November 22, 2022

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The two biggest railroad workers’ unions split their votes on the latest contract offer, which puts the United States back on track for an economy-stalling strike in a couple of weeks. The SMART Transportation Division union, which represents rail conductors, voted no. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to ratify the deal. Together they represent 57,000 workers which is nearly half of the membership that would be covered by the national contract. 

You can read the joint statement from the unions here.

We have been here before. In fact, we have been even closer to a strike in September before the Biden administration helped broker a last-minute contract that all 12 rail worker unions must approve. Seven of the smaller unions voted to accept the offer while three others rejected it.

The President does not have the power to stop a national strike, but Congress does under the Railway Labor Act of 1926. Union-friendly Democrats are reluctant to interfere in contract disputes, but a third of the nation’s freight moves by rail and an interruption of that size would ripple quickly through the economy.

A strike could occur any time after Dec. 5 unless there is a settlement.

This Christmas, stores are overloaded with merchandise; markdowns are inevitable

Last Christmas season retailers warned customers to buy stuff early because supply-chain issues were going to cause shortages. The opposite is true this year.

Stores promised themselves they would not get caught short again so they overstocked their warehouses and now may have to launch big discounts to unload everything.

CNBC reports:

Walmart, TargetGapKohl’s and others are trying to sell through a glut of extra merchandise piling up in store backrooms and warehouses.

And CNBC says the inventories are subject to the shopping whims of consumers.

Retailers have dealt with a sharp turnabout over the past six months. Many of the same items that flew off shelves during the pandemic’s earlier days — such as loungewear and coffee makers — have wound up on the clearance rack.

With housing and grocery prices surging, fewer Americans are buying big-ticket and discretionary items. Inventory, which accounts for the value of goods in transit as well as those in stock, also rose due to supply chain issues.

For shoppers, efforts to clear inventory will mean bigger bargains this holiday season. For retailers, it will mean squeezed profit margins.

Why are student loan forgiveness letters being sent while the case is tied up in court?

This week, thousands of people who owed college student loans are opening notices from the federal government telling them their loans are forgiven. Now pay attention, there are two groups of borrowers who are getting these notices, even while Time Magazine runs a story headlined “The courts are probably going to kill Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.” 

One group of 560,000 borrowers are getting loan forgiveness under the Borrower Defense to Repayment program. These students attended the national chain of for-profit Corinthian Colleges which was accused of intentionally misrepresenting job placement rates and engaging in false advertising. In 2015, the chain collapsed and closed. Those students got automatic forgiveness notices this week. Corinthian, which was headquartered in Santa Ana, California. operated 105 campuses in 25 States.

Another group of student borrowers also started getting surprise emails saying their loan forgiveness has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the paperwork will be processed as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the government’s program. That is a sizeable hitch in the process since a federal appeals court is currently holding up the forgiveness program. You can read the Department of Justice’s filing with the Supreme Court here.  BusinessInsider reported:

The Department of Education began sending emails to borrowers, alerting them of their debt relief approval, and also providing details about lawsuits that are delaying implementation of the program.

In an email reviewed by Insider, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote: “We reviewed your application and determined that you are eligible for loan relief under the Plan. We have sent this approval on to your loan servicer. You do not need to take any further action.”

Cardona added the administration believes the lawsuits are meritless and that the Department of Justice has made an appeal on the behalf of borrowers. “Your application is complete and approved, and we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court,” Cardona wrote.

Politico education reporter Michael Stratford posted one of the notices on Twitter.


Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan waives up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers making under $125,000 a year. 

Of the 26,000,000 people who have applied for loan forgiveness, the Department of Education says 16,000,000 have been approved so far. 

When you think about it, the email saying you are “this close” to having $20,000 erased from your debt load will make it tougher to swallow a court decision that rules the debt waiver cannot stand. 

Flu, RSV, COVID and Thanksgiving gatherings — not a great combination

The 2022 phrase of the season is “tripledemic.” Just when you thought you might have something resembling a normal Thanksgiving, RSV and a wicked flu season has America back on edge. For the third straight year, we wonder whether each hug comes with a bug. Next to nobody is going to wear a mask and it is awkward to ask them to.

If you are heading pretty much anywhere south of Wyoming or Nebraska, you are heading into an influenza zone.



You can go to this website and see what the COVID-19 risk is where you and yours will gather. The CDC recommends that people who are at high risk in counties rated with a “medium” COVID-19 prevalence be especially cautious. Consider wearing a mask indoors and consider asking people who will attend to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. People with high-risk factors should avoid indoor gatherings in counties that are listed as “high” in COVID-19 spread.

Consider sending this from VOX to people you will meet up with. 

The only thing we can hope for is that anybody who has symptoms that could be a cold, flu, COVID or RSV will mercifully stay home.

We are dismantling our COVID vaccination plan while COVID is still around 

America was once a global leader in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. But other countries now are working on a nasal vaccine spray and experts say nasal vaccines may be more effective than injections because nasal sprays are applied right where the virus attacks most, the nose. 

The New York Times says the Biden administration is in a last-minute sprint to keep the nation’s vaccination program alive with a jump-start of funding before a GOP lead House of Representatives takes charge and makes it more difficult to get funding:

As a third pandemic winter begins in the United States, its vaccine-making effort has lost steam. Efforts to test and produce next-generation Covid vaccines are bogged down by bureaucratic problems and funding shortfalls. Foreign rivals have raced ahead in approving long-awaited nasal-spray vaccines, including one invented in St. Louis, creating a scenario in which Americans would have to travel abroad for the latest in American vaccine technology.

The Biden administration has launched a last-ditch effort to restore the country’s edge. In a bid to resurrect Operation Warp Speed, President Biden asked the lame-duck session of Congress  (last week)  for $5 billion for next-generation vaccines and therapeutics, as part of a broader $9.25 billion pandemic spending request. But Republicans, having blocked requests for next-generation vaccine funding since the spring amid complaints about how the White House spent earlier pandemic aid allocations, have shown no signs of dropping their resistance.

As a result, even with the pandemic still taking a heavy toll, prospects have dimmed for the two most coveted kinds of next-generation vaccines: nasal sprays that can block more infections, and universal coronavirus shots that can defend against a wider array of ever-evolving variants.

The Times’ story pushes deeper into the head-shaking problems that make it more difficult for American researchers to create reliable COVID-19 nasal vaccines.

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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,…
Al Tompkins

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