August 3, 2014

A man working for an English language learning center in Utah says he was fired after writing a blog post about homophones, which his boss complained made their school "associated with homosexuality."

Tom Torkildson had worked at the Nomen Global Language Center in Provo for three months when he wrote about homophones — words that sounds the same but have different meanings, like "through" and "threw" and "be" and "bee." Torkildson wanted the English language learners to grasp this concept early on, and although he told The Salt Lake Tribune that he "knew the 'homo' part of the word could be politically charged," he still posted the lesson.

A few days later he says he was fired by his boss and the school's owner, Clarke Woodger. Woodger told the Tribune that he fired Torkildson for going "off on tangents," but he does think the lesson was too complex for anyone just starting to learn English. "People at this level of English...may see the 'homo' side and think it has something to do with gay sex," he said. Catherine Garcia

4:40 a.m. ET
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On Wednesday, President Trump will sign an executive order instructing the Interior Department to review all national monuments designated by his predecessors back to January 1996, a potential first step in scaling back or even revoking some of the designations, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. The move appears aimed at two national monuments created in Utah by former President's Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated in September 1996, and especially Bears Ears National Monument, so named last December. "While no president has attempted to withdraw a monument named by a predecessor," The Salt Lake Tribune notes, "there have been those who have scaled back those designations."

Some of Utah's top officials have pushed for a scaling back or revocation of the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears monuments, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who said he had petitioned Trump to rescind the Bears Ears designation and tried "to ensure that this issue is a priority on the president's agenda." Land in Utah should be "managed by the Utahns [who] know them best and cherish them deeply," he said. A push to shield Bears Ears and other areas failed in Congress last year out of concern that the measure was too friendly to mining and other development interests, as well as concerns from Native Americans and environmentalists. Peter Weber

4:00 a.m. ET

President Trump is divisive, but "there are two White House figures who are widely admired," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight: "Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. They're like America's William and Kate, except in this case, both of them are attractive." Lots of Republicans gush about the power couple, "but for liberals, the popular assumption is that Jared and Ivanka will be moderating influences," saving the world from, say, nuclear armageddon. But is that fair to us, or them? Oliver asked two basic questions: "Is Ivanka really the moderating influence that people claim, and what in Jared's background justifies such a gigantic White House portfolio?"

Ivanka is an artfully constructed enigma, Oliver said, and her "ability to say nothing and yet consistently support her dad can actually apply to her political views as well." Her alleged support for things like gay rights and Planned Parenthood "all feel true, but there is not a lot of evidence," he said. In her 2009 book, for example, "she's pretty much telling you, to your face, not to trust any assumption that you're making about her. So it's possible that she's doing nothing to moderate her father."

Her husband is another matter. "It is not unusual for powerful men to give their son-in-laws do-nothing jobs, but leave it to Donald Trump, who can't even get nepotism right, to give his a do-everything job," Oliver said. "Jared's portfolio would be unmanageable for the smartest man on Earth, so is Jared Kushner the smartest man on Earth?" His reputation for deep thought seems to be based on the fact that he listens but rarely talks. In fact, Oliver asked, "have you ever heard him speak? Seriously, what does his voice sound like?" He played a clip of Kushner talking on TV in 2009, but cruelly had Gilbert Gottfried dub over his voice.

Based on publicly available information, Kushner doesn't appear to have any special qualifications other than not being Steve Bannon, his marriage to the president's daughter, and being a "creepily silent 36-year-old heir to a real estate fortune," Oliver said. "And I know that all of this may seem like an evisceration of both Jared and Ivanka, but it is really not. I don't know enough about them to eviscerate them, just as you don't know enough about them to justify putting any real hopes in them." If Jared and Ivanka "are the reason you are sleeping at night," he added, "you should portably still be awake." Watch below — being warned that there is NSFW language and barely safe images of Donald Trump naked. Peter Weber

3:47 a.m. ET

It took a year to get it right, but now Isabella Nicola, a 10-year-old from Fairfax County, Virginia, can comfortably play the violin, using her new pink prosthetic arm.

When she was born, Nicola's left arm was only partially developed. A year ago, five George Mason University students started to design a prosthetic for her, and they have spent the last 12 months working together on the perfect fit; she provided feedback for the students, who then tweaked the prosthetic — made with a 3D printer — to make it more comfortable. "I am very grateful," she told NBC Washington. "Without these people, I don't think I'd be able to play the violin. I don't think I'd be able to play any instrument." Catherine Garcia

3:17 a.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

On the heels of Bill O'Reilly being let go from Fox News amid allegations of sexual harassment, another Fox News host, Sean Hannity, is being accused of asking a former network contributor to go back to his hotel room with him; after she declined, he allegedly retaliated by never inviting her back to appear on Fox News.

In an interview with Oklahoma radio host Pat Campbell, Debbie Schlussel said that before going on Hannity's show, he invited her to a book signing in Detroit. As she prepared to leave the event, Hannity asked her, "'Why don't you come back with me to my hotel?'" she said. "And I said no, I have to get ready for the show." Before they went on the air, Hannity allegedly said the pair should "double-team" another guest, a phrase Schlussel said she thought was "weird," and when the show started, "Every time I tried to open my mouth and say something, they yelled at me and said obey your host, you can't say anything or else we're gonna shut off your microphone."

Schlussel told Campbell that once the show was over, Hannity again invited her back to his room, and she rejected his advances. He later called her and "yelled at me," she said, and she "got a very weird feeling about the whole thing, and I kind of knew I wouldn't go back on his show. I wasn't booked on a show again." This wasn't that out of the norm for the network, she asserted. "This kind of stuff is all over the place at Fox News and anything that has to do with Sean Hannity."

In a statement to the New York Daily News, Hannity said Schlussel's allegations are "100 percent false and a complete fabrication." He called her a "serial harasser who has been lying about me for well over a decade" and said he will "fight every single lie about me by all legal means available to me as an American." Previously, Schlussel has accused Hannity of running a scam charity and plagiarism. Catherine Garcia

2:35 a.m. ET

The Trump White House is insisting that Congress include $1.4 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall in a spending bill that has to pass this week to avoid a government shutdown. Republican leaders in Congress are unenthusiastic about the demand, in part because they need Democratic support to pass a spending bill and Democrats are generally opposed to funding President Trump's border wall. So are many Republicans, including several who represent areas along the border. In fact, The Wall Street Journal found, "not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border" said they support the border wall funding request.

There are nine House members from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California whose districts abut the Mexico border, and eight senators from those states. The three GOP House members argue that the money would be better spent on other border-related measures, as do Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have voice skepticism of Trump's wall, but they declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal about the budget request. All six Democratic House members and four border-state Senate Democrats were staunchly opposed to the wall.

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who is pushing the funding demand, was unmoved. "You're always going to have constituencies within both parties that have local issues — we get that," he told The Journal, insisting that GOP leadership was on board because "they know it's a priority for the president." The representatives of border districts, even those advocating for stricter border security, say Trump's focus on a physical wall is misplaced and a waste of taxpayer money. Drug smugglers and human traffickers "will go over, through, or under physical barriers, sometimes pretty quickly," Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) told The Wall Street Journal. Last month, the newspaper found similar sentiments among Arizona's border ranchers, who strongly support Trump. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:12 a.m. ET
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League finds that there has been a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since the 2016 presidential election.

The ADL has recorded 541 anti-Semitic incidents in the first quarter of 2017, up 86 percent from a year earlier, with six physical assaults; 380 episodes of harassment, including 161 bomb threats; and 155 acts of vandalism, including destruction at three cemeteries. "There's been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016," said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, "and what's most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months."

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that in New York City this year, through March 5, 55 anti-Semitic crimes were reported, up 189 percent from the same time period in 2016. Both of these studies say the election and political climate are partly to blame for the increase in incidents, and Oren Segal, director of the ADL's Center on Extremism, told NBC News that technology is also making it easier to commit hate crimes. "Extremists and anti-Semites feel emboldened and are using technology in new ways to spread their hatred and to impact the Jewish community on and off line," Segal said. Catherine Garcia

1:25 a.m. ET
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President Trump wakes up to Fox & Friends, regularly slips out of the Oval Office to watch cable news in the small adjoining dining room, and keeps the TV on when he retires to his private residence, sometimes hate-watching shows critical of him and discussing it on the phone with friends, The Washington Post reports. "Once he goes upstairs, there's no managing him," one adviser said. Some confidants say Trump still watches MSNBC's Morning Joe, but Trump tells The Associated Press he no longer tunes in to negative coverage of himself on CNN and MSNBC, to his own surprise. "I don't watch things, and I never thought I had that ability," he said. "I always thought I'd watch."

What's undisputed is that Trump's cable news habit has upended Washington. Politicians and White House staff who appear on TV seem to have as much influence as those who meet with Trump in the Oval Office, proving TV to be one kind of great equalizer. But at the same time, White House aides and congressional Republicans are exasperated that Trump "can seem to be swayed by the last thing he sees on TV, a medium geared more for entertainment than actual policymaking," The Washington Post reports, or when they have to scramble "to reverse-engineer information to support his dubious assertions" on Twitter. And there are other ways Trump's TV habit affects the real world, The Post says:

The president, advisers said, also uses details gleaned from cable news as a starting point for policy discussions or a request for more information, and appears on TV himself when he wants to appeal directly to the public. ... Foreign diplomats have urged their governments' leaders to appear on television when they're stateside as a means of making their case to Trump. [The Washington Post]

Trump's advisors and allies say the 70-year-old president is served well by his "sophisticated understanding of how to communicate, the power of television," as senior counselor Kellyanne Conway says. And while Trump's obsession with cable news, especially Fox News, is unusual for a president, The Washington Post notes, in other ways it's "unremarkable, based on his profile. Fox News' average prime-time viewer last year, for instance, was 68 years old and mostly white, and the average American watches more than four hours per day, according to Nielsen data." You can read more about Trump and TV at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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