Current Events

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Current Events

The Bottom Line

Bipartisan lawmakers raise questions about a $1.9 trillion economic “rescue plan” by the new White House.

What To Know
Why It Matters

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“Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in.”

Pres. Biden's National Economic Council Director Brian Deese. The $1.9 trillion proposal includes some elements, but different price tags, from previous plans: $1400 stimulus checks for those within a certain income level, $350 billion for states and local areas, and added unemployment benefits.
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“There are still a lot of unanswered questions, most notably, how did the administration come up with $1.9 trillion dollars required, given that our figures show that there’s still about $1.8 trillion left to be spent.”

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Prior to this economic proposal, lawmakers have already passed $3+ trillion in stimulus.
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“This may end up hurting the exact people we’re trying to help more than anyone else.”

Chief investment strategist of the Leuthold Group, Jim Paulsen, on the potential impact of too much stimulus money leading to unintended consequences (like inflation). Paulsen worries “the overuse and abuse of economic policy” could lead to a recession in 2022 or 2023.
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BIG PICTURE

  • America remains 10 million jobs short since the pandemic began.
  • Overall, although challenged, American consumers continue to save *and* spend their money.
  • While certain industries have been negatively impacted (hospitality), others have thrived (housing).
  • Economic recovery is important. A large sum of stimulus *will* have impact. The question: Is the stimulus needed NOW & in this AMOUNT?
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“This isn’t Monopoly money. Every dollar that we’re talking about here is being borrowed from our grandchildren. We have a responsibility to be stewards," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses w/ the Democrats. The Biden admin says it wants a vote on the stimulus bill in the next week or so, prior to the impeachment trial.

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Current Events

What we’ve learned & the questions still unanswered two weeks after the historic Capitol Hill riot.

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“This is an unprecedented incident. If this investigation was a football game, we’d still be in the first quarter.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono speaking last week. As the many investigations continue, law enforcement has requested the public's assistance. To date, the FBI alone has received countless tips and over 140,000 photos and videos.
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Aftermath

  • Ongoing investigations by U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. police, & federal agencies, including DHS, DOD, DOJ, and FBI.
  • U.S. Capitol Police Chief resigned, and several officers are suspended pending investigations into their actions.
  • Five died from their injuries, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
  • Over 270 suspects identified by law enforcement and at least 125 charged in federal courts.
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Perpetrators

  • Named defendants include a mother & son, off-duty police officers, a New Mexico elected official, and an Army reservist who works at a Navy base.
  • Also charged are many of those seen in widely circulated photos & videos, including a self-proclaimed white supremacist, the “QAnon Shaman” (the guy wearing horns), and the men who sat in the chairs of Vice President Mike Pence & House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
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Charges

Charges vary, but include the following:

  • Assault of federal law enforcement officers (with & w/o a deadly weapon)
  • Violent entry & disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds
  • Obstructing law enforcement during civil disorder
  • Theft of gov’t property; theft of public money, property, or records
  • Civil disorder
  • Conspiracy
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Unanswered Questions

The many lingering unknowns include:

  • Why were law enforcement seemingly unprepared, understaffed & slow to respond?
  • Was there a coordinated attack plan? If so, who organized it, how many were a part of it (vs. rally attendees), and was there a specific goal or target(s)?
  • What, if any, assistance or guidance did the perpetrators get, and from whom?
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BIG PICTURE: Although the number of criminal cases are increasing daily, the legal proceedings are still in very early stages. As the numerous investigations continue and new information develops, we expect to learn a lot more in the days and weeks to come.

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Current Events

Birthday Backstory

He’s one of only two Americans we celebrate with a federal holiday.

How Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national celebration.

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Timeline

  • Martin Luther King Jr. born Jan. 15, 1929.
  • The pastor, civil rights leader & youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (at 35) was killed in 1968, at 39.
  • Four days after his death, Rep. John Conyers Jr., a trailblazing African-American congressman, began advocating to make MLK’s birthday a federal holiday. He presented the bill every Congress until it was established in 1983.
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How Did It Gain Support?

  • 1979: Pres. Carter publicly pledged support; Coretta Scott King, MLK’s widow, began lobbying Congress for the holiday – but the first vote failed.
  • 1983: Momentum gathered. Hundreds of thousands gathered in D.C. to mark 20 yrs since the March on Washington (when King made his famous “I have a dream…” speech). Congress passed the holiday into law.
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“Dr. King’s was truly a prophetic voice that reached out over the chasms of hostility, prejudice, ignorance, and fear to touch the conscience of America. He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”

Pres. Ronald Reagan on January 18, 1986, on observing the first MLK holiday - three years after Congress approved the holiday bill.
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Why It Matters

Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington are the only Americans to have a national holiday observed in their honor.

While the federal holiday passed in 1983, it took longer for all the states to *also* celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In 1999, New Hampshire was the last state to pass legislation to recognize the day.

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Stevie Wonder wrote his famous song “Happy Birthday” in 1980 and released it as a rallying cry for the promotion of the holiday. Though MLK Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, his birthday is celebrated on the third Monday in January in order to remain consistent with other federal holidays.

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Current Events

Historical Context
For Historic Times

As Congress gets ready to vote on whether to impeach President Trump (for the second time), a look at how past is precedent.

 

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“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. The founders purposely left "high crimes" open-ended for Congress to decide. Consequently, the power of removing the U.S. president falls to the people's representatives.
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How It Works:

  • The House of Representatives can vote for impeachment, but only the Senate can convict.
  • House Judiciary Cmte. drafts “articles of impeachment” (charges); simple majority is needed to impeach in the House.
  • The Senate holds impeachment proceedings (trial). Conviction (removal from office) requires a 2/3 supermajority (67 of 100).
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Big Picture

  • 11 U.S. presidents faced at least one impeachment resolution in the House of Representatives.
  • Resolutions differed depending on the president, and some never became serious movements by the House to *actually* impeach the president.
  • In 2019, Pres. Trump became the third president to be impeached by the House.
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Pres. Andrew Johnson

  • Impeached by House in 1868, but avoided removal from office by a single Senate vote.
  • Aftermath: Johnson served out the remainder of his term as president and was later re-elected to the Senate.
  • Context: Pres. Johnson was the first president impeached by the House. 25 years earlier, Pres. Tyler was the first president to face an impeachment attempt by Congress; it quickly failed.
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Pres. Bill Clinton

  • Impeached by House in 1998 for obstruction of justice & perjury in connection with his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and was acquitted in Senate.
  • Aftermath: Served two+ years after impeachment. Republicans lost public support – and House seats – during the impeachment process.
  • Context: Neither the House nor the Senate vote fell on entirely partisan lines.
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Pres. Richard Nixon

  • In 1974, the House Judiciary Cmte. approved impeachment articles for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress – all connected to the Watergate scandal.
  • Aftermath: Days later, the president resigned ahead of a full House vote.
  • Context: Pres. Nixon is the *only* U.S. president in history to resign.
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After the House votes, what happens next? After the House voted in 2019 to impeach Pres. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the Senate began its trial about one month later. The President was acquitted by the Senate.

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Current Events

Rising Tensions, Tough Questions

During a divisive time in American politics, recent moves by Iran spark alarm among U.S. leaders on both sides of the aisle.

What’s Happening
Why It Matters

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BIG PICTURE

  • Iran: long considered an adversary of the U.S. and its interests.
  • The U.S. designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984; this designation has remained through Republican & Democratic administrations.
  • In addition to other sanctions, this designation restricts foreign aid and enables policies against those supporting or facilitating acts of terror.
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What’s Happening

  • Iran announced a clear move towards developing nuclear weapons last week despite a 2015 multinational “nuclear deal” that limited their program. European nations remain in the deal; the U.S. withdrew in 2018.
  • Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker last week, holding approx. 20 sailors. Iran accuses South Korea of holding its funds “hostage;” South Korea froze Iran’s assets as part of U.S. sanctions.

 

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Timing Matters

  • Iran’s nuclear announcement comes a year after America targeted and killed a high-profile Iranian general.
  • Dec. 20: Iranian-backed militia attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad: “While this 21 rocket attack caused no U.S. injuries or casualties, the attack did damage buildings in the U.S. Embassy compound, and was clearly NOT intended to avoid casualties.” U.S. CentCom
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“No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America.”

Acting Sec. of Defense Chris Miller, Jan. 3, 2021 - announcing the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz will "halt" its return home only days after announcing the end of the ship's nearly 10-month deployment, citing "recent threats issued by Iranian leaders.” The Associated Press reported the U.S. recently deployed B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to “caution" the Iranian regime against potential attacks.
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“A rogue president who sought vengeance against his OWN people has been doing much worse to our people—and others—in the past 4 years. What’s disturbing is that the same man has the UNCHECKED authority to start a nuclear war; a security concern for the entire int’l community.”

Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran Javad Zarif, re: Pres. Trump, on January 7, 2021.
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What's the way forward? 97-year-old fmr. Sec. of State Henry Kissinger, experienced as a consultant for both Republicans and Democrats, advises the Biden administration to stay the course. Read the article, making news around the world, on our source page.

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Current Events

Some believe it will revolutionize the way we treat illness, including cancer & COVID.

The innovations & limitations of a cutting-edge vaccine technology as the FDA considers another mRNA vaccine for emergency use.

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mRNA

  • mRNA: messenger ribonucleic acid
  • mRNA plays a role in how our cells synthesize proteins, which are key building blocks for life.
  • mRNA vaccines deliver a code or blueprint to our cells on how to produce a non-infectious viral protein (a unique part of the virus “shell”).
  • Like a factory, our bodies produce this viral protein, identify it as an “intruder” and build immunity against it.
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“With traditional vaccines, you have to do a lot of development. You need a big factory to make the protein, or the virus, and it takes a long time to grow them. The beauty of mRNA is that you don’t need that.”

Scientist, inventor and M.I.T. professor Dr. Robert Langer started researching mRNA vaccine technology in the 1970s and is a co-founder of the drugmaker Moderna, which has produced an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
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Why This Is Different

  • Traditional vaccines use a small amount of an actual virus to spark an immune response. mRNA vaccines do not.
  • Once the genetic sequence of a virus is available, scientists can quickly isolate a viral protein to develop a vaccine.
  • Although rare, a person receiving *certain* vaccines could become temporarily contagious. Since there’s no actual virus in the mRNA vaccine, contagion is not a concern.
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Limitations

  • mRNA vaccines have never been approved for human use. One reason: Past human trials have not shown enduring immunity. We don’t know the exact length or quality of immunity of any COVID vaccine at this time.
  • We have no long-term data on use of this vaccine technology.
  • If it overheats, it becomes ineffective. Many vaccines need refrigeration; mRNA vaccines need special freezers.
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“The primary purpose of many vaccines is harm reduction. This is the best way to consider the latest COVID mRNA vaccines – as an aid to reduce the severity of clinical illness in America.”

Dr. Jessica Whittle, Dir. of Research, Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Univ. of Tennessee College of Medicine. Past mRNA vaccines were studied for SARS & MERS. Dr. Whittle says this is one reason mRNA COVID-19 vaccine development was possible for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
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To consider: Prior mRNA vaccine studies have not revealed major safety issues. The FDA's advisory board will review Moderna's mRNA vaccine for emergency use authorization on Dec. 18th. This technology continues to be studied in other areas, including cancer: “I was actually witnessing the cancer cells shrinking before my eyes."

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Current Events

New analysis on the first COVID-19 vaccine considered for Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA.

Here’s what we know.

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What It Is:

  • A two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
  • Developed using messenger RNA technology (mRNA); gives the body a genetic blueprint to build a viral protein in order to teach the body what to later identify and protect against.
  • Commonly called “the Pfizer vaccine,” though development started in early January by the founders of a German company, BioNTech, who feared COVID-19 would spread worldwide.
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Does It Work?

Based on analysis released by the FDA:

  • Early data suggests benefits after first dose and 95% efficacy of preventing COVID-19 after two doses.
  • “…suggested benefit of the vaccine in preventing severe COVID-19, in preventing COVID-19 following the first dose, and in preventing COVID-19 in individuals with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection…”
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Who Was Tested:

  • 44,000 participants overall.
  • Ages range from 12 to 75 yrs old & up.
  • Participants during Stage 1 “excluded participants at high risk of SARS-CoV-2 infections.”
  • Phase 2/3 expanded to those higher risk, with preexisting conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Phase 2/3 ratio of men:women was nearly even. Most participants (82%) were white. Median age: 51.

 

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Safety

“….no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA.”

Data was gleaned from approx. 38,000 participants 16 years & older over a median follow-up duration of two months after their second dose.
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What Reactions Did People Commonly Have?

  • injection site reactions (84.1%);
  • fatigue (62.9%);
  • headache (55.1%);
  • muscle pain (38.3%);
  • chills (31.9%);
  • joint pain (23.6%);
  • fever (14.2%).

*Reactions were more prevalent in younger participants, rather than older.*

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PREGNANCY

“Pregnancy outcomes are otherwise unknown at this time.”

  • Women were given pregnancy tests before participating in trial and excluded if pregnant.
  • 23 pregnancies occurred during trial (12 in women who received the vaccine, 11 in placebo group) and the study will be “collecting outcomes” of these pregnancies.

 

Current Events

The mRNA technology used to create this vaccine has never been approved for use against infectious diseases or licensed in the United States -- for emergency use authorization (EUA) or otherwise. An advisory panel will recommend whether or not to grant EUA to this vaccine on Thursday Dec. 10.

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Current Events

A federal court *just* ordered the U.S. government to restore a program granting protection to some who arrived in America illegally as children.

Here’s what to know:

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DACA

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
  • The 2012 Obama-era program allows *some* who came to U.S. illegally before age 16 to temporarily “defer” their illegal status and also obtain social security numbers & work permits IF they meet certain qualifications (i.e. graduated from high school, no felony convictions, U.S. residence since 2007).
  • DACA does *not* provide for a pathway to citizenship.
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LEGAL LOOK BACK

  • 2017: Pres. Trump ends DACA.
  • 2018: Federal court halts his policy, ordering DHS to resume accepting DACA renewal applications. Legal battles continue.
  • June 2020: U.S. Supreme Court rules the U.S. gov’t didn’t comply with a requirement that it give a “reasoned explanation” for its decision to rescind DACA, finding the decision “arbitrary and capricious” under federal law.
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LEGAL LATEST

  • November 2020: A federal judge ruled the acting DHS secretary’s July memo rejecting new applications was invalid b/c his appointment was improper.
  • December 2020: The same federal judge ruled the 600K+ current DACA recipients can continue to apply for renewals AND ordered DHS to accept new DACA applications.
  • This marks the first time new applicants may apply for DACA since 2017.
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“DHS wholly disagrees with this decision by yet another activist judge acting from his own policy preferences. Judge Garaufis’s latest decision, similar to his earlier inaccurate ruling, is clearly not sound law or logic … We will abide by this decision while we work with (the Justice Department) on next steps to appeal.”

DHS spokesman Chase Jennings.
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“Today’s ruling opens the door for more than one million immigrant youth who have been unfairly denied their chance to apply for DACA and secure their future in this country. Our brave plaintiffs have said from the beginning of this lawsuit that their home is here, and the court rightly recognized that today.”

Karen Tumlin, a lawyer representing DACA applicants and recipients.
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NOW WHAT? Unclear. The Trump admin. is expected to appeal the ruling. A separate lawsuit led by Texas aiming to undo DACA is making its way through the federal courts. Immigration reform continues to be a heated issue for both parties, but major policy changes have come via executive action in recent years.

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The People’s Tree

“We were not canceling Christmas. We were going to figure out a way to do it, one way or the other.”

The backstory & triumph of
the 2020 Capitol Christmas Tree.

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Backstory

  • 1964: A former Speaker of the House planted a LIVE Christmas tree on the lawn outside the Capitol – it only survived 4 Christmas seasons, but ignited a tradition!
  • 1970: The U.S. Forest Service started providing the tree that comes from a different national forest every year.
  • Criteria: 60-90 ft. tall, “good growth and density,” and “rich in color.” Viewed 360 degrees, it can have no bad sides!
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Finding The Perfect Tree

  • This year’s tree comes from Colorado.
  • Usually chosen in person, this year’s selection process was described as “online dating” – with photos and video sent back and forth to find the perfect tree.
  • The Engelmann spruce stands more than five stories high.
  • Dozens of smaller “companion” trees are also sent to the U.S. Capitol for decoration and celebration.
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“I just thought about all the peace and love and potential for respect, communication, goodwill toward men, Americans and the whole world… And so I came to give it my prayers.”

Colorado resident Lindi Mereness who came to pay her respects to the Colorado spruce that traveled cross-country, wrapped and lying on the bed of a truck, to Washington D.C. to become the Capitol Christmas Tree.
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The National Park Service member who found this tree will plant a new one in its place; he's also responsible for planting 90,000 new trees in Colorado next year. The Capitol Christmas tree will feature thousands of handmade ornaments from children in its native state - this is why it earned the nickname "the People's Tree."

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Current Events

How one small action by a government official you may not be familiar with just led to a noteworthy development in the 2020 presidential race.

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What Is USGSA?

U.S. General Services Administration

Think of this agency like a huge office manager for the federal government, with oversight over real estate, office space, technology and supplies.

An important function: “ascertain” (not name or choose) who the next administration will be and facilitate the transition to a new team.

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Backstory:

  • The head of the GSA, Emily Murphy, did not “ascertain” the presidency was won by fmr. VP Joe Biden when media outlets initially called the race based on state results.
  • Many, incl. Republican & Democrat lawmakers, pressured her to do so based on preliminary election results.
  • Nov. 23: Murphy announced “based on the law and available facts” that VP Biden is the “apparent winner.”
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“…in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Pres. Trump on the announcement by the GSA administrator. The GSA does not need approval from the U.S. President to begin the early process of a transition to a new administration; the power to do so belongs to the GSA under federal law. The Electoral College will *officially* vote for Pres. on Dec. 14th.
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Why This Matters:

Practically: This development by the GSA releases $6+ million to the Biden transition team to hire staff members and start preparing their new administration.

Symbolically: This is the first “nod” from the Trump administration that VP Joe Biden is the projected winner of the 2020 election.

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On this day, Michigan certified its election results, declaring VP Joe Biden the winner. VP Biden has begun announcing team members he intends to nominate, including high-profile members of his cabinet. While Pres. Trump voiced his support for the GSA, he has yet to officially concede.

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Current Events

News of a U.S. troop drawdown overseas comes under controversy here at home.

Here’s what to know

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The Latest

The Pentagon announced U.S. troop levels will be reduced in Afghanistan and Iraq – leaving roughly 2500 troops in each country.

U.S. troops will continue to “defend” embassies and “the other agencies of the U.S. gov’t doing important work…They’ll defend our diplomats and they’ll deter our foes.” White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien

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“I believe these additional reductions of American troops from terrorist areas are a mistake… (The Taliban have) done nothing — met no condition — that would justify this cut.”

Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, on the troop drawdown -- from an est. 4,500 soldiers in Afghanistan to 2,500, & from an est. 3,000 troops to 2,500 in Iraq. The U.S. has held "peace talks" w/the Taliban & Afghan gov't.
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Context To Consider:
Afghanistan

  • The Taliban currently control more territory than at any point in the war.
  • The Taliban provided “safe haven” to al-Qaeda to train and plan the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Reports: The relationship between the two groups remains strong.
  • The Islamic State has also made inroads in Afghanistan (at odds w/the Taliban).
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Context to Consider: Iraq

“Our goal is to keep ISIS at a level where ultimately they’ll be able to be handled by local security elements with minimal assistance from any other entity — to include external entities like the coalition, NATO, or us.”

Gen. Frank McKenzie, U.S. Central Command in September, continuing that Iraq was a "little ways away from that" but improved from past years.
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The Timeline

  • Pres. Trump promised to reduce American troops overseas as part of his platform to end “endless wars.”
  • According to the Pentagon’s announcement, troops would return home by January 15th – 5 days before inauguration day for the next presidential term.
  • This move may present a challenge to an administration pursuing a different strategy.
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Why This Matters:

  • Thousands of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq & Afghanistan. Tens of thousands injured. Millions of American families impacted by deployments.
  • Debate continues about how the U.S. can best confront, defend against & ultimately destroy Islamic terrorism.
  • Lingering question: What does it take to win? What’s the most effective use of U.S. forces?
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Early reports from Iraq: two rockets were fired at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after news of the drawdown was announced. Read more about why on our source page and see our stories on Afghanistan & Iraq over the last several years - including how the pandemic has impacted U.S. strategy to bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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Current Events

Hope Vs. Caution

In the same 24 hours, we heard of a “light at the end of the tunnel” and a warning of a “dark winter.”

What to know about a vaccine, a therapeutic, and new revelations on COVID-19 in America.

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“Positive but Preliminary”

  • Pfizer (U.S. drugmaker) & BioNTech (German drugmaker) partnered to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Results from 94 participants of a large, late-stage trial show 90% efficacy of protecting against the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • We can’t pick through the data – it’s not published. An independent team of experts (outside Pfizer) analyzed results.
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“It seems to be a proof of principle that we can make a vaccine, that it can make an immune response, that it does look safe in individuals that have been studied so far and that it actually works in the real world to protect against Covid.”

Dr. Buddy Creech, Dir. of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program. Pfizer says it will appeal regulators for approval before the end of November, when it has reached the 2-month mark for safety data required by the FDA.
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“Another Potential Tool”

  • An antibody treatment by drugmaker Eli Lilly received the FDA’s emergency use authorization: “Bamlanivimab
  • Available for use only in specific situations: high-risk patients over the age of 12 with a mild to moderate case of COVID-19.
  • Not approved for hospitalized patients – in fact, the FDA says it may do more harm than good in severe cases.
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Meanwhile…

  • U.S. continues to set daily records for COVID-19 cases, with more than 100,000 new cases per day; hospitalizations, deaths, & lagging effects of infection also have increased.
  • Despite efforts to protect the most vulnerable, nursing home cases have quadrupled between May and October.
  • New study: About 1 in 10 of hospitalized COVID patients readmitted in days following first admission/release.
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“Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.”

Researcher Tamara Konetzka of the University of Chicago says protecting the vulnerable ultimately relies on those living and working outside a nursing home; when community spread increases, the threat rises to the elderly despite increased testing and best efforts.
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What is like to be part of a COVID-19 trial? We have a first hand account! A series of other companies have developed a vaccine in a similar way to Pfizer with relatively new technology - It's called an MRNA vaccine. No MRNA vaccine has been approved...ever. Read more on both on our source page.

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