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August 15, 2014
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Max Ehrenfreund has a big investigative piece about multilevel marketing companies, which recruit salespeople with the promise that you can make a tidy profit selling chocolate, or protein drinks, or other products. But it doesn't always work out:

Enrique Martinez didn't like chocolate, but he was eating as many as 10 pieces a day, drinking chocolate protein shakes and rubbing a chocolate-based skin cream on his face. It was expensive chocolate, too. Martinez and his wife, Michelle, were going through $2,000 in chocolate a month.

The debt they accumulated this way — more than $100,000 over five years — is now with a consolidation company. Their credit is ruined. There is a crack in the driveway at their home in Albuquerque from a 14-wheeler that once delivered 12,000 cans of chocolate energy drinks to their garage. [Washington Post]

These companies are often compared to pyramid schemes, but there is a key difference. A pyramid scheme is an outright fraud where new investors are used to pay existing ones, so if the supply of new recruits ever dries up, or the reality of the situation leaks out, it collapses immediately. These companies, by contrast, are structured around selling actual products, so they are often perfectly legal — and they make the recruits complicit in perpetuating the business, because otherwise they'll have no chance of making good on their investment.

But sadly, according to a legal expert interviewed by Ehrenfreund, up to 99 percent of multilevel marketing recruits will end up taking a loss. The whole story of Martinez and his wife is really worth reading in full. Ryan Cooper

7:27 a.m. ET

In the latest volley of his war on the press, President Trump tweeted Saturday evening that he will break with decades of tradition to skip the White House Correspondents' Dinner, which is scheduled for April 29.

The White House Correspondents' Association said in a statement it "takes note" of Trump's decision, but will not cancel this "celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic." Several media outlets already canceled their pre- and after-parties in protest of Trump's behavior.

The last president to miss the dinner was Ronald Reagan in 1981; he skipped because he was recovering from being shot in an assassination attempt — but still phoned in a message. Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017
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Billionaire Warren Buffett published his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders on Saturday, predicting investors "will almost certainly do well" if they stick with a "collection of large, conservatively financed American businesses." The American economy "is virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead," he wrote, enthusing about American "economic dynamism":

One word sums up our country’s achievements: miraculous. From a standing start 240 years ago — a span of time less than triple my days on earth — Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers. You need not be an economist to understand how well our system has worked. Just look around you. [Berkshire Hathaway]

Buffett devoted a large portion of his letter to decrying Wall Street fees that aren't worth it for investors:

The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds. ... My calculation, admittedly very rough, is that the search by the elite for superior investment advice has caused it, in aggregate, to waste more than $100 billion over the past decade. Figure it out: Even a 1% fee on a few trillion dollars adds up. Of course, not every investor who put money in hedge funds ten years ago lagged S&P returns. But I believe my calculation of the aggregate shortfall is conservative. [Berkshire Hathaway]

Read Buffett's full letter here, or see Forbes' selection of its seven best quotes if you just want the highlights. Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday voted down a resolution that would have revived a ban on corporate lobbyist donations first instituted by President Obama. The corporate lobbyist donation ban was lifted by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair who resigned last summer amid allegations of primary contest favoritism.

Saturday's vote produced outrage on social media, particularly in the party's progressive wing.

The main item on the DNC meeting agenda in Atlanta Saturday is the selection of a new DNC chair. The top two contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017
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Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, President Trump told the story of his "very, very substantial" friend Jim, who used to be very fond of vacationing in Paris but no longer visits because "Paris is no longer Paris."

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday took issue with the anecdote, which Trump shared in service to a point about fighting terrorism. "There is terrorism and we must fight it together," Hollande said. "I think that it is never good to show the smallest defiance toward an allied country. I wouldn't do it with the United States and I'm urging the U.S. president not to do it with France."

Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo previously responded Friday on Twitter, telling Trump she "celebrate[s] the dynamism and the spirit of openness of #Paris." Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017

After sweeping the Golden Globes, La La Land is the heavy favorite for Best Picture — not to mention its 13 other nominations, the most for any film this year — at Sunday's 2017 Academy Awards ceremony. Still, there are seven other Best Picture nominees, and an intriguing analysis by The New York Times finds their support is far from uniform across the United States.


(The New York Times)

The rationale behind some of the movies' geographic popularity — which the Times mapped using location data on each film's Facebook likes — is more obvious than others. For example, Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of black women's oft-ignored contributions to the space race, was most popular in the Black Belt region of the South, which has a large African-American population. Likewise, Hacksaw Ridge, another true story, was a big hit in the Appalachian area from which its main character hails.

Other connections aren't so simple. For example, Arrival, a science-fiction film about alien contact, was popular in Maine, which the Times notes "has a lot of U.F.O. sightings."

See the Times' full breakdown here, or, if you prefer to accept the (probably) inevitable, check out this review of La La Land by The Week's Lili Loofbourow. Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017

President Trump took to Twitter Saturday morning to reiterate his disdain for the media and suggest a gathering of his own supporters would be the "biggest [rally] of them all," after which he turned to economic matters.

Trump's tweet about the debt appears to reference the U.S. Treasury's daily history of the national debt. The debt presently sits at nearly $20 trillion, of which the $12 billion for which Trump takes credit is 0.06 percent.

As The Hill notes, the national debt spiked in February of 2009 mostly because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, which cost $831 billion and remains controversial eight years later. Both President George W. Bush and President Obama doubled the national debt during their time in office, from about $5.6 to $9.9 trillion and $9.9 to $19.9 trillion, respectively.

Economic optimism has been a favorite theme of Trump's of late, appearing in his CPAC speech Friday and at his campaign-style rally in Florida last Saturday. Bonnie Kristian

February 25, 2017
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Scheduled back-channel conversations between representatives of the United States and North Korea have been canceled, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, as the State Department retracted visa approval for the ranking foreign ministry envoy from Pyongyang, Choe Son Hui.

The reason for the visa withdrawal is unknown, though it may be tied to North Korea's ballistic missile test earlier this month. "The U.S government had no plans to engage in track 2 talks in New York," said a State Department representative who would not comment on the specifics of the visa revocation.

The talks were due to take place March 1 and 2 in New York City and were reportedly arranged at North Korea's instigation after President Trump's election. This would have been the first meeting between the two nations on U.S. soil in about six years. Bonnie Kristian

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