A deeper dive… Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R) said a bipartisan agreement was “close at hand” on Thursday, with Senators across the aisle still discussing the allocation of roughly $900B towards several provisions:
The Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to small businesses.
Vaccine development and distribution.
COVID-19 testing and tracing.
Protective equipment for schools.
Unemployment benefits ($300 per week on top of state unemployment benefits).
Direct stimulus payments, which Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R) said would likely be in the $600 – $700 range for individuals.
The aid package under discussion is expected to exclude two of the most controversial issues from either side: funding for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses.
What’s Next? Lawmakers are hoping to attach the aid to a full-year spending bill that faces a deadline of midnight tonight to avoid a government shutdown. Congress passed a one-week stopgap funding bill last Friday to avoid a similar shutdown.
Today is Congress’s last scheduled day in session before adjourning for the holidays.
However, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said yesterday it was “highly likely” the Senate would be forced to work through the weekend after potentially passing legislation to extend the government funding deadline once more.
Congress needs to extend unemployment programs in COVID stimulus bill
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❄️ Winter Storm Gail
Winter Storm Gail broke snowfall records in the Northeast U.S. yesterday, with areas near Binghamton, NY, receiving a historic 45 inches of snowfall over two days. The storm was blamed for a 66-vehicle pileup on a highway in central Pennsylvania, causing one person’s death and injuring several others.
More: At least five deaths were attributed to Winter Storm Gail as of late Thursday.
💊 Feds Bust College Drug Ring
Federal authorities arrested 21 people on charges of drug trafficking yesterday, including several current and former students at UNC, Duke, and Appalachian State University. A press release from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office revealed the suspects allegedly sold hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, LSD, Xanax, and other narcotics along with thousands of pounds of marijuana to college students across North Carolina, earning ~$1.5M over two years.
💬 Relevant quote: “I want to make it very clear, this is not a situation where you have casual users, where you have a 19-year-old sipping a beer or you have someone taking a puff off a joint on the back porch of the fraternity house. These are 21 hardened drug dealers.” -Matthew Martin, U.S. Attorney in Greensboro, NC.
⚠️ CISA Issues Hack Warning
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning on Thursday regarding the ongoing breach of U.S. government computer systems at the departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security. The bulletin said the agency determined the hack “poses a grave risk” to federal, state, and local governments, critical infrastructure entities, and other private sector organizations.
💬 Relevant quote: “This threat actor has demonstrated sophistication and complex tradecraft in these intrusions. CISA expects that removing the threat actor from compromised environments will be highly complex and challenging.” -CISA bulletin
More: A U.S. official previously told the AP that Russia-based hackers were behind the attack, but neither CISA nor the FBI have publicly said who they believe is responsible.
Even More: Politico reported yesterday the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration – which maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile – found evidence the same hackers accessed their networks.
🇷🇺 A sport arbitration courtbanned Russia from using its name, flag, or anthem at the Olympic Games for the next two years, extending to the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games and 2022 Beijing Winter Games. The court halved the four-year ban proposed by the World Doping Agency last year after accusing Russia of tampering with evidence.
✅ The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee voted to recommendModerna’s vaccine be authorized for emergency use. The FDA typically follows the committee’s recommendations, but is not required to do so.
🇳🇬 Nigerian officials said the 300+ students abducted from the all-boys Government Science School last Friday were turned over to security officials Thursday afternoon.
🕴️ States Follow Suit on Google
A bipartisan group of 38 attorneys general filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google on Thursday alleging the company engaged in “illegal, anti-competitive conduct” to create a monopoly in search and search advertising. The new lawsuit will run parallel with the DOJ’s own federal antitrust suit filed in October making similar allegations against Google (joined by 11 attorneys general).
More: The antitrust suit filed Thursday is separate from one filed Wednesday by ten Republican state attorneys general accusing Google of striking a secret deal with Facebook to avoid competing against one another.
🎯 SEC Takes Aim at Robinhood
The SEC charged Robinhood yesterday with misleading customers regarding how the company makes a profit and falsely claiming to offer the best possible prices on customers’ trades. The SEC alleged Robinhood made misleading statements to its customers about how it makes money – payments from trading brokers in exchange for sending customer orders their way – and provided inferior trade prices to customers due to its incentive to maximize brokers’ revenue.
More: Robinhood agreed to settle the charges with a $65M payment but did not confirm or deny the SEC’s findings.
💰 IPO is a Go
📈 Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the U.S., announced it confidentially filed for IPO. Separately, the price of Bitcoin rose more than 12% on Thursday to break $23K for the first time.
🐶📦 BarkBox, a monthly subscription service for dogs, is merging with Northern Star Acquisitions, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), in a $1.6B dealto take BarkBox public.
📁 Another 885k Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week, roughly 23k more than the week before (per the Department of Labor).
☝️ 1 Last Thing…
🎮 Discordconfirmed plans to raise $100M in new funding (at a reported $7B valuation) as the company surpassed 140M monthly active users, double the number it had this time last year.
🎄 Free Tree Spree
Earlier this month, Jeff Graham of York, PA, pulled up to the nearby McPherson’s Tree Farm in a flatbed truck and asked for 30 Christmas trees – a request that cost $1,100. Having completed a successful year with his towing business, Jeff wanted to help his fellow community members struggling financially.
After acquiring the evergreens, Jeff and his family brought them to the parking lot of a local used-car dealership, where they gave the trees away for free to those in need.
📪 Care Mail
After testing positive for COVID-19, Lisette LeJeune of Houston, TX, was forced to home-quarantine last month with her entire family. To ensure the community’s safety, Lisette warned her local U.S. Postal Service worker that she was contagious.
Soon after, Lisette and her family discovered a goodie bag full of canned soup, cookies, and gummies had been left on their front porch. Checking their doorbell camera, the family found the mail carrier had left the kind gift.
🚌 Off the Beaten Path
Jacqueline Mason of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was en route last week to visit her 79-year-old mother, who lives in an assisted care facility, when she realized she had boarded the wrong bus. Jacqueline immediately broke down in tears since, due to COVID-19, visits to her mother’s facility were limited to pre-scheduled, 30-minute time slots.
When bus driver Alex Bailey learned of Jacqueline’s situation, the generous driver took a detour from his usual route, managing to deliver herto the assisted living facility on time.
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💉 Court Report… under federal law, Moderna and Pfizer have total immunity from liability for severe vaccine side effects. So who is liable? A little-known government program that rarely pays out.
💨 Up in the Air… a London coroner ruled that the city’s air pollution contributed to the 2013 death of a 9-year-old girl who suffered from asthma, marking the first time in history a person’s death was attributed to air pollution.
🌎 Safe Space… NASA has confirmed the existence of an unplanned, human-made ‘barrier’ in space that surrounds Earth and helps keep potentially dangerous solar charges away from our planet.