Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Wake-Up Call: Trump Impeachment Trial Starts Today

The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will begin today, this time on a single charge of incitement to insurrection over the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. The House impeached Trump one week after the attack, with 10 Republicans joining the Democrats in voting to do so. Although he was still in office when he was impeached, Trump is now a former president, and his attorneys, as well as many Senate Republicans, have argued he can no longer face an impeachment trial because of it, a claim Democrats have pushed back against. Trump's attorneys have also suggested he was exercising his First Amendment rights when he encouraged his protesters at a rally before the attack to go the Capitol. Democrats in response have called Trump's, quote, "incitement of insurrection . . . the most grievous constitutional crime ever committed by a president."

Witnesses aren't expected to be called, with the Democratic House managers acting as prosecutors expected to rely on video of the attack and of Trump's fiery rhetoric refusing to concede the election results. Trump's attorneys have said they plan to play videos of Democrats making their own fiery speeches. Trump rejected a request to testify. The trial will likely last more than a week and will open today with debate on whether the trial is constitutional, followed by a vote on whether to dismiss the charge against Trump. If that vote fails, as is expected, the House managers will begin their arguments Wednesday.

➤COVID VACCINATIONS SPEEDING UP; STUDY SUGGESTS U.K. VARIANT COULD BE DOMINANT IN U.S. IN A MONTH: The coronavirus vaccination effort is speeding up, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting Monday that there were more than four million vaccinations over the weekend, a significantly faster pace than in previous days. Nearly 10 percent of Americans have now gotten at least one dose, but only under three percent have been fully vaccinated with two doses. The number of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 have fallen to their lowest point since early November, and the number of Americans hospitalized with the virus has also fallen sharply from the levels during and after the holidays. Daily deaths are still high, however, averaging more than 3,100 per days, although down slightly from their January peak.

U.K. Variant Spreading Rapidly: The vaccination effort is continuing to try to outrace the mutated variants, but a new study suggests the variant first found in the U.K. at least, which is more contagious, may be winning. The N.Y. Times reported yesterday that the Scripps Research Institute study found the U.K. variant is spreading rapidly in the U.S., doubling about every 10 days, and researchers predict it could become predominant in the U.S. in a month, which could bring a new surge of cases. It's still unclear if the U.K. variant is more deadly.

➤HACKER TRIED TO RAISE LEVELS OF LYE IN FLORIDA CITY'S WATER SUPPLY: A hacker who was able to get into the system controlling a Florida city's water treatment plant Friday tried to increase the level of the caustic chemical lye in the water supply to "dangerous levels," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said yesterday. Gualtieri said that the hacker got into the water treatment plant system for Oldsmar, a city of 15,000 northwest of Tampa, by using a remote access program shared by plant workers. The hacker was able to briefly increase the amount of lye, which is used to treat acidity in the water, but can cause irritation, burns and other problems in higher amounts, before a supervisor saw what was going on and immediately reversed the action. Oldsmar officials have since disabled the remote-access system, and say other safeguards were in place. Investigators said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the attack was from a domestic or foreign source. The FBI, Secret Service and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office are investigating.

➤NETANYAHU PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN CORRUPTION TRIAL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pled not guilty in his corruption trial yesterday on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. Netanyahu is accused of accepting expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering favors to powerful media owners in exchange for favorable coverage. The prime minister has accused the corruption cases of being, quote, "rigged" and a "witch-hunt" by biased law enforcement and media. Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go on trial for corruption.

➤GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE OPENS PROBE OF TRUMP CALLS TO TOP ELECTIONS OFFICIAL: Georgia's secretary of state's office opened an investigation Monday into a January 2nd phone call then-President Donald Trump made to the state's top elections official in which he asked that the official find enough votes to overturn his presidential election loss in Georgia. Trump said in the recorded conversation, "All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state." Trump repeatedly contended during the call with Brad Raffensperger that the secretary of state could change the certified election results, which Raffensperger told him wasn't possible. A senior adviser to Trump, Jason Miller, said in a statement there was, quote, "nothing improper or untoward" about the call.

➤14 KILLED IN AVALANCHES IN U.S. LAST WEEK, DEADLIEST WEEK ON RECORD: There were 14 people killed in avalanches in the U.S. since February 1st, the deadliest week of avalanche deaths since the U.S Forest Service's National Avalanche Center began tracking fatalities. The deaths were caused by avalanches in seven incidents over the week in six states: Utah; Colorado; New Hampshire; Montana; California; and Alaska. In three of those incidents, multiple people were killed; four in a Utah avalanche; three in a Colorado avalanche; and three in one in Alaska. At least 21 people have died in avalanches in the U.S. since the start of the season in December 2020.

➤FLORISTS HAVE NEVER SEEN A FEBRUARY LIKE THIS ONE BEFORE:  It’s nearly Valentine’s Day and a global pandemic is still happening, and when these two things combine it makes for a February like no florist has ever experienced before. Deborah De La Flor has been a florist for over 40 years near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and says, “At a time when someone is sending you an ‘I love you’ card, someone [else] is sending an ‘I loved you’ card.” Maria Alvarez is a flower seller in Los Angeles, and says her managers at David’s Flowers have been forced to turn away families seeking funeral flowers because of the Valentine’s Day demand. She adds that it’s also been tough to tell people how much funeral flowers cost, as due to a lack of supplies, prices for funeral wreaths have jumped from $85 to $120 in just a few weeks. The Society of American Florists is the biggest trade group representing the U.S. floral industry, and says most of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from Ecuador and Mexico. The surge of orders in recent months, many of them online, has strained the supply chain, leading to a lack of space on planes and trucks to deliver enough flowers on time.

➤FACEBOOK BANNING ALL ANTI-VACCINE CONTENT: Facebook is making its most decisive move yet to combat vaccine misinformation, saying in a blog post yesterday that it's banning anti-vaccine content, and that the ban applies to misinformation for all vaccines, not just those for Covid-19. Additionally, Facebook will be encouraging Americans to get a Covid vaccine, including directing them to information about when they are eligible to get it and how to find places that have doses available. Facebook said its effort is being developed in consultation with health authorities like the World Health Organization. Recode notes, however, that having a policy and being able to enforce it are different things, and misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has appeared on Facebook despite earlier rules barring misinformation specifically about them, and were able to get tons of views before being taken down. Experts have for years before the coronavirus pandemic warned about Facebook's role in promoting anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and some critics say this move took too long to happen.

➤DAY TRADER'S FAMILY SUES AFTER SUICIDE: The family of an inexperienced 20-year-old stock trader who killed himself last summer after mistakenly believing he'd lost more than $700,000 are suing Robinhood Financial, claiming the popular trading app's business practices led to Alex Kearns' death. The suit charges that Robinhood uses, quote, "aggressive tactics and strategy to lure inexperienced and unsophisticated investors . . . to take big risks with the lure of tantalizing profits," and also said it gives little or no investment guidance to users. 

Kearns, who was a University of Nebraska student, got emails from Robinhood after 11 p.m. on June 11th telling him his account was restricted and he was required to buy $700,000 in shares as a result of an options trade. The lawsuit says his account was left with a negative balance of $730,000 on a trade he'd understood would be limited to a maximum loss of less than $10,000. Kearns sent several emails to Robinhood’s customer support desperately trying to get information, but got only auto-generated replies. Hours later, after 3:30 a.m., Kearns got an email from Robinhood saying he needed to deposit more than $178,000 within seven days. Still unable to reach anyone at Robinhood, a, quote, "highly distressed" Kearns committed suicide. In reality, according to the lawsuit, the emails were misleading and Kearns had options in his account that more than covered what he owed. Robinhood said yesterday that it has since made improvements, including providing more information on options trading, having financial and experience requirements for new customers seeking to trade options, and "live voice support" for customers in some options cases. Critics have charged Robinhood could be enabling inexperienced investors to trade investments that are too risky too often by making trading so cheap and easy as it has been trying to bring more regular people into investing.

🎾NADAL, KENIN AMONG FIRST-ROUND WINNERS AT AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Second-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain was among the winners on Day Two at the Australian Open on Monday, defeating 56th-ranked Serbian player Laslo Djere in straight sets. Fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev also won his first-round match. On the women's side, American Sofia Kenin, the defending champion, won her first match, as did top-ranked Ash Barty and second-seeded Simona Halep.

🏈ESPN: BRADY TEXTED APOLOGY TO CHIEFS' MATHIEU AFTER SUPER BOWL: Tom Brady tweeted an apology to Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu immediately after the quarterback led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 Super Bowl win over the Chiefs on Sunday, ESPN reported yesterday. Brady and Mathieu had several verbal altercations on the field during the game, and at one point, Brady chased Mathieu down to verbally lash out at him. ESPN, which said it was read the text, said Brady apologized for losing his composure in the heat of the moment, praised Mathieu as the "ultimate competitor," and an "incredible leader, champion and class act," and said he'd like to apologize in person in the future. Mathieu had said in since-deleted tweet that Brady started the verbal dispute when he called Mathieu, quote, "something I won't repeat."

⚾MLB KEEPING SEVEN-INNING DOUBLEHEADERS, RUNNERS ON SECOND BASE FOR EXTRA INNINGS THIS SEASON: MLB will keep rules changes for a second straight season under which doubleheader games will be seven innings and there will be runners on second base to start extra innings, according to an agreement reached yesterday with the players' association. Not being brought back for a second year are using the designated hitter in the National League and expanded playoffs. The rules changes were made and are being continued because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

⚾MLB HAS SLIGHTLY DEADENED BALLS DUE TO HOME RUN SURGE: MLB has deadened its baseballs slightly due to a years-long surge in home runs, The Athletic first reported yesterday. MLB said in a memo to teams last week that it's expected the change will be subtle, with lab testing finding the new balls will travel one to two feet less when hit over 375 feet. A committee of scientists commissioned by MLB concluded after the 2019 season that baseballs had less drag than in previous seasons, contributing to an increase in home runs, in part because of inconsistencies in the height of the balls' seams.

⚾CARDINALS KEEP MOLINA FOR 18TH SEASON: The St. Louis Cardinals signed catcher Yadier Molina for an 18th season yesterday, agreeing to a one-year, $9 million deal with the 38-year-old. The nine-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner has played his entire MLB career with the Cardinals, winning the World Series with them twice, in 2006 and 2011.

🏀MIAMI-NORTH CAROLINA BASKETBALL GAME POSTPONED OVER PARTY VIDEO: Last night's scheduled college basketball game between Miami and North Carolina was postponed about two hours before tipoff after a video surfaced showing two North Carolina players at a party without masks on. North Carolina's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, posted the Snapchat video showing Day'Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot unmasked at a party after the team's win over Duke on Saturday.

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