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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

1:34 p.m. ET
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

In virtually every state across the U.S., Blockbuster Video has become a relic of the past, from a time way back when it was necessary to physically go to a store to rent a movie rather than cueing one up with the click of the button. Alaska is the exception.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that while most Blockbuster stores have shut down after a period of ubiquity in the 1990s ended in a declaration of bankruptcy, there are still at least 10 Blockbusters left in existence. Most of those are in Alaska.

The Alaska stores there aren't just surviving — they're thriving, Blockbuster licensee-owner Alan Payne told The Washington Post:

[A] great deal of the business' endurance has come from the core customer base in Alaska, primarily made up of older people. Alaska ranks high in disposable income among the states, due to good-paying jobs, exceptionally low taxes, and payments from reinvested oil savings. Moreover, Internet service is substantially more expensive than in most states, since most data packages are not unlimited. Heavy Netflix streamers could end up paying hundreds of dollars per month in Internet bills, Payne said. [The Washington Post]

Alaska's weather also makes it the prime place for binge-watching. The Washington Post noted the "most profitable Blockbuster store" in existence is in Fairbanks, where "temperatures can reach 50 below zero."

Payne plans to keep his eight Blockbuster stores (seven of which are in Alaska, with the eighth in Texas) in existence for as long as his employees are willing to stick around. He argued there's a certain magic that's lost when picking out a movie on Netflix. "When you go in the store, walk down the aisle, you're going to see all kinds of things you never thought of," he said.

Read more about the remaining Blockbusters at The Washington Post. Becca Stanek

1:32 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The House Freedom Caucus announced Wednesday that it is onboard with the latest version of the GOP's American Health Care Act. The convincing factor for the far-right Republican faction, which opposed President Trump's first pass at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, was a new amendment negotiated by centrist Tuesday Group co-chairman Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.).

The MacArthur Amendment enables states to waive the requirements to cover ObamaCare's essential health benefits and to not charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions. The amendment was intended as an olive branch of sorts to the Freedom Caucus, which was dissatisfied with what it saw as a moderate first stab at health-care reform.

Freedom Caucus members argued the first iteration of the bill, which they deemed "ObamaCare lite," didn't go far enough to undo former President Barack Obama's signature health-care bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the GOP's bill when it became clear it did not have enough Republican votes to pass. Becca Stanek

1:11 p.m. ET

Your best friend might tell you that your expensive, faux-mud-splattered jeans are "cute," but when it's the hard truth you want, you need to turn to artificial intelligence. Amazon announced Wednesday that is will be releasing the "Echo Look," a camera that will rate your outfits based on data from "machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists."

A part of Amazon's "Echo" line of home assistant gadgets, Echo Look can be asked to take full-length photos of you and can record videos of you turning or walking so you can see how you look from angles that you can't catch by craning your head in the mirror. Echo Look also integrates the app Style Check that will compare two different outfits for you and let you know which is more flattering. Hey, who needs friends anyway?

The Verge adds, "The device appears to be Amazon's way of expanding its fashion retail shop, as it will store your lookbook and recommend outfits that suit your style. From a fashion and lifestyle perspective, the camera could be a way to enter the fitness realm as well — soon, the Echo Look might have an app that could take daily photos of you to compare weight loss progress, for example."

Right now, Echo Look is available by invite only for $199.99. You can request one here. Jeva Lange

12:30 p.m. ET
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

The White House is reportedly in the late stages of finalizing an order that would withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, Politico reports. President Trump vowed to renegotiate the 1994 trade deal on the campaign trail, arguing that NAFTA is "very, very bad for our country," a "job killer," and "the single worst trade deal ever." NAFTA, which was originally signed by President Bill Clinton, allows for the free flow of goods and services between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico without tariffs.

Based on information from two White House insiders, Politico writes that "the approach appears designed to extract better terms with Canada and Mexico." Politico adds: "But once Trump sets the withdrawal process in motion, the prospects for the U.S. pulling out of one of the largest trade deals on the globe become very real."

The draft was reportedly authored by Trump's National Trade Council head, Peter Navarro, who worked with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Jeva Lange

12:12 p.m. ET

Former President Barack Obama is reportedly going to make a nice $400,000 this year off a speech at an annual health care conference hosted by the Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. The speech is one of many that Obama will make as he embarks on a paid-speech circuit. He's lined up a gig at the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation in Boston, a public conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and some speeches in Europe, The New York Times reported.

Obama's speech at the Cantor Fitzgerald conference is unique, however, in that he'll be earning a lot more money than his predecessors have made from similar speaking engagements. The New York Times said former President Bill Clinton made about $200,000 per speech, while former President George W. Bush made between $100,000 and $175,000.

Moreover, that big wad of cash will be coming from a conference sponsored by Wall Street, which Obama frequently criticized during his presidency. Obama pushed for regulations and blasted big banks during his two terms in office, but at the same time The New York Times noted he also "courted Wall Street donors and other wealthy supporters."

On his way out the door though, Obama swore he was "not going to Wall Street" to cash in, NBC News' Bradd Jaffy recalled Wednesday:

The Financial Times noted in a report Tuesday that while Obama has reportedly said he would give the conference's keynote speech for the agreed-upon fee, he did not say what he would do with his earnings. Talking Points Memo noted he's also free to "back out based on scheduling or personal concerns." Becca Stanek

12:12 p.m. ET
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

The Oscar-winning director of The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme, died Wednesday at the age of 73 due to complications from cancer, Indiewire reports. Demme also directed the AIDS crisis film Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks, and the Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense.

Demme's most recent films include the Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep, and Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, a concert documentary.

Demme was originally treated for esophageal cancer in 2010, but the disease recurred in 2015. Demme is survived by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three adult children. Jeva Lange

11:15 a.m. ET

Fox News reporter Jesse Watters swore Wednesday that he wasn't making any sort of sexual innuendo when he praised Ivanka Trump for how she handled her microphone during a recent appearance in Berlin.

Watters' clarification was in response to a remark he made on Tuesday's episode of The Five that raised eyebrows. After playing a brief clip of the first daughter speaking into the microphone at the Berlin event, Watters slammed the left for claiming they "really respect women and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss."

Trump was booed while speaking at a women's conference in Germany after she claimed her dad, President Trump, is a "tremendous champion of families."

Watters followed up his criticism of the left with a comment that some found to be, well, kind of suggestive. "So I don't really get what's going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone," Watters said, grinning.

Watters explained in a tweet Wednesday that his remark "was in no way a joke about anything else." He just really, really liked Trump's voice, he said. Becca Stanek

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