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Jackie Evancho wants to meet Trump on transgender rights

More than a month after performing at President Donald Trump's inauguration, singer Jackie Evancho says she and her transgender sister want to meet with him about transgender rights.

The 16-year-old made the request in a tweet Wednesday night . Evancho appeared alongside her sister, Juliet, on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday . Juliet Evancho says they hope to "enlighten" the president.

The tweet followed the Trump administration's move Wednesday to end federal protection for transgender students that allowed them to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.

The former "America's Got Talent" contestant sang the national anthem at Trump's Jan. 20 inaugural and tells 'GMA' that she would do so again. She says she sang not because of politics, but for "the honor and privilege" of performing for her country.

Conservative activist James O'Keefe to release CNN tapes

Conservative activist James O'Keefe has announced plans to release recordings Thursday morning that he says were made secretly inside CNN.

O'Keefe tells the network in an interview that the media is a "huge target" of his and he's targeting CNN specifically because it "has a very important role as an arbiter of news."

The network has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly labeled it "fake news."

A CNN spokeswoman didn't immediately return a request for comment on O'Keefe's announcement.

O'Keefe became well-known in 2009 after posing as a pimp in a video to embarrass community-organizing group ACORN. He has also made videos targeting National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood.

Some of his efforts have backfired. He was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2010 to entering the office of a Louisiana senator under false pretenses.

Conservative activist James O'Keefe to release CNN tapes

Conservative activist James O'Keefe has announced plans to release recordings Thursday morning that he says were made secretly inside CNN.

O'Keefe tells the network in an interview that the media is a "huge target" of his and he's targeting CNN specifically because it "has a very important role as an arbiter of news."

The network has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly labeled it "fake news."

A CNN spokeswoman didn't immediately return a request for comment on O'Keefe's announcement.

O'Keefe became well-known in 2009 after posing as a pimp in a video to embarrass community-organizing group ACORN. He has also made videos targeting National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood.

Some of his efforts have backfired. He was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2010 to entering the office of a Louisiana senator under false pretenses.

Here’s why you are seeing a red X on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts

You are likely to see a lot of red Xs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram Thursday as politicians, celebrities and others support the “Shine a Light on Slavery Day."

The Xs are part of a campaign by a coalition of 16 non-profit groups that is working to raise awareness of the problem around the world. The End It Movement has adopted the red X as a sign of support for efforts to stop modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Appreciate @aplusk @thorn & @ecmassimino @humanrights1st's commitment to the #enditmovement & support of #EndSlaveryAct pic.twitter.com/RpJ9YH5mYH— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 15, 2017

Last week, the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee held an End Modern Slavery hearing. Actor Aston Kutcher was among those who testified to the horrors of human trafficking and slavery that still exists in many countries. 

If you want to take part in the movement, go to the website for the End It awareness campaign. There, you can find downloadable resources, including red Xs.

Or, some are taking red lipstick, making an X on their hand, and posting a photo of it to show their support.

Look for the hastags #EndSlaveryAct and #EndItMovement.

April the giraffe birth live stream removed from YouTube

UPDATE, 8:02 a.m. EST: Officials from Animal Adventure Park took to Facebook Live to address YouTube's removal of the April the giraffe live stream.

>> Watch here

Posted by Animal Adventure Park on Thursday, February 23, 2017

UPDATE, 7:37 a.m. EST: The live stream of April the giraffe was removed from YouTube early Thursday.

"Upset Youtube has suspended the LIVE FEED for nudity & sexual content? LET THEM KNOW," Animal Adventure Park wrote on Facebook. "You can thank Animal Rights Extremists for this issue."

The park said it will address the issue at 8 a.m. EST on Facebook Live. We will provide the stream when it is available.

We will be FACEBOOK LIVE from the Giraffe Barn at 8:00 AM ESTPosted by Animal Adventure Park on Thursday, February 23, 2017

ORIGINAL STORY: The impending birth of a baby giraffe has the internet waiting with bated breath.

April the giraffe is getting ready to welcome a calf with her mate, Oliver, at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York.

>> Read more trending news

Animal Adventure Park has a webcam in April's quarters, capturing all the moments leading up to the birth.

>> Watch the live stream here

April is 15 years old, and this will be her fourth calf. Oliver is 5 years old, and this is his first calf. 

For more information, visit Animal Adventure Park's YouTube stream.

Jackie Evancho asks to meet with Trump about transgender rights

A performer at President Donald Trump's inauguration took to Twitter on Wednesday to speak out against the administration's move to withdraw guidelines rolled out by former President Barack Obama's administration on the rights of transgender students.

>> Trump administration withdraws Obama guidance on transgender students' rights

The Washington Post reported that Pittsburgh opera singer and "America's Got Talent" alum Jackie Evancho, who sang the national anthem at Trump's inauguration, tweeted that she was "obviously disappointed in the @POTUS decision to send the #transgender bathroom issue to the states to decide."

>> Read more trending news

Evancho's sister, Juliet, is transgender.

"@realDonaldTrump u gave me the honor 2 sing at your inauguration. Pls give me & my sis the honor 2 meet with u 2 talk #transgender rghts," Evancho, 16, added in a second tweet.

I am obviously disappointed in the @POTUS decision to send the #transgender bathroom issue to the states to decide. #sisterlove— jackie evancho (@jackieevancho) February 22, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

. @realDonaldTrump u gave me the honor 2 sing at your inauguration. Pls give me & my sis the honor 2 meet with u 2 talk #transgender rghts— jackie evancho (@jackieevancho) February 23, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Read more here.

US musician makes mics in Russia using Kalashnikov machinery

Claims of hacking by the Russian state may be feeding international tensions, but they've given Californian musician David Brown a great icebreaker when selling his line of Russian-made microphones.

"We give free hacking lessons with these microphones," he tells potential buyers in Los Angeles. "Watch what you say because they never turn off."

Brown, who's often toured Russia with his band Brazzaville, teamed up with fan Pavel Bazdyrev in 2013 to start making top-end musical equipment in Bazdyrev's home city of Tula, which is dominated by the Russian defense industry.

Though the business climate is difficult, the costs are low and they were able to buy second-hand machinery from Kalashnikov plants. The result is a range of studio microphones that have found their way into Coldplay and Radiohead's recording sessions, and are beating more established rivals on price.

It's a rare tale in Russia, which has struggled for decades to diversify its economy beyond oil and gas, something former U.S. President Barack Obama recently drew on.

"Their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil, gas and arms," he said in December. "They don't innovate."

As the country recovers from a brutal recession triggered by its dependence on the oil industry, President Vladimir Putin has often talked about making life easier for small businesses and other sectors. But reforms are often piecemeal or contradictory.

The experiences of Brown and Bazdyrev sum up many of the pros and cons of operating a small manufacturer in Russia.

The company, called Soyuz Microphones, takes advantage of lower labor costs to undercut foreign competitors — Soyuz's top-of-the-range microphone costs $3,500 against $8,000 for rival models. It made its first mic prototypes in 2014 and sold 160 of the retro-looking items last year, enough to turn a profit.

"We're located in a regional Russian city where the salaries are much lower than they are in Moscow let alone in the West. Producing a mic in that way in America or in Europe would be prohibitive cost-wise," says Brown, who visits Russia regularly to check on progress, while Bazdyrev handles day-to-day matters.

It's a good deal for the 12 employees, too, such as lathe operator Roman Ilyukhin, who says his wage of 60,000 rubles ($1,000) is almost double what he used to earn elsewhere in the city.

The factory occupies two floors in a rundown building, its renovated rooms with pink wallpaper in stark contrast to the grey Soviet-era apartment blocks just outside.

The name Soyuz — meaning "union" — refers to the "union of East and West" in the company but is also full of historical significance in what was once the Sovetsky Soyuz, the Soviet Union. Soyuz capsules have since the 1960s been the workhorse of international space flight.

The name also encapsulates some of the contradictions of the Russia economy: while it is a comparative leader in state investment for research and development, such as in space exploration, it often fails to turn cutting-edge science into commercial innovation. Wage levels are lower than in most of Europe, but Russian companies still struggle against Asian rivals who can make products faster and cheaper.

"Our engineering sector, although developing actively, has not yet caught up with foreign countries to bridge the gap of the last two decades," said Moscow-based expert Vasily Abashkin of the Higher School of Economics. "Plus the Asian countries are getting ahead, including in terms of providing engineering services (faster), which makes our engineering sector less competitive."

Few small and medium-sized Russian companies have the knowhow to use government schemes meant to help exporters, Abashkin adds. Though Russia excels at software development, attempts to move into hardware like electric cars or phones have yet to make a splash.

By contrast, China, which during the Cold War was similarly reliant on state-owned heavy industry, has developed successful companies in sectors like technology and retail and boasts some big consumer brands like handset company Huawei.

Consumer startups in Russia can struggle in particular with the burden of regulation, predatory officials demanding bribes, and the dominant position of state-owned firms who don't welcome rivals.

Brown and Bazdyrev say they never had to pay bribes, but they've been treated with suspicion in a country where foreign investment in consumer goods is rare. They say export permits are tricky to get and authorities avoid paying tax rebates.

The pair originally tried to partner with a local state-controlled microphone firm, but that deal was scuttled when the entire management was fired at short notice.

Bazdyrev says local officials in Tula even froze the company bank account, suspecting the firm might be a front for fraudsters. The decision was only reversed when a tax inspector visited the factory in person.

Government reforms, meanwhile, have not helped much. In recent years, entrepreneurs have received tax breaks, but have also been hit with higher social security contributions. The government has talked up developing domestic industry during sanctions, but effects are largely limited to agriculture.

The U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia, imposed since 2014, are another obstacle. Payments from abroad can be difficult to get and U.S. authorities sometimes put them on hold.

"We've got to explain that it's not in support of terrorism or anything," Bazdyrev said.

He and Brown did consider moving the factory to neighboring Latvia or Estonia if the sanctions or regulations get too difficult to deal with. But for now, they say, Russia's low costs make it easier to stay put.

At a tense time in world politics, Brown is pitching their microphones as a sign of cooperation, highlighting how they're made using machines from a Kalashnikov plant.

"I like to think about our company as swords into plowshares," he says. "We use lathes that were made by Kalashnikov to create something that's the complete opposite of war - it's for creating music and spreading goodwill."

___

James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed to this story.

Bill Maher takes credit for Milo Yiannopoulos' downfall

After booking Milo Yiannopoulos on his HBO program last week, TV personality Bill Maher was openly criticized for giving the alt-right provocateur a large platform.

Since Yiannopoulos' appearance, a video in which he seemed to condone men having sex with boys circulated online.

>> Leslie Jones on Milo Yiannopoulos: 'I was done the day I blocked him'

In the days that followed, Yiannopoulos was removed from the lineup of a conservative conference in Maryland, his book deal with Simon & Schuster was canceled, and he resigned from his position at Breitbart News.

And Maher is taking all the credit.

>> Milo Yiannopoulos resigns from Breitbart amid controversy over pedophilia comments

“What I think people saw was an emotionally needy Ann Coulter wannabe, trying to make a buck off of the left’s propensity for outrage,” Maher told the New York Times. “And by the end of the weekend, by dinnertime Monday, he’s dropped as a speaker at CPAC. Then he’s dropped by Breitbart, and his book deal falls through. As I say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. You’re welcome.”

Maher also responded to criticism that he went easy on Yiannopoulos during their segment.

>> Milo Yiannopoulos book deal canceled following remarks on pedophilia 

“It’s not my job to hold him accountable to everything he’s ever said or done,” Maher said. “I had eight minutes with him on the show itself. Sorry I don’t have time to go over everything everybody else would want to do.”

Though Yiannopoulos' interview with Maher seemed cordial, his panel appearance later in the program was not. After insulting the other people on the panel, Yiannopoulos was hit by big criticism from writer and former "Nightly Show" host Larry Wilmore.

>> Read more trending news

Read more here.

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