July 24, 2014

George Takei was 5 years old when armed U.S. soldiers came to his house and escorted him and his family to an internment camp for Japanese Americans in the swamps of Arkansas, he told Jon Stewart on Wednesday night's Daily Show. The actor/gay-rights activist/social media star is promoting a new documentary about his life, To Be Takei — and Stewart, instead of asking him about Star Trek or his push for same-sex marriage, brought up Takei's World War II experience.

That experience, as Takei tells it, has shades of the Roberto Benigni film Life Is Beautiful — "My parents told us that we were going on a long vacation, to a place called Arkansas," he told Stewart. "And that sounded exotic." There were armed guards on the train, but "I thought everyone took vacations with guards like that."

Takei's retelling of his first-hand experience with this dark period in U.S. history is full of interesting details (watch the video below). But he also talked about how, years later, when he was a teenager, he asked his father about the internment camp. What he remembers about those conversations, Takei said, is this bit of wisdom from his father:

Our democracy is a people's democracy. And it can be as great as the people can be, but it's also as fallible as people are. [Takei, Daily Show]

Takei's father, and on Wednesday night Takei himself, illustrated this point with the story of an ambitious California politician who became a three-term governor on the then-wildly-popular platform of locking up Japanese Americans, then went on change the country for the better as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. "A great man, but a fallible human being," Takei said. That describes a lot of people in the U.S., not just Earl Warren. When our better angels are in ascendency, that's a real strength of American democracy. --Peter Weber

Hard pass
12:11 p.m. ET
John Gress/Getty Images

Seemingly out of options after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unexpectedly dropped out of the race for House speaker Thursday, Republicans have been loudly urging Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to run, calling him the only potential candidate who would be able to unite the increasingly divided House. Though he politely turned down the offer Thursday, Ryan was forced to double down on his refusal Friday as the pleas for his candidacy reached a fever pitch.

"Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he's getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker," a spokesman for Ryan told NBC News Friday. Becca Stanek

A truly convincing argument
11:50 a.m. ET
Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women

When Hillary Clinton was assigned the role of Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in a high school mock debate of the 1964 presidential election, she was an active member of the Young Republicans and an avid supporter of Republican Barry Goldwater. But, after hours spent in the library studying up on Johnson's positions on civil rights, foreign policy, and healthcare, The New York Times reports that Clinton emerged a changed woman. She delivered a "compelling case" — a case so compelling, in fact, that by the time Clinton graduated from high school one year later, she had jumped ship to join the Democratic Party.

Since her high school days, Clinton's penchant for arduous debate preparation has never wavered. "It's who she is at her core," Patti Solis Doyle, an aide to Clinton from 1991 to 2008 and a manager of Clinton's '08 campaign, told The New York Times. "She's an avid studier. She does her homework. She's a massive preparer."

Come Tuesday — the night of the first Democratic debate — Clinton will finally be able to put all that preparation to the test. We'll see if she can convince America as well as she convinced her high school self.

Read the full story on Clinton's debating at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

2016 election
11:42 a.m. ET
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is behind only Donald Trump in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, is sticking to his argument that the Holocaust might have been prevented if Germany's Jews had been armed. Carson on Friday blasted the Anti-Defamation League for "total foolishness" after the organization asserted that "the notion that Hitler's gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate."

The ADL, which is devoted to combating anti-Semitism worldwide, added, "The small number of personal firearms available to Germany's Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state."

On Good Morning America, Carson retorted, "I'd be happy to discuss that in depth with anybody but it is well known that in many places where tyranny has taken over they first disarm the people. There's a reason they disarm the people. They don't just do it arbitrarily."

Carson is not the only conservative to compare gun control efforts to Hitler's dictatorial policies. As Nick Baumann at The Huffington Post pointed out, it is actually a fairly common conservative trope. But Carson's unconventional views aren't holding up as well under a national spotlight, and even his own campaign manager wants him to stop with all the Nazi talk. Ryu Spaeth

Your tax dollars at work
10:43 a.m. ET

Congressional review of the spending habits of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reveals the agency has spent some $6.3 million on fountains and sculptures for its facilities, primarily at two locations in California.

One of the installations is a giant section of Morse code quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt. It is on the side of a parking garage, lights up in rainbow colors, and cost a cool $285,000.

"It is simply beyond me why VA would choose to [fund projects] by cutting medical services and medical facility dollars but not the exorbitant conference spending or bloated relocation expenses or art," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who has critiqued the sculpture spending.

In recent years, the VA has also been caught going wildly over budget on hospital construction, providing slow and inadequate service to veterans, using faulty medical equipment, engaging in corrupt activities with minimal consequences, and fudging the numbers on veteran suicides. Bonnie Kristian

for the lols
10:42 a.m. ET

While Republicans were in shock after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) withdrew his bid for speaker of the House, one Democratic representative was hard at work on a project to help out the GOP with their seeming lack of electable candidates. Perhaps inspired by David Axelrod's suggestion that the "GOP may have to post a listing on Craigslist to fill speaker's chair," Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and his staff went ahead and wrote up a fake "Speaker of the House" ad, poking fun at the GOP's woes: "Are you an American citizen? Do you have experience negotiating hostage situations? Are you ready for the challenge of a lifetime? Then this job is for you!"

The post goes on to list the responsibilities of the job, including "keeping the government open" and "explaining to the 'Freedom Caucus' the concepts of compromise and democratic governance." Requirements are similarly cheeky: "Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED."

In these dark and troubled times, it's important to be able to crack a smile. Jeva Lange

Real life results
10:29 a.m. ET

While Volkswagen is the only car manufacturer to have been caught outright cheating on emissions tests, a new report by The Guardian reveals that it isn't the only car company with a discrepancy in how its diesel cars fare in emissions tests versus in real life. Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi have all been found to have diesel cars that "emit significantly more pollution on the road than in regulatory tests," The Guardian reports.

Mercedes-Benz diesel cars, for example, produce five times more nitric and nitrogen oxide than is allowed per the European Union's Euro 6 emission standard, Mashable reports. Honda's diesel cars emitted NOx levels "between 2.6 and six times the official levels," The Guardian says. Mazda diesel cars emit between 1.6 and 3.6 times the test levels, and Mitsubishi diesel autos' emissions are between 1.5 and 3.4 higher.

Spokesmen from the four companies all defended the diesel cars in question and said that they had been tested in accordance with European laws. "Since real-world driving conditions do not generally reflect those in the laboratory, the consumption figures may differ from the standardized figures," a Mercedes spokesman told The Guardian.

Still, some posit that this data reveals that this is a systemic issue that permeates the entire industry. Last week, The Guardian found that Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Jeep all produced "significantly more" NOx in real-life driving conditions than in tests. Becca Stanek

10:16 a.m. ET

A Michigan woman named Mary Hostein has been feuding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since 2013 after she attempted to bring a jar of apple butter through airport security. The agency has slapped her with a $2,000 fine, and has threatened litigation if she doesn't pay soon.

Hostein didn't think that the near-solid spread counted as a liquid subject to the TSA's 3-ounce limit, so she tried to take her jar through two different TSA lines — a decision the TSA claims indicates her intent to break the rules.

For her part, Hostein is shocked that the agency has devoted so much time and levied so harsh a fine over apple butter. "I'm a nobody fighting a government agency that I feel is being relentless," she says. "Is this really what you [the TSA] pay your manpower to do? Is this really protecting our country?" Bonnie Kristian

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