February 23, 2021

Researchers in California are expressing concern over a COVID-19 variant in the state, which the Los Angeles Times reports appears "increasingly dangerous."

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco examined the B.1.427/B.1.429 COVID-19 variant spreading in California, and they say that it "not only spreads more readily than its predecessors, but also evades antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection and it's associated with severe illness and death," the Los Angeles Times writes.

The researchers warned that the variant should be viewed as a "variant of concern" like others from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

"The devil is already here," warned Dr. Charles Chiu, who led the new analysis. "I wish it were different. But the science is the science."

The California strain reportedly appears to reduce the effect of neutralizing antibodies by a factor of two, compared to a factor of 6.2 for the South Africa strain. The study also suggests it "could have greater virulence," the Times writes, noting the researchers looked at 324 hospitalized patients' medical charts and found that those infected with the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant were more likely to be admitted to the ICU, as well as more likely to die. Still, Chiu said this could potentially be a result of hospitals being overwhelmed due to the increased transmissibility of the variant, rather than the variant itself being more deadly.

Separately, another study that hasn't yet been published pointed to a "modest, but meaningful, difference" of almost 10 percent in the chance of becoming infected if a household member has the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant versus another variant, The New York Times reports.

At the same time, cardiologist Eric Topol on Tuesday pushed back on labeling the California variant "increasingly dangerous" at this stage, noting, "there isn't even a preprint published and we're watching dramatic descent in cases, hospitalization and deaths despite its high frequency." California's and San Francisco County's public health departments are reportedly reviewing the new analysis. Brendan Morrow

9:18 a.m.

A court found former French President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of forming a "corruption pact" with his lawyer and a senior magistrate, handing him a three-year prison sentence after the verdict was announced. But Sarkozy, the first president to be sentenced to jail in France's modern history, likely won't spend any time behind bars, The Guardian reports.

Two of the three years are suspended, and Sarkozy will likely be able to serve the one remaining year by wearing an electronic bracelet or in home confinement. Per France 24, that's pretty much par for the course for whenever a French politician is sentenced.

While he'll remain out of prison for now, Sarkozy still faces more legal hurdles. In just over two weeks, he'll again be on trial in relation to allegations that he violated campaign financing rules during his failed 2012 re-election bid, and he's still being investigated for allegedly receiving millions of euros in campaign funds from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi in 2007. Read more at The Guardian and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

8:41 a.m.

Following his first post-presidency speech, former President Donald Trump described the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the deadly Capitol riot as "beautiful" a "love fest."

Trump spoke with Fox News on Sunday after delivering a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he continued to falsely claim he won the 2020 presidential election. In the Fox interview, Trump was asked if there's anything he would have in retrospect done differently prior to a crowd of his supporters storming the Capitol building on Jan. 6, but the former president instead spoke favorably about the rally he delivered remarks at before the deadly riot.

"That rally was massive," Trump said. "...It was tremendous numbers of people. Not the Capitol, I'm talking about the rally itself. And it was a love fest. It was a beautiful thing."

Trump spoke at a rally in Washington, D.C., on the day Congress was meeting to certify the election results, urging his supporters to march down to the Capitol building and "show strength" before a deadly riot ultimately occurred. The House of Representatives subsequently impeached Trump for "incitement of insurrection" for his actions surrounding the riot, though he was acquitted by the Senate. In reference to the violence that occurred at the Capitol following the rally, Trump told Fox he "hated to see" it.

Trump during his CPAC speech didn't back down from his false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent, and "Republicans in Washington let out a collective groan," Politico writes, as this "puts them right back in the position of rebuking Trump or looking spineless." Brendan Morrow

1:59 a.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said it is "clear" that Iran was behind an attack in the Gulf of Oman last week that targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship.

"Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel," Netanyahu told the Israeli public broadcaster Kan. "I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region."

An explosion rocked the Helios Ray on Friday, as the cargo ship was on its way to Singapore. No one on the crew was injured in the blast, but U.S. defense officials told The Associated Press the ship did sustain damage above the waterline. The ship was carrying cars, and prior to the explosion had stopped in multiple ports in the Persian Gulf to drop off vehicles. The Helios Ray arrived in Dubai on Sunday for repairs and an inspection, and it remains unclear what caused the blast.

On Sunday night, Syrian state media reported several airstrikes took place near Damascus, with air defense systems intercepting most of the missiles. Israeli media says the airstrikes were against Iranian targets and carried out in response to the ship attack. The Israeli military declined to comment to AP.

Iran has pinned several recent attacks inside the country on Israel, including an explosion last summer at a nuclear facility and the killing of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the founder of Iran's military nuclear program. Catherine Garcia

1:17 a.m.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sees a way Republicans can win back the House, Senate, and White House: Ditch former President Donald Trump.

During an appearance Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, Cassidy warned his party that if it does not shift its focus to the issues, GOP candidates will lose in upcoming elections. "Political campaigns are about winning," Cassidy said. "Our agenda does not move forward unless we win. We need a candidate who can not only win himself or herself, but we also have to have someone who lifts all boats. And that's clearly not happened over the last four years."

Cassidy — one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — does not think Trump will be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. He said Republicans need to connect with voters on "those issues that are important to the American people" if they want to win the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election, not worry about "putting one person on a pedestal and making that one person our focal point. If we idolize one person, we will lose. And that's kind of clear from the last election." Catherine Garcia

12:41 a.m.

When his surfboard drifted away from him during a November surfing session, Lee Brogan thought it was gone forever. Instead, it was found more than 400 miles away by a woman intent on getting the surfboard back to its owner.

Brogan lost the surfboard while at Runswick Bay in northeastern England. It ended up traveling across the North Sea, washing up in the village of Skeld in the Shetland Islands. On Dec. 28, Stephanie Riise and her partner Jake Anderson found the surfboard on the beach, and Riise immediately posted photos of it on a Facebook page called Shetland Seashore Discoveries.

Riise told The Scotsman she was hoping the owner would quickly claim it, and within an hour she received a message that the board belonged to Brogan. It was "unbelievable" how fast it all came together, Riise said, and once a "shocked" Brogan contacted her the next morning with proof that it was his surfboard, they worked on a plan to get it back to him.

Joel Friedlander, a local courier, ended up packing the surfboard in the back of his truck, and dropping it off at Brogan's house — the trip took 18 hours, including a 12-hour ferry crossing. Brogan was so excited to see the surfboard that it "was like a child at Christmas," Friedlander told The Scotsman. The surfboard has a few dings and needs to be painted in some spots, but considering the long journey, it's in good shape. Everyone is content now that the surfboard is back where it belongs, and Riise said that seeing Brogan "so thankful and appreciative has really made it worthwhile." Catherine Garcia

February 28, 2021

Andra Day just scored a lead drama actress Golden Globe, becoming only the second Black woman to do so in history.

At Sunday's Golden Globes, Day won the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama for The United States vs. Billie Holiday. She's just the second Black winner of this prize, the first being Whoopi Goldberg, who won in 1986 for The Color Purple.

In fact, throughout the almost 80-year history of the Golden Globes, there have only ever been 12 Black nominees in this category, according to Gold Derby. Another one of the 12 came this year, as Viola Davis was also nominated for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and previous Black nominees include Diana Ross, Halle Berry, and Cynthia Erivo.

The Golden Globes have long been criticized over a lack of diversity at the show, and it was recently revealed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that selects the winners, doesn't have a single Black member. During Sunday's show, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association acknowledged that the organization has "work to do." Brendan Morrow

February 28, 2021

Nomadland just made history at the Golden Globes.

The film from Chloé Zhao won the top prize of Best Motion Picture — Drama at Sunday's Golden Globes, becoming the first movie directed by a woman to ever win this award, according to Variety. Female-directed films have previously won Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, most recently Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, but never in the drama category.

The Golden Globes, which have for years been criticized for failing to recognize female directors, already made history in 2021 by nominating three women for Best Director, the most ever in one year. In addition to Zhao, who won the award, Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell and One Night in Miami's Regina King were also nominated. King's film, however, was one of a number of movies with a Black ensemble snubbed for a best picture nomination by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group that doesn't have a single Black member.

Nomadland might be on track to also win Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards, although it wouldn't be the Oscars' first Best Picture winner from a female director, as Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker won in 2010. That year, Golden Globes voters gave their top drama prize to James Cameron's Avatar instead. Brendan Morrow

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