FACT-CHECKERS

List of Checks

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.

The order, one of the new administration’s first actions after assuming power, was almost immediately challenged by the state of Texas. Its Republican Attorney General cited a Trump administration pledge to “work cooperatively with the State of Texas to address shared immigration enforcement concerns.”

The judge in the case, Drew B. Tipton, was appointed by President Trump last year. He has extended the block of the suspension indefinitely.


Do other developed countries offer taxpayers return-free filing?

Dozens of countries, including Sweden, Japan and the U.K., use return-free tax filing. According to the Tax Policy Center, authorities in these countries handle most or all of the processes needed to finalize taxes due, calculating withholding and final liability and then providing the information to the taxpayer for review. This frees many employed taxpayers from filing obligations.

In the U.S., employers file compensation data directly to the Internal Revenue Service, which could in theory then do some of the preparation work for at least some taxpayers. That could assist taxpayers, who, the IRS says, made 2.3 million math errors in fiscal year 2019. Even without changing the relatively complex U.S. tax code, the U.S. could “operate a return-free system for at least some taxpayers,” the Tax Policy Center says.


Is US electricity expensive by world standards?

U.S. electricity isn’t particularly expensive compared to some other advanced economies, but it isn’t the cheapest, either.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. average residential price of electricity was about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2019. Most European countries pay much more, according to a website that compares energy prices around the globe. In June 2020, the average German household paid almost 39 cents per kWh. Rates in Venezuela, Sudan and Libya were the lowest, at less than half a cent. Households in the U.S. paid nearly 15 cents per kWh in the same period, according to this site’s data.

Any U.S. average obscures wide variations across the country, reflecting different generation sources, local policies and geography. In 2019, customers in Hawaii paid almost four times more for electricity than customers in Louisiana.


Do fossil fuel producers benefit from federal and state tax breaks?

Fossil fuel producers benefit from federal tax treatment of many aspects of their operations, including but not limited to exploration, infrastructure development and drilling costs.

The Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group, estimated that federal policies will cost $11.5 billion in foregone tax revenues from 2019 to 2023. Supporters say the tax breaks reduce dependence on foreign oil. Many were enacted decades ago, long before the recent resurgence in domestic oil production.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, an energy-policy research nonprofit, “direct subsidies” to the fossil fuel industry conservatively total $20 billion per year, with 80% going to oil or natural gas producers.

States including Texas, California, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico also provide tax incentives to oil and gas producers.


Are renewable energy sources competitive with non-renewable sources even without state and federal subsidies?

Renewable energy producers have benefited from years of public support; in 2017, their U.S. federal tax breaks totaled $11.6 billion. But thanks in part to this support, renewable energy has become increasingly economically viable, with or without incentives.

The World Economic Forum notes an 82% drop in the cost of solar photovoltaic energy between 2010 and 2019, as well as cost reductions for concentrated solar power (47%), onshore wind (39%), and offshore wind (29%). In 2019, “half of new solar and wind installations undercut fossil fuels.”

Columbia University’s Earth Institute observes that even without subsidies, solar and wind are now cheaper than coal or natural gas over a facility’s lifetime. A 2020 report from the investment firm Lazard found some non-subsidized renewable energy was cost-competitive with conventional energy.


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

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

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

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


Would improving COVID-19 vaccine access for poorer countries also benefit rich countries?

“Vaccine nationalism”—with countries rushing to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines for their own citizens—could be costly to global financial health as well as public health.

High-income countries accounting for 16% of the world’s population have bought 60% of COVID-19 doses, according to a January 2021 report from Duke University. World Health Organization experts say that inequitable access to the vaccine is only going to prolong the pandemic, and both poor and rich countries will suffer.

Vaccine nationalism could cost the global economy as much as $9.2 trillion, half of which would fall on advanced economies that rely on international trade, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. The World Economic Forum estimates that it would cost $25 billion to fully vaccinate low-income countries, while the cost of not doing so is $119 billion a year for high-income economies.


Has Pfizer played a key role in the evolution of global pharmaceutical patent rules?

Global rules governing intellectual property laws for vaccines and pharmaceuticals resulted from years of trade negotiations leading to what’s known as the TRIPS Agreement in 1994. A key figure then backing the agreement was the chairman of Pfizer, Edmund Pratt, who wanted intellectual property protections against generic-drug manufacturers in emerging markets.

Pratt was named to a U.S. presidential advisory committee on trade in 1979. In 1986, he co-founded the Intellectual Property Committee, a group of 13 large corporations advocating intellectual property laws in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was succeeded by the World Trade Organization in 1995.

Other Pfizer executives pushed for strong patent laws in influential groups within both the U.S. government and intergovernmental bodies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Have governments funded a major share of COVID-19 vaccine research and development?

Billions of dollars of government support for COVID-19 vaccine development has taken several forms.

  • Governments have made large direct grants, including support for the makers of two approved mRNA vaccines, Moderna and BioNTech, Pfizer’s German partner.
  • The mRNA vaccines derive from U.S. government-supported basic research into coronaviruses dating back to 2003, including an $18 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania for “foundational” research.
  • Guaranteed purchases have supported companies taking on the large development risks of developing the vaccines, assuring them of recovering many costs.

Advocacy groups have said the role of public funding argues for wide, global vaccine distribution at low cost. Now the Biden administration is urging other countries to follow its lead in pledging $4 billion to COVAX, a global effort to purchase vaccines for poorer countries.


Do some experts say patent concerns are holding back production of COVID-19 vaccines?

Some experts say patent protections are unnecessarily limiting production of COVID-19 vaccines.

University of Ottawa professor Ronald Labonté says that waiving patents on the vaccines could unlock “untapped manufacturing capacity” around the world. Labonté cites UNICEF, which estimates that vaccine production could increase from 6.5 billion doses to 20 billion doses per year if manufacturers in India, China and other countries were fully utilized. London School of Economics professor Siva Thambisetty argues that Indian vaccine makers are primarily restricted by patents, rather than technological ability, as shown by a history of successfully producing generic versions of drugs like Tamiflu after patent restrictions were eased.

Manufacturers and governments have resisted calls to relax patent controls, while setting up their own industry alliances to boost availability of the vaccines.


Do other affluent countries have more reliable electricity than the US?

In its national competitiveness rankings, the World Economic Forum includes electricity “supply quality,” measured by losses in distribution and transmission. In 2019 the U.S. ranked 23rd out of 141 countries.

Concerns about the U.S.’s aging, fragmented electricity supply system gain attention in extreme weather. They‘ve been voiced for years by engineers and economists. A 2006 article observed that the frequency of outages “is no less today than it was a quarter-century ago.” A 2012 report to Congress noted that the U.S. had the highest “average annual outage time per customer” among nine leading nations.

In 2019 the average U.S. customer experienced nearly five hours without electricity. In 2020, Popular Science noted that, with blackouts costing the economy at least $150 billion a year, “in the long-term, the hefty costs of upgrading electric facilities may be worth it.”


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

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

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

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


Do some plastic materials have misleading recycling symbols?

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

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

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


Has the US confirmed any drone strikes on Somalia since President Biden took office?

Since President Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the U.S. appears to have paused drone strikes on targets in Somalia, after years of using strikes to try and weaken terrorist groups based in the country.

Data from the nonprofit organization Airwars (which tracks military actions and civilian harm claims in conflict zones) shows that four drone strikes have hit Somalia since Biden’s inauguration. The U.S. Africa Command told Airwars its last strike was Jan. 19. The command suggested that other actors, including Ethiopia, were responsible.

Airwars data shows that Somalia was struck 35 times during the Obama administration, and 292 times during the Trump administration by alleged U.S. drone strikes. The U.S. set new records for strikes on Somalia each year between 2013 and 2019, rising to 63 in 2019. As of Dec. 1, 2020, the U.S. military had reported 50 strikes on Somalia during the year.


Is highway expansion effective at reducing traffic?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Do clean energy jobs far outnumber jobs in the coal industry?

The U.S. coal mining industry employed 43,000 people in February 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS classifications don’t measure jobs in transport or utilities related to coal, the source of a diminishing share of the electricity delivered to end users.

Nor do BLS numbers capture jobs directly related to “clean” energy, which involve roles in construction, transport, marketing and other functions in addition to power generation and distribution. A report sponsored by the Energy Department tallied 736,793 jobs in “zero and low emissions” industries in 2019. A wider definition of clean-energy work includes an additional 2.38 million workers supporting adoption of energy-efficient equipment and technology throughout the economy.

The same report estimates that coal on that basis accounts for a total of 75,500 jobs.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Does gene editing improve crop performance?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Are engineers working on flying cars for personal use?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Are ‘vaccine passports’ a new concept?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Are there continuing investigations into Trump’s finances?

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

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

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

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


Does Texas run on its own electrical grid?

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Does loss of biodiversity disproportionately affect the impoverished?

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

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

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


Is deforested land more prone to landslides?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Do oil spills contribute to global warming?

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

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

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


Can solar farms operate in cold temperatures?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Are US sanctions reducing access to medicine in Venezuela?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Could synthetic natural gas potentially be carbon neutral?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Will Cuba potentially supply COVID-19 vaccines to other countries?

Cuba is currently developing four experimental COVID-19 vaccines. The country is scheduled to deliver one million doses of one version, Soberana 02 (or Sovereign 02 in English) by April. “Cuba is going to be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate all its inhabitants if not the first,” a health ministry professor wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to the British Medical Association’s medical journal.

As Cuba is a member of PAHO, the regional arm of the World Health Organization, its vaccines could be made available to the other Latin American member states. Cuba is working to develop 100 million doses in 2021, enough to vaccinate its population of 11.3 million and then ship doses to other countries.

Vietnam, Iran and Venezuela are among nations reported interested in acquiring Cuban vaccines.



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Is there solid evidence that echinacea helps strengthen the lungs?

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Is there evidence that student loan burdens constrain homeownership?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Do clean energy jobs pay less than fossil fuel jobs?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Does the standard BMI calculation overestimate obesity in Black people?

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Are scientists sure about how many trees grow on Earth?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Could President Biden use emergency powers to address climate change?

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

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

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


Was the income tax originally adopted as a temporary measure?

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

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

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

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


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

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

Article 12 of the agreement states:

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

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


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

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

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

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


Has the federal gas tax not increased since 1993?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Did Biden break a campaign promise not to ban fracking?

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

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

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


Is there consensus about when global oil demand will peak?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Is there evidence that fracking causes significant air pollution?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Can sex at birth always be identified through chromosomes alone?

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

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


Does recent evidence show that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers substantial protection?

While research shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully effective only after the recommended two doses, a December 2020 study found that “in the interval between the first and second doses, the observed vaccine efficacy was 52%.”

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

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


Is Bitcoin often used to finance illegal activities?

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

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


Have banks meaningfully reduced their investment in fossil fuel projects?

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

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

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


Can Bitcoin mining reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Lawmakers may reintroduce the bill in the 2021 legislative session.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Did Samantha Power back President Obama’s Syria policy?

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

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

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


Has support for socialism grown in recent years?

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

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

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


Do carbon emissions tend to grow in step with affluence?

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

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

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


Could Fox News be forced off the air?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

• Established regulations for derivatives trading.

• Established mandatory monitoring of hedge funds.

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


Do microplastics from road traffic cause water pollution?

Microplastic runoff from road traffic can pollute waterways.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Do health-care workers typically decline annual flu shots?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Do most states have a process for decertifying police officers?

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

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

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


Is domestic terrorism a federal crime?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Are all violent threats illegal in the US?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Does the US government audit its foreign aid spending?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Are scientists developing a skin patch COVID-19 vaccine?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Have governments been raising more money from carbon pricing?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Does Prager University provide detailed information about its donors?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Does low humidity increase the transmission risk of the coronavirus?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Do the emissions reductions from solar energy justify clearing trees?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Did McConnell underperform Trump in the 2020 election?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Has martial law been declared 64 times in US history?

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

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

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


Is the US increasing its money supply at unprecedented rates?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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