March 26, 2021

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) shared a photo of himself signing a new bill to restrict voting access in the state, it featured Republican lawmakers gazing fondly upon him, as well as a prominent painting in the background.

The bill has been criticized as a measure that will largely affect Black voters and other voters of color, with groups like the ACLU arguing it amounts to voter suppression among already-disenfranchised groups. Kemp has denied that the bill seeks to suppress votes.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch agreed, calling it the state's "new, new Jim Crow." Bunch also reports that the painting centered in Kemp's photo is actually a painting of "a notorious slave plantation in Wilkes County."

In a Twitter thread explaining his research, Bunch notes that the painting of the Callaway Plantation "is a monument to Georgia's history of brutal white supremacy that unfortunately didn't disappear when Mariah Callaway and the other slaves were emancipated in 1865." He draws a line from emancipation, to harsh Jim Crow laws of the 20th century, to today's 253 restrictive bills tightening voting rights, making the presence of the portrait particularly "shocking."

"The irony of Kemp signing this bill -- that makes it illegal to give water to voters waiting on the sometimes 10-hour lines that state policies create in mostly Black precincts -- under the image of a brutal slave plantation is almost too much to bear," wrote Bunch. Summer Meza

12:16 a.m.

The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division sent a letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann (R) on Wednesday detailing concerns it has over private contractors performing an audit of the November presidential election in Maricopa County.

Last month, the GOP-controlled Senate used subpoenas to get the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County during the election, as well as voting machines and private and public voter information. The Senate hired private contractors to conduct the audit, now underway in Phoenix, and wants a recount of all ballots and review of the voting machines and voter information to search for evidence of potential fraud, The Arizona Republic reports.

The main contractor is Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm based in Florida whose CEO spread "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theories ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo filed a lawsuit to try to stop the audit, saying it lacked transparency and clear procedures on how to protect the ballots, and several civil rights organizations have asked the Department of Justice to send federal monitors to Phoenix to oversee the audit.

The letter from the Justice Department to Fann was sent by Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division. She said the DOJ is concerned about reports that the ballots, voting machines, and voting information are not secure and at risk of being "lost, stolen, altered, compromised, or destroyed." Additionally, in its work plan, Cyber Ninjas told the Senate it will contact voters via phone and in person to "collect information of whether the individual voted in the election." This could be seen as voter intimidation, Karlan wrote, which is illegal.

Karlan asked Fann to respond with "the steps that the Arizona Senate will take to ensure that violations of federal law do not occur" during the audit. Fann told The Arizona Republic the Senate's attorney is working on a response to Karlan. Catherine Garcia

May 5, 2021

SpaceX's Starship rocket prototype had its first successful test flight on Wednesday, touching down safely in south Texas after flying more than six miles over the Gulf of Mexico.

The 160-foot rocket is made of stainless steel and bullet shaped. Four earlier test flights of Starship prototypes all ended with explosions taking place either before, during, or immediately after landing, The Associated Press reports. SpaceX aims to use Starship to transport astronauts to the moon and people to Mars. Catherine Garcia

May 5, 2021

With highly-transmissible variants spreading across the state and more kids taking part in face-to-face activities, children now make up 26.4 percent of all active COVID-19 cases in Colorado.

Children between 0 to 19 make up 16.57 percent of overall infections in Colorado since the start of the pandemic, ABC News reports; 847 kids have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and 13 have died. Dr. Sean O'Leary of the University of Colorado School of Medicine told the network that since children under 16 aren't eligible for any COVID-19 vaccines, "that's a group that is completely prone to getting infected at this point."

Last week, there were 210 active outbreaks at schools in Colorado, the highest number since early December, when there were 211 outbreaks, the Denver Post reports. There are four variants in Colorado, and 49 percent of all cases in the state are of the highly-contagious B.1.1.7 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

Nationwide, more than 3.78 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, about 13.8 percent of all reported cases. Catherine Garcia

May 5, 2021

Two college students from California were found guilty on Wednesday of killing an Italian policeman in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 21, and Gabriel Natale-Hjorth, 20, were accused of stabbing to death 35-year-old Vice Brig. Mario Cerciello Rega while they were vacationing in Rome. On the night of July 25, the men — friends from high school — had been ripped off by a drug dealer, and they stole the backpack of a middleman who gave them an over-the-counter pain medicine instead of cocaine. Elder and Natale-Hjorth set up a meeting to give the man his backpack in exchange for their money, but instead encountered Cerciello Rega and his partner, Andrea Varriale.

Elder said he thought Cerciello Rega was a drug dealer who was trying to "strangle or choke me," but Varriale testified that both officers showed Elder and Natale-Hjorth their badges. Cerciello Rega was stabbed 11 times, and Varriale said that blood was pouring out of his body like "a fountain."

In a statement, Elder apologized to Cerciello Rega's family and friends, adding that if he could "go back and change things, I would do it now, but I can't." Elder's attorney, Renato Borzone, has promised to appeal, saying it is "unheard of" to give two young men life sentences. "Italy's justice is strong with the weak, and weak with the strong," Borzone added. Catherine Garcia

May 5, 2021

The Republican Party is at a turning point, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) writes in an opinion article published in The Washington Post on Wednesday evening, and members must "decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution."

Cheney is receiving backlash from the GOP for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as well as pushing back against his false claims of election fraud. Trump, she writes, is "seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that makes democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this."

Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, called herself a "conservative Republican," and said the "most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law." The Electoral College "has spoken," she added, and "more than 60 state and federal courts have rejected the former president's arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud."

Republicans now have to decide whether to join "Trump's crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have," Cheney said. He has "never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people," she continued. "This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system."

The path forward is clear, Cheney said. Republicans need to back the Justice Department's criminal investigations of the Jan. 6 attack, support a bipartisan review by a commission with subpoena power, and "stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality." Trump is trying to "undermine the foundation of our democracy," Cheney said, and with history and our children watching, "we must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

May 5, 2021

The United States will advocate for waiving COVID-19 vaccine patent protections in discussions with the World Trade Organization, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced Wednesday.

The Biden administration "believes strongly in intellectual property protections," Tai said in a statement, but the White House will back the waiver given the "extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic." The administration has faced pressure to support the measure, which is aimed at increasing vaccinations around the world — especially in countries experiencing a surge in infections, like India — without having to rely solely on exports.

Proponents were pleased with the news, but shortly after Tai's announcement, stocks of pharmaceutical companies that have produced vaccines, including Moderna and Pfizer, plummeted.

It remains unclear if the protections will actually be waived since all 164 members of the WTO will need to agree on the matter, but backing from the U.S. should certainly move the needle. Tim O'Donnell

May 5, 2021

Your favorite pandemic hate watch is back for season two.

The first time around, Netflix's Emily in Paris was met with disdain for the titular character, confusion around the title itself, and a real-life scandal involving the Golden Globes and an alleged trip to Paris for Hollywood Foreign Press Association members. The show's creator, Darren Star, claims season one was not a faux pas, but the first step in character development. In season two, "Emily will embrace the city a little bit more," Star told Variety. "I think she will be more assimilated, in terms of living in Paris and stepping up to the challenges of learning the language," he said.

Whether viewers are ready or not, Emily in Paris is back — filming began Monday in France. À bientôt! Taylor Watson

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