Friday Roundup

It has been an eventful week, and we are here to walk you through it.

So without further ado, here are the week’s top stories.

Politics

HOUSE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON REPARATIONS

Introduced in every legislative session since 1989, H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act,” was reintroduced Wednesday during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

According to the text of the document, H.R. 40 seeks to form a commission to study and consider a “proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”

While the bill currently enjoys more Democratic support than it has in the past, it is likely to be opposed by Republicans, with GOP Rep. Burgess Owens, whose great grandfather was a slave, saying that “reparations is not the way to right our country’s wrong.”

If H.R. 40 is passed through the Judiciary Committee, the House can begin debate on the bill.

DOMINION TO SUE MYPILLOW CEO MIKE LINDELL

As Mike Lindell refused to honor cease and desist letters sent by the election technology company in December and January, Dominion Voting Systems now plans to file a defamation lawsuit against the MyPillow CEO over his unsubstantiated claims of election rigging.

“That would so make my day, because then they would have to go into discovery, and that would make my job a lot easier,” Lindell said of the impending lawsuit. “I will not stop until every single person on the planet knows, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, what these machines did to us.”

Lindell, for his part, was permanently suspended from Twitter last month for repeated violations of their election misinformation policy.

NAACP FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST TRUMP AND GIULIANI

Accused of conspiring with two extremist groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, to block an official government proceeding, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani have been sued by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and the NAACP.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, claims that the attack was “the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

While former presidents are immune from lawsuits over their official actions while in office, the Civil Rights Act of 1871 allows lawsuits against government officials for claims that they conspired to violate civil rights.

Trump and Giuliani are expected to file a motion to dismiss.

MANHATTAN D.A. PRESSES FORWARD WITH TRUMP PROBE

The Manhattan district attorney’s office added a prominent federal prosecutor to the team that is investigating the business dealings of former President Donald Trump.

Mark Pomerantz, who has extensive experience in white-collar crime cases, will serve as special assistant district attorney in the criminal probe into the Trump Organization’s possible tax and bank fraud.

Pomerantz interviewed former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on Thursday and issued roughly a dozen new subpoenas in an effort to uncover what court filings call “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct.”

TRUMP RELEASES POST-ACQUITTAL STATEMENT

Donald Trump released a statement on Tuesday, promising to back “America First” primary challengers and calling Sen. Mitch McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”

“Prior to the pandemic, we produced the greatest economy and jobs numbers in the history of our Country,” he wrote. “And likewise, our economic recovery after Covid was the best in the world.”

As to the veracity of these statements, it is indeed true that our economy has recovered faster than expected, though it has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. It is not true, however, that prior to the pandemic, the Trump administration had produced the greatest job numbers in U.S. history. In fact, his predecessor, Barack Obama, averaged more jobs in his last three years than Trump did in the three that followed. Under Obama, the economy was adding an average of 2.7 million jobs per year. Under Trump, that average fell to 2.2 million from 2017 to 2019.

Read Trump’s full statement below:

PERDUE FILES PAPERWORK FOR POSSIBLE SENATE RUN

Former Sen. David Perdue has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to set up a potential 2022 U.S. Senate run.

Perdue, who lost a runoff election to Sen. Jon Ossoff last month by 55,000 votes, says that the filing “was simply a necessary legal step” that will allow him “to keep all options open.”

Read Perdue’s statement below:

BOB DOLE DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE FOUR LUNG CANCER

Former Senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole announced on Thursday that he was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Dole, who served in the House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969 and then in the Senate until 1996, has been a vocal advocate for healthcare reform.

“My first treatment will begin on Monday,” Dole said in a statement. “While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own.”

Coronavirus

PFIZER AND MODERNA VACCINES LESS EFFECTIVE BUT STILL PROTECTIVE AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA VARIANT

Using 20 serum samples collected from 15 participants, a team of scientists tested the Pfizer vaccine’s ability to neutralize the 2020 strain of the coronavirus, along with the U.K. and South Africa variants.

While the samples were about two-thirds weaker against the South Africa strain, all serum samples were ultimately able to neutralize the virus.

Meanwhile, Moderna announced its own findings with similar results. While the researchers found that the U.K. variant had no significant effect on the vaccine’s ability to kill the virus, they saw a 2.7-fold decrease in neutralizing antibodies against the South Africa strain and a 6.4-fold drop against the full set.

“Despite this reduction, neutralizing titer levels with (the variant discovered in South Africa) remain above levels that are expected to be protective,” the company said in a statement.

CANADA INTRODUCES NEW TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

The Canadian government announced in a press release that all travelers entering Canada by air and at all land borders must undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing on arrival.

“Canada has some of the strictest travel and border measures in the world, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine for everyone returning to the country,” the press release said. “With new COVID-19 variant detections increasing in the country, the Government of Canada is announcing today further testing and quarantine requirements for international travellers arriving to Canada’s air and land ports of entry. These new measures will help prevent variants of concern from re-accelerating the pandemic and making it more difficult to contain.”

National News

AT LEAST 49 DEAD AMID WINTER STORM

As of Friday morning, more than 500,000 customers were still without electricity around the U.S., and at least 13 million were without safe or reliable water service in Texas.

The extreme weather has crippled vaccine delivery and distribution efforts and has, thus far, been responsible for at least 49 deaths. And, according to officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have resulted in blackouts lasting months.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise. There have been multiple motor vehicle accident fatalities. One 10-year-old boy fell through ice. Four were killed in a house fire, thought to be caused by candles. Two died of exposure along a Houston highway. An offshoot tornado killed three in North Carolina. And a mother and her eight-year-old child died from carbon monoxide poisoning after attempting to heat their home with a running car. In one county alone, there were 300 cases of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Biden administration authorized FEMA to send generators, fuel, blankets, bottled water, meals, and other relief supplies to Texas. And Beto O’Rourke has been connecting senior citizens with water, food, transportation, and shelter thanks to the help of volunteers who have been making welfare calls.

If you are in Texas, visit O’Rourke’s Twitter for a comprehensive list of county-by-county resources.

Statewide resources can be found below:

NASA’S PERSEVERANCE ROVER LANDS ON MARS

NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on Thursday after a more than six-month and nearly 300-mile journey.

According to NASA, “a key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and sediment for later return to Earth.”

Check out the first views from the rover below:

SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR SIGNS ABORTION BAN INTO LAW

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act into law on Thursday after the state House passed the bill on Wednesday by a vote of 79-35.

The law, which bans abortions once a heartbeat can be detected (unless the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or endangers the life of the mother), is already being challenged on constitutional grounds by Planned Parenthood and The Center for Reproductive Rights, as it effectively serves as a near-total ban on abortion, since fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as 5.5 weeks after gestation.

While similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in the past, abortion opponents hope that the new ideological makeup of the Supreme Court will effect a different result.

A hearing scheduled for Friday will determine whether the law should be suspended while Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit is being heard.

CHARGES AGAINST AMY COOPER DISMISSED

Prosecutors asked a judge to drop the charges against Amy Cooper after she completed a psycho-therapy and education program centered around racial equity and bias.

Amy Cooper made news last year after she called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black bird-watcher of no relation, and falsely claimed that he was threatening and trying to attack her.

The former Cooper was subsequently charged with falsely reporting an incident to the police — a class A misdemeanor.

“I think it’s a mistake to focus on this one individual,” the latter Cooper wrote in an op-ed last year. “The important thing the incident highlights is the long-standing, deep-seated racial bias against us Black and brown folk that permeates the United States – bias that can bring horrific consequences.”

DOLLY PARTON REMAINS NATIONAL TREASURE

Dolly Parton requested on Thursday that a bill set to erect a statue of her on capitol grounds in Tennessee be removed from consideration.

“I am honored and humbled by their intention but I have asked the leaders of the state legislature to remove the bill from any and all consideration,” Parton said in a statement. “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time.”

This is the third time in recent history that Parton has refused an honor, having revealed this month that she declined to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Donald Trump on two separate occasions.

Parton’s Imagination Library has gifted more than 100 million books to children worldwide; her scholarship program provides five $15,000 scholarships to high school seniors in Sevier County annually; her My People Fund raised and distributed $411 million to victims of natural disasters; and she donated $1 million to coronavirus research last year, which led to the creation of the Moderna vaccine.

Read Dolly National Treasure Parton’s statement below:

World News

BIDEN OFFERS TO START TALKS WITH IRAN IN ATTEMPT TO REVIVE NUCLEAR DEAL

The Biden administration joined with European partners on Thursday in offering to begin talks with Iran for the first time in four years.

In 2015, Iran entered into an agreement with the United States and other nations, under which Iran would agree to shift its nuclear program from weapons production to peaceful commercial use in exchange for the lifting of energy, trade, technology and financial sanctions (a value of $83 million in economic relief).

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, predicting that it would strengthen his hand in negotiations. By 2020, however, in response to “maximum pressure” sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Iran had resumed its enrichment of uranium and expanded its stockpile of nuclear fuel, cutting the time it would need to build a nuclear bomb in half.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has since told European ministers that the U.S. would work with them to restore the accord, and the Biden administration has rescinded the Trump administration’s efforts to reimpose U.N. sanctions.

Iran — who imposed a deadline of February 21, threatening to expel the U.N.’s nuclear inspectors if oil and banking sanctions were not lifted — has not yet agreed to the talks.

NORTH KOREA ACCUSED OF HACKING PFIZER IN ATTEMPT TO STEAL COVID-19 TECHNOLOGY

According to South Korean intelligence officials, North Korea attempted to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical company Pfizer in an attempt to steal information on coronavirus treatment and vaccine technology.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS), however, has since disputed these claims. The NIS said in a statement that it “reported general incidences of hacking attempts” but “did not specify any company names including Pfizer.”

South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung responded by sharing a copy of his notes from the briefing to social media, in which he makes reference to Pfizer and “vaccine data hacking.”

The NIS, he claims, shared briefing documents with lawmakers which specifically named Pfizer but collected said documents at the close of the meeting, presumably for security purposes.

UBER SUFFERS LANDMARK LOSS IN U.K. GIG ECONOMY CASE

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision on Friday that the ride-sharing company’s drivers must be classified as workers and offered both minimum wage and vacation time.

Though Uber attempted to argue that it was simply a technology company that connects drivers with riders, the court concluded that it operates more like an employer, due to the fact that it exercises control over renumeration by setting fares and service fees; does not afford drivers the opportunity to decline a request based on the rider’s destination; monitors drivers’ rates of acceptance and penalizes them for falling below a certain threshold; and uses a ratings system designed to discipline drivers in a “classic form of subordination.”

While Uber intends to press the employment tribunal to limit the scope of the ruling, the decision serves as a major victory for labor activists and was celebrated by gig economy workers across the U.K.

Said London Mayor Sadiq Khan, “It is a landmark decision for people who suffer from low pay and a lack of security at work. Gig economy workers deserve the same rights as other workers.”

DUKE OF EDINBURGH HOSPITALIZED

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, was admitted to a London hospital earlier this week on account of feeling unwell.

The hospital visit is said to have been taken as a precautionary measure, and the Duke is expected to remain there for a few days of “observation and rest.”

Prince Philip, who is the longest-serving royal consort in British history, will celebrate his 100th birthday in June.

PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE WILL NOT RETURN TO ROYAL ROLES

Buckingham Palace announced on Friday that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have informed Queen Elizabeth that they will not return as working members of the Royal Family.

Prince Harry’s honorary military appointments and the couple’s patronages — their royal involvement with U.K. charities — will be redistributed; however, they will retain their His/Her Highness titles, as well as the titles of Duke and Duchess.

“While all are saddened by their decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family,” Buckingham Palace said in their announcement.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle released a statement of their own, saying that the pair “remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organizations they have represented regardless of official role.”

“We can all live a life of service. Service is universal,” the statement read.

Sports

NAOMI OSAKA BEATS SERENA WILLIAMS IN AUSTRALIAN OPEN SEMIFINALS

Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open semifinals on Thursday, advancing to the finals where she will meet American Jennifer Brady, who entered the Open ranked at No. 22.

Brady, who tested positive for coronavirus upon arriving in Melbourne, was forced to quarantine in her hotel room for 14 days, where she trained for the tournament by hitting balls into a mattress pushed up against the wall, doing footwork and speed drills around tennis balls on the floor, and using a stationary bicycle and weights. 

In the wake of her semifinal loss, Williams was asked during a news conference if this moment in her career could potentially signal the end.

Williams replied by saying, “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” before abruptly ending the press conference at the conclusion of a follow-up question, during which she struggled to fight back tears.

Watch the emotional moment below:

Pop Culture

KIM KARDASHIAN WEST FILES FOR DIVORCE

Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West are divorcing after nearly 7 years of marriage.

Despite a rocky 2020, the divorce is said to be amicable, as Kardashian asked in Friday’s filings for joint legal and physical custody, and neither party is contesting the prenup.

West and Kardashian married in May of 2014 and have four kids together.

RIP Kimye.

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