July 22, 2014

If your throat is sore from shouting at your kids in the back seat to sit down/stop punching each other/act like civilized human beings, Toyota has a solution.

The company recently announced that the 2015 Sienna vans will feature Driver Easy Speak, which will amplify the driver's voice into speakers in the back seat. That way, you can kindly remind your children that you can turn this car around without having to strain your voice. The best part of the system is it doesn't work both ways, so your kids can mumble all they want and you won't hear it. For those who want to have an eagle eye on the back seat, there's also the optional "pull-down conversation mirror," which allows the driver to see what's going on in the back without having to turn around.

As minivan sales decline, Toyota is hoping these new features will cause parents to run down to their nearest dealership. "I think they're on the right lines of trying to find these features that people are going to talk about," Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at, told The Associated Press. Catherine Garcia

This just in
1:05 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Senate on Tuesday voted 83-14 to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would revise the U.S. government's surveillance powers. The cloture vote came after key provisions of the USA Patriot Act temporarily expired at midnight on Sunday.

The USA Freedom Act has already passed in the House, and it would end the National Security Agency's bulk data collection from phone calls. Under the new bill, phone data would stay private, but the government could search records under court orders.

The Senate's final passage of the bill is expected later Tuesday, and it could be signed into law as early as Tuesday evening. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, wants to propose amendments to the House-passed bill, which would send it back to the House and delay its passage. McConnell's proposed amendments would "give further assurances" that the government could still search private phone data when necessary, The Washington Post reports. Meghan DeMaria

Coming Soon
12:52 p.m. ET

What if the asteroid that smashed into the earth and killed the dinosaurs had missed? That's the intriguing, parallel-universe question behind The Good Dinosaur, a Pixar movie slated for release later this year — and a new teaser elegantly lays out the basic premise while showing off some impressive animation:

The Good Dinosaur has had an unusually bumpy path to the box-office. The film was originally slated for release in 2014, before creative problems led to the replacement of the original director and producer. The film seems to be back on track — but we won't get to see how much the original concept has evolved until The Good Dinosaur hits theaters in November. Scott Meslow

This just in
12:50 p.m. ET
Alessandro Della Bella/Getty Images

FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Tuesday announced that he would step down from his post following the election of a new leader at an "extraordinary congress" of the organization. He said the congress is to be convened "as rapidly as possible."

The announcement, made at a press conference in Zurich, was a surprise, coming just days after Blatter won re-election to a fifth term amidst allegations that top FIFA officials had engaged in a massive, decades-long bribery ring.

FIFA official Domenico Scala said the extraordinary congress to select Blatter's successor could be held as early as December. He said profound structural reforms, including of the executive committee that is stuffed with Blatter's allies, would also be on the table.

Just yesterday, The New York Times reported that Blatter's top lieutenant was involved in a $10 million transfer to one of the FIFA officials accused of taking kickbacks, suggesting there was evidence that Blatter's inner circle was involved in the bribery ring as well. Ryu Spaeth

men of a certain age
11:20 a.m. ET

In real life, most of us would raise an eyebrow at the nearly triple-decade age difference between a couple whose ages were 25 and 53. But in last year's Magic in the Moonlight, this actual age difference between Emma Stone and love interest Colin Firth was hardly taboo.

In Hollywood, it's basically standard practice to pair young female stars with much older love interests (sometimes, the men are even old enough to be their fathers). Vulture looked deeper at this trend by creating graphs that compare the ages of three young actresses (Emma Stone, now 26; Jennifer Lawrence, now 25; and Scarlett Johansson, now 30) with that of their male love interests. Here's Stone's graph:


In case that graph doesn't make a strong enough point about the rampant ageism and sexism in Hollywood, consider this: 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal has said she was denied a role in a movie because she was considered her "too old" to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Samantha Rollins

2016 Watch
11:16 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In this week's issue of New York magazine, Jennifer Senior delves into 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush's plans to win over Hispanic voters.

When describing Bush's passion for immigration and love of Hispanic culture, Senior writes that "as strange as it is to say, Jeb may be the true black sheep of the family, not W." According to one Miami Democrat and former Congressman, Joe Garcia, Bush's father described his mixed-race grandchildren as "the little brown ones." But Senior also notes that if Jeb Bush hadn't lost his first gubernatorial race in 1994, he may have been the GOP's presidential nominee in 2000, not his brother.

Senior goes on to describe how, despite his own ethnicity, Bush could still win Hispanic voters away from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another presidential hopeful:

Rubio, for better or for worse, is still affiliated with the anti-immigrant tea party. Plenty of non-Cuban Latinos remember his comment from 2009 — "Nothing against immigrants, but my parents were exiles" — and hold it against him, because it implied that those who came here seeking economic opportunity deserved less. (It has since come out that Rubio's parents came here for economic opportunity themselves, rather than fleeing from Castro.) Ironically, it also turns out to be important that Jeb is not Latino... A gringo agitating on behalf of immigration rights — what could be more powerful than that? [New York]

Senior's article also includes details about Bush's tenure as the governor of Florida, a position he held from 1999 to 2007. Read the full story over at New York magazine. Meghan DeMaria

11:15 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former CIA official Henry "Hank" Crumpton believes the Obama administration is doing a "lousy job" fighting ISIS, as he told The Hill in a recent interview.

Crumpton, who led a covert operation in Afghanistan after 9/11 and served as deputy director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center from 1999 to 2001, advocates a field-based approach to fighting the terrorist group, which would entail getting more intelligence agents entrenched in the field and empowering local Iraqi communities as well as overseas U.S. officials. The risk-averse, Washington-centric strategy currently pursued by the Obama administration, however, "does not reflect reality on the ground," according to Crumpton.

"They're waging the war they want to fight but not the one that will lead to success," he said. Read more at The Hill. Stephanie Talmadge

surveillance state
11:04 a.m. ET
Carl Court/Getty Images

While we've been focused on the NSA, another domestic surveillance agency has been quietly chugging along, spying on probably all of us. The National Security Analysis Center (NSAC) is a Justice Department division that is remarkably unknown — and expansive. Gawker reports:

If you have a telephone number that has ever been called by an inmate in a federal prison, registered a change of address with the Postal Service, rented a car from Avis, used a corporate or Sears credit card, applied for nonprofit status with the IRS, or obtained non-driver's legal identification from a private company, they have you on file. [Gawker]

The NSAC grew out of a post-9/11 program, the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF), which was originally focused on monitoring foreigners suspected of terrorist activity. With the establishment of the NSAC, however, that scope widened to include Americans, zeroing in on Muslims and young people deemed susceptible to terrorist influences, as well as military members and other government employees (plus all their family and friends) who have connections abroad.

Today, the agency conducts mass surveillance in service of the wars on terror and drugs. Because it straddles the line between intelligence and law enforcement, the NSAC "skirts limitations that exist in each community, allowing it to collect and examine information on people who are not otherwise accused of or suspected of any crime." Bonnie Kristian

See More Speed Reads