Weekly News Bites #020 | IRS whistleblower comes forward, Target get's the Budweiser treatment, & Music icon dies
All of the top stories 📰 of the week in small bites.
It’s FRIDAY, May 26! YAY
Some of the stories this week!
IRS Whistleblower Accuses DOJ of Obstructing Hunter Biden Probe, Raises Concerns of Differential Treatment.
U.S. President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy are nearing a deal to cut spending and raise the government's debt ceiling.
Black Lives Matter's Global Network Foundation faced financial challenges last year, finishing with a deficit of $8.6 million.
Target has faced significant financial losses after social media users called for a boycott of the company.
Social media use among children and teens poses a significant mental health risk, warns U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a new advisory.
China is preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant, referred to as XBB, spreads rapidly across the country.
Music icon Tina Turner passed away at the age of 83 due to natural causes at her mansion in Küsnacht, Switzerland.
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→ IRS Whistleblower Accuses DOJ of Obstructing Hunter Biden Probe, Raises Concerns of Differential Treatment
Gary Shapley, a veteran Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, has come forward as a whistleblower, accusing the Department of Justice (DOJ) of obstructing the investigation into Hunter Biden's financial affairs. Shapley, who has 14 years of experience with the IRS, alleges that the DOJ intentionally deviated from standard procedures and purposefully delayed or neglected certain crucial steps in the probe. In an interview with CBS News, Shapley expressed concerns about the apparent preferential treatment given to the case, suggesting that it was being shielded to favor the president's son. As a result of his decision to go public with his accusations, Shapley was recently removed from the investigation and is set to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee in a closed-door meeting.
The focus of the investigation reportedly revolves around allegations of Hunter Biden's failure to pay taxes on earnings derived from overseas business deals. Shapley emphasized that his actions are not politically motivated and that he felt compelled to blow the whistle on what he perceived as mishandling of the probe.
It is worth noting that, as of now, no charges have been filed against Hunter Biden. However, the allegations made by Shapley have sparked criticism and raised concerns about potential differential treatment within the IRS.
In a separate but related incident, the IRS is now facing scrutiny and calls for transparency following the examination of journalist Matt Taibbi's 2018 tax return. The House Judiciary Committee obtained information from the IRS, revealing that the agency initiated the examination on Christmas Eve, just three weeks after Taibbi exposed sensitive documents about government officials pressuring Twitter to censor content. This timing has raised questions about the IRS's actions and possible motives in relation to Taibbi's reporting. Remarkably, Taibbi, who did not owe any taxes and was, in fact, entitled to a refund, received no prior notification of the examination until an IRS agent unexpectedly visited his home years later.
These incidents involving both the Hunter Biden investigation and Matt Taibbi's tax examination have prompted calls for further disclosure and an examination of potential differential treatment within the IRS. However, the DOJ, IRS, and US Attorney's Office have all declined to comment on these matters, leaving many unanswered questions surrounding the actions and motivations of the agencies involved.
→ The Texas House of Representatives Republican-led General Investigating Committee has advanced articles of impeachment against Attorney General Ken Paxton. After months of investigation, the committee recommended impeachment based on allegations of misconduct and potential crimes. The state House could vote on the impeachment recommendation as early as Friday, and if it passes with a two-thirds majority, Paxton would have to step down from his position until his trial in the state Senate. Four former state prosecutors commissioned by the Texas House presented several accusations against Paxton, including accepting bribes from a real estate developer and subsequently firing deputies who reported it. In 2016, a state grand jury indicted Paxton for securities fraud. The timing of the impeachment recommendation coincides with Paxton's call for the resignation of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, accusing him of presiding over the chamber while intoxicated.
→ U.S. President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy are nearing a deal to cut spending and raise the government's debt ceiling. The agreement would establish the overall amount for discretionary programs, with the two sides being $70 billion apart on a total figure well over $1 trillion. The negotiations continue, with disagreements over where the cuts should be made. The Treasury Department has warned of the potential inability to cover obligations by June 1, but selling debt suggests the deadline may not be immediate. A U.S. default could have severe global financial consequences and trigger a recession. Both parties face challenges in securing agreement within their respective chambers.
→ The US Supreme Court has declined to address Section 230, the liability shield protecting internet companies from third-party content lawsuits. The court resolved cases against Twitter and Google without narrowing the provision, leaving it intact until Congress acts or another case reaches the court. Calls for reform have grown over time, but lawmakers are deadlocked on how to reform it. The court emphasized that legislative action is required for any adjustments to Section 230. Industry groups consider the decision a victory for online free speech and the ability of companies to serve users.
→ Texas Legislature bans DEI programs at state universities, becoming the second state after Florida to do so. Critics worry the law could harm major institutions and drive away minority students. The bill mandates no DEI offices and prohibits diversity consideration in hiring. Supporters of DEI programs argue they are essential for fair treatment of marginalized groups. Opponents view them as racist. The law raises concerns about retaining diverse student populations and attracting professors and research funding. Along party lines, the approval raises debates about the state's commitment to progress.
→ Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign launch on Twitter Spaces faced technical difficulties but still drew over 600,000 listeners. Despite audio disruptions, DeSantis delivered his campaign kick-off speech with Elon Musk's support. DeSantis chose the platform due to Musk's commitment to free speech. Musk praised Twitter Spaces as a way to shape the narrative in contrast to traditional media. DeSantis raised over 1 million in campaign funds following the Twitter Space.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made a strong entry into the presidential race by raising an impressive $8.2 million within the first 24 hours of fundraising. This amount surpasses the $6.3 million raised by President Joe Biden during the same timeframe at the beginning of his campaign. While former President Donald Trump did not disclose his fundraising totals beyond the first 24 hours of his 2024 campaign announcement in November, it is believed that DeSantis' fundraising outperforms Trump's initial efforts. Trump's campaign had reported raising $9.5 million over the course of its first six weeks, highlighting the remarkable success of DeSantis' fundraising launch, which has far exceeded Trump's early fundraising in late 2022.
→ Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, launched his presidential campaign this week. This comes after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a protégé of Mitch McConnell and backed by former President Trump, won a GOP primary and aims to become Kentucky's first black governor.
Senator Scott, along with conservative talk show host Larry Elder, is one of the black candidates in the presidential race. Scott's campaign begins with a substantial $21.9 million in campaign funds from his Senate campaign account. The emergence of black Republican candidates highlights a growing trend of Republicans making inroads with black men during the Trump era. Despite facing challenges, Scott and Cameron have the potential to diversify the Republican coalition if their campaigns gain traction.
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→ Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has approved a red flag law aimed at preventing individuals at risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms. The law comes in response to the state's second mass school shooting and follows similar legislation passed in Minnesota. Under the new law, family members, police, mental health professionals, roommates, and former dating partners can petition a judge to remove firearms from individuals deemed a threat temporarily. Michigan becomes the 21st state to implement a red flag law, but concerns remain about enforcement. Several local sheriffs have expressed reluctance to enforce the law, citing constitutional concerns. Michigan Democrats, in control of all levels of state government, have plans to advance further gun safety measures.
→ Black Lives Matter's Global Network Foundation faced financial challenges last year, finishing with a deficit of $8.6 million while paying out millions to organizers and relatives of controversial co-founder Patrisse Cullors. Despite raising $90 million, the organization spent roughly two-thirds of its funds, with significant amounts going to companies with close ties to the group. Additionally, over $4 million was donated to black activist groups, including the Tamir Rice Foundation and the Love Not Blood Campaign, both of which had criticized BLM in the past.
→ A 19-year-old alleged neo-Nazi, Sai Varshith Kandula, has been ordered to be held in federal jail pending a detention hearing next week after he rammed a rented U-Haul truck into security barriers near the White House. Kandula, from Missouri, had allegedly planned the attack for six months, expressing a desire to "get to the White House, seize power, and be put in charge of the nation." He faced charges including threatening to kill the President, assault with a dangerous weapon, trespassing, and destruction of federal property. Still, the charges were later downgraded to the depredation of property. Kandula, who is not a US citizen, was apprehended after crashing into the barriers, but no one was injured, and no explosives were found in the vehicle. He allegedly carried a Nazi flag and expressed admiration for Hitler. Investigators later found a "green book" in which Kandula detailed his plans for entering the White House.
→ Recent surveys indicate a decline in belief in God and religious affiliation among Americans. Around half of Americans express certainty about God's existence, and 34% never attend church, a five-decade high. However, belief in life after death remains relatively stable, with almost three-quarters of Americans believing in it. The decline in religious affiliation is attributed to generational changes, changing societal norms, and reduced stigma around rejecting religion. Despite this trend, the majority of Americans still profess some belief in God or a higher power, and the United States is still considered a religious country compared to global standards.
→ Target has faced significant financial losses after social media users called for a boycott of the company. The controversy emerged due to Target's release of the "PRIDE" collection, featuring LGBTQ-friendly clothing for children. In just a week, the company's stock dropped 12%, resulting in a loss of $9 billion in market value. Target responded to the backlash by removing certain items from its stores and making changes to its LGBTQ+ merchandise nationwide. The company cited threats and confrontational behavior as reasons for these adjustments. Some customers knocked down Pride displays, approached workers angrily, and posted threatening videos on social media. Target CEO Brian Cornell initially defended the LGBTQ-friendly merchandise but later acknowledged the need for adjustments. Target declined to specify which items were removed but mentioned swimsuits for trans women and designs by a London-based company called Abprallen, which specializes in the occult- and satanic-themed LGBTQ+ clothing. In response to confrontations, Target relocated its Pride merchandise from the front to the back of some stores in Southern areas. Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren compared Target's situation to Bud Light's decline in sales after a boycott over a controversial marketing campaign involving transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
→ Louisiana House passes bill banning sex reassignment care for minors. The legislation prohibits hormone treatments, surgery, and puberty-blocking drugs for individuals under 18 seeking to change their assigned sex. Healthcare professionals face penalties for providing such care. Supporters argue it protects children from making life-altering decisions prematurely, while opponents stress potential life-saving benefits for those experiencing gender dysphoria. LGBTQ+ advocates express concerns as several states debate banning access to such care for minors.
→ Elon Musk's brain-implant company Neuralink has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its first-in-human clinical trial. The FDA's green light is a significant milestone for Neuralink, which had faced previous challenges in obtaining approval. Although Neuralink did not provide specific details about the study or its goals, the company expressed its belief that the approval is a crucial step towards using its technology to help many people. Elon Musk has envisioned that brain implants could potentially address various conditions, such as obesity, autism, depression, and schizophrenia, while also enabling capabilities like web browsing and telepathy. In the past, Neuralink had faced delays in initiating human trials, and the FDA had raised concerns related to the device's battery, wire migration within the brain, and safe extraction without damaging brain tissue. Neuralink, founded in 2016, is under investigation by various federal agencies, including probes into animal testing oversight and potential animal-welfare violations.
→ Social media use among children and teens poses a significant mental health risk, warns U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a new advisory. The report acknowledges that social media can positively and negatively affect kids, but studies show that it can exacerbate eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. Murthy calls for urgent action to create safe and healthy digital environments. The report also outlines recommendations for policymakers, tech companies, parents and caregivers, young social media users, and researchers.
→ China's youth unemployment rate has surged to a record high of 20.4% in April, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. The root cause is a shortage of high-paying, high-skilled jobs that match the expectations of educated young people. Although the Chinese government has taken steps to tackle the imbalance, including encouraging state-owned firms to hire more graduates, the structural challenges in the job market for Chinese youth persist. This issue could impede China's shift towards consumption-driven growth and lead to social unrest.
→ China is preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant, referred to as XBB, spreads rapidly across the country. Health adviser Zhong Nanshan predicts that weekly infections could reach 40 million by the end of this month and peak at around 65 million cases by the end of June. China has approved two vaccines for the XBB variant, and two more are set to be released soon. However, concerns have been raised about limited testing and underreporting, potentially leading to an underestimation of the true number of cases. The World Health Organization recommends including the XBB.1.5 variant in future COVID-19 vaccines. The US FDA will consider this recommendation in June. While existing vaccines provide protection against severe illness, they offer less protection against infection over time. The FDA is leaning towards endorsing an annual single shot for most individuals, with additional doses for high-risk groups.
→ The pre-trial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in March on espionage charges, has been extended for another three months. The FSB security service accused Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, of collecting secrets about Russia's military-industrial complex, a charge he and his employer denied. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison. The case comes amid strained relations between the U.S. and Russia, with the U.S. State Department expressing concern over his detention and calling for his immediate release. The Wall Street Journal maintains that the accusations against Gershkovich are false. The U.S. has vowed to work towards repatriating Gershkovich and another American citizen convicted of spying charges in Russia in 2020.
→ Netflix now requires all account users to be in the same household and location as the primary account holder. Non-household members can join for an additional fee, with options starting at $6.99 per month. Primary account holders will set a household location, but subscribers can still use their accounts while traveling. Non-household members will be identified based on factors like Wi-Fi usage and asked to transfer their profiles to a new subscription. This rollout has led to increased revenue for Netflix and follows successful implementations in several other countries.
→ Music icon Tina Turner passed away at the age of 83 due to natural causes at her mansion in Küsnacht, Switzerland. Her spokesperson confirmed her death, expressing sadness and acknowledging her immense impact on fans worldwide. While the news came as a shock to many, Turner had been open about her health struggles. She had recently disclosed her battle with kidney disease, emphasizing the danger she faced by not seeking proper treatment. In a documentary called "Tina," she also revealed her traumatic experiences of domestic abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, a stroke in 2013, intestinal cancer in 2016, and kidney failure in 2017. Turner's legacy as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll lives on through her timeless music.