Three of North Korea top military leaders fired by Kim ahead of summit - That’s in the news on Monday June 4, 2018

4Jun

00:0000:00

North Korea reportedly shook up its military leadership ahead of the planned June 12 summit between the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump. The top three North Korean military officials were replaced. U.S. officials believe there was some dissension in the military about Kim’s approaches to South Korea and the United States. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that all three of the officials, all members of the aging Old Guard, were replaced by younger officials loyal to Kim, continuing a consolidation of power that has been ongoing since Kim took power in 2011. "All these [promoted] guys are top Kim Jong Un guys," according to Michael Madden, author of the highly respected North Korea Leadership Watch blog. He said, "All three of them have held very sensitive and high-level positions under Kim Jong Un, they're very loyal [to him], and all have experience interacting with foreign delegations."

 

 

 

A motorcycle suicide bomber killed 14 people near a gathering of Muslim clerics in the Afghan capital on Monday after they had issued a fatwa against suicide bombings. Officials said the bomb exploded at the entrance to a giant tent, near residential buildings in the west of Kabul. Seven clerics, four security officers, and three civilians died in the explosion. More than 2,000 religious scholars from across the country began meeting on Sunday at the Loya Jirga, or Grand Council tent, denouncing years of conflict. They issued a fatwa - a religious ruling - outlawing suicide bombings and demanding that Taliban militants restore peace to allow foreign troops to leave. The Taliban, fighting to restore strict Islamic rule after their 2001 ouster at the hands of U.S.-led troops, denied involvement. A series of bombings in Kabul has killed dozens of people in recent months and shown no sign of easing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

 

 

 

At least 48 migrants died and 67 were rescued when their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia on Sunday in one of the deadliest migrant boat accidents in recent years. Dozens more were missing. Traffickers have increasingly used Tunisia as a launching point for crafts carrying people trying to reach Europe from North Africa since Libya's coast guard has started cracking down. One survivor said the captain abandoned the boat to escape arrest after it started sinking with an estimated 180 migrants on board.

 

 

 

Guatemala's Volcán de Fuego, or "volcano of fire," erupted for the second time Sunday, blanketing nearby villages with heavy ash and killing at least 25 people. At least 20 others were hurt, and authorities said the toll could rise, as many people are still missing. Four of the people killed were in a house in El Rodeo village that was set on fire by lava that spewed from the volcano, and two children were killed as they watched the eruption from a bridge. Guatemala's disaster agency said about 3,100 people were evacuated from communities around the volcano. Ash reached Guatemala City, the capital, 27 miles away, as well as the colonial town of Antigua, a popular tourist destination.

 

 

 

Three people trapped by lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano were airlifted to safety Sunday. Nearly a dozen people were reported to have been cut off by "vigorous eruptions," according to Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency officials. They went through threatened neighborhoods earlier over the weekend warning people that they had to leave immediately or risk being stranded, but some chose to stay. The U.S. Geological Survey said lava had covered a total of 5.5 square miles. The eruption has gone on for four weeks, longer than eruptions in 1955 and 1924, and has destroyed at least 87 homes.

 

 

 

The Supreme Court is setting aside a Colorado court ruling against a baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The justices' ruled 7-2 on what the court described as anti-religious bias by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying it violated baker Jack Phillips' rights under the First Amendment. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only two who dissented. The same-sex couple at the heart of the case complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after Phillips told the couple he would not create a cake for their wedding. Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips’ refusal violated the law. Colorado state courts upheld the determination. But when the justices heard arguments in December, Kennedy said the commission seemed “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs." For the majority, Kennedy wrote, "The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion." The court is not deciding the big issue in the case, whether a business can simply refuse to serve gay and lesbian people, saying that issue "must await further elaboration."

 

 

 

President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Sunday defended a letter Trump's legal team sent to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office arguing that a president can't obstruct justice because he has the power to shut down any federal investigation at any time. Giuliani told The Huffington Post that even if Trump had shot former FBI Director James Comey, instead of firing him, Trump could be impeached but not prosecuted while in office. "In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted," Giuliani said. He told ABC's This Week that Trump probably could pardon himself, as his legal team suggested, but that Trump "has no intention" of doing that. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said there was "no way" Trump would pardon himself because he would be immediately impeached.

 

 

 

Many women with early-stage breast cancer can skip chemotherapy without reducing their chances of survival, a new study has found. The results rely on a genetic test that gauges risk by looking at a gene involved in recurrence of the disease. Up to 70,000 patients a year could safely avoid chemotherapy, the study indicates. These patients, whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes and is fueled by hormones, would still have to undergo surgery and hormone treatment. "The impact is tremendous," said study leader Dr. Joseph Sparano. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and other foundations, as well as with earnings from the breast cancer postage stamp.

 

 

 

Facebook reached agreements over the last decade to share access to user data with 60 device makers, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and Blackberry, The New York Times reported Sunday. Most of the partnerships remain in effect, although Facebook started winding them down in April after news reports revealed that now-defunct data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed tens of millions of Facebook users' private data. The partnerships allowed some device makers access to the personal information of users' friends, even if they had tried to bar sharing, the Times found. During the backlash over the Cambridge Analytica story, Facebook said it had cut off developers from accessing the information of users' friends in 2014, but it didn't disclose that it had exempted device makers.

 

 

 

Global airlines on Monday slashed their forecast for industry profits in 2018 on a spike in fuel costs, while warning higher interest rates and a host of geopolitical tensions would add to operating risks. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents about 280 carriers, said the industry is expected to post a $33.8 billion profit this year, 12 percent below a previous forecast of $38.4 billion. But according to the IATA, passenger yields - a proxy for airfares, are expected to rise by 3.2 percent this year, the first annual gain since 2011 as a stronger global economy drives growth in demand. The IATA expects an average oil price of $70 a barrel this year, up from $54.90 last year and its previous prediction of $60. Airline profits could cover the industry’s high cost of capital for a fourth year, attracting investment for new fleets and infrastructure. But IATA warned airlines were still operating on a knife-edge compared to many industries.

 

 

 

Microsoft has agreed to pay $7.5 billion in stock to acquire GitHub, giving it new inroads to more than 28 million software developers who use the popular software development platform and coding community. It’s the third-largest deal in Microsoft history, behind its $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn and $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype. Immediately upon announcing the deal, Microsoft sought to assure users that GitHub “will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries,” addressing concerns about the possibility of Microsoft using the acquisition to give itself an unfair advantage or change how GitHub operates. The news, announced Monday morning, requires regulatory approval.

Top North Korean aide to meet with President Trump at White House Friday - That’s in the news on Friday June 1, 2018

1Jun

00:0000:00

The U.S. military has held preliminary discussions about moving a powerful missile defense system to Germany to boost European defenses. That's according to a couple of sources familiar with the issue, who spoke with Reuters. Experts said the move could trigger fresh tensions with Moscow. The tentative proposal to send the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Europe predates President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and comes amid a broader push to strengthen Europe’s air and missile defenses. While Europe and the United States are at odds over the fate of the nuclear agreement, they share concerns about Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles. Iran’s Shahab 3 missiles can already travel 2,000 km, enough to reach southern Europe, and its Revolutionary Guards have said they will increase the range if threatened since the range is capped by strategic doctrine, not technology constraints. Washington does not need Germany’s permission to move such equipment under existing basing contracts, but the sources said a formal notification would be sent before any move to proceed.

 

 

 

A top aide to Kim Jong Un will make a rare visit to Washington Friday to hand a letter from the North Korean leader to President Donald Trump. This development comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported “good progress” in talks between the two sides to revive an on-again, off-again nuclear summit, telling reporters, “I am confident we are moving in the right direction.” Pompeo made the comments after meeting Thursday with former North Korean military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol. He said, “Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship, and it would be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste.” He would not say that the summit is a definite go for Singapore on June 12 and could not say if that decision would be made after Trump reads Kim Jong Un’s letter. However, his comments were the most positive from any U.S. official since Trump abruptly canceled the meeting last week after belligerent statements from the North. The two countries, eying the first summit between the U.S. and the North after six decades of hostility, have also been holding negotiations in Singapore and the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold military and Red Cross talks later this month on reducing tensions and resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The rivals also agreed at a meeting of senior officials at the border village of Panmunjom to establish a liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong and hold sports talks on fielding combined teams for some sports at the Asian Games in August, as they continue to take steps toward reconciliation. South Korea says building trust with North Korea is crucial amid a U.S.-led diplomatic push to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the Koreas agreed to set up the liaison office at a factory park in Kaesong that had been jointly operated by the countries until the South shut it down in February 2016 after a North Korean nuclear test. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Kim Jong Un twice in the past two months, has said progress in inter-Korean reconciliation will be a crucial part of international efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea because the North won’t give up its nuclear program unless it feels its security is assured.

 

 

 

Countries around the world fought back Friday against President Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, announcing retaliatory countermeasures and warning that the U.S. plan will hurt U.S. consumers. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement Friday that he told Trump in a phone call that the new U.S. tariffs on European, Mexican and Canadian goods are illegal and a “mistake.” The European Union and China said they will deepen ties on trade and investment as a result. Trump’s move makes good on his campaign promise to crack down on trading partners that he claims exploit poorly negotiated trade agreements to run up big trade surpluses with the United States. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the tariffs — 25 percent on imported steel, 10 percent on aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union — take effect Friday. The import duties threaten to drive up prices for American consumers and companies and are likely to heighten uncertainty for businesses and investors around the globe. Mexico complained that the tariffs will “distort international trade” and said it will penalize U.S. imports including pork, apples, grapes, cheeses and flat steel. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the tariffs were “totally unacceptable.” Canada announced plans to slap tariffs on $12.8 billion worth of U.S. products, ranging from steel to yogurt and toilet paper.

 

 

 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted from office on Friday, losing a no-confidence vote after two days of bitter debate in parliament. The vote was 180 to 169, with one abstention. Rajoy said he would accept the decision, adding that "it has been an honor to be the leader of Spain and to leave it in a better state than the one I found. I believe I have satisfied my responsibility, which is to improve the lives of Spaniards. If I have offended someone in my role I ask forgiveness." He will be replaced by a leader of the opposition Socialist Party. Rajoy survived high unemployment, a financial crisis, and a showdown over demands for independence in the Catalan region, but he lost his grip on power due to corruption scandals plaguing his Popular Party.

 

 

 

Italy's two leading populist groups, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant League, reached a deal to form a government on Thursday, reuniting after a split that roiled global markets. Days earlier, President Sergio Mattarella rejected the coalition cabinet over fears that the proposed finance minister would try to lead Italy, Europe's fourth-largest economy, out of the eurozone. Mattarella approved the new cabinet proposal. Before that, the political chaos had threatened to force early elections that could have turned into a Brexit-like referendum on whether Italy would split with the European Union. It was not immediately clear, however, to what degree the new government would ease the quarreling among Italy's political factions.

 

 

 

Congo said more than 680 people have received Ebola vaccinations in the three health zones where dozens of cases of the deadly virus have been confirmed. Experts are pushing to find contacts of those infected, having already located more than 1,000. Congo’s health ministry said nearly 500 people have been vaccinated in Mbandaka, the 1.2 million-population provincial capital of northwest Equateur province, since May 21. More than 110 have been vaccinated in rural Bikoro, where the outbreak began, and 70 in the even more remote Iboko. There have been 37 confirmed Ebola cases, including 12 deaths. There are another 13 probable cases, according to the health ministry. In an Ebola plan released this week by the World Health Organization, the U.N. health agency predicted there could be up to 300 cases in the coming months, noting there could be three times as many contacts to chase if the virus spreads in urban, as opposed to rural, areas. The WHO said the risk of spread to elsewhere in Africa was high but that the risk of global transmission was low.

 

 

 

Jobs growth in the United States was faster than expected in May, as employers added 223,000 positions. The unemployment rate fell further to 3.8%, having fallen to 3.9% the previous month, bringing the rate to an 18-year low. The average hourly pay of private sector workers increased 2.7% year-on-year, compared with 2.6% in April. Surveys of economists had predicted that there would be a gain of about 188,000 jobs in May. Analysts said the positive jobs data fuelled expectations that the central bank, the Federal Reserve, would raise interest rates at its next meeting later this month. The unemployment rate has not been this low since April 2000 and has already fulfilled the Fed's forecast of 3.8% by the end of 2018. All sectors of the US economy registered job gains. Construction added 25,000 jobs in May after notching up gains of 21,000 jobs in April. Manufacturing created another 18,000 jobs last month in addition to the 25,000 created in April. Revised data for March and April showed the economy adding 15,000 more jobs than previously thought. Economists had previously said bad weather was to blame for slower job growth over those two months.

 

 

 

Google has addressed an unusual glitch in its Search and Assistant apps that made text messages on smartphones appear when specific search terms were entered. Entering phrases including "the1975..com" into the apps made the phone display a person's text messages. The glitch was discovered by an Android user on Reddit, who described it as "the weirdest glitch I have come by". Google told the BBC it was a "language detection bug" that was being fixed. Certain phrases were "erroneously interpreted as a request to view recent text messages". The company said the app could only display text messages if it had been given permission to do so, and it had implemented a fix that would be distributed within a few days.

 

 

 

US teenagers are ditching Facebook in favor of platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. That's according to a Pew Research Center study, which indicated only 51% use Facebook. That's a 20 percentage point drop since 2015 when Pew Research last surveyed teens' social media habits. Most of those aged 13 to 17 own or have access to a smartphone, with 45% online on a near-constant basis. YouTube has stolen Facebook's former dominance over teens, with 85% of them preferring the video-sharing platform. Second and third top social media services among teens are now Instagram at 72% and Snapchat at 69%. The numbers of teens who use Twitter (32%) and Tumblr (14%) are largely unchanged compared to the results found in 2015. While Facebook may have lost its reign among the teenage demographic to Google-owned YouTube, it does own the rising favorite Instagram, a photo and video-sharing networking service it purchased in 2012.

Int’l court rules Lithuania & Romania hosted CIA prisons. Detainees were held illegally - That’s in the news on Thursday May 31, 2018

31May

00:0000:00

Lithuania and Romania hosted secret CIA prisons a decade ago and their authorities were aware that detainees were held there illegally. That's according to a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday. Washington has acknowledged it held al Qaeda suspects in jails outside U.S. jurisdiction, but it has not provided a full list of locations. Neither Romania and Lithuania has publicly acknowledged letting the CIA hold prisoners on its soil. The Strasburg-based court said Lithuania hosted a CIA jail between February 2005 and March 2006 and Romania between September 2003 and November 2005. That contravened the European Human Rights Convention which prohibits torture, illegal detention, and the death penalty. The court said Lithuania and Romania should launch full investigations into their roles in the rendition program and punish any officials responsible. The cases were filed on behalf of detainees currently held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

 

 

 

Top American and North Korean officials are holding a full day of meetings in New York on Thursday aimed at deciding whether a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can be salvaged. Ahead of the meetings, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the North’s former military intelligence chief, Kim Yong Chol, had dinner Wednesday night. Kim had flown in from Beijing and Pompeo from Washington. It’s the highest-level official North Korean visit to the United States in 18 years. During his unusual visit, Kim had dinner for about an hour and a half with Pompeo. The two planned a “day full of meetings” Thursday, the White House said. Their talks will be aimed at determining whether a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, originally scheduled for June 12 but later canceled by Trump, can be restored, U.S. officials have said.

 

 

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un complained of “U.S. hegemonism” to Russia’s visiting foreign minister on Thursday, a comment likely to complicate ties with the United States as plans proceed for Kim’s expected summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore next month. Kim told Sergey Lavrov that he hopes to boost cooperation with Russia, which has remained largely on the sidelines in recent months as Kim has made a major diplomatic outreach to the United States as well as to South Korea and China. Since January, Kim has significantly toned down his rhetoric against Washington and Seoul and tried to reach out to them following a year of heightened nuclear tensions that saw increased fears of war on the Korean Peninsula. Lavrov’s visit to Pyongyang suggests that Russia wants to become involved and make sure North Korea informs it of its intentions and is mindful of Moscow’s concerns.

 

 

 

Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened to attack a region held by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, saying in an interview broadcast on Russia Today channel on Thursday that American troops should leave the country. The remarks reflect that despite pressure on multiple fronts, Assad is seeking to consolidate control after seven years of civil war. With military backing from Russia and Iran, he has reclaimed most of the territory lost to rebels in the wake of the popular uprising that swept the country in 2011 and quickly descended into all-out civil war. But large patches of territory remain beyond his control, including the expansive region north of the Euphrates River that is administered by the Syrian Kurds. Forces loyal to Assad and the Syrian Kurds have clashed sporadically over the eastern oil province of Deir el-Zour. Last year, they led rival campaigns against the Islamic State group, and maintain a protracted front against each other along the Euphrates. The United States, which supports the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, operates air bases and outposts in the Kurdish-administered region.

 

 

 

Ukraine on Thursday defended the action of its state security services in faking the death of a Russian dissident journalist after international criticism, saying the bizarre ruse had been essential for protecting him. Ukraine revealed on Wednesday that it had stage-managed the fake murder of Arkady Babchenko, a critic of the Kremlin who they said had been targeted by hit-men hired by Russia, in order to trace a trail back to Russia and expose plans for his, and other, state-sponsored assassinations. But some criticized the incident, which involved the phony distribution of lurid details about his shooting and photographs showing him apparently lying in a pool of blood, as a stunt in poor taste which had sparked a false outpouring of grief and finger-pointing at Russia. Some said the operation had hurt Kiev’s credibility and played to Russian prejudices about Ukraine. Michael Carpenter, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, wrote on Twitter that “the cost in terms of the credibility of gov institutions is huge. Russia will exploit the hell out of this.” President Petro Poroshenko was among those who defended the ruse. In a video showing him greeting Babchenko, he said: “I am absolutely convinced there was no other way. You’re a great guy.”

 

 

 

Federal bank regulators released a plan to ease the Volcker Rule, which bars banks from making risky trades for their own profit with customers' money. The Federal Reserve and other regulators said the rule, part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, would remain in place in spirit, but that the government would simplify regulations to make it easier for banks to comply and for the government to enforce it. The proposed changes would impose the toughest restrictions on 18 banks that do the most trading while applying less stringent requirements on other institutions. At a Fed governors' meeting, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said, "Our goal is to replace overly complex and inefficient requirements with a more streamlined set of requirements."

 

 

 

Barring an unlikely last-minute deal, President Trump will follow through with his threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union by Friday. The 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and a 10 percent levy on aluminum will likely be met by swift retaliatory EU tariffs on motorcycles, bourbon, peanut butter, orange juice, and other exports from America, as well as further damage already raw U.S.-European relations. In late April, Trump delayed the tariffs on the EU, Canada, and Mexico until June 1 to allow space for trade negotiations, but his envoys are frustrated that the EU isn't offering concessions. Trump is not expected to slap the tariffs on Canada and Mexico this week

 

 

 

India’s offer to sell a stake in Air India failed to draw a single bid by the Thursday deadline, underlining the challenges it faces in fixing the debt-laden state carrier and meeting a broader target of stake sales in government-held firms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced a plan in March to divest a 76 percent stake in Air India and offload about $5.1 billion of its debt. Selling the state carrier had been seen as key to Modi’s plans to divest assets and help keep India's fiscal deficit at 3.3 percent of GDP, a goal already under pressure from giveaways to farmers and other welfare benefits ahead of a national election in 2019. Air India, known for its Maharaja mascot, has some of India’s most lucrative international and domestic landing and parking slots that are key for airlines. While a buyer would have got management control and gained access to more than 2,500 international slots and over 3,700 domestic slots, it would also have been required to take on Air India’s 27,000 employees, 40 percent of whom are permanent staff.

 

 

 

Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank will spend $2.25 billion for a nearly a 20 percent stake in General Motors’ autonomous vehicle unit. GM said Thursday that it will also sink another $1.1 billion into its GM Cruise automated division. The capital infusion is designed to speed large-scale deployment of self-driving robotaxis next year. The move widens the SoftBank Vision Fund’s influence in ride-hailing services. The fund closed a deal in January to spend about $9 billion for a 15 percent stake in Uber and also owns a stake in China’s top ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing. GM has announced plans to carry passengers in self-driving cars that won’t have a backup driver in 2019, and CEO Mary Barra said the investment would help to speed that process. The company hasn’t announced where or exactly when the service will begin. GM Cruise would remain a wholly owned subsidiary of GM with the automaker holding roughly 80 percent of the business. The deal is expected to close by the end of June. The announcement sent shares of GM stock soaring on early Thursday trading.

 

 

 

Denmark joined some other European countries in deciding Thursday to ban garments that cover the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa. In a 75-30 vote with 74 absentees, Danish lawmakers approved the law presented by the center-right governing coalition. The government says that it is not aimed at any religions and does not ban headscarves, turbans or the traditional Jewish skull cap. However, the law is popularly known as the “Burqa Ban” and is mostly seen as being directed at the dress worn by some conservative Muslim women. Few Muslim women in Denmark wear full-face veils. Justice Minister Soeren Pape Poulsen said that it will be up to police officers to use their “common sense” when they see people violating the law that enters into force Aug. 1. The law allows people to cover their face when there is a “recognizable purpose” like cold weather or complying with other legal requirements, such as using motorcycle helmets under Danish traffic rules. First-time offenders risk a fine of 1,000 kroner ($156). Repeat offenses could trigger fines of up to 10,000 kroner or a jail sentence of up to six months. Anyone forcing a person to wear garments covering the face by using force or threats can be fined or face up to two years in prison. Austria, France, and Belgium have similar laws. Louise Holck of the Danish Institute for Human Rights told TV2 television, if it turns out to focus only on women in the niqab or burqa, it could amount to discrimination against a minority group and hence be against the law,

Journalist “killed” in Kremlin hit plot shows up alive at news conference - That’s in the news Wednesday May 30, 2018

30May

00:0000:00

A Russian journalist who was reportedly gunned down in Ukraine’s capital, strolled into a news conference that authorities called Wednesday to discuss the investigation of his death, revealing that the slaying had been staged to foil an alleged Kremlin hit plot. 41-year-old Arkady Babchenko told fellow reporters, "I’m still alive." The movie-like twist came as authorities convened the news conference to announce they had solved Babchenko’s reported slaying, but then confused everyone present by inviting the supposed victim into the room. General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who appeared alongside Babchenko, said it was necessary to fake the journalist’s death so that the organizers of the plot to kill him would believe they had succeeded. Babchenko, one of Russia’s best-known war reporters, fled the country in February 2017 after receiving death threats. He spoke and wrote about leaving the country because of the threats against him and his family. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine were topics on which the journalist was scathingly critical of the Kremlin. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was happy Babchenko had turned out to be alive after all but said Ukraine has used his story as propaganda.

 

 

Islamic State militants, including two suicide bombers, dressed in military uniforms and riding in two armored vehicles launched a surprise attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Wednesday but Afghan forces managed to repel the assault, leaving all the attackers dead. The attack began around noon when a group of 10 militants, dressed in military uniforms, tried to storm the ministry compound in Kabul. Two of the attackers detonated their explosives, allowing eight others to pass through an outer gate at the ministry where they traded fire with security forces before they were eventually killed. One policeman was killed and five others were wounded in the assault. Investigators said it wasn’t immediately clear how the militants managed to penetrate so close to such a high-security location. Last year, the Interior Ministry moved into a new building, surrounded by numerous security barriers. It is close to the Kabul international airport and several military compounds.

 

 

 

The top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan says some Taliban fighters and leaders are talking to the Afghan government about peace prospects. Gen. John Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday that he could not be more specific about this because the talks are confidential. He said they involve mid-level as well as high-level Taliban figures in exploratory contacts that are taking place “off stage,” even as fighting continues. In what he suggested was evidence of interest in a peace process, Nicholson said the Taliban’s spring offensive, announced in late April, has been less intense than in recent years. He also argued that Afghan government forces are demonstrating an improved ability to defeat Taliban attacks.

 

 

 

Hamas said Wednesday it had agreed to a cease-fire with Israel in Gaza to halt the biggest outburst of violence between them since 2014. Israel's military struck dozens of militant targets in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory overnight as militants fired rockets at communities in southern Israel early Wednesday before a tense calm took hold. Tensions have been high along the border in recent weeks as Palestinians protested an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took power in 2007. Israeli fire, mostly during the Hamas-led protests, killed more than 110 Palestinians. "If it will be quiet, we will respond with quiet," Israeli Cabinet minister Arieh Deri said.

 

 

 

ABC on Tuesday canceled Roseanne, the popular reboot of the 1990s sitcom, after the show's biggest star, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist "joke" on Twitter in reference to former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett, who is black. Barr apologized, saying her remark was in "bad taste." She later asked fans not to defend her or boycott ABC, calling her comments "indefensible." "It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien tweeting," she said. ABC called her tweet "abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values." Before ABC's announcement, one of the show's actors, Emma Kenney, and consulting producer Wanda Sykes had decided to quit. Barr's talent agency, ICM Partners, also dropped her. In a statement, Wednesday, the manufacturer of the sleep drug Ambien said: "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect."

 

 

 

Harvey Weinstein declined Wednesday to testify before the New York grand jury that is weighing whether to indict him on rape and other sex charges. His lawyers said there wasn’t enough time to prepare and “political pressure” made an indictment unavoidable. A statement issued through a Weinstein spokesman said the former movie mogul learned the specific charges and the accusers’ identities only after turning himself in Friday, with a deadline set for Wednesday afternoon to testify or not. Weinstein faces rape and criminal sex act charges involving two women in New York. Dozens more women have accused him of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault in various locales. He has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex, and his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said Tuesday that Weinstein was “confident he’s going to clear his name” in the New York prosecution.

 

 

 

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) announced his resignation on Tuesday after facing months of pressure over two scandals, one about non-consensual sexual activity and invasion of privacy, and the other about illegal campaign practices. Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, admitted to an extramarital but denied his former lover's allegation that he took a nude photo of her without her permission, and threatened to use it to blackmail her. Prosecutors dropped an invasion of privacy charge just before that trial was scheduled to start in May. Separately, Greitens was indicted in St. Louis for allegedly illegally obtaining a donor list from a veterans' charity he founded and using it for his 2016 campaign. State lawmakers had convened in a special session to start considering evidence that could have led to Greitens' impeachment.

 

 

 

President Trump on Wednesday signed legislation that would help people with deadly diseases try experimental treatments. Trump signed the Right to Try bill, calling it a “fundamental freedom” that will provide hope and save lives. The bill cleared the House last week following an emotional debate in which Republicans said it would help thousands of people in search of hope. Many Democrats said the measure was dangerous and would give patients false hope. The measure gives people diagnosed with life-threatening conditions who have exhausted treatment options access to unproven drugs without needing permission from the Food and Drug Administration. Trump embraced the plan during his State of the Union address, saying people who are terminally ill shouldn’t have to leave the country to seek cures. Trump also said he expects major drug companies to cut prices on their products, but did not provide details.

 

 

 

China said it is reducing import duties on washing machines, cosmetics, and some other consumer goods amid U.S. pressure to narrow its multibillion-dollar trade surplus. Beijing is in the midst of talks with Washington on possible measures to narrow its trade surplus by increasing imports. This announcement comes as the White House announced Tuesday that it would go ahead with imposing a 25 percent tariff on certain Chinese goods next month. Some $50 billion worth of annual imports would be targeted. The Trump administration said it also plans to restrict China's access to American technology due to national security concerns. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will travel to China to continue talks in early June.

 

 

 

A wireless update of antilock braking software improved the stopping distance of Tesla’s electric Model 3, prompting Consumer Reports to reverse course and give the car its “Recommended Buy” rating. The magazine said Wednesday that the update cut 19 feet off the car’s stopping distance from 60 miles per hour. A previous test — the results of which were released a little more than a week ago — found that it took 152 feet for the Model S compact car to stop from 60, the longest braking distance of any modern car the magazine has tested. The improved braking raised the car’s score high enough for it to receive the coveted recommendation. On Twitter Wednesday, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk wrote that he appreciates the “high-quality critical feedback” from Consumer Reports. According to Tesla, the software update was done either via the car’s cellular connection or a wireless internet link, depending on how the owner configures the car.

Full speed ahead as U.S.-North Korea summit preparations continue - That’s in the news on Tuesday May 29, 2018

29May

00:0000:00

A knife-wielding man stabbed two female police officers in the Belgian city of Liege, stole their handguns, then shot them and a bystander dead in an attack Tuesday that prosecutors believe is an act of terrorism. Four other police officers were also injured in the attack that happened near a cafe in the city center. Investigators said the man followed and "savagely" attacked the officers from behind with a knife before taking a gun from them and opening fire. He also shot and killed a 22-year-old man who was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car as he walked in the direction of a nearby school, where he briefly took a female member of the school staff hostage. Police ended up shooting and killing the man. Investigators said the incident is being treated as terrorism because the killer was heard shouting "Allahu Akbar" which is Arabic for "God is greatest". News reports indicate the killer was let out from prison on temporary release on Monday where he had been serving time on drug offenses and may have been radicalized while in jail. Despite the attack, Belgium’s crisis center said it saw no reason to raise the country’s terror threat alert for now.

 

 

 

Israeli jets on Tuesday bombed targets in the Gaza Strip hours after militants from the territory fired more than 25 mortar shells toward communities in southern Israel in what appeared to be the largest single barrage since the 2014 war. The Israeli military said no one was hurt and that most of the shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, though one landed near a kindergarten shortly before it opened. The high volume of projectiles came as tensions have been running high in recent weeks following the deaths of over 100 Palestinians from Israeli fire during mass protests along the border. Israel says it holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for the bloodshed. Following the barrage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel will exact a heavy price from those who seek to harm it, and we see Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks." Shortly after that warning, Israeli jets began dropping bombs on what security officials in Gaza said was an Islamic Jihad militant training site.

 

 

 

A senior North Korean official is headed to New York for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the latest indication that an on-again-off-again summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader may go ahead next month. Trump said in a Twitter post on Tuesday. “Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more". The White House said Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and formerly head of a top North Korean military intelligence agency, will meet with Pompeo later this week. Kim will be the most senior North Korean official to visit the U.S. since 2000. The North Korean envoy was scheduled to fly to the U.S. on Wednesday after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing. The talks show that planning for the unprecedented summit, initially scheduled for June 12, is moving ahead. Trump called off his potentially historic meeting with Kim last week, citing recent angry statements by North Korean officials.

 

 

 

Japan on Tuesday said it had detected what appeared to be a Chinese-flagged vessel, 350 km off the coast near Shanghai, conducting illegal transfers to a North Korean ship. A Japanese P-3 maritime patrol plane detected the vessels, which lay alongside each other connected by hoses, on May 19, with one of the ships flying what seemed like a Chinese flag, it said. China has repeatedly said it is fully enforcing U.N. sanctions against North Korea and it would punish any Chinese company breaking them. Japan is urging the United States and other countries to stick to a strict imposition of U.N. sanctions on North Korea until it abandons the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. In April, the U.N. Security Council blacklisted dozens of ships and shipping companies over oil and coal smuggling by North Korea, including five based in China. The vessels are subject to a global port ban and must be deregistered.

 

 

 

Subtropical Storm Alberto made landfall near Laguna Beach, Florida, on Monday afternoon, with its maximum winds dropping to 45 mph in the hours before it hit. The National Hurricane Center said there was heavy rainfall and flash flooding in parts of the Florida Panhandle, and north into the Carolinas. Two journalists with the NBC affiliate WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina, were killed in North Carolina when a tree fell on their vehicle while they were driving in an area where a woman was killed in a mudslide during heavy rains a week earlier. Alberto is weakening further as it heads north, pushing more heavy rains into Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Alabama early Tuesday. Meanwhile, authorities say investigators have been notified that the body of an adult male has been found by searchers scouring the Patapsco River in Ellicott City, Maryland. It was not immediately clear if it was 39-year-old Eddison Hermond, the one person reported missing following the torrential rains that prompted destructive flash flooding in the historic town. Police say the man was last seen early Sunday evening trying to help a woman rescue her cat behind a restaurant while floodwaters surged through the downtown region. Ellicott City was hit with similar flooding that killed two people two years ago. Many stores and other buildings that had just been restored after the previous flash flood were severely damaged again.

 

 

 

A university study has concluded that Hurricane Maria likely killed more than 4,600 people in Puerto Rico, which is more than 70 times the official toll. Harvard University researchers estimate a third of deaths after September's hurricane were due to interruptions in medical care caused by power cuts and broken road links. The Puerto Rico government said it "always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported". The official death toll stands at 64, but experts say an accurate count was complicated by the widespread devastation wreaked by the storm. Carlos Mercader from Puerto Rico's Federal Affairs Administration said he welcomed the Harvard survey and added that Puerto Rico authorities had also commissioned George Washington University to study the number of deaths and these findings would be released soon. He said, "Both studies will help us better prepare for future natural disasters and prevent lives from being lost."

 

 

 

The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing Arkansas to put in effect restrictions on how abortion pills are administered, and critics say that state law could effectively end medication abortions in the state. The nine justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting an appeal from the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Arkansas that asked the court to review an appeals court ruling and reinstate a lower court order that had blocked the law from taking effect. The law says doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications. Planned Parenthood said it would move quickly for emergency relief in the lower court, saying the ruling effectively makes Arkansas the first state in the country to ban medication abortions, using drugs that effectively create conditions similar to a miscarriage. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 legalized abortion nationwide, but many Republican-governed states have passed laws seeking to impose a variety of restrictions, some so demanding that they may shut down abortion clinics and make the procedure far more difficult to obtain.

 

 

 

Bayer won U.S. antitrust approval for its planned takeover of Monsanto on condition that it sells about $9 billion in assets, clearing a major hurdle for the $62.5 billion deal. The divestiture required by U.S. antitrust enforcers “aligns closely” with divestitures the European Union required. In agreements with global antitrust enforcers, Bayer committed to sell its entire cotton, canola, soybean and vegetable seeds businesses and digital farming business, as well its Liberty herbicide, which competes with Monsanto’s Roundup. The German pharmaceuticals and life sciences company had said it was on track to wrap up the deal soon. If it is not closed by June 14, Monsanto could withdraw from the takeover agreement and seek a higher price. Bayer has already secured the go-ahead from key jurisdictions, including the European Union, Brazil, and Russia. A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department said the asset sales agreed to by Bayer were the “largest ever divestiture ever required by the United States.” Apart from the United States, it still needs clearance in Canada and Mexico.

 

 

 

Starbucks is closing more than 8,000 U.S. stores for a few hours Tuesday to conduct anti-bias training in the company’s latest effort to deal with the fallout over the arrest of two black men at one of its shops in Philadelphia. After the incident last month, the coffee chain’s leaders apologized and met with the men but also scheduled an afternoon of training for 175,000 employees. Developed with feedback from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Perception Institute and other advocacy groups, the four-hour session was designed to give workers a primer on the history of civil rights from the 1960s to the present day. The agenda included a short documentary film. Starbucks has not said how much the training will cost the company or how much money it expects to lose from closing the stores early. The training was not mandatory, but the company expects almost all of its employees to participate. It said the workers will be paid for the full four hours.

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