Headlines: October 15, 2020
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The New York Times published an explosive news investigation into how President Donald Trump’s White House warned wealthy Republican donors about the impact of the coronavirus early this year while at the same time downplaying the risks to the public. The news of the virus’ seriousness prompted a sell-off of stocks akin to what happens in cases of insider trading. As per the Times, “Interviews with eight people who either received copies of the memo or were briefed on aspects of it as it spread among investors in New York and elsewhere provide a glimpse of how elite traders had access to information from the administration that helped them gain financial advantage during a chaotic three days when global markets were teetering.”
Meanwhile the Labor Department’s weekly report shows that nearly 900,000 people filed for unemployment benefits last week – a stubbornly high figure that underscores the on-going economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic. And, two separate studies from the University of Chicago and University of Notre Dame show that 6 to 8 million Americans have slipped into poverty since May of this year. Initially poverty levels dropped when the government’s ambitious CARES Act aid buoyed American families. After that aid dried up, poverty levels didn’t just go back up to pre-pandemic levels – they sky rocketed. The Democrat-controlled House has passed two separate and ambitious measures to help keep aid flowing but Republicans have chosen instead to focus on confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee in the midst of an election. Democrats have also introduced legislation to double the cost-of-living increase to Social Security checks after the Trump administration announced an extremely small raise.
During the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett this week California’s Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein questioned the nominee about her position on government-funded programs like Social Security and Medicare. Feinstein asked Barrett if she, like many libertarian conservatives, felt that those programs were unconstitutional. Barrett—as she has repeatedly done—refused to give a straight answer. In response Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Tens of millions are dependent upon these programs for retirement security and health care. And Judge Barrett doesn’t know if they are constitutional. Really? That’s what right-wing extremism is all about.”
Earlier in the week Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had laid out the detailed manner in which “dark money” from rightwing groups helped boost Barrett’s nomination and on Thursday the New York Times expanded on that in explaining how, “Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network and Roger Severino, a senior health and human services official, have worked to reshape social policy and the courts they need to uphold it.” Meanwhile Senator Lindsey Graham, the Senate Judiciary chair, violated a law forbidding fundraising in a federal building on Thursday. Speaking to reporters he solicited financial donations to his reelection campaign and even gave out his website. Partly in response to his hypocritical position on the Barrett nomination Graham is in a tight race with his rival Jaime Harrison and has fallen far behind on fundraising. Barrett faced the final round of questioning by Senators on Wednesday as lawmakers planned to discuss the hearing on Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee expects to vote to advance Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate on October 22nd, keeping to their high-speed timeline to seat her before the election.
Senator Kamala Harris, who was also among those questioning Barrett, has just suspended her election-related travel after two people in her campaign’s orbit tested positive for the coronavirus. As Joe Biden’s running mate Harris has been tirelessly on the campaign trail while millions of Americans begin early voting. She plans to continue campaigning virtually for now. The Biden-Harris campaign shattered fundraising records in September, raising a whopping $383 million in donations. Meanwhile an AP/NORC Center poll has found that a majority of Americans are critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The poll was conducted a week after Trump revealed he had been infected and found that 65% of respondents did not think Trump has taken the virus outbreak in the U.S. seriously enough.
Millions of voters are flocking to the polls in states that allow for early voting and reports show that the majority of early voting being driven by Democrats. So far, a whopping 15 million Americans have already cast ballots and if the trend continues a majority of voters will have cast their ballots before election day—something that has never happened before in U.S. history. Realizing the massive enthusiasm of anti-Trump voters, pro-Trump groups have upped their voter suppression efforts and the Washington Post on Thursday revealed just how extremist rightwing groups like Turning Point USA are coaching their activists. An influential group called the Council for National Policy (CNP) has been a hub for such activity and the group counts Ginni Thomas—wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—, and Leonard Leo, an adviser to Trump, among its members. CNP head Bill Walton is on video telling people, “This is a spiritual battle we are in. This is good versus evil… We have to do everything we can to win.” Among their tactics are doing everything they can to stop voters from receiving mail-in ballots but then claiming they are saving democracy from “totalitarianism.” They also discussed “ballot harvesting” – a tactic they have accused Democrats of repeatedly using.
In other news, the Los Angeles Times reported on horrific injuries at the hands of the LAPD of LA Lakers’ fans who celebrated their team’s recent win. Using so-called less-lethal weapons of the kind that LA officers usually aim at leftwing protesters, police caused extremely serious and permanent injuries to several people. One man’s eyeball exploded and another lost 8 teeth. And the Guardian newspaper reported on how private firms are increasingly providing their software to police including surveillance information they gather on members of the public. The analysis is based on a recent data dump called BlueLeaks shared by the anti-secrecy organization Distributed Denial of Secrets.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has obtained audio recordings from a militant neo-Nazi organization called The Base and its recruitment calls to members of the U.S. military. NBC News explained, “Twenty percent of the prospective recruits who were recorded said they were active-duty military or had served in the military in some capacity.”
In international news, European nations are reeling from another surge in record-breaking coronavirus infections as governments race to enact new rules. According to AP, “European nations have seen nearly 230,000 confirmed deaths in total from the virus — more than the nearly 217,000 deaths reported so far in the United States.” However, Europe’s population is about twice that of the U.S. so the per capita death rate is still far below the U.S.’s. Hotspots include France, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Northern Ireland.
And finally, in Thailand, tens of thousands of people are protesting and marching against the nation’s monarchs. Young anti-monarchy activists are leading the fight and filling the streets of Bangkok in defiance of an emergency decree. The government has already arrested several protest leaders.