Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 18, 2021

Millions remain without power as another winter storm looms, conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh dies at 70, and more


Millions remain without power as another winter storm approaches

Utility crews rushed to restore power to nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S., most of them in Texas, after an extreme winter storm slammed states from the Southwest to the Northeast. At least 30 people have died in connection with the weather, which brought record cold to many areas. The weather also has disrupted water service to millions of Texans. Another storm front is moving in, bringing what is expected to be another blast of ice and snow that could cause further problems. "There's really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, in reference to the suffering underway in Texas. The single-digit temperatures that hit the state caused a surge in demand for heat that overwhelmed the power grid, cutting off electricity to millions of homes and businesses.


Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh dies at 70

Conservative talk-radio icon Rush Limbaugh died Wednesday from lung-cancer complications, his wife, Kathryn, announced on his syndicated show. "For over 32 years, Rush has cherished you, his loyal audience, and always looked forward to every single show," she said. Limbaugh announced his illness last February, also on his show. A day later, then-President Donald Trump awarded him the nation's highest civilian honor during the annual State of the Union address, "in recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day you speak to and that you inspire." The honor pleased the right but outraged critics on the left who said he promoted racism and homophobia. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Limbaugh a "violent racist," and President Biden, then running to unseat Trump, said Limbaugh had "done as much as Trump himself to divide our nation."


DOJ files theft charges against 3 North Korean hackers

The Justice Department on Wednesday unsealed charges against three North Korean hackers for allegedly orchestrating destructive cyberattacks, and stealing more than $1.3 billion from banks and businesses. Prosecutors said the defendants — Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyok — were part of North Korea's Reconnaissance General Bureau, a military intelligence agency. The men face charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud. "North Korea's operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world's leading 21st century nation-state bank robbers," said John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security.


Fauci: 'Non-workable' to keep schools closed until all teachers vaccinated

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that it was "non-workable" to "say that every single teacher needs to be vaccinated before you get back to school." The comments, which Fauci made on CBS This Morning, came as the Biden administration steps up efforts to reopen the nation's public schools, starting with elementary schools, as the winter surge in coronavirus cases and deaths ebbs. Fauci said Americans should not expect to see the virus eradicated, because it probably will continue to be present even after it stops causing widespread disruptions. "We need to plan that this is something we may need to maintain control over chronically," he said. "It may be something that becomes endemic, that we have to just be careful about."


South Carolina lawmakers ban nearly all abortions

The South Carolina House on Wednesday passed a bill banning nearly all abortions, joining several other Republican-dominated states seeking to tighten abortion restrictions and give the newly bolstered conservative majority on the Supreme Court opportunities to overturn Roe v. Wade. The bill, which was approved overwhelmingly, has to go through one more procedural vote on Thursday before going to Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, for his signature, which he has promised to provide quickly. The state Senate approved the legislation in late January. The bill requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat using ultrasounds, and outlaws abortions when one is found except in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or if the pregnant woman's life is in danger.


Pfizer, Moderna vaccines show lower effectiveness against South Africa strain

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines showed reduced effectiveness against the new, more infectious strain first detected in South Africa, according to a Wednesday report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccines appeared to mobilize antibodies needed to neutralize the coronavirus, but researchers don't know what level of neutralization is necessary to protect people against the variant. Pfizer said the shot appeared to generate enough antibodies to neutralize the new strain, but that it was working on a booster shot to better fight it. The news came ahead of a U.S. government report released Thursday showing that life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic hit. Life expectancy in the Black population fell by 2.7 years.


Psaki says Biden supports study to consider slavery reparations

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden supports a study on whether descendants of enslaved people should receive reparations. Psaki said Biden remains committed to taking "comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today." Reparations have been used to pay Japanese Americans interned during World War II and families of Holocaust survivors. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in January reintroduced a bill seeking to fund the study of "slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies." The bill was discussed in a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday. College Football Hall of Famer Herschel Walker, a Republican, spoke against the proposal. "My religion teaches togetherness. Reparations teaches separation," he said.


Federal agents seize 10 million fake N95 masks

Over the last few weeks, federal agents have seized more than 10 million counterfeit 3M brand N95 masks. The masks have not been tested to see if they meet N95 standards, Homeland Security officials said on Wednesday, and could harm first responders treating COVID-19 patients. "Not only do they give a false sense of security, how dangerous is the exposed individual without any protective gear?" Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas said. "They have no utility whatsoever." 3M is one of the largest producers of the N95 mask, and some hospitals and medical facilities that are desperate for personal protective equipment have been going around the normal supply chain and end up dealing with scammers. Investigators have contacted about 6,000 possible victims in more than a dozen states to ask them to stop using the masks they have.


Naomi Osaka defeats Serena Williams to reach Australian Open final

Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams on Thursday in the Australian Open semifinals, 6-3, 6-4, to advance to Saturday's final. The third-seeded Japanese tennis star will playing for her fourth Grand Slam championship against 22nd-seeded American Jennifer Brady. Williams, 39, was shooting for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, so the loss left her still one behind Margaret Court. Osaka, 23, has always been open about her admiration for Williams, whom she also beat in the 2018 U.S. Open final. "I was a little kid watching her play," Osaka said about Williams after Thursday's match, "and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream."


Prince Philip hospitalized after 'feeling unwell'

Britain's Prince Philip has been hospitalized in London after "feeling unwell," Buckingham Palace announced Wednesday. The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II was admitted to London's King Edward VII Hospital on Tuesday evening as "a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness's doctor," the palace said in a statement. His condition was not related to COVID-19. He and the queen were vaccinated last month. Prince Philip was previously hospitalized in December 2019. That time, Buckingham Palace said he needed treatment for a pre-existing condition. He was admitted to the hospital due to a blocked coronary artery in 2011 and for a hip replacement in 2018. He was also hospitalized with an infection in 2017.


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