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Newsom's latest recall strategy: Give away cash, hang with celebrities

California Governor Gavin Newsom.

California Governor Gavin Newsom gestures after a news conference at Universal Studios in Universal City, Calif. on June 15, 2021. | Ringo H.W. Chiu,

California

He is using a bully pulpit on steroids as he tries to defeat a Republican-driven recall.

OAKLAND, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political career has long been something of a white-knuckle roller coaster ride.

So it was fitting that the Democratic governor, in his latest fist-pumping lap around the state, hit the front seat of the New Revolution roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain this week, hands in the air, relishing the stomach-churning jaunt.

It was just the latest example of how Newsom is using a bully pulpit on steroids as he tries to defeat a Republican-driven recall.

The governor announced free tickets to Six Flags and taco giveaways for anyone getting a Covid-19 shot. He channeled his inner game show host persona and delivered massive checks to vaccine lottery winners, backed by a “Big Spin” wheel and appropriately kitschy music. He celebrated the end of pandemic restrictions with Minions and Trolls under confetti at Universal Studios. Between it all, he was on Instagram with musician John Legend and in studio with James Corden on “The Late Late Show.”

His dizzying schedule has made the scope — and optics — of Newsom’s victory tour unrivaled in the annals of modern state politics. Fueled by record tax revenues, business connections and celebrity friends, the governor is demonstrating how he’ll use his official perch this summer to drive his campaign narrative.

“Imagine being in politics and giving away money — that’s about as good as it gets,’’ Newsom told Corden. “Oprah Winfrey, eat your heart out!”

No other governor has duplicated the level of Newsom’s giveaways, most under the auspices of convincing hesitant residents to get vaccinated. But no other governor is facing a recall, either.

His appearances have gotten so over-the-top that longtime political reporters can hardly believe what they’re seeing. “Am I on drugs?” said San Francisco Chronicle reporter Alexei Koseff, marveling at Newsom celebrating with characters in costume. Another, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall, dubbed a Newsom event “today’s episode of Governor Gives Out Money.”

Just months ago, Newsom was on the ropes, battered by charges of hypocrisy after a tony dinner with lobbyists and other guests at the French Laundry while he told residents to avoid gathering at parties. When California was under siege from the virus in December and January, the situation was so bad that Newsom imposed a curfew and widespread stay-at-home orders.

The state has since seen Covid-19 rates plummet to nation-low levels, and Newsom set June 15 as the state’s grand reopening day. He eliminated social distancing restrictions and capacity limits in most businesses and allowed vaccinated residents to remove their masks.

Newsom has also benefited from a high-wage economy that kept humming through the pandemic, delivering a $ 76 billion surplus, on top of $ 27 billion in federal coronavirus relief. That money allowed the governor to propose $ 600 stimulus checks for two-thirds of California residents, $ 500 checks for families — and $ 116.5 million in prizes for vaccine-hesitant residents.

He has timed the giveaways with jubilant events to promote the state’s reopening. But the governor’s tour is striking some as an unseemly excess of fist-pumping and self-congratulations given what the state has endured. California has an unemployment rate higher than in most other states, a Covid-19 death toll of 62,500, the nation’s longest school closures and a host of small business failures under lockdown restrictions.

“Gavin’s traveling circus is offensive to the nearly 4 million Californians who contracted Covid-19, and the nearly 65,000 who died with it,’’ said conservative Jennifer Kerns, a former spokesperson for the California Republican Party and now a national radio talk show host. “It is also offensive to the more than one-third of restaurants that closed forever — owned by hard-working Californians, many of whom lost their life savings due to Newsom’s yearlong lockdown.”

Newsom’s camp, however, says he’s right to celebrate this emergence from 15 months of pandemic isolation. He’s hugged it up with local officials at iconic family bistros like Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, where he pushed the extension of pandemic-era policies aimed at boosting small businesses — including margaritas-to-go and “parklets” to expand restaurant dining outdoors — as well as grants and tax forgiveness.

On Friday, Newsom boasted that the state is “turning a page” on the pandemic — with the help of small business owners surrounding him. “When we talk about California roaring back, we can’t come roaring back unless small businesses are back,’’ he told them. “The job creators are literally here, in this community.”

Peter Ragone, a longtime outside adviser to Newsom, said the California governor’s tour is a celebration of what the state — and its citizens — have done right in battling back from a deadly pandemic.

With its record budget surplus, jobs rebounding and continued tech sector boom, “there’s just no doubt about the fact here that California is the best run state in America, fiscally,” he said. “And Gavin Newsom has been reflecting the exuberance of the people, who are now coming out of this together.”

That exuberance, he said dryly, “is shared by everybody — except maybe seven people left working the recall.”

Newsom’s recent upbeat demeanor has been a far cry from the grim, and occasionally short-tempered, governor of a few months back.

After being confronted by major wildfires and blackouts that affected millions shortly into his first term, Newsom was slammed in late 2020 with rising panic about pandemic shutdowns. Those difficulties were multiplied by his own ill-timed political mistakes, including the French Laundry dinner with lobbyist friends at the height of the stay-at-home order.

“It’s been humbling,” he said to Corden. “There’s been one word, James: humility.”

Newsom’s most recent poll numbers have been strong, with either a plurality or majority opposed to recalling the governor. A whopping 90 percent of Californians believe the worst of the crisis is behind them.

His opponents have struggled to gain traction, most notably Republican reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who regularly goes on national TV but only had 6 percent of voter support in a poll last month. The governor is in strong enough shape that fellow Democrats have suggested California should have the recall election as soon as possible.

And Newsom has wasted no time in parlaying the state’s increasingly robust economic numbers into a public campaign he’s touted as “The California Comeback.” Democrats have circulated a Bloomberg piece proclaiming that the state’s economy is leading the nation. The governor has repeatedly jabbed at two large red states, Florida and Texas, which haven’t matched California’s vaccination levels or its lower record for mortality rates per 100,000 residents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats say Newsom’s undisguised giddiness is not only appropriate — but entirely warranted.

“One of the jobs of leaders is to lead through empathy — to reflect back to people how they’ve been feeling,’’ said veteran California Democratic organizer and strategist Alex Clemens. “California — and the United States, and the world — all need a victory lap. So I wouldn’t begrudge any leader from reminding us that there is joy to be had.”

But Newsom’s opponents say the governor is prematurely dancing in the end zone. They point to a host of lingering problems — millions of public school parents still nervous about the potential for school closures in the fall; growing homelessness and housing problems; an unemployment system plagued by fraud; and small business struggles.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor, said Newsom and Democratic legislators must still be held to account for mismanagement. He’s banking on voters having a long memory this year and not being swayed by a fast-opening economy and various giveaways.

“He can stand up all he wants and do the game show routine, but Californians are angry, they’re pissed off and rightfully so,” Faulconer told the KFI radio show “John and Ken” after the governor’s Universal Studios appearance.

Faulconer also criticized Newsom and lawmakers for recently getting 4.2 percent pay raises from a commission. He called on Newsom to reject the increase; the governor has not said whether he will.

“That’s just incredibly tone deaf,’’ Faulconer said in an interview. “At a time when millions of Californians lost their wages and income over the past year, and we still have over a million Californians who can’t get their unemployment benefits. We had $ 30 billion worth of fraud in the Employment Development Department. It just shows how out of touch this governor is.’’

Clemens said Newsom’s celebratory week doesn’t belie the seriousness of his campaign strategy. California faces regular disaster risks, from wildfires to drought to blackouts. The governor already issued an emergency order allowing more fossil-fuel plants to run Thursday to ensure residents have enough electricity.

“I am certain that nobody on the governor’s election team is taking anything for granted,” Clemens said, “that they are treating this race like he is down 20 [points].”

Author: Carla Marinucci
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

When dollars meet the hype: The biggest NFT hits from celebrities

Nonfungible tokens have quickly become a mainstream phenomenon, and a number of celebrities and entertainment and sporting icons are driving their popularity. The question is: Which NFT has had the most influence on this up-and-coming sector?

There is no denying that NFTs have taken the world by storm as some of the most popular digital collectibles have attracted mind-blowing price tags and led to a stampede of newcomers looking to make the most of the spotlight on the space.

While many have looked to ride the very apparent wave of success of NFTs, there are a few standout digital collectible creators that have seen their NFTs sold at auction for millions of dollars. In a short space of time, NFTs have become the new-age autograph, and the use of the technology has proliferated a variety of industries.

The world of sport has taken a fondness to NFTs as blockchain-powered digital collectibles marketplaces boom for American sports leagues such as the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The art industry is going through a new age renaissance of sorts, evident in Beeple’s $ 69-million digital art piece breaking auction records and changing the way people enjoy and own art. Musicians, celebrities and content creators have also created unique NFTs that are redefining how fans and consumers acquire memorabilia, merchandise and content.

Here are some of the most influential NFTs in 2021, highlighting the creators or original owners and what those particular NFTs are now worth.

Beeple’s “Everydays”

It is only fitting that Beeple’s now-famous digital collage “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” is part of this list of notable NFTs. Its price tag alone has solidified its status as the most expensive NFT ever sold at an auction.

American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known by his nickname Beeple, created the digital collage, which was sold in February 2021 at renowned auction house Christie’s for a total of $ 69,346,250.

Beeple has been releasing a piece of digital art every single day for the past 13 and a half years, and the “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” is a collage of some 5,000 of these pieces he’s released.

The NFT’s jaw-dropping price tag was only realized in a frenzied final hour while on auction as the digital art piece saw a dramatic increase in the value of bids in the last two minutes of the auction, going up from a $ 20-million bid to the final bid for around $ 60 million. The extra $ 9 million was the buyer’s premium that Christie’s charges.

Jack Dorsey’s $ 2.9-million genesis tweet

In a weird and wonderful use-case example for NFTs, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey successfully auctioned off the digital rights to his first-ever tweet from March 2006. The NFT tweet was eventually sold for $ 2.9 million in March 2021, the proceeds of which were donated to the GiveDirectly fund.

Dorsey shared a link on his Twitter profile on March 6 that took users to an online auction for his 2006 tweet, which also happened to be the first-ever made on the popular social media platform some 15 years ago.

The tweet’s auction was facilitated by the NFT platform Valuables, which allows users to mint tweets on its blockchain “creating a 1-of-1 autographed version.” People can then bid for the ownership of the autographed tweet — as explained in the Valuables FAQ. 

Dorsey’s first tweet from March 2006 reads: “just setting up my twttr.” Dorsey’s digitally autographed tweet attracted a multitude of bids, but it eventually went to Sina Estavi, the CEO of Tron-based Bridge Oracle.

Edward Snowden’s NFT

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is another notable person to have raised a large amount of money through the sale of an NFT. In 2021, he made headlines after raising $ 5 million through the sale of a unique piece of NFT art — with the proceeds donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The NFT art piece, titled “Stay Free,” was commissioned by Snowden to commemorate a landmark 2020 court decision ruling the United States National Security Agency’s mass surveillance violated the law. Snowden played an integral part in uncovering the violations — and the art piece comprises every page of the historic court ruling, while a silhouette of Snowden’s face is featured in the foreground of the art piece.

Snowden is perhaps one of the most widely recognizable government whistleblowers over the past decade. During his time as a former employee and subcontractor for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Snowden gained access to and leaked sensitive information relating to privacy abuses carried out by the NSA.

Some seven years later, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s surveillance program that collected data on Americans’ phone calls was illegal. Snowden had to seek asylum in Russia after leaking this information and has since been granted permanent residency in the country. Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking this information to the public.

Given that NFTs have surged in popularity in 2021, it is not surprising that Snowden’s “Stay Free” art piece garnered such a big price tag at auction. The NFT was snapped up by PleasrDAO, which was formed by a group of NFT art collectors.

The group posted a winning bid of 2,224.00 Ether (ETH) for the digital art piece. The final price paid for the “Stay Free” NFT is more than the annual budget of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, as Snowden noted in a tweet as bidding for the art piece heated up.

Gronk’s NFL Championship Series

NFL veteran Rob Gronkowski is arguably the most influential player from his sport to have enjoyed a successful NFT launch of digitally signed trading cards.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end entered the world of NFTs in March as he partnered with OpenSea to mint a collection of trading cards and ended up earning $ 1.8 million worth of ETH from the sale of the cards.

Gronkowski’s Championship Series NFTs are an homage to his four NFL titles, while the fifth and final “Career Highlight Refractor Card” was created as a tribute to those four successful campaigns. Gronkowski won three NFL titles with the New England Patriots while his fourth NFL win came alongside quarterback Tom Brady after the pair joined the Buccaneers in 2020.

The four Championship Cards featured 87 digital editions that were up for auction, while the fifth Career Highlight card was a single, stand-alone NFT.

Considering that fact, it’s unsurprising that the one-off “Career Highlight Refractor Card” netted the highest amount at auction, selling for 229 ETH valued at around $ 435,000 at the time. The auction lasted for two days and saw a total of 349 trading cards sold at auction as well as the one-off Career highlight card to 95 different owners. The total trading value of the auction was 1,014 ETH valued at $ 1.8 million on the day.

Grimes’ 20-minute, $ 5.8-million NFT bonanza

Last but not least, Canadian musician and visual artist Claire Elise Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, enjoyed an explosive NFT launch that netted $ 5.8 million in sales of tokenized artwork when the sale ended in March 2021.

Grimes released her first NFT collection dubbed “WarNymph,” which was created by her brother, renowned digital artist Mac Boucher. The artwork explored a fictional universe centered around a goddess stylized as an infant angel. A percentage of the proceeds from the “WarNymph” NFT sales were donated to Carbon 180, a non-governmental organization dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.

As mentioned, Grimes’ NFT art pieces were in hot demand, and copies garnered more than $ 5 million in sales in under 20 minutes after going live on Feb. 28. The most expensive NFT, “Death of the Old,” attracted a winning bid of $ 389,000.

Not just a fad it seems

As Cointelegraph previously explored, NFTs have quickly moved past the notion of being a fad, and there seems to be agreement that the space will continue to attract major investment and use in the future.

From musicians interested in breaking the boundaries of their usual releases, like the band Kings of Leon generating $ 2 million from its NFT album release, to a $ 1.8-million pair of sneakers, it is undeniable that tokenizing assets is becoming more mainstream.

Mattison Asher, who conducts research on Ethereum, NFTs and DeFi at ConsenSys, told Cointelegraph at the time that it’s hard to gauge whether the prices paid for select pieces of digital art and other NFTs will hold their value in the future, adding: “I own some NFTs, but that is because I appreciate the art and the community that was formed to create the art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and people clearly do value Beeple’s ‘The First 5000 Days’ as evidenced by the auction.”

However, Asher contends that sales like that of “Everydays” have played a more important role in amalgamating industries that seem to have more in common than meets the eye:

“The story of crypto and Beeple are incredibly similar in nature. Both Beeple and the crypto industry as a whole have had to overcome an incredible amount of adversity in order to reach the level of success they are experiencing now. Similar to the crypto industry as a whole, Beeple has been creating digital works for years, often with little recognition.”

As Asher also highlighted, NFTs have already proven to be a highly effective medium for monetizing intellectual property, no matter what shape or form a particular NFT takes. While the five NFTs highlighted above are perhaps the most notable, there are sure to be more highly priced digital collectibles in the future.