Frustration is mounting in Texas, where ferocious winter weather has left millions of people without electricity and heat. Between 2 and 3 million people in Texas still had no power last night after nearly two full days, leaving them with little support against the biting temperatures. Water pipes are bursting, cutting off water supplies, and hours-long queues are snaking around grocery stores as people try to find food. Authorities in Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents to use water only to “sustain life”, with the water supply close to running out.
The outage came after historic levels of snow and bitterly cold temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to heat homes, causing the state’s power grid to collapse. But as with so many crises, the collapse didn’t hit evenly. Critical infrastructure was exempt from the blackouts, meaning residents in more affluent areas around these services still had power, and some skyscrapers stayed lit up as people in other areas struggled to stay warm. So who controls the power supply and how did this happen? Lauren Arantani answers key questions.
Across the US, the winter storms have also delayed the coronavirus vaccine rollout by forcing the cancellation of thousands of shots. The icy weather led to the closing of vaccination sites and delays to shipments, and the holdups are expected to last for days.
A Texas mayor resigned after telling residents to “get off your ass and take care of your own family” amid the devastation caused by the weather. Tom Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, posted in the local community Facebook group: “No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!”
Thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles have been rescued in a south Texas resort town, as bitter winter weather threatens their survival. Despite many people lacking basic amenities themselves, some have been pulling up in SUVs with up to 100 of the animals at a time.
There is a hearing about the GameStop stock saga in Congress today
Lawmakers are to question executives from the trading app Robinhood, Reddit and other key characters in the GameStop stock trading drama, in what is expected to be a fiery hearing in Congress today.
GameStop’s share price increased by 1,600% in January when small investors, organising on Reddit, deliberately hiked up its value. They did so because they rightly suspected that Wall Street hedge funds had bet the stock price would collapse, leading Wall Street to incur huge losses. However, the app the small investors had been using, Robinhood, briefly suspended trading in GameStop, sparking allegations that Wall Street had intervened to stop itself from losing more money. Still confused? Revisit this brief explainer.
Biden ushers in a new dawn in US migration policy – and in relations with Saudi Arabia
The White House and congressional Democrats will unveil legislation today that will overhaul the US immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. The plans will also raise the current caps on immigrant visas, while also working to address the “root causes” of migration to the US, with £4bn given over four years to fight corruption and reduce poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The Biden administration is also dramatically changing US relations with Saudi Arabia, saying the country must “change its approach” to the US. Biden’s team are also seeking to reduce direct contact between the president and the Saudi de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It makes for a sharp contrast with Donald Trump, who praised the prince and called him a “friend of mine”.
California is considering a bill that would decriminalise psychedelics in the state, a bold step towards ending the US’s war on drugs. The draft law also proposes removing criminal records for people convicted of possession or personal use of the substances, and creating a taskforce looking at oversight for the drugs’ use.
The justice department has accused North Korean officials of cyber-attacks to steal $1.3bn in crypto and traditional currencies from banks and other victims. The department filed a case against three military intelligence officials.
Facebook is in hot water with the Australian government over a botched news ban
Facebook botched the introduction of a news ban in Australia on Thursday morning, mistakenly banning state departments, charities, a leading politician and even its own Facebook page. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said Facebook had moved to “unfriend Australia”, and said the firm’s actions were “as arrogant as they were disappointing” – ironically, in a post on Facebook.
The ban was intended to block links to Australian publishers from being posted, and prevent Australian users from seeing or sharing content from any news outlet. It came in response to a proposed media bargaining code that would force Facebook and Google to negotiate payment with news sites for content. Even for a firm with a history of PR disasters, this latest saga reaches a new level, writes Emily Bell, arguing that the incident “managed to turn attention away from a flawed piece of legislation and on to its own reckless, opaque power.”
In other news …
The rightwing radio host Rush Limbaugh has died aged 70 after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer a year ago. Limbaugh was known for his searing, often nasty commentary on current affairs and politics, and undoubtedly changed the landscape of American media and politics. You can read his obituary here.
Japan has appointed a woman to head the Olympic committee after the last leader, the former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, resigned over derogatory comments made about women. Seiko Hashimoto, previously the country’s Olympics minister, takes over five months before the delayed Games are due to open.
Demi Lovato had three strokes and a heart attack after a drug overdose in 2018, she has revealed. The near fatal overdose left her with lasting effects including brain damage and blind spots in her vision that prevent her from driving.
Stat of the day: 130 countries have not received a single coronavirus vaccine dose
The UN has criticised the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of Covid vaccines, revealing that 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations while 130 countries have not received a single dose. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an urgent global vaccination plan to ensure more equitable distribution, saying: “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”
Don’t miss this: What you need to know about legal guardianship
A new film, I Care a Lot, explores the relatively unknown issue of legal guardianship, and sees characters lose control of their home, belongings and life decisions to a guardian. It might be fiction, but the film has more resonance than you might think. Thousands of Americans have elderly parents who have been “entrapped by little scrutinised guardianship programmes”, writes David Smith, who looks into the issue. The movie is reviewed by Peter Bradshaw here.
Last Thing: Trump’s Atlantic City casino was demolished in front of a cheering crowd
Donald Trump’s failed Atlantic City casino was demolished yesterday, in a symbol for many of the fall of the leader himself. Cheering crowds watched on as the building was reduced to rubble, having once been the epitome of a decade of excess and extreme wealth for Trump following its opening in 1984. Its run was marred by a string of bankruptcy filings, and it finally closed its doors in 2014 as the worst-performing casino in Atlantic City.
First Thing is delivered to thousands of inboxes every weekday. If you’re not already signed up, subscribe now.