Weekend edition—Bloomberg’s billions, Instagram scam, garbage speak

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Michael Bloomberg, the wily billionaire hoping to dethrone Donald Trump as US president, took a beating this week while making his first appearance in a Democratic Party primary debate.

It might not matter. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who absolutely throttled the former New York mayor onstage, noted afterwards that Bloomberg’s poor showing was unlikely to derail his campaign in the long term.

“I’ll bet he’s reaching in his pocket and spending $100 million more on advertising to try and erase everyone’s memory of what happened last night,” Warren said the following morning.

To her point, Bloomberg’s well-paid staff of video editors managed to quickly spin a version of the debate that made it look like he did alright. It was so surprising given the reality of his performance that rumors quickly spread online that the video was a so-called “deep fake.” It wasn’t. It was just the kind of modern spin that one of the world’s richest men (ninth richest, to be exact) can easily afford.

American elections are unusual in that the US government imposes few limits on outside contributions to campaigns, and no limits on campaign spending. And while the freedom a candidate has to use their own funds is denied or highly regulated in most democracies, in the US it is not.

This presents a problem. A wealthy candidate can afford more TV, print, and online advertising—not to mention a better staff—than a rival who depends mostly on outside contributions. In the case of a billionaire like Bloomberg, whose net worth exceeds $60 billion, the problem becomes stratospheric.

Bloomberg joined the race in November—a late start. By the end of January, he had spent over $400 million, more than the top four frontrunners combined. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders had spent close to $120 million, Warren a little over $90 million. Both of them rely almost entirely on small, individual donations.

It might seem unfair. But Bloomberg is playing by the rules. And that is the real problem. —Pete Gelling


Make America Classical Again? To the horror of American architects, the Trump administration is purportedly planning to anoint classicism as the official style for new federal buildings across the country. On top of the many reasons why dictating a single aesthetic is a bad idea, the leaked executive order reveals that the White House may not understand what classical architecture actually is. Anne Quito asks three esteemed experts for a crash course.

A legal journey through the land. The US Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in a dispute over a license the Forest Service granted a company to build a natural gas pipeline through part of the scenic Appalachian Trail. Environmentalists say the trail is protected and that the license is invalid. As Ephrat Livni writes, the government has taken the strange position that the trail isn’t land, making it easy for opposing advocates to respond with an unusually comedic legal brief.

Immigration in the UK will soon look very different. The government is launching a point-based system to select “the brightest and the best” to work in the country post-Brexit. It assigns points to applicants based on factors including education, English-language skills, and the salary of the job offered. Would you be able to score high enough to work in the UK? Youyou Zhou created a calculator to provide the answer.

A not-so-perfect crime. When a 22-year-old Instagram influencer was arrested this month on fraud charges, an audacious scheme that brought in more than $1.5 million came to an end, report Justin Rohrlich and Hanna Kozlowska. It was just the latest example of how hard it is for social networks to keep up with bad actors who trawl their platforms looking for easy marks—in this case ones willing to share their debit cards.

Tracking Afrobeats in Palermo, Italy. Nigerian migrants have not only helped revitalize a once dangerous neighborhood in Sicily’s capital, but also created a vibrant music scene, writes Joe Penney. The YouTube video for Brenex Baba’s “Thank God” shows both the struggles of African migrants in Italy and the beauty of their new home, which is a sanctuary city of sorts led by one of the most pro-migrant mayors in Europe.


Patagonia is “the poster child for purpose,” writes Quartz reporter Cassie Werber. But it wasn’t always that way. Quartz has the story of an outdoor-wear brand turned corporate campaigner for social good. We take you inside Patagonia’s evolution and its struggle to maintain purpose and sustainability in the face of growth.  


A preview of California’s upstart exchange. For startups, going public can mean exposure to short-term stock-market pressures—not always helpful. A new exchange aims to insulate ventures from all that, even as they benefit from the sale of common stock. Businesses just have to explain to investors how they’ll succeed over years or decades rather than quarters. But to critics, the Long-term Stock Exchange is both unnecessary and liable to help founders avoid accountability, as Adam Bluestein explains in Medium’s Marker.

The downside of speedy coronavirus research. The Covid-19 outbreak has led to plenty of fear and panic on its own without shoddy science adding to that. But as Reuters reports, the results of studies later withdrawn have been widely shared online and in media outlets first. Hence the public believing the pathogen is from outer space (or snakes) or linked to HIV.

Engineered revolts at Google. The search giant attracts talent in part by convincing recruits they’ll be making the world better, in addition to enjoying hefty salaries. Many Googlers have been doubting that first part as the company mulls projects they find ethically dubious. That’s led to employee walkouts and other workplace activism, inspiring counterparts at other tech giants. But Google, as Noam Scheiber and Kate Conger write in the New York Times Magazine, is cracking down.

Why must we complexify our careers? Anyone who’s endured an office meeting (or sync) full of phrases like “operationalize” and “level set” knows that some aspects of corporate life can’t be avoided. For New York’s Vulture, Molly Young examines the enduring need for “garbage speak,” noting WeWork’s prospectus reads like “something a person wrote in the middle of an Adderall overdose with a gun to his head.” Delusion, she concludes, is an asset in the office.

Peloton’s exhausting rival. By any standards, Peloton’s ride from Kickstarter-funded startup to an $8 billion juggernaut has been remarkable. But as Katie Way and Joseph Cox write for Vice’s Motherboard, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth one for the maker of interactive fitness machines. Using improperly redacted documents from a recent lawsuit, they show how Flywheel, once a potential partner, became a hated rival—and allegedly tried to steal Peloton’s intellectual property.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, hiking boots, and coronavirus theories to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Steve Mollman and Kira Bindrim.