Current Events

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Current Events

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Three Historic Firsts For The 115th Justice

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First Nominated & Confirmed Within 3 Months Before Election

  • Justice Barrett is the only nominee ever appointed & confirmed within three months prior to Election Day.
  • Sept 26: Nomination; Oct 12: 1st Senate cmte hearing; Oct 26: Final Senate vote.
  • 43: Average # of days from nomination to 1st Senate cmte hearing. 70: Average # of days from nomination to final Senate vote.
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First Mother:
School-Aged Children

  • Justice Barrett is the only mother of school-aged kids to serve on the Court.
  • Justice Barrett is the fifth woman and third mother to join the Court. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had older children when sworn in.
  • Justice Barrett is a mother of seven – six of whom are under age 18. Her eldest is a college student.
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First From Notre Dame

  • Justice Barrett is the only sitting justice who didn’t graduate from either Harvard or Yale law schools.
  • Justice Barrett is the only justice ever to graduate from Notre Dame Law School.
  • Justice Barrett is the most recent justice to graduate from a non-Ivy league law school, the first since Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010.
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The Senate Historical Office says this is the first time in 150 years no one from the minority party voted for the majority's choice. Speaking of firsts...One of the first cases that will be heard by the full (9-justice) U.S. Supreme Court is a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

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Current Events

“A Critical Phase”

A vaccine (in limited supply) potentially by the end of the year & other headlines from the latest CDC media briefing.

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“Distressing Trend”

The CDC provided an overview of COVID-19 in America:

  • Higher levels of infections & deaths – cases increasing in nearly 75% of U.S.
  • Concern isn’t limited to specific region – but Midwest is a current focus.
  • Rise in infections potentially due to activities moving indoors due to colder weather, as well as an increase in small gatherings of family & friends.
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“We all want to live as safely as we can.”

CDC Deputy Dir. for Infectious Diseases Dr. Jay Butler says the following factors “translate” to higher risk:

  • The more closely you interact w/ others
  • The longer you interact w/ others
  • Indoor (vs outdoor) interaction
  • Interaction w/ larger number of people
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“…as we get more data and understand the science of COVID, we are going to continue to incorporate that in our recommendations.”

CDC Director Dr. Redfield on *updated* guidance. Previously, the CDC recommended quarantining if you came within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for more than 15 consecutive minutes. Now, the CDC defines "high risk" as including a series of shorter contacts that *add up* to more than 15 minutes.
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“…(We are) concurrently manufacturing commercial scale production of all six of the vaccines that we have investments or contracts with.”

HHS Sec. Alex Azar. The gov't says they believe at least one vaccine, maybe more, will be available before the end of the year, and emphasized Operation Warp Speed (the gov't program to invest in producing vaccines while trials are ongoing) will result in enough supply to start distributing the vaccine if and when it gets the green light from the FDA.
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VACCINE: WHO & WHEN

Health & Human Services Sec. Azar gave this potential timeline – once a safe, effective vaccine is approved:

  • By end of 2020: enough vaccines for vulnerable individuals.
  • By end of January: enough vaccines for seniors and first responders.
  • By end of March / early April: enough vaccines for every American who wants one.
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"We get tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it’s ever been and I’d say it’s more important than ever as we move into the fall season.” Dr. Jay Butler. Alex Azar, Sec. of Health & Human Services, added the "3 W's": Wash your hands, watch your distance, and wear your face coverings.

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Current Events

The Presidential Treatment

What we know about the treatments President Trump has received for COVID-19.

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WHAT WE KNOW:

  • Pres. Trump tested positive for COVID-19 late Thursday going into early Friday morning.
  • He had some symptoms, incl. a fever.
  • Pres. Trump received *some* supplemental oxygen (not a ventilator) when his oxygen levels dropped below 94% (we don’t know how low).
  • While we have limited specifics on the President’s condition, the White House named some of his treatments.
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THE ANTI-VIRAL

  • Remdesivir: Rem-des-i-vir.
  • An antiviral *previously studied* for other viruses like Ebola and SARS, but never approved for use.
  • How it works: Makes it harder for the virus to effectively replicate, slowing the infection.
  • One of few therapeutics in extensive clinical trial for COVID-19. The FDA approved for emergency use authorization in May.
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“…uncertain clinical importance.”

A recent study highlighted some uncertainty about remdesivir's impact in hospitalized patients receiving a 5-day vs. 10-day dose of the antiviral. While overall evidence of remdesivir is still uncertain, data suggests some benefit to remdesivir in severely ill patients. Patients with non-severe COVID may have small trends in benefit, but at this time, the benefits are not statistically significant.
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THE STEROID

  • Dexamethasone: Dex-a-meth-a-zone.
  • Commonly used steroid for any variety of ailments from allergic reactions to bee stings to arthritis to cancer.
  • Purpose: Suppresses your immune response.
  • Why It’s Used: COVID-19 can cause your immune system to “overreact,” leading to complications that can be challenging to treat.

 

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“…there was no clear effect of dexamethasone among patients who were not receiving any respiratory support…”

Preliminary results for a study on the use of dexamethasone vs. COVID-19 show lower mortality rates BUT no effect for those not on respiratory support, and warns "possible harm" in those cases. Doctors want to calm an over-active immune system but don't want to suppress a *helpful* immune response.
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“ANTIBODY COCKTAIL”

  • A therapeutic (REGN-COV2) made by a drugmaker: Regeneron.
  • Purpose: “man-made” antibodies boost your immune response to fight the virus – positioned as a treatment for those not in the hospital.
  • Experimental trials are small and preliminary. The treatment does not have emergency use authorization but permission for “compassionate use” for those seriously ill.
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“We’re just trying to imitate and help an individual, help their immune system win this battle, win this race against the virus.”

Regeneron CEO Dr. Leonard Schleifer said the antibody treatment helps the body "get ahead" of the virus, similar to the way a vaccine works to prep the immune system. The early trial included 275 people. The company needs advanced clinical trials for FDA emergency use authorization.
Current Events

From preliminary information, the President received an antibody cocktail early in his infection, a steroid treatment, and was put on 5 doses of remdesivir. As of Monday night, Pres. Trump left Walter Reed and returned to the White House. We'll update as we get more information.

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Current Events

New Job Numbers

A fresh picture of the job market in America shows a better-than-expected unemployment rate but for the wrong reason.

What To Know

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September: The Basics

  • U.S. unemployment rate = 7.9% (down from 8.4% in August and better than expected).
  • 661,000 jobs added (fewer than expected) – job gains in leisure & hospitality, retail & healthcare. Job losses in government sector (primarily education) and private education.
  • America has gained back a little more than half the 22 million jobs shed since the pandemic began.
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“The jobs number is positive, but it’s flashing warning signs. It’s decelerating fast, and that worries me. If jobs growth is slowing, it’s going to take us longer and longer to recover from this recession.”

Former Treasury Dept. economist Ernie Tedeschi on slow hiring in September. The job market added about half the jobs it did in August, and a little more than a third of the jobs added in July. The start of the school year and dwindling economic stimulus may have played a role in the data.
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“Women continue to bear the brunt of this recession.”

Labor economist for Zip Recruiter, Julia Pollak says homeschooling forced some women out of the workforce. Sectors that tend to have more women workers like retail & healthcare have suffered during the pandemic. New data shows women in their "prime" working years leaving the labor force at much higher rates than men, raising questions about the long-term impact on women workers in the U.S. job market.
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Why The Drop?

  • The drop in unemployment rate came not *just* from job gains, but folks leaving the workforce.
  • To be counted as part of the labor force, you need to be actively looking for work; a mother who leaves her career to homeschool her kids is not counted as part of the labor force.
  • Permanently-unemployed Americans increased. The labor force shrank, pulling the unemployment rate lower.
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This is the final jobs report before election day. Economist Mark Zandi on September's job numbers: “It’s going to be a slog. The economy risks stalling out without any additional fiscal support.” Big topic to watch this week? If lawmakers come together for another round of economic stimulus.

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Current Events

Eight Months of COVID-19

8 months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in America.

A quick review of highlights to know & points to consider on the global pandemic.

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Patient Zero

  • First Case: 35-year-old man who returned to U.S. from Wuhan, China.
  • What To Know: It wasn’t discussed in detail at the time, but he was really sick, admitted to the hospital & given supplemental oxygen.
  • Initially referred to as the “Wuhan Coronavirus,” the World Health Org. renamed the disease caused by SARS-COV-2 as COVID-19: Coronavirus Disease 2019.
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Recent Studies

  • Pregnant women w/COVID may have a higher risk of serious complications.
  • Research shows a racial disparity in the most serious cases of COVID-19 in young Americans, with Black & Hispanic people overrepresented in COVID-related deaths.
  • Common Thread: Those with preexisting conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, tend to experience the most severe cases.
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USA By The Numbers

  • 6.8M confirmed cases.
  • Approx. 200,000 dead.
  • To date, about one-fourth of U.S. deaths occurred in nursing homes.
  • One suggestion: Instead of mass “shutdowns,” new research suggests “cocooning” those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and their inner circle of carers, to keep serious cases down and hospital resources available.
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Something To Consider

“Maybe there is more immunity out there.”

Immunologist Marcus Buggert to the British Medical Journal on whether researchers should look at T-cells rather than antibodies to gauge someone's immunity to COVID. The journal cites 6 separate studies that show 20-50% of participants with no known exposure or infection still have a COVID-19 immune response in T-cells.
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In 9 months, we went from never wearing a face mask to likely owning several. Two doctors write in the New England Journal of Medicine that masks may not necessarily stop infections, but lead to less severe/more asymptomatic cases, and THAT might be the benefit of masks for the general population. Read it now!

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Current Events

Middle East Peace?

The White House negotiates historic peace deals between key Middle Eastern nations while the U.S. president puts one of the region’s major power brokers on notice for an alleged assassination plot.

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“Abraham Accords”

  • White House facilitated “pacts” between Middle East countries that previously had no formal diplomatic relations (officials don’t talk/meet).
  • Nations involved: Israel & United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel and Bahrain.
  • First significant peace deal in decades. Republicans and Democrats both support the pacts that Pres. Trump says will lead to the “dawn of a new Middle East.”
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Why It Matters:

  • Traditionally of opposing politics, the Jewish state of Israel & Muslim nations of UAE, Bahrain have only worked together “unofficially” or not at all.
  • Pacts open opportunity for potential cooperation – economically (trade), politically and beyond.
  • Other Arab nations may join, pulling together a new regional alliance that would be a direct affront to Iran (Muslim nation vehemently anti-Israel).

 

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“The UAE both betrayed the world of Islam, and [it] betrayed Arab nations and regional countries, and [it] also betrayed Palestine.”

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. An Arab-Israeli alliance brokered by the U.S. threatens Iran, creating a potential bloc that leaves Iran - a country that relied on anti-Israel sentiment to unify with its Arab neighbors - on the sidelines.
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Something To Consider:

  • How the pacts evolve from this point on remains TBD.
  • Foreign ministers – in contrast to heads of state PM Netanyahu and Pres. Trump – of UAE and Bahrain signed the pacts at the White House.
  • Rockets launched from Gaza (a Palestinian territory) into Israel on the same day of the White House signing ceremony. No damage reported. Gaza receives support from Iran and UAE.

 

Current Events

“Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”

Pres. Trump, on Twitter, on the eve of the historic peace deal ceremony with UAE, Israel and Bahrain. In a previous tweet, the President cited "press reports... Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attack, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani."
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The pacts are called the "Abraham Accords" for Abraham, a key figure in 3 of the world's major religions: Judaism, Islam, & Christianity. One of the most obvious signs of change due to the deals: Plane flights between the nations, and the possibility for embassies in each other's nations. Who to watch for? Saudi Arabia.

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“Temporary Pause”

One of the world’s largest vaccine trials aiming to combat COVID-19 halts after “an unexplained illness.”

What To Know

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The Basics

  • Vaccine invented by Oxford University who partnered with a U.K.- based drug company, AstraZeneca.
  • Clinical trials ongoing worldwide: U.K., Brazil, South Africa & America. U.S. Phase III trial (final stage) began on August 31st for 30,000 Americans.
  • Vaccine initially showed promising immune response, “no safety concerns”, some flu-like side effects during first trials.

 

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What Happened

We don’t know exactly but one participant developed an “unexplained illness.”

AstraZeneca: “In large clinical trials, illnesses will happen by chance and must be independently reviewed.”

New York Times report: participant developed inflammation of the spinal cord, often brought on by viral infections.

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How Vaccines Work

  • Not all vaccines are the same.
  • AstraZeneca vaccine uses a viral “carrier” (a common cold virus in chimpanzees) to deliver a small amount of SARS-COV-2 genetic material, to produce an immune response.
  • Moderna & Pfizer vaccines use manufactured SARS-COV-2 genetic material to spark an immune response (mRNA vaccine). No mRNA vaccines have been approved for human use.
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BIG PICTURE

  • Dozens of potential vaccines are in clinical trials *worldwide* ~ 100+ preclinical development. In the U.S., three vaccines are in final stage trials.
  • More than one vaccine *may* eventually combat COVID-19.
  • We are witnessing a historic race for vaccine development, both for the speed of trials and the type of vaccine itself (an approved mRNA vaccine would be the first of its kind).
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We have no way of knowing *if* the participant is reacting to the vaccine or separately ill. While we wait for more info, this once again puts focus on safety/efficacy in the race to a vaccine. This vaccine was thought to be a front-runner. TBD as to what happens next.

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Current Events

New Jobs Report

August Unemployment: 8.4%

Out of double digits, but not out of the woods.

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3 Quick Facts: Jobs Report

  • Better Than Expected Unemployment: Economists thought the unemployment rate would be closer to 10% but hiring was better than predicted.
  • Job Growth: 238,000 temporary jobs added by the government for the U.S. Census. Retailers added 249,000 jobs.
  • Hiring Slowed: Economy added 1.4 M jobs – that was down from July when it added 1.7M.
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“We’re in a very deep hole, and we’re working our way out of it. We continue to see very good improvement in the labor market, but I think the improvement is going to be slower going forward.”

Economist Gus Faucher PNC Financial Services Group. The Labor Dept. credited "resumption of economic activity" for the job growth in August, suggesting the driver is rehiring rather than new job creation.
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Something To Consider

HISTORIC: Previous to the pandemic, America had never recorded more than 700,000 people filing for unemployment benefits in one week. The 4-week moving average hovers under 1M.

LAYOFFS: United Airlines, Bed Bath & Beyond, & MGM Resorts recently announced major layoffs, sparking concern this reflects a permanent, rather than temporary, adjustment.

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The unemployment rate in January 2020 was 3.6% - the lowest in more than 50 years. The economy has shed more than 22M jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic - about half have been recovered. Story to watch? Lawmakers return to D.C. after Labor Day at odds over additional economic stimulus, incl. additional benefits for the unemployed. 

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“We will never stop looking for you.”

How one investigation uncovers 39 missing children and what it teaches us about child trafficking in America.

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Operation Not Forgotten

  • Two-week operation in Atlanta & Macon, Georgia.
  • U.S. Marshals (federal forces) working with state and local law enforcement and the National Center for Endangered and Missing Children.
  • 26 children rescued & 13 missing children safely located.
  • Ages ranged 3-17 years-old.
  • 9 arrests made.
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Historical Context

  • U.S. Marshals: First *federal* law enforcement agency in U.S. history.
  • 1789: President George Washington appointed 13 Marshals.
  • 2006: Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act gave U.S. Marshals a new role finding fugitive sex offenders.
  • 2015: Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act empowered the U.S. Marshals to help with missing children cases with local law enforcement.
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“We will never stop looking for you. That’s [the] message. There is no more meaningful work that law enforcement does than rescuing children. Our children are not for sale and they are not ever forgotten.”

U.S. Marshals Director Washington on 'Operation Not Forgotten.' Local media reported of the 26 minors rescued, 15 were being sex trafficked, a crime the Natl Center for Missing & Exploited Children says happens in all 50 states.
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The U.S. Marshals arrest 361 people on average each day. Famous U.S. Marshals include Frederick Douglas, appointed in Washington D.C. in 1877 (first African-American U.S. Marshal) and Wyatt Earp, who along with his brothers participated in a famous western "showdown" at the O.K. Corral.

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Current Events

COVID & DAYCARES

The CDC shared new data on COVID cases in childcare facilities in Rhode Island.

The Major Takeaways
Why It Matters

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Backstory

  • Rhode Island allowed hundreds of its childcare centers to open in June & July with new COVID-19 policies.
  • Policies incl. reduced capacity, frequent cleaning, universal *adult* mask-wearing and symptom screenings.
  • The CDC released a report on what happened and hosted a briefing with researchers and reporters. SmartHER News participated in the media briefing as well.
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Here’s The Data

  • 666 of 891 (75%) daycare programs reopened in Rhode Island, with capacity for 18,945 children.
  • 101 *probable* cases of COVID emerged by July 31st of kids/staff; about half of those cases officially tested or diagnosed as positive.
  • Secondary transmission (one case spreading to many others) was limited.
  • Bottom Line: Cases emerged but spread was contained.
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Something To Consider

  • Of 666 daycares, 29 had COVID-19 incidents by end of July.
  • Of the 29, 20 had one case & no further transmission within daycare, five had 2-5 cases; four had 2+ cases w/secondary transmission unable to be ruled out.
  • While we know the number of daycare facilities & their capacities, we don’t know how many children/staff were actually in attendance to give the number of cases appropriate context.
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One Case Featured

A sick 2-year-old attended childcare 3 days before COVID-19 symptoms emerged & 3 days immediately after the symptoms ended.

10 of the 11 child care contacts in the same class were tested for COVID-19.

No additional students tested positive for the virus.

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“…what we’re asking the American public to do is to bring this virus to its knees…It’s in our grasp. But it is going to require all of us to embrace these mitigation steps. And we are going to need to do that for 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks and then we will see this outbreak get under control.”

CDC Dir. Robert Redfield believes social mitigation efforts like smaller class size made a difference in limiting spread in Rhode Island daycares.
Current Events

The study states the prevalence of cases in Rhode Island at the time was "low ... relative to other U.S. states." However, we don't know what "low" means in this case to understand how this example can apply elsewhere. We reached out to Rhode Island's Dept of Health and are awaiting a response.

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Current Events

Free Britney?

As social media rumors swirl about her personal life,
Britney Spears officially asks a California court to restrict the role of her father in her affairs.

Why & What To Know

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“We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes.”

Samuel D. Ingham III, attorney for Britney Spears, on Tuesday asking the courts to prevent her father, Jamie Spears, from returning to his role as her sole conservator after he had temporarily stepped aside last year. Mr. Spears is expected to challenge this request.
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What Is A Conservator?

There are many different types of conservatorships (aka guardianships) and specifics vary by state, but generally  …

  • A conservator is appointed to manage a person’s finances, personal affairs (ex: healthcare decisions), or both.
  • When someone can’t manage their finances or care for themselves, a court may appoint them a conservator *after* conducting an investigation & hearing.
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Backstory

  • After a public “breakdown” 2007-2008, a court appointed Britney Spears’ dad and attorney as co-conservators over BOTH her personal affairs and finances.
  • Britney later described that breakdown as partly due to too many people trying to control every aspect of her life.
  • At the time of this latest court filing, Britney’s dad doesn’t have a legal role in her personal affairs but does over her finances.
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The Latest

  • Concerns over Spears’ mental health have existed for years. Recently the #FreeBritney movement gained steam.
  • Some fans speculated, without evidence, that some of her social media posts signal a cry for help.
  • Spears has rarely commented directly on her conservatorship, so her public court filing is a marked change.
  • Spears wants to cut ties with her dad in a legal sole supervisory role of any kind.
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“All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue… It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.”

Britney's dad, Jamie Spears, responding to accusations that he is abusing the conservatorship by restricting her freedom and spending her money without her permission. Britney has not directly responded to the allegations concerning her father or her health.
Current Events

Britney Spears has sold over 100M records worldwide. Court filings reveal no public performances are imminent by the 38-year-old. Courts regularly review conservatorships to see if they are needed - but anyone, including Britney, can challenge them if they are able.

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What’s the drama over the USPS and the 2020 Election?

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USPS

United States Postal Service

Unofficial creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

“The Postal Service receives NO tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.” (USPS)

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Important Background

  • The USPS is a financial mess.
  • Why? Less business & huge liabilities (debt, pensions, etc.). It lost $78B from 2007-2019.
  • Your state determines how you vote. The federal government DOES NOT administer elections – state election boards do. The federal gov’t has oversight over the USPS which assists delivery of absentee & mail-in ballots on a state level.
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A 2020 Warning

  • Mail-in ballots and delays surged during COVID-19 elections; Two of NY’s June congressional races took 6 weeks for final count.
  • Some state election boards are trying to make mail-in ballots more accessible in part to enable voters to avoid crowds.
  • In July, USPS warned 40+ state election offices to plan for potential delays and recommended they send ballots to voters as early as possible.
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Whats Happening Now?

  • The House of Representatives, led by Democrats, carved out $25B for USPS as part of an emergency economic stimulus bill to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic, PLUS $3.6B to states to help manage the election.
  • Pres. Trump calls this funding a “bailout” – an unnecessary add-on. Pres. alleges Democrats want to increase mail-in voting in order to tilt the election against him and risk voter fraud.
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And then there’s this…

  • A new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, took over in June.
  • DeJoy is a businessman and Republican donor who has promised to help USPS cut costs and shore-up finances.
  • Democrats accuse him of purposefully cutting resources right when the nation needs it most, and asked the FBI to investigate. He denies any wrongdoing and postponed any changes until after the election.
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“Nice try, Postmaster General DeJoy, but the House will still be passing our bill to ensure the delivery of the mail through the election. We will deliver for America by voting on Saturday. #DontMessWithUSPS”

House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) called her colleagues back to D.C. (they were expected to be in their districts until September) to vote on a bill prohibiting any proposed changes to USPS's operations and service standards until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
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“…(Democrats) want to send in millions and millions of ballots…They’re being lost, they’re being discarded. They’re finding them in piles. It’s going to be a catastrophe. So — and this is beyond the Post Office.”

Pres. Trump alleging Democrats want funding for Post Office to increase mail-in voting that will favor them. The President's critics accuse him of voter suppression for his unwillingness to give additional money to the USPS.
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The head of one of the postal workers' unions calls the potential challenge of extra votes a "piece of cake" with proper planning. The fate of the bill remains TBD. A previous COVID-19 economic stimulus bill granted a $10B loan to the USPS. The USPS has repeatedly borrowed from the Treasury in recent years.

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