The more you know
October 24, 2019

The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing Wednesday ostensibly about Facebook's cryptocurrency, Libra, but lawmakers weren't going to waste their chance to question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on some Bitcoin knockoff. Here's how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made her pivot: "In order for us to make decisions about Libra, I think we need to kind of dig into your past behavior and Facebook's past behavior with respect to our democracy."

Ocasio-Cortez grilled Zuckerberg on the Cambridge Analytica election-data-manipulation scandal — Zuckerberg said he learned of the breach "around" March 2018, even though correspondence unearthed in a lawsuit this year showed executives knew about potential improper data harvesting as early as September 2015 — and then she turned to Facebook's "official policy" of allowing "politicians to pay to spread disinformation in 2020 elections and in the future. So I just want to know how far I can push this in the next year," she said.

Zuckerberg said Ocasio-Cortez couldn't buy an add targeting black voters with the wrong election date, but when she asked if she could "run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries, saying that they voted for the Green New Deal," Zuckerberg said yes, probably. "Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?" Ocasio-Cortez asked, and Zuckerberg said he thinks "lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad," and voters should know if she or any other politician is a liar.

"Facebook doesn't need to run political ads; they're not a significant portion of its business," Vox notes. "But the company appears determined to leave its policy unchanged. So prepare for some your-Republican-congressman-supports-the-Green-New-Deal ads from Democrats in 2020. Maybe." Peter Weber

August 23, 2019

In March 2018, the inspector general for the federal General Services Administration released its findings on a complaint that acting GSA chief of staff Brennan Hart and a White House official whose name is redacted had sex on the roof of the GSA headquarters, after having some vodka drinks in Hart's office, according to a copy of the report obtained by D.C. NBC affiliate WRC through a public records request.

Hart, who was also an associate GSA administrator, admitted to having sexual relations with the White House official on the roof just one time, in the summer of 2017, and his last day of employment was March 12, 2018, four days after the report was submitted. The GSA inspector general found several violations of federal policies, including drinking alcohol in the office without proper permission and improper use of government facilities. And the IG office's report included this explainer in its section on "Sexual Conduct on Government Property":

Per 5 C.F.R. § 2635.704(a) an employee has a duty to not allow the use of Government property for anything other than authorized purposes. Having sex in the central office building is not an authorized purpose for use by the public. Further, there is no law or GSA regulation that allows an employee to have sex in the building. [GSA Inspector General report]

Now you know.

The GSA is an independent agency that oversees federal buildings and offices. The unidentified White House official refused to be interviewed. Peter Weber

August 14, 2019

Many white evangelical Christians voted reluctantly for President Trump in 2016, seeing him as the lesser evil to Hillary Clinton, "but now, many are genuinely delighted by the Trump they've seen in office," The Washington Post reports, citing interviews with 50 evangelicals in Wisconsin, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Trump got a higher percentage of white evangelical voters than the previous three Republican nominees, and Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, predicts he'll meet or beat that in 2020. Polling supports that claim. White evangelicals fawning over a thrice-married, adulterous, Bible-mangling blasphemer confuses a lot of people, but not the evangelicals who spoke with the Post.

First, many white evangelicals appreciate that Trump bullies the secular left on their behalf, talking about God in public and loudly criticizing liberal views on abortion, gay rights, and gender, especially after what "felt like a nightmare" of Obama's eight-year presidency, the Post reports. Trump promised to fight for and defend evangelicals, Reed said. "He gets it. He knows they're hungry for that." Evangelicals pay special attention to the courts — Trump is going gangbusters in appointing young conservative judges — and they believe Trump shares their values on social issues and policy. Some believe Trump prays because evangelical leaders back him.

For many white evangelicals, Trump's past extramarital affairs and even the myriad allegations of sexual assault "are not a moral concern," the Post reports, in part because evangelicals believe the Bible teaches that women should be submissive to men. "Do not campaign on somebody's personal shortcomings," Reed advised. "History says voters are very forgiving. And they don't like hearing it."

Earlier this week, conservative analysts Matt Lewis and Ben Howe discussed the various rationalizations evangelicals use to explain their support for Trump. The "lesser evil" argument is "the most defensible," they agreed, but for many Trump-supporting evangelicals, "it wasn't a lesser evil to them," Howe said. "This is what they want. They like how Trump does things. They get excited at the fact that he's having sex with porn stars throughout his life."

Listen to the entire podcast interview and read the quotes from swing-state evangelicals at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

August 12, 2019

Goldman Sachs warned clients Sunday that it no longer expects a trade deal between the U.S. and China before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, it does predict more tariffs taking effect in September, and it lowered its U.S. fourth-quarter growth forecast to 1.8 percent accordingly. "Overall, we have increased our estimate of the growth impact of the trade war," Goldman Sachs chief U.S. economist Jan Hatzius wrote. "Fears that the trade war will trigger a recession are growing."

Slowing global growth and increased market turmoil have raised related concerns, too. Last week, Pimco economic adviser Joachim Fels said the escalating U.S.-China trade tensions could spark U.S. Treasuries slipping into negative territory, and "faster than many investors think." Between $14 trillion and $15 trillion of government debt around the world already bears negative yields, where investors earn less than they invested — meaning, "essentially, that savers holding these bonds are paying the government to store their money," The Wall Street Journal explains.

"So far, the U.S. has avoided that fate," the Journal reports, but a steep slide in U.S. government bond yields has raised fears that negative yields might be coming soon, or even "what was once unthinkable:" negative interest rates, as central banks have experimented with in Japan and some European countries to juice the economy. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell as low as 1.6 percent last week, roiling the markets as "falling yields are typically taken as an ominous sign for the economy," the Journal notes. Low yields on T-notes signal investors are flocking from stocks to bonds for safety, as yields drop when bond prices rise, as the Journal explained six months ago.

Until July 31, the U.S. Federal Reserve was steadily raising its benchmark interest rates, but if the Fed continues cutting rates "all the way back down to zero and restarts quantitative easing," Pimco's Fels wrote, "negative yields on U.S. Treasuries could swiftly change from theory to reality." Peter Weber

April 26, 2019

This week, Merriam-Webster announced it added more than 640 new words to its dictionary in April. There are words you probably know or can figure out, like "clapback" and "vulture capitalism," and words you probably already assumed were in the dictionary: "Gig economy," "on-brand," "screen time." You can also now affirm that "purple" sometimes means areas split between Democrats and Republicans, and "snowflake" can also refer to "both 'someone regarded or treated as unique or special' and 'someone who is overly sensitive.'"

But if you've been stumped by what it means to stan Game of Thrones or wondered why everyone's laughing at the Nickelback stans, and you've not wanted to dig through the disreputable detritus of Google results, well, you're in luck.

The entire entry is illuminating, but the key point is that "stan" can be a noun or verb, it's pronounced like it looks, it is often used disparagingly, and it means to be or show yourself to be "an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan." Its etymology traces the word back to Eminem stans who stanned his 2000 hit "Stan." Now you know.

You can also discover what a "bottle episode" is, learn the definitions of "swole" and "garbage time," and read the company's lexicologists wax poetic about the changing English language at Merriam-Webster. Peter Weber

February 1, 2019

The seizure of $3.5 million worth of fentanyl at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing is a big deal — big enough, in fact, to earn a congratulatory tweet from President Trump.

Trump's past few days of tweeting have focused on his proposed border wall, so there was some puzzlement that he would weigh in on a drug bust that happened — like almost all drug seizures along the border — at a port of entry, not in un-walled stretches of desert. But Trump also mistakenly thanked U.S. Border Patrol agents, who had nothing to do with the fentanyl and methamphetamines bust — U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents work ports of entry. Washington Post national security and border reporter Nick Miroff is one of the many people who pointed out that Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection are different federal agencies.

Trump isn't generally lauded for his command of details, but border protection is sort of his signature issue these days. Peter Weber

October 3, 2018

Air strikes don't seem nearly as scary when rendered in 2-D animation. That's one apparent lesson of the Department of Defense's disturbingly chipper new video, which describes each branch of the military in Schoolhouse-Rock-worthy cartoon form.

After opening with a Hollywood elite sadly dropping his scoop of ice cream as he arrived at his war-themed movie premiere, the video chugs along with a jazzy little tune to give the real scoop on the armed forces. The Army, according to the narrator, uses "people, tanks, helicopters, and vehicles to fight and defeat bad guys on land." The Navy, on the other hand, is "all about the water." A fierce looking pirate, looking fit for a LEGO set, is then taken down by the Marine Corps, which is apparently "a bad guy's worst nightmare."

A shift to electronic dance music begins as the video lauds the Air Force for "making sure no one surprises us" here in the United States. Overseas, though, pilots are taking on those pesky "bad guys," gleefully dropping explosives on a desert that is, in the animation at least, empty. The Air Force pilot flashes a quick thumbs up before flying away to continue protecting "the air, space, and cyberspace."

The "bad guys" appear yet again, with peppy elevator music in full swing, to take on the Coast Guard. Alas, the maritime members of the military are "a drug dealer's worst enemy," and quickly thwart the criminal's plan to smuggle illegal things into the U.S. Watch the video below to get a bewilderingly goofy explanation of the military, straight from the Pentagon itself. Summer Meza

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