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Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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California to Ban the Sale of New Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

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  • California Governor Newsom (D) signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at banning sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2035.
  • The ban will not prevent anyone from owning or even selling a used gas-powered vehicle.
  • While many environmentalist groups praised Newsom for the order, they noted that California will need to be proactive to accomplish the goal in its current time frame. Some even criticized Newsom for not going a step further by also limiting oil and gas production. 
  • Despite this, Newsom announced a goal to end new fracking permits by 2024, which was later condemned by many energy companies.
  • Because California has such a massive influence, many believe other states could follow its lead, causing ripple effects in the car market.

Newsom Announces Gas-Powered Car Ban for 2035

As part of an “ambitious” new goal, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order on Wednesday meant to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

“I think it’s self-evident to anybody who’s been paying any attention about [the] state of California that we’ve been suffering and struggling through simultaneous crises,” Newsom when announcing the order.

“Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state, and I would argue as a nation — and for that matter, from a global perspective — none is more impactful, none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis. And that’s exactly what we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that crisis head-on, to be as bold as the problem is big.” 

In part, Newsom’s order directs regulators to develop a plan that would require automakers to steadily sell more zero-emissions vehicles, with the state completely phasing out the sale of new gas-powered passenger vehicles in just 15 fifteen years. This order will not ban people from owning, driving, or even selling used cars that rely on gas. 

Among other measures, the order sets a goal to make all medium and heavy-duty vehicles on the road zero emissions by 2045, “where feasible.”

It also directs state transportation agencies to “identify near-term actions” that would build infrastructure such as “an integrated, statewide rail and transit network” or that would “[support] bicycle, pedestrian, and micro-mobility options, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities in the State.”

Is This Goal Feasible?

One of the biggest challenges to this goal is its feasibility. 

As experts have pointed out, increasing the production and sale of emissions-free vehicles in the state over a relatively short period of time will be a massive hurdle.  

Last year, only about 8% of passenger vehicles in the state were either electric or hybrid. On top of that, California would need to increase financial incentives for electric vehicles since they tend to be pricier. It would also need to drastically expand its charging infrastructure. 

Still, Newsom stressed in his Wednesday announcement that over 40% of the state’s carbon emissions come directly from transportation. In fact, transportation even outpaces the industrial, agricultural, and residential sectors combined.

It’s not impossible to think that this goal could become a reality. As Don Anair, deputy director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The New York Times: “It’s feasible, but it’s going to take California pulling all the levers at its disposal.” 

California isn’t the first place to announce a phasing out of gas-powered vehicles. Fifteen other countries — including Britain, Denmark, and Norway — have all set similar goals; however, California is the first government in the United States to set such aggressive goals.

Environmentalists Express Concerns Over Oil and Gas

While many environmentalists praised the order, that also doesn’t mean they’re fully satisfied with it. Many have pointed out that California is one of the country’s largest oil and gas producers.

In recent years, energy companies in the state have used fracking to unlock new fossil-fuel reserves. Because of that, Kassie Siegel, the director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Times:  “Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production.”

“Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack,” she added.

In his order, Newsom set a goal to end new permits for fracking by 2024. He also said he would work to help the state’s energy industry move away from its reliance on oil and gas. 

Regarding why he did not issue an executive order banning fracking, he said he lacks the authority to do so on his own. Therefore, he called on the state legislature to enact such a ban. 

Online Criticism and Criticism from Energy Companies

Energy companies offered even sharper words following Newson’s announcement of his fracking goals.

“Let’s be clear: Today’s announcement to curb in-state production of energy will put thousands of workers in the Central Valley, Los Angeles basin, and Central Coast on the state’s overloaded unemployment program, drive up energy costs when consumers can least afford it, and hurt California’s fight to lower global greenhouse gas emissions,” Rock Zierman, chief executive of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

Many online also criticized Newsom’s goals, with one person saying, “You are going to ruin California’s economy and people will lose their jobs.”

California’s Move Could Send a Ripple Across Other States

California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, and it’s not unlikely to think that pressure on auto companies from the state could prompt other states to increase their electric vehicle usage as well.

“We’ve seen this show before, where California does something, and others jump on board,” veteran auto industry analyst Karl Brauer told The Washington Post.

“If you want to reduce asthma,” Newson said Wednesday, “if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate a loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow.”

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia already follow California’s fuel-efficiency standards; however, the Trump administration is currently challenging California’s long-standing authority to set those standards for itself.

Because of that, last year, California and nearly two dozen other states sued the Trump administration for the right to set their own standards.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Social Media Companies Roll Out New Features to Prepare for a Contentious Election

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  • As the election draws closer, most of the major social media platforms have started announcing new policy changes to prepare for Nov. 3.
  • YouTube said Thursday that it was expanding its use of information panels to content regarding mail-in voting, as well as searches concerning federal candidates, voter registration, and other queries about how to vote.
  • Last week, Twitter rolled out its new election information hub which it said will provide resources on mail-in ballots, how to register for the election, and information about congressional and gubernatorial candidates.
  • Earlier this month, Facebook announced a series of updates, including adding labels to certain posts made by politicians who declare victory in an election before the final results are in. On Wednesday, it said it was expanding the policy to prevent politicians from running ads claiming victory before the results are finalized.

YouTube’s New Policies

Social media platforms are preparing for what is widely expected to be an inflammatory and highly contentious election cycle by announcing a series of new tools and policies.

On Thursday, YouTube rolled out several features it says are aimed at combatting election misinformation. In a blog post, the company announced that it is expanding the use of information panels under videos that address “well-established topics that are subject to misinformation, such as the moon landing or COVID-19”

Most significantly, YouTube will now start adding information panels under videos about voting by mail that will direct viewers to “authoritative information from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a bipartisan think tank.”

Additionally, the platform will also have panels pop up whenever users search for presidential or Congressional candidates, voter registration, or queries about how to vote.

Those who conduct searches regarding voter registration will see a panel that provides information on “deadlines, registration options, and an easy way to check the status of your registration.” 

Searches for “how to vote” will direct users to a panel that links out to Google’s “how to vote” feature, with information concerning “ID requirements, registration and voting deadlines, and guidance for different means of voting, like in person or mail.”

Twitter‘s Policies

In addition to YouTube, Twitter has also recently announced several new measures in preparation for the election.

Last week, the platform rolled out its new voting information hub. Much like YouTube’s plans with information panels, Twitter’s hub will include facts on mail-in ballots and how to register for the election

The centralized resource center will also provide users with as information about congressional and gubernatorial candidates and “localized news and resources” based on the state each lives in.

In a separate announcement last week, the company also said that it was working to better secure high-profile accounts in the wake of the election, including those of politicians, political organizations, large media outlets, and journalists.

Facebook‘s Policies

Facebook, for its part, is easily facing the most pressure to put safeguards in place ahead of Nov. 3, due to the platform’s oversized role in the spread of misinformation during the 2016 election.

Earlier this month, the company announced a series of new changes. Among other things, Facebook said it would not run new political ads the week before the election and that it would add labels to certain posts, including those made by politicians who declare victory in an election before the final results are in. 

On Wednesday, Facebook also said that it was expanding its policy preventing politicians from declaring an early victory in posts to also stop them from doing so in ads.

Regarding actions the platforms claims it will take after the election, during an interview with the Financial Times earlier this week, Facebook’s head of global affairs said the company will take serious steps to “restrict the circulation of content” on the platform the if presidential election descends into widespread chaos or violent unrest.

While some have applauded these changes, many have said that Facebook needs to do more leading up to the election, and not just implement its strongest policies after.

Throughout the election cycle, this broader criticism is one that has been made a lot with regards to Facebook. In addition to continually receiving backlash for not doing enough, the company has also been widely criticized by many people who believe the so-called “sweeping changes” Facebook says it has implemented are barely changes at all, or end up being widely ineffective.

Just this week, a number of recent reports have detailed major flaws and failures with systems the company has put into place. 

In an article published Wednesday, CNN outlined the findings from an analysis of Facebook’s ad transparency data by the activist group Avaaz.

“Facebook allowed political advertisers to target hundreds of misleading ads about Joe Biden and the US Postal Service to swing-state voters ranging from Florida to Wisconsin in recent weeks, in an apparent failure to enforce its own platform rules less than two months before Election Day,” the outlet wrote.

The report also noted that ads being run by both Pro-Donald Trump and Pro-Democrat PACs that appeared to violate Facebook’s guidelines were left up and attracted millions of views.

Also on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that a watchdog group found serious issues with the content monitoring system Facebook has encouraged elections authorities to use to identify voting misinformation in their states.

Bloomberg went on to note that the tool “doesn’t effectively monitor most posts on the social media service, including those in private groups or from most individual users,” or Instagram accounts with less than 75,000 followers. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (CNN) (Bloomberg)

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Rep. Gaetz Calls for Investigation After Bloomberg Pays Florida Felons’ Debts To Clear Them for Voting

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  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to pay outstanding fees for 32,000 felons in Florida, making them eligible to vote in November.
  • The move comes about a week after an appeals court upheld a law that requires felons to pay all outstanding fees before they can vote, effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots in the crucial swing state. 
  • That court ruling follows years of legal battles over a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by Florida voters in 2018 which allowed most felons to vote after they completed their parole and probation periods.
  • Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz claimed Bloomberg’s actions were illegal, saying they are considered providing “something of value to impact whether or not someone votes,” and called for the matter to be investigated.

Florida Voting Rights 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) claimed Tuesday that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg acted illegally when he helped raise $16 million to cover the court debts of felons in Florida so that they could be eligible to vote in the November election.

Bloomberg’s contribution comes after a years-long legal battle in Florida concerning the voting rights of felons.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure in 2018 to end the state’s lifetime ban on most felons voting. That measure, known as Amendment 4, effectively restored the voting rights of felons who had completed their parole and probation periods, with the exception of those who had been convicted of sex crimes or of murder. Around 1.5 million people —  nearly 10% of the state’s adult population — were given the ability to vote.

Despite the fact that ending the ban had bipartisan support among Florida voters, shortly after Amendment 4 took effect, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation requiring felons to pay off all outstanding debts in order to be eligible to vote, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June 2019.

Under the law, roughly 775,000 felons still who owed fines related to their convictions would not be able to vote until they paid them off. That number included some of the estimated 85,000 who had already registered to vote since Amendment 4 went into effect in January 2019.

However, the state offered almost no assistance for felons to determine how much they owed, or even if they owed anything at all. Officials even explicitly said it would take around six years to make a database for felons to look up their debts.

The Republican’s law immediately faced a number of legal challenges, and in May of this year,  district court judge Robert Hinkle struck down the law, ruling that it was an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote system.”

In his decision, Hinkle argued that an “overwhelming majority” of the felons would not be able to pay their debts or even figure out how much they owed. He went so far as to say that the law amounted to a poll tax.

However, a federal appeals court blocked his order from going into effect while it considered the case, thus effectively allowing the law to stay in place. In July, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the federal appeals court’s decision to block felons from voting while they decided the case.

Then, just over a week ago, the appeals court delivered its final judgment, deciding in a 6-4 ruling that the Republican’s law was not unconstitutional, and that felons would be required to pay fees in order to vote.

Bloomberg’s Donations

The move prompted significant outrage, and civil rights groups representing the felons said they would keep fighting.

But with just weeks to go before the election — and even less time before Florida’s Oct. 5 voter registration deadline — it would be almost impossible for yet another full-scale legal battle to be resolved in their favor.

With little hope for any kind of sweeping legal change, many people instead began paying the fines felons owed so that they could vote. The effort, which has been spearheaded by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), specifically focuses on Black and Hispanic voters who are already registered and who owe debts that are less than $1,500.

According to the FRRC, the list of people who have donated to their cause includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and John Legend. 

The largest donation so far, however, appears to be from Bloomberg and his team. The contribution, which the former mayor announced in a statement Tuesday, comes just after he pledged to give at least $100 million to elect Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida.

According to a memo accessed by The Washington Post, Bloomberg viewed the contribution as a more cost-effective way to get more Democratic votes in the state than persuading other voters.

“We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment. The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%,” the memo allegedly read.

Although Bloomberg’s efforts are political, Desmond Meade, the president of the FRRC, emphasized in a statement to The Post that the group is nonpartisan and does not share Bloomberg’s goal of encouraging just one political party.

Gaetz Claims Bloomberg’s Donations are Illegal

While Meade said Bloomberg’s donation does not dictate how the FRRC is operating, others, including Gaetz, have raised legal questions regarding the move.

“[Under Florida law] it’s a third-degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes. So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does,” the representative explained when speaking with Fox New’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night.

“If Michael Bloomberg was offering to pay off people’s credit card debts, you would obviously see the value in that. When you improve someone’s net worth by eliminating their financial liabilities, that’s something of value.”

“I believe there may be a criminal investigation already underway of the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida,” he added, noting that he had spoken with Florida’s Attorney General.

The existence of a criminal probe has not been confirmed by any law enforcement officials. Bloomberg, for his part, has not yet responded to the accusations.

In a matter as politically charged as felon voting rights, it is probable that both sides will pull out all the stops. Especially because, in a state as heavily contested as Florida, adding felons to the voter rolls could actually sway the election.

In 2016, President Donald Trump only won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points — less than 113,000 vote difference. Right now, polls from the state show Trump and Biden in a dead heat.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (The New York Post)

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