Headlines: September 23, 2020
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The body of late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court this week as hundreds of mourners filed by to pay their respects. The 87-year old will become the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol this Friday. Her colleague Chief Justice John Roberts eulogized her calling her a “rock star.” Dismissing her final wish to be replaced after a new President is selected, President Donald Trump is rushing ahead to announce his nominee for the GOP-dominated Senate to vote on via a timeline so rushed it would be unprecedented. Trump on Tuesday suggested that a new conservative justice replacing Ginsburg could benefit his reelection attempt. A new poll found that about half of all Americans want the Senate to wait until a new presidential term in order to replace Ginsburg’s seat while only 36% say Trump should move forward immediately.
Some Democrats are seriously considering packing the courts – which means a new Democratic President adding more seats to the Supreme Court in order to restore balance. But others shot down the idea. Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden has avoided addressing the issue. Meanwhile Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering appealing their case over return dates for mail-in ballots to the Supreme Court. Whether or not Ginsburg is replaced, conservatives currently have a majority of 5 to 3 and the Pennsylvania case is one of several election-related cases that could come before an 8-seat court in the next few weeks. Also in Pennsylvania the state-level Supreme Court just ruled that authorities should discard so-called “naked ballots” or ballots that have been returned without the “secrecy envelope.” An estimated 100,000 ballots could be tossed out in a state that Trump won in 2016 by 44,000 votes. And in Florida, former Democratic Presidential candidate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg raised more than $16 million for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which pays off court-related fines of former felons so that they are eligible to vote.
In other election news polls in states that are solidly Republicans show Biden performing competitively. In analyzing numerous polls the New York Times’ Nate Cohn concluded that in states like Iowa with white-majority populations, “Joe Biden seems to be securing large, broad gains among white voters.” Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican Senator John McCain formally endorsed Biden. And a new poll of young voters shows that those under the age of 40 are now more favorably viewing Biden’s candidacy than they did earlier in the year. Fifty five progressive writers and activists this week released a letter to voters saying, “Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden.” For full disclosure, I was one of the signatories to that letter alongside Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Bill Fletcher, Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon and others.
When a reporter on Tuesday asked Trump why he remained silent about the fact that 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, he ignored the question about the 200,000 Covid-19 related deaths in the U.S. even though the rate of deaths exceeds his own government’s projections. The Guardian Newspaper put the figure in context pointing out that the virus-related deaths over 7 months far exceeds all murders in a year. It also outpaced annual deaths due to the seasonal flu, traffic-accident fatalities, breast cancer deaths, and drug overdose deaths including opioid related ones. More than 20 states around the U.S. are seeing an uptick in new infections and new research points to the growing evidence that asymptomatic individuals are so-called “silent spreaders.” Dr. Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, the top two disease experts in the nation testified to the Senate on the virus and said they hoped there would be a vaccine by next Spring. Trump had publicly rebuked Redfield’s earlier comments made during a Congressional hearing saying he knew more about the virus than the CDC head. The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday announced the final stage of testing for a new 1-shot vaccine that holds promise.
House Democrats this week unveiled sweeping new legislation aimed at curbing the abuses of the Executive branch they have witnessed Trump engage in. House Democrat Adam Schiff of California wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times laying out the details of the bill in curbing presidential pardon power, restoring Congressional oversight and acting against foreign election interference.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is finally facing a Senate confirmation hearing after performing his role in an interim basis for months. During his hearing Wolf admitted that white supremacist extremists were the most “persistent and lethal” threat to the United States in the realm of violent domestic terrorism but defended the actions of DHS officers in policing cities like Portland, Oregon where protesters in Wolf’s words espoused, “this anarchist sort of ideology.” Ahead of the hearing it emerged that DHS awarded $6 million in government contracts to the consulting firm where Wolf’s wife is an executive.
Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Wednesday announced grand jury indictments in the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Louisville whose death sparked international outrage. Only one officer, Brett Hankison, has been indicted and two others were not. Hankison faces three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree. His bail has been set at only $15,000. Ahead of the announcement the city imposed a state of emergency and one of the other officers involved in Taylor’s killing, Jonathan Mattingly, wrote a scathing open letter calling himself a “good guy” and saying that he and other officers do not succumb to racial biases in their line of duty. In Los Angeles, where a black man named Dijon Kizzee was killed by sheriffs’ deputies, an independent autopsy showed that 15 bullets struck him. The attorney representing Kizzee’s family said, “this shooting was an execution, plain and simple.”