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October 11, 2018

First Lady Melania Trump says she's uniquely qualified to lead a campaign against bullying, as almost nobody has endured more of it than her.

When asked in an interview with ABC News this week what inspired her to launch her anti-bullying initiative Be Best, the first lady pointed to her own experiences, saying, "I could say that I'm the most bullied person in the world." She subsequently changed her statement a bit to say that she's "one of" the most bullied, arguing this is obvious if "you really see what people are saying about me."

Trump launched the Be Best campaign in May 2018, and it's focused in part on fighting cyberbullying. In an August speech, she said that social media can be "destructive and harmful when used incorrectly" and that it's important to teach children "how to conduct themselves safely and in a positive manner in an online setting," per CNN. She received some pushback from critics who argued the president himself doesn't adhere to these principles on his Twitter account.

Watch a portion of the first lady's interview with ABC below. Brendan Morrow

3:38 p.m.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina may be about to plead guilty.

Butina's attorneys on Monday filed a request for her to withdraw her previous plea of not guilty, The Washington Post reports. CNN writes that she looks to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, although any further details, including what she would be pleading guilty to, are currently unclear.

Five months ago, Butina was arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy and one of acting as an agent to a foreign government. She has been accused of spending years attempting to influence American policy by forging relationships with prominent conservatives, including with the National Rifle Association, while keeping in contact with Russians, per CNN. Butina's lawyers have argued that she was simply interested in improving Russia's relationship with the United States, The Associated Press reports. Her arrest was not a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

However, The New York Times reports that any plea deal would likely require cooperation with ongoing investigations, leaving open the possibility that she could provide them with some key information. Brendan Morrow

2:37 p.m.

Ready to start off your week being utterly repulsed at the sight of a new live-action Sonic the Hedgehog?

Paramount on Monday released the first poster for the upcoming Sonic movie, which will combine live-action and animation à la Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The look of Sonic is unique to say the least, and downright disturbing to say the most. For whatever reason, the beloved video game character looks strangely human and unexpectedly buff on the poster, less like a cartoon hedgehog and more like a track and field athlete dressing as Sonic for Halloween. Considering he's a hedgehog, he's also a lot furrier than expected, as were a lot of the Pokemon in the recent trailer for the live-action Detective Pikachu movie.

The film's producers insisted in an interview with IGN that Sonic's new look was necessary so that he would fit in with the live-action world. "He's not going to feel like a Pixar character would because I don't think that's the right aesthetic to make it feel like part of our world," producer Tim Miller said. Speaking about Sonic's speed, Miller again stressed the importance of "keeping it grounded and keeping it realistic," because if there's anything that has defined Sonic, a video game franchise about a blue hedgehog that looks very little like a hedgehog and who pursues an evil mustachioed scientist by traveling at lightning speeds, it's grounded realism.

The Sonic the Hedgehog movie, which will feature Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, hits theaters in November 2019. Brendan Morrow

2:01 p.m.

Planned Parenthood just won a significant victory as the Supreme Court declined to hear a case from states looking to partially defund the organization.

Louisiana and Kansas had passed laws preventing their citizens from using Medicaid for Planned Parenthood's services that aren't related to abortions, such as ultrasounds, per NPR. Medicaid funding already can't be used for abortions at Planned Parenthood except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother in danger, per NBC News.

Medicaid patients had filed a lawsuit, and after Louisiana and Kansas suffered defeats in the lower courts, they appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the patients could not actually challenge its decisions related to Medicaid funding and that only the federal government could do that, per CBS News. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch argued in favor of the court taking the case in order to make that determination, NBC News reports.

But the conservative justices came one vote shy of having enough to hear the case. The decision of the lower courts, therefore, stands. Interestingly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not join his conservative colleagues in calling for the case to be taken up. CNN reports that he likely would "rather avoid contentious, high-profile disputes for now, at least where possible."

NPR notes that while Medicaid funding can still being used for Planned Parenthood in most states, this decision doesn't mean no states can block the funding — Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota can still do so due to a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Brendan Morrow

1:03 p.m.

As President Trump looks for a new chief of staff candidate after being turned down by his top choice, a former officeholder is offering some advice.

Rahm Emanuel, who was chief of staff for former President Barack Obama, wrote in The Atlantic that no matter who Trump picks to replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, he or she won't be able to function the way a typical chief of staff does as long as Trump continues to "outsource significant authority to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and other staffers." In fact, Emanuel suggests that whoever is hired "won't really be the chief of staff" because Trump is "unwilling to give anyone the authority needed to perform that job."

And what does Emanuel see as being needed? Well, he notes that Trump appears to be selecting Kelly's successor based on who can help him win re-election in 2020, which Emanuel sees as the wrong move. After all, there will be "other battles to fight" long before then, namely investigations from House Democrats and the impending report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election. What Trump really needs, Emanuel argues, is a "true wartime consigliere" who can help him manage "what is likely to be an incredibly damaging set of allegations." In other words, he needs a "steady hand." Whoever it is, Emanuel hopes this person will be "unusually good at protecting the rest of us from the president's penchant for self-destruction."

It's unclear who the president might end up selecting, but it doesn't sound like he's going to heed Emanuel's advice — CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports that Trump "wants his next chief of staff to be all politics, politics, politics." Brendan Morrow

11:34 a.m.

Sports Illustrated on Monday announced the Golden State Warriors as its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year — the first team to win the honor since the Boston Red Sox in 2004, and the fourth overall since the magazine introduced the title in 1954.

The Kevin Durant-led Warriors swept LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third championship in four years in June. The victory helped the team beat out actual sportspeople for the Sports Illustrated award, such as the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, snowboarder Chloe Kim, and resurgent golfer Tiger Woods.

"It was impossible to overlook the influence that the Warriors, as a collective group, have had on their sport and the broader culture over the last half-decade," Chris Stone, SI's editor-in-chief, said in announcing the honor. "They are a generational phenomenon, the likes of which we might not see again for decades, if at all." The Phoenix Suns, currently 4-22, could not be reached for comment about the snub. Jacob Lambert

10:55 a.m.

The swamp may be dirty, but it pays well.

The United States contains 3,142 counties, and the five of them with the highest median income levels are all in the Washington, D.C., metro area, the Census Bureau reports, using data from 2013 to 2017. They are Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington Counties in Virginia, as well as Falls Church City, Virginia, and Howard County, Maryland.

The lowest income counties tend to be found in the Southeast region, especially in rural areas. The Census Bureau lists McCreary, Bell, and Harlan Counties in Kentucky with Holmes County, Mississippi, and Sumter County, Alabama, as five of the lowest median income counties nationwide.
Bonnie Kristian

10:54 a.m.

Yet another batch of awards nominees brings the Oscars' likely Best Picture list into even greater focus.

The 2019 Critics Choice Awards nominees, which are selected by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, were announced Monday morning. The group's Best Picture picks are Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, First Man, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mary Poppins Returns, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Based on how the awards season has been shaking out, don't be surprised if the Oscars' nominees for Best Picture are essentially this exact list; every one of the films here was nominated at the Golden Globes last week except for First Man. Since 2000, the Oscars' eventual Best Picture winner has been nominated at the Critics Choice Awards every single year, and the two groups often pick the same film.

The category of Best Actor consists of Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Ryan Gosling (First Man), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), while the Best Actress nominees are Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), Glenn Close (The Wife), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?).

The Favourite received the most nominations: 14, while the second most nominated film was Black Panther with 12. First Man also received 10 nominations after being mostly shut out at the Golden Globes. Read the full list of nominees at The Hollywood Reporter. Brendan Morrow

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