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tiktok

America’s Still Moving To Ban TikTok 

Last week, a key house committee introduced and approved a bill that is targeting the social media platform TikTok. The full House is set to vote this week potentially, and the White House has stated that President Joe Biden is also prepared to sign it, according to reports from CNN.

The bill itself, if fully approved, would give TikTok about five months to separate from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. If they refuse, app stores in the US will be prohibited from hosting the app on their platforms. 

Besides TikTok, the bill will also restrict other apps that are allegedly controlled by foreign adversaries like China, Iran, Russia, or North Korea. The bill would also set up a process for Biden, and future presidents to identify apps that should be banned under the specific legislation. 

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Any app store that violates said legislation could be fined based on the number of users of the banned apps; specifically a fine of $5,000 per user of the banned app. For example, if the bill passes and Apple or Google decide to keep TikTok on its app stores, they could face fines up to $850 billion. 

One of the bill’s lead cosponsors, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, says “the bill does not ban TikTok; it simply offers TikTok the choice to be divested.”

TikTok has responded to this recent bill’s momentum, stating that it’s an attack on the First Amendment rights of its users, according to CNN. It’s even launched a call-to-action campaign within the app itself, urging users to call their states representatives in Washington to oppose the bill. Multiple congressional offices have already stated that they’ve been “flooded” with calls. 

In a statement, TikTok said: 

“The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

Lawmakers have long been alleging that TikTok poses a national security threat because the government in China can use its intelligence laws against ByteDance to force them to hand over the data of US TikTok users. If done, that information can then be potentially used to identify intelligence targets or enable disinformation or propaganda campaigns. 

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The US government has not yet presented any evidence that China has accessed user data from TikTok, and according to reports, cybersecurity experts have stated that it still remains a hypothetical scenario. 

During the Trump administration, there was a major effort to ban TikTok, however, others debated whether or not the president had the power to ban a foreign-owned social media app. With this new congressional legislation, the president would have clear, new authorities to do that. 

With the speed in which House leaders are promising a floor vote, it can be assumed that they’re confident in the bill’s clearance. There is still not a lot of information regarding if the bill will have a chance in the Senate. 

Gallagher stated that the bill will likely fall to the Senate Commerce Committee. Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Commerce Committee, told CNN that she will be talking to her “Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that “passing a nationwide privacy law regulating how all companies, not just TikTok, handle Americans’ data would lead to the same result without raising First Amendment concerns.” 

“By that precedent, it would be unconstitutional for the government to ban TikTok even if it were blatantly a direct mouthpiece for the Chinese government,” Jaffer said.

“If you give the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to propaganda, then you’ve given the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to anything the government deems to be propaganda.”

jamaica

US State Department Issues Travel Advisory For Jamaica Amid Crime And Health Concerns 

The US State Department has issued a travel advisory for Jamaica among an influx of crime and health concerns. The department issued the advisory last week, stating the following: 

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“Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts. Local police often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”

The State Department also added to their advisory that in the event of an emergency, “high level or specialized” healthcare options may not be available throughout the entire island nation, and patients would likely be required to pay for medical care. 

Travelers are only being asked to reconsider visiting Jamaica, especially with Spring Break and the summer season coming up quickly. While they have not advised Americans to avoid the nation altogether, they did outline specific high-risk areas in which certain US government personnel are prohibited from traveling due to its risk of crime. 

Montego Bay, downtown Kingston, part of St. Ann’s Parish by Ocho Rios, and certain neighborhoods in Negril are some of the areas mentioned in the advisory to be cautious of visiting, according to USA Today

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Americans who will be traveling to Jamaica and/or the previously mentioned areas specifically, are being advised to always be aware of their surroundings, keep a relatively low profile while you’re there, and avoid public transportation, walking, and/or driving at night. 

Situations where one may find themselves secluded increases their risk of being potentially robbed or susceptible to other violence. If one does find themselves in a dangerous situation, the best thing to do is comply, especially in cases of robbery. 

The State Department is also encouraging Americans who are traveling to Jamaica to enroll in the department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, and to plan emergency contingency plans in case something were to happen. 

“We strongly encourage you to obtain traveler’s insurance, including medical evacuation insurance, before traveling to Jamaica,” the advisory added in bold font to emphasize the importance of these procedures. 

Insurance and medical evacuation insurance is especially important, as the Department warned that many health care providers overseas will not accept US health insurance, and neither Medicare nor Medicaid benefits apply overseas.

New Study Reveals Severe Obesity Is On The Rise For US Children 

An updated study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that although obesity rates in children were dropping last decade, it’s now on the rise. 

National data suggests that around 2.5% of preschool aged children were severely obese during 2020. Heidi Blanck of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the study’s authors, spoke on these discouraging findings:

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​​“We were doing well and now we see this upward trend. We are dismayed at seeing these findings.”

The study itself collected data from 2 to 4-year-old children that are enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children program through the US Food and Nutrition Service. This particular program helps provide healthy foods and other services to low-income families with preschool children. As a part of the program and study, the children were both weighed and measured, according to the AP

The researchers have collected data from the current and past decade from more than 1.6 million kids within the program. It found that in 2010, 2.1% of the children in the program were severely obese. In 2016 that percentage dropped to 1.8% but rose up to 2% by 2020; that’s roughly 33,000 out of the 1.6 million.

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20 states across the country saw the most significant increases, with California having the highest rate at 2.8%. Among different racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic kids saw the highest increase as well at 2.8%. 

Blanck stated that it’s not totally clear why these increases occurred. The initial drops in obesity rates were attributed to 2009 policy changes, including removing juice from infant food packages, reducing saturated fats in foods, and increasing accessibility to fruits and vegetables. 

“The daily hardships that families living in poverty are facing may be harder today than they were 10 years ago, and the slight increases in the WIC package just weren’t enough,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a Duke University childhood obesity researcher.

Compared to last decade, the number of children in the WIC program has declined, and the data was also impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as researchers were still analyzing obesity rates when fewer parents were taking their children to the doctors.

“Despite its limitations, it was a very well done study. It gives you a hint of what’s going on,” said Deanna Hoelscher, a childhood obesity researcher at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, concluding that the researchers are “thinking it’s going to get worse.”

Elton John States Gay Rights Are Going Backwards In The US

Famous singer Elton John has stated that gay rights are moving backwards in the US in response to the slew of anti-LGBT+ legislation being brought up throughout the nation’s governments.

for sale

Is The All-Cash Offer Trend Going To Last In The Real Estate Market? 

The Covid-19 rocked the housing market in a multitude of ways. Real estate agencies saw an uptick in individuals moving out of cities and investing in homes in more rural/suburban areas. 

In 2022, nearly one third of all US homes were purchased using all-cash offers, according to the National Association of Realtors. However, experts are wondering if this trend of all-cash purchases is going to continue, or decline as time goes on. 

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Lawrence Yun is the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, and recently spoke with the Wall Street Journal regarding this trend and new data in housing trends as reported by Redfin

“Only the wealthy are essentially buying homes. If this trend was to continue, that means something fundamentally is wrong with society.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the trend of all-cash purchases isn’t equal across the entire nation. For example, nearly one fifth of all homes purchased in Washington D.C. and its surrounding cities were made in cash. 

On Long Island, almost half of the home purchases between 2020 and now were made using all-cash offers across both Nassau and Suffolk county. 

“What we found was those who already were more well-off were able to take advantage of the strong housing market and add to their wealth, while those trying to better their situation were often pushed to the side,” Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a housing data and consulting firm, said to the Journal.

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Wolf explained that the main population of buyers making all cash offers are retired, international, investors, and wealthy individuals in general. 

The current rate of all-cash home purchases hasn’t been this high since 2014, when the housing market saw its biggest rebound after the Great Recession. 

“FHA loans, which typically allow for lower down payments, have ticked up in popularity in response to the slowdown in housing-market competition,” Redfin noted, detailing government-backed mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

“FHA loans, which typically allow for lower down payments, have ticked up in popularity in response to the slowdown in housing-market competition,” Redfin noted, detailing government-backed mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

“Americans who sell a home in a pricey place like San Francisco may use equity to pay cash in a more affordable area like Las Vegas,” Redfin concluded.

missile

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Over Japan, South Korea And US Respond 

According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan early on Tuesday morning. South Korea and the US responded by conducting a joint strike package flight and precision bombing drill, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told ABC News Tuesday. 

The Japanese government initially issued a “J-Alert” to citizens through its emergency warning system, telling residents to remain indoors in sturdy buildings or underground for safety. 

The government didn’t try to attempt to shoot the missile from North Korea down after determining it didn’t pose a threat, according to a spokesperson from Japan’s government. 

Residents in both Hokkaido and Aomori, and surrounding northern areas, were advised to report any debris sightings to police or fire officials immediately. 

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The last time North Korea flew a missile over Japan was in 2017, but this launch marks the seventh time that the nation has witnessed a missile from North Korea. 

Since January of this year, North Korea has shot 21 ballistic missiles and two cruise missiles, which is considered a record-breaking number of launches in a single year, according to reports from ABC. Tuesday’s launch was North Korea’s fifth missile test in a week. 

Japanese government chief spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno spoke with the media at a press conference where he warned citizens not to touch or pick up any debris. 

“We ask that people return to life as usual, calmly,” Matsuno emphasized. 

“No damage has been reported so far and a search is underway for debris. Officials are gathering information and will work with South Korea and the U.S.,” another spokesperson said. 

“North Korea’s actions threaten Japan and the international community. Missile launches like this go against the U.N. resolutions. Japan will launch a strong protest against North Korea in light of this. All new information will be shared promptly.”

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“The United States strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) dangerous and reckless decision to launch a long-range ballistic missile over Japan,” The White House said in a statement Tuesday. 

Jake Sullivan, US National Security Adviser, spoke with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea about the launch as well, according to Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson. 

“In both calls, the National Security Advisors consulted on appropriate and robust joint and international responses, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reinforced the United States’ ironclad commitments to the defense of Japan and the ROK [South Korea],” Watson explained. 

In response, Jaechun Kim, a professor in South Korea, stated that the US, Korea, and Japan need to “mobilize cooperation from like-minded countries in non-UN sanctions to thwart North Korea’s provocations.” 

“A unified front must be established that imposes sanctions on North Korea, as they did on Russia. This is the only way to penalize North Korea for its bad behavior.” 

“North Korea just does what it needs to do these days. So, with or without China’s support, it is quite likely for the North to conduct the 7th nuke test. It will be interesting to see whether Xi Jinping will throw his weight behind Kim Jong Un,” Kim said.

chess

Chess Grandmaster Quits Abruptly During Game, Fueling Cheating Scandal

Chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen abruptly quit an online chess match against Grandmaster Hans Niemann Monday, sending shockwaves throughout the chess community. Commentators are speculating that Carlsen believes Niemann cheated during their previous match.

terror

At Least Eight People, Including Five Americans, Injured In Jerusalem Shooting Terror Attack 

Around 1:30 am local time Sunday, police responded to reports of a “terrorist armed with weapons who shot at a bus and vehicles in a parking lot near the Old City of Jerusalem.” The attack took place near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, where the shooter targeted a bus in the area. 

At least eight people, including five Americans, were wounded in the attack. Two of the Americans are being treated at the Hadassah Medical Center, and three at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, according to reports from the hospitals. 

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The hospitals stated that at least two of the injured Americans were tourists and Israeli media confirmed that four of the American victims were tourists and members of the same family. 

Emergency services reported that two of the victims are in serious condition while the other six victims are mildly or moderately injured. One of the wounded individuals was pregnant and had to endure an emergency cesarean operation, both the mother and baby are in serious condition, according to the Shaare Zedek hospital. 

The US Embassy in Jerusalem said that they are “shocked and saddened by the attack,” and are currently gathering more information. A spokesperson released a statement to CNN today regarding the attack: 

We strongly condemn all acts of terrorism and actions that exacerbate tensions. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims and we wish all of them a quick and full recovery.”

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Tom Nides, the US Ambassador to Israel, also released a statement via his Twitter condemning the attack: 

“Strongly condemn the terrorist attack outside the Old City of Jerusalem. I am praying for a quick recovery for all of the innocent victims,” Nides said.

“Deeply saddened to confirm that Americans were injured in this attack. I’ve spoken with the families and will keep them in my prayers. Continuing to monitor the situation.”

According to a police spokesperson, the shooter initially fled the scene with both security forces, the Shin Bet, and the IDF in pursuit. The suspect later turned himself into the police with his weapon being immediately seized. 

The suspect is an Israeli citizen born in 1996. While he’s not known for any terror related offenses, he has a criminal record and spent time in prison, his identity has not been released. 

Israeli media outlets described the suspect as a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship. Police and forensic investigators have begun a full investigation into the attack.

Airport TSA

TSA Warns Of Travel ‘Hiccups For Very, Very Busy Summer’

David Pekoske, the nation’s TSA chief, and airport and airline leaders throughout the nation have stated that there will be inevitable “hiccups” this summer, as the agency is expecting the largest airport passenger crowds since the Covid-19 pandemic first began. 

Pkoske said that labor shortages and an increased demand for travel have already begun to overwhelm airlines. The agency is gearing up to deploy as many as 1,000 TSA agents and K-9 units to the nation’s busiest airports to ideally counter any potential delays at security checkpoints. 

“We expect the summer to be very, very busy. That’s not to say that there will not be some hiccups along the way — those things will happen, but we’ll do everything we can to recover quickly.”

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Some expect airport crowds surpass 3 million passengers per day on the busiest travel days for the summer. The increased demand for travel has also led to pilots complaining about fatigue and flight cancellations heading into the summer at airlines including American Airlines, Southwest, Alaska, and Delta. 

 “Everybody is facing labor shortages; airlines and TSA are no different. At just about every level you can think of in the airline industry we can speak of we’re having labor shortages,” said Paul Doell, vice president for the National Air Carrier Association.

Airline restaurants and car rental companies have also been dealing with labor shortages. Customer service call centers for airlines and passengers who need wheelchair assistance, as well as ground airport employers, have also been struggling to maintain a steady supply of workers to deal with the demand for flights. 

Airlines themselves are cutting thousands of flights from their schedules as a means of helping scheduled flights run on time. This also means that TSA agents and other airline workers will likely have to work harder to get travelers to their flights on time.

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“But regional air carriers, which fly about 43% of all scheduled flights in the U.S., say they are facing labor shortages as employees such as pilots are being poached by the larger airlines. That could create issues connecting smaller destinations to larger hub airports,” said Kevin Burke, head of Airports Council International-North America.

“The pilot shortage is impacting the regionals, and we expect to see the small communities hit the hardest. We expect this to continue to be a trend, but those pain points will assert themselves at hubs as well.”

Pekoske warned that “many travelers this summer could be getting on a plane for the first time in three years, especially as masking and Covid-19 restrictions have fallen in many parts of the country and international travel restrictions are being lifted.”

“The amount of people that worked concessions prior to the pandemic are not there now, they’ve come back, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be,” Burke explained. 

“So we really ask that we try to have patience and understanding when they are dealing with employees at the airport. Everybody’s trying to do the best job they can to make sure this is safe, secure and also as comfortable as it can be under normal circumstances but especially when you have those tough days where you have storms that are disrupting the system,” Doell said. 

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

FDA Places Strict Limits On Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older. The vaccine is now available for adults who don’t have access to other vaccinations and for adults who aren’t able to receive the other Covid-19 vaccine for personal medical reasons. 

The FDA released a statement in which they detailed the changes and why they’re being made. They explained that the change is being implemented due to the rare risk of a dangerous clotting condition known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and occurrence of TTS following its administration and have used updated information from our safety surveillance systems to revise the EUA,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the statement. 

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community. Today’s action demonstrates the robustness of our safety surveillance systems and our commitment to ensuring that science and data guide our actions.”

The agency also confirmed that the updated authorizations apply to booster doses as well. The FDA also emphasized that the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks for certain individuals as well. 

In their statement, they wrote that individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), have personal concerns over mRNA vaccines, or don’t have access to mRNA vaccines should definitely receive the J&J jab. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18.7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US, and of all the Americans who are currently fully vaccinated, about 7.7% got the J&J vaccine. 

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The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee issued their own statement on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, saying it “makes a preferential recommendation for the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen adenoviral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine in all persons aged  ≥ 18 years in the United States.”

Both the CDC and FDA have made these statements mainly due to TTS concerns. When rare clotting events began appearing in the initial periods of vaccination in the US, Johnson & Johnson made a statement emphasizing their commitment to giving Americans a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine. … We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”

The FDA released data that showed around 60 cases of TTS since the J&J vaccine began its distribution, nine of those unfortunately were fatal. 

The FDA emphasized, however, that the risk for TTS is extremely rare. Current data shows that there’s about three cases of TTS for every million doses administered. 

Symptoms of TTS can appear within one to two weeks after vaccination, and they include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms like headaches or blurred vision, and red spots appearing under the skin at the site of vaccination.