It’s Too Soon to Attribute the California Storms to Climate Change, Experts Say – FactCheck.org

The relentless storms that hit California from Dec. 27 to Jan. 16 caused extreme flooding and extensive damage in most of the state, killing at least 22 people. A series of storms hit back to back, soaking the state in the midst of California’s driest three-year period on record.

“If anybody doubts that climate is changing, then they must have been asleep for the last couple of years,” President Joe Biden said in California on Jan. 19, after witnessing the destruction left behind by the storms.

He later added: “For example, places that were ravaged by past wildfires are now at a higher risk of landslides. Extreme weather caused by climate change means stronger and more frequent storms, more intense droughts, longer wildfire seasons — all of which threaten communities across California.”

There is a good scientific basis to think that storms, including the type that struck California, are generally becoming more extreme due to climate change. But climate scientists told us it’s too soon to know whether climate change had a role in this particular event, and if so, to what degree.

“We are not entirely sure,” Julie Kalansky, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, told us in an interview. “It’s an active area of research.”

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told us all extreme weather events are the result of multiple complex and interrelated processes happening across time and space. Therefore, climate change is not “the singular cause” of the storms. But did it affect the storms’ intensity?

“Here, the answer is probably yes, climate change thus far has likely increased both the intensity and likelihood of seeing such an intense period of precipitation in California,” he wrote in an email. “But then the question becomes: to what degree?”

Here is what we know so far.

What kind of storms hit California?

California was hit by a series of nine atmospheric rivers, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes as “naturally occurring air currents” that can create extreme rainstorms and flooding. The atmospheric rivers were accompanied by a bomb cyclone, a mid-latitude storm or weather system that rapidly intensifies.

Atmospheric rivers are long and narrow corridors in the lower atmosphere that transport water vapor from the tropics to the poles — “like rivers in the sky,” as NOAA explains. When these columns of vapor move inland from oceans and over mountains, the water vapor cools and creates heavy precipitation in the form of snow or rain. Their contribution to the water supply is crucial: A few of them provide, on average, 30% to 50% of the U.S. West Coast’s annual precipitation.

Satellite image taken January 4, 2023, at 1:20 p.m. of an atmospheric river affecting California. Image: NOAA-20 satellite.

But stronger atmospheric rivers, which carry greater amounts of moisture pushed along by stronger winds, can cause damage when they hit and stall over lands that are prone to flooding — as seen in the recent storms. Intense atmospheric river sequences have the potential to create a catastrophic “megaflood,” according to research.

Atmospheric rivers were only defined in the 2010s, but they are not new, as F. Martin Ralph, a research meteorologist and director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wrote in Scientific American.

These kinds of storm systems slam western coasts across the globe several times a year, but they can also reach as far inland as Yellowstone National Park in the U.S., which lies mostly in northwest Wyoming, he explained. Atmospheric rivers can grow up to 2,000 miles long, 500 miles wide and two miles deep, Ralph wrote, adding that they transport on average “enough vapor to equal 25 times the flow rate of the Mississippi River where it pours into the Gulf of Mexico.”

It’s not uncommon for atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones to occur together, and they feed off of one another. Around 80% of atmospheric rivers are accompanied by an extratropical cyclone, research shows. The cyclones can enhance the winds of an atmospheric river, while atmospheric rivers provide ideal conditions for a cyclone to intensify. A bomb cyclone is a mid-latitude cyclone that intensifies very quickly because of a dramatic drop in pressure in a single day, usually a result of cold and warm air colliding.

How does climate change impact atmospheric rivers?

Climate modeling studies show that, in general, in a warmer climate atmospheric rivers become more intense, leading to an increase in heavy precipitation. According to a recent study, climate change “has already doubled the likelihood of an event capable of producing catastrophic flooding” in California. But although the effects of climate change in atmospheric rivers have been studied using different approaches, uncertainty remains.

Most of the climate change impact on the intensification of atmospheric rivers is caused by what’s called the “thermodynamic effect,” Swain, the climate scientist at UCLA, told us. That is, he said, “the fact that the atmosphere can hold exponentially more water vapor” with each degree of temperature increase.

“A good rule of thumb is that a 1C increase in temperature increases the water vapor holding capacity of the atmosphere … by ~7%,” he said.

According to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is “unequivocal” that the atmosphere, ocean and land have warmed due to human influence. The group concluded, based on an evaluation of evidence quality and agreement, that there is “high confidence” a warmer climate increases the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, making wet seasons and events wetter. There is also “high confidence” heavy precipitation will follow the rate “of about 7% per 1°C of global warming.”

“Given that global warming is increasing the amount of water vapor, it does seem reasonable to suggest that climate change may be making these storms stronger,” Travis A. O’Brien, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington, told us in an email.

“Indeed, climate model studies of atmospheric rivers and global warming … suggest that atmospheric rivers become ‘stronger’ (more water vapor transport) in a warmer climate and are generally associated with higher precipitation amounts,” O’Brien added.

Atmospheric rivers are measured in what’s called integrated water vapor transport, Kalansky, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explained. That includes both how much water is there and the wind that transports the vapor, she said.

What climate models are showing, she said, is that in a future warmer world, atmospheric rivers will contribute more than other storms to California’s rainfall total annually, and that extreme atmospheric river events will become more extreme — and that’s mostly explained by the increase in water vapor.

Swain told us the thermodynamic contribution is likely responsible for 80% of the projected change in atmospheric river intensity and the projected extreme precipitation increases. The remainder is more uncertain, he said, but wind and pressure patterns could be important factors.

But there are still many basic things scientists don’t know about atmospheric rivers and the ways they will respond to a warming climate.

“In climate models, there is a robust increase in global mean precipitation; however, how the response of ARs contributes towards this change is still uncertain and depends on many more factors than increased moisture alone,” reads a review article on the responses of atmospheric rivers to climate change published in Nature in 2020.

A recent case study, for example, suggested that not all atmospheric rivers are affected to the same degree by climate change. The study simulated a specific atmospheric river storm that hit Northern California in two waves in 2017 under past, present and future climate scenarios. While both waves of the storm dropped more precipitation because of warming, the second wave dumped more. Precipitation amounts for the first and second waves were about 11% and 15% higher, respectively, under present-day warming, the study found. Those amounts increased to an additional 21% and 59% boost in precipitation, respectively, under late-21st century warming.

It’s not clear whether there will be more or fewer atmospheric rivers in a warmer climate. Most studies, O’Brien said, “do indicate an increase in the frequency of atmospheric rivers, but also some indicate a decrease or no change for western North America.”

Part of the issue, O’Brien found in a 2021 paper, is that researchers are not always consistent in how they define an atmospheric river.

For California specifically, Swain said that while it’s uncertain, the “preponderance of evidence is for fewer” atmospheric rivers overall in a warmer future. But, he said, “there is also strong evidence that the *strongest* atmospheric rivers in California (like those being experienced during this storm sequence) are very likely to be stronger and to produce more precipitation as the climate warms.”

“There is a quite a bit of evidence pointing in this direction at this point,” he added.

Can we say whether or how much climate change impacted this particular series of storms?

Not yet, climate experts say.

“I don’t think we have evidence to show the degree these events are connected to climate change,” Duane Waliser, chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told us in an email.

Waliser, who has studied atmospheric rivers and climate change’s effects on them, told us it would require more study to quantify an estimate of the effects of climate change on the storms. “[U]ntil that happens, a statement along these lines would be complete speculation,” he wrote.

O’Brien agreed. He said it is impossible to make a “formal statement” about the effect of climate change on these storms without a detection and attribution study.

Detection and attribution studies “can help determine whether a human influence on climate variables (for example, temperature) can be distinguished from natural variability,” according to a federal report on climate science. They are important, O’Brien said, because events like this can, and did, happen before climate change.

“[T]here have not yet been any D&A studies on atmospheric rivers in general, let alone this storm,” he said, referring to detection and attribution studies. But he added that he expects there will be one coming out in about the next six months.

Kalansky said the storms do fit into what the climate models are showing. California weather, which is already highly variable and volatile, is and will become more extreme. Projections also show in a warming climate, because the air can hold more moisture, there is the potential that atmospheric rivers will drop more rain or snow, as we’ve explained. But to know whether or not that’s the case with these storms, more studies are needed, she said.

What was unique about this winter’s atmospheric river storms, she said, was that they came one after the other.

“The fact that they are coming back to back, to back, to back, has been really impactful,” she said in a phone interview.

Without proper attribution studies, it’s hard to say if that was part of California’s natural climate variability or not.

“It may,” she said, stressing the word may, “it may have been fueled by climate change. … But it’s too soon, at least in my opinion, to be able to say whether or not, without doing some more studies.”

Are there any estimates?

On Jan. 4, in the midst of the storms, Michael Wehner, a senior scientist in the Computational Research Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, tweeted what he called a “conservative attribution statement.”

“Anthropogenic climate change will cause the rain in today’s west coast … to be about 5% heavier,” he said, linking to a study he co-authored that was published in 2022.

O’Brien told us the study on which Wehner is basing his estimate “isn’t exactly” a detection and attribution study. What it did is look at historical storms and ask what would they look like in a future climate.

“His statement of the 5% number is based on the numbers that they found in that study: that storm-total precipitation increases by about 5-10% per degree C of warming,” he said. “So he’s doing a bit of inference with that statement rather than doing a careful D&A study. That said, I suspect that when a formal D&A study is done, it will produce results consistent with his statement.”

Swain, the climate scientist from UCLA, told us that estimate is “a reasonable lower bound.” His best guess, he said, would be 10%, or something in the range of 5% and 15% heavier rainfall due to climate change.

Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist in the NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory, told us in an email that because the air can hold more water vapor as a consequence of warming, “[t]here is a scientific basis to expect, for identical weather patterns today versus in the 19th Century, that a rainstorm would yield about 5% more precipitation today.”

But he added that prolonged rains like this one did occur in the 19th century. For example, he said, the wettest 15-day period on record reported in downtown San Francisco, with 19 inches of rain, occurred in 1862. The second, with 13.5 inches, occurred in December 1866, he said. This winter’s storm represented the third, with 12.37 inches.

While Wehner “is correct to offer an important reminder of how rain events are becoming more extreme, historical records when examined carefully provide no less important reminders that nature (without human modification) can deliver remarkable rains alone,” he added.


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Damar Hamlin Is Recovering and Has Appeared Publicly, Contrary to Online Claims – FactCheck.org

Quick Take

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest Jan. 2 on the football field after being hit in the chest during a tackle. Hamlin was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 11 and has made several public appearances since then. But posts on social media falsely claim Hamlin died.


Full Story

Damar Hamlin, a 24-year-old safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest after taking a hit to the chest during a tackle on Jan. 2 in a football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hamlin got up after the tackle, but then collapsed and received medical attention on the field, as we previously reported. In a statement on Jan. 3, the Bills said Hamlin had suffered a cardiac arrest, which means his heart stopped beating after the hit, although his “heartbeat was restored on the field.”

Hamlin was initially taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was sedated and listed in critical condition. Hamlin was transferred on Jan. 9 to the Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, where he was tested and evaluated to determine the cause of the cardiac arrest and received a plan for recovery. He was released from the hospital on Jan. 11.

Since his release, Hamlin has visited the Bills’ practice facility several times.

Jordon Rooney, Hamlin’s family spokesman, told ESPN on Jan. 19, “Despite being out of the hospital, Damar still has a lengthy recovery. Damar still requires oxygen and is having his heart monitored regularly. He has visited with the team a few times but he still gets winded very easily.”

But posts on social media falsely claim that Hamlin is dead and that the NFL is covering it up.

“I don’t believe Damar Hamlin is alive. NFL paid off his family to keep quiet. After all these weeks have passed, don’t you think it’s extremely odd we still haven’t seen his face, or any video of him or his family TALKING on camera about how thankful he is to be alive and well,” read a tweet shared on Jan. 23.

A post on Facebook shared screenshots of several tweets of bogus claims about Hamlin — including the Jan. 23 tweet.

The caption of the Facebook post read, “DH died that day. What they tried to pull of as him on Sunday was ridiculous if you have any kind of discernment. No interviews with him. Feds surround the hospital. Gag order on all players and coaches, just to name a few of the ‘strange’ occurrences surrounding this event. They are covering this up as best they can as to not have to answer any questions about why he had a heart attack on live TV. If I’m wrong I’ll admit it but I don’t think I am.”

But the Facebook post and the tweet are indeed wrong. Hamlin has been seen in public several times. He is usually shown wearing a mask, and it’s difficult to see his face in the images and videos shared.

On Jan. 22, Hamlin appeared at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, for the playoff game between the Bills and the Bengals. Before the game started, Hamlin was shown riding in a golf cart on his way to the locker room to visit his teammates.

Hamlin watched the game in a stadium luxury box with his parents and brother. He was also shown on camera to the crowd, forming his hands in a heart shape — his signature move — before halftime was over.

It’s also inaccurate that a “gag order” — which is when a judge prohibits a case from being discussed in public — has been issued to players or coaches. Many players have spoken publicly about Hamlin’s recovery and visits to the team. Josh Allen, the Bills’ quarterback, debunked the claims that Hamlin wasn’t actually at the game and there was a body double portraying Hamlin.

“One, that’s Damar’s swag. He likes wearing that,” Allen said in a Jan. 24 podcast interview. “Two, he was in the locker room with us pregame, so yes, that was Damar. There is absolutely zero chance. Absolutely zero chance. That was the Damar Hamlin. That’s our guy. That’s our brother.”

Hamlin also appears to have addressed the rumors on Jan. 23 in a tweet that showed a photo of him standing next to a mural of himself with the caption, “Clone.”

Another tweet from Hamlin shared the next day read, “Thankful for all the GENUINE love, thoughts & prayers from all across the world.. y’all will hear from me soon!”

While the cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest is not known, experts suspect Hamlin suffered from a rare condition called commotio cordis — an irregular heartbeat caused by a sudden hit to the chest.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest include sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, cessation of breathing and no pulse. Without immediate intervention to get the individual’s heart beating again, cardiac arrest can cause death.

Chuck Hughes, a former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, is the only NFL player to die after collapsing on the field. Hughes had an undiagnosed heart condition and suffered a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1971, when a blood clot became detached after he was tackled.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Buffalo Bills. “Bills issued this update on Damar Hamlin.” 3 Jan 2023.

Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills). “Welcome home, @HamlinIsland. #CINvsBUF | #BillsMafia.” Twitter. 22 Jan 2023.

Damar Hamlin (@HamlinIsland). “Not home quite just yet [home]. Still doing & passing a bunch of test. Special thank-you to Buffalo General it’s been nothing but love since arrival! Keep me in y’all prayers please! #3strong.” Twitter. 10 Jan 2023.

Damar Hamlin (@HamlinIsland). “‘Clone‘.” Twitter. 23 Jan 2023.

Damar Hamlin (@HamlinIsland). “Thankful for all the GENUINE love, thoughts & prayers from all across the world.. y’all will hear from me soon!” Twitter. 24 Jan 2023.

Davis, Jack. “Buffalo Bills Head Coach in First Public Comments Since Hamlin Collapse: ‘Glory to God’.” Western Journal. 6 Jan 2023.

Cornell Law School. “Gag order.” Updated Dec 2020.

Getzenberg, Alaina. “Damar Hamlin visits Bills’ locker room, salutes fans at Bengals game.” ESPN. 22 Jan 2023.

Getzenberg, Alaina. “‘My heart is with you’: Damar Hamlin cheers on Bills from home.” ESPN. 15 Jan 2023.

Harvey, Coley. “Bills’ Damar Hamlin faces ‘lengthy recovery,’ spokesman says.” ESPN. 19 Jan 2023.

Hille, Bob. “The day Chuck Hughes died: Remembering the only NFL player to die in a game.” The Sporting News. 24 Oct 2021.

Kaleida Health. “Kaleida Health Update on Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin.” Updated 10 Jan 2023

Link, Mark S. “Commotio Cordis: Ventricular Fibrillation Triggered by Chest Impact–Induced Abnormalities in Repolarization.” Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. 1 Apr 2012.

McDonald, Jessica. “NFL Player Damar Hamlin’s Cardiac Arrest Triggers Unfounded Social Media Claims.” FactCheck.org. Updated 6 Jan 2023.

Mayo Clinic. “Sudden cardiac arrest.” 19 Jan 2023.

Sullivan, Marisa. “Widow of NFL Player Who Died on Field ‘Very Emotional’ Over Damar Hamlin’s Collapse.” People Magazine. 4 Jan 2023.

Thompson, Carolyn. “Going Home: Bills’ Hamlin Released From Buffalo Hospital.” Associated Press. 11 Jan 2023.



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Biden’s Misleading Unemployment Statistic – FactCheck.org

Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, President Joe Biden botched a statistic on the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, misidentifying them simply as the number of people “out of work.” His comment leaves the false impression that unemployment declined by more than 16 million people on his watch, when the decline was actually under 5 million.

And a big reason for the large decline in unemployment benefits is the expiration of pandemic-related expansions of such benefits.

“Two years ago this week, 18 million people were out of work — two years ago this week,” Biden said at the conference on Jan. 20. “Now the — that number is under 1.6 million, near the lowest level in decades.”

The White House transcript notes that the line drew applause.

But it’s not accurate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people “out of work” — or officially unemployed — in the U.S. in January 2021 was about 10.2 million, and the number in December 2022 was 5.7 million.

A White House spokesperson told us Biden was referring to the number of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits. And he noted that Biden was including pandemic unemployment insurance programs. By that measure, and with those caveats, the statistic cited by the president would be nearly accurate (although we would note the number has crept up from 1.6 million in mid-December to 1.9 million by Dec. 31, the latest data now available).

Assistant White House Press Secretary Michael Kikukawa told us Biden was simply using “shorthand for something that is true,” and that on at least two occasions — in remarks in early December and in a tweet on Jan. 25 — Biden has “more fully contextualized” his comments by noting that he was talking about the number of people claiming unemployment benefits.

Biden may have simply been careless in his wording of the statistic before the U.S. Conference of Mayors, but the Department of Labor explains on its website that it is a common public misconception to confuse the two metrics.

“Some people think that to get these figures on unemployment the Government uses the number of persons filing claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under State or Federal Government programs,” the Department of Labor says on a webpage dedicated to explaining the difference between the two. “But some people are still jobless when their benefits run out, and many more are not eligible at all or delay or never apply for benefits. So, quite clearly, UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”

Among the unemployed who are not covered by UI programs are “self-employed workers, unpaid family workers, workers in certain not-for-profit organizations, and several other small (primarily seasonal) worker categories,” the Department of Labor explains in a Frequently Asked Questions webpage. Also not eligible are unemployed people whose UI benefits have run out; workers who have newly entered the workforce and have not yet earned UI benefits; workers disqualified from UI because they lost their jobs “from their own actions rather than from economic conditions,” such as being fired for misconduct; and people who would qualify for UI but simply do not file for benefits.

“Because of these and other limitations, statistics on insured unemployment cannot be used as a measure of total unemployment in the United States,” the Department of Labor states. “Indeed, over the past decade, only about one-third of the total unemployed, on average, received regular UI benefits.”

Indeed, the number of people “out of work,” or unemployed by the Department of Labor’s definition, was 225% higher in December than the figure Biden cited. On the other side of Biden’s comparison, the number of unemployed people in January 2021, when Biden took office, was significantly lower than the number receiving unemployment benefits (the figure Biden used), and we’ll explain why.

Unemployment Insurance Claims

The total number of people getting unemployment benefits was steadily holding at about 2.1 million per week in January, February and the first couple of weeks of March 2020, right before the pandemic changed everything. Between the weeks ending March 14 and March 28, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits nearly quadrupled to 8.3 million. And it rose steadily for months after that, reaching a high of 33.2 million the week of June 20. (To see the total number receiving UI benefits, including pandemic programs, go to the Department of Labor’s webpage on “Unemployment Insurance Data.” Click on “Benefits and Claims” and then “UI Weekly Continued Claims — All Programs.”)

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics explained in September 2021, claims for unemployment benefits “rose sharply” during the height of the pandemic “because of the substantial job loss” but also because of “the expansion of UI programs.”

The federal government expanded UI benefits through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020. As the Department of Labor explains, among other things, the CARES Act “expand[ed] states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for many workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits.” Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, for example, was offered to the self-employed and those seeking part-time work.

“To qualify for PUA benefits, you must not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits and be unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Department of Labor explained.

The law also extended the maximum number of weeks a person could receive unemployment benefits, through what was called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program. “Importantly, the CARES Act gives states flexibility in determining whether you are ‘actively seeking work’ if you are unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restrictions,” the Department of Labor noted.

The week Biden took office in January 2021, the number of people receiving UI benefits through the PUA and PEUC programs was 11.5 million, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all UI recipients. That explains how there were some 8 million more people receiving UI benefits in January 2021 than there were unemployed people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In March of that year, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which extended the PUA and PEUC programs until Sept. 6, 2021. Some people receiving PUA and PEUC benefits continue to show up in small numbers on weekly reports, because claims are still being processed. But those two sources of UI benefits largely ended in September 2021. As a result, the total number of people getting UI benefits went from 12.1 million the last week of August 2021 to 3.3 million the first week of October 2021, a month later.

So a lot of the drop cited by Biden has to do with the expiration of UI benefits that were expanded because of the pandemic, which has since waned. Kikukawa, the White House spokesperson, also makes the case that “we were able to phase out those pandemic programs precisely because they weren’t needed anymore thanks to our historically strong recovery.”

According to the most recent data available from the last week of December, the total number of people getting UI benefits was 1.9 million. The number has been trending in the wrong direction since the week of Oct. 8, when it was just over 1.2 million. But even at 1.9 million, the number of people getting UI benefits is low, historically speaking. It was a bit higher in the first two months of 2020, just before the pandemic hit, but it was lower every week from the week of March 30, 2019, to the week of Dec. 21, 2019. And it was about the same or lower in parts of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Calculating the Unemployed

As we said, the number of people receiving UI benefits is a very different statistic than the estimated number of unemployed people in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “[p]eople are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.” Actively looking for work includes such things as conducting job interviews, submitting resumes or filling out job applications.

The estimated number of unemployed people in the U.S. is based on data collected in a monthly survey — called the Current Population Survey — of over 60,000 households and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In that survey, a person only officially counts as “unemployed” if they are out of work and say they are available for work and also say they have looked for work at least once in the past four weeks. BLS also keeps track of other “alternative measures of labor underutilization,” which includes “marginally attached workers,” people who say they would work and have looked for work in the past year, but not in the past four weeks; and people who are “part-time for economic reasons” (sometimes called “under-employed”), which includes people who say they want to work full time but have had to settle for part-time work. Obviously, the number of unemployed increases if those kinds of categories are included.

But as we said, the official number of unemployed people in the U.S. was 5.7 million in December. That’s a 44% drop since Biden took office. The number of unemployed had already dropped 56% in nine months prior to Biden taking office.

The number of unemployed people in December is low, historically speaking. The number was almost exactly the same – technically slightly lower — in February 2020 under Trump, right before the pandemic hit. It was also lower in several months of 1999 and 2000. But as we said, although not the lowest, the number is comparatively low in recent history. The average monthly number of unemployed going back to 2000 is 9.2 million.

It’s just not as low as Biden’s claim would leave people to believe. Biden said that two years ago, there were 18 million people “out of work” and now “that number is under 1.6 million.” The number of unemployed Americans was much lower than that two years ago, and it is much higher than that now.


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Misreporting by major news outlets; Pakistan flag was not hoisted in Bihar’s Purnea – Alt News

On January 26, 2023, news broke that a Pakistani flag had been hoisted on a residential building in Madhubani Sipahi Tola area in Purnea, Bihar. Several news media outlets reported this. Multimedia news agency ANI tweeted, ” A Pakistani flag was hoisted in the Madhubani Sipahi Tola area in Purnea”. The tweet further contained the Station House Officer’s statement wherein he states that the flag had been removed and that further action would be taken. The tweet also contained two pictures where the said Pakistani flag was visible. (Archive)

In its bulletin, a CNN News18 reporter said, ‘the Republic Day shocker’ was promptly taken up by the police who reached the location immediately. According to cops, the flag had since been removed. (Archive)

Times Now Navbharat also tweeted a clip of their report on this incident. The clip contains a video interview of a resident of the house, Rehana Parveen, who says that she didn’t know it was a Pakistani flag. She also says that the flag was hoisted on January 26 itself. (Archive)

News18 Bihar also tweeted a clip of their reportage of the incident. (Archive)

Other media outlets, including Times of India, Zee News English, ANI Hindi, OpIndia Hindi, Zee Bihar Jharkhand, India TV, India TV Hindi, The New Indian, Mid Day, RSS mouthpiece Organiser Weekly, Times of India Patna and Live_Hindustan also reported on this incident.

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Right Wing accounts amplified the claim

Several verified handles tweeted the CNN News 18 reportage. The BJP Andhra Pradesh state secretary Ramesh Naidu Nagothu tweeted that ‘the shameful act’ of hoisting the Pakistani flag in Bihar ‘is beyond condemnation’. Tripura BJP secretary Amit Rakshit condemned the apparent hoisting of the Pakistani flag as well. BJP Gujarat state media co-head Zubin Ashara also tweeted the News 18 report and called it a ‘shameful incident’. Andhra BJP general secretary Vishnu Vardhan Reddy wrote, “Law and order has gone for a toss since the Mahathughbandhan formed gvt in Bihar.”

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RVCJ Media tweeted a graphic containing images of the flag. According to the graphic, the police promised of strict action in the matter. The tweet garnered almost 7,000 likes. Twitter handle @BefittingFacts also shared an image of the flag and wrote that “A Pakistani flag was hoisted on a house owned by Mohammad Mubarukuddin”.

Fact Check

The reader must note that a video shot from an angle below the flag has been used by several media outlets in their reportage. If one looks closely, one might notice that parts of the flag toward the pole are not green in colour. There is a blue patch and then there is a part that is black and white in colour. Below is a screenshot from the Times Now Navbharat reportage which shows the relevant frame. This was also pointed out by a Twitter user in a thread.

This pattern is not present in the Pakistani national flag. The Pakistani national flag has a vertical white stripe on the left with a crescent moon and a star on a green background. Based on the stark differences in pattern, it is quite clear that the flag hoisted at the house in Purnea was not the Pakistani national flag.


Moreover, according to a statement released by Purnea Police on Twitter, their investigation concluded that the flag was not a Pakistani flag but a religious flag which had been hoisted a month ago. (Archive)

On the same day as it tweeted about the incident (that is January 26), The Times of India later published a report headlined ‘Pakistan’s flag not hoisted in Bihar’s Purnia, say police’. The report cites a police statement while saying that a religious flag had been hoisted at a house owned by Mohammad Mubarakuddin which is located adjacent to a local mosque. This confirmation was reiterated by Surendra Kumar Saroj, SDPO Sadar who stated that the religious flag had been put up there a month ago. He also said that the police were trying to identify the persons who spread the rumour that it was a Pakistan flag.

Alt News got in touch with Purnea SP Amir Jawaid who sent us an image of the flag after it was taken down by a police official. The reader can clearly spot the black-and-white part and the blue stripe with prints on it.


We reached out to Dr Anwar Raza Qadri, spokesperson for All India Muslim Jamaat, who explained the significance of the patterns seen on the flag in Islam. According to Qadri, the blue stripe is inspired by the pattern seen on the dome of Baghdad Sharif Mosque also known as Ghous-E-Azam. The white part with the black zigzag lines has been inspired by the dome of Dargah E Aalahazrat in Bareilly. Below we have compared the patterns on the flag with the domes.


This flag has been waved on several instances in India in the past, especially during the celebration of Eid Milad-Un-Nabi to mark the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. This flag has been seen in cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Varanasi and New Delhi.

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Similar claim made in the past

It is worth noting that a similar claim had been made in November 2019. A video of flags hoisted on the terrace of several buildings in Jalandhar, Punjab, was shared on social media with the claim that these were Pakistani national flags. However, an Alt News fact check found the claims to be misleading. The flags that were seen in the 2019 viral video had a similar pattern with two stripes- one with white prints on a blue background and the other with black lines on a white stripe. Below is a comparison between the religious flag that was seen in Jalandhar in 2019 and the Pakistani national flag. The following image has been taken from the 2019 Alt News fact check.


It is also worth noting that the images that Zee News English used in their report of this incident are old. These images were also used in a Zee Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh report dated October 26, 2022. The report, titled ‘मुस्ताक ने छत पर लगाया पाकिस्तानी झंडा, बोला- बच्चे ने की थी जिद; तानाव के बाद एक्शन’, was about a fruit-seller named Mustaq whose 15-year-old child had hoisted the Pakistani flag at their home in the Saria area of Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.

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To sum it up, a religious flag that was hoisted atop a house in the Purnea district of Bihar was falsely portrayed by various news outlets as a Pakistani national flag hoisted on the Republic Day. In reality, the Pakistani national flag and the religious flag that was hoisted are starkly different in terms of pattern and colour. The police have also dismissed the viral claims.

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Viral Tweet Misrepresents NOAA Report on Rising Global Temperature – FactCheck.org

SciCheck Digest

The warming trend in global temperature continued in 2022, which was the sixth-warmest year on record, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But a viral tweet — using just a small segment of a NOAA graph — wrongly claimed the agency had announced a “global cooling” trend.


Full Story

The sixth-warmest year on record was in 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported on Jan. 12.

NOAA had released highlights from its most recent annual global climate report showing the planet’s average land and ocean surface temperature was 1.55 degrees Fahrenheit higher in 2022 than the 20th century average, which was 57 degrees F. This rise in temperature is part of an upward trend going back decades.

But Steve Milloy, who is on the board of a think tank that publishes content denying the existence of climate change, claimed “NOAA makes it official” that the “last 8 years” of temperature data show a “global cooling” trend.

That’s wrong. NOAA actually said the opposite.

“The planet continued its warming trend in 2022,” the agency’s press release said, “with last year ranking as the sixth-warmest year on record since 1880.”

But Milloy twisted the agency’s finding by copying and sharing a small portion of one of the graphs included in the release.

Graphic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Jan. 12 press release.

In a Twitter post that received more than 13 million views, Milloy shared an image showing the tail end of a much larger bar graph and misinterpreting what the larger graph showed. He included just the last eight years of the bar graph that, in its entirety, showed how global temperatures compared to the 20th century average for the last 47 years (shown at right).

In the full report, NOAA included another graph showing the same data, but going back even further — 143 years, to 1880, when records began. That graph shows an even starker change.

“The 10 warmest years in the 143-year record have all occurred since 2010, with the last nine years (2014–2022) ranking as the nine warmest years on record,” the report says.

But, as we said, Milloy claimed that this data from NOAA showed that “CO2 warming is a hoax” by showing data for only the last eight years.

Understanding Fluctuations in the Climate

“I can’t believe this old canard is back,” Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences at Princeton University and director of the High Meadows Environmental Institute, told FactCheck.org in an email.

“Multi-year periods of flat (or slightly negative) temperature changes are to be expected in a warming world,” he said, citing a 2016 paper that explained a warming slowdown in the early 2000s.

Vecchi highlighted some of the findings from the full NOAA report, including:

  • Every year since 2015 has been warmer than any year from 1880 to 2014.
  • Every year so far in the 21st century has been warmer than every year between 1880 and 2000 (which included a strong El Niño — more on that later).
  • As the graph showed, every year since 1977 has been warmer than the average for the 20th century.
Graph from NOAA’s 2022 global climate report showing annual temperatures compared to the 20th century average.

“The planet has warmed and is warm,” he said, noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly found that the peer-reviewed literature on climate science indicates that “one cannot explain the warming over the past century in the absence of human-induced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, etc).”

Showing only the last eight years of temperature change is, Vecchi said, “at best, irrelevant for assessing the reality of global warming.”

But, he said, “I think that the Tweet actually obfuscates and misleads.” Showing only the last eight years to suggest that warming has slowed or reversed doesn’t account for how the climate system works, he explained. For example, it takes out of context the impact of phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, climate patterns that develop in the Pacific Ocean roughly every two to seven years and affect global weather.

Graph from NOAA’s 2022 global climate report showing global temperatures compared to the 20th century average with El Niño and La Niña months highlighted.

“It is well-understood that fluctuations in the climate system, like El Niño and La Niña events can cause temporary periods of surface warming and cooling (respectively), due to the redistribution of warm ocean waters in the tropics and their impacts [on] the atmosphere and clouds,” Vecchi said, citing a 2009 paper that removed the effects of events such as El Niño and volcanic eruptions from the temperature record and found “a nearly monotonic global warming pattern since ∼1950.”

So, Vecchi said, “we expect that as the planet warms in response to increasing greenhouse gases, there should be multi-year periods in which the warming appears to accelerate and others in which [it] appears to slow down – and if one picks precisely the right years, one can find periods where there are temporary nominally negative trends.”

That appears to be the case for the eight years that Milloy selected. An El Niño in 2015 and 2016 resulted in surface warming, followed by La Niña in 2020 through 2022, which led to surface cooling.

“The role of the Pacific in driving multidecadal swings in global temperatures is understood well now,” Vecchi said. “If a big El Niño precedes a sequence of La Niña events, then one should expect to see a reduced (and potentially absent) rate of global warming over that period.”

So, presenting only the last eight years of climate data out of the context of the longer-term trend — and without explaining that timespan included, first, a warming period due to El Niño and then a cooling period due to La Niña — is deceptive.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Press release. “2022 was world’s 6th-warmest year on record.” 12 Jan 2023.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Annual 2022 Global Climate Report.” Jan 2023.

Vecchi, Gabriel. Professor of geosciences, Princeton University. Email response to FactCheck.org. 24 Jan 2023.

Fyfe, John, et al. “Making sense of the early-2000s warming slowdown.” Nature Climate Change. 24 Feb 2016.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Reports. Accessed 25 Jan 2023.

National Ocean Service. “What are El Niño and La Niña?” Updated 20 Jan 2023.

Thompson, David W. J., et al. “Identifying Signatures of Natural Climate Variability in Time Series of Global-Mean Surface Temperature: Methodology and Insights.” Journal of Climate. 15 Nov 2009.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “2015 State of the Climate: El Niño came, saw, and conquered.” 2 Aug 2016.

Jones, Nicola. “Rare ‘triple’ La Niña climate event looks likely — what does the future hold?” Nature. 23 Jun 2022.

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#Viral #Tweet #Misrepresents #NOAA #Report #Rising #Global #Temperature #FactCheckorg

Devesh Kumar: Untangling a complex web of lies and deceit – Alt News

On October 30, 2022, The Wire registered a police complaint against journalist Devesh Kumar for allegedly fabricating and supplying documents, emails, and video with a view to damage the media outlet’s reputation, a week after having retracted its Meta stories. It was the culmination of a high-octane, month-long drama over a series of articles by The Wire wherein they primarily claimed that the BJP information technology department chief Amit Malviya had privileges through a programme called XCheck which allowed him to get any post removed from Instagram with ‘no questions asked’, even if it did not violate Meta’s policies. Meta denied the allegations.

It was a rare, if not unprecedented, development. One might remember the much talked-about case of fraud involving Stephen Glass, the associate editor at The New Republic, but such a thing as a media house filing a police complaint against one of its own over a story was unheard of. And from what information was available in the public domain — this interview of The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan in particular — it appeared that tech journalist-cum-researcher Devesh Kumar had single-handedly pulled a fast one on an editorial team headed by some of India’s most highly regarded journalists.

When Alt News decided to profile Devesh Kumar, we faced one dead end after another. We started by looking into his social media posts, engagements and blogs, almost all of which have now been deleted. But eventually, we could find out that prior to The Wire, Devesh was professionally attached to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), a UNESCO centre in New Delhi. We reached out to the MGIEP communications team and several of its employees, but none of them cooperated with us. However, four rather disgruntled ex-employees of UNESCO MGIEP agreed to speak to us about their former colleague, Devesh Kumar. They requested anonymity for fear of backlash from Devesh and his coterie, comprising the top brass at MGIEP.

AT MGIEP: A TECH WIZARD IN SLIPPERS

We interviewed the four former employees of MGIEP — let us call them Anon1, Anon2, Anon3 and Anon4 — separately and verified their claims independently through our research. We noticed that their narratives coincided with several claims Devesh himself had either made in his blogs or documented on social media platforms over the years.

Anon1 said they were first acquainted with Devesh at a conference on education for sustainable development in Japan in 2014, where he had been nominated by the MGIEP to represent their youth programmes. By that time, Devesh had established his credibility as a professional coder and UX designer through the Microsoft Imagine Cup in which he, along with his team, won the people’s choice award. The team was called The D Labs. This can be verified through the LinkedIn profile of one of the members as well as the Facebook Page of D Labs that made an appeal for vote. Microsoft’s press release from 2012 also confirms the same.


A screen-grab from the LinkedIn profile of one of the members of The D Labs

Recounting their encounter, Anon1 told Alt news that at the conference in Japan, Devesh came across as an unassuming tech wizard-cum-activist casually dressed and wearing slippers. At an international conference involving hundreds of thorough-bred professionals, Devesh made sure he stood out. He spoke for all the right causes, whether sustainability or education or mental health, and did not shy away from expressing his vulnerabilities, thus endearing him to the MGIEP brass.


Devesh with the MGIEP team in September 2015 | Source: MGIEP website

‘I DON’T THINK I HAVE MUCH TIME LEFT’: BRAIN TUMOUR & DEPRESSION

Two personal disclosures by Devesh had a strategic importance in creating his persona at the organization and beyond. At least some MGIEP employees were in the know of these. One was about his brain tumour and the other about his adopted daughter, Manjiri.

All of our four sources individually spoke about this episode in 2018 when Devesh wrote an e-mail (screenshot below) to the internal mailing list saying he had been suffering from a brain tumour, and apologized for not being able to meet certain deadlines. It started with the line, “I don’t think (and my doctor too) I have much time left.” He shared a prescription and a medical report from MD Anderson Cancer Centre, University of Texas. There were murmurs within the organization about the authenticity of these papers. Anon1 said that later the same year, he stopped talking about it as if it had miraculously healed itself.


Below are Devesh’s said medical certificates and prescription.


We wrote to the Cancer Centre at the University of Texas, but they couldn’t help with any information owing to strict privacy laws.


We got the prescription and the medical report checked by four medical professionals, one from the US, to check whether the text and the format were the standard way of writing a prescription. The doctors said given the language of the records, there was a high probability that the documents were forged.

One of them, Dr Sujoy Sanyal, a senior neurosurgeon based in Kolkata and fellow at Harvard Medical School, USA, pointed out six glaring anomalies in the documents. He said, “A. The language used in the documents is strange and unlikely to have emanated from a medical facility. B. ‘The vitals of the patient were average’ is definitely not medical lingo. C. Reteplase is a clot busting drug given in emergency circumstances in hospital and never prescribed to be taken once in 2 weeks and has nothing to do with empty stomach. D. Heparin sodium is never supplied as tablets. E. The observation says the gentleman has ischemic stroke whereas the certificate says he has clot in his brain. The observation and the certificate are thereby contradictory F. A radiation physicist who has purportedly issued the certificates has nothing to do with stroke. A radiation physicist can be associated with the treatment of cancers with radiation, but is far removed from the realm of Stroke.”

We tried to reach out to Dr Manickam Muruganandham, the signatory in the documents, who was an assistant professor at the department of radiation physics. This story will be updated if we get a response from him.

Anon3 and Anon4 told us that they were certain this was all a ruse to generate empathy and create the perception that he was brave and not afraid of being vulnerable. It made other people open up about their lives and confide in him. Anon4 said the timing of the brain tumour episode was such that he could use that as an excuse to escape scrutiny for not delivering his projects. On the day of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death in 2020, he sent an email to his colleagues on how he, too, was fighting depression.


THE ADOPTED DAUGHTER WHO DIED IN A FREAK ACCIDENT

The other personal detail that he shared with his colleagues was that of his adopted daughter, Manjiri. The former MGIEP employees said that at one point everyone was aware Devesh had adopted a daughter named Manjiri. Anon1 said it was a significant part of the image Devesh had created of himself. In fact, Anon1 and Anon2 were so moved by it that both of them were disturbed when one day, Devesh announced Manjiri’s death from a brick falling on her head while she was walking on the streets. Devesh dramatically announced the news to his colleagues in the middle of a meeting and ran out of the office in a fit.

To corroborate this story, we looked further and found a blog published by Devesh Kumar in April 2016. The blog contained letters to his daughter Manjiri, set in the future. Devesh mentions he had met Manjiri’s mother in 2011 while he was working with HIV+ patients. Apparently, he was present during the birth of the infant on one of his social work stints and adopted her after the infant’s mother died at childbirth.


It is relevant to note that as per the adoption law in India, a single man cannot adopt a girl child.

According to Devesh, Manjiri passed away in February 2018 after a construction brick fell on her head while she was on her way home from school. Devesh talks about his grief on his blog ‘onosmosis’. The same incident was narrated in detail by our sources as well. We have learnt that at least one MGIEP employee established immediate communication with the Apollo hospital, Ranchi, which checked records and informed them that no such accidental death of a child had been reported in over six months.

Interestingly, when we looked into Devesh’s Facebook account and dug into this network of friends, we found that a girl named Manjiri did exist in his family. She was an aunt’s daughter. Here is a picture of her from Facebook.


DEATHS IN THE SUMMER OF 2011 SPOILING DEVESH’S PROSPECTS

Manjiri’s death is not the only story of such kind in Devesh’s narrative.

In 2011, answering a question on life on Quora, Devesh talks about a failed initiative, one of many such stories to follow. He says that he started a company with 12 of his friends while in college in 2009. Even before they were in college, they had projects with Microsoft, IBM, Verizon, Aricent etc, and worked remotely. However, in 2011, when they were working on a project that could have supposedlly changed the course of their lives, the person leading the project, Manvi, died of multiple health conditions. Without her, their presentation was unconvincing and hence remained incomplete. Devesh mentions that Manvi passed away sometime between August 6 and August 11 of 2011.

Again, in 2017, while answering another question on Quora, he narrates an eerily similar story of his life — another close friend, who, too, died in the summer of 2011, i.e, around the same time as Manvi. The friend named Rabya was from Hyderabad and she too worked remotely. She knew some of the most complex coding languages, according to Devesh. Rabya had breast cancer and passed away when Devesh was doing his internship in Kolkata.


There are also two other people whom Devesh has mentioned in his blogs. In a blog post from 2016 titled, ‘What makes me hopeful’, Devesh talks about a child named Radhika (12) who contracted HIV after she was allegedly raped by a policeman. He met her at the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) in 2009. She passed away in 2013. In this same blog, Devesh talks about another friend who went from being a victim of substance abuse to a highly accomplished individual. When she gave birth to her first child, she named the child after a colleague of theirs who had passed away.

DEVESH’S RISE THROUGH THE RANKS AT MGIEP

Anon4 said with conviction that collaborations in MGIEP were built on perceptions, and not on actual performances. Devesh had his way at MGIEP because of a certain aura he had created around himself. He was seen as a tech wizard who had turned down offers at Microsoft, Amazon etc., to work in the far less glamorous but socially meaningful education sector.

Anon1 took us through Devesh’s stint at MGIEP to explain this point. Around 2015, when the MGIEP team was looking to develop the Knowledge Commons platform – a one-stop platform for education and sustainability, a project officer (Curriculum Reform) at MGIEP recommended Devesh especially because of his IT background. Devesh lived in Mumbai at that time which happened to be the place where the office of CoBeats Inc. was registered. It was a company Devesh had set up with another person called Vinny Lohan. Devesh was informally inducted into an MGIEP project involving a sample survey on what young people in India thought about education.

Our sources pointed out that the Knowledge Commons platform project had promised much, but it yielded very little. At present, the UNESCO MGIEP website has a knowledge commons page with a link for contributions. The link opens the following page. The readers must note that this was a functional website when we looked it up during our investigation. On December 24, 2022, we wrote to the UNESCO Ethics Committee asking it about its nature of association with Devesh Kumar. After that, we found that the website was no longer accessible.

Knowledge Commons platform also has an alternative domain (https://kcommons.org/). Here’s the archive link.


In 2016, Devesh announced he had developed an app for Dyslexia. He proposed to organize a conference in India on Dyslexia, titled the Unlearn programme. It was conducted on a large scale in IIT Delhi and was attended by school teachers from Delhi and several international resources. One of them was Nandini Chatterjee Singh, a cognitive neuroscientist. She had established the first cognitive and neuro-imaging laboratory in India at the National Brain Research Centre. Eventually, she was hired as a senior project officer at the MGIEP in 2017. The success of the conference and Devesh’s association with Nandini raised his stature at the organization.


A screengrab of Devesh at the UNLEARN conference

All of our sources mentioned that Devesh had an unusual sway over the MGIEP management. He was privy to their personal and professional lives long before he was formally inducted. Whether it was organizing company retreats or giving inputs on projects, his role was much more important than what is natural for a volunteer working as a youth representative.

By 2015, he had already established himself in the organisation in a way that he could get the MGIEP to promote/endorse his individual initiatives. For example, he organised the programme called REVA, which he claimed was the ‘largest event for underprivileged kids, with more than three cities in India hosting the event every year’. This event was formally endorsed by UNESCO MGIEP.


A letter by UNESCO MGIEP endorsing REVA fest.

In fact, he sought crowdfunding for several initiatives, like the involvED conference and Reva fest. Both of these conferences were organised by WhiteShark, another organization that Devesh founded with Vinny Lohan. In 2018, Priyanka Patel, an MGIEP intern, tweeted that Devesh had launched the world’s largest competition to change the state of mental health in India. This competition called ‘Okdepression’ was looking for scaleable solutions to mental health issues, and the winners would be awarded $50,000 for implementation.


Alt News did reach out to Priyanka Patel via email and other means but our messages remain unanswered.

Additional questions about his finances also come from the fact that during the peak of the Covid-induced lockdown, Devesh was working on the TekFog investigation. His monthly bills according to him ran up to 45,000-55,000 INR.


Even if we consider the fact pointed out by Anon2 that roughly between 2018 and 2020, Devesh drew a salary as per international standards at the MGIEP, contrary to the regular practice of consultants being paid as per Indian market rates, the above admission about his expenses seems exceptionally high.

In 2020, Devesh produced an offer letter from Thomson Reuters – New York. According to this, he was offered a yearly gross salary of 192,000 USD or around 13 lakhs per month. Our sources independently told us that Devesh had used this offer letter to bargain for a raise during the renewal of his contract with MGIEP. The sources emphasised that the basis of the raise was due to Devesh being an ‘exceptional talent’.


Contradicting his own claims within MGIEP, Devesh had publicly claimed in a Newslaundry interview post-Tek Fog revelations that he remotely worked with Reuters for seven months in 2020. We wrote to Reuters separately to cross-check and they replied to us saying they had no record of such an individual working for them.


Anon3 mentioned that MGIEP was due to receive a significant amount in grant from FICCI and Vodafone Foundation for a project managed by Nandini and Devesh, of which there was no accountability.

We have attached below a copy of an email from FICCI to Devesh and his conversations with his colleagues thereafter. If one reads the mails carefully, one can catch Devesh making exaggeratted and grand declarations, as is his wont. In the mail text, the Millennium Alliance team explicitly mentions that qualifying for due diligence in the Round – 4 is no way a promise of the award. Devesh, however, jumps into declaring that they were ‘going to get the money’. In the same mail trail, the director writes back to Devesh, “No idea what this means but I guess part of the process!’.

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While speaking to us, each of our sources appeared extremely anxious. They claimed that patronage from the MGIEP brass gave Devesh access to and control of the technical operations at the institute. There were also very odd instances when emails would suddenly disappear from inboxes, and alerts would be issued about servers getting hacked, which Devesh alone could resolve. Interestingly, similar incidents of hacking were reported by The Wire during the Meta fiasco as soon as Devesh came under the scanner.


Devesh at MGIEP TECH conference 2019 | Source: UNESCO MGIEP Facebook Page

QUESTIONS GALORE

It is difficult to understand how Devesh Kumar managed to work on projects for huge companies, volunteer at social organisations, and intern in a different city while being a student at BITS Mesra in 2011 — all at the same time. In fact, Devesh’s professional career is filled with such unresolved questions. We have outlined some of them here.

Devesh’s bio on Quora, and in his blogs on Medium, mention him as a co-founder of WhiteShark and Cobeats Inc. There were testimonials from three people on the landing page of the CoBeats website.


When we reached out to Abhimanyu Ghoshal, he told us that he had reviewed the product when it had a different name, ‘Gluepad‘. These testimonials were removed from the landing page overnight after we wrote to the MGIEP asking questions about Devesh. However, they remained available on a different page on the website.

It is interesting to note that Devesh and his long-time professional partner Vinny Lohan have very similar public narratives about personal tragedies converted to business ideas. Incidentally, Vinny Lohan had won the national finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup in 2010 and Devesh Kumar later won it in 2012. In fact, Vinny had mentored Devesh’s D Labs team during the event in 2012.


The products and services of CoBeats Inc, one of the companies they had jointly set up, were contractually implemented within MGIEP. Our sources talked about seeing Vinny Lohan visiting the MGIEP office for work. Both Devesh and Vinny were keenly in favour of open-sourcing their projects. They also regularly participated in locally organised TEDx talks. Devesh and Vinny’s company also built a tool for MGIEP called ‘Knowledge Commons’ in just 21 days.


Screenshot from the landing page of WhiteShark

This faith in ‘open source’ also came up during the Tek Fog investigation. Devesh and his co-author Ayushman Kaul told Newslaundry in the interview that they would ‘open-source’ all their findings while redacting information that might compromise their source. After the publication of their story, multiple people did reach out to Devesh and Kaul. Devesh took a U-turn and informed an individual that he was no longer associated with the Tek Fog story and that a consortium of media houses involved would publish future investigations. Kaul named Forbidden Stories, Washington Post and The Guardian. And by connection, The Wire as well, because the stories were published by them.


Alt News reached out to Forbidden Stories and The Washington Post. Both organisations denied having access to Tek Fog. Forbidden Stories said it ‘never had access to Tek Fog data and is not working on that story’. The Post said it was not in any collaboration with The Wire other than the Pegasus Project.

Devesh’s Reddit and Quora blog posts mention his work with NACO, making documentaries for the Gates Foundation on sex workers, thus establishing his credentials as a socially conscious individual. We wrote to the Melinda Gates Foundation to verify the authenticity of the mail from Bill Gates. We are yet to receive any response.



In one of his blogs, Devesh claimed to be a regional director at Microsoft. However, the FAQ page about regional directors suggests that Devesh does not meet the prerequisites.

Other than sources at MGIEP, we also reached out to Deepali Sinha, described by Devesh as his sister in a VSCO post, but she did not respond.

TEK FOG AND META: THE CLIMAX OF THE DEVESH KUMAR SAGA

A profile of Devesh Kumar will be incomplete without addressing the two projects that brought him under the spotlight.

Tek Fog is reportedly a mobile software application used by the BJP to manipulate/hijack social media trends, spread misinformation, implement targeted harassment, create or delete social media accounts and even take control of dormant WhatsApp accounts.

When the three-part Tek Fog series by Devesh Kumar and Abhimanyu Kaul came out in January 2022 on The Wire, tech journalist Samarth Bansal critically analysed the claims. To him, it seemed “there was simply not enough evidence in this reporting to prove its far-reaching claims”.

One of the features of the Tek Fog app highlighted by The Wire reports was that one could create or delete social media accounts with a single click. Bansal points out that other than screenshots of the app suggesting such an feature existed, The Wire could not independently verify the existence of such an exploit. Devesh Kumar gave a justification to Bansal that simply did not make any sense.

“We added this without verification for the sake of completeness. One of the features we have verified was how a large number of accounts were tweeting to trend hashtags. If we did not add the part where the Tek Fog app can create or manage multiple accounts, then a lot of people would have questioned how they are doing this? How are thousands of accounts coming on a single app?” said Devesh.

The Tek Fog stories were eventually withdrawn by The Wire on October 23, 2022.

On October 10, 2022, The Wire released the first of its Meta investigation stories headlined, ‘Exclusive: If BJP’s Amit Malviya Reports Your Post, Instagram Will Take it Down – No Questions Asked’. This article was formally retracted on 23rd October. To briefly explain, the story claimed that the BJP IT department chief Amit Malviya had privileges that are usually accorded to high-profile users of Instagram via the XCheck program. This program, initially reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2021, shields millions of VIP users from the company’s normal enforcement process. The Wire story said, unlike the widely known aspect of the program, Malviya had a special privilege by dint of which he could take down any post which was critical of the ruling government on the pretext of showing nudity even when there was none. To justify their claims, The Wire then went on to publish a series of stories which had as evidence

  1. A screenshot of Instagram’s review process
  2. A video showing Instagram’s internal workspace, which Meta dismissed saying such an URL (instagram.workspace.com) did not exist
  3. Screenshot of an email from a disgruntled Andy Stone, the policy communications director at Meta, unhappy with leaks of internal documents. Meta dismissed this as fabricated
  4. DKIM verification of the email done by experts. Those experts repudiated The Wire’s claim publicly.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone’s responded to the alleged take-down of the original Instagram post by saying that it was due to automatic flagging.

A number of people, including journalists and cyber security experts, raised questions on the authenticity of the sources and material evidence provided by The Wire to prove Malviya was complicit in the misuse of the XCheck programme. Across four stories on Meta, The Wire went from aggression to defence to apology.

Interestingly, according to the complaint filed by The Wire, it is Devesh who approached the outlet with materials related to the XCheck program and Amit Malviya after a story was published on October 6 which simply said that Instagram had taken down a post by the user @cringearchivist for violating community guidelines around nudity. The Wire started its investigation at that point.

The first story came out on October 10 with the byline of Jahnavi Sen. The second story dropped on October 11 with the byline of Sen and Siddharth Varadarajan. As per Newslaundry’s reportage, Kumar did not opt for a byline claiming that naming him would compromise his sources or whistle-blowers. However, he defended the story publicly on Twitter and to critics giving them the impression that he had personal stakes in the story. The third story of the series on October 15 had Devesh’s byline. It was a ‘point-by-point response’ to everything Meta had used to refute the earlier stories.

The October 15 report titled ‘Meta Said Damaging Internal Email is ‘Fake’, URL ‘Not in Use’, Here’s Evidence They’re Wrong’, featured a DKIM signature verification. One of the experts who allegedly endorsed the findings had replied to Devesh, but the date was set to 2021. When confronted with this, the initial explanation provided was that this was due to incorrect default time with tailsOS. Then a subsequent explanation was provided which contradicted the first explanation. It said, the computer was formatted using tailsOS and one of the authors while setting up the computer had manually entered the wrong dates.


As pressure mounted, on October 16, Siddharth Vardarajan announced that a protonmail address of The Wire was hacked. It was also said that Devesh Kumar had lost access to his Gmail and Twitter and later regained access to the accounts. It was unclear how Devesh lost access to all of his accounts including his 1password in this age of two-factor authentication. Devesh, as is his wont, came up with a bizarre explanation. He said he had deactivated his accounts to have ‘chaat’ (snacks).

Similar tales of hacking were narrated by Devesh in a Twitter thread couple of months after Tek Fog investigations. He said he had to format his computer sometimes 2-3 times a day. This is also parallel to what was happening at MGIEP — when pressure mounted on Devesh, the organisation suddenly gets hacked and only Devesh can come to the rescue.


Matters took an even worse turn for The Wire when two independent experts who were said to have endorsed the findings of the Meta investigation publicly refuted the claims on October 18 and 21.

When former data scientist turned whistle-blower Sophie Zhang also raised doubts regarding The Wire’s Meta XCheck story, Devesh told her that her knowledge of the XCheck system was either incorrect or outdated and he had a far better understanding of it. Zhang herself narrated this to The Caravan.

She admits that Devesh’s conviction made her step back and assume he was correct as it had been more than a year since she had left Meta. She told The Caravan that she had never seen Meta deny an actual document. “In the past, when I first came forward with my revelations regarding Meta’s unwillingness to counter inauthentic networks being used to influence political outcomes in several countries, they did accuse me of lying, but retracted that as soon as we presented documents to the contrary. They did not accuse those documents of being fake,” said Sophie. Devesh also told Sophie that Meta had not said that the documents presented by The Wire in support of their claims were fake. However, Meta did come out and say on October 12 that the documents were fabricated.

It seems while ‘coming up’ with the Meta stories and selling it to the public, Devesh Kumar relied on the perception of Meta as an organisation with questionable moderation ethics and the BJP government’s predilection for citizen surveillance.

There is no doubt that there were a lot of editorial lapses on the part of The Wire while dealing with the Meta stories, but when one looks at the publicly available details of Devesh Kumar’s professional history, one gets to see a pattern — one in which exaggerations, manipulations, making dubious claims and putting out fabricated narratives are recurrent motifs.

(With inputs from Archit Mehta)

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IT Rules amendments: Can PIB be given carte blanche to decide what is ‘fake’? – Alt News

The ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) on January 17 uploaded a new draft of amendments to the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which it had earlier released for public consultation, and sought feedback from the public on the proposed modifications.

Though much of the document concerns rules and regulations regarding online gaming, a key change says that information that is identified as ‘fake or false’ by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) or any other agency authorized by the Union government has to be taken down by ‘intermediaries’.

As per Delhi-based think tank PRS Legislative Research, an intermediary under IT Rules is an entity that stores or transmits data on behalf of other persons and includes telecom and internet service providers, online marketplaces, search engines, and social media sites. The draft does not clarify what is expected of intermediaries as ‘reasonable efforts’.

Part II of the Rules talks about ‘due diligence by intermediaries and grievance redressal mechanism’. Sub-section b(v) under Section 3 in this part says an intermediary ‘shall make reasonable efforts to cause the user of its computer resource not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information that … deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of the message or knowingly and intentionally communicates any misinformation or information which is patently false and untrue or misleading in nature 1[or is identified as fake or false by the fact check unit at the Press Information Bureau of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or other agency authorised by the Central Government for fact checking or, in respect of any business of the Central Government, by its department in which such business is transacted under the rules of business made under clause (3) of article 77 of the Constitution]’


To put it simply, information flagged as fake or false by the PIB or any other agency authorized by the Union government will have to be removed as per the proposed amendment.

What ‘Facts’ Does PIB Check?

The PIB fact check unit was set up in 2019 following the then Vice-President of India Venkaiah Naidu expressing concern over the spread of ‘fake news’. While the objectives and methodology of PIB fact checks are not clearly mentioned on the website, its Facebook page states it debunks misinformation about government policies and schemes. If we can call this the PIB’s mission statement, then the statement itself establishes that there is a clear bias in what the organization decides to debunk and what it chooses to ignore.


We noticed that the PIB had fact-checked misinformation by Rahul Gandhi and activist-turned-TMC leader Saket Gokhale several times. However, not once did they fact check a claim by any BJP leader. Most of their fact checks, true to their mission statement, are about government policies. Misinformation about various Prime Minister schemes was debunked the most number of times — 7.

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The claim by Gokhale that PIB fact-checked was not about government policies or schemes. But the PIB still fact-checked it ostensibly because Gokhale is an opposition leader and severe critic of the BJP government. A fact-check of a claim by Shashi Tharoor is another such example.

Again, there have been instances where a BJP leader has shared misinformation about the government. For instance, the claim by home minister Amit Shah that the Russia-Ukraine war was halted for a few hours on PM Modi’s request to facilitate the evacuation of Indian students. The PIB did not fact-check it.

We also noticed that the PIB had also flagged multiple YouTube channels and videos. When we went through the content, we found that almost all of them were anti-BJP in nature.

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It is worth noting that according to Alt News’s 2022 year-ender reports, last year, of all the false claims circulated by political parties and leaders or activists associated with them, BJP and its leaders shared the maximum amount of misinformation, with a share of 48.1%. Moreover, in nearly 41% of instances where misinformation had a clear collective target, that target was Muslims.

How Credible is PIB in Fact-checking?

In December 2020, the PIB stamped a genuine recruitment notice of the Intelligence Bureau as fake, and the publications division of the ministry of information and broadcasting had to point out the incorrect ‘fact-check’.

Earlier, in June, the PIB had incorrectly declared a UP STF advisory on Chinese apps as ‘fake news’. An Alt News fact check of the PIB fact check established this.

The same year, at the height of the pandemic, the video of a toddler trying to wake up his dead mother on Bihar’s Muzzafarpur railway station platform was widely circulated on social media. According to media reports, the child’s mother, Arvina Khatoon (23), died of heat, thirst and hunger as passengers were not served food or water inside the Shramik special train on which she was travelling.

The Railway authorities quickly denied the reports even as a PIB fact check termed the media reports ‘incorrect’ and ‘imaginary’. According to PIB Bihar, Arvina was suffering from an illness before she boarded the train and her family corroborated this.

After an exhaustive investigation which included statements from Arvina’s family members and medical experts, Alt News found that there was no evidence to support the claim that Arvina had died of a pre-existing condition. We also pointed out, “PIB Fact Check, which has emerged as the latest tool for bullying journalists and media organisations, did not write a thorough fact-check. In fact, PIB’s investigation into the death of a migrant worker was barely two sentences.”

In the same month, June 2020, Alt News reported that three out of four ‘fact-checks’ on deaths in Shramik trains by the PIB were unsubstantiated. We pointed out, “When reports of workers’ deaths came to light, fact-checking by the government’s nodal agency blurred the lines between fact-checking and defence of the government with unsubstantiated information. As if misinformation on social media wasn’t enough, dedicated fact-checking organisations are forced to invest time in fact-checking such irresponsible ‘fact-checks’ by the government that downplay the plight of the poor.”

Since 2020, Alt News has debunked six instances of misinformation by PIB (view details). Other fact-checking outlets such as BoomLive and The Quint (1,2) have done so as well. In none of the cases, the PIB issued a clarification or a corrigendum.


Flawed Methodology

To sample the kind of work the PIB does, we looked at all their fact checks over the last three months. Since October 2022, the PIB has published 53 fact checks. None of them is in the form of a report or has any detail about the methodology followed. Each of them comprises just a sentence or two stating that some claim is false. Fact-checking, in its true sense, involves independent investigation, research, cross-checking of claims and counterclaims, sifting through data and documents and in some cases digital forensics. There is no evidence to suggest the PIB treads that path.

In the following fact-check post, the ‘Read More’ tab opens PIB’s tweet of the same fact-check. As supporting data, it has the link to another tweet by the Inland Waterways Authority of India. In a May 2020 article,



In a May 2020 article, Newslaundry commented that PIB did not understand the difference between repudiation and refutation.

The Larger Question: Fact Check or Perception Management?

The draft amendments have raised quite a few eyebrows as they give the PIB, a government body, the supreme power to have the final say on what is fake or false. Not only the PIB, but any agency authorized by the government in future will have a carte blanche to force the removal of a post/information from the digital space. The issue seems even more problematic when one considers the fact that the PIB has faltered on so many occasions in its fact checks. In most of those cases, their false fact checks sought to portray the government in good light or protect its image in the face of some damning allegations.

On occasions, they have been more interested in the Union government’s perception management than in establishing facts.

Moreover, in selectively fact-checking only those claims which have the potential to harm the government’s image, the PIB leaves out the larger share of misinformation that targets the Opposition and certain communities and comes from persons/organizations that are pro-BJP in their political stance. The proposed amendments suggest that all misinformation targeting the government will be removed, but those targeting others can remain online for public consumption.

As a basic principle, fact-checking is done worldwide with a view to protecting the public at large from collective harm caused by misinformation and disinformation. Since the PIB ignores major false claims or rumours that have the potential to cause massive public harm — false communal claims or the child-kidnapping rumours for example — the proposed amendment fails to address the core problem.

The draft amendment also raises the question of whether the concerned provisions will ultimately lead to further gagging of news media critical of the government. Speaking to the Financial Times, a lawyer expressed the fear that “this proposal, if approved, would make the government the ultimate authority of what news is or what news should be…”. In 2022, India’s press freedom ranking dropped eight positions to 150 out of 180 countries.

Strong Reaction from Stakeholders

Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Delhi-based digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation told The Indian Express, “According to the draft, it will be an obligation on intermediaries that they cannot have content marked false by PIB or any other agency approved by the government. Beyond intermediaries, it would apply to the entirety of the technology stack, including hosting service providers and internet service providers.”

The Editors Guild of India also put a statement criticizing the initiative. The statement said, “This will stifle legitimate criticism of the government and will have an adverse impact on the ability of the press to hold governments to account, which is a vital role it plays in a democracy.”

On a related note, in October 2022, Alt News reported that the ministry of information & broadcasting (MIB) had instructed YouTube to ban 45 videos from 10 YouTube channels based on ‘inputs from intelligence agencies’. Alt News found that four videos on the channel ‘Mr Reaction Wala’ didn’t violate any of the reasons mentioned by the MIB in a press note.

Above and beyond all this, there should be a debate on whether taking down misinformation is at all a possible and desirable way of tackling the menace. And that debate should involve all the relevant stakeholders.

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Posts Mislead on Illinois SAFE-T Act and Elimination of Cash Bail – FactCheck.org

Quick Take

Illinois’ new criminal justice law, known as the SAFE-T Act, would eliminate cash bail but allow a judge to detain anyone who is deemed a danger to others or a flight risk. Social media posts misleadingly claim that anyone arrested for serious crimes, including second-degree murder, “will be let out free.”


Full Story

The Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equality-Today Act — better known as the SAFE-T Act — was signed into law by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2021.

On Jan. 1, parts of the law, which addresses a range of criminal justice issues, went into effect. Several new requirements are being implemented, including that police officers provide aid after using force, all police wear body cameras by 2025, and confidential mental health screening and counseling be provided for officers.

But one part of the law, known as the Pretrial Fairness Act, is under scrutiny, and critics say it will make Illinois unsafe.

The Pretrial Fairness Act eliminates cash bail for all offenses and allows individuals stopped under the suspicion of committing traffic, quasi-criminal or misdemeanor offenses to go free before a trial, with the stipulation that they will return to the court for their hearing.

The act would still allow a judge to detain a person who is considered a flight risk or who poses a threat to “any other person or the community.” A judge could also detain someone because of the nature of the crime.

On Dec. 28, Kankakee County Judge Thomas Cunnington ruled that the Pretrial Fairness Act was unconstitutional. Cunnington said the state Legislature should have allowed people to vote on the elimination of cash bail and the Legislature should have followed the requirements in the state constitution to pass the measure.

This provision of the law is on hold until an appeal hearing before the Illinois Supreme Court in March. The Supreme Court issued an emergency motion order on Dec. 31 to keep the existing cash bail system in place to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois.”

Prior to Cunnington’s ruling, several amendments had been made to the pretrial release provisions of the SAFE-T Act on Dec. 6 that added felonies for which a judge can deny a release, such as arson, robbery or sexual assault.

But posts on social media have spread misleading claims about the changes to the cash bail system under the act, saying they put dangerous criminals back on the street and limit what a person can be arrested for — suggesting that all violent criminals will be released before the trial.

A Facebook video posted on Jan. 1 misleadingly claimed that anyone detained under the charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary or second-degree murder would be immediately released. “Anyone locked up under these charges will be let out free,” the speaker says in the video, which received more than 218,000 views and 1,500 likes.

A Facebook post shared on Jan. 16 said: “The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act (SAFE-T Act) would restrict which crimes a person can be arrested for, and would free those in custody for 12 offenses, including second-degree murder, aggravated battery, and arson without bail, as well as drug-induced homicide, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, intimidation, aggravated DUI, aggravated fleeing and eluding, drug offenses and threatening a public official.”

The Facebook posts include claims that show a misunderstanding of the SAFE-T Act. All of the crimes listed in the Jan. 1 video — kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary and second-degree murder — are still offenses for which a person can be held in jail before a trial if a judge finds the individual to be a danger to the community or a flight risk.

Harold Krent, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, told us in an email that under the SAFE-T Act, “individuals charged with such crimes can be detained based on a finding of potential dangerousness.”

“To detain, there must be particular facts demonstrating serious risk,” Krent said. “Or the individual can be detained because of a risk of flight.”

David Stovall, a criminology and law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, offered a similar explanation to us in an email.

“In terms of the Illinois SAFE-T Act, a judge has the right to detain anyone that is deemed a ‘public safety risk,’” Stovall said. “Anyone can be detained if the bench determines there is a risk to the well being of particular individuals or the public at-large.”

State officials said the law is intended to avoid having dangerous criminals easily released based on their ability to pay for bail.

“I’m pleased that the General Assembly has passed clarifications that uphold the principle we fought to protect: to bring an end to a system where wealthy violent offenders can buy their way out of jail, while less fortunate nonviolent offenders wait in jail for trial,” Pritzker said on Dec. 6, after signing amendments to the SAFE-T Act.

Pretrial Release Conditions in the SAFE-T Act

Under the current cash bail system in place in Illinois, judges usually require people accused of most crimes to pay cash bail as part of their release conditions. A judge has the power to deny bail, however, for certain offenses, such as a capital offense, a crime punishable by life imprisonment, and other offenses when the person is deemed a danger to others, if there’s proof or great presumption that the person is guilty.

“True, judges could always deny bail, but given the realities of court, the vast majority of those accused of even serious [offenses] were released if they could post bail,” said Krent.

The SAFE-T Act would allow for the pretrial release of nonviolent individuals stopped and accused of traffic, Class B and C criminal misdemeanors, or petty and business offenses — under the conditions that the individuals are not a danger to the community.

Some offenses that qualify as a Class B misdemeanor include failure to report hazing or obstructing gas, water or electric current meters. Class C offenses include participating in a mob, failure to secure a firearm around a minor under age 14 that leads to an injury, or disorderly conduct at a funeral.

It is up to the arresting officer to decide whether to give a citation to a person who meets the conditions for a pretrial release or to detain the individual to be brought before a judge. Those eligible for a pretrial release include people who have no obvious mental or medical health issues that would cause them to hurt themselves.

Individuals who are given a citation must have a scheduled court hearing for their offense within 21 days.

Individuals who have an obvious mental health issue that would cause them to hurt themselves will be placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services or another mental health facility for treatment. Officers are required to receive training on effective recognition and responses to people with addiction issues, in need of mental treatment, with neglect or abuse issues, and with trauma.

A person detained for an offense in which pretrial release may be denied, such as armed robbery or second-degree murder, would be taken before a judge and charges would be filed without delay. A judge would follow the same guidelines set in the current cash bail system to determine if a pretrial release should be denied.

A person charged with a capital offense or an offense with the potential consequence of life imprisonment would not be eligible for a pretrial release until after a hearing.

“In terms of ‘rules’ that the judge would need to follow to make a determination on public safety, they didn’t change with the SAFE-T Act,” said Stovall. “They are exactly the same measures before the legislation was developed and passed.”

No one who is already detained before these provisions of the SAFE-T Act go into effect can be immediately released.

Those individuals would have to ask for consideration for the new pretrial system to be applied to their cases and must wait seven to 90 days for a hearing, depending on their offenses.

The conditions of pretrial release are the same for individuals stopped under the suspicion of committing a crime and those who were in jail prior to the date when the pretrial release conditions take effect. So a person in jail who asks for the pretrial release conditions to be applied to their case can still be denied and detained if they are found to be a safety or flight risk by a judge. 


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. “The 2021 SAFE-T Act: ICJIA Roles and Responsibilities.” 7 Jul 2021.

Illinois General Assembly. HB 3653 – The SAFE-T Act. As signed into law on 22 Feb 2021.

Legal Information Institute. “Quasi-criminal (proceeding).” Accessed 17 Jan 2023.

Davis Law Group. “What is a Class A Misdemeanor?” Accessed 17 Jan 2023.

Mr. “By the Book” Bidem (@@Jayden_Victor22). “Good! Last thing we need is for them to restrict legally owned guns with his SAFE-T act rolling out & putting dangerous criminals back out on the street.” Twitter. 16 Jan 2023.

Sen. Don Harmon. Illinois General Assembly. Accessed 17 Jan 2023.

O’Connor, John. “SAFE-T Act among 200 Illinois laws to debut in sv.” Associated Press. 31 Dec 2022.

Kozlov, Dana. “Illinois SAFE-T Act still in limbo; Cook County Public Defender argues in its favor.” CBS News. 2 Jan 2023.

Supreme Court of Illinois. “People ex rel. Berlin v. Raoul.” 31 Dec 2022.

Supreme Court of Illinois. “Illinois Supreme Court Case 129248 – Certification Order – 01/05/23.” 5 Jan 2023.

Summary of Amendments to Public Act 101-0652, the SAFE-T Act.” The Civic Federation. 16 Dec 2022.

Krent, Harold J., professor, Chicago-Kent College of Law. Email to FactCheck.org. 17 Jan 2023.

Stovall, David, criminology and law professor, University of Illinois Chicago. Email to FactCheck.org. 19 Jan 2023.

Wall, Craig. “Illinois cash bail questions raised by SAFE-T Act ruling will be settled by IL Supreme Court.” ABC7 Chicago. 2 Jan 2023.

Illinois General Assembly. “Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963.” Accessed 17 Jan 2023.



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Biden’s Numbers, January 2023 Update – FactCheck.org

Summary

Here’s how the United States has fared since President Joe Biden took office two years ago:

  • The economy added 10.7 million jobs under Biden, putting the total 1.2 million higher than before the pandemic.
  • The unemployment rate dropped back to 3.5%; unfilled job openings surged, with over 1.7 for every unemployed jobseeker.
  • Inflation roared back to the highest level in over 40 years before slowing markedly in late 2022. Overall, consumer prices are up nearly 14%. Gasoline is up 39.1%.
  • Wages rose briskly, by 9.5%. But after adjusting for inflation, “real” weekly earnings went down 4.1%.
  • The number of people without health insurance went down by 4.2 million.
  • The trade deficit for 2022 is still on pace to set a new record.
  • Economic growth has bounced back after two consecutive quarters of negative growth, and corporate profits reached a new high.
  • Crude oil production has increased over 4%, and crude oil imports are up 7.5%.
  • Gun purchases, as measured by background checks for firearm sales, declined for the second consecutive year.
  • The number of people receiving federal food assistance has increased slightly.
  • The publicly held debt is up 13.7%, even as annual deficits have declined.
  • Apprehensions of those trying to illegally cross the southwest border into the U.S. are up 351% for the past 12 months, compared with President Donald Trump’s last year in office.
  • Stocks performed poorly. The S&P 500-stock index inched up 3.1%.

Analysis

This is our fifth edition of “Biden’s Numbers,” which we first posted in January 2022 and updated on April 14, July 21 and Oct. 14. It is designed to provide an accurate statistical measure of how the U.S. has fared under Biden. We’ll continue to publish new editions with fresh data on a quarterly basis.

As we said when we posted “Obama’s Numbers” and “Trump’s Numbers,” opinions will differ on how much credit or blame any president deserves for things that happen during his time in office. We make no judgment on that.

Jobs and Unemployment

The number of people with jobs has increased dramatically since Biden took office, far surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Employment — The U.S. economy added 10,726,000 jobs between Biden’s inauguration and December, the latest month for which data are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The December figure is 1,239,000 higher than the February 2020 peak of employment before COVID-19 forced massive shutdowns and layoffs.

One major category of jobs is still lagging, however. Government employment is still 438,000 jobs short of the pre-pandemic peak — including 248,000 public school teachers and other local education workers.

Unemployment — The unemployment rate fell from 6.3% at the time Biden took office to 3.5% in December — a decline of 2.8 percentage points. The current rate is exactly where it was in the months just before the pandemic.

That’s uncommonly low. Since 1948, when BLS began keeping records, the jobless rate has been at or below 3.5% for only 59 months, or 6.6% of the time. Three of those months were in 2022 and three others were during the Trump years, just before the pandemic. Before that, the rate hadn’t been that low since the 1960s.

Job Openings — The number of unfilled job openings soared to a record of nearly 11.9 million during Biden’s first 14 months in office, but then declined after the Federal Reserve began a steep series of interest-rate increases aimed at cooling the economy to bring down price inflation.

The number had slipped down to just 10.5 million on the last business day of November, the most recent month on record. That’s still an increase of over 3.2 million openings — or nearly 45% — during Biden’s time.

In November, there was an average of over 1.7 jobs for every unemployed job seeker. When Biden took office, there were more job seekers than openings.

The number of job openings in December is set to be released Feb. 1.

Labor Force Participation — One reason many job openings go unfilled is that millions of Americans left the workforce during the pandemic and haven’t returned. The labor force participation rate (the percentage of the total population over age 16 that is either employed or actively seeking work) has inched up slightly during Biden’s time, from 61.3% in January 2021 to 62.3% in December.

That’s an increase of only 1 percentage point, and still leaves the rate well below the pre-pandemic level of 63.3% for February 2020.

The rate peaked at 67.3% more than two decades ago, during the first four months of 2000. Even before the pandemic economists predicted further declines due largely to the aging population. The most recent 10-year economic projection by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the rate will rise only to 62.4% by the middle of this year — still well below the pre-pandemic level — then resume its long-term slide and drop to 61.4% by the end of 2032.

Manufacturing Jobs — During the presidential campaign, Biden promised he had a plan to create a million new manufacturing jobs — and whether it’s his doing or not, the number is rising briskly.

As of December, the U.S. added 750,000 manufacturing jobs during Biden’s time, a 6.2% increase in the space of 23 months, according to BLS. Furthermore, the December total is 149,000, or 1.2% above the number of manufacturing jobs in February 2020, before the pandemic forced plant closures and layoffs.

During Trump’s four years, the economy lost 182,000 manufacturing jobs, or 1.4%, largely due to the pandemic.

Wages and Inflation

CPI — Inflation came roaring back under Biden, but has slowed dramatically in the most recent six months.

Overall, during his first 23 months in office the Consumer Price Index rose 13.7%.

It was for a time the worst inflation in decades. The 12 months ending last June saw a 9.1% increase in the CPI (before seasonal adjustment), which the Bureau of Labor Statistics said was the biggest such increase since the 12 months ending in November 1981.

But the worst may now be over. The CPI rose 5.4% in the first half of last year, but only 0.9% in the last half. In December, the CPI actually declined slightly, by 0.1%. The BLS measure of gasoline prices plunged 27.5% in the last half of 2022 and went down 9.4% in December alone.

Gasoline Prices — The price of gasoline has gyrated wildly under Biden.

During the first 57 weeks of his administration, the national average price of regular gasoline at the pump rose by $1.15 (or 48.4%) as motorists resumed travel and the economy bounced back after pandemic lockdowns.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and the price shot up by another $1.48 per gallon in just 16 weeks as world oil markets were disrupted by the West’s efforts to punish Russia, the world’s third-largest oil producer (after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia). Gasoline prices peaked briefly at a record high of just over $5 per gallon in the week ending June 13.

Over the next six months the price drifted down to a low of $3.09 the week ending Dec. 26, and now has gone up again to $3.31 the week ending Jan. 16, the most recent on record.

So after all the ups and downs, the most recent price is 93 cents higher than in the week before Biden took office, an increase of 39.1%

Prices are expected to rise further this year. In its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that gasoline prices would average $3.32 a gallon in 2023.

Wages — Wages also have gone up under Biden, but not as fast as prices.

Average weekly earnings for rank-and-file workers went up 9.5% during Biden’s first 23 months in office, according to monthly figures compiled by the BLS. Those production and nonsupervisory workers make up 81% of all employees in the private sector.

But inflation ate up all that gain and more. What are called “real” weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation and measured in dollars valued at their average level in 1982-84, actually declined 4.1% during that time.

But recently real wages have been rising as inflation has moderated. During the last half of 2022, real weekly earnings rose 1.3%.

Economic Growth

The U.S. economy has improved since our last report.

The nation’s economy posted a surprisingly strong third quarter in 2022 after two straight quarters of contraction, and it appears that the growth continued in the fourth quarter before slowing again in 2023.

While concerns remain about a pending recession, some forecast it will be relatively mild or may not happen at all.

The real gross domestic product, which accounts for inflation, expanded at an annual rate of 3.2% in the third quarter of 2022 after contracting at an annual rate of 1.6% in the first quarter and 0.6% in the second quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The BEA’s first official estimate for the fourth quarter of 2022 won’t be released until Jan. 26. But the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s “GDP Now” estimated that, as of Jan. 20, the economy increased at an annual rate of 3.5% in the fourth quarter.

For the year, the most recent median forecast of the Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents issued on Dec. 14 projected 0.5% growth for all of 2022. The Summary of Economic Projections released by the Fed at its Dec. 14 meeting also showed the central bank expected a real GDP gain of 0.5% in 2023 and 1.6% in 2024.

A majority of U.S. CEOs surveyed by The Conference Board expect a recession in 2023, although they anticipate it will be relatively mild.

“Ninety-eight percent of CEOs in the U.S. think there is going to be a recession — but it’s going to be short and shallow,” Dana Peterson, the Conference Board’s chief economist, told the Wall Street Journal.

Some economists even say a downturn isn’t inevitable, as the Associated Press reported.

Corporate Profits

Under Biden, corporate profits have reached new heights, although the most recent quarter showed a leveling off.

After-tax corporate profits set a record at $2.75 trillion in 2021. During the third quarter of 2022, corporate profits hit an annual rate of nearly $2.9 trillion — which was a slight dip from the $3 trillion record set in the previous quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“Profits decreased less than 0.1 percent in the third quarter after increasing 4.6 percent in the second quarter,” the BEA said in a Dec. 22 release.

Even with a slight dip, the current quarterly rate is 37% higher than the full-year figure for 2020, the year before Biden took office, as estimated by the BEA. (See line 45.)

Consumer Sentiment

Under Biden, high inflation has weakened consumer confidence in the economy, although there has been a slight uptick since our last report.

The University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers reported that its preliminary monthly Index of Consumer Sentiment for January was 64.6. That’s slightly better than our last report – when the index was 58.6 in September — and significantly higher than a record low of 50 in June. But it’s still 14.4 points lower than it was when Biden took office in January 2021.

Joanne W. Hsu, director of the Surveys of Consumers, attributed the recent rise to “higher incomes and easing inflation.”

“Consumer sentiment remained low from a historical perspective but continued lifting for the second consecutive month, rising 8% above December and reaching about 4% below a year ago,” Hsu said in a statement on the preliminary survey results for January. “Current assessments of personal finances surged 16% to its highest reading in eight months on the basis of higher incomes and easing inflation.”

Stock Markets

Stock market gains that were made in Biden’s first year were all but wiped out in 2022 — which was the worst year for Wall Street since 2008.

Under the past two presidents, the stock markets went steadily up. The S&P 500-stock index rose 166% over the eight years Obama was in office, and it climbed another 67.8% during Trump’s four years.

But since Biden took office, the S&P 500 is up a bare 3.1% as of the close of the market on Jan. 20.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is made up of 30 large corporations, did somewhat better, eking out a 7.0% gain in the two years since he took office.

But the NASDAQ composite index, made up of more than 3,000 companies including many in the technology sector that performed particularly poorly in 2022, fell sharply — down 17.2% since Biden took office.

Health Insurance

Early release figures from the National Health Interview Survey show a drop in the number and percentage of people who lacked health insurance during Biden’s time in office. The latest figures show that 27.4 million people, or 8.3% of the population, were uninsured at the time they were interviewed in the first six months of 2022, compared with 31.6 million people, or 9.7%, who were uninsured in 2020, the year before Biden was sworn in.

That’s a decrease of 4.2 million people, or 1.4 percentage points.

The NHIS is a program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the data collection is performed by the Census Bureau in face-to-face interviews.

From 2020 to 2021, the NHIS found a drop in the number of uninsured people of just 1.6 million, which it said was not a significant difference. But there was a more sizable decline in the first six months of 2022.

The percentage of Americans under age 65 who had insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, such as HealthCare.gov, went up from 3.8% in 2020 to 4.3% in 2021, a figure that held steady for the first six months of 2022.

The Census Bureau’s annual report, which measures those who lacked insurance for the entire year, won’t be available until this fall.

Immigration

The number of apprehensions of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally at the southwest border continues to hover near historic highs.

To even out the seasonal changes in border crossings, our measure compares the most recent 12 months on record with the year prior to a president taking office. And for the past 12 months ending in November, the latest figures available, apprehensions totaled 2,291,433, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That’s 351% higher than during Trump’s last year in office.

Since our last report in October, apprehensions rose, after a slight dip in the summer months. The number of apprehensions in September, October and November averaged just over 206,000 per month. That’s lower than the peak of 241,136 in May of last year, but looking at the entirety of Biden’s time in office, apprehensions have never been higher in history, dating back to at least 1925.

Facing heightened criticism from Republicans, Biden made his first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border as president on Jan. 8 with a four-hour visit to El Paso. Ahead of the trip, Biden spoke to reporters about border security and enforcement, acknowledging that it was “a complicated issue.”

After faulting congressional Republicans for failing to support “a comprehensive immigration plan to fix the system completely” (although, as we wrote, the sweeping immigration plan Biden proposed on his first day in office was also opposed by some Democrats and never came up for a vote), Biden announced several executive actions he was taking “to stiffen enforcement for those who try to come without a legal right to stay, and to put in place a faster process — I emphasize a ‘faster process’ — to decide a claim of asylum.”

Among the initiatives in Biden’s plan is expanding the “parole” process for Venezuelans to Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans, allowing applicants a two-year work permit if they have a friend or relative in the U.S. sponsor them and they pass a background check. The plan also includes adding more asylum officers and immigration judges to process asylum claims more quickly.

Biden has sought to terminate Title 42, a public health law invoked in response to the pandemic in March 2020 that allowed border officials to immediately return many of those caught trying to enter the country illegally. The Supreme Court in December extended the policy for at least two more months until the court hears arguments on the case in February.

Once Title 42 ends, Biden said, migrants will have to use an app and book an appointment to schedule an interview on their asylum claims, but they will have to wait outside the country until then. Those who do not go through proper channels will be expelled and will be subject to a five-year ban on reentry.

Trade Deficit

The U.S. imported almost $965.2 billion more in goods and services than it exported over the last 12 months through November, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis figures published this month. The international trade deficit in that period was $311.2 billion higher, or about 47.6% more, than in 2020.

As of November, the goods and services deficit had increased $120.1 billion from the same 11-month period in 2021 — putting the U.S. on pace to exceed the record trade deficit from the previous year.

Oil Production and Imports

U.S. crude oil production averaged roughly 11.79 million barrels per day during Biden’s most recent 12 months in office (ending in October), according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data published in late December. That was over 4% higher than the average daily amount of crude oil produced in 2020.

In its Short-Term Energy Outlook for January, the EIA projected that crude oil production averaged 11.86 million barrels per day in 2022, which would be the highest average since 2019. The EIA expects crude oil production to increase to 12.41 millions barrels per day in 2023, which would be a new record.

As for crude oil imports in Biden’s last 12 months, the U.S. brought in about 6.32 million barrels per day on average. That’s up more than 7.5% from average daily imports in 2020.

Carbon Emissions

There was no change in U.S. carbon emissions since our last quarterly update.

In the most recent 12 months on record (ending in September), there still were almost 4.95 billion metric tons of emissions from the consumption of coal, natural gas and various petroleum products, according to the EIA. That’s over 8% more than the 4.58 billion metric tons that were emitted in 2020 — but lower than about 5.15 billion metric tons emitted in 2019.

The EIA forecasts that the U.S. will have 4.83 billion metric tons of energy-related emissions in 2023, which would be a decline of over 3% from the projected total of 4.99 billion metric tons emitted in 2022.

Gun Sales

After spiking at the start of the pandemic, gun purchases appear to have slowed for the second consecutive year, based on figures from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Since the federal government doesn’t collect data on gun sales, the NSSF, a gun industry trade group, estimates gun sales by tracking the number of background checks for firearm sales based on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The NSSF-adjusted figures exclude background checks unrelated to sales, such as those required for concealed-carry permits.

Earlier this month, NSSF reported that the adjusted NICS total for background checks in 2022 was about 16.43 million. That’s the third highest annual total going back to 2000 — but it’s 11.3% lower than in 2021 and 22.1% below 2020, the current one-year record, with almost 21.1 million such background checks.

In 2019, before the pandemic, there were nearly 13.2 million.

“Though not a direct correlation to firearms sales, the NSSF-adjusted NICS data provide an additional picture of current market conditions,” the NSSF said in a statement about the numbers.

Crime

The Major Cities Chiefs Association found the number of murders in 70 large U.S. cities went down by 4.3% in the first nine months of 2022, compared with the same time period in 2021. Murders declined from 7,184 to 6,877.

The drop follows an increase in homicides of 6.2% from 2020, the year before Biden became president, to 2021, according to the same group, and a 33.4% increase from 2019 to 2020, with the latter figure from 67 law enforcement agencies.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association’s most recent report also shows a 3.4% decline in the number of rapes, an 11% increase in robberies and a 1.3% increase in aggravated assaults for the first nine months of last year.

FBI data on nationwide crime for 2022 won’t be released until the fall. As we reported in our last Biden’s Numbers update, the FBI estimated that “violent and property crime remained consistent between 2020 and 2021.” Specifically, the FBI determined violent crimes fell by 1%, while murders increased by 4.3%, but the agency said the figures “are not considered statistically significant.”

The estimates also were based on data from fewer local law enforcement agencies than usual, since the FBI had transitioned to a new system — yet some police departments, including those in New York City and Los Angeles, hadn’t done so.

Another independent analysis by AH Datalytics, an organization run by criminal justice data analysts, shows a 4.8% decline in murders from late 2021 to late 2022, as of Jan. 20. The group compiles publicly available information from more than 90 large law enforcement agencies nationwide, with most agencies reporting figures through the end of November or December.

Debts and Deficits

Debt — In the three months since our last update, the public debt, which excludes money the government owes itself, increased by over $313 billion to $24.6 trillion, as of Jan. 19. The public debt is now 13.7% higher than it was when Biden took office.

Deficits — So far, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the budget deficit for fiscal year 2023 is ahead of where it was at this point in fiscal 2022, when the Treasury Department said the deficit for the full fiscal cycle was $1.375 trillion.

Through the first three months of the current fiscal year (October to December), the deficit was $418 billion, or “$41 billion more than the shortfall recorded during the same period last year,” the CBO said in its most recent Monthly Budget Review. The nonpartisan budget agency expects in February to release its Budget and Economic Outlook, with deficit projections for the full fiscal year.

Food Stamps

The number of people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, has gone up each month since our last update.

As of October, more than 42.3 million people were receiving food assistance. That’s over 1.4 million more people than in June, and it’s an increase of 0.4%, or over 166,000 people, from January 2021, when Biden became president. The figures come from the Department of Agriculture’s latest data.

Under Biden, SNAP enrollment was as low as 40.8 million in August and September 2021. Trump’s lowest month was February 2020, when the program had 36.9 million participants.

Home Prices & Homeownership

Home Prices — With the Federal Reserve continuing to raise rates, the once red-hot housing market has cooled off.

The median price of an existing, single-family home sold in November was $376,700 — down from the August preliminary price ($396,300) that we used in our last report, according to the National Association of Realtors. (The final August number was even higher at $398,800.)

The median home price fell for the fifth consecutive month in November after reaching a record high of $420,900 in June, and existing home sales have declined for the 10th month in a row, NAR said.

The decline in home sales and prices comes as the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark rate seven times last year in an effort to slow inflation. As a result, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.33% as of Jan. 12 – up from 3.45% a year ago, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

Even so, the November median price was 22.3% higher than it had been in January 2021, when Biden took office. Home prices have been rising for about a decade, in large part because of a high demand and relatively low inventory, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Homeownership — Homeownership rates have remained virtually unchanged under Biden.

The homeownership rate, which the Census Bureau measures as the percentage of occupied housing units that are owner-occupied, was 66% in the third quarter of 2022 — just a shade over the 65.8% rate during Trump’s last quarter in office. (Usual word of caution: The bureau warns against making comparisons with the fourth quarter of 2020, because of pandemic-related restrictions on in-person data collection.)

The rate peaked under Trump in the second quarter of 2020 at 67.9%. The highest homeownership rate on record was 69.2% in 2004, when George W. Bush was president.

Refugees

Biden has made only incremental progress toward fulfilling his ambitious campaign promise to accept up to 125,000 refugees into the United States each year.

On Sept. 27, the Biden administration set the cap on refugee admissions for fiscal year 2023 at 125,000 – just as it did in fiscal year 2022. To achieve the president’s goal, the administration would have to admit an average of 10,417 refugees per month.

However, in fiscal year 2022, the administration accepted only 25,465 refugees, or 2,122 per month, according to State Department data. In the first three months of fiscal year 2023, which began Oct. 1, the administration welcomed 6,750 refugees, or 2,250 per month. (See “Refugee Admissions Report” for monthly data from 2000 through 2023.)

Overall, the U.S. has admitted 42,223 refugees in Biden’s first full 23 months in office, or 1,836 refugees per month, the data show. That’s 0.5% less than the 1,845 monthly average during the four years under Trump, who significantly reduced the admission of refugees. (For both presidents, our monthly averages include only full months in office, excluding the month of January 2017 and January 2021, when administrations overlapped.)

In its report to Congress for fiscal year 2023, the State Department said “we are beginning to make progress towards fulfilling President Biden’s ambitious admissions target.” In our last report, we noted that the U.S. ended fiscal year 2022 by admitting more than 5,500 refugees in September — the highest monthly amount since January 2017.

But the Biden administration, so far, has been unable to sustain that level of admission in the new fiscal year.

Judiciary Appointments

Supreme Court — Biden has won confirmation for one Supreme Court nominee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Trump had won confirmation for two by this point in his tenure: Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justice Jackson replaced retired Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton and served nearly three decades.

Court of Appeals — So far, 28 U.S. Court of Appeals judges have been confirmed under Biden. At the same point in Trump’s presidency — halfway through his four years in office — 30 had been confirmed.

District Court — Biden has won confirmation for 68 District Court judges. At the same point in Trump’s term, 53 nominees had been confirmed.

Two U.S. Court of Federal Claims judges also have been confirmed under Biden.

There were 87 federal court vacancies, with 23 nominees pending, as of Jan. 20.


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Posts Misinterpret NYC Health Tweet About Omicron Subvariant XBB.1.5 – FactCheck.org

SciCheck Digest

An unclear tweet from New York City health officials was meant to caution residents that the latest omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, might be more likely than previous variants to infect vaccinated or previously infected people. Social media posts misinterpreted the tweet to mean that vaccinated people were at higher risk than unvaccinated people.



Full Story

In the U.S., an omicron subvariant known as XBB.1.5 has rapidly spread over the last several months, particularly in the Northeast. While the subvariant is highly transmissible and may be more immune evasive than other variants, there is no sign that vaccination is not beneficial or that vaccinated people are more likely to be infected than unvaccinated people.

Yet the incorrect notion that vaccinated people are more susceptible than unvaccinated people to the variant has been spreading on social media, thanks to posts misinterpreting a Jan. 13 tweet from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, also known as NYC Health.

“Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 now accounts for 73% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in NYC,” the department’s tweet began. “XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible form of COVID-19 that we know of to date and may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or already had COVID-19.”

The imprecisely worded tweet was quickly misconstrued to mean that vaccinated people were at higher risk of infection than unvaccinated people, rather than — as intended — at a higher risk of infection with the new variant compared with previous ones.

“Name me one other vaccine/treatment that increases your risk of contracting the disease its ‘SUPPOSED’ to be giving you protection from?” asked a Jan. 16 Instagram post, sharing a screenshot of an Epoch Times story reporting on the tweet.

The Epoch Times is a conservative outlet affiliated with a Chinese spiritual movement and is known for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. In this case, its article doesn’t contain outright falsehoods and at times even provides good, accurate information about the new variant and the vaccines.

But the Epoch Times story never explains that the possible increased risk of infection with XBB.1.5 is relative to prior variants — and the headline only mentions the risk for people who are vaccinated. The tweet, of course, had also referred to those who were previously infected.

An article from Fox News, which was republished in the New York Post, covered the tweet in a similarly confusing fashion, also topped with an easily misunderstood headline: “Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 possibly more likely to infect those who are vaccinated, officials say.”

The story and the erroneous takeaway were then shared by readers and spreaders of vaccine misinformation, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., on Facebook and other social media sites.

In a Jan. 17 tweet, NYC Health clarified that its statement about increased infection risk was “compared to prior variants.” But the incorrect interpretation of the tweet had already spread.

Misinformation Spreaders Capitalize on Poorly Worded Tweet

It’s worth noting that while NYC Health’s original tweet was poorly worded, additional information present on the department’s website at the time made clear that the elevated risk of infection was relative to other variants, not to unvaccinated people.

“It may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or previously had COVID-19 compared to prior variants,” a department webpage said of XBB.1.5 as early as Jan. 13, in language otherwise nearly identical to the tweet.

The tweet itself was also accompanied by a graph showing the growing prevalence of the subvariant in the city over time, hinting at the correct meaning — and a subsequent tweet emphasized the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, including the updated booster shots.

Some posts and commenters picked up on this supposed discrepancy, wondering why officials would recommend vaccines if vaccinated people were at higher risk of infection than unvaccinated people.

“This makes zero sense! First they admit that being vaxxed can make you more susceptible. Then they tell you to get vaxxed to protect yourself,” one Facebook user wrote in reply to the New York Post article.

But of course, the health department wasn’t saying that vaccination puts people at higher risk.

No Evidence Vaccination Increases Risk of XBB.1.5 Infection

The notion that the COVID-19 vaccines increase infection risk is a misconception we’ve seen before. In June, we debunked the same claim, that time based on some cherry-picked data from Walgreens. As we explained then, it’s true that the vaccines have become less effective against infection than they once were, as new variants evolved and immunity waned. But numerous studies have shown that even against omicron, the original shots still provided at least some temporary protection against infection.

There isn’t much data yet to say if that is still the case with XBB.1.5, or to say how well the updated boosters in particular fare in preventing infections. Updated boosters targeting both the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants became available for adults in the U.S. in September. XBB.1.5 is most similar to the BA.2 variant, having formed from the recombination of two such variants, plus some additional mutations.

Lab studies suggest that XBB.1.5 is likely to be among the most immune evasive variants thus far, meaning that the variant is able to sidestep immunity protection people have from vaccination or prior infections — at least in terms of evading antibodies. It’s therefore reasonable to expect that the vaccines may not offer as much protection against infection as before — and likely why NYC Health was alerting people to the possibility, which also applied to previously infected people.

One study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 12, found that neutralizing antibodies among vaccinated people were lower against one of XBB.1.5’s predecessors, XBB, compared with other variants. Still, the antibody levels were higher in most people who received an updated booster.

In any case, there is no evidence to suggest that vaccination is counterproductive and leading to more infections.

In New York City, for example, where officials estimate around 80% of COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 7 were due to XBB.1.5, there continue to be far lower rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations or deaths among vaccinated or boosted people compared with unvaccinated people.

It’s important to remember that antibodies aren’t the only defense against the virus — there are memory T and B cells as well — and scientists anticipate the vaccines will retain much of their ability to prevent severe disease and death, which is their primary goal.


Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.

Sources

COVID Data Tracker. CDC. Accessed 20 Jan 2023.

XBB.1.5 Rapid risk assessment.” World Health Organization. 11 Jan 2023.

nychealthy (@nycHealthy).“Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 now accounts for 73% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in NYC. XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible form of COVID-19 that we know of to date and may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or already had COVID-19.” Twitter. 13 Jan 2023.

Musto, Julia. “Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 possibly more likely to infect the vaccinated: officials.” Fox News. 14 Jan 2023.

nychealthy (@nycHealthy). “XBB.1.5 may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or previously had COVID-19 compared to prior variants. Vaccination is still the best way to protect against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, including from these new variants: //nyc.gov/covidvaccine.” Twitter. 17 Jan 2023.

COVID-19: Data.” NYC Health. Accessed 20 Jan 2023 and web archived versions.

McDonald, Jessica. “Vaccinated People Not More Susceptible to COVID-19 Than Unvaccinated.” FactCheck.org. 10 Jun 2022.

McDonald, Jessica. “Q&A on Omicron-Updated COVID-19 Boosters.” FactCheck.org. 23 Sep 2022.

Browne, Ed. “Why COVID’s XBB.1.5 ‘Kraken’ Variant Is So Contagious.” Scientific American. 10 Jan 2023.

Hodcroft, Emma. “I’ve updated my #SARSCoV2 #22F/#XBB figure to show how it has evolved into XBB.1 & XBB.1.5.” Twitter. 6 Jan 2023.

Yue, Can et al. “Enhanced transmissibility of XBB.1.5 is contributed by both strong ACE2 binding and antibody evasion.” bioRxiv. 5 Jan 2023.

Davis-Gardner, Meredith E. et al. “Neutralization against BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1, and XBB from mRNA Bivalent Booster.” New England Journal of Medicine. 12 Jan 2023.

McBride, Katie. “XBB.1.5 Is Spreading Rapidly Across The Country. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Panic.” Inverse. 13 Jan 2023.



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