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December 29, 2015

If the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity is true, then maybe advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi is right that its "stoner sloth" anti-marijuana ads have provided a "significant return on investment and involvement" for the government of Australia's New South Wales, which spent $500,000 on the week-old ad campaign. But the general consensus is that having an actor dress up as a sloth and make sad Chewbacca-like noises to discourage kids from trying weed has backfired pretty badly, for reasons that CNN's Amara Walker explains in this report:

"The videos have truly gone viral," a Saatchi spokesman told The Sydney Morning Herald, truthfully, then added: "The unexpected global media attention is now providing a platform for parents and teenagers all over the world to have 'the conversation' about cannabis in an engaging way." The prevention-oriented videos were pre-tested on the target audience, teenagers, the spokesman said. "The audience is not for adults or long-term cannabis users." UM, the agency in charge of media buying, social media, and strategy on the "stoner sloth" campaign, similarly painted its "strong viewership and engagement" as a sign of success.

You can decide for yourself by watching all the ads. And if you're an adult or "long-term cannabis user," remember: Your opinion doesn't count.

5:53 p.m.

It's so obvious, it's amazing no one thought of it sooner.

President Trump is considering his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to be his next chief of staff, HuffPost reports. That would put Kushner on the list of five possible candidates Trump said he is looking at after current Chief Of Staff John Kelly announced his departure Saturday.

Kelly spent months possibly on the outs with Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers was reportedly set to take his place. But Ayers turned down the job Sunday, leaving the field wide open for a potential replacement. Longtime loyalist Newt Gingrich has been floated as a frontrunner, and now, Kushner is reportedly joining him as a contender.

Kushner has been a steady aide to Trump's tumultuous agenda, steering the president in favor of prison reform and an alliance with Saudi Arabia. His friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemingly even stopped Trump from condemning him for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Politico also reported Wednesday that Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump had a heavy hand in choosing Trump's next right-hand man. So it's no wonder that, as sources tell HuffPost, Kushner met with Trump about the job and is touting his policy accomplishments in an effort to secure it.

The White House has denied Kushner is being considered for the job, per The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who essentially points out that this doesn't mean Kushner is out of the running. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:34 p.m.

The Senate voted Thursday, 56-41, to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen's war. Just minutes later, they unanimously voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, reports The Washington Post.

Both moves are major rejections of President Trump, seeing as he never wavered in his support of the kingdom despite Khashoggi's murder and apparent human rights violations against Yemeni civilians. The vote to revoke military support also called into question Trump's war powers, but will likely expire before Trump gets a chance to sign or veto it, The New York Times says, making its passage largely symbolic.

Khashoggi's October murder in Turkey's Saudi consulate set a wave of lawmakers against the president, even those who usually back Trump's policies. While Trump repeatedly refused to accept the CIA's reported findings that bin Salman directed the killing, allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vehemently countered him. As it turns out, every Republican and Democrat voted against the president Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

The other Senate move on Thursday comes days after several humanitarian groups implored the federal government to withdraw its military support in the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were backing efforts to fight Houthi rebels in the country, putting millions at risk of famine along the way. The House just squashed a similar resolution earlier this week to end Saudi support, the Times notes. Still, this shows there's a powerful coalition of Saudi skeptics in the Senate. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:53 p.m.

We haven't reached the peak of "peak TV" just yet — and it's all because of streaming.

A report from FX found that for the first time, more scripted shows were released by streaming services this year than aired on basic cable or broadcast television, per Variety. There were a total of 495 scripted originals produced in 2018, and 160 of those debuted on streaming services. For comparison, 146 shows aired on broadcast networks like NBC and CBS, and 144 aired on basic cable channels like MTV in 2018. This all means that 32 percent of all scripted TV shows were released on streaming this year, while 30 percent aired on broadcast, 29 percent aired on basic cable, and nine percent aired on paid cable.

While streaming services saw an increase in output compared to last year, the scripted production of broadcast and basic cable both experienced a decline. Last year, basic cable made up the biggest percentage of the market, Variety reported at the time. Streaming services last year only produced 117 shows compared to 160 this year. We've certainly come a long way since 2011, when there were only six streaming shows total, The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon points out.

Overall, there were a total of 487 scripted series produced in 2017, and in 2016, there were 455 of them.

FX CEO John Landgraf in 2015 famously coined the term "peak TV," referring to an enormous and overwhelming increase in the number of scripted shows being produced in a year. But the number of originals has only continued to grow since then, as demonstrated by this annual study that his network releases every year. This study shows that the growth rate in general is slowing down a bit, but as Langraf himself said in August, the peak is still "a ways away.” Brendan Morrow

3:01 p.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be taking the Russia investigation south.

After more than a year of probing President Trump's connections to Moscow, the special counsel's office has moved into "Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics," sources tell The Daily Beast. Court filings detailing the first round of those findings are reportedly set for release early next year.

So far, Mueller's team has turned out charges against 33 different people — 26 of whom are Russian — and three Russia-based companies, per Vox. But as part of the team investigated the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia, another has reportedly been looking into any involvement with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These three countries "pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump's administration," The Daily Beast writes. The probe has reportedly found these countries sought to use social media to get Trump elected — something that's reminiscent of Russia's supposed actions.

After months of investigation, Mueller's Middle East team is just about ready to release its findings and even levy charges, sources tell The Daily Beast. These reported findings likely stem from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's cooperation with Mueller, seeing as he apparently spoke with Middle Eastern officials along with Russians.

Mueller only had authority from the Justice Department to investigate the Trump campaign's Russia ties. So Middle Eastern connections would either have to overlap with Russia, or Mueller would've needed additional authority from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to probe further, an attorney says. Read more about what Mueller could drop next at The Daily Beast. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:30 p.m.

President Trump on Thursday attempted to downplay the significance of his former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen's three year prison sentence.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed that Cohen only did "very low-level work" for him and that he did "more public relations than he did law." Trump also repeated the defense he mounted on Twitter earlier in the day: that he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong" and that if Cohen violated the law, that's his fault. But Trump contends the campaign finance charges against Cohen were not criminal and that they were brought "to embarrass me."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in part for violating campaign finance laws by arranging for the National Enquirer's publisher to "catch and kill" a woman's story about an alleged affair with Trump; the tabloid's publisher says this was done for the express purpose of protecting the Trump campaign. But Trump told Fox News that he doesn't "think" a payment was ever actually made to the National Enquirer; he can be heard in a recording discussing the payment with Cohen.

Trump's attempt to paint Cohen, who was his personal lawyer for over a decade, as a "low-level" employee brings to mind his similar dismissal of Paul Manafort after the former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. "He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said of Manafort at the time, per Reuters.

Trump also said that he usually hires "very good people" but that in the case of Cohen, hiring him was a "mistake." Watch Trump's interview with Fox News below. Brendan Morrow

1:58 p.m.

'Twas a few weeks before Christmas, and all through one U.K. Christmas festival, things were most definitely stirring. Namely the festival's Santa Claus impersonator.

The English town of St. Ives was trying to host a peaceful holiday affair on Sunday, where Santa was slated to arrived by boat with his Chief Snowman. But a "family rave" — not affiliated with the festival — was thumping below Santa's "grotto," as the festival described it. And when an alarm went off thanks to the rave's smoke machine, Santa started acting "very strangely," parents tell Cambridgeshire Live.

As the festival describes it, Santa "immediately assisted in the evacuation of the building." By parents' accounts, he ripped off his hat and beard and yelled at kids "to get the f--k out," per Cambridgeshire Live. Parents later complained on Facebook that Santa was "an absolute disgrace" in front of "50 odd kids," and said they were "not too sure why he was so cross," per CNN.

The DJ at the event seems to have an explanation for Santa's conduct. "He probably sat there trying to talk to kids with thumping music playing," he told The Irish Times, adding that "the fire alarm going off was probably the final straw for him." The festival apologized for "any offense or distress caused to parents and children," and hasn't said whether the same Santa will sail into his grotto again this weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:57 p.m.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina officially pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors Thursday, NBC News reports.

Butina, who is said to have worked on Russia orders to infiltrate American politics, pleaded not guilty to her single count of conspiracy a few months ago. But she reportedly entered a plea deal with prosecutors earlier this week, and officially reversed her plea Thursday.

Back in July, Butina was arrested on a single conspiracy count of being an unregistered foreign agent in the United States. Prosecutors and reports detailed how Butina got close to conservative politicians by touting gun rights and working closely with the National Rifle Association. She notably "agreed and conspired" with Republican operative Paul Erickson "under direction of" Russian Central Bank leader Alexander Torshin, prosecutors said. Butina was studying international relations in the U.S. under a student visa, but allegedly reported back to Moscow at the same time.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Butina had reversed her fight against the charges and had started cooperating with prosecutors. Butina's Thursday appearance in a Washington, D.C. court confirms her reversal, and shows she'll "cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations," ABC News reports. She faces at most five years in prison and will probably be deported afterward, per CNN. Kathryn Krawczyk

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