Good morning and Happy Friday! Some friendly advice. If you see any articles on social media today that may seem a little too good or crazy to be true....it's because they probably are. Happy April Fools' Day!
We promise, everything in this issue is real. Here's what we're working on today, no joke:
Biden is releasing 1 million barrels of oil from the reserves everyday, but will it help bring down prices at the pump?
The latest in Ukraine during start of the sixth week of war, including Russian forces leaving Chernobyl
Tech companies behaving badly: Facebook's scheme to turn us against TikTok & Amazon's undercover anti-union campaign
The U.S. House will light up marijuana legislation today. But will the US Senate also take a drag?
The Will Smith saga continues: How close he was to being arrested and who stopped it? (Plus AUDIO from Chris Rock's comedy show where he talks about what happened.)
Final Four and Grammy's weekend. Plus our picks for What We're Watching/ Reading / Eating.
A Ramadan Mubarak to all those who celebrate. The holiday begins this weekend.
I Make Oil Moves: President Biden announced plans to release up to 180 million barrels of oil from the nation's emergency reserve-- or one million barrels of oil a day for the next six months-- as a way to try to bring down near-record high prices at the gas pump. This will be the largest release ever from the nation's oil reserves. Here's Biden's FULL PLAN.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is effectively the nation's emergency oil supply--about 727 million barrels located in Texas and Louisiana (enough for about a month of total US consumption). It was created after the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s to prevent the US from having to suffer a shortage again. Biden has tapped the supply three times in the last six months. This latest plan would use 25% of our reserve.
Biden is also calling out the oil industry to do more: “Enough of lavishing excessive profits on investors and payouts and buybacks...It’s time to step up for the good of your country, the good of the world, to invest in immediate production that we need to respond to Vladimir Putin." ~ The Hill
Will it work? The president says the release could make gas prices come down between 10 cents and 35 cents per gallon, and some analysts say it could bring down costs even more. As of Thursday, the national average for a gallon of gas was $4.22, just 11 cents off the record reached earlier this month, per AAA.
There's a but: Many analysts do not view those savings as a long term "win for drivers or the country." One analyst tells MarketWatch: Any of the SPR releases are one-time, feel-good measures to mitigate supply disruption. It does nothing to increase supply on a long-term basis and get more oil out of the ground.”
And remember, we need to restock the reserve and may have to...wait for it...buy more foreign oil to do so since we are at full production.
Biden had to do SOMETHING: Or at least, look like he is doing something. A recent NBC News poll shows President Biden's approval rating at the lowest levels yet, 40%. Even more worrisome for Democrats, only 33% approve of Biden's handling of the economy.
Presidents have limited ability to control gas prices, but Americans still blame the commander-in-chief when they rise.
ICYMI: Check out our special Gas Prices 101 edition, where we look at the factors that actually affect the price we pay at the pump.
An oil storage depot is on fire in a Russian city across the border after what the local governor said was an air strike by two Ukrainian helicopters. Ukraine said they couldn't confirm or deny reports that they conducted the attack. ~BBC News
The reported attack comes as Putin's forces are continuing to shell targets around Kyiv, despite promises to scale back military activity near the Ukrainian capital.
Ukrainian officials said their armed forces are moving forward against Russian military units around Kyiv, as the Russians regroup after weeks of heavy losses. The Ukrainians are now fighting to take back the towns of Bucha and Hostomel after taking back the city of Irpin to the northwest of Kyiv this week. ~Wall Street Journal
Meanwhile, Russian forces have withdrawn from Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. The Ukrainian agency overseeing the plant released a statement confirming that the Russian "occupiers" had left.
Why the sudden departure? Earlier this week, workers at the site told Reuters that "Russian soldiers had driven without radiation protection through the Red Forest, the most radioactively contaminated part of the zone around Chernobyl, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust. The agency overseeing the plant says as a result of their concerns about radiation, 'almost a riot began to brew among the soldiers,' suggesting this was the reason for their unexpected departure." ~ Reuters
Facebook vs TikTok: A bombshell report in the Washington Post found that Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has been paying one of the country's biggest Republican consulting firms--called Targeted Victory-- to orchestrate a campaign to turn the public against TikTok.
The campaign includes "promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook." They'd drop "trend" stories in local news outlets across the country as part of a smear campaign. The goal was to "get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using," according to an internal email the Post obtained.
One example: Targeted Victory worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge” in local news, touting a local news report on the alleged challenge in Hawaii. In reality, no such challenge existed.
Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told investors in February that TikTok was a major obstacle, saying, “People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly.” The company has also replicated TikTok's short-video concept with Instagram and Facebook "Reels."
Bottom line: "These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users." ~ Washington Post
Amazon vs Union Efforts: Meanwhile, Amazon tapped a Democratic polling firm to help the company stop a unionization effort at its Staten Island warehouse. According to CNBC, Global Strategy Group has been working for Amazon for months to produce anti-union materials. The firm has down work for the largest progressive super PAC in the country--Priorities USA. ~ CNBC
Staten Island, NY: Employees at the fulfillment center, JFK8, began voting last week and the National Labor Relations Board is in the process of counting votes. At this point, about 57% of workers appeared to have voted in favor. ~ Reuters
Bessemer, AL: Meanwhile, workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse seem to have rejected unionization in their do-over election, however it's still too close to call. There are 993 "no" votes, 875 "yes" votes, and more than 400 contested ballots. Within the next few weeks there will be a hearing to see if any of the contested ballots should be counted. ~ NPR
Yes, we're still talking about this nearly a week later. Turns out, Will Smith may NOT have been formally asked to leave the Oscars ceremony Sunday after running on stage, slapping Chris Rock, and shouting expletives from his seat. Earlier this week, The Academy released a statement saying they asked Smith to leave the ceremony but he refused. Smith's people are disputing that. ~TMZ
In an interview with ABC News, Oscars Producer Will Packer said that the LAPD were "prepared" to arrest Smith for "battery," but Rock was "dismissive" about pressing charges.
More from Packer: "(The LAPD) said we will go get him; we are prepared. We're prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him.' They were laying out the options, and as they were talking, Chris was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, 'No, I'm fine.' He was like, 'No, no, no.'"~ABC News
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Academy leadership spoke with Smith’s reps backstage about potentially asking him to leave the Dolby Theatre. According to those sources, a rep then went out to speak with Smith "but didn’t relay any kind of official edict."
A Reluctant Rock: Rock returned to the stage in Boston over the last two nights and publicly addressed the incident for the first time.
Last night, he tried to shut down a fan who yelled “f–k Will Smith" for his latest set. “Someone yelled out ‘f–k Will Smith’ and [Rock] went, ‘No, no, no,'” according to an audience member who spoke to the New York Post. “[Rock] said it like five or six times as he walked across the stage,” the woman recalled. ~NY Post
In new audio from Wednesday's show, you can first hear Rock joking, "How was your weekend?" He then said, "I don't have a bunch of s*** to say about that, so if you came here for that... I had written a whole show before this weekend. I'm still processing what happened, so at some point I'll talk about that s***. It'll be serious. It'll be funny, but right now I'm going to tell some jokes."
Proponents argue that legalizing marijuana at the federal level will simply reflect most states’ existing policies that allow it in some form. At least 18 states, two territories and DC allow cannabis for adult, non-medical use. And 37 states allow pot for medical use.
The House will likely pass this but the big question remains in the Senate where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer supports it but will need a combination of 60 Democrats and Republicans for a filibuster-proof majority. A recent poll shows that nearly 2/3 Americans feel marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. (The Hill)
The findings come on top of research showing that people who are pregnant or gave birth recently and became infected are especially prone to getting seriously ill from covid-19. And covid has been found to increase the risk of pregnancy complications, such as premature births. (Washington Post)
About 185,000 customers were without electricity Thursday morning in the wake of the storms. The two people who were killed were inside the same mobile home. The storms continued to race toward the East on Thursday. (USA Today)
Rates are up more than a percentage point and a half since the start of the year, the largest three-month increase since 1987. Higher borrowing costs have stretched the budgets of prospective homebuyers and, along with soaring prices, shut some out of the market altogether. (Bloomberg)
More than two decades after the draft human genome was celebrated as a scientific milestone, scientists have finally finished the job. The first complete, gap-free sequence of a human genome has been published in an advance expected to pave the way for new insights into health and what makes our species unique. (The Guardian)
What We're Watching: It's a live TV kind of weekend. Final 4 on Saturday. Grammy's on Sunday. Also, getting ready to nerd out on Ken Burns' new Benjamin Franklin documentary--set to premier Monday on PBS.
What We're Reading: "Why People Are Acting So Weird, Crime, 'unruly passenger' incidents, and other types of strange behavior have all soared recently." (The Atlantic)
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