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I am not normally a fan of writing about a topic that everyone else is discussing in sports however, it seems unavoidable as it regards the Super Bowl.

Opinion

There’s a lot of confusion in our country now about true victimhood, gender orientation and entitlement. Reflecting all this confusion is the continued effort to organize voting districts around what voters look like.

The two most common themes of MAGA sorehead emails I received last year were the inevitability of an anti-Biden landslide in 2022, and the certainty of Hillary Clinton’s prosecution by “independent counsel” John Durham, supposedly for falsifying evidence against Donald Trump during the “Russia, Russia, Russia hoax,” as Trump styles it.

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State AP Stories

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The car owned by a missing 74-year-old Florida Lyft driver has been found in North Carolina and the man who was driving it is wanted in connection with a homicide last week in southwest Florida. Authorities said Friday that Gary Levin has been missing since Monday, when his family believes he picked up a customer in Palm Beach County, Florida. His red 2022 Kia Stinger was spotted in Miami that day and later in north Florida. The vehicle was then seen Thursday evening in North Carolina and driver Matthew Flores was arrested following a police chase. Flores is a suspect in a slaying that occurred nearly a week before Levin went missing.

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North Carolina’s newly seated Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether people convicted of felonies should be permitted to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The justices listened Thursday to their first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. They didn’t immediately rule. The case stems from 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restoring voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” Roughly 56,000 people could be affected by the outcome.

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Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent. The bill would require schools to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. Several mental and behavioral health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee on Thursday that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for students without affirming home environments. The proposal now heads to the Senate rules committee.

Some North Carolina senators want tougher punishments for intentionally damaging utility equipment in light of the December attacks on two Duke Energy substations in Moore County that left 45,000 customers without power. The legislators filed a bill on Wednesday that would make it a high-grade felony to intentionally destroy or damage any “energy facility.” Current state law only makes it a misdemeanor to vandalize equipment that interrupts the transmission of electricity. A perpetrator also would face a $250,000 fine and potential lawsuits. Someone also fired at an electric cooperative's substation in Randolph County two weeks ago, causing damages but no outages. No arrests have been in either attack.

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A bill advancing in North Carolina’s Senate would prohibit instruction about sexuality and gender identity in K-4 public school classes. The proposal approved Wednesday by the Senate education committee would require schools in most circumstances to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronoun used for their child. The measure defies the recommendations of parents, educators and LGBTQ youths who testified against it. The bill now heads to the Senate health care committee. A version passed the state Senate last year but did not get a vote in the House.

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North Carolina civil rights advocates have denounced a House rule change that could allow Republicans to override vetoes on contentious bills with little notice, saying it subverts democracy and the will of voters. Republicans pushed through temporary operating rules this month that omitted a longstanding requirement that chamber leaders give at least two days’ notice before holding an override vote. The move could allow Republicans to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes while Democrats are absent, even momentarily. Calling the change “a shameful power grab meant to thwart the will of the people,” Jillian Riley of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said it undermines the functionality of the General Assembly.

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As mass shootings are again drawing public attention, states across the U.S. seem to be deepening their political divide on gun policies. A series of recent mass shootings in California come after a third straight year in which U.S. states recorded more than 600 mass shootings involving at least four deaths or injuries. Democratic-led states that already have restrictive gun laws have responded to home-state tragedies by enacting or proposing even more limits on guns. Many states with Republican-led legislatures appear unlikely to adopt any new gun policies after last year's local mass shootings. They're pinning the problem on violent individuals, not their weapons.

National & World AP Stories

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Southern California's most popular puma gained fame as P-22 and cast a spotlight on the troubled population of California’s endangered mountain lions and their decreasing genetic diversity. After his death in December, wildlife officials and representatives from the region’s tribal communities are now debating his next act. Biologists and conservationists want to retain samples of P-22’s body for scientific testing to aid in future wildlife research. But representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples say his body should be returned, untouched, to the ancestral lands where he spent his life so he can be honored with a traditional burial.

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Pope Francis is seeking to console the long-suffering people of South Sudan. After arriving in the world’s newest country on the first-ever papal visit Friday, Francis was spending Saturday ministering first to church personnel and then to South Sudanese who have been forced by fighting, flooding and other crises to leave their homes. Francis was highlighting in particular the plight of South Sudanese women, half of whom are married before age 18 and then face the world’s highest maternal mortality rate.

Officials on both sides of Russia's war in Ukraine says dozens of prisoners have returned home following a prisoner swap. Top Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak said in a Telegram post that 116 Ukrainians were freed. He said they include troops who held out in Mariupol during Moscow’s monthslong siege that reduced the southern port city to ruins, as well as guerrilla fighters from the Kherson region and snipers captured during the ongoing fierce battles for the eastern city of Bakhmut. Russian defense officials, meanwhile, announced that 63 Russian troops had returned from Ukraine, including some “special category” prisoners whose release was secured following mediation by the United Arab Emirates.

China has played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning that the U.S. and China have never announced any visit. Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the U.S. abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.

Wealthy Qatar has been silently expanding its influence in crisis-hit Lebanon in recent years, while oil-rich Gulf Arab nations ostracized the Mediterranean country over the growing influence of its militant Hezbollah group. Qatar invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 17 years in Lebanon, including supporting its army during the historic economic meltdown. Last month, Qatar began bearing the fruits of years of backing Lebanon when state-owned Qatar Energy replaced a Russian firm in an international consortium that will search for gas in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon’s coast. Through  such moves, Qatar guarantees income from its investments and at the same time gains a political role in Lebanon.

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The arrest of a 24-year-old man accused of taking two monkeys from the Dallas Zoo after cutting their enclosure has shed some light on a mysterious string of events there. Police on Friday said they also linked him to the escape of a clouded leopard and a gash in the fence of another monkey habitat. Police say Davion Irvin has been charged with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary following his arrest Thursday, which came after an employee at a downtown aquarium recognized him from news coverage of the missing monkeys.

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The Chinese balloon drifting high above the U.S. and first revealed over Montana has created a buzz down below among residents — and raised a chorus of alarm from elected officials. The high altitude balloon roiled diplomatic tensions as it continued to move over the central U.S. Friday and Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled an upcoming trip to China. Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and dozens of nuclear missile silos, causing doubt over Beijing’s claim that it was a weather balloon gone off course. The governor and members of Congress pressed the Biden administration over why the military didn’t immediately bring it down from the sky.

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A jury has decided Elon Musk didn’t defraud investors with tweets in 2018. The verdict by the nine jurors was reached after less that two hours of deliberation following a three-week trial. The trial pitted Tesla investors represented in a class-action lawsuit against Musk, who is CEO of both the electric automaker and the Twitter service he bought for for $44 billion a few months ago. In 2018, Musk tweeted that he had the financing to take Tesla private even though it turned out he hadn’t gotten an iron-clad commitment for an aborted deal that would have cost $20 billion to $70 billion to pull off. The verdict is a major vindication for Musk.