It’s Monday March 19, 2018



Fear escalated across Austin on Monday after the fourth bombing this month — this time, a blast that was triggered by a tripwire and demonstrated what police said was a “higher level of sophistication” than the package bombs used in the previous attacks. Two men in their 20s were wounded Sunday night as they walked along a street and were hospitalized in stable condition. The three earlier bombings since March 2 left two people dead and two wounded. Police Chief Brian Manley said, “We are clearly dealing with what we believe to be a serial bomber at this point, based on the similarities between now what is the fourth device” and the previous ones." He said the blast involved a tripwire, unlike the first three attacks, in which package bombs were left on people’s doorsteps. That represents a “significant change,” in that the previous bombings appeared targeted, while the latest one would have hurt any random person walking by. He said investigators have yet to establish a motive.




School officials and a sheriff's deputy recommended forcibly committing Nikolas Cruz, the student accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, for a mental health evaluation more than a year ago, but nobody acted on the recommendation, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing court documents. If Cruz, 19, had been committed, it would have been more difficult for him to legally obtain a gun. Under Florida's Baker Act, a person can be forcibly committed for a mental health exam for at least three days, and it's not clear why no one ever followed through on the recommendation. The resource officer who proposed Cruz be committed was Scot Peterson, who resigned after facing criticism for not entering the building during the shooting.




Russian President Vladimir Putin easily won another six years in office in Sunday elections. Russia's Central Election Commission said Monday that Putin got nearly 77 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates, though critics say Russian elections are a pseudo-democratic exercise with a predetermined outcome. Apathetic voters were under increased pressure to turn out this year, with some employers asking workers to provide proof that they voted. The mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg told Associated Press reporters he "received orders 'from higher up' to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60 percent." Turnout was 63.7 percent.




At least 17 people died when a tropical storm hit eastern Madagascar over the weekend. Authorities said more than 6,000 people were displaced by the storm. The tropical storm hit the island’s Mananara region, 635 km north-east of Antananarivo, on Saturday night and had a wind speed of 85 km per hour and gusts of 120 km per hour. In January, the island’s disaster management office said Tropical Cyclone Ava killed 51 people.




The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday required Arizona to continue to issue driver’s licenses to the so-called Dreamers immigrants and refused to hear the state’s challenge to an Obama-era program that protects hundreds of thousands of young adults brought into the country illegally as children. Those who signed up for DACA are shielded from deportation and given work permits. The high court refused to hear Arizona’s appeal of a lower court ruling that barred the state from denying driver’s licenses to people protected under DACA. Non-citizens must prove they are authorized to be in the United States to obtain an Arizona driver’s license, such as with a valid federal work permit. The state decided not to accept permits obtained by DACA recipients.The justices on Feb. 26 required the Trump administration to keep DACA in place at least for now, turning away its appeal of a judge’s nationwide injunction that halted the president’s September order to begin winding down the program in March.




North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il traveled to Finland Sunday for negotiations with American and South Korean representatives, notably including former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens. The talks are seen as a preliminary step toward the direct meeting President Trump has said he will have with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this spring. The South Korean foreign ministry compared the Finland negotiations to the indirect and secretive "Track 2" dialogue Pyongyang maintains with Washington. Choe declined to comment on his agenda.



Britain and the European Union agreed on Monday to a transition period to avoid a “cliff edge” Brexit next year — though only after London accepted a potential solution for the border with the Irish Republic that may face stiff opposition at home. The pound surged on confirmation that Britain would remain effectively a non-voting EU member for 21 months until the end of 2020. That means solving outstanding issues, notably how to avoid a “hard border” that could disrupt peace in Northern Ireland. Both sides are committed to keeping a free flow of people and goods over the intra-Irish border without returning to checkpoints, as during the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland. However, finding a practical solution for any customs checks needed post-Brexit has proved elusive so far. The dispute with Ireland had threatened to derail Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of a formal political endorsement of the transition deal by EU leaders when they meet in Brussels on Friday. A weekend of intensive talks, however, has broken the deadlock — for now.




Lawmakers from both parties rallied behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Sunday, after one of President Trump's lawyers said Mueller's inquiry into Russian election meddling should end soon. Trump fueled concerns with an angry weekend tweetstorm attacking Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey, and FBI No. 2 official Andrew McCabe, who was fired late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Democrats called for Congress to take steps to protect Mueller. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said if Trump tried to fire Mueller it "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said if Trump is innocent he should "act like it." Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said, "the president is not considering or discussing the firing" of Mueller.




A New York City tenants rights group and a local politician said on Monday they would launch an investigation into the real estate company formerly headed by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, over alleged falsification of building permits. The group and the politician, a city councilman, said they had uncovered evidence that Kushner Companies, the developer headed by Kushner until early last year, had falsified more than 80 work permits involving 34 buildings in New York. Aaron Carr, executive director of Housing Rights Initiative, said the company failed to disclose the existence of rent-stabilized units in buildings, a move that allowed it to skirt tighter oversight during renovations and harass tenants. Carr also accused the company of using construction as a means to harass tenants with rent controls and force them to leave. A spokeswoman for Kushner Companies said the company values its tenants, takes its legal and ethical responsibilities seriously, corrects mistakes, and would not intentionally falsify any filings in order to harass tenants.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman headed to the United States on Monday for talks with President Trump and business leaders, in his first visit as the heir apparent to Riyadh’s closest Western ally. The state news agency SPA said Prince Mohammed, who has embarked on reforms to modernize deeply conservative Saudi Arabia, would discuss “bilateral relations and matters of common interest”, without elaborating. The 32-year-old prince visited Britain earlier this month on his first foreign tour since his rise as part of efforts to persuade Western allies that “shock” reforms have made his country, the world’s top oil producer, a better place to invest and a more tolerant society. He will meet Trump on Tuesday at the White House. The prince is also expected to visit New York, Boston, Houston and San Francisco for meetings with business and industry leaders, aiming to cultivate investments and political support. Several dozen Saudi chief executives are expected to join him in touting investment opportunities in the kingdom.




Lottery officials say there was only one Powerball ticket with all the correct numbers, and it was sold at a convenience store in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is worth almost $457 million. Officials said the ticket was sold at Speedway in Manheim. The store earns a $100,000 bonus for selling the winning ticket. It was the only winner of the huge March 17 jackpot, the eighth largest ever. The ticket matched all of the winning numbers: 22-57-59-60-66 and Powerball 7. Powerball is played in 44 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The largest jackpot in Powerball history was $1.6 billion. Three winning tickets were sold in that Jan. 13, 2016, drawing.

It’s Friday March 16, 2018



North Korea’s foreign minister met briefly with Sweden’s prime minister Friday during a surprise trip to Stockholm that has fueled speculation about a possible meeting in the Scandinavian country between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho arrived late Thursday and met with the Swedish Foreign Minister, then made a courtesy call Friday to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at government headquarters. Trump has agreed to meet Kim by May. So far, North Korea has yet to publicly comment on what it hopes to gain from the talks. Sweden has been rumored as a possible site for the summit, though a truce village on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas is seen as more likely. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said “we value this opportunity to arrange a meeting,” though she didn’t specify what she meant. The Swedish foreign ministry said ahead of his visit that talks would focus on “Sweden’s consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada, and Australia” but also would address the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Wallstrom was expected to hold further talks with the North Korean foreign minister on Friday.




Miami Police have opened a homicide investigation following the collapse of a pedestrian bridge under construction in South Florida. Six people were killed Thursday when the bridge collapsed onto a busy road below. The fallen concrete bridge crushed a row of at least eight vehicles stopped at a traffic light. A motorist who was stopped at the light nearby said it was immediately clear that people had been killed. Police say that they no longer believe there are any survivors trapped and are now just trying to recover victims' remains. One young woman was sitting in the front of a car when the rear half was crushed. She was freed by rescuers, unscathed. The 174-foot, 950-ton span had just been hoisted into place on top of its concrete supports a few days earlier. Work was ongoing and the bridge, which connects Florida International University with the city of Sweetwater west of Miami, was not yet open to pedestrians.




Syrian government and Russian airstrikes killed at least 46 people in a besieged town outside of Damascus on Friday, while Turkish shelling and attacks on a Kurdish-held town in northern Syria left at least 22 dead there. The staggering death toll — at least 68 civilians killed — came a day after Syria passed the seven-year mark in its relentless civil war. In Damascus’ rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, observers said Syrian and Russian jets struck the town of Kafr Batna with cluster bombs, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives. The assault was part of an indiscriminate campaign by President Bashar Assad’s forces to retake the town and the rest of the enclave from the rebels. Exhausted and shell-shocked civilians streamed out of eastern Ghouta for the second consecutive day to buses arranged by the government to take them to a center for identification and relief. Russia’s Defense Ministry said close to 5,000 civilians have been evacuated on Friday after more than 10,000 left the enclave the day before. The U.N. has warned of a malnutrition crisis in eastern Ghouta, which human rights groups have blamed on the government’s strangling blockade.




Russia said Friday that it will expel British diplomats and halt high-level meetings with the U.K. in an increasingly global standoff over the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy — but still isn’t saying who will be kicked out or when. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said to expect a Russian response “shortly” to Britain’s expulsion of Russian diplomats and accused Britain of violating international law and “common sense.” Russia’s foreign minister said Britain’s defense minister “lacks education.” Geopolitical tensions are mounting since the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury earlier this month, in what Western powers see as the latest sign of increasingly aggressive Russian meddling abroad. The tensions threaten to overshadow Putin’s expected re-election Sunday for another six-year term. Accusing the Russian state of the nerve agent attack, Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats and is trying to build a coalition of countries to punish Moscow as a result. Russia denies being the source of the nerve agent, suggesting it could have been another country and has demanded Britain share samples collected by investigators.




President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser but plans to wait to avoid humiliating the three-star general, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing five people with knowledge of the plans. Trump reportedly is actively looking for a successor and plans to delay the move until a strong candidate has been selected. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had informed his chief of staff, John Kelly, of the plan. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was not preparing to oust McMaster, tweeting, "Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster - contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC."




Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, some of them related to Russia, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing two people briefed on the development. The move marked the first known instance in which Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates has made such a direct demand for records from Trump's business. The new line of inquiry suggested that the investigation, which Trump says should be wrapped up, is broadening and could continue for months. Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization, says the company has been fully cooperating with all investigations since they began last summer.




Seven U.S. service members died after a U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed in western Iraq. In a statement, the Pentagon said the crash did not appear to be the result of enemy activity and is under investigation. The helicopter was used by the Air Force for combat search and rescue and was in transit from one location to another when it went down Thursday afternoon in Anbar Province. The Pentagon said an accompanying U.S. helicopter immediately reported the crash and a quick-reaction force comprised of Iraqi security forces and Coalition members secured the scene. The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have an outpost in western Iraq which is located near the Syrian border. The anti-ISIS campaign accelerated through much of last year, as coalition and Iraqi forces battled to take back a string of cities and towns.




An Iraqi teenager, who had come to Britain as an asylum seeker, was found guilty on Friday of attempted murder after detonating a homemade bomb on a packed rush-hour London commuter train, injuring 30 people. Ahmed Hassan, who is 18, was found guilty of trying to murder the passengers on board an underground train heading to central London on Sept. 15 last year. The bomb went off at Parsons Green station and flames engulfed the train car, but it did not fully explode, limiting the scale of injuries to the 93 passengers in the train car where it detonated. They reported hearing a loud bang and seeing a fireball with one woman suffering burns to her hands, legs, and face causing her to lose the hair on her eyebrows and eyelashes. Others were hurt in a stampede to flee the scene. Hassan was arrested in the southern port of Dover the following day. It was Britain’s fifth major terror attack in 2017.




Former South African President Jacob Zuma will be prosecuted for corruption relating to a 30 billion rand arms deal in the late 1990s. That equates to about $2.5 billion. The chief state prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams said on Friday, “After consideration of the matter, I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of successful prosecution of Mr. Zuma on the charges listed in the indictment.” He went on to say that Zuma disputes all the allegations against him.




Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm whose 11.5 million leaked documents revealed how the world's super-rich hide financial assets, is shutting down at the end of March. The trove of documents, known as the Panama Papers, was published by an international consortium of journalists. The firm said in a statement that the "reputational damage" from the revelations, and the damage to many of its wealthy and powerful clients, left it with no option but to close. Since the publishing of the papers, the firm had cut back to a staff of 50, down from about 600 employees in 40 countries before the 2016 report, which won the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists a Pulitzer Prize it shared with McClatchy and The Miami Herald.




Vanessa Trump, President Trump's daughter-in-law, reportedly filed for divorce from Donald Trump Jr. in a Manhattan court on Thursday, Page Six and TMZ reported. The couple announced their separation in a joint statement, saying, "After 12 years of marriage, we have decided to go our separate ways." They said they still had "tremendous respect" for each other and that their five children "remain our top priority." Sources close to the couple had said their relationship had been "bad for a while," partly because Vanessa "hates politics and Don Jr. is gone all the time," TMZ reported. Vanessa Trump reportedly filed for an uncontested divorce, suggesting that no legal battle over custody of the children or the division of assets is expected.

It’s Thursday March 15, 2018



The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of a concerted operation to hack the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure including aviation, and separately imposed sanctions on a raft of Russian officials for alleged high-tech interference in the 2016 American presidential election. The moves were the strongest to date against Russia by the administration, which critics have complained is being soft on Moscow. U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyber attacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation, and manufacturing sectors. The officials said the Russian hackers chose their targets, obtained access to computer systems, conducted “network reconnaissance” of systems that control key elements of the U.S. economy and then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence of their infiltration. The U.S. government has helped the industries kick out the Russians from all systems currently known to have been penetrated, according to the officials, but the efforts continue. The officials left open the possibility of discovering more breaches and said the federal government was issuing an alert to the energy industry to raise awareness about the threat and improve preparation.




President Donald Trump joined the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany in a joint statement blaming Moscow for the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy who was living in England. “It looks like the Russians were behind it,” Trump said during a meeting at the White House with Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar. The president said he had been in contact with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the incident, calling it “a very sad situation” that the United States is taking “very seriously.”Reaction from Russia was swift. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was greeting the sanctions calmly, but he warned that Russia had already started “to prepare a response.” He suggested the Trump administration had timed the sanctions to come ahead of this weekend’s presidential election in Russia, in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win an overwhelming victory. The list of Russians now under U.S. sanctions includes the 13 indicted last month by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia-related investigation into alleged election interference. The sanctions are the first use of the new powers that Congress passed last year to punish Moscow for meddling in the presidential election. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said others would face punishment in the future under the new sanctions law “to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities.”




Thousands of Syrian civilians fled from a rebel pocket in eastern Ghouta on Thursday, crossing by foot to army positions in the first mass exodus from the besieged enclave since Syrian government forces launched an assault to capture it a month ago. Men, women, and children staggered under the weight of blankets, bags, and suitcases as they walked along a dirt road to army lines on the outskirts of Hammouriyeh town. Some wept. One man carried a baby in a suitcase, the child’s head and arms peeking out through the zipper. Others reached government positions in the nearby town of Beit Sawa in wheelchairs. Refugees said they had been trapped in basements, cellars, and tunnels, and did not dare come out. One man said, “We could not do anything... There was no food, no water, no electricity, no education for the children." Another man said he had been in contact with people in army territory for days trying to arrange safe passage out.




Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if its arch-rival Iran does so, the kingdom’s crown prince said in remarks released on Thursday, raising the prospect of a nuclear arms race in a region already riven with conflict. In an interview that will air in full on Sunday, Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS News, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” The Sunni Muslim kingdom has been at loggerheads with revolutionary Shi’ite Iran for decades. The countries have fought a long-running proxy war in the Middle East and beyond, backing rival sides in armed conflicts and political crises including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Prince Mohammed, who also serves as Saudi defense minister, said last year that the kingdom would make sure any future struggle between the two countries “is waged in Iran”, prompting Iranian threats to hit back at most of Saudi Arabia except the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Riyadh has criticized the 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which economic sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for the Islamic Republic curbing its nuclear energy program. U.S. sanctions will resume unless President Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.




Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday that his country plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court over the body's decision to start an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in his war on drugs. Since Duterte took office in May 2016, police are believed to have killed more than 4,100 drug suspects, although the nation's police deny murder allegations. On Friday, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said Duterte needed psychiatric evaluation, and that his attacks against human rights activists were "unacceptable." Duterte called the criticism "outrageous."




Conor Lamb, a Democrat and former Marine, held onto a 627-vote victory, out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast, after nearly all of the absentee ballots were counted in a special House election in a deeply conservative Pennsylvania district. President Trump won the district by 20 percentage points in 2016, and outside GOP groups pumped more than $10 million into the race to support Republican Rick Saccone. Local election authorities said there were still about 500 provisional, military, and other absentee ballots remaining to be counted, not enough to alter the result. Republicans are gearing up for a court fight to demand a recount. The Republican National Committee said it was "not conceding anything."




Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering a recommendation made by the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility to fire former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for improperly handled elements of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The internal review found that McCabe improperly authorized FBI officials to share sensitive information with journalists, then misled investigators in an internal review. Lack of candor is a firing offense in the agency, but ousting him could prove controversial. McCabe is due to retire on Sunday when he qualifies for full pension benefits. He also has been a target of President Trump's ire over other matters and is a potential witness in the inquiry into whether Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.




CNBC commentator and conservative economist Larry Kudlow said Wednesday that President Trump had selected him to replace Gary Cohn as the top White House economic adviser. "The president offered me the position last evening and I accepted," Kudlow said. The White House promptly confirmed the news that Trump was nominating Kudlow to lead the National Economic Council. Kudlow has long been close with Trump, and his selection was interpreted as part of an ongoing effort by Trump to surround himself with like-minded advisers. Cohn, a Democrat and "globalist," stepped down after a clash over Trump's new steel and aluminum tariffs. Kudlow also warned the tariffs could harm U.S. workers, but he was a key adviser on tax cuts during Trump's campaign.




President Trump will sit down with billionaire Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates on Thursday. The two are scheduled to meet this afternoon inside the Oval Office, according to Trump's public schedule released by the White House. A spokesperson for Gates did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what will be discussed. A source familiar with the agenda told CNN that foreign aid will likely be a topic of discussion. Gates and his wife Melinda spoke out against Trump's proposed cuts to foreign aid in the 2018 annual letter for their philanthropic foundation, saying US efforts to combat disease and poverty abroad "saves lives," "creates US jobs," and "make Americans more secure." Trump and Gates will also likely talk about funding for scientific research, according to CNN's source. Gates has emphasized the importance of these investments in prior meetings with Trump and encouraged the president to back an innovation agenda supporting research in health, education, and energy. The meeting is closed to press. Gates previously met with Trump in December 2016 at Trump Tower and again last March.




Toys "R" Us plans to close or sell all 800 of its U.S. stores, according to media reports on Wednesday. The toy store chain said in a bankruptcy court filing Thursday that it had to liquidate and start winding down U.S. operations. The move would affect up to 33,000 employees, but the company told employees the closures would not occur all at once. The toy store chain also is closing all 100 of its outlets in the U.K. Once the dominant toy retailer in the U.S., Toys "R" Us has been struggling for years against other big-box stores and online rivals. It filed for bankruptcy protection six months ago, struggling to find a way to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt.




IHeartMedia, the largest radio station owner in the United States, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Thursday, reaching an in-principle agreement with creditors to more than halve its $20 billion in debt. The company said it ‍reached the agreement with holders of more than $10 billion of its outstanding debt that would restructure its balance sheet by transferring 94 percent of the stock in the reorganized company to its lenders. IHeartMedia has struggled with debt that was taken on to finance a $17.9 billion leveraged buyout in 2008 of what was then Clear Channel Communications. That deal closed just as a financial crisis began to undermine the U.S. economy. In the years that followed, iHeartMedia, the operator of 849 radio stations, has faced intensifying competition for advertisers and listeners from internet platforms such as music streaming services. The company said in a statement it was seeking to maintain business as usual during the bankruptcy, and to “uphold its commitments” to its staff. It employs 12,400 people, according to court records. The filing comes less than four months after Cumulus Media Inc, which operates 445 U.S. radio stations, filed for Chapter 11.

It’s Wednesday March 14, 2018



Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist, and cosmologist died at his home in Cambridge Wednesday morning. The news was announced by a spokesman for his family. His children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim, called their 76-year-old father "a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years." Hawking worked on black holes and quantum fluctuations. His 1988 book A Brief History of Time sold more than 10 million copies and made him a global celebrity, known for his wicked sense of humor. Hawking had an early-onset form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - known as Lou Gehrig's Disease - that progressed slowly, ultimately leaving him paralyzed and using a computer to speak. When he was diagnosed at 21, he expected to live only two more years. In his final years, the only thing connecting the brilliant physicist to the outside world was a couple of inches of frayed nerve in his cheek. As slowly as a word per minute, Hawking used the twitching of the muscle under his right eye to grind out his thoughts on a custom-built computer, painstakingly outlining his vision of time, the universe, and humanity’s place within it. Hawking passed away on 3-14, what's been celebrated for years as Pi Day. It is also the anniversary of mathematical genius Albert Einstein's birth. Both Einstein and Hawking died at age 76.




Britain is to kick out 23 Russian diplomats, the biggest such expulsion since the Cold War, signaling a plunge in relations to their lowest point in decades in the wake of a chemical attack on a former Russian spy in southern England. Prime Minister Theresa May pointed the finger of blame firmly at Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday as she outlined a series of retaliatory measures in parliament. Russia denies any involvement in the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who have been in critical condition since they were found unconscious March 4 on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury. May announced measures including the potential freezing of Russian state assets that pose a security threat, new laws to counter hostile state activity and a downgrading of Britain’s attendance at the soccer World Cup in Russia. May said the only possible conclusion was that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of the Skripals and the harm to Nick Bailey, a police officer who is in a serious condition after being exposed to the nerve agent. The Russian embassy in London described the steps announced by May as “unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted”. Moscow has repeatedly warned London to expect retaliation. The two governments blamed each other for the crisis.




Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead at a house in London on Tuesday. Police said the cause of death was "unexplained." Glushkov was a close friend of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, a noted critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was found dead in 2013. The Metropolitan Police counterterrorism unit took over the case "because of associations that the man is believed to have had," police said. Glushkov's death came a week after an attack with a nerve agent linked to Moscow left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in critical condition.




Tens of thousands of young people across the U.S. walked out of school to demand action on gun violence Wednesday in one of the biggest student protests since the Vietnam era. Braving snow in New England and threats of school discipline in places like Georgia and Ohio, they carried signs, chanted slogans against the National Rifle Association and bowed their heads in tribute to the 17 dead in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Across the country and beyond, students were urged to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the dead in Florida. At some schools, students didn’t walk outside but lined the hallways, gathered in gyms and auditoriums or wore orange, the color used by the movement against gun violence, or maroon, the school color at Stoneman Douglas. The protesters carried signs with messages such as “Our Blood/Your Hands” and “Never Again” and chanted slogans against the NRA. Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened discipline.




A $31.5 million victims’ fund that started as a GoFundMe effort announced plans Friday to pay $275,000 to the families of each of the 58 people killed in Las Vegas last October, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The Las Vegas Victims Fund said the maximum $275,000 also will be paid to 10 other people who were paralyzed or suffered permanent brain damage in the Oct. 1 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. The nonprofit posted a chart projecting payments on a scale to a total of 532 people, including more than $10 million divided among 147 people who were hospitalized. The fund grew into a nonprofit corporation that reported receiving more than 90,000 donations, with nearly 40 percent coming from southern Nevada gambling, tourism, and entertainment companies. The nonprofit expects to pay 100 percent of the funds raised, with payouts beginning Monday. Police say 851 people were hurt by gunfire or other injuries while fleeing.




German lawmakers on Wednesday re-elected Angela Merkel as chancellor for a fourth, and likely final, term. Lawmakers voted by 364 to 315, with nine abstentions, in favor of re-electing Merkel, a humbling start as the coalition of her conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) has 399 votes in the Bundestag lower house of parliament. “I accept the vote,” a beaming Merkel, 63, told lawmakers before being sworn in by the president of the Bundestag. In office since 2005, Merkel has dominated Germany’s political landscape and steered the European Union through the economic crisis. But her authority was dented by her decision in 2015 to commit Germany to an open-door policy on refugees, resulting in an influx of more than one million people that laid bare deep divisions within the EU over migration and fueled opposition parties. Merkel must now juggle competing domestic demands from within her coalition. Abroad she faces the trade tensions with Washington, pressure from France to reform Europe, and from Britain to stand up to Russia.




House Speaker Paul Ryan is privately warning Republicans of a “bit of a wake-up call” as Democrat Conor Lamb edged past the Republican in the Pennsylvania special election. Ryan told House Republicans on Wednesday they need to “get to work,” fundraise and not be caught off guard heading into a midterm campaign season where Democratic enthusiasm is real. That’s according to two people familiar with Ryan’s remarks. Publicly, Ryan was more upbeat, blaming the Pennsylvania outcome in a Trump-heavy district on Lamb’s centrist views. Ryan says, “you’re not going to see repeated” in November, as Republicans try to retain their majority. Ryan urged colleagues to tout the GOP-passed tax plan and to remind voters Democrats opposed it.




President Trump's personal assistant, John McEntee, was fired and escorted out of the White House on Monday for "security" reasons, according to news reports. Some outlets reported that McEntee had lost his security clearance, while others said he was under investigation for "serious financial crimes" that were not connected to Trump. McEntee reportedly is moving over to work on Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, where he will serve as a senior adviser. The news broke on a hectic day, as Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, was booted for giving reporters unauthorized accounts of how Tillerson learned of his own ouster.




President Trump made his first visit to California as president on Tuesday, and harshly criticized Gov. Jerry Brown (D) over the state's sanctuary policies on immigration, saying they "put the entire nation at risk." Trump said Brown "does a very poor job running California," and called on Congress to punish jurisdictions in the state that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Trump also visited an area on the Mexico border to inspect prototypes for his promised border wall. Brown fired back via Twitter. "Thanks for the shout-out, @realDonaldTrump," Brown tweeted. "But bridges are still better than walls. And California remains the 6th largest economy in the world and the most prosperous state in America. #Facts."




President Donald Trump will name Larry Kudlow, the conservative media analyst who served as his informal economic adviser during the 2016 campaign, the next head of the White House National Economic Council. Trump offered Kudlow the job Tuesday night over the phone and he accepted, the source said. The move makes Kudlow Trump's second top economic adviser after Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who worked for Trump for over a year, announced his resignation earlier this month over internal disagreements around the President's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Kudlow was long seen as the front-runner for the job.




Joar Ulsom of Norway won the world’s most famous sled dog race Wednesday after a grueling dash across Alaska’s rough terrain, but he earned tens of thousands of dollars less than last year’s top musher at the struggling Iditarod in Nome, Alaska. After nearly 1,000 miles, Ulsom and the eight dogs on his team came off the Bering Sea ice onto Nome’s main street. He slapped hands with fans who lined the streets and went under the finish line at 3 a.m. local time Wednesday. Ulsom’s victory generated heavy media attention in Norway, a winter sports nation still basking in the glory of winning the most medals at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The 31-year-old, who took the lead Monday when Nicolas Petit got off course in a blizzard, became the third person born outside the U.S. to claim the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He’s also the second Norwegian after Robert Sorlie, a two-time winner who cheered Ulsom’s progress along the trail. His previous best finishes were fourth-place rankings in both 2017 and 2014. Ulsom picks up about $50,000, a drop from the 2017 winner’s earnings of more than $71,000.

It’s Tuesday March 13, 2018



President Donald Trump is firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and has picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, ending Tillerson’s turbulent tenure as America’s top diplomat. Citing the Iran nuclear deal and other issues, Trump said he and Tillerson were “not really thinking the same.” Trump told reporters at the White House, “We disagreed on things.” Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. In remarks delivered to a midday gathering of reporters at the State Department briefing room, Tillerson said he spoke by phone midday with the president, who was onboard Air Force One, and said he will be working to achieve a smooth transition, until his last day as top diplomat on March 31. He did not take questions from the gathered media. Trump’s change puts Mike Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Trump faces another deadline in May to decide whether to remain in the Obama-era nuclear agreement that he campaigned aggressively against. The president said he was nominating the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA’s first female director.




Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the case against Nikolas Cruz, the former student accused of carrying out the shooting spree last month at a Parkland high school in which 17 people were killed, according to a notice filed in court on Tuesday. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the attack on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 14 students and three staff died. After the filing, Cruz’s attorneys repeated their offer for Cruz to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed to not pursue the death penalty.




Two package bombs exploded at homes in Austin, Texas, on Monday. One killed a 17-year-old boy and left a woman in her 40s hospitalized with potentially life-threatening injuries. The other left a 75-year-old woman badly injured. Police said that "similarities" indicated that the two blasts were related to a March 2 package explosion that killed a 39-year-old man. The victims of the fatal blasts were African American or Hispanic. Police said investigators were not ruling out any possible motive, but they were no longer "making the connection to a hate crime." The attacks unfolded as tens of thousands of visitors arrived for the busiest days of the South By Southwest music festival. The gathering didn’t appear related, but police urged tourists to be vigilant while warning residents to call authorities immediately if they receive unexpected parcel deliveries. FBI teams are investigating along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.




An explosion hit Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah's convoy as he made a rare visit to Gaza on Tuesday. Hamdallah was unharmed and proceeded with plans to inaugurate a sewage plant in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. His Fatah party called the blast an assassination attempt by Gaza militants. Windows were blown out in three cars in the convoy. Gaza's ruling Hamas faction condemned the "cowardly attack," saying it was an attempt to "hurt efforts to achieve unity and reconciliation" between the Islamic Hamas faction and Fatah. It promised an investigation. Hamdallah, based in the West Bank, said the attack would "not deter from seeking to end the bitter split" between the two Palestinian factions.




A bus carrying high school band members home to Texas from Disney World ran off a highway and plunged into a deep ravine early Tuesday morning in Alabama, killing the driver and injuring dozens of passengers. Rescue workers used ropes to rappel down the 50-foot ravine in the middle of Interstate 10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage of the bus, that ended up on its side near the base of a concrete embankment, its front end crumpled. About 45 people were on the bus and at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious. Authorities said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to crash.




Britain could be paying into the European Union’s coffers for nearly another half century even though Brexit day is little more than a year away. In documents released Tuesday, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that Britain’s Brexit divorce bill would amount to a cool 37.1 billion pounds- or $52 billion. Most of that sum is due in the next couple of years as Britain honors short-term budget commitments it had already made to the EU. But payments will continue until 2064 to meet liabilities such as pensions that Britain has incurred through its 45-year membership of the bloc. Britain wants the remaining 27 EU nations to grant a transition period after Brexit, which the EU says it should last until the end of 2020. During the transition, Britain would remain in the tariff-free single market and customs union even though it will be outside the EU and have little, or no, say over policy changes. The British economy has slowed sharply since the country voted to leave the EU in June 2016 as businesses reined in investment and consumer spending eased after inflation spiked following the pound’s fall.




Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee say they had concluded their inquiry and found no evidence of collusion by President Trump's campaign aides in Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the investigation, said he and his GOP colleagues agreed with U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled, but disagreed "with the narrative that they were trying to help Trump." Democrats said the panel had overlooked key witnesses and failed to subpoena important records. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee's top Democrat, said Republicans "placed the interests of protecting the president over protecting the country." The Senate and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are continuing their investigations.




Hillary Clinton told an audience in India that the United States did not “deserve” Donald Trump’s presidency and these are “perilous times.” The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate spoke over the weekend at India Today Conclave 2018, in Mumbai. Clinton said the Republican president has “quite an affinity for dictators” and said Trump “really likes their authoritarian posturing and behavior.” But she said she thinks it’s “more than that” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia. Clinton was critical of Trump’s reality campaign tactics and questioned whether she should have provided more entertainment to voters who responded to Trump’s brash style. She also believes former FBI director James Comey’s Oct. 28, 2016, letter to Congress about her private email server cost her support from white women voters. Clinton had difficulty navigating some stone steps at the Jahaz Mahal palace in Mandu. A viral video was shared widely showing her tripping twice and requiring the aid of two men before kicking off her shoes. No comment from The White House and The Clinton Foundation didn’t return a call or email asking about the circumstances of the trip.




President Trump on Monday night blocked Singapore-based chip-maker Broadcom's proposed $117 billion hostile takeover of U.S. rival Qualcomm. The Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. had flagged the deal over national security concerns. Aimen Mir, a top Treasury official and member of the committee, suggested in a letter to both companies on Sunday that the panel was leaning toward recommending against a deal, saying the committee had "confirmed" the security risks posed by such a deal. Qualcomm made Mir's letter public on Monday. The Trump administration's wariness over the deal stemmed from fears that allowing the sale of a U.S.-based technology company as important as Qualcomm would give China a technological advantage and erode the U.S.'s edge in the semiconductor industry.




Nokie Edwards, the influential lead guitarist for the “surf rock” pioneer group the Ventures, has died at the age of 82. The Ventures were an instrumental group founded in Washington state in the late 1950s by guitarists Bob Bogle and Don Wilson, with Edwards joining soon after. They helped create the driving, twangy surf sound that influenced The Beach Boys and The Surfaris, among others, and were best known for the hits “Walk, Don’t Run,” and the theme for the TV show “Hawaii Five-O.” The Ventures sold millions of records and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 when they were introduced by John Fogerty. The Rock Hall praised the Ventures as “the most successful instrumental combo in rock and roll history.” Although their prime years were in the 1960s, they continued to tour over the following decades, with Edwards a member off and on until 1984. The band enjoyed renewed attention in the 1990s after Quentin Tarantino featured their song “Surf Rider” on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack.




Apple is buying the virtual newsstand Texture, known as the "Netflix of magazine publishing," Apple's senior vice president of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, said in a statement Monday. Texture gives readers access to roughly 200 magazines for a $9.99 monthly fee. Texture was formerly known as Next Issue and is owned by Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rogers Media, and KKR. It is the latest in a series of Apple acquisitions that have included Spotify/Pandora competitor Beats for Apple Music, and BookLamp, which TechCrunch once referred to as the "Pandora for books." "We could not imagine a better home or future for the service," said John Loughlin, CEO of Next Issue Media/Texture, in a statement.

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