Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore
Wednesday, September 16, 2020, 2:15 PM

State Department officials may face legal challenges for approving bomb sales to Saudi Arabia, writes The New York Times. Even while knowing that a Saudi-led coalition is massacring thousands of civilians in Yemen, the U.S. government has continued to supply the coalition with arms since 2016. Analysts expect that State officials may be prosecuted for quashing an Inspector General report this year which revealed they were ignoring the legal risks of the sales.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a report today condemning Boeing for egregious violations of public safety, according to The Times. The report explains that the two deadly crashes of Boeing’s 737 planes were borne of a company culture that prized cost-cutting over security. To members of the committee, the way forward is for the Federal Aviation Administration to assert its independence in oversight matters rather than trusting the assurances from company experts.

Health officials began detailing a plan today for distributing a future COVID-19 vaccine, The Times also reports. Members of Operation Warp Speed, a government task force devoted to vaccine development and distribution, said that they plan to provide a vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost to Americans. The officials noted that the initial distribution will go primarily to high-risk Americans like health workers. They will also create a database to track when Americans will need a second dose of the vaccine. At this point, it is unclear when a vaccine will be available, but drug giant Pfizer says it may ask for emergency authorization as soon as October.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted along partisan lines today to subpoena former Obama administration officials, writes Politico. Many Republicans on the committee are seeking to compel testimony from former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and others involved in the presidential transition process in 2016 and 2017. In remarks to reporters today, Sen. Mitt Romney said the probe “has the earmarks of a political exercise” and indicated he would vote against a subpoena to Ambassador Bridget Brink that has since been scrapped.

President Trump retweeted a manipulated video of Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden’s rally on Tuesday, according to Politico. Although in reality Biden played the pop song “Despacito” at his Florida event, the edited video purported to show him playing “F--- tha Police” by N.W.A. Twitter has affixed a warning label to the president’s tweet saying that it’s “Manipulated Media.”

The United Nations has accused Venezuela of systematic crimes against humanity, reports CNN. After investigating hundreds of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions and instances of torture, a U.N. fact-finding mission determined today that the Venezuelan government approved serious human rights violations at the highest levels. The report alleges that Venezuela's Special Action Forces were given a “green light to kill” and trained to plant evidence on people they murdered, all under the auspices of combating crime.

29 German police officers have been suspended for sharing far-right content, reports Deutsche Welle. The officers’ WhatsApp groups, which date back to 2013, contain what Interior Minister Herbert Reul calls “the worst and obnoxious content,” including images of Hitler and violent fantasies of killing refugees in gas chambers. Deutsche Welle notes that today’s suspensions coincide with a July report by the German Interior Minister that right-wing extremism is the greatest domestic threat to Germany.

Germany will take in 1,500 refugees after a fire destroyed the Moria refugee camp in Greece, according to Politico Europe. Senior lawmakers in the Christian Democratic Union are calling for more refugees to enter Germany, because about 30,000 are still languishing on Greek islands without shelter or sanitation.

The person behind the wheel when a self-driving Tesla killed a pedestrian has been charged with negligent homicide, writes The Verge. The fatal crash happened in April 2018 when Rafaela Vasquez, who was piloting one of Uber’s self-driving cars, was allegedly watching The Voice as her car hit a woman walking across the street. Experts note that this is the first fatal collision involving an autonomous vehicle.

The United States plans to sell major weapons systems to Taiwan, reports Reuters. Ordinarily the U.S. only sporadically sells to the island nation, but it now intends to send seven shipments of mines, cruise missiles and drones to create a bulwark in Taiwan against potential China aggression. Congress should be notified of the arms sales within the next few weeks.

China is building its first modern aircraft carrier, according to The Washington Post. Pictures obtained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies show sections of the 1000 foot-long carrier being assembled on a dry dock. To researcher Matthew Funaiole, the biggest unanswered question is whether the carrier will be able to quickly sling fighter jets off its deck, though he notes that the project shows China’s development into a modern military power.

The Department of Justice has charged five Chinese businessmen with attempting to hack 100 companies across the world, reports NBC News. Department officials announced today that the Chinese government did not discourage the hackers, who allegedly used ransomware and cyber attacks to gain entry to video game networks in the U.S.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Christie Mayberry summarized the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s en banc decision on Aug. 31 denying Michael Flynn’s emergency request to dismiss his case.

Susan Hennessey and Jacob Schulz argued that the recent whistleblower report from the Department of Homeland Security might reveal another election interference scandal.

Chelsey Davidson, Michael Jacobs, Carlos Martinez, Spencer McManus and Yegina Whang dissected the challenges Minnesota faces in preparing for the presidential election.

Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith explained why they wrote “After Trump,” a detailed account of how to reform the presidency after Trump leaves office.

Camille François discussed why tropes about a “Russian playbook” are no longer helpful as we approach the November election.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast featuring a conversation between Benjamin Wittes and Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis. They examined the career of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and considered why Putin chose to attack him now.

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