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Hard Numbers: Moderna vaccine shines, RCEP inked, Israeli assassins strike in Iran, WHO gets some praise

On November 16, 2020, US biotech company Moderna announced a vaccine against COVID-19 that is 94.5% effective.

95: US drug company Moderna announced Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective at protecting against the disease. The news follows Pfizer's recent announcement that its own vaccine showed a 90 percent success rate. Cause for optimism to be sure, but the data are still preliminary and the logistics of distributing any successful vaccine remain daunting.

15: After almost a decade of negotiations, 15 countries in the Asia Pacific — including China — signed one of the world's largest free trade agreements, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Experts say that the pact, which covers 2.2 billion people, could help solidify China's role as the world's dominant economic power after the Trump administration pulled out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017.

2: Did Israel assassinate Al Qaeda's number two leader on the streets of Tehran? A New York Times exposé says Israeli agents on motorbikes, acting on US orders, ambushed Abu Muhammad al-Masri and his daughter in the Iranian capital this summer, killing them both. Iran's foreign ministry said the report amounted to a "Hollywood" story fabricated by the "Americans and Zionists."

63: While the World Health Organization (WHO) has been widely criticized for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a median of 63 percent of adults from 14 countries still believe the WHO has done a "good job" dealing with the COVID crisis. While respondents from the US and UK gave the WHO the lowest rating amongst polled countries, Danes and Australians were the most upbeat.

Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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60: Africa's top public health official said Wednesday that 60 percent (780,000,000 million people) of the continent's inhabitants need to receive a COVID vaccine in the next 2-3 years in order to achieve herd immunity across Africa's 54 countries, and avoid the disease becoming endemic throughout the region. Despite recent optimism about the efficacy of several COVID vaccines, global health officials are worried that African countries will be at the back of the queue in obtaining doses.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on US politics:

Is Trump out of options now that William Barr said the DOJ found no election interference?

Trump's problem isn't William Barr not finding election interference, it's that he lost the election and he lost it by millions of votes, and he lost it in the most important key states by tens of thousands of votes. Now, this was a very close election. The three closest states, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, Trump only lost by 44,000 votes so far, and if he'd ended up winning those three, we'd have an Electoral College tie. But the election was not close enough that Trump's strategy of trying to kick this to the courts and then getting it to go all the way to the Congress, with an alternate slate of electors, it just wasn't possible. Had the election been a little closer, he might've had a shot. But as it is, his chances are over. Joe Biden's going to be inaugurated on January 20th.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET


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