Congress passes COVID relief at last; see what’s in it – National & International News – TUE 22Dec2020 Congress nearing CARES agreement

Congress passes COVID relief at last. Russian agent “poisoned” Kremlin foe’s underpants. DOJ charges Lockerbie suspect 32 years after plane bombing. That and more below…


Congress set to pass nearly $1 trillion in COVID relief

After 8 long months and a host of missed deadlines, Congress now looks set to sign off on a COVID stimulus package. The $900 billion package falls short of what many believe is needed to prop up the ailing economy and bring millions of Americans back from the brink of financial ruin. That said, there is some good stuff in there, including: a renewed eviction moratorium, $25 billion for rent and utility payment assistance, $300/week unemployment bonuses, $600 direct stimulus checks and funds for vaccine distribution.

One provision that will have a lasting and positive effect brings an end to the long-standing problem of “surprise” medical billing. Under the new legislation, insured patients will only need to pay in-network costs when forced to use an out-of-network medical provider. This averts disastrous “surprise” bills, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

You can find a fuller list of what’s in the bill by clicking here (opens in new tab).


Army scientists investigate whether new COVID strain is resistant to vaccines

Researchers at Walter Reed are studying the efficacy of COVID vaccines against a new strain that has created a panic in Europe and the UK. The new strain, dubbed VUI-202012/01, has been circulating in the UK since at least September. The mutation carries a larger viral load and may be 70% more infectious than regular COVID-19, but does not appear to be more deadly. The discovery has sparked new lockdowns in the UK. In the last two days, at least 27 countries have banned flights and travelers from the UK in hopes of limiting the spread.

Scientists have raised concerns that VUI-202012/01 shows a mutation of the spike protein. The spike protein plays a role in allowing the virus to attach to human cells and is the component of the virus specifically targeted by current vaccines. This has raised questions as to whether the new vaccines will be effective in protecting people from infection by VUI-202012/01. Nelson Michael of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the Walter Reed says, “It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look”.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).



Alexei Navalny: Russian agent put poison in Kremlin foe’s underpants

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has released recordings and transcripts of a phone conversation between himself and a man purported to be Russian agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev. The investigative group Bellingcat claims Navalny impersonated a senior member of FSB (the Russian spy agency) and phoned Kudryavtsev from a number disguised as an FSB landline. During this conversation, Navalny duped the agent into revealing details of a mission to poison Navalny. Kudryavtsev said that he had placed Novichok, a Soviet nerve agent, in Navalny’s underpants while he was visiting a city in Siberia. The operation failed, Kudryavtsev said, because Navalny was able to receive immediate medical attention after falling ill on a flight back to Moscow. Kudryavtsev then confiscated Navalny’s clothes and removed all traces of the poison.

Last week, Bellingcat reported that FSB agents had tailed Navalny for years before the attempt on his life. Russian President Vladimir Putin simultaneously dismissed the report and justified the FSB’s tail of Navalny. Russian officials have denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning. They have variously claimed either that Navalny poisoned himself or that he wasn’t poisoned at all.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


DOJ charges Lockerbie suspect 32 years after plane bombing

In December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 took off from London for New York with 259 souls aboard. Among them were 190 American citizens, including 30 exchange students headed home for Christmas. Less than an hour later, the aircraft exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing everyone aboard as well as 11 people on the ground. The attack remains the UK’s deadliest ever terrorist incident and the second deadliest air attack in US history.

Three years after the tragedy, William Barr, then Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush, issued arrest warrants for two Libyan suspects in the bombing. In 1999, Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi finally handed the men over for trial. One was exonerated, but the other, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was convicted. A Scottish court later released Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009.

While Gaddafi officially accepted responsibility for the attack in 2003, he denied having ordered it. Gaddafi later met a brutal end in the 2011 Libyan uprising.

New charges

Yesterday, Barr, now Trump’s Attorney General, came full circle by announcing charges against a third suspect, Abu Agila Mohammad Masud. Masud is currently in Libyan custody and has apparently admitted to building the bomb that killed a total of 270 people. He also claims Gaddafi personally thanked him at the time “for the successful attack on the United States”. Barr is “confident” that the Libyan government will hand Masud over for trial in the US.

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