March 19, 2017

Jimmy Breslin, the brash newspaper columnist who covered his hometown of New York City for several decades, died Sunday of pneumonia. He was 88.

Breslin authored more than 20 books and was a longtime columnist for the New York Daily News. "Jimmy Breslin was a furious, funny, outrageous, and caring voice of the people who made newspaper writing into literature," said Arthur Browne, editor-in-chief of the Daily News. He reported from Vietnam, was at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, became pen pals with the Son of Sam, and won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1980s for a series of columns that brought to light several scandals, including the use of stun guns on jailed suspects by one NYPD precinct.

Breslin, who also won a Polk Award, is survived by his second wife, Ronnie Eldridge, four children, three stepchildren, and 12 grandchildren. His first wife and two of his daughters preceded him in death. Catherine Garcia

4:08 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to lead the Treasury Department, people familiar with the decision told The Wall Street Journal. Yellen declined to comment, the Journal notes.

If confirmed, Yellen would become the first woman to fill the role, as well as the first person to head the Treasury, the central bank, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Yellen oversaw the Fed between 2014 and 2018. She was originally nominated by former President Barack Obama and was confirmed by the Senate with bipartisan support, including three sitting Republican lawmakers — Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). That seemingly increases her chances of getting through the process again, even if the GOP holds on to its majority.

Per the Journal, the Biden transition team views Yellen as a "credible authority on the dangers of prematurely withdrawing government stimulus and as someone who could collaborate closely with the Fed and executive-branch agencies to engineer more support if Congress remains hesitant to act" on coronavirus relief legislation. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

3:46 p.m.

Another awards show, another new ratings low.

The 2020 American Music Awards on Sunday drew an average of 3.8 million viewers and a 0.9 rating among adults 18-49, both of which were new lows for the ceremony, Variety reports. The AMAs experienced a 50 percent rating decline, as well as a 43 percent viewership decline. Last year's AMAs, Variety notes, only fell four percent in the ratings, and viewership ticked up that year by about 200,000.

But awards shows have been fairly consistently declining in the ratings recently. The 2020 Emmys in September again drew its smallest audience of all time with about 6.1 million viewers, while this year's Billboard Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, and Country Music Association Awards also all hit ratings lows.

Sunday's American Music Awards, which took place in Los Angeles with a limited audience amid the pandemic, featured performances from artists including Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish, and the show's top prize of Artist of the Year went to Taylor Swift. But despite Swift's record-extending win, it seems not a huge amount of TV viewers showed up at this party. Brendan Morrow

3:26 p.m.

The coronavirus almost certainly originated in another species before jumping to humans (perhaps infecting a third party species in between), but new research is suggesting that humans could also play the role of vector, National Geographic reports.

A new study led by Harris Lewin, a professor of ecology and evolution at University of California, Davis, found that humans could potentially spread the virus to wild animals, and they probably already have among animals in captivity. For example, Lewin said it's likely lions and tigers that contracted the virus at the Bronx Zoo in New York were infected by human zookeepers.

That could put endangered species — especially close human relatives like the western lowland gorilla, the Sumatran orangutan, chimpanzees, and bonobos — at high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, especially in places where wild animals are more likely to come into close contact with humans, Lewin told Nat Geo.

Lewin's co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli singled out Africa's eastern gorilla as another high-risk species because the fewer than 5,000 remaining individuals live in close-knit family groups, making them more vulnerable to their own pandemic.

The good news is there's no evidence the virus is spreading among wild animal populations, and the animals that have been infected in experimental settings have mostly exhibited mild cases. But the risk remains, so Koepfli and Lewin are calling for a focus on preventative methods such as national park staffers getting regularly tested to mitigate the threat. Read more at National Geographic. Tim O'Donnell

1:49 p.m.

Somewhere in Virginia, a turkey by the name of Carrots is feeling vindicated.

Two years ago this week, President Trump conducted the annual White House turkey pardon, which let the American people vote online to decide the fate of birds Peas and Carrots. The president, lest he pass up an opportunity to roast, jokingly mocked the losing turkey, Carrots.

"Unfortunately, Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount," Trump said in 2018. "We're still fighting with Carrots."

Replace "Carrots" with "Trump" and we essentially have the story of the 2020 election. As President-elect Joe Biden proceeds with filling his Cabinet, Trump remains steadfast in his refusal to concede, despite winning 74 fewer electoral votes. Also similar to Carrots, Trump has called for recounts in several states, including Georgia, where taxpayers will fund a third recount.

It's unclear whether Carrots ever officially conceded his 2018 loss, or whether Trump has any plans to do so, either. Carrots did, however, make his way to the nation's premier retirement spot for former White House turkeys, so there's certainly hope for Trump's post-presidential life. Marianne Dodson

1:37 p.m.

Snapchat is launching a brand new TikTok competitor and unveiling plans to distribute $1 million among some lucky users on a daily basis.

On Monday, Snapchat began rolling out Spotlight, a new video tab that will highlight popular videos in the app as the company looks to compete with both TikTok and Instagram Reels, Axios reports. For at least the rest of the year, Snapchat said it will be giving out $1 million daily to users who submit the most popular Spotlight videos. Users have to be 16 or older to be eligible for the money, which can be split up among various people.

"Many Snapchatters will earn each day, and the ones who create the top Snaps within that group will earn the most for their creativity," Snapchat said.

It wasn't entirely clear how much money one person could earn from Spotlight in a day other than Snapchat saying the amount would be "significant," according to CNN. The minimum amount will be $250, BuzzFeed News reports.

Snapchat said earnings will be based on a formula rewarding users "primarily based on the total number of unique video views a Snap gets in a given day" compared to "the performance of other Snaps that day," and it pledged to "actively monitor for fraud to ensure that we only account for authentic engagement with Snaps."

This, Variety wrote, was a "bid by Snap to keep top creative talent on its platform" rather than TikTok and Instagram, which rolled out the TikTok competitor Reels earlier this year. The $1 million a day program, Snapchat said, will "run through the end of 2020, and potentially beyond." Brendan Morrow

1:23 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden's transition team officially announced his nominees for several key national security posts on Monday.

As had previously been reported, Antony Blinken will be the nominee for secretary of state, Linda Thomas-Greenfield gets the nod for United Nations ambassador, and Jake Sullivan has been tapped as national security adviser.

The announcement also reveals Biden will nominate Alejandro Mayorkas for Homeland Security secretary and Avril Haines for director of national intelligence. If confirmed, Mayorkas, who served deputy secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration and helped create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, would be the first immigrant and Latino to run the department, the transition team noted.

John Kerry will also be back in the mix as Biden's special envoy for climate. The former secretary of state signed the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the U.S. in 2015, a deal which Biden is expected to rejoin. Read more about Biden's picks here. Tim O'Donnell

12:45 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden's pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, "was known for his unimpeachable ethics," according to The American Prospect's prior report. That may be true, but how he's spent his time since the end of the Obama administration has left some critics bristling at his selection.

In a July report, TAP put a spotlight on the strategic consultancy firm WestExec Advisers, of which Blinken and Michèle Fourney, the favorite to lead the Pentagon in the Biden administration, were founding partners. The firm has ties to an array of industries, including: tech, financial services, aerospace, defense, and pharmaceuticals. But it's not exactly clear who the individual clients are since the firm, which is not registered to lobby, doesn't have to disclose them. The lack of transparency is a cause for concern among some observers, who are worried about people in the Biden, or any, administration getting too wrapped up in the interests of global corporations, TAP reported.

Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group, told The New York Times that "those kinds of consulting shops," like WestExec, "take advantage of current laws, so there is no transparency in their clients and how they are trying to influence public policy for them. That's exactly the kind of people who should not be in an administration."

There likely will be some clarity, however, since Blinken, as a political appointee, will have to disclose clients who paid $5,000 or more for his services in the past year. Read more about WestExec Advisers at The American Prospect. Tim O'Donnell

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