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Stephen Colbert mocks Pence’s search for positives as U.S. coronavirus cases reach record high

Stephen Colbert mocks Pence's search for positives as U.S. coronavirus cases reach record high

Despite President Donald Trump’s previous claims that the coronavirus would magically disappear in April, the deadly pandemic reached an all-time peak in the U.S. this week. The country set a new personal record for most new cases in a single day on Wednesday — then promptly beat it with 39,327 new cases on Thursday.

However, as Late Show host Stephen Colbert notes, Vice President Mike Pence is stubbornly ignoring these dire signs in favor of more “encouraging” ones.

“Yeah, 2.5 million infected Americans!” quipped Late Show host Stephen Colbert on Thursday. “Don’t look at the glass as half empty. Look at your lungs as half full.” Read more…

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One Twitter account is reposting everything Trump tweets. It was suspended within 3 days.

One Twitter account is reposting everything Trump tweets. It was suspended within 3 days.

“This account will tweet what the President tweets,” Twitter account SuspendThePres posted on May 29. “Let’s see if it gets suspended for violating twitters [terms of service].”

Approximately 68 hours later, SuspendThePres was suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against glorifying violence.

This account will tweet what the President tweets. Let’s see if it gets suspended for violating twitters TOS. Follow along with this social experiment. Report any tweets that violate the rules. Thank you.

— Will they suspend me? (@SuspendThePres) May 30, 2020

SuspendThePres began directly copying and reposting U.S. president Donald Trump’s tweets on May 29. Run by a user who also tweets as BizzareLazar, the experiment was prompted by Trump’s recent executive order calling for social media companies’ protections to be reconsidered. Trump issued the order after Twitter applied a fact-check label to two of his tweets. Read more…

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Mark Zuckerberg ‘expressed concerns’ in Trump phone call, so that should fix everything

Mark Zuckerberg 'expressed concerns' in Trump phone call, so that should fix everything

Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly suggested to President Donald Trump, in a roundabout fashion, that perhaps the poster-in-chief could tone it down a little. For him? Pretty please?

Axios reports that two sources familiar with a phone call Trump made to the Facebook CEO on Friday said that Zuckerberg did not make any specific requests of the president, but conveyed “concerns” about his “tone and rhetoric,” expressed disagreement with recent sentiments, and told the president that his choice of words “put Facebook in a difficult position.”

The latter is likely a reference to the fact that Facebook has faced increased pressure to moderate the president’s statements on the platform, which regularly contain outright lies, misinformation, and inflammatory rhetoric. Read more…

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‘It’s the Mayo Clinic, not Daft Punk’: Seth Meyers teaches Mike Pence how masks work

'It's the Mayo Clinic, not Daft Punk': Seth Meyers teaches Mike Pence how masks work

“Trump’s like a high school student doing a book report who not only didn’t read the book, but even if he did you know it would go way over his head anyway,” said Late Night host Seth Meyers on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump is continuing to cop criticism for ignoring warnings about the coronavirus for months. Reports state Trump routinely neglects to read his daily intelligence briefings, and sometimes even shows disinterest in the oral summaries provided a few times per week.

“What do they have to do to keep this guy’s attention? Have his daily briefings delivered by pageant contestants?” said Meyers. “‘My name is Brianna, I’m from Battle Creek, Michigan, and a new virus spreading across the globe has a 3.4 percent mortality rate!‘” Read more…

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Stephen Colbert blasts Trump’s decision to defund WHO during coronavirus pandemic

Stephen Colbert blasts Trump's decision to defund WHO during coronavirus pandemic

“Folks, if you watch the show you know I criticise Donald Trump a lot,” said host Stephen Colbert during Wednesday’s episode of the Late Show. “But with this coronavirus gripping our nation it’s made me realise I don’t do it enough.”

President Donald Trump has been roundly condemned for his glacially slow response to the coronavirus crisis, which included him downplaying the threat a whole month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global emergency. It’s abundantly clear now that the situation was and is much, much worse than Trump insisted. 

Nevertheless, Trump has never one to accept fault. Instead, he has attempted to shift blame by accusing WHO of mismanaging the crisis — even going so far as to announce on Tuesday that the U.S. government is pulling funding from the organisation. Read more…

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Seth Meyers mocks Trump’s plan to slow coronavirus with scarves

Seth Meyers mocks Trump's plan to slow coronavirus with scarves

This week the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed toward one million, with the U.S. accounting for the highest number of infections in the world. As Late Night host Seth Meyers noted on Thursday, other countries such as Taiwan and South Korea have been much more successful at slowing the spread, their governments executing quick and decisive plans to minimise infections. 

Meanwhile, U.S. president Donald Trump recommended people use scarves as makeshift masks on Tuesday. 

“Oh great, so now the president is Martha Stewart,” quipped Meyers, recording from the confines of his home. “‘Using a blanket, a bike helmet, and some Saran Wrap, you can make your own hazmat suit, homemade. Pretty great.'” Read more…

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The Station: Bird and Lime layoffs, pivots in a COVID-19 era and a $2.2 trillion deal

Hello folks, welcome back (or hi for the first time) to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the all the ways people and packages move around this world. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

I also have started to publish a shorter version of the newsletter on TechCrunch . That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole enchilada — which comes out every Saturday — you can subscribe to the newsletter by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!

Before I get into the thick of things, how is everyone doing? This isn’t a rhetorical question; I’m being earnest. I want to hear from you (note my email below). Maybe you’re a startup founder, a safety driver at an autonomous vehicle developer, a venture capitalist, engineer or gig economy worker. I’m interested in how you are doing, what you’re doing to cope and how you’re getting around in your respective cities.

Please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bird laid off about 30% of its employees due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

In a memo obtained by TechCrunch, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden said:

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has forced our leadership team and the board of directors to make many extremely difficult and painful decisions relating to some of your teammates. As you know, we’ve had to pause many markets around the world and drastically cut spending. Due to the financial and operational impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are saying goodbye to about 30% of our team.

The fallout from COVID-19 isn’t limited to Bird. Lime is also reportedly considering laying off up to 70 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Wheels deployed e-bikes with self-cleaning handlebars and brake levers to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. NanoSeptic’s technology, which is powered by light, uses mineral nano-crystals to create an oxidation reaction that is stronger than bleach, according to the company’s website. NanoSeptic then implements that technology into skins and mats to turn anything from a mousepad to door handles to handlebars into self-cleaning surfaces.

The upshot to all of this: COVID-19 is turning shared mobility on its head. That means lay offs will continue. It also means companies like Wheels will try to innovate or pivot in hopes of staying alive.

While some companies pulled scooters off city streets, others changed how they marketed services. Some turned efforts to gig economy workers delivering food. Others, like shared electric moped service Revel, are focusing on healthcare workers.

Revel is now letting healthcare workers in New York rent its mopeds for free. To qualify, they just need to upload their employee ID. For now, the free rides for healthcare workers is limited to Brooklyn, Queens and a new service area from upper Manhattan down to 65th street. Revel expanded the area to include hospitals in one of the epicenters of the disease.

Revel is still renting its mopeds to the rest of us out there, although they encourage people to only use them for essential trips. As you might guess, ridership is down significantly. The company says it has stepped up efforts of disinfecting and cleaning the mopeds and helmets. Revel also operates in Austin, New York City, Oakland, and Washington. It has suspended service in Miami per local regulations.

Megan Rose Dickey (with a cameo from Kirsten Korosec)

Deal of the week

money the station

Typically, I would highlight a large funding round for a startup in the “deal of the week” section. This week, I have broadened my definition.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a historic stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” act. President Donald Trump signed it hours later. The CARES act contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in total financial relief for businesses, public institutions and individuals hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TechCrunch has just started what will be a multi-day dive into the 880-page document. And in the coming weeks, I will highlight anything related or relevant to the transportation industry or startups here.

I’ll focus today on three items: airlines, public transit and small business loans.

U.S. airlines are receiving $58 billion. It breaks down to about $25 billion in loans for commercial carriers, $25 billion in payroll grants to cover the 750,000 employees who work in the industry.  Cargo carriers will receive $4 billion in loans and $4 billion in grants. These loans come with some strings attached. Airlines will have to agree not to lay off workers through the end of September. The package forbids stock buybacks and issuing dividends to shareholders for a year after paying off one of the loans.

Public transit has been allocated $24.9 billion. The CARES Act provides almost three times the FY 2020 appropriations for this category, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The funds are distributed through a formula that puts $13.79 billion to urban, $2 billion to rural, $7.51 billion towards state of good repair and $1.71 billion for high-density state transit. APTA notes that these funds are for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 beginning on January 20, 2020.

Amtrak received an additional $1 billion in grants, that directs $492 million of those funds towards the northeast corridor. The remaining goes to the national network.

Small business loans are a critical piece of the bill, and an area where many startups may be focused. There is a lot to unpack here, but in basic terms the act provides $350 billion in loans that will be administered by the Small Business Administration to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. These loans are meant to cover an eligible borrower’s payroll, rent, utilities expenses and mortgage interest for up to eight weeks. If the borrower maintains its workforce, some of the loan may be forgiven.

Venture-backed startups seeking relief may run into problems qualifying. It all comes down to how employees are counted. Normally, SBA looks at a company’s affiliates to determine if they qualify. So, a startup owned by a private equity firm is considered affiliated with the other companies in that firm’s portfolio, which could push employment numbers far beyond 500. That rule also seems to apply to venture-backed startups, in which more than 50% of voting stock is held by the VC.

The guidance on this is still spotty. But Fenwick & West, a Silicon Valley law firm, said in recent explainer that the rule has the “potential to be problematic for startups because the SBA affiliation rules are highly complex and could cause lenders to group together several otherwise unaffiliated portfolio companies of a single venture capital firm in determining whether a borrower has no more than 500 employees.”

One final note: The SBA has waived these affiliation rules for borrowers in the food services and food supply chain industry. It’s unclear what that might mean for those food automation startups or companies building autonomous vehicles for food delivery.

More deal$

COVID-19 has taken over, but deals are still happening. Here’s a rundown of some of partnerships, acquisitions and fundraising round that got our attention.

  • Lilium, the Munich-based startup that is designing and building vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and aspires to run in its own taxi fleet, has raised $240 million in a funding round led by Tencent. This is being couched as an inside round with only existing investors, a list that included participation from previous backers such as Atomico, Freigeist and LGT. The valuation is not being disclosed. But sources tell us that it’s between $750 million and $1 billion.
  • Wunder Mobility acquired Australia-based car rental technology provider KEAZ. (Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but as part of the deal KEAZ founder and CTO Tim Bos is joining Wunder Mobility) KEAZ developed a mobile app and back-end management tool that lets rental agencies, car dealerships, and corporations provide shared access to vehicles.
  • Cazoo, a startup that buys used cars and then sells them online and delivers to them your door, raised $116 million funding. The round was led by DMG Ventures with General Catalyst, CNP (Groupe Frère), Mubadala Capital, Octopus Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures and Stride.VC also participating.
  • Helm.ai came out of stealth with an announcement that it has raised $13 million in a seed round that includes investment from A.Capital Ventures, Amplo, Binnacle Partners, Sound Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and SV Angel. Helm.ai says it developed software for autonomous vehicles that can skip traditional steps of simulation, on-road testing and annotated data set — all tools that are used to train and improve the so-called “brain” of the self-driving vehicle.
  • RoadSync, a digital payment platform for the transportation industry, raised a $5.7 million in a Series A led by Base10 Partners with participation from repeat investor Hyde Park Venture Partners and Companyon Ventures. The company developed cloud-based software that lets businesses invoice and accept payments from truck drivers, carriers and brokers. Their platform is in use at over 400 locations nationwide with over 50,000 unique transactions monthly, according to RoadSync.
  • Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is partnering with automotive supplier ZF to develop and produce autonomous vehicle technology, such as sensors, on a commercial scale. The partnership, slated to begin in April, will cover China, Europe and North America.

A final word

Remember, the weekly newsletter features even more mobility news and insights. I’ll leave ya’ll with this one chart from Inrix. The company has launched a U.S. traffic synopsis that it plans to publish every Monday. The chart shows traffic from the week of March 14 to March 20. The upshot: COVID-19 reduced traffic by 30% nationwide.

inrix traffic drop from covid

‘This is sociopathic’: Seth Meyers blasts Trump’s plan to end coronavirus lockdown by Easter

'This is sociopathic': Seth Meyers blasts Trump's plan to end coronavirus lockdown by Easter

The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep countries in lockdown, with over 400,000 confirmed cases around the globe. Medical experts are warning that social distancing is pivotal to slowing the spread of the virus, which would put less strain on overburdened medical systems and save more lives. 

Of course, U.S. president Donald Trump has a much different view of the matter, aiming to send everyone back to work in time for Easter — less than three weeks away.

“It’s like those stories you hear about a small town that elects a dog as mayor every year,” quipped Late Night host Seth Meyers, taking one of this trademark Closer Looks (from home) about how utterly ill-equipped Trump is to handle this health crisis. “Sure, you know, it might seem like fun at the time. Dog mayor. But what happens when there’s a thunderstorm and you need the mayor to coordinate disaster relief, but he won’t come out from underneath the couch?” Read more…

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‘He’s a terrible person’: Seth Meyers condemns Trump’s plan to revoke food stamps amidst the coronavirus

'He's a terrible person': Seth Meyers condemns Trump's plan to revoke food stamps amidst the coronavirus

“We’re in this weird moment right now where it’s difficult for the media and public health experts to convey the severity of what’s happening without sounding hysterical,” Late Night host Seth Meyers said on Thursday. “It’s like being the one person in a horror movie who knows they’re in a horror movie.”

Production on Late Night has shut down indefinitely due to the coronavirus, returning March 30 at the earliest. Nevertheless, the crew filmed a last, casual Closer Look segment. 

“Really the reason we’re gonna do this right now is that once it’s on the [cue] cards Wally [Feresten, the cue card holder] makes us do it,” joked Meyers. Read more…

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‘He could not have been more wrong’: Seth Meyers looks back at Trump’s coronavirus predictions

'He could not have been more wrong': Seth Meyers looks back at Trump's coronavirus predictions

As the coronavirus continues to spread, public health officials have warned that the U.S. could face a similar situation to Italy within the next 10 to 15 days. The entirety of Italy is currently on lockdown, with all public gatherings are banned — including soccer matches.

“Do you know how bad things have to be for Italians to cancel soccer matches?” said Late Night host Seth Meyers during Wednesday’s episode. “Italians love soccer more than they love talking with their hands, and they love talking with their hands.”

President Donald Trump gave a national address concerning COVID-19 on Wednesday evening, announcing a 30-day suspension of travel into the U.S. from Europe (excluding the UK). However, Meyers noted the Trump’s messaging concerning the coronavirus hasn’t been very reassuring — or accurate — up to this point, referring to his statement on Tuesday that “it’s really working out and a lot of good things are gonna happen.” Read more…

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‘You’re a monster’: Colbert goes to town on Trump’s weekend of woeful coronavirus leadership

'You're a monster': Colbert goes to town on Trump's weekend of woeful coronavirus leadership

“This is the first crisis of Trump’s presidency that he did not cause himself, and he is shankin’ it,” declared Stephen Colbert in Monday night’s Late Show monologue. The host was summing up a truly dire few days of presidential mishandling, “hunches,” and health misinformation about the worsening coronavirus outbreak, culminating in a Monday market crash where “Wall Street S&P’d itself.”

From wearing campaign merch and declaring non-existent COVID-19 tests to be as “perfect” as his Ukraine phone call during a lab visit, to tweeting poorly thought-through comparisons to the flu, Colbert ran through the president’s not-at-all reassuring lowlights. Read more…

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Nancy Pelosi steals the show and rips up Trump’s State of the Union speech

Nancy Pelosi steals the show and rips up Trump's State of the Union speech

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made her feelings clear at the conclusion of President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

She ripped up a copy of the speech and tossed it aside just as the president concluded his remarks. 

Asked by the press why she ripped up the speech, Pelosi responded with a dig at the president. 

“It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives,” she said. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on why she ripped up President Trump’s speech: “Because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” pic.twitter.com/nYTjAZAwGo

— Jason Donner (@jason_donner) February 5, 2020 Read more…

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Stephen Colbert unpacks one Trump lawyer’s latest argument. It’s absolutely bananas.

Stephen Colbert unpacks one Trump lawyer's latest argument. It's absolutely bananas.

As Republicans freak out very slightly in the face of actually having to call some witnesses in Donald Trump’s post-impeachment Senate trial — such as John Bolton, former NSW advisor and author of the spiciest tell-all of the upcoming fall publishing season — their star lawyer Alan Dershowitz launched a wild new “legal” “defense”. 

Basically: Presidents want to get elected because they think they will be the best president for the country, and therefore anything they do to get elected, no matter how shady it is, is totally kosher.

I’m barely paraphrasing.

An incredulous Stephen Colbert unpacked that argument line by line in Wednesday night’s Late Show monologue, and it’s worth watching just to make sure you’re hearing Dershowitz correctly. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert takes apart team Trump’s legal arguments ahead of impeachment trial

Stephen Colbert takes apart team Trump's legal arguments ahead of impeachment trial

If having Rudy Giuliani as his personal attorney wasn’t proof enough that Trump’s not getting the best legal advice possible, dwell upon this clip from Monday night’s episode of the Late Show. 

Ahead of the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate, the House managers filed a brief calling Trump’s conduct “the Framers’ worst nightmare.” Team Trump’s response was to end the weekend insisting that “abuse of power” — one of the cited crimes in the articles of impeachment — isn’t, like, technically a real crime or anything, so it’s not impeachable.

“Yes it is!” Late Show host Stephen Colbert exclaims in Monday night’s monologue. “It’s the most powerful job in the world — that’s why abuse of power is the thing that a president is not supposed to do.” Read more…

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Jimmy Kimmel has fantasies about Trump’s impeachment trial

Jimmy Kimmel has fantasies about Trump's impeachment trial

“It was an all caps kind of day for the President of the United States today,” said the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live during Thursday’s episode. 

President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is scheduled to start on Tuesday, with the Senate requesting he provide a written response to the charges by Saturday. Of course, as Kimmel pointed out, Trump dealt with this request the same way he deals with most things — with angry tweeting. Which is a kind of written response, I guess.

Kimmel went on to go through some of the special rules the senators in the impeachment trial will have to abide by, including having to stand when they cast votes. “[This] is a big deal, because for a lot of these senators this will be the first time they’ve ever stood for anything,” quipped Kimmel. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert pokes holes in Trump’s dodgy reasoning for killing Iranian general

Stephen Colbert pokes holes in Trump's dodgy reasoning for killing Iranian general

Trump and his loyalists have been trying to convince Congress — as well as the rest of the U.S. — that ordering the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was actually a very cool and good move. To that end, President Trump told Fox News on Jan. 10 that he “believe[s]” Soleimani was planning to attack four U.S. embassies. A belief, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert noted, that thus far appears to have little basis in fact.

“He believes it would have been four embassies,” said Colbert on Monday night. “Do we really want to live in a country where we bomb people because of what Donald Trump believes? We’re talking about a guy who believes windmills cause cancer.” Read more…

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Stephen Colbert feels very reassured by Trump’s tweets about Iran

Stephen Colbert feels very reassured by Trump's tweets about Iran

“It’s not World War Three, and that’s wonderful,” Stephen Colbert said during his Late Show opening monologue on Wednesday. “But it’s not like nothing happened.”

The world has been more on edge than usual since Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. Iran subsequently retaliated, attacking two U.S. military bases with 22 missiles. 

Many Americans are feeling uneasy, but as Colbert points out, fortunately President Trump was there to tweet empty platitudes at the public. “It’s okay folks, it’s okay,” said Colbert. “We’ve achieved Defcon Fine.” Read more…

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Stephen Colbert mocks Trump’s weird claim that he knows all Greek Americans

Stephen Colbert mocks Trump's weird claim that he knows all Greek Americans

“It’s just our second show of 2020, and so far we’re not doing too well on the New Year’s resolution of ‘Don’t go to war with Iran,” quipped Late Show host Stephen Colbert during his opening monologue on Tuesday. The segment appears to have been filmed prior to Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes on U.S. military bases in Iraq, but he was very aware the situation was unlikely to head anywhere good.

“It’s like our country has sent an impulsive late night text, and now we’re nervously staring at those three little dots,” said Colbert.

Colbert also addressed Trump’s bizarre claim to know every person of Greek heritage in America — a population he numbered at three million — during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert turns Trump’s bizarre claim to have saved a marriage into a campaign ad

Stephen Colbert turns Trump's bizarre claim to have saved a marriage into a campaign ad

On Wednesday’s episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the host examined how President Trump is coping now that articles of impeachment have been brought against him. “With impeachment closing in, last night Trump went to his happy place — anger,” said Colbert, referring to Trump’s characteristically bizarre Pennsylvania rally.

Attempting to minimise the rather serious accusations brought against him, Trump dismissed the number of charges against him as “impeachment light” and nothing to be concerned about. Which is kind of like saying everything’s fine because there are only two dead rats in their cake batter. Read more…

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Trudeau, Boris, and other NATO leaders caught on video apparently gossiping about Trump

Trudeau, Boris, and other NATO leaders caught on video apparently gossiping about Trump

For anyone whose job is to keep a straight face around Donald Trump, dozens of private conversations such as these must happen every week, and in much stronger language. But to catch world leaders apparently sharing a laugh over the president’s foibles is rare.

This video, from the reporting pool via the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, shows Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, British PM Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Dutch PM Mark Rutte alongside a stiff bouffant appearing to belong to HRH Princess Anne. The group are enjoying a drink and a chat at a Buckingham Palace reception after the day’s formalities at the NATO summit in London.  Read more…

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Trudeau, Boris, and other NATO leaders caught on video apparently gossiping about Trump

Trudeau, Boris, and other NATO leaders caught on video apparently gossiping about Trump

For anyone whose job is to keep a straight face around Donald Trump, dozens of private conversations such as these must happen every week, and in much stronger language. But to catch world leaders apparently sharing a laugh over the president’s foibles is rare.

This video, from the reporting pool via the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, shows Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, British PM Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Dutch PM Mark Rutte alongside a stiff bouffant appearing to belong to HRH Princess Anne. The group are enjoying a drink and a chat at a Buckingham Palace reception after the day’s formalities at the NATO summit in London.  Read more…

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Jimmy Kimmel tricks Trump fans into declaring their support for… Richard Nixon

Tuesday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! took to the streets to ask Trump supporters whether they felt the U.S. president should be impeached for his controversial actions. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t, disagreeing across the board.

However, the facts put to the public weren’t actually about Donald Trump. Instead, they were very clear and obvious references to Richard Nixon. You know, that other U.S. president who also faced impeachment for doing crimes. The one who gave us the suffix “-gate” for every public scandal since the ’70s. The one who resigned rather than drag everyone through further mud-slinging and suffering. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert examines Trump’s butt in the name of the impeachment hearings

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert continued its ongoing chronicling of the Trump impeachment inquiry on Monday night, ensuring the aliens who discover Earth’s wreckage in a million years will know how we destroyed ourselves.

In particular, Colbert focused on the upcoming testimony of U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, whose phone call with President Trump regarding the potential quid pro quo with Ukraine has already been the subject of damning testimonies. 

According to witnesses, Trump made it explicit in the conversation that he was aiming for Ukraine to open up an investigation into the Bidens. And this wasn’t the only flavor of disturbing in the call. Read more…

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Seth Meyers pokes fun at Republican panic around the impeachment inquiry

On Thursday’s episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers, the host examined the US House of Representatives’ vote to endorse the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump – a vote that many Republicans had insisted would not pass.

In fact, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News claiming “[The Democrats] don’t have the votes” — a clip Meyers juxtaposed deliciously with various news bulletins announcing the vote had passed.

“What? We can’t trust Kellyanne Conway?” joked Meyers. “I guess up is up and down is down.”

Meyers also touched on the possibility that Trump’s ex-national security adviser John Bolton will be called to testify, which will be interesting considering their less than amicable split. Read more…

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Facebook should ban campaign ads. End the lies.

Permitting falsehood in political advertising would work if we had a model democracy, but we don’t. Not only are candidates dishonest, but voters aren’t educated, and the media isn’t objective. And now, hyperlinks turn lies into donations and donations into louder lies. The checks don’t balance. What we face is a self-reinforcing disinformation dystopia.

That’s why if Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube don’t want to be the arbiters of truth in campaign ads, they should stop selling them. If they can’t be distributed safely, they shouldn’t be distributed at all.

No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.

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This problem came to a head recently when Facebook formalized its policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads and refusing to send their claims to third-party fact-checkers. “We don’t believe, however, that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny” Facebook’s VP of policy Nick Clegg wrote.

The Trump campaign was already running ads with false claims about Democrats trying to repeal the Second Amendment and weeks-long scams about a “midnight deadline” for a contest to win the one-millionth MAGA hat.

Trump Ad

After the announcement, Trump’s campaign began running ads smearing potential opponent Joe Biden with widely debunked claims about his relationship with Ukraine. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter refused to remove the ad when asked by Biden.

In response to the policy, Elizabeth Warren is running ads claiming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorses Trump because it’s allowing his campaign lies. She’s continued to press Facebook on the issue, asking “you can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards.”

We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved. It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look: pic.twitter.com/7NQyThWHgO

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 12, 2019

It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.

Campaigns could advertise increasingly untrue and defamatory claims about each other tied to urgent calls for donations. Once all sides are complicit in the misinformation, lying loses its stigma, becomes the status quo, and ceases to have consequences. Otherwise, whichever campaign misleads more aggressively will have an edge.

“In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves.” Facebook’s Clegg writes.

But as is emblematic of Facebook’s past mistakes, it’s putting too much idealistic faith in society. If all voters were well educated and we weren’t surrounded by hyperpartisan media from Fox News to far-left Facebook Pages, maybe this hands-off approach might work. But in reality, juicy lies spread further than boring truths, and plenty of “news” outlets are financially incentivized to share sensationalism and whatever keeps their team in power.

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Protecting the electorate should fall to legislators. But incumbents have few reasons to change the rules that got them their jobs. The FCC already has truth in advertising policies, but exempts campaign ads and a judge struck down a law mandating accuracy.

Granted, there have always been dishonest candidates, uninformed voters, and one-sided news outlets. But it’s all gotten worse. We’re in a post-truth era now where the spoils won through deceptive demagoguery are clear. Cable news and digitally native publications have turned distortion of facts into a huge business.

Most critically, targeted social network advertising combined with donation links create a perpetual misinformation machine. Politicians can target vulnerable demographics with frightening lies, then say only their financial contribution will let the candidate save them. A few clicks later and the candidate has the cash to buy more ads, amplifying more untruths and raising even more money. Without the friction of having to pick up the phone, mail a letter, or even type in a URL like TV ads request, the feedback loop is shorter and things spiral out of control.

Many countries including the UK, Ireland, and the EU ban or heavily restrict TV campaign ads. There’s plenty of precedent for policies keeping candidates’ money out of the most powerful communication mediums.

Campaign commercials on US television might need additional regulation as well. However, the lack of direct connections to donate buttons, microtargeting, and rapid variable testing weaken their potential for abuse. Individual networks can refuse ads for containing falsehoods as CNN recently did without the same backlash over bias that an entity as powerful as Facebook receives.

This is why the social networks should halt sales of political campaign ads now. They’re the one set of stakeholders with flexibility and that could make a united decision. You’ll never get all the politicians and media to be honest, or the public to understand, but just a few companies could set a policy that would protect democracy from the world’s . And they could do it without having to pick sides or make questionable decisions on a case-by-case basis. Just block them all from all candidates.

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Facebook wrote in response to Biden’s request to block the Trump ads that “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

But banning campaign ads would still leave room for open political expression that’s subject to public scrutiny. Social networks should continue to let politicians say what they want to their own followers, barring calls for violence. Tech giants can offer a degree of freedom of speech, just not freedom of reach. Whoever wants to listen can, but they shouldn’t be able to jam misinformation into the feeds of the unsuspecting.

If the tech giants want to stop short of completely banning campaign ads, they could introduce a format designed to minimize misinformation. Politicians could be allowed to simply promote themselves with a set of stock messages, but without the option to make claims about themselves or their opponents.

Campaign ads aren’t a huge revenue driver for social apps, nor are they a high-margin business nowadays. The Trump and Clinton campaigns spent only a combined $81 million on 2016 election ads, a fraction of Facebook’s $27 billion in revenue that year. $284 million was spent in total on 2018 midterm election ads versus Facebook’s $55 billion in revenue last year, says Tech For Campaigns. Zuckerberg even said that Facebook will lose money selling political ads because of all the moderators it hires to weed out election interference by foreign parties.

Surely, there would be some unfortunate repercussions from blocking campaign ads. New candidates in local to national elections would lose a tool for reducing the lead of incumbents, some of which have already benefited from years of advertising. Some campaign ads might be pushed “underground” where they’re not properly labeled, though the major spenders could be kept under watch.

If the social apps can still offer free expression through candidates’ own accounts, aren’t reliant on politicians’ cash to survive, won’t police specific lies in their promos, and would rather let the government regulate the situation, then they should respectfully decline to sell campaign advertising. Following the law isn’t enough until the laws adapt. This will be an ongoing issue through the 2020 election, and leaving the floodgates open is irresponsible.

If a game is dangerous, you don’t eliminate the referee. You stop playing until you can play safe.

Seth Meyers uses hilarious sports mascot fails to explain Trump’s John Bolton mess

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Look, nobody seems to really know what happened between Donald Trump and recently-former national security adviser John Bolton — not even the TV hosts who were getting texts from Bolton himself live on air, contradicting Trump’s tweets claiming Bolton was fired. But Seth Meyers does his best in Wednesday night’s A Closer Look segment.

After touching on Trump’s “scary stories” about refugees from Hurricane Dorian’s swathe of destruction in the Bahamas (“He should hold his rallies in the dark, holding a flashlight under his face — he’s like a racist Stephen King”), Meyers gets into the really terrifying stuff about John Bolton.  Read more…

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Seth Meyers explains why Trump can’t stop lying about that Alabama hurricane tweet

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We’re now several days into the Hurricane Dorian crisis threatening to engulf the nation — no, not the actual huge and destructive storm that made landfall in North Carolina on Thursday night. The president’s made clear that the much more pressing concern is that everyone knows his tweet claiming Dorian would impact Alabama was actually totally correct and not, in fact, extremely wrong.

Seth Meyers took a Closer Look at Trump’s pattern of aggressive, nonsensical lying and corncobbing whenever he’s clearly made a mistake but won’t admit it — from the “Tim Apple” incident to #Sharpiegate and his hilariously transparent denial of any knowledge about the doctored map. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert catches out Fox News admitting Trump might be a racist

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After comparing America’s gun culture to Chernobyl on Monday, Stephen Colbert began Tuesday night’s Late Show with a few more pointed minutes on Donald Trump’s continued struggles to respond presidentially to the previous weekend’s shootings in Texas and Ohio — including a quick rundown of the El Paso officials who really don’t want a President whose rhetoric seems to have inspired the shooter to pay them a visit. 

“It really speaks to your leadership when a town in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy thinks you would bring the mood down.”

After reading out Barack Obama’s equally pointed statement on language from leaders that “normalizes racist sentiment” — without naming any leaders in particular — Colbert played a Fox News clip where the gang at Fox & Friends deduce that Obama’s statement might have been referring to Donald Trump. Aggrieved Fox host Brian Kilmeade went on to ask whether George W. Bush ever condemned Obama after Sandy Hook. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert pulls apart Trump’s strange interview with Piers Morgan

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Well, after a very, very weird three days, President Donald Trump has left the UK.

But Stephen Colbert had one more fish to fry on The Late Show Wednesday night, a rather strange interview with “chat show chumbucket and TV’s loudest pile of teeth” Piers Morgan.

After speaking about being on his “good behaviour” around the royal family and “non-stop” conversation with Queen, Trump told Morgan he’d spoken at length to Prince Charles, who the president referred to as being “into” climate change.

“He’s really ‘into’ climate change? It’s a global crisis, not kombucha,” said Colbert.

One thing we can say, you must wait for the hat Morgan gifted to the president.  Read more…

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Stephen Colbert breaks down WTF happened at the White House on Wednesday

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What a morning.

On Wednesday, all eyes were on the White House, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Donald Trump of throwing a “temper tantrum” and leaving a meeting with Democrats meant to discuss potential infrastructure legislation.

Then, the president called a press conference in the Rose Garden, firing back at Pelosi for saying he’s currently “engaged in a cover-up.” In the briefing, Trump said he won’t work with the Democrats while they’re investigating him.

It’s a lot. So on The Late Show, Stephen Colbert broke it all down.

“Trump has a clear stance on infrastructure: It’s my way or no highways,” said Colbert. It’s ten minutes but proves quite the highlight reel. Read more…

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Tech stocks slide on US decision to blacklist Huawei and 70 affiliates

The United States has been lobbying for months to prevent its western allies from using Huawei equipment in their 5G deployment, and on Wednesday, Washington made it more difficult for the Chinese telecom titan to churn out those next-gen products.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will add Huawei and its 70 affiliates to the so-called ‘Entity List,’ a move that will prevent the telecom giant from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without approval from Washington. That confirms reports of the potential ban a day before.

Despite being the largest telecom equipment maker around the world, Huawei relies heavily on its American suppliers, giving the U.S. much leeway to hobble the Chinese firm’s production.

Following the dramatic move, shares of a gauge of Huawei affiliates slumped on Wednesday. Tatfook Technology, which sells to Huawei as well as Ericsson and Bosch, dropped 2.84 percent in Shenzhen in morning trading. New Sea Union Telecom, a supplier to China’s ‘big three’ telecom network operators and Huawei, slid 4.88 percent. Another Huawei key partner Chunxing Precision Mechanical dropped as much as 5.37 percent.

Huawei did not comment directly on the Commerce Department’s blacklist when reached out by TechCrunch, but said it’s “ready and willing to engage with the U.S. government and come up with effective measures to ensure product security.”

“Restricting Huawei from doing business in the U.S. will not make the U.S. more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the U.S. to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the U.S. lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of U.S. companies and consumers,” Huawei hit back in the statement.

This view is congruent with some of the harshest criticisms of Washington’s backlash against Huawei. Scholars and industry observers warn that Chinese tech firms have become such an integral part to the global economy that severing ties with Huawei will do ham to 5G advancement worldwide.

In addition, the Chinese company said the U.S.’s “unreasonable restrictions will infringe upon Huawei’s rights and raise other serious legal issues,” though it did not spell out what those rights and legal concerns are.

The announcement dropped on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump declared “a national emergency” over technology supply chain threats from the country’s “foreign adversaries”.

The Commerce Department said it has a reasonable basis to conclude that “Huawei is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest.”

Some of the U.S’s allies including the U.K. are still investigating Huawei’s possible security threat and deciding how close a link they should keep with Huawei, but the Shenzhen-based company has already taken a bold step to give its potential clients some assurance.

Just this Tuesday, Huawei told reporters in London that it’s “willing to sign no-spy agreements with governments, including the U.K. government,” and commit itself to making its equipment “meet the no-spy, no-backdoors standard.”

The U.S.’s tit-for-tat with Huawei also includes the push to arrest the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou on charges that Huawei did business in Iran in breach of U.S. sanctions.

Stephen Colbert unpacks Joe Biden’s presidential bid

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After quite a bit of speculation, former Vice-President Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential run over the weekend.

It got the attention of Stephen Colbert, who spent some time talking about Biden’s campaign video, which talked about Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville — something that the president had to explain again. 

“Trump’s already worried about Joe Biden,” Colbert said. “And the proof of that is that this ad did something none of the other Democrats have been able to do, and that’s put Trump on the defensive.” Read more…

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Stephen Colbert steps up his Trump impression after CPAC speech

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Stephen Colbert has already laid into Trump’s “epically weird” CPAC speech.

But there was one moment that the late show host had to talk about again: Trump’s admonishing of the people investigating him during his speech on Saturday.

And by talk, we mean totally mock the president with a new, weird impression that’s better if you just watch it (at 2:40). Colbert also tore into Trump’s press conference on Tuesday, where he answered questions about the investigations.

“It’s just so sad when his heart’s not in it, you know,” Colbert quipped. “He’s like an aging singer doing his 16th show of the week in Branson to a half-empty room.” Read more…

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Seth Meyers breaks down Trump’s attacks on Democrats running for president

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As Democrats begin to nominate for the 2020 presidential election, it’s beginning to get the attention of Donald Trump.

The president fired off a tweet in response to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s announcement in Minnesota on Sunday, making fun of her bid to fight global warming, as snow piled on her.

That got the attention of Seth Meyers on his segment “A Closer Look” on Monday, who broke down Trump’s attacks on Dems who are running for president. In Klobuchar’s case, Meyers pointed out the president’s misguided global warming comment.

“Why do we have to keep explaining to the president of the United States that weather and climate are two different things?” Meyers asked. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert skewers Trump’s use of rhyming in his State of the Union address

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It’s been 24 hours, so we’ve all had a little time to reflect on Donald Trump’s State of the Union address — including Stephen Colbert.

The Late Show host destroyed Trump’s speech one clip at a time immediately afterward on Tuesday, but on Wednesday night, he looped back to pick up one particular feature of Trump’s speech: rhyming.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” Trump had said, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

“That’s kinda cute. He threatened our democracy with a little poem,” Colbert said, before composing his own limerick: Read more…

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Stephen Colbert is back, and had a field day roasting Trump’s government shutdown

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Stephen Colbert has returned from a short break, while the U.S. government has not.

So, to catch up, the Late Show host spent ten glorious minutes on Monday night absolutely roasting the president’s now 17-day shutdown of the government, in which Donald Trump has demanded $5.7 billion to build his border wall.

Colbert gleefully slammed Trump’s claims that former presidents told him the wall should have already been built (they didn’t), and that Barack Obama had the absolute nerve to build walls (!) around his property (he didn’t). 

Along with a solid Pong reference, Colbert made up for his absence during Trump’s misguided Game of Thrones-themed propaganda campaign with a deep burn. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert unpacks Trump’s dramatic meeting with Pelosi, Schumer

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House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer met with Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, and uh, the meeting did not go smoothly.

So, naturally, Stephen Colbert unpacked the whole thing, hardly containing his delight and running videos of cat boxing to represent the encounter with the president.

The Late Show host ran through the highlights of the tempestuous meeting, in particular, Trump’s threat to shut down the government in order to fund his border wall, and his remarkable ability to spring to action on hearing his own name.

“He’s like Alexa, he only wakes up when he hears his name,” joked Colbert. Read more…

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Stephen Colbert on synagogue shooting: ‘Hate is not what America stands for’

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A very sombre Stephen Colbert responded to Pittsburgh’s synagogue shooting on The Late Show Monday. 

After declaring that “hate is not what America stands for,” and praising the Muslim group which raised more than $140,000 for the shooting’s victims, Colbert turned his attention to Trump’s indefensible response to the tragic event.

“Naturally, in times like these our nation looks to its president for comfort and guidance. That’s our first mistake,” he said.

Of particular annoyance to the late show host was Trump continuing with a rally hours after the attack, where he claimed that he did so because the New York Stock Exchange opened the day after 9/11That claim was in fact, false. Read more…

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Seth Meyers slams Trump’s ‘demeaning and sexist’ treatment of female reporters

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Late Night host Seth Meyers has slammed Donald Trump’s treatment of female reporters during Monday’s White House press conference, in which the president defended his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Multiple female reporters tried to ask Trump about FBI’s investigation into accusations of sexual abuse facing Kavanaugh, but as Meyers pointed out in his segment, “A Closer Look,” Trump “shot them down in super demeaning and sexist ways.” 

One of these moments happened when Trump called on ABC News’ Cecilia Vega, saying to her, “I know you’re not thinking, you never do.”

“I mean, how much of a sexist dick can you possibly be?” said Meyers.  Read more…

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Google denies Trump’s claim that it did not promote his State of the Union address

Google is pushing back against a claim by Donald Trump that the search engine stopped promoting State of the Union livestreams on its homepage after his presidency began. Trump’s claim came in the from of a tweeted video, which was still pinned to the top of his profile when this post was published at 9:30 PM PST, Aug. 29, 2018, after Google’s refutation and multiple media reports of its inaccuracy.

Hashtagged #stopthebias, the video appears to show that Google did not display links to livestreams of Trump’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 or his first State of the Union on January 30, 2018, despite promoting Obama’s State of the Union addresses in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

#StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/xqz599iQZw

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018

Google, however, says it did indeed highlight Trump’s first State of the Union in 2018, but that it usually does not include links on its homepage to a president’s first public address to Congress, so neither Obama nor Trump’s were featured. In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, the company said “On January 30, 2018, we highlighted the livestream of President Trump’s State of the Union on the google.com homepage. We have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new President, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn’t include a promotion on google.com for this address in either 2009 or 2017.”

Google statement to @JohnPaczkowski on Trump’s tweet pic.twitter.com/1w82mQqApg

— Jon Passantino (@passantino) August 29, 2018

The video shared by Trump does not make a distinction between a president’s first public speech to a joint session of Congress and his first State of the Union address.

A discrepancy in Google’s logo also suggests that at least one of the screenshots, which appear to have been taken from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, was doctored. A Gizmodo commenter notes that one of the screenshots in the video Trump tweeted, from January 12, 2016, shows a version with the previous Google logo, not the sans-serif version introduced in September 2015, which can be seen in a Wayback Archive’s screen capture from January 10, 2016 and other days from that month when a Google Doodle wasn’t featured.

Capture from the video tweeted from President Trump’s account

One of Wayback Machine’s captures on January 10, 2016

Furthermore, while a link to Trump’s State of the Union does not appear on archived versions of Google’s homepage from January 30, 2018, it does show up on a capture from 1AM on January 31, as Twitter user @WrockBro notes. That may be because the Wayback Machine uses Greenwich Mean Time time stamps.

Not only that, but also this: https://t.co/RfJIKpYGJX

🅱en🛸JPL (@WrockBro) August 30, 2018

The Wayback Machine capture linked by Twitter user @WrockBro

Trump’s tweet is the part of his current onslaught against Google, other tech companies and mainstream media, which he accuses of having a liberal bias and burying news about his administration. It is worth pointing out, however, that Trump’s 2017 first speech to Congress was widely praised as “presidential” by journalists across the political spectrum, even liberal publications. In turn, they were ridiculed by critics for being awed by a president acting presidential.

Michelle Wolf’s White House roast denounced by the people who booked her

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As you’d expect, comedian Michelle Wolf was hired to deliver some provocative jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Wolf roasted everyone from Trump, to the administration, and the media in her searing address on Saturday night. 

Wolf’s roast was shortly met with criticism, particularly for its jabs at White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ physical appearance, which attracted the ire of pundits who said the comments were too mean.

“Watching a wife and mother be humiliated on national television for her looks is deplorable,” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski wrote on Twitter.  Read more…

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The makers of the virtual influencer, Lil Miquela, snag real money from Silicon Valley

Brud, the actual company behind one of Instagram’s most popular virtual influencers (it’s a thing), has raised millions of dollars from Silicon Valley investors because this is 2018 and everything is awful.

Last week, the Los Angeles-based startup led by Trevor McFedries, outed itself as the collective consciousness behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela and her less well known contemporaries Blawko22 and BermudaisBae in a choreographed melodrama worthy of Los Angeles’ best reality television.

i am deeply invested in the drama surrounding lil miquela and now you all have to be too. sorry!!! https://t.co/ta1T4rDFGz

— maya kosoff (@mekosoff) April 19, 2018

The subject of numerous glowing profiles in online and print fashion and lifestyle magazines (including, most recently, in High Snobiety), Lil Miquela’s stardom (and her fellow avatars) fascinated because the characters’ creators coyly toed the line around “her” self-awareness and their own. In the process, they created a sensation that’s become well-known worldwide.

It’s less well-known that the company is backed by some of the biggest names in venture capital investment — firms like Sequoia Capital. Our sources put the company’s funding somewhere around $6 million in its recent funding round.

There are other notable investors from Silicon Valley and New York rumored to be in the round — like New York’s BoxGroup and the Bay Area’s SV Angel. Sequoia declined to comment for this article and Box Group’s David Tisch did not respond to a request for comment.

All of the virtual drama with Miquela started late last week when news outlets (including TechCrunch) reported that Miquela’s Instagram account (or that of her handlers) was hacked by operators of a social media account belonging to another virtual personality known as “Bermudaisbae” (a more right wing social media persona with fewer followers).

McFedries, brud‘s founder and chief executive, confirmed that the Miquela account had been hacked in a text exchange with me, writing, “some redditor idiots hacked the page we think.”

That was a lie.

The account “hack” was architected by brud as part of an ongoing virtual reality drama playing out on Instagram and other social media platforms between avatars it had developed, all designed to attract media attention, according to people with knowledge of brud and its plans. It worked. 

McFedries has not responded to further requests for comment after confirming that the Miquela account was “good”.

One Los Angeles investor familiar with the company said brud was “using conflict to introduce new characters… same as the Kardashians always have.”

The investor added that two years into the development of the Miquela persona, brud‘s founders knew that the fad could lose some of its luster as the is-she-or-Isn’t-she-real tension dissipates under the weight of continuously thwarted expectations — like a post-modern twist on the will-or-won’t-they dramatic tension defining most sitcoms since Cheers.

“People aren’t going to buy that she’s human so they make it seem as if she’s had an existential crisis and now she is the first in a breed of conscious AR characters that they will build a world around,” this investor wrote. “[Manufacturing] social influence.”

Blawko22 and Lil Miquela imposed over a gas station exterior simulating a pit stop on the road to Coachella

For his part, the 33-yar-old McFedries had been manufacturing social influence in Los Angeles through his talents as a dj, producer and director before entering the startup world.

First under the name of DJ Skeet Skeet and then as DJ Skeeter, and, finally, Yung Skeeter, McFedries has worked or performed with a number of the world’s best selling recording artists including Chris Brown, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry (and — interestingly — more obscure acts like Bonde do Role).  

Working as an an “artist advocate” for Spotify, a DJ for a radio show on iHeartRadio, and as a spokesman for VitaminWater sustained McFedries along with managing the career of BANKS and executive producing her first album and a single on Azealia Banks’ 2014 record “Broke with Expensive Taste” — at least according to a Wikipedia page on Yung Skeeter. 

Around this time McFedries also began investing in companies, according to AngelList.

Roughly two years after the Banks record release, Lil Miquela made her first appearance on Instagram. And the rest is history as written in Internet archives and memes. Ephemeral, but infinite.

The project that brud seems to be pursuing — turning celebrity into a virtual commodity; commenting on the unreality of the “real” entertainment industry by literally creating an unreal celebrity — is fascinating.

There’s certainly a valid criticism to be made about the ways in which celebrity operates, the ways in which our “social” media has corroded society, and the unbridled power of these platforms to transform messengers and their messages into movements.

Perhaps brud wants to make these critiques through its very existence — or at least use its low-brow as high-brow (or is it vice versa?) intellectual appeal as a veneer over the more crass (but potentially honest) mission of selling more shit more effectively through the use of spokespeople whose views only change when their creators want them to (it worked for Hollywood’s star system). That at least gets sponsors and advertisers out of the potentially messy situations that can come from working with spokespeople whose actions can’t be controlled by software — or an ingenious marketing team.

In the High Snobiety profile-as-honors-senior-English-thesis on Lil Miquela published yesterday, the avatar’s own spokesperson was quoted as saying:

“The internet is endlessly powerful, and that power has been wielded in many ways. It feels like we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle, so we’ve got to learn how to leverage these tools in positive ways. I’ve used my platform to raise real money for important organizations throughout LA and I’ve seen lives changed as a result. I think the only chance we’ve got is to collectively teach our loved ones how to think critically and how to spot misinformation. I know that we can manifest the change we want to see, and the internet can be a part of that.”

It’s a lofty goal backed by a number of inarguably good works. However, lying to reporters may not be the best way to continue trying to achieve it.

Man, Shania Twain regrets saying she would have voted for Trump

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Well, that was fast.

Perennial country star of our hearts, Shania Twain, has backtracked on saying she would’ve voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election.

The revelation came from an interview with The Guardian published on Sunday, which focused on the Canadian artist’s musical career and her shattering divorce with her collaborator and husband Robert Lange. 

On Trump, Twain said, “I would have voted for him because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest.”

“Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bullshit. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?” she added.  Read more…

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Elon Musk just replied to Trump’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy tweet

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President Donald Trump has congratulated Elon Musk’s SpaceX for the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

Musk replied, “An exciting future lies ahead.”

Trump tweeted at the SpaceX and Tesla CEO on Tuesday after the launch of the Falcon Heavy (and its payload of a Tesla Roadster) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

It would have been a much more straightforward space-related moment for Trump than the time he looked directly into an eclipse without glasses

Congratulations @ElonMusk and @SpaceX on the successful #FalconHeavy launch. This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best! pic.twitter.com/eZfLSpyJPK

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2018 Read more…

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Yes, this is the front page of the Washington Post after Trump’s speech

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Update, Jan. 31, 1:25 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to include the final front page from the Washington Post

During his first State of the Union speech, Donald Trump characterized immigrants as violent gang members, pushed for more nukes, and vilified athletes who protest police brutality. 

But that’s not the story the first edition of the Washington Post told.

Here’s the front page of tomorrow’s Washington Post: pic.twitter.com/5HQmDNoa4r

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 31, 2018

People who saw Trump’s speech were, um, a little confused. Apparently, the fact that Donnie didn’t rip off his shirt and scream “MAGA!” in Nancy Pelosi’s face was very “presidential.”  Read more…

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Trump liked a tweet about his ‘great friend’ being accused of sexual misconduct

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Despite how active President Donald Trump is on Twitter, he rarely smashes that “like” button. But on Friday night, Trump liked” his 25th tweet. 

The tweet concerned Steve Wynn, a billionaire casino mogul and RNC finance chair, over recent sexual assault allegationsAccording to the Wall Street Journal, dozens of people have accused Wynn of sexual misconduct, including pressuring employees to have sex with him. 

By 10:25 p.m. ET on Friday, the like was gone, but the internet doesn’t forget so easily. 

Image: screenshot/twitter

But Wynn isn’t just some guy to Trump, who also owns hotel property in Las Vegas. In 2016, Trump referred to Wynn as a “great friend.” A great friend who also donated $729,217 in entertainment to Trump’s inauguration through Wynn Resorts Ltd. Read more…

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Trump’s racist ‘sh*thole’ comment: Who censored and who didn’t?

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Trump’s racist comment about “shithole” countries shocked with its crudity, leaving the press figuring out how to deal with the word.

The U.S. president used the word to refer to Haiti, El Salvador and other African countries. Trump questioned why its people were were coming to America, and asked lawmakers why the U.S. didn’t accept more people from Norway, a majority Nordic (white) country.

In the original Washington Post report, “shithole” appears in all its unsightliness throughout the article and in its headline.  Read more…

More about Media, Politics, Culture, Donald Trump, and Immigration

Pete Souza throws shade at Trump for ‘nuclear button’ tweet

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Pete Souza is back with more Instaburns for Donald Trump, after the latest scary-beyond-all-reason tweet from the president.

The former Chief Official White House Photographer during the Obama Administration, Souza has posted two images on Instagram in response to President Trump’s boast on Twitter that his “nuclear button” was bigger than the one apparently on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s desk.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018 Read more…

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Someone made a bad lip reading Trump Christmas song and it’s annoyingly catchy

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Bad lip readings are mostly unrealistic, which makes them a hoot to watch. Their latest video, however, is all about Christmas and the Trump. It doesn’t ask you to stretch your imagination too much, except imaging the president singing with a reasonable pitch. 

The Donald sings and dances his way through a holiday song we didn’t really need in our lives, but it’s here and it’s unfortunately for us all, a little catchy.  Read more…

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Roy Moore lost the election and everyone made the same joke

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Roy Moore is bad at riding horses, and on Tuesday night, he was bad at winning elections. 

Moore lost the Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones and a lot of people were happy about it. Moore’s win came as a surprise, as Democrats haven’t fared well in Alabama elections for about a quarter decade.

But back to the horse thing. Here is the Republican candidate — who was endorsed by Donald Trump, even though he’s been accused of sexual misconduct by nine women and said America was last “great” when slavery was legal — trying to play cowboy earlier in the day.  Read more…

More about Donald Trump, Republican Party, Gop, Alabama, and Roy Moore