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The more you know
October 3, 2018

Air strikes don't seem nearly as scary when rendered in 2-D animation. That's one apparent lesson of the Department of Defense's disturbingly chipper new video, which describes each branch of the military in Schoolhouse-Rock-worthy cartoon form.

After opening with a Hollywood elite sadly dropping his scoop of ice cream as he arrived at his war-themed movie premiere, the video chugs along with a jazzy little tune to give the real scoop on the armed forces. The Army, according to the narrator, uses "people, tanks, helicopters, and vehicles to fight and defeat bad guys on land." The Navy, on the other hand, is "all about the water." A fierce looking pirate, looking fit for a LEGO set, is then taken down by the Marine Corps, which is apparently "a bad guy's worst nightmare."

A shift to electronic dance music begins as the video lauds the Air Force for "making sure no one surprises us" here in the United States. Overseas, though, pilots are taking on those pesky "bad guys," gleefully dropping explosives on a desert that is, in the animation at least, empty. The Air Force pilot flashes a quick thumbs up before flying away to continue protecting "the air, space, and cyberspace."

The "bad guys" appear yet again, with peppy elevator music in full swing, to take on the Coast Guard. Alas, the maritime members of the military are "a drug dealer's worst enemy," and quickly thwart the criminal's plan to smuggle illegal things into the U.S. Watch the video below to get a bewilderingly goofy explanation of the military, straight from the Pentagon itself. Summer Meza

August 29, 2018

On the one hand, this is all pretty silly. Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tweeted some photos of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visiting a children's hospital in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the opioid crisis. One of the photos showed the president coloring the American flag ... incorrectly.

On the other hand, that is kind of a strange thing for a president to do. So on Tuesday, MSNBC's Chris Hayes took a shallow dive into whether that photo could possibly be real, given Trump's well-known love of, and demands of respect for, the American flag. It's real, Hayes found, but Trump wasn't doing anything kooky like drawing the Russian flag.

Brown? We should probably applaud Trump's creative freedom here. Maybe he can follow George W. Bush's lead and take up visual arts after he's left office. You can't golf all the time. Peter Weber

February 16, 2018

For those of you wondering how President Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee spent the record $107 million it raised from individual and corporate donors — as some government watchdog groups were — the answer arrived in a tax document the nonprofit committee filed Thursday. And the biggest chunk, $26 million, went to a California company set up in December 2016 by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a New York event planner who is longtime friends with, and now a White House adviser to, first lady Melania Trump.

Wolkoff's firm, WIS Media Partners, distributed $24 million of that money to subcontractors and vendors providing entertainment, staffing, and other services for inaugural events, keeping $1.62 million for consulting and executive production, The Washington Post reports. Committee officials tell The New York Times she used some of her retainer to pay other inaugural workers. Wolkoff, who is best known as an event planner for fashion editor Anna Wintour and the Met Gala, now volunteers as a "a special government employee" in Melania Trump's office, carrying out "specified duties as outlined in her contract," according to Trump spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.

Another $25 million went to event production company Hargrove Inc., $3.7 million went to New York event planner David Monn, and the committee spent $9.4 million on travel, $4.6 million on salaries and benefits — including $100,000 to now-indicted Trump campaign aide Rick Gates — $500,000 on legal fees, and $237,000 on fundraising. The committee also donated $5 million to charity, including a previously disclosed $1 million each to the American Red Cross, Samaritan's Purse, and Salvation Army — all of which helped with the response to last fall's hurricanes — plus another $1 million to the White House Historical Society, $750,000 to a fund to maintain the vice president's residence, and $250,000 to the Smithsonian Institution. The remaining $2.8 million will also go to charity, the committee said, outstanding expenses permitting. Peter Weber

August 1, 2017

Shak Hill, a Republican primary challenger to Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), wants to help "reclaim American fatherhood" and bring Christian values back to politics. He also wants to give you sex-related self-help advice, which he posts to his website, GuildingLightBooks.com, The Washington Free Beacon reports.

Posts authored under Hill's name include handy guides like "I Used Natural Penis Enlargement Techniques to Make My Penis Grow — Here's What I Did!" and "The Upside of Herpes." He also has a post that claims skin cancer is a "hoax" and another about "Why Making a Diagnosis of Genital Warts and Lumps Using Photos Is Dangerous."

When asked about the posts, Hill told the Free Beacon that "he does not choose all the articles that get posted under his name. He added that the Free Beacon inquiry 'triggered a cleaning of the site by my Web Team with instructions to catch inappropriate automatic postings.'" As of the time of publication, the entire Guiding Light Books website appears to be down.

Don't fret though — screenshots of some of the deleted posts are saved here. Jeva Lange

February 23, 2017

What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask you whose side you were on in the great spiritual war of 2017? It might be time to start picking sides: On Friday, witches worldwide reportedly plan to "cast a spell that would bind Trump to all who abet him," and the folks at ChristianNationalism.com plan to fight back with "a Day of Prayer" to protect the president.

The witches are instructed by "writer, speaker, and magical thinker" Michael M. Hughes to cast their binding spell on every night of the waning crescent moon, such as the one tomorrow, using "an unflattering photo of Trump," the Tower card of a tarot deck, a pin or nail, a white candle, a feather, bowls of water and salt, matches, and a dish of sand. For anyone worried about their karma, Hughes writes that binding "seeks to restrain someone from doing harm" and is "differentiated from cursing or hexing, which is meant to inflict harm on the target(s)." The more you know!

In the other corner, ChristianNationalism.com commands "Christian soldiers" to counter the witchcraft by reading from Psalm 23. "We ask you to join us in praying for the strength of our nation, our elected representatives, and for the souls of the lost who would take up Satanic arms against us," the author writes.

And if that wasn't enough, there could possibly be "chaos magicians for Trump" in the mix:

Will the witches and Christian soldiers/chaos magicians simply cancel out the other's prayers/spells? Will one overcome the other to become America's spiritual victor? Trump's mortal fate hangs in the balance, and only time will tell. Jeva Lange

December 21, 2016

The Chronicle of Higher Education crunched 50 years of data to better understand who is going to college — and the findings might surprise those who assume universities are liberal hotbeds. "The perception that four-year colleges are only for liberal students may partly be a vestige of the Vietnam era," the Chronicle explains. "Beginning in the late 1970s, similar percentages of freshmen identified as liberal or conservative, with more than half describing themselves as 'middle of the road.'"

In a chart of the findings, which can be found here, just over 20 percent of college freshmen today are conservative or far-right while just over 30 percent are liberal or far-left. Just under 50 percent are "middle of the road."

Students' interest in politics has been on the decline, although freshmen have trended more liberal recently, "perhaps returning to a dichotomy similar to that of the 1960s and '70s," the Chronicle writes. Explore all of the findings and peruse graphics of the data here. Jeva Lange

December 15, 2016

"The Electoral College is a process, not a place," says the National Archives. And on Monday, the 538 electors in this "college" who will formally pick the next president of the United States will meet in their own states to cast their ballots. The winning candidate needs half of the electoral votes plus one, or 270 votes. Since Donald Trump won a majority in states with 306 electoral votes, and most states legally oblige their electors to vote for the candidate who won the state, Trump will almost certainly get the nod.

Fewer than 1 percent of electors in U.S. history have gone rogue, The Associated Press notes, casting their ballots for a candidate who didn't win their state. No elector has ever been prosecuted for not voting as pledged, though some are saying this year they will risk jail to vote against Trump. Things have not always run smoothly in the Electoral College — there has been one tie, two presidencies decided in the House, one settled by a special electoral commission, and five cases where the Electoral College winner lost the popular vote, as happened this year.

"If the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent," Alexander Hamilton wrote of the Electoral College after the 1787 Constitutional Convention where the compromise form of presidential selection was created. You can learn a lot more at the National Archives, which runs the Electoral College, or get a more concise and 2016-centric primer in the AP video below. Peter Weber

October 28, 2016

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave final approval to new rules that prevent broadband internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from collecting your private digital information and sharing it with third parties, unless you give your explicit permission. The 3-2 vote followed months of intense lobbying by the broadband industry, which opposes the new rules, and was welcomed by privacy and consumer advocates. "There is a basic truth: It is the consumer's information," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "It is not the information of the network the consumer hires to deliver that information."

Previously, internet providers could gather up your web browsing habits, location data, and app usage unless the consumer told them not to. They used this sometimes sensitive data to help advertisers target ads at users. The companies have a year to comply with the new rules. The broadband industry complained that the regulations will cost consumers by reducing the number of free, ad-supported services — though internet companies like Google and Facebook aren't directly affected, since they fall under the umbrella of the Federal Trade Commission, not FCC.

"For the first time, the public will be guaranteed that when they use broadband to connect to the internet, whether on a mobile device or personal computer, they will have the ability to decide whether and how much of their information can be gathered," Jeffrey Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy tells The New York Times. "Today the government did something that benefits you," said William Turton at Gizmodo. "Remember: There is literally zero benefit for you as a customer and user give up your personal information so that rich guys at tech companies or telecoms can sell it." Peter Weber

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