April 23, 2014

I want to say maybe this is like an episode of Mad Men — or I Love Lucy, for that matter — as reinterpreted by a puppeteer tripping on psychedelics? In what's apparently becoming a trend — a welcome one — the band Pomplamoose just released a visually arresting video for an irresistibly catchy cover version of a classic song as a form of self-promotion. In this case, the song is Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz," fair game ever since Taco covered the song in 1982.

Neither cover has much to do with Fred Astair's iconic rendition, but Pomplamoose — duo Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn — do a nice job with the oddly timeless 1929 tribute to gawking at the super-rich:

Here Taco's version, trippy in its own way. --Peter Weber

7:41 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly going over the 18 days between when White House officials learned that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmailing and when he was finally fired on Feb. 13, 2016 with a fine-tooth comb, NBC News reports. Questions surrounding the more than two-week period are at the heart of a potential obstruction of justice case against President Trump himself, people familiar with the investigation revealed.

"The obstruction of justice question could hinge on when Trump knew about the content of Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the transition, which were at the crux of [then acting Attorney General Sally] Yates's warning [to White House Counsel Don McGahn], and when the president learned Flynn had lied about those conversations to the FBI," NBC News writes based on conversations with such sources.

Yates told McGahn on Jan. 26 that Flynn had lied to senior members of President Trump's administration about sanctions conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At that point, Vice President Mike Pence had already mistakenly reassured the public that Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak, making Flynn vulnerable to blackmail since Russia would have then become aware he had misled senior administration officials. McGahn, also on Jan. 26, reportedly briefed Trump himself about Yates' warning. Trump has claimed he didn't ask Flynn to resign after that initial conversation because McGahn did not make it "sound like an emergency."

"Mueller is trying to determine why Flynn remained in his post for 18 days after Trump learned of Yates' warning, according to two people familiar with the probe," NBC News adds. "He appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why, the sources said." Read the full scoop at NBC News. Jeva Lange

6:58 a.m. ET

On Sunday evening, the cryptocurrency bitcoin began publicly trading on the CBOE Futures Exchange, and bitcoin futures quickly shot up as much as 26 percent, triggering two temporary halts to calm the market. Bitcoin has been on a tear, with its value rising more than 1,600 percent this year alone, but before Sunday's launch of a futures exchange market, technical difficulty and other concerns had left many investors on the sidelines. The CBOE exchange and coming futures markets from CME Group and Nasdaq aim to make betting on the world's most famous cryptocurrency open to a wider pool of investors in a more regulated market.

The CBOE futures are only a sliver of the global bets on bitcoin, with contracts nominally worth $40 million trading on the exchange in its first eight hours while some $1.1 billion traded against the U.S. dollar, Bloomberg says, citing Cryptocompare.com data. There are about 16.73 million bitcoin in circulation, collectively worth more than $260 billion, and about 40 percent of those are owned by maybe 1,000 people, Bloomberg reports, giving those "whales" a lot of influence over the price of the cryptocurrency.

There are a lot of unanswered questions and issues about bitcoin going more mainstream, including taxes, volatility, transparency, energy use, and whether bitcoin is in bubble territory. Bitpay's Sonny Singh and Bloomberg's Cory Johnson discussed some of the issues over the weekend.

Right now, investors should probably expect a roller coaster. "It is rare that you see something more volatile than bitcoin, but we found it: bitcoin futures," Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia, told Bloomberg. Peter Weber

5:29 a.m. ET
Hussain Radwan/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced that it has lifted a ban imposed in the 1980s on commercial movie theaters. "As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the kingdom," Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, the minister of culture and information, said in a statement. "We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018." The opening of cinemas is the latest reform attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, including allowing women to drive next year and permits for concerts and other types of entertainment.

The move was expected, industry sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, with investors already having built theaters inside new developments. Alawwad celebrated the decision as both an economic and cultural "watershed moment" for the conservative kingdom. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as [enrich] the kingdom's entertainment options," he said. Cinemas were shut down in the first place amid a wave of religious conservatism. Peter Weber

5:04 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump makes his final pitch for the Republican tax bill on Wednesday, with Senate and House Republicans aiming to have a final bill ready by Friday. But if Trump plans on touting a tax bill focused on the middle class, as he has been all year, the Republican plan isn't that. In all, The Washington Post says, the bill provides $1 trillion in tax cuts for businesses over 10 years, $100 billion in savings for estates worth $11 million or more, and $300 billion in temporary cuts for all households combined.

If Trump was serious about targeting the middle class and not the rich, he was ill-served by Republicans in Congress, the Post reports, though based on more than 40 public statements and interviews with top White House and congressional officials, "Trump and his top advisers have continuously prioritized corporate cuts." For many reasons — ideological, lobbying, and because Senate Republicans could lose only two votes — Republicans favored corporate tax cuts, too. There were extenuating circumstances, too, as when House Republicans planned to include a $300 "family flexibility credit," the Post reports:

But the night before they would release the bill, when top tax writer Kevin Brady (R-Texas) was trying to sort out the tax changes and monitor the performance of his Houston Astros in the final game of the World Series, they made a major change to this provision, according to a person briefed on the changes. ... Corporations were concerned their tax cut would last only eight years, a limitation that was necessary to keep the bill under the $1.5 trillion limit. Brady agreed. So in a last-minute decision, Republicans cut the duration of the family tax credit in half — ending it after only five years — to make the corporate tax cut permanent. In effect, Republicans handed $200 billion from families to corporations. [The Washington Post]

You can read more about how the stated middle-class goal became the GOP reality at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

2:09 a.m. ET
Pool/Getty Images

On Monday morning, 16 women who have come forward and accused President Trump of sexual misconduct will hold a press conference, calling on Congress to open an investigation into their allegations.

The press conference will start at 10:30 a.m. ET, shortly after three of the women — Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey, and Rachel Crooks — are scheduled to appear on Megyn Kelly Today to share their own stories. Leeds said that during a flight in the 1980s, Trump groped her, and Crooks said in 2005, while working as a receptionist for a company with an office in Manhattan's Trump Tower, she introduced herself to Trump while waiting for an elevator and he forcibly kissed her. Holvey said while competing as Miss North Carolina in the 2006 Miss USA pageant, Trump came backstage to ogle the women, telling CNN she felt as though "we were just sexual objects, we were not people."

Crooks told CNN in November it's been tough to watch as men accused of sexual misconduct, like producer Harvey Weinstein, have lost their jobs, while Trump is still in the White House, seemingly untouchable. "I think it's just evidence of sort of the political atmosphere these days, we're forgotten by politicians who think it's more convenient to keep Trump in office, you know, have him just sweeping his indiscretions under the rug." Trump has denied all of the accusations. Catherine Garcia

1:36 a.m. ET

Southern California is burning, just weeks after a sizable part of Northern California's wine country went up in flames. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) cites climate change as a significant contributing factor. "These fires are unprecedented, we've never seen anything like it," and "all hell's breaking loose," Brown said on Sunday night's 60 Minutes. "Scientists are telling us, this is the kind of stuff that's gonna happen," he said, and California is "not waiting for the deniers" to prepare for the new normal.

Brown said President Trump was wrong to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord, making America the only country in the world that isn't a signatory, and when reporter Bill Whitaker asked if he's scared, Brown got biblical. "I don't think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility," Brown said. "And this is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed."

Before running for office, Trump wasn't viewed as particularly religious, though now he is very popular among certain groups of Christians. Brown spent three years studying to be a Catholic priest before leaving the seminary, getting a law degree, and becoming a four-term governor of California. On Sunday, Brown also made the business case for battling climate change.

The 79-year-old governor said this is his last go at politics, and he plans to retire in 2019 and spend time on his ranch. Peter Weber

1:21 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Journalist Simeon Booker, who covered the civil rights movement for Ebony and Jet magazines and was the first full-time black reporter at The Washington Post, died Sunday in Maryland. He was 99.

His wife, Carol Booker, said he was recently hospitalized with pneumonia. Through his articles, people across the country were able to follow along with the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Booker was with 14-year-old Emmett Till's mother when his mutilated body was returned from the Deep South to Chicago, and he published the photos from his funeral. It was a dangerous time to report on the story, he told The New York Times; one day, he went to Till's great uncle's house "and men in a car with guns forced us to stop." Booker, who often disguised himself as a minister or wore overalls to look like a sharecropper, also once had to hide in the back of a hearse to escape a mob.

When he joined the Post in the early 1950s, it wasn't easy, he said; Booker didn't fit in with his colleagues and "if I went out to a holdup, they thought I was one of the damn holdup men," he told the Post. "I couldn't get any cooperation." He departed for Jet and Ebony in 1954, eventually becoming the Washington bureau chief, but at the time was largely left out of news events because of his race. He ultimately had a long and successful career, covering 10 presidents, before he finally retired around his 90th birthday. He is survived by three children and several grandchildren. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads