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ad hominem

An (invalid) argument technique in which someone attacks who a person is, rather than their actual argument. It also is referred to as a personal attack or name-calling.

While it's often useful to consider the source of a particular argument as a guideline, that alone does not alter the validity of the point being made or rebutted.

For example, you might read about someone criticizing their former employer, and having the employer dismiss it as coming from someone who is disgruntled. But if that argument is accepted, one could dismiss claims from every former employee everywhere. Obviously some claims would be true and others false, but they need to be evaluated on their merits, such as with evidence.

Air Force One

Call sign given to the plane on which the U.S. president flies.

Other ways the president travels are on Marine One - call sign for the presidential helicopter - and in the presidential limo - known as The Beast.


Articles of Confederation

The document that defined how the U.S. government operated prior to March 4, 1789 when the government began operating under the Constitution.

Assault Weapon

A type of firearm generally described by common characteristics - such as being semi-automatic and lightweight.

Assault weapons often are based on designs used by law enforcement agencies and militaries.

Referenced by...
Judge overturns California assault weapon ban (2021-Jun-05)
Senate rejects ban on assault weapons (2013-Apr-18)
Senate to introduce assault weapon ban (2013-Jan-24)
Obama announces executive actions after mass shootings (2013-Jan-16)
The recent evolution of assault weapon laws (2012-Dec-20)

Blind Trust


Block Grant

A large amount of money from the federal government to a state or regional government for a specified purpose.

The purpose usually is general (such as law enforcement, community development, transportation, health services), with the regional government deciding how to spend it in a way consistent with the purpose.


A term generally used to specify high-speed internet capabilities.

It is a characteristic of data transmission that allows multiple signals to be sent simultaneously.


A difficult circumstance from which there is no escape, because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

It was coined in the book Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, who described a mythical clause that World War 2 pilots wanting to avoid combat missions would encounter...

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers... was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions."


A survey taken of Americans every 10 years to determine the number and characteristics of Americans.

The most significant census data is the distribution of where American's live by state, which is used to determine the number of representatives in Congress each state receives.

The census is mandated in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Chain of Custody

The process of handling an item (such as legal evidence) to ensure there are no gaps in documenting its path.

Civil Rights

The rights of every citizen to be treated equally regardless of their characteristics... such as ethnic background, gender, and religion.

Closely-Held Corporation

A corporation in which 5 (or fewer) individuals own more than half of its stock. Their shares are not publicly traded.

Closely-held corporations can be any size. They account for approximately half of all private jobs in the U.S. Large closely-held corporations include...

o Cargill - one of the largest private companies in the United States. Cargill supplies agricultural products to companies such as McDonalds and Nestle.

o Mars - owner of candies such as M&M's, Snickers, Dove chocolate, Uncle Ben's rice products, and pet food companies Nutro, Pedigree, and Greenies.

o Dell - maker of computers.

o Hobby Lobby - a retail crafts chain with more than 20,000 employees and $3 billion annual revenue.

In the 2014 Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court ruled that closely-held corporations could claim religious exemptions to federal laws

Referenced by...
Supreme Court to rule on gay and transgender job protections (2019-Apr-25)
Court: Corporations entitled to religious protections (2014-Jun-30)

Confirmation Bias

There's an almost infinite variety of information available from the internet, cable, satellite, television, radio, and print.

With so many choices, people tend to seek out information that supports views they already have. The phenomenon is referred to as confirmation bias.

A consequence of that is the polarization we see today. When people fail to find it even worthwhile to learn how "the other side" is thinking, we tend to treat them as less intelligent or having bad intentions.

Conflict of Interest

A Conflict of Intersest arises when someone has two interests that cannot necessarily be helped by the same solution.

For example, let's say you are the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who is responsible for ensuring (through regulations) that coal-fired power plants do not emit excessive amounts of pollution into the air.

If you also happen to own a coal-fired power plant, those regulations could cost you money in needed upgrades or fines.

Your two interests conflict.

This does not mean the best decision always would be the one that hurts your company's profits. Nor does it mean that you would be unable to make decisions that are best for the Americans - even if at the expense of your company. But it would cast doubt on the public's trust in your decisions should they favor your company.

Since our government is founded on the concept of honest representation, even the appearance of a conflict of interest often can be a problem.

Referenced by...
DOT helps Mitch McConnell's state fund projects (2019-Jun-10)
Transportation Sec. Chao's family conflicts of interest (2019-Jun-02)

Crossfilre Hurricane


Referenced by...
Inspector General - Russia investigation not political (2019-Dec-10)

Daylight-Saving Time (DST)

Daylight-saving time is the practice of setting clocks ahead one hour every Spring. The effect is an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon hours, with sunrise an hour later in the morning. In the Fall, clocks are set back one hour in order to return to standard time.


Some credit Benjamin Franklin for inventing daylight-saving time, though the concept he proposed satirically in 1795 was that people adjust their sleep schedule to experience more sunlight.

Daylight-saving time in the United States was created by the 1918 Standard Time Act.

The main purpose of the law was to create 5 time zones to coordinate with time zones used by the railroad industry.

The section creating daylight-saving time was repealed in 1918. Since then, the practice has been enacted, repealed, and changed several times.

One thing most people agree on - change is bad

Some people prefer the extra hour of natural afternoon light that daylight-saving time provides. Others prefer an earlier sunrise.

One thing generally agreed upon is that the twice-yearly time changes can have negative effects both physiologically as well as practically.

Those who prefer standard time cite that earlier daylight makes going to school in the morning safer for children and helps farmers get an early start to their workday.

Those preferring daylight-saving time say the hour of extra daylight makes driving home from work safer - including lowering the risk of cars hitting deer. It also allows children to play outdoors later in the afternoon.


A program for reducing energy consumption by offering consumers a lower price if they reduce their energy use during peak demand times.

This can help the utility company avoid power outages due to heavy demand and keep them from having to buy expensive power on spot markets.

For more, visit the Department of Energy website.

Disparate Impact

U.S. anti-discrimination laws protect from two forms of discrimination in areas such as employment or housing...

o Disparate Treatment: Classes of people are treated differently, such as in the refusal to rent property to someone in a certain class.

o Disparate Impact: The discrimination is not explicit or intentional, but it results in a disproportionate disadvantage for certain classes of people.

Referenced by...
Supreme Court: Discrimination doesn't need to be intentional (2015-Jun-25)

Dog Whistle

A phrase or statement intended to disparage a particular minority group that does not mention the group. Rather, it uses references that those who agree with the negative sentiment will understand.


Positions or beliefs obtained from a figure of authority - such as a parent, religious leader, teacher, or book - which is contradicted by verifiable evidence or for which verifiable evidence does not exist.

Related term: scientific method

Doughnut Hole

A general term used to describe a gap in eligibility for a benefit.

For a simple hypothetical example, a prescription drug benefit might pay for drugs up to $2,000. But if it also pays for drugs in excess of $4,000, your maximum out-of-pocket expenses would be $2,000 (the amount over $2,000 but less than $4,000). This gap - where you would pay - is referred to as a doughnut hole.


An unmanned aircraft. Drones are used by the military, companies (for example filmmakers and surveyors), and individuals. They can be either autonomous - controlled by a computer program without human control or manned - remotely controlled by a pilot.

Drones also are referred to as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and UASs (Unmanned Air Systems).

For more on how drones may be used in the United States, read the Federal Aviation Administration factsheet.


Short for electronic cigarette. E-cigarettes are small electronic devices used like a cigarette - in which the person inhales a vapor made from nicotine and/or flavored liquid. They differ from cigarettes in that e-cigarette vapor is produced electronically rather than by burning tobacco.

Referenced by...
E-cigarette sales now limited to those over 18 (2016-May-05)

Eminent Domain


Enriched Uranium



Entitlement programs are those that receipients have a legal right to benefit from, provided they meet the program's qualifications. These programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and most Veterans' Administration programs. On a much smaller scale, they include things like the salaries of Congress and the President.

Spending for these programs is referred to as mandatory spending, as opposed to programs which are legislated each year and are referred to as discretionary spending.

Essential Consultants LLC

A shell company created by Michael Cohen - Donald Trump's attorney.

The company was created one month before the 2016 presidential election.

Referenced by...
Trump's lawyer's company received millions in payments (2018-May-08)

Ex Officio

An ex officio member of a board, committee, etc. is one who is part of it by virtue of holding another office.


A person residing in a country other than their native country.

The term often is shortened to expat.


A term used in economics to describe a consequence to some party that did not cause - and had no choice in whether to incur - the effect.

An externality can be positive (external benefit) or negative (external cost).

One example would be a factory that dumps pollutants into a river, while a second factory downstream requires clean water for its operations.

A few things can happen...

o The downstream factory will incur the cost of cleaning the water, even though it did not cause the problem. This would be an external cost to the second factory.

o The upstream factory could mitigate the problem it caused, by either reducing the amount of pollutants it dumps into the river or paying to clean the water. In this case it would be internalizing the cost.


Verifying information that was presented in order to determine its correctness. Generally that involves examining evidence such as official records and studies.


The United States is a made up of multiple governments. There is one national government, consisting of...

o Congress (House of Representatives and Senate)

o The President (and government agencies)

o The Supreme Court (and lower national courts)

Each state and territory also has its own government. Within each state, counties and cities have governments. So do school districts.

The national government is referred to as the federal government. Most things labeled as federal relate to the country as a whole.

Lobby99 typically addresses only federal government - only addressing state and lower issues when they might affect the country as a whole.

Federal Lands (or Public Lands)

Land owned by the federal government (in other words, American citizens). Federal lands make up about 1/5 of the United States.

Different types of federal lands are managed by various agencies of the Department of the Interior.

Referenced by...
Administration proposes land sale from national monument (2018-Aug-15)
Mitigation for damage to public lands no longer required (2018-Jul-24)

Federalist Papers

A collection of 85 essays written in 1787 and 1788 to persuade Americans to ratify the Constitution. They explain the reasoning behind certain parts of the Constitution.

They are generally assumed to have been written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.

Click here to learn more about the Federalist Papers and to read them.

Fortune 500

Annual list published by Fortune magazine of the 500 U.S. companies with the most revenue in that year.

Free Trade Agreements


General Fund

When a government receives money from taxes or fees, some of that money might be designated for a specific use. For example, there is a tax on gasoline that goes directly into the Highway Trust Fund.

Other money is put into a fund that can be used for any purpose Congress decides to allocate money for (via a bill signed by the president). This fund is called the General Fund.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

A set of satellites in fixed positions about the earth that allow devices to track their location based on signals from them.

A device that can track its location based on signals from these satellites is said to be GPS-enabled.

Great Depression


Great Recession

Economic collapse from 2007 - 2009.

It was caused by a combination of several factors, some of which were...

o Mortgage companies aggressively pushed for people to buy homes - including those who couldn't afford it. In some cases, the loans were made in ways that would require the homes' values or purchasers' incomes to rise. In other cases, loan documents were falsified to make it appear the borrowers had enough income to pay the loan.

o The mortgage companies grouped loans together and then sold off parts of them to investors. Lax regulations allowed banks to invest more than was safe.

o A large number of the homeowners defaulted on their loans. The loans were insured, but insurance companies had covered more than they could afford to lose.

Under the Barack Obama administration, the federal government enacted several programs to help affected Americans. Programs included extended unemployment benefits and a stimulus program to create jobs.

The federal government also spent money to bolster failing financial institutions.

Referenced by...
2020 deficit will exceed $1 trillion (2020-Feb-12)

Group of 20 (G20)

Informal group of 20 countries (19 + the European Union), along with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Combined, the G20 represents two-thirds of the world's population and 85 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Referenced by...
Deal would keep companies' tax dollars in the U.S. (2021-Oct-08)

Hard Pass

A long-term badge that allows access to the White House for those who work there on a daily basis.

Referenced by...
White House moves to ban reporters' followup questions (2018-Nov-22)
Judge orders White House to allow banned reporter (2018-Nov-16)

Holding Company

A company that exists primarily to own and control other companies.



International Monetary Fund (IMF)


Legal Financial Obligation (LFO)

Fines, fees, and restitution imposed as part of a sentence against a person convicted of a crime.

Referenced by...
Supreme Court keeps Florida ex-felons out of voting booth (2020-Jul-16)


Acronym for Laughing Out Loud, it's a term commonly used in online conversations.


A situation in which there is only one entity that provides a service or product - thus they have no competition.

For the purposes of our discussions here, there are two basic types of monopolies...

o Private monopolies exist to make a profit. They have incentive to provide the most inferior product at the highest price. The (rarely enforced) Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits these monopolies that are created through unfair business practices.

o Public monopolies (such as those run by a government) exist to serve the people. They have the opposite goal... to provide the best "product" at the lowest price.

Of course public monopolies don't always do the best job, but there's nothing to substantiate that professionals employed by a private company would do any better of a job than professionals employed by the government. They merely have different employers

Montana Voter and Candidate Pledge

A statement of policy written by conservative activists in Montana. They ask candidates for state office to sign it.

Among the policies that those signing the document agree to...

o Have prospective staff and appointees vetted by a "third-party qualification process".

o Sell state lands... with the revenue used to reduce income and property taxes.

o Privatize entitlement programs and state pensions and remove them from the state budget.

o "Remove all Federal, U.N., and foreign influences from Montana public education", while moving toward charter schools, home schooling, educational savings accounts, and "alternate teacher certification".

o Oppose agencies of the Department of the Interior (DOI), including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), "United States Park Service", and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The pledge's first paragraph is an agreement to resign their office if they "fail to keep their promise of fidelity to the terms of this Pledge."

Referenced by...
Senate confirms Rep. Ryan Zinke for Secretary of Interior (2016-Dec-15)

Mueller Report

In May 2017, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign.

In March 2019, he completed his role in the investigation and submitted the report of it to the Attorney General.

That approximately 400-page report is referred to as the Mueller Report.

In April 2019, the Attorney General released a redacted version of the report to Congress and the public.

Referenced by...
Full Mueller report released. Here's what it says. (2019-Apr-18)

National Emergency


Referenced by...
Trump's national emergency will divert billions to border wall (2019-Feb-15)
Issue: National Emergencies

National Monument

An area of land - considered to be of archeological, scientific, or historic interest - owned by and protected by the federal government.

The 1906 Antiquities Act gave the president the authority to designate federal lands as national monuments.

They are similar to national parks, except national parks are designated by Congress.

Lands designated as national monuments cannot be leased for activities such as mining, drilling, logging, or ranching. However, if these activities were taking place at the time a president declares the land a national monument, they normally can continue.

Data Source: National Parks Conservation Association (via

Referenced by...
Biden reverses Trump environmental rules (2021-Jan-20)
Administration proposes land sale from national monument (2018-Aug-15)

National Park

An area set aside by the federal government for conservation.

National parks are designated by Congress, as opposed to national monuments, which are designated by a president.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)

A not-for-profit organization that operates independent of any country.

Many NGOs perform humanitarian work.

Nonprofit Organization

An organization that operates to work toward some cause, rather than to make a profit. To become a nonprofit, an organization must become certified by the IRS.

A few typical features of nonprofit organizations...

o They do not pay taxes

o All money they receive must be used in a way that's consistent with the organization's stated cause, including paying employees and consultants.

o Any money not spent cannot be distributed to executives or others. It must remain in the organization to be used toward the organizations's cause.

o They must file an annual report on their major expenses - including the salaries of their highest paid executives.

There are several categories of nonprofits - named for the section of the tax code that defines them. Common ones include...

o 501(c)(3)
Charities are 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Donations to these nonprofits usually are tax-deductible. They are restricted in the types of political activity they can engage in - which is typically limited to advocating causes directly related to their organization's mission.

o 501(c)(4)
A nonprofit organization whose major activities involve lobbying and advocacy. Although 501(c)(4) nonprofits are exempt from paying federal taxes, donations to them are not tax-deductible. A 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization is expected to operate primarily for promoting social welfare. Although influencing elections is not considered to be part of that, IRS rules are vague and enforcement has been minimal.

Lobby99 is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Lobby99 does not endorse or support any candidate or political party in any way. Rather, we advocate for policies that would benefit the overwhelming majority of Americans and explain issues. We also make it easy to see how well your elected representatives are actually representing your interests, in order to help you decide your vote. This is in accordance with the strictest definition of social welfare.

Nonprofits are surreptitiously used by some to channel anonymous campaign contributions to a Super PAC working toward a candidate's election. To understand how this happens, watch this 2-minute video...

Referenced by...
Trump inaugural committee investigated for corruption (2018-Dec-13)
Judge: Secret donations violate election finance law (2018-Aug-04)
Large secret campaign contributions just got secreter (2018-Jul-17)
Congress proposes hiding large campaign donors from IRS (2016-Apr-26)
PA Rep. Chaka Fattah sentenced for corruption (2015-Jul-29)
Groups targeted by IRS were violating tax-exempt provision (2013-May-27)
IRS targets conservative nonprofit applications - what's behind it? (2013-May-19)
Tax-exempt organizations form to secretly influence elections (2012-Aug-20)


A representative of an organization (either public or private) who represents the interests of the organization's constituents (such as internally investigating a complaint about how the organization operates).

Opposition Research

Investigations against a political opponent to find information that can be used against them in a campaign.

Over-the-Counter (OTC)

For medicine, drugs and medical devices that can sold directly to a customer without the need for a prescription.

Overton Window




Pension Smoothing

When a company puts money into a pension that eventually will pay its retirees, it doesn't put in all the money it will need. That's because it is assumed that the money will earn interest, so that by the time the pension needs to pay retirees, it will have grown into the needed amount.

The amount a company needs to put in is determined by the interest rate the company expects to earn on the money. If it assumes it will receive a higher interest rate, it can put less into the pension. To ensure that a company puts enough into a pension to cover its future obligations to retirees, the government determines the maximum interest rate a company can assume.

Pension Smoothing is a government policy that effectively allows a company to assume a higher interest rate for a certain number of years, so it does not need to put as much into its pension. It makes up for this by requiring greater contributions in later years, so theoretically the amount contributed eventually would be sufficient.

Why is this done?
Congress has used pension smoothing twice in recent years to pay the federal government's portion of transportation projects. Because companies pay less into their pensions, they have higher profits and therefore pay more in taxes.

Who else benefits?
Higher profits for a company can mean greater compensation for that company's executives.

So what's the problem?
There are several problems associated with Pension Smoothing. One problem is that even though tax revenues increase in the early years of a Pension Smoothing program, they decrease in later years as companies must make up the difference by paying more into pension plans - therefore lowering their taxable income (and taxes). If those reduced revenues aren't made up by some other means (for example by higher corporate or individual tax rates), government services will need to be reduced.

This chart shows the estimated effect of pension smoothing as called for in the 2014 Highway and Transportation Funding Act.

Another problem comes up if the company becomes bankrupt before it can pay the higher contributions. Its pension fund will not have enough to pay the pensions it owes. See our discussion of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for more on how this would be resolved (hint... it may be you who pays for it).

Per Capita

For each person

In terms of government programs, it could mean for each person eligible for that particular program.



Protected Classes

Groups of people that a law is designed to protect.

Referenced by...
Bill would prohibit sexuality-based discrimination (2019-May-17)

Public Domain

A term generally used for a work (such as a book or song) which nobody legally can deny permission to use.

Public Money

Money controlled by the government. The only way for a government (federal, state, local) to obtain money is through a tax or fee, and that money is meant to be used only in the public's best interests.

Public Policy

Government policies (such as laws and regulations) that affect the general public.

Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, and federal agencies all create or define public policies for the United States.

Public vs. Private

Public Policy

In terms of policy, public and private differentiate who pays for and manages something.

For example, in public sector jobs, employees are paid with public money. In a private sector job, employees are paid from a company's money.

The differences become less clear in other areas.

Public schools are run and paid for by governments (i.e. public money). Private schools are companies and are paid for by students' families. However, charter schools are privately owned, yet are paid for with public money.

Public colleges are run by governments, but are partially paid for by students' tuition.

Public prisons are run and paid for by governments. Private prisons are run by corporations, but are paid for by governments.

Company Ownership

The terms also are used to differentiate types of companies - the difference being who owns the company.

A privately owned company is owned and run by an individual or group.

A publicly traded company is owned by stockholders who purchase ownership shares (stock) in the company. The government defines requirements (such as reporting) to ensure the company operates in an honest and fair way to its shareholders.

Referenced by...
Bill would allow workers to take time off rather than overtime (2017-May-02)

Public Works Projects

Projects that create infrastructure or public benefit - such as roads, parks, water supplies - paid for with public money.

Quid Pro Quo

Latin for what for where or something for something, an expression that can be summarized by the cliche you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Essentially, it's a term for extortion or a bribe.


Ecosystems filled with mostly evergreen trees that typically receive high amounts of rainfall.

Rainforests exist on every continent except Antarctica.

Tropical rainforests are those near the equator, and feature high temperatures and humidity.

Temperate rainforests are found mostly by coastal or mountainous areas.

Referenced by...
Facts about the Amazon fires (2019-Aug-23)

Revolving Door

Term for the situation where government officials move back and forth between their government positions and the private sector.

It creates conflicts of interest that can adversely affect public policy.

Referenced by...
Former representatives become lobbyists (2013-Jan-23)


Phone call made by an automated dialer that plays a recording when you answer.

Robocalls most often are used by telemarketers and political campaigns, but also are used for public service or emergency announcements.

Scientific Method

A way of arriving at positions or theories by verifying or rejecting hypotheses based on reproducible evidence.

Related term: dogma

Semi-Automatic Firearm

A self-loading firearm.

It requires pulling the trigger for each shot, but doing so automatically sets the weapon up for the next trigger pull.

Referenced by...
Senate rejects ban on assault weapons (2013-Apr-18)

Senior Citizen

Typically someone 65 years of age or older.

The exact age might vary based on who is using the term. However, the term usually is used to classify people with common issues or who are eligible for certain benefits.

Service Animal

A dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.

Social Media

An interactive environment (such as a website) that allows someone to share content (such as writings and photos) and allows others to respond.

Referenced by...
Russian charged with interfering in 2018 elections (2018-Oct-19)


A way of organizing a society so that major industries are owned and controlled by the government (i.e. common ownership).

The United States contains a mixture of privately owned and socialized industries.

o Water, education, roads, libraries, public safety, and prisons are examples of industries that are predominantly socialized. The Veterans Health Administration (VA) is a socialized health care system.

o Housing, gasoline, energy, internet, and the media are predominantly run by private corporations, though there might be government oversight. Most health care in the United States (other than the VA) is provided by private companies.




Financial assistance used to help pay for something considered desirable (by whoever is providing the subsidy).

For example, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacar) the federal government provides subsidies to help those with low enough incomes pay for health care insurance.

Swing Vote

Whether it's judges on a court, representatives in Congress, or voters or states in an election, many votes are predictable based on ideology or demographics.

It is the votes that aren't as predictable that often determine the outcome of a decision. Those votes are referred to as swing votes, in that they can swing the outcome one way or another.

Think Tank

An organization that studies, reports on, and advocates for public policies. They can be non-partisan or they can subscribe to some political agenda. They also are referred to as policy institutes, research institutes, or advocacy groups.

When evaluating a policy reported on by a think tank, it is important to understand the political leanings of the organization.

Treasure Forfeiture Fund



An amount of money that can be used only for a specified purpose.

War on Drugs



A person who exposes illegal or unethical actions of an organization (typically one they work for).

Referenced by...
Trump pressured Ukranian president to investigate Biden (2019-Sep-23)

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