Monday Sunrise Briefing: Historic rollout and skepticism

Michael Clevenger/Pool via REUTERS
UPS employees move a shipping container of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that arrived at the UPS distribution hub in Louisville, Kentucky, Sunday, Dec.13, 2020.

The biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history began Sunday with shipments from Pfizer's Portage, Michigan facility to 145 sites around the country. Public health officials acknowledge there’s skepticism about the vaccine due to its speedy development and federal approval, including among health care workers. This initial phase is seen by many as a trust-building exercise. An Associated Press survey found that about half of Americans want to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Another quarter aren't sure, while the remaining quarter say they aren't interested. There’s more distrust among Republicans than Democrats. Each state will prioritize who gets the vaccine, which in turn raises some ethical issues, as we reported last week. The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. is nearly 300,000.

2. Cybersecurity breach. Hackers, reportedly tied to Russia, broke into the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Commerce Department. The hack is so serious it led to a National Security Council meeting at the White House on Saturday, a source told Reuters.. The breach presents a major challenge to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden as officials investigate what information was stolen and over how long a period. "This is a much bigger story than one single agency," a source told Reuters. "This is a huge cyber espionage campaign targeting the U.S. government and its interests." Last week, FireEye, a major cybersecurity firm, disclosed that foreign government hackers had stolen the company's own hacking tools. FireEye’s customers include federal, state, and local governments and top global corporations.

3. A legacy of gently breaking racial barriers. Charley Pride wasn’t the first Black country music singer. But he was the biggest Black star the genre had seen. He had three Grammy Awards, more than 30 No. 1 hits between 1969 and 1984, won the Country Music Association’s Top Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year awards in 1972 and became the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. He sold more than 25 million records, including hits such as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone.” “Charley Pride was a trail blazer whose remarkable voice & generous spirit broke down barriers in country music just as his hero Jackie Robinson had in baseball,” tweeted director and producer Ken Burns Saturday.

Why We Wrote This

Good morning! Welcome to your Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, sunrise briefing.

Here are three news events from this past weekend (while you may have been fishing for grouper, birdwatching, and enjoying an offline life). Also, what to look for in the news this week.


Photo by IPA/Sipa USA via Reuters
One of 100 tiny nativity scenes in an exhibition opened Sunday in the Colonnade of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

Look Ahead

Monday, Dec. 14

Democracy, American style. As outlined by the U.S Constitution, in each of the 50 states, slates of electors (a.k.a. The Electoral College) gather to formally cast their ballots (based on the Nov. 3 vote) today for president and vice president. Congress then tallies the votes on Jan. 6. 

Democracy watch. Early voting begins today in Georgia, where two Senate seats are being contested in runoffs. Control of the U.S. Senate hinges on the result of the Jan. 5, 2021 vote.

Wednesday, Dec. 16

Judicial watch. A French court is scheduled to issue a verdict over the deadly 2015 attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the first of several Islamic extremist attacks to rock France.

Lunar pride. China’s Chang'e 5 lunar module is expected to touchdown in Mongolia with a 4.4 pound cargo of Moon rocks and soil. It’s the first such mission in four decades, as China follows in the footsteps of the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Thursday Dec. 17

Russian marathon man. President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to hold his annual news conference. Last year’s event lasted four hours.

Friday, Dec. 18

Economic relief? A one-week U.S. federal stopgap funding bill keeping the government open is due to expire today. The extra week was intended to give lawmakers more time to agree on a pandemic economic relief bill and a long-term spending bill.

Chadwick Boseman's last flick. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is due to be released on Netflix. It’s about a band of musicians in 1920s Chicago, and features stellar performances by Mr. Boseman and Viola Davis. 

Generosity Watch

City of Gulf Breeze, Florida
In Gulf Breeze, Florida, the city sent out notices to 114 utility customers that their overdue bills had been paid by the owner of a local pool installation business.

Michael Esmond knows what it’s like to be broke. In the winter of 1983, while raising three daughters, his gas was shut off because he couldn’t pay his utility bill. It got so cold there was frost on the inside of the windows, he recalls.

Spurred by empathy and his own 2020 prosperity, the Gulf Breeze, Florida, businessman just paid the overdue utility bills of 114 families. “I wanted to see if I could help people that might be experiencing the same thing — where they couldn’t pay their bills and their utilities were going to be shut off around Christmas time,” Mr. Esmond told The New York Times.

 While many residents of Gulf Breeze are struggling in the wake of Hurricane Sally and the pandemic, Mr. Esmond, the owner of Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas had a prosperous year. People used their vacation funds and stimulus checks to install pools. "We've had a good year, and that's why I want to share what I have with the people who need it," he told CNN.

So, Mr. Esmond wrote a $7,615.40 check to cover those families 60 days past due on their utilities bill and were at risk of being cut off. And the city of Gulf Breeze sent out a note Friday telling those customers that Christmas generosity came a little early this year.

Hidden gem 

Start your week with a recent story that inspired Monitor readers:

Coat as shelter: Designer Bas Timmer creates for people who have no home

Sneak preview

In tonight’s Daily Edition, watch for our list of the best nonfiction books of 2020.

Finally, check out the Monitor’s selected stories from Friday's subscription-only Daily Edition:

  1. Trump, a Texas lawsuit, and democracy’s future
  2. Saudi, Egyptian crackdowns signal collision with Biden agenda
  3. Does ‘human rights champion’ France live up to its ideals at home?
  4. Sanctuary of spiritual justice: Commentary on Ebenezer Church
  5. Whose ‘Nutcracker’? Rethinking a Christmas staple.

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