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March 12, 2014

Bill O'Reilly has some questions about President Obama's interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns: Was appearing on the awkward-is-funny, absurdist talk show a worse idea because of Vladimir Putin, or because of Abraham Lincoln?

O'Reilly noted that Obama filmed the Funny or Die video two weeks ago, before Putin invaded Ukraine, but said that the president needs to be aware "of how his enemies perceive him." (Presumably he means Russia here, not Fox News.) "It looks like Putin believes the president is a lightweight, will a comedy video counter that?" O'Reilly asked.

On top of that, he added, sending the president himself to tape web-only comedy series to promote the "dubious" Affordable Care Act smacks of desperation. "All I can tell you is, Abe Lincoln would not have done it," he added — which, I think we can all agree, is true. Whether that's because we're a deeply divided nation and "serious times call for serious measures," as O'Reilly argued, or because Lincoln wasn't very funny, didn't know what a video was (much less the internet), and didn't have ObamaCare to defend... well, that's another question.

The White House is pleased that Obama's Between Two Ferns appearance sent a horde of young people to HealthCare.gov. But Obama-joking-while-Putin-pillages is also the focus of Kathleen Parker's column in Wednesday's Washington Post, so whether you think Obama's PR stunt was brilliant or disastrous, you'll probably hear about it until the 2014 midterms. --Peter Weber

8:25 p.m. ET
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sikh actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia announced on his Instagram account Monday that he was not allowed to board an Aeroméxico flight from Mexico City to New York City because of his turban.

"Dear NYC fashion week," he posted. "I may be a little late as @aeromexico won't let me fly with a turban. Don't start the show without me. #lovenotfear #fearisanopportunityotoeducate." The Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund has released a statement saying it is "disappointed and concerned" that Ahluwahila was asked to take his turban off before boarding the flight. "The turban is an integral part of a Sikh's identity and removal in public is akin to a strip search," the organization said. "The security personnel involved in this debacle owe Mr. Ahluwalia an apology and must be trained in cultural and religious awareness."


Ahluwalia appeared in a 2013 Gap advertisement, the first time a Sikh model was showcased in a nationwide ad campaign, NBC News reports, and has a popular jewelry line, House of Waris. Aeroméxico has not commented on the incident. Catherine Garcia

7:40 p.m. ET

Four people were injured when the Anthem of the Seas encountered a severe storm off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Sunday. The mega ship was sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, when it hit rough waters, and on Monday, Royal Caribbean announced the ship would be returning to Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New Jersey.

The Anthem of the Seas suffered damage to some public areas and cabins, but "remains seaworthy," Royal Caribbean announced, and the injuries sustained are not serious. On Sunday afternoon, passengers were told to stay in their rooms, and they were given updates every hour by the captain or the cruise director. Off the Carolina coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded a 76 mph gust of wind and waves of 30 feet high, CNN reports. Passengers said on Twitter their stateroom televisions reported winds clocking in at 120 to 150 mph.

The Anthem of the Seas was scheduled to go on a seven-day voyage to the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean announced passengers will receive a full refund, plus half off the fare of a future cruise. Catherine Garcia

6:58 p.m. ET
Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images

A new U.N. report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that the Syrian government is executing civilian detainees on a massive scale, in addition to killing and torturing Islamic State and Nusra Front prisoners.

The commission is calling on the Security Council to impose "targeted sanctions" against high-ranking civilian and military officials, Reuters reports. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention" covers March 10, 2011, to Nov. 30, 2015, with interviews from 621 witnesses and survivors. Thousands of people, mostly civilian men, have been killed, tortured, starved, and denied medical treatment, and chairman Paulo Pinheiro said "prison officials, their superiors throughout the hierarchy, high-ranking officials in military hospitals, and the military police corps as well as government were aware that deaths on a massive scale were occurring. Thus we concluded there were reasonable grounds…to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity."

Investigators repeatedly asked for access to detention facilities, but were denied. The high-ranking officers are "individually criminally liable," investigators said, and a list of suspected war criminals from all sides and units is kept in a U.N. safe in Geneva. Raneem Matouq, the daughter of a prominent attorney who went missing in 2012, says she was held in a Damascus facility after peacefully protesting as a student. She described the conditions there as deplorable: There was hardly any food, the prison was infested with insects, detainees could only use an outdoor toilet three times a day, and there were dead bodies in different areas. Catherine Garcia

5:01 p.m. ET
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

For months, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been promoting a very specific and outlandish strategy to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. As president, he says often, he'd simply build a wall along the entire Mexican-American border. It would be funded by the Mexican government, Trump claims.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón doesn't think his country would be down with that plan, CNBC reports.

"Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall," he said. "And it's going to be completely useless."

Calderón suggested a wall wouldn't help the U.S., serving instead to hinder the country's trading. It's an idea, he said, that came from a "not very well-informed man." Julie Kliegman

4:11 p.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

After reports surfaced in January that Michael Bloomberg was considering an independent presidential run, the former New York City mayor confirmed the possibility himself to the Financial Times on Monday.

"I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," Bloomberg said, adding that the public deserves "a lot better."

Bloomberg, who The New York Times reported would sink up to $1 billion of his own money into a campaign, told FT he'd need to start getting his name on ballots in March.

"I'm listening to what candidates are saying and what the primary voters appear to be doing," he said. Julie Kliegman

3:51 p.m. ET
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

There is trouble in Hillaryland: According to anonymous sources who spoke with Politico, Hillary Clinton is frustrated with her campaign staff — and vice versa. With the too-close-for-comfort win over Bernie Sanders in Iowa and a New Hampshire victory for the Vermont senator on the horizon, Clinton is reportedly looking to reassess the staff at her Brooklyn headquarters sooner rather than later.

One source who is close with both Hillary and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said, "The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that. The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary — but also for the general election too… There's no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now."

There is dissatisfaction among Clinton's staffers, too:

Over the summer while her campaign was bogged down in the email controversy, Clinton was deeply frustrated with her own staff, and vice versa. The candidate blamed her team for not getting her out of the mess quickly, and her team blamed Clinton for being stubbornly unwilling to take the advice of campaign chairman John Podesta and others to apologize, turn over her server, and move on. The entire experience made her a deeply vulnerable frontrunner out of the gate, and underscored a lack of trust between Clinton and her operatives, many of whom were former Obama staffers that she didn't consider part of her inner circle of trust.

Her advisers were also frustrated by having to play roles they hadn't been hired for and were ill-suited for. From the beginning, [the campaign's top pollster and strategist Joel] Benenson was frustrated that he was forced to split his time between defending his boss on emails and defining a path for her candidacy. Clinton, meanwhile, longed for a chief strategist in the Mark Penn mold who could take on a more expansive role than playing pollster. [Politico]

Read the full story in Politico. Jeva Lange

3:47 p.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Canada will stop its airstrikes on the Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq by Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.

"As I said many times throughout the campaign in my commitment to Canadians, this is a non-combat mission," he said.

Trudeau, who took office in November, added that airstrikes don't help local communities attain long-term stability. Instead, he'll up military personnel in the region and train more local forces, The Washington Post reports.

The Pentagon has said it respects Trudeau's decision to halt strikes, but did not invite Canada's defense minister to recent meetings the U.S.-led coalition held in Paris. Julie Kliegman

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