Headlines: July 8, 2020
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The US Supreme Court on Wednesday issued two major rulings, both regarding the desires of religious groups. First the court sided with President Donald Trump’s administration in allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage in their health care plans. That decision upends a key aspect of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act which required employers to include contraception coverage. In a vote of 7 to 2 Justices ruled that institutions can claim religious objections to giving women free access to things like the birth control pill. Second, the court also ruled that Catholic school teachers may not look to employment anti-discrimination laws for protection, and that religious institutions may hire and fire without government intervention. In both rulings Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the sole dissenters. Liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer sided with their conservative colleagues. The two rulings are part of a longer-term trend in the court that favor religious, but particularly Christian, demands for special treatment.
That pro-Christian bias was the impetus behind protests by churches demanding that their institutions be considered “essential” during the Covid-19 lockdown. Now, churches are emerging as hotspots of the coronavirus. The New York Times reports that, “More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious facilities.” The United States has officially surpassed 3 million cases of coronavirus infections with more than half of all 50 states seeing numbers precipitously rising. The grim milestone was reached on Wednesday after a record-breaking 60,000 new infections were reported Tuesday. In late March the White House Coronavirus Task Force had predicted millions of infections and 100,000 to 200,000 American deaths. As of early July, 130,000 have died. According to a New York Times analysis comparing U.S. states with whole nations, America is losing the battle against coronavirus. Per capita the state of Arizona has the worst outbreak in the world, followed by Florida and then South Carolina. Fourth on the list is the country of Bahrain. California, which has seen a large number of cases is actually 16th on the list when adjusted for population.
President Trump has downplayed the horrific statistics hoping Americans will become numb to the mass deaths and has blamed increased Covid-19 testing for the spike in documented infections. There is evidence now that Americans do not have enough access to testing. Associated Press reports that some are waiting weeks just to get tested or get their test results after they think they might have been exposed. One woman told AP, “I’m just so disappointed. I just don’t know how — with the resources and the people we have and the money we have — we can’t get this right.” Trump has boasted that everyone around him gets tested routinely saying recently, “Because I’m the president, they get tested before they see me.” The US is also lagging far behind other nations on contact tracing cases of infections. Alongside testing and treatment, contact tracing has been a critical tool for those nations that have successfully stopped the spread of the virus.
Under Trump’s leadership the Immigration and Naturalization Enforcement (ICE) agency has warned international students that they may have to return to their home countries if their schools switch to online-only instruction. Now Harvard University and MIT have launched a federal lawsuit against ICE over the issue. To boost his chances of reelection Trump has insisted that schools reopen this fall going as far as threatening to withhold federal funding over the matter. Trump claimed on Twitter, “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued strict guidelines for schools to reopen but Vice President Mike Pence, seeing that they contradicted Trump’s back-to-normal mandate just announced, “Well the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough… That’s the reason why next week, the C.D.C. is going to be issuing a new set of tools.” Meanwhile, many Americans think their states may have reopened businesses far too soon. In California, a narrow majority now agrees that their state reopened too quickly as per a new poll. The numbers are starker among African Americans, 71% of whom saw the reopening of the state as too hasty. Black Americans are significantly more susceptible to getting infected and dying from the virus.
The New York Times just obtained an independent audit of the social media giant Facebook conducted by civil rights lawyers. The results of the audit, which took two years, are damning. The authors wrote, “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression.” Hundreds of Facebook advertisers are participating in a boycott of the company as part of an organized campaign called, “Stop Hate for Profit.”
In other news, the CEO of a San Francisco based tech company is in the news for going on a racist tirade against an Asian American family at a restaurant recently. The man, Michael Lofthouse who heads up a company called Solid8 exclaimed that, “Trump’s going to f— you,” and telling the family that they, “need to leave.” Restaurant staff came to the family defense and kicked the man out of the establishment. Lofthouse has apologized calling his own behavior “appalling” but the family says they don’t believe him. He remains in his position as CEO. Trump has repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” fomenting racism against Asians and anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked as a result. NBC reports that Trump is stoking racism as a deliberate tool to increase his reelection chances as per anonymous White House sources. But that strategy may backfire as a new poll shows Americans have little appetite for racism. Ninety one percent of Americans now believe racism is a serious problem in the nation.
In other news Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who made headlines for his impeachment testimony against Trump says he is retiring from the military. Vindman accused Trump of launching, “a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” against him.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO as he is known) is visiting Trump at the White House this week. The left-leaning leader is an unlikely ally of the rabidly rightwing extremist Trump. AMLO has faced accusations of caving-in to Trump’s demands too quickly in order to avoid a fight with him. Mexicans are angered by their president’s visit which is meant to cement a trade deal with the US. A new poll shows Mexicans have a very negative view of Trump with 87% of respondents disapproving of him. But 52% say the US and Mexico should have a closer relationship. Meanwhile there are new developments in the headline-making story of 43 Mexican students being slaughtered in 2014 in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa. Forensic scientists confirm that DNA and bone fragments from one of the students has been identified. AMLO had promised to prioritize the investigation into an incident that had sparked nationwide outrage in Mexico.