Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 9, 2021

Biden defends U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Japan declares coronavirus emergency and bars Olympic spectators, and more

1

Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal

President Biden said Thursday that America's 20-year war in Afghanistan would end next month. "We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build," Biden said. He added that he was not declaring "mission accomplished," although he noted that the Obama administration had killed Osama bin Laden, who was based in Afghanistan when al Qaeda organized the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "Let me ask those who want us to stay: How many more — how many thousands more Americans, daughters and sons — are you willing to risk?" Biden said. He also promised to evacuate thousands of interpreters who worked with American soldiers, along with the Afghan workers' families, as fears mount that they could face reprisals from the Taliban, who are regaining territory in an ongoing offensive.

2

Japan declares coronavirus emergency, bars Olympic spectators

Japan on Thursday declared a new state of emergency due to a rise in coronavirus infections, prompting the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics to announce that the Games would be held without any spectators. Foreign spectators had already been banned, but officials had hoped to allow domestic spectators to attend, with venues restricted to half capacity. More than 3.5 million tickets were purchased by people in Japan before the decision was passed down just two weeks before the Games open on July 23. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has placed Tokyo under a state of emergency until Aug. 22. It is the fourth emergency period Japan has declared since the coronavirus pandemic erupted more than a year ago.

3

17 arrested in connection with Haitian president's assassination

Haitian police arrested 17 people in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, authorities in the Caribbean nation said Thursday. Two of the suspects appeared to be Haitian Americans, and several were ex-Colombia soldiers. Moïse was shot and killed at his home in a hillside suburb of Port-au-Prince early Wednesday. Léon Charles, chief of Haiti's National Police, said 15 of the men are from Colombia. Charles also said three suspects were killed by police and eight remained at large. One has been identified as 35-year-old James Solages, the founder of a South Florida-based charity, The Associated Press reported. "We are going to bring them to justice," Charles said. 

4

Pfizer to request approval for COVID-19 booster shot

Pfizer plans to ask federal regulators to authorize use of its COVID-19 vaccine booster within weeks, Reuters reported Thursday, citing the drugmaker's top scientist, Mikael Dolsten. Dolsten said the recent drop in Israel of the effectiveness of the company's vaccine indicated that inoculated people faced an increased risk of infection after six months. The spread of the highly infectious Delta variant also is increasing the risk of infection and moderate illness among people who have been fully vaccinated. "The Pfizer vaccine is highly active against the Delta variant," Dolsten told Reuters. But after six months, he added, antibodies wane, as expected, increasing infection risk. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said boosters aren't yet necessary.

5

Michael Avenatti sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for Nike extortion case

A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday sentenced celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti to 2 1/2 years in prison for trying to extort money from Nike. Avenatti catapulted to national fame in 2018 as a foil for former President Donald Trump, representing adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed that she had an affair with Trump and he paid her hush money shortly before his 2016 election. Avenatti was found guilty in February 2020 of demanding as much as $25 million from Nike in exchange for not going public about false allegations that the company was linked to bribes to college-bound athletes. "I betrayed my own values, my friends, my family, and myself," Avenatti, crying, told U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe.

6

Death toll reaches 64 in Florida condo collapse

The death toll in the Surfside, Florida, condominium tower collapse rose to 64 on Thursday, the day after local authorities said there was no hope of finding anyone alive and their search was shifting from rescue to recovery. About 76 people remained missing. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said search crews were committed to digging through the rubble of the 12-story, beachfront Champlain Towers South building, which collapsed on June 24, until all the victims are identified. "The work continues with all speed and all urgency," Levine Cava said. First responders briefly paused their work at 1:20 a.m. Thursday, exactly two weeks after the partial collapse of the building.

7

Elsa triggers tropical storm watches on East Coast north to Massachusetts

Tropical Storm Elsa swept up the East Coast on Thursday, hitting coastal areas with heavy rains and high winds. Gusts up to 60 miles per hour were reported in North Carolina west of the coast. Tropical storm warnings were extended north to Massachusetts through Friday. The storm also threatened to spawn tornadoes as it headed north. Flash flood watches were issued for several areas, including Baltimore. Elsa has been blamed for at least four deaths, three in the Caribbean and one in Florida. The storm twice strengthened briefly to Category 1 hurricane status, making it the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season.

8

Wells Fargo closing all personal lines of credit

Wells Fargo informed customers it would be closing all personal lines of credit over the next few weeks, CNBC reported Thursday, citing letters it reviewed from the bank to customers. Typically, customers with personal lines of credit can borrow between $3,000 and $100,000, with variable interest rates ranging from 9.5 to 21 percent. The bank said it was discontinuing the product so it could focus on personal loans and credit cards, and warned in its letter that the closure of the accounts "may have an impact on your credit score." The move came three years after a scandal in which Wells Fargo employees opened millions of fake savings and checking accounts without customers' consent.

9

Texas GOP lawmakers unveil new version of voting restriction plan

Texas Republican lawmakers on Thursday unveiled their full plan for new restrictions on voting access in the state. The proposed election overhaul would be one of the most comprehensive of the numerous plans being pushed by GOP lawmakers in red states across the country. The Texas bills in the State Senate and the State House would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting. They also would bar election officials from sending absentee ballots to voters who haven't asked for them, and add restrictions on people voting by mail. The plans also would tighten rules on third-party ballot collection, among other changes. The bills leave out limits on Sunday voting and regulations making it easier to overturn elections, two of the more controversial provisions in the initial version of the Texas GOP's election overhaul proposal.

10

Zaila Avant-garde, 14, wins Scripps National Spelling Bee

Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde of New Orleans won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, clinching the victory by spelling "murraya" (a flowering plant in the citrus family) correctly. Avant-garde is the first African-American child to win the competition. She also is a skilled basketball player who holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling. Chaitra Thummala, 12, of San Francisco ,placed second, while Bhavana Madini, a 13-year-old from New York City, placed third. Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica, who won the 1998, was the first Black competitor to win the bee. In the 2019 competition, eight spellers were crowned co-champions after 20 rounds. This time, all but six spellers were eliminated in the first round. The event was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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