August 1, 2014

If your dog loved to sniff around outdoors and go on grand adventures, it might be a fitting send-off to blast his remains into space.

Houston-based Celestis Inc. has been sending human remains up on memorial space flights since 1997, and will soon launch its first flight for pets, Reuters reports. On October 7, a blue merle Australian shepherd named Apollo will go on the Earth Rise journey; a portion of his remains will be placed in a capsule that is integrated into a Celestis spacecraft, attached to a rocket, and then launched. The capsule will come back down to earth, and will be recovered and given to his family.

There are other options in addition to Earth Rise, including Earth Orbit which goes around the world, Luna, which blasts off to the moon, and Voyager, which heads all the way out to deep space. The prices start at $995 for Earth Rise and go up to $12,500 for Luna or Voyager. Catherine Garcia

8:47 a.m. ET

President Trump is expected to unveil his plan to fight the opioid epidemic on Monday, Politico reports. An early version of the plan would have called for the death penalty against some drug dealers, but the final version is expected to be scaled back, with a call for capital punishment against drug traffickers only "when appropriate under current law," said Andrew Bremberg, the White House's director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Trump will announce his new policies during a trip to New Hampshire.

The administration says the plan would lead to a reduction in opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years by mixing administration actions and new laws requiring money from Congress. It includes elements focused on law enforcement, education, prevention, treatment, and recovery. Harold Maass

8:09 a.m. ET
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President Trump attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name on Twitter over the weekend, veering from the White House legal strategy of cooperating with Mueller's investigation, but Trump's legal team is still trying to work out how Mueller can interview Trump, Axios reports. And Mueller, in his conversations with Trump's lawyers, is focused on "events since the election," Axios' Mike Allen says, specifically "the firings of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn."

Mueller is charged with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, any possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and anything else he discovers in these lines of inquiries. But discussing post-election events "suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign," Allen says, acknowledging that "both sagas are interwoven with Russia," in part because Trump has woven them together.

The line between collusion and obstruction also appeared to befuddle Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian interference. Conaway told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that "our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea" and "so we really weren't focused in the direction," only to be contradicted by a spokeswoman, who said Conaway "meant obstruction," not collusion. Conaway also told NBC's Chuck Todd that his committee did not interview some key witnesses because "we're trying to stay away from the Mueller investigation and not confuse that or hurt it one way or the other." The committee Republicans said "we found no evidence of collusion," he added, but did not draw any conclusions about whether collusion took place. Peter Weber

7:13 a.m. ET
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Over the past week, President Trump has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, openly advocated the death penalty for drug dealers, bragged about lying to Canada's prime minister, apparently forced the firing of a retiring deputy FBI director, and, most recently, hinted on Twitter that he might try to oust Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating him. Trump is "newly emboldened to say what he really feels and to ignore the cautions of those around him" because he "now believes he has settled into the job" of being president and trusts his instincts more than his advisers, Maggie Haberman reports at The New York Times, citing a dozen people close to Trump or his White House.

"Projecting strength, control, and power, whether as a New York developer or domineering reality television host, has always been vital to Mr. Trump," Haberman writes. "But in his first year in the White House, according to his friends, he found himself feeling tentative and anxious, intimidated by the role of president, a fact that he never openly admitted but that they could sense." No more.

Trump no longer feels the need to rely on the expertise of Chief of Staff John Kelly, outgoing chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, or Tillerson, and "if he once suspected they were smarter or better equipped to lead the country and protect his presidency, he doesn't believe that now," Haberman says. "Outside the White House, there are few friends the president will listen to." Kelly, Cohn, and departing White House Communications Director Hope Hicks were among the few people who could contain Trump and blunt his potentially self-destructive impulses, and some aides "say privately that Mr. Trump does not understand the job the way he believes he does, and that they fear he will become even less inclined to take advice." You can read more about the emboldened Trump at The New York Times. Peter Weber

5:53 a.m. ET
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Russia's Central Election Commission said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election with 76.67 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates. That was a record-high number for Putin, who won his third term in 2012 with 63.3 percent. In second place was communist Pavel Grudinin, with 11.78 percent, followed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky (5.66 percent) and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak (1.68 percent), the only of the candidates to openly criticize Putin.

The candidate most likely to do well against Putin, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running because of a questionable disqualifying conviction. Election observers reported widespread ballot stuffing and unusually intense pressure on voters to participate in the election. "Our elections have proved once again ... that it's not possible to manipulate our people," said Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of Russia's upper house. "People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections." Peter Weber

5:23 a.m. ET

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver spent 20 minutes talking about Vice President Mike Pence, the one White House official President Trump can't fire. Pence's constitutional immunity from being sacked is actually worrisome, "because he's synonymous with some extreme positions," especially on abortion and gay rights, Oliver said. "If there are any Mike Pence supporters watching this, I cannot promise that he is going to come out of tonight's show looking great, but I can promise that I will say something nice about him before this piece is over."

"Pence's reputation is as the old, boring, principled contrast to Donald Trump," but he's actually morally pretty wily and "exceptionally good at dodging tough questions," Oliver said. And if you think his impeccable social conservatism — say, his recent opposition to women in the military — is because he grew up in the 1950s, nope, "he's 58 years old," Oliver said. "Pence is three months younger than Flavor f---ing Flav." He is most well-known for his opposition to gay rights, though, and Oliver spent the rest of the time on that topic.

Pence "clearly" believes in LGBTQ discrimination, "and yet, interestingly, one specific allegation he's pushed back on concerns whether or not he supported 'gay conversion' therapy," Oliver said. He found Pence's denial dubious, not least because of Pence's frequent praise for James Dobson, a big promoter of such "therapy" and, apparently, a big producer of gay-sounding double entendres. "Saying you don't support conversion therapy and then calling Dobson your 'mentor' is like saying you're a 'staunch vegetarian and a law-abiding citizen, and by the way, please meet my lifelong friend and mentor the Hamburlgar,'" he quipped.

That led Oliver to the one thing he likes about Pence, and since Pence seems set on ruining even that, Last Week Tonight wrote a book. You can watch an excerpt at the end, but be warned: There is NSFW language throughout. Peter Weber

3:54 a.m. ET

John Oliver kicked off Sunday's Last Week Tonight with a brief look at President Trump's White House, "rated No. 1 place to work by Subpoena Magazine. Now, this week it seemed almost everyone in the White House was about to get fired," he said, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson actually was, apparently in a particularly humiliating way — on the john, with a stomach bug. "Come on, Rex, deep down, when you took this job, you knew it would end like this," Oliver said.

Still, "instead of getting sucked down a White House rabbit hole yet again this week, let's instead focus on Russia," Oliver said, starting with the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. "Basically every country agrees that Russia did this, which is incredible — we can't even get the world to agree on a single shape for electrical outlets," Oliver said. "And frankly, the Russian government hasn't really gone out of its way to not look suspicious," up to and including President Vladimir Putin.

Russia also held presidential elections on Sunday, and "the winner was the poison guy," Oliver said. "Putin's win isn't really much of a surprise, given that three potential candidates who might have had the best chance against him didn't even make it onto the ballot." Putin actually bothered to campaign a little bit this time, and he had help from, among other people, a girl group that recorded a song fantasizing about marrying Putin. "What young woman wouldn't want to settle down with a joyless 65-year-old whose ex-wife once said of him, 'Unfortunately, he is a vampire'?" Oliver asked. His favorite propaganda campaign, however, involved children drawing pictures of Putin, and after showing some examples, he wrapped up. "What today's result means is that everything Putin is famous for — oppression, threats, and meddling in elections — will likely continue for the foreseeable future." Watch below (there is NSFW language). Peter Weber

2:23 a.m. ET
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Florida State knocked No. 1 seed Xavier out of the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Sunday night, taking the lead for the first time with 1:08 left in the game then holding on for a 75-70 finish. Following the shocking elimination of overall top seed Virginia by University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), only two No. 1 seeds are advancing to the Sweet 16 round for the first time since 2004. (UMBC's underdog run was ended by ninth-seeded Kansas on Sunday, 50-43.) The NCAA says it is the first time in tournament history that any region — in this case the South — isn't sending any of its top four seeds to the Sweet 16.

In the East Region, No. 5 seed West Virginia will face Villanova, after the Mountaineers beat Marshall on Sunday night, and second-seeded Purdue will battle No. 3 seed Texas Tech. In the West, third-seeded Michigan will face Texas A&M, a seventh-seeded team that knocked out defending champions North Carolina on Sunday, and No. 4 seed Gonzaga will face Florida State. In the Midwest, No. 1 seed Kansas will play fifth-seeded Clemson and No. 2 seed Duke will face No. 11 seed Syracuse. In the South Region, No. 5 seed Kentucky will take on No. 9 seed Kansas State and seventh-seeded Nevada will battle No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago. If you bracket isn't already busted, congratulations. Peter Weber

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