May 12, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

You may have to read the headline again. The federal government of the United States had a $308 billion budget surplus in April.

Compare that to a $226 billion deficit for April 2021. It is rare, good federal budget news even as the stock market struggles, and Wall Street keeps whispering the word “recession,” or at least “bear market.”

It is not unheard of for the country to take in more than it spends in April, which is tax deadline month. But $226 billion is a record surplus for a single month. And sometimes April ends in the red as it did in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2020 and 2021. But the size of the surplus that came from unexpected business revenue surprised government economists.

Compare this year with the river of red ink in 2020 and 2021 when the government was writing checks for stimulus programs.

(Congressional Budget Office)

So where does this put us for the year? Roll Call analyzed it this way:

The result is a deficit of just $360 billion for the fiscal year-to-date, down from over $1.9 trillion at this time in fiscal 2021.

Analysts at the nonpartisan CBO note that the “trajectory of monthly deficits” so far this fiscal year is similar to in fiscal 2019, the last full pre-pandemic budget year. Through the first seven months of that year, deficits totaled $530 billion, en route to a total of $984 billion for the full fiscal year.

Those figures suggest a less-than-$1 trillion deficit for the current fiscal year, dramatically undershooting prior forecasts by the CBO and White House budget office. Wrightson ICAP, an investment advisory firm that closely follows federal government financing, now estimates the deficit for fiscal 2022 could drop to somewhere in the $600 billion to $700 billion range, or the lowest in five years.

Travel, including airfares and hotels, are major contributor to inflation

Deep within the Consumer Price Index figures this week you will find the data showing you that airfares and hotels are one of the engines feeding the 8.3% year-over-year inflation rate. The Labor Department said:

The index for airline fares rose 33.3 percent over the last year, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending December 1980.

The index for lodging away from home continued to increase, rising 1.7 percent in April after advancing 3.3 percent in March.

The reasons for the increase includes a rise in demand, including business and summer leisure travel — plus airlines are paying higher wages and fuel costs.

Recently, the American Hotel and Lodging Association said that while leisure travel is increasing, business travel is still significantly lower than before the pandemic. The report said:

U.S. hotel business travel revenue is projected to be 23% below pre-pandemic levels in 2022, ending the year down more than $20 billion compared to 2019. This comes after hotels lost an estimated $108 billion in business travel revenue during 2020 and 2021 combined.

Is inflation ‘soaring,’ ‘slowed,’ ‘barreling ahead’ or did it ‘edge down?’

I was struck by how different news organizations look at the Consumer Price Index figures and came to a range of conclusions about them. Here are some examples I captured within minutes of each other.

Fox News:

 

Washington Post:

New York Times:

Drudge:

CNBC:

CNN:

Drudge again:

Google searches for vasectomies go up after Supreme Court leak

NBC4 New York reports:

After a draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v Wade was leaked to the public, online searches for vasectomies surged.

Daily searches for vasectomies increased 99% since the draft opinion was published early last week, according to an analysis of Google Trends and search volumes by Innerbody Research, a home health product research company.

The same analysis conducted by Innerbody Research found that online searches for both “is a vasectomy reversible” and “how much is a vasectomy” increased 250%. (Yes, and there’s a huge range, from about $300 to $3,000, and of course it depends on your insurance.)

Jezebel said:

Not-so-coincidentally, the states where searches for “vasectomy near me” were most popular were Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Florida. Nearly all of these states have pre-Roe abortion bans, “trigger bans” that would automatically ban abortion if Roe no longer applies, or other stringent abortion bans and restrictions already in effect.

At the very least, it’s clear from the search trends that cis men are starting to realize their reproductive fates are deeply connected to pregnant people’s. We saw a similar trend last December when a doctor at the Austin Urology Institute in Texas said his practice saw “about a 15% increase in scheduled vasectomies” since the state’s near-total abortion ban took effect in September. The doctor told the Washington Post that patients who called him said they were “‘here because some of these changes that [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott and our legislature have passed are really impacting our decision-making in terms of family planning,’” and “for the first time, patients are citing a state law as their motivating factor.”

Congress will investigate UFOs in an open hearing next week

Having solved inflation, political division, Russian aggression and public distrust, Congress will hold a hearing on UFOs on Tuesday.

This should be fun. Vice gives you the background on why this is a new topic of interest:

After the New York Times published an article about the existence of a Pentagon UFO project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) in 2017, government disclosures about UFOs have come repeatedly. Last year, the Pentagon released a report about its UFO program that detailed 143 sightings of aerial objects that could not be explained between the years of 2004 and 2021. That report was considered to be pretty underwhelming because much of the information had previously been disclosed, and a lot of the report simply sought additional funding for the Pentagon. But a classified version of that report was obtained earlier this year by government transparency organization The Black Vault, which appears to have far more interesting details about the potential nature of UFOs.

Since then, Motherboard and other outlets have obtained hundreds of pages of reports and research on futuristic technology funded by the government under the AATIP and a related program called the Advanced Aerospace Weapons System Application Program. The Barack Obama Presidential Library has also said it has thousands of pages of UFO documents.

The Gallup pollsters occasionally ask the public about UFOs and last year found:

While Americans are still inclined to think UFOs are not alien spacecraft, close to half believe alien life forms exist beyond Earth. A June 2019 poll found 49% of Americans believing there are “people somewhat like ourselves” living on other planets. A much larger percentage, 75%, said that “life of some form” exists elsewhere in the universe.

(Gallup July 2021)

A long blood moon this weekend

While you are sky watching, on Sunday and Monday those of you with clear skies should see a treat. NatGeo explains that a full moon will be totally eclipsed by Earth, which will turn the moon’s surface a deep red color, called a blood moon. And this will be a real treat because it will last longer than any such event in a decade.

This eclipse will also appear a little grander than usual. The moon will be near its perigee, or closest point to Earth, making it seem a bit larger in the sky, a phenomenon known as a supermoon.

Additionally, the May full moon is sometimes known as a flower moon in the Northern Hemisphere, a tribute to the colorful blooms that appear in early spring. So, the May 15 eclipse may be called a super flower blood moon.

The entire phase of totality will be visible in all of South America and across most of North America.

Go here, put in your location and this interactive map will tell you what you will see and when you will see it. For example, this is the timing for where I am in Tampa Bay.

(Timeanddate.com)

We are taking Friday off, so we’ll be back Monday with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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