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5 things to know for August 12: Covid-19, Congress, cyberattack, economy, Afghanistan


By AJ Willingham, CNN

Federal wildland firefighters could see big benefits from the bipartisan infrastructure package, including higher pay and more permanent options for seasonal positions.

Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.

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1. Coronavirus

More than 98% of US residents now live in an area with a “high” or “substantial” risk of Covid-19 community transmission — a CDC metric that involves case numbers and test positivity rates. A mere month ago, that figure was at only 19%. In some areas, like Cobb County in Georgia, some schools have already had to switch to virtual learning to keep kids safe from rising infections. Experts are hoping to get children vaccinated soon and to re-up protection for vulnerable populations, which could turn these worrying trends around. The FDA is expected to announce within days that it is authorizing Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for some people who are immunocompromised. Meanwhile, US intelligence officials tasked with investigating the origins of Covid-19 are nearing the end of their 90-day assignment and have drafted a classified report now under preliminary review.

2. Congress

As Congress enters the August recess, Democratic organizations are hoping to keep the energy up following the recent flurry of activity around some of President Biden’s top agenda items. Pro-Biden groups plan to spend millions of dollars in ad buys and other campaign opportunities to tout the multitrillion-dollar infrastructure bill and budget resolution that just passed through the Senate. This is the first prolonged congressional recess since Biden took office in January, and moments like this are key to growing and maintaining public support. Dems are also hoping to project an air of bipartisan cooperation as the all-important 2022 midterm elections approach.

3. Ransomware

Another major company has been hit by a ransomware attack. Accenture, a global consulting firm, was targeted by a ransomware gang that claims it will publish the company’s encrypted files on the dark web unless it pays up. Other international targets, like a UK rail network and an Indian news organization, have been hit in the past by the same malicious software. The US government has identified ransomware attacks as a critical national and economic security threat amid a string of attacks against corporate and infrastructure targets. In a separate cybercrime, hackers stole about $600 million in cryptocurrency from the decentralized finance platform Poly Network. Some of that money has been returned, but in all, it could be the largest crypto theft in that industry’s history.

4. Economy

Things are getting even more expensive across the US as the economy tries to keep pace against the pandemic. Consumer prices rose 4.3% in the year ending in July, and that’s not including the volatile food and energy categories. Food prices are up 3.4% over last year, and meat products have seen a big rise. Gas prices also recently hit seven-year highs. The average price of a gallon was $3.19 as of yesterday morning, AAA said — a full dollar more than the same time last year. The Biden administration is calling on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies like Russia (together, known as OPEC+) to do more to combat these rising energy prices. The administration is also trying to curtail any illegal activity that may lead to differences in oil prices and prices at the pump.

5. Afghanistan

US intelligence assessments paint a dire picture of Afghanistan’s immediate future, predicting that the country’s capital of Kabul could be cut off by the Taliban in the next 90 days. While there are multiple assessments out there with different conclusions, such a collapse would be a stunning and swift defeat following the two-decade US military campaign in the country. It could also lead to a full collapse of the Afghan government. The Taliban has overrun 10 provincial capitals since Friday, and its rapid gains have led officials to consider more urgent measures, like possibly drawing down more US Embassy personnel. Biden, however, has said his plans for the withdrawal as a whole have not changed.


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