FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
March 7, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "semi-delusional autocrat" who governs over a propaganda-dishing, state-censored media, said Jon Stewart on Thursday night's Daily Show. Almost everyone can see that Putin is living in an alternate reality — even Germany's Angela Merkel — so why are the hosts at Fox News and their Republican guests being "fooled by this guy's bullshit?" Stewart asked.

Republicans have been holding up the "strong" Putin as a favorable alternative to the "weak," "mom jeans"-wearing Obama. (Seriously, the "mom jeans" line is a thing.) In one of Stewart's clips, Rudy Giuliani gushes that while Obama dithers, Putin the leader acts quickly and makes the world react to him. That's not the definition of a leader, Stewart said, incredulously, "that's what you call a toddler." Also, when the Fox News crowd isn't calling Obama weak, they're calling him a "dictator king," Stewart said. And then he hit on a possible explanation for this cognitive dissonance... --Peter Weber

1:32 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The House Freedom Caucus announced Wednesday that it is onboard with the latest version of the GOP's American Health Care Act. The convincing factor for the far-right Republican faction, which opposed President Trump's first pass at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, was a new amendment negotiated by centrist Tuesday Group co-chairman Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.).

The MacArthur Amendment enables states to waive the requirements to cover ObamaCare's essential health benefits and to not charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions. The amendment was intended as an olive branch of sorts to the Freedom Caucus, which was dissatisfied with what is saw as a moderate first stab.

Freedom Caucus members argued the first iteration of the bill, which they deemed "ObamaCare lite," didn't go far enough to undo former President Barack Obama's signature health-care bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the GOP's bill when it became clear it would not pass. Becca Stanek

1:11 p.m. ET

Your best friend might tell you that your expensive, faux-mud-splattered jeans are "cute," but when it's the hard truth you want, you need to turn to artificial intelligence. Amazon announced Wednesday that is will be releasing the "Echo Look," a camera that will rate your outfits based on data from "machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists."

A part of Amazon's "Echo" line of home assistant gadgets, Echo Look can be asked to take full-length photos of you and can record videos of you turning or walking so you can see how you look from angles that you can't catch by craning your head in the mirror. Echo Look also integrates the app Style Check that will compare two different outfits for you and let you know which is more flattering. Hey, who needs friends anyway?

The Verge adds that "the device appears to be Amazon's way of expanding its fashion retail shop, as it will store your lookbook and recommend outfits that suit your style. From a fashion and lifestyle perspective, the camera could be a way to enter the fitness realm as well — soon, the Echo Look might have an app that could take daily photos of you to compare weight loss progress, for example."

Right now, Echo Look is available by invite only for $199.99. You can request one here. Jeva Lange

12:30 p.m. ET
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

The White House is reportedly in the late stages of finalizing an order that would withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, Politico reports. President Trump vowed to renegotiate the 1994 trade deal on the campaign trail, arguing that NAFTA is "very, very bad for our country," a "job killer," and "the single worst trade deal ever." NAFTA, which was originally signed by President Bill Clinton, allows for the free flow of goods and services between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico without tariffs.

Based on information from two White House insiders, Politico writes that "the approach appears designed to extract better terms with Canada and Mexico." Politico adds: "But once Trump sets the withdrawal process in motion, the prospects for the U.S. pulling out of one of the largest trade deals on the globe become very real."

The draft was reportedly authored by Trump's National Trade Council head, Peter Navarro, who worked with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Jeva Lange

12:12 p.m. ET

Former President Barack Obama is reportedly going to make a nice $400,000 this year off a speech at an annual health care conference hosted by the Wall Street investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. The speech is one of many that Obama will make as he embarks on a paid-speech circuit. He's lined up a gig at the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation in Boston, a public conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and some speeches in Europe, The New York Times reported.

Obama's speech at the Cantor Fitzgerald conference is unique, however, in that he'll be earning a lot more money than his predecessors have made from similar speaking engagements. The New York Times said former President Bill Clinton made about $200,000 per speech, while former President George W. Bush made between $100,000 and $175,000.

Moreover, that big wad of cash will be coming from a conference sponsored by Wall Street, which Obama frequently criticized during his presidency. Obama pushed for regulations and blasted big banks during his two terms in office, but at the same time The New York Times noted he also "courted Wall Street donors and other wealthy supporters."

On his way out the door though, Obama swore he was "not going to Wall Street" to cash in, NBC News' Bradd Jaffy recalled Wednesday:

The Financial Times noted in a report Tuesday that while Obama has reportedly said he would give the conference's keynote speech for the agreed-upon fee, he did not say what he would do with his earnings. Talking Points Memo noted he's also free to "back out based on scheduling or personal concerns." Becca Stanek

12:12 p.m. ET
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

The Oscar-winning director of The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme, died Wednesday at the age of 73 due to complications from cancer, Indiewire reports. Demme also directed the AIDS crisis film Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks, and the Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense.

Demme's most recent films include the Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep, and Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, a concert documentary.

Demme was originally treated for esophageal cancer in 2010, but the disease recurred in 2015. Demme is survived by his wife, Joanne Howard, and three adult children. Jeva Lange

11:15 a.m. ET

Fox News reporter Jesse Watters swore Wednesday that he wasn't making any sort of sexual innuendo when he praised Ivanka Trump for how she handled her microphone during a recent appearance in Berlin.

Watters' clarification was in response to a remark he made on Tuesday's episode of The Five that raised eyebrows. After playing a brief clip of the first daughter speaking into the microphone at the Berlin event, Watters slammed the left for claiming they "really respect women and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss."

Trump was booed while speaking at a women's conference in Germany after she claimed her dad, President Trump, is a "tremendous champion of families."

Watters followed up his criticism of the left with a comment that some found to be, well, kind of suggestive. "So I don't really get what's going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone," Watters said, grinning.

Watters explained in a tweet Wednesday that his remark "was in no way a joke about anything else." He just really, really liked Trump's voice, he said. Becca Stanek

10:16 a.m. ET

After a tough month on the public relations front, United Airlines is now dealing with the alleged death of a giant rabbit in the cargo hold of one of its trans-Atlantic flights. The rabbit in question is a massive 3-foot-long bunny named Simon, who was the son of the world's largest rabbit and apparently on track to become the world's next biggest bunny.

Simon was traveling from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to meet his new celebrity owner. Breeder Annette Edwards told The Associated Press that Simon had been checked out by a vet just three hours before he boarded the plane. "He was fit as a fiddle," she said.

Edwards claimed she's "sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before." "Something very strange has happened and I want to know what," she said.

United said that it was "saddened" by the news and had offered assistance to Edwards. The incident is under investigation. "The safety and well-being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team," the airline said.

BBC noted that animal deaths on planes are "rare but not unheard of," with U.S. airlines reporting 35 animal deaths in 2015. Fourteen of those deaths were reportedly on United flights, which appears to have the highest animal death rate of any other U.S. airline.

This is just the latest PR mess the airline has had to sort out. In March, the airline caught flak for refusing to allow two girls wearing leggings to board the plane, citing its dress code for employees and their guests. Earlier this month, international outrage erupted after a paying customer was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. Becca Stanek

See More Speed Reads