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July 16, 2014

These days, calling a customer service number and getting connected to an actual human rather than an automated answering machine can seem like a novelty. But sometimes it can turn into a nightmare — as proven by tech journalist Ryan Block's call to Comcast on Monday, during which he was berated by the customer service rep when he called to cancel his service.

Despite Block's simple, calm request to end his Comcast service, the rep refuses to do so, instead repeatedly demanding a reason for his cancellation. The rep also forcefully insists that Comcast is the top-rated service in the country. Listen for yourself:

Comcast issued a statement yesterday apologizing for the behavior of their rep (whom Block declined to name to the public), assuring that "the way in which our representative communicated with [Block and his wife] is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives."

However, today Block dug up a fascinating Reddit thread detailing Comcast's incentives programs that seem to in fact encourage this type of relentless behavior. The thread's poster, who claims to have worked for Comcast Corporate for nearly nine years, reveals that Comcast's so-called "retention specialists" are paid in accordance with how many customers they do — or don't — save.

From Reddit:

Comcast uses "gates" for their incentive pays, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let's say that if you retain 85 percent of your customers or more (this means 85 percent of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100 percent of your payout — which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80 percent you might only get 75 percent of your payout, and at 75 percent you get nothing. The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the "I get nothing" number. This guy went too far, you're not supposed to flat out argue with them. But Comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. [Reddit]

And with that, we wish you good luck in your next customer service call. Kimberly Alters

9:24 p.m. ET
Warren Little/Getty Images

President Obama's first campaign manager didn't hold back Sunday on Meet the Press, calling Donald Trump a "psychopath."

David Plouffe is now the senior vice president of policy and strategy at Uber, but in 2008, he was part of the team that got Obama into the White House. "I mean, basically, we have a psychopath running for president," he told Chuck Todd. "I mean, he meets the clinical definition." Ticking off a list, Plouffe said Trump has a "grandiose notion of self-worth, pathological lying, lack of empathy and remorse." He softened the blow a bit by admitting, "I don't have a degree in psychology."

Plouffe also said he doesn't think Trump's campaign strategy will pay off in November. "I think the assessment was that Donald Trump would try and do some things to appeal to the middle of the electorate, to appeal to suburban college-educated women," he said. "He's not." Because of that, Plouffe is certain the "race ends today," and Hillary Clinton is "guaranteed at least 269 electoral votes. I think it's likely going to be a landslide." Catherine Garcia

8:39 p.m. ET
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Juan Gabriel, the famed Mexican singer and songwriter who composed more than 1,500 songs, died Sunday at his home in California. He was 66.

His publicist confirmed his death, but did not reveal the cause. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that Gabriel, known as the "Divo of Juarez," was "one of the great musical icons of our country," and sent condolences to his family and friends. Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez on January 7, 1950, the youngest of 10 children, Gabriel wrote his first song at 13. He was Mexico's top-selling artist, known for his ballads and mariachi songs, with his hits including "Hasta Que Te Conoci" ("Until I Met You"), "Amor Eterno" ("Eternal Love"), and "Querida" ("Dear"). While trying to break into the music business, he moved to Mexico City and slept on the streets and in train stations, the Los Angeles Times reports. He signed his first record contract in 1971.

A six-time Grammy nominee, Gabriel was named the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year in 1995, inducted into the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1996, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009. In 1990, he became the first commercial singer to hold a concert at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts, until then reserved just for classical musicians. Proceeds from his three sold-out shows went to the National Symphony Orchestra. He performed around the world, with his last concert Friday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California. He was scheduled to perform Sunday night in El Paso. He is survived by four children. Catherine Garcia

1:37 p.m. ET
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Conservative provocateur Ann Coulter agreed to participate in actor Rob Lowe's Comedy Central roast Saturday night to promote her new book (a campaign tract entitled, In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!). That was a bad call.

Though the other celebrity roasters took plenty of shots at Lowe himself, Coulter was the butt of many of the evening's harshest jokes. Here are a few of the milder ones:

Pete Davidson: "If you are here, Ann, who is scaring the crows away from our crops?"

Peyton Manning: "I’m not the only athlete up here. As you know, earlier this year, Ann Coulter won the Kentucky Derby."

Nikki Glaser: "The only person you will ever make happy is the Mexican who digs your grave."

Jewel: "I do want to say as a feminist that I can’t support everything that’s been said tonight. But as someone who hates Ann Coulter, I’m delighted." [All via Variety]

You can read some of the more NSFW insults here, or just wait until the roast airs on Labor Day. Bonnie Kristian

12:44 p.m. ET
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Sunday declined to attempt explaining where his party's nominee stands on immigration. Asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether Donald Trump is undergoing something of an evolution on the topic, Priebus deferred, promising that Trump himself would "be giving prepared remarks on this issue" sometime soon.

"I don't speak for Donald Trump," Priebus continued. "Here’s what I know: [Trump's] position is going to be tough. His position is going to be fair, but his position is going to be humane." As Todd pressed for more details, Priebus seemed unsure as to whether Trump would really attempt to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants — though he was willing to state with certainty that Trump would work to build a border wall (which, for the record, already mostly exists).

While Trump has long made strict border security a central issue of his campaign, this week he said "there could certainly be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people." Trump then reversed himself one day later, suggesting he is instead engaged in a "hardening" of his immigration views. When these pivots led to confusion and accusations of flip-flopping, Trump blamed the media for "miss[ing] the whole point" and taking his words out of context. Bonnie Kristian

12:04 p.m. ET
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Acting Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile said Sunday she doesn't see cause for concern in emails showing Clinton Foundation staff coordinating State Department access for their donors during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.

"The way I look at it, I've been a government official," Brazile said in an interview on ABC's This Week. "So, you know, this notion that, somehow or another, someone who is a supporter, someone who is a donor, somebody who's an activist, saying 'I want access, I want to come into a room and I want to meet people' — we often criminalize behavior that is normal. I don’t see what the smoke is."

Brazile may have been referencing remarks from Clinton herself earlier this week, when the candidate told Anderson Cooper "there's a lot of smoke, and there's no fire" where accusations of a corrupt, pay-to-play relationship between the Clinton Foundation and State are concerned. Watch Brazile's comments below. Bonnie Kristian

11:33 a.m. ET
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A pair of barrel bombs killed at least 16 people in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday as they attended a funeral for children killed by a previous bombing in the same neighborhood earlier this week. Another estimate puts the death toll as high as 24, with dozens more injured.

A video believed to show the aftermath of the attack sees a mother speaking to her 12-year-old child, who was killed in the strike. "Hassan, it's your mom," she says, but cannot wake him. "My sons, your brother is dead, your brother is dead."

The bombs were dropped by a helicopter, observers said, and hit the rebel-controlled area of Bab al-Nayrab. Barrel bombs are repurposed oil drums filled with scraps and explosives, and they are criticized by human rights advocates for their indiscriminate killing, especially in residential contexts. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied using such devices, but the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says regime helicopters have dropped more than 28,000 barrel bombs. Bonnie Kristian

10:52 a.m. ET
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In a turn of events that would be bizarre in any other election year, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are both attempting to create a link in voters' minds between their opponent and the Ku Klux Klan.

Clinton brought up the KKK in her speech on Thursday, in which she accused Trump of handing a "national megaphone" to the "paranoid fringe in our politics." The same day, her campaign released an online ad in which self-proclaimed Klan members and white supremacists explained their enthusiasm for Trump. And on Friday, Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, reiterated the connection by declaring, "Ku Klux Klan values, David Duke values, Donald Trump values are not American values."

Trump wasted no time returning the accusation. On Saturday, he retweeted a post from Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, two African-American sisters who support his campaign, referencing Clinton's ties to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.). Byrd was a member of the KKK in the 1940s and filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though for the bulk of his political career he vehemently repudiated his past Klan involvement. When he died in 2010, Clinton mourned Byrd as "a true American original, my friend and mentor."

Hardaway and Richardson told CNN they called attention to Byrd's history because "Donald J. Trump can't help who embraces his campaign but Hillary Clinton could've helped who she embraced." CNN reports neither campaign offered comment. Bonnie Kristian

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