It’s Monday January 22, 2018



Hundreds of thousands of federal workers began shutting down operations on Monday with the U.S. government closed, as a bipartisan group of senators tried to negotiate a deal just hours before the full Senate planned another vote to restore funding. As government employees prepared for the first weekday since the shutdown began at midnight Friday, U.S. senators were to vote at midday Monday on a funding bill to get the lights back on in Washington and across the government until early February. Support for the bill was uncertain after Republicans and Democrats spent the weekend trying to strike a deal, only to go home for the night short of an agreement. At the U.S. Capitol, a group of bipartisan senators met on Monday morning in search of a deal but came out disagreeing on whether progress was made. A White House spokesperson said he did not believe the Senate would get the 60 votes needed to move on funding legislation that would reopen the government.




The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on North Koreans accused of helping Pyongyang evade United Nations sanctions linked to the secretive country’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests. EU foreign ministers agreed the measures on Monday in their latest round of sanctions on North Korea that have reduced trade with Pyongyang to a trickle in an attempt to show solidarity with major trading partners South Korea and Japan. The European Union, along with the United States, China, and Russia, signed onto the latest rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea, imposed last year after the latest test on Nov. 28. But it is also seeking to keep up pressure on those still doing business with Pyongyang. Many of those sanctioned were identified by U.N. experts as North Korean diplomats in Africa and Asia using front companies in countries such as Mozambique, Eritrea, and Malaysia to provide coal, arms, radio equipment and other critical supplies to the North Korean regime.




Nine Syrian civilians were killed on Monday by insurgent shelling of the old quarter of Damascus. Syrian state television reported that another 21 were injured in the shelling of the Bab Touma and al-Shaghour districts of the old city, according to city police. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 were injured in Bab Touma and seven elsewhere in the Old City. Some are in critical condition. The Britain-based war monitor said rebel factions in the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta have escalated their shelling of government-controlled areas in and around Damascus since November. Eastern Ghouta is the last major rebel-held pocket near the capital.




Afghan security forces said Sunday they had ended an overnight siege at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel by killing the last of six Taliban militants who attacked the heavily guarded property on Saturday night. About 150 guests escaped by using bedsheets to climb down from high floors. At least 18 people who were in the hotel, including 14 foreigners, were killed. Eleven of the 14 foreigners who were killed work for the private Afghan airline KamAir. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had planned to attack on Thursday but delayed it because a wedding was being held there that night, and it wanted to avoid civilian casualties.




Vice President Mike Pence on Monday told Israel’s parliament that the U.S. Embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, ahead of schedule, receiving a rousing ovation as he pledged to barrel ahead with a plan that has set off weeks of unrest and thrown U.S. peace efforts into disarray. The move, in the first ever address of a sitting American vice president to the Israeli Knesset, marked the highlight of Pence’s three-day visit to Israel celebrating President Donald Trump’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Pence said, “The United States has chosen fact over fiction — and the fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace." The speech drew an angry denunciation from the Palestinians, with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat saying it “has proven that the U.S. administration is part of the problem rather than the solution.”




Large crowds of demonstrators participated on Sunday in a second straight day of women's marches that brought together hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. and in Europe. Participants called for greater rights for women, such as equal pay, and many expressed opposition to President Trump. "We have the power to change every policy and make every elected official work for us, but they cannot see division among us because they will go and do nothing for the people," said Tamika Mallory, co-chairwoman of the national Women's March organization, in Las Vegas. "We must stand up and be loud and be bold." Sunday's marches came exactly one year after hundreds of thousands of women, sporting pink hats, took to the streets shortly after President Trump's inauguration in opposition to anticipated threats by his administration to women's rights.




The FBI failed to preserve text messages exchanged by two senior officials at the agency who were involved in the investigations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the five months immediately before the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. The letter from Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, suggests that the FBI might have turned over more texts between senior FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. They referred to Trump as an "idiot" and a "loathsome human" in previously disclosed texts, which the White House said revealed bias against Trump in the inquiry into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates.




California authorities reopened the iconic Highway 101 in Santa Barbara on Sunday, two weeks after mudslides covered parts of it with as much as 12 feet of earth and debris. A day earlier, the body of a missing woman, 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon of Montecito, was found, raising the death toll from the torrential rains and mudslides to 21. The state transportation department Caltrans said it had taken a "Herculean effort," with cleanup crews working around the clock in 12-hour shifts, to get the coastal highway reopened. Search and rescue teams continued to look for a two-year-old and a 17-year-old who are still missing.




Two pipe bombs exploded at a Florida mall on Sunday night, forcing authorities to evacuate about 100 shoppers. Nobody was injured. The devices triggered a smoke alarm in a service corridor near the entrance to the JCPenney store in the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales, in central Florida. Police found the devices about 10 yards apart. They appeared to be made from flares placed inside PVC pipes that were wrapped in electrical tape. "There is nothing at this time to indicate this act was terrorism," Lake Wales Police Deputy Chief Troy Schulze said. "We don't know what the person was trying to achieve." Investigators are looking over surveillance tapes and searching for a person of interest.




The New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday advanced to the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 4. The Patriots came from behind to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20, and qualify for their 10th appearance in professional football's championship game. Star Patriots quarterback Tom Brady entered the AFC championship game after injuring his throwing hand last week, raising questions about his status, but he went on to complete 26 of 38 passes, with two touchdowns. The Eagles trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 38-7, in the NFC championship game. Backup Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who has started since Carson Wentz blew out a knee last month, threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns.




Amazon plans to open its first automated grocery store, Amazon Go, on Monday, after nearly a year's delay. Amazon says the store will have "no lines, no checkouts, no registers." It instead relies on automated "Just Walk Out" checkout technology, scanning a code on the shopper's Amazon Go app, then tracking them using scanning and Artificial Intelligence technology, and charging them for whatever they take out of the store. Some of the technology has been used in the development of driverless cars. The first 1,800-square-foot mini-market is located in Seattle. It has gone through testing in beta mode, open only to employees after its original early 2017 launch date was postponed.




Weather Channel co-founder John Coleman has died, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing confirmation from his wife, Linda. He was 83. Coleman was also the original Good Morning America meteorologist. A controversial figure, he insisted that global warming was a hoax. The Texas native got his first TV job while studying at the University of Illinois. Later, he worked at local stations in the Midwest before joining GMA for its 1975 launch. He helped get The Weather Channel up and running in 1981, serving as its CEO for about a year, then spent the last 20 years of his career as a meteorologist for KUSI-TV in San Diego. He retired in 2014.




It will be a busy year for royal weddings: Princess Eugenie is engaged to be married later this year, several months after her cousin Prince Harry’s nuptials. Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, will marry Jack Brooksbank in the fall, Buckingham Palace said Monday. The palace said that the wedding will take place at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Prince Harry and his American fiancee Meghan Markle will marry at the same chapel in May. The 27-year-old Eugenie was the second child born to Andrew and Ferguson. The groom’s parents, Nicola and George Brooksbank, also welcomed the news, saying they couldn’t be more delighted. The palace said she and Brooksbank became engaged in Nicaragua earlier this month. They have been dating for a number of years. Eugenie is the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II and is eighth in line to the throne.

It’s Friday January 19, 2018



A security bug that has infected thousands of smartphones has been uncovered by campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Working with mobile security firm Lookout, researchers discovered that malware in fake messaging designed to look like WhatsApp and Signal had stolen gigabytes of data. The report said the threat, dubbed Dark Caracal by the researchers, looks as if it could come from a nation state and appears to use shared infrastructure linked to other nation-state hackers. The malware takes advantage of known exploits and targets mainly Android phones. Researchers said data was traced back to a server in a building belonging to the Lebanese General Security Directorate in Beirut. It's affected people in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Lebanon, and France, and targets include military personnel, activists, journalists, and lawyers. The EFF said the types of stolen data range from call records and audio recordings to documents and photos. Experts say mobile devices are the future of spying because phones are full of so much data about a person's day-to-day life.




Cape Town could become the first major city in the world to run out of water in about 90 days. Three years of successive drought have devastated the city's water supplies. At a dam that is just one of Cape Town's main sources of water, levels are critically low, sitting at less than 20 percent. Cape Town's four million residents are now only allowed 23 gallons of water per person per day. Next month that goes down to 13 gallons. Thirteen gallons doesn't allow for much – a 90-second shower, a quick toilet flush, basic dishwashing, weekly laundry, and a large bottle of drinking water. Compare that to the average American who uses around 100 gallons daily. City officials believe that if Capetonians drastically cut back water usage, they could avoid the taps running dry until the rainy season begins in May. Then, of course, the hope is that the rains will pour down so that dams will be full again.




House Republicans on Thursday pushed through a stopgap spending bill aimed to avert a government shutdown, but Democrats said they had enough votes to block the measure in the Senate. The current spending resolution runs out at midnight Friday. The new resolution would keep government agencies funded through Feb. 16. It would extend the popular Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years and delay several taxes in the Affordable Care Act, but does not include new protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, which Democrats are demanding.




US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said competition between great powers, not terrorism, is now the main focus of America's national security. Mattis said the US faced "growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia", as he unveiled the national defense strategy. In an apparent reference to Russia, he warned against "threatening America's experiment in democracy", warning "If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day." America has been gripped by ongoing investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump 2016 election campaign and Russia. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Mattis also appealed to Congress to fund the military adequately and refrain from "indiscriminate and automatic cuts" to the federal budget.




A Russian teenager attacked a group of younger students with an ax, injuring six people, before setting his school on fire. Russia’s Investigative Committee said Friday that the attacker, a ninth-grader, attacked a group of seventh-grade students with an ax at a school just outside the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude, then set the room ablaze. Five students and one teacher were injured in the attack. The attacker was detained and is now hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Earlier this week, investigators opened a criminal case into a knife attack that injured 15 people at a school in the city of Perm. The case was initially reported as an assault by two masked men, but authorities later said it grew out of a knife fight between two students.




A teenager accused of planting an improvised bomb on a London commuter train which injured 30 people pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of attempted murder and causing an explosion at a train station in southwest London last September. 18-year-old Ahmed Hassan is charged with trying to murder passengers on an underground train heading to central London from Wimbledon. He is also accused of making a bomb. Flames engulfed the train car but no-one was seriously hurt in what authorities said was Britain’s fifth major attack of 2017. The two-week trial is due to start on March 5




The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a lower court's order for North Carolina to redraw its congressional map because it appeared to have been designed to favor Republicans in violation of the Constitution. Republicans got 53 percent of the statewide vote in 2016 but won 10 of the state's 13 House seats. The lower court had given North Carolina until Jan. 24 to create a new map, but the Supreme Court's conservative majority granted GOP lawmakers' request to suspend the Jan. 9 decision. The Supreme Court did not explain its decision, which made it likely that the current district lines would remain in place in the November midterms. The Supreme Court is already examining cases from Wisconsin and Maryland in which plaintiffs argue that such partisan gerrymandering violates voters' rights.




The number of Venezuelans living in Colombia jumped 62 percent in the last half of 2017, as Venezuela’s economic devastation hastens migration to the neighboring country. Columbian authorities said most of the Venezuelan migrants lack visas and have fled food shortages and the world’s steepest inflation by crossing the 1,379-mile porous border to Colombia. A government report said more than 650,000 Venezuelans passed through Colombia on their way to other countries or returned home during 2017. About 1.3 million Venezuelans have registered for a special migration card that allows them to cross the border by day to buy food and other products that are scarce in their own country. Of those Venezuelans living in Colombia, 126,000 have legal permission to stay, including some 69,000 who have taken advantage of a humanitarian visa introduced in July. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on a visit to the Andean country last week that the UN is willing to send more aid to Colombia to help the country cope with the arriving migrants.



Pope Francis, on the last day of his visit to Chile, accused some victims of Chile's most notorious pedophile priest of slandering a Catholic bishop by saying he was complicit in covering up the crimes. The Vatican sentenced the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" in 2011. Victims said his protege Juan Barros, appointed as a bishop in 2015, witnessed some of the abuse but did nothing. Pope Francis said without proof such allegations were "all calumny." Some victims expressed shock. "As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all," tweeted Barros accuser Juan Carlos Cruz.




USA Gymnastics said Thursday that it would sever ties with the Karolyi Ranch in rural Texas, which was long a training center for elite American gymnasts but was also one of the places where former team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts. USA Gymnastics had faced a torrent of criticism for continuing to hold training at the ranch, and some of the athletes Nassar molested had objected to having to return to the center to train ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Nassar is expected to be sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault charges.




The FBI is investigating whether Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help President Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, in violation of a federal law against using foreign money to influence U.S. elections, McClatchy reported Thursday, citing two people familiar with the matter. Torshin is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a lifetime member of the NRA. He met with Donald Trump Jr. during the organization's 2016 gala in Kentucky. Bloomberg News reported in 2016 that Spanish authorities believe Torshin helped mobsters launder money through Spanish properties and banks. The NRA said it spent a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, with $30 million going to help Trump.




A sunken Iranian oil tanker may be leaking heavy bunker fuel as well as light oil off the east coast of China and Friday officials said the best remedy is to recover the vessel. It was unclear how much bunker fuel was left aboard the tanker when it sank on Sunday after being ablaze for days but experts estimated it may have been carrying about 1,000 tons at the time of the collision. It was not immediately clear where the oil could wash up or the extent of the damage it could cause. The large tanker 'Sanchi' sank in the world’s worst oil ship disaster in decades. The tanker had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal on Jan. 6. Strong winds pushed it away from the Chinese coast, where the collision happened, and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The ship's crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis died in the accident.




New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Friday that she is expecting her first child in June. She said she would take six weeks of maternity leave. Ardern, 37, said Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters would take over in her absence, but she would be "contactable and available" if members of her center-left coalition government need her input. Her partner, Clarke Gayford, will be a stay-at-home dad and primary caregiver. "Knowing that so many parents juggle the care of their new babies, we consider ourselves to be very lucky," she said. Ardern will be just the second elected world leader to give birth while in office. Benazir Bhutto had a daughter in 1990 while serving as Pakistan's prime minister.

It’s Thursday January 18, 2018



Amazon has narrowed its hunt for a second headquarters to 20 locations, concentrated among cities in the U.S. East and Midwest. Toronto, Canada made the list as well, keeping the company’s international options open. The Seattle based company’s announcement last fall that it was looking for a second home launched a fierce competition among cities looking to lure Amazon and its promise of 50,000 new jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. The online retailer said Thursday that after sorting through 238 proposals, the potential locations still include tech-strong places like Boston and New York. Other contenders include Chicago, Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio, in the Midwest. Los Angeles was the only West Coast city on the list. Both Texas and Pennsylvania had two cities that made the cut: Austin, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered. The other contenders: Denver, Washington D.C., Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.




The US will maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of the jihadist group Islamic State, counter Iranian influence, and help end the civil war. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump did not want to "make the same mistakes" that were made in 2011 when US forces left Iraq. The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria. Tillerson denied the US was training a Kurdish-led border force, but Turkey accused it of sending mixed signals. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, whose country fiercely opposes such a move said, "US officials have made statements that refute one another. One day it was said that a new border force had been set up, another day they said they are setting up a unit with local forces in order to maintain security in the region after eliminating Daesh [Islamic State group, or IS] in the region. These are all confusing statements." The US secretary of state said officials had "misspoke[n]" when they said the US was planning to set up a 30,000 strong "border security force" in northern Syria underpinned by the allied Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.




Bitter divisions on Wednesday threatened to derail a GOP stopgap spending proposal aiming to avert a government shutdown. Republicans scrambled to muster enough votes to pass it as some conservatives threatened to sink it in the House, complaining it doesn't include enough defense spending. Democrats are demanding that it include protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Republicans need nine Democrats to pass it in the Senate. The continuing resolution would finance the government at current levels through Feb. 16, delay several ObamaCare-related taxes for a year or two, and finance the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. The current short-term spending package expires at midnight Friday.




A winter blast with record cold and snow that has been blamed for killing at least 10 people hammered much of the southern United States on Wednesday. Four people died in Louisiana, including a baby who died in a car that plunged into a canal. Atlanta got more than an inch of snow and eight inches fell in parts of central and western North Carolina, forcing the cancellation of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Temperatures fell to record lows in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. New Orleans got a low of 21 degrees, breaking the city's record of 23 degrees, set in 1977.




Four people have been killed by falling trees or debris as a fierce storm tears across northern Europe. Storm-related accidents killed three people in the Netherlands and one in north-west Germany. Gusts of up to 90 mph caused transport chaos. All long-distance train services in Germany and many regional services were canceled for the rest of Thursday. Flights at the airport in Amsterdam were briefly suspended. Schiphol, one of the busiest airports in Europe, had to close two of three departure halls after roof plates were blown off the terminal building. More than 300 flights were canceled. The storm was due to cross Germany before reaching Poland overnight. It caused high winds in the UK on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, bringing down trees and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes. German meteorologists warned people to stay indoors, and many schools were closed. The national train operator, Deutsche Bahn announced a nation-wide suspension of long-distance trains. Any regional trains still running have cut their speed because of the strong winds, blowing debris onto the tracks. Many domestic flights in Germany have also been canceled.




South Korea says it will continue high-level talks with North Korea with "clear eyes" amid global warnings that Pyongyang might be playing for time to continue its nuclear-arms program. The talks come as the US and its allies vowed to keep the pressure on the North. On Wednesday US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said sanctions were "really starting to hurt", expressing confidence that the pressure would eventually force the North to the negotiating table over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Also on Wednesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world should not be blinded by Pyongyang's recent "charm offensive". He also said, "It is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea. The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working." As for the visit during the Olympics next month, South Korea will also need to find ways to host the North Korean delegation without violating UN Security Council sanctions outlawing cash transfers to Pyongyang and blacklisting certain senior North officials.




The Trump administration is finalizing its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which would push most of the financing of projects to private investment and state and local taxpayers, according to sources familiar with the proposal taking shape. President Trump, who spoke frequently of improving U.S. infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, may preview the plan in his Jan. 30 State of the Union address. Two people briefed on it said it would likely recommend dividing $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years into four pools of funds. The administration is structuring the plan in hopes of encouraging more than $1 trillion in state, local and private financing to build and repair the nation’s bridges, highways, waterworks and other infrastructure. A White House official said the total investment that could be generated could reach as much as $1.85 trillion, depending on how much private investment is leveraged. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying group in Washington, is even backing a 25 cent increase in the federal gasoline tax to make that happen. It is unusual for a business group to call for a tax increase, but the Chamber argues that it is necessary to fund critical infrastructure projects.



The Trump administration said Wednesday that it was removing Haitians from a list of more than 80 countries whose citizens are eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers. The Department of Homeland Security announced the move days after President Trump questioned in a White House meeting why the U.S. took in immigrants from Haiti and African nations, reportedly calling them "shithole" countries. DHS said it was taking Haiti off the list because of "high levels of fraud and abuse," including people who overstayed their visas. Supporters said the decision would deny a valuable lifeline to a small number of Haitians, although only about four dozen received the visas annually in the last two years. Belize and Samoa also were removed from the list.




The U.S. government is seeking to further protect the “conscience and religious freedom” of health workers whose beliefs prevent them from carrying out abortions and other procedures, in an effort likely to please conservative Christian activists and other supporters of President Trump. The Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday it will create a division within its Office of Civil Rights to give it “the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.” HHS officials said healthcare workers, hospitals with religious affiliations, and medical students among others have been “bullied” by the federal government to provide these services despite existing laws on religious and conscience rights.The division would enforce the legal protection and conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers with religious or moral objections to opt out. The move is likely to upset reproductive rights advocates and some Democrats.




Republicans won three of four special elections in GOP strongholds this week, but the surprise loss in a special statehouse election in Wisconsin triggered alarm among Republicans ahead of this year's mid-term elections. The Republicans in all of the races underperformed compared to President Trump's numbers in their districts last year, and Wisconsin Democrat Patty Schachtner won by 11 percentage points, a 28-point swing compared to Trump's 2016 performance. On Thursday, President Trump heads to Pennsylvania to boost Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, who is in a tight race against Democrat Conor Lamb ahead of a March 13 election to fill a seat Republicans held easily for 16 years until former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) was forced out after a sex and abortion scandal.




A defunct Chinese space station is expected to plunge to Earth from its orbital perch in late March. The Tiangong-1 station will mostly burn up as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere. Some fragments could survive the fiery reentry, but experts say the risk to humans on the ground is small. Dr. Andrew Abraham, a senior member of the technical staff at the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research organization based in El Segundo, California, that has been modeling the 18,000-pound station's reentry path said, “I personally wouldn’t be fearful at all about being struck by space debris." An Aerospace analysis found that “the risk that an individual will be hit and injured by a piece of debris is estimated to be less than one in a one trillion.” It’s not clear whether China can still control the space station. In a May 2017 update provided to the United Nations, China said Tiangong-1 “ceased functioning” on March 16, 2016, but provided no additional details about the status of the orbiting outpost. Tiangong-1, which translates to “Heavenly Palace,” was launched in 2011 but hasn’t hosted any astronauts since 2013.

It’s Wednesday January 17, 2018



President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Russia is helping North Korea get supplies in violation of international sanctions and that Pyongyang is getting “closer every day” to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States. In an Oval Office interview with Reuters, Trump said, “Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea. What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.” Trump also cast doubt on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. He declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Kim, with whom he has exchanged insults and threats, heightening tensions in the region. Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang. But he said Russia appears to be filling in the gaps left by the Chinese. Western European security sources said Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea in violation of international sanctions. Russia has denied breaching North Korea sanctions.




Former White House strategist Steve Bannon has struck a deal to be interviewed by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team rather than appearing before a grand jury, CNN reported on Wednesday, citing sources close to Bannon. Bannon had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any ties with President Donald Trump’s campaign. An interview with prosecutors would allow Bannon to have an attorney present during his appearance, as lawyers are not permitted in grand jury rooms. Bannon was a close adviser during Trump’s campaign and in his first months in office, but he was fired from his White House job in August as the president sought to bring more order to his staff operations. Mueller is investigating allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign to try to tip the vote in Trump’s favor, as well as any potential collusion by Trump’s campaign with Moscow. Russia denies any attempt to interfere and Trump has denied any collusion.




A former CIA officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, long suspected of helping China identify U.S. spies and informants, has been arrested, the Justice Department said Tuesday. Lee, who stopped working for the CIA in 2007, was charged with keeping and traveling with notebooks containing classified information. The books, which agents found in Lee's luggage when he traveled to the U.S. in 2012, contained the real names and phone numbers of CIA informants and undercover agents. The FBI launched an investigation that year after the CIA started losing informants in China. More than a dozen CIA informants wound up being killed or imprisoned by China in a devastating setback for the U.S. spying network.




The Justice Department said Tuesday that it would take a "rare step" to bypass an appeals court and directly ask the Supreme Court to overturn a judge's ruling blocking President Trump's move to end an Obama-era program shielding hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump in September said he was unwinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, arguing that former President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he started the program in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. A judge last week temporarily blocked Trump's order, saying the immigrants should be allowed to stay until challenges work their way through the courts. Lawmakers are currently working on a deal to revive the program.




The British House of Commons gave the green light to a key Brexit Bill after weeks of debate and a damaging government defeat, although the legislation still faces a battle in the upper chamber. The MPs voted 324-295 to approve the EU Withdrawal Bill, which repeals the 1972 law which made Britain a member of the European Union and transfers four decades of EU rules onto the British statute books. But the unelected upper House of Lords may insist on further changes when the bill moves there for scrutiny later this month, while ministers still face opposition from the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations. MPs have tabled hundreds of amendments to the Bill in recent weeks, many of them focused on its sweeping powers to both change EU regulations as they are transferred and to authorize any Brexit agreement with the bloc.




Danish authorities have formally charged Danish inventor Peter Madsen with the murder of the Swedish journalist Kim Wall. A Danish prosecutor, Jakob Buch-Jepsen, said Tuesday that Madsen, 46, either strangled Wall or slit her throat after she went to interview him on his self-built submarine last August. Her headless and dismembered torso was found floating off the coast of Copenhagen 10 days after she went missing. Her head, legs, and clothes were found in the ocean, enclosed in bags, in October. Madsen also was charged with sexual assault, without intercourse. Madsen at first claimed that Wall, 30, died in "a terrible accident" when a hatch cover fell on her head. He later said she died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and admitted to dismembering her body.




The Navy announced Tuesday that it would charge the former commanding officers of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain with criminal charges for two deadly 2017 collisions that killed 17 sailors. Three other officers also face charges. Adm. Frank Caldwell, one of the lead officers in the investigation, determined the charges could include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. The commanding officers, Cmdr. Bryce Benson of the Fitzgerald, and Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez of the 'John S. McCain' were relieved of their duties after the crashes, as were their second-in-commands.




Nearly 90 women plan to talk about sexual abuse against them by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar during his four-day sentencing hearing, which began Tuesday. Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting seven girls, but the judge in the case is letting any of his more than 140 accusers speak if they ask. The first accuser to speak on Tuesday was not one of the dozens of gymnasts who have accused him of abuse, but a family friend who said Nassar molested her at his house, causing a family rift when her parents didn't believe her. On Monday, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles said she, too, was one of Nassar's victims. Her teammates McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas had previously disclosed that they were sexually abused by Nassar.




Bitcoin plunged by as much as 25 percent to a six-week low early Wednesday due to growing fears of a regulatory crackdown in South Korea. Seoul has walked back a vow to ban sales of Bitcoin, but the country's finance minister, Kim Dong-yeon, said "the shutdown of virtual currency exchanges is still one of the options" open to the government. Reports last week said South Korea was working on discouraging speculative cryptocurrency trading behind their meteoric rise this year. South Korea said it wouldn't make a move until it had time for "sufficient consultation and coordination of opinions."




Apple will make about $38 billion in U.S. tax payments on its $252.3 billion in overseas cash in accordance with the tax law passed late last month. The company also said on Wednesday it is planning to open a new campus at a location that it will announce later this year. The announced tax payment was roughly in line with what analysts expected from the tax bill, which requires companies to pay a one-time tax on foreign-held earnings whether they intend to bring them back to the United States or not. Apple had set aside $36.3 billion in anticipation of tax payments on its foreign cash, meaning the payment would not represent a major impact on its cash flow this quarter. Apple did not indicate how much, if any, of its cash it would actually bring back to the United States. Apple said it expected to invest over $30 billion in the United States over the next 5 years and would create 20,000 jobs through hiring at existing campuses and through opening a new campus.




The lead White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, said Tuesday that President Trump requested a cognitive test as part of his first formal medical exam since taking office, and he "did exceedingly well." Jackson said Trump scored 30 out of 30 in the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which is designed to detect mild cognitive impairment, primarily in older patients. In the test, patients are asked, among other things, to name several animals and draw a clock with the hands indicating a certain time. Jackson said he saw "no indication whatsoever" that Trump has any cognitive problems. Jackson said medical tests showed Trump to be "very healthy," although at 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds, he is overweight.




The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and have their athletes parade together for the first time in 11 years during the opening ceremony of next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team and marching together under a blue and white “unification flag” depicting their peninsula in the opening ceremony. A joint statement distributed by South Korea's Unification Ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border before the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Games. It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, journalists, athletes, and officials. The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional. But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to Pyeongchang because none are currently qualified. South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the International Olympic Committee which still has to approve the agreements.

It’s Tuesday January 16, 2018



Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert Tuesday warning citizens of a North Korean missile launch and urging them to seek immediate shelter, then minutes later corrected it. It happened just days after a similar error in Hawaii. NHK television issued the message on its internet and mobile news sites as well as on Twitter, saying North Korea appeared to have fired a missile at Japan. It said the government was telling people to evacuate and take shelter. The false alarm came just days after Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency sent a mistaken warning of a North Korean missile attack to mobile phones across the state, triggering panic. NHK said the mistake was the result of an error by a staff member who was operating the alert system for online news but did not elaborate. NHK deleted the tweet and text warning after several minutes issued a correction and apologized several times on air and on other formats. Tension has grown in Japan over North Korean missile tests as they have flown closer to Japanese coasts. Unlike the mistaken Hawaii warning, the NHK alert did not contain the statement, “This is not a drill.” NHK was able to correct its error in a few minutes, far faster than the nearly 40 minutes that elapsed before the Hawaii alert was withdrawn. The Hawaii agency has now changed its protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm.




South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha says its talks with North Korea are a “significant first step toward restoring inter-Korean relations.” But Kang says that despite the overtures, North Korea has yet to show any intention to fulfill its obligations on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Kang told a meeting of U.S. allies in Vancouver, Canada that as long as North Korea continues down its current path, sanctions will remain in place. North and South Korea recently started talks, the first in two years, and the North agreed to take part in the Winter Olympics hosted by the South. However Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono voiced skepticism about North Korea’s intentions. He said the North “wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling for nations to improve maritime interdiction of ships conducting illicit trade with North Korea. Tillerson is meeting in Vancouver with 19 nations that fought on America’s side in the Korean War to intensify the “maximum pressure” campaign on the North and combat sanctions evasion. He is especially urging China and Russia, which are not invited to the meeting to fully implement U.N. sanctions.Tillerson also highlighted in his opening remarks Tuesday North Korean missile tests pose a threat to civilian air traffic. He says the pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes decisive steps to give up its nukes.




The skeletal remains of eight suspected North Koreans have been recovered from the wreckage of a small wooden ship in Japan. It was found by police in Kanazawa - the capital of Japan's central Honshu Island - last week alongside one body, with bad weather initially preventing officers from examining the scene more closely. Seven more bodies were found when the coastguard returned on Monday and police believe they came from North Korea, with state broadcaster NHK reporting that a badge depicting former leader Kim Jong Il and founder Kim Il Sung was also discovered. One police official said they found a tobacco box which carries some Korean letters but could not confirm the boat came from North Korea. The grim finding is the latest in a spate of similar accidents, which experts say could be down to food shortages in the rogue state. A record total of 104 wooden ships thought to be from the Korean peninsula washed up on Japanese shores last year, compared with 66 in 2016.




A 17-year-old girl called police after escaping from her family’s home where she and her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, some so malnourished that officers at first believed they all were children, even though seven are adults. The girl was so small that officers initially thought she was only 10. She called 911 and was met by police who interviewed her and then went to the family home in Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Authorities said they found several children and adults, ages 2 to 29, shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark, foul-smelling surroundings. According to a release from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department they all “appeared to be malnourished and very dirty.” The parents, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin, and 48-year-old Louise Anna Turpin were each held on $9 million bail and could face charges including torture and child endangerment. They were scheduled to appear in court Thursday.




President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will meet behind closed doors on Tuesday with a U.S. House of Representatives committee that is probing whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The interview with the House Intelligence Committee comes after Bannon’s public falling out with the president over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Bannon, a champion of Trump’s “America First” agenda, was fired by the White House in August and returned to the right-wing news website Breitbart News. Bannon is the latest high-profile figure to testify before the House committee as part of its ongoing investigation into allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.




President Trump says he wants immigrants to come to the U.S. from “everywhere,” despite having said behind closed doors that he’d prefer more immigrants from countries like Norway and Asia. Trump was responding to questions as he met with Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev at the White House on Tuesday. Trump said: “We want ’em to come in from everywhere, everywhere.” Trump was meeting with lawmakers about a potential deal on immigration last week when he questioned why the U.S. should admit more people from Africa and Haiti. That’s according to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who attended the meeting. Secretary of the Homeland Security Department Kirstjen Nielsen testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she “did not hear” Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries. But she says she doesn’t “dispute the president was using tough language.” Nielsen says the conversation was impassioned and the president was using tough language. She says “others in the room were also using tough language.”




Pope Francis will meet with Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, on Tuesday in his first full day in the South American country, where he also will face protests over the church's handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Many Chileans are angry over Francis' 2015 decision to appoint a bishop, Juan Barros, who was close to a priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, found guilty by the Vatican several years earlier of abusing dozens of children over decades. Barros has always denied he knew what Karadima was doing. Most Chileans identify as Catholic, but they gave the pope, a native of neighboring Argentina, the lowest approval among 18 Latin American nations in a recent survey.




Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles said Monday that she was among the athletes sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is due to be sentenced in a Michigan court this week on seven sexual assault charges. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Biles, 20, is the latest of about 140 women who have accused Nassar of abusing them when he was supposed to be giving them medical care. Among the other accusers are Biles' Olympic teammates, including gymnastic stars Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney. Nassar's "behavior is completely unacceptable, disgusting, and abusive, especially coming from someone whom I was TOLD to trust," Biles wrote in social media posts.




The U.S. government said surging shale production is poised to push U.S. oil output to more than 10 million barrels per day - toppling a record set in 1970 and crossing a threshold few could have imagined even a decade ago. And this new record, expected within days, likely won’t last long, as the feds are saying the nation’s production will climb to 11 million barrels a day by late 2019, a level that would rival Russia, the world’s top producer. Analysts said the economic and political impacts of soaring U.S. output are breathtaking, cutting the nation’s oil imports by a fifth over a decade, providing high-paying jobs in rural communities and lowering consumer prices for domestic gasoline by 37 percent from a 2008 peak. U.S. energy exports now compete with Middle East oil for buyers in Asia. Daily trading volumes of U.S. oil futures contracts have more doubled in the past decade, averaging more than 1.2 billion barrels per day in 2017, according to exchange operator CME Group.




Swiss food group Nestle has agreed to sell its U.S. candy business to Italy’s Ferrero for $2.8 billion, marking CEO Mark Schneider’s first big sale and a small step on its path toward healthier products. Nestle, the world’s biggest packaged-food company, has cited its weak position in the United States, where it trails Hershey, Mars Inc, and Lindt, as the rationale for a sale. But reduced exposure to chocolate also fits Nestle’s goal of becoming a “nutrition, health, and wellness” company. Though Nestle is hanging on to non-U.S. confectionery operations, bankers and analysts have said it might wind down its interest further. Nestle’s U.S. business, home to mass-market products BabyRuth, Butterfinger and Crunch, has been underperforming rivals for years as consumers have turned increasingly toward healthier snacks such as fruit bars and premium chocolate brands such as Lindt. For family-owned Ferrero, the proposed deal offers a chance for the Italian company to build scale quickly in the United States. Ferrero, the maker of Nutella spread and Ferrero Rocher pralines will become the third-largest chocolate company in the United States and globally, according to Euromonitor International.

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