Headlines: October 29, 2020
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in two cases around absentee ballot deadlines. In both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Justices ruled that absentee ballots ought to be counted days after election day, as long as they were postmarked ahead of the election. Newly confirmed Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett did not rule in the cases saying she had not had time to review the documents. In the case of Pennsylvania the court turned down an appeal by state Republicans and in North Carolina justices allowed a lower court ruling to stand so that voters can ensure their ballots are counted up to nine days after the election. In the Pennsylvania ruling the 3 conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh appeared to indicate that they could potentially rehear the case and decide against counting ballots after election day. Huffington Post speculated that the justices appear to be “itching to steal the election for Trump.” The rulings are at odds with Monday’s decision on Wisconsin that prevents the counting of mail-in ballots past 8 pm on election day. Meanwhile election officials have announced that millions of mail-in ballots that were sent out have not yet been returned. Some of the discrepancy could be because voters chose to cast ballots in person due to deep mistrust of the Postal Service’s ability to get the ballots delivered on time. A federal judge has now issued a nationwide order for the postal service to boost its services to ensure ballots are delivered on time.
President Donald Trump continues to hold in-person and very crowded rallies across the country to whip up support for his flagging campaign. A common theme is to provoke deep fear about what his rival Joe Biden would bring to America. At one event in Arizona Trump said: “If you vote for Biden, it means no kids in school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas and no Fourth of July together.” Social media users pointed out that this was already the reality for most Americans living in Trump’s America. Both Trump and Biden are campaigning in Tampa as Florida voters witness two polar opposites.
Election officials are reporting massive amounts of rightwing misinformation from anxious voters calling about voter fraud—an issue that Trump and Republicans have boosted to sow doubt in the electoral process. On top of that they have to contend with the potential for violence as Trump and the GOP have also recruited thousands of what they call “poll watchers” to watch voters. And now, hackers are also interfering. In Georgia cyberthieves released Georgia county election data after being denied the ransom they were demanding. In Wisconsin the state Republican Party reports that hackers stole $2.3 million from a fund that was being used to boost Trump in the swing state. The FBI is investigating the incident.
The New York Times reports that the Justice Department’s top prosecutor in Manhattan Geoffrey Berman, was up against Attorney General William Barr over an investigation into a Turkish Bank. Halkbank is a Turkish company that was caught allegedly violating sanctions on Iran and a U.S. probe could have implicated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family. According to the Times the Turkish president had been pressuring President Trump to squash the investigation into Halkbank and Barr appeared to be doing just that. According to tax records obtained by the Times, Trump “reported receiving at least $2.6 million in net income from operations in Turkey from 2015 through 2018.” Reporters explained, “Mr. Trump’s sympathetic response to Mr. Erdogan was especially jarring because it involved accusations that the bank had undercut Mr. Trump’s policy of economically isolating Iran, a centerpiece of his Middle East plan.” And, “Former White House officials said they came to fear that the president was open to swaying the criminal justice system to advance a transactional and ill-defined agenda of his own.”
In other news, Miles Taylor, the former Homeland Security Chief of Staff has outed himself as “Anonymous,” the famously unnamed official who wrote an op-ed some years ago claiming to be part of the internal resistance to Trump, and author of a book called A Warning. Taylor resigned from his position last June. He has now promptly become a target of the pro-Trump faction in Washington. The Washington Post, as part of a series on Trump’s presidency, published a lengthy investigation into how he has waged, “an unwavering four-year war on the civil servants who have operated as the backbone of the federal government for more than a century.”
The latest government data on the economy reveals a large bounce back of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the jump obscures the fact that the economy has not recovered from the pandemic-related fall. According to the Commerce Department the GDP grew 7.4% in the third quarter but that’s because it had fallen to such great depths earlier. The Trump campaign seized on the numbers eager to spin it in his favor saying the data were an “absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country.” The Labor Department also released the latest jobless claims and found that 751,000 people applied for benefits last week. Meanwhile Trump has been unable to push his party to take up a Covid-relief bill for struggling Americans and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed this week that the White House and she were miles apart on the details of a bill.
Indicating that any economic gains may be short-lived, state and local leaders are once more enacting orders for people to shelter-in-place as the coronavirus rages back. There are new safety restrictions on schools and social gatherings being announced in Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts and Texas. The White House coronavirus taskforce, in direct contradiction to the President and his campaign, has warned of a major surge in cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is part of the task force, was asked in an interview on CNBC whether the U.S. could follow what Australia did in imposing a strict lockdown for 111 days. This was Fauci’s response. Meanwhile American hospitals that are struggling with overflowing ICUs, are now also being hit by coordinated ransomware by Russian speaking criminals as per reports.
And finally, investigators for the House of Representatives released documents showing how a $265 million public relations campaign by the Health and Human Services Department on the coronavirus ended up becoming a partisan effort to boost President Trump’s image. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar House Democrats outlined their findings showing that the effort led by HHS top staffer Michael Caputo was full of, “extremely troubling revelations.” In the letter lawmakers accused Azar of “a cover-up to conceal the Trump administration’s misuse of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for partisan political purposes ahead of the upcoming election.” Ultimately, according to the Washington Post, “the campaign collapsed in late September amid recriminations and investigation.”