January 13, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden is bringing in the stars for a primetime inauguration special.

Biden's inaugural committee will produce a 90-minute inauguration special that will air next week and be hosted by Tom Hanks, featuring performances by Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons, and Jon Bon Jovi, Politico and Variety reported on Wednesday. The "Celebrating America" special, according to Politico, will also "spotlight American heroes" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the frontlines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light, and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this prime-time program," Tony Allen, CEO of Biden's presidential inaugural committee, said, per Politico.

Biden's inauguration has been dramatically scaled back due to the pandemic, with in-person celebrations canceled and supporters being urged to stay home. The TV special, Politico reports, is being modeled after the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which took place virtually last year and featured celebrity hosts including Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The inauguration special is set to air on Jan. 20 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC, and it will also reportedly stream online via several platforms. Brendan Morrow

12:42 p.m.

Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention DIrector Gao Fu is walking back comments he made about the country's COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines "don't have very high protection rates," Gao reportedly said Saturday at a conference in Chengdu. "It's now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines of immunization process," he added, explaining that China was considering a few different options for how to boost effectiveness. A dosage increase, mixing vaccines, or turning to mRNA technology (the kind used in the highly effective and safe Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines) were all on the table.

The comments were noteworthy for a couple of reasons. For one, it was quite simply a "rare admission" from Beijing, The Associated Press writes. But, more importantly, China has already exported hundreds of millions of doses of two vaccines developed by Chinese drug makers, Sinovac and Sinopharm, to dozens of countries, including Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Hungary, and Brazil. So, this could turn into a global predicament.

Now, though, Gao is telling Chinese state media that the reaction to his remarks "was a complete misunderstanding" and that he was really just suggesting that the question of how to improve vaccines' effectiveness is one "that needs to be considered by scientists around the world" because of the novelty of the virus. He did not, however, specifically address protection levels of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines. Tim O'Donnell

11:35 a.m.

A whole lot happened in relation to Iran's nuclear program this weekend.

For starters, on Sunday, Iran's underground Natanz facility started up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium more quickly. Hours later, a "suspicious" blackout struck the facility. Tehran claims there wasn't any lasting damage or pollution, but Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian nuclear program, called the power outage "nuclear terrorism" and details remain scarce.

Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, are indicating the blackout was the result of an Israeli cyberattack, the latest sign of escalation between the regional rivals. The Associated Press notes these reports do not offer sourcing, but "Israeli media maintains a close relationship with [Israel's] military and intelligence," so, when coupled with past allegations of Israel targeting Iran's nuclear program, the possibility seems legitimate.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary was in Israel meeting with his counterpart, Benny Gantz, who pledged to cooperate with the U.S. "to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the State of Israel."

World powers, including the U.S., will continue to negotiate with Tehran over its nuclear deal next week in Vienna, though it's unclear how the black will affect the talks, if it all. Tim O'Donnell

10:56 a.m.

Nomadland's Chloé Zhao further cemented herself as the favorite to win Best Director at the 93rd Academy Awards on Saturday when won the top prize at the 73rd annual Directors Guild of America Awards. She is only the second woman (Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2009), and the first woman of color, to earn the DGA award, Variety notes.

Zhao will likely be taking home more hardware this awards season; in addition to her expected Oscars win, Nomadland is the top contender for Best Picture. But she clearly isn't one for gloating. In her virtual acceptance speech, Zhao spoke briefly, using most of her time to praise her fellow nominees, including Minari's Lee Isaac Chung, Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell, Mank's David Fincher, and Trial of the Chicago 7's Aaron Sorkin, the only one of the four who isn't also up against Zhao later this month at the Oscars (Another Round's Thomas Vinterberg is the fifth nominee). She took a moment to specifically address how each of her peers and their respective films affected her personally. Watch the heartfelt speech below.

Read more at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Tim O'Donnell

9:26 a.m.

Four fictional Minnesota local news anchors portrayed by Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, and Alex Moffat, all agreed in the latest Saturday Night Live cold open that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd's neck for several minutes during an arrest before Floyd died last May, should be found guilty in his ongoing murder trial. But they couldn't quite agree on whether that will actually happen.

The characters played by McKinnon and Moffat, who are white, were convinced a guilty verdict was a no doubter, while the anchors played by Nwodim and Thompson, who are Black, were far from ready to trust the legal system. "Let's just say we've seen this movie before," Nwodim's character said, referring to other cases in which police officers evaded conviction.

That led to a few more disagreements over issues like reparations, how to protest effectively, and whether it was worth discussing Prince Philip's death. Eventually, the four of them wound up united again, thanks to shared disdain for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Watch the full sketch below. Tim O'Donnell

8:05 a.m.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to have been the primary target in former President Donald Trump's improvised, insult-laden speech Saturday night at a Republican National Committee gathering at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, The Washington Post and Politico report.

In a familiar turn of events, Trump, who doesn't get the opportunity to vent his frustrations on Twitter these days, reportedly boasted about tossing his "boring" prepared remarks before tearing into McConnell for several minutes. At one point Trump called him a "dumb son of a b----" for not fighting the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6. "If that were [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) instead of this dumb son of a b---- Mitch McConnell they would never allow it to happen," Trump said, per the Post. "They would have fought it."

He also reportedly deemed his former ally a "stone cold loser" and complained that McConnell never thanked him for hiring his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whom he also reportedly mocked for resigning in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

McConnell wasn't alone, however. Trump went after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, as well. "Have you ever seen anybody that is so full of crap?," Trump reportedly asked the crowd.

Former Vice President Mike Pence was seemingly spared the name calling, but Trump did reportedly reiterate the fact that he's disappointed Pence didn't have the "courage" to block the election certification.

Beyond the personal attacks, Trump reportedly continued to push false claims that he won the 2020 election, which he described, once again, as "rigged," and he did not appear to express any regret about his role in the Capitol riot, though he did reportedly brag about the size of the crowd at his speech that took place just before the event. Read more at The Washington Post and Politico. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

There could one day be a COVID-19 equivalent to a carbon monoxide detector.

General Electric is developing a new sensor which could potentially detect the coronavirus and other viruses in the air, on a surface, or on someone's breath, Fast Company reports. The National Institutes of Health awarded the company a two-year research grant to work on the project, which will build upon two papers published by GE's principal scientist, Radislav Potyrailo, and his team.

The sensor that would detect the virus would be a microchip "smaller than a dime," Fast Company reports. Potyrailo is hopeful about the long-term prospects of the project, but he acknowledged the system is hard to build because it needs to be small enough to keep larger contaminants like pollen out to ensure only the right particles are detected.

If a prototype is available in the next couple of years, GE reportedly envisions the sensors in grocery stores, hotel rooms, and perhaps even within individuals' phones and watches. An actual GE COVID-19 sensor is a long way off, and there are many questions to answer, such as how long one would remain reliable before breaking down. But it's all in the works. Read more about how the sensor could detect viruses like the novel coronavirus at Fast Company. Tim O'Donnell

April 10, 2021

The Supreme Court has once again ruled against California in a case concerning religious worship during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 5-4 decision, mostly along ideological lines, the court ruled late Friday night that California cannot enforce its three-household limit on at-home religious meetings, such as prayer groups and Bible studies. Conservatives were in the majority, with only Chief Justice John Roberts splitting off and siding with the three liberal justices.

A panel of the 9th Circuit of Appeals had previously upheld the state's restrictions on at-home gatherings since it was a blanket ban that applied to secular and non-secular gatherings, alike. The Supreme Court's minority argued along similar lines; in a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that California is not required to "treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons."

But the majority wasn't satisfied with that explanation, suggesting the state was treating secular businesses, like movie theaters and restaurants, more favorably. "The state cannot assume the worst when people go to worship, but assume the best when people go to work," the unsigned majority opinion said. "This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise." Read more at Politico and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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