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April 22, 2014

In what is sadly just the latest in a long tradition of pop stars appropriating other cultures, Avril Lavigne has decided to swap out her "sk8r girl" vibe for a new, artificial, and totally "kawaii" one.

Avril's latest single, "Hello Kitty," is a pop-dubstep nightmare of nonsense in which the 29-year-old channels her inner Ke$ha and sing-talks about slumber parties and spin the bottle. In the video, the Canadian singer shouts random Japanese words, eats sushi, and roams the streets of Tokyo with her crew of all-Japanese backup dancers. The whole thing is a nauseating blend of juvenile lyrics and candy-colored visuals, with more than a dash of casual cultural appropriation thrown in. Watch it and decide for yourself. --Samantha Rollins

10:07 a.m. ET

"You usually wouldn't be suspicious of your teen keeping his or her graphing calculator close," concedes a new guide to places kids can hide drugs from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "But if you suspect them of drug addiction you may have to be."

Calculators are just one of many ordinary objects in which little Johnny may be stashing some reefer, reveals the DEA's illustrated list of items parents should search, entitled "Hiding Places." Other options include car interiors, alarm clock battery compartments (really, anything with a spot for batteries), and shoes.

In a suggestion that wins the award for "most likely to produce deep resentment and distrust in your child," the DEA recommends ripping open an "adored childhood teddy bear" because the "inside seams of the stuffed animal can be used to hide small amounts of drugs."

Or maybe don't, because, as The Washington Post notes, "use of illicit drugs other than marijuana [among teens] is near historic lows and marijuana use is flat or falling." Sometimes a graphing calculator is just a graphing calculator. Bonnie Kristian

9:50 a.m. ET
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook has been used by governments as well as non-state actors to "manipulate civic discourse and deceive people," including in the run-up to the latest U.S. and French presidential elections, the company acknowledged in a white paper published Thursday.

"While sometimes the goal of these negative amplifying efforts is to push a specific narrative," the paper explains, "the underlying intent and motivation of the coordinators and sponsors of this kind of activity can be more complex." For example, some fake accounts "may not have a topical focus, but rather seek to undermine the status quo of political or civil society institutions on a more strategic level." Others engaged "with the apparent intent of increasing tensions between supporters of [political] groups and fracturing their supportive base."

Facebook intends to crack down on these "information operations" — propaganda, basically — both in technological advances that make fake accounts easier to eliminate, and in community education, attempting to train the public to better recognize illicit government manipulation. Bonnie Kristian

9:13 a.m. ET
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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

9:03 a.m. ET
Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

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

8:20 a.m. ET

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

7:49 a.m. ET
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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

6:43 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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

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