Michelle Obama: From Reluctant Political Spouse To Pop Culture Icon

First lady Michelle Obama hosts the third annual "Beating the Odds" summit with future college students at the White House on July 19 in Washington, DC.

First lady Michelle Obama hosts the third annual “Beating the Odds” summit with future college students at the White House on July 19 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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From the get-go, Michelle Obama was the reluctant political spouse.

She was apparently “not thrilled from the very beginning about Barack Obama’s political career,” going back to when he was an Illinois state senator, according to Peter Slevin, the author of a biography about Michelle Obama.

But, Slevin says — once she jumped into the political ring, she had a natural knack for connecting with voters.

The first lady speaks at the Democratic Convention on Monday night — her third time addressing the convention.

“The description that so many people use about her is authenticity,” Slevin said. “You always have a feeling that when you ask Michelle Obama a direct question, you will get a direct answer.”

That authenticity got her into hot water in February 2008. She was talking to voters at a campaign event in Wisconsin, when she told them this:

“Let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime I’m really proud of my country.”

As Slevin recalls, “Half the country knew exactly what Michelle Obama was saying and didn’t think much of it, but it’s unquestionable that what she said made the Obama campaign nervous. And very quickly she was caricatured in some quarters as an angry black woman.”

On the eve of the 2008 convention, polling showed less than 40 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of her. Some disliked her, but a lot of folks just didn’t know who she was.


Stephanie Cutter was brought in to help introduce her; she was the first lady’s chief of staff at the time and a long-time Democratic strategist.

“She has a relatability that few people have,” Cutter said. “We knew that the convention in 2008 was the best opportunity to present Michelle Obama to the American people without anybody else’s filter put on it. It was an unfiltered opportunity.”

And so, as Michelle Obama took the stage in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, she had a mission to win over the skeptics, by sharing her personal story.

Obama described the U.S. as “this great country where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school. And the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House.”

“We committed ourselves to building the world as it should be,” she added.

That speech was a resounding success.

Before Obama’s presidency, Michelle Obama was a high-powered hospital executive. During her husband’s presidency, she largely remained apolitical. Her public role focused on supporting military families and reducing childhood obesity.

Slevin says with time, she has become more confident. And with confidence comes candor.

“I thinks she’s coming full circle. I think she’s felt liberated to talk more openly about race and class,” Slevin said.

As her husband’s presidency nears its end, she has opened up about the challenges of being the country’s first African-American first lady.

“I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations, conversation sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud or too angry or too emasculating?” she told the graduating class at the historically black Tuskeegee University last year.

She talked about how it felt to be mocked on the cover of the New Yorker.

“It was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and a machine gun,” Obama said. “Now, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit.”

As Michelle Obama steps onto the stage tonight – she no longer needs to sell herself or her family to Democrats.

She’s a pop culture icon whose videos go viral.

Monday night, she’ll perhaps be the most popular Democrat in the room: a first lady with authenticity, trying to make the case for the country’s first female president — a candidate who struggles with authenticity.

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Tim LaHaye, Evangelical Legend Behind 'Left Behind' Series, Dies At 90

Tim LaHaye (right) and Jerry B. Jenkins sign the 12th book in the "Left Behind" series in 2004 at a store in Spartanburg, S.C.

Tim LaHaye (right) and Jerry B. Jenkins sign the 12th book in the “Left Behind” series in 2004 at a store in Spartanburg, S.C. Mary Ann Chastain/AP hide caption

toggle caption Mary Ann Chastain/AP

Tim LaHaye, evangelical pastor and co-author of the best-selling Left Behind novels, has died at the age of 90.

LaHaye was a prominent Christian leader, a successful megachurch pastor, the author of scores of nonfiction books and the founder of The Institute for Creation Research, as well as several schools.

But he is best known for Left Behind, the wildly popular series of novels imagining Jesus’ return to Earth in the modern era. LaHaye conceived the idea for the series, which he co-wrote with novelist Jerry B. Jenkins.

The resulting books illustrated LaHaye’s religious interpretations, NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports:

“Pastor LaHaye promoted the idea of a “rapture” — when Jesus-believing Christians would suddenly rise up to heaven, leaving non-believers behind. During his seventy-year ministry, LaHaye distinguished himself by focusing on the second coming of Christ.

” ‘Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again,” [LaHaye said]. “And yet many pastors don’t talk about the second coming.”

“LaHaye did, with great success. His Left Behind books sold close to 80 million copies. In addition, he wrote about sixty nonfiction books, mostly focused on biblical prophecy.”

Earlier this month, Alissa Wilkinson — an English professor and critic at large at Christianity Today — wrote that no other brand “has captured conservative American evangelicalism at the turn of the century as well.”

In her piece for The Washington Post, Wilkinson notes that the books merged popular fiction with devoutly believed prediction:

Left Behind isn’t great literature, but it’s highly engaging reading for a mass market, fast-moving fiction with elements drawn from sci-fi, romance, disaster porn, and political and spy novels. …

“This is the genius of the Left Behind books: They work on two levels. For the non-Christian reader, the traditional genre trappings and the mystery of what will happen next keep the pages turning. But for the Christian reader, being able to read current events into the novel’s narratives is thrilling, as is seeing how various elements of the Bible that are written as visions in Revelation (dragons, beasts, women giving birth, horsemen, fiery pits, the symbol 666) might actually work out in contemporary America and the geopolitics beyond its borders.”

Left Behind books have been adapted into multiple films, including three starring Kirk Cameron and one featuring Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray. The brand also gave birth to video games and graphic novels.

The series prompted backlash, too. The theological underpinnings of the books have been criticized by both evangelical and non-evangelical Christians.

Other critics have objected to what evangelical writer Tyler Wigg Stevenson called the “macabre giddiness” of the books, which seem at times to revel in the doomsday suffering of the unsaved. Nicholas Kristof suggested that, in scenes showing the death of all non-Christians, the series celebrates ethnic cleansing “as the height of piety.”

But LaHaye, in an interview with BeliefNet, described his vision of the Rapture as “a time of incredible mercy and grace.”

“If you only look at the people who defy God, it’s a negative time. But if you look at the whole population, it’s a blessed time,” he said.

In a separate interview, in 2007, LaHaye said he hoped the Rapture would come during his lifetime. “It’s going to happen to some generation. Why not ours?” he asked. “The best is yet to come, and I can’t wait to get into this marvelous experience. It’s going to be better than we ever dreamed.

In addition to his work on the rapture and prophecy, LaHaye advocated for creationism (he once described evolution as “the biggest fairy tale in our past two centuries”), authored books organizing personality traits along the four ancient temperaments and wrote about marriage, family and sex within the Christian family.

LaHaye was on the original board of directors of the Moral Majority, and was well known as a supporter of conservative political causes.

His wife, Beverley LaHaye, founded Concerned Women for America; Time magazine once named them “The Christian Power Couple.” They celebrated their 69th anniversary this month.

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Michael Jordan Speaks Up For Black Lives And Police Officers

Michael Jordan says he is giving a million dollars each to an NAACP legal fund and a community policing group to help find solutions to violence against African Americans and police officers.

Michael Jordan says he is giving a million dollars each to an NAACP legal fund and a community policing group to help find solutions to violence against African Americans and police officers. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP hide caption

toggle caption Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Michael Jordan is condemning violence against both African-Americans and police. His forceful and emotional statement, released by ESPN’s The Undefeated, is a marked change for the NBA legend.

Jordan has been famously apolitical during his career – first as a Hall of Fame basketball player for the Chicago Bulls and more recently as an owner of the Charlotte Hornets – avoiding public statements on politics and civil rights, when other athletes have spoken out.

“I can no longer stay silent,” Jordan writes. “We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.”

The statement comes after the recent police shootings of two African-American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and two deadly attacks against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

“I know this country is better than that,” Jordan writes.

Jordan says he’s making $1 million donations to two organizations, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Institute for Community-Police Relations, which was recently established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The aim, Jordan writes, is to help “build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement.”

The donations come during a period of renewed advocacy and statements about social issues by professional athletes and sports leagues.

Current NBA stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul opened the 2016 ESPY’s, earlier this month, by asking professional athletes to speak up on issues of social justice and to help unite communities in the U.S.

WNBA players have spoken out too, wearing solid black shirts during warmups, or shirts with the printed words “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#Dallas5,” in reference to the five police officers that were killed in Dallas earlier this month.

Most recently, the NBA announced that it was stripping Charlotte, N.C., of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game because of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – the so-called bathroom bill – which has been called discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In making that announcement the league stated: “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.”

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Spurned Sanders Supporters Disrupt Day 1 Of DNC With Boos And Jeers

Bernie Sanders supporters chanted his name and booed at mentions of Hillary Clinton during the first day of the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia.

The first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia erupted into chaos Monday afternoon amid controversy over leaked emails from the party’s organizing committee.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who took over for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz after she tendered her resignation over the email scandal, gaveled the proceedings into order without any incident. But that was not to last.

When Rev. Cynthia Hale mentioned Hillary Clinton for the first time during the invocation, the floor erupted into boos.

Clinton supporters began chanting, “Hi-lla-ry, Hi-lla-ry,” but they were quickly drowned out by chants of “Bernie, Bernie!”

Every time Clinton’s name was mentioned thereafter, the crowd erupted into chaos: Sanders supporters shouting against Clinton supporters.

Sanders’ supporters were still reeling from emails published by WikiLeaks earlier this week that appear to show Democratic officials favored Clinton over Sanders during the primaries.

Bernie Sanders supporters chanted his name and booed at mentions of Hillary Clinton during the first day of the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

NPR’s Tamara Keith reports that Sanders’ delegates received a plea from the candidate to keep protests off the floor.

“It’s of utmost importance you explain this to your delegations,” the text read.

A Democratic party official tells Tamara that the Sanders and Clinton campaigns have tried to work together to present a united front. Early into the convention, it was clear those talks and the message from Sanders had not swayed the delegations.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, from Ohio, was shouted down many times as she tried to get through some procedural motions.

“I intend to be fair,” she said as the crowd booed. “I am going to be respectful of you and I want you to be respectful of me. We are all Democrats and we need to act like it.”

The same thing happened as Rep. Elijah Cummings delivered a speech centered around social justice.

As Cummings talked about how proud his late father would be of the people in the room, Sanders’ supporters shouted, “No TPP, No TPP,” in reference to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Diane Russell, a state representative from Maine and a Sanders delegate, spoke directly to the supporters of the Vermont senator.

She talked up the Unity Reform Commission, which was set up, she said, to “build a fairer process going forward.” And she called for Sanders supporters to get in line with Clinton.

“I want to be clear, we did not win this by selling out. We won this by standing together,” Russell said.

Wasserman Schultz announced earlier in the day that she would not gavel in the convention. And a bit after the convention began, the Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Sanders.

“The DNC does not — and will not — tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates,” the apology read. “Individual staffers have also rightfully apologized for their comments, and the DNC is taking appropriate action to ensure it never happens again.”

Still, outside the convention hall, protesters took to the streets to support Sanders. When Sanders spoke to delegates at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the crowd booed when he threw his support to Clinton.

We’ll update this post as the news unfolds.

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Canadian Oil Spill Threatens Drinking Water

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River on Friday. Husky Energy has said between 200,000 and 250,000 liters of crude oil and other material leaked into the river on Thursday from its pipeline.

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River on Friday. Husky Energy has said between 200,000 and 250,000 liters of crude oil and other material leaked into the river on Thursday from its pipeline. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP hide caption

toggle caption Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

The water supply for communities in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is threatened by an oil spill that dumped an estimated 66,000 gallons of heavy oil, along with natural gas used to dilute it, into a major river.

The pipeline that broke is owned by Husky Energy Inc., the site of the last Thursday’s leak is within 1,000 feet of the North Saskatchewan River.

The central Saskatchewan town of North Battleford, which gets its water from the river, shut off its river intake last week and switched to groundwater, according to Reuters.

By far the largest community affected so far is the city of Prince Albert, which has a population of about 35,000 people. On Monday, officials there announced they had shut down the city’s water treatment plant after the oil slick arrived in town. The CBC reports the city has enough water stored to last 48 hours, and officials are urging residents to limit water use to stretch that until the end of the week, which will buy time to get a backup system running.

Managers for the province’s public works department are working to lay an 18-mile temporary water pipeline to supply the city with water from another source, the South Saskatchewan River.

Building a water pipeline near Prince Albert. 30kms of hose. Crews scrambling to get it finished. @CBCAlerts pic.twitter.com/eactQDp4D4

— Devin Heroux (@Devin_Heroux) July 24, 2016

The Globe and Mail reports authorities say they have recovered 40 percent of the spilled liquid so far.

The paper reports:

“In a telephone conference with reporters, officials from the province of Saskatchewan said they had built five booms to contain the spill and were working with Husky and the federal government on a cleanup plan.

“Husky said the cleanup at the site of the leak had been completed, although neither it nor the province gave a time line for resolving the issue entirely.

“The company also said three birds had been ‘impacted’ by the spill and that one died.”

Despite the severity of the spill, and its widespread effects on people living downstream, the premier of Saskatchewan defended pipelines as the safest way to move oil over land, reported The Canadian Press wire service.

Premier Brad Wall told the wire service, “The facts remain that if we’re not moving by a pipeline, it’s going to move … (by rail). We know that rail is actually more susceptible to spills and spills are often more intense.”

The neighboring province of Alberta is considering pipeline options to bring crude oil from its tar sands to ocean ports, after a cross-border proposal that would have run through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico was shut down by the U.S. government.

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World Cafe Next: Frankie Lee

Frankie Lee.

Frankie Lee. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

  • “Where Do We Belong”
  • “Buffalo”

A country-influenced singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, Frankie Lee just released his debut album, American Dreamer. His father was a musician who died in a motorcycle accident when Lee was 12; Lee inherited his dad’s record collection, as well as musician friends who would keep the boy out late listening in the bars.

After years in Nashville and Austin, Frankie Lee came home and made a new album, American Dreamer, that rings with authenticity. Hear two of its songs on this page.

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Peter Bjorn And John On World Cafe

Peter Bjorn And John.

Peter Bjorn And John. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

  • “Breakin’ Point”
  • “Dominoes”
  • “Do Si Do”

Last year on World Cafe‘s Sense Of Place trip to Stockholm, Sweden, we had a rare opportunity to hear new songs from the pop-rock band Peter Bjorn And John that were still works in progress. A year later, that music has come out on the new album Breakin’ Point, released last month.

In this episode, the band discusses the way it used different producers, approaching each song as if it were a single. We also discuss the strange algorithm that determines how new PB&J albums get titled. Here is a video of the band performing “Do Si Do” from our Sense Of Place trip.

Peter Bjorn and John perform “Do Si Do”. Recorded live during a World Cafe: Sense of Place Session.

WXPN YouTube

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Democratic Convention Erupts With Shouts Of 'Bernie'; Sanders To Speak


Shouts of “Bernie” interrupted the invocation at the Democratic Convention Monday afternoon, just after the event was called to order.

Monday was a dramatic day, including boos directed at Bernie Sanders (for telling his supporters to vote for Clinton) and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (for an email scandal showing committee members trying to undercut Sanders’ campaign).

And as Rep. Marcia Fudge, new convention chair, took the stage expressing her support for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the crowd erupted again each time she said the presumptive nominee’s name, shouting “Bernie, Bernie.”

Wasserman Schultz declined to gavel in convention in hopes of starting the event off on a “positive note” — she handed off the duty to outgoing Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

Sanders and First Lady Michelle Obama are expected to speak tonight, along with musical performances by Paul Simon and Demi Lovato.

  • Here is a partial program, from the DNC:
  • Boyz II Men
  • Clarissa Rodriguez, Texas Democratic National Delegate. At just 17 years of age, she is the youngest DNC national delegate.
  • Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader
  • Marcia Fudge, new DNC chair, member of the US House of Representatives, Ohio
  • Hilda Solis, former United States Secretary of Labor
  • Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore
  • Turning Over the Gavel
  • Raúl Grijalva, member of the US House of Representatives, Arizona
  • John Podesta, Clinton Campaign Chair
  • Performance
  • Demi Lovato, singer-songwriter
  • Astrid Silva, DREAMer sharing her story and her fight to keep families together
  • Jason and Jarron Collins, twin brothers and former professional basketball
  • Sarah Silverman, comedian, Actress and two-time Emmy Award winner
  • Paul Simon, American musician, singer-songwriter and actor.
  • With Mick Rossi, Carmen “CJ” Camerieri, Joel Guzman, Jim Oblon, Bakithi
  • Eva Longoria, actress
  • Cory Booker, United States Senator
  • Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
  • Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator, Massachusetts
  • Bernie Sanders, United States Senator, Vermont

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The Big Internet Brands Of The '90s — Where Are They Now?

A CompuServe system shows an index of stories by the Columbus Dispatch and Associated Press on July 9, 1980.

Verizon is buying Yahoo for $4.8 billion, acquiring its “core Internet assets” — search, email, finance, news, sports, Tumblr, Flickr — in essence writing the final chapter of one of the longest-running Internet companies.

Last year, Verizon bought another Internet pioneer, AOL (aka America Online) for $4.4 billion — complete with its ad targeting technology and content sites Huffington Post and TechCrunch.

This got us thinking: What happened to all those other big brands that dominated the early Internet experience? Here’s a nerdy remembrance of a few of them. (A TL;DR preview: Yahoo and AOL bought a bunch of them, though many survived far longer than you might think.)


A CompuServe system shows an index of stories by the Columbus Dispatch and Associated Press on July 9, 1980. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

The original Internet service provider launched for consumers as a dial-up online information service in 1979, and its popularity skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s. It was the original portal to the web, with news, chats, file sharing — a first Internet experience for several generations of users.

H&R Block (yep, that tax-prep company) bought Compuserve in 1980 and in 1997 sold it to WorldCom, which in turn passed on the subscriber base to the growing rival AOL. After itself going through a merger and then a spin-off with Time Warner, AOL officially shut down CompuServe in 2009.

But! A relic version still exists here.


A younger competitor to CompuServe, Prodigy was a “home computer information service” launched nationally in 1990 by a partnership of Sears and IBM, distinguishing itself with the addition of graphics and advertising support. The service lost money and users in the early ’90s and went through a reboot in 1993, according to Wired.

Prodigy Classic officially shut down in 1999, citing the “Y2K problem,” and the Atlantic has a great long read on what went wrong. The company re-imagined itself as an Internet provider and got fully acquired by SBC communications, now known as AT&T.


CEO Rod Schrock shows AltaVista's new look in 1999.

CEO Rod Schrock shows AltaVista’s new look in 1999. Paul Sakuma/AP hide caption

toggle caption Paul Sakuma/AP

Launched in 1995 by Digital Equipment Corporation as a demo project, AltaVista — aka a web “super spider” — was essentially an indexing predecessor of Google.

It changed hands a few times: Compaq Computer bought it in 1998 (for $3.3 million), one-time Internet giant CMGI bought it in 1999 (for $2.3 billion), ad company Overture Services bought it in 2003 (for $140 million) and it was acquired by Yahoo later the same year. Yahoo officially shut down AltaVista in 2013.


This was like the original Facebook — or, um, MySpace? You could find a community and build your own neon-colored, spinning-animation, multi-fonted, totally cool personal web page! After its mid-’90s launch, Yahoo bought GeoCities for more than $3.5 billion during the dot-com boom in 1999, ran it as Yahoo! Geocities and eventually shut it down in 2009.

But if you’re nostalgic, you could still Geocities-ize websites, thanks to the Internet.

Ask Jeeves

Jeeves came and went as the friendly online butler, eventually retired by Ask.com.

Jeeves came and went as the friendly online butler, eventually retired by Ask.com. Adam Berry/Bloomberg/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Adam Berry/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Remember that web butler Jeeves who answered your web queries in a distant echo of today’s Siri?

Launched in 1996, Jeeves didn’t live up to Google’s search engine ascent: Bought in 2005 by IAC (whose businesses include OkCupid, Tinder, The Daily Beast, CollegeHumor and Vimeo), it went through several relaunches, abandoning the search engine and emerging as Ask.com.


The website host/builder is still around! Launched in 1996, it was bought a year later by another dot-com startup WhoWhere, which in turn was bought in 1998 by Lycos, described by CNN at the time as “the world’s fourth most popular Web site, behind America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft.” Lycos, after trading hands many times, currently belongs to Indian digital media company Ybrant Digital.


The original caption of this photo read: “The Netscape Navigator home page on the Internet’s World Wide Web is seen Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1995.” AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

A brainchild of now-legendary Mark Andreessen and Jim Clark of Silicon Graphics, the Netscape browser beat Microsoft to the market in 1994. After intense “browser wars,” detailed by Engadget, Netscape’s release of the source code spurred the creation of Mozilla.

AOL bought Netscape for the dot-com-bubbleprice of $4.2 billion in 1998, though it ended up costing $10 billion. As Firefox gained prominence, AOL made several attempts to revive Netscape’s popularity, but eventually stopped supporting it in 2008.


You’ve got a message!


Launched in 1996 by Israeli company Mirabilis, the “I seek you” chat service was an alternative to AIM and Yahoo Messenger (both of which are still around, and the latter is apparently beloved by oil traders).

AOL bought Mirabilis in 1998 for $287 million and sold ICQ in 2010 to Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies for $188 million.

Bonus ’90s Brands That Are Still Around

  • eBay (owns Stubhub; previously also owned Skype, Craigslist and PayPal);
  • Match.com (now owned by IAC, along with Tinder and OkCupid);
  • Amazon.com (owns Audible, Zappos);
  • MapQuest (launched as a web service in the 1990s, it was bought by America Online, which is now owned by Verizon);
  • WebMD (formed as a result of a 1999 merger, backed by Microsoft and featuring the co-founder of Netscape).

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