Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 21 2014 9:07 PM

Ukrainian Rebels Hand Over MH17 Black Boxes

After several chaotic days of negotiations over access to the MH17 crash site, early on Tuesday morning in Ukraine, the rebels turned over the plane's two black boxes—which are actually orange—to Malaysian officials. Separatist leadern Aleksander Borodai made the transfer in Donetsk. “'Here they are, the black boxes,’ Borodai told a room packed with journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk,” Reuters reports. “Both sides then signed a document, which Borodai said was a protocol to finalize the procedure after lengthy talks with the Malaysians.”

Malaysian officials said at the meeting the two black boxes were “in good condition.” The data stored in the boxes should shed light on “the exact time of the incident and the altitude and exact position of the aircraft,” according to the BBC. “They should also contain the cockpit voice recorder, which it is hoped will provide clues as to what the cause of the crash was.”

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The handoff capped a busy day as the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed—with Russian support—"a resolution that ‘condemns in the strongest terms’ the attack that brought down the Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, called for an international investigation with the United Nations civil aviation agency, and demanded that armed groups at the crash site allow unfettered access,” the New York Times reports. “Russia agreed to support the draft text after intense negotiations that went on until early Monday morning, in which language of the draft text was tweaked to satisfy the Kremlin’s demands.”

Meanwhile, earlier in the evening, “a train of refrigerated carriages finally rolled out of the station in the rebel-controlled city of Torez carrying bodies collected from the crash site in recent days,” the Guardian reports. “Borodai said the train contained the bodies of 282 of the victims, as well as 87 ‘other body fragments,’ and said that it had arrived in Donetsk after leaving the station of Torez near the crash.

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July 21 2014 8:00 PM

South Korean Police Think They’ve Found Body of Owner of Sunken Ferry That Killed Hundreds

South Korean police believe they have found the body of the owner the South Korean ferry that sank killing hundreds of schoolchildren in April. Billionaire businessman Yoo Byung-eun, owner of the ferry company involved in the horrific accident, disappeared shortly after the ferry sank leading to a massive manhunt as South Korean police investigated possible criminal negligence on Yoo’s part. Here’s more from the BBC:

Yonhap news agency reported that police found a heavily decomposed body last month in a plum field in Suncheon, a city 300 km (186 miles) south of Seoul. "We carried out a DNA test after finding a dead body in Suncheon, and the results fairly matched that of Yoo's brother," a police official was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "We need to look more closely into this, but the body is believed to be Yoo's," he added.
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The April accident sparked a wave of public outrage at the ferry company owned by the Yoo family, as well as the South Korean government. South Korean police have targeted Yoo’s family as they try to determine whether criminal charges will be filed. Two trials are already underway—one for the captain and crew and the other for officials at the ferry operator. Here’s more from the BBC on the government’s efforts to chase down the family of ferry owners:

Mr Yoo was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, as prosecutors investigate whether the disaster was caused by mismanagement. Many of his family members have been arrested and his daughter, who lives in France, is currently fighting an extradition bid. His eldest son is still on the run. In June, some 6,000 police officers stormed a church complex in Anseong city belonging to Mr Yoo. Four church followers were detained on charges of assisting his escape and police said they were looking for several more who had helped the billionaire. Outside the church, supporters held up a large banner that read: "We'll protect Yoo Byung-eun even if 100,000 church members are all arrested."

July 21 2014 6:08 PM

Rookie QB Johnny Manziel Tops NFL Jersey Sales, Michael Sam Is Sixth

Cleveland Browns new quarterback Johnny Manziel hasn’t taken a snap in the NFL, and he may not even be his team’s starter when the season kicks off, but that hasn’t stopped fans from snapping up his jersey. In fact, Johnny Football’s No. 2 Browns jersey is the highest selling of any player through the first quarter of the league’s financial year, according to the NFL.

The sales tally is from the league’s online shop and Manziel’s haul is made even more impressive by the fact that the sales period ran from April 1 through July 17 and the former Texas A&M star was only drafted on May 8. “Manziel's spot atop the jersey-sales list is the highest a Browns player has been since the league has kept track of individual players' sales (2001),” ESPN reports. “Thanks to Manziel, the Browns are now the third-most popular team in the league from a merchandise standpoint.”

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Also making the list is St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam, whose jersey is the league’s sixth bestseller. Despite fears that NFL locker rooms aren’t ready for an openly gay player, NFL fans seem to be raring for Sam-era to get started. Here are the top 10 bestsellers via NBC Sports:

1. QB Johnny Manziel, Cleveland
2. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle
3. QB Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco
4. QB Peyton Manning, Denver
5. CB Richard Sherman, Seattle
6. DE Michael Sam, St. Louis
7. QB Tom Brady, New England
8. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans
9. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
10. 12th Man, Seattle

July 21 2014 5:20 PM

Florida Jury Awards Woman $23.6 Billion in Tobacco Case and That's Not a Typo

A Florida jury has awarded Cynthia Robinson, the widow of a smoker, a brain-staggering $23.6 billion in punitive damages in her case against R.J. Reynolds, which makes the Kool brand that her husband preferred. Michael Johnson Sr. is said to have begun smoking at age 13. From the New York Times:

The four-week trial ended Wednesday. The jury deliberated for 18 hours over two days, first awarding $17 million in compensatory damages and then emerging at 10 p.m. Friday with a $23.6 billion punitive judgment.
“When they first read the verdict, I know I heard ‘million,’ and I got so excited,” Ms. Robinson said in a phone interview Saturday. “Then the attorney informed me that was a ‘B’ — billion. It was just unbelievable.”
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The tobacco company will, not surprisingly, appeal. A 2002 judgment of $28 billion against Phillip Morris USA in a Los Angeles case was reduced on appeal to $28 million in 2011.

Said Robinson to the Times, of her husband:

“He really did smoke a lot.”

I suppose he did. I suppose he did.

July 21 2014 4:03 PM

The World's Oceans Were Hotter in June Than at Any Other Time Since Humans Started Keeping Track

More not-great news on the global warming front, via Climate Central:

This June represents a significant milestone for the world’s oceans. Not only was it the hottest June for oceans since record keeping began in 1880, but it was the most anomalously warm ocean temperature for any month. That means temperatures were more freakishly above average this past June than at any other time in the period of record. The previous record was a four-way tie with May 2014 being the most recent month.
This June’s temperature record also represents a global mark for the warmest the oceans have ever been. The record heat happened to hit in June, when oceans are at their warmest, giving temperatures a further boost.
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Specifically, the average "global sea surface temperature" in June was 62.65 degrees Fahrenheit. The oceans are going to be pretty comfortable to swim in for a few decades until they boil over and we all die.

July 21 2014 3:02 PM

Dutch Enraged Over Treatment of Citizens' Bodies at MH17 Site

One hundred ninety-three of the 298 individuals onboard downed flight MH17 were from the Netherlands, and the country's government is outraged about the way victims' bodies have been treated: Some were reportedly left in the sun for three days, and none of the remains have been repatriated yet.

In recent hours the bodies were reported to have left the rebel-held town of Torez in a refrigerated train. A Dutch military transport plane will be waiting to convey the deceased back to Holland should the train eventually arrive at its ostensible destination, the Ukrainian-government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv.

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Chief Dutch investigator Peter Van Vliet said that the storage of the bodies is “of good quality,” though the AP wrote that the "the smell of decay was overwhelming" at the train station and that the train’s refrigeration was affected by a power outage overnight, when the bodies were apparently already on board.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence with Ukrainian rebels to allow investigators full access to the crash site; in a statement earlier today, President Obama also made a similar demand after accusing “Russian-backed separatists” of blocking a transparent investigation.

July 21 2014 12:54 PM

Los Angeles Native Who Joined IDF After Birthright Israel Trip Killed in Gaza

The Associated Press reports this morning on the story of two Americans, 24-year-old Max Steinberg of California and 21-year-old Nissim Sean Carmeli of Texas, who were killed on Sunday in Gaza while fighting with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Carmeli had lived in Israel for four years and had reportedly finished high school there before joining the military. Steinberg, a 2008 graduate of El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California (just down the road from the celebrity hotspot Calabasas), had never been to the country before 2012. He first visited through the Birthright program that funds free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish people living abroad:

When he returned, he made an announcement to his parents that he was planning to return and join the IDF, Steinberg said. He made good on that promise less than six months later, making the move in December.
"He went back," Steinberg said. "He was completely dedicated and committed to serving the country of Israel. He was focused, he was clear in what the mission was, and he was dedicated to the work he needed to be doing."
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At least 425 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed so far during the explosion of violence that has followed the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

July 20 2014 1:57 PM

Rebels Say They’ve Found MH17 Black Box, Begin Loading Bodies Onto Refrigerated Trains

As negotiations continue on international access to the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, the separatist rebels controlling the area, who have been accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines plane, say they have recovered the aircraft’s black boxes and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization. "Some items, presumably the black boxes, were found, and they have been delivered to Donetsk and they are under our control," Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said in a news conference.

Meanwhile, confusion at the crash site continued on Sunday, as Agence France Presse reports, “it was immediately not clear Sunday if the rebels and the Ukrainian government were working together or at odds with each other on recovering the bodies – and from their comments, many officials didn’t appear to know either.” The rebel’s management of the crash site and the restricted, disjointed effort to investigate the scene has been a source of contention and frustration. The separatists have been criticized for their handling of the hundreds of bodies at the scene and Sunday’s efforts were similarly scrutinized as the remains of some 196 people were “loaded on to refrigerated rail wagons, to be taken to an unknown destination,” the BBC reports. "The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said.

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"The indiscipline and chaos of the last two days have been replaced by the robust presence of former riot policemen who now form a cordon around the central area of the crash site,” the BBC correspondent in region writes. “There is still no sign of the fully fledged independent investigation which is being demanded by the international community.” “Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive,” the Associated Press reports. “He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.”

July 20 2014 12:55 PM

John Kerry Appears to Criticize Israel’s Gaza Offensive During Hot Mic Moment

During Secretary of State John Kerry’s tour of the Sunday morning talk show circuit Kerry was caught on a hot mic discussing the conflict in Gaza with an aide on the phone before going on air on “Fox News Sunday.” Once on air during the interview, the show’s host, Chris Wallace, played the clip of the phone conversation where Kerry comments on Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza, saying: "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation.” 

Kerry’s remark appears to be sarcastic and, the Washington Post points out, “an apparent reference to Israel's insistence that its incursion into the region would be limited.” "It's escalating significantly and it just underscores the need for a ceasefire," the aide responded before Kerry finishes the conversation saying: "We've got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight” calling it "crazy" to be "sitting around." After playing the clip Wallace followed up, asking: "When you said it's a hell of a pinpoint operation are you upset that the Israelis are going too far?"

July 20 2014 11:55 AM

Two-Hour Gaza Truce Falls Apart Shortly After It Begins as Fighting Resumes

A two-hour so-called humanitarian truce in Gaza fell apart not long after it began on Sunday. The mutually agreed to temporary ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of the wounded began at 1:30 p.m. local time, but the BBC reports the brief respite from the fighting didn’t even last an hour before shots were again being fired. Both sides blamed the other for reneging on the deal. “Israel's military said its forces were shot at shortly after the two-hour truce, facilitated by the Red Cross, had begun at 1:30 pm, and that it had resumed combat operations,” Reuters reports.

The ceasefire targeted Gaza's Shejaiya neighborhood, which was bombarded by Israeli forces overnight, killing at least 40 and wounding 400 others, according to Agence France Presse. “The intensity of the bombardment prevented emergency services from accessing the neighbourhood and dead bodies lay in the streets as thousands fled in terror,” AFP reports.

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Here’s more on the state of Shejaiya from the BBC’s correspondent on the ground:

When we arrived at the edge of the neighbourhood, Palestinians were still fleeing in their hundreds: carrying nothing but their children, some pausing to vent their anger in front of cameras. They spoke of bodies lying in the street and the wreckage of buildings, including a mosque. After a night of ferocious bombardment, they seem traumatised and stunned. For three days, Israel had warned them to leave their homes, but Shejaiya is home to 80,000 people. Most stayed put, not expecting the ferocity of last night's bombardment.

The Israeli offensive, now in its twelfth day, “has killed at least 360 Palestinians and wounded some 3,000,” according to NPR.  “At least eight Israelis have been killed in the latest fighting.”

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