BREYER TO RETIRE, BIDEN WILL CHOOSE BLACK WOMAN TO TAKE HIS PLACE: In what will be one of the most monumental endeavors of Joe Biden's presidency, the retirement of Stephen Breyer sets the stage for an immensely important decision by the President. Breyer's seat may be the only one that Biden fills on the Supreme Court, and it may not be one he fills at all -- if Republicans retake the Senate before the President's choice for a replacement is confirmed. On the campaign trail, Biden vowed to put a Black woman on the high court, which would be an historic first. A short list of potential nominees had been circulating Washington well before Breyer's retirement plans became public, and officials in the White House Counsel's office built files on various candidates in anticipation of a potential vacancy. Now, those efforts will ramp up significantly and the President will likely hold one on one meetings before announcing his pick. If Breyer's retirement stays on schedule, that will give six months for the current Senate to take care of this properly.
THIS DUDE NEEDS TO BE FOUND, WITH THE QUICKNESS: Early Wednesday morning WRAL employee Erin Simanskis passed away from injuries she received after being hit by a van on Western Boulevard Friday night. Simanskis was driving home from work during snow and icy weather on Friday night when someone from behind hit her. While outside of her car to exchange information with the driver who hit her, someone driving a white van hit Simanskis and fled from the scene. The van that hit Simanskis was not stolen, but officials have still been unable to locate the driver who ran away from the scene that night. Police did release 911 calls from the scene of the accident that shed new light on the moments right after the crash. A man in his garage on Western Boulevard said he heard a crash and ran into his yard and saw people injured in the road where three vehicles had crashed, including a white van. He called 911. "Yes, it's a white Nissan NV1500 van parked in the middle with its hazard on," the man told the 911 operator. The driver of the van ran away from the crash after hitting Simanskis, WRAL's assignment editor and research assistant for 5 On Your Side. The van was not stolen, but they don't know who was driving it? Something is screwy about that.
ROBESON COUNTY IS BEING BURIED IN COVID CASES: For the third straight week, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Robeson County has set a record. During the seven-day period from Jan. 18 through Monday, 3,525 new cases were reported by the Robeson County Health Department. This is a 900-case increase from the 2,625 cases reported from Jan. 11-17. The number of virus-related deaths in the county also spiked in the last seven days, with 12 reported by the Health Department between Jan. 18 and Monday, up from three between Jan. 11-17. There have now been 469 total virus-related deaths in Robeson County. Even as the number of new cases represents a 34% increase from the previous one-week record, county Health Department Director Bill Smith says there are likely more virus cases that are not included in that count. The county’s testing positivity rate was 35.2% over the last 14 days, seven times the stated 5% goal. About one-third of all positive tests were to children age 17 and under, Smith said. Even with the statistics being incomplete, approximately 1 in 33 Robeson County residents has tested positive for COVID-19 in since Jan. 18. There have been 9,159 new cases reported since Christmas as the omicron variant surge has taken place in the county, state and nationally; this accounts for approximately 1 in every 12.5 Robeson County residents. Jesus, those numbers are breathtaking. Literally.
IT LOOKS LIKE THE FED MIGHT ACTUALLY RAISE INTEREST RATES: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday touted the strength of the labor market and said it is turning to tackle inflation with more urgency, moves that represent a major shift in central bank policy as the economy evolves throughout the coronavirus pandemic. “I think there’s quite a bit of room to raise interest rates without threatening the labor market,” Chair Jerome H. Powell said in an afternoon news conference. “This is by many measures a historically tight labor market.” Following the central bank’s two-day policy meeting, Powell cast a historic recovery against the economy’s major challenges. A record 6.4 million jobs came back into the economy last year pushing the jobless rate below 4 percent, far surpassing expectations. Stimulus from Congress and the Fed has helped bolster growth, and the economy as a whole has stayed resilient to various waves of the pandemic. But this rapid growth, fueled by a burst of government spending, supply chain challenges, and rapid wage hikes has pushed inflation to 40 year highs. Price increases have seeped into just about every corner of the economy despite the Fed’s initial expectation that higher costs would be narrowly tied to sectors rocked by the pandemic. That complicated dynamic leaves the Fed in a difficult position. It must attempt to cool the increase in inflation, but do so without harming jobs or even causing a recession. They've been hugging zero for way too long already, it is time for this, too.
ONE OF ELON MUSK'S ROCKETS WILL SOON CRASH INTO THE MOON: The booster was originally launched from Florida in February 2015 as part of an interplanetary mission to send a space weather satellite on a million-mile journey. But after completing a long burn of its engines and sending the NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory on its way to the Lagrange point – a gravity-neutral position four times further than the moon and in direct line with the sun – the rocket’s second stage became derelict. At this stage it was high enough that it did not have enough fuel to return to Earth’s atmosphere but also “lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system”, meteorologist Eric Berger explained in a recent post on Ars Technica. “So it has been following a somewhat chaotic orbit since February 2015,” Berger added. Space observers believe the rocket – about four metric tonnes of “space junk” – is on course to intersect with the moon at a velocity of about 2.58km/s in a matter of weeks. Bill Gray, who writes software to track near-Earth objects, asteroids, minor planets, and comets, has said the Falcon 9’s upper stage will very likely hit the far side of the moon, near the equator, on 4 March. The data analyst said in a recent blog post that the object “made a close lunar flyby on January 5” but will make “a certain impact at March 4”. And who's going to clean that up?