In Brief: June 27, 2020

Appeals court: Trump wrongly diverted $2.5B for border wall

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the Trump administration in its transfer of $2.5 billion from military construction projects to build sections of the U.S. border wall with Mexico, ruling it illegally sidestepped Congress, which gets to decide how to use the funds.

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In two opinions, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a coalition of border states and environmental groups that contended the money transfer was unlawful and that building the wall would pose environmental threats.

The rulings were the latest twist in the legal battle that has largely gone Trump’s way. Last July, the Supreme Court allowed the $2.5 billion to be spent while the litigation continued, blunting the impact of the latest appeals court action.

The administration has already awarded much of the money, including a $1.3-billion job in Arizona that was announced last month. Trump visited Yuma, Arizona, on Tuesday to mark completion of the 200th mile of border wall during his administration, much of it with the transferred military funds that the 9th Circuit panel found illegal.

Coronavirus task force briefs — but not at White House

WASHINGTON — There was no presidential appearance and no White House backdrop Friday when the government’s coronavirus task force briefed the public for the first time since April — in keeping with an administration effort to show it is paying attention to the latest spike in cases but is not on a wartime footing that should keep the country from reopening the economy.

The briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services was held as the number of confirmed new coronavirus infections per day in the U.S. soared to an all-time high of 40,000 — higher even than during the deadliest stretch in April and May. In light of the new surge, task force briefers chose their words carefully to update the public about COVID-19, which has become both a public health and political issue.

Vice President Mike Pence had the most delicate line to walk. He acknowledged a surge in new cases across the South and West, while backing the president’s desire to get the economy up and running without mentioning that it will also help the prospects for reelection.

“As we see new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to the place that we were two months ago — in a time of great losses and a great hardship on the American people,” Pence said.

But the vice president also took note of positive job numbers and added: “The reality is we’re in a much better place.”

Facebook to label all rule-breaking posts – even Trump’s

OAKLAND, Calif. — Facebook said Friday that it will flag all “newsworthy” posts from politicians that break its rules, including those from President Donald Trump.

Separately, Facebook’s stock dropped more than 8%, erasing roughly $50 billion from its market valuation, after the European company behind brands such as Ben &Jerry’s and Dove announced it would boycott Facebook ads through the end of the year over the amount of hate speech and divisive rhetoric on its platform. Later in the day, Coca-Cola also announced it joined the boycott for at least 30 days.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously refused to take action against Trump posts suggesting that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud, saying that people deserved to hear unfiltered statements from political leaders. Twitter, by contrast, slapped a “get the facts” label on them.

Until Friday, Trump’s posts with identical wording to those labeled on Twitter remained untouched on Facebook, sparking criticism from Trump’s opponents as well as current and former Facebook employees. Now, Facebook is all but certain to face off with the president the next time he posts something the company deems to be violating its rules.

“The policies we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they’re showing up across our community,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page announcing the changes.

Stocks sink as virus cases jump, forcing states to backtrack

Stocks on Wall Street fell sharply Friday as confirmed new coronavirus infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high, prompting Texas and Florida to reverse course on the reopening of businesses.

The combination injected new jitters into a market that’s been mostly riding high since April on hopes that the economy will recover from a deep recession as businesses open doors and Americans begin to feel more confident that they can leave their homes again.

From wire sources

The S&P 500 dropped 2.4%, giving up all of its gains after a rally the day before. The sell-off capped a choppy week of trading that erased the benchmark index’s gains for the month. Even so, the S&P 500 is still on pace for its best quarter since 1998.

The surge in the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases prompted Texas and Florida to reverse course and clamp down on bars again. The two states join a small but growing list of those that are either backtracking or putting any further reopenings of their economies on hold because of a resurgence of the virus.

“That certainly calls into question how vigorous this recovery will be,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We have to acknowledge there’s a high degree of uncertainty about how this is going to progress for the balance of the year.”

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As virus grows, governors rely on misleading hospital data

Governors in places seeing huge spikes in coronavirus infections often cite statewide data to assure the public they have plenty of hospital capacity to survive the onslaught, even as the states routinely miss the critical benchmarks to guide their pandemic response.

Public health officials and experts say the heavy reliance on statewide hospital data is a misleading and sometimes irresponsible metric to justify keeping a state open or holding back on imposing new limits.

That is because statewide statistics can be deceiving, especially in large states where individual hospitals can be in crisis mode even while the overall capacity numbers look OK.

Thomas LaVeist, dean of the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, said basing pandemic and reopening policy on statewide hospital bed capacity ”is incredibly irresponsible.”

“To cherry-pick hospital capacity and to use that one metric without the context of number of cases, number of deaths, is shocking,” LaVeist said.

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Police: Illinois shooting suspect kills 2 coworkers, himself

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The 48-year-old man suspected of fatally shooting two coworkers and critically wounding another at a central Illinois warehouse Friday died after apparently shooting himself, the city’s police chief said.

Springfield police believe Michael L. Collins fatally shot himself Friday after shooting and killing two co-workers at the Bunn-O-Matic facility shortly after 11 a.m. Collins, of Springfield, also critically injured another woman, police said.

Collins, the two other men and the woman all arrived for work at about 7 a.m. Friday in the welding area of the facility, Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow told reporters Friday evening. They all worked in the same area, he said.

Winslow said the sheriff of nearby Morgan County called his office later Friday to say Collins’ body had been found in the suspect’s car. Two handguns were found in the car. No other suspects were being sought.

Winslow released Collins’ name earlier Friday but later said he would not repeat it. The names of the victims were not released, neither was the name of the female co-worker who was in critical condition at a hospital.

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Hard-hit tribe takes strict steps as virus surges in Arizona

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — People in the deserts of Arizona flee to the White Mountains when the triple-digit heat is too much to bear, cooling off in the forest a few hours away. That worries a Native American tribe that calls the area home, as coronavirus infections and temperatures have both spiked in one of the hardest-hit states.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe is taking some of the most drastic actions in Arizona to protect its 13,500 residents, more than one-eighth of whom have already tested positive for COVID-19. It’s taking cues from severe measures imposed by other tribes nationwide, including the Navajo Nation, which has curtailed an outbreak that once made it a national hot spot.

Those living on the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s reservation in northeastern Arizona face the risk of fines and other penalties if they venture beyond their own yards this weekend. A two-week shelter-in-place order will follow. The tribe’s Fort Apache Reservation also is closed to the summertime visitors who flock to the area to fish, hike and camp among ponderosa pines.

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The tribe’s confirmed infections and 20 deaths as of Friday make the reservation one of the hardest-hit places in a state that’s recording over 3,000 cases a day and running short on hospital space.

“COVID has just turned our world upside down,” White Mountain Apache Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood said.

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