HeadlinesDecember 15, 2020

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First Americans Receive Coronavirus Vaccine as U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Top 300,000

Dec 15, 2020

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 300,000 Monday, as the first Americans were vaccinated outside of a clinical setting. In Queens, New York, the former epicenter of the pandemic, intensive care unit director and critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay was first in line for an injection of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Michelle Chester administered the inoculation. Both women are African American. Lindsay said afterward she hoped to set an example for other African Americans who might be skeptical of the vaccine, based on the U.S.’s sordid history of medical experimentation on Black people.

Sandra Lindsay: “It was an emotional experience. Working on the frontlines alongside my team, I saw a lot of pain, hurt, suffering, death, and so I felt a huge sense of relief after I got the vaccine. I was not nervous, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I trust the science. So I had no hesitation when I was asked if I would take the vaccine.”

The first injections came as the U.S. recorded over 200,000 new cases and nearly 1,700 deaths Monday. In California, intensive care units across the state are at — or near — capacity, with no ICU beds available across much of the San Joaquin Valley. Los Angeles has shattered records for new COVID-19 cases in recent days. Public health experts warn the worst could be yet to come, with models predicting an average of more than 3,000 daily deaths across the U.S. in the coming weeks.

More European Nations Enter Lockdown as Mexico Approves Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine

Dec 15, 2020

In international news, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have announced tough new lockdown measures over the holidays as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Italy’s leaders are reportedly considering a nationwide lockdown from Christmas Eve until January 2.

Mexico has approved emergency use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, with plans to inoculate 125,000 people by the end of the month. Mexico has recorded more than 1.25 million COVID-19 cases and more than 114,000 deaths.

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Accused of “Lethal Incompetence” over Lack of Vaccine Planning

Dec 15, 2020

In Brazil, critics are accusing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro of “lethal incompetence” after his administration failed to prepare for a mass vaccination program. Bolsonaro — who has called COVID-19 a “little flu” and has used homophobic slurs to mock face masks — shunned Pfizer’s offer to sell its vaccine to Brazil and has pinned all his hopes on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Bolsonaro also rejected China’s Sinovac vaccine, which has been promoted by São Paulo’s governor, who’s seen as a likely challenger to Bolsonaro’s reelection campaign in 2022. 

Joe Biden Condemns Trump’s “Abuse of Power” as Electoral College Affirms His Win

Dec 15, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden officially won the Electoral College Monday, as electors met in their respective state capitals to formalize his victory, even as President Trump continued to claim without evidence he was the victim of a massive conspiracy to rig the election.

In Lansing, Michigan, authorities closed the state Capitol and surrounding buildings after receiving credible threats of violence. Michigan Republican lawmakers sanctioned GOP state Representative Gary Eisen after he suggested he was part of a group seeking to disrupt the Electoral College vote and refused to rule out the possibility of violence.

In Arizona, Electoral College members met in a secret location after 11 Democratic electors received threats.

Wisconsin’s Electoral College members were told to enter the state Capitol through an unmarked side door amid similar threats of violence. Wisconsin Republicans refused to accept Biden’s victory and met separately at the state Capitol to select what they called an “alternate slate” of electors casting votes for Trump.

In Delaware, President-elect Joe Biden called a Republican effort to overturn the election results by 17 state attorneys general — and backed by 126 Republican congressmembers — an “unprecedented assault on our democracy.”

President-elect Joe Biden: “In America, politicians don’t take power; people grant power to them. The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame.”

Biden’s speech came as several top Republican senators publicly accepted Trump’s loss for the first time.

Rep. Paul Mitchell Leaves GOP, Blasting Trump’s “Disgusting” Efforts to Overturn Election

Dec 15, 2020

Michigan Congressmember Paul Mitchell said Monday he’s leaving the Republican Party after becoming disgusted with President Trump’s attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 election. He spoke with CNN.

Rep. Paul Mitchell: “This party has to stand up for democracy first, for our Constitution first, and not political considerations, not to protect a candidate, not simply for raw political power. And that’s what I feel is going on, and I’ve had enough.”

Lawmakers Unveil Coronavirus Relief Package as 12 Million Face Loss of Jobless Benefits

Dec 15, 2020

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus relief package Monday, as unemployment benefits for millions of U.S. workers are set to expire the day after Christmas.

One part of the legislation would provide about $750 billion for schools, vaccine distribution and the Paycheck Protection Program supporting small businesses. It would also boost unemployment benefits by $300 per week — half of the $600-a-week increase in benefits that Republicans allowed to expire over the summer.

A second bill would provide $160 billion in aid for hard-hit state and local governments, while retroactively shielding corporations from liability if their workers or customers become infected with the coronavirus.

Even if Congress passes a relief bill, economists warn some 12 million unemployed workers could see a lapse in benefits for several weeks after Christmas.

This comes as Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders are demanding a vote on their proposal to provide $1,200 relief checks to working-class adults with an additional $500 per child. 

Oil Tanker Hit by Explosives in Saudi Port Amid Houthi Rebel Attacks on Saudi Infrastructure

Dec 15, 2020

In Saudi Arabia, an oil tanker anchored in the port of Jeddah was hit by a boat filled with explosives on Monday. CBS reports it was the fourth assault targeting Saudi energy infrastructure in a month. No one has taken responsibility for the attack. Last month, Houthi rebels in Yemen took credit for firing a missile at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in Jeddah. This comes as the Trump administration is considering designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization despite concerns the move could worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by hindering the work of aid groups.

U.S. Removes Sudan from List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

Dec 15, 2020

The United States has removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move is seen as part of a deal that saw Sudan and Israel agree to establish formal bilateral ties in October. In 1993, the Clinton administration placed Sudan on the list for hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum. The move had essentially cut off Sudan from the international finance system for nearly three decades. 

U.S. Sanctions Turkey over Purchase of Russian-Made Missile Defense System

Dec 15, 2020

The Trump administration has issued sanctions on a Turkish defense agency and four officials for Turkey’s purchase of a Russian-made missile defense system in 2017. The move came just days after the U.S. Congress passed a military spending bill that would have required the sanctions be imposed against Turkey, a NATO ally. Last week, the European Union agreed to sanction Turkey for drilling for gas in areas of the Mediterranean claimed by Cyprus.

Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Mass Kidnapping of Schoolchildren

Dec 15, 2020

In Nigeria, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping of more than 300 students from a boarding school in the northern state of Kankara. More than 100 gunmen on motorcycles raided the rural all-boys school on Saturday, sending hundreds of students fleeing into the surrounding forests. An audiotape of a Boko Haram leader claims the raid was meant to discourage “Western education” in Nigeria. 

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Report: Russian Intelligence Agents Poisoned Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny

Dec 15, 2020

A new investigation into the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny claims a team of intelligence agents with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, were involved in the act. Some of the agents specialized in toxins and nerve agents. They had reportedly been trailing Navalny for three years prior to his poisoning in August with the nerve agent Novichok. Navalny is still recovering in Berlin. The probe was conducted by journalists at a number of outlets, including CNN and Der Spiegel, as well as the online investigative website Bellingcat.

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Pentagon and State Dept. Join Growing List of Agencies Hit by Cyber Espionage Attack

Dec 15, 2020

Officials with the Trump administration are acknowledging the email systems of the Pentagon, State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were all compromised in a major cyberattack that also targeted the Treasury and Commerce Departments, as well as nuclear laboratories and some Fortune 500 companies. The National Security Council held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss what has been described as the biggest breach of U.S. government data in years.

The hackers allegedly inserted malicious software into an update for network management software made by the private company SolarWinds, which has 300,000 customers worldwide. The Trump administration has not identified who was behind the attack, but multiple news agencies suggest it was the work of hacking groups backed by the Russian government.

The news comes at a time when the government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is without a director. President Trump fired the agency’s director, Chris Krebs, in November for claiming the election was the “most secure in American history.”

Eraina Pretty, Maryland’s Longest-Serving Woman Prisoner, Released

Dec 15, 2020

Maryland’s longest-serving female prisoner was ordered released on Monday. Eraina Pretty has been locked up for 42 years. She contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. The 61-year-old woman entered prison as an 18-year-old after she was convicted of being an accomplice in two murders. In 2015, she spoke to ABC News.

Eraina Pretty: “In 2003, I wrote Governor Ehrlich and asked him for lethal injection.”

Diane Sawyer: “You asked?”

Eraina Pretty: “Yes, because of the victims’ family and everybody. I wanted them to know that I was sorry for the crime that I had committed.”

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