Human-made materials may now outweigh all living things on Earth. And yes, that news is as ominous as it sounds. Here's what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.
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About 20 million people in the US could be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the coming weeks, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Before that, the FDA needs to officially approve an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. There's a key committee meeting to discuss that today, and it could clear the way for the FDA to greenlight the vaccine within days. Canada's health department gave approval to the vaccine yesterday. Even with inoculation plans in place, experts say Americans need to stay vigilant to avoid unthinkable death tolls. They're already mind-boggling: Yesterday, the US reported a record-high of more than 3,100 new Covid-19 deaths. Elsewhere in the world, Japan is scrambling to contain a resurgence of the virus, and Germany has smashed daily death records, with 590 in one day.
2. White House transition
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now certified their presidential election results. The next major step in the Electoral College process is Monday's meeting of the electors. President Donald Trump escalated his baseless claims of voter fraud yesterday, asking the Supreme Court to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate millions of votes cast in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden still has some key Cabinet decisions to make, including a nomination for attorney general. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, Judge Merrick Garland and Sally Yates are the top contenders, sources familiar with the situation say. Biden is also trying to sell his choice for defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, to congressional Democrats who are on the fence. Austin's nomination would require a special waiver because he has only been out of active-duty military service for four years, instead of the required seven years for the post.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to finally close a deal on a new federal coronavirus relief package, but as of now, it doesn't include stimulus checks like the ones sent to more than 160 million Americans earlier in the year. Instead, the proposed deal focuses on unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and other targeted assistance. The bill would also extend key unemployment programs that run out at the end of the year, so Congress is definitely trying to get something in place before that deadline. One of their goals? Keep the cost of the package under $1 trillion to ensure Republican support.
The Federal Trade Commission wants Facebook to be broken up, and its biggest assets, like Instagram and WhatsApp, spun off. Dozens of states and the federal government sued the social media giant in two antitrust lawsuits, alleging Facebook has abused its dominance in the digital marketplace and engaged in anticompetitive behavior. Facebook has 3 billion users across its portfolio of apps, a massive number that has raised questions by some legal experts, including US lawmakers, about whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg neutralizes competitive threats by gobbling them up. Those actions, the suits allege, squash competition and limit consumer choice. Facebook says its acquisitions of other apps didn't raise questions at the time, and people use their offerings because of value, not choice deprivation.
Chinese state-owned companies are starting to default on their debts, and their struggles could affect the global economic recovery. Several major tech and energy companies declared bankruptcy or defaulted on their loans last month, and overall, state firms defaulted on a record $6.1 billion worth of bonds between January and October 2020. Beijing is usually reluctant to let such companies fail, so these possible signs of a changing relationship between the companies and the government could make investors skittish. And if Beijing's ability to manage such debts are called into question, that could strain the financial market even further. China is the world's second largest economy, and a weakened recovery or increased uncertainty has implications far outside its borders.
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