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John Oliver Releases Childrens Book to Highlight Mike Pence’s Homophobic Views


John Oliver Releases Childrens Book to Highlight Mike Pence's Homophobic Views

'Last Week Tonight'

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John Oliver
John Oliver
Late-Night TV
Late-Night TV

The 'Last Week Tonight' host described the vice president as an "ashen weasel", the opposite of a silver fox, and suggested his ultra-conservative beliefs were dangerous.

John Oliver took a week off from breaking down President Donald Trump's latest outrages by focusing his fire on Vice President Mike Pence and his ultra-conservative views.

The Last Week Tonight host began by describing Pence as an "ashen weasel" which was the "opposite of whatever a silver fox is” and then ran through his public statements on issues such as abortion rights, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and even women in the military all of which fell towards the more extreme end of the spectrum.

Oliver reminded the audience that Pence was the only person Trump couldn't fire and could become president by default. He joked that former White House advisor Omarosa was right when she warned fellow contestants in the Celebrity Big Brother house that “as bad as y'all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence."

Oliver then focused on Pence's views on homosexuality in particular and his continued association with controversial groups that back gay conversion therapy like James Dobson's Focus on the Family.

It wasn't all negative though, Oliver admitted that "objectively" the Pence's picked a great name for their pet rabbit. Marlon Bundo has become something of a celebrity since he arrived at the White House and this week saw the release of a children's book of his adventures, written by Charlotte Pence and illustrated by Karen Pence, titled Marlon Bundo's Day in the Life of the Vice President.

In an effort to blunt the potential success of the Pence's book but also to highlight the vice president's extreme views, Oliver unexpectedly announced the release of his own book, available immediately on PDF, titled A Day In The Life Of Marlon Bundo which tells the story of a White House rabbit who falls in love with another rabbit called Wesley and how, despite the odds and bigotry, they marry.

There is also an audio version of A Day In The Life Of Marlon Bundo featuring the voice talents of Jim Parsons, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ellie Kemper, RuPaul, and John Lithgow as the ill-tempered bigoted stink bug, a thinly veiled nod to Pence himself.

Below are spreads from A Day In The Life Of Marlon Bundo, which is being published by Chronicle Books.

See the full Pence clip from Last Week Tonight below.

John Oliver Late-Night TV
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Trump-linked analytics firm Cambridge Analytica used stolen data, ex-employee says


Trump-linked analytics firm Cambridge Analytica used stolen data, ex-employee says

PlayABC News

WATCH Facebook bans entities allegedly responsible for collecting and sharing user info

A former Cambridge Analytica employee accused the data analytics firm of mishandling the personal information of more than 50 million Facebook users in an effort to help Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, told ABC News the company would use the information, including Facebook users’ hometowns, friends and “likes” to influence the behavior of potential voters.

“Cambridge Analytica will try to pick at whatever mental weakness or vulnerability that we think you have and try to warp your perception of what’s real around you,” Wylie told ABC News in the interview. “If you are looking to create an information weapon, the battle space you operate in is social media. That is where the fight happens.”

Facebook blocks data group tied to 2016 Trump campaign Facebook's Zuckerberg comes under fire from UK, US lawmakers

PHOTO: Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wylie speaks in an interview with ABC News. ABC News
Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wylie speaks in an interview with ABC News.

Facebook announced it had suspended Cambridge Analytica on Saturday, stripping it of its ability to buy ads, as U.S. and British lawmakers called for government investigations of the breach.

The social media giant said approximately 270,000 people had downloaded an app developed by University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan, who it said “lied” and violated its policy by gathering user data and passing it on to Cambridge Analytica.

“We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Facebook said in its statement. “We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

Wylie, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, said Facebook banned him from its platform as well after he disclosed information that he claimed “they have known privately for two years.”

Cambridge Analytica — whose backers reportedly include billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon — denied any wrongdoing, including claims that it used or held onto Facebook data, but Wylie’s description of his work there told a different story.

“We would ask people to fill out psychological surveys,” he said, “That app would then harvest their data from Facebook. Then, that app would crawl through their friend network and pull all of the data from their friends also.”

PHOTO: The Facebook app is seen on a smartphone, Nov. 20, 2017.Photo Illustration by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Facebook app is seen on a smartphone, Nov. 20, 2017.

Wylie accused the firm of “weaponizing the internet” and utilizing Facebook data to build psychological profiles of potential voters.

“It’s sort of like the digital shadow of yourself,” Wylie said. “So, when you think about what you do on social media, you curate your identity, so when you like things, when you follow things, you reveal all these little clues and if we have enough of those clues, we can start to develop a portrait of who you are.”

Wylie’s claims come amid swirling questions about the digital operations surrounding the Trump campaign and Republican Party efforts during the last campaign cycle.

A spokesperson for the campaign told ABC News it never used Cambridge Analytica’s data, saying it relied on voter information gathered by the Republican National Committee.

“Any claims that voter data were used from another source to support the victory in 2016 are false,” the spokesperson said.

ABC News' James Longman contributed to this report.

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In the Seychelles, coral reefs face climate change threat


In the Seychelles, coral reefs face climate change threat

The Associated Press
FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 file photo, a box of nursery-grown coral is handed to a diver off the coast of Praslin, where coral is being reintroduced, in the Seychelles. Beneath the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles, a fight is growing to save the coral reefs that shelter a range of creatures and act as a protective barrier for coastlines but the reefs are also one of the first victims of rising ocean temperatures. (Tate Drucker/The Nature Conservancy via AP, File)

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Beneath the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles, a fight is growing to save the coral reefs that shelter a range of creatures, from tiny invertebrates to the sprawling octopus, from climate change.

The fragile reefs act both as a protective barrier for coastlines and an attraction for the tourists who keep the country's economy going. But the reefs are also one of the first victims of rising ocean temperatures.

The Seychelles in some areas lost up to 90 percent of its coral reefs in 1998 in an environmental event known as bleaching, where coral in warming waters expel the colorful algae that live within their skeletons and, without their nutrients, starve. Another bleaching event occurred in 2016 after the reefs had partly recovered, said David Rowat, chairman of the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles.

With further threats including overfishing and pollution, coral reefs around the world will reach their tipping point before the end of the century, disappearing more quickly than they can restore themselves, according to a study published in the journal Science last month.

The Seychelles government this year announced a pioneering deal where it swapped part of its sovereign debt for investment in marine protection areas.

Already, conservationists have launched a number of coral reef restoration projects around the nation's 115 islands. In one, more than 50,000 coral fragments have been nurtured and transplanted by a local charity, Nature Seychelles, in what the organization calls the world's largest coral restoration program.

The Marine Conservation Society has both land- and ocean-based coral nursery sites.

On a recent afternoon, an employee at one site in Beau Vallon painstakingly cleaned a nursery tank with a toothbrush. She and project leader Chloe Pozas spent the morning transferring tiny coral fragments, once collected from the sea floor, from the tanks to an underwater "rope nursery," or improvised skeleton.

"When the corals are going to reach a suitable size, when they are big enough, they are going to be outplanted back on the reef," Pozas said.

About 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles) away off the island of Curieuse, the Seychelles National Park Authority has been moving corals grown in another rope nursery.

Divers delicately transfer the tiny corals to a degraded reef in a national marine park, then attach them using non-toxic epoxy resin.

After the 2016 bleaching event, experts noticed that some corals were more resilient than others. Those "super corals" were chosen for regrowth and transplanting.

"Restoration is really only a tool to try to help the reef to recover faster, especially because coral bleaching is projected to happen annually by 2050," Pozas said.

The Seychelles government is working with Nature Seychelles to secure funding for a proposal to upscale coral farming efforts to a larger operation using new methods. The aim is to commercialize part of the operation so that it can financially sustain reef restoration well into the future, according to Nature Seychelles.

Those whose livelihoods rely on tourism are watching the efforts with interest.

"Obviously we have divers and snorklers and if we can continue to have healthy reefs and lots of fish, we got happy divers, they do lots of dives, the dive center makes more business, the government gets more tax money and everybody is happy," said Glynis Rowat, who has managed one of the oldest diving centers in Beau Vallon for over 30 years.

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‘The Crown’: Petition Urges Star Matt Smith to Donate Pay Disparity to Time’s Up


'The Crown': Petition Urges Star Matt Smith to Donate Pay Disparity to Time's Up

Matt Smith on 'The Crown'

A Care2 petition is calling on the 'Doctor Who' alum to take action after he was paid more for his role as Prince Philip than leading lady Claire Foy earned as Queen Elizabeth.

Days after news broke that The Crown star Claire Foy was paid less than male counterpart Matt Smith, a petition is calling on the latter to donate the extra salary he received for the Netflix drama to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.

At a March 13 conference in Israel, producers revealed that star Foy earned less than male co-star Smith for the first two seasons of the Netflix hit. Foy played Queen Elizabeth in the drama from showrunner Peter Morgan, Sony Pictures Television Studios and Left Bank and earned a Golden Globe, SAG Award and Emmy nomination, among other accolades, for the part. Smith came into The Crown — on which he played Prince Philip for two seasons — with considerably more experience after having spent three seasons starring as The Doctor on Doctor Who.

"Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen," Left Bank creative director and executive producer Suzanne Mackie said at the INTV Conference in Jerusalem. Mackie acknowledged that Smith's experience on Doctor Who fueled the salary disparity.

The Care2 Petition urges Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Smith to "show that they stand with women and do the right thing," while asking the actor and streaming giant to donate the difference in Smith's pay to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.

The Crown drive — which was near 22,000 signatures of its goal of 25,000 — comes two months after a similar petition urged Mark Wahlberg to donate the $1.5 million more that he made during reshoots for All the Money in the World after news broke that his co-star, Michelle Williams, received a mere $1,000 for the same work. (Wahlberg and his agency, WME, would eventually donate $2 million to the Time's Up fund.)

The Crown chronicles Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the present day. New actors are being brought in to take over Foy and Smith's roles, among others, for the previously announced third and fourth seasons, with those parts being recast for what is expected to be a fifth and sixth season. Olivia Colman (Golden Globe winner for AMC's The Night Manager) will take over for Foy as Queen Elizabeth, while the new Prince Philip has yet to be cast. Helena Bonham Carter takes over for Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret as new characters — including Princess Diana — will be introduced.

Salary parity has become a larger part of the conversation as the Time's Up movement continues to gather steam, emboldening women to speak up about subjects, like money, that were once considered taboo. Pay discrepancies have also been in focus in the U.K. — where The Crown is shot — after recent revelations that male presenters at the BBC were paid substantially more than female ones. That led to the resignation of one prominent BBC editor, Carrie Gracie, who was BBC's China editor.

The Crown
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Trump opioid plan includes death penalty for traffickers


Trump opioid plan includes death penalty for traffickers

The Associated Press
FILE – In this Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during an event at the White House in Washington, as first lady Melania Trump listens. Trump's plan to combat opioid drug addiction calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where it's appropriate under current law. The president is scheduled to unveil his plan Monday, March 19, 2018, in New Hampshire, a state hard-hit by the crisis. He'll be accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to children. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

President Donald Trump's plan to combat opioid drug addiction nationwide calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate under current law, a top administration official said. It's a fate for drug dealers that Trump, who aims to be seen as tough on crime, has been highlighting publicly in recent weeks.

Trump also wants Congress to pass legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids, said Andrew Bremberg, Trump's domestic policy director, who briefed reporters Sunday on the plan Trump is scheduled to unveil Monday in New Hampshire, a state hard-hit by the crisis.

The president will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.

Death for drug traffickers and mandatory minimum penalties for distributing certain opioids are just two elements under the part of Trump's plan that deals with law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the U.S.

Other parts of the plan include broadening education and awareness, and expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts.

Trump has mused openly in recent weeks about subjecting drug dealers to the "ultimate penalty."

The president told the audience at a Pennsylvania campaign rally this month that countries like Singapore have fewer issues with drug addiction because they harshly punish their dealers. He argued that a person in the U.S. can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, but that a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands can spend little or no time in jail.

"The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness," Trump said in Moon Township.

He made similar comments at a recent White House summit on opioids. "Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do," Trump said. "So we're going to have to be very strong on penalties."

The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the "drug kingpin" provisions of federal law.

Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it was not clear that death sentences for drug dealers, even for those whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Berman said the issue would be litigated extensively and would have to be definitively decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has declared that fighting the epidemic is a priority for the administration but critics say the effort has fallen short.

Last October, Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue.

"We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone," said Kellyanne Conway, a Trump senior adviser. "This is no longer somebody else's community, somebody else's kid, somebody else's co-worker."

Other elements of the plan Trump will discuss Monday call for a nationwide public awareness campaign, which Trump announced last October, and increased research and development through public-private partnerships between the federal National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies.

Bremberg said the administration also has a plan to cut the number of filled opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years.

The stop in New Hampshire will be Trump's first visit as president. He won the state's 2016 Republican presidential primary but narrowly lost in the general election to Hillary Clinton. It follows a visit to the state last week by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a persistent Trump critic. Flake told New Hampshire Republicans that someone needs to stop Trump — and it could be him if no one else steps up.


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.


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‘American Idol’: More Singer-Songwriters Audition With Original Songs


'American Idol': More Singer-Songwriters Audition With Original Songs

American Idol

Yet again, the judges were mostly in agreement.

The auditions for the American Idol revival continued Sunday night on ABC, with judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie searching for new talent all over the country.

The first artist to go before the judges was Crystal Alicea, singing “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. Previous to this, she hadn’t had any real performing experience outside of karaoke. She had a delicate tone and sang effortlessly. Perry called her a star in the making, and she soared through to Hollywood.

Next up was country singer Kristyn Harris, who auditioned with “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and accompanied herself on the guitar. She also yodeled in her audition, which the judges had a lot of fun with. The yodeling was stronger than her regular voice, but even though Perry didn’t think she was right for Idol, Richie and Bryan voted her through to Hollywood.

The 18-year-old singer-songwriter Johnny Brenns was up next, singing his original song called “Blue Jeans.” It was a gentle ballad that wasn’t too special, but he sounded good. The judges asked for a little more, and he delivered, securing yes votes from Perry and Bryan, although Richie said no.

Another singer-songwriter, Ricky Manning, auditioned next. Manning competed on The Voice, making it as far as the live playoffs on Gwen Stefani’s team. For his Idol audition, he sang his original song “LA Is Lonely.” He got a golden ticket and a new chance to compete.

This season has been big on the original songs, and Sunday night’s auditions featured a montage of some of the worst of them before getting back on track.

Next up was Effie Passero, singing her own song, which was a lot better than those that came before it, and accompanying herself on the piano. She was a strong singer with impressive technical skills, but she brought a lot of emotion to her audition, too. According to Perry, the judges had been looking for someone like her, which bodes well for Passero’s Hollywood Week chances.

Tyler Gordon, who said he could sing six different octaves, gave a horribly over-the-top audition. All three judges said no.

Johnny White next sang “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and got the upward momentum going again. He shared his personal story of being adopted at 7 years old after growing up in an unstable home. His initial audition was good, but Richie asked him to sing something more and dial it back a bit. White did as instructed and sold it. The judges unanimously voted him through to Hollywood, with Perry calling him “top 10.”

Singing “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” by The SteelDrivers, 18-year-old Caleb Lee Hutchinson auditioned next. He had a deep, round voice well suited for the style of country he seems to gravitate toward. Perry was drawn to the texture in Hutchinson’s voice, but Bryan cautioned him against overdoing his vibrato. Still, all three judges said yes.

Shannon O’Hara next sang “When We Were Young” by Adele, which was an ambitious song choice for the 17-year-old singer, but she did it justice. She accompanied herself on the piano and showcased her soulful, mature voice. Perry noted that there was something special about her voice and also praised her personality. O’Hara easily secured a golden ticket to Hollywood.

Amelia Hammer Harris, the daughter of a prolific songwriter, sang “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones for the judges. She had a rock vibe and a strong sense of artistry that helped her make the song her own. Perry called her “top 10,” and Richie expressed excitement over what comes next for her. Naturally, she’s going to Hollywood.

Ryan Zamo’s weak cover of “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles did not get him any yes votes, but he was followed by 17-year-old twins Julian and Milo Sposato, who sang “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars. They blended well and gave a memorable audition. All three judges said yes.

Next, Les Greene sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” He also struggled with not knowing when to dial it back, but it was a solid audition that showed a lot of potential. Richie appreciated the raw quality of his voice. He got a golden ticket.

The last Idol hopeful to audition was Maddie Zahm, singing “New Rules” by Dua Lipa and bringing along her friend and student Marcus. She showcased a lot of experience and artistry, delivering an original cover that made her stand out. She sailed through to Hollywood with three yes votes.

American Idol
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‘Walking Dead’: Who Is That Mysterious Stranger?


'Walking Dead': Who Is That Mysterious Stranger?

Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) have made a new friend with possible roots in Robert Kirkman's comic book series.

[This story contains spoilers through season eight, episode 12 of AMC's The Walking Dead, as well as the latest issue of the comic books on which the show is based.]

"My name is Georgie. These are my friends, Hilda and Midge. And you are?"

Suspicious, is the answer — a group better known by their individual names: Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Enid (Katelyn Nacon) and Rosita (Christian Serratos). The four women encountered three new mysterious entities in the latest episode of the AMC zombie drama: the aforementioned Georgie, played by House of Cards and 24 alum Jayne Atkinson, as well as two bodyguards with a curious vocabulary. (Imagine Pee-Wee Herman going wild at the suggested secret words of the week: "clumph" and "moisture.")

Georgie and friends arrived on The Walking Dead at a compelling moment in the show's narrative, right in the thick of "All-Out War." Their offer: knowledge for food and music. It takes some time before Maggie and her companions feel comfortable accepting the offer, but eventually, a deal is struck. Georgie provides the Hilltop with a binder filled with information about how to build a sustainable future — a future much like the one outlined by Carl (Chandler Riggs) in his dying moments.

"Communities like yours? Not many at all," Georgie says in her first scene, answering a question about how many communities she and her allies have encountered in their travels. "And not one for a very long time. What you have is special… unusual. The dead have brought out our best and worst, and the worst has outpaced our best lately. But that won't last forever."

Before she leaves, Georgie makes it clear that she plans to return to the Hilltop some day, years down the line. Will she live up to her word? The show will bear that out — but the comic books on which the show is based may provide a bit of a clue as to the character's future.

With the exception of a bit player who appears in the Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) backstory issues, Georgie does not exist within the Walking Dead comics. However, there is someone who was very recently introduced in Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's paneled pages who looks eerily similar to the character played by Jayne Atkinson:

Meet Pamela Milton, leader of the Commonwealth, the biggest community introduced in the Walking Dead thus far. First appearing in Walking Dead #173, the Commonwealth exists in Ohio, far away from the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Michonne and a small group of travelers (including Eugene and Siddiq) are in the midst of learning all about this sprawling new location in the current run of the comics, so its status as a friendly nation or an antagonistic one remains up in the air. For what it's worth, a plot to overthrow the Commonwealth seems to be brewing among some of the community's top soldiers. One of these soldiers? His name's George.

The television adaptation of Walking Dead often remixes the comic book's most iconic moments, rarely presenting any one story exactly the same as originally envisioned. Outright renaming the character seems like a bit of a stretch, but Pamela and Georgie seem to have much in common beyond the aesthetic. Both women are highly intelligent and have great ambitions for how to restore a sense of normalcy in the apocalyptic world. Both seem like empathetic figures as well: Georgie is a creative soul who craves music and wants to build trust with strangers, while Pamela shows extraordinary kindness to Michonne in an extremely personal moment. (We'll spare you the specifics, because it's a massive spoiler with potential ramifications for the show's future. If you really want to know more, it involves Michonne meeting up with this character.)

Is it possible that Georgie and Pamela share a similar future, as leaders who will have a huge impact on Alexandria and its growth moving forward? It's certainly not out of the question. However the show's version of events shakes out, a looming collision between Alexandria and the Commonwealth feels all but inevitable. The only question is whether or not Georgie will be around for the occasion, waiting to implement yet another "exercise in trust."

What did you make of Jayne Atkinson's character? Sound off in the comments section below, and keep following for more coverage.

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Maduro’s cryptocurrency ‘genius’ once pushed US sanctions


Maduro's cryptocurrency 'genius' once pushed US sanctions

The Associated Press
In this March 7, 2018 photo, Gabriel Jimenez poses for a portrait at his office in Caracas, Venezuela. Jimenez is the chief strategist of Venezuela’s government-backed cryptocurrency. He is also a former U.S. congressional intern who organized protests against the same administration he’s now helping to circumvent U.S. financial sanctions. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

A chief strategist of Venezuela's government-backed cryptocurrency is a former U.S. congressional intern who once organized protests against the same socialist administration he's now helping to circumvent U.S. financial sanctions.

Gabriel Jimenez, 27, was catapulted to something of tech stardom in Venezuela last month when he stood alongside President Nicolas Maduro and two Russian businessmen on national TV signing a contract to position the petro, as the fledgling currency is known, among international investors.

"It's a company founded and led by young Venezuelan geniuses, boys and girls of Venezuela, who have one of the most technologically advanced blockchain companies in the world," a beaming Maduro said at the petro's unveiling, referring to Jimenez's company, The Social Us.

It was a remarkable reinvention for Jimenez.

Maduro has repeatedly hailed the petro as a way to "overcome the financial blockade" by the Trump administration that prevents his cash-strapped government from issuing new debt. But Jimenez until recently had been agitating for the very same actions to punish Venezuela's leader for jailing his opponents and destroying the oil-rich economy.

A lawyer by training who describes himself as an "innovation enthusiast," Jimenez spent several years working at a Dominican Republic-based bank where his father was a top manager. The bank collapsed in 2014 and his father was among several Venezuelan executives charged by the Caribbean nation with defrauding depositors of $30 million.

After college Jimenez also started traveling to the U.S. for English and summer graduate classes at Harvard and George Mason Universities. In 2013, he started The Social Us, registering the company in Florida, as a webpage and app developer.

In 2014, Jimenez worked five months as an intern in Washington for Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of Maduro's fiercest critics. A handwritten survey he filled out upon being hired, a copy of which was provided by her office, listed in broken English that his goals for the internship were gaining "knowledge and experience about the defence of democracy."

Colleagues remember him as a spirited anti-government crusader who helped organize a caravan, known as the Trip For Freedom, in which thousands of Venezuelan exiles traveled by bus to Washington to pressure the Obama administration to slap sanctions on Maduro's government. In photos of the event, he can be seen standing on a podium with Ros-Lehtinen at the Capitol addressing supporters in front of an American flag and photos of Venezuelan students allegedly tortured by security forces.

Now his former boss thinks he or anyone else behind the petro should be considered for sanctions too.

"Gabriel came to our office and said he wanted to learn how to support freedom and democracy," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Instead, it appears he is using the freedoms that the United States provided him in order to help advance the Maduro regime's attempts to consolidate power and destroy Venezuela's democratic institutions. Those who work to support the Maduro regime and provide it a financial lifeline have chosen their lot and should expect to face the full consequences of turning against their people."

Jimenez in an interview defended his work for the government as serving a greater, non-political purpose: to empower Venezuelans struggling to feed themselves amid four-digit inflation.

He said his work on what would become the petro began when he returned to Venezuela in 2015 and banded together with other tech entrepreneurs to design a digital currency. The group then looked to partner with the government in the hopes of bringing Venezuelans' underground trading in cryptocurrencies out from the shadows and into legal circulation. At the time, bitcoin miners faced the threat of arrest or extortion by government agents.

If the petro takes off, he says, Venezuelans will be able to freely exchange their worthless bolivars for a more stable currency, giving them a chance to raise capital and save. Currently the only way for the majority of Venezuelans to get around strict currency controls imposed in 2003 is to buy hard currency in the illegal black market.

"This is about providing oxygen to people, not a government," Jimenez said in an interview at the bustling Caracas office of The Social Us, where a dozen young programmers scrawled code in pink markers on glass windows overlooking a verdant valley and busily designed promotional materials for the petro.

It's a trade-off that many in Venezuela's burgeoning blockchain community — almost all of them ideologically opposed to the government — are willing to accept.

Still, there's no denying the government will be the first and perhaps biggest beneficiary.

This month, Maduro said the government had received commitments from investors to purchase $5 billion worth of the cryptocurrency during the pre-sale phase that culminates this week. If those materialize into actual sales, it would be a windfall equivalent to more than half of Venezuela's dollar reserves — money the government is desperately clutching onto as it juggles re-paying billions in defaulted bonds while trying to eradicate widespread shortages.

However, members of the U.S. Congress are pushing for a robust response, fearing that other nations under U.S. sanctions such as Iran and Russia could emulate Venezuela's example, or that the petro could be used by criminal networks or corrupt officials to launder money.

Of the two Russians who also signed agreements with the government to help develop the petro one, Denis Druzhkov, CEO of a company called Zeus Trading, was fined $31,000 and barred from trading for three years by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for fraudulent trading in futures' contracts. The other, Fedor Bogorodskiy, lives in Uruguay and was described by the government as director of a company, Aerotrading, whose website consists of a single home page with no company information.

Neither would comment on their work with the Venezuelan government. But in response to the request for comment, an email signed by "Zeus Team" said that Druzkhov had been invited to Venezuela as an expert and Zeus is not working on the project. It also said that as part of Druzhkov's settlement with the Mercantile Exchange in 2014, he did not admit to any rule violations.

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey are calling on the Treasury Department, which is responsible for enforcing sanctions, to combat use of the petro so it's not used to circumvent a ban against Americans lending money to Maduro's government.

The Treasury Department said in January that the petro would appear to an extension of credit to Venezuela and warned all U.S. persons that "deal" in the digital currency may risk falling afoul of U.S. sanctions.

Jimenez, whose preference for sneakers and jeans exude a sort of nerd aesthetic not unlike his entrepreneurial role models in Silicon Valley, said he never intended to help circumvent U.S. sanctions. He also argues that the petro — a financial product that doesn't generate interest or have a payback schedule like a bond — doesn't qualify as the sort of debt instrument the Trump administration is targeting.

Instead, he talks of "democratizing" access to global financial system for struggling entrepreneurs and decentralizing Venezuela's government-run foreign exchange system, which many blame for the economy's depressed state.

"We can't just sit here with our arms crossed, with all that we, our friends and our family are going through," he said. "Doing nothing would be irresponsible."

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Putin, facing little opposition, wins Russian presidency again


Putin, facing little opposition, wins Russian presidency again

PlayKrill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

WATCH Election day in Russia proves triumphant for Putin

Vladimir Putin was reelected president of Russia on Sunday in a vote that was heavily managed and facing virtually no opposition.

Putin — who won a fourth term, which will keep him in power until 2024 — declared victory after Russia’s central election commission said he had won 75 percent with 50 percent of the vote counted.

His nearest opponent, the Communist party candidate, Pavel Grudinin, had 12.7 percent. After declaring victory, Putin appeared at a rally held at Moscow’s Manezh square in front of the walls of the Kremlin.

“Thank you," he told the crowd. "That we have such a powerful, many-million strong team. It’s very important that you preserve this unity.”

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a rally in his support as a presidential candidate at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, March 3, 2018.Krill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a rally in his support as a presidential candidate at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, March 3, 2018.

Putin’s win had never been in doubt. After 18 years in power, he has near total dominance of Russia’s media and his grip over the country’s political scene is complete, with almost no substantial opponents permitted and approval ratings kept at over 80 percent.

PHOTO: A member of a local electoral commission attaches a broadsheet with information about the candidates during preparations for the upcoming presidential election at a polling station in St. Petersburg, March 17, 2018.Anton Vaganov/Reuters
A member of a local electoral commission attaches a broadsheet with information about the candidates during preparations for the upcoming presidential election at a polling station in St. Petersburg, March 17, 2018.

Even Putin's seven opponents never suggested they could win. His most troublesome opponent, Alexey Navalny, was kept off the ballot by a fraud conviction he said is trumped up.

Instead, authorities had worried about turnout. They launched an unprecedented campaign to ensure a maximum display of support for Putin. Prior to the vote, the Kremlin had indicated it wanted a 70 percent turnout; it had told authorities to make the election like a “holiday.”

PHOTO: A member of a local electoral commission walks out of a voting booth at a polling station during preparations for the upcoming presidential election in Moscow, March 16, 2018.David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
A member of a local electoral commission walks out of a voting booth at a polling station during preparations for the upcoming presidential election in Moscow, March 16, 2018.

By all appearances, officials heeded that call. As in Soviet times, officials put on attractions around polling stations.

Outside polling station 1869 in Nagatinskii in Moscow’s southern suburbs, a woman led an aerobics class to energetic techno music. Some voters danced in a circle; as at many others, stalls sold pies and tea.

“It reminds me a little of when I was young,” said Mikhail Goranin, an entrepreneur who had voted for the Communist, Grudinin. “For people, it’s a holiday.”

Authorities had also turned to other methods to boost voter numbers — across the country, there were reports of ballot stuffing.

Russia has installed a video camera system covering polling stations and Russia’s internet was full of clips showing fraud. In some, local election officials could be seen stuffing in wads of ballots; some tried to move balloons, put up to decorate polling stations and to block the cameras.

In one video, from Yakutia in Russia’s far east, a man was so busy stuffing ballots that a queue of voters formed behind him.

Russia prepares for election, and another Putin victory

There were also frequent reports of people pressured to vote en masse.

The Associated Press quoted Yevgeny, a 43-year-old mechanic voting in central Moscow, who said he briefly wondered whether it was worth voting.

“But the answer was easy … if I want to keep working, I vote,” he said.

PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech near a commemorative plaque in honor of slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov during a ceremony in Moscow, March 17, 2018.Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech near a commemorative plaque in honor of slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov during a ceremony in Moscow, March 17, 2018.

Navalny, the barred opposition leader, had called a boycott of the election. It was unclear late Sunday how effective that had been.

Navalny and other opposition leaders, though, mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers as election monitors. At his headquarters in Moscow, about 30 volunteers fielded calls in from monitors, while an election live-broadcast ran on Navalny’s popular YouTube channel.

Navalny’s staff said they had approximately 33,000 registered monitors spread across Russia.

Even before counting finished it was clear that amid the voting push, Putin’s tally was the largest he has ever received. His highest previous victory was 71.31 percent when he was reelected in 2004.

The election was heavily crafted by the Kremlin, which allowed novel candidates to run. It moved election day to the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, an event that hugely boosted Putin’s popularity. With the outcome preordained and with so much orchestration, the election often felt less like a race than a giant show, planned and executed by the Kremlin.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a rally to support his bid in the upcoming presidential election, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, March 3, 2018.Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a rally to support his bid in the upcoming presidential election, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, March 3, 2018.

The overwhelming numbers were, therefore, accompanied by a certain perfunctoriness. At the victory rally in Moscow there was no euphoria; although the crowd was large, the atmosphere was somewhat limp.

Putin spoke for less three minutes; while those at the front cheered, many in the middle of the crowd hardly looked up, talking amongst themselves.

When Putin shouted, “We are destined for successes, right?” those in the middle, half-amused, cheered, ‘Yes!”

Many people appeared to arrive in organized groups. At Putin’s last victory rally in 2012, large numbers of attendees were seen being corralled and some were paid.

Maria, an 18-year-old student, told ABC News her college strongly urged her to come.

“They forced us to come,” said Maria, who declined to give her surname for fear of reprisals.

Perhaps the most dramatic contest of the day occurred on the sidelines of the vote, between two opposition figures.

Ksenia Sobchak, a millionaire celebrity journalist and former reality TV star, whose father was Putin’s political mentor, had run on a Western-orientated liberal platform.

She had been accused of coordinating her run with the Kremlin and was heavily criticized by Navalny as a “spoiler,” intended to split the opposition vote while lending legitimacy to the election.

As polls closed, Sobchak appeared on Navalny’s election live-stream show to ask him to unite with her newly founded party. Navalny refused, saying she had been used by Putin.

“I will judge you by your actions,” he told Sobchak on air. “And your actions are disgusting.”

“You are his instrument, nothing more,” he said.

The short campaign in some ways has been a sideshow for Putin, who campaigned little, appearing before large election crowds only twice.

In any case, with state TV most days showing Putin solving problems in the country, Russia in some ways lives in permanent campaign mode.

With so much effort put into producing such a decisive win ahead of the election, some in Moscow have spoken of it as a declaration of Putin as president for life.

After his win he was asked would he still be in power in 2030.

“Let’s count. It’s ridiculous, what, am I going to sit here until I’m 100? No,” Putin said.

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Driver Tries to Pass Off Homer Simpson’s Driver License as His Own


Driver Tries to Pass Off Homer Simpson's Driver License as His Own

Homer Simpson

Needless to say, social media users had a ball with the incident.


Police in southern England had an interesting run-in recently with a member of the Simpsons family — kind of.

An unidentified driver in Milton Keynes gave officers a driver's license that not only had information for Homer Simpson on it, it also had a picture of the classic Fox cartoon character.

"Earlier this week, @tvprp's PC Phillips stopped a car in Milton Keynes. When she tried to identify the driver's ID, she found the below… The driver's car was seized and he was reported for driving with no insurance and driving without a proper license," police tweeted, along with a picture of the fake ID.

Needless to say, social media users had a ball with the incident.

"Everyone knows that Homer Simpson lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace! Amateur…," once user posted.

"On the bright side, it was not Family Guy!" another user zinged.

And, of course, there were plenty of GIFs of Homer behind the wheel from assorted episodes.

Earlier this week, @tvprp's PC Phillips stopped a car in Milton Keynes.
When she tried to identify the driver's ID, she found the below…
The driver's car was seized and he was reported for driving with no insurance and driving without a proper licence.
D'oh! ‍

— Thames Valley Police (@ThamesVP) March 15, 2018

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