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May 20, 2019

President Trump's trade war with China is about to go global.

Trump has spent pretty much his entire presidency trying to negotiate a trade deal with China, with both countries levying tit-for-tat tariffs all the while. And while those tariffs have mainly hurt American farmers so far, a new Morgan Stanley analysis published by Reuters suggests they could turn into a problem for the whole world.

After a brief hibernation, trade talks with China started up again earlier this month. And in the middle of those discussions, Trump upped a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports to 25 percent, leading China to, of course, retaliate. If that pattern continues, specifically "if talks stall, no deal is agreed upon, and the U.S. imposes 25 percent tariffs on the remaining circa $300 billion of imports from China," then "we see the global economy heading towards recession," a Morgan Stanley analyst wrote in a Monday memo. The Federal Reserve Board would then have to cut interest rates down to zero, the analyst predicted.

Back in the states, the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates Trump's current tariffs translate to an average tax hike of $550 for each American family, Politico reports. Extending that tariff to $500 billion worth of goods could lead to a $2,200 tax spike for a family of three. That effectively erases the $800 average tax cut U.S. families saw under Trump's Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. Making matters even worse, companies including Walmart are warning that ongoing tariffs will just lead to higher consumer prices. Read more about the everyday negatives of Trump's tariffs at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 14, 2019

WhatsApp is pushing an update after disclosing a vulnerability that exposed users to hackers.

The app's calling function was used by hackers to install spyware on the phones of a number of users believed to be in the dozens at least, CBS News reports. Affected users would receive a call or two from an unknown number, and even if they didn't pick it up, this was enough for the spyware to be installed, NBC News reports.

The Financial Times first reported on the story and pointed to the Israeli firm NSO Group, which previously developed software reportedly used to spy on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as being behind the spyware. WhatsApp did not specifically identify NSO Group but said the hackers had "all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world." A spokesperson for WhatsApp also told The Associated Press, "We're certainly not refuting any of the coverage you've seen."

NSO Group said in a statement its technology would not be used "in its own right to target any person or organization."

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, says it shared information with law enforcement and fixed the vulnerability on Sunday, but it's still encouraging all of its more than 1.5 billion users to update to the latest version. An expert with the watchdog group Citizen Lab told NBC this was a "very scary vulnerability," especially because "there's nothing a user could have done here, short of not having the app." Brendan Morrow

May 9, 2019

There have been a lot of arguments made for preserving confederate statues. None of them are quite like this.

In response to Arlington County, Virginia's proposal to rename its Jefferson Davis Highway, local man Max Perrine has written a very questionable column for Virginia newspaper The Roanoke Times. His big concern? We've "had enough 'slave owner' bashing" and "are now going after confederate citizen memorials."

After introducing his point with a poorly worded non-question, Perrine goes on to point out that "12 of our presidents were slave owners to some degree." So do we want to "rename Washington ... 'Boss Hog City?,'" he asks. There are also dozens of other Washingtons around the country, and after weeding them out and "spending enough of our state/federal tax monies to remove all of our historic confederate citizen statues," Perrine claims "we might qualify for foreign aid." Things then get a tad wilder, as Perrine suggests "the History Altering Association" he apparently just created can "unite the Christians of the World" and "go to Egypt to start removing and relocating the pyramids and of the statues of the pharaohs."

"Folks, crap happens," Perrine finishes his column, declaring "you can't erase history." Don't believe him? "Ask a Holocaust survivor or a close relative of one," Perrine says to wrap it all up. You can find the whole column here, if you want. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 8, 2019

Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Wednesday criticized two groups of White House staffers: those who "try to manipulate the situation based on their own agenda" and others who purport to save America from President Trump

McMaster is now a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, and he shared his thoughts during an event held at the organization. The retired Army lieutenant general served as Trump's second national security adviser, from February 2017 to April 2018, and he said that along with some other White House staffers, he provided bias-free policy options for Trump.

Without naming anyone specifically, he called out two other groups of people: Those who "are not there to give the president options — they're there to try to manipulate the situation based on their own agenda" — and those who "cast themselves in the role of saving the country, even the world, from the president." These advisers, whether they are working to exploit Trump or overrule the elected president, "are actually a danger to the Constitution of the United States," he said. McMaster was asked about his successor, John Bolton, but declined to offer his opinion, Politico reports. Catherine Garcia

April 22, 2019

The leader of a New Mexico militia arrested on Saturday allegedly boasted that his organization, the United Constitutional Patriots, trained to assassinate former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros, a complaint filed over the weekend states.

Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. He is described as being the "commander" of the 20-member United Constitutional Patriots, a group that has been detaining migrant families crossing the southern border.

In the complaint, an FBI agent writes that someone called the agency's public tip line in October 2017 and said there was "alleged militia extremist activity" taking place in Hopkins' Flora Vista, New Mexico, home. This person also said Hopkins "allegedly made the statement that the United Constitutional Patriots were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama," claiming the three public figures were supporting anti-fascist activists. Hopkins' attorney denies his client said this.

FBI agents saw 10 firearms when they visited Hopkins' house in November 2017. Hopkins showed them several other weapons, and said they belonged to his common-law wife, Fay Sanders Murphy, the affidavit says. After this visit, FBI agents found out Hopkins had prior felony convictions, including being found guilty in 2006 of criminal impersonation of a peace officer. Hopkins remains in custody, pending a preliminary hearing April 29 in Albuquerque. Catherine Garcia

April 22, 2019

Back in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with a plan to eradicate syphilis. But 20 years later, it's making a fierce comeback — and can, in certain cases, be described as an epidemic.

Why?

Research points to several causes that, when combined, have created a veritable breeding ground for syphilis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease which, while it can initially fly under the radar, can lead to permanent brain damage, birth defects, and even death. It's "both treatable and curable," but our decaying public health system means that efforts at eliminating the disease are failing.

Federal funding for STD prevention has stagnated over the past 15 years, but accounting for deflation, that money is worth almost 40 percent less than in 2003. And in Midwestern states, where rural communities are bearing the brunt of the increase in syphilis cases, CDC funding has been cut, sometimes by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, says the Post-Dispatch.

This problem is being exacerbated by people's misunderstanding of syphilis: The disease is sometimes called the "great imitator," because its symptoms are often diagnosed as something else.

With the advent of dating apps that can make sex anonymous, tracking where syphilis is coming from and how people are contracting it is becoming a fraught affair. And with the public health system "not even treading water" in some states, per syphilis transmission researcher Hilary Reno, there is little recourse for those trying to combat the disease.

Given all these influences, syphilis is having a field day. Missouri's cases have quadrupled from 2012 to 2018, and many Midwestern and Western states are seeing similar rises. Unfortunately, we're a far cry from the CDC's plan from back in 1999. Read more at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Shivani Ishwar

April 16, 2019

Since Game of Thrones premiered in 2011, hundreds of parents around the world have given their newborns names like "Daenerys," "Arya," and "Brienne" in honor of some of the most beloved characters on the show. But even the less beloved characters can serve as a source of inspiration, the BBC reports. In 2014 alone, 18 boys were given the name "Theon" in the U.K; in America, another 15 boys were given the name "Theon" that same year. An unknown number of Theons have likely been born since, too.

Theon Greyjoy is one of the most tragic characters on Game of Thrones, and that's saying something. The former ward of Lord Eddard Stark, Theon betrays his adopted family to take over the northern castle of Winterfell when the Starks are weak. In an effort to prove himself, he murders two farm boys and burns their bodies so that they're unrecognizable, claiming they're the Stark heirs Bran and Rickon. Theon is later captured by the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who tortures him into submission over the course of three grueling seasons, including during season four in 2014. Theon eventually flees Ramsay with his adopted sister, Sansa Stark, but in season seven, when given a chance to save his sister Yara from his evil uncle during a naval battle, Theon jumps overboard, apparently out of cowardice. Only in season eight, which premiered on Sunday, has Theon's character arc finally started to show signs of a reversal.

While the parents of five-year-old Theons might claim they saw his redemption coming, it's still a bit of a puzzler why you might name your darling sweet child after a character who is best known for enduring brutal torture and betraying his entire family. When it comes to Game of Thrones baby names, it is best to just stick with "Khal" or "Khaleesi" to be safe. Jeva Lange

March 29, 2019

A former Nevada Assemblywoman and onetime candidate for the state's lieutenant governor, Lucy Flores, said on Friday that former Vice President Joe Biden kissed her without permission while backstage at her campaign rally in 2014.

Writing about the experience for The Cut, Flores says Biden approached her from behind, put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed the back of her head. She called the incident "demeaning and disrespectful," and said it made her feel "powerless."

"I'm not suggesting that Biden broke any laws," wrote Flores, saying she decided to come forward with the story despite concern it would be dismissed as minor or politically motivated.

Biden has faced criticism for what some call inappropriate contact with women over the years. Biden, who is reportedly on the brink of announcing a run for president, did not comment on Flores' recollection.

Read more at The Cut. Summer Meza

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