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What Matters: What America’s next pandemic year will look like


As we enter our second year with Covid, it’s becoming more and more clear that it will take more time to get back to how life looked in February of 2020. There will be permanent changes to the way we interact, work, travel, eat and learn.

When you find yourself wondering, as I often do, what we’re getting for all of the monumental and minuscule ways we’ve changed living our lives, consider the fact there was something close to a US Covid death every minute over the course of this past, lost year.

President Joe Biden marked the moment with a candle lighting at the White House.

An unsung hero of American history

Our latest CITIZEN by CNN event takes place Tuesday at 10 a.m. The topic, in honor of Black History Month, is “Black America: Politics, Protests & the Pandemic.”

You can ask questions, and panelists include W. Kamau Bell, Grant Hill, Don Lemon and Abby Phillip. RSVP here.

Another look at the past. One topic is sure to be the reexamination of US history we’re all seeing take place.

I learned something new from the CNN digital video team, which sat down with Claudette Colvin, who is now in her 80s. As a 15-year-old in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to give up her seat on a bus months before Rosa Parks.

Why have you heard of Parks but not Colvin? The movement promoted Parks’ story in part because she was thought to be a more sympathetic figure to White Americans. She had lighter skin, and was soft-spoken and married.

“People said I was crazy,” Colvin told CNN’s Phillip. “Because I was 15 years old and defiant and shouting, ‘It’s my constitutional right!’ ”

This country is changing. CNN Business asked three of the highest-ranked Black women in corporate America to reflect on their career journeys and offer advice to those looking to follow in their footsteps. CNN’s Chauncey Alcorn includes this incredible fact about the list of Fortune 500 companies, which has been around since the 1950s:

To date, there have been only 19 Black CEOs — 17 men and two women — in the entire history of the list, which was first published in Fortune magazine in 1955. Incoming Walgreen’s CEO Rosalind Brewer will be added on March 15, when she becomes just the third Black woman to serve as a Fortune 500 CEO.

Here’s one of them:

Susan Chapman-Hughes, EVP, Global Digital Capabilities, Transformation and Operations, American Express:

Hometown: Cincinnati

Education: B.S. in engineering from Vanderbilt University (1990). M.B.A. from the University of Wisconsin (1998)

Specialty: Digital transformation and strategic leadership

Industry: Financial services

Career advice: “Be really excited about the opportunities that exist ahead of you. Recognize you need help to make that happen. Be humble enough to get the feedback and get the help you need to make it work. There’s no way I could be sitting in the seat I’m in without the help I’ve had.”

Trump loses at SCOTUS

Former President Donald Trump beat impeachment in Congress, but the Supreme Court dealt him a blow Monday with its decision to allow the release of his tax returns to New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who is investigating 2016 hush money payments, Trump’s inaugural committee and more.

It’s the latest in a series of developments related to criminal exposure Trump could face for actions during his time in office and before.

What Matters talked to CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, who has the rare gift of being able to translate lawyer into language the rest of us can understand, about what it all means.

What happens now with Trump’s tax returns?

WHAT MATTERS: What are we in the public likely to see from Trump’s tax returns as a result of this move by the Supreme Court today?

POLANTZ: Cy Vance in New York is seeking the Trump tax returns for a grand jury investigation. The best way to think of a grand jury is just like Las Vegas: What happens in the grand jury stays in the grand jury.

The evidence a grand jury reviews, what they’re seeking, how they vote when faced with approving charges — secrecy surrounds all of this. The way details from a grand jury investigation become public is if there are charges that result, or if a witness blabs.

We already know that the accounting firm in this case, Mazars USA, says it can’t discuss clients without the client’s approval or “as required by law,” according to their statement today. So practically speaking, that means Trump could, after all these years, announce details of his taxes himself or allow Mazars to. Or the New York prosecutors could file criminal charges and make details public in court, either in filings or at a trial. Of course, there always could be leaks — and in this case, Trump’s tax returns were leaked to The New York Times shortly before the 2020 election.

How big are Trump’s legal problems?

WHAT MATTERS: Along with the tax investigations, authorities in Georgia are looking at Trump’s pressure on state voting officials after the 2020 election. How big is the universe of cases Trump is facing?

POLANTZ: There has always been a universe of questions related to criminal law surrounding Trump and the entities he leads since he became president — starting with the Russia investigation. That doesn’t mean he’s always days away from being charged with a crime– obviously, he has not been. But Trump has had lots of reasons to consult with white-collar defense attorneys for years, including for reasons like arguing for his privacy, approaching questions or subpoenas carefully, and, if he needs it, handling the various stages of a grand jury investigation.

As they say in the biz, attorneys like these think through legal “exposure.” Maybe they think at this time Trump has none. But we won’t actually know until the choices of the top prosecutors, and where they think the law is, reveal themselves.

The Supreme Court and the ‘long arc of democracy’

WHAT MATTERS: The Supreme Court gave Trump a win when it dismissed “emoluments” cases against him. And now it’s given him a loss and cleared the way for Vance to access his tax returns. What have you taken away from these two recent decisions?

POLANTZ: This question stirs the history nerd in me. As much as these cases are about Trump the man, they’re really about the long arc of democracy. And they arose and ended in such very different ways. Those are big statements, so let me explain the two cases with this comparison: Think of emoluments like a dark corner of a house built in the 1700s (by the Framers!), where no one since then has ever looked around. What the Supreme Court did in that case was say that the lights in that corner are going to stay off.

In the Vance case, that’s a “closet in our house” metaphor where someone turns on the lights every few decades, most notably during the Nixon administration with Watergate (there were other times before Nixon, too, but I’ll save an incredible story about Aaron Burr’s treason trial for Twitter). Essentially, Trump’s years in office kicked up dust in a lot of dark corners of our system of governance, about the separation of powers and the Constitution, and not all of the questions he raised will be answered. But in the case of the tax documents, SCOTUS flipped on the lights, briefly, again.

What else?

Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing, finally. Denied a confirmation hearing by Mitch McConnell after President Barack Obama nominated him to a Supreme Court seat, Merrick Garland now has bipartisan support to be Biden’s attorney general. Read about his confirmation hearing, and his pledge to prosecute White supremacists, here.
Neera Tanden on the brink. With moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins questioning her qualifications and conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin opposed, Biden’s Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden’s confirmation is in trouble. She’s certainly said critical things of everyone from Republican senators to Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders. The fact that Tanden is struggling may confuse some people who saw Trump’s first nominee, Mick Mulvaney, a bona fide tea party Republican, get confirmed.
Dominion sues MyPillow CEO for $1.3 billion. The company is seeking damages from Trump ally Mike Lindell, who suggested in public appearances and social media posts that the election technology company had rigged the 2020 results.




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