Representative Harshbarger’s Bill Mandating Daily Contract Reports from Department of Homeland Security Advances Out of Committee

Representative Harshbarger’s Bill Mandating Daily Contract Reports from Department of Homeland Security Advances Out of Committee

A bill from Representative Diana Harshbarger (R-TN-01) mandating daily reporting on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracts passed out of committee Wednesday. The “DHS Contract Reporting Act of 2021” was approved by the House Committee on Homeland Security, according to a weekly report from Harshbarger. Harshbarger serves on the committee.

The bill currently has bipartisan support, with two Democratic and one other Republican cosponsor: Representatives Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), and John Katko (R-NY-24). It would require the DHS secretary to publish daily reports of all covered contract rewards of $4 million or greater on a public website. It would also give the public the option to subscribe to notification alerts for updated reports. 

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Phoenix Union High School District Issues Mask Mandate, Breaking State Law

Phoenix Union High School District Issues Mask Mandate, Breaking State Law

Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) issued a mask mandate on Friday, in violation of state law. The mandate was issued three days before the district began its fall semester.

“We teach and trust science, follow guidelines and recommendations from health experts, and use health data to drive our decisions. The science is clear that the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 and known variants is to get vaccinated,” announced PXU. “In an effort to protect our staff, students, and community, PXU has a good faith belief that the following guidance from the CDC and other health agencies regarding mitigation strategies is imperative. Therefore, Phoenix Union will begin the school year on August 2 enforcing our existing Board-adopted mask requirement of universal indoor masking only, regardless of vaccination status.”

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Tennessee’s Fired Immunization Chief Claims ‘White, Male, Rural Conservatives’ Refuse Vaccine, Willing to Risk Others’ Lives Out of Spite for Left

Tennessee’s Fired Immunization Chief Claims ‘White, Male, Rural Conservatives’ Refuse Vaccine, Willing to Risk Others’ Lives Out of Spite for Left

Tennessee’s former leading vaccine official, Michelle Fiscus, said that white, male, rural conservatives refuse the COVID-19 vaccine and are willing to risk the lives of others and themselves out of spite for the left. The former Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Vaccine and Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program (VPDIP) Director made these statements during an interview with PBS.

“But I think the other thing in Tennessee, and I think in a lot of our Southern states that’s happening, is this ideology that if you get this vaccine, you’re somehow placating to the left part of the political spectrum,” said Fiscus. “And so what we’re actually seeing is our most hesitant population in Tennessee is the white, male, rural conservatives, and that they are stating that they’re not going to get the vaccine really out of spite and are willing to put their own lives and the lives of the people that they love at risk because they feel that if they get the vaccine, then they have placated the left or done what the Biden Administration wants them to do.”

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Pfizer Launches Trials to Test Booster COVID Shots in Knoxville, Nashville

Pfizer Launches Trials to Test Booster COVID Shots in Knoxville, Nashville

Pfizer has launched trials in Knoxville and Nashville to test a third booster shot for the COVID-19 vaccine, marketed as an “updated version.” Alliance for Multispecialty Research (AMR) Knoxville’s Volunteer Research Group is conducting the Knoxville study, and Clinical Research Associates is conducting the Nashville study. Pfizer claimed in a press release earlier this month that a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would more effectively provide immunization, especially against the Delta variant.

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Senate Liaison for Arizona Audit Reverses Course on Stepping Down, Will Remain Under Certain Conditions

Senate Liaison for Arizona Audit Reverses Course on Stepping Down, Will Remain Under Certain Conditions

The former Secretary of State serving as the liaison for the Arizona State Senate Audit, Ken Bennett, will remain in his capacity as liaison after all. This is the second time that Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) has apparently walked Bennett back from the brink of walking away from the audit. Their latest agreement to keep Bennett on was less publicized than the first; no official statements have been put forth concerning the new terms of Bennett’s role. Per their agreement, Bennett will regain access to the building and may obtain information from the auditing company, Cyber Ninjas, upon request.

As The Arizona Sun Times reported on Thursday, Bennett has gone back and forth over his decision to bow out of the audit. Bennett relayed those sentiments twice this week: once on Monday, then again on Wednesday. Both times, Bennett discussed stepping down from his role with the radio host James Harris on morning episodes of The Conservative Circus. Both times, Bennett said he was liaison “in name only” because he was repeatedly excluded from overseeing critical aspects of the audit.

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Arizona Cities Reinstate Mask Mandates Following CDC Guidance

Arizona Cities Reinstate Mask Mandates Following CDC Guidance

The cities of Phoenix, Tucson, Peoria, Tempe, and Flagstaff have all announced reinstatement of their mask mandates following the updated CDC guidance. The mayors of these cities directed their officials to mandate masks in city facilities regardless of vaccination status. Tempe and Tucson’s mandate went into effect on Wednesday, Peoria’s mandate on Thursday, and Flagstaff’s mandate on Friday. Phoenix’s mandate will go into effect on Monday.

As The Arizona Sun Times reported, the CDC recommended on Tuesday that everyone – even fully-vaccinated individuals – wear masks inside public spaces where high transmission rates exist. The CDC claimed that this reversed guidance was influenced by the surge of Delta variant cases. The CDC mentioned that certain data necessitated this change, but hasn’t published it.

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Twitter Suspends Accounts Documenting Arizona Audit

Twitter Suspends Accounts Documenting Arizona Audit

Twitter permanently suspended several accounts dedicated to documenting the Arizona audit. The social media giant also permanently suspended other similar or affiliated accounts covering the audit or calls for an audit in Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

The suspended accounts were: @arizonaaudit, @AuditWarRoom, @AuditMichigan, @AuditWisconsin, @AuditNevada, @AuditGeorgia, @Audit_Arizona and @Audit_PA. The latter 7 accounts are associated with an Instagram account, @auditwarroom, that hasn’t been suspended from the Facebook-owned platform. That account notified the public that it joined GETTR, a social media platform created by former President Donald Trump’s aide Jason Miller.

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Vanderbilt University Awarded $25,000 to COVID-Vaccinated Staff, Postdoctoral Scholars

Vanderbilt University Awarded $25,000 to COVID-Vaccinated Staff, Postdoctoral Scholars

Vanderbilt University announced on Wednesday that it awarded a total of $25,000 to staff and postdoctoral scholars in a giveaway for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Each winner received $1,000. The university held a giveaway handing out thousands of dollars as an incentive to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, despite requiring all students and staff in May to be vaccinated against COVID for the upcoming school year. The deadline to submit vaccination records is this Saturday.

Even if staff are working remotely, the university requires vaccination. Additionally, those who already contracted the virus are still required to be vaccinated.

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Senate Liaison for Arizona Audit Announces He May Step Down

Senate Liaison for Arizona Audit Announces He May Step Down

On Wednesday, the Arizona Senate’s audit liaison Ken Bennett announced he will step down from the audit. Bennett issued the announcement on Wednesday morning in a radio interview.

Bennett said it was “impossible” to function as liaison, and revealed that volunteer consultant Randy Pullen would be assuming his duties. He said he would be a liaison in name only. Bennett refused to approve any final report on the audit, since he wasn’t allowed inside any longer.

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Knox County Mayor Won’t Impose New COVID Restrictions or Mask Mandates as Delta Variant Spreads

Knox County Mayor Won’t Impose New COVID Restrictions or Mask Mandates as Delta Variant Spreads

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs won’t impose any new restrictions or mask mandates, even with the rise of the Delta variant and regular cases. The mayor made this declaration in response to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAIH) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s interview with CNN anchor Jake Tapper. Fauci revealed that he and other public health officials were considering renewed guidance recommending masks for fully-vaccinated individuals.

“As we once again hear talk about lockdowns and mandates across the country, I feel it is important I make it clear that under no circumstances will I issue any new COVID restrictions,” stated Jacobs. “Vaccines are now readily available across the country for those who want them, and our economy cannot sustain another devastating lockdown. I have faith in the people of this county to make the decisions that benefit their families best.”

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Pima County Recorder in Arizona Claims White Supremacy Causes Fear of Southside Tucson and Indian Reservations, Not Crime Rate

Pima County Recorder in Arizona Claims White Supremacy Causes Fear of Southside Tucson and Indian Reservations, Not Crime Rate

Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly claimed Monday that white supremacy caused fear of Indian reservations and Tucson’s Southside area – not the high crime rates.

One way that white Supremacy impacts organizations is when the [people] in charge are scared of certain locations [because] the residents don’t look like them and/or their communities are structured differently. ‘It’s not safe to go on the Southside.’ ‘The reservation is kinda scary.’ A decision is made at the top because of an individual’s comfort level and the priorities to engage or not engage with that community stop before any attempt can ever be made. ‘We’ll, [sic] they don’t even vote.’ Those sentiments are transferred to staff and opinion can become a practice or policy. ‘We don’t do outreach in this region because it’s not considered safe.’ ‘We require two staff members to travel there and we can’t spare anyone right now.’ ‘We don’t usually do outreach there.’ The fear of engaging in certain areas populated by Black, Indigenous, People of Color is then justified by the concept that those regions are dangerous or unsafe. The white Supremacy is believing that communities must look a certain way before they can be engaged.

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Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson Arrested During Filibuster Reform Protest at Arizona Senator Sinema’s Office

Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson Arrested During Filibuster Reform Protest at Arizona Senator Sinema’s Office

Reverend Jesse Jackson and 38 others were arrested during a protest of Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) stance on the filibuster rule outside of her Phoenix office on Monday.

The arrested protestors were charged with trespassing, according to Phoenix Police Public Information Officer Mercedes Fortune. The protestors were voicing opposition to Sinema’s lack of support for the proposed filibuster reform. Without reform or abolition of the 60-vote filibuster rule, Senate Democrats can’t pass massive election reform in the For the People Act.

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Arizona Attorney General Leads Charge Against Biden Administration’s Race-Based School Discipline Policies

Arizona Attorney General Leads Charge Against Biden Administration’s Race-Based School Discipline Policies

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich responded to the Biden Administration’s interest in potentially reviving a pre-K and K-12 discipline policy based on race. The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a request for information early last month, asking the public to submit written comment on the state of discipline in pre-K and K-12 schools. In the accompanying press release, ED alluded that it would form policy to reduce the number of certain demographics being disciplined at higher rates, specifically citing Black and disabled students. Public commentary for ED’s request for information closed last Friday.

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CDC Awarded University of Arizona $15 Million to Study Vaccine Effectiveness in Children

CDC Awarded University of Arizona $15 Million to Study Vaccine Effectiveness in Children

The CDC awarded the University of Arizona (UA) $15 million to study COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and immunity in children and underserved communities. Children as young as 4 months to minors as old as 17 years will be eligible for study of the emergency use authorization vaccine. The announcement didn’t specify who qualified as an “underserved community.” The grant was awarded specifically to the Arizona Healthcare, Emergency Response, and Other Essential Workers Surveillance (AZ HEROES) study, originally designed with a focus on frontline workers such as firefighters. 

AZ Heroes lead official and associate dean for research and professor at Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Jeff Burgess, asserted that this research would offer a better understanding of how effective COVID-19 vaccines are in youth.

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Shelby County Schools to Require Masks, Even for Vaccinated Individuals

Shelby County Schools to Require Masks, Even for Vaccinated Individuals

Shelby County Schools (SCS) will require masks for all individuals in schools for this upcoming school year – even for vaccinated individuals. However, employees in administrative offices are only strongly encouraged to wear masks. The district issued the announcement last Tuesday, citing the influx of regular and Delta variant COVID-19 cases.

“Like school districts across the nation, SCS is following science and data to guide decisions about providing COVID-19 protection for students, teachers and staff,” stated SCS. “The District is mindful of the rising cases and the spread of the Delta variant. Therefore, masks should be worn indoors (schools) and on buses by all employees and students, regardless of vaccination status until further notice.”

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Federal Court Dismisses Former Arizona Lawmaker’s Lawsuit Against State Legislature for Wrongful Expulsion over Sexual Harassment Claims

A federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by former State Representative Donald Shooter claiming that his expulsion from the legislature due to sexual harassment allegations was conspired. Circuit Court Judge Daniel Collins issued the ruling last Thursday in the case, Donald Shooter v. State of Arizona, et al.

Shooter alleged that former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and current state senator, J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler), and Governor Doug Ducey’s former chief of staff, Kirk Adams, orchestrated his expulsion from the legislature. He claimed that he was targeted while serving as the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman after he attempted to investigate further the possibility that the state was engaging in no-bid contracts for technology purchases. Due to this, Shooter asserted that he was deprived of equal opportunity and due process. Collins dismissed the case for a failure to state a claim: the judge found no plausible inference of sex discrimination, and opined that no due process claim could be present because Mesnard and Adams were entitled to qualified immunity.

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Nashville Will Extend $4.9 Million COVID Disparities Grant to Refugees, Immigrants for Testing and Vaccinations

Refugees and immigrants will have a share in Metro Nashville’s $4.9 million grant for COVID-19 health disparities in certain racial, ethnic, and rural demographics. Metro Nashville City Council adopted the resolution to accept the funds during its meeting last Tuesday. In its resolution, the council expanded the CDC’s definition of underserved populations to include refugees and immigrants.

“This [grant’s purpose] includes implementation of a collaborative, multilevel, culturally informed approach to expand access to COVID-19 testing and vaccine administration and to reduce disparities among Nashville’s underserved African American, Hispanic, immigrant, and refugee communities,” read the resolution analysis.

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Knoxville City Council to Appoint Members to African American Equity Restoration Task Force

Knoxville City Council will appoint its first members to the African American Equity Restoration Task Force during its meeting next Tuesday. The task force will consist of the following members: George Underwood, Enkeshi El-Amin, Brandon Hardin, Regina Olum, Anderson Olds, Dave Miller, Deborah Porter, Matthew Best, Tanisha Fitzgerald Baker, Bill Lyons, Stanley Taylor, and Gwen McKenzie. 

These members were selected from applicants that qualified as business, community, financial, educational, faith, health care, youth, and city leaders. According to the council documents, the task force will determine its organizational and leadership structure during its first meeting. 

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Tucson, Arizona Petition to Raise Minimum Wage to $15 Will Appear on November Ballot

The Tucson City Clerk approved the signatures for a petition to adopt a $15 minimum wage citywide, meaning it will be placed on this November’s ballot. If approved by voters, the minimum wage would increase incrementally for the next four years, starting in April of next year. The minimum wage would first increase to $13 next year, $13.50 by January 2023, and $14.25 by January 2024. That means the $15 minimum wage would be established in January 2025.

The city clerk’s office verified with The Arizona Sun Times that they certified the petition on Thursday, called “The Tucson Minimum Wage Act.” The petition needed over 14,800 signatures; the campaign reportedly gathered over 25,000 signatures. The campaign, Tucson Fight for $15, submitted the signatures at the beginning of this month. 

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State Senator Paul Boyer Withholds Vote to Enforce Subpoena Against Maricopa County, Arizona Election Officials, Says Auditors Are ‘Inexperienced, Partisan’

State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) won’t hold Maricopa County election officials in contempt for noncompliance with the Senate’s subpoena for election equipment and materials needed to complete the audit. This was revealed by Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) after Senate Liaison Ken Bennett shared that one of sixteen Republican senators wouldn’t hold the county accountable. 

The auditing company, Cyber Ninjas, explained in a hearing last week that they still lack the splunk logs, chain of custody documents, portable media and external drives, router configuration files or data, network diagram, backups of election management data, digital copies of all election policies and procedures utilized, files transmitted for duplicating or spoiling ballots, records of all paper distributed to vote centers, information and guidelines on adjudication of ballots, total count of all ballots sent to eligible voters on the state’s voter information portal (UOCAVA), and a full backup copy of database of voter rolls. 

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Knox County Schools Approved East Tennessee State University Dual Enrollment Course That Taught Critical Race Theory

Knox County Schools (KCS) approved a dual enrollment course from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) that has historically taught critical race theory. The KCS board of education approved the course offering, “SOWK 1030: Cultural Diversity,” as part of a larger list of ETSU dual enrollment courses during their meeting last week.

The course is characterized as pre-professional social work curriculum focused on social justice topics such as “diversity within diversity,” referring to intersectionality – a concept coined by preeminent critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.

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Knoxville City Council Considering Zero-Tolerance Policy on Racism and Sexism by Any City Employee

Knoxville City Council will be considering a zero-tolerance policy on racism and sexism displayed by any city employee.

Council member Amelia Parker announced that she is drafting the policy. This latest initiative follows a similar policy proposed in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year by community activists, and agreed upon by Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. That initiative never came to fruition. Concerning last year’s similar proposal, Parker said in an email that the lack of follow-through from Kincannon was disappointing.

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Arizona State University Hires ‘Critical Race Theory Scholar’ as Music Professor

Arizona State University (ASU) announced Wednesday that its latest hire is a Critical Race Theory scholar. ASU said that the new assistant professor of music learning and teaching, Dr. Joyce McCall, focuses her research on Critical Race Theory and other related disciplines.

“McCall is one of the few scholars whose music education research focuses on race and racism through critical race theory and double consciousness theory, as well as culturally relevant pedagogy,” reported ASU.

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Mandating COVID Vaccines for Employees

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will require employees without an exemption to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 24, or else they will be fired. The hospital offers employees to receive their vaccination without penalty until September 9. If an employee isn’t fully vaccinated by then, they will be placed on unpaid administrative leave until they either start or finish their vaccination process. Medical or religious exemptions are offered.

Dr. James Downing, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital President and CEO, issued the email. He stated that hundreds of millions of people around the world have received the COVID-19 vaccine safely. 

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Tennessee Department of Education Awarded $830 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) awarded Tennessee $830 million in funds to reopen and secure schools. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) earned these funds based on their American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Plan (ESSER). All states may submit an ARP ESSER plan. So far, ED reports that 40 states have submitted one.

According to the ED press release, this latest funding brings Tennessee’s total ARP funds to nearly $2.5 billion.

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Tennessee Department of Health Reportedly Fired Chief Vaccination Official for Months of Inappropriate Behavior – Not for Sharing Mature Minor Doctrine

Contrary to current claims, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reportedly fired its previous Vaccine-Preventable and Infectious Diseases State Medical Director Dr. Michelle Fiscus due to months of unprofessional behavior and poor job performance. TDH Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones detailed issues with Fiscus at length in a recommendation for termination email to TDH Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey. 

Although Fiscus claims that she was fired for informing the public about the mature minor doctrine, TDH offered a laundry list of the issues Fiscus has reportedly caused. According to their records, Fiscus consistently engaged in inappropriate behaviors such as mistreating her colleagues and ignoring superiors. Her behavior reportedly caused two senior leaders to resign. She’d also been pushing TDH over the last three months to award funds to her nonprofit organization – though it had no staff or other major funds.

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Shelby County Schools’ New Policy Limits Employees’ Speech on Social Media

Shelby County Schools (SCS) adopted a new policy during its board meeting two weeks ago to limit employee speech on social media. The policy’s goal is to “eliminate disruption” to school or district operations by regulating their employees’ social media. The policy defines social media as all internet-based communication and online content; it lists blogs, podcasts, comments, messages, audio recordings, video recordings, and posts. SCS employees are expressly prohibited from posting anything that creates or may create a disruption.

“All social media use by SCS employees that causes, or has a potential to cause, a disruption to school [sic] school/district operations are prohibited[,]” read the policy. “SCS recognizes that social media is used by many District employees as a means of communication for both District and personal purposes. SCS has an interest in promoting workplace efficiency and avoiding actual and potential workplace and school/district disruption.”

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Metro Nashville Public Schools Drops Mask Requirement for Fall Semester

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) announced Tuesday that they won’t require students or faculty to wear masks for the upcoming school year.

MNPS said that these updated COVID protocols were “commonsense.” In the announcement, MNPS Director of Schools Adrienne Battle asserted that masks for the unvaccinated were strongly encouraged – especially for those with underlying health conditions or students under 12 years old. Otherwise, Battle said that MNPS will monitor case data in the event they need to adjust masking requirements.

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Tennessee DA Cleared of Wrongdoing After Condemning Islam and Homosexuality as Against God

After two years of investigations, Tennessee district attorney general Craig Northcott was cleared of wrongdoing for arguing that Islam and homosexuality are against God. Following complaints against Northcott’s outspoken religious beliefs, the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (TBPR) Disciplinary Counsel reportedly attempted to publicly censure Northcott. The TBPR claimed that Northcott violated the rules of ethics, which Northcott denied. TBPR never claimed that Northcott mishandled a specific case purposefully based on an individual’s theological beliefs or sexual orientation. Due to a lack of evidence indicating any professional misconduct, TBPR dropped the case.

As The Tennessee Star reported when the investigation first opened in 2019, TBPR was prompted to look into Northcott following multiple complaints over his social media posts concerning Islam. Northcott had responded to other comments referencing Muslims on a Facebook post asking whether it was acceptable to stereotype an entire group with mixed beliefs versus letting individuals be judged based on their own actions. In the comments, the original poster defended that not all Muslims were evil. Northcott opined that they were due to the inherent evil of Islamic teachings and texts.

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Biden Administration Hasn’t Responded to Court Injunctions on Loan Forgiveness Excluding White Farmers

The White House hasn’t addressed the court-ordered injunctions against President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness program that excludes white farmers.  The latest ruling came late last week through a Tennessee farmer’s challenge to the program’s alleged racial discrimination. United States District Judge Thomas Anderson agreed with the Tennessee farmer’s take on the program’s discriminatory practices, ruling the program unconstitutional and issuing a nationwide injunction to halt it on Thursday in the case, Holman v. Vilsack et al. Another federal judge in Wisconsin issued a similar ruling last month, and a little over two weeks ago a federal judge in a similar Florida case offered a concurring ruling. 

The Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) and Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) brought the case with the latest ruling on behalf of Tennessee farmer Rob Holman. According to the Biden Administration’s loan forgiveness program in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Holman was ineligible for forgiveness on his farm loans solely because he’s white. According to the law, only “socially disadvantaged groups” were eligible for the program granting up to 120 percent of loan forgiveness, re-application for government backed loans, and a cash gift of 20 percent of the loan’s value to cover any income tax liability. Socially disadvantaged groups were defined as those with members who faced racial or ethnic prejudice.

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