March 12, 2014

So it's true, listening to Idina Menzel's voice will make you gay — at least that's what Pastor Kevin Swanson is preaching. According to Right Wing Watch, the Colorado conservative says Disney's Frozen "indoctrinates" kids into turning gay and says the film treats "homosexuality [and] bestiality in a light sort of way."

Explaining that he's totally not a "tinfoil hat conspiratorialist," Swanson says that the "pro-homosexual" Walt Disney Company is working with the gays to create something "very evil." He goes on:

Friends, this is evil, just evil. I wonder if people are thinking: "You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way." I wonder if the average parent going to see Frozen is thinking that way. I wonder if they are just walking in and saying, "Yeah, let's get my five-year-old and seven-year-old indoctrinated early." You know they're not, I think for the most part they're oblivious. Maybe they do pick up on pieces of it but they just don't get up and walk out. [AL.com]

Wow, we're sick of all the "Let It Go" interpretations on YouTube too, but this seems extreme.

Jordan Valinsky

2:32 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised benchmark rates for the sixth time since the financial crisis, following the conclusion of its two-day meeting, the first under new Chairman Jerome Powell, CNBC reports.

The hike, of a quarter of a point, raised the Fed's key rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, its highest level in a decade. The Fed additionally signaled it would raise the rate two more times this year and three times in 2019. "The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months," the committee said in a statement.

Rate hikes "lead to higher rates for businesses looking to invest or consumers looking to buy cars or homes," writes The Washington Post, but they "also fight inflation and make the Fed better prepared for a future recession." Jeva Lange

1:10 p.m. ET

Do you dread walking into a store only to have some chipper salesperson pop up out of nowhere and ask, "Do you need help finding anything?" You're not alone, Racked reports. A stunning 95 percent of people "want to be left alone in stores," per a new study of 2,900 North American shoppers conducted by HRC Retail Advisory.

Many other studies have looked into the effect of salespeople on shoppers, including an extremely relatable one from 2016, where researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that attractive salespeople actually scared off potential customers (never mind that the sample was 164 "socially inept" men with "obsessive interest in computer technology who visited a shop selling figures based on Japanese comics," as The Telegraph puts it).

Customers seem to prefer to be the ones to make the first move — another study, in 2014, by a University of Pennsylvania professor, found that 50 percent of potential customers will still seek out an employee for advice or questions while shopping.

Still, if there is an alternative to interaction, people prefer it. The HRC study also found that 85 percent of people would rather use a scanner to find out the price of an item than be forced to ask another human. Jeva Lange

12:15 p.m. ET

Former CIA Director John Brennan appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday to unload his candid thoughts about President Trump's leadership, as well as Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"He is mean-spirited; he is dishonest; he has shown a lack of integrity; he has continued to, I think, demean the office of the presidency," Brennan said of Trump. Brennan served as CIA director under former President Barack Obama, from March 2013 until January 2017.

Brennan has been a vocal opponent of Trump on Twitter, taking issue with his recent firing of Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI. He said that Trump's "impetuousness" and "ignorance" compelled him to speak out, even as he admitted he'd never criticized a president's character so harshly before.

"I worked for six presidents," said Brennan. "I didn't agree with some of their policies, but all of them, all of them, were trying to do what they thought was best for the United States. That's not Mr. Trump, he is self-absorbed and he is trying to just promote his own interests."

Trump's "fawning over Putin" also struck Brennan as problematic, as he theorized that Trump had reason to fear the Russian president and speculated that Russian officials may "have something" to hold over Trump. Watch the rest of Brennan's appearance below, via MSNBC. Summer Meza

11:45 a.m. ET
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Last year, White House Counsel Don McGahn drew up a nondisclosure agreement for senior staff at President Trump's insistence, even while quietly reassuring aides that the document was practically unenforceable, The New York Times reports. The issuing of an NDA that covers even unclassified and non-confidential White House matters was a first, and it likely could not actually dictate the statements of federal employees were it to be tested, experts say. One former official said he was told that the nondisclosure agreement "was merely meant to reassure the president," the Times writes.

When he was still a private citizen, Trump often used nondisclosure agreements to maintain his and his company's images. By imposing blanket restrictions in the White House, though, he veers into potentially violating the First Amendment, critics argue. "You can't blanket wipe out speech, and you have to show there's a compelling government purpose for doing so," said former President Barack Obama's top ethics lawyer in the White House Counsel's Office, Norm Eisen.

Trump's paranoia evidently stems from concern about "people using information about him in books later on," the Times' Maggie Haberman added on Twitter.

Apparently no one in the White House takes the document seriously, though. The official who recalled being told the NDA was meant to placate the president added that "no one in the White House thought they were signing away their First Amendment rights," The New York Times writes. Jeva Lange

10:47 a.m. ET

Lawyers for Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen appeared on CNN on Tuesday night to battle it out over the ongoing legal dispute regarding a nondisclosure agreement Daniels, a former adult film actress, signed in 2016.

Arthur Schwartz, representing President Trump's personal attorney Cohen, mostly traded barbs with Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti over the nitty-gritty of the contract that barred the actress from discussing an alleged affair with Trump. But Schwartz clashed with host Anderson Cooper when the conversation turned to whether or not Cohen had violated the NDA by publicly discussing it and confirming that he had paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence. (Trump has steadfastly denied he was ever involved with Daniels.)

Schwartz shut down the suggestion, and said that Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had already violated the agreement before Cohen publicly discussed the payment last month. Cooper pointed out that the story was leaked to The Wall Street Journal, and Schwartz continued to insist that Daniels was the first to break the contract.

"How had she violated the contract?" asked Cooper.

"Because she leaked it," said Schwartz. "She's the one that was out there leaking the information."

When Cooper asked how he knew that Daniels had leaked the story, Schwartz simply claimed that the details would "come out in court," and that Daniels was seeking more money. Cooper pushed him on his claim, seeking to clarify that Schwartz didn't actually have any evidence that Daniels herself had leaked the story to the Journal.

"I'm assuming she did," responded Schwartz.

At that point, Daniels attorney Avenatti chimed in: "Well, you know what they say about people that assume." Watch the entire showdown below, via CNN. Summer Meza

10:04 a.m. ET
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Forty-four African nations have signed an agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a deal that could eventually unite all 55 countries in the African Union in the biggest free trade accords since the World Trade Organization was formed in 1995, CNBC reports. The deal would link some 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion.

"The promise of free trade and free movement is prosperity for all Africans, because we are prioritizing the production of value-added goods and services that are made in Africa," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame, as reported by Bloomberg Politics. "The advantages we gain by creating one African market will also benefit our trading partners around the world."

Africa has low intra-continental trade compared to other regions in the world, at about 16 percent. For example, in Latin America intra-continental trade makes up 19 percent of the continent's total, and that number is 51 percent in Asia. "Increasing intra-African trade, however, does not mean doing less business with the rest of the world," emphasized Kagame.

There were some notable absences from the agreement, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whose cabinet has approved the deal but who wants to "allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders." Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo blasted Buhari's hesitation, saying: "I am surprised that any African leader at this time would be doubting or debating the benefits of what is going to be signed here and fail to show up." Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza also did not attend the summit, Bloomberg Politics reports.

The agreement only requires ratification by 22 countries to go into effect. Jeva Lange

9:55 a.m. ET

On Monday, Britain's Channel 4 broadcast undercover video of Cambridge Analytica executives bragging about using shady techniques to influence dozens of elections around the world, inflame conflicts, and sow chaos. On Tuesday, the network aired a second round of clips showing Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and other senior executives talking about using those techniques to help President Trump win. Nix said he'd met Trump "many times" and Cambridge Analytica essentially formed the backbone of Trump's campaign.

"We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy," Nix said. Trump "won by 40,000 votes in three states," managing director Mark Turnbull noted after the company's chief data scientist, Dr. Alex Tayler, said their data had steered Trump's movements and message in key swing states. "That's how he won the election," Tayler said. Turnbull later took credit for creating the "defeat Crooked Hillary" line of attack used in super PAC-funded ads viewed more than 30 million times.

Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix, 42, on Tuesday, saying his comments "do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation," adding in a statement that the firm itself "has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd."

Nix founded Cambridge Analytica in 2013 with Stephen Bannon; donors Rebekah Mercer and her father, Robert Mercer; and researcher Christopher Wylie, Wylie tells The Washington Post, and Bannon was the one who approved the project that discovered the niche appeal of future Trump campaign themes like "drain the swamp" and "deep state." "We had to get Bannon to approve everything at this point," in 2014, Wylie said. "Bannon was Alexander Nix's boss." Peter Weber

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