Monday News: Ten thousand, nine hundred twenty six


NC HOSPITALIZATIONS FOR COVID 19 CONTINUE DOWNWARD TREND: At least 842,637 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 10,926 have died since March, according to state health officials. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday reported 2,541 new COVID-19 cases. At least 1,647 people in North Carolina were reported hospitalized with the coronavirus as of Sunday, marking the fifth day in a row that hospitalizations have declined. As of Friday, more than 1.1 million first doses and more than 608,000 second doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered in North Carolina. Some Triangle county health departments have had to reschedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments as some doses were not shipped last week due to snow and ice that hit much of the country.

NC REPUBLICANS PUSH BILL TO FORCE THE UNEMPLOYED TO LOOK FOR JOBS: Republican legislators have drafted a bill that would reinstate the requirement that jobless people actively seek work in order to receive unemployment benefits. In a March 10 executive order, Gov. Roy Cooper authorized the Department of Commerce, which houses the state unemployment agency, to waive these requirements. The draft bill filed by legislators on Wednesday would reintroduce those requirements, exempting people who are out of work for COVID-19-related reasons. Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican, said that on his drive to the Capitol from his home in Union County, he had noticed multiple signs advertising available jobs, including at two poultry plants in his district. Of course poultry plants have been notorious Coronavirus spreaders, but Mark probably doesn't care about that.

PENDER COUNTY LYNCH MOB ACQUITTED OF CRIMINAL CHARGES: A former North Carolina sheriff’s deputy has been acquitted of criminal charges in an incident that sparked allegations of racism after he led an armed group in search of his missing sister but went to the wrong home. A New Hanover County judge on Thursday acquitted Jordan Kita, 24, on charges of forcible trespass, breaking and entering, and willful failure to discharge duties. Austin Wood, who was a part of the group searching for Kita’s biracial sister, also was acquitted after being charged with going armed to the terror of the public. Kita was fired after the May 3 incident in Pender County. Lawyers for Monica Shepard, a black woman whose home was mistakenly targeted in the incident, filed a lawsuit last month naming Kita and several others as defendants. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the outcome of the criminal trial but will continue to pursue the civil suit. “The fact that defendants did not stop to think how their actions — taken late at night, in a large group, while armed with multiple guns — would impact the Shepards, is evidence that white privilege remains alive and well,” the statement reads.

TEXANS ARE RECEIVING GARGANTUAN ELECTRICITY BILLS DUE TO RECKLESS DEREGULATION: Having conserved power after briefly losing it twice during rolling blackouts, Astrein, 36, said he was shocked when he logged on to view his electric bill from his provider, Griddy: $2,796.85 since Feb. 1. Ahead of the storms, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90 percent of the state’s electric load, underestimated how much power it would need. Because Texas is the only state in the Lower 48 that operates an independent electric grid, it could not receive help from neighboring states. Supply could not keep up with demand, leading the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates Texas utility rates, to raise energy prices in an emergency meeting Monday. On the same day, the wholesale price of electricity spiked more than 10,000 percent, leaving many Texans with dizzying bills in the wake of the storms — ranging from four digits to one for more than $17,000. “It’s funny to say, but if you look at news outlets and social media outlets, you see pictures that are posted and I’m one of the lower bills,” Astrein said. “To be thankful for that is actually crazy.” “The legislature and the governor’s office is working on a plan to figure out the financial piece of this, and so we’re trying to give them time to do that,” said DeAnn Walker, chairman of the utility commission. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) offered hope that the cost for people will be alleviated by federal assistance provided by President Biden’s emergency disaster declaration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

TRUMP DROPPED SANCTIONS ON ISRAELI BILLIONAIRE INVOLVED IN "BLOOD DIAMONDS" TRADE: The decision stunned and angered American diplomats in Washington and Africa and government officials and human rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Mr. Gertler had been accused years earlier by the United Nations and other groups of working with the then-ruling family on deals that looted the nation’s mineral wealth and propped up a corrupt regime. And it has left the Biden administration scrambling to determine how Mr. Gertler managed to pull it off — and whether it can be reversed. The episode has echoes of Mr. Trump’s last-minute grants of clemency to political and personal allies and people with connections to him, including the involvement of Mr. Dershowitz. It also highlighted Mr. Gertler’s use of high-powered connections in Israel, including people with ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an effort to win support from the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Mr. Gertler arrived in Congo in 1997 as a 23-year-old diamond dealer, determined to challenge the global giant in supplying raw diamonds, the South African-based De Beers. One of his first big breaks came about three years later, when Laurent Kabila, then the president of Congo, needed weapons to wage a war that would last for more than a decade. Offering monopolies to foreigners looking to tap into Congo’s rich mineral resources was a way for Mr. Kabila to raise cash needed to fight the war. Among them was a deal to export diamonds with Mr. Gertler, who was considered an appealing intermediary because of his ties to generals in the Israeli Army that could help Congo procure weapons, according to two reports issued by the United Nations in 2001. (Mr. Gertler disputed the findings.) Mr. Gertler was also indirectly accused, in a Justice Department court filing in 2016, of paying more than $100 million in bribes to government officials in Congo on behalf of a company named Och-Ziff “to obtain special access to and preferential prices for opportunities in the government-controlled mining sector.”