A recession threat, Panama Papers, and a social media whisleblower

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… where U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell makes a strategic move, giving Congressional Democrats some wiggle room in passing a comprehensive budget reconciliation bill. Also, an exposé reveals the secrets of the offshore wealth of the rich and powerful, forcing governments to face the loopholes in financial legislation. Plus, the Supreme Court is back in action with abortion, God, and guns on the agenda. Read about these stories and more in this week’s edition of The Weekender. Welcome, and thanks for joining us.
 
“Unlike our last president, I try to stay out of the limelight. I’m like an oil change: you don’t think about me unless you absolutely have to.” -President Biden played by James Austin Johnson
Sen. Joe Manchin (Aidy Bryant), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Cecily Strong), Rep. Ilhan Omar (Ego Nwodim), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor) address the president’s infrastructure bill on Saturday Night Live (SNL), which aired Oct. 2, 2021.
 
THE BIG FIVE
McConnell makes a strategic move, giving Democrats more time on reconciliation

After refusing to relent on the Democrats’ budget reconciliation process for months, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell breaks the silence between himself and the U.S. Commander-in-Chief. On Monday, the Senator sent a letter to the White House asking the President to “work with his party” to raise the national debt ceiling. McConnell also proposed a short-term plan to raise the debt limit through December, giving Democrats more time to pass a more permanent solution. It seems that Democrats are favorable to the offer, with many publicly offering support for the bipartisan effort. Even so, we aren’t out of the woods yet, as economists are concerned. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress that the nation faces a “trigger recession” if the Democrats fail to raise the debt ceiling by October 18. Yellen stated in a letter to Congressional leadership that “it is uncertain whether we could continue to meet all the nation’s commitments after that date.” POLITICO reports that Senator Mitch McConnell and President Joe Biden had previously touted their great working relationship. Now more than ever, the nation needs great bipartisan relationships, and let’s hope they can be restored. Read more in POLITICO

Investigative journalists expose secrets of the wealthy; those avoiding paying taxes

The latest mega-leak hit headlines this week: and no, we aren’t talking about California’s oil spill. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has leaked the “Pandora Papers.” The papers reveal nearly 12 million leaked confidential financial records and are going down in history as the most significant offshore leak ever. However, this is not the first time the ICIJ has been diving into offshore wealth and tax evasion of the rich and powerful. In 2016, the organization released the “Panama Papers” and, a year later, the “Paradise Papers.” The reports detailed international money laundering among the world’s wealthiest individuals and businesses. This leak, though, is different. New York Magazine reports that “the leak exposes the accounts and financial dealings of 130 billionaires from around the globe, including 46 Russian oligarchs; 14 current heads of state and 21 former heads of state; numerous known criminals; and a range of other people including athletes, celebrities, and more.” The papers have shocked leaders worldwide. In fact, governments around the globe immediately started proposing anti-corruption legislation. In the U.S., a group of bipartisan legislators is motioning legislation that would close the loopholes in the Bank Secrecy Act. The European Union announced that they would tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion legislation before the end of the year in the wake of the exposé. These reports remind us of the constant elephants in the room: corruption, legal loopholes, and power. Read more in The Economist

New Supreme Court session kicks off with God, guns, and abortion on the docket

Much like Grey’s Anatomy, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is back in season. Earlier this week, the Court opened, leaving the American public to witness the highly controversial reality of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. The Court has agreed to hear many controversial cases, including a Mississippi abortion law that could overturn Roe v. Wade. The Court will hear oral arguments for the case weeks after the Court green-lighted Texas’ more restrictive abortion law. Exactly a month after the Court opens, they will hear a New York gun control case that would give discretion to licensing officials to grant conceal carry permissions. The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association argued that the law violates the Second Amendment since a New York State judge can rule whether or not an application can be granted a conceal-carry license. In December, SCOTUS will discuss the legality of Maine’s choice to exclude schools that provide religious instruction from its program of paying private school tuition for students in communities without high schools. This case has been contested by three parents who claim that barring their preferred schools from the tuition-aid program violates the U.S. Constitution. The Court will also hear another religious freedom case from a Texas man on death row who was found guilty of murder. He claims that the manner Texas has chosen to execute him would violate his religious rights. The Court is also slated to hear two cases about national security and the post-9/11 response. The first, FBI v. Fazaga, pertains to two California Muslim men suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for claims that the organization illegally surveilled them in 2002. The other, U.S. v. Zubaydah, deals with whether a Guantanamo detainee, who has never been charged with a crime, can hear testimony from the CIA officers who administrated his torture through the secret CIA torture program. Next week, the Biden administration is set to urge SCOTUS to reinstate the death penalty for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. While the topics of abortion, God, and guns in this session look very similar to ones prior, many cases have the potential to set a new precedent for not only the newly conservative court but also for the U.S. as a whole. Read more in The Hill. 

Facebook’s whistleblower throws PR curveball for the company

As if Monday’s Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp outages weren’t enough for Facebook’s PR team, the company is facing what is being noted as the company’s largest scandal. Frances Haugen, a former employee on Facebook’s civic integrity team, disclosed her identity on 60 Minutes, sharing documents from the Wall Street Journal’s recent “Facebook files” that revealed how Facebook knew its products could cause harm, negatively impacting teens’ mental health. The documents also proved that the company made no changes to combat these problems. The whistleblower also shared new claims that Facebook allegedly relaxed its standards on misinformation after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, shortly before the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Before the 60 Minutes interview, Facebook’s Vice President of Policy and Global Affairs sent a memo to Facebook employees, pre-empting the interview, claiming that the company was not the primary cause of the political polarization that led to the January 6 insurrection. In recent years, Facebook has been under fire for large ethical issues, including datamining and allowing the spread of misinformation. Haugen’s whistleblower reports against the company are a new type of PR monster. Since the 60 Minutes episode, Facebook’s employees have begun to discuss the company’s issues openly on Twitter. While former Facebook employees have spoken out in the past, this interview has alarmed the general public and encouraged even more employees to speak out. Read more in Vox. 

Natural gas prices to spike, leaving low-income Americans in the cold this winter

Experts are warning the nation to expect bills to spike this coming winter season. While some will point fingers at wind turbines, as many did during the Texas freeze last February, the cause comes from increased demand for natural gas. Gas and heat prices are expected to rise 30% this winter, ABC reports. In part, the increased demand is coming from pandemic recovery. The ABC report also states that utility payers had gotten used to low-utility payments during the pandemic. Now that workplaces, schools, and businesses are returning to normal operations, prices are naturally rising. The rise in natural gas pricing is affecting more than just homeowners and utility payers. Companies in Europe and Asia that rely on natural gas to operate have seen increased closures due to the increased demand. Newsweek reports that “four small British energy companies failed in recent weeks and fertilizer producers, which use natural gas as a feedstock, are struggling.” As people worldwide seek to return to some kind of normal, oil prices are also seeing a hike. Oil prices may soon see an “off the charts” spike as winter approaches. The spike is a sign that the industry is seeing recovery after oil prices saw record lows at the beginning of the pandemic. As for utility payers, low-income Americans will see the worst of the price spikes. Read more in Newsweek

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

Japan’s newest Prime Minster gives the U.S. the upper hand in trade war with China
On Wednesday, Japan’s ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), held their election for the country’s newest prime minister. The news comes after former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced he would not run for another term. Prime Minister Kishida, known to be moderately liberal, has built a good working relationship with U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry. The prime minister was also vocal about supporting the former prime minister’s policy to counterbalance assertiveness from the Chinese military, which foreshadows continued good relations with the U.S. As for Japan-China relations, the future does not look bright. The nation appears torn on the China-Taiwan issue but has signaled that it might take a more assertive approach to the conflict. These stances have done nothing but strengthen the relationship between America and Japan, creating more of a complex issue in the U.S.-China relationship. The Biden administration said they will not remove the tariffs placed on China from the Trump administration’s tariffs. Biden and his administration are requiring that Beijing uphold its trade commitments before the tariffs are removed. The plan, carried out by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, allows the U.S. to have the upper hand for the time being. As the seemingly endless trade war with China continues, Japan’s strong relationship with the U.S. has created even more favorable conditions for the nation’s preferred outcome. Read more in TRT World

DATA POINTS

 72%The percentage of adults worldwide who say they’d rather live a calm life than exciting life. Experts say this result isn’t surprising due to the rising dominance of stress-management practices to avoid burnout.

93,183: The number of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2020, up 30% since 2019. This number is predicted to continue to rise as there seems to be no end in sight to the U.S. opioid crisis after reports find a spike in synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

90: The age of William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk, who will fly to space with the Blue Origin tourist space flight on October 12. Shatner will break the record for the oldest person to enter space, the final frontier. We hope he doesn’t wear a red uniform..

232: The number of terms the Supreme Court has held, which began its new term on Monday, October 4. All eyes are on the nine justices as they’re likely to produce long-awaited decisions on abortion, gun control, and more.

126,000: The gallons of crude oil spilled along the coast of Huntington Beach, California, creating one of the largest oil spills in recent California history. The full scope of wildlife impacts is not yet fully known. 

31.2%: The percentage of the median American household income needed to cover mortgage payments on a median-priced home. Mortgages are now at their least affordable since back in 2008.

59%: The percentage of Americans who say that they drink coffee on a daily basis, more than any other beverage, including water.

-15%: The dip in Facebook’s stock since it hit an all-time high on Sept. 7, following a whistleblower’s “60 Minutes” interview and a significant outage that shut down its apps for hours.

2022: The year that foreign tourists are allowed to visit Australia, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday, due to COVID-19 concerns.

FEATURED TWEET

Credit: Twitter on Twitter. 
 
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