SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facing a massive homelessness crisis and a looming recall vote, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday funneled an unprecedented $12 billion into services and housing for Californians without homes or at risk of losing their homes. Newsom signed the funding bill as he stood in front of the Sebastopol Inn in Sonoma County, a hotel that has been converted into homeless housing using state funds. With Monday’s record-breaking funding package, Newsom hopes to build on programs that have successfully provided temporary and long-term shelter to tens of thousands of unhoused people during the...
As a former national team cyclist who'd fix her own bikes, and before that as a child helping out on her family's cattle farm, NASA trainee astronaut Christina Birch has plenty of experience working with her hands.
With America's sights now set on returning to the Moon -- this time establishing long-term habitats -- Birch is dreaming big: "If I could assist the mission in any way, by helping build something on the Moon, that would be super cool," she told AFP.
The 35-year-old is one of ten new recruits announced by the US space agency this week, the latest members of what it calls the "Artemis generation," named for the Artemis program to put American boots on lunar soil later this decade, and later on to Mars.
Selected from a competitive field of 12,000 applicants, their diverse profiles have been picked with the goal of accomplishing humankind's toughest exploration missions to date.
Among them are high-level scientists. Chris Williams, 38, is a medical physicist and assistant professor at Harvard, whose research focused on developing image guidance techniques for cancer treatments.
"I was very inspired by the Moon missions as a kid, and so NASA's Artemis program to go back to the Moon in a sustainable way is something that I'm really passionate about," he said in a video call.
Birch holds a doctorate in biological engineering from MIT. Her dreams of space travel were inspired by the work she was doing in her own laboratory.
"It probably wasn't until I was working in the lab, you know, as a bio engineer, doing these experiments with cells and proteins, and I saw that similar experiments are being done aboard the space station. And I said, 'Well, hey, I've got those skills!'"
Another feather in her cap: She's an ex-track cyclist on the US team, who qualified for the Olympics and has won World Cup medals in the team pursuit and Madison race.
"I love having a training plan or regimen, and working towards a big goal," she explained.
However, unlike the many experienced pilots chosen, she has no flying experience and looks forward to jet training.
"The fastest I've gone is on the Velodrome on the track, self-propelled," she said.
'Exciting new adventure'
NASA is targeting a crewed landing on the Moon in 2025.
Unlike the Apollo era, the space agency will carry out the mission partly with the help of private companies, including SpaceX who will operate the lander vehicle.
In a sign of the times, one of the future astronauts is returning to NASA from a stint at Elon Musk's company, which he joined in 2018.
Physician Anil Menon, who at 45 is the oldest of the astronaut class of 2021, was SpaceX's first flight surgeon, having previously fulfilled the same role for NASA, overseeing the health of astronauts on missions.
It was Menon, who got selected after his fifth time applying, who pulled Frenchman Thomas Pesquet out from his Dragon capsule when it splashed down in November after the crew had spent six months in space.
"It will be incredible to be able to physically experience it myself," he said.
In addition to contributing to medical research, "I think that medical knowledge is going to keep people healthy and safe," he said.
Born to parents from India and Ukraine, he is also used to working under difficult emergency conditions. In 2010, he went to Haiti to help after a devastating earthquake.
Then in 2015, he landed in Nepal by chance minutes before a massive earthquake, and once again helped treat patients flocking to local clinics.
In January the new recruits will report at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they will begin two years of intensive training.
They will learn how to operate and maintain the International Space Station, carry out spacewalks, develop robotics skills, safely operate a T-38 training jet, and learn Russian to communicate with their counterparts.
"It'll be a big change for our families, but it's an exciting new adventure," said Williams.
Ted Cruz has never recouped $500,000 he loaned his first campaign -- and now he’s working to overturn the law that’s blocked him
Locked in an expensive Republican primary for U.S. senator against a wealthy, better-known opponent, Ted Cruz loaned his campaign over $1 million in 2012.
The cash helped him defeat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff that essentially secured Cruz a seat in the Senate. But it came at a personal financial cost: Cruz has never been able to recoup $545,000 of that loan, according to a Federal Election Commission report.
A 2002 law bans victorious federal candidates from using more than $250,000 raised after an election to pay back loans they gave their own campaigns prior to Election Day. Congress passed it to help prevent the appearance of quid pro quo corruption. The idea behind the limit is that money collected after an election is no longer helping a candidate win office. Instead, the funds go to the electee’s pocket.
Cruz recouped a good chunk of that 2012 loan from money received before Election Day. But when Cruz’s campaign determined that the loans could not be fully repaid due to the regulations, it began exploring ways to challenge the law, according to a May 2020 deposition of Cabell Hobbs, Ted Cruz Victory Committee treasurer.
Next month, his campaign’s lawsuit against the FEC will reach the Supreme Court. Cruz’s campaign lawyers are expected to argue the limit is unconstitutional, arbitrarily limits political speech and deters candidates from loaning money to their campaigns.
“The federal government’s restrictions on a candidate’s ability to loan his own money to his own campaign violate the First Amendment,” a Cruz spokesperson told The Texas Tribune in an email. “Senator Cruz seeks to vindicate his rights under the First Amendment and the rights of all those who would seek election to federal office.”
It’s unclear whether Cruz will ever get his money back, even if he wins his case. In 2015, after his campaign was audited by the FEC, Cruz’s campaign converted the existing unpaid loans into a contribution, as required by law. But he still lists the loans as an asset in his most recent Senate financial disclosure, which could be a sign he hopes to eventually get the money back. Cruz’s office did not respond to questions about his plans for the loan.
The lawsuit now pending before the Supreme Court is actually about a separate loan. One day before he won reelection in 2018, Cruz loaned his campaign $260,000 — intentionally establishing the groundwork to sue to overturn the rule and raise money to recover the $10,000 that goes over the cap of $250,000.
“The money they contribute is literally going into Ted Cruz’s bank account,” said Seth Nesin, the FEC’s former lead attorney on this case who left the agency in August after 13 years. “That’s what really makes it seem, to at least me and some other people, quite sketchy.”
Cruz’s legal fight is a new front in a longtime effort by conservatives to peel back federal campaign finance rules they argue are antithetical to free speech. If the Supreme Court affirms lower courts’ rulings in Cruz’s favor, the case would mark another blow to federal campaign finance laws under Chief Justice John Roberts.
In 2010’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court effectively allowed unions and corporations to spend as much as they like on independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. Campaign spending by outside groups more than doubled in the decision’s wake, according to a 2015 analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. In 2014’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can’t cap the amount of money people donate to federal candidates in the aggregate every two years.
But this case goes a step further, according to some critics of Cruz’s lawsuit, because the money raised after the election would replenish politicians’ personal funds — not their campaigns.
If the Supreme Court struck down the limit, Tara Malloy, senior director for appellate litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, said the effect would be bad but “fairly narrow.”
“It’s just common sense that when an election is over, a contributor is not giving money to fund election speech anymore. At most, they are trying to associate themselves to the candidate,” said Malloy, whose group filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the FEC in the Supreme Court case. “That money that’s being raised will directly enrich the candidate in a way that almost no other campaign contribution will.”
In a motion filed in July, the FEC pointed to a recent study of U.S. congressional campaigns from 1983-2018 by two finance professors at universities in France and Switzerland. The study found that nearly half of all political campaigns rely on debt in some form. Officeholders in debt are more likely to change their votes to benefit PACs making post-election campaign contributions, according to the study.
But conservatives have long argued in court that campaign contributions amount to political speech, which shouldn’t be restricted.
In an amicus curiae brief filed in August, the nonprofit Institute for Free Speech argued that the limit hinders political speech by disincentivizing candidates from loaning money to their campaigns.
“Contributions to a political campaign promote more expenditures by that campaign, which results in more political speech,” wrote Donald A. Daugherty for the Institute for Free Speech.
FEC lawyers also argue that striking down the limit would allow candidates to engage further in “debt stacking,” a loophole where donors avoid contribution limits by giving money to previous campaigns with existing debts.
“If there were no Loan Repayment Limit now, a contributor that had not previously given to Senator Cruz could donate $16,000 today: the maximum $5,000 to his 2012 primary and general campaigns… an additional $5,400 to his 2018 campaigns… and another $5,600 to his 2024 campaigns. And Senator Cruz would be able to make yet another loan to his 2024 campaign to keep the cycle going,” the FEC wrote.
But Judge Neomi Rao — appointed by former President Donald Trump to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — wrote in June that because the government did not sufficiently prove how the law prevents corruption, the limit “runs afoul of the First Amendment.”
Lawyers representing Ted Cruz for Senate have until Dec. 15 to file their brief in the case. Oral arguments are Jan. 19. If the limit is considered unconstitutional, future candidates could theoretically repay loans of infinite amounts with post-election contributions.
Nesin fears that the “very hostile court to campaign finance laws” may strike down the limit.
“I think it’s very unlikely that the Supreme Court will find the FEC on the merits of the case,” Nesin said. “Just because of who is on the Supreme Court, the FEC doesn’t win anything.”
US senators struck a deal Tuesday to create a one-time law allowing Democrats to lift the nation's borrowing authority and avert a catastrophic credit default without requiring votes from the opposition Republicans.
The House of Representatives approved the fix in an evening vote and it is expected to be approved by the Senate in the coming days -- allowing lawmakers to avert the crisis with a simple 51-vote majority in the upper chamber.
The Bipartisan Policy Center said last week it expected the United States would no longer be able to meet its debt repayment obligations between December 21 and January 28. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has put the deadline even earlier -- next Wednesday.
"Nobody wants to see the US default on its debts. As Secretary Yellen has warned, a default could eviscerate everything we've done to recover from the Covid crisis," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the chamber.
"We don't want to see that, I don't believe we will see that, and I continue to thank all my colleagues for cooperating in good faith to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States."
America spends more money than it collects through taxation, so it borrows money via the issuing of government bonds, seen as among the world's most reliable investments.
Around 80 years ago, lawmakers introduced a limit on how much federal debt could be accrued.
The ceiling has been lifted dozens of times to allow the government to meet its spending commitments -- usually without drama and with the support of both parties -- and stands at around $29 trillion.
Democratic leaders have spent weeks underlining the havoc that a default would have wrought, including the loss of an estimated six million jobs and $15 trillion in household wealth, as well as increased costs for mortgages and other borrowing.
But Republicans in both chambers of Congress initially objected to helping raise the limit this time around, saying they refused to support President Joe Biden's "reckless" taxing and spending plans.
In reality, both parties see raising the borrowing cap as politically toxic, and Republicans hope to weaponize the issue in the 2022 midterm election campaign.
Under the complex, multi-step compromise proposed Tuesday, the Republicans can essentially stand on the sidelines, offering help to create the new law but offering no votes to increase the limit.
Congress would have to specify the exact dollar amount of a new borrowing cap -- likely upwards of $30 trillion.
After the Senate has followed the House in approving the new process, both chambers are expected to pass the extension by simple majority votes ahead of the deadline.
Crucially, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, is backing the process.
"I think this is in the best interest of the country, by avoiding default," he told reporters when questioned about the convoluted approach.