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September 23, 2019

Facebook reportedly might still have a misinformation problem on its hands.

Judd Legum reports for Popular Information that several Facebook pages managed by people in Ukraine are funneling large audiences to pro-Trump memes, including some that have been recycled since the 2016 Russian election interference campaign. The reach of this network of pages reportedly surpasses several major media outlets in the United States.

The Ukrainian pages usually draw their followers in by posting memes about dogs, Christianity, and American patriotism, before gradually cross-posting pro-Trump propaganda. For example, one page titled "I Love America" has around 1.1 million followers, was launched in March 2017, and gained traction thanks to its patriotic posts. But recently, Popular Information reports, it's been on the Trump bandwagon.

Many of the posts include messages such as "Click Like, if you love Donald Trump as much as we do" or "God Bless Donald Trump and God bless America," but others are more misleading. One page, for example, posted a meme that falsely claims Hillary Clinton sold access to her email server to foreign governments. But a spokesperson for Facebook told Popular Information that the company doesn't believe these pages violate its policies.

Some people, like social media expert and New School professor David Carroll, find that troubling since it suggests Facebook is not sticking to its own promise to weed out these kinds of pages. But not everyone is panicking. Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Grafika, believes the network of pages is too unsophisticated to pose any real risk, especially compared to government-backed campaigns. In the end, he said, it's probably just clickbait. Read more at Popular Information.

Update: Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement that the company plans to remove the pages for violating Facebook's spam and fake accounts policies and will continue to investigate for any further violations. Tim O'Donnell

September 10, 2019

President Trump is playing it cool when it comes to the economy, but that's not reflected elsewhere, Politico reports.

The global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index reached its highest level ever in June — surpassing periods defined by fear and confusion, such as after 9/11 and during the 2008 financial crisis, when the U.S. was already mired in recession. Now, it seems that Trump's unpredictable nature and his approach to trade policy has everyone worried again, but nobody can quite figure out what lies ahead.

"I've been in the business for 35 years, and I don't remember a time where uncertainty was at such an extreme level — and that covers a lot of nail-biting periods," said David Rosenberg, the chief economist and strategist at the investment firm Gluskin Sheff. "The U.S. economy is slowing down perceptibly. I would suggest no growth in the forth quarter. People are going to be surprised by it. It will either be recession or stagnation."

Between May 31 and Sept. 5, the word "uncertainty" appeared in over 250 presentation and earnings calls among S&P 500 companies, Politico reports, and Rosenberg said the words "risk" and "uncertainty" appeared an unprecedented 69 times in the latest minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. He says that's more frequently than any meeting during the 2008 crisis or after 9/11, as well as more than the "tech wreck" almost two decades ago.

Still, neither the Trump administration or the Federal Reserve are panicking — at least not publicly. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

August 28, 2019

The United States could soon lose its status as a nation that has eliminated the measles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Wednesday.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said there is a "reasonable chance" this could happen in October. The World Health Organization removes the designation after measles has spread continuously for one year; on Sept. 30, 2018, a measles outbreak began in New York City, and since then, hundreds of new cases have appeared in a total of 30 states. This is "incredibly frustrating and upsetting to the public health community that we may lose measles elimination status, because we do have a safe and effective vaccine," Messonnier said.

The U.S. received its measles elimination status in 2000, and the idea that this could be lost due to widespread anti-vaccine sentiment is leaving public health officials "embarrassed," Dr. William Schaffner, an adviser to the CDC on vaccines, told CNN. "We're chagrined." Catherine Garcia

July 26, 2019

After two weeks of demanding the governor's resignation, Puerto Ricans who protested outgoing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had a lot to celebrate on Thursday.

Rosselló announced late Wednesday night that he is stepping down Aug. 2. Earlier in the month, leaked group chats between Rosselló and several aides and advisers revealed misogynistic and homophonic remarks, as well as jokes about Hurricane Maria victims. The public was outraged, and the repeated protests spurred Rosselló to leave office.

For many Puerto Ricans, though, they are getting rid of one bad governor and replacing him with a new dud. Rosselló's successor, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced, isn't very popular. Critics say she has mishandled the prosecutions of members of her own political party, the New Progressive Party, and anti-Vázquez Garced graffiti has been popping up around San Juan. She is a "necessary evil," protestor Mildred Breton told The Washington Post. "But the expectation is that she remains in office the least amount of time possible. She is part of the problem and not a solution."

Under ordinary circumstances, Vázquez Garced would not be replacing Rosselló — the secretary of state succeeds the governor, but that office remains empty after Luis Gerardo Rivera Marín resigned this month in the wake of the group chats scandal. Rosselló could try to appoint a new secretary of state before he leaves office next Friday. Whether it is Vázquez Garced or someone else who assumes the governorship, they're going to have a difficult task ahead — Puerto Rico is dealing with everything from a major bankruptcy and restructuring to cuts to public services. Catherine Garcia

July 21, 2019

The U.S. Southern Command announced Sunday that a Venezuelan fighter aircraft on Friday made an "unsafe approach" to a U.S. Navy aircraft in international airspace, "endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing" its mission.

The Navy aircraft, an EP-3 Aries II, was conducting a "detection and monitoring" mission over the Caribbean Sea when the incident took place. Southern Command said it reviewed video that showed Venezuela's "Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time." Venezuela's military has since accused the Navy plane of violating "security of air operations and international treaties."

The U.S. government does not believe Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was fairly elected and instead supports opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Southern Command said Maduro's regime "continues to undermine internationally-recognized laws," with Maduro ignoring the suffering of his people and using Venezuela's "precious resources to engage in unprovoked and unjustified acts." Venezuela has claimed that so far this year, more than 76 U.S. aircraft have tried to enter the country's airspace, CNN reports. Catherine Garcia

July 16, 2019

In the not-so-distant past, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) was the fundraising king. He excelled at reeling in the dough during both his 2018 Texas Senate run and his early presidential campaign. But those days are seemingly over for the 2020 candidate.

O'Rourke has struggled recently when it comes to polls and funding, which is raising questions about whether his once-promising campaign has run out of gas. He is expected to report just $3.6 million between April and June, less than half the $9.4 million he raised in the first quarter. The number also falls short of the $6.1 million he raised in the 24 hours after he first announced his campaign, which is what had people thinking he could be a contender in the first place. Politico called the April through June figure "startlingly small."

The fundraising decline reportedly has O'Rourke's allies on edge, though they think he still has time to get things back on track. If that's to be the case, he probably needs to simultaneously improve his polling numbers, which have also dipped.

It doesn't sound as if O'Rourke is ready to bow out, however. Instead of scaling back, the campaign is making a push by expanding its number of field offices in Iowa.

But in the larger picture, the numbers indicate O'Rourke is fading into the primary's muddied waters. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden have begun to separate themselves from the pack in terms of cash and polling data. O'Rourke was never a frontrunner, but he appears to have been displaced by Buttigieg as the election's upstart candidate. Tim O'Donnell

May 8, 2019

There's more to The New York Times' bombshell story about President Trump's tax information than the reveal that Trump is not the best at running a business.

Trump reportedly had a rough go of it between 1985 and 1994. Naturally, he's hand-waving the $1.17 billion that his core businesses lost during that time period — in fact, he's somehow arguing it actually proves how smart he is, business-wise. But his critics are not just challenging that notion. They've also spotted some possibly illegal activity in the form of market manipulation.

Between 1986 and 1988, Trump's businesses were really struggling, the Times reports. Yet he was still raking in millions of dollars on the stock market. His methods, however, were questionable, to say the least.

Eventually, the Times writes, those investors wised up and stopped taking the claims seriously, which eventually resulted in Trump losing most of that money. But it does look like he dodged the Security and Exchange Commission. Not only were Trump's business ethics sketchy, his actions might have been outright against federal law. Tim O'Donnell

August 20, 2018

President Trump told Reuters on Monday he's "not thrilled" with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell raising interest rates.

Trump nominated Powell last year to replace former Fed Chair Janet Yellen. "Am I happy with my choice?" he said. "I'll let you know in seven years." It's rare for presidents to criticize the Fed, as its independence is crucial for economic stability, and when asked by Reuters if he believes in its independence, Trump replied, "I believe in the Fed doing what's good for the country."

The Fed raised rates twice this year, and is expected to do so again in September. "We're negotiating very powerfully and strongly with other nations," Trump said. "We're going to win. But during this period of time I should be given some help by the Fed. The other countries are accommodated." Catherine Garcia

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