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March 17, 2014

Over at The New York Times, Timothy Egan notices a strange similarity between Paul Ryan's rhetoric on poverty, and that of the English authorities during the 19th century potato famine in Ireland:

A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a "culture of dependency"? Certainly England's man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. "Dependence on charity," he declared, "is not to be made an agreeable mode of life."

And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated "culture of dependency" is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England's excuse for lethal negligence.

There is no comparison, of course, between the de facto genocide that resulted from British policy, and conservative criticism of modern American poverty programs.

But you can't help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of famine Irish using the same language that English Tories used to justify indifference to an epic tragedy. [The New York Times]

I don't think anyone really thinks dependence on charity or a culture of dependency ought to be a long-term condition. Self-reliance is an indisputable virtue. But for the truly helpless, there can be no pathway back to self-reliance if one starves to death. Famine is not honorable or virtuous. Nor is it civilized to live in a country where the poor starve to death.

Paul Ryan would do better to set out an agenda of job creation than lecture the poor on the virtues of self-improvement. There are lots and lots of people who want jobs, who want to work and want the dignity of self-reliance — so many that there are 2.9 job seekers for every job opening. People can't lift themselves out of poverty and off welfare if the economy isn't creating an abundance of jobs. Job creation comes first. John Aziz

6:35 p.m. ET
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Police in Anaheim, California, arrested several protesters outside of a Donald Trump rally Wednesday afternoon after they pelted officers with objects.

After Trump left, several demonstrators lingered in the area, setting at least one trash can on fire. Supporters of Trump faced off against the protesters, and an Anaheim Police spokesman said a group of five backers were escorted away "in the interest of public safety" after they used racially charged language against the demonstrators. Another group of supporters chanted anti-gay slurs, the Los Angeles Times reports, and two men held up a sign calling for the end of Islam and abortion. Dozens of police officers, including some on horseback, were on the scene, as well as sheriff's deputies in riot gear. Catherine Garcia

4:02 p.m. ET
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Akash Vukoti. Write it down, commit it to memory. You're likely going to be hearing a lot about this 6-year-old in the next 24 hours.

The youngest competitor by grade to ever to participate in the Scripps Spelling Bee, Vukoti was greeted by enthusiastic applause when he managed to spell the word "inviscate" Wednesday morning, and moved on to the next round.

Let's face it: "Inviscate" isn't even recognized by this computer's spell check (it means "to encase in a sticky substance," if you were wondering). This first-grader from San Angelo, Texas, may be pint-sized, but he's all brain. Just check out his favorite word — it's 45 letters long:

Now try saying that three times fast. Jeva Lange

3:07 p.m. ET
Mike Windle/Getty Images For EPIX

The makers of a new Katie Couric documentary on gun violence apparently deceptively edited an interview with gun rights activists to make them appear stumped by her question, The Washington Free Beacon reports. About 20 minutes into the documentary Under the Gun, Couric asks members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, "If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?"

The response? Dead silence, for about nine awkward seconds:

That's not how it really went down, though, according to activists who contacted the Free Beacon. In audio provided to the website, Couric's question is actually quickly met with answers, and the back and forth lasts about four minutes:

The gun rights activists have called the segment "unbelievable and extremely unprofessional." "[Couric] intentionally removed their answers and spliced in nine seconds of some prior video of our members sitting quietly and not responding. Viewers are left with the misunderstanding that the members had no answer to her question," Virginia Citizens Defense League president Philip Van Cleave said.

When asked about the edits, Nora Ryan, the chief of staff for EPIX, which is airing the documentary, said that the channel "stands behind Katie Couric, director Stephanie Soechtig, and their creative and editorial judgement." Jeva Lange

2:57 p.m. ET
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What Donald Trump's campaign likely thought was a brilliant plan to take down Hillary Clinton was quickly foiled Wednesday afternoon when a Trump spokeswoman did some errant emailing.

While Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks meant to respond to an email from Trump adviser Michael Caputo requesting that a researcher at the Republican National Committee "work up information on HRC/Whitewater as soon as possible" for "immediate use and for the afternoon talking points process," she ended up replying to Marc Caputo — a reporter at Politico. With the mistaken click of a button, the entire email thread — and, subsequently, the scoop on Trump's next plan of attack — was dropped into Politico's inbox.

RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer has defended the request for information on Whitewater — the Clinton scandal stemming from a failed real estate venture in the 1970s — as nothing more than "just another example of Republican campaigns up and down the ballot looking to us for the best information." Neither Spicer nor Hicks provided any further clues as to when or how Trump will be using that requested information, though it goes without saying his coming attack will involve the word "crooked." Becca Stanek

2:31 p.m. ET
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Eleven states are represented in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Obama administration, challenging federal guidelines that require schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas, is in response to a directive released earlier in May by the Obama administration, which critics say oversteps the government's bounds. The lawsuit accused the administration of trying to turn schools and workplaces into "laboratories for a massive social experiment."

On Tuesday, the Justice Department and North Carolina filed competing lawsuits concerning a law in the state that bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don't correspond to the gender identified on their birth certificate. Jeva Lange

1:56 p.m. ET
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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams insisted Wednesday that the city will be ready for whatever the Republican National Convention may bring, be it protesters or riots. "A lot has been said about whether or not Cleveland is prepared for the RNC in about 50 days here. I have to tell you, we are prepared. I can't stress enough that we are prepared for this," he said.

The city attorney, Richard Hovarth, also announced temporary regulations for the area around the convention, including a ban on bringing lumber, fireworks, explosives, drones, ice chests and coolers, or ladders into the vicinity. Guns, noticeably, were not explicitly banned, although Ohio is an open-carry state.

The city has also bid for sets of body armor, conversion vans to transport prisoners, 2,000 sets of riot gear, 10,000 sets of plastic handcuffs, night vision goggles, motorcycles, and a horse trailer.

While violence is no certainty, riotous protests did break out Tuesday in New Mexico at Trump's first campaign rally in two weeks, with people throwing plastic bottles, burning Trump T-shirts, and hurling rocks at the police. Some heading to Cleveland this July have gone so far as to take self-defense classes similar to those given to journalists before they go into war zones. Jeva Lange

12:43 p.m. ET
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Civilians awaiting rescue in Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital, might not actually be that thrilled about their impending liberation. That's because, as CNN reports, given the choice between liberation by the predominantly Kurdish (and U.S.-backed) Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and rule under ISIS, Syrians in Raqqa may actually choose to "throw their lot" behind the terrorist group. As one tweet from the activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently put it, the "strategy of taking Raqqa by SDF ... [may] push a lot of people to join ISIS."

While the inhabitants of Raqqa may not quite be enjoying life since ISIS seized the city in 2013, ethnic tensions have Raqqa's Arabs leery of their potential liberators:

Backed by the United States, the Syrian Democratic Forces are a coalition of Kurdish, Assyrian, Christian, Arab tribal and other forces. But they are dominated by the Kurdish YPG, the Popular Defense Units. In other words, it's a Kurdish armed force with a multi-ethnic façade, and the Arabs of Raqqa could well be worried about their intentions in a post-ISIS Syria. [CNN]

The conundrum is one deeply rooted in history. The Kurds have long been suspected of trying to create a separate state from Syria and Iraq, CNN notes, which has Raqqa residents wary; when they see a predominantly Kurdish force coming to clear the countryside north of the city, the question arises of whether they're truly coming to rescue them, or just to take their land. Thus far, the SDF has promised its efforts are not aimed at the city itself.

Head over to CNN for the full back story on the current situation in Raqqa. Becca Stanek

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