We hope you enjoyed last week’s episode! Here is our Deeper Dive into the pardon of Michael Flynn, the impact of COVID-19 on American families and healthcare workers, and the Supreme Court decision that struck down New York’s restrictions on religious gatherings.
If the name “Michael Flynn” sounds distantly familiar but also irrelevant, that’s because he was Donald Trump’s first National Security Advisor before he resigned after three weeks and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak without official US approval. Flynn is yet another Trump loyalist who has been granted a pardon, which is why many view it as an abuse of power.
So what happened?
After the 2016 election, the presidential transition began and Michael Flynn was chosen as the National Security Advisor for the Trump administration– but his first day on the job would not be until after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Simultaneously, the FBI was conducting what would be an ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference with the election and President Obama imposed sanctions on Russian entities.
Even though Michael Flynn was working with the transition team, he was still a private citizen when he exchanged multiple phone calls with the Russian ambassador without official US approval. Prior to the transcripts of the calls being released, Flynn claimed that they did not discuss the recent sanctions placed on Russia, and that was the official message released by the Trump administration.
Well, turns out Flynn was lying. Basically, somebody leaked the content of the call to the press which revealed that the two discussed the issues of the sanctions as well as a resolution about Israel. There are two main problems with this. The first is that much of what Flynn said to Kislyak directly undermined and contradicted the US position under the Obama administration before Trump was inaugurated. Second, Flynn tried to hide the fact that he even had the phone calls in the first place and once it came out that he did speak with the ambassador, he lied to his own administration about what was discussed.
In February 2017 he was fired by President Trump for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the calls. When the Russia investigation ramped up in the spring, Robert Mueller had taken over the investigation and criticized Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey in 2016. With evidence piling up, Mueller and Flynn reached a plea agreement in December 2017 where he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and even provided evidence against President Trump.
President Trump announced about a week ago that he would be granting a full pardon to Michael Flynn. But as we’ve come to expect, the Trump presidency always involves (un)expected twists. A day after the pardon was announced, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released court documents that show there is an active investigation into a possible bribe in exchange for a presidential pardon. The partially redacted documents do not reveal who was pardoned in exchange for money, but hopefully we will find out soon.
Impact of COVID-19 on American Families
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown America into a recession that has been compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The financial hardships that have come with the lockdowns and restrictions across the country persist as the number of cases and deaths rises.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been tracking the recession’s effects on peoples’ access to food, housing, and work opportunities, and have found that rates of hardship are shockingly high. The data taken from November responses show that food insecurity, or the inability to consistently access healthy food, is one of the burdens many Americans face. Nearly 12% of all adults said their household at least sometimes didn’t have enough food to eat in the last seven days– that’s nearly four times the pre-pandemic rate. When asked why they couldn’t access food, 81% said it was because they could not afford to buy more food.
Additionally, 1 in 6 adults, or 16%, with children said their household lacked enough food as compared to 9% for households without children. These numbers are worse among minority groups as well, which supports other findings that the pandemic has disproportionately affected minority groups. These numbers are why we have recently seen images of crowded food pantry lines with many first-time visitors.
As if dealing with food insecurity wasn’t enough, many are also struggling to catch up on rent and mortgage payments. Around 12.4 million adult renters, 1 in 6, said they were not caught up on rent, and nearly 1 in 4 renters who are parents or who live with a child said they were not caught up on rent. An estimated 9.4 million live in a household that is not caught up on its mortgage payment.
These numbers are staggering, and unfortunately are likely to rise should the number of cases force lockdowns and put more people out of work. This is why our Congress rightfully received a lot of backlash when the decision was made to break the Senate for Thanksgiving without agreeing on terms for another stimulus package. With more and more Americans going without food for themselves or their children, with more and more Americans struggling to pay for the roof over their heads, with more and more Americans getting sick and dying, we need more from our Congress.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Healthcare Workers
If anyone has had to make sacrifices due to the pandemic it has been our health care workers. Aside from long shifts in overcrowded hospitals, healthcare workers have quite literally sacrificed their lives in order to save the lives of others and mitigate the spread of the virus.
In September, National Nurses United found that 1,718 health care workers had died of the virus, which means this number is likely much higher now as cases and deaths continue to rise. This data does contradict that of the Center for Disease Control as of early November which says that the deaths among health care workers has reached almost 800. However, the discrepancy is due to the fact that health care worker status only know for about a quarter of total cases, meaning the actual number is much higher.
One thing that is for certain, the people we are relying on to save our lives, are dying themselves. The bottom line is that we all need to do our parts to protect ourselves, each other, and especially the life savers on the front lines.
And to all the healthcare workers out there who don’t hear this nearly enough: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
The Supreme Court’s recent decision on COVID-19 related restrictions
The US Supreme Court ruled to block COVID-19 related attendance restrictions on places of religious worship in certain hot-spots of New York. The restrictions simply mandated a capacity limit based on the number of cases in different areas of the state in an effort to reduce transmission in these areas where transmission tends to be high due to either the pure volume of people in attendance or where singing is common.
Despite the fact that the mandates did not order religious gatherings to cease, the restrictions were seen by many people as an infringement on the first amendment right to freedom of religion, and a violation of separation of church and state. The Supreme Court majority agreed. According to the majority opinion, the pandemic (which has taken the lives of hundred of thousands of Americans, put even more out of work, and infected millions) is not an excuse to infringe on the right to religious freedom. This decision clearly reflects the recent conservative shift in the court following the appointment of Amy Coney Barret who quickly replaced Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her passing in September.
At what point do we value actual human lives over the ability to practice one’s religion in the presence of hundreds of others? Again, the mandate did not close places of worship, but merely limited attendance. As students across the country transitioned into online learning, isn’t it time religious gatherings do the same? The fact is, many already do. Televised or live-streamed church ceremonies are increasingly common. Nobody is saying you can’t pray or attend a virtual mass, simply a temporary sacrifice to protect everyone from this rampant and deadly disease. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court failed us.