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The 25 Best Small Towns in America

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 09:00

The bushfires in Australia are so big they're generating their own weather — 'pyrocumulonimbus' thunderstorms that can start more fires

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 08:47

The "front" between the calm air outside the fire zone and the stormcloud is so sharp that it can generate lightning — and that can start new fires.

Officials: Hanukkah attack suspect researched Hitler online

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 08:32

A man charged with federal hate crimes Monday in a bloody attack on a Hanukkah celebration had handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic references and had recently used his phone to look up information on Hitler and the location of synagogues, authorities said. Grafton Thomas, 37, was held without bail after appearing in federal court in White Plains on five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon. Five people were stabbed and slashed in the Saturday attack north of New York City.

‘He’ll claim it was a witch hunt’: Democrats fear Trump will be ‘emboldened’ if he survives impeachment trial

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 07:46

Democratic senators are worried Donald Trump will be emboldened if he survives the upcoming impeachment trial and will use an acquittal as momentum for his 2020 re-election campaign.Sixty-seven votes are needed to convict and remove the president from office but that result seems unlikely in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Mr Trump’s party holds a 53-47 majority.

Kremlin says Putin called Trump to thank him for information that thwarted terrorist attack

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 07:44

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked President Trump over the phone Sunday for information that helped thwart a terrorist attack, the Kremlin says.The Kremlin released a statement saying that Putin "thanked Donald Trump for the information transmitted through the channels of U.S. special services that has helped thwart terrorist acts in Russia."While further details were not provided, The New York Times notes that Russia's Federal Security Service told Russian media it detained two suspects who were allegedly preparing a New Year's Eve attack in St. Petersburg. Russia's news agencies reported that materials were seized from the suspects and that "information about the preparation of the crime was provided by U.S. intelligence," The Wall Street Journal reports.In December 2017, Putin similarly thanked Trump for information that helped thwart a planned attack in St. Petersburg, the Times notes.Putin and Trump on Sunday also discussed a "range of issues of mutual interest and agreed to continue bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism," the Kremlin said, but the White House has yet to comment on the call.More stories from Giants, Browns fire head coaches on otherwise quiet 'Black Monday' The White House always knew Trump's order to freeze Ukraine aid could blow up, New York Times details The best headlines of 2019

Russia warns Iran nuclear deal in danger of 'falling apart'

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 07:29

Iran's nuclear deal with world powers is in danger of “falling apart" without the compliance of the United States and the European Union, Russia's foreign minister warned Monday after meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Moscow. The 2015 deal between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. The U.S. withdrew from the accord last year and imposed crippling economic sanctions that block Iran from selling crude oil abroad.

I went to Ireland's bizarre Barack Obama-themed service station, complete with a museum and statues that make it as otherworldly as it sounds

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 05:43

Barack Obama Plaza is a service station branded after the former the US president after he visited the local town of Moneygall, home of his ancestor.

Chinese doctor who claimed first genetically edited baby is jailed for three years and handed heavy fine

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 05:40

A Chinese scientist who set off an ethical debate with claims that he had made the world's first genetically edited babies was sentenced Monday to three years in prison because of his research, state media said. He Jiankui, who was convicted of practicing medicine without a license, was also fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) by a court in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, China's official Xinhua News Agency said. Two other researchers involved in the project received lesser sentences and fines. Zhang Renli was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 1 million yuan. Qin Jinzhou received an 18-month sentence, but with a two-year reprieve, and a 500,000 yuan fine. Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on November 28, 2018.  Credit: AFP He, the lead researcher, shocked the scientific world when he announced in November 2018 that he had altered the embryos of twin girls who had been born the same month. He described his work in exclusive interviews with The Associated Press. The announcement sparked a global debate over the ethics of gene editing. He said he had used a tool called CRISPR to try to disable a gene that allows the AIDS virus to enter a cell, in a bid to give the girls the ability to resist the infection. The identity of the girls has not been released, and it isn't clear if the experiment succeeded. The CRISPR tool has been tested elsewhere in adults to treat diseases, but many in the scientific community denounced He's work as medically unnecessary and unethical, because any genetic changes could be passed down to future generations. The U.S. forbids editing embryos except for lab research. Targeted genome editing | What does it all mean? He told the AP in 2018 that he felt a strong responsibility to make an example, and that society would decide whether to allow the practice to go forward. He disappeared from public view shortly after he announced his research at a conference in Hong Kong 13 months ago, apparently detained by authorities initially in an apartment in Shenzhen. The Xinhua report, citing the court's verdict, said the researchers were involved in the births of three gene-edited babies to two women, confirming reports of a third baby. The court said the three researchers had not obtained qualification as doctors to practice medicine, pursued fame and profits, deliberately violated Chinese regulations on scientific research and crossed an ethical line in both scientific research and medicine. It also said they had fabricated ethical review documents. He studied in the U.S. before setting up a lab at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong province that borders Hong Kong. The verdict accused him of colluding with Zhang and Qin, who worked at medical institutes in the same province.

Swiss Embassy worker detained in Sri Lanka gets bail

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 05:04

A Sri Lankan Court on Monday granted bail to a Swiss Embassy employee who was detained pending charges that she made statements to create disaffection toward the government and fabricated evidence. Before her arrest, the employee, a Sri Lankan national, had reportedly said she was abducted, held for hours, sexually assaulted and threatened by captors who demanded that she disclose embassy-related information. Sri Lankan authorities have said they investigated her complaint but found no evidence to file charges against anyone.

Australian Jews decry Israeli health minister's appointment

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 04:54

Australia's Jewish community has slammed an Israeli government decision to promote to the post of health minister a legislator who is suspected of aiding an alleged sexual abuser wanted in Australia. The Israeli government on Sunday appointed Yaacov Litzman as health minister, sparking a litany of condemnations from Australia's staunchly pro-Israel Jewish community. In an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeremy Leibler, the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, called the decision "a slap in the face to the Australian Jewish community, the Australian people," as well as to the survivors of the alleged abuse.

Mexican Police Chief Arrested in Mormon Massacre Case

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 04:47

CALI, Colombia—A municipal police chief in northern Mexico has been arrested for an alleged role in the deaths of three women and six children—all dual U.S.-Mexican citizens—on November 4.Fidel Alejandro Villegas, aka El Chiquilín (The Kid), is the police chief of Janos, Chihuahua. The municipality borders the U.S. and sits about 105 miles across the state line from the site of the massacre in neighboring Sonora. It’s also on the same route the families had planned to travel on the day they were ambushed.Why the Drug War Can’t Be Won—Cartel Corruption Goes All the Way to the TopThe victims were members of the LeBaron and Langford clans, which are part of a breakaway sect of Mormons long established in both Chihuahua and Sonora. Villegas, who was detained on Thursday, is now awaiting trial in Mexico City. He is the fifth person to be arrested as part of an investigation that has at times seemed scattershot, since the other suspects have all been picked up under questionable circumstances. Mexican federal officials claim the mothers and children were accidental victims in a turf war between rival crime groups. And prosecutors allege Villegas is tied to one of those groups, called La Línea, which is the armed enforcement wing of the Juárez Cartel and has a strong presence in Janos. Surviving members of the Mormon families reject the official “accident hypothesis” and claim they were targeted deliberately  on a remote stretch of highway last month, and family spokesperson Julián LeBaron says he was less than surprised by the alleged involvement of a high-level police officer in the region.“The entire northwest [of Mexico] has a reputation that all police officers work for organized crime,” he said in an interview with Aristegui News, shortly after Villegas’ arrest. “And that's what high school kids tell you. It’s not a mystery.”* * *‘ENDEMIC’ CORRUPTION* * *Villegas’ detention raises as many questions as it answers. How was a police chief from a jurisdiction more than a hundred miles away from the crime scene, and in another state, actually involved? So far authorities have released scant details.Robert Bunker, an expert on international security at the University of Southern California, told The Daily Beast that corruption among security forces in Mexico has “metastasized over decades” to the point where it is “endemic.” The most infamous case of cops working with organized crime was the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero state in September 2014, when police and soldiers allegedly teamed up with cartel sicarios to do away with the victims.Bunker noted that a law officer like Chief Chiquilín Villegas could have provided “departmental resources—vehicles, uniforms, intelligence, weapons or even personnel—to help facilitate the ambushes.” Another possibility, as Bunker noted, is that the investigation of Police Chief Villegas will be used to expose people who have “more intimate knowledge of the cartel and its operations.”Emmanuel Gallardo, an independent Mexican journalist who specializes in organized crime, agrees. “They’re going to investigate his bank accounts and his financial history for evidence of bribes and paybacks and where they might have come from.”A similar background investigation led to another high-profile arrest earlier this month, when Genaro García Luna, the central government's former National Security Minister and mastermind of the country’s ongoing Drug War, was arrested by U.S. authorities on charges of conspiring with the Sinaloa Cartel.“First Luna and now Chiquilín,” Gallardo said. “This shows again the relationship the cartels have with the state. We cannot think of Mexican authorities and organized crime as separate entities. They are part of the same problem, part of the same world.” “This is why Mexicans are frustrated. Why they are afraid,” Gallardo said. “When a violent crime happens you can’t go to the police because there is a high probability the same cops who are listening to your complaint are working with drug traffickers and assassins. This is the reason that 98 percent of homicides go unsolved in Mexico.”* * *TORTURE, DEATH THREATS, STARVATION* * *Added to the persistent failure to nail the killers is the equally persistent inclination of authorities to round up “the usual suspects,” then let them go. The first man arrested in the LeBaron case, just two days after the shooting, already has been released. Three other men were rolled up in Janos the first week of December, amid government claims that they were high-ranking members of La Línea. But protests erupted after friends and family members claimed the men had been framed. Janos Mayor Sebastián Efraín Pineda also backed the families, telling news outlets he knew the arrestees personally and that “they’re not criminal leaders.” In that incident, authorities stand accused by the families of planting evidence and of trying to force confessions from the detained suspects.“Scapegoating to create guilty parties” remains a frequent problem in Mexico, journalist Gallardo said, citing the case of French national Florence Cassez, who was imprisoned for seven years in Mexico on trumped up kidnapping charges before judges overturned her sentence.“They can make you confess with several techniques,” said Gallardo. These including physical torture, death threats to loved ones, even starvation. “This is not like the States, where you can complain of human rights abuses. Here they can torture with impunity. They know how to push prisoners to say anything they want them to say,” Gallardo said. After the LeBaron killings, which made headlines around the world, the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is “throwing suspects at the problem as it engages in damage control,” said USC’s Bunker. “At this level of Mexican politics it is not about getting the perpetrators or championing the rule of law—it is about making the problem go away as quickly as possible.” * * *AN ALL-OUT CARTEL WAR* * *Whatever comes of Chiquilín’s involvement—or the lack thereof—the killing of those nine women and children continues to cause ripples throughout the Mexican underworld.The area of eastern Sonora where the attack took place is said to be controlled by a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel under the rule of Iván Guzmán, 36, and Alfredo Guzmán, 30. These two sons of jailed kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán are known collectively as Los Chapitos. The other principal bloc of the Sinaloa Cartel is dominated by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a shadowy figure often referred to as “El Capo de Capos,” the Boss of Bosses, due to his power and longevity.As The Daily Beast reported shortly after the massacre, Zambada was none too happy about the bad publicity and the major heat brought down on the supposedly sovereign territory of the Sinaloa Cartel. The tension between El Mayo and Los Chapitos has continued to worsen, and could result in Mayo taking over the whole outfit from the Guzmán family.A source within one of the cartels that operate in the area, who agreed to speak only under condition of anonymity, described El Mayo as “an old-school man with Old Testament laws,” who has little time for the “Narco Juniors’” seeming frivolity. “A couple of weeks ago the little Chapo boys were supposed to attend a meeting [with Mayo] on the mountain. They were ‘too busy to go.’”Yet they have “plenty of time to post on Facebook about cars and pictures of money,” the source said, and added the Chapitos were “too impressed” with their position to be good bosses due to their “immaturity.”“They are getting weaker every day,” he said.Reporter Gallardo agreed with that assessment, saying: “El Mayo is respected. The Chapitos are young and spoiled.” Gallardo added that their growing vulnerability could have far-reaching consequences, in part due to a botched and bloody attempt to arrest two other, younger Guzmán brothers this fall. “The eyes of the federal government and of Washington are on them all now,” he said. “They can handle local authorities, but not the White House [or] joint operations with the DEA.”If Mayo, sensing weakness and ineptitude, moved against the younger faction, Gallardo said, the Chapitos “would just be killed. El Mayo has more resources and experience.” However, conflict like that could bleed both sides, and “open the door for other groups to move in and start taking over their territory,” including arch rivals like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and La Línea’s parent group, the Juárez Cartel. Smelling blood, such enemies “would move in like hyenas,” touching off a kill-or-be-killed conflict between high-powered, paramilitary gangs, resulting in even higher levels of civilian deaths and collateral damage.“The last thing the Mexican government wants,” Gallardo said, “is an all-out cartel war.” But the savage murder of those women and children on a lonely road in northern Mexico could lead to exactly that.Trump Labeling Mexico’s Cartels ‘Terrorists’ Makes Things WorseRead more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

Iraq condemns U.S. air strikes as unacceptable and dangerous

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 04:17

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday condemned U.S. air strikes on bases of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, a move that could plunge Iraq further into the heart of a proxy conflict between the United States and Iran. The U.S. military carried out air strikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said. "The prime minister described the American attack on the Iraqi armed forces as an unacceptable vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences," his office said.

Trump says he has been denied due process. But the Constitution does not afford him that.

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 04:04

Like Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson before him, President Trump does not have the same constitutional protection afforded to criminal defendants.

Duterte Renews Attacks on TV Network, Urges Owners to Sell

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 03:26

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte continued his attacks on a local television network he’s accused in the past of bias, and urged owners of ABS-CBN Corp. to sell before its franchise expires in March.In a televised speech delivered in the local language at Davao City on Monday, Duterte suggested the media firm’s franchise renewal is uncertain. He had earlier threatened to block the network’s bid to extend the franchise for 25 years.“Your contract is expiring. I’m not sure what will happen if you renew,” he said. “If I were you, I would just sell.”Duterte has accused ABS-CBN as well as privately-owned Philippine Daily Inquirer of unfair reporting, allegations that the media companies have denied. The president’s criticisms of ABS-CBN pushed its share price to a decade low earlier this month. The stock ended 2019 with a 21% loss compared with the local benchmark index’s 4.7% gain for the year.Duterte also resumed his criticism of water utilities for alleged corruption, threatening to arrest and jail the owners of Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. He reiterated a plan for a military takeover of the operations.Manila Water of Ayala Corp. and Maynilad owners Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and DMCI Holdings Inc. are among the worst-performing Philippine stocks this year, plunging since early December when Duterte started his censure.“For those of you asking where are the big fish in my fight against corruption, I’ll deliver them: Ayala and Pangilinan,” he said. “If they do something wrong, I’ll really jail them,” Duterte said, referring to the family of Jaime Augusto Zobel, which owns Manila Water and Manuel Pangilinan, who chairs Metro Pacific.The two tycoons didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.Manila Water plunged 63% this year despite a rebound in the final week of trading ending Dec. 27. Metro Pacific was down 25%, while DMCI tumbled 48%.To contact the reporters on this story: Andreo Calonzo in Manila at;Clarissa Batino in Manila at cbatino@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sam Nagarajan at, ;Cecilia Yap at, Clarissa BatinoFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Turkey arrests 94 Islamic State suspects ahead of New Year

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 03:22

Turkish police detained 94 people suspected of ties to Islamic State in nationwide raids on Monday ahead of New Year celebrations, police and state media said, two months after the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed. Counter-terror police carried out the operations in the central provinces of Ankara, Kayseri and Adana, and Batman in the southeast, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported. At 5 a.m. (0200 GMT) in Batman, some 400 police officers detained 22 people in simultaneous raids on various addresses, seizing weapons, ammunition and documents, Anadolu said.

Deputy tases woman, 70, while trying to make arrest at her home

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 02:29

Authorities say Barbara Pinkney wouldn't let them in and had to be tased three times before she could be subdued.

All eyes on 'new way' in Kim Jong Un's New Year speech

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 02:13

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for "offensive measures" to strengthen security ahead of a New Year speech that could flesh out the nuclear-armed nation’s threat to seek a "new way" forward after the expiration of its year-end deadline for US sanctions relief. Kim’s latest comments, made during a meeting of top ruling party officials in Pyongyang, came amid concerns that the North could formally close down dialogue with Washington and resume nuclear and long-range missile tests. Nuclear talks between the North and the US have been largely stalled since the collapse of a February summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi.

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria hit sites linked to Iran

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 00:02

The United States carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, targeting weapons and munitions depots used by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia.Over the last two months, there have been 11 rocket attacks against bases used by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. U.S. officials said Sunday's airstrikes were in response to an attack that took place in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Friday, which left one U.S. contractor dead and four U.S. troops injured.Kataib Hezbollah is connected to Iran's paramilitary Quds Forces, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal, and the Pentagon said the airstrikes are meant to serve as a warning to stop attacking the coalition's bases. A Kataib Hezbollah official said 25 members of the militia were killed in the airstrikes.More stories from Giants, Browns fire head coaches on otherwise quiet 'Black Monday' The White House always knew Trump's order to freeze Ukraine aid could blow up, New York Times details The best headlines of 2019

US ambassador defends moustache as South Koreans bristle at 'disrespectful' facial hair

Sun, 12/29/2019 - 23:40

The US ambassador to Seoul has defended his decision to grow a moustache, with some South Koreans bristling that the facial hair is disrespectful and a calculated slight.  Harry Harris took over as US ambassador to South Korea in July 2018 after a distinguished 40-year career in the US Navy.  Clean-shaven whilst an admiral in the navy, Mr Harris told The Korea Times that he decided to grow a moustache to mark his career change. “I wanted to make a break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat”, he said. “I tried to get taller, but I couldn’t grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger, but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a moustache, so I did that”.  Mr Harris was responding to the suggestion that his new moustache was an insult to Korea.  The US government has been roundly criticised in South Korea after Donald Trump announced the US would demand $5 billion a year to keep troops in South Korea.  As the face of the US administration in South Korea, Mr Harris has borne the brunt of much of the criticism.  The second strike against Mr Harris is his ethnicity. The son of a US Navy officer and a Japanese mother, Mr Harris was born in Yokosuka, south-west of Tokyo, leading to allegations that he has a natural affinity for Japan - which has a complicated history with the Korean Peninsula.  The peninsula became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and part of the Japanese empire from 1910 until the end of the Second World War in 1945.  Some South Koreans have accused Mr Harris of sporting a moustache that harks back to the years of colonial rule on the grounds that all eight Japanese governor-generals of Korea also had moustaches.  Shrugging off the controversy, he said: “All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I’m American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea”. Asked if he intended to shave his moustache off to quell the criticism, Mr Harris replied, “You would have to convince me that somehow the moustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship”.

Hong Kong to end year with multiple protests, kick off 2020 with big march

Sun, 12/29/2019 - 22:58

Hong Kong will end 2019 with multiple protests planned for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day aimed at disrupting festivities and shopping in the Asian financial hub, which has seen a rise in clashes between police and protesters since Christmas. Events dubbed "Suck the Eve" and "Shop With You" are set for New Year's Eve on Tuesday in areas including the party district of Lan Kwai Fong, the picturesque Victoria Harbour, and popular shopping malls, according to notices on social media. A pro-democracy march on Jan. 1 has been given police permission and will start from a large park in bustling Causeway Bay and end in the central business district.