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March 18, 2014

Eager for a glimpse of what Disney has in store for Star Wars: Episode VII? Courtesy of the good people at ABC, we now know what happened to Lando Calrissian after Return of the Jedi: He signed up for a stint on Dancing with the Stars.

In last night's truly excruciating Star Wars-themed dance number, 77-year-old Billy Dee Williams reprised his role as Lando from the Star Wars franchise, dancing alongside a pair of stormtroopers and his partner Emma Slater, who was dressed up like Princess Leia. The dance is enthusiastically cheered on by a couple of Ewoks, whose screechy grunts are translated as, "Hooray! Yay! Yay! Yay! Great Dance, Lando!"

Alas, the judges didn't agree. "I think you've got the wrong character. You played it very dainty, very careful, very C3PO," says judge Bruno Tonioli. "You know what I mean. I want bigger. I want Darth Vader. Bigger! Bigger! More powerful!"

The entire segment seems like it was specifically engineered to horrify and enrage Star Wars fans. (If they'd managed to slip in a Jar Jar Binks reference, this might even be worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special.) But let's look on the bright side — the prequels don't look that bad now, right? --Scott Meslow

This just in
12:39 p.m. ET

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) abruptly dropped out of the race for House speaker on Thursday, just as House Republicans were gathering for a vote. McCarthy, who was widely seen as the favorite for the nomination, reportedly said, "I am not the one" as he withdrew his bid after "facing resistance from hardliners in the Republican caucus," Talking Points Memo reports.

McCarthy plans to remain as House majority leader. The vote for House speaker has been postponed. Becca Stanek

Deals Deals Deals
12:32 p.m. ET

Thanks to one Boston entrepreneur, you can now enjoy New England fall foliage without the looming threat of a miserable winter. Kyle Waring has launched the website, which does exactly what it sounds like it does — mail people leaves. The site promises to "collect, preserve, and ship gorgeous fall foliage" to your doorstep. And it only costs $19.99 — or $6.66 a leaf.

The site will only be shipping the best of the best leaves, too. ShipFoliage promises "Grade A" foliage from New England that is preserved in a way that "enhances the foliage color contrast and also preserves the leaves for years to come."

But ShipFoliage isn't even Waring's first gimmicky business venture — he also ships out boxes of snow. Ship Snow, Yo reportedly sent out "over 700 pounds of historic Boston snow" last year. Becca Stanek

a yuuuuge problem
12:08 p.m. ET
Charlie Leight/Getty Images

Donald Trump says he'll drop out of the Republican race if his poll numbers get too low, a prospect which so far is not on the horizon. On the ground, too, Trump is still pulling in big crowds. But in caucus states like Iowa, high poll and rally numbers won't necessarily translate to actual Election Day support.

An informal survey of Trump backers at a recent Iowa rally found that only one in ten had participated in a caucus before, and the rest seemed unenthusiastic about the prospect of comparatively complicated participation in the political process on a cold Iowa night in February. As one attendee put it while refusing to pledge that she'd caucus, "I have never been to anything like that."

True to style, Trump's campaign appears unconcerned. Said adviser John Hulsizer Jr., "We’re thinking this is going to be a historical caucus and I think you’re gong to see some phenomenal numbers turn out." Bonnie Kristian

This just in
11:47 a.m. ET
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Just a few months ago, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, 25, became a hero after he and two other men successfully thwarted a terror attack on a French train. But last night, Stone himself became a victim of an attack. Stone was "repeatedly stabbed" in Sacramento, Calif. late Wednesday night, CBS News reports. Local Sacramento news station KCRA reports that "a fight in the street allegedly led to Stone being stabbed multiple times in the torso." He is currently in critical condition and is expected to live.

Stone had returned to Sacramento after his trip last week to Umpqua Community College, where a shooting killed nine. His efforts tackling the armed terror suspect on the Paris-bound train in August earned him an Airman's Medal and a Purple Heart, as well as a meeting at the White House with President Obama. Becca Stanek

11:45 a.m. ET

On the campaign trail in Iowa on Wednesday, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton compared the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most prominent gun rights advocacy group in America, to "the Iranians or the communists." Her comment begins at the 29:33 mark in this video:

Now the real answer to [the problem of gun violence] is for gun owners to form a different organization that supports the Second Amendment — that supports their rights to own guns, use guns, go hunting, go target shooting — but stands against the absolutism of the NRA. You know, the NRA's position reminds me of negotiating with the Iranians or the communists. You know, there's no possible discussion.

Clinton also argued in Wednesday's talk that the NRA dupes some gun owners into being "really upset all the time so they can keep collecting their money."

Aside from the obvious potential for offense to gun owners, Clinton's comparison is dubious in light of the many compromises made by the Iranian government in the recent nuclear deal. Bonnie Kristian

tricks of the trade
11:32 a.m. ET
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Everyone loves a good story — especially if it's also a good scandal. For Steve Bannon, the successful executive chairman of the right-wing publication Breitbart News, it's all about reaching "everybody" — even, and sometimes especially, the left.

The strategy, reported by Bloomberg, involves digging up "rigorous, fact-based indictments against major politicians" and then gaining the attention of "mainstream media outlets conservatives typically despise to disseminate those findings to the broadest audience." The most recent example of this strategy was the book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Business Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, published by Peter Schweizer, the president of the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute (GAI) — the group masterminding this media takeover, which was co-founded by Bannon.

The book got on the radar of many mainstream reporters, and the strategy ended up being so successful that it was in part, or maybe even primarily, responsible for the souring public perception of Clinton over the spring and summer:

The reason GAI [will spend months on a story] is because it's the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. [Writer Wynton] Hall has distilled this, too, into a slogan: "Anchor left, pivot right." It means that "weaponizing" a story onto the front page of The New York Times ("the Left") is infinitely more valuable than publishing it on "We don't look at the mainstream media as enemies because we don't want our work to be trapped in the conservative ecosystem," says Hall. […]

Once that work has permeated the mainstream — once it's found "a host body," in David Brock's phrase — then comes the "pivot." Heroes and villains emerge and become grist for a juicy Breitbart News narrative. "With Clinton Cash, we never really broke a story," says Bannon, "but you go [to] and we've got 20 things, we're linking to everybody else's stuff, we're aggregating, we'll pull stuff from the Left. It's a rolling phenomenon. Huge traffic. Everybody's invested." [Bloomberg]

Sneaky, genius, or both? Read the entire story over at Bloomberg. Jeva Lange

feel the bern
9:49 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders might be the most left-leaning candidate in the presidential race, but, according to the socialist senator, he's attracting some fans from the right. In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe Thursday, the Vermont senator addressed his "crossover" with GOP voters.

"There are more than a few Republicans for Bernie Sanders out there," he said. "Don't be surprised if we do well with a number of Republicans."

Sanders acknowledged that while there are certainly some "strong differences" of opinion between him and many Republicans — especially when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage — he pointed out that there are definitely areas in which they share common ground.

"But you know, Republicans have to send their kids to college," Sanders said, referring to his proposal to offer free tuition at colleges and universities. "Working-class Republicans can't afford to do that. Working-class Republicans have seen their factories shut down and moved to China. Working-class Republicans are equally disgusted about a campaign-finance system which allows billionaires now to buy elections."

Strange as Sanders' claim may seem, he has attracted the Republican vote before. The Washington Post reports that in his 2012 Senate race for reelection in Vermont, Sanders beat his Republican opponent with 71 percent of the vote. Becca Stanek

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