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congress

House Passes Election Bill in Response to Jan. 6 Insurrection

The House of Representatives voted to reform the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act Wednesday. The legislative overhaul is to prevent events like the Jan. 6 insurrection from happening again.

The bill is the first legislative step taken by congress to address the assault on the Capitol in January 2020, with the House voting 229 to 203 in its favor. However, it is unlikely that the bill will pass in the Senate. House members mostly voted along party lines, with only nine Republicans supporting the bill.

The original Electoral Count Act was implemented to set deadlines for states to certify presidential election results, standardize the procedure to send electors to the Capitol, name the vice president as the overseer of the vote count, and create a process for lawmakers to challenge election results.

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Former President Donald Trump tried to use the Electoral Count Act to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The Senate drafted its own bipartisan bill in July, sponsored by 10 GOP senators—the number needed to overcome any potential Senate filibuster. However, it is unclear if all Democrats will vote in favor of the legislation.

Both bills are similar in changing the number of lawmakers needed to object to electoral results procedurally. In the House’s bill, one-third of each chamber needs to object. In the Senate’s bill, only one-fifth need to object. Both restrictions are significantly more stringent than the original act’s, which only required one objector in each chamber.

The House bill also states that the president of the Senate, traditionally held by the vice president of the United States, will be “ministerial.”

“Except with respect to the procedures described in this section, the presiding officer shall not have any power to determine or otherwise resolve disputes concerning the proper list of electors for a State, the validity of electors for a State, or the votes of electors of a State.”

The bill also states that the vice president “shall not order any delay in counting or preside over any period of delay in counting electoral votes.” The Senate bill similarly states that the vice president “shall have no power to solely determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes over the proper list of electors, the validity of electors, or the votes of electors.”

The Senate bill included provisions related to presidential transition, while the House bill did not. The House bill also addresses “when states could declare a ‘failed election’ and substitute electors approved by voters.”

Democrats believe several issues will be on the ballot for voters in November. Protecting the transition of presidential power and abortion rights may rally more voters to support their party. It is becoming easier for Democrats to associate the GOP with the violent events of Jan. 6 in public spaces, given their dissatisfaction with the bill and continued support for the last administration. The GOP is focusing more on inflation and economic policy as driving motivators to bring voters to the poll.

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By and large, Republicans still do not support election reform legislation because many party members still follow Trump’s election narrative. After the insurrection, Republicans backed his election lies and opposed the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee and bipartisan commission proposal.

Prominent Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney, rejected their party’s support of Trump. Cheney eventually became vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee. Republicans were especially reluctant to support the bill because she co-sponsored it.

When asked about Republican lack of support for the bill, Representative Liz Cheney told reporters about the importance of this legislation.

“Protecting future elections is something that we ought to all be able to agree upon, regardless of party.”

 

therapist

US Task Force Recommends All Adults Under 65 Be Screened for Anxiety

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended that all physicians screen adult patients under 65 for anxiety. The move was motivated by the country’s mental health epidemic in the wake of the pandemic.

The USPSTF is a panel of medical experts appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The panel said the recommendation was brought forward to prevent mental health disorders from going undetected or untreated for a long time. Over the last few years, people were more stressed and depressed, and anxiety levels went through the roof.

Between August 2020 to February 2021, adults with symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression increased by 25% worldwide. In 2021, 1 in 4 adults aged 18 to 44 received treatment for mental health.

The task force recognizes anxiety as “characterized by greater duration or intensity of a stress response over everyday events.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Lori Pbert, who is on the task force, says that Americans have been remarkably stressed out after a series of stressors like COVID-19, inflation, death of loved ones, fear of illness and crime rates. According to the NYTimes and CNN, Dr. Pbert said, “our only hope is that our recommendations throw a spotlight on the need to create greater access to mental health care — and urgently.”

“Our hope is that by raising awareness of these issues and having recommendations for clinicians, that we’ll be able to help all adults in the United States, including those who experience disparities.”

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The task force lists generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia under the umbrella of anxiety conditions and recommends screening those who are not already diagnosed with a disorder. The panel also recommended that adults be screened for depression.

Mental health providers appreciated the recommendations but acknowledged that while screening tools are helpful, they are not a diagnosis, and subsequent testing is required to determine if an individual has a clinical disorder. A one-time screening may only be indicative of a temporary stressor. Providers also spoke on the lack of resources to address the issue on a wide scale.

Dr. Jeffrey Staab, a psychiatrist and chair of the department of psychiatry and psychology at Mayo Clinic, said the country is “short on mental health resources on all levels — psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists — that’s a real concern.”

“When providers say, ‘You must have a disorder, here, take this,’ we could face an overprescribing problem, but the opposite scenario is that we have lots of people suffering who shouldn’t be. Both outcomes are possible.”

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Dr. Pbert also said the task force’s research showed that people from minority groups are often overlooked in mental health research, contributing to continued systemic inequality both in and outside the medical field.

The primary care practice is currently a missed opportunity for screening. Black and Hispanic people are less likely to be treated for mental health conditions than white people and are more often misdiagnosed when they do receive care. Dr. Pbert said standardized screenings might help reduce those statistics by removing other factors like implicit bias.

The USPSTF made a similar recommendation for children earlier in the year. The task force set the age range to 65 and younger because older adults may produce positive screening results due to the natural aging effects such as fatigue and generalized pain.

The panel will finalize the draft after reviewing public comments and notes submitted before the Oct. 17 deadline. Though the recommendation is not mandatory, many physicians use the panel’s guidance to improve their standard of care.

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.

house

Homebuilder Sentiment Falls for Ninth Consecutive Month

U.S. homebuilder confidence in the housing market dropped to its lowest level since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts believe the high inflation rate and rising borrowing costs are contributing to first-time homebuyers’ hesitancy to purchase new single-family homes.

The National Association of Home Builders/ Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which measures the activity of the single-family housing market, fell to 46 in September after declining for the ninth consecutive month. The last nine months are the most prolonged and persistent decline in builder sentiment in the last four decades.

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Experts say a Housing Market Index above 50 shows a healthy market with net positive growth. In November 2020, the index rose to 76, the highest in 35 years, due to the Federal Reserve pushing the federal funds rate to nearly zero. After the pandemic’s dampening effect, the Fed’s loosening of the federal funds rate was meant to stimulate the economy back to health.

Recently The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates by adopting an aggressive monetary policy to bring the inflation rate back down to sustainable levels. A lack of supply due to construction costs fueled by those interest rates has slowed down building into a housing recession.

NAHB chairman Jerry Konter said builders are responding to a falling market by using incentives to bolster sales, “including mortgage rate buydowns, free amenities and price reductions.”

Pantheon Macroeconomics analyst Ian Shepherdson believes that builder sentiment will continue to decline.

 “This probably will not mark the bottom of the cycle, given the latest surge in mortgage rates above 6%. The rate of fall of mortgage applications slowed over the summer, but the early September numbers point to a renewed sharp decline.”

Mortgage rates have skyrocketed to those seen during the 2008 housing crisis, with interest rates on 30-year fixed loans hitting 6%. According to data released from the Mortgage Bankers Association, mortgage rates have already risen 4% so far this year.

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This increase in mortgage rates would add $389,000 in interest payments to the life of a $500,000 single-family home purchase. The association’s data also showed that the seasonally adjusted MBA Purchase Index rose only 0.2%. New applications for mortgages went down  1.2%.

Though builder sentiment often signals the eventual direction of mortgage applications, NAHB CEO Jerry Howard told Fox Business that people should have confidence that the housing market will pick back up again.

I think you’re seeing a weakening in virtually every market, but those that were stronger are weakening less. I guess the most important thing that investors and people need to remember is that Americans still want to own their homes and that, as soon as the conditions turn a little more favorable, housing will pick up. That will pick up the whole economy.”

gun control

Visa, Mastercard, AmEx To Categorize Gun Purchases Separately

Visa, Mastercard, and American Express will now categorize gun shop purchases separately. The change will help track any suspicious gun sale surge that may predate a mass shooting.

Banks use merchant category codes for purchases made by account holders, including recurring expenses such as groceries, dining and retail. Until Friday, gun purchases were considered “general merchandise.”

The IRS mandated the classification system in 2004 for tax reporting. Banks use these codes to flag potentially fraudulent activity. Merchants with high rates of disputes and fraud are given high-risk merchant codes. These merchants have to pay higher interchange fees. Banks also use these codes for credit card rewards and benefits.

Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims Brown expressed support for this new change citing that “there are merchant codes for the hair salon and the shoeshine place and every other retailer; there’s no merchant code for gun stores.”

 “If we did have a merchant code for gun stores, we could detect patterns that would indicate that there had been something unusual going on.”

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The change followed the International Organization for Standardization’s decision to approve a gun purchase merchant code. The IOS is an amalgamation of 167 countries’ representatives that develop international standards for technical and non-technical fields. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.

The new protocol is a significant win for gun control advocates, especially since Visa is the world’s largest payment processor. Mass shooters often use credit or debit cards to purchase weapons. The perpetrator of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting that killed 49 people purchased guns worth $26,000 via credit card.

Mastercard provided a statement to Business Insider outlining its reasoning for implementing the change.

“We understand and appreciate the significant policy imperative in reducing gun violence and see the recent bipartisan action in Congress as a positive step. We believe it is that type of effort that will meaningfully address the tragic gun violence facing the country.”

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The National Rifle Association believes the move is “nothing more than a capitulation to anti-gun politicians and activists eroding the rights of law-abiding Americans one transaction at a time.”

Gun rights advocates argue that this measure would flag purchases that are not guns, such as accessories and gun safes at gun stores.

The gun control advocacy nonprofit Everytown found that there have been 279 mass shootings in the U.S. since 2009. There were 27 school shootings in 2022 alone. According to The Marshall Project, the U.S. had more mass shootings in the past five years than in any half-decade back to 1966.

loan

President Biden Announces New Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan To Help Millions

President Biden’s new student-loan plan will help relieve millions of Americans from debt. 

According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, the President’s new plan will eliminate up to $10,000 in federal-loan debt from those whose annual incomes are under $125,000 or for couples who earn less than $250,000 combined. 

“In keeping with my campaign promise, my Administration is announcing a plan to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023,” President Biden tweeted.

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Some of the borrowers are also going to be eligible for total forgiveness up to $20,000 if they additionally received Pell Grants. These are a form of federal financial aid that would be awarded to students who live in low-income households.

The plan is expected to benefit the majority of the more than 43 million people in the U.S. who hold a total of $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt” 

President Biden also announced that he will be extending the pandemic-era student-loan pause payments and interests throughout the end of the year. The Trump administration first gave Americans the option to suspend their loans and soon after, Congress made it automatic. 

The current pause was set to end on Aug. 31, but with the President’s recent plan, it was the closest the administration has come to hitting the end of the freeze extension.

This pause has been instated since March 2020 and has been continuously extended since. 

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York believes that this continuous pause helped Americans save nearly $200 billion in payments. 

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People who are eligible for this new plan don’t need to take action right away in order to receive the debt relief. 

“It’s a very complicated process and it’s going to take months to effectuate,” said Scott Buchanan, director of Student Loan Servicing Alliance. “Don’t do anything until you see something happen to your account.” 

The new plan was in fact narrower than what he initially proposed when he was campaigning during the 2020 election. 

“He’ll get a lot of credit for following through on something that he was committed to,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.

Many people who work in the public service were also welcomed to some relief when there were temporary changes made to the U.S. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Due to the changes, it helped more than 113,000 people receive student debt relief and have a total of $6.8 billion in forgiveness. 

row vs wade

Roe Vs Wade Overturned, Experts Warn Maternal Mortality Rate Will Rise In US 

The Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe vs Wade last week in a 6-3 decision, officially revoking the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States. Experts are now saying that pregnancy-related deaths will almost certainly increase, especially among people of color. 

Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, spoke on the issue: 

“There are going to be more people who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, which means that there’s going to be a greater number of people who are at risk. More pregnancy means more likelihood of deaths.”

Current state bans could lead to an additional 75,000 births every year for those who won’t be able to access abortion, according to one experts estimate. The bans will also likely impact younger and poorer people of color at a much higher rate.

Currently in America, for every 10,000 births, 23.8 people have died from either pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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More than half of the US states are likely to ban abortion following the fall of Roe.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s already hitting people [of color] harder than others – that’s been the reality,” said Monica McLemore, an associate professor of family healthcare nursing at University of California, San Francisco.

“Black people in the US were already 3.5 times more likely than white peers to die because of pregnancy and childbirth, according to one study looking at data from 2016-2017, and 2.9 times more likely,” according to a CDC analysis in 2020. 

“Because Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are going to be disproportionately impacted by lack of access to abortion services, it’s going to exacerbate the maternal mortality racial gap that we’ve already seen in the United States,” Hardeman said.

“It’s translating into not getting the care they need, which can be a matter of life and death. And racism also takes an immense physical toll, so by the time that person becomes pregnant, they are at less optimal health than their white counterparts who haven’t experienced racism across the life course.”

The cumulative and chronic effects of living in America as a person of color increases stress, which can also affect reproductive health. “We know that the stress pathway is what leads to infant mortality, preterm birth, and other outcomes,” Hardeman said.

“We have to be thinking about the Scotus decision and abortion bans generally as a racist policy, because the burden will fall the hardest on Black pregnant people, it’s going to fall hard on Indigenous people and other people of color, people living in rural areas as well and people of lower socioeconomic status,” Hardeman continued.

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“The supreme court decision on Friday and bans on abortion instituted at the state level disproportionately harm people of color and reinforce a system of inequity and, frankly, of white supremacy.”

“If you think about why people get abortions, it’s often because it’s not safe for them to stay pregnant,” Stevenson said. “The people who are currently having abortions are very likely to actually have higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths and maternal mortality than the people who are currently giving birth.”

Having an abortion is “much, much, much safer than staying pregnant”, Stevenson said. 

Current research indicated that childbirth is 14 times more deadly than having an abortion. 

“We have to be thinking about the fact that because we live in a society where access to resources is based on racism and race, there are people who are not going to be able to access the services that are available.”

McLemore emphasized that direct action is what’s needed in order to protect the people in states that will be banning abortions. 

“Congress could act right now and render Scotus’s decision irrelevant by enshrining reproductive rights into national law. If this Congress doesn’t, she said, the six in 10 Americans who support abortion rights should vote for a new Congress that will,” she explained.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach here – with brilliance, not fear.”

3 Police Officers Involved In Death Of George Floyd To Stand Trial This Week 

Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao are the three former police officers who helped Derek Chauvin restrain George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Chauvin was recently convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, now, the three men are set to stand trial in a federal courtroom Monday for violating Floyd’s civil rights. 

The three former officers are charged with deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly failing to give Floyd medical aid, according to the indictment. Thao and Keung are also being charged with failing to intervene when Chauvin was using unreasonable force as he kneeled on Floyd’s neck and back for over 9 minutes, leading to his death. 

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Keung, Lane, and Thao have all pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. Chauvin admitted guilt back in December as part of a plea deal. A jury of five men and seven women have been chosen for the trial this week. 

20 months ago George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was handcuffed and pressed to the pavement lying on his stomach while former officer Chauvin applied pressure to the back of his neck and back with his knee. Floyd continuously pleaded with officers that he couldn’t breathe, calling out for his mother and gasping consistently for 9 minutes. 

The officers called for medical services but did not provide any actual aid to Floyd, who eventually fell unconscious and stopped breathing. He remained in that state while being taken to the hospital, where he later would pass away. 

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The video of Floyd’s tragic passing went viral, sparking one of the largest social justice movements around the world. Ben Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney, recently made a statement regarding the difficulty the family is facing, constantly reliving this tragic moment. 

“This trial will be another painful experience for the Floyd family, who must once more relive his grueling death in excruciating detail. On behalf of the legal team and the family, we trust and expect that an impartial jury representative of the community will be seated to do this important work.”

This federal case is separate from the state charges for Floyd’s death, which Keung, Lane, and Thao are set to endure trial for in June. The state charges include aiding and abetting, with all three officers pleading not guilty. 

All four officers were fired due to the bystander video release of Floyd’s death, and were arrested and charged days later. Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charged for violating Floyd’s rights during the arrest. 

Chauvin is currently facing a sentence of between 20 and 25 years in prison to be served during his current 22.5 year sentence on the state murder charges. 

Two Positive Covid Tests

US Government To Begin Shipping ‘Free’ At-Home Covid Tests To Citizens 

A new federal law now states that health insurance companies in the US must pay for at-home Covid test kits. Customers will be able to be reimbursed for up to eight tests per month per individual, or receive them for free at participating pharmacies; meaning under this new law a family of five could get up to 40 free tests per month. 

Individuals with health insurance will be able to receive their free at-home tests directly from the federal government starting Wednesday January 19th by going to COVIDTests.gov to request their supply. Kits will begin shipping out within seven to 12 days. 

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“This program will ensure that Americans have at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available in the weeks and months ahead — in addition to the number of other ways they can get tested,” the White House said on Friday

“The administration is quickly completing a contracting process for the unprecedented purchase of 1 billion at-home, rapid tests to distribute as part of this program.” 

The US Postal Service will be delivering kits throughout the continental US through First-Class Package Service, according to the government. Any shipments made to Alaska, Hawaii, and other US territories will be sent via Priority Mail. 

President Biden announced Thursday the government was “doubling the number of available free tests to 1 billion and providing 5 million PCR tests for free to schools per month.” 

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Colorado, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon,  and New Hampshire. Washington, DC, is making at-home tests available for pickup at area libraries while other cities, such as New York and Boston, are distributing them to local health clinics,” according to the White House. 

In another plan announced by President Biden, health insurance companies are now required to reimburse Americans for eight at-home antigen tests per person per month. If an individual is required to undergo testing due to an underlying health condition, or other factors, there will be no limit implemented on the amount of tests covered. 

For those without insurance, Biden announced that there would be “thousands of locations” where Americans can pick up free Covid-19 test kits to use at home, rather than needing to go get tested at a facility. 

Those without insurance are also able to access free testing kits at community health clinics, and other local participating sites. The Department of Health and Human Services has also provided an online search tool for Americans needing to find a community-based Covid-19 testing site.

January 6th House Committee Has ‘Firsthand’ Knowledge Of What Trump Was Doing During Capitol Riot 

The House select committee investigating the January 6th Capitol Hill insurrection has information from multiple sources regarding what former president Donald Trump was doing at the time of the riot. 

A source close to the investigation recently spoke to the media and revealed that there are “a collection of people with relevant information” when it comes to what Trump was doing throughout the insurrection. 

Keith Kellogg, former vice president Mike Pence’s national security adviser, who was also with Trump throughout the riot, was one of the individuals who gave a deposition. Kellogg refused to comment to the media regarding what he testified, as he was sworn under oath. 

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The committee also has text messages and other documents that reveal what Trump was doing during the insurrection. Some of the messages discussed came from Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, who the House voted to refer to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress after he failed to appear for a deposition. 

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney discussed how the information they gathered works to prove that Trump did nothing to stop the violence during the riot, which they view as a “dereliction of duty.” 

“We have significant testimony that leads us to believe that the White House had been told to do something. We want to verify all of it so that when we produce our report and when we have the hearings, the public will have an opportunity to see for themselves. The only thing I can say, it’s highly unusual for anyone in charge of anything to watch what’s going on and do nothing.”

Cheney discussed how the panel has “firsthand knowledge” that Trump’s daughter, and then senior adviser, Ivanka Trump asked her father to intervene during the riot. 

“We know his daughter — we have firsthand testimony that his daughter Ivanka went in at least twice to ask him to ‘please stop this violence,” Cheney said. 

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“Any man who would not do so, any man who would provoke a violent assault on the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes, any man who would watch television as police officers were being beaten, as his supporters were invading the Capitol of the United States, is clearly unfit for future office, clearly can never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again,” Cheney added.

The House select committee also revealed text messages from Donald Trump Jr. to Meadows that were sent during the riot, in which Trump Jr. stated that his father needed to “condemn” the insurrection as it was occurring. 

“‘He’s got to condemn this sh*t ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,'” Trump Jr. wrote in one message to Meadows.

“He could have simply walked a few feet to the White House briefing room. He could have gone immediately on live television and asked his supporters to stop what was happening, asked them to go home. He failed to do that, at the same time the violent assault was happening, he is watching television, and he is also calling one senator urging delay of the electoral vote,” Cheney exclaimed.

Committee members are ideally going to present more of their work and findings to the public as the year progresses and the investigation continues. Public hearings that will outline the story of what really happened on January 6th have yet to be scheduled, but will be occurring later this year.