This week’s top headlines: Senate battles, rising gas prices, and female governors.

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender…Cryptocurrency continues to make a splash in the United States and worldwide, even finding its way into the historic infrastructure bill. Also—will the fighting over the mask mandate ever end? Who are the unvaccinated, and why are they choosing against it? Plus, the economy may be rebounding, but inflation continues to rise; will this push the GOP back into the majority? And finally, a look into New York’s newest governor Kathy Hochel and a peek into the U.S.’ long history (or short) history of female governorships. Catch up on these news headlines and more in this edition of The Weekender. As always, thanks for joining us. 
 
THE BIG FIVE

Infrastructure advances: What is in the bill?

Infrastructure in the U.S. is declining, and year after year, it has been overlooked by Congress… until now. After an intense battle in the Senate, the much-anticipated infrastructure bill has passed. With the bill funding massive projects like a tunnel under the Hudson River, and smaller projects like repaving roads throughout the states, the bill is set to have an impact everywhere. Funding for rail transportation, water infrastructure, broadband, and electric vehicle charging stations were among some of the big-ticket items in the bill. The bill also included language about crypto “brokers” and making a play for levying new taxes on cryptocurrencies, leading to major concerns from cryptocurrency proponents. Congress seldom passes large pieces of legislation, and the process is rarely as transparent as it was with this historic bill, which proves that when leaders come together, significant policy can still move. Minority Leader McConnell credited President Biden for the passage, a rare and unique occurrence. This bill is set to have those orange construction cones pop up in communities throughout the states, so you are bound to see some tangible effects from the bill in your area sooner rather than later—that is, if the bill makes it past the House, where progressives are threatening to hold the bill up until a separate (and massive) spending bill is also delivered from the Senate to the House for consideration. Who said one-party control of Washington would make it easy to pass these bills? Read more in The Washington Post

To mask or not to mask: The fight over re-implementing mask policies.

Masks are again starting to be required in stores and businesses throughout the country, regardless of vaccination status. After a historic year and promises of maskless activities for the vaccinated, people are claiming pandemic fatigue—not knowing the rules and tired of trying to figure it out. Lawsuits are popping up across the country, questioning governors’ authority on requiring masks. This is set to heat up even more as schools and universities return to in-person learning, and Labor Day activities are projected to quadruple hospitalizations due to the Delta variant. The mask debate is now being compounded by a debate about who can be required to get the vaccination. Major employers, universities, cities, schools, and sporting events are moving to require proof of vaccination, apparently with legal wind at their back and opponents in their faces. So, who are the unvaccinated? After months of public opinion campaigns by the CDC and White House, The New York Times finds it’s not just one single set of Americans—it’s two. A survey shows one group is white, rural evangelical Christians who tend to be politically conservative, and the other group happens to be more diverse, urban Black and Latino Americans who tend to be Democrats. The reason? The first group stands firm in refusing to receive the vaccine, while the second group says they have been putting it off and are waiting to see the effects before deciding whether to get it. Public health officials are targeting those on the fence, hoping to persuade them to get the vaccine… and fast. Read more in The New York Times.
 

The economy rebounds, but inflation remains at a high.

While the economy begins to rebound, inflation remains high. Many people are feeling the pinch of higher prices from the grocery store to major purchases—and Republicans aim to use this price pain to their advantage in the fast-approaching 2022 cycle. With the narrow Democratic Majority in both chambers of Congress, Republicans only have to pick up six seats to take over the chamber. What’s one thing that we can all unite against? Paying more for our everyday essentials—and both parties know it. A new poll shows 86% of Americans are worried about inflation, and if something doesn’t change, it may be a driving issue for the GOP in the midterms. Of course, the biggest thing impacting the 2022 battle for the House is redistricting, which starts with the Census data dump and is likely to change districts drastically. This change may push both parties to become even more partisan in the election, using every data point they can against the other side. If you want to understand the history of midterm elections in the U.S., election prognosticator Charlie Cook has more here. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

Cryptocurrency acceptance grows: AMC to accept bitcoin by the end of the year.
Cryptocurrency is still in the world of unknowns with little regulation from the world’s governments. However, that is not stopping businesses from accepting it as a form of payment, with the latest being AMC Entertainment. The theater chain has announced it will begin accepting Bitcoin by the end of the year in its latest earnings call. However, logistically this new change may be tough to implement, as the chain is still figuring out how to accept Apple Pay or Google Pay—something that has become the norm at other businesses. Other businesses that currently accept Bitcoin include PayPal and Starbucks, and Telsa is also looking to begin accepting the popular cryptocurrency. Despite its popularity, the U.S. government still does not know how to regulate it, with the latest move mandating that any transaction more than $10,000 must be reported to the IRS (this is already required for cash transactions of that size). However, there is still a significant portion unregulated. This does not seem to scare users, though, with a study finding 46 million Americans own at least a share in Bitcoin. China had its own solution to cryptocurrency: create its own. Launching earlier this year, the digital Yuan was issued by China’s central bank—forcing critics to say it isn’t like Bitcoin, which is decentralized. Read more in Forbes.

Who is Kathy Hochul, New York’s now first female governor?

Governor Cuomo has announced his resignation from office following a scathing AG report citing pervasive inappropriate behavior, which means Kathy Hochul will take over the New York Governorship in less than two weeks—becoming New York’s first female governor and the country’s thirty-first female governor. Almost 40 percent of states have yet to have a female governor, and there has been no pattern found for a red state versus blue state distinction. Of the states that have had a woman at the helm, 13 have assumed the position after someone else has stepped down, like in the case of the incoming New York governor. This begs the question—are voters less inclined to vote for a female candidate, or are enough women running for office? Regardless, women representation in state capitals is at least as important as the need for gender equity in the boardroom, and as governor of the Empire State, Hochul’s tenure is bound to be historic. Read more in NBC.

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

Canadian businessman sentenced by a Chinese court to 11 years in prison for spying.
A Canadian businessman has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for spying by a Chinese court, with the possibility of deportation. Michael Spavor has been organizing tours to North Korea for years, but his close relationship with a Canadian diplomat seemed to be enough proof for China to allege spying. Many critics see his arrest and imprisonment as retaliation against Canada’s arrest of a tech executive of Huawei in 2018. That case is being heard by a Canadian court this week. After a back-and-forth exchange of statements between the two governments, the point is becoming increasingly clear—the critics were right. These arrests have much more to disagreements over the treatment of a Chinese, state-owned tech company than they do over any 007-like activity. This revelation highlights the dangers of hostage politics; real people are used as pawns as each government lashes out against each other. Read more in Bloomberg.

DATA POINTS

18%: The number of Americans who report they would not agree to be vaccinated and are unlikely to change their minds. This group of Americans is being closely watched as the CDC calls for renewed precautionary measures and another rise in Covid-19 infections among unvaccinated Americans. 

2 million: The number of years since the atmospheric CO2 concentrations were as high as 2019. This shocking statistic comes as part of a new UN-sponsored review of climate science, finding that the connection between human emissions of greenhouses gases and global warming is both “unequivocal” and “irreversible.” 

61.7%: The labor force participation rate in July, up 0.01% from June. While there’s an upward trend, experts say that these numbers are still well below the pre-pandemic level of 63.3% and warn that the pandemic effects are still very much at play in the workforce. It also means that nearly 6.8 million fewer Americans are working compared to before COVID. 

1.74 million: The number of jobs in leisure and hospitality in the United States that are still unfilled due to Covid-19. Experts say that Americans are hesitant to jump into a sector with such high job loss numbers after another uptick in Covid-19 cases across the United States. 

15.5 million: The average number of primetime viewers across the two weeks that NBC aired Tokyo Olympic Game footage. The viewership is down from roughly 26.7 million primetime viewers who tuned into the Rio Games in 2016. 

11: The number of women who accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he will resign from his position, leaving Lt. Gov. Kathy Huchul to take his place, becoming New York’s first female governor. 

$1.4 trillion: The cost of the bipartisan infrastructure package that was passed through the Senate 69-30 on Tuesday. Moving this bill forward is a major victory for the Biden Administration and the group of senators who worked months negotiating on the agreement. 

20+: The number of years Lionel Messi played for FC Barcelona. The soccer star announced his departure from Barcelona on Monday, signing a $41 million-a-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain. 

119.8: The record temperature in Fahrenheit that Sicily reached on Wednesday, setting an all-time high-temperature record for all of Europe. The intense heatwave is blazing across the Mediterranean and northern Africa, creating conditions for explosive and devastating wildfires.

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Credit: @MLB
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