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We're pleased to bring you "While You Were Out"—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Biden announces student loan forgiveness

Democrats push for President Joe Biden to forgive student loans has finally succeeded—partially. Biden announced on Wednesday that the federal government would cancel up to $10 thousand in loans for those making less than $125 thousand per year and up to $20 thousand for recipients of the Pell grant for low-income students.

"The debt forgiveness," the New York Times reports, "although less than what some Democrats had been pushing for, comes after months of deliberations in the White House over fairness and fears that it could exacerbate inflation before the midterm elections."

The Department of Education said it would set up a system for eligible people to have their loans forgiven by the end of the year, the time when the pandemic-era hold on paying student loan payments will resume.

The announcement is good news for young adults still struggling to pay off their loans, but it could be bad news for the economy, according to opponents. In addition to potentially boosting inflation in the short term, the proposal will cost each taxpayer—including those who never went to college—about $2,000, according to the National Taxpayers Union. Neither will it fix any of the underlying causes resulting in the skyrocketing tuition costs of the past few years.

During his announcement, Biden said that student debt forgiveness was designed to "provide more breathing room for people so they have less burden by student debt."

The move, coming from the executive branch rather than Congress, could face legal challenges. Biden himself told voters last year, "I don't think I have the authority to do it by signing with a pen." —Madeline Fry Schultz

Texas school board bans classroom discussions of gender fluidity

A Texas school board this week passed a set of policies banning discussion of gender fluidity in the classroom, limiting which bathrooms transgender students can use, and giving more power to school boards to choose what books are available in their libraries.

The Grapevine-Colleyville ISD board voted 4-3 on Monday to enact these changes, taking a strong stance in the recent nationwide battle over how gender, sexuality, and race are addressed in schools.

"Among the changes the policies would enact: The trustees would have a large role in book selection; the district would not permit equity audits; and teachers wouldn't be required to address students by pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex," the Dallas Morning News reports. Teaching critical race theory is also prohibited.

"Whether it's issues of race, sexuality, or even the very nature of biological sex, the prevalence of instructional materials, books, and curriculum that are all designed to push the whims and worldviews of some adults onto our children has skyrocketed," wrote board member Shannon Braun on Facebook.

Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, opposed the changes, telling the Washington Post: "As far as I know, this is the most extreme policy, particularly in terms of classroom censorship . . . of any district in Texas." —MFS

Two men convicted in plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Two men, Barry Croft Jr. and Adam Fox, have been convicted of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

"In one of the highest-profile domestic terrorism cases in recent memory," the Washington Post reports, prosecutors cast the men "as violent anti-government extremists who planned to capture Whitmer at her vacation home in northern Michigan, detonate a bridge to disrupt responding police officers and, in the process, ignite a civil war ahead of the 2020 presidential election."

The men were convicted by a federal jury on two charges of conspiracy, and Croft was convicted on an explosives charge. The two could face life in prison.

"The result was a big victory for the U.S. Justice Department," AP reports. "A different jury just four months ago couldn't reach unanimous decisions on Adam Fox or Barry Croft Jr. but acquitted two other men, a stunning conclusion that led to a second trial."

The FBI collected intel on the two men for a long time before their conviction, placing informants and undercover agents in the Michigan paramilitary group that had set its sights on the state's Democratic governor. In October 2020, hours away from Whitmer's home, six men were arrested.

"Today's verdicts prove that violence and threats have no place in our politics, and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable," Whitmer said on Tuesday. "They will not succeed." —MFS

Ukraine marks six months since Russia first invaded

This week marked six months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24. The unprovoked attack, ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin has led to the deaths of at least 9,000 Ukraine soldiers, over 5,500 civilian casualties and 6.6 million displaced within the country and more than 6.6 million more across the continent, according to the AP.

Russian casualties are less clear, as the last time the Kremlin released a count was on March 25, declaring 1,351 soldiers had been killed and 3,825 were wounded. However, the Pentagon said last week that between 70,000 to 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in action.

While there is no clear "winner" in this war, Ukraine shocked Russia from the very start by putting up fierce resistance and refusing to buckle under the Kremlin's pressure. Since April, Russian troops have refocused their military efforts in the Donbas region, where there are Moscow-backed separatists. Much of the battle has played out in that region since.

While Russia currently occupies about 20 percent of Ukraine's territory, the Ukrainian army has recently regained some ground and received weapons from the west, including U.S. HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. Additionally, the United States just announced its largest-ever security assistance package for Ukraine of $3 billion, bringing the U.S.'s contribution to this conflict up to $13.6 billion.

In addition to marking six months since Russia's invasion, Ukraine acknowledged 31 years of independence from the Soviet Union this week.

"The consequences of this senseless war are being felt far beyond Ukraine," UN chief Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday. "On the 31st anniversary, I wish to congratulate the Ukrainian people." Adding that they "need peace, and they need peace now." —Gabriella Patti

Meghan Markle debuts new podcast, 'Archetypes'

Meghan Markle debuted her new podcast, "Archetypes," Tuesday on Spotify, with tennis player Serena Williams as her first guest. The episode, part of a 12-episode series, is entitled "The Misconceptions of Ambition." Markle and Williams discuss ambition and juggling motherhood and careers in the public eye.

The episode also includes Markle in conversation with Dr. Laura Cray, a UC Berkeley professor and expert on gender in the workplace.

The podcast was released exclusively on Spotify as part of an exclusive multi-year deal. Since its release, the podcast has taken over the No. 1 podcast slot on the Spotify charts in the United States and topped Spotify UK charts, as well as for Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. —GP

Good News of the Week

On August 8, an all-Black female flight crew departed on a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Phoenix in honor of Bessie Coleman, the first Black woman in the world to earn a pilot's license.

It's been more than a century since Coleman, the daughter of sharecroppers, received her pilot's license in 1921. Coleman died in 1926 at age 34 when a test flight she was on crashed.

In honor of Coleman, who was often referred to as "Brave Bessie" or "Queen Bessie," 36 women took part in the historic flight from Dallas-Fort Worth, in roles ranging from captain to customer service coordinator to cargo team and technicians. Even the destination honored Coleman, as it's one of the places where she performed an airshow during her short but significant career.

Coleman was known for saying, "I refuse to take no for an answer," and her family hopes to honor her legacy by encouraging black women to follow in her footsteps – this crew of 36 women was part of that mission.

Beth Powell, an American Airlines pilot and the pilot of this historic flight, said that as the crew walked through the airport before the flight, she felt that Coleman was with them.

"When I looked to my left, and I looked to my right, we were no longer the only ones," Powell said. "We all made it in our own right. We are all here as Black women. We are channeling Bessie's dream."

Watch of the Week

Elton John and Britney Spears released their duet of "Hold Me Closer" on Friday – the first time Spears has dropped any new music in six years and less than a year after her forced conservatorship of 13 years came to an end in November 2021.

Listen to the eclectic, electro-pop version of the classic version below – Elton/Spears style.