Over the weekend, the U.S. Marine Corps showed off one of its newest toys, a robotic mule called the Legged Squat Support System, or LS3, at a multinational military exercise in Hawaii. LS3, also called Cujo, can carry up to 400 pounds over rugged terrain without needing to refuel for 20 miles. It also can follow and interact with humans, much like a real pack animal.
LS3 was developed by Boston Dynamics under contract with DARPA, the U.S. military's advanced research arm. It has cost $2 million and five years to create, and is still under development — it is too noisy for combat missions, for example, and can't navigate all terrain yet. But its operators, Marines chosen at random, are impressed.
"I was surprised how well it works," says Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it's actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged." Another of Cujo's operators says controlling the robot "feels like playing Call of Duty." Only much more expensive. DARPA has some older video footage of the LS3 in action, but watch below to see the NBC Today Show desk gush about the "cute" new military transport machine. --Peter Weber
The economy grew at just a 0.7 percent rate in the first quarter of 2017, the Commerce Department reported Friday, marking the slowest quarterly expansion rate in three years. The clip is a steep drop-off from the previous period, when the economy grew at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Despite President Trump's promises to boost economic growth, consumer spending in his first quarter in office increased by just 0.3 percent, which Bloomberg reported was "the worst performance since 2009."
Economists had projected a sluggish first quarter and expect growth to bounce back in the second quarter. Reuters noted that this isn't a "true picture of the economy's health," as the labor market reaches "near full employment" and consumer confidence soars. Becca Stanek
Alex Jones loses custody case despite attempting to distance himself from his bombastic Infowars persona
Bombastic conspiracy theorist and Infowars founder Alex Jones lost a custody case against his ex-wife, Kelly Jones, over the right to decide whom their children live with, The Daily Beast reports. Central to the case was a debate over if Jones' character on Infowars was authentic, or just a persona.
Jones is famous for promoting conspiracy theories, including that Hillary Clinton is a literal sulfuric demon and that the government perpetrated 9/11 and the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His show is broadcast on 150 stations and Infowars.com gets millions of unique visitors every month and is ranked 387th of all U.S. websites — not far behind MLB.com and PBS.org. During the trial, Judge Orlinda Naranjo averted allowing arguments centered on Jones' politics and limited the number of Infowars clips that could be shown in court.
While the parents will continue to have joint custody over their three children, Kelly Jones had told the court she had only seen the kids five times this year. The jury ruled in her favor 10-2.
Attorney Robert Hoffman argued Alex Jones is a "master manipulator" who is "like a cult leader, and we see the horrific things cult leaders do to their followers — and the kids are his followers, doing what daddy says to do." Kelly Jones said she was afraid of her children being exposed to his beliefs and that they are "morphing into him." Jeva Lange
Don't judge Trump on his feckless first 100 days, Yale political scientist says. It wasn't his fault.
President Trump has been both dismissive of the first-100-day framework for his presidency and eager to notch any tangible accomplishments he can point to on Day 100, which is Saturday. No president has been able to match up to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came up with the 100-days idea and had amazing legislative and executive-order successes, says David R. Mayhew, a Yale political science professor emeritus, at The Washington Post. And FDR had what appeared to be the two crucial ingredients for a 100-day legislative binge; Trump has only one.
The first factor successful presidents have, a congressional majority for their party, is "an obvious consideration" but "it hasn't made as much difference as one might think," Mayhew says. In fact, since the 1930s, "only one enactment stands out as particularly important — President Barack Obama's stimulus legislation," signed less than a month into his first term. Where Trump falls short, he explains, is the lack of "a national emergency or some other spur to action." FDR had a "a triple whammy of conditions that made the era legislatively exceptional," Mayhew notes, but Lyndon B. Johnson got a lot done after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Ronald Reagan had an economic crisis, and Obama had the Great Recession. He continues:
The problem for today's Republicans is that the social and economic context is relatively calm. There is no recession, bank crisis, terrorist attack, or war. An election by itself is not enough. A 100-days legislative binge would have been astonishing. Trump's goals — such as tax reform, trade, infrastructure, health care, and immigration, are not short-fuse topics. Major changes on these issues require months of congressional fussing. Eisenhower won his tax reform in his second year; Reagan won it in his sixth year. [Mayhew, The Washington Post]
Like FDR, Trump is accomplishing some things through executive fiat, Mayhew says, "but in eras with no background crisis, it might be time to retire the expectation that any new president will go on a first-100-days lawmaking binge." You can read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is reportedly telling clients he can get them sit-downs with the president
President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is reportedly flaunting the fact that his firm can get clients sit-down meetings with "well-established figures" like Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Politico reports. An Eastern European politician revealed documents from Washington East West Political Strategies, which Lewandowski co-founded, boasting that the partners could "leverage [their] trusted relations with the U.S. administration" on a client's behalf.
"Whether Corey Lewandowski is just engaging in business as usual or actually going further, it definitely has a pervading swampiness to it that has become the new normal in Trump's Washington," said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of the watchdog group Public Citizen. Trump, notably, has vowed a crackdown on lobbyists.
Barry Bennett, a Republican strategist and co-founder of the firm, argued "90 percent of our business has nothing to do with access. Ninety percent of our business has to do with being a sherpa — who to call, what to do. We don't take people in to see the president or the vice president." Lewandowski is not actually registered as a lobbyist because "he hasn't lobbied," Bennett added.
Politico notes that nevertheless "White House officials worry that Lewandowski's efforts to market his access — which are brazen even by K Street's unbashful standards — are an influence-peddling scandal waiting to happen for a president who pledged to end the dominance of lobbyists and special interests in Washington." Read the full report at Politico. Jeva Lange
President Trump's United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, is one of the most outspoken members of Trump's foreign policy team, and the State Department is trying to make sure she isn't getting too far ahead of the Trump administration on foreign policy, The New York Times reports, citing an email to Haley's office from State Department diplomats. When she is preparing remarks, Haley should rely on "building blocks" established by the State Department, the email said, and her comments should be "re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine," or North Korea.
Unusually, Haley is a much more visible Cabinet member than her boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is as reticent and press-shy as Haley is comfortable in the spotlight. The two will appear together for the first time on Friday at a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea. The State Department and Haley's office both declined to comment to The New York Times, but a member of the Trump transition team, James Carafano, said there's no tension. "Any notion that there's some kind of competition between Haley and Tillerson is laughable," he said. "She's filling a role and is comfortable in that role, and I don't think Tillerson feels threatened by that."
Rivalries are nothing novel in the Trump White House, and a White House aide told the Times that some inside the administration believe Haley is too visible. A Security Council member, on the other hand, said her high-profile role chaperoning 14 Security Council members around the White House on Monday — Tillerson was not there — appeared designed to showcase her prominence. Trump illustrated this dynamic with an awkward joke at Monday's luncheon. "Now, does everybody like Nikki?" he asked Haley's Security Council colleagues. "Because if you don't, otherwise, she can easily be replaced." After a bit of uncomfortable laughter, Trump made clear he was joking. "No, we won't do that, I promise," he said. "We won't do that. She's doing a fantastic job." Peter Weber
"Obama's back, and so are the haters," Trevor Noah said on Thursday's Daily Show. The former president is taking a lot of heat for giving a speech to Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald for a fat paycheck, but Noah wasn't buying the outrage. "Obama's getting $400,000 to be a keynote speaker," he said. "He's probably going to give a very important policy speech entitled 'The Four Boats I'm Going to Buy.' Now look, I know that people may say that it weakens public trust when politicians cash in immediately after leaving office, but at least Obama waited until he left office, unlike [President Trump], who's using the White House like an ATM machine. And yeah, don't get me wrong — I agree that the system must change, but it doesn't change with Obama. People are like 'Why doesn't he not accept the money?' No, f— that!"
"So the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards?" Noah asked. "No, no, no, no, no, my friend. He can't be the first of everything. F— that, and f— you." Go ahead, he added, "make that money, Obama." Noah did start to make a broader point: "Instead of focusing on how Obama can make so much money from Wall Street for a speech, maybe we should be asking why Wall Street has so much money to give people for a speech: the loose regulations, the intensive lobbying and favorable — you know, the truth is, we can't get into all of this, there's too much, there's too much else that's going on that we have to talk about today."
He spent the next four minutes on quick takes of two events: Ann Coulter vs. Berkeley ("they should just let her speak, because you realize she doesn't actually want to speak, she wants to be stopped from speaking") and the odd all-Senate White House field trip to be briefed on North Korea, which turned out to be a mostly substance-free dog-and-pony show. "Donald Trump just called them there," Noah said, laughing, "and I wouldn't be surprised if just brought them to be, like: 'Did you guys know there are two Koreas? It's a lot more complicated than we thought, folks, a lot more complicated, a lot more.'" There's some slightly NSFW language. If that doesn't bother you, watch below. Peter Weber
Thursday night's Late Show kicked off with the presidential heads on Mt. Rushmore discussing the executive order President Trump signed on Wednesday, instructing the Interior Department to review all national monuments designated since 1996. "He's trying to weaken my Antiquities Act!" said the head of Theodore Roosevelt. "Bully! He's a bully." The conversation got stranger from there.
Stephen Colbert returned to the order in his monologue, noting that the review could lead to drilling, mining, and logging on protected lands. "Guys, he's just trying to do the right thing," he said when the audience booed, "because it's important that we finally find out how much oil is in Lincoln's eyeball." The executive order is controversial, but "Trump really believes in it," Colbert said, playing a truncated clip of Trump saying he "sometimes" looks at some of the things he's signing. "Sometimes he looks at the things he's signing?" Colbert said. "Sometimes? Just randomly? Not all the time? Has anyone tried putting a resignation letter in front of him? It's worth a shot."
He played the rest of the clip, which included Trump patting himself on the back for his courage and pointing out that Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) has lost a lot of weight, but he liked him when he was fat, too. "He likes him both ways," Colbert repeated, making some ... let's say guitar-playing motions. Colbert also quaked over the "unprecedented nuclear crisis" with North Korea, and noted that former President Barack Obama is back on the national stage — and giving a speech to investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald for a cool $400,000. "So, Hillary wasn't able to continue Obama's legacy, but at least Obama was able to continue hers," Colbert said. "$400,000? With that kind of money, you could join Mar-a-Lago." Peter Weber