Vanderbilt’s Fuller becomes 1st woman to play in Power 5 football game after 2nd half kickoff

Sarah Fuller, a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, suited up for the Commodore football Saturday and became the the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game when she took the third quarter kick off.

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Two women have played college football at the FBS level — Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State — but neither were on a team in the the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12.

Per ESPN, Vanderbilt’s expected starting kicker opted out before the season, and several replacements are in quarantine this week because of COVID-19 testing, so Fuller got the call. She told Vanderbilt’s website that said the historical aspect of the situation is “amazing and incredible,” but “I’m also trying to separate that because I know this is a job I need to do.” Read more at ESPN.

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Ethiopian government say military has taken Tigray capital

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday that the “federal government is now fully in control” of the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, after a successful military offensive, Reuters reports. It’s a crucial development in the weeks-old intra-country conflict.

Abiy said police are searching for leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who have been fighting the government’s forces throughout November, and aim to “bring them to the court of law.” He added that military operations have ended and the government’s focus is now “rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance.” There has been no comment from the TPLF.

Earlier in the day, a spokeswoman for Abiy said the military would not target civilian areas, while Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF, told Reuters that Mekelle was under “heavy bombardment.”

It has been difficult for news organizations to verify claims from either side over the course of the conflict since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down. Read more at Reuters and Al Jazeera.

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Washington archbishop officially becomes 1st Black American cardinal

Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., tested negative for the coronavirus for the third time during a 10-day quarantine in Rome on Saturday morning, and a few hours later, he officially became the first Black American to earn the rank of cardinal.

Gregory was among 11 men who traveled to the Vatican after Pope Francis had chosen to elevate them to the College of Cardinals last month. There were 13 new cardinals selected, but two opted out of going to Rome over coronavirus concerns.

The 72-year-old Gregory will be eligible to vote for the next pope, should it be necessary, until he turns 80.

Per The Washington Post, Gregory said he hopes to be a “voice for the African American community in the pope’s ear,” adding that his selection is an “important recognition that the African American, the Black Catholic community, is an important component within the larger, universal church.”

The ceremony inside St. Peter’s Basilica reflected the times, as the new cardinals sat in socially distanced rows while wearing masks. Read more at The Washington Post.

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RNC chair warns dubious Georgia voters losing ‘faith’ in election process could cost Senate runoff

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel on Saturday held a pre-Georgia Senate runoff “meet and greet” at the Cobb County GOP office in Marietta, Georgia. CNN’s DJ Judd, who was on the scene, reported that a fair amount of the conversation around the event revolved around President Trump, rather than Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), who are both in competitive races to retain their seats in the upper chamber.

Voters in attendance reportedly wanted to hear about general election recount efforts around the country, and one person asked McDaniel why Georgia voters should “trust” the runoff elections when they’ve “already been decided.” McDaniel argued that they haven’t been decided, and, in fact, look hopeful for Republicans at the moment, adding that “if you lose your faith and you don’t vote … that will decide it.”

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McDaniel remained upbeat throughout, and appeared to have strong support from the crowd by the end when she received a round of applause after telling the audience Trump would want them to get out and vote for Loeffler and Perdue. But the doubt-filled question did appear to highlight some of the challenges the party will face as the Trump campaign continues to push unfounded allegations of voter fraud. Tim O’Donnell

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Rouhani says Iran won’t leave nuclear scientist’s assassination ‘unanswered,’ accuses Israel

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said Iran would not leave the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists whom Israeli and American intelligence officials suspected led Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, “unanswered.” Rouhani blamed Israel for the assassination — “once again, the evil hands of global arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said — and warned of retaliation “in due time.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei didn’t mention Israel in his response, but he said Iranian officials must commit to “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it.”

Israel hasn’t publicly commented on the incident, but U.S. officials told The New York Times that Jerusalem was indeed behind Friday’s attack. It’s unclear how much the U.S. knew before it took place, but the two countries are close allies and often share intelligence on Iran.

Although there was no official word from the Israeli government, the country reportedly put its embassies on high alert around the world. The military, however, reportedly remains on “routine footing,” perhaps indicating that Israel expects a potential Iranian retaliation to be on a smaller scale. Read more at The New York Times.

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The Trump campaign wound up spending $3 million to increase Biden’s lead in Wisconsin

That seemingly didn’t go according to plan.

President-elect Joe Biden picked up 257 votes in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County on Friday after the Trump campaign demanded a recount there. President Trump did pick up some votes, as well, but the 125 he received gives Biden a net gain of 132.

Biden won Wisconsin by around 20,000 votes, which was close enough for the Trump campaign to call for recounts, and a separate one in Dane County is expected to finish Sunday, so the president could still decrease his deficit. But Dane County is also Democratic-leaning, so it’s unlikely the recount will significantly alter the results either way.

The Trump campaign’s efforts, which are grounded in unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, cost $3 million.

Trump’s lawyers are still expected to mount a legal challenge of the overall vote in Wisconsin, The Guardian notes, but the state is on track to certify its results Tuesday. Read more at The Guardian and Business Insider.

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10 things you need to know today: November 28, 2020

1.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials suspect was leading Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was shot and killed Friday while traveling in a vehicle east of Tehran, Iranian state media said. He was apparently taken to the hospital for treatment, but doctors were unable to save him. Fakhrizadeh has long been a top target of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed Israel, warning Tehran would respond “in due time.” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there will be “definitive punishment of the perpetrators,” though he did not specify who that was. Protesters burned Israeli and American flags at a demonstration in Tehran on Saturday. Israel put its embassies around the world on high alert. Israeli officials have not commented on the incident, but U.S. officials said Israel was behind the attack, though it’s unclear how much the U.S. knew about in advance.
[The New York Times, The Washington Post]

2.

The United States surpassed 13 million confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, marking the fourth time the country has hit a million milestone this month, per NBC News. Overall the U.S. has recorded more than 3.8 million new cases in November, by far the highest of any month since the pandemic began. The total, which is on pace to hit 4 million before the calendar turns to December next week, is nearly double October’s previous monthly high. The virus continues to surge without an epicenter, although NBC News notes Texas and Illinois, two of the country’s most populous states, have been major drivers. Los Angeles County, meanwhile, announced a new, three-week stay-at-home order that will take effect Monday. The order bans gatherings outside of one’s household, but it does not include a full shutdown of non-essential businesses, which can still operate at lower capacity.
[NBC News, The Associated Press]

3.

The Trump campaign suffered another legal defeat Friday when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied an attempt to challenge a lower court loss. The original lawsuit, based on unfounded claims of voter fraud, sought to stop or reverse the certification of Pennsylvania’s vote; Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed off on the results earlier this week, sending the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden. Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed by President Trump (the other two judges on the three-judge panel were also appointed by Republican presidents), wrote on behalf of the appellate court, stating that “charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” After the ruling, Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s lawyers, said she and Rudy Giuliani would appeal to the Supreme Court.
[The New York Times, The Associated Press]

4.

United Airlines on Friday began operating charter flights carrying the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to expedite its distribution should it receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal reviewed a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration detailing United’s plans to fly chartered flights between Brussels International Airport — Pfizer has a final-assembly center in Puurs, Belgium — and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and the FAA said in a statement Friday it was supporting the “first mass air shipment of a vaccine.” The agency will also allow United to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice per flight, five times more than what is normally permitted, to ensure the low storage temperature required for Pfizer’s vaccine are maintained throughout the flight.
[The Wall Street Journal]

5.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, told Reuters on Saturday that the Ethiopian military has begun its offensive to capture the Tigray region’s capital city, Mekelle, which he said was under “heavy bombardment.” Multiple diplomats confirmed the news with Reuters. Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said the federal forces would not target civilian areas and that “the safety of Ethiopians in Mekelle and Tigray region continues as priority for the federal government.” It has been difficult for news organizations to verify claims from either side throughout the conflict this month since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down. Abiy’s government gave the TPLF an ultimatum, which expired Wednesday, to lay down their arms, or troops would move to capture Tigray.
[Reuters, Al Jazeera]

6.

President-elect Joe Biden picked up 257 votes in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County on Friday after the Trump campaign demanded a recount there. President Trump also picked up 125 votes, giving Biden a net gain of 132. Biden won Wisconsin by around 20,000 votes, which was close enough for the Trump campaign to call for recounts. The campaign also sought a recount in Dane County, another Democratic-leaning area of Wisconsin. That tally is expected to finish up Sunday. There’s no word on how it’s shaping up yet, but it’s unlikely it will alter the results in a significant way. The Trump campaign’s efforts, which are grounded in unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, cost $3 million. Trump’s lawyers are still expected to mount legal challenges of the overall vote in Wisconsin, but the state is on track to certify its results Tuesday.
[The Guardian, Business Insider]

7.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite closed at record highs when Wall Street shuttered early Friday at the end of the holiday week, adding 0.2 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. Both indexes had previously set high marks earlier in the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also shot up, but fell short of reaching the milestone it set earlier this week when it surpassed 30,000 for the first time ever. All three major benchmarks capped huge weeks, trading up 2 percent since the opening bell Monday. Indeed, global stocks were on pace to finish their most successful month on record Friday, The Financial Times notes. The gains — and falling volatility — are likely tied somewhat to optimism about President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but the major driver is encouraging news on the coronavirus vaccine development front.
[The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times]

8.

Chief European Union negotiator Michael Barnier and his staff resumed face-to-face negotiations with the British government Saturday in a final attempt to strike a Brexit deal before the United Kingdom’s transition period with the EU ends on Dec. 31. Barnier said he would work through the weekend, and then “maybe one or two more days.” The main sticking points are state aid, how to resolve any future disputes, and fishing — the two sides can’t agree on the level of access that will be granted to European fishing fleets in U.K. waters. If the talks are unsuccessful, the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit will grow, potentially disrupting borders, financial markets, and supply chains.
[The Guardian, Reuters]

9.

Four French police officers were suspended and are in custody after a video surfaced of them beating a Black man in Paris. A surveillance camera captured the officers push Michel Zecler through the doorway of his music studio before hitting him with their fists and a billy club, presumably because he wasn’t wearing a mask. Other people in the building came to help Zecler, although the officers then threw a tear-gas canister through the window to force him to leave and arrested him and others. The officers, who initially were unaware of the footage, reportedly gave false statements saying Zecler had attacked them and tried to grab their guns. French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday called the incident “shameful” and said “France should never allow violence or brutality … France should never let hate or racism prosper.”
[NPR, The Guardian]

10.

Sarah Fuller, a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, is suiting up for the Commodore football team Saturday. If she sees game action as a kicker during Vanderbilt’s SEC showdown with Missouri, she will become the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game. Two women have played college football at the FBS level — Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State — but neither were on a team in the the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12. Vanderbilt’s expected starting kicker opted out before the season, and several replacements are in quarantine this week because of COVID-19 testing, so Fuller got the call. She told Vanderbilt’s website the historical aspect of the situation is “amazing and incredible,” but “I’m also trying to separate that because I know this is a job I need to do.”
[ESPN]

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United reportedly begins operating COVID-19 vaccine shipment flights

United Airlines on Friday began operating charter flights carrying the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to expedite its distribution should it receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, two people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reviewed a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration detailing United’s plans to fly chartered flights between Brussels International Airport — Pfizer has a final-assembly center in Puurs, Belgium — and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and the FAA said in a statement Friday it was supporting the “first mass air shipment of a vaccine.”

The agency said it will also allow United to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice per flight, five times more than what is normally permitted, to ensure the low storage temperature required for Pfizer’s vaccine is maintained throughout the flights. The dry ice will be packed inside suitcase-sized boxes containing the vaccine. Per The Hill, the FAA said air traffic services will prioritize flights carrying vaccine cargo.

The flights are just one aspect of Pfizer’s distribution, the Journal notes. The company also includes refrigerated storage sites in Puurs and Kalamazoo, Michigan, as well as expanded storage capacity at distribution sites in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and Karlsruhe, Germany. There will reportedly be dozens of cargo flights and hundreds of truck trips each day. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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What the coronavirus vaccine shows about the potential for innovation

The word “innovation” is now one of the most cursed in the English language. Silicon Valley robber barons recognized the cultural capital created by millions of inventors and scientists going back thousands of years, and colonized it to describe their ruthless business practices or semi-pointless new widgets. Innovation used to mean things like “developing new crop varieties that feed a billion people,” now it means “creating a new way to trick people with compulsive personalities into spending $10,000 on Mobile Clans Fun Bucks.”

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to cede the word entirely to Elizabeth Holmes or Mark Zuckerberg. Because the last several months have seen one of the most astounding examples of innovation in human history: the development of not one, not two, but now three different coronavirus vaccines. Thus far a Pfizer/BioNTech project, one from Moderna, and another from AstraZeneca/Oxford University all look good and will ideally start being distributed within weeks — and there are dozens more possibilities already in trials behind them.

It turns out human society can achieve a lot if we just try really hard. Who knew?

The speed of this vaccine development is totally unprecedented. Previous vaccines have taken years at best and usually over a decade to be developed and proved to work. Now, scientists did have some advantages in this case, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to be relatively easy to target with a vaccine, and there are (alas) a whole lot of infections happening, which makes gathering the necessary data on efficacy easier. And the various scientific teams have built on years of past work developing a basic format for messenger RNA vaccines, which is what the first two vaccines use. But on the other hand, science was also starting from scratch. Unlike chicken pox or measles, which had been studied for decades before work on a vaccine started, scientists had to figure out how the virus works from a standing start — by sequencing its genetic code, analyzing its proteins, and so on — before getting to work on a vaccine. Yet all three were still designed and completed within a few months.

It seems what happened is that governments and private companies hurled massive quantities of resources and manpower at the problem. The European Union, desperate for a way to throttle the pandemic, directed billions in grants, contracts, and purchase orders as a promised reward. Even the Trump administration also pitched in several billion dollars in similar fashion with Operation Warp Speed. Then pharmaceutical companies found that their profit incentive lined up neatly with the need for a vaccine. Whoever could develop one and prove it worked fastest would reap enormous profits — and even the laggards would probably get a piece of the action too, since it will not be possible to produce any one vaccine fast enough to get it to the entire planet. So all the big players got their top scientists working around the clock.

There are a lot of ways innovation can happen, from the private tinkerers at Bell Labs to the fully government-run Manhattan Project to good old academic science. But major, rapid breakthroughs tend to happen just like this — when large available resources and expertise coincide with the kind of intense social pressure that focuses the mind and leads people to put forth their maximum effort.

The coronavirus vaccines are therefore remarkable not only as a singular achievement, but also as an example of what is almost certainly possible in other areas of vital importance. Scan the field of climate policy, for instance, and there are dozens of different scientific or engineering problems that look very much like a potential coronavirus vaccine looked in February. There are advanced wind turbine designs, thorium nuclear reactors, zero-carbon techniques for forging steel and producing cement, advanced battery technology, geothermal power and heating, and many other ideas, which all have either viable theoretical designs or prototypes, but are not yet ready for wide deployment.

If those technologies got the same kind of bottomless money and pressure behind them as the coronavirus vaccine has gotten, it’s a safe bet most of them could be brought online in a matter of years or even months. The same might be true for other diseases without a good vaccine, like HIV, dengue fever, or malaria.

Some years ago it was briefly conventional wisdom among center-right economists like Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon that America was running out of innovations. But we can’t know whether or not that is true until we try as hard as possible to find some — and there are plainly a lot of potential possibilities being ignored or starved of attention. All that is needed is the government action and funding to get the work started.

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