Rise and Shine: Sept. 15, 2020

Good Tuesday morning, CivMixers.

On this day in 1963, four Black girls – 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair – were killed when a bomb went off during Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a church with a predominantly Black congregation that also served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders.

Sarah Collins, 10, who was in the restroom at the time of the explosion, lost her right eye; and more than 20 other people were injured in the blast. The church bombing was the third bombing in 11 days, after a federal court order had come down mandating the integration of Alabama’s school system. It also came shortly after the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was held on Aug. 28, 1963.

Two boys were murdered that same day in Birmingham: 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware.

Outrage over the bombing and the violent clash between protesters and police that followed helped draw national attention to the hard-fought, often-dangerous struggle for Black civil rights.

Dr. Martin Luther King later spoke before 8,000 people at the funeral for three of the girls, fueling the public outrage now mounting across the country.

Three Ku Klux Klansmen were eventually convicted for their roles in the blast – but it took many years for justice to be served. The last living convicted bomber, Thomas Blanton, died in prison of natural causes this past June.

It’s the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and to celebrate, the Google doodle is honoring celebrates Puerto Rican civil rights pioneer and business owner Felicitas Mendez.

Says Google: “Alongside her husband Gonzalo, Felicitas helped to spearhead and win the monumental lawsuit Mendez v. Westminster, which in 1946 resulted in the first US federal court ruling against public school segregation—almost a decade before Brown v. Board of Education.”

Apple’s annual “September event” – where the company’s latest lineup of products (no iPhone this year, apparently) – is taking place today. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, this year’s unveiling will be virtual.

Today is the International Day of Democracy, originally designated by the UN in 2007. A democracy, generally speaking, includes four key elements:

– An elections system for choosing government type and officials;
– Human rights protection for all;
– Citizens actively participating in civics and politics;
– Laws apply equally to all citizens.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has been keeping a database of countries with different types of regimes since 2006. This Democracy Index, rated on a 10-point scale based on 60 indicators, is updated annually. It covered 165 independent states and two territories in 2019. According to the index, there are two types of democracies: a full democracy and a flawed democracy. Find out more here.

Also, and this one is particularly pertinent, it’s Get Ready Day, which was established in 2006 by the American Public Health Association (APHA).

The purpose of this day is to arm individuals, families, and communities with knowledge that will help them cope with crises such as natural disasters, infectious diseases and pandemic illnesses. Yup. This is a day worth paying attention to.

It also happens to be National Preparedness Month. This year’s theme, fittingly, is: “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.” There are some world leaders who should perhaps be heeding that suggestion.

That’s all I’ll say about that.

We’ll have mainly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s today.

In the headlines…

The WHO reported the world’s highest single-day increase since the pandemic began at more than 307,000 cases Sunday. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, co-convened by the World Bank and WHO, criticized political leaders for not being prepared for the coronavirus pandemic in a report on epidemic preparedness.

Investing in preparedness would have cost just a fraction of what is being spent now worldwide in mostly marginally effective response measures to the coronavirus pandemic, stated the report, “A World in Disorder.”

As of yesterday, the U.S. government is no longer requiring enhanced health screenings for those traveling into the country internationally – a decision that has left travelers unsure of what the proper protocol is.

Also yesterday, New Yorkers who decline to wear face masks while riding mass transit began to face the threat of $50 fines as a rule change mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo went into effect.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have isolated “the smallest biological molecule” that “completely and specifically neutralizes” the virus that causes coronavirus.

A strike team sent by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services visited a nursing home in Elizabethtown, N.Y. after four more residents there died of coronavirus in late August, and the virus spread to staff and the surrounding community.

Becton Dickinson is investigating reports from nursing homes that federally provided rapid coronavirus testing equipment from the company is producing false-positive results in some cases.

Online retail giant Amazon announced it will be hiring 100,000 new associates in the U.S. and Canada at at least $15 an hour to keep up with demand.

Amazon’s seemingly relentless hiring this year has come even as the wider economic picture has darkened, with companies across a range of industries slashing workers and filing for bankruptcy. Robust online spending during the crisis has fueled Amazon’s growth and created a need for more workers.

Facebook is buying Recreational Equipment Inc.’s custom-made new headquarters near Seattle, the latest sign that big technology companies are driving commercial real estate markets during the coronavirus pandemic.

A bill proposed in New York to strengthen antitrust laws first drawn up a century ago to break up steel, oil and railroad monopolies would be used to confront today’s high-tech corporations – like Amazon, Facebook and Google – that the proposal’s sponsor says wield a new threat of “abuse of dominance.”

The Treasury Department said it would review an agreement for Oracle and others to revamp TikTok’s U.S. operations with the aim of avoiding a ban of the popular video-sharing app because of its Chinese ownership.

President Donald Trump baselessly asserted that climate change is not playing a role in the catastrophic wildfires overtaking forests across the west, rebutting an official briefing him who pleaded for the president listen to the science.

Former Vice President Jose Biden called Trump a “climate arsonist” while the president said that “I don’t think science knows” what is actually happening to cause the wildfires. The president insisted on attributing the crisis solely to poor forest management, not climate change.

A divided federal appellate court allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to terminate several humanitarian programs that shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the U.S. from deportation.

The ruling means the White House can terminate humanitarian protections for 300,000 immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador.

The Trump administration announced new restrictions on imports of apparel, hair products and technology goods from certain Chinese companies, saying those entities had used forced labor in the Xinjiang region to make their products.

Trump jumped on an offer from mixed martial arts commentator and Spotify podcast host Joe Rogan to moderate a four-hour debate with Biden.

Biden is assembling a team of top lawyers in anticipation of court challenges to the election process that could ultimately determine who wins the race for the White House.

The president last night warned Iran of a counterattack “1,000 times greater in magnitude” after reports the Iranian government may have hatched an assassination plot against a U.S. ambassador to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

New York lawmakers have proposed “No Citizen Is Above the Law” legislation that would make it harder for Trump or any other future president to avoid state prosecution if accused of criminal wrongdoing.

Western New York GOP operative Michael Caputo, the top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus, made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

House Democrats are launching an investigation into how Trump appointees – including Caputo – have pressured officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change or delay scientific reports on coronavirus.

Caputo deleted his Twitter account in the aftermath of a late-night rant in which he suggested tear gassing journalists and battled with other users on the social media platform.

Caputo, on his Twitter-verified personal account, said “gas all of them” while commenting on a self-described journalist’s video saying they were about to be tear-gassed. In a second tweet, Caputo used an epithet for a feminine hygiene product to describe another individual, adding “you have four followers.”

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a tweet that Health Secretary Alex Azar should ask Caputo to resign from his post as assistant secretary for public affairs.

As of yesterday, New York State’s COVID-19 infection rate has been below 1 percent for 38 straight days.

A total of 55 school-based Department of Education employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday. Of those, at least 45 are teachers, the union said. Those figures are out of nearly 17,000 tested, marking a positivity rate around 0.3 percent.

Just days before the start of a shaky new school year, panicked city teachers protested “unsafe” classrooms, while de Blasio continued to tangle with union leaders over Department of Education readiness amid the coronavirus.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the union will make a decision in the coming days on whether teachers should plan to return to schools on Monday, so that “everyone will have enough time to adjust.”

The number of New York parents asking that their kids only attend class remotely this year has jumped past 40 percent just days before the start of the new COVID-19-battered academic year, the Department of Education said.

The mayor appeared to downplay the health risks posed by coronavirus, saying: “Some students will test positive at some point in the year and they’ll go home for two weeks and then they’ll come back and they’ll complete the school year.”

Officials promised to scrounge up an additional 2,000 teachers to help fill staffing shortages plaguing the city’s partial school reopening plan — but critics say the influx of staffers will barely scratch the surface of the personnel crunch.

A “member of the North Colonie school community” has tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. The individual was in the Shaker High School building last week from Wednesday, Sept. 9 through Friday, Sept. 11, when no students were present, according to an email sent to parents.

Further adjusting to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, de Blasio announced that this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a traditional holiday season kickoff for more than 90 years, will march forward without crowds.

New York’s leading business groups are asking Trump to back funding for transit agencies and city and state budgets as part of the stalled talks over the next coronavirus aid package.

De Blasio stood at the base of Manhattan’s newest office building, owned by SL Green Realty Corp., touting New York City’s return as an economic hub just days after more than 100 business leaders called on him to fix deteriorating conditions in the city. “This is cause for celebration; this is an amazing moment,” he said.

Stephen Green, founder of the city’s largest commercial real estate company SL Green Realty Corp., exhorted de Blasio to bring his staff back to the office to help jumpstart the city’s coronavirus recovery.

New York City has halted a controversial decision to move people experiencing homelessness out of a luxury hotel-turned-shelter on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, as opposition has mounted on both sides of a fiery debate over where to house the city’s homeless during the pandemic.

Months of remote learning have taken a harsh toll on New York City’s roughly 114,000 homeless students and their families.

Sandra Lee has failed to obtain a building permit for the finished basement in her New Castle home where Cuomo, who has developed into a stickler for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, once lived full time but has kept as his official residence since their break-up a year ago.

Actor Paul Rudd, who at 51 somehow almost looks younger than he did when he starred in 1995’s “Clueless,” appeared in a video put out by Cuomo’s office, imploring millennials to wear masks, as concerns about compliance regarding mask-wearing measures have risen.

“A couple of days ago I was talking on the iPhone with my homie Governor Cuomo and he’s just going off about how us millennials need to wear masks ‘cuz get this, apparently a lot of COVID is transmitted by us millennials,” said “certified young person” Rudd.

An unnamed top Democrat says Cuomo plans to cancel Halloween this year.

Town Sports International, which owns New York Sports Club, Boston Sports Club and other gyms, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Another 23 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed among Albany County residents, officials reported yesterday. Seventeen are connected to the University at Albany, which has had 56 students test positive for the virus so far this semester.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released a preliminary report on the city’s response to the death of Daniel Prude and promised a raft of upcoming actions. She also immediately relieved Police Chief La’Ron Singletary of his command, leaving him to learn the news via social media.

Warren also suspended the city’s corporation counsel and communication director, and requested the U.S. Justice Department review the police department amid growing criticism and protests over the asphyxiation death of Prude.

Landlords are up in arms about proposed New York City Council legislation that would bar them from examining the criminal records of prospective tenants, which they claim could let drug dealers and other criminals into buildings.

A month after New York closed its rental assistance program, tenants who have struggled to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic continue to wait for funds to be released.

Syracuse city councilors passed legislation to bar landlords from evicting tenants from one- and two-family rental houses that are not on the city’s rental registry.

There are a number of village elections happening in the Capital Region today. Cuomo originally postponed village elections back in May amid the pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure for poll workers and village residents.

Prosecutors want a federal judge to throw the book at Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman for her role as a high-ranking member of the NXIVM sex-slave cult — by sentencing her to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Sparklers may no longer be legal in Albany County next year. The county Legislature voted 35-5 last night in favor of a local law that would prohibit the sale of ground-based fireworks.

Lawyers will deliver opening statements this morning in the nonjury trial of former Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove.

Over 100 people gathered on Old Sixth Avenue in Troy last night to mourn and demand change. Neighbors, family friends and community organizers lit candles and spoke about their anger and grief over the death of 11-year-old Ayshawn Davis. Davis was killed late Sunday evening in a drive-by shooting.

“An innocent person, an angel,” said Ayshawn’s father, Tarence Davis. “They killed an innocent angel for no reason.”

The state attorney general’s office has reached an agreement with a student debt collection firm that will result in the dismissal of thousands of lawsuits the company brought against student borrowers.

Thanks to Paris Hilton, social media has been hearing a lot more about #BreakingCodeSilence, a viral movement organized by former “troubled teens” who were sent away to boarding schools and boot camp-style behavior-modification programs, including Provo Canyon School in Utah.

Disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner has a new job as the CEO of a company that makes recycled glass products.

Florida politician Andrew Gillum, opening up six months after entering rehab, came out as bisexual in his first televised interview since he was found in a Miami hotel with a male escort who had seemingly overdosed on crystal meth.

Former Gov. David Paterson is learning how to play the guitar from Dan Smith.

Rachael Ray provided a look at the devastation that her Lake Luzerne home endured in a horrific fire last month.

Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen will soon own 95 percent of the New York Mets, making him the MLB’s richest owner.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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