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Weekly News Bites #015 | Biden to penalize Americans with good credit and a new social contagion study on transgender youth.
All of the top stories of the week in small bites.
It’s FRIDAY, April 21 ! YAY
Some of the stories this week! If you are not signed up for Weekly News Bites, do it!
Controversial new rule to require high credit score homebuyers to subsidize high-risk borrowers.
UN says minors can consent to sex.
Elon Musk says in a Tucker Carlson interview that the U.S. govt. had “full access” to Twitter users’ private DMs.
Cease and desist order against priests at Walter Reed: Biden administration targeting religious liberty?
A new social contagion study conducted by Northwestern University is a prime cause of gender dysphoria and transgender identification.
Supreme Court to rule on mifepristone abortion pill case on Friday.
Prosecutors have dropped the involuntary manslaughter charges against actor Alec Baldwin.
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→ Controversial new rule to require high credit score homebuyers to subsidize high-risk borrowers. The Federal Housing Finance Agency will modify the existing federal mortgage fees to require homeowners with good credit scores to subsidize the mortgages of high-risk buyers, according to a recent statement. This new policy has sparked controversy, as it reverses the formula established after the 2008 housing crisis, in which high-risk buyers paid higher fees to become homeowners. Starting May 1, homebuyers with credit scores above 680 or who make sizable down payments will have their rates raised, while those with scores below 620 will pay a smaller fee than before. Some have criticized the policy as a plan to redistribute wealth and introduce perverse incentives into the market.
→ Democrats urge Chief Justice John Roberts to scrutinize Clarence Thomas's undisclosed luxury trips. Democratic lawmakers are urging Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to get more involved in examining details regarding Justice Clarence Thomas's undisclosed luxury trips. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, has requested that Roberts or another justice of his choosing testify on May 2 regarding Supreme Court ethics issues, particularly the scrutiny over trips Thomas made that was funded by Texas billionaire businessman Harlan Crow. Although Thomas has said that the trips fell into a personal hospitality exception, Democrats have called for an investigation into the matter, and they support a binding code of ethics for Supreme Court justices. However, the panel is currently deadlocked, and Democrats would need a majority to vote for a subpoena.
→ House Judiciary Committee held a remote hearing in New York on Monday with a focus on crime and its causes. Republicans used the hearing to highlight the records of progressive prosecutors, particularly those who received support from Soros-funded groups, arguing that their policies have led to an increase in violent crime. Democrats accused the hearing of being motivated by the ongoing battle between the committee's chairman, Jim Jordan, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the prosecution of former President Donald Trump. Some Democrats blamed the availability of firearms for driving crime. Many audience members were New Yorkers with first-hand experience of Bragg's justice system, and there were heated exchanges between the two sides. Bragg dismissed the hearing as a "political stunt" and claimed that crime rates in Manhattan had decreased since he took office in 2022.
→ Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced a bill that will address Disney's attempt to hold onto its special privileges in the state. The Reedy Creek Improvement District, where Disney World is located, has given the company broad authority to govern the district and special exemptions from local taxes. Still, those privileges were revoked by the Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis after Disney condemned the legislature’s restrictions on instructing young children in Florida on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the old Reedy Creek Improvement Board signed over many of its powers to Disney, leaving the replacement Central Florida Tourism Oversight District largely toothless and unable to enact DeSantis’s proposed reforms. DeSantis’s battles with Disney have become an important part of his overall political messaging, especially if he has aspirations to occupy the White House.
→ President Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday that directs more than 50 directives across nearly every Cabinet-level agency to expand access to long-term care and child care. The order aims to expand and guarantee access to affordable child care for families, support family caregivers, and expand affordable care options. The order directs federal agencies to identify which of their grant programs can support child care and long-term care for individuals working on federal projects.The Left heralds the bill as one of the most decisive actions under a presidency. The Right criticizes Biden’s expensive move amid talks with House Speaker McCarthy to lower spending in order to raise the debt ceiling. The executive order will not require any new spending and aims to ensure taxpayers get the best value for the investments they have already made.
→ House GOP unveils a budget proposal with a $1.5 trillion debt ceiling increase. House Republicans released a debt limit increase bill called the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which pairs a debt ceiling increase with $4.5 trillion in savings. The bill aims to raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion through March 31, 2024, whichever comes first. The savings generated are partly by cutting Biden administration priorities such as reverting discretionary spending caps to fiscal 2022 levels. The bill is expected to get a floor vote next week. The White House said President Biden wouldn't negotiate over the debt ceiling. The debt limit must be raised before the Treasury Department exhausts the “extraordinary measures” being taken to avoid default, which could happen sometime this summer.
→ UN says minors can consent to sex. Several UN agencies released a report on "principles for a human rights-based approach" to sex, drugs, and reproduction, which includes language suggesting that sexual activity with minors "may be consensual, in fact, if not in law." This has caused concern among critics who fear that it may open the door to the legalization of sexual acts between minors and adults. However, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General denied that the report calls for the decriminalization of sex with children or the abolition of the age of consent, stating that criminal sanctions might not be appropriate in the case of two minor peers engaging in sex. The report has sparked debate about the line between "sexualizing children" and "openness and inclusivity."
→ Outrage over the shooting of a 16-year-old black boy while a similar case that resulted in the death of a young white woman receives minimal coverage. A 16-year-old black boy named Ralph Yarl was shot twice by an elderly White homeowner, Andrew Lester, in Kansas City, Missouri, after he rang the doorbell of the wrong house. Lester claims he thought Yarl was attempting to break into his home and that he was "scared to death." Yarl is expected to make a full recovery, and Lester has been charged with assault in the first degree and felony armed criminal action and has plead not guilty.
The case has drawn national attention, with some claiming it was racially motivated. There is no evidence as of yet that the shooting was racially motivated. The family received a phone call from President Biden and an invite to the White House.
A parallel case occurred in upstate New York, where a 20-year-old White woman was shot and killed by a White homeowner after accidentally turning into the wrong driveway. In both cases, the victims were shot while on private property. The laws in Missouri and New York regarding the use of deadly force in self-defense differ, and a jury will likely have to decide whether Yarl's actions were threatening enough to justify Lester's use of force.
→ 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, an Air National Guardsman with access to sensitive intelligence, was arrested for allegedly leaking classified documents in a group chat on Discord. The documents suggest that the U.S. government has been spying on allies, including Israel, South Korea, and Egypt, and monitoring the private communications of high-ranking U.N. officials and other foreign leaders. They also show that the U.S. has been downplaying Ukrainian casualties and exaggerating the success of Ukrainian efforts in the region, contradicting U.S. claims about the war in Ukraine. Some criticize the media's rush to identify him, and others argue he should be granted whistleblower protection. Pentagon officials fear that the leak could erode trust among allies and make them less likely to share intelligence with the U.S. in the future.
On Friday, Jack Teixeira was formally accused of the unlawful confinement and dissemination of national defense information and the unauthorized removal of classified materials and defense information. If found guilty, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years for the former charge and five years for the latter for a total of 15 years.
→ Elon Musk says the U.S. govt. had “full access” to Twitter users’ private DMs. Elon Musk was surprised to learn that the US government had full access to direct, private messages sent through Twitter. The Twitter Files revealed that Twitter's previous management had ties to government agencies and that Twitter had sought guidance from several government agencies before deciding to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform.
Musk, who acquired Twitter last fall, warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence, saying that it has the potential for civilizational destruction. Musk is putting together a team of engineers to create a generative AI project that would compete with ChatGPT and its creator, OpenAI. Musk has also co-signed a letter with hundreds of other tech experts calling for a halt in AI research and development due to potential risks.
→ Cease and desist order against priests at Walter Reed: Biden administration targeting religious liberty? After serving at Walter Reed Medical Center for over two decades, Franciscan priests received a cease and desist order from the Department of Defense, preventing them from offering pastoral care to patients. The contract was awarded to Mack Global, a secular defense contractor, which has been criticized by Archbishop Timothy Broglio for violating service members' and veterans' Right to the Free Exercise of Religion. The hospital claims to have a Catholic chaplain on staff, but the decision process and details of the contracts were not disclosed. This move is part of a broader pattern of the Biden administration targeting religious liberty, including making it harder for faith-based organizations to provide social services and interpreting the Affordable Care Act to require Christian hospitals and doctors to perform abortions and transgender surgeries. Internal documents also revealed that the FBI was trying to develop sources in Catholic churches to address "radicalization," which raised many questions.
→ Over the weekend, hundreds of teenagers swarmed downtown Chicago, causing chaos and disruption. They engaged in various types of mayhem, including fighting in the streets, stealing and vandalizing cars, and shutting down buses. Two teenagers were shot and hospitalized, and 15 people were arrested. Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson condemned the violence but also stated that the teenagers involved should not be demonized as they had been starved of opportunities in their own communities. Meanwhile, current Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that this behavior cannot and will not be tolerated and called for parents to regulate their children's behavior. The incident has raised concerns about the impact of intermittent unrest and dysfunction on commerce in the city, particularly for businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic. Walmart's recent announcement of closing half of its Chicago stores has added to the concern. However, the company stated that the stores were closed because they were not profitable and had been operating at a loss for years.
→ Fox News settles defamation case with Dominion for $787 million. Staple Street Capital Group, which owns Dominion Voting Systems, received a $787.5 million settlement from Fox Corp in a defamation lawsuit. The settlement is equivalent to 20 times the $38.3 million Staple Street paid for a 76.2% stake in Dominion in 2018. Dominion was seeking $1.6 billion in damages. Prior to the settlement, Dominion was valued at around $226 million in the run-up to the 2020 election, up from $80 million in 2018. Staple Street's previous investments include Six Flags Entertainment and Cyberlink ASP Technology.
→ Larry Elder, a conservative U.S. radio host, has announced his candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Elder gained recognition as the leading challenger in California's 2021 recall election, where he criticized Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elder refers to himself as "an American who is Black" and has stated that his views stem from his parent's belief that he could overcome racism through hard work and determination. He joins several other Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, in seeking to win the White House back from Democrat Joe Biden. The announcement comes as Biden officially prepares to announce his re-election bid next week.
→ The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill that would ban transgender women and girls from competing in female school sports. The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act would amend Title IX to prevent schools that receive federal funding from allowing "people whose sex is male" to participate in women's sports. Democrats and LGBTQ advocates have criticized the legislation, arguing that it discriminates against and makes life harder for transgender people who are already subjected to bullying and discrimination. Republicans argue that transgender participation is an existential threat to women’s sports. The White House has said that President Joe Biden would veto the measure if it were to reach his desk.
There is currently a rule proposal on Title IX that is open for comment until May 15. The rule change would prohibit bans on transgender students from participating in sports teams based on their gender identity instead of biological sex.
→ A new social contagion study conducted by Northwestern University is a prime cause of gender dysphoria and transgender identification. The study also found that parents who were pressured by clinicians to transition their children with gender dysphoria reported worse mental health outcomes for their children. The survey data came from families with children who began identifying as transgender between ages 11 and 21. The study found that gender dysphoria impacted girls more than boys, with 75% of gender dysphoric children being biological females. The parents' group, Parents of Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) Kids, has asserted that one of the prime causes of gender dysphoria and transgender identification in young people is social contagion.
→ The Washington State Senate Bill 5599, which would allow licensed shelters to house and provide medical care, including gender-affirming treatments, to runaway minors without notifying their parents, has passed the House and is awaiting the governor's signature. Supporters of the bill argue that it will help protect vulnerable youth, including transgender and at-risk youth, from harm by giving them safe shelter and access to life-saving care. Opponents, however, claim that it undermines parents' rights and legalizes the kidnapping of children. They have criticized it for causing harm by driving a wedge between vulnerable kids and their parents. Some critics have even accused the bill of "state-sanctioned kidnapping." The bill's passage in the House marks another example of states passing legislation to restrict or protect parents' rights, depending on one's political perspective.
→ The Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona, refused to define "woman" while testifying before the House Appropriations subcommittee regarding the proposed rule changes to Title IX, which prohibit blanket bans on transgender athletes from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex. The new rules allow schools to limit transgender athletes from participating in sports if it would alter the fundamental fairness of the sport or risk the safety of other students. However, the new rules have received criticism from both the Left and the Right, with concerns about due process and the right to review evidence in cases of sexual assault.
→ Russian court upholds WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich’s detention. American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in Russia on espionage charges during a reporting trip last month, had his challenge to his pre-trial detention rejected by a Moscow court on Tuesday. His lawyers requested bail of 50 million roubles or house arrest, but both requests were denied. Gershkovich's detention has been classified as "wrongful" by the US government, and his employer and family have strongly denied the allegations. Gershkovich, who appeared calm during his court appearance, has reported on Russia for six years. He is the first American journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War.
→ Europe's top air-traffic agency, Eurocontrol, has suffered from a cyberattack that is believed to be caused by pro-Russian hackers. The attack has caused technology disruption, including a blackout of some communications, and some smaller airlines were forced to use older technology to manage flight schedules. Eurocontrol has recommended that operators use alternative methods that do not rely on an active internet connection to submit their flight plans. The agency's website was also down for much of the duration of the attack. Air-traffic safety remains unaffected, however, and airlines were instructed to use other networks without experiencing any issues. Western security officials offer varying assessments as to why Russia has not targeted Ukraine's allies with more debilitating cyberattacks.
→ The G-7 pledges tough stances against Russia and China ahead of May’s summit in Hiroshima. The Group of Seven (G-7), consisting of the world's wealthiest economies - the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the European Union, have pledged to take a tough stance against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's aggression towards Taiwan, and North Korea's missile tests. The U.S. is focused on supporting Ukraine and increasing punishment against Russia, while the diplomats are also looking into China's aggression in the Indo-Pacific around Taiwan and North Korea's missile testing, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that threaten the U.S. mainland and shorter-range weapons that pose a risk to South Korea and Japan. The G-7 summit will be held in Hiroshima in May.
→ Supreme Court to rule on mifepristone abortion pill case on Friday. The US Supreme Court has heard arguments on a case involving access to the abortion pill, mifepristone. The Biden administration and a drug manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, have requested emergency relief to block a lower court order that limits access to the pill. A group of pro-life doctors and medical groups are challenging the FDA's approval of the drug. The Biden administration argues that the restrictions will limit access to mifepristone even in states where abortion is legal. Mifepristone has been used by over five million women in the US to terminate their pregnancies since it was approved in 2000. The Supreme Court has extended a pause on the lower court's ruling until Friday at midnight, giving the court more time to consider the case.
The Biden admin urges SCOTUS to federally protect access to the pill to protect women’s privacy in healthcare. GOP-led states that are banning the pill say the Biden admin is overstepping into state abortion law, which was granted post-Roe.
→ BuzzFeed Inc has announced that it will be closing its news division, which had won a Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for coverage of China's mass detention of Muslims, and laying off about 15% of its workforce. The New York-based media company will instead focus on the quirky lists and cooking videos that are its bread and butter. The company's CEO, Jonah Peretti, blamed the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn for the decline in digital advertising and BuzzFeed's business. BuzzFeed's news unit had failed to find a working business model, and its reliance on advertising made it susceptible to downturns as marketers shifted to other social media platforms. The entertainment portion will remain, while the news will exclusively fall under the HuffPost, which Buzzfeed acquired in 2020.
→ Prosecutors have dropped the involuntary manslaughter charges against actor Alec Baldwin for the shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie "Rust" in October 2021. The special prosecutors in charge stated that new facts had emerged over the last few days that require further investigation and forensic analysis, and charges may be refiled later. Baldwin's attorneys are pleased with the decision and call for a full investigation into the incident. Baldwin had initially faced up to five years in prison if convicted, but the firearm enhancement was dropped in February, reducing the maximum sentence to 18 months and a $5,000 fine. The armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces. The news of the dropped charges came on the same day that "Rust" was scheduled to resume production.