Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Wake-Up Call: Hurricane Nicholas Makes A Texas Landfall

Hurricane Nicholas made landfall along the Texas coast early this morning with maximum winds of 75 miles per hour, just over the threshold from being a tropical storm. The storm came onshore on the Matagorda Peninsula and is moving north northeast, bring the threat of up to 20 inches of rain to some parts of coastal Texas. Southern Louisiana and Mississippi are also expected to get heavy rains, with a tornado also possible. Nicholas is the 14th named storm this year.

President Biden touted Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, a day ahead of California's recall election today, and also spoke about the effect of climate change on the wildfires burning across the region as he traveled to the western U.S., also stopping in Idaho. After taking an aerial tour of the Caldor Fire that threatened communities around Lake Tahoe, Biden said, "We can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change," saying they are "blinking 'code red' for our nation." He presented them as an argument for his $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan before Congress, which includes environmental measures. Biden campaigned with Newsom later in the day, linking his leading Republican challenger, conservative radio host Larry Elder, to former President Donald Trump, and telling California voters their decision would, quote, "reverberate around the nation and, quite frankly, not a joke, around the world."

Two FDA experts were among an international group of scientists who wrote an opinion piece in the scientific journal, The Lancet, yesterday saying that the average person who's been vaccinated against Covid-19 doesn't need a booster shot yet. The scientists said studies show the vaccines are working well despite the delta variant, especially against severe disease and death. The World Health Organization has also been urging that boosters not be given until there's more vaccination in poor countries. Among the authors are Drs. Phil Krause and Marion Gruber, two leading vaccine reviewers at the Food and Drug Administration, who recently announced they will be stepping down this fall. 

The White House has begun planning for boosters later this month, if both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree.

➤BLINKEN DEFENDS AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAWAL, BLAMES TRUMP:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday defended the administration’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the State Department's handling of the evacuation mission under sometimes strongly critical questioning before the House Foreign Affairs Comittee. Blinken pointed to the May 1st withdrawal deadline that had been agreed to by former President Donald Trump and Trump's removal of all but 2,500 troops before President Biden took office, saying, "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan." He said because of that situation, Biden, quote, "faced the choice between ending the war or escalating it." The administration has faced bipartisan criticism for not starting the evacuation of thousands of vulnerable Afghan allies sooner, in particular those who were translators for the U.S. military. Blinken again pointed to the Trump administration, saying the special visa program they'd inherited had a backlog of 17,000 visas, stating, "There had not been a single interview of an SIV applicant in Kabul in nine months, going back to March of 2020." Blinken also said U.S. citizens began being urged to leave Afghanistan as early as March.

➤SOCIAL MEDIA MAKING POLITICAL POLARIZATION WORSE: A new report out yesterday says that social media is making political polarization worse and charges that the platforms have failed to, quote, "self-regulate sufficiently," calling for government action. The report from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights says that polarization is having real-world consequences, quote, "which we are seeing basically eroding aspects of democracy and civil relationships among people and trust in institutions," according to Center deputy director Paul Barrett, one of the report's authors. It calls for the government to enact stronger transparency requirements for tech platforms about their inner workings and empower the Federal Trade Commission to draft and enforce new standards for industry conduct. The report also recommends that social media companies adjust their algorithms to try to depolarize their platforms more systemically and be more open about their decision-making.

🍎APPLE RELEASES EMERGENY SOFTWARE UPDATES: Apple released emergency software updates yesterday after security researchers discovered a critical vulnerability, and if you haven't installed the update on your Apple device, you should do so right away. The security flaw allows spyware from Israel's NSO Group to infect anyone's Apple device without the user having to click on anything or being aware they've been compromised. Through the "zero-click" infection method, the spyware can turn on a user’s camera and microphone, record even encrypted messages, texts, emails, calls.

➤CALIFORNIA SKI RESORT CHANGES NAME WITH OFFENSIVE TERM FOR NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN: A popular California ski resort changed its name Monday, which had included a derogatory term for Native American women. Palisades Tahoe is the new name for what used to be called Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Experts say that the word "squaw," which comes from the Algonquin language, may have once just meant "woman," but had over generations become an offensive term for Native American women. The ski resort is in Olympic Valley, which was known as Squaw Valley until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.

➤CRYTOCURRENCY SURGES 25 PERCENT DUE TO WALMART HOAX: A relatively little-used cryptocurrency called Litecoin surged 25 percent in value yesterday on reports that it had entered a partnership with Walmart -- which turned out to be a hoax. Its value then plunged back down again. Experts believe the whole thing was a "pump and dump" scam, in which a false story is used to drive up an asset's price before it's sold for a quick profit. In the hoax, a press release was put out from GlobeNewswire yesterday that claimed Walmart planned to accept payments from shoppers in litecoin. The newswire company issued a notice an hour later saying the press release came from a fraudulent account.
➤AOC WEARS 'TAX THE RICH' DRESS TO MET GALA: High-profile Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turned up at the lavish Met Gala in New York City last night wearing a white dress with "Tax the Rich" written in red on the back. The star-studded event, called "fashion's biggest night out," was returning after being canceled last year due to the pandemic, and tickets cost at least $30,000 each, although it's unclear if the self-described Democratic Socialist congresswoman bought a ticket. 

Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on the red carpet with the dress' designer, Aurora James, next to her, "[W]e said, we can't just play along, but we need to break the fourth wall and challenge some of the institutions, and while the Met is known for its spectacle, we should have a conversation about it." The dress drew a mixed response on social media, with some praising Ocasio-Cortez for bringing the "Tax the Rich" message to an event filled with rich, famous people, while others suggested there was hypocrisy in making that statement while at the same time attending the exclusive event.

➤COUNTING STEPS? A LOWER TOTAL STILL PAYS OFF:  It’s trendy to hit 10,000 steps a day, but if you usually come up short you shouldn’t fret. A new study finds that middle-aged people who walked an average of 7,000 steps per day had a 50 to 70 percent lower chance of dying from any cause over the next decade. Researchers add that health benefits continued to increase up to 10,000 steps before leveling off. About 2,000 steps is a mile for most people; and daily activities can rack up about 5,000 steps for some people.

➤THESE WILL BE THE BUSIEST TRAVEL DAYS OF THE 2021 HOLIDAY SEASON:  The travel industry is rebounding somewhat, even with COVID-19 variants making the rounds. Matt Clarke, with online travel agency Kayak says, “We’re already seeing significant momentum around international and domestic flight searches when compared to 2020, up 155 percent and 212 percent, respectively. When compared to 2019, however, both international and domestic flight searches are down, 52 percent and 43 percent, respectively.” But so far, people aren’t booking holiday travel as far in advance as they used to pre-pandemic. Clarke says he thinks people are waiting to book as they monitor travel restrictions, and until the holidays get closer before booking tickets. He adds the wait-and-see mentality is especially true for international travel. Priceline is predicting that the busiest travel day for the Thanksgiving holiday will be Monday, November 15th, while the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 24th) will be the second busiest. Kayak reports that as of now, the most popular travel day before Christmas is Wednesday, December 22nd, while the most popular travel day after Christmas is Tuesday, December 28th.

🏈HOW TO AVOID A POST NFL FOOTBALL SUNDAY HANGOVER:  If you’re a fan of football, the time of year has come where you might be tempted to call out of work on a Monday. The issue is Sunday NFL games might mean drinking a little too much, and you could end up with a nasty headache, some nausea, and irritability the next day. If you still want to drink but want to avoid the hangover, Fox news reports a good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage. And while there’s no hangover cure, some foods help curb the symptoms more than others, including eggs (contain an amino acid that can break down a certain chemical), bananas (can bring your potassium level back up to normal), and even meat (contains vitamin B23 and zinc-- lacking them equates with more severe hangovers).

🏈RAIDERS TOP RAVENS 33-27 IN OT IN SEASON'S 'MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL' DEBUT: The Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Baltimore Ravens 33-27 in overtime last night in Vegas in the first Monday Night Football game of the new season. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr appeared to have won it on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Edwards on the first possession of overtime, leading to a premature bench-clearing celebration that ended when the replay put the ball at the one-yard line. A quarterback sneak then failed, there was a false start and an interception. But Carl Nassib then managed a strip sack of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, and Carr got off a 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones for the win. The game went into overtime after the Raiders rallied to tie the game three separate times in the fourth quarter.

⚾GIANTS BECOME FIRST MLB TEAM TO CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT: The San Francisco Giants became the first MLB team to clinch a playoff spot last night with a 9-1 win over the San Diego Padres. The Giants, who are on an eight-game winning streak, have the best record in baseball at 94-50 with 18 games remaining, guaranteeing them at least a wild card. It’s the earliest the franchise has ever clinched a postseason berth.

🏈WASHINGTON QB FITZPATRICK ON INJURED RESERVE: The Washington Football Team has put quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on injured reserve after he suffered a hip injury on a hit in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Head coach Ron Rivera said Fitzpatrick will see more doctors to determine the severity of the injury and how long he'll be out. He will have to be on injured reserve for at least three weeks, and ESPN cited a source as saying he's expected to miss six to eight weeks. Taylor Heinicke, who replaced Fitzpatrick on Sunday, will start Thursday's game against the New York Giants.

🏈USC FIRES HEAD FOOTBALL COACH HELTON AFTER TWO GAMES: USC head football coach Clay Helton was fired Monday just two games into his seventh season. He was dismissed two days after a 42-28 loss to Stanford by athletic director Mike Bohn, who said, "[W]e’re committed to winning national championships, and we believe that in order to do that, a change was needed." Helton went 46-24 at USC, winning the Rose Bowl after the 2016 season and the Pac-12 title in 2017. Cornerbacks coach and associate head coach Donte Williams is taking over for the rest of the season, alongside the offensive and defensive coordinators.

⚾GUERRERO JR. HITS MLB-LEADING 45TH HR, TOPS FATHER'S SEASON HIGH: Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his MLB-leading 45th home run last night (September 13th) in the Blue Jays' 8-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, breaking a tie with the Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani. The homer also put him ahead of Hall of Fame father Vladimir Guerrero's season high, set in 2000 with Montreal.

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