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October 29, 2018

"State attorneys general — and yes, that is the correct plural, and if you already knew that, I'm sorry that high school was such a rough time for you," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. A show about state attorneys general "sounds like a tedious prospect," he conceded. "But look, it is worth the effort to learn about state AGs because they are very important," even if "most of us probably don't who ours is." Most attorneys general are elected partisan officials, and 30 states will choose theirs on Nov. 6. "Those elections are going to be unusually competitive," Oliver explained, in part because a record $100 million has been poured into them.

"So tonight, let's look at who AGs are, what they do, and why they matter," Oliver said, and he started with what they do: basically, act as the lawyer for a state's citizens. The office has steadily become more partisan, though, especially with groups of Republican AGs suing the federal government under former President Barack Obama. He focused for a bit on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), indicted for securities fraud and apparently caught on camera stealing an expensive pen, but he noted that since President Trump took office, Democratic AGs are the ones filing suit.

Many voters just leave the AG box blank on the ballot, which is "actually a cause for genuine hope," because it means "your vote for AG may technically be even more valuable," Oliver said, pointing again to Texas. "If there is one thing sure to damage Ken Paxton's reputation, it's an awareness of Ken Paxton's reputation. So please, before Nov. 6, just think about your AG race." He provided pointers for some states, then sent everyone else to the nonpartisan Vote411.org. Then, to push viewers to go research candidates, Oliver produced an increasingly discordant cacophony of instruments plus one lovely theremin. Watch the first 18 minutes, which include NSFW language, below. Peter Weber

9:59 a.m.

President Trump went after former Vice President Joe Biden for his age on Friday and declared himself a "young, vibrant man."

Trump spoke to reporters after Biden officially entered the 2020 race on Thursday. Biden is 76 and would be the oldest person elected president, a title currently held by Trump, who is 72.

Asked how old is too old to be president, Trump responded, "Well, I just feel like a young man. I'm so young. I can't believe it. I'm the youngest person. I am a young, vibrant man."

Trump then hit Biden by saying, "I look at Joe, I don't know about him. I don't know." When asked how he would beat Biden in a possible 2020 showdown, Trump predicted, "I think we beat him easily." Brendan Morrow

9:58 a.m.

President Trump's Friday morning tweet has raised two big questions: Has he never heard of the "i before e" rule, and did he just give himself a new presidential responsibility?

On Friday, Trump tweeted a very complimentary quote from the so-called "cheif hostage negotiator, USA." It's true that America has a "chief hostage negotiator," but it's very unclear where this apparent quote from this unnamed person came from.

One possible explanation would be that Gary Noesner, a former chief of the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit, made one of his occasional TV appearances and said something nice about Trump. But seeing as Fox & Friends doesn't seem to have Noesner on Thursday's lineup, there's also a chance that John Barron has reemerged. Barron is the so-called "Trump Organization representative" who tried to serve Trump stories to New York media back in his real estate days — and who reporters were very aware was Trump himself.

The tweet probably had something to do with a Thursday Washington Post report that said Trump pledged to pay a $2 million hospital bill for Otto Warmbier, who North Korea detained in 2016, and who died six days after he returned to America. After all, Trump denied paying anything to North Korea for Warmbier in a tweet sent just 20 minutes before this one, and also complained about former President Barack Obama's handling of hostage situations. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:26 a.m.

Avengers: Endgame opened in the U.S. with Thursday previews as film-industry analysts predict the Marvel sequel will surpass Avengers: Infinity War's opening weekend of $257 million, Deadline reports. Many have predicted the film will gross between $260 million and $270 million in what would be the biggest domestic opening in history, with some estimating North American debut ticket sales of $300 million.

Only six movies in history have achieved a domestic opening greater than $200 million. With the movie opening in 4,600 theaters in North America, it will have the widest release ever. Endgame is expected to rake in $850 million to $900 million in its global debut, possibly even topping $1 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter says. The film already has smashed records for pre-sold tickets. Harold Maass

7:49 a.m.

President Trump on Friday said the United States did not pay North Korea any amount of money for the return of Otto Warmbier.

North Korea, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, presented the U.S. in 2017 with a $2 million bill for Warmbier's hospital care after a State Department official went to retrieve the detained American student. Warmbier had been comatose for 15 months by then and died shortly after returning to the United States.

This U.S. envoy, the Post reported, signed an agreement saying the U.S. would pay this $2 million bill, but it was unclear whether the bill ended up being paid. Trump on Friday denied that it was.

Trump did not deny the underlying report that North Korea presented the United States with a bill and that the U.S. said it would pay it, though. The Post had reported that this order to sign the agreement was passed down directly from Trump, and Warmbier's father in response said this sounded like "ransom."

Trump later in the morning tweeted a quote from a "hostage negotiator" praising him as the "greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States" but did not cite a source. Brendan Morrow

7:21 a.m.

This week, Merriam-Webster announced it added more than 640 new words to its dictionary in April. There are words you probably know or can figure out, like "clapback" and "vulture capitalism," and words you probably already assumed were in the dictionary: "Gig economy," "on-brand," "screen time." You can also now affirm that "purple" sometimes means areas split between Democrats and Republicans, and "snowflake" can also refer to "both 'someone regarded or treated as unique or special' and 'someone who is overly sensitive.'"

But if you've been stumped by what it means to stan Game of Thrones or wondered why everyone's laughing at the Nickelback stans, and you've not wanted to dig through the disreputable detritus of Google results, well, you're in luck.

The entire entry is illuminating, but the key point is that "stan" can be a noun or verb, it's pronounced like it looks, it is often used disparagingly, and it means to be or show yourself to be "an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan." Its etymology traces the word back to Eminem stans who stanned his 2000 hit "Stan." Now you know.

You can also discover what a "bottle episode" is, learn the definitions of "swole" and "garbage time," and read the company's lexicologists wax poetic about the changing English language at Merriam-Webster. Peter Weber

6:06 a.m.

A federal three-judge panel ruled unanimously Thursday that Michigan's map of congressional and state legislative districts was unfairly drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature to give the GOP "a strong, systematic, and durable structural advantage in Michigan's elections and decidedly discriminates against Democrats."

The judges gave the GOP legislature until Aug. 1 to draw new maps acceptable to the state's new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. If they fail, or the map still violates the First Amendment rights of Democrats, the court will draw the new maps. The new districts must be ready by the 2020 election, the court found, and it ordered new state Senate elections in 2020, not 2022 as scheduled, in any gerrymandered district. A majority of Michigan's 14 congressional elections could be held in new districts next year, too.

"This court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the judges wrote in their opinion. The case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan. State GOP lawmakers said they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which may choose to suspend it until the high court hands down rulings on two other partisan gerrymandering cases in June.

"The decision is likely a boon for Democrats, who in 2018 failed to win a majority of the seats in the state House of Representatives, state Senate, or the state's U.S. congressional delegation despite winning the overall popular vote in all three cases," Reuters notes. Peter Weber

5:24 a.m.

The Murdoch family recently jettisoned its entertainment business by selling it to Disney for $71 billion, and that left Fox Corp. chief Lachlan Murdoch free of the liberal entertainment TV producers leading "a nascent rebellion" about Fox News' cheerleading for President Trump, Gabriel Sherman writes in May's Vanity Fair. "But for Lachlan and Fox, the Trump dissonance didn't end post-Disney deal — in some ways, it's even gotten worse."

First, the view that Fox News has become "an arm of the Trump White House" is increasingly widespread, and the network's journalists are bristling at the "right-wing, prime-time hosts" they hold responsible, Sherman reports. The pro-Trump pundits — Sean Hannity, Fox & Friends, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs —argue that despite departing advertisers, they are still the network's cash cows. And "Lachlan is in a trap," he explains:

He can't simply issue a directive to temper the pro-Trump coverage to win back advertisers and calm restive reporters, because he would risk antagonizing the network's most important viewer: Trump. That happened in March when Fox suspended Jeanine Pirro for delivering an offensive monologue. ...

Inside Fox, staffers speculated Pirro would be fired, two sources told me, but Trump pre-empted such a move by calling Rupert Murdoch to complain about her suspension. Fox agreed to allow Pirro to come back on the air but cut her opening monologue, a venue for her most incendiary rhetoric. When Trump found out about that, he called Rupert again, a source said. A compromise was proposed: Pirro could return and deliver a shortened version of her opening statement. "Trump called Rupert, and Rupert put pressure on the executives," a source briefed on the conversations told me. [Sherman, Vanity Fair]

Lachlan Murdoch and the White House declined Vanity Fair's request for comment, and "a spokesperson for Fox News said the network's management never discussed canceling Pirro's show," Sherman notes. Read more about the Fox News-Trump relationship at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

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