U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 18, 2017

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Pence reassures Japan of U.S. resolve to rein in North Korea
Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. would stand by Japan “100 percent” and keep pushing until North Korea curbs its missile and nuclear weapons programs. Pence, arriving after a visit to South Korea, said the U.S. had demonstrated its resolve with recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan, and that “all options are on the table” but President Trump “is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region and with China to achieve a peaceable resolution and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, said the U.S. focus on the North Korean nuclear program reflected a “gangster-like logic” that’s turning the Korean Peninsula into “the world’s biggest hotspot,” creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.”

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

2. Theresa May calls for surprise election, seeking Brexit mandate
British Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly announced Tuesdaythat she would call an early election for June 8 in a clear bid to win a strong mandate as her government negotiates the terms of its departure from the European Union. May took power last July after former Prime Minister David Cameron, who preceded her as Conservative Party leader, resigned after voters rejected his call to remain in the 28-nation trading bloc. May, who previously had ruled out holding snap elections, formally initiated the two-year Brexit process last month. “I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I have to make,” May said.

Source: The New York Times, The Washington Post

3. Court blocks first of 8 planned Arkansas executions
The Arkansas State Supreme Court blocked two executions late Monday that would have been the first carried out in the state in 12 years. The state challenged the decision in the case of convicted murderer Don Davis, who had already been served what was to be his last meal, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case early Tuesday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was “disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family.” The court also stayed the scheduled execution of Bruce Ward, who was also convicted of murder. The halted executions were the first among eight that the state had planned to carry out this month before its supply of a key lethal injection drug expires. One other prisoner had already received a stay. State officials acknowledged they were unlikely to reschedule the two newly blocked executions before the drug expires, but said they would push ahead with the five remaining cases, which were not affected by the State Supreme Court ruling.

Source: The Washington Post

4. Trump slams Democrat leading polls in Georgia special election
Georgia voters in a red House district go to the polls on Tuesday for the second special election providing an early glimpse of what Americans think of President Trump. Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat, was leading the 18-candidates in polls ahead of the vote, but his 41 percent would not be enough to avoid a runoff, and the leading three Republicans combined have slightly more support. The vote is being held to fill the seat vacated by former Congressman Tom Price, a leading opponent of ObamaCare who stepped down to become Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Price won re-election last year with 62 percent of the vote. Trump made a last-minute tweet calling Ossoff a “super liberal Democrat” who wants to “protect criminals, allow illegal immigration, and raise taxes.” Ossoff’s campaign manager called GOP attacks on the Democrat “truly shameful.”

Source: CNBC

5. Turkey opposition challenges referendum result
Turkey’s main opposition party on Monday called for election officials to nullify the results of a landmark referendum granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. The opposition said there were major irregularities in the referendum, which international monitors said “fell short” of international standards. Specifically, critics said the electoral board accepted ballots without official stamps that should have served as a key safeguard against fraud. Erdogan deflected the challenge. President Trump on Monday called Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory, breaking with his State Department.

Source: The Associated Press, BBC News

6. Poll finds most Americans no longer think Trump keeps promises
A new Gallup poll released Monday found that just 45 percent of participants believed that President Trump keeps his promises, down sharply from 62 percent in February. Only 36 percent said they saw Trump as “honest and trustworthy,” down from 42 percent in February. In the last two months, Trump has announced reversals on several key policies, saying he no longer believed NATO to be obsolete, declining to label China as a currency manipulator, and shifting criticism of the Export-Import Bank to praise. Trump also approved an airstrike against a Syrian military base after years spent urging former President Barack Obama to stay out of the country’s civil war. He also dropped America’s largest non-nuclear weapon in Afghanistan despite touting an “America first” foreign policy.

Source: Gallup

7. 1,000 Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strike
Thousands of Palestinians protested in the West Bank and Gaza as more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike demanding better conditions and an end to detentions without trial. Marwan Barghouti, a prominent member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, led the hunger strike. Barghouti, whom polls have long shown to be a favorite to succeed Abbas, was arrested in 2002 during a violent uprising, and convicted of several murders. He was sentenced to five life terms.

Source: USA Today

8. Justice Neil Gorsuch officially joins the Supreme Court
Justice Neil Gorsuch officially took his seat on the bench Monday as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about what court should hear appeals on discrimination claims filed by federal employees. Gorsuch, after receiving a warm welcome from his new colleagues, jumped right in, asking the attorney for the employee in the case several pointed questions about whether a straight reading of the law really left any question about which court had jurisdiction. Gorsuch’s participation in his first case brought the high court to full strength with nine justices, and its 5-4 conservative majority restored, for the first time since Justice Antonin Scalia died more than a year ago.

Source: The Hill

9. Prince had no prescription for meds found at his house
The late singer Prince had bottles of opioid painkillers in his home when he died last year, but none of the drugs had been prescribed to him, according to court documents unsealed Monday. Some of the medications were found in vitamin pill bottles, others in envelopes. Some were prescribed to Kirk Johnson, Prince’s former drummer and longtime friend. Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg said he had written an Oxycodone prescription intended for Prince, but he put it under Johnson’s name to safeguard the rock star’s privacy. So far, no charges have been filed in connection with Prince’s death almost exactly one year ago.

Source: CNN

10. Kenyan runners sweep men’s and women’s races at Boston Marathon
Geoffrey Kirui won the men’s division and fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat won the women’s race in the 121st Boston Marathon on Monday. Three American runners challenged the leaders, with three-time U.S. Olympian Galen Rupp sticking close to Kirui, who only pulled away in the last two miles to claim Kenya’s first men’s victory in five years. Americans Jordan Hasay and Desi Linden took third and fourth, respectively, in the women’s race, the first time two U.S. women had finished in the top four since 1991. Six U.S. men finished in the top 10. “It’s so exciting to see Americans being competitive here,” said Rupp, the Olympic bronze medalist making his debut in the storied race.

Source: The Associated Press

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 17, 2017

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Pence warns North Korea not to test Trump’s ‘strength and resolve’
Vice President Mike Pence started a 10-day Asia trip in South Korea shortly after Pyongyang marked a key national holiday with a failed missile test, warning that the latest “provocation” demonstrated how dangerous the isolated communist nation had become. Pence warned Pyongyang on Monday not to test President Trump, saying the U.S. leader showed his “strength and resolve” recently by bombing Syria, and the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Tensions had risen on speculation that North Korea was planning its sixth nuclear test to mark the holiday, but the White House said it saw no need to respond to an unsuccessful missile launch. “If it had been a nuclear test, then other actions would have been taken from the U.S.,” an adviser told reporters on Pence’s plane. President Trump said Sunday that his administration was working with China on addressing “the North Korea problem.”

Source: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

2. Turkey’s president claims victory in vote giving him sweeping new powers
Turkish voters narrowly approved expanded powers for their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Sunday. About 51 percent backed Erdogan, while just under 49 percent voted no. Supporters said the change, which also could let Erdogan stay in office until 2029, will modernize the country by replacing its parliamentary system with an executive presidency giving the chief executive sweeping powers. The country’s two main opposition parties challenged the referendum’s legitimacy. The Republican People’s Party called for a recount of 60 percent of the ballots, saying that unstamped ballot papers were improperly accepted as valid. Erdogan supporters poured into the streets to celebrate his win, while opponents gathered in Istanbul, expressing their unhappiness with the result by banging pots and pans.

Source: BBC News

3. Ousted South Korean president formally charged in corruption case
South Korea’s ex-president, Park Geun-hye, was formally chargedMonday in the corruption scandal that led to her impeachment. The 65-year-old ousted leader faces numerous charges, including bribery, coercion, abuse of power, and leaking state secrets. A conviction for bribery could result in a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Park is accused of letting her close friend and confidante, Choi Soon-sil, extort money from companies with promises of lucrative government favors. Both women deny they committed any crimes.

Source: The New York Times

4. Death toll rises in bombing of Syria evacuee buses
The death toll from an apparent suicide car bombing targeting Syrians evacuated from war-torn towns rose to 126 on Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The bomber attacked a convoy of buses carrying people being transported to safety from pro-government Shia villages. At least 109 of those killed were refugees, while the others were aid workers and rebels assigned to guard the buses, according to the monitoring group. At least 68 children were killed in the attack.

Source: CNN

5. Ohio police search for suspect in murder livestreamed on Facebook
Ohio police conducted a manhunt on Sunday for a suspect in a killing that was streamed live on Facebook. Law enforcement officers searched the Cleveland area for Steve Stephens, who allegedly walked up to Robert Goodwin Sr., 74, and fatally shot him. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson called on Stephens to surrender to police, and not “do any more harm to anybody.” In the video, Stephens said he was acting because of a woman, and that he had killed more than a dozen people.

Source: The Associated Press

6. United says it will stop removing passengers to make room for employees
United Airlines will stop letting employees bump ticketed passengers off of overbooked flights, a spokeswoman for the carrier said Sunday. The company’s leaders promised to revamp their policies for dealing with full planes after the outcry over video showing a bloodied passenger, Dr. David Dao of Kentucky, being dragged off a plane in Chicago by aviation police. “We issued an updated policy to make sure crews traveling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure,” the spokeswoman, Maggie Schmerin, wrote in an email. “This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies.” She said the change was intended to help ensure that such incidents “never happen again.”

Source: The New York Times

7. Pro-Trump group launches ads to help friendly House Republicans
Leaders of America First Policies, a nonprofit that supports President Trump, told The Washington Post on Sunday that their group is launching a $3 million ad campaign to support a dozen Republican House members who backed the Republican health-care plan. The proposal failed last month when GOP leaders could not line up enough votes to pass it, and Trump’s backers kept an informal tally of how Republican lawmakers had planned to vote. The “advocacy campaign” will include broadcast, digital, and social components, and is intended to shore up support for Trump’s agenda as the president struggles in polls.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Fugitive former Mexican governor captured in Guatemala
Javier Duarte, the fugitive former governor of Mexico’s Veracruz state, has been arrested in Guatemala after a six-month international manhunt, Mexican authorities said Sunday. Duarte was captured in Panajachel, a resort town on Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. He faces extradition to Mexico to face charges of graft and organized crime related to the suspected theft of millions of dollars. Duarte denies the charges. He once was considered a rising star of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, but the corruption case made him an embarrassment. His capture could give the party of President Enrique Pena Nieto a boost as it prepares for a tough fight to keep the presidency in next year’s elections.

Source: The New York Times

9. Trumps host their first Easter Egg Roll after deadline crunch
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump host their first annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, continuing a 150-year Washington tradition. The White House has invited 21,000 people to participate in the event on the White House South Lawn. The crowd will be smaller than last year’s, which drew 30,000 people. Planning for this year’s roll started later than usual, raising questions about whether it would be held at all. Wells Wood Turning, the Maine-based manufacturer of the traditional wooden eggs passed out at the celebration, resorted to tweeting a message that its Easter deadlines were approaching, and urging the White House to “please reach out.”

Source: ABC News

10. Fate of the Furious sets overseas box office record
The Fate of the Furious, the eighth film in Universal’s car-based action series, took in $100.2 million domestically and an estimated $432.3 million internationally in its first weekend, setting a record for the biggest global debut ever. Its estimated $532.5 million total narrowly beat the previous record of $529 million set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Fate of the Furious‘ North American haul marked a slowdown, however, falling 32 percent short of the $147 million earned by its predecessor, Furious 7, in its 2015 debut. The ensemble film, starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, and others, set a record overseas, however, showing growth for the franchise in 30 countries, and crushing the previous record of $316.7 million set by Jurassic World.

Source: EW.com, The New York Times

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 16, 2017

Stringer/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. North Korean missile test fails at launch
One day after celebrating the regime’s founding president with a military parade, North Korea conducted an unsuccessful missile test Sunday in which the missile exploded about five seconds after launch. The test took place in Sinpo, a coastal city from which Pyonyang launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan in early April. The type of missile tested Sunday is presently unknown, though early reports suggest it was not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States. “This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” Vice President Pence said while speaking to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea on Sunday as part of a previously scheduled visit.

Source: CNN, ABC News

2. Trump supporters and critics fight at California tax protest
Tens of thousand of people turned out for Tax Day protests nationwide on Saturday to demand the release of President Trump’s personal tax returns. Trump is not legally required to disclose the documents, but critics say they could reveal conflicts of interest. While most of the rallies were peaceful, fights broke out between the president’s supporters and opponents in Berkeley, California, resulting in about 20 arrests. Around a dozen people were injured, and police in riot gear reportedly used some sort of explosive device in the crowd. President Trump complained on Twitter Sunday that his taxes are still an issue post-election. “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday,” he added.

Source: The Hill, Reuters

3. Pope Francis urges peace, faith, and hope in Easter message
Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike celebrate Easter on Sunday thanks to an atypical convergence of the calendars used by different branches of the church to calculate the date. Pope Francis addressed a teeming crowd in Rome, giving his “Urbi et Orbi” homily — a message “to the city and the world” — on the subject of hope in the midst of global and personal suffering. “Jesus has risen from the dead,” he said. “And this is not a fantasy. It isn’t a party with lots of flowers. This is pretty, but [Easter is] not this. It’s more than this.” The resurrection of Christ is “a sign in the midst of so many calamities,” Francis continued, that gives us “a sense of looking beyond, of saying, ‘Don’t look to a wall, there’s a horizon, there’s life, there is joy.'”

Source: Crux, Fox News

4. Likely car bomb kills dozens of Syrian evacuees
An explosion believed to be caused by a car bomb killed at least 112 people fleeing villages near Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday, local news outlets reported. The bomb hit a convoy of buses heading into the city to escape fighting in or near the residents’ towns. Children are reportedly among the dead. The van thought to have been used in the attack was marked as a humanitarian relief vehicle. The death toll is expected to continue to rise.

Source: BBC News, Reuters

5. GOP raises $43 million for 2020
President Trump and the Republican National Committee together raised $42.6 million toward the 2020 race in the first quarter of 2017, Federal Election Commission reports released Friday night reveal, with much of the money coming from small donors giving $200 or less. During a comparable period in 2009, then-President Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised just $15.8 million. Politico reports three Trump reelection committees which together raised $13.2 million in the first quarter spent nearly half a million at Trump companies as well as thousands at companies owned by top White House staff.

Source: The Washington Post, The Week

6. Full Supreme Court set to hear religious establishment case
With Justice Neil Gorsuch officially installed on the bench, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a First Amendment case concerning church and state relations on Wednesday. At issue is a Missouri program that offers funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires. The Missouri state constitution explicitly prohibits giving any public money to religious organizations, a rule Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri — which wants to resurface its playground — says is discriminatory. The case could have broad implications for related issues including school choice.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

7. Polls open in Turkish referendum on presidential powers
Turks began voting Sunday on a constitutional referendum that, if approved, would fundamentally restructure the country’s parliamentary system, giving broad new powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and ensuring Erdogan stays in office for at least another decade. Under the new proposal, the president would be able to dissolve the legislature, rule by executive order, and gain new authority over administrative and judicial appointments. Polling suggests a slight public preference for approving the new system, and unofficial results will be published by Sunday evening local time.

Source: Reuters, Al Jazeera

8. Last known survivor of the 19th century dies at 117
The oldest woman in the world and the last confirmed survivor of the 19th century, Emma Morano, died Saturday at her home in Italy. She was 117. Born in 1899 in Civiasco, a small town in northern Italy near Milan, Morano turned 117 this past November. She lived with a caregiver in Verbania, a lakeside town just 25 miles from her birthplace. In her latter years, Morano enjoyed television, raw eggs, chocolate, and the company of her grandchildren.

Source: The Week, AFP

9. SNL targets Spicer, Kushner, Bannon
Saturday Night Live set its sights on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (Melissa McCarthy), senior adviser Jared Kushner (host Jimmy Fallon), and chief strategist Stephen Bannon (Skeletor) in its latest episode, skewering Spicer’s recent gaffer about Adolf Hitler and Kushner’s apparent ascendency over Bannon in President Trump’s affections. McCarthy’s Spicer appeared in an Easter Bunny costume to mis-explain Passover as an apology to the Jewish people, while Alec Baldwin’s Trump conducted an America’s Next Top Model-style elimination with his two advisers.

Source: CNN, The Week

10. Giraffe finally gives birth on web cam
A giraffe named April, who lives at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, gave birth to a male calf on Saturday. April’s pregnancy was livestreamed online. She was expected to deliver in January or February, but her pregnancy stretched to 16 months, about a month longer than is typical for giraffes. The delay made April an internet sensation, and more than a million people tuned in for the birth. The calf weighs about 150 pounds, and both animals are healthy.

Source: The New York Times, Reuters

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 15, 2017

Ed Jones/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. North Korea parades military might for founder’s birthday
North Korea on Saturday celebrated the birthday of the regime’s founding president, Kim Il Sung, with a massive parade in Pyongyang flaunting its intercontinental and submarine-based ballistic missiles, along with tanks, planes, and other equipment. The annual show of force appears to be scheduled in lieu of a rumored nuclear weapons test; unnamed senior U.S. officials reportedly told NBC News the U.S. is prepared to respond to such a test with a preemptive attack, a story “multiple senior defense officials” later categorically denied to Fox News. Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, considered North Korea’s second-in-command, accused President Trump of “creating a war situation” while speaking at Saturday’s parade, pledging Pyongyang “will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack.”

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

2. Tax Day protests demand Trump’s tax returns
Tax Day protests demanding the release of President Trump’s personal tax returns are scheduled Saturday in cities nationwide, including Washington, D.C., and West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Though the White House and Trump himself maintain Americans “don’t care at all” about seeing the returns, polling shows three in four Americans believe the documents should be released for the sake of transparency. A White House petition demanding the returns accumulated more than 1 million signatures. The president is not legally required to release his tax returns, though a consistent tradition of doing so dates to President Nixon. Critics suggest the returns — which Trump says, contra the IRS, cannot be released while they are under audit — could reveal illegal conflicts of interest.

Source: CNN Money, Politico

3. White House to keep visitor logs private
The Trump White House announced Friday it will not make its visitor logs public, a decision breaking with former President Obama’s release of six million visitor logs, a partial record excluding visitors the Obama White House vaguely deemed “personal.” The Trump administration is using a 2013 federal court ruling to categorize the visitor logs as “presidential records” and thus shield them from the Freedom of Information Act. White House communications director Michael Dubke cited personal security as the administration’s rationale, saying the change was made in consideration of “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”

Source: Time

4. MOAB strike death toll rises to 94, Afghan official says
The death toll of the United States’ deployment of its largest non-nuclear weapon Thursday in Afghanistan has risen to 94 militants, an Afghan official said Saturday, growing the casualty count from a previous estimate of 36. Nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon was used for the first time, targeting tunnels in the Nangarhar Province. Though no civilian deaths have been reported, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai slammed the MOAB strike, calling it an “inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

5. Arkansas judge blocks planned execution spree
An Arkansas judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from carrying out a planned eight executions before the end of April. One of the eight was previously stayed by a federal judge. The executions were scheduled to begin Monday and would have been the state’s first in 12 years. Judge Wendell Griffen’s ruling specifically prohibits the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, a drug used for lethal injection which the manufacturer says was purchased by Arkansas under false pretenses. The state allegedly said it wanted the drug for medical use, not capital punishment.

Source: Fox News, NPR

6. Trump administration drops North Carolina ‘bathroom bill’ lawsuit
The Trump administration filed a motion Friday to dismiss a federal lawsuit against North Carolina over the state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which mandated individuals use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex regardless of their gender identity. The suit was originally brought by the Obama administration, which claimed the law discriminated against LGBT individuals. Last month, North Carolina lawmakers struck a deal to replace the law with a measure that removes the provision requiring people to use restrooms based on their biological sex while prohibiting local governments from implementing new nondiscrimination ordinances until December 2020. Separate litigation by civil rights groups, including the ACLU, is still pending.

Source: ABC News, WRAL

7. 16 killed in Sri Lankan garbage mound fire and collapse
At least 16 people were killed in Sri Lanka on Saturday when a giant mound of garbage suddenly collapsed after catching on fire. Four people were rescued from the dump and search efforts are still underway. More than 600 people’s homes were damaged or ruined by the collapse, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe promised the government will remove garbage from the area to protect local homes and eliminate health concerns caused by the rotting refuse.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

8. Former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez acquitted in murder trial
A jury on Friday acquitted former NFL player Aaron Hernandez of double first-degree murders prosecutors say he committed while drunk in 2012. Once a star tight end for the New England Patriots, Hernandez was found guilty of unlawful possession of a gun, for which he was sentenced to four to five years in prison on top of the life sentence without the possibility of parole he is currently serving for a separate murder conviction. “What won this case was a dearth of evidence that connected Hernandez to these shootings,” said his attorney.

Source: Reuters, ESPN

9. Kendrick Lamar releases highly anticipated album Damn
Rapper Kendrick Lamar released his fourth studio album late Thursdaynight, a 14-track compilation titled Damn. The album follows 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly and last year’s untitled unmastered, a collection of unreleased demos. Like Lamar’s previous offerings, Damn features heavily political lyrics: The song “DNA” samples a rant from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera criticizing Lamar, while “Lust” chronicles the aftermath of last year’s presidential election. Some sharp-eyed observers speculate Lamar will release another album Sunday, based on clues in Damn‘s lyrics and on his social media accounts.

Source: Esquire, The Verge

10. Disney releases first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Disney and Lucasfilm released the first official trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Friday, at the conclusion of a Star Wars Celebration panel in Orlando, Florida. The clip opens with a panting Rey, who appears to be on the same island where Luke Skywalker was seen in The Force Awakens. Also visible are an injured Finn and a menacing Kylo Ren, interspersed with sprawling landscape shots, quite a few explosions, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the late Carrie Fisher. The Last Jedi is slated for release Dec. 15, 2017.

Source: Variety, Vulture

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 14, 2017

(Eglin Air Force Base via AP)

THE WEEK

1. U.S. drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan in military first
U.S. forces dropped America’s largest non-nuclear weapon on an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” is a 21,600-pound bomb that was developed in the early 2000s and described by critics as an “indiscriminate terror weapon.” Afghan officials said 36 militants were killed in the blast in Nangarhar province, although the U.S. military says the local ISIS affiliate had 600 to 800 fighters operating in the country, most of them in Nangarhar. President Trump called it a “very, very successful mission.” It was the first time the MOAB had ever been used in combat. Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said it was “the right munition” to use against ISIS in the remote area.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

2. Trump signs measure letting states block federal funding of Planned Parenthood
President Trump on Thursday signed legislation letting states cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions. The legislation will undo an Obama administration rule that prevented state and local governments from withholding federal money for contraception, fertility, prenatal care, breast and cervical cancer screening, and other women’s health services, whether the group also provided abortions or not. The new measure passed the Senate thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, praised the legislation for “prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health-care alternatives.” Abortion rights advocates said the measure would harm women’s health.

Source: The New York Times

3. China urges reduction in North Korea tensions before they become ‘irreversible’
China warned Friday that rising tensions over North Korea must be calmed before they reach an “irreversible and unmanageable stage.” Some observers fear that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear weapons test. U.S. ally South Korea said that a nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile launch would be a “strategic provocation” that would provoke a “powerful punitive measure.” The U.S., which has warned that its policy of diplomatic patience toward North Korea was over, has sent an aircraft carrier group toward the region. North Korea accused the U.S. of “seriously threatening peace” by sending “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region. Vice President Mike Pence is heading to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned trip.

Source: Reuters

4. Assad says video of child chemical-weapon victims was faked
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ramped up his denial of responsibility for the April 4 sarin gas in Idlib province, saying that videos showing children killed in the incident were faked. Assad has countered U.S. claims that Syrian government forces conducted the attack by saying that his warplanes had bombed a terrorist weapons depot that contained the chemical weapons, releasing them into the rebel-held area. More than 80 people reportedly were killed by poison gas in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, prompting President Trump to authorize firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian base the U.S. believes launched the chemical attack. “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun,” Assad told Agence France-Presse in his first television interview since the bombing. “Were they dead at all?”

Source: The New York Times

5. Coalition airstrike kills 18 allies in friendly-fire accident
U.S.-led coalition warplanes accidentally bombed allied Syrian rebels battling the Islamic State this week, killing 18, the Pentagon said Thursday. The friendly-fire incident was the worst yet in nearly three years of fighting against the Islamist extremist terrorist group. The airstrike was requested by “partner forces” targeting Kurdish and Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces, mistakenly believing the position was held by ISIS. U.S. officials said they believed the error occurred because an SDF unit close to ISIS’s front line reported its position incorrectly, creating a mix-up over their location.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Report: British intelligence alerted U.S. to Trump-Russia ties
British spy agency GCHQ gave the U.S. the first alert about possible ties between then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian operatives, The Guardian reported Thursday. GCHQ and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Trump associates and known or suspected Russian agents as early as late 2015 and passed on the information to U.S. officials. GCHQ was not targeting Trump, but caught the alleged conversations by chance during routine surveillance of Russian officials, The Guardian reported. The FBI is investigating whether Russia meddled in last year’s election, and whether anyone involved in the Trump campaign may have collaborated with Moscow.

Source: The Guardian, CNN

7. Michigan doctor accused of genital cutting of 2 7-year-old girls
A Michigan doctor was charged Thursday with performing genital mutilations on two 7-year-old girls in the first such prosecution ever in the U.S. The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested Wednesdayand accused of performing the genital cutting at a clinic in Livonia, Michigan. Nagarwala was also charged with transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and lying to federal agents. FBI agent Kevin Swanson wrote in an affidavit that investigators had “identified other children who may have been victimized by Nagarwala.” The doctor’s lawyer declined to comment. Nagarwala’s employer, Henry Ford Health Systems, put the emergency room doctor on leave and noted that the illegal procedures were not alleged to have been performed at its facilities.

Source: Detroit Free Press, The New York Times

8. Trump administration ObamaCare rule shortens enrollment period
The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday issued a final rule on ObamaCare that shortens the enrollment period and gives insurers flexibility that could raise out-of-pocket medical expenses for consumers, health-care experts say. The rule, which takes effect later this year, was issued as President Trump and Republicans jumpstart their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after their first try failed last month. Insurers welcomed the rule, but said it still didn’t do enough to stabilize the system, saying they want assurances from Trump that the government will continue paying “cost-sharing subsidies” for low-income ObamaCare participants. Trump this week threatened to withhold the $7 billion in annual cost-sharing payments if Democrats don’t cooperate on replacing the health-care law, a threat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called “appalling.”

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

9. Choate acknowledges sexual abuse cases dating back decades
At least 12 then-teachers at Choate Rosemary Hall sexually molested students in a string of cases starting in the 1960s, the elite Connecticut boarding school revealed Thursday. In one case, a student reportedly was raped during a school trip to Costa Rica. Other allegations uncovered by an investigator in a report to the board of trustees included “intimate kissing” and “intimate touching.” None of the cases were reported to police, and some of the teachers were allowed to resign after being confronted about the evidence against them. Others were fired, but administrators wrote letters of recommendation to help them get new jobs.

Source: The New York Times

10. Saturn moon could support life, NASA says
Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, might be able to support life, NASA scientists said Thursday. The Cassini probe has flown through and gathered samples of water blasted into space from a subsurface on the ice-crusted moon, determining that Enceladus’ seafloor has hot fluid vents like those in Earth’s seas that are teeming with life. These hydrothermal systems on Enceladus might hold life, or they might be sterile; it will take a visit by a probe equipped with more sophisticated instruments to be sure. “We’re pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further,” said Cassini scientist Hunter Waite. “If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better.”

Source: BBC News, The New York Times

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 13, 2017

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump threatens to cripple ObamaCare to force Democrats to negotiate
President Trump on Wednesday threatened to hold up $7 billion in ObamaCare cost-sharing subsidies for low-income health insurance buyers to get Democrats to negotiate on health-care reform. Trump told The Wall Street Journal his administration might not have legal authority to make the payments, which reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income ObamaCare participants, because the spending was not specifically authorized under the Affordable Care Act. “ObamaCare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump said. “What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s strategy “cynical,” saying the president was “threatening to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal, CNBC

2. Putin and Tillerson say U.S.-Russia trust deteriorating
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson an icy reception in Moscow on Wednesday, saying that U.S.-Russia relations have worsened under President Trump. “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television. Tillerson arrived for the visit urging Russia to stop supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after a chemical weapons attack the U.S. blames on Syria, but Russia claims was perpetrated by rebels hoping to pin the blame on Assad. After meeting with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Tillerson said trust between the two countries had fallen to a low point. At the White House, Trump said U.S.-Russia relations may be “at an all-time low.”

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

3. Russia vetoes U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria chemical attack
Russia on Wednesday vetoed a resolution seeking to condemn last week’s chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in northern Syria. The Western-backed resolution also called for an immediate investigation into the apparent sarin gas attack, which killed 87 people, some of them children. Ten countries, including the U.S., Britain, and France, voted in favor, with Russia and Bolivia opposed, and China, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia abstaining. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said before the vote that Russia already had proposed to the U.S. that an independent international investigation be conducted to get to the bottom of the April 4 attack.

Source: The Associated Press

4. Ex-Trump campaign chair to register as foreign agent
Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, plans to retroactively register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice, his spokesman said Wednesday. Manafort received “formal guidance” from the government to do so because he reportedly earned millions of dollars from 2006 to 2009 secretly working for a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The spokesman, Jason Maloni, said Manafort’s lobbying for the foreign client “was not conducted on behalf of the Russian government,” and the work ended before he joined Trump’s campaign. Immediately after leaving Trump’s campaign last year, a shell company controlled by Manafort received $13 million in loans from two businesses with ties to Trump.

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

5. Trump says NATO ‘no longer obsolete’
President Trump made a U-turn in his position on NATO, saying in a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that the 28-nation military alliance “is no longer obsolete” because it has shifted its focus to fighting terrorism. Trump repeatedly called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization obsolete during his campaign. Trump did repeat a call for NATO members to spend more on defense during his meeting with Stoltenberg. “If other countries pay their fair share instead of relying on the United States to make up the difference we will all be much more secure,” Trump said. Stoltenberg said he and Trump had “an excellent and very productive meeting.”

Source: NBC News, BBC News

6. Spicer apologizes for ‘inexcusable’ Hitler gaffe
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer ramped up his apology for his suggestion that Bashar al-Assad was in some ways worse than Adolf Hitler, calling the comparison an “inexcusable and reprehensible” mistake. The U.S. blames Assad’s military for a sarin gas attack on civilians, and Spicer said Tuesday that during World War II Hitler “didn’t even sink … to using chemical weapons” against his people. Critics called for Spicer to be fired, saying his comment glossed over the mass killing of Jews in Nazi gas chambers and amounted to a form of Holocaust denial.

Source: CBS News

7. Trump administration looks for ways to create deportation force
The Trump administration is exploring ways to put together a nationwide deportation force, something President Trump promised during his campaign, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing an internal Department of Homeland Security assessment. The document indicates that the review has located 33,000 more beds for undocumented immigrants who are detained by the team. Homeland Security officials also have started talking with local police forces that might get enforcement authority for the program, and picked possible sites for construction of Trump’s promised border wall. Administration officials said the plans are still being developed and have not been formally approved, but they are part of the effort to carry out Trump’s executive orders to step up deportations and border security.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Two more officers placed on leave over United passenger’s treatment
The Chicago Department of Aviation put two more security officers on leave on Wednesday over the treatment of a United Airlines passenger who was dragged off a Sunday flight, bringing the total to three. The incident provoked an angry backlash against the airline, which has apologized and promised a review of its policy on handling overbooked flights. Newly surfaced video footage appeared incompatible with United CEO Oscar Munoz’s claim that the passenger, Dr. David Dao, had to be removed because he was “belligerent.” Dao’s lawyers filed an emergency request in an Illinois court to make United preserve video recordings and other evidence of what happened.

Source: CNN, Reuters

9. First Muslim woman to serve as U.S. judge found dead in New York
The body of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Muslim woman to serve as a judge in the U.S., was found in the Hudson River on Wednesday a mile from her Harlem home. Abdus-Salaam was found floating fully clothed near the river’s Manhattan shore. There were no immediate signs of foul play, and sources told the New York Post her death appeared to be a suicide. Abdus-Salaam was a widely respected jurist, and the first African-American woman to serve on New York’s highest court. “She was a conscientious, thoughtful judge who never lost her humility,” said city Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter. “This is an unspeakable tragedy.”

Source: New York Post, New York Daily News

10. Comedian Charlie Murphy dies at 57
Comedian Charlie Murphy, the older brother of Eddie Murphy, died of leukemia Wednesday morning. He was 57. Charlie Murphy co-wrote some of his brother’s movies, including Norbit and Vampire in Brooklyn. He also co-starred on Are We There Yet?, The Boondocks, and Black Jesus. He is perhaps best known for his role as a co-star on Dave Chappelle’s sketch series, Chappelle’s Show. TMZ reports that Murphy had been undergoing chemotherapy and that family members were shocked because they believed his health was improving. Charlie Murphy’s wife, Tisha Taylor Murphy, died of cervical cancer in 2009. They had two children together, and Murphy had a third child from an earlier relationship.

Source: TMZ

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 12, 2017

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Republican wins unusually competitive Kansas congressional race
Republican Ron Estes, Kansas’ state treasurer, on Tuesday won the House seat left vacant when Mike Pompeo stepped down to become CIA director. Estes survived a surprisingly competitive race against Democrat James Thompson, a Wichita civil rights lawyer, in a vote that was seen as an early test of the GOP’s strength after President Trump’s first few months in office. Estes won 53 percent to 46 percent after a late rush of help from the national party, including an election eve rally by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and get-out-the-vote robocalls by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, after late polls showed Estes’ lead down to single digits in a district Republicans have held firmly for two decades. In November, Trump won the district by 27 points, and Pompeo won re-election by 32 percentage points.

Source: The Kansas City Star, The New York Times

2. White House accuses Russia of covering up Syria’s responsibility for sarin attack
The White House on Tuesday accused Russia of trying to cover-up the Syrian government’s alleged responsibility for last week’s sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town in northern Syria. Russia has claimed that rebels unleashed the poisonous gas to frame the Syrian government. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow had received intelligence reports that rebels were planning such “provocations” to stoke international opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Turkey’s health minister, Recep Akdag, said Tuesday that autopsies on people killed in the attack confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used. Russia said the Syrian government would let international inspectors look for evidence of chemical weapons at the military base the U.S. bombed because it was believed to have been used to launch the chemical attack.

Source: The New York Times, The Associated Press

3. Tillerson calls on Moscow to drop Assad
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to deliver the Russian government a message from the U.S. and its most powerful allies that the time has come for Russia to drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson headed to Russia after emergency discussions on Syria with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies and Middle Eastern allies. The diplomats backed a joint call to drop Assad in the wake of last week’s sarin gas attack, which killed 87 people. The U.S. blames the attack on Assad’s forces, and responded with a missile attack on the Syrian base that reportedly launched the chemical weapons bombing. Russia denies Assad was to blame, but Tillerson said Assad’s reign was “coming to an end.” Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, on Wednesday accused the U.S. of conducting an “unlawful attack” against the Syrian air base.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

4. Spicer faces uproar after saying Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons like Assad
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday suggested that the Syrian military’s alleged use of chemical weapons made Syrian President Bashar al-Assad worse than Adolf Hitler. “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. When asked to clarify, Spicer said Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” The comments immediately set off an angry reaction. The Anne Frank Center called for Spicer to be fired, saying on Facebook: “On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death.” Spicer later said he was “in no way” trying to “lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust.”

Source: The Hill

5. United shares plunge in fallout over passenger’s treatment
United Airlines shares dropped by just over 1 percent on Tuesday as the carrier faced harsh criticism over a video showing a passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight to make room for a member of a partner airline’s crew. The stock plunge reduced the company’s market capitalization by about $250 million. At one point in the day, the stock was down by 4 percent. United CEO Oscar Munoz, whose first attempts to defuse the crisis backfired when he said the passenger was “belligerent” and the crew acted properly, promised Tuesday that the airline would conduct an internal investigation and reconsider policies on calling police and “how we handle oversold” flights. “We are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again,” Munoz wrote in a statement.

Source: CNN, The Washington Post

6. Sessions calls for prioritizing criminal immigration enforcement
Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday and called for stepping up prosecutions against undocumented immigrants, telling border patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona, that the Justice Department had sent a memo to U.S. attorneys telling them to prioritize cases against criminals. The proposal is intended to “help prevent and deter illegal immigration,” Sessions said in a press release. In his prepared remarks, Sessions called the push the administration’s “first” stand “against this filth,” referring to undocumented immigrants who “rape and kill innocent citizens.” Sessions omitted the word “filth” during his spoken comments.

Source: Reuters, CNN

7. FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor ex-Trump adviser Carter Page
The FBI and the Justice Department obtained a warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last summer to monitor communications made by former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing law enforcement and other U.S. officials. The agencies got the warrant by arguing that there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent for Russia. Page, who previously worked as an investment banker in Moscow, has not been charged with a crime, but the investigation into his contacts offered a clear sign of early suspicions that Trump associates were in contact with Russian agents at a time when U.S. officials believe Russia was trying to tip the election to Trump.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Ahmadinejad unexpectedly enters Iran’s presidential race
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesdayunexpectedly filed to run in the country’s May election, potentially upending a race that many had predicted to be won by moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Although Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal that got world leaders to lift painful sanctions, has not formally registered, he was widely considered the favorite as conservatives failed to unite behind a single candidate. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recommended in September that Ahmadinejad stay out of the race. Ahmadinejad’s fiery style could attract support from hardliners looking for someone to clash with President Trump, a critic of the Iran nuclear deal.

Source: The Associated Press

9. Guitarist John Geils dies at 71
Guitarist John Geils, a founder of the J. Geils Band, was found dead in his Groton, Massachusetts, home this week, local police confirmed Tuesday. He was 71. The J. Geils Band cranked out a string of hits in the 1980s, including “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame,” and “Centerfold.” The group started out in the 1960s as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels when Geils was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It became the J. Geils Blues Band in 1967 when the original members recruited frontman and lead singer Peter Wolf, later dropping “blues” from the name. “Centerfold” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks.

Source: The Boston Globe

10. Daily Mail agrees to pay Melania Trump damages over article
Britain’s Daily Mail and the Mail Online website on Wednesdayapologized to first lady Melania Trump and agreed to pay her an undisclosed settlement over an article they published last year about her work as a professional model that suggested she had worked as an escort. The Daily Mail retracted the report, saying it accepts that the allegations are “not true.” Mrs. Trump had said in a $150 million lawsuit she filed in New York that the article had cost her millions of dollars in future business opportunities. A person familiar with the settlement told Reuters it involved payments of less than $3 million.

Source: Reuters, BBC News

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 11, 2017

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Gorsuch sworn in as Supreme Court Justice
Neil Gorsuch, vowing to be a “faithful servant of the Constitution,” was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice on Monday to fill the seat left vacant when his fellow conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, died in February last year. “To the Scalia family, I won’t ever forget that the seat I inherit today is that of a very, very great man,” Gorsuch said in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Gorsuch once served as a law clerk, administered the oath of office. The moment marked a victory for President Trump after a historic confirmation battle with Democrats and restored the court’s conservative majority, after Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama from filling the vacancy and kept the court evenly split between liberals and conservatives for more than a year.

Source: The Associated Press

2. 8-year-old boy, two adults die in apparent murder-suicide at California school
Two adults and an 8-year-old boy were killed and a 9-year-old boy was injured Monday in an apparent murder-suicide at a San Bernardino, California, elementary school. Police said a gunman, identified as 53-year-old Cedric Anderson, fatally shot a female teacher, identified as Karen Elaine Smith, his estranged wife, before turning the gun on himself. Investigators said they did not believe the children were targeted, but were standing behind the teacher when the gunman fired. The injured 9-year-old boy was hospitalized in critical condition. Police said the man checked in at the office of the school, North Park Elementary, before going to the teacher’s special-ed classroom.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Reuters

3. Alabama governor resigns in scandal plea deal
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned Monday under fire over a sex scandal that dragged down his popularity. Special prosecutor Ellen Brooks said Bentley was stepping down under a plea agreement on misdemeanor charges of failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly making personal use of campaign donations. Bentley acknowledged a year ago that he made sexual remarks to a senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, but he denied they had a physical relationship. His then-wife, Dianne Bentley, intercepted text messages her husband, a staunch family-values conservatives, sent Mason, and divorced him in 2015 after 50 years of marriage. Bentley came under increasing pressure to resign after the release of a report saying he used “an atmosphere of intimidation” to get state employees to help cover up his relationship with Mason. Bentley apologized for failing to “live up to the high expectations” of his office.

Source: The New York Times, The Associated Press

4. Dylann Roof gets nine life sentences on state murder charges
Dylann Roof pleaded guilty to murdering nine black churchgoers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015. Roof, a self-described white supremacist, had already been sentenced to death on federal hate-crime charges. After his plea on the state murder charges, a judge sentenced him to nine consecutive lifetime prison terms plus 90 years. Prosecutors said the extra time would serve as an insurance policy to keep him locked up if there is ever a change in his federal conviction and death sentence. Nadine Collier, daughter of slain parishioner Ethel Lance, told Roof, now 23, that she forgave him, a gesture she said helped show that he had failed in his effort to spark a race war. “He came here to start a battle, but I win the war,” she said.

Source: Post and Courier

5. Russia knew of Syria chemical attack in advance, official says
Russia appears to have had advance notice of last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria, which killed more than 80 people, a senior U.S. official said Monday. The official said Russia was flying a drone over a hospital where victims rushed for treatment, and the drone’s presence could not have been a coincidence, the official said. A Russian-made fighter jet later bombed the hospital in what Washington believes was part of an effort to cover up the chemical attack. The White House has blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the chemical attack, which prompted President Trump to order a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian airfield last Thursday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with top diplomats from the Group of Seven industrialized economies and several predominantly Muslim nations to discuss a common strategy to help end Syria’s civil war.

Source: The Associated Press

6. Sweden terrorist attack suspect has confessed, lawyer says
The Stockholm truck attack suspect, 39-year-old Uzbekistan-born Rakhmat Akilov, has admitted that he carried out the “terrorist crime,” his lawyer said at a Tuesday hearing in the Swedish capital. Akilov did not speak in the hearing. He has not yet been formally charged, but will remain in custody until his trial. Four people died in the attack when the truck’s driver plowed into people on a crowded shopping street on Friday, then crashed into a department store.

Source: CNN

7. North Korean state media warns of nuclear strike against U.S. if provoked
North Korean state media warned Tuesday that the isolated communist nation might launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. over any indication of a preemptive attack by a U.S. Navy strike heading toward nearby waters in the western Pacific. “Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the U.S. mainland,” North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said. South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn warned that Pyongyang might respond to rising tensions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs with “greater provocations,” such as another nuclear test.

Source: Reuters

8. Washington Post reporter wins Pulitzer for Trump charity coverage
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on Monday in recognition of his digging into President Trump’s charitable giving. Fahrenthold’s Pulitzer-winning package of stories also included his article breaking the news of the previously unaired 2005 Access Hollywood footage in which Trump boasted about kissing and groping women without their permission. The other winners included The New York Times, which won three journalism Pulitzers, and the New York Daily News and ProPublica, which shared a public service award for their coverage of the New York Police Department’s abuse of a law to oust people from homes and businesses due to alleged lawbreaking.

Source: The Washington Post, The New York Times

9. Judge rules for second time that Texas voter ID law targets minorities
A Federal judge in Texas ruled Monday that Republican lawmakers designed the state’s strict voter ID law to discriminate against Democratic-leaning minority voters. It was the second time U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had ruled against the law. Two years ago, she said the voter ID law was similar to a “poll tax” intended to suppress the minority vote. An appeals court had asked Gonzalez Ramos to take another look at her original ruling, and she said nothing had changed. Under the law, voters have to show one of seven forms of identification while at the polls. Concealed handgun licenses are on the approved ID list, while college student IDs are not. The state was forced to weaken the law for last year’s elections.

Source: The Associated Press

10. Critics slam United Airlines after passenger dragged off plane
United Airlines faced an angry backlash on Monday after video surfaced showing security officers dragging a passenger off an overbooked flight waiting to take off from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. United was making room on the plane for four employees of a partner airline, and officers pulled the screaming man out of a window seat, over an armrest, and down the aisle as other passengers protested. On the video, some are heard saying, “This is wrong” and “Busted his lip.” A United spokesman said airline employees had no choice, and had to call authorities to remove the passenger when he refused to get off the plane on his own. The Chicago Department of Aviation put one of the security officers on leave pending an investigation, saying the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure.” United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the “upsetting event” but said the passenger had been “disruptive and belligerent.”

Source: The Associated Press, BBC News

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 10, 2017

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Harry How/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. G-7 ministers meet to show a united front on Syria
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are gathering in Italy on Monday for a meeting expected to focus on the next steps to take on Syria, following last week’s U.S. missile strike against the Syrian air base believed to have launched a nerve gas attack that killed more than 80 civilians, including children, in a rebel-held town. G-7 leaders are expected to pressure Russia to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, the meeting’s host, said Europe’s broad support for the U.S. strikes had contributed to a “renewed harmony” between the U.S. and the European Union, which had appeared to be “moving apart” over the last 100 days. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the G-7 meeting.

Source: The Associated Press, Fox News

2. Sergio Garcia claims his first major title, winning the Masters in a playoff
Sergio Garcia won the 81st Masters on Sunday, beating Justin Rose with a birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. Rose had a two-stroke lead going into the final five holes, but Garcia caught up to finish regulation play tied with Rose at 9 under par, missing a seven-foot birdie that would have won the tournament on the final hole. It was Garcia’s first major title in 74 starts despite finishing as runner-up four times, including a playoff loss in the 2007 British Open to Padraig Harrington. “Obviously, this is something I wanted to do for a long time,” Garcia said, “but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending.”

Source: CBS Sports, The New York Times

3. ISIS claims responsibility for Egypt church bombings
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that killed at least 44 people at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. ISIS said the bombers were Egyptian nationals, although Egyptian authorities did not immediately released details on the identity of the suspected attackers. ISIS warned that it planned more attacks, saying: “The Crusaders and their tails from the apostates must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God willing.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency, calling the attacks “outrageous” and ordering security forces to “hunt down the perpetrators.”

Source: CNN

4. U.S. officials send mixed signals on Syria after strike
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday that the U.S. might take further military action against the Syrian government, but that the U.S. would not try to remove President Bashar al-Assad on its own. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration’s top priority in Syria was still defeating the Islamic State. After that is accomplished, he said, the U.S. would turn its focus to helping to broker ceasefire agreements between rebels and the government, although it would be up to the Syrian people to decide Assad’s fate. The remarks by McMaster and Tillerson appeared to contradict an earlier statement by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who said defeating ISIS is the top priority but “we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.”

Source: The Associated Press, The Washington Post

5. Another National Security Council member leaves
Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, who was hired by ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is expected to step down from the National Security Council and take the job of U.S. ambassador to Singapore, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing an administration official. The report was the latest sign that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn, is consolidating his power further after getting President Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, removed from the powerful standing committee of the NSC. Flynn was pushed out in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communication with Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration.

Source: Bloomberg

6. Suicide bombing targeting army chief kills civilians in Somalia
A suicide bomber tried to ram a vehicle into the convoy of Somalia’s newly installed army commander, Gen. Ahmed Mohamed Jimale, outside the defense ministry in Mogadishu, but instead blew apart a minibus, killing 15 civilians. Jimale, who had just taken the oath of office, escaped unscathed. Authorities blamed the al-Shabab militant group, which acknowledged that it was behind the attack and claimed that several military officials were among the dead. The bombing came three days after the country’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as Farmajo), declared war on al-Shabab, and shook up the leadership of the army, police, and national intelligence service to go after the Islamist extremist organization.

Source: The New York Times

7. Authorities hunt for Wisconsin man who allegedly sent manifesto to Trump
Police increased security around churches in Janesville, Wisconsin, on Sunday as local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies intensified the search for Joseph Jakubowski, who allegedly stole high-caliber weapons from a Janesville gun store and mailed an anti-government manifesto to President Trump. Authorities ordered the security presence at churches due to “anti-religion sentiment” in the 160-page manifesto, which investigators believe Jakubowski wrote. Jakubowski, described by a friend as “highly agitated” by recent national politics, allegedly stole 16 high-caliber rifles and pistols from the Armageddon Gun Shop in Janesville on Tuesday.

Source: NBC News, The Associated Press

8. North Korea defiant after U.S. show of strength
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the isolated communist nation was “not frightened” by the U.S. Tomahawk missile strike against Syria, or by the Navy carrier strike group the U.S. has redirected toward the Korean Peninsula. “What happened in Syria once again taught a bitter lesson that … one can defend oneself from the imperialist aggression only when one has one’s strength,” the foreign ministry spokesman said according to state media. “Any aggression should be countered with force only and we were entirely just when we have bolstered our nuclear force remarkably.” Pentagon officials said it was necessary to redirect the Navy ships to the area due to rising tensions caused by North Korea’s recent tests of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Source: MarketWatch

9. Israel closes Egyptian border crossing after deadly church attacks
Israel has closed its Taba border crossing to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula following intelligence suggesting an “imminent” terrorist attack, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said Monday. Sinai is a popular vacation spot during the upcoming Passover break. Israel said the border crossing will be open for Israeli citizens coming home, following the deadly attacks on two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt during Palm Sunday services. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency after the attacks, which killed at least 44 people, but Parliament needs to approve his declaration. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Source: The Associated Press, BBC News

10. 21st Century Fox investigates sexual harassment claim against Bill O’Reilly
Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox announced Sunday that it will have a law firm investigate the sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor. “This is not blowing over,” said civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, who represents Wendy Walsh, a former contributor to O’Reilly’s show, who triggered the investigation by calling 21st Century Fox’s anonymous hotline last week to say that O’Reilly had promised to get her a job at the news channel but backed out after she rejected his romantic advances. She earlier gave the same account to The New York Times, which reported a week ago that O’Reilly and his employer had paid $13 million to five women who accused him of sexual harassment and other abuse. O’Reilly has denied the claims, saying accusers “target” him due to his fame. Sixty advertisers have dropped the show since the Times report.

Source: Variety, The New York Times

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 9, 2017

GettyImages-666200460

Mohamad Abazeed/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Nikki Haley says Syrian regime change is a ‘priority’
American envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley outlined an expansive agenda, including “inevitable” regime change, for U.S. intervention in Syria in a CNN State of the Union interview airing Sunday. “Getting [Bashar al-Assad] out is not the only priority,” she said in response to host Jake Tapper’s question about whether regime change is official U.S. policy. “So what we’re trying to do is obviously defeat [the Islamic State]. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally move towards a political solution … but we know that there is not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday likewise said the U.S. “can’t put up with” Assad, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson named defeating ISIS as the Trump administration’s top priority in Syria.

Source: Reuters, CNN

2. U.S. Navy strike group moves toward North Korea
A U.S. Navy carrier strike group is moving toward the Korean peninsula, the Pentagon indicated Saturday evening, in what is understood to be a show of force against North Korea. “We feel the increased presence is necessary” given Pyongyang’s recent missile test provocation, an unnamed defense official told Reuters. The group includes the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as well as multiple missile cruisers and destroyers. A statement from the Navy’s Third Fleet did not specify the ships’ purpose in moving into the western Pacific Ocean; the group was originally destined for Australia.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

3. Syrian town targeted by chemical attack suffers a second airstrike
The rebel-held town in Syria’s Idlib province that was hit by a chemical weapon attack on Tuesday was targeted in a new airstrike on Saturday, local sources say. It is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack, though CNN notes only Russian and Syrian regime aircraft have been observed bombing that area in the past. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in the United Kingdom, said the strike killed one woman. Russia is meanwhile in the process of moving a frigate carrying cruise missiles to the Mediterranean, apparently in reaction to Thursday’s U.S. bombing of a Syrian government air base in response to the Tuesday attack.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

4. Egyptian church bombings kills at least 36
A pair of bomb attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt on Sunday killed at least 36 people and injured about 100 more. The churches were celebrating Palm Sunday, one week before Easter. One attack took place near Cairo, killing at least 25 people. The second was in Alexandria and targeted the seat of the Coptic Church’s Pope Tawadros, who was not injured. No terrorist group has taken responsibility so far, but Islamic extremists have attacked Egypt’s Christian minority in the past. Pope Francis and Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, a leader of Sunni Islam in Egypt, both denounced the attack and expressed their condolences for the victims.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

5. Stockholm truck attack suspect’s asylum application was denied
Swedish police on Saturday arrested a man who is “likely” the driver responsible for killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen in a truck attack Friday. The suspect is a 39-year-old from Uzbekistan whose application for asylum in Sweden was denied. Swedish authorities say the suspect “has been sympathetic to extremist organizations,” and they were searching for him before the attack for deportation. Investigators also found a device in the vehicle that may be an unexploded bomb, and on Sunday they arrested a second person in connection with the incident.

Source: The Washington Post, The Week

6. 1 dead, 2 injured in Florida mall shooting
A disgruntled former fitness center employee opened fire in a mall in Coral Gables, Florida, a suburb of Miami, on Saturday, killing one person and injuring two more. The shooter has been identified as Abeku Wilson, a personal trainer who was fired earlier that day from his job at a mall gym. He returned to his erstwhile workplace with a gun to target his former coworkers, killing the gym’s general manager before reportedly killing himself. Wilson’s acquaintances said they knew him as a “professional” and “sweet” guy and expressed surprise at his actions.

Source: Miami Herald, CNN

7. U.S. soldier killed in anti-ISIS operation in Afghanistan
An American Special Forces commando was killed during an operation targeting the Islamic State in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Saturday. “The soldier was mortally wounded late Saturday during an operation in Nangarhar Province,” U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Salvin wrote in a statement on Twitter. “On behalf of all of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of our fallen comrade,” said Gen. John Nicholson. “We will always remember our fallen comrades and commit ourselves to deliver on their sacrifice.”

Source: Stars and Stripes, USA Today

8. Alabama Supreme Court approves impeachment proceedings for state’s governor
The Alabama Supreme Court on Saturday ruled the state’s lawmakers can proceed with impeachment proceedings against embattled Gov. Robert Bentley, who has been accused of misuse of power in an effort to conceal his alleged affair with an aide. On Friday, a lower court stayed the impeachment process to allow Bentley to prepare his defense, a ruling the state supreme court reversed. The Republican governor vowed Friday he would not resign because he has not done anything illegal. He denies having an affair, though he admits to making inappropriate remarks to the aide before the end of his 50-year marriage.

Source: Fox News, NPR

9. Google denies allegation of gender pay gap
A U.S. Department of Labor official on Friday accused Google of a widespread gender pay gap among its employees, describing “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Google roundly rejected the allegations. “Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap,” the company said. “Other than making an unfounded statement which we heard for the first time in court, the DoL hasn’t provided any data, or shared its methodology.”

Source: TechCrunch, The Week

10. Hacker sets off 156 emergency alarms in Dallas
Dallas city officials said Saturday a hacker was to blame for setting off all 156 emergency alarms in the city more than a dozen times over an hour and a half period around midnight. The blaring sirens normally announce emergencies like tornadoes, and their persistent sounding produced a flood of 911 calls from worried Dallas residents. “This is yet another serious example of the need for us to upgrade and better safeguard our city’s technology infrastructure,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, promising the hacker responsible would be brought to justice.

Source: USA Today, Dallas News