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Texas warming center

People seeking shelter from below freezing temperatures rest inside a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. More than 4 million people in Texas still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts.

David J. Phillip

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: What The Snowstorms Say About Climate Change

Good afternoon! It’s Tuesday, and I hope y’all are staying warm and safe. My dog, Princess Leia, is not happy about wearing her booties outside in what looks like the ice planet of Hoth. Here’s what you need to know today.

(By the way, if you’d like this emailed to your inbox, you can sign up here.)

1. What the winter storm in Texas says about the cost of climate change

More than 5 million people across the U.S. were without power today after an Arctic blast plowed through central and southern parts of the country. A majority of the outages have been reported in Texas, where rolling blackouts have been ordered to preserve the integrity of the state’s power grid.

The crisis in Texas may offer a glimpse into the trouble ahead for power grids as the effects of climate change become more severe, reports The New York Times. When power grids were built, engineers factored in known weather conditions that posed a danger.

But climate change is ushering in more unpredictable and wild weather conditions, raising questions about the existing power infrastructure and how the U.S. can build more resilient ones.

“What makes this problem even harder is that we’re now in a world where, especially with climate change, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected,” said Jesse Jenkins, an engineer at Princeton University. [NYT]

Meanwhile in Chicago, four buildings have collapsed, raising questions about whether old roofs can withstand the impact of heavier snowstorms. [Chicago Tribune]

2. Biden hits the road to pitch pandemic relief

President Joe Biden will attend a nationally televised CNN town hall in Milwaukee tonight, and he is expected to pitch his $1.9 trillion economic relief package in an effort to boost public support as Republicans oppose the plan due to its hefty price tag.

The town hall will be moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and will include questions from Republican, Democratic and Independent voters. The event begins at 8 p.m. CT and is expected to last an hour. (Here’s how you can watch.)

The town hall is one of Biden’s “first official stops since taking office,” reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in this preview. [MJS]

Biden and congressional Democrats have a lot riding on this relief package, which would provide $1,400 stimulus payments to many Americans, beef up weekly jobs benefits and provide billions of dollars to distribute vaccines.

Democrats want to approve the plan by the end of the month, hoping it will build momentum for other parts of Biden’s agenda, which includes climate change, health care and immigration. [CNN]

Biden’s visit to Milwaukee also comes as pandemic-exhausted parents are “emerging as a new class of voters,” reports Politico, adding that Republicans are hoping to win over this demographic. [Politico]

3. Chicago relaxes more restrictions on bars and restaurants

Mayor Lori Lightfoot today raised capacity limits for indoor dining to 40% or 50 people, whichever is lower.

The change, which takes effect immediately, comes as the city meets several public health benchmarks that officials say will make indoor dining more safe. Among them is a rolling, seven day average of fewer than 400 cases per day.

Sam Toia, the head of the Illinois Restaurant Association, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he’s thankful for the mayor’s move, but he said Lightfoot needs to go farther for establishments located downtown. Toia said he would like to see capacity in the Central Business District bumped up to 100 people per room. [Sun-Times]

The Illinois Restaurant Association is also asking Gov. JB Pritzker to make restaurant workers eligible for vaccines now. [Crain’s]

Meanwhile, many people who lost work during the pandemic have turned to the gig economy. But some told WBEZ they are still struggling to get by and face challenges from bots and algorithms. [WBEZ]

4. The NAACP sues Trump and Giuliani

The civil rights organization today accused former President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of inciting a deadly mob to prevent Congress’ certification of election results on Jan. 6.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. The suit cites a Reconstruction-era law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibits the interference of Congress’ duties.

Also named in the lawsuit were the far-right groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

Trump currently faces several legal problems. Prosecutors in Georgia are investigating the former president’s efforts to overturn election results, and New York prosecutors are looking into his financial dealings. [AP]

Meanwhile, the Senate will hold a hearing next week on the security failures during the mob attack. [Axios]

5. Can Rep. Adam Kinzinger move the GOP in a new direction?

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., is at the “forefront of the effort to navigate post-Trump politics,” reports The New York Times in this profile of Kinzinger’s “lonely mission.”

Kinzinger was among the 10 House Republican who voted to impeach Trump and, like many of them, he has faced a backlash and been censured by local party officials. Kinzinger said the criticism also hit home: 11 family members sent him a two-page letter saying he was working with “the devil’s army” by not backing Trump.

“Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!” the family members wrote. “You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!”

Kinzinger recently launched a new political action committee, Country First, to challenge the GOP’s continued support of Trump. The Times got a hold of former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and asked him about Kinzinger and the internal divisions within the party.

“The only winners in the war between Trump and Republicans will be Democrats,” Rauner, a one-term governor, told the newspaper. “For some voters, character matters. For most, it doesn’t.” [NYT]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Some Chicago aldermen want to force hotel owners to rehire laid off employees when business picks up again. [WBEZ]
  • The case against Amy Cooper, the white woman who was arrested last year for calling 911 on a Black birdwatcher, was thrown out after she completed a racial bias educational program. [AP]
  • House floats take over in a Mardi Gras without parades. [NPR]
  • A new theory claims that elitist jerk Jupiter, high and mighty as the largest planet in the solar system, played a role in the death of dinosaurs. [NPR]

Oh, and one more thing …

Let’s hear it for Larry the cat, who is marking 10 years of catching mice at London’s 10 Downing St., reports The Associated Press. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single job for a decade. (#journalism)

Larry reported for his first day at work on Feb. 15, 2011, when then-Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to get rid of a pack of rats near the leaders’ official residence.

According to the AP, Larry “took a liking” to former President Barack Obama and slept under the former President Donald Trump’s car when he visited in 2019. Larry is a former stray and carries the unofficial title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. [AP]

Tell me something good ...

I’m going to do something different this week: What questions do you have for me?

Many readers asked about the time Drag Race queen Detox asked for my phone number. Jessie writes, “Hunter, you can’t just dangle a story like ‘that time that drag queen Detox asked me for my phone number’ and not elaborate. Details, please!”

So before I met my husband, I went to a house party that stretched into the a.m. hours. Detox came over to me and said something very nice and pleasant, like, “How are you?”

Because I was definitely not sober, I responded in a very serious tone, “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a big deal in the Dungeons & Dragons community. I’m a real power player when it comes to rolling dice and pretending to be a gay elf.” And then I proceed to ask her a bunch of questions about Game of Thrones even though she repeatedly told me she doesn’t watch the show.

She was very nice, ran with the jokes and surprisingly didn’t throw her drink in my face.

Got a question for me? I might have an answer! Feel free to email me at therundown@wbez.org or tweet me at @whuntah.

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