Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 27, 2021

Gunman kills nine at San Jose rail yard, Biden orders intelligence report on coronavirus pandemic's origins, and more

1

Gunman kills 9 at San Jose light-rail yard

A gunman opened fire at a Northern California rail yard on Wednesday, killing nine people and injuring several others. Police said the gunman worked in the rail yard, as did some of the victims. "The whole crew is gone," a worker said. "The whole shift is gone. It's horrible." Authorities said the gunman, identified by several sources as a maintenance worker, killed himself as police arrived. The shooting occurred at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light-rail hub in San Jose. Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman ordered flags lowered to half-mast. "These folks were heroes during COVID-19," he said. "The buses never stopped running." The tragedy was the latest in a series of mass shootings across the country, including a dozen that left 11 dead and 69 injured last weekend. 

2

Biden orders intelligence focus on origins of pandemic

President Biden on Wednesday ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to step up their investigations of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The push came after renewed attention to the possibility that the coronavirus might have escaped a Chinese laboratory. The possibility was long considered a fringe theory, but it gained credence recently with the circulation of intelligence information about the hospitalizations of three lab workers weeks before the first coronavirus cases were reported in Wuhan, the early hot spot. Biden told intelligence agencies to report back to him within 90 days, and he called on China to cooperate with international investigations into how the pandemic started. Former President Donald Trump has long touted the theory as part of his effort to blame China for the pandemic.

3

Anti-Semitic violence surges across U.S.

The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States surged during the two weeks of clashes between Israel and Hamas this month, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing figures collected by the Anti-Defamation League. The organization gathered 222 U.S. reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, or violence, up from 127 in the previous two weeks. Before this surge, rising anti-Semitic violence stemmed largely from an increase in white-supremacist activity during the administration of former President Donald Trump. Many recent incidents have been blamed on people expressing support for the Palestinian cause. "This is why Jews feel so terrified in this moment," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's chief executive. "For four years it seemed to be stimulated from the political right," he added, but now "no one is wearing MAGA hats."

4

Doctor warns of risk of coronavirus variants at Olympics

Dr. Naoto Ueyama, chairman of the Japan Doctors Union, warned Thursday that holding the Tokyo Olympics in two months could result in the spread of new coronavirus variants. Ueyama said the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government made the decision to proceed with plans for the games, postponed from last summer due to the pandemic, without fully recognizing the risks involved with bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes into the country, along with tens of thousands of officials, judges, media, and broadcasters from around the world. "Since the emergence of COVID-19 there has not been such a dangerous gathering of people coming together in one place from so many different places around the world," he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "It's very difficult to predict what this could lead to."

5

Amazon agrees to buy MGM in $8.45 billion deal

Amazon said Wednesday it had agreed to buy MGM Holdings in a deal valued at $8.45 billion, including debt. The purchase is expected to provide a major boost to Amazon's Prime Video streaming platform by giving it the Hollywood studio's library of more than 4,000 films, including the James Bond and Rocky franchises. Amazon also will get classic films from The Silence of the Lambs to 12 Angry Men, as well as popular TV series, including The Handmaid's Tale and Fargo. "The acquisition's thesis here is really very simple," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said during a call with shareholders. "MGM has a vast, deep catalog of much-beloved intellectual property, and with the talented people at MGM and the talented people at Amazon Studios, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century."

6

Senate Republicans expected to filibuster Jan. 6 commission

Senate Republicans are expected to use a filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold to launch debate, to block a vote on forming a commission to investigate the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. The vote, planned for Thursday, would mark the first use of the filibuster to block legislation this year in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. The use of the tactic to prevent the establishment of a bipartisan commission on an insurrection is expected to renew discussion of changing filibuster rules. "We have a mob overtake the Capitol, and we can't get the Republicans to join us in making historic record of that event? That is sad," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic leader. "That tells you what's wrong with the Senate and what's wrong with the filibuster."

7

Hedge fund wins 2 seats on ExxonMobil board in climate-change push

The small hedge fund Engine No. 1 unseated two ExxonMobil board members on Wednesday in a push to force the energy giant to make changes to join the fight against climate change. The move came as investors increasingly express concerns that the energy industry isn't doing enough to change business strategies to address global warming. Eight of Exxon's nominees were elected to spots on the 12-member board, as were two Engine No. 1 nominees. "It's a huge deal … it's a rebuff of the whole attitude of the Exxon board," said Ric Marshall, executive director of ESG Research at MSCI. On the same day, a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to commit to deeper emissions cuts.

8

Eric Carle, creator of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar,' dies at 91

Eric Carle, the artist and author best known for his book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, died of kidney failure on Sunday at his summer studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was 91. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, published in 1969, has been translated into 70 languages and sold more than 55 million copies globally. Carle published more than 70 books that sold more than 170 million copies, according to his publisher, Penguin Random House. He received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, now called the Children's Literature Legacy Award, in 2003. He got started as a children's book author when he was nearly 40, taking inspiration from his childhood. "I think it started with my father. He took me for long walks and explained things to me," he told NPR in 2007.

9

Howard names revived Fine Arts College for Chadwick Boseman

Howard University has honored the late actor and alumnus Chadwick Boseman by naming its newly re-established College of Fine Arts after him. While a student at Howard, Boseman helped lead a student protest in a doomed fight against merging the College of Fine Arts into the College of Arts and Sciences. After graduating in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in directing, Boseman talked to Howard University President Wayne Frederick about reviving the College of Fine Arts. "It was always important to him," Frederick told The Associated Press. It took two decades, but now, after his death in August from colon cancer at age 43, the Black Panther star is being honored with the establishment of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. "He would be overjoyed," his family said in a statement.

10

Former Sen. John Warner dies at 94

Former Sen. John Warner, a centrist Republican, has died at age 94. Warner presided over the powerful Armed Services Committee for much of his 30 years in the Senate. Before that, the World War II Navy veteran gained fame as the sixth husband of movie star Elizabeth Taylor, whom he met on a blind date in 1976, when Britain's ambassador asked Warner, then head of the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, to escort Taylor to an embassy party for Queen Elizabeth II. They were married a few months later on Warner's Virginia farm. "I thought it would be all very sort of farmish, and jobby, horsey, and I could have animals, and I would go out and brand the cattle," Taylor told Larry King in 2001. Then Warner decided to run for an open Senate seat, and Taylor helped him draw crowds. "She traveled with him, and people turned out," said a former state GOP official.

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