Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 15, 2022

Insurance now covers at-home COVID tests, students stage walkouts demanding return to remote instruction, and more

1

Insurance now covers at-home COVID tests

Americans who have health insurance are entitled to receive up to eight rapid, at-home COVID tests per household member per month for free under a new Biden administration policy that took effect Saturday. Consumers can purchase tests over the counter and file for reimbursement or order tests for free on a special government website. The White House said Friday that this site will be live by Wednesday and that 500 million free tests are available.

2

Students walk out of class over Omicron concerns

Hundreds of students in Boston, Chicago, and other U.S. school districts staged walkouts Friday, demanding a return to remote instruction as Omicron cases continue to spike. "It was like: 'This person has COVID. That person has COVID. Another person has COVID,'" said one of the students organizing a walkout in Montgomery County, Maryland. Many of the protesting students claim schools need to do more to provide them with COVID tests and high-quality masks, while others insist that in-person learning should be suspended altogether. The Omicron-driven surge in new infections has not produced a corresponding increase in deaths from COVID.

3

Russia may be preparing a 'false-flag' operation as pretext to Ukraine invasion

The U.S. has information indicating Russia to be preparing a "false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," per a U.S. official, in an attempt at creating pretext for an invasion of the former Soviet republic. The official also said the U.S. has evidence that Russia has pre-positioned operatives "trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia's own proxy forces," CNN reports. A false-flag attack is one designed to look as though it were carried out someone other than the person (or, in this case, country) responsible. Adolf Hitler used a similar tactic to justify Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939.

4

Dem organizers prepare for uphill battle after Biden’s voting bills fail

After opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) killed President Biden's push to pass federal voting rights legislation by removing the filibuster, Democratic organizers are preparing for a difficult road ahead. Biden's bills would have superseded the election security laws that many Republican-controlled states, spurred by former President Donald Trump's baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud, have passed since the 2020 election. With those bills remaining in place, Democrats say they could be forced to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars from candidates to voter registration and turnout drives.

5

Portland police presentation mocked 'dirty hippy' protesters and encouraged violence

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Friday that the Portland Police Bureau has launched an internal investigation into a training slideshow that included comical descriptions of violence against "dirty hippy" protesters. The 100-page PowerPoint presentation from 2018 provided straightforward guidance on how to handle mass protests and riots, but the final slide reflected a shift in tone. It featured an image of an officer in riot gear striking a seemingly unarmed protester. "They may christen your heads with hickory, and anoint your faces with pepper spray," the mock-biblical text accompanying the image read, along with a reference to protesters being "stitched and bandaged."

6

Supreme Court to hear case of high school football coach fired for praying on field

The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it would hear the case of Joe Kennedy, who lost his job as a high school football coach for praying with players after games. Bremerton School District in Washington state fired Kennedy in 2015. "He led the team in prayer in the locker room before each game, and some players began to join him for his post-game prayer, too, where his practice ultimately evolved to include full-blown religious speeches to, and prayers with, players from both teams after the game," wrote a judge from the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against Kennedy. Kennedy claims his rights to free speech and free exercise of religion were trampled, while the district argues Kennedy's actions violated the First Amendment's establishment clause.  

7

Australia detains Djokovic again

The Australian government canceled Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa for the second time and placed him back in immigration detention. Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday that he canceled Djokovic's visa again on "health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so," given Djokovic's refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. A federal court will hear his case Sunday. Djokovic is scheduled to play his first match in the Australian Open Monday.

8

Pence compares Biden’s voting bills to Jan. 6

Former Vice President Mike Pence published an op-ed in The Washington Post Friday with the headline, "Jan. 6 was a power grab. So is busting the filibuster to nationalize elections." In the piece, Pence contrasted President Biden's voting rights bills, which Pence said would give the federal government too much control, with his own behavior following the 2020 election. Former President Donald Trump's fiercest supporters turned against Pence when he refused to overturn the 2020 election by rejecting slates of electors from states Biden won. Videos of the Jan. 6 attack show protesters chanting "Hang Mike Pence" and constructing a gallows. Pence also wrote that Biden's bills, if passed, would deliver "an irreversible victory for the radical left."

9

Southern states brace for severe winter storms

The governors of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia declared states of emergency ahead of a winter storm system expected to strike the southeastern United States Saturday. According to the National Weather Service, the storm will "move eastward to the Southeast by Sunday morning, then head northeastward to the northern mid-Atlantic by Monday." Stores are selling out of essentials while road crews desperately work to avoid a repeat of the situation in Virginia that left thousands stranded on I-95 earlier this month.

10

Tsunami strikes Tonga after undersea volcanic eruption

The Polynesian archipelago nation of Tonga was struck by a tsunami Saturday after an undersea volcano erupted 40 miles south of the capital city on the main island of Tongatapu. No injuries or fatalities have yet been reported, but videos show large waves striking the shore and swirling around houses as people flee to higher ground. King Tupou VI has been evacuated from his palace by the sea. The extent of the damage is still unclear due to spotty communications. Tonga has a population of just over 100,000 people, of whom 70 percent live on the main island.

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