Also trending on your Wednesday: Millions brace for California power outage in attempt to prevent wildfires, drugmaker to pay $8B after man says he developed breasts from Risperdal, Ellen DeGeneres defends being friends with ex-President George Bush.
Millions brace for power cuts in California to prevent wildfires
On Wednesday, utility PG&E began cutting electricity to almost 800,000 California homes and businesses -- representing roughly 2.4 million people -- to prevent wildfires as high winds are forecast to whip through the state. The outages will hit 34 counties, including much of the San Francisco Bay area, triggering a scramble by residents to prepare for what may be days without power.
As California's climate warms and dries, the massive blackouts could become a new, annual ordeal. The shut-off warning came two years to the day after wildfires tore through Napa and Sonoma counties, and 11 months after one of PG&E's transmission lines triggered the Camp Fire, which leveled the town of Paradise and killed 86 people.
"We have a grid that was built to manage a set of circumstances that don't exist anymore," said Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University. "We are having to adapt to new circumstances brought about by climate change."
He estimated PG&E's blackout for two days could have an economic impact of as much as $2.6 billion, using a planning tool developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The Bay Area shut-offs will affect major cities including Oakland, San Jose and Berkeley, which warned residents especially in hillside neighborhoods to prepare for six days without power. California's transportation agency said it was preparing to close two major tunnels in the region due to the loss of power.
San Francisco, which is less prone to wildfires because of its cool climate and minimal open spaces, will be unaffected. The Silicon Valley campuses of tech giants including Facebook and Alphabet are also expected to be spared.
Meanwhile, Edison International's Southern California Edison utility said it was weighing cutting power to 106,000 homes and businesses, most of them in the mountains east of Los Angeles.
J&J to pay $8B after man says he developed breasts from Risperdal
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia jury on Tuesday awarded $8 billion in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson and one if its subsidiaries over a drug the companies made that the plaintiff's attorneys say is linked to the abnormal growth of female breast tissue in boys.
Johnson and Johnson immediately denounced the award after the jury's decision in the Court of Common pleas, saying it's "excessive and unfounded" and vowing immediate action to overturn it.
The antipsychotic drug Risperdal is at the center of the lawsuit, with the plaintiff's attorneys arguing it's linked to abnormal growth of female breast tissue in boys, an incurable condition known as gynecomastia.
Johnson & Johnson used an organized scheme to make billions of dollars while illegally marketing and promoting the drug, attorneys Tom Kline and Jason Itkin said in a statement.
Kline and Itkin said that Johnson & Johnson was "a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients." Thousands of lawsuits have been filed over the drug, but the attorneys said this was the first in which a jury decided whether to award punitive damages and came up with an amount.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement on its website it was confident that the award would be overturned, calling it "grossly disproportionate" with the initial compensatory damage award and "a clear violation of due process."
"This decision is inconsistent with multiple determinations outside of Philadelphia regarding the adequacy of the Risperdal labeling, the medicine's efficacy, and findings in support of the company," Johnson & Johnson said. "We will be immediately moving to set aside this excessive and unfounded verdict."
Alabama capital elects first black mayor in 200-year history
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's capital, a city once known as the cradle of the Confederacy and later the birthplace of the civil rights movement, elected its first African American mayor Tuesday.
Probate Judge Steven Reed, 45, clasped the history-making victory to be elected the next mayor of Montgomery after defeating businessman David Woods by a decisive margin. Reed won about 67% of the vote in Tuesday's mayoral runoff, according to unofficial returns.
"This election has never been about me. This election has never been about just my ideas. It's been about all of the hopes and dreams that we have as individuals and collectively in the city," Reed said in his victory speech.
Reed was already the first black probate judge elected in Montgomery County and was one of the first to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in the state.
Reed will be the first black mayor of the city where Southern delegates voted to form the Confederacy in 1861. The city served as the first capital of the Confederacy.
The city also played a critical role in the civil rights movement. City Hall is located not far from the church once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and is also near the spot where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to obey bus segregations laws.
Reed will replace current Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who has served since 2009 and did not seek reelection.
Montgomery, a city of roughly 200,000 people, is about 60% black and has been losing population for years. Issues in the race included tackling crime, which Woods said is his top priority during a debate.
"We're a city that wants to move forward and a city that wants a vision for the future, and a city that wants to see better opportunities across the board," Reed told The Associated Press as he waited for returns.
Ellen DeGeneres defends being friends with ex-President George Bush
A photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting next to former President George W. Bush at Sunday’s NFL game between the Packers and the Cowboys surfaced over the weekend. And a slice of social media lost its collective mind.
Some Twitter users vehemently criticized her for sharing the Republican’s company, calling him a “war criminal.” But DeGeneres was not having it.
“Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush,” she told her studio audience Monday at a taping for Tuesday’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.
“We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different,” she continued.
“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” DeGeneres said. “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, be kind to everyone. It doesn’t matter.”
In a statement to USA TODAY on Tuesday, a spokesman for George W. Bush added, "President and Mrs. (Laura) Bush really enjoyed being with Ellen and Portia (de Rossi) and appreciated Ellen’s comments about respecting one another. They respect her."
3 win Nobel in Chemistry for work on lithium-ion batteries
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for their work developing lithium-ion batteries, which have reshaped energy storage and transformed cars, mobile phones and many other devices — and reduced the world's reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
The prize went to John B. Goodenough, 97, a German-born engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Japan's Akira Yoshino, 71, of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University.
Goodenough is the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize.
The three each had a set of unique breakthroughs that cumulatively laid the foundation for the development of a commercial rechargeable battery.
Lithium-ion batteries — the first truly portable and rechargeable batteries — took more than a decade to develop, and drew upon the work of multiple scientists in the U.S., Japan and around the world.
The work had its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Whittingham was working on efforts to develop fossil fuel-free energy technologies. He harnessed the enormous tendency of lithium — the lightest metal — to give away its electrons to make a battery capable of generating just over two volts.
By 1980, Goodenough had doubled the capacity of the battery to four volts by using cobalt oxide in the cathode — one of two electrodes, along with the anode, that make up the ends of a battery.
But that battery remained too explosive for general commercial use and needed to be tamed. That's where Yoshino's work in the 1980s came in. He substituted petroleum coke, a carbon material, in the battery's anode. This step paved the way for the first lightweight, safe, durable and rechargeable commercial batteries to be built and enter the market in 1991.
"We have gained access to a technical revolution," said Sara Snogerup Linse of the Nobel committee for chemistry. "The laureates developed lightweight batteries with high enough potential to be useful in many applications — truly portable electronics: mobile phones, pacemakers, but also long-distance electric cars."
"The ability to store energy from renewable sources — the sun, the wind — opens up for sustainable energy consumption," she added.