First Thing: Cruz under fire for going to Cancún while constituents freeze

Molly Blackall
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Good morning.

The Texas senator Ted Cruz has come under fire for going on holiday to a sunny Mexican tourist resort while millions of his constituents face water, food and power shortages from a deadly winter storm. Cruz implied that he had only taken the nearly 1,000-mile flight on Wednesday to accompany his children on the plane, despite having large quantities of luggage. Back in Texas, he admitted it was “obviously a mistake” as protesters gathered outside his house. He had reportedly planned to return on Saturday, but hastily changed his flights and headed back on Thursday as the backlash grew.

The trip came days after Cruz told Texans to stay home during the storm, and three months after he called Austin’s mayor a “complete and utter hypocrite” for taking a holiday abroad while telling people to stay at home because of coronavirus. Cruz is not the only member of Texan Republican leadership to be criticised for their response to the crisis. There is also anger toward officials over mismanagement of the power grid and a slow emergency response.

Millions of people in Texas are facing water shortages as the winter storm battering the state causes pipes to burst and treatment plants to back up. The storm has also disrupted food supply chains, some grocery stores are empty and hundreds of thousands of homes still do not have energy or heat because of issues including downed power lines.

  • The storms show the US is unprepared for the climate crisis, as did the wildfires that ravaged California last year, experts have said. Analysis of government data shows weather-related power outages are up 67% since 2000, and the climate crisis is likely to make matters worse.

  • Rick Perry said Texans would endure the storm for longer to thwart Democrats’ energy and climate policies. The former Texas governor and Trump energy secretary was quoted as saying: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

Nasa’s science rover has touched down on Mars

Nasa has successfully landed a science rover on Mars, where it will search for traces of ancient life. Applause erupted at the space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory in Los Angeles as the rover, named Perseverance, landed on the floor of a crater. Perseverance is the most advanced astrobiology laboratory sent to another planet. It traveled through space for nearly seven months, clocking up 239m miles before it pierced the Martian atmosphere.

It really is the beginning of a new era,” Nasa’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, said before the landing during Nasa’s webcast of the event.

That isn’t the only piece of exciting intergalactic news. In the early hours of Friday morning, the United Arab Emirates released the first photograph of the red planet taken by its Mars mission’s Hope spacecraft. The image was captured on 10 February, a day after Hope successfully entered orbit around the planet. The mission aims to study the atmosphere around Mars and learn more about how much water has been lost from the once Earth-like planet.

Criticism is growing over Facebook’s news ban – but it might not be resolved for a week

A page run by the managing editor of a funeral home, who paid Facebook for a marketing campaign, was among those banned.
A page run by the managing editor of a funeral home, who paid Facebook for a marketing campaign, was among those banned. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

Facebook may wait up to a week before unblocking some of the hundreds of non-media organisations which were hit by its news ban in Australia, including health departments and emergency services. The ban was introduced in response to a proposed law in Australia that would require Facebook to negotiate payment with news publishers for use of their content. After banning organisations, including charities and arts bodies, Facebook blamed the government’s broad definition of news in the proposed law for the botched ban.

The site has been roundly criticised for its actions by politicians, news organisations and civil society groups in the US, as well as at home. The ban has been called “an attempt to bully a democracy”, and David Cicilline, the chair of the influential US House antitrust committee, suggested it was “not compatible with democracy”.

  • A Malaysian federal court has been accused of attacking freedom of expression, after it fined an independent news site for contempt of court over comments posted by its readers. Five reader comments on the website of the prominent Malaysiakini news outlet were critical of the jury, and although the website said it could not be held responsible, a court ruled it must pay $123,000.

  • Two journalist in Belarus have been jailed after they reported on a protest against the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel were arrested in November.

In other news…

Protesters carry a banner that reads: &#x002018;We want democracy&#x002019; during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw.
Protesters carry a banner that reads: ‘We want democracy’ during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
  • A Myanmar protester has died after being shot in the head by police as authorities cracked down on demonstrations against the military coup a fortnight ago. The 20-year-old had been on life support since she was admitted to hospital on 9 February.

  • The US has agreed to take part in talks with Iran, hosted by the EU. The aim of the discussion is for both countries to return to the 2015 nuclear deal that all but collapsed during the Trump administration. Tehran has not confirmed whether it is ready to join the talks, which do not yet have an agreed start time or location.

  • The Robinhood trading app defended its decision to stop trading in GameStop shares after small investors drove a huge surge in its stock price. Speaking at a congressional hearing on Thursday, the firm’s chief executive denied it had bowed to pressure from hedge funds to stop the trading, after Wall Street lost billions as a result of the soaring GameStop share prices.

Stat of the day: 20.5m years of life may have been lost to Covid

More than 20.5m years of life may have been lost to the coronavirus pandemic in 81 countries, according to a study. The research contradicts the frequent misconception that those who die of the virus would have done so regardless of the disease. It also rebuffs comparisons with flu. The number of years lost to coronavirus is between two and nine times higher in badly affected countries.

Don’t miss this: Sacha Baron Cohen talks Borat, Trump and his plan for a revolution

In a rare and exclusive interview, the Borat star discusses his near-misses with Trump supporters while filming, and why he was willing to put himself at risk to make the Borat sequel. “The moment [the Trump administration] issued the Muslim ban, I was so repulsed I thought I had to do something,” he says. “So I went back to creating characters with the aim of infiltrating Trump’s inner circle.”

Last thing: two Florida women dressed as ‘grannies’ to get vaccinated

Two women, aged 34 and 44, dressed as “grannies” in bonnets and gloves in an attempt to trick coronavirus vaccinators into thinking they were old enough to be eligible for the jab. The pair reportedly had valid vaccine cards after receiving their first shots but were rumbled during an attempt to get a second.

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