Issa Wedding! Issa Rae Marries Louis Diame in France

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Photos by Lauren Fair Photography.

By Terrance Turner

July 26, 2021

Issa Rae is married.

The actress, writer, and producer married businessman Louis Diame over the weekend in the French Riviera. The intimate ceremony took place in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in Southeastern France.

Rae shared stunning photos of the nuptials, captured by photographer Lauren Fair, on Instagram: “A) Impromptu photo shoot in a custom @verawanggang dress. B) My girls came to help me, but they all coincidentally had on the same dress! They were sooooo embarrassed. C) Then I took a few flicks with Somebody’s Husband,” she joked in the caption. “Big thanks to @whiteedenweddings for being so gracious and accommodating and making this feel so real and special.”

Rae wore a white, strapless custom Vera Wang gown; Diame was decked out in a red Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo. Details on the wedding are scarce, which is likely how Rae wanted it. Though the two have been together for nearly a decade, their relationship has been out of the spotlight. “I get so much feedback about everything,” she told Marie Claire in 2018. “The one thing I don’t need feedback on is who I’m sleeping with.”

News of the engagement broke in April 2019, when Rae appeared on the cover of Essence magazine with a sizable diamond ring:

But it was actually two of Rae’s Insecure co-stars who confirmed her engagement news. “We all found out in different ways because we’re all on different text chains. We talk at different times, so we all found out at different times in different ways,” Jay Ellis told Entertainment TonightYvonne Orji added, “The reaction was all the same, like, ‘You out here in these streets getting married, boo?!’ That was the reaction.”

Reaction to the wedding (and to those pictures!) was rapturous. Rae’s makeup artist Joanna Simkin commented, “Love you two so much. The most magical day, and so honored to witness all of the beauty and love. You two are the most beautiful.” Additionally, Ashley Nicole Black commented, “You’re always stunning, but that picture of you with that lady’s husband has the most glow. Congrats!”

“You make a gorgeous Bride ❤️,” wrote Tina Knowles-Lawson.

Indeed.

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Britney Spears Asks Judge to End Conservatorship

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Photo from the New York Times.

By Terrance Turner

June 23, 2021

Today, in a rare public hearing, Britney Spears asked a judge to end her conservatorship.

It began in January 2008 — after a year in which Spears shaved her head, attacked paparazzi, and lost custody of her children. After refusing to relinquish the children to their father Kevin Federline, she was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Then Spears was committed to a ward in UCLA Medical Center. She was placed under a 5150 psychiatric hold (for those who are “gravely disabled” or considered dangers to themselves or others). Spears was placed in a conservatorship, in which a court-appointed person manages the affairs of someone who is incapacitated (typically those who are elderly or disabled.) Her father Jamie Spears was placed in charge.

In 2019, the arrangement was amended: Mr. Spears still controls his daughter’s finances, but a licensed conservator, Jodi Montgomery, was tasked with her personal care. The New York Times adds: “The appointed conservators have control over everything from Ms. Spears’s mental health care to where and when she can travel; the setup requires that conservators are required to submit detailed accounts of her purchases to the court — including even minor charges like $5 purchases at Sonic Drive-In or Target.”

This February, the New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears” explored Spears’ conservatorship and treatment by the media. It sparked renewed questions as to why the arrangement is still needed. In the decade since it began, Spears, 39, has been able to work, perform, record and write songs. (Her album Femme Fatale hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2011; she worked as a judge on “X-Factor” the following year. Her album Glory made it to No. 3 in 2016.) Yet Spears still can’t manage her own money — or much of anything.

Today, she spoke out.

Britney Spears asked Judge Brenda Penny for permission to speak in court today. Montgomery requested the testimony be made private; Spears interrupted and said it should be public. “They’ve done a good job of exploiting my life,” she said, per The Hollywood Reporter. “So I feel like it should be open court hearing and they should listen to what I have to say.”

She had a lot to say. In her searing testimony, Spears sounded off about her father, her family, her management, and the conservatorship. She said that she was forced to go on her “Piece of Me” tour in 2018 (a video has surfaced of her performing on tour with a 102-degree fever). Then, in early 2019, she began preparing for a Vegas residency — and things began to unravel.

Spears spoke remotely by phone, according to the Associated Press. She read from a prepared statement — so quickly that Judge Penny asked her to slow down.

“Oh, of course. Yes. Okay,” Spears answered. “To recap: I was on tour in 2018. I was forced to: my management said if I don’t do this tour, I will have to find an attorney. My own management could sue me if I didn’t follow through with the tour. He handed me a sheet of paper as I got off the stage in Vegas and said I had to sign it. It was very threatening and scary. And with the conservatorship, I couldn’t even get my own attorney. So out of fear, I went ahead and I did the work.”

“When I came off that tour, a new show in Las Vegas was supposed to take place [in early 2019]. I started rehearsing early, but it was hard because I’d been doing Vegas for four years and I needed a break in between. But no, I was told this is the timeline and this is how it’s going to go. I rehearsed four days a week,” Spears continued. “I was basically directing most of the show. I actually did most of the choreography, meaning I taught my dancers my new choreography myself.”

Everything went left after Spears said no to a dance move: “I said no, I don’t want to do it this way.” Her team went into a room and didn’t come out for 45 minutes, she said. “I was told by my at the time therapist, Dr. Benson — who died [in 2019] — that my manager called him and [said] I wasn’t cooperating or following the guidelines in rehearsals. And he also said I wasn’t taking my medication, which is so dumb, because I’ve had the same lady every morning for the past eight years give me my same medication. And I’m nowhere near these stupid people. It made no sense at all.”

When she said no to touring, Spears said, her medications were changed. “Three days later, after I said no to Vegas, my therapist sat me down in a room and said he had a million phone calls about how I was not cooperating in rehearsals, and I haven’t been taking my medication. All this was false — he immediately, the next day, put me on lithium out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I’ve been on for five years.”

Lithium is a strong mood stabilizer. “You can go mentally impaired if you take too much, if you stay on it longer than five months. But he put me on that and I felt drunk, couldn’t have a conversation with my mom or dad about anything,” Spears said. The doctor sent nurses to monitor her: “There were six different nurses in my home and they wouldn’t let me get in my car to go anywhere for a month. Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it. Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad.” It was Jamie, she claimed, who told her she’d failed a psych test and had to go to rehab that cost $60,000 a month: “I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it.”  

Britney said there was a sadistic element to her father’s control: “The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control to hurt his own daughter. 100,000%. He loved it. I packed my bags and went to that place. I worked seven days a week, no days off — which in California, the only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking. Making anyone work against their will, taking all their possessions away — credit card, cash, phone, passport — and placing them in a home where they work with the people who live with them. They all lived in the house with me, the nurses, the 24-7 security. There was one chef that came there and cooked for me daily during the weekdays. They watched me change every day — naked – morning, noon and night.” 

Spears was placed on a strict schedule: “If I didn’t do any of my meetings and work from eight to six at night — which is 10 hours a day, seven days a week, no days off — I wouldn’t be able to see my kids or my boyfriend.”

Britney’s longtime boyfriend, trainer Sam Asghari.

UPDATE: Variety has obtained a transcript of the remarks. Excerpts are quoted below:

“I’ve lied and told the whole world ‘I’m OK and I’m happy.’ It’s a lie. I thought I just maybe if I said that enough maybe I might become happy, because I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” she said. “I’m telling you the truth, OK? I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”

“I want changes going forward. I deserve changes,” Spears said. “If I want to end the conservatorship, ma’am, I didn’t know I could [contest] the conservatorship. I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that. But honestly, but I don’t think I owe anyone to be evaluated. I’ve done more than enough.”

Spears shed light on why she’s been so silent publicly. “It’s embarrassing and demoralizing — that’s the main reason I’ve never said it openly. And mainly, I didn’t want to say it openly, because I honestly don’t think anyone would believe me, to be honest with you. The Paris Hilton story on what they did to her to that that school. I didn’t believe any of that either — I’m sorry. I’m an outsider.

And maybe I’m wrong, and that’s why I didn’t want to say any of this to anybody to the public. People would make fun of me or laugh at me and say, ‘She’s lying, she’s got everything, she’s Britney Spears.’

I’m not lying. I just want my life back. It’s been 13 years. And it’s enough. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money. And it’s my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested,” Spears declared. “All I want is to own my money, for this to end, and my boyfriend to drive me in his fucking car.

And I would honestly like to sue my family, to be totally honest with you. I also would like to be able to share my story with the world, and what they did to me, instead of it being a hush-hush secret to benefit all of them. I want to be able to be heard on what they did to me by making me keep this in for so long, is not good for my heart. I’ve been so angry and I cry every day, it concerns me, I’m told I’m not allowed to expose the people who did this to me,” she said.

“I’d like for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his car. And I’d like to meet with a therapist once a week, not twice a week,” Spears requested. “And I want him to come to my home, ’cause I actually know I do need a little therapy,” she laughed.

“I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told, right now, in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out,” she said. “But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to remove it because they don’t want me to have any more children. So basically this conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good.”

“I deserve to have a life. I’ve worked my whole life.”

UPDATE (July 1, 2021): Bessemer Trust, a wealth management firm that had planned to act as co-conservator of Britney Spears’s finances, has asked to leave the arrangement.

In a request filed in Los Angeles Superior Court today, Bessemer Managing Director Jeff Glowacki stated he was led to believe Spears approved the conservatorship and only learned the truth after her testimony last week.

Glowacki says he was contacted by Samuel Ingram, the court-appointed legal counsel for Spears, to see if Bessemer Trust was interested in managing the estate. “I was told by the parties that the Conservatorship was an ongoing, voluntary Conservatorship and [that] the Conservatee had consented to Bessemer’s appointment,” Glowacki said. “As a result of the Conservatee’s testimony at the June 23, 2021 hearing, I became aware that the Conservatee [Spears] objects to the continuance of the Conservatorship and desires to terminate the Conservatorship. Petitioner has heard the Conservatee and respects her wishes.”

UPDATE  (July 15, 2021) Yesterday, Britney Spears scored a major victory in a court hearing. According to Now This, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny granted Spears approval to hire her own attorney. Spears has chosen prominent Hollywood lawyer Mathew Rosengart, according to multiple reports. He’s a former federal prosecutor who has also represented Sean Penn and Steven Spielberg. Spears’s new representation comes after her court-appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham stepped down earlier this month, along with co-conservator and financial company Bessemer Trust. 

In court on Wednesday, Spears told the court that she wishes to have her father removed from controlling her finances and life. “I’m here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” Spears told the court. Her new attorney echoed that sentiment in his remarks. “If he loves his daughter, it is time to step aside — to move forward,” Rosengart said.

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Carl Nassib Makes NFL History

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By Terrance Turner

June 21, 2021

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out today. He is the first active NFL player in history to do so.

“What’s up, people,” Nassib posted on Instagram. “I’m at my house in Westchester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for. I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important.”

“I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary,” he said. “But until then, I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate and I’m going to start by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. They’re an incredible organization, they’re the number one suicide-prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America and they’re truly doing incredible things. I’m very excited to be a part of it and help in any way that I can and I’m really pumped to see what the future holds.”

In the second part of his five-part Instagram post, Nassib wrote: “I have agonized over this moment for the past 15 years. Only until recently, thanks to my family and friends, specifically Connor, Cason, and Francis, did it seem possible for me to say publicly and proudly that I’m gay. I am also incredibly thankful for the NFL, my coaches, and fellow players for their support. I would not have been able to do this without them. From the jump, I was greeted with the utmost respect and acceptance.”

“I truly love my life and cannot understand why I have been blessed with so much,” Nassib continued. “I feel especially thankful to have had so much support when many who came before — and many even now — do not. I stand on the shoulders of giants, incredible people who paved the way for me to have this opportunity. I do not know all the history behind our courageous LGBTQ community, but I am eager to learn and to help continue the fight for equality and acceptance.”

Nassib elaborated on his support for the Trevor Project: “I was immediately drawn to the Trevor Project when I learned about their mission to provide suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ community. Young LGBTQ kids are over 5x more likely than their straight friends to consider suicide.” Nassib said it saddens him to learn that statistic, but added, “I feel an immense responsibility to help in any way I can — and you can too.”

He cited studies showing that the presence of just one accepting adult can decrease the aforementioned suicide risk by 40%. “Whether you’re a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person.”

Photo from Yahoo! Sports.

According to CBS Sports, “Nassib, 28, was the 65th overall pick in the 2016 draft. The former Penn State standout spent his first two seasons with the Browns before signing with the Buccaneers, where he recorded 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss over a two-year span. Nassib tallied 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five passes defensed and his first career interception during his first season with the Raiders.”

No openly gay player has ever played in a regular-season NFL game. That makes Nassib’s announcement all the more remarkable. He is palpably aware of his unusual position, as evidenced by his caption on Instagram: “I am a lanky walk-on who is living his dream.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later issued a statement in support of Nassib’s announcement. “The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today,” Goodell wrote. “Representation matters. We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was also supportive, as reported by Ian Rapoport.

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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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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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Derek Chauvin Convicted For Murder Of George Floyd, Will Serve 22.5 Years In Prison

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By Terrance Turner

March 26, 2021 (Updated April 20; updated June 25)

BREAKING NEWS (June 25, 2021): Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.

On April 20, the jury found Derek Michael Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degre manslaughter for the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Chauvin’s bail was revoked; he was taken into custody.

Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes outside a Cup Foods grocery store in Minneapolis. Despite Floyd’s repeated gasps of “I can’t breathe”, Chauvin continued to kneel on his neck until Floyd died. George Floyd, 46, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The brutality of the death was recorded by a young Black girl named Darnella Frazier. The footage of the murder spread like wildfire online and through news reports, sparking weeks of protests. Those protests spread throughout the country (including 60,000 protesters in Houston). They also spread overseas, with protests in Paris, in London, in Berlin.

UPDATE (6:32 PM): Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden delivered remarks on the verdict. The remarks were carried live by ABC News, which broke into KTRK’s “Eyewitness News”. Both leaders emphasized that the work of justice is not done.

“Today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain,” Harris said April 20. “A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer and, the fact is, we still have work to do. We still must reform the system.”

“Today, a jury in Minnesota found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd last May,” Biden said. “It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the vice president just referred to, the systemic racism that is a stain on our nation’s soul, the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans, profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and Brown Americans experience every single day.”

Biden urged viewers to not give up. He emphasized that this verdict is a sign more work needs to be done. But “this can be a giant step forward,” he said. “This can be a moment of significant change.”

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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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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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Trump Pressured Georgia Secy. of State to Help Him Cheat, Tried to Have DOJ Overturn Election (UPDATED)

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 3, 2021 (Updated Jan. 22)

The President of the United States is still trying to overturn the election.

The Washington Post has released audio of a phone call yesterday between President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). In the call, Trump repeatedly pressures Raffensperger to recalculate the vote totals in Georgia so that Trump can win the state’s 16 electoral votes. “Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims,” the Post reports.

“During their conversation, Trump issued a vague threat to both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel, suggesting that if they don’t find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County have been illegally destroyed to block investigators — an allegation for which there is no evidence — they would be subject to criminal liability.”

On the call, Trump says: “You know what you did, and you’re not reporting it. You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion — based on what I’ve heard — and they are removing machinery, and they’re moving it as fast as they can. Both of which are criminal finds. And you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen.”

Trump also implies that if Raffensperger doesn’t help him invalidate the election results (which have been audited three times), it could affect the crucial Senate runoff elections on Tuesday. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia’s two Republican senators, are up for re-election in those runoffs — which will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Trump suggested that failure to help him “find” votes would affect turnout.

“You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam,” Trump said. “Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. Okay? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”

The president refuses to accept that he lost the state — and the 2020 election. “There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.” In fact, President-Elect Joe Biden won the state of Georgia by 11,779 votes. Trump needs one vote more than that to win. “So look,” Trump says on the recording. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Trump repeatedly made baseless allegations of voter fraud on the call –which have been debunked by several news outlets. Associated Press reporters Hope Yen, Jeff Amy, and Michael Balsamo fact-checked several of Trump’s claims. “We have a number of things. We have at least 2 or 3 — anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots — were dropped mysteriously into the rolls,” Trump said on the call. “Much of that had to do with Fulton County, which hasn’t been checked.”

“There’s nothing mysterious or suspect about it,” write Yen, Amy, and Balsamo. “He is describing a legitimate vote-counting process, not a suden surge of malfeasance […] Trump appears to be referring to large numbers of voters that were tabulated in the early hours of Wednesday morning after Election Day and later.” Georgia had large stacks of mail-in ballots that had to be counted after polls closed and after in-person votes were counted.

“We think that if you check the signatures — a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County — you’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures,” Trump says on the call. The AP writers push back: “That has no basis in reality. It would be impossible for anyone to have forged hundreds of thousands of signatures on mail-in ballots in Fulton County because there were only about 147,000 mail-ballots,” they state.

But it wasn’t just his doing: the Post adds that advisers were supporting Trump in this fact-free charge of fraud. “It was clear from the call that Trump has surrounded himself with aides who have fed his false perceptions that the election was stolen,” writes Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner. “When he claimed that more than 5,000 ballots were cast in Georgia in the name of dead people, Raffensperger responded forcefully: ‘The actual number was two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted.’ But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows replied, “I can promise you there are more than that.”

Another Trump lawyer on the call, Kurt Hilbert, accused Raffensperger’s office of refusing to turn over data to assess evidence of fraud. He also claimed to know of at least 24,000 illegally cast ballots that would flip the result to Trump. There is no proof of that.

In fact, an audit in Georgia’s Cobb County was conducted just four days ago. The audit found no evidence of fraud: The Hill quoted Raffensperger as saying that there was “a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures.” That audit is the THIRD review of the vote total in Georgia. Previously, statewide votes were recounted by hand and then by a machine. Both tallies reaffirmed the original vote count, according to Raffensperger. On the call, he repeatedly rebuffed Trump’s calls for further action and reaffirmed that the election results were legitimate.

Unfortunately, some Republican senators have chosen to disagree. A group of at least 12 GOP Senate members, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have pledged to challenge the presidential election results when Joe Biden is certified on Tuesday, January 6. Cruz and 11 others — Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Senators-Elect Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) — will object. Cruz told Fox News this morning that he and his colleagues “will, together, object to certification in order to force the appointment of an emergency electoral commission to perform an emergency audit of the election results to assess these claims of fraud.” Yesterday, the 12 issued a statement that reads, in part:

Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

“Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

“We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit-conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20-would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.

UPDATE: (Jan. 22, 2021): A bombshell new report by the New York Times alleges that a lawyer in the Justice Department colluded with Donald J. Trump to oust the acting attorney general — so they could use the Department to force Georgia lawmakers to overturn the election. The ultimate goal, of course, was giving Trump the electoral win he so desperately craved.

The Times reports: “The unassuming lawyer who worked on the plan, Jeffrey Clark, had been devising ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark.”

The plan fell through when officials in the Department learned of the plan. Upon learning of the president’s scheme, they threatened to resign. That ended the plot. The Times made this report after speaking with four former Trump administration officials (all of whom were anonymous due to fears of retaliation).

On CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight”, Sen. David Cicilline was asked about this bombshell report. Cicilline was reticent to say whether this new reporting would be part of the prosecution’s case against Trump in the upcoming Senate trial. But he did acknowledge that the Senate impeachment managers are reviewing evidence already collected and new evidence that emerges as part of the case.

UPDATE (JULY 30, 2021): Today, House Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, released handwritten notes taken by then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard P. Donoghue of a December 27, 2020, phone call with Donald J. Trump and former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. 

A summary of the call, available on House.gov, paints a damning portrait. It outlines efforts by Trump to pressure the Department of Justice to invalidate or overturn the 2020 election. It contains an exchange between former President Trump (referred to as “P”) and Mr. Rosen, who was Deputy Attorney General (“DAG”) prior to his appointment as Acting Attorney General a few days before the call. On page 4 of his notes, Donoghue wrote: “- DAG … ‘understand that the DOJ can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way.’” (p. 4)

According to Donoghue, the president responded: “Don’t expect you to do that,  just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. [Republican] Congressmen.’” 

The notes indicate that Donoghue (and perhaps Rosen) pushed back against the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud: “Sir, we have done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews, major allegations are not supported by evidence, developed.” (p. 5) Donoghue later wrote: “Told him flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence – we look at allegations but they do not pan out.” (p. 6)

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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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Juneteenth

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The Juneteenth flag was designed by activist Ben Haith in 1997. Photo from CNN.

By Terrance Turner

June 19, 2020 (updated June 19, 2021)

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with some game-changing 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. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor,” Granger continued, quoting General Order Number 3. (That order was found on June 18, 2020, by staff at the U.S. National Archives. According to the Washington Post, the order was found in a formal order book stored in the Archives headquarters building in Washington, D.C.)

General Order No. 3. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

Emancipation Park. (Photo via Twitter.)

Rep. Al Edwards (D-TX) authored a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979. Surprisingly, Texas Monthly reports that Edwards met with resistance from fellow blacks in his quest to make Juneteenth a holiday. One state representative, Clay Smothers of Dallas, dismissed Edwards’ bill as proposing nothing more than “ceremoniously grinning and bursting watermelons on the Capitol grounds.”

Despite the resistance, Edwards persisted, and House Bill 1016 was passed by the Texas Legislature, making Texas the first state to officially commemorate Juneteenth. (Now every state recognizes the holiday except Hawaii and North Dakota.) Juneteenth became an official state holiday on Jan. 1, 1980. Now, 40 years later, there is a growing movement to make it a national holiday. That push has gained steam after a string of police killings (most notably George Floyd) and the death of Edwards from natural causes in April. He was 83.

UPDATE (June 19, 2021): Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, signed into law by President Joe Biden. Present at the signing ceremony on Thursday was Ms. Opal Lee, who lobbied for the occasion to be federally recognized. Lee launched a memorable effort at the end of 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 clarified to Variety that she didn’t walk all 1400 miles. “I did some hundreds,” she said, “but not 1,400.”) Nevertheless, she persisted. 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 lauded by Vice President Kamala Harris, who had sponsored a Juneteenth bill while in Congress. “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.

Activist Opal Lee is at the center of Juneteenth becoming a national holiday. Known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," her mission pushed the day to become federally recognized.
Ms. Opal Lee. Photo from CNN.

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A Meditation on Happiness, And A Passionate Reunion, on “Insecure”

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Photo courtesy of HBOWatch.

By Terrance Turner

June 1, 2020

This recap contains spoilers.

On “Lowkey Happy”, last night’s episode of Insecure, Lawrence (Jay Ellis) meets up with his ex Issa (Issa Rae) for drinks. He nervously waits for her to show up, anxiously popping a breath mint. Issa arrives and quickly takes a nasty fall onto the club floor. Once she recovers, she joins him at the bar, and Lawrence orders what he thinks is her favorite drink — prosecco with a splash of whiskey.

“That’s actually not my drink anymore,” Issa corrects him. Now it’s prosecco with a splash of vodka. “Let the record show: I’ve changed,” she tells Lawrence. (She has.) Lawrence apologizes for missing the block party that Issa organized and tells Issa he was in San Francisco for job interviews. “I just don’t wanna be afraid to move on,” he tells her.

“I heard about you and Condola,” Issa says, referencing his recent breakup. “I’m sorry.”

“We don’t gotta talk about that,” Lawrence interjects. He quickly changes the subject. “You know, I ran into Molly at the airport,” Lawrence says. “It was awkward.”

“That’s probably because we’re not friends anymore,” Issa says flatly.

At first, Lawrence laughs, taking the comment as a joke. It slowly dawns on him that Issa isn’t kidding. “For real?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Issa confirms. “We don’t speak.”

“Wow. I can’t imagine you and Molly not [being friends],” Lawrence says, as Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” begins playing. More people start to crowd into the bar and dance.

“What happened?” Lawrence asks.

“We don’t have to get into it,” Issa says tersely. “But you had something you wanted to talk to me about? What is it?”

The answer doesn’t come — they’re interrupted by a man ordering drinks in the increasingly crowded bar. They instead decide to meet at another place. Their Uber driver mistakes them for a couple, asking if they’re married.

“I tried,” Lawrence says. “I bought a ring.” Issa is caught off guard by this revelation, which she didn’t know about. Nor does she know what Lawrence needs to talk to her about. She tries to get answers at the Latin restaurant they go to next. But Lawrence stonewalls.

While they wait for a table, Lawrence sets a no-holds-barred agenda for the night: no walking on eggshells. No tiptoeing around sore subjects. “No eggshells,” he orders. “We know each other too well for that.” Issa accepts and presses Lawrence to say what he wanted to tell her. But his hesitance, and the arrival of the waiter, delay the big reveal.

They are further delayed by Lawrence’s difficulty deciding what to order. Issa grows impatient and takes charge, ordering the meal for them. Issa adds a whiskey neat for Lawrence (she knows his preferred drink). Issa effortlessly rattles off the order with what Lawrence calls “impressive” skill.

“Impress me with what you want to tell me,” Issa quips.

“I’ve been thinking about us,” Lawrence confesses, “and what would’ve happened if we stayed together. Sometimes I wonder, like, do I give up too easily on things?”

“It might be obvious,” Issa says, “but I do wish you hadn’t given up on us.”

They talk candidly about Lawrence’s slide into depression and unemployment towards the end of their five-year relationship. And Lawrence gets some clarity on Issa’s infidelity: her Season One affair with Daniel (Y’lan Noel) torpedoed the relationship for good. “Why Daniel?” he asks pointedly. “Or could it have been anyone?”

“No, not anyone,” Issa answers. She explains: “He just popped up and gave me attention, during a time when you weren’t. And it’s not an excuse, but… it just felt good to feel wanted, I guess.”

“Things were that bad between us?” Lawrence asks. (Obviously, yes.)

“Sometimes I used to drive around after work just to avoid coming home,” Issa reveals. “But I still wanted to be with you, not him. I just had a moment of weakness.” She later adds: “For an entire year, nothing I did could snap you out of what you were going through. You didn’t want to talk; you didn’t want to go out; you didn’t want to have sex. You didn’t want me, Lawrence.”

“It’s not that I didn’t want you,” Lawrence replies. “Just watching you get up and go to work was this daily reminder that I [had] nowhere to go. Nothing to do. And I thought about moving back home, but I know that would have just made me feel worse.” It’s a raw, honest, adult conversation that answers lingering questions.

The rest of the night unfolds like a date — witty banter and warm ribbing, unforced chemistry and easy conversation. The two visit the Art Walk in downtown L.A., and Issa reveals that she’s working on creating happiness for herself. “I’ve been waiting around, waiting for other stuff to make me happy,” she explains, “and I think that s–t is a choice.” She turns to Lawrence. “What about you? Are you happy?”

“Yeah, I think I’m getting there,” Lawrence answers. “I would say I’m pretty happy right now.”

Lawrence gets a call from Condola, who’s been calling/texting him all night. But he ignores it. “We’ve been talking, but I don’t know,” he tells Issa. “I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen between us.” That future becomes even more uncertain once Issa learns that Lawrence lives nearby.

Lawrence decides to show Issa his new apartment. Inside, she realizes that he still has their old couch. Issa asks if she can use the bathroom before she returns to the Lyft still waiting outside. While she’s gone, Lawrence goes outside and discreetly calls Condola back. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you,” he tells her. “I can still try to make it tonight. I’ll keep you posted.” But when Issa emerges from the bathroom, she realizes instantly what’s up.

“She wants to talk,” Lawrence explains. Issa takes the hint and starts to leave. But she stops at the door.

“What if I wanted to stay?” she asks. “I’m not ready for the night to end yet.”

“Tonight made me happy,” Lawrence admits.

You make me happy,” Issa confesses.

“So…stay.”

Image
Where do Issa and Lawrence go from here? (Photo via Twitter.)

This episode comes after what’s been a brutal week, especially for black people. Protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin continue to rock the country. In L.A., where the show is set and filmed, a weekend of protests turned violent. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the city and county of Los Angeles just before midnight Saturday, amid looting and freeway closures.

Nearly 1,200 protesters were arrested in Los Angeles County on Sunday. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told KTLA-TV that 700 people were arrested in the city of L.A. on Sunday. Los Angeles’ 6 pm curfew will last until 6 am Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, “More than 400 people were arrested in Santa Monica on suspicion of crimes that included looting, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer and curfew violations.”

Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson, who plays Nathan on the show, was hit by seven rubber bullets yesterday while protesting in L.A.

Cast member Natasha Rothwell, who wrote the episode and plays Kelli on the series, acknowledged the unrest across the country. She wrote on Twitter:

For this black man — angered by the killing of George Floyd, weary of both police violence and its news coverage — last night’s episode was like manna.

Cinematographer Ava Berkofsky, who directed, presents magical visuals — the cloud exhibit, that stunning blue/red light display — that immerse us in the scene. Natasha Rothwell’s masterful screenplay presents bracingly real reminders of why the couple failed: Issa’s infidelity, Lawrence’s stagnation. But her layered script also reminds us why these two worked in the first place: a shared sense of humor, natural conversation, lots of laughs. Jay Ellis and Issa Rae’s beautifully naturalistic performances make everything feel achingly real. In a season of good episodes, this may be Insecure‘s all-time best.

June 3, 2020

I do not make the above statement lightly. For months, I have felt that the Season Two finale, “Hella Perspective”, was a high-water mark that the show couldn’t possibly top. After weeks of distance (and a bitter fight outside a restaurant in the previous episode), Issa and Lawrence finally had the bracing, vulnerable, heart-tugging conversation that they’d needed to have all season. It was raw. It was real. It was glorious.

But “Lowkey Happy”, I think, is even better. From the screenplay to the cinematography, even down to Rae and Ellis’ terrific performances, this episode stood head and shoulders above many of its predecessors. And it came at a time when its dreamy, romantic vibes were desperately needed.

Throughout last weekend, I tried to unplug, to disconnect from the headlines that I’d lived in and written about throughout the week. But I still found myself drained and demoralized. Insecure brought me back to life. To see these two characters who obviously belong together (DON’T @ ME) FINALLY reconnect was great. But to see black people freely walking and talking, enjoying each other’s company, slowly falling in love all over again — in the age of coronavirus and virulent racism — was sensational.

One of the actors apparently thought so, too. Ellis told Vulture: “I read this script the night before the table read, and it felt like closure. It felt like love. It felt like friendship. It felt like soul mates. It felt like our show is so universal. There were just so many things about it that were absolutely amazing. I remember turning to Natasha and telling her, ‘I think you just wrote the most beautiful episode of this show ever’.”

He’s not wrong.

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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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Roughnecks Remain Unbeaten After Wild Finish

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By Terrance Turner

March 9, 2020 (updated Nov. 15)

Despite three turnovers and a wildly controversial fourth quarter, the Houston Roughnecks survived Game 5 on Saturday afternoon to remain undefeated. The Roughnecks beat the Seattle Dragons 32-23 at TDECU Stadium yesterday. They remain the only unbeaten team in the XFL.

After a near-scoreless first quarter, the Seattle Dragons’ offense took off. After a fumble by the Roughnecks, Dragons quarterback B.J. Daniels led a 7-play, 18-yard, three-minute scoring drive. On 4th and goal at the one-yard line, Daniels ran in and scored the touchdown. The two-point conversion, however, was unsuccessful: a gaggle of Houston defenders prevented the Dragons from scoring.

Following an 18-yard kickoff return by cornerback Charles James II, the Roughnecks began their drive. The first quarter ended just as Houston running back Andre Williams achieved 1st down with a nine-yard carry. After the second quarter began, the drive stalled. A field goal by kicker Sergio Castillo was no good. After a near-fumble on first and 10, the Dragons recovered. Dragons running back Trey Williams scored the touchdown with a 17-yard scamper. This time, the two-point conversion was good: Daniels threw a successful pass to wide receiver Austin Proehl.

That made the score 14-0 — the largest deficit the Houston Roughnecks have ever faced. But they quickly cut the lead down. On 3rd and 1, Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker connected with wide receiver Nick Holley for a stunning 50-yard touchdown.

The Roughnecks decided to go for a three-point conversion but couldn’t make the play, so the score remained 14-6. After the Dragons went three and out, receiver Sam Mobley had a 16-yard return, which was negated by a holding penalty. But Mobley rebounded with a 42-yard catch.

Following the two-minute warning, a 14-yard play by wide receiver Blake Jackson took the Roughnecks to the one-yard line. A false start penalty moved them five yards back. Running back James Butler scored a one-yard TD run, jumping into the stands to celebrate. But the celebration was short-lived: the on-field ruling of a touchdown was reversed when referees said Butler was short of the goal line. Worse yet, Seattle Dragons player Godwin Igwebuike was injured on the play. He laid on the ground for several minutes but eventually was able to walk off the field.

On the very next play, Butler scored again:

This time, the touchdown was upheld. Walker connected with Holley for the successful two-point conversion. The Houston Roughnecks’ eight-play, 90-yard drive evened the score. The game was tied 14-14 at halftime.

The Dragons got the ball back to start the second half. On 3rd and 5, B.J. Daniels fell to the ground for a four-yard loss. Roughnecks linebacker Edmond Robinson was credited with the sack. Seattle settled for a field goal, which kicker Ernesto Lacayo nailed to make it 17-14.

They would add to that lead after a costly mistake by the Roughnecks. On 1st down, Walker was intercepted by Dragons cornerback Marko Myers, who returned the pick 52 yards. It was Walker who tripped Myers up to keep him from scoring. But Myers landed inside the one-yard line, which set up B.J. Daniels’ touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Seattle still held a commanding 23-14 lead.

Walker rallied the Roughnecks with a four-play, 64-yard drive, highlighted by a dramatic 48-yard pass to Cam Phillips. That set up 1st and goal at the 10-yard line. Butler ran through Seattle defenders for his second touchdown of the day. The Roughnecks went for a three-point conversion in hopes of tying the game, but Walker’s pass was too high for Holley. Still, the Roughnecks had narrowed Seattle’s lead. They trailed 23-20.

The Dragons took over. Just when it seemed like they were headed for a three-and-out, a defensive pass interference call (on Houston) gave them an automatic first down. But they still failed to convert, as #97 Gabe Wright stuffed Daniels for a seven-yard loss. Seattle was forced to punt on 4th and 16. Then, a promising Roughnecks drive ended with another turnover. As Walker launched a pass to receiver Sam Mobley, Dragons safety Jordan Martin jumped up and grabbed the ball. He appeared to land out of bounds, but referees reversed their initial ruling to say that Martin had intercepted the ball.

Seattle was unable to convert the pick into any points. The end of that fruitless drive also marked the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Walker helmed another scoring drive that culminated in a 6-yard TD by Cam Phillips. The two-point conversion attempt was no good. But with nine minutes left, the Roughnecks had taken their first lead of the day, 26-23. The Dragons were unable to score any points on their next drive and punted on 4th down. With 3:33 remaining, Walker fired the ball to Cam Phillips for an 11-yard TD. Roughnecks went for 1 extra point, but running back Andre Williams was stopped in the backfield. However, the Roughnecks had scored 18 unanswered points and taken a 32-23 lead.

The game would end with two major controversies. On the Dragons’ drive, Daniels was running when he tumbled to the ground and disappeared inside a mass of red and white jerseys. A pileup ensued, with players stacked on top of each other for several minutes. During that time, referees threw two flags in the air. But the reason for the penalties remained unclear.

After what seemed like an eternity, referee Tra Blake provided an answer: “The ruling on the field is a fumble recovered by the defense. It’s Houston’s ball,” he said. “After the play, personal foul: #47 on the return team for Houston — for throwing a punch. He’s disqualified.”

What had happened? Linebacker DeMarquis Gates (#47) had stripped the ball from Daniels and then recovered the fumble. But then he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from the game for throwing a punch. Remarkably, Gates was signing autographs for fans mere moments after being disqualified. He was also interviewed. “What did you get ejected for?” the reporter asked. “To be honest, I don’t know,” Gates responded. “I just had to make a play.”

Once all of the dust settled, it was 1st and 10 for the Roughnecks with 1:58 left. A 12-yard pickup by Andre Williams was enough for a Roughnecks first down. On fourth down, P.J. Walker took a knee with two seconds remaining, and the clock ran out. After the game, the XFL issued a statement saying that the ball should’ve gone to the Dragons:

“Today’s Seattle Dragons-Houston Roughnecks game should not have ended as it did. Replays showed clearly that the knee of Houston quarterback P.J. Walker touched the field, rendering him ‘down’ and the fourth-down play officially completed, with approximately two seconds remaining on the clock – effectively turning the ball over to Seattle on downs. With a nine-point differential in the score, Seattle was denied an opportunity to tie the game. The XFL sincerely regrets this error.”

Walker, however, appears to have no regrets. Asked about the game’s three turnovers (including two picks), Walker took responsibility, but didn’t beat himself up: “In the beginning, with the three turnovers, it was just… it happens. It’s part of the game, you know? So things happen. You just got to bounce back from ‘em. Great players bounce back. Winners gonna always bounce back as well. And it is what it is,” Walker said in a postgame press conference.

During the press conference, Walker was joined by wide receivers Sam Mobley and Cam Phillips. They all emphasized a team-first mentality. “We stay consistent every day. We work really hard, I would say — for the most part — as a team. So we know what we’ve got in our locker room. We just go out there and do what we do,” Walker said during the conference.

 Phillips also focused on the team. In response to a question about the game’s second half: “I just think we did a great job of sort of calming down, understanding that we just had to do our jobs better, just pay a little more attention to detail,” said Phillips. He added that “it resulted in, you know, a 32-9 run to finish the game after that point. So not just the offense, the defense picked it up as well, and props — shout out to the whole team.”

“It’s a team thing,” added Sam Mobley. “I think we all have faith in each other as a team, and we have each other’s backs, whether we’re up or down. And just us having each other’s back helped us get to the finish and come back.” 

The press conference video is presented below:

Quarterback P.J. Walker (left) and wide receivers Cam Phillips (middle) and Sam Mobley (right) answered questions after winning their game on March 7.

During the press conference, Phillips was asked about defensive coverage. His answer gave props to his teammates: “Sam had a great game. Nick Holley, you know, had another great game — made a few big catches. Like I said, we just trust in each other, man. We talk all the time, laugh all the time, so we understand that that camaraderie and sort of brotherhood is key — especially on offense.”

Brotherhood was also on the mind on running back James Butler, whom I interviewed in the locker room. He credited the offensive line for his stellar performance. “The O-line was going crazy,” he said. He also noted the shift in momentum after halftime. “We really came alive in that second half,” Butler said. “We know how good we can be. We’re still putting pieces together, still trying to play a complete game. But yeah, it’s a brotherhood in this locker room.”

While interviewing Butler, I took notice of a man walking towards the showers and asked who it was. He revealed that it was fellow running back Andre Williams, whom I interviewed next. Williams had a breakout game, with 10 carries for 54 yards. I asked him what was the key to his performance; before answering, he reached over and grabbed a small infant. It was his one-year-old son, Ka’el, whom Williams held as he talked.

Williams answered: “I just try to stay level-headed — don’t get too high, don’t get too low, stay in the game. You know, it was a great team win — on both sides of the ball. All three phases, we played well enough to win.” Our interview was crashed by Roughnecks wide receiver Jalen Saunders, who spent the XFL season on injured reserve. (He was later signed by the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks in April, but opted out after the pandemic began.)

I also asked Williams why the Roughnecks don’t have a tight end. “‘Cause we don’t play that kind of offense,” he replied. “We play with four wides — five wides, sometimes. That’s just the way we shoot. That’s just how it works.” He acknowledged that most teams around the league don’t utilize that kind of offensive scheme: “That’s one of the things that make us different.”

Are player formations one of the things that distinguish the XFL from the NFL? “Nah, not necessarily,” Williams answered. “I think it’s more of rules — rule changes that make it a little bit different. Not so much the schemes that the teams are using. ‘Cause there’s only so many configurations with the Xs and Os.

Seeing Williams with his baby son provided a glimpse into who these players are off the field. On the field, they’re hidden by helmets and swathed in protective gear. But once they walk off, they are sons, brothers, fathers. We sometimes see players with their families after the game. But when was the last time you saw a football player holding his child during a locker-room interview?

“Football is family,” says a 2016 NFL advertising campaign. But a similar ethos pervades the XFL. My talk with Williams was a reminder of that. For all the talk about brotherhood, many of these players have also experienced fatherhood.

Speaking of brotherhood, wide receiver Nick Holley was outside signing autographs for fans during the press conference. (His twin brother Nate Holley, who played in the CFL before joining the Miami Dolphins this offseason, was also in attendance. The two both landed on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad in 2018.) I was fortunate enough to interview Nick Holley after the game.

What was the key to his terrific performance? “First and foremostly, I give glory to God — it’s the big man upstairs. And after that, it’s just preparation,” he said. Like Butler, Holley also felt that despite the 5-0 start, the team could still improve — “we haven’t scratched our surface yet. We still haven’t put a complete game together and played up to our potential.” Butler had also mentioned the idea of a “complete game”. What does that mean for Holley? He answered: “No mistakes on offense, no mistakes on defense, and superior special teams.” The interview is embedded below.

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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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Wizards Trade Russell Westbrook to Lakers

July 29, 2021

By Terrance turner

The Washington Wizards are trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowrski. The Wizards are sending 2024 and 2028 second-round picks to the Lakers to complete the deal, sources told Wojnarowski.

The deal is not official until August 6, when the salary cap becomes official. But it has already generated huge buzz online and in the sports world, as Westbrook joins LeBron James and Anthony Davis on a L.A. team that is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 season. The Lakers lost the playoff series to the Phoenix Suns in June, after losing Game 6. It is the first time that a LeBron James team has been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.

Kuzma scored a dismal 2 points in Game 6, matching his performance in Game 2. That sparked questions about his future in L.A. Caldwell-Pope suffered a knee injury in Game 3 of the Suns series and missed Game 4. Harrell had limited playing time in the series and exercised his player option this week, making the trade possible.

During his one season in Washington, Westbrook shined. In May, he broke the record for career triple-doubles — a record that legend Oscar Peterson had held since March 24, 1974. Westbrook now has 184. (LeBron James is top five on the all-time list, with 99.) Westbrook is from Los Angeles and played at UCLA in college. He posted a goodbye message to Washington, D.C. tonight. 

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way. I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you! #thedistrict.”

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Rockets Select Jalen Green in NBA Draft

By Terrance Turner

July 29, 2021

“With the second pick in the 2021 NBA draft, the Houston Rockets select Jalen Green.”

With these words, Jalen Green made history as one of only three Filipino players to be drafted into the NBA. Green, a 6’6″, 178-pound shooting guard, was ranked No. 1 by ESPN in recruiting. Decked out in a glittery gray pinstriped suit, he made his way to the podium and shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Green was born and raised in California. He grew up on the edge of an almond farm, according to ESPN, and learned to play basketball there. Green played ball at San Joaquin memorial High School in Fresno. He averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds his freshman year. He improved to 27.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. In his junior year, he averaged 30 points and 7.8 rebounds. He won his second consecutive Central Division Championship and broke a career scoring recored that had stood since 1971.

In his senior season, Green transferred to Prolific Prep in Napa, California. This time he averaged 31.5 points per game and helped his team win a national title. According to the Napa Valley Register, his team The Crew (31-3) defeated Our Savior Lutheran, 95-80, in the finale of the end-of-season tournament in March 2020. That won them the Grind Session Championship. Sports Illustrated named him All-American Player of the Year.

Despite getting offers from Memphis, Auburn, and Florida State, Green decided to forego college basketball. Instead, he signed a one-year, $500,000 deal with the NBA G-League’s Ignite, a developmental team. Green was the first player to sign with the team, which had oversight from the G League (the minor leagues of the NBA). Ignite was part of a developmental program “that will include professional coaching, top prospects and veteran players who will combine training and exhibition competitions,” according to ESPN writers Jonathan Givony and Adrian Wojnarowski.

“I think this is the best route to prepare myself,” Green said at the time. Now, he seems more than prepared for the big leagues. Green’s comments to the Houston Chronicle drip with confidence. “There’s a lot of talk about Cade Cunningham [who the Pistons took at No. 1] and other people … but I’m the best player,” the 19-year-old Green told GQ’s Tyler R. Tynes in a profile that published this week. “And I feel like nobody can do what I do. I show up every time the lights come on.”

In an introductory press conference, Green set lofty goals and assured the Rockets that they made the right choice picking him: “They’re going to say it’s a great choice, because the goals I have for myself, I plan on reaching them: Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We’re doing it big.”  

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Simone Biles Withdraws From Women’s Team Final (UPDATED)

Photo from the AP.

By Terrance Turner

July 27, 2021

Simone Biles has withdrawn from the women’s gymnastics Olympic team final.

Biles dropped out today after performing a vault. She was supposed to do an “Amanar”, consisting of a layout flip and 2.5 twists, according to Vox. But she did only 1.5 twists and barely saved her landing. “I didn’t know where I was in the air,” she said later.

She scored a 13.766 — the lowest vault score of her career, according to ESPN — and then disappeared. Instead of warming up for uneven bars, Biles simply walked off the mat and left. She returned later, wearing a white sweatsuit, to cheer on her teammates. And then came the bombshell announcement from USA Gymnastics.

“Simone has withdrawn frOm the team final competition because of a medical issue,” USA Gymnastics said. “She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.” The news sent shockwaves through the Olympics — indeed, throughout the world. But the issue was not physical; it was mental. In a subsequent press conference, Biles explained her decision.

“You have to be there 100%,” Biles told reporters after the meet. “If not, you get hurt. Today has been really stressful. I was shaking. I couldn’t nap. I have never felt like this going into a competition, and I tried to go out and have fun. But once I came out, I was like, ‘No. My mental is not there.'”

“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a backseat, work on my mindfulness,” she said. “And I knew that the girls would do an absolutely great job. and I didn’t want to risk the team a medal,” Biles explained. “I feel like I robbed them of a couple of 10s.”

She elaborated: “It’s been really stressful this Olympics games,” she said, citing “a lot of different variables’ including not having fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been a long week. It’s been a long Olympic process; it’s been a long year. So, just a lot of different variable.s And I think we’re just a little bit too stressed out. But we should be out here having fun, and sometimes that’s not the case.”

“I don’t trust myself as much as I used to,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s age and I’m a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I’m also not having as much fun. This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself but I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

In the end, Biles made the decision that she felt she had to. And her teammates — Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum — stepped up to fill in the gap. Initially, Chiles was going to skip the uneven bars and balance beam and Lee would skip the floor exercise. But in Biles’ absence, they had to compete across four events. In the end, Team USA took silver. Russia’s team won gold, and the British team won bronze, according to ESPN.

“I’m OK,” Biles told NBC host Hoda Kotb after the medal ceremony. “Just super frustrated with how the night played out.” Kotb asked how she was feeling; Biles said that physically she feels fine, but her emotional state varies by the moment: “Coming to the Olympics and being head star isn’t an easy feat.” She praised her teammates for stepping in and added: “We hope America still loves us!”

Biles was quoted by ESPN as saying that she will take Wednesday as “a mental rest day”. When Kotb asked if she will compete in Thursday’s individual all-around final, Biles answered: “We’re going to take it day-by-day, and we’re just gonna see.”

UPDATE (July 30, 2021): Biles did not compete in the all-around final. She is also withdrawing from both the vault and uneven bars, per KPRC. “She will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether to compete in the floor exercise and balance beam,” USA Gymnastics stated today. MyKayla Skinner will take Biles’ place.

Biles said today that she had “the twisties”, a mental block that gymnasts often face when trying to execute moves in the air. She responded on social media to those saying that she had “quit”, posting a practice video in which she attempted to compete on bars and landed on her back:

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Searing, Emotional Testimony At Jan. 6 Commission Hearing

Officers Aquilino Gonell, Michael Fanone, Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn are sworn in. Photo from the AP.

By Terrance Turner

July 27, 2021

Today, the House select committee began the first day of its investigation about the events of Jan. 6. The hearings were marked by harrowing testimony from Capitol Police officers who shared their experiences fighting the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. Both lawmakers and officers grew emotional during the proceedings.

The committee consists of seven Democrats and two Republicans. The members are:

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), committee chairman
  • Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), former Navy commander
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who drafted the article of impeachment after the Capitol riot
  • Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA, 19th District)
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, 28th District)
  • Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA, 31st District)
  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) selected two Republicans (Cheney and Kinzinger) to establish a bipartisan commission. Despite attacks from their party, both Republicans made opening statements that explained their decision to participate.

After thanking her committee members and the witnesses, Cheney said: “I want to begin by reflecting briefly on the investigation that we are launching today. Every one of us here on the dais voted for and would have preferred that these matters be investigated by an independent non-partisan commission, composed of five prominent Americans selected by each party, and modeled on the 9/11 Commission.” That did not happen; the 54-35 vote for a commission fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate.

“We cannot leave the violence of January 6th – and its causes – uninvestigated. The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6th,” Cheney said. “We must know what happened here at the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House – every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack. Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward. If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our Constitutional Republic,” she continued.

“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan. I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member of this committee. But, in the end, we are one nation under God.”

She went on: “When a threat to our constitutional order arises, as it has here, we are obligated to rise above politics. This investigation must be non-partisan.”

Rep. Kinzinger also spoke of the need to rise above politics. “For all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this Committee, our mission is very simple: to find the truth and ensure accountability.

Like all Americans, I am frustrated that six months after a deadly riot breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television … we still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic, and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and employees on the Capitol Complex, and to the American people who deserve the truth. And it’s why I agreed to serve on this Committee,” he said. 

“This CANNOT continue to be a partisan fight. I am a Republican, I am a conservative. But in order to heal from the damage caused that day, we need to call out the facts. It’s time to stop the outrage and conspiracies that fuel violence and division in our country, and most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it. As a country, it’s time to learn from our past mistakes, rebuild stronger so this never happens again, and move onward.

In serving on this Committee, I am here to investigate January 6th–not in spite of my membership in the Republican Party, but because of it.” Kinzinger got emotional as he thanked the officers present who worked to save the Capitol that day:

But the most powerful moments belonged to the police officers who testified today. Four officers — DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell — revealed horrific, life-threatening abuse at the hands of rioters. Their stories were graphic and emotional; some present were moved to tears.

“As a child in the Dominican Republic, I looked up to the United States as a land of opportunity and a place to better myself,” said Sgt. Aquilino Gonell. “From the moment I landed at JFK airport in 1992, I have strived to pursue that goal. Thankfully, I have achieved that goal on many levels: I was the first in my family to graduate college, join the U.S. Army, and become a police officer.”

“To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on January
6, or the United States they claimed to represent. When I was 25, and then a sergeant in the
Army, I had deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said. “I volunteered to
travel on IED-infested roads to conduct supply missions for U.S. and allied military forces and
local Iraqi populations. But on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the
Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, we expected armed violence,
because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the Army, or as a law
enforcement officer, prepared me for what we confronted on January 6.

The verbal assaults and disrespect we endured from the rioters were bad enough,” Sgt. Gonell said. “But the physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating. My fellow
officers and I were punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even
blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob who apparently saw us law enforcement
officers, dedicated to ironically protecting them as U.S. citizens, as an impediment in their
attempted insurrection.

The mob brought weapons to try to accomplish their insurrectionist objectives, and they used them against us. These weapons included hammers, rebars, knives, batons and police shields taken by force, as well as bear spray and pepper spray. Some rioters wore tactical gear, including bulletproof vests and gas masks. The rioters also forcibly took our batons and shields and used them against us. I was particularly shocked at seeing the insurrectionists violently attack us with the very American flag they claimed they sought to protect.

The rioters were vicious and relentless. We found ourselves in a violent battle in a
desperate attempt to prevent a breach of the Capitol by the entrance near the Inauguration Stage. Metropolitan DC Police officers were being pulled into the crowd as we tried to push all the rioters back from breaching Capitol. In my attempt to assist two MPD officers, I grabbed one officer by the back of the collar and pulled him back to our police line. When I tried to help the second officer, I fell on top of some police shields on the ground that were slippery because of the pepper and bear spray. Rioters started to pull me by my leg, by my shield, and by my gear straps on my left shoulder.”

“We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob,” Gonell said. “It was a prolonged and desperate struggle. I vividly heard officers screaming in agony and pain just an arms-length from me,” he continued. “I, too, was being crushed by the rioters. I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘this is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance.’”

Gonell wept as he remembered coming home and being unable to hug his wife because of the chemicals on his clothes:

The House committee played bodycam footage of Officer Michael Fanone being attacked by rioters. Fanone can be heard screaming as he is tazed repeatedly by members of the mob. That footage is included in the YouTube video embedded below; it runs to about 1:56. The images that you’re about to see will be disturbing:

Fanone also testified. “My name, for those of you who don’t know, is Michael Fanone. And while I’ve been a sworn officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., for almost two decades, my law enforcement career actually began here in this building as United States, Capitol Police officer shortly after 9/11. In part, because of the 2001 attack on our country by terrorists, I felt called to serve.

In this line of work, it probably won’t shock you to know that I’ve dealt with some dicey situation. I thought I’d seen it all, many times over. Yet what I witnessed and experienced on January 6th, 2021, was unlike anything I had ever had seen, anything I’d ever experienced or could have imagined in my country.”

On that fateful day, Fanone and partner Jimmy Albright looked for an area where they could be of most assistance. They found it. “We made our way through door on the south side of the Capitol, walking then into the crypt and finally down to the Lower West Terrace tunnel.

It was there that I observed a police commander struggling to breathe as he dealt with the effects of CS gas that lingered in the air. Then I watched him collect himself, straightened his cap and trench coat, adorned with its Silvery Eagles, and returned to the lot. That commander was Ramy Kyle of the Metropolitan Police Department. And those images are etched into my memory, never to be forgotten.”

“The fighting in the Lower West Terrace tunnel was nothing short of brutal. Here, I observed approximately 30 police officers standing shoulder to shoulder, maybe four or five abreast, using the weight of their bodies to hold back the onslaught of violent attackers. Many of these officers were injured, bleeding, and fatigued, but they continue to hold the line.

As I don’t have to tell the members in this room, the tunnel is a narrow and long hallway. It is not the sort of space anyone would want to be pulled into hand-to-hand combat with an angry mob. Although the narrowness of the hallway provided what was probably the only chance of holding back the crowd from entering your personal offices, the House, and Senate chambers.”

Fanone continued: “At some point during the fighting, I was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd. I heard someone scream, “I got one.” As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects.”

“At one point, I came face-to-face with an attacker who repeatedly launched for me and attempted to remove my firearm. I heard chanting from some in the crowd, “Get his gun and kill him with his own gun.” I was aware enough to recognize I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I was electrocuted again, and again, and again, with a taser. I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice.”

“During those moments, I remember thinking there was a very good chance I would be torn apart or shot to death with my own weapon. I thought of my four daughters who might lose their dad.” 

Thinking of his daughters, Fanone tried to strategize a way out. “During the assault, I thought about using my firearm on my attackers, but I knew that if I did, I would be quickly overwhelmed. And that, in their minds, would provide them with the justification for killing me. So I instead decided to appeal to any humanity they might have. I said as loud as I could manage, ‘I’ve got kids.’ Thankfully, some of the crowds stepped in and assisted me. Those few individuals protected me from a crowd and inch me toward the Capitol until my fellow officers could rescue me. I was carried back inside.

What happened afterwards is much less vivid. I had been beaten, unconscious and remained so for more than four minutes. I know that Jimmy helped to evacuate me from the building and drove me to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, despite suffering significant injuries himself. At the hospital, doctors told me that I had suffered a heart attack. And I was later diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Fanone grew angry as he described the efforts of lawmakers to downplay or deny the events that nearly cost him his life. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he raged, slamming his hand down on the table.

Officer Harry Dunn also witnessed disgraceful behavior. But it had started like any other day.

“I reported for duty at the Capitol, as usual, early on the morning of January 6. We understood that the vote to certify President Biden’s election would be taking place that day, and that protests might occur outside the Capitol, but we expected any demonstrations to be peaceful expressions of First Amendment freedoms, just like the scores of demonstrations we had observed for many years. After roll call, I took my overwatch post on the east front of the Capitol, standing on the steps that lead to the Senate chamber. As the morning progressed, I did not see or hear anything that gave me cause for alarm.

But around 10:56 am, I received a text message from a friend, forwarding a screen shot of what appeared to be a potential plan of action very different from a peaceful demonstration.

The screen shot bore the caption “Jan. 6th–Rally Point – Lincoln Park,” and said the “objective” was “THE CAPITAL.” It said, among, other things, that “Trump has given us marching orders,” and to “keep your guns hidden.” It urged people to “bring…your trauma kits” and “gas mask,” to “[l]ink up early in the day” in “6-12 man teams,” and indicated there would be a “time to arm up.”

Description of the message that Harry Dunn received

Seeing that message caused me concern, to be sure, and looking back now, it seemed to foreshadow what happened later. At the time, though, we had not received any threat warnings from our chain of command, and I had no independent reason to believe that violence was headed our way.”

“Early that afternoon, Capitol Police dispatch advised all units over the radio that there was
an “active 10-100″ at the Republican National Committee nearby. “10-100” is police code for a
suspicious package, such as a potential bomb. That radio dispatch got my attention and I started to get more nervous and worried, especially because the crowds on the east front of the Capitol were continuing to grow.”

Dunn eventually made his way to the West terrace and near the Inaugural stage. “I was stunned by what I saw. In what seemed like a sea of people, Capitol Police officers and Metropolitan DC Police (“MPD”) officers were engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with rioters across the west lawn. Until then, I had never seen anyone physically assault a Capitol Police or MPD officer – let alone witness mass assaults being perpetrated on law enforcement officers. I witnessed the rioters using all kinds of weapons against the officers, including flag poles, metal bike racks they had torn apart, and various kinds of projectiles. Officers were being bloodied in the fighting, many were screaming, and many were blinded and coughing from chemical irritants being sprayed in their faces.”

Dunn later went to the Speaker’s Lobby. “More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the Speaker’s Lobby near the Rotunda, some wearing “MAGA” hats and shirts that said “Trump 2020.” I told them to leave the Capitol, and in response, they yelled back: “No, no, man, this is our house!” “President Trump invited us here!” “We’re here to stop the steal!” “Joe Biden is not the President!” “Nobody voted for Joe Biden!”

I am a law enforcement officer, and I keep politics out of my job. But in this
circumstance, I responded: “Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I
nobody?” That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink “MAGA” shirt yelled,
“You hear that, guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden!” Then the crowd, perhaps around twenty
people, joined in, screaming “Boo! Fucking nigger!”

Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges vividly recounted the physical abuse he faced while defending the Capitol on January 6. He, too, landed near the West terrace. Later, donning his gas mask, he “descended a stairway into a long hallway, filled with smoke and screams. The hallways led outside, where the mob had breached.

“Eventually, it was my tun in the meat grinder that was the front line. The terrorists had a wall of shields that they had stolen from officers, as well as stolen batons and what other armanents they brought,” he said. “The two sides were at a stalemate at a metal doorframe that sat in the middle of the hallway. At the front line I inserted myself so the frame was at my back, in an effort to give myself something to brace against and provide additional strength when pushing forward.”

“Unfortunately, soon after I secured this position, the momentum shifted, and we lost the ground that got me there. On my left was a man with a clear ride shield that he had stolen during the assault. He slammed it against me, and with the weight of the bodies pushing behind him, trapped me.”

“My arms were pinned and effectively useless, trapped against either the shield on my left and the door frame on my right,” Hodges said. “With my posture granting me no functional strength or freedom of movement, I was effectively defenseless and gradually sustaining injury from the increasing pressure of the mob.”

“Directly in front of me, a man sees the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask and used it to beat my head against the door. He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck,” Hodges continued.

“Eventually, he succeded in stripping off my gas mask, and a new rush of exposure to CS and OC spray hit me,” Hodges said, referring to the technical terms for tear gas and pepper spray. “The mob of terrorists were coordinating their efforts now, shouting ‘Heave! Ho!’ as they synchronized, pushing their weight forward, pushing me further against the metal door frame. The man in front of me grabbed my baton that I still held in my hands, and in my current state I was unable to retain my weapon. He bashed me in the head and face with it, rupturing my lip and adding additional injury to my skull. At this point, I knew I couldn’t sustain much more damage or remain upright. At best, I would collapse and be aliability to my colleagues; at worst, be dragged out into the crowd and lynched.”

“Unable to move or otherwise signal to the officers behind me that I needed to fall back, I did the only thing that I could do and screamed for help. Thankfully, my voice was heard over the cacophony of yells and the blaring alarm. The officer closest to me was able to extricate me from my position, and another helped me fall back to the building again. I had found some more water and decontaminated my faced as best I could. I don’t know how long I waited in those halls, but soon after I got back on my feet and went to where the fight was again. Until reinforcements arrived, every able body made a difference.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for more updates.

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DaBaby Criticized For “Rolling Loud” Performance

July 26, 2021

By Terrance Turner

This story contains graphic language and images.

Tonight, rapper DaBaby performed at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami. He performed directly after Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion. And of all the people he could’ve chosen to bring onstage during his set, he chose the man who shot Megan just over a year ago.

“I’ll give somebody out here a million dollars if they can guess who in here,” DaBaby said to the packed crowd before the man inside a giant costume unveiled himself. Under the giant foam head was Canadian rapper Tory Lanez. DaBaby joined him for a performance of their song “Skat”, according to Complex. That came just minutes after he performed “Crybaby,” Megan’s hit song on which DaBaby is featured.

For context: On July 12, 2020, Megan and two others were riding in a car with Tory Lanez when an argument broke out. Officers received reports that shots had been fired outside a home in the Hollywood Hills. According to Variety, Lanez was arrested for possession of a concealed weapon. Lanez was arrested on felony charges at 4:40 a.m. Sunday and released on a $35,000 bond around six hours later. 

Three days later, Megan released a statement that explained the incident. She said, in part: “On Sunday morning, I suffered gunshot wounds, as a result of a crime that was committed against me and done with the intention to physically harm me. I was never arrested, the police officers drove me to the hospital where I underwent surgery to remove the bullets. I’m incredibly grateful to be alive and that I’m expected to make a full recovery,” she wrote. She added, “I was shot in both of my feet.”

Megan did not name her assailant, and the LAPD said that she did not report being a victim of any crime. However, Megan revealed in August that Tory Lanez had shot her. She said she hadn’t initially reported the shooting due to concerns about police brutality.

“Yes this n—a Tory shot me,” Megan says in an Instagram Live video. “You shot me, and you got your publicist and your people going to these blogs lyin’ and s–t. Stop lyin’. Why lie?” She added: “All this s–t goin’ on with the police? Police is shootin’ motherf–kers for anything. The police was literally killin’ Black people for no motherf–kin’ reason. Soon as the police tell us all get out the motherf–kin’ car, the police is really aggressive. You think I’m bout to tell the police that we, n—as, us Black people, got a gun in the car? You want me to tell the law we got a gun in the car so they can shoot all of us up?”

Lanez denied the shooting. In September 2020, he dropped a 17-song album called Daystar — which, according to Variety, references the shooting on nearly every track. “How the f–k you get shot in your foot, don’t hit no bones or tendons?” he asks on one song. Later, he adds, “I would never put you in no danger — and if I did, you would’ve said it when you seen the cops.”

In September, Lanez was charged in the shooting. The New York Times reported that Lanez was charged with one count of assault with a semi-automatic handgun and one count of carrying unregistered, loaded firearm in the vehicle. He faces up to 22 years and 8 months in prison if convicted. The judge issued a protective order against Lanez, according to Rap-Up. He must remain at least 100 yards away from Megan and not contact her. He must also surrender any guns he owns.

DaBaby has done several songs with Megan, including “Cash S–t” in 2019 and her hit single “Crybaby” in Nov. 2020. But he has also worked with Tory. Last month he released his song “Skat”, which features Lanez. That collab drew criticism online:

Around the same time, DaBaby retweeted a “joke” about the shooting, which also referenced DaBaby fatally shooting a man in a North Carolina Walmart:

Megan called DaBaby out via Twitter:

Now, Twitter is ablaze over DaBaby’s decision to bring out Lanez for a performance — after “Crybaby” and before “Cash S–t,” no less:

He’s also being called out for homophobia after comments he made onstage. “If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two, three weeks, then put your cellphone light up,” DaBaby said. “Ladies, if your p—y smell like water, put a cellphone light them up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking d–k in the parking lot put your cellphone light up. Keep it real.”

“Some of y’all n—as suspect as a motherf—er. Let’s be real,” added a man in the background (his DJ?).

UPDATE (3:04 pm): DaBaby has responded to the criticism. On Instagram.

“I’ma address this weak-ass internet s–t one time and then I’ma get back to giving my love to my fans,” he said. “What me and my fans do at the live show, it don’t concern you n—as on the internet, or you bitter bitches on the internet. It’s not your business… What I do at a live show is for the audience at the live show, it’ll never translate correctly to someone looking a little five-six second clip from they goddamn crib on they phone. It just don’t work like that.”

He then claimed that the Internet had “twisted up” his words. “All my fans at the show, the gay ones and the straight ones, we turned the f–k up,” he continued. 

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NFL Issues New Memo on COVID-19

By Terrance Turner

July 22, 2021

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered a memorandum today that outlined the COVID-19 protocols and operating procedures for the 2021 NFL season. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the terms of the memo. Goodell is making headlines for language that sets firm rules — and strict penalties for those who do not abide by them.

“While there is no question that health conditions have improved from last year, we cannot be complacent or simply assume that we will be able to play without interruption — either due to COVID outbreaks that occur within our clubs or outbreaks that occur within the larger community,” Goodell wrote. “These principles are intended to help inform decisions, recognizing that, as in 2020, we will need to remain flexible and adapt to possibly changing conditions.”

“As of today, more than 75 percent of players are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players,” he continues. “We know that vaccines are safe and effective and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from the coronavirus.”

“If a vaccinated person tests positive and is asymptomatic, he or she must isolate, and contract tracing will promptly occur. The positive person can return to work after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic.”

The memo makes clear that the NFL intends to play its new 17-game, 18-week season without a hitch. “The league will make every reasonable effort […] to complete the full 272-game regular season within the current 18 weeks and all postseason games as scheduled, in a safe and responsible way,” it says. “We do not anticipate adding a ’19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled.”

“If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection,” the memo states. “If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games,” it says. If a game is canceled and cannot be rescheduled, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss, and neither team’s players will receive their weekly salary.

Players reacted to the memo on Twitter. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins tweeted and then deleted his negative reaction to the rules. “Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL,” he wrote.

“The NFL is pressuring/ ‘influencing’ guys to get the vaccine. They are saying if there is an outbreak, the team will be penalized heavily,” Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Twitter. “My point is no teammate of mine will feel that pressure from me because whether you are vaccinated or not, there is still a chance of getting covid.”

DJ Reader, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

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Bucks Celebrate First NBA Title Since 1971

 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Terrance Turner

July 20, 2021 (updated July 22)

The Milwaukee Bucks battled the Phoenix Suns tonight in a crucial Game 6. The Bucks led 3-2 in the series; they needed one more win for their first championship since 1971. The Suns had to win in order to force a Game 7 in their hometown. Game 6 featured wild wings in momentum and scoring, but the Bucks prevailed. With 17,000 fans inside Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum and thousands more outside, the home team delivered a championship to a city that hadn’t seen it in 50 years. Giannis Antetokoumpo delivered a performance for the ages, dropping 50 points to power the Bucks past the Suns, 105-98.

There were turnovers by both sides early, but the Bucks were up 15-11 before Bobby Portis hit a three-pointer. On the next possession, he hit another three to make it 21-14. Antetokoumpo made back-to-back baskets, driving with a spin move to put his team ahead by 11. Phoenix would respond, but Giannis was fouled again. Free throws have been a consistent issue for him, but he made them both. Then, after his shot didn’t go, teammate Brook Lopez rebounded and scored. That cemented a commanding lead: the Bucks led 29-13 at the end of the first quarter.

Phoenix roared back, outscoring the Bucks 31-10 in the second quarter. Phoenix would race out on a 10-0 run, cutting Milwaukee’s lead to just single digits. Buckets by Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Chris Paul eventually erased the lead entirely. The Suns tied the game at 33 with 5:20 left. Then they took the lead. The Bucks had no answer for Suns guard Chris Paul, who outsmarted defenders to score one basket after another. They also struggled from the field (just 3-of-17, per SBNation). By the end of the quarter, the Suns had pushed their lead to five. It was 47-42 at halftime.

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Buccaneers Visit White House, Receive Super Bowl Rings

Photo from Buccaneers’ Twitter account.

By Terrance Turner

July 20, 2021 (updated July 22)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to the White House today to be recognized for their victory in February’s Super Bowl 51. It’s the first time since 2017 that the Super Bowl championship team has visited the White House. There were some notable absences: Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Mike Evans, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and linebacker Lavonte David. But in attendance was quarterback Tom Brady, visiting the White House for the first time since 2005.

Brady skipped the visit in 2015, after the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks. He also missed the visit in 2017, after the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons. According to a Boston CBS affiliate, Brady cited family concerns as a reason for his absence. (His mother was being treated for breast cancer.) When the Patriots beat the Rams in 2019, scheduling conflicts kept the team from getting to the nation’s capital.

But today, under President Joe Biden, the tradition was renewed. President Biden mentioned the Glazer family (the team’s owners) in his remarks. “To the players, the coaches, and the Glazer family, my good friends, it’s an honor to have you here,” Biden said. (The late Malcolm Glazer purchased the team in 1995. Three of his sons became executive vice-presidents, according to the New York Times.)

“This Buccaneer team is a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to come together and achieve extraordinary things,” Biden said. “Three-quarters of the way through the season, they found themselves in the middle of the pack [at 7-5]. But this is a team that didn’t fold and always got up, dug deep. They won their last four games and stormed through the playoffs — winning on the road in Washington, New Orleans, and Green Bay — and capping it all off back home in Tampa, becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl on their home turf,” Biden said.

The president singled out Chris Godwin, the wide receiver who grew up in Biden’s home state. Godwin was born in Philadelphia, but attended Middletown High School in Delaware. “Born in Pennsylvania, raised in Delaware — where I come from, that’s a heck of a combination,” President Biden said. “Chris, you’re inspiring a whole lot of kids back home in Delaware.”

Biden, who at 78 is the oldest president to take office, praised Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians — the oldest quarterback (age 44) and oldest head coach (at 68) to win the championship. “You know, a lot has been made about the fact that we have the oldest coach ever to win a Super Bowl and the oldest quarterback ever to win the Super Bowl. Well, I’ll tell you right now, you won’t hear any jokes about that from me. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with being the oldest guy to make it to the mountaintop,” Biden said, to applause.

The president lauded Brady as “just about the best to ever play”, commending him for reaching 10 Super Bowls in the past 20 years: “That ain’t bad, man.” Then Biden revealed that he, too, played football. He recalled playing as a kid in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) in grade school. “I’ll never forget getting knocked out when I was in fifth grade, and my dad walked over and said, “Get up. Get up. Get up. Unless something’s broken, get up.” It was a lesson in resilience, one Biden would return to later on.

Biden also noted the impact of a team on a country ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. “You guys did it the hard way. And I hope you all know just how important it was,” Biden said, “after such a challenging year for the nation. In the middle of a long dark winter, every Sunday, people were able to sit down and watch you play. You created memories that helped folks make it through and believe that we could get back to normal again. And you did it as a team, trailblazing, including the first team with two women [in] full-time coaching positions.”

Assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust are the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl. (Photo from Twitter.)

The president also pointed out that the Raymond James Stadium was an early voting center. (The stadium offered early voting from Oct. 19 to Nov. 1, according to the Bucs’ website). He also acknowledged the stadium for administering the Pfizer vaccine for Hillsborough County residents: “Your stadium also became a lifeline for families in Tampa Bay this season, administering nearly 200,000 vaccine shots.” Biden urged players to get a shot, if they haven’t already. He stressed the importance of getting vaccinated:

“Getting vaccinated is about staying healthy and realizing that no one is invincible, even if you’re young and you’re fit. It’s about looking out for the front-line workers out there, like the ones that played in front of us on Super Bowl Sunday. Those workers remind us of a quintessential lesson about sports and America itself: that no matter how much and how many times we get knocked down, we always get up.”

Bruce Arians later took the podium, choking up as he spoke. “I get emotional,” he began. “This is very, very special. I want to thank our coaches, our players, our entire organization, that did such a great job of coming together and banding together — not to beat the other team; we had to beat the virus first,” he said. “And you sacrificed more than any other team I’ve been around.” He thanked the Glazer family (“the best owners I’ve ever known”) and the “outstanding” players.

“We live by three words: trust, loyalty and respect,” Arians said. “One team, one cause. I hope the Senate and the House start helping you,” he told Biden.

Tom Brady also delivered remarks. “I think what’s behind me is an amazing group of players,” he said. “We bonded together, we worked really hard, we sat our individual agendas aside, and we came together as a team.” Though they are different ages and come from different backgrounds and different schools, Brady said, they are all committed to the team: “Sports has an amazing ability to bring people together.”

Brady threw in some veiled, teasing references to the 2020 election, which Biden’s opponent refused to accept. “Not a lot of people think that we could have won. In fact, I think about 40% of the people still don’t think we won…”

“I understand that,” Biden interjected, to laughs from the audience.

“You understand that, Mr. President?” Brady asked jokingly.

He continued: “We had a game in Chicago where I forgot what down it was. I lost track of one down in 21 years of playing and they started calling me ‘Sleepy Tom’. Why would they do that to me?” Brady asked, making light of the ‘Sleepy Joe’ nickname that Donald Trump gave Biden during the debates.

“You know, we’re on the eve of football season. We start tomorrow — practice — and we’re going to do everything we can to work to achieve another one of those Lombardi Trophies,” Brady concluded. “We’re excited for the opportunity to compete and work hard and show everyone what we’re made of.”

Photo from Twitter.

UPDATE (July 22, 2021): Members of the Buccaneers team received their Super Bowl rings today. Each ring is designed with 319 diamonds — representing the 31-9 score by which the Bucs won Super Bowl 51. And for the first time in history, the ring comes with a removable top. Inside the ring is a hand-engraved stadium logo, commemorating the fact that the Buccaneers were the first team in history to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

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Federal Judge Rules DACA Unlawful

By Terrance Turner

July 16, 2021

A federal judge in Texas has ruled the DACA program unlawful. Judge Andrew S. Hanen, of the United States District Court in Houston, ruled that President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he created the program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) by executive order in 2012. But the judge chose not to immediately end the program, so the hundreds of thousands of immigrants it shields remain protected — for now.

In his decision, Judge Hanen addressed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which instituted the policy. Hanen ruled that the DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations.  “DHS violated the APA with the creation of DACA and its continued application,” the judge wrote. He partially granted a judgement to Texas and several other states that had sued the United States government over DACA. But he stopped short of completely dismantling the program.

While Hanen vacated the DACA memorandum and the program it created, he added: “Nevertheless, these rulings do not resolve the issue of the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and others who have relied on this program for over a decade. That reliance has not diminished and may, in fact, have increased over time. Therefore, the order of immediate vacatur as it applies to current DACA recipients (but not the order of remand) is temporarily stayed,” Hanen wrote. He added: “DHS may continue to accept new DACA applications and renewal DACA applications,” but cannot approve them.

Simply put: immigrants already protected by DACA will remain so; they cannot be deported. Those who have already applied for the program will have their applications accepted by DHS. But while the Department can accept those applications, it cannot approve them.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created in 2012 under then-President Barack Obama. Under the program, immigrants brought to the U.S. as children could stay in the States temporarily. They could apply and file for a two-year “forbearance” that would shield them from deportation. They have to be within 15 and 30 years of age, with no felony convictions. They must also pass a background check. According to NPR, DACA recipients must also be currently in school, a high school graduate, or honorably discharged from the military. The fee to renew and apply is $495.

Obama was moved to create the program after activists staged sit-ins in congressional offices and protested outside the White House. DACA was launched after the DREAM Act, which had similar protections, failed to pass Congress. (It was blocked in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator John Cornyn.)

According to ImmigrationHelp.org, the bill would have made Dreamers eligible for a “conditional residency” status that would let them live and work in the U.S. for six years. After six years, they could get lawful permanent resident status, better known as a “green card.” Despite support from both Democrats and Republicans at the time, that bill never became law because it couldn’t get enough support in the Senate.

In lieu of Congress passing the legislation, Obama issued an executive order that directed the DHS to implement DACA. Since then, some 826,000 immigrants have received legal protection and work permits under the program. (NAACP’s website says that while over 80% of DACA recipients are Mexican, 36,000 Africans are also eligible for the program.)

After Obama left office, his successor worked to end the program. But last June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to end the program was “arbitrary and capricious”. Then, in December, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to begin accepting new applications for DACA. This new ruling stops those applications from being fully processed. (CNN reported on Wednesday that roughly 13,000 renewal cases have remained pending for longer than four months, according to correspondence from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.)Those applications are now in limbo.

But the fight is not over. According to NPR, supporters of DACA will appeal this decision in the Fifth Circuit Court. That leaves the fate of the program up to the Supreme Court (again) or to Congress. President Joe Biden has pledged to protect DACA or place something similar in its place.On June 15 (DACA’s ninth anniversary), he stated: “I will continue to work towards passage of legislation protecting Dreamers and creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.”

Vice President Kamala Harris agreed. On June 15 (the ninth anniversary of DACA), Harris noted the uncertainty that Dreamers feel and called for a pathway to citizenship. “Even with DACA in place, we know that Dreamers live in a constant state of fear about their status and about their future,” Harris said. “It is critically important that we provide a pathway to citizenship to give people a sense of certainty and a sense of security.”

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