February 13, 2018

Credit to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for thinking outside the box — or, rather, thinking up a new box. Nestled in President Trump's 2019 budget proposal is a plan to transform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp program into an "America's Harvest Box" full of government-picked nonperishable items. The boxes would be distributed to the roughly 16 million U.S. households getting at least $90 a month in food stamps. Perdue called his Harvest Box idea "a bold, innovative approach" that would give low-income families the "same level of food value as SNAP" at considerably lower costs.

"Secretary Perdue wanted to give it a chance," White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Monday. "We thought it was a tremendous idea." Apparently unimpressed with the "America's Harvest Box" branding and enticing pitches like "same level of food value," however, Mulvaney called the idea a "Blue Apron-type program" — which, Politico notes, compares Perdue's boxes to the "high-end meal kit delivery company that had one of the worst stock debuts in 2017 and has struggled to hold onto customers."

The Blue Apron comparison has other problems, too. Blue Apron specializes in delivering fresh fruit, meat, and produce to customers' doors. The Harvest Boxes would include staples like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, pasta, cereals, beans, canned meat and fish, and canned fruit and vegetables — in other words, nothing fresh. And USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh said states would have "flexibility" in how they got the boxes to SNAP recipients, adding, "The projected savings does not include shipping door-to-door for all recipients."

The plan has already gathered an unusual coalition of detractors — advocates for the poor, Walmart, rural mom-and-pop markets — and it faces long odds in Congress, which would have to approve the program. SNAP recipients would still get half of their monthly disbursement on a special debit card, like under the current system. Peter Weber


Mississippi's Senate race hasn't come to an end — and neither has the controversy surrounding comments one candidate made about a "public hanging."

In a video that surfaced Sunday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) is seen telling a man standing with her at what appears to be a Nov. 2 campaign event that "if he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." Hyde-Smith has been asked several times about the comments, and has used every opportunity to double down on her unapologetic statement about the video, The Associated Press reports.

In the statement, Hyde-Smith defended her comments as "an exaggerated expression of regard," adding that "any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous." And when accepting an endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee on Monday, Hyde-Smith again referred questioning reporters to that statement, per AP.

Her comments hit a nerve, especially considering Hyde-Smith's Democratic opponent, former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, is black. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., pointed out that Mississippi has a long history of lynching, and called the senator's comments "a reminder ... that racism is still a festering, pervasive evil in the U.S."

Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill Sen. Thad Cochran's (R) seat after he retired amid health concerns, and has served in the Senate since April. Both she and Espy failed to reach the 50 percent threshold in last week's Senate special election, so they will face each other once more during a runoff on Nov. 27. Hyde-Smith is expected to win the deep red state. Kathryn Krawczyk


As President Trump and Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) continue to float baseless allegations of voter fraud in Florida as ballots are recounted, officials are pushing back on their claims.

Federal Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter, who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, said Monday that he has seen no evidence of illegal activity in Broward County, the center of many of the fraud allegations. President Trump has tweeted about the county multiple times and said without evidence Monday that ballots are "massively infected" in the state, where gubernatorial and Senate elections currently have Republicans ahead by razor thin margins. Scott, who leads in the Senate race, has also accused incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) of attempting to steal the election.

But Tuter wants everyone to "ramp down the rhetoric," saying Monday that "we have to be careful about what we say," reports the Tampa Bay Times. The judge denied Scott's request to impound Broward County voting machines while they're not being used to recount ballots, but he did agree to allow three sheriffs to help oversee the recount there. "There needs to be an additional layer of confidence," Tuter explained. The Florida Department of State has also said there has been no evidence of criminal activity, reports Politico.

Nelson, meanwhile, wants to count ballots whose signatures did not match the one on the voter's registration, and he's suing to count mail-in ballots postmarked before Election Day but not delivered until after polls closed, per The Associated Press. Nelson is additionally calling on Scott to recuse himself from overseeing the recount. As this drama escalates, a Thursday deadline to complete a machine recount looms. Brendan Morrow


A photo of nearly every boy in a Wisconsin high school's class of 2019 giving a Nazi salute was posted on Twitter on Sunday. It's now under investigation by the school district and local police.

The photo seems to have been taken before Baraboo High School's junior prom this past spring, the Baraboo News Republic reports. It was tweeted from the @GoBaraboo account, captioned: "We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud," reports Madison365. Not all the boys in the photo are giving the salute, but one is flashing the "okay" sign, which some far-right trolls have rebranded as a white power symbol.

The photo was originally posted on local motorcycle photographer Peter Gust's website, but was taken down after Young Turks contributor Jules Suzdaltsev tweeted the photo Monday morning, reports Madison365. After posting the photo, Suzdaltsev began receiving messages from current and former Baraboo students who said racism was a pervasive problem in the school. One student said the photographer told the boys to throw up the Nazi salute.

Students are now on a "soft hold" at the high school and can't leave without parental and office permission while local officials investigate the issue, reports the News Republic. The Baraboo School District, several local and state officials, and even the Auschwitz Memorial Museum have condemned the photo. Kathryn Krawczyk


Stan Lee, the legendary Marvel Comics writer and editor who helped revolutionize the comic book industry and created dozens of iconic superheroes, has died at age 95, The Hollywood Reporter and NBC News report.

The cause of death is still unknown, but TMZ reports that Lee was rushed to the hospital in Los Angeles on Monday morning. Earlier this year, he was forced to cancel numerous appearances due to a battle with pneumonia, telling fans in a video at the time, "I want you to know that I still love you all.”

Born in 1922, Lee was hired in 1939 as an assistant at Timely Publications, which eventually became Marvel Comics. Alongside artist Jack Kirby and others, Lee went on to create countless heroes like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and Black Panther. Lee created notably flawed and relatable characters, in contrast with the godlike heroes like Superman found in the pages of other comics.

Decades later, many of Lee's characters were brought to life on film, and Lee had a cameo in virtually every single movie adaptation, including every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie from Iron Man to this year's Ant-Man and the Wasp. Lee generally filmed several of his cameos at once, and per Screen Rant, it appears he had already shot his role in next year's Avengers 4 prior to his death. Brendan Morrow


Alex Trebek has some thoughts about the #MeToo movement. Not that anyone asked.

In a Vulture interview published Monday, the longtime Jeopardy! host was asked about how he manages to come across as an expert on every topic the show covers. But contrary to what viewers might think, Trebek said he's "not a nerdy person who spends all his time researching information that might come in handy on Jeopardy!" Then, totally unprompted, Trebek decided to share how he talked about the #MeToo movement with the Jeopardy! staff.

I said, "My gosh, this has got to be a scary time for men." I'm fortunate that I've never been in a position of power where I might be able to lord it over somebody sexually. I said, "But there are guys out there — young guys are stupid in their teens." There's nothing stupider than a teenage boy. They're operating on testosterone.

The conversation then turned back to some standard questions. Trebek said his dream celebrity contestant would be "Kevin Spacey ... but now you can't say that." He declared "there isn't enough humor" in politics today. And he suggested President Trump "might not agree that any of the correct responses are correct" if he appeared on Jeopardy!.

Things wrapped up with talk of the 78-year-old's likely retirement in 2020. And as for a replacement? "We're in the #MeToo movement now ... so I suspect that the producers might give serious consideration to having a woman host," Trebek said. His money is on Betty White. Read more of Trebek's wide-ranging interview at Vulture. Kathryn Krawczyk


When news hit last year that Ryan Reynolds of Deadpool fame would be voicing Pikachu in a live-action Pokémon movie, the news sounded too crazy to be true. But now, a trailer is here to prove that this upcoming movie is definitely very, very real.

The first trailer for Detective Pikachu, released Monday, takes place in a Blade Runner-esque city, in which humans and realistic-looking animated Pokémon live side by side. The main character is 21-year-old Tim, the son of a detective who has gone missing. In an attempt to locate his father, Tim receives help from none other than Pikachu, voiced by Reynolds, who is speaking English and sounding very much like Reynolds. As is soon explained, everyone else within the universe only hears Pikachu's normal high-pitched squealing of his own name, but for whatever reason, Tim can hear Pikachu speaking in clear full sentences.

Per the film's synopsis, this crime-solving Pikachu will join Tim on a quest to unravel a mystery and eventually "uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe," ScreenCrush reports. From director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), this movie is the first time the Pokémon franchise has ever been adapted into a live-action film. It will hit theaters in May 2019. Watch the trailer below. Brendan Morrow


The United States, Russia, and China are not taking part in a new French-led push to crack down on cybercrime with new regulations.

On Monday, 50 governments and 150 tech companies pledged to do more to fight criminal activity on the internet, including election interference, hate speech, censorship, and the theft of trade secrets, The Associated Press reports. The countries taking part include many European nations, as well as Japan and Canada. Even though the U.S. is sitting out for now, U.S. tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have signed on.

CNBC reports that "talks are continuing" with France to determine whether the U.S. will become a signatory, but either way, a French official says that "the U.S. will be involved under other forms."

The effort, spearheaded by France, is referred to as the "Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace." It calls for action to "improve trust, security and stability in cyberspace," but the Trump administration has generally steered clear of such international regulatory efforts, writes CNBC. The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that "now that that half of humanity is online, we need to find new ways to organize the internet" to keep it "free, open, and secure." A similar effort advocating for internet regulations during U.N. negotiations failed in 2017, Reuters notes. Brendan Morrow

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