Headlines: June 17, 2020
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Republican Senators have unveiled their legislation on police reforms and already critics say it is far too weak. The GOP introduced a bill that does not ban deadly police tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants of the kind that killed George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Instead it only encourages police departments to discourage the reliance on such methods, and also promotes the use of body cameras on officers. Senator Tim Scott, the GOP’s only black Senator, pushed to include in the bill a requirement for police departments to report all officer-involved fatalities to the federal government. The Washington Post explained that the GOP policing bill also, “would also make lynching a federal hate crime, establish a commission that would lead a comprehensive review of policing tactics to establish best practices for officers and encouraging de-escalation training.” The added training comes with more funding for police – a trend that has already been adopted in many cities and failed to bring down the rates of police killings.
In contrast, the Democrats’ version of the bill bans chokeholds outright and makes it easier for individuals to sue police departments, but also falls far short of the defunding that Black Lives Matter movement leaders have called for. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been accused of overseeing a “legislative graveyard” said the GOP bill would come to the Senate floor next week for a vote. Meanwhile President Donald Trump, who a day earlier signed an executive order to pour more funds into police, accused his predecessor of failing to address police brutality. He said during his Tuesday address, without evidence, that, “President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period. The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it.” Although Obama came under fire from activists for not doing enough, Trump undid the modest federal government oversight in the form of police consent decrees that began under Obama’s tenure. Trump also reversed Obama’s ban on diverting excess military equipment to police departments. Obama’s commission on policing released a 115-page report in 2015 and one news story pointed out that, “elements of Trump’s executive order could have been lifted from the Obama-era report.”
One grand experiment around what a community without policing could look like is playing out in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood where activists have set up an autonomous zone. The Washington Post did an extensive report from the zone showing how unarmed protesters are successfully using de-escalation tactics to keep the peace in the neighborhood including during interactions with homeless residents of the area, and against armed rightwing activists.
The Huffington Post published a detailed investigation into disturbing online forums that attract current and former police officers. Calling it a “far-right media ecosystem,” the reporters explained that users, “post racist memes, spread disinformation and call for violence against antifa.” Additionally, “The consistent message is that police are perpetually under attack, and that the government — with the exception of President Donald Trump — does not have their back.” What is being missed by the officers – and by corporate media and politicians – is that far-right armed men are targeting and attacking Black Lives Matter activists and others. News emerged this week that two “protective security officers” killed in Oakland, California during anti-police protests were not the victims of Black Lives Matter activists. Rather, an Air Force Staff Sergeant named Steven Carrillo who is a member of an extremist rightwing group called Boogaloo Boys, is the suspected murderer. Writing in Raw Story, Rising Up news correspondent Arun Gupta detailed several instances of rightwing Trump supporters showing up to protests and attempting to kill Black Lives Matter activists. At least one person has died.
The Justice Department is suing former National Security Adviser John Bolton whose forthcoming book about Trump threatens to unravel even more incriminating instances of misconduct than the Ukraine affair over which the President was impeached. Bolton’s book is titled, “The Room Where It Happened.” The Justice Department, which under Trump has become increasingly politicized, claims that Bolton is, “in clear breach of the agreements he signed as a condition of his employment.” House Democrats had requested Bolton appear in person to testify during impeachment hearings but he insisted on being subpoenaed and consequently failed to testify. Now there are reports that Trump is considering suing his own niece Mary, over her new tell-all book that threatens to spill secrets about Trump family strife.
In financial news, researchers at Harvard University concluded that while low-income Americans had resumed their pre-pandemic spending, the nation’s wealthiest families have not yet returned to their earlier levels of consumerism. This is impacting the economy because so much of it depends on lavish spending by wealthy Americans – the same people that have been the least impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Meanwhile one of the nation’s wealthiest Americans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, continues to keep secret the list of loan recipients from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Now, even Republican Senator Marco Rubio has joined the growing chorus demanding the names of those companies that took more than $500 billion worth of tax payer backed loans. And it is now known that small business owners with criminal records were systematically denied PPP loans. The ACLU is suing the government over that denial saying that people of color, who are disproportionately targeted by a racist criminal justice system, were hurt by this rule. Mnuchin is also facing harsh criticism for refusing to distribute $679 million in emergency aid to Native American tribes that Congress had appropriated. Now a federal judge has ordered the funds to be distributed.
In pandemic-related news Trump, seemingly panicked about new polling that shows Joe Biden 13 points ahead of him in this November’s election, has demanded an even more ambitious timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine. Already scientists and the public have balked on the January 2021 goal for a vaccine as too speedy. Now, many fear that Trump could try to push for an October announcement of a vaccine ahead of the election. Trump’s missteps on the coronavirus have had serious consequences, one of which is that the federal government is sitting on 66 million doses of the malaria medication Hydroxychloroquine which Trump pushed authorities to buy up and now sits unused after the FDA reversed its approval of the drug.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is echoing Trump’s claim that the data showing Covid rates rising are simply the result of more testing, has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Pence’s editorial, titled, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’” has come under withering criticism. Senator Elizabeth Warren slammed it as, “pathetic as it is reckless.” Healthcare professionals have pointed out that we are not in a second wave because the first wave has not yet ended. The states of Texas, Arizona, and Florida, are particularly strong hotspots with all three states showing their largest single-day rise in infections on Tuesday. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has been a leading pro-Trump proponent of declaring the pandemic over, told his state’s residents that there was, “no need to be alarmed.”
Internationally the coronavirus is re-emerging in areas that had declared victory over the virus. The Chinese capital Beijing is facing a lockdown as the city raised its emergency level, canceled hundreds of flights, and suspended schools. There are 137 new cases of infections in Beijing over 6 days. In contrast the state of Texas saw 2,622 new cases on a single day this week.
In Central America, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced this week that both he and his wife have tested positive for coronavirus. More than 300 Covid-19 deaths have been documented in Honduras.