Important state and national stories, market and business news, sports and entertainment, delivered in quick-hit fashion to start your day informed.
1. Favre Sits for Deposition
On Monday, NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre sat for a deposition in Hattiesburg in the civil matter related to the state’s lawsuit seeking to recoup misspent TANF welfare dollars. Favre is one of 47 named defendants in the case brought by the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Favre, a former Southern Miss standout and NFL Hall of Famer, is alleged to have improperly sought TANF dollars that were obtained for the construction of a volleyball facility at USM. The facility’s construction was vetted by the Attorney General’s office and approved by Institutions of Higher Learning.
Favre is also alleged to have improperly received payment, funded indirectly through a MDHS grant of TANF money, to cut radio ads for anti-poverty programs and to make public appearances. He has since repaid over $1 million sought by the State Auditor’s office.
2. Dixie Mafia Kingpin Seeks Compassionate Release
Kirksey McCord Nix, the reputed boss of the “Dixie Mafia,” has asked a federal judge in Hattiesburg for compassionate release.
Now 80 and in reported poor physical condition, Nix orchestrated the murders of Biloxi judge Vincent Sherry and his wife, Margaret, who was serving on the Biloxi City Council in 1987. At the time of the murders, Nix was already serving a life sentence at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana that resulted from a botched home invasion.
The motion for release was first reported on at Jackson Jambalaya.
3. Mississippi Coast Chamber Hosts Pre-Legislative Briefing
The Mississippi Coast Chamber of Commerce hosted its Pre-Legislative Briefing Tuesday morning in Biloxi. Lawmakers in attendance were State Senators Jeremy England (R), Brice Wiggins (R), Scott DeLano (R) and Mike Thompson (R) as well as State Rep. Kevin Felsher (R).
Questions posed to the Coast lawmakers came from chamber members and focused on topics such as Medicaid expansion, income tax elimination, education funding and school choice, restoration of the ballot initiative, among other topics.
While participants were largely in lockstep and demonstrated collegiality in sharing their views on hot button issues, some disagreements were expressed between participants over the House’s more aggressive stance in pursuing income tax elimination versus a slower approach to tax reform in the Senate, the appetite for school choice in the Legislature, and whether Medicaid expansion would be on the table this session.
The 2024 legislative session is set to begin January 2nd.
National News & Foreign Policy
1. Ukranian President Zelensky back in D.C. seeking more U.S. funding
Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, meeting with lawmakers as Congress debates whether to send the war-torn country more financial aid. Zelensky met with Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D) and Mitch McConnell (R), as well as new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R).
Congress has sent Ukraine more than $100 billion in aid since Russia invaded the sovereign nation. However, efforts by the Biden Administration to continue the funding pipeline to Ukraine have been met with angst from a segment of the Republican Party.
“I have asked the White House since the day that I was handed the gavel as Speaker for clarity. We need clear articulation of the strategy to allow Ukraine to win. Thus far, their responses have been insufficient,” said Speaker Johnson after meeting with Zelensky, adding that he reiterated that the U.S. stands with him in their fight for freedom. “I have also made very clear from day one that our first condition on any national security supplemental spending package is about our own national security first. The border is an absolute catastrophe and this is because of the policies of this White House and this administration.”
In a speech at the National Defense University in Washington on Monday, Zelensky said delays in funding from the U.S. are a dream for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
“Let me be frank with you, friends: If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique. They see their dreams come true when they see the delays or some scandals, and they see freedom to fall when the support of freedom fighters go down,” Zelensky told those in attendance.
2. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu Endorses Nikki Haley for President
In the race for the White House, the caucuses of Iowa are followed closely by the New Hampshire Primary. Because both come early, they are often afforded additional importance, as underperformance in either can spell doom for a campaign and overperformance can create the impression of momentum. For this reason, campaigns put a lot of energy and time into both states.
On Tuesday, New Hampshire’s Republican Governor Chris Sununu, endorsed former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for President. Sununu is a popular governor and an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump. Haley has in recent weeks gained steam as a potential Republican alternative to Trump, though she and other contenders still lag dramatically behind him in the polls. The New Hampshire Primary is scheduled for January 23rd.
3. Harvard President to Remain at the Helm of the University
Following a congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses, Harvard President Claudine Gay came under fire for her remarks on the university’s position. In the hearing, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R) asked the Harvard President if “calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?”
“It can be, depending on the context,” Gay said in response.
Also at the hearing were the Presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania. Following the hearing, 74 members of Congress called on the three to resign. Penn President Liz Magill resigned over the weekend after significant donors threatened to pull support from the university if she was not removed.
But both Harvard and MIT have expressed support for the their leaders. Gay saw robust support from the school’s faculty in the wake of the hearing, and the governing board announced on Tuesday that Gay would be retained.
“We today reaffirm our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University,” the Harvard governing board said in a statement, adding that Gay apologized for how she handled the hearing and was committed to fight against antisemitism. “Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”
Sports & Entertainment
1. Clay Bignell Named Defensive Coordinator at Southern Miss
Southern Miss football Head Coach Will Hall announced on Tuesday that Clay Bignell was joining the Golden Eagle staff as its new Defensive Coordinator.
Bignell comes to Southern Miss after serving as an assistant coach for the last two seasons, including this past year as defensive coordinator, at Eastern Illinois. His first year in 2022 saw him coach the safeties and serve as pass game coordinator. In his only year as defensive coordinator at EIU, the Panther defense currently rank No. 1 nationally in turnover margin (1.36), as well as No 6 turnovers gained (25), No. 10 in fumbles recovered (11), No. 12 in pass interceptions (14), No. 18 in scoring defense (19.7), No. 19 in fourth-down defense (.409), No. 26 in team pass defense efficiency (117.59) and No. 30 in rushing defense (124.6) in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Prior to his time at EIU, Bignell worked as a senior defensive analyst at Vanderbilt in 2021, a senior defensive analyst at East Carolina in 2020, four years at Notre Dame working as a defensive graduate before being elevated to a senior defensive analyst for the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, and as a graduate assistant at Northwestern in 2014 and 2015. He also served as a defensive graduate assistant at Montana State from 2013-14, helping with the linebackers. His first season in collegiate coaching came as the linebackers coach at Montana Western in 2012.
2. Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Break into Top 25 for First Time Since 2019
First year Ole Miss Head Men’s Basketball Coach Chris Beard has the Rebels ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2019, when Ole Miss was listed at No. 20 in both national polls on January 21.
Ole Miss currently sits at 9-0 on the season. The team was ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 Poll announced on Monday. However, the Rebels did not make it into the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 27. Ole Miss is the only undefeated team in college basketball not in the AP Top 25.
Among his nine years as an NCAA Division I head coach, Coach Beard has led his teams to a Top 25 ranking in each of the last seven seasons. He was hired by Ole Miss in March of this year.
Markets & Business
1. Markets Continue Climb
The S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq all rose again yesterday, with the S&P closing at 4,644, the Dow at 36,578 and the NASDAQ 14,533. All three have been on a six-week tear as interest rates have begun falling.
The markets are awaiting an announcement of the Federal Reserve’s policy Wednesday. It is widely anticipated that the Fed will maintain the benchmark interest rate in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%, after a prolonged series of rate hikes implemented to combat generationally high inflation. However, investors will be looking for clues into when the Fed might begin cutting rates and the market is already anticipating multiple rate cuts in 2024.
2. Apple Reports 2.6 Billion Records Have Been Compromised in Past Two Years
A new report commissioned by Apple, the maker of the iPhone, says threats to user data continue to grow more frequent and sophisticated. The company reports that the number of data breaches nearly tripled between 2013 and 2022, compromising 2.6 billion records over the course of two years, are only getting worse in 2023.
“In the U.S. alone, there were nearly 20 percent more breaches in just the first nine months of 2023 than in any prior year,” the Apple report stated. “The target for cybercriminals was very clear, with a 2023 survey finding that over 80 percent of breaches involved data stored in the cloud. This is after attacks targeting cloud infrastructure nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022.”
Apple says its Lockdown Mode and Advanced Data Protection for iCloud were developed to protect users against growing threats to their data.
Read more from Apple on the report here.
3. Gas Prices Falling as Holiday Travel Gears Up
The national average for a regular gallon of gas sat at $3.13 on Tuesday, according to AAA, down 24 cents in the last month. In Mississippi, the state average came in at $2.67, down 18 cents since last month.
The cheapest average gas prices in Mississippi can be found in Leflore, Jones and Warren counties, coming in at $2.32, $2.44 and $2.47 per gallon, respectively. The highest average gas price was in Wilkinson County at $2.98.
Nationally, Mississippi has the second lowest average gas prices, with Texas coming in first at $2.60. California, as is the norm, is where the highest average gas prices can be found at $4.70.
Declining gas prices have been a key part of the slowing inflation that has crippled many families’ pocketbooks over the last two years. The reduced gas prices are largely a result of falling oil prices. As of Tuesday afternoon, the price of crude had dropped to $69 per barrel, down from nearly $100 in September.
Demand has also dropped in the U.S. as the summer travel season has given way to the winter in much of the country. But with holiday travel about to gear up, the lower prices at the pump are surely a welcome by drivers trying to visit family and friends this Christmas season.