WASHINGTON — Prosecutors in South Korea today demanded a 30-year prison term for former President Park Geun-hye for alleged bribery, abuse of power and other crimes in a landmark corruption case that marked a stunning fall from grace for the country’s first female leader, reports The Associated Press.
Following massive protests by millions and her impeachment in 2016, Park was formally removed from office and arrested in March last year amid allegations that she colluded with a longtime friend to take tens of millions of dollars in bribes.
If the court finds her guilty, Park would be the third South Korean president convicted of crimes.
The others were former military generals involved in a 1979 coup and a 1980 civilian massacre.
Dems fear overreach as left presses assault weapon ban
Democrats meet today in the Capitol to discuss their next steps on gun control as they wrestle with how to move forward following one of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation’s modern history, The Hill reports.
The party is galvanized behind the idea that Congress should take action on gun control, but faces warnings from some Democrats that reaching too far could drive away voters in the swing districts they’ll need to retake the speaker’s gavel.
A number of rank-and-file lawmakers view this month’s shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school as a potential tipping point in the years-long congressional stalemate over new gun restrictions. Shedding caution, this growing chorus of Democrats is calling for extensive reforms, including a ban on military-style weapons.
Says Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents Parkland: “Americans don’t own tanks or missiles, so why should our streets be flooded with weapons of war made for the sole purpose of killing people?”
Dems introduce bill banning assault weapons
Democratic Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Deutch of Florida have formally introduced a bill to ban assault weapons, The Hill reports.
The legislation, called the Assault Weapons Ban of 2018, was introduced on Monday, less than two weeks after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 people dead. The gunman used an AR-15 assault weapon, one of the many firearms that would be banned under the bill.
The legislation would make it “unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.”
The ban wouldn’t apply to semi-automatic weapons that were “lawfully possessed” when the measure went into effect. The bill has no Republican co-sponsors.
Congress steps into thorny gun debate
GOP leaders in the House are preparing a legislative package aimed at bolstering school safety in reaction to the shooting this month at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and reopened a national debate over guns.
GOP Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, tells The Hill, “We’re gonna do a lot on school safety.”
He says the effort will be aimed at improving safety on school campuses but will also include some gun-related measures.
The legislative effort comes after President Trump called last week for more teachers to be armed in response to the shooting.
Trump, who is set to meet with a group of bipartisan senators Wednesday, also has called for background check legislation, raising the age limit for purchasing assault weapons to 21 and banning bump stocks, which increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire.
Major EPA reorganization will end science research program
A federal environmental program that distributes grants to test the effects of chemical exposure on adults and children is being ended in a major organization consolidation at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The National Center for Environmental Research will no longer exist following plans to combine three EPA offices, the agency tells The Hill.
The program provides millions of dollars in grants each year.
Perhaps best known for its handling of fellowships that study the effects of chemicals on children’s health, NCER will be dissolved and science staff serving there will be reassigned elsewhere within the department, EPA says.
Wages and workers? Companies are using tax savings on stock
It’s raining stock buybacks on Wall Street — thanks to President Trump’s massive corporate tax cuts, according to CNN.
The White House has celebrated the tax cut bonuses unveiled by the likes of Walmart, Bank of America and Disney.
But it’s shareholders, not workers, who are the direct winners from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
American companies have lavished Wall Street with $171 billion of stock buyback announcements so far this year, according to research firm Birinyi Associates. That’s a record high for this point of the year and more than double the $76 billion that corporate America disclosed at the same point of 2017.
Wall Street loves buybacks because they tend to boost the share price in part by inflating a key measure of profitability.
West Virginia teachers demand meeting with governor as their strike continues
Thousands of striking schoolteachers who have shut down West Virginia classrooms are demanding a face-to-face meeting with the governor and state Senate and House leaders to discuss pay grievances. Says Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter: Until that happens, the strike by teachers in all 55 counties will continue today.
The walkout, which began last Thursday, was originally scheduled for two days, but teachers say they’re willing to go longer if need be.
The state’s average teacher pay ranks among the lowest in the nation and teachers are balking at approved increases they say are too stingy.
Gov. Jim Justice signed across-the-board teacher pay raises, but educators say the increases aren’t enough after hikes to insurance premiums and cuts to their benefits.
Russia-ordered ‘humanitarian pause’ goes into effect east of Damascus
Russia-ordered “humanitarian pause” has gone into effect to allow civilians to leave a rebel-held enclave near Damascus, giving a brief respite to the residents of the besieged area that has been under intense attack by the Syrian government for weeks, The Associated Press reports.
Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast footage from a crossing point manned by the Syrian military between the enclave, known as eastern Ghouta, and Damascus, saying preparations were under way to allow civilians to leave, including those in medical vehicles. The TV report says a restaurant was also set up there.
Russia’s state news agency Tass says Russian military police on the ground have set up the humanitarian corridor with the Syrian troops.
Sam’s Club becomes latest retailer to join same-day home delivery race
With a shift toward more online orders, Sam’s Club today launches same-day home delivery of groceries and other items in three U.S. cities, reports USA Today.
The warehouse store arm of Walmart says that it has teamed up with delivery service Instacart to get fresh vegetables, meat and even small appliances to the doorsteps of customers in Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas and in St. Louis, Mo., starting today.
The membership warehouse says it is closing or converting 63 stores.
At the time, the company says there was a need to shutter those locations or change their focus because of a shift toward more online orders, reduced population growth in some areas and many competing stores.
Warriors head to D.C. but skipping the White House
The Golden State Warriors are heading to Washington, just not to the White House, The Associated Press reports.
The traditional champions’ invitation was never granted by President Trump — and it appears the Warriors might have declined it, anyway. So, today, they plan to spend their day in the city with local children before playing the Washington Wizards Wednesday.
Says All-Star Klay Thompson of the Warriors, “We’re not going to politicize anything, we’re just going to hang out with some kids, take them to an African-American museum and hopefully teach them things we learned along the way and life lessons, and we’ll still be getting some great memories.”
Warriors All-Star Stephen Curry had said last September that he did not want to go to the White House and Trump then made it clear he wasn’t welcome, sending a tweet that read: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating; therefore, invitation is withdrawn!”
The White House visit is traditionally scheduled during the NBA champions’ trip to face the Wizards the following season.
More misery ahead for waterlogged Midwest
There’s more rain ahead for areas of the central U.S. that are already battling serious flooding, USA Today reports.
A new weather system begins a three-day romp through the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys sometime today, according to weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce.
More than 250 river gauges have reported levels above flood stage from the Great Lakes to Texas, Dolce said.
Floodwaters on the Ohio River in Louisville and Cincinnati — now at their highest level in about 20 years — have stranded residents, ruined cars and submerged local homes and businesses. At least five deaths nationwide have been blamed on flooding and tornadoes that struck over the weekend.
Right warns GOP agenda can’t stop at Trump’s tax law
Top conservatives have a message for GOP leadership: Tax cuts alone won’t stave off a Democratic wave in November.
The Hill reports that while they have disagreements about what should come next on the 2018 agenda, conservatives say Republicans need to keep their foot on the gas pedal.
That means continuing to push “bold” new legislation — on things like infrastructure, criminal-justice reform and pharmaceutical reform — while also selling their historic tax cut that Trump signed into law in December.
The warnings from conservatives come as a new CNN poll found that 54 percent of registered voters said they would back a Democrat in their congressional district this year, while 38 percent said they would support a Republican.
El Salvador’s military not opening archives for missing kids
More than 25 years after the end of its civil war, families in El Salvador are still searching for an estimated 3,000 children who disappeared in the fighting, The Associated Press reports.
The country’s military has so far refused to open its archives from that period to allow an investigation into the whereabouts of children separated from their families during combat between guerrillas and government forces.
In a January decision, El Salvador’s Supreme Court backed the demand of Nicolasa Rivas for a probe into the disappearances of her daughters, Gladys Suleyma and Norma Climaco Rivas, who were 6 and 7 years old when they went missing in San Vicente province in 1982. Rivas blames the military for taking her daughters.
The Defense Ministry says, “after having searched the institutional archives it has been established that no documents or registries of any kind related to the alleged operation have been found.”
Disney donates $1M to Boys & Girls Club to celebrate success of ‘Black Panther’
The Walt Disney Company, which owns Marvel Studios, announces that it will donate $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club of America in celebration of “Black Panther’s” record-breaking success, according to The Hill.
The donation goes toward expanding the Club’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs in support of the “high-tech skills that were a major theme in the plot of ‘Black Panther’ and are essential in helping youth succeed,” according to a Disney statement.
The organization also will use the donation to fund 12 new STEM Centers of Innovation in as many communities in the country. The centers provide children with hands-on advanced technologies and feature STEM experts who help the kids develop their skills.
New study finds diverse audiences drive blockbusters
Just as “Black Panther” is setting records at the box office, a new study finds that diverse audiences are driving most of the biggest blockbusters and many of the most-watched hits on television.
UCLA’s Bunche Center releases its fifth annual study on diversity in the entertainment industry today, unveiling an analysis of the top 200 theatrical film releases of 2016 and 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform TV shows from the 2015-2016 season.
Among its results: Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket buyers for five of the top 10 films at the global box office, and half of ticket buyers for two more of the top 10.
Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, but Hispanic and African-American moviegoers over-index among moviegoers.
Groups working to end AIDS fear losing ground under Trump
Advocates working to end AIDS fear they may lose ground under the Trump administration after coming within reach of ending the disease’s siege in the U.S. and abroad, reports The Hill.
While former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush made fighting AIDS one of their administrations’ top priorities, President Trump has proposed massive cuts to prevention programs, failed to fill key positions that advise the administration on the issue, and has at times made disparaging remarks about countries suffering from the epidemic, the publication reports.
White House Office of National AIDS Policy, created under former President Bill Clinton in 1993, is intended to coordinate the federal government’s response to HIV/AIDS across numerous agencies while advising and updating the president on the epidemic. The office appears to be defunct under Trump, with no signs he intends to appoint a leader.
Former presidents Obama and George W. Bush both created new programs to address AIDS.
Inequality remains 50 years after Kerner Report
Barriers to equality are posing threats to democracy in the U.S. as the country remains segregated along racial lines and child poverty worsens, says a study examining the nation 50 years after the release of the landmark 1968 Kerner Report.
The new report blames U.S. policymakers and elected officials, saying they’re not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality as highlighted by the Kerner Commission a half-century ago/ The report lists a number of areas where the country has seen “a lack of or reversal of progress.”
The new study titled “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report” says the percentage of people living in deep poverty — less than half of the federal poverty level — has increased since 1975. About 46 percent of people living in poverty in 2016 were classified as living in deep poverty — 16 percentage points higher than in 1975.
Texas governor warns of Dems’ strong early voting
GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says in a fundraising email that Democrats’ early voting figures in the state should “shock every conservative to their core.”
More Democrats in Texas have turned out to vote in 2018 primaries so far than Republicans.
Abbott‘s email to supporters asking for donations warns that Democratic enthusiasm in Texas could lead to results that mirror the party’s victories in special elections across the country.
Compared to the first six days of early voting in 2014, Democratic turnout has increased by 69 percent, according to the Dallas newspaper. Republican turnout has increased by 20 percent.
Early voting for the March primary in Texas is more than halfway over and already more than 151,000 Democrats have turned out to vote, compared to 135,000 Republicans.
Supreme Court to hear dispute between Microsoft, feds
The digital privacy dispute between the federal government and Microsoft will force the Supreme Court to once again match old laws to new technology, USA Today reports.
On tap at the high court today is the Trump administration’s effort to obtain emails relevant to a drug-trafficking case.
The Justice Department’s argument? The U.S. government has a warrant for information from a U.S. service provider about a U.S. crime.
Microsoft, which says that the emails in questions reside in Ireland, stores data on some 1 million servers in 40 countries and argues that a decision favoring the U.S. could invite “foreign governments to reciprocate by unilaterally seizing U.S. citizens’ private correspondence.”
Does buying a smartphone from certain Chinese brands expose you to spying?
The Mate 10 Pro from China’s Huawei has a lovely 6-inch OLED display and exceptional battery life, but is it a spy giving China access to and insight into the U.S.?
While the No. 3 phone maker in the world has been banking on the $799.99 smartphone to challenge Samsung Galaxy and iPhone in North America, U.S. lawmakers have targeted it and another Chinese manufacturer over their reputed ties to the Chinese intelligence and military establishment, reports USA Today.
U.S. officials’ worry their products could be conduits for Chinese espionage, both on a targeted and a grand scale. Both handset makers have denied any such complicity.
Shifting alliances as Pakistan manages relationship with U.S.
As Pakistan navigates its troubled relationship with the U.S. and scrambles to avoid being blacklisted for doing too little, too late to stop terror funding, regional alliances are shifting, and analysts wonder whether a cozier relationship with Russia — and China — will complicate efforts to move toward peace in neighboring Afghanistan, The Hill reports.
Experts say Russian relations with Pakistan aim to solve two problems for Moscow: blunt the threat of ISIS from Afghanistan and undermine U.S. influence. China, too, is seeking a closer relationship.
Both nations seek to upgrade their international status as leading nations.
What’s it all mean to the U.S., still embroiled in the Afghan conflict, now in its 17th year and Washington’s longest war, costing more than $122 billion?
Unclear, but some experts say despite its new ties, for Pakistan even a bad relationship with the U.S. is better than no relationship at all because neither of its new friends can compensate for U.S. aid cuts and sanctions.
Songwriter’s daughter: Trump is the ‘living embodiment of the snake that my father wrote about’
Oscar Brown Jr.’s daughters are criticizing President Trump for his interpretation of their father’s song “The Snake.”
During an interview on CNN, the late performer’s daughter Africa Brown says: “The elephant in the room is that Trump is the living embodiment of the snake that my father wrote about in that song.”.
Oscar Brown Jr., a singer, songwriter, poet and activist who died in 2005, wrote “The Snake” in the early 1960s. It is a tale of a woman taking in a snake to nurse it back to health and care for it, only for the snake to bite her. The snake tells the woman that she knew it was a snake before she took it in and should have expected it would bite her.
Trump frequently read “The Snake” at rallies during his 2016 presidential campaign, refashioning it as an argument for tougher immigration laws. He again read the tale during his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Florida shooter’s hearing canceled
Today’s hearing in the criminal case against the suspect accused in the Florida high school shooting has been canceled, The Associated Press reports.
Prosecutors are seeking to obtain hair samples, fingerprints, DNA and photographs of Nikolas Cruz, 19. The hearing was removed from the court docket and no explanation was immediately available.
Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of murder, was not expected to appear in court because he waived his right to attend the hearing. He is being held without bail at the Broward County Jail.
In a separate court matter, Cruz’s lawyers are seeking to disqualify a judge from presiding over the case. The defense says in court papers that Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer is biased in favor of prosecutors, threatening Cruz’s right to a fair trial.
Cruz signed an affidavit in a barely legible printed scrawl that resembled the writing of a young child.
Clinton on social media ahead of midterms: ‘We owe it to our democracy to get this right, and fast’
Hillary Clinton is stressing a focus on social media platforms eight months ahead of the midterm elections, saying Americans “owe it to our democracy to get this right, and fast,” the Hill reports.
Clinton’s tweet comes days after special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for their roles in a plot to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election.
The indictments outline how a foreign government leveraged American social media platforms to sow chaos and exacerbate divisions in U.S. politics to undermine Clinton’s candidacy and elect President Trump.
Top U.S. intelligence officials warned earlier this month that Russia has already sought to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, and that propaganda and social media are key to that Moscow’s strategy.
Free pancakes today for IHOP’s National Pancakes Day
IHOP’s 13th annual National Pancake Day is today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and participating restaurants are giving away free short stacks of buttermilk pancakes. Select locations will have extended hours until 10 p.m., USA Today reports.
The dine-in only deal is limited to one short stack per person while supplies last. A short stack of three pancakes usually costs $5.79.
Says IHOP president Darren Rebelez said in a statement: “Every stack of pancakes we serve on our signature day counts toward helping our charity partners improve the health and lives of millions of children and families across the country.”
HUD official: I was replaced for rejecting Carson’s costly office redecoration
A senior career official in the U.S .Department of Housing and Urban Development alleges that she was demoted and replaced with a Trump appointee after refusing to break the law by funding an expensive redecoration of HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s office, The Guardian reports.
Helen Foster says she was told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” after informing her bosses this was the legal price limit for improvements to the HUD secretary’s suite at the department’s Washington headquarters.
Foster, 47, claims that she also faced retaliation for exposing a $10 million budget shortfall, and for protesting when she was barred from handling a pair of sensitive Freedom of Information Act requests relating to President Trump, apparently because she was perceived to be a Democrat.
A copy of a complaint letter filed by Foster to a watchdog for federal employees, obtained by the Guardian, which alleges that HUD violated laws protecting whistleblowers from reprisals.
Fitbit stresses as stock plunges
Shares of Fitbit plunged as much as 15 percent in after-hours trading after a disappointing quarterly report, USA Today reports.
The wearable technology company lost 2 cents per share on revenue of $571 million in the fourth quarter. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a break-even quarter for Fitbit, with revenue of $589 million.
Consumer hardware is a notoriously difficult business.
The company sold 15.3 million devices in the full year of 2017, a dramatic downswing from the 22.3 million sold in 2016.
And Fitbit’s slow holiday season sales come as Apple’s new cellular smartwatch, and focus on health, have boosted its wearable business.
Elizabeth Warren co-sponsors bill to force companies to publicly report sexual harassment settlements
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada plan to introduce new legislation that would require public companies to make public data about sexual harassment in their workplaces.
The legislation — called the “Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act” — is expected to be introduced today, BuzzFeed News reports.
The legislation would force companies to report sexual harassment-related settlements, including the amount of money paid out, according to the publication.
BuzzFeed reports that the legislation would also would mandate that companies report settlements related to race, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.
The bill would not allow the companies to include information about the names of people involved in the settlements.
North Pole surges above freezing in the dead of winter, open water stuns scientists
The sun won’t rise at the North Pole until March 20, and it’s normally close to the coldest time of year, but an extraordinary and possibly historic thaw swelled over the tip of the plane, reports The Washington Post.
Analyses show that the temperature warmed to the melting point as an enormous storm pumped an intense pulse of heat through the Greenland Sea.
Temperatures may have soared as high as 35 degrees Fahrenheit at the pole, according to the U.S. Global Forecast System model.
Such extreme warm intrusions in the Arctic, once rare, are becoming more routine, research has shown, and while hesitant to say this is a trend, scientists are shocked to discover open water north of Greenland, an area normally covered by old, very thick ice.
Global warming threatens Antarctica’s king penguins
Some 70 percent of all the king penguins on Earth — around 1.1 million breeding pairs — will be forced to relocate or die trying by the end of the century if global warming continues at its present rate, according to a new study.
Co-author Celine Le Bohec, a scientist at the University of Strasbourg, tells Agence France-Presse, “The species may disappear.”
The king penguin is one of several threatened species of penguins in Antarctica. Previous studies have found that other species — such as the emperor, Adelie and chinstrap — are also in danger of extinction or severe population loss due to climate change.
The reason? As the oceans warm, penguin’s favorite food — fish — will move south to cooler waters, away from where the penguins live.