The Weekender

The Weekender: Gadgets of the Modern James Bond

The Weekender


  • 15 Years: The anniversary Strategic Elements celebrated this week
  • 22%: The percentage of Americans who have asked their doctor to prescribe them Ozempic for weight loss
  • $6.3 Million: The amount of seed funding Disney star Bridget Mendler raised for her space startup
  • $16.5 Million: The amount of money Nikki Haley fundraised in January – her strongest month to date
  • $31,201,168.32: The current amount spent by the State of Illinois on asylum seekers
  • $1.2 Billion: The amount of student loan debt President Biden canceled for borrowers on income-driven repayment plans

The Big 5 News UpdatesThe Price Tag on Democratic Elections

Running free and fair democratic elections is a costly ordeal for the United States. As the threat of potential foreign cyberattacks, criminal ransomware campaigns, and misinformation rises, one could be forgiven for mistaking the opening to Pink Floyd’s “Money” for our national anthem. In 2016, Congress added the country’s voting system to its list of critical infrastructure, sending $995 million to states for election administration and security measures on top of what states and local governments already spend. That money was spent to develop ballot-tracker systems for voters, pay election officials, increase security, replace voting machines, add cybersecurity staff, and much more.

2024 is thrusting elections back into the limelight, but politics on Capitol Hill are slowing down funding processes. As of late, Congress has only been able to approve temporary plans – keeping agencies on their toes by only providing funding for months at a time. The current funding infrastructure expires on March 1 (7 days from today). Although federal budget negotiations are tied up along party lines, there is some movement as a $75 million Senate proposal is currently being negotiated as a part of a larger, final package.

Any meaningful contribution to this conversation must also understand how Americans view elections in the modern age (Hint: it’s not great). Half of Americans anticipate AI to play first chair in spreading misinformation during the election. One-third of Americans will harbor distrust of the outcome explicitly because of AI involvement.

Freely and fairly voting in elections is a citizen’s civic right – whether those elections are funded enough to be effectual and secure is up to state legislatures, county governments, and Congress.

Read More at The Associated Press

It costs how much?!

Does it feel like the prices of your morning coffees and Friday night pizzas are higher than you remembered? It’s not just you! As inflation continues to rise, food prices are soaring. Food has not cost this much in 30 years and has increased by 5.1% in the last month. As a response to rising food prices, many consumers are taking matters into their own hands with a simple solution: eat out less and eat less while out.

Higher prices have some restaurant owners citing their sources. Some say they’re adjusting to higher wages; some point to rising costs of goods. And yes – some companies are reaching for higher profit margins.

But while receipts show higher numbers, products – or meals – are occasionally experiencing “shrinkflation.” This inflation-related term refers to the common phenomenon where the size of pre-packaged snacks or other goods reduce while prices increase. (Have you seen bags of chips?!) This issue has the attention of the White House. President Biden posted a video on X, saying that, “The American public is tired of being played for suckers. I’m calling on companies to put a stop to this.”

Is progress on the horizon? Don’t hold your breath. Steve Cahillane, the CEO of Kellanova – owner of Kellogg’s Cereal – said that “If you look historically after periods of inflation, there’s really no period you could point to where [food] prices go back down.” Time will tell if what goes up (food prices) will go back down again.

Read More at The Wall Street Journal

Good News for Homebuyers

You’ve recently heard about how millennials don’t have access to homeownership like previous generations. Luckily, here’s a bit of good news: Hispanic, Black, and Asian Americans are owning their own homes at higher rates than in previous years.

While owning your own home is one of the main courses of the American Dream menu, it is also a pinnacle of financial stability. In a country where buying a house is increasingly difficult for just about everyone, seeing any group of people being able to own the keys to their front door is big news. Asian and Hispanic Americans saw a 6% increase in homeownership while Black Americans increased by 1.5%. Similarly, White Americans saw a boost of 3%.

There’s still work to be done as young people struggle to build enough capital to afford a mortgage. A deep data dive demonstrates discrimination directed toward Black Americans trying to buy a home remains a real issue.

Read More at Axios

’08 Bubble Burst Bottomed Boomers’ Banks

Every generation is dealt a hand they’re forced to play; for Millennials (as aforementioned), homeownership puts the “dream” in the American Dream. Late Baby Boomers have less retirement wealth and significantly less in their retirement accounts than generations-their-elder. The youngest Baby Boomers were in their peak earning years during the Great Recession in 2008, which saw a skyfall in home values, 401K savings, widespread joblessness, and the S&P 500 halving in worth.

The Great Recession caused the 98% of late Baby Boomers working at age 44 to reduce to 77% at age 50 – many of whom never returned to the workforce once the economy rebounded despite having another decade of work ahead of them. Those who kept working saw an average pay decrease from $79,000 to $69,000 – with their paychecks never fully recovering.

These Americans still have another 20 – 30 years ahead of them and, with little savings in the bank, troubles may lie in wait. Low retirement wealth directly impacts their standard of living and their ability to pay healthcare costs. It also places them in a situation where they may outlive their savings. While younger generations were also impacted by the 2008 economic crisis, they have decades to pick up the slack. For those who were on the cusp of retirement when the bubble burst, many will have to cling to cash for the remainder of the golden years. 

Read More at USA Today

Addicted to… dating apps

On Valentine’s Day, the Match Group had a less than romantic day. Six users filed a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming that Match Group’s dating apps go against consumer protection laws. The company’s dating apps, which include, Tinder, and Hinge, were accused of addictive and manipulative interfaces. Plaintiffs claimed that the apps use “psychologically manipulative features to ensure they remain on the app perpetually as paying subscribers.” The lawsuit also referred to the company’s business model as “predatory” towards its users, alleging that these dating apps only have the company’s gains in mind rather than its users’ love lives. Plaintiffs stated that the apps convince its users they will find love while convincing them to subconsciously keep using apps instead.

Match defended itself with a bold statement: “anyone who states anything else doesn’t understand the purpose and mission of our entire industry.” Some in the industry sided with Match Group, claiming that its so-called addictive business model is standard across apps of all industries.

With around 30% of U.S. adults stating they’ve used dating apps, experts agree that responsible use of the online platforms relies on users’ discretion and self-control.  

Read More at The Washington Post

International Spotlight

From James Bond to James Bit

To the chagrin of James Bond, the new age of espionage no longer utilizes Dentonite toothpaste, invisible cars, dagger shoes, jetpacks, or explosive pens. This generation of intelligence operatives countering international schemes is using something more ubiquitous: computers. A coalition of 11 countries’ law enforcement agencies announced it had taken control of the infrastructure used by the world’s most prolific ransomware group, LockBit. The effort, dubbed Operation Cronos, was spearheaded by the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency in partnership with 10 other countries, including the FBI.

According to the Justice Department, LockBit malware has been used to extort over $120 million in ransom payments from over 2,000 victims. In 2020, it was the most-deployed piece of ransomware on the planet and posed a serious threat to individuals and companies worldwide. It published stolen data from Boeing, attacked the major Chinese bank ICBC, and crippled Britain’s mail service in 2023. On Monday, February 19, their site on the dark web was captured by the alliance, which also won control of 200 linked financial accounts holding cryptocurrency, programming source code, and electronic messages with LockBit hackers. Two accused participants, arrested in Ukraine and Poland, are now in American custody.

LockBit’s hackers, known as affiliates, are largely decentralized and live across the world. Therefore, an alliance of several world powers joining forces to take down their operations is a huge step in promoting economic stability amid nefarious actors.

Read More at The Washington Post

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