Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 14, 2021

Taliban continue offensive, near Kabul, education secretary urges DeSantis and Abbott to rescind mask mandate bans, and more

1

Taliban continue offensive, near Kabul

The Taliban have captured all of Afghanistan's Logar province and the capital of Paktika province, lawmakers said. The group has also reportedly attacked the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and reached the Char Asyab district, which is just 7 miles south of the capital, Kabul. The insurgents have faced little resistance from Afghan soldiers in some cities and towns, per Al Jazeera. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday made his first public appearance since the Taliban's offensive quickened, delivering a televised speech in which he said he "will concentrate on preventing expansion of instability, violence, and displacement of my people." He added that "consultations" between various political leaders are underway. Meanwhile, amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the first American Marines from a contingent of 3,000 arrived in Kabul to help partially evacuate the U.S. Embassy. The rest are scheduled to arrive by Sunday.

2

Education secretary urges DeSantis, Abbott to rescind mask mandate bans

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Friday sent letters urging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to reverse their decisions to ban local mask mandates in schools as their states face an increase in COVID-19 infections. In the letter to DeSantis, whose office threatened to cut the salaries of local school officials who move forward with mask requirements, Cardona said his department "stands with" the "dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction." He added that the White House is prepared to offer federal relief dollars to Florida school districts stripped of state funding. Cardona also told Abbott that his executive order "may infringe upon" Texas school districts' "authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law."

3

Moderate Democrats warn Pelosi about budget resolution vote

A group of nine moderate House Democrats warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday that they won't vote on the Senate's $3.5 billion budget resolution until the House passes the upper chamber's $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and sends it to President Biden's desk. Pelosi has said she won't move on the infrastructure bill until the budget is passed via reconciliation in the Senate (which could be several weeks from now), but the moderates argued in a letter to the speaker that "we simply can't afford months of unnecessary delays." House progressives, on the other hand, are determined to link the two, setting up a potential rift within the Democratic Party over the bills.

4

Consumer sentiment index drops to pandemic low

The University of Michigan's influential consumer sentiment index fell to 70.2 in August, down from 81.2 in July. The mark is below the 71.8 figure registered in 2020, which was previously the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. The decline suggests Americans are worried about the latest increase in COVID-19 infections across the country, which has been fueled by the more contagious Delta variant and led to new mask mandates and other restrictions. Richard Curtin, the chief economist for the University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers, said the reading "reflects an emotional response, mainly from dashed hopes that the pandemic would soon end." He added that it's likely "consumers will again voice more reasonable expectations." CNBC notes that other economic data points, such as weekly jobless claims, continue to point to an economic recovery.

5

At least 44 killed in Turkey floods

At least 44 people have been killed in floods in Turkey's northern Black Sea region as rescue teams continued to search buildings on Saturday. There are reportedly fears the death toll may increase. About 18 inches of rain fell in less than three days earlier this week, sparking the worst floods Turkey has experienced in years and the latest in a series of similar natural disasters across the world this summer. A resident in the region said the situation was "unprecedented," and people are still without power and or cell phone reception. Turkey has also been dealing with hundreds of wildfires that killed eight people and destroyed large amounts of forest along its southern coast.

6

NOAA: July hottest month on record

New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show July was the hottest month on Earth since modern record keeping began 142 years ago, surpassing the previous record set in July 2016. Rick Spinrad, NOAA's administrator, said that while July is typically the warmest month of the year, "July 2021 outdid itself" and highlights "the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe." In the Northern Hemisphere, the land-surface temperature for July was 2.77 degrees hotter than average. 

7

Harvard study links COVID-19 infections, wildfire smoke

A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University concluded that in some counties in California and Washington state that have been particularly hard hit by wildfires, nearly 20 percent of COVID-19 infections were linked to elevated levels of wildfire smoke. The researchers also found that the elevated levels of fine particle pollution were linked to an even higher percentage of coronavirus-related deaths. "Clearly, we see that, overall this is a very dangerous combination," said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard and one of the authors of the study. Previous studies have also suggested that there's correlation between high coronavirus positivity rates and periods of high wildfire smoke, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that wildfire smoke can make people "more prone to lung infections," including COVID-19.

8

Family of Capitol officer who took his own life sue potential attacker

The family of Capitol Police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who fatally shot himself after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, filed a lawsuit against an individual who allegedly attacked him during the incident. David Weber, the family's attorney, said a group of cybersleuths identified the person, who reportedly can be seen on video knocking Smith to the ground. Weber said he turned the name of the alleged attacker over to Washington, D.C., police, who said they are "reviewing the information." The lawsuit includes a report from a doctor who said Smith suffered a traumatic brain injury that led him to take his own life.

9

Australian state faces 'most concerning day' of pandemic

As the entire Australian state of New South Wales prepares to go into lockdown amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, additional military personnel have been deployed to enforce tighter coronavirus restrictions in the greater Sydney area next week. Police have also increased fines for anyone who breaches stay-at-home orders or lies to contract-tracing officials by 4,000 Australian dollars. Australia has been considered a success story throughout the pandemic, having mostly kept cases and deaths low over the last year and a half, but the Delta variant and a slow vaccine rollout have led to a new wave. New South Wales reported 466 new locally transmitted infections on Saturday, a 24-hour record. The state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian called it the "most concerning day" of the pandemic.

10

Albuquerque middle school student shoots, kills classmate

A 13-year-old boy at an Albuquerque, New Mexico, middle school was taken into custody Friday afternoon after police said he shot and killed a fellow student during a lunch break on campus. The victim, who is believed to be around the same age, was pronounced dead en route to the hospital. A police officer was on-site and reportedly quickly de-escalated the situation. Authorities called the incident an "isolated shooting" and no other students were injured, though the school was put on lockdown. Police said they're investigating whether bullying may have played a part in the lead up to the shooting.

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