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May 20, 2014

Iran is not a very "Happy" place, AFP reports, with the news that police have arrested six people for posting a video to YouTube in which they danced to the hit song by Pharrell Williams.

The video, titled "Happy We are from Tehran," featured three young men and three young women all dancing together.

"After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip," Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia was quoted telling the country's ISNA news agency. "Following a series of intelligence and police operations and after coordinating with the judiciary, all the suspects were identified and arrested." Sajedinia added that those arrested have all "confessed to their criminal acts." Eric Kleefeld

8:15 a.m. ET

Fox News is facing mounting accusations that it is acting as a kind of "state media" for President Trump, claims that are not going to be assuaged by the president's early morning retweets. On Tuesday, President Trump shared four different Fox & Friends tweets without comment:

Trump also promoted a book by Fox News host Eric Bolling…

…And — why not — took a shot at CNN, too.

On Sunday, CNN's Brian Stelter argued that Fox & Friends acts as an "infomercial" for the president. "The show is pro-Trump, anti-media, and remarkably repetitive," Stelter said. "Watching for an entire week, we saw lots of the president's friends, but almost no dissenting voices. It's all about showering Trump with positive attention and burying his perceived opponents with negative attention."

New York Times reporter Mike Forsythe was blunter. "Anyone who has reported in authoritarian countries recognizes this style of 'interview,'" he said of a recent Trump appearance on Fox & Friends. "This is state media. This is Xinhua America." Jeva Lange

8:15 a.m. ET
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is apparently unaware of the widely cited internet adage that the person who first brings up Nazi leader Adolf Hitler automatically loses the argument — or maybe he just doesn't care about Godwin's Law. On Tuesday, North Korea's state-controlled Korean Central News Agency argued that President Trump's America First policy "is the American version of Nazism far surpassing the fascism in the last century in its ferocious, brutal, and chauvinistic nature," and "Nazism in the 21st century," comparing Trump to Hitler.

The KCNA specifically cited U.S. sanctions against North Korea tied to its nuclear weapons program, calling them "an unethical and inhumane act, far exceeding the degree of Hitler's blockade of Leningrad," and compared Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement to a violation of international norms worse than Hitler's concentration camps. "Satellite imagery shows that North Korea operates a network of prison camps, which a United Nations report in 2014 compared with 'the camps of totalitarian states of the 20th century,'" The Wall Street Journal notes dryly. "North Korea denies their existence."

Pyongyang frequently deploys belligerent language about the U.S., but this kind of verbal attack on Trump is new. "The coarsening language toward the administration, and toward the president himself, seems to reflect a slowly sharpening discussion within the regime," Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, writes at the site 38 North. The Nazi references also come a few days before South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, travels to Washington to meet with Trump, and follows the death of American student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after North Korea released him from 18 months of captivity. Peter Weber

7:49 a.m. ET

As a sharp American social critic once said, "truth is stranger than fiction." Television writers are learning that the hard way, though, as the real-life drama in Washington, D.C., dominates — and entertains — the nation. "I'm very jealous," Veep showrunner David Mandel jokingly confessed to The Associated Press. "We work very hard on our scripts. They seem to be better at the job than I am."

"We are in extremely unusual times," agreed Homeland executive producer Alex Gansa, “and sometimes it feels like nothing we dramatize on Homeland can be nearly as scary as what's actually happening on the world stage."

House of Cards showrunner Frank Pugliese said: "Our job is to research and explore what's possible, then take it to the extreme to entertain and grab attention," adding: "But it's concerning when a politician feels they have to do the same thing for themselves." Melissa James Gibson, also a House of Cards showrunner, noted that watching Washington "engenders a sick impulse — 'what's he going to do today?' — where we're looking for our drama from the real-life president, as if THAT were a show."

You can't say Mark Twain didn't warn us: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities," he explained. "Truth isn't." Jeva Lange

7:28 a.m. ET
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, the European Commission ordered Google to pay a larger-than-expected $2.7 billion (2.42 billion euros) fine over its comparison-shopping service and ordered the search giant to change how its shopping results are displayed to end what the EU antitrust regulators have deemed illegal anti-competitive behavior. It is the largest anti-competition fine the EU has ever imposed, and more than double the $1.2 billion fine it levied on chipmaker Intel in 2009. (Intel appealed, and a final ruling is expected next year.) The European Commission gave Google 90 days to acceptably end its flagged behavior or face a penalty of 5 percent of the daily average global earnings of its parent company, Alphabet — or about $14 million a day.

"Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals," EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. "Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors. What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate." Google disputed the EU's characterization of its shopping service and said it may appeal the ruling.

This is the latest EU salvo at U.S. tech giants, following punitive actions against Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook in recent years. "European regulators — whose countries have lost the game of tech, pipes, and content — are getting aggressive in trying to constrain the behemoths," suggests Axios. Though $2.7 billion is a record, "Alphabet can afford the fine," BBC News notes, as Google's parent company "currently has more than $172 billion of assets." It also has $92 billion in cash, The Associated Press says, adding that "the penalty is likely to leave a bigger dent in Google's pride and reputation than its finances." Still, Vestager said she may use the EU ruling as a template for similar complaints about Google Maps, local business listings, and flight ticket prices. Peter Weber

6:35 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Defense Department is looking into canceling enlistment contracts for 1,800 foreign-born military recruits, about 1,000 of whom no longer have valid visas, opening them to the risk of deportation, The Washington Post reports, citing an undated Pentagon memo prepared for Defense Secretary James Mattis. The memo cites what it calls heightened security threats from the immigrants in the program, Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI), launched in 2009 to fill crucial medical and language staffing gaps by offering foreign-born recruits expedited U.S. citizenship in return for military service.

Since its launch, MANVI has brought in more than 10,400 mostly Army recruits to jobs deemed critical for military operations, though the Pentagon stepped up security screenings for recruits in the program last year. Along with canceling the contracts of the 1,800 foreign-born recruits who have yet to be given orders for basic training, the memo suggests canning 2,400 part-time troops in the MANVI program who have yet to attend basic training, and submit another 4,100 — most of them naturalized U.S. citizens — to "enhanced screening," if the Pentagon can navigate the "significant legal constraints" of monitoring U.S. citizens without cause, the memo says.

The 1,000 recruits at risk for deportation have seen their visas expire while waiting for the Pentagon to send them to basic training, and canceling their enrollment would remove their protected status, not just their pathway to citizenship. Also, "the recruits are on government rolls detailing their addresses, phone numbers, and legal statuses, making them prime targets for removal," The Washington Post notes. "It remains unclear if military officials would hand over that information to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

"It's terrible," retired Army officer Margaret Stock, who helped set up the MANVI program, tells The Washington Post. "You trusted the Army, who delayed the process, and now they're going to cancel your contract and have you deported." Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told the Post on Monday that the Defense Department is reviewing the MANVI program requirements, but declined to elaborate or confirm the authenticity of the memo. You can read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:01 a.m. ET

On Monday's Late Show, Stephen Colbert reiterated that he was extremely happy to be back in America after his visit to Russia last week. "The whole trip was supposed to be top secret," he explained. "I'm serious. I wanted to get over there and get back before anybody knew. And some traitor leaked that I was over there. Luckily, after an exhaustive search, we have found the leaker — it was me." He showed the tweet he sent to President Trump showing himself in Russia, apologized to himself, then gave some context: "That's me in front of St. Petersburg's Winter Palace — or as they call it, Czar-a-Lago."

While in St. Petersburg, he was the guest on the late-night talk show Evening Urgant — "It's hosted by the very talented Ivan Urgant," he said. "Ivan, I presume, is Russian for 'Jimmy'" — "and while talking to Ivan, I accidentally made some news on purpose," Colbert said. He showed a bit of his interview, and it included some jokes about Russian election meddling that demonstrated some intestinal fortitude, or perhaps comedic foolhardiness. "Now, to be clear, all I said in that little clip there was that I was considering a run" for president in 2020, Colbert explained. "If I decide to run, obviously I'm not going to ask the Russians to help my campaign, okay? I'd have my son-in-law ask them." He ended with some descriptions of his trip that made his late-night jokes in St. Petersburg seem all the pluckier. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:18 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert was in Russia last week, he revealed on Monday's Late Show.

His audience may not have been aware of his travels, but "you know who did know I was in Russia?" Colbert asked. "Russian intelligence — hard-core fans, evidently, followed me everywhere." He explained that he and his crew returned from Moscow Sunday night, that he was still on Russian time, and that he would show some of the several segments he shot there in coming weeks.

"But while Russia was fascinating, it is sincerely wonderful to be back in America," Colbert said. "Let's see what everybody's talking about here. Oh that's right, Russia." He walked through the big Washington Post report that former President Barack Obama knew about Russia's specific plot to tip the election to Trump back in August, but eventually did little to stop it. "President Trump is a well-known Russia-hacked-the-election denier," Colbert said, showing video evidence. So he appeared surprised that Trump went all-in on the idea that Obama did nothing to prevent Russia hacking the election in his favor.

Colbert adopted his Trump-tweet voice and paraphrased: "That's right, there was no Russian hacking, period. #FakeNews. Wait, it was Obama's fault? Russia stole our election and Obama let it happen! Thanks, Obama. No, seriously, thanks, Obama. I'm president now. Thanks!" He read the rest of Trump's tweetstorm, stopping to marvel at Trump's new self-adopted nickname, and his chutzpah. "Hold on, nobody is accusing Obama of 'colluding or obstructing,'" Colbert noted. "That's your deal." Trump also demanded an apology over the Russian hacking, and Colbert agreed: "Look, I'm a big enough man to apologize. And I think I speak for the majority of Americans when I say, 'I'm sorry you're president.'"

Colbert ended his monlogue by noting that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is no longer letting his press briefings be recorded. "Evidently, while I was in Russia, we turned into Russia," he said. Watch below. Peter Weber

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