First Summit Between Putin & Kim To Take Place in Vladivostok This Month - That’s in the news on Friday April 19, 2019

19Apr

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin revealed that on Thursday, announcing the first Russia-North Korea summit since Kim came to power in 2011. The announcement coincided with a moment of discord in efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to reach a deal with Kim to end nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. The Putin-Kim meeting would likely take place next week in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok before Putin flies on to an April 26-27 summit in China. The Kremlin gave no further details in a statement on its website, but Moscow has been saying for months that it was working on such a meeting. Kim came to power in 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, who had visited Russia for a summit with then President Dmitry Medvedev earlier that year. It was not clear how Kim might travel to Russia, which shares a border with North Korea.

 

 

 

United States and Russia diplomats both said on Thursday they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time, as mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Diplomats said Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month. The United States gave no reason for its position on the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya, which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. The United States’ U.N. mission declined to comment and the Russian U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China - the so-called permanent five - to pass. It was not immediately clear if Britain would persist with negotiations on a draft next week.

 

 

 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) dismissed the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump following the release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which found no clear evidence that Trump's campaign illegally conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election. "Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point," Hoyer told CNN. "There is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement." House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) formally asked Mueller to testify before his committee "to better understand his findings."

 

 

 

Three renowned professional alpinists are missing and presumed dead after an avalanche in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Climbing media named the men as American Jess Roskelley, who was 36, and 28-year-old Austrians David Lama, and 35-year-old Hansjörg Auer. They were killed after attempting to climb a challenging route on Howse Peak in Banff National Park. Canadian authorities did not release the names of the three men, but said they were one American and two Europeans and described them as highly experienced professional mountain athletes. Roskelley was best-known for climbing Mount Everest at age 20 in 2003, making him the youngest person at the time to have climbed the world’s highest mountain. Lama and Auer were also world-class mountaineers who had climbed some of the toughest routes around the globe. Parks Canada said in a statement the party was attempting the east face of Howse Peak on Tuesday. The three men
were reported overdue on Wednesday.

 

 

 

Strong storms again roared across the South on Thursday, killing two Mississippi drivers and leaving more than 100 thousand people without power across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. National Weather Service forecasters said they believe multiple tornadoes hit southwest and central Mississippi, although they won’t be sure until damage is surveyed. High winds also were reported in Louisiana earlier in the day and in central Alabama as the system quickly pushed eastward. Forecasters predicted the system would push into Georgia before sunrise. On the back side of the system, there were also reports late Thursday of high winds in southern Oklahoma. Damage from the storm system was reported in at least 24 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. The same system produced tornadoes and hail earlier in North Texas, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas.

 

 

 

Facebook acknowleged it stored the passwords of "millions of Instagram users" in plain text when they should have been encrypted. Last month in a blog post, the social media company said the issue had potentially affected "tens of thousands" of users. Facebook, which owns Instagram, said their passwords were stored in an unencrypted database available to 20 thousand Facebook employees. The company updated the blog post to admit the problem was more widespread than previously stated. Earlier Thursday, Facebook said it collected email contacts from 1.5 million users who signed up after May 2016 and "unintentionally uploaded" them to Facebook, importing the information "to improve Facebook's ad targeting." Facebook said it had no evidence the data was "internally abused or improperly accessed."

 

 

 

President Trump and his wife Melania will make a state visit to Japan at the end of May to meet the newly enthroned emperor. Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed his abdicating father, current Emperor Akihito, on May 1. Trump will also hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the May 25-28 visit, and reportedly may attend a sumo match as well. The White House said Friday that Abe will also visit Washington on April 26-27 to talk about North Korean nuclear disarmament, trade and other issues.

 

 

 

The National Enquirer is being sold to the former head of the airport newsstand company Hudson News following a rocky year in which the tabloid was accused of burying stories that could have hurt Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Tabloid owner American Media said Thursday it plans to sell the supermarket weekly to James Cohen. Financial terms were not immediately disclosed for the deal, which included two other American Media tabloids, the Globe and the National Examiner. American Media said last week that it wanted to get out of the tabloid business to focus on its other operations that include its teen brand and broadcast platforms. News of the sale comes two months after Amazon chief Jeff Bezos publicly accused the National Enquirer of trying to blackmail him by threatening to publish explicit photos of him.

 

 

 

America’s first female astronaut candidate, pilot Jerrie Cobb, who pushed for equality in space but never reached its heights, has died. Cobb died in Florida at age 88 on March 18 following a brief illness. In 1961, Cobb became the first woman to pass astronaut testing. Altogether, 13 women passed the arduous physical testing and became known as the Mercury 13. But NASA already had its Mercury 7 astronauts, all jet test pilots and all military men. None of the Mercury 13 ever reached space, despite Cobb’s testimony in 1962 before a Congressional panel. Instead of making her an astronaut, NASA tapped her as a consultant to talk up the space program. She was dismissed one week after commenting: “I’m the most unconsulted consultant in any government agency.” Cobb served for decades as a humanitarian aid pilot in the Amazon jungle. The Soviet Union ended up putting the first woman into space in 1963: Valentina Tereshkova. NASA didn’t fly a woman in space — astronaut Sally Ride — until 1983.

Long Awaited Mueller Report Finally Released: Probe Finds Insufficient Evidence to Support Criminal Charges Against Trump or Associates - That’s in the news Thursday April 18, 2019

18Apr

The Justice Department on Thursday released the long-awaited report by special counsel Robert Mueller, with redactions, which specifies the two-year investigation and details that the team found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia before the 2016 U.S. election. In a press conference in advance of the report, Attorney General William Barr issued an emphatic statement about the report’s conclusions: Russia had indeed interfered with the 2016 presidential election, but neither Donald Trump nor his associates cooperated with them. Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.” Barr released the report to high-ranking members of Congress and then the public. He said, in fact, no Americans colluded with Russians to sway the election. On the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice in any way, the report said it couldn't clear him. Barr said, "In consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offence." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are now calling for Mueller to testify before Congress "as soon as possible."

 

 

 

North Korea is demanding U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo no longer head senior-level negotiations with Pyongyang, citing the top U.S. diplomat's "difficult personality." The statement from Pyongyang's foreign ministry came the same day North Korea said Kim Jong Un had supervised a test of a "new type of tactical guided weapon with a powerful warhead." North Korea's call to exclude Pompeo comes a week after the secretary of state agreed Kim is a "tyrant" before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. On Thursday, North Korea's foreign ministry suggested the reason for the demand is a result of ongoing problems that began in 2018, and Pompeo's "incompatibility" with North Korea regime officials. The foreign ministry said, "In the future, if dialogue resumes with the United States, we hope someone of mature character with a more easygoing manner of communication will face us in talks." The ministry added Pompeo scuttled talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, and went on to say, "every time Pompeo intervened, work would be hindered and all results would become undone." Pyongyang's firing of a new weapon is raising speculation Kim is placing pressure on President Trump to answer his demands, which include sanctions relief. China said Thursday North Korea and the United States should make more efforts to ease tensions and build dialogue.

 

 

 

Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. This revealation on Thursday comes as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark. A French judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, just days after the Notre Dame fire, a New Jersey man was arrested after entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters. Police said a 37-year-old man had pulled up Wednesday night in a minivan outside the landmark cathedral in midtown Manhattan, walked around the area, then returned to his vehicle and retrieved the gasoline and lighter fluid. A cathedral security officer confronted the man and then notified police officers. who arrested him after he was questioned. The suspect is known to police, who are currently looking into his background. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in 1878 and had a sprinkler-like fire control system installed during recent renovations. Its wooden roof is also coated with fire retardant.

 

 

 

Sixty people, including 31 doctors, were charged Wednesday with participating in illegal prescriptions of more than 32 million pain pills in seven states. Prosecutors said some of the doctors traded opioids for sex. A dentist allegedly pulled teeth unnecessarily to justify prescribing patients opioids. The people charged also included seven pharmacists and eight nurse practitioners, as well as several other licensed medical professionals. Prosecutors said the defendants wrote more than 350 thousand illegal prescriptions in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division said, "If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers."

 

 

 

The Trump administration is spending nearly $40 million on two new tent cities for migrant families and children in Texas as part of an effort to confront a surge of people from Central America seeking asylum. The temporary facilities are part of a plan to address overcrowding at Border Patrol detention centers. "The system is full and we are beyond capacity," said Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, during a visit to South Texas on Wednesday. Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr ordered immigration judges to deny bail to asylum seekers found to have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. That policy, which is expected to face court challenges, could leave thousands of migrants in jail indefinitely.

 

 

 

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he plans to introduce legislation to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products, including vaping devices, to 21 from 18 to curb their “epidemic” use among teens. Shares of Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group, which owns a 35 percent stake in e-cigarette maker Juul, fell 3 percent on the news. Philip Morris International and U.S-listed shares of British American Tobacco were also trading lower. McConnell said in a statement, “For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children. ... Unfortunately, it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country.” A 2015 study from the National Academy of Medicine found that among adults who became daily smokers, about 90 percent started using cigarettes before they were 19. The study found that raising the minimum legal age to 21 would prevent 223 thousand premature deaths. So far 12 states have enacted laws to raise the minimum smoking age to 21. McConnell said the bill would be introduced in Congress in May.

 

 

 

Shares of online scrapbook company Pinterest surged 25 percent in their debut on Thursday, giving it a market capitalization of $15.8 billion and signalling increased investor appetite for new tech listings. The offering of 75 million shares was priced at $19, above the expected range of $15 and $17, and raised $1.4 billion in net proceeds. The company breezed past the $12 billion valuation it commanded in its last private fundraising round in 2017 after the final pricing on Wednesday. Shares of Zoom Video Communications, another technology company that debuted on Thursday, opened 80 percent above the IPO price of $36. Pinterest is a social-scrapbooking website that allows users to search for various topics, from home improvement projects to travel tips, with results often showing handy infographics. The IPO pricing suggested strong demand in an encouraging sign for other "unicorns" — startups valued at more than $1 billion — that are readying their own IPOs. Pinterest's debut follows a bumpy start for ride-hailing service Lyft, which spiked on its first trading day only to quickly fall below its IPO price.

 

 

 

Amazon said Thursday it's pulling out of the lucrative and crowded e-commerce market in China. The company told third-party sellers Amazon will stop operating its Chinese site Amazon.cn on July 18, ending its ability to sell direct to customers there. Chinese customers will still be able to use Amazon sites from other countries, however. Amazon's China site has been running since 2015 but sales have lagged behind those of Chinese retail giant Alibaba. Through the first six months of 2018, Amazon captured 1.2 percent of China's e-commerce market while Alibaba took 84 percent, according to iMedia Research data. Nonetheless, the company said it still considers China a priority saying, "Amazon's commitment to China remains strong. We will continue to invest and grow." Experts believe Amazon's withdrawal from China could be a sign it will dedicate more resources into a growing market in India, where it's spent billions of dollars in recent years on more than 50 warehouses to support business there.

 

 

 

McDonald’s Corp said it would remove costlier, premium burgers from its menus in favor of its more popular Quarter Pounders, shifting its focus to simpler and quickly-served burgers. The burger chain added the Signature Crafted burgers to its menu two years ago to keep up with competition from Wendy’s and Shake Shack, which serve more premium burgers using fresh ingredients. But putting together the burgers took time, slowing down service lines at drive-thrus and at stores. These premium beef, grilled or crispy chicken burgers came with condiments like pico guacamole, sweet BBQ bacon or maple bacon dijon, compared with the Quarter Pounders, which are beef patties served with ketchup, pickles and onions. The move is seen as a positive, coming at a time when quick service restaurants are moving away from customization and focusing more on transparency in the ingredients used. This is the second time McDonald’s has tweaked its menu this month, after trimming down its late-night menu to keep only eights items.

Dueling Worldwide Lawsuits Dismissed as Apple Settles with Qualcomm & its Shares Jump 20% - That’s in the news on Wednesday April 17, 2019

17Apr

Peruvian authorities said the country’s former president, Alan Garcia, died in a hospital in Lima on Wednesday, hours after shooting himself in the head to avoid arrest in connection with a bribery probe. Garcia, who was elected president twice, was 69-years-old. Garcia had been dogged by allegations of corruption in recent years. He was one of nine people a judge had ordered to be arrested on Wednesday for alleged involvement in bribes distributed by Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company that triggered Latin America’s biggest graft scandal when it admitted in 2016 that it had paid kickbacks to politicians across the region to secure lucrative contracts. He had denied wrongdoing involving Odebrecht, and blamed his legal troubles on political persecution. Garcia governed as a nationalist from 1985 to 1990 before remaking himself as a free-market proponent and winning another five-year term in 2006. President Martin Vizcarra said on Twitter that he was “consternated” by Garcia’s death, and sent his condolences to his family members.

 

 

 

Severe weather in India killed nearly 50 people amid heavy rains and a strong dust storm. Officials said Wednesday that at least 10 people were struck by lightning in the Madhya Pradesh state, and at least 21 died In Rajasthan. In Maharashtra, a man, a woman and a temple priest all died when they were struck by lighting. Forecasters said the storms will continue into Thursday. The storm damaged hundreds of electrical poles and transformers in Udaipur, and officials said floods from the heavy rains ruined crops and drowned cattle. Officials canceled a rally in Sabarkantha for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of the dangerous weather.

 

 

 

Jet Airways, once India’s largest airline, announced on Wednesday that it is suspending all operations after failing to raise enough money to run its services. The company said it has been informed by its lenders, led by state-run State Bank of India, that they are unable to consider its request for funding to keep flying. On Tuesday, Jet Airways’ former chairman, Naresh Goyal, reportedly withdrew plans to bid for a controlling stake in the company. He founded Jet Airways in 1992 and saw it soar to become India’s largest airline. It was not immediately clear who else might bid for the company. Etihad Aviation Group purchased a 24% stake in 2013. The airline had 119 planes on Dec. 31, when it first defaulted on some of its more than $1 billion in debt. This week, it reduced its operations to only seven aircraft flying domestic routes. Jet Airways pilots complained that they had not received a salary in four months. News reports indicated 20 thousand jobs at the airline were at stake.

 

 

 

Meanwhile United Airlines said that its first-quarter profit doubled to $292 million as it carried more passengers and limited costs other than fuel. The results beat Wall Street expectations for a quarter that began with the partial government shutdown, which dinged travel by federal employees, and ended with Boeing 737 Max jets grounded around the world. The airline gave an upbeat forecast of second-quarter revenue trends. However, Chicago-based United did not raise its full-year earnings prediction. In a message to employees, CEO Oscar Munoz said the latest results vindicated a strategy of adding more flights, investing in customer service and managing costs. The second quarter is likely to benefit slightly by having Easter travel fall entirely in April, unlike last year. At United, that could be offset, however, by the additional costs of managing around the grounding of its 14 Max planes. Regulators around the world grounded the Max last month after a second deadly crash. As a result, American and Southwest have removed thousands of flights from their schedules out into August. United, which has fewer Max jets than those two rivals, has claimed to be less affected.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet should be able to fly again with new software and without new simulator training for pilots. That's the advice in a new report by the Federal Aviation Administration. A 57-page draft report by the FAA's Flight Standardization Board said engineers are still working on a software update for the plane, which has been grounded worldwide since shortly after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet last month. The panel is comprised of expert pilots who have reviewed the software fix. More than 300 people died in two crashes involving the Max 8 since October. Investigators believe anti-stall software forced the planes into a dive and that pilots were not trained for that scenario. Boeing has completed 96 flights totaling more than 159 hours of air time with the new software fix, and the update could be finished by the end of the month, at the earliest. The software fix is the first of several steps in getting the Max planes back into service. Regulators in other countries also have to sign off on the software fix befor the planes will be able to fly in their airspace.

 

 

President Donald Trump vetoed a congressional resolution that sought to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. "This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future," Trump said in a statement. It was only the second veto of Trump's presidency. The U.S. now can continue aiding Saudi Arabia in a bombing campaign aiming to contain expansion in the region by Iran, which supports the rebels. Human rights groups say the Saudi-led effort has targeted civilian facilities and disrupted aid shipments, exacerbating a devastating humanitarian crisis.

 

 

 

Egypt's Parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the national constitution that could allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to rule until 2030. The 531-22 vote in the pro-Sisi Parliament would give the former military leader unprecedented control over the judicial system. The changes to the constitution will also declare the military "the guardian and protector" of Egypt's democracy and constitution, which critics argue will give the armed forces too much political power. While the amendments still need final authorization by public vote, Sisi's government has already clamped down on opposition by blocking online petitions urging people to vote against the changes.

 

 

 

The Trump administration plans to let Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens sue foreign companies in U.S. courts for using properties Cuba's Communist government has confiscated since Fidel Castro's revolution six decades ago, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing a senior U.S. official. The policy shift, part of an effort to pressure Cuba over its support for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, reportedly will be announced Wednesday. It could discourage foreign investment on the island by exposing U.S., European, and Canadian companies to legal battles. President Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, is expected to announce the decision in a Miami speech in which he also will announce new sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, countries he calls a "troika of tyranny."

 

 

 

Two students, blamed for starting a large forest fire in the Italian region of Como, have each been fined €13.5 million. The men, both aged 22, were barbecuing at a mountain forest home belonging to one of their grandfathers when the fire broke out on December 30 last year. The huge bill for the two students was calculated by local officials based on a formula used to determine the extent of damage caused by the fire. One of the students told Italian media they were "scapegoats" for the blaze, but that he was also "deeply sorry". He said there were multiple sources of the outbreak. Prosecutors, however, traced the path of the fire back to the property and said it had been started by embers from the barbecue, coupled with extremely dry conditions. The two young men were found jointly responsible, along with the owner of the property. Italian media reports also suggest that the pair could be held liable in separate actions by property owners who were affected by the fire. The prosecutor said the fine was "a signal that we need to push people to greater responsibility in protecting the environment".

 

 

 

Apple and Qualcomm said Tuesday that they had agreed to dismiss their dueling lawsuits around the world. As a trial had started in a San Diego federal courtroom in an Apple complaint against Qualcomm, the companies said they had reached a six-year agreement under which Apple will pay unspecified royalties on Qualcomm patents. Apple, maker of the iPhone, and Qualcomm, the biggest provider of mobile chips, had been battling over how Qualcomm charges royalties on its patents on mobile chips. Qualcomm in the 1990s pioneered technology now critical in mobile devices, allowing it to charge royalties on smartphones even if they don't have Qualcomm chips. The settlement suggests Apple will drop its objection to the arrangement, assuming Qualcomm's royalties aren't set too high. Qualcomm shares jumped by more than 20 percent after the news.

700 Million Euros Pledged To Restore Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral After Devastating Fire - That’s in the news on Tuesday April 16, 2019

16Apr

Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral went up in flames on Monday evening, a blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, destroying its wooden-beamed roof and collapsing the iconic spire. Although the inferno raged through the Paris landmark for more than 12 hours on Monday, its twin medieval bell towers were spared. No one was killed in the blaze, but at least one firefighter was seriously injured. A frantic rescue effort also saved Notre Dame's “most precious treasures,” including the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus. Officials also said the Roman Catholic cathedral’s famous 18th century organ, that boasts more than 8,000 pipes was saved. A plan to safeguard the masterpieces and relics was quickly put into action after the fire broke out Monday. Statues removed from the roof for restoration just days ago also were also saved. Officials believe the fire was an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work on the global architectural treasure. It has survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history but was devastated in the blaze on the second day of Holy Week. Officials said the inquiry into what caused the fire would be “long and complex.” Offers of assistance began flowing in from around the world to help restore the 12th century landmark to its former glory. Many of Europe's wealthiest families and companies have so far pledged 700 million euros toward the effort.

 

 

 

Thunderstorms have led to a number of deaths in Pakistan, where heavy rain has flooded towns and streets. The death toll has been reported as high as 14, and the majority of the victims died in southwest Pakistan. The Alambar River went over its banks and flooded the Kuli Manzai district, destroying several houses in the area. The military deployed rescue helicopters to help reach people who were stranded by the rapidly rising water. In the Harnai district, the bridge connecting the district to the highway has been closed while landslides have shut down other streets. Three people died in Karachi, the largest city in the country, from high winds that ripped off roofs, knocked down power poles and other infrastructure. Officials said the hospital had at least 66 patients being treated for injuries from the storm. The storm is expected to continue ravaging the country until at least Wednesday.

 

 

 

The Justice Department said Attorney General William Barr will release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Thursday. Barr last month sent Congress a letter summarizing Mueller's core conclusions, saying the investigation found no evidence that President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia's 2016 election meddling. He did not reach a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice, although Mueller specifically said the inquiry did not exonerate Trump on that question. Barr said in congressional testimony last week that he would release a redacted version "within a week." Democrats are demanding that Barr send them the entire 400-page report.

 

 

 

A Moscow court convicted Norwegian Frode Berg of spying and sentenced him to 14 years in a maximum security prison Tuesday. The court proceeding was held behind closed doors because the case has secret files. Only the verdict and sentence were public. Berg will not appeal but will instead seek a pardon. Berg was arrested Dec. 5, 2017, in downtown Moscow with several thousand dollars in cash on him. He admitted that he has cooperated with Russian intelligence and acted as a courier while in Russia to collect information about nuclear submarines. He claims he didn't know what he was doing and didn't realize the consequences. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies didn't comment on the case. He's already served 17 months and that will be factored into his prison sentence.

 

 

Israel’s president said on Tuesday a majority of members of parliament had advised him to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form a government after the April 9 election. Netanyahu’s nomination has been a foregone conclusion since right-wing and religious parties allied with Netanyahu’s Likud captured the largest number of seats in the Knesset in last week’s ballot and his closest rival, centrist Benny Gantz, conceded defeat. He would become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July. Netanyahu won a fifth term despite an announcement by Israel's Attorney General in February that he intends to charge the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing and is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted.

 

 

 

North Korea claimed that international sanctions imposed on the country are major obstacles to the improvement of its human rights situation. In the report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the North said it continues to face "serious obstacles and challenges" in its efforts to promote human rights. North Korea said the sanctions obstruct "delivery of medicines and medical facilities needed for children, women and persons with disabilities, let alone the normal trade with foreign countries for the economic development of the country." Humanitarian activities are not banned under international sanctions, but related materials are subject to sanctions waivers from the United Nations. Under the UPR program introduced in 2008, all member states of the world body are subject to a review every 4 1/2 years. North Korea has long been labeled one of the world's worst human rights violators. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and tightly controls the flow of outside information.

 

 

 

A Florida law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette maker JUUL and tobacco company Altria Group, saying they're violating federal racketeering laws by targeting teens. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a 15-year-old in Sarasota County, Fla., says Altria, which owns tobacco giant Phillip Morris USA, recently bought a 35 percent stake in JUUL after the e-cigarette leader promised it wouldn't market its products to young people. Attorneys said their teenage plaintiff is addicted to nicotine contained in Juul pods. Attorney Scott Schlesinger said in a statement, "The companies tell regulators they are not marketing to that vulnerable age group while they simultaneously and knowingly created a massive increase in youth nicotine addiction." The firm says 78 percent of middle and high school students have noticed e-cigarette advertising and one in five high school students has used the product. The suit claims JUUL owns 75 percent of the e-cigarette market. Research shows that JUUL e-cigarettes have high levels of nicotine and its pods contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Neither JUUL nor Altria immediately responded to the suit.

 

 

 

A SpaceX rocket booster that landed on an ocean platform after last week’s launch has been damaged in rough seas. For the first time, all three first-stage boosters landed upright following Thursday’s launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in use. Both side boosters returned to Cape Canaveral, Florida, while the core booster landed on a platform hundreds of miles offshore. The company confirmed Tuesday that the unsecured core booster toppled onto the platform over the weekend, as waves reached 8 to 10 feet. SpaceX chief Elon Musk says the engines seem OK. There’s no immediate word on how many of the booster pieces remain on board. Musk says custom devices to secure the booster weren’t ready in time for this second flight of the Falcon Heavy.

 

 

 

Former astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew on America’s first space station, Skylab, and whose son followed him into orbit, has died at age 88. NASA said he died Monday at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. Garriott served on the second Skylab crew in 1973, spending close to 60 days in space, a record at the time. He also was part of the ninth space shuttle mission, flying aboard Columbia in 1983 and operating a ham radio for the first time from orbit. His son Richard, a computer game developer who paid the Russians $30 million for a ride to the International Space Station in 2008 tweeted, “Dad had a great 88 orbits around the sun!” While he never flew in space again, Owen Garriott traveled to Kazakhstan in 2008 for his son’s launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. They were the first U.S. father and son space travelers. Owen Garriott was born in Enid, Oklahoma and served with the Navy. He was selected as an astronaut in 1965. Garriott later held other positions within NASA, including director of science and applications at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He left NASA in 1986.

CDC Says US Measles Cases Rising - Outbreak Declared Worst in 25 Years - That’s in the news Monday April 15, 2019

15Apr

The measles outbreak in the United States has grown to its second-highest level in a quarter-century. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday there have been 555 cases reported so far in 20 states. The number has risen by nearly 200 in just two weeks as many Americans refuse to get their children vaccinated for religious or anti-government reasons. The current level represents the most measles cases in 25 years. The greatest outbreaks have been seen in New York, Washington state, New Jersey and California. The World Health Organization said Monday there were more than 110 thousand measles cases worldwide for the first three months of 2019 -- an increase of nearly 300 percent over last year. New York City has declared a public health emergency and required some to have their children vaccinated, or face a $1,000 fine. Many of the measles cases last year were concentrated on Orthodox Jews who traveled to Israel, where a large outbreak occurred. Officials said 82 people brought in measles from other countries last year, the most number of imported cases since 2000. Ukraine and the Philippines have also seen large measles outbreaks.

 

 

 

The Russian government said Monday it's severed contact with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, halting a relationship that's been deteriorating for years. Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow no longer has any diplomatic contact with NATO in civil or military matters. He said the move is an answer to NATO ending contact with Moscow on military issues. The relationship has been strained since Russia forcibly annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014. Tensions flared again last year when Russia captured Ukrainian soldiers and military ships in the Kerch Strait, a move Western governments said violated international law. Grushko said NATO and Russia had been cooperating under a "normal working relationship" before now. The remarks came as the United States and Russia also are experiencing strained relations, although President Donald Trump has made repeated efforts to normalize diplomacy. U.S. military officers have said a lack of diplomacy between Moscow and Washington could lead to military escalation.

 

 

 

Chinese bombers and warships conducted drills around Taiwan on Monday, the latest military maneuvers near the self-ruled island that a senior U.S. official denounced as “coercion” and a threat to stability in the region. The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms. China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan, whose President Tsai Ing-wen Beijing suspects of pushing for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. China’s People’s Liberation Army said its warships, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft had conducted “necessary drills” around Taiwan on Monday, though it described them as routine. China has repeatedly carried out what it calls “island encirclement patrols” in the past few years.

 

 

 

The death toll from storms that swept across the South over the weekend climbed to eight on Sunday. The storms spawned tornadoes and flooding. Three children were among the dead. Two of them were killed in East Texas when a pine tree fell on a car they were riding in. Tornado warnings were issued for parts of Georgia and North Carolina on Sunday after twisters damaged some areas in Mississippi and Alabama earlier in the day. Tornadoes destroyed dozens of homes in East Texas on Saturday.

 

 

 

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people are still in need of aid after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March. More than 1,000 people have been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and the heavy rains before the storm hit. The World Bank estimates the affected countries will need more than $2 billion to recover. Cyclone Idai made landfall on the night of March 14, near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging hundreds of villages and leaving bodies floating in the water. More than 2 million people in Africa have been affected by the storm and its aftermath.

 

 

 

Electric authorities began removing spent fuel rods Monday from the damaged reactor at Japan's Fukushima power station, eight years after its core melted down in one of the world's worst nuclear accidents. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began using a remotely guided robotic arm to remove the rods from the storage pool, where they've been since the 2011 accident. Monday marked the beginning of the utility's mission to remove a total of 566 nuclear fuel assemblies. The entire process is expected to last two years. The presence of fuel rods in reactors No. 1, 2 and 3 are preventing TEPCO from scrapping the damaged reactors. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the Fukushima complex Monday for the first time since 2013 to survey reconstruction progress. His visit came after his 2020 Olympic minister resigned last week over controversial comments related to the disaster, triggered by a massive tsunami.

 

 

 

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange tried to use Ecuador's London embassy as a "center for spying." That's what Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, told The Guardian newspaper. Assange entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning on rape allegations, and ultimately to the U.S. to face charges related to revealing government secrets. Ecuador last week rescinded Assange's permission to continue hiding out in the embassy, and British police arrested him. Assange now is vowing to fight extradition to the U.S., where he is accused of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a classified government computer.

 

 

 

Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are pleading not guilty to charges they took part in the sweeping college admissions bribery scam. That's according to court documents filed Monday. The couple is accused of paying $500 thousand in bribes to get their daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither is a rower. They were among 50 people charged last month in the scandal that has embroiled elite schools across the country, including Stanford, Georgetown and Yale. The parents are accused of paying to rig standardized test scores and bribe college coaches and other insiders to get their children into selective schools. Fellow actress Felicity Huffman and 12 other parents announced last week that they have agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors added a money laundering conspiracy charge against Loughlin, Giannulli and more than a dozen other parents who are still fighting the case, increasing the pressure on them to plead guilty. Each of the charges Loughlin and Giannulli face call for up to 20 years in prison, although first-time offenders would get only a small fraction of that if convicted.

 

 

 

The world's largest plane took flight for the first time over the weekend. Built by rocket launch company Stratolaunch, the 500 thousand pound plane was a dream project by the late billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The giant aircraft, which has twin fuselages - six 747 engines - and a 385-foot wingspan, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California. The plane is designed to fly at an altitude of 35,000 feet from where it can launch rockets which can then boost themselves into orbit around the planet, though this test flight did not include launching any rockets. Northrup Grumman plans to use the plane to launch its Pegasus XL rocket into space. The flight's pilot, Evan Thomas, reportedly said the experience was "fantastic" and the plane mostly flew as predicted.

 

 

 

Tiger Woods won his first major golf tournament since 2008 on Sunday, taking the 2019 Masters title with a 2-under-par final round that put him one stroke ahead of 3 leaders (Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, and Brooks Koepka). Four more players finished two strikes behind. It was Woods' fifth Masters victory. He now trails only Jack Nicklaus, who has six green jackets, in career Masters wins. Woods started the day two strokes off leader Francesco Molinari, who led much of the day before giving Woods an opening with double-bogeys on No. 12 and No. 15. Woods sealed his years-long comeback — following injuries and off-course scandal — with birdies on the par-5 13th hole and par-5 15th, and another on the par-3 16th that was nearly a hole-in-one.

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