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March 12, 2014
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On Thursday, President Obama will reportedly direct the Labor Department to significantly broaden the number of American workers eligible for overtime pay. The new rules don't require congressional approval, but they won't take effect until after a public comment period. And there will be lots of comments.

Under the proposed rules, businesses would find it harder to avoid paying middle managers, shift supervisors, and other salaried "professional" workers overtime. The current rules were written by the George W. Bush administration in 2004. The new changes "would potentially shift billions of dollars' worth of corporate income into the pockets of workers," say Michael D. Shear and Steven Greenhouse at The New York Times.

The opponents and proponents of the measure fall along pretty predictable lines: The Chamber of Commerce, other business lobbyists, and conservative think-tanks are opposed to the change; labor unions and liberal economists think it's a great way to move some of the record corporate profits into the hands of workers. Jared Bernstein, the former chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, generally applauds the move, but he also makes an interesting point to The New York Times: "I think a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now." Peter Weber

12:47 p.m. ET

The Environmental Protection Agency meant to include a laudatory quote from coal industry supporter Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in its news release Thursday about President Trump's recent executive order on energy independence. Instead, a quote from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) — who did not support Trump's order rolling back several Obama-era policies addressing climate change — got sent out.

The quote, incorrectly attributed to Capito, was a far cry from laudatory:

With this executive order, President Trump has chosen to recklessly bury his head in the sand. Walking away from the Clean Power Plan and other climate initiatives, including critical resiliency projects is not just irresponsible — it's irrational. Today's executive order calls into question America's credibility and our commitment to tackling the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime. With the world watching, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have chosen to shirk our responsibility, disregard clear science, and undo the significant progress our country has made to ensure we leave a better, more sustainable planet for generations to come. [Carper, via the EPA]

The EPA quickly sent out a revised version of the news release that included Capito's actual quote praising Trump for keeping his "promises" and advancing "environmentally responsible policies that grow the economy." Trump's order, signed Tuesday, reversed a ban on new coal leases on federal land and ordered the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan.

The EPA explained the mix-up happened because "an internal draft was mistakenly sent with a quote that belonged to Senator Carper but was wrongly attributed to Senator Capito." "We apologize for the error and are making sure that our process is improved as we build our team," EPA spokesman John Konkus said in a statement. Becca Stanek

12:42 p.m. ET
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Geologists have discovered hundreds of networks of mysterious caves in Brazil that they believe were dug by an enormous prehistoric animal of some kind, such as a giant sloth or giant armadillo, Discover reports. "I'd never seen anything like it before," said Amilcar Adamy, who first stumbled upon a burrow in 2010.

The caves were clearly not formed by any natural geological process — and besides, the walls are covered in gigantic claw marks. Another geologist, Heinrich Frank, separately discovered "paleoburrows," including one that was four-feet-wide and an estimated 250-feet-long. Once he began looking for the tunnels, they turned up everywhere. "In these burrows, sometimes you get the feeling that there's some creature waiting around the next curve — that's how much it feels like a prehistoric animal den," said Frank. He's found more than 1,500 just in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Frank added: "There's no geological process in the world that produces long tunnels with a circular or elliptical cross-section, which branch and rise and fall, with claw marks on the walls. I've [also] seen dozens of caves that have inorganic origins, and in these cases, it's very clear that digging animals had no role in their creation."

The mystery deepened in 2015, when Adamy found a paleoburrow with branches totaling 2,000 feet in length and shafts that were originally six feet tall by three to five feet wide. "This wasn't made by one or two individuals," said Adamy. "It was made by many, over generations." Now there are other burrows that are estimated to be 3,000 feet in length.

But why so big? Modern armadillos in Brazil are only 65 to 90 pounds and burrow 16-inch diameter holes that are 20 feet long. "What would dig one five feet wide and 250 feet long?" Frank wondered. "There's no explanation — not predators, not climate, not humidity. I really don't know."

And then there is the fact that there were North American giant sloths and giant armadillos, but there are no known paleoburrows in the United States. But that, too, could just be a matter of time. As Greg McDonald, a Bureau of Land Management paleontologist, told Discover: "The fact that we don't have them here could simply be that we've overlooked them." Jeva Lange

11:56 a.m. ET
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Aside from his well-documented struggle to put on a poncho during President Trump's inauguration, former President George W. Bush has kept a pretty low profile about the event. But recently, three unnamed sources spilled the beans to New York Magazine about what Bush was allegedly really thinking while he had his poncho draped over his head.

As Bush was leaving Trump's inauguration, three different people reported they heard Bush say: "That was some weird sh-t."

Bush's spokesman declined to comment, and Bush has not publicly addressed his thoughts on Trump's speech about "American carnage" and America's return to "winning again — winning like never before." Becca Stanek

11:10 a.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained reports of Russia's election meddling "are fictional, illusory, and provocations, lies" during a panel Thursday moderated by CNBC. When asked explicitly if Russia interfered — as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded it has — Putin dismissed the allegations as falsehoods used for "domestic American politics" that "different political forces" employ to "consolidate their positions."

"'Watch my lips: No,'" said Putin, paraphrasing former President George H.W. Bush to assert his denial. Putin insisted Russia sees the U.S. "as a great power with which we want to establish good partnership relations."

As Putin doubled down on his dissent, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convened Thursday morning for its first public hearing on Russia's influence on the U.S. presidential election. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) outlined how Russia "sought to diminish and undermine our trust in the American media by blurring our faith in what is true and what is not" by inserting trolls and botnets to push out false information intended to influence the election outcome.

"This is not innuendo, or false allegations. This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us," said Warner, outright declaring that Putin "ordered a deliberate campaign, carefully constructed to undermine our election."

At the hearing Thursday, the Senate seeks to "determine if there is an actual fire." "But so far, there is a great, great deal of smoke," Warner said, referring to evidence of Russian meddling. Becca Stanek

10:43 a.m. ET

A 5-year-old North Carolina girl named Caitlin Miller was suspended for one day last week for playing with a stick she and her friends on the playground pretended was a gun. Caitlin's friends were playing queen and princess, and Caitlin, as the royal guard, picked up a stick so she could fend off imaginary attackers.

When teachers observed the game, they intervened. "One minute she's playing with her friends and the next her teachers are dragging her to the principal's office," said the girl's mother, Brandy Miller. "She's confused. Nobody explained anything to her." Caitlin's suspension note claimed she was "threatening to shoot and kill other students," a charge Caitlin says is not true.

Still, the school district stood by the suspension, commenting in a statement that it will "not tolerate assaults, threats, or harassment from any student." Watch Caitlin explain what happened — and see a picture of the stick in question — in the local news report below. Bonnie Kristian

10:41 a.m. ET

President Trump has been smarting ever since the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus helped crush the GOP health-care bill last week, claiming it looked too similar to ObamaCare. On Thursday, the president made himself abundantly clear: The Democrats are the enemy, but so too are more than two dozen Freedom Caucus members if they continue to oppose him:

The Freedom Caucus does not respond well to threats. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) hit back at Trump on Twitter:

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who often aligns with the Freedom Caucus, also mocked Trump for the threat:

Of the 435-member House, there are 193 Democrats and approximately 32 Freedom Caucus-aligned conservatives, equaling a potential Trump-opposing block of 225 votes. As NBC News' Bradd Jaffy wonders: "What's [Trump's] strategy in attacking everyone here?" Jeva Lange

10:30 a.m. ET

If you would prefer a President Pence to a President Trump — an alluring prospect to many anti-Trump social conservatives, as well as a majority of Democrats per recent polling — the 25th Amendment might sound like just the ticket. It provides that if the president is deemed "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," Congress can pull some strings to produce our new President Pence.

Such a removal sans impeachment process has been repeatedly proposed in recent weeks, but, as Politico explains, this hope is not grounded in reality:

In the 50 years since the 25th Amendment was ratified, it's been used twice to fill a vice presidential vacancy: when Gerald Ford replaced the disgraced Spiro Agnew in October 1973, and when Nelson Rockefeller replaced Ford in 1974. And on six occasions, the president has invoked the 25th Amendment to (very temporarily) designate his veep as acting president, always during routine medical procedures like a colonoscopy. But it's never been invoked when the president himself was non compos ...

The notion that Pence and a Cabinet majority will look at Trump's next tweets or telephonic fulminations and decide he's not fit for the job is beyond absurdity. ... In the midst of a shooting war in Vietnam, and a Cold War on constant simmer, Nixon was often abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, leading to stretches of incoherence and irrationality. No one around him even raised the specter of invoking the 25th Amendment. [Politico]

Read the rest of Politico's rationale here. Bonnie Kristian

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