Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Anna Salvatore
Friday, December 18, 2020, 2:47 PM

States will receive far fewer Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines than they anticipated next week, reports the Washington Post. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior government official said that next week’s shipment is smaller because states asked for an expedited timeline for reserving their vaccine orders. Pfizer released its own contradictory statement, claiming that “we have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

According to CNN, Vice President Mike Pence received the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on camera this morning as part of the federal government’s efforts to build public confidence in the vaccine. "I didn't feel a thing. Well done, and we appreciate your service to the country," Pence said in remarks afterwards. In a recent study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, results show that 71 percent of Americans are willing to take the coronavirus vaccine, while about 27 percent are hesitant due to concerns about side effects and government trustworthiness. The study also indicates that 35 percent of Black adults say they definitely or probably won’t get vaccinated.

President Trump plans to issue several pardons today, reports Axios. Previous reporting indicates that the president may be considering preemptive pardons of his family members in the fear that President-elect Biden’s Justice Department will prosecute them. (Biden has vowed that his Justice Department will be independent of the White House.) Trump has also mulled pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

President-elect Biden vowed to impose “substantial costs” on the hackers who breached U.S. government agencies, reports the New York Times. Microsoft announced yesterday that it had identified 40 government agencies, think tanks and private companies that were victims of the cyberassault, including nuclear laboratories in the Pentagon and email accounts at the State Department. Russia is widely suspected of waging the attack.

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller told Pentagon officials to postpone scheduled transition meetings with President-elect Biden’s team, according to Axios. Miller’s decision reportedly surprised his colleagues throughout the Pentagon, although a senior Defense Department official maintains that meetings will continue after the holidays.

The Supreme Court ruled that a challenge to President Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census countwas premature, writes the Associated Press. “Consistent with our determination that standing has not been shown and that the case is not ripe, we express no view on the merits of the constitutional and related statutory claims presented,” the Court said in an unsigned opinion. Joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, Justices Breyer argued that the Trump administration’s efforts were plainly unlawful, and “I believe this Court should say so.”

What went wrong with the New York Times’ Caliphate podcast? In a lengthy post-mortem, the paper describes how a Canadian national repeatedly lied to Times podcasters about being a member of the Islamic State. Shehroze Chaudhry, the main figure on the show, had never visited Syria, much less served as an executioner of the terrorist group’s captives. In October, Lawfare’s Jacob Schulz interviewed Leah West, a lecturer at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, and Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University, about the charges that Chaudhry faced in Canada for faking his involvement in the Islamic State.

As different interest groups lobby for their favored Cabinet nominees, President-elect Biden is increasingly vocal about defending the diversity of his picks. The Washington Post reports on the transition team’s internal deliberations, describing how the team has compiled a database of more than 45,000 potential hires. David Marchick, director of the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, calls Biden’s transition process “wickedly organized,” adding that “future transition teams, Republican and Democratic will be studying their model.”

COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Marshall Islanders in the U.S., writes Politico. People from the Pacific island chain are disproportionately obese or diabetic, meaning that they are one of the highest-risk populations for the virus. They also tend to live in multi-generational households and to work factory jobs in the Midwest and the South. "You put just these two things together, it's a recipe for contagion—and the cases are going to be a hell of a lot more severe, because of the prevalence of other conditions,” said Tim Halliday, a University of Hawaii professor.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has placed DJI—one of the world’s largest drone manufacturers—on a list of companies that threaten national security, reports the Verge. The action will ban U.S. companies from exporting technology to the Chinese drone-maker, and it may restrict U.S. companies’ ability to sell drones in the domestic market. The U.S. accuses DJI of “[enabling] wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Rohini Kurup shared a federal grand jury’s indictment of six men for conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Amy Robinson and Jim Waldo explained the inherent limitations of contact-tracing apps.

Alvaro Marañon shared the intelligence community’s joint statement announcing a Cyber Unified Coordination Group to respond to the SolarWinds Orion hack.

Alex Engler suggested how President-elect Biden can combat misinformation on social media platforms.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of The Lawfare Podcast entitled “No One Expects the Spanish Disinformation.” As part of Lawfare’s Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic interviewed Jaime Longoria—an investigative journalist at First Draft—about the longstanding presence of mis-and-disinformation in the Spanish-speaking world.

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