Wednesday Roundup

Politics

HOUSE RELEASES FIRST DRAFT OF RELIEF BILL

House Democrats released the first draft of their COVID-19 relief bill on Monday with provisions for $1,400 stimulus checks, a hike in the minimum wage, extension and expansion of unemployment benefits, increases in the annual child credit and earned income tax credit, and aid for airline staff, airports, and trains.

12 committees will meet in the coming days to finalize the stimulus bill, with a floor vote expected to occur during the week of Feb. 22.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE APPROVED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

The House Education and Labor panel advanced the $15 minimum wage increase included in the COVID-19 relief proposal in a 27-21 party line vote.

As stated in Monday’s roundup, the CBO estimates that such a proposal would lift 900,000 out of poverty but cost 1.4 million jobs over course of the next four years.

While widely supported in the House, the proposal may not survive the reconciliation process due to strict rules around their content. And the proposal is sure to face opposition in the Senate, where even a single Democratic defection would likely cause it to fail. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), for example, has thus far only expressed support for an increase to $11 per hour.

GEORGIA OPENS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO DONALD TRUMP

Fulton County prosecutors have initiated a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of Georgia’s election. State officials received letters instructing them to preserve documents related to Trump’s January call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse the state’s results.

Raffensperger’s office had previously announced Monday that they would be opening an administrative inquiry of their own.

Former prosecutors say that Trump may be guilty of violating at least three state laws: criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, a related conspiracy charge, and a law which bars “intentional interference” with another person’s “performance of election duties.” The latter is a misdemeanor offense, while the former two can be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors.

Georgia is now the second state to have opened a criminal investigation into the former president, as he is also facing a fraud inquiry in New York.

SECRET SERVICE REVEALS ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS TO TRUMP ORG

The Secret Service revealed on Tuesday that an additional 19,000 in taxpayer dollars went to Donald Trump’s properties during his presidency, due to repeated visits to his hotels. While Trump has been lauded by his supporters for donating his $400,000 annual salary ($1.6 million over four years), records show that taxpayers have paid the Trump Organization a total of $2.5 million and counting.

Newly released receipts show that Donald Trump’s Las Vegas hotel charged the Secret Service $7,600.02 for three nights in one of its rooms, far exceeding the estimates that Eric Trump has previously provided.

“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free,” Eric Trump once said. “So everywhere that he goes, if he stays at one of his places, the government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50.”

VA SECRETARY CONFIRMED BY SENATE

The Senate confirmed Denis McDonough as secretary of Veterans Affairs on Monday by a vote of 87-7. Only the second non-veteran to lead the VA, McDonough has previously served as the chief of staff to Barack Obama during his second term and deputy national security adviser prior to that.

With the impeachment trial now underway, McDonough’s confirmation will likely be the last Cabinet confirmation vote until the conclusion of the proceedings.

Coronavirus

DOUBLE MASKING DOUBLY EFFECTIVE

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new research on Wednesday, which found that wearing a cloth mask over a medical mask significantly reduces exposure. While researchers found that wearing a singular mask — whether cloth or surgical — blocked roughly 40 percent of the particles, that number rose to 80 percent when a cloth mask was worn over a surgical one. And when both individuals were double-masked, 95% of particles were blocked.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the study’s findings “underscore the importance of wearing a mask correctly and making it fits closely and snugly over your nose and mouth.”

BUTTIGIEG IN QUARANTINE

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is quarantining for 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19. While Buttigieg has since tested negative himself, he and the security agent had been in close contact as recently as the morning of the positive test, so contact tracing protocols require his isolation.

National News

BIDEN DOJ SEEKS ASSANGE EXTRADICTION

Joe Biden’s Justice Department continues to seek the extradition of Julian Assange so he can face charges in the U.S.

Last month, a British judge blocked the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder, who has been residing in the United Kingdom, over concerns about his mental health. The U.S. Department of Justice has until Friday to challenge the ruling.

The Department of Justice under the Trump administration charged Assange with computer hacking conspiracy. The Obama administration had previously declined to press charges, citing concerns over the First Amendment.

Indeed, Biden’s decision to seek extradition has drawn criticism from a number of civil liberties and human rights groups, who argue that his prosecution poses a threat to press freedom.

As argued in a letter signed by two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “The indictment of Mr. Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely—and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do. In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize these common journalistic practices.” 

HACKERS ATTEMPT TO POISON WATER SUPPLY OF FLORIDA TOWN

Using a remote access program shared by plant workers, a hacker briefly increased levels of lye — sodium hydroxide — by a factor of 100 at an Oldsmar water treatment plant.

In high concentrations, lye is highly caustic and can burn.

The hack was discovered and reversed immediately but revealed a troubling vulnerability caused by a lack of funding and resources. “In the industry, we were all expecting this to happen. We have known for a long time that municipal water utilities are extremely underfunded and under-resourced, and that makes them a soft target for cyber attacks,” said principal incident responder Lesley Carhart.

The Biden administration has signaled its intention to bolster cybersecurity.

FATAL KOBE BRYANT HELICOPTER CRASH CAUSED BY PILOT DISORIENTATION

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others was caused by spatial disorientation. The pilot, who was flying under visual flight rules and not instrument flight rules, flew into the clouds in violation of federal regulations, causing him to become disoriented and lose control of the aircraft. The pilot was so disoriented, in fact, that when he indicated to air traffic controllers that he was trying to climb, he was, in actuality, beginning a rapid descent.

A panel of experts is expected to convene to evaluate simulation devices that could better train pilots to prepare for spatial disorientation.

ONE DEAD, FOUR INJURED IN HEALTH CARE CLINIC SHOOTING

When police responded to reports of an active shooter on Tuesday just before 11 a.m., they were met with a “horrible-looking scene.” A gunman had opened fire on a Buffalo, MN health care center, killing one and injuring four others, with three in critical but stable condition. The suspect, who was taken into custody on Tuesday, has a long history with law enforcement — having previously been arrested on everything from drug and alcohol offenses to violations of a harassment restraining order — and was reportedly dissatisfied with his health care treatment.

Improvised explosive devices were also found on site, and the discovery of a suspicious device at the Super 8 motel where he had been staying caused the motel to be evacuated.

MAN SURVIVES 70-FOOT FALL OFF WISCONSIN HIGHWAY

A truck plunged off the side of a slippery exit ramp in Wisconsin on Saturday, flipping over a barrier wall and falling 70 feet before landing upright below. The driver, who was found conscious and breathing, was taken to the hospital to be evaluated, though he suffered no obvious signs of impairment.

Watch the shocking footage below:

MAN SWALLOWS APPLE AIRPOD DURING SLEEP

As so many do, Bradford Gauthier fell asleep listening to music and woke up to an obstruction in his throat. One x-ray at a local emergency clinic later, Gauthier was found to have swallowed one of his AirPods in his sleep, requiring an emergency endoscopy to effect its removal.

In perhaps the greatest possible news for Apple’s marketing team, the AirPod’s audio and Find My AirPods feature continued to work without fail following removal.

World News

SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS NOW LEGAL IN ANGOLA

A new penal code in Angola came into effect on Wednesday, decriminalizing same-sex relations and prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Changes to the former penal code, which had characterized homosexuality as “vices against nature,” had been passed in January of 2019, but were not signed into law until November of 2020.

Under the new law, those who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation will face up to two years imprisonment.

UAE SPACECRAFT ENTERS MARS’ ORBIT

A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates entered Mars’ orbit on Tuesday, making the UAB the first Arab nation to reach the planet. Only five space agencies in history have successfully executed a Mars mission, as more than half of all Mars missions fail.

TSUNAMI FOLLOWS EARTHQUAKE IN SOUTH PACIFIC

A 7.7-magnitude undersea earthquake led to the development of a small tsunami in the South Pacific on Tuesday. While a wave of 0.3 meters is said to have struck Fiji, no damage was caused to island nations in the region.

Sports

MARTY SHOTTENHEIMER DIES AT 77

Former NFL coach Marty Shottenheimer has died at the age of 77. Shottenheimer had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 and had been moved to hospice at the end of January.

Shottenheimer was eighth in all-time wins and seventh in regular season wins and is survived by his wife, two children, and four grandchildren.

DALLAS MAVERICKS TO RESUME PLAYING NATIONAL ANTHEM

After declining to play the national anthem in advance of the past 11 home games, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has directed the team to resume play, following the NBA’s announcement that it was now mandatory.

“With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy,” the league said in a statement.

In response to the announcement, Cuban said, “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country. I have always stood for the anthem with the hand over my heart — no matter where I hear it played. But we also hear the voices of those who do not feel the anthem represents them. We feel they also need to be respected and heard, because they have not been heard. The hope is that those who feel passionate about the anthem being played will be just as passionate in listening to those who do not feel it represents them.”

Pop Culture

MARY WILSON DIES AT 76

Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes, has died at the age of 76. The Motown legend passed at her home in Henderson, Nevada from hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

The Supremes became the most successful Motown act of the 1960s and the best-charting female group in U.S. history, landing them a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Wilson, for her part, was also a passionate activist who fought to pass Truth in Music Advertising bills and engaged in charity work with a number of organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the Easter Seals Foundation, UNICEF, The NAACP, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

She is survived by her daughter, her two sons, her sister, her brother, 10 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. 

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