News from the world in the first week of December 2020

News from the world in the first week of December 2020

Washington DC No fraud: The US attorney general, William Barr, announced this week that the Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of fraud on a scale large enough to affect the result of the 2020 election. Days earlier, a federal appeals court had rejected the Trump campaign’s attempt to prevent Joe Biden from being certified the winner in Pennsylvania. The judge in that case ruled that Donald Trump’s lawyers had not even made specific allegations of fraud, let alone provided evidence that any occurred. Nevertheless, the president continued to rail against “massive voting fraud”, while Biden continued to work on assembling his White House staff (recent appointments include an all-female communications team). Biden experienced a minor setback, however, when he slipped while playing with his dog, and suffered hairline fractures in his foot. Last weekend, Trump issued a presidential pardon to Michael Flynn (pictured), his former national security adviser. Flynn was one of the first of Trump’s aides to be prosecuted as a result of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi condemned the pardon, which covers “any and all possible offences”, as “an act of grave corruption”.

Washington DC Covid surge continues: Health officials in the US have warned that the country can expect a further surge in Covid-19 infections as a result of people gathering over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday last weekend. An estimated 50 million people defied official advice by travelling away from home for the holiday; six million of them went by plane – making it the busiest period for air travel since the start of the pandemic. “What we expect, unfortunately [...] is that we might see a surge superimposed upon the surge we’re already in,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The US recorded more than four million new cases in November – more than twice as many as in October. Almost 100,000 people are currently in hospital with the virus, a record high. On average, around 1,500 people are dying each day, some two-thirds of the level during the spring peak.

Sacramento, California Covid prison fraud: Officials in California have uncovered a massive fraud in which hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefit, intended for people who lost their jobs in the pandemic, was claimed by, or in the name of, prison inmates. So far, investigators have identified payments totalling $400m, from 21,000 claims filed in the names of prison inmates, but Anne Marie Schubert, the district attorney of Sacramento County who is leading the investigation, has warned that the total amount could be as much as $1bn. Investigators are still trying to find out how many of the claims were filed by prisoners, or by people acting on their behalf – and how many were filed by fraudsters using their identity without permission.

Phoenix, Arizona McCain reward: Cindy McCain, 66, the widow of the late Republican senator for Arizona John McCain, is in line to become the next US ambassador to London, according to media reports. Though McCain is a lifelong Republican, she backed Joe Biden’s White House campaign – and is credited with helping the Democrats win the Republican stronghold of Arizona. Her husband was famously unimpressed by Donald Trump, and the two men became very public foes. Recently, clips of John McCain delivering a notably gracious concession speech after losing the 2008 election to Barack Obama have been used to highlight Trump’s refusal to concede.

Buenos Aires Doctor investigated: Police raided the home and surgery of Diego Maradona’s doctor on Sunday, as part of an investigation into his death. The footballer, who’d struggled with addiction for many years, died of a heart attack last Wednesday while recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain. Police officers are treating the death as a possible case of involuntary manslaughter, and are investigating his medical treatment and the drugs prescribed to him by Leopoldo Luque. The doctor, who has not been arrested or charged, broke down in tears as he spoke to reporters following the raid, saying he had done his best for his patient. Maradona’s death sparked an outpouring of grief in Argentina (see page 21). His coffin lay in state at the presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, and riot police had to be deployed to control the vast crowds who turned out to pay their respects.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Bolsonaro blow: Candidates backed by Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro have suffered a string of defeats in municipal elections. In Rio de Janeiro, the incumbent mayor and close Bolsonaro ally Marcelo Crivella – a Pentecostal preacher who has described homosexuality as a “terrible evil” – lost in all 49 of the city’s constituencies. Bolsonaro-backed candidates were also defeated in Brazil’s other large cities. The results raise questions over Bolsonaro’s political future, though his own approval ratings remain relatively high. One bright spot for him is that the left-wing Workers’ Party of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also fared badly; centrist parties were the main winners.