Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore
Monday, December 14, 2020, 2:14 PM

Today marks the beginning of the U.S.’s mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, reports the Wall Street Journal. A critical care nurse in Queens, New York was among the first to receive the shot this morning at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Because early supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are limited, the first wave of three million doses will be largely reserved for frontline medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Pfizer expects to provide 25 million more doses to the U.S. by the month’s end, and the Food and Drug Administration may also approve Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine later in the week.

The U.S. government suspects that Russian hackers broke into the networks of federal agencies including the Treasury and Commerce departments, according to the Los Angeles Times. In a rare statement released yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security described the hacking operation as an “unacceptable risk to the executive branch.” The news comes days after a cybersecurity firm called FireEye disclosed that it had been breached in a potentially Russia-sponsored attack, allowing hackers to access tools for interfering with government clients.

Every four years, state officials certify their electoral college votes in a routine and low-profile fashion. Now that President Trump has refused to concede the November election, small-town electors are facing death threats and online harassment, writes the New York Times. Democratic electors in Michigan, for example, require police escorts from their cars into the state capitol building.

The Times also describes how a “resurgent nationalism” in China is dovetailing with the coronavirus pandemic. The Chinese Communist Party promotes the idea that China’s handling of the pandemic has proved the superiority of the authoritarian system over western democracies that have struggled to control the disease. “In this fight against the pandemic, there will be victorious powers and defeated ones,” said Wang Xiangsui, a retired Chinese senior colonel university professor in Beijing. “We’re a victor power, while the United States is still mired and, I think, may well become a defeated power.” Users on Chinese social media often extol the virtues of the Chinese state while attacking the West’s moral and political failings.

For the fifth consecutive day, demonstrators in Albania have taken to the streets to protest police violence, reports the Washington Post. The rally started after police shot and killed Khodim Rasha, a man who was breaking the coronavirus curfew, after he allegedly ignored the police’s orders to go home on Tuesday evening. The Albanian prime minister has apologized for the “inexplicable and completely unreasonable” shooting, and his interior minister resigned Thursday with a statement on Facebook.

The U.S. removed Sudan from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, writes the Associated Press. Following an April 2019 coup that ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir, Sudan has become a fragile democracy that’s jointly run by civilians and the military. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said that today his country “officially” rejoined the worldwide community and as “a peaceful nation supporting global stability.”

Reuters reports that Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is using the legal levers of the state to silence his critics. In August, Maduro requested that the state prosecutor conduct an “exhaustive investigation” into a lawmaker who had blasted his coronavirus response. In this case and more than 40 others, the president arrested people for speaking out against the government on dubious “hate crime” charges.

Over the past few weeks, the Justice Department and bipartisan state coalitions have waged major antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook. Politico now reports that another multi-state lawsuit will target Google after the holiday season. States have until Jan. 15 to join the suit, and the trial is not expected to begin until 2022.

The Supreme Court denied Kansas’s petition to require voters to show proof of citizenship before voting, writes the Kansas City Star. The state sought to overturn a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which held that Kansas’s law—written by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—had illegally prevented thousands of citizens from voting in the 2014 midterm elections.

Following a New York Times column that described Pornhub as “infested with rape videos,” Pornhub announced today that it has taken down all videos posted by unverified users. According to TechCrunch, the pornography website calls the move “the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history.” All content posted by unverified users will be subject to company review in early 2021.

Critics in Brazil are condemning President Jair Bolsonaro’s recently released coronavirus plans as “murderous stupidity” and “lethal incompetence,” reports the South China Morning Post. The president failed to provide a timeline or logistical details about how he plans to vaccine the target of 70 percent of Brazilians.

ICYMI: This Weekend on Lawfare

As part of Lawfare’s Foreign Policy Essay Series, Shelby Grossman and Khadeja Ramali explained why foreign actors like Saudi Arabia are hiring firms to spread disinformation on social media.

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