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10 things you need to know today: February 23, 2021

Biden honors 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, Supreme Court lets prosecutors obtain Trump tax records, and more 


Biden honors 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19

President Biden addressed the nation on Monday evening to honor the 500,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the United States, on the day the nation officially surpassed the once unthinkable toll. "That's more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth," Biden said. "But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived." The president observed a moment of silence and candle-lighting ceremony at the White House, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris. Earlier in the day, Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at federal buildings for the rest of the week. Biden's focus on the magnitude of the loss from the pandemic marked a contrast with the posture of former President Donald Trump, who frequently downplayed the severity of the crisis.


Supreme Court allows New York prosecutor to obtain Trump's tax returns

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected former President Donald Trump's appeal to prevent prosecutors in Manhattan from getting access to his tax returns and other financial records as they investigate possible financial crimes. The ruling, with no dissents noted, marked a decisive defeat for Trump. Last summer, the high court rejected Trump's argument that state prosecutors could not investigate a sitting president, clearing the way for the Democratic Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., to pursue the case. Monday's decision promised to give him access to key documents in the inquiry into whether Trump and his company manipulated property values to get bank loans and tax benefits. "The work continues," Vance said.


Garland says prosecutions over Capitol attack will be 1st priority

Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland said in the first day of his confirmation hearing on Monday that his first priority would be to investigate and prosecute people who participated in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. Garland, a federal appeals court judge whose Supreme Court nomination by then-President Barack Obama was blocked by Republicans, also said that if confirmed he would focus on stamping out a rising threat of domestic terrorism that he likened to past threats like the Ku Klux Klan and Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. "We are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City at that time," Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Garland is expected to be confirmed.


Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of Pennsylvania ballot ruling

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not consider an appeal by Republicans seeking to reverse a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that let election officials in the state count ballots received up to three days after Election Day. Lawyers for Republicans had sought to disqualify the ballots, saying the state court overstepped its authority by allowing late ballots to accommodate challenges associated with holding the vote during the coronavirus pandemic. Three conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch — dissented, arguing that the court should have heard the case and used it to provide guidance in future elections. In October, the high court denied a request to accelerate its review of the case. There were about 10,000 ballots at stake in the case, not enough to affect President Biden's victory in the state.


Facebook, Australia reach deal on media payment law, ending news blockade

Facebook said on Tuesday that it would restore access to Australian news pages after a week-long standoff over proposed legislation seeking to make tech companies pay for media content posted on their platforms. Facebook last week blocked Australian users from posting and sharing news content in response to the legislation. The social media company, which faced criticism from publishers and the government, lifted the ban after negotiating changes to the proposed law. The revisions include the addition of a proposed mandatory arbitration mechanism when tech giants can't reach an agreement on fair payment to publishers for the display of their news content. The deal was reached after talks between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


U.K. unveils 'road map' for lifting coronavirus restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that England's schools would reopen on March 8 as part of an easing of coronavirus prevention measures. Johnson's "road map" for the reopening also included a plan to let people socialize outdoors starting at the end of March. The plan calls for keeping pubs, restaurants, retail shops, and gyms closed in England for at least one more month as a vaccination campaign continues. "We're setting out on what I hope is a one-way journey to freedom," Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons. "This journey is made possible by the success of the vaccine program." Johnson said sticking to the timeline will require continuing success for the vaccine program and continuing reductions in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths.


El Chapo's wife arrested in Virginia on drug charges

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was arrested Monday at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on international drug trafficking charges, the Department of Justice said. Coronel Aispuro, 31, is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, and has been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana in the U.S. She has also been accused of helping Guzman escape from a Mexican prison in 2015, The Associated Press reports, with court papers alleging that Coronel Aispuro worked with Guzman's sons, and a person now cooperating with the U.S. government, to construct a tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison. Guzman led the Sinaloa Cartel for 25 years, and in 2019 was convicted of trafficking drugs into the United States; he was sentenced to life in prison.


Independent inquiry: Police shouldn't have restrained Elijah McClain

Aurora, Colorado, police had no legal justification for stopping and using a chokehold on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died in 2019 after officers responding to a call about a suspicious person restrained him, a report by independent investigators released Monday concluded. Paramedics sedated him with ketamine. McClain suffered cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. He was taken off life support several days after the encounter. Three officers stopped McClain as he walked home from a convenience store. McClain gave his name and told officers he was "an introvert" and "different." "The audio of the incident records Mr. McClain crying out in pain, apologizing, vomiting, and at times sounding incoherent. His words were apologetic and confused, not angry or threatening," the investigators said.


Bitcoin falls after Yellen expresses concerns

Bitcoin prices continued to slide early Tuesday, bringing their dive over the last 24 hours to 16 percent. The plunge came after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday expressed concerns about the use of the cryptocurrency, calling it highly speculative, and an "inefficient" way to conduction transactions. She also said she fears it's often used for illegal activity. "People should beware it can be extremely volatile and I do worry about potential losses that investors could suffer," Yellen said at a New York Times Dealbook conference. The comments were the latest indication that Yellen's department would look into bitcoin and its use to protect investors. Yellen has hinted that more regulation could be coming for digital currencies.


Virginia will become 1st Southern state to abolish death penalty

Virginia lawmakers voted Monday to make the state the 23rd to abolish the death penalty, and the first in the South. State lawmakers gave final approval to two bills eliminating capital punishment in a state that has been one of the nation's most prolific users of the death penalty. The state Senate approved a House bill banning executions and making life in prison without the possibility of parole the maximum criminal punishment in Virginia. The state House passed an identical Senate bill. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is expected to sign the legislation. "Like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person," Northam, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D), and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) said in a joint statement. "It's time we stop this machinery of death."


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