Aug 6, 2019

How do you spot fake news?

How do you spot fake news?

Also: China, trade wars, and who pays tariffs.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes

We’re talking China, the trade war, and answering questions about spotting fake news and tariffs.

What D.C. is talking about.

China. The U.S.-China trade war is escalating, and things look like they’re going to get worse before they get better. President Trump announced new tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods last week, which sent the stock market tumbling. China responded by allowing its currency to devalue against the dollar. Why would China do this? Because it makes U.S. products in China more expensive (i.e. less people will buy them) and makes Chinese products cheaper across the globe (i.e. more people will buy them). POTUS then responded to their response by designating China a currency manipulator for the first time since 1994. Practically, this doesn’t really do anything but provide a justification for what’s next. Nobody knows what that is yet, though. Down the road, the designation could be used to levy financial penalties against China. Early Tuesday, China stabilized the yuan and the People’s Bank of China claimed the fall was caused by the market, not manipulated by China. Analysts are calling B.S. and saying the trade war is now turning into a currency war.

What Democrats are saying.

Sen. Chuck Schumer came out in favor of labeling China a currency manipulator yesterday after the yuan’s value plummeted, a rare moment of Trump-Schumer alignment. Schumer has been calling for this move since as far back as 2005. Politicians on both sides have long called for China to be labeled a currency manipulator as its central bank buys up foreign exchange reserves to keep the yuan low (and thus keep its cheaper products competitive in the global market). But Democrats have also been warning about the ramifications of this trade war since it began, flagging the rural welfare needed to plug the holes for America’s farmers, and Trump has plunged forward anyway. Outside of the currency manipulator designation, most Democrats are hammering Trump for his escalations that have kept global markets skittish and leave costs in the consumer’s lap (more on that below). Now those Dems have ammunition for the debates and the upcoming 2020 race that they’re sure to take to the rust belt and rural parts of the country.

What Republicans are saying.

It’s not going well. Most Republicans are asking, “What’s the plan?” Ben Shapiro, a rising conservative icon, put it like this:

The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a compass of conservative mindset, led with this: “President Trump claims trade wars are easy to win, but that boast looks worse than ever amid the financial carnage from his latest threat of tariffs on Chinese goods. His trade war has now become a currency war, which raises the potential economic harm to another level.” Elsewhere, Trump sycophants are trying to downplay the impact of the latest developments. Fox News’s Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Before the stand off we sent about $160 billion in US exports to China. They sent $500 billion worth of goods here. Do the math—we have a $20 trillion economy. Not a big hit to us. Big for them.” Others just see a president fulfilling his promise to get tough on China, and care more than anything else that he doesn’t flinch in the face of pressure from the “experts,” media, or international trade partners.

My take.

I thought trade wars were easy to win? That’s what Trump said last year when this whole thing started. Now, the federal government has already handed out billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers who have lost money because of the U.S.-China trade war. Others are noting that, by the books, China’s isn’t even manipulating its currency. If anything China has been keeping it artificially strong. We don’t have to take Trump’s word on how farmers are doing, we can just ask them. Last night, the American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “China’s announcement that it will not buy any agricultural products from the United States is a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by." American consumers are taking the hit in this trade war, and just like tax increases or rising health care costs this is going to hurt the middle class (and in some places, it already is). We’ll get into “who pays for tariffs” below.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: readers run this newsletter. Send a question in by replying to this email. It takes two to Tangle.

Ari from San Francisco: I was having a discussion with a stranger online about the scope of shooting crimes in America and ultimately ended up at a reasonable position where my discussant admitted they didn't know how to determine if an online source was trustworthy. I offered some ideas, but I'm not a media professional. How do you vet online news sources?

I love this question. Media literacy is going to be a crucial part of the future, and if it were up to me it’d be getting taught in elementary and middle schools right now.

There are a few ways to vet online news sources seriously, like cross-referencing them or checking out their bias rankings on various websites, but most people only have limited time. Here are five quick tips I came up with that you can use:

  1. Never trust a meme. Seriously, just don’t. Any image with text, statistics or “facts” overlaid on top of it is probably trying to sell you snake oil and you should just ignore it.
  2. Double check the URL. A new trend in actual fake news (not The New York Times stories the president tweets about) is people will make small changes to trustworthy news sites and publish fake articles there. For instance, a site may copy ABC’s layout and publish a news story like “Barack Obama Caught Molesting Children” under the URL (that was a real, popular website that was only shut down recently).
  3. Pay attention to the advertisements. If a website is selling you penis enlargement pills, linking out to dating sites or offering you brain enhancement drinks, it’s not a real news organization. Real news organizations would never sell those things. News organizations that are making money off of clicks and fake news would.
  4. Look for a byline. Most news organizations include bylines, the author’s name, underneath the headlines. If there isn’t a byline, that’s not a dead giveaway (my website A Plus doesn’t always publish bylines on articles it publishes), but it does mean you should tread carefully.
  5. Spend 30 seconds doing a search. Seriously, it’s worth it. Most popular fake news stories have been debunked by websites like Snopes or The Washington Post fact-checker, which are generally reliable (but can lean left on certain political issues). Wikipedia is a great resource to see whether a news organization publishes fake news and even has a list of fake news websites. also grades websites. For instance, this is the page for The Boston Tribune, a fake news website that is often confused for being real. Then there’s this handy bias chart, whose gradings I support, for (mostly) real news websites below:

Evan from New York City: Who is paying the tariffs in the trade war?

The president can claim, as he has over and over, that China is paying for tariffs, but it just isn’t true. A tariff is a tax on something that is imported to the United States. When that something comes into the U.S., the tax is paid — almost always — by the importer. In other words: whatever U.S. company is bringing the product in.

Say, for example, the president puts a tariff on shoes made in China. If Nike wanted to get its shoes into the U.S., it would have to pay that tax. The money goes to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service. What happens next depends on what Nike wants to do: either it will raise the price of the shoes, thus passing the cost of the tariff on to us, or it will find a shoemaker that’s not in China so it doesn’t have to pay the tariffs on shoes. There’s also a third, rarer option: Nike’s shareholders could buy up the cost of the tariffs, ask Nike to reduce its compensation to its workforce or cut its workers. This would allow Nike to keep the price of shoes the same while not moving its bottom line and paying the tariffs all at once.

Trump seems to think by levying tariffs against China, the government’s pocketbook grows. This isn’t wrong. Where Trump is wrong (or where he is blatantly lying) is when he says that money is coming from China. He’s also wrong when he pretends this money is a big source of federal revenue (it’s a very, very small fraction). The only way tariffs hurt China is if U.S. companies decide to avoid those tariffs by moving away from Chinese suppliers. Unfortunately, U.S. companies rarely do that. Instead, they just raise their prices to cover the tariff, thus passing along the cost onto us, the people buying those Nike shoes. Also: tariffs tend to increase the prices of the same goods from other countries. So, for example, if cost of Chinese shoes goes up, there’s a good chance the cost of shoes from Mexico or Thailand will go up, too. Also, also: tariffs usually beget tariffs. China will respond to these tariffs by intentionally punishing the companies from America that have Chinese customers.


Toni Morrison, the first black woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature, died on Monday night. You know her for her best-selling novels like Beloved, Jazz and Paradise. Vulture has more here.

Number of the day.

48. That’s how many people were shot between Friday evening and Sunday night in Chicago, including five people who died. It was the most violent weekend in Chicago this year. Also: a Republican Congressman says he’d change his vote from February when he voted against background check legislation:

Have a nice day.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins say they have discovered the proteins that help grow sound-detecting cells in the ear. The researchers say these proteins could be key to growing the hair cells in mammalian ears that detect sound, and could lead to therapies that help restore or prevent hearing loss, even in people with irreversible deafness. Science is awesome. Read more here.

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