The Weekender: Congress Less Bleaker with New Speaker

  • 1.2%: The Arizona Diamondbacks’ chance at making the World Series at the beginning of their season

  • $7.32: The average retail price of a pumpkin

  • 57%: The percentage of Americans who would consider living in a haunted house

  • 68%: The percentage of Americans who plan to give candy to trick-or-treaters this year

  • $57,200: The U.S. median income for a single, full-time worker

  • 4.89 Billion: The number of social media users worldwide in 2023

81 Days

81 days. That’s how long Republican Presidential hopefuls have to make their case to the American people before the Iowa caucus occurs on January 15, 2023. While a lot can happen in the upcoming few short months, candidates need to implement strong strategies to gain momentum in the polls. Former President Donald Trump maintains a 58% poll rating among likely Republican voters, so he remains the one to beat. Let’s take a glimpse into some developments in the candidates’ campaigns as the clock ticks down.

Ron DeSantis: The Florida Governor, who previously basked in former President Trump’s glow, released a “Trump accident tracker” hoping to diminish voters’ rapport with #45. He sees Trump as his campaign’s looming threat, but his campaign flounders with or without Trump. In January, DeSantis had a blossoming 33% poll support, which has been more than halved in recent weeks.

Nikki Haley: The former ambassador to the United Nations is the rising threat for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. She is currently polling at 11% among likely Republican voters while DeSantis has fallen to 12.3%. Haley’s PAC, smelling his blood in the water, released a video called “Desperate DeSantis” directly attacking her nearest competitor. The former South Carolina governor has seen a 50% increase in poll support between June and today, and she’s received key endorsements from early primary state leaders.

Tim Scott: The South Carolina Senator is putting all his campaign eggs into Iowa as he increases activity, including a five-day bus tour of the Hawkeye State. While he is on the ground talking with voters, his PAC may not be performing to his expectations. The “Trust in the Mission” PAC supporting his campaign announced it is canceling the remainder of its $40 million TV and digital ad buys after federal filings showed it spent $12.4 million during the third quarter while only raising $4.6 million. While his campaign is separate from his PAC, his polls reflect similar strife as he earns roughly 1% of support.

Doug Burgum: North Dakota Burgum – the dark horse of the race – hasn’t changed strategy, per se, but did state this week that he’d use artificial intelligence to increase federal government efficiency if he were elected to the Oval Office. He referenced his use of AI to keep the North Dakota budget from preventing new hires and for cybersecurity applications.

This is just a short list of tactics used by Republican candidates to earn good standing with the American people, but the next landmark will be the third Republican primary debate on November 8. So far, only five candidates in the broad candidate field have qualified: Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and Donald Trump, though the former president is still unlikely to step on the stage.


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Congress Less Bleaker with New Speaker

For people looking into the contemporary political window, one may assume the best thing an elected official can do is enjoy their moments in the media spotlight. However, a ray of optimism has shown through for those who yearn for the days before soundbites were king.

After weeks of candidates and conversations, Mike Johnson, a not-well-known Congressman from Louisiana, was elected 220-209 to hold the gavel and become second-in-line to the presidency – primarily because of his relative anonymity.

Most movers and shakers in leadership positions have never met Rep. Johnson. He does not bring former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s savant-adjacent fundraising capacity, nor the firebrand media attention robbery of Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan. What he does have, however, is a copy of the U.S. Constitution that he brings with him everywhere he goes and a policy-driven, purist Conservative ideology. His platform’s appetite would be satiated by a menu Senate Democrats will not serve, including spending cuts, social issue reformation, and power devolution to the states.

Some of his colleagues note that Rep. Johnson would have preferred an easier role in Congress. Regardless, his professional caution, strategic approach, and ideological footing are well-positioned to benefit him in his new role as second in the U.S. Government line of succession.

Speaker Johnson has now cleared the bruises, breaks, and blemishes of the speaker’s race, but his job is far from simple. He’ll face crushingly thin party margins to pass any potential legislation and operate against a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House. Republicans, amid brutal intraparty fighting, have elected a new speaker with many strengths. Speaker Johnson is not keen on the media’s gaze, is rooted in ideology rather than climbing ladder rungs, and is methodical rather than fiery. He may be exactly what the Republican Party needs to thrive.

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Humanity’s Most Expensive Junkyard: Space

Space exploration, our final frontier, is already seeing the trails of human activity. While the footprints (and the boots that made them) that we left on the moon are historic reminders of our exploration into the impossible, we leave more than memories in our wake. Space junk, caused by satellites running out of fuel or collisions between spacecraft and other events, is littering low Earth orbit.


It’s not just a problem of waste – the junk, which orbits our planet at 17,000 mph for months or years, may serve as a prison for humanity. Rockets are the vehicles to get satellites and humans into space, but once the rockets arrive at their destination, most of the vehicle itself no longer serves a purpose. While some of the vehicles fall back to Earth or burn up in space, the majority remain in orbit. After decades of space travel, low Earth orbit has become wrought with components that no longer serve a purpose.

These spent pieces are fated to become shrapnel moving at impossibly high speeds. Space organizations track every bit of litter possible. While there are around 2,600 defunct satellites, there are 20,000 pieces as large as an apple, 500,000 as large as a marble, and an estimated 100,000,000 objects so small they cannot be tracked. These pieces orbit the earth at breakneck speeds in a crisscross pattern. Even the smallest chunk of junk moving at 17,000 mph will release enough energy to punch holes through solid metal – posing a serious threat to the satellites we rely on for everyday life.

This network of junk exists in the same orbit essential to our space operations, including global communication, GPS, weather tracking, asteroid observation, and the majority of tools used for scientific discovery. A pea-sized piece of trash could destroy a satellite immediately upon impact.

International policies to regulate and address the problem lag behind the new technologies putting more objects into the low Earth orbit. Furthermore, space is unclaimed by any country and falls into similar jurisdictions as international waters, so it’s unclear who is responsible for cleaning up the mess.

Of course, this will not stop our fascination with taking the next step, and brilliant minds are working to address the problem before the worst-case scenarios occur. For a deep dive into our next wave of exploration, take a look at USA Today’s outlook of the next set of humans to walk on the moon and the first to head to Mars.

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You Can’t Spell Pichai without AI


Google, led by CEO Sundar Pichai, reported strong advertising sales following a year-long slump in the market. However, one of the company’s primary avenues of new business development, its cloud division which oversees the tech giant’s AI development and operation, has not been as successful. This is partly due to the number of competitors Google faces in the market. Although the search engine’s numerous AI start-ups are expected to foster success in the long term, they are not attractive enough to draw investors in the short term.

The advertising boon is good news for Google’s AI development as it provides a boost to its capital as Facebook attempts to replicate the Microsoft-backed ChatGPT. Pichai, dedicated to staying on top of the artificial intelligence exigence, has led Google to release a slew of AI-infused tools, including an email drafting bot and incorporating AI features into its flagship search.

All the big names are allocating resources into winning the proverbial “AI Space Race” with Amazon, Meta Platforms, and Alphabet (owner of Google) investing a combined hundreds of billions of dollars into the industry. Max Tegmark, professor of physics and AI researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is concerned. In his open letter signed by thousands of tech leaders including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, he called for a pause in AI development. He noted the world is “witnessing a race to the bottom that must be stopped.” He agrees that AI is promising and brings innumerable benefits, but that its broad implementation without oversight or regulation poses a significant threat to our way of life.

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Inflation is Tricking the Treats

Halloween decorationsWhat’s scarier than a haunted house? This Halloween, it’s a candy shortage. Not even Halloween treats are safe from inflation this year, with rising prices predicted to yield less candy for trick-or-treaters.

While nine in 10 households plan to purchase sweets for this spooky holiday, buyers can expect to pay 7.5% more on candy compared to last year. For example, Walmart’s 160-piece fun-sized variety pack of M&M’s, Skittles, Starbursts, Snickers, and Twix today costs $21.97. Last year, the same product at the same store was sold for $16.98, and in 2021, $14.74.

The year-long sugar shortage is exacerbating the cost increases. The global price of white sugar rose 35% since 2022, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and experts predict the shortage will only worsen with drought and extreme weather.

Many things change (including the price of candy), but one thing seems to remain steady year after year: the age-old candy corn controversy. Love it or hate it, market leader Brach’s produces about 30 million pounds of the sweet treat each year – enough to circle Earth about five times. Many will spend the next few days indulging in the multi-color candy, while others will corn its popularity. And others, like Paul Zarcone from New York, will revel in the controversy: “I also like that many people hate it. It makes me like it even more!”

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Lonely? Don’t Use Self-Checkout Lines

Woman at self checkoutMore efficient in theory than in practice? Self-checkout is a big question mark for many retail companies, despite a surge in use. About one in two people prefer to use the supposedly speedy lane in supermarkets that were initially lauded as a way to increase efficiency and reduce labor costs for stores. Recent considerations show the option may be more demanding than previously thought.

Self-checkout sections often lead to theft and are expensive for stores. A report showed that self-checkout machines could lead to “shrinkage” increases between 31% and 60%. Shrinkage is the industry term for missing inventory or administrative errors. The tools also haven’t proven to be effective in reducing manpower. Since stores like Kroger and Target have implemented self-checkout kiosks, their employee counts per store have seen little movement. In 2012, Kroger averaged 139 employees per store versus 158 per store earlier this year.

Perhaps more consequential, experts contend that self-checkouts are contributing to increasing loneliness by removing the human component from shopping. They report even small interactions between cashiers and customers can improve mental and emotional health. Ironically, human interaction – and awkward small talk – is also what most people hope to avoid.

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Hungary Starves Sweden from NATO

Sweden, attempting to officially join NATO, is being blocked admission by Hungary and Turkey. Hungary is the main hurdle to Sweden’s admission as its parliament refused a proposal that would initiate the vote on its entrance. Hungary’s governing populist Fidesz Party is putting barriers to Sweden as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only allies in the EU) has delayed Sweden’s attempt since July of 2022. This news is not quite new, as The Weekender has debriefed the situation earlier this year, but the clock is ticking down.

All 31 NATO allies must individually agree to a new member joining the ranks. Hungary will have the opportunity to ratify Sweden’s admission during their upcoming parliamentary session in November and they have committed to not being the last EU member to sign off. Hungary’s complacence is bothersome to the other members, who rapidly accepted Sweden after it dropped its military neutrality in the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

Similarly to how it treated Finland’s acceptance into the NATO, Hungary is waiting to see how Turkey will vote. Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s Foreign Minister, said “If there is movement (in Turkey’s position), then of course we will keep our promise that Hungary will not delay any country in its accession.”

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