It’s Thursday December 14, 2017

14Dec

00:0000:00

Disney is officially buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion in stock, including film and television studios and cable and international TV businesses, as it tries to meet competition from technology companies in the entertainment business. The deal gives Disney film businesses including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox 2000, which together are the homes of Avatar, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool. On the television side, Disney will get Twentieth Century Fox Television, FX Productions, and Fox21, with shows including “The Simpsons” and “Modern Family.” Robert Iger will continue as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. through the end of 2021. Disney said Thursday that it anticipates the acquisition providing at least $2 billion in cost savings. Both companies’ boards have approved the deal. It still needs approval from Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders. Before the buyout, 21st Century Fox will separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network into a newly listed company that will be spun off to its shareholders. It will also include the company’s studio lot in Los Angeles and equity investment in Roku.

 

 

 

The three Republican commissioners on the Federal Communication Commission, led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, are expected Thursday to approve Pai's proposal to rescind 2015 net neutrality rules adopted under former President Barack Obama to guarantee equal access to the internet. The two Democratic commissioners are expected to vote against Pai's proposal. The new rules will at least theoretically allow broadband internet providers to block or throttle access to certain sites, or provide special "fast lanes" for content providers or customers who pay extra; they also scrap consumer protections, prevent states from passing laws that contradict the FCC's rules, and shift a good deal of the FCC's internet oversight powers to the Federal Trade Commission. The plan is broadly unpopular, and critics plan legal challenges.

 

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin scoffed Thursday at allegations of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, saying the reports have been “invented” by Trump’s foes and have hurt the U.S. political system. He also mocked his most visible critic, Alexei Navalny, who is barred from challenging Putin in the March 18 presidential vote due to an embezzlement conviction, saying those like him want to plunge Russia into a destabilized quagmire. He vowed not to let that happen. Speaking at his annual marathon news conference, Putin reaffirmed his firm denial of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Putin argued that Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, whose contacts with Trump’s entourage are part of the FBI and Congressional probes into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, was simply performing his routine duties. Despite Putin’s comments, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help the Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

 

 

 

The colossal wildfire burning northwest of Los Angeles is now the fourth largest in California history and authorities say it will likely keep growing as increasing winds fan the flames. State officials said Thursday that the so-called Thomas fire straddling coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara counties now covers 379 square miles. That surpasses a blaze that burned inland Santa Barbara County a decade ago. Some evacuations have been lifted, but authorities say seaside towns including Montecito and Carpinteria remain under threat. The fire is 30 percent contained after destroying 970 structures. The National Weather Service says extreme fire danger conditions from dry Santa Ana winds could last through the weekend.

 

 

 

Iraq says it has hanged, in a mass execution, 38 jihadist militants convicted of terrorism offenses. The justice ministry said they were all members of so-called Islamic State. The death sentences were carried out in a prison in the southern city of Nasiriyah. However, international advocacy groups have repeatedly criticized Iraq's use of the death penalty and how terrorism charges are brought. It was the largest mass execution since September 25 when 42 militants were hanged. Following the execution, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East director said, "The Iraqi authorities have a deplorable track record when it comes to use of the death penalty. In many cases previously people have been put to death after deeply unfair trials and in some cases after being tortured to 'confess'". Human Rights Watch recently accused the justice system of "failing to distinguish" between doctors who protected lives under IS rule and "those responsible for crimes against humanity". Those put to death on Thursday are believed to have been mostly Iraqi citizens, though one report suggests one may have held Swedish citizenship.

 

 

 

Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking the removal of sanctions imposed by Western countries, saying they are crippling national development. A United States travel and economic embargo remains in place for several Zanu-PF officials, senior members of the military and state-owned companies. The Trump administration has said the sanctions will not be removed unless political reforms take place. Mnangagwa also indicated that elections due next July could be brought forward. Speaking to governing Zanu-PF party leaders, Mnangagwa said the government would do everything to make sure they were credible, free and fair. Mnangagwa became president last month after Robert Mugabe was ousted. Mnangagwa is expected to be endorsed on Friday as party leader and presidential candidate for Zanu-PF at the elections. Mugabe, who is 93, has not been seen in public since he was forced out of office by the military after 37 years in power. A former spokesman for Mugabe said he had flown to Singapore for a routine medical check-up.

 

 

 

Former “Apprentice” star Omarosa denies she was fired from her job at the White House — and she’s teasing that she has stories to tell about what she’s seen and heard there. In an interview Thursday with ABC’s “Good Morning America, Manigault Newman also said reports that she made a scene while being escorted from the White House grounds this week are “100 percent false,” and questioned why no photos or video of the alleged ruckus had surfaced. She said she resigned after a conversation with White House chief of staff John Kelly about some of her concerns. Her White House pass has been cut off, according to the Secret Service, although she will remain on the staff through the administration’s one-year mark. The outgoing presidential adviser alluded to seeing and hearing things during her 11 months in the White House that made her unhappy and uncomfortable. She declined to elaborate, citing her continued employment by the White House. One of Trump’s most prominent African-American supporters, Manigault Newman was an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, working on outreach to various constituency groups.

 

 

 

Actress Salma Hayek has described Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a rage-fuelled "monster", alleging he sexually harassed and threatened her. Writing in the New York Times, the 51-year-old Hayek described working with the film mogul on what she called her "greatest ambition" - telling the story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. She wrote that, after striking a deal with Weinstein for the rights of the film that would eventually become 2002's Frida, she was forced to repeatedly refuse sexual advances. Hayek said Weinstein once told her: "I will kill you, don't think I can't." Holly Baird, a spokeswoman for Weinstein, disputed Hayek's account. Dozens of actresses, including Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, and Gwyneth Paltrow, have accused Weinstein of harassment or assault. Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex. She went on to accuse him of threatening to shut the film down unless she filmed a nude sex scene with another actress, a scene she thought was unnecessary. Frida would eventually gather six Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Hayek. Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual assault, and harassment, but has "unequivocally denied" any allegations of non-consensual relationships.

 

 

 

Three women told The New York Times that music mogul Russell Simmons had raped them. Four women spoke to the newspaper on the record, describing violent sexual misconduct from 1988 to 2014. Simmons, who is 60, "vehemently" denied the allegations. Last month, Simmons announced he was stepping down from his companies after screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused him of sexual assault, the second woman to do so. Simmons apologized for being "thoughtless and insensitive."

 

 

 

Public Broadcasting - PBS - says it has indefinitely suspended distribution of Tavis Smiley’s talk show after an independent investigation uncovered “multiple, credible allegations” of misconduct by Tavis Smiley. PBS said in a statement it had engaged an outside law firm to investigate “troubling allegations” against the host. It said it interviewed witnesses and Smiley and uncovered charges of conduct “that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS.” A representative for PBS declined to specify the nature of the allegations against Smiley. In a statement Wednesday on Facebook, Smiley said he has never “groped, coerced or inappropriately exposed myself to any workplace colleague” in a 30-year broadcast career. He said PBS declined to identify his accusers in an interview with him. His nightly program has aired on PBS since 2004.

 

 

 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's staff has filed a report with Capitol Police after the surfacing of what the New York Democrat says is a fraudulent document describing phony allegations of sexual harassment against him. The document says Schumer targeted a specific staff member, who was named as the plaintiff. The now-former staff member told The New York Times on Wednesday that the harassment claim, which appeared in a document resembling a court filing, was "completely false." Schumer's spokesman, Matt House, said the senator's office had given the document to police "and asked them to investigate and pursue criminal charges because it is clear the law has been broken." The move was seen as a new tactic in combating "fake news" following attempts by activists to feed bogus information to news organizations.

 

 

 

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday hiked interest rates by 0.25 percent as expected, but kept its projections of future increases unchanged despite accelerating economic growth. It is the third time the Fed has raised rates this year as the economy improves and it winds down its effort to stimulate the economy. The Fed's benchmark short-term rate will now be between 1.25 percent and 1.5 percent. The Fed announced the move after a two-day policy meeting. The hike is seen as a sign of the central bank's confidence in the strength of the U.S. economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose after the announcement to close at a record high for the fourth straight day.

It’s Wednesday December 13, 2017

13Dec

00:0000:00

Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore in Tuesday's contentious Senate election in Alabama, a deeply red state that had not elected a Democratic senator since 1992. Jones' victory narrows the GOP's Senate majority to 51-49. Moore, a controversial former state Supreme Court chief justice, slipped in polls last month after several women accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, which he denied. Jones said the race was "about dignity and respect." Moore refused to concede. He lost by 21,000 votes, about 1.5 percent, and said absentee and military ballots could narrow the margin to 0.5 percent, triggering a recount. "When the vote is this close," he said, "it's not over." Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will urge Republicans on Wednesday to delay a vote on pending tax overhaul legislation until the new U.S. senator from Alabama is seated. In a statement from his office, Schumer said he wants to slow down the legislation, which Republican leaders want to vote on before Christmas, so Democrat Doug Jones can cast a vote in the closely divided chamber.

 

 

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Arab and Islamic leaders on Wednesday that the United States is no longer fit to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and should be replaced as mediator by the United Nations, outlining a significant policy shift in response to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In an impassionate speech, Abbas said his people will no longer accept the United States as a peace broker but added that they remain committed to international resolutions which have formed the basis of the process. Abbas was speaking at the gathering of heads of state and top officials from Islamic nations at a summit in Turkey that is expected to forge a unified Muslim world’s stance against Trump’s move. Abbas said Trump’s decision was a “crime” which came at a time when the Palestinians were engaged with Washington in a new push to reach what he said was anticipated to be the “deal of our times.” The speech marked a significant shift in Abbas’ approach toward the United States, after years of focusing on courting U.S. goodwill because of Washington’s role as sole mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

 

 

Accused New York City subway bomber Akayed Ullah posted a Facebook message hours before the attack taunting President Trump, telling him "you failed to protect your nation," according to documents filed by the federal government, which is charging Ullah with terrorism. Prosecutors said Ullah, an immigrant from Bangladesh and former livery cab driver, wanted to detonate the pipe bomb in the busy Port Authority tunnel to kill as many people as he could. Authorities said they found a handwritten note at Ullah's Brooklyn home that said, "O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE." Investigators also found metal pipes, Christmas light fragments, and screws matching shrapnel in the crude homemade bomb found at the scene of the explosion.

 

 

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that he was ready to start talking directly with North Korea, with no preconditions. "Let's just meet," he said in front of the Atlantic Council. "We can talk about the weather if you want ... Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work toward." Previously, the U.S. said it would only start discussions with Pyongyang if they talked about North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. Tillerson did say that North Korea, which two weeks ago tested a missile that could reach anywhere in the U.S. with a nuclear warhead, would need to respect a "period of quiet" with no missile or nuclear tests.

 

 

 

The Kremlin said Tuesday that it has started interpreting President Trump's tweets as official statements, and preparing briefings on them for Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Moscow considers all statements made on his official Twitter account to be official, so reports are presented to President Putin about them, as well as about official statements that politicians make in other countries," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, as quoted by the state-owned Tass news agency. Trump's tweets differ sharply with those of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was the first U.S. president with such a social media presence. Obama used Twitter sparingly and signed his posts to emphasize that he had written them. Trump's tweets have frequently contradicted statements by members of his Cabinet.

 

 

 

The Justice Department late Tuesday released texts between two senior FBI officials who helped investigate President Trump's campaign in which they said last year that it was "terrifying" to contemplate a Trump victory. One said Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival, "just has to win," as both expressed fear that Trump would politicize the FBI. Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed one of the officials, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, from the investigation into Russia's election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates after the texts surfaced. Republicans plan to cite the texts between Strzok and senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page as evidence that Mueller's investigation is biased when Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

 

 

 

House Republican Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday that Congress would stop using taxpayer money for settlements in sexual harassment claims lodged against lawmakers’ offices. “That’s among the things we’re working on right now” as part of a package of reforms, Ryan said in an interview with a Wisconsin radio station a week after three lawmakers said they were stepping down after sexual harassment or misconduct claims.

 

 

 

Minnesota’s governor Mark Dayton has chosen Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill Sen. Al Franken’s seat until the November 2018 election, and she will run in that election to complete the final two years of Franken’s term. Smith’s appointment was widely expected soon after Franken, under pressure over allegations of sexual misconduct, announced last week that he would step down. The appointment won’t change the balance of power in the Senate; both Franken and Smith are Democrats. Smith served as Gov. Dayton’s trusted chief of staff for three years before ascending to become his No. 2, and was once considered a likely candidate to succeed him. Smith announced last spring that she wouldn’t run for governor. But she will run in the November special election to complete Franken’s term through 2020. Dayton had come under intense pressure from top Democrats in Washington to appoint someone who wouldn’t merely serve as a seat-warmer.

 

 

 

Republican House and Senate negotiators have tentatively agreed to raise the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 21 percent in their joint bill. A key element in both the House and Senate versions was reducing the corporate rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, but negotiators looked at nudging up the rate to help pay for changes benefiting middle-class families and small businesses and lowering the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. To pass the bill in the Senate under budget rules keeping Democrats from blocking the legislation with a filibuster, the legislation can't add more than $1.5 billion in deficit spending over 10 years. Republican leaders hope to iron out the deal in time for final votes next week.

 

 

 

The Skirball wildfire that destroyed six homes and damaged a dozen more in the Bel-Air area in western Los Angeles last week was started by an illegal cooking fire at a homeless encampment, Los Angeles fire officials said Tuesday. The city has been struggling with a sharp rise in its homeless population for years, and homeless encampments have spread. Investigators say the fire started at a camp along Sepulveda Boulevard where it passes under the 405 Freeway. The massive Thomas Fire, which has burned more than 234,000 acres, continued to spread on Tuesday as gusting winds pushed it down mountain slopes toward the wealthy coastal enclave of Montecito in Santa Barbara County.

 

 

Walt Disney is close to confirming a deal to buy 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets for about $60 billion. According to sources, the sale would include the 20th Century Fox film studio and the Sky and Star satellite broadcasters in the UK, Europe, and Asia. Disney was left as the front-runner after Comcast, the owner of NBC, dropped out of the race this week. The Financial Times of London said talks about the price were continuing on Tuesday. CNBC also reported that Fox and Disney were on a "glide path" for an announcement on Thursday. The Murdoch family was said to favor a deal with Disney because it would rather be paid in the entertainment giant's shares than with Comcast stock. A deal with Disney could also face fewer US regulatory hurdles, although it is extremely unlikely to be waved through.

Its’ Tuesday December 12, 2017

12Dec

00:0000:00

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a bleak assessment on the global fight against climate change to dozens of world leaders and company executives on Tuesday, telling them: “We are losing the battle." Macron is seeking to breathe new life into a collective effort that was weakened this summer when President Donald Trump said he was pulling the United States out of an international accord brokered in the French capital two years ago. Macron said modern-day science was revealing with each day the danger that global warming posed to the planet, and pressured the assembled heads of states, ministers, and executives to launch a new phase in the fight against global warming. No internationally binding commitments will be made at Tuesday’s “One Planet” summit. More than 200 institutional investors with $26 trillion in assets under management said on Tuesday they would step up pressure on the world’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to combat climate change. On Tuesday, the European Commission unveiled 9 billion euros worth of investments targeting sustainable cities, sustainable energy, and sustainable agriculture for Africa and EU neighborhood countries.

 

 

 

A big explosion rocked a major natural gas hub in Austria, killing one person and injuring at least 18, as well as disrupting the gas supply to some EU nations. Police said a fire followed the blast which happened just east of the capital Vienna, near the Slovak border. Austrian police said the situation was under control and a technical fault had caused the blast. The flow of Russian natural gas to Europe has dropped as a result of the accident. Spot prices rose sharply across Europe after the incident, and Italy declared a state of emergency. The Baumgarten facility near Vienna is a key hub for imported Russian gas, which is sent on to a number of European countries. The facility receives about 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Gas Connect said the incident should have no effect on gas deliveries to Austria but those to Italy and Croatia might be reduced. Russia's Gazprom Export company said it was working to redirect the gas supply.

 

 

 

A would-be suicide bomber is being held on terrorism charges in the rush hour blast in the heart of the New York City subway system that failed to cause the bloodshed he intended. New York Police said 27-year-old Akayed Ullah was charged Tuesday with supporting an act of terrorism, making a terroristic threat and weapon possession. An announcement on federal terrorism charges is also expected later. The Bangladeshi immigrant was hospitalized with burns to his hands and stomach. Overseas, Bangladesh counterterrorism officers were questioning the wife and other relatives of the suspect. Relatives and police said Ullah last visited Bangladesh in September to see his wife and newborn son before leaving them behind to return the United States. Monday’s explosion happened in an underground passageway connecting two of Manhattan’s busiest subway stations. Ullah — who told investigators he wanted to retaliate for American action against Islamic State extremists — came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2011 on a visa available to certain relatives of U.S. citizens. President Donald Trump cited the background of the bomber in renewing his call for closer scrutiny of foreigners who come to the country based on family ties.

 

 

 

Alabama Senate candidates Roy Moore and Doug Jones face off Tuesday in their closely watched special election, with polls showing a dead heat. A Fox News poll published Monday showed Jones, the Democrat, up 10 points, but a rival poll by Emerson showed Moore, the Republican, with a 9-point lead. RealClearPolitics' average between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10 put Moore up by 2.5 points. Moore's standing slipped weeks ago after several women accused him of pursuing them or touching them inappropriately when they were as young as 14 and he was in his 30s. Former President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, made last-minute robocalls backing Jones, countering a similar appeal by President Trump for Moore. Moore denied the allegations, calling them "ritual defamation." The winner of the election will fill the vacant seat of Jeff Sessions who resigned to become the Trump administration's Attorney General.

 

 

 

Three women who last year accused President Trump of sexual misconduct revived their allegations for what they called "round two," sharing them on the Megyn Kelly Show and appealing for a congressional investigation. In all, 16 accusers are calling for an investigation, hoping to get a broader hearing for their stories thanks to the still-building strength of the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement. Trump has denied all of the accusations, and the White House dismissed the renewed public airing of the stories, saying that the questions had been litigated in last year's election and included nothing new. Privately, some Trump aides acknowledged that the allegations could pose problems for the president in the newly charged atmosphere.

 

 

 

Four women accused Mario Batali, the celebrity chef, and star of ABC's 'The Chew', of inappropriate touching and sexual harassment over two decades, Eater NY reported Monday. One of the women, a chef, said that at a party about 10 years ago she introduced herself to Batali. After wine spilled on her chest, she said, Batali began aggressively rubbing her breasts, saying something like "Let me help you with that." Batali, who has been reprimanded for inappropriate workplace behavior as recently as two months ago, said that he was stepping away from his restaurant empire and ABC TV show for an unspecified time. Batali apologized, saying that while the accusers' identities had not been revealed, "much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted."

 

 

 

Thousands of firefighters fighting the massive Thomas Fire in Southern California made slight gains on Monday after powerful winds that fueled the blaze over the weekend lost some strength. Red Flag fire-danger due to Santa Ana winds and extremely dry conditions continued, however, rather than expiring as once forecast. "It doesn't get much drier than this folks," the National Weather Service Service tweeted. The Thomas Fire, now the fifth largest in modern California history, remained only 20 percent contained after scorching an area larger than all of New York City. The Thomas Fire and five other major wildfires burning in the state have destroyed more than 1,000 structures since last week.

 

 

 

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee died early Tuesday in a San Francisco hospital. He was 65. Lee was the first Asian American to lead the San Francisco government. He was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 to replace former mayor Gavin Newsom after his election as the state's lieutenant governor. Lee was then elected to a full term later the same year and re-elected in 2015. In the last year, the former director of San Francisco's Human Rights Commission battled with President Trump over immigration, as San Francisco was a leading sanctuary city under Lee. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed is now the acting mayor.

 

 

 

PepsiCo said it has reserved 100 of Tesla's new electric semi trucks, the largest-known order of the big rig, as the maker of Pepsi, Mountain Dew soda, and Doritos chips seeks to reduce fuel costs and fleet emissions. Tesla has been trying to convince the trucking community that it can build an affordable electric big rig with the range and cargo capacity to compete with relatively low-cost, time-tested diesel trucks. PepsiCo’s 100 trucks add to orders by more than a dozen companies such as Wal-Mart, fleet operator J.B. Hunt Transport, and foodservice distribution company Sysco. PepsiCo said the electric rigs will complement its U.S. fleet of nearly 10,000 semis and are a key part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain by a total of at least 20 percent by 2030. PepsiCo intends to deploy its electric semis for shipments of snack foods and beverages between manufacturing and distribution facilities and direct to retailers within the 500-mile range promised by Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk.

 

 

 

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is “feminism.” In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com and spiked several times after key events. There was the Women’s March on Washington in January, along with sister demonstrations around the globe. And heading into the year was Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and references linking her to white-clad suffragettes, along with her loss to President Trump, who once boasted about grabbing women. The “Me Too” movement rose out of Harvey Weinstein’s dust, and other “silence breakers” brought down rich and famous men of media, politics and the entertainment worlds. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the “theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activities on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Feminism has been in Merriam-Webster’s annual Top 10 for the last few years, including sharing word-of-the-year honors with other “isms” in 2015. Socialism, fascism, racism, communism, capitalism, and terrorism rounded out the bunch. Surreal was the word of the year last year.

 

 

 

A project searching for intelligent life in the cosmos is going to check the first known interstellar asteroid for signs of alien technology. The odd-shaped object, called 'Oumuamua, was detected as it sped towards the Sun back in late October. Scientists said its properties suggested it originated around another star, making it the first such body to be spotted in our cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers will use a radio telescope to listen for signals from it starting Wednesday. Previous observations of the object have noted its strange, elongated shape, making it look a bit like a cigar. Other researchers who have carried out observations of the asteroid with ground telescopes say that, apart from its shape, it closely resembles natural objects found in the outer parts of our Solar System. Measurements suggest it has a dense structure and is comprised of rock and metal, but with little - if any - water-ice. Although 'Oumuamua formed around another star, scientists think it could have been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our Solar System. It is currently speeding away from our Solar System. The asteroid's name, 'Oumuamua, means "a messenger from afar arriving first" in Hawaiian.

It’s Monday December 11, 2017

11Dec

00:0000:00

A man, who claimed he was inspired by the Islamic State group, set off a crude pipe bomb strapped to his body Monday in a crowded subway corridor near Times Square, injuring the man, slightly wounding three others and snarling the rush-hour commute for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Surveillance cameras captured the man walking casually through the crowded passageway when the bomb went off at 7:20 a.m. amid a plume of white smoke, which cleared to show the man sprawled on the ground and commuters fleeing in terror. Investigators said it was not clear if he set the bomb off intentionally or prematurely. The 27-year-old suspect was being treated at a hospital for burns to his hands and abdomen. The others who were injured suffered ringing in the ears and headaches. The officials said the suspect lives in Brooklyn and came to the U.S. from Bangladesh about seven years ago.

 

 

 

Protests against President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital continued in Palestinian areas for a fourth day on Sunday. A 24-year-old Palestinian man was arrested and accused of stabbing and critically wounding a security guard at Jerusalem's main bus station. Someone fired on an armored bus in the West Bank near a Jewish settlement, but nobody was hurt. The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had treated 60 wounded people in the West Bank and Gaza following clashes between protesters and security forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel an "invader state" and a "terror state." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villages" and "helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people."

 

 

 

A previously undetected group of Russian-language hackers silently stole nearly $10 million from at least 18 mostly U.S. and Russian banks in recent years by targeting interbank transfer systems. Moscow-based security firm Group-IB warned on Monday that the attacks, which began 18 months ago and allow money to be stolen from banks’ automated teller machines (ATMs), appear to be ongoing and that banks in Latin America could be targeted next. Group-IB has dubbed the hacker group “MoneyTaker” after the name of the software used to hijack payment orders to then cash out funds through a network of low-level “money mules” who were hired to pick up money from automated teller machines. The security researchers said they had identified 18 banks who were hit including 15 across 10 states in the United States, two in Russia and one in Britain. Besides banks, financial software firms and one law firm were targeted. The average amount of money stolen in each of 14 U.S. ATM heists was $500,000 per incident. Losses in Russia averaged $1.2 million per incident. To disguise their moves, hackers used security certificates from brands such as Bank of America, the Fed, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

 

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday started a surprise visit to Syria with an announcement that his country was drawing down its troops in the war-torn country. The move came shortly after his administration declared victory in its intervention there. In his first visit to Russia's Khmeimim air base in Syria since Russian warplanes secretly flew there in late 2015, Putin said he had ordered the return of Russian troops to their home bases, although he said that Khmeimim and a Russian naval base would continue operating. Putin promised renewed strikes "if terrorists raise their head again" to try to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 

 

 

The massive Thomas Fire in Southern California forced new evacuations as the wildfire, driven by powerful winds, threatened several coastal communities. Residents were ordered to leave parts of Carpinteria and Montecito early Sunday, and the fire pushed toward Santa Barbara on the scenic central California coast. Rugged terrain and Santa Ana winds have made it hard for firefighters to bring the fire and several other blazes under control. The Thomas Fire remained just 15 percent contained on Sunday. It has blackened more than 200,000 acres, making it the 10th largest fire on record in California since 1932.

 

 

 

Heavy snow blanketing northern Europe has caused many flight cancellations and delays at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands and Brussels airport. About 400 flights were canceled at Schiphol - one of Europe's biggest airports - and about 200 in Brussels. Travellers have been advised to check flight updates at home, rather than set off for the airport in bad weather. In Germany, the heavy snow has caused many car crashes and traffic jams, as well as train delays. More than 300 flights were canceled on Sunday at Frankfurt airport, the busiest in Germany. The Dutch airport at Eindhoven was temporarily closed because of the snow, and many Dutch schools remained shut on Monday. Conditions improved later at Brussels airport, where planes were able to take off from one de-iced runway. But Brussels Airlines scrapped all its flights. In the UK, dozens of flights were canceled at Heathrow and road conditions were described as treacherous in many areas. The heavy snow left thousands of British homes without electricity and hundreds of schools were shut on Monday.

 

 

 

While accepting the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons' Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday, the group's executive director, Beatrice Fihn, warned that "the deaths of millions may be one tiny tantrum away." Fihn said during the ceremony in Oslo that the world has a choice to make — "the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us." She added that the risk of using nuclear weapons is "greater now than during the Cold War." As North Korea continues to test missiles, including some believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S., and the war of words between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to escalate, a "moment of panic" could lead to "the destruction of cities and the deaths of millions of civilians," Fihn said.

 

 

 

Bitcoin futures soared after making their debut on Wall Street on Sunday night, with contracts expiring in January rising by 21 percent to go as high as $18,700 before falling to $17,600 early Monday, CBOE Global Markets said. The launch of bitcoin futures trading contributed to a surge in bitcoin prices last week as people interpreted the sale of bitcoin futures as a sign the cryptocurrency is gaining wider acceptance. Bitcoin started the year around $1,000, with its meteoric rise fueling both investor enthusiasm and warnings that bitcoin's prices were too high to justify. Grant Spencer, acting governor of the Reserve bank, said Sunday that bitcoin appeared to be a "classic case" of a bubble.

 

 

 

The defect that causes the neurodegenerative disease Huntington's has been corrected in patients for the first time, according to a BBC report. An experimental drug, injected into spinal fluid, safely lowered levels of toxic proteins in the brain. The research team, at University College London, say there is now hope Huntington's, one of the most devastating and deadly diseases can be stopped. Experts say it could be the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases for 50 years. Huntington's generally affects people in their prime - in their 30s and 40s Patients die around 10 to 20 years after symptoms start. Huntington's is caused by an error in a section of DNA called the huntingtin gene. But a genetic error corrupts the protein and turns it into a killer of brain cells. The treatment is designed to silence the rogue gene. On the trial, 46 patients had the drug injected into the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord. Doctors are not calling this a cure. They still need vital long-term data to show whether lowering levels of huntingtin will change the course of the disease.

 

 

 

Authorities in India are trying to figure out how workers will scale the Taj Mahal’s majestic but delicate dome as they complete the first thorough cleaning of the World Heritage site since it was built 369 years ago. Work on the mausoleum’s minarets and walls is almost finished after workers began the makeover in mid-2015. They’ve been using a natural mud paste to remove yellow discoloration and return the marble to its original brilliant white. Called fuller’s earth, it’s the same clay that some people smother on their skin as a beauty treatment. But the metal scaffolding used so far is too heavy and rigid for the dome, according to Bhuvan Vikrama, the superintending archaeologist from the Archaeological Survey of India. He said they’re considering other options, including designing and constructing special bamboo scaffolding. Vikrama said rain was enough to clean most of the Taj Mahal in the past but air pollution over the last 25 years had taken its toll. He said work on the dome would likely take 10 months, starting next year and finishing in 2019. The makeover was costing about $500 thousand. The work has prompted Fodor’s Travel guide to include the Taj Mahal on its list of places not to visit next year. The Taj Mahal typically attracts between 7 and 8 million visitors a year. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, people are attracted as much by the love story as the spectacular architecture.

It’s Friday December 8, 2017

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A brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday north of San Diego, destroying dozens of mobile homes in a retirement community and killing racehorses at an elite training facility. Driven by winds above 35 mph, Thursday’s fire wiped out rows of trailer homes in the retirement community and left behind charred and mangled metal where they had stood. As the flames approached the elite San Luis Rey Downs training facility for thoroughbreds, many of the more than 450 horses were cut loose to prevent them from being trapped in their stables if barns caught fire, according to Mac McBride of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Horse trainer Scott Hansen said he knows that some of his 30 horses at the facility died. Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters.The destructive blaze broke out as firefighters tried to corral the largest fire in the state that was burning around Ventura — 130 miles to the north — and destroyed 430 buildings as it grew to 180 square miles since Monday. Fire crews also fought large fires around Los Angeles, though they made enough progress to lift most evacuation orders.

 

 

 

Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops across the West Bank and Gaza, and Muslim worshippers from Jordan to Indonesia poured into the streets after Friday prayers to protest President Donald Trump’s recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At least one Palestinian was killed in skirmishes between protesters and Israeli troops along the Gaza border fence. Dozens more were reported wounded in clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Protesters burned Israeli and U.S. flags or stomped on Trump posters in displays of anger. Trump's announcement on Jerusalem this week reversed decades of US policy on Jerusalem's status. On Thursday, at least 31 Palestinians were wounded in clashes in the Gaza Strip and across the occupied West Bank. Many of Washington's closest allies have said they disagree with the US policy shift, and both the UN Security Council and the Arab League will meet in the coming days to decide their response.

 

 

 

Russian officials said Moscow has communication channels open with North Korea open and is ready to exert its influence on Pyongyang. Interfax news agency also quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying that North Korea was seeking a direct dialogue with the United States on its nuclear program, while it was not in need of security guarantees either from China or Russia. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Katina Adams said the Trump administration still wanted a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the nuclear and missile threat from Pyongyang, but told Reuters: “(North Korea) has shown through its actions that it is not interested in talks. We must remain focused on increasing the costs for Pyongyang to continue to advance its WMD programs.”

 

 

 

The House Ethics Committee cleared the chairman of the House intelligence committee on a complaint that he may have leaked classified information, paving the way for Rep. Devin Nunes to again lead his panel’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The Ethics Committee said in a brief statement that it determined Nunes, a California Republican, did not publicly reveal classified information when he discussed secret documents he reviewed on the White House grounds earlier this year. When the committee opened its probe of Nunes in April, Nunes said he would step aside temporarily, pending the ethics review. He has remained close to the investigation, though, retaining access to documents and subpoena power as the chairman of the intelligence panel. Nunes said in a statement Thursday night he was angry the review sidelined him for eight months and said it was prompted by partisan criticism. He also said he wanted the panel to release its transcripts of its interviews with him. The announcement comes as the House panel has stepped up its pace of interviews in the probe, meeting with dozens of important witnesses as they eye a finish next year.

 

 

 

Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said Thursday he is resigning next month after revealing that he discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. The eight-term lawmaker, a staunch conservative and fierce opponent of abortion, said in a statement that he never physically intimidated, coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff. Instead, he says, the dispute resulted from a discussion of surrogacy. Franks and his wife, who have struggled with infertility, have 3-year-old twins who were conceived through surrogacy. Franks, who is 60, says he had become familiar with the surrogacy process in recent years and “became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others.” He said he regrets that his “discussion of this option and process in the workplace” with two female staffers made them feel uncomfortable. In a statement, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the allegations “serious and requiring action” and said he told Franks he should resign. Franks said he will step down effective Jan. 31.

 

 

 

Bullying and sexual harassment in TV and entertainment is not just an American problem. Sexual misconduct and harassment are prevalent in the UK's TV industry, according to a just-released report. According to a joint Edinburgh International TV Festival (EITF) and a UK Channel 5 News investigation, more than half of people surveyed, from producers to commissioners, had experienced sexual misconduct in the workplace. Of 315 respondents, more than two-thirds said they had been bullied in the workplace – the majority of whom did not report it as they feared negative repercussions for their career. Coming after revelations of harassment across Hollywood and politics, the survey was aimed at understanding the prevalence of bullying and harassment within the TV industry. The majority of those who suffered harassment reported it had occurred within the past five years. It also found freelancers who had been bullied or harassed often stayed silent because “today’s bully is tomorrow’s boss”, according to one respondent. The EITF’s director, Lisa Campbell, said nothing was being done to prevent those working behind the scenes from suffering at the hands of abusers. She added a major problem was the “culture of fear” which existed across the media world as well as a lack of job security.

 

 

The U.K. and the European Union on Friday announced a deal on general terms of their split. The breakthrough came after months of deadlock, including a near breakdown over the disagreement over borders between Northern Ireland — part of the U.K. — and the Republic of Ireland — part of the EU. Britain made a series of concessions, including how much it will pay the EU, guarantees on the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. and British citizens in the EU, and language ruling out a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The accord, which still needs approval from EU leaders, clears the way for the more difficult next phase of the divorce process: detailed trade negotiations.

 

 

 

Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and buy time for challenging talks on a wide range of unfinished business on Capitol Hill. The shutdown reprieve came as all sides issued optimistic takes on an afternoon White House meeting between top congressional leaders and President Trump. The measure passed the House 235-193, mostly along party lines, and breezed through the Senate on a sweeping 81-14 tally barely an hour later. It would keep the government running through Dec. 22, when another, and more difficult, shutdown problem awaits. The bill now heads to Trump for his signature. Topics at the White House session included relief from a budget freeze on the Pentagon and domestic agencies, extending a key children’s health program and aid to hurricane-slammed Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. The trickiest topic and a top priority for Democrats involves protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

 

 

 

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday defended his frequent taxpayer-funded travel and his purchase of a custom soundproof communications booth for his office, saying both were justified. Pruitt made his first appearance before a House oversight subcommittee responsible for environmental issues since his confirmation to lead EPA in February. The former Oklahoma attorney general is under scrutiny after expense reports showed he often leaves Washington on Thursdays and Fridays for appearances in westward states before spending the weekend at his home in Tulsa and then returning to EPA headquarters on Mondays. The EPA’s inspector general is currently investigating whether Pruitt’s trips violate EPA’s travel policies and procedures. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, asked about the nearly $25,000 he spent on a custom soundproof booth for making private phone calls in his office — something none of his predecessors had. Pruitt said the booth serves as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, which typically are secure rooms used to house computers and equipment for communicating over classified government networks. Former EPA officials said that explanation doesn’t make much sense.

 

 

 

Members of the Trump administration surprised the U.S. Olympic Committee by suggesting the nation’s participation at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games in South Korea was “an open question,” and the USOC responded by saying it has no plans on pulling out. The confusion began when U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, in response to a question in a Fox News interview, said “There’s an open question” about whether the U.S. team would travel to South Korea, where tensions have grown high after a series of missile tests in North Korea and inflammatory rhetoric between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Trump. The USOC responded with a statement Thursday saying plans to compete in the Olympics, which run Feb. 9-25, hadn’t changed. Shortly after that, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters “no official decision has been made.” She later clarified in a tweet, saying: “The U.S. looks forward to participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The protection of Americans is our top priority and we are engaged with the South Koreans and other partner nations to secure the venues.”

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