In Brief: October 28, 2020

  • President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administers the Constitutional Oath to Amy Coney Barrett on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday after Barrett was confirmed by the Senate earlier in the evening. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Barrett sworn in at court as issues important to Trump await

WASHINGTON — Amy Coney Barrett was formally sworn in Tuesday as the Supreme Court’s ninth justice, her oath administered in private by Chief Justice John Roberts. Her first votes on the court could include two big topics affecting the man who appointed her.

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The court is weighing a plea from President Donald Trump to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from acquiring his tax returns. It is also considering appeals from the Trump campaign and Republicans to shorten the deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots in the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County filed legal papers at the court Tuesday arguing that Barrett should not take part in the Pennsylvania case. It’s not clear if she will vote in the pending cases, but she will make that call.

Barrett was confirmed Monday by the Senate in a 52-48 virtual party line vote. She is expected to begin work as a justice on Tuesday after taking the second of two oaths required of judges by federal law. No justice has assumed office so close to a presidential election or immediately confronted issues so directly tied to the incumbent president’s political and personal fortunes.

Barrett declined to commit to Democratic demands that she step aside from any cases on controversial topics, including a potential post-election dispute over the presidential results.

Biden vows his unity can save country; Trump hits Midwest

WARM SPRINGS, Ga. — Joe Biden traveled Tuesday to the hot springs town where Franklin Delano Roosevelt coped with polio to declare the U.S. is not too politically diseased to overcome its health and economic crises, pledging to be the unifying force who can “restore our soul and save this country.”

The Democratic presidential nominee offered his closing argument with Election Day just one week away while attempting to go on the political offensive in Georgia, which hasn’t backed a Democrat for the White House since 1992. He promised to be a president for all Americans regardless of party, even as he said that “anger and suspicion is growing and our wounds are getting deeper.”

“Has the heart of this nation turned to stone? I don’t think so,” Biden said. “I refuse to believe it.”

While Biden worked to expand the electoral map in the South, President Donald Trump focused on the Democrats’ “blue wall” states that he flipped in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and maintained a far busier travel schedule taking him to much more of the country.

At a cold, rain-soaked rally in the Michigan capital of Lansing, Trump said that Biden supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, both of which he said hurt the auto industry and other manufacturing in the state.

NXIVM guru gets 120 years in prison in sex-slaves case

NEW YORK — Disgraced self-improvement guru Keith Raniere, whose NXIVM followers included millionaires and Hollywood actors, was sentenced to 120 years on Tuesday for turning some adherents into sex slaves branded with his initials and sexually abusing a 15-year-old.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis called Raniere “ruthless and unyielding” in crimes that were “particularly egregious” because he targeted girls and young women in the sex-trafficking conspiracy that resulted in Raniere’s conviction last year.

He handed down the unusually stiff sentence in Brooklyn federal court after hearing 15 victims call for a long prison term to reflect the nightmares and anguish they’ll confront the rest of their lives.

As he announced the sentence, Garaufis noted that Raniere labeled some of the victims’ claims lies. The judge told a woman who Raniere ordered to be kept in a room for two years when she was 18: “What happened to you is not your fault.” He said that went for the other victims too.

Raniere, who looked at victims as they spoke in the courtroom, maintained his defiant tone, although he said he was “truly sorry” that his organization led to a place where “there is so much anger and so much pain.”

From wire sources

Utility: Winds too weak to cut power before California fire

LOS ANGELES — Facing extreme wildfire conditions this week that included hurricane-level winds, the main utility in Northern California cut power to nearly 1 million people while its counterpart in Southern California pulled the plug on just 30 customers to prevent power lines and other electrical equipment from sparking a blaze.

Pacific Gas &Electric Co. avoided major wildfires during its outage, while Southern California Edison is trying to determine if one of its power lines started a massive fire that drove nearly 100,000 people from their homes in Orange County during fierce winds and extremely dry conditions early Monday.

“I don’t know why they did not shut power off,” said attorney Gerald Singleton, who has sued utilities for devastating wildfires caused by their equipment. “They seem to be still be operating as if climate change and all these things we’re dealing with are not a reality.”

The utility defended its decision not to institute a type of blackout used increasingly as a means of protecting residents after several devastating wildfires, including a 2018 inferno sparked by PG&E equipment that nearly razed the community of Paradise, killed 85 people and destroyed 19,000 homes and other buildings.

From wire sources

Edison spokesman Chris Abel said wind speeds in the mountains above the city of Irvine at the time had not reached the threshold to pull the plug on the power, though they did later in the morning when some electric circuits were cut.

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Virus pushes twin cities El Paso and Juarez to the brink

A record surge in coronavirus cases is pushing hospitals to the brink in the border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, confronting health officials in Texas and Mexico with twin disasters in the tightly knit metropolitan area of 3 million people.

Health officials are blaming the spike on family gatherings, multiple generations living in the same household and younger people going out to shop or conduct business.

The crisis — part of a deadly comeback by the virus across nearly the entire U.S. — has created one of the most desperate hot spots in North America and underscored how intricately connected the two cities are economically, geographically and culturally, with lots of people routinely going back and forth across the border to shop or visit with family.

“We are like Siamese cities,” said Juarez resident Roberto Melgoza Ramos, whose son recovered from a bout of COVID-19 after taking a cocktail of homemade remedies and prescription drugs. “You can’t cut El Paso without cutting Juarez, and you can’t cut Juarez without cutting El Paso.”

In other developments Tuesday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, banned indoor dining and drinking in Chicago in one of the biggest retreats yet in the face of the latest surge. And Wisconsin’s governor pleaded with residents to voluntarily stay home as the state shattered records for daily cases and deaths. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued a stay-at-home order in March, but the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court struck it down two months later.

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Biden faces challenges in quickly combating the pandemic

WILIMINGTON, Del. — If Joe Biden wins next week’s election, he says he’ll immediately call Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. He’ll work with governors and local officials to institute a nationwide mask-wearing mandate and ask Congress to pass a sweeping spending bill by the end of January to address the coronavirus and its fallout.

That alone would mark a significant shift from President Donald Trump, who has feuded with scientists, struggled to broker a new stimulus deal and reacted to the recent surge in U.S. virus cases by insisting the country is “rounding the turn.”

But Biden would still face significant political challenges in combating the worst public health crisis in a century. He will encounter the limits of federal powers when it comes to mask requirements and is sure to face resistance from Republicans who may buck additional spending.

“There are no magic wands,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former Maryland state health department chief who recently briefed Biden on reopening schools during the pandemic. “It’s not like there’s an election, and then the virus beats a hasty retreat.”

Biden’s handling of the coronavirus is taking on new urgency as cases spike around the country. Average deaths per day nationwide are up 10% over the past two weeks, from 721 to nearly 794 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed infections per day are rising in 47 states, and deaths are up in 34.

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Woman injured in police shooting says cops let boyfriend die

WAUKEGAN, Ill. — A woman who was shot by police last week in suburban Chicago said Tuesday that officers did nothing more than cover her boyfriend with a blanket after he was shot and left him on the ground to die.

Tafara Williams, 20, spoke to reporters during a Zoom call from her hospital bed as she described the Oct. 20 shooting in Waukegan that killed 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette.

“They allowed him to die,” Williams said. “They wanted us to bleed out on the ground.”

In detailing what happened for the first time, Williams, who is Black, said she was sitting in her car in front of her home with Stinnette, who also was Black, smoking a cigarette. She said she did not want to smoke near their young child. She said a white officer pulled up and started to question her, telling Stinnette that she knew him from when he was in jail.

She said after she and Stinnette both raised their hands to show the officer that they were unarmed, she pulled away slowly. She said the officer did not follow her but that a short time later it seemed to her that another officer was “waiting for us.”

Gulf Coast braces, again, for hurricane as Zeta takes aim

NEW ORLEANS — Residents of the storm-pummeled Gulf Coast steeled themselves Tuesday for yet another tropical weather strike as Tropical Storm Zeta took aim at southeast Louisiana, fraying the nerves of evacuees from earlier storms and raising concerns in New Orleans about the low-lying city’s antiquated drainage pump system.

Zeta, the 27th named storm of a very busy Atlantic hurricane season, was a hurricane when it began raking across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday. It emerged in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm but was expected to regain hurricane strength before landfall south of New Orleans on Wednesday evening.

Already this year, Louisiana has been hit by two tropical storms and two hurricanes: Laura, blamed for at least 27 Louisiana deaths after it struck in August, and Delta, which exacerbated Laura’s damage in the same area weeks later. New Orleans has been in the warning area for potential tropical cyclones seven times this year but has seen them veer to the east or west.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” city emergency director Colin Arnold said at a news conference with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he asked President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration ahead of the storm.

One worry among New Orleans officials: a turbine that powers the city’s street drainage pumps broke down Sunday, according to officials of the agency that runs the system. There was enough power to keep the pumps operating if needed, but it left authorities with little excess power to tap should a breakdown of other turbines occur.

Peru’s Machu Picchu reopening Sunday after pandemic closure

MACHU PICCHU, Peru — Except workers repairing roads and signs, Peru’s majestic Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is eerily empty ahead of its reopening Sunday after seven months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The long closure of Peru’s No. 1 tourist draw, which has hammered the local economy, marks the second time it has been shut down since it opened its doors to tourism in 1948. The first time was in 2010 when torrential and prolonged rains forced it to close.

The stone complex built in the 15th century will receive 675 visitors a day starting Sunday, the director of Machu Picchu archaeological park, José Bastante, told The Associated Press during an exclusive visit to the near-empty ruin ahead of its reopening.

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“We have a limited 30% admission capacity in compliance with biosafety measures and protocols,” Bastante said while supervising final preparations to open the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The site is accustomed to receiving 3,000 tourists a day, though it recently passed regulations limiting visitors to 2,244 visitors a day to protect the ruins. Still a large number given experts belief that in the 15th century a maximum of 410 people lived in the citadel on the limits of the Andes mountains and the Amazon.

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