In Brief: September 26, 2020

Family demands evidence release for Breonna Taylor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Breonna Taylor’s family demanded Friday that Kentucky authorities release all body camera footage, police files and the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings that led to no charges being brought against police officers who killed the Black woman during a raid at her apartment.

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The decision disappointed and angered those who have been calling for justice for Taylor for six months, and protesters vowed to stay in the streets until all the officers involved are fired or someone is charged with her killing.

A diverse group, including Taylor’s mother, marched through Louisville on Friday evening. The protests were peaceful, though at one point, police in riot gear fired flash bang devices to turn back a crowd on a street. Two were arrested, authorities said.

Earlier, Taylor’s lawyers and family expressed dismay that no one has been held accountable for her death.

“I am an angry Black woman. I am not angry for the reasons that you would like me to be. But angry because our Black women keep dying at the hands of police officers — and Black men,” Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, wrote in a statement read by a relative. She stood close by wearing a shirt that said, “I (heart) Louisville Police” with bullet holes in the heart emoji.

Trump expected to announce Barrett for court

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to announce Saturday that he is nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court as he aims to put a historic conservative stamp on the high court just weeks before the election.

Trump said Friday he had made up his mind and it was “very exciting,” without giving away the name, aiming to maintain some suspense around his personal announcement. But the White House indicated to congressional Republicans and outside allies that the pick was Barrett.

“Well I haven’t said it was her, but she’s outstanding,” Trump said of the Indiana federal judge.

Conservative groups and congressional allies are laying the groundwork for a swift confirmation process for her, even before Trump makes the selection official in a Rose Garden ceremony Saturday evening. They, like the president, are wasting little time moving to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, organizing multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and marshalling supporters both to confirm the pick and to boost Trump to a second term.

The likely shift in the court’s makeup — from Ginsburg, a liberal icon, to an outspoken conservative — would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

Judge removes unlawfully serving Trump lands boss

BILLINGS, Mont. — A federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s leading steward of public lands has been serving unlawfully, blocking him from continuing in the position in the latest pushback against the administration’s practice of filling key positions without U.S. Senate approval.

U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley served unlawfully for 424 days without being confirmed to the post by the Senate as required under the Constitution, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris determined.

The ruling came after Montana’s Democratic governor in July sued to remove Pendley, saying the former oil industry attorney was illegally overseeing an agency that manages almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West.

“Today’s ruling is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands,” Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday. Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers from Western states also cheered the judge’s move after urging for months that Pendley be removed.

The ruling will be immediately appealed, according to Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson. He called it “an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law,” and he said the Obama administration had similarly filled key posts at the agency with temporary authorizations.

‘Discarded’ ballots become campaign outrage fuel

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The news release from a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania was provocative: Nine mailed-in military ballots had been “discarded” by the local election office in a swing county of one of the most important presidential battleground states.

All of them were marked for President Donald Trump, it said. Then came another news release with key details changed — the presidential choice was unknown on two of the ballots because they had been resealed — but still little explanation of what had happened and whether investigators believed a criminal act had occurred.

Despite the information vacuum, the White House press secretary told reporters “ballots for the president” had been “cast aside.” The Trump campaign’s rapid response arm pushed out the release from Trump’s own Justice Department under the headline “Democrats are trying to steal the election” — ignoring the fact that the local government, Luzerne County, is controlled by Republicans. Conservative voices used the news release as rocket fuel to amplify the investigation on social media.

Thursday’s kerfuffle and accompanying internet outrage over a handful of ballots is likely a taste of what’s to come in the month left before the presidential election, which is being held amid a global pandemic that has triggered a wave of absentee ballot requests as Trump continues to launch unsubstantiated attacks on mail voting.

From wire sources

It was Trump, after being briefed on the case by Attorney General William Barr, who first revealed publicly that the discarded ballots had been cast for him. He did so in an interview earlier Thursday with Fox News Radio in which he used the investigation to further sow doubt about mail-in voting. The radio interview was hours before the U.S. attorney’s office in Pennsylvania issued its news release about the probe to reporters.

Ginsburg makes history at Capitol amid replacement turmoil

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol as the first woman ever so honored, making history again as she had throughout her extraordinary life while an intensifying election-year battle swirled over her replacement.

The flag-draped casket of Ginsburg, who died last week at 87, drew members of Congress, top military officials, friends and family, some with children in tow, to the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall, paying respect to the cultural icon who changed American law and perceptions of women’s power.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined other invited guests. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris said that “RBG,” as she is known by many, cleared a path for women like her in civic life.

“She, first of all, made America see what leadership looks like — in the law, in terms of public service — and she broke so many barriers,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol. “And I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”

Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Ginsburg was confirmed 27 years ago this month, said he was brought back to when he met her back then. “Wonderful memories,” he said.

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California braces for power shutoffs and warm, windy weekend

SAN FRANCISCO — Firefighters and officials at California’s largest utility company braced for hot, dry and windy weather in northern and central areas of the state this weekend that may fan the flames of several major wildfires or ignite new ones.

Pacific Gas &Electric warned Friday it may cut power from Sunday morning to Monday, potentially affecting 97,000 customers in 16 counties, during which forecasters said a ridge of high pressure will raise temperatures and generate gusts flowing from the interior to the coast.

PG&E initially warned that approximately 21,000 customers in three counties would lose power beginning Saturday evening but expanded the potential shutoff when the forecast changed.

The utility is tracking the weather to determine if it would be necessary to shut off power to areas where gusts could damage the company’s equipment or hurl debris into lines that can ignite flammable vegetation.

When heavy winds were predicted earlier this month, PG&E cut power to about 167,000 homes and businesses in central and Northern California in a more targeted approach after being criticized last year for acting too broadly when it blacked out 2 million customers to prevent fires.

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As campaign heats up, Trump woos Latino, Black voters

ATLANTA, Ga. — With fewer than 40 days left before the election, President Donald Trump unveiled his second policy plan in as many days as he tried to chip away at his Democratic rival’s support among Black and Hispanic voters and in key battleground states.

At a “Black Voices for Trump” event in Atlanta, Georgia, Trump announced what his campaign dubbed a “Platinum Plan” laying out his “promise to Black America” if he wins a second term, including a push for economic development and loan money and a pledge to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, is so named because June 19, 1865, is when slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas.

The announcement came during a two-day campaign swing that ticked off a long list of boxes, both geographically and with key constituencies.

He unveiled what aides termed a “vision” for health care in North Carolina, where polls show him and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden effectively tied. He held a rally in Jacksonville, Florida, one of the most hotly contested battleground states. He courted Hispanic voters near Miami and Black voters in Atlanta. And he held another rally Friday night in Newport News, Virginia. Biden is well ahead of Trump in that state, but the location is close to key North Carolina counties that are difficult for the president to visit, according to the campaign, because not all airports can accommodate Air Force One and its landing requirements.

Trump has tried to contrast his jam-packed schedule with Biden, who has made just 12 visits outside of Delaware since his Aug. 11 selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, worrying some Democrats with his low-key approach.

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NYPD should stop making traffic stops, attorney general says

NEW YORK — New York’s attorney general on Friday recommended the New York Police Department get out of the business of routine traffic enforcement, a radical change she said would prevent encounters like one last year in the Bronx that escalated quickly and ended with an officer fatally shooting a motorist.

Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor appointed to investigate certain police killings, argued that traffic stops for minor infractions often end in violence and that Allan Feliz’s death last October after he was pulled over for a seat belt violation “further underscores the need for this change.”

James’ office concluded that the NYPD’s use of deadly force was justified but that the sequence of events leading to Feliz’s death would never have happened if police hadn’t stopped him in the first place. Police further heightened tensions by attempting to arrest Feliz on outstanding warrants for low-level offenses such as spitting, littering and disorderly conduct, James’ office said.

The NYPD declined to comment.

Feliz initially complied when an officer asked him to get out of his car, but then jumped back in and tried to flee, James’ office said in a report on his death that included the recommendation about police yielding traffic stop duties.

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Trump’s $200 prescription cards won’t hit mailboxes just yet

WASHINGTON — If you’re on Medicare, don’t run to the mailbox looking for a $200 prescription drug card courtesy of President Donald Trump.

Government officials said Friday that key details of Trump’s election-year giveaway still have to be fleshed out, including the exact timing and how Medicare’s cost would be covered — a sum that could approach $7 billion.

It’s also unclear which Medicare enrollees will get the promised cards. Trump said 33 million beneficiaries would receive cards in the mail, but more than 60 million people are covered by the federal health insurance program for seniors.

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Trade groups representing the two industries most affected by the plan — drug companies and insurers — said they have received no specifics from the Trump administration. Public policy experts called it an attention-grabbing move — weeks before the presidential election — that won’t change much in the end.

“Providing a coupon does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problem of high and rising drug prices,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “The administration has had nearly four years to work with Congress or go through the regulatory process to adopt proposals that could have a real and sustained impact on drug prices.”

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