Week In Review
By La-Vaughnda A. Taylor Edited by Elissa D. Hecker
Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Entertainment, Arts, Sports, Technology/Media, and General News:
Michael Jackson's Estate Wins Relief in Tax Case
A U.S. tax court has handed a major victory to the estate of Michael Jackson in a years-long battle, finding that the IRS wildly inflated the value at the time of his death of Jackson's assets and image, leading to an estate tax bill for his heirs that was far too high. Jackson's assets at the time of his death in June 2009 were worth $111 million, well below the $482 million estimated by the IRS, Judge Mark Holmes ruled in a 271-page opinion. The tax court estimated that the value of the assets was reduced by the fact that the late pop singer had passed away at the peak of his popularity, was heavily indebted, and had a damaged reputation due to allegations of child molestation. The ruling is a win for the controversial singer's family and brings to an end years of debate over the estate's worth after the IRS audited its returns in 2013, leading to a $700-million tax bill. The IRS had estimated that the estate had underestimated its taxes by more than $500 million and penalized it by adding nearly $200 million more.
Musicians Speak Up for Creative Equity
Services like Spotify and Apple Music pulled the business back from the brink, but artists say that they still can't make a living. The heart of the musicians' critique is how payouts are distributed. A new advocacy group, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, is demanding higher payouts. In Britain, more than 150 artists (including Paul McCartney and Sting) signed a letter asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson for reforms. The terms of record companies' contracts with artists, like royalty rates and ownership of recordings, are coming under greater scrutiny. Even streaming's fundamental accounting rules have been getting a fresh look.
Broadway, Baby? Curtains Go Up in September, and the Box Office Opens Soon
Live Broadway shows will return to the stage starting on September 14th after an 18-month hiatus to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Tickets will go on sale beginning on Thursday and theaters will be allowed to fill 100% capacity. Broadway theaters are among New York's biggest tourist attractions. Live theater is one of the last sectors to come back after the pandemic because of the challenges of social distancing for actors on stage, crews backstage, and audiences in cramped seating in old buildings.
Despite Outcry, University of Texas Keeps a Song With Minstrel Roots
Many students want "The Eyes of Texas" to go. Wealthy alumni insist that it should stay. The dispute has become a flash point as universities struggle to deal with traditions spawned in earlier eras. For generations, the fight song at the University of Texas at Austin has been etched into the state's very fabric. However, since last summer, the anthem, which was first performed in 1903 at a minstrel show by white students who were likely in blackface, has divided the Longhorn community, pitting adiminstrators and wealthy donors against students and faculty who want the university to abolish it and write a new alma mater. After administrators doubled down on the position that it would remain a central feature of university life, tensions escalated, with student campus tour guides going on strike, pleas from Black legislators to drop use of the song, and threats by wealthy alumni to cut off donations.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Signs College Athlete Name, Image, Likeness Bill Into Law
The name, image, and likeness bill passed by Georgia General Assembly will allow athletes to start cashing in on their personas. The law takes effect on July 1st. The new law allows college athletes in the state to be paid for endorsements, autographs, personal appearances, and social media posts. The state law could be superseded by federal legislation that still could be passed before July or it could be challenged in court by the NCAA, which -- absent a federal law -- could approve a package of related rules changes similar to one that had been scheduled for a vote in January but was tabled. In that scenario, the strength of the NCAA's legal position could be affected by the Supreme Court decision expected later this month or in June in the Alston anti-trust case.
As States Act, NCAA Chief Budges on Pay
Florida and 4 other states are poised to allow players to make endorsement deals starting this summer, and with universities in other states anxious about losing recruits, the NCAA is moving anew toward extending similar rights to college athletes across the country. NCAA's president Mark Emmert said in an interview that he would recommend that college sports' governing bodies approve new rules "before, or as close to, July 1," when the new laws are scheduled to go into effect in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The changes together promise to reshape a multibillion-dollar industry and to test the NCAA's generations-long assertion that student-athletes should be amateurs who play mainly for scholarships and that college sports appeal to fans partly because the players are not professionals. Under a proposal that has been before NCAA members for months, student-athletes could be paid in exchange for use of their names, images, and likeness by many private companies. The plan, which could take effect by August 1st, would also let players earn money through advertisements on their social media accounts.
Federal Judge Bats Down Football Helmet Conspiracy Antitrust Lawsuit
A new ruling by a federal judge upholds the ability of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) to influence the sale of helmets and related products. Judge Drain of Michigan's Eastern Federal District Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by Mayfield Athletics, seller of a football helmet shock absorber called SAFE Clip. Mayfield contends that NOCSAE has unlawfully conspired with a handful of football helmet manufacturers -- including Riddell, Schutt Sports, Xenith, and other named co-defendants -- to control nearly 100% of the market for football helmets and add-ons. Although NOCSAE is not a government entity and no product "must" bear NOCSAE-certification for retail, most football regulatory bodies -- including youth leagues, the NCAA, and National Football League (NFL) -- require that helmets satisfy NOCSAE standards. Mayfield's specific grievance concerns how NOCSAE addresses add-on products to already certified helmets. As Mayfield sees it, NOCSAE and helmet manufacturers are violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and other laws by conspiring to interfere with SAFE Clip sales.
Court Denies University of Iowa Motion to Dismiss $20 Million Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Its Football Program
The University of Iowa's motion to dismiss a $20 million racial discrimination lawsuit brought forth by 8 Black former football players has been denied. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled that the lawsuit will proceed and that the plaintiffs, a group that includes all-time Hawkeye greats Akrum Wadley and Kevonte Mar-tin-Manley, will have the opportunity to argue in court the the Iowa football program was "a racially hostile environment". The court also approved some of Iowa's requests to dismiss certain counts.
15-Year-Old Soccer Player Sues National Women's Soccer League Over Age Restrictions
Fifteen-year-old soccer prodigy Olivia Moultrie is suing the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) over its refusal to allow her to play because of her age. The NWSL requires all players to be at least 18 years old, and the lawsuit filed in Portland, Oregon, alleges that by not allowing Moultrie to play for the NWSL, the league is violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Moultrie believes that the age minimum will hinder her development and delay the chances of her being invited to play on an Olympic team or the U.S. Women's National Team. The "Age Rule" is noted to be "highly unusual in world soccer, male or female" because Major League Soccer in the U.S. does not have an age limit, and has had players under 18 compete -- similarly to men's and women's major leagues around the world.
Athletes and Officials to Be Offered Vaccines
Coronavirus vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech will donate doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Delivery of doses is set to begin this month to give Olympic delegations time to be fully vaccinated with a second shot before arriving in Tokyo for the Games, which open on July 23rd. It's the second major vaccination deal for the IOC. An agreement was announced in March between it and Olympic officials in China to buy and distribute Chinese vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games and next year's Beijing Winter Games.
In Tokyo, Hosting an Olympics With 78,000 Unvaccinated Volunteers
For Olympic host cities, one of the keys to a successful Games is the army of volunteers who perform a range of duties. If the rescheduled Tokyo Games go ahead as planned this summer, roughly 78,000 volunteers will have another responsibility: preventing the spread of the coronavirus, both among participants and themselves. For protection, the volunteers are being offered little more than two cloth masks, a bottle of sanitizer, and mantras about social distancing. Unless they qualify for vaccination through Japan's slow age-based rollout, they will not be inoculated. As organizers have scrambled to assure the globe that they call pull of the Games in the midst of a pandemic, the volunteers have been left largely on their own to figure out how to avoid infection.
Drug Testing a Struggle Ahead of Tokyo Games
The pandemic has slowed worldwide drug testing to a crawl. The process has resumed, but the problems that led to poor testing ahead of the 2016 games have not gone away. In the months before the Rio Games in 2016, more than 1,900 athletes across 10 key sports -- including track and field, weight lifting, and cycling -- were not tested, a failure that doping officials vowed would not be repeated in the next Olympic cycle. However, 5 years later, the world's antidoping organizations are struggling to live up to that promise ahead of this summer's Tokyo Games, in part because the coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult to fix a problem that has persisted for decades, as testing is inconsistent across numerous countries.
Athletes Are Banned From Wearing Black Lives Matter Clothing at Tokyo
The IOC has ruled that athletes will not be permitted to wear Black Lives Matter apparel during the Tokyo Olympics. It would also consider punishing any athletes involved in protests or demonstrations during the ceremonies or on the podium. The IOC said that any items of clothing featuring slogans like "Black Lives Matter" will not be allowed. Despite the move, apparel featuring the words "peace", "respect", "solidarity", "inclusion", and "equality" are permitted. In citing reasons for the decision, the IOC said that 70% of 3,500 athletes surveyed last year agreed that it wasn't "appropriate to demonstrate or express their views" while participating in the Olympics or attending the opening and closing ceremonies.
Any Olympic Dream Dashed by a Nasal Swab
Qualifying for the Games can be the achievement of a lifetime. In the coronavirus era, though, that opportunity can vanish without warning. Such was the case with Nick Suriano who missed out on his Olympic wrestling qualifier due to a positive Covid test. Suriano tested negative for the virus before boarding a plane bound for Fort Worth for the trials, then tested positive shortly after he arrived. His Olympic dream, years in the making, was over. The pandemic has been wreaking havoc with sports in general, and the Olympics in particular, for more than a year. Lives and careers have been upended, reimagined, and remade. Yet with the Games scheduled to start in fewer than 3 months, the space to adapt has disappeared, and some virus-related obstacles are now likely to be insurmountable.
A Mother Fights for a Spot in the Olympics
Olympic organizers changed how boxers form the Americas would qualify for Tokyo because of the pandemic. Now, one of the best Canadians is on the outside looking in. The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to be Mandy Bujold's swan song, a capstone to the career of one of Canada's best amateur boxers. Bujold's bid for an Olympic medal before retiring from boxing now appears in jeopardy, undone by the coronavirus pandemic and ad hoc qualification rules that effectively penalized Bujold for having had a child. Last month, after the qualifying tournament in Buenos Aires for boxers from the Americas was canceled because of the pandemic, the IOC's Boxing Task Force said that boxers from North and South American countries would qualify for Tokyo based on their rankings at 3 tournaments held in 2018 and 2019. Bujold, however, did not box for much of 2018 and 2019 because of her pregnancy. She asked the IOC to recognize her ranking from before she was pregnant, when she was eighth in the world and second in the Americas. Women athletes in other sports -- notably, Serena Williams in tennis -- have fought for and won similar accommodations. However, the IOC denied Bujold's request because, it said, making an exception for her might prompt other athletes to ask for exemptions, too. Bujold filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, arguing that her human rights were violated.
Lawyers Called in as Rift Grows in Oceania Weightlifting
The Oceania Weightlifting Federation (OWF) is refusing a demand from its own members for elections to be held at an Extraordinary Congress. The date for the Extraordinary Congress -- which was requested by 9 nations who appear to be unhappy with the way the sport is governed by their continental federation -- has been set by the OWF for July 24th, the opening day of the competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Oceania's 22 member federations were informed of the date last week, more than a month after the OWF first received a formal request to hold an Extraordinary Congress, and only after it had taken legal advice. The lawyers have "interpreted" the OWF Constitution and advised member federations that elections cannot be held until after the Olympic Games because "an Extraordinary Congress is not the same as an Annual Congress". Members have said that the legal advice was "irrelevant and unhelpful" and that lawyers had no place in the process of deciding on the OWF's Constitutional matters. The Congress and Championships were scheduled for April last year but because of the pandemic they were postponed. Lockdowns and border closures led to further postponements.
British Baseball Federation Sorry for 'Distress' Caused by Women's League Image
The British Baseball Federation (BBF) is under fire over using an image of a what appears to be a naked woman to promote its new women's league, and the general manager of the women's national team has resigned in protest over the incident. The post that launched the scandal re-lates to the Women's Baseball League, which was announced last May as a partnership between the BBF and WB-UK but has yet to come to fruition, with the COVID-19 crisis and government restrictions on sports blamed for the delay. A doctored stock image is what appears to be a naked woman -- whose top half is pictured form behind -- wearing a baseball helmet and mitt was accompanied by the all-capital words "Women's Baseball League" and "Coming Soon..." The image has since been removed and the BBF issued an apology following heavy criticism.
Nine Super League Teams Repent. The Other 3 Vow to Start a New War
Nine of a breakaway soccer league have admitted it was a mistake and agreed to pay fines. However, 3 holdouts are vowing to seek damages. Less than 2 weeks after they became partners in a European Super League that would have cast aside the structures and organizations that have underpinned soccer for nearly a century, a group of the sport's biggest clubs are now engaging in a new battle amongst themselves. The humbling recommitment by the teams -- Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City; Inter and A.C. Milan; and Atlético Madrid -- came with a cost. The 9 clubs agreed to donate a total of 15 million euros (about $2 million per team) to a UEFA youth charity; surrender 5% of the revenue they would have received from Continental competitions this season; and pay a fine of 100 million euros (about $121 million) if they ever again join an unauthorized competition. Yet in agreeing to the terms of their reinstatement, the 9teams set up a significant -- and potentially expensive -- fight over a letter sent by the 3 Super League holdouts (Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona), which are threatening to extract millions of dollars in damages from any club that walks away from the project.
Powerhouse in England Fights League in the Courts
Manchester City, the English soccer team that is on the cusp of winning the Premier League for the third time in 4 seasons, is involved in a secret legal battle with the league over whether it complied with financial rules as it surged to become one of the sport's dominant forces. In 2019, German news weekly Der Spiegel, citing internal club information, said that the club had disguised direct investment by its owner, Sheikh Mansour, as sponsorship income. City has always insisted it has not broken any regulations and again denounced the stolen documents as "out-of-context materials purported to have been criminally obtained" and then published as a part of an "organized and clear attempt to damage the club's reputation." City has spent millions defending itself since the allegations first emerged. Its lawyers are fighting against the league's arbitration process, arguing that the club will not obtain a fair hearing. City is challenging the Premier League in Britain's civil courts where publication of material related to the case has been kept confidential despite intense public interest in the case.
Transgender Weightlifter Hubbard Qualifies for Tokyo After Rule Changes
Laurel Hubbard, the transgender weightlifter from New Zealand, has been effectively guaranteed a place at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after the approval of an amended qualifying system by the IOC. Under the new rules, which were needed because so many competitions were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hubbard is sure of a place at Tokyo.
Covid Hits India Event, Stranding Australians
The vast majority of Australia's 38-strong Indian Premier League contingent has departed for the Maldives, beginning their long and indirect journey home from the aborted Twenty 20 tournament. Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association confirmed that players, coaches, officials, and commentators were en route from India to the Maldives. The Board of Control of Cricket in India BCCI and franchisees are overseeing arrangements for outbound players after the IPL was halted because of Covid-19 cases among players and staff. The BCCI has signed off on plans for those from England, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies, and other parts of the world to leave. However, Australians were unable to return home until May 15th, because of its federal government's ban on all incoming travelers from coronavirus-ravaged India.
Tech Giants Take App Fight to Court
The biggest antitrust trial involving a technology giant in more than two decades began last week. "Fortnite" maker Epic Games and Apple kicked off their 3-week trial in a courtroom battle that could have far reaching implications for the iPhone maker's business model and U.S. antitrust law. In opening statements, Epic painted Apple as a monopolist that concocted a plan to lure software developers and customers into iOS, its mobile operating system, and then lock them in with onerous and restrictive rules. Apple painted Epic as an opportunist looking to cut costs with a court case that could destroy iOS and endanger consumers by forcing allowing harmful and malicious apps onto their phones. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers must analyze whether iOS falls into the strict legal definition of a monopoly, and then whether Apple's business practices amount to an abuse of monopoly power. Apple's strategy is to steer the case into the narrow confines of the portions of U.S. antitrust case law that benefits its side. Yet Apple may not be able to sidestep the bigger philosophical question of whether its operating system has grown so large and important that it has become its own market. The trial marks the highest profile antitrust trial involving a technology giant since the U.S. Department of Justice brought Microsoft to court over similar allegations more than 20 years ago.
Major Pipeline Forced to Close By Cyberattack
One of the nation's largest pipelines, which carries refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas up the East Coast to New York, was forced to shut down after being hit by ransomware in a vivid demonstration of the vulnerability of energy infrastructure to cyberattacks. A prolonged shut-down of the line would cause prices to spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season, a potential blow to U.S. consumers and the economy. Colonial transports 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, and other fuels through 5,500 miles of pipelines linking refiners on the Gulf Coast to the eastern and southern U.S. It also serves some of the country's largest airports, including Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the world's business by passenger traffic. The company said that shut down its operations after learning of a cyberattack.
Trump's Facebook Ban Upheld, Reviving Debate on Free Speech
Facebook was justified in banning then-President Donald Trump from its platform the day after the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol, but it needs to reassess how long the ban will remain in effect, according to the social network's quasi-independent Oversight Board. The decision to uphold the ban is a blow to Trump's hopes to post again to Facebook or Instagram anytime soon, but it opens the door to him eventually returning to the platforms. Facebook must complete a review of the length of the suspension within 6 months.
Trump Justice Department Obtained Phone Records of 3 Reporters
The Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of the newspaper's reporters. The Post reported that the DOJ sent letters dated May 3rd to its reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, informing them that they were "hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone number for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017." The newspaper said that the records were obtained over reporting done in early 2017 about the role of Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
Internet Providers Faked Opposition to Net Neutrality, According to New York State
A report issued by New York's attorney general says that some of the country's biggest internet service providers helped fund a secret campaign that flooded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with millions of fake comments supporting the repeal of net neutrality protections. All told, fake comments accounted for nearly 18 million of the more than 22 million comments received by the FCC during its 2017 rule making, the report says. These comments were often cited as a reason as to why the FCC voted in 2017 to eliminate new neutrality rules, which the agency had put in place during the Obama administration.
Elon Musk, Memelord, Doubles Down
Elon Musk -- the Tesla chief executive, SpaceX founder and SNL host -- is an open admire of memes. He has referred to memes as "modern art" and shares them regularly on Twitter, where he has more than 52 million followers. Musk doesn't make many memes himself. Instead he finds them online and has others send him their favorites. Sometimes he reposts his favorites without citing their origins. The practice isn't unusual. Many people on the internet share other people's memes without giving the creators credit, in part because credit can be hard to discern. Memes rely on reinterpretations of joke formats, and its not always clear where they begin. Yet the fact that Musk frequently steals memes has become, essentially, a meme in itself and not always perceived as amusing. For comedians and content creators, memes are valuable intellectual property. In recent years, viral meme accounts that have built and monetized big followings by reposting work from other creators without credit or payment have encountered backlash. The 2019 campaign against an IG account run by Jerry Media helped shift the standards by which brands and top influencers abide today. Some attorneys argue that without "transformative use", there could be a case for copyright infringement. Now, when a brand uses a meme for marketing purposes, it generally asks for permission to share the image, and credits the owner. In many cases, the brand also pays a licensing fee. Musk, who is both a successful businessman and a freewheeling personal brand, appears to be an exception. Several people who have had their content posted by Musk have since asked for payment, be it in dollars, Teslas or Bitcoin.
Cheating Charges at Dartmouth Show Pitfalls of Tech Tracking
The university accused 17 students of cheating on remote exams, raising questions about data mining and sowing mistrust on campus. The allegations have prompted an on-campus protest, letters of concern to school administrators from more than two dozen faculty members, and complaints of unfair treatment from the student government, turning the pastoral Ivy League campus into a national battleground over escalating school surveillance during the pandemic. At the heart of the accusations is Dartmouth's use of the Canvas system to retroactively track student activity during remote exams without their knowledge. In the process, the medical school may have overstepped by using certain online activity data to try to pinpoint cheating, leading to some erroneous accusations, according to independent technology experts, a review of software code, and school documents obtained by The New York Times. Darmouth's drive to root out cheating provides a sobering case study of how the coronavirus has accelerated colleges' reliance on technology, normalizing student tracking in ways that are likely to endure after the pandemic.
Hong Kong Puts War on 'Fake News' in Writing
The police distributed a magazine denouncing "rumors and lies," and have warned news outlets against undermining national security. The 12-page magazine, distributed to news outlets, described the police's efforts to push back against misinformation. Officials in Hong Kong are increasingly seizing on the label of "fake news", a common authoritarian refrain. The city's leader, Carrier Lam, said that the government was looking at laws to tackle "misinformation, hatred and lies." The city's police chief has said that a fake-news law would help fight threats to national security. The rhetoric is raising fears among activists that the label could be used as a new tool to muzzle dissent. The authorities have moved swiftly to quash the opposition in Hong Kong since government protests engulfed the city in 2019. The city's traditionally unfettered news media, known for coverage that has been critical of the establishment, has been under attack for months.
A Battle Royal Fueled by Beijing
Internet companies are using the threat of government action as a cudgel against rivals. That could make the Communist Party the ultimate arbiter over the industry. Lawsuits are flying and tempers are flaring on the Chinese internet, home to the world's largest single group of internet users. Beijing made it abundantly clear late last year that it was serious about curbing the power of a handful of companies that dominate online life in China. Now China's internet companies are kowtowing to Beijing and trying to make their rivals look bad instead of correcting their own anticompetitive behavior.
Audio-Only App Stirs Fresh Political Debate Within the Middle East
The social networking app Clubhouse is booming in authoritarian countries, where users are speaking freely about otherwise taboo topics. Clubhouse is the audio-only social networking app that has offered users from repressive countries across the Middle East a new forum to connect, debate, vent, and listen in real-time audio chat rooms. Saudis have discussed legalizing alcohol and abortion, both taboos in Saudi Arabia. Egyptians have wondered aloud what it would take to challenge their autocratic ruler. Iranians have turned out to question government officials and share stories of sexual harassment. People on Clubhouse are "practicing democracy in real time." In a region where most elections are foreordained, rulers are inaccessible, TV programs blare pro-government talking heads, and other social media apps are either banned or closely monitored by government security services, Clubhouse has become a virtual town square. The app has been downloaded 1.1 million times in the Middle East since it became available there in January, accounting for nearly 7% of global downloads.
German Prosecutors Bust Child Sex Abuse Website
German police have arrested 3 people in connection with one of the world's largest platforms containing child sex abuse materials. A fourth person was arrested in Paraguay, according to Interpol. The online platform, which was known as Boystown and was hosted on the dark web, had 400,000 registered users when it was taken offline by an international Taskforce. The global team, spearheaded by the German Federal Criminal Police -- the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) -- included the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) and law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. All of the suspects are male German nationals.
In Reversal, Biden Raises Limits on Refugees
President Biden resurrected a plan a raise refugee admissions this year to 62,500 after drawing a wave of criticism from supporters for initially keeping the refugee cap at a historically low level. Biden formally reversed himself just 2 weeks after his administration announced that it would keep the cap at the 15,000 level set by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump,. Biden's flip-flopping drew the ire of refugee advocates and some Democratic lawmakers. Trump steadily slashed the size of the refugee program during his term in office and Biden officials say the cuts have made quickly raising admissions more difficult.
Major Greenhouse Gases Sharply Cut by the Environmental Protection Agency
The Biden administration is moving quickly to limit hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the Earth-warming chemicals used in air-conditioning and refrigeration. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to sharply reduce the use and production of such powerful greenhouse gases as part of the Biden administration's larger strategy of trying to slow the pace of global warming. The HFCs are a class of people-made chemicals that are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. The proposal is the first significant step that the EPA has taken under Biden to curb climate change.
Federal Judge Strikes Down Eviction Moratorium
A federal judge has issued a sweeping rule that would revoke a pandemic eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while the DOJ is appealing on behalf of the CDC. The case was brought by the Alabama Association of Realtors, which argued that the CDC doesn't have the power to tell landlords that they can't evict during a pandemic. The judge agreed. There have been several rulings on the matter, with conflicting decisions. The latest one goes farther than any of them by moving to strike down the eviction moratorium nationwide.
New Rules to Streamline Virus Relief for Tenants
The Treasury Department issued new rules intended to make it easier for tenants to benefit form the $46.5 billion in emergency rental aid. Two days after a federal judge struck down a national moratorium on evictions, the Biden administration said that it would accelerate the distribution of vast sums of rental aid that state and local governments have been slow to spend. The new rules simplify applications, cover an expanded list of costs, like moving epenses and hotel stays, and require programs to help tenants even if their landlords refuse to participate. Housing advocates praised the changes, which include an expansion of legal aid to tenants and a promise of advice to localities struggling to create the programs, which are in-tended to avert evictions caused by the economic shocks from the pandemic.
Constitutional Battles Loom for Bill Aimed at Expanding Voting
If the sweeping voting rights bill that the House passed in March overcomes substantial hurdles in the Senate to become law, it would reshape American elections and represent a triumph for Democrats eager to combat the wave of election restrictions moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures. The passage of the bill, known as H.R. 1, would end a legislative fight and start a legal war that could dwarf the court challenges aimed at the Affordable Care Act over the past decade. The potential for the bill to set off a sprawling constitutional battle is largely a function of its ambitions. It would end felon disenfranchisement, require in-dependent commissions to draw congressional districts, establish public financing for congressional candidates, order presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns, address dark money in political advertising, and restructure the Federal Election Commission.
Asian-American Executives Fund Anti-Discrimination Fight
Some of the wealthiest and most influential Asian-American business leaders are mounting an ambitious plan to challenge anti-Asian discrimination, rewrite school curriculums to reflect the role of Asian-Americans in history, and collect data to guide policymakers. The group has pledged $125 million to a new initiative, the Asian American Foundation. The foundation has raised another $125 million from organizations like Walmart, Bank of America, the Ford Foundation, and the National Basketball Association. It is the single largest philanthropic gift devoted to Asian-Americans, who make up about 6% of the U.S. population but receive less than 1% of philanthropic funding. The effort comes amid a surge in violence against Asian-Americans.
DOJ Seeks Funds to Counter Inequality
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told lawmakers that the DOJ needs more money for Biden administration priorities, including combating domestic extremism, racial inequality, environmental degradation, and gender violence. The $35.2 billion budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October is an 11% increase from the previous year. The budget proposal, which includes funding for gun safety measures and immigration courts, reflects a commitment to ensure "the civil rights and the civil liberties" of Americans. Democrats generally expressed support for the proposed budget. Republicans on the House committee said that they were concerned about any decision to de-emphasize the federal fight against violent crime and drug addition and they pushed back on Garland's request for an addition $232 million to curb gun violence.
Judge Says That Barr Misled Court on How His Justice Department Viewed Trump's Actions
Judge Amy German Jackson said in a ruling that the misleading statements were similar to others that William P. Barr, the former attorney general, had made about the Mueller investigation. The federal judge in Washington accused the DOJ under Barr of misleading her and Congress about advice he had received from top department officials on whether Trump should have been charged with obstructing the Russia investigation and ordered that a related memo be released. She went on to say that the DOJ's obfuscation appeared to be part of a pattern in which top officials were untruthful to Congress and the public about the investigation.
Confirmed by Senate in a Transgender Minefield
President Biden's assistant secretary for health, Dr. Rachel Levine, is the highest-ranking openly transgender person ever to serve in the federal government. Dr. Levin, a former Pennsylvania health secretary for health, is the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the Senate, and she has taken office in the middle of something of a transgender moment. A culture war is intensifying, waged largely by Republicans who have sought in state after state to restrict transgender rights and block transgender girls from participating on girls' sports teams. The prominence of transgender issues in politics is remarkable considering what a tiny sliver of the population transgender people represent. An estimated 1.4 million adults and 150,000 youths ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender in the U.S. That's slightly more than .5% of the population. As assistant health secretary, Dr. Levine has other pressing items on her agenda, but still the push to restrict transgender rights is impossible for her to ignore. Hundreds of bills intended to restrict the rights of transgender and other L.G.B.T.Q. people have been introduced in state legislatures around the country, prompting the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, to declare that 2021 was on track to become "the worst year for anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in recent history." Many of those measures are directed at transgender youths, who are especially vulnerable to suicide and depression.
Biden Pick Augurs Focus on Student Debt Burden
Richard Cordray, the consumer financial protection chief under President Obama, will now head the federal student aid office in the Education Department. A close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren, he has been selected as the new head in a post that will put him at the center of the swirling debate over forgiving student debt. The issue is a tricky one for Biden. Alhough he has endorsed canceling up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation, he has been pressured by some Democrats to forgive much more, and to sign and executive order making it happen if Congress fails to act. Cordray might be able to relieve the president of that burden by canceling student debt administratively. Democratic leaders are pushing for up to $50,000 per borrower in debt relief.
Clamor Grows to Get Footage Off Body Cams
The question of timing has become an unsettled new frontier of policymaking as the use of police body cameras is more the rule rather than the exception. Ma'Khia Bryant had been dead only a few hours when the authorities in Columbus, Ohio released body cam footage from the police officer who had shot and killed her. Andrew Brown Jr. was killed by sheriff's deputies in Elizabeth City, N.C., nearly 2 weeks ago, and it could be many more weeks -- or even months -- before video of his death is publicly shown. As body-worn cameras have become more commonplace, and public pressure on officials to take police accountability more serious has mounted, and so have demands to quickly release the footage of violent or fatal encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens.
DOJ Adds Charges in Floyd Case
The DOJ filed federal criminal charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for unconditional use of force against George Floyd. The federal case added to the legal troubles of Chauvin and the 3 other former police officers on the scene.
DOJ Moves Forward in Efforts to Clamp Down on Spread of 'Ghost Guns'
The DOJ released a proposed rule that would broaden the definition of a firearm, requiring some gun-making kits to include a serial number as the Biden administration moves forward to combat so-called "ghost guns", homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased without a background check. For years, federal and local law enforcement officials have been sounding the alarm about what they say is a loophole in federal firearms law, allowing people who are generally prohibited from owning guns to obtain them by making the weapons themselves. Ghost guns have increasingly been turning up at crime scenes and being purchased from gang members and other criminals by undercover federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.
Prosecutors Are Discussing Plea Deals in Capitol Riot
Federal prosecutors have informed some Capitol riot defendants that the DOJ has given the green-light to cut guilty plea deals, a step toward bringing the first of hundreds of cases to a close, according to attorneys involved in the talks. Defense lawyers involved have long recognized that much of the evidence in the Capitol riot cases is not disputable enough to take to trial -- especially because so much is on video -- and that many of the more than 350 people charged would want to end their court proceedings quickly. Yet the cases have stalled for weeks as the DOJ worked out what it was willing to offer, prompting attorneys to ask for delays in many of the court proceedings. It is not clear yet which or how many defendants may be getting plea deals, and they haven't been offered to all interested defendants at this time.
Astronauts Splash Down in the Dark
In darkness, 4 astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida. That marked a successful end of a mission for NASA led by a private company, Elon Musk's SpaceX, to take its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It was the first of what the agency calls an operational mission. The last time that NASA astronauts splashed down in the nighttime was in 1968, when Apollo 8 returned to Earth.
How the Firearms Lobby Hamstrings the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), tasked with enforcing gun laws, has been hamstrung for years by the fire-arms lobby. Now, the president's plan to rein in gun violence hinges on the ATF's success. The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), has for years systematically blocked plans to modernize the agency's paper-based weapons-tracing system with a searchable database. Now the ATF is at the center of Biden's plans to push back at what he has called "the international embarrassment" of gun violence in America. Biden once again called on Congress to expand background checks and ban assault weapons. However, given the abiding power of the gun lobby, his immediate hopes lie in a more limited list of executive actions that will ultimately rely on the effectiveness of the ATF.
Trustee Slams NRA's Bid to Seek Relief
A lawyer for NY Attorney General Letitia James called the NRA's bankruptcy bid "a circus slideshow" during closing arguments in a case over whether to allow the NRA to reorganize in the gun-friendly state of Texas. The NRA filed for Chapter 11 in January, claiming a corrupt political and regulatory environment in NY, where it is currently incorporated. It is attempting to fend off a lawsuit to dismiss the Chapter 11 case by James and the group's former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen. NRA lawyer Greg Garman countered in his closing argument that the group had filed the bankruptcy petition in good faith. The trial began on April 5th and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale is expected to issue a ruling in about a week.
A Psychedelic Drug Passes a Big Hurdle for Treating PTSD
A new study shows that MDMA, known as Ecstasy or Molly, can bring relief when paired with talk therapy to those with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In an important step toward medical approval, the illegal drug was shown to bring relief to those suffering. Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67% of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32% in the placebo group. MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms, like nausea and loss of appetite. Before MDMA-assisted therapy can be approved for therapeutic use, the Food and Drug Administration needs a second positive Phase 3 trial, which is currently underway with 100 participants. Approval could come as early as 2023.
Businesses Rally Against Voting Limits
Companies including HP, Microsoft, and Unilever are calling for expanded voting access in the state of Texas after weeks of silence from national businesses on Republicans' voting bills there. Two broad coalitions of companies and executives released letters calling for expanded voting access in Texas, wading into the contentious debate over Republican legislators' proposed new restrictions on balloting after weeks of relative silence form the business community in the state. Together, the letters signify a sudden shift in how the business community approaches the voting bills in Texas. Until now, American Airlines and Dell Technologies were the only major corporations to publicly speak out about the Texas legislation, and after doing so they quickly found themselves threatened by Republicans in Austin. With a varied coalition that numbers well into the dozens, companies are hoping that a collective voice willing to apply pressure at the state level could break through and sway the thinking of some Republican legislators who may be wavering on the bills.
Chauvin's Lawyer Files for Another Trial, Citing Expected Grievance List
The defense attorney for the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd has requested a new trial, saying that the court abused its discretion, and he wants a hearing to have the verdict impeached because of what he says is jury misconduct. Derek Chauvin was convicted last month of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25th death of Floyd. A request for a new trill is routine following a guilty verdict and often mirrors issues that will be raised on appeal. If this request is denied, it can add another layer of decisions for Nelson to appeal. Attorneys closely following the case have said that Chauvin's convictions are unlikely to be overturned.
Federal Election Commission Drops Case on Funds Trump Paid Women in '16
The Federal Election Commission said that it had formally dropped a case looking into whether former President Trump violated election law with a payment of $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election to a pornographic-film actress by his personal lawyer at the time, Michael D. Cohen. The payment was never reported on Trump's campaign filings. Cohen claimed that Trump had directed him to arrange payments to 2 women during the 2016 race, and apologized for his involvement in a hush-money scandal. Cohen was sentenced to prison for breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion, and lying to Congress. Trump has not faced legal consequences for the payment.
Dispute Exposes Dirty Secret About Green Cars
A race is on to produce lithium in the U.S., but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green. Some of the projects have drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers, and environmental groups because it is expected to use billion of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste. The fight over the Nevada mine is emblematic of a fundamental tension surfacing around the world: Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife, and people.
Unattended Ballots and the Bamboo Conspiracy
Arizona Republicans' "forensic audit" as part of a partisan recount of 2020 election results in Maricopa County has been accused of going down a conspiracy theory-filled rabbit hole relying on "completely unnecessary" gear to find evidence of voter fraud. One audit official said that auditors were examine whether any ballots contained bamboo fibers -- to determine whether China delivered thousands of ballots with votes for Biden, among the dozens of false claims that circulated within the discredited far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Three earlier reviews of results have shown no evidence of widespread fraud or reason to doubt the results in the state's most populous county, which Biden won by more than 45,000 votes. Yet Republicans in the state's Senate now are leading an audit performed by a private company whose founder supported Trump's "stolen" election lies and the "Stop the Steal" campaign.
Central Intelligence Agency Found Evidence on Russia Bounty Plot
In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators that they had heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American coalition troops. Ultimately, newly declassified information shows, those analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate: Other members of the same Taliban-linked network had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, known for assassination operations.
FEC Seeks to Ban Prechecked Donation Boxes
The recommendation by the election commission came a month after a New York Times investigation showed that Trump's political operation had steered many unwitting supporters into repeated donations through the tactic. The FEC voted unanimously to recommend that Congress ban political campaigns form guiding donors by default into recurring contributions through rechecked boxes. The bipartisan commission, which serves as the nation's top election watchdog agency, is divided evenly between 3 Democratic-aligned commissioners and 3 Republicans, a composition that often leads to a stalemate.
Texas G.O.P. Pushes to Join Florida in Limiting Ballot Access
The efforts in 2 critical battleground states with booming populations and 70 Electoral College votes between them represent the apex of the Republican effort to roll back access to voting. The Texas bill makes it one of the most difficult states in the nation in which to cast a ballot would, among other restrictions, greatly empower partisan poll watchers, prohibit election officials from mailing out absentee ballot applications, and impose strict punishment for those who provide assistance outside the lines of what is permissible. After a lengthy debate, the State House of Representatives passed the measure in a 81-64 vote, largely along party lines, following a flurry of amendments that had been spurred by Democratic protests and a Democratic procedural move known as a point of order. The new amendments softened some of the initial new penalties proposed for those who run afoul of the rules and added that the police could be called to remove unruly partisan poll watchers. Other amendments added by Democrats sought to expand ballot access, including with changes to ballot layout and with voter registration at high schools. However, those amendments could be knocked off by a potential conference committee.
Turning on Cheney, the G.O.P. Bows to Trump's Election Lies
Top Republicans moved swiftly to purge Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from their leadership ranks for vocally rejecting Trump's election lies, laying the groundwork to install a replacement who has embraced his false claims of voting fraud. The move to push out Cheney as the No. 3 House Republican in favor of Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, a Trump loyalist who voted to overturn Biden's victory in key states, reflected how thoroughly the party's orthodoxy has come to be defined by fealty to the former president and a tolerance for misinformation, rather than policy principles.
A Marriage is Ending, But a Foundation Isn't
Bill and Melinda Gates announced that after 27 years of marriage, they are divorcing. The Microsoft co-founder and his wife, who launched the world's largest charitable foundation, said that they would continue to work together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Global Virus Surge Puts Pressure on U.S. to Share Vaccine Patents
President Biden and drugmakers are facing demands from liberal activists and global leaders to suspend intellectual property rights on the vaccines as the pandemic surges. The debate on waiving an international intellectual property agreement that protects pharmaceutical trade se-crets is both a political and a practical problem for Biden, who has vowed to restore the U.S. as a leader in global health, as Covid-19 crises surge in India and South America.
Biden Endorses Effort to Share Vaccine Secrets
In a significant move to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. government agreed to support a controversial proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for vaccines in a bid to increase global supplies of desperately needed doses. The proposal, which was first introduced before the World Trade Organization last fall by South Africa and India, would cover patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of trade secrets. Ultimately, a waiver would make it easier for countries that permit compulsory licensing to allow a manufacturer to export vaccines.
Biden's Support for Vaccine Patent Waivers Faces an Uphill Effort in Europe
Under growing pressure, the European Union -- whose approval would be needed -- said that it would consider the Biden administration's decision to reverse course