FACT-CHECKERS

List of Checks

Do exclusionary zoning rules get in the way of building more affordable housing?

Housing economists say restrictive urban zoning rules limit new housing supply and push up prices. Rules in many cities and suburban towns specify minimum lot sizes, unit sizes and costly building-code requirements as well as limits on anything other than single-family housing. Approval processes slow or stop larger multi-unit projects that promise more affordable options.

Efforts to revise these rules seem to work best with local initiative and support. Minneapolis in 2018 became the first U.S. city to ban single-family-only neighborhoods. A suburban Virginia county has eased restrictions near transit hubs. San Diego, Austin and other cities are speeding up approval processes for affordable projects. A widely-watched bill in California to override local zoning near transit hubs failed in the legislature early in 2020, after vocal objections from southern California residents.


Do presidents-elect seek private contributions to fund their transition offices?

A 1963 law allows for both federal funding and private donations to support a new president's transition planning between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Direct support from the General Services Administration covers costs for office space, administrative support and staff and travel expenses. The law allows any single individual or entity to make a contribution of up to $5,000 to the effort.

In 2008, President-Elect Obama raised $1.2 million for his transition in the 11 days after his election, according to federal filings tracked by Open Secrets. In 2016, President Trump raised $6.5 million in private donations, according to the Center for Public Integrity. On Nov. 23, the GSA formally unlocked the government funding for the Biden transition team, which has also been seeking private-sector donations.


Is solar activity expected to reach an unusual low in the next decade?

NASA predicts that the upcoming solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, will be "weaker than average." But it's also expected to end a forty year period of weakening magnetic fields on the sun. “There is no indication that we are currently approaching" what scientists call a grand solar minimum, says Lisa Upton, the co-chair of the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel.

The sun alternates between periods of violent activity called solar maximums, which feature solar flares and eruptions, and periods of relative calm called solar minimums. These periods shift approximately every 11 years, when the sun's magnetic poles flip.

The last grand solar minimum occurred in the middle of the Little Ice Age (13th through 19th century) causing "erroneous beliefs that another grand minimum could lead to global cooling." Today, scientists theorize the Little Ice Age occurred for other reasons.


Do outgoing presidents typically issue a wave of 'midnight regulations'?

Lame-duck presidential administrations, with influence waning in many respects, typically issue a wave of new regulations.

The practice dates back at least 70 years, regardless of administration or party. "President Obama left office with a bang," issuing 41 "economically significant rules" after Nov. 1, 2016, according to researchers at George Washington University. Unlike executive orders, rules pass through a review process that makes them more difficult for the next president to overturn.

New York University's law school is tracking Trump administration rule changes, anticipating environmental and energy policy moves that could frustrate Biden administration goals. If Republicans prevail in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs and hold the Senate, the changes will be protected from a law that allowed Republicans to scrap more than a dozen "midnight rules" enacted by the Obama administration.


Does the US depend on three private companies for its voting equipment?

More than 90% of U.S. voters use systems developed by one of three privately-owned companies, according to a 2016 Wharton School report. Wharton estimates their total revenue to be about $300 million. The vendors receive little federal oversight aside from voluntary testing of functional requirements, relatively relaxed oversight compared with what the government gives, say, military equipment, a report by the Brennan Center for Justice notes.

One of the three, Dominion Voting, publicly denied a range of false claims about its performance in the Nov. 3 elections, including allegations of ties to prominent Democratic leaders or donors. The company, founded in Canada and now based in Colorado, noted that post-election scrutiny in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia (where the state reviewed every vote) has confirmed the security of its systems and the accuracy of its tabulations.


Is there a higher rate of workplace fatalities in states with 'right-to-work' laws?

According to a 2017 study, "right-to-work" laws in the U.S. have "led to a 14.2% increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionization." The laws, in effect in 27 states, allow workers not to pay dues to a union, even if the union represents their workplace.

The study found that for every 1% decline in unionization in a state, workplace fatalities increased by 5%. It advised policymakers to "consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health." The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,250 workplace deaths nationwide in 2018.

According to the 775,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, right-to-work laws deprive unions of the funding they need to provide members with safety training, and make workers who fear workplace retaliation less likely to report safety hazards.


Had the Western Hemisphere experienced two back-to-back category 4 hurricane landfalls before the recent storms in Nicaragua?

In September 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in the southern United States within two weeks of each other, marking "the first time in recorded history that two category 4 or higher hurricanes struck the U.S. mainland in the same year," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In November 2020, two category 4 storms, Eta and Iota, made landfall in Nicaragua.

Climate change is associated with larger, more intense and more frequent storms, a University of South Florida weather and climate professor told Scientific American in 2017. He noted that a coincidence of conditions has to be "just right" to sustain the storms.


Did a Danish study find face masks made no significant difference in the risk to the wearer of catching the coronavirus?

An April clinical trial in Denmark failed to find a statistically significant impact from wearing surgical masks in public spaces to ward off the coronavirus. Researchers found that the participants who wore masks had an infection rate of 1.8%, vs. 2.1% for the unmasked group—not a meaningful difference, statistically.

The study's authors described mask-wearing adherence among participants as "variable." They did not seek to assess the effect on virus transmission from the mask-wearer to others.

That effect, benefiting the entire community, lies behind recommendations from U.S. authorities and many others to wear masks in public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites data from several “real-world” studies in various countries, suggesting masks are up to 70% effective.


Are claims of scientific consensus about the causes of climate change overstated?

Between 90% and 100% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is human-caused, according to a 2016 analysis of six studies measuring the degree of consensus on the topic. The analysis established that the commonly used 97% consensus figure is "robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer reviewed studies."

The authors refute challenges to the consensus by noting that “the level of consensus correlates with expertise in climate science.” Experts are defined as climate scientists currently publishing in the field. Non-experts include scientists in other fields and non-publishing climate scientists. The authors use the expert consensus level, reasoning that experts are the more qualified to judge.

The authors note that “manufactured doubt about the consensus…is one of the most effective means of reducing acceptance of climate change."


Have teachers unions resisted returning to in-person instruction in US schools?

Throughout summer and into the fall, teachers unions across the country have resisted pressures to reopen schools for in-person learning, citing continuing health concerns for both members and their students.

In Chicago, where schools did not reopen this fall because of union resistance, new plans approved by local public-health officials to open classrooms for pre-K and special-needs students continue to meet resistance. In Los Angeles, unions have agreed only to limited in-person "assessments" and some specialized services. In San Francisco, officials and unions remain at odds over terms for reopening. Florida's statewide union failed to stop reopening but continues to criticize the state's policies.

With a November surge in infection rates, at least a dozen reopened major school districts have reversed course, highlighting continuing uncertainty about how to respond to the coronavirus.


Is there evidence that Trump Administration efforts to build a border wall have reduced illegal drug availability in the US?

Illegal drug availability in the U.S. remained persistently high during the first three years of the Trump Administration while it worked to extend and improve a wall along the border with Mexico.

According to Drug Enforcement Administration annual assessments, in 2017 and 2018 heroin availability increased, methamphetamine availability remained virtually unchanged and fentanyl became "widely available."

In 2019, heroin and meth availability increased or remained stable in all 23 DEA field divisions. Mexico remained the "primary source" of heroin in the U.S. and fentanyl availability was "high and increasing."

Any effect from the border wall has been limited. With Congress resisting funding, only 122 miles of barriers had been built by February 2020 along the nearly 2,000-mile border. An additional 280 miles had been completed as of Nov. 16, 2020.


Do coronavirus countermeasures appear to crush ordinary flu infections?

The Centers for Disease Control reported in September that steps taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus appear to have a dramatic effect on transmission of ordinary flu.

"Influenza virus circulation declined sharply within two weeks of the COVID-19 emergency declaration" in the U.S., the CDC said. After March 1, 2020, the CDC reports that lab tests confirming flu cases declined by 98% from earlier in the U.S. winter. During the summer, it said positive influenza testing in the U.S. reached a historical low, decreasing from less than 20% to 2.3%. The CDC observed the same trends in data from other Northern Hemisphere countries and in tropical regions. It noted that during their winter "Southern Hemisphere temperate climates have had virtually no influenza circulation," adding that "the consistent trends over time and place are compelling and biologically plausible."


Have authors of the anti-lockdown 'Great Barrington Declaration' shared the identities of others they say back their recommendations?

Three university professors who published a petition they called "The Great Barrington Declaration" have yet to disclose names of 50,000 medical practitioners and public-health specialists who they say have signed their petition.

The petition disputes the wisdom of "lockdown" measures taken by many governments to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the risk of overtaxing health care resources. The declaration calls for isolating those deemed most vulnerable to the virus, while young adults and children continue working and going to school.

The authors' underlying reasoning and recommendations have been widely disputed by other public-health leaders. A number of regions and countries have recently reinstated lockdown-type restrictions to brake renewed growth in infection levels.


Did DC's municipal council vote to give children over 11 the right to get vaccinations without parental approval?

The District of Columbia Council approved a bill allowing minors over the age of 11 to obtain recommended vaccinations without parental consent. The bill specifies additional steps to protect a minor's right to confidentiality around an HPV vaccine (which protects against the sexually-transmitted virus).

The bill passed its required second reading on Nov. 17. After the mayor signs the bill, it is then sent to the U.S. Congress under D.C.'s unique governance provisions. Congress has 30 days to act to block the bill with a joint resolution requiring presidential approval. If no action is taken, the law then takes effect in the city.


Is the US presidential transition a longer, more complex process than leadership changes in other major democracies?

The U.S.'s constitutionally mandated transition of presidential power—on the Jan. 20 following the November election—is relatively slow. This year it's 78 days.

A change of power in the U.S. triggers thousands more job changes throughout the executive branch. Many appointments must then be confirmed by the Senate. Most other new leaders have far fewer political appointees to review. "France has nearly three times as many federal public servants as the United States, but just about 1% or 2% of the number of presidential appointees," a law professor observes.

The French president takes office within as few as 10 days of electoral results.

In the U.K.'s parliamentary system, where a leadership team functions while in opposition, a change of prime minister and cabinet normally happens the day after the election. Other similar structures allow for at least a few days to hand over power.


Did election results in 2020 raise new questions about pollsters' methods and assumptions?

Early assessments of polling accuracy in 2020 results point to new questions about methods and assumptions. Unlike in 2016, polls generally predicted the correct presidential winner, but there were plenty of surprises in the results. Pew Research notes that errors in 2020 favored Democrats, pointing to "a systematic cause or set of causes." These could include:

  • Greater responsiveness among Democrats to polls
  • Shyness among Trump supporters about expressing their preference
  • Underestimates of enthusiasm for Trump
  • The COVID-19 pandemic's effect on voting and campaign conduct

"Polling errors for Senate candidates were quite large," Sam Wang, a Princeton neuroscientist and polling analyst, writes. "Republican candidates had a considerable reservoir of support that was not apparent." Overall, he told Scientific American, "at some level we should stop expecting too much out of the polling data."


Is there evidence that COVID-19 can cause lasting neurological or psychological effects?

COVID-19 appears to affect brain function in some patients. Some doctors have estimated that as many as 30% to 50% of patients could experience neurological or psychological symptoms during their recovery. Potential neurological symptoms including dizziness, headache, muscle weakness and lingering loss of smell or taste.

Research is currently underway at the University of Leicester to investigate long-term mental health effects of the virus on patients after hospital treatment. A separate, shorter-term study published in November using anonymized data of 62,354 patients suggested that, in patients with no previous psychiatric history, a diagnosis of COVID-19 increased incidence of subsequent psychiatric diagnoses. The most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders, insomnia and dementia.


Does the US spend twice as much on health care as other developed nations?

U.S. per capita spending on health care is about twice the average of the 37 member states in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to OECD health statistics. The U.S. spent 17% of its gross domestic product on health care in 2019, against the OECD average of 8.8%. Switzerland, which ranks second-highest in total health care spending, spent 12.2% of GDP on health care in the same year.

In 2016, U.S. public spending on health care was comparable to that of other developed countries while private and out-of-pocket spending was significantly higher.

Health outcomes in the U.S. are generally not better than in the other OECD states. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation observes that the U.S. "actually performs worse in some common health metrics like life expectancy, infant mortality and unmanaged diabetes."


Could the government require social media platforms to be politically neutral?

Any effort to require an internet platform such as Facebook or YouTube to take a political stance—neutral or otherwise—would run afoul of First Amendment protections afforded a platform as a private entity.

The Justice Department in September proposed a set of revisions to section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gives general legal immunity to internet platforms when they distribute content from users or other sources. Attorney General William Barr said the changes would help hold online platforms accountable "when they unlawfully censor speech."

The department says its proposed changes would ensure that the platforms are "fairer to the public when removing lawful speech from their services." It does not propose any requirement for neutrality. At present, providers set their own terms for removing speech, agreed to by users.


Are adjuvants toxic?

Adjuvants, substances that increase the body's response to vaccines, have been used safely for decades. They are not inherently toxic. They are tested for safety and effectiveness before use. Aluminum salts, common adjuvants, are found in drinking water. The best adjuvants maximize immunogenicity (the ability of the vaccine to induce an immune response) without compromising tolerability or safety.

Regulatory guidelines for the clinical evaluation of new vaccines are available and are regularly reviewed and updated. The Food and Drug Administration says it seeks to ensure that any adjuvant "does not affect adversely the safety or potency of the product."

Each vaccine receives a pre-clinical safety evaluation, as different vaccines have different combinations of adjuvant and antigens, which induce the immune response.


Are vaccinations against whooping cough safe and effective?

A review of multiple randomized control trials of the pertussis (or whooping cough) vaccine, used to prevent a highly contagious upper-respiratory infection, shows the vaccine to be between 84% and 94% effective. While the concentration of pertussis antibody decreases over time in those who've been vaccinated, data shows that even low antibody levels are highly protective, especially in children, who are at the highest risk of contracting whooping cough. A 2017 study also shows that the vaccine is 82% effective in preventing B. parapertussis infection as well.

Meta-analyses also report that the vaccine is safe. It has typical vaccine side effects such as fever, chills and swelling at the injection site. There is no notable incidence of other local or systemic reactions. The minor risks of an adverse reaction are outweighed by the immunity benefits conferred.


Did Joe Biden draw more pharmaceutical industry contributions than his opponent in 2020?

Donors in the pharmaceutical industry contributed $6.3 million to the 2020 campaign of Joe Biden, nearly four times more money than they channeled to Trump, who took in $1.59 million, based on data through Oct. 23.

At the Congressional level, pharmaceutical political action committees channeled $6 million to Republicans and $3.7 million to Democrats during the 2020 election cycle.

The pharmaceutical industry has historically favored Republican candidates, who have received 64% of the industry's contributions since 1990.


Was the Libertarian vote in 2020 larger than the Biden victory margin in some swing states?

In the 2020 presidential election, in some swing states (including Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona) the number of votes for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen was greater than the margin of victory for President-elect Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

In Georgia, Jorgensen got 62,066 votes; as of November 18, only 13,977 votes separated Biden and Trump. In Arizona, Jorgensen got 51,465 votes; Biden led Trump by 10,377 votes. In Wisconsin, Biden led Trump by 20,467 votes, while Jorgensen won 38,190 votes.

In Pennsylvania, Jorgensen's total of 79,511 votes was just below Biden's winning margin of 82,800 votes.

It's impossible to know how many votes for Jorgensen would have otherwise gone to Trump in the 2020 election had she not run for president.

Jorgensen received 1.2% of votes cast nationally.


Do researchers predict 'Medicare for All' would reduce overall US health care spending?

"Medicare for All," as the concept of a single government-administered health insurance system has become known, could reduce the overall cost burden of health care on the U.S. economy, according to nearly two dozen studies "from across the political spectrum."

So concluded a team of University of California researchers who looked at 22 different estimates of the impact of a comprehensive overhaul. All but three predicted net savings within one year. All the studies "suggested the potential for long-term cost savings" by slowing the rate of price increases. The two largest sources of savings identified were simplified billing and lower drug costs.

In 2018 the U.S. spent $3.6 trillion, nearly 18% of its gross domestic product, on health care. In its current form, spending is projected to climb 5.4% per year, reaching $6.2 trillion and nearly 20% of GDP in 2028.


Is proof of citizenship required when registering to vote in federal elections?

A 1993 law easing voter registration for federal elections stipulates that voters must be U.S. citizens, but doesn't actually require voters to show proof of their eligibility.

The National Voter Registration Act requires that registrants swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. The lack of required proof conflicts with language in the constitutions of a handful of states, including Arizona. To comply with the law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013, Arizona maintains a separate roll of "federal only" voters. In 2018, there were 11,904 voters in that category, and 14% voted, according to the Arizona Mirror.

A federal court deemed similar citizenship requirements in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia unconstitutional in 2016.


Has Moderna failed to disclose required information about funding for its COVID-19 vaccine?

A consumer watchdog group, Public Citizen, says Moderna Inc. has not met some disclosure requirements under its U.S. government contract to develop a coronavirus vaccine. It is asking the funding agency to enforce contractual requirements to disclose the level of non-government funding in the project.

Moderna acknowledges $955 million in federal support, but has not provided details about other funding sources. The company will receive an additional $1.525 billion for 100 million doses if the vaccine is effective.

Other unspecified support from government and nonprofit research institutions is acknowledged in a recent New England Journal of Medicine report on the trial, including money from a Vanderbilt University fund established by singer Dolly Parton.


Did the state of Alabama report zero hate crimes in 2018 and 2019?

Alabama is the only U.S. state reporting zero hate crimes in the FBI's 2019 report. The state was joined by Wyoming in reporting no incidents in 2018.

At the behest of Congress, the FBI has been gathering the data since 1990 on a voluntary basis from state and local law-enforcement agencies. Two Alabama agencies turned in reports in 2019, compared with 334 reporting in 2017 (when they logged three instances). The state's statutes include a range of hate-crime offenses, and legislation is pending to add motivations related to sexual orientation as grounds for an offense.

The Anti-Defamation League, which describes itself as a leading anti-hate organization, says the "highly implausible" Alabama figure underscores the need for improved reporting. In 2017 ProPublica found hate-crime reporting is "an area of substantial uncertainty and discomfort" for police across the country.


Is Seattle considering eliminating most misdemeanor crimes?

Seattle is considering an amendment of its criminal code to allow additional "duress" defenses for those accused of misdemeanors.

Seattle's current law allows charges to be dismissed if an individual is ruled to have committed a crime under "duress." The amendment, proposed by Seattle council member Lisa Herbold, would add poverty and mental illness to the list of permissible "duress" defenses. But it wouldn't eliminate the crimes from its code.

"This proposal would not...provide blanket immunity from most misdemeanors, nor...an absolute defense," Herbold wrote. "The legislation would allow the judge and/or jurors to consider not just what may have happened but why it may have happened."

A decision on the proposal is not due until after the city's annual budget process in late November.


Does the Department of Defense fund Marvel superhero movies?

The Defense Department supports some Marvel movies with access and information, but does not fund them. The Pentagon's entertainment liaison makes decisions on the department's involvement in particular productions. Typically it might offer access to information, locations or military vehicles.

A 2007 licensing agreement between the Pentagon and Marvel Studios (now a unit of Walt Disney Co.) lays out terms for Marvel's first movie, "Iron Man." It states that Marvel must portray the military according to certain standards set out by the Pentagon. It also states that Marvel will reimburse the U.S. government for expenses for use of military resources, not the other way around. Marvel must also cover travel, lodging, per diem and phone expenses for all military liaisons on the project.

The relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon dates back to 1927.


Is split-ticket voting common in the US?

Split-ticket voting—backing candidates from different parties in the same election—is increasingly rare.

In 2012, only 6% of voters in House districts voted for presidential and congressional candidates belonging to different parties. In 2018, split-ticket voting hit a low in Senate and gubernatorial races. In 2020 pre-election polling, only 4% of registered voters in states with Senate contests indicated an intention to back opposing parties in the presidential and Senate races.

But split-ticket voting can still hold sway. In 2020, 52.9% of voters in Maine voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president, while 51.1% voted to reelect Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Split-ticket voting can be influenced by incumbency or a candidate's degree of popularity (or unpopularity).


Do studies show that rent control always reduces the supply of rental housing?

The effect of rent control on rental-housing supply appears to vary with local circumstances, as studies show no consistent pattern.

A 2015 study found that rent control in New Jersey "did not exert any statistically significant effects on their communities’ housing markets." A 2007 study found that the state's rent control laws "actually increased the supply of rental housing by incentivizing landlords to subdivide larger rental units."

A 2007 study found that rent control in Boston "did encourage owners to shift units away from rental status" by making it more profitable to build housing for sale or convert existing rentals for sale. A 2009 study found that rent control in San Francisco encouraged landlords to "reduce rental housing supplies by 15% by selling to owner-occupants and redeveloping buildings."


Did President Obama abolish the US space program?

The Obama administration kept NASA's annual funding largely consistent with levels of the previous decade, while strengthening efforts to develop commercial space efforts. Funding dipped to $19 billion in 2013 from $22.6 billion in the first year of Obama's term, as long-range exploration efforts were redirected, recovering to $21 billion in his last year in office.

NASA expanded contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to launch commercial payloads into space and ferry crew members to the International Space Station, a service that the U.S. had paid Russia to provide after retiring the space shuttle.

Under Obama, NASA redrafted long-term plans to return human crews to the moon and eventually Mars, cancelling a previous development program in favor of a new spacecraft, Orion, and a more powerful rocket known as the Space Launch System. The first Orion/SLS manned flight is expected in 2023.


Do some conservatives want to eliminate the Department of Education?

Some conservatives have disputed the need for a Cabinet-level Department of Education since it was established in 1980. Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign platform called for eliminating what he called "President Jimmy Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle." In a 2016 interview with Sean Hannity, then-candidate Donald Trump said that the department "can be largely eliminated."

Actual initiatives to do so have not progressed beyond proposed legislation. In 1995, a Republican Congressman introduced legislation to combine the department with the Labor Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asserting the move could save $21 billion. In 2017, Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie introduced a one-sentence bill to shut down the department. The bill attracted 12 cosponsors.


Are pediatric trials of coronavirus vaccine candidates underway?

Pfizer Inc. expanded trials of its coronavirus vaccine candidate to include minors in September, adding participants as young as 16, then in October adding patients as young as 12.

Pfizer is the first of multiple companies working on vaccines to announce initial success with its candidate, followed by Moderna Inc. Moderna may start pediatric trials by yearend, Medscape reports. It notes that AstraZeneca plc is already testing its vaccine candidate with 5- to 12-year-olds in the U.K.

Doctors and researchers caution that ensuring a vaccine is safe and effective for children requires care. "Children’s immune systems are very different from adults’, and their immune responses can be different at different ages, from infancy through the teenage years," a doctor at a Hartford children's hospital explains.


Will Jill Biden be the first presidential spouse to continue a career while serving as first lady?

Jill Biden will become the first presidential spouse to continue a career outside the White House while serving as first lady. The President-elect's wife, who has a doctorate in education, teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.

During her time as second lady from 2009 to 2017, Biden also broke with tradition by continuing to teach while also working with Michelle Obama on a "Joining Forces" initiative designed to encourage citizen-veteran engagement.

The Biden campaign has stated that in her role as first lady, Biden plans to push for two years of tuition-free community college, as well as work on the issues of food insecurity and unequal access to technology among students.


Did a key Supreme Court opinion on Native American land rights derive from a 1493 papal edict?

An 1823 Supreme Court decision voiding a pre-revolutionary land sale by Piankeshaw Indians relied on a principle laid down more than three centuries earlier by Pope Alexander VI. The decision, in one of three key cases known as the "Marshall Trilogy," helped establish federal authority over Native Americans.

Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion cited a "discovery doctrine," which was proclaimed by the pope in 1493, permitting Spanish explorers to "bring under your sway the mainlands and islands" of the "undiscovered" New World. Other European colonial powers invoked the doctrine to claim for themselves any land not occupied by Christians.

In 1823, Marshall held that a colonizing nation gains sovereignty and title over the land it "discovers." In modern times, the "discovery doctrine" has been repudiated by many organizations including the World Council of Churches.


Did Trump coverage make Fox News the highest-rated cable news network?

Fox News was the highest-rated U.S. cable news network long before Donald Trump began his presidential campaign—having maintained the #1 spot against CNN, MSNBC and others for almost 19 years.

Trump's presidency, and the 2020 campaign, have no doubt helped sustain its success. Fox prime-time shows set new records in October as the election date drew near. Tucker Carlson's hour averaged 5.3 million viewers during the month, a cable TV record. Carlson "is arguably the most polarizing personality on cable news," Adweek observed. "But the folks who love his show watch it religiously."


Do educators say US schools still need billions of dollars to cope with the coronavirus?

Early in the summer, two public-education administrator groups estimated U.S. schools needed $8.3 billion just to provide masks and some other needed protective gear in order to safely reopen in the fall.

Congress approved $13.5 billion in emergency K-12 school funding in March as part of an overall relief bill, along with another $3 billion for discretionary use by governors. Much of that funding went to support immediate needs like technology for distance learning. A second bill proposed in the House in October would allocate another $225 billion for education, but hasn't progressed.

As schools reopened in recent months, there were many reports of teachers spending their own money to purchase items like masks and sanitizing supplies. With forecasts of huge revenue shortfalls ahead for state and local governments, local governments are stretched to provide for their needs.


Did Denmark decide to cull its entire mink population to slow the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus?

Denmark's attempt to limit the spread of a coronavirus strain found in its farmed-mink population has led to a political controversy after its decision to cull up to 17 million of the animals.

Twelve human cases of infection were found in September with a "cluster 5" variant also found in the minks, authorities reported. Coronavirus variants have also been discovered among farm-raised minks elsewhere. The Danish discovery raised worries that transmission from minks back to humans could result in strains that will be more resistant to the treatments and vaccines under development.

The country's agriculture minister resigned Nov. 18, after the government conceded it had no legal basis for ordering the mass cull. The Danish Parliament approved a ban on mink breeding through the end of next year. "They have killed the whole industry,” a farmer told the Financial Times.


Is a hand recount of close election results required by Georgia law?

Under Georgia election law, the Secretary of State may conduct a "risk-limiting audit" of one chosen race after an election. This is intended as a routine security procedure to check paper ballots against the machine tallies to ensure accuracy, with a statistical sampling of paper ballots counted by election officials. This measure helps guard against any potential hacks or interference in the voting process.

Following the close tally of the presidential race on the Nov. 3 ballot, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger selected that race to undergo the audit. However, due to the large volume of ballots and the close margin, election officials said they would audit every ballot—effectively performing a hand recount of the vote. A recount would normally take place at the request of the trailing candidate, after election results had been certified.


Does the Hatch Act allow executive-branch employees to make partisan political statements in their private capacities?

Political appointees in the executive branch are subject to Hatch Act rules governing "further restricted" federal employees. They are allowed to express opinions about candidates and issues, but only in a fully private capacity. They cannot partake in politically active expression while on duty or in a federal facility, according to the US Office of Special Counsel, which oversees federal personnel policies.

The "further restricted" guidelines, moreover, "preclude active participation in political management or partisan political campaigns, even off-duty," according to Justice Department guidelines.


Does LA's police department plan to close a sexual-assault investigation unit?

Facing budget pressures, Los Angeles' police department says it plans to dissolve a sexual-assault unit that is part of its robbery and homicide division, according to NBC's Los Angeles affiliate. A dozen specialized detectives and one lieutenant will be reassigned to geographic bureaus. In June, the city council cut $150 million from the department's $1.86 billion budget after Black Lives Matter protests called for shifting funding from policing to community programs. The department is also anticipating city funding pressures as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

LA's police chief is planning to cut other specialized investigative groups as well, in order to preserve capabilities to handle daily emergencies and calls. The alternative would be to "decimate our patrol staffing," he explained.


Does America's use of depleted uranium weapons violate national or international law?

The U.S. Defense Department since the 1970s has used depleted uranium, the material left after the uranium enrichment process, to make bullets and mortar shells. The substance is mildly radioactive, and highly hazardous when ingested and inhaled.

It is not currently banned or restricted under any existing disarmament agreement, according to the UN Disarmament Forum. DU-containing projectiles are legal on a case-by-case basis. The Law of Armed Combat does not absolutely prohibit the use of any weapon. Rather, it bans the use of weapons designed to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering to enemy combatants, which may apply in the case of DUs. U.S. domestic law could be seen as bound to this principle, as the U.S. is party to the Geneva Convention and bound to international custom.


Did the House block the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan?

Several members of Congress in June proposed legislation that could potentially block troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, but the bill hasn't progressed.

Democratic Rep. Jason Crow introduced the "Afghan Partnership and Transparency Act" which states that a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan would "undermine diplomatic efforts for peace." Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is a cosponsor. Before troop numbers could decrease, the act would require the defense secretary to submit a report certifying that a withdrawal would not:

  • Harm counterterrorism efforts
  • Increase personnel risk
  • Increase the potential for terrorism in Afghanistan
  • Occur without NATO and ally support
  • Go against U.S. national security

Are pharmaceutical prices in the US three to four times higher than in other developed countries?

Most other countries regulate drug prices; the U.S. doesn't. The U.S. spends the most money per capita on pharmaceuticals. According to a 2019 congressional study, in most other developed countries drug prices average around 24% to 30% of the U.S. level. U.S. sales ($376 billion in 2017) account for 33% of global pharmaceutical revenues.

The study reported that American prescription prices on average are four times those in Switzerland, which has greater per-capital wealth than the U.S. GlaxoSmithKline plc sells Advair Diskus, a pulmonary-disease drug, for about 13 times more in the U.S. than the average international price. Merck & Co. sells Dulera, which treats asthma, for an average of 50 times more in America than elsewhere.


Is 2020 the first time Arizona has voted for a Democratic president since the 1950s?

Before Joe Biden's win in 2020, Arizonans had last chosen the Democratic presidential candidate in 1996, when Bill Clinton won reelection. Clinton's win was the first Democratic victory there since Harry Truman's in 1948.

Unlike the 1996 vote, the 2020 results may signal a more durable shift in the state's partisan alignment. The state also elected a second Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, after choosing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018.

Factors eroding Republican dominance include a fast-growing young Latino population that now accounts for nearly a quarter of Arizona voters, along with an influx of Democratic-leaning newcomers fleeing neighboring California's high cost of living. Cindy McCain, the widow of 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, endorsed Biden.


Did Pennsylvania's elections chief violate the state's rules by extending a deadline for curing ballots?

Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania's Secretary of State, exceeded her authority when she extended a deadline in this year's general election, according to a state court ruling on Nov. 12. Boockvar had attempted to add three more days for voters to "cure"—correct—mailed-in ballots where their identity was in question. Pennsylvania's election code states clearly that if a voter can't provide the needed proof of identification "by the sixth calendar day following the election" then the ballot won't be counted.

The number of ballots affected by the ruling was estimated at no more than a few thousand, and may not have been included in the published vote count. The total would not be enough to change the outcome of Pennsylvania's presidential choice, as Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump by more than 66,000 votes.


Are general election ballots cast with only a vote in the presidential race unusual?

"Undervoting"—selecting less than the maximum number of choices available on a ballot—is a common (and legal) practice among American voters. Sometimes it's intentional (in protest, or as a thoughtful abstention), sometimes accidental.

According to the Federal Election Commission, in 2016, 136.7 million Americans voted for president, but only 131.7 million voted for a local House candidate. The same pattern is observable in 2012, 2008 and 2004.

The Washington Post found 1.7 million voters (or 2% of the total vote) abstained from voting for a presidential candidate in 2016.


Did polls during primary season find strong support for a wealth tax in the US?

The concept of a wealth tax, which was advocated by some candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary, won majority popular support in several polls during that phase of the campaign.

In a January 2020 Reuters poll, 64% of Americans agreed the very rich should contribute extra to support public programs. In a December 2019 poll for Fox News, 68% of respondents expressed support for a new 2% tax on anyone with assets of more than $50 million. Several other pollsters reported similar results.

Stanford Business School researchers in March reported wide support for the idea cutting across political affiliations. Support faded, however, if survey respondents were told a tax would hurt economic growth or employment. "If it would cause the economy to suffer, they quickly change their position,” said David Larcker, an accounting professor.


Do polls paint a mixed picture of claimed US support for 'Medicare for all'?

While proponents note polling that shows majority support for "Medicare for all," other surveys show support ebbs as Americans consider some specific aspects of any far-reaching health care reform.

Polling by KFF, a leading health-care think tank, shows 74% of Americans support more government involvement in health care (although Republican support has fallen steadily over the past 15 years). The majority favoring a direct government plan, often billed as the Medicare for all option, is less robust, most recently measured at 53%.

Language and positioning matters a lot. "Medicare for all" as a term is viewed positively by 63% of the public, while "socialized medicine" is viewed positively by only 44%, KFF says. When told that such a reform would lead to higher taxes or eliminate private health-insurance companies, support falls significantly below majority levels.


Does it appear that rejection rates for mail ballots were much lower than expected in the 2020 general election?

The 2020 expansion in mail voting prompted by the coronavirus pandemic spurred worries that more voters would make disqualifying mistakes on their ballots. Early figures indicate errors were much less frequent than in 2016 or 2018.

The share of mail ballots nationwide that were rejected increased from 1% in 2016 to 1.4% in 2018, according to Ballotpedia. Initial counts suggest rates in 2020 were well under those levels: 0.2% of mail ballots were rejected in Georgia, 0.15% in Iowa, 0.1% in Michigan, 0.8% in North Carolina, and 0.03% in Pennsylvania.

Many states simplified rules and extended deadlines this year. Wide publicity about mail voting and voter-outreach efforts may have helped reduce errors as well. Additionally, litigation in the past two years led to a dozen more states creating processes for correcting (curing) ballots, joining seven that already permitted the practice.


Do campaign-finance rules permit a Texas state official to offer a reward for evidence of voter fraud?

There is no law that explicitly prohibits Texas public officials from offering a reward for a legal act such as providing evidence of voter fraud.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was within his legal rights to offer a reward for information about the November general election, and to make it as large as he wants. Patrick is not coordinating his activity with a campaign and is therefore not subject to political contribution limits.

The legality of the reward offer is contingent upon it being paid out from Patrick's private earnings. Texas's election code restricts the use of campaign funds for "personal use," which is defined as "a use that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate for or holder of a public office."


Do campaign-finance rules apply to post-election expenses for recounts?

A state election recount can cost millions of dollars, which is why candidates often seek supporters' donations to pay for them. Officially, they cannot use this earmarked money for other purposes. The Federal Election Commission regulates recount fund donations, setting contribution limits and reporting requirements, and ensuring the money is used for relevant expenses like vote-counter compensation and post-election litigation.

In 23 of the 43 states which allow a candidate to request a recount, the candidate must pay for it. In 12 states, the candidate must pay if the margins are deemed too wide to justify a recount.


Was the radiation exposure from the Three Mile Island nuclear accident equivalent to that from a chest X-ray?

Multiple studies estimated that anyone living within ten miles of Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, the site of a partial reactor meltdown in 1979, was exposed to a radiation dose that was less than that of a chest X-ray.

A chest X-ray delivers approximately 0.1 millisieverts of radiation. The typical person is exposed to about that much radiation every ten days in normal life.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported that it, along with three other federal agencies, the state of Pennsylvania and several independent groups, studied the accident. Exposure was estimated at around 0.08 millisieverts or less. Other types of X-rays deliver greater doses of radiation—a spine X-ray delivers 1.5 mSv. "The actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment," the NRC concludes.


Is nuclear power a more reliable source of electricity than renewable alternatives?

According to the U.S. Energy Department, nuclear power has the highest capacity factor, or portion of time a power plant is actually producing electricity, out of all generating sources. Nuclear power plants require minimal maintenance and are designed to operate for long stretches before refueling. Because of this, nuclear plants are capable of producing maximum power for 93% of a given year, which makes nuclear power 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar power.

In advanced economies, nuclear is the largest source of low-carbon electricity, providing 18% of supply in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency. This figure is set to decline in the future as existing plants near the end of their expected lives and aren't replaced. Nuclear power output in advanced economies could fall two-thirds by 2040.


Is there any evidence of linkages between genetically modified foods and diseases?

According to a 2016 U.S. National Academy of Sciences literature review, no significant correlation has been observed between the growing prevalence of genetically modified foods and any increase in disease or chronic conditions.

GM foods are are made from plants and animals with lab-altered DNA. They're produced to improve crop yields, lower prices and increase nutrition.

Safety assessments of GM foods focus on toxicity, allergies, nutrition and genetic stability. Though certain conditions have become more common in recent years—including kidney disease, celiac disease and some cancers—these trends were not found to be attributable to GM foods.

Approved GM foods "are not likely to present risks for human health," the World Health Organization says. Their consumption has shown "no effects on human health" in countries where they've been approved.


Is there clinical proof that omega-3 fatty acids could help treat COVID-19?

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, nuts and oils, have been found to reduce inflammation, properties that have prompted wide interest in their possible use in treating COVID-19 infections. While there is no proof, researchers examining their known effects suggest they could help treat symptoms of "hyperinflammation" in organs and tissues associated with COVID-19.

A search of a U.S. database of current clinical trials shows research is underway to assess the theorized benefits.

A trade publication notes that more than a dozen fish oil-based potential treatments are under development. The manufacturer of Vascepa, a prescription drug derived from fish oil, is backing a trial at a northern California medical center, focusing on high-risk cardiovascular patients.


Did the US government levy a $2.3 billion fine in 2009 against Pfizer for fraud?

In 2009, Pfizer Inc. was fined $2.3 billion for fraudulent marketing of several drugs in what was then the largest such fraud settlement in health care. The Justice Department said the company marketed drugs for uses that federal regulators "specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns."

Fines for health care fraud have since ranged higher: $3 billion against GlaxoSmithKline in 2012 for violating promotion, safety, and price laws, and $8 billion earlier this year against Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma for its role in creating the opioid epidemic.

Pfizer is developing a potential vaccine against the coronavirus. If it's successful, the U.S. government has agreed to buy up to 600 million doses of the vaccine for $1.95 billion.


Does Florida's governor want to apply 'stand your ground' laws against looters and rioters?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed new legislation expanding provisions of the state's "stand your ground" law, which permits people to use reasonable force (even if deadly) in claimed self-defense. The proposal expands scope to justify the use of force to include the "interruption or impairment" of a business and looting (i.e., burglary within 500 feet of a "violent or disorderly assembly"). “It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions,” a former prosecutor told The Miami Herald, which published a draft of the law.

The bill would also "enhance" criminal penalties applied to violent or disorderly groups.

In Florida (as in at least 25 other states with similar laws) there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in a dwelling or residence in which the self-defendant is lawfully present. Violent acts of self-defense must be proved reasonable and taken out of fear.


Is US polling on marijuana legalization consistently borne out by election results?

Polls show support for marijuana legalization has been steadily rising since 1989, reaching 67% in 2019, according to Pew Research Center. Gallup reported a similar number, 68%, in November 2020.

Ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana have continued to succeed in state after state, regardless of other conservative or liberal voting patterns. Voters in five more states legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use in the 2020 election. Mississippi and South Dakota approved medical marijuana measures. South Dakota, Arizona, Montana and New Jersey approved recreational marijuana usage. Thirty-six states now permit medical use; 15 states allow adult recreational use.

"Men, younger adults, college graduates and those in households with incomes of at least $100,000 are more likely than their counterparts to favor legalization," Gallup reported.


Can a president stay in office past the end of his or her term in the event of a war?

Article II of the U.S. Constitution defines a presidential term as four years, and literally not a minute more. The 20th Amendment specifies the transition time and date as noon on Jan. 20. Federal law detailing presidential war powers does not discuss term extensions in the case of war. No emergency-powers statutes appear to allude to the possibility.

There is no precedent for an extension of a term. Previous states of war have not disrupted the four-year election cycle. The election of 1864 was held during the Civil War, reelecting President Lincoln in a landslide. In 1940, after World War II had broken out but before the U.S. had entered it, President Roosevelt won a third term, and in 1944, as the Allies were advancing towards Germany, a fourth. (The 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms, was ratified in 1951.)


Does Nevada now have the only state constitution protecting same-sex marriage?

In the November 2020 general election Nevadans voted to rewrite the state's constitution to "recognize marriages of and issue marriage licenses to couples, regardless of gender."

Ballotpedia notes it is the first of 30 states that earlier adopted constitutional bans against same-sex marriage to make the change. A 2015 Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage overrode those states' provisions. The Nevada measure also contained language guaranteeing the right of religious organizations to decline to perform a marriage they object to. Voters approved the measure by a 62.5% to 37.5% margin.


Did support for 'Medicare for All' cost any House members their seats in the 2020 election?

No incumbent House Democrats who supported a 2019 "Medicare for All" bill have yet lost their 2020 reelection campaign. Freshman California congressman and Medicare for All supporter T.J. Cox is trailing in a race that's still too close to call.

The eight House Democrats who lost their seats did not support the health care proposal. Additionally, in each of the three Democratic primaries in which a challenger defeated an incumbent, the challenger supported Medicare for All. Seven Democrats in battleground races who did not support Medicare for All did win reelection.

The goal of extending health care insurance to all Americans has gained popularity steadily in recent years. An October poll by KFF found 53% of respondents support the House proposal to create a national system.


Do a President-elect's congratulatory calls from foreign leaders risk prosecution under the Logan Act?

There is no precedent, or obvious reason, for charging a U.S. president-elect with a violation of the Logan Act, a 1799 law that governs "private" diplomacy efforts.

The law has only been used for two prosecutions since its origins, neither of which led to a conviction. The State Department has occasionally leaned on the act for disputes over passport suspensions and travel restrictions. Courts have previously suggested that the act could be unconstitutionally vague. The act was discussed in the context of President Trump's first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. He was prosecuted under other laws, for lying to the FBI about calls with Russian officials before assuming office, not for the calls themselves.

President-elect Joe Biden has received a number of congratulatory calls from foreign leaders, and "readouts" have been shared with the media.


Are a large number of US prisoners disabled?

About 30% of state and federal prisoners and 40% of local jail inmates reported having at least one disability in 2011-12, according to the most recent report on the subject from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the same years, 11% of people in the general population reported having some kind of disability. The report said 19.5% of state and federal prisoners reported a cognitive disability, the most common disability cited, compared with 4.8% of the general population.

According to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, the disproportionate number of disabled people behind bars is in part a result of mental-health policy changes in the latter half of the 20th century. Hundreds of thousands of mentally disabled individuals were released from large institutions without adequate investment in alternative housing and support. Many ended up in the prison system.


Do most developed countries hold their elections on the weekend?

Most developed countries hold elections on a Saturday or Sunday.

A Pew Research study from 2018 found that "27 of the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development hold their national elections on the weekend, while two others (Israel and South Korea) hold elections on weekdays but make those days national holidays so economic hardship won’t be a barrier to electoral participation."

In the U.S., elections are usually held on a Tuesday. This, combined with limited polling places and hours and registration rules that vary from state to state, appears to inhibit voter turnout. U.S. turnout in 2016 ranked 30 out of the 35 OECD countries for which data was available. Proposals to boost voter turnout in the U.S. include declaring Election Day a holiday, automatically registering citizens to vote and allowing every U.S. citizen to vote by mail.


Was Joe Biden the first presidential candidate known to have a disability during his campaign?

In the last century at least two U.S. presidents suffered some form of disability. Their challenges were known to the public during their campaigns, although President-elect Joe Biden, who has a stutter, has been relatively more open and direct about his own challenges.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, diagnosed with polio at age 39, was crippled by the disease. Though he preferred to use a cane rather than a wheelchair in public, his disability was no secret.

John F. Kennedy endured chronic back pain, undergoing multiple hospitalizations and surgeries. Lyndon Johnson, still seeking the nomination for himself before becoming JFK's running mate, divulged his opponent's medical history just before the 1960 Democratic convention. During Kennedy's earlier run for Congress, a campaign worker described him as "crippled"; he collapsed during a parade. In the Senate, he needed crutches.


Are poll watchers in Texas legally prohibited from making recordings at polling places?

Poll watchers in Texas must sign an affidavit affirming that any "mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound" will be disabled or left at home while serving as a watcher.

A poll watcher's role is to ensure fair voting on behalf of a political party, candidate or ballot measure, but specific poll watching rules vary by state. Texas isn't the only state that prohibits the use of recording devices while poll watching. Forty-four states have constitutional provisions that guarantee a degree of voter privacy. Many states restrict photography in polling places to limit distraction and protect voters' privacy. These limitations arose as "ballot selfies" (posting one's own pictures of voting or a ballot) gained popularity in recent years.


Are pickup truck sales meaningful indicators of economic growth in the states?

Economists have found that light-truck sales numbers, while not a perfect indicator, often reflect the state of the U.S. economy overall, largely because of their connection to home construction.

During the 1994-2006 period, pickups generally made up just over 18% of all sales of new light vehicles each year, according to TD Economics. That percentage only dropped below 18% in 2006, when the housing market began to go south. Pickup sales continued to drop until hitting bottom in 2009. A "construction rebound" began in 2013, and pickup sales grew by 11.7% that year.

DataTrek observes that pickup sales between 2015 and 2019 seemed to demonstrate "the same slow but steady growth" of most small businesses. "For them, purchasing a new vehicle is entirely discretionary; they can always fix the old one and keep it running another year if they are worried about business conditions."


Do private prisons rely on federal contracts for half of their revenue?

CoreCivic Inc. and GEO Group Inc., two of the largest private prison operators in America, rely on payments from federal correctional and detention authorities for about half of their revenue, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2019, 51% of CoreCivic's revenue came from federal sources. In the same year, U.S. government customers accounted for 69% of GEO Group's consolidated revenue.

The companies' customers include federal agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as state and local governments. In 2018, according to Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group, the federal government spent $2.32 billion with the ten largest prison operators, more than double what they received in 2013.


Is the South home to more LGBT adults than any other US region?

About 31.6% of Americans identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender live in 14 southern states, a larger LGBT population than in the three other major U.S. regions. A UCLA research center analyzes Gallup survey data from earlier years to derive a total estimate of 11.34 million LGBT people in the country: 3.6 million in the South, 3.0 million in the West, 2.4 million in the Northeast and 2.1 million in the Midwest.

Florida (at 4.6% of the state population) and Georgia (4.5%) have relatively larger LGBT populations than other southern states, according to the UCLA estimates. Alabama has the lowest share of LGBT residents in the region, at 3.1%.


Is 2020 the first time that Georgia has used paper ballots in nearly 20 years?

In 2019, an order by a federal judge required the state of Georgia to scrap its aging electronic, paperless voting system that had been in use for the previous 17 years. In 2020, the state introduced new touchscreen voting machines that print paper ballots for tallying and greater security.

The new system was criticized after various technical challenges caused long lines for some voters in the June primary. There were reports some delays on the first day of the state's early voting period. By Election Day itself, there were reports of delays in a few counties but no widespread delays or long lines.


Did overseas absentee ballots play a key role in the disputed 2000 presidential election?

Late-arriving absentee ballots from overseas Florida voters played a key role in the dispute over the 2000 presidential election. Later reporting found that some of the ballots may have been counted illegally amid a dispute between the rival campaigns.

There was a "strikingly" effective "Republican effort to convince local election officials to count invalid ballots in Bush counties and not count them in Gore counties," according to Gary King and Kosuke Imai, political scientists who in 2004 published details of an analysis conducted for a 2001 New York Times article. On Election Day, Democrat Al Gore had been 202 votes ahead of George W. Bush, they wrote. "No partisan, pundit, or academic has publicly disagreed with [the Times] assessment" that 680 of the absentee votes were counted "illegally." Bush won the state, and hence the Presidency, by 537 votes.


Do US pharmaceutical companies source opium from Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of heroin, but its opium output is not internationally licensed for legal medicinal use. The world's largest producer of thebaine and other poppy extracts used in legal opiates is Tasmania, the island state off Australia's southern coast. The U.S. buys 80% of its morphine from Turkey and India. France, Hungary and Spain are also global producers in the legal trade, supervised under a 1961 U.N. treaty.

A 2020 White House report says "heroin originating from Afghanistan is not a driving force of the U.S. opioid epidemic." Afghan opium trades illegally at much higher prices, but little reaches the Americas. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most illegal heroin in the U.S. comes from Mexico or Colombia.


Can state legislatures appoint electors to vote for a different candidate than their state's voters chose?

State legislatures cannot alter their electors after a presidential election. Each state's political parties nominate electors the preceding spring or summer, typically selecting loyal party members who are pledged (and in some states legally bound) to support their nominee.

Voters cast ballots for a slate of electors committed to that candidate when they make their choice for president. (In Nebraska and Maine, the statewide winner gets two electors, and the winner in each congressional district gets one elector.) Once the election results are determined, the legislature is bound to their choice.

The only time an elector has cast a vote for the opposite party's candidate in a close election was in 1796.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that states may require their electors to vote for their party's candidate and may retract and replace their votes if they go rogue.


Do Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes?

Individuals and employers in Puerto Rico pay many federal levies, including the same Social Security and Medicare taxes as taxpayers in the rest of the U.S. Most citizens residing year-round in Puerto Rico don't have to pay U.S. federal taxes on their personal income, unless they have income sources outside of Puerto Rico or they are employees of the U.S. government.

An individual may also be required to file a return with the U.S. reporting self-employment income from a Puerto Rican trade or business.


Are mail ballots sent in the name of dead people common?

According to a working paper from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, mail-in ballots submitted on behalf of dead people constitute an extremely rare form of ballot fraud. Of 4.5 million voter records in Washington state, the study found only 14 cases where a ballot "may have been stolen and submitted on behalf of someone who had died," either fraudulently or due to clerical error.

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act requires states to conduct reasonable maintenance to remove deceased voters from their rolls. In most states, officials receive deceased voter information from state health departments.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act requires state registration rolls to list each eligible voter uniquely, and to use death and felony conviction records to remove ineligible voters.


Was Joe Biden's son involved in the sale of a US auto company to a Chinese military-defense company?

In 2015, a Michigan-based auto parts maker, Henniges Automotive, was purchased by BHR Partners, a private investment firm, and AVIC Auto, a state-owned Chinese aerospace and defense company. Hunter Biden, President-elect Joe Biden's son, was chairman of BHR at the time (he resigned in 2019).

During the 2020 campaign the sale was cited as an example of "selling out" American industry and jobs to China, but any impact of the 2015 change in ownership on Henniges' U.S. presence is unclear. The company, which specializes in sealing and anti-vibration "solutions" for high-end automobiles, had operations outside the U.S. before the Chinese company's investment, including several plants in Mexico, an office in Germany and a technical center in China, and has continued to expand globally since.


Are car accidents the most common cause of death in the line of duty for Border Protection agents?

Car accidents accounted for 17 of 35 deaths of on-duty border patrol agents between 2003 and 2019, according to the agency's own data.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reviewed reports since the 2003 founding of the Customs and Border Protection agency as part of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security. Other job-related accidents, such as health-related accidents and drownings, were responsible for another third of fatalities. Six deaths resulted from assault or murder, with the most recent instance in 2017.

Since the beginning of 2020, 12 agents have died in the line of duty. All of the on-duty deaths in 2020 were the result of COVID-19 or complications from the disease, except for one heat-related death.


Does the federal government generally refrain from interfering with state-level marijuana policies?

The federal government has generally left most marijuana enforcement decisions to state and local authorities. While marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, classed along with heroin or ecstasy as a drug with a high potential for abuse, the majority of states have now legalized it for medical or recreational use.

When the first U.S. states legalized the substance in 2013, the Justice Department said it would continue to refrain from interfering with state legalization as long as an ability to regulate the market was demonstrated. The Justice Department instead focuses on its own enforcement priorities, which range from things like "drugged driving" under the influence of marijuana to violence arising from its cultivation or distribution.

Voters in five more states legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use in the Nov. 3 election.


Did the 2020 election suggest Republican support is becoming more demographically diverse?

Initial 2020 election results show somewhat stronger support for Republican candidates from some demographic groups in parts of the U.S. A preliminary exit poll reports President Trump won 32% of Latinos nationally, up from 28% in 2016. Most notably, the party showed gains in Texas' Rio Grande Valley and in southern Florida, homes to differing sub-groups within the Latino community.

An exit poll found that 18% of Black men supported Trump, up from 13% in 2016.

Leadership figures in the GOP include two Senators of Cuban descent and one Black Senator, as well as six Latino House members. The party fielded 28 Latino House candidates in 2020. It has also focused on recruiting more female Congressional members, fielding 94 female candidates for the House in 2020. Nine current GOP Senators are women; one has lost her re-election bid and another, Kelly Loeffler, faces a runoff.


Is Nevada's economy heavily dependent on tourism?

Nevada's $68 billion leisure and hospitality sector, centered on the concentration of huge hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, employs directly or indirectly more than a quarter of the state's work force. The gaming industry is the largest contributor of state and local taxes. Nevada ranks as the country's fourth most tourism-dependent state, trailing behind the larger states of Texas, California and Florida.

With coronavirus-related restrictions continuing to limit event attendance and depress visitor levels, employment in the sector in September 2020 was down 16% from a year ago to 298,600. That drop is a major contributor to a rise in the state's unemployment rate to 12.6% in September from 3.7% a year ago.


Did the Republican Party favor gun control laws in the 1960s?

Since the late 1960s, the Republican Party has taken an increasingly hard line against gun-control measures. In 1964, its national platform didn't mention guns. In California in 1967, amid concern about the Black Panthers' activism, it embraced a repeal of the state's open-carry law, signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

The following year it advocated control of guns' "indiscriminate availability" while also acknowledging the right to bear arms. In 1972, the platform again acknowledged this right, while also promoting gun crimes prosecution. In 1976, Republicans came out against a federal firearms registry. In 1980, the party called to repeal parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, which its members had helped pass.

By 2016, the party was decidedly against most gun regulations, focused on a citizen's right to purchase and carry firearms.


Does recent research suggest that Trump campaign rallies may have accelerated the spread of the coronavirus?

Analyzing data from counties that hosted 18 Trump campaign rallies between June and September, a group of Stanford economists concluded that the events likely led to 30,000 coronavirus infections and more than 700 deaths (not necessarily of people who themselves attended the rallies). Critics argue that incomplete contact tracing, and the likelihood that attendees may have traveled from well beyond the host county, make it impossible to prove the impact.

A CNN analysis of 17 rallies held between Aug. 17 and Sept. 26 found that 14 host counties experienced a spike in coronavirus cases a month after their rally was held. Of the counties that saw increased infection rates, over half had experienced declining infection rates in the month before the rally occurred.


Is a Michigan clerk facing trial for altering hundreds of ballots in the 2018 election?

In September 2019, a Southfield, Michigan, city clerk, Sherikia Hawkins, was charged with six felony counts for allegedly altering 193 absentee voter records in the November 2018 midterm election. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson reassured voters that Hawkins's actions did not change the outcome of any race or disenfranchise any voters.

In June 2020, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that Hawkins would be tried in the Oakland County Circuit Court for falsifying election records, forgery of a public record, misconduct in office and using a computer to commit a crime.

This case is not related to the November 2020 general election.


Is it unusual for a dissenting Supreme Court justice not to write a separate opinion?

In 40 out of 63 opinions in Supreme Court cases in 2019, at least one of the nine justices disagreed with the majority decision. In most cases that aren't unanimous, the court typically publishes a dissent written by a justice, explaining the reasons for the disagreement. Others may join in signing that dissent, or, on occasion, provide their own.

In one case in the last term, Sharp v. Murphy, no dissent was published. The court simply noted the dissent by two justices. In both decisions published so far in the current term, the court, similarly, noted the dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas in each case.

Justices also occasionally write opinions to accompany various orders preceding consideration of a final case, such as upholding or rejecting a lower court ruling in an ongoing case. More often, no explanation is offered.


Have housing costs risen faster than incomes over the past decade?

Over the past decade in the U.S., the increase in the cost of housing has outpaced incomes.

According to census data, average rents increased by 36% between 2010–2019, and the median home price jumped by 31% during the same period. Median household income increased 27% over the same period. In some major cities, housing costs have climbed at much faster rates during the decade. In Seattle rents spiked 77% while home prices jumped 95%. In Atlanta, rents went up by 65%, with home prices increasing by 98%.

Looking over an even longer term, "nationwide rents have increased at twice the rate of household incomes since 1960, making saving for a down payment increasingly difficult," according to a researcher at an online real-estate platform. Her report found that only 16 of the 100 largest U.S. metro areas were "affordable" in March 2019, based on standard measures of income ratios.


Did a New York assembly member nearly lose her seat because of errors in her filing paperwork?

Rebecca Seawright, who represents a Manhattan district in New York's state assembly, missed the filing requirements for her Democratic Party primary because of paperwork errors, but appears likely to have secured her seat by running as an independent candidate in the Nov. 3 general election.

Her Republican challenger, Lou Puliafito, challenged her primary filing errors in state court and succeeded in keeping her out of the primary. That seemed to leave a clear path for Puliafito, a union activist and doorman at a luxury high-rise, who had also challenged her in 2018.

Seawright returned to the November ballot as a candidate from the "Rise and Unite" party. Results as of Nov. 5 show her ahead by about 3,000 votes, about eight percentage points ahead, with a majority of votes cast.


Is the 116th Congress one of the least productive in history?

The 116th Congress, if measured by new legislation enacted, is on track to be one of the least productive in history. Since convening at the beginning of 2019, the Congress has passed only 1% of proposed legislation—or 193 bills. Its term ends Jan. 3, 2021. The last ten Congresses passed an average of 417 bills each year, or 3.6% of proposed legislation.

According to an October 2019 count by S&P Global, only a portion of 65 bills passed were "substantive"; some were ceremonial measures, such as renaming public buildings.

Split House and Senate control has snagged many bills. The House devoted much time to impeachment inquiries and other oversight efforts while the Senate confirmed a steady stream of judicial appointees. March's passage of a massive round of coronavirus relief spending was followed by subsequent gridlock blocking a second round.


Did an H1N1 vaccine used in Europe cause narcolepsy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaccine used in several European countries during the 2009–2010 H1N1 influenza pandemic was associated with an increased risk of narcolepsy.

The vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline plc, was never licensed for use in the U.S. and has not been used since the 2009–2010 flu season.

Later studies of the vaccine, Pandemrix, and a similar GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, Arepanrix, discovered that a protein found in both the H1N1 virus and some H1N1 vaccines blocked the receptor for another small protein, hypocretin, which is associated with wakefulness. Only patients with a particular genetic makeup were affected, suggesting that the vaccine triggered an autoimmune reaction.

Follow-up research from the CDC found no association between narcolepsy and the U.S.-licensed H1N1 vaccine.


Does a 2020 California ballot measure impose unusually stringent requirements for future changes by legislators?

Proposition 22, a 2020 California ballot measure allowing app-based transportation and delivery services to treat their workers as independent contractors, allows for legislative amendments "consistent with" its purpose—but imposes an unusually high supermajority requirement, seven-eighths of the legislature, and the governor's signature.

California is one of only two states requiring voter approval to change or overturn an existing measure—"unless a provision in the initiative explicitly allows for legislative alteration." In 11 of the 21 states that permit citizen-initiated ballot initiatives, there are no restrictions on when and how state legislatures can repeal or amend the statutes. Some states limit how soon state legislatures can repeal or amend (i.e., after two years); other states require a supermajority legislative vote of either two-thirds or three-fourths.


Has President Trump held the biggest rallies of any candidate in US political history?

Typically, before the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump's rallies drew from 5,000 to 15,000 supporters. In August 2015, 30,000 people gathered in Mobile, Alabama. In March 2016, 29,000 attended a rally in Cleveland.

Crowd sizes during the 2020 cycle were limited by concerns—and in some cases, laws and local mandates—about crowd sizes amid the coronavirus pandemic. A rally in Las Vegas held before the spring shutdown drew 15,000. Rallies during the fall were typically described as attracting thousands, not tens of thousands.

Other political candidates have drawn larger crowds in recent years. Texas senatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke attracted 55,000 attendees at a 2018 rally, appearing with Willy Nelson. A 2008 Denver rally for then-candidate Barack Obama turned out 100,000 people; his Chicago victory rally drew nearly 250,000.


Do most election polls have a higher margin of error than commonly reported?

A 2016 study from the American Statistical Association examining 4,221 late-campaign polls found "the historical margin of error is plus or minus 6 to 7 percentage points" rather than the typically reported plus or minus 3 points that is usually cited as sampling error.

This higher margin of "total survey error" is affected by coverage error, i.e., when not all of a target population has an equal chance of being sampled. For example, phone surveys exclude people without phones. A Pew Research analysis found "politically and civically engaged individuals" were overrepresented in online surveys. Most of the online surveys Pew studied also had a disproportionate number of childless, low-income adults.

The higher margin of error also allows for nonresponse error—which can arise, for example, when supporters of a trailing candidate become less likely to respond to surveys.


Have average hourly earnings in Nevada risen since 2016?

The average hourly wage in Nevada in 2019 was $22.70, up 7% from 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year the state raised its minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 as of July 1, 2020, with further annual 75 -cent increases up to $11 scheduled through 2024. The minimum for workers who don't receive health benefits is $1 higher.

Growth in earnings in the state is in line with recent national trends, although the trend has been disrupted by the coronavirus' impact on the economy.


Is it possible to impeach a sitting Supreme Court Justice?

The process of impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice, or any federal judge, is the same as the process of impeachment of the president of the United States, requiring a two-thirds majority from the Senate. Samuel Chase is the only Supreme Court Justice to have ever been impeached. He was acquitted by the Senate in 1805.


Has a Nevada casino magnate been a major backer of the GOP's defense of the Senate?

Nevada casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson, who is a physician and Israel's richest person, have been the largest donors during the 2020 campaign to Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund, contributing a total of $60 million. The fund is a "super-PAC," a campaign fund that can back various candidates in the party's bid to hold majority control.

Adelson, the wealthiest man in Nevada, founded Las Vegas Sands, which operates casino-hotels in Las Vegas, Singapore and China. Open Secrets, compiling Federal Election Commission reports, says Sands-affiliated individuals made donations of $44 million in 2016 and $62 million in 2018 to Republican-related groups. Beyond the founder's support for the Senate Leadership Fund, Adelson and Sands have donated $61 million to other Republican groups ahead of the 2020 elections.


Has fracking eliminated US dependency on Middle Eastern oil?

U.S. oil imports from the Middle East have declined by two-thirds over the last twenty years. Last year the U.S. relied on the region for 10.5% of its imports.

The decline, accelerated by a boom in the use of hydraulic fracturing over the last ten years, has reduced the country's vulnerability to the kind of supply disruption experienced in the mid-1970s with an Arab-led embargo on oil exports. But the world economy, and many other U.S. allies, remain dependent on stable supplies from the region. Europe gets about 20% of its oil from the region.

Those ties and other factors—terrorism, Iran's nuclear ambitions and American commitments to Israel's security—have kept the region a focus of concern for policy makers despite reduced direct U.S. dependence on its oil supplies.


Is a Facebook election-security executive a former Biden advisor?

Anna Makanju, who "leads efforts to ensure election integrity" at Facebook, served during the Obama administration in various roles, including a stint as advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

In a recent Senate hearing, Senator John Thune asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about a lack of ideological diversity among Facebook staff, mentioning that "the person that's in charge of election integrity and security at Facebook is a former Joe Biden staffer." Zuckerberg responded he was "not aware" of this affiliation.

Thune was apparently referring to Makanju, though it's unclear if she is "in charge" of election integrity. Other Facebook managers have similar policy roles. Katie Harbath, who as public policy director is "managing the global elections strategy across the company," previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.


Has Pennsylvania's oil production been declining for decades?

Pennsylvania's crude oil production revived in recent decades, recovering after a long decline from its 19th-century position as a leading producer.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2019 the state produced 6.6 million barrels of oil, up from 3.7 million barrels in 1981. The biggest gains in output came between between 2010 and 2015, although the state remains a minor producer among U.S. states. Texas, the largest producing state, produced 1.8 billion barrels in 2019.


Does the Supreme Court correct factual errors in its opinions after they are published?

Supreme Court opinions are carefully drafted and reviewed, but with time pressures, confidentiality needs and complex issues to explain, errors happen. ProPublica found at least seven errors in opinions issued between 2011 and 2015, arising from either the court's own research or "false or deeply flawed submissions" submitted by parties involved in the rulings.

The court lacks a clear policy about publishing corrections. Justices do make revisions to an opinion if a party involved points out an error, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh did after a Vermont official corrected his description of state voting policies in a recent ruling. Such changes are not necessarily publicly announced. The court's media-relations team on occasion alerts reporters to changes. "Much of the Court’s business is veiled in secrecy," one lawyer writes. "The process by which it corrects its errors should not be."


Do people who aren't US citizens commonly vote in its elections?

Voting by noncitizens in state and national elections is rare, and usually unintentional. Analyzing the 2016 general election, NYU's Brennan Center found only 30 instances of suspected noncitizen voting among 23.5 million votes in 42 jurisdictions.

When noncitizens register to vote, it's usually by accident—for example, by confusedly responding "yes" to a DMV employee's query about whether they'd like to register. In January 2019, Illinois discovered a software glitch registered as voters more than 545 noncitizens applying for state ID, even though they answered "no" to a citizenship question.

Rates of noncitizen registration have been exaggerated. In 2019, Texas revised a claim that 95,000 noncitizens were on state voter rolls to a list of 4,500. In 2014, Florida warned of 180,000 noncitizen registrations, but ultimately only removed 85 noncitizens from its rolls.


Can a president overturn a predecessor's executive order?

A president can overturn a predecessor's executive order merely by "issuing another executive order to that effect," the American Bar Association says.

Every president since Washington has used executive orders, which aren't explicitly referred to in the Constitution. As of the end of October, President Trump has signed 193 since taking office. Orders issued during October 2020 have included changes to civil-service job classifications, directives on water resources, the establishment of a "one trillion trees" council and mental-health care.


Is it true that the US has not engaged in any military conflicts during the Trump Administration?

The Trump administration has avoided direct engagement in major new military conflicts abroad. It has continued to support U.S. actions initiated by its predecessors, and has sent additional troops or resources to new or existing areas in conflict:

  • Yemen, where the president authorized a raid in his first month in office.
  • Syria, where U.S. missile strikes were authorized.
  • Afghanistan, with more than 3,000 additional troops deployed.
  • Assassinations of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State) and his successor.
  • Assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani (on his visit to Iraq).

The U.S. Air Forces Central Command reported 69,439 weapons released from February 2017 through February 2020 in support of continuing operations in Afghanistan and in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State.


Do more Pennsylvanians work in renewable energy fields than in coal, oil and gas combined?

In 2019, Pennsylvania had about 97,000 clean-energy workers, compared to 57,778 workers in natural gas, petroleum and coal production, according to data published by the state's energy programs office.

Pennsylvania's clean-energy sector has seen higher-than-average job growth, increasing by 8.7% between 2017 and 2019.


Did the US Post Office cut law-enforcement efforts in recent months?

The U.S. Postal Service has its own law-enforcement staff, the Postal Inspection Service, whose powers and responsibilities date back to 1772 and are outlined in a federal code dedicated to the agency. On Aug. 25, the service "directed its police officers nationwide to end all mail-protection and other law-enforcement activity away from the confines of postal real estate," according to a lawsuit filed the same day by the Postal Police Officers Association.

The directive was one of several controversial moves by the service since the appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General.


Do Supreme Court judges usually recuse themselves from cases relating to the president who nominated them?

Supreme Court justices have not typically recused themselves from cases simply because they involve the president who appointed them. The due process clause of the Constitution requires judges to sit out a case when there is a clear conflict of interest, specifically when financial interests are involved or when there is strong potential bias.

Justice Elena Kagan, who had been involved in a range of matters as President Obama's Solicitor General before her 2010 appointment, sat out 28 of 78 cases during her first year on the court. In 1974, in United States v. Nixon, the Supreme Court decided unanimously against President Nixon. Nixon had appointed Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell Jr. and William Rehnquist. Of the four, only Rehnquist removed himself from the case on the grounds that he had previously held a role in the Nixon administration.


Has the US poverty rate increased in recent months?

The coronavirus, despite the package of relief measures enacted in March 2020, appears to have halted a five-year decline in poverty in the U.S., according to academic researchers.

On Oct. 15, a team at Columbia University said the U.S. rate has increased from 15% in February to 16.7% in September, using its own adjustments to official data. A second group, affiliated with Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, estimates the impoverished population grew by 6 million people between June and September as the positive effect of various relief payments tailed off.

In 2019, the U.S. poverty rate fell to 10.5%, its fifth consecutive annual decline, according to the Census Bureau. The bureau defined the poverty threshold for a single person under 65 as $13,300 in annual income, and for a family of four as $26,172.


Do some states allow voters to change their vote after it has already been cast?

A few states allow a voter to change their vote after it has already been cast. The voter may request that election officials invalidate their ballot through a process known as “spoiling" (the word also applies to the replacement process when a ballot has been damaged). Then the voter may cast a new ballot.

Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and some Connecticut towns allow absentee voters to spoil their ballot and submit a new one. In New York, a voter may cast a new ballot in-person and request that their previous ballot be spoiled. Several other states allow a voter to spoil a ballot as long as the initial ballot hasn’t yet been returned or processed. Each state has different deadlines for ballot spoiling requests.

In the 2020 presidential election, 53,000 ballots have been spoiled so far in Michigan—mostly due to damage and printing errors, not because voters are changing their minds.


Do most Americans endorse moving to cleaner energy?

According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, 77% of Americans (90% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans) agree the country's "most important energy priority" should be developing "alternative energy" rather than increasing fossil-fuel production.

As to which alternative, 92% of respondents favor solar-panel farms and 85% favor wind-turbine farms. Meanwhile, 42% favor more offshore oil and gas production, 38% more hydraulic fracking and 35% more coal mining.

In a 2018 Gallup poll, 73% of Americans said they thought the U.S. should prioritize the development of solar and wind over oil, gas and coal. But only 30% supported a dramatic reduction of fossil fuels over the next two decades.

Support for prioritizing climate-change policies has climbed from 30% in 2008 to 52% in 2020.


Does Texas employ more people in the renewable energy sector than in the oil and gas sector?

Despite the growth of renewable energy in the state, oil and gas still employs more Texans than renewables—for now.

In June 2020, about 162,000 Texans worked in oil and gas, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, down from a high of nearly 300,000 in 2014. Employment in the industry may hit its lowest point in 15 years due to a pandemic-related drop in demand and prices.

In 2018, over 233,000 people worked in renewable energy across Texas. The industry wasn't spared from pandemic-related layoffs. Estimates indicate that renewables companies have cut about 96,000 jobs in Texas, Bloomberg reports, which would leave the about 137,000 jobs in the field.

Bloomberg reports that clean energy companies are now trying to recruit laid-off workers from oil and gas companies, betting that they're better positioned to recover than fossil-fuel firms.


Did some California counties extend a 'zero-bail' policy enacted during the spring shutdown?

Some California counties have opted to keep in place a "zero bail" policy after it ended statewide in June. The policy, instituted in April to help reduce jail populations and limit the risks from the coronavirus, set bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies at zero.

Data about the impact of the measure is incomplete. Opponents warn of increased risk of crime from released offenders, citing anecdotal reports. In May, for instance, between 3% and 12% of bail-free suspects in four Bay Area counties were rearrested for another offense.

Violent crime rates in four major cities, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, began rising in early June after a spring decline. By fall, most violent crimes fell back to early 2020 levels, but homicides and assaults were up. Three of the cities are in counties that extended the zero-bail policy; San Francisco is not.


Did the US see an increase in murders during the first half of 2020?

According to FBI data, the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughters increased by 14.8% in the first six months of 2020 from the same period a year earlier. For all of 2019, the FBI reported 14,185 murders in the U.S., the third consecutive annual decline. If the reported 2020 increase continues through the second half, the annual murder total would be the highest since the late 1990s.

Aggravated assaults were up 4.6% compared to January-June 2019, although all other forms of violent crime decreased.

A private research group, looking at data from 27 U.S. cities, found a 53% year-on-year rise in homicides between June and August. The group said rates were subdued until the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and called for pursuing proved crime-control strategies while both subduing the coronavirus pandemic and enacting police reforms.


Does raising the federal minimum wage increase workers' purchasing power?

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 would generate "increased purchasing power for consumption" and a "substantial economic stimulus," especially in the lowest-wage states, Michael Reich, a University of California, Berkeley economist, testified to Congress last year. The effects of this raise would be concentrated in the restaurant and retail industries, as well as in farming, janitorial services, security services, elder care and child care.

Purchasing power has eroded for minimum wage-earners over time, as the federal minimum wage has been fixed at $7.25 since 2009. Based on the Consumer Price Index, its purchasing power in 2017 was 30% lower than in 1968, according to the Aspen Institute.


Are partisan fights over Supreme Court nominees a recent phenomenon?

Numerous Supreme Court nominations have been contentious since the court was first established. Of the 164 nominees in U.S. history, only 127 have won Senate confirmation.

In 1795, the Senate rejected George Washington’s choice for Chief Justice, John Rutledge, after he delivered a speech condemning a treaty with Britain, which the Senate had supported.

In 1930, nominee John Parker was rejected after outside groups unearthed controversial statements he'd made about unions and Black political involvement. The rejection was fueled in part by resentment toward Herbert Hoover.

In 1987, nominee Robert Bork was rejected after pushback by liberal groups. In 2005, Harriet Miers's nomination was withdrawn in the face of bipartisan opposition.


Is a relative lack of courtroom experience unusual for a Supreme Court justice?

Amy Coney Barrett's resume, long on academic experience but short on legal practice or trial judging, is not unusual among her new colleagues on the Supreme Court.

A 2013 review concluded that "the Roberts Court justices spent less time in the private practice of law, in trial judging and as elected politicians than any previous court." The vast majority of earlier justices have had experience in private practice, but there appears to be no fixed route to the highest court. Nine of the seventeen men who have served as Chief Justice were appointed without prior judicial experience.

Justice Barrett spent two years as a practicing attorney. On her nomination disclosure form, she recalled "only three significant litigated matters" that she "personally handled." She taught law for 15 years before her 2017 appointment to the federal bench as an appeals court judge.


Is it true that coastal real-estate prices have seen no impact from the threat of rising sea levels?

Explaining a decline in home-sale volumes and relative sale prices in some Florida markets, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic research suggests that “prospective buyers have become more pessimistic about climate change risk than prospective sellers.” The study cites worst-case projections for sea level rise as one explanation for buyers' increasing uncertainty about purchasing a home in a flood zone. It estimates relative prices have declined 5% over the last two years.

A study about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on New York real estate prices found a "price penalty" even for flood-zone homes that weren't damaged by the storm. In 2017 the penalty was 8%.

First Street Foundation, which quantifies the impacts of rising sea levels, estimates that over $403 million in relative home values was “missed out on” between 2005–2017 in four New England states.


Could it cost at least $30 billion to get the rest of the lead out of the US water supply?

The American Water Works Association estimated in 2016 that 6.1 million water service lines in the U.S. are lead-based, meaning a significant number of American households—somewhere between 15 and 22 million people—are routinely exposed to trace amounts of lead in their water. The industry group said a "reasonable estimate" for replacing each affected line was $5,000, a total cost of more over $30 billion. The 2016 figure was down from 10.2 million lines in 1991.

A more detailed 2019 report from the University of Minnesota found that while replacing the 100,000 existing lead-containing service lines in the state would cost between $1.52 billion and $4.12 billion over 20 years, it would lead to projected benefits of between $4.24 billion and $8.47 billion over that same period.


Is it true that 70% of Americans can't afford basic medical care?

Though a sizable number of Americans struggle to cover medical expenses, data does not support the claim that 70% of Americans can't afford the care they need.

According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 33% of respondents said they or a family member had delayed treatment for a medical condition in the past year because of cost. Since 2001, Gallup "has tracked a near 50% increase" in the percentage of Americans responding "yes" to this question. In 2016, another survey found that 26% of American adults said health care costs had caused serious financial problems for them or their family in the previous two years. More than 40% of respondents had spent "all or most of their savings on large medical bills," and one in five struggled to afford prescription drugs.

According to the Census Bureau, 8.5% of Americans had no health insurance in 2018.


Is it illegal to campaign too close to a polling place?

All U.S. states have laws prohibiting electioneering near polling places. "Electioneering" is the act of attempting to persuade someone to vote for or against a particular candidate. Each state has its own laws, but all 50 states prohibit electioneering inside of polling places and within a certain distance outside of polling places during voting hours. Ohio election law, for instance, requires that "two or more small flags of the United States...be placed at a distance of one hundred feet from the polling place" to designate the electioneering boundary.

Certain states also include "passive electioneering" prohibitions at polling places against apparel and paraphernalia that convey support or opposition of a candidate.


Do buildings contribute a significant share of all US greenhouse gas emissions?

According to a report by the bipartisan Environmental and Energy Study Institute, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for "direct" emissions (i.e., gas cooktops) and "indirect" emissions (i.e., the production of electricity used in buildings). Most electricity used in the U.S. still comes from fossil fuels, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy is also consumed in making and transporting construction materials like wood, steel and glass.

The Environmental Protection Agency attributes 12% of 2018 emissions directly to the commercial and residential sectors (and the buildings they occupy). Portions of emissions measured by the EPA from the electricity sector (27%) and the transportation sector (28%) can be factored in as indirect emissions.


Do Pennsylvania's verification rules for mail ballots differ from those of other states?

Pennsylvania's highest court, in an Oct. 23 ruling, affirmed that local election officials may not reject mailed-in ballots "based solely on signature analysis." The state will rely instead on other security requirements. Pennsylvanians voting by mail have to sign the outer envelope, insert the ballot in an inner "security sleeve" and include the number from a state identity document, the last four digits of their social security number or a photocopy of another identity document.

In contrast to some states, Pennsylvania's election code lacks clear guidelines on evaluating signatures, as the court noted. Leaving comparisons to local discretion risks disenfranchising voters, the court determined. Some other states go to greater lengths to educate workers to make any rejections on a consistent, fair basis, offering detailed guidelines.


Do researchers think earwax buildup could increase the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly?

Early research shows that the buildup (or impaction) of cerumen, commonly known as earwax, may lead to hearing loss and thus potentially contribute to cognitive decline in the elderly. The likelihood of cerumen impaction is highest for young children and the elderly, but riskier for the latter. The risk is further heightened by hearing aids.

The exact linkage between hearing loss of any sort and the onset of dementia has yet to be firmly established. Research from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging found that hearing loss is one of the highest risk factors for developing dementia–it was found to accelerate brain atrophy and shrink brain regions responsible for processing sound and speech.

In 2017, about eight million cerumen removal procedures were performed in the U.S.


Do surveys of small businesses generally find support for higher minimum wages?

In a February 2020 CNBC/SurveyMonkey poll, 57% of small-business owners said minimum-wage increases would not impact their business. In states that actually planned to increase the minimum wage in 2020, 54% of small-business owners agreed that an increase would have no impact on their business. In states that didn't plan any increase in 2020, 60% agreed.

The Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in favor of a higher minimum, cites a number of business groups supporting the move. It notes a number of large employers (Amazon, Aetna, major banks, medical centers and universities) have set a minimum wage of $15 nationally already.

In 2015, a Small Business Majority poll found 60% of small businesses supported raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour nationwide by 2020.


Do most solar panels used in the US come from China?

Other Asian suppliers, notably Malaysia, have displaced China as the main source of solar panels used in the U.S. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, imports accounted for 94% of total solar photovoltaic module (solar panel) shipments in 2019. Malaysia was the largest source, representing about a third of shipments. Other major suppliers included Vietnam, South Korea and Thailand.

The U.S. began imposing anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese imports in 2012. The Trump administration has continued to add additional levies as part of its overall China trade policy. The EIA notes that manufacturers from China and other more developed economies have relocated operations to Malaysia in recent years.


Does China have a major share of the markets for wind- and solar-power equipment?

The International Energy Agency says China "has an outsize impact on solar and wind supply chains."

China accounted for about 70% of global solar-panel shipments in 2019.

China also has a significant share of global wind-turbine manufacturing and shipments. Six of the world's top 10 wind-turbine manufacturers in 2020 were Chinese-owned, according to global trade platform BizVibe. The largest manufacturer, Denmark-based Vestas, holds 16% of the world wind-turbine market. General Electric, the only U.S.-based supplier in the top 10, ranks 4th.


In the US, is all hydropower counted as renewable energy by federal and state governments?

The Environmental Protection Agency defines only "low-impact small hydropower" as a renewable energy source. Some states also count only small hydropower facilities toward renewable energy targets. This is because large dams have significant ecological impacts, such as disrupting fisheries or silting rivers. Some states limit new hydropower construction.

The "fuel" for hydropower is the energy in fast-flowing water, which continues to flow through the turbines that convert the energy into electricity. Scientifically, hydropower is renewable, even if government agencies don't define it as such for the purposes of incentivizing new, low-impact renewable investments.

In 2019, hydropower accounted for 6.6% of overall U.S. electricity generation.


Is some of the energy powering electric cars generated from coal?

Though electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, in most of the U.S. the electricity recharging their batteries likely includes some portion of coal-generated power. In 2019, coal accounted for more than 23% of the U.S. electricity supply, but its share varies regionally. It's almost 80% in West Virginia, and nearly zero in California.

In states with "relatively low-polluting energy sources," electric vehicles "typically have a well-to-wheel emissions advantage over similar conventional vehicles running on gasoline or diesel," the U.S. Energy Department says. In coal-dependent regions, the advantage may not be significant.

A 2020 study by three European universities found that in 95% of the world, electric vehicles "lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still relies on fossil fuels."


Have climate factors in Central America increased pressure to emigrate to the US?

Research indicates a strong correlation between climate shifts and pressure on Central Americans to emigrate, notably from the region known as the Dry Corridor spanning El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. A study conducted by the United Nations and other development organizations cites the impact of a drought associated with El Niño in 2014, which increased already high levels of both food and employment insecurity.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of migrants from the three countries apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border (an indicator of the total number attempting to enter the country) increased fivefold. The number of unaccompanied children apprehended nearly doubled in the following year, coinciding with the drought.


Can wind turbine blades be recycled?

Wind turbine blades, made mostly of fiberglass, often end up in landfills. About 85% of the other material in wind turbines, including steel and copper wire, "has substantial salvage value and is recyclable," according to the American Wind Energy Association.

According to the association, the lifespan of a wind turbine blade is from 20 to 30 years. They are large and hard to transport, but unlikely to pose further hazards once disposed of. An industry research group estimated in April that blades could generate a cumulative 4 million tons of landfill waste through 2050. By comparison, U.S. cities sent 139 million tons of waste to landfills in 2017.

Researchers are currently investigating end-of-life strategies for decommissioned blades, including reusing the material for insulation, decking, particle board, pallets and other purposes.


Has a 2018 criminal-justice reform law reduced the number of minorities in prison?

Since the First Step Act was passed in December 2018, at least 2,376 people have received retroactive sentencing reductions, the vast majority of whom were minorities. In July 2019, more than 3,100 inmates were released for good conduct under the act. The law sought to retroactively reduce excessive federal sentences and ameliorate federal prison standards.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 91.4% of those receiving shorter sentences were Black prisoners and 3.7% were Hispanic.

In 2019, the incarceration rate for Black people was the lowest in 24 years, with 452,800 Black inmates in federal and state prisons, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data. The rate has been falling steadily since 2009. Almost 2.3 million people of all races are still serving time across the U.S. justice system.


Are the lower tax rates enacted in 2017 projected to add at least $1 trillion to the US national debt?

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the 2017 tax cut legislation will raise the total projected federal deficit over the 2018–2028 period by about $1.9 trillion, thereby adding to total government debt. The Tax Policy Center, a think tank affiliated with Brookings and the Urban Institute, estimates that the cuts will result in budget deficits of between $1 and $2 trillion over the decade.

The CBO calculated that the cuts reduced federal tax revenues to 16.7% of national income, compared to an average 17.4% rate since 1970. Meanwhile the CBO forecasts government spending is likely to grow to 23.4% of national income in 2030 from 21% in 2020.

The tax bill's backers say the deficits now will lead later to more private investment and higher growth. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate in February that the cuts will "pay for themselves" over time.


Does the United States accept asylum seekers at higher rates than other countries?

Forty-nine countries accept more asylees and refugees than the U.S., according to United Nations data compiled by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Cato looked at the net increase in admitted applicants relative to population between 2012 and 2017. "The average rate of acceptance for the top 50 countries was 1.2% of its population—six times higher than the U.S. rate," Cato noted.

The U.N. in 2019 counted 4.2 million asylum-seekers worldwide. The U.S. accepted 301,000 new applications for asylum, the largest number of any country in absolute terms. Peru, with a tenth of the U.S.'s population, accepted 259,800 new claims, ranking second in absolute terms.

Advocates argue the U.S. should allow in many more displaced people, citing both economic benefits and enhanced national security, fostering positive views amid extremist claims about U.S. power.


Has America’s insurance industry favored the GOP with its 2020 political contributions?

While health insurance has been a major issue in the 2020 campaign, federal contribution data doesn't show the insurance industry taking sides in a visible way. Support from industry executives—$85.3 million through Oct. 23—has split almost 50/50, according to tabulations by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Donations from those working for three major health insurers (Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aflac Inc. and Cigna Corp.) show no clear preference pattern. Contributions from employees in many sectors don't always reflect employers' preferences. Progressives favoring more aggressive reforms such as Medicare-for-all voice suspicions of their motives. “They’re influencing both sides and they’re doing it so that regardless of who wins, they continue to influence politics and policy,” Paco Fabian, a progressive activist, told The Hill in January.


Did tariffs imposed by the US in 2018 and 2019 act like a tax increase on Americans?

Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration in 2018 added $80 billion in new taxes for Americans, according to estimates by the Tax Foundation, an independent research institute. It calculates the impact in terms of both reduced output and employment—a fall in national income of 0.23% over time and 179,800 fewer jobs. The measures amounted to the 17th largest tax increase since the 1940s, it says.

The moves do not appear to have provided the intended boost to manufacturing in the U.S. "The [2018] tariffs have not boosted manufacturing employment or output, even as they increased producer prices," Federal Reserve Board researchers wrote in December 2019.

Retaliatory tariffs by China against U.S. farm products have added to the burden for Americans, which the government sought to offset with $23 billion in payments to affected U.S. farmers in 2018 and 2019.


Does the US military's health care system share characteristics with socialized health care systems?

The U.S. government operates two large "single-payer" health care systems—one focused on active military and their dependents, and one for veterans—that share characteristics of a socialized health care system such as the U.K.'s. Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton economist, wrote in 2012 that the Veterans Administration is "the purest form of socialized medicine." The VA cares for 9 million members and staffs its own facilities with doctors who are employees.

Similarly, the Defense Department's Military Health System manages health care for 9.6 million military and their families. Active-duty members pay nothing for services. Its insurance plan operates similarly to Medicare but members also use facilities it staffs and manages. Those include the Walter Reed hospital, where serving U.S. presidents are treated.


Is an aging electrical grid making it harder to take advantage of growing solar capacity?

Much of the U.S. electricity grid needs to be modernized in order to accommodate more sustainable energy sources, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The existing energy-transmission infrastructure remains set up to connect large centralized generating plants. Taking advantage of growing, widely distributed solar capacity requires new controls and communications systems, in addition to added storage capacity.

Major utilities have found it difficult to gain regulators' support for the investments required, and "often struggle with the sheer complexity of the transformation required," a Boston Consulting Group study notes.


Is there a busy 'revolving door' between big technology companies and Washington?

As the scale and influence of technology companies has grown, there has been a steady two-way flow of talent between government and the industry. Notably, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's no. 2 executive, was chief of staff for Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary. Facebook's head of public policy worked eight years in the Bush Administration. Between 2008 and 2016, 55 former Google employees took jobs in the Obama administration, and 197 former Obama officials revolved out to Google, according to a researcher at a Washington think tank. The Trump administration has also sought tech talent.

The Biden transition team, so far, includes at least a few recruits from major tech companies: Carlos Monje, who was a policy officer at Twitter; Jessica Hertz, previously a lawyer at Facebook, and Cynthia Hogan, a public-affairs vice-president at Apple. All three have extensive political experience.


Have researchers found strong links between cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk?

According to the National Cancer Institute, human studies have typically shown no specific reductions in cancer risk from consuming cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale or cabbage. These vegetables contain glucosinolates, which break down into compounds found to inhibit cancer development in rodents. They can of course be part of the kind of fresh, healthy diet thought to reduce overall risk.

Researchers continue to explore whether eating cruciferous vegetables might lower cancer risk in more specific ways. A 2000 Netherlands study found women who consumed more cruciferous vegetables had a lower risk of colon cancer. Other studies have shown links between cruciferous vegetable consumption and lower breast and lung cancer rates in women. A 2014 Chinese study found the consumption of a broccoli beverage lowered levels of the carcinogen benzene.


Is the pharmaceutical industry oriented towards treating diseases instead of preventing them?

The pharmaceutical industry in recent decades has been better incentivized to develop treatments rather than preventative drugs, reflecting the structure of public and private health-insurance payments and other market factors.

The vaccine market reflects these influences. Vaccine research, development, testing and manufacturing is expensive—but because vaccines are typically needed just once the potential revenue is much smaller than for therapeutic drugs. To overcome these factors and accelerate development of a vaccine against the coronavirus, the U.S. government has set aside up to $18 billion.

An Oxford-affiliated journal noted in 2002 that pharmaceutical companies are incentivized to develop drugs to treat more advanced cancers, not prevent them at early stages. Companies aren't sure how preventative treatments would be evaluated and approved, or how they would market them.


Does NPR receive less than 1% of its funding directly from the federal government?

In its 2019 fiscal year, direct federal grants provided 0.6% of funding for National Public Radio, an independent nonprofit organization that provides news and other programs to public radio stations throughout the U.S. NPR does derive support indirectly, through payments from member stations that also get direct federal funding.

Government support for public radio (and TV) comes via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB grants $114 million yearly to 1,178 local radio stations. NPR relies on the local stations' payments for 34% of its budget. CPB estimates its support provided 8.2% of the average station's budget in 2017, but it's more important to affiliates in smaller, rural markets. In 2017, 2.3 million individuals gave $383 million to the 123 largest news-oriented stations, according to Pew Research.


Does evidence suggest that green tea extract can prevent COVID-19?

On its own, green tea extract has not been found to prevent infection by the coronavirus or to provide effective therapy against the COVID-19 disease resulting from an infection.

The extract contains a micronutrient, epigallocatechin gallate, that has shown promise in acting against some other viruses. A study published in June concluded that the chemical could be a candidate for further evaluation for use against the coronavirus. No research so far has proved its efficacy against the coronavirus.


Has green tea extract shown early promise as a potential remedy for lung scarring?

Green tea extract merits more study as a potential remedy for pulmonary fibrosis, the scarring of lung tissue that can make it more difficult to breathe.

A 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the effects of green tea extract, epigallocatechin gallate, in treating twenty patients with pulmonary fibrosis. The study found that the tissue levels of treated patients were closer to normal than those of untreated patients. The extract has previously been studied as a successful method for inhibiting the effects of protein mutations associated with pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer.

A longer-term, randomized clinical trial would help reach a more definitive conclusion.


Has Biden received more funding from the financial sector than Trump?

Joe Biden has received significantly more cash from the financial sector than Donald Trump over the course of the 2020 election cycle. In the top two financial-sector categories, Biden has taken in five times more money than Trump, according to reports using federal data released Oct. 16.

In the securities and investment sector, Biden raised $57.7 million compared to Trump's $13.8 million. Among donors working in hedge funds or private equity, Biden raised $35.3 million to Trump's $6.8 million.

Finance executives have cited frustration with Trump's market-destabilizing tweets and their desire to avoid a contested election as reasons for supporting Biden. Biden has proved himself an ally of credit-card companies with his support of bankruptcy restrictions while a Senator. Last year, he reassured wealthy donors that "nothing would fundamentally change" under his presidency.


Has the Biden campaign received significant direct contributions from higher-education institutions?

The Biden campaign has not received substantial direct contributions from educational institutions, but it has drawn support from individuals working for them. Federal Election Commission reports show that through Oct. 16 the campaign committee had received nearly $30 million in donations from educators and education-related PACs. These reflect contributions from individuals employed in the education sector, not the institutions themselves.


Has the number of police officers killed in the line of duty been atypically high in 2020?

As of Oct. 21, 2020, the FBI reports that 41 officers had been killed in the line of duty in 2020 due to felonious violence. This represents a 24% increase over the same period last year. The number does not include accidental deaths on the job, such as those caused by traffic accidents.

In all of 2019, 49 officers were killed. Between 2009 and 2018, an average of 51 officers were killed annually. The highest number during those 10 years was in 2011, when 72 officers were killed. In 2016, 66 officers were killed.

A recent study in the Journal of Criminology and Public Policy, using historic FBI data, concludes that the dangers of policing have declined dramatically since the 1970s. The last five decades have seen a 75% drop in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty.


Is the US home to more immigrants than any other country?

The U.S. has by far the largest immigrant population in the world, at 48.2 million people, a fifth of all those who have settled outside their native country. Russia, with 11.6 million immigrants, is the next largest destination.

Mexico accounted for 25% of all foreign-born U.S. residents in 2018, with another 25% from Central and South America or the Caribbean. Another 28% were born in Asia, 9% in the Middle East and Africa, and 13% in Europe and Canada.

As a proportion of total population, immigrants make up just over 15% of the total U.S. population, similar to the level in the U.K. (13%) or Sweden (16%) but lower than in Canada (21%) or Australia (28%). The country with the largest proportion of immigrants in its total population is the United Arab Emirates at 87%.


Do donor-advised funds allow donors to make charitable contributions anonymously?

Donor-advised funds allow donors to charities to be anonymous. A donor transfers cash or assets to another foundation, recognizing a tax deduction at that date. The funds are legally no longer under the donor's control. The donor then makes "recommendations" for grants to final recipients then or at any point in the future. Documents and tax filings list the name of the fund, which may reveal nothing about the original donors. Fidelity Charitable, one of the largest specialized managers, says that most donors choose not to give anonymously.

The funds offer convenience and tax advantages for people who may want to recognize tax savings but prefer to defer or plan their giving over time. In 2018, there were 728,000 accounts, up 55% in a year, averaging $166,653 in size.


Did Joe Biden support a bankruptcy reform bill that made it harder for Americans to secure debt relief?

As a Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden advocated and voted for the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. The law requires certain individuals to take a means test to determine if they are eligible for debt relief. The law also made it impossible to declare bankruptcy on certain types of credit card debt and all student loan debt.

The law increased the amount of paperwork and money required to file for bankruptcy and mandated that individuals complete a credit-counseling course within 180 days of their filing date. Following the law's passage, filings have dropped while insolvency and foreclosures have risen. The N.Y. Federal Reserve Bank concluded in 2015 that the reform "may have removed an important form of relief from financial distress" for lower-income consumers. Rivals in the 2020 primary campaign were highly critical of Biden's record of support for the bill.


Is the health care sector less productive than other sectors of the United States economy?

A literature review by Brookings Institution analysts confirms that the health care sector has "significantly lower productivity growth than the economy as a whole." Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuaries found that from 1990 to 2013, productivity growth in the hospital sector averaged between 0.1% and 0.6% per year. In the private (non-farm) business sector, growth averaged 1% per year.

Some analysts argue that health care productivity is increasing in a different sense: i.e., better survival rates, and improved quality of patient life. Medical advances may be more expensive in terms of labor or supplies, but nevertheless are valuable to health care consumers.

According to McKinsey, the health care industry's productivity could be improved by minimizing waste: by optimizing doctors' schedules, for example, or automating some administrative tasks.


Did a US Communist party leader enthusiastically endorse Joe Biden for president?

In August 2020, Bob Avakian, founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, published a statement on his website instructing readers to remove "the Trump/Pence fascist regime" from power by voting for Joe Biden. The statement fell well short of a typical endorsement extolling a candidate's virtues. Avakian called Biden and the Democratic Party "representatives and instruments of this exploitative, oppressive, and literally murderous system of capitalism-imperialism," and argued that Biden is not "better" than Trump "in any meaningful way."

The party seeks to bring about a communist revolution in the United States.


Has the Trump administration accelerated the cleanup of contaminated 'Superfund' sites?

The Trump administration has accelerated the progress of the Environment Protection Agency's "Superfund" program. The program was created in 1980 to clean industrial sites, mines and landfills contaminated with hazardous waste. The EPA measures progress when it marks a site as "partially deleted" or "deleted" from the "National Priorities List" of hazardous sites needing its attention.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA partially deleted 17 sites and fully deleted 47 sites. The Trump administration, not yet through its first term, has so far partially deleted 32 sites and fully deleted 44 sites.

There are still 1,327 sites on the list at last count. The EPA has identified 34 projects awaiting funding. Critics note that the Trump administration has cut funding as part of overall cuts at the agency, even though the Superfund program can boast a record of achievement.


Are prosecutors free to choose not to prosecute particular cases?

Prosecutors may choose not to pursue a particular case or cases under the principle of prosecutorial discretion—the power to select which cases to pursue and which to settle. As a representative of the state, prosecutors decide whether it's in their "client's" interest (i.e., in society's interest) to seek a conviction in a given case. Their decisions are not generally subject to judicial review, as courts have affirmed.

In October 2020, as the Senate considered Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, 64 prosecutors pledged "not [to] prosecute women who obtain abortions and health care professionals who provide treatment," refusing "as prosecutors" to "criminalize healthcare decisions." Such blanket statements unrelated to an individual case are unusual. There are 2,300 prosecutors offices in the U.S.


Does the official unemployment rate count everyone who wants a full-time job and can't find one?

The Labor Department's official unemployment rate tracks only those without a job who are actively seeking work. It excludes "discouraged" workers who have not sought work in the past four weeks and part-time workers who report that they would prefer full-time work. The 2020 unemployment rate peaked in April at 14.7%. In September, it dropped to 7.9%.

The Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, a nonpartisan group that advocates for lower-income Americans, developed an alternative measure that it calls the "true rate." It includes individuals who desire additional work and those who have work but make less than $20,000 a year. Using Labor Department survey data, it calculated that the "true rate" in April was 32.6% for all workers, 34.8% for Black workers, and 30.7% for White workers. In September, those numbers declined to 26.1%, 32%, and 24.3% respectively.


Did the 2017 tax cuts benefit foreign investors in US companies?

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cut the U.S. corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%, a boon to U.S. companies' shareholders—many of whom live outside the U.S. Total foreign ownership of U.S. stocks, including shares held by foreign governments and businesses, was estimated to be about 35% in 2017.

The higher profits reported following the tax cuts (and the boost the tax cuts gave to the value of those companies because of higher future profits) benefited those investors just as it did holders living in the U.S. Estimates of the exact impact and its duration vary. The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calculates the benefit in 2020 from the lower rates to be $38.3 billion—more than the benefit it estimates for the bottom 60% of U.S. individual taxpayers.


Was splitting the Dakota territory into two states part of a Republican push to build an electoral advantage?

In the 1888 election, Republicans won control of the presidency and both houses of Congress (they lost the popular presidential vote). Throughout the 1880s they had pressed for statehood in the northern tier of territories stretching to the Pacific, expecting enduring gains in the Senate and the Electoral College from their Republican-leaning residents. Before leaving office in early 1889, Democratic president Grover Cleveland yielded, signing legislation dividing the Territory of Dakota into two and paving the way to statehood for both the north and the south, as well as two additional states.

Under his successor, Benjamin Harrison, North and South Dakota became the 39th and 40th states. Republicans picked up all four new Senate seats, as well as seats in nearby states. During Harrison's single term the U.S. added six new states, five of which remain Republican strongholds.


Have minority voters typically faced longer lines at polling places in recent elections?

Long lines to vote remain more common in urban precincts with larger minority populations, according to MIT-led surveys of recent national elections. In 2016's general election white voters waited 10 minutes on average to vote, Latino voters waited 13 minutes and Black voters waited 16 minutes.

In the 2018 midterms, as a precinct's percentage of nonwhite voters increased, so did wait times—from 5 minutes in districts that were 90% white or more, to 32 minutes in districts that were 90% nonwhite or more. The MIT survey, conducted in 2018 with the Bipartisan Policy Center, found "especially dramatic" increases in wait times in some states.

Anecdotal reporting of long waits in 2020 primaries suggests challenges remain, a Texas historian writes. "So far in 2020, voters have seen major delays, especially in majority Black neighborhoods."


Is it cheaper to generate electricity from wind or solar sources than from fossil fuels?

Lazard, an investment bank, last year provided estimates for electricity generation costs that factored out the effect of any subsidies. At the lower bounds of its "levelized" estimates, renewable sources had a clear advantage. The cost of wind power ranged from $28 to $54 per megawatt hour and "utility-scale" solar power from $32 to $42/MWh. Estimates for coal-sourced power ranged between $66 and $152/MWh and gas-turbine power at $44–$68/MWh.

In 2019, more than half of new renewable-energy sources generated electricity at a lower cost than coal, as the price of wind and solar has fallen precipitously in the past 10 years. Globally, renewables will meet 80% of global electricity demand growth during the next decade, overtaking coal by 2025 as the primary way to generate electricity, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.


Can corporations make direct 'in-kind' contributions to political campaigns?

According to the Federal Election Commission, campaigns may not accept contributions from corporations, whether cash or in-kind goods or services. (Its rules do permit contributions from political-action committees affiliated with an organization that pool contributions from affiliated individuals.)

The Republican National Committee on Oct. 16 filed a complaint with the FEC about Twitter, charging that the social-media's moderation decisions about news coverage of Joe Biden and his son Hunter amounted to an "illegal in-kind contribution" to Biden's campaign.

The commission is currently unable to enforce its regulations as it lacks a quorum of members.


Are medical abortions slightly less effective than surgical abortions?

A medical abortion—with two pills taken at a prescribed interval in order to terminate a pregnancy—has a marginally lower efficacy rate than a surgical abortion, an in-clinic procedure.

Medical abortions are generally an option for women until the 10th week of pregnancy. According to the University of California San Francisco, 95% to 97% of medical abortions are effective, and they are more effective earlier in gestation. Surgical abortions are 98% effective, UCSF advises. A 2004 clinical study found an approximate 94% effective rate for medical abortions, compared to 97.7% for surgical procedures.

Failed medical abortions usually require a follow-up surgical abortion, while failed surgical abortions require a repeat procedure or other intervention.


Did FDR aspire for all workers to earn a living wage?

In 1933, the first year of his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, aiming to support a depressed economy with a number of innovative measures. FDR declared that “no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country,” clarifying that “by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.”

That proved a tough vision to legislate. The Supreme Court ruled the 1933 law unconstitutional two years later. In 1938, Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing the first federal minimum wage at 25 cents an hour and setting other new standards including a maximum workweek—but only covering jobs in about one-fifth of the labor force.


Has US strike activity gone up in recent years?

According to Labor Department data, there were 20 large strikes (involving 1,000 or more workers) in 2018, the most in more than a decade, and 25 in 2019.

Recent totals are low compared to pre-1980s rates. From 1947 to 1980, there were at least 100 large strikes per year. Some years saw 300, 400 or more. Activity plummeted after President Reagan fired 11,000 striking air traffic control workers in 1981. No year since 1989 has seen more than 50 major stoppages.

While large strikes are down in 2020, since March there have been more than 1,100 smaller walkouts and stoppages, spurred by demands for coronavirus protections and police accountability, according to Payday Report, a Pittsburgh-based labor publication.


Are direct cash handouts an effective form of humanitarian aid?

Increasingly, direct monetary assistance is being recognized as an effective form of humanitarian aid. Numerous studies from organizations like the Center for Global Development and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have established that"cash-based transfers" to developing countries "are usually cheaper and support local market recovery" better than donated aid supplies or manpower.

A CGD four-country study found "18% more people could be assisted at no extra cost if everyone received cash instead of food."

A UN report found that every $1 of cash aid generated more than $2 of indirect market benefits in recipients' communities by enabling investments and local demands for goods and services.

The United Nations World Food Program, which won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, in 2019 transferred $2.1 billion to people in 64 countries.


Will rising demand for renewable energy drive a big increase in demand for rare-earth metals?

Generating more renewable energy will drive a large increase in demand for certain rare-earth metals used in the production of solar panels and wind turbines (as well as in many other common products). Rare-earth metal mining and processing has acknowledged environmental effects. Reserves are concentrated in a handful of countries, most notably China.

A consulting firm's detailed look at the needs for one country, the Netherlands, suggests global demand for at least one metal, indium, could increase twelvefold by 2050. Along with increased mining, the report's authors say increased recycling or design changes could help meet the demand. Demand for other rare-earth metals could rise by between three and seven times.

Renewable energy generation will also generate more demand for other raw materials such as cobalt and lithium.


Do electronic voting systems continue to pose election-security risks?

Cybersecurity expert J. Alex Halderman has found that the electronic voting systems many states and counties use are susceptible to hacking from outside actors. Entirely electronic systems that don't use paper ballots as a "physical fail-safe" against outside interference have no 100% reliable way of avoiding tampering.

Journalist Kim Zetter highlights the persistent vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems since their introduction in 2000, when computer scientists warned of software bugs and security vulnerabilities. Hackers can easily write code that causes machines to display one vote on screen while recording a different vote on their memory cards. Zetter recommends federal legislation that mandates "post-election risk-limiting audits."

The American Academy for the Advancement of Science warns Internet voting remains insecure, recommending paper ballots.


Is 'poll watching' illegal?

Poll watchers—whose purpose is to ensure that their party or cause has a fair chance at winning an election—are generally legal, although qualifications vary by state.

In most states, poll watchers are appointed by political parties or campaigns to monitor election administrators, track their party's voter turnout and report issues to party or polling-place officials. In some states, watchers must wear a badge; in others, they must be registered voters. In North Carolina, poll watchers are not allowed to speak to voters. In California, they may speak to voters, but not about election-related issues. In some states, poll watchers can challenge a voter's eligibility but are otherwise not supposed to interfere in the electoral process.

The Trump campaign has assembled what it has claimed will be an "army" of 50,000-plus volunteers to poll watch in battleground states, Politico reported.


Did Twitter recently update its hacked materials policy?

Following controversy over a New York Post story, Twitter updated policies relating to posting hacked materials. The company said it will now remove material shared directly by hackers or those “acting in concert with them." Tweets about hacked material shared by general users will be labeled to offer "context." Previously, any hacked material that included private information, including personal emails and phone numbers, was subject to removal. Executive Vijaya Gadde tweeted that the policy change would serve journalists, whistleblowers and the "public conversation."

The Oct. 20 Post story concerned accusations against presidential candidate Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, based on emails the Post said were discovered on a laptop hard drive left in a Delaware repair shop.


Do researchers caution against overreliance on 'rapid' tests for the coronavirus?

The Food and Drug Administration has approved six "rapid" coronavirus tests for emergency use, and they are being used, for example, to screen air travelers and event participants (as at the White House). Based on data so far, they are more likely to fail to detect the presence of the virus than lab tests that usually take longer to process.

Researchers think that even if imperfect, large-scale use can help monitor risks from the virus across the population. Health authorities caution that a negative result from a single test is not conclusive, and does not eliminate the need for other preventative measures such as masks and social distancing. "The White House outbreak is a very good illustration of the limitations of rapid testing," MIT Technology Review said. "But it should not deter us from the strategy entirely—we just need to use the technology properly."


Did New York City's police officers fire their guns a total of 52 times last year?

According to New York Police Department reports, its nearly 36,000 officers fired guns a total of 52 times in 2019.

New York City crime hit a record low in 2019. Guns were used rarely, but on 8,543 occasions during the year officers resorted to other types of force, including electrical weapons, impact weapons, police dogs, pepper spray, restraining mesh blankets and physical force. The police department reported 95,000 incidents of criminal activity in 2019, involving 872 fewer crime victims compared to 2018.

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Do health care providers say diagnostic tests for the coronavirus result in a high number of false positives?

Health care providers say standard diagnostic tests for the presence of the coronavirus rarely return false positives. False-positive rates from "molecular" tests based on nasal or throat swabs or samples of bodily fluids are "close to zero," meaning a positive result is a reliable indicator of infection, Harvard Medical School says.

False-negative rates, when a test fails to detect an actual infection, have been estimated to range as high as 29%. "A negative result should not give you a false sense of security," MIT's medical center warns.

False negatives add to the challenge of tracking and slowing the spread of the virus. A July 2020 study examining serology test results—which detect past infections—concluded that in the U.S. in spring 2020 there were likely 10 times more actual infections than were reported.


Have law enforcement agencies warned that hackers could threaten the integrity of the US election?

In September 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that hackers, including foreign actors, could spread false information about voter suppression, ballot fraud or other problems "in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions."

Ransomware, a malicious software, could also be used by nation-states and criminal networks to disrupt election systems like voter-registration databases. The U.S. military and Microsoft took recent action against TrickBot, a ransomware distributor that has infected over a million computing devices since 2016.

In October 2020, CISA and the FBI released an alert about malicious cyber activity that in some instances "resulted in unauthorized access to elections support systems." They had no evidence that election data was compromised.


Could limited access to medical care worsen the coronavirus crisis in rural areas?

Rural areas are less well-armed against health emergencies, as is clear as the coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S. In 2020, a systematic review of the effects of the pandemic in rural areas found a “significant disparity in terms of the distribution of professional resources” between urban and rural areas. It cited healthcare infrastructure, physicians and intensive-care unit availability as a few such resources.

An April KFF analysis found rural areas had on average 1.7 ICU beds per 10,000 people, versus 2.8 per 10,000 people in urban areas. Rural residents, older and sicker on average, are both more likely to be hospitalized and to require ICU beds. For these reasons, the analysis notes, rural communities' healthcare systems are more likely to be strained during coronavirus outbreaks.


Do cheap Russian imports undercut Alaska’s crab industry?

Due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, imported Russian crab is cheaper than Alaskan crab and drives U.S. crab prices down. Between 2000 and 2014, Alaskan crabbers lost an estimated $600 million from the presence of illegal Russian crab in domestic and global markets, according to a 2014 World Wildlife Fund report. An Anchorage newspaper reported in January that Russian seafood imports into the U.S. have grown nearly 70% since 2014.

Russia and the U.S. have increased efforts to track and penalize illegal crab harvests over the past decade. In 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration implemented a monitoring program to trace the origins of king crab and other imported seafood, requiring importers to report key data to the agency.


Do both major parties receive plenty of 'dark money' contributions?

"Dark money" refers to political contributions from groups that don't disclose their original donors. It's made possible by a 1980 campaign-finance loophole that allows donors to remain hidden if they haven't contributed to a particular political ad. Dark money skyrocketed after the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on independent political ads.

Between 2010 and 2020, Republicans took in $714 million in dark money, vs. $351 million for Democrats. Seven of the top 10 donors support Republicans. Big names include Crossroads GPS (R), Americans for Prosperity (R), and Majority Forward (D). Democrats received more dark money than Republicans in 2018 and are on track to receive more in 2020.

Last year, House Democrats passed a bill that would effectively ban dark money, but the Republican-led Senate blocked it.


Could political ads paid for by an individual violate federal limits on campaign contributions?

The Federal Election Commission classifies gifts of goods and services (including advertisements) offered for free or below-market rates as "in-kind contributions." The limit on individual campaign contributions directly to a candidate's campaign is $2,800 per election. Thus, any in-kind contribution from an individual over this threshold would violate the individual-contribution limit.

Under FEC rules, "independent" spending in favor of (or against) a particular candidate is not restricted, provided that it is not coordinated in any way by the candidate, campaign committees or agents of a political party.


Did Los Angeles seek to force city contractors to disclose ties with the NRA?

In 2019, Los Angeles passed an ordinance requiring anyone doing business with the city to disclose any financial ties to the National Rifle Association. The city did not bar contractors from having affiliations with the NRA provided that the ties were disclosed.

The NRA challenged the move, joining other additional plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the measure violated First and 14th Amendment rights. A district judge granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, preventing the ordinance from being enforced, and awarded some legal costs to the plaintiffs. The Los Angeles council repealed the measure in early 2020.


Did Merriam-Webster recently update its definition of 'preference'?

In October 2020, Merriam-Webster edited its definition of "preference" to note that the word is offensive when referring to sexual orientation. "Preference," the dictionary explains, implies a "person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to."

The phrase "sexual preference" received increased attention when Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett used it during the second day of her Senate confirmation hearing. Her use of the phrase was called out by Sen. Mazie Hirono, who referred to it as "offensive and outdated."

Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large confirmed the update, adding that such revisions are a "routine part of the job" and that all revisions "reflect evidence of use."


Can removing religious literature from public-housing common areas be illegal?

Removing religious texts and objects from common areas of publicly-funded housing can constitute discrimination under Fair Housing Act prohibitions of religious-based discrimination. The Department of Housing and Urban Development states that organizations who receive its funds may offer religious activities as long as they are voluntary and open to all residents.

A 2006 letter laid out guidelines for a North Carolina apartment complex, allowing Bible studies, religious musicians and Christmas decorations. The department stated common areas may be made available for "purposes of interest," including religion, as long as managers provided equal access to all religions and the events were voluntary.

HUD is currently investigating an Oklahoma apartment complex over claims that Bibles and religious decorations were banned from common libraries.


Were two Pennsylvania mail carriers charged with throwing mail in the trash?

On Oct. 14, 2020, the U.S. Attorney's Office said it charged two Pittsburgh-area employees of the United States Postal Service with delay or destruction of mail. The first defendant, Sean Troesch, admitted to investigators that he had placed mail intended for delivery on his route into nine trash bags on his curb. A neighbor's photo from two weeks earlier showed additional trash bags on Troesch's curb, suggesting that more mail had already been sent to the landfill. The second defendant, James McLenigan, admitted to throwing mail into multiple trash cans along his route.

The mail that the carriers attempted to destroy contained election-related materials, including two mail-in ballot applications and more than a thousand political advertisements and similar campaign-mail items.

The carriers could face up to five years' imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, or both, the U.S. Attorney said.


Does research conclusively show that having an abortion increases risk to a woman's mental health?

According to a 2018 literature review, abortion is continuously associated with "elevated rates of mental illness." But it's impossible to determine whether an abortion (rather than other factors like poverty or intimate-partner violence) directly caused a given mental-health disorder.

A 2008 meta-analysis conducted by the American Psychological Association "reviewed no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."

A 2011 meta-analysis from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges found women with unwanted pregnancies experienced similar mental-health distress whether they had an abortion or gave birth.

One study showed women denied abortion procedures had higher levels of anxiety and lower self-esteem than women who had abortions.


Did a consumer-advocacy group find that Amazon increased prices of essential items sharply as the coronavirus began to spread?

According to a Public Citizen study, the prices of some essential items sold by Amazon directly jumped sharply in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Media reports, political leaders, law enforcement and Amazon itself focused on price spikes among third-party merchants on its platform during the period. But some products sold directly by the company also dramatically increased in price in spring 2020, including disposable face masks (a 1000% increase) and toilet paper (a 528% increase), the study found.

Although there is no federal law against price gouging, thirty-five states prohibit charging excessively high prices for goods during public emergencies. Some states, including New Jersey and Illinois, included price gouging prohibitions in their coronavirus emergency declarations.


Did California's governor advise restaurant diners to wear a mask between bites?

The official Twitter account of California's governor on Oct. 3 advised restaurant diners to wear their masks between bites. While the advice is more specific than that from some authorities, it reflects what's known about transmission of the coronavirus via respiratory droplets.

These droplets can be expelled by breathing, speaking, coughing and sneezing, all of which might occur between bites during a sociable meal. What's more, according to research, aerosol emissions increase as voice volume increases. "Minimize the number of times you take your mask off," the tweet advises.

The Centers for Disease Control in a July study found that patients testing positive for the coronavirus were about twice as likely to have reported recently visiting a restaurant as those who had tested negative. The study did acknowledge that masks "cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking."


Are third-party estimates of 'fake' Twitter followers reliable?

Twitter advises users to be skeptical of claims about fake followers for well-known users.

Outside researchers in an April study determined that bot-identification software was prone to inaccurately distinguishing between humans and bots. Twitter says commercial tools used to detect bots rely on human analysis of factors such as account name, activity and location. It describes the approach as “extremely limited," since the algorithms are initially subject to human bias.

Tools like Twitter Audit and SparkToro that claim to gauge major accounts' follower-authenticity come to substantially different conclusions regarding the same accounts. Moreover, the "random samples" these tools use aren't random, but a list of an account's 75,000 most recent followers. In the context of an account with millions or tens of millions of followers, some consider the samples insufficient.


Did a social media researcher identify fake accounts posing as minority supporters of President Trump?

In mid-September, Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill began investigating dozens of Twitter accounts purported to belong to Black people expressing support for President Trump. According to the Washington Post, Twitter has since suspended all but one of these accounts, which turned out to be bots with thousands of followers, generating more than 265,000 mentions.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all reportedly identified fake accounts from foreign actors posing as Black Trump supporters. The use of what's become known as "digital blackface" has been studied as an effective disinformation tactic in influencing Black voters.

In July Facebook said it removed 35 Facebook accounts and 88 Instagram accounts, originating in Romania, for violating its foreign interference policy. Some of the accounts had user names like "BlackPeopleVoteForTrump."


Is a vote for a third-party candidate more powerful in some states than in others?

Votes for third parties in states with closely balanced support for the two major parties can have a more substantial impact than in states with more lopsided partisan alignments.

This is clearest in presidential races, with state-by-state winner-take-all decisions to determine each state's Electoral College vote. In "battleground states" that routinely swing narrowly between Democrats and Republicans, a relatively small number of votes for a third-party candidate can be decisive. In 2000, supporters of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader swung Florida's, and the nation's, presidential choice. Nader won 97,488 votes in the state, while George Bush and Al Gore each received just under 3 million. In the end, after a Supreme Court ruling ending recounts, Bush was declared the victor with a margin of 537 votes, giving him the edge in the Electoral College.


Is the global rate of extreme poverty expected to double due to the coronavirus pandemic?

The World Bank estimates that events this year, including the coronavirus pandemic, will push between 88 million and 115 million additional people into extreme poverty worldwide.

That would mean that between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population would be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2020. At the beginning of 2019, approximately 600 million people worldwide lived in extreme poverty, constituting less than 8% of the world’s population.

That would also result in the first increase in the rate of global poverty since 1998. The World Bank reports that before the pandemic began, the rate had been expected to drop to 7.9% in 2020, a smaller decrease than in years past due to conflicts and climate change.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.


Do US officials say Black separatist groups pose as large a domestic terror threat as white supremacist groups?

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitors Black separatist groups for "racially motivated violent extremism," the agency's director said in September that "people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that." According to the FBI, Black extremist violence peaked in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Department of Homeland Security deemed white supremacy the most "persistent, lethal threat" in an October 2020 report, making no mention of Black separatist groups.

The 2019 Global Terrorism Database report reports that from 2015 to 2019 white supremacist and nationalist groups carried out 34 armed attacks and killed 64 people, while Black Hebrew Israelites, a Black extremist group, carried out 3 armed attacks and killed no one.


Were half the current Supreme Court Justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote?

Four of the eight justices currently serving on the Supreme Court were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote in their first term.

Donald Trump lost by nearly three million popular votes. He nominated Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate is expected to vote later this month on Trump's third nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

George W. Bush lost the popular vote in his first term by nearly 600,000 votes, but was elected to his second term with a three million vote majority. He nominated John Roberts and Samuel Alito in his second term.

George H.W. Bush won the popular vote in his first and only term. He nominated Clarence Thomas.

Barack Obama won the popular vote twice. He nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Bill Clinton won two terms with a plurality of the vote. He nominated Stephen Breyer, as well as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Has the US tightened immigration policy towards Cubans in recent years?

In the four years to Sept. 30, 2019, U.S. immigration authorities deported 1,866 Cubans. Most of those took place in the most recent year, when the U.S. deported 1,179 Cubans.

Additionally, in the 2019 reporting period, the immigration agency said nearly 21,500 Cuban "inadmissibles" sought entry along the Southwest border. Under U.S. law, an "inadmissible alien" is not permitted to enter the U.S. for a wide variety of reasons.

Changes in processing asylum petitions have forced thousands of Cubans to wait across the border in Mexico. More Cubans have sought asylum as certain immigration preferences were eliminated following the "normalization" of diplomatic relations under the Obama administration. The Trump administration has continued to enforce the immigration changes and added other restrictions.


Has the US coronavirus response harmed its international reputation?

According to Pew Research Center data, the U.S.'s global reputation has suffered in 2020 due to poor perceptions of the country's coronavirus response. Only 15% of respondents in surveyed nations—13 affluent democracies in Europe and Asia-Pacific—say the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak. Among several key allies, including the U.K., the U.S.'s favorability rankings are as low as they've been since Pew began polling in 2000.

In a 2020 survey by YouGov, a U.K.-based research group, British respondents ranked the U.S. as the world's 39th most popular country, with 44% of participants rating it positively.


Did US immigration agents recently gain significantly broader deportation authority?

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would expand its “expedited removal” policy to include anyone in the U.S. who cannot prove a legal right of residence and has been in the country less than two years. Previously, the rule applied only to those who entered the country by sea or those who entered by land who were encountered within 100 miles of the border and had been in the country less than 14 days.

Under expedited removal, individuals who cannot immediately provide documentation may be detained, interviewed, and, barring a finding of a credible fear of returning to their home country, deported in as little as one day without a hearing. After withstanding legal challenges, the expanded scope may now be used by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents who complete an online training.


Was California's Justice Department the first statewide agency in the US to require its officers to wear body cameras?

In April 2015, California's then-Attorney General Kamala Harris announced plans to "institute a body camera policy for all DOJ special agent personnel conducting field operations." A 2016 statement confirmed the department was providing certain agents with body cameras. This was the first statewide body-cam initiative of its kind, applying only to agents working under the Attorney General and not to local law-enforcement or California Highway Patrol.

By May 2015, nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina) had enacted laws addressing body cameras. Of these, only South Carolina mandated the use of body cameras by all state law-enforcement agencies. Body cameras are not yet required in all California law-enforcement agencies.


Does preserving 'ballot images' add extra election security?

"Ballot images," digital scans of ballots created at polling places or central election offices, are used by election officials to quickly tabulate votes. In some states, these scans must be preserved alongside original paper ballots and other "election materials," typically for 22 months after an election. Advocates say preserving the records provides an additional layer of election security.

The Democratic Party, some lawmakers and voters are suing to make Florida one of those states. The case isn't settled, but meanwhile eight large counties have agreed to retain images if a recount is needed after the Nov. 3 vote.

Some advocacy groups are pressing to make all ballot images (which are anonymized) publicly accessible via an open-source database for citizen auditing of results.


Do economists find that higher minimum wages tend to reduce employment slightly?

Studies show a higher minimum wage would lead to some job losses due to higher costs for employers. A 2016 meta-analysis examining 37 studies found minimum wage increases had very small but negative effects on employment.

A study by congressional economists estimates that a $15 federal minimum wage could lead to a loss of 1.3 million jobs, while increasing wages for 17 million workers and decreasing the number of people living below the poverty line.

In a 2017 Seattle study, researchers interviewed employees and employers about the impact of a local minimum-wage hike. They found that 35% of interviewed workers reported unpredictable work hours, and 17% lost their jobs at some point during the two-year period studied. Employers most often reported increasing prices or adding extra fees (rather than laying off employees) to cover increased wages.


Is federal health care funding distributed disproportionately among the states?

States that have opted not to offer low-income residents more access to health care coverage receive less federal heath care funding, relative to their populations. The Affordable Care Act expanded and funded Medicaid programs for low-income residents, but states may choose to opt out of those provisions. Twelve states continue to decline to participate.

Funding (including subsidies for private insurance under the Act, Medicaid support and other payments) is generally in line with population. Based on data compiled by the Urban Institute, California, with 12.1% of the U.S. population, receives about 12.5% of total funding. New York, with 5.9% of population, receives about 7.1%. Texas, which has opted out of Medicaid, has 9.1% of the nation's population but receives 7.1% of federal funding. South Carolina, with 1.5% of population, receives 1.3% of funding.


Do 'sanctuary' policies and laws block all immigration enforcement?

Local "sanctuary" policies don't prevent federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents from acting inside the states, counties or cities that have adopted them.

Under the policies, some jurisdictions have directed their law-enforcement authorities to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. The polices vary in extent and details, but have become more widespread as the Trump administration has sought to tighten U.S. immigration, asylum and refugee rules.

Immigrants not legally authorized to be in the U.S. are under federal law "removable aliens" and subject to deportation. In jurisdictions that do cooperate, information sharing may alert ICE to the detention for other reasons of someone also in violation of immigration law.


Did Steven Mnuchin oversee tens of thousands of foreclosures before becoming Secretary of the Treasury?

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was chief executive of a Southern California bank from 2009 to 2015, and oversaw tens of thousands of foreclosures during his tenure.

A 2011 investigation by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision found OneWest's foreclosures weren't properly administered, identifying fraudulent practices like backdated documents.

A 2013 memo by the consumer-law division of the California Attorney General's office states that between March 2009 and January 2013, OneWest "foreclosed on approximately 35,000 California homes and initiated foreclosures on approximately 45,000 more." The authors found "evidence of wrongdoing suggestive of widespread misconduct." The memo recommended that then-Attorney General Kamala Harris authorize a civil enforcement action against the bank. Harris's office declined to pursue the case.


Do economists say that the coronavirus-related boost in unemployment payments disrupted the labor market?

A congressional committee noted that five studies of a temporary boost in unemployment benefits enacted in March found scant evidence that the payments disrupted hiring or economic recovery. The measure added $600 in weekly benefits nationwide to offset the impact of the coronavirus shutdowns, making benefits more generous than previous wages for two-thirds of those laid off, according to a University of Chicago study. One cited study, by Yale University researchers, said workers with higher benefits "returned to their previous jobs over time at similar rates as others."

Media reports about workers delaying returns to work because of more generous benefits are at odds with the data. Economists point out that the security of returning to a job likely outweighed the short-term boost to income (the extra payments expired in July).


Do anti-coronavirus measures generally ban outdoor church services?

State and local measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus generally follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines permitting outdoor church services. Per the CDC, authorities should not recommend or impose safety guidelines for religious services that are stricter than those for comparable activities. The CDC recommends strategies for holding safe services including wearing masks and forgoing shared worship objects like offering plates and Communion cup. From California to Connecticut, religious communities have met outside for months, adhering to local rules around crowd size and social distancing.

In September, five attendees at an outdoor church gathering in Moscow, Idaho, were arrested for violating local orders requiring masks and social distancing—not for holding an outdoor service.


Has access to health care for people with preexisting conditions worsened since the passage of the Affordable Care Act?

Under the Affordable Care Act, health-insurance companies cannot refuse to cover patients with preexisting conditions or charge them more for coverage. From 2013 to 2015, 16.5 million non-elderly adults gained coverage; of these, 2.6 million had pre-existing conditions.

Before the law was passed in 2010, insurers could charge higher premiums, limit benefits or deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. In early 2010, 19% of individual insurance applications were denied, most often for health reasons. The ACA incorporated earlier limited protections for some patients with preexisting conditions, while broadening protection across the population.


By law are states required to have balanced budgets?

States lack the financial flexibility available to the federal government, which can issue its own debt and plan on deficit spending year after year. As of 2015, 46 states and the District of Columbia had some kind of formal balanced-budget requirement preventing them from planning on deficits. In the others, rules limited their ability to run a deficit.

When tax receipts fall because of an economic slowdown, states must move to raise taxes or cut spending, temporarily bridging the gap with reserves or borrowing from outside sources. States (and other local jurisdictions) can also issue bonds to fund planned investment-type projects like roads or bridges. They typically must seek voter approval to do so.


Is the US unusual among major democracies in requiring citizens to take the initiative to register to vote?

In 49 states and the District of Columbia, it's up to each adult to take the initiative to register to vote. In one state, North Dakota, voters show up at the polls, present ID, and vote.

Many democratic countries, including Australia, Canada and Sweden, automatically enroll voters and keep electoral rolls current. Others, such as the U.K., have more proactive outreach methods. According to Pew Research, 56% of the voting-age population turned out for the November 2016 election in the U.S. In Canada in 2015, the comparable figure was 62%; in the U.K. in 2017, 63%.

Some countries make voting compulsory, driving turnout much higher. In Australia, where registration is virtually automatic and voting is mandatory, turnout in 2019's national elections was 92%.


Did the Black Panthers develop a national program providing free meals for schoolchildren?

The U.S. government established a national school-lunch program to provide low-cost or free lunches at schools in 1946, and twenty years later added a pilot program offering breakfasts. The Black Panther Party, founded in 1966, began to supplement the federal efforts with its own free-breakfast program in Black communities, serving thousands of children in different cities. The breakfast program ran into harassment from the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover, who assailed the program as a propaganda tool as he sought to shut down what he saw as a subversive organization.

The federal government expanded its breakfast program in the early 1970s and permanently authorized it in 1975.


Is there evidence that progesterone may prevent some miscarriages?

Progestogens, including natural progesterone, may slightly decrease the chance of miscarriage in at-risk women. Progesterone thickens the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy and helps nurture the fetus.

In a 2017 meta-analysis of 13 clinical trials involving 2,556 women who experienced recurring miscarriages, progestogen was found to lower the chance of miscarriage from 27.5% to 20.1%, though the findings were based on "evidence of only moderate quality." A 2013 review of previous studies found "no evidence to support the routine use of progestogens" for treating the threat of miscarriage. It acknowledges studies that found that it might be a successful therapy for women who miscarry frequently, but criticized those studies' methods.


Are essential workers less likely than other workers to have health insurance?

Workers deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic, including grocery clerks, truckers, warehouse workers, cleaners and childcare providers, are less likely to have health insurance than the general U.S. working population. Last year, 8% of the U.S. population reported having no health insurance at any time during 2019. That number was higher among essential workers, with the exception of hospital staff and public-transit workers.

One study found that in 2018 and 2019, 11.5% of nursing home staff were uninsured. For home healthcare workers, the rate was 14.9%.

An analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that nearly 30% of custodial staff and 12.1% of grocery store employees had no health insurance from 2014 to 2018. In the construction industry, more than 24% of workers did not have health insurance in 2019.


Does Denmark have a minimum wage?

There is currently no statutory minimum wage in Denmark. In Copenhagen specifically, the current minimum salary for someone employed full time is about 110 Danish kroner ($17.46) per hour or 17,000 kroner ($2,699) per month.

For the past 120 years, Danish wages have been negotiated through collective agreements by trade unions. For jobs without collective agreements, employees must negotiate their salary at the time of employment. The majority of trade unions and Danish parliamentarians oppose establishing a statutory minimum wage.

Even without a minimum wage, Danes are entitled to a number of benefits protected by law, including parental leave and sickness benefits. "The Danish model has delivered. It has ensured more equal conditions at the same time as good competitiveness," a University of Copenhagen professor said.


Has the Department of Transportation declined to mandate masks for all airline passengers?

The Department of Transportation declined a labor group's request to mandate masks in airports and on airplanes, responding that it considers guidelines currently in place to be adequate.

The petition was filed by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, a coalition of 33 airline staff unions, Transportation Security Administration employees, ferry operators and bus drivers.

In July 2020, the Department of Transportation outlined guidelines for the airline industry encouraging but not requiring passengers to wear masks. Airlines have independently required passengers to wear masks, with some threatening do-not-fly status for noncompliant travelers.


Does the president have broad powers over communications networks during wars and emergencies?

In the 1940s and 1950s, Congress granted the president additional powers during times of war or national emergency to shut down communications services such as radio stations and other transmitters and "any or all facilities or stations for wire communications." The president may also authorize a temporary government takeover of such services for national security reasons.

In recent decades, this provision has been interpreted by some as effectively giving the president a "kill switch" to shut down the internet during a national emergency. Rand Paul and a bipartisan group of senators in September introduced legislation which would amend the statute.


Do HIPAA privacy rules apply to all disclosures of health-related information?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects patients' health information, laying out rules that insurers, providers and certain related entities have to follow. It doesn't apply to other organizations, media or private individuals.

"Far too often, but especially in a crisis, HIPAA may be invoked to stonewall all attempts to get medical information," a South Carolina journalism professor wrote in May,

In an emergency such as the coronavirus outbreak, HIPAA rules allow sharing relevant information—such as test results—to public health authorities or individuals without a patient's authorization. Except in limited circumstances, reporting the test results of an identifiable patient to the media or public is not allowed without the patient's written permission. A patient may authorize any or all disclosures by organizations subject to the law.


Do researchers find that dexamethasone at recommended dosages has side effects strong enough to mentally incapacitate someone?

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid used to treat ailments including multiple sclerosis, allergies, post-surgery inflammation and, most recently, complications of COVID-19.

The most common side effect of corticosteroids is insomnia, reported in 45% of patients in one study. Other less common side effects include indigestion, agitation, weight gain, acne and depression. Corticosteroids can induce "an improved sense of well-being within several days of starting the medications," and "mild euphoria or anxiety may also occur."

The drug has been cited as causing more severe mental impairment almost exclusively in cases where dosages of 20 mg daily were administered for a prolonged period of time. Federal guidelines for COVID-19 patients recommend a course of 6 mg per day for up to 10 days. There are no specific studies about the effects in COVID-19 patients.


Is there increasing evidence that the key ingredient in Pepcid could be an effective COVID-19 treatment?

Continuing studies of famotidine—an antihistimine, and the active ingredient in the heartburn-relief drug Pepcid—have yielded more signs the drug could help treat COVID-19.

The studies, while not conclusive, follow preliminary encouraging findings in May. A recent study at a Connecticut hospital found COVID-19 patients who took Pepcid were 45% less likely to die and 48% less likely to need a ventilator than those who were not treated with the medication.

In another study, researchers administered famotidine and the allergy medication cetirizine to 110 COVID-19 patients with severe pulmonary symptoms. The combination of the two drugs resulted in “reductions in inpatient mortality and symptom progression."

A third study found non-hospitalized coronavirus patients who took famotidine reported noticeable improvements within 24 hours of starting the drug.


Have communists been banned from immigrating to the US for decades?

Laws that restrict communists from immigrating to the U.S. have existed since the mid-20th century.

Throughout the 1940s, immigration officials had broad leeway to deny visas to immigrants they suspected might engage in anti-American sedition. In 1950, the McCarran Internal Security Act made communists, fascists and totalitarians ineligible for naturalization. And in 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act excluded all aliens voluntarily affiliated with the Communist Party and other totalitarian groups from immigrating to the U.S.—a prohibition that continues to this day.

According to U.S. immigration authorities, any applicant "meaningfully" and voluntarily involved with the Communist Party or other suspect group (had a membership card, paid dues, gave money, advocated ideals, etc.) is not admissible to the United States.


Is remdesivir authorized for anyone hospitalized with COVID-19?

In August the Food and Drug Administration broadened its earlier emergency-use authorization of remdesivir, expanding its scope to include treatment of all hospitalized adult or pediatric patients with suspected or laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, "irrespective of their severity of the disease."

Complete understanding of the drug's benefits continues to evolve. Three clinical trials so far have produced varying results.


Is a federal fund that helps miners suffering from black-lung disease running out of money?

A government fund designed to assist coal miners suffering from black-lung disease has never been adequately funded by an excise tax on coal production, as intended when it was established. The excise-tax rate fell 55% in 2019, but the previous rate was reinstated for the current year. The decline in domestic coal production is placing additional strain on the fund.

Black-lung disease (caused by breathing fine silica and other dust) affects approximately 10% of U.S. miners. The fund, set up in 1977, currently supports 25,000 disabled miners. Last year it paid $660 a month to an eligible miner with no dependents.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has proposed extending the higher tax rates through 2030. Without further changes, the Government Accountability Office in 2018 estimated the fund would need $11.1 billion more funding through 2050, presumably through borrowing more funds from the Treasury.


Has the proportion of Americans identifying as transgender increased in the last decade?

A 2019 paper by three New York University researchers estimates that the proportion of adults who identify as transgender has increased from about .03% of the U.S. population to about .06% in the last decade. It also finds "a higher proportion of [transgender non-binary] identities among the younger generations."

A 2017 study by UCLA's Williams Institute estimates 0.73% of teens aged 13 to 17 identify as transgender. The study found "the population of individuals who identify as transgender appears similar to the U.S. general population in regard to age"—i.e., 8% of the U.S. general population is 13 to 17 years old and, comparably, 10% of the U.S. transgender population is 13 to 17 years old.

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control survey of select states and school districts found that 1.8% of surveyed high-school students identify as transgender.


Do political campaign workers typically have access to lots of personal data about voters?

Anyone working for a political campaign with access to voter file database software can access personal voter data.

Voting records are generally publicly available, with access and the extent of detail varying across the states. As data collection and analysis have become more sophisticated, political campaigns have begun to target and track voters, adding information about a voter's party affiliations, religion, race, education level, finances and lifestyle. This information helps campaigns direct messages to different voter demographics.

Campaigns often obtain or buy the information from a variety of sources, including the census, phone books, credit data and social media. However, the data provided to campaigns is not always entirely accurate, especially on variables like education or household income.


Has the US Forest Service changed its firefighting tactics over time?

U.S. Forest Service firefighting tactics have evolved over the last century, from complete suppression to a more balanced approach.

For decades, the agency emphasized complete suppression. In 1935, the service instituted the “10 AM Policy," which stipulated that all human-caused fires were to be contained and suppressed by 10 a.m. the morning after they were reported. As scientists and policymakers learned more about how wildfires benefit ecosystems, tactics changed. In 1971, the service implemented the 10-Acre Policy, which allowed fires to burn as long as they were contained within ten acres.

In 1978, the Forest Service moved toward a philosophy of fire management rather than complete suppression. Today, this "let-burn" approach is balanced against concerns about air quality, exurban sprawl, and animal habitats.


Have any recent US election results been overturned because of election fraud?

In a compilation of nearly 1,300 voter fraud cases between 1992 to 2020, 21 election results were reversed because of the fraud. The only such contest involving a federal office occurred in 2018, when workers for a Republican candidate for Congress from North Carolina were charged with illegally collecting absentee ballots. The state called a new election in 2019.

In two other instances, misuse of absentee ballots contributed to the reversal of a contest's results, including an Alabama city council race and a West Virginia scheme led by the county sheriff and the county clerk. The database tracking the fraud cases is maintained by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.


Have US private schools increased their share of overall enrollment in recent decades?

Overall private school enrollment has declined over the past two decades, falling from 6 million in 1999 to 5.7 million in 2017. In 1999, private schools enrolled 11% of students, falling to 10% in 2017.

The decline was driven by declining enrollment in Catholic schools, which fell from 2.7 million to 2.1 million. Enrollment in other religious schools was steady, while enrollment in non-religious schools climbed to 1.4 million from 1.2 million.

A private-school software vendor said applications for private schools in July 2020 were up 131% from the year before, perhaps driven by uncertainty about public school plans to manage coronavirus risks in the upcoming year. But the outlook remains unclear for the full school year. "We could be seeing anything from disaster to boom‐​time for private schools," an education expert at the Cato Institute wrote in early September.


Do most heroin overdoses in the United States also involve synthetic narcotics?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids were involved in nearly 70% of drug-related overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2018. While deaths involving heroin fell between 2017 and 2018, deaths involving synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) continued to rise, and are now involved in more than two-thirds of all opioid-related deaths.

From 2010 to 2018, overdoses involving heroin without any other synthetic opioids have risen by a factor of two. In the same time period, overdoses involving heroin and other synthetic opioids rose by a factor of over 200, representing 60% of all heroin-related overdoses by 2018.


Is it true that no self-professed atheist has been appointed to the Supreme Court?

All U.S. Supreme Court justices have professed adherence to a Judeo-Christian faith. Of 114 justices who have served to date, 91 have identified as Protestant, 14 as Catholic and eight as Jewish.

The current court has five Catholic justices and two Jewish justices. Justice Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic but currently attends an Episcopalian church. Amy Coney Barrett, the latest nominee, is Catholic.


Is substantial personal indebtedness grounds for denying a security clearance?

At all levels of government service and the military, debt is a major factor in assessing eligibility for security clearances. Guidelines from the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence role, note that debt issues raise multiple questions about an individual's overall reliability and susceptibility to outside pressures. A large debt load could also imply poor self-control or an unwillingness to play by the rules. Investigations consider the origins of the debt and the holder's plans and ability to repay it.

In 2018, the President ordered continuous credit monitoring for federal employees in national security-related roles. Previously, after passing an initial credit check an employee had been subject to follow-up checks at intervals of five to ten years.


Are minors earning minimum wage liable for federal income taxes?

Whether someone pays federal income tax is based upon the person's income, regardless of age.

A single person under 65 years of age who earned more than $12,200 in 2019 was required to file an income tax return, but at that level was unlikely to owe any income taxes if eligible for the standard deduction of $12,200. (The standard deduction for 2020 was raised to $12,400.) At the federal rate of $7.25, which applies in 21 states, a minimum wage-earner would have had to work 1,683 hours in the year before crossing the filing threshold. Minimum wages vary considerably across U.S. states and cities, ranging up to $15.59 in San Francisco.

In addition, workers pay social security and Medicare taxes from the first dollar of earnings.


Do most young Americans believe racism is a significant problem in the US?

A large majority of young people think that racism is a significant problem in the U.S., according to recent polls.

In May, Pew Research Center reported approximately two-thirds of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen-Zers (born after 1996) said that Black Americans are treated less fairly than white Americans. About half of respondents in older generations agreed.

In June, Business Insider and partner groups polled nearly 39,000 Americans aged 13 to 25. Of the poll's respondents, 88% said that Black Americans faced racial discrimination.

In a July survey of more than 3,000 people between the ages of 18 and 36 organized by a University of Chicago professor, 64% said that racism remains a major problem in U.S. society.


Have some private donors increased giving in response to the pandemic?

Fidelity Charitable, which manages dedicated charitable-giving accounts on behalf of individual donors, says its clients increased contributions by 16% in the first four months of 2020 to $2.35 billion. Donations to free-food programs jumped almost sevenfold to $75 million.

The Foundation Source, which advises foundations set up by private individuals and families, reported that 42% of surveyed clients had increased giving since the start of the year. The group said 37% significantly shifted their missions to accommodate pandemic-related needs such as food security.

Feeding America, a nonprofit supporting 200 food banks, said increased support helped it provide 1.3 billion meals between March 1 and mid-June, up 40% from the same period last year. It didn't provide specifics about its funding sources during the period.


Is there much evidence that children fare worse in transracial adoptions than in same-race adoptions?

Adopted children of a different race than their adoptive parents are largely as well-adjusted as adoptees of the same race, research shows.

A study comparing 357 adoptive families reported little difference in overall adoptive identity and adjustment between same-race and transracial adoptees. Similarly, an analysis involving more than 2,000 transracial adoptees found comparable levels of self-esteem.

Studies demonstrate that discussion about ethnic identity is essential for families that adopt transracially. Adoptees whose parents emphasized learning about their child's heritage reported fewer "feelings of being different,” a study reported. While there is evidence that transracial adoptees can struggle with their racial or ethnic identity, past studies suggest that placement delays may cause more harm than racial differences between adoptees and their adopted families.


Historically, has an amendment to the Constitution ever been ratified in a few months?

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the voting age to 18, was ratified in a record 100 days in 1971. Six other amendments have been ratified in less than one year, quickly winning first two-thirds support from Congress and then the required confirmation from three-quarters of the states.

Significant public support motivated the speedy ratification of several of these amendments. In the case of the 26th, Vietnam War activists argued that if 18-year-old Americans were old enough to serve in the military, then they were old enough to vote. Ratification of the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition, took nine months.

The Constitution imposes no time limit for ratification by the states, but Congress may attach conditions when it proposes an amendment. The 27th Amendment, proposed in 1789 to govern Congressional pay, was finally ratified in 1992.


Do Spotify's terms of use give it broad leeway to decide what content it offers?

Spotify, known for music-streaming services, describes itself as "an open platform for artistic expression" but reserves the right to remove anything that "promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence." Its terms also state it may remove user-uploaded content for "any or no reason."

In 2018, Spotify removed R. Kelly's music from official playlists following controversy over alleged sexual assaults by the singer. His music remained available for streaming. Spotify then changed its policy, stating that its "role is not to regulate artists."

Archived episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast featuring controversial guests have not been available since the show's move to Spotify. Spotify has not commented. Some Spotify employees are reported to be demanding further oversight of the podcast, including the removal of some episodes about transgender issues.


Do most private land owners manage woodlands to reduce the impact of wildfires?

Surveys have found that the majority of private landowners take measures to prevent wildfires on their land.

A 2011 survey of non-industrial private forest owners in Oregon found that 70% treated their holdings to reduce hazardous fuels, including clearing brush, grazing livestock and pruning trees. Landowners who lived on their property were eight times more likely to use such measures than those with primary residences elsewhere.

Another study of family owners in 13 states found that two-thirds of respondents took measures to prevent fires on their land. This study also found that landowners who did not live on their land were less likely to take preventative action.

As of 2019, 58% of forests and woodlands in the U.S. were privately-owned, with most belonging to families, individuals, trusts and estates. A smaller share was owned by corporations.


Does the First Amendment explicitly call for the separation of church and state?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says only that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote that its declaration, known as the "Establishment Clause," has built "a wall of separation between Church & State."

In 1947, Jefferson's interpretation was cited in a Supreme Court decision allowing public funds to pay for buses taking children to Catholic schools. Justice Hugo Black added that the “wall must remain high and impregnable.” "This discussion had a decidedly separationist tone and has been cited by liberals as authoritative ever since," observes Artemus Ward, a Northern Illinois University professor.


Do any federal laws regulate the open carry of firearms?

Laws allowing gun owners to openly carry firearms in public are set by each state. Thirty-one states allow open carry without a special license or permit; fifteen states allow open carry with a special license or permit.

Federal firearms legislation includes the National Firearms Act, prohibiting the transfer or possession of certain firearms, like machine guns, and the Brady Law, which mandates background checks for certain gun transactions. Another U.S. law forbids carrying firearms, open or concealed, on federal property.

In a 1997 ruling related to some Brady Law provisions, the Supreme Court said that "the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program."


Are federal tax credits on electric cars effectively a subsidy to more affluent buyers?

Affluent Americans get the greatest benefits from tax credits for buying electric vehicles.

Since 2010 the U.S. government has offered a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchasers of electric vehicles. The credit is phased out after a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualified vehicles, a threshold crossed already by General Motors and Tesla, whose vehicles no longer qualify.

A 2019 survey found tax incentives were a significant motivator among electric vehicle buyers. In 2020, 57% of new plug-in hybrid buyers and 60% of new electric vehicle buyers had incomes of at least $100,000. Though electric vehicles can save drivers in running costs, they cost more upfront than gas-powered cars—$19,000 more, on average. A 2018 study notes the "reverse Robin Hood impact" of the subsidies.


Has Justice Clarence Thomas openly called for reversing Roe v. Wade?

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent to a June decision blocking restrictions on abortion in Louisiana, wrote that "our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled." His is the most explicit call by any sitting Justice to review the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which determined that the 14th Amendment's due process clause implies a "right to privacy" and protects a woman's choice to have an abortion. Justice Thomas in his June dissent called that argument "farcical."

In the June decision, other dissenting Justices based their decisions on the "balancing test," which considers fetal life and the mother's health alongside her right to an abortion.


Do witnesses in grand jury proceedings have a right to have their lawyer in the room with them?

Witnesses in federal or state grand jury proceedings are not entitled to legal representation, even if the witness is the target of the investigation. A grand jury witness may choose to hire a lawyer, but lawyers are not allowed to accompany their client into the jury room.

The role of a grand jury is to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial on criminal charges. A trial jury then determines whether or not the suspect is guilty.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant representation only in criminal proceedings.


Do wind farms on land produce more greenhouse gas emissions than offshore installations?

A 2019 study found offshore wind turbines produce more greenhouse gases over their life cycle than onshore wind turbines, due to the impact of installation and maintenance of platforms floating in open waters. An analysis of four representative European power plants found that the emissions were substantially less for onshore systems than for offshore systems (7 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated vs. 11 grams).

As wind turbines do not emit greenhouse gases wherever they operate, all help to reduce emissions if they replace conventional coal, oil or gas generating capacity.

A wind turbine’s rotor blades are made with polymers; after use, the blades end up in landfills. Both onshore and offshore turbines can pose other environmental risks, including hazards for bats and birds.


Did the House of Representatives allow voting by proxy during the coronavirus pandemic?

On May 15, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that allows absent members to designate proxies for floor votes "during a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus." The temporary rule, currently set to expire Oct. 2, may be extended in additional 45-day increments based on the "status" of the emergency.

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

House Republicans have called proxy voting unconstitutional, arguing members were present on the floor during the Civil War and earlier epidemics. They said proxy voting would dilute the voting powers of members who were present. Their efforts to block the practice in federal courts have so far been unsuccessful.


Are 'secrecy sleeves' required for all mail-in ballots?

"Secrecy sleeves"—inner envelopes protecting the anonymity of a voter's ballot—aren't necessary in jurisdictions that have modern ballot-counting machines. But not all jurisdictions have had the funding to acquire the equipment. Sixteen states require that all mailed ballots be inserted into them.

With much greater volumes of mailed ballots expected in 2020, and many voters mailing ballots for the first time, the lack of a secrecy sleeve could invalidate unusually high numbers of ballots in some jurisdictions and influence outcomes in close races. There is national attention on Pennsylvania, where the state's highest court has mandated that "naked" ballots not enclosed in the required inner envelope should not be counted.


Does the oil and gas industry contribute much more to the GOP than to Democrats?

The oil and gas industry has channeled two-thirds of its political contributions to Republicans since 1990, and that pattern has continued in the 2020 election. Federal data compiled by Open Secrets, an independent research group, shows that Donald Trump's campaign had received $1.6 million as of Sept. 21 from industry-related sources, compared with $623,000 given to Joe Biden's. (Both campaigns have raised about $500 billion so far in total.)

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican running for reelection, is the second-largest recipient of support from the industry behind Trump. Only other Democrat, also from Texas, is among its top 20 recipients.

The industry has donated $87 million so far this year, 85% to Republicans.


Is much of the cost of nuclear weapons kept out of the Pentagon budget?

The cost of much of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been funded separately from the Defense Department's budget since the creation of the atomic bomb under stringent secrecy during World War II. The Energy Department inherited those costs when it was created in 1977.

For fiscal 2020, ending Sept. 30, the Pentagon sought $718 billion. The Energy Department asked for $23.7 billion to cover its related national security role, a range of weapons-building and support programs.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit working to reduce risks from nuclear weapons, suggests the split budget contributed to rapid growth of the U.S. nuclear stockpile during the Cold War. "There was little financial disincentive for service officials to request a nuclear warhead when a conventional one might be just as much or even more appropriate," an analyst wrote in 2008.


Does the Southern Baptist Convention explicitly prohibit ministers from endorsing political candidates?

Nowhere in the 2020 "annual" of the Southern Baptist Convention—which includes its charter, constitution and bylaws—is the endorsement of a political candidate specifically prohibited.

By law, churches must be careful not to officially endorse political candidates if they wish to retain their tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Service rules. But churches, including Southern Baptist congregations, have some leeway. They can publish and distribute voter guides, register voters or invite candidates to speak. Pastors and other church leadership can also endorse candidates as private citizens, but must keep their partisan comments out of official publications and not express them at official functions.


Was the size of the Supreme Court originally proportional to the number of circuit courts?

Although the Constitution established the Supreme Court, it was the Judiciary Act of 1789 that laid out the Court's organization, including that there would be six justices. The Act put the Supreme Court at the top of a three-tier system which included three circuit courts based on geographical regions. Originally, two justices were required to preside over each circuit court twice a year.

The Judiciary Act of 1802 increased the number of circuit courts to six, the same as the number of Supreme Court justices. As the population of the U.S. grew, the number of circuit courts increased accordingly through the first half of the 19th century.

In 1869, Congress set the number of justices at nine, one for each circuit. Since then, the number of circuit courts has increased to 13, but the number of seats on the Supreme Court has remained at nine.


Have abortions declined sharply in the US over the last two decades?

The number of abortions performed in the U.S. has sharply declined since 1998. In 2016, 623,471 were reported to the Centers for Disease Control, down by about half from the levels prevailing through the 80s and the early and mid-90s. (Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit, compiles estimates based on its own surveys, yielding higher totals but similar trends.)

The number of legal abortions more than doubled after the procedure was declared legal in all 50 states by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973. In 1972, 586,760 legal abortions were reported to the CDC. By 1980, 1.3 million legal abortions were reported.

Another measure, the ratio of abortions to live births, has also declined. In 1973, there were 19.6 abortions per 100 births; the ratio rose to the mid-30s by 1980 and remained there until the late 1990s. In 2016, there were 18.6, lower than in the year Roe v. Wade was decided.


Has it historically taken a median of 12 days to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year?

The median time the Senate has taken to consider and confirm Presidential nominations to the Supreme Court during election years is 12 days. Since the Court's founding in 1789 the Senate has confirmed 11 justices during election years, in each case before the date of the election. All but one (Anthony Kennedy, nominated in 1987 and confirmed in 1988) were also nominated during the same year.

The shortest time: one day, when George Washington nominated Samuel Chase and Oliver Ellsworth in 1796. The longest: 124 days, when Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis in 1916, provoking a long fight over what were seen as radical anti-business views.


Is the Justice Department's '60-day rule' for election-related cases written in law?

The Justice Department often foregoes announcing new developments in a case or taking overt investigative steps within 60 days of an election, so as to avoid influencing it. But it's not a law.

The department, after examining the impact of various actions by FBI Director James Comey and others during 2016, reported that “the 60-day rule is not written or described in any department policy or regulation." Its 2018 report found "the most explicit policy" concerned crimes that could affect the integrity of the election itself, such as voter fraud. "There is generalized, unwritten guidance that prosecutors do not indict political candidates or use overt investigative methods in the weeks before an election."


Does mining rare-earth elements pose significant environmental risk?

Environmental Protection Agency research highlights the environmental risks of mining rare-earth elements, including leached contaminants that harm plants, animals and humans.

China, one of the world's largest producers of rare-earth elements, estimates that refining one ton of rare earth elements results in 75 cubic meters of acidic wastewater and one ton of radioactive waste residue. Longnan Rare Earths Bureau director Xu Cheng told a Yale University publication it could take "50 to 100 years" for rare-earth mining environments to fully recover.

Rare-earth elements are used to make computers, wind turbines, electric vehicles and other products. Magnets, needed for many electronics products, account for 21% of consumption.


Is the pandemic's impact on routine health care predicted to lead to increased cancer deaths in the future?

Given the disruption of routine medical care resulting from measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, researchers expect increased deaths from cancers that would normally have been been detected and treated at an earlier stage. A study found a 46.4% decline in new diagnoses for six common cancers in the spring of 2020, warning that "delay in diagnosis will likely lead to presentation at more advanced stages and poorer clinical outcomes."

Delays in needed cancer-related surgeries and treatments also may increase future mortality. A model from the National Cancer Institute suggests there may be 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancer in the next one to two years (assuming a return to normal care routines after six months).

About 600,000 Americans are expected to die from cancer in 2020.


Are more people in prison in the US for violent crimes than for drug offenses?

The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit group advocating against excessive incarceration, calculates that more than twice as many people in the U.S. are incarcerated in connection with violent offenses compared to drug-related offenses. Its estimates include pretrial detention as well as convicted offenders, and span the U.S.'s multi-level justice system, providing a more complete and timely view than official federal and state statistics. The federal prison system, smaller overall, has a relatively larger share of drug-related offenders in its population than state systems.

Overall, "four out of five people in prison or jail are locked up for something other than a drug offense—either a more serious offense or an even less serious one," says the Policy Initiative's report.


Did a wave of contributions to a Minnesota bail fund go only to help people arrested during the George Floyd protests?

After the protests provoked by George Floyd's death in May 2020, social-media attention from celebrities and politicians helped channel $35 million in donations to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a local nonprofit seeking to help those who can't make cash bail. Some of the contributions helped arrested protesters, but some were used to bail out other offenders unconnected to the protests.

A local TV station, citing a court document, reported that recipients of the fund's help were charged with crimes including second-degree murder and sexual assault. Greg Lewin, the fund's interim director, told the station, "I often don’t even look at a charge when I bail someone out."

The organization, which subsisted on a budget of $250,000 last year, says the remaining windfall will help expand its work through the whole state.


Do supervised injection sites increase the amount of hazardous waste in their vicinity?

Studies of safe injection sites have found no increase in drug-related waste after the establishment of medically-supervised facilities offering places for consumers of illicit drugs. There are currently 100 such facilities worldwide, but efforts to establish them in the U.S. have encountered significant community resistance. Advocates say they can reduce overdoses, unhealthy behavior and strain on the medical system.

A 2004 study of a Vancouver facility that opened in 2003 found “significant reductions” in the number of publicly discarded syringes and injection-related litter after the facility opened.

A study examining a facility in Sydney found that within three years of the facility’s opening, there was a “significant decrease in the proportion of residents and business operators who reported having witnessed publicly discarded injecting equipment.”


Was the 2019 increase in median US household income the largest in more than thirty years?

Real median household income grew 6.8% to $68,703 in 2019, up from $64,324 in 2018, the largest year-to-year increase since at least 1984.

This increase continues a period of economic recovery after years of stagnant household income following the 2007-2009 Great Recession. The U.S. Census notes that it marks the "fifth consecutive annual increase in median household income for family households, and the second consecutive increase for non-family households."


Are the majority of US suicides committed by men?

In 2018, men died by suicide 3.56 times more often than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The rate is highest among middle-aged white men, and white males alone accounted for nearly 70% of all suicide deaths that year.

Suicide rates have been increasing over the past 20 years, more so for women than men. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S suicide rate increased by 35% between 1999 and 2018. In terms of age-adjusted rates by sex, the suicide rate increased 55% among women and 28% among men.


Does the Senate sometimes confirm judicial nominees deemed 'not qualified' by the American Bar Association?

Nominees deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association have been confirmed by the Senate for District Court seats during the Carter, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Trump administrations. During the Trump administration, one "not qualified" nominee has been confirmed as an Appeals Court judge.

Neither the G.W. Bush nor the Trump administrations sought ABA ratings before making judicial nominations. The ABA, which represents the whole of the U.S. legal profession, has been offering advice to the Senate about presidents' nominees to the federal courts since the Eisenhower era. It bases its nonpartisan ratings on integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament.


Is either major party pushing to lower the voting age to 16?

In March 2019, the House of Representatives considered lowering the minimum voting age to 16 as part of a voting-rights reform bill. The measure failed, with 125 Democrats (and one Republican from Texas, Michael Burgess) supporting it, and 108 Democrats and all other Republicans against it.

The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has expressed support for the idea. A few 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Andrew Yang, endorsed the idea, too. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris did not respond to a Washington Post survey on the subject during the primaries.

Overall public support for the idea appears weak. A 2019 poll for The Hill showed strong opposition to lowering the voting age to 16—with 89% of GOP respondents and 78% of Democrat respondents opposed.


Can a social welfare 501(c)(4) nonprofit engage in political activities?

A nonprofit social welfare organization, known as a 501(c)(4) group after the relevant section of the tax code, can engage in limited political activity, so long as this is not its primary work. Via an affiliated Political Action Committee, it can lobby elected officials and endorse or oppose candidates.

Organizations with 501(c)(4) status are exempt from federal income taxes, but donations made to them are not tax deductible.

Charitable, religious, and educational organizations can obtain 501(c)(3) status. Donations to these organizations are tax-deductible, but their political engagement is limited to nonpartisan activities.


Can TV stations restrict the content of political ads placed by candidates for federal office?

TV channels can't censor or reject political advertisements after a legally qualified candidate has purchased air time. Broadcast stations are subsequently exempt from any potential liability that may be associated with the ad's content.

Federal Communications Commission regulations entitle presidential, vice presidential and congressional candidates to “reasonable access” to commercial airwaves, regardless of the station's political leaning. A TV station may legally choose not to sell advertisements to state or local candidates.


Do campaign ads on TV persuade voters?

Research suggests that television advertising influences voters, at least to some extent.

Political scientists examining TV ads in the 2016 presidential election found that, on average, ads increased a candidate’s favorability rating only slightly, regardless of content or audience.

In a 2018 paper, Northwestern University researchers studying 2004–2012 presidential campaigns reported “a positive and economically meaningful effect of advertising on candidates' vote shares" at odds with the "conventional wisdom of limited effects."

A 2010 study found a 1,000-ad advantage increased a candidate’s vote share by 0.5 percentage points, a potentially significant advantage in a close election.


Were a third of the women in Puerto Rico sterilized under US territorial rule in the mid-20th century?

In 1937, Puerto Rico made sterilization free and legal for women, passing a eugenicist law advocated by activists from the mainland as a corrective to poverty and overpopulation. Doctors coerced or tricked poor women into getting "la operación" (a hysterectomy) after their second child's birth. In 1976, according to what was then the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, more than 37% of women of child-bearing age in Puerto Rico had been sterilized.

During these decades, Puerto Rican women were also subject to medical experimentation (without their informed consent) as test subjects for the birth-control pill.


Did the Trump administration move to reduce the number of scientists on EPA advisory boards?

From 2017 to 2019, the share of academic members on the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board dropped by 27 percentage points, according to a 2019 review by the Government Accountability Office. On the Board of Science Counselors, the decline was 45 points. The changes resulted from an EPA decision in 2017 to bar the appointment of any academic researchers receiving funding from the EPA.

The GAO report also found notable changes in membership balance on two other committees of 18 it examined.

Outside groups, objecting to the diminished role for scientists in agency policy reviews, filed multiple lawsuits to block the changes. After losing its third court decision in June, the EPA announced it would revert to its pre-2017 policies, but not make any immediate changes to the committees' current members.


Do environmental groups and industry interests agree about the best way to 'thin' forests?

In recent years, the logging industry and environmental groups have tended to agree that thinning forests could be a helpful wildfire-prevention technique, but they disagree about how aggressive that thinning should be.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace believe traditional industrial logging practices exacerbate wildfires rather than mitigating them. Loggers, they argue, remove mature, resilient, commercially valuable shade trees, leaving behind a thinner canopy and piles of sticks. The logging industry contends that allowing timber companies to remove only small trees ("stewardship" rather than "extractive" work) is for now unprofitable, unsustainable and unrealistic.


Did a pyrotechnic device cause the largest of California's recent wildfires?

Wildfires in California have burned through 3.3 million acres so far this year. The state is battling what is as of Sept. 16 an 18,500-acre fire east of Los Angeles, which the state's fire-control agency says was started by a "pyrotechnic device" used at a gender-reveal party on Sept. 5.

The state is also simultaneously fighting at least 10 larger fires, ranging up to 800,000 acres in size. Most are in the northern part of the state, and several were started by an unusual wave of lightning strikes across northern California earlier in August.


Does the federal government own 58% of California's forests?

The federal government owns nearly 58% of California's forests, with 3% under the state government's direct control and the balance in private hands.

Since devastating fires in 1910, U.S. forestry policy across the West largely sought to suppress natural fire cycles. The cumulative impact of those measures in California has contributed to a buildup of fuel that has in recent years been a major factor in more intense and destructive fires. Until a 2018 change in Forest Service funding, money to fight the worsening fires came at the expense of longer-term measures to mitigate the threats with controlled burning and other measures.

The state and the forest service last month agreed to begin to deal more aggressively with its huge expanse of still fire-prone forests, aiming to "treat" a million acres a year by 2025. More than 3 million acres have burned so far in 2020's fires.


Are 2020 census self-response rates on track to be lower than usual?

The 2020 census self-response rate, measuring completion rates online, by mail or over the phone, is on track to match the rate in previous censuses, allaying some worries about the impact of the pandemic on the decennial effort. As of Sept. 15, the self-response rate was 65.9%, ahead of this year's original goal of 60%. The final rate was 74% in 2010 and 67% ten years earlier.

The bureau moved up the deadline one month to Sept. 30, including personal follow-up with 50 million non-responding households, carried out by a field force budgeted at 435,000 "enumerators." More uncertainty surrounds that part of the process. The bureau reports varying completion rates around the country. Workers told The San Francisco Chronicle that they were being offered reassignment to other areas before their work was complete. "It's just been so crazily organized," one said.


Were Nazi sterilization policies influenced by US policies of that era?

In the early 20th century, U.S. social policies reflected an embrace of eugenics theories first espoused in the late 19th century. When the Nazis drafted forced-sterilization laws, their government lawyers referenced a 1924 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld U.S. sterilization laws. Hitler himself referenced U.S. laws in "Mein Kampf."

In 1907, Indiana passed the world's first involuntary sterilization law, which targeted criminals and the mentally ill. More than thirty states passed similar laws allowing their governments to sterilize patients in institutions like prisons and asylums in order to prevent "social undesirables" from procreating. A 1942 Supreme Court ruling declared forced sterilization laws unconstitutional.


Do scientists agree on how La Niña and El Niño cycles might be affected by climate change?

Recent scientific findings around the potential interaction between overall climate changes and La Niña and El Niño weather events are inconclusive.

The terms refer to alternating phases of a weather pattern caused by changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Niña events represent periods of cold surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. The changes, at irregular intervals, are associated with varying weather patterns across wide areas of the world.

Understanding of the impact a warming climate could have on La Niña or El Niño is not definitive. Studies suggest that climate change could increase the frequency and variability of La Niña and El Niño phases—and El Niño more so.


Are doctors or insurance companies legally allowed to decline hormone therapy prescriptions to trans patients?

With few exceptions, health care providers and institutions are not permitted to decline requests from trans patients to receive hormone therapy treatment.

A Trump administration change to rules preventing healthcare discrimination against trans people was blocked by a federal judge in August. For the time being, that leaves in place the Affordable Care Act's prohibitions against healthcare discrimination against trans people.

In some states, religious refusal laws could allow religious providers to refuse hormone treatments. One survey found 12% of trans patients “said a doctor or other health care provider refused to give them health care related to gender transition." It’s unclear if these refusals were based on medical opinions, lack of knowledge or personal beliefs.


Do broadcasting laws require that equal air time be given to all candidates?

The equal-time rule does not require broadcasters to devote equal air-time to opposing political candidates. It does require them to offer the candidates an equal opportunity to purchase air-time (i.e., advertising) at an equal rate. The rule does not apply to documentaries, news interviews, scheduled newscasts, and on-the-spot news interviews.

The equal-time rule is often confused with the Federal Communications Commission fairness doctrine, a policy that required radio and television broadcasters to devote equal airtime to opposing viewpoints. It was effective from 1949 to 1987.

Both rules were made with respect to over-the-air radio and tv, not to cable, satellite or Internet-based services.


Does the US meatpacking industry rely heavily on immigrant workers?

The nonprofit Migration Policy Institute estimates that 37% of meat-processing workers in the U.S. are immigrants. Plants in some Midwestern states rely even more heavily on foreign-born labor—58% in South Dakota and 66% in Nebraska.

The meat-processing industry has historically depended upon immigrant labor, particularly non-English speaking workers with little education. In recent decades the industry built large new plants in smaller cities and rural areas. Midwestern employers recruited U.S.-born as well as Mexican-born workers from south Texas and other areas with high unemployment rates.


Has charitable giving gone up during the coronavirus pandemic?

While organizations in the medical and vaccine-research field have seen a surge in philanthropic donations during the pandemic, charities not directly involved in pandemic relief have faced significant shortfalls.

A June survey released by a national membership organization of nonprofits found that 83% of the 110 nonprofits surveyed reported a decline in earned revenue, individual giving and philanthropic grants during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals estimates that giving to charitable organizations in the U.S. and Canada fell 11% in March of 2020. The group reported that if the first-quarter's trend were to continue for the rest of the year, nonprofits funding would fall short by $25 billion.

In Massachusetts alone, nonprofits have lost $8.6 billion in funding during the pandemic, according to a report by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.


Do scientists predict global water shortages in the near future?

The World Health Organization predicts that "half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas" by 2025 due to climate change, urbanization and population growth. Climate change shifts rain patterns and increases evaporation, making droughts more extreme in some areas and rainstorms or blizzards more extreme in others. When people can't access clean water, illness spreads more easily. Drought also reduces food production.

A Stanford University case study has projected that the nation of Jordan would receive 30% less rainfall and see droughts triple by 2100 under current conditions. Rainfall would increase as greenhouse-gas emissions declined (though still would be less than in previous years). Another study has forecast that by 2071, nearly half of U.S. fresh water basins won't be able to meet their drinking water demand.


Are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally at greater risk from the coronavirus?

Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus than the general population, largely due to social and economic determinants.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, most of the 11.3 million without legal status hold "essential" jobs in construction, lodging and food services, management services or manufacturing. The group notes that non-citizens face restricted access to government relief programs, making in-person work more difficult to forego.

Family members living in close proximity are also at greater risk of exposure to the virus. A 2018 Pew Research analysis shows most immigrants lacking legal permission to be in the U.S. live with members of their family. PolicyMap data identifies a correlation between regions where more than 10% of households are intergenerational and regions with higher severe COVID-19 risk.


Does wearing campaign paraphernalia when you go to vote break 'electioneering' laws in some states?

Electioneering offenses involve various polling-day persuasion attempts, and in ten states they include wearing campaign-related apparel.

In a 2018 case, the Supreme Court held that Minnesota's provisions were too vague, violating First Amendment rights to free speech. The case arose from a 2010 dispute between a poll official and a voter wearing a Tea Party "Don't Tread on Me" T-shirt and a button supporting voter ID. The court cited other states with more specific bans on names of candidates or messages about ballot measures as better legal models.

The laws usually prohibit unacceptable T-shirts or other activities within a specific distance of a polling place, typically 50 to 200 feet. Other offenses may include political discussions by election officers; verbal expression by anyone; petitioning for political causes, and handing out or posting politically relevant materials.


Is merely encouraging someone to vote twice illegal?

It's illegal to vote twice, and in at least some states it is explicitly a felony to encourage someone else to do so.

Under the 2019 North Carolina General Statutes, any person who induces someone else to vote more than one time shall be guilty of a Class I felony. "Attempting to vote twice in an election or soliciting someone to do so also is a violation of North Carolina law," the head of the state's election board reminded voters in a Sept. 3 statement. New Mexico and Virginia have similar language on their books.


Does the Pentagon want to strengthen a key US missile defense system?

In its budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the Missile Defense Agency has asked for $9.2 billion to "refocus" the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System, a weapons program intended to protect the U.S. mainland.

The missiles have failed in 8 of 18 tests since 1999. Work to strengthen a key component of the $67 billion program was cancelled in 2019. Now the goal is to develop a "layered" approach working with other shorter-range missiles and detection efforts, Defense News reported.

The U.S. at first limited use of missile-defense systems under a treaty with Russia, but the Bush administration changed course following the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. says the GMD system is focused on threats from "rogue" states such as North Korea; 44 interceptors are currently deployed, mostly in Alaska.


Has the Trump campaign spent more on Facebook advertising than its rival?

Based on data from a third-party tracking service, the Trump campaign has spent 70% more this year on Facebook advertising than the Biden campaign, $85 million vs. $50 million. Both campaigns stepped up spending in August, ahead of the rival nominating conventions. In the week ending Aug. 29, Trump's campaign spent $16.7 million, compared to Biden's $10 million.

The Trump campaign's use of Facebook targeting and data-collection capabilities was seen as a factor in its success in the 2016 election. It spent $21.3 million during 2019 as it continued to sustain support and identify potential campaign contributors.


Is 80% of the world’s biodiversity found in Indigenous lands?

Lands managed by Indigenous populations are home to rich varieties of living species. While indigenous people comprise about 6% of the world's population and inhabit about a quarter of the Earth's land, their territory accounts for 80% of the planet's biodiversity, based on measures of species richness and variety.

Richard Schuster, an author of a biodiversity study, explained that the data suggests that Indigenous communities have a knack for keeping species numbers high. "Going forward, collaborating with Indigenous land stewards will likely be essential in ensuring that species survive and thrive," Schuster said.

According to the World Bank, Indigenous peoples continue to face threats to their land from neighboring governments and suffer disproportionately high rates of extreme poverty.


Historically, have arrests of street-level dealers had any impact on reducing illegal drug use?

Arrests of street-level dealers have been largely ineffective as part of the long U.S. "war on drugs." "The public safety impact of incapacitating these offenders is essentially nullified because they are rapidly replaced," a Pew Charitable Trust study said.

Over three decades, the number of adults incarcerated for drug offenses grew tenfold, from 50,000 in 1972 to over 500,000 in 2002. Meanwhile, drug use among all ages has continued to stay either relatively the same or moderately increase.

The International Drug Policy Consortium, a group of non-governmental organizations focused on drug policy, identified a “balloon effect”: any intervention suppressing drug activity in one location pushes the activity to another part of the drug market, effectively making no lasting change in supply.


Do most public requests for federal government information get a complete response?

Both government reviews and external analyses find that most requests for records under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act don't get completely fulfilled. From 2012 to 2018, the Government Accountability Office reports, 27% of requests were satisfied in full, while another 39% were partially filled, with portions redacted or withheld. Agencies cited exemptions permitted under the law 4% of the time, and turned down 30% either because they were duplicates or because the records sought couldn't be located.

Requests under the 54-year-old law often meet resistance, generating many court challenges. A 2010 survey found some agencies had unanswered queries dating back nearly 20 years. In 2015, during the Obama administration, an Associated Press analysis found 77% of requests lacked complete responses. Three years later, under President Trump, the AP reported a 78% incomplete rate.


Do scientists think 16 year-olds are too young to vote?

Young adults possess adequate decision-making skills and political knowledge by age 16 to be entrusted with the right to vote, researchers say.

Decision-making skills under stress don’t fully develop until their 20s, but psychologists say that in “cold cognition” situations that allow for thoughtful decision-making and consultation, 16-year-olds are often as mature as adults. Psychology professor Daniel Hart finds the average 16-year-old has about the same level of political knowledge as the average 18- or 19-year-old. In Austria, where 16-year-olds can vote in all elections, a study of voting choices between younger and older generations found no evidence that voters under 18 made decisions "in any way of lesser quality."

A handful of U.S. cities have opened local elections to ages 16 and up. San Francisco voters are being asked to approve the step in November.


Is right-wing extremism the most significant domestic terror threat?

A 2019 bill drafted by Senate Democrats calls white supremacists and "other far right-wing extremists" the "most significant domestic terrorism threat" facing the U.S. The Center For Strategic and International Studies in a June review agrees. The think tank defines right-wing terrorism as threatened violence "whose goals may include racial or ethnic supremacy; opposition to government authority; anger at women; and outrage against certain policies..."

According to a draft of a Department of Homeland Security report obtained last month by Politico, white supremacist extremists are expected to remain the "most persistent and lethal threat" to the U.S. through 2021. White supremacists accounted for half of all lethal domestic extremist attacks in 2019. "When those people act out violently...they show the highest level of lethality," DHS official Ken Cuccinelli has said.


Did wildfire smoke curtail California’s solar power supply?

Solar panels generally perform best under direct sunlight, although they still generate energy under indirect sunlight. The heavy smoke spreading over California from multiple wildfires has reduced solar power generation by up to 20% on some days, according to KQED in San Francisco.

The state power-distribution authority reported total solar panel output on Sept. 13 of about 79,000 megawatt-hours, down from 97,000 on Sept. 1. Bloomberg reported on the case of one San Francisco Bay area resident whose home panel's output on dropped on Sept. 9 to 1.65 kilowatts, vs. 40 kilowatts on a more typical clear summer day.

The solar drop did not cause any overall supply problems as other sources filled any gaps. The smoke also kept temperatures cooler, reducing the usual air-conditioning demand in peak hours.


Did the state government limit the impact of Florida's 2018 ballot initiative restoring voting rights to felons?

Florida voters in 2018 approved restoration of voting rights to all felons, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their prison sentences. Legislators the following year then passed a law requiring that before registering to vote, felons had to pay all fines, fees, and costs related to their convictions.

Backers of the 2018 vote lost their challenge to the law in a 6-4 ruling issued on Sept. 11 by a U.S. Appeals Court. The Supreme Court had previously declined to intervene in their case. The decision leaves hundreds of thousands of people who can't establish what they owe, or can't afford the amounts due, unable to vote, limiting the impact of a measure originally intended to add up to 1.4 million to the ranks of the state's eligible voters. Nearly 14 million people were registered to vote in the state as of July.


Has the US pledged not to interfere with the world's access to GPS services?

The U.S. has publicly pledged never to interfere in operations of the Global Positioning System, which was developed for military use but has become an everyday tool for many other government, business and consumer users around the world. The core of the satellite-navigation system is funded and operated by the Defense Department and under the ultimate control of the president.

Access to GPS signals has been open to civilian users since the mid-1990s, although the U.S. retained a "selective availability" option to limit or degrade the service for some users if needed for national security reasons. In 2000, the Clinton Administration renounced any use of that option, and in 2007 the Bush Administration said future GPS satellites would be built without any capability to use such an option.


Is 'pod-style learning' subject to government regulation?

State policies for home schools and private schools govern rules for "learning pods," cooperative arrangements among parents forming small groups to have their children taught by a tutor, teacher or parent. More parents are considering pods as an alternative amid the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic. According to National School Choice Week, an organization supporting public educational alternatives, these self-directed pods can be classified either as a home school or a private school, depending on how many students are included and how families choose to register.

Requirements and registrations for both options vary by state. For example, Idaho, Maine and Washington require private schools to have a teaching certificate, while California, Montana and New York require curricula to be similar to public schools.


Has the number of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania declined since 2016?

The number of Pennsylvania voters registered as Democrats has declined by more than 100,000 since November 2016.

As of June 2020, 4,092,693 Pennsylvania voters identified as Democrats, 47.6% of the 8,599,294 registered voters in the state. The number of Democrats registered in November 2016 was 4,217,456, 48.3% of the electorate. Republicans in June accounted for 38.3% of the state’s registered voters, up from 37.8% in 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost to President Trump in Pennsylvania by a single percentage point, or about 68,000 votes. Trends in the state have been closely watched ahead of the 2020 vote. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes the Republican inroads predate Trump's 2016 victory; 57 of 67 counties are more Republican than in 2016.


Are calendars of federal government officials matters of public record?

The appointment calendars of many executive-branch officials are routinely made public, reflecting the breadth of the Freedom of Information Act's definition of official agency records. Many agencies post officials' calendars online. When they don't, under the act, members of the public may request them. Nine categories of information are exempt from disclosure requirements, including information related to matters of national security, law enforcement, financial institutions or personal privacy.

Legal challenges to claimed exemptions have been frequent since the law's enactment. For instance, a 2006 suit by a consumer group against the Agriculture Department over rules about listeria contamination revolved around access to officials' calendars to establish if they met with industry officials lobbying against the rules. (The court granted access to five of the six requested calendars.)


Are cases filed by federal prosecutors more likely go to trial than cases filed by state prosecutors?

State and federal cases both have low likelihoods of coming to trial. After receiving a police report of a crime, prosecuting attorneys can choose whether to file charges depending on the available evidence. They may choose to settle a plea bargain. They very rarely end up going into a courtroom.

Pew Research reported that of 80,000 federal criminal cases in 2018, only 2% went to trial.

In 2017, fewer than 3% of criminal cases in the 22 states that reported data went to a jury trial.

Civil cases have a lower chance of going to trial than criminal cases. A Duke University law journal article reported that for 2013, no state had more than 0.62% of civil cases go to trial.


Do both major parties oppose a Florida push for 'top-two' primaries?

Both major parties are urging Floridians to vote against a constitutional amendment that would replace party primaries with a top-two open primary election for state legislators and officials. Under this model, candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of party, and the two with the most votes advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.

Proponents say the change will allow all voters to participate in primary elections, which can be more competitive than the general election. In legislative districts where one party dominates, the primary result is often decisive.

The major parties argue that the amendment is unnecessarily confusing and could reduce voter choice. Several Black legislators have warned that the amendment would dilute the votes of Black citizens and reduce their representation in the state's government.


Have incumbent presidents often underperformed in the first debate of their reelection campaigns?

Both Barack Obama in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2004 were seen to have faltered in debate performances as they sought second terms, as measured by post-debate polling. In 2012, 72% of those polled by Gallup gave the win to Mitt Romney. In 2004, 61% of respondents to a Newsweek poll said Bush lost his first debate to John Kerry.

In his 1992 bid for another term, George H.W. Bush was voted winner in the first debate by only 16% in a CNN poll, behind both Bill Clinton at 30% and independent candidate Ross Perot at 47%. In Clinton's own reelection effort four years later he breezed past Bob Dole in their first debate and was rated the winner by 51% of those polled by CNN.


Is targeting people because of their political views considered a hate crime in some US jurisdictions?

The breadth of hate crime classifications varies from state to state, but some take political affiliations and viewpoints into account.

Federal laws, first passed in 1968, were expanded in 2009 to encompass all crimes committed because of the "actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person." Some state laws explicitly include bias towards political affiliation as a potential hate crime. Delaware's statute is less direct, encompassing offenses affecting the "victim's free exercise or enjoyment" of activities protected by the First Amendment.


Has a decline in union membership coincided with greater income inequality in the US?

According to the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute, as union membership has declined since the late 1970s, the income share going to the middle 60% of wage earners has decreased, while the income share going to the richest 10% of Americans has increased.

Some economists (including Richard Freeman and James Medoff in their book "What Do Unions Do?") have demonstrated that unions raise the wage floor for both unionized and non-unionized workers—and thus, that weakened unions contribute to greater income inequality. A 2011 American Sociological Review paper found "the decline of organized labor explains a fifth to a third of the growth in inequality" from 1973 to 2007. A 2017 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found the union wage premium was larger for low-earners, Black workers and workers with less education.


Does the president have the power to start or stop construction of an international oil pipeline?

The president, given the role's overall Constitutional authority over foreign affairs, controls development of cross-border energy infrastructure projects by issuing, revoking, revising, suspending and/or transferring "presidential permits." The permits authorize construction and operation of oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines and electrical transmission facilities and are issued through designated executive-branch departments and agencies.

President Donald Trump in March 2019 issued a new permit authorizing construction and operation of the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the U.S., following a series of reviews that began in 2010 during the Obama administration and continued through multiple court challenges. The administration also made some changes governing similar procedures in the future.


Under an Obama-era policy, were some male bystanders killed in drone strikes likely counted as 'combatants'?

In public assessments of drone strike casualties during the Obama administration, authorities assumed that any male of military age was likely a combatant. The New York Times, first reporting the policy in 2012, noted that exceptions were made when "there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

Nicholas Grossman, a University of Illinois international relations professor, said the practice systematically underestimated civilian casualties. "Essentially, this assumes that any man (or boy) in the vicinity of a known terrorist who appears to be between the ages of 14 and 60 is also a terrorist," he wrote.

The Trump Administration revoked the rule requiring regular disclosures in March 2019.


Is concern over potential overpopulation misplaced?

Global population growth is expected to level off by 2100, when the world is expected to be home to about 10.9 billion people. Fears at various points in the last two centuries about the dangers of overpopulation have proved exaggerated. Food output has kept up, although access to food is uneven. With substitutions of plant-based alternatives for much meat and dairy, global harvests even at current yield levels could feed 9.7 billion people by 2050, according to Lancaster University researchers.

Human governance and consumption patterns and their impact on the planet's environment are more important to consider than absolute population size. "It is not the number of people on the planet that is the issue—but the number of consumers and the scale and nature of their consumption," says David Satterthwaite, who studies urban poverty.


Did wage growth in 2017-2019 accelerate from the pace during the Obama Administration?

From 2017 to 2019, U.S. wages began to grow at higher annual rates than in the previous several years, reaching a peak rate of increase of 3.8% in the fall of 2019, according to Labor Department figures for production and nonsupervisory workers. After hitting a low of 1.2% in 2012, in the early years of recovery from recession, the pace had recovered to 2.4% in the last month of President Obama's term.

The Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve Bank uses different data-collection methods but outlines a similar trend, with a gradual, uneven recovery from an annual growth rate of well under 2% in early 2010 to almost 4% by late 2016. On the Atlanta Fed's measure overall wage growth has fluctuated between 3% and 4% since, reaching 3.8% in January of this year.


Do police unions endorse Trump?

Unions representing a large majority of the country's 800,000 law-enforcement officers have endorsed President Trump for reelection.

The largest union, the Fraternal Order of Police, has endorsed the Republican contender in every presidential election since 2000, except for 2012, when it made no endorsement. "Trump has made it clear he has our backs," said the president of the 355,000-member group. The no. 2 group, the National Association of Police Organizations, representing 241,000 officers, endorsed the president in July. A third, the International Union of Police Associations, endorsed his reelection a year ago. Unions representing officers in Florida, New York City, New England and New Jersey, among other places, have echoed the national organizations' support.


Has the Department of Education tightened enforcement of rules about foreign funding of US colleges?

The Education Department has stepped up enforcement of a 1965 law requiring colleges and universities to report foreign funding of any type exceeding $250,000. There are no limits on funding from specific countries as long as reporting requirements are met.

Inside Higher Ed reports that between July 2019 and February 2020 the department received reports of $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed funds. The department has publicly launched investigations into 12 universities, raising concerns about undue foreign influence as well as national security. An August 20 notice to Stanford raises extensive questions about the California school's ties to China.

The department's effort has coincided with generally heightened federal scrutiny of Chinese activities in the U.S., but it also has raised questions about links to other countries including Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.


Does the law allow the executive branch to unilaterally withhold funding approved by Congress?

Congress sought to reenforce its power over federal spending with 1974 legislation requiring that the President obtain its approval to withhold appropriated funds. The executive branch may in some cases delay funding by up to 45 days, pending congressional assent.

The law raises questions about plans outlined in a recent Trump administration order to restrict funding to cities it finds to be permitting anarchy and violence. An earlier effort to hold back certain funding from localities that don't cooperate with immigration enforcement authorities continues to face legal challenges. Appeals courts have reached conflicting opinions on the terms of a specific grant program, permitting the Justice Department to withhold funding under that specific program from some cities and states but not others.


Have extreme heat events been increasing in frequency and severity across most of the US?

The average temperature within the U.S. has risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years, with some parts of the country increasing more than others. Data has shown that the frequency of daily record-breaking high temperatures will increase as the average temperature increases, as will the quantity of heat waves and their duration.

In the 1960s major US cities experienced an average of two heat waves per year, within a 20-day season. By the 2010s that average had increased to six heat waves within a 67-day season per year.

The heat waves in recent years are less severe than those the U.S. experienced in the "dust bowl" years of the 1930s.


Is half of the Senate elected by 18% of the population?

The structure of the U.S. Senate, with two members from each of 50 states, ensures that each state has an equal voice. The 52 Senators elected by the least-populous 26 states represent 58 million people, or about 18% of the U.S. population.

The Constitution's framers intended the disparity to protect states' rights and minority views, balancing the population-based allocation of seats in the lower house. In 1790, in a nation of 16 states, half the 32 Senators represented about 20% of the population. Virginia was 12 times more populous than Delaware, then the smallest state. Today, with much more widely varying rates of urbanization and density across the fifty states, the largest state, California, is 68 times more populous than the smallest, Wyoming.


Is the abortion pill considered safe?

Under the brand name Mifeprex, the abortion pill has been sold in the U.S. since 2000, and is now used in more than a third of abortions at eight weeks or less of gestation. KFF, a nonprofit health information provider, terms the drug "safe and highly effective."

If Mifeprex and a second follow-up pill are administered as intended, the pregnancy is terminated successfully 99.6% of the time, with a 0.4% risk of major complications, KFF says. The Food and Drug Administration recorded 24 deaths associated with the drug through the end of 2018, a rate of 0.65 per 100,000 patients. The maternity death rate in the U.S. is 17.4 per 100,000 live births.

A federal court has suspended the FDA's in-person dispensing rules during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing prescriptions via telemedicine. The Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to stay that order while it appeals the decision.


Is the cost of applying for US citizenship going up 80%?

In October, the application fee for those seeking U.S. citizenship will increase to $1,190, the first increase since a boost in late 2016 to $640. A required related fee for "biometric services," to cover the cost of fingerprinting and identity checks, is being cut to $30 from $85, bringing the total cost of applying to $1,220, up 80%.

The agency, U.S. Immigrant and Citizenship Services, relies on filing fees for 97% of its funding, and says adjustments to these and other fees for its services are "overdue." Low income applicants can apply for fee waivers.


Has Chinese interest in attending US universities diminished in recent years?

Well before the disruptions from the coronavirus, many U.S. colleges were beginning to see a decline in Chinese student interest. In the 2018-2019 school year, 48% of colleges reported declines in new international students from China, according to the Institute of International Education. Political tensions, tuition costs as well as tighter visa rules have affected demand, with Australia and Canada remaining competitive choices.

China remains the largest international market for U.S. higher education, accounting for a third of 1.1 million international college students in 2018-2019. The overall growth of international enrollment has plateaued in recent years. For 2020-2021, with consulate closures, visa uncertainties, travel restrictions and other impacts of the pandemic, the National Foundation for American Policy projects a decline of between 63% and 98% from 2018-2019.


Were heatwaves in the 1930s much more severe than any heatwaves the US has experienced since?

The Environmental Protection Agency says heat waves in the Great Plains during the the "dust bowl" years of the 1930s "remain the most severe heat waves in the U.S. historical record." An EPA analysis compiled from 1895 through 2015 ranks 1936 as the worst on record, with an index value of 1.255. The hottest year in recent decades, 2011, has an index of 0.285. In 1936, some areas experienced 22 heatwave days and maximum temperature anomalies that exceeded 6 degrees Celsius.

The EPA in 2016 noted that while recent heat waves were less extreme, record-setting daily high temperatures have become more common than record lows since the 1970s. "If the climate were completely stable, one might expect to see highs and lows each accounting for about 50% of the records set," the agency said.


Do churches rely heavily on in-person collections at regular worship services?

Many churches rely on regular in-person donations for much if not most of their income, adding financial pressure to the frustrations of being unable to meet normally during the pandemic.

A national survey of church finances finds churches depend on individual donations for 81% of their income, with only 4% from endowments. Smaller churches tend to rely on traditional in-person "pass-the-plate" donations, and even for larger churches the offering ritual remains very important. The study says 39% of churches lack enough reserves to cover three months of expenses.

Lifeway Research reports that by late July 74% of Protestant pastors were holding services again, compared with a low of 4% in April. About a third of pastors reported that collections were down from last year. Thousands of places of worship had received loans from the government's coronavirus relief program as of July.


Will 300,000 fewer new citizens be eligible to vote in November because of the pandemic?

The mid-March shutdown of in-person interviews and other services by U.S. immigration authorities means up to 315,000 citizenship applicants are unlikely to be processed in time to register to vote in the November election.

An immigration-services company, Boundless, bases the estimate on the size of the backlog and a slower than usual pace of scheduling in the weeks after the immigration agency reopened on June 4. Before the pandemic, immigration advocacy groups had estimated that the routine flow of processing naturalization applications—almost a 9-month process in normal times—would add up to 860,000 newly eligible voters this year.


Is all aviation fuel exempt from taxes?

Aviation fuel used for domestic travel is taxed in the U.S. and some other countries, but fuel used for international travel is not. The exemption dates from a 1944 treaty provision, then intended to foster growth in a developing industry promising to help build stronger international ties.

In the U.S., fuel taxes are higher for private aircraft than for commercial airlines. In addition to federal excise taxes, states also apply taxes at rates ranging up to more than 30 cents a gallon. Federal law requires all proceeds to fund the aviation system.

Japan, Canada, India and Brazil are among other countries taxing domestic aviation fuel.


Have supervised injection sites for drug users led to higher rates of addiction and overdoses?

Studies find that safe injection sites offering a clean medically-supervised place to consume illicit recreational drugs help to reduce overdoses, unhealthy behavior and strain on the medical system.

A 2014 review of 75 studies, covering primarily the experiences of Sydney and Vancouver, found no increase in drug injecting, drug trafficking, or crime in surrounding communities. Another study found that during the course of the study, 23% of respondents stopped injecting and up to 57% entered addiction treatment. A review of European openings found very few supervised overdoses and no on-site overdose fatalities.

When looking at a single facility in Canada, researchers estimated net savings of $18 million and 1,175 life-years gained over a 10-year period.


Has a president running for reelection ever declined to debate his challenger?

Since 1960, only two incumbent presidents seeking reelection have declined to debate their challengers: Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1972.

LBJ was said to have feared the impact of a poor showing in a debate. Nixon ran against John F. Kennedy in 1960 as the incumbent vice president, and his opponent's well-reviewed televised performance (the first head-to-head debate on TV) was followed by his narrow defeat. Nixon won the White House without a debate in 1968, and refused to debate his challenger in 1972.

In 1976 Gerald Ford debated challenger Jimmy Carter, and lost the election. Carter opted out of the first debate in 1980, due to the inclusion of a third-party candidate, but then lost to Reagan. Every incumbent since has debated his opponent; all but George H.W. Bush in 1992 prevailed in their campaigns.


Have studies shown that having two unmarried parents negatively affects child development?

A 2011 study analyzed the development of almost 19,000 British children and found that, compared to children born to married parents, children born to cohabiting parents had deficits in cognitive and socio-emotional development at ages 3, 5 and 7. However, these deficits were largely accounted for by their parents’ generally lower educational qualifications and income levels rather than any specific factors arising from differences in marital status.

This 2011 study also looked at data tracking the entire lives of people born as long ago as 1970. This data was paired with developmental data taken from these participants' children. This analysis found that, when accounting for the parents’ backgrounds, there was no difference in children’s cognitive or socio-emotional development regardless of their parents’ marital status.


Has raising the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 helped curtail use?

In December 2019, the U.S. raised the nationwide minimum age to buy any tobacco product to 21, following increasing evidence of the impact of a higher minimum age on curtailing consumption.

A 2019 study, for example, found that "tobacco-21" laws reduced the odds of smoking by 39% among 18-20 year-olds who had already tried cigarettes. Another 2019 study found a 3.1 percentage point reduction in 18-20 year-olds' likelihood of smoking in metropolitan areas with tobacco-21 laws. Another study found that after Hawaii raised the minimum age to 21 in 2016, sales of cigarettes and cigars dropped significantly.

The first city in the U.S. to raise the minimum age from 18 years to 21 for tobacco purchases was Needham, Mass., in 2005. The measure reduced youth smoking by half over four years, according to an anti-smoking website funded by the Centers for Disease Control.


Do presidential debates have a major impact on voters’ opinions?

Studies have shown that presidential debates leading up to November general elections have minimal effects on voters’ attitudes towards a candidate. An analysis of elections from 1976 to 2012 found that poll results changed by only 2.2 percentage points from the period after the first debate to right before the election. The leader in the polls after the first debate was always ahead in the final polls.

A 2013 study of presidential general election debates from 2000 to 2012 found that 86.3% of voters were not persuaded to change their preference after viewing a debate, and only 3.5% switched candidates.

“There is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates,” said political scientist James Stimson, surveying campaigns from 1960 to 2000.


Are there consequences for China under international law because of its initial handling of the coronavirus?

China’s initial timing in alerting the rest of the world to the coronavirus threat appears to be a violation of World Health Organization rules. In 2005, WHO established requirements for member states to report “any event of potential international public health concern” within 24 hours of assessment, and to continue reporting new developments.

WHO rules, like many international treaties, don't outline any processes for claiming compensation or imposing penalties. Former WHO legal consultant David Fidler says it is unlikely other member states would take any action against China, as they wouldn't want to set a precedent that could be used against them. A Finnish researcher notes that a "tacit understanding seems to prevail among states," making the prospect of any action "bleak."


Has Sen. Kamala Harris moved to expand police training?

Kamala Harris is one of 36 Senators sponsoring legislation that, among many reform measures, would mandate more training. A provision would require all federal law-enforcement officers to undergo training covering racial profiling, implicit bias, and procedural justice. The bill would condition funding for state and local agencies on implementation of similar programs.

In 2015 as Attorney General of California Harris added a new eight-hour course on similar subjects for participating police departments.

Procedural justice focuses on the interaction between the public and police and other legal authorities.


Have polls shown high levels of support for some gun-control measures?

Multiple pollsters in recent years have reported strong, often bipartisan public support for some measures to regulate gun sales in the U.S. For instance, Gallup surveys have found:

  • 96% support for background checks (October 2017).
  • 75% support for a 30-day waiting period for gun sales (October 2017).
  • 64% support for generally stricter laws (October 2019).

Opinion is more divided about regulating or banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Women and college-educated men tend to be more supportive of new restrictions. Pew Research in October 2019 found that there had been a "modest" rise in overall support since 2017, among both Democrats and Republicans, although Republicans are four times as likely as Democrats to say gun rights are more important than gun control.


Is the homicide rate among Black people in Washington disproportionately high?

Compared to the rest of the country the homicide rate for Black residents of Washington, D.C., is disproportionately high. About half the city's population is Black. According to the district's police chief, 92% of the city's 166 homicide victims in 2019 were Black, meaning that one in 2,121 Black people were murdered. Looking at data for the previous year, the comparable nationwide rate would be one in 5,903.

Murders in 2019 in Washington reached a 10-year high, the chief said. Statistics for some other major cities show a similar skew. In 2019 in St. Louis, a city with a population that is 45% Black, 90% of homicide victims were Black. In Charlotte, where 35% of the population is Black, 80% of murder victims were Black.


Does Amazon have the right to remove a book from its offerings?

As a private retailer, the Constitution's First Amendment protects the right of Amazon or any retailer to choose which books or other media products it sells in the U.S.

Amazon’s published guidelines for books state that it may sell books that "some customers may find objectionable," and that it reserves the right not to sell "pornography or other inappropriate content.” The company doesn't offer further specifics, leading to occasional criticism from those who disagree with its decisions. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The New York Times in February that Amazon has the same rights as any retailer. “Despite its size, it does not have to sponsor speech it finds unacceptable.”


Did BP popularize the concept of the 'carbon footprint'?

The term "carbon footprint" derives from the concept of an "ecological footprint," presented in a 1992 dissertation by Mathis Wackernagel under the supervision of his Canadian professor, William Rees. The usage narrows the focus specifically to carbon emissions produced by a given activity. The term gained much wider currency thanks to advertising and promotion in the mid-2000s by BP, the large U.K.-based oil company.

In 2008 the late William Safire, a noted language authority, traced "footprint" usage to 1965, referring originally to spacecraft landings. Wackernagel and Rees later published a book about humans' ecological footprint, and Wackernagel founded and still leads the Basel-based Global Footprint Network, which promotes sustainable development approaches.


Is it illegal in some states for someone with a past felony conviction to vote in a federal election?

When an individual with a past felony conviction attempts to vote in a federal election, but is ineligible based on the state laws, it’s considered election fraud and the individual is subject to criminal prosecution.

Voting laws for felons vary widely by state. Felons don’t lose their right to vote in Maine and Vermont, even while imprisoned. In 16 states and Washington, D.C., felons’ voting rights are restored as soon as they are released from prison. Twenty-one other states reinstitute their right to vote after they complete their prison, parole and probation sentences, as well as pay any related fees or fines.

The remaining states require further action before a felon’s voting rights are restored, such as a pardon from the governor or an additional waiting period after parole or probation.


Do international treaties govern guide how various countries can exploit the moon's resources?

International law regarding the use and extraction of extraterrestrial resources is outdated. A 1967 United Nations treaty, ratified by 110 countries including the U.S., mainly focuses on arms control and peaceful use, leaving the role for private interests ambiguous.

No major space-faring nation signed a 1979 "Moon Treaty" seeking to head off competitive national efforts in space. Congress since 2015 has passed three bills laying the groundwork for private development of space resources. The President on April 6 issued an executive order rejecting the Moon Treaty's provisions, as the U.S. does not view space as "a global commons." The order directs the Secretary of State to negotiate appropriate "support" for both public and private operations. China and other countries are also developing commercial ambitions for the moon and beyond.


Does the federal minimum wage apply to every job in the US economy?

In 2019, about 1.2 million workers in the U.S. earned less than the federal minimum wage, which has been fixed at $7.25 an hour since 2007. The law exempts various kinds of workers: casual babysitters, workers with disabilities, fishermen, workers on small farms. There are specific provisions for tip- and commission-based jobs. Certain businesses with revenues below $500,000 a year are exempt, as are employees paid by salaries.

Together with 392,000 workers earning the minimum wage, those earning at the benchmark or below make up about 1.9% of all hourly workers. About 40% are under the age of 25. That figure of 1.6 million is down from 4.4 million during the worst of the recession in 2010. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have set higher minimum wages.


Is the District of Columbia's poverty rate higher than the national average?

According to the Census Bureau's 2018 data, the percent of people of all ages living in poverty in the District of Columbia was 16.1%, higher than the national average of 13.1%. The district's rate is lower than the poverty rates in seven other states: Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky.

Some cities of comparable size to Washington, a city of 705,000, have higher rates. In nearby Baltimore (population 593,000) the poverty rate in 2019 was 21.8%, according to Census estimates. El Paso (population 681,000) had a poverty rate of 20%.


Did the Republican decision not to update the party's platform mark a historic first?

Since 1840, major American political parties have approved "platforms" for their conventions, laying out wide-ranging policy positions which please activists but are sometimes ignored in campaigns. In 2020 the combination of the coronavirus and an often unconventional candidate have disrupted the tradition.

With curtailed official sessions in Charlotte, Republicans opted to leave their 2016 platform unchanged. The party endorsed an "agenda" announced in a Trump campaign press release Aug. 23. The Democrats held a series of online meetings to adopt their platform, but little mention was made of it in their televised convention sessions.

This year's events have fueled speculation about the future of national political conventions. Observers note the platform portion of the event has already lost much of its impact in recent years.


Did Chicago's mayor have the right to ban protestors from the street in front of her residence?

When Chicago police recently blocked protestors from the street in front of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's residence, they relied on local laws banning residential protesting, intended to protect "the right to quiet enjoyment of [residents'] homes." A Chicago police spokesperson said that this ban is enforced circumstantially based on the size of the affected area.

The local laws appear supported by a 1988 Supreme Court ruling allowing bans on protests outside a residence. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union contended that a ban "does not necessarily extend to the entire block." The mayor's office further justified the move by citing threats made against Lightfoot.


Is it technically possible for the US to build a border wall on the internet?

While the U.S. has legal tools to limit business activities of foreign-owned online services and apps, it can't currently block direct access to them. First Amendment concerns aside, the technical means to control digital traffic into and out of the country are legally beyond government control under an arrangement finalized in 2016 with ICANN after nearly two decades of discussion and debate.

ICANN is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit structured to be independent of any single government. It along with 11 other organizations collectively oversees the internet's backbone domain name system that connects users and web addresses. In relinquishing its authority to an independent entity the U.S. hoped to encourage a free, open internet, but that hasn't stopped efforts by China and other regimes to throttle their own citizens' access to some U.S. websites and apps.


Have marijuana legalization measures been a big driver of youth turnout?

Assumptions that pro-marijuana ballot initiatives motivate youth voter turnout are not supported by evidence. Initiatives on the 2020 ballot in two "battleground" states with contested Senate races—Montana and Arizona—have focused renewed attention on the question.

Youth turnout is driven by many different factors. Overall desire for change and partisan enthusiasm tend to have more influence than a particular policy measure. In 2018 youth turnout jumped 79% from the 2014 midterms. In California youth participation tripled, influenced by strong support for Democrats in statewide and Congressional races. Looking at 14 elections prior to 2014 with marijuana-related issues on the ballot, a FiveThirtyEight analyst concluded there were at most small effects on turnout, and that any bump didn't necessarily favor Democrats.


Have marijuana seizures at U.S. borders been declining as more states make the substance legal?

The U.S. Border Patrol seized 86% less marijuana from smugglers in 2019 than in 2014, when the substance was first made fully legal in some U.S. states.

Tracking seizures provides indicative data about otherwise hidden flows of illegal drugs. The decline in marijuana seizures began even before calls by then-candidate Trump to build a higher, stronger wall along the Mexican border. Stopping the flow of higher-value drugs such as fetanyl and cocaine remains a priority for law enforcement, and the Administration argues the wall will help. Data on customs seizures suggests most of those drugs, which are easier to conceal, are already smuggled directly through official border crossings. The Cato Institute, in an analysis of the impact of marijuana liberalization, observes that "hard drugs seized at ports of entry were seven times more valuable than those seized between ports of entry."


Have US banks made billions of dollars from processing coronavirus relief loans?

Banks have made billions of dollars in fees by processing federally-funded coronavirus relief loans enacted by Congress in March. The Wall Street Journal reported that 4,000 banks could split $14.3 billion to $24.6 billion in processing fees for the "Paycheck Protection Program" loans, intended to help businesses avoid layoffs through the wave of pandemic shutdowns.

Bank of America, the country's second largest bank, made 334,000 loans in the second quarter, averaging $78,000 each. Fees are 5% for loans under $350,000, declining to 1% for the largest sums. The bank says any net proceeds will be used to "support small businesses and the communities and nonprofits we serve." For some smaller banks, the profits are meaningful, but come with legal risks, management headaches and delayed receipts of the fees, which are tied to repayments.


Has President Trump had unusually consistent approval ratings?

President Donald Trump's approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his first term. According to FiveThirtyEight, the president has typically been within five points of 40% approval for most of his term. "Trump’s relatively steady ratings are unique among recent presidents," says Pew Research. George W. Bush's ratings spiked to 86% after 9/11, then fell to 46% in 2004. Approval of his father peaked at 89% during the Gulf War and fell to 29% before he lost his bid for a second term in 1992.


Does a state control the taxing power of its cities?

Cities, towns and other municipalities are granted limited taxing power by their individual state constitutions, but that authority is subject to laws set out by state legislatures. This means that states can pass bills that modify or place new restrictions on cities’ taxing power.

Tax authority granted to local government bodies varies widely from state to state. Local governments are usually authorized to impose taxes on property, but some states allow their municipalities to collect income or sales taxes as well. No state uniformly authorizes its municipalities to collect all three: income, sales and property taxes.


Does Fox News have strong influence on its audience's attitudes about climate change?

Multiple surveys over the past decade have found that watching Fox News increases skepticism about climate change among its largely Republican viewers.

Yale University researchers found that frequency of viewing Fox was a significant predictor of support for the Green New Deal, a set of environmental policies first proposed in 2019. When controlling for age and ideology, frequent Fox viewers were much less supportive of the Green New Deal than infrequent viewers.

This phenomenon is not new. A 2011 study on cable news found that “the more often people watched Fox News, the less accepting they were of global warming.” A 2010 study reported that Fox viewers had more distrust in climate scientists and believed suggested policy responses could hurt the economy.

Surveys find that Republicans trust Fox News more than any other major news network.


Have studies proved oregano can reduce methane emissions from cows?

Adding oregano extracts to cattle feed as a more natural way to cut methane emissions has yet to be proved to work.

A 2018 study found that adding extracts of oregano to the feed of dairy cows inhibited their methane production, but stated that more research is necessary. In a 2019 study, Danish researchers fed dried oregano to dairy cows but did not find any lowering of methane production over the course of four days. Another study from February found that oregano oil had no effect on methane emissions.

The U.N. estimates that 14% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, and 44% of those emissions are from methane gas produced by livestock. Some chemical compounds have been found to reduce methane production in cattle by as much as 25%.


Does the post office handle a whole election's worth of mail in the days before Christmas?

Even if all 255 million eligible voters mailed in a ballot, the volume would appear to be well below what the U.S. Postal Service has usually handled at Christmastime.

While first-class mail has been declining for 20 years, last year the service said it planned to handle 2.5 billion pieces in the week before Christmas, more than 400 million pieces daily based on its six-day-a-week schedule.

Allowing for likely turnout of no more than 60%, early voting (nearly a third of 2016 voters), ballots dropped off in person and actual voting on Election Day, the volume of mailed ballots would appear to be at most about 100 million. That number hasn't allayed fears of late or lost ballots, amplified by politicians in both parties. The service itself has warned states that their schedules haven't built in enough lead time to assure on-time arrival.


Have trials of free urban public transit proved worthwhile?

Fare-free policies allow transit agencies to cut operating costs associated with collecting fares as well as increase ridership.

Trials in Denver and Trenton, New Jersey, increased ridership by between 25% and 48%, but resulted in overcrowding, less reliable service and driver complaints. Officials concluded that a lowered fare would still increase ridership while lessening side effects.

For large transit systems, fares make up a significant portion of their revenue--for instance, 52% of the Washington Metro's 2017 operating costs. Austin, Texas, conducted a fare-free experiment in 1989-1990. The system faced an increase in disruptive riders and vandalism, which increased security and maintenance costs. Officials said the cost of operating the system was “staggering.”


Does the speaker normally play a big role in campaigning for control of the House?

The role of speaker of the House is constitutionally undefined, but in the modern political era speakers have played a critical role both in legislating and campaigning and fundraising for their party.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (a Democrat) raised $87 million in 2019 for Democratic candidates and the party. During the 2018 midterms Speaker Paul Ryan (a Republican) raised over $70 million. Regardless of party, modern speakers have been--and are, in fact, expected to be--major players in fundraising and campaigning. They have generally tried to use their office in ways that benefit their party members and safeguard their party's majority status.


If an elected official blocks someone on Twitter, do courts say it's a First Amendment violation?

Multiple federal courts have ruled that elected officials cannot block people on social media because they criticize or disagree with the official. In a 2019 ruling, an appeals court ruled that President Trump could not ban people from following his Twitter account simply because they had been critical of him. The court reasoned that because the President utilizes his account as a means of official communication, it must be accessible to all. President Trump has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court; if the court decides to hear the case it's unlikely to make a ruling until next year.

In a similar case, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sued for blocking critics on her Twitter account. She has since unblocked the users and apologized.


Did health insurance profits surge in 2020's second quarter?

Health insurance providers saw strong profit growth in the second quarter. Cancellations of elective surgeries and doctor's appointments because of the coronavirus reduced medical claims, saving billions of dollars. UnitedHealth Group, the country's biggest health insurer, saw its profits double from the same quarter last year. CVS Health's insurance profits tripled from the year-earlier period, although that was offset by lower profits in its retail drugstores. Anthem's profit doubled.

But analysts aren't sure how long the profit gains will last. Patients are beginning to reschedule their doctor's appointments and elective surgeries. The deferred care may have also increased the severity of patients' medical needs, while some patients are also experiencing secondary effects from the virus.


If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth since 1960 would it now be about triple the current level?

If the 1960 federal minimum wage of $1 an hour had kept pace with U.S. growth in productivity since then, it would be more three times the current level of $7.25.

Today's minimum wage has lagged inflation somewhat--one 1960 dollar would be $8.75 after adjusting for inflation. But it's much farther behind in terms of growth in the U.S. economy's productivity, a measure of how efficiently resources are used to create a given level of output. Economists say the minimum wage kept pace with overall productivity gains until about 1968, but has lagged behind since. Dean Baker, a Washington economist, in January estimated that a fully-adjusted figure would now be $24 an hour.


Are Republican voters growing more concerned about climate change?

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Pew Research has found no significant change in views on climate policy since 2016. The share of Democratic voters responding that climate change should be a top priority increased from 56% in 2016 to 78% in January of this year, Pew found. With shifts by Democrats and some independents, the number of those concerned about climate change overall rose from 38% to 52%.

Another study looked at attitudes towards the Green New Deal. In December 2018 81% of registered voters--including 57% of conservative Republicans--expressed support for its policy goals after they were described. But by April 2019, support among conservative Republicans declined to 32%. Frequent Fox News viewers had become both more aware of and less supportive of the concept than other Republicans.


Do many lower-income people rely on ride-sharing services?

The users of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft tend to be relatively affluent.

Gallup in 2018 found that one in three Americans reported using such services. Only 25% of people with incomes under $24,000 a year said they used ride sharing on a regular basis, compared with 41% of those earning more than $90,000. Globalwebindex, a market research company, reported in 2017 that 22% of users were in the bottom quarter of incomes.

A 2017 study looking at 4.1 million Uber users who took 59 million rides over a 7-month period concluded that the average Uber user is someone in his or her mid-20s with an above-average income. The study noted that "most riders have a very low activity, while a few riders are very active," suggesting that for most Uber serves a different need than everyday public transit or private commuting.


Do horseshoe crabs play a critical role in vaccine development?

The American horseshoe crab is vital to U.S. vaccine development due to a compound in its blood that's used to test new vaccines for bacterial contaminants.

In 2018, the medical-supplies industry drained up to 30% of the blood of 500,000 horseshoe crabs, and then released them back into the wild. Around 15% don't survive the process, adding to population pressures from over-harvesting, pollution and habitat loss. The species is currently classified as vulnerable.

A synthetic alternative has yet to be approved for widespread use in the U.S. Coronavirus vaccine efforts are not expected to put large additional pressures on supply. Very little is required to test a sample, and a day's supply of the compound is sufficient to ensure purity of 5 billion vaccine doses, one drug-research company says.


Are Trump judicial appointees ruling in favor of gun rights?

Fulfilling 2016 campaign vows, President Trump's judicial appointees have ruled in support of Second Amendment gun rights in a number of high-profile cases. The Giffords Law Center, an organization advocating for stricter gun-control laws, is warning that gun safety is under attack in the courts. The Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, has said Trump's judicial appointments so far are his "most enduring legacy with respect to the Second Amendment."

Recently, a federal court threw out a California law banning high-capacity magazines, with the opinion written by a Trump appointee. In another case, a Trump appointee dissented from a ruling upholding laws banning nonviolent felons from owning guns.


Could melting permafrost potentially re-expose humans to previously frozen pathogens?

Potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria can be released when permafrost melts. A 2014 study confirmed that microorganisms preserved in permafrost can remain infectious even after being frozen for tens of thousands of years. A major concern is a potential for melted permafrost to expose burial sites containing disease victims whose corpses may contain well-preserved, potentially dangerous pathogens. Victims of smallpox, the Spanish flu, and other infectious diseases are buried in gravesites in the permafrost.

In 2016, an outbreak of anthrax sickened dozens of people in Siberia--the deadly outbreak is believed to have been caused by melting permafrost exposing a reindeer corpse which had been buried for decades.


Did a 1996 immigration-related ballot initiative help change California into a Democratic stronghold?

Republican support for a 1994 ballot initiative seeking to block access to public services for immigrants illegally in the state marked a "turning point" for the party's position in the largest state, political scientists say.

In 1984, President Reagan was re-elected with 59% support in his home state, and 45% of the state's Latino vote. In 1994, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson ran for reelection and supported the ballot initiative, Proposition 187. The measure passed narrowly, but was blocked in the courts. The campaign for the ballot initiative motivated Latino voters to register and turn out, and its influence has lingered. Today, the Latino vote is more than 70% Democratic, and Latinos are about 30% of the voting-age population, up from 10% in 1996.