Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth A Federal Holiday

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Photo from the Boston Globe.

By Terrance Turner

June 17, 2021 (updated June 18)

Today, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that makes Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s the first such federal declaration since Martin Luther King Day was declared in 1983. Federal workers will get tomorrow off, given that June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

Legislation commemorating Juneteenth passed the House yesterday with a 415-14 vote, according to CNN. It had passed unanimously in the Senate the day before. The bill’s co-sponsors included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president,” Biden said at the White House during a signing ceremony.”I regret that my grandchildren aren’t here, because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history. By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come (and) the distance we have to travel,” Biden said.

Vice President Kamala Harris also celebrated the legislation, which she had sponsored while in Congress. “Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Harris said, to cheers and applause in a White House East Room filled with about 80 lawmakers and other guests.

“And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders, who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only Ms. Opal Lee,” Harris said. Lee championed the bill and launched an effort to nationalize it at the end of the President Obama’s second term. In 2016 (at age 89!), Lee walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. in an effort to have June 19 become a federal holiday. (She later spoke to Variety and clarified that she didn’t walk all 1400 miles. “I did some hundreds,” she said, “but not 1,400.”)

From September 2016 to January 2017, Lee traveled the country, marching in cities that invited her to take part in their Juneteenth festivities. “I went to Shreveport and Texarkana, Little Rock and Fort Smith, Denver and Colorado Springs,” she recounted. “I went to Madison, Wis., Milwaukee, Atlanta, the Carolinas. I was all over the place.”

Ms. Lee, now 94, was in attendance during the ceremony. She was thrilled by the federal declaration. “I was overjoyed; I was ecstatic,” she told the anchors of “GMA: What You Need to Know” the next day. Lee emphasized the need for people of all nationalities to honor Juneteenth: “We are brothers and sisters under the skin, and we should act like it.”

‘We must learn our history. And we must teach our children our history,” Harris said today. Her words are especially poignant given the timing. on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that forbids the teaching of ‘critical race theory’, an academic study of race and racism in the United States. The bill states that “a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” — which would include events such as Juneteenth itself. The dichotomy was not lost on observers:

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, TX, with some news. “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Granger read, quoting General Order Number 3. (That order was found yesterday, by staff at the U.S. National Archives. The photo is shown above.) The “Executive”, President Abraham Lincoln, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 — two and a half years earlier. But the news didn’t reach the slaves until 1865, for reasons that are still unclear. (In December of that year, the 13th Amendment was passed, outlawing non-penal slavery nationwide.)

The slaves reacted with shock and jubilation to the announcement, according to Juneteenth.com. Many of them moved to Houston; the city’s black population more than tripled, per documents in the Library of Congress. One of those freed slaves was Jack Yates, who moved to Houston within days. According to ABC 13 Houston, Yates came to Houston and worked hauling freight. He became a Baptist preacher. He was the first pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church — Houston’s first black Baptist church. In 1872, he and three other men bought several acres of land for Emancipation Park, on what was then Dowling Street. (It is now Emancipation Avenue.) The four men bought the park so that they (and other black people) could celebrate Juneteenth.

Rep. Al Edwards (D-TX) authored a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979. Though he met resistance even from fellow Blacks, Edwards persisted. House Bill 1016 was passed by the Texas Legislature, making Texas the first state to officially commemorate Juneteenth.

By 2020, every state recognized the holiday except Hawaii, South Dakota and North Dakota. Last Juneteenth, Beyoncé surprised fans with a late-night release of her new single “Black Parade”. It benefits her foundation BeyGOOD’s Black Business Impact Fund, administered by the National Urban League, to support Black-owned small businesses in need. The song (a Tidal exclusive) is a celebration of Blackness and Black people. “We got rhythm, we got pride/We birth kings; we birth tribes,” Beyoncé sings. “I can’t forget my history is herstory… We black, baby. That’s the reason why they always mad.”

Juneteenth became an official state holiday on Jan. 1, 1980. Now, at last, it’s a federal holiday, too. And Jackson-Lee (D-TX) is proclaiming the occasion as a launching point for a commission on reparations. “I think our Congress, our House, can be a leader in voting on a commission established by the United States Congress to study slavery, to discuss their proposals for the disparities that are still going on today,” Jackson Lee said on June 18.

“It is also the launching point for correcting the social ills, like improving our police community relationships, getting the voting system turned right side up, making sure we don’t have that unfortunate situation of people being denied the right to vote,” Jackson Lee said.

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ERCOT Asks Texans to Save Power As Temperatures Soar

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By Terrance Turner

June 14, 2021 (Updated June 15)

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is asking Texans to reduce elctricity use as much as possible through Friday, June 18. “A significant number of forced generation outages combined with potential record electric use for the month of June has resulted in tight grid conditions,” the company said today. ERCOT claims that 11,000 megawatts (MW) of power are unavailable due to forced outages for electric generators. That’s enough to power 2.2 million homes, according to Austin NPR station KUT. (For context, “one MW typically powers around 200 homes on a summer day.”)

ERCOT, which controls most of Texas’ electrical power, forecasts that demand today will exceed 73,000 MW. The daily record is 69,123, set on June 27, 2018. Webber Energy Group research associate Joshua Rhodes told The Texas Tribune that high temperatures cause people to crank up the A/C and thus strain the grid. Demand for electricity “is really driven by temperatures, and right now it is 99 degrees in Dallas, 97 degrees in Austin, and 97 degrees in Houston,” Webber said. ERCOT is asking Texans to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights and pool pumps, and unplug unneeded devices. It is also asking that Texas residents avoid using large appliances like ovens, dryers, and washing machines.

This latest crisis comes just four months after a punishing winter storm exposed the flaws in Texas’ power grid. Beginning on Feb. 15, temperatures plummeted as a wintry mix of rain, sleet, and snow blanketed the state. On Feb. 16, Dallas hit a new low of -2 degrees (its lowest temeprature since 1930). Houston dropped to 13 (its lowest since 1989). College Station was just 5. Galveston was 20. Austin plunged to 7 degrees, breaking a record set in 1903 (per the Austin-American Statesman). According to KSAT, San Antonio fell to 12; the city ended up setting record lows on Feb. 14-16 and 19-20, with lows of 13, 9, 12, 19, and 26 degrees, respectively.

That Tuesday morning (Feb. 16), Texas had 4.3 million power outages, more than any other state. By 12:15 pm, 4.5 million Texans (35% of state residents) were without power, according to the New York Times. The next day, temperatures slowly rose above freezing. On Wednesday (Feb. 17), Houston climbed to 37 degrees by 3 pm, as forecast by Houston affiliate KPRC. San Antonio reached 38 degrees, per KSAT. That evening, a South Texas nuclear plant came back online. 6,000 megawatts were added to the state grid, providing enough power for 1.2 million households. But the Dallas Morning News found that 1.7 million were still without power late Wednesday night.

Texas’ power grid — built specifically to avoid federal regulation — had collapsed under a few inches of snow.

Natural gas, coal and power plants (which provided much of Texas’ electric power) were knocked offline by the storm. Their infrastructure wasn’t built to support such low temperatures. And ERCOT was forced to institute “rolling blackouts” to avoid a total loss of power. But those blackouts lasted for days, in some cases. And the toll on Texans was steep.

Pipes froze and burst, flooding people’s homes. Boil water notices were issued across Texas as more than 12 million residents had their service disrupted, per MSN. Some took to boiling snow to flush their toilets or wash hands and plates. Almost half of Texans lost access to running water during the week of Feb. 14-20, according to a study by the University of Houston. 69% lost electric power at some point that week, the study found.

And many lost their lives. Without heat, power, or running water, many died of hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, or underlying conditions worsened by the storm. The official Texas death toll stands at 151. But a Buzzfeed News analysis revealed that the actual death toll was four to five times higher. Buzzfeed estimates that 700 Texans were killed by the winter storm.

In the aftermath, ERCOT came under heavy fire. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) blamed ERCOT for the disaster. “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said on Feb. 16. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather.” Later, it emerged that many of the ERCOT board members lived out of state, drawing the ire of Texans. Five members of the board resigned in February; two more left in early March. CEO Bill Magness was fired on March 3.

For his part, Abbott vowed to overhaul the state electric grid. But months passed without any legislation being signed. Just last week, on June 8, Gov. Abbott signed into law a pair of bills that address the grid. Senate Bill 2 will shrink the number of seats on the ERCOT board from 16 to 11. It also makes the governor and lieutenant governor more involved in selection. Senate Bill 3 requires electricity providers on the grid managed by ERCOT to weatherize equipment. It also creates a statewide power outage alert system, according to NBC’s Houston affiliate KPRC.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner lamented that Senate Bill 3 doesn’t address supply. State lawmakers hadn’t provided for ERCOT to meet high demand, he said. “They didn’t fix the problem,” he told ABC 13. But Gov. Abbott touted “sweeping reforms” and “improved weatherization” to reporters when he signed the bills last Tuesday. “Bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Abbott said.

Apparently not.

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Is Aaron Rodgers Leaving the Green Bay Packers? Did Adam Schefter Lie?

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Photo from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

By Terrance Turner

April 28, 2021

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reportedly wants out.

NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the bombshell development: “Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is so disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team, league and team sources told ESPN on Thursday.

The Packers are aware of his feelings, concerned about them and have had team president Mark Murphy, general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur each fly out on separate trips to meet with Rodgers at various points this offseason, sources told ESPN.”

But the writing may already be on the proverbial wall. Former ESPN host Trey Wingo tweeted today that the two parties have been engaged in a “bleep show” for days. According to Wingo, Rodgers has already informed the team that he’s headed out the door:

Over the past week (and even before that), teams have been calling, ESPN says. “The San Francisco 49ers called the Packers on Wednesday night, a source told ESPN, and the Los Angeles Rams inquired about Rodgers in January before they traded for Matthew Stafford.The Packers quickly dismissed the Rams’ overtures, the source said.” (The 49ers part is especially interesting: Rodgers, who was born in California, had originally wanted to play for San Francisco when he began his career.)

But reporter Tom Pelissero put the brakes on these headlines, saying that there’s “zero” chance of the Packers trading Rodgers. While teams have inquired about Rodgers this offseason, no team has made a trade offer for the three-time MVP, a source told ESPN. The Packers have even offered to extend Rodgers’ contract, sources told ESPN. But veteran NFL reporter Ian Rapoport says that negotiations have broken down:

Why is Rodgers unhappy? Schefter says: “Rodgers is unhappy for a variety of reasons, with some of it dating to last year’s draft when the Packers didn’t inform him before trading up to draft a quarterback with their first-round pick. (The Packers selected Jordan Love.) Some took this as a sign that his days in Green Bay could be numbered.” But after Rodgers’ sensational performance in the 2020 season, today’s news comes as a shock.

No NFL player has ever been traded after winning the MVP award in the previous season. The only MVPs to not return to their team in the season after winning the award were Norm Van Brocklin (retired after winning in 1960) and Jim Brown (retired after winning in 1965), per ESPN. Rodgers won the NFL MVP Award in February, after a stellar season in which he threw 48 touchdowns.

During his acceptance speech, Rodgers casually mentioned that he’d gotten engaged. It was later revealed that his bride-to-be is actress Shailene Woodley, whom he’d been quietly dating for all of six months. The two visited Disney World in Florida weeks ago, while Rodgers was doing a guest hosting stint on the show “Jeopardy!” Rapoport adds:

UPDATE (May 1, 2021): Rodgers broke his silence today. In an off-camera conversation with Mike Tirico, Rodgers confirmed that he is discontented with the organization. The two spoke at the Kentucky Derby; Rodgers didn’t want to speak on camera. But Tirico relayed his sentiments via Twitter today, saying that Rodgers was “disappointed” about how the matter had become public.

UPDATE (MAY 6, 2021): When Adam Schefter “broke” the news about Aaron Rodgers wanting out of Green Bay — one week ago today — I went into a frenzy. I brought together data and alternate sources to form the bulk of my story, which was based partly on Schefter’s reporting. I quickly crafted this story (and took time away from packing for an upcoming trip) because I believed this to be a breaking story. It in fact was not.

Today, Schefter admitted that he had been sitting on the story for weeks, only releasing it on the day of the NFL Draft. In an interview with host Dan Patrick, Schefter conceded that he had written and released the story without new info. Schefter cited an interview Rodgers had given after the Packers lost the AFC Championship Game to the Buccaneers. That interview gave the impression that Rodgers had “unhappiness” or “uncertainty” about his future, Schefter said. Schefter eventually admitted that he had released the story with no new information. But that revelation came only after some direct questioning by Patrick.

“So you chose to release the news on Draft Day?” Patrick asked.

“That is absolutely accurate, yes,” Schefter replied.

“So it wasn’t something that you got information about…?” Patrick asked.

“No,” Schefter answered. “And it was nothing that morning that came in.”

Patrick noted that, according to Schefter, his information “didn’t come from Rodgers, didn’t come from the Packers, I was wondering: OK, you’re not gonna tell me your source–“

“Dan!” Schefter insisted. “There’s not a source.

Interesting. Schefter wrote in his article that “league and team sources told ESPN on Thursday.” But now he’s revealing that the story wasn’t based on anything that “came in” that Thursday morning. And that “there’s not a source”. Does that mean sources didn’t tell ESPN anything on Thursday? Or that there was no “source” at all? Because that would be a lie.

Schefter claimed that “it just happened to be draft day” when he released the story. Unclear how truthful that is. Updates will be made public as they become available.

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Earth Day

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Photo courtesy of Socialite Life.

By Terrance Turner

April 22, 2021

Today is Earth Day, an annual holiday that demonstrates support for environmental protection. Activist John McConnell first proposed the event in 1969. A year later, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson conceived the idea of a “teach-in” about the environment on college campuses to the national media. According to earthday.org, he persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair.  They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins. Nelson chose the date of April 22.

He came from Wisconsin, which has cold winters, and he wanted to find a date late enough in the year that a teach-in wouldn’t be snowed in, but early enough that students wouldn’t be cramming fro final exams,” Hayes remembered in an interview with Time magazine. “And he wanted it to be in the middle of the week so people wouldn’t be away on weekend trips.” So Nelson chose April 22. “Earth Day was such a spectacular success, it started appearing on calendars,” Hayes said. In fact, the first Earth Day (on April 22, 1970) inspired 20 million demonstrators to the streets, participating in coast-to-coast rallies in cities and towns.Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against environmental destruction and the industrial pollution that had fueled it.

According to its website, “Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.” Earth Day united millions in pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable planet. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency that year, followed by the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The impact of Earth Day on America can be felt to this day.

Today, President Joe Biden pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. He made the announcement today — Earth Day — during a virtual summit with about 40 world leaders. The two-day summit is about the United States’ return to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to the New York Times.

As the summit got underway, Biden set an ambitious new goal: bring emissions down 50-52% from a record high in 2005. His administration also said it would double its climate-related financing for developing countries by 2024 and push the private sector to fund sustainable infrastructure, mitigation initiatives and other investments. 

“These steps will set America on a path of a net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050,” Biden said. He portrayed these efforts as part of a economic and ethical obligation. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Mr. Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”

The pledge met with varying results. “In rapid succession, Japan, Canada, Britain and the European Union committed to steeper cuts. But China, India and Russia made no new emissions promises, and even Mr. Biden’s commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gases 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade will be extraordinarily difficult to meet, economically and politically,” the Times reported.

But Biden is undeterred. He insisted that now is the time to begin addressing the global issue of climate change. “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade, this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis,” Biden said, quoted by USA Today. Biden’s climate czar John Kerry acknowledged the loftiness of the goal, but was also bullish. He called the aim “ambitious but appropriate and achievable” and added, “Is it doable? Yes. Will we probably exceed it? I expect yes.”

That will be a steep climb. A new report from the University of Maryland outlined steps that would need to be taken for the Biden administration to meet its goal. A fact sheet from the study says that by 2030, half of the electricity in America would need to come from renewable sources like such as wind, solar or hydropower. Most, if not all, of the coal-powered plants in the country would need to be shut down. Generation from gas-fired power plants must be a third lower than today.

To meet Biden’s goal, according to the report, transportation must be overhauled, too. “In 2030, over 65% of new cars and SUV sales will be electric (pure EV or PHEV). and 10% of new truck sales will be electric,” the fact sheet says. It adds that cleaning up transportation contributes 1/4 of the needed reductions.

All new buildings need to be 100% electric. Almost all new appliance sales will need to be electric, as part of a longer-term transition away from natural gas. Cement emissions will be 20% lower than they were in 2018. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) emissions have to be reduced by almost half. Methane (CH4) leaks from oil and gas systems must be cut by 60%.

Already, the administration is getting to work. On Thursday, the C.I.A. announced it was adding a new category covering the environment to its World Factbook. The agency’s unclassified guide will now provide the latest country data on climate, air pollutants, infectious diseases, food security, waste and other environmental topics.

Today, the White House nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA, is a government agency that seeks to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. It houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation’s climate reserach, according to Axios. Spinrad is a professor of oceanography who served as the NOAA’s chief climate scientist under the Obama administration.

UPDATE (April 23, 2021): Social media is buzzing around Zac Efron’s appearance in a new video. Efron made a cameo in the Facebook Watch special “Earth Day: The Musical,” made in partnership with EarthDay.org. In the film, scientist Bill Nye teams up with Justin Bieber to bring awareness of Earth Day and climate change. After a rumor surfaces that Nye is producing a musical, Nye turns the spotlight over to young climate activists. But the special also invovles cameos from musician Maluma, DJ Steve Aoki, and Efron himself. “Bill, I think you’re a genius,” Efron says in the film.

Yesterday, Efron marked the occasion on his Instagram. “It’s #EarthDay,” Efron wrote. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to travel and see all the amazing things people are doing for the planet. It’s a beautiful world, let’s protect it.” In recent years, Efron has been vocal about environmental causes. He is currently filming the second season of his Netflix show “Down to Earth”, which takes an in-depth look at global ecosystems and sustainable living.

In the series, Efron travels to various countries to learn about their environments and eco-friendly efforts. In Iceland, he visits the Svartsengi Power Plant, a geothermal power plant that operates entirely on renewable resources. It’s located in the middle of a lava field; magma allows for hot springs and an ideal environment for geothermal plants. According to Popular Mechanics, Iceland, with 323,000 residents, is the world’s largest energy producer per capita and produces more energy than it needs. Efron also visits a chocolate factory in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland.

In France, Efron learns about the tap water system; in Sardinia, Italy, he ponders nutrition. In Puerto Rico, Efron explores sustainable living and milks a goat. The Puerto Rico episode depicts the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017. The increasing intensity of hurricanes is one of the impacts of climate change. As NASA notes, “The intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s […] Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”

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Author Beverly Cleary Dies at 104

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By Terrance Turner

March 26, 2021

Beloved children’s books author Beverly Cleary died Thursday at her home in Carmel, California. She was 104.

Born Beverly Bunn on April 12, 1916 in McMinnville, Oregon, she lived on a farm in Yamhill. When she was 6, the family moved to Portland. She was a slow reader at first. “I had chicken pox, smallpox, and tonsillitis in the first grade, and nobody seemed to think that had anything to do with my reading trouble,” she later told the Associated Press. “I just got mad and rebellious.”

She had a breakthrough one rainy Sunday afternoon: “The outside world drizzled, the inside world was heavy with the smell of pot roast and my father’s Sunday after-dinner cigar, and I was so bored I picked up The Dutch Twins to look at the pictures. Suddenly I was reading and enjoying what I read! It was a miracle. I was happy in a way I had not been happy since starting school,” she wrote in her autobiography A Girl from Yamhill.

By the third grade, she enjoyed reading and spent much of her time with books from the public library. A teacher suggested that she write children’s books. The idea appealed to her. According to the Educational Books and Media Association, “In sixth grade Cleary wrote a story for a writing assignment about a little girl who goes to Bookland and talks with some of her favorite literary characters. She remembered in her autobiography that a “feeling of peace came over me as I wrote far beyond the required length of the essay. I had discovered the pleasure of writing.”

After her teacher, Miss Smith, read the story aloud, she exclaimed, “When Beverly grows up, she should write children’s books.” Miss Smith’s praise gave “direction to my life,” Cleary maintained, adding in More Junior Authors that the suggestion “seemed like such a good idea that I made up my mind that someday I would write books–the kind of books I wanted to read.”

In high school, Beverly studied journalism and wrote stories for the school newspaper. She went to Chaffey Junior College in Ontario, California. After graduating, she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. She graduated in 1938. A year later, she earned a degree of the University of Washington’s school of librarianship, becoming a children’s librarian in Yakima, WA.

In 1940, she married Clarence Cleary, whom she had met at Berkeley. Beverly’s parents disapproved of the couple (they were Presbyterian; he was Catholic). So the couple eloped and moved to San Francisco. While her husband served in the military, Mrs. Cleary sold children’s books and worked as a librarian. She became dissatisfied with the books available to children. So did the kids. One boy pointedly asked her: “Where are the books about kids like us?”

Mrs. Cleary wondered the same thing. “Why weren’t there more stories about children playing? Why couldn’t I find more books that would make me laugh?” she recalled in 1975. There weren’t any. So Beverly Cleary decided to write her own.

Inspired by her own childhood, Cleary began a collection of stories about children on Klickitat Street — an actual street in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up. The result was Henry Huggins (1950), a book about a third-grade boy. Henry adopts a stray dog, whom he names Ribsy because he’s so skinny that his ribs show. The book was a success — Kirkus called the book “enchanting” — and spawned several sequels, including Henry and Beezus (1952), featuring Henry’s friend Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby.

Beatrice’s younger sister Ramona was introduced in Henry Huggins almost as an afterthought. “All of the children appeared to be only children, so I tossed in a little sister and she didn’t go away. She kept showing up in every book,” Cleary remembered in a March 2016 interview.

Indeed, Ramona Quimby showed up in book after book: Henry and Ribsy (1954), Beezus and Ramona (1955), Henry and the Paper Route (1957), and Henry and the Clubhouse (1962). She would soon become one of Cleary’s most beloved characters.

Ramona had a supporting role in Beezus and Ramona — released the same year that Cleary gave birth to twins, Malcolm and Marianne. In the book, four-year-old Ramona annoys Beezus by scribbling all over her library book and disrupting a checkers game with Henry. She later ruins not one but two of Beezus’ birthday cakes. Beezus decides that she does not love her sister. But Beezus later hears her mother and Aunt Beatrice (her namesake) laughing about the trouble they caused each other growing up. After hearing the conversation, Beezus decides that it’s OK to dislike your sister every now and then.

Reviewer Heloise P. Mailloux called the story “a very funny book; its situations are credible, and it has a perceptive handling of family relationships that is unfortunately rare in easily read books.” Ramona also drew praise from reviewers. Writing in Horn Book, Ethel L. Heins called Ramona “one of the most endearing protagonists of children’s fiction,” while Publishers Weekly contributor Heather Vogel Frederick described her as “an indelible figure in the children’s book world since she burst on the scene.”

In Henry and the Paper Route (1957), Henry works doggedly to land a paper route, despite being under the age limit (all paper boys must be 11, and Henry’s ten-and-a-half). He eventually suceeds. But then he must contend with Ramona’s acts of sabotage. (She picks up the papers and throws them on other lawns because she, too, wants to be a “paper boy”.) Henry outsmarts her and continues with his route.

Henry dislikes Ramona, whom he sees as a pest. In Henry and the Clubhouse, however, Ramona follows Henry into a snowstorm when he is delivering papers. He feels sorry for her, so he loads Ramona on his sled and takes her home before going back into the storm to finish his route. Henry is commended for his kindness and responsibility and, at the end of the story, is given five dollars by his dad so he can buy the new sleeping bag he wanted.

As her children grew, Cleary wrote books around their lives and interests. According to the Educational Book Media Association, “she wrote four picture books–The Real Hole, Two Dog Biscuits, Janet’s Thingamajigs, and The Growing-up Feet–about four-year-old twins Janet and Jimmy, who are modeled on her children.” Her son Malcolm was fascinated with motorcycles and had trouble learning to read, so Cleary wrote a book that would hold his interest. The result: The Mouse and the Motorcyle (1965).

Ms. Cleary introduced the new character of Ralph S. Mouse (the S stands for “smart”), a mouse who lives in the Mountain View Inn. He befriends a young boy named Keith, whose parents Mr. and Mrs. Gridley are renting the room. Keith teaches Ralph how to ride his toy motorcycle. That puts Ralph on a series of wild adventures (he’s nearly vacuumed up, gets tossed out a window, and even ends up in a pile of sheets headed for the laundry). But when Keith gets sick, it is Ralph who brings up some aspirin and becomes the story’s hero. Writing in Young Readers Review, Phyllis Cohen commented, “This fantasy is so realistic that it is almost plausible” before concluding, “Even boys who do not care for fantasy may find this fantasy much to their liking.” 

From Morrow Books.

In Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona Quimby at last became the star of her own story. It was the first book to feature her as the protagonist. In it, she begins kindergarten and tries to escape the “pest” label from her sister Beezus. As the series continued, Ramona slowly matures, and so does the subject matter.

In Ramona the Brave (1975), Mrs. Quimby goes from being a stay-at-home mom to being a part-time bookkeeper. In Ramona and her Father (1977), Ramona goes on a campaign to stop her father from smoking, which he does after losing his job. In Ramona and her Mother (1979), Ramona’s mother goes to work full-time so that Mr. Quimby can go back to school. After hearing their parents fight, Ramona and Beezus become convinced that their parents are headed for divorce. But the next morning, her parents have breakfast at the table, as if nothing has happened. They assure their daughters that they are sometimes short-tempered, but still love each other.

Cleary broke from her typical style with Dear Mr. Henshaw (1983). It centers on Leigh Botts, a sixth-grader distraught by his parents’ divorce. He misses his father, who works as a cross-country trucker. He seeks solace by writing to his favorite author; in the process, he reveals a lot about himself. He misses his father (and his dog Bandit, who travels with Dad); he’s often alone while his mother works part-time and studies nursing; he’s made no new friends. The author suggests he keep a diary, which he does; he eventually wins an honorable mention in a short-story contest.

The book earned praise from reviewers, who noted its sensitivity and depth. Natalie Babbitt of the New York Times Book Review, said that Cleary “has written many very good books over the years. This one is the best. It is a first-rate, poignant story in the forms of letters and a diary–a new construction for a Cleary book–and there is so much in it, all presented so simply, that it’s hard to find a way to do it justice.” According to the EBM Association, Babbitt concluded, “What a lovely, well-crafted, three-dimensional book this is.” Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Medal in 1984, one of the most prestigious prizes for children’s literature.

Cleary continued to write and receive honors throughout the 1980s. Britannica notes that Cleary published the memoirs A Girl from Yamhill (1988) and My Own Two Feet (1995). She concluded the Ramona series — and her career — with Ramona’s World (1999), written 15 years after its predecessor Ramona Forever. In that book, Ramona finds herself nine years old, with a new baby sister and a potential new crush. It was to be Cleary’s last book.

In a March 2016 interview, the author explained why she’d hung up her typewriter, saying that “it’s important for writers to know when to quit.”

Cleary’s husband died in 2004. She is survived by her children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. And her books, read by many (I devoured the Ramona series as a child) will live on forever.

A selection of Cleary’s books. Photo from the Associated Press.

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Beyonce Makes Grammy History with “Black Parade”

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Photo courtesy

By Terrance Turner

March 14, 2021

BREAKING NEWS: Beyonce is now the most decorated artist in Grammy history.

Just minutes ago, Beyonce won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance for her song “Black Parade”, which she co-wrote. With this win, she now has 28 Grammy Awards — more than any other artist, male or female. Grammy host Trevor Noah emphasized this historic moment after Beyonce’s name was called.

As the audience applauded her historic achievement, Beyonce sat with her hands over her (masked) mouth, stunned by the honor. Upon reaching the podium, she called the moment overwhelming. “This is so overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve been working my whole life, since I was nine years old. I just can’t believe this. This is such a magical night. Thank you,” she said.

But she also reflected on why she wrote the song. “As an artist, I believe our job is to reflect the times,” Beyonce said, noting that these times are especially difficult for so many. “I wanted to uplift, encourage, and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world.” She noted, “I know my daughter is watching tonight — my two daughters and a son…My daughter won her first Grammy tonight,” she beamed. (The award was for her appearance in Beyonce’s “Brown Skin Girl” video.) Beyonce thanked her children, her fans, and her husband (“my ROCK”) in her brief remarks.

“Black Parade” addresses Black and African culture, reparations, the COVID-19 pandemic, and police brutality (the latter two issues disproportionately impact Black people). “Ankh charm on gold chains, with my Oshun energy,” Beyonce sings, “or the Dashiki print”. (According to an analysis in Elle, ‘Ankh’ is a symbol deriving from Ancient Egypt, and ‘Oshun’ is the Nigerian Yoruba goddess of femininity, love, sensuality and fertility.)

According to the website for Black-owned clothing line D’Iyanu, the dashiki originated in West Africa and dates back as far as the 12th-13th century. It came into fashion in the United States during the 1960s as a symbol of Afrocentrism and Black pride. The lyrics also reference the universally recognized “Black Power” salute, which also become a Black pride symbol in the 1960s and 1970s. “Raise your fist in the air, show Black love,” Beyonce says.

The lyrics also reference civil rights and the protests that continue across this country in support of Black lives. “Trust me, they gon’ need an army/Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me/
Made a picket sign off your picket fence/Take it as a warning,” she continues. “Stroll line to the barbeque/Put us any damn where, we gon’ make it look cute/Pandemic fly on the runway, in my hazmat/Children runnin’ through the house and my art, all black.”

“Need another march, lemme call Tamika (Woo). Need peace and reparation for my people,” Beyoncé continues. “Tamika” is a reference to Tamika Mallory, a Black female activist who helped organize the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. (She also served as co-president of the 2019 Women’s March, according to the New York Times.) Reparations for slavery have been a long-held but never-fulfilled request from many Black activists.

“We got rhythm/We got pride/We birth kings/We birth tribes,” Beyonce sings. “Motherland, motherlands, drip on me/I can’t forget my history is herstory, yeah…Here I come on my throne, sittin’ high/Follow my parade.”

“Black Parade” was released on the historic Black holiday of Juneteenth, which originated in Beyoncé’s home state of Texas. The holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves in 1865, as the Civil War was ending. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas learned that they were free, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The song arrived just hours after Beyoncé unveiled a new “Black Parade” initiative on her website.

Displayed on the website is a dizzying, dazzling directory of Black-owned businesses. The categories encompass art and design, fashion and lifestyle, bars and restaurants. The song “Black Parade” benefits her foundation BeyGOOD’s Black Business Impact Fund, administered by the National Urban League, to support Black-owned small businesses in need. And it is this song, dedicated to her people, that helped Beyonce make Grammy history.

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Inside Aaron Rodgers’ Shocking Engagement

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By Terrance Turner

Feb. 23, 2021

Aaron Rodgers shocked the world on Feb. 6.

During his acceptance speech for the MVP award at the NFL Honors, Rodgers reflected on 2020 and casually dropped a bombshell: “I got engaged, and I played some of the best football of my career.” He later thanked his fiancée in his acknowledgements, though he did not name her.

Now, we know who the lucky lady is: Big Little Lies actress Shailene Woodley. She confirmed the news last night, during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. When Fallon asked her directly, Woodley answered affirmatively: “Yes. We are engaged.”

The world was shocked by the announcement of their betrothal — after a whirlwind six-month romance. But Woodley doesn’t get why everyone is so surprised. “But for us it’s not new news. So it’s kind of funny. Everybody right now is freaking out over it and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been engaged for awhile,’” said Woodley. (Maybe people are “freaking out” because of the breakneck escalation of their relationship? Rodgers broke up with racecar driver Danica Patrick in July but got engaged to Woodley by February.)

But if Woodley’s comments are any indication, this betrothal may have been official for some time: “Yeah, we got engaged awhile ago and it’s been … he’s, first off, a wonderful, incredible human being. But I never thought I’d be engaged to somebody who threw balls for a living. But I never thought as a little girl, ‘Yeah, when I grow up I’m going to marry someone who throws balls, yeah!’ But he’s really just so good at it,” she said. “He can throw fast balls, he can throw slow balls, high balls, low balls.” (Indeed: Rodgers had a 70.7% completion percentage in 2020, throwing 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions. So he throws balls very well indeed.)

Fallon then asked her if she’s spent much time in Green Bay and if she is a football fan. “I didn’t really grow up with sports, especially American sports. It was never really on my radar,” she explained. “When we met, also, I knew he was a football guy, but I didn’t know like what kind of a football guy he was. And I’m still constantly learning.”

Despite Rodgers’ legendary career — he took Green Bay to the NFC Championship this year and led Green Bay to a Super Bowl in 2010 — Woodley doesn’t know much about football. “I still have never been to a football game,” Woodley said. That includes this past season: because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Packers stadium was closed. And before she met Rodgers, she hadn’t even watched a game on TV. “Before I met him, I’d never seen one football game,” she said.

“When we met, I knew he was a football guy, but I didn’t know what kind of a football guy he was,” said Woodley. “I am still constantly learning. I don’t get it. He’s good. He’s great. But, like, I don’t understand. Because I don’t know him as the football guy! I know him as like, the nerd who wants to host Jeopardy! That’s the dude I know. He just happens to also be very good at sports.”

The engagement took many by surprise, but E! Online quoted a source who echoed Woodley’s nonchalance. “It’s a quick engagement, but for those that know them, it didn’t come as a surprise.” The source added:  “They had a very intense connection from the beginning. They both knew early on that it was something special and different from what they had experienced in other relationships.” The source also revealed: “They have spent the entire fall together and lived together throughout.”

The engagement is remarkable not just for its rapid pace but for the unusually private way that it unfolded. The two have yet to even be photographed together! Elle magazine described their relationship as “private and low-key” in an article earlier this month. Also remarkable: the sudden shift in Rodgers’ closely guarded personal life. Rodgers, who turned 37 last year, has never married and has no children. For viewers like me, who thought of him as a career-centered, eternal bachelor, the news comes as a shock.

Until now, Rodgers was something of a statistical anomaly. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, 72% of men will marry by age 37. And 76% of men are married by 40. According to a 2009 data brief by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The probability that men will marry by age 40 is 81%; for women, it is 86%.”

UPDATE (April 26): Rodgers recently finished a two-week stint as host of the show “Jeopardy!”, which he’s been a fan of since childhood. During the trip, Rodgers and Woodley visited Disney World in Florida, where they were photographed at the Grand Floridian Resort. While there, they took part in a brief interview. Asked “What is one thing that makes you smile?” the two instantly pointed at each other. Rodgers added: “You always make me smile.”

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Cicely Tyson: In Memoriam

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By Terrance Turner

Jan. 28, 2021

Legendary actress Cicely Tyson has died. She was 96.

Tyson’s family announced the passing. “With a heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy,” they said, in a statement issued through Tyson’s manager, Larry Thompson.

Just last Tuesday, Tyson filmed an emotional interview with journalist Gayle King. Just yesterday, Tyson appeared on CBS News, discussing her memoir Just As I Am — a 400-page chronicle of her remarkable life and career.

Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am, was just published this week. (Photo from Harper Collins.)

Born on Dec. 18, 1924 to immigrant parents from the West Indies, Tyson was born and raised in Harlem, New York. Her mother was a domestic worker; her father was a carpenter and painter. They separated when Tyson was 10. She was raised by her mother, a strict Christian who forbade movies or even dating, according to the New York Times.

Cicely Tyson soon became a mother herself. She became pregnant at 17 and had a baby girl. Tyson raised her daughter, whom she calls “Joan” in the book, entirely out of the spotlight; indeed, many readers may not know she had a child at all. But she describes her daughter’s birth and upbringing (and the way her career affected Jane) in detail. Tyson said she and her daughter “continue to work on our relationship, as fragile as it is precious,” and she dedicated the book to her: “the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all.” According to the Washington Post, Tyson was forced to marry her child’s father at 18; they divorced long before she found a job typing at the Red Cross.

Then, on a fateful day in 1954 during her lunch break, a “Black man decked out in a business suit and a scarlet bowtie tapped me on the shoulder.” Struck by her beauty, he asked if she was a model. It was the kind of happenstance interaction anyone would likely write off as a weird New York City occurrence. But Tyson calls it a “love note from heaven.” The inquiry jump started a new chapter in her life.

She became a model, appearing in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. But she wanted to be an actress. Her mother wouldn’t have it. She kicked Cicely out, citing concerns over a “casting couch”. Nevertheless, she persisted. Tyson’s first role was on NBC’s “Frontiers of Faith” in 1951.

In 1961, Tyson appeared with James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Maya Angelou in Jean Genet’s play The Blacks. It became the longest-running off-Broadway play of the decade, running for 1,408 performances. Tyson’s portrayal of Stephanie Virtue garnered the attention of actor George C. Scott. He suggested she play his assistant on the the gritty CBS drama East Side/West Side (1963-64). The Hollywood Reporter noted that this role “made her perhaps the first African-American actress to have a continuing role on a network series”.

Throughout the 1960s, Tyson appeared in several films, including A Man Called Adam (1966), The Comedians (1967) and Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). But the role she took four years later would change everything.

Tyson played Rebecca Morgan, a sharecropper’s wife, in Martin Ritt’s drama Sounder (1972). In the film, her husband (played by Paul Winfield) is imprisoned for stealing food for his children. Rebecca becomes head of household, cleaning houses, caring for children, and tilling fields. And when her husband returns, she greets him joyously, running down the road to embrace him.

Critics took notice. Rebecca was “the first great black heroine on screen,” said film critic Pauline Kael. “She is visually extraordinary. Her cry as she runs down the road toward her husband, returning from prison, is a phenomenon—something even the most fabled actresses might not have dared.”

For her performance in Sounder, Cicely Tyson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She lost to Liza Minnelli, who won for Cabaret. But Tyson nonetheless made history. For the first time, three Black actors were nominated for Oscars in leading roles. (Winfield was nominated Best Actor for Sounder. Also nominated for Best Actress: Diana Ross, for Lady Sings the Blues.)

Tyson later said that Sounder changed her approach to acting. A white journalist interviewed her for a story and said he was “uncomfortable” when one of the children called Winfield “Daddy” in the film. Tyson later recalled the moment in an interview with Gayle King. “I said, ‘Do you have children? What do they call you?’ He said, ‘They call me Daddy,'” Tyson remembered. “And I thought, ‘My God. This man is thinking that we’re not human beings.’ And I made up my mind that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress.”

Tyson decided she would only take roles that conveyed the dignity and humanity of Black people. It would be her platform. “I saw that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress. So I made the choice to use my career as a platform to address the issues of the race I was born into,” Tyson told The New York Times in 2013.

Tyson’s next part would take her to even greater heights. At 50, she took on the greatest role of her career — in the CBS telefilm The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). Tyson played the title role: a woman who was born before the Civil War, witnesses its ravages, and lives to see the unrest of the civil rights movement. Then, a century old, she defies segregation by sipping from a “Whites Only” water fountain.

The role required Tyson to range from ages 23 to 110. She spent six hours in the makeup chair to age convincingly, per Newsday. She visited nursing homes to study the halting speech and shaking hands typical of old age. The work and preparation paid off: Tyson drew raves for her performance. The New York Times wrote that Tyson “absorbs herself completely into Miss Jane, in the process creating a marvelous blend of sly humor, shrewd perceptions and innate dignity. Following the film ‘Sounder’, ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’ firmly establishes Cicely Tyson as a major American actress.”

Tyson became the first African-American to win a lead actress Emmy Award when she was recognized for her astonishing performance. She won Best Actress in a Special and, in a fitting tribute, Actress of the Year.

Tyson poses with her two Emmys for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Photo from PBS.

“I was madly in love with Jane Pittman. She was so fabulous,” Tyson later recalled.

Image
Tyson and Davis at the NAACP Image Awards in 1981. Photo from Twitter (@EricaBuddington).

But Tyson was also madly in love with a legendary man. For over two decades, she had a passionate but tempestuous relationship with iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. It was a relationship marked by anger, violence, and philandering — but also deep truth and tenderness.

In her memoir, Tyson wrote that their conversations were “rippled with honesty, with depth of understanding. There is a love that gently guides your palm toward the small of another’s back, a care that leads you to ensure no harm ever comes to that person. From the beginning, that is the love I had for Miles. That is the soft place where our connection rested its head.”

The two met in 1965, according to USA Today. They were on and off for nearly two decades before reuniting in their fifties. They married on Thanksgiving Day 1981.

Tyson nursed Davis back to health after years of drug abuse that took a toll on his health. But Davis continued to struggle with addiction. His behavior was unpredictable; his temper was volatile. In her memoir, Tyson writes that Davis was unfaithful and even abusive. In a revealing interview with the New York Times, Tyson revealed that Davis once punched her in the chest after a minor misunderstanding. The transcript of the conversation is replicated, in part, below:

NYT: You dropped a knife on the floor.

Tyson: Yes, and he thought I threw the knife on the floor because of something he said. I hadn’t even been listening to what he was saying. And he came to me, yes he did, and he punched me in the chest. That’s the only time he ever struck me […]

People don’t behave in that way for no reason. It comes from something or someplace. And nine times out of 10, it’s because they have been deeply hurt. The way people would refer to Miles, ‘He’s bad, he’s this, he does that’ — not in a vacuum, he doesn’t. Nine times out of 10, the abuse came out when he was under the influence of the drugs, of the alcohol.”

But drugs were really but one of the couple’s problems. Davis’ mercurial temper accompanied a wandering eye. It was the cheating that ultimately drove them apart. The Los Angeles Times reports that Tyson left Davis in late 1987, after she found out about another affair. Their marriage unofficially ended at the door to their Upper West Side apartment; Davis tried to stop Tyson from leaving and she grabbed him by the back of his hair, she writes. “By the time he struggled free, I was holding a whole bushel of his weave in my right hand. I hurled it to the ground, marched out the door and slammed it shut.” The divorce was finalized in 1989.

Two years later, Davis was dead, ravaged by organ failures due to his addiction. In the end, Davis felt remorse for his behavior and made amends. Perhaps that’s why Tyson remembered him fondly and with compassion. She told the Times: “I got to know the soul of a man who is as gentle as a lamb. He covered it up with this ruthless attitude because he was so shy. And in trying to be the kind of tough person that people thought he was, he ruined his life. Yes, gentle as a lamb, you hear me? That’s the Miles Davis I knew.

When he was dying, a friend of mine went to the hospital to see him, and he was trying to tell her something. But he had had surgery, and she couldn’t understand what he was trying to say to her. The nurse came in and said to my friend, ‘Why don’t you go for a walk and come back in about 45 minutes, and he will be able to talk to you.’ So she went for a walk. And she came back to the hospital, and he was able to talk loudly enough to tell her this: ‘Tell Cicely I’m sorry. Tell her I’m very, very sorry.’

“Basically, it was complicated,” she said. “But a love story nonetheless.”

Their complicated history may explain why Tyson was often reticent to speak about him. She initially stonewalled CNN’s Don Lemon when he asked if Davis was the love of her life. But now, we have an answer. “I was in love with him,” she told Gayle King.

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House Votes to Impeach Trump — Again (Updated)

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By Terrance Turner

Jan. 13, 2021

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walking to the House Floor for a vote at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach Donald Trump. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have cast votes to impeach President Trump again in a historic first, according to CNN. The final vote was 232-197. “On this vote, the ayes are 232; the nays are 197. The resolution is adopted,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, banging her gavel. The impeachment resolution charges Trump with a single article, “incitement of insurrection,” for his role in last week’s deadly Capitol riot.

In the end, 232 House members voted to impeach the President, including 10 (!) Republicans. They are:

,

  • Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.)
  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio),
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.),
  • Rep. John Katko (N.Y.),
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.),
  • Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.),
  • Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.)
  • Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.)
  • Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.)
  • Rep. David Valadao (Calif.)

“This is the most bipartisan impeachment vote in the history of the United States,” said CNN reporter Phil Mattingly.

The next step is a trial. But the soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is set to leave the White House, McConnell’s office told the Associated Press. Though Trump won’t be convicted before his term is up, impeachment is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running for office again. (If convicted, Trump would lose funding for traveling and office staff, according to lawyer and View co-host Sunny Hostin. Trump would also lose the presidential pension: $200,000 a year, for life.)

McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press on Wednesday. McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist. But in a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote.”

As soon as the gavel came down, Trump became the only President in history to be impeached twice. The vote took place after hours of vigorous and often heated debate.

At around 11:15 am, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi opened debate with a poignant seven-minute speech. In her remarks, Pelosi noted that “in his annual address to our predecessors in Congress in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the duty of the Patriot, in an hour of decisive crisis for the American people. ‘Fellow citizens,’ he said, ‘we cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves; no personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even we here,’ he said, ‘hold the power and bear the responsibility.’ In the Bible St. Paul wrote, ‘Think on these things.’ We must think on what Lincoln told us,” Pelosi said.

“We, even here — even us, here — hold the power and bear the responsibility. We, you and I, hold and trust the power that derives most directly from the people of the United States, and we bear the responsibility to fulfill that oath that we all swear before God and before one another: that oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help us God.

We know that we face enemies of the Constitution; we know that we experienced the insurrection that violated the sanctity of the people’s Capitol and attempted to overturn the duly recorded will of the American people. And we know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Pelosi continued: “Since the presidential election in November — an election the president lost — he has repeatedly lied about the outcome, sowed self-serving doubt about democracy, and unconstitutionally sought to influence state officials to repeal reality. And then came that day of fire we all experienced.

The president must be impeached, and I believe the president must be convicted by the Senate, a constitutional remedy that will ensure that the Republic will be safe from this man who was so resolutely determined to tear down the things that we hold dear, and that hold us together.

It gives me no pleasure to say this. It breaks my heart. It should break your heart. It should break all of our hearts, for your presence in this hallowed chamber is testament to your love for our country, for America, and to your faith in the work of our founders to create a more perfect union.

Those insurrectionists were not patriots. They were not part of a political base to be catered to and managed. They were domestic terrorists, and justice must prevail. But they did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here by the president with words such as a cry to ‘Fight like hell.’ Words matter. Truth matters. Accountability matters. In his public exhortations to them, the president saw the insurrectionists, not as the foes of freedom, as they are, but as the means to a terrible goal, the goal of his personally clinging to power, the goal of thwarting the will of the people,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi asked her colleagues: “I ask you to search your souls and answer these questions. Is the president’s war on democracy in keeping with the Constitution? Were his words and insurrectionary mob a high crime and misdemeanor? Do we not have the duty to our oath to do all we constitutionally can do to protect our nation and our democracy from the appetites and ambitions of a man who has self-evidently demonstrated that he is a vital threat to liberty, to self-government, and to the rule of law?”

Rep. Jim Jordan answered none of those questions. Instead, he talked about a four-year-old article in a local paper. “On Jan. 20, 2017, 19 minutes into President Trump’s administration, at 12:19 p.m., The Washington Post’s headline was ‘Campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.’ Now, with just one week left, they are still trying.” Jordan argued that the impeachment was an example of “cancel culture”, that Democrats were trying to cancel the president.

Jordan offered little commentary about the riot itself. Instead, he threw out false equivalence between the Capitol riots and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer: “Riots are OK for some,” he claimed. “Democrats can raise bail for rioters and looters this summer. But somehow when Republicans condemn all the violence, the violence this summer, the violence last week, somehow we’re wrong.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: 93% of Black Lives Matter protests this summer were peaceful. Yet black protesters were met with chemical dispersants, rubber bullets and hand-to-hand combat from police. More than 14,000 arrests were made, per the Associated Press. But when pro-Trump white people stormed the Capitol — swarming steps, climbing walls, smashing windows, breaking glass, throwing fire extinguishers, acting like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD — police welcomed them through barricades and in some cases took selfies with them. Barely more than a few dozen arrests. Members of a wild mob were escorted from the premises, some not even in handcuffs. But Rep. Jordan didn’t mention that.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy was more measured. He not only condemned the riots but held Trump accountable for them. “Madam Speaker, let me be clear: last week’s violent attack on the Capitol was undemocratic, un-American and criminal. Violence is never a legitimate form of protest. Freedom of speech and assembly under the constitution is rooted in non-violence. Yet the violent mob that descended upon this body was neither peaceful nor democratic. It acted to disrupt Congress’s constitutional responsibility.” He, too, quoted Lincoln:  “A young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln famously said, ‘There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’ Yet for several hours last week, mob law tried to interfere with constitutional law.”

McCarthy added: “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” But he added: “I believe impeaching the President in such a short timeframe would be a mistake.” That line was echoed by Republicans throughout the day.

They maintained their opposition even in the face of stirring rhetoric by Democrats. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) made the case in bold-faced terms. “Donald Trump is the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office,” Rep. Castro said. “I want to take you back one week ago today, when people were barging through these doors, breaking the windows — with weapons. Armed. Pipe bombs. Coming here to harm all of you. To harm the Senate. To harm the Speaker.” He asked his fellow lawmakers: “What do you think they would have done if they had gotten in? What do you think they would have done to you? And who do you think sent them here? Thw most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office.”

“If inciting a deadly insurrection is not enough to get a president impeached, then what is?” Mr. Castro asked. “All of us must answer that question today. The Constitution requires us to impeach and remove Donald John Trump.”

But few Republicans seemed swayed — until that afternoon. “Madam Speaker, this is a sad day. But not as sad or disheartening as the violence we witnessed in the Capitol last Wednesday. We are all responsible,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA). “We must all do better,” he said.

“These articles of impeachment are flawed,” Newhouse continued. “But I will not use process as an excuse. There is no excuse for President Trump’s actions. The President took an oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Last week, there was a domestic threat at the door of the Capitol, and he did nothing to stop it. That is why, with a heavy heart and clear resolve, I will vote yes on these articles of impeachment.”

A stunned House burst into applause.

UPDATE (Jan 25, 2021): The House of Representatives delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate roughly an hour ago, in a procession broadcast as a CBS Special Report. Rep. Jamie Raskin read the article aloud on the Senate floor. “In his conduct while President of the United States and in violation of his consitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States […] and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, Donald John Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by incitng violence against the Government of the United States,” Raskin read.

Article I, “Incitement of Insurrection,” formally charges the president with inciting a violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. With this motion, former president Donald Trump becomes the first president in history to be impeached twice. His trial begins next month.

UPDATE (8:40 pm): In an exclusive interview with MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says that the trial negotiations are still underway. Asked whether it’s been decided that there will be no witnesses in the trail, Schumer said no. “We have only negotiated the preliminary motions in the trial,” Schumer said. That includes the date, which will be Feb. 8.

In a telling aside, Schumer told Maddow: “I don’t think there’s a need for a whole lot of witnesses. We were all witnesses.” He asked rhetorically: “Who were the witnesses? The entire American people.”

UPDATE (Jan. 26):45 Republican senators voted to declare the impeachment trial unconstitutional this afternoon. Backing Sen. Rand Paul, the senators voted against allowing the trial to go forward. Senator Paul,(R-Kentucky) forced the vote after arguing that it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a former president. But that assertion widely disputed by scholars and even the Senate itself in the past, as the New York Times points out.

In the end, the trial will proceed. The Senate voted 55 to 45 in favor of its continuation. But that means that it is unlikely enough Republicans will vote to convict Donald Trump. Two-thirds of the Senate must agree to conviction, meaning 17 Republican senators would have to join Democrats in a vote. But only five Republicans voted today to continue the trial: Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania).

In a typical display of defiance, Sen. Paul also refused to wear a mask on the Senate floor today, even though President Biden signed an order requiring them in federal buildings. Biden made mention of this in remarks today:

UPDATE (8:11 PM, Jan. 31): CNN reported last night that all five of the lawyers on Trump’s impeachment defense team have left. “Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, who were expected to be two of the lead attorneys, are no longer on the team. A source familiar with the changes said it was a mutual decision for both to leave,” CNN said. “As the lead attorney, Bowers assembled the team. Josh Howard, a North Carolina attorney who was recently added to the team, has also left, according to another source familiar with the changes. Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris, from South Carolina, are no longer involved with the case, either.”

The move leaves the former president with no lawyers on his defense — barely a week before the impeachment trial is scheduled to begin. In the absence of any trained lawyers, Trump was at one point considering defending himself. CNN analyst Maggie Haberman wrote:

IUPDATE (Feb. 4, 2021): The former president will not testify at his impeachment trial next week. House Democrat and impeachment manager Jamie Raskin wrote a letter to Trump requesting that he testify:

“Two days ago, you filed an Answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment. You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense,” Raskin wrote in the letter.

“In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, concerning your conduct on January 6, 2021. We would propose that you provide your testimony (of course including cross-examination) as early as Monday, February 8, 2021, and not later than Thursday, February 11, 2021. We would be pleased to arrange such testimony at a mutually convenient time and place.”

Hours after the letter was released, Trump adviser Jason Miller told NPR that “the president will not testify in an unconstitutional proceeding.” Separately, Trump’s lawyers dismissed the request as a “public relations stunt.” After his legal team quit on Saturday, Trump did manage to secure two lawyers: David Schoen and Bruce Castor.

Please watch this space for further updates.

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Kim Kardashian West Files for Divorce

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By Terrance Turner

July 23, 2020 (Updated Jan. 5, 2021; Feb. 19, 2021)

Photo from Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

Kim Kardashian West has filed for divorce from husband Kanye West, according to her spokeswoman Christy Welder. Mrs. West, 40, and Mr. West, 43, have four children: North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm. (The children range in age from seven years to 21 months.) Mrs. West’s filing comes after months of reports and speculation about marital troubles. It also ends a nearly seven-year marriage. The couple wed in May 2014.

This split was a long time coming. Last month, multiple sources told Page Six that “divorce is imminent” for the couple, as Kardashian hired divorce attorney Laura Wasser. “They are keeping it low-key but they are done,” says a source. “Kim has hired Laura Wasser and they are in settlement talks.” People magazine quotes a source who says Kanye West is aware of the looming decision: “He knows that she’s done. She has had enough, and she told him that she wants some space to figure out her future,” the source tells People, adding that West, 43, is bracing for a filing but doesn’t know when it will take place.

NBC News adds a more nuanced view, quoting a source that says the two have been in counseling. “They have been going to therapy. They are working on their marriage,” the source said. They are “100% aligned when it comes to the kids,” per the source. The couple is dealing with “regular relationship issues,” and there is “no one else involved.”

“Divorce has been discussed off and on,” the source said, but Kardashian West has not filed for divorce. “They are working through it … (and) trying to work through things.”

Kim, 40, hasn’t been seen wearing her wedding ring, and Kanye, 43, remained at his $14 million Wyoming ranch over the holidays instead of spending it with the Kardashian family, who drew criticism for their extravagant celebrations. While Mr. West has remained in Wyoming over the past few months, Mrs. West has stayed in Los Angeles, along with the couple’s four children. People magazine article last month described the pair as “living separate lives”.

The writing has been on the wall for months now. I wrote about this imminent split in July of last year. The original content is below:

After breaking down at a campaign rally on Sunday, West said he and his wife had considered abortion when expecting their daughter North. “I almost killed my daughter!” he sobbed, breaking down in tears before revealing that he and his wife had considered terminating the pregnancy. The revelation made headlines and reportedly caught Mrs. West off guard. But between late Monday night and Tuesday morning, West upped the ante with some explosive tweets.

“Kim was trying to fly out to Wyoming with a doctor to get me locked up like in the movie Get Out,” the rapper tweeted late Monday, before claiming that the movie is actually about him. “Kim tried to bring a doctor to lock me up with a doctor,” he tweeted. (Mrs. West has been consulting with doctors and has been trying to get Kanye help “for weeks”, per People.)

Late Tuesday night, he went even further: “I’ve been trying to get divorced since Kim met with Meek at the Waldorff [sic] for ‘prison reform’.” He praised Meek — “Meek was respectful. That’s my dog” — but claimed, “Kim was out of line”. She was out of line, he said — a day after he told the world that he and his wife had considered aborting their firstborn child. (Editor’s note: Kim K and Meek Mill met publicly at a restaurant in November 2018. They were joined by philanthropist Clara Wu Tsai, according to Complex. Mrs. West left the restaurant immediately after the meeting.)

The tweets are the latest in a string of provocative (and sometimes nonsensical) comments Mr. West has made in recent days. They include a suggestion on Sunday that every woman who has a baby should be awarded $1 million. Among the statements are some baldly untrue claims. “Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves,” West claimed on Sunday night. (She freed hundreds.) West also claimed that rapper Lil’ Baby was his favorite rapper, but he “won’t do a song with me”. Lil’ Baby responded by saying he had never heard of such a thing.

Today, Kim addressed the issue(s) head-on in a series of posts on Instagram Stories. “As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder,” she wrote. “I’ve never spoken publicly about this because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health. But today, I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health.”

“Those who understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” she continued. “People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individual[s] themselves have to engage in the process of getting help, no matter how hard family and friends try.”

“I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure,” she wrote, adding that West can be polarizing. But she also painted a nuanced, loving picture of a man in pain: “He is a brilliant but complicated person who, on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, [also] experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that [are] heightened by his bi-polar disorder.”

“I kindly ask that the media and public give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this,” she added. 

The Wests have been married since May 2014 and have four children: North, 7, Saint, 4, Chicago, 2, and Psalm, 14 months. But it appears that their six-year marriage is in serious trouble. Two sources contributed to People magazine’s stunning report today about the state of their marriage. One source said that the two have been mulling a split “for several weeks”, even before West’s outburst on Sunday. A second source added: “There has been enough communication, both in the past few days and in the weeks prior, to establish that both sides feel the marriage is over.”

UPDATE: People reported last week that the pair are doing well, quoting a source who said Kim is quietly supporting her husband: “She just wants to get through the next few months peacefully. She is kind of standing back while Kanye does whatever makes him happy.”

While Mrs. West is freezing her Facebook & Instagram acccounts in protest of Facebook’s practices, her husband is tweeting up a storm. Within an hour, Mr. West posted a video of himself urinating on a Grammy, tweeted out pages of his record contract, AND posted the phone number of a Forbes magazine editor whom he calls a “white supremacist”. (Where was all this energy when his friend Donald Trump was defending white supremacists and Nazis as “very fine people”?)

The Forbes post violated Twitter’s private information policy, which carries a first-time penalty of having to remove the tweet and having the user temporarily unable to tweet.

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Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion Make Grammy History with “Savage” Remix (UPDATED)

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Photo courtesy of Instagram.

By Terrance Turner

April 30, 2020 (Updated Nov. 24)

BREAKING NEWS: (March 14, 2021): Tonight, Megan the Stallion and Beyonce won the Grammy for Best Rap Song for their work on the remix of Megan’s song “Savage”. They are the first female duo ever to win in this category. This is also a significant win for Beyonce: with this award, she has 27 Grammy Awards — the most ever by any singer, male or female.

Both Beyonce and Megan reacted with shock to their wins. Megan sat there, open-mouthed, as the Best Rap Song award was announced. In her acceptance speech, she reminisced about going to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and seeing Destiny’s Child. She paid high compliments to Beyonce: “I love her work ethic; I love how she carries herself,” Megan said. Beyonce, in turn, thanked Megan for inviting her to be a part of the song.

“Houston, we love you,” Beyonce said. Then, just as she and Beyonce were about to descend the stairs of the outdoor stage, host Trevor Noah stopped them. He then announced the news that this is Beyonce’s 27th Grammy win — tied for the most ever all-time. As previously mentioned, she also now holds the record for the most Grammy Award wins by any singer.

Earlier tonight, the two won Best Rap Collaboration for their song “Savage”. They are the first all-female team ever to win this award. Megan was stupefied by the honor when it was annoucned, taking several seconds to compose herself.

“Thank you, Lord; God is the first person that I want to thank,” Megan said. In her acceptance speech, she also thanked her late mother, along with her grandmother, her fans, and Beyonce. “My grandma — thank you, Nanny. Thank you, Mama, for pushing me and knowing that I was gonna be here,” she went on. “Thank you, Hotties. Thank you, Houston.”

THIS JUST IN: MEGAN THEE STALLION HAS BEEN NAMED BEST NEW ARTIST AT THE GRAMMY AWARDS. MORE DETAILS WILL BE FORTHCOMING.

Today, social media is buzzing about Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s remix to her song “Savage”. She is joined by singer, rapper, icon, and fellow Houstonian Beyoncé. According to genius.com, the two met at a New Year’s Eve party in December. They are among nine writers on the track — Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z has a writing credit.

Beyonce opens the song with layered harmonies: “My whole team eat, chef’s kiss, she’s a treat/ Ooh, she so bougie, bougie, bon appétit,” she sings. Megan contributes an entirely new verse to the song, which epitomizes her raunchy, confident style. “I’m a savage (Yeah), attitude nasty (Yeah)/Talk big s–t, but my bank account matchin’/Hood, but I’m classy, rich, but I’m ratchet/Haters kept my name in they mouth, now they gaggin’.”

Queen Bey hops on the track next to deliver some lascivious bars of her own. She name-checks TikTok (a Chinese-based video app), OnlyFans ( a subscription site featuring homemade adult videos) and DemonTime (a stripper performance series on IG Live). She shouts out her Texas roots, her mother Tina Knowles Lawson, and her clothing line Ivy Park in a blistering second verse:

IVY PARK on my frame (Frame), gang, gang, gang, GANG!
If you don’t jump to put jeans on, baby, you don’t feel my pain
Please don’t get me hyped (I’m hyped), write my name in ice
Can’t argue with these lazy b–ches, I just raised my price
I’m a boss, I’m a leader, I pull up in my two-seater
And my mama was a savage, n—a, I got this s–t from Tina

From “Savage (Remix),” Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion

Twitter exploded with chatter about Beyonce’s rapping, propelling her to #1 on Twitter’s trending topics earlier this afternoon. (She’s still trending, by the way.)

https://twitter.com/Beyfan891/status/1255590518869852166

The song has provided some welcome excitement to those stuck inside the house due to COVID-19. Best of all, Beyonce and Megan are donating the proceeds from this song to Houston nonprofit Bread of Life. Located at 2019 Crawford St, the charity aims to end homelessness and improve the quality of life for the needy. Rudy and Juanita Rasmus founded Bread of Life in December 1992, with the serving of hot meals to homeless men and women inside St. John’s United Methodist Church.

According to its website, Bread of Life began serving one hot meal weekly that eventually led to serving 500 meals per day to the homeless in the sanctuary at St. John’s. Years later, the Bread of Life has “changed the landscape of Downtown Houston and provides an array of services to families in peril and homeless individuals.” The project works with HIV/AIDS prevention, providing solutions to food insufficiency, housing the homeless, and disaster relief. More recently, Bread of Life also teamed up with Beyonce and Lawson to provide housing for 40,000 flood victims in Houston.

The song is now available on Tidal.

UPDATE (Nov. 24): “Savage” has been nominated for Record of the Year at the 2021 Grammy Awards. The song is also nominated for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. Megan Thee Stallion is nominated for Best New Artist, and Beyoncé leads all artists with nine nominations. Megan’s album “Good News” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, selling 100,500 units this week.

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Gronk Comes Out of Retirement to Join Brady on Bucs — And Win! (UPDATED)

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By Terrance Turner

April 21, 2020

(updated Dec. 26; updated Feb.7)

Last night, former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared on “Watch What Happens Live” (at Home). Host Andy Cohen said rumors were swirling that Gronkowski wanted to join ex-Patriots teammate Tom Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cohen asked Gronkowski if he was considering coming out of retirement to join Brady on the Bucs.

Gronkowski (aka “Gronk” to fans and teammates) responded equivocally. “Andy, you wanna know what’s so great, man? The day that I retired — within 24 hours — there were already rumors that I was coming out of retirement,” Gronk said. “I’m feelin’ good right now; I’m happy where I’m at–“

“You’re done,” Cohen interjected.

“You just never know, man,” Gronk replied.

“Oh, you never know,” Cohen repeated.

“You never know,” Gronk said. “I’m not totally done.”

He isn’t. The next day, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport confirmed a stunning update:

Earlier this afternoon, NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted: “Retired #Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has told New England that he’s interested in playing football again — and would want to do it with the Bucs and Tom Brady. A trade would have to be worked out for this to happen.” Rapoport later added that Brady was interested in such a deal, too. At 3:21 pm, Rapoport confirmed that the Patriots were trading Gronk and a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for a 4th-round pick.

Gronkowski, 30, played the entirety of his NFL career with the New England Patriots. During the 2011 season, Gronk had 17 touchdown catches — the most ever by a tight end in one season. A Week 13 score was classified as a rushing touchdown, giving him a total of 18 TDs. He became the first (and only) tight end EVER to lead the league in touchdowns. The next season, he tacked on 11 more touchdown receptions, making it his third season in a row with 10 or more TDs. (He would achieve that impressive touchdown feat again in the 2014 and ’15 seasons.)

He won three championships with the New England Patriots in 2015, 2017, and 2019. (He told Cohen that the last match — the 13-3 snoozefest vs. the Rams — was the easiest to win.) It was his 29-yard catch late in Super Bowl LIII that set up the game’s only touchdown (courtesy of teammate Sony Michel). That catch helped him set two more records. His 23 receptions and 297 receiving yards are the most by a tight end in Super Bowl history.

As news broke of the trade, Andy Cohen added another credit to his multi-hyphenate career:

Gronk’s return to the NFL was something of a surprise move, after a storied career riddled with injuries. “Since 2012, he has, among other things, fractured the same forearm twice, fractured a vertebrae, torn his A.C.L. and M.C.L., and suffered from a bruised lung, herniated discs, various ankle injuries, and at least two concussions,” wrote New Yorker columnist Ian Crouch in March 2019.

Gronkowski retired in 2019 after a painful quad injury sustained during the Super Bowl that year. An NBC Sports reporter spoke with Gronkowski after the game, and Gronk showed him the ugly aftermath of a second-quarter hit to the thigh. The reporter noted the swelling: “It looked stupidly big. Swollen from just above the knee for about 20 inches.” 

Gronkowski recounted the injury’s impact in August, at a press conference for CBDMedic. “I got done with the game; I could barely walk,” he told the audience. “I try to go to bed; I slept for five minutes that night. I couldn’t even think.”

“I was in tears, in my bed, after a Super Bowl victory,” Gronkowski recalled. “And then, for four weeks, I couldn’t even sleep for more than 20 minutes a night, after a Super Bowl win. It didn’t make much sense to me,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Damn, this sucks’.” During that period, he said, Gronkowski had 1,000 milliliters of blood drained from his swollen thigh.

It was that bruising physical toll that drove his retirement — along with the emotional toll. “I want to be clear to my fans: I needed to recover. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down,” Gronkowski said, choking up, “and I didn’t like it. I was losing that joy in life — like, the joy.

With the help of rest and CBDMedic, however, he began to recover. “I feel great, and I am pain-free. I truly believe I can get to another level with my body,” he said in August, “and I’m just in the first stage right now. And when that time comes down in the future, if I have the desire to play football again, if I feel passionate about football again, if I feel like I need to be out there on the field, I will go back to football. But as of right now, that is not the case. It could be the case in six months; it could be the case in two years. Could be the case in three years. Could be the case in three months.”

In the end, it took roughly eight months for Gronkowski to turn the corner. And today, the day after Christmas, Gronkowski gave fans a gift for the ages. The Buccaneers played the Detroit Lions today; QB Tom Brady opened the game by throwing a 33-yard touchdown to Gronkowski. It’s the 96th career touchdown between Brady and Gronk.

That score put the Buccaneers ahead 7-0. By halftime, it was 34-0! After throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns (!), Brady rested in the second half. Backup QB Blaine Gabbert took over — and opened the third quarter with a thrilling throw to Gronkowski. The ball sailed from the 30-yard line; Gronk caught it for his second touchdown of the day, to make it 41-0.

UPDATE: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combined for two touchdowns tonight, fueling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ dominant win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers won 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium in Florida. 45% of the Buccaneers’ points tonight came from Brady and Gronkowski. They connected twice in the first half, setting an NFL record. The two have the most postseason touchdowns by a QB-receiver duo with 14 total, breaking the record held previously by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (12).

Rob Gronkowski now has the most catches, most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns of any tight end in Super Bowl history. And he’s earned his fourth Super Bowl ring. He celebrated his good fortune with Brady after their historic game:

UPDATE: Gronk’s coming back! The #Bucs are bringing back TE Rob Gronkowski, giving him a 1-year deal worth up to $10M, per @DrewJRosenhaus.

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As “Lion King” Premieres, Beyonce’s “Spirit” Soars

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Photo courtesy of Tom & Lorenzo.

By Terrance Turner

July 17, 2019

Last night, ABC aired its prime-time special on “The Lion King”, the live-action retelling of the classic 1994 animated film. The special featured intriguing details about the making of the original film and its adaptation to the stage. ABC also included interviews with the voices behind the current version: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Alfre Woodard, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others. But the most memorable voice was that of the film’s Nala: Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

The special premiered the official music video for “Spirit”, the first single off the Lion King: The Gift, an album of original music inspired by the film. (Spin magazine writer Tosten Burns points out that this album is separate from the actual Lion King soundtrack, which came out last week.) In an exclusive interview that aired during the special, Beyonce called the album “a love letter to Africa”.

“Spirit” begins with two men chanting “Long live the king” in Swahili. Beyonce gently delivers the song’s opening verse, which escalates to a stirring chorus. Her sultry voice is joined by a choir, and the song begins to build. By the second chorus, she and the choir are at full-throttle, backed by a driving beat and synchronized handclaps.

“Your destiny is coming close,” she sings. “Stand up and fight.” Suddenly, the swelling arrangement drops to a whisper in the bridge — hushed vocals and soft piano. “So go into that far off land, and be one with the great ‘I AM’. A boy becomes a man,” Beyonce sings, in a gorgeous falsetto that rises higher and higher. By the three-minute mark, she’s in the stratosphere, displaying her incredible range.

That stunning moment leads to a rousing, gospelly finale. Beyoncé belts out the final choruses in impassioned, melismatic fashion, powerfully combining with the choir. Their voices swell as the song continues, rising even higher for a dramatic key change. Beyoncé returns to a gentle, delicate head voice for the song’s final bars.

“Spirit” was written by Ilya Salmanzadeh, Timothy Lee McKenzie, and Beyonce. Salmanzadeh is a Swedish-Persian producer and songwriter; McKenzie is a Grammy-nominated British songwriter who performs as “Labrinth”. The two sent a rough demo to Beyonce, who loved it. “She started helping us write the rest of the record,” McKenzie told ABC News. He described the moment as “incredible.”

McKenzie said Beyoncé is meticulous in her work: “She’s a perfectionist and she’s a Virgo, like my wife. Virgos are serious perfectionists.” He added: “She cared about everything that was in the record. She cared about what piano we were going to use. Is there enough bass? Not many artists care that much.” But despite her perfectionism, Beyoncé wasn’t demanding, he said.

“A lot of artists in her position, they can be divas and they can be hard to deal with. Her energy and the messages she sent to us in terms of saying thank you for contributing to ‘The Lion King’ — she sent really beautiful messages. I was really kind of surprised to see that someone in her position still has that humility.” 

The song itself is noteworthy, but the music video, which premiered last night, only amplifies its quality. Beyoncé explained the video in an interview for the ABC special. “The concept of the video is to show how God is the painter, and natural beauty — and nature — needs no art direction,” she said. “It’s the beauty of nature, the beauty of melanin, the beauty of tradition.”

“Spirit” was filmed at Havasu Falls, a waterfall within Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The Arizona Republic reported that on July 8, a location manager called the head of Arizona’s film office, asking for permission to film at Havasu. The man he called was Matthew Earl Jones, director of Arizona Film and Digital Media. (Jones is the nephew of actor James Earl Jones, who voiced Mufasa in both “Lion King” films.) Mr. Jones put the manager in touch with the Havasupai Tribal Council, who quickly granted the request. The shoot took place just two days later, with Beyoncé flying in by helicopter.

The request’s approval came as a surprise to Jones, given that permits are hard to come by. But the Council was glad to oblige Beyoncé. A Council spokeswoman said that given Bey’s support of water rights worldwide, “we were particularly pleased to be able to accommodate her request.” The video offers spectacular views of the waterfalls and accompanying scenery.

Beyoncé is shown seated, wearing a voluminous, ruffled dress of lilac and red. Early on, there’s an appearance by her daughter Blue Ivy Carter, who walks up (in lavender ruffles) to take her mother’s hand. The Havasu Falls appear about a minute in; draped in dramatic royal blue, Beyoncé begins the chorus in front of the waterfall. Throughout the four-minute video, scenes from the film are interspersed with shots of Queen Bey. Clad in colorful, flowing costumes, Beyoncé performs the song with an array of dancers in various desert locales.

In less than 24 hours, “Spirit” has amassed 5.3 million views on YouTube. It is currently #1 in YouTube’s “Trending” section. Beyonce’s album will debut the same day as the film. “The Lion King” hits theaters on Friday, July 19. Watch the “Spirit” video below.

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Durant Shines As Nets Stun Bucks With Late Comeback

Kevin Durant reacts after gaining and maintaining possession in tonight’s game. Photo by the author.

By Terrance Turner

June 15, 2021

Kevin Durant played every minute of tonight’s playoff match between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. The series was tied, 2-2; the Nets were considered underdogs, despite winning the first two games of the series. But tonight, in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the Nets prevailed. After trailing by sixteen in the first half, Brooklyn roared back in the second. Anchored by a magisterial performance by Durant — who scored 49 points and had a triple-double — the Nets won, 114-108.

The game started with question marks over Nets players. Kyrie Irving was out due to an ankle injury; James Harden was battling a hamstring injury. He was listed as questionable before the game but played anyway — “thuggin’ it out”, as Durant later described it. Harden played 22 minutes without scoring a single point. Brooklyn went up 2-0 on the first possession, but Milwaukee dominated throughout the first half. They took a 9-2 lead, which mushroomed into a 19-6 lead after a basket from Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks continued to outscore the Nets throughout the first and second quarters. Their lead grew from 12 to 14 and then 16 as the second quarter got underway. Antetokounmpo continued to shine, blocking shots by opponents and driving to the basket on shot after shot. The Bucks led 59-43 at the half.

They maintained a lead early in the third quarter, expanding their advantage to 17 points. Milwaukee led 71-54 in the 3rd, with 7:25 remaining. But then Brooklyn went on a 17-5 run, with Harden finally landing a floater, Jeff Green hitting one three-pointer after another, and Durant serving as the offensive engine for his team. Their efforts, along with strong supporting play by Blake Griffin, revived the Nets. They steadily chipped away at the Bucks’ lead, which was 87-81 when the fourth quarter began.

Then Durant launched into overdrive, launching a three to make it 89-86. Minutes later he hurled an assist to Brown. And then, with 8:36 left, Durant drained a three to put Brooklyn ahead by one. It was the Nets’ first time leading since the start of the game! Milwaukee briefly pulled ahead, but Brooklyn fired right back, turning the fourth quarter into a nail-biting back-and-forth showdown. It was 99-98 Bucks when Durant hit yet another three to regain the lead. It was 102-98, with five minutes left.

Less than two minutes later, Green hit a three to make it 104-100.The Bucks came back to tie it. But as the clock ticked under one minute — with just 50 seconds left and the shot clock expiring — Durant drilled a three-pointer to make it 109-105. The Bucks got in foul trouble late, with P.J. Tucker accidentally poking Harden in the eye during a possession. Harden fell to the ground but was helped back up. Later, Durant managed a steal when Antetokounmpo lost the ball and was then fouled when Bucks tried to wrest the ball from him.

Durant’s free throw(s) put the Nets ahead by four. It was 111-107 with 15 seconds left. Giannis drove to the basket but was fouled, going 1 for 2 at the free-throw line. (Free throws have been an issue for him throughout this series.) The rebound ended up in the hands of Kevin Durant. He was swarmed by Bucks trying to take the ball from him. But they fouled him instead. Durant missed one free throw but made the other to make it 112-108.

With just 11.5 seconds remaining, the Bucks had to make a play. But Khris Middleton missed a three-pointer, and Nets player Landry Shamet got the rebound. Antetokounampo fouled out after fouling Shamet. Shamet’s successful free throws sealed the game for Brooklyn. The Nets won, 114-108.

Nets coach Steve Nash hugs Kevin Durant after his performance in tonight’s game. (Photo from Twitter.)

Jeff Green finished with 27 points; Blake Griffin ended with 17. But it was Kevin Durant who powered the Nets to their comeback win. He scored 49 points, racking up 17 rebounds and 10 assists. And he did it while playing every minute of tonight’s playoff game — the first player to do so since LeBron James in 2018.

According to ESPN, Durant led the Nets in minutes, points, steals, and blocks. His incredible performance brought a stagnant Brooklyn offense to surging, sparkling life. The Nets won Game 5. They now lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will take place in Milwaukee on Thursday.

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COVID Death Toll Tops 600,000

By Terrance Turner

June 15, 2021

BREAKING NEWS: The death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000 Americans, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That is roughly equal to the number of Americans who died from cancer in 2019, according to the Associated Press. According to Axios, “It’s a higher death toll than the number of American soldiers killed in combat during the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined.”

The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases; Business Insider reports that the U.S. has over 34 million. But America has also racked up by far the largest death toll of the pandemic, ahead of Brazil and India.

This grim milestone comes on the same day that California, one of the country’s largest and most populous states, is reopening. In what’s being billed as a “Grand Reopening”, California has jettisoned state rules on social distancing and limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, and stadiums. Disneyland is opening its gates to all tourists after allowing just California residents. (It and Disney World are also lifting mask requirements for the vaccinated, according to ABC 13.) Fans will be able to sit elbow-to-elbow and cheer without masks at Dodgers and Giants games.

One encouraging sign is that daily death tolls are dropping. CDC data shows that as of May 1, 2021, the average daily death count in the U.S. from COVID-19 (calculated from a 7-day total) was 633 deaths per day. That’s an 82% drop from the record-high death count last winter, which peaked on Jan. 13 with 3,427 deaths. Now, there are around 340 deaths per day.

And a growing number of Americans are being vaccinated. ABC News reported yesterday that 61% of Americans have received at least one shot. With the advent of the vaccine in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of around 340, from a high of over 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.

But demand for shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, leaving many places with a surplus of doses and casting doubt on whether the country will meet President Biden’s target of having 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. The figure stands at under 65%.

Yesterday, President Biden noted the death toll in his remarks in Belgium. “There’s still too many lives being lost,” Biden said, noting that the daily number of dead has dropped sharply, but that the continuing loss of life was still “a real tragedy.”

“My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one,” Biden said, speaking on Monday in Brussels. “We have more work to do to beat this virus. And now’s not the time to let our guard down. Please get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

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Suns Eliminate Lakers in Game 6 of First Round

By Terrance Turner

June 3, 2021

The Los Angeles Lakers worked valiantly to escape elimination in tonight’s Game 6 match versus the Phoenix Suns. Down three games to two, the Lakers were fighting to avoid becoming one of only five defending champions to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Only four defending champions have been eliminated on their home court; this game was in L.A.’s Staples Center. But it wasn’t to be. In a game that was over nearly from the moment it began, the Suns stunned the Lakers with an offensive explosion.

The Suns jumped out to a 14-5 lead after three major three-pointers by Jae Crowder. Then, after being pushed out of bounds by Suns star Devin Booker, Lakers player Anthony Davis was seen grimacing in pain. He had evidently aggravated a groin injury incurred earlier in the season. Five minutes into the opening quarter, Davis was on the ground — and then off the court. Then Suns guard Chris Paul re-injured an already injured shoulder and had to sit out.

The Suns took advantage of the moment. Booker nailed consecutive three-pointers to extend the lead. It was 27-10 after the injury breaks. Despite three turnovers, they maintained a commanding lead. As the first quarter wound down, Davis was listed as “questionable” for the game. Then Booker hit yet another three, making it 30-12 with just over a minute left. Booker then sunk his sixth three-pointer of the game, typing a playoff record. He had 22 points at the end of the quarter.

As the second quarter continued, the Suns were red-hot, raining down threes. The lead grew even more, stretching to over 20 points as time went on. Even after a 10-2 run by the Lakers, the Suns still led 50-29 with five minutes left in the quarter. Los Angeles managed to narrow the lead with some tough, competitive play, but Phoenix maintained an advantage throughout. With 1:53 left, LeBron James had a three-point play, making a basket and nailing a free-throw to bring the Lakers within range. Then he fought for possession with a Suns player to make it a jump ball. The Lakers kept possession until a missed shot by Kyle Kuzma (who scored just two points in tonight’s game).

With under a minute left in the half, the Suns suffered their eighth turnover of the game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope swatted the arm of Torrey Craig as he went up for a shot. Craig fell to the ground; shortly afterward Pope was seen shoving Jae Crowder. After the player fell to the ground, officials reviewed the foul to see if it was a flagrant. After a lengthy review, Pope was called for a flagrant foul. (Jason Phillips, VP of replay operations, explained that there was a potential for injury during the play.) The score was 62-41 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Phoenix stayed on top. But a spirited effort by Los Angeles slowly narrowed their lead. By the midpoint of the quarter, the Lakers had trimmed the Suns’ lead to fifteen. Then a masterful drive to the basket by James made it thirteen. The Suns led 77-64 at the break. James’ pass to Matthews trimmed the lead even further. With 3:26 left, the Suns were up 79-67. But the Lakers were closing in. It was 89-76 at the end of the third quarter.

As the fourth quarter began, the Suns had possession. But after a miss by Paul, the Lakers cashed in. Booker responded with a basket of his own. But the Lakers would not go away. They battled the Suns, even down to a tussle on the floor between James and Booker. Their struggle for the ball led to a jump ball. The Lakers gained possession. A foul call resulted, and Matthews nailed both free throws to make it a 12-point game. Then Pope drove to the hoop, bringing the Lakers within 10 points for the first time since the first quarter. Later, with four and a half minutes left, they trailed by only 11.

But that would be as close as they would get. A late-period surge by the Suns padded their lead and kept the game out of reach. Booker was 8-for-10 from 3, scoring a stunning 47 points. The Phoenix Suns won, 113-100. They will face the Denver Nuggets in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs.

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Marking One Year Since George Floyd’s Death

Photo by the author.

May 25, 2021

Today marks one year since George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In a video that has spread around the world, Chauvin is kneeling on Floyd’s neck, which he did for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Despite Floyd’s cry for help (“I can’t breathe,” he says numerous times), Chauvin refuses to relent. It’s not until Floyd lies lifeless on the ground.

Floyd’s excruciating death was recorded via cell phone by teenager Darnella Frazier. That video — and Chauvin’s deliberate cruelty — caused widespread opprobrium and protests in Minneapolis, in Houston, in Boston. In Paris. In London. In Berlin. In New Zealand (!!!). The worldwide outrage helped power this country to a statistically rare murder conviction for a police officer. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder and third-degree murder on April 20, 2021.

Today, one year later, ceremonies were held in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, and in his hometown of Houston. According to CBS’ Houston affiliate KHOU, a brand new park in Third Ward was renamed in George Floyd’s honor. It’s across the street from Jack Yates High School, where Floyd excelled in both basketball and football before graduating in 1993.

But that wasn’t the only local ceremony honoring George Floyd. This evening, a balloon release was held in Cuney Homes, the Third Ward neighborhood where Floyd grew up. Holding red and gold balloons, a crowd gathered to remember George Floyd today in the housing projects where he spent most of his early life.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “Just after 4 p.m., an assortment of community leaders and Floyd’s loved ones gathered at Cuney Homes’ community center for the ribbon-cutting of a computer lab in Floyd’s name. Rapper Trae tha Truth, who attended the Chauvin trial, helped put together the project, and spoke of his friendship with Floyd.”

Around 5:20 p.m., Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee assumed the podium, Floyd’s sisters and nieces gathered behind her. She told everyone to imagine what happened on this day in 2020. Imagine the girl who stood there courageously with her phone, she said. Imagine the firefighter who tried to render aid. Imagine the martial arts expert who understood what the officers actions were doing to Floyd’s body.

Despite all of that, the family of George Floyd has risen above the urge to be angry or bitter, but instead advocated for justice. “This family has not been able to grieve because America has called on them to be America’s family,” Lee said. “We owe them not because of who they are, but what they have given to us for a whole year […] But out of that and what they have experienced, America’s family never turned to anger and hatred and contempt,” she said of Floyd’s survivors.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, “Jackson Lee also drew attention to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is up for consideration in Congress. Among its provisions, the bill seeks to improve police training and outlaw some law enforcement techniques, including chokeholds. It would also end “qualified immunity,” which protects law enforcement officers from most civil lawsuits.”

Jackson Lee said the bill “needs to be passed as is” and encouraged attendees to write their representatives to express their support. the bill was also the subject of talks in the nation’s capital. Today, members of George Floyd’s family visited President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. NPR reports that the meeting with Biden and Harris lasted approximately an hour, and was kept private. The White House said those attending included Floyd’s mother and daughter, three brothers and a nephew.

Rodney Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers, told reporters after their meeting that Biden and Harris “showed great concern” for them, asking after their emotional state and self-care. Biden told reporters that the meeting went “incredibly well.”

“On every anniversary you’re happy people remember, but it also brings everything back immediately like it happened that day. It takes a lot of courage to go through it,” Biden said of the Floyd family.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks with George Floyd’s daughter Gianna Floyd in Washington, D.C. (Photo from KHOU)

Tonight, in Minneapolis, people have returned to the scene of the crime. Hundreds of people have gathered at Cup Foods, at 38th and Chicago Avenue, to commemorate the occasion. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a daylong event featured free food and musical performances. “The square was transformed Tuesday into an outdoor festival, with food, children’s activities and music. At times, people danced in the street. Artwork and signs from protests after Floyd’s death also were on display. One group hosted an open mic next to a greenhouse that community members constructed earlier this year to house flowers left by mourners. Nearby, a brass band played for passers-by.”

But there was also fear and panic: “Hours before the Minneapolis festivities, the intersection was disrupted by gunfire a block away. Associated Press video from 38th and Chicago showed people running for cover as shots rang out. Police said a man, who they believe was injured in the shooting, went to a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound. Police said he was in critical condition but was expected to survive. There were no immediate arrests.”

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Nets Come From Behind to Beat Boston Celtics

May 22, 2021

Tonight over 13,000 fans came to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the Nets’ first playoff game. (New York City opened 100% this month after months of COVID-19 restrictions. The team said that over 90% of the crowd will be vaccinated. Those in unvaccinated seating sections will not be required to wear masks in seats.) Despite trailing early on, the Nets came to life late, beating the Boston Celtics 104-93.

Brooklyn scored first when Kyrie Irving knocked down a jumper. But Boston’s Jaysom Tatum answered (twice), to make it 4-2. James Harden blew by Boston’s defensae to score, but Kemba Walker and Tatum both hit three-pointers to push Boston’s lead to 13-4. Harris charged to the hoop, and Kevin Durant slammed down a dunk. He then scored again to make it 13-10.

This type of volleying continued through the quarter, though the Nets struggled on offense. The team missed shots and opened the game 0-8 on field goals. But they kept enough pace with the Celtics to keep it from becoming a runaway. It was 21-16 at the end of the quarter.

Brooklyn continued missing shots in the second quarter. The Celtics built their lead. When Brooklyn took a timeout with 9 minutes left in the half, Boston was up by 12. But after back-to-back turnovers, Harden recovered the ball and threw the ball to Claxton for the throw-down. Then Harden got fouled and made both free throws. It was 32-26, with 7:39 left.

The Nets eventually pulled within three, but were hampered by missed shots and fouls. The action was broken up by foul calls and free throws; Durant was called for an offensive foul. Griffin got fouled hard and made one of his two free throws. Durant himself was fouled later. It was 53-47 at the half.

In the third quarter, Boston’s lead narrowed even more. Walker hit a jumper; the Celtics led 57-54 before Irving hit a three and tied the game. Blake Griffin had a steal but then lost the ball after a far-flung pass to Durant. But Durant made up for the loss with a three-pointer that gave Brooklyn its first lead of the game.

The Nets led 60-57 at the midpoint of the third quarter. With 8:15 to go, it was Boston’s ball. But it went out of bounds. Durant scored, and Harden drilled a three to make it 65-57. It was their largest lead of the game, and they maintained it thanks to some inspired playing by Durant. (He scored 13 points in the third quarter.) Brooklyn lead 78-73 at the end of the third.

The Nets maintained a slim lead for over half of the fourth quarter. As Boston’s offense slowed; Durant took advantage of a Celtics turnover to make a steal and a slam. With 5:45 remaining, the lead went up to 10. It was 89-79 after Brooklyn went on a 7-0 run. Then Green’s back-to-back free throws after a foul. That made it a 9-0 run. Irving later tipped in a shot to extend the Nets’ lead to 13. Jeff Green nailed a three to extend the lead. Irving also scored to put Brooklyn up 99-82.

The referees called a flagrant foul on Durant for a play in which both he and Jaysom Tatum fell to the ground. (Tatum went up for a shot; Durant’s foot landed under his. Both lost their balance and fell to the ground.) Tatum got three free throws and made them all. And Kemba Walker made back-to-back threes. But it was too late. The Nets held on to win, 104-93.

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Lakers Edge Warriors In Wild Shootout; Warriors Eliminated By Grizzlies

By Terrance Turner

May 19, 2021 (Updated May 21, 2021)

LeBron James helped power the Los Angeles Lakers past the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors shined in the game’s first half, with Stephen Curry scoring 15 points before halftime and the Golden State defense smothering the Lakers offense. In that first half, the Warriors held the Lakers’ top three scorers through the regular season — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder — to just 13 points on 4-for-28 shooting.

The Lakers rallied late in the third quarter and managed to tie the game. The Warriors staged a rally of their own to retake the lead, but the Los Angeles Lakers pulled away (very) late to win. A huge first half for the Warriors gave way to a major surge by Los Angeles. Powered by a game-sealing three-pointer by James, the Lakers sealed their spot in the playoffs, winning 103-100.

The Warriors got off to a hot start, making five of their eight shots. Lakers’ Anthony Davis went 0-of-4. Golden State led Los Angeles 12-4 with 8:18 left in the first. Timeout Los Angeles. After the timeout, the Lakers continued to struggle, with star LeBron James going 1-of-4 to start.

Alex Caruso was an early standout, playing gamely throughout the first half. But the Lakers starters had a brutal time: James was just 1-for-5; Anthony Davis went 1-8, and Dennis Schroder, 0-7. Stephen Curry was just 2 for 5. But as the quarter concluded, the Warriors led by 6. It was 28-22 at the end of the first quarter.

Golden State continued to maintain its lead in the second quarter. The Lakers continued to struggle: James had just 6 points at the end of the half. James and Davis were 3 of 19 from the field in the first half. Golden State went up 35-30 at timeout. Minutes later, with the score 40-33, Curry hit a major three to give the Warriors a ten-point lead. Curry racked up 15 points by halftime, including a dazzling three-pointer just before the buzzer at the end of the second quarter. The Warriors led 55-42 at halftime.

In the second half, Los Angeles worked to close the gap. LeBron James was fouled and had two free throws to narrow the lead to seven, but Warriors player Andrew Wiggins answered with two points of his own. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a layup and then a steal, swiping the ball from Golden State and driving to the hoop. He was fouled and nailed two free throws to make it 57-53.

Another Golden State turnover helped Schroder cut the lead to one. With the score 57-56, the Warriors went on a 5-0 run before a LeBron jumper. The Lakers woke up in the third quarter, cutting the lead to one within four minutes, though the Warriors managed to build the lead back up to 12 points before the Lakers went on another tear. A dominant stretch from James to end the third quarter pulled the Lakers back within two. It was 79-77 at the end of the third.

The Lakers tied the game early in the fourth quarter. A basket by Kyle Kuzma gave Los Angeles its first lead of the game, 81-79. A steal by Alex Caruso gave way to a layup from James, and the Lakers led 83-79. James scored in back-to-back possessions, with the Lakers going up 85-79. Their lead would swell to seven. But Golden State mounted a comeback of its own, erasing L.A.’s lead to tie at 91 and then take it back, 96-95, on a Jordan Poole 3-pointer, with three minutes, 43 seconds remaining.

As the clock ran down, the two teams battled back and forth in a nail-biting volley. Golden State took the lead with 2:30 left, 98-95. Lakers tied it at 98. Then the two teams tied again at 100. As Lebron rose for a shot, Warriors defender Draymond Green reached out with both hands, inadvertently jabbing James in the eye. James fell to the ground and had to be treated on the sideline; he stayed in the game, but was seen telling those around him, “I can’t see.”

But even with one eye, LeBron James still knows how to win. With the ball in his hands and just a minute remaining, he hit a soaring three-pointer to give Los Angeles the lead, 103-100. As he was running back down the court, James indicated that he was still having vision problems. “I was seeing three rims,” he later said, “so I just shot for the middle one.”

The clock ran down to just 2.1 seconds before Golden State coach Steve Kerr called timeout. After an agonizing wait, fans in Staples Center waited to see what the team would do. Curry had the ball for what could’ve been a game-tying three-pointer. But he lost control of the ball, and Los Angeles won, 103-100.

After a dismal start in which they combined for just 11 points, James and Davis combined for 36 in the second half. LeBron’s late-game heroics helped him surge to a triple-double: 22 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists. He powered the Lakers to a seventh-seed slot, punching their ticket into the playoffs.

The Lakers will face the Phoenix Suns in a seven-game series beginning this weekend. The Warriors will battle the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. In this year’s “Play In” tournament, whichever team wins is in the playoffs. The team that loses is eliminated from playoff contention.

UPDATE (MAY 21, 2021): The Warriors’ season is over.

All-Star Stephen Curry led all scorers with 39 points as he and the Warriors battled the Memphis Grizzlies tonight in San Francisco. Golden State worked overtime to keep their season alive tonight against the surging Memphis Grizzlies. Down by 10 with just three minutes left, the Warriors came back to tie the game. Then they overcame a valiant Grizzlies effort to send the game to overtime. In OT they took the lead again, but Memphis overcame their rally to win 117-112.

The Grizzlies and Warriors were tied before Ja Morant drove to the hoop. Then Kyle Anderson got fouled and had a chance for a three-point play. Memphis went on a 7-0 run to take the lead 13-6 in the first quarter. Morant hit a three to make it 16-6 with 8:32 left in the first. Memphis maintained its lead into the second quarter. They capitalized on Golden State’s turnovers — one of which led to a three by Grayson Allen. That made it 52-40 with 4:16 left. Grizzlies led 62-49 at halftime.

Memphis led by 10 before a wide-open Ja Morant hit a three to put them up by 13. Grizzlies were up with 6:39 left. Warriors managed to close the gap, down just 78-73 as the third quarter ended. Memphis held on to a slim lead throughout the third; they led by seven with 2 minutes left.

In the fourth quarter, Ja Morant and Stephen Curry traded triples and two-pointers. Their teams went back-and-forth in a volley that lasted until the final seconds. Memphis was up 99-97 wtih just 33 seconds left when Andrew Wiggins tied the game. It went into overtime.

In overtime, Golden State again threatened to run away with the game. Curry hit a double-double by the 3:48 mark, and the Warriors took the lead. With only 1:52 remaining in OT, The Grizzlies were up 107-106 — until a soaring three-ponter from Jordan Poole. But Morant answered with a three of his own. Now Memphis was up by five, with just 4.5 remaining on the clock. But then Poole hit a corner three to cut their lead to two.

With just two seconds left in overtime, the Grizzlies had the ball and a chance to win the game. Morant came through with the dagger, sealing the win. The Grizzlies beat the Warriors 117-112, making the playoffs for the first time since 2017.They eliminated the Warriors from playoff contention.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – MAY 21: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies hugs Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament on May 21, 2021 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Gov. Abbott Bans Mask Mandates, Cuts Unemployment

Photo from the Texas Tribune.

By Terrance Turner

May 18, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott today issued an executive order banning state governmental entities — including cities, counties, school districts or officials — from having mask mandates. Starting Friday, May 21, any government entity that tries to impose a mask mandate can face a fine of up to $1,000, according to the order. Exceptions to the order include jails, state-supported living centers, and government-owned or -operated hospitals.

Public schools will be allowed to maintain mask-wearing policies until Friday, June 4. After June 4, no teacher, student, staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask inside school buildings. (Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, has its final day of classes on June 11. May 27 is the last day for some students in the second-biggest district, Dallas ISD.)

The Texas Tribune reports that while 30% of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the vast majority of children are unvaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized just last week for children as young as 12. Despite the fact that a vaccine is not yet available for grade-school children, Abbott touted vaccines as part of his rationale for the order.

“The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities,” Governor Abbott said in a press release. “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

Yesterday, Abbott informed the U.S. Department of Labor that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation for the COVID-19 pandemic effective June 26, 2021. This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

Austin ABC affiliate KVUE says that Texas is ending participation in all ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) compensation. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) sent KVUE a statement: “The governor has announced that on June 26, 2021, Texas will stop participating in ARPA programs, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation Program (MEUC).” This means that self-employed, part-time or freelance workers may lose all benefits.

Abbott cited data from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) in his decision.  “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits,” he said. “That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”

The governor added that 45% of the jobs pay more than $15.50 an hour. He also asserted that TWC data shows a portion of claims contain fraud: “TWC estimates that nearly 18 percent of all claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic are confirmed or suspected to be fraudulent, which totals more than 800,000 claims, worth as much as $10.4 billion, if all claims had been paid.”

These decisions come just a week after the CDC announced new guidelines for indoor and outdoor mask-wearing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on May 13 that fully vaccinated Americans do not have to wear masks — indoors or outdoors. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made the declaration during a news conference.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

UPDATE (MAY 19): Today, Gov. Abbott signed into law a bill that would ban abortion the minute a fetal heartbeat is detected. As NPR points out, that would be around six weeks into pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant.

The new law makes no exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. But it does allow citizens to sue anyone they believe may have been involved in helping a pregnant individual violate the ban. The Texas Tribune notes that the law would allow virtually anyone to sue an abortion provider — even if the individual has no connection to the doctor or the woman.

The law drew opposition from more than 300 Texas attorneys who raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation. They’re concerned that it could subject Texans to harassment. In a letter to Texas House Speaker Dade Pheelan, the lawyers outlined their grievances.

“We are specifically concerned that HB 1515 and SB 8 grant ‘any person’ the right to sue, including even those who do not reside in Texas and those with no connection to a patient, against a broad range of defendants. Among those who could face civil liability are physicians who provide abortion care, but also nurses, clinic staff, and any others who helped the patient access abortion care. This means that family members, clergy, domestic violence and rape crisis counselors, or referring physicians could be subject to tens of thousands of dollars in liability to total strangers,” the attorneys wrote.

Even more egregiously, these bills add as potential defendants any person who merely formed an intent to help a patient, which could include donors and supporters of abortion funds and clinics, and could make individuals liable before they took any action at all.

This exceptionally broad cause of action and the almost unlimited array of potential defendants is inconsistent with  the Texas Constitution’s minimum requirements to maintain a civil legal action in Texas. The Texas Constitution allows access to our courts only to a “person for an injury done him.”

From “Attorney Opposition to HB 1515 and SB 8”
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Ariana Grande Marries Dalton Gomez in Montecito

Image
Photo courtesy of Vogue (Stefan Kohli)

By Terrance Turner

May 17, 2021 (Updated May 26)

Ariana Grande is married!

The singer wed her fiance, real estate agent Dalton Gomez, over the weekend in Montecito, California. The ceremony reportedly took place in the couple’s house. Like many other couples in this pandemic, the couple had a small, intimate ceremony.

“They got married,” Grande’s rep confirms to PEOPLE exclusively. “It was tiny and intimate — less than 20 people. The room was so happy and full of love. The couple and both families couldn’t be happier.” 

UPDATE (May 26, 2021): Vogue magazine has obtained exclusive pictures of the ceremony. Writer Alexandra Macon notes that Gomez wore a black Tom Ford suit. Designer Vera Wang made Grande’s dress — a custom, lily-white column gown with a sweetheart neckline and a plunging back. Pearl and diamond earrings by Lorraine Schwartz were chosen to compliment the gown; Grande wore one earring upside down. As Macon explains, “The meaning behind this is significant to Ariana, as it represents appreciating the lowest or the ‘upside down’ moments in her life and how they have contributed to where and who she is now.”

Ariana’s mother Joan Grande and father Edward Butera gave the bride away. They walked her down the aisle to meet Dalton, who wore a black Tom Ford suit. Dalton and Ariana said their vows in a room lit by candlelight; flowers were suspended from the ceiling.

Photo courtesy of Vogue.

Grande, 27, started dating Gomez, 25, in January 2020. Their relationship got serious while quarantining in New York City amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez eventually headed back to Los Angeles for his real estate job, and Grande took a big leap by joining him on the West Coast. 

“It was getting tricky for them to see each other, so she decided to take her chance,” a source previously told PEOPLE. “She purchased a house in the Hollywood Hills in June and never looked back. They are incredibly happy.”

The duo went public with their relationship in May 2020 when they both appeared in Grande’s “Stuck With U” music video with Justin Bieber. Grande announced the news of their engagement in December. She unveiled her diamond-and-pearl engagement ring via Instagram (where she is the most followed woman) on December 20:

Photo from Buzzfeed.

According to his bio on the company’s website, Gomez serves as the sole buyers agent for the Aaron Kirman Group. He also served as Director of Operations for Aaron Kirman Group during his first three years with the company, running all day-to-day operations of the top luxury real estate team in LA. Grande, meanwhile, scored her fifth number-one album in November with Positions. According to Billboard, it’s her third number-one in just over two years, making her the fastest woman ever to achieve three No. 1 albums.

On March 14, Grande and Lady Gaga won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Collaboration for their duet “Rain on Me.” It is the first all-female collaboration to win that award. In June 2020, “Rain on Me” became the first female musical collab to debut at number one on the Billboard charts.

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