Economics
August 1, 2014

One of the clearest indicators of the sheer awfulness of the economy after the financial crisis was the soaring numbers of food stamp (SNAP) participants, which rose from 33 million in 2009 to over 47 million in late 2012:

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

This signified that millions more people in one of the world's richest countries were struggling to feed themselves. Thankfully, though, things are finally turning around. Anna-Louise Jackson and Anthony Feld of Bloomberg write:

Participation in the U.S. government food-stamp program is declining modestly as low-income Americans get some economic reprieve. About 46.25 million people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in April, according to the most-recent data available from the Department of Agriculture. That's down 3.2 percent from a high of almost 47.8 million in December 2012. [Bloomberg]

So finally — after a deeply uneven recovery — we can say that things are beginning to improve for the poorest people in the economy. That's welcome news — but there is still a very long way to go. John Aziz

red flag
11:30 a.m. ET

The hits keep on coming for J. Crew, the American retailer with a downtown preppy aesthetic. After a round of layoffs in early June, the brand's CEO Mickey Drexler has put his sprawling Hamptons estate up for sale. There's only one problem: As Gawker points out, interior photos of the $85 million home show a framed Confederate flag hanging on the wall in one room:

Though the flag on Drexler's wall isn't the Confederate flag's most infamous (or controversial) iteration, it is, in fact, the original flag of the Confederate States of America, dubbed the "Stars and Bars." The photo in question has since been removed from Drexler's listing on realtor Douglas Elliman's website, and when Gawker asked broker Paul Brennan whether Drexler knew the meaning of the flag hanging in his living room, Brennan replied, "I don't think so. Why don't you ask the decorator?" A J. Crew spokesperson also reportedly declined to comment to Gawker.

The Hamptons estate's living room accessory is only one red flag signaling cloudy days ahead for J. Crew — Drexler is also selling a Tribeca apartment and a Wainscott beach house as the retailer's sales fell 5.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015. Hunter Harris

Nuclear negotiations
11:27 a.m. ET

Iran and its negotiating partners agreed to extend to July 7 the deadline to reach a deal on the country's nuclear program, after they failed to meet the original target date of June 30. The announcement coincided with the return of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the talks, boosting hopes that an agreement can be reached to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for world powers lifting economic sanctions against the country.

The Obama administration has by July 9 to send any agreement to Congress, which would then have 30 days to review the deal. If the White House misses that deadline, the review period would be extended to 90 days to accommodate Congress' summer recess. The Obama administration is concerned that the extra time might allow opponents an opportunity to mobilize against any agreement. Jeva Lange

Uh oh
11:13 a.m. ET

New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced his bid for the presidency today at his high school, Livingston High in New Jersey. While having a high-profile politician making news at his alma mater might seem like a boon for the school's popularity, some teachers, as well as the school district's superintendent, are less than thrilled by his venue choice.

"All this guy's done since day one is denigrate hardworking teachers," a Livingston High School teacher, Anthony Rosamilia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I don't think it's any secret that most of my political and educational views are about 180 degrees from the governor's," Livingston School District's interim superintendent, Jim O'Neill, said. O'Neill refused to attend the announcement, telling the Inquirer that he'd "watch it on the news later, like most people." He only agreed to let the school act as a host for the event out of an "obligation" to the governor, he said.

"I'm getting all kinds of hate emails," O'Neill said. Jeva Lange

What is 'impressive'?
11:05 a.m. ET

On yesterday's episode of the long-running game show Jeopardy!, host (and budding hip-hop artist) Alex Trebek got yet another chance to show off his rapping skills. This time, the subject was a theme song near and dear to the hearts of anyone who watched NBC in the early 90s:

Coming just a year after the "It's a Rap" category challenged Trebek to spit rhymes from Public Enemy and Doctor Dre, it's increasingly clear that Jeopardy!'s clue writers are just curious to see what they can get Trebek to rattle off on television. Maybe try some Twista next time? Scott Meslow

supremely awkward
11:03 a.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has taken a confessional turn in his new book, A Time for Truth, in which reveals that as a Supreme Court clerk in the 1990s, he looked at pornography with Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor.

The court was considering a case that involved internet regulation, and a demonstration of the ubiquity of porn on the internet was set up to explain the situation to the elderly judges. As Cruz, Rehnquist, and O'Connor watched, a court librarian searched for a misspelling of "cantaloupe."

"A slew of hard-core, explicit images showed up onscreen," Cruz recalls in his book. "As we watched these graphic pictures fill our screens, wide-eyed, no one said a word. Except for Justice O'Connor, who lowered her head, squinted slightly, and muttered, 'Oh, my.'" Bonnie Kristian

Clintonia
10:49 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

While some colleges have ponied up more than $200,000 to secure a speech from Hillary Clinton, the University of Missouri at Kansas City wasn't willing to drop quite that much cash. After being quoted $275,000 for an appearance by the former secretary of state herself, the school opted to bring in her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, instead.

At $65,000, Chelsea's own speaking fee is considerably less than her mother's — albeit still well above the national median household income of about $52,000. For this price, the University of Missouri got a 10-minute speech followed by 20 minutes of moderated Q&A time. The Clinton camp also carefully dictated the terms of the event, from the temperature of Chelsea Clinton's on-stage water to the content of the introduction read by a local high school student.

Clinton donated her fee to her family's foundation, which has been criticized in recent months over its alleged use by the Clinton family for personal profit and public corruption. Bonnie Kristian

Supreme Court
10:14 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justices said Tuesday that they will weigh in on a dispute between unions and California teachers who are contesting public employees' requirement to pay union dues. The teachers believe that it's a violation of their First Amendment rights to be required to pay fees to a union if they disagree with its positions, or are not members of it.

As the 38-year-old law stands now, unions can require non-members to pay union dues for the purpose of collective bargaining costs, so long as those collected fees are not used for for political purposes. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the teachers, the power of public employee unions to collect fees would be limited, which union officials worry could weaken unions and jeopardize membership. Becca Stanek

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