Headlines: October 20, 2020
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The United States Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, the world’s most popular online search engine. The suit is the largest of its kind in decades and is based on a premise that the company has been, as per the text of the suit, “unlawfully maintaining monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising in the United States through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices.” In explaining the significance of the lawsuit the New York Times said, “A victory for the government could remake one of America’s most recognizable companies and the internet economy that it has helped define.” However because President Donald Trump’s administration has routinely attacked Google and other tech companies claiming that they unfairly promote bias against misinformation-laden conservative websites, the anti-trust lawsuit is likely to suffer from accusations of being politically motivated.
In other news, the final debate between the two major party Presidential candidates will take place Thursday evening in Nashville, Tennessee to be moderated by NBC News’ Kristen Welker. The debate would have been the third between Trump and his rival Joe Biden but ended up as the second after last week’s event was canceled. Now, based on Trump’s repeated rule-breaking in the first debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided to adjust the rules so that each candidate’s microphone will be muted during the 2-minute period that their rival is asked to answer a question. The Commission released a statement saying, “It is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time, which will advance civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public.” Trump’s campaign has now demanded a last-minute change to the topics laid out beforehand, saying the President wants to center the entire debate on foreign policy.
Leading up to the debate Trump has been lying to the public at a rate that is off the charts. According to CNN, “For fact checkers, the period from Friday through Sunday was one of the most challenging of Trump’s entire presidency: he made at least 66 separate false or misleading claims over that three-day span. In other words, it was 66 false or misleading claims without even counting all the times he repeated some of those same 66 claims over the course of the three days.” Voters appear to not be buying it as the latest New York Times/Siena College poll shows Biden garnering more support than Trump on all major issues including the coronavirus pandemic. In the swing states of North Carolina Trump and Biden are neck-in-neck and in Pennsylvania Trump appears to have narrowed Biden’s lead.
Biden also continues to garner high-profile endorsements such as that of William McRaven, a retired Navy admiral who was commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command from 201 1 to 2014 and led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven’s op-ed in the normally pro-Trump Wall Street Journal is entitled, “Biden Will Make America Lead Again.” Former RNC Head Michael Steele also officially endorsed Biden as did nearly 300 former National Security officials. USA Today, a paper that has never endorsed a candidate before, in its own words, “broke with tradition and took sides in the presidential race for the first time” since its 1982 founding. The paper endorsed Biden for President joining other publications like Scientific American that have backed Biden for their first ever Presidential endorsement. USA Today said Biden, “offers a shaken nation a harbor of calm and competence.”
In other election news Florida broke early voting records with 350,000 ballots being cast in-person on the first day. More than 67,000 former felons have registered to vote in the election—a triumph for voters who passed a ballot measure allowing it some years ago. In Wisconsin – another battleground state—early voting began Tuesday as the state grappled with rising rates of Covid infections. And in California, a solidly Democratic state with Republican enclaves, a ballot drop-off box was set on fire in the Southern California town of Baldwin Park in what is suspected to be arson. Firefighters vainly tried to save as many mail-in ballots as possible.
The New York Times reported that a spate of mysterious brain-related injuries and illnesses among American diplomats and intelligence officials stationed in Cuba, China, and Russia could be linked to attacks by Russia. The Trump administration faces accusations of ignoring the trend as the investigation claimed, “The State Department, which oversaw the cases, has produced inconsistent assessments of patients and events, ignored outside medical diagnoses and withheld basic information from Congress.” Meanwhile Trump has demanded that the Justice Department investigate his rival’s son Hunter Biden in what is a thinly veiled attempt at political campaigning. Dozens of former intelligence officials say that a dubious story published by the New York Post (which even Fox News passed on reporting), bears the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign. The Post obtained the information that it published from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who has reportedly been targeted by Russian disinformation efforts.
In news from the pandemic, the state of California says it will review any vaccine approved for public use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The move is based on documented Trump administration interference in the FDA’s approval process and rising public skepticism of the safety of a rushed vaccine. Moderna, one of several biotech companies that has been hired with billions of tax dollars to develop a vaccine, says it expects interim results from its study by November. No vaccine has yet transpired with exactly 2 weeks to go before the election. Trump had repeatedly publicly announced a vaccine by October or November. In Britain scientists are starting to recruit volunteers who will be deliberately infected with Covid-19 early next year in the hopes of accelerating vaccine production. China says it has inoculated 60,000 people with an experimental vaccine that the government says works without any adverse reactions.
But the U.S. continues to struggle on controlling the virus as average daily infection rates have increased by a whopping 70% since September. Troublingly, NBC News found that, “Coronavirus testing rates have fallen in several states where cases are increasing,” and CNBC found that, “Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are on the rise in a majority of states.” Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports a stark difference in prevention efforts between the West and East. As the US and Europe continue to struggle with rapidly spiking infection rates, East Asian nations like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, have successfully managed to keep case-loads low. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health explained to the paper, “If you can control the virus, you can get 95% of your life back…In the U.S. and Europe, we wanted to get our lives back, so we acted as if the virus was under control. In Asia, they were not in denial. They understood they can have their lives back if they follow certain precautions.”
Congress continues to stall on passing an economic relief bill to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus as Trump flip-flops continuously on the issue. House Democrats had passed the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act and initially Trump had balked, then said he wanted a smaller bill, and then a bill with only a stand alone stimulus check and then a big bill that’s still smaller than what the Democrats passed. Now he wants an even bigger bill than the $2.2 trillion one saying, “It’s very simple. I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats.”
And finally, New Zealanders just voted to overwhelmingly reelect their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for a second term. Ardern’s center-left Labor Party won 49% of the vote, handing the popular leader the highest slice of the electorate than any other party since the 1990s. Labor will now control 64 out of 120 seats which means it will not need to enter into a coalition with another party. Voters also elected what is being called “the queerest parliament” in the world, setting a record for the highest percentage of LGBTQ representatives in a state legislative body.