List of Checks

Is Johnson & Johnson behind on manufacturing goals for its COVID-19 vaccine?

Required U.S. regulatory approval could come as soon as Feb. 27 for a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, but manufacturing of the vaccine is running behind schedule.

The New York Times reported on Feb. 24 that the company will have four million does ready to ship at the end of February. Originally the company promised triple that volume by then. By the end of March the company will still be 17 million doses short of the original goals laid out last August, when the U.S. government ordered 100 million does of the vaccine. The company “insists” it will fulfill the total $1 billion order by the end of June, the Times said.

Federal regulators released analyses confirming that the new vaccine is safe, “with noticeably milder side effects than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and without any reports of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis,” the Times added.

Do people living in the US illegally pay billions in Social Security taxes every year?

The Social Security Administration estimated that in 2010 3.1 million people living in the country without legal authorization contributed $13 billion to the system, while receiving only $1 billion in benefits. Its 2013 report forecast “a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.”

These figures reflected the taxed earnings of workers with expired temporary visas, fraudulent social security numbers or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, a number which non-citizens can obtain to make it easier to process taxes. The numbers are issued to non-citizens regardless of their legal status.

New American Economy, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, reports that people living in the U.S. illegally pay a total of $30.6 billion in state, local, and federal taxes every year.

Do some plastic materials have misleading recycling symbols?

Not all plastic materials displaying the familiar triangular recycling symbol are actually recyclable. The numerals used inside the triangle (from 1 to 7) denote categories derived fromResin Identification Codes. Items labeled with “1” have the “highest recycling value,” whereas those with a “7” (fiberglass, nylon, etc.) can essentially be non-recyclables as they are so difficult to process.

Most consumers are not aware of this distinction. A 2019 study revealed that 68% of 2,000 Americans surveyed thought that any plastic item with an RIC number on it was recyclable. Well-meaning consumers “wish cycle” items that shouldn't be in the bin, slowing down sorting and increasing costs.

In reality, of the 9% of plastic waste that goes on to be recycled, the vast majority belongs to just two of the seven RIC categories, 1 and 2, which include easily recyclable water bottles and milk jugs.

Is highway expansion effective at reducing traffic?

Research has shown that highway expansion “creates new demand for those lanes or roads”—a phenomenon known as induced demand. As a result, traffic congestion tends to remain about the same or worsen as more expansions encourage more people to begin driving.

In the 1960s, economist Anthony Downs created a new term for this: the law of peak-hour traffic congestion. It states that, “on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.” More recent studies have confirmed this law to varying degrees.

The Federal Highway Administration proposes other options for reducing traffic congestion. Among them: providing “street connectivity” or grade separations, adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes and adding capacity to other transit systems.

Did the Equality Act garner ‘overwhelming’ bipartisan support from the House in 2019?

The Equality Act, which would increase protections from discrimination against LGBTQ people, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a slight majority in May 2019. Eight Republicans joined 228 Democrats in supporting the bill.

The law was not taken up in the Senate, despite support for a vote from a group of senators including Maine Republican Susan Collins. Proponents of the act continue to support the bill, citing research finding bipartisan support for measures such as the Equality Act among 70% of Americans. Opponents argue it could infringe religious freedom.

A January 2021 executive order by President Biden promises expanded, but reversible, protections through implementation of a 2020 Supreme Court ruling barring workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Did the Trump administration waive aside local concerns about a Chinese-owned wind farm project in Texas?

The Trump administration declined to block a Chinese company’s plans for a wind farm near Del Rio, Texas, despite concerns expressed by Texas politicians. The developer is a subsidiary of a Chinese energy company owned by Sun Guangxin, a Chinese Communist Party member.

In 2020 Texas politicians asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to intervene in his role as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. There are no restrictions on foreign land purchases in U.S., but CFIUS has wide powers to bar foreign investment on national security grounds.

Retired Adm. Bobby R. Inman, now a University of Texas professor, told Texas Public Radio he saw no national security threat from the project, despite the proximity of an air force base. He said it is simply a routine investment from an investor who sees a good market opportunity. “Where is the national security threat?”

Is the Biden administration prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines for people detained by ICE?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said federal allocations of COVID-19 vaccines to the states account for the number of detainees under its supervision, according to a statement provided to CalMatters, a news service. But neither other federal agencies nor ICE is in charge of when those groups might receive a vaccination.

Determinations about when those detainees will actually receive their vaccines are apparently left up to state and county decisions about prioritization of and scheduling for different groups awaiting vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control hasn’t so far included any specific directives regarding immigration detainees.

From April 2020 to August 2020, the average number of monthly COVID-19 cases was 13.4 times higher in ICE detention centers than in the U.S. population, according to a JAMA research letter.

Does gene editing improve crop performance?

Genetic engineering techniques have been used successfully to improve fruit crops in various ways, including increased stress tolerance and fruit quality. In 1994, the “Flavr Savr Tomato” was approved for commercial growth in the U.S. It featured genetic modifications that slowed ripening and kept the tomatoes harder after picking. The Hawaiian papaya is also modified, with over 80% of the crop featuring gene edits that protect the fruit from an incurable disease.

The costs of regulatory checks to ensure safety are one barrier to more genetically modified crops. The emergence of CRISPR gene-editing techniques has the potential to improve fruit crops in a more timely and cost-effective manner because it is not subject to the same stringent regulations as traditional genetically modified crops.

Did life expectancy for Black Americans decrease by nearly three years in the first half of 2020?

Reflecting the impact of COVID-19, life expectancy for Black Americans decreased by nearly three years in the first half of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The estimate dropped from 74.7 years to 72 years, a larger fall than for either whites and Hispanics.

In the same period, life expectancy of Hispanics decreased by about two years, from 81.8 years to 79.9 years. White life expectancy decreased by less than one year, from 78.8 to 78.

CDC data suggests that white people are less likely to die from COVID-19 infections than other races. Blacks are dying from the coronavirus at 1.9 times the rate of white people, while Hispanics are dying from the virus at 2.3 times the rate for whites. The COVID-19 pandemic was not the only factor reducing life expectancy in the first half of 2020. Deaths from drug overdoses were also on the rise.

Would a blanket cancellation of student debt by the president likely meet legal challenges?

Advocates, including the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School, argue that the president has complete legal authority to cancel student debt without Congressional approval. In a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who also favors canceling debt, they cite various statutes which they said clearly allow action on federal student loan debt “in any amount.”

The Trump Education Department disagreed, arguing that in essence forgiveness was a spending decision that under the Constitution can’t be made without Congressional authority.

President Biden has indicated he will seek a view on the matter from his own Justice Department appointees, pending their confirmation. But his spokesperson said any debt cancellation, if deemed legal, would likely be closer to $10,000 per student than the $50,000 sum advocates are pushing for.

Does Sen. McConnell have control of Republican National Committee funds?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have a degree of influence within the Republican National Committee as a high-ranking Republican officeholder, but he does not have any direct control over its spending. The Committee is run by a chair along with an executive committee elected by party members and officials, who in turn approve budgets.

Ronna McDaniel, an early supporter of Donald Trump, became the RNC Chair after Trump’s 2016 victory. In January 2020, she ran unopposed and won another term. In a recent Associated Press interview she said “the party has to stay neutral” in 2024 presidential primaries regardless of whether Trump decides to run again.

The RNC raised $890 million in the 2020 cycle, and as of Feb. 19 had $80.5 million on hand.

Can members of the House of Representatives sit on the boards of private companies?

Nothing currently prevents House members from sitting on the boards of privately-owned businesses, but a ban is among many provisions of a broad election-reform and anti-corruption measure Democrats have introduced in both houses. Ethics rules for the House, as well as the Senate, do prohibit members from serving on the boards of publicly traded companies.

The change would affect at least 15 House members involved in a range of private companies, according to Sludge, a nonprofit news service covering lobbying and money in politics. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican, earned at least $3.6 million in 2018 from roles in 29 different businesses, according to Sludge's analysis. Such ties create potential conflicts of interest. “It is not uncommon for House members to work on advancing legislation” benefiting specific industries where they may have holdings, it reports. 

Is the Biden administration expected to change tax treatment of capital gains?

During his campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden outlined a plan to increase the tax rate on long-term capital gains for taxpayers earning over $1 million per year. A capital gains tax is a tax on the profits earned from the sale of an asset, like a stock or a property.

The campaign website discusses an increase in the top rate on long-term capital gains from 20% to 39.6%, restoring the tax to the level in 2012, when Biden was vice president. Proposed reforms would close loopholes that previously allowed some to avoid the capital gains tax, and double it for the super-wealthy. The president’s push for a large COVID relief package has taken priority over enacting these and other tax changes, however.

Long-term capital gains and dividends are the second-largest tax expenditure in the tax code. The tax could account for up to $167.5 billion in the fiscal year 2021, estimates predict.

Are engineers working on flying cars for personal use?

In August 2020, a company named SkyDrive made “the first public demonstration of a flying car in Japan”—an electric vehicle with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. The pilot of the one-seater flew at about 10 feet off the ground for about four minutes.

With support from the Japanese government, SkyDrive's CEO expects to commercialize a two-seat version by 2023. Morgan Stanley researchers project that “urban aircraft” will be common by 2040 and could create a $1.5 trillion market.

Currently, safety is the biggest issue with flying cars. Vehicles need to be designed to carry significant weight while remaining quiet enough to fly at low altitudes. Flying vehicles are unlikely to replace cars anytime soon, as they’ll be significantly less energy efficient and therefore much more expensive.

Is the majority of student debt owed to the federal government?

In the first quarter of 2020, 92% of all student debt in the United States was held in federal loans, according to a report by an academic data vendor, MeasureOne. Researchers at EducationData.org reported similar numbers.

The nearly 43 million borrowers of federal student loans owe a total of $1.57 trillion. The average borrower owes the federal government $36,510, EducationData.org reported in April 2020.

National student loan debt, including both federal and private loans, reached an all-time high of $1.7 trillion last year.

Are ‘vaccine passports’ a new concept?

Travel documents offering proof of inoculations against various contagious diseases have been in use for decades. The first standardized vaccine certificates for international travelers were developed for smallpox, under a 1944 U.N. program.

Today, individual countries decide what vaccines are required or recommended for travelers, according to the World Health Organization. In recent years, requirements have generally eased in line with overall global health advances. The U.S. has no current vaccination requirements for any arriving travelers. India’s current rules require a certificate for anyone arriving within six days of leaving “a yellow fever endemic area.”

The coronavirus pandemic appears likely to change that. Governments, airlines and industry groups are beginning to discuss how to best implement digital documentation of inoculation against COVID-19 and/or recent test results.

Are Black students more likely to drop out of school than students of other races?

The rate at which students withdraw before graduating high school is similar across all races. In 2017, 5.5% of Black students withdrew from school. That same year, the dropout rate was 3.9% among whites, 4.4% among American Indians and Alaska Natives, 4.7% among Asians and 6.5% among Hispanic students.

Socioeconomic status has a higher correlation to dropout rates than race, according to a 2019 report from EducationData.org. Students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of high school than their middle-class peers and ten times more likely to drop out than students with higher socioeconomic statuses.

In 2008, former President Obama stated that children who grow up without a father in their household are nine times more likely to drop out of school, but there is no recent data to support this sentiment.

Can wind power turbines operate in all kinds of severe weather?

Wind farms can be susceptible to extreme weather like lightning, high-speed winds or freezing temperatures.

While the turbines’ blades require wind speeds between 6 mph and 9 mph to generate electricity, they also have a maximum speed. Gusts stronger than 55 mph can sometimes cause the turbines to shut down. Exceeding a maximum speed may shut turbines off to prevent straining the rotor.

Lightning can also damage the blades and generators, but manufacturers and engineers continue to research how to disperse the large jolts of electricity safely.

Wind turbines in predictably cold climates such as Sweden or Canada are typically adapted to work in temperatures as low as -22°F, but operators in more temperate climates don’t always invest in those measures.

Are there continuing investigations into Trump’s finances?

There are multiple ongoing investigations into former President Trump’s finances.

Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr. is investigating Trump and his businesses for “possible bank, insurance or tax fraud.” The investigation has accelerated in recent months, with Vance issuing a subpoena for Trump’s tax records from 2011–2018. A Supreme Court ruling on Trump’s challenge to the subpoena is expected in the next few weeks.

Separately, New York State Attorney General Letitia James continues to gather documents to address whether Trump’s business “misrepresented its assets to secure bank loans and tax benefits." The assets include a New York mansion, a California golf course and four other Trump properties.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are reported to be conducting at least two investigations: one into an unknown issue, one into the 2016 inaugural committee.

Does Texas run on its own electrical grid?

There are three electricity-distribution networks serving the contiguous 48 states, one in the East, one in the West and one for Texas. The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of the same name, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT provides power for around 90% of the state; relatively remote parts of the state, like El Paso and the Upper Panhandle, are still part of the other grids.

Texas has avoided interstate distribution arrangements in order to avoid federal oversight of its utilities. The federal government began to regulate interstate electricity distribution in 1935. In 1970, ERCOT was formed as a single system within Texas after a series of blackouts hit other parts of the U.S.

Are Montana legislators seeking to reduce barriers to building new nuclear power plants?

In Montana, two bills easing the path for new nuclear power development moved forward in February. One bill would end a 43-year-old requirement requiring that decisions about building nuclear plants be put to a referendum and allow the legislature to decide.

Under a Senate resolution, a legislative committee or another panel would study the potential of smaller nuclear plants to replace aging coal-generation capacity in the state. Montana currently has no nuclear plants, and it is not part of a program under which federal authorities assist states interested in developing nuclear power plants.

Did the USDA data report that the number of Black farmers increased during the Obama years?

When Thomas Vilsack was Secretary of Agriculture under Barack Obama, he cited 2012 department data noting a 12% gain in the number of Black farmers. Vilsack, who has been reappointed to the post by President Biden, outlined in mid-2016 “big, bold steps to rectify past wrongs” in the government’s treatment of minorities.

In 2017, the department said, the number of Black farm “operators” was up a further 5% from 2012, at 48,697. Black operators represented about 1.3% of all U.S. farmers.

The survey takes place every five years. The Counter, a nonprofit news service, has challenged the accuracy of the 2012 count, noting that it included a 57% “adjustment” to compensate for “undercoverage” and “non-response” in census participants. The Counter says this adjustment led to an overestimate in the actual number of Black farmers.

Has the world met the main goals laid out in major international climate agreements?

The international community has failed to meet the goals outlined by the three major climate treaties.

  • The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change aimed to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Atmospheric CO2, measured in parts per million, has increased every year since the agreement.
  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol required 36 developed countries to reduce their emissions “by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012.” The U.S. withdrew from the protocol and nearly half of the countries failed to meet their targets.
  • The 2015 Paris Agreement seeks to keep global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius and aims for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The 2020 United Nations Emissions Gap Report warns “the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals.”

Did the new Defense Secretary extend his recusal from matters involving Raytheon?

Lloyd Austin, the retired general who is now Secretary of Defense under President Biden, was previously on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a major defense contractor. In his confirmation hearing, he pledged to recuse himself from all matters involving the company for four years, going beyond legal requirements that he do so for one year. He also in his ethics disclosure outlined plans to divest holdings in the company and related entities.

Raytheon has been a military contractor since World War II, and became the second-largest last year in a merger with United Technologies (where Austin became a board member in 2016).

“Recusal isn’t a panacea,” a watchdog group cautions, given Raytheon’s share of both sales to the Pentagon and to foreign governments requiring U.S. approval. “Current ethics laws and executive orders are far from sufficient” to avoid conflicts of interest, it contends.

Is colchicine potentially an effective treatment for the ‘cytokine storm’ brought on by COVID-19?

Recent trials of colchicine, a commonplace drug used to treat gout, warrant larger studies to confirm the drug’s efficacy against some of the worst outcomes from COVID-19, researchers found.

A clinical trial of around 4,500 non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients followed an earlier study of the drug’s effects on hospitalized patients. The drug, known for anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, has been seen as a potential defense against the “cytokine storm” immune response associated with some severe cases of the disease.

The “storm” can include symptoms ranging from mild fatigue to life-threatening pneumonia and organ failure. According to the initial non-peer reviewed study, the latest trial found that colchicine reduced deaths by 44% and hospitalizations by 25%. Researchers said colchicine could be useful as an effective oral medication for non-hospitalized patients with the virus.

Do lots of jobs in the US come without any benefits?

Bureau of Labor Statistics and other survey data indicate that benefits are very unevenly distributed across the U.S. private-sector workforce of about 120 million.

  • 80% of private-sector workers lack paid family or medical leave.
  • 25% of private-sector workers don‘t receive paid sick leave.
  • 31% of private-sector workers don‘t have access to any health care benefits via their employer.
  • 21% of private-sector workers don’t have paid vacations, and 20% don‘t have paid holidays.
  • 60% of private-sector workers don't have short-term disability benefits.
  • 44% of private-sector workers don't have access to life insurance.
  • 33% of private-sector workers don't have access to a retirement plan.

Among those who do receive some benefits, there are wide variations in what’s offered, influenced by occupation, wages, full-time or part-time status and union representation.

Are reports that data vendors are selling ‘extremist scores’ substantiated?

There is no evidence that U.S. data vendors are selling “extremist scores” that characterize consumers based on such factors as political preferences or firearms ownership.

The claim is being published by various right-wing social media users, including the chief executive of GAB, an app challenging larger social networks with vows that it will not restrict or ban controversial posts by users or fact-check posts. The posts about the supposed scoring show a graphic with no onward links to a source or any other indication of its origin.

Both Google and Apple banned GAB from their distribution channels in 2017, citing violations of their rules on hate speech. GAB’s founder has recently protested restrictions on the company’s access to processing services for charges made on Visa-branded cards.

Would meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals still leave the world facing serious environmental consequences?

The Paris Agreement, an international climate treaty adopted in 2015, aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the human-caused global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. However, even this limited warming will still cause significant environmental damage.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 degree average temperature increase will lead to more droughts, heat waves, severe storms, habitat destruction and rising sea levels. Humans will more often suffer from food insecurity and water scarcity.

The report emphasizes that all of these impacts will be worse at 2 degrees of warming.

According to the IPCC, “global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”

Does loss of biodiversity disproportionately affect the impoverished?

Data from the World Wildlife Fund and the Institute of Zoology suggest that increasing loss of biodiversity is particularly harmful for the world’s poorer populations.

Average population sizes among species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have dropped 68% since 1970, according to WWF. The destruction of biodiverse forests has increased over time, according to National Geographic, with consequences for ecological balance, air quality, climate stability, water supply, pollination and food and medicine production.

Impoverished people are more likely to have their natural resources exploited, and rely most on agricultural production for survival, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. They also have less access to funding needed to respond to worsening environmental conditions.

Is deforested land more prone to landslides?

According to research published in 2019 by the American Geophysical Union, the reduced evaporation and weakened root reinforcement of soil caused by deforestation can increase the chances of a landslide.

Studying the relationship between landslides and different types of forest alterations, researchers found that “large and interconnected deforested tracts” caused large landslides that occurred within a few years. Smaller-scale forest conversion was associated with smaller landslides but the risk of a landslide extended to more than 10 years after the initial deforestation.

A researcher from Oregon Wild, an organization dedicated to protecting Oregon‘s wildlands, found that on average, clearcuts (deforested areas) exhibited landslide rates 13 times higher than in forested areas.

Was Apple sued for allegedly using child labor in its African supply chain?

In December 2019, Apple, Alphabet, Dell, Microsoft and Tesla were sued in federal court in Washington, D.C., by 14 parents and children from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lawsuit was filed by International Rights Advocates, a nonprofit advocating for human rights and corporate accountability. The suit accuses the five companies of aiding and abetting in the serious injury and death of children who were employed in cobalt mines that are part of the companies' supply chains.

The families seek damages for forced labor, unjust enrichment, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Cobalt is an important component of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in most rechargeable electronic devices. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, more than 70% of cobalt comes from Congo.

Does the Constitution specify who should preside over the impeachment of a sitting president?

“When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside,” the Constitution declares. Chief Justice John Roberts was thus not required to preside over former President Donald Trump’s second Senate trial, as Trump was already out of office. The chief justice did preside over Trump’s first impeachment trial last year.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is president pro tempore of the Senate, took on the role in place of the chief justice. “The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents,” Leahy said, noting that he takes the responsibility “extraordinarily seriously.” The president pro tempore is named by the Senate to preside in the absence of the Vice President, and is usually the longest-serving member of the majority party.

Do oil spills contribute to global warming?

Oil spills do not directly contribute to global warming, although they do harm other aspects of the environment, contaminating ecosystems and endangering life forms.

When oil spills occur, the oil does not mix with the water. Instead, it creates a thin layer on the surface, called a “slick” or a “sheen” after the layer expands. Once the sheen breaks down, some of the oil will sink into the ocean. Marine life may ingest the oil, leading to sickness, death or the inability to reproduce.

Oil spills in open water can also have disastrous impacts on coastal areas. Besides the visible impact of covering wildlife in oil, habitats are harmed by contact with the thick oil slicks.

Can solar farms operate in cold temperatures?

Cold (bright) weather is not detrimental to solar farm performance. In fact, lower temperatures can make panels more productive. According to solar panel manufacturers and installers including Renvu, CED Greentech, Sunrun and Ecomark Solar, panels begin losing efficiency above around 77ºF.

One example of solar panels operating in cold temperatures is a farm in the frigid Alaskan town of Willow. The Willow farm generates 1.35 megawatt hours per year, enough energy to power 120 homes year-round. Snow is the bigger concern, and the farm sometimes hires people to remove from the panels. Setting the panels at a 45-degree angle helps snow slide off on its own. The Willow farm‘s central issue is that peak sunlight doesn‘t match peak energy use. In the dark winter months, Alaskans use the most energy and solar panels produce the least; the reverse is true in the summer.

Do people with the biggest student debt burdens tend to be high earners?

According to 2020 data recently released by the Federal Reserve, more than half of student loan debt is owed by borrowers in the top 40% of income brackets. This pattern has held true in four surveys since 2001. Those in the bottom 40% hold just under 20% of debt.

Achieving higher levels of education adds more debt, but often boosts income. The 3% of adults with doctorates or professional degrees have median earnings double those of the general population, and owe 20% of all education debt. The debt pattern also means that any measures to forgive all of everyone’s debt would give most value to upper-income borrowers, increasing inequality.

The use of income-driven replacement plans, which don‘t require any payments from borrowers whose incomes are too low, helps explain why “out-of-pocket loan payments are concentrated among high-income households.”

Have advance purchases of COVID-19 vaccines by rich countries cut availability for the rest of the world?

Wealthy countries making up 14% of the world’s population have pre-purchased 51% of all available COVID-19 vaccines, according to The BMJ. By November 2020, Japan, Australia and Canada, with about 45 million recorded cases, had secured more than a billion vaccine doses, the journal reported.

According to Duke University, high-income countries like Australia and Canada have purchased enough vaccines to inoculate their populations several times over. These countries have little incentive to share their supply through global distribution programs.

An advocacy coalition including Oxfam and UNAIDS attributes the imbalance in part to patent rules, which they argue are restricting supply by limiting the number of authorized manufacturers.

Duke says that without a rapid expansion of global manufacturing capacity, most people in poor countries could wait until 2024 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Has the Capitol riot spurred the military to address white supremacy and far-right extremism in its ranks?

In the wake of the January 2021 Capitol riot, the Pentagon has intensified efforts to deal with extremism in the armed forces. As of Jan. 21, 19% of those charged with alleged involvement in the riot had military experience (compared to 7% of the general population).

On Feb. 3, the new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, ordered a department-wide “stand down” to discuss extremism in the military. Military leaders are to host discussions with their troops over the next 60 days.

On Jan. 14, defense officials announced a new evaluation “addressing ideological extremism within the U.S. armed forces,” including potentially increased monitoring of service members‘ social media accounts.

On Feb. 3, the new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, ordered a Defense Department-wide “stand down” to discuss extremism. Military leaders are to host discussions with their troops over the next 60 days.

Are high earners disproportionately responsible for the majority of unpaid taxes?

Researchers say high earners account for most of a roughly $400 billion “tax gap” between how much the federal government is owed and how much it collects.

In 2019 Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury Secretary now at Harvard, and University of Pennsylvania professor Natasha Sarin looked at data from 2011 to 2013, the latest available. In a newspaper opinion piece summarizing their work, they attributed 70% of the gap to underpayment by the top 1% of earners.

An earlier study looking at data from 2001 found that the top 10% of earners accounted for 61% of unpaid taxes.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Internal Revenue Service examined 46% fewer individual income tax returns between 2010 and 2018, and reduced funds and staff allocated to enforcement activities by 30%. Summers and Sarin outlined steps the agency could take to reduce the gap by at least 15%.

Is carbon capture and storage technology currently operating on a large enough scale to combat climate change?

According to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CCS capacity would have to increase by “more than a hundredfold” to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Boosting CCS can offset the need for more radical changes in human behavior, the institute says.

The technology captures CO2 produced in power generation and industrial processes so that it is not emitted into the atmosphere. There are currently 26 operational facilities and 37 in development. Because of the costs, most are located in wealthier countries like the U.S., China and the U.K. Nearly half are located in the U.S., where they benefit from a tax credit.

In 2016, the International Energy Administration stated that “speeding up carbon capture and storage is needed” to meet the climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. Global capacity grew by 33% in 2020.

Are US sanctions reducing access to medicine in Venezuela?

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, U.S. economic sanctions on Venezuela are “limiting the government’s ability to import food and medicine.”

Since 2017, the U.S. has imposed various broad economic sanctions on Venezuela in response to the corruption and human rights abuses of Nicolás Maduro's government. The sanctions have reduced the government‘s ability to generate revenue from oil, thus decreasing essential imports of medicine, food and medical equipment. According to the National Survey on Living Conditions, about 1% of Venezuela's population, or 300,000 people, are estimated to be at risk of dying because of lack of access to medicine or treatment.

Sanctions exacerbated the shortages of essentials that began at the start of the humanitarian crisis in 2013. Debates continue regarding the true impact of sanctions on humanitarian conditions.

Did the Biden Administration ban oil and gas drilling on federal lands?

The Biden administration did not ban oil and gas drilling on public lands. Instead, it halted new leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands while it conducts “a comprehensive review of the the federal oil and gas program.” The Interior Department clarified that “the targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases.”

According to the department, the oil and gas industry currently holds drilling rights on 26 million acres of public land and 12 million acres of public waters. Most (53%) of the onshore acreage and 77% of the offshore acreage is “unused and non-producing,” with the oil and gas industry “sitting on” 7,700 approved permits. Tens of millions of acres offered for development during the Trump administration attracted no buyers.

Fossil fuel extracted from public lands accounts for 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the department said.

Has the US played a role in destabilizing the democratic process in Haiti?

The U.S. has a 200-plus year history of intervening in Haitian affairs:

  • Although Haiti declared independence in 1804, the U.S. refused to acknowledge this until 1862 yet continued to conduct trade with Haiti on unfavorable terms.
  • In 1915, the Marines invaded Haiti and occupied it for the next 19 years.
  • In 1991, a military coup whose leaders included Haitians on the CIA payroll ousted Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
  • In 1994, the U.S. staged an intervention to return Aristide to power in exchange for U.S.-friendly trade reforms.
  • In 2000, the U.S. government froze development aid to Haiti to protest Aristide.
  • In 2004, the U.S. backed a coup that removed Aristide from power and replaced him with an unelected prime minister flown in from Florida.
  • In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. provided financial and political support for unlawful elections in Haiti.

Did most hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2020 occur in New York and California?

The majority of hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islander communities in 2020 occurred in California and New York, which are home to more Asian Americans than any other states. Between March and August, about 46% of Asian American hate crimes occurred in California and 14% in New York, according to a database of racially motivated crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approximately 1,800 hate crimes against Asian Americans were reported between March and May, after the new coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, China, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Throughout 2020, President Trump called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus.” In January 2021, the Biden administration issued a memorandum condemning intolerance against Asian American Pacific Islanders, claiming the government should acknowledge its role in “furthering these xenophobic sentiments.”

Have studies of cell phone radiation established strong evidence of risks to humans?

A National Institutes of Health toxicology program has been exploring the health risks of cell phone radiation since 1999, finding some evidence of DNA damage to cells from strong radiation waves. It hasn’t established any clear link to increased cancer or other risks for humans.

In 2019 it conducted a study that found exposure to strong cell phone radiation caused some DNA damage in mice and rats, as well as an association with heart tumors in the hearts of male rats. The NIH notes “many factors” may influence DNA damage and tumors.

As 5G frequencies don’t penetrate the human body as deeply as 2G or 3G waves, the NIH says they present less concern about risk to internal organs. Scientists want to see if those waves may cause toxicity in the skin or other tissues.

A 2009 study from Australia found a link between cell phone radiation and DNA damage to lab specimens of human sperm cells.

Could synthetic natural gas potentially be carbon neutral?

Synthetic natural gas—natural gas produced from coal, oil or biofuels—generates carbon dioxide when burned for fuel just like traditionally produced natural gas. But in experiments, synthetic natural gas has been made by harnessing carbon from the CO2 in the air and combining it with hydrogen, thus creating the possibility of a carbon-neutral fuel. When burned, synthetic natural gas produced this way would not add to atmospheric CO2, only return what it took away. Natural gas is another name for methane, a molecule with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.

Today, the quantity of CO2 emitted from burning synthetic natural gas varies depending on its source material. Burning coal- or oil-derived synthetic natural gas generates more CO2 than simply burning coal or oil. Less often, synthetic natural gas is produced using renewable electricity sources, lowering its carbon footprint.

Are other COVID-19 vaccine makers following Moderna’s example and waiving patent rights?

Moderna Inc. is the only manufacturer of an approved COVID-19 vaccine that has publicly committed to not enforcing its vaccine patents. The company, which received $955 million in U.S. government funding to develop its vaccine, says it will waive enforcement rights and license its intellectual property “upon request” in order to help end the pandemic “as quickly as possible.”

Pfizer, co-developer of the other vaccine available in the U.S., has said that it can’t commit to a “one-size-fits-all model” of patent sharing. Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, have so far enlisted at least two other European drug makers, Novartis and Sanofi, to help meet strong global demand.

AstraZeneca, which developed its COVID-19 vaccine with Oxford University, has outlined plans to distribute 2 billion doses of its vaccine through various partners including the Serum Institute of India.

Are plastics expected to become more important to the oil industry as fuel demand declines?

As use of electric vehicles, alternative fuels and public transit grows, the International Energy Agency predicts petrochemicals (used to make plastics) will drive a third of all fossil fuel industry growth by 2030, and nearly half by 2050.

The American Chemistry Council reports that from 2010-2018, the chemical and plastics industry invested over $200 billion in natural gas liquids like ethane, “the main feedstock for basic petrochemicals and plastics in the United States.”

The World Economic Forum expects global plastics demand to double in the next 20 years. According to the Center for International Environmental Law, if the plastics industry continues expanding at its current rate, by 2050 it will account for 10% to 13% of the emissions allowable in our remaining “carbon budget”—i.e., the emissions ceiling to avoid the earth warming by more than a dangerous 1.5° C.

Are banks required to give certain customer data to the federal government without their consent?

U.S. banks are required to provide the federal government with reports of certain customers’ information irrespective of consent in compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and the Patriot Act.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires U.S. banks to maintain customer records and create special reports involving financial transactions in order to monitor and detect money laundering, tax evasion, organized crime and terrorist activity.

The Patriot Act stipulates that the federal government may request customers’ financial information from a bank if there is evidence of money laundering or terrorist activity.

This is disclosed to customers when they open an account and accept the bank’s terms and conditions, on the bank’s website or orally by their banker. However, customer consent is not necessary when the information is being shared.

Did the public file misconduct complaints against 1,800 Baltimore police officers over a five-year period?

Between 2015 and 2019, 13,392 misconduct complaints were filed against 1,800 Baltimore police officers, according to an American Civil Liberties Union review of data provided by the city. In a single month in 2017, a total of about 800 officers were patrolling the streets, the ACLU noted. The department says it has a total staff of more than 3,100 civilian and sworn officers. About 6% of officers accounted for a third of complaints.

The city, under a 2017 court settlement, has pledged to reform department conduct that the Justice Department found to be unconstitutional and illegal. The ACLU noted that the complaints were “sustained” at low rates, “even when officers admit to the misconduct.”

Baltimore County operates a separate police department. Its force of about 1,900 officers received 120 complaints in 2019, according to the county's dashboard.

Did illegal crossings from Mexico into the US return to ‘crisis’ levels in late 2020?

Official figures suggest unauthorized border crossings from Mexico into the U.S. have in recent months again passed 2014 levels that President Obama termed an “actual humanitarian crisis on the border.”

Figures for unsuccessful border crossings are a closely-watched indicator of immigration pressures. In May 2014, federal agents along the southern border apprehended or denied entry to 1,958 people a day. In May 2019, the number peaked at 4,287 daily encounters. It fell amid pandemic travel restrictions in the U.S. and along migration routes from Central America, hitting a low in April 2020 of 570/day. Attempts then began to rebound, reaching 2,526/day in January 2021.

The numbers suggest the Trump administration’s hardline policies “ultimately failed,” the Bipartisan Policy Center observes, while migrants think the Biden administration “may make access easier and are planning accordingly.”

Is half of recent deforestation on Earth related to food and drink production?

Food and drink production has played a major role in deforestation since cultivation began thousands of years ago, with the pressures in the past century stronger in tropical forests than in temperate climates.

A 2018 study by the American Association of Advancement of Science looked at the causes of deforestation around the world in the first 15 years of this century. The study attributed 24% of deforestation to shifting agriculture use and 27% to commodity production (which includes agriculture as a category), meaning around half of recent deforestation is related to agriculture.

A UN report cites estimates that commercial agriculture accounted for 40% of deforestation in the tropics and subtropics between 2000 and 2010, with “local subsistence agriculture” accounting for 33%. North American forest area was stable through the 20th century, after declining for the prior two centuries.

Does South Dakota have nearly the worst infection rate but the best unemployment rate of any US state during the pandemic?

As of Feb. 10, 2021, the state of South Dakota has recorded the second highest coronavirus infection rate in the country, at 12,892 per 100,000 residents, exceeded only by North Dakota. Its death rate is sixth-highest, at 205 per 100,000 residents, exceeded by Mississippi and northeastern states hit hard early in the pandemic.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has claimed that her “freedom first” policy response of minimizing shutdowns and avoiding a statewide mask mandate has allowed her state to fare better than virtually every other state.

While not true with respect to infection and death rates, it is true with respect to jobs. As of December 2020, South Dakota tied with Nebraska for the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3%.

Is there solid evidence that echinacea helps strengthen the lungs?

Echinacea, a plant also known as purple coneflower, is sold as an over-the-counter remedy for the common cold or flu. “Taking echinacea might slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold,” according to the National Institutes of Health, but the plant hasn't been shown to shorten its length.

There are few studies about echinacea’s effects on the lungs or other parts of the body. While it has been widely used for centuries for various ailments, the NIH notes there isn’t enough evidence of other benefits beyond its possible effect on colds. In rare cases people have experienced shortness of breath as a side effect, and people with asthma and allergies are at increased risk of such an adverse reaction.

Given the plant’s known properties, a December 2020 paper by researchers focused on natural remedies says “further research is warranted” into its potential against COVID-19.

Can someone be denied a COVID-19 vaccine because of outstanding medical debt?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost.” Any associated fees are covered by insurance providers or, for the uninsured, by reimbursements from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund. The fund was created as part of the March 2020 coronavirus relief legislation. The CDC states that “no one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay the vaccine administration fee.”

In early February, a 72-year-old Colorado cancer patient had a vaccine appointment cancelled due to medical debt. However, the medical center soon called the man to tell him that there was an error in its vaccine policy, and scheduled him for a next-day appointment.

Have decades of industry-backed recycling efforts led to a decline in plastic waste?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that Americans sent 27 million tons of plastic to landfill in 2018, nine times the amount in 1970. Recycling efforts, kicked off in the early 1970s and sustained since by promotion from packaging makers and their customers, have not kept up with continuing use of plastics.

Public awareness of recycling dates back to a celebrated 1971 “Crying Indian” TV commercial, funded by a group called Keep America Beautiful. The group, founded in 1951, today counts many major food, beverage and packaging producers among its members, many of whom also back the nonprofit Recycling Partnership.

The limits to recycling, advocates say, suggest that only reducing the materials’ widespread use can significantly mitigate plastic pollution. Less than 9% of plastics were recycled in 2018, up from 8% in 2010 and about 6% in 2000, the EPA reports.

Do researchers find children who grow up around dogs or farm animals are less likely to develop asthma?

A 2018 study by researchers in Sweden demonstrated that children with two dogs or more in their homes had a lower risk of asthma than those with one dog only. No association was found between the size of the dog and the likelihood of developing asthma. There was also evidence of a stronger association between female dogs and a lower risk of childhood asthma.

A study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2017 found that exposure to dogs may prevent asthma symptoms, but not in children with dog allergies.

A 1999 study by researchers in Quebec found a significantly lower prevalence of asthma in children raised on a farm as compared with children attending the same schools in the same rural areas who had not been subjected to regular contact with a farm environment.

Is the Biden administration reinstating a special refugee process for certain Central American minors?

A Feb. 2 executive order by President Biden opened the door for reviving the Central American Minors refugee program, calling for “appropriate actions to reinstitute and improve” the initiative.

The CAM program, established in 2014 by the Obama administration, allowed children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras with a parent already legally residing in the U.S. to gain a path to resettlement in the U.S. Program eligibility requirements were expanded in 2016.

The Trump administration terminated the program in 2017. At that point, it rescinded conditional approval already granted to applicants who hadn‘t yet entered the country; that action was reversed by a federal court in 2019.

Travel expenses for CAM beneficiaries are covered by private-sector donors, including United Airlines.

Did the CDC say that LGBTQ individuals could be relatively more at risk of severe COVID-19?

A February 2021 CDC report notes that “sexual minority persons” in the U.S. self-report higher “prevalences of several underlying health conditions associated with severe outcomes from COVID-19 than do heterosexual persons.” Given those risk factors, the CDC should track those populations in the data it collects on COVID-19 cases and deaths, the report said.

The report, using survey data from 2017 to 2019, finds that LGBTQ individuals have a higher prevalence of conditions including asthma, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease. They also have higher rates of obesity and are more likely to smoke.

The report says that including measures of sexual orientation and gender identity in its hospitalization and mortality data would help track COVID-19’s impact on LGBTQ communities, in line with a Biden administration executive order to focus on “key equity indicators” in its COVID-19 response.

Is there evidence that student loan burdens constrain homeownership?

Higher student debt burdens are one factor holding down homeownership rates for younger Americans.

Federal Reserve researchers say that as as student loan debt has risen in the past 16 years, homeownership among 24-to-32 year-olds has declined at a rate more than twice that of the population overall. For every $1,000 increase in debt, borrowers in their late 20s and early 30s experience a 1% to 2% decrease in their homeownership rate. Student debt is “a meaningful barrier” to buying a home, the report says.

In a 2017 survey conducted for the National Association of Realtors, 76% of respondents reported that their student loan debt impacted their decision to buy a home.

Is the Biden administration putting the Defense Production Act to broader use in its COVID-19 response?

On Feb. 5, 2021, the White House outlined initiatives under the Defense Production Act to strengthen efforts to contain COVID-19:

  • Steps to ensure Pfizer has priority access to two components critical to making its COVID-19 vaccine, one of the two currently authorized for use in the U.S.
  • Steps to ensure the supply of 61 million coronavirus at-home test kits by the end of the summer.
  • Steps to expand domestic production of surgical gloves to one billion a month by yearend, sufficient to meet 50% of the needs of U.S. health care providers. “Right now, we just don’t have enough gloves,” said White House coordinator Tim Manning.

The procurement law allows the president wide scope to intervene to ensure domestic business prioritizes national defense needs, by, for instance, prioritizing federal contracts serving national emergency goals over other commitments.

Have more jobs been created under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents over the past 30 years?

In recent decades, job growth under Democratic presidents has outpaced the rate under Republican presidents, both in raw numbers and as a percent increase compared to the previous administration. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data:

  • Under Bill Clinton, the U.S. economy added 18.7 million jobs, a 15.7% gain.
  • Under Barack Obama, the U.S. added 8.9 million jobs, a 6% gain.
  • Under George W. Bush, the U.S. added 5.7 million jobs, a 4.2% gain.
  • In the first three years of Donald Trump’s single term, the country added another 6.6 million jobs, a 4.4% gain.

Employment plummeted in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, producing a net loss of nearly three million jobs between January 2017 and January 2021. Trump left office with the lowest annualized job growth numbers since the government began tracking employment in 1929.

Is income inequality in the US among the highest in the developed world?

According to the most commonly used measure of income inequality, the Gini coefficient, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the developed world.

The Gini coefficient uses a country’s income distribution data to assign it a number between 0 and 1, with zero representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tracks Gini coefficient data on its 37 member countries. Using each country’s latest available data—ranging from 2016-2019—the OECD found that the U.S. has the fourth-highest income inequality among OECD countries, behind Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica. Among G-20 countries, only Mexico has higher income inequality than the U.S.

The Pew Research Center reported in 2020 that income inequality in the U.S. has risen steadily since the 1980s, increasing by 39% between 1980 and 2018.

Is there evidence that eating disorders have worsened during the pandemic?

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of those who suffer from eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, have seen their symptoms “ramp up.” Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association were up 70-80% as of August 2020, NPR reported.

A 2020 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found participants with anorexia reported greater eating restrictions and fear about “finding foods consistent with their meal plan” under quarantine restrictions; participants with bulimia reported increases in binge-eating urges and episodes. Participants reported greater anxiety, including around being able to exercise. More than a third also reported positive changes, such as increased connection with family and friends.

Nearly half of participants claimed that virtual therapy appointments were insufficient compared to in-person treatment.

Is Elon Musk piloting a program to put computer chips in people’s brains?

Founded by Elon Musk in 2016, Neuralink is a neurotechnology company that is designing “the Link,” a neural implant that would let users control computers and mobile devices remotely from their brains. In a January 2021 interview, Musk said, “We’ve already got a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull, and the tiny wires, who can play video games using his mind.” Neuralink has been experimenting on animals with neural interfaces for several years now. The company claims that the wireless nature of the implant lessens the risk of infection.

In 2019, Neuralink stated that it hoped to make inserting a computer connection into the brain safe and painless. Musk stated that human trials could launch by the end of this year. Neuralink hopes to one day create a commercial product, but executives have said that they have a “long way to go."

Has deprivation continued to grow in Syria even as the civil war has subsided?

Emerging from Syria’s civil war, President Bashar al-Assad faces a crisis that has left at least 80% of the remaining Syrian population in poverty and seen the collapse of its currency.

The Syrian pound has lost 97% of its prewar value, amid an “unprecedented meltdown” of economic activity, down by more than 60%, an Atlantic Council report notes. “Across the country, state-subsidized bakeries, one of the few remaining protections, face daunting lineups, queues at gas stations can extend for kilometers, and diesel for heat, cooking, and transportation is becoming virtually unaffordable.” The economic stresses may frustrate Assad from regaining control of the rest of the country, the report says.

An Israeli think tank observes that ”the war in Syria has been the most destructive conflict in the Middle East since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.”

Does the virus causing COVID-19 linger in stagnant air for longer than other respiratory viruses?

A September study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that particles of the virus causing COVID-19 can remain infectious in stagnant air for up to 16 hours, a longer period than some other respiratory coronaviruses.

The study compared aerosolized particles in enclosed chambers from three respiratory coronaviruses, including the new coronavirus (identified by scientists as SARS-CoV-2), SARS and MERS. COVID-19 remained infectious in the air for longer periods than both of the others. While the new coronavirus lingered longer than scientists initially expected, a 16-hour duration was only observed once.

The CDC says more research is needed in order to improve suggested ways to reduce transmission of the virus.

Do clean energy jobs pay less than fossil fuel jobs?

Clean energy jobs pay slightly more than fossil fuel jobs, according to E2, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group of business leaders advocating for sustainable development policies.

Using the latest available Labor Department data, E2 found that fossil fuel jobs paid on average $24.37 an hour while clean energy jobs paid on average $24.85 an hour in 2019. The clean energy industry, which includes fields such as renewable energy production, energy storage, grid modernization, energy efficiency and clean transportation, employs about three times as many people as the fossil fuel industry. Clean energy job growth outpaces job growth in the rest of the economy, including the fossil fuel industry.

Clean energy wages are 25% higher than the national median, have higher unionization rates than the rest of the private sector and are more likely to include retirement and health care benefits.

Are humans able to reduce the amount of CO2 that is already captured in the earth’s atmosphere?

Carbon dioxide is removable from the atmosphere both naturally and artificially.

CO2 cycles between the air and the earth, being exchanged by the atmosphere and the “carbon sinks” of lands and oceans. Human-caused emissions have disturbed this equilibrium. Yale Climate Connections cites estimates that if those CO2 emissions ceased today, about 50% of the emissions since the Industrial Revolution “would be absorbed in the first 50 years,” about 80% “after 300 years,” with the remaining 20% “lasting tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

There are also ways to remove CO2 artificially, including by planting more trees, chemically filtering CO2 from the air and storing it underground, and using minerals to absorb CO2 into a solid material. In a 2018 review, researchers concluded that avoiding future climate risks “requires the large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies.”

Is the US military the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases?

As the world's largest oil consumer, the Defense Department is “the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world,” according to a 2019 study published by Brown University’s Watson Institute. Brown estimates the U.S. military’s carbon dioxide emissions at 59 million metric tons in 2017, comparable to the entire CO2 emissions of a small European country such as Portugal (59.8 million metric tons) or Austria (64.2 million metric tons).

The military’s emissions equate to just over 1% of overall U.S. carbon emissions, which were calculated at 5,088 million tons in 2017.

The Defense Department “has begun to adapt its plans, operations and installations to deal with climate change,” the Brown study notes, arguing that if it moved faster to reduce its fossil fuel consumption it would reduce the risks of the “dire” climate threats it is most concerned about.

Did a new Labor Department appointee previously run a state agency hit by a big benefits fraud?

Suzi LeVine, named as temporary head of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, previously ran a Washington state agency that fell victim to Nigerian fraudsters amid the pandemic-induced flood of new unemployment claims.

A Nigerian fraud ring filed tens of thousands of fake relief applications with the state’s unemployment benefits administrator, costing the state at least $333 million after recovery efforts.

LeVine’s new post involves helping all 50 states manage their unemployment benefit programs. The fraud episode, along with other complaints about the agency’s performance during her tenure, is fueling GOP criticism of her appointment. LeVine was an ambassador under President Obama, and she and her husband were reported to be major financial supporters of the Biden campaign. If she were to assume the post permanently, she would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Did the Supreme Court recently decide that profiting from the presidency is constitutional?

The Supreme Court on Jan. 22 ordered lower courts to dismiss as moot two cases contending that President Trump violated the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, allowing the Court to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of profiting from foreign governments while president.

The cases, filed in September, argued that Trump violated the clause by retaining an interest in his businesses rather than following past practice of placing assets in a “blind trust” under control of another party to avoid conflicts of interest. The clause says no official “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state."

On the recommendation of Trump's solicitor-general, the Court waited until Trump left office to review the cases and then dismissed them given that Trump is no longer president.

Is Israel choosing not to vaccinate people who had contracted COVID-19?

Israel, in allocating its initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, decided not to vaccinate “certified recovered COVID-19 patients.”

U.S. health authorities have decided otherwise, advising all eligible people to get the vaccine whether or not they have previously tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Health officials cite the possibility of re-infection and uncertainty about the duration of any immunity. Recent studies suggest that those who have recovered from the virus may need only one dose of the vaccine to achieve future protection. Both studies are awaiting peer review.

Israel is leading the world in its vaccination rollout. As of Feb. 3, Israel had fully vaccinated 20.9% of its population and partially vaccinated another 36.4%. The U.S. had fully vaccinated 1.8% of its population and partially vaccinated another 8%.

Is Gov. Newsom facing pressure to move faster to reduce California’s oil production?

As a candidate for governor in 2018 Gavin Newsom vowed that California would continue to lead the way with its environmental policies, including its shift to renewable energy. Since he took office the state’s monthly oil output has continued to decline, down by about 20% in Nov. 2020 from Jan. 2018.

Two advocacy groups have claimed that the state expanded drilling significantly during the first half of 2020. A state official told the Associated Press that the groups misinterpreted the data, and that new drilling permits increased 7%. The state is issuing more permits to seal old wells than to drill new wells, he said.

Advocates are also urging the state to move more quickly to ban certain higher-risk drilling techniques. The Los Angeles Times reports that about 1% of the state's 61,682 active wells use hydraulic fracking, which Newsom has said the state should act to phase out by 2024.

Are gas taxes in the US the lowest in the industrialized world?

U.S. gasoline taxes are the lowest in the industrialized world, according to data from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

In 2019, the OECD calculated that the U.S. taxed gas at an average rate of 18.6%, based on the federal rate and additional varying state levies. Of the 36 OECD countries that tax fuel directly at the pump, the U.S. has the lowest rate. The rate ranges well over 60% in much of Europe and is 32% in Canada.

In the U.S., the federal rate has not increased since 1993. At least 31 states have raised their taxes since 2013. North Dakota is considering its first boost since 2005. “We have roads that are crumbling,” says a Republican legislator advocating the boost.

Are state legislatures introducing a wave of laws that make it more difficult to vote?

Following the 2020 election, which saw the highest level of voter turnout in 120 years, state legislatures are introducing a wave of laws to make it more difficult to vote.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 28 state legislatures have introduced 106 restrictive voting bills since the election. Republicans control 19 out of 28. Last January, only 35 such bills had been filed in 6 states.

The bills' proposals include restricting absentee ballot access, limiting early voting and toughening voter ID laws. Republican support for such measures is based on an assumption that lower turnout is typically to their advantage. In discussing proposed changes to Georgia's voting laws, a Republican election official in Gwinnett County stated, “They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning."

Is the World Trade Organization facing pressure to waive patent rules for COVID-19 vaccines?

The World Trade Organization is under pressure to waive rules protecting pharmaceutical patents in order to get more COVID-19 vaccines to more of the world more quickly.

India and South Africa, with the backing of 99 other countries and hundreds of advocacy groups, want the WTO to waive parts of the global agreement governing patent rights, allowing more manufacturers to make effective vaccines (or other treatments) without authorization from their developers. Activists argue the industry has been overly restrictive in the past, and note that development of COVID-19 vaccines has been backed by billions of dollars of public support in subsidies and guaranteed purchases.

The WTO normally reaches any agreement by consensus. The U.S., the U.K. and other affluent countries have rejected the proposal outright. They continue to block its progress, most recently at a discussion on Feb. 4.

Are men and women often charged different prices for the same goods and services?

Some products marketed for women have been priced higher than identical products marketed to men, often differentiated only by packaging or descriptions. A distinguishing feature can be use of the color pink, giving rise to the term “pink tax” for such practices.

A 2015 study by New York City’s consumer affairs department analyzed price differences for about 800 goods including toys, clothing and personal-care products. It found that women’s products cost more 42% of the time, while men’s products cost more 18% of the time.

California banned gender distinctions in service pricing in 1995, but there are no rules against the practice in much of the U.S. A 2016 analysis from a congressional committee found evidence of unfair gender-based pricing in services. New York state enacted a broad prohibition on “pink taxes,” covering goods as well as services, in 2020.

Does available data support delaying second doses of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines in order to give more people a first dose?

Data is too limited to determine if delaying the administration of the second dose of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines reduces their efficacy.

The first two vaccines authorized by U.S. authorities are given in two doses, three weeks apart in the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four weeks in the case of the Moderna vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control says the second dose may be administered up to six weeks after the first if circumstances require.

The U.K. decided to delay administering the second dose by up to 12 weeks, in an effort to get the first dose to more people more quickly after identifying a more contagious variant of the coronavirus. Scientists say that move was not grounded in data. “It is important to note that there is very little empiric data from the trials that underpin this type of recommendation,” said Dr. Joachim Hombach of the World Health Organization.

Was Dr. Fauci the highest-paid US government employee in 2019?

In 2019, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longstanding director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, received a salary of $417,608. Fauci has held the position since 1984.

Fauci in 2019 ranked as the most highly-paid federal employee, according to FedSmith, a website that reports on federal affairs.

By comparison, the U.S. president is paid $400,000 annually, while U.S. senators earn $174,000 annually.

Does Biden’s executive order on climate policy align with the Green New Deal?

President Biden's recent executive order on climate change commits the U.S. to many of the Green New Deal goals outlined in a February 2019 House resolution, including:

  • Targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Creating well-paying, union clean-energy jobs.
  • Improving access to clean air, water and outdoor recreation.
  • Centering environmental justice, including a pledge to “deliver 40% of the overall benefits to disadvantaged communities.”
  • Reforesting and preserving land, including “pausing new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters.”
  • Remediating high-pollution waste sites.
  • Using the best economic and scientific data available to inform climate policy.

Although Biden may take some actions unilaterally, Congress must approve new climate spending and regulation. Legislation also ensures continuity, as executive orders may be undone by subsequent administrations.

Did Janet Yellen earn $7.2 million in speaking fees in the last two years?

Janet Yellen, confirmed on Jan. 25, 2021, as Treasury Secretary, disclosed income of more than $7.2 million in speaking fees, mostly from major financial firms and related industry groups, during 2019 and 2020.

The Hill reported that Secretary Yellen would consult with ethics lawyers before participating “personally and substantially in any particular matter” that involve firms that paid her.

Notable entries on the list included $1 million from Citigroup and $810,000 from Citadel, a less familiar name to most consumers. Citadel’s securities unit executes transactions for various retail stock brokers, including Robinhood. In late January, Robinhood blocked investors from making some trades amid extraordinary trading volumes in GameStop. Robinhood said financial requirements from clearinghouses that settle trades and keep track of investors’ holdings led it to restrict the trades.

Does the standard BMI calculation overestimate obesity in Black people?

The body mass index—an estimate of body fat derived from a person‘s weight and height—overestimates obesity in Black people.

According to findings by the Endocrine Society, there is a greater disparity between BMI estimates and direct measures of body fat in Blacks than in whites. BMI does not differentiate between weight from fat and weight from muscle, making taller and more muscular individuals more susceptible to misclassifications. Researchers conclude that “muscle mass may be higher in Blacks, which would explain the dissociation.”

The BMI calculation was developed in the 1830s by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian academic who sought to identify the “ideal” traits of “the average man.” In devising the scale, Quetelet used only Western European participants, suggesting a body-type bias.

Is there firm evidence that dogs and cats should be vaccinated against COVID-19?

There is no current evidence that dogs and cats need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In November 2020, the Agriculture Department said it was not accepting coronavirus vaccine applications for these pets because “data do not indicate such a vaccine would have value.” The Centers for Disease Control states that based on current information “the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low."

An article in the medical journal Virulence states that because animals can get infected with COVID-19 after contact with people, the vaccination of pets eventually “might be required to halt further virus evolution.” It notes that “strains evolving independently in reservoir hosts (e.g. mink)” have been “shown to contain viral spike protein mutations and be less readily neutralized by immune serum”—but notes no evidence of this occurrence in cats or dogs.

Does the US have the highest environmental standards in the world?

According to Yale’s 2020 Environmental Performance Index, the U.S. does not have the world’s highest environmental standards, nor does it fall in the top 20.

The index evaluates countries’ environmental performance across 32 measures, including air and water quality, waste management, biodiversity and climate change footprint. Overall, the U.S. ranked 24th out of 180 countries.

While not at the top, the U.S. ranked within the top 10 countries on the Environmental Democracy Index, last published in 2015, which measured the degree to which citizens may participate in environmental decision-making. Lithuania topped the list, with its Environmental Protection Law allowing citizens to fight decisions that they deem are “violating environmental rights.”

Has the US government openly intervened in the trading of GameStop stock?

On Jan. 29, following a rapid increase in the price of a video game retailer's stock, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it was “monitoring and evaluating the extreme price volatility of certain stocks’ trading prices.” Regulators have not publicly discussed any intervention.

Speculative buying fueled by members of a discussion group on Reddit, a social-media platform, drove the price of GameStop stock to a high of $347 on Jan. 27, up from around $5 in mid-2020. The Grapevine, Texas-based company reported an $18.8 million loss on a 30% decline in sales in its latest quarter, ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Is there hard evidence that spironolactone could help treat COVID-19?

Spironolactone, given what‘s known about its effects on the body, has been considered as a possible candidate to treat at least some conditions associated with COVID-19. But the drug is untested in clinical trials.

Spironolactone is anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic, potentially making it useful against pulmonary complications of COVID-19 such as pulmonary fibrosis. Preliminary theories posit that the drug could mitigate risk factors like hypertension and androgen exposure and provide protection from the virus.

Has California prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for people with underlying health risks?

In its original COVID-19 vaccination plan, California put two groups at the top of the list to receive COVID-19 shots: health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Currently, the state is in the next phase of that plan, with eligibility extended to anyone 65 or older and workers in education and childcare, food and agriculture and emergency services.

On Jan. 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state will move to age-based eligibility rather than employment- or status-based eligibility. The state has not announced if underlying conditions or disabilities will also be taken into account under the new system.

Did a CIA vaccination plot in Pakistan hamper subsequent vaccination efforts?

The CIA’s plot to launch a vaccination drive to help track down Osama bin Laden gave rise to lingering suspicion of vaccine workers, hampering vaccination efforts.

As first reported by the Guardian, the CIA in 2011 sought to confirm bin Laden’s suspected location by having a doctor administer vaccines to individuals inside his compound and analyze the DNA on the syringes. While the doctor was not able to enter the compound, he did obtain information that helped confirm bin Laden‘s presence. The compound was later raided and bin Laden was assassinated.

After the plot was exposed, villagers chased off vaccine workers, the Taliban banned polio vaccinations in parts of Pakistan and nine vaccine workers were killed in Pakistan, leading the U.N. to withdraw its vaccination teams from the country.

In 2012, polio rebounded in numerous Pakistani regions. Polio continues to be a problem in Pakistan.

Have some progressive House members received campaign contributions from defense contractors?

Adam Smith, Donald Norcross, Don Beyer, Ruben Gallego, Rosa DeLauro and Matt Cartwright, all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, each received more than $40,000 in contributions from aerospace, weapons and military technology manufacturers between 2019 and 2020.

Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, was the top recipient, with $310,120 in contributions from the sector in 2019 and 2020.

According to federal filings compiled by OpenSecrets, contributors included Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. All are among the top 10 defense contractors ranked by Bloomberg Government.

“Cutting the bloated Pentagon budget” is part of the “Progressive promise” outlined on the group’s website.

Did President Biden repeal an immigration directive based on ‘Sarah’s Law’?

On Jan. 20, President Biden revoked his predecessor‘s broad 2017 executive order on immigration polices. Among its provisions was one requiring federal immigration authorities to detain anyone living illegally in the country who is charged with “killing or seriously injuring another person.”

The provision was modeled on “Sarah's Law,” a bill introduced in 2016 by Iowa and Nebraska Senators after a young Iowa woman, Sarah Roots, was killed earlier in the year by a drunk driver. The driver was living in the U.S. without legal authorization, but disappeared after posting bail. Immigration authorities had declined to take him into custody.

A version of the law passed the then Republican-controlled House in 2017, but was never passed by the Senate.

Does President Biden have the lowest start-of-term approval ratings of any recent president?

By various measures, President Biden does not have the lowest start-of-term approval rating among recent presidents.

  • According to Gallup, 68% of Americans approve of the way Biden is handling his presidential transition—more Americans than approved of the Bush (61%) or Trump transitions (44%), but fewer Americans than approved of the Clinton (68%) or Obama (83%) transitions.
  • According to the same poll, 57% of Americans view Biden favorably as an incoming president—more Americans than favored Trump (40%) but fewer than favored Obama (78%) or Bush (62%).
  • Biden also outranks Trump in a Morning Consult poll of initial job approval ratings: 56% approval compared to Trump's 46% approval.
  • In a Hill-HarrisX poll, 63% of Americans approved of “the job President Joe Biden is doing overall”—a higher approval rating than any Trump received from the same poll throughout his presidency.

Are scientists sure about how many trees grow on Earth?

Researchers using new satellite-imaging techniques to count trees in west Africa suggest there may be more trees growing on the planet than have previously been estimated.

The study, published in October 2020, suggests there could be further increases to a 2015 global estimate of 3 trillion trees, which marked a sevenfold jump from the previous estimate of 400 billion. That study focused on data from forests. It estimated that 15 billion trees are cut down each year while 5 billion trees are planted or sprouted, calculating that the global tree count has fallen by “approximately 46% since the start of human civilization.”

The new study notes that trees outside forests “are not well-documented.” New mapping technology counted “quite a few hundred million” trees where few were expected, an author told the Guardian. Earlier estimates have been “extremely far away from the real numbers.”

Do market participants think Biden’s first executive orders affected crop prices?

Market analysts attributed a plunge in prices for soybean, corn and wheat in the week ending Jan. 22 to favorable weather in South America. The weather boosted optimism about supplies amid worries about shrinking global harvests.

Soybean prices decreased approximately 70 cents between Jan. 19 and Jan. 22 (to $13.12 a bushel). Corn decreased 25 cents (to $5.01/bushel) and wheat around 30 cents (to $6.35/bushel) over the same time period. Corn, wheat and soy prices then recovered as buyers reacted to lower prices.

The market price of agricultural commodities is dependent on many factors, including weather trends, global agriculture markets and currency exchange rates.

Could President Biden use emergency powers to address climate change?

Policy advocates are urging President Biden to invoke his office’s emergency powers to enact climate policies rapidly, ahead of legislative and regulatory processes. The president holds broad authority to declare a “national emergency,” which permits use of 136 emergency powers under various statutes.

A letter co-signed by 380 organizations outlines how Biden could use those powers to prohibit oil exports for a year, direct loans and agency resources to clean-energy developers and use military funds to build clean-energy infrastructure, among other measures.

In 2019, President Trump diverted funds to border-wall projects after declaring illegal crossings a national emergency, a move that was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Emergency powers can be “misused as convenient fixes to non-emergency problems,” a Brennan Center review notes, and overuse could undermine the balance of powers.

Was the income tax originally adopted as a temporary measure?

The U.S. first introduced an income tax in 1861, envisaging it as temporary measure to help finance the Civil War. An 1861 law imposed a temporary 3% income tax on incomes over $800 that expired in 1872.

In 1894, the federal government levied a 2% tax on incomes over $4,000, but the tax was struck down by the Supreme Court the following year on the grounds that directly taxing Americans' income was unconstitutional.

To overcome this ruling, President William Howard Taft proposed the 16th Amendment to the Constitution to permit the federal government to collect income tax. The Amendment was ratified in 1913 and Congress enacted a federal income tax shortly after.

Today, half of all federal revenue comes from individual income taxes.

Does the Paris Agreement require countries to train kids to become climate activists?

The 2015 Paris Agreement, a treaty currently endorsed by 197 countries to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, does not require countries to train students how to be climate activists.

Article 12 of the agreement states:

"Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information."

According to then-UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, the education initiative aims to equip youth with ”the skills and values [they] need to successfully manage the energy and climate revolution.” Bokova identified educator training, further integration of sustainable development into education systems and innovative partnerships, such as those with the private sector, as the three major planks of the initiative.

Does other information support the NRA’s own claims about the size of its membership?

In its Internal Revenue Service filing for 2018, the National Rifle Association reported $170 million in membership dues. At a basic annual rate of $45, that would equate to dues from about 3.8 million members. That number also roughly corresponds to the group's reported totals for subscriptions to its magazines for members, about 3.7 million as of June 2020.

There’s no information available to support the organization‘s public claim of 5 million members. Nor is there any official ranking of activist groups to support a related claim of being “America's largest civil rights organization.”

On Jan. 21, 2021, the group announced plans to move its legal base to Texas from New York, which is suing to dissolve the group. It is also in the midst of a financial restructuring under Chapter 11 protection from creditors. Litigation is continuing.

Has the federal gas tax not increased since 1993?

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not increased since 1993, resulting in a 57% drop in its power to fund transportation needs.

Federal fuel taxes since 1956 have been directed to the Highway Trust Fund, which was created to help pay for a new interstate highway system. The fund continues to support federal contributions to highway construction and repair. Inflation, along with the impact of increased vehicle fuel efficiency, results in “recurring funding shortfalls,” according to the Peter G. Petersen Foundation.

Federal contributions fund only about a quarter of total spending. States also raise money through fuel taxes, but at least 28 states haven't raised their rates in the last decade.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that even as nominal U.S. spending on infrastructure has risen 44% since 2003, spending after adjusting for inflation is down 9%.

Is pollution from and around prisons damaging for inmates and their surrounding environment?

The impact of incarceration is environmental as well as human. Prisons are often located in or near degraded areas, and are often built and managed in ways that add to hazards for inmates, staff and surrounding communities.

Advocacy groups report that almost 600 prisons are located within three miles of government-designated contaminated sites, with 100 within a mile of such sites.

According to a 2014 investigation of a Pennsylvania prison built in the middle of a toxic coal ash dump, 80% of responding prisoners said they experienced respiratory, throat and sinus conditions. Ten inmates died of cancer and six more were diagnosed with cancer in a three-year period.

In August 2020, the Idaho Department of Corrections was sued for dumping effluents from one facility into a nearby river in violation of federal permits.

Did Biden break a campaign promise not to ban fracking?

President Biden has taken no steps to ban existing fracking operations, in line with his campaign promises.

The new administration did announce a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas drilling permits on federal land, including both new conventional drilling as well as fracking, which extracts oil and gas from rock. This is consistent with Biden's campaign promises—his climate plan stated it will ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters” in an effort to protect American land and wildlife. U.S. producers derive 12% of natural gas and 25% of oil output from federal lands, according to the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes a permanent ban.

While outlining ambitious targets to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, Biden told a CNN audience in September that “there’s no rationale to eliminate, right now, fracking.”

Is there consensus about when global oil demand will peak?

Energy analysts, oil companies and oil-producing nations have varying views about when the world will reach “peak oil demand,” after which oil consumption would permanently decline. Most think it's not that far away, though.

  • Industry analysts at S&P Global say the late 2030s.
  • Analysts at Rystad Energy have called it for 2028.
  • BP, one of the biggest oil companies, contends that the world has already reached “peak oil.”
  • The International Energy Agency predicts that oil demand will likely plateau by 2040.
  • OPEC predicts that global oil demand will increase overall through 2045, with growth being fueled by fast-developing economies like China and India.

Did the company responsible for a major Kentucky mining industry disaster face criminal penalties?

In October 2000, coal slurry spilled from a Kentucky mining company’s holding pond, contaminating water over a wide region in a major environmental disaster.

Federal authorities did not pursue criminal charges against the company, Massey Energy. After the Bush administration took office in 2001, new leadership at the regulatory agency in charge replaced the lead investigator working on the case. The agency ultimately assessed what it termed the “legal maximum” in civil penalties, $110,000, later cut to $55,000. By comparison, the company was reported to have paid the state of Kentucky $3.25 million in fines, as well as $600,000 to neighboring West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency included the spill among multiple violations in a lawsuit filed against Massey in 2007, which the company settled for $20 million.

Did some organizers of the rally that preceded the Capitol riot have ties to the Trump campaign?

Several organizers of the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the riot at the Capitol have financial ties to the Trump campaign. As reported by the Associated Press, the rally was staged by a group called Women for America First. Several of the facilitators listed on the group’s permit application were also on the 2020 Trump campaign’s payroll or served as consultants, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures tracked by Open Secrets. They included Maggie Mulvaney, the rally’s “VIP lead”; Megan Powers, an operations manager for both the rally and the Trump campaign; Caroline Wren, the rally's VIP advisor, and Ronald Holden, the rally’s backstage manager.

Trump’s reelection campaign stated that “it did not organize, operate, or finance” the protest, and that if any former employees or contractors for the campaign took part, it was not at the campaign's direction.

Has Biden issued more executive orders in his first few days in office than any other recent president?

Joe Biden signed a total of 19 executive orders during his first three days in office—more executive orders at the start of a term than any recent president. The orders related to environmental regulations, immigration and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including a mask mandate on federal property, as well as orders related to economic relief, supplies and school reopening.

In his first 10 days in office, Donald Trump signed seven executive orders. In his first 10 days in office, Barack Obama signed five executive orders. George W. Bush only signed two, as did Bill Clinton.

Executive orders are directives from the president that do not require congressional approval. Congress can make it difficult to implement an order (for instance, by cutting off funding). Only a sitting president can overturn an existing executive order by issuing another.

Did US gas prices fall as fracking boomed in the past decade?

As fracking boosted U.S. oil output, government data shows that average retail gasoline prices fell from a high of $3.68 a gallon in 2013 to $2.25 in 2016. They have hovered at or somewhat above that level since. As of Jan. 25, 2021, gas averaged $2.48 a gallon.

The effect on retail gas prices of fracking—a controversial drilling technology which makes previously inaccessible deposits of oil and gas economically viable—is difficult for analysts to isolate. Oil is priced and traded globally, so U.S. output, whatever the source, is just one factor. Crude oil costs accounted for about 54% of the price of a gallon in 2019, according to U.S. government estimates.

Transport, refining and taxes influence prices, as do global trends in both oil markets and overall economic growth. Continuing increases in vehicle fuel efficiency tend to reduce overall demand.

Is there evidence that fracking causes significant air pollution?

There is some evidence that fracking, the oil- and gas-production method that has made new supplies accessible, can degrade air quality, releasing methane, carcinogens and other particulate matter, and increasing ground-level ozone.

A May 2020 literature review in Archives of Toxicology found that “143 air contaminants may be released” by the process. Of 685 fracking studies published between 2009 and 2015, 87% of those that examined air quality found increased pollutant emissions near drilling sites.

A May 2020 study still awaiting peer-review used satellite and data to assess particulate pollution from fracked gas wells in Pennsylvania. The authors concluded that “fracking-related air pollution” led to at least 20 additional deaths in the state from 2010 to 2017.

More research is needed to compare fracking’s impact on air quality and human health compared to other production methods.

Does the law prevent President Biden from immediately closing Guantanamo Bay?

The 2021 defense appropriations bill maintained a congressional ban on any funds “to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house detainees” transferred from the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. Congress has consistently blocked such moves after President Obama’s early attempts to follow through on his campaign vow to close the prison set up there after 9/11.

President Biden has expressed support for closing the prison both prior to and during his presidential campaign, in a 2019 debate calling the continuing detention of 40 people there “an advertisement for creating terror.”

Biden has options to restart the closure process that don't need congressional approval. He can resume the transfer of detainees to other countries, rescind President Trump's 2018 executive order keeping Guantanamo open and issue new executive orders reinstating closure as official U.S. policy.

Did Biden’s top US intelligence official oversee CIA drone strikes during the Obama administration?

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines designed and oversaw the Obama administration's counterterrorist drone program from 2013 until 2015 as deputy CIA director. She contributed to the administration's “playbook” for reforming military drone usage, which attempted to increase transparency through measures like publishing numbers of combatant and non-combatant deaths caused by strikes. Before that role, she served as a national security legal adviser, where she assisted with directing covert CIA programs like drone strikes.

By its end, the Obama administration had launched 540 drone strikes and vastly expanded their use in non-battlefield territories such as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Biden disregarded progressive and libertarian objections to Haines‘ nomination. On Inauguration Day she became his first appointee to gain Senate confirmation.

Does a country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions figure leave out important information about its carbon footprint?

While annual emissions is the most commonly used measure of a country’s carbon footprint, the figure omits important factors such as population size and industrial history.

This issue is exemplified when comparing the emissions of China and the U.S. According to a 2017 study, China emits 30% of global greenhouse gasses while the U.S. emits 15%. However, these numbers do not reflect that China's population of 1.4 billion is four times larger than the U.S.'s population of 328 million, rendering China responsible for less than half the emissions per capita of the U.S.

The annual emissions metric also does not reflect countries’ historical emissions. Our World in Data estimated that between 1750-2019, the U.S. has produced nearly twice as many greenhouse gases (405 billion metric tons) as China (210 billion metric tons).

Can sex at birth always be identified through chromosomes alone?

Research has concluded that the chromosome test historically used to determine sex-at-birth (in which embryos with XX chromosomes are identified as girls and embryos with XY chromosomes are identified as boys) isn't always accurate. Certain regulatory sequences in DNA enhance the development of an embryo's sex organs, making some sex tests more complicated.

A study in the journal Nature Communications concluded that so-called genetic “enhancers” control the development of testes and ovaries. Typically, the SRY gene and the Sox9 gene, both found on the Y chromosome, interact to develop testes. High Sox9 levels are needed for normal testis development. The research identified some cases where XX embryos had additional Sox9 copies and developed testes. Some XY embryos that had fewer Sox9 levels developed ovaries instead of testes.

Does new evidence definitively show the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is less effective than previously reported?

In December 2020, a study funded by Pfizer and BioNTech found that the two-dose regimen of their COVID-19 vaccine “conferred 95% protection in persons 16 years of age or older.” Researchers noted that “in the interval between the first and second doses, the observed vaccine efficacy was 52%.”

That same month, the U.K.'s official scientific-advisory panel published a study that found that a single dose of the vaccine was 89% effective 15-21 days after vaccination.

In January, a World Health Organization adviser reported a 33% drop in COVID-19 positivity rates among 200,000 Israelis who had been vaccinated 14 days prior, suggesting a lower single-dose efficacy rate. However, the Israeli health ministry said this assessment was “out of context and, therefore, inaccurate.” A London medical-school professor stated that the observation was not “sufficient” to invalidate previous findings.

Is Bitcoin often used to finance illegal activities?

Bitcoin, a type of digital currency created and exchanged independently of banks, is often used for illegal transactions such as sales of drugs, weapons, malware and illegal pornography. Transactions are typically completed anonymously and much more securely than with cash.

A study published in the Review of Financial Studies found that approximately 46% of Bitcoin transactions, totaling $76 billion per year, involve illegal activity. According to the study, one in four Bitcoin users is involved in illegal activity. The virtual currency’s use has “facilitated the growth of online ‘darknet’ marketplaces in which illegal goods and services are traded,” the authors write.

Have banks meaningfully reduced their investment in fossil fuel projects?

While some banks have committed to various sustainability initiatives, including refusing to finance Arctic oil drilling, their overall support for fossil fuel projects continues to rise.

According to a tabulation by an alliance of climate-focused advocacy groups, fossil fuel investment (lending as well as underwriting of debt and equity financings) by 35 leading global banks has increased in recent years. In 2016, total fossil-fuel investment by the group was nearly $640 billion. In 2019, that number rose to more than $735 billion. While financing for the top 100 companies in the sector fell by 20% between 2016 and 2018, investments jumped 40% the next year.

Boston Common Asset Management similarly found that financing for fossil fuels has continued to rise among 58 of the world's largest banks, “totaling $1.9 trillion from 2016-2018.”

Can Bitcoin mining reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Some oil field operators are letting companies use their excess natural gas to power Bitcoin mining, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by putting otherwise-wasted energy to use.

Oilman Magazine reported recently that portable Bitcoin mining systems from a Denver company, Crusoe Energy Systems, are operating at 20 oil fields around the U.S. They convert unused natural gas, a byproduct of oil extraction that is often not profitable enough to capture and sell, into electricity at the well to supply energy for the computing needs of Bitcoin miners. The process of creating new digital currency or Bitcoin “mining” is energy intensive, accounting for as much as 0.3% of global electricity use.
The gas would otherwise be "flared" (i.e., burned) or “vented” (i.e., emitted directly into the air), producing carbon dioxide in the former case and methane, a more potent greenhouse gas, in the latter.

Have researchers suggested that adding lithium to drinking-water supplies could reduce suicide rates?

U.K. researchers have suggested that supplementing water supplies with lithium — an element used to treat bipolar disorder — could reduce suicide rates, particularly in at-risk communities.

A 2020 analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reviewed 15 studies that evaluated the relationship between rates of naturally occurring lithium in water supplies and rates of suicide. The analysis “showed a consistent protective association between lithium levels in publicly available drinking water and total suicide mortality rates.” Researchers proposed that their findings could be further tested in field trials that introduce lithium into the water supplies of communities with high rates of mental illness, crime, substance abuse and suicide.

Lithium has been employed in psychiatry since the 19th century and was formerly used as an ingredient in soft drinks such as 7-Up.

Does a study suggest that the MMR vaccine provides children with some protection against COVID-19?

A November 2020 study suggests a potential explanation for why children are more likely to have mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and to contract the virus at lower rates. The coronavirus and MMR have similarities, and the body's immune system is thought to respond to their antibodies in similar ways.

The study found that people with lower levels of mumps, measles and rubella antibodies experienced more severe cases of COVID-19 than people with higher levels of the antibodies. These antibodies usually result from the two-dose MMR vaccine, which is administered to the majority of children at 12-15 months and 4-6 years of age.

The study identified a threshold of antibodies that made MMR vaccine recipients functionally asymptomatic or immune to the coronavirus. After age 14, the antibodies begin to decrease. The lower the MMR antibody level, the more severity of COVID-19 was observed.

Did California enact a ten-year ‘exit tax’ on departing wealthy residents?

Legislators in California’s lower house last year proposed a new wealth tax. Under their bill, residents moving out of the state would have been taxed at a declining rate for up to ten years after they left. The bill didn't progress.

The tax would also have fallen on temporary and part-year residents. The 0.4% tax would have affected about 30,400 taxpayers with a net worth over $30 million, raising a projected $7.5 billion per year. (In its current fiscal year the state expects to collect about $106 billion in regular income taxes.)

Lawmakers may reintroduce the bill in the 2021 legislative session.

Has a section of the southern border wall cost $29 million per mile?

At least one section of the border wall built by the Trump administration has at this point cost $29 million a mile. A six-mile section in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border was originally contracted at $145 million. But only five miles have been completed, and the Biden administration in its first day in office called a halt to further work.

More than 40% of all people apprehended for crossing the border illegally are stopped in the Rio Grande Valley. The wall “system” in the region was more expensive than other sections because of roads, lighting, cameras and other technology.

President Biden, in a Jan. 20, 2021, executive order, stated that ”no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall” and directed “a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall.”

Does the FTC want more power to penalize companies for misusing people’s data?

The Federal Trade Commission, the chief agency responsible for “protecting consumer privacy and security,” says it needs greater authority to penalize companies that misuse people's data.

In published remarks from 2019, its chairman acknowledged that the FTC's legal authority to hold companies accountable for data misuse was “imperfect” and “limited,” hindering its “ability to protect consumers.” The chairman called for legislation to give the FTC “civil penalty authority,” among other powers. Brookings, a Washington think tank, says the FTC needs a bigger budget.

Data misuse occurs when a company uses data for a purpose unrelated to why it was initially collected, for example sharing or selling data to third parties or tracking individuals‘ locations without consent. Concern over business' use of their data is a major source of consumer mistrust.

Did Biden’s incoming vaccinations coordinator oversee the closure of half of Chicago’s public mental health clinics?

Bechara Choucair, named vaccinations coordinator for the Biden administration, oversaw a restructuring of Chicago mental-health services as the city's health commissioner from 2009 to 2014. According to a June 2014 department report, the city closed half its health clinics in 2011 and 2012 while serving 15% fewer clients.

Choucair wrote in August 2014 that the changes allowed the city to focus on its uninsured clients and make targeted investments in vulnerable populations. He also said that despite the closures, the mental health system kept capacity the same.

According to the city's 2011 budget, under Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago paid 44 city mental health care providers $3.67 million in total salaries. The next year, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago paid 14 providers a total of $1.38 million.

Is there a clear legal standard for speech that constitutes ‘incitement’ to riot?

Multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases have helped determine the legal definition for speech that aims to incite a riot, which is not constitutionally protected.

The current standard derives from a 1969 Supreme Court decision involving a Ku Klux Klan leader. The Court determined that speech inciting “imminent lawless action” which is “likely to incite or produce such action” isn't protected.

The Court has often given wide leeway to fiery words that may sound aggressive or provocative. In 1949, when a speech by a Chicago priest inspired an “angry and turbulent crowd,” the Court ruled that only speech that produces a “clear and present danger” can be restricted. In 1982, the Court ruled that speech advocating political, social and economic change is protected, but noting that speech which incites a riot is not.

Did wind provide more electricity than coal in Texas in 2020?

In 2020, Texas generated more electricity from wind power than from coal.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported that in 2020, wind power generated 23% of Texas's electricity while coal generated 18%. The Texas Interconnection, managed by the council, oversees electricity distribution in 213 of the state's 254 counties.

The trend to wind began years ago. In 2007, the earliest year for which ERCOT has data, wind provided only 2.9% of the state's power supply, while coal supplied 37.4%.

Wind is now the second most important source of electricity in Texas, behind natural gas.

Could a known carrier be charged with a crime for intentionally spreading the coronavirus?

In March 2020, the Justice Department noted that as the coronavirus met the definition of a “biological agent,” a carrier who intentionally spread the virus could be prosecuted for terrorism-related crimes. Its memo noted reports of various coronavirus-related “schemes,” including threats to intentionally infect people.

In April, an 18-year-old in Carrollton, Texas, was charged with making a terrorist threat, a state violation, after she posted on social media from a Walmart after visiting a testing site. “If I'm going down, all you [expletive] are going down,” she said in a video. Her bond was set at $20,000.

State communicable-disease statutes, sometimes originally written to prosecute the intentional spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, have also been cited as potentially applicable to coronavirus cases.

Does data show that the protests in the summer of 2020 were largely peaceful?

Two independent data-collection projects report that more than 90% of the thousands of protests in the U.S. during the summer of 2020 were largely peaceful. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, working with a Princeton University team, estimated that protests in 93% of 2,620 locations between May 24 and Aug. 24 were peaceful.

Another data project has tabulated 7,305 Black Lives Matter-related protests dating back to 2017, finding that 96% resulted in no injuries or property damage. Police made arrests at 5% of protests and used tear gas and similar chemicals at 2.5% of these events.

The impact of the protests that did turn violent was not negligible. Property damage reported in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's murder has been estimated at between $1 billion-$2 billion. There were at least 19 deaths associated with the protests immediately following the Floyd murder.

Did the national debt increase by $7.7 trillion during Trump’s presidency?

U.S. national debt increased by about $7.7 trillion during the four years of the Trump presidency—according to the Treasury’s official monthly statement, to $27.75 trillion on Dec. 31, 2020, from $19.93 trillion on Jan. 31, 2017.

The Balance, a financial-news provider, compares past presidents’ fiscal-year budgets against the debt level when they took office. Franklin Roosevelt incurred a small increase by today’s standards in absolute terms ($236 billion) but a 1,050% relative increase as he financed recovery from the Great Depression and then fought World War II. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who each pushed for big tax cuts, increased the debt by 186% and 101%, respectively. Barack Obama, inheriting a recession, added $8.59 billion, or 74%. Donald Trump’s increase, on a similar basis, can be estimated at about 40%, as pandemic-related relief measures added to the tally.

Was the first SWAT team created to confront the Black Panthers?

The first major use in the U.S. of a specialized SWAT team was in a four-hour standoff between the Black Panthers and a 40-member Los Angeles SWAT team in 1969, after the group resisted search warrants for illegal weapons.

The concept of a “Special Weapons and Tactics” unit within a police force predates the Black Panthers, which was founded in 1966. Philadelphia created a SWAT team in 1964 to deal with bank robberies, and Los Angeles formed a team to respond to the Watts Riots in 1965. SWAT teams are now common in police departments even in smaller cities.

Did regulatory changes cause a concentration of local TV station ownership?

Following decades of deregulation measures, local TV station ownership has become increasingly concentrated, reducing the diversity of political viewpoints and the number of unique news stories on the air.

Formerly, FCC rules limited the national audience share a single owner could reach to 35%. In 2003, that ceiling was raised to 45%. According to Pew, in 2004, the top five companies “owned, operated or serviced 179 full-power stations... That number grew to 378 in 2014 and to 443 in 2016.”

In 2017, the FCC reinstated the “UHF discount,” which in effect lets local media companies double their TV station audience reach. A subsequent merger would have given Sinclair Broadcast Group an audience share reach of 72%, but the merger did not go through.

A pending Supreme Court case will determine whether the reinstated UHF discount and other Trump-era media ownership deregulations will stand.

Did the US back an irregular change of government in Bolivia in 2019?

Bolivian President Evo Morales' claim to a reelection victory in November 2019 was undermined when observers from the Organization of American States cited irregularities. After weeks of protests, Morales resigned and left the country. An interim government held new elections in 2020.

Morales was seeking a fourth term, after courts struck down constitutional term limits. The U.S., an OAS member and its largest funder, termed the events a step forward for democracy.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning Washington think tank, challenged the OAS assessment of the election. The OAS assisted in what was effectively a coup against the country's first Indigenous leader by “a white and mestizo elite with a history of racism, seeking to revert state power to the people who had monopolized it before Morales’ election in 2005,” said Marc Weisbrot, the center's co-director.

Has the pandemic’s impact on state tax receipts been less severe than anticipated?

The pandemic‘s effect on state tax revenues has been less severe than first expected. In 2020’s second quarter, receipts dropped as states extended tax deadlines in line with the federal government. The Tax Foundation in September concluded the impact was “far lower” than first feared. Specific federal relief measures have helped offset gaps. An additional $100 billion enacted in December will extend support in 2021.

Brookings forecasts a total state and local decline of 5.7% in 2021, following a 5.5% fall in 2020.

In California, which imposes high income-tax rates, receipts between August and October were 22% higher than expected. The state foresees one-time “windfall” gains in its next fiscal year of up to $40 billion. Any effect from widely-reported relocations by certain companies and prominent residents to lower-tax states would not be felt immediately.

Are Democrats immediately going to work on the Green New Deal?

With a slim majority in Congress and a focus on the pandemic, Democrats are not making the legislative goals of the Green New Deal immediate priorities.

In the Senate, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is a brake on enacting many aspects of the Green New Deal, outlined in a resolution passed by the House in 2019. He was one of four Democrats who helped block the resolution in the Senate. And in the new 50-50 Senate he could hold a deciding vote on any further measures. Moreover, he has vowed to block any change in debate rules that would allow more legislation to pass on a simple majority vote. “I will not vote” for that, he told Politico on Jan. 25.

Many Green New Deal goals would need such legislation to have the broad, lasting impact its backers seek.

President Biden has outlined related but more conservative goals, including net zero emissions by 2050.

Does the war on drugs cost US taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year?

Combined federal, state, and local drug “war” spending “continues to cost U.S. taxpayers more than $51 billion annually,” according to a 2017 report by the libertarian Cato Institute. Drug control spending has amounted to more than $1 trillion since President Nixon formally declared a war on drugs in 1971. Related incarceration expenses add an additional $3.3 billion dollars in costs annually.

Using data from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance arrives at a similar cost estimate, $25 billion at the federal level and an additional $25 billion at state and local levels annually.

In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that the policy office, established in 1988, has “not made progress toward achieving most of [its] goals."

Did Samantha Power back President Obama’s Syria policy?

Samantha Power, who served on the Obama administration’s National Security Council and then as U.N. Ambassador, was among officials who disagreed with President Obama's refusal to intervene in Syria's civil war during his time in office.

Power had written a book advocating for aggressive U.S. actions against genocide. The Syrian conflict brought great loss of life, but it was not the kind of ethnic slaughter her book had focused on. In her 2019 memoir, she wrote that “we will never know what would have happened had Obama taken a different path,” but acknowledges that the risks of escalation would have been significant.

“The idealist has become wise to the ways of Washington and crafted her Syria story in a way reflecting that wisdom,” a Bard College scholar said of the book. Power has been nominated by President-elect Biden to run the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Has support for socialism grown in recent years?

According to Gallup polling, the percentage of Americans claiming to hold positive views of socialism remained relatively constant between 2010 and 2019, fluctuating between 36% and 39%. Gallup says understanding of the term has changed over time. Just 17% of Americans asked in 2018—half the level in 1949—associated the term with its actual dictionary definition: a system placing much economic activity under collective or government control. More people, 23%, associated it with concepts of equality, while 23% had no view at all.

Gallup notes that support for what it terms “socialist-style” policies, such as higher taxes and more government intervention, has increased modestly over the decade.

Both Millennials and Gen Z members view socialism more favorably, with about 50% of the combined demographic consistently reporting a positive view throughout the same time period.

Do carbon emissions tend to grow in step with affluence?

The lifestyles of high-income populations are responsible for the vast majority of the world's carbon emissions. “Burgeoning consumption has diminished or cancelled out any gains brought about by technological change aimed at reducing environmental impact,” a team of scientists wrote in Nature in June 2020.

A 2015 Oxfam study found that the poorest 50% of the world emits 10% of the world's carbon, while the wealthiest 10% emits 50%. The richest 1% of the world, on average, have lifestyles with carbon-emission rates up to 175 times greater than the poorest 10% of the global population.

A connection between poverty and environmental degradation is a myth, U.K. environmental researcher David Satterthwaite asserts. “The urban poor contribute very little to environmental degradation because they use so few resources and generate so few wastes.”

Could Fox News be forced off the air?

Fox News Channel does not use the airwaves, as it transmits primarily via cable television and unlike a broadcast network is not subject to any licensing or regulatory reviews.

Fox and other programmers do depend for distribution on cable-television operators such as AT&T and Comcast, who pay programmers for the right to carry their services. While direct internet distribution is growing as an option, news channels still get most of their audience, influence and revenue via cable distribution.

Unlike major internet platforms, cable distributors have rarely been criticized for offering content perceived to be inflammatory or otherwise controversial. Following the Capitol assault, a report on CNN (which is owned by AT&T) argued that the news channels reporting false claims about 2020 election results could now warrant scrutiny, which provoked a sharp response from a Fox host.

Did the US government response to the 2008 financial crisis include major new regulations on banks?

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010—the U.S. government's major policy response to the 2008 financial crisis—imposed a number of new checks on banks operating in the U.S. The act:

• Created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which protects consumers against predatory acts by banks, mortgage brokers and other financial institutions.

• Created the Financial Stability Oversight Council to prevent banks from engaging in overly risky behaviors.

• Created the Office of Credit Ratings to regulate credit-rating agencies.

• Established the Volcker rule, which restricts banks' ability to use customer deposits for risky investments.

• Established regulations for derivatives trading.

• Established mandatory monitoring of hedge funds.

Several measures have been loosened since 2010, including an easing of regulations on small banks and a weakening of the Volcker rule.

Do microplastics from road traffic cause water pollution?

Microplastic runoff from road traffic can pollute waterways.

When rubber tires and brake linings wear down from friction, microplastic particles break off and are swept along with rain runoff into inland waterways and coastal waters. A 2020 Nature study found that road-traffic microplastics are carried into the ocean not just by water, but by wind. About a third of microplastic particles are deposited in the ocean from the air.

Microplastics are defined as tiny plastic pieces less than 5 mm long, about the size of a sesame seed.

In recent decades, India has used a polymer glue made from shredded plastic waste (like shopping bags and foam packaging) as a strengthening agent to create thousands of miles of plastic roads. These roads make use of trash that would otherwise enter a landfill, but they're also likely to shed microplastics as they deteriorate.

Have animal-rights advocates long been seen as insensitive to racial concerns?

Black Americans are more likely to be vegan than white Americans, but the public positioning of the largely white-led vegan and animal-rights movements has been challenged for years by many in the community.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a leading animal-rights group, has drawn criticism for comparing animal cruelty with human slavery since at least 2005. In 2020 PETA produced a Super Bowl ad depicting animals taking a knee, invoking Black Lives Matter protest actions by NFL players. The ad was rejected, but not before it drew sharp backlash on social media.

About 8% of Black Americans are vegan, compared to 3% of all Americans, the BBC notes. But “mainstream veganism is overwhelmingly white and inaccessible,” a widely-seen Instagram post argued in June, as the protests responding to George Floyd's killing spurred discussion across many areas of U.S. society.

Does Boston have the greatest income inequality of any American city?

A 2016 Brookings analysis found that Boston was the “most unequal” big city in America. Top-earning households made nearly 18 times as much as the lowest-earning households. The entire Boston metro area ranked no. 6.

A 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University and the New School found marked racial disparities in terms of wealth across Boston's metro area. White households had a median wealth of $247,500. Dominican and U.S.-born Black households had “a median wealth close to zero” (only $8 for Black households).

A racial wealth gap isn't unique to Boston. A 2016 study found major gaps between whites and Blacks across the U.S. using multiple financial yardsticks, including bankruptcies; stock, business and home ownership; inheritance, and income.

Did the pandemic have an effect on corporate lobbying in 2020?

The pandemic spurred a high volume of lobbying in the spring of 2020 as corporations sought to influence the government’s response and secure a portion of the $500 billion in funds set aside for large corporations in the coronavirus relief package enacted in March.

Lobbying tapered off as the year went on. Compared to 2019, 2020 lobbying spending decreased by nearly $1 billion dollars and nearly 600 fewer organizations lobbied in 2020. There is no evidence that private companies lobbied the U.S. government to broaden or extend closures or stay-home orders, given the clear costs of the measures to many kinds of businesses.

Following the approval of COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020, companies renewed their pandemic lobbying efforts to get workers an early spot in line for a vaccine.

Do health-care workers typically decline annual flu shots?

The Centers for Disease Control reported that during the 2019-20 flu season about 81% of U.S. health-care workers got a flu shot, similar to rates in the previous five years. Coverage was highest among physicians, at 98%, and lowest among staff at long-term care facilities, at 69%.

The general acceptance of flu shots contrasts with reports of widespread hesitation to receive new COVID-19 vaccines, even as cases and deaths rise across much of the U.S. “More than three weeks into the campaign, some places are seeing as much as 80% of the staff holding back,” the AP reports.

Official statistics aren't available, but the low take-up has resulted in states reviewing their vaccination rollout plans. South Carolina has indicated it might prioritize other populations. Georgia has already redistributed vaccines meant for health-care workers to other frontline workers.

Is Los Angeles County short of morgue and mortuary capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 deaths?

A surge in deaths from COVID-19 in Los Angeles has led authorities to take extraordinary measures as the region's funeral homes and morgues have reached capacity. “Hospitals are seeing delays of up to three days in getting the dead out of their crypts and into a mortuary,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 14.

A parking lot at the county coroner's office has become a temporary morgue, with at least ten 53-foot truck trailers outfitted to store as well as other refrigerated storage units. The state seeks to deal with any delays “with respect and dignity,” its head of emergency services said.

The county health department reported Jan. 11 that deaths had increased from 12 a day in early November to more than 200 daily reported deaths in the most recent week, terming the surge “the worst disaster our county has experienced in decades.”

Are anomalies in 2020 US census data comparable to those found in past censuses?

Small anomalies of the type that have delayed delivery of 2020 census data occur during every decennial census count.

In early December, the Census Bureau reported “expected” anomalies comparable to those arising in prior counts, impacting less than 0.7% of 2020 census data. Government attorneys said in a court hearing on January 11 that results will be available March 6 at the earliest.

The bureau relies on several tools to assess the accuracy of its data, including a demographic analysis based on government records and a separate “post-enumeration” survey of 188,000 households that matches case-by-case results with census findings. It also works with independent experts to gauge data quality. According to Pew Research Center, these efforts have achieved “a generally improving trend of accuracy in recent decades.”

Are there limits to what can be enacted through the congressional budget reconciliation process?

The budget reconciliation process allows changes to spending, revenues and/or the debt limit in order to reconcile existing laws and tax codes to Congress' annual budget resolution. Committees draft reconciliation recommendations, then bundle them together.

In the Senate, “reconciliation bills” move especially quickly because they require only a simple majority to pass rather than the 60 votes needed to end debate and pass other legislation.

Rules permit “extraneous” reconciliations to be challenged and scrapped if they:

  • Have no (or incidental) budgetary effect.
  • Fall outside of the relevant committee's jurisdiction.
  • Increase deficits after an initial 10-year “window.”
  • Impact Social Security.

In 2017, Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass a large tax cut package. In 2010, the Democrats used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Can a president who did not serve in the military be buried at Arlington?

According to a 1998 statute, former or current U.S. presidents are eligible for burial at historic Arlington National Cemetery regardless of whether or not they served in the military.

Two U.S. presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are currently interred at Arlington. JFK served in the Navy. Taft served as Secretary of War, but did not serve in the military. Most presidents have chosen to be buried in their home states.

In June 2020, Sen. Tammy Duckworth introduced a bill to block presidents and vice presidents without a history of military service from interment at Arlington. The bill would not affect anyone already interred, and is intended to preserve limited remaining space. An expansion adding room for 60,000 more graves has been approved. About 400,000 veterans and dependents have been buried there to date.

Do most states have a process for decertifying police officers?

As of January 2021, most states have processes for decertifying police officers. Decertification prevents an officer from finding police employment elsewhere in a state. Only California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island do not decertify officers at the state level.

Recently, several states have instituted or revamped decertification protocols. Massachusetts implemented decertification for officers, including those that inflict excessive force or submit false timesheets, as part of a December 2020 police reform package. Other states created decertification databases or moved to toughen their investigative procedures.

A California bill proposed in 2019 would decertify “officers who are fired for misconduct such as excessive force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty.” After passing in the state’s lower house, the bill expired before it could be voted on in the upper chamber.

Is domestic terrorism a federal crime?

While the Patriot Act in 2001 expanded the types of conduct that may be investigated as domestic terrorism, it did not make domestic terrorism a crime. The law defined domestic terrorism as acts “dangerous to human life” that “(i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”

Thomas Brzozowski, the Justice Department’s domestic counterterrorism coordinator, said there is a “considerable amount of ambiguity over domestic terrorism, what it means precisely, and how it’s charged.”

President-elect Biden has renewed calls to pass a law against domestic terrorism following the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Congressional efforts to pass a law in 2019 did not progress.

Has a famous Oliver Wendell Holmes quote about fires and theaters been superseded by later First Amendment rulings?

In a 1919 opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that the First Amendment “would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” The case in question was not about fires and theaters, but about the legality of opposing the draft. It has been followed by a range of court decisions that offer more precise guidance for drawing the limits of First Amendment protections.

A 1969 decision, for instance, created what's called the “imminent lawless action” test for incitement, ruling that speech that is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is “likely to incite or produce such action” is not constitutionally protected.

The analogy in the Holmes opinion is “a crutch for every censor in America, yet the quote is wildly misunderstood,” a 2012 article in the The Atlantic noted.

Are all violent threats illegal in the US?

Violent language is protected by the First Amendment, within limits that the courts have set over the years for speech involving incitement, threats or “fighting words.”

A 1969 Supreme Court decision, Brandenburg v. Ohio, specifies that the “advocacy of the use of force or of law violation” is protected unless “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

To fall outside First Amendment protections, the speech in question must constitute a “true threat” rather than “political hyperbole,” as the Court ruled in another 1969 case, Watts v. United States.

Is the no-fly list limited to people identified as potential terrorists?

Adding a name to the no-fly list requires “credible information demonstrating that the individual presents a threat of committing an act of terrorism,” according to the Terrorist Screening Center, part of the FBI. The list, a subset of a much larger database, is used by the Transportation Security Administration to screen air passengers.

In 2016, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein disclosed that the no-fly list then numbered about 81,000 people, with fewer than 1,000 U.S. citizens. The larger database included about 1 million people, 99.5% of whom were foreign nationals, she said.

The exact criteria for the no-fly list has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as “impermissibly vague.”

Does a June 2020 presidential order impose automatic 10-year sentences on anyone desecrating federal property?

An executive order signed by President Trump on June 26, 2020, didn't create new enforcement powers or guaranteed penalties to deal with vandalism or defacement of federal property. The penalties outlined by the order were already established by existing laws, including potential maximum imprisonment of up to ten years.

The June order followed continuing widespread unrest in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In some cities participants toppled statues of past U.S. leaders and defaced historical monuments.

Initial charges filed against those rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6 have relied on statutes other than those highlighted in the June order. A prosecutor on Jan. 13 said authorities continue to search for hundreds more suspects, and could add other, more serious charges to the offenses outlined initially.

Did the 1944 GI Bill spur an increase in higher-education enrollment in the US?

College enrollment in the U.S. increased following the passage of The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill.

The GI Bill, which provided funding for tuition and living expenses for veterans to continue their education, was passed near the end of World War II to avoid mass unemployment as the 15 million men and women who fought in the war began to return to the U.S.

According to the Our Documents Initiative, “the number of degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled between 1940 and 1950, and the percentage of Americans with bachelor degrees, or advanced degrees, rose from 4.6% in 1945 to 25% a half-century later.”

The National Center for Education Statistics concurs that “college enrollment increased as many war veterans took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights to attend the nation’s institutions of higher education.”

Does the US government audit its foreign aid spending?

According to the Government Accountability Office, six government agencies—the Departments of Defense, State, Health and Human Services and Agriculture, plus the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Agency for International Development—account for 95% of U.S. foreign aid. Spending in fiscal 2019 totaled $28.5 billion.

In a 2018-2019 performance audit, the GAO reported that all organizations except the Defense Department had employed its recommendations for monitoring and evaluating foreign aid projects. USAID, for instance, which is required by law and statute to audit its foreign aid, publishes a financial audit guide and requires all aid recipients to conduct independent audits.

Foreignassistance.gov allows the public to view foreign aid spending by category, year and country, as well as requested spending, appropriated spending, obligated spending and actual spending.

Does removing the president from office after impeachment cut off customary benefits extended to former presidents?

A U.S. president who is impeached, convicted and removed from office is no longer eligible to receive the annual monetary allowances normally offered to ex-presidents.

The House of Representatives’ vote to impeach is not sufficient. In the Senate trial that follows, removal from office requires the agreement of two-thirds of that body. None of the three Presidents impeached to date—Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump—was convicted.

A law governing compensation for former presidents sets an annual cash payment equivalent to that of a Cabinet secretary ($207,800 in 2017) and provides for office expenses and health benefits. However, a one-term president is not eligible for the health benefits, as the term falls short of the normal five years of service required of federal employees. A travel allowance is offered if the ex-president declines continued Secret Service protection.

Are scientists developing a skin patch COVID-19 vaccine?

At least two teams of scientists have begun work on painless skin patch vaccines for COVID-19.

In early 2020, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh developed fingertip-sized patches that appear capable of neutralizing the new coronavirus when tested on mice. The vaccine development moved quickly due to previous research on similar coronaviruses.

Unlike experimental mRNA vaccines, this skin patch uses lab-made pieces of viral protein, a traditional technique in vaccine production. The patch is made up of 400 microneedles that deliver the protein into the skin, dissolving afterwards. The vaccine is still in development at this time.

This month, scientists at Swansea University also announced that they have begun research on a microneedle delivery patch, which serves to both vaccinate and measure the efficacy of vaccination through protein biomarkers.

If the National Guard is deployed for a national emergency, is it under the command of the President?

In the case of a national emergency, the National Guard is federalized and responds directly to the president. During peacetime, the authorities of the 50 states and three territories control their own guard units. Even then, guards have dual missions to their home states and to the federal government, if called on in the case of war or national emergencies.

The District of Columbia National Guard is the only unit that reports to the president at all times. The president has delegated the authority to activate the unit to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army.

The guard can be deployed either for domestic or overseas operations. Unlike active-duty branches of the U.S. military, guard members serve part-time, similar to the reserves of the active branches. Many guardsmen also have civilian jobs.

Is there data showing that right-to-work laws weaken unions?

Right-to-work laws allow employees of a unionized workplace to withhold dues from their union. An analysis by Bloomberg Law found that in four key metrics, unions in right-to-work states underperformed relative to unions in non-right-to-work states in 2018:

  • Union density: the percentage of unionized workforces in right-to-work states (6.5%) was less than half that of non-right-to-work states (13.9%).
  • Organizing activity: right-to-work states held 319 union elections with a 67.1% win rate while non-right-to-work states held 835 elections with a 71.9% win rate.
  • Strikes: right-to-work states held less than one-third the amount of strikes (38) held in non-right-to-work states (131).
  • Wages: union members in right-to-work states earned less per hour ($25.78) than union members in non-right-to-work states ($28.26).

Do US workers lose billions of dollars each year to wage theft?

Wage theft is almost never reported by its victims—the workers who are deprived of legally-entitled wages. It is therefore difficult to measure. A widely-cited 2014 estimate by the Economic Policy Institute, which advocates for the needs of lower-income workers, put the figure at as high as $50 billion a year.

In 2017, the institute estimated that 2.4 million workers in the 10 most populous states lost $8 billion annually to just one form of wage theft, employer violations of minimum-wage laws. Other common forms of wage theft include non-payment of overtime, not paying a worker for all of the hours they've worked, not giving workers their last paycheck and refusing to pay workers altogether.

A 2014 report prepared for the Labor Department documented as much as $20.1 million of wage theft per week in New York and as much as $28.7 million of wage theft per week in California.

Were Georgia’s election-runoff rules conceived to limit Black influence at the polls?

In 1963, Georgia state representative Denmark Groover proposed “majority-vote runoff rules” for “all local, state, and federal offices” in the state. The rules became law in 1964 as part of broader election-law changes.

Some decades later, Groover himself admitted to being a segregationist and said “some of my political activity was racially motivated.” The runoff legislation at the time was reported to be “a means of circumventing what is called the Negro bloc vote.” Under the runoff system, if white voters split in the general election, they would have the chance to realign behind a single preferred candidate in the runoff.

Groover is also known for promoting 1956 legislation that added the Confederate battle emblem to Georgia's state flag. The design was changed in 2001, with Groover's approval.

Are scientists studying how baby shampoo could slow the spread of the coronavirus?

Researchers hypothesize that baby shampoo could reduce the amount of coronavirus that infected patients spread to others. Small amounts of baby shampoo in saline rinses have been shown effective in decreasing the shedding of other viruses and clearing the sinonasal cavity.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Virology in September 2020 found that baby shampoo, as well as certain other oral and nasal rinses, has the ability to neutralize human coronaviruses. Though the researchers did not use SARS‐CoV‐2, the virus that causes COVID-19, they used HCoV‐229e, another human coronavirus that is used as a common surrogate for the former. With contact times of one and two minutes, “1% baby shampoo solution was able to inactivate more than 99% and more than 99.9% or more of the virus, respectively.”

Did the Trump administration change rules to help employers contest unionization efforts?

The National Labor Relations Board in late 2019 updated rules governing union-organizing efforts to lengthen timetables, allowing more time for employers to contest the merits and scope of efforts by workers to gain union representation. The new rule did not roll back all of a set of union-friendly changes made in 2014 under the Obama administration, but was “nonetheless an improvement for employers,” an Iowa employment lawyer noted.

Bloomberg Law notes that the impact of the changes in 2020 was clouded by a legal challenge to their implementation and by disruptions from the pandemic. Even so, the union “win” rate fell in 2020 to 70% from 75% the prior year, and was the lowest since 2014. The data lend support to the idea that “shorter elections favor unions while longer ones help management,” it reported.

Have governments been raising more money from carbon pricing?

Between 2011 and 2019, revenues from taxes and fees on carbon-based fuels across the G-20 countries rose significantly, tripling between 2016 and 2019 to almost $48 billion, according to the Institute for Climate Economics. The number of participating countries has also grown.

A 2016 study looking at how these revenues are spent found that 27% were used for “green” spending, 36% were returned to taxpayers and 26% went to general funds for government expenses. The remaining 11% went to “other earmarks,” with no mention of any revenue being allocated to the United Nations.

According to 2020 World Bank data, 60 carbon pricing initiatives are currently implemented, covering 45 nations and 33 subnational jurisdictions.

Were last spring’s coronavirus-related cash payments used mostly to either pay down debt or increase savings?

As part of relief measures enacted in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress authorized direct payments of up to $1,200 per individual. On average, 42% of the funds was spent, while 27% was saved and 31% was used to pay off debts, according to calculations by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

With shutdowns closing shops and businesses and limiting travel and leisure activities, spending favored food, health and beauty aids and household products.

The maximum payments were limited to individuals with incomes under $75,000 and phased out for individuals earning more than $99,000. Lower-and middle-income households tended to spend more heavily than higher-income households, which tended to either save the funds or pay down debt. Among households earning less than $75,000 annually, 80% spent their payments primarily on expenses.

Did the House vote to revise its rules to use ‘gender-inclusive’ language?

In January 2021, the House of Representatives adopted rules for the new session of Congress which included the adoption of gender-inclusive language along with a “sweeping ethics reform” and increased accountability measures. The new rules don’t ban the colloquial use of gendered-language in the House, but instead focus on replacing gendered language in the written rules with neutral terms.

For example, family terms such as “mother” and “father” and “sister” and “brother” will be replaced with “parent” and “sibling.” “Chairman” becomes “Chair.”

The moves underscore efforts to make the House more inclusive. Speaker Pelosi said, “these future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a caucus and as a country.”

The changes, approved in the House 217-206 on party lines, drew criticism from some Republican members.

Can the president remove any part of an appropriations bill once it is signed?

The president cannot unilaterally remove parts of an appropriations bill signed into law.

Title X of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 gives the president the power to suggest rescissions to budgetary items within appropriations bills. However, these suggested rescissions must be approved by Congress to take effect. If Congress rejects a suggested rescission or fails to approve a suggested rescission within 45 days the funds in question must be made available.

A 2018 decision by the Government Accountability Office prevents the president from strategically suggesting a rescission late in the fiscal year to delay the disbursement of funds until they expire.

The Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to appropriate funds for government spending. Historically, except in certain emergency circumstances, the president has not made spending decisions without congressional approval.

Will Dallas no longer dispatch police officers to respond to some low-priority crimes?

The Dallas Police Department memo rescinded a memo about diverting low-priority 911 calls hours after it was leaked on social media.

Per the memo, calls concerning a number of crimes, including car thefts, would be diverted. Instead of dispatching officers to the scene, 911 operators would redirect callers to an online reporting system, which would then forward information to detectives for follow-up. In a statement, the department stated that “although conversations have been held on this topic, the memorandum was sent prematurely.”

The head of the city council’s public safety committee said that such measures were intended to improve response times, but called for public discussion before further action.

Did the Founding Fathers warn against the formation of political parties?

Several of the Constitution’s creators expressed concern about political parties, or “factions.” In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison argues that the “dangerous vice” of unchecked factions harms society. A majority group could easily “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Alexander Hamilton thought parties were a “most fatal disease” for democracy. George Washington warned in his farewell address that a government run by parties would become “the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction” rather than taking on plans “digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.”

Not every founder agreed. In an 1824 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote that two parties could be “censors of the conduct of each other” and “useful watchmen for the public.”

Did the US government fund research into the concept of a ‘smart toilet’?

The National Institutes of Health funded research by Stanford scientists into “a mountable toilet system for personalized health monitoring.”

The so-called “smart” toilet is designed to screen, diagnose and monitor its user’s urine and stools for cancers, IBS, kidney failure and other medical conditions. It identifies each individual user through “their fingerprint and the distinctive features of their anoderm,” according to the scientists‘ report, published in April 2020. Similar efforts have been discussed for years; Japan's Toto Ltd. marketed a toilet that could monitor blood-sugar levels in 2005.

The Stanford study drew attention from Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who annually documents what in his view is wasteful government spending. This year's report identified $54 billion in funding.

Has the House extended proxy voting rules enacted early in the pandemic?

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the House of Representatives has repeatedly extended temporary rule changes permitting members to vote by proxy instead of in person for roll call “yea or nay” votes. Rules enacted on Jan. 4, 2021, for the new term of Congress included the provisions, the Associated Press reported. (There was a lapse at the end of the previous term pending the adoption of the new rules, so members were required to appear in person on Jan. 3 to establish an opening-day quorum.)

House members who wish to cast a proxy vote electronically transmit a letter designating a proxy, who will vote in person on their behalf, and provide their proxy with written instructions on how to vote on a pending matter.

The Senate hasn't waived its rules requiring to members to vote in person. Neither house has considered permitting remote voting.

Is it a federal crime to threaten the lives of the president and others in the line of succession?

Under U.S. law it is a federal crime to “knowingly and willfully” threaten the president, president-elect, vice president or any person in “the order of succession to the office of the President.” Threatening to murder, kidnap or physically harm these individuals is considered a crime under this statute. A person found guilty of such a crime may be fined and/or imprisoned for a maximum of five years.

According to the Department of Justice, “a showing of general threat” is sufficient for this statute to apply, excluding “mere political hyperbole, idle talk, or jest.”

In a 2008 case, a federal appeals court declined to convict a California man who had threatened to kill then-presidential candidate Obama on an online message board, creating a narrower standard for what constitutes a “true threat” in the interest of protecting free speech.

Did federal COVID-19 sick leave provisions lapse at the end of 2020?

The coronavirus relief package enacted at the end of 2020 didn't extend requirements for some employers to provide sick leave to employees with COVID-19 or COVID-related caregiving responsibilities. The legislation did extend the payroll tax credit for paid sick or family leave through March 2021.

Earlier relief measures, which expired on Dec. 31, 2020, required that certain public employers and “private employers with fewer than 500 employees” offer two weeks of paid sick leave for ill employees, two weeks of reduced-pay sick leave for employees caring for sick relatives or children home from school and (for some employees) up to an additional 10 weeks of reduced-pay leave for caregiving responsibilities.

Various states and cities have established their own COVID-related leave requirements.

Has the Trump administration sought to limit ‘birth tourism’?

A rule that took effect in January 2020 denies pregnant visa applicants a temporary visitor visa unless they can prove they have the funds to pay hospital bills or need to give birth in the U.S. for medical reasons.

The Constitution grants citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil. “Birth tourism,” the practice of foreign women traveling to the U.S. to secure citizenship for their children, isn't illegal. Critics argue that the practice strains hospital resources and wastes taxpayer money, and that birth tourism agencies engage in visa fraud and tax evasion. In a recent high-profile case, six people were charged with Medicaid fraud in a Turkish birth-tourism ring operating on Long Island.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which generally advocates for lower immigration levels, estimates that “20,000 to 26,000 birth tourists have children in the United States each year.”

Did US government employees gain new parental paid-leave benefits in 2020?

Defense appropriations legislation for fiscal 2020, as signed by President Trump, included new provisions granting federal employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth, fostering or adoption of a new child. The leave became available to both men and women in October. Previously, federal employees only had the right to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave.

Outside the federal government, paid parental leave is available to about 35% of all U.S. employees, according to a 2019 survey by KFF, a health-news and research group. Forty affluent countries mandate some form of paid parental leave.

In his Feb. 4 State of the Union address, President Trump lauded the added federal benefits and called on Congress to pass pending legislation offering advance tax credits for all new parents. That measure hasn't progressed.

Did Moderna design its COVID-19 vaccine in two days?

Moderna Inc. finalized its design for mRNA-1273, its COVID-19 vaccine, on Jan. 13, 2020, two days after Chinese scientists published the coronavirus's genetic sequence online. The first clinical batch of the vaccine was completed on Feb. 7 and shipped on Feb. 24 in preparation for human trials, which commenced with the first dose on March 16.

According to a University of Virginia medical professor, the new class of mRNA vaccines—which include the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines against COVID-19—are faster to develop in labs since they do not require the production of weakened pathogens or proteins as traditional vaccines do. They still must be tested in carefully-managed trials across diverse demographic groups to confirm their safety and efficacy, which limits how fast they can be deployed against a new health threat.

Did a British mandate for the smallpox vaccine give rise to the anti-vaccination movement?

The anti-vaccination movement can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, when a U.K. government mandate for the smallpox vaccine met resistance from some residents of Leicester, England.

Smallpox was rampant throughout the 19th century and continued to ravage the world into the 20th. In the 1790's, an English doctor concluded that a small dose of the virus could provide immunity to it. In the 1850s, the British government made the smallpox vaccine mandatory, backed by fines and imprisonment.

At the time, the smallpox vaccine was not fine-tuned. While the early vaccine was accredited for falling infection rates, it also had severe side effects. An 1885 mass protest in Leicester highlighted the continuing resistance. In 1898, the government began allowing people to opt out.

The vaccine eradicated the disease in 1977, but an anti-vaccination movement has continued.

Do public health experts advise against making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory?

While there is a precedent for mandating vaccinations, upheld in the U.S. in a 1905 Supreme Court case concerning smallpox, public health officials generally prefer a focus on education and encouragement as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available.

Mandates could encounter resistance amid overall mistrust, blocking the path to population-wide immunity. “I don't think the pathway to a fully vaccinated public is through mandatory vaccinations,” a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist told Axios. “I think that would actually backfire.” A World Health Organization expert agrees, advising authorities to ”encourage and facilitate."

Eventually, COVID-19 vaccines could be mandated by some local authorities or employers for certain groups like public school students or hospital workers. A premature mandate “could backfire spectacularly,” two health-policy experts warn.

Were ‘school choice’ vouchers used to impede school desegregation in the 1950s?

After the Supreme Court in 1954 ordered the desegregation of public schools, some Southern states issued tuition vouchers to parents who wanted to send their children to whites-only private schools. That early form of “school choice,” legal scholar James Forman Jr. wrote, effectively delayed implementation of the Court's decision “by at least a decade.”

The idea of school choice has also served progressive ends, Forman noted, including opening opportunities for poor Black students. Advocates say current voucher programs that let students choose charter schools instead of their local public school offer important opportunities for disadvantaged students. Advocates and critics disagree over whether charter school programs advance or impede integration—and even whether or not integration is a worthwhile goal.

Did a late December US ‘omnibus’ spending bill combine routine expenditures with coronavirus relief measures?

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, signed into law in late December 2020, included both routine government funding as well as measures extending or replacing economic relief Congress enacted in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus relief measures accounted for $900 billion of funding in the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending package. The remainder was allocated to other government needs and commitments, both foreign and domestic, leading some reports to confuse those measures with specific economic-relief provisions.

For instance, the bill funded foreign-aid to Israel, Sudan, Jordan and other states, among a wide variety of measures sought by certain legislators, lobbyists and interest groups.

Does Prager University provide detailed information about its donors?

Prager University isn't an actual accredited university, but a Sherman Oaks, California-based media organization advocating “Judeo-Christian values” and known for short videos espousing conservative viewpoints. Under tax rules for nonprofits, it doesn't disclose the sources of its funding.

In 2018, the latest year for which required IRS filings are available, Prager reported it raised $17.9 million, up from $10.2 million the previous year. In its 2020 annual report it reported revenues “estimated” at $28 million.

In 2020, Prager reported, its videos were watched one billion times.

Prager says it raises 40% of its funding online. Progressive media and advocacy groups have asserted it receives significant support from religious conservatives with ties to the oil industry. The Daily Dot notes that two Texans who made a fortune in fracking were on the Prager board in 2016 and 2017.

Did the US government toughen penalties against illegal content-streaming services?

The expansive package of coronavirus-relief and budget measures enacted in late December 2020 also included a provision making it a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, to stream unauthorized content for commercial gain.

The 5,500-page bill incorporated legislation championed by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. Offenders who provide works intended for “commercial public performance” (including movies, TV programs, sports broadcasts and music) by means of “digital transmission” and “without the authority of the copyright owner or the law” may now be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $30,000. Sen. Tillis cites figures stating that illegal streaming costs the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion a year and discourages creative production.

Do major tech companies channel profits through offshore tax havens to reduce taxes?

Large technology companies legally reduce taxes by setting up corporate structures that result in large shares of profits being recorded in lower-tax countries such as Ireland, Bermuda or the Netherlands. The practice can reduce the taxes they pay both in the larger foreign markets where they earn revenue and in their home countries.

The OECD calculates that the practice deprives governments of up to $240 billion a year, “equivalent to 4%-10% of the global corporate income tax revenue.” U.K.-based Vodafone booked almost 40% of 2016-2017 profits in tax havens, declaring it made €1.4 billion in Luxembourg, where its effective tax rate was 0.3%.

A U.K. group, Fair Tax Mark, identified a $155.3 billion discrepancy over the years 2010-2019 between cash taxes paid and the expected headline tax rates of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft.

Does low humidity increase the transmission risk of the coronavirus?

Drier air has been shown to increase the transmission risk of the coronavirus. A March 2020 study found that higher humidity and higher temperatures reduced the transmission of the virus. The researchers emphasized that weather factors alone could not stop the epidemic from reaching a critical point, making measures such as social distancing ”crucial to block the transmission of COVID-19 even in summer.”

An August 2020 study in Australia found that “a decrease in relative humidity of 1% was associated with an increase in cases of 7–8%.” At lower humidity levels, infectious viral particles stay suspended in the air for longer. Previous research has shown that the transmission of SARS and MERS (other respiratory viruses) is also impacted by humidity.

The dehumidifying effects of indoor heating add to the risks of transmission in enclosed spaces in wintertime.

Has the US provided more extensive pandemic relief than any European country?

Governments have responded to the economic impact of the coronavirus with a mix of direct relief—cash payments, tax measures, subsidies—and other financial measures that are harder to value. While the U.S. has been relatively generous in direct measures, by some measures it has lagged behind other economies in the relative size of its effort.

Breugel, a Belgian think tank, notes that the U.S., before enacting an additional $900 billion in measures in late December, had extended direct ”immediate” support worth 9.1% of its 2019 GDP, outpacing 11 European countries. Germany and the U.K. each extended similar support worth 8.3% of output.

When factoring in deferred payments and measures such as loan guarantees, Italy has spent 49% of its GDP and Germany, 40%. With such measures included the U.S. response is equal to 14.3% of last year's economic output, Bruegel estimates.

Do the emissions reductions from solar energy justify clearing trees?

Outside arid regions, installing solar energy systems often entails clearing trees. Trees store carbon, reducing harmful greenhouse-gas buildup in the atmosphere. But replacing conventional energy supplies with solar energy far outweighs the benefits from displaced trees. Solar is “much preferable to traditional means of power generation, even considering wildlife and land-use impacts,” a 2011 study concludes.

A solar-systems dealer in heavily-forested New England advises concerned customers that ”solar panels make up for the trees’ carbon storage in a massive way.”

Solar advocates downplay worries about the aesthetics of solar installations scattered across U.S. landscapes. Bill Nussey, founder of the Freeing Energy Project, figures the entire country could be powered by systems covering no more than 0.5% of the U.S. land mass—or even less land with wide use of more rooftops.

After California banned affirmative action in 1996 was there a decline in minority enrollment at the state’s universities?

According to a University of California report, a 1996 ballot initiative banning affirmative action policies by the state caused “systemwide decline” of at least 12% in racial minority enrollment across its ten campuses. The decline was as high as 25% at the system's Berkeley campus. This may have resulted in part from the removal of race as a factor in financial aid funding as well as admissions decisions.

Today Latinos make up 52% of California high school graduates but 29% of U.C. enrollees. Black students are underrepresented in both the U.C. and California State University systems. Asian students are overrepresented in the U.C. system. The two systems together enrolled about 767,000 students in the fall of 2019.

Voters in 2020 rejected a ballot initiative to reinstate affirmative-action admissions at California's public universities and in state hiring and contracting policies.

Has the median wage for recent college graduates increased in line with the price of college tuition?

Over the past 30 years, in constant-dollar terms, the median income for recent college graduates has remained stagnant, while the price of the average four-year college has nearly doubled.

In 1990, the median wage for recent college graduates was $45,739, when the average price of tuition, fees, room and board for all four-year institutions was around $14,376. In 2018, median wages fell to $44,798 for recent graduates, while the average price of college in the 2018-19 academic year had jumped to $28,123.

Private colleges are more than double the price of public ones, but their prices have increased similarly. The average total cost for a four-year public school was $9,915 in 1990-91 and $20,598 in 2018-19. The average total cost for a four-year private school was $25,035 in 1990-91 and $44,662 in 2018-19.

Are Americans taxed more lightly than residents of most rich countries?

Total tax revenue at all levels of government in the U.S. was 24.5% of national economic output in 2019, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The average across all OECD members was 33.8%. Two other countries in what the World Bank considers the high-income bracket (which excludes some OECD members) exacted less in taxes: Chile (20.7%) and Ireland (22.7%). The highest levels applied in France (45.4%), Denmark (46.3%) and some other European states.

The U.S. tax take has dropped from 28.3% in 2000. The average rate across OECD countries rose slightly during the period from 33.3%.

Based on OECD data for 2018, the U.S. government budget deficit, at 6.6% of output, was the largest across the group, with Mexico coming next at 5.1%.

Do the profits from civil asset forfeiture end up in police slush funds?

Money from civil asset forfeiture, which is the police seizure of property belonging to people suspected of involvement in a crime, accounts for billions of dollars collected by agencies at local, state and federal levels each year. The seizure is often legal whether or not the person is found guilty of a crime.

A significant portion of these funds goes directly to law enforcement, including the police and prosecutors who decided to take the assets in the first place. As of 2020, in 32 states, between 80% and 100% of forfeiture proceeds end up in coffers controlled by law enforcement. The same is true at the federal level.

Since this money has less oversight than budgets set by legislatures, law enforcement has used it for expenses like expensive vehicles and high-end dining and travel. In a sample of 13 states, law enforcement spent almost none of the money on victims.

Have Republican efforts to eliminate gun-free zones around schools progressed?

Republican efforts at federal and state levels to eliminate gun-free school zones haven't progressed, despite Trump's support for the idea in his 2016 campaign.

A Republican congressman introduced the latest repeal effort in 2019. Wyoming legislators introduced a bill in February that proposed to repeal gun-free zones in the state, challenging federal authority.

In 1990 Congress imposed criminal penalties for the possession or use of firearms in school zones. Exceptions were made for school programs and law enforcement officers. In 2020, Democrats in the House proposed a bill expanding the zones to include colleges and universities and eliminating existing exceptions.

Research on the impact of gun-free zones, around schools or other sites, is inconclusive, according to a review by RAND, a policy think tank.

Did McConnell underperform Trump in the 2020 election?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell underperformed the president in his home state of Kentucky in the November election. President Trump won the state 62% to 36%, a bigger margin than Sen. McConnell's 58% to 38% victory over Democratic challenger Amy McGrath. A poll just before the election put McGrath's support at 40%.

Nine out of 17 Republican incumbents running in November won their state by a larger margin than the president did. In Texas, Sen. John Cornyn won his seat by a 10-point margin, while the president won the state by 6 points. In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins won by 9 points, while President-elect Biden took the state by the same margin.

In South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham won by 10 points, while Trump won by 12.

Did developers of the two recently-approved COVID-19 vaccines include elderly subjects in their testing?

With people over 65 accounting for 80% of U.S. COVID-19 fatalities, understanding the efficacy and safety of potential vaccines among the elderly is especially important.

The founder of BioNTech SE, which developed the first approved vaccine in partnership with Pfizer Inc., said the vaccine “appears to work” in the higher-risk elderly population, with 94% effectiveness in trial subjects over 65, according to the Los Angeles Times. In the companies’ large-scale trial, 42% of enrollees were over 55.

An early “investigational” trial of the Moderna Inc. vaccine, which was developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, included 40 subjects over 55 years old (20 of whom were over 70), and confirmed that the response was similar to that in younger age groups. In the later-stage larger trial, 25% of participants were over 65.

Has martial law been declared 64 times in US history?

Martial law, an emergency status under which military authorities temporarily replace civilians, has been declared on at least 68 occasions in the U.S., according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

It has usually been imposed during periods of war, natural disaster or civil unrest. Andrew Jackson, then a general, used it first, during the War of 1812 in New Orleans. It was imposed in Hawaii, then a territory, during World War II. Its most recent use was in 1963, when Maryland's governor responded to race riots in the city of Cambridge.

The legal basis for martial law isn't well understood. The Constitution makes no mention of the power, Congress hasn't defined it and case law is sparse. Courts have not settled whether a president can make a declaration without congressional authorization.

Is the US increasing its money supply at unprecedented rates?

The U.S. has printed unusual sums of money, both figuratively and literally, in response to the pandemic.

The “M2” money supply, which includes bank deposits as well as cash, grew 25% during 2020, as the Federal Reserve bought bonds and made loans to counter a plunge in economic activity. According to records dating back to 1980, this year is the first time the measure ($19.2 trillion as of Dec. 7) has grown more than 15% in a single year.

The Fed also met unprecedented demand for paper currency. Currency in circulation totaled $1.76 trillion as of Dec. 31, 2019. In fiscal 2020 (ending Sept. 30) the Fed printed 5.8 billion new banknotes, 600 million more than expected, to meet “unprecedented” demand for cash at home and abroad. For fiscal 2021, it has outlined plans to print up to 9.6 billion bills of various denominations, or $430 billion, a potential increase of 66% over fiscal 2020.

Have public colleges grown much more reliant on tuition and fees for funding since the 1980s?

Repeated cuts in state-level funding have left the country's public higher-education institutions much more reliant on tuition and student fees. Between 1980 and 2019, the share of college and university revenue coming from students jumped from 21% to 46%, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Cuts made in recessions have rarely been fully restored, leaving students with more costs to cover. Between 1985-86 and 2017-18, the annual cost of attending a four-year public college more than doubled in real terms. Fee increases outpaced those at private institutions (which have remained more than twice as costly in absolute terms).

Meanwhile, the average student debt burden for all graduates—across both public and private institutions—has increased from $3,900 per student in 1980 to $30,000 per student in 2020.

Did New York report that exposure in restaurants and bars is associated with 1.4% of coronavirus infections in the state?

On Dec. 11, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released the state's first comprehensive numbers regarding contact tracing of coronavirus infections. Based on 46,000 cases identified between September and December (out of a total of 700,000 cases recorded since the pandemic began), restaurants and bars accounted for approximately 1.4% of exposures in the state. Household social gatherings accounted for nearly three-quarters of the cases, the state found.

Gov. Cuomo halted indoor service at all bars and restaurants in New York City from Dec. 14 until further notice.

Attempts to trace infections have varied in accuracy and in findings across the country. In Washington, D.C., authorities said restaurants and bars were associated with 13.8% of infections between Aug. 1 and Nov. 26. In San Diego, they accounted for 9.2% of exposures between June 5 and Dec. 12.

Were lawyers representing the GOP in post-election challenges doxed and harassed online?

On Nov. 10 the Lincoln Project, a PAC formed by Republicans opposed to Donald Trump's reelection, urged its Twitter followers to message staff at two firms, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur and Jones Day, and ask “how they can work for an organization trying to overturn the will of the American people.” Both firms were representing GOP efforts to contest the presidential election.

Twitter removed another Lincoln Project tweet that included contact information of two Porter Wright attorneys. The two attorneys and their firm withdrew from cases seeking to overturn election results in Pennsylvania, though an official reason has not been given.

An independent Philadelphia lawyer who stayed with the effort, Linda A. Kerns, later sought sanctions against the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis for an allegedly abusive voicemail over her role in representing the Trump campaign.

Did a recent change in Pentagon reporting structure belatedly implement a Congressional directive made four years ago?

A November reporting-line change at the Defense Department was made in line with 2016 legislation which stated that the official overseeing the military's special operations forces should report directly to the head of the department. The Government Accountability Office reported in May 2019 on delays in implementing various related changes mandated by Congress aiming to improve performance and oversight.

The reporting-line change was made by Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who succeeded Mark Esper on Nov. 9. Against the backdrop of President Trump's election performance and other personnel moves, this top-level Defense Department change raised what may have been unwarranted suspicion. “Far from being a Trump power grab,” Luke Hertig, a former Obama-era National Security Council official wrote, “Miller just may have landed on a valuable reform.”

Is the VA pushing ahead with plans to outsource more services to private contractors?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is pursuing plans to outsource to private contractors nearly all “compensation and pension” exams, required for all veterans seeking disability benefits. The step is part of continuing VA efforts to use private resources to improve service and reduce waiting times, but the measure has been criticized by its own staff as well as by Democrats in Congress.

The changes appear “unlikely to deliver the high-quality results we expect,” Rep. Elaine Luria wrote to the VA Secretary in October. Eleven Democratic Senators echoed those concerns in a November letter, asserting that the track record of the private contractors is “mixed at best.”

The Baltimore Sun reports that VA staff argue its own doctors have specialized experience that can speed the process along. "I think it's just going to lead to much more frustration," a union official told the Sun.

Have members of Congress ever challenged Electoral College results?

Members of Congress have exercised their right to challenge Electoral College results on two occasions. Neither succeeded.

When a joint session of Congress meets to formally accept presidential election results, members may challenge in writing the vote of any state. If a member from each house joins the challenge, the houses adjourn for up to two hours of debate before voting whether to exclude the vote or votes. Both the House and Senate must agree.

The first formal objection was raised in 1969. In the second, in 2005, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, challenged Ohio’s vote, citing alleged voting irregularities in low-income and Black neighborhoods.

On Dec. 14, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks stated that he is looking for a Senator to join in filing a formal objection to 2020 Electoral College results when Congress meets on Jan. 6.

Is ExxonMobil committed to an overall absolute reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions?

ExxonMobil, the U.S.'s largest oil producer, has not made a commitment to reduce its absolute level of greenhouse-gas emissions, as many companies and governments have. The company instead has said it will reduce the “intensity” of certain emissions relative to previous levels. As intensity is a relative measure, emissions in absolute terms could still increase as overall output increases.

“To tackle climate change total emissions must go down so an absolute reduction is the most relevant measure,” Australia's Climate Council says.

Exxon's emissions goals are framed similarly to those of its no. 2 U.S. rival, Chevron. Both focus on ”upstream” production, accounting for between 5% and 37% of overall fossil-fuel emissions. Their strategies contrast with those of major European producers committing to absolute reductions, and often more explicit shifts away from fossil fuels.

Are warming temperatures allowing a brain-eating amoeba to infest more northern waters?

A parasite commonly known as the “brain-eating amoeba” that causes a rare but deadly brain infection is being found in more northern areas of the U.S. as average temperatures rise, scientists have determined. Infection typically occurs when swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes or rivers.

The water-borne parasite, Naegleria fowleri, enters the brain via the nose and causes primary amebic meningoencephalitis, which can be fatal 97% of the time.

A seven year-old girl contracted the disease in 2010 in Minnesota, 550 miles north of the previous northernmost recorded case. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the amoeba's range is moving northward at the rate of about eight miles a year.

The CDC reports that there have been no more than eight known PAM infections in the U.S. per year since the 1960s.

Are some residents of a Montana county eligible for ‘Medicare-for-all’?

When Congress passed Obamacare in 2009, it also granted Medicare coverage to people who had been exposed to asbestos near the town of Libby in Lincoln County, Montana. A clause in the new health-care law enabled access to the federal health-insurance program, regardless of age, after many local residents had been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease.

In the 1920s, an insulation company began mining asbestos-tainted vermiculite, a mineral used in building insulation. The plant continued to operate until 1990. The Environmental Protection Agency began an investigation and site cleanup in 2000.

According to an asbestos-exposure advocacy group, an estimated 400 Libby residents died from exposure while thousands more suffered from related illnesses. Montana Sen. Max Baucus was an "unrelenting" advocate for assistance to affected residents until he retired in 2014.

Has Canada ordered more coronavirus vaccines per capita than any other country?

Canada has ordered enough coronavirus vaccine doses to inoculate every Canadian at least five times over, with more purchases pending.

With uncertainty about which of many vaccines under development would prove most effective, or how fast they would be approved, richer countries have reserved multiple candidate vaccines and placed options to order even more doses of some. Purchases by affluent countries are creating “deep inequities in terms of global allocation,” a Duke University-based research team says.

Canada could cover 600% of its population with its additional orders. The U.S. has secured enough doses to cover 200% of Americans, with the potential to raise that figure to 450%.

In a television interview, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that if the country has vaccines to spare, “absolutely we will be sharing with the world.”

Is Miami experiencing a rise in homicides?

Homicides in Miami and surrounding Dade County in 2020 increased 33% from last year. The city-county police department has recorded 105 murders so far this year, up from 79 last year. The number is the highest since 2013 when the department began reporting the statistics.

Cities across the country have reported increases in homicides this year. In an analysis of 21 U.S. cities, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that since the pandemic began through the third week of October, homicides were up an average of 32% from last year.

Did Biden’s choice for a new White House coordination role delay responding to the Flint water crisis as head of the EPA?

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general found that the agency under then-Administrator Gina McCarthy had moved too slowly in response to the water-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. McCarthy admitted in her testimony before the House Oversight Committee that she learned about excessive lead concentrations in at least four homes in June 2015, but only in January 2016 did she exercise her emergency authority to intervene. The EPA has legal authority to intervene in a public health threat if state-level action is not protecting the public in a timely manner.

Republican lawmakers widely castigated McCarthy's performance during the crisis and many called for her resignation.

McCarthy has been named by President-elect Joe Biden to the newly-created role of White House Climate Coordinator.

Did the three strikes law increase California’s prison population?

California's three strikes rule, a criminal sentencing law passed in 1994, is cited as a reason for a large spike in the state's prison population in the 1990s.

The rule mandated sentences ranging from at least 25 years to life for all three-time repeat felony offenders. The law also doubled the sentence for second-time offenders.

After its implementation, 80,000 second-strikers and 7,500 third-strikers were sent to state prison, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office. By 2004, second- and third-strikers made up about 26% of the state's incarcerated population. The growth rate slowed in the early 2000s, as second-time offenders affected by the rule completed sentences. A ballot initiative in 2012 eliminated life sentences for non-violent and less serious serious crimes. California's prison population decreased by 20% between 2000 and 2018, to 127,972.

Has the global impact of natural disasters declined in the 21st century?

During the first two decades of this century, the planet has seen increased impact from natural disasters—in terms of both human lives and economic losses—compared to the prior twenty years.

The U.N., using data from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, reports that 1.23 million lives were lost to natural disasters between 2000 and 2019, compared to 1.19 million lives lost between 1980 and 1999. Economic losses during the last twenty years totaled $2.97 trillion, vs. $1.63 trillion during 1980-1999.

The human toll of disasters declined generally in the second half of the 20th century. The UN says that the increase in recent decades can be explained by disasters related to climate change such as floods, storms and extreme temperatures. It reports there were nearly twice as many climate-related events in the 2000-2019 cycle as in the previous two decades.

Does a type of coronavirus attacking digestive systems in pigs have the potential to spread to humans?

A gastrointestinal virus that infected pigs in China in 2016 has “inherent potential” to spread between animal and human hosts, based on laboratory testing reported by University of North Carolina researchers. Tests showed the virus, known as SADS-CoV, or swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus, can replicate in human lung, intestinal and respiratory tract cells. In pigs it causes severe diarrhea and vomiting.

The virus is from the same family as the virus that caused SARS, which emerged from China in 2002, and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The initial outbreak was slowed in 2017 by separating sick sows and piglets from the rest of the herd. Investigators confirmed its connection to bats.

Researchers have observed that SADS-CoV has the broadest range of cell tropism, or ability to infect cells, out of all coronaviruses, implying a high risk of cross-species transmission.

Have the FDA-approved coronavirus vaccines been tested on animals?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines were both tested on animals.

Due to the emergency need and an accelerated rollout schedule, the Moderna vaccine was tested simultaneously on humans and animals. Researchers acknowledge that although parallel testing is not standard, nor the most effective, it is speedier. Vaccines usually undergo animal testing before the first human trials.

Pfizer tested its vaccine on mice and primates before moving onto trials with larger groups of human subjects.

Pfizer's vaccine received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11. Moderna's vaccine is expected to be authorized shortly, after being endorsed by an FDA advisory panel on Dec. 17.

Has California kept the amount of ‘gate money’ it gives inmates upon release unchanged since 1973?

California's prison authorities have not increased a $200 allowance for just-released prisoners—known as “gate money”—since 1973. Adjusted for inflation, that $200 is worth about $33 today.

The allowance is only offered after spending at least six months in a state prison. People who return for shorter stays on a parole violation receive $1.10 for each day of incarceration. Parole agents also may pay the gate money in increments over the 60 days following a person's release.

Last year the Marshall Project reported that 90% of states responding to its survey have formal policies for gate money. California's $200 is the highest figure. Released prisoners in Alabama and Louisiana often leave prison with as little as $10 or $20 in their pockets, and people in states such as New Hampshire may leave with no money.

Is fossil fuel usage linked to higher life expectancies?

While countries with higher incomes tend to use more fossil fuels, this increased use itself does not lead to higher life expectancies. A study by the University of Leeds found that a global increase in life expectancy is not directly tied to energy use in general, but rather is more correlated to better living and working conditions and quality of health care.

According to Harvard's public health school, burning and producing fossil fuels of any sort “releases pollutants that lead to early death, heart attacks, respiratory disorders, stroke, exacerbation of asthma, and absenteeism at school and work.” A New York University review concluded that, "If fossil fuel emissions were completely eliminated, the global average life expectancy would increase by 1.1 years."

Are there good statistics about how many people infected by the coronavirus have recovered?

Around one in 20 people in the U.S. are confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the CDC cannot say how many of them have recovered.

Health experts have had difficulties agreeing on what defines a recovered case and how to measure the rate of recovery. Several states, including California and Florida, decided not to track recoveries at all.

The COVID Tracking Project, a voluntary data service launched early in the pandemic, stopped reporting recovery figures because of the lack of standard definitions and consistent reporting. People who might still be suffering longer-term symptoms may be counted as recovered in some states, it notes. Using only the available figures “results in a significant undercount” of people who have survived COVID-19.

Does a lack of specific data mean pregnant women should avoid getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

A lack of data should not keep pregnant women from getting the just-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, advisory groups say. The vaccine has yet to be tested specifically with pregnant women. Given what is known about the design of the vaccine, and the known risks from COVID-19 for pregnant women, a Centers for Disease Control committee said a pregnant woman in any group (such as health care workers) recommended to get the vaccine may choose to do so. It added that a discussion with her doctor can help her make ”an informed decision.”

A leading OB-GYN group concurs that the vaccines ”should not be withheld” from pregnant women in the priority groups.

Pfizer told the New York Times that at least 24 women enrolled in its trials became pregnant later, without developing “notable” complications.

The CDC makes no recommendations to delay getting pregnant after getting the vaccine.

Did 6.5 million Americans move above the poverty line between 2016 and 2019?

According to Census Bureau data released in September 2020, the poverty rate in the U.S. decreased to 12.7% in 2019 from 10.5% in 2016. That means 6.6 million fewer people were in poverty in 2019 than three years before.

The bureau defined the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 as $13,300 in annual income, and for a family of four as $26,172.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic, with shutdowns and joblessness, undermined those gains. The extent of the setback could be further aggravated if Congress doesn't extend relief measures expiring at yearend. A Columbia University research group says the expiry of the provisions enacted earlier in the year could push 4.8 million more Americans into poverty in January 2021.

Are experts challenging a study claiming that unvaccinated children are healthier than those who have been vaccinated?

A fact-checking website, Health Feedback, found that a study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated children used unvalidated metrics and introduced its authors' biases into its conclusion. The authors did not account for the differences in background and behaviors between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, sought to support a claim that unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated children.

Oregon has suspended the medical license of one of the study's authors for “gross and repeated negligence” after he created an alternative vaccine schedule for his patients that omitted and reduced the frequency of vaccines.

U.S. health authorities consider vaccines to be safe and effective, and recommend all children receive vaccinations in consultation of medical professionals.

Does $400 billion in federal taxes go uncollected each year?

The Internal Revenue Service reports that between 2006 and 2013, the most recent period for which data is available, the U.S. government's “tax gap”—the disparity between the taxes the government is owed and the taxes it actually collects—was approximately $400 billion a year.

That sum compares to total income tax collections in 2017 of $1.6 trillion. The bottom 90% of earners paid about $480 billion of that.

Economists Aaron Krupkin and William G. Gale note that one of every six dollars owed in federal taxes goes unpaid and that the gap by 2018 was “plausibly” 70% to 80% of the annual federal budget deficit. They attribute the gap to inadequate funding for tax enforcement agencies, which “could do far more if they had the resources,” and suggest it reflects a fundamental unfairness in the U.S. tax system, given that high earners evade taxes more frequently than middle and low earners.

Is a substance used in tires fatal to salmon?

A team of scientists, after years of research, identified a chemical used in making tires as a the likely culprit in frequent die-offs of coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

One of five salmon species in the region's waters, the fish are susceptible to an antioxidant called 6PPD-quinone that drains into waterways from nearby roads after it rains. The tire industry uses 6PPD in virtually all tires to prevent degradation and cracking. A tire industry trade group said it would collaborate with scientists to “fill knowledge gaps and determine next steps.” Researchers reported in Science that “even small doses killed coho salmon in the lab.”

Does inflation disproportionately harm the poor?

Inflation, a general increase in prices over time, disproportionately harms the poor.

A 2011 U.K. study found that between 2008 and 2010, the poorest fifth of Britons experienced an inflation rate 1.6 percentage points higher than the richest fifth due to low mortgage rates, which benefit property owners, and increases in the price of gas, electricity and food, which “hit poorer households harder.”

A 2014 U.S. analysis found that between 2012 and 2014, the poorest fifth of Americans experienced an inflation rate 0.2% higher than the national average, which caused “hundreds of dollars a year in extra costs” for those “least able to afford it.”

A 2000 World Bank analysis stated that “high inflation tends to lower the [income] share of the bottom quintile and the real minimum wage—and tends to increase poverty,” with inflation outpacing wage gains among the poor.

Does the government employ most of the nation’s scientists and engineers?

In 2017, government accounted for 10.6% of the country’s science and engineering jobs, according to data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Nearly 5% of scientists and engineers were employed by the federal government and nearly 6% were employed at the state or local level.

The business sector is the largest employer of these professionals, employing 71.2% of more than 27 million U.S. scientists and engineers. The education sector is the second-largest job provider, employing 18%. (Universities rely on federal support for about 60% of their own research funding, so some jobs in the education sector depend indirectly on the government.)

Private industry’s share increased compared with 2013, when it accounted for 61.6% of total jobs, while government’s share declined from 12.2%.

Is the Paris climate agreement illegal because it was not ratified by the Senate?

In 2015, President Obama entered the U.S. into the Paris Agreement on climate change by signing an “executive agreement,” a form of legal agreement between the executive branch and other countries that does not require Senate approval. Obama did not believe the Republican-controlled Senate would ratify a full treaty committing the U.S. to specific reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Under the Constitution, presidents have the authority to make such non-binding international agreements. In 2007 the Supreme Court affirmed that under the Clean Air Act federal agencies have authority to set standards for emissions reductions. The U.S. also ratified the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which serves as a base for further action under the Paris Agreement, avoiding the need to for a new treaty.

Has the Trump administration lost more than 80% of legal challenges to its regulatory changes?

The Trump administration has so far prevailed in 17% of legal challenges to regulatory rule changes it has made while in office.

New York University Law School's Institute for Policy Integrity reports that the administration has won 28 of 165 challenges, keeping newly-revised regulations in place. In the 137 other cases, courts either ruled against the agency involved or the agency withdrew the action after being sued. Of 102 actions related specifically to environment, energy and natural resource policies, the agencies won 19% of challenges. On immigration matters, the administration has prevailed once in 20 challenges.

A study published in the Virginia Law Review in 2010 found that the average rate of success for federal agencies in such regulatory lawsuits was 69%.

Does defense spending consume half the federal government's discretionary budget?

Defense spending accounts for about half of discretionary spending by the U.S. government. Other discretionary spending includes expenditures on education, public health, infrastructure, scientific research and energy. In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2019, total discretionary spending of $1.3 trillion was 30% of the total budget of $4.4 trillion.

In the current fiscal year, defense spending is more than half of requested discretionary spending.

Non-discretionary (mandatory) spending must be funded by Congress under federal law. It includes programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance.

Discretionary spending is determined by Congress each year. In 2019, at 3.1% of national output, it reached the lowest level since 1962. Spending to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to reverse the downward trend over the next few years.

Are states with right-to-work laws more likely to have above-average poverty rates?

States with right-to-work laws have a higher likelihood of experiencing above-average poverty rates. The laws, enacted in 27 states, allow workers not to join or pay into a union even if that union represents their workplace, weakening the union.

In 2020, the average state poverty rate in the U.S. was 12.96%. Sixteen of 22 states with right-to-work laws report poverty levels above the average. Nine out of ten states with the highest rates of poverty are right-to-work states. Eight of the ten states with the lowest poverty rates are not.

Poverty is calculated by income level relative to cost of living. According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, wages in right-to-work states are 3.1% lower on average than wages in other states.

Did New Mexico's Governor authorize health care rationing to treat only those patients most likely to survive COVID-19?

Two recent emergency orders issued by the New Mexico Department of Health do not authorize a type of health care rationing that would prevent critically ill COVID-19 patients from receiving treatment.

One of the orders does prohibit hospitals from administering non-essential surgeries between Dec. 11, 2020 and Jan. 4, 2021. However, the order defines non-essential surgeries as "services which can be delayed for three months without undue risk to the patient's health" and states that the prohibition does not apply to treating patients with "emergency or urgent medical needs" or to "any surgery that if not performed would result in a serious condition of a patient worsening."

The other order allows more medical professionals to be credentialed to administer COVID-19 care in light of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Are foreign nationals able to make contributions to US campaigns through ‘bundled’ donations?

According to federal law, only U.S. citizens and green card holders (permanent residents) are permitted to make direct financial contributions to political campaigns. But there are loopholes in the regulation—if a fundraiser's contributions come from multiple sources before the full campaign donation is made, disclosing whom and where the contributions came from is voluntary. This process is known as bundling. Bundlers are only required to disclose their contributors if they're federally registered lobbyists. Otherwise, foreign entities can make donations without much legal scrutiny.

Foreign companies can also use affiliates in the U.S. to form political action committees to collect campaign contributions. Both practices are common in American campaign finance.

Did the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore establish a clear precedent?

The Supreme Court insisted that its ruling in 2000 in Bush v. Gore was not intended to establish a precedent for future election cases. The ruling hinged on concerns about the Florida Supreme Court's guidance on the state‘s recount. The U.S. Supreme Court said that its 2000 decision, which handed the presidency to George W. Bush, was “limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”

Despite that, “disagreements over whether Bush v. Gore should be considered a precedent are widespread, including in federal courts,” ProPublica wrote in November. Some lower courts have based decisions on it, but the Supreme Court itself has not. As the court did not hear any arguments on election cases arising from the November elections, the disagreement will continue.

Do CDC findings support restrictions on outdoor dining to slow the spread of the coronavirus?

In September, the Centers for Disease Control reported that people testing positive for the coronavirus were twice as likely to have dined out at a restaurant as those testing negative. The study didn't distinguish between sitting indoors vs. outdoors, and it was impossible to pinpoint with certainty where subjects were exposed to the virus.

Indoors or out, masks are off while eating and drinking. Outdoor venues may offer fresh air, but don't always space households six feet apart, as recommended. A risk of exposure from voluble nearby customers or passers-by can't be ruled out. The CDC rates “outdoor dining with normal capacity” at the same risk level as dining inside with reduced capacity. With overall infection rates rising, some local health authorities have placed tighter limits on outdoor dining in recent weeks.

Did a recent study find that regular users of Fox News, Twitter and Facebook were less well-informed about COVID-19?

According to a March 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, people who regularly use Fox News, Twitter and Facebook tend to ”endorse more misinformation” and have less knowledge about COVID-19 treatment and symptoms than those who don't often engage with these sources. These users also tend to have more prejudicial attitudes toward Asian-Americans. The study surveyed 1,141 adults in March 2020.

Another March study published by a Harvard affiliate found that use of conservative media (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh) correlated with “beliefs in the malign underlying motives of some at the Centers for Disease Control and in the Chinese origin of the virus.” Exposure to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube correlated with beliefs that the CDC was exaggerating the threat to harm President Trump politically, that the virus was created by the U.S. government and that Vitamin C prevented infection.

Has Biden’s choice for National Security Adviser been outspoken in his criticism of US interventions in the Middle East?

Jake Sullivan, President-elect Biden’s choice as national security adviser, has been openly critical of several Middle East interventions that were either begun or sustained in the Obama administration, when he served in staff roles under Biden and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Last year he urged Congress to halt U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, noting that initial Obama support for the effort turned into a “blank check” under President Trump with a “staggering” moral and human cost.

In a 2019 essay in the Atlantic he argued for winding down the war in Afghanistan and for “stricter limits” on military engagement elsewhere in the region. The invasion of Iraq was “one of the most catastrophic decisions in American history,” he wrote, calling interventions in Somalia and Libya “tragedies.”

Is temporary facial paralysis from Bell's palsy a common side effect of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine?

In its review of the new COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, the Food and Drug Administration disclosed that four recipients of the vaccine in clinical trials developed Bell's palsy, a sudden, temporary weakness in facial muscles. The FDA said the rate (.0009% of trial participants) is comparable to what's seen in the general U.S. population (.001%, or about 40,000 cases a year).

The U.K. has already approved the vaccine for use. On December 9, two days after it began administering the vaccine, authorities said an allergic reaction causing anaphylaxis had occurred in two recipients. Anaphylaxis, while severe, is very rare, and a known risk with any vaccine. Anyone with a history of anaphylaxis due to a vaccine, medicine or food is being advised not to take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Has ivermectin been proved effective against COVID-19?

Researchers have not yet reached a consensus about whether ivermectin, a drug approved in the U.S. to treat parasitic diseases in humans and animals, is an effective treatment for COVID-19. The FDA has not approved the drug for this purpose.

Some studies have found that ivermectin reduces the replication of the coronavirus. One study demonstrated lower mortality rates among critical patients who took ivermectin, but it hasn't yet been vetted by other scientists. Another early ivermectin study was later retracted. Researchers have called for full clinical trials to confirm these results. Studies have previously shown the drug might be effective in treating other similarly-structured viruses like yellow fever.

Several Latin American countries have distributed ivermectin widely during the pandemic, making it more difficult for researchers to recruit participants in clinical trials.

Has the IRS budget decreased in real terms in recent years?

Funding for the Internal Revenue Service has fallen 21% in real terms over the past ten years, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. “Underfunding [IRS] enforcement empowers tax avoiders and evaders...while hurting honest tax filers,” a CBPP researcher told Congress in February.

Since 1989, the agency's staff has shrunk 36%, despite an increased taxpayer population, new tax measures, the globalization of corporate activity and an expanded role in administering social programs.

The IRS's 2020 funding request of $11.47 billion was comparable to funding levels in the early 2000s.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the IRS examined 46% fewer individual income tax returns between 2010 and 2018, and reduced funds and staff allocated to enforcement activities by 30%.

Is the ‘case fatality rate’ a reliable measure of the deadliness of the coronavirus?

The oft-cited “case fatality rate” of the coronavirus has been widely misinterpreted. It is not accurate to assume that a reported fall in the rate means the disease has somehow become less life-threatening.

The rate is calculated by dividing deaths attributed to COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus, by the number of cases of infection by the virus. With limited testing, the number of confirmed infections is unreliable. With the disease's unpredictable course, timing and estimates of fatalities are unreliable. The calculations may only be reliably accurate at the end of the pandemic, when everyone infected has either recovered, or died.

Excess mortality rate may be a better representation of COVID-19's impact. This figure compares the number of reported deaths by all causes to what would have been expected in a normal year.

Does the decline in Democratic Party power in state legislatures date back to the 1990s?

While Democrats' control of state legislatures has fluctuated over the past three decades, overall numbers have trended downward.

One state, Nebraska, has a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature. In the 49 others, Democrats held at least a two-thirds majority of the 98 chambers (two per state) in all but one term between 1978 and 1992.

In 1994, the number of Democrat-held chambers dropped from 68 to 56. It then fell to 52 in 1996. In 2000, Democrats lost their majority and did not regain it until 2006.

Obama's first two years in office coincided with a brief upsurge, with Democrats controlling 62 chambers in 2008 and 2010.

Setbacks at the polls left Democrats in control of only 37 chambers by 2012. They have not regained a majority since.

After the 2020 election, Democrats again control 37 chambers, leaving them at a disadvantage in the reapportionment process following the 2020 census.

Do proposed tariffs on Vietnam-made tires mark a first for US trade policy?

On November 4, the Commerce Department announced plans to impose tariffs on imports of tires from Vietnam, citing the country's “undervalued currency.”

The move was based on a rule issued in February to treat currency devaluation as a form of subsidy, making countries found to be manipulating the value of their currency liable to countervailing duties. It is a matter of debate if these rules violate either U.S. law or World Trade Organization rules.

The measures against Vietnam, which disputes the U.S. finding, may not last. The judgment is preliminary, pending a final ruling in March 2021. The incoming Biden administration could also drop the case or rescind the currency rule. In 2019, imports of the tires affected by the duty totaled $469.6 million, the department said. The tariffs were set at 6.23% to 10.08%.

Is the death toll from COVID-19 approaching that of some of the worst events in US history?

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. reached 286,000 on December 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC recorded 6,489 COVID-19 deaths on April 15, 2020, the highest single-day toll it has reported. Since the first reported case, the U.S. has experienced an average 906 deaths per day, with a steady rise since October.

The CDC estimates the toll could reach up to 329,000 by December 26. World War II claimed 418,000 American lives. The Civil War, the U.S.'s deadliest military conflict, claimed at least 620,000 lives. The 1900 Galveston hurricane, America's deadliest recorded natural disaster, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The COVID-19 estimate, though grim, remains for now below the estimated 675,000 Americans killed during the 1918 flu pandemic.

Has the New York Times ‘1619 Project’ been widely adopted in schools?

“The 1619 Project” was a New York Times Magazine issue reexamining the history of slavery in America. It was published in August 2019 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first slaves being brought to the English colony of Virginia. The project's distribution in U.S. schools has been limited.

The Pulitzer Center, which seeks to broaden journalism's impact on education, said in May that it had “connected” project-related materials to 4,500 classrooms comprising “tens of thousands of students" — less than 0.1% of the 56.4 million K-12 students in the U.S. According to the Center, five U.S. school systems have adopted the project “at broad scale.”

The 1619 Project has been criticized by historians and a Times fact-checker for inaccurately depicting 1619 as the first time slaves were brought to America and for asserting that colonists fought the Revolutionary War to preserve slavery.

Has Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State consistently backed every US military intervention in the past two decades?

Antony Blinken, Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, has worked closely with the President-elect through much of the past two decades, first as a Senate staffer and then in the Obama admnistration.

He has called Biden's support for the Iraq War in a Senate vote in 2002 a "vote for tough diplomacy," arguing that it increased the likelihood of successful diplomacy.

Blinken's direct role in key Obama-era decisions on Libya (to support intervention) and on Afghanistan (to increase troop commitments, over Biden's opposition) isn't clear. In a 2020 CBS interview, he criticized Trump administration withdrawals from Syria, while admitting the Obama team's own efforts "failed."

In 2018 Blinken joined other Obama-era officials criticizing U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition in the "disastrous" war in Yemen, which actually began in Obama's tenure but expanded under Trump.

Is consumer advertising for prescription drugs banned in most of the world?

According to Harvard Medical School, the United States and New Zealand “are the only countries where drug makers are allowed to market prescription drugs directly to consumers.”

In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for regulating direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. According to Food & Drug Administration rules, drug ads must name “at least one approved use for the drug,” “the generic name of the drug” and all of its risks—or in some cases, only the most important risks.

Research demonstrates that consumer advertising has both benefits (empowering patients, encouraging them to speak with care providers and removing stigma around certain diseases) and drawbacks (overemphasizing drug benefits, leading to inappropriate prescriptions and increasing costs).

Are US coastal cities making large investments to prepare for worsening storms?

Many coastal cities in the U.S., from Charleston to Houston, are in the early phases of massive (and expensive) infrastructure projects to protect them from future storm surges.

In 2019, New York City released plans for a $10 billion project to protect lower Manhattan from flooding by building up new land. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged $30 million a year to defend the city from rising seas. After the 2005 hurricane season, New Orleans worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a $14.45 billion storm protection system, of which $1.5 billion was locally funded. The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a $4.6 billion plan to help Miami, the "most vulnerable coastal city worldwide."

Large flood-prevention investments are typically paid for with both state and federal dollars. In fact, many federal programs require states that pay for a percentage of the project.

Is a proposed banking regulation intended to force banks to lend to the oil industry?

A rule proposed by a federal banking regulator follows calls from Alaskan elected officials objecting to banks refusing to lend to new oil and gas operations in the Arctic. The supervisor, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, said the rule would address “creeping politicization” among banks reluctant to lend to certain industries because of public pressure or their internal policies.

The rule calls for banks to make “products and services available to all customers in the community it serves.” Democratic Senators contend that regulators lack the legal authority to force banks to lend to specific Arctic drilling projects, calling the proposal a “highly inappropriate” use of official tools.

The supervisory agency plans to implement the rule before the end of President Trump's current term, but the incoming administration could fire Brooks and overturn the rule.

Did Facebook’s founder help fund election expenses in major swing states?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan during 2020 donated a total of $400 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a non-partisan election security non-profit, to “ensure safe, healthy election options for voters in every corner of the country” amid pandemic-related challenges.

CTCL said that it planned to use the funds to support recruitment, staffing, training and other needs related to safely running elections during a pandemic. “Every qualified jurisdiction that applies will be approved for the funds,“ it said.

Conservative legal groups sought to block the grants, so far unsuccessfully. A Wisconsin federal judge rejected one such attempt in October, noting that in addition to five largely Democratic cities more than 100 other Wisconsin towns had received the funding. In Iowa, county officials said the funds weren't being used for any partisan purpose.

Can pharmacists tell patients when it’s cheaper to pay cash for a prescription than to use insurance?

In some cases, prescription drugs are cheaper if paid for directly in cash rather than through insurance coverage, which typically requires a copayment by the insured party and uses prices negotiated by the insurer. In 2018, Congress passed two new laws making sure pharmacists could tell patients about available cost savings, one covering pharmacy practices and another covering prescription drug plans under Medicare or Medicaid. They took effect at the start of 2020.

For years, some pharmacists had been contractually prohibited from telling patients about any cost-saving loopholes. A study published in the American Medical Association journal found that total overpayments due to what has often been referred to as the “gag rule” were $135 million in 2013.

Is it unusual that the US does not levy a wealth tax?

Of the 37 countries belonging to the OECD, only three currently impose a wealth tax: Switzerland, Norway and Spain. Fifteen years ago, 10 countries had a wealth tax.

Wealth taxes tax individuals' assets, including stocks, real estate, cash and material goods (which are difficult to value). These taxes entail high data-collection costs and are beset with the issue of wealthy individuals moving their assets out of the country to avoid taxation.

While only three countries employ a comprehensive wealth tax, many tax some kinds of assets. Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands levy taxes on selected assets (e.g., financial assets). More than half of OECD countries have some sort of inheritance tax which taxes the wealth of deceased individuals before it's passed on to beneficiaries.

Economist Thomas Piketty re-popularized wealth taxes as a potential solution to rising inequality.

Can an individual who has received a presidential pardon still run for political office?

The direct effects of a presidential pardon depend on the state law where the pardoned person lives, not federal law.

While a presidential pardon will restore whatever rights may have been lost due to the offense in question, it does not eliminate or expunge the record of said offenses. If a party inquires into such an offense, the individual in question is required to disclose said information.

The ability to hold political office is determined on a state-by-state basis. If a pardoned individual did want to run for office after being declared a felon, the state would have confer that right to them if it had been removed.

Eligibility to run for office is also dependent on whether the pardon is full, partial, absolute or conditional.

Did the sports business receive $1.72 billion in federal coronavirus relief?

Nearly 4,000 sports businesses (473 sports teams, plus athletic conferences, equipment retailers and halls of fame) received $1.72 billion in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, part of the expansive federal relief package enacted in March. More information about the loans was made public following a judge's order in November. Sportico, an industry news site, compiled the data.

The forgivable loans were designed to support employment in the first coronavirus-related shutdowns, and supported 235,475 jobs in the sports sector. At least 286 sports businesses received loans of $1 million or more. Recipients included owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a pro ice-hockey team, and three Major League Soccer teams.

No NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB teams accepted PPP money. The Los Angeles Lakers received a loan, but later returned it after public scrutiny.

Is the cost of building new transit lines higher in the US than in Europe?

Nearly all U.S. rail projects cost more than similar projects elsewhere. The International Union of Railways found that the construction cost of light rail in North America was triple the per-mile cost in Europe.

Europe has more experience building rail lines and has competition among suppliers, lowering prices. The U.S. also has higher costs for rolling stock, and U.S. projects tend to involve more expensive-to-build “elevated sections, tunnels or grade separation.” Labor practices may be a factor. Underground construction in the U.S. employs around four times the number of workers as in Europe.

Alon Levy, who writes extensively on the subject, observes that costs are higher across the entire English-speaking world than elsewhere, reflecting “insularity.” “New York needs to do what the Spaniards and Koreans and Italians and Swiss and Nordics do,” he says, citing some lower-cost providers.

Have scientists discovered how to convert carbon dioxide to ethanol?

In August 2020, a research team led by the U.S. Department of Energy announced a discovery that makes it possible to convert carbon dioxide and water into ethanol.

The research, conducted at Argonne National Laboratory together with Northern Illinois University, found a new process that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol, a valuable ingredient used in gasoline, medications and cosmetics. Scientists in 2016 accidentally learned that the gas could be converted into ethanol. The more recent discovery promises a more affordable and energy-efficient method.

Does the US have higher maternal and infant mortality rates compared to other developed nations?

U.S. maternal and infant mortality rates exceed those of other developed nations.

In 2018, the U.S. maternal mortality rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control, was 17.4 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. A maternal death is defined as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.” This rate is nearly double that of maternal mortality rates in Canada and the U.K., and greatly exceeds rates in Western European countries. Australia's rate is 4.8 women per 100,000 births; New Zealand's is 1.7.

The U.S. also has worse infant mortality rates than other developed countries. In 2018, there were 5.67 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in the U.S. Of the 36 countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranked 33rd, followed only by Chile, Turkey and Mexico.

Did any federal executions occur during the Obama administration?

No federal executions occurred during the Obama administration. The most recent federal execution prior to Obama's tenure occurred in 2003.

In 2020, eight federal prisoners have been executed. There are 54 awaiting execution, with three of them scheduled to die before the end of President Trump's term.

In 2014, two botched executions by lethal injection, at the state level in Oklahoma and Ohio, led then-President Obama to direct the Justice Department to begin an assessment of the death penalty. Obama called capital punishment "deeply troubling" in an interview with the Marshall Project. But ultimately, his administration didn't take steps to abolish federal capital punishment.

Before Obama left office, he commuted two federal death sentences.

In the 28 U.S. states that apply the death penalty, 2,591 prisoners were awaiting execution as of July 1, 2020.

Is misinformation more likely to be shared on social media than accurate information?

A 2018 study in Science found falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than truths on Twitter. “It took the truth about six times as long” to reach 1,500 people, the study found. False political news spread more quickly. The study also found humans and bots spread news at the same rate.

Researchers have studied how human limitations speed the spread of fake news on social media. Overloaded by information, people rely on preexisting political biases. Conservatives are somewhat more susceptible to sharing fake news, but liberal users are vulnerable too. Users want community—so they're more likely to share fake material when they think others have.

A 2020 study from Harvard's Kennedy School found that higher social media exposure was associated with more misperceptions about COVID-19, and “a powerful association” with “social distancing non-compliance.”

Do 2020 election results suggest the economy was a primary driver of Latino support for Trump?

A summer 2020 poll found 80% of Latino voters said the economy was "very important" to their vote. Commentators and political scientists saw ample evidence of that in the November results.

Based on preliminary exit polls, about 32% of Latinos nationwide voted for Trump. In Florida Trump won 45% of the Latino vote, and Trump won as much as 47% of the Latino vote in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

A Colorado political scientist wrote in Fortune that "the economic downturn has hit Hispanic workers particularly hard, with men and especially women experiencing higher levels of unemployment." A Northwestern historian noted that Trump “clearly stated that he had answers to their problems, would help them find jobs, and would grow the economy." A local organizer in Starr County in Texas told the Los Angeles Times that "the top reason voters told him they chose Trump was the economy."

Are paid celebrity endorsements part of a Johns Hopkins University plan to support vaccine distribution?

Johns Hopkins University in August produced a set of recommendations for public health authorities covering many aspects of distributing vaccines against COVID-19, then still under development. The plans make no mention of any paid endorsements by celebrities.

The report puts forward an ethics framework for initial vaccine allocations, including candidate priority groups. It calls for “engaging a diverse array of stakeholders from different communities” to increase public trust in the vaccine, as well as publishing transparent safety data and eliciting public input about safety concerns.

Former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have each agreed to publicly receive the vaccine in order to promote trust in its safety.

The U.K.'s National Health Service is considering enlisting celebrities and influencers in its own vaccine distribution plans, according to media reports.

Did a controversial right-wing activist group receive $558,000 in coronavirus relief loans?

Project Veritas, a nonprofit known for reports of alleged corruption at well-known institutions, received a $558,000 loan under the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program. The SBA's searchable database lists Project Veritas, based in Marmaroneck, New York, as having obtained its loan via Citibank. The forgivable SBA loans, enacted as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, were available to any eligible employers to help keep workers employed through the pandemic's disruptions.

Project Veritas, headed by journalist James O'Keefe, describes its work as “undercover," sometimes using hidden cameras and microphones. Recent subjects have included media bias and election fraud. Media Bias/Fact Check, which evaluates news sources, classifies the organization as “extreme right" with a "mixed" factual record.

Is the impact of a Trump administration ban on owning stocks linked to China’s military largely symbolic?

A Nov. 12, 2020, executive order banning U.S. investment in companies linked to China's People's Liberation Army is a largely symbolic gesture. Chinese companies utilize state bank loans and domestic investment as their primary funding sources rather than seek out foreign investment. China is relatively closed to world investment markets, with only 5.4% of its shares being foreign-owned.

Neither will the ban significantly impact U.S. investors. According to a 2019 Seafarer Funds report, U.S. investment in all Chinese stocks was estimated at less than 1% of all U.S. portfolio holdings.

Trump's executive order applies to 35 Chinese companies and will take effect Jan. 11, 2021. Investors will have until November 2021 to divest the companies from their portfolios.

Does burning biomass release more carbon dioxide than burning fossil fuels?

According to Columbia University's Earth Institute, biomass-burning power plants (which burn wood chips, sawdust and other materials to generate heat or run steam turbines, creating electricity) produce about 65% more carbon emissions per megawatt hour than fossil fuel-burning coal plants. These plants also produce air pollutants such as carbon monoxide.

Burning biomass increases atmospheric carbon during the harvest, transport and combustion of the woody materials. But it has been classified as renewable and carbon-neutral because trees (which capture carbon) can be replanted.

The advocacy group Partnership for Policy Integrity argues that this classification is misguided, because it takes too long to regrow carbon-capturing forests that offset biomass burns.

Has President-elect Biden vowed to restore rules about transgender access to school facilities?

Joe Biden's campaign platform said that “on his first day in office” he will reinstate rules that will “restore transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms, and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity.”

The Obama administration issued rules in May 2016 requiring schools to treat students “consistent with the student's gender identify” even if it differs “from previous representations and records” and “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”

The Trump administration rescinded the rules in 2017.

A Biden administration is expected to review other Trump administration policies affecting transgendered students and adults. The candidate's platform outlines a number of measures, including reversing Trump's ban on military service and other social-policy regulatory changes.

Have lower operating costs for nuclear energy boosted demand for new capacity?

While nuclear power-generation operating costs have fallen 31.8% since 2012, other factors in the U.S. have made it challenging to sustain, much less expand, capacity. Extensions to the life of older plants, along with lower fuel and maintenance costs, have helped bring operating costs down. But 11 reactors have closed in the U.S. since 2013 due in part to weak public support for the sector. Disposing of waste remains an unsolved problem.

High upfront costs for new plants deter investors. Lazard, an investment bank, reports nuclear operating costs of $29/megawatt-hour for 2020. The bank estimates that on a "levelized" basis that factors in the cost of building new capacity, nuclear power costs at least $129/Mwh—making it more expensive than many fossil-fuel or solar sources. A 2008 study estimated the cost of a typically-sized new plant at between $6 billion and $9 billion.

Has any US president extended a pardon to a family member?

At least one U.S. president, Bill Clinton, has used the office's sweeping pardon powers to grant a pardon to a family member. A series of "midnight pardons" by President Clinton during his last hours in office included a pardon of his half-brother Roger Clinton, who had been convicted of a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and distribution of cocaine in 1985.

In a subsequent congressional probe of Clinton administration pardons, Roger Clinton was investigated for allegedly accepting personal gifts in exchange for pardons and diplomatic passports.

In general, there are few clear constitutional limits on the presidential pardon power, aside from an explicit prohibition on presidents using pardons to immunize themselves from impeachment.

Does the CIA finance information technology startups?

In-Q-Tel is a legally independent venture-capital firm established in 1999 with the intent of equipping the CIA with up-to-date “emerging information technologies.” The firm receives annual funding from the agency; the amount was reported in 2005 to be about $37 million but has not been disclosed since. It is “not a government entity” but a non-profit with 501(c)3 designation and “partner” of the CIA and other government agencies, according to its website.

The CIA chartered the firm to incentivize the private sector to provide innovative solutions for national security issues, replacing slower traditional government procurement processes. In-Q-Tel's primary goal is to match CIA objectives, not to maximize return on investment.

Lucia Borio, a member of President-elect Biden´s COVID-19 task force, currently serves as the vice president of technical staff at In-Q-Tel.

Do vaccine trials test only infected people?

To prove the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine, researchers recruit large numbers of volunteers at risk of exposure to the targeted disease. In randomized clinical trials participants are divided into two groups, with one receiving the candidate vaccine and the other a placebo. Researchers then compare rates of infection in each group to gauge a vaccine's effectiveness.

Pfizer and BioNTech, who developed a COVID-19 vaccine that the companies say is 95% effective, began clinical trials on July 27 with 43,661 participants, approximately half of whom received the vaccine. On Nov. 18, the companies reported 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among trial participants: 162 in the placebo group and eight in the vaccinated group, supporting the reported 95% effectiveness. Among confirmed cases, the companies noted 10 were severe, with nine in the placebo group and one in the vaccinated group.

Can a president grant pardons before the recipient is actually charged or convicted?

In an 1866 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President's pardon power “extends to every offense known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.”

In 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon (after he had resigned but before he had been charged with any federal crimes), in order to avoid a trial and preserve "tranquility" in the nation. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft dodgers before they had been charged.

Is there definitive evidence that banning employers from asking about criminal records helps formerly incarcerated people?

There is so far no definitive evidence that ban-the-box laws, which make it illegal to ask about criminal history on a job application, raise employment rates for formerly incarcerated people. Currently, 36 states and 150 cities have passed ban-the-box laws.

Though some studies have found that the laws increased employment of formerly incarcerated people by up to 30%, critics have pointed out methodological pitfalls. Other studies have found that the laws had either no impact or a negative one on employment for people with convictions. In particular, employers often assumed Black or Hispanic applicants had criminal records in the absence of a declaration of their actual history.

The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, has stated that the laws alone are "not enough" and calls for more robust measures to ensure non-discrimination.

Has global consumption of fossil fuels increased every year in modern times?

Global fossil fuel consumption has not increased every year in modern times, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

The EIA has compiled data on global consumption of the three major fossil fuels—coal, oil and gas—from 1980 through 2018. In those years:

• Annual coal consumption was less than in a previous year 15 times.

• Annual oil consumption was less than in a previous year 10 times.

• Annual natural gas consumption was less than in a previous year three times.

Total energy consumption, which includes fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewables, was less than in a previous year three times.

Between 1966-2019 in five top energy-consuming countries across Asia and the Middle East, annual fossil fuel consumption relative to the previous year has decreased twice in China, once in India, 21 times in Japan, once in South Korea and five times in Saudi Arabia.

Did Interpol warn law-enforcement authorities that organized crime networks are targeting COVID-19 vaccines?

Interpol has issued a warning that criminal organizations may try and "infiltrate or disrupt supply chains" of COVID-19 vaccines. They've also suggested governments work to identify websites illicitly selling fake vaccines. According to the agency, the pandemic has already created unprecedented opportunity for this sort of illicit activity.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have shifted efforts to combat sales of fake vaccines. As the first vaccines are rolled out in the country, the agency expects to see a surge in illicit attempts to introduce counterfeit versions into U.S. and global markets.

Has New Mexico closed down some grocery stores temporarily as part of its pandemic restrictions?

As part of renewed efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state, New Mexico's health authorities issued a public health order that has resulted in the temporary closure of a dozen grocery stores, including Walmart stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

The order requires any business, even if essential, to close for two weeks if four or more coronavirus infections among employees are reported within a two-week period. As of Dec. 4, a number of restaurants, fast-food outlets and other businesses have also been shut down by the order.

Grocery stores are otherwise open, along with other essential businesses. According to the state's orders, a store may not exceed "may not exceed either 25% of maximum occupancy or 75 customers at any one time," whichever is smaller.

Is the ordinary flu vaccine of varying effectiveness?

The Centers for Disease Control conducts annual studies to estimate the effectiveness of flu vaccines. While there are variations in in the effectiveness of a vaccine in a given year, on average, "flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population," according to the CDC.

Variations due to age and underlying medical conditions impact the overall effectiveness of a given vaccine, as does the mix of viruses in circulation in the population in a given season. In the 2019-2020 season, the overall vaccine effectiveness across age groups for all vaccine types against Influenza A or B was 39%. Effectiveness was higher (42%) among people aged 50-64.

Do repeated vaccinations weaken a child’s immune system?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, based on a review of current published studies, finds no no support for the idea that multiple vaccines “overwhelm, weaken, or ‘use up’” the immune system. “On the contrary, young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines.” A more recent study, published in 2018 in the American Medical Association's journal, supports the finding that multiple vaccinations don’t weaken a child’s immune system.

The Centers for Disease Control also notes that, in many cases, infants are administered combinations of several recommended vaccines in a single shot. These combination vaccines have been found to be an efficient way to get infants and other children vaccinated.

Has Joe Biden's pick as climate czar been a senior advisor at a major lender to the fossil-fuel industry?

President-elect Joe Biden's choice as his "envoy for climate," John Kerry, has been chair of the Global Advisory Council at Bank of America since late 2017. From 2016 to 2019 the bank was the fourth-largest lender to the fossil-fuel industry, according to an analysis by a group of environmental organizations.

The bank says the council assists with strategy and relationships. When appointed, the former Secretary of State saluted the bank's "remarkable leadership as a corporate citizen" on climate change.

The lending analysis found that Bank of America in 2019 extended $48 billion in loans to the industry, out of $983 billon in loans and leases in total. During 2018-2019, the bank saw the largest absolute increase in fossil fuel financing of any institution, the report said. With other big U.S. banks it dominates financing of fracking, which Biden has said he will eliminate on federal lands.

Did a 2015 DHS review conclude that Alejandro Mayorkas created 'an appearance of favoritism' in certain visa decisions?

Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Biden's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security in his new administration, was the subject of a 2015 internal investigation when he was a leader in the same department under the Obama administration. The DHS Inspector-General found that Mayorkas, while serving as director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, worked "outside his defined role" by intervening in three matters pertaining to "EB-5" visas. The report found his conduct "created an appearance of favoritism and special access."

The probe stemmed from a 2012 whistleblower complaint. EB-5 visas are granted to immigrants committing to certain thresholds of investment and job creation in the U.S. Mayorkas in 2015 disputed the report's findings, saying the EB-5 program had been "badly broken" and he intervened so the cases in question "were decided as the law required."

Has the fossil-fuel industry received more than $10 billion in direct federal pandemic relief?

Three advocacy groups calculate that oil, gas and coal companies have received between $10.4 and $15.2 billion in direct federal coronavirus relief, plus indirect support through various financial measures and regulatory actions. A Nov. 23 report by BailoutWatch, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth bases its estimates of direct relief on tax benefits and loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Main Street Lending Program, all part of the $2 trillion relief package enacted in March.

The indirect support has included harder-to-quantify regulatory measures as well as market interventions from the Federal Reserve. Since March, the Fed has purchased $432 million in oil and gas bonds from investors, spurring $93.5 billion in new borrowing by the industry.

The report estimates direct and indirect benefits to the fossil-fuel industry total between $105 billion and $110 billion.

Did the US suspend the right to habeas corpus in 2001?

Habeas corpus, the legal procedure that keeps the government from detaining someone indefinitely without cause, was not suspended in 2001 and remains intact for U.S. citizens. However, non-citizens suspected of terrorism may in some cases be held indefinitely without trial.

The Constitution states that this right may not be suspended except "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

A Georgetown Law report found that under Section 412 of the Patriot Act, the government may subject non-citizen terrorist suspects to "potentially indefinite detention" when, as the Department of Justice stated, "releasing the alien will threaten national security or cause harm to the community or any person." Because the Patriot Act grants the government broad judgement authority on these fronts, it severely limits courts' ability to assess the merits of detention.

Does a presidential pardon undercut the recipient's Fifth Amendment rights?

The Fifth Amendment states that "no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," meaning he or she may "plead the Fifth" under oath to protect the presumption of innocence and avoid criminal liability. If an individual accepts a presidential pardon, the privilege to plead the Fifth disappears, and the person could be compelled to testify.

An 1896 Supreme Court decision determined that “if the witness has already received a pardon, he cannot longer set up his privilege, since he stands with respect to such offense as if it had never been committed.”

In a 1915 decision, the court ruled a person can reject a pardon to protect his or her right against self-incrimination.

Did the Trump administration secure a large donation of HIV-prevention drugs for uninsured Americans?

In May 2019, the Health and Human Services Department said that Gilead Sciences Inc. would provide a costly anti-HIV drug for up to 200,000 high-risk, uninsured individuals over the next 11 years. The step is part of the administration's initiative to eradicate HIV in the U.S.

The drug, known as Truvada for PrEP, is priced at more than $20,000 annually—a price which prevents many Americans from accessing it—though it's relatively inexpensive to produce. A generic Truvada is sold in Africa for about $60/year, but Gilead retains a monopoly in the U.S. (PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis; the drug is taken to block the virus.)

In November 2019, the Trump administration filed a lawsuit against Gilead for patent violations, alleging the company made billions from Truvada without paying royalties due to the Centers for Disease Control.

Is medical waste from COVID-19 contributing to water pollution?

Waste from the COVID-19 pandemic is polluting waterways and oceans around the globe. Surgical masks, which have a lifespan of 450 years, are washing up on beaches everywhere from France to Japan.

The United Nations predicts that in 2020, mask sales will total $166 billion, compared to 2019's $800 million. Historical data suggests that 75% of disposable masks will end up in either the ocean or a landfill after being used and thrown out.

In June, environmental researchers at the Tara Ocean Foundation examined 10 European rivers and found masks and gloves in all 10. In Japan, Umisakura, an organization that cleans up beaches in Kanagawa Prefecture, reported increased mask pollution. Prior to the pandemic, they'd find approximately one mask a day, but now find more than 10 during each half-hour-long cleanup period.

Did Neera Tanden have a foreign-policy role in the Obama administration?

Neera Tanden, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to direct the White House's Office of Management and Budget, served as an advisor to the Health and Human Services Department in the Obama administration. That followed a domestic-policy role in the Clinton White House, then roles advising Hillary Clinton from her time as first lady through the Senate and on to her 2008 presidential campaign.

Since being named as the potential OMB head, discussion about Tanden's policy record and expertise has been overshadowed by reactions to her social-media posts on a variety of subjects not directly related to her professional responsibilities, including tweets in support of NATO's invasion of Libya in 2011. "It isn't her resume that's generating the heat--it's the fight she's waged on Twitter and elsewhere," an NPR reporter said.

Do legislatures control congressional redistricting in most states?

In 34 of the 43 states that send more than one representative to the House, the state legislature makes the final call on redrawing the district boundaries to reflect the results of each decennial census.

Seven states, mostly in the West, use independent commissions to draw lines, limiting elected officials' participation to protect against potential conflicts of interest. Virginia and New Jersey use "politician commissions" that may include legislators and public officials.

Elsewhere, district lines are passed by a majority vote in each state legislative chamber. Some states appoint advisory and backup commissions to help with the process.

Does Colorado plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners first?

Colorado's health department in October outlined plans for administering vaccines against COVID-19. First on the list to receive vaccines are medical workers, critical employees like police and firefighters, and people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

Prisoners are in a second phase which includes anyone living and working in "congregate housing," including homeless shelters and dorms as well as prisons. The phase also includes "essential" workers. Those over 65 and those with other health conditions putting them at higher risk are next. The rest of the public follows.

Gov. Jared Polis has said that prisoners should not be vaccinated prior to the public, and vowed to change the vaccination plan, despite the fact that prisons have experienced large COVID-19 outbreaks across the country.

Does the legal structure of Native American land holdings limit economic opportunities?

On Native American reservations, 95% of the land is held in tribal or individual trust, meaning that while tribes and individuals are granted "beneficial interest" in the land the U.S. government retains legal title. As a result, Native Americans cannot buy or sell trust land, nor borrow against it. The structure dates back to Supreme Court decisions in the 1830s.

The 20% of the trust land held in individual trust is divided among an individual's heirs once they pass away. Over time, this land is split among many descendants, leading to "fractionation." The Interior Department says that "creates jurisdictional challenges and ties up land within the reservation boundaries, making it difficult to pursue economic development and infrastructure projects." A March 2020 study found that "fractionation suppressed long-run income generation from mid-quality land."

Is there any evidence of investment ties between the music industry and private prisons?

Allegations of ties between private-prison operators and the music business have been circulating on blogs and social media since 2012, but these have never been substantiated.

Proponents of the claim have pointed to two asset management companies, BlackRock and Vanguard Group, that invest in both industries. CNN notes that BlackRock has shares in 97.5% of the 500 most valuable companies. Given the vast scope of both groups' holdings, the mere ownership of two otherwise unrelated stocks is insufficient to prove any connection.

A recent NPR podcast noted that the conspiracy theory arising from the allegations, which surfaced in an anonymous, widely-circulated account, continues to resonate "because we search for simple answers to complicated questions." A 2018 list of top rap "conspiracy theories" termed it "one of the more pernicious myths in hip-hop history."

Have honey and black cumin been proved to have benefits in treating COVID-19?

Pakistani researchers have documented in a "preprint" paper their study of a treatment combining honey and black cumin (Nigella sativa) for patients with COVID-19. Honey and black cumin each have "established antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties," the authors note. Black cumin has a long history of use in traditional medicine in India and in Islamic cultures. It is used as a diuretic and appetite stimulant, and may be beneficial as a diabetes and cancer treatment.

These researchers found that using the two substances in tandem reduced COVID-19 patients' recovery times by approximately 50%. Although possibly promising, the study has not been peer-reviewed, and the findings have not yet been evaluated. This means that the study's findings are currently of use to other scientists for discussion and comment, and not to practicing medical professionals.

Did the Industrial Revolution markedly affect the climate?

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased substantially since the Industrial Revolution, at a pace that is accelerating exponentially in the modern day. Global net emissions of greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane and others that trap heat in the atmosphere— increased 35% from 1990 to 2010.

Increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the environment have atmospheric warming effects. Scientists have been able to infer previous global temperatures from studying the water vapor released by melting dated ice cores, and have concluded that mean global temperature is the warmest it has been in tens of thousands of years, with levels of carbon dioxide surpassing anything observed in the past millions of years. These changes in atmospheric levels are largely attributable to human activities since the Industrial Revolution.

Is there evidence that wearing face masks is causing serious dental problems?

There have been no studies establishing serious long-term dental problems arising from wearing face masks.

Wearing a mask for hours daily can lead to dehydration, as many people breathe through their mouths, not their noses, while wearing the protective covering. Dehydration can lead to bad breath. Hence "mask mouth" is a new nickname for bad breath caused by prolonged mask wearing. Dehydration potentially can contribute to cavities and gum disease, but there is no evidence on that point.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone wearing personal protective equipment for long periods of time (namely health-care workers) drinks plenty of water and takes scheduled breaks when protective gear can be safely removed.

Does the human body build up a tolerance to hand sanitizer after multiple uses?

The human body doesn't build up a tolerance to hand sanitizer—but bacteria does.

Alcohol-based sanitizers can help kill staph infections and some bacteria. But the widespread use of hand sanitizer has been proven to increase enterococcal infections, caused by bacteria in the digestive tract, bladder and heart, which become resistant to alcohol-based disinfectant.

Hand sanitizer also comes with other risks. It can be toxic when accidentally ingested, a particular worry with children. In May and June 2020, four patients died after swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and three became visually impaired.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible. Hand-washing is most effective at removing certain germs, including norovirus. When washing isn't available, the agency recommends using hand sanitizer that's at least 60% alcohol.

Can pharmaceutical companies deduct the cost of advertising expenses from their federal taxes?

The Internal Revenue Service treats consumer advertising as a business expense, making it tax-deductible for for-profit pharmaceutical companies.

Democratic senators have introduced legislation to eliminate deductibility for drug makers' ad spending, arguing it drives up drug costs. Tax analysts note that lower rates enacted in 2017 have reduced the value of the deductions, blunting the measure's impact. Others argue for using regulations to address any issues created by excessive spending.

Over the past two decades, ad spending by drug manufacturers has more than quadrupled. Drug advertising represented the third-highest category of advertising expenditures in 2014. Economists estimate that direct-to-consumer-advertising contributed to a 31% growth in drug spending between 1997 and 2010.

Has prescription drug advertising increased massively in recent decades?

Advertising for prescription medicines aimed directly at patients, as opposed to health care professionals, has increased massively over the last two decades. This is due in part to regulations introduced in 1997 by the Food and Drug Administration making it easier for drug companies to advertise on television and radio.

Estimates of how much industry spending has increased vary, depending on how expenditures for advertising are determined. A study by the Southern Economic Journal found that direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs increased from $150 million in 1993 to more than $4 billion in 2010, a nearly 30-fold increase. By 2016, another study by two Dartmouth doctors estimated consumer ad spending was up to $6 billion—out of a total pharmaceutical industry marketing spend of $29.9 billion, much of which is still directed at prescribing doctors.

Did the bigger spender win in each of the ten most expensive House races in 2020?

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, of the ten most expensive House races in 2020 (i.e., the races with the most money spent by candidates, not including spending by outside groups), two candidates won their races despite being outspent by their opponents.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar spent $5.2 million. Her Republican opponent, Lacy Johnson, spent $9.7 million. Omar won her bid for reelection in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District.

Republican Troy Nehls won his race in Texas's 22nd Congressional District against Democratic opponent Sri Kulkarni. Nehls spent $1.4 million and Kulkarni spent $4.2 million.

Was the rate of 'food insecurity' in the US at its lowest level in 20 years before the coronavirus pandemic?

In 2019, "food insecurity" was the lowest it had been in twenty years, at 10.5% of U.S. households. The U.S. Agriculture Department defines "food security" as having "access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members."

In 1999, 10.1% of U.S. households were food insecure. Food insecurity hovered between 10% and 12% for years, then rose in 2008 and peaked in 2011, in the wake of the Great Recession, at 14.9%. Food insecurity then began declining until this year.

The coronavirus-related economic slowdown has increased hunger levels in 2020. Feeding America, a nonprofit coordinating relief efforts, projects that 15.6% of Americans, 50.4 million people, will face food insecurity in 2020. The highest rate is expected in Mississippi, at 22.6%. California is projected to have the greatest number of food-insecure people, at 6.2 million.

Have parental attitudes about reopening schools varied based on race?

Polls of parents of school-age children have found attitudes on school reopenings during the coronavirus pandemic differ markedly by race.

A July Washington Post poll found 57% of white parents felt it would be safe for their children to return to school in person in the fall, while only 21% of Black parents and 27% of Hispanic parents said the same.

Another survey found 46% of all parents, including 43% of Hispanic parents, were comfortable with the idea. Among Black parents, only 24% were comfortable.

In Sept. 2020, Business Insider published charts based on surveys conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and other groups. A plurality of white parents (34%) wanted their kids back to school in person in August or September—but only 19% of non-white parents did. A plurality of non-white parents (25%) wanted to wait until spring 2021.

Can presidential pardons be repealed?

There is no clear process to repeal a presidential pardon. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the head of the executive branch "virtually unfettered discretion" to "grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States," including pardons, commutations (substituting a less severe penalty for a court-imposed punishment) and reprieves (delay of a sentence's execution) for federal criminal offenses.

Presidential pardons aren't subject to judicial review. They are plenary in nature, meaning beyond legislative control.

The power to pardon is not entirely unchecked. Presidents may not grant clemency if they have been impeached or are in impeachment proceedings. A 1974 federal district court case ruled that clemency must be "directly related to the public interest" and not unduly infringe the recipient's "constitutional freedoms" with any conditions imposed.

Is oleandrin an approved treatment for COVID-19?

Oleandrin, a natural compound found in the toxic shrub nerium oleander, has not been proved effective against the coronavirus and has not been authorized by regulators. The compound has been extensively promoted by Phoenix Biotechnology and one of its board members, Mike Lindell. Lindell, a Minnesota businessman, is chief executive of MyPillow Inc. and a prominent supporter of President Trump.

Oleandrin has been previously studied as a possible cancer treatment and antiviral. A July 2020 study touted it as a possible prophylactic intervention and therapeutic for the coronavirus, but the paper has not yet been vetted by other scientists.

In September the Food and Drug Administration released a letter to Phoenix stating that oleandrin had not been not approved as a safe dietary supplement, and mentioning that it had been considered (but not approved) as a prescription drug.

Do the majority of Americans support construction of a US-Mexico border wall?

An October 2020 survey reported that 57% of Americans oppose building a wall along the country's southern border, consistent with most other polling in recent years.

The question was rarely asked by pollsters in 2020, as concern over the coronavirus, the economy and other issues took precedence. The October survey, by the Public Religion Research Institute, reported that 33% of Americans found immigration to be a "critical" issue, ranking 13th on its list. Support for the wall remains strong among Republicans, however. "Nearly all Republicans who trust Fox News most among television news sources (96%) favor this policy," the survey found.

Surveys in 2019 found similar levels of overall support and partisan split. According to Gallup, 60% of Americans opposed major new construction along the U.S.-Mexico border. A 2019 Pew Research poll found 58% opposed.

Can US media accept advertisements from foreign state-affiliated entities?

Federal law allows foreign-government entities to advertise in U.S. media, provided that they avoid ads or endorsements related to U.S. elections. They must register as foreign agents with the Department of Justice, and disclose relationships and receipts. As agents, they must have "conspicuous" disclosure labels on any "informational materials."

The Justice Department has stepped up enforcement efforts against China- and Russia-run state media outlets in recent years to be sure they register if they "target an audience here for purposes of perception management or to influence U.S. policy."

China Daily, an English-language newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party's public relations department, is registered as a purchaser of advertising campaigns in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Foreign Policy.

Are millions of Americans aged over 60 paying off student loans?

In 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that 2.8 million Americans aged 60 and over were carrying student debt. The figure was up from 700,000 in 2005. Nearly 40% of borrowers over 65 were in default, the bureau reported. The bureau said that in 2014 73% of older borrowers were paying for the education of children or grandchildren.

State-by-state estimates of the total burden in a 2017 bureau report added up to an outstanding balance of $110 billion for Americans over 60 in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the total student debt balance in 2017 was $1.4 trillion.

Did the nation's largest teachers unions actively campaign for Biden?

The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association publicly endorsed President-elect Joe Biden during the 2020 election. AFT and NEA have 1.7 million and 3 million members, respectively.

AFT and its local affiliates helped their members register, learn about the two candidates' positions and get out to vote.

"[Americans] saw Joe Biden as an empathetic leader who will unite the country, rebuild the middle class and create more opportunities for our students," NEA President Becky Pringle said in a press release after the first presidential debate. The NEA ran digital ads in support of Joe Biden.

In 2016, AFT and NEA both endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Have police in some parts of the US set up checkpoints to limit the spread of coronavirus?

In recent weeks, police in some states and municipalities have set up checkpoints to enforce travel restrictions intended to limit the latest increases in the spread of the coronavirus.

In November, New York City set up vehicle checkpoints at bridges and crossings in order to enforce rules requiring either a 14-day quarantine or a negative test for those entering the city.

Newark, New Jersey, amid a jump in reported infections, issued a 10-day shelter-in-place "advisory" and a curfew. Police were sent to the borders of one hard-hit neighborhood, the East Ward, to keep nonresidents out of the area.

After the first outbreaks in the spring, states including Texas and Florida set up checkpoints at state lines to ensure out-of-state drivers crossing state lines observed quarantine rules.

Does a 2011 law give the president authority to detain domestic political rivals?

A 2011 defense bill "affirming" that the U.S. can indefinitely detain certain terrorism suspects without trial does not have language allowing use of its provisions against other unspecified domestic adversaries.

The bill's Section 1021 names as "covered persons" those involved in the 9/11 attacks or those associated with "al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States."

The bill's language was controversial at the time. When signing, President Obama noted it didn't apply to U.S. citizens, legal residents or others detained in the U.S., and stated that he wouldn't use its provisions to authorize the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without a trial. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that the limitation would not necessarily have to be respected by his successors, and called for the provisions to be repealed.

Is there any evidence that countries with universal health care coverage have lower COVID-19 mortality rates?

Data shows no clear relationship between a country's health care delivery structure and mortality from the coronavirus.

The U.S., with its mix of government and private funding of health care, has an observed mortality rate of 2%, according to Johns Hopkins data on deaths per 100 confirmed cases, as of Nov. 27, 2020. Several European countries with universal insurance programs, including the U.K., Italy, Belgium and France, have recorded higher rates, while Germany's is lower.

Much remains to be understood about factors influencing varying outcomes. An early assessment by researchers, published in May, observed that a strong national health insurance regime "does not appear to protect against mortality in a pandemic environment." With limited treatment options, outcomes have also been affected by policies calling for social distancing and limits on travel, gatherings and other activities.

Do California's coronavirus guidelines consider the entertainment industry ‘essential’?

In its first round of stay-at-home orders in March 2020, California deemed entertainment industry workers essential under the broader category of "industrial, commercial, residential, and sheltering facilities and services."

According to the state's public health leader, workers in the entertainment industry, if "remote work is not practical," are part of the essential workforce as long as they follow coronavirus safety guidance.

On November 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new limited stay-at-home order applicable to counties experiencing the highest rates of new infections. The order bars people from gathering with those from outside their households and taking part in activities away from home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Those working in entertainment, as essential workers, are exempt from this order.

Do relatively high, unregulated US drug prices incentivize more innovation than in other countries?

Higher prices for drugs in the U.S. relative to other countries do not appear to be essential to sustain innovation.

A 2010 study compared the prescription drug spending and rates of drug development in 20 countries over a 12-year period. Eleven innovated at higher rates relative to spending while eight innovated at lower rates. The U.S. rate of innovation placed below average.

Northwestern University's Kellogg School looked at the impact of Medicare changes on expected profitability and research decisions by drug makers. The results led researchers to doubt claims that lower prices would hurt U.S. innovation. "That's not really true," the school's health care director said.

A 2017 study found that between 2010 and 2014 the U.S.'s drug-patent growth rate (38%) was lower than the benchmark average (47%), and far lower than China's (118%) and South Korea's (139%).

Is South Dakota's governor backing efforts to overturn a just-approved ballot initiative legalizing marijuana?

A sheriff and a highway-patrol superintendent are seeking to overturn an amendment to South Dakota's constitution legalizing recreational marijuana. Gov. Kristi Noem approved the use of state funds to help fund their lawsuit seeking to void the measure, which won 56% support in the November election.

The lawsuit claims the amendment violates a "one-subject rule" limiting the scope of any proposed amendment, and that it was improperly introduced, asserting that what was called an amendment was really more of a revision.

"In South Dakota, we respect our constitution," Gov. Noem said. A spokesperson added that defending the state's constitution is part of her duty as governor. "I just don't see smoking pot as a gateway to helping people be better," she told a Sioux Falls newspaper in October.

Does an international treaty permitting reconnaissance flights favor Russia?

The 1992 Open Skies Treaty allowed 34 signatory countries to conduct "unarmed, short-notice reconnaissance" missions over the others' territories to gather military information, aiming to build transparency and more mutual trust among member nations. The treaty specifies that no part of any member's territory can be declared off-limits. The number of flights is determined by the party's geographical size. Both the U.S. and Russia are allocated 42 flights per year.

Russia violated the treaty by restricting flights over certain parts of its territory, and the U.S. responded by doing the same. In May 2020, the U.S. announced its intention to withdraw, accusing Russia of undermining the pact's "central confidence-building function." It made that step official on Nov. 22.

Is a $500 billion loan program in the March coronavirus relief package projected to cost taxpayers nothing?

In its April 2020 assessment of the deficit impact of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that one component, $500 billion of loan guarantees for big businesses, would not have a "net effect" on the budget. The CBO is a non-partisan agency that makes cost estimates for proposed legislation. It noted that the program was similar in structure to loan guarantees offered during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which actually made a profit for the government.

Democrats had criticized the provision as a "slush fund" that lacked transparency, as neither borrowers nor sums borrowed would be disclosed for six months. Under the approved program, a special inspector will oversee the loans, all of which must be publicly disclosed. The program also includes a ban on stock buybacks extending one year past any loan's repayment.

Do noncitizens have explicit rights to vote in some US local elections?

While voting in national elections is limited to U.S. citizens, a few cities have extended the right to vote in some elections to noncitizens.

San Francisco voters in 2016 approved allowing noncitizens with school-age children, regardless of legal status, to vote in elections for the city's school board. Chicago has had similar legislation since 1988, but excludes parents not legally authorized to be in the U.S. Maryland has ten towns that permit noncitizen voting.

Two states, Arizona and North Dakota, explicitly ban noncitizens from voting in either state or local elections. No other state constitutions specifically grant noncitizens voting rights at either state or local level.

Do exclusionary zoning rules get in the way of building more affordable housing?

Housing economists say restrictive urban zoning rules limit new housing supply and push up prices. Rules in many cities and suburban towns specify minimum lot sizes, unit sizes and costly building-code requirements as well as limits on anything other than single-family housing. Approval processes slow or stop larger multi-unit projects that promise more affordable options.

Efforts to revise these rules seem to work best with local initiative and support. Minneapolis in 2018 became the first U.S. city to ban single-family-only neighborhoods. A suburban Virginia county has eased restrictions near transit hubs. San Diego, Austin and other cities are speeding up approval processes for affordable projects. A widely-watched bill in California to override local zoning near transit hubs failed in the legislature early in 2020, after vocal objections from southern California residents.

Do presidents-elect seek private contributions to fund their transition offices?

A 1963 law allows for both federal funding and private donations to support a new president's transition planning between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Direct support from the General Services Administration covers costs for office space, administrative support and staff and travel expenses. The law allows any single individual or entity to make a contribution of up to $5,000 to the effort.

In 2008, President-Elect Obama raised $1.2 million for his transition in the 11 days after his election, according to federal filings tracked by Open Secrets. In 2016, President Trump raised $6.5 million in private donations, according to the Center for Public Integrity. On Nov. 23, the GSA formally unlocked the government funding for the Biden transition team, which has also been seeking private-sector donations.

Is solar activity expected to reach an unusual low in the next decade?

NASA predicts that the upcoming solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, will be "weaker than average." But it's also expected to end a forty-year period of weakening magnetic fields on the sun. “There is no indication that we are currently approaching" what scientists call a grand solar minimum, says Lisa Upton, the co-chair of the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel.

The sun alternates between periods of violent activity called solar maximums, which feature solar flares and eruptions, and periods of relative calm called solar minimums. These periods shift approximately every 11 years, when the sun's magnetic poles flip.

The last grand solar minimum occurred in the middle of the Little Ice Age (13th through 19th century) causing "erroneous beliefs that another grand minimum could lead to global cooling." Today, scientists theorize the Little Ice Age occurred for other reasons.

Do some promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates use nanotechnology?

Two promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates employ extremely small particles to induce human cells to ward off the disease, an application of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology involves physical particles about 1 to 100 nanometers in size. There are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch.

Vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which have shown encouraging results in early human trials, use a "messenger" RNA nanoparticle, a molecule that conveys genetic information, to instruct cells to produce antigens. Antigens in turn induce the body's immune system to produce antibodies against the virus. An mRNA vaccine differs from widely-used "live" vaccines used to protect against a range of familiar diseases such as chickenpox and measles, which inject a weakened version of the targeted virus into the body.

Do outgoing presidents typically issue a wave of 'midnight regulations'?

Lame-duck presidential administrations, with influence waning in many respects, typically issue a wave of new regulations.

The practice dates back at least 70 years, regardless of administration or party. "President Obama left office with a bang," issuing 41 "economically significant rules" after Nov. 1, 2016, according to researchers at George Washington University. Unlike executive orders, rules pass through a review process that makes them more difficult for the next president to overturn.

New York University's law school is tracking Trump administration rule changes, anticipating environmental and energy policy moves that could frustrate Biden administration goals. If Republicans prevail in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs and hold the Senate, the changes will be protected from a law that allowed Republicans to scrap more than a dozen "midnight rules" enacted by the Obama administration.

Does the US depend on three private companies for its voting equipment?

More than 90% of U.S. voters use systems developed by one of three privately-owned companies, according to a 2016 Wharton School report. Wharton estimates their total revenue to be about $300 million. The vendors receive little federal oversight aside from voluntary testing of functional requirements, relatively relaxed oversight compared with what the government gives, say, military equipment, a report by the Brennan Center for Justice notes.

One of the three, Dominion Voting, publicly denied a range of false claims about its performance in the Nov. 3 elections, including allegations of ties to prominent Democratic leaders or donors. The company, founded in Canada and now based in Colorado, noted that post-election scrutiny in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia (where the state reviewed every vote) has confirmed the security of its systems and the accuracy of its tabulations.

Is there a higher rate of workplace fatalities in states with 'right-to-work' laws?

According to a 2017 study, "right-to-work" laws in the U.S. have "led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionization." The laws, in effect in 27 states, allow workers not to pay dues to a union, even if the union represents their workplace.

The study found that for every 1% decline in unionization in a state, workplace fatalities increased by 5%. It advised policymakers to "consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health." The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,250 workplace deaths nationwide in 2018.

According to the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, right-to-work laws deprive unions of the funding they need to provide members with safety training, and make workers who fear workplace retaliation less likely to report safety hazards.

Is the WHO encouraging trials of an African herbal remedy as a potential treatment for COVID-19?

The World Health Organization has endorsed clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of artemisia, a plant promoted in Africa as a treatment for COVID-19.

China has long integrated natural herbs into standard treatment protocols—both traditional Chinese remedies (using licorice and ginseng root) and western medicines are part of its official treatment plan for COVID-19. Outside China, there have been few efforts to apply the same rigorous vetting of traditional remedies that regulators demand for new lab-developed medicines.

In Africa, authorities were initially skeptical of claims early in the pandemic by Madagascar's president about the benefits of an herbal drink derived from artemisia annua. A byproduct of the plant, known as sweet wormwood among other names, is used to treat malaria. The University of Kentucky is also conducting research into the plant.

Had the Western Hemisphere experienced two back-to-back category 4 hurricane landfalls before the recent storms in Nicaragua?

In September 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in the southern United States within two weeks of each other, marking "the first time in recorded history that two category 4 or higher hurricanes struck the U.S. mainland in the same year," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In November 2020, two category 4 storms, Eta and Iota, made landfall in Nicaragua.

Climate change is associated with larger, more intense and more frequent storms, a University of South Florida weather and climate professor told Scientific American in 2017. He noted that a coincidence of conditions has to be "just right" to sustain the storms.

Are claims of scientific consensus about the causes of climate change overstated?

Between 90% and 100% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is human-caused, according to a 2016 analysis of six studies measuring the degree of consensus on the topic. The analysis established that the commonly used 97% consensus figure is "robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer reviewed studies."

The authors refute challenges to the consensus by noting that “the level of consensus correlates with expertise in climate science.” Experts are defined as climate scientists currently publishing in the field. Non-experts include scientists in other fields and non-publishing climate scientists. The authors use the expert consensus level, reasoning that experts are the more qualified to judge.

The authors note that “manufactured doubt about the consensus…is one of the most effective means of reducing acceptance of climate change."

Have teachers unions resisted returning to in-person instruction in US schools?

Throughout summer and into the fall, teachers unions across the country have resisted pressures to reopen schools for in-person learning, citing continuing health concerns for both members and their students.

In Chicago, where schools did not reopen this fall because of union resistance, new plans approved by local public-health officials to open classrooms for pre-K and special-needs students continue to meet resistance. In Los Angeles, unions have agreed only to limited in-person "assessments" and some specialized services. In San Francisco, officials and unions remain at odds over terms for reopening. Florida's statewide union failed to stop reopening but continues to criticize the state's policies.

With a November surge in infection rates, at least a dozen reopened major school districts have reversed course, highlighting continuing uncertainty about how to respond to the coronavirus.

Is there evidence that Trump Administration efforts to build a border wall have reduced illegal drug availability in the US?

Illegal drug availability in the U.S. remained persistently high during the first three years of the Trump Administration while it worked to extend and improve a wall along the border with Mexico.

According to Drug Enforcement Administration annual assessments, in 2017 and 2018 heroin availability increased, methamphetamine availability remained virtually unchanged and fentanyl became "widely available."

In 2019, heroin and meth availability increased or remained stable in all 23 DEA field divisions. Mexico remained the "primary source" of heroin in the U.S. and fentanyl availability was "high and increasing."

Any effect from the border wall has been limited. With Congress resisting funding, only 122 miles of barriers had been built by February 2020 along the nearly 2,000-mile border. An additional 280 miles had been completed as of Nov. 16, 2020.

Do coronavirus countermeasures appear to crush ordinary flu infections?

The Centers for Disease Control reported in September that steps taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus appear to have a dramatic effect on transmission of ordinary flu.

"Influenza virus circulation declined sharply within two weeks of the COVID-19 emergency declaration" in the U.S., the CDC said. After March 1, 2020, the CDC reports that lab tests confirming flu cases declined by 98% from earlier in the U.S. winter. During the summer, it said positive influenza testing in the U.S. reached a historical low, decreasing from less than 20% to 2.3%. The CDC observed the same trends in data from other Northern Hemisphere countries and in tropical regions. It noted that during their winter "Southern Hemisphere temperate climates have had virtually no influenza circulation," adding that "the consistent trends over time and place are compelling and biologically plausible."

Have authors of the anti-lockdown 'Great Barrington Declaration' shared the identities of others they say back their recommendations?

Three university professors who published a petition they called "The Great Barrington Declaration" have yet to disclose names of 50,000 medical practitioners and public-health specialists who they say have signed their petition.

The petition disputes the wisdom of "lockdown" measures taken by many governments to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the risk of overtaxing health care resources. The declaration calls for isolating those deemed most vulnerable to the virus, while young adults and children continue working and going to school.

The authors' underlying reasoning and recommendations have been widely disputed by other public-health leaders. A number of regions and countries have recently reinstated lockdown-type restrictions to brake renewed growth in infection levels.

Did DC's municipal council vote to give children over 11 the right to get vaccinations without parental approval?

The District of Columbia Council approved a bill allowing minors over the age of 11 to obtain recommended vaccinations without parental consent. The bill specifies additional steps to protect a minor's right to confidentiality around an HPV vaccine (which protects against the sexually-transmitted virus).

The bill passed its required second reading on Nov. 17. After the mayor signs the bill, it is then sent to the U.S. Congress under D.C.'s unique governance provisions. Congress has 30 days to act to block the bill with a joint resolution requiring presidential approval. If no action is taken, the law then takes effect in the city.

Is the US presidential transition a longer, more complex process than leadership changes in other major democracies?

The time between election and inauguration of a new U.S. president—set by the Constitution for Jan. 20 following an early November vote—is relatively long. In 2020 it‘s 78 days.

A change in the highest U.S. office triggers thousands more job changes throughout the executive branch. Many appointments must then be confirmed by the Senate. Most newly-elected leaders elsewhere have far fewer jobs to fill. "France has nearly three times as many federal public servants as the United States, but just about 1% or 2% of the number of presidential appointees," a law professor observes.

The French president takes office within as few as 10 days of final electoral results.

In the U.K.'s parliamentary system, where a leadership team functions while in opposition, a change of government normally happens the day after the election. Other similar structures allow for at least a few days to hand over power.

Have Democrats lost congressional and statehouse seats since 2008?

The 2020 election results leave Democrats with fewer congressional and state-level elected officials than they had after the 2008 election.

With two Senate seats not to be decided until Jan. 5, Democrats control at least 48 seats, down from 57 in 2008. Their House majority of 233 seats in 2008 compares with at least 222 seats in 2020, with two seats still to be decided.

Democrats held 29 governorships in 2008, compared with 23 following the 2020 election. In 2008 Democrats controlled 62 state legislative bodies out of 98 partisan chambers (Nebraska's are non-partisan). After the 2020 election, Democrats controlled 37 chambers and 45% of the country's 7,383 legislative seats — down from 39 chambers and 47% of the seats pre-election.

Is there definitive evidence that the Trump Administration’s expanded border wall has deterred illegal immigration?

It’s hard to measure the impact of the Trump administration's expanded border wall on immigration patterns. Most of the added wall was only built this year and, according to a 2017 government audit, authorities lack metrics to measure its efficacy. Furthermore, it’s difficult to isolate the wall’s effect from other recent factors such as the lagging U.S. economy and movement restrictions brought on by the coronavirus.

While Department of Homeland Security data show that "illegal border crossings have decreased in areas where barriers are deployed,” overall numbers remain high. Apprehensions of undocumented entrants did fall in fiscal year 2020 (401,651) from 2019 (851,508) but remained higher than in 2017 (303,916) and 2018 (396,579). After hitting an April low, crossings are again on the rise with increases of 9% in September and 35% in October relative to last year's monthly totals.

Did election results in 2020 raise new questions about pollsters' methods and assumptions?

Early assessments of polling accuracy in 2020 results point to new questions about methods and assumptions. Unlike in 2016, polls generally predicted the correct presidential winner, but there were plenty of surprises in the results. Pew Research notes that errors in 2020 favored Democrats, pointing to "a systematic cause or set of causes." These could include:

  • Greater responsiveness among Democrats to polls
  • Shyness among Trump supporters about expressing their preference
  • Underestimates of enthusiasm for Trump
  • The COVID-19 pandemic's effect on voting and campaign conduct

"Polling errors for Senate candidates were quite large," Sam Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist and polling analyst, writes. "Republican candidates had a considerable reservoir of support that was not apparent." Overall, he told Scientific American, "at some level we should stop expecting too much out of the polling data."

Is there evidence that COVID-19 can cause lasting neurological or psychological effects?

COVID-19 appears to affect brain function in some patients. Some doctors have estimated that as many as 30% to 50% of patients could experience neurological or psychological symptoms during their recovery. Potential neurological symptoms including dizziness, headache, muscle weakness and lingering loss of smell or taste.

Research is currently underway at the University of Leicester to investigate long-term mental health effects of the virus on patients after hospital treatment. A separate, shorter-term study published in November using anonymized data of 62,354 patients suggested that, in patients with no previous psychiatric history, a diagnosis of COVID-19 increased incidence of subsequent psychiatric diagnoses. The most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders, insomnia and dementia.

Does the US spend twice as much on health care as other developed nations?

U.S. per capita spending on health care is about twice the average of the 37 member states in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to OECD health statistics. The U.S. spent 17% of its gross domestic product on health care in 2019, against the OECD average of 8.8%. Switzerland, which ranks second-highest in total health care spending, spent 12.2% of GDP on health care in the same year.

In 2016, U.S. public spending on health care was comparable to that of other developed countries while private and out-of-pocket spending was significantly higher.

Health outcomes in the U.S. are generally not better than in the other OECD states. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation observes that the U.S. "actually performs worse in some common health metrics like life expectancy, infant mortality and unmanaged diabetes."

Could the government require social media platforms to be politically neutral?

Any effort to require an internet platform such as Facebook or YouTube to take a political stance—neutral or otherwise—would run afoul of First Amendment protections afforded a platform as a private entity.

The Justice Department in September proposed a set of revisions to section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gives general legal immunity to internet platforms when they distribute content from users or other sources. Attorney General William Barr said the changes would help hold online platforms accountable "when they unlawfully censor speech."

The department says its proposed changes would ensure that the platforms are "fairer to the public when removing lawful speech from their services." It does not propose any requirement for neutrality. At present, providers set their own terms for removing speech, agreed to by users.

Are adjuvants toxic?

Adjuvants, substances that increase the body's response to vaccines, have been used safely for decades. They are not inherently toxic. They are tested for safety and effectiveness before use. Aluminum salts, common adjuvants, are found in drinking water. The best adjuvants maximize immunogenicity (the ability of the vaccine to induce an immune response) without compromising tolerability or safety.

Regulatory guidelines for the clinical evaluation of new vaccines are available and are regularly reviewed and updated. The Food and Drug Administration says it seeks to ensure that any adjuvant "does not affect adversely the safety or potency of the product."

Each vaccine receives a pre-clinical safety evaluation, as different vaccines have different combinations of adjuvant and antigens, which induce the immune response.

Are vaccinations against whooping cough safe and effective?

A review of multiple randomized control trials of the pertussis (or whooping cough) vaccine, used to prevent a highly contagious upper-respiratory infection, shows the vaccine to be between 84% and 94% effective. While the concentration of pertussis antibody decreases over time in those who've been vaccinated, data shows that even low antibody levels are highly protective, especially in children, who are at the highest risk of contracting whooping cough. A 2017 study also shows that the vaccine is 82% effective in preventing B. parapertussis infection as well.

Meta-analyses also report that the vaccine is safe. It has typical vaccine side effects such as fever, chills and swelling at the injection site. There is no notable incidence of other local or systemic reactions. The minor risks of an adverse reaction are outweighed by the immunity benefits conferred.

Did Joe Biden draw more pharmaceutical industry contributions than his opponent in 2020?

Donors in the pharmaceutical industry contributed $6.3 million to the 2020 campaign of Joe Biden, nearly four times more money than they channeled to Trump, who took in $1.59 million, based on data through Oct. 23.

At the Congressional level, pharmaceutical political action committees channeled $6 million to Republicans and $3.7 million to Democrats during the 2020 election cycle.

The pharmaceutical industry has historically favored Republican candidates, who have received 64% of the industry's contributions since 1990.

Was the Libertarian vote in 2020 larger than the Biden victory margin in some swing states?

In the 2020 presidential election, in some swing states (including Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona) the number of votes for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen was greater than the margin of victory for President-elect Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

In Georgia, Jorgensen got 62,066 votes; as of November 18, only 13,977 votes separated Biden and Trump. In Arizona, Jorgensen got 51,465 votes; Biden led Trump by 10,377 votes. In Wisconsin, Biden led Trump by 20,467 votes, while Jorgensen won 38,190 votes.

In Pennsylvania, Jorgensen's total of 79,511 votes was just below Biden's winning margin of 82,800 votes.

It's impossible to know how many votes for Jorgensen would have otherwise gone to Trump in the 2020 election had she not run for president.

Jorgensen received 1.2% of votes cast nationally.