Day: July 9, 2020

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Trump to US schools: Reopen or you may lose federal funds

Determined to reopen America’s schools despite coronavirus worries, President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive.

Shortly afterward, Vice-President Mike Pence announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be issuing new guidance next week “that will give all new tools to our schools.” The recommendations will keep students safe, he said, but “the president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough. ”

Despite Trump’s increased pressure on state and local officials, New York City announced that most of its students would return to classrooms only two or three days a week and would learn online in between. “Most schools will not be able to have all their kids in school at the same time,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

For a nation that prides itself on its public school system, it’s an extraordinary situation in this pandemic year.

With millions of the nation’s parents anxious about their children’s safety in the fall — and their own work interruptions if they must stay home — Trump continued to inject politics into public health. He accused Democrats yet again of wanting to keep schools closed for election-year reasons rather than health concerns. And he issued a veiled threat to CDC officials over their reopening guidelines, tweeting, “I will be meeting with them!!!”


‘A hot mess’: Americans face testing delays as virus surges

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — With a cough and shortness of breath, it took Austin, Texas, resident Sam Lee three tries to get a COVID-19 test.

The first time, he showed up an hour before the public testing site was set to close and was told they had reached capacity. He was turned away from a second centre when rain shut it down, and voluntarily left a third after someone ahead of him said they had been waiting in line for more than three hours.

“If you have symptoms and you are just driving around the city trying to figure out how you can get a test, for people who are positive, it is not ideal,” said Lee, who finally got a test on June 29 after he showed up at a site before dawn and waited for more than two hours. Another five days passed before he was able to view the results online, and he didn’t receive a text with the results until seven days after being tested.

Four months, 3 million confirmed infections and over 130,000 deaths into the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Americans confronted with a resurgence of the scourge are facing long lines at testing sites in the summer heat or are getting turned away. Others are going a week or more without receiving a diagnosis.

Some sites are running out of kits, while labs are reporting shortages of materials and workers to process the swabs.


Asia Today: Australia state locks out people from virus spot

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian state has closed its doors to people fleeing a second lockdown in Australia’s second-largest city.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said on Thursday that a number of people were willing to pay for their own 14-day hotel quarantine to be allowed to escape Melbourne and other parts of Victoria state that began a six-week shutdown Wednesday because of an expanding coronavirus outbreak.

Miles said from Friday anyone who has been in Victoria in the previous two weeks would be banned except for Queensland residents coming home and few other exceptions.

“We need to reserve hotel accommodation for people who need to be quarantined … so we will be much stricter,” Miles said.

“That will mean some very hard decisions. There will be people who have very good reasons to travel to Queensland and while there will continue to be compassionate grounds, hardship considerations,” but the rules would be strictly applied, he added.


Court: Some employers can refuse to offer free birth control

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled broadly Wednesday in favour of the religious rights of employers in two cases that could leave more than 70,000 women without free contraception and tens of thousands of people with no way to sue for job discrimination.

In both cases the court ruled 7-2, with two liberal justices joining conservatives in favour of the Trump administration and religious employers.

In the more prominent of the two cases, involving President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, the justices greenlighted changes the Trump administration had sought. The administration announced in 2017 that it would allow more employers to opt out of providing the no-cost birth control coverage required under the law, but lower courts had blocked the changes.

The ruling is a significant election-year win for President Donald Trump, who counts on heavy support from evangelicals and other Christian groups for votes and policy backing. It was also good news for the administration, which in recent weeks has seen headline-making Supreme Court decisions go against its positions.

In one of those earlier cases, the court rejected Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants. In another, the justices said a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment.


Officer to Floyd: ‘It takes … a lot of oxygen to talk’

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As George Floyd told Minneapolis police officers that he couldn’t breathe more than 20 times in the moments before he died, the officer who pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck dismissed his pleas, saying “it takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk,” according to transcripts of body camera video recordings made public Wednesday.

The transcripts for the body camera videos of officers Thomas Lane and J. Kueng provide the most detailed account yet of what happened as police were taking Floyd into custody on May 25, and reveal more of what was said after Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed, was put on the ground.

“You’re going to kill me, man,” Floyd said, according to a transcript of Lane’s body camera video.

“Then stop talking, stop yelling. It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk,” said Derek Chauvin, the white officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, even after Floyd stopped moving.

“They’ll kill me. They’ll kill me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” Floyd said.


Bolsonaro now the ‘poster boy’ for dubious COVID treatment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — After months of touting an unproven anti-malaria drug as a treatment for the new coronavirus, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is turning himself into a test case live before millions of people as he swallows hydroxychloroquine pills on social media and encourages others to do the same.

Bolsonaro said this week that he tested positive for the virus but already felt better thanks to hydroxychloroquine. Hours later he shared a video of himself gulping down what he said was his third dose.

“I trust hydroxychloroquine,” he said, smiling. “And you?”

On Wednesday, he was again extolling the drug’s benefits on Facebook, and claimed that his political opponents were rooting against it.

A string of studies in Britain and the United States, as well as by the World Health Organization, have found chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine ineffective against COVID-19 and sometimes deadly because of their adverse side effects on the heart. Several studies were cancelled early because of adverse effects.


Facebook civil rights audit: ‘Serious setbacks’ mar progress

A two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found “serious setbacks” that have marred the social network’s progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias.

Facebook hired the audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues. Its 100-page report released Wednesday outlines a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at the company on everything from bias in Facebook’s algorithms to its content moderation, advertising practices and treatment of voter suppression.

The audit recommends that Facebook build a “civil rights infrastructure” into every aspect of the company, as well as a “stronger interpretation” of existing voter suppression policies and more concrete action on algorithmic bias. Those suggestions are not binding, and there is no formal system in place to hold Facebook accountable for any of the audit’s findings.

“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the audit report states.

Those include Facebook’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking, even when President Donald Trump posted false information about voting by mail. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cited a commitment to free speech as a reason for allowing such posts to remain on the platform, even though the company has rules in place against voter suppression it could have used to take down — or at least add warning labels to — Trump’s posts.


Biden-Sanders task forces unveil joint goals for party unity

WASHINGTON (AP) — Political task forces Joe Biden formed with onetime rival Bernie Sanders to solidify support among the Democratic Party’s progressive wing recommended Wednesday that the former vice-president embrace major proposals to combat climate change and institutional racism while expanding health care coverage and rebuilding a coronavirus-ravaged economy.

But they stopped short of urging Biden’s full endorsement of policies that could prove too divisive for some swing voters in November, like universal health coverage under “Medicare for All” or the sweeping Green New Deal environmental plan.

The groups, formed in May to tackle health care, immigration, education, criminal justice reform, climate change and the economy, sought to hammer out a policy road map to best defeat President Donald Trump. Their 110 pages of recommendations should help shape the policy platform Democrats will adopt during their national convention next month — even though the entire party platform adopted in 2016 ran only about 50 pages.

The task forces sought to help Biden, a centre-left establishment candidate, engage skeptical progressives who’d backed other 2020 candidates, especially Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is under consideration for Biden’s running mate. Biden hoped the groups would promote party unity and help him avoid a repeat of 2016, when many Sanders supporters remained disillusioned enough that they stayed home rather than support Hillary Clinton against Trump.

They recommend that Biden commit to moving the U.S. to being fully powered by renewable energy, and meeting other key environmental benchmarks, by 2035. That’s far more ambitious than the 2050 deadline he embraced during the primary. They also call for a 100-day moratorium on deportations and a series of steps to overhaul the economy in an effort to reduce economic and racial inequality.


Health official: Trump rally ‘likely’ source of virus surge

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and large protests “likely contributed” to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

Tulsa County reported 261 confirmed new cases on Monday, a one-day record high, and another 206 cases on Tuesday. By comparison, during the week before the June 20 Trump rally, there were 76 cases on Monday and 96 on Tuesday.

Although the health department’s policy is to not publicly identify individual settings where people may have contracted the virus, Dart said those large gatherings “more than likely” contributed to the spike.

“In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,” Dart said.

Trump’s Tulsa rally, his first since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., attracted thousands of people from around the country. About 6,200 people gathered inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center arena — far fewer than was expected.


Country band Lady A files suit against singer with same name

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country group Lady A, which dropped the word “Antebellum,” from their name because of the word’s ties to slavery, has filed a lawsuit against a Black singer who has performed as Lady A for years.

The Grammy-winning vocal group filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in federal court after negotiations with Anita White broke down in recent weeks. According to the lawsuit, the band is seeking a ruling that their use of the trademark “Lady A” does not infringe on White’s alleged trademark rights of the same name. The band is not seeking monetary damages.

The group made up Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood announced the name change last month, saying they were regretful for not taking into consideration the word antebellum’s associations with slavery.

But White, who has been releasing blues and soul music for years as Lady A, complained publicly that the band never reached out to her before changing their name. Negotiations over the name failed to reach an agreement. A manager for White did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the band applied for trademarks for the name “Lady A” for entertainment services and for use on clothing back in 2010 and no oppositions were filed by any person or entity.

The Associated Press

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Cancel Canada Day pushed back against celebrations of land theft. Now it’s time to continue pushing for change.

Maya Bhullar
Image: Colby Rex O'Neill

On July 1, Idle No More and allies organized #CancelCanadaDay actions and a live broadcast to stop the annual celebration of stolen Indigenous land and stolen Indigenous lives.

Instead, people honoured the lives lost to the Canadian state and spoke of the struggles we must continue for future generations. We listened to speakers who spoke about the need to continue to take action for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples, police and RCMP reform, child welfare system reform, birth alerts, forced sterilization, and the systemic injustices faced by Indigenous peoples.

Now we must continue to push for changes that were called for during the #CancelCanadaDay actions. The Canadian government, particularly the current federal government, is very good at looking like they are taking action but actually doing very little. Systemic change requires long-term and sustained action. First Nations and allies have been pushing for change for decades. Here is a sample of what has been accomplished and what is underway.


Before the shootings of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, the government of New Brunswick was likely to pass a bill which would have increased the powers of police but, in light of recent events, that bill has been scrapped. First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick are demanding an inquiry into the policing and the justice system in the province.

The charges against Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam have been dropped and the fact that the RCMP officer who attacked him was already under investigation for charges of assault, mischief and unlawfully being in a dwelling has been disclosed. Chief Adam and the the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are also calling for comprehensive reforms.

Across the country, people are organizing to stop the assault and murder of Indigenous people and people of colour by police by demanding overdue changes to the RCMP and provincial and municipal police forces. Join campaigns in your province and your community to defund police and demand accountability. 

Child welfare

According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, Indigenous youth made up 52 per cent of foster children younger than 14 in Canada, despite representing just eight per cent of that age group.

This number reflects the fact that more Indigenous children have been entering foster care than leaving it. Between 1989 and 2012 Indigenous children spent more than 66 million nights in foster care — the equivalent of 180,000 years. 

Here is an interview with Cindy Blackstock about the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and Assembly of First Nations’ efforts to address the child welfare crisis. She discusses the historic Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision which ruled that the federal government must pay $40,000 each to every First Nations child — along with some of their parents and grandparents — who was taken away from their family and community after 2006 through the on-reserve child welfare system.

The federal government has tried to offload child welfare responsibility, potentially as an underfunded mandate, onto First Nations — an act which has been criticised by activists working on First Nations child welfare. This is a critical time for this issue. Please continue to work with groups like the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society on this issue. 

Birth alerts

Birth alerts are warnings from social services agencies to hospitals intended to flag the history of a mother who is considered “high-risk.”

The alerts may lead to a baby being apprehended from their mother in the hospital. One of the calls to action in the MMIWG report was to end birth alerts. Effective April 1, 2020, Manitoba, which has the highest per capita rate of children in care in Canada and apprehends about one newborn every day, has ended birth alerts.

British Columbia ended the practice of birth alerts in September 2019, and the The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan is currently campaigning for the practice to end in Saskatchewan. However, the Saskatchewan government said in June it will continue the practice.

In March 2020, Women’s Wellness Within sent this letter to Nova Scotia’s minister of community services advocating for an end to birth alerts. You can write a similar letter to the minister responsible for social services in your province demanding an end to the inhumane and discriminatory apprehending of infants from their mothers.  

Forced sterilisation 

Currently, over 100 Indigenous women are part of class-action lawsuits which are filed or being filed in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan over forced sterilisation. Canada has also been roundly condemned by international human rights bodies for this violation of women. Here are some actions you can take to support the efforts to end this practice.

Missing and murdered and Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people

On June 3, 2019, the decades-long fight to investigate the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people led to the MMIWG report.  

More than one year after the report, the Trudeau government has cited COVID-19 as the reason why no action plan would be tabled in June, and there is no timeline for creating such a document.  

In response to this announcement, Lorraine Whitman, president of Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse for failing to protect the vulnerable Indigenous women of Canada who face increased risk of violence as a result of the disease and required social isolation.

“Rather than a national action plan, Indigenous women have been given a lack-of-action plan,” Whitman explained. “Indigenous women are still dying and disappearing in Canada, families are still being left in the dark about the loss of their loved ones.”

“The time to act is now, not years or even months from now,” she added.

Support NWAC’s efforts to force the government to move forward. 

This is just some of the work being done to honour some of the lives which have been lost due to the Canadian colonial state. As Canada Day becomes a memory, let’s stand for the people whose lives have been lost.

Image: Colby Rex O’Neill

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