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‘God help us’ if Trump wins re-election, Palestinian PM says

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Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh says it will be disastrous for his people and the world US president is re-elected next month.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said a Donald Trump victory in the upcoming presidential elections in the United States will be disastrous for his people – and the world at large.

In comments made during a meeting with European legislators on Tuesday, Shtayyeh said the last four years of the Trump administration have greatly harmed the Palestinians.

“If we are going to live another four years with President Trump, God help us, God help you and God help the whole world,” the prime minister said, repeating comments he made a day earlier in a virtual address to the European Parliament. The comments were also posted on his Facebook page.

“If things are going to change in the United States, I think this will reflect itself directly on the Palestinian-Israeli relationship,” Shtayyeh said, referring to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden winning the November 3 polls. “And it will reflect itself also on the bilateral Palestinian-American relationship.”

Trump and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Palestinians have traditionally refrained from taking an explicit public position in US presidential elections.

Shtayyeh’s comments reflected a sense of desperation on the Palestinian side after a series of controversial moves by Washington, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and the subsequent relocation of the embassy there. At the time, Palestinian leaders, who see occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, said the US was no longer an honest broker in negotiations.

Following that, the US closed down the Palestinian Liberation Organization mission offices in Washington in response to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to enter into US-led talks with Israel.

Trump also cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid to the Palestinians, and earlier this year issued a so-called “Middle East plan” that was outright rejected by the Palestinians as too favourable towards the US’s staunch ally, Israel.

It envisions the Israeli annexation of large swaths of the occupied West Bank including illegal Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, giving Israel a permanent eastern border along the Jordan River.

The Trump administration has also said it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal, reversing decades of US policy – a move condemned by Palestinians and rights groups.

More recently, Trump’s administration has also persuaded two Arab Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel and pushed other Arab nations to follow suit.

The deals announced in August were slammed by the Palestinians as grave betrayals by the Arab states, further undermining their efforts to achieve self-determination. They also undercut the traditional Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for an independent Palestinian state.

For now, the majority of Arab states say they remain committed to the Arab Peace Initiative – which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied after 1967 in exchange for peace and the full establishment of relations.

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World

Will voting in a non-battleground state make a difference?

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The presidency isn’t all that’s at stake on Election Day.

How does my vote matter if I don’t live in a presidential battleground state?

There are still plenty of other races where your vote makes a difference. In fact, voters in almost every state will have a chance to influence both national and local decisions through down-ballot races.

Voters in two-thirds of the states will be electing a US senator. Each one of those races matters for control of the chamber, because Republicans currently hold only a slim majority of 53 of the 100 seats.

The importance of controlling the Senate is evident in the confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s nominee to the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Because they control the Senate, Republicans are pressing to quickly confirm the conservative jurist. She would replace the late liberal icon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Democrats are virtually powerless to stop it.

Voters in 11 states also will be electing governors, who will shape the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and other contentious issues, including abortion, crime, climate change and racial inequalities.

And voters in almost all states will be electing state legislators who will determine spending for such things as public schools and colleges, infrastructure and healthcare for low-income residents.

This year’s legislative elections are even more important than usual. That is because they are the last before new round of redistricting based on the results of the 2020 census. There are more than 5,000 legislative races in 35 states where the winners will have a role in redrawing US House and state legislative districts for the next decade. How they draw those voting districts could determine which party has an advantage in future elections, and thus which policies are pursued.

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CDC redefines close contact with someone with Covid-19 to include cumulative exposure

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A passenger catches a commuter train out of Union Station on April 28, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. 
A passenger catches a commuter train out of Union Station on April 28, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

Amtrak is in a “precarious position” because of insufficient federal funding and a continuing plunge in ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO William Flynn told Congress on Wednesday.

Flynn said ridership is still down 80% compared to 2019, and he warned that “it has become clear that the pandemic’s impacts will extend through, and almost certainly beyond” the next year.  

Revenue in the financial year that ended in September was only 53% of the prior year, he said.     

Amtrak has restored some of the service it had initially cut along the Eastern seaboard, but new cuts to other long-distance trains that crisscross the nation just took effect. Flynn said Amtrak is targeting “late May and June 2021” to restore service if health and demand conditions improve.  

But some of Amtrak’s future projections are based on the widespread distribution of an effective coronavirus vaccine in the next year – “which we know is not a guaranteed outcome,” he warned.   

Flynn said the service cuts and nearly 2,000 layoffs were unavoidable.   

“I must emphasize the Amtrak really had no choice but to take these actions,” he said.  

 

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Democrats say US Supreme Court deadlock shows Barrett’s power

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The Supreme Court’s deadlock this week in a key election case illustrates the power President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett could wield and reveals why Republicans are hurrying to install her as a justice, Democrats said on Wednesday in their latest pitch to block her US Senate confirmation.

Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the four other conservative justices and joined with the court’s three liberals on Monday in denying a request by Republicans seeking to block a state court’s ruling that extended the deadline for the delivery of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania by three days.

That produced a 4-4 vote on the court – down a justice following the September death of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg – yielding a deadlock that preserved the lower court’s ruling.

There has been an upswing in voting by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats said that if Barrett already were on the court she would have voted in favour of the Republican bid to block the extension in Pennsylvania, a state crucial to Trump’s re-election chances.

The Pennsylvania case, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said during a call with reporters, “was a disturbing demonstration of what’s at stake if the Republicans have their way and fill this vacancy”.

“With one more vote they would have succeeded,” Durbin said. “That’s exactly the kind of judicial activism Republicans claim to oppose … It’s exactly the kind of judicial activism they are expecting from Judge Barrett as they rush to confirm her.”

Trump has asked the Republican-led Senate to confirm Barrett before Election Day, saying he expects the Supreme Court to decide the outcome of his race against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who leads in national opinion polls even as Trump seeks to sow doubts about the integrity of the voting process.

Barrett’s confirmation would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority and curb Roberts’ current role as its swing vote in close cases.

Pennsylvania Republicans had argued that the state Supreme Court had overstepped its authority in extending a deadline that should be left to the legislature. The Supreme Court’s four most conservative justices, including Trump’s two previous appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, said they would have granted the Republican request.

Confirmation seems certain

The Senate Judiciary Committee held Barrett’s confirmation hearing last week and is expected to vote on Thursday to send her nomination to the full Senate for final approval next Monday. Republicans hold a 53-47 Senate majority, meaning Democrats have scant chance to halt her confirmation.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett listens during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, October 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool]

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said Trump sees Barrett as election insurance, saying, “He wants her to side with him when he makes his usual baseless claims of mail-in voting fraud. He wants a ninth justice to hand him the election.”

“When you look at what’s going on,” added Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, “there are just cases all over the country and the Supreme Court, in so many of those cases, could end up being the final arbiter.”

The Supreme Court only once has decided a presidential race. In 2000, its conservative majority clinched Republican George W Bush’s victory over Democrat Al Gore with a 5-4 decision involving ballots in Florida.

During her confirmation hearing, Barrett said she would not be beholden to Trump in any election case.

“I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people,” Barrett said, though she rebuffed Democratic pleas that she commit to recusing herself in such cases.

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett listens during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, October 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP]

The Supreme Court may steer clear of a big election case this year, said Florida State University election law professor Michael Morley, noting an eagerness by Roberts not to thrust the justices into such disputes.

“I think this court is particularly aware of the judicial role and the desire to have the election decided by the people,” Morley added.

But Roberts has only a limited ability to steer the court clear of a big election case like the one in 2000, Stetson University election law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy said.

“You are likely to have a conservative majority that can do whatever they want,” Torres-Spelliscy added. “Chief Justice Roberts can’t control five justices who are to the right of him.”

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