Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 27, 2022

Biden approves federal emergency funds for New York, GOP congressman-elect admits to making up parts of his resume, and more


Biden approves emergency relief for New York following deadly blizzard

President Biden ordered federal assistance for New York state late Monday following the weekend's devastating winter storm that left at least 27 dead and thousands without power in the Buffalo region. "The president shared that his and the first lady's prayers are with the people of New York and all those who lost loved ones," the White House said in a statement. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a state of emergency in New York last Thursday ahead of what authorities have deemed the "blizzard of the century," which buried the region under as much as 49 inches of snow with more potentially on the way Tuesday. At least 60 people have died due to winter storms nationwide, with experts expecting the death toll to rise as search-and-rescue operations continue. "This is a war with mother nature," Hochul said.


New York congressman-elect admits to 'embellishing' resume

New York congressman-elect George Santos admitted to "embellishing" parts of his resume in a Monday interview with the New York Post, conceding that he'd lied about graduating from college and that he'd made misleading claims about his employment. Santos, who previously misrepresented his Brazilian-born grandparents as "Holocaust refugees," also attempted to clarify his ancestry: "I never claimed to be Jewish," Santos told the Post. "I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was 'Jew-ish.'" Santos, the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican to win a House election, will represent parts of northeast Queens and northern Long Island, and was the subject of a New York Times investigation earlier this month that claimed his resume "may be largely fiction." To the Post, he further admitted he did not "graduate from any institution of higher learning" and characterized his campaign biography, which falsely said he'd worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as a "poor choice of words." Added Santos, "I own up to that … We do stupid things in life."


China moves to end zero-COVID policy by scrapping quarantine requirement

Inbound international travelers to China will no longer be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, the nation announced Monday, marking a major move away from the long-held "zero-COVID" policy by Beijing. Beginning Jan. 8, international travelers will only be required to show a negative COVID test result in order to enter the country, effectively ending the three years of intense — and intensely criticized — restrictions imposed by President Xi Jinping. "How many people who used to straddle the borders … had to change their life plans? How many families had been separated and barred from seeing their loved ones for one last time? How many three years do we have in our lives?" one Chinese journalist wrote on the social media website Weibo. The news, which involved China's health authorities downgrading COVID-19 to the less strict "Category B" designation, was positively received by the markets in Asia, with the Shanghai Composite rising 0.64 percent and the Shenzhen Component rising 0.85 percent.


Southwest cancels 70 percent of flights as travel headaches persist

On Monday, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, or about 70 percent of its schedule, stranding thousands of customers on one of the busiest travel days of the year. "In all likelihood, we'll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this," Southwest's CEO, Bob Jordan, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday, adding: "This is the largest scale event that I've ever seen." Though the cancelations followed nationwide disruptions due to the weekend's major winter storms, Jordan warned Southwest employees on Christmas night that the airline had "a lot of issues in the operation right now." The Department of Transportation slammed Southwest for its "disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancelations and delays," with one customer, ​​Ihore Konrad, telling NBC News, "I'm angry as hell, because I see mismanagement." He'd been stranded at Chicago's Midway Airport for two days.


4 electrical substations vandalized in Washington state

Four electrical substations were vandalized in Washington state on Sunday, the Pierce County Sheriff's Office said Monday. Tacoma Public Utilities reported that two of its substations were vandalized on Christmas morning, with outages affecting roughly 7,300 customers southeast of Tacoma. Around noon on Sunday, Puget Sound Energy reported that one of its substations was vandalized at about 2:30 a.m., and nearly 7,700 customers had lost power. The fourth substation was vandalized shortly after 7 p.m., with emergency dispatchers receiving a call about a fire at a Puget Sound Energy substation in Graham. All of the substations are in South Pierce County; sheriff's officials said in each case, someone broke into the fenced area around the substations and damaged the equipment in order to cause a power outage. Over the last month, there have been six attacks on electrical substations in Washington and Oregon. In early December, tens of thousands of customers in Moore County, North Carolina, were without power after someone "opened fire" on two substations, damaging the equipment.


South Korea apologizes for failing to shoot down North Korean drones

South Korea's military expressed regret on Tuesday after it failed to shoot down five North Korean drones that crossed the shared border on Monday. Though Seoul mobilized helicopters and jets to shoot down the drones — one of which flew near the nation's capital — South Korea failed to bring any down in the five-hour pursuit. "Our military's lack of preparedness has caused a lot of concern to the people," a senior military official, Kang Shin-chul, said. Jean Mackenzie, the Seoul correspondent for the BBC, said the incident is especially concerning "because the drone that flew near Seoul had the potential to run surveillance operations and to photograph sensitive areas."


Spokesman: Mike Pence candidacy filing a 'prank'

A spokesperson for Mike Pence said Monday that the former vice president has not filed for a 2024 run with the Federal Election Commission, despite headlines in Britain's Sky News and the Washington Times claiming otherwise. "Former Vice President Mike Pence did not file to run for president today," spokesman Devin O'Malley wrote on Twitter. When asked if someone had pranked him with a fake FEC filing, O'Malley replied, "I think someone pranked you." The FEC declined to comment on the statement of candidacy, which was filed at 5:12 p.m. ET on Monday, a U.S. federal holiday, under the name "Mr. Mike Richard Pence." Fox News reports that previous FEC filings for Pence listed his first name as "Michael," not "Mike." Rumors have swirled about Pence's 2024 plans after he previously told news outlets he believes American voters will have "better choices" than Donald Trump in the next election.


Iran grounds plane to prevent Iranian soccer legend's family from leaving

Iran grounded an international flight traveling from Tehran to Dubai on Monday in order to prevent the wife and daughter of soccer legend Ali Daei from leaving the country, Iranian news organizations report. Daei, 53, is "one of Iran's most famous footballers and a former German Bundesliga striker whose 109 goals at the international level were long unsurpassed until Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him," Al Jazeera reports, and he has spoken in support of the protests that have engulfed Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini earlier this year. Daei said his family was "going to Dubai for a few days trip and back" prior to the Mahan Air plane being rerouted to Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, where they were removed from the flight. Tasnim, an Iranian news organization with ties to the Revolutionary Guard, alleged Daei's wife was under a travel ban and that her intended final destination was the United States.


Holiday sales rose in 2022 despite 'big downward pressure on spending'

Holiday retail sales exceeded expectations in 2022, with Mastercard reporting sales were up 7.6 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, higher than the predicted 7.1 percent growth. However, retail sales growth was down compared to the 8.5 percent increase last year due in part to rising interest rates and recession jitters. Restaurant spending was up 15.1 percent over the same period in 2021, with in-store sales up 6.8 percent and online sales up 10.6 percent, while electronics and jewelry dropped. "Inflation concerns are a big downward pressure on spending," Kayla Bruun, an economic analyst at Morning Consult, told The Wall Street Journal ahead of the holiday weekend. "Consumers are working their way through their savings buffers they have built up."


'Avatar: The Way of Water' enjoyed 'stronger-than-expected' Christmas box office

Americans braved sub-zero temperatures and knee-high snowbanks to see Avatar: The Way of Water, which grossed a "stronger-than-expected $29.5 million on Christmas Day," The Wrap reports. The numbers put director James Cameron's film on track to be the fourth-biggest Christmas box office ever, behind 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($49.3 million), 2019's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and 2021's Spider-Man: No Way Home. The Avatar sequel, already near $900 million in total worldwide grosses, is expected to cross the $1 billion mark by New Year's Day "at the latest," The Wrap adds, with the film's four-day holiday weekend total revised to $90 million. Though Cameron hasn't revealed how expensive Avatar 2 was to make, he's previously called it "very f--king" expensive and claimed it'd need to be "the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" to "break even."


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