Friday Roundup

Politics

MICHAEL REGAN CONFIRMED AS EPA ADMINISTRATOR

The Senate confirmed Michael Regan as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday evening by a vote of 66-34.

The former secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality becomes the first Black man to head the agency.

Regan, who has a reputation as a “consensus builder” and was introduced at his hearing by Republican Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, faced opposition from other Republicans such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who called President Joe Biden’s agenda a “left-wing war on American energy.”

“Mr. Regan has plenty of experience,” McConnell said. “The problem is what he’s poised to do with it. He and the administration are plainly prepared to put that experience behind the same far-left policies that crushed jobs and prosperity in states like Kentucky throughout the Obama administration.”

Conversely, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Environment committee, said, “Michael Regan is the kind of person who can help unite us in common purpose as we respond to the climate crisis we face, as well as to clean our air, clean our water, and strive to make sure that we don’t leave some of our communities, some of our neighbors behind in our efforts to do so.”

Said GOP Sen. Tillis, “He will sometimes take on initiatives that I disagree with, most likely vote against. But I do believe that he will be somebody that we can rely on to be fair with the reality of the change and the transition.”

HOUSE DEMOCRATS CALL ON CUOMO TO RESIGN

At least nine House Democrats have released statements calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign amid multiple sexual harassment allegations and a coronavirus nursing home scandal.

Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said in a statement, “The bravery individuals have shown in coming forward to share their experiences with Governor Cuomo is inspiring, and I stand with them in support. The repeated accusations against the Governor, and the manner in which he has responded to them, have made it impossible for him to continue to govern at this point … Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of the people of New York. Governor Cuomo must resign.”

Said Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman in a joint statement of their own, “As members of the New York delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, we believe these women, we believe the reporting, we believe the Attorney General, and we believe the fifty-five members of the New York State legislature, including the State Senate Majority Leader, who have concluded that Governor Cuomo can no longer effectively lead in the face of so many challenges.”

The 55 state lawmakers that Ocasio-Cortez references had released a letter Thursday urging the governor to step down.

The letter came on the heels of yet another allegation, in which an unnamed aide accused the governor of groping her at the Executive Mansion.

That allegation has been referred to Albany police.

The same day that the letter was released, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie authorized the Assembly Judiciary Committee to investigate, opening the door to a possible impeachment.

Cuomo, who reiterated Friday that he does not intend to resign, said in response to the growing calls for his ouster, “I’m not going to resign. I was not elected by the politicians, I was elected by the people. People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture, and the truth.”

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY EYES TEXAS GOVERNOR RUN

In an interview Thursday, Matthew McConaughey revealed that he is considering a run for governor of Texas.

“I am considering, as I said I’d be a fool not to, to consider the honor to go into the position of politics, as the governor of Texas. But I honestly have to ask myself, ‘How can I be most useful?’ And maybe that’s as a free agent,” McConaughey said, adding, “”I would say, as far as running, I’m not until I am. So my decision hasn’t changed because I’m still not.”

Which party would he be affiliated with should he decide to run?

“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” McConaughey said. “I’m a ‘Meet You in the Middle’ man. When I say ‘aggressively centric,’ that sometimes gets parceled over there with ‘Oh, that’s a shade of grey, a compromise.'”

Added McConaughey, “Sometimes the left is better at this, sometimes the right. There’s different choices for different circumstances.”

TRUMP PRESSES GEORGIA INVESTIGATOR TO FIND VOTER FRAUD IN NEWLY RELEASED RECORDING

In a six-minute call released by the “Wall Street Journal” Wednesday, then-President Donald Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State chief investigator Frances Watson to find evidence of fraud with absentee-by-mail ballots.

“Whatever you can do, Frances, it would be — it’s a great thing,” Trump said to the law enforcement official in December. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”

“If you get to Fulton,” Trump added, “you’re going to find things that are going to be unbelievable. Fulton is the motherlode.”

These claims would not be supported by evidence. A subsequent audit would find just two questionable ballots out of the 15,000 examined — both valid but needing an extra check to confirm the voter’s identity.

“Based on the result of the audit, the Cobb County Elections Department had a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures,” the report read. “No fraudulent absentee ballots were identified during the audit.”

The newly released call is the latest in a string of attempts to encourage election officials to find the “right answers,” and those attempts are now the subject of a criminal investigation by District Attorney Fani Willis.

Watson, for her part, told investigative reporter Mark Winne that she did not perceive any pressure from the president’s call.

Coronavirus

BIDEN ORDERS AN ADDITIONAL 100 MILLION VACCINE DOSES, DIRECTS STATES TO MAKE ALL ADULTS ELIGIBLE BY MAY 1

Following a White House meeting with Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky and Merck CEO Ken Frazier, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday plans to order an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The purchase will bring the country’s total vaccine order to 800 million doses, split amongst the three approved manufacturers. 

In a subsequent announcement during his first primetime address Thursday, Biden said that he would direct states to make all American adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

The Biden administration is currently on track to reach 2 million inoculations per day and to reach his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days on his 60th day in office, 40 days ahead of schedule.

National News

AMERICAN AIRLINES, UNITED CANCEL 27,000 FURLOUGHS FOLLOWING PASSAGE OF STIMULUS PACKAGE

After the House passed the Senate’s version of the coronavirus relief package Wednesday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom informed employees that the 13,000 furlough warnings issued last month would be “happily canceled.”

“For our 13,000 colleagues who received worker adjustment and retraining notification notices last month, those are happily canceled … you can tear them up!” airline leadership said in a memo.

Meanwhile, United Airlines withdrew 14,000 furloughs set to go into effect in April.

The relief bill contains $14 billion in worker support for the airline industry, in addition to $1 billion for eligible contractors, as well as an extension of the Payroll Support Program. To receive a portion of the $15 billion aid, airlines must agree not to furlough workers before Sept. 30.

“By extending PSP, our teams will be able to remain current in their training and ready to match expected future demand,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. “Thousands of frontline workers will now receive paychecks and health care through September, which is especially critical while vaccine distribution continues to ramp up.”

Added Kirby, “I thank the employees and union partners who made their voices heard, and I thank Congress and the Administration for listening as we work together to survive the unique impact the pandemic has had on our industry.”

DOW AND S&P 500 HIT RECORD HIGHS

The Dow extended gains Friday morning to hit a new record high, as shares of Boeing, The Travelers Companies, and Walgreens Boots Alliance outperformed. 

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 dipped slightly Friday morning, after closing the prior session at an all-time high.

Thursday saw the S&P 500 jump 1% to 3,939.34 and the Dow, 188.57 points — or 0.6% — to 32485.59, one day after the Dow closed above 32,000 for the first time.

The S&P 500 and Dow are on track to gain around 2% and 3.6% this week, respectively.

KEY TREASURY AUCTION SHOWS ADEQUATE DEMAND

According to CNBC, “U.S. Treasury yields dipped slightly on Wednesday after key 10-year Treasury auction data showed enough demand to stave off fears of investors worried about a possible slump in demand for the government’s debt and a recent rapid rise in rates.

“The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell about 2 basis points to 1.518% … The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond dropped nearly 2 basis points to 2.241%. Yields move inversely to prices (1 basis point equals 0.01%).

“The notes auction showed adequate demand for $38 billion in 10-year Treasuries, easing concern among traders that the country’s growing debt burden would be too much for the market to bear, hitting bond demand and forcing yields even higher.

“The U.S. 10-year yield at the bond auction was 1.523%. The bid-to-cover of 2.38 was slightly below the one year average of 2.42.

“’It was a soft auction but not enough to scare people in the aftermath,” said John Briggs, head of global strategy at NatWest Markets. “It’s not terrible. I think that’s what people were worried about.'”

Said Kit Juckes, Societe Generale macro strategist, “This week’s U.S. bond auctions came and went without too much of a fuss and Treasury yields seemed to be settling into a new (higher) range. However, with the S&P 500 making a new high yesterday evening, we’ve taken 10-year Note yields back up to 1.6%, and [stocks are] lower this morning as a result.

“The pattern seems clear enough: The equity market is seeing a sector rotation but not a correction; the bond market is seeking a new equilibrium in the light of a vastly improved economic outlook in both the U.S. and elsewhere; some policymakers are pushing back against the bond moves, with little success. As yields rise, the dollar rallies, but when yields settle at a new level, the dollar drops back. The pattern probably goes on until bonds find an equilibrium, unlikely before the 10-year note yields have a 2-handle, judging by taper tantrums and past cycles.”

JUDGE REINSTATES THIRD-DEGREE MURDER CHARGE IN DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL

District Judge Peter Cahill reinstated a third-degree murder charge Thursday against the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd.

Cahill had dismissed the charge in October for lack of probable cause, ruling that a third-degree murder charge under Minnesota law required proof that Chauvin’s conduct was “eminently dangerous to others,” not just to Floyd.

A ruling in an unrelated case, however, established precedent that “third-degree murder may occur even if the death-causing act endangered only one person,” paving the way for Chauvin’s charge to be reinstated.

In a ruling issued last Friday by a three-judge panel, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said that Cahill should have followed the precedent set by the appellate court last month when it affirmed the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamad Noor.

“This court’s precedential opinion in Noor became binding authority on the date it was filed,” the ruling said. “The district court therefore erred by concluding that it was not bound by the principles of law set forth in Noor and by denying the state’s motion to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder on that basis.”

Now bound by the appellate court’s ruling, Cahill reinstated the charge Thursday, saying, “I am granting the motion because although these cases are factually different — that is Noor and the case before us — I don’t think it’s a factual difference that weighs in favor of denying the motion to reinstate.”

The reinstatement of the charge is a win for prosecutors who, legal experts say, will have an easier time securing conviction on a third-degree murder charge than on a second-degree.

Thus far, seven jurors have been seated.

CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS REACHES $27 MILLION SETTLEMENT WITH FAMILY OF GEORGE FLOYD

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a $27 million settlement agreement Friday, marking an end to the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Floyd’s family last July seeking compensatory and special damages.

Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, said that it was the largest pretrial civil rights settlement ever, and “sends a powerful message that Black lives do matter and police brutality against people of color must end.”

Said Council President Lisa Bender, “I hope that today will center the voices of the family and anything that they would like to share. But I do want to, on behalf of the entire City Council, offer my deepest condolences to the family of George Floyd, his friends and all of our community who are mourning his loss.”

Floyd’s family will contribute $500,000 toward the neighborhood at the intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue — now known as George Floyd Square.

HACKERS BREACH SECURITY-CAMERA DATA, GAIN ACCESS TO 150,000 LIVE FEEDS

An international hacker collective was able to breach security-camera data collected by Verkada Inc. and gain access to the live feeds of 150,000 surveillance cameras inside psychiatric hospitals, women’s health clinics, police departments, prisons, schools, and companies like Tesla, Cloudflare, and Verkada itself.

Gaining access through a “Super Admin” account, whose username and password had been publicly exposed on the internet, the hackers were able to surveil everything from security camera footage of Sandy Hook Elementary School to the 330 cameras inside the Madison County Jail.

The hack, hacker Tillie Kottmann said, “exposes just how broadly we’re being surveilled, and how little care is put into at least securing the platforms used to do so, pursuing nothing but profit.”

World News

LAWMAKERS IN MEXICO PASS BILL TO LEGALIZE RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana Wednesday evening by a vote of 316-129, ahead of an April 30 deadline set by the country’s Supreme Court to legalize recreational sales.

The vote comes two years after the Supreme Court ruled a ban on recreational use of marijuana unconstitutional and three years after the country legalized medicinal marijuana.

In its current form, the bill would allow individuals to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana, allow growth of up to six plants at home with a permit, and grant licenses for producers, from small farmers to commercial growers, with priority given to small farmers and Indigenous persons in an effort to help those communities that have been disproportionately impacted by criminal enforcement.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill early next week, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expected to sign thereafter.

POLICE DISCOVER BODY OF SARAH EVERARD IN SOUTHEAST ENGLAND

Police confirmed Friday that the human remains found in a wooded area in southeast England Wednesday evening have been identified as those of Sarah Everard, the London woman who went missing while walking home from a friend’s house last week.

A Metropolitan Police officer was arrested Tuesday and is being held on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Everard and on suspicion of indecent exposure in a separate incident mere days before Everard’s disappearance.

“A man remains in custody at a London police station on suspicion of committing those crimes,” Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Nick Ephgrave said.

 A woman at the same address as the officer was also arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.

“Sarah was bright and beautiful — a wonderful daughter and sister,” Everard’s family said of the 33 year old. “She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humor.”

SAUDI BLOCKADE LEADS TO FUEL AND FOOD SHORTAGES IN YEMEN

According to an investigation by CNN, a blockade of Saudi warships that patrol the waters and exercise control over which commercial ships can dock and unload their cargo is preventing oil tankers from berthing at the port of Hodeidah.

Documents from the port’s arrival log show that 14 vessels had been cleared by the UN’s verification and inspection body to carry fuel to the country. And yet, the tankers have been blocked since the start of the year, forced to sit in the Red Sea between the Saudi-Yemen border and Eritrea.

The blockade is starving Yemen of fuel and food, exacerbating famine-like conditions for 47,000 residents and “crisis” or “emergency” food security conditions for 16 million more.

In February, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of offensive support for Saudi Arabia and the appointment of a special envoy for Yemen, paving the way for a potential ceasefire and resolution of the conflict.

“The US historically has not viewed Yemen as an independent sovereign nation in its own right. The US has treated Yemen as an extension of either the US-Saudi policy or the US-Iranian crisis,” said Munir Saeed, former president of Yemeni pro-democracy group TAWQ, adding, “Dealing with Yemen as a country by itself that has its own problems, and cutting it away from the problems of Saudi-Iranian problems … is very important to lead to peace.”

If you would like to help Yemen through its humanitarian crisis, consider making a donation to the World Food Programme or UNICEF.

Sports

GREG OLSEN AND THOMAS DAVIS SIGN ONE-DAY CONTRACTS TO RETIRE AS PANTHERS

Tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis, two of the captains of the 2015 Carolina Panthers team that made it to the Super Bowl, signed one-day contracts with Carolina Thursday to officially end their careers as Panthers.

Olsen and Davis had been released by Carolina in the years following David Tepper’s purchase of the franchise in 2018, but the two remained beloved fixtures among Panther fans and the organization’s leadership.

The ceremony featured moments both emotional and humorous about memories on the field and off.

Davis talked about how founder Jerry Richardson refused to give up on him after he tore his ACL for the third time and about how being a member of the Panthers helped him to shoulder the loss of his brother.

Olsen talked about the support he was provided when his son, TJ, was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect.

Quipped Olsen at the start of his speech, “I’ve got to talk to [my agent] Drew [Rosenhaus], I thought the signing bonus would be bigger.”

Watch the emotional retirement event below:

Pop Culture

‘HARRY POTTER’ ACTRESS KATIE LEUNG TOLD TO DENY RACIST ATTACKS DURING FILMING

During an interview on the podcast “Chinese Chippy Girl,” actress Katie Leung recalled her experience being on the receiving end of racist attacks during her time filming “Harry Potter.”

“I was, like, googling myself at one point, and I was on this website, which was kind of dedicated to the kind of ‘Harry Potter’ fandom,” Leung said. “I remember reading all the comments. And, yeah, it was a lot of racist s—.”

After speaking to her publicist about the issue, Leung was told to stay silent.

“I remember them saying to me, ‘Oh, look Katie, we haven’t seen these, these websites that people are talking about. And you know, if you get asked that just say it’s, say it’s not true, say it’s not happening,’” Leung said. “That was their support. And I just nodded my head, I was like, ‘OK.’”

Leung had previously discussed the harassment she faced from Potter fans in an interview with The Herald in 2016.

Warner Bros. Pictures has thus far declined to comment.

THE WEEKND WILL BOYCOTT FUTURE GRAMMYS AFTER SNUB

In a statement to “The New York Times,” the Weeknd expressed his intent to boycott future Grammy Awards because of the role that anonymous expert committees play in deciding who amongst voting member nominees makes the final cut.

“Because of the secret committees,” the Weeknd said, “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”

In response to the Weeknd’s statement, Recording Academy interim chief executive Harvey Mason Jr. said, “We’re all disappointed when anyone is upset. But I will say that we are constantly evolving. And this year, as in past years, we are going to take a hard look at how to improve our awards process, including the nomination review committees.”

The Weeknd was not shortlisted for a single award this year, despite the fact that his hit single “Blinding Lights” spent significant time at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

According to the Associated Press, in the last 30 years, only five No. 1 songs of the year have missed out at the Grammys: The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Kesha’s “TikTok,” Lifehouse’s “Hanging by a Moment,” Next’s “Too Close,” and Los del Río’s “Macarena.”

The snub prompted heightened calls for clarity.

Said former One Direction star Zayn Malik, “Fuck the grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there’s no nomination considerations. Next year I’ll send you a basket of confectionary.”

Added Malik, “My tweet was not personal or about eligibility but was about the need for inclusion and the lack of transparency of the nomination process and the space that creates and allows favoritism, racism, and netwokring [sic] politics to influence the voting process.”

Said the Weeknd, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”

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