Headlines: October 21, 2020
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The coronavirus is surging across the United States once more in what observers are calling a “third wave” of the pandemic. There are now nearly 60,000 cases of infection being documented each day—a staggeringly high number, and an indication that the worst is not behind us. Representative Jim Clyburn, chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released to the public several reports from the White House task force that showed the government’s executive branch was well aware of rising infections earlier this year even as President Donald Trump was indicating things were under control. Those reports had been shared privately with state governments but not made public until now. Mr. Clyburn, a Democrat, released a statement saying, “Contrary to his empty claims that the country is ‘rounding the turn,’ more states are now in the ‘red zone’ than ever before. … It is long past time that the Administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis.” The President has not just ignored or downplayed the virus’ spread but has continued holding massive, crowded public rallies with little to no social distancing rules. One optimistic outcome is the result from two new studies showing that mortality rates from the virus have dropped by 18% as physicians are better able to treat a disease they now know more about. But the long-term health impacts to virus survivors remains a high price to pay.
Meanwhile there is some progress on vaccine development too. Two biotech companies, Pfizer and Moderna will be on track to release interim results within weeks in high-profile vaccine trials as officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gather to assess them. The Trump administration had been found to be interfering with the FDA’s vaccine approval process but the New York Times reports that FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has managed to retain some measure of independence from Trump’s politically motivated pressure on a vaccine. State officials meanwhile are in the dark about how a vaccine will be distributed once approved and are pleading for more information as it will likely fall on states to ensure availability.
Talks are continuing on approval for a new stimulus package to deal with the pandemic-related economic fallout with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounding optimistic after discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows went as far as saying an agreement was expected over the next two days. Speaking to reporters Pelosi said she was optimistic. However Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has other plans and has already indicated he does not want to make progress on a Covid relief bill. Indicating to his Republican colleagues that he wanted to put politics above economic relief for millions of struggling Americans McConnell is reported to have said that a deal before the election would have repercussions for his party.
In other news, the New York Times, which has been reporting on a massive trove of the President’s tax returns that it obtained, has published a new analysis showing that Trump has a previously unknown bank account in China. According to the Times, “The Chinese account is controlled by Trump International Hotels Management L.L.C., which the tax records show paid $188,561 in taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015.” This is a far higher tax bill than Trump paid in the U.S. Trump and his Republican allies have attempted to inflate a story claiming that Joe Biden’s son Hunter has maintained a bank account with a Chinese businessman. In spite of his negative rhetoric toward China the Times also pointed out how Trump spent decades trying to initiate business projects there.
Meanwhile Mr. Trump has been railing against “60 Minutes” host Lesley Stahl after taping an interview with the veteran TV journalist earlier this week. Trump reportedly cut short the interview and has blasted it as “FAKE and BIASED” indicating that it likely did not go in a favorable direction. The interview will air on Sunday night on CBS but Trump has threatened to post it ahead of time.
Trump’s campaign for reelection is in trouble with just about $63 million to spend compared to Biden’s war chest of $177 million. There are less than two weeks to go before the November 3rd race. According to Associated Press, “President Donald Trump’s sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire.” Chunks of money were spent on flashy new cars, Superbowl ads, and legal fees related to his impeachment last year. A new USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Biden leading Trump in the swing state of Pennsylvania by 7 percent.
Reports have emerged of threatening emails being sent to Democratic voters to pick Trump on their ballots. The emails appear to come from the Proud Boys, a men-only white nationalist hate group that supports Trump but it is not clear if the group actually sent the emails. According to the Washington Post the emails seem to be part of a “deceptive campaign making use of a vulnerability in the organization’s online network.” A Trump-supporting police officer in Miami, Florida faces disciplinary measures after violating the law by wearing a mask on his face that said “Trump 2020.” Meanwhile in Memphis, Tennessee, voters who wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts were challenged by a poll worker who has now been fired. It is illegal to engage in political campaigning at the polls, but political slogans unrelated to campaigns are protected under the First Amendment.
Immigration lawyers appointed by a federal judge say they cannot locate the parents of 545 children caught up in the Trump administration’s family separation policy. The federal government in a plan that generated international outrage, deported about two thirds of those parents to Central America before they could be reunited with their children. Meanwhile a new study found that there was no increase in crime levels in those American cities that have taken on the “sanctuary” label. Contrary to Trump’s claims that “sanctuary” cities are rife with immigrant-led crime, the Stanford University study shows no evidence of higher crime rates.
Purdue Pharma, the drug maker of OxyContin has pleaded guilty to 3 charges related to the opioid epidemic. According to AP the charges include, “conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws.”
The United States Senate plans to vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, just 8 days before the Presidential race. Now, news has emerged that Barrett was a trustee at a private school that had adopted homophobic policies. Barrett served for nearly 3 years on the board of Trinity Schools Inc. starting in 2015. The private schools refused to admit the children of same-sex couples and also refused to hire LGBTQ teachers. The schools are affiliated with People of Praise, the shadowy Catholic church that Barrett is reportedly a member of. Three of her children attended Trinity schools. And, Pope Francis has broken with Catholic leadership in endorsing same-sex civil unions. His statements of support for the LGBTQ community appeared in a documentary that was just released in Rome.