several progressive organizations including RootsAction.org released a statement pointing out that progressives on the VP shortlist of presumptive Presidential nominee Joe Biden voted for the 10% cut. They included Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin and Representative Karen Bass. But the centrist hawks on the short list—Senators Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth and Maggie Hassan, and Representative Val Demings—voted against cutting the military budget.
President Trump on Thursday abruptly announced that the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida was canceled. Trump had already moved part of the convention from North Carolina. He explained the cancelation saying, “it’s not the right time for that,” and that, “I just felt it was wrong” to have people “going to what turned out to be a hot spot.” He instead pivoted to the idea of “telerallies,” just days after his business had filed a trademark application for the word “telerally.” Trump, who also said recently that he would have no problem with his children and grandchildren returning to school in person in the fall, now apparently has no comment on the fact that his son Barron’s elite private school in Maryland will remain closed. Meanwhile the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally released its long-awaited school guidelines. It turns out the document focuses heavily on reopening schools and downplaying the threat to children, teachers, and families from the virus.
Covid-19 cases in the US are surging back so dangerously that medical experts are recommending the government shut down the nation and start over with mitigation methods. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds that Trump’s approval rating on his handling of the virus has hit a new low with only about a third of respondents saying it was adequate. Another poll—by AP—has found that increasing numbers of Americans now back mandates requiring the wearing of face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus. Three quarters of Americans now support mask-mandates, including nearly 60% of all Republicans. The two mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County in Florida have even gone as far as recommending people wear masks indoors to curb the spread of the virus among members of large households.
On the economic front optimism is fading fast with a separate AP poll showing that nearly half of all laid-off workers now believe that their lost jobs will not return – a stark contrast from a similar poll conducted a few months earlier. As funds from the Paycheck Protection Program run out more workers are getting laid off and businesses shutting down or filing for bankruptcy. The White House and Senate Republicans are still unable to come to an agreement on extending benefits for jobless Americans in a new Covid-relief bill. Meanwhile the federal moratorium on evictions is ending, leaving an estimated 12 million affected renters around the nation worried.
In immigration news, in spite of a judge’s order that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release detainees over fears of the virus’ spread, hundreds of parents and children remain locked up. Now lawyers for two organizations are arguing against a third group that wants to let parents choose between remaining locked up with their children or releasing only the children. And the watchdog group American Oversight has filed a lawsuit demanding details about immigrant deaths in US custody.
The Trump administration is pushing for the reopening of an Alaska Gold mine that had faced closure under President Obama. Trump claims that the gold mine will not impact the wild Sockeye Salmon population inspite of evidence to the contrary. His daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump is under fire for posting glamorous photos of herself visiting a National Park. The criticism is based in part on how her father’s administration has routinely put the profits of extractive industries over protected federal lands and national parks.
And finally, China has threatened to close down the US’s consulate in Chengdu in retaliation for the closure of its consulate in Houston. The FBI has just arrested a Chinese national who took refuge in her nation’s consulate in San Francisco. She has been accused of lying about her Chinese military service in an interview with investigators. State Secretary Mike Pompeo has poured fuel on the Trumpian fire against China saying in a speech on Thursday that, “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.” Trump is hoping anti-China fervor will buoy his campaign for reelection.