July 13 Week in Review
Jake Conley | Seven Mile Satellite
Good morning Seven Mile Island, and welcome to the Week in Review where I’ll go over some of the biggest stories of the past week. In the last seven days, the Supreme Court delivered a long-awaited ruling on President Trump’s taxes, schools have grappled with reopenings, and China and Iran have drafted an economic deal that’s increased tensions with the U.S.
Let’s talk about that.
1. Cases continue to surge across the US
In a tale that never seems to end, COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the U.S. Hotspots have exploded in Arizona, South Carolina, Texas and other states largely passed over by the initial shockwave. Sunday, Florida recorded the highest statewide uptick in one day — 15,000 cases — of any state so far, including New York.
The stories we saw coming out of New York City and parts of California in March are becoming realities across the country. Hospitals are running out of beds, medical staff are overworked, state officials are drowning in appeals for aid and the federal administration continues to push for reopening of every sector of the country.
According to The New York Times, as of Sunday afternoon, U.S. deaths are at 134,807, and the number of cases crossed 3.2 million. Globally, cases have crossed 12.7 million, and there have been 565,650 deaths.
1. US education system tries to find its footing
As August and September approach, one of the greatest challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic is becoming ever more obvious: When and how can kids go back to school?
Some prominent schools in the higher education system — such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University — have already made the announcement that their students won’t be attending in-person classes, and on Wednesday, the Ivy League as a whole pushed all of its fall sports back to the spring semester. However, the Ivy League is a microcosm for the debate raging across the entire U.S. higher education system.
Many colleges and universities across the country have pushed positive messaging that they plan to bring students back, but most — if not all — have been clear that if cases in their locality begin to spike, students will be thrust right back into a distanced learning program.
In the primary and secondary education system, the decision is further complicated by child care requirements. Already, the country has witnessed the strain put on parents working full-time jobs during the pandemic while attempting to find something to do with their children, who would usually be in school for eight hours a day. But, the voices on both sides are equally strong.
On one side, concerned teachers and parents have pushed for continuity in online learning, asserting that the public health risk of bringing students back into cramped classrooms isn’t worth it. And on the other side — which includes the Trump administration — many see students’ return as an important step in rebuilding the economy after a tumultuous past few months.
Many schools have adopted systems in the middle, such as where half of the school’s students attend classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half attends on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But with pressure mounting from both sides, it remains an open question as to what August will bring in the world of education.
2. Major ruling from SCOTUS on Trump’s financial records
In a long-awaited victory for those interested in the president’s financial history, the Supreme Court voted Thursday that Trump can’t block the release of his personal financial records to New York prosecutors. However, in a separate decision, the Supreme Court elected to block Congress from viewing the records, saying that lower courts should rule on aspects such as the scope of Congress’ subpoenas and requests — a loss for the Democrat-held House of Representatives, which has been vying for the release of Trump’s financial records since he took office in 2016.
The vote splits on both cases were 7-2, with the entire liberal bloc and Chief Justice John G. Roberts — along with both Trump appointees, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — voting in the majority. In both cases, justices Alito and Thomas — both notable conservatives on the bench — formed the dissent.
Rounding off a term unlike any seen for a chief justice in several years, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion in both cases, claiming legal precedent as the determining factor in the choice to release the president’s records.
While Chief Justice Roberts was initially viewed as a boon for conservatives, over the course of his term, he’s proven that his judicial sense guides his decision-making much more strongly than his political stances or alliances. After a series of several liberal-leaning votes last month, the chief justice has made it clear that above loyalty, he values legality.
3. Trump commutes sentence for Roger Stone
After a conviction that found conservative political advisor Roger Stone guilty of obstructing the congressional investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign lead by Robert Mueller, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison. However, only a short time before Stone was supposed to be checked into prison to begin his sentence, Trump announced that he was commuting — or reducing — the sentence of his longtime friend and political ally.
Stone’s conviction still stands, as the president commuted him instead of pardoning his crimes, which would’ve entirely erased the charges brought against Stone. But, the move by Trump fits the president’s never-ending campaign to devalue the findings of the “witch hunt” congressional investigation into his 2016 campaign.
Stone himself said several times prior to his conviction that he’d never betray his loyalty to his friend, the president, and it appears that Trump has responded in turn with a loyalty of his own. The move for commutation came as such a shock to the legal community that Mueller, who served as special counsel for the congressional investigation but has almost entirely refused to do anything more, published a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post in which he asserts that Stone “remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
1. In response to new surveillance law, major tech companies to stop providing Hong Kong with user data
On Monday, Google, Facebook and Twitter announced that they plan to temporarily halt the processing of requests for user data from the Hong Kong government in response to a recently passed surveillance law out of Beijing that’s already been used against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The move comes as a partial surprise due to the inherent risk for the tech companies, which all garner large amounts of ad revenue from Hong Kong. However, it fits with the recent trend of social media platforms attempting to take a more actively pro-human rights stand, especially in response to police brutality that’s recently been brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The companies are yet to announce how long the hold will last, as each claims to still be assessing the new law. It’s unclear as to whether the tech giants may consider partial compliance.
2. China and Iran move toward partnership that threatens US interests
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the Chinese and Iranian governments have been quietly moving to develop terms for a large-scale economic investment by China into several different Iranian sectors. If the plan comes to fruition, it’ll be a major hit to the current U.S. strategy of attempting to economically isolate Iran to keep its nuclear and military aspirations in check.
According to The Times, Iranian officials have announced a “pending agreement” with China, but the plan has yet to pass through the Iranian Parliament. In China, it’s unclear as to how far the agreement has moved forward or if Xi Jinping, Chinese president and head of the Chinese Communist Party, has signed off on it.
Current strategy by the Trump administration has succeeded in largely cutting off the Iranian economy from foreign investments, but China’s involvement now threatens to undermine those efforts. And after the U.S. departure from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran put in place by the Obama administration, any boost by an outside power to Iran’s military and nuclear programs comes as a hit to the U.S.
That’s all for last week. I’ll be back next Monday to cover some of the biggest stories of the coming week.
— Jake, Global News Editor