With 3 weeks to go, Obama is still fighting for his health care law

Obama is trying to save as much of his health care law as possible.
Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

Just because 2017 is the year Donald Trump takes over the White House doesn’t mean President Barack Obama doesn’t get to squeeze as much as possible out of his last few weeks in office.

Obama is, in fact, jumping into the new year with a meeting Wednesday with congressional Democrats. The purpose of this gathering? To figure out how to save Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from getting annihilated by Trump and Republican lawmakers.

Obama will be back in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to meet with House and Senate Democrats, according to an invitation reportedly sent to members Friday. It’s supposed to be a strategy session on how to stop Republicans from gutting the law without a solid replacement health care plan.

Republicans and Trump have been vocal about repealing the ACA. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to make it one of the first things to go once the new Congress meets next week.

Obamacare has signed up 20 million people and pushed the uninsured rate to less than 9 percent a historic low. Obama’s hoping these stats will help save his landmark law, but with Trump it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

On Trump’s website he has a whole page devoted to removing Obamacare. He calls it “terrible legislation” and lays out a plan to repeal it while bringing down insurance costs. But after meeting with Obama after the election, Trump had sounded somewhat into parts of the health care law.

It’s hard to keep track.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/30/obamacare-meeting-trump/

Here are the 9 worst brand fails of 2016

Image: wikimedia commons/Henry Vidal

From a steady stream of celebrity deaths to an election that lent itself better to screaming matches than corny jokes, 2016 gave brands plenty of opportunity to make everyone groan on Twitter.

Mourning the death of a beloved musical icon? So are the good people at Crocs! Watching an accused sex predator defend himself as he vies for the most powerful job in the world? Let Bisquick know if you have any questions!

These are the types of sensitive cultural moments you can always count on to spur at least one misguided corporate social media team to bumble their way into.

But brands also reminded us once again this year that they are plenty capable of faceplanting all on their own whether mistaking two iconic black women at an event already steeped in diversity controversy or failing to foresee a bots transformation into a racist hatemonger.

The brand social media outrage cycle is a well-worn machine that tends to follow the same pattern again and again. But theres still a certain schadenfreude in seeing companies invest so much in appearing friendly and relatable only to seem the most human when theyre doing exactly what everyone does online: Creating bad tweets.

In that spirit, here are a few of the worst brand fails of the past year, in no particular order.

1. Cinnabon pays tribute to Princess Leia’s “buns”

Image: screenshot

Mourning a beloved celebrity’s death with a product-placement tribute is a surefire way to cook up Twitter outrage. Yet every time a star passes, brands seem unable to resist the urge.

Cinnabon was forced to delete and apologize for its pastry-themed nod to Carrie Fisher this week after Twitter users slammed it for crassly exploiting legitimate grief around the late Star Wars actress. Extra points for a particularly corny joke.

2. Beauty outlet mistakes Whoopi Golberg for Oprah

Image: screenshot

The 2016 Oscars were marked by heated controversy over the stark absence of nominees of color in top categories.

Enter online publication Total Beauty with a seemingly innocuous comment on Twitter about Oprah’s surprising tattoos on Oscar night. The only problem: The woman in question was actually Whoopi Goldberg.

The company hastily apologized for the gaffe and offered to donate $10,000 to a charity of the two stars’ choosing.

3. Texas mattress company promotes ‘twin towers’ sale

Sometimes brand fails are understandable. While the mistake is certainly regrettable, you can see the thought process by which the company might have arrived at it. You might even be able to sympathize.

This mattress company’s spectacularly tone-deaf ad for a “twin towers” sale is not one of those cases. One has to wonder who in the world thought that a video in which two spokesmen yell in comically exaggerated terror as they knock over two stacks of mattresses would go over well.

The ad was so bad that it led to the closure of that particular Miracle Mattress location.

4. A Thai company suggests dark skin is for losers in blackface ad

The most insidious type of advertising fail is that which simply reflects harmful societal attitudes and prejudices.

That seems to be the case in this startlingly racist commercial from a Thai cosmetics brand with a tagline that claims that you “need to be white to win.”

The ad is rooted in the Thai cultural association of pale complexion with higher social status, particularly among women.

The brand later apologized and removed the ad from YouTube.

5. Microsoft’s Twitter bot becomes a racist Trump supporter

Image: screenshot

In the brand fail perhaps most emblematic of 2016 as a year, Microsoft’s artificial intelligence Twitter bot, Tay, was transformed into a racist jerk by Twitter users just hours after the company let it free.

While the outcome is more of a failure on the part of humanity than the software brand, Microsoft should have had the foresight to, maybe, look into the kind of place Twitter is before making its bot so impressionable.

6. Bisquick fields political questions

In the midst of one of the most hostile and divisive presidential elections in recent memory, why not look to your favorite pancake mix brand for answers?

That seems to be the pretense Bisquick was operating under when it offered to take questions from Twitter users during the second presidential debate an event shaded by allegations of sexual assault against the current U.S. president-elect.

While the tweet might have been well-intentioned, many Twitter users found it to be tone-deaf given the stakes and subject matter of the debate.

7. Crocs awkwardly honors David Bowie

Another to file under “bad celebrity tributes”: Crocs was roundly criticized when it tried to weigh in on the passing of rock legend David Bowie.

It seems that the maker of a clumsy foam clog universally recognized for its lack of stylishness was not the voice many were looking to hear from in the wake of the fashionable music icon’s death.

8. Lululemon takes on Beyonc

When you come at the queen, you best not miss.

But that’s exactly what Lululemon did when it attempted to throw shade at one of the most fiercely adored figures in the music industry for supposedly ripping off its products.

The clothing brand spent the rest of the day assuring fervent Queen Bey stans that it meant no slight by the tweet.

9. Chinese laundry brand runs blatantly racist ad

The glaring racism in this ad for a Chinese laundry detergent commercial pretty much speaks for itself.

While the brand ultimately apologized for the commercial, it’s hard to argue any way in which the ad was anything other than flagrant discrimination.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/30/brand-fails-2016/

Here’s everything Twitter has planned for New Year’s Eve in 2017

Image: mashable composite

2016 was rough for many reasons. For Twitter, the year included a languishing of its stock price, many exits of top leaders, struggle to combat abuse and a failed attempt to be acquired.

But Twitter is ringing in the new year with as much joy as it can via its platform. It is introducing New Year’s Eve stickers for users to attach to photos that show scenes in Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Rio, Sydney, Tokyo and New Delhi.

On top of that, Twitter will also livestream the New Year’s Eve firework displays in downtown Dubai on the site, following in its effort to be a go-to destination for live video (not just the conversation around it).

Interestingly, the stickers look much like the geofilters Snapchat has popularized and Facebook has since copied. But while those are generated based on a user’s location, anyone can access each of the city filters on Twitter.

In a unique twist to Snapchat’s and Facebook’s features, stickers on Twitter are searchable. When you tap one on mobile or click on desktop, the site opens a feed of photos that include specific stickers. The stickers for New Year’s Eve are available until Jan. 3.

Twitter also has reactivated the fireworks emoji it debuted on the site last year. When Twitter users tweet with the hashtag #HappyNewYear, in English and more than 30 other languages, a fireworks emoji will automatically appear.

Image: twitter

The hearts displayed on Twitter’s user-generated livestream app Periscope will include fireworks when users include the hashtag #2017.

The livestream of the fireworks in Dubai begins at 8:30 a.m. EST on Saturday and will be available to logged-in and logged-out users on Twitter and connected apps. That means way before the countdown begins in Times Square or Twitter employees celebrate at their home base in San Francisco, you can go to Twitter to watch fireworks.

It’s the first time Twitter has done this kind of partnership on New Year’s and the first livestream deal Twitter has made in the Middle East and North Africa region. Last year, Twitter teamed up with Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment to display tweets during the festivities in Times Square.

“Live streaming the firework displays, combined with the live conversation on Twitter, will allow people across the world to view and Tweet about the festivities as they happen, creating a truly global celebration,” Kinda Ibrahim, Twitter’s director of media partnerships for Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

BONUS: New Years celebration 1995

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/30/twitter-new-years-stickers/

The anxiety of not getting an immediate reply in an instant messaging world

Image: christopher Mineses / mashable

LONDON “Step away from the phone,” I said to myself as my eyes bore down at my iMessages. I felt heavy with the burden of anticipation; my heart racing as my foot tapped in a frenzied motion. A feeling of intense malaise came upon me, and I glared at the screen longing for a grey bubble to appear on my screen.

The problem? I was waiting for a reply to a text message I’d sent 20 minutes ago to the guy I was dating. The lack of an instantaneous response sent my mind into overdrive. This delay was too long in a world of instant messaging; a world where immediate gratification is not merely expected, it’s normal.

20 minutes turned into 40, and 40 turned into three hours. As time marched on, my mind raced a mile a minute. What was wrong? Did my text message offend? In hindsight, these thoughts might sound peculiar (unreasonable, even) but I, like many of my peers, have grown accustomed to the relief and reassurance afforded by an instant response.

Image: rachel thompson / mashable

No news isn’t always good news

In my world of instant messaging, no news is definitely not good news. I know that each and every person I communicate with has their phone either on their body, or nearby, at most points throughout the day. My anxiety also rears it’s head while using Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp where I find myself needing a realtime response. I check to see when friends were last online to gauge how likely they are to respond. If they were last active five minutes ago, and take three hours to respond, then something is up, right?

At work, most of my interactions with colleagues take place over Slack. When I see the little green dot appear next to a colleague’s name, I know they’re active and online. And if I don’t get an immediate response I wonder if I have done something wrong. More often than not, the person in question was simply busy or they momentarily stepped away from their computer.

Image: rachel thompson / mashable

Evolving expectations

Since the inception of smart phones, my expectations have increased dramatically. Back in 2008, when Facebook Chat had just launched, I would be perfectly satisfied if someone responded to me several days after my initial message. According to Facebook Messenger’s Director of Product Management Peter Martinazzi, this is because instant messaging used to be “more like email”. “As technology got better, we saw that people would start chatting back and forth in realtime.” Martinazzi told Mashable. The launch of iMessage in 2011 brought in an extra dimension to realtime messaging anxiety with the addition of read receipts and the appearance of the grey ellipsis when someone is typing.

Image: mashable / vicky leta

The pressure to respond

In addition to the need for an instant response, I also feel pressure to reply as promptly as is physically possible, often before I’ve had the chance to formulate a considered response. Any delayed response on my part is usually because I no longer want to date someone, or because I am irritated by a message. My behaviour is not the exception.

“I feel a lot of anxiety about responding quickly to messages,” says Mandy Menaker, Head of PR at the business networking app Shapr. “The anxiety is only one-way, I dont mind a delay in hearing back from colleagues, but assume a personal responsibility to always be on top of every project and message.”

This anxiety also extends into Menaker’s personal texts. “Last night I got a text from a friend while cooking and got so wrapped up in responding to her text immediately, that I missed a critical step in my recipe.”

Experts say getting outside and doing exercise and other activities, like knitting or painting, can helpalleviate anxiety.

Image: Getty Images

Take a step back

Though it is initially difficult to do, I’ve found it hugely helpful to create some distance between me and my phone or laptop. Whether that means deleting certain apps, or physically leaving your device in a different room, getting some space gives a sense of perspective.

Nicky Lidbetter CEO of Anxiety UK told Mashable that if instant messaging is causing you anxiety, then it’s important to switch off and relax. “We would suggest distraction techniques such as creative activities, like knitting or painting, getting outside and taking a walk or other forms of exercise, mindfulness practice such as Headspace,” says Lidbetter.

Telling yourself that “maybe they got busy” isn’t unrealistic. Just remember that even with the best intentions in the world, people aren’t always able to respond as quickly as they and you might hope.

BONUS: ‘Pokmon Go’ is helping some players cope with depression and anxiety

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/30/instant-messaging-anxiety/

Southern rail strike disrupts new year travel – BBC News

Image copyright EPA

Rail travellers are facing yet more disruption as Southern conductors begin a further three-day strike at midnight.

Parent firm Govia Thameslink (GTR) has urged people to check travel information because some New Year’s Eve services will finish early.

The rail operator is in dispute with the RMT and Aslef unions over changes to the role of guards on new trains.

The RMT is staging the latest 72-hour walkout after months of strikes. Another strike is set for 9 January.

‘Pointless action’

Southern’s deputy chief operating officer, Alex Foulds, said: “Our best advice is to check on the day you travel, particularly if you are heading out to new year celebrations, as services on some routes finish early in the evening.

“We are sorry that yet again passengers will have their plans disrupted by what is pointless industrial action. Our door remains open for meaningful talks.”

Image copyright AP

Image caption Conductors are strike for three days over new year

The politics behind the Southern rail dispute

What’s the Southern Rail strike about?

How bad have Southern rail services got?

Train drivers, represented mostly by Aslef, will strike for a further six days from 9 January, when most routes are expected to have no services.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “The solution to this continuing chaos is in the hands of GTR and the government.

“If the owners, the Go Ahead Group, spent a fraction of the millions they are stockpiling in profits and dividends on staffing and safety, this dispute could be resolved overnight. RMT remains available for talks.”

Image copyright AP

Image caption Both sides said they were available for talks

The RMT has previously accused Southern of “hoarding profits” but the rail operator said it made a loss last year and would not make any profit this year.

During the last drivers’ strike, Aslef went into talks with GTR at conciliation service Acas, but Mr Cash said he was not allowed in.

The negotiations ended without a deal.

Politicians and campaigners called on the government to intervene, but the Department for Transport said the dispute was between Southern and the unions and “not something the government is involved in”.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-38471442

The A-Z of Brexit – BBC News

Image copyright Reuters

“Brexit means Brexit” is something we’ve all heard many times. But it’s still not entirely clear what it actually means. If you’re feeling lost, help is at hand: here’s our handy guide to the A-Z of Brexit.

A: Article 50

Known as the “exit clause”, Article 50 sets out the process the UK will go through to leave the European Union.

It sets the clock ticking on negotiations, giving a deadline of two years before the UK’s membership of the EU ends – unless all EU member states’ leaders vote unanimously to extend that period.

It says that any deal negotiated between the UK and EU will come down to a vote of European leaders, where it will need to be passed by a qualified majority and passed by the European Parliament.

B: Barnier

Image copyright Reuters

Previously tasked with cleaning up the continent’s financial services, Michel Barnier is the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator.

He’s a politician with a long career as an MEP, vice-president of the centre-right European People’s Party, French foreign minister, and European commissioner.

Mr Barnier is also known for not being keen on giving interviews in English. At the height of the eurozone crisis he implied this policy was led by caution, saying: “One wrong word, and we could move markets.”

C: European Council

The European Council is made up of the 28 EU heads of government, plus the European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The council doesn’t make laws, but the heads of EU governments can vote on the union’s political direction through a process that weights their votes according to the size of the country they represent.

Although Prime Minister Theresa May represents the UK on the council, she won’t attend any meetings or votes it holds on the subject of Brexit negotiations after Article 50 is triggered.

D: DexEU

More properly known as the Department for Exiting the European Union, DexEU is the government department responsible for the UK’s negotiations with the EU.

It is led by David Davis. The department will conduct negotiations on Brexit with the EU, as well as talking to individual states about bilateral agreements after the UK leaves the EU.

E: Experts

Image copyright Twitter

Image caption Academic Sara Hagemann, who is Danish, said she had been told she could no longer advise the government on Brexit.

Leave campaigner Michael Gove made waves during the EU referendum campaign when he claimed Britain had “had enough of experts.”

More recently, academics at the London School of Economics said that Foreign Office officials had told them non-UK nationals would no longer be able to brief the department on issues relating to Brexit.

The FCO insisted that it was a misunderstanding, saying “We will continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds, regardless of nationality.”

F: Free trade

Trading with other countries without customs duties, import bans or quotas is the goal of International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who has previously said that free trade “transformed the world for the better”.

EU membership means the UK isn’t allowed to make its own deals with other countries – deals like the Ceta free trade agreement signed between Canada and the EU after seven years of negotiations.

But opponents of free trade deals like Ceta and the proposed TTIP deal between the EU and US have claimed that the deals harm workers’ rights and damage environmental safeguards.

G: Greenland

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

Greenland provided the closest thing Brexit has to a precedent when it left the European Economic Community – a precursor to the EU – in 1982.

Greenlandic objections to its membership to the EEC, as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, centred on the Common Fisheries Policy which allowed European trawlers to fish in its waters.

Since then, Greenland’s fishermen have fared better than its fur industry, which since 2010 has been barred from selling any seal products within the EU.

H: Hard Brexit

The style of Brexit favoured by campaigners like Nigel Farage, “hard Brexit” would entail the UK leaving the European single market.

It would allow the British government more direct control over policies on immigration, but may mean tariffs on exports to the EU.

It’s often presented as the opposite of “soft Brexit”, which sees the UK remain in the EU single market – potentially having to accept EU rules like freedom of movement as a part of the deal.

I: Independence day

Nigel Farage said 23 June should go down in history as the UK’s “independence day” in commemoration of the vote to leave the EU.

But a petition calling for a national holiday on 23 June received a negative response from the government, which said it had “no current plans to create another public holiday” because of the economic cost of days off.

J: Juncker

Image copyright Axel Schmidt/Getty Images

Former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker will be a key figure during the Article 50 negotiations with the EU.

Before the vote to leave, Mr Juncker warned the UK that “out is out”, and that there would be no way back.

The European Commission is the EU body that will carry out much of the negotiating between the EU and UK, before a final deal is approved by the European Council’s 27 non-UK EU leaders.

K: Kremlin

It’s reported the Russian government of Vladimir Putin may stand to gain from Brexit, as the UK’s decision to leave the EU could distract from its sanctions against Russia.

Former Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said the UK had supported a harder line on EU-Russian relations.

Mr Plevneliev said: “If Brexit is going to be a divorce, we should stay the best possible and the closest friends.”

L: Lisbon Treaty

Media captionLord Kerr says Article 50 was drawn up in the event of a coup

Ratified in 2009, the Lisbon Treaty aimed to streamline the EU’s decision making process following a period of expansion that saw membership grow.

It created the post of President of the European Council (currently held by Poland’s Donald Tusk) and expanded the use of the proportional qualified majority voting system that awarded votes according to the size of a member state.

The Lisbon Treaty also contains Article 50 – drafted by Scottish peer Lord Kerr – the mechanism that dictates the way in which a member state can leave the EU.

M: Merkel

Image copyright Reuters

The leader of the EU’s largest member state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has said “Brexit negotiations won’t be easy” but that there’s no need for the EU to be “nasty” to the UK during negotiations.

German leader since 2005, Ms Merkel will face a re-election battle in 2017. Her decision to welcome more than one million refugees to Germany is likely to be a big issue in that campaign.

N: Norway

Norway isn’t a member of the EU, but is a part of the European Economic Area, the European Free Trade Association and the Schengen Zone.

Norway has been mooted as one of the models a post-Brexit UK could emulate after a “soft Brexit”, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg said the UK “wouldn’t like” finding itself on the fringes of the EU after Brexit.

O: Orban

Image copyright AP

The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is a strident critic of many aspects of the EU. Since the UK voted to leave, he has spoken of the opportunity it presents for change, saying: “We are at a historic cultural moment. There is a possibility of a cultural counter-revolution right now.”

In October Mr Orban held a referendum of his own, calling on Hungarian voters to reject the EU’s refugee quotas.

A member of the European Council, Mr Orban will be one of the EU leaders voting on the UK’s Brexit negotiations.

P: Passporting

Nothing to do with the colour of your UK passport, this is the process by which London-based financial institutions can operate in the rest of the EU.

Passporting became a concern for global banks after the referendum, as they feared they could lose their rights to access the European single market.

International Trade Minister Mark Garnier suggested that such a thing could happen. When asked if passporting could end and be replaced by something else, he replied: “Exactly.”

Q: Queue (Back of the)

Media captionUS President Barack Obama: “UK is going to be in the back of the queue”

President Barack Obama enraged Leave campaigners before the referendum with his suggestion that a post-Brexit UK would find itself at the “back of the queue” to negotiate trade deals with the US.

Boris Johnson called his intervention “hypocritical”, while Tory MP Dominic Raab called him a “lame-duck president”.

In-coming US president Donald Trump has been much more positive… See entry below, for T.

R: Residency

The Commons Library says the position of UK citizens in the EU – and vice versa – after Brexit remains uncertain.

It does, however, suggest that people already using their freedom of movement to live in other EU countries are unlikely to be affected, as it would be difficult – practically and politically – to change their residency rights retrospectively.

S: Soft Brexit

The UK could give up its membership of the European Union, but still have access to the single market.

This would make trading with other European countries easier, as there would be less change after Brexit.

The price would most likely be some kind of free movement agreement – meaning that EU citizens could still move to the UK to live and work, even after Brexit.

T: Trump

Image copyright Reuters

The incoming American president is a fan of Brexit, even saying in the days before his election victory over Hillary Clinton that a win for him would be “like Brexit plus-plus-plus.”

He has befriended leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage – who was the first foreign politician to meet the president-elect after his win over Hillary Clinton.

Some in the UK, including Mr Farage, hope a Trump administration will move the UK to the front of the queue for trade deals with the US, heralding a new economic special relationship.

U: United Kingdom?

The UK’s nations and regions weren’t united in voting leave – Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to remain in the EU.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested she will hold a second independence referendum if the UK goes for a hard Brexit.

In Northern Ireland there are mixed responses. Some fear the return of border controls – the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny is planning an a summit on the issue. Meanwhile, the border town of Newry has seen an influx of shoppers from the Republic, keen to take advantage of the euro’s increased spending power.

V: Verhofstadt

Image copyright Getty Images

Former Belgian Prime Minister and the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, has suggested he is unwilling to negotiate on the free movement of people, saying: “European values will never be up for negotiation.”

He has already held a preliminary meeting with David Davis (See entry for D, above) which the two said afterwards “a good start”. And he has since warned that the European Parliament would negotiate directly with the British if EU leaders “don’t take the parliament’s role seriously”.

W: Workers

Home Secretary Amber Rudd sparked controversy with an announcement that firms would have to publish the percentage of overseas workers they hired – although the government later rowed back on the idea.

There is also uncertainty over what could happen to UK employment rights, as some things like agency workers’ rights and limitations on working time are guaranteed by EU law.

X: Xenophobia

Police figures showed a rise in religious or racially motivated hate crimes in the weeks following the EU referendum.

In response, the government launched a new hate crime action plan to combat the increase.

Y: Yeast

Or more specifically, the yeast-based spread Marmite.

The falling value of the pound after the UK voted to leave the EU led to a row between Tesco and the manufacturer, Anglo-Dutch corporation Unilever, which wanted to raise the price of Marmite and other products.

The companies resolved their differences, which came after Unilever said the weak pound made selling its wares in the UK less profitable.

Z: Zagreb

The capital of Croatia, the EU’s newest member state.

The Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac expressed his concerns about the effect Brexit could have on the EU’s growth plans, saying: “We also want stability in southeastern Europe and we will work so that Brexit does not have too much effect on the enlargement process.”

Croatia’s fellow Balkan states Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are all currently in the process of joining the EU.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37761607

Trump Praises Putin: ‘I Always Knew He Was Very Smart!’

President-elect Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday afternoon, after the Russian leader said he would not expel any U.S. diplomats from his country.

Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

It’s shockingly direct praise from an incoming American president for a Russian leader who’s been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies and President Barack Obama of overseeing hacking efforts aimed at influencing the 2016 election.

Trump’s praise comes after Obama announced that he would sanction Russian intelligence agencies and expel 35 suspected spies that the U.S. thinks were involved in the hacking effort. Both the FBI and CIA agree that Russia used cyber attacks to try to tip the election toward the country’s preferred winner: Trump.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” the president said in a statement on Thursday. The 35 operatives who will be expelled are currently posted at Russian diplomatic facilities in Washington and San Francisco. The sanctions also bar two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies and four intelligence officers from traveling into or doing business with the U.S.

Russians are also being barred from entering two compounds in Maryland and New York that the administration said were used for information-gathering.

But in response, Putin said he would not retaliate.

“While keeping the right for retaliatory measures, we will not descend to the level of … irresponsible diplomacy,” the Russian leader said in a statement on Friday. Instead, Putin said he would await the incoming Trump administration to begin on Jan. 20 before making any decisions.

The choice drew applause from Trump. The president-elect pinned his tweet at the top of his feed, and the Russian embassy’s official account retweeted it.

Trump repeatedly praised Putin and Russia during and after the 2016 campaign, and declined opportunities to criticize the Russian leader and his government for human rights abuses and military actions in Syria and the Ukranian territory of Crimea.

Trump specifically cited Putin’s leadership, telling MSNBC last December, “When people call you ‘brilliant’ it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia. He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader. You know, unlike we have in this country.”

Sean Gallup via Getty Images
A woman walks past a mural showing President-elect Donald Trump (R) blowing marijuana smoke into the mouth of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the wall of a restaurant on Nov.23, 2016, in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Trump told NBC’s Matt Lauer in September of this year that Putin was a better leader than Obama, and declined to say that Russia should not interfere in U.S. elections. “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?” he said.

Most notably, during a press conference in July, Trump directly asked Russian intelligence agencies to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

“If they hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” Trump said. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Trump’s interest in cozying up to Putin could be thwarted by established U.S. and Russian interests that directly collide, experts warn. Vladimir Frolov, a former adviser to the Russian government, told Foreign Policy he sees an inevitable end to the honeymoon.

“Many inside the elite believe it would be idiocy to chain Russia’s fortune to the success of this wacko,” he said. “They will get along just fine for about a year, or until one of them invades somewhere, and then all bets are off.”

Trump’s friendly comments towards Putin and Russia have drawn rebuke from within his own party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) has said bluntly that the “Russians are not our friends.” However, McConnell reportedly told Obama prior to the election that if the administration were to release information about Russian hacking, he’d make it a partisan issue. Now, McConnell is part of a bipartisan group of senators calling for an investigation into Russian hacking.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) put out a statement Thursday supporting the sanctions, and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been frequent critics of Putin and Trump’s friendly comments toward him. 

However, there are those in Trump’s circle who seem to prefer a far closer relationship with Russia. Nigel Farage, the former leader of the nationalist U.K. Independence Party, tweeted that he was “pleased to see a mature response from Putin” after Obama’s sanctions were announced.

Trump has also picked Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson with Russia’s Order of Friendship. Exxon signed a contract for a joint venture with Russia’s state-owned oil company in 2011, and now holds drilling rights to 63.7 million acres in the country.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-vladimir-putin_us_5866b8e1e4b0eb58648952e0

Michigan Bans Banning Plastic Bags Because Plastic Bag Bans Are Bad For Business

As communities across the country explore new ways to curb single-use plastics, including all-out bans on plastic shopping bags, Michigan has taken a step that ensures it continues to add to plastic pollution.

This week, with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder out of town, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed into law a prohibition on local governments banning plastic bags and other food and retail containers. That’s right, a ban on bans.

Introduced by state Sen. Jim Stamas, a Republican, the measure preempts local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including those made of plastics. It effectively kills a measure passed in Washtenaw County, in southeastern Michigan, that would have imposed a 10-cent tax on both plastic and paper grocery bags beginning in April 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the newly signed law was celebrated by the Michigan Restaurant Association, which represents approximately 4,500 food service establishments. In a statement Wednesday, the association took credit for what it called a “key victory” and said the law would “better protect the business community from a patchwork approach of additional regulation and burdensome mandates.”

“As the second-largest private employer in Michigan, the restaurant industry plays a major role in Michigan’s economic future,” Justin Winslow, the association’s president and CEO, said. “Frivolous regulation at the local level threatens to jeopardize that future, which is why the MRA led the charge for sensible reform embodied in [Senate Bill] 853.”

The move comes amid growing awareness about the threats our addiction to plastic pose to the natural world.

This month, researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology found that 21.8 million pounds of plastic flow into the Great Lakes annually. The amount entering Lake Michigan each year is equivalent to 100 Olympic-size pools full of plastic bottles, according to the study.

If things continue down their current path, the world’s oceans will be home to more plastic than fish by 2050, according to a January report from the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

But Michigan lawmakers forged ahead with the business-friendly bill. It joins Idaho, Arizona and Missouri in passing such a preemptive rule.

In an interview with Michigan Radio, Washtenaw County Commissioner Jennifer Eyer slammed the law, saying it puts “the priorities of business over the concerns about the environment and doing what’s good for the environment.”

What’s next? A ban on banning plastic bag bans? 

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/michigan-bans-plastic-bag-bans_us_5866c5c0e4b0d9a5945b6168

China says it will phase out ivory trade in 2017

Hong Kong (CNN)China has announced a plan to phase out all ivory processing and trade by the end of 2017, the government said on Friday, a move that conservationists hope will stymie the mass killing — and threat of extinction — of African elephants.

The country had already announced plans to ban the ivory trade, but it’s now committed itself to a timetable to end the trade, something it said it would do this summer, according to the US State Department.
    “China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation. The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants, said Carter Roberts, the president and CEO of WWF. “With the US also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier this year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world.”

    Before European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained — and the Great Elephant Census, an ambitious project to count all of Africa’s savannah elephants from the sky, revealed this year that things have gotten far worse.
    In the seven years between 2007 and 2014, the elephant population plummeted by 30%, or 144,000 animals.
    As of July, Africa’s savannah is now home to only 352,271 elephants, according to the Great Elephant Census.
    “China’s exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in a written statement.
    The Chinese State Council’s plan to end the ivory trade will be carried out over the course of the year. It will first force a designated group of legal ivory processing factories and business to close by March 31, according to the state-run China Daily.
    The plan also involves stringent regulation of legal ivory collection, strengthening enforcement and education and “vigorously” pushing for a transformation of the ivory carving industry, including helping encourage ivory carving masters to find work with museums or in preservation efforts.
    The government will no longer allow ivory products to be displayed in real or online markets — only noncommercial sites, such as museums, will be allowed to display ivory, China Daily says.

    A lifeline for elephants?

    China is home to the world’s largest ivory market, and rising demand has led to the death of 100,000 elephants over a three-year period ending in 2014.
    In recent years, China has taken moves to outlaw the ivory trade.
    US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in September 2015 a joint pledge to end the legal and illegal trade of ivory in their respective countries.
    Hong Kong, which has been called the “dark heart of the ivory trade,” said in January it would phase out the sale of ivory by 2021, but some say that isn’t fast enough to stave off extinction.
    But some traders, worried that their stocks will immediately become worthless and they will not be compensated, are considering mounting a legal challenge to that move, according to the South China Morning Post.
    Importing and exporting ivory across international borders is banned, but licensed ivory sellers are allowed to sell pre-1989 ivory domestically, though a 2015 investigation by a conservation group concluded that some traders appear to be using the legal trade as a cover.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/30/asia/china-ivory-ban/index.html

    Mom’s innocent Christmas gift looks a lot like a dildo

    There’s always a ton of pressure to get your friends and family the perfect gift during the holidays. You want to get them something special, something memorable or something useful for their everyday lives.

    Kerri Roberts attempted to buy her 18-year-old daughter Shelby Donovan a useful gift, but instead she ended up scarring her for life and launching her into viral Twitter fame.

    Roberts purchased her daughter a pink Yeti cup holder, intended to protect your hand from hot or cold beverage. Regardless of how well the product works, it honestly just looks like a ribbed dildo.

    Donovan tells Mashable that she opened the gift during a Christmas Eve party with about 30 family members gathered around. The gift arrived late, so Donovan opened it right from the Amazon package, and unfortunately she opened it upside down.

    “I stared at it wide-eyed trying to think of things it could be besides a, well, dildo,” Donovan said. “I pulled it out of the package and my entire family started to laugh in confusion like I was.”

    Even grandma got in on the joke.

    Roberts was a little confused at first, but eventually figured it out.

    “She laughed and said ‘What, do you think I’d actually get you a dildo for Christmas?’ It was a pretty funny, weird, unforgettable moment that was definitely the talk of the night.”

    Donovan says she took a photo of the gift and put it on Twitter, but was unprepared for the amount of attention it would receive. Her tweet has more than 79,000 retweets and 196,000 likes.

    “It’s been a pretty fun ride. I’ve always wanted to have something go viral, but I never thought anything would, much less a dildo-looking object,” said Donovan.

    And some of the responses on Twitter are priceless.

    Some pointed out that this is simply a multipurpose tool.

    Others were definitely convinced that this was a dildo.

    And some just spoke the truth.

    BONUS: Tech reporter tries VR porn, may never be the same again

    [h/t:BuzzFeeed]

    Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/12/29/accidental-dildo-cup-holder/