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5 things to know for February 18: Texas, Covid-19, immigration, Limbaugh, Facebook

Hundreds of people worked for nearly a decade to develop NASA’s most advanced robotic explorer yet. Her name is Perseverance, and she’s set to land herself on Mars today.

Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day. (You can also get “5 Things You Need to Know Today” delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.)

1. Texas

Texas has another day of misery ahead. A winter storm has severely strained power facilities in the state and left millions in the cold and dark for days. Families are huddling in homes or cars without heat. Parts of the state have fuel shortages. And water — whether it’s too much or too little, high pressure or low pressure — is posing a whole other set of problems. As residents suffer, officials are pointing fingers: the power operator, wind turbines (falsely) and the Green New Deal (bafflingly) have all been targets of blame. But while the reality is complicated, the roots of the current situation lie in Texas’ decision to isolate its energy grid from the rest of the country. Meanwhile, other parts of the country are facing bad weather too.

2. Coronavirus

Covid-19 variants are threatening to cause another surge of infections in the US, making it more important than ever to continue practicing tried-and-true safety measures. The good news is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines appear to protect against some of the more concerning variants. The bad news is despite President Joe Biden recently saying that the US would have enough vaccines for every American by the end of July, actually vaccinating all those people will likely take longer. In another sobering development, the CDC reports US life expectancy dropped a full year in the first half of 2020 — and even more for Black and Hispanic Americans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, experts say that Covid-19 was a significant factor contributing to the decline.

3. Immigration

The White House announced a sweeping immigration bill today that would create an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of immigrants already in the country and provide a faster track for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children. But it faces a tough battle in Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just a five-vote margin, while Senate Democrats would need some Republican support to cross the 60 vote threshold needed to pass the measure (they currently only hold 50 seats). There are, however, already multiple standalone bills in Congress aimed at revising smaller pieces of the country’s immigration system. How to move forward is now up to Congress.

4. Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative media icon who for decades used his perch as the king of talk radio to shape the politics of both the GOP and nation, has died at 70 after a battle with cancer. He was a deeply polarizing figure in both life and death, and people started arguing over his legacy immediately. Right-wing media outlets and personalities described Limbaugh as a trailblazer who paved the way for Fox News and alternative media. His critics derided him for precisely the same reasons, pointing to his penchant for peddling conspiracy theories and rhetoric that mocked and demonized marginalized people. Love him or hate him, one thing is clear, writes CNN’s Chris Cillizza: Without Limbaugh, there might never have been a President Donald Trump.

5. Facebook

Australians who get their news from Facebook will have to go elsewhere for the headlines. Facebook said on Wednesday that it was blocking people and publishers in Australia from sharing and viewing news from local and foreign outlets. The pages of fire services, charities and politicians inadvertently got swept up in the ban, too. It all stems from proposed legislation Down Under that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content — a move that regulators in other countries could follow. Facebook argues the legislation unfairly punishes them and would break how the internet works. Google, though, appears to be going the opposite way — rather than leaving Australia, it seems to be deepening relationships with publishers there.

BREAKFAST BROWSE

Prince Philip has been admitted to the hospital 

The 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth had been feeling unwell.

A comedian handed out $13,000 raised by fans to waitstaff at a bar

It’s always a good time to perform a random act of kindness.

Demi Lovato gets personal in a trailer for a new documentary

The singer revealed some harrowing new details about the aftermath of her near fatal overdose three years ago.

Researchers have a new theory on what wiped out the dinosaurs

Turns out it may not have been an asteroid after all.

Massive holes have been mysteriously forming in the Siberian tundra for years, and scientists have finally figured out why

Spoiler alert: It’s climate change.

PROFILES IN PERSEVERANCE

February is Black History Month, and every day we’re highlighting Black pioneers in American history. Learn more here.

Gil Scott-Heron, poet and spoken-word performer, 1949-2011

Scott-Heron’s songs in the ’70s helped lay the foundation for rap music. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably come across one of his poetic turns of phrase — namely, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” A darling of the cultural left wing, Scott-Heron never achieved mainstream popularity. But his social and political critique still figures in pop culture and protest movements around the world.

TODAY’S NUMBER

68

That’s how many years Joe Ligon, believed to be the oldest and longest-serving juvenile lifer in the US, spent behind bars. He was incarcerated in 1953 at the age of 15 and was released from prison last week.

TODAY’S QUOTE

“If people start with Wall Street-speak, I’m going to stop them and ask them to rephrase in words everyone will understand.”

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, on how she plans to cut through market jargon during a hearing scheduled today to investigate the GameStop trading frenzy.

TODAY’S WEATHER

Check your local forecast here>>>

AND FINALLY

No place like Antarctica

There’s something about the vastness and majesty found at the southern end of the planet that just puts things in perspective. (Click here to view.)

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