FACT-CHECKERS

List of Checks

Is the term ‘Latinx’ popular among Latinos?

Despite the push by some in the LGBTQ+ community to replace the gendered terms "Latino" and "Latina" with the gender-neutral term "Latinx," the term remains relatively unpopular among Hispanic and Latino populations.

According to a 2019 poll from Pew Research Center, only 23% of U.S. adults self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term "Latinx" and only 3% use it to describe themselves. A Gallup poll had similar findings: only 4% of Hispanic adults surveyed claimed to prefer the use of the term "Latinx."

Those opposed to the term argue it is difficult to pronounce or even "linguistic imperialism on the Spanish language."

To deal with such complaints, the term "Latine" has been proposed as a substitute.

The term's origins are unclear, but Mexican American linguist David Bowles told History: "White people did not make up Latinx. It was queer Latinx people."


Are Americans quitting their jobs at a record pace?

The number of quits — "generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee" — increased in September to the highest level on record at 4.4 million, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data dating back to 2004. The quits rate also increased to 3.0% in September. In comparison, the quits rate was 2.1% a year before.

The Great Resignation, as the phenomenon has come to be known, has affected the tech and health care industries most heavily, while resignations actually decreased slightly in industries such as manufacturing and finance.

Experts still have not reached a consensus on root causes. Gallup survey data highlights how quitting is related to low rates of employee engagement, while University of California, Berkeley economist Ulrike Malmendie has proposed that people are quitting due to the more existential "experience effects" of living through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Can melatonin help treat COVID-19?

Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, which is made in the pineal gland but can also be taken as a supplement, has been observed to help reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

A June 2021 study found that COVID-19 patients given melatonin were discharged from the hospital sooner and returned to "baseline health" faster than those not given melatonin. 

A September 2021 study found that melatonin improved symptoms and chances of survival in mice by reducing a type of pulmonary inflammation.

An October 2021 study reviewing melatonin's effects on humans found that "melatonin acts to prevent [oxygen deficiency], thereby improving COVID-19 prognosis."

Melatonin may also help prevent COVID-19 infection: A November 2020 study found that melatonin supplementation reduced the likelihood of a positive COVID-19 test by 28%, but authors noted that more studies are needed to evaluate its clinical efficacy. 


Has the chance of dying from extreme weather significantly declined over the past century?

Over the past century, there has been a substantial decline in deaths from extreme weather.

The average number of annual natural disaster–related deaths declined from between 400,000 and 500,000 in the early 1900s to less than 100,000 in the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, according to the International Disaster Database, which has cataloged more than 18,000 mass disasters dating back to 1900. Comparing deaths over longer periods of time is preferable to comparing between years since the number of deaths in any given year is highly variable, with low-frequency, high-impact events causing the most deaths.

The decline is attributable to improved disaster management and response systems rather than a decrease in extreme weather events. The number of natural disasters has actually risen by a factor of five over the past 50 years, causing a sevenfold increase in economic losses.


Did pollution decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown?

In a majority of countries, pollution decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

A study published in PNAS in August 2020 found that "lockdown events have reduced the population-weighted concentration of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter levels by about 60% and 31% in 34 countries." Authors attributed the drop to "unprecedented reductions in economic activity" such as the decrease in cars on the road. The study controlled for meteorological variations.

A separate report by IQAir found that 84% of the 106 nations supplying pollutant data experienced lower levels of PM 2.5 in 2020 relative to 2019 due to lockdown measures.

NASA's computer models of 2020 pollutant levels absent the pandemic indicated that the lockdown "reduced global nitrogen dioxide concentrations by nearly 20%."

Adding nuance, a January 2021 study published in Science Advances suggested that while pollution did decline, the amount was lower than expected.


Could we significantly reduce atmospheric CO2 by planting more trees?

Scientists have established that reforestation can help mitigate climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide.

A Science study published in 2019 on global reforestation potential found that ecosystems could support a 25% increase in forested area. That increase could store a quarter of the current atmospheric carbon pool.

In response to critical comments on the study, Science clarified that "tree restoration should [not] be considered the unique solution to climate change" and acknowledged "the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels."

There is not enough reforestation potential to sequester the CO2 necessary to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius: a 2017 study found that trees could sequester a third of what's needed. Trees also do not prevent CO2 from being absorbed into the oceans. CO2 acidifies water, disrupting marine ecosystems.


Can climate change increase babies’ risk of heart disease?

A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2019 suggests warmer temperatures due to climate change may cause an uptick in the number of babies born with congenital heart disease, starting in 2025.

Scientists currently hypothesize that heat exposure during early pregnancy causes "fetal cell death or interferes with protein synthesis," both of which disrupt the development of a fetus.

Heart disease currently affects around 40,000 children born per year in the U.S. and is the most common birth defect. Scientists believe the uptick may cause an additional 7,000 babies per year to be born with the defect between 2025 and 2035.

While most congenital heart disease cases are treatable, scientists are encouraging pregnant women to "limit time outdoors" and use air conditioning during hot weather.


Does current data suggest there are more trees in Canada’s boreal forest than stars in the Milky Way?

Current data suggests there are more trees in Canada's boreal forest than stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

In 2015, Nature published a study estimating the global tree population at more than three trillion trees. According to data collected by the study's 38 researchers, about 750 billion trees are located in boreal forests in North America and Eurasia. Canada's reported share is 318 billion trees. The estimate was formed using data from international forestry databases and peer-reviewed studies reporting large international inventories published in the preceding 10 years. The study only included trees thicker than 10 centimeters in diameter at breast height. 

In contrast, the most cited estimate of stars in the Milky Way, conducted by the The European Space Agency by measuring the luminosity of the galaxy, is 100 billion.

NASA noted that while 100 billion is the most commonly cited figure, estimates of 400 billion and greater exist.


Did President Biden refer to Black baseball player Satchel Paige as a 'great Negro'?

At the National Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, President Biden, while recounting an anecdote about Black professional baseball player Satchel Paige, made the following remarks:

"I’ve adopted the attitude of the great Negro — at the time, pitcher in the Negro Leagues — went on to become a great pitcher in the pros — in the Major League Baseball after Jackie Robinson. His name was Satchel Paige."

It's likely Biden intended to describe Paige as a great pitcher in the Negro Leagues, but misspoke and then corrected himself. Biden is notorious for faux pas, even referring to himself as "a gaffe machine" in 2018.

The Negro Leagues were all-Black baseball teams that formed in the 1920s when the sport was still segregated. A year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Paige became the first Black World Series pitcher in 1948.


Is Nevada one of the best states for renewable energy?

Nevada is one of the leading U.S. states for geothermal and solar electricity generation.

It is the state with the second highest generation of geothermal electricity, trailing only California. Nevada produces a quarter of U.S. geothermal power.

Nevada is also the state with the sixth-largest amount of solar energy capacity as of 2021, supplying solar energy to nearly 700,000 households. It has the sixth-highest capacity of utility-scale solar electricity generation among the states.

Nevada ranked 12th among states for the largest increase in total renewable energy production between 2010 and 2019, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. It also ranked 13th in the country for overall operating wind, solar and energy storage capacity.


Does Nevada permit coyote killing contests?

Despite pressure from state Democrats, Nevada still permits coyote hunting tournaments.

Last Friday, Nevada's Wildlife Commission board voted 5-4 not to adopt an amendment that would have ended the practice. The proposed ban applied only to contests that award prizes for the most kills; hunters could still trap and kill coyotes, which have no species protections and can be killed without licenses. Hunters make up 2.35% of Nevada residents, according to Nevada Wildlife Department director Tony Wasley.

Opponents of the ban claim the contests serve as free predator control that the state would otherwise have to pay for and protect wildlife, livestock, and pets from coyotes.

Proponents argue the contests are too sporadic to contribute to population control and that coyotes provide ecosystem services such as eating rodents.

Since 2014, eight states have banned coyote killing contests.


Does Nevada rank last in the US for both employment and education?

Nevada does currently rank last in the U.S. for employment but is not the worst performing state in the nation for education — although it is close.

Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data from September 2021, the most recent month available, indicates that Nevada is tied with California for the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 7.5%. In a separate measurement of the most job-friendly states by personal finance website WalletHub, Nevada scored 41st out of 50.

U.S. News and World Report's 2020 Education Rankings, which uses "enrollment in pre-K, standardized test scores and the public high school graduation rate" as metrics, ranked Nevada 48 out of 50 for "pre-K-12" education.

In Education Week's school quality rankings, which uses enrollment, reading and mathematics achievement, and the high school graduation rate as metrics, Nevada tied with Oklahoma for 49 out of 50, trailed only by New Mexico.


Is there a consensus on whether people vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to transmit the virus?

The medical community currently lacks consensus on whether people vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.

New Scientist cited several studies that found vaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19 are between 63% and 89% less likely to transmit the virus.

However, a Lancet study published October 29 found that while vaccination "reduces the risk of Delta variant infection and accelerates viral clearance," once infected, vaccinated individuals transmit the virus at similar rates to unvaccinated individuals.

Nature offers a third take, reporting that vaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19 are initially less likely to transmit the virus, but the "protective effect...dwindles alarmingly" three months after vaccination.


Did Ted Cruz defend Nazis?

Ted Cruz did not defend Nazi ideology or practices. Instead, he objected to the classification of a Nazi salute performed by a man protesting school masking as a threat. Addressing the matter at a Congressional hearing, Cruz said,

"My God! A parent did a Nazi salute because they thought the policies were oppressive. General Garland, is doing a Nazi salute at an elected official...protected by the First Amendment?" Attorney General Merrick Garland responded, "Yes, it is."

In September, the National School Board Association requested federal law enforcement to protect "education leaders" from violence and intimidation, citing more than 20 instances, including the Nazi salute. Less than a week later, the Justice Department issued a memo disclosing it would be coordinating with local law enforcement to "discourage" and "prosecute" future threats.

Garland refused to rescind the memo despite Republican pressure.


Did US billionaires get 70% richer during the coronavirus pandemic?

U.S. billionaires have collectively gained $2.1 trillion during the coronavirus pandemic — a wealth increase of 70.3%, according to Forbes data from stock prices analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. Billionaires' wealth was valued just under $3 trillion in March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, compared to more than $5 trillion as of Oct. 15, 2021.

The number of American billionaires also increased from 614 to 745 over the same period. In 2021, the U.S. reinforced its status as the best performing region for ultra-high-net-worth individuals amid surging equity markets, government stimulus packages and ultra-low interest rates.

Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, was the billionaire whose wealth grew the most, at 751%, causing him to surpass Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the world's richest person.


Do Americans pay more for prescription drugs than other developed nations?

Americans pay significantly more for prescription drugs than similar nations around the world. Advair, for example, is more than twice as expensive in the U.S. compared to Canada and more than three times as expensive compared to the U.K., according to a 2015 Bloomberg analysis.

In 2018, average prescription drug prices were roughly 2.5 times higher in the U.S than in 32 other OECD countries, according to U.S. News and World Report. The gap was especially pronounced for brand-name drugs, which cost 3.4 times more in the U.S. than its OECD counterparts.

The RAND Corporation made similar findings but noted that generic drugs, which make up 12% of drug spending, are slightly cheaper in the U.S.

Consumer advocate Drugwatch cites the ban on price negotiation, the lack of price increase caps, and patents that crowd out generics as some factors influencing the U.S.'s high drug prices.


Have diabetes medications experienced high inflation in recent years?

The price of diabetes medications and supplies has been on the rise, increasing by 58% between 2014 and 2019, according to affordable health care advocate GoodRx. When insulin is included, the spike grows to 76%.

This is an ongoing trend. Research from the American Diabetes Association found that "the average price of insulin almost tripled between 2002 and 2013."

Insulin prices in the U.S. are an outlier globally: insulin prices are more than eight times higher in the U.S. than in 32 high-income nations combined, according to a RAND Corporation study.

Lawmakers in at least 36 states have introduced bills to stop the rise in insulin prices, but are met with pushback from manufacturers. In April 2021, a bill that would allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices was reintroduced. It passed the House but stalled in the Senate.


Is the Biden administration considering giving up to $450,000 to all undocumented immigrants?

The Biden administration is not considering making all undocumented immigrants eligible for up to $450,000.

Instead, the payouts would go only to immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration, according to the Wall Street Journal, who spoke with "people familiar with the matter."

The Department of Homeland Security told The Washington Post that at least 5,500 children were taken away from their parents under Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy. Payouts could thus total around $2.5 billion — less than 0.1% of the federal government's revenue of $3.4 trillion in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal reported that about 940 legal claims related to family separation have been filed. Georgetown Law professor Heidi Li Feldman told The Washington Post that the government could face much larger payments were the litigation to go forward, as well as costly legal fees from defending all the cases. 


Does the US have more people in prison than China?

Based on formal tallies, the U.S.'s prison population is the highest of any country in the world including China, both in terms of per capita prisoners and total number of prisoners.

The U.S.'s incarceration rate was 639 per 100,000 in 2021, according to World Population Review. China's ranks 116th with 121 per 100,000.

Despite having less than a quarter of China's population, the U.S. also has the highest overall prison population at more than two million. China's is approximately 1.7 million. Globally, the U.S. accounts for 4% of the population and 25% of prisoners.

China's figure does not include detainees located in Xinjiang internment camps, which are reportedly used to indoctrinate Uyghurs and other Muslims. While China has not provided numbers, a recent estimate based on satellite images, public spending on detention facilities, and witness accounts of overcrowded facilities and missing family members placed the number of detainees at 1.5 million.


Is an AT&T-affiliated satellite TV service an important source of revenue for One America News?

One America News, a conservative news channel, receives 90% of its revenues from a distribution contract with AT&T's 70%-owned DIRECTV satellite television service, according to court documents and transcripts reviewed by Reuters. AT&T does not agree with characterizations that it therefore "funds" the channel, but the privately-owned service nonetheless relies on the agreement for most of its revenue, Reuters found.

Without the AT&T revenue, OAN "would go out of business tomorrow,” a lawyer stated in court, according to Reuters. The statement came during a trial of a lawsuit brought by a former OAN employee against the conservative news channel, Reuters said.

Reuters said documents indicated that the channel relies on the AT&T fees for $57 million a month. AT&T says the figure is "inaccurate," but declines to provide a specific one.

AT&T sold part of its interest in DIRECTV in August 2021.


Is California considering widening a highway through the Richardson Grove redwoods?

Caltrans, California's transportation department, has been attempting to widen a 1.1 mile– long strip of highway running through Richardson Grove State Park since 2006. After being halted three times, a federal judge gave the project a green light this August despite opposition from environmentalists and indigenous groups. While lawsuits have been filed to overturn the decision, none so far has succeeded.

Caltrans says the project will enable industry standard-sized trucks, currently prohibited from the route, to pass through, improving the movement of goods and "helping local businesses stay competitive."

Opponents argue the project will "kill or damage irreplaceable ancient redwood trees" and suggest there are alternative routes that can be used to move goods through Richardson Grove.

The project's construction date is still "to be determined," according to the Caltrans website.


Have 'almost ten' deaths been directly attributed to the Jan. 6 Capitol siege?

Only five deaths — one cop and four rioters — are directly attributable to the siege:

  • Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died of a stroke after being beaten by rioters.
  • Ashli Babbitt, who died after being shot while attempting to breach a broken window.
  • Kevin Greeson, who died of a heart attack.
  • Rosanne Boyland, who appears to have been crushed to death.
  • Benjamin Philips, who died of a stroke.

Four additional police officers present at the siege have since committed suicide. While the reasons remain unclear, the wife of one officer claims her husband became deeply depressed following the siege, where he was punched and hit in the head with a metal pole.

In July, officers testified to Congress that they feared they might die during the siege as they were beaten, threatened, and taunted with racial insults. 


Does China’s recently demonstrated hypersonic missile technology pose a national security threat to the US?

China's recent nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test demonstrates a military capability threatening to U.S. national security.

Gen. Mark Milley, the nation's top military officer, called the test “very concerning.” Milley confirmed the occurrence of the test, originally reported by the Financial Times, which cited “five people familiar with the test” as its source. Milley declined to provide details due to their classified nature. Chinese officials have denied that the tests involved hypersonic missiles.

The key features of hypersonic missiles, which the U.S. and Russia are also developing, “include flight trajectory, speed and maneuverability that make them capable of evading early warning systems that are part of U.S. missile defenses,” according to AP News. Hypersonic missiles can fly six times faster than the speed of sound.

The U.S government currently spends more than $1 billion per year on hypersonic research.


Are police required to wear masks by the federal government?

There is no federal policy requiring law enforcement officers to wear masks on the job.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends law enforcement personnel wear masks if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and continue to work or if they are entering a structure where someone has died and the suspected cause is COVID-19.

Some larger cities, including Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are requiring police officers to wear masks in most circumstances and disciplining them when they fail to comply. Other cities are not enforcing such protocols, even exempting officers from public mask mandates.

Police issues expert David A. Harris told Associated Press that "it's reasonable to expect police to wear masks during more routine work" while acknowledging that the masks can obstruct an officer's vision and breathing.


Do cruise ships emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases per week?

According to an estimate cited in The Guardian in 2006, the 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth II consumes 433 metric tons of fuel a day. As each ton burned emits 3.1 tons of carbon dioxide, the big liner produces 9,396 tons of emissions a week. “Travelling to New York and back on the QEII, in other words, uses almost 7.6 times as much carbon as making the same journey by plane,” environmental advocate George Monbiot told the U.K. newspaper.

The 323 cruise ships operating worldwide account for 0.2% of global emissions.  The average vessel carries 3,000 passengers. Cruises are carbon-intensive due to their use of heavy fuel oil and their need to run 24/7, as they feed and house both passengers and accompanying staff while in port and en route.

Environmental groups have long urged the industry to invest in cleaner fuel sources. A German advocacy group, NABU, argues that ships’ reliance on relatively “dirty” fuel oil means a single ship can have the impact of a million cars. It calls on owners to convert ships to lower-sulfur fuels and install emissions-control technology.


Is the Biden administration primarily responsible for the recent rise in inflation?

Biden's COVID-19 stimulus spending is not the primary cause of recent inflation. Pandemic-related government spending began under Trump to protect the country from COVID-19's economic fallout. Moreover, research across 80 countries in the postwar period by economists Son Hang and Casey Mulligan found "little relation between inflation and nonmilitary government spending."

Last month, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell discussed the factors driving inflation, citing:

  • Supply bottlenecks due to pandemic-related disruptions in global production and trade.
  • Labor shortages, which lead to supply shortages due to decreased productivity.
  • Increased demand "as the economy continues to reopen and spending rebounds." 

Powell opined that the inflation is temporary: as supply chains are restored, "inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run 2 percent goal."

In a recent poll, 62% of Americans said Biden was "somewhat" or "very" responsible for increasing inflation.


Are significant numbers of health care workers quitting due to vaccine mandates?

Thus far, it seems very few health care workers are willing to risk their jobs over vaccinations.

According to Fierce Healthcare, those who quit rather than receive the vaccine often make up less than 1% of a hospital's workforce.

The New York Times similarly found that the non-compliance rate at large hospitals ranged between 0.5% and 2%.

The Conversation reported that while half of unvaccinated workers say they'd rather quit than get a shot, few are following through: between 0.3% at an Indiana hospital and 2.3% at an Alabama hospital — a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates.

Rather than Biden's vaccine mandate, which permits religious and medical exemptions and a weekly testing alternative, factors driving the shortage of health care workers include COVID-19 burnout, retirement and an aging population that is living longer and in need of more care.


Is the federal government collecting vaccine data to keep tabs on which American citizens are following orders?

The federal government does not keep records on which American citizens have been vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "there is no national organization that maintains vaccination records." The only records that exist are those in local vaccination clinics and the paperwork patients receive after getting vaccinated.

The Atlantic reported that the U.S. operates on an "honor system" — there is often no way to validate whether vaccination cards required for entry into certain places are legitimate.

The federal government has also never legally ordered the general public to get vaccinated. While more limited mandates have been enacted for public schoolchildren, federal employees, etc., there are exemptions that allow the immunocompromised or those with "religious or philosophical objections" to opt out. Other alternatives include periodically showing a negative test result or paying a fine.


Is the US government purchasing cellphone data to locate and arrest undocumented immigrants?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement purchased location data generated from cellphone activity and used it to identify and arrest immigrants, according to people familiar with the matter that spoke with the Wall Street Journal. ICE and other immigration agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been buying large commercial datasets since at least 2017 from Venntel, a small location-based marketing company. The location data is harvested from smartphone apps.

In December 2020, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and CBP, announced an investigation into "policies related to cell-phone surveillance devices."

A letter written by the Inspector General to Congress from February 2021 recognized that the Fourth Amendment protects users' cellphone-produced location data—including GPS data produced automatically through the use of applications on cellphones—and that the government needs warrants to access it.


Is there no reason to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have already been infected?

Being infected with COVID-19 does confer some natural immunity. However, those who have had COVID-19 can still be reinfected. Receiving a vaccine reduces infection risk, including in individuals previously infected.

According to a Centers for Disease Control study published in August, unvaccinated individuals with a COVID-19 history "are twice as likely to get infected again" compared to those "fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus."

A Science Magazine study published in October corroborates this, having found that COVID-19 vaccinations increased antibody levels in those with preexisting immunity, affording an "immune memory" at least six months after vaccination.

Warner Greene, a virologist at the Gladstones Institute, says individuals vaccinated post-infection have "hyper-immunity, which is like super-immunity" superior to natural immunity alone.

These findings suggest COVID-19 survivors have a reason to get vaccinated if they wish to reduce their risk of reinfection.


Is it true that supporters of school choice never advocate eliminating district boundaries or changing funding models?

While school choice is commonly associated with funding charter or private school education, the policies also permit "interdistrict schooling," allowing families to send their children to public schools outside of their district. According to 2017 data, 23 states require public schools to admit students from other districts.

Education expert Corey DeAngelis stated, "One of the central tenets of school choice is that zip code shouldn't determine your school."

Many school choice advocates also recognize that funding education via local property taxes creates educational inequality, with low-income districts unable to invest in enough teachers and supplies to facilitate quality schooling. School choice advocates Aaron Garth Smith and Christian Bernard stated,

"Ideally, local property wealth should play no role in determining school funding levels. Dollars instead should be pooled at the state level and allocated transparently based on enrollment and student needs." 


Are recent actions by the Biden Administration driving rising gas prices?

Oil policies enacted under Biden are not driving the current spike in gas prices. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic is principally responsible.

During last year's quarantine, oil demand plummeted as businesses closed and individuals sheltered in place. In response, OPEC and its allies cut production to prevent a price collapse. Parallel to this, pandemic lockdowns disrupted oil-industry supply chains.

Oil suppliers thus struggled to meet a rebounding demand spurred by the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions earlier this year. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise.

Energy experts Mark Finley and David Dismukes told USA Today that Biden policies such as halting Keystone XL and blocking new federal-lands drilling are not impacting current oil prices given that these projects were never operational. However, because the policies detract from future supply, the two agree that they could have a long-term impact on prices.


Has Congress moved to enact President Biden’s campaign promise to increase funding to HBCUs?

The Biden administration appears likely to fall far short of a campaign pledge to invest $70 billion in historically Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions to “lower students’ costs, increase graduation rates, establish research centers, build high-tech labs, and more.”

In March 2021, the White House proposed $45 billion in research and development funds for HBCUs and MSIs, as part of the administration’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. With disagreement among congressional Democrats over funding levels and priorities, the bill’s most recent version allocates only $2 billion for the institutions, in the form of competitively-awarded grants rather than direct allocations. Those institutions would still receive $27 billion in tuition subsidies and $1.45 billion of institutional aid.

In response, a group of HBCU presidents wrote a letter to members of Congress, urging “direct action” through the reconciliation bill to eliminate historical under-investments.


Does Canada have stronger COVID vaccine mandates for travelers than the US?

Canada has imposed stricter COVID-19 vaccine requirements for travelers than the U.S.

While the U.S. requires all visitors to the U.S. to have tested negative for COVID-19 no more than three days before their flights, Canada only admits fully-vaccinated foreign visitors. Canada has also announced that by the end of October it will require that anyone traveling by commercial airline, interprovincial train or cruise ship be fully vaccinated as well. The U.S. has no such mandate.

Both countries have announced policies requiring their federal employees to be vaccinated. The Biden administration is also developing requirements covering businesses with more than 100 employees.

As of Oct. 9, the Centers for Disease Control says that 56.4% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. As of Oct. 2, Canada's official count says 71.1% of its population is fully vaccinated.


Have most migrants entering the US without legal authorization ended up living in Florida?

The Department of Homeland Security in 2018 estimated that California and Texas were home to the most people lacking legal authorization to live in the U.S., with estimated populations of 2.6 million and 1.9 million people, respectively. Together, these two states’ unauthorized migrant populations represented 40% of the nationwide total. The next leading states were Florida, with about 6% of the total, followed by New York, Illinois and New Jersey.

Unauthorized residents are more concentrated in urban areas than the U.S. population overall, with 61% of the estimated total living in 20 metro areas in 2016. The metropolitan areas with the largest concentrations were New York and Los Angeles.

In Florida, the unauthorized population grew by 110,000—about 20%—between 2015 and 2018. Between 2015 and 2019, Miami was the metropolitan area where immigrants, including those living there both legally and illegally, comprised the largest share of the population.


Is green hydrogen a viable alternative fuel?

“Green” hydrogen is already being produced today in a process called electrolysis that uses electricity generated by sustainable power sources to separate out hydrogen from water molecules.

Currently, most hydrogen is obtained by subjecting natural gas to high-temperature steam, separating out hydrogen but also causing the isolated carbon to combine with oxygen in the air to form carbon dixoide. To encourage production of more green hydrogen, the International Energy Agency recommends government actions to build more hydrogen production facilities and develop renewable energy sources to power them.

Hydrogen is considered an important part of the sustainable energy transition due to its ability to substitute for natural gas and its transportability. Hydrogen is also energy dense—highly valued in industries such as aviation, shipping and concrete and steel manufacturing, which are difficult to decarbonize due to their requirements for high energy-density fuels.


Did Sen. Tammy Duckworth benefit from Illinois provisions exempting disabled veterans from property taxes?

As a disabled veteran residing in Illinois, Sen. Tammy Duckworth is eligible to claim a special property tax exemption in addition to other provisions for most homeowners. Since 2015, Illinois law has exempted any veteran with a service-connected disability of 70% or more, as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs, from paying property taxes on his or her primary residence. Local assessors must also value the given home at $775,000 or less.

Sen. Duckworth’s Illinois home has an assessed value of $252,250, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Sen. Duckworth lost both of her legs while completing a tour of duty in Iraq as an Illinois Army National Guard member in 2004.


Are COVID vaccines known to be linked to increased risks for cancer?

COVID vaccines are neither linked to increased rinks for cancer nor can cause cancer, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

False claims about COVID vaccines and cancer arose after Sloan Kettering researchers discovered that “messenger RNA inactivates tumor-suppressing proteins.” While the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines rely on mRNA to function, mRNA molecules that “inactivate tumor-suppressing proteins” are not the same ones found in mRNA-based vaccines. Thus, the vaccines do not deactivate any proteins that would stop the creation of tumors.

The claim was initially spread by Natural News, a far-right-leaning website known to spread and promote anti-vax conspiracy theories. The claim has been refuted by Sloan Kettering itself, with the institute noting that because the vaccines do not interact with or alter one’s DNA, they could not possibly cause cancer.


Do Congressional Democrats and Republicans support their parties with funds that are effectively membership dues?

Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress support their parties through fundraising quotas.

While officially dues are not required, there is political pressure to comply, with parties rewarding successful fundraisers with powerful committee assignments.

Summarizing Issue One’s report on the subject, U.S. News and World Report wrote that during the 2018 election cycle, leading House committee members “directed 20% or more of their campaign expenses to national party committees,” with the top dues payer transferring $1.8 million to support other Republicans. It added that “parties rely heavily on membership dues to shore up funds, in part because current campaign rules place no limits on what a member can transfer to a party committee.”

Critics warn that the funding expectations distract members from governing while supporters hold that they allow funds to be channelled to newer members lacking pull with donors.


Have some members of Congress reported substantial investments in the developers of COVID-19 vaccines?

OpenSecrets, which tracks money in U.S. politics, in 2018 compiled data about Congressional stock-market holdings based on lawmakers' financial disclosures. It documented:

  • 47 Congressional investors in Pfizer, with holdings between $2,630,444 and $8,206,395.
  • 47 Congressional investors in Johnson & Johnson, with holdings between $2,545,111 and $4,688,062.

OpenSecrets pointed out that these investments could constitute a conflict of interest, writing,

“Lawmakers could lose massive chunks of their personal wealth if their legislation hurts those companies’ bottom lines.”

Many members also receive campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. According to health care media outlet Stat, “72 Senators and 302 [House] members cashed a check from the pharmaceutical industry ahead of the 2020 election”—more than two-thirds of Congress. COVID-19 providers Johnson & Johnson, Astra Zeneca, and Pfizer are included; the latter contributed to 228 lawmakers.

Moderna, another COVID-19 vaccine maker, is privately held.


Did a New York State court increase pressure on the Trump Organization to respond to requests for more information about its operations?

On Sept. 24, 2021, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that if the state attorney general is not satisfied with the Trump Organization’s latest response to a subpoena, the Trump firm must hire a third party to conduct a collection and review of its records.

Under the order, the New York Attorney General’s office has until yearend to determine if the response is sufficient. If not, the Trump firm must hire a third-party firm to conduct a further review, subject to the approval of the attorney general.

The order follows repeated failures by the Trump Organization to respond to the subpoenas, dating back to 2019. According to a former prosecutor interviewed by Courthouse News, it is uncommon to grant the party requesting the information such extensive oversight over the response to its request.


Do vaccinated people have valid reasons to hope everyone in their community also gets vaccinated?

Public healh scientists and leaders cite a number of reasons to encourage as many members of a community as possible to get vaccinatons against serious communicable diseases.

No vaccination offers 100% protection, so having more people vaccinated helps reduce the risk of serious illness for all.

Some members of the population—infants, children, the immunocompromised—may not be able to gain adequate protection from a vaccine, so hope to rely on widespread vaccinations of others to reduce their own risk.

The goal of “herd immunity” reflects these considerations, which have prevailed in the U.S. since court decisions in the early 20th century upholding authorities’ power to make certain vaccinations mandatory.

The goal underlies continuing efforts to inoculate more people against COVID-19, despite objections based on personal preference, religious grounds or claims of immunity acquired through previous infection.


Did a COVID-19 surge around St. Louis cut off veterans’ access to needed records?

In early August, a government processing center in St. Louis relied on by military veterans cut operations in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the area. 

The National Personnel Records Center, part of the National Archives, reduced staffing and operations to 10% of normal. The agency's policy limits facility occupancy during periods of high community transmission to 25% or less. With many records still on paper, such reductions impede response times.

The center has been accepting emergency requests associated with medical treatments, burials and homeless veterans, but is closed to the public and not servicing most records requests.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers recently called on the Biden administration to address the center’s backlog, which has persisted despite special Congressional funding of $50 million in December 2020.


Did California enact new limits on single-family zoning, overriding local controls?

On Sept. 16, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newson signed legislation limiting single-family zoning across the state. The law allows many homeowners to “build more than one housing unit on land that was previously designated for only one unit” under local zoning rules.

Housing affordability advocates hope the law will increase California’s notably tight housing supply. White House economists have cited its potential as a model policy response as housing prices continue to increase nationally. Another new state law fosters denser housing development near public transit lines.

One analysis of the single-family zoning bill noted a number of limitations, concluding it could “modestly accelerate” the construction of new housing units—adding a maximum 700,000 units of 2 million needed. 

Opponents are seeking to overturn the new laws with a ballot inititative in the 2022 election.


In recent times, has there been significantly more criminal activity under Republican presidential administrations than Democratic ones?

While there is no official scorecard, various tallies suggest that in the past 50 years criminal indictments and convictions have been much higher under Republican administrations.

A fact check by PolitiFact in early 2020 recorded 142 indictments—formal criminal accusations—under three recent Republican administrations (Nixon, Reagan, Trump) versus two indictments under three recent Democratic administrations (Carter, Clinton, Obama). Since then, more Trump associates have been indicted, including Steve Bannon and Tom Barrack.

In 2018, the Daily Kos, citing Wikipedia as its main source, enumerated 88 court convictions—a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a crime—under the five Republican administrations since 1970. In comparison, the three Democratic administrations since 1970 were associated with two convictions, both during the Clinton presidency.

Fifty-five of the 88 convictions occurred during Nixon’s presidency, followed by 16 under Reagan, nine under George W. Bush, seven under Trump, and one each under Ford and George H. W. Bush.


Were four current Supreme Court justices involved in the 2000 presidential election dispute?

Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett all assisted George W. Bush’s legal team in the dispute over the 2000 presidential election results. A fourth colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the Supreme Court majority halting a recount, was appointed by George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Roberts flew to Florida and advised Bush’s brother Jeb, then the state’s governor, during the dispute. President Bush nominated Roberts as Chief Justice in 2005.

Kavanaugh offered legal counsel, arguing for “the arbitrary, standardless nature of the recount process in Florida.” Bush hired Kavanaugh to work in the White House and later appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Trump elevated him to the Supreme Court in 2018.

Barrett, before being confirmed to the court in 2020, told the Senate that she “provided research and briefing assistance” to Bush’s law firm for about a week “at the outset of the litigation.”


Do Biden administration vaccine requirements apply to Congress?

The Biden administration Sept. 9, 2021, orders instituting strict vaccine requirements for executive-branch employees and contractors don’t apply to Congress, which as an independent branch of government determines its own employment-related policies.

A 1995 law clarifies administrative processes for legislative-branch employees, including staff members and others working for legislative-branch groups such as the Capitol Police and Congressional Budget Office. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated on April 29 that, “We cannot require someone to be vaccinated. That’s just not what we can do. It is a matter of privacy to know who is or who isn’t." She estimated about 75% of the House membership was vaccinated. On Sept. 2, USA Today reported that the number across both houses was likely higher than 81%.


Have the US and other countries made new foreign aid commitments since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan?

International donors have pledged over $1.2 billion of humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan. The amount includes a recent United Nations flash appeal seeking urgent relief for 11 million Afghans as well as a regional response. The U.S. pledged $64 million in additional humanitarian assistance, while China and several European countries were among donor countries making new funding pledges.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called humanitarian assistance an “entry point for effective engagement with the Taliban” after the Taliban conveyed its support for aid in the country. U.N. officials have called for any sanctions on the regime to exclude impartial humanitarian activities from their scope.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken clarified that in accordance with its sanctions on the Taliban, U.S. aid to Afghanistan “will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations like NGOs and U.N. agencies.”


Did a recent study increase the focus on COVID-19 vaccine side effects for boys between 12 and 15 years old?

Recent studies have highlighted tradeoffs for some young teenage boys between COVID-19 vaccines’ side effects and their protective benefits.

A study that has yet to be peer-reviewed indicates that healthy 12-17 year-olds may be two to six times more likely to have a cardiac-related side effect from the vaccine than to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if they don't take it. The study found post-vaccine “cardiac adverse events” were highest among boys aged 12-15 after the second dose.

Another study found this subgroup has the highest risk of developing similar cardiac problems as a result of contracting COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted a risk-benefit analysis showing that vaccination for boys aged 12-17 prevents 5,700 COVID-19 cases at a cost of 56-69 myocarditis cases. It recommends full vaccination for everyone 12 and over. U.K. experts have advised giving boys from 12 to 15 just a single dose.


Was a recent Florida report of more than 1,200 COVID-19 deaths in a day well above the recent overall trend?

Florida has experienced a sharp recent rise in COVID-19 deaths. The 7-day average as of Sept. 10 was 350 per day, compared with 50 or fewer in late June. 

Health officials focus on average numbers for a more accurate picture than that offered by daily reports. On Sept. 7 the state reported 1,291 deaths; the prior day, the Labor Day holiday, it reported none.

Tracking changes during August was made more confusing for the public by a change in how the state recorded fatalities. Along with a couple of other states, Florida changed from using the date the death was reported to the date the death occurred. The Miami Herald noted that the change resulted in a temporary understatement of the state's mortality rate—in one week cited by the Herald, there were 262 daily deaths measured under the old method, but 46 under the new.


Has the US government authorized ‘booster’ shots for people who received a J&J single-dose COVID vaccine?

The U.S. government has not yet formally authorized booster shots for those who received an initial dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, as researchers are still debating the medical risks and benefits.

Many experts seem to agree at least that immunocompromised people and older adults will likely benefit from a booster shot, in some cases recommending a Moderna or Pfizer formulation following the initial J&J shot. In August 2021, the city of San Francisco began offering Moderna and Pfizer boosters to those who earlier received the J&J shot.

Prominent experts have publicly declared intentions to “mix and match” a Moderna or Pfizer booster following their initial J&J shot, the New York Times reported, despite the lack of “rigorous” data. Those who want a booster may need “some deviousness” to find a drugstore willing to administer it at this point, it noted.


Have about 2,500 children been hospitalized with COVID-19 in each recent week in the US?

According to Centers for Disease Control data, in the week ending Sept. 9, 2021, new hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients under 18 years of age averaged 350 a day, close to a pace of 2,500 weekly or 10,000 a month.

The latest week saw a slight decline from the previous week’s daily average of 371.

With schools in session and vaccines not yet approved for children under 12, parents, educators and health officials are paying close attention to the trend and the possible effect of the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The pace reflects an increase in the proportion of people under 18 entering the hospital—which rose to 0.48 per 100,000 in September from 0.07 in early July. Overall, infected children remain much less likely to require hospitalization than adults; average new admissions for all age groups were 3.5/100,000 in week ending Sept. 9.


Do recently published grant documents prove that Anthony Fauci misrepresented the purpose of US funding for virus research in China?

The Intercept recently published grant documents detailing the National Institutes of Health’s funding of bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The publication stated that the documents do not implicate NIH official Anthony Fauci in lying about the research. Nor do they show that the research might have led to the origin of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The Intercept noted that the documents “do not make clear whether Fauci read them,” although the staff at the NIH agency he runs “did know about the research.”

Scientists interviewed by The Intercept disagreed about whether the grant, made to the Wuhan Lab through an intermediary nonprofit in 2014, actually enabled so-called “gain of function” research. A White House spokesperson reiterated that the “NIH has never approved any research that would make a coronavirus more dangerous to humans.”


Has the violent crime rate in San Francisco gone up since the election of a reform-minded District Attorney?

Data indicates that San Francisco’s downward trend in violent crime has continued since Chesa Boudin, an advocate of progressive criminal-justice reforms, became the city’s District Attorney in 2020.

The city police department reports a decline in violent crimes since 2017:

  • 2017: 63,489.
  • 2018: 59,379.
  • 2019: 57,775.
  • 2020: 44,423.
  • 2021 (to September 5): 30,978.

Notably, the biggest drop occurred in 2020, Boudin’s first year in office. However, it is difficult to attribute any causation to his policy changes given that crime rates dropped nationally due to the pandemic.

San Francisco’s crime rate so far in 2021 is 0.8% higher than in the same period in 2020 (January 1 to September 5).

A second attempt to recall Boudin is underway after an attempt earlier in 2021 failed to garner sufficient public support. His policies are at “the polarizing core” of a community debate over policing and prosecution policies, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.


Is the rate of unsolved crimes in Minneapolis higher than the national average?

In 2018, the latest data year available, the FBI reported that nationally, 54.5% of violent crimes and 82.4% of property crimes went unsolved.

In contrast, “the overall [Minneapolis] arrest rate at the start of August was about 12% this year, compared to 15- to 28% in the previous four years. That means roughly 88% of crimes are going unsolved,” according to CBS Minnesota.

A former director of a training program for Minnesota law enforcement told CBS understaffing was one reason for the rise:

”There‘s a lack of people working, a lack of people being able to do what they need to do.”

Following the George Floyd protests in 2020, many officers left the Minneapolis Police Department, prompting citizens to file a successful lawsuit requiring the department to hire more officers. Citizens also got the city council to restore $6.4 million of last year’s $8 million department budget cut after complaining of slowed response times and increased crime.


Is the incidence of anaphylaxis from COVID-19 vaccines higher than initially thought?

While one study of limited scope found an unusually high incidence of anaphylaxis in COVID-19 vaccine recipients, the authoritative source on adverse vaccination events found an incidence in line with the Centers for Disease Control’s figure of “approximately 2 to 5 people per million” for life-threatening allergic reactions.

The outlier study was limited to fewer than 65,000 employees at a Massachusetts hospital. Sixteen experienced anaphylaxis — a rate of two per ten thousand. Two-thirds of those who did “had an allergy history”—a known risk multiplier.

In a much broader study, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a government vaccine safety mechanism that requires health care professionals to report adverse effects, documented 66 anaphylaxis cases out of more than 17.5 million vaccine doses—a rate of approximately four per million.

Providers monitor recipients following vaccination. Epinephrine, the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, is kept on hand.


Are most rapes and sexual assaults in Texas reported and do most perpetrators get arrested?

Most sexual assaults, in Texas and elsewhere, are underreported. A 2015 study found that as few as 9% of sexual assault victims in Texas reported the event to law enforcement. Low reporting rates can often be attributed to feelings of trauma, shame or fear experienced by victims.

The percentage of reported perpetrators who actually get arrested and convicted is also quite low. Out of 14,656 rapes reported in Texas in 2019, around 15% of perpetrators were arrested. Between 2014 and 2018, 9.6% of reported sexual assaulters were convicted.

Texas reported the highest number of forcible rape cases in the country in 2019—proportional to population, the 15th-highest rate in the U.S.

The statistics underscore the challenge implicit in Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent vow that the state will “work tirelessly to eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by arresting and prosecuting them.”


Is the seasonal pattern of ordinary flu different for Florida than for most states?

No evidence suggests that Florida, or the American South in general, experiences peak flu season at a time different than the rest of the country.

As the Centers for Disease Control reports, influenza activity often first increases in October, peaks sometime between December and February, and can last “as late as May.” Flu season in Florida occurs in this same time period, “from October to May,” according to data on a website run by the state’s health department.

Nationwide, the CDC noted that flu activity in the 2020-2021 season was “unusually low,” probably because of the effect of widespread masking and social distancing measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, the agency notes that “a record number of influenza vaccine doses” was distributed.


Has a self-described ‘satanic’ religious organization sought to challenge restrictions on abortion?

The Satanic Temple, a Salem, Massachusetts-based nonprofit religious organization, says it recently filed suit in federal court in Texas to seek an exemption to the state’s restrictions on abortion. The group aruges that provisions for mandatory waiting periods and viewings of sonogram results violate its members’ religious beliefs, such as that bodily autonomy is “sacrosanct.”

In 2019, the organization made a similar, unsuccessful challenge to Missouri's abortion laws.

It also recently asked the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for unrestricted access to drugs that induce abortions, citing religious grounds similar to those claimed by Native Americans for the use of peyote in religious rituals.

The Satanic Temple describes itself as a “nontheistic” group, as it does not believe in a literal Satan, but in a metaphorical Satan as “a symbol of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority.”


Has the pandemic surfaced vulnerabilities in medical oxygen supply and distribution in the US?

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in early 2021 noted continuing localized challenges in securing enough oxygen to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients, citing strains during 2020 outbreaks in New York, southern California and elsewhere. “If enough areas are severely affected concurrently, a national crisis could ensue,” Hopkins warned.

COVID-19 treatments using high flow oxygen therapy use five to ten times more oxygen than a mechanical ventilator. With capacity limits on piped supplies, hospitals turn to portable oxygen, in turn causing oxygen cylinder shortages.

The summer surge of hospitalizations in southern states has stressed supplies in that region. On Aug. 28, a hospital-supply group told Bloomberg News that the "worst-hit" hospitals in the Southeast have only 12 to 24 hours supply on hand.

Even before the pandemic, many lower-income countries faced much more “severe” shortages, McKinsey & Co. reports.


Is Social Security funded separately from other government spending?

While general tax revenue may be spent on any government expense, Social Security is funded by revenues from the dedicated payroll tax which must be spent on the program. Workers who pay into the program become eligible to collect benefits upon retirement. Revenue is allocated to those currently eligible for benefits rather than kept in individual accounts.

If more revenue is collected than disbursed, the difference is saved for future use. For the first time since 1981, Social Security will run a deficit in 2021. Assuming deficits continue, Social Security would be insolvent by 2034. At or before that point, benefits would have to be reduced or the program would have to be restructured.

Social Security funding is thus “off-budget” and not part of the Congressional budgeting process. Its finances are considered in ”unified” views of the budget that include all government activity.


Did an Apollo 11 crew member say the mission’s moon landing was faked?

Reports that Buzz Aldrin, one of the three astronauts aboard Apollo 11, claimed that the mission’s moon landing was “staged,” are fake. This claim was posted by the website Huzlers in 2014. Huzlers at the time allowed users to create their own “prank” articles to share with their friends, and has a history of sharing fabricated new stories.

Others who believe the moon landing was faked point elsewhere for evidence, citing a photo where Neil Armstrong is reflected in Aldrin’s visor. Skeptics point out that Armstrong does not appear to be holding a camera in the photo, so there must have been another person taking the photo.

In reality, however, Armstrong’s camera is attached to the front of his suit. These were used by the astronauts as space suits are quite bulky, which made it hard to use a regular hand-held camera.


Are substantial numbers of US health care workers still unvaccinated against COVID-19?

While the vaccination rate among health care workers continues to increase, a significant share remains unvaccinated.

The Covid States Project, a collaborative effort by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers, recently surveyed more than 20,000 individuals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They found that as of July, 27% of health care workers had not been vaccinated.

Researchers noted that 15% of health care workers reported being vaccine resistant and warned that “absent mandates, most of the currently unvaccinated health care workers will remain unvaccinated, potentially fueling outbreaks in health care facilities.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated in May that anti-discrimination laws do not prevent employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. Since then, many workplaces, including health care facilities, have implemented vaccine mandates; some have fired workers for refusing.


Has ISIS-K, the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan-based affiliate, directly threatened the US?

The Islamic State Khorasan, the affiliate of the Islamic State group active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, presents an “enduring threat” to the U.S. homeland as well as allied interests in the region, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in 2018.

The group, sometimes referred to as ISIS-K or Daesh Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26, 2021, attack at Kabul’s airport, which killed at least 169 civilians and 13 U.S. service members. Earlier this year the group was involved in an attempted assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Kabul.

In 2018 CSIS noted the group’s sweeping vow to raise “the banner of al-Uqab above the White House." The banner is a solid black flag of symbolic importance in Islamic tradition.

CSIS noted that the group “has mocked and threatened the United States in its official media streams and called for lone-wolf attacks in the West.”


Have prosecutors brought forward widespread conspiracy charges related to organizing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot?

Government prosecutors have mostly avoided charging individuals or groups with conspiracy-related crimes involving the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Immediately after the attack, prosecutors suggested those found to be involved could face charges such such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

Prosecutors to date have charged 18 people affiliated with the “Oath Keepers” for offenses including conspiracy. Most of the more than 570 individuals charged to date in connection with the incident, however, face charges such as assaulting a law enforcement officer, illegal entry or disorderly conduct.

Sources with knowledge of the FBI's investigation of the riot say that the agency has found little evidence of an organized plot, as Reuters reported in August. Earlier news media reports said the FBI found little evidence of widespread advance planning by insurgents to breach the Capitol building. 

The law enforcement investigation remains ongoing.


Was the police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt during the Capitol riot cleared of wrongdoing?

Two separate investigations concluded that U.S. Capitol Police officer Michael Byrd did not violate any laws by opening fire on protestor Ashli Babbitt.

On Jan. 6, 2021, protestors in the Capitol attempted to break through glass doors leading to the House of Representatives chamber. When Babbitt began climbing through one of the doors, Byrd fired a single shot into her shoulder.

In April, a Justice Department investigation found that Byrd acted “reasonably” in halting Babbitt's advance to defend himself and members of Congress.

In August, a Capitol police investigation found that Byrd’s “conduct was...within department policy” of permitting use of deadly force when defending “the officer’s...life, or [that] of any person in immediate danger.”

Although Babbitt herself was unarmed, Byrd believes “he saved countless lives” given the threat of the mob attacking members of Congress were they to have broken through the doors.


Have any coronavirus cases on Martha’s Vineyard been linked to Obama’s 60th birthday party?

On Aug. 7, 2021, former President Barack Obama held a party for his 60th birthday on Martha’s Vineyard, an island just south of Cape Cod. The Obamas “scaled back the event to include only family and close friends” amid rising concern about the spread of the delta coronavirus variant, and asked guests to show either proof of vaccination or test results showing they were free of the virus.

The Daily Mail reported that of 158 coronavirus cases documented on the island since the date of the event, none has been attributed to the party. A local health official told the Daily Mail that after contact tracing, there haven’t been “any cases linked to the Obama party,” adding that if there were, “we’d be seeing them already.”

Official Massachusetts data groups Dukes County, which includes Martha’s Vineyard, with nearby Nantucket County. Records show the 14-day average daily infection rate rose in the counties to 67.4 per 100,000 people in the two weeks ending Aug. 21, from 46.3 in the prior two-week period.


Are the majority of infections by the delta variant of the coronavirus among the vaccinated?

Coronavirus infections among the unvaccinated far outnumber “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated people. “Almost all (more than 9 in 10) COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred among people who are unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated,” KFF reported on July 30.

KFF, a nonprofit focused on health-related policy and analysis, provides the best-available data, based on figures from December 2020 to July 2021 from the 25 states that track breakthrough infections of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Infections among the vaccinated were “below 1% in all reporting states,” KFF found. Hospitalization and death rates among the vaccinated were “effectively zero” in all but a few states.

No vaccine offers 100% protection. KFF notes that as more people become vaccinated, the relative number of cases among the vaccinated may rise, for the simple reason that “there will be fewer unvaccinated people in the population.”


Are recent coronavirus surges in Texas a likely result of illegal immigration?

Evidence suggests that immigration, legal or unauthorized, is not a main driver of coronavirus surges in Texas. New cases in the summer 2021 surge have not been concentrated in counties along the border, nor have they been occurring only in counties with a majority-Hispanic population. The timeline of immigration spikes does not coincide with case spikes.

According to the New York Times’ mapping of reported cases, most coronavirus hot spots in the latest week have not been located in border counties. Some of the most severe outbreaks have occurred in the interior of the state, in counties with a majority non-hispanic population, such as Concho County, Chambers County and Glasscock County.

According to Pew Research, immigration numbers have been increasing throughout the pandemic, even in periods while coronavirus cases were in decline. From January to June 2021, cases in Texas steadily declined despite increasing immigration numbers.


Is a former Taliban prisoner released by Obama in 2014 now the ruler of Afghanistan?

No single figure has yet emerged as leader of Afghanistan following the Taliban assumption of control in August 2021. Media reports have focused on the potential role of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban leader released from prison in Pakistan in 2018 at the behest of the Trump administration. From Qatar, as the group’s “deputy chief for political affairs,” he led negotiations that culiminated in a U.S. commitment to withdraw, signing the January 2020 agreement with the U.S.

Khairullah Khairkhwa, another Talib who participated in the negotations, came to Qatar in 2014, after being freed from imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration released him along with four other members of the group in exchange for the release of Bowe Berghdal, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban after deserting his post.


Did the US leave behind military gear in Afghanistan worth billions of dollars?

Over the past two decades, the U.S. spent an estimated $83 billion training and arming Afghan security forces. After taking control of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, the Taliban effectively gained ownership of the forces’ military arsenal.

While it is unclear exactly how many weapons were obtained, a U.S. official told Reuters that intelligence assessments place the Taliban’s cache at “more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including U.S. Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.”

Retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel said that the large hardware are “more like trophies” given their intensive maintenance and training needs. There is more concern about the easier-to-use arms, which include assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, howitzers, communication equipment and night-vision goggles.

In 2014, the Islamic State group similarly gained firepower as it advanced in Iraq, capturing the Iraqi forces’ U.S.-supplied weapons.


Are the White House and federal agencies strongly encouraging vaccinations for their employees?

The Biden administration continues to develop new rules to encourage federal employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination—and impose new restrictions on those who don’t.

As first outlined by the president on July 29, 2021, the rules are not an absolute mandate. Employees at the White House and all civilian agencies will be required to verify their vaccination status. If unvaccinated, they will have to wear a mask at work, be tested regularly for COVID-19 and observe limits on permitted official travel. On Aug. 18, the administration clarified that employees who don’t comply may face disciplinary action.

The administration has not set deadlines for implementation, Federal News Network reported. The report noted the administration said agencies “need to act quickly” and should engage with federal employee unions at their “earliest opportunity” as they develop COVID-19 testing programs.


Did recently-published research find signs of impaired cognitive development in children born during the pandemic?

Researchers comparing cognitive scores of a group of Rhode Island children born in 2020 and 2021 to scores of others born in the preceding decade found that “children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic.” This effect was more pronounced among impoverished children.

The study, which is awaiting peer review, was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by a team of researchers at Brown and other U.S. universities.

While causation was not definitively established, researchers cite concerns about the impact of pandemic policies—stay-at-home orders, masking and social distancing—on early neurodevelopment given the “missed educational opportunities and reduced interaction, stimulation and creative play with other children.”

The known negative impact of conditions such as “family and home stress, parent and child anxiety, lack of stimulating environments,” and financial strain adds support to the findings, they said.


Was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot?

In mid-January, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that her life had been in danger during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, stating:

“I had a pretty traumatizing event happen to me...and I do not know if I can even disclose the full details...due to security concerns but I can tell you...I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die.”

In February, she clarified that when the riot began she was in her office, in a building near the Capitol that was not attacked. She recounted hearing banging on her door and a man yelling, “Where is she?” Initially fearful the man was a rioter, she later discovered he was a police officer.

In August, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, who routinely receives death threats, told CNN she had feared being raped during the riot. She had previously stated she was a survivor of sexual assault.


Is the delta coronavirus variant challenging some of the protective effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

Vaccines appear to be less effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus’s delta variant, contributing to increased caseloads and a greater risk of contracting symptomatic COVID-19, even among the vaccinated. 

The American Society of Microbiology estimates that the delta variant is “40%-60% more transmissible than the alpha [variant] and almost twice as transmissible as the original...strain." The ASM outlined related challenges posed by delta, including:

  • Higher viral loads, causing greater contagiousness.
  • Antibodies that are less able to neutralize the virus.
  • Slightly less protection against symptomatic “breakthrough” disease for the vaccinated.

Delta is currently responsible for 83% of U.S. coronavirus infections. Infections that cause severe symptoms increase the chance of mutations into other variants, leading public health leaders and scientists to urge continued efforts to increase vaccination rates.

Vaccinated people continue to be well-protected against serious disease and death.


Are birds at greater risk from increased solar power generation than from continued reliance on fossil fuel sources?

A 2016 study examined the impact of large “utility-scale” solar energy plants in southern California on bird populations, and found that the risk to birds was far less than that already posed by fossil-fuel power plants. It estimated that up to 138,600 birds died each year because of solar plants then “either installed or under construction.” The authors cited a 2009 estimate of 14.5 million avian deaths annually from fossil-fuel plants.

No more recent research is available, but based on that data, the expected risks for birds from a planned fourfold expansion in large-scale solar plants would still be far less than the impact of equivalent fossil-fuel generation.

As larger solar installations began operating in the last decade, media reports noted the impact of designs using large arrays of mirrors. “Birds fly into concentrated beams of sunlight and are instantly incinerated, leaving wisps of white smoke against the blue desert,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2016.


Have wildfires across Siberia been exacerbated by warming average temperatures?

Rising average temperatures are exacerbating Russia’s wildfires by melting permafrost and drying out land, providing more fuel for fires across vast stretches of Siberia.

Russia’s average temperatures have been increasing at 2.5 times the rate elsewhere on the planet, a 2015 report estimated. Warmer temperatures contribute to more severe fires, whether they are caused by lightning, human negligence or deliberate arson. Russia’s northern forests account for 11% of the world’s biomass, according to a 2007 estimate; more severe fire seasons in those regions add to the challenge of slowing the growth of global carbon emissions.

On Aug. 11, the Washington Post reported that so far in 2021 fires in uninhabited areas across Russia, which authorities let burn unchecked, have engulfed some 8,000 square miles. California’s largest recorded wildfire to date, in 2020, burned across 1,600 square miles.


Did Hawaii reimpose a COVID-19 lockdown?

As of Aug. 12, 2021, Hawaii has not reimposed the kind of COVID-19 lockdown that closes businesses or requires people to stay home. However, it has enacted new restrictions in response to a recent increase in reported coronavirus infections.

On Aug. 5 the state enacted either vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing mandates for all state and county employees and extended existing safety measures such as mask mandates for indoor public spaces and a mandatory 10-day “self-quarantine” for unvaccinated travelers. On Aug. 10 it added limits on the size of social gatherings, social distancing rules in bars and restaurants and a 50% capacity limit for “high-risk activities.”

Hawaii has the lowest per capita cumulative coronavirus case rate of any state at 3,284 per 100,000 people. North Dakota, which revoked its mask mandate in January, has the highest case rate at 14,741 per 100,000.


Are people who watch Fox News still more hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine than most other news consumers?

Polls find that vaccine hesitancy among Fox viewers has dropped in recent months but remains higher than among other mainstream news audiences.

An August 2021 Morning Consult poll found that 27% of Fox viewers were “unsure...or unwilling to get a COVID-19 shot,” down from 37% in mid-March. In contrast, CNN, MSNBC and New York Times consumers all expressed vaccine hesitancy at rates below 20%. The same poll found that Facebook, Snapchat, and Reddit users had vaccine hesitancy rates between 30% and 35%. 

Some Fox News coverage and commentary has conveyed skepticism about vaccines. Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit that tracks conservative news coverage, reported that between June 28 through July 11, “57% of segments about coronavirus vaccines on the network included claims that undermined vaccination efforts.”

Many factors aside from media consumption influence attitudes towards vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is lower among Republicans who trust Fox News than among Republicans who don’t trust any TV news source, according to a July Public Religion Research Institute poll.


Is there a martial law provision in the infrastructure bill?

The latest available draft of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill makes no mention of martial law at any point in its 2,700+ page entirety, and neither does a White House summary of the bill. Here are some of the provisions in the bill, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

  • $110 billion for roads and bridges.
  • $66 billion for passenger and freight rails.
  • $39 billion for public transit.
  • $25 billion for airports.
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways.
  • $15 billion for electric vehicles.
  • $11 billion for road safety.
  • $1 billion for reconnecting communities.

The CRFB praises the investments in the economy that the bill funds. But the group says that the bill’s unfunded costs point to the need for greater efforts to reduce deficit spending.


Is Dell turning down orders for some new computers from residents in states with more stringent energy consumption rules?

Recent energy efficiency regulations appear to prevent Dell from selling certain configurations of two of its energy-intensive gaming computers in six states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Dell expanded on the matter as it pertains to California, stating,

“This was driven by the California Energy Commission Tier 2 implementation that defined a mandatory energy efficiency standard for PCs...put into effect on July 1, 2021.”

The California regulations were passed in 2016 in an effort to meet climate policy goals, and have been phased in over time.

Given the rapid growth of computing’s energy consumption, which doubles “approximately every three years,” the Semiconductor Industry Association warned that computing may become unsustainable by 2040. By requiring computers to be efficient, the hope is that more computing can be powered with less energy.


Did President Biden pledge to change the government’s stance on disclosing additional evidence about the 9/11 attacks?

In October 2020, a letter by then-presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged that his future administration’s attorney general would personally examine the merits of requests to release FBI information related to the 9/11 attacks. He said that he would adhere to Obama-era guidance that invokes state secrets privilege using a “narrowly tailored” approach, that is, only to the extent necessary to protect against the risk of “significant harm to national security” or “embarrassment to a person or organization.” The White House press secretary said in August 2021 that President Biden remains committed to this pledge.

A group of 9/11 survivors, victims’ family members and first responders have sought more disclosures about the attacks, specifically about the role of Saudi Arabian officials in assisting the hijackers. They have called on Biden to value “America’s citizens over diplomatic relations” with the country.


Does research suggest that removing dams on the Snake River could help revive fish populations?

Dams disrupt the migration patterns of salmon and steelhead born in fresh water that travel downstream to live their adult lives in the ocean before returning upstream to lay their eggs. Dams block their paths, slow water flow and raise water temperatures, attracting predators.

In February, 2021, 68 fisheries researchers from the Pacific Northwest called for the removal of four federally-operated dams along the Snake River in southeastern Washington, citing research about survival rates for salmon as the number of dams in their path increases. Regional political leaders disagree about the best way to proceed.

Yale Environment 360 reported in 2019 that the dams “are prime targets for removal because their economic value has diminished and their absence would inordinately benefit salmon.” Other energy sources have undercut hydroelectric power in the region, and freight volume on the river has declined 70%, Yale noted. A 2017 study cited by Yale estimated as much as a threefold increase in the area’s salmon population were the dams to be removed.


Did Disney make a short subject about China’s history to accompany an upcoming Marvel film release there?

A recent tweet by Victory News Network claimed that Disney made an animated short about Chinese history to placate officials threatening to ban its upcoming Marvel superhero film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The tweet is not meant to be taken seriously. VNN is a parody website based on a “faith-based Christian television network,” Victory Channel. On July 5, VNN tweeted:

“This is a parody account. We write funny fake news. If you see someone taking one of our made-up stories way too seriously, please let them know it's a joke.”

The bottom of its website reads, “This is a parody website, dummy.”

While the tweet is a spoof, there is real controversy in China about “Shang-Chi,” which began as a Marvel comic featuring the Asian supervillain Fu Manchu. There is speculation that China may ban the film adaptation, but no official announcement has been made. The film premieres in the U.S. on September 3.


Do COVID-19 vaccinations offer less protection to immunocompromised people?

Data remains incomplete, but COVID-19 vaccinations appear to offer less protection to people with immune systems weakened by various medical issues.

A 2016 survey estimated that 3% or 4% of American adults are “immunocompromised” as a result of genetic deficiencies, post-transplant drug regimes, infections such as HIV or various other medical treatments.

COVID-19 vaccines normally produce antibodies detectible in anyone who receives a shot, signaling a high degree of protectiveness. A study of 658 transplant recipients published in May 2021 found that only 15% developed antibodies after a first vaccine dose, and 54% after two. A survey of vaccinated transplant patients found relatively more serious “breakthrough” COVID-19 illness—the overall numbers were low, but the rate of serious illness was 485 times higher than for the general vaccinated population.

Researchers note that the immunocompromised may also lack B and T cells, further weakening their protection. Even so, they encourage the immunocompromised to get vaccinated given its safety and modest protection. Researchers are investigating whether a third dose could strengthen the level of protection.


Are young people who start with vaping more likely to take up smoking cigarettes later?

Extensive research supports the conclusion that e-cigarette use or vaping by young people increases the subsequent likelihood of ever using combustible tobacco cigarettes. Multiple meta-analyses of studies find an association between e-cigarette use and a later transition to cigarette smoking. One analysis estimated an odds ratio of 3.50, indicating a strong magnitude of association.

Possible reasons for e-cigarette-using adolescents being more prone to subsequent cigarette smoking include expectations of pleasurable effects from other tobacco products, attitudes towards risk-taking and easier access to cigarettes.

A World Health Organization social media post states that adolescents who use electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, at least double their chance of starting to smoke cigarettes later in life. The WHO did not disclose the data source for the specific figure.


Does Trump have 20 times as much cash on hand as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee?

Going into July 2021, former President Donald Trump’s political organization had $102 million in cash on hand, money he can use to fund either his own future campaigns or those of others he may want to support.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which focuses on supporting candidates for the House of Representatives, had $44.2 million—about 43% of Trump’s total.

The DCCC is one of three principal Democratic fundraising committees. Their combined cash on hand is $118.9 million—roughly 15% more than Trump’s total.

The Republican Party also has three main fundraising committees, which have a combined $161.8 million in cash on hand—37% more than Trump’s total.


Does the Biden administration continue to focus on vaccinations as the key to overcoming the coronavirus?

Getting more Americans vaccinated is “how we put this virus behind us,” according to President Joe Biden. He outlined several additional steps in detail during a press briefing on July 29, 2021, including:

  • Federal reimbursements to businesses who give staff paid time off to get their families vaccinated.
  • New encouragement to states to use relief funding to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated.
  • Requiring Veterans Administration health care staff to get vaccinated.
  • New rules requiring regular testing and masking for federal workers who don’t get vaccinated.

Beyond that, Biden is seeking more support to help persuade the reluctant. He lauded the efforts of some Republican leaders and Fox News “commentators” to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Biden urged more businesses and local governments to require vaccines, and said he is asking the Justice Department to determine if he can do so nationally.


Was the CDC’s latest change in masking guidance based solely on a faulty study from India?

The latest adjustment in Centers for Disease Control advice about masking was based on “new science” about the delta variant of the coronavirus, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a TV interview. An updated CDC document cites research from the U.S. and Israel into “breakthrough” delta infections of fully vaccinated people, as well as a study from India of patients protected by a vaccine not being used in the U.S.

“These early data suggest that breakthrough delta infections are transmissible,” the CDC says. The infections don't necessarily lead to higher risk of serious disease for the vaccinated, but the variant may be more readily transmissible to unvaccinated or immunosuppressed people they may encounter. That concern led the agency to advise that vaccinated people in areas experiencing generally high rates of infections should wear masks indoors.


Was there a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Iceland despite a 90% vaccination rate?

By late July, about 90% of Icelanders 16 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In late June, Iceland removed all domestic COVID-19 restrictions, including "social distancing, limits on gatherings, mask-wearing, [and] limits on opening hours."

The country recorded an increase in reported coronavirus infections over the past month, averaging 93 a day in the week ending July 27— more than triple the highest level recorded previously in 2021. Fully vaccinated individuals accounted for two-thirds of the infections.

While the vaccines continue to reduce COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates around the world, they appear less effective at preventing delta variant infections. 

In response to its recent spike in infections, Iceland reimposed restrictions on July 25, limiting gatherings to 200 people and reenacting social distancing rules.


Are white evangelicals more hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine than other religious groups?

Polling finds that white evangelicals have the highest vaccine hesitancy among religious groups.

In a Pew Research survey conducted in February, 45% of white evangelicals responded that they would “definitely” or “probably...not get a vaccine,” compared to 36% of other Protestants, 22% of Catholics, and 28% of the religiously unaffiliated.

The Public Religion Research Institute similarly found that white evangelicals “stand out as the most likely to say they will refuse to get vaccinated,” at 26%, compared to 17% of other Protestants, 9% of Catholics, and 12% of the religiously unaffiliated.

KFF in its June survey found that white evangelicals expressed hesitancy or outright refusal at rates comparable to all rural residents and declared Republicans.


Does Dr. Anthony Fauci have complete control over funding for the government agency he heads?

Congress controls the funding for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, run by Dr. Anthony Fauci as part of the National Institutes of Health.

Congress approves overall funding for NIAID and its timing, and authorizes funding for each particular program the NIAID wants to support.

Periodic funding requests from the NIAID cross many desks before being considered by Congress: first those at NIH, then the Department of Health and Human Services, then Office of Management and Budget, which sends requests to the president. Each year the president proposes a budget to Congress, which Congress then must approve.


Are all the claims made in a recent lawsuit attempting to restrict use of COVID-19 vaccines supported by evidence?

In July, a controversial group called America’s Frontline Doctors, led by a woman arrested for her role in the January storming of the Capitol, filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend COVID-19 vaccinations. In May, the group unsuccessfully petitioned to halt vaccination of children under 16.

Both suits refer to false claims about COVID-19, including:

  • That the disease poses no health risk to children. American Academy of Pediatrics data suggest that children represent 14.2% of COVID-19 cases, up to 3.6% of hospitalizations and up to 0.26% of deaths.
  • That the vaccines are not effective. Clinical trials recorded an efficacy rate of between 86% and 100% at preventing severe disease, which has been borne out in observed results.
  • That the vaccines are unsafe. Clinical trials encompassing tens of thousands of participants found them to be safe, as has continued monitoring of reported post-vaccination health issues.

Has Israel found that the COVID-19 vaccine continues to work against the delta variant in preventing serious illness and hospitalizations?

Israel’s health ministry has noted that as the delta variant has become widespread, COVID-19 vaccines have shown a "marked decline in effectiveness" in preventing infections and symptomatic illness, down to 64%. But in a July 5 statement the ministry said the vaccines remain 93% effective at protecting against serious illness and hospitalization.

That view is consistent with the view of authorities at the World Health Organization, in the U.K. and in the U.S. In the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control says research looks reassuring, but it will continue to monitor the vaccines' efficacy.

All experts continue to urge eligible individuals to get vaccinated as the best protection against serious consequences or even death from contracting COVID-19.


Do more than 50% of convicted murderers in the US have a prior felony conviction?

According to Justice Bureau statistics, in the years 1990 to 2002, 38% of convicted murderers had at least one prior felony conviction. This number rose to 40% in 2009, the latest available data year. When factoring in non-felony convictions, 53% of convicted murderers had a prior conviction between 1990 and 2002, while 48% had a prior conviction in 2009.

The Justice Department’s research arm reported in 2016 that imprisoning convicted criminals “isn’t a very effective way to deter crime” and may actually “have the opposite effect,” with “inmates learning more effective crime strategies from each other” and becoming “desensitized...to the threat of future imprisonment.” It also found that “increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter crime” given that “criminals know little about the sanctions for specific crimes.” Instead, it cited research that “the certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment.”


Have more than 50% of Americans received at least a first COVID-19 vaccine?

As of July 21, 2021, 56% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and just under half of the country is fully vaccinated. Almost 66% of eligible people (anyone over the age of 12) have at least their first dose, and 57% are fully vaccinated.

The number of doses administered per day peaked in April 2021, after which it began to slow. The vaccination rate began to plateau in June 2021.

In a Senate hearing on July 20, Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, noted that the highly transmissible delta variant accounts for 83% of recent coronavirus infections within the U.S. Such numbers are “even higher" in regions with low vaccination rates. Public health officials continue to urge eligible Americans to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from the disease.


Do plant-based foods have a greater environmental cost than meat?

The environmental impact of animal products exceeds that of plant-based substitutes.

A study published in Science magazine found that meat, fish, eggs and dairy contribute 56% to 58% of the world‘s food-related emissions while providing 37% of consumed protein. Vegetable proteins have a fraction of the impact.

The Institute for Water Education concluded that obtaining protein, fat and calories from crop products is a more efficient use of water than meat products.

The World Resources Institute reports that generally speaking, “animal based foods” use more resources than “plant-based foods”—emissions from beef protein are 20 times that of the vegetable alternatives.

The cultivation of protein-rich plants can have an environmental impact. Two recent studies found that forest clearances in Brazil, often in order to plant soybeans (or raise cattle), have increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, which is now hurting crop production.


In recent years, have the electorates in Texas and Florida become more Democratic?

While the voter base in Texas has become more Democratic in recent years, Florida’s electorate has become less so.

According to a study of Texas demographic data from 2009 to 2019, “party change is occurring in Texas,” with “evidence that Democratic identification...is increasing.” Researchers attribute the shift to demographic change, as the growing ranks of racially diverse younger voters offset the influence of older whites, who are more likely to identify as Republican. (Texas doesn’t ask voters to register a party preference.)

In Florida, registered Democrats still slightly outnumber registered Republicans. However, Pew Research reported last year that the Democrats' advantage has been shrinking, from 658,000 in 2008, to 327,000 in 2016 and then to 134,000 in 2020, suggesting Florida's population is shifting more Republican.


In 1836, did the US House of Representatives ban discussion of slavery in order to ‘preserve the peace’?

From 1836 to 1844, the House observed a gag rule preventing anti-slavery petitions from being considered.

The rule was introduced in response to an increase in anti-slavery petitions submitted to Congress, spurred by an 1834 anti-slavery petition drive by the American Anti-Slavery Society. It passed with the support of Southern congressmen representing slave states.

John Quincy Adams was among the first to oppose the rule. Blocked from reading anti-slavery petitions, he argued that the rule violated the Constitutional right to petition. In 1844, the House rescinded the rule on a motion made by Adams with the support of Northern congressmen concerned about the threat of southern “slave power” to civil liberties.

After the Senate rejected a similar gag rule over fears that abolitionists could gain public support as champions of civil liberties, it implemented a “complex...delaying procedure” to prevent petitions from being heard.


Did judges hearing challenges to the 2020 election refuse to consider any evidence?

In a review of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, USA Today stated that judges “dismissed [some cases] for lack of standing and others based on the merits of the voter fraud allegations.”


There are numerous examples of judges reviewing evidence submitted by parties alleging 2020 election fraud, as is customary in court cases that have standing.



  • A Nevada judge ruled that “the contestants failed...to provide credible and relevant evidence to substantiate any” of their allegations.

  • A Third Circuit Appeals Court judge wrote: “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

  • The Arizona Supreme Court chief justice wrote: “The challenge fails to present any evidence...let alone establish any degree of fraud...that would undermine the certainty of the election results.”


In December 2020, the Washington Post documented “at least 86” rejections of lawsuits filed by Trump or his supporters.



Has vaping been around for 15 years?

The first “commercially successful” e-cigarette, or vape, was created in 2003 in Beijing, and was introduced to the U.S. and Europe in 2006. The 2003 device was created by a pharmacist with a smoking habit, whose father passed away from lung cancer. E-cigarettes were thought to be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Various inventors had worked on prototypes of e-cigarettes throughout the 20th century. The “first commercialized variation” of the e-cigarette was created in 1979, along with the first official research on nicotine delivery. The device ultimately failed because of its faulty nature, but its inventors are credited with coining the term “vape,” according to a history compiled by Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives.

The FDA began regulating e-cigarettes in 2011. E-cigarettes may be a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, although are still not safe, a Johns Hopkins doctor writes in an overview of research.


Has the NRA been a prominent supporter of interpreting the Second Amendment to limit restrictions on gun ownership?

The National Rifle Association has been advocating since the 1970s that the late 18th-century language of the Second Amendment supports the right of every American to own a range of modern firearms.

The amendment reads in its entirety:

“a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Michael Waldman, a constitutional lawyer who is president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes that for two centuries the clause and its “bizarre comma placement” were ignored, until the NRA launched a “long crusade to bring its interpretation of the Constitution into the mainstream.” The group has helped fund legal scholarship that underpins court decisions in recent decades limiting state and local gun control regulations. The NRA has been “highly effective” at funding political support for its views, according to the Britannica encyclopaedia.


Do recent polls find that more Americans have come to believe that the coronavirus came from a lab in China?

Recent polls suggest that around half of Americans believe the coronavirus intentionally or unintentionally originated in a Chinese lab—up from an April Pew poll where 29% of respondents said the virus that causes COVID-19 was "most likely...made in a lab."

  • In a Politico/Harvard poll in late June, 52% of respondents attributed COVID-19 to "a laboratory leak in China."
  • In an early June Morning Consult poll, 46% of respondents agreed that "the coronavirus spilled from a virology lab in China."
  • In an Economist/YouGov poll from early June, 58% of respondents said that it was "definitely" or "probably" true that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab.

The jump follows reports that Wuhan scientists were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms in November 2019, before the disease was identified. President Biden stated that his administration has not ruled out a "laboratory accident" as the possible origin of the disease.


Is California’s economy showing signs of strong recovery alongside lingering impacts from the coronavirus?

California’s economy is recovering from pandemic closures that were more severe than in many other states. In the calendar first quarter the state grew at 6.3%, only slightly off the national pace of 6.4%.

Travel restrictions hit the state hard; with international arrivals still restricted, recovery is expected to be lag in the leisure and hospitality sectors. In May 2021, the state’s unemployment rate, at 7.9%, was the third-highest in the U.S. The state legislature in May noted reports that up to 30% of the state’s restaurants closed permanently.

Offsetting that, the state benefited from the strength of its technology industry, with highly-paid workers largely able to continue working from home. In the four quarters ending March 31, “state wages and salaries were up 5.9%, the nation’s just 4%,” the state legislature analyst’s office reported. Healthy incomes and tax receipts have resulted in a windfall for the state government that the legislative analyst estimates at $38 billion.


Do conservatives say they are less likely to get vaccinated?

In polls, many conservatives continue to voice vaccine skepticism, as do some conservative politicians and opinion leaders. A Marist/NPR/PBS/survey in late June found that half of Trump supporters say “they won’t get a shot, the highest of any group surveyed.”

KFF, a nonprofit focused on health policy, reports that vaccination rates in counties that supported Trump in 2020 lag behind rates in counties that carried by Biden. A three percentage-point gap in early April widened to nearly 12 points by early July.

KFF finds that vaccination rates among some other groups are also lagging. In a June survey, it found the largest single reason—cited by 20% of all unvaccinated adults—to be “concerns over possible side effects.” Those findings were largely unchanged since January.

Almost all recent U.S. hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 have been among unvaccinated people.


Have investigations of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania turned up any evidence of voter fraud helping Democrats?

The only documented case of voter fraud in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania involves a man who committed fraud in support of former President Donald Trump, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that tracks election fraud.

The perpetrator, a Pennsylvania Republican, tried to register his deceased mother and mother-in-law as Republicans in an effort to “cast fraudulent ballots for Donald Trump.” He used their driver’s licenses and social security numbers to apply for absentee ballots, one of which he cast. He has since pleaded guilty to two felonies and cannot vote for four years.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the last of a series of unsuccessful court challenges to the state’s election conduct on April 19, 2021. Recently, a Pennsylvania state senator announced his own plan to audit last year’s results, following a similar effort by legislators in Arizona.


Was a Republican National Committee technology provider hacked?

The Republican National Committee and SYNNEX Corp., one of its technology providers, confirmed on July 6, 2021, that “outside actors” tried to access RNC data.

RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters said that no data was obtained, but they blocked all access from “SYNNEX accounts to our cloud environment,” according to statement issued on Twitter by a party spokesperson.

Bloomberg News, citing two unidentified sources, reported that the hackers were part of Cozy Bear, also known as APT 29, a group associated with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. A Russian government spokesperson denied official involvement in the attack.

The attempted attack happened within days of the largest ransomware attack on record by Russian cybercriminals, originating in a Florida software company. It is unclear whether the two attacks are related.


Does video evidence conclusively show that police ordered Ashli Babbitt to stop before she was shot during the January 6 riot at the US Capitol?

Video evidence and statements from the Department of Justice leave unclear if the U.S. Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt told her to stop before firing. Babbitt was part of a mob that broke into the Capitol on January 6, 2021. When she was shot, Babbitt was attempting to climb through the broken glass of a barricaded door near the chamber where a joint session of Congress had convened to certify the 2020 presidential election.

The attorney for the officer who shot Babbitt said he identified himself and ordered “the mob to not come through the barricade,” according to The Associated Press.

After an investigation, the Justice Department decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officer. Its press statement explaining the investigation’s findings does not mention if the officer ordered Babbitt to stop.

On published videos of the incident, the officer’s instructions are not clearly audible amid other noise.


Is there any data yet about the specific impact of the Delta variant on coronavirus risks for children under 12?

The more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus appears to pose a greater risk for children under 12. Vaccines for that age group have not yet been authorized in the U.S., and the variant is known to pose a greater risk of infection to all unvaccinated people.

But data is not yet clear about the variant’s impact on serious illness and death for that age group. The variant has only recently become prevalent in the U.S., and deaths may occur weeks after initial infections.

To date, adolescents and children have accounted for relatively fewer confirmed infections by earlier strains of the virus, and have been much less likely than older people to become seriously ill or to die from COVID-19. Through July 7, the Centers for Disease Control reports that Americans under 18, who are 22% of the population, account for 12.5% of known infections and 0.1% of confirmed deaths.

While those rates are relatively low, most health authorities presume that a more contagious virus puts all unvaccinated people at greater risks, including children, and advise they should continue to use precautions such as face masks.


Did a post-election survey find that Biden in 2020 gained support from married men and veterans compared to Clinton in 2016?

Compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, President Joe Biden in 2020 received stronger support from married men and veterans, according to an extensive post-election survey by Pew Research. Pew found various statistically-significant shifts from its 2016 survey, including:

  • 44% of married men voted for Biden, versus 32% for Clinton.
  • 43% of households with military veterans voted for Biden, versus 35% for Clinton.

Pew did not include data for active-duty military.

Pew’s survey found that a shift in Hispanic support—59% of Hispanics voted for Biden, versus 66% for Clinton—was not statistically significant.

Biden, according to Pew’s analysis, also did about as well with Black voters as Clinton in 2016, winning 92% versus 91%. Blacks are “a unique group of voters for whom the contemporary Republican Party holds no discernible appeal,” a Brookings Institution analysis of the Pew data observed.


Is there still a shortage of N95 masks?

Recent reports by manufacturers and hospitals along with recommendations by the U.S. government confirm there is no longer a shortage of N95 masks.

In March, the American Mask Manufacturers Association stated that “the U.S. has ample supply of masks” and called on government to stop discouraging the public from buying them.

The next month, the Food and Drug Administration advised hospitals to transition away from “crisis capacity conservation strategies” such as reusing N95 masks in light of “increased domestic supply.”

The National Nurses Union similarly acknowledged “ample N95 supply” and pushed for stricter standards against mask rationing to adequately protect nurses.

Manufacturers that ramped up production during the pandemic are now struggling to sell their surplus given competition from abroad and reduced demand from vaccination efforts. The AMMA urged “government intervention” by August 1 to “save critical national supply.”


Does UK data show that fully vaccinated people are more likely to die of the COVID-19 Delta variant than unvaccinated people?

In the U.K., those who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 have not been more likely to die from the coronavirus’ Delta variant than unvaccinated people.

Between Feb. 1, 2021, and June 21, 2021, Public Health England found that fully vaccinated people in England comprised:

  • 1.8% of 92,029 confirmed cases of the Delta variant.
  • 10% of 3,460 associated hospitalizations.
  • 43% of 117 deaths.

If the vaccine lacked effectiveness, infection and hospitalization rates would be equal among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Instead, the data shows that vaccinated individuals were much less likely to contract the virus and to be hospitalized.

Fewer serious cases translates to fewer deaths. On June 28, Cambridge University published an estimate that COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented 7.2 million infections and 27,000 deaths in the U.K.

By early June, 50% of U.K. adults were fully vaccinated.


Is LA County changing its masking guidance because of the Delta coronavirus variant?

On June 28, 2021, the Los Angeles County health department updated masking advice in light of the much more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The department “strongly” recommended that “everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places as a precautionary measure.”

In a TV interview, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that while local policy makers are encouraged to offer advice suited to local conditions, vaccinated people do not need to wear masks. “If you're vaccinated you are safe from the variants that are circulating here” in the U.S., she said. The masking policies “protect the unvaccinated.”

She noted that World Health Organization advice to continue social distancing as well as masking reflects the much lower level of vaccinations and higher infection rates prevailing outside the U.S.


Does the racial makeup of the military roughly reflect US society?

Compared to the racial makeup of U.S. society, white Americans are somewhat underrepresented among active-duty members of the military while Black Americans are somewhat overrepresented.

In 2019, white people comprised 76% of the U.S. population and 69% of the active-duty military. Black people made up around 13% of the U.S. population and 17% of active-duty military. Hispanics represented around 19% of the U.S. population and 17% of the active-duty military.

Twenty-two percent of active-duty members in 2019 had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 32% of Americans 25 years and older. While high school diplomas were held by 56% of Americans, 76% of the active-duty military had a high school (or GED) diploma.

Despite adding more ways for women to serve, the military does not yet approach the 50/50 gender balance of the population—in 2019 women were 17% of the active-duty force.


Did 96% of the funding for Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s 2020 reelection campaign come from outside his Texas district?

More than 96% of the funding for Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s 2020 campaign came from donors based outside his Houston district. Many House candidates raise funds outside their home districts. Crenshaw is more reliant than most, raising only 4% of his contributions from within the boundaries of his home district—well below the median of 27.4% for current House members.

Crenshaw’s top five corporate campaign donors included three firms headquartered in Houston but outside his district: a developer, a lumber company and a fossil fuel producer. The other two were Kirkland & Ellis, a large law firm, and NorPAC, a pro-Israel group.

Crenshaw, a Republican first elected in 2018, raised the sixth most money of all House candidates in 2020.

With growing pushback against corporate influence (and more small donations from online giving), 155 congressional candidates rejected corporate money in 2020.


Is there an effort to shut down Tennessee’s health department for encouraging teens to get vaccinated?

On June 16, 2021, a Tennessee legislature committee discussed efforts to vaccinate minors. Rep. Scott Cepicky, a Republican, moved to “dissolve and reconstitute” the state health department over concerns that it was “coercing” children into getting vaccinated.

Cepicky and other lawmakers took issue with a department memo sent to vaccine providers about the “mature minor doctrine”—a 1987 state ruling that permits minors 14 and up to receive health care without parental consent. Cepicky also objected to department ads displaying children smiling with a bandage on their arms, suggesting that they amounted to “peer pressure” and “guilt-tripping” given the “impressionable” nature of “young people...wanting to fit in.”

The department clarified that its intent was to be informative, not promotional.

The Republican-led committee plans to reconvene and continue its discussion in July.


Did the stimulus bill passed in March allow for increased police funding?

The $1.9 trillion stimulus package enacted in March, 2021, provided $350 billion in new federal funding for state and local governments. Recently, amid signs of rising concern about crime and gun violence, the Biden administration has highlighted ways local governments can use the funds for policing and public safety.

The Treasury Department established spending rules for recipients of the funds—which includes all metropolitan cities—specifying that funds can be used for public safety and crime prevention to:

  • re-hire police to restore staffing to “pre-pandemic levels.”
  • in communities experiencing increasing violence, hire more law enforcement personnel “even above pre-pandemic levels.”

The funds can also be used for purposes including mental health services and housing assistance.

The legislation passed with no Republican support.


Did Katie Hill resign from Congress after the ethics committee launched an investigation into an alleged inappropriate relationship?

California Congresswoman Katie Hill announced her resignation on Oct. 27, 2019. On Oct. 23, the House Ethics committee had opened an investigation into an alleged sexual relationship between Hill and someone on her congressional staff.

Around then, news media published revealing photos of Hill, her ex-husband and a female campaign staffer that predated her 2018 election.

In interviews, most recently with “Axios on HBO,” Hill has said she resigned because of the leaking of nude photos of herself. She told Axios she felt “relief” that she “could stop this barrage of a horror show.”

In other interviews, she expressed regret at having an intimate relationship with a staff member and spoke about the harassment faced by her family and staff. She also cited concerns that her scandal would be a liability for the Democratic Party ahead of impeachment proceedings against then-President Donald Trump.


Did FEMA’s response to a Florida condo collapse require a request for federal help from Gov. DeSantis?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis requested federal assistance late in the afternoon following the early morning collapse of a Surfside, Florida, apartment building on June 24, 2021. The White House issued a federal emergency declaration the next day.

President Joe Biden told reporters the afternoon of the collapse that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “ready to go,” with teams already on the scene, he said. FEMA can only act after a state officially requests help.

The state’s request is time-stamped at 5:52 p.m., June 24. The building collapsed at about 1:20 a.m. Local news reports noted that DeSantis traveled to Surfside, at the opposite end of the state from the capital, as part of his own initial response. “Travel time back to Tallahassee, drafting, and briefing the Governor accounted for the delay of the order,” Florida Politics reported, citing “knowledgeable sources.”


Did Defense Secretary Austin state that critical race theory is not being taught in the military?

After being asked how the Defense Department should think about critical race theory, Secretary Lloyd Austin responded, “We do not teach critical race theory.”

The exchange took place at a congressional hearing on the 2022 military budget. Later on, Rep. Mike Waltz quoted a letter from the U.S. Military Academy superintendent that read, “There is one course that has [CRT] as part of the syllabus.” Waltz presented evidence that the course included a seminar on “understanding whiteness and white rage.” Gen. Mark Milley appeared to confirm this, arguing for the importance of teaching military personnel about racial issues, including white rage, citing the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.

CRT examines laws and customs that are said to contribute to systemic racism. Republican lawmakers in 25 states have attempted to restrict the teaching of CRT in colleges and schools.


Did President Biden’s choice to run the Bureau of Land Management advocate for population control in her graduate-school thesis?

Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s nominee to be director of the Bureau of Land Management, suggested in her 1992 environmental studies master’s thesis that limiting children to two per family would help the environment.

The thesis, archived on a University of Montana website, included fictitious advertisements she created to make arguments for various policies. One of the ads, focusing on the impact of population growth, reads in part: “When we overpopulate, the earth notices it more. Stop at two. It could be the best thing you do for the planet.”

The headline calls out a baby as an environmental hazard.

In recent years, scientists have acknowledged that the planet may have enough resources to support a larger population, while focusing on the need for humans to manage the nature and scale of their resource consumption.

Stone-Manning has not yet been confirmed to the post.


Is crime ‘exploding’ only in cities led by Democrats?

Many U.S. cities are reporting year-on-year rises in murders—fueling headlines and rhetoric—and at the same time declines in other crimes. Patterns do not appear related to the political party in charge, or to recent policy or budget changes.

In the three biggest U.S. cities, all led by Democrats, so far in 2021:

  • New York homicides are up 12%. The overall crime rate is down by 1% (as of June 27).
  • Los Angeles homicides are up 26%. Property crime is down 9%.
  • Chicago homicides are up 4%. The overall crime rate is down 7%.

Meanwhile, smaller Republican-led cities show similar trends:

  • Oklahoma City homicides are up 25%. The overall crime rate is down 6%.
  • Fresno hasn’t published 2021 figures; homicides were up in 2020 while overall crime fell slightly.

Crime variations reflect long-standing problems and are “not related to which party is ruling,” a Boston criminologist told The Associated Press.


Do laws in their own and neighboring states counter the efforts of various US cities efforts to regulate firearms?

The effect of cities’ attempts to regulate firearms locally can be limited by state laws enacted in their own as well as neighboring states.

Forty-two states have laws “pre-empting” local governments from adopting their own specific gun-control measures, despite what may be strong local support.

In states with stronger controls, recent research finds those can be offset by weaker regulations in nearby states. More liberal rules in neighboring states correlate with increased rates of total firearm deaths, suicides and homicides within a state. Conversely, proximity to states and population centers with stronger gun laws was correlated with lower homicide rates.

In Baltimore, 82% of guns seized by police last year were obtained outside the city—63% outside Maryland. Some 60% of firearms seized in Chicago over the years 2013 to 2016 came from other states with more permissive laws.


Is the US economy growing at the fastest pace in nearly three decades?

U.S. gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2021 posted its biggest increase in almost three decades, expanding at an annual rate of 6.4%. That was the highest rate since 1984.

The Federal Reserve Board on June 16 raised its outlook for full year growth to 7%, which would also be the highest rate since 1984. The pace of expansion reflects the strong recovery from a sharp economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Fed expects growth in 2022 to reach 3.3%, above its longer-term outlook as well as the pace of the last 15 years.

The recovery has also led to a higher reported rate of inflation, with the benchmark index figure in May up 3.9% from last year, representing the greatest increase since 1992. Fed officials expect the price increases to abate as overall conditions return closer to normal.


Have cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome been found in people shortly after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

Rare cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome have been observed in people from 10 to 22 days after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

A U.K. study found four cases. A report from India found seven. Facial weakness was a common symptom in these patients, despite typically arising in less than 20% of GBS cases.

With GBS, immune system damage results in muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, often after a viral or bacterial infection. In 1976, a swine flu vaccine was confirmed to have increased risk of the disorder.

The AstraZeneca shot is not approved in the U.S. The U.S. alert system has received 279 reports of GBS following COVID-19 vaccinations: 59 after a Johnson & Johnson shot, 97 after the Pfizer-BioNTech shot and 121 after the Moderna shot.

A causal link has not been confirmed; some or all cases could be coincidences. U.S. authorities continue to recommend all the approved vaccines.


Is half of the US population homeless?

On a given night in 2020, an estimated 580,466 people in the U.S.—about 18 of every 10,000 people—were experiencing homelessness, according to an estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD defines a homeless person as someone who “lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

HUD gathered its latest data in January, before the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some observers think the HUD figure is an undercount, given its definition of homelessness and methodology.

Education Department data looks at how many public school students have at least temporarily experienced homelessness over a period of years. As its data necessarily excludes childless adults, it may also be an undercount. It estimates 1.3 million children experienced homelessness at some point in the time span between 2016 and 2019.

The 2020 census enumerated 331,449,281 people in the U.S.


Has the CDC warned that young people should not get a COVID-19 vaccination because of heart-inflammation risks?

The Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for all adolescents and young people as “potential benefits outweigh the potential risks,” even after scattered preliminary reports of heart inflammation with a few days of getting the shot.

“These reports are rare, given the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered,” the agency says. As of June 21, 2021, the CDC says it has confirmed 393 cases of myocarditis or pericarditis in people, mostly male, aged 30 or younger (out of 616 reports). It is working to confirm if there is any relationship to the vaccines.

The CDC has stated that patients who develop heart inflammation following vaccinations generally experience a full recovery.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to add a warning about the rare risk of heart inflammation to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine fact sheets.


Did Democrats make record use of the filibuster in the last Congress?

The filibuster, which allows the Senate minority party to block legislation by refusing to end debate, has been used by both Democrats and Republicans, almost always while occupying the Senate minority.

While filibusters are used frequently, they are only recorded when a cloture vote is called by the majority party, which can end debate with 60 votes.

During the 2019-2020 Congressional term, a record-breaking 328 filibusters were recorded with Democrats in the minority.

Since 2009, 657 filibusters were recorded under Democratic minorities while 609 filibusters were recorded under Republican minorities.

Research by Slate on filibusters between 1991 and 2008 found that Democrats successfully filibustered 63 times while Republicans successfully filibustered 89 times.

President Biden recently proposed requiring a Senator to be on the floor speaking to preserve a filibuster. Filibuster rules may be changed by a simple majority vote, as they are not mentioned in the Constitution or legislation.


Is it illegal to teach about Juneteenth in some states?

While limits on classroom discussion of critical race theory—a controversial academic discipline that examines American history through the lens of anti-Black racism—have been proposed in 22 states and signed into law in five, teaching about Juneteenth is not explicitly illegal in any state.

Juneteenth commemorates the first enforcement of emancipation. It dates back to June 19, 1865, when federal troops entered Texas to enforce the abolition of slavery mandated by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The 13th amendment, which abolished slavery everywhere in the U.S., was ratified on December 6, 1865.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to make June 19 an official state holiday, with several other states following suit over the years. In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a holiday for federal employees. President Biden signed it into law on June 17.


Do symptoms of the COVID-19 Delta variant differ from those of previous variants?

The mix of symptoms among those sickened by the Delta variant of the coronavirus appear to be somewhat unlike those of previous variants.

According to an ongoing study, “headache, sore throat, a runny nose, and fever” are the most common COVID-19 symptoms of those infected by the Delta variant in the U.K. Cough and “loss of smell” are less common symptoms for the Delta variant.

Doctors in Southeast China have seen patients becoming sicker more quickly, with their conditions “deteriorating more quickly” since the spread of the Delta variant. A U.K. study has found “increased risk” of hospitalization for Delta infections.

Another U.K. study found the Delta variant to be around 60% more transmissible than Alpha, the former most-transmissible variant.

There is not yet enough data to answer concerns that the Delta variant may be more deadly than previous variants.


Do Georgia officials say 100,000 names being removed from voter rolls are ‘outdated and obsolete’?

Georgia’s Secretary of State published on June 18, 2021, a list of 101,789 “outdated and obsolete” voter files to be removed from the rolls. Most of the voters had filed change-of-address cards with the post office. Election mail to others had been returned to sender. Some died.

A small number of files were removed because “the individual had no contact with Georgia’s elections officials in any way...for two general elections,” a statement said.

Updates to the rolls take place every two years; any eligible voters are free to re-register. But scrutiny is high because of past disputes. A court challenge led to the reinstatement of 22,000 registrations in 2019.

Gov. Brian Kemp was Secretary of State before his 2018 election victory over Stacey Abrams, who accused him of voter suppression during her campaign. Under his oversight the state cancelled more than 1.4 million voter registrations.


Is there a history of presidential campaigns declining to pay cities for costs related to campaign events?

Cities that send bills to presidential campaigns for security costs related to campaign events sometimes have a hard time collecting. A 2019 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that the Trump campaign owed ten city governments more than $800,000 in policing and other costs related to Trump’s rallies. In 2017, the organization reported that the 2016 Clinton and Sanders campaigns, as well as Trump’s, had unpaid local bills. 

The pandemic put a halt to many rallies in 2020, but El Paso hired lawyers to chase $569,000 in costs related to a 2019 visit by Trump. More recently, Albuquerque’s mayor told “The Daily Show” that Trump’s campaign owes the city about $200,000, which a Trump spokesman disputes.

A 2015 news report recounted how one Minnesota county waited 11 years to collect $18,000 from the 2004 Bush campaign, finally writing the debt off.


Do surveys find that Americans think Muslims experience more discrimination in the US than other religious groups?

Americans think Muslims experience religious discrimination to a greater degree in the U.S. than other religious groups.

A 2019 Pew Research survey found that over 80% of Americans think Muslims experience some level of discrimination. 64% of respondents thought Jews experience discrimination, and 50% said Evangelical Christians do. Survey results were similar in 2016.

Another Pew Research survey found that in 2019, 63% of Americans thought being Muslim puts people at a societal disadvantage, at least to some degree. 20% thought so about Jews and 15% thought so about Evangelical Christians.

A November 2020 report concluded that about two-thirds of Muslim adults in the U.S. have felt hostility or disrespect based on their religion; more than one-third of Jews said the same. Muslims and Jews both experienced more discrimination than Christians.


Was a car crash at a Pride parade in Florida an LGBTQ hate crime?

According to the local police, the car crash that occurred during the June 19, 2021, Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, was “a tragic accident, and not a criminal act directed at anyone, or any group of individuals.”

The Fort Lauderdale police department reported that the 77-year-old driver accidentally accelerated, hitting two pedestrians before continuing “across all lanes of traffic, ultimately crashing into the fence of a business.” The department noted that “the driver and both pedestrians are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus."’

The driver nearly hit a parade vehicle containing Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The driver was chosen to lead the parade in his truck because he is physically incapable of walking.

Investigations are ongoing. The driver, who has not been arrested and is cooperating with the police, was cleared of driving under the influence. 


Is there evidence that nicotine is toxic to the brain?

Literally speaking, nicotine is toxic to the brain in large enough quantities, meaning that it impairs brain function leading to serious illness or death. Nicotine overdoses are rare but have increased with the introduction of e-cigarettes, which can deliver more nicotine than traditional cigarettes.

Nicotine poses a series of other health risks, including cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune and reproductive damage, addiction, and cancer. A 2012 study on the effect of nicotine on the adolescent brain found that “smoking increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment in later life.”

The evidence that nicotine enhances brain function is mixed. A 2018 review of the literature found that nicotine improves motor function, attention and memory, but a 2020 review found results were inconsistent amid some evidence of tobacco industry funding.


Do red states report higher rates of violent crime than blue states?

According to 2019 FBI data, seven out of ten states with the highest per-capita rates of violent crime voted Republican in the 2020 election. In contrast, seven out of ten states with the lowest rates voted Democrat. However, the District of Columbia had the highest rate despite voting blue. 

The FBI cautions against using any one demographic marker to draw conclusions about the causes of crime, which they describe as manifold, complex and often “not readily measurable.” Cited variables include:

  • Population density and transience.
  • Poverty.
  • Education levels.
  • Racial and ethnic makeup.
  • Family cohesiveness.
  • Strength of law enforcement.
  • Youth concentration.
  • Climate.

Statistics are further complicated by the fact that higher crime rates may reflect greater reporting rather than a higher incidence of crime.

The overall crime rate in the U.S. decreased slightly in 2019 compared to 2018.


Are health care costs a big factor in personal bankruptcy filings in the US?

Research over the past 15 years points to medical expenses as a big contributor to personal bankruptcy in the U.S., but not to a consensus that health care costs are the number one cause.

An American Journal of Public Health survey of bankruptcy filers between 2016 and 2019 found that two-thirds of filers identified medical expenses as a factor—which suggests there have been limits to hoped-for benefits from the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s changes to insurance access and costs. A 2007 study by the American Journal of Medicine found that 62.1% of bankruptcies were medical.

Results from other studies vary. Health Affairs found that 17% of bankruptcies were caused by medical bills. A 2014 study published in Maine Law Review found that the number ranged from 18% to 26%. The New England Journal of Medicine found that 4% of bankruptcies were caused specifically by hospital costs.


Did a Monmouth University poll find that Biden's approval rating has dropped below 50%?

A recent poll of 810 adults conducted by Monmouth University found that 48% of respondents approve of how Joe Biden is doing as president. This shows a decline compared to earlier versions of the same poll, which placed Biden's approval rating above 50%.

Other polls from the past month, including those run by Morning Consult, IPSOS, Quinnipiac, Yougov, the American Research Group and Gallup, have placed Biden's approval rating at levels ranging 48% to 57%, according to results compiled by FiveThirtyEight, a polling website. On June 17, FiveThirtyEight estimated an average approval rating of 50.8% across all tracked polls of U.S. adults. Its tracking shows that approval for the new president peaked at 55.4% on March 22.


Did the Biden Justice Department halt efforts to obtain journalists’ email records only after the efforts became public?

During Trump’s presidency, the Justice Department sought to obtain email records of journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN as part of efforts to identify unauthorized press leaks.

Following initial press reports about the practice, President Biden in May said such actions are “simply, simply wrong.”

Yet under Biden the Justice Department had been continuing efforts to obtain email records of four Times reporters, informing a few Times executives about the inquiry while imposing a gag order to prevent them from talking about it.

After a federal court lifted the order on June 4, the Times reported on it, prompting the White House to say no one on its staff had been aware of the Justice Department’s actions.

The next day, the department announced that it would no longer seize journalists’ records during leak investigations.


Does evidence suggest that the 2016 mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub was a hate crime targeted against the LGBTQ community?

Evidence suggests that the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub shooting was not a hate crime targeted at the LGBTQ community, but a politically motivated act of terror in response to U.S. intervention in the Middle East. Shooter Omar Mateen likely did not know that the club, Pulse, was a gay club, instead choosing it due to its lack of security.

In the hours before the attack, Mateen googled “downtown Orlando nightclubs” and visited three other potential targets. He then drove back and forth between Pulse and a nightclub called Eve, likely deciding on Pulse given the “heavy police presence” surrounding Eve.

A rumor that Mateen told his wife he would be attacking Pulse as the two drove past it days before the shooting was discredited by cell phone records.

Mateen was an adherent of the Islamic State group, a terrorist group whose extremist positions include violent homophobia.


Has Florida stopped regular reporting of COVID-19 data?

In early June 2021, Florida’s health department began reporting coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths on a weekly basis, ending its previous daily reports. The weekly reports are now also less detailed, according to a local news outlet.

Florida’s pandemic-related state of emergency is expected to expire on June 26, and will transition to “a locally-led public health effort,” according to the state's emergency management department. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on COVID-19 in Florida documents declining new cases and hospitalizations over the past few months. Deaths have plateaued; 41% of the state was fully vaccinated as of June 11.

More than half of U.S. states no longer update their COVID-19 data daily, but Florida is the only state to report cases and deaths only once a week, according to Johns Hopkins University.


Did two fully vaccinated passengers on a cruise test positive for the coronavirus?

Two passengers aboard the first North American cruise in 15 months tested positive for the coronavirus late in their trip.

A Celebrity Cruises ship left the island of St. Maarten on June 4 for a 7-day trip. All passengers had been required to present both a negative test and proof of vaccination 72 hours before departure under the policy for St. Maarten travel. The positive cases were found June 9 during required pre-arrival testing. The two passengers were asymptomatic. They were isolated, and no contacts were found to have been infected, news reports said. 

“Celebrity has been up-front about the situation and quick to act to prevent the virus from spreading,” a travel writer who was aboard the voyage reported.

The Centers for Disease Control considers cruise ships to be “very high” risk locations for COVID-19 exposure and continues to recommend that all people avoid traveling on them. 


Did Biden’s chief of staff get all his statistics exactly right in a tweet about recent economic indicators?

Ron Klain, President Biden's chief of staff, on June 10 tweeted a series of claims about the economy. He noted—accurately—recent positive trends in overall jobless claims, pandemic unemployment assistance claims, monthly job growth and economic growth.

He misstated a detail about the latest consumer price data. The May increase (0.6% vs. April) was down from the April increase (0.8% vs. March) but not, as he stated, from the March increase, which was also 0.6%.

The claim generating the most skepticism on Twitter, however, was his assertion that gas prices were down. According to the May consumer price data gasoline prices were down 0.7% from April, making Klain technically correct.

That data appears at odds with both the anecdotal evidence of many Twitter users as well as the widely-cited AAA index. As of June 11, 2021, the AAA said gas prices were up 0.4% from a month ago.


Income tax aside, do the burdens of other major tax sources fall evenly on taxpayers?

Aside from income taxes, Americans pay a variety of other taxes. These broad taxes tend to impose higher relative burdens at lower incomes. So income taxes are often the main policy focus in discussions of economic inequality and overall fairness.

  • Federal Social Security taxes take a flat percentage of wages up to a fixed level of income ($142,800 in 2021).
  • Most forms of sales tax and excise taxes (such as tobacco taxes) are regressive, as lower-income earners spend more of their income on consumption than higher-income households.
  • While property taxes are considered fairly efficient, some researchers find that the system nonetheless tends to favor wealthier owners (who may own multiple expensive properties) for a variety of reasons. “Many properties aren’t properly assessed,” one analyst observes, as less expensive property in poor neighborhoods is often taxed at relatively higher rates.

Did a government review find that the abrupt clearance of Lafayette Park during last year’s BLM protests was unrelated to President Trump’s plans for a photo op?

A recent report by the Interior Department Inspector General about events surrounding a June 1, 2020, protest in Washington's Lafayette Park differs from many news accounts published at the time.

The report said the U.S. Park Police cleared the park specifically in order to install new security fencing later that evening following repeated protests at the site. The police action interrupted a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. The report said warnings to the crowd were “ineffective.”

Minutes after the protesters were pushed out, then-President Trump walked across the park to pose for photos in front of nearby St. John’s Church. Major news media, quoting protestors and noting the timing, reported that the park had been cleared in order to make it safe for the president’s excursion. Democrats in Congress noted the report left unanswered questions about the police’s timing and use of force.


Did a survey find that 71% of Democrats think that people should still stay home as much as possible to protect against the coronavirus?

A May 18-23 Gallup survey of American attitudes on “returning to normalcy” as serious COVID-19 illnesses decline found that 71% of Democrats believed that people should “stay home as much as possible,” even if they are seemingly healthy.

The figure is down from 85% in April 2021, but remains much higher than the figures for other Americans—only 13% of Republicans and 36% of independents believed that healthy people should still stay home. In sum, 56% of all surveyed believed people should “live their normal lives” as much as possible

An early June Ipsos poll found that 66% of Americans had seen friends or family in the past week, and 61% had gone out to eat. Democrats were more in favor of requiring proof of vaccination to return to work than Republicans, Ipsos reported.


Has the Biden administration shut down private detention facilities for unaccompanied migrant minors?

At an April 29 rally President Biden vowed that private prisons and detention centers “should not exist,” echoing promises by his Democratic rivals in 2019, including now-Vice President Kamala Harris.

In 2019, their focus was on reports of six deaths of migrant children held in custody by the Trump administration.

In 2021, the Biden administration still relies on some private facilities to cope with a renewed surge in migrant children. To comply with the law, it has had to increase capacity to move unaccompanied minors quickly out of detention centers supervised by border authorities into less restrictive shelters under the Health and Human Services Department, where minors wait while HHS secures long-term placements with relatives or foster care providers.

In May, HHS awarded more than $2 billion in contracts to two private companies and a nonprofit to build and manage more facilities.


Did the Trump administration in 2019 prohibit US embassies from flying rainbow flags in observance of Pride month?

Once during its term, in 2019, the Trump administration recognized June as LGBT Pride month. It declined to let U.S. embassies observe the event by hoisting the symbolic rainbow flag beneath the national flag that flies above their facilities.

In 2019, then-Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that the administration declined requests from some U.S. embassies to continue a practice that began in the Obama years. “...When it comes to the American flagpole, at American embassies and capitals around the world, having one American flag fly I think is the right decision,” he said in an interview with NBC at the time. He noted there were no restrictions on displaying the flag elsewhere in embassies.

No reports could be found of any Trump administration acknowledgement of Pride month in the other years of its term.


Do at least 56 members of Congress support giving Israel additional military aid this year?

A bipartisan group of 56 U.S. representatives wrote in early June 2021 to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to declare support for additional aid to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which intercepts incoming rockets.

The U.S. has pledged to provide Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually from 2019 to 2028, including at least $500 million for missile defense along with promises of additional support following a major armed conflict. In 2014, after a wave of rocket attacks, Congress provided Israel an additional $225 million to replenish the Iron Dome system.

On an early June visit to Israel, Sen. Lindsay Graham said Israel would soon be making a request for $1 billion more in aid to “replenish the Iron Dome and a few other things, to upgrade the system.”

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. aid since World War II.


Has California in recent days had the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the US?

According to Centers for Disease Control data, California as of June 9, 2021, had the lowest level of coronavirus infections of all 50 states. In the previous seven days the state recorded 10.4 cases per 100,000 people, slightly lower than second-best South Dakota at 10.5. In the week to June 4, infections in California dropped 52%.

Three U.S. territories in the Pacific reported no cases at all.

California ranks among the top 20 states for vaccination rates, with 100,638 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 residents. The state has been in a process of gradual reopening, based on counties’ case and test positivity rates. 

On June 15, California is set to update its mask mandate, relaxing requirements for vaccinated people in many circumstances in line with recent CDC guidance.


Have US authorities found conclusive evidence to back up reports about alleged bounties on US troops in Afghanistan?

The Pentagon has “low to moderate confidence” in allegations that the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, according to an April 2021 White House briefing.

The New York Times first reported the story in June 2020. The allegations received widespread attention from other media. The Trump White House said they were unverified and lacked “consensus” within the intelligence community.

President Biden’s White House is still not confident in these claims, as they are based on interrogations of Afghan detainees in “the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan.” Speculation about the bounties reached a high point last year, after reports that the U.S. Navy recovered $500,000 from a raided Taliban outpost, leading the Pentagon to believe that the money was supplied by the Russian military to kill U.S. troops.


Was there more employment growth in the first four months of the Biden administration than in the first four months of the Reagan and Trump administrations?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps monthly employment growth statistics dating back to 1939.

Presidents are inaugurated on January 20. Using February as each administration's first full month in office:

  • 263,000 jobs were added in the Reagan administration's first four months in office.
  • 683,000 jobs were added in the Trump administration's first four months in office.
  • 2,158,000 jobs were added in the Biden administration's first four months in office, using preliminary figures for April and May 2021.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout and an easing of pandemic restrictions have allowed jobs lost to the coronavirus pandemic to be partially recovered, sustaining employment growth that began in the middle of 2020.

The U.S. economy has yet to fully recover the more than 22 million jobs lost between March and April of 2020 due to the pandemic but has gained back nearly 15 million.


Does the Chinese government continue to suppress discussion or commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests?

Continuing censorship and a crackdown in Hong Kong underscore China’s determination to suppress discussion and commemoration of the 1989 events in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government moved to disperse pro-democracy protestors who had been gathering for weeks. Armed forces killed hundreds of protestors and arrested thousands. Exact numbers have never been confirmed.

Public commemoration of the incident is officially banned in China, but Hong Kong residents have organized an annual vigil each June 4 since 1990. This year’s event was banned due to coronavirus restrictions, despite Hong Kong having had no local cases in six weeks. Police enforced the ban and made several arrests.

The Council on Foreign Relations reports that the Chinese government blocks sites like Twitter, Wikipedia and Facebook as June 4 approaches, as well as any related keywords or media.


Has federal help for Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria been delayed?

Federal assistance to Puerto Rico following two destructive hurricanes in 2017 has experienced significant delays. The causes include strained federal and local capacity, reimbursement and application processes that have been more onerous for Puerto Rico than for similar aid to states, and Trump administration concerns about corruption in the territory.

Aid has been channeled primarily through three federal agencies—the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The New York Times reported that only 0.7% of HUD funds—$138 million of $20 billion approved by Congress—had been released as of April 2021. At HUD, lengthy interagency negotiations and the 2018-2019 government shutdown also delayed the process.

In April, the department released $8.2 billion in funds and removed various grant restrictions.


Did the most recent annual count suggest that 99% of Western monarch butterflies have been wiped out?

Annual counts of Western monarch butterflies in California and northern Baja California by volunteers during Thanksgiving 2020 and New Year's 2021 found that a population decline has accelerated in recent years. The Thanksgiving count—1,914 monarchs—reflected a 99.9% decrease from the 1980s. Counts at specific sites where thousands of monarchs spent the winters past in found only a few hundred, or, in the case of some sites like Pacific Grove, California, none.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit that coordinates the counts, cites habitat loss and degradation, warming and other climate changes, pesticides, and loss of milkweed and other flowering plants as compounding factors in the Western monarch's endangerment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a California state court recently denied monarchs protection under national and state endangered species laws.


Is Customs and Border Patrol employing facial-recognition technology to process asylum seekers?

On Oct. 28, 2020, Customs and Border Patrol launched “CBP One...a mobile application that serves as a single portal to a variety of CBP services.”

On Feb. 19, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security published a report on the app. However, it wasn't until May 7, 2021, that DHS added a section detailing the app’s use in processing asylum seekers impacted by a Trump-era rule requiring them to wait in Mexico until their eligibility is determined.

The app pairs with facial recognition technology to identify an affected asylum seeker, whose photo is taken and compared to a CBP database containing photos of remain-in-Mexico asylum seekers. If photos match and the asylum seeker's case is still pending, entry is granted into the U.S.

CBP stated that it will publish a separate report on the “privacy risks and mitigations” of the app’s use in asylum cases.


Can same-sex couples get married in Israel or any other country in the Middle East?

Same-sex couples cannot get married in any Middle Eastern country, including Israel.

In 2006, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Israeli government to recognize gay couples married abroad. Married and unmarried same-sex couples alike are entitled to the same legal rights as straight couples, including tax and inheritance benefits, medical privileges and the ability to adopt. Performing a same-sex marriage remains illegal within Israel’s borders.

In Israel, gay people are legally protected against hate crimes and employment discrimination and may serve in government and the military. In contrast, homosexual acts are illegal in most Middle Eastern countries, with punishments including multi-year prison sentences and the death penalty.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “there are currently 29 countries where same-sex marriage is legal.”


Is the Delta variant of the coronavirus beginning to spread in North America?

The coronavirus variant now known as the Delta variant, first identified in India, has spread to 62 countries. The variant was first detected in the U.S. between February and March of 2021. Canada and Mexico have also detected it, and are monitoring its further spread.

The variant has caused outbreaks throughout Asia and Africa, and is starting to spread throughout the United Kingdom as well. The World Health Organization has dubbed the Delta variant a “variant of global concern.”

U.K. epidemiologist Neil Ferguson has estimated that it is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, previously thought the most transmissible. A study by Public Health England has shown that two vaccine doses are more effective than one against the variant. However, it has also found that it is more transmissible and causes “more significant illness” than previous variants.


Did former House Speaker Dennis Hastert serve time for charges related to past sexual abuse of a minor?

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced in 2016 to 15 months in prison, two years of supervised release and other penalties for paying hush money to cover up sexual abuse of a minor. Hastert, who served as speaker from 1999 to 2007, had abused an unnamed “Individual A" when he was his wrestling coach several decades ago.

While statutes of limitations had expired on any potential charges related to the abuse of Individual A or other minors, investigators discovered that Hastert agreed to pay Individual A $3.5 million in compensation. Hastert was charged for the illegal structuring of cash withdrawals and for lying to the government about those activities in order to hold him “accountable for the crimes he committed that can still be prosecuted.”

Hastert admitted to sexually abusing multiple minors; the sentencing judge called him a “serial child molester."


Were online listings of Dr. Fauci’s upcoming book taken down the day after batches of his emails were released?

Listings for an upcoming book written by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, were removed from the websites of two online retailers on June 2. The day before, files of Fauci’s emails from last year were released by the government to two news organizations under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Fauci's publisher, National Geographic, told Fox News and other media that the book listings were removed because they were prematurely posted for pre-sale.

Some conservative-leaning media initially speculated that the listings were removed due to political “backlash” about Fauci “profiting off the pandemic” following the attention given to the email disclosures. National Geographic told Fox News that Fauci will earn nothing from the book or an accompanying documentary.


Does a 2015 video show a Black Lives Matter cofounder calling to ‘end the imperialist project that’s called Israel’?

A video of a 2015 panel at Harvard Law School features Patrisse Cullors, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement. The video was posted in 2015, according to the date on the YouTube page. She spoke about the importance of supporting pro-Palestinian activists, given both movements’ opposition to U.S. government-funded militarization. She said, “if we don’t step up boldly and courageously to end the imperialist project that's called Israel, we're doomed.”

Cullors had visited Palestine as part of a delegation organized by Dream Defenders, a Florida-based grassroots organization with an “abolitionist” stance on global issues. 

Cullors resigned in May 2021 as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation in order to focus on book and television projects, according to the Associated Press.


Is an Austrian company seeking to sell US fire departments plug-in hybrid fire trucks?

An Austrian manufacturer has found at least one U.S. customer for its new plug-in hybrid fire truck, after conducting demonstrations of a concept vehicle across the country over the past two years.

Rosenbauer announced one sale, to the city of Los Angeles, last year. An April 2021 press report says the city will take delivery by the end of the year, later than the city's initial announcement indicated.

The company, a leading supplier of conventionally-powered firefighting vehicles, says the new model features a number of other useful innovations in addition to its energy usage and quieter operations when running on battery power. It is priced up to $1.2 million, according to various news reports, making it somewhat more expensive than the average comparable non-aerial fire truck, according to estimates by HowMuchIsIt, a price-comparison website.


Will taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 increase when the 2017 tax cuts expire?

Taxes are due to modestly increase across the board if Trump-era tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of 2025.

The 2017 cuts reduced individual tax rates by up to 4%, depending on income levels. Legislators set an expiration date for the cuts because of Congressional rules designed to limit the long-term impact of tax and spending changes on budget deficits.

President Biden has pledged not to raise taxes on households making less than $400,000, suggesting that he will work with Congress to extend or offset the cuts before they expire. Temporary Bush-era tax cuts were extended in 2010 and made permanent in 2012.

The center-left Tax Policy Center noted that drawing additional tax revenue only from the 5% of Americans who make $400,000 or more could make it difficult for Biden to finance his infrastructure proposals.


Did Texas authorities arrest people who violated the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions on business openings?

A few Texans were arrested in the spring of 2020 for violating state-issued COVID-19 safety orders limiting “non-essential” business operations.

Two Laredo women were arrested and detained for several hours in April after being reported to local authorities for operating a home beauty salon. A month later, a Dallas woman was jailed for two days for keeping a hair salon open in violation of the orders. She told the county judge that she needed to continue working in order to feed her children. In response to public outcries, Gov. Abbott modified his orders on May 7 to eliminate confinement as a punishment for violating the rules. “Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said.


Did medical examiners determine that US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died because of injuries caused by Capitol rioters?

The District of Columbia’s chief medical examiner ruled that U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from natural causes after suffering two strokes. Sicknick was on duty during the January 6, 2020, riot at the Capitol. He collapsed after returning to his office, was transferred to a hospital and died the next night. The examiner found that Sicknick’s death was not hastened by an injury. 

The police initially attributed his death to “injuries sustained while on-duty.”

In a Washington Post interview, the medical examiner did not dismiss the effects the riot had on his death. “All that transpired played a role in his condition,” he said.

Federal prosecutors charged two men on multiple counts for attacking officers, including Sicknick, with bear spray. The men were not charged with his death, as the medical examiner said the autopsy “found no evidence” of a reaction to the irritants.


Has a House member introduced legislation to prohibit federal agencies from issuing vaccine passports?

A Republican Congressman has proposed legislation to block federal agencies from issuing “standardized documentation” of a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status to present to private entities like restaurants or airlines. Arizona Rep. Andy Briggs, who introduced the bill, said it would also prohibit the federal government from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine in order to access government property or services. 

The bill, which was introduced April 8, 2021, is at an early stage. It has 23 co-sponsors, all Republican.


Is the UN investigating Israel for possibly committing war crimes?

On May 27, 2021, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution that included an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel. The resolution was supported by 24 states; nine opposed it and 14 did not vote. 

The ongoing independent, international commission will investigate alleged violations committed by Israel in its conflict with Hamas.

Israel claims that its deadly strikes in Gaza targeted buildings hosting armed groups. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said such actions may still be considered war crimes if no evidence suggests the targets were used for military purposes.

Israel denounced the decision and said it would “not cooperate” with the investigation. A Hamas spokesperson said Hamas’ actions were “legitimate resistance” and asked for “steps to punish” Israel.


Do polls show that public favorability towards the Black Lives Matter Movement has decreased?

Recent polls show a fall in overall support for the Black Lives Matter movement since the 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey found that in June 2020, 61% of U.S. voters viewed the BLM movement favorably. In May 2021, that number fell to 48%. During that period, support from:

  • Blacks edged up from 82% to 84%.
  • Whites fell from 56% to 42%.
  • Democrats fell from 82% to 76%.
  • Republicans fell from 36% to 16%.

A USA Today/IPSOS survey found that support for BLM fell from 60% in June 2020 to 50% in March 2021. Meanwhile, trust in law enforcement increased from 56% to 69%.

A September 2020 Pew Research survey detected early signs of eroding support. BLM support among adults fell from 67% to 55% between June 2020 and September 2020; the biggest decline was among white Republicans, whose support fell from 37% to 16%.


Are a growing number of US jurisdictions choosing not to prosecute minor thefts?

U.S. authorities are increasingly using alternatives to prosecuting minor thefts.

In 2018, Philadelphia classified thefts under $500 as “summary offenses,” which are handled out-of-court and typically result in a fine rather than jail time.

In 2019, the Dallas district attorney said he would no longer prosecute thefts valued under $750, reasoning that few people steal out of hunger and that “putting [them] in jail is not going to make their situation any better.”

District attorneys in Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Washington and Tennessee have enacted similar reforms, the Texas Tribune reports.

Brooklyn offers accused petty thieves a half-day course instead of a court appearance.

A 2021 study of a Massachusetts county’s decision not to prosecute nonviolent misdemeanors found that it reduced “the likelihood of future criminal involvement...with no apparent increase in local crime rates.”


Did Nordic settlers farm in Greenland in the 11th and 12th centuries?

For a few centuries beginning around 950, temperatures in the North Atlantic were warm enough that Norse farmers settled in Greenland. ”The colonists developed a little Europe of their own,” Archaeology Magazine wrote in 2000.

The settlements disappeared sometime in the 15th century. Archaeologists theorize that the communities tried to adapt to the onset of colder temperatures in what’s known as the “Little Ice Age.” They “failed anyway,” a University of Maryland archaeologist told Science in 2016.

They left behind a rich archaeological record, which for centuries has been preserved in permafrost. Warming in recent decades has begun to literally rot away organic materials. “What stands to be lost is a unique record of remarkably preserved material: hair textiles, human and animal bones, woods, hides, leathers,” Scientifc American noted in a 2019 report.


Does New York City jail hundreds of people on a barge moored in the Bronx?

Since 1992 New York City has been using a custom-built five-story barge docked in the Bronx as an intake center for its network of jails. Intended as a temporary solution to overcrowding in the city’s main facilities on Rikers Island, it holds up to 800 people.

Conditions on the barge have long been a focus for those advocating reform of New York’s use and management of incarceration. A former prisoner described it as “dark and cramped and sweaty” to a New York Times reporter in 2019.

Crowding on the barge contributed to the deaths of two detainees in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, according to the city agency that runs the jails. Another man died in custody at Rikers.

In 2019, the New York City Council approved a $8.7 billion plan to replace the barge as well as facilities on Rikers Island by 2026.


Does contracting measles prevent cancer?

Studies suggest that the measles virus, when engineered in a lab, shows promise as a cancer drug. But no evidence suggests that naturally contracted measles prevents cancer, and experts warn against virotherapy research influencing attitudes towards measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.

A study using mice found that exposure to engineered measles regressed ovarian tumor cells by 80%. Over 150 clinical trials of cancer patients who were administered engineered measles showed promising results for various cancers.

However, experts studying the measles virus as a potential cancer therapy say their research is being incorrectly cited as part of anti-vaccination campaigns. They note that:

  • Measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017. They unequivocally advise vaccination against MMR.
  • Evidence of measles as a cancer therapy shows the engineered virus is most effective in patients who have received the MMR vaccine.

Did IGN delete an article directing readers to Palestinian aid groups?

On May 14, 2021, an article entitled “How to Help Palestinian Civilians,” attributed to “IGN staff,” was posted on video game and entertainment media outlet IGN’s website. The article sought to “highlight the humanitarian crisis in Palestine” and the “recent...catastrophic loss of Palestinian lives.” It directed readers to “charities and organizations on the ground in those areas where you can donate funds to help those most in need.”

On May 16, the article was deleted from IGN‘s website. The next day, IGN issued a statement via Twitter about the company‘s decision, which read in part that “by highlighting only one population, the post mistakenly left the impression that we were politically aligned with one side.”

In response, more than 70 IGN staff members signed an open letter condemning IGN’s actions.


Have Iranian authorities said that they will halt all uranium enrichment if the US repeals sanctions?

Iran has never agreed to entirely stop enriching uranium, a process needed to create nuclear fuel.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said in March 2021 that Iran’s “definite policy” is that the nation will only recommit to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal, if the U.S. lifts sanctions against Iran. In the 2015 agreement Iran agreed to a 3.67% limit on uranium-235 enrichment. In May 2021, Iran began enriching uranium up to 63% following an explosion at its Natanz enrichment plant. Lower levels of enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants. Uranium enriched beyond 90% can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The U.S. withdrew from the 2015 agreement in May 2018, reimposing all sanctions on Iran that the deal had previously lifted. Iran then began violating the agreement’s terms.


Was last year’s payroll tax deferral taken up by many employers?

The Trump administration’s optional “holiday” for Social Security tax payments last fall was not widely embraced by employers outside the federal government. The measure let employers defer collecting employees’ share of the taxes for the last four months of 2020.

In September, Forbes reported that uncertainty about administering the plan led most private employers, including UPS, Costco, General Motors and many others, to opt out. The House of Representatives declined to go along for its staff, but the administration did opt all executive branch and active military employees in.

With Trump’s defeat, talk of making cuts permanent or forgiving the 2020 taxes faded. Congress did extend the payment deadline for employers from April 30 to the end of 2021. The Treasury began notifying Trump appointees who have left their jobs to repay any 2020 taxes due within 30 days.


Did Pennsylvania’s largest cities have 98% voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election?

According to the 2020 census, Philadelphia’s voting age (18+) population is approximately 1.2 million. For the 2020 presidential election, the county’s official vote tally was 749,317 ballots. This suggests that about 62% of Philadelphia's voting age population cast a ballot. Philadelphia is Pennsylvania’s largest county by population.

Also according to the 2020 census, Allegheny County’s voting age population is about 1 million. The county’s official vote tally was 724,800 ballots, suggesting about 72% of Allegheny’s voting age population cast a ballot. Allegheny, the state’s second most populous county, includes Pittsburgh.

Statewide, more than 6.9 million Pennsylvanians voted in the 2020 presidential election, translating to a voter turnout rate of 70.93% of eligible voters.

In the 2016 presidential election, Pennsylvania's voter turnout rate was 70.3%—a 0.6% difference from 2020.


Did a member of the Biden campaign team suggest that Jewish people refrain from wearing religious symbols if they fear antisemitic violence?

Aaron Keyak, Jewish Engagement Director for the Biden-Harris campaign, recently tweeted: “It pains me to say this, but if you fear for your life or physical safety take off your kippah and hide your magen david. (Obviously, if you can, ask your rabbi first.)”

A kippah is a skullcap worn by Jewish males; magen david is the Hebrew term for the Star of David, the familiar Jewish identify symbol. Keyak linked the tweet to a news report about Jewish reactions to new waves of antisemitism following an escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Keyak, who is on leave from a Washington communications firm, often uses his Twitter account to speak against antisemitism. He explained in later tweets that concealing conspicuous religious symbols in these circumstances is not a question of doubting Jewish identity, but is instead about safety.


Is Twitter reviewing its content-moderation policies for ‘world leaders’ who make inflammatory statements?

Twitter recently asked the public for input on its policies governing controversial statements made by “world leaders,” as part of a review of its “approach to world leaders.” The survey received 49,000 responses. Its current policy allows some prominent users to violate certain Twitter rules that apply to other users if “there is a clear public interest value to keeping the tweet on the service.”

Following its suspension of then-President Donald Trump at the time of the assault on the Capitol in January 2021, the company has been under increased pressure to act when other political figures make statements deemed similarly inflammatory. One leader often singled out is the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who is associated with several accounts on Twitter that have been repeatedly accused of promoting violence, hate and misinformation.


Does a new federal program offering loan relief to farmers of color face legal challenges?

White farmers and conservative groups are suing to include white farmers in a $4 billion farm loan relief program enacted in March. The relief is limited to “socially disadvantaged” farmers who are Black or members of other ethnic minority groups, in what Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack has called a response to “decades of systemic discrimination” by government programs.

Most of the $23 billion in pandemic relief to producers during 2020 went to white producers, according to Successful Farming.

One group suing to block the move was founded by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and other former Trump officials. Their suit, filed in a Texas district court, charges the exclusion of whites from the program is “patently unconstitutional.” Another group of white farmers has sued in Wisconsin.

REVISED on June 2, 2021, to restate aims of lawsuits.


Are children legally required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to go back to school?

There is currently no federal law requiring children to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to school.

While all 50 states have the power to mandate vaccines for children wishing to attend a K-12 public school, no state currently requires children to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for school entry. A law professor specializing in school-mandated vaccines doubts that any state legislature will push for such a measure this year given that “it takes political capital, and my bet is that legislators will not even try until they can do it for children aged 5 and up.”

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved COVID-19 vaccines for children 12 and older. Trials are ongoing for children younger than 12.

A consultant helping with school vaccination efforts told CNBC that “this is going to be a school district by school district decision.”


Does the federal government have direct authority over home schooling?

The Constitution did not grant the federal government any explicit authority over education, so home schooling, like other kinds of schooling, is mostly a matter for the states.

The federal government can and does seek to indirectly influence state and local policy by placing conditions on various forms of federal funding. The last serious consideration of any measure that would affect home schooling appears to have been in 1994. State regulations today vary widely. “Fewer than half require any kind of evaluation or testing of home-schooled children,” ProPublica reported in 2015.

At least one prominent critic, at Harvard Law, has called on the Biden administration to improve regulatory oversight, but the administration has not disclosed any such plans. Proposed legislation that would expand access to pre-K and community college makes no particular mention of home schooling.


Has there been an increase in antisemitic violence in New York City following the recent escalation of Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

The Anti-Defamation League, which fights antisemitism, has tracked an increase in both physical and online attacks against Jewish people around the world, including New York City, since the escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict in early May 2021. The ADL says it received 193 reports of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in the week following the outbreak of the crisis, compared to 131 the week before.

The increased violence prompted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to condemn the “brutal attacks on visibly Jewish New Yorkers.” During clashing pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests on May 20, at least 26 people were arrested, including individuals suspected of beating a man wearing a yarmulke, a traditional Jewish head covering. 

Reporting of related hate crimes from official sources, such as New York’s police department, has yet to be updated.


Did pro-Israel groups donate $28 million to Congressional candidates in 2020?

In the 2020 campaign pro-Israel groups donated $28 million to Congressional candidates. The largest individual Senate recipient, with more than $1 million in donations, was incumbent Republican David Purdue, who lost to the no. 2 recipient, Democrat Jon Ossoff. The other defeated Georgia Republican, Kelly Loeffler, was the no. 3 recipient; her challenger, Raphael Warnock, ranked no. 5.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who ran unopposed, ranked 20th, raising $145,877. About 60% of the total went to Democrats, according to tabulations of federal data by Open Secrets.

Barred from directly contributing to campaigns, foreign governments instead court influence through U.S. allies and supporters. Pro-Israel donors include the Republican Jewish Coalition, JStreetPAC and Pro-Israel America PAC, as well as individuals. Pro-Israel donors have given $167 million to 4,989 Congressional candidates since 1990.


Has the Biden White House declined to speculate about the origins of the coronavirus?

The Biden administration says it continues to press China to cooperate with efforts to track down the source of the coronavirus, but declines to join in widespread speculation about how the pandemic began. “We don’t have enough information at this point to make an assessment,” Jen Psaki, the president’s chief spokesperson, said in a May 20, 2021, briefing.

Some scientists say the theory that the virus “leaked” from a research lab in China, either intentionally or accidentally, is worth investigating given circumstantial evidence. Some politicians, including former President Trump, have openly endorsed that theory.

”We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” a group of scientists wrote in a recent letter published in a leading U.S. academic journal.


Does the standard coronavirus test use a single globally-agreed measure of viral presence for determining positivity?

The standard tests for confirming infection with the coronavirus, known as polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, yield a specific measurement of the viral "load" in any given sample. Labs calculate what's called a "Ct" value for each sample. A low value indicates a high risk that someone is infectious to others. A high value indicates little presence and little risk.

But there is no single agreed number to apply universally, as varying methods affect values among tests and laboratories. Most public health authorities recommend against reporting out specific Ct values without careful interpretation. Some experts say this has resulted in overly restrictive quarantine policies, which could be more flexible with greater testing frequency and rigor.

As of March 2021, Taiwan authorities allow positive travelers to leave isolation if their test result has a Ct value of 34 or higher.


Are executives at a defense contractor under investigation for possibly illegal campaign contributions to Sen. Susan Collins?

According to a search warrant application obtained by Axios, executives at Martin Defense Group (formerly Navatek) are being investigated in connection with more than $150,000 in allegedly illegal contributions to the 2020 reelection campaign of Maine Sen. Susan Collins. Federal contractors are barred from making political contributions to campaigns for federal office. Martin executives are being investigated for reimbursing family members for contributions to the Collins campaign, which would also be illegal because it is considered to be “making donations in the name of another.”

The donations occurred after Collins helped the company secure an $8 million government contract. Axios said “there was no indication that Collins or her team were aware of any of it.” A Collins spokesperson told Axios that the campaign had no knowledge of anything alleged in the warrant.


Are some states moving to limit teaching about concepts associated with ‘critical race theory’?

Critical race theory examines anti-Black racism through history, law and culture. Proponents argue that confronting topics such as slavery, Jim Crow laws and white supremacy promotes racial justice while opponents argue that it paints America as “inherently evil” and sows racial division.

CBS News counts “nearly a dozen states [that] want to ban critical race theory in schools.”

Earlier this month, Idaho became the first state to prohibit teachings of concepts allegedly promoted by CRT, including blaming individuals in the present for past acts of members of their race.

Last year, the Trump administration banned federal funding for workplace training programs incorporating CRT. Following a House committee report that many federal agencies, universities and companies had curtailed diversity and inclusion training, President Biden revoked the ban on his first day in office.


Do critics challenge the sustainability of biomass as a fuel for generating electricity?

The benefits of converting coal-fired power-generating plants to biomass fuel sources are disputed by some scientists, although European energy policies have encouraged the practice.

Objections rest on complex evolving assessments of the interaction of forest regrowth and carbon dioxide absorption. It takes a long time to regrow wood used for fuel, perhaps too long for the source to be considered truly carbon-neutral. An M.I.T. expert, John Sterman, tells Physics World that burning wood “produces more CO2 than if the power station had remained coal-fired.”

A U.K. plant run by the Drax Group has converted most of its generating capacity from coal to biomass, burning wood pellets, and points out that the wood pellets it uses are mostly obtained from wood byproducts and waste. The plant burns more wood in a year than the U.K. produces, and imports its supply from the U.S.


Have geneticists discovered remains of an ancient human whose parents were two different species?

Paleontologists discovered that two different species of humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans, interbred when they found genetic traces of both in a 90,000-year-old bone sample of a teenage female. Nature first published the discovery in 2018.

While scientists have long suspected that the species had mixed, the discovery was the first time a direct offspring was identified. The remains, which were found in Denisova cave in Siberia, suggest that the species mixing was common at the time, and help scientists understand where and when these ancient humans migrated. The DNA from the teenager’s mother, a later Neanderthal descendent from Europe, suggests that Neanderthals migrated across Eurasia “sometime after 120,000 years ago.”

Unlike Neanderthals, whose remains are more common, the understanding of Denisovans come from three teeth and a pinky finger, all discovered in the Siberian cave.


Does the US have definitive numbers of how many unvaccinated people have natural COVID-19 antibodies?

There is no precise tally of how many unvaccinated Americans may carry natural COVID-19 antibodies acquired through exposure to the virus.

The Red Cross has tested 3.3 million unvaccinated blood donors for COVID-19 antibodies. Between June 2020 and March 2021, 7.5% of all those sampled had antibodies present; in the first week of March 2021, the figure was 20%, as the figure has risen over time. Blood donors are not a random sample of unvaccinated Americans, the report notes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one-third of Americans have been infected. Natural immunity is expected to last about eight months after infection, but varies among individuals.

COVID-19 cases are thought to be underreported, and scientists don't know for certain how antibodies protect against variants, but early research looks promising.


Is Tesla’s carbon footprint 10 times larger than Bitcoin’s?

According to available data, Tesla does not have a carbon footprint ten times larger than Bitcoin. In fact, the electric car maker’s carbon footprint is significantly smaller.

In 2019, Tesla released its first “impact” report, based on internal data collected from 2017. Summarizing the report, Bloomberg stated that Tesla emitted an estimated 282,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide worldwide “directly and indirectly, across its facilities, energy operations, network of car chargers and sales and delivery services.”

The energy research journal Joule reported in 2019 that Bitcoin’s “annual carbon emissions range from 22.0 to 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

The computing power required to support Bitcoin, an encrypted digital currency, accounts for 0.69% of global energy consumption. If Bitcoin were a country, its energy needs would rank 26th in the world.


Are most cryptocurrency operations powered by electricity from non-renewable sources?

Non-renewable energy powers most of the computer processing that supports the circulation of cryptocurrencies, digital money using encrypted transaction data.

Cambridge’s Center for Alternative Finance estimates that in 2020, 39% of the “cryptoasset industry” was fueled by renewable energy, most of which is hydroelectric.

Electricity to power computers is the main cost of cryptocurrency “mining” operations that support the systems. Miners of Bitcoin, for instance, verify groups of Bitcoin transactions called “blocks” on a digital ledger called the “blockchain.” To encrypt a block, miners must convert the data into a code called a “hash.” Generating a suitable hash involves trial and error by powerful, energy-intensive computers; the first miner to generate a suitable hash for each block is rewarded with Bitcoin. The network attempts to produce one block every 10 minutes.


Did a Senate committee block McConnell’s attempt to redirect proposed congressional campaign funding to address opioid abuse?

Republican Senators in committee proposed more than 100 amendments to an expansive Democrat-backed election reform bill. One, proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, would have redirected new funding for congressional election campaigns to efforts to address the nation's opioid epidemic. The amendment didn’t win the required majority.

The campaign funding provision in the bill would allow candidates to opt into accepting public funding, a step intended to diminish the influence of special interests. Other provisions in the legislation address early voting, absentee voting and voter registration. The House has passed the bill, but its prospects of passage by the Senate remain uncertain given strong Republican opposition.


Do a small number of patients carry high loads of the coronavirus even if they don’t show any symptoms?

Multiple studies have found that people showing no COVID-19 symptoms can carry as much of a transmissible load of the coronavirus as evidently ill patients. Since the load, or amount of virus present in an infected person’s body, is the biggest factor in transmitting the disease, this adds to the challenge of trying to track and manage the spread of COVID-19.

Studies published in leading medical journals in the U.S. and the U.K. have found viral presence to be similar whether infected people are symptomatic or asymptomatic. A third study found that “viral loads of asymptomatic patients were...significantly higher.”

A 2021 study noted that high viral loads are concentrated among a very small number of infected people, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, for reasons not yet understood. “Just 2% of infected individuals carry 90% of the virions circulating within communities,” it found.


Do some states allow incarcerated minors to be held in solitary confinement?

In 2016, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for minors in federal prisons, but as of 2020 states including Florida, Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi still allowed the practice.

The District of Columbia and 18 states have passed laws limiting or prohibiting solitary confinement of minors, while other states have limited its use through administrative code, policy or court rules.

Solitary confinement is defined under United Nations rules as spending at least 22 or more hours of the day in isolation. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology has linked the practice to higher rates of suicide and potential consequences such as depression and psychosis.

Overall, the number of incarcerated youths in the U.S. has fallen 60% since 2000, reflecting a variety of factors including lower juvenile crime rates and policy responses to evidence about the system’s results.


Does President Biden’s infrastructure plan propose the creation of thousands of new agencies?

The fact sheet detailing President Biden’s infrastructure plan, officially titled the American Jobs Plan, makes no mention of creating new agencies. Proposals for new entities mentioned in the plan include the following:

  • “200 centers of excellence” to provide opportunities “for underserved populations.”
  • An office in the Department of Commerce focused on overseeing “domestic industrial capacity” and investing in the production of goods.
  • A “financing program” supporting “debt and equity investments for manufacturing.”

The plan also mentions partnering with existing agencies to achieve shared goals, like:

  • Working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to make school bus fleets clean.
  • Investing in the EPA’s effort to replace lead pipes.
  • Distributing funds across federal research agencies to improve capacity.

The plan will not take effect unless enacted by Congress.


Does a former FBI agent face felony charges arising from his role in a 2018 investigation of Missouri’s governor?

An ex-FBI agent faces charges arising from his conduct in a 2018 probe of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. Greitens resigned after an ex-lover accused him of sexual assault and taking an explicit photo of her without consent.

A St. Louis prosecutor, Kimberly M. Gardener, hired William Tisaby to help investigate the allegations against Greitens. The case was dropped. Greitens is now running for the Senate in 2022.

The prosecutor faces ethics charges in a disciplinary proceeding arising from her conduct of the case. Tisaby faces seven felony charges, six for perjury and one for evidence tampering, arising from disputed circumstances around an interview with Greitens’ alleged victim.

Tisaby denies the charges. His trial was delayed by the pandemic, and a date has not yet been set.


Did the US government mistakenly send COVID-19 relief payments to noncitizens living abroad?

The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly delivered some coronavirus relief payments to some ineligible noncitizens living overseas.

A Treasury review noted that as of May 2020, the IRS had issued almost 28,000 relief payments totaling $34 million to people who filed taxes from a foreign address. The report details a variety of other errors in determining eligibility for the payments, including payments to noncitizens residing in the U.S. who did not meet the requirements relating to previous tax payments. It notes that the IRS asks recipients of any unintended payments to return them voluntarily.

In November, the IRS acknowledged its responsibility for some erroneous payments made to noncitizens living abroad. Some noncitizens received the payments because the agency already paid them regular Social Security payments arising from their previous work in the U.S.


Did the Kansas legislature override the governor’s veto of a new voting law?

On May 3, 2021, the Republican-controlled Kansas legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill establishing new rules for absentee ballots. The bill makes it a misdemeanor for an individual to deliver more than ten absentee ballots on behalf of other voters during an election. It also requires that signatures on absentee ballots match what the state has on file.

Voting rights advocates argue that the law will make voting more difficult for people who rely on others to deliver their ballots, including disabled people and the elderly. Signature matching has also been criticized for disenfranchising voters. Proponents think the bill will make the voting process more secure.

“There remains no evidence of significant voter fraud in Kansas,” Gov. Kelly said in her veto message. “This bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”


Did a Facebook advisory panel decline to overturn the company’s suspension of Trump’s account?

On May 5, 2021, an independent expert panel created by Facebook to rule on controversial policy questions declined to restore Donald Trump’s access to the platform. The panel told the company to review the matter and come to a final, “proportionate” and “consistent” response within six months.

Facebook banned Trump on January 7, citing him for “encouraging violence during the Capitol riot” in violation of its standards. The panel said the indefinite term of the ban was “not appropriate” as there were no clear rules or procedure supporting the decision.

“We decided that Facebook was both right and wrong,” one panel member, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, said. The ban was right given Trump’s posts about the riot; the indefinite term was wrong. “Just to say indefinite gives too much power to Facebook.”

Facebook, under rules it set up, has 30 days to respond to the panel.


Are University of California students joining students at other universities and demanding the abolition of campus police?

The Cops Off Campus Coalition, which advocates for abolishing campus police nationwide, organized events on all nine University of California campuses, among other schools, throughout what the organization calls "Abolition May." The coalition also advocates for returning "indigenous lands to indigenous hands," and free tuition and economic security for all students.

Cops Off Campus Coalition organized a "nationwide day of refusal" on May 3, 2021, where participants halted all school and work in support of campus police abolition.

Northwestern University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, University of Iowa and New York University have all circulated open letters and petitions calling for their administration to cut ties with police, according to Inside Higher Ed.

At least one community college in California has already removed police from its campus, according to CalMatters.


Are scientists working to understand the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on transmission of the coronavirus?

COVID-19 vaccines protect individuals from contracting the disease, but scientists continue to look for stronger evidence that they can impede transmission of the coronavirus that causes the disease.

The data so far suggests at least some benefit. An Israeli study found that vaccinated people carry a lower “load” of the virus, suggesting a potential for reduced transmission. A U.S. study, awaiting peer review, found that household members of vaccinated health care workers were at lower infection risk than household members of unvaccinated workers.

Results from another modeling study suggest that the initial vaccines may not fully prevent transmission by vaccinated individuals, particularly when the vaccinations begin late in an ongoing outbreak. In addition, uncertainties remain around the roles of asymptomatic carriers, as well as seasonal effects on immunity.


Is Michigan considering new rules that could allow it to extend some coronavirus restrictions indefinitely?

In April 2021, Michigan extended pandemic-related emergency regulations for businesses for a further six months. Business groups have expressed concern about a further state regulatory change that would allow authorities to apply the same rules after the October 14 expiration of the emergency. A draft regulation from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration reads in part: “Within 21 days of the expiration or rescission of any remaining emergency order issued for COVID-19...the department shall examine the continued need for these COVID-19 rules.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says adoption of the rule would “adversely impact jobs and hurt the economy.” The rules don’t reflect more recent federal and scientific advice and lack a “concrete sunset provision,” the chamber says.

The state has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed changes for May 26.


Is the Biden administration claiming progress in dealing with the influx of migrants at the southern border?

In an April 30 interview with NBC, President Biden asserted that his administration has made progress in managing a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors taken into custody after being apprehended crossing the border. “We've now gotten control,” he said, when asked about the record numbers.

The number of unaccompanied minors in the custody of the Border Patrol dropped 88% between late March and early May, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The average stay for unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody has dropped from 130 hours in March to 20 hours. Families have also begun to be reunited.

In April the overall number of migrants apprehended at the border remained high. Two news organizations, citing Border Patrol sources, report that the number in April was only slightly lower than March’s 172,000, but showed signs of leveling off.


Are many county sheriffs able to take openly partisan positions on the issues?

Since sheriffs occupy an elected post with dual local and state responsibility, they exercise independent decision-making with relatively few checks on their power. Such a position allows them to engage in partisan political activities more or less openly.

Although the Office of the Special Counsel notes that using authority as sheriff to influence elections is a violation of the Hatch Act, that hasn't stopped some sheriffs from talking politics.

Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida—a historically Republican area—has held his post since 2004. In December 2020, the Trump administration appointed Judd to the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In July 2020, Judd was reelected to his seat as sheriff when nobody ran against him. “It appears that you are stuck with me for a little while longer,” his newsletter read. Judd is up for reelection in 2024.


Did Iowa return $95 million in coronavirus relief money to the federal government?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds sent back more than $95 million in federal aid granted for “surveillance testing” in Iowa schools.

In a letter to the Centers for Disease Control, the state’s public health department stated that Iowa “has ample funding and testing capacity available to school districts in Iowa” and “will be declining the funding...in the amount of $95,029,161.”

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican, stated that the money came with “strings attached” and that “with the federal debt out of control...if we're not going to use it in the right ways, we shouldn't be spending it.”

State Auditor Rob Sand objected to the decision, highlighting that the “money could have created hundreds of strong-paying jobs to administer and assist in testing at schools.”

In the same letter, IDPH reported that it already has about $1.4 billion that could be used to fund testing.


Did Democrats try to cheat in a close Iowa congressional election?

Democrat Rita Hart contested her narrow defeat in the 2020 election in Iowa's Second Congressional District following a process outlined by federal law. Hart filed a notice of contest, allowing the House of Representatives to claim jurisdiction over the dispute and the House Administration Committee to begin an investigation.

The House through its history has heard and resolved many contested elections. Hart lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by a margin of 47 votes in the initial results and six votes in the recount. Hart contended that election officials improperly excluded ballots during the canvass and that the recount did not comply with state and federal laws.

On March 31, 2021, Hart withdrew her election challenge, citing a ”toxic campaign of political disinformation” about the review by Republicans. Miller-Meeks said “it was gracious of her to concede.”


Is the majority of Bitcoin owned by relatively few investors?

According to Bloomberg, around 2% of Bitcoin addresses own 95% of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

The cryptocurrency analyst Glassnode offers the caveat that “one address can hold funds from...millions of users.” In an alternative measure based on Bitcoin ownership brackets, Glassnode found that:

  • The largest 2,220 investors (>1,000 Bitcoins) accounted for about a third of the Bitcoin supply.
  • 11,500 medium-sized investors (100-1,000 Bitcoins) accounted for about 18%.
  • 643,000 small investors (1-100 Bitcoins) accounted for about 22%.
  • 22 million "shrimp" investors (<1 Bitcoin) accounted for about 5%.
  • The remainder was accounted for by 51,000 Bitcoin miners and 15 exchanges.

While noting that both small and large Bitcoin investment are on the rise, Glassnode concluded that “around 2% of network entities control 71.5% of all Bitcoin” in an upper-bound estimate.


Are some Democrats asking the FCC to block the sale of a Miami radio station to a more conservative-leaning owner?

Some Congressional Democrats are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to review the pending sale of a Spanish-language radio station in Miami, saying the new owner would tilt the station’s voice to the right. The station, WSUA, is being sold to América CV, a broadcasting group known for steering “firmly conservative,” and has already dropped a popular talk-show host who is a Democrat.

The FCC cannot allow “conservative media to lead Spanish-language misinformation campaigns on Florida’s Latino communities,” tweeted Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat from central Florida.

The senior Republican on the five-member FCC responded that the agency “has no business...using our regulatory process to censor political opinions that Democrats do not like.” Given the agency’s free-speech stance, “there’s little if any chance” of the FCC blocking the sale, another Miami station reported.


Is there evidence that asking children to wear masks at school reduces the spread of the coronavirus?

While evidence remains limited, several studies from around the U.S. and from other countries link mask requirements for schoolchildren to lower rates of coronavirus transmission. An analysis of Florida schools observed higher rates of transmission in districts without mandatory masking policies.

The evidence has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise that universal masking is effective, especially when physical distancing is not possible. The agency recommends that all children two years and older wear masks. Cloth masks have not been found to produce adverse health effects in children, as long as they do not live with physical or mental conditions that could be exacerbated by wearing masks.

The CDC recently altered its advice for wearing masks in uncrowded outdoor settings, but continues to stress the importance of wearing masks in indoor settings.


Is Michigan falling short of its COVID-19 vaccination goals?

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed in Michigan as in other states, recently running well behind a goal of 100,000 daily shots. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set the target in late February, and linked further easing of pandemic restrictions to continuing progress.

According to the Detroit Free Press, vaccinations peaked at an average of 96,000 daily shots in the week ending April 11. In the week ending April 29, vaccinations averaged 66,000 per day, 34% below the goal.

The Free Press reported that Republicans in the state legislature, who object to Whitman’s policies, could offer the governor increased control over pandemic relief funds in exchange for a more immediate easing of restrictions.

The pace of vaccinations has declined across the U.S. in recent weeks. The U.S. reported administration of 2.55 million vaccine doses on April 30, down 24% from a high of 3.38 million on April 13.


Does a video from Ohio’s health department correctly list the ingredients in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine?

A 30-second video, part of Ohio’s COVID-19 vaccination promotion effort, features an immunologist who heads a Columbus science museum explaining the vaccine contains “just a few simple ingredients”—water, sugar, salt, fats, and “building blocks for proteins.”

The list is most complete for Pfizer’s formulation. Both it and Moderna’s vaccine contain the same mRNA protein “building block,” plus lipids (fats) and sucrose (sugar). They both contain saline solution (water and salt), but use different types of salts. Moderna’s vaccine includes acids.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the third authorized for use in the U.S., includes most of the same ingredients, but instead of mRNA relies on the “harmless version of a different virus” to produce the antibodies that protect against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.


Did the CDC change the laboratory standard for determining a positive coronavirus test result?

Claims that the Centers for Disease Control has changed its coronavirus testing standards are based erroneously on instructions for labs submitting coronavirus specimens for sequencing in further research. CDC standards for determining whether someone has been infected by the virus haven’t changed.

The CDC is asking labs to screen for specimens with relatively high “viral loads” in order to help study so-called “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people. To determine the load, scientists look at a figure called cycle threshold. Generally, a lower figure indicates a higher viral load, facilitating more accurate and complete examination of the virus.

The relationship between a specific threshold and symptoms and progression of COVID-19 disease are not yet well understood. Higher thresholds continue to be used in general testing for the presence of the virus.


Has there been corroboration of a report that John Kerry shared Israeli military secrets with Iran?

An assertion by Iran’s foreign minister that John Kerry shared Israeli military secrets with Iran has not been corroborated. Kerry, currently the Biden administration’s climate envoy, called the claim “unequivocally false.”

London-based broadcaster Iran International said it obtained leaked audio of the Iranian minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stating that “Foreign Secretary John Kerry...told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria.”

The broadcaster said Zarif’s statement is “not very credible,” given other media reports about Israeli attacks in Syria dating back to 2017. In July 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard on a hot mic stating that he had targeted Iran-backed Hezbollah in Syria “dozens of times.” A 2018 speech by an Israeli intelligence official confirmed that the country had conducted more than 200 attacks over two years.


Do recent polls find that most Americans think the 2020 election was fairly decided?

Recent polls find that most Americans think the 2020 presidential election was fairly decided, though a majority of Republicans disagree.

In late April, CBS News found that 68% of 2,527 adults polled believe Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 contest. Earlier in April, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 57% of more than 1,000 surveyed people believe the election was legitimate. In February, a Rasmussen Reports poll also found that 57% of 918 likely voters said the election was fair.

CBS found that 97% of Democrats and 69% of independents thought Biden won legitimately. The Reuters poll found that 89% of Democrats and 53% of independents thought similarly.

Most Republicans say they disagree: 32% of Republicans surveyed by CBS and 27% of those surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos believed Biden won fairly. Rasmussen found that 61% of Republicans said the election was not fair.


Do many US state governors have medical degrees?

One U.S. state governor, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, has a medical degree.

Far more common are law degrees, on the resumes of 17 governors, including 11 Democrats and six Republicans, according to a count in February 2021 by Ballotpedia.

Ballotpedia relies on official biographies for its data, which in two states don’t include the college experiences of their leaders. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and has been a major donor to his alma mater.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson doesn’t disclose his education on the state’s website. He attended the University of Hawaii and the University of Maryland, but did not graduate from a four-year college.


Was Gawker’s legal defeat in the Hulk Hogan sex-tape case an outlier among similar cases?

In 2013, pro wrestler Hulk Hogan—under his real name, Terry Bollea—sued Gawker, a blog, for publishing a 90-second clip of him having sex with a friend’s wife. A Florida jury ruled in Bollea's favor, surprising legal observers as similar lawsuits by celebrities against media organizations most often fail on First Amendment grounds. “The Florida ruling will almost certainly be overturned on appeal,” Fortune magazine predicted.

Rather than face what might be an expensive appeal, Gawker’s owner paid Bollea $32 million to settle the case. Bollea’s suit was funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, who had apparently taken offense at earlier coverage of his own private life by Gawker’s publisher.

U.S. courts in such cases tend to favor the publisher over a public figure alleging privacy violations, as in ex-Congresswoman Katie Hill’s recent loss suing outlets that published nude photos of herself.


Are recent court rulings against former House member Katie Hill consistent with free-speech precedents?

Recent rulings by a Los Angeles County judge against former Congresswoman Katie Hill cited various precedents for free speech protections in denying her claims arising from the publication of her nude photos that were published without her consent.

Hill sued Britain’s Daily Mail and Red State, a conservative political blog, arguing that they violated California’s revenge-porn law by publishing the photographs. The court ruled in favor of the publishers, finding that her conduct in office was a subject of public interest and that her suits violated a state law banning actions infringing free speech known as an anti-SLAPP law (for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”).

The ruling cited multiple prior decisions which relied on the protections afforded media by the anti-SLAPP law.


Have COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths tended to be lower in Wisconsin than in Michigan since the pandemic began?

Wisconsin has recorded fewer deaths and hospitalizations relative to population that neighboring Michigan during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the onset of the disease, Wisconsin has experienced fewer COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents than Michigan—127 compared to 182—despite a greater number of reported cases per 100,000 residents. Between March 2020 and March 2021, Michigan consistently reported more hospitalizations per million residents than Wisconsin, except for two months in the fall.

Michigan has experienced a renewed surge in infections in recent weeks, leading to the worst current outbreak in the U.S. by most measures. In the week ending April 23, the state reported the third-highest amount of deaths per 100,000 residents of any state. As of April 19, Wisconsin reported 62 hospitalizations per million residents, compared with 423 per million in Michigan.


Is the USPS monitoring social media posts?

The law-enforcement arm of the postal service has been monitoring social media for “inflammatory material” and sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, according to Yahoo News. Yahoo published a March 16, 2021, “Situational Awareness Bulletin” describing a Facebook group, “WorldWideDemonstration,” planning a protest for March 20.

The surveillance effort is known as the Internet Covert Operations Program, and is run by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service—“the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” officials told Yahoo News. The agency employs 1,289 officers who enforce laws concerning the postal system, according to a 2019 report. These officers “carry firearms, make arrests, execute federal search warrants, and serve subpoenas.”


Did the FBI label the death of the Congressional baseball shooting gunman a ‘suicide by cop’?

In 2017, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson opened fire on Congressional Republicans practicing for an annual baseball match against Democrats. Hodgkinson shot and seriously wounded GOP Whip Steve Scalise, and the Capitol Police killed Hodgkinson. Politico recently reported that lawmakers were privately informed that the FBI ruled Hodgkinson’s death a “suicide by cop,” meaning Hodgkinson perpetrated the act with the intention of getting killed.

Some lawmakers objected to the ruling, claiming the attack was politically motivated. The FBI previously made note of “anti-Republican views” on Hodgkinson's social media and a witness account of Hodgkinson asking a lawmaker if the Democrats or the Republicans were practicing the morning of the shooting.

Separately, the FBI reported that “you could tell things were not going well” in Hodgkinson’s life at the time.


Did Michigan’s governor travel to Florida in March?

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer disclosed that she made a two-day trip to Florida sometime in March, provoking more criticism of her leadership.

In an April 20 Washington Post interview, Whitmer said she made the trip to visit her father, who suffers from a chronic illness. She noted that the trip was the third she has taken since the pandemic began. The others were to visit National Guard troops following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and to the presidential inauguration.

A spokesperson for Whitmer said that the Florida trip occurred “when Michigan’s daily positivity rate was in the low single digits” and that she followed all health guidelines. Republican critics accused the governor of taking a “tropical vacation,” showing “rampant hypocrisy” given official warnings against unnecessary travel as the state recorded levels of coronavirus infections in recent weeks.


Did the House block a measure requiring detained migrants to receive a negative COVID-19 test before release?

The House of Representatives in March declined to consider a bill sponsored by two Republican members that would require immigrants detained at the border to have a negative coronavirus test before being released.

The measure would have required a negative coronavirus test for migrants released from the custody of border authorities, as well as those placed in “an alternative to detention program” within 30 days of entry.

One of the bill’s sponsors cited fears that a lack of testing would help spread COVID-19 beyond border communities, although increasing vaccination rates across the U.S. are reducing overall risks. In a March 10 report headlined “No evidence migrants at border significantly spreading virus,” the Associated Press found that doctors near the border said a surge in immigration was “far from the biggest factor” in the continuing spread of the disease.


Did Florida pass a law enforcing collection of taxes on online purchases from out-of-state merchants?

Florida recently enacted a law enforcing collection of taxes due on online sales by out-of-state merchants, requiring sellers to collect the taxes at the time of a transaction. The move follows a 2018 Supreme Court ruling confirming that states could enforce sales-tax collection on transactions with sellers based in other states.

The measure is expected to cost Floridians an estimated $40-$50 annually, raising $1 billion of new revenue to rebuild the state’s depleted unemployment compensation fund. “To be clear, these taxes are owed already,” Jared Walczak, a Tax Foundation researcher, noted.

The timing of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of the bill, late at night and without the media attention sought for some more popular legislation, generated comment from the Republican governor’s political opponents.


Is there evidence that Facebook users in the EU see more misinformation about COVID-19 than users in the US?

The nonprofit Avaaz recently published research arguing Facebook does a much poorer job at labeling misinformation about the coronavirus in Europe than in the U.S. The company’s “‘America First’ approach to fighting misinformation fails to protect European citizens,” the group said.

Its findings were similar to those of a 2020 survey by NewsGuard, a content-rating service, of Facebook misinformation “super-spreaders,” which found Facebook’s enforcement in Europe was “far lower.”

Research last year by Cambridge University researchers on levels of acceptance of misinformation about COVID-19 provides tangential support for these findings. The study found that citizens in Ireland and Spain (as well as Mexico) were more likely to accept the unproved claim that “the coronavirus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan” than citizens in the U.K. and the U.S.


Does the trend of U.K. deaths from COVID-19 cast doubt on the vaccines’ efficacy?

The U.K. began administering the first COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020. Meanwhile, cases continued to surge to record levels in the following month.

As vaccinated people take weeks to develop full immunity, and it takes time to get the vaccine to all who need it, the impact of vaccines took some time to be realized. It has become much clearer in recent weeks. Deaths from COVID-19 have fallen from around 1,200 a day at the January peak to about 20 per day recently. The U.K. began easing its tight lockdown in mid-April.

U.K. data is not immediately available about so-called “breakthrough” infections of fully-vaccinated people. A small number is to be expected as vaccines are not 100% effective. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control says that as of April 20 it has received reports of 77 deaths related to symptomatic COVID-19 among 87 million vaccinated Americans.


Did William Barr block Derek Chauvin’s attempt to plead guilty to murdering George Floyd in 2020?

Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin was prepared to plea guilty to third-degree murder just days after choking George Floyd to death last May. But Chauvin’s plea deal was rejected by then-Attorney General William Barr, the New York Times confirmed with three law enforcement officials in February 2021.

Officials told the New York Times that Chauvin sought the deal to avoid federal civil rights charges, while Barr rejected the deal to avoid appearing too “lenient.”

These findings were independently corroborated by Justice Department officials to NBC News and law enforcement officials to AP News.

Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on April 20, 2021. Chauvin pressed his knee to George Floyd’s neck for nine consecutive minutes, while Floyd repeatedly pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.


Do most states set unemployment benefits above the federal minimum wage?

Each state sets its own rules regarding unemployment benefits, including benefit duration and maximum benefit amounts. Only six states cap their unemployment benefits at a level below the federal $7.25 hourly minimum wage, according to a CNBC analysis that used average benefit data from the Department of Labor.

In practice, the analysis found that in July 2020, the average claimant received an unemployment benefit less than the federal minimum wage in 22 states. This suggests that last July, 28 states paid out more in unemployment benefits than a minimum wage job would have, assuming a 40-hour work week.

In addition to state benefits, the federal government has temporarily funded additional benefits to provide relief for unemployed Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. A $300-per-week pandemic unemployment supplement was recently extended to Sept. 6, 2021.


Did US suicide rates decline in the second quarter of 2020?

The suicide rate declined through the first half of 2020, countering some expectations about the impact of the pandemic.

The rate was 13.4 per 100,000 people in 2020’s second quarter, down from 14.1/100,000 in the first quarter, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. The rate averaged 14.5/100,000 in 2019, and had steadily increased since 2000. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that historically pandemics have often been followed by a higher suicide rate, and that the COVID-19 pandemic heightens some risk factors such as economic stress, social isolation and barriers to mental health treatment.

In some past epidemics, suicide rates improved before worsening, reflecting a “honeymoon period” or a “pulling together” phenomenon, according to Johns Hopkins.

The CDC has not yet made more recent data available.


Has the COVID-19 vaccine killed more people in the US than gun violence?

The COVID-19 vaccine has been linked to, at most, the death of one American. So far in 2021, 12,906 Americans have died from gun violence.

A woman who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine later died from a serious blood-clotting condition, leading the federal government to temporarily pause the rollout of that particular vaccine. Experts continue to investigate the potential link between the vaccine and the clotting condition.

In 2020, 43,550 people died from all gun violence-related causes, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The figures don’t break down the violence by type of weapon. The Rockefeller Institute of Government reports that assault rifles were used in 67 of 340 U.S. mass shootings between 1966 and 2016, resulting in 351 deaths. On average, mass shootings with assault rifles were more deadly than mass shootings with other guns.


Would a recently proposed bill allow Democratic appointees to gain a majority on the Supreme Court?

Four Democrats have introduced a bill to add four new justices to the nine now serving on the Supreme Court. Passage in the current Congress would allow President Biden to name four new judges, resulting in a 7-6 majority of Democratic appointees, assuming all nominees are confirmed while Democrats have control of the Senate.

Congress set the size of the court at six members in 1789, expanding it to nine in 1869, one for each circuit court of appeals. The bill’s sponsors note that with 13 judges there would again be a justice for each of what are now 13 appeals courts.

After increasingly contentious battles over recent court appointments, the Republican drive to confirm Amy Coney Barrett just before the November election fueled a debate about changes to the court’s structure. President Biden has appointed a commission to study the matter, with a report due in six months.


Is blood clotting more likely from contracting COVID-19 than getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Oxford University researchers compared incidence of a rare clotting condition—known as CVT, or cerebral venous thrombosis—among people suffering from COVID-19 and other groups. The disease itself places people at far greater clotting-related risks than do any of the three vaccines studied.

  • CVT occurred at a rate of 39 per million among COVID-19 patients.
  • CVT occurred at a rate of about 5 in a million among recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
  • CVT occurred at a rate of about 4 per million among recipients of a first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (the type offered by Pfizer or Moderna).

Data continues to accumulate as more vaccines are given.

Six cases of another type of CVT clotting, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, were reported among 6.8 million U.S. recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. U.S. authorities have paused administration of that vaccine pending further reviews.


Is consensual incest illegal in most states?

Consensual incest is prohibited in all states except for Rhode Island and New Jersey. While incest between consenting and closely related adults is legal in these states, marriage between close relatives is not. Marriage between more distant relatives like second and third cousins is mostly legal across the U.S.

Punishments for committing incest vary by length of criminal sentence and fines. Laws also differ—some states prohibit parent-child incest, but not sibling-incest. Others, like North Dakota, go somewhat farther and ban incest between first cousins as well.

In 2005, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal claiming that incest laws are unconstitutional, after biological siblings Allen and Patricia Muth were sent to prison for having children together.

Some foreign countries have legalized consensual incest: France in 1811, Portugal in 1983 and Serbia in 2006.


Did UK researchers confirm that both Pfizer’s and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines are effective in protecting elderly patients?

A University of Birmingham study of elderly recipients found similar immune responses to both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. The study’s findings that T-cell levels were lower for those who got the Pfizer shot prompted some social-media speculation about its relative efficacy.

The authors focused on the strong antibody responses five weeks after the initial dose of both shots. “These antibody responses are very encouraging as they back up the strong real-world data we are seeing in the U.K.,” one of its authors said. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.

Another study, with more participants, has corroborated the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in the elderly population, noting that the “the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine was associated with substantially reduced infection risk in residents from four weeks to at least seven weeks.”


Is there a standard measure of how many hours the average teacher works?

Researchers haven’t agreed about the best way to measure how many hours U.S. K-12 teachers actually work, given school calendars and overstated self-reporting.

Research has been based variously on hourly, weekly or annual earnings, but adjusting across different school day, holiday and summer schedules complicates measurement. Many other workers, in contrast, work the same schedules all year long, with common vacation and time-off rules.

Researchers have found that asking teachers to self-report leads to overestimates averaging 22%. Respondents forget to factor in the chunks of time off that they get during the summer.

This complicates answers to assertions that teacher pay is too low (or too high). “Focusing on across-the-board raises distracts from less costly but more useful reforms” such as pay differentials or increased “teacher mobility,” one analysis argues.


Is there evidence that voter fraud or other misconduct affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election?

On Nov. 12, a coalition of top government and industry officials with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency declared that “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised” and that the election was “the most secure in American history.”

On Dec. 1, then-Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, told the Associated Press that “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

On Jan. 6, 2021, a leading Democratic election lawyer, Marc Elias, noted that the Trump campaign and its allies had lost 61 of 62 legal challenges. Ballotpedia has tracked 34 lawsuits arising from the presidential contest; 29 have been resolved as of April 16. No evidence has surfaced in these cases that would change the election result.


Is the Biden Administration continuing to sue to obtain private property needed to finish the border wall?

The Biden administration continues to pursue at least 140 eminent-domain lawsuits to secure land the Trump administration had sought to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. According to the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project, as cited by Politico on April 15, 2021, at least 114 of these lawsuits had progressed in some way since March 21.

Biden terminated the emergency declaration that Trump used to secure financing for the wall. But in a March 26 court filing, the Justice Department wrote that the step “left open the possibility that some aspects of the [border wall construction] project may resume.”

As of July 2020, the federal government had used eminent domain lawsuits to acquire 135 tracts of private land along the border, the Government Accountability Office reported. Some of this land was owned by small families and Indigenous nations, the Cato Institute found.


Has the US permanently discontinued use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine?

Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. has been temporarily paused, according to a statement released by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control on April 13, 2021.

With 6.8 million doses of the vaccine distributed, the reason for the pause is “six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine” among women between 18 and 48 years old. These cases were characterized by a combination of the blood clot type “cerebral venous sinus thrombosis” with “low levels of blood platelets.”

The agencies have said that they will separately meet to review these cases and assess the seriousness of the situation.

Similar clotting effects have been reported among a small number of people who have received a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in Europe. That vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.


Prior to 1807, did New Jersey grant some Black people, women and immigrants the right to vote?

New Jersey’s 1776 constitution extended the right to vote to “all free inhabitants of this State.” This included free Black people and women. The new state also enfranchised immigrants, making no mention of citizenship requirements. Eligibility to vote required being of age, owning property worth at least £50 (equivalent to about $11,000 today) and one year’s residence in the state.

Women were at least 7.7% of the state’s voters by 1807, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. But politically charged claims of voter fraud were raised against women, and eventually “women voting had become synonymous with voter fraud,” according to a paper in the Georgetown Journal of Gender & Law.

In 1807, New Jersey walked back its expansive approach and passed a law declaring that “no person shall vote [...] unless such person be a free, white, male citizen of this state.”


Has al-Qaida established strong operating bases outside of Afghanistan?

It is unclear if President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan will increase the threats already posed by al-Qaida, as the terrorist group behind 9/11 has taken advantage of chaos elsewhere to disperse its forces.

A 2018 Council on Foreign Relations analysis noted that the group had tens of thousands of members scattered across northern Africa and the Middle East, most notably in Syria, where it has capitalized on the demise of the Islamic State. Afghanistan, the CFR noted, had become home to fewer than 800 members of al-Qaida, compared to between 10,000 and 20,000 members in Syria. With encrypted communications and other changes, the value of a concentrated operating base may have diminished.

Experts say a resurgent Taliban may honor, at least in the near term, its 2020 commitments to keep terrorist groups threatening the U.S. from using the country as a base.


Have scholars found that aspects of US governance share characteristics of an oligarchy?

Some scholars have observed that aspects of U.S. politics and governance operate like an oligarchy, a power structure in which a few elites govern society for their personal benefit, rather than in the interests of society as a whole.

A 2014 Cambridge University Press study analyzed a set of 1,779 proposed American public policy changes between 1981 and 2002. It found that general public opinion on an issue had little influence on the likelihood of Congress passing a given law. Congressional votes, however, were significantly reflective of the known policy preferences of the “economic elite.”

At the Supreme Court, a phenomenon dubbed the “white-collar paradox” has been observed among conservative justices who rarely rule against the government in favor of poorer defendants. They are far more likely to do so in favor of wealthier defendants.


Did women have the right to vote in New Jersey at the turn of the 19th century?

Women residents of New Jersey enjoyed the right to vote between 1776 and 1807. New Jersey’s first constitution, passed in 1776, granted voting rights to all residents regardless of gender, assuming they met certain eligibility requirements. The constitution was amended in 1790 to specifically grant the right to women. In practice, only unmarried women could vote, as owning property was a voting requirement, and married women could not own property.

In 1807, New Jersey revoked women’s right to vote in an effort to disadvantage the Federalist party—for which women typically voted—and to advantage the Democratic-Republican Party. James Madison, a Democratic-Republican candidate, took the state of New Jersey and won the 1808 election.

At least 20 other states granted women the right to vote before the passage of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised all female U.S. citizens in 1920.


Did Paul Pelosi acquire $5.76 million of Microsoft stock days before the Army announced a $22 billion contract with the company?

In an April 9, 2021, filing, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi disclosed that her husband, Paul Pelosi, exercised options to purchase 25,000 Microsoft shares on March 19. Based on the closing market price of $230.35 that day, his holding would have been valued at about $5.76 million.

On March 31 the Army announced a $21.88 billion contract with Microsoft to buy augmented reality headsets. Microsoft stock has risen to $255.59 as of April 13.

A 2012 law prohibits members of Congress from insider training, that is, using their special access to nonpublic information to make a private profit. There is no evidence that Pelosi had advance knowledge of the Army’s order.

Members of the House are required to make regular disclosures about their and their spouses’ personal finances to increase transparency about potential conflicts of interest.


Do people in Southern states watch relatively more gay porn?

Pornhub, the pornography website, reported in 2016 that Southern states tend to have slightly higher percentages of viewers watching male gay porn than the rest of the country.

Its tracking found that the District of Columbia, New York, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana had the highest percentage of visitors to the sites’ gay male content. The southern U.S. was generally more likely to view gay male content than the Northern U.S. The study excluded lesbian porn, which the site associates mostly with straight viewership.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a sociologist who conducts research based on Google searches, concluded that there are many gay men in the U.S. who have not come out. The number of internet searches for gay porn is similar across the country, but the proportion of openly gay men is not, he concluded.


Is there good data about the sexual violence risks faced by women migrating from Central America to the US?

Sexual violence is often cited as a high risk for migrants journeying from Central America to the U.S. Media accounts and reports by advocacy groups suggest the problem has been persistent for more than a decade. Statistics are spotty, and predate the surges in migration in 2019 and 2021.

Doctors Without Borders in 2017 reported that it treated 166 people for “sexual violence” in 2015 and 2016. It also surveyed 467 migrants and refugees at its facilities in Mexico, finding that nearly one-third of the women “had been sexually abused during their journey.”

In a 2015 study of Central American women migrants, the U.N. noted that many of the women, fleeing violence at home to travel north, risked more violence on their journey. “Several” women interviewed said they took contraceptives before traveling as they worried about the consequences of rape.


Have Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions been exceptionally strict compared to those in other states?

Throughout the pandemic, Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions have not been considerably more or less strict than other states. Ohio is one of 26 states with mandatory mask rules. It is also one of 12 states that has explicitly prohibited gatherings of more than ten people.

However, Ohio has kept its businesses “mostly open,” according to an analysis by the New York Times. Bars, offices, casinos and other non-essential businesses are currently open in Ohio, with some safety restrictions. By comparison, Hawaii and Vermont, two states with the lowest per-capita cases, have kept at least some of their non-essential businesses closed—including bars.

Only 10 states have prohibited in-person religious gatherings. Ohio is not one of them.

Ohio has the eighth-highest cumulative total of coronavirus infections in the country, and the 36th-highest amount of per-capita cases.


Is there any credible theory about how COVID-19 vaccines may disrupt menstrual cycles?

Experts say that there is currently not enough evidence to establish any clear links between the COVID-19 vaccine and various disruptions to the menstrual cycle. A number of women have shared on social media anecdotes about disruptions or changes they’ve experienced after getting a vaccination.

Baylor medical professor Dr. Mark Turrentine tells Health magazine that there is “no biologic mechanism” that would account for the kinds of changes being discussed. He notes that no menstruation-related issues have surfaced in clinical trials for the vaccines or in “adverse event” reporting since the administration of vaccines at scale began.

An anthropology professor at the University of Illinois has launched a survey to collect reports from women observing any changes (or the lack thereof) in their menstrual cycles post-vaccine.


Have female superheroes historically performed as well at the box office as their male counterparts?

While some recent superhero movies with female leads posted box-office gross receipts on par with some male-led films, the biggest hits more typically feature male superheroes or a team of superheroes. Of the top 15 earning superhero films released since 1995, two have female leads: “Captain Marvel” (2019), ranking 13th at $427 million and “Wonder Woman” (2017), ranking 14th at $412 million. In 2019, “Avengers: Endgame” earned more than those two releases combined.

Still, those tallies mark gains from decades past. “Catwoman” (2004), for example, made $82 million worldwide, and “Elektra” (2005) made almost $57 million worldwide. By comparison, “Spiderman” (2002) and “Spiderman 2” (2004) made around $400 million and $370 million.

“Batwoman,” a 2019 TV series based on the DC comic character, is struggling to garner viewership amid poor reviews. It is rated 3.2 out of ten by IMDb users.


Has evidence of a rare side effect from AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine led European countries to curtail its use?

Firmer evidence of a rare side effect from AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has led health authorities in Europe to limit its use among younger people.

In the U.K., 79 people developed a rare clotting disorder, and 19 of them died. On April 7, the government advised that people under 30 be offered “an alternative COVID-19 vaccine, if available.” Other European countries have set minimum ages of 55, 60 or 65 for receiving the vaccine.

According to an analysis by GAVI, a global vaccine alliance, about one person in a million has a chance of experiencing the side effect. Researchers say the protection afforded against COVID-19 from the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is less expensive and easier to store and transport than vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, is likely to offset the side effect risks for much of the world.

The vaccine hasn't been authorized for use in the U.S.


Are progressive New York City leaders pushing to improve conditions for street vendors?

Progressive New York City leaders have championed an effort to ease the burdens on thousands of street vendors who can’t get legal permits. The city council voted for a new law creating more permits in January, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to sign it.

Unauthorized street vendors, typically women, people of color or immigrants, face fines and other legal hassles. Some pay large sums to “sublet” valid permits. Opponents of a higher cap say it could hurt competing small brick-and-mortar businesses, many of which are also minority- or immigrant-owned, as they try to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The issue flared up during the campaign to succeed de Blasio, when Democratic primary candidate Andrew Yang called for more stringent enforcement of vending rules. Yang later clarified he supported granting more permits, along with education for vendors and efforts to “broker tensions.”


Has Texas yet to spend $19 billion in federal relief funding intended for the state’s schools?

Congress allocated a combined $19.2 billion to Texas schools in three relief bills for pandemic-related needs like personal protective equipment, school supplies and improved ventilation systems in school buildings. As of April 13, 2021, Texas has not disbursed any of these funds to its schools.

Texas used $1.3 billion from the first bill “to fill other holes in the state budget,” according to the Texas Tribune.

The state legislature is now considering how to spend $5.5 billion received in the second bill, according to Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit focusing on support for public education.

In the latest bill, enacted in March, Texas received an estimated $12.4 billion contingent on investing $1 billion of its own state revenue in higher education. The Texas government applied to waive this requirement, delaying the disbursement of the federal funds to Texas schools.


Is spring arriving earlier in parts of the Northern Hemisphere?

Studies from recent years have confirmed that an effect of climate change is earlier appearances of spring in regions of North America, Europe and China. As a result of warmer temperatures, researchers have observed accelerations in natural springtime cycles, including events like leafing and blooming. One study also identified light pollution as a contributing cause of earlier leafing in trees.

Of 276 U.S. national parks examined by ecologists, 76% have been experiencing advancing springs, and 53% have been experiencing “extreme” early springs. Warmer temperatures have also led certain animal species to emerge from hibernation earlier.

Studies have also linked earlier “greening” of vegetation to other kinds of new climate phenomena like more frequent heat waves, dryer summer soils and modified rain patterns in Europe, as well as a decline in dust storms in northern China.


Do both excess-death estimates and case fatality rates show that COVID-19 has been far more deadly than the flu?

COVID-19’s deadliness is tracked in two ways. Measures of “excess” deaths vs. historical averages are used as fatal cases are not always identified by tests. “Case fatality rates” tally officially reported fatal cases of the disease. Both measures suggest COVID-19 has been far more deadly than ordinary flu.

Flu epidemics vary in severity from year to year, and with incomplete testing data excess-death numbers are particularly helpful. A review of a decade of flu data from the Netherlands found only one period with excess deaths even close to comparable to those from an eight-week period last year during the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the fatality rate from flu in the U.S. in the 2017-18 winter season was 0.13% (61,000 deaths). The case-fatality rate of COVID-19 to date in the U.S. is 1.8% (561,000 deaths).


Are New York voting laws less restrictive than Georgia’s?

According to various state rankings and reports, it is more difficult to vote in Georgia than in New York due to more restrictive voting laws. In a 2020 “cost of voting” index—in which academics assessed laws in the 50 states across nine issue areas—Georgia was ranked as the second most difficult state for voting, while New York was ranked as the 17th-easiest.

Georgia has an “exact match” system for voter registration, as well as some of the nation‘s most aggressive methods for purging voters from registration rolls. While New York has less restrictive laws in these areas, it has other barriers like early registration deadlines.

Georgia’s latest voting law changes give the legislature greater influence over local voting administration and altered some other requirements. New York’s legislature is considering the largest number of new “expansive” measures of any state as of March 2021.


Have some violations of the Hatch Act gone unpunished?

The Hatch Act is a federal law intended to ensure that federal employees remain nonpartisan in their duties. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the agency that enforces the law’s provisions, notes that it restricts such activities as campaigning for a political candidate, participating in political fundraisers or advocating for a political candidate on social media.

In 2019, the agency received 281 new complaints under the law, issued 49 warning letters, and took 11 “corrective actions.” Thus about 20% of complaints resulted in some sort of punishment, according to the OSC.

Disciplining some high-level violators of the act is up to the president who appointed them. President Trump ignored the 2019 recommendation of the OSC (and a House oversight committee) that he fire Kellyanne Conway for violating the act “dozens of times” with partisan media statements and appearances.


Did Georgia repeal a signature-matching procedure for absentee ballots?

Georgia’s recent election-reform legislation repealed a provision that allowed election officials to reject absentee ballots with signatures that don’t match those the state has on file.

The new law states that previous signature-matching requirements were deemed “subjective” by “Georgians on all sides of the political spectrum.” The changes require that voter identity should now be verified using a driver’s license ID number or social security number in place of signature matching.

Last year, the Georgia Democratic Party and Georgia’s secretary of state reached a legal settlement over several disputed voting rules. Part of the settlement reinforced the signature-matching procedure that the new law repeals. The new legislation does not repeal the entire 2020 settlement.


Are there projections that the Biden infrastructure plan will cut overall energy sector jobs?

There is currently no forecast projecting that President Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan would cause overall job losses in the energy sector.

Critics have suggested that the plan’s clean energy push would add to the existing decline in U.S. fossil fuel employment, which is concentrated in a few energy-producing states. The Biden administration argues its plan will create new energy-related jobs nationwide such as:

• Capping oil and gas wells and mine reclamation.

• Modernizing America’s electric grid and transmission lines.

• Constructing energy-efficient homes and buildings.

• Manufacturing and installing solar and wind power.

• Building out electric vehicle infrastructure.

Moody's Analytics forecasts that while jobs may briefly dip in early 2022 due to the plan’s proposed corporate tax hike, the programs would create 2.1 million new U.S. jobs by “mid-decade.”


Are states able to set their own COVID-19 vaccine documentation requirements?

The White House on March 29 said it would leave decisions about requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations to travel or to attend events to the private sector and the states.

Responses to the idea of requiring digital or paper documentation so far have varied. On the one hand, New York State is already offering a voluntary “Excelsior Pass” for people to use as “digital proof” of a COVID-19 vaccination if required to attend concerts, sporting events or enter other venues. On the other, Florida’s governor has banned businesses in the state from requiring any documentation “certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status.”

The U.K. government has said it will test a certification system. In Israel, a “green pass” from the health ministry is already being used by vaccinated Israelis to enter restaurants, go to the gym or attend cultural events.


Has ownership in many US industries become heavily concentrated?

In a variety of U.S. industries, competition is limited to a few large companies, according to Open Markets Institute, an organization that examines monopolies. Examples include:

  • Google and Apple together serve 99% of the market for smartphone operating systems (2018).
  • Home Depot and Lowe’s run 81% of the country’s home improvement stores (2017).
  • Delta, American, United and Southwest take 76% of domestic airline revenue (2018).
  • DowDuPont and Bayer sell 78% of all corn seeds (2015).
  • Nestlé, J.M. Smucker and Mars supply 88% of dry cat food (2017).
  • Two firms, Hillenbrand and Matthews, own 82% of coffin and casket manufacturing (2019).

Market concentration is “both high and rising over time,” according to a 2018 brief from the Federal Trade Commission. The number of mergers rose from 2,308 in 1985 to 15,361 in 2017, the FTC noted.


Do ‘recycled’ plastics often end up being shipped as waste to South and Southeast Asia?

South and Southeast Asian countries became major destinations for plastic waste from developed and developing countries following a 2017 ban on most plastic imports by China, once the world's largest importer. In the first quarter of 2018, U.S. waste exports increased by 165% to India, 300% to Thailand and 330% to Malaysia. U.S. domestic capacity can’t handle all the waste Americans want to recycle, so recyclers seek offshore outlets. Interpol notes that a ”surplus” of waste around the world is leading to both more illegal trade and illegal treatment.

The U.S. was the second-largest exporter of scrap plastic and recovered fiber to India in the first half of 2019 before the country banned plastic imports, effective August 2019. India walked back the ban in January 2021.

Plastic waste exports to Pakistan and Bangladesh have also increased.


Are side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines worse than those from flu shots?

The three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. appear to produce a significantly higher incidence of side effects than ordinary flu shots, which scientists say is one indication of their greater effectiveness.

An Emory University researcher reported on Feb. 24 that, based on data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration by the manufacturers, the difference is most pronounced after the second dose for people under 60 years of age. Side effects, notably pain, fatigue and headaches, were more prevalent with the Moderna vaccine, followed by the Pfizer shot and then the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

The strength of the side effects is an indication that the body is creating more antibodies, leading to stronger defenses against the disease. Some health experts believe learnings from the COVID-19 vaccines will be used to improve existing vaccines against other diseases.


Does data show that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine’s protective effects last at least six months?

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine remains highly effective against the disease for at least six months after the second dose, according to the developers’ April 2021 update of clinical trial results. Pfizer said their analysis found that for at least six months, the vaccine is 91.3% effective against all COVID-19 cases, and 100% effective against severe cases as defined by the Centers for Disease Control.

Experts are still learning more about exactly how long vaccines protect against COVID-19, the CDC reports—in part because the evidence can only accumulate as time goes by. A review of vaccine progress published in Nature observes that “only time will tell how long the vaccine-elicited protection will last, and how frequent the booster injections should be administered to keep the protection fully active.”


Is New York State considering a new relief program for people ineligible for federal programs?

A bill introduced before New York State’s senate would provide financial assistance to people who have been excluded from federal coronavirus relief programs, including people who are living in the country illegally as well as the formerly incarcerated.

To be eligible for the fund, someone must have been excluded from state unemployment aid and various federal relief payments, and have lost income in the wake of the pandemic, or have been released from prison or detention since October 2020. Those eligible for the New York fund would receive $3,300 per month through the end of 2021.

Some proponents worry Gov. Andrew Cuomo will tighten documentation requirements, asking for bank statements, tax identification numbers or pay stubs that some applicants might not have.

The New York proposal is relatively generous; a similar California program is offering one-time $600 payments in 2021.


Could raising the corporate tax rate reduce middle-class incomes?

Economists generally agree that raising corporate taxes could modestly reduce incomes in the U.S., including for the middle class.

President Biden’s recent jobs plan would raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to help fund infrastructure projects. According to the center-right Tax Foundation, this would cause corporate investment to “flow elsewhere,” reducing “dynamic, long-run” incomes by about 1.4% for the middle three income quintiles.

More broadly, the center-left Tax Policy Center estimated that 20% of the corporate income tax burden falls on workers “in proportion to their shares of earnings.” Similarly, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a 25% burden on workers “in proportion to their labor income.”

President Biden’s plan proposes policies that would deter offshoring and capital flight to tax havens to lessen the tax hike’s negative impact on incomes.


Can state officials fire local elections administrators in some states?

The U.S. election system leaves most decisions about running elections to the states, and the states typically delegate many administrative aspects to counties or even cities and townships.

Some states retain the authority to intervene at the local level by firing or suspending local administrators. In 2019, South Carolina’s governor fired the entire board in one county. In January, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab declined to reappoint Sedgwick County Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, recently diagnosed with cancer, citing the state's policy prohibiting election workers from working remotely due to security concerns.

A controversial new Georgia law sidelines the secretary of state, making the state’s board more directly answerable to the legislature. The board was also granted new powers to replace county officials under certain circumstances.


Do new coronavirus variants present higher risks of transmission, both indoors and out?

More easily transmitted variants of the coronavirus pose greater overall risks.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins shows that some new strains of the coronavirus, the most common being B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, are more transmissible and warrant more stringent precautions against their spread. As the original virus and its variants still have many common characteristics, both remain more easily transmitted indoors than out. The same measures—masks, distancing, hand hygiene—remain important to slow their spread.

Research from the CDC suggests that the B.1.1.7 strain, currently the variant of most concern in the U.S., is associated with increased mortality. The new strains may also be more resistant to treatment, and more able to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity.


Are coronavirus cases climbing more rapidly in Michigan than in most of the country?

Since mid-February, coronavirus infections in Michigan have been climbing, while infection rates in the U.S. as a whole have decreased or at worst held steady. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Michigan is one of the highest-risk states for COVID-19. Michigan's health department blames more contagious coronavirus variants as a reason for the uptick.

Coronavirus cases have risen 128% in the past two weeks, with approximately 5,400 new cases on average per day in the latest week. As of March 29, 27.8% of Michigan's population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, just below the national average of 28.6%, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Michigan seeks to slow the spread without increasing restrictions, and instead work to increase testing, vaccinations and mask usage. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the coronavirus can “come roaring back if we drop our guard.”


Does the Violence Against Women Act provide assistance for men?

The Violence Against Women Act, first passed in 1994, provides assistance regardless of gender. The law “expired” in 2019, but funding of many programs continues while the Senate debates a reauthorization bill that the House passed in March.

In 2006, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence noted that “male victims frequently receive help from VAWA-funded programs,” including “advocacy services and legal assistance to protect their safety.” The current reauthorization proposal adds nondiscrimination requirements for equal access to protections regardless of gender.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, in 2018 about 3% more of the female population were victims of violence than the male population. According to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced violence from an intimate partner.


Are most food crops in the US grown to feed animals?

Two-thirds of U.S. crop calories are used for animal feed.

In 2013, University of Minnesota researchers calculated that 67% of crop calories in the U.S. fed animals while 27% fed people. Globally, 36% of crop calories fed animals while 55% fed people. For every 100 calories of crops, animal agriculture yields 12 calories of chicken, 10 calories of pork and 3 calories of beef. This remains true for protein calories, where the conversions are 100 to 40, 10, and 5, respectively.

If land currently used to grow animal feed was instead used to grow crops for people to eat, it could sustain 1 billion more people in the U.S. and 4 billion more worldwide.

In addition to croplands, animal agriculture uses two billion hectares of grasslands for grazing. In 2017, Food and Agriculture Organization researchers found that 35% of these grasslands were suitable for growing crops.


Have one in three children in the world been exposed to harmful levels of lead?

About 800 million children around the world, or 1 in 3, have levels of lead in their blood that is “cause for action,” according to a U.N.-led study. There is actually no safe level of lead exposure for children, who absorb 4-5 times more lead than adults, according to health authorities.

Sources of lead exposure include improperly disposed lead batteries, leaded pipes, paint, gasoline, cosmetics, toys and other consumer products.

Exposure negatively impacts IQ, attention span and behavioral health, leading to poor academic performance and increased risk of violence and crime. Physical effects include headaches, abdominal pain, growth deficiency and impaired vision and hearing.

Reducing lead exposure in the U.S., where it is already low, would return at least $3.10 for every dollar spent. In less affluent countries where exposure is higher, the benefits would likely be much greater.


Is it illegal to spread false information to manipulate stock prices?

Social-media disinformation affecting financial markets has been addressed under securities laws. In 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission warned the public about social media fraudsters working to manipulate the market, noting some recent actions it had initiated.

In one case arising in 2013, a Scottish man’s false tweets caused sharp drops in the stock prices of two companies. The case was settled in 2019, when he agreed to pay back profits and prejudgment interest totaling $217. (The SEC noted he may have mistimed his own transactions, limiting his profits.)

In another case, the commission charged a Canadian couple with using social media to boost stock prices on stocks they owned. The couple was fined $3.7 million, representing the profits they had made, plus $300,000 in penalties.


Have ‘mass’ shootings increased in recent decades?

The number of shooting incidents resulting in more than four deaths has continued to increase in recent decades.

A 2015 analysis by the Congressional Research Service defined mass public shootings as incidents in which four or more people are killed in one event in a public place such as a workplace, school, restaurant or church. The CRS reported that the number of such incidents had increased steadily in every decade from 1970 to 2013.

The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive uses a broader definition of mass shooting: any incident in which four or more people are killed, excluding the assailant. Their reports have tracked an increase in mass shootings since 2014.

The FBI defines “active shooter” incidents similarly to the CRS, but without a numerical requirement. The agency reports a net increase in such shootings in the period from 2000 through 2018.


Do most states set a minimum age for juvenile-court defendants?

Most U.S. states don’t set a minimum age at which children may be prosecuted in juvenile courts, according to data collected by the National Juvenile Defender Center.

Fifteen states set the minimum age at 10. No state sets the minimum age higher than 12. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child advocates that the minimum age of criminal responsibility be at least 14, already the most common choice internationally.

Advocates in some states, like North Carolina, have called to raise the minimum age required for trial as a juvenile delinquent from six to 10 years old. Bills in other states like Georgia are seeking to raise the maximum age at which a minor can be tried in juvenile court for misdemeanors. In every state, laws allow youth accused of more serious offenses to be tried as adults, regardless of age.


Have journalism jobs declined significantly over the past 20 years?

More than 25% of U.S. newspapers have shut down since 2004, according to a University of North Carolina study, and many others have cut payrolls in respond to continuing declines in print advertising and circulation revenues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of total newspaper jobs (including all roles, not just news gathering) decreased to 174,000 from 412,000 between the years 2001 and 2016.

Pew Research Center reported an overall 23% decrease in journalism jobs between 2008 and 2019. This decline was primarily attributed to the print news sector, which saw a 51% decrease from 71,000 to 35,000 jobs since 2008. TV, radio and online news saw a 9% increase from 43,000 to 53,000 jobs during the same period.


Did the chair of a new RNC election interference committee endorse the ‘stop the steal’ movement?

Joe Gruters, named to head the Republican Party’s new Committee on Election Integrity, openly disputed the results of the 2020 presidential election. On his Facebook page in December, Gruters, head of the GOP in Florida, tagged a post highlighting his role as a presidential elector with the hashtag #StopTheSteal. A later post relayed information about traveling to Washington for the January 6 events that preceded the assault on the Capitol. “Local party organizations are even more radical under Gruters’ leadership,” an Orlando newspaper noted.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that the committee was created to “ensure that future elections are free, fair, and transparent.” Its full roster of 24 members has yet to be announced, except for Gruters and Ashley MacLeay, a national committeewoman from the District of Columbia.


Have lumber prices risen rapidly since the onset of coronavirus shutdowns last year?

Lumber prices have increased nearly fourfold from a low after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 to a recent peak in March 2021. A primary factor was an unexpected pickup in housing construction, as the pace of new single-family “starts” nearly doubled between April and December, along with increased renovation of older homes and properties. A housing slowdown in 2019 left the industry unprepared, and shutdown constraints complicated efforts to respond.

Industry groups and legislators have pressed first the Trump and then the Biden administrations for relief, but it isn't clear what the government can do. An industry letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimundo asks the department to “examine the lumber supply chain, identify the causes for high prices and supply constraints, and seek immediate remedies that will increase production.”


Has the Biden administration blocked media from visiting migrant detention facilities?

During a press conference on March 25, President Biden promised the press will gain access to detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border, but said he doesn‘t know when. News media and advocacy groups have pressed for access amid a rapid increase in the number of minors being detained and held temporarily after attempting to enter the country.

On March 22, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that the administration is coordinating with the agencies involved to ensure privacy and COVID-19 protocols are in place before the press is granted access to facilities. Both Biden and Psaki have expressed their commitment to transparency.

The administration has drawn sharp criticism for its stance. “The First Amendment is not suspended during public emergencies and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception,” argues a March 24 letter from advocacy groups pressing for access.


Does some evidence suggest a link between the use of glyphosate and an increased risk of autism and cancer?

Research on glyphosate, an herbicide that regulates crop growth, has found that the compound could be linked to increased risk of cancer and autism.

One 2020 study found that children of mothers exposed to significant glyphosate levels during pregnancy could face increased risk of autism spectrum disorder, though the underlying mechanisms causing the risk are “largely unknown.”

In 2015, the International Agency for Cancer Research concluded that exposure to glyphosate (usually observed during farming) is likely to be carcinogenic in humans. A 2016 study concluded that the consumption of glyphosate in food is unlikely to be carcinogenic.

A March 2021 report from the U.S. State Department expressed support for Colombia's aerial eradication program of its coca crop, a source of cocaine. The program historically involves spraying glyphosate on coca farms.


Do some states have more stringent requirements for background checks for gun buyers?

According to the Giffords Law Center, a gun-control advocacy organization, 22 states have background check policies that go beyond federal requirements. The federal system, under the FBI’s supervision, mandates background checks on anyone purchasing a firearm from federal firearms licensees—typically specialist stores, pawn shops and other retailers.

Thirteen states require background checks on firearms purchased or transferred from unlicensed “private” sellers, such as sales made online or at gun shows. The District of Columbia only allows sales and transfers through federally-licensed dealers.

Some states, like Texas, don’t require background checks for such private sales. The Gifford Center estimates that 22% of gun owners made their most recent firearm purchase without a background check.


Have seasonal patterns of people crossing the southern US border changed in recent years?

Data shows that recent trends in seasonal migration are becoming less pronounced, with less of a springtime peak of entrants crossing north into the U.S. for agricultural work. The Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service has found that farmworkers have become more settled and are participating in less “follow the crop” migration.

Border Patrol statistics tracking attempts to cross into the U.S. illegally reflect the shift, particularly along the Southwest border where crossings related to seasonal farm labor are most common. In fiscal 2018, for example, the number of illegal apprehensions in March was 26,666—ranking 10th for the year. Furthermore, higher labor costs have led farms to continue to mechanize production and invest in tools that allow them to reduce labor needs.


Are US government employees allowed to use marijuana?

The Drug-Free Workplace Program, initiated with a 1986 executive order, established the goal of making federal agencies drug-free environments. The program requires federal employees to avoid using illegal drugs on or off-duty. Marijuana, which is illegal under federal laws, remains prohibited regardless of state laws that have legalized recreational or medical use, the Office of Personnel Management reiterated in a February 2021 memo.

Federal agencies are provided with detailed guidelines for testing employees, outlining processes and rights for affected employees.

Prior marijuana use does not necessarily exclude a person from being hired in some federal agencies under the Biden administration, as long as the employee does not use drugs during their federal employment.


Was past marijuana use a factor in the firing of five White House staff members?

The White House confirmed on March 19, 2021, that five Biden administration staffers were terminated at least in part because of their prior use of recreational marijuana. In a statement to the Associated Press, Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that a number of issues beyond marijuana use also contributed to the terminations.

A February 2021 memo to federal agency heads from the Office of Personnel Management advised that, while marijuana remains illegal under federal law, past use should not automatically block potential federal employees. With the policy changes, “more people will serve who would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” Psaki tweeted when she confirmed the five dismissals.

The AP reported that the Biden administration allows “15 past uses in a year among White House staffers.”


Is there evidence that the latest economic relief package is rekindling inflation?

President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law on March 11, so it is too soon to know its impact on inflation. On March 10, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that consumer prices in February were up 1.7%, below the Federal Reserve’s long-run target of 2%.

A period of prolonged low inflation has challenged assumptions formed in the 1970s about the impact of large deficit spending on inflation and unemployment. Some “inflation hawks” are warning of new risks, while other economists note the unique nature of the downdrafts from the pandemic. A White House economic adviser, Bharat Ramamurti, said that “the risk of doing too little to help American families outweighed the risk of doing too much” in determining the size of the relief programs. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said that he expects that any inflationary effect would be “transient.”


Is California planning for schools to mandate Indigenous religious practices as part of a new ethnic studies effort?

On March 18, the California Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a model curriculum including ethnic studies in K-12 schools. The recommended curriculum focuses on the heritage and experiences of Native Americans as well as Asian Americans, Blacks and Latinos. An appendix of lesson resources includes “intercultural” chants as a teaching tool drawing on various Indigenous prayers and rituals, leading a conservative magazine to characterize the new curriculum as an effort to bring pagan worship into the classroom.

A bill to make an ethnic studies course a high school graduation requirement is moving through the legislature, though it specifies that any required course would “not teach or promote religious doctrine”—a phrase added in response to concerns raised by the legislature’s Jewish caucus.


Have defense contractors spent $2.8 billion to influence policy makers over the past two decades?

In the past 20 years, the defense industry has spent $2.5 billion on lobbying and contributed nearly $300 million to various political campaigns, according to financial disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The defense industry maintains strong ties with the executive branch and Congress. According to the Project on Government Oversight, there were nearly 650 instances of the top 20 defense contractors hiring former senior government officials, military officers and legislators as lobbyists or executives just during 2016. Some then may return to government—such as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the retired general who left the board of Raytheon to join the Biden administration.

Raytheon, a top defense contractor, says it participates in “the U.S. political process to ensure that the company’s interests ... are appropriately represented.”


Is the Biden administration continuing to turn back most people crossing the border illegally despite official policy changes?

While the Biden administration reinstated “catch and release” policies shortly after taking office, it has continued to expel most people apprehended after illegally crossing the southern border, invoking health regulations because of COVID-19.

In February 2021, authorities reported, 72,113 of 100,441 apprehended persons were expelled. Under catch and release practices, apprehended entrants who would otherwise be detained until their court appearances are released from custody in the U.S. and monitored or tracked. Those policies, revoked by President Trump as part of a broad effort to discourage immigration, were officially reinstated by a Feb. 2 Biden order.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that single adults and families apprehended at the border are nonetheless being expelled into Mexico “with limited exceptions” while unaccompanied minors are allowed to remain.


Has Congress agreed to fund a new $27 billion ‘deterrence initiative’ in East Asia?

Congress has so far approved only $2.2 billion for a “Pacific Deterrence Initiative” meant to “enhance the United States deterrence and defense posture in the Indo-Pacific region, assure allies and partners, and increase capability and readiness.”

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in April 2020 requested $20 billion in funding to strengthen forces in the region. In March 2021, Admiral Phil Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head, renewed calls for additional support, asking Congress to commit $27 billion to the initiative between 2022 and 2027.

The command is seeking money for “new missiles and air defenses, radar systems, staging areas, intelligence-sharing centers, supply depots and testing ranges throughout the region, as well as exercises with allies and partners,” Defense News reported.


Has college enrollment declined dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic began?

College enrollment for undergraduate education decreased by 4% as of October 2020 compared to the previous academic year, according to National Student Clearinghouse, an education research organization.

Freshman enrollment took the biggest hit, declining about 16% nationwide and almost 23% at community colleges. But generally speaking, enrollment at community colleges declined more than at other institutions (9.4%.) Public four-year institutions declined by 1.4% and private non-profit institutions declined by 2%. Enrollment at for-profit private schools has increased slightly.

But according to a report from EducationData.org, college enrollment numbers were trending downwards before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Enrollment has declined 1.67% on average every year since 2010, when enrollment was at a historic high.


Do white farmers significantly outnumber minority farmers?

According to the Agriculture Department’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, 95.4% of all farm producers are white. The department defines producers as “someone involved in making decisions for the farm,” thus leading more people to identify as such than in the previous census. Hispanic producers constitute 3% of all farmers, while 1.7% are American Indian or Alaska Native and 1.3% are Black. Asians are 0.6% of farmers; 0.1% are Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.

Farm ownership also shows a similar preponderance of white farmers. White people own 98% of all private agricultural land, according to 2002 data from the department.


Does the US have a long history of military interventions in Latin America?

The U.S. has provided military and/or economic support to more than 40 military coups in Latin America, by the count of one historian. These interventions include:

  • The 1846 U.S. invasion of Mexico.
  • The 1916-24 U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic.
  • The 1954 CIA-backed coup against Guatemala’s Jacobo Árbenz, after he attempted to redistribute lands owned by the U.S.-based United Fruit Company.
  • The 1964 U.S.-backed coup against João Goulart of Brazil, after he proposed agrarian reform and oil nationalization.
  • The 1973 CIA-backed coup against democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile.
  • The 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, which backed a coup that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
  • The 1989 ouster of Panama’s Manuel Noriega, supported by 27,000 U.S. troops.
  • The 2004 coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, backed by U.S. Marines.

Are unusually high numbers of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the US border?

According to the Department of Homeland Security, “record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children,” have been arriving at the southwest border of the U.S. In February, Customs and Border Patrol reported just over 100,000 encounters at the border, 9,400 with unaccompanied children. These numbers represent increases of 28% and 61% from the previous month.

Border Patrol policy dictates that unaccompanied minors must be transferred to the custody of a Department of Health and Human Services agency within 72 hours so they can be “place[d] with a family member or sponsor until their immigration case is adjudicated.” However, nearly half of the minors currently in Border Patrol custody have been held for longer periods at facilities intended for adult migrants due to increased numbers, lack of beds and space and risks and restrictions posed by the pandemic.


Does data show lasting impact from pandemic-related salary cuts?

Multiple reports and surveys during 2020 pointed to looming or actual cuts in salaries and wages, but data suggests any impact on compensation for workers who kept their jobs may not have been lasting.

Korn Ferry, a recruiting consultant, in April reported that 34% of surveyed North American employers were considering or implementing salary cuts. An August Pew Research survey of over 13,000 adults found that 32% of respondents said that the pandemic had resulted in a pay cut for at least one member of their household.

Official data suggests that although wages and salaries took a steep hit in the second quarter of 2020, they quickly recovered by yearend, suggesting that pandemic-related reductions were not permanent. Inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings were up 4.9% in December 2020 from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Does new legislation seek to let mothers in federal prisons keep newborn infants with them behind bars?

A bill to reauthorize the expired 1994 Violence Against Women Act would create a pilot program in federal prisons allowing incarcerated mothers to live with newborn children until they reach 30 months of age.

Under the measure, mothers and children would be housed separately from other inmates. The goal of the measure is to reduce the mortality rate of infants born to incarcerated mothers, and to reduce recidivism rates among the mothers themselves. Participants would have to meet a number of conditions.

Advocates of better prison conditions have identified many shortcomings in the treatment of expectant and new mothers. Federal prisons in 2019 held 16,000 of the 231,000 women incarcerated in the U.S. Per 2003 data, the most recent available, about 3% of women sentenced to federal prisons are pregnant at the time of admission. At least nine state prisons offer similar programs.


Do US statutes allow people living in the country without legal permission to buy firearms?

Under a federal statute, it is unlawful for any person who is “illegally or unlawfully in the United States” to purchase or possess a firearm or ammunition.

In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that people living in the U.S. without legal permission cannot be prosecuted for gun possession if they:

  • did not know their immigration status was no longer legal.
  • did not know that possessing a firearm or ammunition as an undocumented immigrant was a crime.

In March 2021, a Republican House member introduced an amendment to pending background-check legislation that would require immigration authorities to be notified when a background check was requested for a person living in the U.S. illegally. The amendment was rejected by the Democratic majority.


Are the majority of minimum-wage earners 25 years or older?

Though the minimum-wage workforce skews younger than the overall hourly-worker population, 52.4% of minimum-wage earners in the U.S. are 25 or older, according to federal data.

In 2020 workers aged 16-24 made up approximately 48% of workers earning the federal minimum wage ($7.25) or less, while representing just under one-fifth of hourly paid workers overall. Workers aged 16–24 made up 43% of the minimum-wage workforce in 2018 and 47% in 2019.

Women account for two-thirds of minimum-wage earners.

The majority of minimum wage workers (84.7%) have earned a high school diploma, but no higher education.


Does the March 2021 relief package include the largest one-time commitment to Native American programs in US history?

According to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law on March 11, 2021, includes the largest one-time commitment to Native American programs in U.S. history.

More than $31.2 billion dollars was directed to various programs, funding efforts related to health, housing, education, child care, businesses and even language preservation.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, Native American communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with a rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases 3.5 times that for non-Hispanic whites. The CDC attributes this to health and socioeconomic disparities, as well as “reliance on shared transportation” and “limited access to running water.”


Are oil and gas revenues an important source of funding for public education in some states?

In 2012, about 3% of the value of oil and gas produced in eight states went to public education, either via property taxes on related assets or industry-specific fees and taxes. Comprehensive data for more recent years was not available.

In 2019 in Wyoming, the industry generated $705 million for public education, against total school spending of about $1.8 billion. When prices or output fall, the impact is direct. A 2017 energy-industry downturn forced a $34.5 million education budget cut, and last year’s pandemic-related drop in demand resulted resulted in another revenue shortfall.

The potential impact of future restrictions on new oil and gas production on federal lands is unclear. The 2012 data shows that federal oil and gas leases generated $177 million for schools in the state, compared with $616 million from other oil- and gas-related sources.


Do some researchers find drawbacks to making daylight saving time year-round?

Opponents of year-round daylight saving time argue that “springing forward” can disrupt the body’s internal clock. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine called last year for a reversion to year-round standard time to allow for lighter mornings and darker evenings, enhancing natural sleep patterns.

Another team of researchers last year said the annual spring time shift increases the risk of fatal traffic accidents by 6%. A 2014 study associated the shift with a temporary one-day 24% spike in heart attacks as bodies adjusted to different lighting and sleep patterns.

Proponents of permanent daylight saving time contend that the change would aid the agricultural industry and improve mental health and public safety. Sixteen Senators are supporting new legislation to allow states to make daylight saving time permanent.


Did Texas set a record for employment gains in 2020?

In a year of pandemic-related employment declines, Texas fared relatively well among the states, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfarm employment fell by 4.3% in the state between January 2020 and January 2021, tying for 12th-best performance. Only Idaho reported any growth in the measure, with a 1.1% gain.

In January 2021, the BLS measured 12.4 million jobs, down almost 600,000 over the year.

The state’s unemployment rate rose from 3.6% in January 2020 to 6.8% in January 2021, compared to the national average of 6.3%.

While a business magazine awarded the state a “2020 Governor's Cup” for its economic performance in the year, the award was based on new investment projects rather than general job growth.


Is President Biden unusually late in scheduling his first formal press conference?

President Joe Biden did not hold a press conference in his first 50 days in office. According to UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, his 15 most recent predecessors all held solo events within 33 days of taking office.

Woodrow Wilson held the first presidential press conference in 1913. In 1921 Warren G. Harding upped the pace to twice a week. Since then, all but two presidents (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) averaged at least one solo or joint press conference a month over the course of their terms.

In his first year in office, Donald Trump held only one solo press conference. Barack Obama held seven, George W. Bush held four and Bill Clinton held 11.

The Biden approach seems to some right for 2021. “Presidential press conferences are not on the top of the agenda” for Americans worried about COVID-19 and the economy, one professor suggested to the Associated Press.


Does the US government fund gender equality initiatives in Afghanistan?

A U.S. government body studying Afghanistan reconstruction reported in February 2021 on efforts to support gender equality in the country. The agency found that, since the U.S. invaded the country in 2002 until 2020, three agencies spent at least $787.4 million on programs supporting Afghan women and girls, yielding “mixed results” with some program designs “ill-suited to the Afghan context.”

The prospects of a durable political settlement with the Taliban cloud the outlook for maintaining the changes achieved so far, the report notes. “The effort to promote women’s rights may be hampered by a growing narrative in Afghanistan that the country can either have women’s rights at the cost of peace, or peace at the cost of women’s rights.”

In 2020 the U.S. pledged $300 million in further developmental assistance to support a number of goals, including women’s rights.


Does Israeli data show a continuing drop in new cases following COVID-19 vaccination efforts?

The number of reported coronavirus infections in Israel continues to drop. Nearly 50% of its population has been vaccinated against the virus. All but 3% of current serious or critical cases being tracked are among patients who had not received both doses of the vaccine, according to official data cited by the Times of Israel on March 7, 2021. Some patients in that group may have contracted the virus after the second dose of the vaccine but within the one-week window before immunity is considered to be fully established, the newspaper reported earlier.

Newly-reported coronavirus infections in Israel have dropped from a January peak of more than 10,000 a day to 1,751 on March 8. On the same day, the number of coronavirus-related deaths was 25, compared to 87 on Jan. 22, according to data compiled by Reuters.


Did the creation of the Department of Homeland Security take some authority away from FEMA?

President Jimmy Carter founded the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979 by executive order; it remained an independent entity until after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when it was absorbed by the newly created Department of Homeland Security. The department transferred staff, duties, funds and authority from FEMA to its Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate.

By the time Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, FEMA was gutted (with 500 staff vacancies) and couldn’t properly respond. Reform legislation signed into law in 2006 “restored to FEMA many of the functions that had been transferred to other parts of the department” while restricting the actions that the DHS secretary can take affecting the agency.

FEMA‘s mission is to prepare for, respond to and aid recovery from natural and manmade disasters and terrorist attacks.


Has there recently been a worldwide rise in violence against women?

Violence against women appears to have increased around the world since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020.

A 2020 literature review conducted by the Center for Global Development, a think tank focused on global economic issues, looked at 30 studies examining the incidence of violence against women. The studies were conducted in countries including the U.S., Argentina, Uganda, India and Bangladesh, and collected data in different ways, from conducting interviews with participants to keeping track of calls made to domestic violence helplines. Just under half of the studies noted a clear increase in violence against women and approximately 30% saw mixed results, indicating an increase in at least one measure.

Data released by the United Nations shows that calls to domestic violence helplines have increased fivefold in some countries since the coronavirus outbreak began.


Is the per-user cost of municipal services higher in low-density neighborhoods?

Urban sprawl, which creates lower-density suburban communities, is associated with higher per-user costs for municipal services like water, sanitation, electricity, public transport, waste management and policing, according to a 2018 report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Significant subsidies” are required to cover the cost of these services, and providing them “exerts pressure on local public finance.”

Sometimes, taxpayers in denser urban neighborhoods may directly subsidize services for suburbanites. According to 2019 tax data from Denver, denser, older neighborhoods close to downtown generate millions of dollars in surplus revenues that help cover costs for less-concentrated, relatively wealthy neighborhoods where property tax receipts can’t fund all the infrastructure needs.


Does preliminary research suggest that universal basic income programs help stimulate the economy?

While researchers maintain that more data is needed to reach a definitive conclusion, preliminary findings suggest that a universal basic income improves economic outcomes for participants and their communities.

In a cross-analysis of 16 UBI reviews, Stanford Basic Income Lab researchers reported that “UBI-type programs alleviate poverty and improve health and education outcomes” while acknowledging a lack of data on “experimental, sustained UBI, which is considered the gold standard for evidence.”

McKinsey & Company similarly concluded that a nationwide trial in Finland led to “a small increase in employment” and a “huge boost to well-being” while noting that “the body of quantitative evidence for or against a universal basic income is still slim.”

Advocates of UBI support transferring cash regularly to all adult citizens, who may use it however they wish.


Do Americans pay more in taxes than they spend on food and clothing combined?

The average American family in the middle income bracket—defined as the middle 20% of families, earning between $36,000 and $69,500 annually—paid $15,748 in federal, state and local taxes in 2018, according to federal data compiled by USAFacts. Meanwhile, the average American household spent almost $9,800 on food and apparel in 2018, as reported in a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.

In 2014, the U.S. population as a whole paid $4.5 trillion in taxes, which is more than what the country spent on housing, food and clothing combined, the Tax Foundation calculated based on Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

By another calculation using Tax Foundation data, the “median” U.S. wage earner paid about $18,368 in income, Social Security and Medicare taxes in 2019.


Are renewables less ‘energy dense’ than other types of energy?

Renewable energy sources have a lower energy density than conventional forms of energy, meaning that a given surface area of renewables will produce less power than that same surface area utilized by fossil fuels.

Renewables are nonetheless capable of powering the U.S. on a small amount of land. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated in 2008 that solar power could supply electricity to all Americans using just 0.6% of the country's land. They point out for comparison that solar power’s footprint would be less than 2% of farming and grazing land.

Researchers at Columbia University reported in 2009 that including life-cycle factors such as mining and waste storage, solar in sunny areas requires less surface area than coal or nuclear.

Estimates for wind are even lower: CleanTechnica suggested that wind turbines could power the U.S. on “about 0.01% of the land.”


Did the UN secretary-general withdraw support for alternative energy?

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that phasing out coal as an electricity source is “the single most important step” to restrain expected increases in average global temperatures.

At a March energy conference, Guterres called on governments and businesses to cancel all coal projects and “end the deadly addiction to coal,” halt international financing of coal projects and shift investment towards renewable power sources, like solar, which he calls a more economic alternative.

Making solar generation equipment does consume fossil fuels, but the emissions impact from manufacturing is offset by the “clean” electricity produced by the equipment over following decades. The time taken for “payback” has continued to shorten with changes in manufacturing and materials as demand for solar equipment has grown.


Is there a more direct process for removing deceased people from Social Security than from voter files?

While all states eventually remove the names of deceased voters from registration lists, voters are not typically removed from the rolls immediately upon death. In most states, the secretary of state or local jurisdictions receive the names of deceased voters after they are compiled by a state agency such as an office of vital statistics—sometimes on a monthly basis. A few states allow voters to be removed based on published obituaries, death certificates or notification by close family.

In the case of Social Security, a family member, funeral home or government agency is urged to report the death as soon as possible directly to the Social Security Administration. Keeping or using a deceased person’s Social Security benefits after they die is considered a federal crime, even if the death goes unreported. Any benefit for the month of death should be returned, the agency says.


Is Georgia considering legislation making it illegal to give food and water to people waiting in line to vote?

Pending legislation in Georgia would make it a misdemeanor to “give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector” within 25 feet of any voter standing in line or within 150 feet of a polling place. It would also require an ID for absentee voting, reduce the number of early voting days and restrict the number of absentee ballot drop boxes.

Republicans supporting the bill say it will protect people’s votes and “restore confidence in the voting system,” while Democrats say it will result in voter suppression.

The bill passed in the the state’s lower house along party lines, 97-72, on March 1, 2021. It is currently under consideration in the state Senate.


Is student debt cited as a factor in declining US birth rates?

Increasing student debt is among the economic factors associated with declining birth rates. A 2015 study found that “student loans delay fertility for women, particularly at very high levels of debt” and that the loans “produce greater uncertainty in the pathway through education into family formation.” Mortgages and credit-card debt, by contrast, seem to be “precursors to parenthood,” providing access to material goods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. birth rate has been declining steadily since 2007. Student debt, by contrast, has increased exponentially since then.

Future Family, a fertility-care company, found in a 2018 survey that half of the women owing student debt said it influenced their decision to have children. (Of the 1,000 childless women between 25 and 40 years old surveyed, 44% had debt.)


Has Apple relaxed some of its ‘right to repair’ rules amid increasing political scrutiny?

In 2019, Apple loosened restrictions on independent repair shops, providing some authorized establishments with limited parts and training so they could work on certain Apple-approved iPhone repairs. In mid-2020, the company announced that it would expand its independent repair program (which includes 140 member businesses) to allow Mac computer repairs. Apple also expanded an authorized service program that includes retailers like Best Buy who pay for membership.

Right-to-repair advocates in the U.S. and Europe have criticized Apple’s relatively restrictive policy as anti-competitive. In a 2019 hearing, a House antitrust committee member asked if Apple’s policy was just a way to “extend its monopoly.” In 2020 the committee published internal Apple emails indicating that the company remains conflicted over whether it should make repair manuals public and parts more readily available.


Has a respiratory virus ever been fully eradicated?

According to the American Society for Microbiology, the World Health Organization has only declared one virus affecting humans completely eradicated: smallpox. No viruses primarily affecting the respiratory system have been eradicated.

Widespread global coordination to deliver the smallpox vaccine is credited for the eradication of the virus. The last case was recorded in 1977, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although no respiratory virus has ever been fully been eradicated, some have disappeared on their own. SARS, which was first observed in southern China in 2002, spread for about 6 months before infection slowed. Its disappearance is attributed to global coordination measures, although it is not considered officially eradicated as it is still observed in animals.


Is the single greatest predictor of an eviction the presence of a child?

The presence of children in a household is the single greatest predictor of eviction, according to a study by Harvard researchers.

The 2016 study looked at many variables that may factor into evictions of a family, including the race of tenants, marital status, education level and more. Of these, the number of children in a household was found to be the most significant factor in predicting an eviction, more so than “race, gender, or class”-related factors.

A separate 2015 study concluded that housing eviction likely played a large role in the “reproduction of poverty” for those who had experienced eviction as a child.


Has President Biden tightened rules governing lobbyists working in the executive branch?

The Biden administration has imposed stricter rules on lobbying activities for those coming to work in the executive branch. The rules tighten some that the Trump administration relaxed, and go beyond those under President Obama. Norman Eisen, Obama’s “ethics czar,” calls the plan “the strongest, most ambitious swamp-draining plan ever.”

Despite this, some critics have noted that private interests can still be an issue. For instance, Tom Vilsack, reappointed as Agriculture Secretary after serving in that post under Obama, has close ties to agribusiness. Vilsack hasn’t been a registered lobbyist since 2007, but after leaving government in 2017 became president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council—working with lobbyists, though not technically one himself. He “represents the powerful few of Big Ag,” The Intercept writes.


Is Biden being pressed to appoint a national leader of gun violence prevention?

In a Feb. 26 letter, 36 Democratic members of Congress formally called for the Biden administration to appoint a national director and interagency task force related to gun violence prevention.

Reps. Joe Neguse, for Colorado, and Lucy McBath, from Georgia, sent the letter to President Biden and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, in which they called on the administration to set a “goal of reducing firearms deaths and injuries by at least 50%” over the next decade.

On his campaign’s website, Biden promised to “pursue constitutional, common-sense gun safety policies,” including banning the manufacture and sale of some weapons and requiring background checks for all gun sales.

In March 2020, Biden declared that Texas politician Beto O'Rourke would lead the effort on “the gun problem.” The Biden administration has yet to announce formal plans to appoint a leader on the issue.


Has the federal government taken steps to lighten student debt burdens in recent years?

The federal government has made legislative and regulatory changes in recent years in an effort to lighten debt burdens on student borrowers, including:

  • Terminating federally-backed student loans made through private lenders.
  • Lowering the monthly repayment rate of income-based plans from 15% to 10% of borrowers' income above the poverty line.
  • Shortening the amount of time before borrowers enrolled in the plans may have their balance forgiven from 25 years to 20 years.
  • Making it easier for students to recoup tuition lost to fraudulent practices by colleges and universities.
  • Waiving new interest on student debt and suspending required repayments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Student debt remains a burden for many Americans and a political challenge for the Biden administration. The debt has more than tripled since the Federal Reserve began collecting data in 2006 and now totals $1.7 trillion.


Does the Senate parliamentarian serve at the pleasure of the Senate majority leader?

According to Senate rules, parliamentarians serve at the pleasure of the body’s majority leader. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough was appointed in 2012 by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. There have only been six parliamentarians since the position was created in 1935.

While uncommon, a parliamentarian has been fired before. In 2001, Majority Leader Trent Lott dismissed Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove. Republicans were angry that Dove, a Republican appointee, disallowed spending measures for violating Senate rules.

The House and Senate each have a parliamentarian to assist with questions about the “meaning and application of that chamber’s legislative rules, precedents and practices.” The presiding officer usually accepts the parliamentarian‘s interpretations, but they aren’t binding. A majority vote by the Senate can override the rulings.


Do medical products used to care for premature infants contain potentially harmful levels of chemicals?

Researchers have repeatedly raised questions about the long-term health impact of plastics in medical supplies commonly used to care for prematurely-born infants. A 2014 study noted the presence of DEHP in essential neonatal intensive-care items like intravenous tubing, catheters and IV bags, finding that exposure for critically ill infants may be “at levels approximately 4,000 to 160,000 times higher than those believed to be safe.”

A 2019 study found other chemicals that can disrupt hormones, including BPA and parabens, in many items tested in neonatal care units.

The long-term impact of exposure isn’t well understood. A 2020 study argues that “the risk from these medical exposures is likely understated because our knowledge is restricted to a few known classes of endocrine disruptors and a limited set of medical devices,” Environmental Health News reports.


Can state or local police arrest federal law enforcement agents?

Lower level police officers may arrest federal law enforcement agents in their jurisdiction when the agent violates a state law for reasons unrelated to law enforcement. In 2014, a federal agent was arrested in Utah by Salt Lake City police for pointing a gun at an Uber driver.

If agents are found to have violated a law in pursuance of their law enforcement duties, they may be shielded from prosecution. In 2000, an FBI sniper who killed an unarmed women during the Ruby Ridge incident was granted legal immunity on the grounds that he acted “honestly and reasonably.”

States sometimes try to “nullify” federal laws. One common target is federal gun control. Earlier this year, a Missouri county passed an ordinance calling for the arrest of federal agents attempting to enforce gun control laws. The constitutionality of nullifications is determined by federal courts on a case-by-case basis.


Do some states ban strikes by public-sector employees?

Thirty-eight states either do not recognize the right of public sector workers to strike or outright prohibit public sector strikes. The remaining twelve permit certain public sector workers to strike under state-specific conditions.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established the right of most private sector workers to strike but excluded public sector workers. States therefore exercise jurisdiction over the striking privileges of their public sector workers.

While laws vary among states, most explicitly ban strikes by essential workers such as teachers, firefighters and police.

However, public sector workers have periodically defied state law to go on strike. The 2018-2019 teachers’ strike wave resulted in significant victories for teachers unions in anti-strike states such as Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia.


Is water publicly traded on the US futures market?

On Dec. 7, 2020, water futures began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Futures are contracts to buy a commodity at an agreed price for later delivery, reducing uncertainty for buyers. The contracts are based on the price of rights to gain access to water in California.

Water rights are often traded in private transactions, but this is the first time water rights have been publicly traded in the U.S.

In theory, access to futures can reduce risk for buyers, permitting a hedge against the cost of future droughts. Speculators trade the contracts in hopes of profit, absorbing risks and helping establish prices, but trading can increase overall price volatility. Finance and water experts told the San Francisco Chronicle that the new instruments “may provide only limited risk protection and could even put upward pressure on water prices.”


Has a federal court blocked a Biden administration order to halt deportations?

On Jan. 26, a federal district court blocked the Biden administration from suspending what immigration authorities call “removals” of people not legally authorized to live in the U.S. The administration called for a 100-day pause in most deportations, citing the need to strengthen processing at the southern border while managing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.</