Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore, Tia Sewell
Wednesday, December 16, 2020, 1:30 PM

Congress is approaching a deal to add new stimulus checks to its $900 billion relief bill, reports the Washington Post. Lawmakers must pass the bill before midnight on Friday evening to avert a government shutdown. Just last week, stimulus checks were not included in the bipartisan legislation, but congressional leaders felt more comfortable including the checks, which could range from $600 to $700, after cutting new aid to states and cities.  

Two former officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the Trump administration as “like a hand grasping” into the agency, writes the New York Times. Kyle McGowan and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, attest that political appointees at the White House obstructed career scientists by watering down their guidance to the public. “Every time that the science clashed with the [White House’s] messaging, messaging won,” McGowan said. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a rapid at-home coronavirus test, reports the Associated Press. The over-the-counter product will soon become available on drugstore shelves across the country, “where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” according to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s statement.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that the Trump administration is in talks with Pfizer to secure an additional 100 million vaccine doses from the company, writes Politico. The announcement follows blowback from a New York Times report that the Trump administration decided not to purchase an additional supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer months ago. Pfizer has promised to make 1.3 billion doses in 2021, a number that includes global distribution to fulfill deals made with other countries.

Federal prosecutors have charged a Kenyan man, Cholo Adbi Abdullah, for plotting a Sept. 11-style attack on a building in an American city, writes the New York Times. Abdullah, who is described as an operative for the al-Qaeda Somali affiliate al-Shabaab, allegedly trained as a pilot and took other steps in preparation to hijack a civil aircraft and conduct an attack on a U.S. city. Abdullah was extradited from the Philippines and is expected to be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan today.

The Verge reports that Facebook will start sending notifications to users who like, share or comment on posts containing COVID-19 misinformation. If the user clicks the notification, they will see a screenshot of the post and an explanation for why it was taken down. They will also see links to educational resources and an invitation to unfollow the user who posted the misinformation. 

As the female population in U.S. prisons has increased over the last few years, medical tragedies have mounted as jails are ill-equipped to provide necessary resources for incarcerated women, according to a Reuters investigation. Many female inmates are imprisoned while already suffering from mental health crises (at much higher rates than their male counterparts) and thousands arrive pregnant each year. In an analysis on data from more than 500 U.S. jails, Reuters found that from 2017 to 2019, 287 female inmates died in prison and the casualties disproportionately affect Black women.

The Treasury Department determined today that Switzerland and Vietnam are currency manipulators, writes the Wall Street Journal. The department accused the countries of engaging in persistent, one-sided operations in foreign markets to prevent their currencies from appreciating, as well as managing exchange rates to gain unfair leverage in global markets. Going forward, the U.S. will consult with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to see how Switzerland and Vietnam’s unfair currency practices can be addressed. The Journal notes that the U.S. has only ever designated three countries as currency manipulators: China in 1992 and 2019, although the label was removed in January 2020; and both Japan and Taiwan in the late 1980s.

The Hong Kong government's press releases and statements made show that the region’s government has increasingly adopted the authoritarian language of the Chinese Communist Party, according to Quartz. Experts note that subtle changes in official rhetoric are tied to attempts to reshape public opinion. Some also speculate that Hong Kong could have been ordered to echo Beijing’s phrasing and vocabulary in order to reflect synchronization between Beijing’s decision-making and policy implementation in Hong Kong.

A French court convicted 14 people today for their roles in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in 2015, writes Reuters. One of the accomplices, Hayat Boumeddiene, is believed to be alive and on the run and was tried in absentia. She was sentenced to thirty years in prison for financing terrorism. “The fact of choosing victims precisely because they were journalists, or a member of the security forces, or of Jewish faith, clearly demonstrates in itself their desire to sow terror in Western countries,” the presiding judge told the court. The trial for the 2015 massacre coincided in late October with the beheading of Samuel Paty, a schoolteacher who showed cartoons of the prophet Muhammed to his class. 

As Germany reported a record-high coronavirus death toll over the past week, the country is moving into a tightened lockdown that is expected to last until at least Jan. 10, according to France 24. The latest polls show that more than 80 percent of Germans either approve of the restrictive measures or think that they should be stricter.

Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), testified today before the Senate Homeland Security Committee about supposed “irregularities” in the 2020 election. According to PBS, President Trump fired the CISA director last month after Krebs vocally defended the integrity of the presidential election, calling it “the most secure in American history” in a Nov. 12 statement. The hearing comes two days after the Electoral College formally certified President-elect Biden’s win with 306 electoral votes. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Almudena Azcárate Ortega discussed whether the Artemis Accords bode well for international cooperation in outer space. 

Darrell West shared the latest episode of the TechTank podcast entitled “How Fair is the Gig Economy?” He spoke about the implications of the gig economy with guests Makada Henri Nicky and Aaron Klein. 

Jordan Schneider shared an episode of the ChinaTalk podcast featuring his interview with Wendy Cutler, who served 28 years in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. They explored how President-elect Biden could address China on trade issues. 

Mai el-Sadany examined how Egypt has been using counterterrorism tactics to silence legitimate dissent. 

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast. Alan Rozenshtein sat down with Yaya Fanusie, a former CIA analyst and an expert on the national security implications of cryptocurrencies, who recently published a paper as part of Lawfare's ongoing Digital Social Contract research paper series, entitled, "Central Bank Digital Currencies: The Threat From Money Launderers and How to Stop Them."

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