It’s Monday February 12, 2018



Hundreds of emergency workers searched a vast field near Moscow on Monday for remains of the 71 victims from the crash of a Russian airliner, and aviation experts began deciphering the jet’s two flight recorders. The plane crashed Sunday, several minutes after taking off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, and all 65 passengers and the crew of six were killed when the aircraft hit the ground and exploded in a giant fireball. Investigators quickly ruled out a terrorist attack in the crash of the Antonov-148 regional jet bound for Orsk in the southern Urals. That aircraft model has a spotty safety record, with one previous crash and a string of major incidents in which pilots struggled to land safely. The carrier, Saratov Airlines, has grounded several other An-148s in its fleet pending the crash investigation. Saratov Airlines said the jet had received proper maintenance and passed all the necessary checks before the flight.




At least 18 people were killed and about 60 more injured, 10 of them critically when a double-decker bus flipped on its side in Hong Kong on Saturday. The cause of the crash is unconfirmed, but a local news outlet reported the bus was behind schedule, and the driver was speeding to make up lost time. One passenger said it felt as if the driver were piloting an airplane every time he took a corner. A judge will lead an independent investigation into the crash.




Militants attacked an Indian army base in the Jammu region, killing at least five soldiers and a civilian, army officials said Sunday. Indian officials blamed the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad for the attack, one of the deadliest against India's army in recent years, although no group immediately claimed responsibility. Four militants, dressed in army uniforms and armed with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, entered the family quarters of army officers early in the morning and gunned down two soldiers and injured at least nine others, including children. The militants were cornered and killed by Army Special Forces after a 24-hour firefight.




An explosion and fire at an electrical substation knocked out power to much of northern Puerto Rico late Sunday, marking a setback for the U.S. Caribbean territory in the effort to fully restore an electrical system devastated by Hurricane Maria five months ago. Parts of the area thrust back into darkness had only recently regained power. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) said several towns lost electricity, including parts of the capital, San Juan. However, PREPA said it expected to restore service to most of the affected areas within a day. As of Sunday, about a third of the utility company's customers remained without electricity due to the September hurricane.




North Korean state media said Monday that the country's high-level delegation to South Korea for the start of the Winter Olympics made a "meaningful" contribution toward improving cross-border relations. During the visit, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit her brother. Moon expressed interest but said Pyongyang must meet certain conditions first, including showing willingness to deal with the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the Olympics' opening ceremony to counter North Korea's charm offensive, told The Washington Post that the U.S. was ready to hold talks with the North after an initial meeting between Pyongyang and Seoul. He said the U.S. and South Korea had agreed on terms for diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.




Wind and ice pellets left Olympic snowboarders simply trying to stay upright in conditions that many felt were unfit for competition, the best ski jumpers on the planet dealing with swirling gusts and biathletes aiming to shoot straight. Low temperatures have hovered in the single digits, dipping below zero Fahrenheit with unforgiving gusts whipping at 45 mph making it feel much colder. Qualifying was called off after women’s slopestyle devolved into a mess of mistakes, and Monday’s final started 75 minutes late. Of the 50 runs, 41 ended with a fall or a rider essentially giving up. The temperature dropped to 3 Fahrenheit, with high winds. Alpine skiing, meanwhile, still hasn’t been able to get started at all. Each of the first two races on the program — the men’s downhill Sunday, and the women’s giant slalom Monday — were called off hours before they were supposed to begin. Both of those events have been moved to Thursday when things are supposed to become slightly more manageable. The forecast calls for more high winds Tuesday and Wednesday, although temperatures are expected to climb to 26 Fahrenheit.




Organizers of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, confirmed Sunday they were subject to a cyber attack during Friday's opening ceremony. The wifi and television in the Games facilities stopped working for about 12 hours, as did the official website. All were restored to normal by Saturday morning local time. "We are not going to comment on the issue. It is one we are dealing with. We are making sure our systems are secure, and they are secure," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative Mark Adams, who indicated he did not know the source of the attack and would not share it if he did. The Guardian reports Russia is rumored to be responsible.




President Donald Trump said that neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be working toward a resolution. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper published Sunday, Trump said, "Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace... and I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace." The Palestinians have rejected America's role as a broker in peace talks since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. The Palestinians also claim part of the city as the capital of their future state. Trump said negotiations would still determine the "specific boundaries" of each side's claim on Jerusalem.




The White House on Monday released its 2019 budget proposal, in which President Trump renews calls for deep cuts to non-defense spending. The budget will call for "an aggressive set of spending reforms" to slash the federal deficit by $3 trillion over a decade, out of a shortfall currently estimated at $10 trillion. Trump also will seek a big boost in funding for the Pentagon to make sure the U.S. has a "ready, larger, and more lethal military." The White House also will unveil an infrastructure plan that proposes to leverage $200 billion in federal spending into $1.5 trillion worth of infrastructure projects, mostly by asking state and local governments to match the funds by as much as a 4-to-1 ratio. Both proposals face long odds in Congress.




New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Sunday filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein, his brother Robert Weinstein, and the Weinstein Company for alleged violations of civil rights and business laws. The suit cites accusations about mistreatment of employees by Weinstein when he was the film production company's CEO. Among other allegations, the lawsuit says Weinstein told several employees that he would "kill" them. New York says the company "employed one group of female employees whose primary job it was to accompany (Harvey) to events and to facilitate (his) sexual conquests." Schneiderman's investigation is ongoing, but he reportedly wanted to make sure the sale of The Weinstein Company wouldn't make Weinstein's enablers rich while depriving his victims of ways to seek compensation.




Ford Motor Company on Monday warned an additional 33,000 owners of older pickup trucks in North America to stop driving them until potentially defective Takata airbag inflators can be repaired. Ford told 2,900 owners of 2006 model year Ford Ranger trucks in January to stop driving immediately after a second death was linked to inflators built on the same day. Ford said the expansion of the warning was prompted by additional testing, and now covers a broader timeframe of production. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Mazda was issuing a similar expansion for some 2006 Mazda B-Series trucks that were built by Ford after it had issued a warning for some trucks in January. The agency said the vehicles pose “an immediate risk to safety” and asked owners to immediately schedule a free repair. Ford and Mazda have replacement airbag inflators available now and will tow vehicles to a dealership for repair, and provide loaner vehicles free of charge, the companies and agency said. About 90 percent of the vehicles subject to the “Do Not Drive” warning are in the United States. Ford said last month a July 2017 crash death in West Virginia in a 2006 Ford Ranger was caused by a defective Takata inflator after a similar 2015 death in South Carolina.




Amazon is laying off hundreds of corporate workers in its Seattle headquarters and elsewhere. According to a Seattle Times report, the corporate cuts come after an eight-year hiring spree, taking the company from 5,000 in 2010 to 40,000 in its Seattle headquarters and gobbling up several retail businesses throughout the country. The layoffs will mainly focus on Amazon’s Seattle office but there have already been cuts in some of its retail subsidiaries in other parts of the country. The moves suggest Amazon may be trying to reign in spending and consolidate some of its retail businesses. A spokesperson for the company told the Seattle Times the move was part of the company’s annual planning process and that, “We are making headcount adjustments across the company — small reductions in a couple of places and aggressive hiring in many others.” According to the report, several employees have already been told they’ve been laid off and those layoffs are expected to be completed in the next few weeks.

It’s Friday February 9, 2018



Congress approved a budget deal early Friday, hours after a deadline passed forcing a partial government shutdown, the second in a month. The House passed the two-year agreement shortly after the Senate did, clearing the way to end the hours-long shutdown. The Senate vote was delayed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a protest against $300 billion in new military and non-defense spending over two years, but Paul's call for an amendment maintaining existing budget caps was denied. The measure had not been considered a sure thing in the House. Republican fiscal conservatives were upset that it will add to the deficit, and Democrats wanted to add protections for young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.




Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that the U.S. would not deport undocumented immigrants serving in the military after being brought to the U.S. as children. Mattis said he confirmed with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that DREAMers will not be subject to deportation proceedings if they are on active duty, in the active reserves, or enlisted and waiting to start boot camp. He said veterans honorably discharged also would be protected. "We would always stand by one of our people," he said. The only exceptions are those who have committed a serious felony, and those who already have received a final deportation order from a federal judge.




A U.S. bill that encourages reciprocal visits by U.S. and Taiwanese government officials threatens stability in the Taiwan Strait and the United States must withdraw it, according to China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday. The bill passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations this week and will now move to the Senate. The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. China regularly says Taiwan is the most sensitive issue in its ties with Washington. Beijing considers democratic Taiwan to be a wayward province and integral part of “one China”, ineligible for state-to-state relations and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said though the clauses in the bill are not legally binding they are a serious violation of the “one China” principle. Taiwan has welcomed the bill, which would allow senior U.S. government officials to travel to Taiwan to meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. The passage of the bill by the committee shows the strong bipartisan support to deepen two-way exchanges and interactions of officials from both sides, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.





Stocks struggled to stabilize Friday as investors sent prices climbing, then slumping in unsteady trading a day after the market entered its first correction in two years. The up-and-down swings came a day after the market entered a correction or a drop of 10 percent from a recent peak. Major U.S. indexes set their latest record highs just two weeks ago. The Dow Jones industrial average slumped nearly 300 points in midday trading after surging more than 349 points earlier in the day. The blue-chip average suffered its second 1,000-point drop in a week on Thursday. Losses in restaurant chains, cruise lines, department stores and other consumer-focused companies accounted for much of the market’s decline. Industrial and energy companies also posted steep losses that outweighed modest gains in technology stocks and other sectors. Oil prices were also headed sharply lower. The slide in U.S. stock indexes followed a broad slide in global markets.




Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday told the International Criminal Court (ICC) to go ahead and investigate him for crimes against humanity and said he would prefer to face a firing squad than be jailed. However, the firebrand leader notorious for his defiance of international pressure questioned whether the ICC had jurisdiction to indict him over the deaths of thousands of Filipinos in his war on drugs. He denied ever giving an order to police to kill drug suspects. The ICC prosecutor said the preliminary examination into Duterte’s campaign sought to establish whether it had the jurisdiction and if crimes against humanity had been committed. About 4,000 mostly urban poor Filipinos have been killed by police in Duterte’s signature campaign that has alarmed the international community. Activists believe the death toll is far higher and accuse police of systematic cover-ups and executions. Police and the government dismiss that.




California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D), a high-profile #MeToo movement advocate, is under investigation herself after a former legislative staffer said she sexually harassed him at an Assembly softball game in 2014. Daniel Fierro, now operating a political communications firm, said Garcia cornered him, appearing intoxicated, and stroked his back, squeezed his buttocks, and tried to grab his crotch. A prominent lobbyist told Politico that Garcia tried to grope him at a 2017 fundraiser. Garcia said Thursday that the allegations "have never been brought to my attention until today," and that she had "zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values." The Assembly has hired an outside firm to investigate and Garcia promised full cooperation.




The White House went into damage-control mode on Thursday after facing criticism for its response to allegations of domestic violence against former top aide Rob Porter, who resigned this week. The White House knew about the allegations last year, but as recently as Wednesday, Chief of Staff John Kelly defended Porter as a "man of true integrity." As the nature of the alleged abuse was more broadly reported, Kelly said he "was shocked." White House spokesman Raj Shah conceded Thursday that the White House "could have done better" in dealing with the case in the days before Porter submitted his resignation. Shah said Kelly was not aware of the full story about the allegations because Porter's background check was still ongoing. Porter has denied the allegations.




A winter storm moving across the U.S. Great Lakes that’s forecast to drop about a foot of snow in some areas created treacherous driving conditions Friday, closed schools and forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The National Weather Service issued winter-weather warnings and advisories across the upper Midwest. The snow that began falling late Thursday afternoon was expected to continue through Friday as the storm moves east. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city was gearing up for three more rounds of snow through the weekend after crews dealt with 6 to 7 inches overnight. About 750 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and about 300 flights were canceled at Midway, the Chicago Department of Aviation reported Friday morning. More than 200 flights were canceled at Detroit Metropolitan Airport by early Friday. American, United, Delta and Southwest airlines warned travelers to expect more flight cancellations to and from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.




The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics officially kicked off Friday, with fans braving the extreme cold to attend the opening ceremony. North Korea and South Korea were marching under one flag, setting aside recently rising tensions for what Seoul is billing as Games dedicated to peace. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister and close confidant, Kim Yo Jong, shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the ceremony, starting a three-day visit that is the first to the South by a member of the North's ruling family since the Korean War. Just before the opening ceremony, the North's senior statesman, 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam, attended a dinner hosted by Moon that was also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, on hand to counter North Korea's charm offensive.




The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday denied the appeals of 47 Russian athletes and coaches barred from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, hours before the opening ceremony. The athletes had asked to be invited to participate in the games even though they were not on the list of 168 Russians allowed to participate after being cleared of suspicion in Russia's doping scheme at the Sochi Games of 2014. The 47 athletes turned away included short-track speed skater Victor Ahn, who won multiple gold medals in Sochi and other Olympics. Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee refused requests from 13 other Russian athletes and two coaches barred from participating even though their lifetime bans for doping had been overturned.




San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Thursday reportedly signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension, becoming the highest-paid player in professional football. Garoppolo received $90 million guaranteed in the first three years, the biggest three-year paycheck in NFL history. The deal is all the more noteworthy because Garoppolo, 26, has just seven NFL starts under his belt. He spent his first three-and-a-half seasons with the New England Patriots as Tom Brady's backup, starting just twice. His average $27.5 million per season is $500,000 higher than the previous record set by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford last year.

It’s Thursday February 8, 2018



Lawmakers pressed to enact a massive budget deal Thursday along with a temporary funding measure to prevent a government shutdown at midnight. GOP leaders moved to shore up support among conservatives for a plan to shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with an extra $300 billion over the next two years. The measure was a triumph for Republican allies of the Pentagon and for Democrats seeking more spending on infrastructure and fighting opioid abuse. But it represented a bitter defeat for many liberal Democrats who sought to use the party’s leverage on the budget to resolve the plight of immigrant “Dreamers” who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal does not address immigration. And some tea party Republicans shredded the measure as a budget-buster.




House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke for eight hours and 10 minutes on Wednesday in the longest House speech ever, beating a 1909 record by nearly three hours. Pelosi, using her right as minority leader, held the floor to call on Republicans to allow a vote on protections for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Pelosi recounted stories of DREAMers protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is set to start phasing out in March. She demanded that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) make a more firm commitment to holding an immigration vote.




Syrian state-run media said Thursday a rare U.S. strike on government-backed troops in eastern Syria killed and wounded more than 100 tribal fighters, calling it a new effort “to support terrorism.” The U.S.-led coalition said its action was in “self-defense,” citing a major attack on its allied forces and U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour province by at least 500 fighters, battle tanks, howitzers, and mortars. The attack in Deir el-Zour province in northeastern Syria occurred in crowded battlespace. A stronghold of Islamic State militants until late last year, the province also was the group’s main source of oil revenue. U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces have been fighting for control of Deir el-Zour with rival Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias. The U.S.-backed forces control areas east of the Euphrates River and most of the oil and gas fields, while government forces are based in the west. Previous friction was reported before, but Wednesday’s incident appeared to be the largest since last year. The IS militants have been dispersed in the province, which also has a number of U.S. bases.




North Korea state media reports that its government has no intention of meeting U.S. officials during the Winter Olympics that start in South Korea on Friday, dampening hopes the Games will help resolve a tense standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program. However, the North’s high-ranking delegation, including the younger sister of its leader Kim Jong Un, will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and have lunch with him on Saturday. Such a meeting would be the first such event between a South Korean head of state and a member of the Kim family since a 2007 summit meeting of Kim Jong Il and the late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun. Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Moon on Thursday ahead of the opening ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, just 50 miles from the heavily armed border with the reclusive North. Friday’s ceremony will be attended by North Korea’s delegation, including its nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North’s leader, and her entourage will travel by private jet to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport on Friday, North Korea told the South. The United States had not requested talks with North Korea, but Pence left open the possibility of some contact although his message for denuclearisation remained unchanged.




The Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity chief, Jeanette Manfra, told NBC News on Wednesday that Russians successfully penetrated some state voter registration systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. She said, "We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated. We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases were coming from the Russian government." U.S. officials have said there was no evidence any voter rolls were changed, but Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian hacking, has said: "2016 was a wake-up call."




The United States and its European allies should ensure the 2015 nuclear deal is a success before demanding to negotiate on other issues such as Tehran’s regional activities or ballistic missile program, according to a statement Thursday from Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Abbas Araqchi said, “Our answer is clear: make the (deal) a successful experience and then we discuss other issues.” He said the new U.S. administration’s policy on Iran was “destructive” and violated the terms of the accord with world powers. With President Donald Trump warning of the last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated”, Britain, France, and Germany are working on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord. Iran has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile program as demanded by the United States and the Europeans, saying it is purely defensive. Tehran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.



Bermuda on Wednesday rolled back gay-marriage reforms, a first as an increasing number of nations around the world legalize same-sex marriage. The new legislation replaces same-sex marriage with domestic partnerships having "equivalent" rights in the British island territory. Gov. John Rankin signed it into law on Wednesday. Bermuda's Senate and House of Assembly passed the legislation by wide margins in December after a majority of citizens voted against same-sex marriage in a referendum. Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown said the new law strikes "a fair balance" between widespread views on the socially conservative island with European court rulings ensuring protections for same-sex couples. Critics said it marked an unprecedented curbing of civil rights.




A hot-air balloon, hit by a surprise weather change, crash-landed on Thursday in a field near Australia’s southern city of Melbourne, injuring at least seven tourists on board. Police said the passengers, some from Australia and others from overseas, fell from the basket as the pilot attempted to land following an unexpected south-westerly wind change. The ambulance service in the southeastern state of Victoria said it treated the tourists for back and neck injuries at the scene, before sending seven, aged between 20 and 70, to a hospital. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the accident is under investigation.



President Trump's Cuba Internet Task Force, part of his effort to unravel the Obama administration's policy of re-engaging with Havana, held its first public meeting on Wednesday. Members of the group said Cuba's communist government restricts internet access to prevent Cubans from criticizing their leaders. "Mr. Castro, tear down this firewall," said Andre Mendes, acting director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors' Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Others said Trump's initiative to help expand internet access on the island and support independent media merely resurrected failed policies of isolation. The task force's members agreed to form two subcommittees, "one to explore the role of media and freedom of information in Cuba, and one to explore internet access in Cuba," the State Department said.




Twitter made money for the first time in its nearly 12-year history, a milestone that satisfied investors in the short term but might not resolve the company’s broader problems any time soon. The company is still struggling to get people to sign up. Twitter’s user base pales compared to Facebook and the Facebook-owned Instagram. And that means fewer advertising opportunities. Twitter said it had an average of 330 million monthly active users in the final three months of last year, unchanged from the previous quarter and below Wall Street’s estimate of 333 million. By contrast, Facebook has 2.2 billion and Instagram has more than 800 million. Twitter hadn’t turned a profit until now because — competing with Facebook, Google and others for digital ad dollars — it didn’t attract enough advertising revenue to make up for its expenses. But it’s been cutting costs and focusing on new revenue streams, such as live video. In some good news, the company grew revenue by 2 percent to $732 million in the final three months of 2017. That’s above the $687 million that analysts polled by FactSet were expecting. Its net income — a first — was $91 million, or 12 cents per share. After the results came out, the company’s stock jumped more than 17 percent in morning trading to $31.64, its highest level since 2015.

It’s Wednesday February 7, 2018



Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. is preparing to announce the “toughest and most aggressive” economic sanctions against North Korea in the coming days, boosting pressure on the bellicose government during the Winter Olympics. Pence, who is set to lead the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies Friday, made the announcement in Japan on Wednesday, following meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Pence said, “We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all." U.S. officials declined to provide details of the expected sanctions beyond Pence’s comments, citing concerns that any additional information could be used by those trying to skirt the new measures. They are expected to be implemented before the conclusion of the games. North Korea is already facing unprecedented sanctions after three U.N. Security Council restrictions in the past year that have slashed the pariah nation’s export revenue and capped fuel imports. Unilaterally, the U.S. has also targeted North Korean shipping companies and Chinese trading networks. A potential escalation of sanctions could be U.S. blacklisting of Chinese banks accused of providing North Korea access to the international financial system and facilitating sanctions evasion.




Russian cyberspies pursuing the secrets of military drones and other sensitive U.S. defense technology tricked key contract workers into exposing their email to theft, according to an Associated Press investigation. What ultimately may have been stolen is uncertain, but the hackers clearly exploited a national vulnerability in cybersecurity: poorly protected email and barely any direct notification to victims. The AP found the hackers known as Fancy Bear, who also intruded in the U.S. election, went after at least 87 people working on militarized drones, missiles, rockets, stealth fighter jets, cloud-computing platforms or other sensitive activities. Employees at both small companies and defense giants like Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co., Boeing Co., Airbus Group and General Atomics were targeted by the hackers. A handful of people in Fancy Bear’s sights also worked for trade groups, contractors in U.S.-allied countries or on corporate boards. Of 87 alleged targets - scientists, engineers, managers, and others - 31 agreed to be interviewed by the AP. Most of the targets’ work was classified. Yet as many as 40 percent of them clicked on the hackers’ phishing links, according to the AP analysis. That was the first step in potentially opening their personal email accounts or computer files to data theft by the digital spies.




Air strikes killed 31 civilians including 12 children in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region near Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian government airstrikes and artillery hit the towns of Douma, Beit Sawa and Hammouriyeh in the insurgent-controlled suburbs. The bombing also injured 65 people. The Syrian government has repeatedly said it only targets militants. The United Nations called on Tuesday for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria for at least a month. U.N. representatives noted that Eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel bastion near Damascus after almost seven years of war, had not received inter-agency aid since November. The army and its allies have besieged Eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under the control of rebel factions, since 2013.




The death toll has risen to seven and dozens of people remain missing following Tuesday's deadly earthquake in Taiwan, with more than 40 feared trapped in a multistory building tilting perilously in the northeastern city of Hualien. The magnitude 6.4 quake also injured more than 260 others as well as damaging bridges and buckling roads on the eastern side of the island. Numerous aftershocks followed the initial quake. At least 15 aftershocks, measuring as much as 4.8 magnitudes, shook the area on Wednesday. Meanwhile, 600 military personnel and more than 750 firefighters combed through rubble and helped with rescue efforts, according to Taiwan's Central Emergency Operation Center. Of 63 people still missing in the city, 11 are believed to be inside a bed-and-breakfast. An additional 37 residents registered in the building have not been reached, although it's unclear if they were there when the quake struck. Authorities said it's one of four buildings in the city that were either tilting or had collapsed. Video from the site of the quake showed smoke rising from collapsed buildings on Wednesday morning as firefighters patrolled streets full of rubble.




The Senate’s top leaders announced Wednesday they have sealed agreement on a two-year budget pact that would shower both the Pentagon and domestic programs with almost $300 billion above existing limits, giving wins to both GOP defense hawks and Democrats seeking billions for infrastructure projects and combatting opioid abuse. The agreement is likely to be added to a stopgap spending bill that passed the House on Tuesday and is aimed at averting a government shutdown Thursday at midnight. The plan also contains almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. And it would increase the government’s borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. The House’s top Democrat, however, swung out against the plan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California announced she would oppose the budget measure unless her chamber’s GOP leaders promised a vote on legislation to protect “Dreamer” immigrants who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The House on Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying the stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but the Senate plan would rewrite that measure.




An Amtrak Acela Express train came apart Tuesday shortly after it left Washington, D.C., on the way to New York and Boston. The train was traveling at about 124 miles per hour when two of the train's eight passenger cars separated. Fifty-two passengers had to evacuate and board other trains, but nobody was injured. Amtrak is inspecting its other Acela trains to prevent similar incidents. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was monitoring the situation, and the Federal Railroad Administration said it was investigating. The incident came after three fatal accidents involving Amtrak trains since December.




Facing investigations by gambling regulators and allegations of sexual misconduct, billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn has stepped down as chairman and CEO of the resorts bearing his names. The Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts in a statement said Wynn’s resignation Tuesday was effective immediately. It came less than two weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that a number of women said Wynn harassed or assaulted them and that one case led to a $7.5 million settlement. Wynn has vehemently denied the report’s allegations, which he attributes to a campaign led by his ex-wife. An attorney for Elaine Wynn has denied that she instigated the news report. Wynn now faces investigations by gambling regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts, where the company is building a roughly $2.4 billion casino just outside Boston. The company earlier said a committee of independent directors would investigate the allegations that surfaced Jan. 26.




A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to the $25 million settlement that President Trump was ordered to pay former students of his defunct Trump University. One former student, Sherri Simpson, challenged the settlement because she wanted to go to trial over the $19,000 she paid to Trump University, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the class-action suit "promised only one opportunity to opt out," and Simpson missed it. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who filed a civil suit that was resolved by the settlement, said the ruling "means that victims of Donald Trump's fraudulent university will soon receive the $25 million in relief they deserve."




A heavy snowfall in central Japan brought road traffic to a standstill on Tuesday, trapping some 1,000 cars. Local officials have asked the military for help but have not heard of any injuries or illness among those trapped. Snow has reached 1.36 meters - 54 inches - in Fukui prefecture, about 200 miles west of Tokyo. According to local meteorologists, it is the heaviest snowfall in nearly four decades in the region. The traffic standstill, stretching for about 6 miles in the prefecture, was caused by some cars going off the shoulder of the road in the snowstorm and others stopping to put on tire chains as a precautionary measure. Officials said, “We have blocked traffic heading into the affected area, so no more cars will join the jam. In some parts, cars have resumed moving, but only to be caught in a standstill again." Snowfall in Fukui was expected to continue at least until Wednesday morning.



The influential younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit South Korea this week, making her the first member of the North's ruling family ever to cross the border into the South, officials in Seoul said Wednesday. Kim Yo-jong will arrive Friday in Pyongyang's 22-member government delegation to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The North Korean delegation will be officially led by the isolated communist nation's 90-year-old president, Kim Yong-nam, the nominal head of state. The delegation's three-day itinerary includes a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.



Japan’s Princess Mako will postpone her wedding to commoner Kei Komuro to 2020 until after her grandfather Emperor Akihito abdicates next year, according to public broadcaster NHK on Tuesday. NHK said, citing the Imperial Household, that the couple who had been planning to marry this year, want more time to arrange their ceremony and prepare for married life. Mako, one of only four royal grandchildren, must become a commoner after the union, according to laws governing the royal family. She and her fiance attended the International Christian University in Tokyo.




DNA from a 10,000-year-old skeleton found in an English cave suggests the oldest-known Briton had dark skin and blue eyes, researchers said Wednesday. Scientists from Britain’s Natural History Museum and University College London analyzed the genome of “Cheddar Man,” who was found in Cheddar Gorge in southwest England in 1903. Scientists led by museum DNA expert Ian Barnes drilled into the skull to extract DNA from bone powder. They say analysis indicates he had blue eyes, dark curly hair and “dark to black” skin pigmentation. The researchers say the evidence suggests that Europeans’ pale skin tones developed much later than originally thought. Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum who worked on the project said it “reminds us that you can’t make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren’t something that’s fixed." It’s thought ancient humans living in northern regions developed pale skin because it absorbs more sunlight, which is needed to produce vitamin D.

It’s Tuesday February 6, 2018



A powerful earthquake struck Taiwan 10 minutes before midnight on Tuesday, causing buildings to collapse in the city of Hualien. The USGS said the 6.4-magnitude quake was recorded at 11:50 p.m. and was centered about 14 miles northeast of Hualien, a city of 110,000 on Taiwan’s east coast. Two people were killed and at least 200 were injured. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, wrote on Twitter. “Relief measures are underway. Stay safe.” Taiwan’s government said that at least seven buildings had partially collapsed or were left leaning at dangerous angles. Images carried by Taiwan media outlets showed one multistory building pitched at a severe angle. Multiple buildings in Hualien collapsed and efforts to rescue people inside were underway, Hualien is near the entrance to Taroko National Park, one of Taiwan’s most famous scenic areas. The region is less populated than Taiwan’s west coast. Tuesday was the second anniversary of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck northeast of Pingtung City in southern Taiwan, killing 117 people. A magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan killed more than 2,300 people in 1999.




SpaceX’s big new rocket blasted off Tuesday on its first test flight, carrying a red sports car aiming for an endless road trip past Mars. The Falcon Heavy rose from the same launch pad used by NASA nearly 50 years ago to send men to the moon. The three boosters and 27 engines roared to life at Kennedy Space Center, as thousands jammed surrounding beaches, bridges, and roads to watch the rocket soar. Two of the boosters were recycled and made a simultaneous touchdown at Cape Canaveral, while the third, brand new, set its sights on an ocean platform some 300 miles offshore. SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk owns the onboard Tesla Roadster, which is shooting for a solar orbit that will reach all the way to Mars. The typical ballast for a rocket debut: concrete or steel slabs, or experiments. While the shuttles had more liftoff muscle than the Heavy, the all-time leaders in both size and might were NASA’s Saturn V rockets, which first flew astronauts to the moon in 1968. The Heavy is intended for massive satellites, like those used by the U.S. military and major-league communication companies. Even before the test flight, customers were signed up for the Falcon Heavy. At the convertible’s wheel is SpaceX’s “Starman,” a dummy in a white-and-black-trimmed spacesuit, and on the soundtrack is another nod to David Bowie: his 1969, pre-Apollo 11 song “Space Oddity,” featuring the memorable line “Ground Control to Major Tom.” SpaceX showed live shots of the car and "Starman" from onboard cameras, once the protective enclosure came off and the car was fully exposed. Not counting 3 Apollo moon buggies, the Tesla Roadster is the first automobile to speed right off the planet.




Stocks closed sharply higher on Wall Street after another turbulent day of steep ups and downs. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 567 points, or 2.3 percent, recouping nearly half of the 1,175-point plunge it took the day before. The index of 30 big-name U.S. companies ended up at 24,912. On its way there, the Dow took several harrowing turns during the day, opening with a plunge of 567 points — coincidentally, the exact same amount it wound up gaining at the closing bell. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 46 points, or 1.7 percent, to 2,695. The Nasdaq climbed 148, or 2.1 percent, to 7,115. Big drops Friday and Monday erased the Dow’s gains for the year. By Tuesday, it was once again slightly higher for 2018. The Dow is still up 21 percent over the past 12 months, and the S&P 500 is up 15 percent.




President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would “love” to see another government shutdown as Republicans and Democrats in Congress worked to reach a budget deal that would prevent federal agencies from having to close their doors this week. Trump said he would welcome a shutdown if a spending deal did not include changes to immigration laws, challenging Democrats on the issue that led to a three-day partial closure of government agencies last month. He spoke even as Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate said they were closing in on an agreement that could dramatically raise spending levels for both military and domestic programs and ensure that the government will keep operating when temporary spending expires on Thursday. The deal could potentially put an end to the brinkmanship over spending that has periodically roiled Washington and that resulted in funds running out for the government in January. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the agreement would include an increase for domestic programs like drug treatment and broadband infrastructure that Democrats have sought, as well as a military spending increase championed by Republicans.




The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Monday night to release Democrats' rebuttal to a GOP memo that accused the FBI and the Justice Department of improperly getting a secret court warrant to conduct surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Democrats harshly criticized the committee's Republican majority, and specifically Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), for releasing the GOP memo, which Democrats criticized as intentionally misleading. The Democratic document now goes to the White House. President Trump will have five days to decide whether to block its release. White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump "will consider" the Democratic memo just as he did the Republican one, which he allowed to be made public despite objections from the FBI.




President Trump's lawyers are urging him not to agree to a wide-ranging interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, The New York Times reported Monday, citing four people briefed on the matter. Trump has said publicly that he is eager to talk to Mueller to move past questions about Russia's election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. The president's lawyers, however, reportedly are concerned that he could make false or contradictory statements and be charged with lying to investigators. Attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow reportedly want Trump to avoid an interview and think Mueller won't subpoena him, but Ty Cobb wants Trump to cooperate and has been dealing with Mueller in trying to set up an interview.




A British judge on Tuesday upheld a U.K. arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, leaving him still a wanted man in the country where he has spent more than five years inside the Ecuadorean Embassy. The judge rejected a call from Assange’s lawyers for the warrant to be revoked because he is no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged sex crimes. It was issued in 2012 for jumping bail. The 46-year-old Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since he took refuge there in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors were investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women in 2010. Swedish prosecutors dropped the case last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden in the foreseeable future. But Assange was still subject to the British warrant for breaching his bail conditions in 2012. Assange's lawyer said his client has several serious health problems including depression and argued that the five and a half years he has spent inside the embassy were more than adequate punishment for his actions. He also cited a U.N. report in support of Assange. The judge said she would rule on those arguments Feb. 13.




Two former senior managers of the Vatican bank have been found liable for mismanagement and ordered to pay damages by the city state’s court. The ruling was the result of civil legal action launched by the bank in 2014, the year after the election of Pope Francis, who has prioritized cleaning up Vatican finances and breaking with the bank’s murky past. The spiritual home of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has been praised for making progress in financial regulation but urged to deal more aggressively with people suspected of crimes like money laundering and step up prosecutions. The bank, formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), did not give any details of the type of mismanagement or the value of the damages.




A tsunami alert sparked panic across the US after a test warning was sent to thousands of phones in error. Mobile users with the popular app AccuWeather received the alert for the US East Coast and beyond on Tuesday, claiming a tsunami warning was in effect. The National Weather Service, which was listed as the source in the alert, confirmed about half an hour later that it had issued a monthly test that some users received "as an actual tsunami warning". The incident comes less than a month since people in Hawaii were warned of an incoming missile, only for it be confirmed as a "false alarm" 38 minutes later. In a message on Twitter, AccuWeather said: "The National Weather Service Tsunami Warning this morning was a TEST. No Tsunami warning is in effect for the East Coast of the US." The National Weather Service tweeted: "THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING. A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have a TEST in the message.




John Mahoney, a prolific actor best known for playing the curmudgeonly father on Frasier (1993-2004), died in hospice care in Chicago on Sunday, his manager said Monday. He was 77. Mahoney, who moved to the U.S. from his native England at age 19, quit his job as a medical magazine editor and started acting full-time in his late 30s at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, after meeting co-founder John Malkovich in 1977. Along with his stage career, Mahoney's film credits include Moonstruck, The American President, In the Line of Fire, Tin Men, Reality Bites, and Say Anything, where he was the father of John Cusack's love interest. Mahoney's awards include a Tony and a SAG Award, along with two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations.

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