Today’s Top Stories: Google antitrust lawsuit, COVID relief deal, and changes to the next presidential debate

The U.S. Justice Department files an antitrust lawsuit against Google, a COVID-19 relief deal between Democrats and the White House appears unlikely as deadline approaches, muting the mics at the final presidential debate, and much more…


It’s Tuesday, October 20th, here’s what you need to know…


1. U.S. Justice Department sues Google for being an illegal monopoly

Today, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Google for antitrust violations, claiming that the company has an unfair monopoly over online search and search-related advertising. The Justice Department says Google has abused its market dominance to suppress competition which has lead to harm for the consumer. The Justice Department’s civil antitrust lawsuit joins together with eleven state Attorneys General “to stop Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets,” according to the DOJ press release. In the complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the government alleges, “Countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies.” “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow,” the lawsuit reads. The government calls Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, as a “monopoly gatekeeper” of the internet with unrivaled control over the online search market, which the Department states maintains “80 percent of general search queries in the United States.” Among the issues that the Department mentions in its complaint, it also focuses on allegations that Google pays billions to smartphone manufacturers to guarantee Google is the default search provider on browsers for mobile devices, effectively limiting competition and raising privacy concerns, according to the DOJ . Google fired back at the Justice Department’s suit in a statement, calling it “dubious” and “deeply flawed.” “People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives,” the company’s statement reads. The government’s case against Alphabet, one of the biggest and richest companies in the U.S. with a market value in excess of $1 trillion, is among the largest antitrust cases in American history, mirroring that of Microsoft in 1998.


2. COVID-19 relief deal appears unlikely as deadline looms

Time is running out on a COVID relief deal that would send a second round of stimulus checks to Americans as Congress has come to an impasse over the terms of the deal. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously set an October 20 deadline on another coronavirus relief package if a deal is to be made between Democrats and Republicans before the November 3 general election. On Monday evening, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke over the phone and settled some of their differences, coming closer to striking a deal, but negotiations were still ongoing. Democratic leaders in Congress have held talks for months with the White House over how much aid the package will include and how it will be allocated. Little resolve has been made as the Trump administration originally pushed for a $1.8 trillion aid package and Democrats called for $2.2 trillion in spending. The first COVID-19 package that was passed in March had a $3 trillion price tag. However, the current stalemate over a possible deal is largely focused on augmenting coronavirus provisions such as testing, tracing, and treatment for the virus. The child tax credit and extending unemployment benefits and payments for states and localities are other issues that Congress and the Trump administration are deadlocked on.


In other related news on Tuesday, the Senate will vote on reauthorizing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that provides loans to small businesses to help retain their employees. Senate Democrats are expected to block the bill’s passage as they have voiced disagreement with standalone COVID relief bills.


3. Debate Commission will mute microphones at the final presidential debate

The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced new rules for the next and final presidential debate after the last one on September 29 was a turbulent affair of frequent interruptions and insults. The most notable new measure is that President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will have their microphones muted while the other candidate is speaking to ensure they will be able to convey their message without interruptions. However, the new rule will only be implemented during the two-minute opening remarks from each candidate at the start of the debate. For the rest of the debate, the mics will be on and unmuted to allow for “open discussion,” but it also allows for interruptions. “During the times dedicated for open discussion, it is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time, which will advance civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public,” the debate commission wrote in a statement in announcing the changes. The Trump campaign was critical of the announcement, calling it “completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power” and accusing the non-partisan, non-profit organization of “partiality to Biden.” The debate commission considered the implementation of changes for weeks following the first presidential debate last month in which moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News repeatedly cut in to prevent interjections from the candidates without success. Both Republican and Democratic viewers of the first event were nearly unanimous in their assessment of the debate as being disappointing, unproductive, and grueling.


The final presidential debate will be held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, October 22, 2020, from 9:00 PM to 10:30 PM. The debate will be moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News and will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes with the topics being “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership.” 


4. Supreme Court upholds ruling that allows Pennsylvania to count ballots 3-days after Election Day

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday evening that absentee ballots received up to three days after Election Day can be counted in Pennsylvania as long as they are postmarked by November 3. The decision means absentee ballots received as late as 5 PM on Friday, November 6, can be counted as long as they were mailed by Election Day. The Supreme Court ruled on the Pennsylvania mail-in ballots in a 4-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts being the deciding vote and aligning with the Court’s liberal justices. The tied vote means the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision ruling is upheld. The decision was seen as a major victory for Democrats while Pennsylvania Republicans had challenged a voting rights decision by the state’s Supreme Court that would extend the state’s absentee ballot deadline. Republicans lost that legal challenge and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were once again denied a legal win.


5. U.S. charges Russian military intelligence officers in global cyberattacks

On Monday, the Justice Department announced it has charged six current and former Russian military intelligence officers in a widespread cyberattack campaign that spanned several countries. The unsealed 50-page indictment details the cybercriminals belonged to the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military intelligence agency, and targeted foreign powers by acting on behalf of the Kremlin to pursue Russia’s geopolitical interests and punish its enemies. Members of the agency accomplished these aims by hacking into software belonging to foreign entities and utilizing damaging malware to impair global computer networks. The GRU unleashed cyberattacks on Ukraine, the country of Georgia, the U.K., the Republic of Korea, foreign elections in France, and the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games after Russian athletes were prohibited from taking part in competition under the Russian flag. They also sought to undermine investigations by foreign governments to hold the Kremlin responsible for the use of nerve agents on foreign soil against the country’s detractors. The attacks caused the blackout of thousands of computers and resulted in losses of nearly $1 billion to American companies. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to conduct computer fraud and abuse, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, damaging protected computers, and aggravated identity theft. The six wanted fugitives are believed to be in Russia and will only face charges if they travel to the United States or an ally of the U.S. to face extradition.


6. Admiral who oversaw bin Laden raid announces support for Biden

The retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral who was in charge of the 2011 raid against global terrorist and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday. Writing in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, William McRaven said he voted for Biden in his home state of Texas during early voting, arguing that the nation “need[s] a president who understands the importance of American leadership, at home and abroad.” McRaven retired in 2014 after serving as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command for three years. “I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative,” he wrote. “I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success, that education is the great equalizer, that climate change is real and that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy,” McRaven added. “We need a leader of integrity whose decency and sense of respect reflects the values we expect from our president. We need a president for all Americans, not just half of America.” The retired admiral has spoken out against President Trump in recent years, including in 2018 when he wrote in that Trump has “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”


7. COVID cases in Argentina passes 1 million as virus rages in Latin America

Latin America is seeing a dramatic uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 cases as Argentina surpasses 1 million cases and several other countries are expected to reach the milestone number within the next few weeks. Colombia, Mexico, and Peru will likely join Brazil and now Argentina for the most cases across Central and South America as the region reports some of the highest daily case numbers in the world. Interestingly, Argentina has enacted one of the longest lockdowns when compared to others across the globe, but have seen the number of cases spike amid a second coronavirus wave. And in countries like Colombia, rural areas seem to be reporting the highest numbers in new cases as large cities have seen a decline. Hospitals are rushing to meet the demand, but virus testing especially in the countryside has been notoriously difficult.


8. Game 1 of the World Series

Tonight the Tampa Bay Rays face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series at 8 PM. The Fall Classic will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, with the Rays making their first appearance since 2008 and only their second time in the World Series in their short franchise history. The Dodgers are making their third World Series appearance since 2017, having won the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2017 and ’18.


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