Police: 17 dead at South Florida school; former student in custody

Police: 17 dead at South Florida school; former student in custody

By Karen DeWitt   
Police officers, a SWAT team and FBI agents onverged on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, Wednesday afternoon after the shooting. (CBS4 Miami)

UPDATED 7:10 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON —  A 19-year-old former student at a South Florida high school was taken into custody late Wednesday afternoon after a mass shooting on the sprawling campus left 17 dead, according to law enforcement.

Several teachers and parents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland say Nikolaus Cruz was known as a troublemaker. Authorities have not disclosed a motive for the shooting but the FBI has established a tipline.

The Broward County’s Sheriff’s Office was still working to clear all the buildings at the massive public school Wednesday evening.

Shortly before dismissal, shots rang out at the school, which has an enrollment of about 3,200. Students cowered in classrooms as the school was put on lockdown.

“I’m saddened to say that 17 people lost their lives,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Wednesday evening.

Wednesday afternoon, before the casualties had been announced,  White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had spoken to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The president has offered federal assistance if needed, her statement said. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also has spoken to Scott as well as state and local officials, Sanders said. Trump has been briefed on those conversations and the White House was monitoring the situation, Sanders added. “We continue to keep the victims, and their friends and family in our thoughts and prayers,” Sanders’ statement said.

White House won’t discuss immigration status of first lady’s parents

The White House refuses to discuss the immigration status of first lady Melania Trump’s parents, The Washington Post reports.

Says Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the first lady, “I don’t comment on her parents, as they live private lives and are not part of the administration,” according to the Post.

The newspaper requested the status of Melania’ Trump’s parents — Viktor and Amalija Knavs — the possibility that the natives of Slovenia are in the U.S. on IR-5 visas, which means they are legal permanent residents — or that they are in the U.S. on tourism visas with extensions.

According to the Post, when it showed its list of possible status options to Grisham, she said: “None of those options apply.”

The Post writes, “It’s a mystery why the White House refuses to answer such a simple question, given the president’s high-profile demand to limit immigration.”

According to the Post, the couple is now retired and have been living in the U.S. for at least a year.

Russians aim to interfere in midterm elections, officials warn

Former CIA analyst and National Security Council spokesman Ned Price accuses President Donald Trump of giving Russia “the green light” to meddle in upcoming U.S. elections by failing to punish the country for interfering in the 2016 election.

Price tells MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” on Tuesday that Trump has “done absolutely nothing to help our national security establishment and infrastructure stop the next round of Russian meddling,” adding that Trump’s inaction sends “very clear signals to Moscow – a clear signal that they have the green light to continue.”

Price’s remarks came after top intelligence leaders testified on Capitol Hill that the U.S. faces security threats, including the threat of future election interference from Russia, according to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Everyday chemicals may contribute to obesity

Chemicals used to make non-stick pots and pans, stain-resistant carpets, and food packaging may contribute to high levels of obesity by disrupting the body’s ability to burn calories, scientists say.

Researchers at Harvard University examined the effects of compounds called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which have already raised concerns among some health experts after animal experiments and other studies linked them to cancer, high cholesterol and immune problems.

In the latest work, Qi Sun, a nutritionist who specializes in the risk factors for diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, analyzed records for 621 overweight and obese people who spent six months dieting during the 2000s.

While test subjects lost weight, Sun found that those who gained the most weight after dieting ended had the highest blood levels of PFAS chemicals, most pronounced in women.

According to a report in the journal Plos Medicine, women in the study with the highest PFAS levels re-gained more with than those with the lowest PFAS levels and burned calories slower.

Once-sleepy state races heat up as Democrats score surprising wins

Democrat Margaret Good’s win in Florida’s 72nd state House district marks the 36th red-to-blue switch in a legislative race since the start of 2017, The Washington Post reports.

Attorney Margaret Good, an attorney, took 52 percent of the vote —  ousting GOP candidate Sarasota real estate agent James Buchanan.

Steve Schale, a Florida Democratic strategist who ran the state for former President Obama’s campaigns, says Good’s margin should worry Republicans in the Midwest, because so many voters in the Sarasota area migrated south along Interstate 75.

While some Republicans admit worry, others insist the trend is overstated and simply a reflection of Democrats heavily outspending the GOP.

Schale begs to differ, saying, “Not only did Democratic women really come out, the fact that so many Republicans and independents voted for Good says to me that there is a good chunk of these swing voters.” 

Booker, other Capitol Hill lawmakers, to stop accepting corporate PAC donations

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey says he will no longer accept campaign contributions from corporate PACs, joining several other Democratic lawmakers, according to The Hill.

Booker tweeted on Tuesday: “I heard from constituents today asking about corporate PAC contributions. I’m joining several of my colleagues & no longer accepting these contributions.”

The New Jersey senator’s announcement comes hours after an aide for Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York confirmed she stopped accepting donations from corporate PACs as of Jan. 1.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Maria Cantwell of Washington, along with Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have also pledged not to accept corporate PAC donations.

Booker, Gillibrand, Sanders and Warren are all considered potential Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race.

The Democratic group End Citizens United has pushed candidates to pledge not to accept campaign funds from corporate PACs.

GOP women frustrated by Trump’s approach to abuse charges

The Trump White House’s handling of abuse charges against men in its midst is frustrating prominent Republican women as the party’s years long struggle to attract female voters stretches into the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Associated Press.

GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, complains, “It’s the mixed signals. It’s difficult being a Republican woman to have to fight through that all the time.”

Winning over women has been an uphill battle for the GOP, and there are signs in recent polling that President Trump is making it more difficult.  A Marist College survey this month shows Democrats leading by 21 percentage points among women. Another by Monmouth University shows Democrats up by 13 percentage points among female voters.

The thrice-married Trump added a new chapter to his difficult history with female voters this week by not offering words of public support to the ex-wives of two presidential aides accused of allegations of spousal abuse.\

Shaun White lands historic third gold and 100th for US in Winter Olympics

Shaun White cements his iconic status in the sport of snowboarding with a third Olympic halfpipe gold medal and a 100th overall at a Winter Games for Team USA, according to CNN.

The 31-year-old pulled off an epic final run to avenge the disappointment of missing out on a medal four years ago and adding to his legacy following golds in Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010.

White, nicknamed the “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair, trailed 19-year-old Japanese Ayumu Hirano with one run left at Phoenix Snow Park.

But as the last man down he responded in dramatic fashion with a run, including back-to-back jumps, each with 1440 degrees of spin, that are, quite literally, death-defying, he’d never successfully done before to become the most successful Olympic snowboarder of all time.

McConnell keeps firm grip on immigration debate

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who promised what was expected to be a free-for-all immigration debate, is keeping his hand firmly on the wheel, according to The Hill.

The Senate is indeed tackling immigration, but McConnell indicates the debate will conclude at the end of this week.  So, unless there is a bipartisan breakthrough over the next 48-72 hours on an issue Congress has tried to resolve for more than a decade, immigration reform will once again fall short.

By limiting the debate to a few days and expressing his preference for a GOP proposal that mirrors President Trump’s four-point immigration plan — which doesn’t have the votes to pass — McConnell has significantly influenced the process in the upper chamber.

McConnell has also signaled to Democrats that the price for debating immigration will be tough votes for their vulnerable incumbents on issues such as sanctuary cities.

Seattle ICE lawyer charged with stealing immigrant IDs

The chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle has been charged with stealing immigrants’ identities and is schedule to enter a plea Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

Raphael A. Sanchez, who resigned from the agency effective Monday, faces one count of aggravated identity theft and another of wire fraud in a charging document filed in U.S. District Court.

Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section allege that Sanchez stole the identities of seven people “in various stages of immigration proceedings” to defraud credit card companies including American Express, Bank of America and Capital One.

The charging document — an indication that a plea agreement is in the works — says that in April 2016, Sanchez sent an email from his government account to his Yahoo account that included personal information about a Chinese national, including an image of R.H.’s U.S. permanent resident card, the biographical page of R.H.’s Chinese passport and a utility bill in R.H.’s name.

Google search for abortion services promote anti-abortion centers

Google searches for abortion services direct users to anti-abortion centers across the US, according to a new report that has sparked concerns from reproductive rights’ groups, reports The Guardian.

Ask “Where can I get an abortion near me?, and Google Maps frequently suggests “crisis pregnancy centers”, which are often non-medical facilities that provide counseling meant to discourage women from having abortions.

The controversial search results were reported Monday by Gizmodo, which found that Google searches promoted the crisis pregnancy centers in nearly 20 regions in the US.

The findings come at a time when Google and YouTube, its video platform, are continuing to face harsh scrutiny for spreading false information, including rightwing propaganda, conspiracy theories and offensive results.

Crisis pregnancy centers are known for having misleading names and advertising meant to imply that they provide abortion services and have faced backlash for suggesting that abortions cause breast cancer and sterility, according to the newspaper.

Trump budget threatens local transit projects

President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 leaves cities and states on the hook for billions of dollars in spending on public transportation projects that are already underway, according to The Hill.

The $4.4 trillion budget proposal would cut several grant programs funded by the Federal Transit Administration, an office within the Department of Transportation, that issues grants to funding for massive transit projects otherwise unaffordable.

The proposal comes as Trump debuts his plan to spend about $200 billion on infrastructure projects. Transportation funding observers say that the plan, combined with a budget that cuts back so much on other infrastructure projects, means the administration is effectively offering very little.

A study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, analyzing the administration’s budget requests over the past two years, found total spending on infrastructure could decline by as much as $55 billion over the next 10 years.

Experts fear US losing AI ground to China

China’s public intention to become the world leader in the development of artificial intelligence has many in the U.S. questioning what White House is doing to protect the country’s dominant position in the AI race.

U.S. technology companies, such as Google, Facebook and Apple, still lead foreign rivals in AI technology, but observers say the U.S. government has sat on the sidelines, according to The Hill.

Technology companies want to see more action from the federal government.

Says Ian Buck, vice president of technology company NVIDIA’s accelerated computing business unit, “I don’t think federal agencies are investing in AI enough.”

And recently retired Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt says the federal government needs to “get its act together” on AI.

Says Democratic Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, co-chairman of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, “We don’t have a national strategy. China has a national strategy.”

Don’t forget the flowers and chocolates, Valentine’s Day is here

Affection for loved ones should be shown every day, but today is Valentine’s Day, officially the day to celebrate love.

People across the world, including at the Olympics, celebrate the love holiday, with many exchanging gifts and spend time with their significant others, according to USA Today.

Flowers and chocolates are standard gifts.

UPS estimates it will deliver 88 million flowers to significant others, spouses or family today. The National Retail Federation reports Americans will spend about $2 billion on flowers this year. NRF estimates that 55 percent of people celebrate Valentine’s Day, with the average person estimated to spend about $143.56 — $7 more than in 2017.

Christian season of Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday

Many Christians today will observe Ash Wednesday, marking the start of the traditional season of Lent — a period of fasting, prayer and penance leading up to Easter, which falls on April 1.

Lent represents the 40 days Jesus wandered the desert praying and fasting after he was baptized.

Lent ends on Holy Thursday, March 29, when there are religious services to represent Jesus’ last supper, and again on Good Friday, the day he was crucified.

Ash Wednesday this year falls on Valentine’s Day and Easter falls on April Fools’ Day.

GOP erases Dem advantage on generic ballot ahead of midterms

Republicans have retaken the advantage heading into the 2018 midterm elections in November, according to a poll released today.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll finds that 39 percent of likely voters would support a generic Republican candidate this year, while a slightly lower 38 percent would support a generic Democratic candidate. Nearly a quarter of Americans, 23 percent, told the poll they were undecided.

The main split in the poll comes along independent voter lines, as Republicans and Democrats largely still support candidates from their party in November –85% and 84%, respectively.

Democrats maintain a one-point advantage over independent voters, with 26 percent support compared to 25, while a sizable 49 percent are undecided.

The GOP’s one-point lead over Democrats in February is the first advantage the party’s had over Democrats in three months of Politico poll tracking, with the GOP trailing Democrats by 2-10 percentage points since November.

Netanyahu shrugs off police corruption claims, opposition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today shrugged off police recommendations that he be charged with corruption, calling the allegations “biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese” and vowing to remain in office, the Associated Press reports.

Speaking at a local government meeting in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu says that his government remains stable despite the police announcement, and that “the truth will come to light and nothing will come of this.”

Israeli opposition leaders have called on Netanyahu to step down but the longtime premier angrily rejects those calls.

The police announcement late Tuesday that Netanyahu accepted nearly $300,000 in gifts from two billionaires dealt the embattled prime minister an embarrassing blow after years of investigations but did not appear to immediately rattle his rule as reaction largely fell along partisan lines, the wire service reports.

Nearly all of Netanyahu’s Cabinet ministers issued statements of support and no coalition partners appeared ready to bolt.

Inflation report takes spotlight after market plunge

Today’s report on the consumer price index could get more attention than usual, with fears of accelerating inflation sparking the stock market’s recent free fall, according to USA Today.

Investors panicked early this month when the January jobs report showed annual wage growth picking up to 2.9 percent from 2.5 percent, prompting concerns the Federal Reserve could accelerate the pace of its interest rate hikes.

Economists estimate the Labor Department will announce that the CPI rose 2 percent annually in January, down from 2.1 percent the previous month while the core CPI increased 1.7 percent, down from 1.8 percent.

Stabbed and left for dead, woman names alleged killers before she dies

Lizette Andrea Cuesta of Tracy, Calif. was stabbed and left for dead — only she wasn’t.

The young woman crawled nearly 100 yards — the length of a football field — got picked up by four UPS delivery workers in the remote area,  and managed to give police evidence about her suspected attackers before she died.

Police picked up the homicide suspects, Melissa Leonardo, 25, and Daniel Gross, 19, both from Modesto. They will be arraigned this afternoon.

Says Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Her internal fortitude, to stay alive and to fight, is pretty remarkable… she was able to live for another couple hours and get us that information. Ultimately that led us to these arrests.”

New York Times abruptly fires new hire over Twitter posts

Tech journalist Quinn Norton’s tenure as a new editorial hire at The New York Times lasted only hours Tuesday, amid a firestorm over her social media posts.

The Times announced at noon that Norton, known for her work at Wired, would be joining the paper as the editorial board’s lead opinion writer on technology.  Six hours later, Norton was gone, after Twitter users immediately highlighted her past tweets that used racial and homophobic slurs.

Protesters seized on a tweet last fall in which she says she’s friends with Andrew Auernheimer, a convicted hacker who goes by the name “weev” and webmaster for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website.

Norton tweeted, “As I said so many times to the @nytimes, no harm no foul… For those of you honestly concerned. I don’t support weev, that’s not given in how I define friendship. I believe white folks should engage with the racists in their life… and I believe all people are redeemable, and “all people” is all people.”

TV station in Seattle buys $1M worth of debt viewers owe to medical providers

A Seattle TV station bought $1 million in medical debt forgiveness for people in its coverage area.

Poynter reports that the station — KIRO — spent $12,000 for the $1 million in debt owed to medical providers.

The move comes after a KIRO’s Jesse Jones reported about a woman who had cancer and was struggling to pay her medical bills. She needed treatment to survive but could not afford it.

According to the station, debt is sold to a collection agency when providers are not able to get the payment owed on medical bills. The debt is sold for about 1 cent for each dollar, according to the station.

KIRO-TV bought $1 million worth of debt, which will help 1,000 viewers.

The station worked with a charity called RIP Medical Debt, which “locates, buys and forgives medical debt across America.”

Jones tells Poynter he is a cancer survivor himself and wants to do the “big stories about people who have issues, big issues with the bills that have forced them into bankruptcy, forcing them to make choices about whether to get treatment.”

Trump warning of veto if bill ‘doesn’t advance’ his immigration reforms

President Trump is reportedly warning he would consider a veto on an immigration bill that doesn’t meet his framework, reports The Hill.

A senior administration official tells Axios that the president “will veto any bill that doesn’t advance his common-sense immigration reforms.”

The official says, “The White House has claimed the mainstream, middle ground on immigration,” the administration official.

The official also tells the news outlet that Republicans have Democrats “backed into a corner.”

Olympian Shaun White wants to move past sexual harassment allegations by former bandmate

Olympian Shaun White today says he’s focusing on the current Games after winning the gold medal, not 2-year old sexual harassment allegations, reports USA Today.

In 2016, Lena Zawaideh sued White for sexual harassment — he sent her “sexually explicit and graphic images,” text messages that White admitted sending, the paper reports — and breach of contract for lack of payment of her $3,750 monthly retainer from September 2013 until August 2014.

Zawaideh was the former drummer — and only woman — of White’s rock band, Bad Things, which he founded.

Zawaideh and White later settled, but the allegations of sexual harassment cast a shadow today on White making history by winning gold at the men’s halfpipe competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

At a press conference today, White, who is the first person to win three gold medals in the sport, dodged a question about the sexual harassment allegations, dubbing them “gossip.” He later apologized for calling allegations “gossip,” saying he has “grown as a person”

Authorities investigating shooting near NSA

Authorities are investigating a shooting today near the entrance to the National Security Agency, according to multiple reports.

One person was injured today outside the entrance to the super-secret National Security Agency in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., according to authorities.

One person is in custody and the situation is under control, WBAL in Baltimore reports. Further details on the incident were not immediately available.

President Trump has been briefed on the incident, the White House said.

Says White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters, “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.”

Police in Anne Arundel County, Md., say that about 7:30 a.m., there was a possible shooting near the agency, but noted they were not leading the investigation.



NBC publishes 200,000 tweets tied to Russian trolls

NBC News today published thousands of tweets created by Russian troll accounts during the 2016 election that were deleted by Twitter after the company tied them to “malicious activity.”

A database published on NBC’s website of more than 200,000 tweets shows Russian attempts to pose as political activists on both sides of the spectrum, with influential accounts masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists and even the Tennessee Republican Party, according to The Hill.

The hundreds of thousands of tweets ranged from inflammatory subjects such as allegations of Democrats practicing witchcraft and radical anti-police rhetoric to more benign messages, such as praise for former first lady Michelle Obama.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warns that Russia is pursuing similar tactics in the 2018 midterms if not stopped by the U.S.

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