Testing mess leaves Texas in the dark as cases spike

“More than one-in-five Texans who are tested for coronavirus are positive, the worst statewide rate in the country. But the number of people getting tests has plummeted in the last two weeks, which could understate how widespread the virus really is as schools reopen and hospitalizations and deaths remain near record highs.”

“Public health experts say a number of factors may have depressed demand for tests, including long wait times and changing rules for who is eligible and the effects of Tropical Storm Hanna, which battered the southern part of the state late last month and disrupted services near the border with Mexico.
But the biggest reason may be an apparent false sense of security. The drop off in testing coincides with a decline in infections after Abbott ordered people to wear masks, reimposed seating limits in restaurants and closed down bars again. That worries disease trackers who suspect any positive news will breed complacency and make people willing to ignore the possibility they could be infected without showing symptoms. Without widespread testing, new Covid spikes could pop up and go unnoticed.”

“Texas’s drop in testing is part of a larger nationwide trend that’s seen the average number of coronavirus tests fall from more than 800,000 a day in late July to roughly 700,000 over the last week.”

“But the testing problems aren’t all linked to Texans’ behavior. There also are questions about flaws in the state’s data collection that may have distorted who was sick and where. Texas at the end of July had 1 million completed tests whose results had not been assigned to a particular county. Officials are now sorting through the backlog, which could have had the effect of making the tested population appear smaller than it really was.”

“Abbot said testing numbers should rebound in the coming days. There will be a surge in Houston, the governor said, where he aims to test an additional 50,000 people over a 10-day stretch.”

Trump Urges Floridians To Vote by Mail While Suing Over Remote Voting in Nevada

“After months of casting suspicion on the whole concept of mail-in voting, the president is suddenly behind it… for states where he has a stronghold. “In Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!” Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” the president opined on social media.

Meanwhile, his campaign is suing to stop the state of Nevada from expanding its mail-in voting protocol.”

“Nevada went for Clinton in 2016, and Florida went for Trump, so that might be one clue. The president has also criticized the prospect of expanding mail-in ballot access in California, a reliably blue state.”

Another Rogue Cop Just Got Qualified Immunity. The Judge Who Gave It to Him Isn’t Happy About It.

“A federal judge this week gave a blistering rebuke of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it difficult to sue police officers in federal court when they violate your civil rights.

“The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law—even at the hands of law enforcement,” wrote Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in a majority decision released yesterday. “Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called ‘qualified immunity.’ In real life it operates like absolute immunity.””

“to overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s misconduct had been “clearly established” by existing case law—the standard pulled out of thin air by the Supreme Court in Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). In practice, this criterion requires that plaintiffs show a public official’s misbehavior is prohibited almost verbatim by a previous ruling from the same federal circuit or from the Supreme Court. That requirement is nearly impossible to meet. “This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court,” Reeves writes. “Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer’s motion seeking as much is therefore granted.”

It is not unheard of for a federal judge to show disdain for his own ruling. They are required to enforce precedents established by the Supreme Court, even when doing so defies common sense. (Federal judges can also be seen decrying the mandatory minimum sentences they are required by Congress to impose on defendants who meet statutory criteria.)

A review of current qualified immunity decisions is instructive. The legal doctrine has protected two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant; a sheriff’s deputy who shot a 10-year-old boy while aiming at the child’s non-threatening dog; a prison guard who forced a naked inmate to sleep in cells filled with raw sewage and “massive amounts” of human feces; two cops who assaulted and arrested a man for the crime of standing outside of his own house; two officers who sicced a police dog on a surrendered suspect. That list is not exhaustive.”

“The Supreme Court has declined to hear a slew of qualified immunity cases and instead volleyed responsibility back to Congress. While such decisions should arguably be made by Congress, the Supreme Court created the very problem it now wants no part in solving.

“I do not envy the task before the Supreme Court. Overturning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society,” Reeves writes. “Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.””

State and Local Governments Need Some Tough Love From Uncle Sam

“A report from the National League of Cities in May revealed that the states weren’t very good at getting the money to local governments. Also, a new dataset collected by the Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General that looks at how much the state and local governments have spent of their coronavirus relief bill funds as of June 30 shows that they have spent much less than you might think.

Some states have spent virtually none of the money allocated by Uncle Sam.

South Carolina, for example, has yet to use its $2 billion in relief. Michigan, which is asking for a bailout, spent only 3 percent of the more than $3 billion it received. New Jersey is also asking for a bailout, yet it has distributed a measly 2.1 percent of its federal funds so far.

The states demanding bailouts may likely argue that what they really need is more flexibility in order to be able to use federal funds to address their revenue shortfalls. As matters stand right now, states must use the bailout money on coronavirus-related expenditures. So, when those actual expenditures are lower than the allocated funds, they can’t spend them.

The flexibility argument doesn’t hold water, in my opinion. It’s one thing for state and local governments to ask the federal government for help to cover expenditures they couldn’t foresee, such as those related to the pandemic. But they shouldn’t be asking federal taxpayers to pay for their routine expenditures, especially when these governments have failed to plan appropriately for revenue shortfalls that inevitably occur, as they’re bound to encounter emergencies. Governments should prepare for them. They should cut spending and, if that’s not enough, they should turn to their own citizens for the funds needed to cover non-coronavirus expenditures. Those funds could be obtained through higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere. Their routine spending should come from their taxes.

State and local governments are always eager to have the federal government solve their financial problems for them. But they will continue to have financial difficulties as long as Uncle Sam continues to cave. The first step toward having healthier and more responsible state and local governments would be no bailout.”

81 Percent of Black Americans Want the Same Level, or More, of Police Presence: Gallup

“As calls to defund and abolish the police grow around the country, a new poll by Gallup finds that a large majority—81 percent—of black Americans want the same or increased levels of police presence in their neighborhoods. Just 19 percent of black Americans said they want the police to spend less time in their neighborhoods”

Trump Is Trying To Take Away Americans’ Access to Popular Apps by Executive Order

“The Trump administration has been hyping its hate for TikTok (and, now, WeChat) as a national security matter. That premise is incredibly thin.

Yes, China’s government could compel U.S. user data from Bytedance, but it’s hard to imagine for what purpose it would do this or how this would somehow threaten the country’s safety. It’s not as if TikTok requires users to submit especially sensitive data. And if the kind of data users provide TikTok really is a huge threat in Beijing’s hands, then this threat extends to all digital tools made in China. For that matter: The U.S. government can pry user records from American tech companies—and while the Chinese Communist Party poses little threat to individual Americans outside China, the American authorities can use your data to punish you.”

Trump’s New Tariffs on Canadian Aluminum Are Indefensible

“When President Donald Trump imposed 10 percent tariffs on imported aluminum in March 2018, it was (predictably) American aluminum-consuming companies that suffered the most.

Companies like Whirlpool Corp., for example. The appliance manufacturer—which had previously been a cheerleader for Trump’s tariffs on imported washing machines—saw its sales and stock prices tumble in the months after Trump’s aluminum tariffs took effect, as the import taxes added to the company’s input costs. It takes a lot of aluminum to build a washing machine, after all.”

“Those tariffs had been lifted in 2019 as Trump sought to negotiate the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), which officially took effect last month. But with the new trade deal in place, Trump has quickly returned to his old tricks. “Canada was taking advantage of us, as usual,” he said Thursday during a largely off-the-cuff speech at the plant. The new tariffs are slated to take effect on August 16.

Ostensibly, the justification for reimposing these tariffs is the claim that imports have increased dramatically in recent months. In reality, that’s a bunch of nonsense. The Aluminium Association says the claims of a surge in aluminum imports “are grossly exaggerated.” In fact, aluminum imports from Canada are below 2017 levels—the last year before Trump’s first round of tariffs took effect.

And even if aluminum imports were increasing, that’s not something to get upset about. The United States literally does not produce enough aluminum to meet its domestic needs, so imports are essential for supporting the 97 percent of American aluminum industry jobs that are in downstream production. And when more aluminum—or anything else—is traded back and forth between the United States and Canada, both countries benefit from the transaction. That’s how trade works.

It’s not exactly clear what Trump hopes the reinstated tariffs will accomplish, but the one thing that should be obvious is that American aluminum-consuming industries will once again be punished by the president’s trade policies.”