Wells Fargo Shutting Down All Lines of Credit

Photo from Trip Advisor.

By Terrance Turner

July 8, 2021

Wells Fargo is shutting down all personal lines of credit. It will no longer offer them, according to customer letters reviewed by CNBC. The revolving lines of credit, which let users borrow between $3,000 and $100,000, were pitched as a way to consolidate credit card debt and or pay for home renovations.

“Wells Fargo recently reviewed its product offerings and decided to discontinue offering new Personal and Portfolio line of credit accounts and close all existing accounts,” the bank said in a six-page letter. Wells Fargo said the move will help them better meet consumer needs with credit cards and personal loans.

“We apologize for the inconvenience this Line of Credit closure will cause,” the bank continued. “The account closure is final.”

Wells Fargo says that the closure “may have an impact on your credit score”. But a spokesman said the bank is “committed to helping each customer find a credit solution that fits their needs”. Customers were given a 60-day notice about the change. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says that’s not good enough. “Sending out a warning notice simply isn’t good enough — Wells Fargo needs to make this right,” she tweeted today.

But Warren was far from the only one objecting to the bank’s actions. Shares of Wells Fargo & Co. dropped 2.49% today, according to MarketWatch, and Twitter users let the bank have it:

House Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) pointed out last week that the bank is facing a new probe from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over checking-account practices. “For years, Wells Fargo used deceptive fine print to scam families out of hundreds of millions,” she wrote on June 30.

In 2016, Wells Fargo made headlines after being fined $185 million for illegal banking practices. It had opened 1.5 million fake bank accounts and filed over 500,000 credit card applications without customers’ knowledge or consent, per the New York Times. Bloomberg later reported that the total number of fraudulent accounts was up to 3.5 million. Last year, the Times revealed that Wells Fargo had reached a $3 billion settlement to settle criminal charges and civil action related to its actions.

“From 2002 to 2016, employees used fraud to meet impossible sales goals. They opened millions of accounts in customers’ names without their knowledge, signed unwitting account holders up for credit cards and bill payment programs, created fake personal identification numbers, forged signatures and even secretly transferred customers’ money,” the Times reported last February.

Suns Reach NBA Finals

Point guard Chris Paul hugs Suns head coach Monty Williams during tonight’s match. Photo from NBA.

By Terrance Turner

June 30, 2021

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns are headed to the NBA Finals. They dominated the Los Angeles Clippers in a hard-fought game that often got physical. Despite hard fouls and a late shoving match, the Suns overcame a valiant Clippers effort to reach the Finals for the first time since 1993.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Suns got out to a 15-9 lead with 6:44 to go in the first quarter thanks to 6-of-10 shooting from the field, including making all three 3-pointers. Point guard Chris Paul led the charge, hitting two 3-pointers and notching two assists. For the Clippers, it was Patrick Beverley doing the scoring. He had seven of the Clippers’ first nine points and had yet to miss a shot.

Also notable in the first quarter was DeMarcus Cousins, who hit two three-pointers including a buzzer-beater. But at the end of the first quarter, the Suns led 33-29. They were 14 of 22 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton combined for 25 points.

That Phoenix lead swelled to 10 in the second quarter. But the Clippers weren’t giving up. Beverley skillfully outplayed Paul midway through. Beverley crossed up Paul, drove past him, and then made the basket in a highlight-reel play:

With four minutes left, LA trailed Phoenix by just one. But the Suns retained their lead. Phoenix led the Clippers by nine points at halftime of Game 6 behind a balanced scoring effort that has seen four starters reach double figures. Small forward Jae Crowder led the Suns scorers with 16 points, according to the LA Times. And their big three — Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton — had 14, 10 and 10, respectively. The Suns led 66-57 at halftime.

Towards the end of the third quarter, the Suns led 89-72 with 4:01 to go in the third quarter. It looked bad for LA. But the Clippers fought back. Just when the Suns seemed on pace for a blowout, the Clippers went on a 10-0 run and center Nicolas Batum just hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to seven. It was 89-82 with 1:42 to go in the third quarter. But then a wide-open Chris Paul hit a three to put the lead back up to 10. It would prove to be a game-changing shot.

And so would the next one. After Paul scored another basket and moved under the hoop, DeMarcus Cousins got the rebound and moved forward. Cousins’ elbow hit Paul’s neck and shoulder as Cousins moved by him. Paul dramatically fell to the ground, flopping so badly that even analyst Steve Javi commended Paul for his “great acting job”.

Cousins was called for a technical foul (after yet another endless referee review). But Paul rebounded with a layup and back to back jumpers. Now it was 105-85.

Clippers forward Marcus Morris answered with a three. Then Morris was fouled and hits back to back free throws. Now 105-90. 8:30 remaining. Booker drove inside and scored to make it 107-85. Paul George answered with a pull-up jumper. Then Chris Paul hit a three-pointer and drew the foul. He made it a four-point play by making the free throw. It was 111-92. DeAndre Ayton added two more points with a basket of his own.

With the score 113-92, it was the Suns’ largest lead of the game. But would it hold? Paul scored two and three, padding the Phoenix lead to 26. The Suns had blown it open in the fourth. With his team down bad, Patrick Beverly lost control, shoving Paul after a play.

Beverley was ejected. The game continued. With just 2:20 remaining and the score 121-100, Paul hit the dagger with yet another three-pointer. It was the final blow in a game that was already all but over. The Suns won, 130-103. They win the series, 4 games to 2.

Chris Paul had beaten his old team to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in his 16-year career. He got emotional after the match. “I’m just so happy for the people around me,” he said in a postgame interview.

Paul noted that he played “six hard years” for the Clippers. “I’ll always be a Clipper,” he declared. “But this group right here…” he trailed off, indicating his Phoenix team. When asked what made him choose to play for Phoenix, Paul answered, “This light skin boy right here. Devin Booker — he’s a dog.”

Booker scored 22 points in tonight’s rout of the Clippers. Paul scored 41 (including 31 in the second half — a career high). Now these two powerhouse players (and their team) have a chance to contend for an NBA Championship.

#MeToo

Photo from New York magazine.

By Terrance Turner

June 30, 2021

The artist formerly known as Cliff Huxtable was released from prison today. He had been serving three years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a maximum-security prison outside Philadelphia when the court ruled that a “non-prosecution agreement” with a previous prosecutor meant he should not have been charged in the case. He had been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand in April 2018. The drugging and sexual assault had occurred in 2004, according to the New York Times.

It is important to note that the conviction has been overturned on a technicality. It is not reflective of innocence or guilt. Individual 1 still faces dozens of accusations from over 50 women. 35 of them were interviewed for a landmark 2015 story by Noreen Malone for New York magazine. Some of the women’s stories are reprinted below.

A 17-year-old aspiring singer named Sunni Welles met Individual 1 on the set of I Spy in the mid-1960s. “He invited her to a jazz club [and] ordered drinks soon after they arrived. Everything became a blur. She woke up in a strange apartment, naked and alone. The comedian told Welles she had drunk too much champagne — though she says she remembered only drinking her Coke — and he brought her to the apartment so she could sleep it off. Welles took him at his word and accepted another invitation to a magic show. Again, her memories of the night disappeared, and she woke up naked.”

19-year-old Joan Tarshis was starting a career as a comedy writer when she met Individual 1 through mutual friends in Los Angeles in 1969. The comedian asked Tarshis if she’d be interested in working on some material with him. She joined him at home; he served her a Bloody Mary topped with beer. She drank some. The next thing she remembered was him undressing her on his couch. She told him she had a yeast infection, hoping to fend him off. But he grabbed her head and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Marcella Tate met Individual 1 at a Chicago nightclub, through a friend, in 1975. One day, he called Tate and asked her to pick him up at the airport. She did. When he got in the car, he asked if she’d take him to the Playboy Mansion, where he said he was staying. Then he invited her inside for a glass of wine. Tate agreed. Once inside, he handed her a drink. “The next thing Tate remembers is waking up next to a naked [Individual 1] in bed. She doesn’t remember how she got home.”  

In 1984, Heidi Thomas was 24 when she got a call from her agent, who told her that a big shot in the entertainment industry — “Mr. C.” — wanted to mentor her. Thomas flew out to Reno, Nevada to meet him. From the airport, his driver brought her to a ranch where the comedian was staying. There, “Mr. C” asked Thomas to read a script for him and assigned her the role of a drunken person. He gave her a drink as a prop and encouraged her to take a sip. She woke up to find him naked and trying to force her into oral sex. She came forward in February 2015. 

“I had the understanding I was going to be receiving private acting coaching from him,” says Thomas. “He said, ‘Let’s try a cold read,’ so he pulls out a script. The scene was set in a bar; the character was someone who was inebriated. He poured a glass of white wine. And he said, use this as a prop — now, that means you’re going to have to sip on it, of course. I really don’t remember much, except waking up in his bedroom. He was naked, and he was forcing himself into my mouth.”

In 1985, a 17-year-old model and aspiring actress named Barbara Bowman met Individual 1 in Denver. He offered to mentor her. He flew her to events and performances, then moved her to New York City and then to Long Island. “I was invited down to Atlantic City to see his show. It was a very confusing night where I was completely drugged and my luggage was missing. When I called the concierge to find out where my luggage was, [he] went ballistic. He said, ‘What the hell are you doing, letting the whole hotel know I have a 19-year-old girl in my hotel suite?’

The next morning, I woke up undressed. I didn’t know what had happened. He called me on the phone and summoned me down to his room. He yelled at me that I had embarrassed him by being at the hotel, and that I needed to have discretion. Then he pounced on me. He threw me down on the bed and he put his forearm under my throat and started choking me. He straddled me, and he took his belt buckle off. The clanking of the belt buckle, I’ll never forget. It was jammed, and he was trying to unzip his pants. I was able to wiggle out.”

Beverly Johnson auditioned for a small part on the perpetrator’s television show in the mid-1980s. They met on set. He invited her to his house to read for the part. The first time, Johnson brought her daughter with her. “My ex-husband had primary custody of my daughter at the time, and I usually spent my weekends with her. [Individual 1] suggested I bring her along, which really reeled me in. He was the Jell-O Pudding man; like most kids, my daughter loved him,” Johnson told Allison Samuels in a piece for Vanity Fair. She recalled that “his staff served us a delicious brunch. Then he gave us a tour of the exceptional multi-level home.”

The meeting — which Johnson suspects was a way to make her feel comfortable — worked like a charm. Johnson returned to the house a second time to read for the part. That second time, she was alone.

He led her upstairs under the pretense that they would rehearse. He had a huge brass espresso machine installed in the room, on the counter. He insisted Johnson have a cup. She didn’t want to drink coffee late in the afternoon, but he insisted. She didn’t want to argue, and took two sips. After the second, she knew she had been drugged.

“Now let me explain this: I was a top model during the 70s, a period when drugs flowed at parties and photo shoots like bottled water at a health spa. I’d had my fun and experimented with my fair share of mood enhancers,” Johnson told Allison Samuels. “I knew by the second sip of the drink [he] had given me that I’d been drugged— and drugged good. My head became woozy, my speech became slurred, and the room began to spin nonstop.” 

Individual 1 approached her and put his hand on her waist. Johnson cursed him out and called him out for drugging her. He grabbed her arm and practically dragged her down the stairs, out of the house, and into a cab. She does not know how she got home or how she made it to bed.

The perpetrator frequently used his show to access his victims. In the early 1990s, Individual 1 started mentoring Lili Bernard before she guest-starred on his show. “I looked upon him as a father figure,” she said. “He often said to me, ‘You’re one of my kids, Bernard.’” Later, he drugged her drink, and raped her. 

These are just some of the stories included in Noreen Malone’s article. Many of the women interviewed did not come forward for decades after their assaults. Today’s development underscores why. Many observers have argued that cases like today’s are the reason women don’t report:

Cardi B Reveals Pregnancy on BET Awards

By Terrance Turner

June 27, 2021

Cardi B revealed that she is pregnant during her perfornance on tonight’s BET Awards. Migos did a medley of songs from their newest album Culture III. Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset (Cardi’s husband) were performing their single “Type Shit” when Cardi joined them to perform her blistering verse. Clad in a skintight bodysuit with a visible bump, Cardi blazed through her bars onstage.

“Once hoes start doing bad, they need somethin’ they can blame it on/Bitches couldn’t be as hot as me in the summertime with a blanket on,” Cardi spat. “All these verses I done slayed, all these looks that I done gave/Could have let these f–k hoes drown, but I let them ride my wave.”

And the wave doesn’t stop. Tonight, Cardi won Best Collaboration for “WAP”, her controversial combo with fellow rapper Megan thee Stallion. The song’s video also won Video of the Year. Cardi B didn’t stay to accept the honor at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, but Megan Thee Stallion rushed to the stage to pick up the award, according to the Associated Press.

Later in the telecast, awards host Taraji P. Henson referenced the moment, saying, “Let’s go back to Cardi B and Offset giving us life — literally!”

This will be Cardi’s second child. Kulture, her daughter with Offset, will be 3 next month. This will be Offset’s fifth child. Cardi filed for divorce last fall but reconciled with Offset in November 2020 and seem to be very much together. A press release released after Cardi and Migos’s BET Awards performance stated that Cardi was happy to “share this wonderful news with her husband by her side.”

Simone Biles Gets Top Spot on Olympic Team

By Terrance Turner

June 27, 2021

Simone Biles overcame a rough start to clinch the top spot in this year’s Tokyo Olympics tonight. Expectations were high — including her own. Biles has been so spectacular on meet after meet that NBC Sports praised her as the “Greatest of All Time”.

That “GOAT” label came after a string of stellar performances: she won her 6th all-around title in women’s gymnastics in August 2019. She performed a triple-double at the meet, soaring therough the air to complete two flips and three full twists…and landed. It’s the first time a woman has done this in competition, per NBC Sports.

Earlier this month, Biles won her seventh all-around title — more than any other woman in history — at the U.S. Gymnastics Championship in Fort Worth, TX. She had the top scores in beam, floor exercises and vault. (It’s the fourth time she has had the top scores on three or more events at nationals.) So she, and the audience, expected the best.

It wasn’t. Biles began with two solid but unspectacular vaults; she was visibly dismayed by her performance. An otherwise great parallel bars routine was marred by an error on the lower bar. What looked like a minor mistake was a disaster for Biles. “I wanna die,” she said once she left the platform.

Then, on the balance beam, Biles wobbled so badly that she was forced to hop off the beam. It was a glaring error uncharacteristic of her, and Biles was devastated. She was seen weeping afterward. But she wasn’t the only one to tear up tonight. Nor was she the only one to make a costly mistake.

Jordan Chiles shined on her beam routine. But Grace McCallum landed out of bounds on floor. McCallum landed so far outside the lines that she barely avoided the edge of the platform. Mikayla Skimmer failed to stick the landings on either of her vaults, and she too cried after her routine. NBC cameras showed her sobbing afterward.

Jordan Chiles also got emotional, but for a totally different reason. Chiles burst into tears after a dazzling floor routine. She got a standing ovation from the audience — and a big hug from Biles.

“I’m so proud of you,” Biles told Chiles once she came down from the platform floor.

Biles had everythinn riding on her floor routine. The difficulty ramped up with moves that only she can do. The two moves, both named the “Biles,” are a double-double and a gravity-defying double backflip with three twists. She did both on the floor. She would’ve nailed them both , except that she stepped out of bounds both times. (Those are minor deductions, due to the difficulty.) But her last two moves were spectacular, and Biles got a standing ovation from the audience. It also got the highest score of the night for a floor routine.

Simone Biles qualified for the Tokyo Olympic team. So did Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles. Mykayla Skimmer and Grace McCallum won spots in individual events. They’ve been named to Team USA — and Biles holds on to her number one spot.

Britney Spears Asks Judge to End Conservatorship

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.

Carl Nassib Makes NFL History

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.

Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth A Federal Holiday

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.

Durant Shines As Nets Stun Bucks With Late Comeback

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

By Terrance Turner

June 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Death Toll Tops 600,000

By Terrance Turner

June 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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