5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: July 20, 2020

Okay, CivMixers (and New Yorkers). I know that there are people on different sides of the mask debate, and whether or not I am on your side, I get it.

Personally, I wear a mask. In my mind, science has backed it up, and I think it is simple – my cover protects you, yours protects me, and we all move on with life in a safer fashion.

At the same time, I get that people don’t like them, find them claustrophobic or stifling. Some people have legitimate medical restrictions to wearing them. Currently, though, masks in public are required. They are the law. People not abiding by this are going to ruin it for everyone.

So no matter how you feel about it, I beg you to see it as a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” type thing. Wear it, and do not get the establishments we have gotten back taken away again.

That is my public service plea for the day. Time to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

1) In two weeks, the unemployment assistance currently supporting millions of Americans who have lost their livelihoods amid the international coronavirus pandemic runs out. Today, leading Republicans and President Donald Trump held a briefing in the Oval Office to unveil their priorities the next round of virus-related stimulus aid.

Democrats, meanwhile, said U.S. Senate Speaker Mitch McConnell has yet to participate in bi-partisan planning sessions and warned that any partisan Republican interests included in the proposed legislation will be met with unified opposition on their part.

McConnell plans to reveal details if his $1 trillion package within the coming week. The measure is likely to embrace some of President Trump’s key priorities despite opposition from within in his own party, including a payroll tax cut, very little aid to state and local governments, and measures tying school funding to classrooms reopening.

Trump insisted that “progress” toward an agreement has been made, but there’s a long way to go yet – and not much time to do that in. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, echoing past warnings, pledged that Democrats would hold out for more. Their opening offer is a $3 trillion package passed by the House in May that would extend unemployment benefits, include new stimulus checks, and help cities and states.

Since the Trump administration this weekend sought to remove $25 billion in funding for coronavirus testing from a new Republican bill, all preparation for the legislation was upstaged. No one was happy with that move. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went so far as to say it “goes beyond ignorance,” and expressed hope that it was a misunderstanding or a mistake.

2) For the past 50 consecutive days and nights, there has been consistent protest in Portland over police brutality and racial inequality. The federal Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse is under the protection of federal agencies and the clashes between the two factions have resulted in violence.

The District’s U.S. attorney has called for an investigation – directed at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – into masked personnel dressed in camouflage with no identification or badges who have been arresting protestors and placing them into unmarked SUVs. The mayor of Portland and the Oregon governor have requested that these personnel be recalled from the state.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, has also denounced these agents, tweeting out videos showing arrests and calling the deployment of these agents an act of an authoritarian government, not a small-d democratic one.

One agency that has confirmed being a part of this camouflaged mask force is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. In a statement, they said that they are part of a force attempting to counteract the demonstrations in Portland over the past few months that are organized by “violent anarchists” who are purposely and maliciously trying to inflict damage on and even ruin federal property and federal agents.

CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan tweeted that his agency will continue to enforce peace and order by arresting those that are damaging any federal property. He also stated that though their names are not on their uniforms, the agents in question are marked as such and also have specific identifications.

“You will not see names on their uniforms b/c these same violent criminals use this information to target them & their families, putting both at risk. As Acting Commissioner, I will not let that happen!”
-Tweet from US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan

On Friday, Mayor Ted Wheeler held a press conference demanding that Trump remove the federal “troops” from his city and the state. He said that the agents are doing the exact opposite of what they claim, and instead of containing the incidents or de-escalating the situation, they are making it worse.

Acting U.S. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf was in Portland on Thursday and also defended the officers’ actions. He claimed agents were assaulted with frozen bottles of water and lasers as they attempted to protect federal property, and two of them were injured in the process.

The state AG of Oregon filed a complaint against the DHS in a federal court, requesting that the agents’ actions be ruled unlawful and seeking an injunction that would require federal officers to identify not only themselves but also their agency before they are allowed to detain someone.

Gov. Kate Brown has also joined in the chorus of people taking to twitter, but she is tweeting against the presence of the DHS. She called it an abuse of power and stated that all of the federal agents in her streets should be removed.

Another lawsuit was filed last Friday against the arrests by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. Kelly Simon, the branch’s interim legal director, says that this is more than just a fight to protect the demonstrators in Oregon, it’s a fight to save democracy. They feel these arrests are unconstitutional and are more akin to kidnapping than detention by a legal authority.

Usually, when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US. These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”                     -ACLU Tweet

3) Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, 76, lost his last plea for freedom today. Almost five years after being twice convicted on charges of corruption, Silver was sentenced to serve 78 months in prison.

In a letter penned to the judge in his case, Silver said that he does not want to die in prison. His lawyers continued the argument, saying that they are concerned about the coronavirus. They asked that he be allowed to serve time at home, saying he is at an increased risk with chronic kidney disease, history of cancer, and his age.

Manhattan Federal District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni was having none of it. She said the time has come for Silver to go to prison, and any punishment that did not include time behind bars would be inadequate. She said he had acted out of greed and is guilty of corruption in the purest sense of the word.

In addition to the 78 months in jail, she fined him $1 million.

This is the third time Judge Caproni has sentenced Silver, with two earlier sentences invalidated with parts of previous convictions being overturned. Silver has come to represent what can happen with long-term politicians who seem untouchable, as even other residents in his neighborhood in Lower Manhattan have stated that seeing him around living while his appeals were working through the court system.

In 2015, Silver was convicted for the first time for accepting approximately $4 million in illegal payment schemes for official actions taken on behalf of two real estate developers and Columbia University cancer researcher Dr. Robert N. Taub. He was sentenced to 12 years, and then the conviction was overturned in a 2017 appeal.

In 2018, he was retried, reconvicted, and sentenced to seven years, but in January of 2019, the conviction in regards to Dr. Taub was overturned. However, they upheld the convictions on the part of the real estate developers as well as a separate count of money laundering. Those are what Judge Caproni sentenced him for today.

Judge Caproni confirmed that it is possible that Silver could contract COVID-19 if she goes to prison, but it is also possible that he could catch it not in jail. She outlined precautions that could be taken to protect him.

He has to turn himself over to federal authorities on Aug. 26.

4) Valley Market in Middleburgh is an independent grocery store – a small business that is struggling to stay afloat in the COVID pandemic. Yesterday, the owner of the store kept the store closed after there was a blow-up involving customers who refused to wear face coverings.

Geanine Eisel, the owner of Valley Market, said that she is now in a tight spot with the Executive Order that allows retailers to deny entry to or remove customers not wearing masks. Eisel doesn’t feel able to kick anyone out. She, however, thinks that the 16,000 square foot building that houses her store is big enough to let people who have a medical exemption to the masks to practice social distance.

However, customers have been clashing, as feelings about this issue are quite strong. On Saturday, a particularly virulent clash between a masked customer and two without face coverings caused Eisel to close early and stay closed until today.

Eisel also wanted to ensure that people understand that respecting her employees is paramount to one of the only grocery stores in the area remain open. Enforcing policies and disinfecting are now part of the routine of grocery store employees. Frustration has boiled over onto employees more and more frequently, and all they are asking for is respect, understanding, and that people attempt to follow the rules.

5) An update to the NYS Department of Labor’s unemployment website caused an inadvertent delay in the processing of the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments to individuals who claimed yesterday.

According to the NYS DOL, this issue has not affected anyone who is currently collecting those benefits through the system and may have simply caused a pause in any first time filings.

They said this morning that the issue has been corrected and that all FPUC payments will go out this week as usual. Many people are watching for these payments closely over the next two weeks since, without the bonus, the weekly unemployment check is not enough to make ends meet.

July 31 is currently the end date for the bonus payments.

That is all for today. Stay steady, stay strong, stay safe.
Stay woke.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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