September 5, 2019

The Treasury Department released a plan Thursday aimed at overhauling the U.S. housing market. A key component of the plan has the government relinquishing control over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in order to privatize the mortgage buyers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which back half of the country's mortgages, have been under government conservatorship since the 2008 financial crisis. Under the Trump administration plan, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae would be privatized again and required to pay a fee for government protection. This approach does not require any approval from Congress, and the plan doesn't detail what will happen to the government's stakes in the firms or how they will build their capital up enough so they can go private again, The Washington Post reports.

Housing prices continue to rise across the country, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the proposal "will protect taxpayers and help Americans who want to buy a home." Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) disagrees, telling the Post that the plan "will make mortgages more expensive and harder to get. I'm urging the president: Make it easier for working people to buy or rent their homes, not harder." Catherine Garcia

May 15, 2021

The long-awaited 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame may be one of the best in the sport's history, featuring NBA legends like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, a WNBA great in Tamika Catchings, and a stellar list of coaches, including Rudy Tomjanovich, Eddie Sutton, and Barbara Stevens. But the night will likely be remembered, most clearly, for Vanessa Bryant's speech, which she gave on behalf of her late husband, Kobe Bryant, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers star and five-time NBA champion who was killed last year in a helicopter crash alongside his teenage daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

"All of your hard work and sacrifices paid off," Vanessa Bryant, who was accompanied on stage by her husband's hero and mentor, Michael Jordan, said at the close of her speech, speaking to her husband. "You once told me, 'If you're going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.' I'm glad you bet on yourself, you overachiever. You did it. You're in the Hall of Fame now. You're a true champ. You're not just an MVP, you're an all-time great." Watch the full speech below. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

Rombauer came from behind to upset Kentucky Derby-winner Medina Spirit to win the Preakness on Saturday, spoiling the latter's chances of capturing horse racing's Triple Crown. Rombauer's odds were 11-1.

Medina Spirit, aside from winning the first leg of the Triple Crown and entering the Preakness as the favorite, was the center of attention Saturday because he failed a post-Derby drug test. While the horse was cleared to run at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course after passing multiple pre-race drug tests, skepticism surrounded his trainer, Bob Baffert. Ultimately, Medina Spirit finished in third behind Rombauer and Midnight Bourbon, who had 3-1 odds. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered one of the strongest supporters of the United States' relationship with Israel among congressional Democrats. On Saturday, though, he said he is "deeply troubled" by reports of Israeli airstrikes killing Palestinian civilians and targeting a building that houses international media offices (Israel said Hamas was also using the building for military purposes).

Israel, he said, "has every right to defend itself" against rocket attacks from Hamas, but "given the complexity of Gaza's densely populated civilian areas, and Hamas' shameful record of exploiting that reality by hiding military assets behind the innocent, Israeli authorities must continue taking the conscientious practice of giving advance warning of its attacks to reduce the risk of harm to the innocent." He added that "there must be a full accounting of actions that have led to civilian deaths and destruction of media outlets."

Menendez's comments certainly don't reflect a full reversal from his traditional stance, but observers noted that, so far at least, it appears to be one of the most unexpected responses to the Israel-Palestine conflict from an American politician.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly told him that Israel was doing whatever it could to make sure civilians were not hit in airstrikes. The White House has mostly kept quiet about details of the phone call. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

The Biden administration still firmly believes the United States is not headed toward a "sustained pick-up" in inflation. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is closely monitoring the situation and hasn't found any surprising data that's cause for panic. But, with prices likely to continue to rise in the near future, it might become more difficult for the White House to convince Americans that that's the case, Bloomberg reports.

"We still have a weird six months ahead," Josh Bivens, the director of research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told Bloomberg. "It will be a real challenge for the administration and the [Federal Reserve} to stay firm on their stance."

Indeed, there's reportedly some concern within the administration about political fallout, even if inflation is ultimately temporary, as Biden's economics team believes. One of the most consequential risks is how a potential "inflationary psychology" — in other words, anxious consumers — will affect support for Biden's major spending proposals, which could total around $4 trillion, an unnamed "ally" of the president told Bloomberg. Read more about how the Biden administration is responding to inflation fears at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

There was already a bipartisan effort in Congress to craft legislation that would require certain companies, particularly those that operate critical infrastructure, to report cyberattacks, and the recent ransomware strike against the Colonial Pipeline has increased the urgency to get things done, Politico reports.

"You couldn't have a better reason" for adding a mandate than the attacks on Colonial and SolarWinds, which took place last year, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told Politico. He's working alongside Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said requiring companies like Colonial to alert the government of an attack is just "the tip of the iceberg of what we need to do."

Private companies have bristled at the idea of voluntarily sharing their data with the government for fear of leaks, Politico notes, but as the risk of cyberattacks increases, a mandate could become harder and harder to avoid. Until something is in place, the U.S. government will remain "completely blind to what is happening," Brandon Wales, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told reporters earlier this week, per Politico. "That just weakens our overall cyber posture across our entire country."

Warner said the legislation would provide a "public-private forum, with appropriate immunity and confidentiality." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

Perseverance and Curiosity have company.

The China National Space Administration successfully landed its Zhurong rover on Mars on Saturday, state media reports, making China the third country after the United States and Soviet Union to touch down on the Red Planet (the 1971 Soviet mission failed shortly after landing). It's considered a major achievement for Beijing's space program, which is growing more and more ambitious.

Zhurong will soon be deployed from the lander for a three-month mission, joining the aforementioned operational NASA rovers. So, what will it be doing? CNN and The Associated Press report that it will be searching for signs of ancient life, but the mission appears to be a little more specific than that. The Scientific American reports that Zhurong's landing site, Utopia Planitia, is "a rather bland expanse of rock-strewn sand," a good spot for a touchdown, but "decidedly sub-par for addressing cutting-edge research questions, such as whether Mars harbors past or present life."

That said, the mission should come in handy, Agnes Cousin, a planetary scientist at the Institute for Research and in Astrophysics and Planetology in France, told The Scientific American. "For the overall geological implications for Mars, it’s very nice to have a new location to compare," she said.

Among other things, Zhurong is equipped with the first magnetometer sent to Mars, which reportedly could possibly reveal details of how Mars lost its magnetic field and, subsequently, its atmosphere and water billions of years ago. Read more at The Scientific American and The South China Morning Post. Tim O'Donnell

May 15, 2021

An Israeli airstrike destroyed the Al Jalaa Tower, a high-rise in Gaza that housed the offices of multiple media outlets in the region, including Al Jazeera and The Associated Press, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continued Saturday. The Israeli military warned people to evacuate the building, and there do not appear to be any reports of casualties; AP has said its staffers are safe.

AP reported that there was no immediate explanation for why the building was targeted, but Israel has since said it contained "military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization."

Gary Pruitt, AP's president and CEO, said the organization is "shocked and horrified" by the strike. "We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life," he said, adding that "the world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today."

Al Jazeera responded to the incident, as well, calling for international condemnation of Israel's actions, which the publication called a "blatant violation of human rights" and a "war crime," although American attorney Mark Zaid said that accusation could be complicated if it turns out Hamas was using the media as a "shield" for what would otherwise be a "legitimate target." Tim O'Donnell

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