News·6 min read

Daily Skimm: Iran & Russia Election Interference, Pope Francis, and Dolly Parton Makes Stephen Colbert Cry

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee nomination hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May. 5, 2020.
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Oct 22, 2020

Among Us

The Story

Foreign countries are (once again) trying to interfere in a US election.

Which ones?

Russia and Iran – not exactly our closest friends. Yesterday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced that the two countries had taken "specific actions" to interfere in the election. Specifically, that both had obtained voter registration information. Ratcliffe said these are "desperate attempts by desperate adversaries." It wasn't clear what Russia planned to do with the data. But Iran already made moves.

What do you mean?

This week, some registered Democrats in states like Florida, Alaska, and Pennsylvania reported receiving threatening emails from a sender claiming to be the Proud Boys. (You know, the far-right group President Trump told to "stand back and stand by.") The emails included voters' home addresses, and warned them to change their party affiliation to Republican and vote for Trump…"or else." Now, it turns out Iran was behind the whole scam. It's not clear whether Iran and Russia hacked voter registration systems to get the info, since some voter information is easily accessible. Meanwhile, Iran's also accused of circulating a video and other content that (wrongfully) claimed people "could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas."

Why are they doing this?

US officials say it's to intimidate US voters, undermine their confidence in US elections, and incite social unrest. Russia's a veteran in the election interference game. The US and Iran have a rocky relationship, especially since the US killed Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani. Both Russia and Iran have denied interfering in US elections. Meanwhile, Ratcliffe said the operation was meant to "damage President Trump" – although he didn't say how. But Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee said 'not true.'

So now what?

The FBI's saying 'don't panic.' It's promised to "aggressively" investigate. Ratcliffe said the election systems are "resilient." And FBI Director Christopher Wray said Americans "should be confident" their votes count.


Whether we like it or not, the US has enemies all over the world. With just 12 days until the election, security experts are on high alert and working to protect our election systems. In the meantime, Americans should keep listening to state election officials, keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and most of all – vote.

Crunch Time

And then there was one. Debate, that is. Tonight, President Trump and former VP Joe Biden will share the stage in Nashville, Tennessee, for the final presidential face-off of the 2020 election. NBC's Kristen Welker is moderating the 90-min event, so reserve that spot on your couch for 9pm ET.

What to expect? The candidates will be talking about the pandemic, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership.

What's new? The mute button. It's making its national debut on live TV. Earlier this week, the Commission on Presidential Debates said each candidate's mic will be muted when his opponent is answering questions. And they'll be turned back on for open discussion. (Good luck to the debate organizers.)

Tonight will be the candidates' final chance to address the American public together on TV before Election Day. We're less than two weeks out, make your voting plan here.

And Also...This

Who's making his feelings heard…

Pope Francis. The head of the Roman Catholic Church says he supports same-sex civil unions. Yesterday, a documentary about his life premiered at the Rome Film Festival. In it, the pope said that "homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God." Pope Francis also called for the creation of civil union laws to protect same-sex couples. This is a major shift from the Catholic Church's teaching – which states that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." Some conservatives criticized his comments, including a bishop from Providence, RI, who said that the church could not support "objectively immoral relationships." But LGBTQ+ rights groups applauded the comments as a major step toward equality.

  • A first for everything: Pope Francis has long been seen as tolerant – and more inclusive than previous popes. These comments are the strongest yet from a leader of the Catholic Church, and the first of their kind from a pope.

  • Is it enough?: Despite the news, Pope Francis has rejected same-sex marriage within the Catholic Church. And his recent comments won't change the church's teaching. LGBTQ+ groups are waiting to see what impact they make.

What's paying up...

Purdue Pharma. Yesterday, the maker of OxyContin agreed to plead guilty to three felony charges including defrauding the US gov. It's part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the Justice Department. And comes after a years-long investigation into allegations that Purdue Pharma paid doctors to write more opioid prescriptions – contributing to the US's deadly opioid crisis. (Note: The CDC says nearly 450,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids over two decades – and more than half involved prescription opioids.) Now, the DOJ says Purdue Pharma will shut down. And will reopen as a public benefit company, with its profits going toward opioid treatment and abatement programs. The Sackler family, which owns the pharma giant, will also pay $225 million in penalties as part of a separate civil settlement.

  • Not all settled: Some states' AGs who sued Purdue Pharma objected to the deal. Connecticut's attorney general called it "a mere mirage of justice" for the victims. And a coalition of relatives of opioid victims reportedly said the deal was premature and didn't go far enough.

Where things are escalating…

Nigeria. Yesterday, human rights org Amnesty International said the Nigerian army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters this week in a violent crackdown. Reminder: Nigeria has seen a fresh wave of protests against police brutality, especially against the notorious SARS police unit (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad that's been accused of corruption, rape, torture, and murder). And young Nigerians have been sharing their stories of abuse at the hands of SARS officers with #EndSARS. But this week, Lagos – Nigeria's largest city – saw growing unrest as buildings were set on fire, the gov imposed a 24-hour curfew, and witnesses reported killings by security forces. The Nigerian army has dismissed reports of the shootings as "fake news."

  • No end in sight: The gov has disbanded SARS, but protesters want more changes after years of police brutality. President Muhammadu Buhari is calling for "understanding and calm."

Who people are fighting for…

Migrant children. This week, a court filing revealed that the parents of 545 migrant children who were separated at the southern border have yet to be found. In 2018, thousands of children were separated from their parents as part of the Trump admin's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. And the filing says nearly two-thirds of the parents were deported. But the gov didn't keep track of where they all went. Now – years later – hundreds of children remain apart from their parents. Immigrant rights groups have promised to continue efforts to reunite every family, but the pandemic has only added to their challenge.

Whose screen is going dark...


Who's under the weeping willow tree…

Stephen Colbert.

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