It’s Monday August 21, 2017

21Aug

00:0000:00

Millions of Americans looked skyward in awe through protective glasses, telescopes and cameras on Monday as the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in a century marched from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic seaboard. After weeks of anticipation, onlookers from Oregon to South Carolina whooped and cheered as the moon blotted out the sun, plunging a narrow band of the United States into near darkness and colder temperatures for two minutes at a time. Even President Trump stepped out of the White House to see the eclipse. No area in the United States had seen a total solar eclipse since 1979, while the last coast-to-coast total eclipse took place in 1918. The rare cosmic event drew one of the largest audiences in human history, including those watching through broadcast and social media. Some 12 million people live in the 70-mile-wide, 2,500-mile-long zone where the total eclipse appeared, while hordes of others traveled to spots along the route. The eclipse first reached "totality" - the shadow cast when the sun is completely blocked by the moon - in Oregon at 10:15 a.m. PDT and began spreading eastward. The phenomenon took its final bow at 2:49 p.m. EDT near Charleston, South Carolina, where eclipse gazers had gathered atop the harbor's sea wall. Another total solar eclipse will be visible from Mexico across Texas and the southeastern and northeastern United States on April 8, 2024.

 

 

Lebanon’s interior minister said Monday that the country’s police intelligence played a major role in foiling a plot to bring down an Emirati passenger plane that was supposed to take off from Sydney bound for the United Arab Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi. Nohad Machnouk told reporters that four Lebanese-Australian brothers, including one who is in detention in Lebanon, had planned to blow up the plane with bombs hidden inside a large Barbie doll and a meat grinder. He said the bombs did not make it onto the plane because the handbag they were placed in was more than 15 pounds above the weight permitted by the airline. Machnouk said the bombs were sent back to the would-be attacker’s home in Australia. He said the attacker tried to bring two explosives on the plane in case one of them did not work. The second would be detonated by one of the brothers who was supposed to be the suicide attacker. It was not immediately clear how authorities uncovered the plot. The United Arab Emirates’ national airline said it is working with Australian police in the ongoing investigation. But Etihad Airways, the smallest of three long-haul Gulf carriers that fly to Australia, refused to confirm if it had been targeted.

 

 

President Donald Trump will use a nationally televised address to outline for a war-weary nation the strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan after 16 years of combat and lives lost. The speech Monday night will also give Trump a chance for a reset after one of the most difficult weeks of his short presidency. Trump tweeted Saturday that he had reached a decision on the way forward in Afghanistan, a day after he reviewed war options with his national security team at a meeting at Camp David, Maryland. Trump scheduled a 9 p.m. EDT address to the nation. It will be the president's first formal address to the nation outside of his late February speech to a joint session of Congress. In Afghanistan, the top U.S. commander on Sunday hailed the launch of the Afghan Army’s new special operations corps and declared that “we are with you and we will stay with you.” Those comments from Gen. John Nicholson suggested the Pentagon may have convinced Trump that U.S. military must remain engaged in order to ensure that terrorists aren’t again able to threaten the U.S. from havens inside of Afghanistan.

 

 

Iraqi forces closed in on Tal Afar on Monday, the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in the country's north, seizing several villages around the city. The offensive, launched at dawn Sunday, comes only weeks after Iraqi forces retook the country's second largest city, Mosul, from ISIS, and as the jihadists also face assaults on their positions in neighboring Syria. Tal Afar was once a major supply hub between Mosul and the Syrian border and capturing it would be another major blow to ISIS's self-declared "caliphate" that once controlled large areas straddling Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi army, federal police and counter-terrorism forces backed by 20,000 fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group launched the offensive on Tal Afar. Iraq's Joint Operations Command said counter-terrorism units had taken five villages from the southwest and "raised the Iraqi flag".

 

 

The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after an early morning collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters left 10 U.S. sailors missing and several others injured. It was the second major collision in the last two months involving the Navy’s 7th Fleet. The John S. McCain's sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship on June 17. The bodies of seven U.S. sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision. The John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided while the warship was heading to Singapore for a routine port call. The Navy said the collision tore a hole in the warship's waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area. Five other sailors were injured in the collision. A U.S. Navy official said there will be a worldwide operational pause by its vessels involving a staggered day-long stand-down to check safety measures, especially in the Pacific theatre. The John McCain was named in honor of Admirals John McCain and John McCain Jr, the grandfather and father of the Arizona senator, who was a Navy pilot and POW in the Vietnam War.

 

 

The United States and South Korea began their annual joint military exercises on Monday, while North Korea warned that the drills would deepen tensions on the Korean Peninsula by “throwing fuel onto fire.” Both the US and South Korea insist that the drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea has long condemned the joint exercises as rehearsals for invasion. During such drills, North Korea has often escalated its warlike rhetoric and lashed out with missile and other weapons tests. The exercises this week follow a North Korean threat this month to launch four ballistic missiles into waters near Guam, home to major American military bases in the Western Pacific. The tensions appear to have eased somewhat since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, said last week that he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” before deciding whether to approve his military’s plan to fire missiles near Guam.

 

 

Spanish police on Monday shot dead an Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van in Barcelona last week, ending a five-day manhunt for the perpetrator of Spain's deadliest attack in over a decade. Police said they tracked the 22-year-old to a rural area near Barcelona and shot him after he held up what looked like an explosives belt and shouted "Allahu Akbar". A bomb squad then used a robot to approach his body. Police said the attacker had been on the run since Thursday evening, after he drove at high speed into throngs of strollers along Barcelona's most famous avenue, Las Ramblas. Police said after fleeing the scene, he hijacked a car and fatally stabbed its driver. Four people have been arrested so far in connection with the attacks: three Moroccans and a citizen of Spain's North African enclave of Melilla. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

 

 

A van rammed into two bus stops in the French port city of Marseille on Monday, killing one person and injuring another, but investigators ruled out terrorism as a motive. Police said the driver of the van, arrested in a third location, was a 35-year-old from the Grenoble region in eastern France who was being treated for psychological problems. It was the second time in a week in which a driver in France with mental health problems allegedly killed a person with a vehicle and was thought by authorities to have acted deliberately, but without terrorist intent. The French newspaper La Provence reported that the suspect came to Marseille specifically for psychiatric treatment in a specialized institution. The paper did not name its sources and a police official could not confirm that report.

 

 

In a step that could affect hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists, the U.S. Embassy in Russia said Monday it would suspend issuing nonimmigrant visas for eight days from Wednesday in response to the Russian decision to cap embassy staff. The embassy made the decision after the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered a cap on the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, it said in a statement, adding that it would resume issuing visas in Moscow on Sept. 1, but maintain the suspension at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok indefinitely. Nearly a quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the U.S. last year, according to Russian tourism officials. Earlier this month, Russia ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755, or two-thirds. The U.S. State Department said the decision to suspend visas was not retaliation for Russia’s capping of U.S. diplomatic personnel, noting that having fewer personnel inevitably results in a reduction in the services they can provide.

 

 

A California jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer after using the company's talc-based products like Johnson's Baby Powder for feminine hygiene. The Los Angeles Superior Court jury's verdict in favor of California resident Eva Echeverria was the largest yet in lawsuits alleging J&J failed to adequately warn consumers about the cancer risks of its talc-based products. The verdict included $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages. It was a major setback for J&J, which faces 4,800 similar claims nationally and has been hit with over $300 million in verdicts by juries in Missouri. J & J said it will appeal the verdict.

 

 

An upcoming update to Google’s Android software finally has a delectable name. The next version will be known as Oreo, extending Google’s tradition of naming each version after a sweet treat. Google anointed the software Monday after spending the past few months referring to it as “Android O.” Oreo boasts several new features, including the ability to respond to notifications directly on a phone’s home screen and the ability to access apps without installing them on a device. The free software is scheduled to be released this fall, most likely after making its debut on a new Pixel phone that Google is expected to begin selling in October. The nicknames for earlier Android versions have included Nougat, Marshmallow, and Lollipop. Google and Oreo’s maker, Mondelez, referred to their deal as a partnership, rather than a sponsorship, as no money was exchanged. Google has named Android after a brand before: The 2013 version was known as Kit Kat. Financial terms weren’t disclosed for that. Android is the world’s most widely used mobile operating system. By the way, Apple doesn’t use names for its iOS system for iPhones, though the software for its Mac computers is named after big cats and geographic locations in California.

 

 

Iconic comedian Jerry Lewis, one of the most influential figures in 20th century entertainment, died Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas, his agent confirmed. He was 91. Lewis was perhaps best known for his comedy partnership with Dean Martin, but after their breakup in 1956 he continued a slapstick career that spanned half a century. Lewis starred in movies like 1960's The Bellboy and 1963's The Nutty Professor, and also worked as a singer, screenwriter, director, and producer. Offscreen, he was a prominent supporter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, headlining its annual fundraising telethon for decades and raising some $2.6 billion for the cause. Lewis is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, and six children.

It’s Friday August 18, 2017

18Aug

00:0000:00

Police in Finland shot and arrested a suspect after several people were injured in a stabbing spree in the southwestern city of Turku. One man and five women were wounded, including a woman with stroller who were attacked by a man with a large knife. Police said the suspect was shot in the leg after the attack, and warned the public to move away from the city center, while they searched for more suspects. Finnish media reported that the attack occurred at two marketplaces close to each other in the city center -- Kauppatori, known in English as Central Market Square, as well as the Puutori Market Square. Turku is about 85 miles west of the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Finnish police also tweeted warnings to citizens to be on alert near the Helsinki-Vantaan airport as well as at train stations.

 

 

A Spanish newspaper is reporting that the CIA warned local police in Barcelona two months ago that the city’s popular tourist area, Las Ramblas, could be the target of a terrorist attack using methods just like Thursday’s deadly vehicular attack. The warning from the Central Intelligence Agency followed repeated vehicular attacks across Europe -- including in London, Nice, Berlin and Stockholm, according to El Periodico. The death toll is now 14, after a van rammed into pedestrians along the popular thoroughfare in central Barcelona on Thursday. More than 100 were injured. The identity of the Barcelona attacker remained unclear as a large-scale anti-terror operation got underway to find the driver. Spanish authorities said the victims came from at least 34 countries including a 74-year-old Portuguese woman out walking with her granddaughter, two Italians and an American.

 

 

Meanwhile, five suspects were killed by police following a separate, but similar attack in Cambrils, Spain, that reportedly injured at least seven people. Police described the attack as one very similar to Barcelona, a vehicle was driven into a crowd of people. Two of the injured were in serious condition. Authorities said the suspects were also equipped with bomb belts. Investigators said they are working under the assumption that this attack, and the Barcelona attack, stemmed from an explosion late Wednesday at a residence in the town of Alcanar, 120 miles southwest of Barcelona. Initially discounted as a gas accident, police said the blast is now seen as a sign of a bomb factory linked to the Thursday attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. Islamic State has claimed responsibilty for the attacks. Since the beginning of this year, Spanish police have arrested at least 20 people suspected of links to the Islamic State militant group.

 

 

President Donald Trump huddled with his national security team at Camp David Friday trying to agree on a strategy for Afghanistan which includes options ranging from a pullout or reduction of U.S. forces, to a modest troop increase. Officials said Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and some military commanders favor a troop hike, while “anti-globalists” led by White House chief strategist Steven Bannon and allies back withdrawing U.S. forces. Most top aides backed a third choice at a mid-July meeting. Under that plan, a small troop reduction would be combined with a focus on counter-terrorism operations enhanced by drone strikes and intelligence-gathering. It's been more than 15 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Islamist Taliban government, but there is no sign to an end in fighting. Meanwhile an Afghan Air Force pilot tells Reuters he has more pressing concerns: He's worried the Taliban may kidnap or kill his family. He said he and some fellow pilots have received death threats. One came in the form a note left on the door of his home in Kabul. that said "If you don't quit, we're going to kidnap your kids and kill you."

 

 

The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will visit Ukraine next week to reassure government leaders that the U.S. does not accept Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The visit comes as the Trump administration considers plans to give Ukraine lethal weaponry, a plan endorsed by the Pentagon and the State Department. A Pentagon statement Friday said Mattis will reassure Ukraine that the U.S. is “firmly committed to the goal of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Ukraine in July. The Obama administration had rejected arming the Ukrainian army, arguing that it could worsen the violence that began in 2014. Mattis will visit Kiev on the last stop of a weeklong trip that also will include stops in Jordan and Turkey.

 

 

The U.S. and Japan agreed to boost their defenses to counter a rising military threat from North Korea after a day of high-level meetings. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis met their Japanese counterparts, Taro Kono and Itsunori Onodera, in an annual security review, and agreed that Japan would "augment its defense capabilities" while Washington would continue "deploying its most advanced capabilities to Japan," the State Department said. Tillerson has reassured Asian allies that the U.S. will respond if North Korea attacks but will not escalate military tensions or launch a pre-emptive strike. He said Thursday that Trump's threat to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea was meant as a reminder that if Pyongyang starts a war, it can't win.

 

 

The Navy on Friday relieved the two top officers and the senior enlisted sailor of the U.S. destroyer Fitzgerald, which collided with a freighter off Japan in June, killing seven sailors. The incident was the deadliest U.S. naval accident in years. The Navy's Seventh Fleet said Cmdr. Bryce Benson and the rest of the ship's leadership were being removed, and about a dozen sailors were being punished, including all of the destroyer's watch. The vice chief of naval operations, Adm. Bill Moran, said a report on the incident showed that "serious mistakes were made by members of the crew," and that as shipping lanes grew crowded in the hours before the accident the sailors on watch "lost situational awareness," leaving them unable to avoid the collision once they became aware of their mistakes.

 

 

With prominent Republicans openly questioning his competence and moral leadership, President Donald Trump burrowed deeper into the racially charged debate over Confederate memorials and lashed out at members of his own party in the latest controversy to engulf his presidency. Out of sight but still online, Trump tweeted his defense of monuments to Confederate icons — bemoaning rising efforts to remove them as an attack on America’s “history and culture.” And he berated his critics who, with increasingly sharper language, have denounced his initially slow and then ultimately combative comments on the racial violence at a white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump was much quicker Thursday to condemn violence in Barcelona, where more than a dozen people were killed when a van veered onto a sidewalk and sped down a busy pedestrian zone in what authorities called a terror attack.

 

 

Three major charities canceled fundraisers at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach on Thursday, in fallout against his business empire over his response to deadly violence at last weekend's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. The American Cancer Society said it was moving an upcoming gala, citing its "values and commitment to diversity." The Cleveland Clinic, another longtime Mar-a-Lago customer, moved its winter fundraiser days after saying it would continue using the club. The American Friends of Magen David Adom, which raises money for Israel's Red Cross equivalent, also said it would move its 2018 gala. The head of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, which counts Mar-a-Lago as a member, called the business "morally reprehensible" and predicted more charities would drop it.

 

 

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wrote in a memo Thursday that President Trump's reaction to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend should "concern all of us as Americans and free people," and said he and his wife Kathryn will donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. Murdoch, whose father is media mogul Rupert Murdoch, said he was so distressed by the "acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob" that he felt the need to comment. "I can't even believe I have to write this," he said. "Standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so."

 

 

U.S. officials say the State Department has suffered a worldwide email outage affecting its entire unclassified system. The officials said the outage began early Friday morning and that technicians were working to restore email as soon as possible. The officials said the outage was not caused by “any external action or interference.” The department was forced to shut down its unclassified email systems in 2014 in what officials said at the time was routine maintenance. But it later emerged that the system had been compromised by hackers believed to be affiliated with Russia and that the maintenance explanation was a cover story.

 

 

NASA launched a new satellite on Friday morning, aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. The launch occurred at just before 8:30 AM EDT, after a brief delay. The satellite, TDSRS-M, will make its way to orbit and then add its capabilities to the existing TDRS constellation, which includes nine other satellites. The role of these geosynchronous spacecraft is to channel data back to Earth from the Hubble space telescope, the International Space Station, and a range of other spacecraft set out on exploratory missions in relatively close proximity to Earth. The expanding constellation is now better able to provide a near-continuous stream of data from those craft to Earth-based research and observation facilities. NASA said this new addition to the network will also help extend the mission, allowing communications through the mid-2020s. NASA said its technicians will spend the next three to four months working to make the satellite, built by Boeing, operational.

It’s Thursday August 17, 2017

17Aug

00:0000:00

A white van plowed into a packed summer crowd Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, killing some people and sending dozens fleeing. Barcelona police called it a terror attack and local media reported up to 13 dead. Catalan police tweeted “there are mortal victims and injured from the crash” without specifying any numbers. Spanish media, including Cadena SER radio station and TV3, reported up to 13 dead, while other media had varying death tolls. Police cordoned off the broad street that is so popular with tourists, ordering stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene. Quoting unnamed police sources, the El Pais newspaper said the two perpetrators of the crash were holed up in a bar in Tallers Street. Armed police ran down the streets and through a market, checking in stores and cafes, presumably in search of them. Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year. The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked trick to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.

 

 

Washington's main Syrian ally in the fight against Islamic State says the U.S. military will remain in northern Syria long after the jihadists are defeated, predicting enduring ties with the Kurdish-dominated region. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces - SDF - an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG, believes the United States has a "strategic interest" in staying on. SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters, "They have a strategy policy for decades to come. There will be military, economic and political agreements in the long term between the leadership of the northern areas (of Syria) ... and the U.S. administration." The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has deployed forces at several locations in northern Syria, including an airbase near the town of Kobani. It has supported the SDF with air strikes, artillery, and special forces on the ground. Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington said, “The Department of Defense does not discuss timelines for future operations. However we remain committed to the destruction of ISIS and preventing its return.”

 

 

The United States and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills next week, according to a statement from America's top U.S. military official on Thursday, resisting pressure from North Korea and its ally China to halt the contentious exercises. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the exercises were "not currently on the table as part of the negotiation at any level". Annual military drills involving tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops are due to begin on Monday. North Korea views such exercises as preparations to invade the north. China, North Korea's main ally and trading partner, has urged the United States and South Korea to scrap the drills in exchange for North Korea calling a halt to its weapons programs. North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland has fueled a rise in tensions in recent months. President Donald Trump warned North Korea last week it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States, prompting North Korea to say it was considering plans to fire missiles at the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

 

 

Contradicting a boss already under pressure to fire him, President Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon says there’s no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. In an interview with The American Prospect posted online Wednesday, Bannon tells the liberal publication that the U.S. is losing the economic race against China and talks about purging his rivals from the Defense and State departments. Bannon’s comments on North Korea, which contradict Trump’s tough approach, could add to pressure on the president to fire him. Bannon has survived earlier rounds of having fallen out of favor with Trump, who is irked by perceptions that Bannon was the mastermind of Trump’s winning campaign and that he guides policy in the White House. Asked about the white supremacist movement, whose march on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend led to deadly violence, Bannon dismisses them as “losers,” ″a fringe element” and “a collection of clowns.” A White House spokeswoman said “Bannon’s comments stand on their own.”

 

 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that she had ordered city employees to have four Confederate monuments removed overnight. The move came days after a white supremacist protest against the dismantling of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in violence that left a counter-protester dead. Pugh made the call "in the best interest of my city," without public notice, fundraising, or a plan for where to put the monuments. "I said with the climate of this nation," she said, "that I think it's very important that we move quickly and quietly." David Goldfield, a history professor who studies Confederate symbols at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, predicted this was the start of "another wave of these removals."

 

 

President Trump bitingly decried the rising movement to pull down monuments to Confederate icons Thursday, declaring the nation is seeing “the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.” Trump’s new remarks came even as the White house tried to manage his increasing isolation and the continued fallout from his combative comments on last weekend’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump also tore into fellow Republicans who have criticized his statements on race and politics, fanning the controversy toward a full-fledged national conflagration. Pressured by advisers, the president had taken a step back from the dispute on Monday, two days after he had enraged many by declining to single out the white supremacists and neo-Nazis whose demonstration against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statute had led to violence and the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville. He returned to his combative stance on Tuesday — insisting anew that “both sides” were to blame. And then in a burst of tweets on Thursday he renewed his criticism of efforts to remove memorials and tributes to the Civil War Confederacy, tweeting, “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it."

 

 

 

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush on Wednesday released a statement condemning the racist violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. The Bushes did not specifically mention President Trump, who has been widely criticized for saying "both sides" were to blame, white supremacists and counter-protesters. "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms," the father-and-son ex-presidents said. "As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights."

 

 

The number of asylum seekers who illegally crossed the U.S. border into Canada more than tripled last month. That's according to Canadian government data released on Thursday. The migrants said they are fleeing the U.S. in fear of President Trump's immigration crackdown. Canada said more than 3,100 people walked across the border illegally in July to file refugee claims and were arrested, up from 884 in June. 96 percent of them went to Quebec, where an influx of asylum seekers, primarily Haitians, is sparking a backlash from opposition politicians and anti-immigrant groups in the primarily French-speaking province. Royal Canadian Mounted Police said In the first 15 days of August, an additional 3,800 asylum seekers were arrested crossing the U.S. border into Quebec. Canada said its refugee system faces the worst delays in years, as officials in Ottawa struggle to house and provide social assistance for the influx of asylum seekers.

 

 

HBO says it has regained control of its social media accounts after the latest security breach to hit the entertainment company. The hacking group 'OurMine' on Wednesday night took over several of HBO’s Twitter accounts, including ones for “Game of Thrones” and John Oliver’s show. The group posted that “we are just testing your security” and asked HBO to contact it for an upgrade. HBO said in a statement Thursday that “the infringement on our social media accounts was recognized and rectified quickly.” It declined further comment. 'OurMine' has a history of similar hacks showing companies’ security vulnerabilities. It caused far less damage and appeared unrelated to another group of hackers who broke into HBO’s computer network and have been doling out stolen information and unaired episodes for several weeks.

 

 

Emma Stone has been paid more than any other actress this year, according to Forbes. The La La Land star earned $26 million over a 12-month period from June 2016 to June 2017, mainly due to the success of the Hollywood musical film. That puts her at the top of Forbes magazine's annual list, beating the likes of Jennifer Anniston and Emma Watson. Jennifer Lawrence, who topped the list in 2016, came third with earnings of $24 million. Emma's earnings increased by 160% on 2016, when she made $10 million. The 28-year-old recently spoke out about the gender pay gap in Hollywood, revealing her male co-stars had taken pay cuts so they could earn the same. Jennifer Lawrence has topped the Forbes list for the past two years, mainly because of her earnings from the Hunger Games franchise. In 2016 J-Law made $46 million, after the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, the last in the movie series.

It’s Wednesday August 16, 2017

16Aug

00:0000:00

Trade talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico got underway in Washngton Wednesday, in an effort to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement. The renegotiation of NAFTA under President Donald Trump has become a political hot potato, with the president calling the agreement a jobs "killer" and a "disaster" for the U.S., and pledged to repeal it. But in April, he pulled back and agreed to discuss "modernizing" NAFTA. Trump has maintained his rhetoric against NAFTA, blaming it for the country's large trade deficit with Mexico, and suggesting US manufacturing jobs have been lost across the border. However, Canada and Mexico argue for updating the pact, and business has lobbied in favor of an arrangement which now covers $1 trillion worth of trade across North America in a broad range of industries from dairy to automobiles. NAFTA, which came into effect in 1994, lowered tariffs for most traded goods and services and established rules covering food safety, intellectual property rights and dispute settlements. Since the deal was signed, trade between the three countries has more than tripled, and political ties between the three countries have also strengthened.

 

 

President Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a "very wise and well reasoned decision" to delay any military action against the United States and back away from his threat to strike near the U.S. territory of Guam. Trump wrote on Twitter, "The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!" According to North Korean state news agency KCNA, Kim was briefed on his country's plan to launch a missile toward Guam, the Pacific island that is home to several U.S. military bases. A statement from KCNA read, "Dear Supreme Leader will watch such stupid American behavior for a bit longer." During a State Department briefing, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said North Korea’s simply saying it won't fire toward Guam would not be enough to bring the United States back to the negotiating table. She said "They know what they need to do. We would like to have talks with him when the time is right, when they show they're serious, serious about an effort to move to denuclearization. We have not seen that yet." North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile last month – the second launch of an ICBM in its history – leading the United States to enforce new economic sanctions against Kim and his regime.

 

 

 

President Trump’s relationship with the American business community suffered a major setback on Wednesday as the president was forced to shut down his major business advisory councils after corporate leaders repudiated his comments on the violence in Charlottesville this weekend. Trump announced the disbanding of the two councils — the Strategy & Policy Forum and the Manufacturing Council, which hosted many of the top corporate leaders in America — amid a growing uproar by chief executives furious over Trump's decision to equate the actions of white supremacists and protesters in remarks Tuesday at Trump Tower. The Washington Post reports the groups had already decided to dissolve on their own earlier in the day, according to a person familiar with the process. JP Morgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, a member of the "Strategy & Policy Forum," told employees in a note on Wednesday that his group decided to disband following Trump's bizarre press conference on Tuesday, in which he appeared to show sympathy for some of the people who marched alongside the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. Earlier Wednesday, the CEOs of Campbell Soup and the conglomerate 3M resigned from the manufacturing council.

 

 

Vandals used red spray paint to write profanity on one of the columns at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., early Tuesday. The National Park Service said crews removed the graffiti using a "gel-type architectural paint stripper that is safe for use on historic stone." President Abraham Lincoln led the Union government to victory over the secessionist Confederacy in the Civil War, and freed African-American slaves in 1863. He was assassinated five days after the war was effectively ended with Confederate general Robert E. Lee's surrender. Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted during a protest against the removal of a Lee statue from a park. Also Tuesday, a Massachusetts teen was arrested on charges of vandalizing a Holocaust memorial in Boston.

 

 

Durham County, North Carolina, authorities arrested a woman in connection with the destruction of a Confederate statue during a protest outside a courthouse. Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said. "I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct." He said by using video captured at the scene, his investigators are working to identify others also responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue. Deputies booked the 22-year-old woman on two felony counts of property damage and inciting others to riot. More arrests are expected.

 

 

A confrontation occurred between Indian and Chinese soldiers along a disputed border in the western Himalayas. The PTI news agency said soldiers threw stones, causing minor injuries to both sides, as Chinese troops tried to enter Indian territory near the Pangong lake. Beijing maintains that their soldiers were inside Chinese territory. The two countries are also locked in an impasse in the Doklam area, which borders China, India and Bhutan. PTI quoted army officials as saying that in the latest confrontation, soldiers had to form a human chain to prevent an incursion by Chinese forces into territories claimed by India and located near the country's Ladakh region. China claims the territories as its own. An Indian official told the BBC that he could neither confirm nor deny media reports, but said "such incidents do happen," adding that "this isn't the first time that something like this has happened." The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, which causes tensions to escalate from time to time.

 

 

Scores of rescuers in Hawaii are searching by air and sea for an Army helicopter with five crewmembers on board, that crashed in the Pacific off Oahu late Tuesday. The military has confirmed that the five missing are all active duty soldiers who were on a night training mission out of Wheeler Army Airfield's 25th Combat Aviation Brigade. The Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down about two miles off Kaena Point shortly after 10 pm Tuesday. A portion of the chopper's fuselage was spotted in the water Wednesday morning. Officials said they lost communications with the helicopter as it, and another Black Hawk aircrew, conducted a training mission between Kaena Point and Dillingham Airfield. Coast Guard, Army, Marine and Honolulu Fire Department rescue crews were deployed, and a debris field was spotted by air shortly before midnight Wednesday. An Army public affairs officer said nighttime chopper training offshore is routine, and said that this is still being classified as a "search and rescue operation".

 

 

Lebanon's parliament has scrapped a law under which a rapist could be exempt from punishment if he married his victim, according to a state media report. Women's rights activists had long demanded that Article 522 of the penal code be repealed. Their campaign was supported by the Minister for Women's Affairs, Jean Oghassabian, who said the law was like something "from the Stone Age". One activist said the law allowed "for a second assault on a rape survivor's rights in the name of 'honor' by trapping her in a marriage with her rapist". Members of the Lebanese parliamentary committee for administration and justice agreed last December to submit a proposal to repeal Article 522. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed his support for the measure at the time, but it took until Wednesday for a vote to be held. Similar rape loophole legislation has recently been swept away in both Tunisia and Jordan. States retaining a comparable loophole include Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria.

 

 

The federal government will make crucial Obamacare-related subsidy payments to health insurers in August, despite threats by President Trump, according to a White House spokesman on Wednesday. The payments compensate insurers for offering low- and moderate-income Obamacare customers reduced charges for out-of-pocket health costs, such as co-payments and deductibles. Most people who buy health coverage on HealthCare.gov and other government-run insurance marketplaces qualify for those reduced charges. Almost 6 million people qualified last year. Trump, peeved about the failure of his fellow Republicans in the Senate to pass an Obamacare replacement bill had threatened to end the so-called cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released Tuesday, said ending the cost-sharing reductions, which amounted to $7 billion in 2017, would leave 5% of Americans with no insurer in the individual market as of next year. Several insurers, most recently Anthem, had pulled out of some states, citing uncertainty over the fate of the payments.

 

 

President Trump said he had signed an executive order to speed up federal permitting for construction, water, and other infrastructure projects, saying, "It's going to be quick, it's going to be a very streamlined process." Trump also said. "if it doesn't meet environmental safeguards, we're not going to approve it. Very simple. We're not going to approve it." Trump also revoked former President Barack Obama's order requiring projects built on flood plains to take rising sea levels into account. Trump has said predictions about rising seas due to climate change have been exaggerated. Construction industry groups had said the flood plain order pushed up building costs.

 

 

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Alabama State Sen. Luther Strange advanced into a Senate Republican primary runoff in the race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' former US senate seat. Strange, who was appointed to temporarily fill the seat in February, survived a challenge from Rep. Mo Brooks, who finished third, but he trailed Moore despite getting endorsements from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Strange predicted that Trump's backing would help him win the Sept. 26 runoff. Moore, a controversial figure twice suspended from the state Supreme Court for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument and to recognize same-sex marriages, said he led the low-turnout primary because voters rejected "silk-stocking Washington elitists." The winner will face Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, in the general election.

 

 

Apple is ramping up its venture into video streaming entertainment services with a $1 billion investment in original content. In an effort to expand its original shows for Apple Music and create content for Apple TV viewers, the company this year pushed out "Planet of the Apps" and ordered 16 episodes of "Carpool Karaoke," both which endured their fair share of mocking online. Apple's new $1 billion venture into creating original shows will mean competition for Netflix and Amazon. Meanwhile Netflix is in "active discussions" with Walt Disney about keeping Marvel and "Star Wars" films after 2019 when new Disney and Pixar movies will stop appearing on the streaming service. Disney announced it was pulling new Disney and Pixar films from Netflix starting with its new releases in 2019 and will put the movies on a new Disney-branded online service.

 

 

 

Days after the entertainment website TMZ captured video that appeared to show Tom Cruise getting injured while performing a stunt on the set of “Mission Impossible 6,” the studio behind the film has confirmed the news. Paramount released a statement Wednesday that said, “During production on the latest Mission: Impossible film, Tom Cruise broke his ankle while performing a stunt.” According to Variety, Cruise may have broken his ankle in two places and hurt his hip. He is scheduled to see a doctor this week. Video of the stunt showed Cruise in a harness while jumping in between two buildings. He appeared to fall short of the second building and slammed into it. He could be seen limping toward crew members and collapsing. Cruise is well known for doing most of his own stunts. In 2015, he clung to the side of a plane during takeoff while filming “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.” Paramount said production will go on hiatus for 6 weeks, while the 55 year old Cruise recovers, but also said the next installment of Mission Impossible remains on schedule to open next July.

It’s Tuesday August 15, 2017

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided on Tuesday not to fire four missiles at Guam right away, North Korean state media reported. Kim said he'd likely change his mind if the "Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous, reckless actions on the Korean Peninsula." The news that North Korea was holding off on firing missiles into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory sent U.S. stock futures rising, after a weekend of easing tensions helped lift stocks broadly on Monday. "What the market really reacted negatively to on Thursday was Trump's somewhat incendiary comments about 'fire and fury,'" said Dave Lafferty, chief market strategist of Natixis Global Asset Management. "The administration sort of walked back Trump's comments over the weekend."

 

 

An expert analysis published this week concluded that North Korea managed to successfully test its first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. by purchasing powerful rocket engines on the black market, probably from a Ukrainian factory. The factory under suspicion has historical ties to Russia's missile program. Analysts reached their conclusion by spotting similarities between new rocket motors being inspected by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and designs of the former Soviet Union's missile fleet. President Donald Trump has called China the main source of economic and technical support to North Korea. He has not blamed Russia, although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently mentioned both China and Russia as Pyongyang's "principal economic enablers."

 

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Tuesday his nation would exit the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers "within hours" if the United States keeps on imposing new sanctions. Iran says new US sanctions breach the agreement it reached in 2015 with the US, Russia, China and three European powers in which it agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most sanctions. The US Treasury imposed sanctions on six Iranian firms in late July for their role in the development of a ballistic missile program after Tehran launched a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit. In early August, President Trump signed into law new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The sanctions in that bill also target Iran's missile programs as well as human rights abuses. The US imposed unilateral sanctions after saying Iran's ballistic missile tests violated a UN resolution, which endorsed the nuclear deal and called upon Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology. Iran denies its missile development breaches the resolution, saying its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons. Trump said last week he did not believe that Iran was living up to the spirit of the nuclear deal.

 

 

The death toll from massive mudslides in the capitol of Sierra Leone topped more than 400, and officials said it was certain to rise Tuesday, as bodies washed up on a beach and workers searched for an untold number of people buried in their homes. The Red Cross estimated that 600 people were still missing. Many were trapped under tons of mud as they slept when the Freetown area was hit with heavy rains. A government spokesman said rescue operations continue, hoping to remove people still believed to be buried alive in the rubble. Heavy equipment was deployed to dig into the piles of red mud. A Sierra Leonean disaster management official said "more than 2,000 people are homeless" in the Regent area outside Freetown. Military personnel have been deployed to help with the operation in the impoverished West African nation.

 

 

Jerry Varnell, an Oklahoma man angry with the US government, was arrested over the weekend for allegedly trying to blow up an Oklahoma City bank building. Prosecutors said the 23 year old told an FBI informant he wanted to use a device similar to the one Timothy McVeigh used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. The BancFirst building he allegedly targeted is a few blocks from the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that McVeigh bombed. According to the criminal complaint, Varnell said, "I'm out for blood." Varnell was arrested after an eight month undercover investigation. Undercover agents supplied him with a van Varnell believed was packed with explosives, but federal prosecutors said the device in the van was inert, and the public was never at risk.

 

 

Protesters in North Carolina on Monday pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier erected in 1924 as demonstrations continued across the country against white nationalists. The protests began after deadly violence against counter-protesters during a rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was called to oppose the scrapping of another Confederate monument. Activists in Durham, North Carolina, used a rope to pull down the statue outside a courthouse, as dozens of people kicked the bronze statue and others cheered.

 

 

Italy's interior minister said on Tuesday he saw light at the end of the tunnel for curbing migrant flows from Libya after a slowdown in arrivals across the Mediterranean in recent months. But a United Nations investigator said that Italy's recent effort to draw up a code regulating the operations of humanitarian ships rescuing migrants at sea would cause more deaths. The subject of immigration is dominating Italy's political agenda ahead of general elections due before May next year, with public opinion increasingly hostile to migrants. In Libya, Italy has trained members of the coastguard and upgraded its fleet, in line with the EU's investments to support search and rescue operations at sea as well as those along its borders. Almost 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy over the past four years. After a surge in migrant arrivals from Libya at the start of the year, the numbers have slowed. Data from the Interior Ministry on Tuesday showed that 97,293 people had reached Italy so far in 2017, down 4.15 percent from the same period in 2016.

 

 

Close to 3,000 firefighters in Portugal are struggling to put out more than 150 wildfires raging across the country Tuesday, as persistent hot and dry weather stoked the flames. Officials said in one case, around 800 firefighters supported by air units were needed to finally bring under control a blaze that had burned for three days near the central town of Vila dei Rei. Another 300 firefighters were focused on combating a second large fire also in the interior of the country. Since August 9 the fires injured 55 people, including four with serious injuries. A government spokesperson said temperatures were forecast to rise in the interior of Portugal as high as 40 C (104 F). Portugal has been especially hard hit by wildfires this year because of a widespread drought.

 

 

A Denver jury found Monday that former KYGO radio DJ David Mueller groped Taylor Swift before a concert of hers‌ in 2013, and awarded the singer a symbolic $1 in damages. On Friday, Judge William J. Martinez threw out Mueller's claim that Swift should be held personally responsible for the loss of his job after the incident. The jury also found that Swift's mother, Andrea Swift, and radio representative, Frank Bell, who called Mueller's boss after the concert, were not liable for Mueller's firing. Swift released a statement thanking the judge and jury, and her legal team "for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support throughout this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process."

 

 

Germany’s second largest airline, Air Berlin, has filed for bankruptcy protection after its main shareholder, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, said it would make no more financing available following years of unsuccessful turnaround attempts. The loss-making airline, which carries some 80,000 people a day mostly on short-haul destinations, will get a 150 million euro government loan to keep flights running and not leave travelers stranded during the peak summer season. Air Berlin CEO Thomas Winkelmann said the loan will allow the airline to operate until the end of November. After that the airline’s future is uncertain. Rival Lufthansa, which is Germany’s biggest carrier, and another unidentified airline are in talks to take over some operations. Air Berlin had a debt load of 1.2 billion euros after reporting a record loss of 782 million euros last year. Air Berlin has more than 7,000 employees.

 

 

Bill Gates has given away $4.6 billion dollars to charity - his largest donation since 2000. He remains the world's richest person, despite giving away 64 million shares in Microsoft, equivalent to 5% of his total fortune, currently estimated to be $89.9 billion. Since 1994 the 61 year old co-founder of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda, have given away a total of $35 billion in cash and stocks to a range of charitable causes. The donation was made in June but became public on Monday following the filing of a document with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Gates ownership stake in Microsoft is now just 1.3%.This latest donation is the biggest charitable gift to have been made anywhere in the world so far this year, but it's not known who the recipient is.

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