Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 27, 2023

The U.S. Energy Department backs the COVID lab-leak theory with "low confidence," protesters say Mexico's electoral overhaul threatens democracy, and more


Energy Dept. backs COVID lab-leak theory with 'low confidence'

The Energy Department has concluded, with "low confidence," that the coronavirus pandemic probably started with a leak from a lab in Wuhan, China, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing a classified intelligence report recently shared with the White House and key lawmakers. The Energy Department had previously been undecided on the likely origin of the pandemic, and the shift was described in an update of a 2021 document by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines' office, the Journal reported. The FBI also concluded, with "moderate confidence," that a leak from a Chinese lab likely started the pandemic, but four other agencies and a national intelligence panel have said the first outbreak was likely caused by natural transmission from an animal.


Protesters call Mexico electoral overhaul a threat to democracy

Large crowds across Mexico on Sunday protested a government proposal to curb the authority of the country's independent electoral authority. In Mexico City, more than 100,000 people demonstrated against the plan, which critics say would threaten Mexico's fragile democracy. "We're fighting to defend our democracy," said Mexico City demonstrator Veronica Echevarria, a 58-year-old psychologist. Protesters said they feared President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would use the reforms to seize control over elections to stay in power, even if he isn't on the ballot himself. The demonstrations were the largest yet against the overhaul of the National Electoral Institute pushed by López Obrador's administration and advanced by Mexico's Congress last week. López Obrador has attacked the electoral body as corrupt.


Supreme Court to hear arguments on Biden student loan forgiveness plan

The Supreme Court this week will hear oral arguments in a challenge to President Biden's plan to forgive student loan debt. Biden's nearly $400 billion initiative would eliminate up to $10,000 of student loan debt for borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year, and another $10,000 for those who received Pell Grant aid for low- and middle-income students. The program could help more than 40 million people with student debt. The justices on Tuesday will hear arguments in two cases, one brought by six Republican-led states arguing that the forgiveness program would harm them and was "a breathtaking assertion of power." The other challenge was brought by two Texas borrowers who don't fully qualify for the program.


Israeli settlers burn homes after Palestinian gunman kills 2 

Dozens of Israeli settlers rampaged through the northern West Bank on Sunday, burning at least 15 houses after a Palestinian gunman allegedly killed two settlers. The Palestinian health ministry said one man had been killed and nearly 100 others wounded in what The Associated Press said appeared to be "the worst outburst of settler violence in decades." The Israeli military dispatched a battalion of military reserves with riot gear to stop the violence, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the settlers "not to take the law into your hands." Israeli and Palestinian officials met and agreed to work closely to reduce tensions after a surge of violence.


Death toll rises in sinking of migrant boat off Italy

The death toll in the wreck of a sailboat carrying migrants near the Italian coast rose to at least 61 on Sunday. At least 12 of the dead were children. The wooden sailboat was carrying migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, and other countries on a voyage from Turkey to Europe when it crashed against rocks in rough seas and sank off the eastern coast of Calabria in southern Italy. The country's interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, visited the scene, and said as many as 30 people could still be missing. Survivors said there were as many as 200 people on the boat. The tragedy renewed a debate on migration in Europe and especially Italy, where a newly elected right-wing government has enacted controversial restrictions on migrant rescue charities.


Jill Biden calls for more aid in East Africa drought

First lady Jill Biden wrapped up a five-day Africa trip on Sunday with a call for more countries to provide aid for East Africa as it contends with a historic drought that has increased malnutrition. Some parts of the Horn of Africa have suffered through five straight failed rainy seasons that killed crops and livestock. Jill Biden toured facilities in Kenya operated by international charities, including World Vision, UNICEF, and the World Food Program, and spoke with struggling families. "They talked about how their livestock are dying. Obviously, you can see the drought here, how bad it is," she said. "The one source of water here feeds 12 villages, and each village has approximately a thousand to 1,200 people."


Votes still being counted in Nigeria's tightest election yet

Results are coming in slowly in Nigeria's closest elections since military rule ended in 1999, with just one of 36 states declaring official results as of early Monday. More than 87 million people were eligible to cast ballots, creating huge logistical challenges. The Saturday election started several hours late in some places, forcing authorities to extend voting in some areas for a second day. In southwestern Ekiti state, the first to report, Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress party won a clear majority of votes cast for president, with more than 200,000 votes, more than double the count for Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition PDP. Peter Obi of the Labor Party received just 11,000 votes in the state.


Driver arrested after truck hits cyclists, killing 2

Arizona police on Sunday said they had arrested the driver of the truck that crashed into a group of cyclists on Saturday, killing two and injuring 11. One of the survivors remained in life-threatening condition on Sunday. The alleged driver, Pedro Quintana-Lujan, 26, was charged with two counts of manslaughter, according to the Goodyear, Arizona, Police Department. Police said he stayed at the scene after the crash. "The Goodyear Police Department is deeply saddened by this tragedy and extends condolences to the loved ones of the victims as well as to the cycling community and the community as a whole," police said in a statement. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 938 cyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2020.


'Ant-Man' leads box office for 2nd week despite steep drop

Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania held onto the top spot at the domestic box office over the weekend, despite an unusually steep drop of 69.7 percent to $32.2 million in ticket sales in its second weekend. The R-rated horror comedy Cocaine Bear brought in $23.1 million in its opening weekend, according to studio estimates released Sunday. Cocaine Bear's debut beat expectations. The film, directed by Elizabeth Banks, cost just $35 million to make. It is based on the true story of a 175-pound black bear that died in 1985 after eating cocaine that fell in the Georgia mountains from a smuggler's plane.


'Everything Everywhere' dominates SAG acting awards

Everything Everywhere All at Once had a dominant night at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning four trophies, including the top honor of best cast in a motion picture. Everything Everywhere's Michelle Yeoh defeated Tár's Cate Blanchett for best actress in a close race seen as a preview of the Oscars. Ke Huy Quan maintained his Oscar momentum by winning best supporting actor, making history along with Yeoh as the first Asian winners in their categories. And the film scored a surprise supporting actress win for Jamie Lee Curtis. The frontrunner was thought to be Angela Bassett for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever or perhaps Kerry Condon for The Banshees of Inisherin. Lead actor went to The Whale's Brendan Fraser.


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