theSkimm's Guide to


Keystone XL Pipeline...A controversial oil pipeline project that President Obama recently rejected. It would have expanded a pipeline that carries crude oil from Canada to Texas. Republicans and oil companies say it would have created US jobs and reduced North America’s reliance on foreign oil. Democrats and environmental groups say it would have been an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Sinai Peninsula...An area of the Egyptian desert that borders Israel. Not a friendly place. A lot of militant groups, including friends of ISIS, operate there. Earlier this month, a Russian plane went down over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. Investigators believe an explosion -- either from a technical failure or more likely a bomb -- caused the crash.

Export-Import Bank...A decades-old agency that helps US companies get their goods sold overseas by giving out loans and guarantees to foreign customers. Supporters say it helps US businesses compete abroad. Critics say 'hi, this is corporate welfare,' that puts the US gov in the position of picking winners and losers depending on which companies get its help. Last week, Congress moved a step closer to re-upping support for the bank.

Dodd-Frank...A banking regulation overhaul law that was passed after the financial crisis. Goal: avoid another meltdown like in '08. Republicans say it doesn’t actually fix the problem of some companies being “too big to fail,” while Dems say it created a much safer financial system.

The Trade Deal...Officially known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It’s a major trade deal between the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. It opens up trade between economies that produce almost half of the world's goods and services. A lot of Democrats say this deal will hurt US workers by sending jobs overseas. Meanwhile, Republicans are pro-free trade, but they don’t want to give President Obama a high-five ahead of the 2016 election.

Planned Parenthood...A non-profit group that provides health care, including abortions, to women around the US. This year, undercover videos were released by a pro-life group that seem to show PP execs talking about illegally selling the tissue of aborted fetuses for profit. PP says the allegations are false. Cue congressional investigations, and several states moving to defund PP.

Title X...A federal program that offers funding for reproductive healthcare to low-income US families. Think: birth control, STD screenings, HIV testing. A lot of Title X funding goes to Planned Parenthood, which has been under a harsh spotlight since earlier this year when undercover videos were released that suggest it’s illegally profiting off of abortions. So now, Title X is also in the spotlight.

Glass-Steagall...An FDR-era law that forced US banks to separate their investment and commercial activities. Supporters, including Democrats, say it kept firms from making risky bets with their customers’ money. Critics, including the GOP, say it stifled the kind of creativity that helps the US economy grow. Key parts of the law were scrapped in the late-90s, which many think helped cause the ‘08 financial crisis.

General Suleimani...One of Iran’s main military leaders. He heads up what is basically Iran’s version of US special forces. The US military says he led attacks on American forces in Iraq in the 2000s. It’s thought that he’s back there now, helping Iraqi forces against ISIS.

Kate’s Law...Named after Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant, in July 2015 in San Francisco. That immigrant had recently been released from jail, but he wasn’t deported because of laws in SF that give sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Kate’s Law would increase prison time for undocumented immigrants who come back to the US after being deported. Most of the GOP is backing the law, while most of the Dems side with San Fran.

Benghazi...A major city in Libya. On September 11, 2012, the US diplomatic mission there was attacked. Four Americans were killed, including the US Ambassador. The attacks have been the subject of eight investigations, and has since become synonymous with 'that time Hillary Clinton really f'd up.'

Kurds...A semi-autonomous ethnic group in parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. They’ve been a big help to the US so far in the fight against ISIS.

Sunnis and Shiites...Two different branches of Islam that have had a rocky history since, well, basically forever. Shiites are a minority in the Mideast but have key pockets of power.

Common Core...A federal educational program that says students K-12 should know how to read and write well and should be tested on it every year. Some people think the tests are a tool to help underperforming schools. Others see the standards as an attack on state’s educational rights, and think students are filling out too many bubble sheets. The program is backed by President Obama and the White House, but it has opponents from both the left and the right.

Iran Deal...A deal between Iran, the US, and five other countries aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Some -- cough, Dems, cough -- say a deal’s better than no deal. But others -- cough, GOP, cough -- say the deal doesn’t go far enough in preventing Iran from building a nuke.

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