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Facebook and Twitter Take Action After Trump Downplays COVID-19 Threat

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  • On Tuesday, President Donald Trump compared COVID-19 to the yearly flu, telling Americans that “we are learning to live” with the coronavirus.
  • Despite this comparison, the coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 Americans — much more than the yearly flu — and no vaccine exists for it. On top of that, a COVID-19 resurgence during the flu season could potentially strain hospitals.
  • Shortly after posting the message on social media, Facebook removed the comment. While Twitter left it up, it flagged it as “misleading and potentially harmful.” 
  • That post follows another from Monday where Trump told Americans not to be afraid of the coronavirus. That post generated sharp criticism from medical experts and even celebrities like Chris Evans. 

Trump Compares COVID to the Flu

Facebook removed and Twitter flagged a post made by President Donald Trump on Tuesday that compared the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to seasonal flu deaths. 

“Flu season is coming up!” Trump wrote. “Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” 

Twitter, which flagged this tweet as “misleading and potentially harmful,” likely did so for multiple reasons. 

For one, in the last decade, each year, the flu has not accounted for over 100,000 deaths in the U.S. According to the CDC, the most was actually about 61,000 in the 2017-2018 flu season.

That is much less than the 210,000 Americans who have died from COVID this year alone. In fact, for U.S. flu deaths to outnumber this year’s COVID deaths, you would need to add together the last six flu seasons. 

Two, even if over 100,000 people each year did die from the flu, this would still not be a 1:1 comparison. That’s because there is still no widespread vaccine for COVID-19, unlike the flu. On top of that, while some people can express a level of immunity against the flu each year, COVID-19 is completely novel, making it much easier to spread. 

That’s not to say the flu isn’t important. Every year, it poses very serious health problems, but that’s particularly why such a comparison is dangerous.

Health experts, for months, have believed that this flu season could be critical to monitor. That’s because colder weather may bring a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, and that could lead to hospitals becoming strained as they have to deal with both COVID and the flu. 

Trump, for his part, has now again called for a repeal of the law that allows tech companies to flag or remove his posts.

Trump: “Don’t be afraid of COVID.”

That’s not the only social media post from Trump that has attracted attention and criticism.

On Monday, when announcing that he would be leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later that evening, he said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

While many of Trump’s supporters echoed this message, many others overwhelming condemned the comments, with some calling for Twitter and Facebook to take action against it. 

Dr. Bob Wachter, a physician and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, essentially called the comment “callous, inhumane, & counterproductive.” 

Emergency Physician Bernard P. Chang warned that medicine shouldn’t be practiced “by one-off anecdotes. Practice by data. And with over 210,000 souls lost, I’d remain VERY afraid.” 

Outside of medical professionals, actor Chris Evans explicitly noted the difference between Trump’s care and the everyday person’s care.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid?!” Evans said. “You’ve been under round-the-clock care by the best doctors using the best drugs. Do you really think everyone has access to that?! Sadly, I’m sure you’re aware of that disparity, you just don’t care. This is reckless to a shocking degree, even for you.”

Bill Goodykoontz, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, dubbed this as potentially the most irresponsible tweet from Trump ever. 

Neither Twitter nor Facebook — where this same message was also posted — have issued any kind of warning over this tweet. In fact, a Twitter spokesperson even said specifically that this tweet does not violate the company’s rules since it does not include a call to action that could potentially result in real-world harm.

Trump Appears to Struggle to Breathe Normally

After Trump returned to the White House, Trump stoked another level of controversy when he immediately removed his mask after climbing the steps to the building.

While this was very likely an attempt by Trump to show that he’d overcome the virus and that he had recovered, many have noted that the president appears to be struggling to breathe normally. 

“This is a textbook example of increased work of breathing” Dr. Ilan Schwartz tweeted. “In addition to using normal respiratory muscles… ‘accessory muscles’ in his neck are kicking in to help draw a breath.” 

Minutes later, when Trump turned to enter the White House, he remained maskless as he walked into the building. Notably, other people could be seen inside. 

White House Denies CDC Contact Tracing Help

Trump isn’t the only high-profile Republican to contract COVID-19 in the last few days.

Others such as  Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.), RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, First Lady Melania Trump, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have all tested positive. Additionally, multiple White House staffers and journalists have also tested positive. 

Currently, it’s believed that all of these cases are connected. Because of that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered to lead a contact tracing effort to track down and notify people who were exposed to this outbreak.

On Monday, the White House rejected that offer.

“The White House has plans and procedures in place that incorporate current CDC guidelines and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure and has established a robust contact tracing program led by the White House Medical Unit with CDC integration,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said. 

Another White House official added that a CDC epidemiologist, who’s been working with the administration since March, is assisting the effort.

However, Michael Shear, a journalist with The New York Times who covers the White House and who has now tested positive for the coronavirus told CNN, “I have not been contacted by the White House,”

“Nobody from the White House has said ‘boo’ and asked anything about where I was or who I talked to or who else I might have infected.”

Shear added that the lack of followup “just shows you that… they’re not taking it seriously, at least as it pertains to themselves.”

Similarly, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the health department hasn’t received any response from the White House, despite multiple attempts to do so.

In fact, even within the White House itself, while the coronavirus has taken off, information on what to do has reportedly been slow to spread. For example, it took three days for staffers to receive any kind of response as to what they should do if they start experiencing symptoms.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (USA Today) (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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Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say

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  • Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
  • Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
  • Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
  • Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
  • Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign. 

U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them. 

The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.

In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.

That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.” 

“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.

Ratcliffe Criticism

Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.

But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.

Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.

Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.

Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.

As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.

Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims

It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.

Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.

Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.

“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.” 

Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.” 

Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.

This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.

That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.

The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.

“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.” 

“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.

To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”

As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”

A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement. 

“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott

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  • Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
  • The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.

Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. 

Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare. 

However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate. 

Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.

What Comes Next?

As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.

If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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