News Headlines 2/16/21

PELOSI SAYS CONGRESS WILL SET UP INDEPENDENT COMMISSION TO LOOK INTO CAPITOL ATTACK: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday (February 15th) that Congress will establish an independent commission like the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks to look into the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Bipartisan support has been indicated in the wake of the impeachment trial for such a commission. Pelosi also said in the letter to other Democratic lawmakers that the House will put forward additional spending to increase security at the Capitol.

FRIGID WEATHER BLASTS TEXAS, KILLING TWO, LEAVING MANY WITHOUT POWER: Frigid air from a winter storm blasted Texas on Monday (February 15th), which not only had record-low temperatures but rare snow on the ground. The weather was likely to blame for the deaths of two people who were found along roadways near Houston, and left millions without power, meaning no lights and heat, as the state’s power grid was overwhelmed by conditions it wasn’t designed to handle, leading to rolling blackouts. State officials said the problems were being driven by surging demand as people tried to warm their homes, and cold weather knocking some power stations offline. Air travel, schools and stores were also shut down in the state, which isn’t equipped to handle that kind of weather. The same huge storm brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to the southern Plains and was moving across the Ohio Valley and to the Northeast.

DRUGMAKER CONSIDERING CORONAVIRUS VACCINE TWEAKS FOR MUTATIONS: Drugmakers are figuring out how they might have to tweak their coronavirus vaccines in order to deal with mutations that have emerged, which may be able to evade some of the vaccine’s protections. There is particular concern that vaccines don’t work as well against a variant first seen in South Africa. The technology behind the new vaccines makes them easy to adjust, but AP notes the bigger question is deciding when there’s been enough mutations that are prevalent to go forward with modifications. Vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the Food and Drug Administration, told AP what one guideline would likely be for making the switch, saying that if fully immunized people start being hospitalized with mutated versions, quote, “that’s when the line gets crossed.”

ROCKETS FALL NEAR U.S. BASE IN IRAQ, KILLING COALITION CONTRACTOR: At least three rockets hit outside Irbil international airport near where U.S. forces are based in northern Iraq late Monday (February 15th), killing a U.S.-led coalition contractor and wounding at least eight other people, at least one of them a U.S. servicemember. Iraqi President Barham Saleh condemned the attack as a, quote, “dangerous escalation.” A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself the Guardians of Blood Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement, “The American occupation will not be safe from our strikes in any inch of the homeland . . . ” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was pledging support for investigating the attack and holding those who were responsible accountable.

NIGERIAN ECONOMIST OKONJO-IWEALA APPOINTED WTO HEAD, FIRST WOMAN AND FIRST AFRICAN: Nigerian economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday (February 15th), becoming both the first woman and the first African to hold the position. The 66-year-old was named by representatives of the 164 countries that make up the WTO, which deals with the rules of trade between nations. Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment comes after President Biden endorsed her candidacy, which had been blocked by former President Donald Trump.