Tuesday News: Back in court


NC VOTER ID TRIAL BEGINS, INHERENT RACISM LEADS DEBATE: North Carolina's latest law requiring photo identification to cast ballots went on trial on Monday, with attorneys for voters challenging the mandate by arguing it still disproportionately prevents Black residents from carrying out their constitutional right. A panel of three state Superior Court judges began hearing evidence in the lawsuit filed to overturn a December 2018 law that filled in the details of how a voter ID constitutional amendment approved in a statewide referendum several weeks before would be implemented. Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature said the new law isn't racially suspect, pointing out they expanded the types of qualifying IDs and made it easier for registered voters without IDs to have their votes counted. The evidence shows the new law, rushed for passage so Republicans could override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto before their power waned during the next legislative session, suffers from the same racial taint and faults as the previous law, said Allison Riggs, a lawyer for the voters who sued.

LOUIS DEJOY DODGES CAMPAIGN FINANCE INVESTIGATION BY WAKE DA: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a prominent North Carolina businessman and prolific Republican donor, will not face a Wake County criminal investigation into alleged violations of state campaign finance laws. State authorities, meanwhile, haven’t revealed whether they have opened their own investigation. A North Carolina watchdog group filed a complaint in September, calling for an investigation into allegations that DeJoy urged employees to make political contributions and then reimbursed the workers with bonuses. The Washington Post reported the allegations last year, citing five former New Breed Logistics employees. The Post reported that New Breed employees gave more than $1 million between 2000 and 2014 to state and federal Republican candidates with former Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis among the biggest recipients. At a congressional hearing in August, DeJoy denied giving bonuses or rewards to employees who donated to the Trump campaign. He called it an “outrageous claim” and said he was not working at New Breed Logistics during Trump’s presidential campaigns. DeJoy was the CEO of the company from 1983 to 2014. In 2014, New Breed Logistics was sold for more than $600 million.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE IS BACK ON HOLD OVER BLOOD CLOTS: Multiple local providers, including Cape Fear Valley Health, UNC Health and WakeMed, announced Tuesday they will stop giving out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine per new guidance from the FDA and CDC. The U.S. has recommended COVID-19 vaccine clinics nationwide temporarily stop administering the single-dose shot after a handful of women reported rare but dangerous blood clotting disorders two weeks after receiving their vaccine. Organizers told WRAL News two Cape Fear Valley Health clinics, scheduled Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Fayetteville, will no longer be held. Cape Fear Valley has access to plenty of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and can accommodate people if they schedule appointments, officials said. UNC Health and WakeMed will also stop giving the J&J shot, offering other vaccines to patients as supply allows and rescheduling appointments when necessary. Chris Tart, vice president of professional service at Cape Fear Valley Health, said vaccine supply has expanded in the last month, and more retail locations such as pharmacies and grocery stores are offering COVID-19 vaccines. People may be seeking options they see as convenient or waiting for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is only offered at one Cape Fear Valley clinic.

DIGITAL ARTWORK (NFT) AND BITCOIN ARE A CLIMATE CHANGE NIGHTMARE: In a nutshell, when an artist uploads a piece of art and clicks a button to “mint” it, she or he starts a process known as mining, which involves complex puzzles, awesome computing power and a huge load of energy. That’s because Ethereum, the platform of choice for NFTs, uses a method called proof of work to create digital assets like nonfungible tokens. To successfully add an asset to the blockchain’s master ledger, miners must compete to solve a cryptographic puzzle, their computers rapidly generating numbers in a frenzied race of trial and error. As of mid-April, miners were making more than 170 quintillion attempts a second to produce new blocks, according to the trading platform Blockchain.com. (A quintillion is 1 followed by 18 zeros.) The miner who arrives at the right answer first is the winner, and gets her or his asset added to the blockchain. The system is intentionally designed to be onerous, ostensibly to make it transparent and competitive, and to prevent cheating. Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency, also uses the energy intensive proof-of-work model. According to an estimate backed up by independent researchers, the creation of an average NFT has a stunning environmental footprint of over 200 kilograms of planet-warming carbon, equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car. Other attempts to calculate the energy use of blockchain have also arrived at gargantuan numbers. Researchers at Cambridge University have estimated that mining Bitcoin uses more electricity than entire countries like Argentina, Sweden or Pakistan. A recently published paper in the journal Nature Communications warned that, if left unchecked, cryptomining in China could undercut the nation’s climate goals. “I know it’s difficult to comprehend,” said Susanne Köhler, an expert in life cycle analysis at Aalborg University in Denmark who carried out a life-cycle analysis of blockchain technology. “You just click on a button or type a few words, and then suddenly you burn so much energy.”

EGYPT SEIZES SHIP THAT BLOCKED SUEZ CANAL, SAYS OWNERS OWE CLOSE TO A BILLION FOR INCIDENT: In the latest complication to the ill-fated voyage, Egypt has seized the Ever Given over its owners’ “failure to pay an amount of $900 million,” the state-run news outlet Ahram Gate reported. That amount represents the total compensation that Egypt says it is owed for the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal, including lost revenue from ships that ordinarily would have traveled through the canal during that time, as well as costs for damage to the crucial waterway and the equipment and labor deployed in the 144-hour scramble to free the ship. Since it was dislodged from the narrow section of the canal where it ran aground in late March, blocking commerce worth billions of dollars, the Ever Given has been anchored in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, at the midpoint of the canal. Twenty-five crew members, all Indian nationals, remain stuck on board. The ruling allowing Egypt to seize the Ever Given was issued by a court in Ismailia, a city on the west bank of the canal, according to the Ahram Gate website. The Suez Canal Authority, which made the request, noted that Egypt’s maritime trade laws allow the “precautionary seizure” of vessels that have outstanding debts, including failure to pay the costs from an accident. “The vessel will remain here until investigations are complete and compensation is paid,” Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), told Egyptian state television last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The minute they agree to compensation, the vessel will be allowed to move.” But the National Union of Seafarers in India argues that refusing to let the crew off the ship amounts to holding them for ransom. “If the SCA has suffered losses, they can sort it out with those involved with the ship,” Abdulgani Serang, the union’s general secretary, told the Times of India on Sunday.