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Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open Despite Outbreaks

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  • President Trump has ordered meatpacking and processing facilities to stay open. 
  • The meat industry has become a hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks, causing many facilities to temporarily shut down and prompting concerns about meat shortages.
  • Meat industry leaders have repeatedly pushed the administration to allow them to stay open, arguing that they are critical infrastructure. On Sunday, Tyson Foods ran a full-page ad in several prominent newspapers that asserted the company’s operations are “as essential as health care.”
  • However, union leaders and meat plant workers slammed Trump’s decision and said that worker protections need to be ensured.

Trump Signs Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday compelling meatpacking and processing plants to stay open, despite growing coronavirus outbreaks in facilities.

Through the order, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to classify the plants as critical infrastructure that must remain open. 

The move comes as meat processing and packing facilities throughout the country have become hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks, sickening thousands and pushing industry giants to shutter operations.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said on Tuesday that at least 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have died of the coronavirus, and more than 6,500 have either tested positive, missed work to self-quarantine, or shown symptoms.

The UFCW also said that 22 plants have closed at some point over the last two months, many at the urging of unions or state and local officials. 

Those closures have already cut into the national meat supply, prompting concerns about meat shortages. Some economists have predicted that consumers could see fewer options starting as early as next month if closures continue at the current rate.

“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the executive order states.

“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain.”

Pressure From Meat Industry

The president’s order is expected to please major meat companies like Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA, which have continually argued that they are essential operations, and resisted closing plants that saw large outbreaks despite pressure from authorities.

In at least two Missouri towns, coronavirus outbreaks in plants spread to the surrounding counties, causing rural communities that host processing facilities to report higher infection rates than major cities in the state.

In South Dakota, an outbreak at one single Smithfield Foods pork processing plant accounted for more than half the number of confirmed cases in the entire state.

But the industry has still put significant pressure on the Trump administration to keep plants open.

On Sunday, Tyson ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette declaring that “the food supply chain is breaking.” 

“We have a responsibility to feed our country,” the ad stated. “It is as essential as health care. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America.”

Unions and Workers Slam Decision

While the executive order seems to be exactly in line with the meat industry’s interests, union leaders were quick to criticize the decision.

In a statement, UFCW President Marc Perrone said the Trump administration must take steps to ensure worker safety, such as providing protective equipment through the federal stockpile, ensuring daily testing for workers and communities, enforcing physical distancing, and giving full paid sick leave.

“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first,” Perrone said. “Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, echoed Perrone’s call to put safety first in a tweet, while also condemning Trump’s decision.

“Using executive power to force people back on the job without proper protections is wrong and dangerous,” he wrote.

Other union leaders took even stronger stances against the president’s actions. 

“We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Some workers at meatpacking plants have also said Trump’s executive order indicated that he wanted to sacrifice their health and safety to restart the economy.

“To me it’s just putting more people in danger,” Robert Hope, who worked at the Tyson plant for 25 years, told the Times. “He is not concerned about the people’s life and well-being.”

Liability Issues

However, many experts have said that the new executive order is likely to further endanger worker safety while prioritizing legal protections for the companies.

While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Trump said he would shield meat companies from legal liability that may stem from workers claims that they are not being protected by their employers. The president said the liability risks processors faced from operating during the pandemic were “unfair” to the meat industry.

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim guidelines for meatpacking and processing facilities outlining procedures for cleaning shared equipment and providing information for how companies can use barriers to ensure social distancing for workers, who usually work shoulder-to-shoulder.

The guidelines also called for the use of personal protective equipment and changing sick leave policies so workers are not penalized for taking days off because they have the coronavirus. The guidance, however, is voluntary, and it is unclear how many companies will follow. 

Even then, Trump’s new executive order explicitly states that its enforcement “may differ from or be inconsistent with” the new guidance. 

Right now, it is unclear how the executive order addresses worker protections, if at all. The resulting effect will likely be that more meatpacking and processing workers will join some of their peers who have already filed lawsuits alleging their employers did not do enough to protect them.

There are also legal questions as to whether the DPA allows the president to grant businesses blanket immunity from being liable for workers who get sick on the job.

As more states and cities begin to reopen, businesses have been pushing the White House and Congress to ensure that they will not be held liable if a worker or customer gets the coronavirus. According to reports, the issue is set to be discussed during the next round of congressional negotiations.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Facebook Struggles With Roll Out of Election-Week Political Ad Ban

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  • Facebook announced in September that it would ban all new political ads the week before the election, but the company’s first day enforcing the policy was met with a number of issues. 
  • Both Republicans and Democrats reported having ads banned that were approved before the deadline, a factor that could be very harmful to small, local campaigns that rely on the platform to share their messages.
  • Meanwhile, a Trump campaign ad arbitrarily saying “Today is Election Day” and encouraging people to “vote TODAY!” — in violation of the platform’s rules — was allowed to run before Facebook removed it. 

Facebook Rolls Out Election-Week Policy

Facebook implemented its new policy on Tuesday prohibiting any new political ads from running the week before the election in a rollout that was riddled with glitches.

The company first announced the ban in September as part of a broader set of policies aimed at combatting misinformation ahead of the election. Notably, the rule does not prohibit all political ads — campaigns can still run old ones.

In fact, political advertisers are even allowed to change the budget of those ads and decide when they would run. Under the election week ban, anyone running a political ad is simply required to submit and run any new ads before midnight Pacific Time on Monday.

But on Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican strategists reported immediate problems and told reporters that ads they had previously run, and thus met Facebook’s guidelines, had been banned.

Eric Frenchman, the chief marketing officer at Republican digital firm Campaign Solutions, told Reuters that several campaigns he was working with were hit. A spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic nominee Joe Biden also informed the outlet that an undisclosed number of the former vice president’s campaign ads had been impacted.

In a statement on Twitter, Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty slammed Facebook and called the company’s ban a “silly, performative pre-election hoop-jumping exercise.”

Big Issues for Small Campaigns

That criticism was also echoed by Maddie Kriger, the Integrated Media Director at the progressive advocacy organization and super PAC Priorities USA, who told CNBC the organization’s previously-approved ads had been blocked too.

“Even [with] accidental errors, an error like this has a huge impact on our program and our ability to communicate to voters,” she said. “It’s really unacceptable at this stage of the election. It’s just such high stakes that 12 hours in a week left situation is a real loss.”

Facebook has been one of the cheapest and most effective ways for candidates — especially in local races — to share their messages with voters. At the end of the day, glitches like this may not be a big deal for campaigns like Biden’s or President Donald Trump’s, which have a lot of money and manpower. 

However, these technical issues can seriously impact those smaller campaigns that might not have enough financial and physical support for alternative outreach like emails and phone banking during this key final stretch before the election. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person outreach like door-knocking and campaign events are limited.  

It is unclear if these problems persisted into Wednesday, though Facebook spokesperson Rob Leathern said in a tweet that the company was looking into it.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” he said. “We’re working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.”

Trump Campaign Ads

The glitches were not the only backlash Facebook experienced Tuesday over the policy. While strategists for smaller, local campaigns worried about communicating with voters, others noted that the Trump campaign had been allowed run ads that appeared to violate Facebook’s rules on election misinformation and declaring victory before all votes are counted.

In one ad, a picture of Trump with the text “Election Day is Today” implored people to “vote TODAY!” without any further context. 

CNBC also reported that the campaign also had an ad boasting about GDP figures that have not yet been released, as well as another that the outlet described as a “victory ad.”

“A video in the ad shows the president’s face superimposed on a sun, with a voiceover pulled from various sources,” CNBC reported. “‘It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States,’ the video says. Flowers rise from the ground and open to faces, who scream, ‘NOOOO!’ as the smiling president, now also a hummingbird, flits around.”

According to reports, those ads are not currently being run. They are, however, visible in Facebook’s ad library as pre-approved ads, which means that in order to have met Facebook’s rules for election week ads, they had to have been run at some point before now. As a result, some outlets claimed the messages appeared to be the Trump campaign’s way of getting around the ban.

Despite having previously approved the ads and even letting them run at some point, a few hours after media reports about the technical issues began to surface, Facebook told reporters that it would be removing the “vote TODAY!” ads.

“As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity,” the company said in a statement.

However, a spokesperson also told CNBC Facebook would not take down the ads where Trump claimed he was “still your president” because regardless of the election outcome, Trump will still be president until Jan. 20.

In a statement, Trump’s Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager condemned Facebook for removing the “vote TODAY!” ads and accused the company of censoring political messages to sway the election in favor of Biden.

“This is election interference at the hands of the Silicon Valley Mafia, and it is dangerous for our democracy,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (Reuters)

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Amy Coney Barrett Sworn In As Newest Supreme Court Justice. Here’s What Comes Next

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  • On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in as the new justice on the Supreme Court, ending a highly contentious partisan battle just a week before the election.
  • In the weeks following the election, the new justice is set to hear several landmark cases, including the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and another lawsuit that involves LGBTQ discrimination protections.
  • Many critics have expressed concerns that Barrett will push the court to overrule the ACA and try to roll back LGBTQ protections based on her previous public statements and personal views.
  • As soon as the end of this week, the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to hear two election-related cases regarding mail-in ballots extensions in key battleground states.

Barrett Appointed to Supreme Court

The Senate officially approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday with a vote of 52 to 48.

The decison fell almost entirely along party lines, and though her nomination was hotly contested, this outcome was largely expected.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) was the only Republican to vote against the appointment. No Democrats voted to confirm Barrett, marking the first time in 151 years that not one member of the minority party voted to confirm a justice.

The confirmation marks the end of the historic, lightning-fast nomination process defined by partisan divisions. Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for breaking the precedent they themselves set when they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination ten months before the 2016 election.

That decision was made under the premise that the nomination came too close to the election and that the next president should get to pick the nominee.

Now, with just seven days to go before the election, Republicans have their new Supreme Court justice, as well as a solid conservative majority on the highest court for the first time since the 1930s.

Here’s a look at what happens next.

Affordable Care Act

Judge Barrett is being seated right as the court is scheduled to hear some highly consequential cases. Arguably the most significant is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The court will begin hearing oral arguments on starting Nov. 10, just one week after the election.

With Barrett assuming her role on the bench right as the court is set to hear the landmark case, many expressed concerns that she could still sway the court to get rid of the ACA, thus leaving more than 20 million Americans without health insurance during a pandemic.

The new justice has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional. In a 2017 article, she argued that under an originalist reading of the Constitution —  interpreting it the way it was originally written — Obamacare would not be allowed.

In that same article, Barrett also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on the ACA and claimed that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution

Notably, when pressed on the topic during her Senate confirmation hearings, she did give some supporters of the law hope when she outlined her views on the legal doctrine known as severability, which allows for parts of a law to be struck down without getting rid of an entire law.

Barrett told the Senators that the presumption is to always favor severing parts of a given law rather than scrapping the whole thing. Some argued that opinion would be favorable for how she may rule on Obamacare, but others remained skeptical.

LGBTQ Protections

Even before hearing the ACA arguments, the Supreme Court is also set to take up another key case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer funding to provide government services to deny those services to people based on their sexual orientation.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the City of Philadelphia by Catholic Social Services (CSS) in 2018. City officials canceled a contract with the agency to provide foster care services to children after learning that CSS refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents because of its own religious objections.

A lower court ruled that the city was allowed to end the contract because it fell under the enforcement of its anti-discrimination policy, and an Appeals Court upheld that decision. Now the case is set to go before the Supreme Court, and the consequences could highly significant.

“A broad ruling could decide when religious organizations deserve exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that the groups say would cause them to violate deeply held beliefs, such as what constitutes a marriage,” The Washington Post explained.

Many Democrats and activists have criticized Barrett for her controversial views on LGBTQ rights, specifically pointing to a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal.

Others have also noted a separate speech she gave, where she argued that Title IX — the law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in education programs or other activities that receive federal funding — does not apply to trans people. 

During the Senate hearings, Barrett was largely tight-lipped about her views on key Supreme Court decisions. At one point she refused to say whether she believed the case that established gay marriage as legal had been decided properly.

Election Cases

There are also some other legal battles that Barrett could rule on as early as later this week. This Friday, the justices are expected to meet privately to decide what cases could still be added to this term’s docket.

Two of the cases they are considering are emergency orders regarding ballot extensions in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican Party to shorten the deadline in which state election officials could receive absentee ballots. The highest court took up the case after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sided with Democrats and allowed them to extend the deadline that mail-in ballots could be received to three days after the election.

Notably here, the Supreme Court did not directly rule against the Republicans, but instead split the decision 4-4, meaning the court was deadlocked, and thus the decision from the lower court would stand.

But now, with the ninth seat filled, Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the court to reconsider blocking the extension and to fast-track the decision.

In a very similar legal battle, the high court has also been asked to consider whether or not to hear a case brought by the Trump campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party asking them to block a mail-in ballot extension approved by the State Board of Elections last month.

The extension would allow officials to receive ballots postmarked by Election Day for nine days after the election. So far, that new deadline has already been held up by a district court and a federal appeals court.

Wisconsin and Kavanaugh

Currently, it is unclear if the court will hear either case, though it is worth noting that they have taken up a number of similar election-related legal battles in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject attempts by Democrats in Wisconsin to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots to six days after the election. Instead, the court ruled that mail-in ballots in the state can only be counted if they arrive on Election Day.

While the court did not provide a reason for this decision, as is normal in cases like this, some justices filed opinions including Brett Kavanaugh, who sparked controversy in his defense of his decision to strike down the extension.

“Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election,” he wrote, arguing for the importance of deadlines. “And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Many condemned the justice, accusing him of issuing a shockingly partisan opinion and arguing that the situation he detailed would not be considered “flipping” the election, including Justice Elana Kagan, who took aim at Kavanaugh’s argument here in a footnote in her own opinion.

“But there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted,” she wrote. “And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

Some also pointed out the fallacy in Kavanaugh’s argument that mail-in ballots that arrive after election day will change the outcome that a majority of voters wanted. 

“If Trump leads by 10 votes on Nov. 3 but 6,000 ballots arrive the day after having been sent on Oct. 24, most of them preferring former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Kavanaugh worries that this constitutes an unfair rejection of the will of the public,” The Post wrote.

Others still argued that Kavanaugh’s opinion is especially concerning given the fact that currently, election officials in at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., do count ballots that arrive after Election Day. 

“In these states, there is no result to ‘flip’ because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted,” Slate reported, noting that Kavanaugh’s opinion echoes false claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump about absentee voting.

In fact, early that same day, the president posted a tweet that mirrored the justices’ argument almost exactly. 

“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” he wrote. “Must have final total on November 3rd.”

The post was quickly flagged by Twitter as election-related misinformation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Slate) (CNN)

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Boston Authorities Arrest a Man for Setting Ballot Box on Fire

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  • An official ballot drop box caught fire early Sunday morning, and authorities have now charged a man with purposefully setting it aflame.
  • This is the second suspected arson case reported at a drop box location, following a similar situation in California last week.
  • Boston authorities said most of the ballots in the box were able to be fully counted.
  • Voters whose ballots could not be saved will receive replacements and officials are encouraging those who used the box this weekend to check their ballot’s status. 

Suspected Arsonist Arrested

Authorities in Boston are investigating a potential election-related arson after a fire broke out inside of a ballot drop box Sunday morning. Later that night, they arrested the man they believe started the fire, charging him with willful and malicious burning.

Photos from around 4 a.m. show a man walking up to the box before seemingly lighting a fire. Shortly thereafter, people reportedly began to notice smoke coming from the box. 

Source: Boston Police Department 

After arriving on the scene, firefighters were able to put out the fire by flooding the ballot box with water. 

The situation in Boston follows another ballot box fire in Los Angeles County, California, last week. Like in Boston, that fire is also being investigated as arson. 

Around 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, officers reportedly spotted a man matching the description of the suspect. While speaking to that man — 39-year-old Worldy Armand — police learned that he had an active warrant for receiving stolen property.

While in police custody, members of a fire investigation unit formally accused Armand of starting the ballot box fire. 

Boston Mayor: “A Disgrace to Democracy”

In a Sunday joint statement with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the act “a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime.”  

“We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” the statement added. 

Ballot box fires aren’t just meant to invalidate the votes inside; in many cases, they are likely also meant to intimidate voters and add another level of concern to a system that is already facing fears around in-person voting and ballots mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Because of that, the Boston Election Department has worked to reassure voters by stressing that all ballot drop boxes are “under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis.”

Since the fire, Galvin has also pressed officials to start emptying boxes more than once a day.

In the nearby town of Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll said officials there “are using chemical fire suppressants inside the box to ensure ballots don’t go up in flames.”

“Sad that we have to take these measures,” she added. 

On Monday, after news of Armand’s arrest was made public, Walsh said, “From our election workers who are working hard to trace every legible ballot in that drop box, to our firefighters who quickly responded to the fire, and our police officers who launched an immediate investigation, voters can be assured that our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process.”

“We remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election, and maintaining transparency and trust with voters,” he added. 

How Many Ballots Were Destroyed?

Reportedly, there were 122 ballots inside of the box when the fire started. Of that, 87 were still legible and able to be processed; however, at least 35 were partially destroyed. 

Of those 35, Galvin said that most “probably could be read.” Still, he noted that about 5 to 10 of the ballots were unreadable. 

As for what happens to those ballots, officials are urging voters who used the box after Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to track their ballot online or contact the Boston Elections Department. 

Galvin’s office said affected voters will be mailed replacement ballots. They will also be able to vote in-person if they choose. 

Still, it’s not guaranteed that those affected voters will ever realize that their ballots are now, at least, partially unreadable. According to Galvin’s office, if those affected voters don’t turn in another ballot, their original ballot will be hand-counted to the fullest extent possible. 

See what others are saying: (WCVB) (The Boston Globe) (Fox News)

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