Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 19, 2021

Colin Powell dies from COVID-19 complications, the Justice Department asks the Supreme Court to block Texas' abortion ban, and more


Colin Powell, 84, dies of COVID-19 complications

Soldier-turned-statesman Colin Powell died Monday from COVID-19 complications, his family said. He was 84. Powell was fully vaccinated but his immune system had been compromised by multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. "We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather, and a great American," the family said. Powell started a distinguished career as a soldier who saw combat in Vietnam. He later served as national security adviser under Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush. He served as the first Black secretary of state under George W. Bush. In that post, he pushed faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion, something he called a "blot" on his record.


DOJ asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block Texas' highly restrictive new abortion law. The Texas law bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. That occurs at about six weeks, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Supreme Court precedents, starting with the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, have established that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion up to the point of fetal viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The Justice Department argued the law was "plainly unconstitutional," and that Texas tried to sidestep court precedents by letting citizens sue abortion providers instead of having the state enforce the ban.


Trump sues to block release of Jan. 6 documents to committee

Former President Donald Trump on Monday filed a lawsuit seeking to block the release of documents related to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack by a mob of his supporters. A congressional committee investigating the insurrection wants documents on activities at Trump's White House during the riot, and other information on Trump's effort to overturn President Biden's victory over Trump in the November election. Trump said in his lawsuit that the committee's demand was "almost limitless in scope," seeking unrelated material on a "vexatious, illegal fishing expedition" that was "untethered from any legitimate legislative purpose." The Biden administration has cleared the documents for release, saying the seriousness of the Capitol attack justified waiving the privilege normally protecting White House communications.


Haiti protesters call for ending gang violence after latest kidnapping

Protesters took to the streets in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Monday calling for an end to intensifying gang violence following the kidnapping of 17 missionaries and their children. The U.S. government sent a team to work with the Haitian government and the U.S. embassy to find the group, which includes 16 Americans and one Canadian. The brazen abduction was the latest in a wave of kidnappings that has targeted everyone from street vendors to corporate executives, priests, and government officials. Angry Port-au-Prince residents have blocked roads with barricades or burning tires in some areas to show their frustration with worsening insecurity. Police have blamed the notorious 400 Mawozo gang for the kidnapping of the U.S.-based Christian Aid Ministries group, which was on a trip to visit an orphanage.


Khalilzad stepping down as U.S. envoy to Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad is resigning as special envoy to Afghanistan, effective Tuesday. Khalilzad, who negotiated the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban for former President Donald Trump, was among the most senior Trump administration officials to continue serving under President Biden. His departure comes a month and a half after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan and the Taliban returned to power 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted them. "I decided that now is the right time," Khalilzad said in a resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, "at a juncture when we are entering a new phase in our Afghanistan policy." It was not immediately clear whether members of the Biden administration asked Khalilzad to step down. Blinken thanked Khalilzad for his work.


House committee threatens to investigate Amazon's market dominance

U.S. House lawmakers on Monday sent a letter to Amazon President and CEO Andy Jassy threatening to call for a criminal investigation of the e-commerce giant. A panel of the House Judiciary Committee that has investigated Big Tech market dominance gave Amazon a "final chance" to correct testimony company executives have given on Amazon's competition practices. The letter said the antitrust subcommittee was considering referring the case to the Justice Department, accusing the company of misleading Congress, possibly with outright lies. The letter, signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the antitrust panel, cites Amazon's alleged undercutting of businesses that sell on its platform by making "knock-offs" of their products and displaying them prominently on the site. Amazon denied its executives' testimony to lawmakers was misleading.


1st day of jury selection in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial focuses on race

Defense lawyers representing three white men accused of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery asked potential jurors on the trial's first day whether the Confederate battle flag is racist. "We do know that race is an issue in this case," said Franklin Hogue, a lawyer for one of the defendants. Three of the first group of 20 potential jurors indicated they did see the flag as racist. Former policeman Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are accused of chasing and killing Arbery in their Georgia neighborhood. George McMichael's vanity license plate showed the old Georgia state flag, which included the Confederate symbol. All three have pleaded not guilty, saying they thought Arbery was a burglar and were trying to make a citizen's arrest.


EPA moves to limit 'forever chemicals' in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it would hurry to establish enforceable limits on some polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," that threaten the health of millions of Americans, and are used in many products, including cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging, clothing, and cleaning supplies. Forever chemicals don't break down normally and can find their way into the water supply. The Obama administration established a recommended but unenforceable limit of 70 parts per trillion for some PFAS chemicals in drinking water. Scientists said that level was too high to adequately protect public health. If the mandatory standards get approved in a process expected to take years, local communities could face penalties for exceeding the limits.


Hacker defaces part of Trump's website

Someone appears to have hacked into part of former President Donald Trump's website and defaced it. People visiting a subdomain of Trump's site saw a message from someone claiming to be a Turkish hacktivist. "Do not be like those who forgot Allah, so Allah made them forget themselves," the message read. Underneath those words the hacker placed a link to a speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he quoted the Quran. The same Turkish hacker is believed to have claimed responsibility for a similar defacement of President Biden's campaign website in late November, when he was president-elect. Intelligence agencies said in March that incident was among a "handful of unsuccessful hacktivist attempts to influence or interfere in the 2020 US elections."


Reports: FDA to approve 'mix-and-match' COVID boosters

The Food and Drug Administration plans to let people get a coronavirus booster that is different from their initial vaccine, according to Monday news reports that cited officials familiar with the matter. The move could come as early as this week. The FDA won't recommend any booster over others, the officials said, and will urge people to get a booster from the company that made their initial vaccine when possible. State health officials have been requesting freedom to give "mix-and-match" vaccines. A federally funded study released Friday found that antibody levels increased 76-fold over 15 days in recipients of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot who received a Moderna booster. Similar patients who got the J&J booster got a four-fold antibody increase.


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