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5 things to know for December 23: Stimulus, pardons, coronavirus, Israel, Walmart


There’s officially nowhere to run: Covid-19 is now on every continent, with Antarctica recording its first cases. Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.

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1. Stimulus

Just a day ago, it was expected that President Donald Trump would sign the the $900 billion coronavirus relief package that Congress had finally passed with bipartisan support. Then last night, he threw that hard-fought agreement into question. In a video posted to Twitter, the President said he wanted bigger checks for Americans — demanding at least $2,000 per adult as opposed to the $600 currently stipulated in the bill. Some Democrats appeared to be pleased at the prospect of more money for Americans, given that they had been pushing for that initially. Still, Trump’s move surprised aides and lawmakers in his own party. It’s unclear whether the President will veto the bill, which passed with big, veto-proof majorities. But the uncertainty delays help for Americans even longer — help that many say was already too little, too late.

2. Trump pardons

President Trump announced a wave of pardons yesterday, kicking off what’s expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in his final days in office. Among the people Trump granted clemency to are two men who pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation, three former Republican congressmen accused of fraud and four military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians. The President also pardoned two Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting an undocumented immigrant and covering it up, and several people convicted of non-violent drug crimes. The pardons came recommended by Trump allies in Congress and, in some cases, the conservative media. Many of the non-violent drug offenders were recommended for clemency by Alice Johnson, the former federal inmate whose sentence Trump commuted at the urging of Kim Kardashian West.

3. Coronavirus

An average of more than 200,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus every day for two straight weeks in the US. But though new cases may have leveled off, the number of Americans hospitalized and dying from the virus has continued to go up. The US reported more than 117,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19 yesterday, the most since the pandemic began. It also reported 3,400 people dead from the virus yesterday, the second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day. It’s a grim reality despite the hope offered by the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines — which likely won’t be available to the general public until mid-summer (more on that here.) Whether the new daily cases begin to decline nationally from here depends, as always, on people’s behavior — and how America’s systems of power influence that behavior.

4. Israel

Israel is headed for another election, probably on March 23 next year. If that’s triggering déjà vu, it’s because this will be the country’s fourth election in two years. So, why does this keep happening? This time, it’s because Israel’s parliament failed to meet a deadline for passing budgets, crumbling an already tenuous alliance between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The two former rivals joined forces in April as a last resort, forming a unity government after three inconclusive elections and an ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Under the deal, Gantz would have taken over as Prime Minister 11 months from now — unless lawmakers failed to pass a budget, which is what ended up happening. With elections now on the horizon again, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, could stay prime minister even longer.

5. Walmart

The Justice Department is suing Walmart, accusing the retailer of contributing to the prescription opioid crisis by filling thousands of invalid prescriptions and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids. The complaint alleges that Walmart violated the Controlled Substances Act both as an operator of its pharmacies and of its wholesale drug distribution centers. The penalties the government is seeking could total billions of dollars. In its response, Walmart criticized the Justice Department for allegedly “a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors.” The lawsuit is the latest effort by the government to hold companies accountable for the role they may have played in the opioid crisis.


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